Thursday, July 9, 2020

THE TOP TEN MOST UNDERRATED SITCOM CHARACTERS OF ALL-TIME!

Well, I promised a new Top Ten List and I'm giving it, but I wasn't getting a whole lot of great requests for categories to do honestly. That's not entirely my fault, I have not been particularly active in most of the Facebook groups that I would've normally been more active in years ago. But also, eh, I know that when I do ask for them, because I make my standards so high, insisting for instances, on Top Ten Lists that few/anybody else has done before, I essentially am limiting my responses. Even then, sometimes I get too obscure requests that simply I just can't do. I would love to do a Top Ten on Japanese New Wave one day, but I just haven't seen enough of the genre to do that, you know?

So, instead of asking again so soon after my last Top Ten List, I decided, eh, maybe I can come up with better topics. Or maybe, I already have. I decided to go back and search through old polls and lists that I did beforehand, and try to look through some categories that were requested before, (Or in this case, one that I came up with as a possibility earlier) and see if I can find something that inspired me. Right now. Just something that I felt like talking about and was worthy of a post.

Doing that, I found this category, the TOP TEN UNDERRATED SITCOM CHARACTERS. What does that mean? (Shrugs) Well, they're characters on sitcoms, and they're underrated. As in, wherever they're supposedly rated, it's not good high enough.

I feel like I'm supposed to have more of an explanation, but-eh, I don't. I just don't. What do you want, what defines, "Underrated"? I don't know, whatever the hell it means. I wish I had a better answer, but more concrete answer, but it's underrated. Could that be a character from a sitcom that's bad, but the character is good. Could it be a supporting character in a great sitcom that doesn't get discussed as much? Are they actually legendary television characters that still don't get nearly the acclaim or credit they deserve? Are they characters from short-lived shows that no one remembers, or long-running series that were on television for years? Are they smart characters? Dumb characters? Strange characters? Cliche characters? Groundbreaking characters?

And the answer to those and all of the other questions you can think of are, "Yes, sure. Maybe? I don't know." "Third Base".

Look, underrated is subjective. What makes a good character, is also subjective. I'm gonna do my best here....

They're just regular characters in television sitcoms that I think need to be more recongized. There's really not much else to this. Alright, give me a little time and I'll run through my Sitcom rolodex and see what I come up with.

(3 Days later)

(Deep breath)

Tsk. Okay, I think I'm gonna go with this.

(picks up papers, bounces them on their side on the table)

Alright, let's do this. We're counting down.


THE TOP TEN MOST UNDERRATED TV SITCOM CHARACTERS OF ALL-TIME!

According to me, and my whatever biases I supposedly have. Let's start with number ten.

And I know this character and this show has to be underrated, especially these days, 'cause I can't find any halfway decent clips of it anymore. Which is a real shame, 'cause this was a pretty groundbreaking and influential show.

10. Martin Tupper-"Dream On"

People forget this show, in the history of HBO, which is really and ridiculous since the fuzzy screen dissolve that's still apart of their current logo, started from this show,



Yeah, that logo. That's from "Dream On", which predates even "The Larry Sanders Show" and I would argue was really HBO's first really huge series hit. It was a controversial show at the time, 'cause it was one of the first big ones that contained a lot of sex and nudity, and a lot of humor about it too. It was actually a weird contrast, because my favorite part of the series, was the conceit of its main character, a publisher named Martin Tupper, played by Brian Benben, is shown in the beginning intro of the series, be sat down as a baby, watching old black-and-white television, and then, just basically staying there until he was an adult. In some ways, the show kinda foresaw this obsessive nerd culture that we have of recalls and references to the shows, movies, and other literature that's shared among the pop culture. Except that wasn't like a thing that was as acknowledged and celebrated these days, so during his daily adventures, mostly involving whatever affairs with the wrong person he was having that week, we would see his inner monologue shown in those old b&w clips. He was the protagonist, but he was a complete schmuck. An unlikeable prick who floats through life with barely being able to get through his day, just barely above water. He's a failed father, a failed husband, he's not even a great businessman. In my head canon, he ended up in publishing 'cause he figured if he actually went into TV he'd be looked down upon, but he still hangs around TV stars. He's not the most memorable or interesting character strangely enough on the show; most people I know think of Wendie Malick's ex-wife or Michael McKeon's eccentric boss as being the more intriguing characters, but Martin Tupper is kind of a great caricature of the simplistic male mind. One brought up on the image of the machismo male characters of the past, and now exhibits all those traits in a world where the only real joy left is casual sex. In hindsight the show and Martin Tupper are subtlely more influential then I think it gets credit for, and unfortunately, for a show, that is out there, it's shockingly hard to find. Currently a DVD set of Seasons 1 & 2 is "on sale" on Amazon for $150! Yikes! Why isn't this on HBO Max?!


Number nine.




LOL, I love freaking people out with this. Why wasn't this "Rickrolling", I would've understood that stupid trend if it was this they found!

Actually, I might have mentioned this once or twice; I don't think I've truly made it clear, but I truly think "Blossom" is one of the most underrated TV shows of all-time. I do not get why this show has just not seen a real rerun revival in recent years. This was a smart show about being a smart teenage girl, and it was also really funny. It's one of the best and smartest sitcoms to show many of the struggles of growing up. It's not perfect, there's a lot of confusion, oddly with some of the adult characters that come in and out of the series, and sure, by the end, it got too emotional with the "special episodes", but most of those episodes were good and dealt with issues seriously that other sitcoms about teenagers really hadn't until then. I think I can make a pretty strong argument for several character from this series to make the list. Blossom of course, was a great character. Her brother Joey is somewhat mocked now because of Joey Lawrence's brief teen idol run, but he did play one of the most underrated funny dumb characters out there. Also, Blossom had one of the best, best friend characters too, the troubled Six LeMeure that Jenna Von Oy played, and she was a fun trainwreck as well. Just the fact that she used to be able to talk that fast was amazing for it's time.

And, surprisingly, I decided to go with the, oldest brother.

9. Anthony 'Tony' Russo-"Blossom"



Yeah, something else that's kinda overlooked about this show is that, "Blossom" was about a girll growing up in a very broken home. And not in, it's broken-but-still-happy way like "The Brady Bunch" or something. Both her parents were musicians, who struggle to get work, and they're divorced, and it was the mother left her three kids, to live on another continent, leaving more pressure on the father to work, and less time for him to raise his kids. Also, the show begins with her eldest brother Anthony, coming home for the first time years, in an attempt to clean up from drug addiction. And this is not played as much for laughs as you'd think. Over the course of his run on the series, he is literally sobering himself up and it's not a one-episode thing. He struggles with it, others struggle and worry about him struggling with it. Everything is a constant reminder to him. Also, since he is the oldest, and kinda raised himself, albeit badly, he is often the go-to surrogate parent for Joey and Blossom for social situations and questions at times. There's a couple episodes where he reflects on some past memories of friends of his during his drug days, and they half-the-time end with the fact that most of his old friends are dead now. It's one of the few great portrayals of longterm addiction recovery that I can really think of in sitcoms, and not one that like happens over a single "special episode" of two. He's an addict, he went off-the-rails and off-the-grid 'cause of it, and it could happen again. Hell, he did have one lost weekend in Vegas that ended with him getting married, and they even stuck with that too; that didn't did humorously correctly after an episode or two, and why not, he was ready to try to have a normal life and family by then. This is definitely a character who gets heavily overlooked on a series where the other characters are more memorable, but it's also a character on a sadly overlooked series, that wasn't just good, it was more elaborate and complex then, that hilarious-in-hindsight opening credits scene. Also, Michael Stoyanov, underrated actor and he played the role very well.


Number eight.

I have a lot of British readers and friends and I've noticed that they don't always catch every American sitcom reference I make, and vice-versa. We do kinda have some assumption, often incorrect ones about what series crossover and which ones don't. I figured I oughta put at least one Britcom character on here. I think I still went with the one that's a little too Americanized according to some Brits, but-eh, yeah, I still feel like I gotta go with this one. You have any criticisms of this choice, Jane?

8. Jane Christie-"Coupling"



"Coupling" is far and away the best thing Steven Moffat's ever done. Yes, I know what else he's done, I stand by that statement. I've often pitched this show to others, and most people I know who've tried it, have liked it a lot, and yes, even I used to pitch it as "Friends" meets "Sex and the City" to make a little more palatable for them. In hindsight I'm not sure that's accurate though. It's definitely more of a sex farce then "Friends" and has the nudity of "Sex..." but the trick with "Friends" was that it was code for "Family" and while there were on-again off-again romances within that group, "Coupling" is very specifically about those, well, "Couplings". It's about two people in a romance, and the baggage of their friends and/slash ex-lovers hanging around, and there's few baggage like Jane Christie. I flat out love this character. She's easy to compare to similar characters, especially at the time Gina Bellman's character felt reminiscent of the quirky kinky Phoebe Buffay from "Friends" or the outlandishly sexual aggressive Karen Walker from "Will & Grace", and those aspects are there, but she's a lot more nuanced. She's got that weird kind of innocence about her. She's not weak by any means, but it's like she's going through the world for the first time, unlike say Phoebe who grew up on the streets and live through tragedy. That egocentric obliviousness to the rules and customs of the world around her, her self-disillusion that's she's genuinely happy, how she's sexually manipulative above all else; this is a fascinatingly damaged character. She's the kind of person who will be the only one in the room that's naked, and claim that everyone else is wrong for wearing clothes. She's my favorite of those characters who seems like they really shouldn't be able to get along in the world, but somehow manage to not only keep going through it, but somehow survive and thrive through her own strange skillset. And I gotta give extra credit for Bellman being able to masterfully pull this character off. If you don't think this is a feat, you should see the drastic failure that was the American remake of "Coupling". Like, I don't want to bash Lindsay Price too much, and among every other problem with that thing, everybody was miscast, but man, she in particular on that show, was badly miscast, and more of this show hinges on getting Jane right then it might look at first.


Number seven.

So, there's a long list of great television doctor characters. I'm sure you can list a bunch off the top of  your head. Most of them are objectively from drama series, but not all of them. In fact, I can think of several doctors from comedy series. Of course, you've got the doctors from "M*A*S*H" and "Scrubs", and there other unconventional picks. Doogie Howser, M.D., Dr. John Becker, that's an underrated one. So is Dr. Jenna James from "Getting On". Hell, the people that made "Frasier" once made a whole sitcom that's just a family of doctors. (It's called "Out of Practice", it only lasted one season, but it's actually a pretty good little underrated show. It used to stream on Amazon Prime, not sure it does anymore, but nice show to seek out.). As I was doing this list though, I realized that there is a modern doctor character on a sitcom that frankly nobody ever brings up in this discussion, and I think he's way more unique and interesting then people realize.

7. Dr. Fitch Cooper-"Nurse Jackie"



Here's a character who I think slips through the cracks because nobody actually thinks of him when they think of show he's on. Showtime comedies tend to get pushed aside a little more then they really should to begin with, and "Nurse Jackie", despite being on the air forever, I don't think too many people actually liked this show. It's not a laugh-out-loud "funny" show necessarily; I'm a pretty big fan of it and even I've only gotten through like, five seasons of it myself, and I keep finding excusese to put off watching the rest. And it's not like Dr. Cooper's a favorite character of mine either; he's like my fifth favorite character from the show. There's a reason why they give Edie Falco and Merritt Wever the Emmys for the show. Still though, he's a quirky character. He's not a great doctor, at all, he's not Frank Burns incompetent or anything, but he's one of those privilidge kids who went into medicine thinking it would be cool to be a doctor, and he just has way too much self-confidence compared to his ability. He also grew up a little too alone and heavily mothered, by his lesbian parents. He's not good with people, and stresses out when scared by the most simple confrontation, which is the excuse for weirdest quirk, a groping form of Tourette's where instead of cursing or stammering, when frightened, he grabs the nearest boob. I have no idea if that's a real thing, but it's so weird it's funny. But that, kind of obliviousness where a medical professional is completely unaware of how he shouldn't be celebrating that he's got a gunshot wound victim, that's something that you don't normally see in the darkest of these shows. Peter Facinelli who's been an interesting actor since the Kevin Spacey film, "The Big Kahuna", he's played a lot of these odd characters who are kinda too handsome for their own good and don't realize how inept they are, but this is still the best of that bunch.

However, I called him a "modern" doctor character, because he does have one trait above everything else that makes him stand out even more then others; he has a fascination with fame. He's like that people know he's a doctor and that kind of recognition.

Okay, so, I have an anecdote here, so bare with me a minute. I like to watch reaction video in my spare time, and one of my favorites is this guy Devin Stone, who goes by the Youtube name "Legal Eagle", and he's a lawyer who talks about the law, and sometimes he reacts and reviews movies and TV shows and talks about the legal accuracy of them. He's one of a few lawyers who do these "Lawyer Reacts" videos, but there's also a group of "Doctor Reacts" videos, where youtubers who are Doctors react to medical shows and movies and other media and talk about the real life medical accuracies of them. I don't like a lot of them as much, but I did go through a bunch of them for awhile, when they were doing of a trend of watching important episodes of "Scrubs" and "House" that I love, and I swear to god, they all reminded me of Dr. Fitch Cooper! I swear, the exact details are obviously different, but it doesn't matter who it is, male, female, different races, different ethnicity, etc. it's like every hospital's version of that character, is the one with the medical reaction channel. They didn't remind me of any other TV doctors, just him. So, he's more distinctive, and I suspect these kinds of personality traits are more common in modern-day hospitals then we'd think. So that's why I've put him up on here; I have a sneaky suspicion that he's more reminiscent of the modern archetypal young doctors today, then some of the past prototypes we've seen in television, especially in comedy.


Number six.

Speaking of overlooked characters on Showtime sitcoms....

6. Tara Gregson-"The United States of Tara"



I wasn't going to include her on this list, originally. I mean, I know the show ended after only three seasons, but I think everybody knows this was a great character. Hell, it's an Emmy winning performance; sure, it didn't last as long as it should have, but it was a cult hit that most look back on fondly. I'm not sure too many people put it on their greatest shows lists, but I don't think anybody hates it either. And obviously, it's a complicated character, who actually playing, eh, one, two, three,...- eh, I think by my count, eight characters, over-the-series? Or "Alters" as they're referred to. But then I realize, "Yeah, but the category is "Most Underrated" and you can still be rated pretty high and still be underrated. Also, it's a Toni Collette performance, and, yes, absolutely, if there is any actress who is underrated, by any standard, it is Toni Collette, and that's including television. And Tara Gregson is underrated. Seriously underrated. "The United States of Tara" is underrated. So is, for that matter, the show's creator, Diablo Cody. And so is Toni Collette; I know I mentioned that already, but she's really underrated! If you don't believe me, look up Be Kind Rewind's recent Youtube video outlining her career.

There's a few reasons for this, some I mentioned already, but in terms of this character, yes, Disassociative-Identity Disorder is the intriguing part of her character, although she's quite interesting outside of that, and outside of her alters, I particularly love how season three's entire plot was her showing just somebody who didn't believe in the disorder slowly believing that at least she actually had it. That was good. I also like how, unlike other sitcoms, even at the time, the series was surprisingly insular. It was a series about this woman fighting an inner struggle with herself, and every real major new plot thread, was indeed, not a new character coming in to create conflict, but a new conflict within herself. That was done well, and it's shockingly unusual these days, even for sitcoms.

However, when we think of DID disorder and television, who do we think of immediately? Not Tara Gregson, but "Sybil"! A TV movie from forty years ago, it's still the reference everybody makes. And half the reason we think off it, is because before then, nobody thought Sally Field was a serious or good enough actress to pull that off, which-, honestly that sounds like science-fiction when you say that out loud now. (No, I didn't put "Gidget" or "The Flying Nun" on here, unfortunately, despite being a TV and movie legend, Sally Field was oddly never on great TV shows) Tara Gregson doesn't get that benefit, 'cause we all already know that Toni Collette is an amazing freak of nature actress, so while we were amazed, we were not surprised. In an era where the when Lead Comedy Actress is a stronger category then ever before at the Emmys, her name just doesn't get mentioned as much as it should, and I don't think people are gonna bring it up much in the future, which is a ridiculous shame.


Number five.

One of my last cuts on this list was, Darlene Connor from "Roseanne". For a while, I actually had her glued into a pretty high spot on this list, but after I thought about a bit, yeah, she is underrated, if for nothing else, then for being one of the few first genuinely melancholy, depressed, smart teenagers. And had "Roseanne" not gotten a reboot, I probably would've found a spot for her, but it's clear now that everybody recognizes the seminalness of her character. At least, for a list like this, I think that's one of the detriments to this run of reboots and sequel series spinoffs of older classic series, it's that those characters that we loved decades ago, we realize that they were just as loved and now that we're seeing what else they're doing, and in Darlene's case how much more she's doing, it's not bad, but it does underline that maybe they weren't so overlooked before.

Then again, it could work the other way. Sometimes with these reboots we find out where these characters are now and see just how great they really were the first time.

5. Jim Dial-"Murphy Brown



I think "Murphy Brown" is a generally overlooked and severely underrated series these days. It's never been a good show for reruns, it's never had a complete collection of it's series on DVD, and while I think the recent one-season revival was amazing, it didn't get great ratings and critics apparently didn't care for it either...- (TV critics are lousy; seriously, I will defend most film critics forever, even the ones I disagree with most of the time, but TV critics mostly suck. I think TV critics have never actually seen good television and don't know what it looks like.) One of the things I realized was that Jim Dial was a great character. A lof of ways he's underrated, the series of course, the fact that there's a lot of eccentric and memorable characters on the show, most of which you'd think of first, but he was arguably the soul of the series. Admittedly, part of this might be the fact that he's a relic to a, let's face it, better time in television journalism, but I'm okay with idyllic romanticized portrayals of the way things should be. Besides, you need that voice surrounding the chaos in order to keep things together. And he is a great stern, by-the-book character. His whole arc of the series was that, essentially he was still going on, while he was seeing the essences of his industry changing right before him, and those changes frustrated him then. Many of my favorite plots involving him were when was trying to seek out those good-old days, only to have his old delusions of those days undermined when he realizes that they weren't as great as they were, or they were already very different then he originally realized. He was never particularly angry at those revelations though, not that I remember. Of course, he spent his career covering politics, so of course, nothing probably phased him, naturally. As far as anchorman, he's dwarfed by Ted Knight's Ted Baxter in terms of memorable TV sitcom characters, as well as several of his castmates as well. But he was also the fatherly figure in the workplace, who everybody looked up to and respected and admired, and even by that standard, I think you'd think of a long list of others character mentioned before you hit Jim Dial. In many ways, you could look to him as a prototype of someone like a Dr. Cox from "Scrubs" or a Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation" among others. Sure, I can point to someone like Lou Grant or Alex Reagor as some earlier variations of that archetype too, but Charles Kimbrough's iconic Jim Dial deserves mention in that as well. You gotta have that one legend that everyone respects, you know?


Number four.

So most of these characters are character that I grew up with to one degree or another so far, mostly from my lifetime. I didn't plan it that way, but I do suspect that, in more recent decades we've cared more about creating great characters as opposed to, in traditional sitcoms, we'd more-or-less have our typical lead characters, and they'd be a husband, mother or child's issue to get through and wait 'til the husband deal with them. I mean, you can sort through, say, "My Three Sons" and find a lot more interesting nuances in some of the minor characters, but you'd still find more compelling one in modern versions of those shows like-eh, what's the modern-day version of "My Three Sons", eh, "Weeds" maybe? I'll go with "Weeds". (That was a joke, but that actually isn't a terrible comparison.)

That said, when you dig into some early television, you do see some interesting things do make you tilt your head a little that somebody was doing this back then? Cause are occasionally those old ones you catch, where you realize they were, eh, probably a lot more subliminal progressive in their series then I think most people realized. Case in point, exhibit A: "Bachelor Father".

4. Bentley Gregg-"Bachelor Father"



This show amazes me. Now, I clearly read it as camp now, and it wasn't actually a huge hit at the time; during it's five year run from '57-'62, it actually aired on all three major network at one point or another, most of that time on NBC. It had a decent run in reruns as well over the years, but I only started catching it recently, and-, well, I don't know quite what to make of it. They didn't have "Created By' credits back then, so I don't know exactly where this show came about, I'm gonna assume that Arthur Allsburg was the main voice behind it, since he wroter/co-wrote a majority of the episodes, including the Pilot, but I know somebody must've had this concept as a way to backhandedly do some things that they wouldn't normally be able to get away with. The great John Forsythe, in his first regular television role, plays Bentley Gregg, a Beverly Hills attorney, known for his bachelor ways, and then, he has to take care of his 13-year-old niece, after her parents die, and so now, he's a "Bachelor Father"! Wokka-wokka!

So, like, I think this is how the fifties got away with shows about being a single parent? You can't be divorced, you couldn't have a kid out of wedlock, you can have a dead parent, but since that means a parent is single, that leaves open the possibility of dating, which he can't be doing if he has a kid... (I'm using '50s logic here, so ignore that that doesn't add up) and this show, really wanted to make that contrast, so adopting orphans was a big thing for awhile.... (Seriously, that's happened in a lot of shows.), so here we are, he's a "father" according to the law, but he's also a "bachelor". Do people still use the word, "bachelor" in that way that indicates it being a "lifestyle?" I hope not. Anyway, this is one of the shows that plays so camp today, that I have to assume somebody was trying to project a larger message, but even if this was taken seriously at face value, A. it's actually a decent show still, and B., you could probably label it influential. Honestly, watching episodes now, it kinda feels a lot like a primordial version of "Two and a Half Men". Bentley Gregg trying to have his own love life while watching over his growing teenage daughter, however many flips through hoops they had to do to get there, it still makes the character surprisingly groundbreaking.

And then on top of that, they add this weird level of Hollywood satire on it? I think the reasoning is that, they couldn't only see a "bachelor", raising a kid in some liberal cesspool like Hollywood or something, (Although Hollywood wasn't as liberal back then as we think of it now, but whatever.) so, I guess since that was their logic, they decided to add this level of Hollywood satire. So, you get a lot of leering looks at good-looking, scantilly clad-for-the-time girls all around, and raising a daughter in that environment is something else too. This Hollywood satire thing was also more common then you'd think in the early days of television, especially in the era when sitcoms had to compete with a lot sketch variety shows. (Apparently, this show for instance, used to flip weeks on the schedule with "The Jack Benny Program" for awhile.) You'd be surprised how often that comes up too, even something out there like "Mister Ed" has a surprising amount of celebrities playing themselves in guest sports for instance. So Bentley Gregg is basically Charlie Harper meets Ari Gold, in the '50s.

Mostly, I think of the show as being a series with a lot of subversive subtext for the time, one that's almost written out of tv history, but I think deserves to still be here. It's probably John Forsythe's third most remembered TV role, but it shows he had a lot of range. Basically any show that dares to contrast lust with raising children from "Married... with Children" to "Full House" even, especially in it's early days, has a bit of a debt to this show for showing that you can indeed do both, and they did it before they can actually, show a single parent, parenting their own kid. There's a lot of dead parent shows during this time, like, a real lot, (most aren't really worth looking up), but this is kinda the one good show and the one good character where it seems like he's trying to have it all, and it's a good thing, it's not an inevitable thing to be dating and raising a kid. It doesn't say that a family is preferred to be a tradtional two-parent household, and shows a parent who does a lot for his kid when he might rather want to be doing something else. I'm not gonna be pretend this is the greatest show ever either or anything, but as a character and a concept, probably more interesting and influential then a lot of other television characters from this time. 


Number three.

The highest ranked female character on my list. Well, definitely a character played by a female, at least; I'm not sure her species has gender actually.

3. Sally Solomon-"3rd Rock from the Sun"



Despite two Emmy wins for Kristen Johnston and still being relatively beloved, I think people have kinda forgotten just how big a show "3rd Rock from the Sun" was at the time. I don't think it's aged badly by any means,- if anything I think it's more influential then people realize. I used compare "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to "Seinfeld" for instance, but actually, "3rd Rock from the Sun" at it's best might actually be a better comparison. both shows are about three guys and a girl trying, and failing to understand whatever subject they've decided to dive into and they end up outrageously wrong about everything. Sally in particular had the difficult job of being assigned as the "woman" on the mission, which, honestly I can't think of too many female aliens, certainly not in sitcoms before her. Everybody remembers John Lithgow's Dick Solomon, who always seems to find a new way to get back into the zeitgeist, but Sally Solomon was just as outrageous and unique, probably moreso even. We'd seen, a Mork-like character before, someone new to Earth and trying to contemplate our ways, but a female character like that, in a good show (charitably)..., umm...you might have to go back to maybe "I Dream of Jeannie" and that show's probably gotten too much attention over the years (Although it does some fascinating subtext to that one too, good and bad....) After that, what, "Out of This World" maybe. Yeah, I'm going with Sally.

"3rd Rock from the Sun" kinda gets forgotten next to most of the rest of NBC's '90s lineup, which really is a shame, and half the time when you do mention it, they think you're talking about "30 Rock" now. Some people only vaguely know it as that show Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on as a kid too. I'm trying not to let my thoughts on the actors get in the way of analyzing characters too, but Kristen Johnson is also a seriously underrated actress. I'm glad she's a got new regular role on "Mom" right now, 'cause she's needed to get much more roles for years now. Every time I see her in something she makes me smile, which has been not enough for too long now. Her character of Sally Solomon though, I think you can debate that she might've been one of the most unique female characters ever on TV at that point, and one of the hardest to play. A military veteran alien, assigned to a female gender on Earth in an information-gathering mission, if nothing else, it's a unique character and just doesn't get the attention or appreciation it deserves. This is one of those shows where you have to look back and go how did this show work at all, much less this well. Great writing, and great characters and great casting, and this is weird combination of all three knocked out of the park that nobody ever brings up.


Number two.

Now this is a character I have seen brought up a little more often recently, but yeah, he's still underrated.

2. Roc Emerson-"Roc"



Roc Emerson might be the last great classic leader-of-the-house character that nobody mentions anymore, which is a shame 'cause while "Roc" didn't have a long run, it really needs to be more seen these days. "Roc" also had a weird run; it was one of the major shows on early '90s FOX, when the network was primarily a spot for both African-American sitcoms and anything weird and experimental and contrarian to the traditional sitcoms that went against it. It also always stuckout from those "Martin"'s or "Living Single"'s though, 'cause it was more lower class and seemed to take a neorealist approach; looking at it now, especially the second season, which they famously decided to shoot and air live, which nobody else dared to do for a full season until that weird "Undateable" show on NBC that starred Chris D'Elia, which, eh, the less said about that the better. (Modifier's dangling, but I meant the show was a piece of shit, but D'Elia is too, so....) The series feels more like a forgotten Norman Lear show then anything else of its time. Actually if you did follow the series; it got much more radical that most of Lear's work, even in the '70s. While everybody remembers the episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" where Will got shot during a robbery attempt, there's a character that gets killed on "Roc", shot in cold blood, and the entire season was building up to it, eventually sets up the new condition for the third season of the show and Roc Emerson is the main suspect in the killing! Did I mention that it was also a gang murder! "Roc" is like, the sitcom version of "The Wire"! And it was all centered around a garbage man who wanted to do his family well, whatever that entailed. Easier said then done when living in a crime-riddled Baltimore neighborhood. Roc was the '90s version of a radical morally-conscious Archie Bunker. There wasn't much political disagreement at the dinner table, but there was a lot of conflict, and he jumped into the center of it, and tried to make things right.

"Roc" was never a ratings hit, per se, although it's always had a cult following; it's a show that really stretch itself as far as it could from the lightest of comedy to the most intense of drama and back that a sitcom could go. It was more consistent sitcom, I bet it would've been a little more highly regarded; it might've helped too if it was able to be promoted more, although the whole shooting live thing hurt that a bit, but "Roc" was way ahead of it's time, and willing to take it's audience to differing places on such a quick turnaround that it could seem like whiplash. He's still, a great iconic character, you know what, I still see occasionally in scattered reruns despite less then 75 episodes made of the series. He still should be brought up more. Charles S. Dutton is still one of our great unsung actors, and he ended winning a couple Emmys for Guest Acting and even one for Directing; but "Roc" literally is a real-life nickname for Dutton, and the series was inspired by much of his own life and experience and I always feel a bit bad that his most passionate project is also one of the more forgettable and underappreciated ones. We arguably need more shows to have the kinds of freedoms it had, and on a network series no less.

Oh well. I still have one character that I think is more underrated then even Roc left, but let's run through a few Honorable Mentions.


HONORABLE MENTIONS (Alphabetical by main series)
Dr. John Becker-"Becker"-Okay, I have this theory about "Becker" about how the entire show is only everybody else's reaction to Becker, and that he's generally a nice guy and a good doctor but nobody ever sees that side of him. I always thought this because he's one of the few lead characters who always enters the room shortly after the scene begins with everybody else, so everything generally normal and then he enters and what we see is how everything changes when he enters the room? This theory doesn't remotely hold up to scrutiny, but he's still a great character.

Howard Borden-"The Bob Newhart Show"-I think between this and his work on "I Dream of Jeannie", Bill Daily's pretty well remember as one of the great best friends/annoying neighbors in television, but that show was full of strange side-characters that I think he slips through the cracks more often then he probably should.

Bill Bittinger-"Buffalo Bill"-Oooh, this show was way ahead of it's time. It only lasted a couple seasons, but Dabney Coleman's character was kind of an early, nastier version of Garry Shandling on "The Larry Sanders Show", only on a bad local TV show.

Charlie Runkel-"Californication"-I was gonna go with his wife, the Pamela Adlon character, but  sometimes I wonder if the show would've been better from his perspective. And then sometimes I wonder if they just made him nuttier to compete with Jeremy Piven's Eli Gold character from "Entourage". Does anybody actually like "Californication" or was it just so out there that we just decided to keep putting up with it whether we liked it or not? I go back-and-forth on that one too.

Molly Bickford Dodd-"The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd"-Before she was on "Fringe", Blair Brown earned five Emmy nominations for playing this quirky Bohemian New York divorcee. It's kinda like '80s "That Girl"; I guess? I actually don't know what to make of this show, but what few episodes I've seen, I can't think of too many things to compare it too, even today. And those episodes, were not easy finds btw. This show has never gotten a DVD release and isn't streaming anywhere legally, and probably won't because of music copyrights they never got.

Danielle Van De Kamp-"Desperate Housewives"-I think we've unfairly written "Desperate Housewives" out of our pop culture psyche in general; I won't pretend that a lot of that wasn't their fault, 'cause they really fucked up by jumping ahead five years that time, (and badly so at that) but god, there's a lot of great characters on this show. I was gonna go with Bree, but then I remembered how much of a irredeemably manipulative little cunt her daughter was. Seriously, go back and recall everything awful she does and why she does it. Her mother watched and did nothing as multiple lovers of hers died, and Danielle's  still worst then her!

Dwayne Wayne-"A Different World"-I wasn't gonna put him on here, 'cause "A Different World" is kind of a difficult show to talk about 'cause, well, Cosby...., (Sigh) but-eh, after thinking about it, how is Dwayne the one African-American nerd charcter from the '90s that nobody remembers fondly?! I mean, how many famous sitcom mathematicians can you think of? Leave it to a character with those glasses to get overshadowed by his girlfriend.

Chloe-"Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23"-I'm still mad that this one got cancelled way too soon. I'm sure Krysten Ritter was great on that Marvel series, whatever it was called, but man I can't think of her without thinking of how great this character was. I read her novel though, "Bonfire"; it was pretty good.

Waldo Faldo-"Family Matters"-Urkel wasn't the only character to find his way into a permanent supporting role on this show, and that's more impressive then it should be. He was also funnier then he should've been.

Mallory Keaton-"Family Ties"-To this day, I can't believe I lost a bet on who the more famous Bateman sibling would be in the future. I know, everybody remembers Alex first, and they should, but Mallory was the cool Keaton.

Al Floss-"The Famous Teddy Z"-This is an example of just a terrible show that happened to have a really great character in it. It was canceled after a year and Alex Rocco won an Emmy for it anyway; that's how good the character is.

Father Dougal McGuire-"Father Ted"-You know, the damnedest thing is that the more you listen to him, the more sensible he sounds.

Shoshanna Shapiro-"Girls"-I love that Shoshanna's just as much an out-of-her-depth mess as everybody else on the show, but in a completely different way then everyone else.

James 'J.J.' Evans, Jr.-"Good Times"-I know he became a punchline, but if you look past that, he was a really compelling character.

Oscar North-"He & She"-I put out a request on Facebook for people to recommend some famous characters for this list; I didn't get too many responses but a friend of mine did recommend this one. I had never seen "He & She", so I had to look it up, and-eh yeah, I get it. Jack Cassidy's character is the only part of the show worth watching, and thank God 'cause "He & She" is just a mindblowingly bad show. This is also one of those series from the '50s or '60s that happens to be a low-key parody of Hollywood like "Bachelor Father" was like, between the regular plots of the series. That still happens by the way, the failed "Up All Night" comes to mind, but that's gone on with a lot more shows then people realize.

Bonnie Molloy-"Life with Bonnie"-Bonnie Hunt has had several attempts at vastly different albeit usually good series over the years. None of them ever really panned out, this one was the closest to actually being a hit.

Maynard G. Krabbs-"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"-TV's first stoner best friend! I'm sure that enough people knew about this beatnik that he didn't really come close to making the list, but it is a shame that most people think Bob Denver, and think Gilligan first.

Jefferson D'Arcy-"Married... with Children"-There's a few famous new characters that get added to existing series that I think improved a series a lot, and this one doesn't get the credit for improving this show as much as he should.

Halley Rutledge-"Mozart of the Jungle"-I legitimately don't get why this show never caught on more, and it got cancelled right when her character was just about to discover her true calling. That was a real bummer.

Christine Sullivan-"Night Court"-The producers of "Night Court" actually managed to wait through an entire season with no regular Public Defender in order to get Markie Post for this role specifically. There were a lot of changes to the series over the early years or "Night Court", but adding her as a regular is truly the big one; the show doesn't work without her.

Tig-"One Mississippi"-Another example of how Diablo Cody is ridiculously underrated. Amazon just has the worst luck with TV shows sometimes.

Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko-"The Phil Silvers Show (oka You'll Never Get Rich)"-I probably debated putting Sgt. Bilko on here more then I should've, but I still think Phil Silvers doesn't get nearly the credit or acclaim he deserves; in terms of early television, his name should really be at the tip of our tongue, up with Lucy, Gleason and Benny among others.

Carlton the Doorman-"Rhoda"-Writers love characters that are never seen onscreen, you can write anything for them, but sometimes it helps to be able to hear them occasionally.

Darlene Connor-"Roseanne", "The Connors"-If she hadn't taken over as the lead the reboot series after Roseanne used up all Get Out of Celebrity Jail Free Cards, I probably would've had her on the list.

Hanna 'Belle de Jour'-"The Secret Diary of a Call Girl"-I would've sworn that there had to be another interesting prostitute character in sitcoms before Belle, but I'll be damned, I couldn't think of one. (Well, I couldn't find clips of one anyway; I tried to find old clips for Norman Lear's TV adaptation of "Hot L Baltimore", but nobody saved that one.)  That said, I think this show only worked for two seasons, after that it kinda lost it's way. Still, doesn't anybody have a best friend or a crazy neighbor that's a hooker anymore, or have I just lived in Vegas too long?

Lisa Simpson-"The Simpsons"-I thought I should put one animated character on here. I was debating between, Lisa, Meg Griffin and Jay Sherman. Actually, I'm not sure she's that underrated, or that any of them are actually, but I think I can make an argument that a lot of animated sitcom characters are overrated. I'm looking at you two Rick & Morty! (Yeah, I said it; come at me!)

Bridgitte Bird-"SMILF"-I hope Frankie Shaw has learned her lessons, 'cause it's a shame that she really fucked up a good show and a great character at it's center by being really reprehensible behind the scenes.

Burt Campbell-"Soap"-This is one of those shows where I could've picked a character at random and made an argument for them. I've been debating whether or not to do a whole blog on "Soap" for awhile now; I don't know if I'll ever get to it, but as much respect as this show does gets, it's not nearly enough.

Natalie Hurley-"Sports Night"-I know it'd be obvious to pick one of the other characters from "Sports Night", but Natalie's got one of the more compelling arcs on the series then it seems at first.

Alex Reiger-"Taxi"-This might be sacriligious to some, but I stand by this. He's one of the few lead characters from an all-time great show that you generally don't think of first because there's so many great Supporting characters on it. There are some great ones from the show, but Alex is still great too.

Sarah Pfefferman-"Transparent"-Man, thank God "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is just amazing, 'cause Amazon,  even their hits inevitably have problems eventually. I can list a few characters from this show and make a decent argument for any of them, but anyone who's so annoying that her dominatrix can't take it any more and quits, that's gotta be up there.

Rockwell 'Rocky' Sin-"Valentine's Day"-You probably don't know this one, it's not a memorable or great show but look this character up if you can and look up Jack Soo while you're at it. People should remember him more often then they do.

Shane Botwin-"Weeds"-There's a lot of interesting characters I could've picked from this show, but I suspect the kids' transofrmations are the most interesting and jarring, and Shane's in particular...- he had a weird arc when you think about it.

Bailey Quarters-"WKRP in Cincinnati"-I know, I can't be the only one who thinks Bailey was more interesting then Jennifer, right?


Okay, let's do this. Number one....

When I decided to do this list, I didn't think this character would be number one. I definitely thought about him, thought he'd be on the list, but I thought, eh, I didn't see enough of him to put him number one.... I still haven't seen more then the few episodes I can find of this show, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I don't know what the general opinion was at the time, or if this holds up particularly strong but, the ways it reads in hindsight these days, at least in America the 1960s was the worst decade for television. Especially the late '60s.

Now, don't get me wrong here, there are good shows from this era; there are good and bad shows in every era, but boy does it not feel like it in hindsight. Between 1965, which was the last season of "The Dick Van Dyke" and 1970, which is when the Rural Purge happened, I think I might argue that only really great sitcom that had a really good run and not only still holds up but is undeniably a great show that came from era was "Get Smart". There are some other memorable, important and iconic series from this era somebody could name, but I don't know. especially on the sitcom side; I think quality-wise a lot of that is questionable-at-best.

That said, there is some good stuff here if you dig deep enough. A lot of television during this time was,- well, it was pretty experimental, which not only makes sense everybody was probably high, but this was also when there a lot of experiment American cinema that was inspired by foreign movements, for instance. Like, you can watch a few strange episodes of "The Monkees" and you'd be amazed at how strangely French New Wave and Godard-inspired they were. A lot of that was pretty cool, but most of it didn't play as strongly on television as it does for film, and since recording devices wasn't as common back then, we don't always find those shows on DVD or streaming and since the next generation of sitcoms is arguably the first great decade of television and has a neverending collage of great and influential television that still resonates, sometimes there a show or two, or a character that kinda gets overlooked in hindsight.

1. John Monroe-"My World... and Welcome To It"



I've only been able to find a couple full episodes of "My World... and Welcome To It" over the years, and every time I watch them, they BLOW MY FUCKING MIND! It feels like every innovative comedic idea I've seen in television over the last 25 or so years, I can find somewhere in the few episodes of this show that I can find, and it was doing them in 1970! The main character is John Monroe, a cartoonist who's based on James Thurber, the man behind, among other things, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," and he fantasizing about stuff, and can control those fantasies, literally with a snap of a finger, like Zach Morris. He also talks to us, the audience. And even the cartoon characters he creates, and they talk back. The show mixed media, was shot on single camera with no audience or laugh track, and I'm only just starting with the sardonic brilliance of the series and it's main character and series. Inspired by Thurber and featuring stories and ideas from his work, and with William Wisdon's Emmy winning performance as John Monroe, we literally got more inside the mind of a character then ever before, and were seeing of the strange, odd and occasionally thoughts the Mr. Brady's of television never really seemed to have. (The pilot episode involves him fantasizing about a neighbor girl, and ends with his wife and the neighbor having a catfight throughout the house, a catfight that's all in his mind! And that's the average episode from what I can tell!) This show was making fun of suburbia back when television's best jab at it was, "My wife is a witch, and her mother-in-law is the worst" To me, this show might be the peak of that late '60s era of television experimentation for experiments sake, but so few of those shows that were taking these chances, you don't see remnants of them still echoing on television anymore, but "My World... and Welcome To It", feels like the secret unknown origin of so much television today, that it almost feels like sometime in early '80s or '90s we accidentally slipped into an alternate universe where this show was the biggest series of its day.

1970 is a weird year for American television, and "My World... and Welcome To It" won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for it's first and only season. The only other shows it was nominated against that lasted more then three seasons were "Love, American Style", which was an anthology series and "Room 222", the latter is actually a good show and an early dramedy that should get more attention, but by the next year's Emmys, television would look so different, that almost anything that was somewhat experimental and good would either be gone or forgotten in time, and for good reason, for the most there was so much better television that came after that most anything that did progress the medium in this era by miniscule amounts would be overshadow by leaps and bounds by the shows that came after. But Jack Monroe was the rare example of a character from this era that was ahead of his time. Most of the Lear-era and post-Lear-era shows would use television to reflect the societel ills of the time. There's still some of that, but a lot of television in this post-"Louie" world is more representative of a personal nature and has a freedom of the medium that we haven't seen as often until now, and few series I can think of, outside of "The Jack Benny Program" has the expansive, progressive approach to the medium the way "My World... and Welcome To It", and seeing a show from this kind of singular perspective, like Jack Monroe, you didn't see that back then. You see it a lot now. Maybe not talking to the camera, but the individual perspective on the world is the key motif and calling card of the modern sitcom.

The rest of this list, honestly, I can see arguments for nine other characters that you can exchange for the nine I picked and it'd make a reasonable list. Jack Monroe though, at this moment in time, unless I find someone else obscure that came a lot earlier, is the single most underrated sitcom character of all-time.   

Sunday, June 28, 2020

ANALYZING A NETWORK, SHOW-BY-SHOW: RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE TREND OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS IN OBSERVATION OF "NICK KNACKS" AND OTHER YOUTUBE COMMENTATORS ANALYZING THE HISTORY OF MODERN CABLE TELEVISION.

So-eh, I know much of the narrative during this pandemic for people has been a lot of talk about what everybody's streaming, and I supposed I should also be talking about that.... The thing is, I'm not actually watching a lot right now, at least on traditional TV. Oddly, I tend to find myself less interested in new media then ever; I'm trying but I even tweeted a joke about being sick of new shows and asking people to recommend TV shows that I've watched many times before.

(Shrugs)

I'm actually watching a lot of Youtube lately, again, a lot of it's reruns for me, but-eh there is one show that I've really been binge-watching lately that I'm only catching now, and it's this series called "Nick Knacks".

It's on the Youtube channel "poparena". The link is below:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_r_9AlYTTRRRDAUYY2ElwQ

I don't know too much about him to be honest; he does a little bit of everything. He originally apparently was known for a retrospective he did on the book series, "Animorphs", which...- (Shrugs) I'll be honest, I remember when that was the big young adult lit series, and I just never understood the appeal of it. That and one or two other things scattered here and there. Doing a deep dive into his channel, he has some interesting reviews, but it was a few weeks ago when I really started paying attention to this series he's doing on the history of Nickelodeon.

I forget exactly how I came across it; I think I was looking for episodes of "Welcome, Freshman" for that "Saved By the Bell" piece I wrote a few weeks back.

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2020/06/the-teenkids-sitcom-and-how-to-classify.html

(I've either confused you all with that reference, or I've just made you go, "OMG, I forgot that show existed!" depending on your age.) I kinda just drifted in and out of this "Nick Knacks" series, until I fully realized exactly what he was doing, and it's something that's really interesting. He's in the middle of a really ambitious project where he's doing a complete network history of the Nickelodeon, and he's doing it by going show-by-show through everything that the channel has ever scheduled to air.

For one thing, kudos, 'cause Jesus Christ, that is a hugely ambitious project, so, above anything else, good luck. And he's been successful with it; he's nowhere near-, like he's not even into the 1990s yet; here, he finally got around to "Double Dare"'s episode a few weeks ago.
.


"Double Dare" is arguably the most important show in the network's history ao, it's obviously one of the longest episodes at over an hour and a half, although personally I found much more affection for his recent episode on "The Shari Show", especially since there's distressingly little on Shari Lewis anymore. (Shame, btw. People should her as much as any other kids TV entertainer.) I highly recommend the series entirely for several reasons, obviously if you have any interest in Nickelodeon and it's history, it's obviously a great source of material. And I especially found it interesting, 'cause unlike ESPN and especially MTV, a lot of the earliest days of Nickelodeon in particular, are kinda forgotten. By the time, I recognize the channel, it was well-established in it's prime "Orange Splat" brand,- like, I remember when the original Nicktoons debuted; like I remember that very distinctly, but there's a lot of television before then that they aired that's kinda fascinating, when apparently Nickelodeon was a "PBS-you-pay-for channel", which-, honestly I'm not even sure I understand that; I already get PBS for free, why would I pay for it?, but it's still really enlightening to document these earliest days of not only the channel but of what we would now consider modern cable television, and Nickelodeon was around then, but their earliest years are just not mythologized within the company's  brand as other cable networks of the time are.

So, learning about that, learning about the decisions and programs and how they were chosen or developed; how Nick at Nite came about-, personally this is stuff that fascinates me in general, and yeah, Nickelodeon's place in pop culture as a whole, really can use a complete show-by-show dissection like this, to see how it grew, changed, evolved, etc. etc. A lot of this is clearly gravy for me, and especially the idea of, analyzing television, through the prism of the network they're on.

This is something, that's fascinated me for awhile. I've written several pieces over the years that basically are pieces that are very brief and simplified, analyses of the recent history of certain networks, mostly the major networks, NBC, CBS, ABC, and I think I did a FOX one at some point. This is something that, I think is kinda lost these days, but especially before streaming and Youtube, the distinction between networks was a really crucial aspects of television. Not only brand identity, but like, the kind of shows that networks aired mattered and were distinctive. Like, you can pick three random sitcoms from before I was born, and just by the look of the show, I knew about 90% of the time, without looking it up what channel they aired on; it was that distinctive.

There's still some of that around obviously, but especially with so many more channels available now, it's something that's diminished, at least for the basic networks, it's much more homogenized, but I would argue that cable, with most of the networks roots arrived originally from being specialty channels that aired particular specific kinds of programming, like for instance a kids-based channel, and there's some interesting things to look at and analyze here.

And clearly, I'm not alone here, 'cause neither is poparena, and "Nick Knicks". He's not the only doing stuff like this. Quinton Reviews, another Youtuber who does a few different things, usually I pay more attention to his Jim Davis retrospective material, 'cause I'm also a huge Garfield fan, but recently he's been doing pieces on the history of, well, the History Channel, or HISTORY, as it's called now. That's a much younger network then some of the other big ones, but yeah, in it's short time, it's gone from to everybody in my generation colloquially calling it "The Hitler Channel" to now calling it "The Pawn Stars Channel" that sometimes airs stupid documentaries about aliens. And he really does dissect into all the levels of stupid that network's gone through over the years, and I hope he continues to do more; I don't expect him to sort through all the garbage, 'cause, it's The History Channel, not Nickelodeon, I wouldn't wish anybody on that kind of torture, but that's a channel that's been a cesspoll bullshit for years. (Seriously, "Pawn Stars" is probably the best thing about the channel; the conpsiracy documentary stuff is far more horrorific and problematic.)

Also there's a weird channel called "Defunctland", that's kind of a strange channel as well, that tends to have a scattered focus in general, but I guess mostly talks about stuff that's, well, defunct, or just doesn't exist anymore, I guess? Kinda-, they're really erratic in whatever they talk about, a lot of it's like, old abandoned historically significant or noteworthy buildings or locations, but they also stuff on old, television shows. They do a lot on the history of The Muppets, for instance, and in turn, they've also recently been doing a lot on old Disney Channel series, and not the ones that everybody nowadays think about when you hear "Disney Channel" and series, together. I'm talking stuff like this:



I've mentioned "Adventures in Wonderland"  before a few times; I'm genuinely shocked it's not more well-remembered. Yeah, find this show on Disney+ if you can, or wherever it is; there's a good chunk of episodes on Youtube if you're interested. This is what I'm talking about, especially lately, there's been a lot more evolution and change in many of cable's more traditional channels, and some of it is so stunningly different from one eras to another that, perhaps this is the way we really should be looking at television networks more closely.

I've usually been a proponent to look at television through a classic, historical vibe. My basis on this is that, even long before streaming television, at least in most of my life, modern day television is constantly competing with television's past. Why am I going to watch this new thing that may or may not be good, when I can switch to a rerun on another channel, usually Nick at Nite when I had cable (Which, btw, did you know was technically a separate network from Nickelodeon, I didn't until I watched "Nick Knacks"), that I'll probably like, or at least see something that has historical value/importance within the medium, since it's apparently still around long after it's gone, and that's even moreso now in my mind with not only streaming television, but also several other channels that show nothing but reruns, and I still think that's a more relevant position of analysis then most others, including analyzing television network-by-network..., but it hasn't always been that way. Reruns are an invention of television itself, so at one time they didn't exists; those were it's very earliest days granted, but even still, cable itself is a fairly new phenomenon, and modern cable especially is new, and didn't really have much of a cultural relevance until the last 30 or 40 years or so. Once upon a time, cable was just that one channel that the guy down the block paid for for movies and boxing matches. Hell, I'd argue that before cable, yes, analyzing television by networks was probably the best approach. I mean, look at how often CBS's Rural Purge from in the early '70s is still talked abou and argued and discussed as one of the gamechanging moments in television history, and all that essentially was, was just a network rebranding.

Of course their were four channels back then, and that's counting PBS, still, there's so much of the modern cable history that's getting forgotten, especially their earliest days. And also, there's so many more channels now, that most of them aren't gonna survive. For many of them, good riddance, they shouldn't have been channels anyway admittedly, but about once every couple weeks, I go through my Roku and reorganize my channels, add new ones, and mostly, delete the old and dead channels, and there's never a shortage of them. I'm usually able to find a good handful; I swear, sometimes I pick up the channel and then, they're dead within weeks, truly new channels too.

Streaming has become so widespread and television, for their credit, came prepared to embrace this new form of media so early on, that seemingly everything and everyone can have a channel now, and what airs on se channels is much more limited to, "Whatever they want" or "whatever they can afford" more then ever, especially on the lower end. There's good and bad to that, but what I think about is that, we're constantly evolving into having a lot of lost/unseen media in the future. Lost, unseen, and will have no impact today, tomorrow, or matter in the future. Nobody gonna go and look up these defunct half-ass attempts at streaming television years from now, and do a "Nick Knacks" style series and more often then not, they'd be right not to. They're certainly not gonna get the treatment that say, the DuMont Network still gets these days. and that's been defunct for five decades and most of it's media is long lost, never to be seen again.

You might be thinking, perhaps I should do something like this then, and document the history of some other network or channel? I thought about it, but I don't know what channel I'd d-.



(Headslap, sigh, wipes slime off forehead)

Okay, that's one on me. I should've remembered that when you mention Nickelodeon, you then follow their rules, and you gotta remember what words not to say, and I forgot not to say, those three words....

This so ruins my hair; dang it.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, one of the few drawbacks of not being a fan of anything this specific in particular is that, all my interests are too diverse to generally stick to one particular thing for too long; that's one of the reasons I even got into film, so that something new can and will always come along and refresh my interests in the medium. (Which is why it drives me up a fucking wall that almost everything that everybody fucking talks about is superheroes!!!!1 GRRRR!!!! Film and TV is so much more-!!!!!!)

(Deep sigh).

I guess, I could do Bravo's history, since that one's on my mind a lot, but mostly not for good reasons, and I genuinely can't sit through their "Real Housewives" crap for more then a couple minutes, without wishing that James Lipton was still alive to class this shit up. (Fuck Andy Cohen btw.) I mean, it's not too unusual to hear how everybody resents the modern reality-based cable TV landscape; I mean, it's hard to find any "Arts" or "Entertainment" on A&E anymore, but then again I do like "Storage Wars" it's fascinating. I like some of their other shows too; Leah Remini's series was particularly influential, groundbreaking and dare-I-say, one of the more important documentary series in recent years, so it's not the genre just polluting everything; there's other factors. That's worth exploring I guess, but, nah, I'm not sure forcing way through every episode of "Intervention" is gonna be worth that endeavor, not for me anyway, although I guess I wouldn't mind finding some old "100 Centre St."'s or "Breakfast with the Arts".

(Shrugs)

Maybe if something intrigues me in the future enough.... Still, this is why it so impresses me with poparena is doing; even though it's Nickelodeon, it requires a rigorous determination and focus, and that's before you get into all the research, it's almost a zen-like tunnel-visioned strident journey to push oneself through this project. That's determination; I've done research and writing projects before, but this is beyond anything I've ever tried to do; I can't even get around to updating the graphics and rebranding of this blog that I've been planning for like five years now. (I really gotta get on that again....)

I'm happy others are doing it though, and that people like poparena and Quinton Reviews and others are dissection cable networks that have had far more impact on the greater television landscape then people realize. This is an interesting and compelling way to study and document the history of television, and I think a very good way to do so for cable specifcally, and I'm definitely impressed at how in-depth and obscure poparena in particular is going. You don't normally see that; you just don't see too many detailed deep dives out there like this too often, both analyzing the good and the bad of a network's every minute broadcsting decision of what exactly they've put on the air. Even as much as I admire the Must See TV era of NBC, if would be nice to know what the hell they were thinking when greenlight "Inside Schwartz" or "The Mike O'Malley Show" or "Cursed", or some of their other forgotten albeit, notable failures; I mean I already know the histories of "Friends" and "Cheers" and "Seinfeld", so..-  but if this is a minor trend to inspire some others, I'm definitely on board. The more we know about the history of our media, especially television, the more we can appreciate our present media landscape as far as I'm concerned. (Or legitimately bash it  'cause we know what the hell came beforehand, whichever's more relevent.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

MOVIE REVIEWS #171: "BEATS (Robinson)", "HARRIET", "RICHARD JEWELL", "UNCUT GEMS", "PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE", "ONE CHILD NATION", "THE BLACK GODFATHER", "THE CHAMBERMAID", "MIDNIGHT TRAVELER", "ONE CUT OF THE DEAD", "ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS", "REVENGE (Fargeat)", "'A BREAD FACTORY PART ONE: FOR THE SAKE OF GOLD' and 'A BREAD FACTORY PART TWO: WALK WITH ME FOR AWHILE'", and "SEEING ALLRED"!


There's not really too much I have to say here in the intro this week. Um, let's see, um,... I'm...- (Shrugs) I'm sitting at home watching movies a lot, and with COVID-19 still being rampant, it's still only, slightly more strenuous and different then my typical life. Although even this though, I had more unusual issues then normal, and I'll explain some of those issues in some of the appropriate reviews. Other then that, not much to add.

Let's get to the reviews, including my first review of a 2020 feature, "Beats"!



BEATS (2020) Director: Chris Robinson

★★1/2

Beats review: Anthony Anderson's Netflix movie never finds a ...

You know, I've seen so many of these any-, well, honestly I gotta ask my musicians friends this one, 'cause, well,... just-, is everyone who works in the music industry, just somebody who gets screwed over for discovering a talent?

Maybe this is just me, 'cause I come from film, granted, basically the same outskirts that these characters in music discovery movies seem to live in but still,- it seems like you can be an artist, you can be a producer, you can be a mogul, a right-hand man of a mogul of some kind, or-eh, you can be the guy who spots the talent. On the one hand, basically the guy who, brings in the mark that the rest of the crew is gonna steal from, which is bad in of itself, but like, how is there only like, the one option to screw the talent spotter guy? Film doesn't just have a lot more avenues of entry, but it also has a lot more mixing and blending of skills for entry. Hell, that liaison role between producers and executives with artists, that's a whole industry in of itself in Hollywood. Several in fact, if you watch "Entourage" and see how agenting and managing are differing roles and require different skillsets and education levels, even licensing. But, it seems like anybody can bring an artist off the street and bring them a producer or executive, and then, sign the artist, and then cut the manager out completely, and you know what, I don't know why. How do they get away with that? Why force him out, just buy him out if you don't want him, but even still, doesn't he play an instrument? He obviously knows music enough to find you the unknown what you want? How do you know you can't find some other job for the guy, that might be useful and beneficial to you? Sure, he's a leach too, but the guy could recognize somebody who's talented...-

I know I'm being a little reductive here, but it does seem that way with nearly every film, both real life music bio one and especially so with original stories like "Beats", a story about a school security guard in inner-city Chicago, Romelo Reese (Anthony Anderson) who apparently was a big shot record producer, until he got broke, (So, not as big a shot, I guess) and his main artist, Tone (Tyre Green), who discovers a troubled young man, Khalil (August Everage) who's apparently really talented at mixing beats, but is paralyzed by his sister Kari's (Megan Sousa) who he often still imagines seeing, while stuck at home as he's afraid to go outside, even to high school. His mother also feels it's too unsafe for him to go out into the streets, and yeah, this is modern-day Chicago, there is something going on. So, there's two stories, one is Romelo trying to get back into the music game on August's coattails, trying to get old "friends" and "producers" to look at him, but also just getting comfortable around August enough to want to create and mix and frankly just,- just to go out into the world. His mother, Carla (Uzo Aduba) is also frightened and overprotective of her kid, although it's not like they don't have good reason.

Okay, now is the point where I'm not gonna review or describe the movie anymore, 'cause, I'm not entirely certain I watched the right movie. See, this is one of two movies called "Beats" that came out in 2019,- actually this only screened at Slamdance in 2019, it didn't get a release, theatrical or otherwise until 2020, but there is another called "Beats" that came out in 2019, and I suspect now that that was the movie I was supposed to watch. This is very frustrating and annoying, 'cause this has happened to me, TWICE, within the same review period! If you scroll down to my review of "Revenge" I tell a completely different story of having trouble finding the exact movie I wanted to see, because "Revenge" is so generic a title that streaming sites and avenues kept confusing the film I was looking for, with completely different recent movies, also called "Revenge"!

Now "Beats" is a little weirder of a title, so I'll let this anomaly slide and try to watch the other movie later, but naming a movie "Revenge" is just stupid and lazy, and also annoying; especially for search engines. Like, half of literature is basically a narrative based around revenge; how the hell am I supposed to differentiate one from another?!

As to this movie called "Beats", it's got a couple good ideas and sequences that make it stand out a bit from some other movies like this I've seen, and some good performances; I especially want to single out Ashley Jackson playing Niyah, a girl that August has a crush on and she has a really good speech scene, where she in a prom dress calling out August on his bullshit outside his house, but honestly, this isn't different, unique or good enough for me to recommend outright.It might be decent if you stumble upon it on cable one afternoon, or on Netflix I guess; it's streams on there, but it's nothing special. Mostly I just want to tell filmmakers or all kinds, including writers and producers especially: DO NOT GIVE ME ANY MORE GENERIC MOVIE TITLES OF MOVIES! Seriously, TRY HARDER to be original and stand out! If you're gonna give a movie such a generic one-word title, you better be damn sure that the movie is so good and so distinctive that the movie not only can't possibly be named anything else, but the word itself has to be so thoroughly intertwined with the text of the film that it absolutely has to called that word, 'cause nothing else would make sense.


HARRIET (2019) Director: Kasi Lemmons

★★★

Watch Janelle MonĂ¡e and Cynthia Erivo in the first Harriet Tubman ...

So there's always been a weird joke in Hollywood, especially in writers' circles about Nicola Tesla. Yeah, that Tesla. Anyway, supposedly that's always the ideal, dream screenplay idea that for one never comes about and never gets made, as in a straight biopic of him. That's kind of a slight in-joke in that one Nolan movie about magic where David Bowie plays him in, um, what was it called, um, oh,  "The Prestige", where basically he acts like a real wizard that creates actual magic illusions, like he's a catch-all for anything necessary. That's kinda the joke that every big writer's trying to get the Nicola Tesla made and somehow it never gets done. Anyway, I bring it up, 'cause I've also heard the same joke about a Harriet Tubman movie for years.

I think if there's a real distinction, I would probably say the Tubman movie joke is more the producers' version of the joke, while the Tesla version is the writers' version. There's always been a Harriet Tubman movie in development or development Hell, for one reason or another, and I just assumed it would never get made. However, they did eventually make a Nicola Tesla film. It was a bit of a disaster that eventually led to a Director's Cut of the movie getting released two years after it was finished, and I'm fairly certain nobody's seen it. "Harriet" on the other hand, is a bit more of a commercial release and it has garnered an audience and even earned it's star, Cynthia Erivo an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (And also for Best Song, I should mention). It's not like Tubman's story isn't one worth telling; I mean, we put her on goddamn money, she's an important and transcendant figure in American history, but she's also been one of those lives who's always been a bit difficult to form a traditional narrative around, at least that one that's shapes well for a feature film, or for that matter any medium. The only other known production of a Harriet Tubman biopic that I can think of is the TV miniseries "A Woman Called Moses" from the seventies with Cicely Tyson in the role, and, other then the fact that it's streaming on Amazon, there's not much I can find on that. Even on the wikipedia page for it and keep in mind, this is a '70s miniseries, back when those were the biggest shows in television, it's shockingly spare; it talks more about the soundtrack album then the miniseries.

(Shrugs)

So, how about "Harriet", the new biopic that actually got made. It's-eh,... it's okay.

It's-um,... (Sigh) I don't know what to tell you, it's about what you expect. It's-, it's well made, well-shot, well acted for the most part. It's not the best written; I mean the history stuff is,- well, I actually don't know how accurate it is, but it seems accurate enough, mostly the dialogue can be a bit graining and clunky. I mean, I get it, this is a movie that's trying to express how important she is and how heroic she was, and it does a lot of it in the storytelling, although half the time, the movie just turns into William Still (Leslie Odom, Jr.), the head of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society who documents the lives and experiences of escaped slaves like Harriet, it's often just him saying, "You can't do that," to Harriet, and her saying, "Oh, I'm doing this shit!" (Not in those terms, but she does indeed do that shit!) This happens like, almost half a dozen times or so, and you know, yes, what she does is very dangerous, but at some point, it should be both pretty clear that she ain't gonna listen and that somehow this woman keeps finding a way to go down to the South again and come back up with some freed slaves, even after the Fugitive Slave Act is passed. I'm sure a bunch of people warned her all the time of the dangers, and it was ridiculously dangerous and heroic, but it get repetitive.

The beginning of the movie is her escaping from her master Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) who did allow her to marry a freedman John Tubman (Zachary Momoh), but he's backed out of several promises of his freedom, much of with were deals made with his father, Mike (Edward Brodan) but he's also obsessed with Harriet, or Minty as she's known back then. (She changed her name to Harriet after she escaped.)

Gideon also is the one that's constantly trying to find and recapture her: I don't know how accurate this is; I have heard stories of slaveowners seeking out to find their runaway slaves, but at some point, I gotta imagine he gave up long before this. Actually, there's little-to-no knowledge of Gideon, the real villainous character in the Brodess household is apparently the mother, Eliza (Jennifer Nettles). I guess he's a better person to be running out and helping the army of slaveowners that have gathered and try to position themselves at the bridge.

There's like, nothing new in these scenes; they're basically the same sequences you probably have always heard about with slave escape stories, but I guess they're done okay. I like the emphasis on the songs being code; that was done well. Honestly, I was more intrigued by the scenes with her when she's free in the North. It kinda reminded me of "The New World" and how Rebecca is enchanted by Europe. She even does a jump for joy.

Obviously that's short-lived, and the movie basically just canonizes Harriet, and that's why I've kinda always thought her story was never good for a biopic. She is heroic, she is an American hero, an icon and accomplished a lot of amazing things; hell, we're putting her on our currency! (Or, we were supposed to anyway.... ugh.), we only get a minor glimpse of it here believe it or not, but there isn't much else. No other real conflicts or struggles, outside of the actiosn she partakes in. I guess why Kasi Lemmons focused on that as much as she did, 'cause there really isn't much else to talk about with her. There's very little conflict, and she was really headstrong. If anything, the movie actually made her more devoted and headstrong then maybe even she was, 'cause they basically turn into like a classic old west folk hero like Billy the Kid or someone. That's not a negative either, it helps; it actually puts her astonishing acts in the correct context, but I didn't exactly come out of the movie inspired or anything. It's a difficult film to review 'cause it's such a tricky subject matter and there aren't a lot of examples of people working with it beforehand, so I'm trying ot figure out what was the right approach and what wasn't at what wasn't for, in terms of telling her story best in the form of a movie, and I'm conflicted on what that would be. I know, this isn't it, but I know it's not bad either.

I think the movie's ultimately trying to mythologize her, and it succeeds at that, so I'm gonna give it a pass, but I do wonder if there's more interesting ways to tell her story, or for that matter just one of her stories told well in the future. I go back-and-forth whether or not Tubman the historical figure, the icon, the most famous and successful conductor on the Underground Railroad is more or less compelling then Tubman, the person, and I think the film does too, and it's trying to split the difference; I don't know how well they succeeded at either, but I think they succeeded enough at each to at least recommend. It certainly didn't dishonor her, and it highlighted her importance; I just wish it was able to find like something else to hang onto, but you know, if she had something else that compelling, she might not have been able to accomplish as much as she did.


RICHARD JEWELL (2019) Director: Clint Eastwood

★★1/2

Clint Eastwood 'Richard Jewell' movie: must-see with Oscar-worthy ...

Boy, did I pick a bad time to watch "Richard Jewell" of all things. Yeah, David, in the middle of the police protests of the pandemic of 2020, let's watch a movie about the one time they treated an innocent white guy like a villain. (Sighs; eye rolls) I don't want to say it, but frankly, it was next on the list, so I watched it, and frankly I'm not saddened that I got it over with.

So there's this thing I've started noticing with Clint Eastwood's later films recently. Well, first off they've started sucking, but that's not the thing I was talking about, what I'm talking about is actually, his-, well, his fascination with, for-lack-of-a-better-term, sudden fame. Not every movie, but a good deal of his films in this later period of his, good and bad, have dealt with characters who either have to deal with some sudden event that happens to them and either changes their lives forever, and/or, makes them famous temporarily for unusual reasons. He's done this with "The 15:17 to Paris", "Sully", 'American Sniper", to some extent "Hereafter", probably the best of these narratives, "Changeling" and "Flags of Our Fathers". That's basically half the movies he's directed in the last fifteen or so years.  It's a pretty recent motif in his work; it doesn't really come up much before "Flags...", but he's definitely intrigued by it, and more lately then ever before, and I'm not entirely sure why. Like, it's actually weird, if there's a director who shouldn't be intrigued by that, it's probably Eastwood, who's been world famous for like, six decades now.

And there's definitely something off with this motif too, 'cause look at the subjects and how he treats them. "American Sniper" is about an obsessed Iraq soldier who's fame came from being both the modern-day Audie Murphy and for spewing some vivid jingoistic hate in his short life. "Sully", he just outright made up a narrative where people supposedly thought that perhaps the hero of the Hudson was somehow, the cause of the crash, all the while, while he's being celebrated on the talk show circuit? "Sully" is weirder and stupider the more you think about it. I haven't seen "The 15:17 to Paris", but he apparently uses the real-life people from that disaster as actors playing themselves, a la, Paul Greengrass's "United 93". And now with "Richard Jewell", he's basically making "Sully", but it actually happened.

Well, mostly, it happened. He takes some liberties here and some of them are pretty shitty. The big one that's noted is the way that he portrays Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter who broke the story that the FBI was investigating Richard (Paul Walter Hauser) as she apparently has a scene, that according to every report I can find, did not happen, where they basically show that she got that story by sleeping with an FBI agent, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm). in order to get the story. I've heard stories of the actors from the filmmakers and actors about how this was dramatized, some saying that, why is it okay for James Bond to sleep with women for information...- I-eh, yeah, that's-, that's not the same thing. And especially in this day and time; like this was a real person and this didn't happen, and there's no scenario would she would need to. It's not even a big, shocking piece of information; that they're investigated the guy who found the bomb, well, of course they are. Even in the movie Richard gets that. (And also Kathy Scruggs died a few years after this so she's not here to defend herself, although some of her former co-workers have, thanksfully.

They do portray Jewell, interestingly here. It's not an inaccurate portrayal by Hauser, per se, I went to look back at some footage of Jewell; they might've made him a little too simple, but Hauser's performance is really good. And the best sequence in the movie is the scene of the explosion, and the confusion and how the bomb was found and then the chaos in the aftermath. That sequence is the best part of the film.

Don't get me wrong here, the Press and the FBI made some bad, huge mistakes regarding this investigation, and focusing most of their investigation on Jewell, was a big one. They did something, that I'm not sure is still used as predominantly in these kind of major cases anymore; I honestly haven't heard the term or the practice since, eh,- I guess, since the DC Sniper was around, and that's "profiling." Not necessarily racial profiling, althought that's apart of it, but is something else. I think we tend to be more intrigued now by DNA and other forensics and more traditional investigative techniques these days, but profiling was a key buzzword for awhile. I even remember there was a bad TV show in the late '90s called "Profiler"; I watched an episode or two, but I wouldn't recommend it. Basically, there was a big idea that based on the kinds of crims and motives behind them, especially certain public crimes like these, or brutal kinds of murder, etc., that you can form accurate profilers of the kind of suspects that you're looking for.

This science, eh,- well, if I remember the DC Sniper case correctly, they got that profile pretty wrong, at least early on. I've seen them get it right just as often, but the FBI's issue in this case, is that they started with a profile, and a very incorrect one. One that didn't even really match Jewell at all even, much less Eric Rudolph, the actual bomber. Now, Jewell was a weird guy though. He lived with his mother Bobi (Oscar-nominee Kathy Bates), and he had a skeptical track record as a security guard and police officer. He knew the law, and respected it a little too much. He had friends, although they depict him as more of a lone wolf, and one who's somewhat ostracized from other law enforcement members because he's a security guard. I'm sure that happened, but it seems like they played that up too much.

Honestly, Richard Jewell is another one of those, real-life people who I kinda tilt my head at when I think about the idea of making a movie about them; not in the same vein as Harriet Tubman obviously, but he basically is a minor footnote. Sure, he's also a hero, but his role in history, it's actually very downplayed in my mind regarding both the Atlanta Olympics themselves, which I have very vivid memories of, most of which involve Kerri Strug, but also in terms of the culture-at-large, this was kind of a blip. It was bad for him, but he was eventually vindicated, and he sued and got his money from the FBI and others. (Not from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution though, he lost his case against them; Eastwood seems to really hate the press in general, but I can't stress this enough, he's really being misleading with them.) Still, is there really enough for a feature-length film about him?

Ehhh, hmm, yeah, there is, but again, this isn't it. This film really isn't it. I don't know why Eastwood has chosen to catch onto this trend of sudden fame and how it effects them, but I really can't say that I think it's a worthwhile endeavor. It's not his only recent motif, and that's ultimately good, but it's not good here. It's a little less annoyingly stupid then "Sully", at least from a factual standard, but it's a little harder to get through. If I had to guess, I think he's trying to show how too much power and media scrutiny can come down on an individual, and that's true sometimes, and he's not giving bad examples here. Obviously, Eastwood's a known Republican who's sketpical of government oversight. He also failed as a mayor once, so it might just be that he sucked at government..., but nevertheless the way he's framing this is as though there's some kind of deeper meaning or truth behind the bad things regarding these institutions. The main narrative change is Jewell recognizing that in the middle of his giving yet another witness statement, this time with his attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) being present. And yeah, for him, they did, but this doesn't relate to everyone; this wasn't a case of systemic bias issues within the framework of the FBI or other policing or media agencies. This was bad, presumptive detective work. It was awful, and it was a waste of time while the real culprit was out there bombing for years afterwards.

Also, Kathy Bates got an Oscar nomination for her performance, um... okay, she's pretty high up in the Academy, and the few people who've tried battling her in the past, they've not done well; I know her and Joan Rivers hated each other up Rivers's passing, but, yeah, like, I know why she got nominated, but that said, I don't know why she got nominated. She's fine, but this isn't a special performance of hers. Most of the acting is good, some of it really good, Olivia Wilde has a really badly written character and her performance is a bit of a mess because of it. It's a decent document about the experiences that Richard Jewell had, but this is really framed badly. It's framed from the wrong perspective, there's no other way to say it. Richard Jewell's story does need to be told and be a reminder of what can happen when bad policework occurs in a modern media world, but there are ways to tell his story much better then this.


UNCUT GEMS (2019) Directors: Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie

★★★★1/2

Everyone spent the weekend watching Uncut Gems on Netflix – here's ...

I've spent a couple days trying to figure out exactly how to approach "Uncut Gems". Everybody else I know seemed to absolutely love this film, and all I kept hearing about was how great Adam Sandler was in the film.

(Shrugs)

I mean, I'm not saying not good; this is probably my favorite performance of his so far, but he's usually good when he's not doing his own bad comedies. And I'm not surprised he's good in this. What I was really concerned about was that this was a Safdie Brothers film. It's not that they're not talented either, they've actually made some really interesting and compelling films over the years. They also seem to make a lot of movies about some really reprehensible people. I was one of the ones who wasn't enthralled with "Good Time", their last feature which got a lot of buzz for Robert Pattinson's performance, which,- I guess it wasn't a bad performance, but I struggled with the character. He was the kind of fuck-up who is way out-of-his-league and kept finding some way to get in deeper and deeper shit... Not the first time either, their autobiographical film "Daddy Longlegs" showed a father who seemed to be, well, 'Trying" is not the best word, but yeah, trying to take care of two kids. He wasn't good at it, let's put it at that. And their last film before this, the aforementioned "Good Time" was about two brothers, one who had some kind of disorder and another who was a complete fuck up that kept dragging the other mentally disabled brother along on his misadventures. As somebody who watches his autistic brother all day, that movie, hit some of my trouble spots admittedly, but I still questioned how good it actually was.

I can't say "Uncut Gems" is necessarily a different path then what they've been doing. Sandler plays a flawed and obsessive character who can't help but to fail to his own demons, and seemingly struggles to con his way out of. This one is Howard Ratner and he's quite similar to a few people I've come across in some of my experiences. He runs a very high-scale jewelry store, and we meet him literally during an anal probe as doctors are inspecting him for colon cancer. He spends the rest of the movie, trying to pull a diamond out of his ass. Well, actually, an opal, a rare black opal that he's bought from Ethiopia that's just arrived. In it's uncut form, black opal is pretty valuable, and he's expecting millions from auction, but he gives it to Kevin Garnett, yes that one, playing himself, who's one of the many high-end clientels he gets, and then tries to hustle. He hustles and works everybody. He exchanges Garnett's championship ring as collateral for him to borrow the opal, and then pawns that in order to make a bet, (And a ridiculous bet it is; trust me, I know about sports betting, and, well, he makes a bet that only an unlicensed bookie would take, let me put it that way.)  and I'm skipping a bunch of other cons and monetary exchanges here too, because the whole time he's being followed and beaten up and striped naked and shoved into his car trunk by Phil and Nico (Keith William Richards and Tommy Kominick) two of, many people who would like to kill Howard, but these are the most persistent. They work for Arno (Eric Bogosian) one of the mob bosses he owes money to, and who put a stop on a huge bet he was making with another bookie.

Meanwhile, KG won't give him the opal back and he's chasing him back and forth from Philadelphia and to clubs, and fighting with his connection to KG, Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) who's stealing and pawning off his own jewelry that he sells, watches that he sells and pawns...- Howard's basically screwing over everybody, including his family. His wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) is divorcing him, but the family doesn't know, although his kids suspect more then he wants them to let on. He's dating his co-worker, Julia (Julia Fox) who's living in his apartment secretly, although she's too much of a party girl for him really, as he gets mad at her at a The Weeknd concert, which I'm not even gonna try to explain why he's at that. All this takes place, essentially, maybe over a week's time, but it feels like it's constant never-ending ridiculousness and absurdism.

Howard can't help himself; he has to make the stupid decision. He's an addicted gambler, and that high is what he looks for and fundamentally cannot understand why, say the mobsters he owes money to, would stop a bet he's making, just because he owes them money. And it's not like he doesn't have the money; he owns a jewelry store in the jewelry district. He's high end; he's got security doors and camera and incredibly expensive jewels, everywhere around him. That's not a business you can go into without first having a substantial amount of money to begin with, and it seems like he's successful outside of his bullshit.

Honestly, I see people like him all the time in the casinos; they actually have a profession that makes them be with enough high-profile people and make enough money to blow it on some prop-bet parlays that are just ridiculous to ever bet. I won't give out names, but trust me, they bet enough to where you learn their names. So, in that sense, I can relate to the movie 'cause I've seen and am used to this behavior. On the other hand, I've seen and am used to this behavior and that kinda turns me off of it.

Honestly, for all the talk about Adam Sandler's performance being so great, which it undoubtedly is, I don't actually think it's that strange or unexpected a performance from him. He's always played some reprehensible characters, but he always positioned himself, at least in his comedies, as the heroic character; that's the real reason his comedies, at least the ones that he's specifically involved with producing, have always been lacking. He's always been better at some evil characters when he does dramas. Even in something like "Punch-Drunk Love", he's beats the crap out of a lot of people and windows. And here, in "Uncut Gems", here's a guy who, if he didn't make several stupid decisions, everything would've been fine for him.

I guess that's part of my issue with him and with the Safdies, I can never tell if they're making fun of their characters, or if they genuinely care for these characters. If these are comedies, which this could be considered, this is a dark comedy. It's compelling, and kinetic, and gives us a dark look into a deeply flawed man. One of many in this world, constantly trying to sell himself and get a little extra edge up on everyone, trying to gget that one last win.

Oddly, I think that the film that "Uncut Gems", most reminds me of is "People I Know", an obscure, underrated indy where Al Pacino plays a publicist who spends the movie trying to get a major event off the ground, but keeps running into walls, struggles both within his profession and with a dark underworld of his profession that he's up until now, avoided. Howard doesn't avoid the pitfalls, he jumps right into them figuring that he'll always be able to find a way to climb back out. That's what makes him so frustrating and yet so compelling at the same time. That's what also makes "Uncut Gems" such a tricky movie to analyze; I'm been struggling with this review for instance, for two days, and I'm still not certain what to make of the film, other then I think it does what it's trying to do, very well. I guess that's all I need from it, but it does seem hollow. Then again, a diamond is only some carbon, and an opal is just some silica, so I guess I shouldn't expect such shiny gems to be more than things that glitter.


PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) Director: Celine Sciamma

★★★★★



I don't think I realized until now just how soulful Celine Sciamma's films are. I've been a fan of hers since her debut feature "Water Lilies", one of the best LGBT coming-of-age romances I've seen. All her films are essentially about feminity and what that entails exactly. She's known for writing other films as well, most notably in the west, probably the Oscar-nominated animated feature, "My Life as a Zucchini" but the more i dive into her films, the more I think her real goal is to get into the female mind. Sure, she's a female director, don't all female directors aim for that? Well, Kathryn Bigelow would beg to differ, but no, I really mean that she's trying to visualize though. This film for instance, the obvious comparison film to "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is Ingmar Bergman's "Persona", that movie is specifically about trying to get inside the mind of it's female protagonists. It's also about two girls struggling to connect with each other on an island, and one of them is an artist. Okay, this is a natural romance, and "Persona" was basically a deconstruction of film entirely but there's still a lot of similarities. When of Celina Sciamma, like Bergman, I think of faces. Close-ups. Like shots of Zoe Haran in "Tomboy" out of breath while playing a game with other kids, or intense close-ups of Karidja Toure taking off her helmet or checking her mail. And now we have a movie that's centered around womens' faces, and picturing them, literally.

In flashback to a class, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) reflects back on a painting she did, a portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel). Heloise is about to get married off through a few complications have arise, and she's become strangely defiant about being painting, and the upcoming nuptials. There's one painting that's maid of just her outfit, this green dress that she's supposed to be posing in, but she doesn't post for it, so there's no face in the painting, just this, empty space where an alibaster girl's supposed to be.

Actually, the family don't commission her to paint her normally, they actually bring her on under the guise of being a hired companion of hers. in order to just, be around her and friends with her enough to eventually paint her from memory, I guess, but the rouse eventually fails, but by that point, their rocky beginning kinda clicks. This begins a slow-moving and slow-growing but passionate romance between them as eventually, she begins reluctantly posing.

It's hard to describe the actions per se, which is something I feel about a lot of romances in general, especially brisks unexpected and doomed flings like this one is. I mean, this isn't a romance that's gonna last, that's obvious from the beginning. For one, it's a period piece; it takes place on an island off the coast of Brittany around the end of the 19th Century; I mean, the main narrative for Heloise is that she's being put in an arranged marriage for familial business reasons; even with little presence from the family as most of the time, and even if the main metaphor that peppers their romance was Orpheus and Eurydice, it's not like they're able to run away with each other.

She manages to stay a little bit longer then planned after finishing her first portrait, and then destroying it and explaining to Heloise's mother, known as La Countess (Valeria Golino) that it doesn't accurately capture her daughter. Really, the third character in this castle is Sophie (Luana Bajrami) who is the maid that provides some exposition and seems to have a fairly interesting existence on her own, as at one point both Heloise and Marianne help her out by getting her to have a miscarriage or abortion; I'm not actually sure to be honest on that one. They go to the beach and have her keep running back and forth until she can't.

They go down to the beach a lot, and often spend time exploring the island, both the natural landscape and occasionally the other residents of the island. I got to talk about both the location and in particular Claire Mathon's cinematography too; the only way to describe the look of this moive is lusciously. It not looks beautiful but nearly every shot looks like one of the paintings in the movie which were done by artist Helene Delmaire, who based the paintings on many of the shots of the film. There's a lot of paintings and drawings as well, this isn't an easy task itself; it kinda reminds of like how that scene in "Titanic" was supposed to happen, only throughout the whole movie has the drawings and paintings help captures the images of their world and the island. Sciamma's always had a great cinematic eye for visuals, I remember some of the swimming scenes from "Water Lilies" that took my breathe away; water and beaches always have strong symbolic meanings in most European cinema, especially French cinema, and it's an important metaphor for life and death here too, but there's so many other little details in the narrative as well to sort through. The kind of powerful subtle details that grow and are built upon with relationships of all kinds. It's almost like a Kieslowski film in that respect. I'm already on my second viewing to pay more attention to those details and just get kinda wisked away and swept up into this world and this complex relationship between these two young women. "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is a really striking and beautiful romantic film and uncovering true feelings and emotions while discovering new others one and all the joy and struggles they entail. Those kind of feelings that you can see in someone's eye that they truly feel, but you can't kind understand or explain why they feel that way, just like a mystery we get from a beautifully painted portrait.


ONE CHILD NATION (2019) Director: Nanfu Wang and Zhang Lynn

★★★★1/2

Nanfu Wang's Doc 'One Child Nation' Is Horror Story Of China's ...

Nanfu Wang has quickly become one of the most adventurous and greatest documentarians working today. Her debut feature "Hooligan Sparrow" about the Chinese activist Ye Haiyan, and that movie not only showed Ye going to some pretty extraordinary lengths for her work, which in of itself was daring for any country, much less the People's Republic, but also involved some of the most explosive and shocking guerrila filmmaking I've seen in modern filmmaking. It's one of the very best films of the decade and it's a groundbreaking investigative journalistic work and more-then-that it's just amazing-as-well that it was actually made and finished at all as it exposed some of the most corrupt aspects of Chinese government, giving us faces to the corruption even, but her work led to a conviction of a school principle who raped at least a half-dozen elementary-age girls despite the connections he had, and that's not even getting into Ye Haiyan's ambitious and maverick approaching to activism.

I'm hard-pressed to call "One Child Nation" a disappointment in light of that mastery, but it's subject matter is probably more prescient in these times and frankly, it's doesn't need to guerrila-style filmmaking for most of the film. Sure, there's some interviews that require meetings in hotels and whatnot to protect the exact whereabouts of some but mostly we get a more mature and typical documentary from Wang, and that makes sense, especially considering the global extent of this coverup. She makes a more mature film, although she's also inserting herself into the narrative in this one, moreso then she did in "Hooligan Sparrow", because she is one of the few people of her age who grew up in China, with a brother.

Yes, the One Child Only policy that China famously instituted back in 1979, and only ended five years ago, was purportedly done as a preservation technique in order to save their county for economic turmoil. On the surface this does make some sense, China had a billion people back then and population control is a world issue that needs to be examined.

(Sigh)

This admittedly sounds stupid to talk about while talking about while we're in the pandemic that's turning into a genocide because of one idiot's stupidity and ignorance, but at the time, yeah, you could argue it out as a viable protective measure. Although, if you think about it for a second, it doesn't add up. The population increase wouldn't inherently create economic disaster, would it? Wouldn't other things progress and if there isn't the opportunities at home, wouldn't there also be more outside work they'd pursue? Of course there are more tragic consequences, although most of the that got bogged down by the propaganda for it, which poured over the country.

However, Wang examines the subject from the more personal aspects, those who were most effected and boy were they effected. There's been a lot of movies in recent years that have talked about the major adoption scandals that have been separating families, but honestly, that was often the best scenario of what would happen to unwanted or illegal second childs, if they were even that. At one point, she interviews a family of baby smugglers who were arrested years ago. She used to think about the atrocity of such a thing, but the way they describe it, there was just an epidemic of abandoned babies that they'd find, literally on the streets, or in the markets or basically anywhere, and frankly the babies were lucky if they got found and "taken", 'cause apparently they would usually just stay there until they died.

I mean, sure, if that wasn't the case, then they were probably forced to have an abortion. One artist just scouring landmills and trashpits and preserved the aborted fetuses, sometimes in photographs, sometimes literally, and he found some dead babies as well.

So, yeah, kidnapping and sending them off to be adopted overseas, I guess is the more humane option, but it's still an option that should just not exist, and the more she dives into that, the worst and more shocking it gets. She's not the first one to show this, and she finds a family in Utah that began investigating how unscrupulous the companies were, and the government too. Basically the process involved, paying off the police to file a found child report, that then showed the pictures of the kids in an regular public flyer that nobody ever read, and after sixty days, they were able to be adopted. Usually they'd have stories of the kid being dropped off at various locations, and some other regular stories that they would repeat to perspective parents, but eventually. Once they started gathering the records, they could see the patterns of how they'd constantly repeat the same stories over and over again about how they got the kids. At one point, Wang begins trying to find/match the kids with some of their Chinese relatives, including her aunt who had a child taken from her. They do find a twin somebody who became a major figure overseas of this after her story was documented as her sister was taken from her right after they had learned to walk. They connect over social media ironically enough. There was a movie a couple years ago that documented a similar twins reuniting experience called "Twinsters" that that reminded me of, and suddenly it made me wonder just how many other stories are like that out there. How many are we eventually gonna find out about, how many we won't, how many people are out searching, and how many of them perhaps are searching for ghosts.
China's changed their plan now to a two-child limit, which is something they had originally, and obvious not everybody didn't have a sibling, but this is the big modern sin of modern-day China and they're still recovering from it. And it backfired severely, now there's too many old people in China and not enough of the youth around to take care of them, and some of them are making astonishing documentaries about their corruption. It's an important film, and another good one from Wang, but there's a lot more stories out there to tell about this time and I think we're gonna be getting a lot of them in the future the more we dig into this.


THE BLACK GODFATHER (2019) Director: Reginald Hudlin

★★★★

The Black Godfather' Review: The Music Executive Who Made It All ...

Clarence Avant, was not a name that was on the tip of my tongue before watching the documentary feature, "The Black Godfather", of course he should've been, and partially I can blame that on my own ignorances, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not the only one who has a hard time pinpointing him; in the entertainment industry, he's very important, but he's not exactly somebody you would necessarily know. In fact, entertainment is just one of many industries he seems to be involved in. Avant's position, isn't exactly uniquen or unknown, but it is hard to define. He seems to do a little bit of everything. Mostly, he's involved in music, creating several record levels all of them had levels of success, but he also produced movies and TV shows, and he managed athletes, help promoted politicians,.... the guy does a little bit of everything, and that's basically the point. He is the Godfather, the guy you go to, when you need something done, although not in the Italian sense; he won't do it in exchange for much, although, I'm sure he gets paid most of the time.

Explaining Avant's career is difficult, but the movie fills us up with a bunch of anecdotes from many of the biggest African-American iconic names from the last fifty years, and a few white people as well. In fact, most of his early producing success from his first record label Sussex Records, were white artists, somethings that surprised some of members of the black music community who didn't know that beforehand. Their music rose on the R&B before they realized it. It's one of his several accomplishments. Not bad for a guy who was one of eight kids in Climax, North Carolina, which is as small as you think it is. He didn't make it past the ninth grade, but made his way up north, and never seemed to stop. Basically, he's the guy who puts everybody in the best position to not only get what they want, but also get paid what they deserve.

A lot of the talking heads that talk about him, and worked with him, like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the legendary producers behind Janet Jackson's "Control" album among others, about how they were worried about having to bargain to work for less for Avant, but he came back and insisted that they should've insisted on more money for their work, that they were undercutting themselves too much to make the album they needed. He was right and that's basically his philosophy. He helped make sure that those who deserved the money and to be recognized, well, they got it.

I can think of a couple people kinda like this in entertainment that kinda have a similar role like this, none of them are African-American though, and arguably, none of them have as much reach and influence as Avant has. Not only that, when we cut to interviews of him later in life, often sparring jabs with such longtime friends like Quincy Jones, reminds me of the Carl Gordon character from the old sitcom "Roc"; that whip-smart old man who's a whip-smart wheeler-dealer, and he still seems like the kind of guy who could be secretly running the world with just a few phone calls. The film was directed by Reginald Hudlin, a director/producer mostly known for television, but he's made a new to feature films in the last few years; he made "Marshall" a couple years ago, which was his first feature film is 15 years, 2002's notorious bomb "Serving Sara". He still has some television tendencies in his work, in negative depiction of sitcom-ish, but this is his first documentary, and I can see why he wanted to put out a document to Clarence Avant's accomplishments. I wouldn't be shocked at all if much of his career was due in part to Avant too. And even if it wasn't, I would come up with an excuse to hear him talk about all his stories as well.


THE CHAMBERMAID (2019) Director: Lila Aviles

★★★1/2

The Chambermaid, review: this quiet profile of Mexico's working ...

Looking around the internet a bit, I saw "The Chambermaid" compared to Alfonso Cuaron's masterpiece, "Roma" a lot. It's not the comparison I'd make, but I get what they're saying. Both are Mexican films that tell stories about maids and they're struggle to work and survive while working for people who are better off then them while simultaneously living their own lives. I'm not gonna say that it's as good as "Roma", but perhaps I'd argue it's a more, realistic tale? Not that "Roma" isn't realistic, that's actually based on real people too, but "The Chambermaid" is the stripped-down, neorealist version the life of a maid in modern-day Mexico City.

In fact, it's actually a little hard to say that it's about her simultaneously living her own life, 'cause for the most part, we only see Eve (Gabriela Cartol) at work. In fact, the only place outside of work that we see her, is a GED class that her Union provides for, one that, eventually they stop providing for, we don't know why.

She does talk on the phone to members of her family at times. We see her campaigning for an open position on the 42nd Floor, which is apparently a preferable floor. I'm not certain of how or why, but it is, although one of her co-workers who now works the elevator talks about that being good for her. She was injured and couldn't work more regularly going around room-to-room and vacuuming and fluffing pillows and changing the sheets. Occasionally watching a baby while the room's current resident takes a shower.

There's also a sequence where she participates in some kind of weird electric shock game, which, um, I really don't get. There's also a scene where she strips off her clothes and masturbates on a bed overlooking a high view. That scene, I actually think I understood more, symbolically. It's a 5-star luxury hotel where people come to both play and live and often in a fantasy world, so she's taking a moment to experience that fantasy as well. (And yeah, a lot of times that fantasy involves sexual activities as well, so why not masturbating.) We also see her taking showers occasionally, which I imagine happens a lot for maids; lord knows what they have to clean up.

The movie is bare bones, profile of a worker and seeing her work. We're seeing the routine, we're seeing the occasional moments that break the daily routine up. The movie's just showing us, her life and that's what it entails, spending her days and nights sometimes at the hotel, in servitude to her employers and to the customers. She's not alone, and not the only one, and that's the point of the movie. Personally, I-, well, I don't really know what to do with that. It reminds me of work, which, I usually try to avoid while watching movie, but I don't think unsentimental escapism is what all movies should be. And there are movies I can think of that are like this, the one that comes to my mind first is "Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto)", but that's a lot more complex of a movie character. (And also, the Monica Del Carmen character in that film didn't work-, well, didn't do her work well, I should say....) Eve, is interesting but she's not that complex a character. That's okay and there's nothing wrong with it, it's what director Luis Aviles wanted; to show the typical struggles of the working everywoman like this.

For that she succeeds, so I'm recommending the film, I wonder how powerful it is. I guess if there's another comparison film I can think of that's kinda hindering me on this, it's James Mottern's indy "Trucker". That's another film about a character who's always at work and never really gets home. Again, slightly more complex though, unlike Eve who does still watch and care for her 4-year-old on the rare occasions that she's not at work, Michelle Monaghan's character left her kid years earlier and was trying to reconnect. Eve's a single mother, so we know there's some kind of past/history, but we never see any of this; we just see her at work. Again, that's the point, but that's also just, work. I don't know, I feel like, even one thing more would've helped here. Of course, I can't remember the last time I asked for one more detail about any actual maid I've met along my days....


MIDNIGHT TRAVELER (2019) Director: Hassan Fazili

★★★1/2

Midnight Traveler' Review: A Perilous Escape Story – Variety

I don't know much about Fazili's previous filmmaking ventures. Obviously, he's a filmmaker, which probably in of itself is something that I suspect ticked off the Taliban enough to put a hit on him. I mean, they'll shoot people for trying to go to school with a vagina, so.... Anyway, Fazili is targeted by the Taliban, not for his films, or any of his other artistic ventures, but because he owned and ran a cafe that other artistic people frequented and had conversations, music performances, etc., etc. That's enough though and him and his family are on the run. And remain on the run; their requests for asylum have either been rejected, or just, not brought up in time, and they occasionally get up in the middle of the night and darkness and travel to the next country, and eventually to the next continent.

They start in Tajikistan, where they were hiding out, although, he first has to dangerously sneak into Afghanistan to see his family, possibly for the last time, and then he and his wife Fatima, who is also a filmmaker, take their kids and start traveling. The entire movie we're told is shot on the only cameras they have, cell phone cameras, as they travel from Tajikistan, to Iran, then Turkey, then Bulgaria, then to Serbia, and then finally to Hungary, where eventually, we find out that their granted asylum, although they're held in a sterile transit zone for refugees. This trip took over a span of months.

There's a lot of drama in between, he captures footage of riots and the struggles and injury of running and hiding in the dark of night. You even get scenes of him, being interviewed on the street by reporters while, he's recording them, as he tries to literally get his story out, while making this movie which is doing the same thing. It's also getting out it's family's story though, and that's actually just as interesting, if not moreso. They struggle to try to keep a normal facade and life going while raising their kids. You get some nice moments between everyone, including some otherwise be fairly trivial, but you see that they don't always agree, and you get shots of the kids trying to make the best of their situations. Creating games and playing with other kids in their refugee camps. There's one powerful scene of their young daughter singing and dancing to some old Michael Jackson songs.

"Midnight Traveler" is a powerful achievement that gives us an inside and different look at the refugee crisis. It also reminds us that the Taliban are still roving around and their influence is still prevalent in parts of the world. Most of the refugee stories we've heard lately have been from Syria for obvious reasons, but it's not just them, and the journeys of these more affluent and cultured of refugee being this striking


ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (2019) Director: Shin'ichiro Ueda

★★★★

One Cut of the Dead review – zombie films get a shot in the arm ...

Well, I usually have my own regular list of complaints about zombie movies being too similar and not particular different storywise from others or just not being compelling outside of symbolism in films,- well, I can throw all that out of the window, 'cause "One Cut of the Dead" is pretty far outside the typical zombie movies I've ever seen. It's actually a strange film to talk about in general. It's kinda like I stepped into an alternative universe where Jean-Luc Godard, like horror movies more then, um...-, wait, what exactly is the genre likes? Ehh, whatever the hell he thinks he like, and then had Truffaut's love of making movies? Kinda?
"One Cut of the Dead" is a strange and fascinating, and somewhat of a confusing movie as well. It's become a bit of a cult hit on the festival circuit and eventually made it's way here; it was made on a budget of $25,000, and made $25million at the box office, so throw in "The Blair Witch Project" to this comparison as well. It's director, Shin'chiro Ueda had some shorts beforehand, but he did have a couple feature films before this breakout hit, his first feature film being-

(Stares down at IMDB Page, eyebrows raised, holds back laughter)

wha-?

(Stares at IMDB page, eyes get wider as he scrolls)

Tsk-, ummmm, hmmmm...- tsk, his first feature film being a movie called, "Rice and Boobs".

It's a movie that's described on IMDB and every other place I can find anything on it, as so:

"What would you choose, between rice and boobs, if one of these two would disappear from the world forever? The most boring debate in human history starts now."

Oooooh-kay. wow-eh-. Well I'm not sure how to respond to that; it sounds like the plot of an episode of a Japanese version of "How I Met Your Mother".

Well, that's kind of the bizarreness that, honestly makes sense with this film. Which begins with a single unbroken shot that last 37 minutes, that begins with behind the sceens footage of a cheap, low budget zombie movie that's being made, and then, eventually, the set and the actors and crew get attacked by real zombies. How and why, isn't completely clear, and the Director Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) just continues to shoot everything, whether or not it's a movie or not at this point. This sequence is just amazing to sit through, and this alone is a fairly clever twist on zombie films. Imagine just,- you're sitting between takes, you're an actor on a cheapo set, the director is an abusive hack, and then, real zombies come onto your zombie set, and there's so much blood and prosthetic body parts everywhere that you can't tell the difference between real or fake zombies anymore?! That is genuinely a clever use of zombies, one that, might not be the most original, but it's original enough.

Then, the movie, just, "Persona"'s itself. It double back to before the movie was made, or is it when the zombies were made? Or was this actually a movie about zombies attacking a movie set about zombies attacking a movie set? From the gritty, handheld shot-on-shittio at the opening half-hour, it's kinda suddent to find ourselves in a sterile, slick, casting interview sessions, that remind me as much of my few casting calls as anything else. The chaos of the actors and crew and producers bringing in their own lives, sometimes literally bringing them in to the call, and into the movie chaos;- it's so weird to call a zombie movie, joyful, but "One Cut of the Dead" is really joyful.

"One Cut of the Dead" is a complete deconstruction and reinvention of the filmmaking process from every angle. The movie has multiple credit ending and openings throughout the film, and directors yelling action and cut offscreen. It's just a pure celebration of moviemaking and cheap indy horror is really a good genre to do that with. The people who make it are excited to working on something so fun and unique and you gotta love filmmaking to do some of the, probably not-union agreed to works that that kind of guerrila filmmaking might involve. I like they're improvisation for instance, when the crane is broken for the last camera movement of the take at the end, which is also a fun reminder of how strange it must be to be acting in a movie as well, having to pretend to be another person in another world while there's a bunch of crew members in matching t-shirts running around, trying to set things up everywhere. It's a fascinating deconstruction, and I don't know honestly know quite what to make of it, but I know I appreciated it a lot. Mostly because you can tell that everyone in the appreciated and liked what they were doing.

The whole movie was shot in seven days, two days devoted to that one take, and I like how everything else is shot differently. This Uera guy clearly has ideas and has a passion for putting them onscreen; I'm curious to see what else he's been doing.

I have no idea whether or not I want to track down a copy of "Rice and Boobs" or not; I'm debating on this one.


ISLAND OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS (2019) Director: Gabrielle Brady

★★1/2

Island of the Hungry Ghosts • New Zealand International Film Festival

So, this one's a bit weird.... I've heard of thrillers that are shot like documentaries, you know like some found footage horror, "The Blair Witch Project" for instance, or "Cloverfield", but "Island of the Hungry Ghosts" seems to be a documentary that's shot like a thriller. I mean, I can think of documentaries that feel like thrillers, even horrifying ones, but the other way around, where the filmmaking seems like it's trying to be a thriller, that's a bit odd. Which is a shame 'cause this movie actually does have a lot of interesting things going on, and since it's documenting a refugee immigrant population that's currently forced into a detention center on an obscure island where they'll probably not be leaving anytime soon. Also, crabs.

Christmas Island, is a small island south of Indonesia that is technically a territory of Australia. Other then the fact that it's called Christmas Island, the big thing that some people might know about is the crab migration that descend upon the island every year. And they're everywhere. The movie shows several footage throughout the crabs who, they-, I can't stress this enough, they take over the island when they're there. It's like a plague or an infestation; everybody takes brooms everywhere just to sweep the crabs out of their path.

Meanwhile, there's a detention camp filled with refugees from several countries. The movie follows Pho Lin Lee, a trauma counselor assigned to the island to work with the refugees. She's the one, and in interviews we do as well, hear the stories and horror tales of those who are currently going through this other horror of detention on an obscure island that's mostly knows for having crabs around, for half the year. We see her at home, and we see a lot of shots of the island, which most of which I really enjoyed. The movie is good at invoking the tone of the island and I guess that transfers to the haunting and foreboding sense of defeat that the refugees and inevitably Pho feels as she tries to help them eventually get released, only to no avail.

This should be more of a damning critique to the Australian government's treatment of refugees, but the movie is shot like I'm waiting for a giant crab to pop up and spook me. Even the shots indoors of just Poh and her homelife, it is-, I don't want to say "stagey" but it just weirdly lit and framed and it bugged the hell out of me. I don't know what Writer/Director Gabrielle Brady was going for here with this approach. Apparently "The Island of the Hungry Ghosts" was expanded from a short film of hers called "The Island", and maybe this would've been more engagins as a short film, but as a feature, thid dichotmy felt like the wrong storytelling choice. There's a lot of material here and she's got good ideas and themes here. The way the crabs are treated almost as royalty by the locals, a long-standing part of their cultural tradition, is a good contrast to the treatment of the refugees, but I wish she found a much more natural cinema verite way to tell this story. All documentaries are naturally biased just by the notion of a camera being present, and it's how the camera is viewing that matters, and by that notion, and I think she just picks the wrong approach to viewing it.


REVENGE (2018) Director: Coralle Fargeat

★★★1/2

Women in Film: Returning the Gaze in REVENGE and M.F.A.

Okay, funny story; I actually tried to watch this film earlier in the week, by looking up the streaming options on my RokuTV and they told me that it was on TubiTV, which it wasn't. I ended up watching an entirely different movie called "Revenge"; it was Swedish, this one's French. Actually, TubiTV currently has five different movies called "Revenge" that they're streaming, and this isn't one of them. If nothing else comes from this, everybody stop naming movies, "Revenge"! It's too vague, it's too common; be a little more creative. You might as well name your movie, "Drama" and try to search for it.

That said, the two movies are really different, and you won't confuse one for the other, despite actually having very similar plots. (As to the other one, I'm not gonna write a review of it, but it's, ehhh. It's a Norweigan film directed by Kjersti Steinsbo, the plot actually isn't too different from this movie called "Revenge", but it's a really boring version until the end, and even then, it's not that special or anything. 2 1/2 STARS, there's no reason to see it on purpose).

This one, um, opens with a weird sun-soaked sequence that I'm still trying to decipher. It involves two people arriving by helicopter to this remote elaborate home that Richard (Kevin Janssens, and of course his name is Richard {Eye roll]) along with, Jennifer. (Matilda Lutz) Okay, so Jennifer is...- I'm not even sure I can even describe her behavior and appearance during these scenes; the best way I can describe her is,- okay, you know the iconic image of Sue Lyon in "Lolita", with the heart-shaped sunglasses, Lolita? Okay, imagine, the schoolgirl porno version of that, and add a lollipop to it for ultimate jailbait ditz irony, and that's kinda what you get. So she exits the helicopter and immediately when the two are alone, they have a sex scene that feels like it's mocking the male gaze in its outlandishness and ends with the girl, barely saying a word, before, well, finding something else to-eh-, forgive me for this, suck on. (You know, I'm trying to remember the last time I saw a movie that began with a blowjob, eh, Catherine Breillat's "Anatomy of Hell" probably; that one was actually much more graphic then this, but this one feels so much sleezier.)

After intercourse, we see Jen, doing a Kirsten Dunst in "Crazy/Beautiful" impression as she walks in her underwear to the kitchen to satisfy her oral fixation with a granny smith apple, and that's when Richard's associates, Stan and Dimitri (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchede) enter, wearing hunting gear that could easily be mistaken for Rambo-esque. After some guy talk, and more fawning over Jennifer's ass, who excused herself to get a shower and somehow ended up in less clothes afterwords, there's a bizarre time-compressed montage sequence of drinking, drugs, eating, swimming, some bizarre heavily-distorted ripoff of Nine Inch Nails's "Closer" and a pro wrestling sequence on TV. I'm not even ten minutes into this movie by the way, the rest of the night is some general partying.

Then in the morning, Jennifer is raped by one of the associates. After she asks to go home immediately, the boyfriend instead promises her a job in Canada, which he describes as basically like L.A., which I think is where she's supposed to be from based on one of her t-shirts, and when she threatens to call his wife, he beats her up, and then all three guys run her down towards a rocky cliff, and push her off.

Okay, look, I-, I totally understand what writer/director Coralie Fargeat's doing with this setup, and I don't want to sound like I'm "blaming the woman" here; I don't mean to sound to condescending towards this character's actions. Everything I said before, none of that, is her doing anything wrong, I get that. You can be,- you can be flirty, sexual, wear whatever you want, I'm not telling this woman, or any women in particular that they should be doing acting different in order to, you know, not get raped; that's not- I get that. However, can I ask how women end up with guys like these though?!

Like seriously, the boyfriend is full of red flags to begin with, and then you see these associates walk in, the way they walk in, and acting like they do,- like how are you even like in this situation to begin with...?

Do some women just have an under-developed flight response or am I just pickier about sexual partners? Is this just me, and my tepid Sheldon Cooper-esque inability to understand social norms? Like, I'm trying to imagine me in this scenario, with the genders reversed, and-eh, yeah, I'd be trying to leave as soon as the associates showed up, if I for some reason would go out with a female version of this guy to begin with. Obviously, this isn't an exact comparison, my experiences are obviously different then a beautiful young woman's, I don't have women gawking at my body all the time, etc. etc. Maybe it's just that I'm a little too Harold Pinter in this regard, but usually I see or hear about a result of a relationship like this, and my mind just goes to, "How or why did these people end up together to begin with?" Especially on her end, like I get why this sleezeball asks to be with her, I'm just trying to understand how her initial answer was "yes"? Or how she ended up a person who would say yes to this guy?" I feel like these details requires far more explanation in films like these then we usually get, that's all I'm saying. (And I think we often need them in real life too to be honest.)

I don't know, anyway, she survives, because fuck gravity, and now Lollipop, which is what I'm gonna call her now, suddenly turns into uber-survivalist revenge Kill Bill Bitch chick, and now she's out for blood. And it's a bloody film. Blood and insects and maggots, there's a lot of gross stuff in the film. I mean, it's the kind of movie where a main character get impaled, and when she finally pulls out the branch and heals hersel of what she's impaled on, she ends up with an eagle carving into her. (Or she might've been dreaming that, I'm not sure.) There's another strange editing motif, which feels similar in tone to the earlier one, but feels more like a "Sucker Punch"-like dream sequence where she keeps on getting killed and everything she sees is like a flashback reminder of how sick and evil everything was and is with these guys, now seeing them for the parasitic insects that pinch into her skin like they are. It's a revenge fantasy, and I mean fantasy. It's going from dumb, innocent Lolita, and turning into Lara Croft meets Furiosa, over the of a couple days in the-, well it's a French movie about a desert getaway, so-eh, I guess-, well it was shot in Morocco, which, I guess that's where this takes place literally in the film too, so the Moroccan Desert.

I'm trying to figure out exactly what I think of "Revenge" to be honest. I think it hurts a bit that I was reading other reviews of the film before I watched the film, 'cause I didn't realize I was watching the wrong film for awhile (Subject-wise, the two films were similar) and I saw Christy Lemire's review in particular mentions that "'Revenge' is the film we need right now, from a filmmaker we need right now." She wrote that when the movie was release over two years ago in the middle of the height of the #MeToo movement; well, actually I don't know if that's a movement that's got a height anymore, it's just sorta something that's gonna keep on happening now, which is good, and yeah, in that light, I can see the appeal of this. As for me-, well, obviously this film isn't really for me, is it? I can definitely enjoy it, but this is clearly for a different audience, one that's looking for to be a satisfying middle finger to those who've done them wrong before and want to imagine this to be the real scenario of how they acted in that situation, as opposed to how it probably went down. If you want the realistic version, maybe Jessica Thompson's "The Light of the Moon" would probably appeal to you more, but there's room for this as well.

I get it; sometimes we need to hold onto this version in our minds to deal with the actual trauma and sometimes that involves the most insane, unrealistic and blood-soaked scenes of pure violent revenge to get us through and this movie provides us with that fantasy.

Hey wait, is that why there's a pro wrestling clip in that montage? That would make sense, when else does one live vicariously through fictional violence in order to feel good.


A BREAD FACTORY PART ONE: FOR THE SAKE OF GOLD (2018) Director: Patrick Wang

★★★1/2

Review: In 'A Bread Factory,' Local Artists Face Off Against the ...

A BREAD FACTORY PART TWO: WALK WITH ME FOR AWHILE (2018) Director: Patrick Wang

★★★★1/2

A Bread Factory, Part Two: Walk with Me a While - Northwest Film Forum

Well, first we got a weird movie, or movies actually, here. These two films are....a unique, bizarre deconstructed loving satire/tribute/homage/musical I think? Well, the first part is clearly absurdist satire about a fictionalized town's over whether to keep a long-existing local art/theater establishment known as the titular "The Bread Factory". It's the long-standing artistic center of the community, that's currently struggling financially to survive as a new center that's pushed by the local government and figureheaded by this apparently famous, but bizarre Chinese performance act duo called "May Ray", (Janet Hsieh and George Young) who are accompanied wherever they go by applause and barely seem to say anything even when they talk and do shows performance art where they mime sitting on tables and eating off chairs, are creating their own competive center and they've got the inside funds and connections for the government funding.

May Ray kinda reminds me of SVEN, that Swedish Architecture Collective from "How I Met Your Mother". The movie takes shots at both sides of the artistic spectrum, with say Jordan, the Janeane Garofalo character, who is this crazed indy filmmaker that teaches little kids about filmmaking, that I find her disturbing, hilarious and accurate, like how she threatens to kill a kid's dog so that she understands the kind of emotion she needs to put in her filmmaking. This like nine-year-old girl, I might add. I also like her frustrating friendship with Simon (Keaton Nigel Cooke) the young projectionist. Everybody in art is a bit weird, both those who partake and those who experience it from an audience perspective, I guess, although the lines get blurry to the point of non-existent sometimes in this film, especially in part two, although sometimes in part one, you run into some people who I wonder if they've ever had any actual experience with art, ever.

That said, this movie, is really more of an ensemble piece. There's a lot of characters coming in and out of the film and in and out of the titular Bread Factory, and we do follow a few of the big ones, most notably Dorothea and Greta (Tyne Daly and Elisabeth Henry) the longtime founders and owners fo the Bread Factory, and are now fighting with a City Council that,- well, they've all got their own quirks. It's a quirk-filled movie.

There's some other stuff too...- It took awhile to try to figure out where the hell he's going on with this film, and somewhere near the end of the first part, I think I finally got what he was going for. I've seen several critics struggling to explain or decipher the tone of this film; if I have to compare it to a filmmaker, I think he's trying to make a Robert Altman film.

Altman was one of America's greatest directors, and of course, he was infamous for his multi-narrative features, often involving several characters, many of whom were about several different artistic industries, everything from country music to ballet; I don't think he did anything that was specifically in the save the little local neighborhood place thing, but I think he's definitely going for the tone of something like "Pret-a-Porter (Ready-to-Wear)" or especially "A Prairie Home Companion". Just a bizarre hodgepodge of the coming together of an unusual artistic world with the normal world, although in this case, I don't know if the normal world is any more or less normal.

Part One seems to be about how everybody's caught up in this artistic project fad that seems too bizarre for people to actually get swept up in, while Part Two of this movie, is even stranger, albeit I found it more heartwarming by the end. It starts out fine enough as the movie seems to center around Dorothea and Greta as they put on a production of "Hecuba". And then, we start getting some strange and bizarre musical and dancing performances, sometimes by tourists who take photos with selfie sticks of the most absurd of purported historical tourist sites and traps; there's a chorus-like group of real estate agents who are straining to get a barn sold that's being used for storage for the Bread Factory, mostly storage for their theater productions. (Storage costs basically take up much of a theater's budget most of the time.)

There's also a focus on the local newspaper, which many in the town are amazed is still active, even with a Pulitzer Prize winning critic, Jean-Marc (Philip Kerr) apparently on staff, although by the second half, it's editor Jan (Glynnis O'Connor) just up and leaves and, essentially putting her teenage intern Max (Zachary Sayle) in charge of everything as he's somehow putting out a paper with a group of kids from the factory and Max and his longtime rival Sir Walter (Brian Murray, in his last performance in the first film, and Brian May in the second).

I'm really leaving out a lot here, and I'd need a second or third viewing to be able to fully grasp every narrative thread going on here. Obviously, the biggest picture I can see is that the movie is mostly just all some kind of metaphor for the power and influence of art. Although that makes the weird segment involving Mavis (Nan-Lyn Nelson) who's threatening to vote against the factory because her kid tragically died because of his devotion to his art just a bit odd and out-of-place. And, I think is a bit dark for the film, but the first part is somewhat darker then the second in general. I guess I can think of a few movies that do this two-part structure, but I don't think those are the right comparison; "The Bread Factory" is clearly more inspired by the randomness and uniqueness of theater, the ability to go from the sublime to the absurd as quickly and suddenly as a tap dance in a diner. It definitely feels like one of those two parts five-hour epic play experiences, like "Angels in America" or-, well, not that serious, but something that epic in scope. I mean, the movie climaxes with literal Greek tragedy, and yet,  it's all basically just based around a small neighborhood which, that's pretty poetic, that's where most of us would find out Greek tragedy. Although really, the point of art, especially theater and other collaborative arts isn't what's performing it's that we're apart of the experience of putting on a show. and what that means to everybody. I mean, I just watched a documentary called "Bathtubs Over Broadway" about industrial shows and one of the stories in that film was how a couple met and got married during a musical about new toiletries. If that's important and memorable enough to make a lifelong connection, then sure, let's celebrate a place like "The Bread Factory".

This is a weird movie to review; both films were made to be seen together with an intermission, although I feel like most are more inclined to appreciate Part One, subtitled "For the Sake of the Gold", although I'm more inclined to appreciate the zaniness in Part Two, "Walk With Me for Awhile", especially with that beautiful, perfect ending shot. I spent most of the movie trying to figure out why this was made, especially in Part One, and was somewhat befuddled when I did see the name. Patrick Wang is not a household name, but I was familiar with the guy. He made a powerful debut film years ago called "In the Family", where he played a gay man in Tennessee who lost his partner and had to fight for custodial rights of their adoptive son from his lovers family. That movie was probably just as unrealistic as many of the scenes and ideas in "A Bread Factory", I bought into it anyway because of it's sincerity, and that film climax with a deposition where basically Wang, basically described himself. It was the ending speech that was strong enough to seem like the justification of the entire movie, the same way Chaplin's speech at the end of "The Great Dictator" works in much the same way. I had no idea what to expect from him afterwards, but I certainly wasn't expecting this. I haven't seen his second movie yet, "The Grief of Others" which honestly sounds even more depressing then his first one, but this movie comes out of nowhere for him from what I can tell. It makes a lot more sense when you realize he's spent most of the decade working in the New York theater world, and that he comes from Sugar Land, Texas originally, which doesn't quite feel like this small town of Checkford, which seems more like a New York or New England suburb. The movie feels almost outside of it's time. The May Ray performers feel like stuff that was made fun of back in the '90s, while the musical routines with selfie sticks puts this right back to today, but then there's the newspaper run by kids younger then the "Newsies",- the movie is just a hodgepodge of so many different things, and I think that's the point; that the more you experience the more influences you grow from, the more developed you can appreciate and develop appreciation for the work.


SEEING ALLRED (2018) Director: Rebecca Grossman & Sophie Sartain

★★★

Gloria Allred Documentary Makes a Case for Public Shaming

In "Seeing Allred", Denise Brown talks about walking into Marcia Clark's office one day, and noticing her office. Noticing everything that's around her, including photos of the crime scene where her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman's death, including one of her sister's throat being slit.It takes a few moments for Marcia to realize what she's staring at, and eventally she realizes it, and frantically takes the pictures off the wall, apologizing and saying, "Sorry, they're like furniture to me at this point." That when she eventually hires Gloria Allred. It's not Ms. Clark's fault by the way, she doesn't and never represented the Brown family, she represented the state. It's something that you don't think about but yeah, that is fucked up to some degree, that in the criminal courts there really isn't, a representation for the victims of the crimes; that's not the state's job and that's not necessarily what it should be either.

Honestly, I, as somebody who lived through the whole O.J. Simpson trial, and thought I remembered everything about it, forgot that that was Gloria Allred's role in it. Honestly, she's known for so much else, and was well-known for so much else more before then even, that I kinda wrote her part out of that story in my mind. (Although, if I could delete the whole thing from my mind, I would...)

Still, having said all that, I can't say that I was exactly looking forward to seeing "Seeing Allred". Her reputation is one that's,-, well they go over it, for some reason, people don't trust her. For one, she's a lawyer; that's skepticism right there, but two, is the kind of lawyer she is, because she has made a career out of being a lawyer for "victims", mostly for women and those who often seem to make some of the more wilder claims. They even show a clip of Larry Wilmore's old tv show where a panelist even talks about how because she's representing them, "You know someone's lying." In hindsight, I'm not sure how much that's true. I can think of one case, and it was that weird one that's not mentioned where she was hired by clients offended as a pro baseball coach's homophobic slur towards them and their kids and a lewd gesture and then, in the press conference, she's making the gesture with a baseball bat, in front of the kids,- it was weird. I'm kinding just chalking that one up to her taking on too many clients and doing way too many press conferences.

See that's her big thing, she's not so much a typical trial lawyer, but she's a civil rights lawyer you get when you're trying to grab attention to subjects. The movie shows this by cutting between historical footage and interviews about and from her about her, with some modern footage of her, giving press conferences and showing up at protests and defending her clients who were assaulted by Bill Cosby. It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when people not only just didn't believe the women, but even after the evidence kept piling up, the thought that Cosby would ever go to jail for any of his crimes seemed ridiculous and insane. The statute of limitations had long ran out on most of his accusers, something that she is also fighting in order to change state-by-state. It's actually kinda shocking in hindsight just how often she's pulled that off. I never realized that she was fighting for child support taken out of paycheck was something that started state-to-state with California, before it became national, and she was the one that started that. There's a lot of her history and influence that you can document and it's fascinating to go back on.

Her own personal history, even in this documentary, she's still, reserved about. She came from a struggling home in Philadelphia and right into college, got married and had a kid before she turned 20. That relationship, ended early as her husband had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder and eventually they left. Years later, he killed himself, but she began teaching after college and raised her daughter as a single mother. She does talk about her own rape, and the subsequent abortion that nearly killed her afterwards. This was in the before Roe v. Wade era, and said that the worst part of all that, was being in the hospital and the nurse backhandedly saying, "Serves you right?"

She does talk about him, but she doesn't talk at all about her second husband, who turned out to be a fraudster. That wound still seems raw, but her protest and media blitz form form of, activist law practice is what makes her work transcedent and important. The movie's strongest when it's showing this in action, following her through the Cosby blitz, and then seeing his arrest and inevitably, his prosecution. It also shows her up to the 2016 election. She not only was a delegate for Hillary at the convention, but she also was Summer Zevos's lawyer, one of Donald Trump's accusers. Watching her cry at the press conference after the election was startling. She was a Republican, and you can tell that, this engagement was scarring for her. She knows that her attacked is in charge; it's-, well, it's the exact issue that Allred's fighting. Equality of the sexes, and not to have women's role-, well, even that phrase, part of the problem is defining a role for women to begin with.

I don't know if "Seeing Allred" is a great documentary; it's pretty by-the-book, but it's a good document of just how important Allred is. She is the premiere lawyer for a media world, and an activist equal rights attorney we need always, and perhaps should've had for a lot longer. Gloria Allred should'n't have had to invent a Gloria Allred, but thank god she did.