You Don’t Know Jack – Review

You Don’t Know Jack (2010) 

Director: Barry Levinson Writer: Adam Mazer Stars: Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman, Susan Sarandon

This wasn’t an easy watch, I have to tell you. More than once during the long 134 minutes (according to imdb, or 164 according to my SkyBox) I thought of stopping the recording and quitting the film before the end.

I was an absolute wreck throughout and I must have lost the count of the times my eyes were so watery that I couldn’t even see the screen anymore. But in the end the film is so skillfully done, beautifully acted, well paced and gripping that I couldn’t turn it off.

It is one of the most powerful film I’ve seen in the last few years, one that touches a subject that still divides the world: euthanasia.

I am extremely happy I saw it, but I don’ t know if I could do it again.

Oscar winner Director Barry Levinson has obviously got an agenda and the film is by no means impartial, and yet it never feels heavy-handed and in fact by the end, there’s still a lot of room for discussion.

The music, for example, is used sparingly and whenever is there, it doesn’t feel overdone.

The deaths of the people in the euthanasia scenes are quite detailed and intense to an almost unbearable level, especially at the beginning of the film: But once you get the idea of how the whole process works, after about 30 minutes or so, the “assisted suicides” become less graphic and they begin to happen more and more off-camera, though respectfully they’re always signaled by  a caption with the full name of the person who’s just died.

That makes you always very aware you’re watching something real, something that has actually happened. Consequently it makes it even harder to watch. However the film is never exploitive.

Of course, if you really wanted to pick it apart, then you would probably argue that there isn’t enough time given to the opposite side of argument. Only a few sound-bites are given to the protesters and the prosecutors are very sketchy characters,who are only seen arguing their cases during the court cases; however mercifully they are not caricatures and we never laugh at them (which would have been terribly manipulative).

There are some lighter moments here and there and I did find myself laughing at the dark and surreal humor, but, on the whole, given the subject itself, this is pretty serious stuff and there’s not a lot to laugh about.

On paper this could have become the cheesy, typical TV-movie-of-the-week: and yet “You don’t know Jack”  has that Quality (with a caption Q) we’ve all become to expect from a HBO production over the years: the direction, the photography, the editing, the script and of course the acting!!

First and foremost Al Pacino, who truly gives one of the best performance of his life  and within the first few minutes completely disappears inside the role of  Jack Kevorkian.

He shows us the best of him and the worst. He wants to help, he’s compassionate, he’s got principles and he has guts, but he’s also an arrogant, sometimes vicious and not necessarily a nice man. He’s also a reclusive man who hardly shares his feelings with anyone (hence the great title “you don’t know Jack”).

The supporting cast is great too, from the ever-wonderful John Goodman, to Susan Sarandon.

In the end whether you agree with Kevorkian’s practices or not, it is hard not to be compelled by this movie. Whether you react positively or negatively to it will probably be tainted with personal views about assisted suicide rather than the film’s actual merits. But since this is still an ongoing dilemma, it’s great to see a film exploring the issue so well. It’s interesting that they choose to do it as a TV movie as opposed to for the big screen: it makes you think whether America is actually ready for the debate… (and don’t tell me, the manipulative, “Million Dollar baby” did it before).

9/10

The Walking Dead (s01 e03)

The walking Dead – Episode 3  (7/10)

EPISODE 3 – Tell It to the Frogs

Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton.  Writers: Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, Jack LoGiudice

CAST: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Emma Bell, Andrew RothenbergMaddie Lomax

It’s interesting to see how different these last three episodes have all been.
The first one (arguably the best) has been setting up a perfect eerie and uneasy mood. It was truly scary despite the fact that it was marching through a very well-known territory (both the settings and the actually zombies themselves are nothing new and yet it was all terrifying).
The second episode went for the gore and it felt almost like a parody of the genre itself (by saying that I don’t mean to criticise it, however some of the “yuk factor” was so over the top that somehow it became less scary).
Now, having set up the main story and the characters, finally this third episode can afford slow things down a bit. Gone is the eerie atmosphere and the splatter  factor (a part from one scene, where a head gets chopped off). Gone are also the big action set pieces and they all seem to have given way for more character-building scenes.
The makers are obviously aware that this is a TV series after all, where from episode to episode we get to know more and more about each character and they have decided to exploit the format to their advantage by pushing all the right emotional buttons at their disposal.
Last week in my review I wrote that I was afraid the series might end up looking more like a soap opera, but I now happy to say that I was wrong.
What could have been really cheesy sequences about a family being re-united and about a wife betraying the memory of his dead husband by cheating with his ex best friend, in this third episodes exploded into some of the most emotional sequences in the whole series yet, mainly thanks to a particularly well handled direction and some excellent performances.
I must confess , when or main character, Rick Grimes, finally sees his wife and child again, I was almost brought to tears
One  also has to appreciate the boldness of the makers who mercifully went straight for the punch lines and the “big reveal” without over-stretching the storyline of the return of the thought-to-be-dead-husband into 3 or 4 episodes.
Let’s just see how will they now handle the “betrayal” stuff and let’s hope they’ll be able to keep the pace up.
On the downside, I still have some problems with predictably of some of the set ups; for example (SPOILER AHEAD) the fact that the guy on the roof would have use the saw to free himself from the handcuffs was basically telegraphed from last week.
However, for the time being,  I’m still hooked to this.
7/10

The Walking Dead (s01.e02)- Review


The Walking Dead

(episode 2) 7/10

Created by Frank Darabont. Directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren. With Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie HoldenJeffrey DeMunnSteven YeunChandler RiggsMichael Rooker

I might have built up too much expectation after first episode last week and even though I still enjoyed this second part, I didn’t find it as stylish nor compelling as the first one.

Gone were all those long silences and eerie atmosphere that made the pilot so intriguing, scary and horrific (in a good one, of course). What was basically a one man show has now become filled with a series of new characters, most of whom are not defined enough to care.

However what lacked in mood was definitely compensated by action packed sequences and a lot of gore, possibly even more than in the first episode, to the point of parody. Which brings me to ask: “what kind of a series does this want to be?” Is it going to be a horror series, or is it going to be a bit of a parody? The whole subplot about  Andrew Lincoln‘s wife and her affair with the ex partner (and friend) scares me a little bit. I really hope this is not going to turn into a soap opera…

I didn’t particularly like the fact that the zombies themselves seem to have learnt how to run and jump over fences on this one. I thought they couldn’t run on the previous episode. Are we back to “28 days later” territory again? And taking about ripping things off from other movies, the idea of having a group of people seeking shelter from zombies in a shopping mall is lifted from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

Also I thought that the whole dropping the key into the hole moment, was a bit silly… Surely they could have found a better excuse to leave that guy handcuffed.

Anyway, the production value is still pretty high and I to be honest I did have a lot of fun watching this (in fact the episode felt faster than the first one did. Was it shorter by any chance?) but I am fearing that it could all possibly run out of steam or ideas sooner than I though.

I’m rating it with a 7 mainly because  I still have a little bit of excitement left from the first episode. Let’s hope it doesn’t go below that.

7/10

Click here to read the review of  EPISODE 1 

Click here to read the review of EPISODE 3

The Walking Dead (s01.e01)- Review

The Walking Dead

(Episode 1)  (7.5/10)

Created by Frank Darabont. With Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. First the early rumors from the States, then the massive adverts all around our underground stations, then we started to get bombarded by adverts on TV. FX clearly believe that this is going to be the next big thing on TV. And they’re not completely wrong…

There’s a lot to like and appreciate from this first episode and I am definitely going to mention all the things I love about it, but first, let me just talk about what I didn’t like, so that I can get it off my chest. Was it just me or the whole idea about somebody walking up in a deserted hospital, after a sort of coma to find out the world has been taken over by zombies is just absolutely identical to “28 days Later” by Danny Boyle? I was really shocked to find out similar it all felt (even the fact that Andrew Lincoln wakes up very very thirsty, just like Cillian Murphy did). I suppose the problem with doing anything about Zombies today is that we’ve seen so many of them over the years that the genre seems to be pretty exhausted.

Zombies are not as sexy as vampires, they don’t talk, most of the times they move pretty slowly and all they’re interested about is flesh. In other words, let’s face it: zombies are dead boring! Furthermore, after Shaun of the Dead it’s even harder to take them seriously.

(SPOILER ALERT) However “The walking Dead” does manage to bring back, not just the scary part of Zombies, but also that more poignant and sad side of them. Let’s all not forget who zombies are. They are first and foremost dead people, and not just anybody. They could very well be your recently deceased grandfather, or grandmother… or, like in this first episode, the recently deceased wife and mother. The scene where Lennie James tries unsuccessfully to shoot down his wife, is one of the highlights of the episode and one of the most heat-breaking. All of a sudden you can see the potential of a series like this. It might even became a sort of cross between Six Feet Under and A Zombie movie.

Technically, we are really into feature film territory here. There’s nothing that says TV to me, unless we consider TV like the more refined brother of cinema (at least when it comes to series like the West Wing, Six Feet Under, The Wire, 24, Dexter and so on), in which case, this is really like the best TV can be.

The photography is excellent, the camerawork really impressive and so are the special effects, the make up and the stunts.

I really loved how the music was really spare in this episode (this is actually a trade-mark on AMC, I’ve noticed). We are so used to hear music pretty much back to back in these sort of films, that it’s a big relief to find something so brave, competent and sure of its own merits that it refuses to fall into that usual trap of music overload.

The silence in those hospital corridors, along those empty streets, during those darkest nights, it all works perfectly and it enhances the eerie mood and uneasy feel that permeated the whole hour or however long this first episode was.

We’ve seen very little of all the other actors in the series, a part from our hero Andrew Lincoln and the already mentioned Lennie James. They are both very good indeed and I am looking forward to seeing where it all leads to and how their characters will evolve

So, to wrap it all up, though not completely original the series seems to walk through a path which is somehow fairly familiar and yet it is all so handsomely done that I really want to be patient and give it the benefit of the doubt. I shall definitely be watching the second episode and unless that is a complete disaster I’ll carry on till the end.

AMC has really put a lot of money in this series and it shows. The production values are all there on the screen. After their incredibly good work on series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Rubicon, they have all my respect and my trust. The least I can do for them is to give them an hour of each week for the next five weeks.

Looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

7.5/10

Click here to read the review of  EPISODE 2

Click here to read the review of EPISODE 3

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