Netflix Original: The Fundamentals of Caring

If Paul Rudd was discovered to have the (ahem) “Bill Cosby problem”, I’m pretty sure that America would fall into a depression and cry for days. Currently, Rudd is competing with Chris Pratt over (seemingly) the title of  NICEST GUY EVER. I pray that neither one of them gets caught banging the babysitter so much as jaywalks

Rudd’s character Ben has a secret in The Fundamentals of Caring and he spends an hour and a half running from it, but not in the way that people do in John Grisham movies. He’s suffered a trauma and tries to bury it by caring for Trevor (Craig Roberts), a young man suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is as bad as it sounds. At first, Ben and Trevor clash, but then an impromptu road trip bonds them and they deal with the awful stuff that’s making them miserable

Along the way, they pick up Dot (Selena Gomez) and Peaches (Megan Ferguson), the latter of whom is extremely pregnant. Our unhappy quartet attempt to mesh into a dysfunctional family as they seek out cheesy roadside attractions and, ultimately, seek out Trevor’s horrible, estranged father (Frederick Weller)

Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts
Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts

One hidden gem in the cast is Trevor’s mother, Elsa, played by Jennifer Ehle. Ehle plays Elsa as no-nonsense English woman, who has been worn down by her son’s disease and her husband’s desertion, but she also has an undeniable vulnerability. Elsa’s doesn’t coddle Trevor, but she shows great concern when Ben suggests taking him more than an hour from his house for the first time ever. The greatest compliment I can give Ehle is that I was left wanting more Elsa

I am loathe to pile on the late, lamented Vinyl (as I did here), but the five minutes of Bobby Cannavale that we get in The Fundamentals of Caring are better than everything he did in the (lamented) first only season of Vinyl

Fundamentals comes from the mind of Rob Burnett, who was David Letterman’s right-hand man for many years. Some will find tonal qualities similar to the Apatow Empire, but I also detected a little hint of We Need To Talk About Kevin and the slightest aroma of Little Miss Sunshine. Not entirely a comedy, but also not strictly a drama. Netflix has once again shown that it’s investment into original content makes for quality programming. While Fundamentals may not be in the same league as HBO’s excellent All the Way, it’s another “date night” winner for Netflix

The Fundamentals of Caring is now streaming on Netflix

Roadies: Your New Favorite TV Show

In every Cameron Crowe film, there’s a character that’s more than a protagonist. There’s a voice and conscience that carries you through the dialogue and action. John Cusack‘s Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything… set the standard with his slacker uncool coolness mixed with punk sensibilities. Campbell Scott didn’t do as well as Steve Dunne in Singlesbut still managed to make a mark with his insecure sensitivity and lovable loser vibe. Orlando Bloom and Bradley Cooper both missed the mark in Elizabethtown and Aloha, respectively, and the films were largely unsatisfying because the voice wasn’t there

In Crowe’s new original series for Showtime, Roadies, I would argue that Imogen Poots (playing Kelly Ann) is the voice. Some will say that it’s Luke Wilson‘s fairly standard Bill, but I would argue that Poots’ character is more interesting and, indeed, one of the stronger female characters Crowe has ever created. Not that his cupboard is bare in that department. I would point to Lili Taylor‘s role in Say Anything… and Susan Sarandon‘s underrated Hollie Baylor from Elizabethtown as evidence that the man can write interesting female characters

Roadies updates Crowe’s love letter to the 70s arena rock, Almost Famous (easily one of Crowe’s best films), with a modern take on the crews that make the rockin’ world go ’round. Kelly Ann is light rigger who wants to leave the game, but she loves music too much. Bill is a rock and roll lifer who is going through a midlife crisis, in denial that he’s got feelings for his married co-worker Shelli (played by Carla Gugino). Everyone else is the rock and roll family tries hard to avoid growing up and committing the most egregious of sins, selling out

One of the more inspired casting decisions comes in casting comedian Ron White as uber rock shaman Phil. SPOILER: Mr. White is notorious for not liking the actor’s schedule, so he doesn’t make it past the pilot. But, in the time he is onscreen, he comes off as a mix of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, trying to impart his Rock God wisdom to a young, impressionable generation of young roadies, who are aware they missed rock’s best days

Crowe has made his name by creative use of music and Roadies continues this, particularly in a climactic scene where Kelly Ann runs back to her rock destiny to the strains of Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly” (Crowe directed the band’s documentary Pearl Jam 20 and has known the band’s members for more than a quarter century). After the disaster that was Aloha (the film was undercut before it’s release, thanks to the infamous Sony e-mail hack), this feels a lot more like Crowe going back to his mother’s milk of rock and roll. The life of the roadie is full of drudgery, dull boring routines, and little moments of magic mixed with ordinary, messy life

Take the ride

Showtime has made the premiere episode of Roadies available without a subscription. You can stream it on You Tube here

 

Review: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 2

If you don’t like Tina Fey, this is where you depart. If you didn’t like 30 Rock or Mean Girls or any of Tina’s stuff from SNL, you won’t like this. Don’t torture yourself trying to get what all the cool people rave about. I’m not sure when you missed your opportunity to be cool, but it happened and you probably need to examine that at least a little. Otherwise, the rest of your life will just be a pointless journey

Ah, the darkness

When I tried to explain the premise of Kimmy, people who weren’t familiar with it would recoil when I would explain it was about a woman who was kidnapped and enslaved by a cult leader in an underground bunker, but then rescued and had to adjust to life in New York City and the ensuing emotional pain. Come to think of it, as I type that, I can see that it doesn’t really seem that funny. Not like “wacky black doctor and his lawyer wife navigate family life as he wears loud sweaters”

Too soon?

But, that’s sort of the thing about Tina Fey’s voice. She insists on doing things the hard way. How can anyone give a damn about a spoiled bunch of people producing a late night TV show? Well, she made us do it. She’s that good and that smart. It’s kind of confounding

One of the great weapons she has going for her in Kimmy is the delightful Ellie Kemper. It is literally impossible not to like Ellie Kemper. I think that somewhere, ISIS leaders have even instructed their guys to give her a pass. She’s just one of those people whose onscreen persona makes you want to hang with her or bake her something or buy her a gift card, but the gift card would probably put her in a tough spot, because you always go over on those and then you’re making the recipient come out-of-pocket, which sucks. And then, you, maybe come up a little short and you end up with a gift card with like $1.83 left on it and that won’t buy anything, so you just have this damn gift card on your bar at home next to the electric bill and it just sits there for like 8 months because it’s not good for anything

Ellie Kemper would forgive you for the lousy gift card

In season 2 of Kimmy, things do, indeed, get darker, as Kimmy tries to find her mother (Lisa Kudrow, in some damn fine casting), while trying to help her alcoholic shrink (Fey) and deal with one of her former bunker mates getting married. Along the way, she gets a job as an Uber driver and has to deal with many outrageous situations

Her friend Titus (Tituss Burgess) gets out of his own selfishness long enough to score a boyfriend, which brings about many hilarious complications. Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) navigates life after divorce and Lilian (Carol Kane) does some crazy stuff, but it doesn’t really matter because watching Carol Kane do just about anything is amazing

Also, we get one of the most disturbing cartoon sequences in the history of entertainment. Seriously, if your kids wander into the living room in the middle of this and go “OOH! Cartoons!”, don’t let them watch this or you’ll be setting them up for a lifetime of anti psychotics and millions of dollars in therapy

I’m serious

And Tina did it again. She made me care about this disparate group of people living in a place I’ve visited twice in my life. She’s just got this weird way of making it happen. I don’t know if the second season was as good, to me, as the first, but it was pretty darn funny

They leave a nice cliffhanger for season three. I can see them getting, maybe a fourth season, before Tina brings it to an end. I get the feeling that she felt 30 Rock went on a season too long. I think she’d rather end Kimmy a little soon than risk going on too long

So, yeah, it’s a light, airy sitcom about a woman dealing with abandonment issues. It’s definitely one of those quirky comedies that networks have no idea how to market these days (Community, anyone?). That’s why Netflix is Netflix: They make it work when the networks can’t

But, trust me, on that cartoon thing

(Season 2 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is now streaming on Netflix)

REVIEW: House of Cards, Season 4

DISCLAIMER: This post is full of spoilers! You have been warned!

I admit that I was pissed when I saw it

I had told everyone they wouldn’t do the assassination attempt thing. After all, West Wing and Scandal had already done it (not to mention films like Bulworth and Taxi Driver). Should I prepare for Julia Louis-Dreyfuss to take a bullet next season on VEEP?

But, there it was in episode 4: Zoe Barnes’ old pal Lucas Goodwin attempts to exact revenge on Frank Underwood by going all John Hickley, Jr. on him. NOTE: This happens as Underwood is approaching some protestors to discuss why they hate him, so NOBODY DO THIS! If you’re a politician, just ignore the haters in person and throw shade on them on Twitter. Much safer

But, after I got over my disappointment at HOC‘s recycling, I chilled out and enjoyed a great season. This is a nice rebound from a somewhat underwhelming season 3. I would rank the seasons, thusly (descending order): 2,1,4,3

The interesting addition to this season is Frank’s dreams/visions which run from the semi-erotic (think Eyes Wide Shutultra violent (Quentin Tarantino meets David Lynch). He dreams of murdering Claire before the assassination and then, while in a coma, he dreams of banging Zoe. The ethereal feel of Frank’s subconscious are woven throughout the season and add a textural changeup

If Robin Wright doesn’t win an Emmy for her work this season, it won’t happen. Claire Underwood deftly reconciles with her husband (kind of), attempts to run for office in Texas, make amends with her dying mother (played by the wickedly talented Ellen Burstyn, who probably deserves a supporting Emmy), watches over her wounded hubby, negotiates a deal with Russia, and maneuvers her way onto the party’s ticket with Frank. Lady MacBeth needs an Adderall

Frank survives the shooting and faces down Republican challenger Will Conway, a handsome veteran who has a family so beautiful that they would make Norman Rockwell weep. Claire arranges for Frank to be embarrassed in South Carolina by some old pictures of his father in Klan garb, so Heather Dunbar beats Frank in his home state. That’s right: Having a family member with Klan connections hurts you in The Palmetto State these day

Heather continues to dog Frank until the press finds out that she met with Lucas prior to the assassination. She is investigated and does the unthinkable: She tells the truth. Her campaign dies

Meanwhile, Conway continues to crush Frank, even after the president climbs out of his hospital bed. So, Frank and Claire deftly engineer a plan to put Mrs. Underwood on the ticket as vice-president, screwing Secretary of State Catherine Durant and throwing the Democratic Convention in Atlanta into a tizzy. It’s Claire’s mother who suggests that if Claire helps her end her life, it could be a political bonus for the Underwoods. After her mother’s death, Claire returns to Atlanta from Texas where she secures the spot as Franks’ running mate

Then, Frank has to face the threat from ICO (HOC‘s version of ISIS). As Conway scores political point after political point, President Underwood reaches his limit and allows an American to be beheaded without military intervention, under the presumption that showing toughness to terrorists will reap political benefits. And that’s the end of season 4

We get to see some old friends (Zoe in dream form, Freddy the Rib Man, and even our old buddy President Walker) and a few new ones (Neve Campbell is just great as Claire’s consigliere). Ultimately, this is a satisfying season and, I think, we could get two more from Beau Willimon and his troops. I had previously thought that next season might be the last, but we haven’t even made it through re-election

As for Frank, it becomes clear that he is the Bizarro Jed Bartlet. While both are Democrats and both have been shot, Jed is from the North and Frank is from the South. Jed attended the University of Notre Dame, while Frank went to the (fake) Citadel. Frank lies for political gain, while Jed’s lies are about his illness. Also, Frank kills his political enemies while Bartlet tends to hire his. Also, Jed Bartlet doesn’t arrange lovers for his wife

The 4th wall breaks are used judiciously and always make perfect sense. It’s really amazing that Willimon doesn’t overuse the device. It has become something we all expect, so it seems that the audience anticipates it and the more you delay it, the more they want it. Kind of like a rock band doing their hit from thirty years ago: The boys may get tired of doing it, but the audience wants to hear it every night

Kevin Spacey so inhabits Frank Underwood that it seems almost cliche to talk about how good he is. In fact, the assassination attempt and subsequent coma give the rest of the cast a chance to shine. So, in that, I suppose the plot device should be seen as a plus. Frankly, given our violent culture and our history, it’s almost impossible not to do a presidential drama without addressing violence to our Commander-in-Chief. As Frank points out, one in 10 presidents are assassinated and 1 in 4 are shot at. I suppose the sadness is that getting shot is such a part of our reality, not our fantasy

But, if they bring in a blue dress next season…

My Current Thoughts on Netflix Documentary Series “Making a Murderer”

WARNING: This post is filled with spoilers. If you haven’t seen the entire series, turn back now

When I finished watching Making a Murderer, I was all but convinced that Steven Avery didn’t kill Teresa Halbach. I continue to be stuck on one thing: The lack of blood/hair in Steven’s bedroom/garage. It just isn’t possible for that much blood to be scrubbed completely clean by a couple of human beings (I’ll address Steven’s nephew Brendan shortly). It would take gallons of bleach and such fastidious attention to detail that even the most OCD human being who ever lived wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. Plus, hair goes everywhere. For investigators to be unable to find any of Teresa’s hair anywhere in Steven’s house tells me he didn’t do it

Then I looked at the stuff filmmakers left out

  1. Brendan’s testimony can’t be considered credible on any level and the fact that he was convicted is an embarrassment. He was coached, prodded, threatened, lead, cajoled, and influenced every step of the way. He told several different stories before he go to the one prosecutors wanted him to tell. His own lawyer arranged for him to meet with detectives with no attorney present. Thus…
  2. The bleach on his jeans means nothing. Can’t establish when the bleach got on his jeans and, if Steven was really a criminal genius, he’d have burned those pants in the fire
  3. Sweat found under the hood? Don’t know how much sweat (which evaporates) would have to be present to leave DNA, but, ok. That’s one for the prosecution
  4. Steven’s “obsession” with Teresa (several articles referring to how she was creeped out by Steven from a previous visit to the house). I’ll put this one down as a win for the prosecutors. It certainly is weird that Steven would dial *67 to hide his numbers and then not do it. But, if Teresa was creeped out or threatened by Steven’s earlier behavior, why would she come out to the address? She was aware that Steven would be nearby
  5. Steven’s “confession” to an inmate of violent fantasies regarding women: If it comes from a guy who is behind bars, it doesn’t carry much weight with me. Those guys will pretty much say anything
  6. Other articles have detailed Steven’s incident with the cat, saying that he actually “oiled up” or put gasoline on the cat before tossing it into the fire. Surely, only the most disturbed among us would do such a thing. Another one for the prosecution
  7. DA Ken Kratz and his disgusting behavior: As Kratz points out, this happened three years after the Avery trial and has no real material bearing on the Avery case. If you’d like to say that this speaks to Kratz’s integrity/credibility, that’s fine, but I don’t think this is “in bounds”
  8. The bullet with Teresa’s DNA on it: Not sure about this one, but, probably another win for the prosecution
  9. If Steven didn’t kill her, who did? I do find it difficult to believe that the police would intercept calls between Steven and Teresa, grab her, kill her, and then incinerate her remains on the Avery property. They’ve shown they’re incompetent and possibly evil, but that goes beyond anything reasonable. And now, court documents show that Steven thought his brothers could have killed Teresa. Not sure who the prime suspect would be if we eliminate Steven

BOTTOM LINE: The filmmakers clearly made a documentary series that was very sympathetic to Steven Avery. They also left some things out. But, reasonable doubt is the standard in our legal system and I feel that there was enough reasonable doubt to acquit Steve Avery

Now, let’s do our best to make sure Brendan can see Wrestlemania this year

Review: Netflix Original “Making a Murderer”

When the podcast Serial debuted in 2014, it become a cultural touchstone. People who had never downloaded a podcast suddenly became absorbed in the discussion over Adnan’s guilt or innocence. It even spawned an SNL spoof. But, it also caught the attention of the big content creators, who asked themselves “How can we come up with our own version of Serial and capitalize on the public’s demand for this type of content?”

Enter Netflix. Making a Murderer centers around Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1985 and spent 18 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. A multitude of evidence existed that could have freed him at several points during his incarceration, but, he remained behind bars until DNA testing freed him on September 11, 2003

Steven quickly became somewhat of a celebrity and the poster boy for the Wisconsin Innocence ProjectPoliticians couldn’t wait to have their pictures taken with Steven as they pushed legislation that would (allegedly) help people from being convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Meanwhile, efforts to hold officials in Manitowoc County responsible for convicting Steven were fruitless. So, Steven filed a civil suit that would have made some officials in the county personally liable and put a price tag of $36 million on it

And then, they arrested him again

 

Did he or didn't he?
Did he or didn’t he?

 

When young Teresa Halbach goes missing after meeting with Steven, cops scour Steven’s properties and eventually come up with Teresa’s charred remains. After a ghastly confession (outlining hair-curling allegations of sexual violence and cold-blooded murder) from Steven’s nephew Brendan Dassey, both Steven and Brendan are put on trial and the media eats it up with gusto

And that’s all I am going to tell you. I want this series to unfold for you as it did for me. I think you’ll find it as surprising and satisfying as Serial. I would point your attention towards a couple of “stars” who appear throughout:

  1. Delores Avery, Steven’s beleaguered mother, who reminds us that mothers will do anything for their children. She attempts to put on a brave face against insurmountable odds and becomes head cheerleader, co-counsel, psychiatrist, anchorwoman, and analyst for the effort to help her son. As she trudges along, it’s hard not to sympathize with this poor woman who is looking straight at a second conviction of her baby boy
  2. Dean Strang, Steven’s attorney, who comes off as a man who believes deeply in a legal system that continues to disappoint him. As time goes on, he finds his faith in the system continually being challenged. At various times, towards the end of the series, he seems exasperated and unsure why he ever thought Steven might get a fair shake

Making a Murderer addresses a number of larger issues, such as the burden of the State when taking away the liberties of the individual. Have we made the burden of the State too great? Have we not? Do we have a system that is truly fair? Are the victims given proper consideration?

If nothing else, Making a Murderer will make you pony up a few extra bucks for a nice gift next Mother’s Day

 

REVIEW: Netflix Original Film “The Ridiculous 6”

Sandler and co. ride the range
Sandler and co. ride the range

We need an intervention. Adam Sandler must be confronted about his disturbing relationship with Rob Schneider. I don’t know if Schneider has those proverbial pics of Sandler with a goat, but I just can’t understand why Sandler insists on giving this guy role after role, in which Schneider just CRUSHES it. And by it, I mean my soul

I kept waiting for Schneider’s appearance in “The Ridiculous 6” (23 minutes in, if you care) and my entire intestinal tract tightened when I saw him. He plays Sandler’s brother (they pick up four other previously unknown brothers along the way, totaling, yes, six). I have to admit Schneider wasn’t bad. But, that’s the problem with the whole movie: It’s not bad. It’s also not good

The story here is that Sandler was orphaned as a small child by an anonymous gunman and he’s blamed himself for his mom’s death his entire life. The Apache Indians raised him (a nod to Arthur Penn’s brilliant “Little Big Man”) and his father (played by Nick Nolte) comes into his life briefly before being kidnapped by bad guys, leaving our hero to make his epic journey and find his daddy

Do you like mid 90’s SNL cast members? Well, you’ll get a full complement in this movie. In addition to Schneider and Sandler, you get a brief appearance from Norm MacDonald and shenanigan with Jon Lovitz. Do you like current pop culture icons? Hello Blake Shelton. Do you like sex symbols acting like dumbasses? Voici Taylor Lautner

I was trying to think of who the audience was for this movie while I was watching it and all I could come up with was 14-year-old boys. If you’re a parent, you’d probably want your son watching this vs. Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. It’s not nearly as crude, but it does have the requisite number of fart jokes and sexual references. I guess the overwhelming word that describes this film to me is “silly”

The difficult part for the modern comedy western is that they will all be compared to the incomparable “Blazing Saddles”. Just as all modern campus comedies will be measured next to “Animal House”. They will all fall short, but, I suppose it doesn’t mean the genre should just be abandoned. Filmmakers should just be aware that they’re running up an incredibly steep hill

This is a solid 2-star movie (maybe 2 1/2 under the infamously generous “TV Guide” scale). I was a bit puzzled as to why Native Americans would be offended by this movie, as I saw nothing that was particularly offensive. Of course, I’m not a Native American. Maybe they were just upset that Native Americans would even be associated with any Sandler project

This is the first of four projects that Sandler will produce exclusively for Netflix. The marriage between Sandler and Netflix isn’t off to a bad start. It also isn’t off to a good one