Monthly archives: July 2007
Regarding Sunday Night's Entourage ...
Harry Potter Open Chat
By request, an open-chat, spoliers-welcome thread for Harry Potter.
Farewell, Bergman and Snyder
My film buffness stops before I get to Ingmar Bergman, which I suppose some would say means it never started at all. But I did want to note his passing.
Former talkshow icon Tom Snyder, on the other hand, I am more familiar with. He was unique and interesting, if not strangely mesmerizing - Dan Ackroyd's impersonations of him during the early years of Saturday Night Live always struck me as a tribute.
Mad Men Update
The second Mad Men wasn't as good as the first, mainly because the focus on the (justifiably) phlegmatic wife of Don Draper sucked some of the zing out, but there was still much to draw from it, and I'm still hooked.
Big Stars on the Small Screen
It's hard not to link FX's Damages and TNT's Saving Grace together, with both premiering this week with bigtime film stars Glenn Close and Holly Hunter in the respective leads. Nevertheless, the shows are quite different in subject, tone and style.
Based on the opening episodes, Damages has the better shot of being a critical success. Though melodramatic in parts, there's the potential for a compelling season-long story arc and in an era where serialized drama is suddenly on the run from a procedural rebellion, this is welcome. I also like Rose Byrne as the ingénue whom we know ultimately becomes damaged herself. I'm still on the fence, however, whether Close's character will be enticing or just campy. Episode 2 will be key in telling us whether drama or melodrama will rule the day.
In Grace, Hunter cuts loose throughout like the firecracker she is, beginning with a rollicking sex scene to open the episode, but ultimately strains against material that isn't good enough for her. The ongoing scenes in which Hunter is forced to confront her lack of faith are hackneyed; they're corny. In fact, I'm not sure the show even knows how to define faith, since it asks for faith after Hunter has seen explicit evidence of God, instead of before.
As for the nitty-gritty plot, the police investigation involving a kidnapped child misses the point I felt more emotion during a two-sentence NPR news update this morning about a ceremony honoring murdered Southern California child Samantha Runyon than I felt in any part of Grace. The show did very well ratings-wise in its premiere for TNT and could easily be a long-term cable success, but it's not the one for me.
I've also seen and decided not to continue with Lifetime's three summer premieres: Army Wives, State of Mind and Side Order of Life. None of them seemed like particularly smart shows.
Simpsons Movie Reviews Begin
The first person I know of to see The Simpsons Movie, Brian Lowry of Variety, has a mostly positive review:
After 18 years and 400 episodes, "The Simpsons" has developed a wide array of potential moviegoers, from those who still watch to those who once watched to those who don't watch anymore but now have kids that do. The question is how many will feel inspired to ante up for something so readily available for the price of enduring commercials and Fox's incessant on-air promotion. Happily, the long-gestating movie itself offers a fine incentive, and Fox's inspired marketing campaign (7-Eleven becoming Kwik-E-Mart? Genius) should ensure enough curiosity to stuff the studio's pockets, as it were, with dollars from doughnuts.
Put simply, if somebody had to make a "Simpsons" movie, this is pretty much what it should be -- clever, irreverent, satirical and outfitted with a larger-than-22-minutes plot, capable (just barely) of sustaining a narrative roughly four times the length of a standard episode.
Spolier warning: The plot setups are described in broad strokes.
Mad for Mad Men
The best new drama series is at AMC, of all places. AMC, the network that I stopped watching years ago once they put commercials into their classic movies. AMC ... don't even know what number it is on the dial anymore.
The show is Mad Men, from Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner, and it sings, baby. It sings.
(AMC is rebroadcasting the pilot several times - here's the schedule.)
Whom Do You Love? Whom Do Emmy Love?
Emmy nominations will be announced starting at 5:40 a.m. Pacific Way Too Early Time. Be there ... in spirit.
'Once' Around the Bend
John Carney, the director of the indie music gem Once, gave me an interview for Variety to talk about how he made do with $160,000 in filmmaking funds:
A year to the day after "Once" premiered at Ireland's Galway Film Fleadh, writer-director John Carney was trying to explain how he pulled it off.
HBO Open Chat Thread
Because there seemed to be a need ...
I haven't abandoned Screen Jam. It's just in one of those unavoidable fallow periods.
Charles Lane, 1905-2007
Prolific character actor Charles Lane passed away Monday at the age of 102, The Associated Press reports.
From Dodger Thoughts, January 30, 2006: "Nine Girls"
I have to join in on the salutes to character actor Charles Lane, who just turned 101. Thanks to Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and others for passing on the news. Lane's Internet Movie Database entry lists 322 roles. Reportedly, Lane was honored at the 2005 TV Land Awards and said, "In case anyone's interested, I'm still available!"
Why Don't People Talk About Big Love?
While people debate whether John From Cincinnati is worth the effort or Entourage still has its mojo or Flight of the Conchords is the best new thing including the iPhone, I have to point out that the top first-run HBO show on right now remains Big Love.
Want a show that challenges you (without forcing you to scratch your head half the time)? Big Love does. Want a show with compelling, three-dimensional characters? Big Love has 'em - even a few of the quirky kind if that suits you. Want great performances? Big Love is overrun with them to the point where the four leads are challenged every episode for acting supremacy by knockout supporting players like Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Mary Kay Place and, it seems at times, half the supporting cast of Veronica Mars. And the stories in Big Love are filled with drama while being surprisingly spare of melodrama.
I hear more people warming up to JFC. There's definitely a there there, I have no doubt. There's an intriguing mystery, and there are occasional winning moments most evidenced in Sunday's episode by the warmth between Butch and Kai. But JFC remains tremendously uneven: long sequences pass that are dull, and the majority of the characters still have little going for them.
I found myself thinking about JFC the other night and realizing that if someone randomly killed off this character or that character, I wouldn't care. I might be shocked about the death, but I'd shrug at the absence. Mitch and Cissy seem to have no other dimension other than to whine or sulk. The motel gang, while ably filling the Shakespearean role of fools and sidekicks, have minor arcs at best and are plain expendable. Bill and John spout off in their own ways, all of which fuels the mystery but none of which fuels any interest. And so on.
By the end of Sunday's episode, I had decided that I would no longer make an effort for JFC, not because I was hating it, but just because I felt I could find myself with better things to do over its remaining hours. That doesn't mean I won't watch it again; I just don't feel the payoff is going to be worth the intermittent ennui. Those of you who are hooked can carry the torch without me - I got too many other things to watch to wait for this Godot.
In any case, I think someone needs to speak up for Big Love, because however many positives JFC offers, Big Love dwarfs them. On back-to-back nights this summer, HBO explores the meaning of faith, the meaning of love and the meaning of life, and there should be no doubt that the network does a more enthralling job of it on Mondays.
* * *
Ratatouille was fine in the end but overall a disappointment, especially after hearing friends and colleagues give it strong praise.
The opening act had me eyeing the exits. In particular, there's a long scene in the opening that has to be the most atrocious thing Pixar has ever produced. Forget for a moment that it was violent in an unmitigated way that I thought we had decided was completely unsuited for children in this day and age. It was more punishing in how unoriginal and unfunny it was. I grew up watching Warner Bros. cartoon characters getting their faces blown off and I survived, but I certainly wouldn't endorse doing this in today's gun-laden culture without the material at least being clever. It was a hateful scene, and I can't believe it came out of Brad Bird or that people have been tolerating it.
Things got better as Ratatouille progressed, but the other problem with the film is that the proratonist is a humdrum character who basically conveys two unnuanced emotions: frustration and happiness. Remy (Patton Oswalt) is not deep, that's for sure. He would redeem himself, but he got on my nerves more than once.
The best characters in Ratatouille are Linguini (Lou Romano) and Colette (Janeane Garofalo). They were the most human and the most humorous, and they carried the movie when they were allowed to. I rooted for Remy mainly because his success was tied into Linguini's success.
The film is shot beautifully, with particularly extraordinary sequences taking place involving water and later large groups of rodents. And the film has its laughs (though not as many as the Pixar short that preceded it, Lifted), and the climactic moment has a surprisingly huge payoff, given what had preceded it. Overall, I left feeling Ratatouille was a mediocre work and particularly disappointing for a Pixar pic.
Head on His Shoulders
After reading this interview at EW.com, it's clear to me that there's no actor I'd rather hang out with right now more than Robert Sean Leonard.
Where Hill Street Blues is kingand Lady Luck is queen
by Jon Weisman
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.