Monthly Archive for January, 2015

On the Town

On the Town (1/30/15) TCM (1949 ***1/4) Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller. Three Sailors have just 24 hours to make the most of their time in that “wonderful town,” New York, New York. I last reviewed this film in 2009, and my opinion of it hasn’t changed much (same ***1/4 review), but maybe I appreciate it just a tad more. I think I was also a bit more aware of the film’s sexual innuendo this time around, and two of the female leads (Garret and Miller) played their characters as more or less full-on nymphomaniacs. One new thing I can comment on is this: Because I’d watched Anchors Aweigh (1945) just the evening before, it’s easy to compare the two films. Both films featured Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors enjoying a short shore leave. Yet On the Town worked so much better than the previous film. One clue is Kelly’s credit as co-director, along with Stanley Donen the man he would work with just a few years later in Singin’ In the Rain (1952). One of the sequences (a fantasy scene featuring dancing doppelgangers of his co-stars) definitely had the Kelly imprint. But mostly I think the second film worked better because (a) the time frame was more compressed and (b) the film on the whole was far more upbeat.

Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh (1/29/15) TCM (1945 **1/2) Directed by George Sidney, starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Jose Iturbi and Dean Stockwell. Two heroic sailors are given a multi-day shore leave in Los Angeles, where they get wrapped up in the lives of a runaway boy and his guardian aunt. I know I’ve probably seen this film at some point in the past, but I can’t really recall it. It’s all too easy to get this film confused with On the Town (1949), which also featured Kelly and Sinatra as sailors on shore leave. While I wished I liked it more, and there are plenty of things to like about it: It’s always fun to watch a young child actor Dean Stockwell and imagine that little boy growing up to roles in Compulsion (1959), Blue Velvet (1985) and Quantum Leap (1989-1993). As a resident of Los Angeles, it was fun to see the sequence that took place at The Hollywood Bowl, as well as the sound stage version of Olvera Street, which was used for two sequences. Anchors Aweigh also contains the oft-referenced live action / animated combo visit with Jerry Mouse, which is a real classic, and possibly the highlight of the film. Overall, the film left me fairly flat, and I wish it had featured more upbeat numbers like the one where Kelly and Sinatra are bouncing on beds in the servicemen’s hotel.

Parenthood, Season 6

Parenthood, Season 6 (1/29/15) NBC (2014-15 ***1/2) Created by Jason Katims and Ron Howard, starring Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen and Craig T. Nelson. 13 episodes, originally aired 9/25/14 – 1/29/15. With concerns over the health of family patriarch Zeke looming over them, the trials and tribulations of the TV Braverman family wind down to an end. The big question of the final season of Parenthood was whether or not Zeke Braverman would make it to the final episodes. I’ll not spoil how that particular plotline finally found closure, other than to say it was handled in a satisfying manner that was tonally in keeping with the series as a whole. My wife and I have enjoyed this show from the beginning, and it provided a wholesome family drama that was oddly reminiscent of The Waltons (1971-1981). While I can’t say I’m glad to see it done, I’m also not surprised that the show was never a ratings juggernaut. I’m just glad that NBC found it worthy of getting the 13-episode sendoff it deserved.

Frank Warren: PostSecret Live

Frank Warren: PostSecret Live (1/28/15) UCLA Royce Hall (2015 ***1/2) My wife has been a fan of PostSecret.com for years. The premise of the website is simple: People mail postcards to PostSecret creator Frank Warren, and he posts them anonymously on the PostSecret blog, something he’s done since January 1, 2005. Each postcard contains a secret, with the most common being “I Pee in the Shower.” What began as a social experiment soon took on a life of its own. Warren has published six books so far based on the postcards, and has also given a number of personal appearances, including the one my wife and I attended. Everyone has secrets, of course, and those secrets can range from quirky and cute to emotionally devastating. In his live presentation, Warren gave a taste of the range, and he wasn’t afraid to talk about what is unfortunately one of the most common of secrets: thoughts of suicide. It’s for that reason that Warren teamed up with The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-Suicide) in 2008. The last part of Warren’s show is a half hour or so of audience participation, in which two microphones are placed at the back or the hall and attendees are invited to come up and share their souls with the group. It was during this part of the program when I became most aware of just how large a percentage of the audience members were college students. As much as I enjoyed the presentation and admire Warren’s quality execution of a simple but brilliant idea, there was a sense throughout the show of being talked down to. Given the average age of the audience, that might have been appropriate, but I can’t help but wonder how many people besides myself were a little more than turned off by that.

Galavant, Season 1

Galavant, Season 1 (1/25/15) ABC (2015 ***) Created by Dan Fogelman, music by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, starring Joshua Sasse, Timothy Omundson, Mallory Jansen, Karen David and Luke Youngblood. 8 episodes, originally aired (in 2-episode blocks) 1/4/15-1/25/15. A singing knight embarks on an adventure to rescue his true love from an evil king. Boy, this midseason show (aired in the gap between Fall and Spring halves of Once Upon a Time‘s fourth season) was a real gamble. I have to give its creators and ABC credit for creating and airing it. But while I admire the audacity behind Galavant, I can’t honestly say I found it all that entertaining. It just didn’t have much to offer beyond the initial novelty. I’m not sure what kind of viewership it found, but something tells me the odds of it returning next year are fairly low.

Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue (1/24/15) TCM (1945 ***) Directed by Irving Rapper, starring Robert Alda, Joan Leslie, Alexis Smith and Oscar Levant. Released just eight years after his death, the short life story of George Gershwin, one of America’s greatest composers, is presented. In the TCM introduction that preceded the film, it was pointed out that — in keeping with the biopics of the era — many of the facts presented in Rhapsody in Blue were fabricated. This was especially interesting, given that so many of the principals were still alive at the time of the film’s release, and some (Oscar Levant, Al Jolson and others) played themselves. Still, even with the made-up facts, the music was great, including a full-length version of the title piece. On another note, my wife enjoyed watching Robert Alda’s performance, mainly because of how often he resembled his son Alan. Unfair, I know, but true.

Archer, Season 2

Archer, Season 2 (1/24/15) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Created by Adam Reed, featuring the voices of H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell and Jessica Walter. 13 episodes, originally aired 1/27/11 – 4/21/11. Top-secret ISIS agent Sterling Archer deals with teenage nymphomaniacs, paternity, Louisiana Bayou crocodiles, a Monaco casino, breast cancer and the tragic loss of his true love at the hands of a bionic nemesis in this sophomore outing of the edgy animated series. While the second season didn’t pack quite the punch as the first, it was mainly because the “shock of the new” had worn off. It’s still a fun adult-oriented animated series with many memorable characters (I’m torn between Pam and Cheryl/Carol as my favorites), and I look forward to more.

Black Mirror, Series 2

Black Mirror, Series 2 (1/24/15) Netflix (2013 ***1/4) Created by Charlie Brooker, starring Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Lenora Crichlow, Michael Smiley and Daniel Rigby. This series contained the following 3 episodes, which were originally aired 2/11/13 – 2/25/13: “Be Right Back,” “White Bear” and “The Waldo Moment.” I didn’t enjoy the second series of Black Mirror as much as the first, and the reason for that came down to how much I liked the three individual episodes. Of the three, my favorite was the first, “Be Right Back,” in which a young husband dies and his grieving wife turns to computer science and robotics as a salve. The most pointed of the episodes was “White Bear,” which did a particularly good job of challenging the audience in a way I don’t recall having seen before: I won’t give away the episode’s twist, but the “challenge” came in the form of creating sympathy for a character, then entirely reversing that sympathy. I also particularly enjoyed that episode’s clever end credit sequence that gave the audience an alternate view on the episode’s events.

Black Mirror, Series 1

Black Mirror, Series 1 (1/23/15) Netflix (2011 ***1/2) Created by Charlie Brooker, starring Michael Callow, Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay and Toby Kebbell. This series contained the following 3 episodes, which were originally aired 12/4/11 – 12/18/11: “The National Anthem,” “Fifteen Million Merits” and “The Entire History of You.” A friend told me about this British show, which at a mere three episodes per “series” made for some pretty easy Netflix binge-watching. The description of the show compares it to The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), and while at first I saw that comparison as a bit wrong, the more I watched the show the more it rang true. Beginning with its first episode, in which the British Prime Minister is blackmailed into having sex with a pig on live national television, Black Mirror takes a very twisted look at contemporary society. Of the three episodes, the one I liked best was the second one, “Fifteen Million Merits,” set in a future society made up of stationary bicycle riders and reality game show contestants. The show prominently features the song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),” which practically took my breath away as performed by Jessica Brown Findlay. I wasn’t familiar with the song, but upon investigation learned it was originally performed by Irma Thomas.

American Horror Story, Season 3: Coven

American Horror Story, Season 3: Coven (1/22/15) Netflix (2013-14 ***) Created by Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, starring Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe and Angela Bassett. 13 episodes, originally aired 10/9/13 – 1/29/14. A New Orleans school for young witches finds itself fighting a war on two fronts: a voodoo high priestess and a secret society dedicated to the eradication of witches. After watching this, the third of three seasons of AHS available on Netflix, it’s clear that I enjoyed it the least of the three. And yet it still had its moments. It was the campiest of the seasons, and the inclusion of Kathy Bates as a neigh-industructible 18th century bigot offered no shortage of levity. The appearance by Stevie Nicks was interesting, but seemed more like a ratings stunt than anything. Ultimately, I found myself just caring less for the characters this time around, even though many of them were performed by the AHS company of players, like Jessica Lange and Taissa Farmiga. Particularly disappointing was the misuse of Evan Peters, whose character’s physical limitations proved to be quite problematic narratively.