Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Klymkiw Watches TV (Starz) on Anchor Bay Ent. Canada Blu-Ray: MAGIC CITY - Review By Greg Klymkiw

"Hi there! My name is Olga Kurylenko. I'm Ukrainian.
If you've ever desired to see me in various states of nakedness,
you'll get to see plenty of my supple flesh in Magic City.
And ladies, you'll see why I only eat kapusta  (cabbage),
& avoid Ukraine's national comestible salo (salted pig fat with garlic)."
Lily (Jessica Marais) learns a valuable
lesson from her kind, loving hubby
Ben "The Butcher" Diamond
(Danny Huston) on how
quickly beauty can
become UGLY!!!
Magic City (2012, 2013) ***
Creator, Head Writer,
Executive Producer: Mitch Glazer
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Straight, Jessica Marais, Danny Huston, Matt Ross, Christian Cooke, Dominik García-Lorido, Elena Satine, Yul Vasquez, Kelly Lynch, Alex Rocco, Sherilyn Fenn, James Caan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When Danny Huston utters the word "whore", he sounds and even looks like his grand old man John Huston and gives us one very important reason to watch all 16 hours of Seasons 1 and 2 of Mitch Glazer's TV series Magic City. The young Mr. Huston is magic and not a second of screen time involving this great actor is a wasted moment. The man is electricity incarnate! He sears a hole in the screen as surely as the tip of the Havana cigars he sucks onscreen with sheer phallus-obsessed aplomb and he comes close to stealing every scene he's in because it's utterly impossible to remove one's eyeballs from his snazzy ultra-vulgarity. He's a generous actor, though, and holds back enough to allow his fellow actors the opportunity of going ma-no a ma-no with him. Huston isn't the only reason Magic City is worth watching, but he comes damn close. If anything, it's the fabulous cast and their varied looks and approaches that come very close to overshadowing the flaws of the series which, are not inconsiderable.

Conceived as a continuing series, the show was cancelled before it could go a 3rd season and thankfully creator Mitch Glazer wrapped up the loose ends. As the two seasons play out, Magic City feels more like a mini-series and I believe it would have profited so much more if it had been planned that way in the first place. Alas, a mini-series wouldn't have allowed the same degree of production value. In fact, season two was supposed to be ten episodes instead of eight, but I think the impending cancellation was a blessing in disguise.

You will BELIEVE in GOD
when you get a load of the
of Danny Huston!
Set against the backdrop of a lavish Miami hotel just after Castro's takeover of Cuba, Magic City charts the rivalry between hotelier Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his silent partner, local Jewish mob boss Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston). Ike sees himself as a visionary businessman, Ben just wants more and will stop at nothing to keep accumulating power and wealth. Losing the hotels in post-revolutionary Cuba has taken a huge bite out of the Mob's cash-flow and they desperately need the State of Florida to make gambling legal in Miami to build a new empire of sin to replace what Castro has destroyed. Ike is no mobster - at least so he tells himself. He does, however, need to consort with the devil to get what he wants and when a local union lobbyist is bumped off, it's Ike who becomes the prime suspect to Dade County's crusading D.A. Jack Klein (Matt Ross). This is a shocker to everyone except those in the know. Ike might well be a family man, but what family is he really beholden to? His family-family or the one he's embroiled with in the various gangster shenanigans he dips his pinky finger into.

You can't go wrong with
JAMES CAAN as a Jewish
Mob Boss fixing a big mess
caused by Ben The Butcher.
Our happy hotel keeper has three kids from his first wife, now deceased. Stevie (Steven Straight) is his eldest son, a longtime bartender in the hotel bar and part time pimp, numbers runner and really moronically, the secret lover of Ben the Butcher's beautiful wife Lily (Jessica Marais). Middle son Danny (Christian Cooke) is in law school and on the verge of taking an internship with the District Attorney's office. (Not a great idea, kid.) Ike's daughter is on the cusp of having her Bat Mitzvah and is closest to Ike's second wife, the former head dancer at the Tropicana in Cuba and gypsy-shiksa-beauty Vera (Olga Kurylenko).

There are numerous other characters and story threads, but herein, for me, lies the problem with the continuing series medium. It's too much, already! I'm happy following the businessman-gangster rivalry, all the immediate family stuff, all the crime stuff involving the central figures, but being forced to follow so many other threads gets in the way of the really juicy stuff. I also enjoyed the Jewish mob backdrop to no end and getting healthy dollops of Yiddish sprinkled throughout was tons of fun. Kudos to Magic City for this. Hell, the show even has a lavish Bat-Mitzvah sequence, a gunfight outside a synagogue PLUS we get to hear Alex Rocco as Ike's Dad, kvetching over how much he hates religion.

Judy Silver (Elena Satine)
Hot Tamale HOOKER
with a Heart of Gold
and a price on her head.
A subplot involving Judi Silver (Elena Satine), a whore with a heart of gold who becomes a target for a hit and another involving Meg Bannock (Kelly Lynch), the rich and powerful Miami socialite and sister of Ike's first wife and of course, the thread involving Sy Berman (James Caan) the really big mob boss from Chicago, are all integral to the central arc of the story. Slowing things down is a thread involving Ike's Cuban-born manager (Yul Vazquez) and his attempts to get his wife out of Cuba and his daughter Mercy (Dominik García-Lorido) and her love affair with Ike's "good" son.

Most of all, though, is that after 16 hours of following this story, one realizes how stock and derivative much of it really is. This wouldn't be so bad if it had the full courage of these trash convictions. An even shorter mini-series format or even a really long feature - possibly even in two parts with one kick-ass director - might have really delivered the shot in the arm Magic City so desperately needs. As is, the series is trying so hard to be capital "P" profound AND jamming in a whole whack of cliffhanger subplots. Having the cake and eating it too severely diminishes the overall satisfaction level.

Whatever format might have been chosen other than this one with less emphasis on "quality" might have yielded something way more rat-a-tat pulpier which, Magic City so desperately ALSO wants to be. In spite of this, there are great things in the series. The art direction and costumes are out of this world, the cool soundtrack of period tunes rocks the lid off the piece and a clever, recurring montage motif at the end of each episode delivers more than its fair share of frissons. The cast, even those struggling through threads less compelling, are all at the top of their game here. I must, though, come back to the estimable Danny Huston. He's so foul, reptilian and crude that he injects just the sort of B-movie vulgarity the entire series needed. And make no mistake, Magic City is loaded with explicit sex, tons of nudity, plenty of salty dialogue and blood splattering violence - all of this is terrific. Unfortunately, when things slow down into either soap opera territory or worse, PROFUNDITY, the narrative takes a nosedive. What this results in is not so much a roller coaster ride, but a drama that suffers from being intermittently and annoyingly bi-polar.

There is clearly much to enjoy here and I suspect the logical home for this series IS on Blu-Ray. It looks and sounds terrific and with 16 one-hour episodes, one can spread the viewing out in one's own preferred time-frame and at the end, still wind up owning a series that has individual episodes and sequences that are so garishly, genuinely and grotesquely delightful that selective repeat viewings will be inevitable.

And, oh, the nudity, the glorious nudity. One will see generous helpings of naked flesh from all the leading ladies and gentlemen, but after all is said and done, my biggest thrill came from seeing Danny Huston's trim body and healthy, dangling schwance and getting huge kicks out of Huston leeringly watching his wife fuck his business partner's son via a two-way mirror and jerking off. Of course, because Danny Huston always manages to sound like John Huston during his more vile spouting, I'd occasionally flashback to the old man himself as Noah Cross in Chinatown or the wonderful moment in Winter Kills when Huston appears in a golf cart with two gorgeous women and a blanket covering their legs and torsos and he asks: "You know what these here girls are doing under this blanket? They're playing with my nuts." Danny Huston has several great moments here to rival his old man and that is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Too much of Danny Huston (and we get plenty here) is never, ever too much, already!

Magic City from the Starz Network is available as a two season box set from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada. The transfer is stunning and the only real disappointment is an entire disc used up for what amounts to 15 uninspired minutes of promotional interviews. A few of the episodes would have benefitted greatly from some Mitch Glazer commentary tracks and given that the series had some stellar guest directors like Carl Franklin, Nick Gomez and Clark Johnson, commentaries from those three on their episodes would have rocked big-time. Feel free to order directly from the links below and in so doing, contribute to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.