The Late Shift (1996, directed by Betty Thomas)


Want to relive the public battle over whether David Letterman or Jay Leno would be Johnny Carson’s successor?

Then The Late Shift is the film for you!

Though it pales when compared to the subsequent battle between Leno and Conan O’Brien, the competition between Letterman and Leno to succeed Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show riveted America in the early 90s.  Most media critics (and, reportedly, Carson himself) felt that Letterman had not only earned the right to host The Tonight Show but that he represented the future of late night comedy.  The NBC network execs, however, preferred Leno, who had served for years as Carson’s permanent guest host and who was viewed as being more of a team player than Letterman.  The end result, of course, was that Leno got The Tonight Show, Letterman switched networks, and for years the country was separated into Leno people and Letterman people.  (Letterman got the critical acclaim but Leno got the ratings.)

The Late Shift opens with the unexpected retirement of Johnny Carson (played, as an enigma, by Rich Little) and then follows Letterman (John Michael Higgins) and Leno (Daniel Roebuck) as they maneuver their way to become his successor.  Unfortunately, neither Higgins nor Roebuck are particularly believable in their roles, though Roebuck does get to wear a truly impressive fake chin.  Far more impressive are Kathy Bates as Leno’s manager and Treat Williams as Mike Ovitz.  Bates rips through her scenes, destroying anyone standing in the way of Jay Leno while Williams is cool, calm, and menacing as the agent who was, at the time the film was made, the most powerful man in Hollywood.

The main problem with The Late Shift is that, when it went into production, Letterman was ahead in the ratings and the film is clearly sympathetic to him.  Leno comes across as a weasel while Letterman is portrayed as being neurotic but brilliant.  But, shortly before the film made its debut on HBO, Leno landed the first interview with Hugh Grant after the latter’s arrest with a prostitute.  Leno not only won that night in the ratings but he won every subsequent night and soon, Letterman was the one who was forever stuck in second place.  A title card was added to the end of  The Late Shift, admitting that Leno was now winning the war for the late night.  Since every minute of the film was designed to make Letterman appear to the winner, it’s hard not to be let down by the ending.

Despite the disappointing ending, The Late Shift is an entertaining look at network politics.  (Seinfeld fans will note that, after playing a version of Warren Littlefield during the show’s 4th season, Bob Balaban was cast as the real thing in The Late Shift.)  After watching the movie, be sure to read the Bill Carter book on which it’s based.

Flat Broke In The ’70s: Americathon (1979, directed by Neal Israel)


The year is 1998 and America is flat broke.  Paper currency is now worthless and, to the joy of Ron Paul supporters everywhere, all transactions are done in gold.  After the country ran out of oil, people started using skateboards and bicycles for transportation and many turned their cars into homes.  While the citizenry spends their time consuming a steady diet of sitcoms and reality television, the government tries to figure out how to pay back the loan that it took from Sam Birdwater (Chief Dan George), a Native American who made billions after buying Nike.  Birdwater wants his money back and he is prepared to foreclose on the entire country.

Newly elected President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) is not helping.  A combination of Jack Tripper and Jerry Brown (who was gearing up to challenge Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries when Americathon was first released), Chet Roosevelt is a spaced-out former governor of California who speaks in 70s self-help slogans and who is more interested in getting laid than leading the country.  Roosevelt governs out of The Western White House, a condo in California.  When an ad exec named Eric McMerkin (Peter Reigert) suggests a month-long telethon to raise the money to pay off the loan, Roosevelt leaps at the chance.

Hosted by Harvey Korman, the telethon (which is called, naturally, the Americathon) features a wide variety of acts.  There’s a ventriloquist.  Jay Leno boxes his grandmother.  Meat Loaf destroys a car.  Even Elvis Costello and Eddie Money make brief appearances.  While Chet falls in love with one of the performers, his chief-of-staff (Fred Willard) plots, with the leaders of a new Middle Eastern superstate, to sabotage the telethon.

Based on a play by the Firesign Theater, Americathon has a big, talented cast that is let down by Neal Israel’s uncertain direction and a script that is only rarely funny.  The idea of America hosting a tacky telethon to pay its debts sounds like a good SNL skit (especially if Bill Murray played the host) but the premise is too thin for a feature film.  Like Airplane! or The Naked Gun films, Americathon is a movie that tosses every joke it can against the wall to see what will stick.  If the jokes are good, like in Airplane!, that formula can lead to a comedy classic.  If the jokes are bad, not even John Ritter, Harvey Korman, and Fred Willard can make them funny.

Today, if Americathon is remembered, it’s because it supposedly predicted several future events.  Americathon does take place in a future where China is an economic superpower, Nike is a huge conglomerate, and reality game shows are very popular.  But, even with those correct predictions, Americathon is a such a film of its time that it was probably dated from the minute that it was released.  Just the sight of John Ritter in a condo permanently marks Americathon as a film of and about the ’70s.

George Carlin does score a few laughs as the narrator and Elvis Costello performs both Crawlin’ To The USA and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.  Eagle-eyed viewers might want to keep an eye out for the tragic Playboy playmate, Dorothy Stratten, who has a brief non-speaking role.  Otherwise, Americathon is as hopeless as the country it’s trying to save.

Ted 2 Sucks!


Ted_2_posterWell, I think the title of this review pretty succinctly sums up my reaction to Seth McFarlane’s latest film, Ted 2.  Thanks for reading and have a good…

Oh, really?

Okay, I’ve been told that I have to try to think up at least 300 words to say about Ted 2.  Otherwise, in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re not a legitimate film blog.

*sigh*

Okay.

Anyway, Ted 2 is the story of a talking teddy bear (voice by Seth McFarlane) who likes to smoke weed and … well, that’s about it.  He’s just gotten married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and they’re having trouble because Tami-Lynn wants a baby but Ted, being a teddy bear, doesn’t have any reproductive organs.  So, he and his friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to give Tom Brady a handjob so they can still his sperm.  But, it turns out, none of that was important because the state of Massachusetts claims that Ted is not even a person.  Instead, he’s just “property.”  So, now, John and Ted and their lawyer, Sam (Amanda Seyfried), are fighting the courts to win Ted his civil rights.  And then Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and Morgan Freeman shows up and says a few words.  And the film is narrated by Patrick Stewart because it’s funny to hear Patrick Stewart curse and…

Oh!  And Liam Neeson shows up.  He’s a customer at the store where Ted works as a cashier.  Liam wants to know if Trix are only for kids.  The joke here is that it’s Liam Neeson and he’s asking about cereal.  Ha ha.

Oh!  And there’s two guys who shows up at New York Comic Con so that they can beat up “nerds.”  During every scene set at Comic Con, they’re in the background beating people up and insulting them.  And the two guys are gay!  See, they’re bullies and they’re gay!  And they’re beating up random people at Comic Con, just because they can!  Hilarious, right?

Ted 2 spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ted’s struggle to be recognized as a person is actually meant to be a metaphor for the American civil rights movement.  But, honestly, I get the feeling that McFarlane relates more to the bullies than he does to any oppressed minority.  As he previously proved with his TV shows and A Million Ways To Die In The West, McFarlane is only interested in going after easy targets.  He’s your typical white male hipster who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he can get away with telling racist jokes.

And, before anyone misunderstands, I wouldn’t mind McFarlane’s humor if it was at least funny or original.  But instead, it’s the same stupid jokes that he always tells.  Seth McFarlane’s comedic technique is to basically drag things out until viewers laugh from pure exhaustion.  Is it effective?  Well, there are people who continue to praise and defend him and Seth certainly has made a lot of money off of his act.  So, obviously, there are people who respond to this.  But to me, Seth McFarlane’s humor just feels lazy.

Ted 2 lasts 128 minutes.  That’s over two hours devoted to a concept that feels more appropriate for a five-minute skit.  Interesting enough, the first Ted was tolerable because it focused on Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny.  Ted was just a supporting character and he worked as a metaphor for Johnny’s struggle to choose between growing up or being a happy slacker.  (The first Ted was all about Johnny falling in love with Mila Kunis, whose character is rather cruelly dismissed at the start of Ted 2.)  In Ted 2, Ted is the central character and once you get over the fact that he’s a teddy bear who drops multiple F bombs, there’s really not much to the character.  It helps, of course, that we only have to listen to McFarlane.  We don’t have to look at his imminently punchable, oddly lineless face.  But, to be honest, even McFarlane’s voice has become grating.  It’s just so self-satisfied and smug.

I saw Ted 2 with the blogger also known as Jedadiah Leland.  Over the course of 128 hours minutes (it just felt like hours), we each laughed once.  Not surprisingly, both laughs were inspired by Wahlberg’s dumb-but-sweet performance.  Now, I will admit that the rest of the audience laughed a bit more than we did.  But still, there was a definite atmosphere of resignation in the theater.  You could literally hear the people thinking, “Oh, Ted just made a joke about black people.  Better laugh now so everyone knows that I get whatever the Hell this is supposed to be.  After all, those tickets weren’t free…”

What’s the word count now?

758?

Cool.

That’s enough words for me to say, “Ted 2 sucks!”

 

Shattered Politics #54: Dave (dir by Ivan Reitman)


Dave Poster

Way back in 1919, the terrible U.S. President and tyrannical dictator Woodrow Wilson* suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and unable to perform his duties.  By all standards, Wilson should have been removed from office, if just temporarily.  However, in those pre-Internet days, it was a lot easier to hide the truth about Wilson’s physical and mental condition.  While Wilson spent his days locked away in his bedroom, his wife Edith would forge his signature on bills.  Whenever anyone asked for the President’s opinion, Edith would give her opinion and then assure everyone that it was actually the President’s.

(And really, as long as you were promoting eugenics and white supremacy, it probably was not difficult to imitate Wilson’s opinions.)

Of course, back then, people were used to the idea of never seeing their President in public.  Hence, it was very easy for Wilson to remain sequestered in the White House.  If a similar situation happened today, it’s doubtful that anyone could successfully keep the public from finding out.  When we don’t see the President every day, we wonder why.  How, in this day and age, could a Presidential incapacitation be covered up?

The 1993 film Dave offers up one possible solution.

Dave is the story of two men who happen to look exactly like Kevin Kline.  One of them is named Bill Mitchell and he’s the arrogant and corrupt President of the United States.  The other is named Dave Kovic.  He’s a nice guy who runs a temp agency and who has a nice side job going as a professional Bill Mitchell imitator.

So, when Bill has a stroke while having sex with a white house staffer (Laura Linney), it only makes sense to recruit Dave Kovic to pretend to the President.  White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella, so you know he’s evil) tells Dave that Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) is insane and corrupt.  Dave agrees to imitate the President.  Of course, Alexander’s main plan is to convince Nance to resign and then get Dave to appoint him as Vice President.  Once Alexander is Vice President, it will be announced that Mitchell has had another stroke and then Alexander will move into the Oval Office.

However, what Alexander did not take into account was just how much Dave would enjoy being President.  From the moment that he joyfully shouts, “God Bless, America!,” Dave’s enthusiasm starts to win the public over.  Suddenly, people are realizing that President Mitchell isn’t such a bad President after all.  Even more importantly, Dave wins over the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) who, previously, had little use for her philandering husband.  When Alexander claims that there’s no money in the budget to continue funding a program for the homeless, Dave calls in his best friend, an accountant named Murray (Charles Grodin), and has him rewrite the budget…

And you know what?

Dave is one of those films that tempts me to be all cynical and snarky but, ultimately, the film itself is so likable and earnest that I can even accept the idea that one accountant could balance the budget through common sense alone.  I’ll even accept the idea that Dave could come up with a program that would guarantee everyone employment without, at the same time, bankrupting the country.  Kevin Kline is so enthusiastic in the lead role and the film itself is so good-natured that it almost feels wrong to criticize it for being totally implausible.

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate a film for being likable.

Dave—–

* For those of you keeping count, that’s the third time in two weeks that I’ve referred to Woodrow Wilson as being  a dictator.  Before anyone points out that some historians rank Wilson as being in the top ten of President, allow me to say that I don’t care.  I DO WHAT I WANT!

Jay Leno on Oprah


I am definitely on Conan’s side of the recent NBC-Leno-Conan late-night debacle. I pretty much spent most of my post high school nights watching Conan’s late-night show. I never got into Leno, but I can understand why many people did. He’s a safe comedian whose reputation for treating guests with kid gloves made him a favorite for stars to drop by his show. Stars on the show make people watch Leno’s show.

Leno’s reputation has hit a major low during the last month as he’s become the punching bag for fans of Conan and Letterman. Even Jimmy Kimmel and his followers have jumped on the beat on the Chin bandwagon. Kimmel’s surprise appearance on Leno’s 10 @ 10 show a couple weeks ago was one of the best things to come on late-night in decades. To say that Kimmel emasculated Leno would be the understatement of this young decade.

It’s now been a week since Conan aired his final Tonight Show episode and during that week we saw Jay Leno try to repair his battered image and reputation by going on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah’s daytime show has become the place to go to for people who either have been brought low by other people and need a place to find comfort and support or people who need to apologize about something bad they did. Leno’s appearance could’ve been the latter, but instead he tried to be the former. In choosing this path he might have damaged his image even more than he already has.

Leno doesn’t even make a serious attempt to place some of the blame on himself for what had occurred. Instead he tries to come off as being the biggest victim in the whole shenanigans of a debacle. While not mentioning Conan’s name he even takes a shot at “the other show” which he says was failing (despite numbers showing that after a slow and low ratings early on Conan’s show was steadily rising in ratings). Leno comes off even more fake and disingenious through the whole interview.  There were times as if he expected Oprah to be more supportive and throw him softball questions, but instead got something tougher and more probing. He even goes so far as to try and joke about the whole ordeal which just ends up looking awkward at best and pathetic at worst.

I hope Middle America who think Leno was the better host enjoy their bland, battered and bullshit of a Tonight Show host, because it definitely won’t be anything funny, engaging and surprising.

Conan O’Brien Memo to NBC: WTF?!


It looks like Conan O’Brien doesn’t want to make it easy for NBC’s plan to try and salvage it’s late-night line-up. With the Jay Leno Show now being removed from it’s primetime 10pm time slot NBC trying to compound it’s multimillion-dollar mistake with a plan to move it to 11:35pm with Conan’s The Tonight Show pushed back an extra half hour to12:05am. Jimmy Fallon’s show gets pushed back the same amount of time. This is like someone living in an apartment complex where their room is on fire and instead of calling the fire department they decide the solution it to move to the room next door.

I don’t seem to be the only who thinks this way as Conan O’Brien has decided this is a plan that’s retarded on so many levels no matter how one looked at it. He’s pretty much giving the plan two thumbs down. Will he resign and bolt from The Tonight Show in protest to how he has been treated? As the article below states he has 60 million reasons to stay one and force NBC’s hand. NBC should either just scap any plan to prop up Jay Leno on any show and support O’Brien’s show 100 percent while at the same time uncuffing him to actually do things his way. Or they could remove O’Brien from his hosting duties, put Leno back in there and give O’Brien the penalty fee and wave bye-bye to him as he bolts with those many reasons mentioned above to another network.

I think it’s unfair that O’Brien has been treated the way he has been. He’s not getting the chance to prove he can do The Tonight Show. Leno wasn’t such a big hit when he first took over as host from Johnny Carson, but in time he got into his groove and succeeded. I’m really hoping O’Brien sticks to his guns no matter what happens. If he gets let go then I am sure he’ll get calls from many networks thinking of doing it’s own late-night talk show and giving him free reign. I say HBO should pick him up and just let him go crazy on his own late-night show. O’Brien may not get the same sort of contract from HBO he got from NBC, but by then he’d have gotten a 60million severance check from the Dodo Network so money won’t be an issue. Who knows, I may even get HBO again if that happened.

Source: http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/conan-obrien-resigning-tonight-show/