Normally I do mini-reviews of movies and TV shows on my Facebook page, but I’ve fallen behind due to numerous blog entries and assorted potpourri on the site. I try to keep my FB posts to one per day so as to not bludgeon followers with too much stuff. As such, I figured I’d do an entry for all of the shows and movies my wife and I have recently finished. I’m hoping you’ll give each of them a try if you haven’t already, as all three options are fantastic.
Ray Donovan, Seasons 1-4
The title character in Showtime’s Ray Donovan, played by Liev Schreiber, is a Boston transplant now living in Hollywood with his wife and two children. Ray is employed by a law firm which uses him to “fix” problems that a-listers find themselves in, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty while getting the job done (bribery, blackmail, bodily harm, and more are all on the table when Ray comes calling). As Ray gains notoriety for being nearly bulletproof in his dealings, he catches the attention of not only the FBI but also enemies who seek to bring him down.
Ray’s family plays an important role in the series. While his wife and children drag the show down in my opinion (when Ray’s wife is on-screen the couple is constantly fighting, as Ray is never home due to his occupation, drinking, and sexual escapades with other women; his daughter is probably the most interesting of the three and is involved in a couple of storylines, but his son is a complete douche and just wastes screen time), his dad and brothers are all uniformly entertaining to watch, especially Jon Voight, who plays Ray’s father, Mickey. Mickey is a small-time crook who has dreams of huge payoffs and beautiful women, but always seems to bumble his way through life, making a mess of things wherever he goes. Voight plays the role to perfection, moving with ease from mouthy smartass to porno-watching pervert to conniving backstabber to passionate lover to complete-and-utter loser to loyal family member. Ray’s the focal point of the show, but for my money, the show gets to be an interesting combination of funny and sad when Voight’s character comes on-screen, and it’s truly must-see TV. Be prepared to watch scenes with your hands covering your face and your head shaking back and forth in disbelief as Mickey gets himself involved in the next disaster.
I have a few issues with the series to this point. First, as I mentioned above, Ray’s immediate family is kind of a bore and doesn’t offer much to the series. Also, there are numerous storylines along the way that build and build for multiple episodes (or, in some cases, an entire season) and then they just vanish without a trace. It’s frustrating to get focused on a character or situation only to have it get dropped with no explanation. Last, as the seasons go on, Ray gets himself involved with nasty people and situations that would seem to me to be more than he could handle when compared with trying to make a stalker stop harassing a model or making a drug charge go away. The story is still entertaining as Ray gets in over his head, but I’m not sure how plausible it is after a point.
That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the show and look forward to season 5, which comes out in August 2017.
(A *strong* 7/10)
Billions, Season 2
With the exception of Game of Thrones, Showtime’s Billions is the best show on television right now. For those who haven’t seen it, Season 1 introduces Bobby Axelrod (played by Damian Lewis of Band of Brothers and Homeland fame), a billionaire hedge fund manager who pushes ethical boundaries to grow his company, Axe Capital, into a money-making machine. Enter U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti), who works tirelessly to bring down white-collar criminals. As Axelrod gains power by using his money to both affect the market as well as buy his way out of trouble, Rhoades sets his sights on bringing down the mogul.
Season 2 sees both Axelrod and Rhoades scrambling to regain control of their respective worlds after the fallout of season 1. Desperate to keep his job, Rhoades begins the process of taking down other corrupt financial advisors, yet continues to work at taking another shot at Axelrod. Meanwhile, Axe Capital is in a precarious financial position and finds itself facing its first losing quarter in the company’s history. The two storylines once again lead to a showdown between Axelrod and Rhoades, with numerous twists and turns along the way to keep viewers guessing.
The show’s cast is top-notch, from Maggie Siff (who plays Wendy Rhoades, wife to Giamatti’s character, but also a psychologist and job coach who works at Axe Capital) to David Costabile (who plays “Wags,” the brash, cold-hearted, buck-stops-here second in command; his character is my favorite on the show) to newcomer Asia Kate Dillon (who plays Taylor, an analytics savant that starts as a lowly intern and quickly moves up the ladder at Axe Capital, bringing the company back from the brink). But make no mistake, Lewis and Giamatti drive the show’s action and success. Their individual scenes are amazing, but when the two are on-screen at the same time the show positively sizzles. It’s edge-of-your-seat television that I can’t recommend highly enough.
One small quibble I have is with Maggie Siff’s character, Wendy. She’s been stuck between her husband and her boss for the entire series, and as magnificent of an actress as Maggie Siff is, it just never seemed possible for her to make her role work as both wife and employee in a clash of the titans. Her character’s marriage falters at the end of the season 1, but throughout season 2 she’s trying to make it work between these two diametrically opposed forces…something that just isn’t humanly possible. At some point you’d think she has to choose a side, but so far she’s been allowed to waffle in a situation that wouldn’t permit it to happen.
Manchester by the Sea
Phew. While this movie is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, it’s a tough watch. The film stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a fix-it man who lives in solitude, drinking his life away once his shifts are over. Viewers can immediately see that he is an angry, depressed, and broken man, the cause of which is slowly revealed throughout the course of the movie (and folks, it’s heartbreaking stuff). The movie opens with Lee finding out that his brother passed away from a heart attack. With no one around to take care of his brother’s affairs, Lee travels to Manchester-by-the-Sea to read the will and square things away. While at the attorney’s office he is blindsided by a request from his brother: Lee is to become the guardian of his brother’s son. Panic and dread nearly overcome him as he struggles with how to raise his nephew and do right by him, all while fighting the demons from the past that are resurfacing and threatening to overcome him.
Affleck won some Best Actor awards for his role, and they were well-deserved. You can’t help but feel his character’s pain, anguish, depression, and guilt. It’s truly one of the best performances I’ve watched in recent memory. As stated above, it’s a difficult movie to sit through – you won’t find anything to feel good about – so it may not work for everyone. That being said, some of my favorite movies are ones that challenge me as a viewer, showing me scenes that make me experience something new, feel a range of emotions that I’m not familiar with, or walk for a while in someone else’s shoes. Manchester by the Sea does all of this and more, and is incredibly powerful despite making the viewer uncomfortable throughout.
Some folks won’t like the ending – hell, it even jarred me when I first saw it – but its abruptness works upon further examination. There was no way to tie up the story with a pretty little bow. After all, it wasn’t a pretty tale, and the lives of the characters were going to continue to be complicated long after the credits started rolling; as such, I have no problem with the way the movie wrapped up.
Manchester by the Sea is available on both DVD and Amazon’s Prime Video service.
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve already seen these shows or decide to try any of them out. Also, let me know what you’ve recently watched that left you wanting more. Feel free to leave your comments here or post on the FB page, and I’ll respond in kind. But you better hurry…soon it’ll be Bloodline, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones, and then all bets are off!
Until we meet again…