Friday, October 29, 2010

On DVD: "The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series"

On May 14, 1998, Seinfeld ended its nine-season run on NBC in a blizzard of hype, with countless magazine covers, talk-show appearances, and entertainment programs mourning the loss of what many considered to be the greatest of all contemporary sitcoms. Sixteen days later, the one program that consistently topped Seinfeld (both in volume of laughs and depth of perspective) finished its six-year run on HBO in much quieter fashion. But that was typical for The Larry Sanders Show, which spent its entire life slyly and agilely skewering the business of show, while simultaneously crafting and interconnecting a cast of brilliantly distinctive comic characters. Its audience throughout its run was a fraction of Seinfeld’s, but it was just as innovative, ingenious, and fall-down funny—if not more so.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Theaters: "Welcome to the Rileys"

Jake Scott’s Welcome to the Rileys is a great-looking movie, moody and evocative, anchored by a trio of fine performances. But there’s an emptiness at its center; it regards the desperation of its characters from the outside, almost anthropologically. Scott and screenwriter Ken Hixon mount the conflicts and anxieties of their primary characters without seeming to really understand them—the people are conceived as constructs, and only puncture their obviousness through the skill of the actors playing them. But they can only lend the picture so much of their own soul.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Theaters: "Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields"

The true test of a biographical documentary is whether it is only of interest to those with a previous inclination towards the subject. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, for example, is skillfully made and compelling, yes, but it is also a show-biz doc full of recognizable faces, focused on a personality who has (for better or worse) been a part of public life for decades. But the question is: would we still enjoy the documentary if we knew absolutely nothing about Rivers or any of the names the picture drops?

On DVD: "Nice Guy Johnny"

There’s a lot that’s wrong with Edwards Burns’ Nice Guy Johnny, and we’ll get to all of that, but for now, let’s talk about what’s right: Kerry Bishé. She’s a new face to this reviewer (I guess she was on that new version of Scrubs that no one watched), but she’s fantastic here—she’s got a fresh-faced magnetism, outstanding timing, natural delivery, and she’s sexy as all get out. Her roles is old hat—the free-spirited hottie—but she doesn’t play it like the chestnut that it is; her work is rooted in openness, and just a hint of good old-fashioned longing. She’s got incredible ease on screen; the camera loves her, and by the end of the picture, the audience does too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Music Review: Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot"

This is my first attempt at writing about music, so be nice.

Full disclosure: despite an affinity for late-‘60s/early-‘70s blues-rock, I’ve never been much for Led Zeppelin. The artistry and skill are undeniable, but the Zep’s excesses are overwhelming, and there’s a kind of glossy emptiness to their music, a lack of the gritty soul that they were clearly striving for (and that is evident in like-minded contemporaries like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Yardbirds, and Exile-era Rolling Stones). Truth be told, Led Zeppelin only produced a dozen or so really great songs. But “Trampled Under Foot,” from the 1975 album Physical Graffiti, is one of them—it is, perhaps, their finest achievement, the fullest realization of all they wanted to be, and then a push past even their own conception of what they could do.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On DVD: "U2- Let Them Be: The Second Chapter"

Unauthorized music documentary DVDs are a bit of a snow job to begin with; as a general rule, they prey on a band or artist’s die-hard fans, assembling interviews with hangers-on and peripheral figures while carefully avoiding use of any of said performer’s actual music (licensing and all, y’know). But the manufacturers of these discs are sometimes capable of going beyond mere dishonesty. Take, for example, the 2008 release Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years: Busy Being Born Again, which is not only guilty of the usual shortcomings (the director interviews an assortment of producers and back-up singers, to the music of his Dylan sound-alike band), but turned out, upon further investigation, to be entirely recycled from an earlier title.