Lisa Marie’s Week In Television: 8/7/22 — 8/13/22

Being up at the lake this week, I haven’t watched a lot but here’s a few thoughts nonetheless.

Allo Allo (Sunday Night, PBS)

Allo Allo was a bit weird this week and I think it’s because Sunday’s episode was the first episode of the show’s final season.  Watching it, it was pretty obvious that the show’s writers and directors had run out of new ways to hide the painting and, for the first time, the show felt like it was kind of going through the motions.  Apparently, the show’s star, Gorden Kaye, was in a very serious car accident before the 9th series was filmed and, when the episode started with Rene’s traditional recap, I couldn’t help but notice the very prominent scar on his forehead.

As for the episode, everyone in Nouvion knows that the Allies will be invading at any minute.  The Resistance is awaiting liberation.  The Germans are making plans to flee.  (And, because Richard Gibson declined to return to the role, Herr Flick has had plastic surgery.)  Officer Crabtree still cannot speak French.  And Rene has been abducted by the communist resistance.

The Bachelorette (Monday Night, ABC)

The dates in Bruges were wonderfully romantic and I loved the fireworks display that ended Aven and Rachel’s date.  But then it was time for the Rose Ceremony and …. Boooooo!  Meatball did not get a rose.  I’m over this season.

Better Call Saul (Monday Night, AMC)

This week, Bob Odenkirk and Carol Burnett proved themselves to be dramatic powerhouses.  With Kim telling Jimmy to turn himself in and Howard’s wife now having the true details of Howard’s downfall, it’s slightly frightening to think of where this is all going to end up leading.  There’s only one episode left and I’ve pretty much given up on Jimmy/Saul/Gene getting a happy ending out of this.

Big Brother (All Week, CBS and Paramount+)

Seeing Daniel, one of the most annoying houseguests in the history of the show, get voted out really made my week.  For those of us who are still angry over the way the show catered to bullies like Paul during season 19 and Jackson during season 21, this latest season of Big Brother has been cathartic.  I’ve actually been enjoying writing about it over at the Big Brother Blog.

The Challenge (Wednesday Night, CBS)

Derek X. became the latest cast member of Big Brother 23 to get eliminated from the show.  For all the talk about how strong the cast of Big Brother 23 was, they kind of suck at The Challenge.

Full House (Sunday Evening, MeTV)

The first episode featured Michelle graduating from preschool.  Jesse took it upon himself to turn Michelle and her classmates into a band called …. I am not kidding — Jesse’s Little Rippers.  They performed a horrific rendition of Twist and Shout.  Could no one tell Jesse that not everything was about him and his lameass band?  The second episode featured Aunt Becky discovering she was pregnant and worrying that this might make it difficult for Jesse to go on tour with the Rippers and …. well, I’m not going to repeat myself.  Seriously, everyone deserved better.

Inspector Lewis (YouTube)

A gossip website led to multiple murders in Oxford.  Lewis was stunned to discover the Internet could be such a dangerous place.  Hathaway towered over everyone else on the show.

Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead (Paramount Plus)

Beavis and Butthead nearly died twice in the latest episode of their show.  First, they got trapped on a roof.  Then they got trapped on a piece of wood that sailed out to sea.  Actually, they were still stranded when the show ended so they might be dead now.  That’d be a shame.  They really don’t seem to mean as much harm as they cause.

Open All Hours (Sunday Night, PBS)

Granville painted something silly on the window of the shop so Arkwright beat him up in the stockroom.  Then the milk delivery came by and Nurse Gladys Emmanuel pulled up in a hearse or something.  I don’t know, it was a weird episode.

Book Review: Stud Service by John D. Revere

In 1985, Justin Perry’s fifth and final adventure was published.  In Stud Service, the CIA’s most deadly and sex-obsessed assassin discovers that his whole life has been manipulated to lead to one moment, the moment when he will be sacrificed to Halley’s Comet.  Before the sacrifice, of course, his sperm will be preserved by a secret cult that will use it to create hundreds of genetically perfect warriors who will conquer the Earth and rule it for the next 50,000 years….

Okay, I’m sensing that some of you think I’m making this up.  I’m not.  That is the plot of the final Assassin novel.  Justin Perry discovers that SADIF is a front for a cult that worships Halley’s Comet and that his sperm is the key to their plan to rule the world.  Actually, there’s several cults.  It turns out that there’s many different divisions within the Halley Society and one of them is run the Old Man, who was Justin’s mysterious handler at the CIA.  As the Old Man explains it, he just wanted to serve his country and make the world a better place.  But he also has a brain tumor that is driving him mad.

It’s actually kind of an interesting wrap-up for the series.  If nothing else, it actually explains why, over the course of the previous four books, people from Justin’s past kept randomly popping up and turning out to be SADIF agents.  Since birth, Justin has been cultivated and developed to be a potential sacrifice to the comet.  Even the Old Man and his sister were involved in it.  Everything over the past four books has been about developing Justin into a heartless killing machine and, significantly, this book features Justin realizing that he no longer “enjoys” killing as much as he once did.  He’s rediscovered his humanity and that humanity allows him to survive, even when he has hundreds of Halley cultists trying to masturbate him to death.

That said, even though the book nicely wraps up the weirdness of the series, it’s still a bit of mess.  Trying to keep straight who works for each faction of the Halley Society requires taking notes, which is more activity than Justin Perry really deserves and this is one of those action novels where there’s considerably more exposition than action.  It’s safe to skim over the final fourth of the book because nothing really happens until the final page or so.  Somehow, the book manages to be extremely sordid and rather dull at the same time.

This was the final Justin Perry story.  He saved the world a lot.  Interestingly, it does appear that the author meant for this to be the final novel.  This wasn’t a case of the publisher saying, “We’re not wasting any more money on this series.”  Instead, all four of the previous book lead to this fifth one and it ends on a definite note of conclusion.  One gets the feeling that the author felt that he had said everything that he needed to say.  Of course, it’s impossible to guess what exactly it was that he was trying to say.  I personally suspect the whole thing was meant to be an elaborate joke on the people who regularly read novels about violent spies and never once considered that their literary heroes were actually deeply damaged sociopaths.  If so, bravo.

Film Review: The Fallout (dir by Megan Park)

The Fallout, which premiered on HBOMax way back in January, opens with a scene of a sandwich being made.  It’s a peanut butter sandwich but the person making it is putting way too much peanut butter on the bread.  The kitchen counter is a mess.  The knife looks dirty.  To be honest, it’s kind of sickening to watch.

No, the film is not about the sandwich.  In fact, the sandwich never appears again.  But I have to admit that sandwich represents the entire film to me.  That scene, I think, is meant to tell us that we’re watching a film about real people and sometimes, real people prepare disgusting food in a cluttered kitchen.  And that’s true.  Then again, sometimes they don’t and that’s something that some filmmakers don’t want to acknowledge.  Indeed, there’s something rather condescending about the cinematic belief that being authentic is the equivalent of being a slob.  It’s an interesting phenomena how a film can try so hard to be “real” that it instead becomes the opposite.

The Fallout certainly deals with an important subject.  Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) goes to high school on a day like any other day and, without warning, finds herself in the middle of a school shooting.  The shooting itself is handled well.  We don’t see the shooter nor do we learn anything about him.  We just hear the gunshots while Vada, Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler — yes, of Dance Moms fame), and Quinton (Niles Fitch) hide in a bathroom stall.  It’s a terrifying scene and it immediately reminded me of what it was like when I was in high school and I would see stories about school shootings and wonder if my school was going to be next.

The rest of the film deals with the emotional, political, and mental fallout of the shooting.  Quinton struggles with the death of his brother.  Vada’s best friend, Nick (Will Ropp), becomes a self-righteous David Hogg type.  And Vada starts spending all of her time with Mia, a dancer and influencer whose Dads are in Europe and apparently can’t even be bothered to come back to the States even after their daughter is involved in a school shooting.  Vada, who has a total crush on Mia, starts hanging out at Mia’s mansion.  Mia is happy to finally have a friend that she can talk to, even if Vada is kind of annoying.

(The whole thing with the Dads being in Europe and Mia living alone in her mansion feels a bit too convenient, to be honest.)

The film is dealing with important issues, which is one reason why it’s gotten so many good reviews.  This is one of those films that many people feel obligated to like because otherwise, they might run the risk of being told that they don’t care about school shootings.  But, honestly, the film doesn’t really have that much to say.  It hits all of the expected beats and, as much as the film tries to make everything messy and real, it often seems like it’s trying too hard.  Of course, Vada is going to use drugs to get through her first day back at school.  Of course, Vada’s father is going to encourage her to shout out her frustrations at the top of her lungs.  Of course, Vada’s mother is going to be remote and controlling.  Of course, her little sister is going to have a breakdown.  Of course, her best friend is going to get mad at her for not wanting to get involved with his nascent political career.  Of course, there’s going to be an absolutely cringey moment where Vada starts talking a mile a minute just because she smoked one joint.  To be honest, I’ve never seen anyone react to weed quite the way that Vada does.  She’s like the person who gets drunk off half a beer and then won’t stop talking.  It’s freaking annoying.  Throughout the film, there are occasional moments that work but, ultimately, it’s never quite as insightful as it obviously believes itself to be.

Jenna Ortega does give a good performance as Vada.  As written, the character is often annoying but, then again, the same can be said of most people and one can only imagine what Vada would have been like without Ortega’s likable screen presence.  The film is pretty much stolen, though, by Maddie Ziegler.  Ziegler reveals the lonely reality behind the influencer façade.  Since Ziegler is herself a dancer and an influencer, she brings a lot of her own persona to Mia but, at the same time, she also makes Mia into a believable character who has a life and an existence that’s separate from the actress playing her.  After The Book of Henry and Music, The Fallout actually gives Ziegler a chance to prove that she can act as well as she can dance.

As opposed to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Fran Kranz’s Mass, which both that the courage to acknowledge that violence and its consequences can never be truly understood or easily defined, The Fallout tries too hard to find definitive meaning in an incomprehensible tragedy.  For all of its good intentions and its attempts to be realistic, there’s a shallowness at the heart of The Fallout that keeps it from working.

Book Review: Mike Nichols: A Life by Mark Harris

Mike Nichols.

That’s a name that should be familiar to anyone who claims to be a student of film or a lover of Broadway.  Originally born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany, the rise of the Hitler led to Nichols and his family immigrating to the United States in 1939.  By that time, the seven year-old Nichols had already been completely bald for three years, the result of a bout of whooping cough.  Like many who have had first-hand experience with trauma, Nichols developed an appreciation for the absurdity of life and a rather dark sense of humor.  After studying to be an actor, Nichols found fame as a satirist and a comedian, performing with Elaine May.  He would later go on to become not only an important theatrical director but also an important film director.  With his directorial debut, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he helped to destroy what was left of the production code.  With The Graduate, he helped to define the generation gap.  With Carnal Knowledge, he explored sexual frustration and ennui.  With Catch-22, he proved that even a great director can struggle to adapt an unfilmable book.

Mike Nicholas was an important director but, because his work was never quite as flashy as some of his contemporaries and because he spent as much time directing for the stage as for the movies, it always seems as if he runs the risk of being overlooked by film lovers.  Luckily, Mark Harris’s biography, Mike Nichols: A Life, not only presents the details of his life and career but it also makes a convincing case that Nichols is a director who, despite all of his awards and the admiration of those who worked with him, has been a bit underrated.  Harris convincingly argues that, while Nichols’s films dealt with timeless issues, they also often defined the era in which they were made.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate are both definitive films of the 60s.  Carnal Knowledge is a film that captures the disillusionment of the early 70s, with Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel playing men destined to never escape their self-imposed mental prisons.  Working Girl captured the greedy atmosphere of the 80s while Primary Colors epitomized America in the 90s and Closer captured the confused morality of the aughts.

To his credit, Harris doesn’t make the mistake of idealizing Nichols.  Harris is just honest about the Nichols films that don’t work as he is about the ones that do.  The failure of Catch-22 was as due to Nichols’s new-found cockiness as a director as it was to the unwieldy source material.  On What Planet Are You From?, Nichols develops an almost instant and somewhat irrational dislike of comedian Garry Shandling, which is a bit unfortunate as Shandling was not only the star of the film but also in need of a director who would work with him to conquer his insecurities.  This biography is honest about both Nichols’s strengths and his weaknesses and, as such, it becomes a fascinating look at one artist’s creative process.

It also become a look at how American culture changed from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st Century.  Nichols made his directorial debut in 1965 and directed his final film in 2007.  For 42 years, Nichols recorded the cultural transformation of America, from scandalizing America by having Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton curse at each other to making a film about the policy decisions that would eventually contribute to 9-11 and the new America that was formed as a result of that tragedy.  Mike Nichols: A Life isn’t just about Mike Nichols.  It’s about how American culture, for better and worse, has developed and changed over the last century.

If you’re looking for a good and in-depth biography about a director who deserves to be rediscovered, Mike Nichols: A Life is the one to go with.

Film Review: Operation Mincemeat (dir by John Madden)

Based on a true story, Operation Mincemeat takes place in 1943, during the second World War.  The British are planning an invasion of Sicily, both to break Hitler’s hold on Europe and to also knock Italy out of the war.  The problem is that the attack on Sicily makes so much strategic sense that the Germans have spent months preparing for it and, even if successful, the invasion will cost an untold number of British lives.  Somehow, British intelligence must trick the Germans into thinking that the British are planning to invade Greece instead.

With the help of Lt. Commander Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew McFayden) come up with the plan to fool the Germans.  A dead body will be disguised as a British officer.  The body will be transported, via submarine, to Spain, which was technically neutral during the war.  The body will wash up on shore and, when the body is examined, a note detailing Britain’s invasion of Greece will be discovered and passed along to the Germans.  Because the Germans have been fooled by a similar trick in the past, Montagu and Cholmondeley create a fake backstory for “Maj. William Martin” and soon start to think of him as being a someone who truly did live.  Joining them to create a life for Major Martin is Jean Leslie (Kelly MacDonald), a secretary in the office who volunteers a photo of herself to be placed in Martin’s wallet.

Of course, things get complicated.  While plotting out the operation, Jean starts to fall in love with Montagu, whose marriage is currently strained by Montagu’s obsession with his work.  (Because he knows what will happen to a Jewish family in the UK if Germany invades, Montagu has sent his wife and his children to the U.S.)  Cholomondeley is in love with Jean and soon finds himself growing jealous of the man that he’s been assigned to work with.  Meanwhile, the head of British Intelligence (Jason Isaacs) wants to investigate Montagu’s brother for being a communist.  As for Ian Fleming, he keeps himself busy by writing a book.  In fact, so many members of British Intelligence are identified as being aspiring novelists that it becomes a bit of a running joke.

I have always appreciated a good World War II film and I enjoyed Operation Mincemeat.  It’s a bit of an old-fashioned film, of course.  The F-word is used exactly once (which makes this a rarity amongst modern British films) and there’s one scene in which a member of British intelligence discreetly gives an informant a handjob in return for information.  Otherwise, this is pretty much a film that you could safely show your grandma without having to worry about her getting depressed over how much movies have changed since her day.  Old-fashioned or not, it’s a well-made film, full of good performances and sharp dialogue.  It’s not a flashy film but it’s very nicely put together and it’s hard not to admire the craftsmanship responsible for it.  Operation Mincemeat is all the more interesting for being, more or less, true.  While the love triangle was invented for the film, it is true that Ian Fleming was a part of Operation Mincemeat and the film’s use of him as a character works surprisingly well.  The scene where a young Fleming tours the World War II version of Q Branch provides some nice comic relief, particularly when Flemings comes across a wristwatch that doubles as a mini-saw.

What elevates Operation Mincemeat is its theme of loss.  Almost all of the major characters have lost someone or something to the war.  Jean Leslie is a widow.  Cholomendely’s brother was killed in action and his body is still in Europe.  Montagu has had to send his family away for their own safety.  For them, the Major Martin becomes a stand-in for all of the people that they’ve lost.  The effort to make Martin into a real person allows all of them one final chance to honor their loved ones.  Major Martin becomes a stand-in for all British soldiers and civilians who sacrificed their lives to battle Hitler’s war machine.  Operation Mincemeat becomes about more than just fooling the Germans.  It becomes about being worthy of the sacrifice that it took to defeat them.

As is shown in the film, the real Major Martin was a vagrant named Glyndwr Michael, who died after eating rat poison.  The film suggests that Michael deliberately killed himself but no one will ever know for sure what led to him eating that poison.  After his death, he was given the uniform of a British officer and his pockets were filled with things that would identify him as being Major William Martin.  Though he never knew it, Glyndwr Michael become one of the greatest heroes of World War II.  Operation Mincemeat serves a worthy tribute to both Glyndwr Michael and Major William Martin.

A Blast From The Past: Lucy (dir by Paul Glickman)

In the picture above, you can see Lucy (played by Olga Soler), the title character of the 1975 educational short, Lucy.  Lucy is 15 years old and she spends almost all of her time with her boyfriend, Joe (Michael D’Emidio).  As Lucy herself explains her narration (which is provided by an actress named Marilyn Gold), her entire life revolved around Joe.  Since Joe dropped out of school, Lucy dropped out of school too.  Since Joe wanted to spend all of his time walking around New York City, Lucy did the same.  They thought they were in love.  One discreet sex scene later and Lucy’s pregnant!

Lucy is a bit different from some of the other educational films that I’ve seen about teenage pregnancy.  Though initially shocked and angered, Lucy’s parents are eventually supportive.  Joe doesn’t run away but instead promises to do whatever he can to help, though Lucy ruefully acknowledges that it won’t be much as Joe doesn’t even have a high school diploma.  Though a friend offers to help Lucy get an abortion, Lucy decides to have her baby and social services shows up to help her.  At the end of the film, Lucy is still not sure whether she’s going to keep her baby or give it up for adoption.  She just knows that her life will never be the same.  Compared to just about every other educational film that I’ve seen about this subject, Lucy takes a rather low-key and matter-of-fact approach to its story.  It’s well-made but rather depressing.

It’s also a rather obscure film.  I couldn’t find much about the film on the IMDb.  Is the Paul Glickman who is credited as the film’s director the same Paul Glickman who edited some of Larry Cohen’s best films?  Who knows?

Now, I know I’ve probably made this film sound really depressing to sit through but there is a dance scene towards the start of the film.  That helps.

Book Review: Death’s Running Mate by John D. Revere

Having previously taken on mutant chickens and barnyard sex, the fourth Justin Perry novel takes on the American political system!

First published in 1985, Death’s Running Mate is all over the place.  Author John D. Revere plays with time in Death’s Running Mate, which means that the book opens minutes before the climax of oversexed super assassin Justin Perry’s latest mission and then flashes back to how Perry and the readers arrived at that moment but the flashbacks themselves contain their own flashbacks and even the occasional flash forward.  It leaves the plot so jumbled that it would probably require keeping extensive notes to really understand everything that happens and jotting down notes is a bit more effort than a Justin Perry novel deserves.  The previous three Justin Perry novels were surreal but the fourth one plays out like an extended fever dream.  And yet, because it’s so strange, it’s also probably the most compelling of all of the Perry novels.  You keep turning page after page, just to see how much stranger it can get.

The book deals with politics.  A 36 year-old woman named Andrea McKay has come out of nowhere and is running for President as the candidate of the Federalist-Liberal Party.  She’s running on a platform to “throw the rats out” and she proves her sincerity by eating rat meat at her campaign events.  Those who have read the previous volumes of the Justin Perry series will not be a surprised to learn that Andrea McKay is actually being backed by SADIF, an evil conspiracy that previously infiltrated the Vatican and developed mutant chickens.  And since a major theme of these books is that Justin Perry is somehow at the center of everything that happens on the planet, most readers will not be surprised to learn that Andrea’s political platform was developed by SADIF abducting Justin during an orgy, holding him captive in a mental hospital for several months, and then interviewing him about his thoughts on politics.  Justin is not only an expert killer who literally can’t leave the house with getting laid.  He’s also so in touch with the American people that his vague political opinions can serve as the basis of a successful third party presidential campaign.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that Andrea McKay is being as manipulated by SADIF as Justin is by The Old Man, his boss at the CIA.  The suggestion, of course, is that Andrea, Justin, and the voters are all in the same situation.  They’re all being manipulated and used like pawns on a chessboard.

As strange as the Andrea McKay presidential campaign is, it’s not the strangest part of the book.  This is a novel that starts with Justin bragging about how he’s going to kill the population of an entire town in Illinois and then flashes back to Justin disguising himself as a psychologist so that he can prevent SADIF from breaking into a mental hospital and releasing all of the patients.  (It turns out that the mental hospital uses sex therapy and, of course, Justin has to be carefully examined before he’s allowed to work there.)  Among other events, Justin gets attacked by a woman driving a pumpkin truck and then later, he discovers the truth of his parentage.  And I’m not even getting into the scenes of teenage Justin learning how to make love with a girl named Thelma who later turns out to be a spy herself.  Did Justin Perry ever know anyone who didn’t turn out to be a spy?

To be honest, I’m probably not communicating just how weird this book is.  I haven’t even gotten to the stuff about Illinois or the author’s apparent belief that a presidential vacancy is filled by a special election.  (I laugh out loud at that part of the book, if just because it reminded me of Sally Kohn’s theory that impeaching Trump and Pence would lead to a special election between Paul Ryan and Hillary Clinton.  “Straight forward from here,” as Sally put it.)  Earlier, I described the book as being a fever dream but it’s really like several hundred fever dreams, all crammed together to form one big epic.  Not a bit of it makes sense but the total lack of coherence is undeniably fascinating.  Justin’s as much of a sex-crazed misogynist as he was in the previous books but, at least in this case, it nearly leads to collapse of the United States (which, I might add, leads me to suspect that these books were meant to be satirical).  Will Justin learn a lesson from this?  I’ve read the final book in the series and no.  He does not.

Speaking of that fifth book, I’ll be reviewing that one on Saturday!  And then, we’ll be done with Justin Perry.

Film Review: The Stranger (dir by Fritz Kiersch)

In the desert of Arizona, there sits a town.

That town is named Lakeview, despite the fact that there is no lake nearby.  There aren’t many buildings in the town.  There’s a service station.  There’s a diner.  There’s a sheriff’s office.  There’s a general store.  There are a few houses.  Lakeview is a place that people rarely visit and which no one can escape.

There is a sheriff.  His name is Cole (Eric Pierpoint) and he spends most of his days in an alcoholic stupor.  He’s been depressed ever since his girlfriend, Bridget, was murdered.  Now, Bridget’s younger sister, Gordet (Robin Lyn Heath), is living like a feral animal while the local shopkeeper, Sally (Ginger Lynn Allen), is determined to have Cole for herself.  Cole’s deputy (Ash Adams) is in love with Sally and wants Cole’s job for his own.  That’s a lot of drama for a small town.

Of course, the real drama in Lakeview comes from the fact that the town is run by a group of bikers!  The head biker is named Angel (Andrew Divoff).  By terrorizing the citizens, Angel and his gang make their own wishes come true without ever asking anyone else if that’s something they would be interested in.  Cole is too drunk and depressed to stand up to them.  The other townspeople are …. well, I don’t know what their problem is.  One assumes that they have to be tough, as they’re living in a harsh and inhospitable desert.  But none of them them are willing to stand up for themselves.  Maybe they’ve recently moved to Arizona from California and they’re not used to the idea of self-defense.  But, for whatever reason, Angel controls Lakeview.

But then the Stranger (Kathy Long) rides up on her motorcycle.  Dressed in black leather and wearing a corset that looks like it would actually be really uncomfortable in the desert heat, The Stranger has no name but she does know how to kick ass.  She has come to kill all the members of Angel’s gang.  Unfortunately, the majority of the gang is out-of-town when The Stranger arrives.  So, the Stranger waits in Lakeview and kills who she can.  The townspeople, led by Sally, want her to leave before things get too violent.  Meanwhile, Cole comes out of his drunken stupor just long enough to notice that the Stranger looks a lot like his dead girlfriend….

1995’s The Stranger was an attempt to a modern-day spaghetti western, with a woman playing the type of mysterious figure who would traditionally have been played by Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson.  That, in itself, is a pretty good idea.  Unfortunately, The Stranger itself is abysmally paced and the filmmakers seem to have overlooked that, in the best spaghetti westerns, the silent, nameless heroes were usually paired with a more talkative (and often much more amusing) partner.  The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly had Eli Wallach.  Once Upon A Time In The West had Jason Robards.  In The Stranger, there’s not really anyone around to fill that role.  (Cole is too full of self-pity to be amusing.  Gordet spends most of the movie running from one abandoned car to another.)  As such, The Stranger becomes fairly grim and slow.  Things are only livened up when The Stranger beats people up.  Kathy Long was a kickboxing champion and she’s strong enough in the action scenes that it makes up for the fact that she doesn’t have a particularly compelling screen presence.  She and Eric Pierpoint also have next to no romantic chemistry, making the whole question of whether or not she’s Bridget’s ghost seem a bit moot.

The best reason to see the film is to watch Andrew Divoff play Angel.  Divoff is always a good villain and he’s memorably unhinged in The Stranger.  Unfortunately, he’s not in the film as much as the viewer might hope.  Watching the film, I half expected the Wishmaster to ask if I wanted Andrew Divoff’s role to be larger.  I would have said no while thinking yes.  You know how that Wishmaster is.

Two Looks at the Office: The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene and Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman

The American version of The Office was so good that it has led to not one but two oral histories!  And I’m such a fan that I’ve got both of them.

The first oral history that I read was Andy Greene’s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s.  First published in 2020, Greene’s book was full of interesting facts and anecdotes, though a careful reading revealed that a lot of the “oral” part of the oral history was lifted from old interviews, DVD commentaries, and an article that Greene had previously written.  The book was notable for 1) establishing that Steve Carell is one of the nicest guys in show business, 2) putting the blame squarely on Jeff Zuker for Carell not returning after Season 7, and 3) getting some of the behind-the-scenes people to talk about why seasons 8 and, to a lesser extent, season 9 were so uneven.

The other oral history, which was published earlier this year, was Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  It was written by Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone on the show) and Ben Silverman, one of the show’s producers.  Probably because Baumgartner and Silverman were both involved in the show, they apparently were able to get a lot more people to talk to them personally.  Unlike Greene’s book, which relied heavily on previously published interviews, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin features recent interviews with people like Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Angela Kinsey, Craig Robinson, Ed Helms, Amy Ryan and many others.  In fact, nearly the entire cast seems to have been interviewed for Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  Presumably because their schedules wouldn’t allow it, neither BJ Novak or Mindy Kaling are interviewed and their absence is definitely felt.  Also not interviewed is James Spader but that’s not really a surprise.  (Spader played Robert California during the season of The Office that everyone seems to agree was the worst, Season 8.)  While everyone in both of the oral histories is quick to compliment Spader as an actor and a person, there’s a general agreement that the show never figured out what to do with the Robert California character and that Spader’s vibe didn’t quite meld with the show.  One gets the feeling that his time on The Office is something that Spader is more than happy to put behind him.

(Personally, of all the celebrities who were brought in to “interview” for the management position after Steve Carell left the show, I thought Ray Romano was the one who seemed like he would best fit in with the show’s ensemble.  Then again, I always felt that the best solution would have been to cast some total unknown for as Michael’s replacement and then keep him off-screen as much as possible.  But I’m getting distracted.  Someday, I’ll post my big ‘What the Office Should Have Done’ screed.  Of course, it’ll be like 20 years too late but whatever….)

The books are both full of love for The Office but they each take a somewhat different approach.  The Untold Story takes a very structured and very chronological look at the show and focuses a lot on what went on behind the scenes, both on set and with the network.  (If you didn’t already dislike Jeff Zucker, you will after reading Greene’s book.)  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin takes a far looser approach to the material and focuses more on what it was like to be a part of television’s funniest ensemble.  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin is full of interviews of people gushing about how much they loved working together and how proud they were to work on The Office and what’s interesting is that, even though you’re just reading their words on the printed page, you never doubt that they’re totally telling the truth.  Perhaps because it was Baumgartner who was doing the interview, the cast seems to let down their guard in a way that you really don’t see very often when it comes to performers talking about their time on a classic show.

Welcome to Dunder Mifflin focuses on the positive aspects of being on the show.  Whereas The Untold Story spends a lot of times on Seasons 8 and 9 and on the difficulty of integrating James Spader and Catherine Tate into the main cast, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin devotes only a few pages to those seasons and instead focuses on the Carell years.  One thing that both of these oral histories have in common is that Steve Carell comes across as being the nicest guy who ever lived.  How nice is Steve Carell?  I’d rather live next door to him than Tom Hanks.  Actually, I take that back.  I would want Carell next door and Tom Hanks living across the street.  It’s a big neighborhood.

Both of these oral histories nicely compliment each other.  If you want a chronological history of the show, Greene’s book is for you.  If you want a book that focuses on what it felt like to be a member of The Office crew, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin has you covered.  I would recommend buying both and getting the full Office experience.

And remember, there’s no party like a Scranton party.

Film Review: Running Red (dir by Jerry P. Jacobs)

I have to admit that I feel a little bit cheated by the 1999 film, Running Red.

I figured that, with a name like Running Red, the film would be about a redhead who did a lot of running.  Since I am a redhead that does a lot of running, I figured that I would be able to relate to this film.  Unfortunately, while it’s true that the film does feature a redhead, she doesn’t get to do much running.  In fact, she doesn’t really get to do much of anything.  Katherine (Angie Everhart) is mostly just there to support her husband, except for those moments that she thinks he’s cheating on him because he’s lied to her about being a former mercenary.

Her husband, who is played by Jeff Speakman, goes by the name of Greg.  He’s got a beard and he sells real estate and he has to go on a lot of business trips.  However, before he grew the beard, Greg’s name was Grigori and he was apparently a Russian even though, even in the flashbacks that open the film, he never had a Russian accent.  Grigori was a part of some sort of weird Russian military unit but he grew disgusted with the ruthlessness of the unit’s leader, Alexi (Stanley Kamel).  After one particularly brutal mission, Grigori dropped his submachine gun to the ground.  In the movie, this is shown to us in slow motion so we know what that this isn’t just a standard shot of a soldier carelessly dropping a loaded weapon.  No, this shot is significant.  This is the …. SLO MO OF DISILLUSIONMENT!

Anyway, a few years pass and Grigori is now Greg and he’s married to Katherine and they have a daughter.  When two meth addicts steal Greg’s SUV (with his daughter in the backseat), Greg promptly steals an ambulance and chases them down.  Using his Russian combat training, Greg beats up the two men.  He thinks that no one has seen him but it just so happens that some old busy body was outside with a video camera.  Greg makes the news!

Unfortunately, the news report is seen by Alexi.  Alexi tracks Greg down and demands that Greg help him out with a few more missions.  Wishing to protect his family, Greg agrees.  He winds up not only lying to his wife about why he suddenly has to go to Detroit but he also misses her high school reunion!  (She even had her old cheerleading outfit cleaned for the special occasion.)  Greg really should know better than to lie to a redhead.  He also should have known better than to think Alexi was ever going to leave him alone.  Greg soon discovers that Alexi isn’t going to be satisfied with just a few missions.  In fact, Alexi wants Greg to assassinate a city councilman who either supports or opposed the construction of a stadium.  To be honest, I kind of had a hard time keeping straight how everyone felt about the stadium.

It may seem as if the filmmakers weren’t that concerned with coming up with a coherent plot and that’s because they weren’t.  The entire film has a make-it-up-as-you-along feel to it.  That makes the plot impossible to follow but it also leads to a few moments that are so over-the-top and weird that you can’t help but kind of love then.  At one point, Jeff Speakman steals a bus and uses it for a high-speed chase.  A little later, he ends up getting into multiple fights on a luxury yacht.  I’m not sure who he was fighting or why they were fighting but it really didn’t matter.  All that matters is that most of the fights were well-choreographed and the action was quick-paced and didn’t have too many slow spots.  Jeff Speakman was a professional martial artist.  Judging by this film, he couldn’t act worth a damn but he could throw a convincing punch and he looked good hitting people.  It’s best not to demand too much from a film like this.  After all, Running Red never said it was going to be anything other than a silly action movie.

That said, I’m a bit disappointed that Katherine didn’t get to do more because, as played by Angie Everhart, she had the potential to be an interesting character and, like me, she was lucky enough to be one of the 2% of the population that has naturally red hair.  That said, Running Red is both frequently dumb and often entertaining.  It delivers what the majority of viewers will be watching it for (i.e., mindless action) and there’s something to be said for a film that is at peace with what it is.

On a personal note (and yes, I’m aware that it’s kind of silly for me to say that when all of my reviews are, more or less, personal notes), I watched Running Red on YouTube as a part of this week’s #MondayActionMovie live tweet.  The version that I saw featured French opening credits and the first few minutes of dialogue were also in French before abruptly switching over to English.  I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when everyone suddenly started speaking English.  I was looking forward to tweeting along in French!  Oh well!