Thursday, September 10, 2020

Reviews: Teenage Bounty Hunters, The Boys Season 2, Umbrella Academy, Schooled, Teenage Bounty Hunters, Transplant

Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix)-With 13 Reasons Why, Sex Education, The Society, Never Have I Ever, Lost and Found, Derry Girls, and The Politician (which began in high school), Netflix is really going all in on the CW formula of attracting teenage audiences. 

The story revolves around two twins, Blair and Sterling, who go to a strict Christian school in Georgia where a lot of the rules of teenage coolness are inverted. Being celibate, getting good grades, and showing your love of God are all in. There's a great deal of contrast between the twins in that Blair has a conscious urge to rebel against the establishment whereas Sterling is pretty much the establishment is fellowship leader of the Christian prayer group and begins the series as half of the school's royal couple.
In the pre-credits sequence in the first episode, Sterling loses her virginity with her long-time boyfriend while Blair has a hook-up that arrives at, shall we say, a lesser base and talks about how she's going to go all the way this year with a hint of pride that she's farther along than her sis. There's a friendly jealousy between the pair.

On top of that, the two have some family drama and deal with Sterling's bratty rival April.

Oh yeah, and they get a side gig chase down criminals. It's kind of jammed in premise-wise but it works as it ties in thematically to the pair having to live a double life as sexual beings in a society that encourages teenage sexlessness.

The show plays around with hypocrisy of religion with a nuance that doesn't necessarily damn the Christain characters on the show. In fact, the virtuous teacher Ellen is one of the bright spots on the show. 

Transplant (NBC)-A great pilot episode followed by diminished returns. A Syrian refugee in Toronto is relegated to cooking kebabs because immigration's a bitch. Until one day.... An ambulance drives into his kebab joint and he cleverly MacGuyvers his way through three life-saving procedures including the most prestigious head surgeon in Toronto. Kind of a coincidence, but whatever. The pilot is really exciting because the protagonist is this unknown guy going rogue in the hospital to give more medical assistance and evading police who want to racially profile the hell out of him for the crime. 

I cover this show weekly, so please check it out here at TV Fanatic:

Schooled (ABC)-There have been other high school sitcoms  comedies focusing on teachers at a school, this one is a bit more sweet than snarky (Judy Greer was in a short-lived series called Miss Guided) with a female protagonist who has a lot of doubts about her life that she voices in voiceover. She has a long-distance boyfriend and a manic pixie dream guy at the school she falls for. Tim Meadows is a principal who's main trait is being too eager to please but he plays it well. 

Since the success of Modern Family, ABC has milked the genre into a new brand of edgier TGIF fare featuring families, nostalgic irony, and humorously tinged fables. Fresh off the Boat, the Real O'Neals, Speechless, Suburgatory, Blackish and two others I haven't seen (Middle and The Goldbergs).

Unlike some of those shows, however, the characters here are very static and their actions in each episode are predictable. There's also something just a little off-putting about the lead that I can't put my finger on. 

Lower Decks (CBS All-Access)-Both Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Lower Decks") and Star Trek: Voyager ("The Good Shephard") devoted an episode to people in the lower ranks of the ship which did wonders for filling out the character of each ship's crew. However, the TNG episode (which this series is reported to be based on in particular) highlighted the holes of Star Trek's supposed post-capitalism society more than it presented us with deep characters.

Those guys were all biting their nails for promotions but what motivated them to want them when there's no actual pay raise? My theory is we get attached to Star Trek as kids where we think of money in abstract terms and dream of status (AKA being one of the cool kids in school) so the motivations of those ensigns makes sense. However, as adults with real fiscal responsibilities, episodes like "Lower Decks" don't hold up as much on rewatch.

Wouldn't there be some slackers on board?

In the world of "Lower Decks" (which I believe it still canon), this is question is answered. Hallelujah!

Tawny Newsome plays Beckett Mariner who is among the most competent crew members on the ship but doesn't want to get involved with all the bureaucratic hassles of a promotion. She is quite probably the most competent member on the entire ship and most of the plots revolve around her saving the day without pesky protocols. 

If there's one person who can challenge her, it's the ship's captain (Dawnn Lewis) who also happens to be her mom. How appropriate. 

Another foil for her is her good friend Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid, The Boys) who exaggerates the conflictless (and oftentimes boring) world of TNG by angling so hard to be a promotion-loving goody two shoes that his number one motivation in life is to follow the rules. This goes double for Noel Well's Ensign Tendi who wants to be liked so badly, she's in-your-face about it. 

Aside from this, the show takes no prisoners in skewering Star Trek across the board and is so well-entrenched in the minutia of Star Trek, that a small niche of the coverage of the show has simply been  pointing out the Easter Eggs of each episode to the delight of fans. 

The show is easily one of the best parodies out there because, above all, it's extremely funny and extremely consistent with its jokes.

Umbrella Academy (Neflix)/The Boys (Amazon)-(through two episodes) Both superhero shows keep chugging along in second seasons that manage to keep the momentum going from the first despite massive shake-ups.

"The Boys" has lost a few key players to the mortal coil but has managed to add some interesting additions (particularly Aya Cash's Stormfront who speaks her mind to say the last). Unlike the first season, there's a sense here that Hughie isn't the central character but just one member of "The Boys" (perhaps the most privileged). On the Vought side, the focus is more on the psychotic Homelander and what it might take to stop in (so far, the boss of the company is keeping him in check).  

"Umbrella Academy" with all seven characters jumping through time to Dallas in the 1960s. Like much other speculative pop culture literature, this focuses on the "What if" of John Kennedy's assassination. The show is more of a stylistic extravaganza than something I watch for plot but that's the basic gist. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

25 Best TV Characters of 2018

Again, check out my patreon  to keep me in business. Don't worry. Though I'm posting this in 2020, I have a 2019 edition of this list lined up too. I also did these lists between 2012 and 2015 if you click on the top 25 character tab.

1.       Pete Holmes as himself, Crashing (HBO)-As opposed to most comedians (or the fictionalized TV versions of themselves) who just want to get ahead, this show has a protagonist who’s sincerely trying to navigate the changing boundaries of integrity as he gets a taste of success in the world of stand-up. The apologetic Holmes is gangly, awkward and sometimes wrong but there’s an underlying sweetness to him.

2.       Giovanni Ribisi as Marius Josipovic/Pete Murphy, Sneaky Pete (Amazon)-Watching genius at work is why we’re attracted to a character like Pete whose extroadinary abilities to think on the fly, read people, and work a con make him almost like a stateside Sherlock Holmes on the wrong side of the law. With a supreme expertise in his field, Pete is in the mold of the procedurals of the aughts (particularly Burn Notice but also House and Monk) but his backstory and the progression of his relationship to the Murphy clan make him fit into the serialized mold as well.  

3.       Julie Garner as Ruth Langmore, Ozark (Netflix)-Ruth feels like she wouldn’t fit in anywhere other than the Missouri/Arkansas border and that’s great for the show. She’s pragmatic and tough-as-nails but she doesn’t shy away from showing her emotions with her allegiance to her boss or her hope for a better future for her cousin.

4.       Kristin Chenoweth as Lavinia Peck-Foster, Trial and Error (NBC)-To fill in the shoes of John Lithgow’s unapologetically weird professor and carry the momentum of a sitcom into a second season with entirely different, Chenoweth had a high bar to meet. She’s not just a great caricature of disconnected rich privilege, but she also is a great example of the bunny ears lawyer trope (someone who shouldn’t be as effective professionally as they are) as killers go considering she seems to have so little awareness of reality.

5.       Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza, Good Place (NBC)-There is now depth to the stupidity of Jason Mendoza that can’t be mined for comedy. This year’s Jason-centered episode “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” proved quite a bit of impressive backstory for a guy who’s Jacksonville upbringing has sounded too ridiculous to be true.

6.       Wyatt Russell as Sean “Dud” Dudley, Lodge 49 (AMC)-Think of how great the world would be  if we had more people as open to other people (of all generations) and as curious about the world around them as Dudley. The seemingly dense surfer has had some bad breaks with the death of his dad and the decline of his pool business but he never stops seeing the glass as half full.

7.       Carla Jiminez as Alba, The Mick (Fox)-The opening scene of the pilot shows us a protagonist who saunters into a grocery store and uses the cosmetics aisle for her morning routine without even paying. But even then, she’s not the most id-driven character on the show. That would be the nanny left over from a past regime who will happily shirk responsibility and go on a bender if the situation calls for it. She’s also body positive.

8.       Juliett Lewis as Jandice, Camping (HBO)-Most suburbanites probably know a soccer mom or HOA member who resembles Jennifer Garner’s uptight camping trip organizer Kathryn. Likewise, most of those people wish that those Kathryns in their lives could be paired up with a foil like the boundary-pushing hippyish Jandice.

9.       Wilson Bethel as Ben “Bullseye” Pondexter, Daredevil (Netflix)-A fitting doppelganger to our title character, Daredevil’s powers are more fully spelled out than in any other iteration of this story which makes his fight scenes both cool (duh) and menacing within the context of this higher-stakes story.  

10.   Allisyn Ashley Arm as Heather, AP Bio (NBC)-Heather started as one of about  dozen students in  fraudulent teacher Jack Griffin’s teacher through which limited screentime has been divided. But Arm used every opportunity when the camera was on her and every line delivery to be spectacularly eccentric and a treasure in her own right.

11.   Dale Soules as Frieda Berlin, Orange is the New Black (Netflix)-The focus of the show’s sixth season was on two feuding sisters who turned the rest of the prisoners into competing gangs. The squirrelly Frida managed to show how far her survivor instincts had gotten her by quietly outsmarting the show’s main villains in Rube Goldberg fashion.

12.   Jordana Spiro as Rachel, Ozark (Netflix)-The kinds of characters in these high-pressure dramas (like Breaking Bad or The Americans) that get caught between conflicting sides with no way out are generally the innocent bystanders worth rooting for. Rachel is a resilient firecracker with good instincts and it’s wonderful to see her make it out alive.

14.   Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, Daredevil (Netflix)-In my previous iteration of this list, I felt I had to make room for Foggy, Matt, and Karen as all three big something to the team besides being well-drawn characters themselves. As the stakes felt higher and the story became more gripping, Karen was the one who was most transparent with her dread and resolve. She also made the list the last time I did this.

15.   Nick Sandow as Warden Joe Caputo, Orange is the New Black (Netflix)-Obviously the main storyline of Season 6 is Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson but to see an ally say he’ll do something and then put his money where his mouth is, is quite cathartic. Yes, the white savior trope can be debated but that doesn’t necessarily mean Taystee’s story has been diminished or Caputo’s stepping up isn’t insignificant.

16.   Tony Shalhoub as Abe Weinberg, Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon)-Poor Abe. Certainly not the most stringent and unreasonable of old-world Jewish fathers from the era but he’s been dealing with a world that’s changed too fast for his comfort. He should have given his wife more agency, and he should have been  less stubborn about his university , but Amy Sherman-Palladino’s shows aren’t built around tragedies: Hopefully, there’s room for Abe to grow in later seasons.

17.   Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley, 13 Reasons Why (Netflix)-While 13 Reasons Why can be tonally inconsistent and come across more like a typical high school show than something worthy of the topics it broaches, Justin has been written surprisingly strong this season. He’s dealt with guilt and remorse over enabling rape, a broken family, a drug addiction, threats from a step-mom and a betrayal by his best friend and it’s all been handled in such a way that I can’t take my eyes off the guy.

18.   D’Arcy Carden as Janet, Good Place (NBC)-Janet can literally do anything, but it’s the moments when she chooses to deal with the mundanities of, say, getting over an ex or dealing with people who aren't at her speed (like Michael typing at 6 wpm) where she shines. And bonus points for that bar brawl that she impulsively starts against Sean's demons in her dress and high heels. And even more bonus points for the creation of the second best character on the show in Jason Matzoukas’s Derrick.

19.   Carol Kane as Lily Kaushtupper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)-The final half-season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a great showcase for the whole cast but count me in for more of the unattached Lily who has Tracy-Jordan-like namedrops to past chapters of past badassery. Kane gives the monologue of the season

20.   Hillary Anne Matthews as Diedre, Alex Inc (ABC)-An example of how an otherwise forgettable show can be watchable just to see a scene-stealing side character. Deidre is a scatter-brained assistant whose clinginess to her boss (Zach Braff) overtly borders on obsession.

21.   Cedric the Entertainer as Scott Joplin, Another Period (Comedy Central)-Part of the fun of this show has been the exaggerated cameos of historical figures who inexplicably make their way into the lives of the Bellacourt clan like Sigmund Freud (Chris Parnell), Albert Einstein (Matt Bessar) and Thomas Edison (Stephen Tobolowsky). Perhaps none of these comic characters is as cleverly constructed as the show’s version of Scott Joplin who’s presented as an aughts version of Kanye West (complete with self-worship and an Armenian bride).

22.   Libe Barer as Carly Bowman, Sneaky Pete (Amazon)-The Brendon de Wilde to Alan Ladd’s Shane, Carly is the kid of the family (if you can believe a 27-year old actor passing as 16) who stars agape at her older cousin who fascinates her with hints of a less provincial life. What’s interesting behind Carly is that she’s one step behind the others but you can never count her out as she has traces of Bowman ingenuity herself.

23.   Connie Britton as Abby Clark, 9-1-1 (Fox)-No harm in adding a pollyanna to a procedural. Abby is middle-aged and single with an aging parent to care for but there’s a certain upbeatness to her that makes her a quiet sort of stand-out. Her scenes, set apart from the rest of the cast, make her an interesting narrator of sorts.

24.   Jonah Hill as Owen Milgrim, Maniac  (Netflix)-One of the best portrayals of a depressed character to appear on TV. Jonah Hill does an excellent job at portraying the quiet surrender and numbness as he goes about his every day life and eventually enters into the world of fantasy.  

25.   Dania Ramirez as Jacinda/Cinderella, Once Upon a Time (ABC)-When introduced in her featured episode, Jacinda is a femme fatale disguised as a typical Cinderella. It matches well with her real-life persona who’s down on her luck but refuses to play damsel in distress with the two men vying for her affections.

Honorable Mentions:

Armen Weitzman as Garfield, Another Period; Beth Dover as Linda Ferguson, Orange is the New Black; Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch, Daredevil; Danielle Brooks as Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson; Dascha Polanko as Daya, Orange is the New Black; David Koechner as The Commodore, Another Period;  Henny Russell as Barbara Dennan, Orange is the New Black; Jane Adams as Maggie Murphy, Sneaky Pete; Jayma Mays as Carol Anne Keane in Trial and Error;  Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, The Good  Place; McKenzie Phillips as Carol Dennan, Orange is the New Black; Parker Posey as Dr. Smith, Lost in Space; Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Masel, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel; Sally Field as Dr. Greta Mantleray; Sophia Black-D’Ella as Sabrina Pemberton, The Mick; Scott MacArthur as Jimmy, The Mick; Ted Danson as Michael, The Good Place; Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reviews: Ramy Season 2, Brockmire Season 2, Intelligence, Broke, Once Upon a Time Season 7, Where's Waldo (Peacock)

Ramy (Hulu)-One of the best shows of the year for sure. Review here:

Brockmire (IFC) -A lot of TV in the #metoo era is about men getting consumed by dark pasts. No one seemed more hopeless than the superhumanly aloof baseball broadcaster Jim Brockmire in the first season, but his redemptive arc that gelled in the final season makes such a light out of the tunnel not only seem possible but easy-peasy. 

The leap over a decade into our future is ambitious to say the least (especially for a show based on a Funny or Die sketch) and that's not counting all the emotional overtones. The show is now set at a time where global warming, automation, and split national interests have spiraled out of control and baseball is just one of the show’s casualties.

If you fell off this show due to any perceived dip in quality, that’s not a problem here.

Final Season Aired in 2020, Streaming on Hulu.

Intelligence (NBC Peacock)-The strokes are a little broad here but it’s essentially the egotistical elitist gets humbled by the peons office comedy formula. The gimmick of the show is that it takes place in the English CIA and the fish out of water is an American so it has a little bit of a satirical bent towards American arrogance from a Eurocentric lens.

If I’m complaining about the lack of originality it’s because Space Force just did this but, hey, it’s a good time as any to puncture the myth of American exceptionalism.

As a show, it’s mildly funny if a bit obvious. Whereas Space Force or similar shows about jerks in power (Newsradio, The Office) might have allowed some wiggle room for us not to hate the guy who’s taking up the majority of the screen time: Either he learned or got his comeuppance. In the three episodes I’ve seen, the consequences of this awful man’s actions are mostly sidestepped. Perhaps, it’s a British comedic sensibility to go darker?

The side characters have potential and if the Office improved, it’s possible that this one could go that route too.

Broke (CBS)-Natasha Leggero and her suave Latino husband Javier (Jamie Camil) are rich and out-of-touch people who lose all their money in a pyramid (not a scheme, mind you, but they buy a pyramid [cue laughter]). They have to move in with their lower-class sister (Pauley Perrette) and, like the dad-son combo in Frasier, there’s a class difference so enormous, it’s hard to believe the two are related and grew up in the same house. On the other hand, hey, they wouldn’t have a show if they seriously addressed this, so shhh.

This show has a laugh track which doesn’t disqualify it by being good for modern standards but puts it at a disadvantage. Watching this was an interesting exercise for me in studying just how much the laugh track has devolved; how weaker jokes might get into the script for the purpose of an immediate pay-off.

Still, as far as outdated laugh-track shows go, this one’s watchable. Javier’s wealth-based aloofness makes him a good scene-stealer and it helps that he has heart. His butler Luis (Izzy Diaz) is even funnier though he’s not used for as many punch lines.


On the whole, it’s comfort food.

Once Upon a Time, Season 7 (ABC)-There’s something that just clicks with this show. In the first couple seasons (and probably the ones after, I didn’t watch), the episodes alternate between two universes that are connected. There’s a small town in Maine with a corrupt mayor (Lana Pirella) and police sheriff (Jennifer Morrison) fighting over the soul of the town and influence over a young boy. The second is set in fairy tale land where a hodgepodge of fairy tale stories-Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestilskin, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, even Aladdin and Princess and the Frog-interact in some variation on the land of Mother Grimm (based in the forests of Germany).

What makes the show work is that these traditional fairy tales are given a twist and then re-interpreted through a modern universe where, say, Snow White is a school teacher who hooks up with Jiminy Cricket, and Rumplestilskin doesn’t just want a first-born but control of the whole town.

Like most serialized TV, however, six seasons is a lot to keep up with multiple levels of mythology to sort through. Fortunately, season seven gives a fresh restart. Henry Mills (the little boy who knows about the alternate universe) is grown-up and is now not just an adult but also a skeptic. And the evil mayor is now just a bartender and one of the good guys in true American Horror Story fashion. As someone who missed some of the in-between seasons, a background detail here and there gets confusing, but for the most part, it’s a self-contained story that balances episodic and serialized elements well.


Streaming on Netflix


I’m Dying Up Here, Season 2 (Showtime)-Relatively watchable serialized comedy set in the 70s that focuses on the arts. Ari Gaynor (a poor man's Kate Hudson) stars with Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Michael Angarono (Will and Grace, The Knick), Clark Duke and Jake Lacy co-starring. Duke and Lacy were the two last-season additions to The Office as entry-level twerps and they've both been carving out impressive careers for themselves. There's also a couple token black guys with Erik Griffin making the bigger impression of the two. The characters sort of blend into another and there's a lot of cocaine and sex in a premium cable sort of way. The series is meant as a time capsule of the 70s but I'd rather re-watch Baz Luhrmann's Get Down or watch some more Glow. In other words, it's not that insular of a genre. The biggest mistake of the series is that Melissa Leo's character doesn't get more screen time.

Where's Waldo (Peacock)-I could totally see a faithful adaptation of Where's Waldo working. Waldo likes to hide and he's in exotic places so that's something to run with. Instead the series is a weak knock-off of Carmen Sandiego and Wizard Whitebeard is too cartoonish to feel like the adult of the group.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Eight Great Shoot-Outs in the History of Westerns

This article was originally written for another website and can be found on my Patreon (with additional example).

The Shootist (1976)-Going out on one last bang
The last Western John Wayne ever shot fittingly deals with the question of old age as his character, JB Books, deals with cancer. 
On the last morning of his life, Books rides the trolley to a hotel where three outlaws are congregating. En route, he gifts the trolley driver with a keepsake and compliments a pretty girl. He then walks in to a hotel saloon with the dignity of a man who’s made peace with himself. Jump cuts with the three outlaws elevate the tension ever so slightly as Books slowly pours himself a drink. Books spots one of the men in the mirror and raises a glass to him. 
Within 10 seconds, another of the outlaws grabs his gun and the fight is on. Books dives over the bar and takes refuge. He throws a bottle as a misdirect and gets him cold. His second foe gets a shot off and charges at him with a table which Books shoots through. He manages to get the best of the last gunman by playing dead and shooting him between the eyes as he peers over.
As Books gets back to his feet, he’s shot by the bartender as his protégé Gillum (Ron Howard) shouts in vain to warn him. Gillum, who’s been idolizing the gunslinger myth, shoots the bartender but learns the lesson firsthand of the lifestyle’s frivolity. Meanwhile, Books got the ending he always wished for: To go out with a bang.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)-Getting His Charge to the Train
By the 2000s, special effects were so dependent on computer-generated animation (or CGI) that the Oscar for Best Visual Effects went to “Golden Compass” for 2007 in a film that was pretty much entirely computer-matted. The highest-grossing non-sequel of that year, Transformers, was another testament to CGI excess. 
That’s why it was all the more refreshing to have watched James Mangold’s remake that same year and see traditional gun fighting with real sets and props. 
As the title explains, a small-time rancher, Dan Evans (Christian Bale), agrees to hold down outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and get him on a Yuma-bound train to collect the bounty. Like a mine field, he has to get his charge through a territory controlled by the outlaw’s posse which creates an extra element of lateral movement. The pair runs atop roofs, crawls underneath saloons, and bounces off surfaces and the acrobatics are all the more impressive considering they’re handcuffed. Wade’s right-hand man (Ben Foster) Prince also adds a level of cross-fire as he shoots down ranchers firing in the other direction. 
In tune with modern action films, the film has a faster rate of cutting but it keeps from being disorienting and each shot is angled and set extraordinarily well.   
As Crowe and Bale are both giants, this sequence isn’t just about gunfighting but about the two dueling with one another dramatically. When they’re cornered, Evans tries convincing to give up while Wade moves Evans by confessing to his Civil War cowardice. 

High Noon (1952)-The Main Street Shoot Out 
When people think of the classic scene of the Western where the sheriff and the outlaw walk towards each other down the middle of Main Street, they’re likely referencing High Noon. 
As Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is released from prison, his cohorts assemble and walk towards town. From the opposite direction, Kane slowly walks towards them as the camera pulls away from a high-angle to highlight his solitary nature. 
The camera cuts to one of the outlaws smashes through a store window giving a now hiding Kane a chance to identify their whereabouts. He soon catches them by surprise, shouts their name and kills Miller’s brother. Three down, one to go. 
The action is interspersed with Kane’s bride Amy (Grace Kelly) changing her mind on leaving town and coming back to support her groom.
Under heavy fire, Kane runs into a horse stable and picks off another outlaw. Frank then sets the stable barn on fire in an effort to smoke out the marshall. As Kane escapes, he suffers a shot to the arm.
Unable to keep up with his arm, the two villains try cornering him and almost have him when one of them is shot in the back. The camera pulls out and it’s revealed to be Amy sacrificing her pacifist principles to defend her husband. In the final showdown, Frank grabs Amy and takes her hostage. 
In a team effort, Amy bites Frank and pulls away while Kane gets one last shot off. 
The sequence is brilliantly shot and interspersed with the character development as Will differentiates himself from his nemesis through his integrity and Amy compromises her pacifist standards for the right reasons. 

McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)-The battle in the snow
Robert Altman’s revisionist Western turns the genre completely upside down. Rather than open vistas, the film takes place in a rain-soaked corner of Oregon. In similar fashion, the titular hero (Warren Beatty) and leading lady (Julie Christie) aren’t out to tame the land but make a quick buck themselves in running a brothel. Everything, including sex, is governed by a ruthless, impersonal capitalism. Like other Westerns that pit big business interests against the little guy, a mining company seeks to buy McCabe’s holdings and sends a trio of hitmen when he declines. They send out three goons to dispatch the disheveled McCabe in the dead of winter.
The final confrontation doesn’t display a hero but a man willing to duck and dodge until he gets any sizeable advantage he can get. He kills one of the outlaws in the back and dispatches another like a sniper through a store window. It’s not a fast-paced shoot out but a surreal one set across a snow-laden landscape with the deafened silence of snowfall. 
As he downs the final gunman, the weakening McCabe attempts to make his way back but his gunshots and the cold get too much of him. 
The denizens of the town are focused to put out a fire in the church (which they would likely never use) and Mrs. Miller lies on her bed in an opium haze. Thus, the man who saved the town is destined to be forgotten. 

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)-The stranger’s plate of metal  
The union of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone was an unlikely one that propelled both to immortality. Eastwood was stagnating on the TV series Rawhide and wanted a bigger opportunity. Leone wanted to tell an epic story and felt he could replicate the success of others who’d shot in Europe. After a number of stars turned Leone down, Eastwood took the project not because he had faith in the script but because he had never been to Europe and wanted to traveel.
True to late-form Westerns, The Stranger is a professional rather than a law-and-order man. He initially appears so far removed from morality that he’s willing to play two warring families off each other and cause slaughter among them simply to make a buck.
Part of the heart of the movie is discovering the touches of humanity in The Stranger’s code. This all culminates to the final shoot out where The Stranger returns to rescue the man who ratted him out from torture against the sadistic head of the Rojo clan, Ramon.  
Shot from Ramon’s point of view, The Stranger creeps towards Ramon and his henchmen and goads Ramon into shooting at him. He tells him to aim for his heart. With each shot, the Stranger falls back in recoil but gets up and keeps going. As Ramon is bewildered, The Stranger reveals a metal plan and after a wonderfully tense pause, The Stranger rapidly gets off half a dozen shots in the blink of an eye to shoot down Ramon’s men. 
After a minute of the two men walking in parallel, the camera cuts to a shot of just their eyes, and then The Stranger waits for the draw and strikes.

Unforgiven (1992)-The Old Killer Returns In a commentary on past roles, Eastwood plays aged gunslinger, William Mummy who is introspective of his reputation as a “killer of women and children.” His journey to redemption is to avenge a horrifically maimed prostitute.  
When his other partner (Morgan Freeman) is killed and his dead body is displayed in the center of the town, William Munny transforms into his raging former self for the climax of the film. Munny enters the saloon where the sheriff (Bill Daggett, Clint Eastwood) and his deputies are stationed as the crowd falls silent leaving nothing but the rain from outside. 
Munny asks who owns the place and before shoots the proprietor before he has a chance to clear out. When Daggett calls him a coward for shooting an unarmed man brings up his murderous past, Munny admits to it and raises the stakes by declaring his intention to kill Daggett. 
The methodical Daggett calculates that Munny doesn’t have enough bullets to kill them all and tells his deputies to keep their guns on him. Munny shoots anyway but nothing discharges. The over-confident Daggett smiles “Misfire” but in the blink of an eye, Munny gets another gun out and shoots up the room leaving just a couple of survivors.  
As he warns everyone to give his friend a proper burial and stay away from the prostitutes or else, he puts Daggett out of his misery before saying whether someone deserves to die has nothing to do with fairness. 

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
The most famous gunfight in Western history--on October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona--was mythologized so heavily because its most notorious survivor, Wyatt Earp, became a film consultant in Hollywood in the 1910s and told tall tales about the event that got bent around however each film maker saw fit. Besides the real battle took 30 seconds with the gunfighting immersed in such a billowing of smoke that not even the people involved knew who shot who so it isn’t particularly cinematic anyway. 
John Struges’ version is possibly the most effective portrayal because the structure and match-ups of the shoot-out are well-connected to the hour and fourty-five minutes that preceded it.
In addition to the resolve of the Earp brothers to defend their youngest, James (Martin Milner), the maverick Doc Holiday (Kirk Douglas) has a rivalry with Johnny Ringo (John Ireland) throughout the move that spans multiple states in which Ringo trying to goad Holiday’s temper. When Holiday has open permission to shoot, there’s an unspringing of tension. Additionally, one of the movie’s most effective plot threads is Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) trying to convince a young Billy Clanton (a not-yet-famous Dennis Hopper) away from following his outlaw brothers. As Wyatt tries talking him down, it’s an ending of a gun battle that resonates perfectly with who Wyatt Earp wishes he could be. 
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral extends the sequence to five minutes in which siblings fall, people try to save one another, and heroes are made. 

Magnificent Seven (2016)-A modern war scene
Make no mistake, the classic version of “Magnificent Seven” (1960) should be prioritized above this remake for viewing. The film tells the story of seven mercenaries of different background banding together to help inexperienced townsmen defend their village from a robber baron’s army. John Sturges tells the tale beautifully but the main gunfight is uninspired splicing of clips of different people shooting and being shot. It doesn’t tell much of a story. 
Antoine Fuqua’s version, on the other hand, is a master class in action. With the mercenaries and the townsmen lining up in trenches and formations, the sequence is staged more like something out of a war film than a simple Western. The film is also shot with the grandiosity of an epic with immense panoramas gracing the long shots. The scene is filmed with such definition that the dust trails of bullets can be traced through the air.
Aside from its stunning aesthetics the sequence manages the narrative at a careful pace and contrasts both sides as well as the main protagonists. 
The spirit of the original was to showcase different men joining together to complement each other’s talents and this sequence highlights these differences. The Indian Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) uses a bow and arrow (admittedly stereotypical), Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is a stand-still shooter and military strategist, Faraday (Chris Pratt) boasts agility and a quick draw, and Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is an ace with knives. Watching these gunslingers operate together is the same kind of thrill of watching superheroes carve out a concerted attack.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Eleven Films I've Seen This Year So Far Ranked from 1 to 11

Well, it's no secret that this has been a challenging year for a film viewer. I've previously complained about Marvel, Avengers, and sequel coming close to the point of ruining Summer. Last year, extremely unnecessary remakes of The Lion King and Aladdin; a bloated Avengers finale, a third Toy Story sequel, and a Men in Black reboot with diminishing returns was a tipping point for me. 

But with this temporary apocalypse having canceled Summer, I'm kind of missing the frivolous blockbusters. Nearly everything I've seen from the 2020 slate has been quirky indie fare. This kind of stuff would normally get drowned out in the Summer calendar and, at least, it has a chance to shine?

1. Palm Springs-As I wrote at TV Fanatic, I think this might have the makings of a classic on some future day. It operates on multiple levels: Charming, fun, sweet, and riotously funny on one level. On another level, it's poignant, thought-provoking, full of memorable moments, and laden with Easter eggs. Like Groundhog Day, it's endlessly rewatchable. Expect this to be a cult classic down the road.
2. 7500-Whatever happened to the days of Air Force One and Executive Decision? It's a shame tense airline thrillers have gone out of style (was it 9/11 sensitivity?). Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes every part he's given with great care and in his hands, this isn't just a psychological thriller but an existential tale of loss.
3. Blow the Man Down-I'd hesitate to use the word noir for something that doesn't have noir's stylistic elements but this tale of murder in a Maine brothel and two sisters who get caught up in the vice is a bit Fargo-esque in that it highlights the underbelly of the seemingly quaint. Few films have casts that are almost entirely old women and aren't romantic comedies (i.e. First Wives Club, Book Club) so let's celebrate June Squibb, Margo Martindale, and Annette O'Toole.
4. Radioactive-Standard fare biopic but the irony that these two (Marie and Pierre Curie) are discovering something that will kill them makes for pretty good drama and there is a courtship between the two that is kind of gripping. Too bad it on lt takes up the first half-hour of the film.
5. Buffaloed-A film of two low-lifes who try to one-up each other (Barry Levinson's Tin Men is an apt comparison) in the debt collection trade. Except that one of them is the spritely and cute Zoey Deutch so we know who to root for, don't we? The tough-as-nails chick isn't particularly new but it feels fresh coming from Deutch (just as she made the go-getter female lead in a rom-com fresh with Set It Up in 2018). The film's romance is somewhat sloppy but as a con film, it has lots of twists and turns. As an indie film, this is something with a lot of flavor as well.

6. Troop Zero-McKenna Grace (I, Tonya) stars as a Girl Scout in 1977 Georgia with ambitions to win some scouting award so she can send a message to space. But the man (in the form of a stern Allison Janney) won't let her do her thing for bureaucratic reasons that don't really matter if you think too hard. Also, this is Georgia in 1977 and maybe they don't like that Viola Davis is their scoutmaster. Like Blow the Man Down, the film has a strong sense of place as indies are known to do. Although there are some awkward moments, I can appreciate how it doesn't take the Disneyesque route.
7. Eurovision-Based on a true competition, the Netflix film takes place in Iceland and is a decent odd couple pairing between Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as idiosyncratic Icelandic yokels. Remember the days when Will Ferrell had two or three starring vehicles every year? Our appetites haven't abated for his aloof brand of manchild comedy just yet, but he doesn't always have the right scripts to work with. This comedy is a bit broad.
8. Wrong Missy-David Spade is an underrated comic presence for his generation of Saturday Night Live and he's done some amazing supporting work over the years. Still, it's definitely hard to find the right niche for him. Even though the real-life David Spade is a decent human being, his comic persona is that of a snark-master who probably wouldn't fit into a mature relationship unless they were matched romantically with an equally immature person. It's not hard to conceive of a storyline where David Spade realizes that he's not cut out for the corporate ladder and decides to become a stand-up comedian with a goofy woman who helped her alongside that life realization. Unfortunately, the film went the other way with the goofy love interest (Lauren Lapkus) being meaningless.
9. Sonic the Hedgehog-The only blockbuster I saw this year. As someone who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog and actually read the manual, I had the advantage of having some source material to work with. And to the degree that you can be faithful to a video game, yes, this is true to the source. But, come on, that's not really saying much. The film wasn't awful but it was uninspiring at best and forgettable at worst when dealing with certain plot lines. 

10. Horse Girl-Allison Brie (Community, Glow) stars as a sensitive girl with possibly some disorder. She wants companionship and love but seems to repel people and is averse to a deeper relationship. It's not particularly clear and neither is anything else about this film. The third act goes all Ingmar Bergman and at that point, it's no thank you!
11. Late Time Adolescence-Pretty much the same plot as King of Staten Island but, silly me, I watched this first and I don't have the patience for two Pete Davidson movies in one year. Sorry, Judd Apatow. Davidson was a decent addition to Saturday Night Live when he joined the cast in 2014 after resident stand-up Brooks Whelan got short-changed but in the last couple of years he's either coasted, complained about not getting enough screen time or simply been absent. I'm wondering if new hires like Chloe Finneman have even met the guy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Now writing at TV Fanatic!

I wrote for TV Fanatic for a while in 2014 and 2015 but it didn't work out. I'm thrilled that I've recently been given a second chance to contribute editorials to the website and that's where a lot of my work has been going to leaving me less time to update this blog.

I wrote this essay about the TV show Ramy and how I felt like *spoiler alert* it dropped the ball at the end of a near-perfect season. The essay touches on how shows with comedians are a dime a dozen and it's hard to break away from that. It also touches on how shows (BoJack Horseman and Orange is the New Black as well) are reveling lately in male characters coping with past sins without much of a path forward or sense in-universe:

This essay is about how shows maintain a distance from the current political climate even when they have something political to say. Why do they maintain such distance and how do they affect viewers if they're avoiding the issues? I touch a lot on Space Force and The Good Place here.

This is essay came about because I was watching the Parks and Recreation reunion and remembering that the show in its later stages is just unwatchable to me. I found it too saccharine and artificially happy. So I posed the question: What if it stayed truer to its original tone? True, the first season was awkward but it had some good things going for it.

Do the recent blackface and voice over controversies mean we should restrict art? I have written a lot of essays critical of the identity politics movement and wokeness and as that school of thought has accelerated beyond repair in the past two months, I felt the need to add my voice once more.