Monthly Archive for February, 2014

The Michael J. Fox Show, Season 1

The Michael J. Fox Show, Season 1 (2/27/14) NBC (2013-2014 **1/2) Created by Sam Laybourne and Will Gluck, starring Michael J. Fox, Betsy Brandt, Wendell Pierce, Katie Finneran and Juliette Goglia. 21 episodes, originally aired 9/25/13 – 2/27/14. A former NBC TV anchor with Parkinson’s disease is encouraged by his family to return to work. This series struggled to find an audience and was cancelled without all of its episodes airing. I would hate to think that the low ratings were because America was uncomfortable watching a man with Parkinson’s. As sit-coms go, it was okay, and there was evidence over the course of the season that it was finding its rhythm. My main reason for continuing to watch was to see Michael J. Fox on TV again, though I must admit that by the time the last episode aired I had gotten to the point where it wouldn’t have taken much to get me to stop watching.

The American Experience: The Kennedys

The American Experience: The Kennedys (2/25/14) Netflix (2009 ***) Directed by James A. DeVinney, David Espar, Marilyn Mellowes and Phillip Whitehead, narration by Stacy Keach. From the rise of Joe Kennedy to the assassinations of his sons John and Bobby to their brother Ted Kennedy’s presidential run in 1980, this documentary covers the triumphs and tragedies of one of American history’s most powerful families. I’ll say this for this episode of The American Experience: It’s not exactly a puff piece. Joe Kennedy was no saint, and this documentary laid into him with both fists.

Super Fun Night, Season 1

Super Fun Night, Season 1 (2/20/14) FOX (2013-2014 **1/2) Created by Rebel Wilson, starring Rebel Wilson, Kevin Bishop, Kate Jenkinson, Liza Lapira and Lauren Ash. 17 episodes, originally aired 10/2/13 – 2/19/14. Bubbly, rotund, virginal attorney Kimmie Boubier and her nerdy roommates try to have fun and find love in a world that doesn’t exactly embrace them. My wife and I were both big fans of Rebel Wilson from her supporting roles in Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. Super Fun Night, her self-created platform for her talents, started on an especially weak note. The poor quality of the writing in the pilot made me appreciate how hard it must be to write sit-coms. From there, the writing improved to professional standards, but the show never built to anything solid. And yet something kept my wife and I watching. Maybe it was just a built-in love we share for fictional underdogs. The series seemed to have been truncated unceremoniously, and in fact I don’t recall an official cancellation. It wasn’t until months afterward when I finally figured out that it wasn’t coming back. Super Fun Night wasn’t the worst sit-com I’d ever seen, and Wilson does have a certain charisma, but apparently just not enough to carry a network TV show.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie (2/16/14) La Canada AMC (2014 ***) Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, featuring the voice talents of Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman and Will Ferrell as Lord Business. A happy-go-lucky construction worker falls in with a group of master building troublemakers and comes to see the world is far bigger than he thought it was. It’s been months since we last went to a movie in the theaters, and this is the one we picked? Well, after hearing great things about it from friends and seeing it was at 96% on RottenTomatoes.com, how could we not? We went to a 7:20pm show on Sunday but it was so popular that we wound up sitting in the second row. Fortunately, we were in fancy recliners, but still. I don’t know whether or not to recommend seeing it like that: Afterward I felt as if my brain had been chemically altered. As for the movie itself, I liked it but didn’t love it (my wife liked it much more than I did). Though I found much of the dialogue delightful, the story seemed a tad on the light side. According to my friend whose teenage son loved it, if you were familiar with the toys, there were a lot of delightful Easter eggs, but I was a bit too old to enjoy their benefits. While I didn’t mind The Lego Movie‘s third act twist, its resolution seemed like a bit at a cheat. Also, I couldn’t help but see the film’s final image as a bit of a rip-off from the end of the first Toy Story.

Safety Last!

Safety Last! (2/14/14) TCM (1923 **1/2) Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis and Bill Strother. A department store clerk goes to great lengths (and heights) to impress his girl. One of the most famous cinematic images in all of film history is Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock, and Safety Last! is the silent movie featuring that indelible scene. I’ve been aware of this classic film for a long time and finally got around to watching it, albeit in piecemeal fashion over the course of several viewings. I was more than a little disappointed that the 70 minute film took so long to build to the film’s most memorable sequence, which occupies the last quarter or so of the running time. Unfortunately, the remaining 75% didn’t have much to keep my interest, which may be why I only watched a little bit at a time. Consequently, I think I can only really recommend this film to purists or film students.

Blonde Venus

Blonde Venus (2/14/14) TCM (1932 **1/2) Directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall and Dickie Moore. What would you do if your husband had radium poisoning and needed an expensive treatment? Would you have sex with Cary Grant? That’s the moral dilemma asked by this melodrama punctuated occasionally by Deitrich’s nightclub numbers. It was interesting to me to see what kinds of storylines pre-code films were allowed to pursue, and in some respects it had the moral depth of far more recent films. However, I got no joy watching a custody battle driving Marlene Dietrich to haul her young son across the country, trying to evade authorities and her estranged husband. I suppose I could look it up, but I can’t help but wonder if the male outfit Dietrich wore in her last nightclub performance was intended as an indication that her man-weary character had switched teams.

The Good Life (AKA Good Neighbors), Series 4 plus The Royal Command Performance

The Good Life (AKA Good Neighbors), Series 4 plus The Royal Command Performance (2/13/14) DVD (1977-1978 ****) Series produced and directed by John Howard Davies, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. 9 episodes, originally aired 4/10/77 – 12/26/77 and 6/10/78. Tom and Barbara Good and their neighbors and best friends Jerry and Margo Leadbetter finish their run. Without giving anything away, the show’s final episode ended on an unexpected note that literally brought a tear to my eye. As one of the best TV shows of all time, it’s hard to believe they didn’t simply continue for several more years, but then there are a lot of things about British TV I don’t understand. In my younger years, I thought I’d watched all the episodes multiple times as they were regularly aired on my hometown’s local PBS station. Imagine my surprise when this DVD set included a bonus episode I’d never seen before! It was a “very special episode” that was performed live at a royal command performance for none other than Queen Elizabeth herself. The program appeared to have been broadcast as a 1-hour special in which the normal-length sitcom itself was sandwiched by the pomp and circumstance of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arriving at and departing from the BBC Television Studio. It’s challenging to articulate exactly why, but as an American it was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, made even odder by the commentary delivered throughout the royal “bookends.”

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski (2/11/14) IFC (1998 ***1/2) Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid and Philip Seymour Hoffman. When a rich man’s wife is kidnapped, a pot-loving bowler known as “The Dude” is hired to deliver the ransom money. It’s not hard to see why this film has become such a cult classic. It has the solid structure of a classic hard-boiled detective film like The Big Sleep, but with a lot of really weird shit thrown into the narrative pot. There’s so much to love about it, especially the performances by Bridges and Goodman. Just thinking about the film makes me smile, with only one thing really bothering me: How can a man who loves Creedence hate The Eagles? That just didn’t ring true to me. While I’m not sure what the final takeaway message was (and I think that’s part of the point), I agree with Sam Elliot’s narrator character: It is comforting to know that “The Dude abides.”

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch (2/11/14) FXM (2011 *1/2) Directed by Zack Snyder, starring Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Carla Gugino, Scott Glenn and John Hamm. A young woman is committed to a mental institution by her evil stepfather, and in the middle of a lobotomy she is transported to a fantastic world with rules very different from the one she left. Let’s face it: This movie was basically 300 with sexy girls in skirts. I’m hard-pressed to think of anything particularly redeeming in this film… other than the aforementioned sexy girls in skirts. Sucker Punch also offered plenty of eye-candy in the form of action sequences heavy with effects, all delivered in a pyrotechnic form that resembled contemporary video game graphics more than anything else. The film’s ending was far from satisfying for me, but then I’m not sure what I could have expected, given the premise. Oh, and just one other thing… eh, nevermind.

The Projectionist

The Projectionist (2/9/14) TCM (1971 **) Written and directed by Harry Hurwitz, starring Chuck McCann, Ina Balin and Rodney Dangerfield. A New York City projectionist has a rich black & white (and silent) fantasy life, in which he plays the role of a superhero named Captain Flash. I wish I could appreciate this film more. It’s not terrible, but it came across more as a student film or editing exercise than something you’d pay money to see in the theater, even in 1971. On one level I admire Hurwitz for making a feature film, but its appeal was definitely limited. It was, however, mildly interesting (I won’t go as far as to say entertaining) to see Rodney Dangerfield in a very early role as the film’s villain, nine years before his appearance in Caddyshack, the role that made him a box office draw.