Magic City – Season Two Starts June 14th

MGC2During the spring of 2012, the Starz Network introduced a new tv series called Magic City. It was set at the very end of the 1950’s in Miami Beach with Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Isaac (Ike) Evans, the majority owner of a fabulous Miami Beach hotel called The Miramar Playa.

In nearby Cuba, Fidel Castro was about to take over the country, and that would mean that the big Havana tourism industry with its triple threat attractions of the exotica, the beaches, and sex, all found at the hotels, would be nationalized, and US interests in Havana, including those of organized crime, would have to find a new place to put their stakes into the ground. That would of course be Miami and Miami Beach.

Evans was a widowed man with two grown sons, and small daughter. He had remarried and he had met his new wife when she worked at a dancer at Havana’s Tropicana Club. She’s played by Olga Kurylenko.

Danny Huston portrayed mobster Ben (the Butcher) Diamond who was Ike’s silent minority partner. When Ike Evans was facing a strike threat by the hotel workers, he had to go to Diamond, who promptly took care of it by the simple measure of having the union boss (with a gun pointed at his head) call off the strike.

Once that was done, the union boss, Mike Strauss, who was Ike’s boyhood friend, was quickly sent to ‘sleep with the fishes’. So Ike owed Diamond.

Diamond’s wife Lily (above) played by Jessica Marais, was the lover of Ike’s son Stevie Evans. This would run all through the first season, and involve blackmail, murders, and ultimately, as Season One ended, would lead to the cliff-hanger finale of Ike being arrested for murder.

I had watched the first three episodes of Season One, and did a review (<—click), and basically wrote the show off. I didn’t like the casting, thought the stories and characters were dull and uninteresting. I also stated that I thought the show spent far too much time in dark interiors watching people drinking, smoking, or having sex. Not that people shouldn’t do those kind of things, but the show lacked dramatic intensity as well as balance because of this.

I later went back and watched the last five 5 episodes of the 1st season. I haven’t changed my mind. However I will state that the show showed decidedly positive signs of improvement. Topics like voyeurism, adultery, and criminal activities are fine topics for adult TV. When you bundle those against a period when people didn’t have cell phones or personal computers, when Castro’s forces were taking over Cuba, and set the whole show in Miami Beach, with ever-increasing amounts of time given to AT & T – alcohol, tobacco, and tits, I can see the appeal to viewers better now than I did after just three episodes of April 2012.

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Two by Three: A Look at AMC’s The Killing and Netflix’s The Fall

Here I am approaching June’s midpoint and I’m up to my eyeballs with a TV serial killer addiction. I’m watching two shows – The 5 episode psychological thriller, The Fall, which screens on Netflix, and The Killing Season 3, which I am watching on the AMC Network.

Up until a few days ago I hadn’t heard of either of these shows. A family member urged that I watch The Killing. He compared it to Top of the Lake with the qualifier – that this is how a multi-part drama involving criminal activities, detective work, and capture of the perpetrator – should be done. He said that this was a police procedural that was top of the line. He even went so far as to call the performance of Mireille Enos, who plays Detective Sarah Linden, as the best work of any actress currently on tv.

To be totally upfront, I did not watch Season One or Season Two of The Killing, so I came into Season Three without any background about the show other than it was about solving one case. I’ve watched the first three episodes of Season Three, and while there are references to the past seasons – one can watch Season Three as a stand alone.

Detective Sarah had left the force, shattered or at least seriously emotionally damaged. Rather than working Seattle’s mean streets also known as The Jungle, she’s working on the Vashon Island commuter ferry as a deckhand. Her former partner, Detective Stephen Holden, played by Joel Kinnaman, who was a somewhat green, naive, and inexperienced detective in the first two seasons, now has a new partner, Detective Carl Reddick, a 25 year veteran who has seen it all, and done it all.

As Season Three begins, Holden is more self-confident and assured. He and his partner catch a new case – a young woman has been brutally killed. Reddick suggests they hand the case off to another Detective, but Holden decides to pursue it.

He goes to talk it over with Linden at her home, and – on purpose –  he leaves the case file in Linden’s house. And as expected, she’s drawn back in. So it is ‘Adios’ to the ferry and welcome back to the force Sarah.

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Sleepless Night aka Nuit Blanche

Lately it seems that I’ve been writing a lot of posts about cops and killers, and drugs and deep undercover agents. Blame it on the fact that films I really wanted to see like The Big Wedding, Oblivion, The Internship, and After Earth were all mediocre or worse. So I had to look elsewhere.

When this usually happens, I have a fall-back plan: when in doubt, look  towards films about breaking the law, or law enforcement. There’s something so familiar and comforting about detectives pursuing leads or cinematic shell casings falling in slow motion; you know,  like wearing a favorite sweater or tee-shirt. I’ve long since understood the real meaning of case files, full metal jackets, and I don’t necessarily find that time spent on stakeouts is tedious.

So how about one more – Sleepless Night aka Nuit Blanche. This time it is French cops, and French drug dealers. In Paris. The film opens with a heist. Two guys in a car, each wearing a balaclava to cover their faces, are going to take down a drug shipment in another vehicle. Things don’t go exactly right – a gunfight breaks out, one of the drug guys gets killed, and one other bad guys escapes. But , despite the hiccups, it is mission accomplished. They get the drugs, but of the two guys who pulled the job, one suffers a knife wound.

We later come to find out that these guys who did the heist are cops. We also come to find out that they were recognized. The lead cop, Vincent, played by Tomer Sisley, who’s middle name might be ‘Intense’, gets a call from the owner of the drugs – a night club owner called Jose Marciano. And his middle name might be ‘Sleazy’.

For simplification – translated from the French to the film’s English subtitles to a familiar from TV, street vernacular:

Jose: Yo, Vincent, this is Jose Marciano. I want my stuff back.
Vincent: I dunno what you are talking about –
Jose: I got your kid. We picked him up outside of his school. Gimme my stuff, and you get your son back…

Serge Riaboukine as Jose Marciano

Serge Riaboukine as Jose Marciano

Do you need any more of an intro?

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The Iceman


Long ago, in 1939, Eugene O’Neill penned a theatrical play called The Iceman Cometh. It was a dramatic play about drifters and alcoholics whose days would reach a high point when and if they were able to score a free drink. Below the surface, O’Neill was really discussing disillusionment and despair and the flaws within the American ideals.

In 1973, The Iceman Cometh was produced as a film with Lee Marvin, Frederic March, Robert Ryan, and Jeff Bridges.

Then, in 1986, Val Kilmer played a fighter jet plane pilot called Iceman, in the hit film, Top Gun, which starred Tom Cruise. While the O’Neill play can be considered a tragedy, Top Gun was about something else – becoming an adult with responsibility set against the back drop of a testosterone filled adventure about brash young men in the US Navy and the expensive war machines they piloted.

Now in 2013 we have a film called The Iceman. Michael Shannon stars as contract killer Richard Kuklinski who worked in the Metropolitan New York area from the late 60’s until his capture in 1986. Yes, Kuklinski was real, and he died in 2006 in a New Jersey prison while serving out five consecutive life sentences. In fact, HBO did documentaries on him in the early 90’s and the early 00’s, so we are not going to be talking about suspense.

Rather this is a chilling tale of a seemingly decent husband, father, and provider for his family. His family had no idea about what he did for a living as he told them he was in finance, or more specifically, currency exchange, which required him to often work late into the night because of overseas markets. These were total fabrications of course. Literally, he was the man who left his home in a leafy suburb in Northern New Jersey, in a suit and tie in the morning, and came home late at night with proverbial blood on his hands. On a regular basis.

Kuklinski confessed to at least 100 contract killings, and authorities suspect that the number could have been as high as 250 or more.

Shannon seems born to play this role. Kuklinski at times, seemed cold and unable to connect with people. He also contained plenty of bottled up rage which could explode at any time. He was quite fearless which is what made him attractive to a minor mob boss called Demeo, played by Ray Liotta. When one of Demeo’s button men, played by John Ventimiglia, started to push Kuklinski around, Kuklinski stood his ground. Demeo noticed. He made Kuklinski an offer he couldn’t refuse – Demeo said come work for me [and kill] or we’ll make you unemployed and you’ll be unable to provide for your family. With no choice, Kuklinski signed on as an assassin.

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Graceland, the new USA Network series premiered its pilot episode a couple of nights ago. The premise is rather simple despite its layered approach. Agents from the DEA, the FBI, and Customs have been set up in a waterfront penthouse, called Graceland in an unnamed California beach town. The penthouse apartment is called Graceland because its former owner, a drug lord, was a hard-core Elvis fan, and the property was seized in the raid when he got busted.

Our agents work out of this apartment in undercover operations and their stories for the neighbors and other locals are that they’re surfers, a Tae Bo instructor, a trust fund baby, an artist, and other assorted types usually found in beach towns. The apartment is right on the beach and has two levels – the main floor has the living room, kitchen, dining area and this is where the agents live and play. There’s one rule – no guns on this floor. Upstairs is the operations center, called the phone room, and the bedrooms, and there’s one rule up there which is – no one with out a badge is permitted on that level – meaning no outsiders which means no local women.

2A brand new FBI graduate, Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit – recently seen as Enjoiras in Les Miserables) is assigned, as his first posting, to replace a member of this team who was shot in a drug buy gone bad. We learn this in a rather intriguing cross-cut opening – while we listen (and watch) Courtney Vance as Deputy Director Sam Campbell of the FBI is giving a speech to a graduating class at the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico – we are also watching a meet and drop (where H is cooked and tested prior to a buy).

We will meet the house members shortly after. There’s Paul Briggs played by Daniel Sunjata, Catherine ‘Charlie’ DeMarco played by Vanessa Ferlito, Johnny Tuturro played by Manny Montana, Lauren Kincaid played by Scottie Thompson, and Dale Jakes played by Brandon Jay McLaren. We will also meet Donnie Banks, the agent who was shot in the opening scene. He’s played by Clayne Crawford.

In the pilot, the bad guys are Russian mobsters with ties deep into law enforcement, and Mexican drug dealers. The Russian boss is quite good, but the Mexicans have only a brief cameo. Jay Karns is also on hand as the agents’ boss.

I belive the cast of series is some-what fluid – meaning not everyone in the pilot will make it through all 11 episodes of Season One. But the essence isn’t just who we meet, but rather than what they do and how they do it. Sunjata’s Briggs will tell us that everything they do will be based on lies. From this moment on – your lies are your life.Yet despite this – Charlie will tell us, You’re going to find out real fast – there are no secrets in Graceland.

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