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Archive for the ‘Adam Ferenz’ film reviews’ Category

by Adam Ferenz

One of the best examinations of life, during the teen years or otherwise, that television has ever aired. The 18 episodes that exist are treasures, each and every one. A period piece, set in the early 80s in a small town in Michigan, this is the story of two groups. One, made up of younger boys, constitute The Geeks, while the older group, including two female members, would be The Freaks. The titles are only glancingly referenced in the series itself. Instead, this is a story about a brother and sister, and their friends and family, finding their way in a world that they suddenly need to understand anew. For the brother and sister, this is because their beloved grandmother died, and the sister-Lindsay Weir, played by Linda Cardellini-has stopped being a Mathlete and started wearing an old army jacked. She is obsessed with Daniel Desario, and decides to become one of their group. And her entry into that group, along with her brother and his friend’s entry into high school, is the audiences introduction to the stories and characters of this delightful gem.

One of the aspects of the series which is most talked about is the launching pad this served as for so many stars. In addition to Cardellini and Franco, there was also Jason Segal, as Nick Andopolis-a sweet yet meatheaded drummer, who falls for Lindsay-and Seth Rogan as Ken Miller. There was also Busy Phillips, as Daniel’s girlfriend, Kim Kelly-one of the series most complex characters, as it turned out-as well as John Francis Daley as Sam Weir and Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, joined by Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber. This rounded out the kids, while the adults were portrayed by Becky Ann Baker and Joe Flaherty as Sam and Lindsay’s parents. Indeed, it is Flaherty’s delivery of the line “this isn’t good” when Harold and Jean meet Lindsay’s new friends, that seals the series as both a comedy and a drama. Claudia Christian, Thomas F. Wilson, Ben Foster and Shia LaBeouf were also among the recurring cast. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This series, about the fictional, eternally underfunded, St. Eligius hospital in Boston, is a landmark for many reasons. Not only did it launch a plethora of acting careers, including those of Howie Mandel, Denzel Washington and Mark Harmon, it also did the same for many top writers and directors of the 80s and 90s. These included creators Jonathon Brand and Joshua Falsey, who would go on to create Northern Exposure, and Tom Fontana, who would go on to run Homicide and create Oz. Bruce Paltrow and Mark Tinker were directors. And the series itself was a goofy mix of humor and drama, bound together at the very end by the revelation it had all been the daydreams of a young autistic child.

It was the first prime-time US drama to have a regular character who was HIV positive, in the form of Mark Harmon’s womanizing doctor. It was perhaps the most critically acclaimed drama of the 1980s to never win an Emmy for series, though the cast, writers and directors were all honored, with the series racking up thirteen wins across six seasons. It was a series where actors such as William Daniels and Ed Flanders found new energy, where Stephen Furst proved he was more than “Flounder, from Animal House” and a series which featured early guest roles for actors like Ray Liotta, Tim Robbins, Eric Stoltz and Helen Hunt, among many others.

Yet, the show was about something, and part of what it was about was intrinsically linked with how it was about. This was a series with style to spare. While the first season was possessed of an often unblinking realism, there were, around the corners, hints that something was off. Nothing mystical, but that this was an unusual hospital, and its patients and doctors reflected that. In part, this was due to the long hours they worked. It was series where, like the later ER, which it clearly influenced, mixed realistic medical cases with extreme emotional crisis for the staff, including drug addiction, alongside a dash of the absurd, such as a patient dying when her hospital bed snapped shut on her, squishing her like an accordion. While not as quirky as Brand and Falsey’s later Northern Exposure, the series seemed to operate on the border of reality, as though staring out a window into a void, which the audience interpreted in many ways, and which this viewer took as the series statement on the crushing nature of medical work, both physically and mentally, on patients and staff. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

The funniest and saddest political scheme gone wrong in tv history. When Michael Murray becomes leader of his local city Council, he attempts a “Day Of Action”, a shutdown of all vital city services, including schools, as part of a plan to show force, by his hidden masters in the militant wing of his party. After one of his underlings goofs, allowing a single school to remain open by forgetting to send picketers, the local media makes an unwilling hero out of the schoolmaster, who immediately becomes the object of much rage by Murray, and an attack on his very sanity. Murray, however, is not without his own enemies, having a mysterious and potentially violent past in grammar school. As the series unfolds, truths will be known and lives forever altered. You will also laugh and cry in equal measure. You will also see the ways in which people who serve the public-or themselves-are often led astray by forces beyond their reckoning.

Michal Palin and Robert Lindsay are sensational, and utterly convincing, as the Schoolmaster and Politician. Neither actor had played anything quite like these characters. Of course, the series has intrigues, double dealings, gas lighting’s and more, but never descends to the level of soap or melodrama, but it is the characters, particularly the co-leads, that one will remember. Jim Nelson standing up to the bullying of Michael Murray, and Michael Murray looking for a condom when a Doctor Who convention breaks out, are classic scenes. One might appear to be well suited while the other likely has you scratching your head. It works, and if you want to see why, watch the series and find out for yourself.

This is one of those series that is among the best ever made for the medium-I personally rank it as the 10th greatest program ever aired on television, and the greatest achievement in British television history-yet few talk about it outside of those really in the know, or those who were around to watch it when it was first aired. A series that seemed to both take aim at residual Thatcherism and caution against arrogance in having unseated Thatcher, this is a program that requires viewers to think, to feel and to remember. Both Left and Right, which have different meanings than in the United States, come across looking foolish and petty. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Glen Larson once created a series about a race of machine men called Cylons and their destruction of the Twelve Colonies. Years later, Ron Moore and David Eick reimagined that premise, keeping the Cylons and the destruction of the colonies, keeping the names-some of them, at least, with others being kept only in the form of call signs-and general roles of the characters, but altering them significantly, while adding and deleting where necessary. The result is perhaps the finest work of science fiction the small screen has ever seen.

The original series was cheesy. There are those who will take offense at this, and become indignant, asking why lighthearted fun like that found in the original has to be derided at the expense of praise for the dark seriousness of the reimagined series. That is not why audiences largely reject the original. It is because it is far too much a relic of its time. What Moore and company did, was to keep what little was original or eternal, and modernize it. Out went the cute kids, insipid guest stars and the constant clanking of clumsy looking robots walking on steel stems. In its place were human emotions, commentary on the socio-political landscape of the world during the first decade of the 21st century, and instead of metallic robots-though we occasionally did see them, and they were menacing, rather than awkward-we had the “skin job” Cylons, who were still machines, but they looked human. How and why this came about was a major thread throughout the series. Oh, and the Cylons, unlike the pantheists of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, were monotheists. Yes, The Cylons believed in a One True God.

Yet it was not only religion that this series tackled, but attendant social structures, spirituality, reason v. belief, majority rule v. dictatorship, military v. non-military concerns, and parallels to the 9/11 attacks, the holocaust and the suicide bombers of the War Against Terror. It is also about fathers and sons, friends, about lovers-without ever being a romance-and about the ways people both draw together and pull apart in the midst of catastrophe. It is everything the original series was neither allowed to do, nor interested in doing. And it did this with a cast and production team that was at the top of their game. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Ken Russell did many crazy movies during his career, with The Devils often cited as his most insane work, and that is hard to argue. Unless one has seen this film, which is impossible to find in an un-bowdlerized edition-as the only available copies are not properly color timed and still have time stamps on them-which makes properly assessing this somewhat difficult. Telling the story of Richard Strauss, the film was part of a BBC series of programs, directed by Russell, in which he tackled major figures from classical music. His final film for the BBC, and for television, this film can be seen as a bold “fuck you and goodbye forever” from its director.

In this one, Russell upends the music of Strauss-here made caricature by a director who despised him- and explores themes that today might be considered offensive to sensitive types on the bullying right, particularly their Swastika wearing idols, but such was the bravery and openness with which Russell approached this material. There have been surrealists and absurdists in film. They have sometimes gone together but rarely have the two approaches combined so well as here. Scenes of nuns flogging themselves give way, eventually, to dancing Brownshirts, and Nazi Officers, including Goebbels giving a piggyback ride to a violinist who looks suspiciously like Hitler, during a playful sequence that appears to be set at Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden. This is not a deep portrait in terms of making its character someone you know intimately, unless you consider knowing what Russel thought of him, and how history has judged his, as being deep or intimate.

Instead, what we receive as viewers is an impression of Strauss, as hollow yet potent metaphor, for a failed view of the world and philosophy of control. In this film, Strauss kills his critics with his music, plays his music ever more loudly to drown out his ignorance and culpability in the rise of Nazism, and, most importantly, is credited as co-writer on the film. This is testament to how Russell used the journals, letters and interviews with Strauss in order to indict him. Every word, then, is essentially true, and straight from the source. That the film is presented as a fevered nightmare is part of its charm. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This police sitcom, set in the 12th precinct of Manhattan, ran for eight seasons in the 1970s and 1980s, telling the story of the detectives that worked there. While Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire may be the dramas that get the work of detective work the most accurate, some detective and uniform police still point to this series as the one police show that is the most realistic, because here, the tedium of bookings, arrests, paper work, transfers, boredom and bad coffee never ends. With the vast majority of the series taking place in the squad room-or Barney’s office-the series takes on the feel of a stage play, and it has both the scripts and cast to pull this off.

The series earliest episodes occasionally gave the audience glimpses of Barney’s home life, and that of the ever-tired and grumbling Fish-a memorable Abe Vigoda-but quickly realized these were not working, and that the series could only distinguish itself by becoming work oriented, and work centered in a way few programs have ever been. There were recurring players, often recurring characters, making the precinct seem like a real place. Prostitution, murder, robbery, assault, including domestic abuse, and even rape and drug use, as well as selling, were among the many crimes Barney’s detectives handled. The series tackled social issues with a sly grin, and a sigh, often through the deadpan reactions or musings of detective Deitrech, played by Steve Landesberg. Just as often they would be made through Ron Glass’s Detective Harris or Max Gail’s earnest, naïve-to a point-Detective Stan Wojciehowicz, a former marine who becomes one of the more humanitarian among the squad. Easy humor could just as often be found with Carl Levitt, brilliantly played by Ron Carey as a case study in denied rewards. Holding it all together was Barney himself, played by Hal Linden, who was father, brother, friend and boss, depending on which needed to be applied to a given situation. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This long-running British institution has been around since 1963, onscreen for thirty-six complete series, plus a tv-movie and a year of specials. The program has been both praised and dammed, beloved by fans and loathed by the same. We could talk about the switch to color between series 6 and 7, the runs of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, the era of producer John Nathan Turner, the Wilderness Years, the failed re-pilot of the 8th Doctor movie starring Paul McGann, or the successful return of the show under the aegis of Russel T. Davies, lead by Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. We could even talk about the Moffat era that followed, or the case of the missing and incomplete serials. Who our favorite companions or assistants were-and whether either term is truly appropriate-and when the UNIT stories are set. As you can tell, there is a lot going on here. Instead, as with so much of the show, it is best to recount a personal tale, rather than a summary or deep analysis. So, here is this author’s experience with the series.

I am currently 37 years old. I first came across Doctor Who when I was a child, about two or three years old, and PBS would run old serials from the Pertwee and Tom Baker eras of the series in omnibus form on Thursdays and Saturdays. I would see books in stores. And then, one day, when I was about 9, stories stopped coming on pbs, but the books kept coming out. Nothing more was on television, for me, until a tv film in 1996, which I would not see until almost fifteen years later. Indeed, it was not until the current run of Doctor Who, brilliantly brought back to the screen by the gifted Welsh writer and producer, Russell T. Davies, and ably played by the magnificent Christopher Eccleston, arrived, that I even gave the series any thought for years and years.

Even then, I only occasionally saw bits and pieces and I knew they had changed Doctors. Finally, I had heard good things about this current run, then in its third year, and I caught up. And I never stopped watching. I went and bought all the dvd’s that were available. I bought them as they came out, both from the current run and the original 1963-89 run. I got the TV film when it arrived, finally, after years of rights issues, on region 1 disc. I got other people hooked on the show. Friends, family, people I barely knew in classes I was taking at the time. And they got other people hooked. Doctor Who is not just a show. It is also a bit of a social contagion, but of a very fun sort. (more…)

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