A great cast can be a powerful weapon. In the case of the new family dramedy The Oranges it's the saving grace.
The formula for a quirky suburban dissection is on full display in the feature from TV veteran Julian Farino and first-time writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss which follows two best friend couples Terry and Carol Ostroff (Oliver Platt and Allison Janney) and David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener) whose BFF relationship implodes when David strikes up a romance with the Ostroff's daughter Nina (Leighton Meester). The scandalous affair lights a fire under the well-to-do New Jersey families and when David realizes that his connection with Nina is deeper than just a one night stand their white picket fence lives completely crack.
Even with a divisive subject matter (to follow love or to stick with family?) The Oranges floats by without much edge. David and Nina's romance begins with passion but is entirely void of sexual fire. As it evolves they become complacent and boring — everything David hated about his first marriage. That would be a great twist but The Oranges isn't satire. The conflict comes with the scowling world around the unlikely pair the Ostroff's distraught over their daughter's choices Paige off exploring other options for her own now-single life and David's daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) juggling her own aimless path as a furniture designer. For a risky life choice David and Nina's decision to declare their love for one another doesn't come with many repercussions even in the "squeaky clean" land of Jersey.
But the cast turns The Oranges into one to watch. Laurie has a life beyond the uptight Dr. House playing David as a compassionate conflicted acceptedly selfish man. It's easy to see why he falls for Meester's Nina who isn't simply a 20-something with an interest in older guys. They both see qualities in each other that are apparent to the audience and they play it with energy not present in the material. There's a been-there-done-that feeling to Platt and Janney in The Oranges but only because they're continually perfect as the hilarious overbearing parents. Sadly Keener goes to waste; another indie vet she spends most of the time of screen until one momentous outburst that arrives without build up.
Farino adeptly directs The Oranges and avoids the eye-rolling tropes that go hand and hand with movies of this nature (I'm looking at you head-on shots featuring Linus-like characters moping about). He knows how to let his actors play and when you have a man like Laurie in the lead that's a must. The movie never peels back the rhine to find something new to say about the 'burbs but with great actors in tow The Oranges rises above the lookalikes.
The idea of an epic TV show is pretty hit or miss. For one thing, television generally does not have the production luxuries that feature films do; considering how significant a role the physical setting of an epic work plays in the quality of its overall story, this has the potential to present major setbacks. But one advantage that television does have over movies is the opportunity to develop characters overtime. The greatest epic programs — such as Lost, the Star Trek franchise, and the short-lived but excellent Firefly, among others — were not only great at building fascinating worlds, but also at delivering truly engrossing, three-dimensional characters. NBC's attempt to bring a new epic to television in the form of Revolution seems to make good on the promise of a breathtaking reality, but looks like it might fall short in the realm of character.
The premiere opens up in a world "before things went dark." Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee), a family man with apparent government connections, rushes home in a panic, informing his wife and young children that the world is about to lose its power. Before things turn off completely, Ben manages two quick tasks: first, he calls his brother Miles (Billy Burke), a soldier on leave, to warn him; second, he downloads something from his laptop computer onto an ominous zip-drive of sorts. And then: bam. Blackout. All over. Forever.
The post-credits scene picks up fifteen years later. Ben and his now grown children, Charlotte "Charlie" (Tracy Spiridakos) and Danny (Graham Rogers), live in a rural small town among people like village educator/ex-Google employee Aaron (Zach Orth), and Charlie's and Danny's ad-hoc stepmom Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips) — their mother and Ben's wife who we met in the prologue is nowhere to be found. Peace and socialism are the default setting on this society... until the militia, led by Breaking Bad favorite Giancarlo Esposito, makes its way into town, looking for Ben, whom they presume to have answers about how to get the power back on.
What follows is tragedy for the Matheson family. Ben is killed, Danny is kidnapped, and Charlie is forced to set out on a journey to reconnect with her estranged Uncle Miles, described by Ben to be "only good at killing," and save her brother from the militia. This is about where the story really begins, and about where we begin learning about the characters.
I don't want to fault Spiridakos for overacting, because it's really impossible to know just how a person would genuinely behave after having grown up in a post-apocalyptic world without a mother, only to see her dad die at the hands of a self-appointed government. But her performance does seem to be pushing a little too hard for audience sympathy. In any event, her character Charlie doesn't yet seem to be much more than a vehicle for plot movement; while premieres are notorious for not being able to flesh their characters out well, she is the hero of the show, and should have more going for her than exposition and melodrama.
Miles has a lot more going for him. He's a drunk, a loner, and apparently a former close friend (from the "normal" days) of the man in charge of the vigilant militia that reigns terror over post-blackout Chicago. Presented as a man in need of personal reformation, it's probable that we'll see the most amount of effort afforded to his development over the course of the series, or at least the episodes immediately to follow the pilot. This is promising enough; the sheer matter of having endured fifteen years of adulthood living on his own after losing his family and apparently being abandoned or betrayed by his friend. His interim backstory could be fruitful enough to keep the show interesting until we've learned all that we can about Miles; not to mention, the "bad guy with a heart of gold" routine is always a safe bet to charm viewers.
The third and fourth tiers of the traveling team, Maggie and Aaron, are in the mix to provide a mother figure to Charlie (though not quite a welcome one), and for a healthy sum of comic relief, respectively. The premiere even plants subtle seeds for a romance to brew between the pair - something that could work if handled honestly.
But these characters, likewise with asthmatic Danny and a more hokey Gus Fring, aren't what the show is really invested in building. The mystery of the blackout and the strange zip-drives, that's the pull. The tyrannical militia and its seemingly endless reach, that's what's interesting. The aesthetics, icing on the cake. But the fact is, a good story cannot become great without full characters. And unfortunately, Revolution has churned all of its power into the world and its puzzles, leaving the people we're supposed to care about drained of battery.
[Photo Credit: NBC]
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S1E6: I have made mention in the past about my preference when it comes to Person of Interest episodes for those that focus strongly on the backstory of either Reese or Finch, or ones that play heavily to the more overarching storyline. This week’s episode, “The Fix,” accomplishes both of those tasks, but in a way unlike that which we have seen from the show so far—which is a third plus (it’s always a positive to keep ‘em guessing). And a strictly visceral level, this might be the most basely exciting self-contained storyline to date. All in all, not a bad week for Person of Interest.
”Wanna get out of here?” – Zoe
“Where are we going?” – Reese
“To do something illegal.” – Zoe
The self-contained plot centers around a woman (Paige Turco) not quite unlike John Reese. She has no real profession or education, but she supports herself in a two million dollar apartment. How? She’s a fixer. She does favors for people, off the record, in return for cash. And it looks like we might be seeing more of her than just this week’s episode. But for now, what we know of her is that she is hired to retrieve an incriminating recording for Mr. Lawson, (Tim Guinee), a trusted businessman and public figure who runs a pharmaceutical company owned by one Mr. Keller (Brian Murray), whom we find out later on is just as corrupt as his underlings. Assumed to be a recording of an extramarital affair, the tape that Zoe is hired to retrieve from some conniving Internet writer—the worst kind of people—actually reveals a discussion about the horrible side effects the company’s drug has on its users. The conversation is between Lawson and a woman named Dana Miller (Anna Koonin), who was murdered—but pronounced dead by a brain aneurism—six months prior.
This is where the interesting part of the episode comes in. Miller’s number, much like Zoe’s does at the beginning of this week’s episode, came up on Finch’s machine half a year back. However, this was before Finch had tracked down his leg man. So, when Miller was killed, Finch was tortured. This was not specific to Miller: before Reese came around, Finch had to sit idly by as innocent people were murdered whom he could not save. In this episode, Finch explains wistfully how helpless he felt to just watch the machine spit out numbers, forced to accept the inevitability of the circumstances. Although it’s not as gripping as some more concrete backstory, it is good development. Usually—especially in interactions with Reese—all we see of Finch is sort of a hollow, robotic man who has “decided” on this mission he has accepted for himself and for his partner. But to see Finch actually overcome with emotion, it actually shines a little more sense onto the question of why this guy would be leading his life this way. It never actually seemed right to me. Granted, the few snippets we saw of his past—working with a partner who scorned him for his younger days’ disinterest in the “irrelevant” crimes—gave us some insight about what would be driving his superhero complex. But to see Finch actually gutturally affected by a person’s death, and bent on avenging her death by saving another potential victim of the same murderer, makes it ring true a bit louder.
“That’s what I wanted to be. The person who knows what to say and always has something to trade.” – Zoe
Another interesting facet developed in this episode is the idea of a new recurring character. We haven’t gotten any new recurring characters since the pilot, and it’ll be nice to see someone who isn’t Reese or Finch that also isn’t a cop. As stated above, Zoe is a lot like Reese—they establish that from the very beginning, when a parallel is drawn between them in the casing of Zoe’s apartment. Finch finds it odd that Zoe does not have any personal belongings (“things that she cares about”), but Reese identifies immediately with this, claiming that he is the same way. After saving Zoe (he has been posing as her chauffer to stay close to her) from the clutches of Lawson’s henchmen, he opens up some honesty about his ‘line of work’ with her, and they build a kind of Bonnie and Clyde thing, to some degree.
The duo is eventually apprehended by Keller, Lawson and co. Once Zoe reveals that she has sent the incriminating file to a trusted source, she is given the opportunity to live if she leads the men to said source and gives up the file. The events to follow are straight out of a good deal of spy/kidnapping/crooks-in-love movies: everyone thinks she’s leaving him to die, she secretly slips him a clothespin to undo his handcuffs before leaving, once alone with the buffoon-of-a-henchman, the hero takes him down with his own weapon and comes to the rescue of the heroine right as the bad guys find out that she has been playing them. Nothing out of the ordinary here. But what I do like is the hint that Zoe drops at the end regarding a possible reoccurrence. It’ll be nice for Reese to have a friend. Maybe someone to get between him and his work? Him and Finch? Could be interesting.
The Det. Carson storyline in this episode sort of baffles me. I’m not too certain where it is coming from, or where it is going, but we’re invested in it right from the start. What I do like about it is the third awesome guest appearance in a row on POI: Dan Hedaya, one of the best character actors ever as a good-natured cop helping Carson investigate a homicide. The episode ends with Hedaya’s character killed, indicating that the possible reappearance of Zoe isn’t the only cliffhanger this week.
POI is experimenting, and is doing so with success. We’re learning about the characters even when we aren’t aided by flashbacks. Don’t get me wrong—I love the flashbacks…but less is more. Plus, new developments on the Reese/Finch front and the Carson side of it all means stronger overarching story that will, hopefully soon, start to tie all our loose ends together.
Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) is depressed. She's a lonely single thirty-something New Yorker whose job as the VIP facilitator of a chic boutique hotel is boring her to tears. Her mother (Gena Rowlands) is no help nor is her best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo) who is actually having problems of her own in her seemingly perfect marriage to Mark (Tim Guinee). Nora is drinking too much dating cute but crappy men and still mourning the death of her father despite years having past since that sad event. When she meets Julian (Melvil Poupaud) a gorgeous Frenchman her life changes in a series of unexpected ways. With her role in Broken English Parker Posey reminds us of what a talented actress she is. Her portrayal of Nora is dead-on right down to the sadness in her eyes and the slump in her shoulders. You can just feel her need for love and emotional connection; it leaps off the screen right at you. Yet Posey is (as always) so likeable her innate personality shines through the sadness a fact that works perfectly with the character she plays. With her best-friend role Drea de Matteo shifts far away from her now iconic portrayal of Adriana in The Sopranos revealing a very different sort of person a privileged woman doubting her life choices—and she does it in a completely believable way. But it is Melvil Poupaud who is the big surprise here. The French actor has been in numerous films in his native country since he began his career at age 11 yet is still a face unfamiliar to American audiences. And what a face it is! The strikingly handsome 34-year-old is a revelation bringing a natural charm and ease to his performance that is sure to make every woman who sees the film dream about him that night. Director Zoe Cassavetes has movies in her blood. The daughter of legendary actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands and the sister of Nick who directed The Notebook and Alpha Dog she has clearly felt the influence of her famous family. Broken English her first full-length feature film (which she also wrote) follows in the tradition of her late father's best work. He too wrote and directed personal films (Faces Husbands A Woman Under the Influence) which explored the intense human need for love without sentimentality or sappiness. With Broken English Zoe accomplishes the same difficult feat making her protagonist a very real woman whose life journey is at times sad yet ultimately uplifting--and always fascinating. In fact she has fashioned an excellent film which speaks to the human condition of countless single women in their 30s and beyond. Anyone who is one of those women should make sure to see this movie as should any man who would like to understand them just a little bit more.
Director John Woo has left Sony and signed a three-year movie and TV deal with MGM, according to Entertainment Weekly Online.
Woo didn't end up making any films with his resident studio, planning two other projects instead with MGM. The projects include "Wind Talkers," starring Nicolas Cage. For now, Woo's got another action flick on his plate: "Mission: Impossible 2," starring Tom Cruise, opens this summer.
SECRET AGENT MAN: John Dahl, who directed the noirish Matt Damon poker pic "Rounders," is in talks with Mandalay Pictures to direct "End Game," a spy flick starring Sean Connery, reports Daily Variety. Written by Adi Hassock and Stuart Kelban, Connery will play an old-fashioned CIA agent who goes on a special undercover assignment to expose illegal arms dealing. In the process, he discovers that he's been set up to take the fall in a conspiracy. Connery then teams up with a young counterpart to prove his innocence.
LET'S HOPE IT'S TEMPORARY: "Cruel Intentions" director Roger Kumble is in final talks to helm Columbia Pictures' romantic comedy "Screenplay Without a Title Yet." The story follows a club-hopping hipster who believes she's finally met her soulmate. The next morning at a wedding party, she is horrified to find that he's the groom. According to Variety, "Screenplay" was purchased for $1.5 million from "South Park" staff writer Nancy Pimental.
WHAT, NO FOUL-MOUTHED ANGELS?: As if he's just asking for "Dogma"-like religious controversy, "King of the Hill" creator Mike Judge will direct "Messiah Complex," a comedy about a pious college student who starts to believe he was cloned from the Shroud of Turin. No word on whether Beavis and Butthead will co-star.
SPELLING BEE: Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's been a busy bride-to-be lately, is in talks to star in "Traffic," a film that looks at the high-revenue industry of drug trafficking. According to EW Online, the film is based on the acclaimed British miniseries "Traffik," but American studios had to change the title. But we're still afraid moviegoers will think it's a film about the Los Angelesfreeways.
REAL TRAFFIC: Jamie Foxx, fresh from his success in "Any Given Sunday," will star in "National Security," a buddy-cop comedy. Foxx will play a man beaten by a white cop, who then teams up with the officer wrongly accused of the beating.
ADDITIONS: Liev Schreiber, a recent Golden Globe nominee for the cable film "RKO 281," will join the cast of "Pay it Forward," starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment... Tim Guinee ("Blade") has been added to Dimension Films' "Impostor," whichstars Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe ... Lisa Thornhill ("Ally McBeal") has been tapped to co-star with Nicolas Cage in "Family Man," to be directed by Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") ... Alexandra Paul ("Baywatch") will co-star with Ron Silver in the independent film "Exposure," to be film in NewZealand.