Levitt’s Review Of “I’m Dying Up Here” (A-) (Showtime, Sunday, 10-11 PM E.)

dying

When I began watching Showtimes, “I’m dying Up Here” I thought the tone of a show about comedians too despairing and similar  to the Tom Hanks/Sally Field film, “Punchline”. In Punchline, the impulse to do stand-up seemed more like a curse than a freedom.  The comedians were sufferers; unable to lead a normal life because they were addicted to the rush of performing. Too many times in these kinds of true-to life shows about comedians are depicted  comedians as only “on” when hit the stage and then, post-performance; collapsing in some sort of destructive/drunken cocoon in the corner.

The success of “I’m Dying Up Here”, though is that it successfully shows the comedians have three dimensional lives on and offstage. When not performing, There are numerous exchanges where each comic is just standing around shooting the shit and being normal knuckle-heads.  Other shows about comics also fall lazily into familiar templates; comedian as detached funny commentator (Gaffigan) or being a bottom-rung comedic pee-on (“Crashing”).  “Dying”, instead, presents a solid close-knit band of “working” comedians.  There are no break-out performers (save for the occasional visiting celeb or A-Lister).  By in large, each comedian is a-work-in-progress, honing their craft, and- aside from the inevitable jealousies- generally supportive of each-others success.

The show is full of talented real-life comedians and actors.  A stand out in the cast for me is the club owner, Goldie Herschlag  (Melissa Leo) who resists the greedy/grumbly stereotype and, though thick-skinned maintains a good. mature working relationship with her comics and a sporting interest in their careers. As the series progresses, it will be good to see more of her personal life take center stage…she might even get the itch to pick up the mic.

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I also like the fire-cracker energy of Adam Proteau ( R.J. Cyler)  He is not as guarded as his contemporaries and has more raw vital presence on the stage and is interesting to watch and set him apart from the other comics.rj

 

Finally, Cassie Feder (Ari Graynor) shines as the show’s only female comedian.  The show’s writers do not make her cast as a typical salty/sassy Joan Rivers or Bette Midler over-sexed clone.  In fact, she disdains stock material in favor of a richer, more personal and confessional brand of humor that should yield rich dividends later on.

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So far, in my review of “Dying”, I haven’t mentioned that the show is set in the 70s and that is, in large part, because I really don’t find the time frame to be that relevant to the show’s atmosphere.  The show is cast in the 70s because that’s when stand-up was king.  If people wanted to see comedy, they had to leave their homes to see the likes of Pryor or Carlin since there was no cable/internet outlets.  I think a strength of the show is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with 70s references or slang that takes you of the action. The 70’s setting is just atmosphere, man!

One of the show’s few negatives for me is the heavy-handed backstories.  The writers of “Dying” can’t seem to resist the temptation to make each comic the product of a bad home life.  Every comedian’s dad apparently drank too much and beat them up. Yipes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the audience at Caroline’s on Father’s Day ! Thankfully, though, the back-stories take a back-seat to the rich and realistic stand-up and the tight-knit relationships of the comedians.

Now that I’ve given this show a pretty great review, I thought I would temper my analysis with a little reality.

Although the writing and acting are first-rate, Here is why I feel the show might get cancelled.

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Nobody On “Dying” is a Zombie, vampire, or otherwise living-challenged Individual

By comedian standards these guys are relatively normal earth-bound dudes.  nobody is drug-addicted (at least not violently so, sticking up a 7/11 at 2 in the morning to get enough money for “blow”).

The Lead actress is not a sex-pot-  Though attractive and talented, the lead actress is more interested in her career, than trying out out experimental, cinematically pleasing sex positions.

Nobody gets wacked every week–  Shows like Sopranos, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire tended to like to sacrifice a different character every week to keep everyone interested and guessing.  Stand-up comedy,  although competitive,  is not exactly a blood sport.

Nobody is mentioning Trump or politics- Trump and political commentary are hogging the airwaves this summer with all the Russian/collusion shenanigans.  To me, my interest in Russia really peaked with Rocky 4.  But, This show with its occasional references to news or pop culture, (Billie Jean King V Bobby Riggs anyone?) seems miles away from being topical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning 1pg SHORT Script Reading of THE PARK PERVERT, by Mark Levitt

LOS ANGELES Feedback FILM FESTIVAL

Genre: Comedy

Public leering, sexual harassment, not just another day in the park.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Sal: Hugh Ritchie
Karen: Ariel Brooker
Syrus: Geoff Mays
Karen: Ariel Brooker

Get to know the writer:

What is your screenplay about?

Its about cover-ups, deception, and lust

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Comedy and drama

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Because it doesn’t have super-heroes and an inflated budget so it will make all its money back.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Pervy ethics

What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Shawshank Redemption…Get busy living, or get busy watching Shawshank, that’s damn right!

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

On and off, through a couple of versions, iterations, for a few years

How many stories have you written?

Over 80

What is your…

View original post 162 more words

Levitt Reviews HBO’s “Crashing” (B)

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HBO has a penchant for introducing shows with juicy premises (Hung-The life of a gigilo) (Big Love- Bigamy) yet killing the fun by casting a bland, moralistic protagonist which strips the shows of much of their edge or escapist appeal. “Crashing” continues this tradition with the most milquetoast New York comedian I have ever seen.

Pete Holmes is an earnest christian who, it seems, just woke up one day with the notion to try stand-up comedy.  Most stand-ups, while not traditionally attractive per se, do have or at least try and cultivate a distinctive look/stage persona to either stand our or relate to their audiences.  Physically, Pete Holmes (Played by Pete Benedict) resembles an amorphous, pudgy mix of Ray Romano and Thirty Rock’s Jack Mcbrayer and dresses like your average middle-school gym teacher.

Holmes also lacks the often shifty/restless comedic energy present in many New York Comics. Pete’s face reads complacency or resignation. Not the most compelling qualities for a stand-up.  Furthermore, he’s a practicing Christian so he naturally and enthusiastically eschews many of the trappings (alcohol, drugs, easy sex) which many comics wear like badges in their acts and mine for material. In essence, he’s a bland wet blanket. If the show continues to want to keep Pete “Pure”, I think it would be a good idea to at least add a couple of idiosyncratic vices to keep his character interesting. By interesting, I don’t mean to make Pete collect the occasional Plush animals or have a sweet-tooth for salt-water taffy.  Give him a nasty little internet porn addiction or something!

The quality of Pete’s stand-up material is predictably pretty bad ( consisting mainly of either under-ripe or overly labored “Observations”) but, then again, the jokes in movies/shows about stand-ups are always bad.  Its like writers are unwilling to have the comedian deliver their “A level “material for fear of piracy, or the material is so censored/PC to make it digestible for middle-america or the stray 12 year old who checks out the show.

I also am not crazy about the character of “Jess ” (Pete’s Wife).  Pete catches Jess in bed with another man in the first episode. To me,  Lauren Lapkus,  The actress cast as his cuckolding wife, doesn’t even manifest like she enjoys sex.  Her demeanor is too sweet and helpful. Rather than proudly cheating on her husband, Jill looks like a woman who sells jams at the local farmers market. As a side note, I like how the name of the guy Jess is screwing is named “Leif”.  In sitcoms and movies, women always have affairs with guys with exotic names, “Paco” or “Leif”.  You almost never catch your wife in bed with someone named, “Bill”.

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Whereas the central character of the show is underwhelming, I do enjoy the featured guest comedians: Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, and Sarah Silverman as well as several cameos by noted New York Comedians.   The comics who guest are encouraged to play their nutty selves on the show and their dialogue seems real and not overloaded by “bits”. In fact, one of the cool perks of the show is discovering crazy windows into the worlds of the guest comedians: sarah Silverman runs a boarding house and collects comedians)  T.J. Miller collects clocks which are all set to the wrong time, Artie Lange needs the bathroom door open when he takes a dump.  Sure, it stretches the bonds of credibility that every comic Pete meets wants to adopt/befriend the boring Naive Pete. But, it does also “humanize” the guest comics more by showing their generosity to their comic countrymen.

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I’m sure George Carlin didn’t just spontaneously erupt into his famous, “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” Monologue during his very first open mike appearance. But, sadly Most shows/movies about the life of stand-ups skip the  early “breaking-in period” like most people want to quickly gloss over their first awkward/brief sexual encounter. But I like that “Crashing” openly embraces the freshman comic and bottom rungs of the club circuit.  There are, for instance, numerous scenes of “barking” ( Ray hands out pamphlets in exchange for stage time), crashes at fellow comics houses, and plays to empty houses.  More bios of comedians should tackle this early period for it helps inform their persona, passion, and career longevity.

In time, I hope the show relaxes Pete’s uptight image and, while keeping him essentially a good guy, lets him explore and indulge in a comic’s sketchy lifestyle with gusto.  If he lets himself go, I think his character and plot-lines will more vividly capture the comedian’s lifestyle. Who knows, he might even get laid.

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Levitt Reviews “The Affair 3rd Season Finale” Bonjour And Bon Debarras (*Spoilers)

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The 3rd season of Showtime’s “The Affair” captures Noah escaping his familiar Montauk/ Fishkill, haunts to…France?  I guess it was inevitable that by introducing a French Character to the show, they’d have to send him to France if only to allow the new French actress (Irene Jacob) to speak a few lines in her mother tongue.  True to the well-worn cliche,  Noah does do all the French touristy things…cafes…bookstores, and attending vagina-art gallery openings…the usual.

John Gunther, We Hardly knew Ya

Episode 303

Noah had a dark, grim, go of it this season: Pill addicted, hallucinating, and attacked by a sadistic prison guard (at least in his mind) with a chip on his shoulder.  A  sadistic prison guard?  how unusual.  You only see that in every single movie/TV show set in prisons! well,  At least this one, portrayed by a bloated, Weight-Watcher Skipping, Brendan Fraser, was also into chick-lit; lustily reading excerpts of Noah’s own book to him in-between beatings. What a guy!   But then, in a complete and cartoon-ish swicheroo,  the show decided to show that Noah’s perception of Gunther was influenced by drug addiction.  In the last episode, a drug-free Noah meets Gunther as a mild-mannered glasses-wearing dad  with a special-needs kid. I found the transition to extreme to be believable.  I’m surprised the show didn’t show Gunther  lovingly thumbing his well-worn copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or binging on “The Bachelor” to make his full de-masculation complete.

When In France…Get Slapped In The Face!

Episode 307

I think the writers of the Finale must have just come off a Sex And The City Marathon. In the Sex episode “Set In Paris”,  Carrie gets slapped in the face by an angry artist, Petrovsky and “Big” threatens to punch the artist in the face.  , Noah’s daughter, in The Affair,  is punched in the face by her angry artist boyfriend, Furkat. My question is…Why? Is slapping your girlfriend part and parcel of the French Artist’s Creative process?  Is there something in the water over there? and Why do France’s best artists constantly ignore the obvious advantages of a good, old-fashioned, verbal beatdown?   Well, at least in Sex and the City, the artist had the good taste to create “light installations” (whatever the hell those are!) and not a full exhibit of framed vaginas. That’s just stupid.

While The Husband Has Alzheimers, The Wife Will Play

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I guess the writers of “The Affair” wanted to make French Professor, “Juliette” a tad more morally superior to Noah because, although she encouraged her affair with Noah, a former adulterer, convicted and imprisoned for murder, she had a good excuse…her husband had alzheimers.

In the prior season Noah didn’t need a good reason to have an affair with Allison other than she was a Montauk Local. However, since Juliette and Noah were more casual about their tryst because Juliette’s older husband had mentally checked-out, one wonders if they would their affair could have been as guilt-free and reckless if the hubby was just home with a bad head cold.

Reunited And It Feels So… Good?

Episode 310

One of the few positive notes this season was to reunite and reconcile Noah with his estranged children. Sure, he abandoned their mother, got himself locked-up for three years, and showed his interests leaned more toward fornicating more than fathering, but he was self-aware.  He knew he was a self interested ass-hole. He openly acknowledged his dick-dom in a couple of longish, soul searching monologues. Doesn’t that give him automatic closure with his kids?  With this show it does…the episode ends with Noah  acting lovey dov-y with his daughter and setting up a play date with his son.  Now, that’s just good Little House On The Prairie Entertainment right there!

 

 

 

Levitt Reviews,”Miles Ahead” (C)

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Doing a satisfying movie about Miles Davis seems impossible.

Davis himself was way too  cool, elusive (will-of-the-wisp) and too spontaneous a figure  to lend himself to easy description and standard narratives. His mountain of artistic output (from be-bop, Birth Of cool, to Electric Miles, Grammys, and Induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) defies a revisionist 2 hour treatment. Furthermore, his own often prickly/private personality fought examination and disdained easy labels.

Therefore, its understandable that the writers/creators of Miles Ahead decided against the predictable spectacle of a standard Hollywood boiler-plate rags-to-riches jazz biopic in favor of more modest slice-of life treatment. Yet, even in watching the film with smaller expectations, I still found “Miles Ahead” an original but ultimately unsatisfying cinematic tease into the rich life of Miles Davis.

The film spotlights a period during the late 1970s where Miles is a largely lazy, drugg-ed out hermit who spends his time calling into local jazz radio and complaining about them playing cuts of Sketches of Spain instead of Kind of Blue. The decision to set the film in the late 70s perplexed me.  Why would a film-maker would want to highlight a 24-48 hour period which was atypically fallow in the career of such a creative and prolific artist? it would be like doing a film on Mohammed Ali or  Evil Knievel while they were in the hospital laid-up after an injury. Interesting perhaps for a scene or so but not extended out into 2 hours!

If the writers wanted to use the film examine artistic block, they do Davis a disfavor by casting him as a sedentary hermit. He’s depicted as a man of leisure, drug-addled, lethargic and who only occasionally glances at his trumpet or fusses over some master session mix tapes. I would have preferred A more dramatic approach; Miles struggling with his procrastination, showing doubt or flashes of temper, hitting both bum-notes literally and figuratively in his creative inspiration. Frustratingly, in this film,his driving inspiration is more to get high than play great jazz.

The story begins with aspiring Rolling stone writer (portrayed by Ewan Mcgregor) shows up at Davis’ door in search of the story of Miles’ comeback.  The following few scenes offer several clever smart-aleck quips by Miles about music and celebrity.  Don Cheadle does a great job in embodying the prickly, fire-cracker personality of the Trumpeter. The voice (rasp), movement, and look also seem a pretty spot on match. Initially, the rapport of Davis and the reporter seems fun, (if with Macgregor’s accent more than a tad quirky) and spontaneous. Unfortunately, after some interesting set-up, and a few fiery gun-waving dust-ups at Davis’ local record label, the film veers wildly off course into a clumsy caper film. Scenes showing  Davis try to score coke at a local college, signing a few autographs, and a gun-toting car chase in quest of his stolen session master tapes seem worthier of a story about a more minor jazz figure and more sub-plot material than main action.

Along the way, are some flashbacks about a lost-love/muse and earlier “birth of cool” sessions which do serve to try and show some glossy perspective on the broader fabric of Miles life.  However, I found these scenes largely distracted and the nostalgic mood seemed out of place with the of-the-moment feel of the rest of the film.

There is also some scenes thrown-in with a young an up-and-coming jazz trumpeter for Miles to supposedly mentor.  The story could have done more showcased this relationship more (Miles as teacher and student as muse to get Davis’ spark back). Despite this, the narrative completely forgets the young jazz newbie at the end and I was left wondering what happened to him.

In the final frames of the movie, we are finally allowed into the secret of the stolen master tapes. We hear what we have been waiting for for 1:45 hours.  The result proves as auditorilly underwhelming and anti-climactic as the story which has lead up to his discovery.

Ultimately, I found the movie played more like a respectable character sketch than a full-treatment. To me, Davis is a towering figure in jazz. He had such high highs and low lows,  I wanted a film with more of an emotional journey and dramatic pay-off.  I guess I wanted a cinematic experience as inspired as   “My Funny Valentine” what I got instead was just a cinematic warm-up.

Levitt Reviews Masters Of Sex-Season Finale (spoilers)

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Masters Of Sex did tick-up in quality slightly this year from the Dan Logan-Centric previous season but unfortunately the year also doubled-down on soapy intrigue and melodramatic shenanigans.  The season finale had a rushed-up feel.  Subtlety gave way to easy closures and bizarrely unexpected detours.

Libby Masters JD-

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 When did Libby’s deep love of the law begin,  two episodes ago?. Libby was formerly the queen of domestic complacency; spending the past 3 seasons doing absolutely  nothing except smoking, and inwardly brooding about her condition.  This season, the staid former housewife however, suddenly decided to head on down to Woodstock and… eschewing the counter culture phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out”, instead decided to…become a lawyer. If you troubled to ask,  I’m sure people’s first impulse after dazedly emerging from the mushroom /mud infused grounds of Woodstock was probably not to decide to buckle down to 3 years of intense study and preparation for the Bar Exam.  Talk about your bad trip!

Johnny Masters- from neglected child to teenage martyr

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In this hyper-melodramatic finale, Johnny Masters (estranged son of Bill) overhears his parents bickering and -apparently because he has an extremely low tolerance for parental discord- completely freaks; jumping into his dad’s Jaguar and driving off in some wacky vehicular tantrum.  I’m not sure why Master’s son (absent all season) was suddenly called in for this melodrama.  Maybe due to some child labor laws in AFTRA, kids must appear in at least one episode per season to be granted health coverage. Johnny’s sole scene depicted him overhearing that his mom (kids in tow) would move halfway across the country to attend law school. Its hard to believe that Johnny’s character, so long estranged and even insulted by his father, would get so worked up about the fight that Johnny would both freak and -in some bizarre  magnanimous impulse-volunteer to live with his dad to ease his fatherly loneliness.  Luckily, the still “paternally ambivalent” Bill Masters quickly put the kibosh to any “The Courtship Of Eddies Father” scenario by announcing that despite Johnny’s kind offer,  Dad would now be keeping house with former mistress, fellow sexpert, Virginia Johnson.  Music to any estranged kids ears!

Dr Nancy-  Going Off “Half cocked”

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After a whole season of sniping at Virginia and de-masculating husband Art, what was Dr Nancy’s exit strategy this season?  Just steal Master’s and Johnson’s Clients, move to another city and set up shop using their approaches? Great plan!  Good luck getting a good job recommendation/employer referral after that one! .   This year, Dr Nancy and Art already won my  award for least fun, open-marriage swingers ever. Nancy was cold blooded, stone-faced, and ambitious and Art was  devoted, ethical, and soul searching. Instead,  Masters could have tapped into the more casual, promiscuous vibe of this era and even added some “far outs” or “groovys” to add some tacky flavor and more of a smarmy groove.  Unfortunately, the show apparently wanted to end the season by making Dr Nancy, Betty Gilpin, the single least likable woman on cable; aborting her husband’s baby without his knowledge/consent and stealing her bosses clients. On the plus side though, she did like her some “open marriage sex”.

Masters And Johnson- How About A Wedding Quickie?

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What do you get for the couple whose relationship was sizzling, bubbling, percolating for 4 seasons (spanning 10+ years)?   a quickie marriage in the clerk’s office of City Hall and presided over by a grumbly functionary. Yeah, that hit the spot!  Seems satisfying.  I guess the writers wanted to avoid any  needless romantic proclamations by Masters or any earnest love-filled vows by Virginia to keep female fans of the show happy. No, we don’t want that! Look, They got hitched.  Isn’t that enough?  The show didn’t even go to the trouble of throwing up any last minute roadblocks.  No last minute Dan Logan or “Dotie” objections to clog up the works and kill any remote dramatic tension. No last minute Barton Scully indignant meltdowns at the courthouse (always good for a laugh)  Bill was late to the ceremony. that’s it.  It would probably be a more dramatic payoff if Masters suddenly realized he forgotten his beloved bow tie.

Betty- What, Did Her Invite To the Finale/Wedding Get Lost In The Mail?

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Killing her lesbian lover in childbirth, losing custody of her new baby to her lover’s hateful, intolerant parents…They did everything to Betty this season but chuck her head-first down a flight of stairs.  What happened here? who’d she piss off?  Did she accidentally  drop a #2 in the Toilet of Lizzy Caplan’s private dressing room?   The show didn’t even have the courtesy to invite her to the courthouse nuptials of Masters and Johnson.  Screw Scully or Guy, Betty deserved to be there.

The Thumb Wrestler- A Film By Mark Levitt

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I’ve been writing screenplays for comedy films for about 14 years now.  Before that, I loved to make comedy tapes.  You remember old cassette tapes?  You can still find them in some flea-markets/garage sales. Well, I made cassette tapes worth of comedy (short sketches, news bulletins, actual taped shouting matches with my family members etc).  I did sketches on pop culture (all self voiced, complete with dramatic musical scores/sound effects  Wierd Al, Eat your heart out! )which I would hand out to classmates, family members, and anyone else who had a spare 15 minutes in their lives to kill.  Although my tapes attracted a small cult following…really small, I never really took off commercially. I still have most of them in a shoe-box in the event that my career takes off late and fans rush to purchase/gobble-up anything Levitt.  Here’s a link to a youtube audio snippet:  Youtubecomedyaudio

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Then, when I hit about 36, I decided to try my hand at screenplays and found I had a knack for funny/absurd dialogue. Most of my screenplays were about my own experiences…work, family life, and were usually dark, therapeutic and chock full of my own neurosis.  They usually involved some sort of power struggle:  worker/management.  Family/in-laws.   But again, most of them were too low budget/niche to really appeal to a broader audience.  You can check out all of them.  Just google Mark Levitt in Mark Levitt on Vimeo or Mark Levitt On Youtube  if you ever have a spare  afternoon to kill.

Flash forward to now (2016) with my most recent comedy film, Thumb Wrestler. It was truly a blast.  I had a great time writing and editing and have just completed the major filming (locations in midtown and Greenwich Village New York Sept 10th/11th).   It includes a cast of 10 great actors and an extremely talented director and cinematographer.  I am really very proud of the writing and the talent of everyone involved. Hopefully, because of the popular sports theme, it will appeal to a broader group of people than those I can just nudge or bug into checking it out.   It will probably be another several weeks before the editing will be complete and the frenzied studio bidding war to begin 😉  But, I just wanted to take time out from my hectic TV Viewing, Facebook posting, family pro-bono psychiatric therapy schedule to reflect  and champion the merits of the Thumb Wrestler. Check out the facebook page: Thumb Wrestler Page  Stay Tuned Folks!

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