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Tribeca 2011: “The Good Doctor,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “The Good Doctor,” Reviewed (photo)

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As a general rule, it’s usually considered unwise for a heartthrob type to play a bad guy early in their career, which is a shame since being easy on the eyes always makes the pain when they plunge the knife in just a little more painful. Orlando Bloom’s Dr. Martin Blake doesn’t want to have anything to do with knives – his desire to make it into the internal medicine program is so he’ll never have to administer needles, let alone a scalpel. Yet with hair swept over his forehead, you know Bloom has finally gone over to the dark side as Blake, a first-year resident who drowns in moral quandaries after becoming unusually obsessed with one of his patients (Riley Keough).

One wouldn’t be entirely wrong to think Blake is interested in the pyelonephritis sufferer Diane because of her blue eyes and blonde hair, but where John Enbom’s script becomes really interesting is by suggesting he’s enchanted equally by the idea of the girl’s family, dysfunctional as they are, who invite him over for dinner after he successfully cures their daughter. Living alone himself in a beach house with nothing but white wine, reheatable dinners and a fancy sound system to play classical music, Blake has only the comfort of going to work each day to keep him company.

Even there, he’s out of place surrounded by a nurse (Taraji P. Henson) who doesn’t defer to him, an orderly (Michael Pena) whose lack of decorum constantly dismays him, and a chief (Rob Morrow) uninterested in mentoring him, despite his best efforts to be respected by all three. Soon after believing he’s accidentally misdiagnosed a Mexican patient he can’t understand, Blake suddenly sees an opportunity for companionship when he’s invited over to the girl’s home and takes the time to switch her prescription without her knowledge, landing her back in the hospital, thus beginning an incredibly slippery ethical slide.

The film is actually reminiscent of “Shattered Glass,” which subverted the image of its leading man (Hayden Christensen) as the matinee idol who can be trusted simply because how could someone so clean cut not be? But it’s also the lack of charisma that such types are usually criticized for that becomes an asset, the blankness that lets them recede into the background even if they’re at the center of the frame, because first you’d never suspect them of anything, let alone imagine they think about anyone but themselves. Bloom doesn’t necessarily project this, though his past résumé is a string of films that has failed to pull out of him what he delivers in “The Good Doctor,” a person who is constantly thinking about others, not just of what they think of him, but as a way of deflecting attention from the unfortunate life of solitude he’s carved out for himself.

It’s a character study grafted onto a thriller and not only is Bloom game, but he brings with him an unusual group of collaborators that make it unsettling in all the right ways. Directing his first American film, Lance Daly, who previously helmed the excellent and completely unsentimental Irish love story “Kisses,” shoots much of the film at a remove, observing Blake’s descent without really commenting on it with any ornamentation until the final act, making the antiseptic aesthetic not just a practical choice to depict hospital life, but a creative one as it reflects the gray area of the doctor’s behavior before it all very much turns to black.

A couple niggling plot details prevent a full embrace of the film – for some reason, Diane doesn’t attend the dinner that she’s said to have wanted set up for Blake, and later on, J.K. Simmons comes around as an investigator who’s not a particularly strong interrogator. Yet “The Good Doctor” is too entertaining to dismiss for those reasons alone. It may be an unhealthy pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

“The Good Doctor” currently does not have U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26th and 30th and May 1st.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Tribeca 2011: “Stuck Between Stations,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “Stuck Between Stations,” Reviewed (photo)

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As someone that only watches films rather than make them, my favorite thing about the RED camera, the digital camera that has democratized high quality imagery amongst low budget filmmakers, is the clarity not only of the imagery, but the specificity it allows for regional writer/directors to bring out the best in their hometown. In recent years, we’ve seen Portland as it’s never been shot before by Aaron Katz and crew in “Cold Weather,” the Joe Maggio-directed Tribeca selection “The Last Rites of Joe May” captures Chicago in a different light and then there’s “Stuck Between Stations,” the feature debut of Brady Kiernan, a Minneapolis native who, with cinematographer Bo Hakala, creates a portrait of the city that wouldn’t seem out of place if it were framed in the Walker Art Center.

Ultimately, that’s what separates Kiernan’s film from the so many others that have been born in the wake of “Before Sunrise,” the platonic yet romantic drama that launched a thousand walk-and-talk independent films that make up for limited budgets with lots of profound (or so the filmmakers would think) statements about life. If reading that alone makes you instantly recoil, you may want to stop reading now, though it was to my great surprise while watching “Stuck Between Stations” that there is still a place for them when they have strong performers at their center and an interesting place to stroll.

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Tribeca 2011: “A Quiet Life,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “A Quiet Life,” Reviewed (photo)

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As loathe as I am to think of most American remakes of perfectly good foreign films, I couldn’t help but wonder while watching “A Quiet Life” whether Robert De Niro has had a chance to check out the film playing the festival he founded. Ironically, in this hypothetical remake De Niro would produce and star in, the actor would replace the one thing irreplaceable about this Italian thriller as currently constructed, which is a great performance from Toni Servillo, who continues with every role since his turn as Giulio Andreotti in “Il Divo” a few years to prove what a remarkable transformation he achieved.

In “A Quiet Life,” transformation isn’t only required of Servillo as an actor, but also as the character of Rosario Russo, an Italian chef living in a small German village where he’s been settled down for the past 13 years with a wife and young son. He has a temper; his kitchen etiquette suggests he’s gone through more than a few sous chefs over the near-decade-and-a-half, but otherwise, he’s content and even suspiciously encouraged when he sees two thuggish-looking men kicking around a soccer ball in front of his restaurant. Slowly, director Claudio Cupellini teases out why Rosario’s excited to see the more even-tempered of the two men and instantly offers to them both to “stay as long as you’d like” in his accompanying hotel.

Without spoiling what that reason is, it turns out to be a case where time opens more wounds than it heals and as the two younger men with crime connections begin to embarrass Rosario in public, it becomes obvious that the chef wouldn’t enjoy additional scrutiny. This is the point where Mr. De Niro’s ears should be burning because the crux of “A Quiet Life,” which follows the well-worn path of most films involving a character attempting to run from their past, depends on Rosario’s willingness to impose a cloistered existence that he chose specifically for himself onto those closest to him and how he deals with the problems that arise in a way that won’t affect his tenuous grip on the domestic life he’s come to enjoy.

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