Monday, December 19, 2016

SHOOTER on USA - ABSOLUTELY SATISFYING ENTERTAINMENT



We live in an interesting world. For those familiar with the life quotes of the Chinese philosopher Confucius you will recall that as a curse he stated the following: "May you live in interesting times." Well, if you are alive in 2016 you are living in interesting times. We also live in a world that provides a wide variety of entertainment options. Having spent an entire life working in media in one area or another I find myself linking arms with an ever widening group of program options that are wildly dissimilar from one another.

Hence, my two favorite new shows this season are The Crown on Netflix and Shooter on USA. Lethal Weapon on Fox would rank in third place, but only because Clayne Crawford may very well be the best American actor working today. Lethal Weapon is silly, ridiculous and mostly fun, but it will not be memorable. Crawford though easily could have played Bobby Lee Swagger in USA's Shooter. As I said, my two favorite new shows are The Crown and Shooter. My tastes are diverse, but good content is good content. This would be no different than saying you love Beethoven's symphonies and much of classic rock.

The Crown is an elegant, well-written, intriguing look at the life of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. A separate review will be done for this series which is a don't miss, but Shooter is also well-written and intriguing, although no one would label it as elegant. What Shooter does have is a non-stop nervous romp of what's next and the what's next comes just about every three to four minutes in this series. There are times when I'm so nervous I end up fast-forwarding a bit to make sure the world is alright. I squirm on the couch through much of the one-hour.

Shooter is based on the Stephen Hunter best-selling 2007 book, Point of Impact. It was adapted for the big screen a few years back with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, but the television version has already proven to be far superior to the feature film. Admittedly, creatively you can do much more with an 11 episode series (the series on USA was picked up today for a second season) than you can with a two hour film format, but that is besides the point. This series forces the viewer to pay attention. There are motives for everything in this series and you have to sit still since you have no idea what is around the corner. Bad guys are everywhere and our hero, Bobby Lee Swagger (yes, that's his last name and boy does he have it) is one of the good guys.

Some terrific performances are embedded in the weekly series with some standout work coming from Ryan Phillippe as Bobby Lee; and Omar Epps as the corrupt former Marine who is currently working for the Secret Service. Why are members of the Secret Service, the military and CIA all trying to set up former top sniper Bobby Lee Swagger? Beyond Epps, look for a solid turn by Tom Sizemore as the crooked CIA operative. Eddie McClintock is another high end corrupt government official and Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays an FBI agent who at least for the moment is attempting to assist Bobby Lee Swagger as he hides in plain sight dodging his would be assassins. These bad guys have set up Swagger as the assassin of the President of the Ukraine, even though what they really wanted was to set up Swagger to take out the U.S. President. His original would-be assassin missed both the President and Swagger. Swagger hasn't taken out either of the world leaders, but the world at-large believes he is the bad guy.

Swagger is the good guy. He was welcomed home as a hero after taking out 390 terrorists in the Middle East. He is an American Sniper who now has to find a place in society that doesn't involve sniper work. Our Swagger is smart, savvy, quick and clever. Additionally, he is unselfish and he does everything for family and country.  How do you not love Bobby Lee Swagger? By the way, he looks like Ryan Phillippe.

The suspense in this series is intense and satisfying and I can't wait until Tuesday night since I have to know what happens next. If you haven't committed to watching this show get a kick-start with the pilot which is currently On Demand. By the way, the pilot is the weakest episode. This show gets better with each passing episode.

The old NBC tag of must watch TV applies to this USA original. Shooter is must watch TV!

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2016


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Vincente Minnelli takes on Lucy & Desi with "The Long, Long Trailer"















Many thanks to Michaela and the Love Letters to Old Hollywood blog for giving us the opportunity to write a little about the charming 1953 comedy The Long, Long Trailer as a part of the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon taking place this weekend.  Be sure to visit her site and all the other terrific entries in this event!















For a TV blog like The Flaming Nose, writing about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is second nature.  Especially for somebody who's a Baby Boomer, the ubiquitous presence of I Love Lucy on the TV set for the past 60 years is a given.  We grew up with Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and certainly spent our childhoods -- at least I did -- watching each episode countless times and never tiring of a single one.  















To place The Long, Long Trailer in its proper time-frame, the series I Love Lucy started on network TV in the fall of 1951.  That same year writer Clinton Twiss published a novel called The Long, Long Trailer about the comic misadventures of a couple who buy a huge travel trailer. (You can read the novel here.)  Three years after Lucy's debut, MGM -- the studio where both Ball and Arnaz starred and co-starred in many films years before their TV super success -- tapped acclaimed director Vincente Minnelli to helm the lavish Technicolor comedy.  
















Minnelli, skilled in directing all genres, had the genius and nuance necessary to translate the enormous TV appeal of Lucy and Desi to the big screen, and without losing the sense that you were still watching the Ricardos even though in The Long, Long Trailer their names are Tacy and Nicky.  Viewers who had fallen in love with Lucy's antics in I Love Lucy wouldn't be disappointed with this super-sized version of their favorite and seeing the Lucy/Ricky duo in glorious Technicolor was a big plus.  















Really, The Long, Long Trailer is all about watching Lucy and Desi go through their well-known and loved paces.  Nicky is not far from Ricky as he is overwhelmed by Tacy's enthusiasm at the idea of trailer life even as he's intimidated by the sheer enormity of the beast he's about to have tethered to the back of their car.  There's a recurring comic riff about the intricate process necessary to brake the trailer to a stop, as well as the to-be-expected and hilarious problems parking and merely driving the 40-foot monstrosity over the picturesque scenery in the movie.  
















There is considerable comedy in these sequences but also some genuine tension that goes along with it. It's not only plenty difficult maneuvering that huge trailer but also not so easy getting along with a brand-new spouse in extremely close quarters.  In that sense this is much more than I Love Lucy writ large, it's a fully-developed storyline that fleshes out the characters and takes them through some heartache as well. (In terms of funny, watch for great Desi vs. the shower scene, Lucy cooking, falling in mud -- all the classic stuff!)















One of the genuine pleasures in The Long, Long Trailer is the snazzy mid-century American style seen to great advantage in the lovely color photography.  Truly scrumptious! Also delightful is the cadre of character actors who are seen throughout the film, including Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Madge Blake, Herb Vigran and many more.  This is a real time machine of visual delights.  















And it's absolutely watchable, especially so for fans of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz but also just as an example of a full-blown Hollywood Grade A comedy, and that's a special commodity.  Even sans the I Love Lucy studio audience laughter (which you might miss a little during the slapstick moments), The Long, Long Trailer clearly delivers all the inherent humor.  The presence of Vincente Minnelli made the movie more than it would have been under a lesser director -- more well-rounded, more human, more touching.  



















You can watch The Long, Long Trailer here online.  

Thanks again to Love Letters to Old Hollywood for bringing the Vincente Minnelli Blogathon to life!  
























































And for a hilarious parody of the sequence in the film when Lucy and Desi sing "Breezin' Along with the Breeze" you are guaranteed to enjoy this from the Punchy Players:





Sunday, October 30, 2016

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Goes Batty -- Part of The Classic TV Blog Association Terror TV Blogathon

This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association.  Click here for the entire line-up!



Vampires are big business these days but who exactly are we kidding?  They've always been big business -- big SHOW business -- from the early days of silent cinema until this very minute.  In terms of TV fun, they've been pulled out to do spooky duty many a time, including tussling with the intrepid secret agents on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. back in 1966, though not as a Halloween episode; it aired on April 1 of that year on NBC, of course!

"The Bat Cave Affair" is a crazy mix featuring a psychic hillbilly gal, Illya bullfighting in Spain and ending up hostage to a diabolical mad scientist Thrush agent Count Zark who's cooked up a plan to use bats to throw the world's air traffic into a tailspin.  The precognitive Ozark lass is played by actress Joan Freeman, veteran of many TV shows and movies and who played the girlfriend of space-bound TV favorite Don Knotts (post-Barney Fife) in 1967's The Reluctant Astronaut comedy movie.  

Count Zark is played by the consummate actor Martin Landau, a perennial acting man of many faces who was a frequent guest on TV series and co-starring in movies. Later in that Fall season he would begin his star-making role as magician/secret agent Rollin Hand in TV's Mission: Impossible which he played for 3 years.  

Rather than recap the plot of "The Bat Cave Affair" again here I will refer you to several sites with terrific synopses of the episode, such as Benzadmiral's No Man is Free site with plot here, Morgan Richter's Preppies of the Apocalypse with a complete rundown here, and TV Maze with a detailed storyline recap here.  But really, the charm and continuing appeal of this episode is in the look of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and particularly the brilliantly flamboyant work of Martin Landau as Count Zark.  In addition to the fact that Landau has never given less than a standout performance in anything, he's got an incredibly expressive face just perfect for topping off the traditional vampire flowing black cape.

So, with great thanks to the wonderful Lisa's Video Frame Capture Library site -- check it out here -- let's feast on some moments from "The Bad Cave Affair"!

























The Man from U.N.C.L.E. "The Bat Cave Affair" is worth checking out for its snazzy 1960s' vibe and the always entertaining performances of all the series regulars.  You can find and watch it online here.

Happy Halloween to all TV lovers everywhere, and be sure to check out the rest of the other wonderful entries in The Terror TV Blogathan hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association; visit the entire line-up by clicking here.  You'll really enjoy it!  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lethal Weapon on Fox - To Watch or Not to Watch



The following is my opinion...The review gets updated from time to time...

First and foremost I no longer watch much television. Having spent a career in it, I find myself now mostly watching Masterpiece on PBS, but I admit to having a great passion for the Lethal Weapon franchise.My guilty pleasure movie franchise. During the heyday of Mel Gibson he could do little to no wrong as an actor and his Martin Riggs character was certainly one for the era. The original Lethal Weapon film was released in 1987; and it was a monumental success for Warner Bros. The film series would have three additional installments over the course of eleven years and all four films would be gigantic moneymakers. Ultimately, one must ask the question - what took them so long to launch a series?

Back in 1987 no one would have dreamt that three decades later a broadcast network would launch the title into a weekly episodic series, but here we are with a Lethal Weapon series sans the gun in the promo material and in the logo itself. The Lethal Weapon was always supposed to be the character of Martin Riggs, but can Martin Riggs maintain Lethal Weapon status week in - week out? Even the sheer near brilliance of Mel Gibson couldn't do this outside of the eight hours of screen time that came with the filmed versions over an eleven year period of time. Having written that, Clayne Crawford (the current Martin Riggs) is a fine actor; and at times, an incredibly consequential actor (Rectify).

Now if you think I am about to be critical regarding a lack of creativity on the part of the television industry you would be incorrect. Choosing a highly recognizable brand and title doesn't prove a lack of creativity. Lethal Weapon was a prime project to have segued onto the small screen. My real question is: why isn't Lethal Weapon on FOX a gigantic blockbuster of a success? Needless to say, it launched well and it has held a stable, but flat number (dropping slightly from week to week), but this show is superb. Hey, it's not The Crown, but it's not intended to be The Crown.  The show is funny, heart string pulling and action-packed. Plus, it has Clayne Crawford who should have been a monumentally big star years ago. With the exception of the absolutely dismal 13th episode which appeared to be written by people that had never heard of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, this show is excellent entertainment.  

I have now watched 14 episodes of this series and the show is at times, good, fun and mindless entertainment; and quite frankly, there is a need for that in the television landscape. Most everything else is dark and darker. Entertain us please.

The team crafted an entertaining and at times, beautifully touching pilot. Admittedly, no episode since the pilot has equaled the superb pilot, but several of the early episodes got everything almost right. Even the technical aspects of the show have failed several times, including a badly edited episode six. Some of the guest-stars have proven to have few acting skills (try sitting through the Owsley episode again, I dare you), although the appearance of Hilarie Burton in the Fashion Police episode was a remarkable case of perfect casting.

The pilot offered fully fleshed out characters, lots of quick and clever dialogue and a poignancy about life, death, family and friendship. The series has attempted this delivery and most of the time they deliver successfully.

Damon Wayans (Roger Murtaugh) is a funny guy, but no one would accuse him of showing a great deal of range and/or depth as an actor. His family moments almost make the show worth the view, since there are some heartfelt family interludes that are touching and dignified in a true family fashion. Keesha Sharp, who plays Trish Murtaugh, is absolutely delightful to watch and kudos to her and her weekly performance for making these people worth caring about.

The achy heart and soul of this series is Clayne Crawford who had the unenviable task of playing Martin Riggs. It's stunning to think this is the first big break he has gotten after doing a large assortment of episodic guest spots, independent films and a lead role in the series Rectify. He's attractive without being Mel Gibson 1987 gorgeous and he is a good actor capable of being likable and even relatable. Watch Rectify on Sundance and see him play a character completely different than his Martin Riggs. Crawford had never done comedy prior to Lethal Weapon, but one wouldn't know it if one didn't know it. He's got terrific comic timing and he's literally as good at playing Martin Riggs as Mel Gibson was. By the way, I am not throwing that compliment out flippantly, since I'm a huge Mel Gibson fan (my favorite actor of the last 30 years), but Crawford is just that good at playing Martin Riggs.  



There are a few problems with the series and one of them is the fact that Riggs is a former Navy Seal. Riggs would never have been a Navy Seal. The producers are supposedly paying tribute to our men and women in the Armed Services. The episode featuring Michael Raymond James as a "troubled" former Navy Seal made me want to run far away from any screen displaying Lethal Weapon. Riggs' issues have little to do with his time as a Navy Seal (how many Navy Seals are now featured in television?) and all to do with the death of his wife and child. By the way, some consultant needs to inform the writers that Navy Seals aren't soldiers, but Riggs keeps calling himself a soldier. Call Craig Sawyer!

This is superficial Hollywood at its worst. Here is a line from episode #10 Homebodies: "I'm a Navy Seal. I can do whatever I want." My father served in the Navy for 20 years and he wouldn't have said anything even remotely close to this nonsense. No wonder why much of middle America now distrusts anything to do with La La Land. The cream of the crop enter this small group of people and an unhinged member could literally destroy any deployment.

Shockingly, or not, FOX has promoted the series heavily (Major League Baseball, NFL and all for free!), but they certainly didn't schedule it with tender loving care. This past week (written at the end of January, 2017), they aired the Christmas episode. That episode, entitled Jingle Bell Glock just aired a little more than six weeks ago, but here it was again. If you want audiences to sample your series, then use the frontloaded good episodes to gain a foothold. Why didn't some Program Planning and Scheduling exec say "run that fabulous pilot again." Is FOX secretly cheering against the show? The week to week ratings drop isn't helping either. In one way, the show is somewhat stable, but statistically, it drops almost every single week to week.     

Lethal Weapon has yet to receive a second season pick-up which is beyond absurd, but I believe FOX secretly doesn't want to renew the series, since they would rather have their own intellectual property to stick in that slot, but they are fools not to recognize what they have on their hands.  As long as they avoid another episode 13 (unlucky number, that it is) this series definitely has a second season in it.   

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2016