Sitcoms of the Here and Now!

I don’t post much on television shows, and even less on comedies, but I wanted to bring attention to a couple sitcoms.  I usually give new sitcoms a couple minutes of a chance — that’s all I need to decide if they’re for me, and almost always they’re not.  So I was surprised to find myself thoroughly in love with The Mick, a new Fox series airing regularly on Tuesday nights, and irregularly whenever Fox feels like it.  It stars Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another sitcom that didn’t gel for me.  But I like the dynamic and out-there comic sensibility of The Mick.  Olson plays Mickey, a rough-and-ready aunt to three spoiled and disrespectful rich kids.

Comedy, as I’ve noted before, is tough.  It’s also subjective, I guess.  So check it out for yourself; I recommend starting with the first episode, but it’s not critical.  You may be able to watch it free on-demand via your cable/satellite service; it’s also available on the Fox Now app, though you can’t fast-forward through the commercials.

With a show like this, who knows how long it will last… or how long it will remain funny.

From The Mick, Ep. 1

The Mick, Ep. 1

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Also from Fox, Baskets season 2 began last Thursday 1/19 on FX.

Ever since I saw Due Date (no, not The Hangover), which as a side note was the first movie I saw in San Luis Obispo, I’ve been a fan of Zach Galifianakis.  If for some reason you’re not aware of his brand of humor, watch a few of his “Between Two Ferns” segments on YouTube.

Baskets started off awkwardly, both in the comedic, intentional sense best exemplified by The Office, but also in the clumsy, this-is-not-funny way.  My initial reaction was nearly to discontinue viewing — as you can gather, I have a short fuse when it comes to sitcoms, even those starring Zach Galifianakis.  But the show was nonetheless intriguing, if not hilarious.  It grew on me, and then made a swing upward with Ep. 4, “Easter in Bakersfield,” and then Ep. 5, “Uncle Dad” pushed me into dedicated fan territory.

True the comedy is stilted, but that’s the point.  It’s a balance of humor and the melancholy, and can be quite touching at times — as evidenced so well in the first episode of Season 2.

Besides streaming options, FX airs last week’s episode of its shows, Baskets included, on the night of the new episode — so DVR both on Thursday if you missed the first one.

Film Brief: In Order of Disappearance

In Order of Disappearance is a lot of fun.  It’s just too bad the conclusion is so pat.  On balance, a solid recommendation; 7/10.

Note 1: I’m including the more comically-biased trailer below, compared to the American versions which play up the drama unnecessarily.  Note 2: I saw this in the theater in Minneapolis, but it’s also available to rent on iTunes for $7.

Friday Fun Flick: Teeth

Teeth - poster large

Speaking of novel vectors in cinema.  Carina Chocano, for the LA Times:

YOU could never accuse Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of artist Roy) of pandering to market expectations. His first feature, “Teeth,” is a dark, gory and hilarious sendup of contemporary prudery, teen horror films, Christian abstinence programs, rampant cultural misogyny and latent gynophobia in ancient mythology that plays serial castration by vagina dentata for laughs.

… Campy, shameless and sophisticated, Lichtenstein’s debut is gutsy and original, and it makes “Juno” look positively tame by comparison

Teeth is not a masterwork by any means, but it’s a fun film that fills a niche found nowhere else in film.  You’ll have a good time with this one, and won’t forget about it any time soon.  Available via iTunes rental.

Cinematic Greats: Bound

Bound - poster

Terrifically fun, highly stylized modern film noir with lots of dark humor — in 2008, I wrote:

Bound, 1996, with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, is a delightful mob movie with a twist – the mobster, played uniquely with humor by Joe Pantoliano, becomes the target of a plot against him by his wife (Tilly) and Gershon.  I saw this in the theater when it came out.  It is the only movie I can think of where after about 10 minutes into the film, I was literally on the edge of my seat for the duration of the picture.

Bound - text blockRoger Ebert awarded his highest rating:

“Bound” is one of those movies that works you up, wrings you out and leaves you gasping. It’s pure cinema, spread over several genres. It’s a caper movie, a gangster movie, a sex movie and a slapstick comedy. It’s not often you think of “The Last Seduction” and the Marx Brothers during the same film, but I did during this one–and I also thought about “Blood Simple” and Woody Allen. It’s amazing to discover all this virtuosity and confidence in two first-time filmmakers, Larry and Andy Wachowski, self-described college dropouts, still in their 20s, from Chicago.

So in other words, for a dose of the Wachowskis, you’re better off watching Bound — even a second or third time — than opting for their most recent offering, Jupiter Ascending.  It’s funny that Bound ended up a somewhat forgotten film, while their Matrix enterprise became completely ubiquitous, a staple of cinema.

BONUS!  Bound’s available on Netflix.

Film Brief: Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

Wild Tales - poster large

Relates Salvajes is being marketed in English as Wild Tales, but a more accurate translation would be Savage Tales — this movie exposes the animalistic side of human nature.  Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian nails it:

Argentinian portmanteau movie is a tinderbox of delights

Writer / director Damián Szifron proves to be a masterful storyteller and an equally skilled director.  Wild Tales is beautifully put together — the filmmaking prowess matches the strength and style of the six stories, and demonstrates the power of linear storytelling.  I can hardly wait for more — hopefully a ‘standard’ feature from Szifron.  Incredibly entertaining and highly recommended,  Wild Tales offers a thrilling escape from cinematic doldrums.  8/10

Wild Tales - text block

No Bueno Fargo Problemo

Fargo - still Molly & Bill Oswalt

I’ve been very happy with the new Fargo series, as I posted on previously.  But there have been some minor annoyances story-wise that have cropped up, and I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed these things.  SPOILER ALERT!  I’m going to speak to a few details of the series, none of which will give too much away, but if you aren’t caught up and wish to be, you may want to skip reading on.  So these are the story problems I’ve noticed:

  1. In the first episode, how does Malvo lift the dead, full-grown deer into his trunk?  What is he, Hercules?  And why would he go to the effort?  Not consequential to the story, so easily forgiven / overlooked.
  2. Not so easily overlooked… The “naked guy” in the trunk, who ends up frozen to death: He was dragged out by Malvo right in front of witnesses, in addition to the security camera(s).  What gives?  I think if you had a co-worker in your office dragged out in front of you, you’d call the police — the local St. Paul police, in this case.  Said local police would issue an APB right away I’d say.  I don’t think Malvo would get to run around until the Bemidji police show up.
  3. Fargo series - still - washerFrom last night’s episode (ep. 5) — I understand why Molly returns to Lester’s house, but what on earth possesses her to open up the washing machine?  Now I take it that she did not find the murder weapon, but still: there is absolutely no reason presented — unless I’m missing something — to make her believe anything would be found there.

Obviously I’m really into this series, or I wouldn’t bother with all these issues.  But points 2 & 3 above are not minor quibbles.  I can ‘go with the flow’ on things like the blood-shower, or the cricket-ridden supermarket — neither one of which would be so easy to execute —  because these are the type of fantastic but just-believable elements which make the show so enjoyable.

The Fargo series has not disappointed — it is masterfully produced and 100% entertaining.  But in a sense, its high quality make the story-gaffes all the more unforgivable.  I’m hooked in for the short remainder of the series, but it seems these little plot problems could have been easily fixed, leaving a blemish-free program.  Your thoughts?

No Escape from Tomorrow

Escape from Tomorrow hardly lived up to all its hoopla.  I had been looking forward to it since first hearing about it, and was exceptionally curious to see this film that was shot in clandestine fashion within Disneyworld.  I was shocked to find that long-time Disney ally Apple had made it Escape from Tomorrow - poster new smallavailable for rental, and then I steeled myself for an experience that might inflict a permanent scar on my warm fuzzy feelings about Disneyland, those happy memories from childhood.  I need not have worried: Escape does not in any way blemish the Disney image.

In fact, even though there is extensive footage within the Magic Kingdom, it largely rings hollow.  The film does nothing to add a new perspective to the Disney park experience.  Worse, Escape from Tomorrow failed to tap into the mystique at its fingertips: the history, the lore, and the current embodiment of all things Disney and Disneyland.  A holy trinity of narrative goldmines that was all but discarded.

Obviously, entry into hidden spaces cannot be expected; it’s enough of a feat to film within the park, but the former basketball court inside the Matterhorn, the tunnel labyrinth underneath the parks, secret apartments — these are spaces whose very existence should have been used to inspire the twisted fantasy that the movie aspires to.  As for the areas available for filming, maybe spend less time on Big Thunder and shoot instead within Pirates, or do more with the Haunted Mansion.  It’s as if the filmmakers were completely oblivious to most of what the park could so easily grant them.

Escape from Tomorrow - text block red

As for positives, I will say the film had a more professional production polish than I expected.  And there were a couple laughs — but just a couple.  A.O. Scott of the Times:

None of it is as scary or as funny as it should be, and what starts out as a sly thumb in the eye of corporate power ends up as a muddled and amateurish homage to David Lynch.

Muddled and amateurish, yes.  But I don’t see the David Lynch connection.  There was nothing particularly David Lynch-ish about it.  More perhaps like a modern-day, botched attempt at a Twilight Zone episode.  But either way, this movie is a flop.  A critic or two have claimed that Escape from Tomorrow is headed for cult-film status.  I’m not sure about that — there’s just too little here.  The only reason to watch this movie is to satisfy your curiosity regarding its production.  I do love all the marketing graphics that were generated for the movie, including the latest poster (above).

It’s sad that for all the effort these guys put forth, they couldn’t come up with the easiest part: a good story.  3/10