Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons Review

Posted May 26, 2019 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: TV Review

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When it was first announced that Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear were bringing back All in the Family and The Jeffersons by remaking an episode of each for a one-time event, well, a lot of people were intrigued. It’s definitely a different kind of way to appeal to our current obsession with nostalgia. And it was also one of the best attempts at it so far.

So how does one critique something like this? Well, as Jimmy Kimmel said, they just reused the original scripts. Nothing from them is changed. And of course they’re quite good scripts. The dialogue is as always hilarious and captures quite well how actual families converse. But is the new content any good?

Well, starting with the All in the Family episode, we have a great cast. Ever since they cast him to play Archie Bunker, it was clear Woody Harrelson was the perfect choice for the role. And he nails everything about the beloved bigot, from the personality to the mannerisms.

Then we have Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei as Edith Bunker and Emmy-nominee Ellie Kemper as their daughter Gloria. I personally was a little concerned about both casting choices considering they were both playing characters different from what they’ve played before.

But I’m happy to say I was wrong. With Tomei, I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise considering she’s spent decades establishing herself as a great talent. And as far as Kemper goes, well, if she hadn’t established it before, she certainly has now. Both really transformed themselves into these classic characters. And some credit must be given to Anthony Anderson as George Jefferson’s brother Henry, bringing some real humor and charisma to the role.

Yes, the Jeffersons also appear in the All in the Family episode as well. Comedienne Wanda Sykes was a good choice for Louise Jefferson as someone who fit naturally into the role. Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx was a nice choice for George. The make-up artists, hairstylists and costume designers all did a great job making him look the part. His performance was mostly very good. He also got the mannerisms down pretty well. But something about his portrayal in both episodes just wasn’t quite all the way there.

The actual Jeffersons episode, while still good, was the weaker of the two. Other than Sykes and Foxx, some of their casting was not the best. The one that stuck out was Stephen Tobolowsky as Harry Bentley. He wasn’t really too funny and I honestly couldn’t even tell at first who he who supposed to be playing.

We did get one great casting choice towards the end of this episode that you likely won’t see coming. It’s different and although at first, you might be unsure about it, you’ll quickly realize it was a good decision.

The Jeffersons segment also excelled with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson absolutely killing it with her cover of the classic theme song “Movin’ On Up.” Speaking of which, Harrelson and Tomei also impressed with their reproduction of “Those Were the Days.”

The entire cast, as well as director James Burrows, also must be commended for their success with the difficult task of doing the whole show while being broadcast live on TV. They could have easily screwed this up. But other than a couple of small issues, they pulled it off very well. You can tell they rehearsed a lot.

Overall, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons was about everything you’d want to see from this. It’s the kind of show I’d like to see them try out again in the future. By the way, if they ever decide to do something like this with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I have two words: Brie Larson.

8 out of 10

 

 

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Benjamin: Redbox’s First Original Movie Not Worth a Rental

Posted May 7, 2019 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: DVD Review, Movie Review

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Ever since Netflix got the ball rolling all those years ago with their original programming, the entertainment industry has come up with some great new ways to release movies to the public beyond the typical (and still completely valid and relevant) theater experience.

In fact, just very recently, Redbox decided to get into the original programming game with their first original film Benjamin, a drama/comedy starring and directed by Bob Saget, aka, one of the best parts of the ‘90s hit family sitcom Full House.

So, the only way you can watch this movie is to go to your local Redbox and rent a physical copy. So, did Redbox get off to a good start with this one? Well, even as someone who didn’t really expect much from this film, I was a bit disappointed, and very confused as well.

Saget stars in a mostly solid performance as Ed, a middle-aged father of two, who, along with his struggling girlfriend, decides to set up an intervention for his teenage son (the titular Benjamin) after discovering he is smoking crystal meth.

So Ed seemingly invites whomever he can get together to the intervention. This includes Ed’s older daughter Amber, his doctor friend who shares his first name (Rob Corrdry), his brother, his estranged wife whom he doesn’t expect to show up and two of his wife’s distant relatives. These two end up trying to steal a bunch of junk from his house by the way. None of this is as funny or interesting as it might sound.

Now, early on, Benjamin has some good laughs, a lot it coming from the interactions between the main characters and their eccentric personalities. But as the movie continues, the plot starts to progressively go off the rails.

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The whole concept of the film is that while these characters are trying to help Benjamin with his drug addiction problem, they also have to confront their own problems. This was something that could’ve potentially made for a good story. But unfortunately, the movie just had a little too much going on.

Everyone previously listed got their own subplot. And these mostly weren’t engaging or funny. Most of it didn’t really relate to the central drug addiction plot in any way. Honestly, the focus should have mostly been on Saget’s Ed and the way his own relationship troubles connected to what his son was going through.

Benjamin also suffers from tonal issues in that it’s another aspect that is all over the place. Sometimes it feels like it’s trying to be a goofy, almost cartoonish comedy with characters not behaving realistically. Other times it tries to act dark, dramatic and more down to Earth. And none of it blends together well.

Speaking of the tone, Saget as the director has the problem of never establishing a proper dark tone to go along with the serious subject. Even with a dark comedy, it helps to have a darker tone, one that you can create with elements like the lighting and soundtrack, something this film never attempts.

Honestly, for a lot of the movie’s runtime, I was left just asking myself questions like “What is going on?” “Why is this happening?” and “Why did they add that scene in?” Some of it gets answered by the end and that’s all fine. But when it was all over, I was still left feeling perplexed about a lot of the movie. And this isn’t done in a clever or meaningful way. It largely just felt kind of nonsensical.

Benjamin had some potential but overall just didn’t execute itself well. It’s not awful but it’s also not the kind of movie that is going to make people rush out to their local ShopRite Redbox when they can find plenty of better stuff on Netflix without even having to leave their house.

4.5 out of 10

The Twilight Zone 2019: The Comedian Review

Posted April 5, 2019 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: TV Review

Tags: , , , , , ,

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Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone is one of the most beloved TV shows of all-time, and for good reason. Serling’s creepy and thought-provoking stories are absolutely timeless. I would say that a revival was inevitable, but this isn’t the first time.

Now, I will admit that I haven’t seen much of the 1980s version (and I’ve never seen the early 2000s version). But if the little I’ve seen is anything to go by, this new series from Oscar-winner Jordan Peele looks like the one to beat.

The series premiere is “The Comedian,” starring real-life acclaimed comedian Kumail Nanjiani as Samir, a struggling stand-up whom one night after another failed gig meets a famous comedian named J.C. Wheeler (Tracy Morgan, giving an impressive dramatic performance).

Wheeler suggests that Samir change his act and talk more about his personal life, specifically, that he talks about the people in it. Little did Samir know, at the end of their meeting, Wheeler gave him a special power. Let’s just say that if he does it the right way, he could now use his stand up routine to play God.

Now, this episode is not the first time a TV series has tackled a premise like this, and this does admittedly hold the episode back a bit. Not to mention the fact that a number of the story beats are ones that you can sometimes predict before they happen. Having said that, there’s a lot to recommend here.

In addition to Morgan, Nanjiani does good work in the lead role as an ordinary man who gets in over in his head. Nanjiani doesn’t have a ton of acting experience yet. But like his role in the 2017 film The Big Sick, he appears to essentially be playing himself here.

Is he going to become the next Tom Hanks? Probably not. But he’s pretty much perfect for this role. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emmy-nominee Alex Rubens wrote the part with him in mind.

Speaking of fitting the role, Jordan Peele does a great job filling Serling’s shoes as the narrator. He has a good speaking voice and captures the mystery and dread of the narrator as he introduces us to the episode’s premise and themes.

And honestly, this really does feel like something Serling would have written if he were alive today. Everyone involved here clearly knows the original series quite well.

Even the episode’s director Owen Harris does a great job capturing the look of the original classic, while still giving it more of a modern feel. You might not think The Twilight Zone would work in color. But you’d be wrong. Getting a director who previously worked on Black Mirror was a smart move on their part.

This version of the series has a ton of respect for the original. One fear going into to this was that it would just be cashing on the original name without feeling like the same thing.

But with Peele as the narrator, an updated take on the classic opening title sequence and even bringing back the classic end credits style and music, when watching this re-imagining, there’s no doubt you’ve entered The Twilight Zone.

Watch the episode for free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19GO8-Rrn0g

FBI Pilot Review

Posted September 29, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: TV Review

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Dick Wolf has made quite the career for himself with these network TV crime dramas. He’s covered the basics of the courtroom on the original “Law & Order.” He’s examined the Special Victims Unit on you know what show.

So what next? Well, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of course. And it looks like he has another good show on his hands with this one.

Our premiere episode starts by introducing two young boys who are brothers. We don’t see too much of them here. But it’s enough for the episode to make it feel like we’re watching two real kids.

Then, the unexpected happens. A bomb goes off in a sequence with some impressive visual and sound effects editing.

And after the title card, we meet our protagonist, FBI Agent Maggie Bell (Missy Peregrym). Peregrym gives a solid if not at times basic performance.

After a second explosion, the youngest of the two brothers is left dead. Here we get our compelling side-plot for the episode: the victim’s mother blaming Maggie for her son’s death.

Maggie is admittedly not the most original character for this type of show. She’s a strong woman who uses her work to hide her emotions. But it’s still handled in a way where it mostly works.

The rest of the episode is a somewhat typical story of the team trying to find their culprit. This show is hardly “True Detective” as far as how to tell these  kinds of stories. But we get a few interesting themes in this episode that work pretty well.

What else is there? Well, Maggie gets a good backstory that we’ll definitely learn more about in the future. Although, the rest of the main cast are lacking in development for the time being.

Overall, it’s a good first episode that sets everything up well while also telling it’s own well-written stand-alone story. I could definitely see myself watching this show again.

7 out of 10.

IMDb Drastically Changes ‘Bottom 100’

Posted August 5, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Uncategorized

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Some time perhaps within the past couple of weeks, the popular film site IMDb (Internet Movie Database) made a major change to their ‘Bottom 100,’ which lists the lowest-rated feature-length theatrical fiction films on the site.

Previously, a film needed to have received at least 1,500 ratings from IMDb users to qualify for the list. But at this time, the movie needs at least 10,000 ratings to make it on the list.

The result of this change is a completely new list, removing several lesser-known films and replacing them with films a lot more well-known ones. Some new additions to the list include cult films like the 1990 horror film “Troll 2,” the 2003 infamous drama “The Room” and the 1997 superhero film “Batman & Robin.”

As of the writing of this, the no. 1 movie on the list is the 2008 parody film “Disaster Movie” from the infamous writer/director duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The film currently has a rating of 2 out of 10 with over 80,000 votes.

One major change to the list is that it now has many films with much higher ratings than the previous version of the list. Before the change, the vast majority, if not all the movies on the list, had ratings lower than 3 out of 10.

But as of the time writing this, you only have to go down to the 25th spot on the list to find a movie with a rating of 3 out of 10. This spot is currently held by the aforementioned “Troll 2.”

The 100th spot on the list currently belongs to the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan action film “The Last Airbender,” based on the popular Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

“The list is ranked by a formula which includes the number of ratings each movie received from users, and value of ratings received from regular users,” according to IMDb.

It’s uncertain at this time exactly when IMDb made this change. Although, you can find a forum post about the change dated July 14, 2018. So the change has been in place for over two weeks at the least.

*Update: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that to make it on the previous version of the list, a film needed 1,000 votes and that the new version of the list now requires 1,500 votes.* 

Ravenous Netflix Review

Posted March 6, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Movie Review, Netflix

Tags: , , , , , ,

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Zombie stories are extremely popular right now, and for good reason. With everything from the hit AMC series The Walking Dead to the recent Disney Channel Original Movie, simply titled Zombies, people just love these creepy walking corpses.

So I suppose now was as good a time as any for Netflix to step into the game and release their own zombie apocalypse movie, this one a French-language film, courtesy of Canada.

Ravenous (originally titled Les affamés) opens with some great photography from cinematographer Steeve Desrosiers. Desrosiers along with writer/director Robin Aubert does an impressive job at immediately sucking the viewer into the story. The initial lack of film score was an interesting choice as well.

The film then introduces us to our ensemble cast of survivalists, lead by a young man named Bonin (Marc-André Grondin). Early on, we get some nice moments of character development from some of the cast. Although, there are others that we unfortunately never learn too much about. 

Now, Aubert gives the zombies in this film a couple of more original aspects that give this story a bit of an edge. For one thing, these are some pretty quick-moving zombies, which adds some extra conflict for our main characters.

But even more interestingly, when someone in this movie is bitten by a zombie, it takes much longer than usual for them to become a zombie themselves. And without spoiling anything, let’s just say that this creates several effective emotional moments throughout the film.

Having said that, beyond some of those more original aspects, Ravenous is a film that at times feels like a pretty basic zombie apocalypse story, with some pretty typical character types.

And despite some mostly high-quality camerawork, there’s also some poorly filmed moments that hold the movie back a little. And while the story is largely well-paced, there are some slower moments towards the middle of the film that lost my attention a bit.

The film concludes nicely with an ending that could definitely leave some scratching their heads a bit. Also, don’t forget to watch until after the credits for an extra scene that several people are already analyzing.

Overall, Ravenous is a well-made zombie film that’s worth checking in spite of a few problems. 7 out of 10.

Snowed-Inn Christmas Review

Posted December 30, 2017 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Uncategorized

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Snowed-Inn Christmas is one of the latest entries in the by-the-numbers Lifetime original Christmas films. Yes, this is definitely one of those movies where you can predict most of the plot points before they happen. Having said that, it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to enjoy.

The story focuses on two journalists, Jenna (Joy Lenz), an intelligent, organized young woman who could probably benefit from lightening up a little and Kevin (Andrew W. Walker), an immature, irresponsible young man who can be a bit of jerk. Their personalities clash when their boss pairs these two polar opposites together on an assignment to take a trip and write a story on the true meaning of the holiday.

Things go wrong when their plane gets diverted and the bickering coworkers get stuck in the real-world town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Fortunately for them,  an older woman invites them to stay at the small Inn owned by her and her husband, the immediately obvious real Santa and Mrs. Claus (which for some reason, the film sort of treats it like a twist later on).

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The two start spending a lot of time together building up to their inevitable if not somewhat charming romance. You can tell exactly how this is going to play out: they fight at first, then they have a couple nice bonding moments and eventually develop feelings and get together. It’s nothing new but the leads have some charm and we do get one interesting and unexpected development with Jenna’s character.

Although, the development we get with Kevin’s character doesn’t really make a ton of sense. We know at the start of the film that he doesn’t want to spend Christmas with his family. And his reason doesn’t really end up being all that believable.

Additionally, the movie didn’t really need to include the real Santa and Mrs. Claus portion. It didn’t really add anything and the romance was much more enjoyable. It was like they just felt the need to add another Christmas element to the story, which wasn’t necessary.

Overall it’s definitely a watchable TV movie that keeps your attention. There’s plenty of better Christmas movies out there but there’s also plenty of worse ones. I suppose it can get a very mild recommendation (but just barely). It’s the kind of thing you can half-pay attention to and you’ll get some entertainment out of it.


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