Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Paragraph 5: M*A*S*H should be in italics
The astonishing HBO mini-series Generation
Kill, scored eleven Emmy nominations this year—and
rightly so. It’s just a damn shame that the tremendously
talented ensemble was completely overlooked.
HBO, in it’s pre-show introduction,
refers to itself as “groundbreaking,” and
Generation Kill is a perfect example of why they
have a right to continue to do so.
The special Blu-ray edition is a remarkable
example of what happens when a killer-talented creative
team get together and decide they are going to tell a
story and tell it truthfully.
The seven-part series is based on Rolling
Stone writer Evan Wright’s book that chronicled
his adventures with the First Reconnaissance Battalion
of the US Marine Corp during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Created by The Wire team of
David Simon and Ed Burns, GenKill is a fearless,
no-bullshit, show-it-all depiction of the folly of war
as well as the folly of our actions when incompetent military
leaders are in charge. It is also a great example of how
hubristic we’ve become as a country. And for war-mongering
viewers, it can also be a load of fun, since they will
probably miss the message anyway!
The viewer follows the ill-prepared
Marines from pre-invasion through their entering Bagdad.
The Robert Altman-esque tapestry-filmmaking approach allows
us to get to know a number of the guys, although repeated
viewing help establish who is whom—I got lost a
few times myself. And there’s a major tip of the
hat to Altman in the finale, where a football game is
played, like the ending of Altman’s genius anti-war
satire M*A*S*H in 1970, made during the Vietnam
Generation Kill is not your
typical war saga and, along with Kathyrn Bigelow's new
film The Hurt Locker, represents a new generation
of war depiction—one that pulls no punches and isn’t
afraid to assault our senses as well as challenge the
way we are used to viewing such stories.
The two main protagonists are also the two most outstanding
performances (and both deserved Emmy recognition).
Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert
is masterfully played by True Blood vampire Alexander
Skarsgard (yes, Stellan’s son). Brad is the conscience
of the piece, a well-educated, witty wordsmith. Skarsgard
brilliantly captures Brad’s intelligence, borderline-arrogance
and impatience with the ineptitude around him.
Brad: “People who can’t kill will always be
subject to those who can.”
His sidekick, Corporal Ray Person, a
hilarious yet wise, white trash fuck-up is played, with
great panache, by James Ranson (The Wire). Cynical
as he is loyal, Ray has the funniest and sharpest dialogue.
Ray: “They think we’re cool cause we’re
good at blowing shit up.”
Lee Tergesen (so good in Oz)
seamlessly embodies author Wright’s curiosities
and fears. Stark Sands also stands out as a smart Lieutenant
drowning in a sea of stupid.
Among the many highlights are: the constant sing-a-longs
to ditties such as “Lovin’ You” and
“King of the Road;” the self-awareness of
just how homoerotic all these hot and horny Marines are
as well as the no-holds-barred recon action sequences-including
a nail-biting scene where our boys must cross a bridge.
Oh, and, the final 10 minutes is simply television at
The Blu-ray discs really enhance the impressive and arresting
visuals making it a captivating experience. The video
is 1.78:1 for 1080p HD.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix truly makes your feel like
you’re in a HumVee and the sound of gunfire has
never felt so bloody real!
The oodles of terrific special features include: audio
commentary on six of the seven installments; three fascinating
and lengthy Making-of featurettes (the best involves a
conversation with six of the Marines featured in the book)
and a Basic Training pop-up tool new to the Blu-ray edition
that is very helpful and instructive.
Generation Kill pushes the boundaries of what
television can do. Kudos to HBO for celebrating original
and exciting programming.
Drew Barrymore in HBO's Grey
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
The story of Big Edie and Little Edith
Beale (cousins of Jackie O—nee Bouvier) continues
to fascinate audiences. Since the original groundbreaking
documentary, directed by the Maysles, was released in
1975 there have been countless books, a follow-up docu
as well as a Broadway musical! The saga of the two women
has gone from camp to cult to classic. Now HBO has jumped
on board and produced a riveting and masterfully acted
film now available on DVD.
The documentary Grey Gardens is a bit like a
trainwreck, you cannot stop watching no matter how disturbing,
disquieting and painfully honest it gets. It’s fascinating
and terrifying watching mother and daughter wax sentimental
while their world literally rots around them. How could
one make a film as riveting and penetrating as the docu?
Novice director Michael Sucsy (who co-wrote
the teleplay with Patricia Rozema) has found a way: the
film pays homage to the Maysles masterpiece while filling
in the early years in a captivating but never too salacious
way—mostly by paying close attention to what the
two women actually state in the documentary.
I was thrilled to learn that Jessica
Lange would be playing Edith Sr. Not because she is in
any way old enough, but because she is one of our greatest
actresses and I had complete faith in her abilities. Drew
Barrymore, not so much. I was actually shocked and terrified.
Well, my apologies to Ms. Barrymore
for she completely embodies Little Edie in a way that
is astonishing to behold. Drew was born to play this part.
It is, by far, her best performance and beyond that one
of the best acting feats of 2009!
Lange does not disappoint using her
amazing talents to make Edith likeable while not eroding
any of her pushiness and notions of entitlement.
The two actresses together create a
bizarre love story that is simultaneously loving and heartbreaking.
The entire cast is to be commended,
especially Jeanne Tripplehorn’s spot-on turn as
The production values are terrific.
Grey Gardens itself is recreated magnificently.
Shot at 1.78:1, the tv film could easily
be mistaken for a theatrical feature and looks fantastic
on DVD with crisp and dazzling colors marking the early
years and many darker shades conveying the decay of the
The audio is, for the most part, excellent—although
there were a few times where I had to hit the subtitle
The extras include an insightful commentary
by Sucsy and the producers as well an incredibly disappointing
Making-Of feature. The interviews are terrific.
What makes it so disappointing is the length. I will never
understand why we are given so little with so many featurettes
being produced lately.
Grey Gardens is highly recommended.
And it would behoove you to pick up the original documentary
as well, but chances are, after watching the HBO film,
you will feel compelled to do so anyway.