They’ve got it backwards

NBC isn’t necessarily promoting their fall line-up on Hulu in an effort to beat the buzz. That’s just a positive side-effect. What they’re really trying to do is promote Hulu with their fall line-up. NBC and Fox need Hulu to turn into big business to continue justifying the effort and this is one way to do that. 

Whatever problems mainstream big-media content has been having in finding an audience online, it pales, of course, in comparison to the problems smaller productions have been having. There have been a few hits, but even just trawling Hulu you’ll find a number of web-only shows that received a lot of launch buzz and then dropped completely off everyone’s radar.

Programming changes afoot

Labor Day weekend brought with it a couple changes in the television scheduling department. 

First, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was unceremoniously kicked off PBS stations. This has caused more than a little bit of upset since while the ratings were low the passion was high, particularly among people who are sick to death of all the other shows that try to be “educational” and funny and not charming and relatable. This is really very disappointing. 

Second, MTV Networks is bringing TV Land’s programming more up-to-date, adding “Scrubs,” “That ’70’s Show” and other more recent fare to its line-up. I guess this means it’s abandoning its boomer focus to go after, well, me, though I’m a tad peeved since it means the airwaves are now completely free of the classic shows I enjoy so much. If I want to watch “Scrubs” I can pop in any of the six seasons on DVD. Guess it’s Hulu for me if I want to enjoy “The Bob Newhart Show” or other shows like that.

Movie Journal: Redbelt

I’m a big fan of David Mamet’s writing. I’ve loved Glengarry Glen Ross since I first saw it and was introduced to Mamet’s world and ran out to buy the script of Oleanna (which I later saw on stage), only to be swept up in how all the rhythms that are included in the staging of his works all come directly from the page. I’ve never seen so many ellipses, interrupted sentences and other choppy verbiage. It was magnificent. 

Redbelt, written and directed by Mamet, tells the story of a martial arts instructor who becomes a pawn in the machinations of a fight promoter, a movie star and ultimately the people closest to him. The details of the story aren’t important and I’d encourage you to watch the movie instead of having me spell it all out here. 

What is important is that Mamet’s writing is as strong as ever. Yes, the characters are largely ciphers, but that’s what you expect with this writer. What’s important is that the performances allow all the motivations of those characters come to the forefront and build momentum to the conclusion of the story. The way the movie finishes up is absolutely fantastic and not at all a coup out, though that’s something I heard about the movie when it first came out. It’s consistent with everything that’s preceded it and, if you’ve been paying attention, you can see how the themes of movie wind up playing out to their logical conclusion. 

Movie Journal: The Promotion

 

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with The Promotion. It’s perfectly likable and non-offensive as a comedy about two guys slugging it out for the manager position at an about-to-open grocery store. But there are problems with the script that even the best efforts of the actors can’t overcome. 

Seann William Scott plays the current assistant manager at a supermarket who, upon finding that they’re opening a new location, decides the manager slot at the new store should be his. That job will let him and his wife, played by Jenna Fischer, move out of their small apartment and into a house of their own. But into the mix comes John C. Reilly, whose character is recently moved from Canada and who decides to put his hat in the ring as well. 

This would be a situation that seems ripe with comedic opportunity but it never really comes together. Reilly’s character is a recovering drug addict and is always portrayed as a sad-sack loser who seemingly knows nothing of American culture or of how to act in a public setting, which is a tad unbelievable. And Lily Taylor, who plays his wife, is completely wasted as an unnecessarily Irish lass who only appears on-screen for a handful of scenes and who never really gets a chance to do anything. 

Scott’s character just comes off not as someone striving to be a winner but just a mid-level dick and his attempts to undermine his rival seem half-hearted. He never really schemes or anything, he just takes advantage of the situations he’s presented with and tries to make Reilly’s character look like a stooge to the executives who float in and out of the store. Ultimately his victory is not so much because of bad light his opponent was shone in but because his actions drove Reilly’s character back to a destructive lifestyle – drugs. It’s all good, though, since the ending shows that it all worked out for the best. 

Fischer probably gives the best, most believable performance in the movie (other than Jason Bateman’s brief appearance as a team motivational coach). But that performance of hers is on a completely different beat – a funny one – than the rest of the cast is humming along to.

All in all The Promotion is moderately amusing but doesn’t live up to the buzz it seemed to have after it appeared on the festival circuit a while ago.

Movie Journal: The Savages

A lot less out-and-out funny than the marketing campaign made it out to be, The Savages is still very enjoyable and features one great performance and one pretty good performance from the two leads actors.

The great performance comes from Philip Seymour Hoffman while the pretty good one comes from Laura Linney, a rare non-relavatory outing from her. The two play a brother and sister who don’t see each other very often but who are once again brought together by the sickness and impending death of their aging father. 

The marketing included a focus on the handful of funny scenes from the movie, scenes whose humor generally comes from the very human interactions between the siblings. While I don’t feel the campaign was misleading in any way, it did present a movie that was more in the Juno-type vein than something that’s much more serious-minded. 

Hoffman’s performance is note-perfect. He portrays the son/brother as someone who is kind of floundering in his life but who is at least able to function as an adult even while obviously suffering from a variety of emotional issues, most of which are tied to the fact that both father and mother were absent. Linney’s character is a bit more broadly comic, a woman who seems to give in to every self-destructive impulse she has and whose only comfort is self-medicating with whatever pain-killers or other drugs cross her path. 

While neither of their arcs really go anywhere until the last 15 minutes, Hoffman simply seems to do more with what he’s given in the time leading up to that than Linney does. She’s very good but just doesn’t seem to be up in this instance to taking the character off the page. For me, at least, this isn’t her best performance and yes it pains me to say that. 

Still, The Savages is both interesting and explorative, striking a number of poignant, interesting and even sometimes funny chords.