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Escape at Dannemora

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  • Stegeo
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    Atypical
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    Premieres Sunday, November 18, 2018 @ 10 PM ET on Showtime.

    ABOUT THE SERIES

    This limited series is based on the stranger-than-fiction account of a prison break in upstate New York in the summer of 2015 that spawned a massive manhunt for two convicted murderers. The prisoners were aided in their escape by a married female prison employee with whom they both became sexually entangled. It stars Oscar® winners Benicio del Toro and Patricia Arquette, and Golden Globe® nominee Paul Dano. Emmy® winner Ben Stiller executive produces and directs all episodes.

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    Atypical
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    Variety’s review:

    TV REVIEWS NOVEMBER 13, 2018 11:36AM PT
    TV Review: “Escape at Dannemora”
    Patricia Arquette makes “Dannemora” worth sticking with, even as the show’s running time grows punishing.
    By DANIEL D’ADDARIO
    When we meet Joyce Mitchell, she’s at a low moment, being questioned about her role in a prison breakout. She’s combative, bristling and insistent on being called by her nickname, Tilly, and evidently dissembling under the gaze of the state’s inspector general (Bonnie Hunt). When we shift back in time to see how her troubles began, there’s no discontinuity or rupture; the character we’ve met under duress lives her life in a state of simmering rage. It’s a credit to Patricia Arquette’s performance, and to “Escape at Dannemora,” that Tilly feels as credible as the real person she is; Arquette makes “Dannemora” worth sticking with even as the show’s running time grows punishing.

    The Dannemora breakout — the 2015 escape of two inmates from a maximum-security facility in New York in which the actual Tilly Mitchell was convicted for her role — is elementally fascinating. Its details, like the hacksaw blades she hides in frozen hamburger, are bizarre, and there are many jagged angles on which the show’s writers can hang bits of creative license. That Tilly, who oversaw a prison tailoring shop, had a sexual relationship with the two escapees is vivid enough; watching her push the meek David Sweat (Paul Dano) through jarringly violent sex in a closet tells us much about her appetites and the absences in her life.

    As Tilly, Arquette is willing to risk real strangeness; she joins Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects” and Emma Stone in “Maniac” as the latest in a banner year for actresses taking their limited series on freaked-out joyrides. Arquette, so luminous in “Boyhood,” here is shrunken within her skin; she spits resentment through a thick, “Fargo”-esque accent. It tends to land on her husband (Eric Lange), a sweet and dim fellow who, we later learn, had once represented an exciting escape hatch from a failing relationship. A woman whose desire to feel deeply outstrips her surroundings, Tilly finds herself anew in liaisons with Sweat and Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro), a prisoner capable both of creating heartbreaking paintings and of imbuing a simple interaction with menace.

    For their part, though, Dano and Del Toro give strong but familiar performances. In perhaps an inadvertent commentary on the monotony of life behind bars, neither one surprises. That they don’t burn as brightly as Tilly is the point; they just want to break out, while her desire for an overhauled life — possibly with them, certainly without her husband — is harder, somehow, to fulfill. As their escape crumbles, with hacking their way out of prison an easier accomplishment than staying hidden from an extensive manhunt, they’re merely disappointed. But Tilly’s inability to finish the job, due to some extant, regrettable loyalty to her husband, leaves her bereft.

    Ben Stiller’s generally strong direction threatens, on occasion, to turn Tilly into caricature. There are a few too many lingering close-ups that seem at times almost mocking, as though searching for complexity within her simple psyche — or hairpin turns of emotionality that a lesser actress would convey as straight hysteria. But Arquette makes sense of it all, and rescues her character.

    She also makes the best case for the existence of “Dannemora.” With a still-expanding TV landscape demanding more content, real-life crime stories provide networks with ideal source material, rich in complications of psychology and plot. But unlike, say, recent FX miniseries about O.J. Simpson and Andrew Cunanan, the Dannemora saga does not immediately suggest political resonance. There would be no clear second beat beyond the initial recognition of the incident’s telegenic oddity without Arquette. When she is on-screen, the show becomes about a woman denied the opportunity to live fully and freely, someone who’s never had the pleasure of being understood and so cannot understand herself. The story falls short of urgent relevance, and it didn’t need to be told over seven hours. But Arquette will keep you rapt. She is the show’s weapon as much as hacksaws frozen in meat were Matt and Sweat’s — the finely honed tool, glinting from a chilly hiding place.

    “Escape at Dannemora,” Showtime (7 episodes, all reviewed); Sunday, Nov. 18. 60 minutes.

    Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, Bonnie Hunt, Eric Lange, David Morse

    Executive producers: Ben Stiller, Brett Johnson, Michael Tolkin, Michael De Luca, Bryan Zuriff, Nicholas Weinstock, Bill Carraro

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    Atypical
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    Hollywood Reporter’s review:

    “Escape at Dannemora”: TV Review

    11/13/2018 by Tim Goodman

    Pacing problems and unpleasant characters limit its success.

    Director Ben Stiller and stars Patricia Arquette, Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano give it their all, but this Showtime limited series struggles to overcome the constraints of the prison-break genre.

    There’s no denying the very clear and sometimes effective thoroughness and seriousness of the new Showtime limited series “Escape at Dannemora” about the famous real-life prison break there in 2015. The series has a stellar cast—Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, just for starters—with Ben Stiller directing and joining the effort at tackling the subject matter head-on.

    But the subject matter is one of the main things that trips up Escape at Dannemora and there’s not much that Stiller or a fine cast can do about it. Prison break stories, no matter how weird—and there’s some deep oddness to the story here—are often easily bogged down by the seemingly eternal effort to get out, a major problem exacerbated here by the surprising amount of excess fat created by deep-diving into the lives of the major characters over seven-plus hours. Which is the other big problem—most people are in prison for a reason, in this case murder, and no matter how much a granular look at their lives in the present creates empathy and frames a new perspective on their characters, these people are ultimately not angels. “Escape at Dannemora” takes great pains to conceal that inherent flaw by not revealing the full darkness at the heart of the main characters until the penultimate episode, but by then the overwhelming slowness has become a major deterrent—even when patches in most episodes have their riveting moments.

    Writers and executive producers Brett Johnson (“Ray Donovan,” “Mad Men”) and Michael Tolkin (“Ray Donovan,” “The Player”), along with fellow executive producer Michael De Luca (“The Social Network,” “Moneyball”) and Stiller, spent about a year in the North Country of upstate New York, location of the Clinton Correctional Facility (known by locals as Dannemora because that’s the town it dominates), before filming started. They wanted to get to know the people, the culture of the town, etc. You can see some of what they gleaned in the portrayal of Arquette’s character, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell, who worked at the prison as an inmate supervisor in the garment shop and ended up becoming involved sexually with both David Sweat (Dano) and Richard Matt (Del Toro) before aiding their escape, allegedly the first in the prison’s 170-year history.

    Tilly is pretty awful—deeply twisted in a back-country, uneducated kind of way. The level of detail the series gets into with Tilly and her husband, Lyle (Eric Lange), allows both actors to deliver exceptionally committed performances, heavy on the disdain Tilly felt for Lyle and Lyle’s own open-hearted but dimwitted ways. Each character is dominated—and enough emphasis can’t be put on this—by seriously bad dental issues and minor speech impediments, further enhanced by the characters’ rural speech patterns. Why is this ultimately a big deal? Because as long stretches of “Escape at Dannemora” begin to feel like they are dragging, it becomes a distinct distraction. Though Lange’s all-in performance gives Lyle a sympathetic layer, especially since we know his dopey demeanor is being taken advantage of, Arquette’s Tilly at some point becomes so relentlessly annoying and unlikable that there’s no emotional connection to her bad deeds. You want her to get caught. By the sixth episode “reveal” of each character’s heart of darkness, it is Tilly’s the audience will end up being least surprised by since they’ve already seen it incessantly in action.

    Dano and Del Toro—but Dano, especially—have more to work with in their characters. Though Del Toro’s Matt, something of a prison kingpin for the favors he can wrangle and the proficient oil paintings he produces, is a familiar character for those who know their prison dramas, Dano’s Sweat is more nuanced and ultimately more intriguing. Both actors, along with David Morse (as an ethically challenged and conflicted prison guard), are stellar.

    Unfortunately, all the top-notch acting can’t quite overcome the pacing problems of the series. It takes five episodes to get out of the prison and even Stiller’s most impressive and creative efforts at illuminating all the discovery, digging and sweat it took to get there can’t make it more exciting. On the one hand, you have to show the effort—busting out in an hour isn’t dramatic. On the other hand, not a lot of what goes on inside is interesting enough to keep you there for five-plus hours. The constraints of the genre, coupled with characters you ultimately don’t care about, end up undercutting the best of Escape at Dannemora’s intentions.

    Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, Eric Lange, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt
    Created and written by: Brett Johnson, Michael Tolkin
    Directed by: Ben Stiller
    Premieres: Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (Showtime)

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    Atypical
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    Episode Title: “Part 1”

    Synopsis: After the June 2015 prison break from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell is questioned about her involvement with the two men. Months earlier, Tilly enjoys her job at the prison tailor shop, balancing the temptations of David Sweat, a younger inmate, and her obligations to her husband, Lyle. Richard Matt, an inmate with an artistic talent, supplies oil paintings to guards in exchange for special treatment. Ultimately, his attentions turn to Tilly. Limited series premiere.

    Discuss.

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    Reis
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    The third chapter of “Who will win Limited Actress?” premiere today.

    • This reply was modified 3 weeks, 4 days ago by  Reis.
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    Bebe
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    Thank goodness Bonnie Hunt is gracing our screens again. Will she get worthy material for a nomination?

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    Bebe
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    Arquette was outstanding and unlike anything she’s ever done. Wow, she might be winning another Emmy for this.

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    callum_brown1
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    A great opening episode… Arquette outstanding! Pole position for GGs? Her golden globes were definitely on full display in this episode!

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    Stegeo
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    The commitment of these 3 actors in their roles, and especially Arquette’s is pretty outstanding. Arquette should (and hopefully will) sweep. Sorry Amy, but ur probably winning an Oscar, so I guess we’re good. Lol.

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    Irishmovielover4ever
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    Arquette was great in this premiere and I’m sure she’ll be even greater as the series progresses.

    Having three great miniseries airing at once makes me even sadder how the categories lacked competition last year.

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    mafro987
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    Arquette was great in this premiere and I’m sure she’ll be even greater as the series progresses.

    Having three great miniseries airing at once makes me even sadder how the categories lacked competition last year.

    There was competition in terms of quality, it just wasn’t nominated proportionately (Twin Peaks). The category is certainly more well-rounded this year though.

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    Cobalt Blue
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    Very good premiere, and yeah Arquette feels like a slam dunk awards winner.

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    Djoko
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    I got the whole season. Is it worth watching? I don’t see anything beating Sharp Objects in miniseries. Amy Adams and Eliza Scanlen have to win all the awards for it.

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    boss
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    I don’t see anything beating Sharp Objects in miniseries.

    It’s not a high caliber as you think. I personally enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House way more than Sharp Objects. Amy Adams was also criminally underused, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon had better material (think of Kidman’s therapy scenes) in Big Little Lies. I am not saying Sharp Objects is bad, it just might not be the very best.

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