Categories Billions Print Media Review

Billions Is Back, and It’s More Billions Than Ever – May 3, 2020

Season 5 Interview with Co-Creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien

by Sam Schube | GQ | May 3, 2020

If it seems like the verbal acrobatics on Billions could only have come from a kind of writerly mind-meld, that’s because they do. Co-creators and showrunners David Levien and Brian Koppelman met at 15, and have spent the intervening years precision-honing their blend of gee-whiz plotting (Ocean’s 13) and subculture deep-diving (Rounders). Billions, their turbocharged take on the Wall Street machers running the world and the law-and-order types trying to reel them in, represents the apotheosis of both. (The journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin is also credited as a creator.)

On the one side, Damian Lewis’s Bobby Axelrod, a made-it-from-nothing master of the universe with a taste for Metallica and cashmere hoodies. On the other: Paul Giamatti’s New York AG Chuck Rhoades, the rule-bending lawman with a taste—as made public last season—for BDSM. Orbiting them is a scenery-chewing bunch of character actors, joined this year by Julianna Margulies (a professor with a bestseller about the female orgasm), Frank Grillo (a he-man painter), and Corey Stoll (Mike Prince, a billionaire investor whose conscious capitalism rankles Axe). In other words: it’s all still extremely Billions.

Continue reading Billions Is Back, and It’s More Billions Than Ever – May 3, 2020

Categories Billions Print Media Review

Billions Returns to Old Conflicts and Alliances, While Adding New Foes – May 1, 2020

Psychological Warfare: All Smiles Through Gritted Teeth

by Brian Lowry | CNN | May 1, 2020

“Billions” has shuffled allegiances so many times it’s tough to keep track without a scorecard. But the bottom line is that Showtime’s high-stakes drama remains enormously entertaining, making its return more than welcome, even if the show’s latest creative bets feel somewhat hedged.

After the unexpected alliance between hedge-fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) and now-New York Attorney General Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) throughout the fourth season — one of the show’s most audacious twists — the new campaign finds Axe having reabsorbed employee-turned-rival Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) and back at odds with Chuck.

Still, perhaps the most interesting flourish of the new season sees the introduction of billionaire Mike Prince (Corey Stoll), who becomes a fierce opponent of Axe’s, even if he talks a good game about giving back to society and getting along.

Continue reading Billions Returns to Old Conflicts and Alliances, While Adding New Foes – May 1, 2020

Categories Billions Print Media Review

Billions Review: Money’s the Root of All the Delicious Evil – May 1, 2020

Backstabbing and Frontstabbing 

by Richard Roeper | Chicago Sun Times | May 1, 2020

Everyone is awful.

We’ve known that for quite some time about virtually all the major players (and many of the supporting ones as well) in Showtime’s addictive money-drenched drama “Billions,” but never has it been more evident than in the first four episodes of Season 5, which I screened in advance of Sunday’s season premiere.

Paul Giamatti’s ruthless attorney Chuck Rhoades; Damian Lewis’ power-mad billionaire Bobby Axelrod; Maggie Siff’s in-house psychiatrist/guru for Axelrod’s firm, Wendy Rhoades; Asia Kate Dillion’s genius analyst Taylor Mason; Jeffrey DeMunn’s well-connected power broker Charles Rhoades — they’re all out for themselves every step of the way, they’re all consumed with not only defeating but destroying their opponents, and they’re all borderline sociopathic in their respective quests. Even when someone expresses remorse or declares they’ve turned over a new leaf, it just sounds like they’ve taken the three-dimensional chess game to another level.

Continue reading Billions Review: Money’s the Root of All the Delicious Evil – May 1, 2020

Categories Print Media Review Spy Wars

Wall Street Journal Review: Spy Wars With Damian Lewis – March 19, 2020

Espionage in the Spotlight

by Dorothy Rabinowitz | The Wall Street Journal | March 19, 2020

Smithsonian Channel’s series tells shockingly true stories of the clandestine variety. In 1968, a loyal officer of the KGB is so shaken by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that he becomes an operative for British and American intelligence—one, “Spy Wars” reveals (begins Sunday, 8 p.m., Smithsonian Channel), destined to be of historic importance. This is the saga of Oleg Gordievsky—subject of the first episode of this eight-part weekly series, and a rich portrait it is. When his role of many years as a spy for the British and Americans finally becomes known to the Kremlin, quick exfiltration becomes an urgent necessity. His 1985 getaway in the trunk of a car driven by unflappable MI6 agents, who get him safely to Finland despite suspicious Russian border guards—and the howls of their alert dogs, who quiet down when the car’s driver throws them a treat—is an escape sequence to cherish.

In 2001, Robert Hanssen—one of the FBI’s most trusted agents—is unmasked as the mole who had, for 20 years, betrayed the identities of American assets in the Soviet Union and then Russia, thus ensuring their deaths at the hands of execution squads.

Continue reading Wall Street Journal Review: Spy Wars With Damian Lewis – March 19, 2020

Categories Review Run This Town Screenings

How Accurate is Run This Town – March 6, 2020

Fact or Fiction? A Comparison.

by Courtney Shea | Toronto Life | March 6, 2020

It’s been 10 years since Rob Ford rode his gravy train all the way into the mayor’s office. From the start, his reign was mired in scandals and stupors, but things reached international-talk-show-punchline levels with rumours of a video that showed him smoking crack. This regrettable slice of city lore is the basis of Run This Town, a new movie out Friday starring Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Ford, and co-starring Nina Dobrev and Mena Massoud. The drama centres around the hunt for the elusive video, and for those of us who lived through Crackgate, the story will feel familiar…sort of. Real-life events are the inspiration, but like a certain erstwhile mayor, writer and director Ricky Tollman has taken more than a few liberties with the truth. Here’s our (very spoilery) analysis of truths and post-truths in the film.

The protagonist
Real life: The most significant deviation from actual events is the movie’s gender-swapped protagonist. In March 2013, Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle received an anonymous call from a source with access to the crack-smoking Ford video. She viewed the footage in an Etobicoke parking lot a month later.

Run This Town: In the movie, the hungry young reporter chasing the crack video is 20-something journalism grad Bram Shriver (Ben Platt). Doolittle tweeted about the surprising gender swap when the movie was first announced: “I’m glad they’re rewriting the fact that it was a female reporter who investigated Rob Ford. Why have a woman be a lead character when a man could do it? Ammaright?” In response, Tollman said that his movie tells a different story: one that uses the Ford crack scandal to explore millennial entitlement and male privilege. It was, per Tollman, inspired by his own brother’s post–journalism school experience.

The paper
Real life: The Star was the paper at the centre of the Crackgate scandal, though the video was ultimately scooped by Gawker, which published a written account of the video in May 2013.

Run This Town: Bram works at a fictional paper called the Record, reporting to an extremely cranky mid-level editor named David (Scott Speedman). In the film, the Star and the Globe also exist. When the story finally comes out, it’s on an unnamed website—a stand-in for Gawker. It’s unclear what purpose the Record serves as a plot device, since Bram could have just as easily worked at one of the real papers. Maybe because it’s because most real newsroom editors don’t look like Scott Speedman.

The mayor
Real life: Ford was famously scruffy and unkempt—it was part of his Average Joe persona, but also down to his penchant for after-hours (and during-hours) debauchery. And while he grew up posh in Etobicoke, his accent was curiously blue-collar Ontario.

Run This Town: Hunky Brit Damian Lewis is totally unrecognizable in a fat suit and extensive prosthetics. The result captures Ford’s signature dishevelment. Playing the mayor in party-mode is where Lewis does his best work. A scene where he hosts an after-party at his office will probably feel familiar to anyone who worked at City Hall during the Ford administration. As for the accent, Lewis worked with a voice coach to pull off a convincing hoser-lite, but at times it sounds more East Coast than outskirts of Toronto.

Continue reading How Accurate is Run This Town – March 6, 2020