All Reviews by Jason Aaron
The first season of HBO’s gritty western series Deadwood was a tough act to follow considering it was one of the best-written seasons of any TV genre in many years. Luckily, the sophomore season does not disappoint. Turns out, not only are the show’s writers gifted storytellers as this season so convincingly demonstrates, neither are there any weak links among the stellar ensemble cast.
Veteran character actor Ian McShane leads the pack as the brutal saloon manager Al Swearengen, easily one of the most nuanced and thoroughly enjoyable villains in, dare I say, television history. Every episode of Deadwood is just crammed to the rafters with some of the most splendid dialogue you’re liable to hear (I suggest watching with the subtitles on, so you don’t miss a word), and generally it’s Swearengen who gets the most polished gems, often lifting the lowest of gutter profanity to the greatest of poetic heights.
“Pain or damage don't end the world,” Swearengen tells the local newspaper publisher in one episode. “Or despair or fuckin’ beatin’s. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man...and give some back.”
Other casting highlights include Brad Dourif as the fiery Doc Cochran, who occasionally suffers Civil War flashbacks, Jim Beaver as the mangy but kind-hearted prospector Ellsworth and William Sanderson (who most viewers will remember as Larry of the trio Larry, my brother Daryl and my other brother Daryl from TV’s Newheart as the hotel owner E.B. Farnum, who’s as ignorant and slimy as they come but who’s words flow like a Shakespearian sonnet. “Allow me a moment’s silence. Sir, I am having a digestive crisis, and must focus on suppressing its expression.”
To see how that dialogue is brought to the page, check out the “Making Of” documentary on disc six of the Season Two DVD set. There you’ll see how series creator David Milch obsesses over each and every line, all the while lying in the floor, dictating to his typist in a room full of people. Milch, much like the show he has created is a work of eccentric genius. (NR) Rating: 5
I wanted to like this film. Really, I did. On paper, at least, it sounds interesting with Stephen Gaghan, who previously won an Oscar for his screenwriting duties on Traffic, and charismatic superstar George Clooney, who took home the Oscar for his role here as disgruntled CIA agent Bob Barnes. And Syriana also boasts interesting subject matter in the way it attacks the oil industry from several different perspectives. But why is the movie so totally unfulfilling?
Mostly because Gaghan overstuffs it with too many plotlines and characters, many of which go absolutely nowhere. Clooney’s storyline is by far the most entertaining, as his grizzled Agent Barnes finds himself suddenly put out to pasture after questioning the agency’s policies regarding the oil trade. But distracting from that storyline are Matt Damon as an up-and-coming oil broker who suffers a family tragedy, Jeffrey Wright as a government lawyer with a troubled father, Alexander Siddig as a Middle Eastern prince trying to enact reforms and Mazhar Munir as a disenfranchised Pakistani teen swayed towards terrorism. After it’s all over, it feels like you’ve watched the Cliff Notes version of a mini-series instead of an actual film. (R) Rating: 2
If legendary maverick director Sam Peckinpah was still alive and wanted to make a movie in the vein of his dark, 1974 masterpiece Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, then this would be it. But instead of Peckinpah it’s Oscar-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones sitting in the director’s chair and supremely accomplished Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores perros, 21 Grams) supplying the script.
Jones stars as gruff ranch foreman Pete Perkins, who embarks on a journey from the desert of West Texas down into Mexico, taking with him the stolen corpse of his friend Melquiades Estrada and the kidnapped border patrolman who murdered him. Though the film is set in the modern-day, much of it plays like a brutal western, and Jones proves himself an accomplished director. Barry Pepper (25th Hour, The Green Mile) also shines as the young, overzealous patrolman, and the always entertaining Dwight Yoakam appears as the local sheriff. Also look for Levon Helm, former drummer for The Band, in a particularly memorable role as an old blind man living alone in the desert. (R) Rating: 4
Who knew that rape, the Holocaust and AIDS could be so hilarious?
Comedian Sarah Silverman was previously best-known for telling a racial joke on Late Night with Conan O'Brien that angered some Asian American groups. Keen viewers may also remember her from the opening scenes of 2000’s Way of the Gun, where she unleashes one of the greatest torrents of profanity in movie history, or from her brief and mostly forgettable turn on Saturday Night Live in the mid-‘90s.
With her raunchy new concert film, Jesus is Magic, Silverman lays claim to being the queen of no-holds-barred, nothing-is-taboo brand stand-up, and literally does make jokes (funny ones at that) about rape, the Holocaust and AIDS, as well as the trusted comedic triumvirate of race, sex and religion. Don’ t mistake Silverman for any sort of pandering, offensive-for-the-sake-of-being-offensive Andrew Dice Clay type of comedian. Like Denis Leary in his No Cure for Cancer phase, Silverman is able to pull off such insensitive humor by wisely hiding behind a character. In her case, it’s that of a cold-hearted, self-absorbed bitch, who tells the audience, ”I don't care if you think I'm racist, I only care if you think I'm thin,” and ends the film by making out with herself in a mirror.
Along the way, there are also a few uproarious musical numbers, including a rendition of “Amazing Grace” like you’ve never seen. So long as you’re thick-skinned and not easily shocked, Jesus is Magic to be one of the funniest stand-up films in years. (NR) Rating: 4
Jason Aaron can be contacted at email@example.com.
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