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Review: Over There

Over There lays on the melodramatic relationship unravelings and personal confessionals thick.

0.5

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Over There

It should be clear at this point that FX is the network of brain-dead social commentary: Like 30 Days, in which Morgan Spurlock makes common sense difficult, and Nip/Tuck, a soap operatic skewering of the world of cosmetic surgery, Over There is all grand gestures and very little consequence. Every week, the show follows a group of disparate soldiers who form a team in order to fight their way through the harrowing conflict in Iraq. Using Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down as a model, the show’s creators work overtime to paint Iraq as a sandy hellhole and its characters as a band of eccentric non-heroes, yet they also seem intent on not stepping on any Republican toes. None of the soldiers ever necessarily disapprove of their situation or offer a political contextualization for their agony. Instead, Over There lays on the melodramatic relationship unravelings and personal confessionals thick, sometimes within the same scene as a brutal dogfight—which is how many of the more embarrassing and hyperbolic setups are born. In episode one, while the unit is being shot at and bombed, a frustrated sergeant nevertheless finds time to lecture his men on everything from his job (“I’m not a faggot officer; I fight for a living”), to the red tape that stops them from doing their real job (“We’re going to wait, taking fire for some general 75 miles away, to make a decision about goddamn public relations—about how it would look if we did this, or how it would look if we did that. Does that sound like war to you?”). Yes, but who’s fault is that? (On this subject the show is unequivocally bashful.)

Indeed, most of the politics and class barriers of the show come solely from within the main unit, most of it being pretty laughable. A Texan deadbeat dad squares off with a smart-talking black man from the ’hood and a fellow troop has to break up the fistfight during routine guard duty. Never without a schmaltzy moment or bad line to sum up a whole lifetime of emotions (my personal favorite: “I grew up in a goddamn combat zone”), Over There comes off something like The O.C. set to gunfire, fused with the aggressive aesthetic of an MTV movie. However, it would be much easier to write off the show as harmless if its images of violence weren’t so disturbing. It’s almost blasphemous that many critics find it appropriately sobering, given the reprehensible desire of its images to numb the audience into submission rather than enlighten. Indeed, the show’s aim always seems to be to one-up its shock quotient: In the first 30 minutes, an Iraq soldier’s upper body is blown off and his legs continue to walk a good three seconds. Physical possibility (or lack thereof) aside, it’s a moment that sobers one up to something else entirely: In this or some confrontational reality show, certain networks don’t feel the need to justify depravity for thrills.

Cast: Lizette Carrion, Josh Henderson, Luke MacFarlane, Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak, Keith Robinson, Erik Palladino, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Sticky Fingaz, Sprague Grayden, Brigid Brannagh, Omid Abtahi, Ammar Daraiseh, Houston Hooker, David Sullivan Airtime: FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. Buy: Amazon

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Review: What We Do in the Shadows Struggles to Carve Out Its Own Identity

The series struggles to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the original film.

2.5

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What We Do in the Shadows
Photo: Byron Cohen/FX

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows seems like a natural fit for episodic television. The film was somewhat episodic itself, less an ongoing story than loosely arranged chapters of modern vampire life: going out on the town, having virgins over for dinner, dealing with the cops when there are bodies in the basement. For their FX adaptation, Clement and Waititi mostly succeed in translating the film’s comedy into half-hour chunks, albeit sometimes to a fault, as frequent echoes of the film leave the series feeling like it’s still in search of its own identity.

Both the characters and the New York setting of the series are new here, but the setup is the same, with a documentary crew filming the lives of a group of vampire roommates. All of the vampires are hopelessly behind the times, their shared house a dimly lit den adorned with antique furniture, old-timey portraits, and clothing that’s centuries out of fashion. Though the vampires still maintain the otherworldly allure that guides mortals to their demise, vampirism’s sheer flamboyance hardly meshes with the most banal facets of the present day: The local supermarket doesn’t take ancient coins, and one junior member of the Staten Island Borough Council can’t quite hack it as a vampire’s doom-saying herald.

It’s familiar material to be sure, but going back to the film’s bloody well still yields plenty of goofy, memorable personas. Matt Berry’s commanding presence as Laszlo sells the vampire’s oblivious pomposity when he insists on wearing a cursed hat or says something like, “You are a credit to the women’s suffragette movement.” Human servant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) carries out his grim work with an excitable verve, insisting, “I’m not a killer. I find people who are easy to kill.” At its worst, though, that same familiarity leaves some scenes feeling like they were lifted from the film’s outtakes reel. Certain traits of the film’s characters seem to have been divided among Laszlo, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Guillermo, which can lead to the actors seeming to outright channel Waititi and Clement’s performances.

The acerbic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) adds a more observant dynamic to the general buffoonery of her housemates even as she’s still prone to similar moments of profound silliness, like stalking someone with an old camera that uses a vintage flashbulb. Elsewhere, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) emerges as the show’s most memorable creation: a caricature of a milquetoast, nasally desk jockey who’s revealed to be a day-walking psychic energy vampire. Colin, a sentient mound of dull khakis and sweaters, roams the cubicles of his day job, absorbing people’s boredom and irritation, which he amplifies with mind-numbing small talk. When he feeds, his eyes glow and his mouth gapes in an orgasmic snarl that would be frightening if it weren’t hilariously juxtaposed with Colin’s unassuming appearance.

The vampires’ goal is to conquer the “new world” of the United States (or maybe just Staten Island), which opens comic possibilities like a meeting at the aforementioned city council. There are other bits of continuity between episodes, like LARPing enthusiast Jenna’s (Beanie Feldstein) ongoing transformation into a vampire after Nadja took pity on her, but the series isn’t burdened by a serialized plot. For one, the third episode covers a werewolf feud totally unrelated to the group’s fumbling attempts at conquest of America.

Even with such departures, however, these episodes can struggle to find a distinct voice that isn’t beholden to the film. The series certainly offers some amusing additions to this occult universe, but the comedic value of its more familiar material has begun to diminish now that the concept must sustain not only a feature-length movie, but multiple episodes of television.

Cast: Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch, Beanie Feldstein Airtime: FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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