Tag Archives: The Blacklist

5 reason to like ‘Narc’

Ray Liotta and Jason Patric bring their A games in the intense cop thriller 'Narc.'

Ray Liotta and Jason Patric bring their A games in the intense cop thriller ‘Narc.’

A pair of warnings: I’ll be using Narc language throughout this post, which means it’ll be a bit rougher than usual, and there are spoilers.

1) Joe fuckin’ Carnahan. Narc is the first film from Carnahan, who also directed Smokin’ Aces and is an executive producer on NBC’s Blacklist. It’s always troubling when directors keep re-making the same films. At first glimpse, that appears to be what Carnahan does from Narc to Smokin’ Aces, a pair of crime dramas. But that’s just the first glimpse. Smokin’ Aces is hilariously over-the-top, a mix of wild, Guy Ritchie-esque characters, a misleading story and bullets by the ton. Narc is the opposite: The bullets are sparse, the performances more realistic and the story much darker and even-tempoed. Smokin’ Aces is your high school graduation party blowout with loud music, louder party goers and a couple of kegs; Narc is the first time you invite your buddies over to hide behind the furnace in the basement and smoke a joint. It’s a tribute to Carnahan’s ability to craft a great story, as well as get the most out of his actors in any project.

2) Motherfuckin’ Detroit. I love it when a movie and its setting are so thoroughly entwined. The story of cops trying not to succumb to the hopelessness around them set in America’s dwindling automotive capital was a bold stroke. If there’s anything I’m most tired of in movies, it is stories set in Miami, LA and New York simply because they are Miami, LA and New York. They’ve been done to death. Narc doesn’t work like it does if it’s not set in Detroit, all blue and gray hues, crumbling neighborhoods and infrastructure, a very middle-American desire for simple justice when whether or not justice could be achieved in the most ideal situation is in doubt.

Be afraid. Be very, very fuckin' afraid.

Be afraid. Be very, very fuckin’ afraid.

3) Ray fuckin’ Liotta. I’d never say Liotta is an actor who can elevate an average production into a great production (see Revolver). He’s not that guy. But give him a good script and a director with vision, and Liotta is Michael fuckin’ Jordan (or, maybe to stick with the whole Detroit thing, Isiah fuckin’ Thomas). Liotta’s Henry Oak initially comes off like just another out-of-control cop who, after decades on the job, it’s starting to come apart at the seams. He’s almost a cliché. But as the story plays out, we start to realize what a passionate, loving guys Oaks is, how that drives him, how it’s the singular greatest thing about his character … and that it may end up being his downfall. Liotta is masterful, never over-playing his hand or revealing his end game, veering back and forth emotionally but never over-emoting. It’s awesome to behold.

Undercover narcotics is now place for the weak when even the strong can barely survive.

Undercover narcotics is no place for the weak when even the strong can barely survive.

4) Jason fuckin’ Patric. Every time I see this guy, he’s on. Every. Single. Time. But I don’t see Patric in many things, which makes little sense to me. Here, as a cop trying to find justice for a murdered narcotics agent, Patric is sublime. His emotional control is amazing – particularly in the scenes with his baby and wife, played ably by Krista Bridges – and when his Nick Tellis and Liotta’s Henry Oak finally have it out, it’s acting nirvana.

5) Let’s hear it for the fuckin’ ladies. Narc fails the Bechdel test, big time. But this isn’t a Michael Mann or Martin Scorcese film, where the women on-screen are generally of little importance and poorly thought out as characters. On the contrary, the relationships between our two main characters, Nick and Henry, and the women around them drive this story. Nick’s fairly newly married with a son when he returns to undercover work, and it does not make his wife happy. Henry idolizes his wife, who passed due to cancer years before. And the marriage of the murdered cop, Michael Calvess, and his wife, Kathryn, is central to the movie. The women aren’t shown much, but their shadows darken the entire proceedings. Carnahan also deserves credit for his direction, particularly during the disintegration of Nick’s marriage. At first, Nick and his wife are a very physical couple, touchy-feely for lack of a better term. As the movie progresses and marriage degrades, the physical distance, that lack of touching, plays out subtlety and effectively, mirroring the downward spiral of their relationship.

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Focus on Tony Stark works when little else does in ‘Iron Man 3’

It's hard to look people in the eye who paid theater prices to watch the 'Iron Man' movies.

It’s hard to look people in the eye who paid theater prices to watch ‘Iron Man 3.’

One of my biggest complaints about the first season of The Blacklist was the hairstyle sported by Lizzy, federal agent and main character of the show.

I know, seems petty. And generally, I have a lack of concern about fashion. When I choose what to wear for the day, it comes down to two questions: 1) “Is it clean?”, and 2) “Have I worn it in the past five days?”. So for me to not only be criticizing a Hollywood fashion choice, but to also be so consistently distracted by it, was unusual and quite annoying. But that entire first season of The Blacklist, I was unable to take Lizzie’s character seriously because anytime guns were fired, I expected to see bullets bounce off her helmet hair. I’ve enjoyed season two quite a bit, and I think part of that is I’m not blinded by Lizzie’s do.

I thought of that as I watched Iron Man 3. When scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) appears asking Tony Stark to join his think tank, I kept expecting to see the a cartoonishly large, empty box in the background sporting the type “Stereotypical Nerdy Science Guy Hair and Glasses Kit by Acme” on the side (“I give it a thumbs up,” Wile E. Coyote). Then when Aldrich shows up again years later, this man who is secretly a global terrorist ends up coming off more as a some douche who really thinks wearing Axe body spray will actually result in large-breasted, smiley woman coming at you in waves like the Uruk-hai attacking Helm’s Deep. Plus, I instantly knew he was, at very least, in league with the Mandarin. You don’t undergo that sort of change unless you’re evil, like “I sing along with Katy Perry’s Fireworks while clubbing baby seals” evil.

That’s the legacy of Iron Man 3, for me: Just too much annoying bullshit. The big reveal, that The Mandarin is an actor, not an actual villain, doesn’t feel all that big. The Iron Man suits all fighting the bad guys in the climactic battle was pretty boring. Not once did I think Pepper was actually dead. And so it goes.

It’s frustrating. Iron Man might be the most fun of any of the Avengers, and when director/co-writer Shane Black focused on the new Tony Stark – still a bit of a self-involved cad, but with some heart and now a nervous condition – that worked. It was the super hero stuff that just wasn’t up to snuff. Disappointing.

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Well played, ‘Blacklist’

What's the best thing about Season 2? Maybe the fact that Lizzy (Megan Boone) no longer has the worst helmet hair in television history. Seriously, it was so bad that by the end of Season 1, it was distracting me every time she was on screen.

What’s the best thing about Season 2? Maybe the fact that Lizzy (Megan Boone) no longer has the worst helmet hair in television history. Seriously, it was so bad that by the end of Season 1, it was becoming a distraction.

(Major spoiler ahead … you were warned.)

In a recent episode of The Blacklist, (Mombasa Cartel (No. 114)), the minds behind the show really flip the script. It was simultaneously surprising and a perfect way to keep the show fresh.

We’ve seen Lizzy (Megan Boone) in a previous episode enter a sparse basement, where a lone, enormous, intimidating man sits in a metal folding chair facing an empty folding chair. Lizzy stops, sits, and listens as the man tells her, “He’s not going to be happy to see you.” Unconcerned, Lizzy enters through another door, where we lose sight of her. Who is the wizard behind the curtain? Is it someone who is feeding her info on Red? On her ex-husband, the spy who ruined her life? Is she doing something self-destructive out of the way of prying eyes, considering how her life fell to pieces in Season 1? It’s the great unknown.

However, Raymond Reddington’s man who is tailing Lizzy finds her hidey hole, despite her efforts to keep her secret. He knows what Lizzy is hiding, and he gives her the opportunity to tell Red (James Spader) what she’s been up to in her free time. Lizzy acts as if she might come clean … then calls in the feds on Red’s tail and has him put in a cell under charges that keep him from seeing anyone, even a lawyer. Red is mad, knowing something is being kept from him, something that could help him protect Lizzy. But she’s not telling, and the one man who knows is locked in a hole so deep he can’t be of any assistance.

That should have been the hint that this wasn’t our Lizzy from Season 1. But the big kick in the cookies comes at the end of the episode, when Lizzy returns to the basement, enters the room, and her ex-hubby and outed spy, Tom, sits chained to the wall and not looking so good.

KABLOW! That action changes everything we know about Lizzy to this point. She spent the entire first season reacting to the situation – Red, Tom, work, etc. – always behind, never knowing what everyone else knew, lost in the woods with no clue where to go. She cried, she stressed, she fretted, but most of her action was job-related, not Red- or Tom-related. She really looked like an intelligent, competent person who just was in over her head in world of deceit and false fronts.

Up to this point in Season 2, little appeared to be different. She’s been trying to dig something up on why Red is focused on her, to no avail. She couldn’t get anything from Red’s ex-wife. Lizzy has been moving from hotel room to hotel room, fearing for her life, seeming to enjoy alcohol a bit more than she had previously. Except now that we know about Tom … was Lizzy really scared, fraying at the seams, waiting for the next moment that upends her life? Was it an effort to force Red to tip his hand, hoping he might let something leak in an effort to comfort her and set her right? Was it just an act to keep everyone from the truth about her secret meetings with chained basement hubby? Is it something else? We don’t know, and that’s awesome.

Moving forward, we now can’t trust what we knew about Lizzy, our heroine, the smart, beautiful, all-American girl. She has now stepped in to the thick of this murky world of intelligence and intimidation, smarter, wiser and ready to get her petite, well-manicured hands dirty.

Me, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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The ups and downs of ‘The Blacklist’

James Spader as Raymond Reddington in "The Blacklist."

James Spader as Raymond Reddington in “The Blacklist.”

UP: After his painful turn on one of the lesser seasons of The Office, James Spader returns to NBC to ham it up as manipulative, mysterious rogue CIA agent and underworld info maven Raymond Reddington.

DOWN: When Spader is not on screen, The Blacklist suffers. A lot. Megan Boone is solid as neophyte FBI agent Elizabeth Keen, but she doesn’t have the presence or the story line to carry it (yet). The other agency suits are mostly uninteresting, bland cardboard cutouts at this point.

UP: The pilot and the two-part, mid-season finale have heart-pumping, clever story lines and really show what The Blacklist is capable of being.

DOWN: The rest of the episodes? They seem … mostly OK, often cheap. There are a few times cuts from one scene to the next are made, and continuity is just tossed out the window. I’m assuming that is because there aren’t enough funds to re-shoot and that, until the show starts generating the advertising dollars, this will continue to be an issue.

UP: Joe Carnahan, the director behind the gleefully twisted Smokin’ Aces, is one of the minds behind The Blacklist, as well as director of the pilot. The pieces set up in the first half of the first season – Who is Lizzy’s dad? Is her husband an assassin? What’s Reddington’s end-game? – should make for some interesting drama down the road.

DOWN: On AMC or HBO, Joe Carnahan’s hands aren’t tied. NBC is trying to loosen up with show like Revolution (which has gotten unexpectedly and significantly darker this season) and Hannibal. But it’s still one of the big four, so there’s only so much they’ll allow. Is that going to limit The Blacklist?

VERDICT: We’ll see how it plays out, but for now, I’m optimistic.

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