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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levitt Rates Body/-Swapping, Time-Travel Movies

Big- I just had sex with a 12 year old!

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The Majority of the body swapping movie genre is from Man/woman to child.  Probably the most popular of these types of movies is “Big” with Tom Hanks.  Most consider this movie a likable, nostalgic look at youth and coming to grips with the demands of adulthood.  I have three main problems with this film: 1) Tom Hanks is known, in many movies such as Splash and his days on Bosom Buddies as being childishly playful and a major goofball. So, when it comes to him inhabiting the persona of a boy in Big I really didn’t see that much difference between this role and a lot of his light comedic roles.  If anything, he just upped the goofy/awkward thing just a touch.  2)  The second thing which bothered me about the film was that the Toy Company Boss automatically goes along with any nut-ball idea Hanks has about product development merely because Hanks’ character seems enthusiastic and interested in toys… Not exactly qualities which would normally set him apart in the toy industry. 3) finally, when Hanks’ character reveals to his work associate/lover that he’s really only 12 years old, the woman seems only mildly taken aback.  Most women who just found out they slept with a 12 year old would be majorly skeeved perhaps even in seeking religious guidance and indulging in multiple showers.  Maybe its just that this woman’s regular cut-off for romantic partners is 11 year olds.

13 Going on 30…going on what the $%&!

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In this popular body swapping movie a girl suddenly jumps ahead from 13 to 30 and again a likeable girl, Jenna Rink played by a pre-Affleck divorce scarred Jennifer Garner learns how to navigate the tough, competitive waters of magazine publishing.  However, the girls transition to sudden womanhood is never really explained.  Prior to her pre-mature aging, she is presented with a home-made diorama given to her by her childhood friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo).  Then suddenly, some “magic farie dust” shimmies off the diorama and transports her ahead 17 years in the future.  In the future, Garner’s character again befriends Ruffalo’s character and quickly realizes that he’s a really nice guy and definitely boyfriend material.  A jaded movie-viewer like myself, then, would conclude that Ruffalo’s character was actually an evil wizard who designed the diorama and Garner’s trek in the future all for the purposes of just getting himself laid.  At least it would give some semi-reasonable explanation for the film’s insane premise.

17 Again A grown man revisits his youth only to be boring

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17 again is a mediocre body swapping/time travel movie that falls into the same dull mold.  Matthew Perry plays the adult version of the boy (in the film for about 10 minutes) and Zac Effron plays him as a teenager.  Aside from Effron making a very unconvincing man trapped in a boy’s body, the film does not allow the teenager the freedom to blow off steam.  The wish-fullfillment aspect of getting to revisit one’s youth is completely lost here.  Effron’s character is chivalrous, straight-laced, and even lectures his fellow classmates on temperance and love before sex.  How many of us if given the chance to go back to being a teenager would do any of that unless we became born again Christians?

Peggy Sue Got Married…She also boinked a beatnik!

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Peggy Sue Got Married is not precisely a body swapping movie more of a time travel movie since Kathleen Turner is herself in the whole film. But because most of the cast views Peggy’s character as herself as a teenager (while she is knocked unconscious) I’m going to include it in this genre.  I believe this is one of the best if not the best film in this genre mainly because Kathleen Turner is able to effectively play both childhood exuberance and jaded adulthood with equal finesse. The film is also effective because it finally allows an adult with a second chance at youth to finally live out some dreams and have some fun. It is frankly amazing that in a genre so interested in  nostalgic youth, the film makers insist on making their  characters cling so fiercely to their boring, staid adulthood (ie  17 Again, Freaky Friday, Vice Versa). Instead,  Turner’s character tells off the class bully, raids the family liquor cabinet, befriends the class nerd, and even boffs her school beatnik. She is able to realize most of the things she thought her life was missing and-if the end result was less than completely satisfying- at least she was allowed by the film-makers to make the journey.

Levitt’s Take On The Week In Politics

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Historically I have always hated politics and anyone who takes strong stances on anything outside their direct experience tiresome to listen to.  I do, however, enjoy the theater of politics.  I enjoy debates because, despite politicians being able to identify a problem and volunteer a solution (take an immediate and clear action, impanel a committee, make it a #1 priority on “day one” of their administration), usually the politician who is less objectionable cosmetically (looks at their watch less, takes more modest sips of water than their challenger, rubs their nose rather than picking it, smiles rather than grins, and pronounces the names of foreign leaders with more finesse than their competitors wins.

Despite my aversion to anything involving policy or the daily workings of government, even the casual observer does have to admit that it was a big week in politics.

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Last Saturday Bernie Sanders was mimicked and reduced to a caricature by Larry David on SNL.  Their similarity in voice and “rumpled-ness” of demeanor is hard to dispute and, consequently, the internet went bonkers in celebration and Larry David landed himself an excellent post-Curb gig. Soon, It got so bad that When Biden Suddenly dropped out of the race for president its quite possible that his thought processes went something like this:  “After careful deliberation, I have concluded that I do not believe in my heart that SNL has any cast member who is competent enough to impersonate me in a sketch. That show rises or falls based on its ability to nail its political satire. With me as a candidate, they have to settle with some second rater like Kyle Mooney trying to impersonate me…and that’s just not something I can, in good conscience, allow.”

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Later in the week we learned that former president George W Bush suddenly resurfaced to give his candid impressions of republican candidate, Ted Cruz.  “I just don’t like the guy”. In the coming weeks I also look forward to Bush’s other poignantly stated and randomly unsolicited opinions. like “Carly Fiorina…she looks like someone whose hair smells”

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This week we also learned that Jeb Bush finds the actress who plays Supergirl “Hot”. Creepiness aside, I think this revelation opens a door into Jeb’s unconscious desire to meet a powerful woman who will, like he said about his brother George W post 9-11,  “Will keep him safe”.

Lastly, we were witness to the spectacle  Hilary Clinton’s Bengazi hearings.  Through 11 hours of tough questions, it was reported that Hilary Clinton used the techniques of Yoga to stay relaxed. I wonder if she was able to mirror the practices of many Yogis who, through careful meditation and biofeedback, are  able to slow her heartbeat from 88 beats to 32 beat per minute  In that case, its quite possible that the former first lady was able to maintain a semi-conscious state broken only by certain involuntary motions of the body such as rapid eye movements and the noisy expulsion of gas.

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Right after the Benghazi hearing, Hilary appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and explained that the first thing she did after the hearing was to eat Indian food and drink beer/wine with her associates. Wow, who knew she could be that relatable! That is such a coincidience. After a tough 11 hour grilling from the Bengazi committee, I also like to kick back, flanked by my closest advisors, with a little chicken tikka and a good bottle of the ol’ Pinot.

Masters Of Sex- “You’ve Been Dan Logan’ed”

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Open A window- I’ve been a fan of masters of sex from the first season. The acting and dialogue is first rate and it has the simmering love story for the two central characters that is seemingly necessary for these kinds of dramas (ie “The Affair”).

However, now in its third season the show has taken a dip for the worse and the reason is the godawful stench of Perfume/scents mogul, Dan Logan played by The Good Wife’s Josh Charles.

Something smells fishy- On The Good Wife, Josh Charles played a pragmatic, cerebral quick on his toes, lawyer, “Will Gardener”. His innate unruffled, taciturn demeanor played well to the thoughtful and strategizing lawyer he played on the show. However, on “Masters” his strengths as an actor seem wasted on a character that is meant to be more of a suave worldly charmer.  It seems hard to imagine that this undemonstrative guy could inspire Virginia Johnson to play hooky and go to vegas or that he could unlock the secret scent of sex any more than he could unlock the drawer to his own medicine cabinet. Also, what the hell is a perfume mogul anyway?! Does this career even exist and, if so, why cast it with an actor with such a pronounced nose (Josh Charles)? isn’t this casting choice a bit too “on the nose”? and, even if we accept the conceit of the show, that perfume moguls do exist and yes they often have big shnozzes, why would these people conduct their own research? Even back in 1967, wouldn’t these people be able to hire their own assistants to do all the boring lab work?

I guess its too easy to say the addition of Josh Charles alone has “stunk up” the set of Masters Of Sex.  The writers deprived Charles of much of a backstory and are making him far too much of a smitten, reactive agent on the show to be a truly compelling character.  Also, part of what makes Masters Of Sex work is the fiery dynamic of Sheen and Caplan. They’re both volatile with quick shifts into anger or hurt.  Charles “go to” reaction as an actor is to be on his guard and slow to show how he really feels.

So one wonders why Charles, aside from the weekly grind of being on a network show like The Good Wife, opted to transition into a less interesting character on a more niche show like Masters?  Maybe the newly married Charles just wanted to do a few sex scenes with Lizzy Caplan to relieve some of his marital monotony.

First Post

Why Now?

For a long time I’ve resisted the impulse to create my own blog due to the sheer volume/morass of other blogs out there and inherent vanity of publishing my own opinions which I felt was lacking in my character.  But then I remembered that I’ve been posting my thoughts with great frequency on my website, facebook, and other online channels for several years. Clearly, I had no vanity left.

But, the difference, I assumed, in writing a blog would be the “personal nature” of the posts.  I’d have to go and open up my psyche to those internet trolls who had the misfortune of having enough time on their hands to read about about how I felt about this or that local restaurant, how my local barista didn’t serve my coffee with enough fawning, and the usual dreck of people that feel they are being treating unfairly by life and want to rail to the heavens about it.

But this is my blog and can be as superficial and lightweight as I choose. No topic is too vacuous. I’ll leave the people who foam about politics, or this or that social social injustice to be alone with their opinions while I embark on the topics which obsess and perplex me.With that whole rambling intro out of the way, I’d like to talk about the recent movies I’ve stumbled across this week on cable and my random thoughts/criticisms about them.

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 “Wild” (with reese witherspoon)-   (Those darn flashbacks)  I started to watch “The wild” yesterday because it had been nominated for Reese Witherspoon’s peformance and I was curious about it.  Reese Witherspoon has always struck be as a kind of female Tom Hanks in that she sort of has an “every woman” quality and you automatically root for her every time she sets foot onscreen.  The film “The wild” also shares some similarities with Tom Hanks peformance in “Castaway” in that this film too is, in large part, a look at one person’s struggle with nature.  The film strives to be a journey both figuratively for the characters psychological growth and literally through her 300 mile trek through some very harsh and unforgiving terrain.  For a while we see Witherspoon’s character struggles with her past (drug abuse, divorce, and death) through constantly re-occuring flashbacks. Unfortunately,  I found the sudden flashbacks distracting from the main action.  Because Witherspoon’s character did not have another character to vent her feelings to, the use of flashbacks were meant to give us some background on why she set off on a 300 mile hike alone and how this trip was meant to cleanse her of past pain.  This flashbacks, however, were disjointed and served as brief snapshots that did not allow the audience to get a true sense of this woman’s past life. only brief scenes of her abusing drugs, in the throes of casual sex, or railing at her mom were like a quick 20/20 treatment of the woman’s life  Some prolonged 10-20 minute scenes prior to her trek might have filled in more of the blanks and been better for the flow of the piece.

Too “Hot” for Hiking Another thing which bugged me is that each time Witherspoon’s character was getting into some trouble: no food, no water, boots ruined etc, she would be saved by some convenient, usually horny male passerby who offered her just enough but no more than enough aid go get back on her feet and continue her pathetic journey.  “Hot women are kinda scarce in these here parts” might have been the subtitle for a lot of these exchanges.  Witherspoon’s looks, even without make-up or her usual Legally Blond pluck, was still too much for a lot of the local yokels and, for me, removed much of the danger element necessary for these survivalist flicks. In addition, as soon as one of the male hiker’s or motorists approached Reese, some wife or friend would come by and cut the tension.  To be fair, there was one almost-rape scene later that was slightly tense but one gets the sense that even if attacked by some sex starved bark-eater, Reese would have pulled out some fancy judo moves she learned the night before by reading some self-defense manual.

Where’s the epiphany? – When I noticed that there was only 10 minutes left in the film, I feared that the ending would totally suck and I was not mistaken.  There was a little obligatory voice-over narration where Reese looks satisfyingly over a bridge at the end of her trek and says some things about redemption blah blah blah but I wondered how, since most of her problems stemmed from her interactions with other people, how she got the tools to go back to her life by spending 3 months away from society.  Vacations are nice too but they are only temporary.  Not to be a shrink here, but I think Reese spent those 3 hiking months building up her survivalist skills but needed to get to the root cause of a lot of her problems and develop better people skills.

Some random other thoughts about “Inside Llewelyn Davis”-

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I won’t talk at-length about this film but, aside from the pleasant soundtrack, much of the film just kind of lay there for me.  The taciturn lead of the film, actor Oscar Isaac, had too much of a resemblance to The Jim Gaffigan show’s, foil character, Adam Goldberg so that I kept thinking, “Why didn’t they just get Adam Goldberg”?  but other than a few tense exchanges the film, I felt, did little more than create a small time capsule of one forgettable folk singer’s life.