Tag Archives: Comedy

DVD REVIEW: Quark: The Complete Series: Children and Quasi-Norms First!

In May, 1977, NBC premiered a [very] short-lived satirical science fiction series created by Buck Henry – one of the duo behind Get Smart. The series was called Quark and it ran for seven weeks before it was unceremoniously cancelled. The series was based around a United Galactic Sanitation Patrol vessel captained by Adam Quark [Richard Benjamin].

Quark Cover Art

Most of the components of the series were based on Star Trek – particularly the relationship between Quark and his Vegeton science officer, Ficus [Vegetons, being plants have no emotions] – The Captain’s “Space Notes;” the transporter [or at least its sound effects], and even one episode, Goodbye Polumbus, which was a send up of the classic Trek ep, Shore Leave.

Henry took the Get Smart template [smart stories about less than brilliant characters in important positions] and transferred it to Quark. The crew of the USGP ship included Gene/Jean [Tim Thomerson], a “transmute” who exhibited both male and female behaviors; Ficus [Richard Kelton], the aforementioned Vegeton; Bettys I & II [Trish and Cybill Barnstable], a human and her clone, both of them second in command [and both of them crazy about their captain], and Andy [Bobby Porter], a cowardly android/robot that Quark built from spare parts. They received their missions from Otto Palindrome [Conrad Janis], commander of Perma Station 1 and The Head [Alan Caillou], a disembodied giant head seen only on a video screen.

Besides the show’s riffs on Star Trek, it also poked fun at all manner of SF and space opera conventions. The episode, May the Source Be With You, had a pretty obvious target [and skewered it pretty thoroughly] and set the tone for the series. But the show was just hitting it stride with the two-part Flash Gordon spoof, All The Emperor’s Quasi-Norms, when it was taken from NBC’s schedule.

Much of the series has held up pretty well, but there are instances where the silliness doesn’t quite make it. Overall, though, even some of the effects hold up – the transporter is more colorful than Trek’s and the series did show a fair number of actual alien lifeforms [some of which changed shapes disconcertingly – check out Captain Walker who is radically different in each of two eps].

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DVD REVIEW: Desperate Housewives, Season 4: Sizzling Secrets Edition

Last season’s addition of two new couples [one gay] to the inhabitants of Wisteria Lane sparked a season of television that ranked right up with the first season’s deliriously/deliciously funny first year. Of course, one member of one couple was a former resident of Wisteria Lane who was returning after a dozen years. Katherine [Dana Delaney] and Adam [Nathan Fillion] Mayfair and her daughter, Dylan Davis [Lyndsy Fonseca] brought one of the season’s darkest secrets with them, while the gay couple, Bob Hunter [Tuc Watkins] and Lee McDermott [Kevin Rahm] brought the world’s ugliest lawn ornament.

Housewives, S4

Katherine brought one other thing to the show – competition for Bree in the Make-Martha-Stewart-Look-Like-a-Piker Sweepstakes and Adam’s profession [gynecologist] led to some unusual [and unusually funny scenes early in the season. Meanwhile, Lynette [Felicity Huffman] and Tom Scavo [Doug Savant] had to deal with Tom’s daughter from his first marriage, Kayla [Rachel Fox] – a true demon seed if ever there was one. Add to that the Carlos-Gaby-Victor triangle; prospective in-laws; Edie’s usual machinations and the drama of a gay wedding… sorry, commitment ceremony… and that would do for an entire season on any other show. Then, there was the tornado…

The balance between the dramatic and comedic aspects of the series has never been better and the cast really tore into the material. Season four even spawned an episode that could contend for FX and set design Emmys with the tornado and aftermath episodes. If Marc Cherry decided to end the series tomorrow, it could have no better send-off.

Continuing his innovations, Marc Cherry came up with a great concept for the DVD package for season four: Couples’ Commentaries. Each of five episodes has a commentary track by the actors who play one of the main couples on the show, plus there are two additional commentaries of the traditional nature.

Features: Audio Commentaries: Marc Cherry, Bob Dailey and Jeff Greenstein on the season premiere, “Now You Know,” and Marc Cherry, Nicollette Sheridan and David Warren on Mother Said; Couples’ Commentaries: Marcia Cross and Kyle MacLachlan on Now I Know, Don’t Be Scared; Dana Delaney and Nathan Fillion on Distant Past; Eva Longoria Parker and Ricardo Antonio Chavira on Something’s Coming; Felicity Huffman and Doug Savant on Welcome to Kanagawa, and Teri Hatcher and James Denton on Mother said; Getting Desperate: From Beginning to End – following the making of Something’s Coming; Spare Time: Hanging With the Men of Wisteria Lane; Cherry-Picked: Creator Marc Cherry’s Favorite Scenes [with optional commentary]; Alternate ending [with optional commentary]; Deleted Scenes [with optional commentary], and a Blooper Reel. There is also an eight-page booklet designed as a Fairview Reality flyer with realtor’s descriptions of the eight houses we’ve seen in the show, along with ads for local businesses and a list of episode titles and some [but not all] of the bonus features [at the least, they could have included the list of commentary tracks].

Grade: Desperate Housewives, Season 4 – A

Grade: Features – A

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW – Ghost Town

He sees dead people... and they annoy him.
He sees dead people... and they annoy him.

Ghost Town is one of those rare romantic type comedies that doesn’t fall prey to the over use of clichés or sappy sweetness. It remains smart, funny and sometimes bitingly sarcastic.

The premise of Ghost Town falls somewhere between the elements of the recent ‘Over My Dead Body’ and the older ‘Heart and Souls’ and this movie manages to capture the comedy aspects that ‘Over My Dead Body’ failed to live up to and yet match the reaffirming warmth found in ‘Heart and Souls’. For this reviewer it made for a funny and winning combination. Continue reading MOVIE REVIEW – Ghost Town

MANGA: COWA! Something Completely Different From The Creator of Dragon Ball Z

Akira Toriyama is best known for the manga/anime series Dragon Ball Z, but he has done a good deal more. One of his most entertaining is COWA!, the tale of a half-vampire/half-werekoala named Paifu and his friends as they seek a cure for Monster Flu – a disease that affects ghosts, were-beings, vampires and all other monsters, but not humans.

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The world of COWA! is one where humans and monsters generally co-exist in peace – human children go to school during the day, while their monster counterparts go to the same schools at night. Paifu and his best friend, a ghost named Jose Rodriguez, are typical kids who like to play pranks, skip school and enjoy their lives/unlives. When a strange illness strikes their friends and relatives, the two set out to find the cure. They enlist the aid of a curmudgeonly former sumo named Mr. Maruyama – but known as The Volcano – and another kid, Arpon, who considers himself Paifu’s arch-enemy, tags along [to swipe the credit if they’re successful].

Toriyama’s storytelling is clever enough, and his art guileless enough, that COWA!, although aimed at younger readers, is terrific fun for everyone. The characters are beautifully developed; the plotting is more than sufficient to hold one’s attention; the twists aren’t telegraphed, and the ending is satisfying enough that I, for one, would love to see more of the characters.

The first chapter [sixteen pages] of the book are in color – and beautifully done – which allows the reader to imagine the “real” look of the black & white remainder of the story. It’s kind of amazing to see the range of color to be found in Toriyama’s nights.

COWA! is thoroughly delightful.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW: Tropic Thunder: Apocalypse When?

Tropic Thunder may well be the most [deliberately] politically incorrect film I’ve ever seen – and one of the funniest. The fake trailers alone are worth the price of admission! Ben Stiller’s film takes aim at every level of Hollyweird culture, from trailers to fraudulent writers to explosive studio executives – and is on target far more often than not.

When the writer of a book about the Vietnamese War [Nick Nolte] suggests that a first-time director [Steve Coogan] send his actors into the jungle – which has been seeded with cameras and various practical effects [explosions, gunfire and the like] – the cast members find themselves mixed up with a heroin cartel headed by a twelve-year warlord [Brandon Soo Hoo].

Tropic Thunder Cast

The actors are a truly motley assemblage of stereotypes: Tugg Speedman [Ben Stiller] the action star seeking legitimacy; Jeff Portnoy [Jack Black], star of the Fatties franchise and drug addict, also seeking legitimacy; Alpa Chino [Brandon T. Jackson], a rapper breaking into the acting game; Kevin Sandusky [Jay Baruchel], an actor in his first big movie, and Kirk Lazarus [Robert Downey Jr.], an Australian actor with multiple Oscars, who has his skin darkens to play a black character. None of them really has much of a clue, which leads to explosive ranting by studio head Les Grossman [a virtually unrecognizable Tom Cruise].

Stiller’s direction is pretty much on the money as his movie-within-a-movie allows him to show Hollywood at both its strangest and its worst. When we see the trailer for Simple Jack, for example, we aren’t seeing an attack on the mentally handicapped – unless we’re looking at Tugg Speedman for playing a mentally handicapped man solely to win an Oscar – or Kirk Lazarus for explaining, in a very funny bit, why simple Jack didn’t work. And speaking of trailers, the fake trailers that open the film are spot on satires of specific genre trailers, and are among the funniest moments in the film.

Other highlights include black rapper Alpa Chino keeping Lazarus honest as he plays a black character, even while he [Chino, that is] tries to flog his line of merchandise on camera; Coogan’s director, Damien Cockburn, taking charge; Speedman using what he’s learned from Lazarus to wow his captors in a live, less-than-no-budget performance; that the film becomes a big honkin’ war movie even as it satirizes the culture that creates an Apocalypse Now; Matthew McConaughey’s turn as Speedman’s TiVo-obsessed agent, and Danny McBride who steals every scene he’s in as the film’s special effects expert, Cody.

Tropic Thunder may be the best film Ben Stiller has ever made. It’s loud and crass, joyously politically incorrect, and well under two hours and gives us all the action of movies thirty minutes longer. In a summer that has had a number of good comedies, Tropic Thunder literally blasts its way to the next level.

Final Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW: Pineapple Express: The Apatow Comedy Factory Narrowly Averts Disaster!

Seth Rogen may have used his action sequences in Pineapple Express to audition for his upcoming The Green Hornet, but despite action sequences choreographed for humor as well as thrills, his earnestness in them almost takes deflates the good-natured stoner buddy comedy that Pineapple Express really is.

Dale Saves Saul

Dale Denton [Rogen] is a process server who loves his job [mostly because of the costumes he uses to fake out his victims – and the time it affords for smoking up]. After a day of multiple disguises, he stops at his dealer’s place. There, Saul Silver [James Franco] hooks him up with some Pineapple Express – smoke so potent that you can high just smelling it! From there, Dale heads off for one last delivery before calling it a day – a summons for Ted Jones [the comically malevolent Gary Cole], the dealer who supplies Red [Danny McBride], Saul’s supplier. When Dale witnesses Ted and a policewoman [Rosie Perez] kill an Asian man, he freaks out and tosses his roach of PE – which in turn leads Ted to Saul, via Red and things go from easy flowing and happy, to omigawdomigawdomigawd! And I haven’t even mentioned Dale’s high school student girlfriend, yet…

If Harold and Kumar are the stoner Hope & Crosby, then Dale and Saul are the stoner Riggs and Murtagh. Director David Gordon Green somehow manages to takes Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg’s split personality script and makes it feel like a single piece. The action sequences ramp up the tension, but much of the choreography and stunt work have elements of humor to them that hold the film together despite Rogen’s dead serious approach to them. Fortunately, between the ridiculous action, Franco’s ability to just bliss out – even when under fire – and some way out bits with McBride’s Red, the goofily genial absurdity of the film is maintained.

Although Pineapple Express is the weakest of the productions from the Apatow Comedy Factory, it remains, largely, above the average because of its slightly hallucinogenic bromance and its integrity when it comes to maintaining its overall upbeat mood. And did I mention Danny McBride’s Red? Definitely one of the best parts of the flick…

Final Grade: B-

MOVIE REVIEW: Swing Vote is a Thought-Provoking Little Dramedy!

Touchstone’s Swing Vote is a political fable on the value of the individual vote; a tale of reversed roles in a dysfunctional family, and the best thing Kevin Costner has done in a decade. The plot revolves around one vote being ruined because of mechanical failure – and the courting of the supposed caster of that one vote by the incumbent Republican President [glossily played by Kelsey Grammer] and the principled Democratic challenger [a surprisingly delicate performance by Dennis Hopper].

The problem is that Ernest “Bud” Johnson [Kevin Costner] got drunk and passed out, thereby missing his appointment with his daughter, Molly [Madeline Carroll – Watch out, Dakota! Look out, Abigail! There’s a very talented new kid in town!] at the polling station. When Bud fails to show, Molly takes it upon herself to sneak into a voting booth [after sneaking a voting card and forging her dad’s signature]. Unfortunately, a cleaning lady accidentally unplugs the machine just as Molly tries to cast Bud’s vote.

Kevin Costner & Madeline Carroll

Once the word gets out that Bud will have to re-cast his vote, he becomes the center of a three-ring circus that includes the President and Democratic candidate. As Bud is interviewed, the two candidates are lead by their campaign managers [Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane] into adopting each other’s policies, until finally, Bud is called out by Bill Maher on national TV [“Bud Johnson is a dumbass!”].

Costner does a great job as the befuddled Bud, who has never recovered from his wife leaving him and Molly. As we see in the first two acts, he is a drunk who can’t hold on to a job packing eggs – and Molly is really parenting him. When he suddenly becomes the center of attention on all the news shows, he rides the wave without really thinking what he’s saying – or what it effect it will have on the country’s image around the world. The two candidates are so focused on winning that they ignore their principles as they try to persuade Bud to vote for each of them.

There’s a bit of speechifyin’, but it’s done with sincerity and a bit of unexpected wit, and really speaks to issues like hypocrisy in politics – while simultaneously giving us the story of a loser who finds something inside himself that he truly didn’t expect to be there. Perhaps the film works because Costner financed the film himself and thus felt a real connection to the material – or maybe, the film’s secret ingredient is Carroll, who is definitely one to watch. Whatever the case, even though it is a mite long, Swing Vote does work.

Director/Co-Writer [with Jason Richman] Joshua Michael Stern has, in Swing Vote, produced a thought-provoking little dramedy that deserves to be seen. Hopefully, it will corral all the moviegoers who choose not to brave the crowd of the weekend’s blockbuster fantasy/adventure movie [you know, the one with the mummies].

Final Grade: B

Music Review: Christopher Titus: Norman Rockwell is Bleeding!

There are stand up comics who make a career out of other people’s pain; comics who make careers out of their own pain, and comics who make a career out of the story of their lives. Christopher Titus does all three [though in fairness, the other people’s pain comes from the members of his family, and his friends…].

If you watched FOX’s three-season sitcom, Titus, you’ve probably encountered much of this material – watered down, at least in terms of language – before. Or, you might have heard some of it on one of his other CDs, or at one of his concerts. If you have, don’t think you can skip this new two-CD set.

Norman Rockwell CD Cover

Christopher Titus does something that no other comic does – he makes a childhood that should be tragic and turns it into humor. Whether he’s explaining why fathers are better parents than mothers; suggesting likely occupations for ex-junkies, or detailing the events of his childhood, Titus pulls no punches – in fact, on occasion, he leans into them.

With his machine gun-like vocal style, he launches into moments of heartbreaking poignancy just long enough to turn them into some of the funniest bits you’ll ever hear. Even the title of the album – Norman Rockwell is Bleeding – is a humorous reference to the utterly dysfunctional nature of his family. There are too few comics whose work is actually as important as it is funny. Titus is one of them. If you think your family is weird, you owe it to yourself [and, possibly, your family] to check out this CD. Just don’t be too surprised if some of it rings the odd bell or two…

Final Grade: A+

TELEVISION: Psych Returns With Big Surprises For Shawn!

When the third season premiere of Psych [USA, Fridays, 10/9C] airs this evening, pseudo-psychic Shawn Spencer [James Roday] is going to be thrown for a loop in ways he never anticipated. First, off, his best and partner in the Psych detective agency, Gus [Dule´ Hill] is basically given the choice of staying with the agency and losing his highly remunerative day job, or keeping his day job and quitting Psych. Second, his mother, Madeline [Cybill Shepherd] is in town – and his father [Corbin Bernsen] knew she was coming. To further complicate matters, the CEO [Christopher McDonald] of the company where Gus works has a haunting problem – the kind of case that only Shawn and Gus can handle.

As in Psych’s lead-in, Monk, this evening’s case isn’t the primary focus of the ep – The Ghost in You. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice something unusual in the way that Shawn’s investigative scenes are shot that is integral to the case’s solution. But what really matters in the way that Shawn’s relationship with his father is challenged by the arrival of Madeline – but her impact isn’t just on the Spencer men.

Gus & Shawn

It seems that Madeline is a psychologist who used to work with the police department. She has returned to not only visit Henry and Shawn, but to see if Detective Carlton Lassiter [Tim Omundson] is fit for duty. The sparring between them is quite literally priceless.

While Psych initially seemed like a series based on a gimmick, it has become a dependable source of entertainment because its writers know just when to lay off the shtick and spring a dramatic moment on us. The Ghost in You is no exception. Between trying to figure out how to keep Gus involved in the agency, without getting him fired at this day job – and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster ride that his mother’s surprise [to him] visit produces – as well as the agency’s latest case, we get to see sides of Shawn that we don’t usually see [which ties in, thematically with the Monk premiere that precedes it].

The Ghost in You is a solid ep that allows Roday and Hill to do their Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor of detectives thing to full advantage, while giving the show’s guest and supporting cast an opportunity to add texture and colors to the proceedings. It may because of the unusual shift of focus, but this is one of the best eps of the series, to date.

Final Grade: A-

MOVIE REVIEW: Hellboy II: The Golden Army Is Glorious Fun!

Although technically not a superhero movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of the most beautifully visual films of this or any other year. It’s also a combination of a lot of genres: comic book movie, action flick, fairytale, horror story, eco-fable, romantic drama, pulpy noir, FX flick. The thing is, because of writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s love of the characters, and his amazing visual sense, all of these genres fuse into a whole that is ever-so-slightly greater than the sum of its parts.

Hellboy [Ron Perlman] and Liz Sherman [Selma Blair are together in this film – a situation that is more a bit awkward. As Abe Sapien [Doug Jones] puts it, “They have their good days and their bad days… and their really bad days. Complicating matters are Hellboy’s longings to go public – FBI liaison Tom Manning [a woefully underused Jeffrey Tambor] is particularly put out by a photo which the big guy posed for… and autographed!

Into this chipper little situation comes an elvish prince named Nuada [Luke Goss], who wants to raise the legendary Golden Army to destroy mankind as mankind has been replacing nature with shopping malls and parking lots. His twin sister, Nuala [Anna Walton] is dead set against this and flees – encountering Abe in the Troll Market [think a fusion of the Star Wars Cantina and the Floating Market from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere], where he helps save her from a troll. Everything escalates from there.

HB vs. Golden Army

Perhaps The Golden Army’s greatest asset is Del Toro’s amazing visuals. All of the film’s creatures are beautiful [sometimes in very disturbing ways] and the sets are enthralling. The creatures are mostly practical and the prostheses and animatronics are absolutely state of the art. Of course, they wouldn’t mean anything if the story and the characters didn’t support them – but they do.

The film is probably hardest on Abe, who encounters romance for the first time in his life, but the Hellboy/Liz relationship takes some interesting and powerful turns as well. Then there’s the new kid on the block, Johann Strauss [voiced by Seth McFarlane], a Teutonic being of ectoplasm housed in an encounter suit that resembles the old spider-Man villain, Mysterio. Brought in to bring Hellboy to heal, Strauss shows some unique abilities, but can’t contain the curmudgeonly demon.

Del Toro shows that Pan’s Labyrinth was no fluke as he sets up action sequences and emotional situations that are simultaneously larger than life and as real as oxygen. He puts his characters through trials of epic proportion, while keeping their feet firmly on the metaphoric ground. The only real flaw of the film is that it may be too rich, too full. There’s so much going on – on every level – that it’s hard to get it all in one viewing. The cliché, “I laughed. I cried. It became part of me,” may actually apply here – Hellboy II: The Golden Army has an effect that lingers long after you’ve left the theater.

Final Grade: A

MOVIE REVIEW” WALL*E Is Simply Dazzling!

With an A-story that features the love story between WALL*E [Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class] and EVE [Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator], and a B-story that involves humanity’s possible return to a post-apocalyptic Earth, WALL*E is more than a bit of a gamble on PIXAR’s part.

Neither WALL*E nor EVE has a large vocabulary [at least, in terms of actual words – he has a number of R2D2-like sounds that clearly express what he’s feeling, and she has her own electronic vocabulary as well] – and neither has what you could call a real face [he’s a pair of binoculars on a box and she’s a floating egg with occasional arms & hands] – and yet we always know exactly what they are thinking and feeling.

Their romance is a classic one – and simultaneously poignant and hilarious – even though the film goes almost twenty minutes before a word of English is spoken.

The B-story features humans who have, in 700 years in space, become obese figures on floating couches/chairs. They live on a gigantic starship called the Axiom, where they are waited on, hand & foot, by robots of all sizes, shapes and functions [there’s more than a bit of eco-satire here, and it’s quite sharp].

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The appearance of EVE [and WALL*E] with a fragile little plant from Earth should signal a return to Earth, but there are problems…

WALL*E does pay homage to various classic SF films [he resembles ET more than Johnny 5, and the ship’s autopilot, Otto, will certainly remind one of Hal from 2001], but homages are only cool if the film is worth seeing.

WALL*E is, quite frankly, dazzling. Purely from a cinematography perspective, almost every frame of the film is a perfect composition – and yet not predictable, or in any way sterile.

Some of the best moments include the realization that the deserted city we first see is only partly man-made [you’ll see what I mean…]; the lovely moment from the trailer when WALL*E trails his hand through asteroid dust like a little boy trailing his fingers through the water as a motorboat zips across a lake [see photo]; the beautiful skyscapes that open the film, and so many more [including the fact that WALL*E is hooked on Hello, Dolly – and has a cockroach as his only friend!].

WALL*E is the best film of the year – let alone the summer – so far. Easily. It may be too intense or hard to follow for younger children [the lady and four kids, ages about three to six, who were sitting next to me got up and left well before WALL*E reached the Axiom], so you should be aware of that.

Grade: A+