The Closer's final season premiere picks up amid a longstanding enmity between series hero Brenda Johnson and her elusive rival, Phil Stroh (Twilight's Billy Burke), whom she unsuccessfully pinpointed with potential rape and murder back in Season 4. The latest installment of TNT's crime drama picks up with Stroh, a defense attorney, handling yet another case involving these charges; Brenda is obsessed from the get-go of linking Stroh's client's charges to Stroh himself.
The stakes are high. But high enough to warrant what seems like a communal conceit to overacting? It's hard to say. Everyone on this episode is playing it up to eleven, Brenda especially. She fishhooks Stroh with teeth-gritting "Watch your back"-isms, interrogates a mentally ill rape victim with the poise of a garbage disposal, and spouts Pacino-like outbursts in the middle of the courtroom (granted, part of the plan seems to have been to force a mistrial, so that one might be forgivable). In the end, her man stands free, but only for now. Brenda is dedicated to putting Stroh behind bars, and it's likely, from the side the show seems to be on, that we'll see him meet this fate.
Other than performances that occasionally beg for subtlety, the season opener takes good efforts to keep fans optimistic. The antics of the episode are jagged and uncooperative, allowing less adherence to the procedural formula and more a feeling of spontaneity. While this kind of madcappery — like a rogue detective tracking down a psychologically incarcerated rape victim going by the name of Marilyn Monroe, and actually inviting her to stay over at her house — can't subsist each week in a universe that wants to call itself reality, it's a good option for a season premiere, as is the reintroduction of Stroh. Now, for the rest of the season, fans have these things in mind: the show is capable of going nuts once in a while (which can be fun), and it has a very palpable and personal agenda. Arch nemeses are always way more interesting than one-off cases.
So when will we see Stroh again? Hopefully soon; while fans of the show are likely just as comfortable watching Brenda and company handling the criminals that come and go, the real heat lies in cases of personal investment. And no case trumps that of Philip Stroh, who plays your traditionally styled (a little too traditional, maybe) cavalier villain who just knows he'll get away with everything at the end of the day. It might be refreshing to see him do so: to see Brenda realize that although she'll lose this one, she will become obstinate in improving her abilities and learning when she must play by the rules and not against them in order to keep this sort of thing from happening in the future. But what's more likely, and probably way more satisfying, is that Brenda will indeed apprehend Stroh. Locking that smug mother up for good. Even Twilight devotees will be glad to see that day.
All in all, The Closer has opened its final season with flare. Kyra Sedgwick hasn't lost any of the energy she initially brought to the character of Brenda. Her supporting cast still knows how to play off her. And J.K. Simmons is awesome no matter what he's doing, even if it's just sighing and muttering, "One of these days, Johnson..." The season premiere might not have taken any great lengths for the crime drama genre, much less the "rogue cop" sub-genre, but it surely wouldn't have disappointed anyone who's been tuning in all these years.
[Image Credit: TNT]
Russell Brand's 'Brand X' Premiere: Too Much Talk
Matthew McConaughey, TNT Team Up to Add to Singing-Competition Overload
Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster, Kyra Sedgwick & Jennifer Jason Leigh Join 'Kill Your Darlings'
Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.