Sunday, April 6, 2014

Microreview [TV] : From Dusk Til Dawn (The Series) [2014]

Last week I commented on my excellent luck with books of late. So I thought a switch in medium might vary my hit rate to stop myself becoming a relentless 8 or 9 marker. Furthermore, what better fresh meat to dig my claws into than the far-from-promising new series based on a film that didn't really need a series? After Hannibal, etcetera, and with Fargo and even The Mist (god, that was awful) on the way, comes yet another attempt to harness the fame and popularity of a cinema hit for television success. From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series is not only based on the 1996 film ('96? A really?! Wow, I feel old) but is, from what I'd read, nothing but a lazy retelling of it. Excellent, sounds like a 3/10!

Except it isn't. Quite. For one thing it isn't just a simple retelling, only slower. Many characters are new and the sequence of events is shifted such rah I hope things take off in unexpected ways. It plays with time in a fairly interesting way, flipping around the events of the film and showing events before, too. It seems to be heading in the same direction (Mexico, the mythical bar, vampires), but is taking its sweet time getting there. 

Unlike many other reviews I've seen I'm not against this concept. I am all for having deeper background and deeper characterisation, and more hopefully complexity than most horror and most crime thrillers, of which Dawn is a mixture. The film was, furthermore, fun but shallow, stylish but soulless, and above all in this context one-dimensional. I didn't really care about anyone in it, and despite some great performances, the dialogue was pretty daft.

Sadly the first episodes seem to revel in what I liked least. The action is man-heavy, attempting to be cool and deep, but feeling more like immature macho posturing. One of the worst element is the actor replacing Clooney who seems trying hard to replicate George's 'let me explain this to you calmly and thoroughly-enunciated in a bullying yet suave manner' act, but the trying shows, and the charm and the anger is lacking. Meanwhile the Seth Gecko character's performer has less of a hurdle - Tarantino wasn't great and here the psycho brother, whilst still looking nothing like his supposed sibling, has more complexity. He sees visions, suffers delusions and generally is as mad as a bag of ferrets. Sadly he also seems to have only mild discomfort when it comes to being shot in the hand, unlike his gangly predecessor, and sort of frowns at the hole. Unless he is revealed to have super powers I'm not really buying it .

The only real note of quality in Episode 1 is, surprisingly enough, Don Johnson, who plays the cliché of the wizened old Ranger with a huge sincerity and realism totally beyond what this silly fiction deserves. His partner, played by Jesse Garcia, soon becomes the hero of the piece, and, despite having the bland cop on a path of revenge but with a new baby back home storyline to contend with, he plays it well enough. But the rest of the team seem to be trying too hard. Desperate to impress. I've worked on too many bad short films to not recognise badly-directed actors of limited experience, and whilst it's hard to credit Rodrigues with poor skill, he has always relied on seasoned stars like Banderas or Keitel, or true naturals like Elijah Wood, to carry his fun but incredible tales. Cotrona and Holtz just flounder here.

They are hamstrung, to be fair, by some truly appalling 'tough guy' lines : 
"The only mistake I've made it stopping my train of thought to listen to this bullshit" ; "I catch you with your mouth open again and I'm going to put a bullet in it" ; and, my personal favourite (which I really hope was intentionally-awful),
"You play with me again and I'll play with you and you won't understand the meaning of the term until you've been played with by me" 
Mamet would be proud.

As the episodes continue and we meet our Keitel, Lewis and the other kid replacements, the acting improves a little (Robert "Have you seen this boy?" Patrick does well with another clichéd part), but the dialogue remains over-cooked. "You grieve like you're alone on an island but you're not", says the daughter at one point. Man, that's so, deep, you know? Sigh. Indeed the female characters by and large are lumbered with the usual wiser-but-less-fun role and seem secondary in importance and power, often victims or objects of lust Yawn again. 

With all this Dawn almost made me turn over. But the intrigue over how they would stretch and twist the basic and bare story kept me watching, and by episode 3, as the vampire cult start to be revealed, along with various backstories and additional characters, I had to admit I was enjoying it a fair bit. Not in any way with anything approaching affection or serious absorption, and even four eps in I am still waiting for anything beyond the emotional range of a Fast and Furious, quite frankly. Yet it works, and in some ways works better than the film. The brothers start to transcend the ties of the film and the poor lines and begin to seem like real people a little more.

Nevertheless, this is often lazy, reductive drama. I love the west Texas world of dust, sun, bars and truckers, even though I've seen it too many times on screen and through a windscreen, but here it was just too unoriginal, and it so far is more a Yawn, than the Dawn of a great series. The vampires are potentially a little more defined than the shock horror of the movie - an ancient blood cult who worship snakes but also seem to run a major cartel - and have promise. They also bring most of the horror elements which allow the story to be enjoyable in an entirely fantastical way. Perhaps this is their plan; draw viewers in with generic cops and robbers Texas nonsense but then sweep us away into craziness - a coy dance compared to the original's sudden lurch. 

Certainly those that say it is a poor relation to the old film are in my view mistaken.  I was never even a big fan of the film. Clooney was too shouty and smug, the action is sub-par Total Recall-esque bar fights, and I was already tired of that shot of the guy looking down at the camera with a gun. Sadly Rodrigues still thinks it's cool. 

We shall see as the series continues, on El Rey in the US and Netflix elsewhere. I just think I won't be watching again until someone gives me the 'you really should give it another chance' talk. That worked for me with  Lost and Walking Dead, after all, and they have become two of my all-time favourites. 

The Math... well, I won't beat around the bush - I finally got a 4/10! "problematic but has redeeming qualities"

By English Scribbler, long-distance trucker and blood-sucker, and Nerds contributor since 2013.