Friday, June 24, 2011

Hey, it's...Rusty Schwimmer!

This should be a great summer, what with the returns of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Breaking Bad and my favorite comedy on TV, Louie.  Last night's premiere episode of Louie's second season lived up to expectations picking up with the same awesomely strange tone that walks the line between surrealism and sobering doses of reality while remaining hilarious and sweet.  The episode centered around a visit from Louis CK's very pregnant sister played by the wonderful Rusty Schwimmer, your go-to character actress if the role calls for a salt-of-the-earth, working class woman (see Twister, The Perfect Storm, North Country, etc.).  She makes quite the impression despite spending most her performance screaming in pain (though she does get to deliver the best line, commenting on Louie's ex-wife: "That pasty, big-titted, black-eyed guinea bitch can suck my dick!").

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dr. Katz and Ben: A Great Father-Son Relationship

In the stand-up comedy heyday of the 1990s, young network Comedy Central launched an animated series with a clever format for showcasing the country's comedians.  In Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, stand-up Jonathan Katz, who long toiled in relative obscurity gaining a reputation as a comedian's comedian (someone who - like Larry David - was a favorite among fellow stand-ups, but never caught on with a wide audience), plays a version of himself as a New York therapist whose clientele consists solely of comedians and the occasional semi-famous actor.  The therapy sessions are really just an opportunity for the stand-ups to do their act, which makes sense because most comedians' material feels like things one would complain about to a psychiatrist.  The strength of individual Dr. Katz episodes is thus variable depending on each installment's two featured comedians.  Things are great if you get a Louis CK or a Mitch Hedberg, but sitting through even five minutes of Gilbert Gottfried is enough to make me want to shove a railroad spike into my ears.  The only consistently entertaining aspect of the show is the relationship between the Dr. Katz and his adult son Ben, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

5 Great (Fake) American Accents

1. Hugh Laurie - House - I must admit that when I first saw House, I had no idea who Hugh Laurie was.  However, I was surprised to find out that not only is this interesting new actor not American, but he is the most British actor who ever Britished.  Laurie has been a cult-favorite comedic actor in the U.K. since the mid-80s, working as a comedy duo with Stephen Fry in shows such as Jeeves and Wooster and performing opposite Rowan Atkinson in the Blackadder series.  Story goes, House creator David Shore also had no idea that Laurie was British when he saw his audition tape, remarking to his producer, "See this is what I want: an American guy."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Netflix Report: Old Joy

Since my son was born a year ago today (happy birthday Sammy!), I have seen a grand total of one movie in the theater (the Coens' True Grit - not bad...) and thus have been depending on Netflix to satisfy my film fix.  For obvious reasons, my wife and I have been bad about turning over our Netflix discs lately, but fortunately the video rental company has a decent growing selection of movies available for instant streaming.  Kelly Reichardt's 2006 film Old Joy caught my eye because of the glowing reviews it had received upon its release and because I had enjoyed the minimalist pleasures of the director's follow-up Wendy and Lucy.  Unfortunately, the movie did not live up to the "hype" (if you can call it that for a movie that raked in $255,923 in domestic totals) and left me more than a little bored, which is an unforgivable cinematic crime.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Great Performances: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive

From time to time, I want to highlight a performance that I find truly remarkable.  This may be from film or TV and could be a leading role, a supporting role, or even a guest appearance.

The story is well known: David Lynch's Mulholland Drive was originally a 2-hour pilot filmed for ABC that the network not too surprisingly passed on.  The irked director turned around and found French backers to give him the money to extend the existing footage into a 2-and-a-half hour-long theatrical mindfuck.  I have no idea if Lynch planned on eventually having the series take the bizarre turn that the film takes around the 2-hour mark, but Mulholland Drive ended up as one awesomely strange and beautiful movie.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hey, it's...Ned Bellamy!

I have been catching up on season 2 of HBO's Treme of late.  Last night I watched the second episode, "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky," and I must confess that I am still not fully engaged in it.  I had such high hopes for David Simon's follow-up to The Wire and while the series has a great cast, its lack of narrative drive and urgency is making it harder for me to tune in.  It has me pining for the July return of Breaking Bad, a drama series that is nothing if not urgent.  The plot line from "Everything" that I found most interesting was the one in which Toni (sublime Oscar-winner Melissa Leo) helps a Bostoner find out how his son died during a post-Katrina looting incident.  I perked up when I saw that the father was played by Ned Bellamy, whom I recognized from The Shawshank Redemption (he was one of the prison guards alongside future "Hey, it's..." post subjects Clancy Brown, Paul McCrane, and Don McManus) and from the late-period Seinfeld episode "The Fatigues."  Bellamy played a mailroom employee of J. Peterman who is promoted by Elaine because she she is too scared to fire him (he wears the titular fatigues).  His deranged catalogue ideas are one of the episode's highlights.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Countdown: The 10 Greatest TV Seasons of All Time - #1

The Wire - Season 4 - At this point, proclaiming The Wire the greatest television series of all time sounds almost cliché, but by the end of its fourth season, I feel that the show had unquestionably earned the title.  Creator David Simon started out with grand plans of chronicling the drug war in Baltimore from both sides of the fight, and the vision kept on expanding season by season until The Wire was a portrait of the destruction of the American city.  Season 2 continued with the drug trade, but centered on illegal activity among the city's working class stevedores.  The third season folded in politics, juggling a plot line about a young White city councilman angling for a mayoral run with the story of a rogue police captain who comes up with an unconventional method of combating crime.  And then season 4 took all of the elements from previous seasons and added a critique of the educational system detailing the ways our society is failing the younger generation.  What makes The Wire so special is how it shines a light on important and often ignored sociopolitical topics in a way that is completely entertaining.  It never feels preachy and is never condescending.  In fact, the show is so committed to realism in its depictions of life in inner-city Baltimore that some of the dialogue and character motivations can occasionally go over the head of even the most attentive viewers.  Yet David Simon and his writing staff of ex-cops, teachers, journalists, and crime novelists know how to keep the big picture visible and how to use engaging tactics such as generous amounts of humor interspersed with shocking acts of violence.