Hail, Caesar!

From Golgotha to West Malibu….from Busby Berkeley to Preston Sturges to the near never-ending series of MGM musicals – if you are of a certain age, or are familiar with That’s Entertainment (from 1974), then this is an ideal film for you.

Actually Hail, Caesar begins in the confessional box in a church somewhere. It is 4 in the morning, and Eddie Mannix, played brilliantly by Josh Brolin is feeling the need to get something off his chest. It seems he’s been smoking due to the pressures of his work (running a major Hollywood studio), and he’s promised his wife that he had or would give up smoking.

So begins the Coen Brothers homage (or is it a send-up?) of the old Hollywood , circa early 1950’s, when the studios controlled the actors under the star system. Now Brolin’s Mannix runs Capitol Studios – a thinly disguised MGM – and answers only to an unseen head of the overall corporation who is based in New York or somewhere other than Hollywood.

In truth, this is a zany look at the movies from actual movies being shot – there are westerns, a biblical film (Hail, Caesar), light-hearted drawing-room comedies – many within the huge sound stages, and others on location on studio back-lots. We get to the editing process, the studio campus and commissary, and even the uniformed guard at the studio gate has a speaking role.

We get to watch a director struggling and failing to get an actor to effectively say something like, Would that it twere so simple.

But wait there’s more. There’s a kidnapping, there’s the threat of the Communist scourge, Mannix is doing a film (the film within the film that we are watching called Hail, Caesar – A Tale of the Christ) that requires him to sit down with a priest, a rabbi, a reverend, and a Greek Orthodox cleric and ask them if they’ve done a credible version of Jesus.

Now this scene falls a little short of being howlingly funny, and it is more like a take-off on an old joke – 4 clerics walk into a bar – only it is not a bar but an oak-panel board room of the film studio.

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Horace and Pete – Louis C.K. Delivers an Unannounced (Until Yesterday – Jan 30th) Series

 

When you watch a Louis C.K. Comedy Special – you know what to expect and that’s exactly what you get. Louis C.K. loves to talk about sex in an infinite number of ways. And if I have heard him right – sex has, for the most part, driven his life both forward, backward, to highs and lows, and occasionally, into the ground.

There’s no differentiation between words that are considered bawdy or impolite by most people, and those words that you can safely say anywhere. That’s the Louis C.K. dynamic.

Louis C.K. is exceedingly funny on stage whether it is the small stage of a comedy club, or the larger stage of a concert venue.

Yeah, Louis is a funny guy.

That’s what I thought until I started watching his series which is called Louie. 61 episodes have been spread over 5 seasons, and we think there could be a 6th season although it is completely unknown as to when that might happen.

While his TV series, which airs on the FX network, has plenty of funny situations – it is a clear step away from his usual stand up comedic offerings. Louie, the series, stars Louis C.K. and is loosely based on his real life as a stand-up comedian, a father of two girls, and he’s divorced.

The take-away is that Louis C.K. can write (and perform as the lead) a TV series that has garnered plenty, and I mean that sincerely, plenty of positive and widespread critical acclaim. And to quote Louis C.K. himself, the series is both vignette-y and verite. Or said in English – a series of connected story lines that we can follow, and that approach realism. The same kind of life that many of us, in fact do, or might lead.

Or said another way – Louie the series – is a lot like a slice of life.

Which brings us to Horace and Pete. This show is so brand new that you can’t even find anything on it on the IMDB (yet). It dropped into reality just yesterday. It is not on TV, it is not on any premium cable channel. You have to buy the show directly from Louis C.K.’s website for $5. You can download or stream it. It comes in 1080P, or 720P.

The website says you can pay for it via Paypal or via an Amazon acct. But PayPal refused. Amazon took my money.

Horace and Pete are the names of two characters named ( not unexpectedly) Horace and Pete. Louis C.K. is the current Horace, and Steve Buscemi the current Pete. The original Horace and Pete’s was a drinking establishment created 100 years ago.

While we cannot say that Horace and Pete’s is anything other than a dive bar, or a neighborhood bar, or anything of a successful enterprise, we can say that it has passed through a number of generations of Horaces and Petes, and has remained opened to this very day.

The show is so new, that the upcoming (tomorrow) Iowa caucuses are mentioned. As is the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton who will appear in next Sunday’s Super Bowl. As is Donald Trump including his dropping out of the most recent debate.

Yes, this is a freshly minted TV show. Louis C.K. kept the news of this show under wraps, or concealed from the eyes and ears of any media types. In short, there was no publicity, no p.r. tours, and no appearances by Louis C.K. on any talk show to promote this venture.

Like I said, the show is set in a bar. In fact there are only two sets – the actual bar, and the apartment upstairs where both Horace and Pete live. Will this bar remind you of the set of Cheers – it will, but not in a positive way. Will this bar remind you of the tavern/restaurant called Archie Bunker’s Place. It will only without the humor.

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The X-Files – Returns to Fox

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Regarding UFOs and extratrerrestrials: We must ask ourselves –

Are they really a hoax?
Are we truly alone?
Or are we being lied to?

The Truth is Still Out There. At least that is what they present as fact. They also don’t lose any time pulling the tarpaulin away to reveal what is more than likely an immense conspiracy.

So begins the X-Files. Make that the return of the X-Files. This is Season 10, and the Seasonal Debut aired on a few days ago on Sunday on Fox. The Second Episode aired Monday night. but I’ve not watched it yet. By the way, did I mention that Season 9 of the X-Files broadcast its last episode on May 19th, 2002.

So according to some – this was the last show that needed to be brought back, Others, specifically fans of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny could not be more pleased.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are played respectively by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. They slide effortlessly into their roles – about as easy as putting on your favorite jacket. For Mulder it almost seems a tad too easy.

Anderson was only 25 when she took on the role of Scully back in 1993. Her eyes are just as beautiful and just as piercing and direct now, at age 48, as they always were.

As for Duchovny, he’s now in his mid fifties. And it shows a bit. Though not so you’d mind, He’s avoided the middle age paunch but has sprouted more than a few grays in his scruffy, or intentionally unkempt appearance, at least initially.

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While Scully has had a career in medicine since the FBI shut down the X-Files, it is less clear as to what Mulder has been up to. When we first meet him, he seems to be living in something of a wooded and lonely area.

Other returnees are Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner (on the left), and William B. Davis (on the right) as The Smoking Man. While Skinner looks hale and fit, The Smoking Man is only a shell of his former self. He now still smokes, only not through his mouth, but rather through a reinforced hole in his throat.

While the opening episode was more than a bit ‘talky’, a necessity to get us caught up with what has happened in the 14 years while every one was away, as well as to introduce a TV Talking Head called Tad O’Malley who is played by Joel McHale.

Now this O’Malley character is out to make a big name for himself. So, yes he has an agenda to push. Scully is not all that anxious to strap on the X-Files again, especially since the FBI had shuttered the door of the X-Files.

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Brotherhood: A Showtime TV Series (2006-2008)

Brotherhood was a Showtime TV series that ran for just three seasons. When Brotherhood began it was a summer series running from July into late September in 2006.

But for Brotherhood’s second season, Showtime moved the show to its Fall Schedule which was sort of a promotion for the show.

The show was about the mix of Irish gangsters, Italian mobsters, and the inner workings of the Rhode Island State government and the Providence city government. As IMDB described the show: Set in an Irish neighbourhood in Providence, the series reflects around two brothers on opposite sides of the law: one a gangster and the other a politician.

Now those might be called broad strokes, so to give you a better idea – think of Brother as being located somewhere at the nexus of where The Sopranos, The Wire, and the more recent Show Me a Hero might intersect.

The story begins and ends with two brothers: Michael Caffee, a hoodlum in the best sense of the word, and his younger brother Tommy Caffee, a rising star in the Rhode Island state government.

Michael is played by Jason Isaacs who we all hated in The Patriot. He played the murderous Colonel Tavington.

Tommy is played by Jason Clark (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).

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The key female roles are handled by Annabeth Gish as Tommy’s wife Eileen. Gish will soon be seen in the upcoming return of the X-Files to television. Fionnula Flanagan as the family matriarch Rose, Tina Benko as Kathy Parry who is Michael Caffee’s girlfriend, and Janel Moloney, a long time favorite from The West Wing where she played Donna Moss. Here she appears as a love interest for Tommy Caffee.

Pros: Very violent, explicit sex, and frank language make this show carry a label stating that it is intended for mature viewers.  There’s nothing timid about this show – from the ‘full monties’, to the corruption implicit in every vote, contract, appointment, or bids for jobs made within Providence City Hall, or the in the corridors of power within the State Capitol Building – everything seemingly straddles the lines dividing good taste from bad taste. Only that the line is blurred most of the time.

Then there’s a good amount of sex and drugs, as well as infidelity in every home. Tie this to the two lead characters – the politician and the gangster, and every thing ratchets itself up exponentially. Neither Tommy nor Michael are inherently bad people – but their drives for money and power can be overpowering. Michael will break any law, criminal or otherwise, to accomplish his goals. Whereas Tommy will also cross the lines – but for him it is usually best described as bending the rules to accomplish his main goal which is to get his family out of the neighborhood called The Hill supposedly an Irish stronghold in central Providence.

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400 Days from SyFy Films: Twin Cities Film Fest Insider Series

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Opening this weekend as part of the Twin Cities Film Fest Insider Series will be 400 Days directed by local resident Matt Osterman.

The film is released by SyFy Films and will have both theatrical releases as well as direct to video/streaming which begins today, January 12th.

Director and writer Matt Osterman lives in Roseville, Minnesota which is just north of St. Paul and just east of Minneapolis. Yes, this is a true Twin Cities suburb. The film will screen at Theatres of The Mall Of America in Bloomington, as well as other theaters across the country.

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400 Days is a psychological sci-fi film centering on four astronauts who are sent on a simulated mission to a distant planet to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Locked away for 400 days, the crew’s mental state begins to deteriorate when they lose all communication with the outside world. Forced to exit the ship, they discover that this mission may not have been a simulation after all.

Somewhere between Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Deliverance, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey lies this film, 400 Days. While TZ, 2001, and Deliverance were produced long ago, these seem to be important influences for Matt Osterman.

As the film begins, one man is being released from prison, and then we are whisked to a press conference somewhere. The Director of Mission Control, Walter, is introducing the four ‘astronauts’. Just keep in mind that there’s no physical Mission or Ground Control, and we are not supposed to be anywhere near Houston or Cape Canaveral. And there’s no rocket/space craft.

As they say, this is a simulation.

There’s the Captain of the mission Theo, who is played by Brandon Routh. On this day, when the mission will launch, he complains of having just broken up with his girl friend who has backed out of a planned marriage. Consequently . he’s severely hung-over.

Caity Lotz plays Emily the Medical Officer.

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Talking About the Golden Globes

I thought the GG Awards show was dreadful. I can take Host and MC Ricky Gervais being mean-spirited, and I can take Gervais being cruel while he thinks he’s being cool. what I can’t take is how smug he is about it.

If you want to be cutting edge while you are being callous, and on the wrong side of good taste – that’s fine; but Ricky acts as if it is his sacred rite to skewer all and sundry, and he’s so bloody proud about how well he thinks he does it.

Yes, most in the audience do take it in and are able to laugh about it. Hollywood has tons of experience in doing so – what with all the roasts, and a lifetime of having Mr. Warmth, Don Rickles on hand or in nearby Las Vegas, they all should be used to taking a verbal shot to the chin and rolling with the punches.

From another standpoint – a lot of it wasn’t all that funny.

The 2016 Golden Globes Awards Ceremony was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Now I’ve nothing against Beverly Hills, and even less against that particular Hilton hotel. The event takes place in the Hilton’s International Ballroom which means the 1,300 guests both eat and drink throughout the evening. So without auditorium seating, the lucky folks who need to get to the stage have to negotiate a veritable obstacle laden maze to find access.

This naturally takes up valuable time, and in many, no, make that most cases, the award winners actually vanish from sight as they go behind some decorative panels to find a set of steps that takes them to the back stage area or what is likely called the off-stage wings.

Then when some one is particularly long-winded in their acceptance speech they are give the instructions to PLEASE WRAP. Heaven forbid they should speak too long. The sky would fall in. Kudos to Taraji P. Henson, the Golden Globe winner for Best Actress in a TV Drama. When she was cued to please wrap, she said, I’ve waited 20 years for this. Now you will just have to wait.

And she took her time.

Of course there was a lot of time wasted by that ridiculous faux bear-head skit by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Or Ricky Gervais simply standing there and grinning. Never mind how much it costs to attend this event. By the way tickets are NOT available to the general public. What about the waste of our time.

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Then there’s the censoring of the improper language by those on stage. This is 2016. This is an event that rewards the best of the best for their professional efforts in Film and TV. These are adult actors performing in adult roles. Many of the topics in these films and dramas involve sex, rape, imprisonment, murder, criminal activities of every stripe, and/or people living out their lives that likely have moments of super frustration and anxiety. We hear all sorts of words in what we watch and what is considered Golden Globe Material – yet we have to put up with censorship at the Awards Ceremony.

I don’t get it.

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Shades of Blue – New NBC Cop Series

Long before television creative geniuses Steven Bochco and David Milch gave us the Emmy Award winning TV series NYPD Blue (1993-2005), and long before former Sopranos writers and producers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, put Blue Bloods (2010 to the present) on the air, actual New York City Police detectives carried blue shields.

Now in 2016. we have a new cop show. This time it is called Shades of Blue. The leads are Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. Here’s the jist of the pilot in just a few sentences. J-Lo plays Harlee Santos, she’s the single parent to her daughter, a student. Harlee is a detective and her whole crew plus her boss Matt Wozniak (Liotta) are corrupt. They shake down drug dealers, they rob and steal, and all under the guise of protecting the neighborhood. They are a tight group, and none of them live too high on the hog. In fact, Harlee is behind on the tuition for her daughter’s prep school.

There’s no wondering involved. J-Lo turns a bad shoot by a rookie detective into a good shoot. She gives a long speech about how the detectives are family and how they all take care of each other. A few minutes later Santos and Wozniak and the rest of the crew which includes Detective Tess Nazario, who is played Drea de Matteo (you knew her as Adriana in the Sopranos_, are dividing up the take from an earlier shake-down.

As I said these blue-shielders are scuffed up, and corrupt as hell. But Santos and her rookie partner, Detective Michael Loman (played by Dayo Okeniyi) are cleared by the IA dicks. So it is back to business as usual.

Later, Santos is putting the squeeze on a bad guy. She tells him, there’s no negotiations. He must pay her the figure she quoted or it is no deal. He hands over a bag of cash. Just then a group of police squad cars come screaming in with sirens blazing. The quick thinking Santos pulls out her gun and holds up her badge. I’m a detective arresting this guy on a bribe charge she tells these guys.

Uh oh – that won’t fly as the guy she put the squeeze on pulls out HIS Badge. He’s FBI. They’ve been following her for a while, and they suspect that Santos and Wozniak and the whole crew are dirty. The FBI guy Robert Stahl, played by Warren Kole, lays it out for Santos.

Help the FBI or go down for extorting a bribe. Then he gives a long speech about how some cops would do the time rather than rat out their pals. But he’s made a nice choice. Santos can’t help her and raise own daughter if she’s in jail.

Kole wants an answer.

There’s your set up. While I like Lopez, she just doesn’t seem right for the role. She wears too much make-up, too many revealing or flashy tops, and her hair always looks just so. Liotta may be a dirty cop, but in this story, he’s definitely not a bad guy.

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Indian Summers – a 2015 Masterpiece TV Series (PBS)

Indian Summers, a recent PBS drama from Masterpiece has good bones. I’m talking about heritage here, as in its dramatic predecessors. Nothing more.

In 1924, E.M. Forster penned his classic novel A Passage to India. The setting was India in the era of the British Raj in the 1920’s. Passage to India was made into a film in 1984 that was directed by David Lean.

The Raj Quartet was a series of books authored by Paul Scott. He began writing them in 1966 and he completed the series in 1975. Once again the subject was the British Raj in India, with the first book beginning in 1942. This book was called The Jewel in the Crown. In 1984, a mini-series, based on all four books aired on television.

Now, in 2015, Masterpiece has produced and aired on PBS a 10 episode series called Indian Summers. The story takes place in 1932, and the location is an Indian Hill Station called Simla (Shimla) where the senior British government officials, and their staffs, collectively known as the ICS (Indian Civil Service) moved their operational headquarters during the summers.  Simla is in Northern in India. The Himalayan mountains form a backdrop to the location.

Easier to govern once one has escaped from the summer heat in New Delhi – was the idea.

This series can be described as A Passage to India and The Jewel in the Crown meet Downton Abbey. After my recent (and continuing) immersion into Downton, I was eager to see Indian Summers. I had read the Scott and Forster books, and had watched the movie and the tv series that each had spawned. But that was 30 plus years ago. So I had high expectations for Indian Summers.

I am happy to say that expectations were met. This may have been 1932, and the British would stay on for sometime. Mr. Gandhi’s Quit India movement would not launch until 1942. Mr. Nehru would not give his Tryst With Destiny speech (announcing India’s independence) until almost midnight on August 15th 1947:

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

But as I said, we are in the late spring and summer of 1932. The colors are amazing. Be they the hanging wisteria that adorned the home of  the Private Secretary to the Viceregal of India in Simla.

Or the lush greenery of the tea growing plantations.

Or the meticulous gardens of the homes of the British

This was an India  of pomp and circumstance, of customs and traditions. The air was filled with heat, and dust, and rain. The place had its fabrics and textures, its colors, and its pace. But it was both and more and less than the surface appearances would lead you to believe.

At the front gate of the Royal Simla Club a sign was posted. Have a look.

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Billions – New Series on Showtime

This is a review of the pilot episode of the new Showtime series Billions. SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW.

US Attorney Chuck Rhoades is giving some advice to Brian Connerty his Assistant US Attorney. They’ve just had a visit from Ari Spyros from the SEC. Spyros is suggesting (a code word for urging) that Rhoades should be looking into going after a major player in the hedge fund business.

Rhoades: A good matador doesn’t try to kill a fresh bull. You wait until he’s been stuck a few times.

The bull? That would be Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod the hedge fund king. His firm Axe Capital, does well, very well. Bobby Axelrod had the good fortune to be out of the office on 9-11-01. Like a Phoenix, he’s risen from the fallen concrete and twisted steel and escaped the rolling dust cloud. He’s a Trump-like figure, only without the mouth, and without the politics.

Every thing he is and everything he does is about business, and his business is being the smartest guy in the room. And that’s any room, any time, and  any where.

Chuck Rhoades is talking to Skip Wolkowska, a businessman who’s been caught up (a code word for busted) in the gears and meshes of insider trading. Rhoades’s case rolled over Wolkowska like an 18 wheeler with a VW bug in front of him. Wolkowska, already convicted, his lawyer, and Rhoades’s father have arrived at the US Attorney’s office to ask for leniency in sentencing.

Chuck Rhoades: So now your cronies better see that they can’t trade on inside information, or abuse their position. Or they’ll end up like you. Broke, humiliated, and incarcerated.

So while Rhoades waits for the right moment, Axelrod decides to buy a house on the beach in the Hamptons. The price – a staggering 82 million. He already lives in a huge house on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. He doesn’t need to buy this house. But he doesn’t much care to have the US Attorney tell him what he can and cannot buy.

Bobby Axelrod: What’s the point of having ‘fuck you’ money if you never say fuck you…?

So it seems that the US Attorney’s office has a connection at Axe Capital. More than one in fact with the main one being Mrs. Rhoades – she’s the corporate shrink employed at Axe. Capital. And she’s good, very good.

It her job to keep all of Axe traders in the best shape they can be in. There’s a lot of money at stake, and Bobby Axelrod needs all his men to be at their best – all the time, and at any time.

So through a third-party, Rhoades sends a message to Axelrod suggesting that he not buy the house. It is a bit too much, and is the type of deal that can only put Bobby Axe on the front page of the NY Post for both arrogance and the ostentatiously colossal waste of money.

But Axelrod is smart enough to know that this is good advice. He’s also smart enough to be able read the tea leaves. He will hear through his back channels, that no case is being prepared but there’s a strong likelihood that there will be. He will get a visit from Mrs. Rhoades who hints that’s she’s thinking of leaving Axe Capital. That catches Axelrod’s interest as no matter what she says – Axelrod hears – conflict of interest.

Finally, a guy that used to work for Axelrod but left for another firm, wants to sit down withe Axelrod and discuss a possible return. Again Axelrod is ahead of the game – he susses out that this guy – one Danny Margolis might be working as a mole for the FBI.

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