Monthly Archive for August, 2015

Doctor Who, Series 1

Doctor Who, Series 1 (8/31/15) Netflix (2005 ***1/4) Series created by Sydney Newman, starring Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke and John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. 13 episodes, originally aired 3/26/05 – 6/18/05. A Time Lord picks up a 19-year-old companion named Rose Tyler and takes her on a whirlwind tour of time and space, leaving a trail of dead bodies in the wake of his TARDIS. Even though my wife and I had watched the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood in its entirety, I had deliberately put off watching the parent show. But with my wife out of town on her long European holiday and having run low on things to watch, I figured: “Now’s the time.” I had heard from various friends that the “new” Doctor Who reboot (which is ten years old now) starts out very cheesy before settling into something more serious. Consequently I wasn’t entirely surprised by the flatulent extraterrestrial Slitheen family and things of that nature. I also had a memory from my teenage years of watching a handful of Tom Baker episodes of the old show, and, from what I could tell, the new incarnation had a great deal in common with it. I can see the appeal of the show. But am I down with watching another seven seasons? I don’t know. On another note: Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my inability to make even the simplest of connections, but I didn’t realize until after watching most the first season that Billie Piper (who plays Rose) also recently played Frankenstein’s third creation Lily in Penny Dreadful.

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas (8/29/15) Netflix (2013 ***) Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, based on the novel by Dean R. Koontz, starring Anton Yelchin, Addison Timlin and Willem Dafoe. A psychic short-order cook knows something really bad is going to happen in his small town, just not quite what. I have no real explanation for it, but I’ve been meaning to read Dean Koontz’ novel of the same name for several years now, but had never gotten around to it. I’m sure that’s based almost entirely on reading the back of the paperback in an airport book store at some time far in the past. Based on that interest, when I saw Odd Thomas listed on Netflix I decided to give it a shot, not knowing much about it. According to Wikipedia, the film got a theatrical release, but everything about it screams: “made-for-TV-movie-intended-as-a-series-pilot.” It is very strange tonally. I know I tend to write in my reviews about tone a great deal, but I was surprised by not only how light its tone was, but also the choices made in its premise. Some examples: The main character is a generally well-adjusted young man who not only has a girlfriend but also a good working relationship with the local police. While I don’t think I can give it a strong recommendation, and I found it predictable at times, it was still a mildly entertaining watch.

Bates Motel, Season 2

Bates Motel, Season 2 (8/29/15) Netflix (2014 **1/2) Created by Anthony Cipriano, Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, starring Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Dylan Massett, Olivia Cooke and Nestor Carbonell. 10 episodes, originally aired between 3/3/14 – 5/5/14. A mother and her troubled son try to make a go of running a motel in a small town where marijuana drives the local economy. It seems wrong somehow that a decade has passed since Freddie Highmore starred in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). He was definitely the best thing about this TV series, and if Netflix ever adds future seasons to their roster, and if I watch them, it’ll be because of Highmore and Norman Bates. I honestly got sick of the season’s major drug war storyline, which I only found mildly interesting when it included Norman, which was rare. I particularly could not have cared less about Norman’s brother Dylan, who somehow goes from drug flunky to drug boss’s right hand for no apparent reason. But back to Norman: Compared to the first season, I found the relationship between him and his mother Norma to be less complex (i.e.: interesting) this time around. Much of the joy to be found there was due to knowing how their relationship turns out, with Norma eventually becoming fodder for Norman’s adventures in the wonderful world of taxidermy.

Get Smart

Get Smart (8/28/15) IFC (2008 **) Directed by Peter Segal, based on the TV show created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin and Terence Stamp. A top-secret spy agency analyst named Maxwell Smart is promoted to field agent and teamed with an experienced female agent named 99. Prior to this film being released, I’d looked forward to it. Steve Carell seemed ideally cast for the role made so memorable on TV by Don Adams. But then I read the reviews, which were not kind, settling at a not particularly fresh 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. My personal experience matched that rating pretty accurately. To be honest, more than anything it made me want to watch the original show which ran from 1965-1970, then played in syndication in the after-school block of programming, which is where I watched it. It’s a real shame, too, because I think it could have been an excellent film, worthy of a sequel, if not two. As evidence, I humbly point you to This year’s Spy (2015), starring Melissa McCarthy, which had the same exact premise.

Disturbia

Disturbia (8/26/15) Cinemax (2007 **1/2) Directed by D.J. Caruso, starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss and Sarah Roemer. When an angsty teenager spends his summer under house arrest, his voyeuristic proclivities lead him face-to-face with a serial killer. I was vaguely aware of this film when it was released eight years ago, yet never quite got around to watching it until now. Clearly intended as a tribute to one of Hitchcock’s greatest films, Rear Window (1954), it didn’t quite land for me. Then again, how could it? Watching the credits, I found it interesting that its Executive Producer was Ivan Reitman, then again maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It worked reasonably well as a thriller (if you could turn a blind eye to a few lapses in narrative logic), but never really connected with me. As for why, I think I might have to play the generational card on this one: I didn’t really relate to the main characters and would love to know if audience members who were in their teens and twenties when the film was released had more they could relate to.

Happyish, Season 1

Happyish, Season 1 (8/26/15) SHO (2015 ***) Created by Shalom Auslander, starring Kathryn Hahn, Steve Coogan, Carrie Preston and Bradley Whitford. 10 episodes, originally aired 4/26/15- 6/28/15. A 44-year old advertising executive spends much of his commute to and from his Woodstock home contemplating the concept of happiness. The real question this show asks its audience is this: “Even with everything we have to be thankful for, why are we still so chronically unhappy?” That is certainly a question I can relate to more than I wish were the case. There is also no small irony, especially given the show’s theme and some of its content, that the main character was originally supposed to be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who committed suicide on February 2nd, 2014 at the age of 46. Ultimately, there was much to like about this show, but given its “existential angst” premise, it comes as no surprise to me that it was canceled after one season. And seriously, how fucking hard is it to get canceled on Showtime? This show’s final legacy may be to offer examples of what it “feels like” to use well-known advertising icons like the Geico Gecko, the Keebler elves and Coca Cola in pretty subversive ways. Two final notes: (1) The show addresses the obvious comparison with Mad Men (2007-2015) in its first episode and (2) I was delighted by the Bewitched (1964-1972) reference in the fictional ad agency’s name: “McMann Godsmith & Tate.”

Robocop

Robocop (8/25/15) Netflix (2014 ***) Directed by José Padilha, starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson. When the only honest cop in the corrupt Detroit police department gets blown up in his driveway, a robotics company gives him a second chance to clean up the city. I enjoyed this remake more than I expected, mostly because I expected almost zero from it. The film was cast with always-nice-to-see faces in major roles, but I wish they’d cast a more interesting and/or familiar lead. This attempted franchise reboot also tinkered with the original premise, and in particular with the basics of the main character and his relationship with his family. This very much altered the story dynamics in a way that may have been an attempt at a more relatable central character, but resulted in a weaker story overall. The other major questionable decision was to tone down the original series R-rated content to PG-13 level, in the hopes of producing a series with wider appeal. Not surprisingly, it did not result in a better film. However, ignoring that, the new version of Robocop was still mildly entertaining, with a couple of juicy Easter eggs thrown in as well.

The Singing Nun

The Singing Nun (8/24/15) TCM (1966 **) Directed by Henry Koster, starring Debbie Reynolds, Ricardo Montalban, Greer Garson, Katharine Ross and Ed Sullivan. When a nun lands a recording contract, then goes onto fame and glory, it makes it surprisingly hard to do the Lord’s work. Oh, the mid-1960s were a strange time. This is one of those films that everybody was aware of, most people had seen, but was really not a particularly good film. The screenplay (based on a true story — more on that in a minute) seemed to have been written in about a week, and the lighting throughout felt more suitable for a TV show than a feature film. Attempts to add contemporary relevance (“I’m going to have an abortion, sister!”) seemed completely discordant. And I didn’t even find the music to be particularly memorable! Though I’m not interested enough to do a lot of research, I’m understandably curious about whether or not this project was rushed into production based on the success of The Sound of Music, released the year before. Now I mentioned that The Singing Nun was based on a real person, a woman named Jeanne Deckers, who achieved fame in the early 1960s because of a French-language chart-topping song “Dominique.” Her story is actually quite tragic, and in 1985 she was no longer a nun and committed suicide, along with her female lover.

Men of Boys Town

Men of Boys Town (8/23/15) TCM (1941 ***) Directed by Norman Taurog, starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and Darryl Hickman as Flip. The dynamic duo of Father Flannegan and Whitey Marsh, along with their diminutive pal Pee Wee, take on the antiquated reform school system. I didn’t expect much from this sequel to the 1938 film, which I watched and reviewed back on 10/31/10, but it delivered emotionally. Of course your mileage may vary. Men of Boys Town falls into that category of films that are so old fashioned and simple in their construction and execution that most modern viewers would likely find them boring and/or quaint. (By the way, isn’t “quaint” one hell of a word?) The story contained a couple of weird logic problems, such as setting its fictional, demonized reform school 1,000 miles away; I lost count of how many times various characters traveled to and from that faraway place. My only guess is that was done so viewers at the time in Nebraska or Iowa wouldn’t think the corrupt institution was set in their home state.

Aquarius, Season 1

Aquarius, Season 1 (8/23/15) NBC (2015 **1/2) Created by John McNamara, starring David Duchovny, Emma Dumont, Grey Damon and Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson. 13 episodes, originally aired 5/28/15 – 8/22/15. A Los Angeles homicide detective’s life runs parallel with and sometimes crosses that of a young Charles Manson. When I watched the final episode, I felt a certain sense of betrayal. This show was presented as a miniseries, and so I had this expectation that over the course of 13 weeks it would tell a self-contained story. Yeah, I felt like a real sap, expecting a resolution which never came. Instead, it ended (and this isn’t really giving anything away) with multiple cliffhangers, none of which it turns out I care enough about to tune in come the fall, assuming the series has been picked up. My favorite part of the show was David Duchovny; I liked his character as a middle-aged WWII veteran cop struggling to be enlightened in spite of his own built-in generational limitations. I hadn’t watched him in Californication (2007-2014), but maybe I should remedy that. BecauseAquarius is a largely fictionalized drama based loosely on a period in Manson’s life, I spent a fair amount of my time wondering how much, if any, resemblance there was between the on-screen events and historical events. There was a shocking scene late in the season that I found particularly egregious: the fictional Manson dopes his mother with LSD, then presents her for “communal enjoyment.” Did anything even close to that really happen?