TV Mini-Review: Law & Order: Organized Crime 1.1 “What Happens In Puglia”

I used to watch Law & Order: SVU religiously. I thought Benson and Stabler were obviously in love, though I also knew that there was no way that Stabler would ever cheat on his wife. I enjoyed listening to Munch’s conspiracy theories and his weird little trivia factoids. I loved Finn’s way with a quip and even boring old Captain Cragen didn’t bother me too much. I enjoyed the show, even if I did occasionally call it Law & Order: SUV by accident. Eventually, though, the show’s relentlessly grim atmosphere and subject matter started to get to me and, a few years ago, I stopped regularly watching.

However, I did make it a point to watch this week’s episode of SVU because Elliott Stabler (Chris Meloni) was returning for the first time since both the character and the actor left the show at the end of its 12th season. Stabler returned in order to investigate who was responsible for the explosion that killed his wife. He not only reunited with Benson (and it was nice to see that Meloni and Mariska Hargitay still had their old chemistry) but he also attempted to redeem himself and his reputation. Stabler previously left the NYPD under a cloud of suspicion. Having committed six shootings in the line of duty, he could either submit himself to a full psychological analysis and take an anger management class or he could quit. He chose to quit. Anyone who thinks that it’s extreme to quit your job rather than learn to control your anger obviously never saw Elliott Stabler in action. Stabler was basically fueled by nonstop anger.

When Stabler was on Law & Order: SVU, he was the epitome of the cop who took every case personally. On the one hand, you liked him because Meloni gave a good performance and you could tell that he was trying to control his demons. On the other hand, you always knew that there was a decent chance that he was going to end up beating a suspect to death during an interrogation. It sometimes made him a bit frightening. At times, Stabler’s eyes would narrow and he would get that look on his face and you knew that anyone who cut him off in traffic was probably going to get intentionally rear-ended. He was a road rage incident waiting to happen. Tonight, when Stabler returned to SVU, it quickly became apparent that years of retirement hadn’t done much to calm him down. Admittedly, he had every reason to take this particular case personally but you still got the feeling that, even if his wife hadn’t been murdered, Stabler would still have been looking for an excuse to shoot someone.

I imagine he’ll probably get that excuse soon enough because Thursday’s episode of SVU served as a crossover with the first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime. Organized Crime is the sixth entry in the Law & Order franchise (the seventh if you count that strange True Crime show) and it’s the first new one since Law and Order: Los Angeles came and went in 2010. This latest entry follows Stabler, who is now once again a detective with the NYPD and who is working with the Organized Crime task force. The first episode found Stabler launching an investigation into Richard Wheatley, a mob heir-turned-businessman who was played by Dylan McDermott. Since McDermott was listed in the opening credits, I assume the entire first season is going to be about Stabler investigating him and trying to take him down.

The first episode of Law & Order: Organized Crime was flawed but watchable. The scenes with Stabler, whether he was comforting his children or investigating a crime or trying to convince his boss that he wasn’t a loose cannon, were all strong. From the minute Meloni showed up, I was reminded of how compelling he was on SVU. Meloni brings a tough authenticity to even the most clichéd of dialogue and, even though he’s obviously quite a bit older now than he was a regular on SVU, Meloni hasn’t lost a step when it comes to portraying Elliott Stabler. The show acknowledged that Stabler, with his “I am the law” attitude, is a bit out-of-place in today’s culture. Stabler, like the Law & Order franchise itself, is going to have to figure out how to adjust to the times.

I was a bit less enthusiastic about both the character of Richard Wheatley and Dylan McDermott’s performance in the role. If Wheatley’s going to be a season-long villain, he’s going to need to develop a few more quirks and nuances beyond loving his children and killing his father. McDermott seemed almost bored with the role, suggesting none of the charisma that one would expect from someone who can convince that world that he’s a legitimate businessman while, at the same time, controlling the New York drug trade. Whealtey seemed like just a generic bad guy and he’s going to have to be more than that if he’s going to be a truly worthy opponent for Elliott Stabler. Hopefully, Wheatley will become more interesting as the show progresses.

That said, the first episode worked well-enough. It was well-directed by Fred Berner and it had more visual flair than I was expecting from a Law & Order spin-off. The scene where Stabler goes to a deserted amusement park to meet with an informant was especially well-done and atmospheric, with the lights of the boardwalk providing a perfectly spooky compliment to what Stabler discovered.

I’ll set the DVR. The first episode wasn’t perfect but I’m still intrigued enough by Meloni’s return to see where this 6-episode series goes.

Back to School #74: The Perks of Being A Wallflower (dir by Stephen Chbosky)


“We are infinite.” — Charlie (Logan Lerman) in The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

So, here’s the thing.  In general, I try not to judge people.  I have friends (and family) of all races, religion, and political ideologies.  I may not always agree with you but I will always respect your right to disagree.  With that being said, if you don’t love the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, then I’m worried about you.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is based on a novel that I read and loved right before I entered high school.  In fact, I loved the novel so much that I had my doubts about whether or not the film could do it justice.  Of course, if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that the film was directed by the same man who wrote the book, Stephen Chbosky.  Everything that made Wallflower such a powerful book — the honesty, the understanding of teen angst, the underlying sadness — is perfectly captured in the film.

Wallflower tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a painfully shy and emotionally sensitive high school freshman.  Charlie starts the school year under the weight of two tragedies — the suicide of his best friend and the death of his aunt.  Because he’s so shy, Charlie struggles to fit in and make friends, though he does find a mentor of sorts in his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd, playing the type of teacher that we all wish we could have had in high school).

Charlie, however, does not find a mentor in shop class, which is taught by Mr. Callahan (Tom Freaking Savini!).  However, he does meet Patrick (Ezra Miller), a witty and cynical senior who, because he’s openly gay, is as much of an outcast as Charlie.  Patrick introduces Charlie to Sam (Emma Watson).  Charlie assumes that Sam and Patrick are dating (especially after he sees them dancing together) but later he learns that they are actually stepsiblings and that Patrick is secretly seeing a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons).  That works out well for Charlie because he has a crush on the free-spirited Sam.

The rest of the film follows Charlie as he survives his first year in school and Patrick and Sam as they complete their final year.  It’s a long but exciting year in which Charlie discovers everything from drugs to the mysteries of sex to the pleasures of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Even more importantly, it’s a year that forces Charlie to confront his own unresolved emotional issues.

Sensitively acted by the three leads and featuring a great soundtrack, The Perks of Being A Wallflower is one of the best films about growing up that I’ve ever seen.  For me, there is no scene that best captures everything that’s great about being young than the scene where Sam, upon hearing David Bowie’s Heroes on the radio, demands to be driving through a tunnel.  It’s a great scene from a great movie that celebrates both just how scary and amazing it is to have your entire life ahead of you and the special friendships that help us survive.



What Lisa Watched Last Night #90: Hostages Episode 1 “Pilot”

Last night, after I got back from dance class, I watched the first episode of the new CBS series, Hostages.


Why Was I Watching It?

I spent the last three months watching and reviewing Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog.  During every episode of Big Brother, CBS would show at least one commercial for Hostages.  It was obvious that CBS was obsessed with the idea of making Hostages into the show that the entire nation would be watching and debating, a bit like a network TV version of Homeland or Breaking Bad.

The commercials, for the most part, all featured Dylan McDermott looking grim while Toni Collette frowned and, occasionally, some old white guy would tell Collette that she was the only doctor he trusted to operate on her and she would reply, “Thank you, Mr. President.”  In short, the commercials made the show look terrible.  The only question was whether or not Hostages would be intentionally bad or unintentionally awful.

Last night, I got my answer.

What Was It About?

President Paul Kinkaid (James Naughton) needs to have surgery and, of course, only one doctor can perform the operation.  That doctor is Ellen Saunders (Toni Collette).  Ellen is so concerned with the President’s health that she doesn’t realize that her husband (Tate Donovan) is having an affair, her son is selling weed, and her daughter is pregnant.

Meanwhile, Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) is a FBI hostage negotiator.  When we first see him, he’s gunning down a bank robber and smirking while he does it.  It turns out that Duncan needs money to take care of his sick wife.

Eventually, Duncan and a team of other black-clad operatives end up inside the Saunders home where they take the entire family hostage.  They tell Ellen that, if she wants to save her family, she must assassinate the President…

What Worked?

The show turned out to be just as bad as I was expecting it to be!  Whenever I saw the commercials for Hostages, I would think to myself: “That looks like it’s going to be a really boring, tedious series.”  Judging from the pilot, I was right.  It always feels good to be right.

That said, I do have to say that, alone among the cast, Dylan McDermott seems to understand that he’s playing a ludicrous character in a silly show and — much as he did in American Horror Story — he responds by giving an appropriately melodramatic performance.  While the rest of the cast appeared to be convinced that they were appearing in the next Homeland, McDermott seemed to be enjoying a joke that only he and the viewing audience could understand.

What Did Not Work?

If there’s even been a show that would obviously benefit from an over-the-top, melodramatic approach, it would be Hostages.  So, why did the pilot appear to be taking itself so damn seriously?  As I watched last night’s episode, I found myself wondering if anyone involved in the show (other than Dylan McDermott) understood just how silly this all was.  Instead, the show moved at an almost somber pace and all of the actors (again, with the notable exception of McDermott) delivered their lines with the type of gravity that one would usually associate with Jeff Daniels delivering one of Aaron Sorkin’s pompous polemical speeches on The Newsroom.  Considering all of the melodramatic potential of this show’s plot, Hostages really has no excuse to be as boring and predictable as it was last night.

Toni Collette is one of my favorite actresses so it was kind of sad to see her give such a boring performance in the lead role of Ellen Saunders.  Then again, as written, Ellen Saunders is a pretty boring character.  It’s as if the show’s producers and writers were so proud of creating a professional woman that they didn’t notice that they neglected to give her a personality.

Finally, the President is just some boring old white guy.  What’s up with that?

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I was tempted to say that, like the family in Hostages, I would totally freak out if a bunch of people appeared in the house, pointed their guns at me, and announced that they were holding me hostage.  However, it then occurred to me that nobody in Hostages really freaked out about being held hostage.  They were certainly annoyed and occasionally, they even attempted to be defiant.  But they never really freaked out.

Nor could I really see much of myself in the character of Ellen Saunders or her daughter.  Since neither one of them came across as being anything more than a two-dimensional plot device, neither one of them was capable of inspiring any “just like me” moments.

I tried to relate to Sandrine Holt, who plays Maria, the only female hostage taker.  However, Maria spent most of the episode carrying around a gun and, while I’m totally into the 2nd amendment, I’m not really into guns.

Then I remembered that, early on in the episode, Ellen’s daughter talks to her best friend.  The friend takes one look at her and says, “Your eyes are puffy,” which is the exact same thing that I would say if one of my friends had puffy eyes.

So, that was my “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes, commercials don’t lie.

Quickie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (dir. by Antoine Fuqua)


“The most protected building on Earth has fallen.”

Die Hard has become it’s very own subgenre of action films since it was first released in 1988. It was a simple enough story that combined the “one against many” type of story with the “siege tale”. It was a perfect combination that has since been copied, imitated, but truly never duplicated to the highest level of success the original film had upon release. There’s been a few films that added their own unique take on this action film template. There was “Die Hard on a boat” with the underappreciated Under Siege. Then we have Air Force One which was “Die Hard on a plane”. The latest action film to try and put a new spin on the Willias-McTiernan classic is Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, Olympus Has Fallen.

The film pretty much takes what worked with the three films before it that’s been mentioned above and combines them to make a film. We have a lone, highly skilled operative in the form of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning in the role that made Bruce Willis famous and, for a time, resuscitated Steven Seagal’s career. Then we have the Presidential angle but instead of Air Force One it’s the White House this time around. The plot of the film is simple enough that even a person not well-versed in film could follow it. A group of dedicated and highly-trained North Korean terrorists do a surprise attack on the White House as the President of the United States and his South Korean counterpart try to find a way to defuse a situation that’s been growing in the DMZ between the two Koreas. It’s now up to Agent Banning, on his own, to try and stop whatever plans the terrorists have brewing with the President as hostage while also dealing with an inept group of higher-ups trying to deal with it far from the action.

Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t break new ground with the way it’s story unfolds and it’s characters develop. The film was pretty much beat-for-beat and scene for scene lifted from the three other films mentioned above. The characters may be different and the circumstances they find themselves in somewhat different, but the screenwriters played everything safe except the action sequences part of the film. It’s these action scenes which brings Olympus Has Fallen to a new level of violent artistry that the previously mentioned films never reached.

To say that this film was violent would be an understatement. Where other films of this type a certain cartoonish tone to it’s violence this time around Fuqua goes for a much more serious and, at times, disturbingly difficult to watch level of violence to make the film stand out from the rest of it’s kind. The assault on the White House itself and the surrounding area has less a look of a fun action film and more of a war film. People die in droves and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Secret Service, police, terrorists or innocent civilians. All were fair game in this film.

Even the action once we get to Banning playing the Willis role looked more brutal than what Willis and even Seagal ever got to do. Gerard Butler may not have had the charisma and wit of Willis in the same role, but he convincingly played his role as more Jack Bauer than Officer McClane. Butler as Banning was all business and efficiency while Willis as McClane was more the witty, smartass who just keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Olympus Has Fallen won’t be hailed as one of the best films of 2013. It won’t even be talked about as one of the top action films this year, but despite the story being a derivative of every Die Hard and it’s clones before it the film does succeed in being a very enjoyable piece of popcorn flick. It was full of tension and big action setpieces (though the CG effects looked very cheap at times) that Fuqua has gradually become known for. The characters in the film were just a step above being one-dimensional and the story itself becomes less eye-rolling and more worrisome considering the real tensions coming out of the Korean Peninsula at this very moment.

One thing I’m sure of is that of the two “Die Hard-in-the-White-House” films this year (there’s the bigger-budgeted White House Down later this summer from Roland Emmerich) I have a feeling that Olympus Has Fallen might be the more fun. It’s probably going to be the more violent of the two and that’s an assumption I’m willing to make without even seeing how Emmerich’s film turns out.

Trailer: Olympus Has Fallen


I’ve always wondered why Gerard Butler hasn’t been tapped to be an action hero star since his turn as Leonidas in 300. He definitely has the looks and physicality to pull off such films and do so without being snarky about it. He has instead been stuck doing romantic comedies and the brooding anti-hero roles. This pattern may just change depending on how well his next film does.

Olympus Has Fallen is the next film from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur, Shooter) and looks like a new take on the Die Hard template of “one against many” that’s worked well with some films and turned out bad with others. This time around the film looks to be “Die Hard in the White House” type of story with Gerard Butler in the role of Bruce Willis. Though from some of the dialogue shown in the trailer it also sounds like a version of Under Siege (one of the better Die Hard clones)

The White House used as a setting for a siege has rarely been used (though the tv series 24 did it in it’s later seasons). The trailer show’s a bit of back story to Butler’s Secret Service character and what brings him back to the fold after a tragedy in his professional past puts him on ice.

Olympus Has Fallen is set for a March 22, 2013 release date.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Campaign (dir. by Jay Roach)

Opening last weekend, The Campaign is the latest comedy from director Jay Roach.  The film tells the story of North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (played by Will Ferrell), a Democrat who will remind viewers of such previous party statesmen as John Edwards and Anthony Weiner.  The complacent Brady has been in office for nearly a decade and he is regularly reelected without opposition.  However, when Brady accidentally leaves an obscene message on a random family’s answering machine, the multimillionaire Motch brother (John Lithgow and Dan Ayrkroyd) see a chance to replace Brady with a congressman who will essentially belong to them.  They recruit the naive and well-meaning Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to run against Brady.  While Huggins is initially an awkward and unimpressive candidate, his image is soon transformed by a possibly demonic campaign manager (Dylan McDermott).  As Huggins starts to move up in the polls, Brady reacts by having a nervous breakdown of his own and soon the campaign gets very personal as both Huggins and Brady go to increasingly outrageous lengths to win the election.

As a work of political satire, The Campaign is fairly uneven.  This is largely because, while the film raises some valid points, those points are still the same points that have been made by hundreds of other films about the American political system.  If you didn’t already know that the American political system was controlled by wealthy corporations before you saw The Campaign then you probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place.  At its best, the film reminds us that both the Democrats and the Republicans pretty much answer to the same corporate masters.  At its worst, the film’s “message”  just feels like a stale and predictable lecture that one might hear while visiting an old  Occupy camp site.

But if the film doesn’t quite come together as a satire, it does work wonderfully well as a comedy.  Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are two of the funniest guys around and they are at the top of their game in this film.  Both of them bring such a sincerity to their absurd characters that even the most predictable of punchlines feel fresh and hilarious.  Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly likable and earnest as the painfully sincere Marty.  It’s no surprise to see Galifianakis playing someone who could charitably be described as a weirdo.  However, Galifianakis also bring a gentleness of spirit to the role and it’s impossible not to root for him.  Meanwhile, Will Ferrell not only manages to master a North Carolina accent but also manages to capture both the arrogance and the ignorance that’s necessary for a truly mediocre man to become a succesful politician.

However, the film’s best comedic performance comes from, believe it or not, Dylan McDermott.  Playing a slick political operative who always dresses in black and who, occasionally, appears to be possessed by the devil, McDermott is a wonder to behold in this film.  He steals every scene that he appears in and the prospect of his return alone should be reason enough for some brave film executive to greenlight The Campaign Part 2.

The Campaign works best when it’s content to simply make us laugh.  When it attempts to make a serious statement about the state of American politics, the film often feels flat.  But as a laugh-out-loud comedy, The Campaign is a definite winner.