jump to navigation

REVIEW: Magic City (Season 2, 2013) September 25, 2013

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Television Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan at The Losers film p...

Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan at The Losers film panel at WonderCon 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


SEASON 2 (2013)

A Television Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2013

When Starz announced cancellation of MAGIC CITY after its second season, few people were surprised, author of this text included. Making of Season 2 was actually announced even before airing of the very first episode of the entire show. Such decisions might reflect either great confidence among the creators or cheap attempt to create extra publicity. Based on what I saw in first season, I tended to believe the latter explanation. Second season did few things to clear such impression.

First sign that Season 2 wouldn’t be an improvement is in the opening titles, which used different and less impressive music that in Season 1. After that almost any change in the show was change for the worse. This could be explained with apparent loss of creative energy by showrunner Mitch Glazer. In first season he used fascinating setting and fascinating character; in second season he didn’t know what to do with them.

Both seasons – with eight episodes – were relatively short, but the second looked much longer. The main plot – conflict between hotel owner Isaac “Ike” Evans (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his bloodthirsty gangster partner Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (played by Danny Huston) – was resolved through not very convincing deus ex machina. Entry of James Caan as Diamond’s mentor and boss only reminded audience about THE GODFATHER, a film much better than a TV show MAGIC CITY could ever aspire to be. Those two main characters didn’t have much of development in next eight episodes; Ike is still a dedicated family man trying to do the right thing despite unsavory business and social connections; Butcher Diamond is just as evil and depraved as he was in Season 1.

The most interesting character of all was Ike’s new wife Vera, which nevertheless proved to be rather thankless role for Olga Kurylenko. Her character was badly served by dancing subplot which didn’t go anywhere. Other women fared only marginally better. Jessica Marais in the role of Diamond’s femme fatale wife was provided with some space to explore her past and make her character more interesting. This opportunity was squashed in predictably violent plot development. Yet the worst happened to character of Judi Silver (played by Elena Satine) an elite prostitute turned state’s star witness, who, for some not particularly convincing reasons, decided to stay in Miami only to provide Season 2 with new batch of scenes of sex and nudity.

It would be unfair to say that the show creators didn’t try to make at least some things in second season better. Character of Ike’s nemesis – crusading state attorney Jack Klein – was made more complex by adding  genuine care about daughter (and presumably about community’s wellbeing) as further and more convincing motives than mere political ambition. Even more interesting was an idea to have Ike play mobsters against Castro in an attempt to secure business empire in post-revolutionary Cuba. Although audience, at least those viewers familiar with Cold War history, could have known that such scheme ultimately wouldn’t work, this was a subplot that had some potential; transitional periods in history are known to provide best dramas. This subplot was even more promising with character of Ike’s father (played by GODFATHER veteran Alex Rocco) being implicitly  portrayed as socialist; it would have been even more interesting to see his reactions towards business alliance between Cuban leftists and his capitalist son.  Sadly, this opportunity was lost in the cancellation.

In the end, failure of MAGIC CITY is going to be as irrelevant as the show itself. It was interesting attempt to re-create the magic of a bygone era and success of other period shows, The concept was put on the screen half-heartedly and without much inspiration. MAD MEN or BOARDWALK EMPIRE showed that period drama require something more than “cool” setting.

RATING: 4/10

REVIEW: Magic City (Season 1, 2012) June 6, 2012

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
English: Olga Kurylenko during the new Ford Ka...

English: Olga Kurylenko during the new Ford Ka presentation in Paris – cropped version Polski: Olga Kurylenko na prezentacji nowego Forda Ka – wersja wykadrowana Français : Olga Kurylenko pendant la présentation du nouveau modèle Ford à Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


SEASON 1 (2012)

A Television Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2012

Thanks to expansion of cable, television series has replaced feature film as the prime form of screen drama. Cable companies, unburdened by most commercial or censorship considerations of network television, have created titles that allow much better storytelling and complex characters than those shown in theatres. Some of them reflect ambition of competing with great film sagas of the past. One of such examples is MAGIC CITY, period drama aired by Starz. Although usually compared with today’s TV shows like MAD MEN and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, its style and setting owes much more to Coppolaa’s THE GODFATHER.

The plot is set in 1959 Miami, place which is experiencing great tourism boom. Protagonist is Isaac “Ike” Evans (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), owner and founder of Miramar Playa, the most elite and glamorous of all Miami hotels. On surface, Ike’s empire looks like the perfect incarnation of American Dream; he is, however, more than aware of its fragility and dark origins, embodied in his former partner, violent Miami crime boss Ben Diamond (played by Danny Huston). Ike, as a relatively recent widower, also has to deal with family issues – new wife in form of Cuban showgirl Vera (played by Olga Kurylenko) and two grown but very different sons – reckless Stevie (played by Steven Strait) and serious and idealistic Danny (played by Christian Cooke). Evans must protect his empire by navigating through political and business intrigues in a city beset by ethnic and racial prejudice and threatened by emerging Cold War crisis from neighbouring Cuba.

Based on the first eight episodes, it could be argued that MAGIC CITY fails to reach the standards set by MAD MEN. The characters look terribly clichéd, and some of them, like ultra-violent gang boss played by over-the-top Huston, look like caricatures. Two of Evans’ boys only gradually transcend the simplicity of division between “good” and “bad” son. Plot develops in rather familiar trajectory, offering few surprises to any but the least experienced viewers. Violence, nudity and sex n MAGIC CITY looks less like an attempt to portray dark underbelly of shining and prosperous 1950s America and more like an obligatory content of today’s cable television.

Yet, despite those flaws, MAGIC CITY has plenty of charms. Morgan is very good in the role of imperfect and vulnerable protagonist who desperately tries to do the good thing. Great effort is invested in costumes, scenery and other period details; absence of “cool” and iconic soundtrack (probably caused by budget considerations) actually works very well, making the scenes more realistic and natural.  One of the best, or probably the best, part of the show is provided by the opening titles, which wouldn’t look out of place in best James Bond film. Although the season ends with obligatory and rather predictable cliffhanger, it also leaves much room for improvement.  It is less likely that the second season of MAGIC CITY could be as great disappointment as in the case of BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

RATING: 6/10

Birth (2004) September 12, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

“People don’t know a good thing when they have it” is a proverb often applied by those familiar with the way public reacted to certain films. One of such events occurred on last year’s Venice Film Festival when the audience booed BIRTH, 2004 drama directed by Jonathan Glazer. Apparent reason for that was the scene that allegedly challenged the neo-puritanical standards of modern American cinema by having adult and pre-pubescent character in a bath together. Sensationalist media were quick to proclaim this film “controversial” and add word “paedophilia” to any article about it. That is a shame because BIRTH deserves to be talked about for completely different sort of reasons.

The plot begins with the death of a New York physician. Ten years later, his grief-stricken widow Anna (played by Nicole Kidman) has finally decided to marry Joseph (played by Danny Huston). But one day a 10 year-old boy named Sean (played by Cameron Bright) comes to her apartment and claims to be her reincarnated husband. Anna and her friends and relatives were at first amused, then annoyed when Sean sticks with his fantastic story and reveals some details that could be known only to Anna’s late husband. Gradually Anna begins to discards her scepticism and starts believing that Sean is indeed her husband.

BIRTH represents all the best and all the worst things associated with the phrase “art film”. Thankfully, the former outnumber the latter, which is quite a surprise considering Jonathan Glazer’s previous film – confused and overrated gangster drama SEXY BEAST. This time Glazer picked completely different story, different plot, different setting and different characters and, most importantly, applied completely different style.

The very beginning of the film – the long shots of New York’s Central Park in winter, accompanied by Alexandre’s Desplat music score – suggests a film with style and atmosphere not seen in majority of mainstream Hollywood films. Most of the characters belong to New York’s social elite and the film tells story in minimalist, almost cold, manner. It takes certain amount of skill for authors to make audience care for the characters in such story. Glazer, who co-wrote script with Jean-Claude Carriere and Milo Addica, does that to a degree, but his efforts were really boosted by very good cast. Nicole Kidman, who resembles Mia Farrow’s character from ROSEMARY’S BABY, is excellent in conveying conflicting emotions with little words, while the young Cameron Bright keeps the film on his shoulders by convincingly radiating ambiguity of his character and the story as a whole.

The most important reason why BIRTH should be praised is, however, in its script. The story is handled in a way quite different from mainstream Hollywood – reincarnation subplot is approached with seriousness, and even when plot occasionally sink into implausibilities, it occurs in a way that doesn’t insult viewers’ intelligence. The characters react to this preposterous situation in a way adult, serious and ultimately sceptical characters would. Some may argue that the convenient plot device ends the film in overtly melodramatic fashion, and that the ambiguity at the end might look over-pretentious. BIRTH is nevertheless deserves recommendation and well-made and intelligent drama, unburdened with cliches of contemporary Hollywood.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)