Please Note: The stills used here are taken from promotional materials and other sources, not the Blu-ray edition under review.
The TV Series:
Time for more cha-cha music, manly men, swanky dames, and Rat Pack-era swellegance. In an unfortunate coincidence, we happened to watch the second and final season of the Starz "mobsters and mayhem in 1959 Miami" drama Magic City at the same time as Breaking Bad's final episodes. I understand comparing this with something as wonderful as Breaking Bad is an apple-and-oranges proposition, but there is a stark difference between the fantastic writing and real-seeming, emotionally resonant characters in Breaking and the slick, engaging yet routine goings-on of the pretty people in Magic City. For escapist entertainment with heightened vintage-Miami flavor, though, it ain't bad.
When we last left Magic City, suave hotel owner Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) had been arrested by an overly zealous district attorney for the murder of Jimmy Shoes - the man who was going to kill the prostitute who was going to give evidence against the people who kidnapped and murdered a union boss whose pro-union stance was going to close down the hotel. As the season opens, Ike's still in jail and his family and friends are wrangling to get him out on bail and back to the hotel. Should they borrow money from the glamorous ex-sister-in-law Meg (Kelly Lynch) or the shadowy business partner Ben "Ever Wonder Why They Call Me The Butcher?" Diamond (Danny Huston)? They borrow the money and Ike gets sprung from jail - and then the REAL crises begin.
Although the struggle between Ike's running a world-class hotel and his dependence on Ben Diamond makes up the bulk of this season, there's plenty else going on here. For instance, a subplot is devoted to Ike's lovely Megan Draper-ish wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko), who unfortunately spends a lot of time simpering like a Euro-transplant Lucy Ricardo ("Oh Ike, put me in the show!"). In Vera's case, Ike and his underlings need a big show to bring in the guests during the slow summer season. But, there's only six weeks to go. What can be done? Enter Vera, who steps back into her dancing shoes in an effort to replicate the sensational revue she headlined back in Havana a few years earlier. Can she wow the audience enough to pack them in? Sure she can, with a little help from Dr. Feelgood in the form of "vitamin" shots that help her dance through the pain and deliver a bang-up opening night.
All the while, Ike's handsome sons Stevie (Steven Strait) and Danny (Christian Cook) continue trying to make their own ways in life: Stevie schtuping Diamond's wife and trying to emerge from under the thumb of his father; and Danny resisting schtuping his Cuban girlfriend who used to be a maid and trying to find out whether his father is really a murderer or just an innocent man. More than ever, the Stevie and Danny stuff comes across like atmospheric filler. The two actors deliver earnest, intense performances, even though there's more interest with the babes in their lives - Jessica Marais as the sultry-on-the-outside, terrified-on-the-inside mob wife Lily Diamond, and Elena Satine as Judi, the savvy prostitute who is self-aware enough to know that her options are limited as a chick in a guy's game.
Magic City's second year continues the combo of understated (almost too understated) drama and luxe 1959-vintage splendor - fine for fans of the first season, although if anything the drama is even more frustratingly muted this time around. Plotwise, however, there's a lot going on: Cuba has just been taken over by Fidel Castro; anti-Castro revolutionaries are trying to gain access to enough guns and ammo to take back their motherland; Ike, Meg and the "Secret Six" make plans to expose Diamond for the gangster he is; Ike makes plans to get into bed with Castro and run the Cuban hotels and casinos that had been nationalized -- oh, and Ike hates Diamond and wants him out as minority partner for his hotel. Watchable, to be sure - just not all that compelling. After seeing the middling ratings this show was getting, Starz cut the order for this season from ten episodes to eight. Ironically, that turned out to be a favorable thing. The final two episodes here - accelerated, tightly paced and genuinely exciting - are as good as Magic City ever got.
Magic City's second season contains a boatload of famous cameos and guest spots. Among them: Sherilyn Fenn, Esai Morales, Richard Harris's son Jamie, and the welcomed addition of James Caan as the only man who seems able to scare Diamond. The "I wanna see Starz" talking cockatoo from the network's old commercials would surely be impressed with this sturdy lineup.
Publicity photos copyright 2013 Starz Entertainment.
As with the first season release, Anchor Bay's blu-ray edition of Magic City: The Complete Second Season comes packaged as a glossy finished hardback book-style fold-out with each of its three discs nestled in transparent plastic holders.
Lush and lovely - despite cramming four episodes to a disc, the Blu Ray image on these episodes looks pretty great (although I spotted a few examples of digitized grain not present on the first season discs). As with the Season One set, the 1.78:1 widescreen image sports vibrant details, rich darks, crisp lights, and well-balanced colors.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is an understated, pleasant listen. For season one, I noted that the sound mix has "a noticeably warm and homey balance between dialogue, sound effects, and Daniele Luppi's atmospheric score," which applies here as well. A mono soundtrack in Spanish, along with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish, are also provided.
Like with the season 1 set, a few decent yet superficial, Starz-produced featurettes get their very own disc, even though the material amounts to a mere 21 minutes' entertainment (while four full episodes are squeezed onto each of the other two discs - what gives?). They include The Gamble for Havana (3:05); The Criminal Element (4:47); Tales from the Underbelly (4:59); Magic City Style (1:52); and The Music That Makes Magic (5:52). Warning: these bits contain spoilers galore.
When reviewing the first season of Starz's slick drama Magic City last year, I noted that the show was "missing that intangible something that would prompt a viewer to breathlessly await whatever surprises the next episode will bring." The second and final season amounts to more of the same, although fans of non-demanding period drama will find it diverting. Anchor Bay's Blu Ray edition sports nicer than average picture/sound in a handsome package. Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.