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A Complex Collaboration Deconstructed
Partly due to the non-linear timeline of this series, I think it helps if the viewer is familiar with the work of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. My introduction came during the Broadway run of "Dancin' ", the amazing dance revue that inspired my love of Broadway, musical theater, and the style of Bob Fosse.
After watching the first two episodes, I am pleasantly surprised, due especially to the performance by Michelle Williams (Verdon). She seems to embody Verdon, even to the point that any issues I have with her representation of the dancing are merely quibbles. She conveys the nuances of the Fosse dance mannerisms and the subtleties of a woman who led a confused life under the influence of the infuriating Fosse.
Sam Rockwell delivers a convincing depiction of Fosse. I prefer it to the Roy Scheider portrayal in "All That Jazz". Rockwell's Fosse is meticulous, quiet, emotionally distant and possessing a ruthless honesty that manages to betray him when personal relationships get tough.
The show demonstrates the unique language of dance and style that Verdon and Fosse shared. Fosse had an addictive personality, so it is no surprise that their relationship revolved around the muse-meal ticket disjunction. Other productions have focused on a woman's love for a flawed man. "Fosse/Verdon" tells the same story and is quite believable. She clearly loves him more than he loves himself.
As with the TV show "Smash", I love the behind the scenes look at the creative processes and the personality conflicts.
Watch for Paul Reiser as Cy Feuer. In upcoming episodes, I am looking forward to the portrayal of Ann Reinking, among others.
Million Dollar Mile (2019)
At its core, this is a competition between two athletes, with one getting a two minute head start. Given the disparity in the quality of the athletes, probably few will get past the first obstacle.
I would like to celebrate those who dedicate themselves to superior fitness and performance, but I think this show needs more suspense. Maybe if they gave them a four minute lead? Or more?
Tacoma FD (2019)
It's On Like Michelle Kwan!
This comedy series is built on "guy humor", which means you can expect to see guys behaving like boys and guys behaving unlike women, though that description is very generalizing. I appreciate the fact that an "explicit" version is offered; it more closely resembles reality even though some of the humor is over the top.
This is not a serious depiction of firefighting or law enforcement. A fire department setting allows for a boys club atmosphere that is ripe for comedy. If you like "Home Improvement"---another show about guys being guys---you may like this show, too.
The Spectacle Maker (1934)
A Colorful Gem
Keats famously wrote, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" but that relationship between truth and beauty is not the one explored here.
A maker of eyewear is commissioned to create a lens with magical properties. It is purchased by the Grand Duke for his personal amusement. Later, the craftsman creates another lens which allows one to see a completely different view of the world-a view that is contrary to the first lens'. This is a morality tale that packs few surprises. In fact, it is heavy-handed in making its point, but this is still a gem due to the film's color format and its fresh naivete.
A sequence simulating harpistry serves as a brief distraction, but overall this is an enjoyable watch for children and adults.
The plot of this 21 minute film would make a good episode of "The Twilight Zone".
Growing Up Chrisley (2019)
Go West Young Chrisley
If you hate "Chrisley Knows Best", then avoid this show. It is more of the same. But if you enjoy CKB, you will probably enjoy further escapades punctuated by the acerbic Chrisley wit. This new incarnation features the two millennial siblings, accompanies by their Nanny Fay.
The disparity between the prototypical southern POV and the prototypical California viewpoint could offer opportunities for humor.
One Of The Best
One of the best episodes of this series, it features excellent acting and a nuanced storyline that comes at true love from an original angle. The actors who play the older husband and wife feel like they have been married for decades.
As I write this, this episode is rated 8.6---and deservedly so. Adding music is just plain fun and it scratches the itch from the earlier Bowie bit.
The Orville: Lasting Impressions (2019)
MacFarlane Addresses A Classic Theme With Fresh Eyes
You can tell this episode was written by Seth, himself. It is based upon the film "Laura" (1943) starring Dana Andrews. Like the film, this episode is about a character falling in love with a woman he has never met, as he investigates her life. When the crew finds a time capsule from 2015, Gordon creates a hologram program utilizing the contents of a cell phone that was owned by a young woman named Laura Huggins (cf. Laura Hunt in the film). Virtual reality becomes Gordon's reality as the episode explores the differences, if any, between objective truth, subjective truth, and virtual truth.
What a joy to watch a story that is intelligent and challenging. And romantic! In the end, Gordon must decide which truth he will embrace, leading to a beautiful denoument. Those who enjoy this episode should check out the classic film and another film that plays with the same theme, "Sharkey's Machine" starring Burt Reynolds.
The Saint (1997)
Cold Fusion Leads To Hot Chemistry
The Saint is a fun romp, a love story set against economic and political turmoil in Russia. And the two principals are Dr. Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue), a renowned physicist, and Simon Templar (Val Kilmer), an international thief.
The chemistry between these two characters is anything but cold fusion, but that is exactly what the doctor has perfected, or at least that is what some unsavory Russian mobsters believe she has perfected.
Templar, the master of disguises, investigates with an eye to turning a hefty profit. As the intrigue grows, the alliances muddy, and Templar aka The Saint must use all his talents to complete his mission.
This is an enjoyable film, due primarily to the romantic spark that kindles between the faithful scientist and the faithless lothario. Though some sequences are similar to missions impossible, the real intrigue comes from the ambiguous but undeniable attraction between the spider and his fly.
Mental Samurai (2019)
A Challenging Game Show
Hosted by Rob Lowe, "Mental Samurai" is another of those big studio games, and it features a huge robotic arm that transports contestants between questions. The object of the game is to answer all twelve questions in five minutes. If you do, you win $10,000 and a chance to play the Circle of Samurai. If you miss even one of the twelve, you fail.
The Circle of Samurai consists of four questions. Correct answers increase your winnings to $25,000, then $50,000, then $100,000. Those who go the distance also earn the title Mental Samurai. It may lack the cachet of Jeopardy Champion or American Ninja, but it's something most people will not accomplish, if the first episode is any indication.
The questions are distributed equally among four categories: Knowledge, Puzzles, Sequence, and Memory. Factual knowledge helps, but this is not a trivia quiz. What makes the task difficult is the ticking clock. The robotic arm, called AVA, is disorienting. You can train for American Ninja and Jeopardy, but you can't simulate the jerky, 3-D movements of AVA.
Rob Lowe is there for support and empathy. The game is difficult enough without an antagonist. And the questions are not tricky; they don't have to be.
The producers strive to cast contestants with interesting backgrounds and/or big personalities. This can add or subtract to the enjoyment of watching. The show is a curious diversion from other game show fare, but lacks the engagement necessary for long-term success.
The Other Two (2019)
A Clever Satire
Chase Dubek aka Chase Dreams (Case Walker) is a 13-year-old social media phenom in the early stages of stardom. Mother Pat (Molly Shannon) is complicit in his attempt to achieve success. Chase's older siblings are the other two---Brooke (Helene Yorke), a former child dance student who dabbles poorly in real estate, and Cary (Drew Tarver), a waiter who wants to act. Their love lives are a mess and they long to achieve any goals they once envisioned.
The show is about dreams. Chase seemingly has the world at his feet---the tween world, at least. Brooke and Cary keep reaching for their dreams, but the world keeps dragging them back down. But their "dreams" are ill-defined (and mostly defined by others), having to do with social media "likes" and facial recognition.
And Chase is just a programmed cute-bot, the product of polls and momentary memes. He lives in a virtual world, with his mother and his manager, Streeter (Ken Marino), acting as interfaces with reality. He has no opinions of his own and shills for whatever is presented to him.
When I first started watching this series, I thought it was unfunny, focusing on shallow characters. But by the second episode, I knew it was an acerbic satire. By episode four, it was apparent that the writers (Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider) are talented and gifted with an eye for insights. In their vision, the key to success is a cryptic code in an absurd Kafkaesque nightmare. And self=esteem is something granted by other vacuous wannabes. The show is a send-up of pop culture, virtue signaling, the cult of celebrity, narcissism, and what might be called Hollywood culture.
I read a review of the series "A. P. Bio" in which the critic wondered how it could be executive produced by Lorne Michaels. Lorne Michaels is also EP of this series and has made a bold choice to back SNL writers Kelly and Schneider. Fortunately, the humor of this series exceeds the standards of SNL in recent years.
A brief wrap-up after each episode features the show runners and the actors in informal conversation, providing back stories and personal observations.
The main characters are hapless and mostly clueless, but I enjoy watching them. Though they are totally without haps or clues, they are not so much tragic figures as they are comic foils, and the actors are up to the task. Watch for some fun cameos and bit parts.
Whiskey Cavalier (2019)
Nearly Impossible Missions With a Light Touch
It took three episodes to sell me on this new series that features a couple who are reminiscent of "Castle" but most resemble the duo from "Moonlighting", with their banter and their will they/won't they vibe.
Will Chase (Scott Foley) is FBI---A sensitive guy who seeks to maintain decorum and moral imperatives during missions. Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) is CIA---Emotionally detached, operating without feelings or compunction.
The powers that be form a team of five, headed by Frankie and Will, to handle important global ops that require know-how and deniability.
The locations are beautifully filmed. The music is a major component in the tone of the series, which remains light despite missions that involve terrorism and worse. And the other three team members are solid, though their characters have room to grow.
Working out of a disused bar called The Dead Drop, this ragtag team learns to cooperate and become a cohesive unit. The show is enjoyable because the characters are likable. Production values are good and the nearly impossible missions are somewhat believable, but the viability of the series is dependent on the chemistry within the team, especially the two stars. Fortunately, they possess a breezy affability that makes this show a carefree watch, despite its crises countdowns and ruthless villains.
An Enjoyable Performance
I viewed this "live" performance by The Metropolitan Opera from my local cinema. It was the first time I had attended an episode of this series and I am glad I went. Let me allay any fears others might have of viewing such broadcasts. The subtitles were clear and timely. Excellent camera work afforded views and close-ups of the performers that those The Met are not allowed. The video feed continued through the intermission, allowing live views of scenery changing and some excellent interviews with the performers. Lastly, the convenience of traveling to my local cinema and reclining with a box of Junior Mints cannot be overstated.
This comic opera might be considered Donizetti's love song to France. Written while he was in Paris, its comedy and its military marches are tempered with moments of tenderness.
The libretto is the story of Marie, a young woman "adopted" by a French regiment. A Marquise is alleged to be Marie's long-lost aunt. Marie is commanded to leave the regiment and live with the Marquise. She leaves all, including Tonio, a Tyrolian who is in love with her. In the second act, the soldiers and Tonio visit the Marquise's castle. As the lovers reunite, a secret is revealed, and all ends well, of course.
This performance of "La Fille" has a wonderful cast, including soprano Pretty Yende as Marie, and tenor Javier Camarena as Tonio. Yende's voice has a warmth that I would love to hear in a dramatic role. Camarena's voice simply embraces the high notes. The highlight of the performance is the Act I ovation that resulted in an encore of Tonio's "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête."
Kathleen Turner portrays the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a brief but meaty role in which she breaks the fourth wall deliciously for comic effect.
Donizetti's score did not have me humming as I left the theater, but the music is beautiful and quite enjoyable.
Three's Company (1976)
This sitcom features a man living with two women---a titillatng premise, but they are platonic roommates, not romantic partners. Whatever trials they face, they are a de facto family that stands together, so despite the innuendos, the series has a heartwarming center.
John Ritter plays Jack Tripper, a chef, and his mugging and physical comedy are the core of the humor. Considered by some to be a comic genius, Ritter follows in the footsteps of Dick VanDyke.
Joyce Dewitt is Janet, a girl next door type, and Suzanne Somers is Chrissy, a naive blonde.
The show's comic style is mostly farce. It's main drawback is the portrayal of the trio's landlords, the Ropers. The wife is a nagger who constantly complains about her husband's lack of interest and sex drive. He endures her, but periodically lashes out and grins creepily. The result is more sad than funny.
Mostly lighthearted and antic, this show endured numerous cast changes, but remained reliably funny and fun.
Gilligan's Island (1964)
A Guilty Pleasure
Talk about suspension of disbelief! This show is implausible on many fronts, but somehow is very watchable. It can't be due to the quality of the comedy, because doofus Gilligan provides the crux of most laughs, on an elementary level. Somehow this show is greater than the sum of its parts
McHale's Navy (1962)
Mindless, Mediocre Fun
You could view this show as a version of "Dennis the Menace", where Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) is Dennis and Capt. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) is Mr. Wilson. But this comedy is even less sophisticated, more in line with "F Troop".
Ernest Borgnine provides a one-note performance because that is what the scripts require. Tim Conway's comedy talent is underused, as demonstrated by his hilarious work on Carol Burnett's show.
George Burns and Gracie Allen deliver a comedic tour de force in their classic show that is both a sitcom and a vaudeville variety show. In each episode, George, Gracie, neighbors and friends deliver a standard sitcom story arc featuring Gracie's peculiar "logic" and sophism.
The key to the show is George's role. He operates both within and outside the story as a guide and overseer. He breaks the fourth wall continuously, often to deliver a lengthy joke. Sometimes he tunes into the show as it is being aired to find out what Gracie is up to. He will even tell the audience about decisions made in production or modify the script (supposedly on the fly) to achieve a desired result.
The vaudeville conceit is furthered by George's ditties, their fancy footwork, Gracie's stories about her family, and the use of a theatrical curtain at the end of the show.
Each episode is a glimpse of comedy history rooted in early radio comedy and even earlier stage entertainment. The show is a comedy treasure trove.
Dennis the Menace: The Boy Wonder (1961)
Great Comedy Writing
This is one of the funniest episodes. A hilarious comedy of errors. Poor Mr. Wilson's plans are thwarted at every turn
Community standards and broadcast rules demand that no crime go unpunished. In addition, most people believe in some form of karmic balance. So it is no great surprise when this story takes a certain turn. But a final twist somewhat elevates this simple tale of greed.
The Orville: Identity, Part II (2019)
After watching the last episode (Part I), I hypothesized that this story was a dream, but it is not. Wow. What a bold choice. And such a rewarding story arc.
The Orville: Identity, Part I (2019)
From the moment the Kaylons drew their weapons against the humans, I felt this might be a dream, or some other similar explanation. In the beginning of the episode, they mention they consumed an exotic drink. Perhaps it has produced this dramatic dream in a crew member. It could be Lt. Malloy, who sang the vocal solo in the episode. Most likely would be Dr. Finn, as the dream would represent her deep-seated insecurities about a relationship with an unemotional Isaac.
If it is not a dream....wow! Kudos.
Either way, an impressive episode, visually and thematically.
The Graduate (1967)
A Haunting Classic
It's true that "the Graduate" is a timeless masterpiece. It is also a piece of its time. As someone who experienced the sixties like Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), I have always recognized the film's ability to capture the zeitgeist of its time. Caught between changing sexual mores and the need to establish himself as a man, Ben feels unanchored. He is a product of his parents and his community, but he feels the need to break free of their stifling expectations.
Ben seems to be collecting memories, not advancing toward any defined goals. He is, at his core, desperate. As the United States grapples with gender roles, racial upheaval, the onus of a wartime draft, and the ever-present threat of the cold war, Ben feels an anxious nation turning its expectant eyes to him and those of his generation.
But Ben has no answers. He really has no idea where to begin to search for them. And so he is never running toward anything, always away. This is best exemplified by the final scene (which stands in marked contrast to the ending of "Picnic", for example).
Director Mike Nichols, aided by the lyric poetry of Paul Simon's music, has created a film that is simultaneously the quintessence of the sixties and a component of its creation. No pretty boy, like the others who were lined up to play his role, Dustin Hoffman eschews the part of the early-laurelled head being "chaired through the market-place" and instead gives us an everyman performance that captures the world of possibilities and the falseness of that world's promises. We feel him struggle under the weight of "eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase", like "plastics".
This is a film classic for its content and its style, which do transcend a moment, taking the viewer to an uncomfortable place, perhaps, but it might be the beginning of a run to some place better.
Modern Family: Red Alert (2019)
This episode is noteworthy for being the only episode that ever disappointed, lacking the comic snap and cleverness that is the trademark of this series.
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Bogart Delivers An Iconic Portrayal
An iconic example of film noir, this is a film whose serpentine plot need not be followed. Its mood and characterizations drive the story and create interest.
Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, a no-nonsense private eye who is hired by a woman (Mary Astor) to find her sister. At least that's where the story begins.
Actually the story begins in the daytime, accompanied by upbeat music, but that dummy beginning quickly gives way to the shadowy cynicism that is the hallmark of film noir. It is a world where Sam Spade feels comfortable, making strategic moves in a game with ever-changing rules.
Two other actors grace this film with their classic portrayals: Sydney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman, and Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. This is character acting at its best. They are perfect foils for the twitchy pragmatism of Spade, for whom monetary reward may or may not be his highest motive.
Remarkable, Charming, Exotic
Remarkable for its scenes from the arctic and its portrayal of the native way of life, "Eskimo" is a compelling drama about Mala, a skillful hunter, and his family. With a really authentic feeling to it, "Eskimo" delivers a gripping story of survival and the interactions between the natives and the white men who come to the area.
It is refreshing to watch a film from the thirties that celebrates the native way of life-its rituals, its language, its system of morals. And the photography is impressive, especially the scenes of hunting. Though this is not a documentary, it feels authentic in every aspect.
The acting is surprisingly good. The story is interesting, in part because of its exotic nature. This is a must-see for film buffs and a joy to watch for any viewer.