Last week I wrote about season one of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the ahead-of-its time sitcom created by and starring Garry Shandling, that aired on Showtime from 1986-1990. As I have been watching It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, I have simultaneously been re-watching Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, The Larry Sanders Show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998. (It’s absolutely incredible to me that, after a LONG wait, BOTH of Mr. Shandling’s TV shows were released in complete-season sets within just a few months of each other last year. I was originally going to watch It’s Garry Shandling’s Show all the way through, and then revisit The Larry Sanders Show, but frankly I just couldn’t wait that long before diving into one of my favorite television shows of all time.)
Garry Shandling plays talk-show host Larry Sanders, and the show is clearly inspired by Mr. Shandling’s many years on the talk-show circuit, both as a frequent quest and eventually as a regular guest-host for Johnny Carson. (Mr. Shandling was at one time a candidate to replace Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show — but ultimately he decided he’d rather play a talk-show host on TV than actually BE one.) In every episode, we see some snippets of the Larry Sanders Show talk-show, though the bulk of each episode takes place behind the scenes, as we follow all of the Hollywood back-biting, self-aggarndizement, and other forms of ridiculousness involved in creating a five-nights-a-week talk show. In one of the show’s most brilliant creative conceits, the footage of the Larry Sanders talk show was shot on video, while all of the behind-the-scenes material was shot on film. This simple visual device is a great hook for the show (and also an easy way for less-attentive TV viewers to keep track of what’s what in each episode).
Mr. Shandling is supported by a remarkable ensemble, most notably Rip Torn as Larry’s loyal, bull-dog producer Artie, and Jeffrey Tambor as Larry’s dim side-kick Hank Kingsley. Artie and Hank represent two of the greatest characters ever created on television — a testament to the magnificent writing on the show as well as the formidable acting talents of those two men. I’m laughing right now, as I type these sentences, just thinking about all of the ridiculous antics those two characters got up to over the course of the show’s run.
The rest of the group is pretty phenomenal, as well. Janeane Garofalo turns in a star-making performance as Paula, the show’s deadpan, seen-it-all booker. Jeremy Piven and Wallace Langham are a riot as the show’s two head writers, each of whom presents a sarcastic, tough-as-nails affect but who are both actually hopelessly needy … [continued]
I have written before about our annual parody videos that we create at Camp Ramah in New England to kick off our beginning-of-Staff-Week competitions. This year we went back to one of my favorite films from back in 1985:
I have had to reevaluate my opinion of Adam Carolla after listening to his marvelous interview (well-over an hour long) with the great Albert Brooks. This is a MUST-LISTEN, friends.
Attorney General Eric Holder has challenged David Simon to produce a sixth season of The Wire?? That is awesome.
This expose on the dramatically underlit images found at many big-chain Boston-area movie theaters is very frustrating to read. Every time I read about an amazing theatre chain like the Alamo Drafthouse, I wish there were better movie theatres in my area.
This is a great article about when to show Star Wars to one’s kids. I’m going to face this dilemma in a few years! The follow-up piece is great, too: when to show the Indiana Jones films to one’s kids!
Io9 has weighed in on the 10 Best Star Trek Episodes. It’s an interesting list. I’m thrilled by how well-represented Deep Space Nine is, but having an episode of Voyager on the list really nullifies any credence the writer might have. And “The Void” of all episodes? Decent, but I could name about a hundred Trek episodes from the other series that are superior. For my own list of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all time, click here.
I am very excited by the report that the phenomenal comic book series 100 Bullets just might become a TV show on Showtime! 100 Bullets is one of the finest comic book series of recent memory. Click here for my thoughts on the series. Now, I’m not holding my breath for this proposed TV show to actually happen, but damn would it be cool…
In my review of Super 8 last week, I mentioned that I felt the monster in the film (directed by J.J. Abrams) was quite similar to the monster from Cloverfield (produced by J.J. Abrams). Don’t agree with me? Then check this out. Case closed, I think!… [continued]
I really enjoyed the two Hellboy movies directed by Guillermo del Toro, and the exquisite Pan’s Labyrinth made me a fan of his for life. Last year I tracked down his 2001 Spanish-language horror film The Devil’s Backbone, which I really enjoyed (you can read my review here), and I was delighted when, a few months ago, the fine folks at the Criterion Collection released a beautiful new edition of Mr. del Toro’s 1993 debut film, Cronos.
Jesus Gris is an elderly antiques dealer. One day in his shop with his granddaughter Aurora, he discovers an ancient, scarab-shaped amulet hidden in an old relic. The amulet turns out to be a powerful device that offers its user the promise of immortality — but at a great cost. When Jesus inadvertently allows the scarab to prick him, he quickly finds himself drawn into a nightmare in which his humanity seems to rapidly spiral out of his reach.
Cronos is an impressive achievement for a first-time writer and director. (Mr. del Toro wrote the script in addition to directing the film.) While it’s clear that many of the ideas and stylistic techniques that Mr. del Toro would hone in his future films are, as yet, unpolished, Cronos is still a very competently made horror film. There are some genuine scares in the film, and some suitably gross makeup effects. But Cronos isn’t just a film designed to make you jump or squirm. As with much of Mr. del Toro’s work, there’s a fascinating, original story that drives the film. The kindly Jesus’ descent into, well, into events that I won’t spoil for you here, is tragic because of Mr. del Toro’s skill at establishing characters who you really care about. I’m also continually impressed by the originality of Mr. del Toro’s stories and designs. The scarab device and the other creatures and effects in the film are all singularly unique creations that aren’t in any way derivative of other films or other stories. I was totally surprised when, late in the film, it becomes apparent that this story is actually Mr. del Toro’s take on a familiar genre of horror. But because his approach to that genre was so new and clever, I wasn’t able to predict where the film was going at all. Even in his first film, it’s clear that Guillermo del Toro possesses an unparalleled imagination, and the skill to bring his unique imaginings to the screen.
As with The Devil’s Backbone, I wasn’t at all bothered by having to watch this Spanish-lamguage film using the subtitles. The story and imagery are so strong that the subtitles weren’t an impediment at all to my engagement … [continued]
For as long as I can remember I’ve been hearing and reading about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the innovative sort-of-sitcom comedy show that Garry Shandling created and starred in on Showtime from 1986 to 1990. I adored The Larry Sanders Show (Mr. Shandling’s second TV show, which aired on HBO from 1992-1998), and when I began getting into stand-up comedy, during the years that Larry Sanders was airing, it became clear to me that Garry Shandling was a fellow of uncommon creative genius. I’ve long wanted to check out Mr. Shandling’s first show, but there was no easy way to get ahold of those episodes — until now! Last year, the fine folks at Shout! (whose exceptional TV on DVD sets I have often praised on this site) outdid themselves with the release, not just of one season, but of the complete series of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. My good buddy Ethan Kreitzer (who wrote a phenomenal write-up, last month, of an Albert Brooks appearance that he attended — it’s a great read, you should take a look if you haven’t read it yet) was kind enough to lend me his copy of the set (and he’s been VERY PATIENT with me as the months have gone bye!) so I could, finally, see what everyone has been talking about.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is a wonderfully playful version of a sitcom, created and produced by people who clearly grew up watching and loving sitcoms. From the characters’ personas to the look of the sets and lighting, the show is packed full of familiar sitcom tropes. But that’s entirely the point. Throughout these early episodes, the show has great fun constantly exposing all of the silly conceits and traditional devices used by TV comedies. Those conceits and devices are mocked, but what’s so endearing about It’s Garry Shandling’s Show is the way that the mockery is all done with love. If I got the sense that Mr. Shandling and his team of writers HATED sitcoms, and just wanted to expose how stupid and fake they are, I think that would get old very quickly. But it’s clear that Mr. Shandling and his crew LOVE sitcoms, and the sense that they’re all absolutely tickled to be in a sitcom of their own comes across loud and clear.
What also comes across loud and clear is that Mr. Shandling and the show’s team are far too creative to be beholden to the way sitcoms usually are. Indeed, they blow apart the form with enormous relish. (I’m reminded of the creativity shown by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David when creating Seinfeld, and the glee they took in doing everything their … [continued]
Now this is more what I’m talking about! David R. George III’s new Star Trek novel, Rough Beasts of Empire, is by far the strongest installment in the Typhon Pact series so far, and one of the best Trek books I’ve read in years.
This third Typhon Pact novel only enhanced the comment I made in my review of the second book, Seize the Fire by Michael A. Martin: that this Typhon Pact series was not turning out to be at all what I had expected. Since the idea of the Typhon Pact — an alliance made up of most of the United Federation of Planet’s major adversaries — was established a few years ago in A Singular Destiny by Keith R.A. DeCandido and Losing the Peace by William Leisner, I had assumed that this four-novel Typhon Pact series would now tell the story of the Pact’s confrontation with the Federation.
But having read three of the four books of the series, it hasn’t turned out that way at all. The novels haven’t been about a conflict between the new Typhon Pact and the United Federation of Planets. (The Typhon Pact was locked in an interstellar cold war with the Federation at the start of the series, and remain exactly in the same place here at the end of book three.) Rather, the first three novels have focused on the character arcs of various characters from across the Star Trek series (Julian Bashir, William Riker, Spock, and Benjamin Sisko) while also exploring the cultures of the various Typhon Pact races.
It’s certainly not the fault of the authors that I had different (though I think reasonable) expectations for what the series would be. And, indeed, I don’t mind at all that the novels have been more about character and world-building. My complaints are more that the first two novels in the series were not all that exciting. But while I was somewhat lukewarm about both Zero Sum Game and Seize the Fire, this third novel, Rough Beasts of Empire, is a real winner.
First of all, I was very pleasantly surprised that, despite the Typhon Pact label on the book’s cover, this novel is actually the meatiest Deep Space Nine focused novel to have been published in YEARS, and easily the best DS9 novel since David Mack’s Warpath from back in 2006. (I did love Una McCormack’s The Never-Ending Sacrifice, but that novel didn’t advance any of the main DS9 story-lines — which was also a complaint I had about Zero Sum Game which, despite featuring Dr. Bashir and Ezri Dax, in my opinion frustratingly skirted all of the big lingering DS9 stories.) But … [continued]
J.J. Abrams’ new film, Super 8, is an unabashed love-letter to the late ’70s and early ’80s films directed by Steven Spielberg and, as such, seems like it was designed from top-to-bottom to tickle every movie-loving funny-bone in my body. I’m sure I’m not alone. Super 8 has some narrative problems that prevents it from ever reaching the heights of the great Spielberg-directed films it was designed to emulate, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rousingly entertaining film of a type that we really don’t see too much of anymore.
It’s the summer of 1979, and Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just recently lost his mother to a terrible accident in the factory where she worked. As the school-year ends, he finds solace in the project he’s working on with his friends: filming a make-shift zombie movie on a super 8 camera. Somehow, Charles (Riley Griffiths), the boy directing and masterminding the film, has convinced a girl, Alice (Elle Fanning) to play a part in their movie. Joe is immediately smitten, but his father (Kyle Chandler) forbids him from having anything to do with her, due to a bitter feud with her father. One night, after having all snuck out to film a scene of their movie, the boys and Alice witness a terrible train derailment. Soon after, all sorts of mysterious events begin happening in their small town, and the military arrives to supervise the investigation of the train-wreck. As things escalate, the boys begin to suspect that something terrible was released when the train crashed, and the super 8 footage they shot that night might hold a vital clue.
It’s interesting that I began that description of Super 8 by writing about some of the character story-lines in the film, rather than the monster-on-the-loose sci-fi story. That’s because where Super 8 succeeds — and succeeds brilliantly — is in creating several wonderfully layered character story-lines (several of which I have only hinted at in my above summation) that engage the audience and pull at one’s heart-strings. It’s on the monster side of things where the film wobbles a bit, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Many of Steven Spielberg’s early films were told from the point-of-view of a child or children (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is the best example), and like that film, Super 8 spends a lot of time fleshing out the characters and personalities of the different kids who form the main cast of characters. I’ve read several reviews that commented on how Mr. Abrams and his team echoed the device used in E.T. of allowing the kids to be constantly talking over one another in the film, the way real … [continued]
As a big fan of Star Trek and of movie soundtracks, I’m starting to get spoiled. In the last few years we’ve seen the release, on lovely new CD sets, of the complete versions of James Horner’s amazing scores for Star Trek II and Star Trek III (click here for my review), as well as Michael Giacchino’s complete score for J.J. Abram’s Star Trek (click here for my review). Then, a few months ago, Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score for Star Trek V was released on a double-CD set.
Jerry Goldsmith was one of the finest film composers who ever lived. He composed the scores for a veritable boatload of famous, successful films, including Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Alien, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Hoosiers, and so many more. Star Trek V marked Mr. Goldsmith’s return to the world of Star Trek — he had composed the score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture – and Mr. Goldsmith would go on to score three of the four Next Gen movies (Dennis McCarthy scored Star Trek: Generations).
Say what you will about the quality of Star Trek V (and I’ll say that I think it pretty much stinks), Mr. Goldsmith composed a terrific score. It’s rousing and heroic and a great return to classic Star Trek adventuring. ”Return” is an interesting word, as Mr. Goldsmith’s work for Star Trek V would mark something of a turning point for Star Trek, musically. Mr. Goldsmith composed a number of iconic themes for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, including the main title theme (which was then used as the main theme for the opening credits of Star Trek: The Next Generation) and his theme for the Klingons. But James Horner’s scores for Trek II and III didn’t utilize any of Mr. Goldsmith’s material. Instead, Mr. Horner composed his own themes for Kirk and the Enterprise, and he also wrote his own themes for the Klingons when they appeared in Star Trek III. But now in Star Trek V, Mr. Horner returned to his music from The Motion Picture, and (with the exception of Cliff Eidelman’s wonderfully dark, ominous music for Star Trek VI) those themes would come to define Star Trek musically for many years to come. Whenever you heard a Klingon musical theme playing over an appearance by the bumpy-headed warriors in a future Trek TV show or movie, they never used James Horner’s theme — they’d always use Mr. Goldsmith’s.
Now, personally, I prefer James Horner’s scores for Star Trek II and III over Mr. Goldsmith’s work in Star Trek V. I’m not a musician, but as a fan I have always found Mr. … [continued]
I am loving the latest teaser trailer for the new Planet of the Apes flick:
To this day I remain ridiculously in love with the five original Planet of the Apes flicks (the less we discuss Tim Burton’s “re-imagining,” the better) and am starting to get very cautiously excited for this new one…!
Seriously, this story about the fine folks at the Alamo Drafthouse ejecting someone from the theatre for texting during a movie is the greatest story I’ve read all week. Why won’t any of the theatres here in Boston do anything like this to clamp down on all the annoying behavior of inconsiderate theatre-goers??
Follow that link and be sure to click on the video to hear the irate phone message the ejected patron left on the Alamo Drafthouse’s answering machine soon after being thrown out of the theatre. What a hoot!… [continued]
Holden Carver has agreed to go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate the criminal organization run by Tao, a genetically-manipulated super-villain of enormous intelligence and brutality. In order to create a cover that would convince even the super-intelligent Tao, only Holden’s boss — the spy-masker John Lynch — knows that Holden is actually a good-guy. Holden’s infiltration of Tao’s organization succeeds, but when Lynch is shot and falls into a coma, Holden finds himself hunted by his former allies and continually at risk with being exposed to his new “friends.” With no one to rely on but himself, is there any way out for Holden? And if he has to behave as a brutal criminal in order to pass as one to Tao and his people, does it really make any difference if once, long ago, he was one of the “good guys”?
This is the story of Sleeper.
I was first introduced to the work of writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips in this Wildstorm series (originally published as two twelve-issue “seasons” from 2003-2005, and these days available in four soft-cover collected editions) and I immediately knew that this was a creative team to be reckoned with. I have followed their partnership voraciously ever since (click here to read my review of their noir crime series Criminal, and here for my comments on their super-villain witness protection program story, Incognito) and have never been disappointed.
The genius of Sleeper is the way that Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips bring their noir sensibilities to the world of super-hero comics. Although there are characters with super-heroes in this story, there’s very little brightly-colored spandex. This is a gritty, street-level story about a criminal underworld and the flawed, morally compromised men who would stop them. The moral choices are brutally tough, and the good guys seldom come out on top. Right from the first issue, in which Holden is forced to viciously murder another deep-cover agent, just to protect his own cover, it’s clear that is is not going to be a simplistic series with any easy outs for the main characters.
I’ve waxed poetic about Sean Phillips’ artwork before, and this series is an excellent showcase for everything that he does so well. He has a great eye for characters, and his slightly-stylized renderings truly bring each individual character to life. His backgrounds are lush and wonderfully realized. Not in a hyper-detailed sort of way, but in that he is able to include just enough specific detail to perfectly capture the environment being depicted. He can draw crazy shoot-em-ups as well as he can draw two characters plotting in a darkened room. Just fantastic work.
Ed Brubaker … [continued]
I was beginning to think I’d never get to see another great X-Men movie!
I’m a big, big fan of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films. I think they’re pretty much perfect, the first two steps in what seemed like an epic cinematic saga. When the final shot of X2 tantalized viewers with the promise of the Dark Phoenix saga (probably the single greatest X-Men storyline ever), I was overcome with gleeful anticipation. I think I’m still recovering from the disappointment at how badly the film series fumbled things from there. The studio rushed X-Men 3 into production with another director, as a big up-yours to Bryan Singer, who had been hired to direct Superman: Returns. X-Men 3 has a decent first 45 minutes or so but then things totally collapse, and the brutally awful handling of the Phoenix storyline was crushingly disappointing. And in the years since, the only new X-Men movie we’ve gotten is the abysmally terrible X-Men Origins: Wolverine (share the pain and read my review here).
When I heard that they were finally putting together a new X-Men film, and that it was a prequel, I was not pleased. I really hate prequels, as readers of this blog are probably aware. I think it’s a lazy approach to story-telling, and I’d always rather see a story move FORWARD rather than circle back upon itself. That we’ve been so deluged with prequels these past few years makes me absolutely crazy. Why do I want to see the young versions of characters I love? I want to see the experienced versions of these characters, in their prime, kicking ass and going on new adventures. Why has that seemingly been so difficult for the masterminds behind the X-Men film franchise? Can no one in Hollywood think past a trilogy? X-Men 3 was flawed, but it still made a TON of moola. Hire some new writers and get to work on X-Men 4! Of all the franchises in the world, the X-Men seems like the easiest no-brainer in the bunch. There are SO MANY great characters and story-lines in the comics to choose from. Is Patrick Stewart getting too expensive? No problemo! The comics were constantly writing Professor X out of the stories for long periods of time. Let’s see the films adapt some of the great X-Men stories from the eighties, in which Prof X was gone and Magneto tried to reform and take over the X-Men. That would be awesome! It just seems so simple to me — we should be getting brand new X-Men films every 2-3 years, like clockwork.
But, obviously, that hasn’t happened. Just one god-awful Wolverine solo flick and a prequel. … [continued]
After watching and enjoying Lost in La Mancha last month, I was in a documentary kind of mood, so I decided to track down a film I remembered reading really positive reviews about upon its release: Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!
This is a really crazy film!!
This documentary chronicles the Australian film scene of the 1970′s and 1980′s. During those years, a large group burgeoning filmmakers in Australian produced scores of what some would consider “exploitation” films — meaning low-budget films filled with a ton of sex and violence. Written and directed by Mark Hartley, Not Quite Hollywood delves into the development and spread in popularity of these films and filmmakers. The documentary is divided into sections focusing on different types of these Ozploitation films — the sex-comedies, the horror films, etc. — while also spotlighting many of the directors, actors, and actresses who worked on these films.
Sometimes you watch a documentary and it’s clear that, while the film is interesting, it’s pieced together from interviews with just a few subjects. Not this film. There are literally HUNDREDS of people who have been interviewed for this film. It’s clear that Mr. Hartley and his team did an extraordinary amount of work to track down so many of the people with stories to tell about the making of these Australian films. No stone was left un-turned. It’s impressive, and at times a bit overwhelming! The film is edited at an extraordinarily rapid clip — with quick interview snippets running one after the other, often-times running over (or sharing a split-screen with) clips from the many films being discussed. I can’t remember ever seeing a documentary that unfolds at such an energetic pace. The result is a film that feels as crazy, unhinged, and FUN as the films being discussed!
And boy, there are some crazy films being discussed. Other than the Mad Max films, I haven’t seen a single one of the many, many films spotlighted in Not Quite Hollywood. On the one hand, watching this documentary makes me want to track some of these films down! On the other hand, it’s a tremendous amount of fun watching this only-the-best-bits summations of all of these wacky films, and I’m not sure they’d be quite as much fun at full-length. As with the interviews, Mr. Hartley and his team have assembled an extraordinarily vast collection of clips from all sorts of these crazy-looking Australian films. I should warn you: there’s a LOT of nudity in these clips, and also a lot of crazy, bloody scenes of horror. But it all seems so silly and good-natured (yes, even the horror has such a childish spatterific … [continued]
I’m finally ready to catch back up with this year’s four-book series of crossover Star Trek novels from Pocket Books: The Typhon Pact. This series represents the latest installments in Pocket Books’ exciting efforts from the past few years to push the 24th century Star Trek adventures forward past their last on-screen appearances (the movie Star Trek: Nemesis and the ending of Deep Space Nine and Voyager). In Keith R.A. DeCandido’s excellent 2009 novel A Singular Destiny (read my review here), we learned that a number of the Federation’s deadliest enemies — the Romulans, the Tholians, the Gorn, the Breen, and others — had banded together to form a new interstellar alliance called the Typhon Pact. This was obviously going to lead to trouble for our heroes, particularly with the Federation still reeling from the decimation wrought by the Borg invasion (chronicled in David Mack’s also-excellent 2008 trilogy of novels, Star Trek: Destiny — read my review here). The new Typhon Pact series focuses on characters from many of the different Star Trek series, and explores the repercussions of the creation of this new alliance.
Book one of the series, Zero Sum Game, was DS9-centric. It followed Julian Bashir and Ezri Dax (who now commands her own starship, the USS Aventine) on a mission to infiltrate the Breen. (You can read my review of Zero Sum Game here.) After a few months away, I’ve finally found the time to move on to book two of the series: Seize the Fire,which is written by Michael A. Martin. This novel shifts the focus to Captain Riker and the crew of the USS Titan, and explores the society of the Gorn.
At the start of the novel, a terrible natural disaster completely destroys Sazssgerrn, the only planet in the Gorn Hegemony on which their warrior caste were able to lay their eggs. While the Gorn political structure struggles to find a solution to this species-threatening problem, several radiation-damaged Gorn warriors who survived the planetary catastrophe begin forming their own mad plans for the future of their race. When they discover a massive, ancient structure that appears capable of terraforming an entire world in an instant — just like the long-lost Genesis technology could — they appear to have found the instrument by which to achieve their plans. Unfortunately, in eco-sculpting an entire planet, this device would also completely destroy any life already existing on that world. When the Gorn attempt to test this new device on the inhabited planet of Hranrar, only Captain Riker and the USS Titan appear to stand in the way of the annihilation of the millions of Hranrarii.… [continued]