Tuesday, May 22, 2018

FOX IS WEIRD!!!!: "BROOKLYN NINE-NINE" OUT, "LAST MAN STANDING" BACK; A LOOK AT THE STRANGE PAST, PRESENT AND POSSIBLE FUTURE OF PROGRAMMING AT AMERICA'S 4TH AND WEIRDEST NETWORK.



Eh, I guess I should pay a little attention to the May Upfronts. Anything interesting happening this year?

FOX CANCELS BROOKLYN NINE-NINE
https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/10/entertainment/brooklyn-nine-nine-canceled/index.html

Huh...
.
FOX BRINGS BACK TIM ALLEN'S "LAST MAN STANDING"!
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2018/05/14/fox-picked-up-last-man-standing-after-being-emboldened-by-response-to-roseanne/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7f90f4d441d4

Oooooh-kay?

"WWE SMACKDOWN" TO MOVE TO FOX IN FALL 2019!
https://deadspin.com/reports-wwe-smackdown-will-move-to-fox-next-year-1826198872

Ahhhhhhh-Hmm, Ah-ummm, huh. This was all within like a week span? .

Huh. So, what's going on with FOX anyway? So, as per usual, the network upfront announcement have led to several pieces of discussion on certain series as they get canceled or picked up, or in some cases, canceled and then picked up, believe it or not, I actually prefer these to be relatively uneventful but there's always one story and in this case, the story became FOX, who canceled a slew of their more popular live-action sitcoms including "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", which less than 36 hours later was basically a free agent before NBC (Who won the bidding war to renew. The other shows, "The Mick" and "The Last Man on Earth" didn't fair so well, so far, although if I'm being totally honest, I'm not exactly surprised by any of these shows' cancellations. They were all bubble series, even "Brooklyn..." is basically a critically-acclaimed cult series, I liked "The Mick", but I can't really claim I would go out of my way for it, and- well, I'll be honest, I didn't like "The Last Man on Earth" that much actually. I thought it was intriguing at first, but the joke got old and eventually they just added too many characters. (I mean, it's called "The Last Man on Earth", I swear why can't shows just stick to premise sometimes anymore?)

What really caught my eye was FOX picking up "Last Man Standing". For those who forgot, "Last Man Standing" was Tim Allen's ABC show last year that was "controversially" canceled last year, after six years. It's been off for a year after being deemed too expensive to be picked up, I believe it was CMT that had the most interest, but was still fairly expensive to pay for Tim Allen. Now, Allen, and several others have claimed that the show was canceled was partially to be blamed on ABC executives not wanting a Trump-conservative on the network, which I highly doubt to be honest, but, that partially makes it unsurprising that it ended up at Fox, although not entirely for the reasons you're thinking, that has more to do I imagine with the fact that 20th Century Fox owned the rights to the series and funded the previous six seasons...- You know what, Bob Chipman did a great overview of this a year ago, I'll just post that video:



That said though, have I ever done a piece on Fox? I know I've done several on NBC, at least one on NBC and I think I did one on ABC. Maybe I didn't, I probably should. I know, I didn't do one on Fox though, and yeah, this is as good a time as any.

So, before we take a closer look into their recent moves and how they got here, I think we need to take a look at how we got here, 'cause Fox has an interesting history that's probably worth noting, for a couple reasons. One, is that it's still fairly young, in fact I'm actually a year old than Fox, so I've grown up with it all my life and watched it evolve, and the other is that, Fox, has always been a little "WEIRD"! Very weird. (Get used to it, I'm using the word "weird" a lot in this article) It's been weird in different ways, some good, some very good weird ways, although other times it's just been weird in bad ways for weirdness's sake at times. A lot times they've had to weird just out of necessity to get noticed at all, and since it was new at the time, it sorta worked.  The joke has always been that Fox would put literally anything on the air, and absolutely, before the influx of reality TV becoming a mainstream thing, they were considered the network that easily put on the most exploitative of specials and programs, again in good and bad ways and to some extent they've never really kicked that perception entirely. That said, there were nuances and strategies to their scheduling and a lot of those innovations have been adapted and attempted by other networks since. CW, comes to mind as they basically seeked out a WB-like young adult audience that's basically a retread of a similar young adult audience that Fox aimed to get back when "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" were the most popular shows to talk about in the schoolyard.(And they were back then.)

They've basically always branded themselves as the cool network in some manner, the one with the more taboo and edgy series of the time, and why not, they were the rebel, they were the young upstart, it was a glove that fit. Even their damn sports coverage, ever since they picked up the NFL, which people forget was a major game-changer at the time; the network had no previous national sports experience before they picked up the NFL back in 1994, of any kind and they a lot of things that revolutionized network broadcasting in that regard as well. That's the weird thing about Fox, it seems like almost everything they ever did was something that you could argue transformed the basics and ideas of what we think of as network broadcasting, often in a lot of minor ways that when you add it up gave the network a real identity, but on the same token, they are probably responsible for just as many disasters on the other end.

And yet, the weirdest thing about Fox, that has always annoyed the shit out of me from day one 'til now, hardly anybody ever mentions it. Why does it stop programming at ten and not eleven. Seriously, how has that not bothered anyone else? I know they've always attempted to be different, but this has always genuinely confused, especially the fact that they still do it today. I mean, for a network that's built it's success on edgy stuff from "Married with Children" to "The Simpsons" to "Cops" to "24" to "Family Guy" and "Arrested Development" and far beyond those shows too I might add, they cut to the local news, right at the time when most networks would be wetting their lips to put on the most edgy adult content that the kids would love, and where it would be more legal to do more. (Yeah, remember that little weird thing, where the networks can show more adult content, and do things like say the seven words on network, but only between 10:00am and 6:00am when young kids are presumably not watching.) There are a few reasons for this, one is classification. Eh, it's a little complex and involves a weird circumvention of Financial Interest and Syndication rules that the FCC had, but basically they didn't qualify as a basic network at that point, and were instead basically a bunch of TV stations. It's weird and complex, but it actually worked towards their advantage in the beginning, since they would air fewer shows and could focus in on those shows while still allowing the stations to air mostly supplemental syndication shows to fill up the rest of their schedules. That said, it's always been strange that they never adapted the ten o'clock series, and after thinking it through, I have my own theory on this. Now, at the time, a lot of Fox affiliates didn't even have local news programs, I suspect most of them do now, mine in Vegas at the time didn't, but it seems like, if you ever watched "Outfoxed" the local stations they owned that did, well, they felt the early effects of what Newscorp and Reagan's repealing the Fairness Doctrine before anybody, and I suspect that's a lot of why they keep with this model. I mean, it outright hasn't worked anywhere else, UPN and WB and now CW have basically shown that, although CW's success or lack of it with it is still TBD, but, they love having a ten o'clock end of Primetime, and possibly a strange begin Primetime at seven on Sundays.. Lord knows it's more successful than anything they've ever had at eleven, the few times they tried, most notably "The Late Show with Joan Rivers", and "MadTV", but they focus on promoting their local news, which, yes is important without the funding from that, most local stations affiliate would be bankrupt quickly and that's not a Fox thing, that's every network. And yet, it's also weird that even though they have Fox News under the Newscorp umbrella, they don't have a nightly news show, which seems like an obvious natural fit.... Why not a half-hour Fox News style nightly news program; believe me I wouldn't watch it, but seems natural vertical integration? Huh; I told you, Fox is weird.

In it's little-over thirty years of this network, and going back through those old shows and their schedules, they've just been weird. That's basically been their signature, whatever it is, they've always been a little different than the other networks, mainly to attract a more younger demographic, or a more urban demographic at one point...,- that's always been Fox's prerogative and signature as a network, and the good thing about that, is that for the most parts, the network has kept a pretty solid brand and identity, but the other part about that however, is that it's so off sometimes from the beaten path, and generally they have so much fewer original programming than the other networks, especially in Primetime schedule, that it's sometimes also difficult to determine what actually works on the channel and what doesn't. Like, if you ask me to describe the channel in the last five years or so, I'd probably just show you this guy.



Boy, I can't seem to evade Gordon Ramsay from coming back into my life. But yeah, since they lost their cash cow in "American Idol" and "The X-Factor", the show that was supposed to replace it completely flopped and the trend of some of these reality shows seems be to sliding a bit, it does make some sense that they'd be looking for an image alteration, right about now. So, yeah, let's maybe take a closer look at their recent moves, Fox, see if we can see a pattern. Even before, all this recent action, let's not forget that their airing NFL Thursday Night Football starting next year, so that's one huge get, and one less night a week of Primetime programming to worry about. "Thursday Night Football" probably deserves it's own blogpost, but since nobody seems to like it when I exclusively sports here, I'll just move on and say, guaranteed moneymaker, good move.

Then the cancellation of these shows. Again, they were cult series at best, but they were a continuation of the more high-profile, more critically-acclaimed and more culturally-significant recent trend of single-camera sitcoms that Fox has been one of the forerunners on since, "Arrested Development", actually long before that to be honest. They had experimented with that form for year with shows like "Action!" with Jay Mohr, and of course, the last hour-long sitcom to win the Emmy, "Ally McBeal". What else in that section of the network has gone on.

"NEW GIRL" RENEWED for FINAL SEASON
http://deadline.com/2017/05/new-girl-final-season-details-cancellation-avoided-fox-1202094465/

Ah, so they're winding down their big show in this set. Or presumptive-, the one they put the most money in-, I have never understood the popularity of "New Girl" to be honest, but Fox has always invested in that series until now, and this isn't even the first multi-cams they've given up on; Hulu picked up "The Mindy Project" after several false starts trying to break that one out as well. So, why, did they bring back "Last Man Standing" back from a year of being dead. I mean, it's already in syndication, and 20th Century Fox is flipping the bill to make more, but were people really asking for "Last Man Standing" to come back?

I don't think so, but...- there is a minor trend to consider. The two biggest new network sitcoms right now are "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne", two single-camera sitcoms who are both revivals of older successful shows in the nineties and that trend isn't stopping yet. CBS is bringing back "Murphy Brown" for next season, and boy is that a timely move, but it's clear that a trend is leaning this way on the network landscape. (Although side note: Hot Take: I think most of the reason the networks are pushing these shows is because they're some of the only shows anymore that they know how to market properly). Now, I would think demographics-wise, the fans that watch "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" probably are worth more than the ones who watched "Last Man Standing", which skews a little older, which is a bit weird for Fox, actually. (Demographic shorthand: a younger more city-based richer viewers are generally worth more than an aging, older more rural viewers, because of the amount of money they will spend leads to the network being able to charge more on advertising for that show and therefore make more money with less viewership because they have more profitable demographics.)

I mean, I guess, it's a gamble that you could see as six-to-one, half-a-dozen but I'm not sure what David Madden's thinking; this is a big shift for him.

DAVID MADDEN to head AMC, MICHAEL THORN takes over at FOX
http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/fox-michael-thorn-david-madden-amc-1202542947/

Oooh, I missed this. It isn't Madden in charge there anymore, it's Michael Thorn. So, it's not just a rebranding onscreen, there's a behind-the-scenes one too.

Oh-kay, this is interesting. Thorn, does have a belief in multi-camera sitcoms, and I'm noting Ken Levine's blogpost for this information; you can find that, here:
http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2018/05/whats-going-on-at-fox.html

Now, I love his blog, but he does go on a bit about some of the differences between three-camera and single-camera, that is a little off-topic here and I may or may not agree with them, but the point he's making is that, they are switching to this, at least, dipping their toes in, for now. And, it's a bit of a weird pairing. I mean, sure Fox, has a lot of success with multi-cam sitcoms, but not lately. That said, the two biggest sitcoms the channel's ever had, "Married with Children" and "That '70s Show" were multi-cams. (Although the only two to ever with the Emmy, "Ally McBeal" and "Arrested Development" were very much, single-cams.) I guess this is a pick your poison thing, try to grab what seems to be a bigger audience, or get a more Vanity Fair audience with the multi-cams, but it does feel like a weird fit while they're still the network of Animation Domination in Primetime, and simultaneously the network that's banked on reality the most this century.

And with now, bringing back pro wrestling to a major basic network on a weekly basis in Primetime, for the first time since I don't know when, by picking up "WWE Smackdown Live". (So with football and wrestling, that's two full nights a week they don't have to schedule.) That's not a horrible move either btw, wrestling, like everything else doesn't get the ratings it used to, but the fans who are there will keep coming, just like the NFL.

It also means that like, I suspects all the networks will be transitioning towards in the next few years, they're gonna be focusing in on live programming to get ratings more than scripted series. I don't think any sitcom, even three-camera ones are going live anymore under the "Undateable" fiasco, and lord knows, Fox has bad experience with that already after "Roc" did that for a season, but expect more play adaptations and specials. I don't about Thorn's thoughts on reality, so we'll see whether or not Fox will keeping seeking out the next "The Voice' or not, but I somehow doubt that's in their objective however.

If you take each of these decisions, in a bubble, they all seem sound to one degree or another, but it's when you combine a lot of them together, that's when it all seems a little..., odd. And yet, while this switch to multi-cams is eye-opening, I can't necessarily say strange or too weird to work or even too weird to work for Fox. Fox has always gone in so many different directions that it's always gonna be hard to tell what they're gonna focus on in the future; they basically are determined to just find a hit and stick with it, and go with the flow, but that seems to indicate that there's no planning or strategy or point of view involved at all in their decisions and that's never been true before and it's not true now.

It's chaotic and little schizophrenic, sure. I mean, they get rid of the single-cams shows to get the broad audience with multi-cams but then they keep the animation block of they have, a niche market. They pay a buttload for more football, a mass-appeal sport, while they pick up pro wrestling, an ultimate niche attraction. Oh, and if anybody cares, and surprisingly people apparently did, they canceled "Lucifer" and "The X-Files" the sci-fi/fantasy cult series, the latter a previous breakout Fox stable, but kept "Empire" a modern-soap old-fashioned soap opera, for adults, and kept "Gotham" which from what I can tell even the superhero crowd is heavily split on. If I'm gonna guess, I'm gonna predict that "Last Man Standing" is not gonna last much longer than a year, although that might not matter since it might ring in a new era of single-camera sitcoms that Fox hasn't really had since the days of "Martin" and "Living Single", but are they gonna get the audience that this new revival of sitcoms pasts gets? (Shrugs) I'm not even 100% sure these sequel series and remakes trend isn't a fluke yet, and they're betting on Tim Allen's second series to help them get a part of this pie? Admittedly, unlike the other networks Fox doesn't have the great history of shows to bring back and revive and update at a moment's notice. Let's face it, nobody, except maybe me, would ever ask for a new "Herman's Head".  (And successful past series they might be able to pull out of their ass in perfect circumstances for a reboot, well-, they don't have perfect circumstances unfortunately. Looking at you "That '70s Show"....) so maybe it's the best gamble they got left, if they want to go in this direction, but...- that brings about the question of is this a good direction to go into?

(Shrugs) I guess we'll see. But here's the think, let's see it is successful and they play off of it and now we have a major broadcast network that's mainly based around popular, funny single-camera sitcoms that would make them...- something every network has already done at some point in their history successfully, at least once, if not multiple times. The network is 32 now, maybe it's time they grow and stop being so weird, and this might be the first step towards that? Michael Thorn, he's the guy who helped developed "This is Us", one of the best and most adult shows on network television right now; is this an experiment to see if this approach could work for Fox in the future or is this perhaps, a turning point in the channel's history. No longer being the other network that sprawled out of the ashes of DuMont and other failed 4th networks, no longer the channel that'll air anything from the revolutionary to the distasteful, from the unique and innovative to the obscene and controversial? Now, it's more likely than ever that it'll turn into every other network.

Then I remember it's still got "The Simpsons" and all it's legacy series and now it's got pro wrestling. (Sigh) FOX is just WEIRD!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #148: "DETROIT", "WIND RIVER", "CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS:THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE", "DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME", "LUCKY (Lynch)", "ELIAN", "MR. ROOSEVELT", "UNREST", "THE KIND WORDS" and "CLOSET MONSTER"!

(Sigh) Well, I've gotten a little healthier since the last batch of reviews, but yeah, we seem to be catching everything lately. Anyway, work's been slow, but I've been getting around to more movies lately. I finally got around to "Cherry Blossoms", the beautiful German movie about a terminally ill German man who's going to Japan to see Mt. Fuji after in honor of his wife's sudden passing. I enjoy that one that one, it was quite good, great cinematography. I also "The Law in These Parts" a documentary about the history of modern Israeli law. I don't know why I keep getting these Israeli history documentary, it's honestly not something I seek out, but this one was, I'm sure informative but so pedantic that I just couldn't...- I actually studying case law and analyzing important precedent-setting historical cases, but man, like, you gotta make it a little entertaining. There's a reason I didn't go to law school, you know?

Not too much going on, other than just, the usual watching of the TV toke boards to see what shows got renewed or canceled or picked up or whatever; admittedly it's been unusually interesting this year, but I'll save any other thoughts on that 'til later. I'm also thinking of doing a Top Ten soon, so if you have a good idea for a Top Ten List that you haven't seen done before, let me know, either comment below or better yet, find me on Facebook or Twitter. Remember, I don't want to do the lists that everybody else does, so I want entertainment-based (Preferably film or TV, but not limited to them) topics that you haven't seen Top Ten Lists done for, if possible. (Or rarely if ever have seen them.) Anyway, enough of that.

Let's get to the reviews!


DETROIT (2017) Director: Kathryn Bigelow

★★★★1/2

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I'm not exactly sure how to tackle a review of Kathryn Bigelow's controversial "Detroit". It's by no standard a bad film, although there are some critics of it out there. Most of their criticisms,- well, well some I don't mind, but the main crux seems to be this notion that, as Christopher Orr of the Atlantic put it, "Detroit... is strangely disengaged from the cultural and systemic forces that led to Police brutality in 1967 and continue to do so today." I'm not saying that's not necessarily true, although I'm not sure I agree with that, but I hear that same complaint about Paul Haggis's "Crash" all the time, and I never agreed with it there either, mainly I never got the impression that that film's intention was to explain racism, only to examine aspects of it through a modern lens, how it's practiced and shows up in everyday modern life. "Detroit", well, it's goal is to create a document about a very specific incident, involving corrupt, abusive and murderous white cops and their actions against a group of African-Americans and as far as I can tell, it does it really well. Does it have to get into a detailed history of racism in the United States and it's Social Impacts on Society today lesson as well? Also, how disengaged can it be, it's a whole movie where a specific historical even is used as a symbolic reference to shine a light on how the modern society's view on Police Brutality today, have in many ways not been changed too much as well as show just how the Justice System has been systemically broken not just now, but seemingly always. This feels like asking more of the movie than the movie's trying to do, this line of criticism to me.

So, the Detroit Riot of 1967, also known as the 12th Street Riot lasted for five days, at the time, was considered the largest riot in American history and certainly the largest race riot until the L.A. Riots of '92, as the African-American community and the Police were basically at arms against each other after the Police raided an unlicensed nightclub called the Blind Pig. During this time, there were attempts to alleviate the raid by local leaders in the African-American community, but also outside forces from the state and national level were brought in. In total there were 43 deaths over the five days, including that of a four-year-old girl who was killed by National Guardsman because, and yes, this is as stupid as it sounds, because they thought she was a sniper. The movie shows several of these scenes and incidents, but it's all briskly shown in chaos, which is understandable, all this happening in a short period and we have a lot of characters to inevitably introduce as they head to the Algiers Motel.

So, it's in the middle of this race riot that an incident at the Algiers Motel occurs, one where the Police act beyond the scope of their legal means and end up killing three black men, all of them, in cold blood, none of them in self-defense. I'll spoil the punchline, they were found not guilty, despite basically terrorizing the occupants of a motel, mainly because they could. There was a report of a sniper that seemed to be after a group of Police, and at least according to this movie, there was a customer, Carl (Jason Mitchell) who did something stupid and decided to mock shoot at the cops, using a starter's pistol, just to scare them. Then, believing there to be a gun and that they were legitimately shot at, led by Officer Krauss (Will Poulter, in a really amazingly evil performance), a cop that's already been accused during the raids of shooting an killing an unarmed Black looter trying to escape, (And one that might not have even been a lotter by the looks of it) decides to use the situation to terrorize and abuse as many of the motel residents as possible until things started to get worst and worst and one cop, unaware that they were only insinuating that they were killing African-Americans one-by-one until someone confessed, actually killed someone.

There's other storylines crossing here, for instance, two of the members of The Dramatics, Larry & Fred (Algee Smith and Jacob Lattimore) were at the hotel at the time after their performance was canceled due to the riots, this was right before they hit it big in Motown, there's two white girls from out-of-town Karen and Julie (Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray) staying the hotel who they hooked up with and when they find the girls in a room with a Black man, they immediately presume they're hookers and that one of the men, Greene (Anthony Mackie) a soldier home from Vietnam is their pimp, there's a Black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) who's hired to protect a local store where the Police and national Guard are staying and he's able to manipulate the situation well in order to make sure he's protected and not mistaken for, a looter or sniper or something. The movie is a bit of a mess, but the situation is a mess within a mess and it doesn't attempt to hide what it was or make it understandable, maybe to it's detriment it unflinchingly shows us what happened, to the best they can reconstruct, at this time.

And remember, Bigelow's main motif through the majority of her work isn't race or any social issues for that matter, her fascination has always been the study of masculinity. Now that certainly has a major role in race, but she's fascinated by the examining of it in dire situations and say whatever else, "Detroit" is a fascinating portrait of masculinity on multiple levels through many different forms of it. From that perspective, I have to give "Detroit" some credit. There's certainly some flaws in the film, but I couldn't look away if I wanted to. To me, that's a successful movie.


WIND RIVER (2017) Director: Taylor Sheridan

★★★★

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I think I'm safe in saying that the biggest accomplishment that Taylor Sheridan have figured out is that, rather conventional, classical narratives can become new again by setting them in new modern environments. His breakthrough screenplay was for Denis Villeneuve's "Sicario" a movie, that I thought was okay, although I don't get the huge acclaim it got; I called it "Traffic"-lite, and that's not a negative but it was nothing special. He then got an Oscar nomination for the script for "Hell or High Water" a modern-day western about bank robbers that was...- (Shrugs) okay. I didn't see the big deal about that film, outside of some performances and oddly not even Jeff Bridges's one to be honest. Basically all it really amounted to was, give a decent reason for the robbers to be robbing the banks. (Shrugs) I guess, cool, but that seemed a little simplistic to me. It might also be that he's used the Desert Southwest and Mexico for his previous films and as somebody who lives there, granted in the weird part that right next door to the adult playground of Las Vegas, eh, let's just say the setting didn't inspire me.

"Wind River" is probably the first of his films where he uses the setting and location to a real advantage in telling his story and not just a convenient symbolic one. The title, "Wind River" refers to the Wyoming-based Indian Reservation, where Eastern Shoshone and Arapaho tribes still live. If you're not entirely familiar with Wyoming's demographics, it's the state with a lot of land but very little population, especially in the Western part of the state. We know Yellowstone, but it's also quite a mountainous terrain that could easily be confused for say, the Yukon perhaps. Now, it's also this weird area where law enforcement, what there is, is itself handcuffed given the worst of circumstances, like a woman found dead on the Reservation. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds a young dead woman, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) while. Lambert is a Wildlife Service tracker, which young rookie FBI investigator Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) quickly realize that he's probably the most useful person to have around as they seek out her killer, along with the look Indian Reservation Sheriff Ben (Graham Greene) Cory, meanwhile finds Nathalie's boyfriend Matt (Joe Bernthal), who is also found dead, both of them beaten and sexually assaulted, with less-than-viable clothing considering the weather.

The movie take a chance by having some strategic-placed flashbacks to these two as we slowly reveal their secret relationship and their inevitable deaths. One of Sheridan's weak spots is how he's inspired by real-life events for these otherwise interesting genre pieces, and it's true, there's been a large amount of missing Native American women on reservations such as Wind River, and several accounts of sexual assaults against them, although calling this film, "Based on a True Story", is maybe a bit of a stretch. It's strange and contradictory to some extent, like he thinks he's foreshadowing real issues with the world and society when he's basically just making some decent westerns. It works here, 'cause it's a different environment than we're used to, the cool, frigid, mountains of Wyoming that are so out of the way, that what few people are around, they don't exactly have much to do or easy contact with others; it's almost too perfect a place for the most violent of crimes to take place. It reminds me a lot of wonderfully Courtney Hunt feature "Frozen River" which also involved crimes taking place at a cold frigid northern areas of the country, that also coincidentally involves a strategically-placed Native American reservation. It's not that good but it's easily the most interesting and best of Sheridan's work so far and I appreciate his directing as well. 


CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE (2017) Director: David Soren

★★★1/2

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Wait, what? Oh-kay, maybe I missed this, but apparently there's a joke/trope in comic books that, apparently superheroes look like they're running around town solving crimes in their underwear. Ummmm-, I-eh, huh? What? I'm sorry, am I missing something, 'cause I've never thought that at all. (Sigh) Let's do some Google Image searches.

SUPERMAN: Uh, who wears a blue unitard as underwear?
BATMAN: God, I hope some of those don't resemble underwear, some of those metal things look uncomfortable as is.
SPIDER-MAN: Eh, he looks like the world's worst Luchador jobber, but not underwear.
WONDER WOMAN: I mean, it's revealing; it looks like what half my friends wear to either "Rocky Horror" shows or to their bondage orgies, and what my one slutty friend wears almost everywhere. (You know who you are!)
GREEN LANTERN: Nope
GREEN HORNET: Nope
CAPT. MARVEL: Eh, maybe gym clothes?
IRON MAN: No.
CAPT. AMERICA: No-, okay kinda.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Alright, I'll give you this one, but that's not fair, he busts out of his clothes, so he's in his underwear essentially.
DAREDEVIL: Mostly just looks somewhere between Kane and a Ninja.
BLACK PANTHER: I don't see it.
WOLVERINE: He always just dressed weird to me, but he never dressed in his underwear.
AQUAMAN: Well, he's like a fish, so...-
GREEN ARROW: Okay, am I missing something here, 'cause I'm not getting this trope, like at all?
ROBIN: Oh-kay, now I see it.

Still though, eh, is this as common as thought as the movie thinks? Maybe I just grew up in a post-Madonna world, but if someone tells me their outfit looks like underwear, I'm gonna need more than spandex + '80s gym clothes patterns. It plays less like underwear to me and more like, "American Gladiators" for most of them, although there are some obvious exceptions.(Boy Wonder, boy does he make me seriously wonder.) Anyway, apparently this joke is really funny to George and Harold (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) two young best friends who live in ridiculous prison-like school where the Principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) is a sadistic dictatorial menace who's out to get them because they prank everyone. Okay, this is like the second film I've seen recently that involves elementary and middle schoolers having to pull off pranks because to spite their Principal, are Principals really these big bully villains everyone makes them out to be, who are just making school miserable? 'Cause the only people I ever knew who thought that got in trouble a lot, and not the pranks going too far kind, like I don't remember anybody going to far out of the way for a prank i school, and least that students would relish and admit to, and people found out about. Usually it was the quiet person who sat in the corner of the lunchroom alone that nobody was paying attention when something would happen and he would quietly disappear all of a sudden and nobody would be the wiser...-, um, perhaps I'm revealing a little too much here. Anyway, they live next door to each, which really makes Mr. Krull moronic idea of separating them and keeping them apart forever particularly moronic. (Like, how does this even work, they won't be friends anymore 'cause they're not in the same class? Like half my best friends I never had a class with-, what-the...-) Anyway, Harold and George put their juvenile sense of humor and artistic vision towards their comic book, "Captain Underpants". Anyway, due to circumstances, the Principal suddenly, magically becomes Captain Underpants and they can control him, through, some kind of hypnosis when they snap their fingers. Using this, they help struggle to improve the school.

This is when Captain Underpants's arch-enemy, Prof. Poopypants (Nick Kroll) a mad scientist genius who wants to rid the world of humor and along with the school intelligent inventor, Melvin (Jordan Peele) who doesn't have a sense of humor in his brain, constructs a device that will alleviate the sense of humor of all the kids in the school. So, it's time for Captain Underpants, and George and Howard to the rescue, since Capt. Underpants is basically a Hong Kong Phooey kind of superhero who thinks he's more powerful and doing more than he is. Uh, look I hate to sound like Melvin here, but I guess I've just outgrown this flatulent-based sense of humor. (See, farts aren't inherently funny, unless there's an embarrassment factor involved, something that I think is elusive to some kids' minds; that why whoopie cushions never really worked. Well, that and they're usually way too big to properly hide, although nice try 4th Grade assholes, hope you liked those expulsions you got in high school, that you swear you didn't do and were framed by somebody for, but can't prove it, not that I know anything about that or playing any other kind o long con game....) I guess I'm recommending this, it's fun and harmless and apparently it's a popular book series for kids. I mean, it wouldn't be my choice, but I laughed, it's goofy, it feels like something that immature elementary school kids would come up with, and that's all that really matter with "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie"; I guess I just like my dopey comedy children's lit to be based a little more in realism than this. I think I grew up in the last generation of kids that this would really work for and I wasn't really apart of that generation. I think I was more Minkus than Melvin is, I certainly have never been talented enough of an engineer to invent anything, but I can't say I don't empathize with him a bit. (Although Stuart Minkus had a sense of humor and self-awareness.)

I suspect most kids will like this, and it will click that repressed part of an adults' minds that can appreciate the goofiness of this kind of humor, and it goes for all it all the way through, so I'll definitely recommend this for that. It's fun if nothing else, so.... (Shrugs) I still don't think much of the "Superheroes look like their wearing underwear," thing.


DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2017) Director: Bill Morrison

★★★★★



Before I get into everything else, I'm not overly crazy about the movie's constant use of subtitles instead of a narrator. That's a bit of a curious choice, but that's a minor issue; "Dawson City: Frozen Time" is one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest love letters to classic cinema ever but more than that, it's a look into a history of a town and of early cinema that feels likes it's only now be discovered and written.

So, there's a place in the Sierra Nevada's called Bodie, California that at one point was the state's third largest city, about 125 years ago, that is now a ghost town. It was a mining town that benefited greatly from both the California Gold Rush and the Comstock Lode silver discovery in Nevada, but after the profit ran out on that, people eventually started leaving and now the town, basically is a tourist trap. I bring it up, it's probably the most comparable thing I can think of to Dawson City, or Dawson at least in America. Now Dawson City, is not a ghost town, there's still about a 1,000 people living there, but it's literally about as out-of-the-way as you can get; at one point it was the capital of the Yukon Territory where after the land was originally owned by Natives, of course, the town found a mass population boom in the late 1800s as the Klondike Gold Rush hit. And no, I had never heard of this place before I saw this movie; I really have to study maps more like I used to, my geography knowledge is slowly whispering away it seems)

Now, the movie has two stories, one is the history of this town, which it tells through photos, old articles and subtitles; it's basically a meditation on the birth, rise and inevitable decline of this town, and the town is amazing! As obscure as this place is, it's apparently one of those weird places where like, everything happened. Jack London lived and wrote there, Sid Grauman of Grauman's Chinese Theater started his empire there, even Fred Trump, yes, that Fred Trump, ran a brothel that was located on the travel route to the town. I'm leaving a lot of stuff out too, 'cause this is a gold mine that needs to be discovered, in more ways than one. This is one of the most historically fascinating towns you'll ever see. The more you read into this place, the more fascinating it becomes, even like the early remnants of what would becomes the National Hockey League has origins there . That was until the end of the World War II, when the Alaskan Highway bypassed the town by 300 Miles, and since then it's basically become this dwindling small town that's mostly cutoff from the rest of Canada and by the 1950s the capital city of the Territory switched to Whitehorse.

That is until 1977 when, inside a long-abandoned swimming pool that now resided under a hockey rink, they found 533 nitrate films, most of them dating back to the Silent era, having remained protected from the elements by Permafrost, the majority of these films were long-thought lost or destroyed. (Remember, this was nitrate film, so it was, and still is, highly flammable so the fact that it was basically preserved by permafrost is kinda amazing, even if it led to most of the films having suffered from severe water damage, the restoration efforts are worth it.) It's weird to think of just how recent the Gold Rushes were, but right as Dawson City was becoming a hub at the center of the Klondike, film was beginning to explode across the world and the town has itself a rich history of entertainment, including multiple movie houses in those days. The thing is, it was still really out-of-the-way and back in the days where film reels would literally travel from town-to-town and Dawson City, was literally the last stop, like the last places the reels would travel to, after traveling up and down the continent, and before the days of film preservation Hollywood, never picked them up. This led to a few fires and some movie houses and entertainment hubs having to get built and rebuilt and pretty soon, the idea of what to do with the films came up. Many were destroyed, purposefully burned, some were thrown into the Yukon River, but several found homes and survived and the story of their survival and inevitable rediscovery and preservation is probably bigger and more important than many of the actual films.

"Dawson City: Frozen Time" doesn't tell these two stories to fill up the time either, they're both intertwined with each other and with a part of our history that's forgotten and under-told. One of Director Bill Morrison's great tricks is now only splicing in footage of the films or other time period movies and movie scenes with the historic photos whenever possible, but it's amazing to see just how much of the films made back then, really were also telling the recent realities and stories of the time, much of it easily fill in as tales of Dawson City itself. Not only do we have all these films, we now get to look at them with fresh eyes, but also imagine them being seen by the Miners and their families of Dawson City and perhaps wonder what they saw and what they were thinking as they watched this representation of life and rare glimpse into the outer world on the screen. In a way, "Dawson City: Frozen Time" gives us a rare opportunity to look into our past and the past of cinema as a tool for recording history as it's happening, and simultaneously as it's already happened. It's one of the most inspiring and important films of the year, and it's absolutely a miracle that such a document can be made today.


LUCKY (2017) Director: John Carroll Lynch

★★★

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“Lucky” isn’t so much a movie as it is a hallucination. The ones you get when you’re somewhere between daydreaming and falling asleep while watching one movie and suddenly remnants of other films and other random thought seem to intervene and invade the film you’re watching. (In this case, I suspect the movies are probably “Paris, Texas” or more likely, the lesser-known Sam Shepherd/Wim Wenders collaboration, “Don’t Come Knocking”, or maybe it's the other way around.) There’s a scene in this movie where David Lynch sits at a bar with Harry Dean Stanton and mourns about how his tortoise, President Roosevelt, ran away from home. That alone is worth the movie and this whole movie to some extent feels like a long sequence of just random, bizarre scenes like these that you'd only imagine during those late-night REM sleep dreams that peak out into your memory, or those that might simmer randomly to the forefront of your mind during those medicinal "Trips" that don't go horribly wrong. It's a rare starring role, and inevitably it became the final one for the great Harry Dean Stanton who passed away shortly before the film's theatrical release. He plays the titular Lucky, a role that only he could play. 

The movie takes place, in some out-of-the-way desert town, one that's small enough where everybody knows exactly where everybody else lives. Lucky is...- but that's a hard question to answer. We occasionally learn a little bit about him. He lives alone, likes a game show, is good at crossword puzzles, has gotten thrown out of most places in town, goes to a small convenience store for cigarettes every day, he does yoga, which is pretty good for a 90-year-old. In fact, when he does have a sudden fall, his doctor, Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley, Jr., with a curiously symbolic name for a character who only shows up in one or two scenes) says that at his advanced age, he should keep smoking and drinking 'cause any drastic changes to his current lifestyle could be death. 

The rest of the movie, is just one episodic strange sequence after another, and I don't know how else to explain it. Some seem like they happen in real life, the scenes at the bar he frequents every night or the diner he visits every day seem plausible enough. He gets into a disagreement with his friend Howard (Lynch) after he decides to give his entire estate and fortune to his aforementioned missing pet tortoise President Roosevelt, something he discusses with his lawyer Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston) who Lucky considers a conman as he does all lawyers, presumably. Other scenes,- well, there's one sequence in the movie where a red light leads him down an alley and path to a club that feels like something that came out of some old David Lynch project. I think this is a dream sequence, but the whole movie feels like some surreal look at Americana that I would've expected Bunuel would've made as a sublime joke in his old age. Instead, it's directed, not by David Lynch, but by John Carroll Lynch of all people, the great character actor who you've seen hundreds of times before just never knew his name. He's that tall bald actor who that you see all the time, most likely lately from either "American Horror Story" or one of the McDonald's brothers opposite Nick Offerman in "The Founder". I have no idea what possessed him to suddenly direct this or why, I don't even think they worked together before now. (Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong about that assertion) There's nothing wrong with the directing, it's actually quite intriguing to be honest. 

Whether it was intended to or not, the movie basically just feels like a tribute to Mr. Stanton. The more you know about him, his work and the iconography of Harry Dean Stanton, the more this movie-, well, I won't say it makes sense, but you can relate to it. It's a meditation on accepting the limitations of one's life and it's upcoming inevitable end, and part of that is surrounding oneself in a world that's unequivocally their own. This one wasn't written by him or anything, but it does feel and play like an homage to him and all his eccentricities. If I were to guess a theory, well-, my theory would be that this world of his probably does exist moreso in the Heavens than it does on Earth; that's the only thing that makes sense to me. I doubt that's the case but like all men and tortoises, we all go off on our own at some point must escape from the comforts of our lives and seek out something greater, whatever that is. If Harry is somewhere in a world like this now, I'm sure he's happy enough with it, probably signing some Spanish folk tune for people between puffs and drinks. I have no idea if "Lucky' is a movie, but as an experience I can't imagine not recommending it, but I'll be damned if I know what to do with it afterwards. 


ELIAN (2017) Directors: Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell

★★★

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(Angry, annoyed scoff)

Please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be...- CNN Films, that's- eh, that could go either way....- dammit, I got to look it up.

(IMDB search)

TVR rating, no MPAA rating, that's something. Won awards at film festivals, that's not good...- No, it's got a U.S. release date before it's internet release, ooooh, I gotta look this up...- Reviews, let's try the Wikipedia page...- There isn't one, let's look up Elian Gonzalez...- (Scrolling) Documentary on the bottom of his page...- It says, "Debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opened in Limited Rel-, SONOFAGODDAMNMOTHERFUCKING-!!!!

(Davis gets up and stomps outside, screaming commences and continues although constantly fades out the farther he walks)

WHY! WHY! WHY DOES EVERY GODDAMN MOVIE I EVER SEE ANYMORE SEEM TO JUST BE ABOUT ALL THE PARTS OF THE 90'S THAT I'VE SPENT 20 FUCKING YEARS TRYING TO FORGET! IS IT O.J.? IS IT GIANNI VERSACE? IS IT PRINCESS DIANA NOW, NOW IT'S ANOTHER ONE ON O.J.! THE MENENDEZ BROTHERS THEY BROUGHT BACK AND NOW IT'S TONYA FUCKING HARDING OF ALL GODDAMN THINGS? BIGGIE & FUCKING TUPAC, AND NOW IT'S ELIAN FUCKING GONZALEZ, WE'RE BRINGING THAT BACK UP? WHAT ELSE CAN WE MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT, HOW ABOUT DON KING, TERRY SCHIVO, HOW ABOUT A 12-PART MINISERIES ABOUT THAT ONE TIME WINONA RYDER SHOPLIFTED WHILE WE"RE AT IT, EVERY PIECE OF NOSTALGIA EPHEMERA....-

(30 Minutes and one movie and two three latge pina colada slurpees later)

Hmm, (Slurping straw, relaxing sigh) Alright, I think I might be okay now. Sorry about that. Look I- I recognize that that might seem like a-eh a bit of an overreaction to you, but it's- it's been a bit rough personally. I realize that there's probably a good portion of my audience that only knows the name Elian Gonzalez from that "The Racial Draft" sketch from "Chapelle's Show" and half of you probably didn't quite get the joke then. That said, you gotta realize that this stuff, eh, it's hard to explain, but you gotta realize that, while there's certain things that maybe 20 years ago my mother and her generation looks upon, eh, I don't know, like the Patty Hearst kidnapping I guess, but you see, those kinds of exploitative tabloid article stories,- it's-, it's different if you grew up in the '90s, 'cause this was the coming-of-age-, well, that's a terrible term for it, but that form of "journalism", kinda took off around then. There was 24 hours of news on Patty Hearst back then,  it was just a really big part of the news, all this shit, that we're bringing back up now, these were like, major 24 hours a day, CNN, Fox News, CourtTV events that, frankly we were just, so goddamn sick of. They seem like weird, strange, surreal footnotes to the nineties to some of you, who might've found out about these weird things on old VH-1 nostalgia series, to us, (Sigh) they were just...- God, I don't even know how to describe them. It was this weird combination of a major weird, new thing constantly happening, mixed with the beginning days of how we were newly finding these medias. The internet was barely a thing, if it was at all for some of these stories and now we have people who have grown up in this and think it's normal, well, no, it's not. It wasn't normal, 'til all this stupid shit happen, then it became normal. You gotta get that timeline right, you know?

So, "ELIAN", Elian Gonzalez, this poor kid. Basically, he was caught in the middle of a custody battle in the wrong places and the wrong time. So, (Sigh) what year was it, Thanksgiving 1999 I think, six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is found by Florida fisherman, alive, floating in a raft; his mother had decided like many Cubans did at that time, to take that ninety mile journey from Cuba to America in hope for a better life not under Castro's rule. He barely made it, his mother didn't. I hope I don't have to explain Cuba-America relations' history at that time, but the Embargo was still intact and while there was some talk between them, they were really not in the best place friendship wise with each other at the time. So, he had an Aunt in Miami who was taking care of him, and there also was his Father in Cuba, and this under the best of circumstances was never gonna play out in any scenario that would be good, but Elian Gonzalez, basically kinda became a symbol of Cuban refugees in America, and in particular Florida, and with the Press and media attention, he also became the center of politics for awhile. (Oh, right, this was also in the middle/beginning of the 2000 Presidential campaign, and yeah, so sure's that shitshow, and yes, as Tim Russert famously put it, Florida, Florida, Florida.)

Going over all the twists and turns of the story and public opinion, and the courts, trying to figure out how the hell to deal with this, and remember between it's between these two countries on top of the family situation, there's precedents upon precedents that's everybody trying to not set, but they're inevitably gonna be set, plus there's this Castro vs. America aspect...- I mean, basically it boils down to, what's more important, the rights of the Father, or what were clearly the intentions and wishes of the Boy's mother, who risked her and her son's life, and lost hers, trying to come to America. (Sigh) Somehow this ended up with Elian being taken away from one home, at the end of a soldier with a gun, sent by Janet Reno, and man, was that not a good picture. I think Reno gets a really bad rap most of the time, including her actions here, but that was a bad photo, but then again, why the hell were the paparazzi staking out this kid 24/7. Then again, the family seemed to be playing it up whenever they could, and there's about 20 other "then agains..." I could add here.

This was the one of the '90s tabloid pieces 'cause this really was a no-win scenario for everyone involved. The most interesting part of the documentary for me, is to see what Elian Gonzalez has become and is now. He's still somewhat famous and Castro, actually did take a genuine interest and liking for him, not just for publicity, and having lived and grown up in Cuba most of his life now, he's basically a Castro disciple. He seems okay in every other aspect; he just spent a brief and memorable time in the U.S. for a bit there. Who knows what'll happen to him now, he seems educated and smart; I imagine he might somehow find his way into local politics at some point; he's currently a pretty skilled engineer now. Cuban-American relations are, better now, although who knows with dipshit in the White House now if that'll stay the same, but the Embargo's lifted and there's still a long way to go. This documentary, basically reminds us one of the strangest, saddest and more surreal of the conflicts the country's had during that time. For some, it'll probably educate and teach, so for that I'll recommend it, for me, it really only reminds me of a past that hopefully we'll never have to go through and repeat those events in any way again.


MR. ROOSEVELT (2017) Director: Noel Wells

★★★

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I can't believe I'm reviewing two different movies in the same week that involve pets named after President Roosevelt.

Like seriously, what are the freaking odds of that? Anyway, yes, Mr. Roosevelt is a cat who's sudden death is the catalyst for Emily Martin (Noel Wells) a struggling comedienne and editor to come back home to Austin, Texas where she finds out that things have changed since she left. When she previously left for L.A. to hope her career would take off, she and her boyfriend Nick (Eric Thune) were still together and trying the long-distance thing, which inevitably didn't work. Now that she's back, and to her surprise she's greeted by both Nick and Celeste (Britt Lower), Nick's new girlfriend, who now lives with him, and is also in deep mourning over Mr. Roosevelt's sudden passing, who she considered hers as well. She's nice, in what Emily correctly analyzes as being in a life coach sort of way, and is not quite sure how to handle this news. Meanwhile, she's in town for about a week- that is, if she can find a way back home. She's basically broke and between failed auditions and working in the L.A. Improv circuit, she does some commercial editing work for a pharmaceutical company that basically works out of her Boss, Todd's (Doug Benson) apartment.

Also, for those, unfamiliar with Austin, Texas, eh, well, it's a little hard to explain, but it's sort of the San Francisco of Texas, and a little "weird" in general besides that. From what I've heard, the best way I can describe it's recent population burst and pop culture relevance over the last thirty years or so, is that, maybe not literally, but it feels like at some point The Grateful Dead came to perform a concert, and for whatever inexplicable reason, the Deadheads just kinda decided to stay. As Emily puts it, she left because had she stayed, "like everyone else, they would've been to at home to try to achieve anything." So, going into town to, blow off steam, can get you sucked into this culture pretty easily, as it does here when she reconnects with Jen (Danielle Pineda) a waitress at a party a few years ago that apparently remembers her way more than Emily remembers her. ([Shrugs] I'd say this was weird, but I'm the kind of loner that this happens to a lot, so, yeah, that makes sense to me.) She ends up engulfed in her inner circles of potheads and exhibitionists, and even during one horrible prolonged emotional freakout, she ends up sleeping with Art (Andre Hyland) who's the exact of pathetic, delusional loser she hooks up with, in general now, and usually at the worst possible times with the least possible amount of forethought.

There's a lot going on here, most of it is okay, but not transcendent. Admittedly I can't think of too many stories about people going back to their childhood home because of their pet dying; that's the right kind of yuppie surrealism confused for hippie idealism to find here though. It almost sounds like something I would've expected from say, Miranda July, but instead, Writer/Director Noel Wells's first debut feature is charming and delightful and rather endearing. You might recognize her from "Saturday Night Live" or "Master-of-None" before this, where she showed off some serious acting chops, especially the latter. (I remember being shocked she didn't get an Emmy nomination for one episode of that show in particular) I think she's an interesting talent with a quirky new voice; I know she doesn't like being called quirky, but she is, you could call her eccentric though. "Mr. Roosevelt" overall is a nice twist on a tried-and-true indy genre and I'm looking forward to seeing what else she'll do from here on out.


UNREST (2017) Director: Jennifer Brea

★★★★1/2

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It's scientific name is myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME, it's more commonly called "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome"; I know, it doesn't sound like a real thing either, but it is, and "Unrest" reveals that in unflinching, emotional detail. Director Jennifer Brea, suffers from it. She was a Harvard grad who was studying for finals for her, like twelfth degree or something and then, she suddenly had a hard time even standing up, much less walking. Nowadays, she doesn't seem to leave her bed all that much and the majority time she's basically filming her illness. Her husband, is Omar Wasow, a name that might be familiar to those more digitally-inclined entrepreneurial than I, back in the '90s in the beginning of the mass consumption of the international superhighway era, he was one of the original talking heads who promoted the web; he created one of the early social networking sites, BlackPlanet. He's currently a Princeton professor, but mostly he's his wife's caretaker as they struggle defiantly through medication and cure-all home remedies that supposedly might alleviate some of her pain. At one point, she basically tents outside figuring more sunlight will help; it doesn't really. She even makes him shower and change clothes repeatedly, figuring that may be a way that it might be spreading. "Pain" is the keyword; I believe. It's easy to think that a disease like this might just be confused with normal everyday laziness that some purportedly suspect this new age generation is guilty of. However after seeing Jennifer take one medication that allowed her to get up and walk around outside for awhile, seeing the syndrome, out of nowhere and seemingly un-triggered suddenly take hold of her, practically paralyzing her from inside the mind onward is just startling to see. I'm not gonna pretend that I'm not particuarly sedentary in my lifestyle, moreso than I wish I were, but I have seen pain like that before from people for whom it is a struggle to get up in the morning at times. It's easy to confuse it for being tired, but it is a painful syndrome, to be wanting and trying to get up and being physically unable to, and you don't know why, only your body is rejecting this idea.

She decides to seek out others like her and she begins finding them online, almost creating a community of people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with little-to-no end in sight of it getting cured. There's little-to-no funding on the disease, in Denmark, they're still not convinced the disease exists at all, considering cases to be psychosomatic. One woman's husband left her after not believing her illness was real for years, hoping it would be the charge that would get her out of bed. It didn't happen and no their daughter is suffering from the Chronic Fatigue as well.

It's actually a fascinated disease that's been around forever it seems but has only recently been discovered. It usually occurs after somebody gets a thread of some other severe cold or flu or something that's large enough to spread around and what happens for some people is that, the disease will eventually dissipate but not before it attacks the immune system. It's kind of an immune deficiency syndrome; it doesn't lead to AIDS, or anything, it's not that strong as far as I can tell, but since it attacks the immune system it makes you less strong enough to overcome other illness, and it deflates your energy. At least, that's the theory now and there's history on it's side, there's lots of accounts of similar fatigue syndromes occurring in the past, usually after major pandemic or near-pandemic level illnesses. Well, at least we have a theory, unfortunately nowhere near a cure at the moment.

Hopefully "Unrest" will become a chronicle of a syndrome that will in the future only become a punchline for those who are actually lazy in the future, but I don't think that's happening anytime soon. I'd mention Brea's directing and how I can't wait for her next feature but I'm amazed she managed to pull this off. Credit to modern technology, Skyping and video and editing programs helps, but it's still really impressive. It's a brave and powerful picture to make to document your own disease, especially one that makes people so static. Hopefully this film will educated those on the illness and hopefully be the first of many films and other art pieces as well as several other private and government-funded endeavors and protests into treatments and investigation of the syndrome and hopes for a cure. We're only starting to understand this syndrome....


THE KIND WORDS  (2016) Director: Shemi Zahrin

★★★★1/2

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"The Kind Words" is one of those family mystery epics that I seem to admire more as I get older. I'm honestly not exactly sure what attracts me to them, maybe it's just that lately when I've seen them they've been good. This latest one, "The Kind Words" an Israeli film begins with interesting characters to begin with. Three siblings, all of whom are going through their own struggles as adults. Dorona (Rotem Zissman-Cohen) has had several miscarriages and is struggling to keep her marriage together. Her two brother, Natanel (Roy Assaf) recently had triplets, and her younger brother Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon) has a kid from his past wife that lives in Hungary, but has since come out as gay. Then, she finds out from her Father (Sasson Gabai) that he's been unable to have a kid with his current, younger wife, and he reveals that he's been impotent his entire life. Then, the mother suddenly passes away after a blood clot was formed after having a tumor removed and no, she did not reveal who the father was.

This causes some friction and inevitably a search that leads them to France, and their Aunt Rosa (Florence Bloch) who has only limited information for them, that she's willing to reveal. Without giving too much away here, the strength of the film is how there are so many different dynamics at play here. There's the inner crises of the characters, there's the worry about whether they should seek out the truth about their past and who their father is, there's the realization of the possibility of who he could be and why it was kept secret, there's the dramas between the siblings themselves as they barely get along...- it's a family drama that's full of great characters and great conflict. It isn't perfect, this probably would be a better TV show than a two-hour movie, a la in the "This is Us" vein, but there's a lot of richness here. That's why this genre, when done well can really be special. The movie reminds me a lot of say the six-hour Italian epic "The Best of Youth" or even more specifically with Denis Villenueve's still underrated and underappreciated "Incendies". "The Kind Words" isn't necessarily as great as those, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Great film.


CLOSET MONSTER (2016) Director: Stephen Dunn

★★

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"Closet Monster", a title that, honestly I don't quite get, is a- (Sigh), well, I won't say typical coming-of-age story, but it's one that, feels like a certain kind of "personal film". The kind that gives that term a bad name. Dark, moody, eccentric, the kind of movie that struggles to get us to feel the emotions of the character. The character is Oscar- (Checks IMDB page) Seriously that's his last name? Oh boy. The character is Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) a young teenager who grew up in a badly broken home and who at the age of nine (Jack Fulton) witness a particularly gruesome hate crime, him and his pet/spirit animal hamster, Buffy (Isabella Rosselini). Yes, he hear's his hamster's thoughts, who like him, also has a bit of a sexual identity crisis as he grows up aware that he's gay, but not sure quite how to handle it yet. He and his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banhzaf) have some plans and even a down payment on an apartment to move to New York to eventually help fund his career as a make-up artist, which he uses Gemma to help model. He also ends up with a crush on his co-worker, Wilder (Allocha Schneider) and they begin to get-together a bit as he begins to realize his sexuality.

In between this, he's in-between houses and his mother and father Peter and Brin (Aaron Abrams and Joanne Kelly) if/when they are ever together seem to do nothing but fight and claw at each other's throats and meanwhile he's trying to figure himself out, I guess. This is the kind of movie that's fun of surrealistic imagery and, not necessarily dreams but elaborate ideas and sequences, all a way of trying to make us feel as though the character does. The movie is writer/director Stephen Dunn's first feature and I think he's got promise as a director, and the movie is apparently autobiographical, but not everybody's personal teenage angst is really strong enough to be a movie. I know, we all want to be able to express our emotions through our art and as filmmakers we all think we can do this visually with creative shots and effects; I've had moments and thoughts where I've been guilty of that myself, and thankfully I had some professors and classmates who managed to beat me down until I managed to be convinced that it wasn't necessarily a movie. I suspect that this is somewhat more elaborate than my ideas, but "Closet Monster" is basically the same thing, with a little more interesting of a teenage character, but not more interesting of a film. The acting helps, but I just don't think there's enough story here. Which is fine, it's about the emotional perils of the character, but I just have seen better, even among gay teenager films, Gregg Araki's made a couple good films like "Mysterious Skin" and "White Bird in a Blizzard" that I suspect the director was inspired by, at least tonally, but yeah, I'd tell you to just go seek those films out instead. "Closet Monster" is a first feature that I suspect the director will hopefully learn from for his next feature, at least that's the most I feel I can hope for.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "ELECTION"

ELECTION (1998)

Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor based on the novel by Tom Perrotta



So, on Facebook, a few people, friends of mine, some of them were posting a meme that asked people to name three fictional characters that se poster, reminds them of. I thought it was a fun little challenge, so I participated in a few of them, and something struck me. Maybe it was the people who were posting it, maybe I just need to be a little more selective with my choice of friends, but one surprising name kept popping into my head, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). On first glance, this doesn't seem like a name that should pop up a lot, but, is she a seminal character? I was trying to think of previous characters similar to her in literature and I was coming up surprising short. Most characters I think of like her are usually side-characters in things and are typically not the leads and most famous characters from their work. We certainly don't get inner monologues from them. It's not just that she's a know-it-all high school overachiever who's greater ambition leads her to run for Student Body President,...- well, actually, maybe it is. Maybe it's that she is the nightmare version of that archetype we know from high school, the one who no one really likes but is still trying to control and run things even when there's nothing much to run. 

"Election" is a twisted dark satire that seems to feel more and more relevant and important with each passing viewing. It was a critical hit, but not a commercial one originally. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta who would use his multi-narrative structure elsewhere in stuff like "Little Children", also based on one of his novels, as well as the cult TV series "The Leftovers", "Election". That's the weird thing you notice about the film, is the filmmaking style. This is Writer/Director Alexander Payne second feature and a director and his first great film, and he often talks about how for him, movies are finally made in the Editing room, and "Election" is an oddly-structured film, one I have no doubt is inspired by Perrotta's novel, but one that's unique egalitarian in how it gives each side their own say in the story. Actually, kinda like an election. I don't remember school assemblies on the elections or- for that matter, even voting for the Student Government in my high school; we did that in middle school I remember, but I honestly don't know who was in our student government, although I'm sure it had a Tracy Flick or two.

The main narrative involves a teacher, Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) who has decided that Tracy must be stopped-, there's a few reasons he has for this, but a big one that is sorta overlooked is that Tracy had an affair with a fellow-teacher, Dave (Mark Harelik) the year before, in essence, ruining his life, although he seemed like he was more-than-willing to throw it away and Tracy,-, well, is more complicated then people might notice, but Jim decides to cross her anyway. He recruits a school's beloved jock, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her. He's injured so his football career is put on hold for his Senior year, but since he's generally a happy guy and everything comes up roses for him, he decides to play along and run, although he feels sorry about Tracy. One of those things that goes well for him is his new girlfriend Lisa Flanagan (Frankie Ingrassia) who begins dating him shortly after "breaking up" with Klein's sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell). Tammy correctly configures that she's dating her brother out of spite and decides to get into the race herself and suddenly becomes popular when she announces a campaign based around dismantling the student government entirely, which actually makes her the frontrunner for awhile. When I first used to watch this film, I generally considered Tammy the most interesting character since she seems to be the only one who is acting out of pure emotion and spite, (And it is fascinating to see how her scheme and mind worked and inevitably, she's probably the only one who actually achieved the goal she was striving for)  but that's not entirely true. In a way, she's a critical character 'cause she's basically the opposite character from Mr. McAllister, who is also acting out of spite and vengeance against Tracy, but Tammy at least realizes her selfish desires are her own, Mr. McAllister is under a delusion that his actions are for everyone's best interest. (A curious contradiction since he acts with utter selfishness once he realizes that his best friend's now ex-wife Linda [Delaney Driscoll] seems interested in him, and he's just as willing to sneak off on his marriage for Linda as Dave was for him.[This sequence leads to the most slapstick section of the film where his affair is averted from among other things, a bee sting])

Perrotta claims his biggest influence for the novel was the '92 Presidential election, which of course involved Ross Perot at one point sneaking into the race, as well as a little heard story about a Eau Claire, Wisconsin high school Principal-led conspiracy who burned ballots after a Class Presidency election ended with the winning candidate being a pregnant student. I don't know if Payne takes the novel and makes it even more subversive, but it's a curious film that analyzes personality conflicts better than most, certainly better than most films involving teenagers. And if you ever want to argue it's believability in a modern school, look no further than the trash motif. Seriously, I never would've picked up on this either, but there's just as many subtle references to literal trash in the movie as their are symbolic representations of sex in "Rebel without a Cause". Some of these seem inevitable since, if you're ever been around a modern high school, it's basically got as many trash can as Disneyland, but they consistently find creative ways of using this motif. In fact, it's just a unique film altogether.

Payne's later work has remained comedic but he's so rarely dived head-first into satire like this since, he's used similar techniques but they always streamed more towards the introspective than the absurd. Then again, the narration does that for this film. Just imagine how many other ways this film could've been made; there's plenty here for a lot of different kinds of comedy; this easily for instance, would make a good farce. You've got all the characters you need, the moody angry lesbian, the dim-witted jock, his slut girlfriend, the stick-up-her-butt insistent overachiever, the jealous and lustful teacher(s), and their wives, Preston Sturges would've had a field day with this material, and in some universe there's probably some twisted version of this story that's gone through a "Porky's" filter that probably isn't too terrible either, but that's not the choice they made. It's a comedy of extremes but they gave these characters more depth and empathy than most of them deserve and in doing so, they created a movie that works much better because it chose to accentuate characters, and zero in on perspective. He's not quite "Rashomon"-ing the film as is shorthand, 'cause I don't think we get multiple perspectives on the same incident, but we get how these characters see the world's they're in. I'm actually surprised more films don't use this approach in hindsight; you can really tell some creative stories this way.

I mean, think about it, "Election" is a movie, that's literally about a guy crumbling two pieces of paper and throwing them in the trash, and this made this compelling and this hilarious.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"VALERIE/THE HOGAN FAMILY": A STUDY IN FORGETFULNESS AND MEDIOCRITY !



I mentioned once that I absolutely hate this theme song. It made my Dishonorable Mentions List of my Top Ten Worst TV Theme Songs of all-time, and yes, I realized that I had one-too-many dozens of dishonorable mentions, that was a hard list to come up with and I don't care if I overdid it; you didn't have to do the research!!!!!!!!!!!...- (Deep breath) Sorry, I still haven't fully recovered from that project. Anyway, eh, I guess I might've been a little hard on it. There's nothing technically wrong with it, it fits the show, sorta, it's actually sung by Roberta Flack, she didn't write it, thankfully, but she certainly gives it a little more prestige than it should. But-, yeah, I stand by that claim. It's just this bizarre combination of sickly sweet sincerity mixed with this bizarre generic nature of the song that I distinctly remember irking and bugging the hell out of me even as a kid.

Don't get used to that phrase, "Distinctly remember" for the rest of this article.

Alright, look, I- I know you're all wondering, what the hell am I even talking/writing about this show for? I mean, I'm talking about a decades-old sitcom that I doubt most of you even remember right? Well,  you're not wrong that's kinda why I am writing about it. And this isn't even an article outlining a forgotten masterpiece, this isn't even a good show, even at the time this wasn't regarded as a great show or anything. In fact, there's only one thing that's kinda noteworthy and important about the show and it's not even the thing I want to talk about with it. I'll outline that one thing in a minute, oh-, and retroactively, Jason Bateman was on it. That's not the thing, it's like the 4th most famous TV show he's been a regular on and actually 5th if you want to count him as a semi-regular on that one season of "Little House on the Prairie"; yes he's been around that long, and yes, I may still think of him mainly as Justine's brother. (Boy, did I lose money on that one; I would've for sure bet that she would've been the bigger acting star by now back then.) However, I grew up with this show, and I remember watching it, many times as a kid, when it was on the air and later on, many, many, many times in reruns. Now, normally, that would indicate that I have an attachment to this show. I don't. I really don't; in fact, I can't imagine anybody who does. I am probably the only person I know who has ever randomly brought this show up in conversation and mostly the conversation went, "Do you guys remember "The Hogan Family", (Assuming I remembered that that was the name of the show, and no, if you're not familiar with it, it's got nothing to with "Hogan Knows Best", thank Christ it doesn't.) and of course, if anybody does actually remember this show, the only thing they ever respond with is, the behind-the-scenes stuff, which they know by heart. Like, I'd have had it explained to me by my grandparents before, multiple times. It was a big enough deal that they knew about all the shit that went down with it, and yet, neither they, or I, can remember anything else about it.

Like anything, without looking it up and rewatching episodes for this article, I- can't remember a plotline to the show, I can't remember an interesting character, I can't recall a funny joke offhand from it, like...- Again, this wasn't a show that I barely watched, this was a show that I get instant recall from, if for nothing else, that goddamn opening theme song I can't stand, but everything else is a blank to me. And I don't want to brag here, but I have an audio-visual memory, if I see it and hear it at the same time, I tend to get it, right away; and I have a passion for television and a way-above-average recall mechanism in my brain; I literally lettered in high school in Being Able to Recall Obscure Bullshit Trivia Really Well, or Varsity Quiz as the local Trivia Bowl between schools is usually called. But-, "The Hogan Family/"Valerie" is...- a blank to me. And it's always been that way; this isn't  like a new thing, where it was like, "Oops, I forgot "Valerie" and two of Henry VIII's wives, I must getting old, like-, No, I've never remembered anything about this damn thing.

And I know, some people who think, "No, this isn't a good reason to study something," like, I got in this discussion awhile back after I talked about how I tweeted about Tim Gunn using a "Gilligan's Island" reference on "Project Runway Junior" and seeing how none of the teenagers knew what that was, and I tweeted that, "You see that sounds like it's a good thing, but it's really not." Anyway, somebody disagreed with me on that sentiment, saying that there was no real reason anybody needed to know every little thing like "Gilligan's Island" especially something that's bad. Now, I understand his argument, I didn't agree with it, but I understand it, is it crucially important that a bunch of teenage fashion designers know every little piece of arcane television knowledge, no, probably not, and of course it's important to filter out the bad from the good; hell, my general approach most of the time is to differentiate between what you like and what's good, but there's different levels of good, and there's also different levels of bad. Anybody who insists on constantly talking about "The Room" all the fucking time make that point relevant for me. Well, there's also plenty of forgettable good stuff, maybe we should look at some of the forgettable mediocre-to-bad stuff too. Especially something that lasted so long, and this show lasted six seasons by the way, and you know, isn't say "Small Wonder" bad, weird and/strange from concept or something, it's just-, it was there, it exists. Why is something good, we study it, why is something bad, we study it, and why "The Hogan Family" is "The Hogan Family" of TV shows, we should study this.

I know, that was only half-coherent, but it's bugged me for awhile, okay, and if I am going to go through this exercise of trying to analyze something that's truly forgettable than let's do it with something, that's truly forgettable.

Except for the one thing-, yes, okay, that one thing, that distinguishes "Valerie" or "The Hogan Family", you've probably noticed that I've used both names of the show until now. Let's start at the beginning. The show was created by Charlie Hauck  who's a noted TV writer and producer, but the real brainchild of the series is Miller-Boyett Productions, and if you're my age you probably recognize that name, they were responsible for "Family Matters", "Full House", "Perfect Strangers", basically the entire ABC TGIF lineup until "Boy Meets World" came around. This was 1986, so right in there in the beginning of their rise, and basically the show was about a working career mother, who worked at her own job and ran the household of kids, in a two-parent working household, the father character was a pilot so they wrote this in as him being, relatively absent for most episodes, 'cause he had to fly everywhere. For the main role, they cast Valerie Harper, and they then named the show "Valerie". Valerie Harper was then, and still is now a TV legend and what happened next, ended her career basically. (Well, that's not fair, she's worked regularly ever since, but this has become infamous regarding her.) So, after two seasons, Valerie asked for a raise and a restructuring of her contract in order to get more of the residuals for reruns of the show. It's important to note that she did this before on "Rhoda" and she got it back then, and the thinking was that, the show was named "Valerie", that's not only her character's name, but her name, and she's the star and the show has two successful seasons in the Top 40 and it seems somewhat reasonable, but they didn't get it at first, so Harper walked out on the show, and she and her husband/agent were in a huge dispute over Miller-Boyett and their producing partner Lorimar Productions over this, and this led to a complicated back-and-forth, but basically, they fired her. They fired, the star of the show, that was named after the star, and the next season, her character was killed off on the show and suddenly, the father's a widow and his sister, played by Sandy Duncan, comes and moves in with them.

Like, imagine if Jerry Seinfeld got fired from "Seinfeld" in like season four and they replaced him with, eh, I don't know, Steven Wright, and suddenly the show was called, "Jerry's Friends", that's kinda what happened. The show was even called "Valerie's Family" for a year.

Honestly, this was important at the time, and I'm not kidding, this was HUGE at the time, this was and still is, one of the biggest contract disputes in TV history, it's up there with like, Suzanne Somers getting fired from "Three's Company" or Carroll O'Connor's notorious contract negotiations for his later "All in the Family" years, or some of the Late Night hosts ones. Except for all those other shows, we actually frigging remember things about them, other than this! It's literally, the only show that I know of, that's more remembered for the behind the scenes stuff than for what happened onscreen. (Maybe, "Jim'll Fix It" and that's just because of what we learned afterwards on that show and the fact that I have to go that dark to come up with a comparison should tell you just how friggin' weird this is.)

Again, I'm only mentioning this, 'cause I have to, I'm obligated; that's literally the big thing. Everything else about it...- I mean, I'm genuinely about 25% surprised, to find out that Valerie Harper's character was named Valerie. I mean, I probably would've guessed that, but I wouldn't have been 100% sure until I went back to re-watch the show recently.

Yeah, so, it's- it's been on my mind lately. My internet was out recently and I happened to catch the show again on AntennaTV, who have been airing reruns of the show weekdays after "My Two Dads", which is about as perverse and sadistic an hour-long block of television I've ever heard of.. (Yes, "My Two Dads" was real and it's worse than you even think it is.) And, since I have this weird curiosity about the show, I sat down and watched a few episodes and tried to figure, something about the show. Like, something that would register, and since that didn't completely work I started to seek out episodes elsewhere and did some research and tried to at least some other facts about the series and perhaps some of the noteworthy episodes if I could find them online or streaming somewhere and you know, have some reaction and thoughts.

Well, the first thing I noticed, this is the same set that was either in "Family Matters" or "Step By Step", or both, as it turned out after looking that up. If I didn't know "Family Matters" and "Step By Step" were in the same universe, I'd suspect that this kitchen the site of multiple different universe of which those three shows were apart of them, that's only my weird theory. I forgot Edie McClurg was on this thing for most of it's run, but most people remember her for being in those John Hughes films than this, her biggest TV hit. (Well, 2nd biggest, she was the voice of Mrs. Seaworthy in "Snorks", so..., eh, toss-up?)

What else, um...? (Shrugs) Well, they seem to add regular characters more often than just changing the main character; those quite a few extra ones in fact. The oldest kid gained new friends in college, the neighbors changed. Hmm. (Shrugs) Um, there's really nothing too memorable about these characters, they're kinda cliches of cliches, I mean the Burt character is clearly just the "Nerd" stereotype. If he hadn't come first I would've sworn his character was a response to Urkel's popularity, but that stereotype existed before Urkel, just not on TV as much. (Shrugs)

There's not much there honestly. Also, the show's not funny. Well, occasionally I get a chuckle but basically, it's unfunny in the same way that other family sitcoms aren't funny, especially the cliche ones of that era, but part of this is intentional in this show's case. I'm actually a little surprised while doing research how much of the discussion on the show involved the idea of the series being an attempt to portray a realistic family with realistic approaches and problems, and not just humor. That sounds weird compared to today's modern interpretation of what we think of as a sitcom, but actually I think it does make some sense. As derided as let's say "Full House" gets, people forget that the whole premise of that series is that the matriarch of the family has just died and left behind a grieving husband and three daughters, one of whom is still a baby and will grow up never knowing her mother and that's why he had his two best friends move in with him to help him through his pain and help takes care of the kids with him. "The Hogan Family" didn't intend something that dark, but it's a show, that if it's known for anything outside of the infamous stuff, it's known for dealing with some dark topics at times. Even before having it forced upon them, a famous episode of the series, dealt with teenage sex and is noted as the first TV series to ever use the word "condom" on the air. Also, later in the series, there's a recurring character that we find out contracted AIDS. It was early '90s, so-eh, it's probably not as bad as how "Small Wonder" tried to force that into the show, but-eh, I'm hoping some show did it better afterwards when more knowledge was known on the subject. Again, it seems to be an episode of the series that I don't remember, so...- (Shrugs). Anyway, so there is pseudo-post Norman Lear-esque kinda dramedy vibe to the series, in general. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It actually weirdly involves, from the few episodes I've re-watched, a lot of going to the hospital or some other major emergencies occurring. Some more major than others, like a Driver's Ed test leads to a crash,- actually there's quite a few car crashes in this show it seems...- lots of car trouble in general actually. Weird. There house is on fire at one point, that's actually a really good episode, even if it's tonal whiplash at times.

I guess, Jason Bateman's character, David is, the same basic slimeball that he always seems to play, only in some cases he's an emotional caring brother/friend/son/boyfriend, whatever's needed at that particular time. (Shrugs) He's good at it, I guess? (Sigh)

Yeah, I'm not learning much other than, this show is really mediocre. In fact, I think part of why I'm obsessed with this show is that for all the talk about Valerie Harper getting fired and all, but, even as a kid, I don't think I even noticed there was a big change as the main character dying! I mean, I wasn't looking out for it, but as far as I can tell, not much of this show ever stood out or changed, and it's mostly just hard-to-watch. Like, I am really struggling to watch these episodes some times; I'm fairly convinced this show's ratings were just people leaving it on while they went to the bathroom. But, this is why I want to study it though, why is this so mediocre, even among bad family sitcoms, this one's like...-

Actually speaking of why it got ratings, why did this get Top 40 ratings for most of it's run? I know TV ratings and the schedules was vastly different back then from what it is now but, no, I refuse to believe a portion of the Neilsen audience was seeking this out, certainly not enough to have this show consistently break the Top 40- what was it scheduled with?

>

(Slight chuckle, head slap) That makes, almost too much sense. No wonder I remember watching so much, 'cause I was three years old and it was on after "ALF". Say what you want, "ALF" was memorable and one of the biggest shows of it's time; this wasn't. Okay, that's why it was watched, then, why has it not held up now?

Let's see, two-parent household, both of whom work, three kids, eh, family sitcom that occasionally dealt with serious issues, main child is an older brother who's a bit of a lovable prick that gets in trouble on a somewhat regular basis,... Alright, what do we got that I can compare this too? Well, there's the other Miller-Boyett shows, of that time, but ehhhh, can we get a little closer in structure? What was the biggest family sitcom of that time anyway?

(Checks TV ratings)

"The Cosby Show," yeah, I'm already dealing with "The Hogan Family", there's no way in Hell I'm climbing up that tree. And it can't be a good show either, that's not fair. No "Cosby", no "Family Ties", no "Roseanne",... What's the memorably bad-to-mediocre version of this show, that was on at this time?



(Sigh) That serves me right, I asked a stupid question.... I guess there's no chance I'm gonna talk a little more about "ALF" more is there? No? (Sigh) Dammit. Yes, we're gonna make this comparison, 'cause it is the right comparison. Why? Simple, I remember a lot of shit from "Growing Pains". In fact, a lot of it was pretty good. There's some episodes that are just hilarious in ways that you don't expect and there's memorable, interesting characters, and well-performed. Hell, I think I can do a pretty good job retracing the whole arc of the series without thinking about it too much. I'm not gonna do that here, 'cause it would involve a lot of giving positive credit to Kirk Cameron, but-eh, yeah, these are kinda the same shows, essentially. "Growing Pains" added a kid and a Leonardo DiCaprio at one point, "The Hogan Family" changed out their main characters and added an annoying neighbor. Parents who's work effects their keeping up with the home. A scheming older brother with annoying dumber friends, siblings that tend to get in their own troubles mostly with school or sports or stuff, and occasionally some touching real-life emotional moments. Lasted about the same amount of time on the air, give or take, they were on the air during the same time, both were hits at the same time.

Yet, "Growing Pains", for lack of a better word, holds up and is remember as a show, and the other is a curious footnote. (Also not for nothing, but the "Growing Pains" theme song is so much worst than "The Hogan Family"'s Oh god, this annoying song. "Show me that smile," fuck you B.J. Thomas! Alright you didn't write it, you're forgiven too, just like Roberta Flack.)

Is it just that it's a broader comedy show?  I don't want to think that, and I don't think that's it, but there's not much else to go on. Broadness and mass appeal over subtlety and hints of realism are tones, those are things that effect quality, but I can't ignore that. You could've only seen one single episode of "Growing Pains" and know essentially all the main characters important character traits, nuances, tendencies, etc. Maybe that's it, 'cause, I have a difficult time differentiating any of that with any of the characters on "The Hogan Family". Seriously, how do you end up with a show with so few distinguishable characters on it. I mean, that's why there's so many extra characters that became part of the regular cast later on, 'cause even when the show was "Valerie" there really wasn't that much distinguishable in the series. The two twin sons, I don't know one from the other. What's the father like? (Shrugs) He's barely there. (In fact, the actor actually worked on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives", while doing this show, and Josh Taylor is still on that show today, believe it or not.) I mean, I get that that's part of the premise of the show, but we should still have a good sense of who the character is, right?

And even from the beginning, the show, they didn't really base itself around Valerie's character the way say a Lucille Ball show would be based around her character, or even how "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" or "Rhoda" would be centered around their leads all the time. It's really a show about the kids, who aren't particularly interesting or memorable,- I'm sorry, but David Hogan is no Mike Seaver, and occasionally the mother or aunt comes along on whatever crazy thing they're up to. They're not even up to crazy things, even. "Growing Pains" had characters thinking of running off and getting married at one point, and while I'm focusing on that show, by the time "The Hogan Family" was canceled, "The Simpsons" and "Roseanne" were the biggest shows on TV, and those are some crazy families and the latter introduced the sitcom to a new sense of realism that we hadn't seen before.

"The Hogan Family" was plagued by backstage drama and a massive conflict over what direction to go with or where to take the show, and you can tell. It's one thing when a show does go out of it's way to switch it's perspective and tone, take "Happy Days" for instance at how before Fonzi took over the show was a completely different series. But, no matter which way they were going with it, even as it transitioned to the show it became, it was pointed and directed. It had a vision, a point of view. "Growing Pains" as shit as it often was, it had a vision, had a point-of-view, it even had some self-awareness about it that you can look at as a positive. That's why it's known now; that's why Kirk Cameron is still a big enough name to plaster his name over his shitty Christian films. I"The Hogan Family'"s lead-in "ALF" had vision and direction in spades, that's why it's still remembered. Like, honestly, I think it's really debatable whether "Valerie" or "The Hogan Family" ever had any kind of vision behind it. Rewatching the beginning years, it's about 50/50 whether the show was a Valerie Harper-centered episode around her putting out household fires and there's some semblance of a lesson learned, but the other half end up being, by the book teenage shenanigans sitcom stuff that's-, directionless. It's not even hack-ish-, it's just...- it's just 30 minutes of time being wasted. They time to fill, and this is the most generic amalgam of a series at the time, that they could find. When there's actually a germ of an idea or inspiration it's not bad, but it's still mostly just bland and forgettable.

And I think technically it probably is "better" than a lot of it's contemporaries, but who cares, it's so mediocre, it's hardly worth mentioning. (And I just wasted a blog on it. Fuck me and my dumb career choices) That said, maybe that's why it needs study. It's such a bizarre, mediocre piece of long-form television, infamous-in-the-industry mediocre at that. You can study the crap to see what not to do, and memorable crap will break through should be studied, but watching a lot of something like this, is also somewhat worth doing. If there really was, like, just one solid decision made on the show, one really strong perspective, there's a chance with or without Valerie Harper, that this thing could've maybe been pretty good. Noteworthy for good reasons even. It doesn't even have to be like a good strong perspective, just a strong one of any kind, you know; at this time, "Family Matters" just said, "Fuck it, we're going with the Urkel kid," and it worked for them. There is nothing in this show that's so inherently interesting and memorable that they could go to or ever try to go to. Even when it was tossed in their lap for them, to just play up the grief aspect, they don't alter or change it much elsewise, outside of a couple name changes and a few episodes that reference it. (Shrugs) Anyway, studying, what's really, really, average can probably help out others just as much as studying the great stuff and the crap.

That said, it's much more fun to embrace the utter crap than it is to embrace the painfully average and mediocre, and frankly, I don't now know why I complained so much in the beginning about how forgetful this show is; I honestly cannot wait to be able to forget it completely. No wonder Pauline Kael never said anything about appreciating good mediocrity.