Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Substitute Day



Remember back in grade school when your teacher called out sick and there was this feeling of disorganization? You sat in the classroom wondering what you were supposed to be doing, and various administrative types would poke their heads in the door to assure you someone was coming in. Eventually someone would be called from out of her bed and come in and provide some sense of order but deep down, you knew she really didn't know what was going on.

The seams of the organization were visible and this always fascinated me.

What's further amazing is when this happens on TV.

I remember turning on the Tonight Show one night in the mid-80s and Steve Allen was the guest host. That was odd, it wasn't one of Johnny's many many many many weeks off. Johnny obviously called out and we can only imagine what happened next. Freddy DeCordova and Peter Lassally huddled together going down a long list of comics, making calls and seeing who was available. "Jay, this is Freddy, can you host the Tonight Show this afternoon?.. You're booked? OK, thanks anyway."

(Steve Allen meanwhile made the night his own, delivering his monologue from a piano. He'd play between jokes and it became pretty obvious, this is the guy who invented the Tonight Show, and NBC should have probably never let him go.)

Anyway..

This happened last night with The Daily Show. Jon called out sick, the producers weighed their options. John Oliver, who did such an great job subbing for Jon over the summer is now at HBO, so he's off the list. Jennifer's too green, how about Jason or Samantha?

So Jason Jones hosted it, he did a bit about Joe Biden that was obviously written for Jon, jokes were made about his nervousness, and it pretty much worked. In the second segment, Samantha Bee made jokes that she should be guest hosting, which were cute, and recycled from when John Oliver hosted. Then they showed her pre-filmed segment.

In the third segment things kind of went off the rails. Samantha refused to leave the desk, and she and Jason both interviewed Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenak, in an interview that made you appreciate Jon's ability to put everyone at ease and be the funny guy for serious-minded guests, or be the straight man for comics.

Cenak had brought a pie, Bee asked if he made it with his own hands, then she said she wanted to taste his hands in the pie and it was just awkward. Jones brought up his American citizenship test and asked Cenak some questions. This worked. Cenak then  did a bit about plugging books by dead authors which was OK, but the whole time I'm just sensing flop sweat.

People like Allen and Carson and Cavett make hosting a talk show look easy, but maybe it's harder than we all think.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Film review: Maleficent



**Spoilers ahead**


Sleeping Beauty gets the "Wicked" treatment here. The villainess isn't evil, just misunderstood, and ultimately, the real heroine. So, it loses points for borrowing that concept.

It starts off interesting, it ends with a nice  -- if not totally original -- climax, it's the middle where things lose momentum. I usually feel patronized when a film throws in a gratuitous action sequence to prop up a sagging middle (I'm looking at you three most-recent Star Wars movies, and Casino Royale), but this film needed it. In the second act we watch Aurora go from baby to 15 in a totally unremarkable childhood.

Unremarkable ... couldn't anything happen? A world of dungeons and dragons, and absolutely no conflict in the flabby middle. Just Jolie becoming protective then loving of the princess she had cursed. There had to be a better way of showing that than a playful mud fight with the local trolls.

Just as in the Disney classic, three fairies raise her, but they're incompetent so Maleficent takes over raising her. The incompetence is supposed to be humorous, but never actually is funny.

It's a literal adaptation of the animated film - they frequently recreate scenes faithfully - and I'm sitting in  the theater thinking: please, take liberties, please, someone say something sarcastic. Wicked told an old story in a new way, turning what we knew about Oz on its head. This film, not so much.

I could also see parallels to "Terminator 2." The cyborg didn't turn good to service the story, the cyborg turned good because between Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 Arnold Schwarzenegger became a big movie star, and big movie stars don't play the bad guy. (the exception would be Jack Nicholson who's secure enough in his stardom to play the Joker or Jessup in "A Few Good Men.")

This is the same deal, Angelina Jolie is too big a movie star to play a villain. You could hear her agent yelling at the Disney people, "If you want her to be in this movie, she demands that she's the one who kisses the princess to break the spell!"

"Um...but in the story..."

"We don't care!"

As  a result, when the handsome prince does show up, he has nothing to do. In fact he spends more time unconscious than Sleeping Beauty.

It's like that Monty Python sketch "Scott of the Antarctic," where the dim  lead actor wants a rewrite in which he fights a lion. Nevermind there are no lions in the Antarctic.

So when Jolie gives the princess "true love's kiss," the only thing you see is Jolie's true love for her career.





Thursday, August 7, 2014

Garfunkel and Oates: Speechless



IFC is streaming the first episode of this show here. It feels like a lost "Seinfeld" episode. The walking down the street talking about minutiae, running into someone, plot gets set in motion…and the comedy begins.

It's a little slow going at first as the pins get lined up, but once it all comes together we get a hilarious ending well worth the set up. Then there's a post-ending ending which explains everything which is also hilarious.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Film review: Guardians of the Galaxy


OK, we got a ragtag team of rebels who bicker, but must band together to fight a force much more powerful than themselves. I will give you it's a retelling of the Star Wars story, but it's probably the best retelling of the Star Wars story since Empire Strikes Back.

This is the kind of movie George Lucas used to know how to make.

The action sequences were relentless and funny. Yes we've seen jail breaks before, but this one starts with a laugh and ends with a surprise that makes perfect sense.

Everytime Quill puts on his Buck Rogers suit you just know it's going to be great.

We get to hear 70s standards in a whole new way, and  they even acknowledged their homages by giving credit to the Maltese Falcon and the Ark of the Covenant.

I never read the books, so I didn't have that to hold  back my enjoyment, but me and my 6-year-old both had a great time at the movies.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Film review: Earth to Echo


If you're old enough to be a parent, then you're old enough to have seen "E.T." and/or "Stand By Me," and if you've seen those movies, you're going to be bored silly by "Earth to Echo," which borrows liberally from both classics.

(Watching "E.T." back in '82, I couldn't get over how much it borrowed from "Escape to Witch Mountain.")

It has the added quality of borrowing from  the 'found footage' genre, pretty much guaranteeing the easily queazy a case of motion sickness.

It's a well-made film, your kids will love it. There's nothing objectionable. But, I had to sit through it with my eyes closed to keep from throwing up.

On a positive note, Teo Halm will be a big movie star someday probably soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mystery of the One-Season Detective


I've been binge watching "Ellery Queen" on Hulu Plus. This was an NBC mystery from 1975-76. It was a whodunnit created by/produced by Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter Fischer. These three would later create "Murder, She Wrote," another whodunnit for CBS. The difference is, one of these shows ran one season, the other … what … 12 seasons?

The only reason I can see is "Murder, She Wrote," got the sweet time slot right after "60 Minutes," which was always a top 5 show in the 70s and 80s. (and any other network would have given the show the boot after three seasons so it could build another hit). "Ellery Queen" on the other hand was on NBC in the mid-70s, a time when no one watched NBC. The network went an entire decade without a hit show.

I liked the '40s setting, they put a lot of work on the cars, sets and props. But why the late 40s? All the good movie mysteries were from the 30s and early 40s. And though the women were game in having 40s hairstyles, the men for the most part kept their shaggy 70s hair. All the period shows in the 70s did this (except for the first season of "Happy Days.") My only explanation is all the guest stars were working actors, and couldn't very well get a 40s hair cut if they were due on the "Kojak" set first thing Monday morning.

And maybe Jim Hutton and David Wayne were too old for their roles. Hutton was a 42 year old guy living with his dad. And Wayne was in his 60s, perhaps too close to retirement to be a chief inspector. And sometimes Queen's absent-mindedness seemed rude. For a drinking game, take a shot every time he says, "Huh?"

Otherwise it was probably better than "Murder, She Wrote." Ellery tagging along with his police inspector dad was certainly more believable than Jessica Fletcher stumbling into murder after murder. EQ also had a better sense of humor; any joke on "Murder She Wrote" was definitely forced, or saved til the last freeze frame. EQ's humor was a little more organic, either through dialogue or the characters.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Seismic



Comic legend Bill Watterson made a cameo last week in "Pearls Before Swine." He didn't have to, but he did. Thank you, Mr. Watterson.

I thought it was his style, but didn't imagine he'd come back.