THE LCJ POD-A-THON FOR MAKE-A-WISH
This summer, I've been catching-up on TV shows that have been living, in purgatory, on my DVR, including the remaining batch of episodes of two FOX comedies that have since been cancelled, "Grandathered", starring John Stamos, and "The Grinder", with Rob Lowe and Fred Savage. These two smart comedies got me thinking about other recent series that were cancelled after just one season that also deserved a second year. Others may have cult favorites such as "Firefly", "Freeks and Geeks", "My So Called Life" and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" at the top of their such lists. Here are mine:
The 2013-2014 network TV season saw the return of three industry giants. "Back to the Future" and "Family Ties" star Michael J. Fox played a TV news reporter on "The Michael J. Fox Show". And "Will & Grace"'s Sean Hayes was a single dad with a feisty mom (played by the great Linda Lavin) on "Sean Saves the World". NBC cut them both heading into the Winter Olympics. And the late Robin Williams teamed with Sarah Michelle Geller on the CBS advertising comedy "The Crazy Ones", which ended four months before Williams' death.
Caught in a Good Romance
"A to Z", which aired on NBC from 2014-2015, was a sweet rom-com narrated by Katey Sagal and starring Ben Feldman (now on "Superstore") and Cristin Millioti ("How I Met Your Mother"). Their chemistry was dynamite. Rashida Jones produced the show, and she guest-starred on the final, satisfying episode.
Cartoon Network's 2009 summer game show "BrainRush" featured a then unknown Lamorne Morris ("New Girl") asking trivia questions to contestants while riding insane rollercoasters. The concept was unique, and the results were pretty entertaining. Morris told me in 2012 that CN thought about reviving the show, but plans were scrapped. The TBS Funny or Die competition "America's Next Weatherman", which aired last summer, was a fun and original reality series that poked fun at other reality series. There are no current details on a Season 2. Considering it was a spoof it might be tough to pull it off again.
Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) guest-starring on Disney Channel's "Sofia the First" was a TV event for millions of families. But how about when Eddie Murphy, as Donkey, guest-starred on NBC's primetime animated series "Father of the Pride" a decade ago? It wasn't a great show, but DreamWorks and The Peacock definitely took some risks that deserve to be acknowledged.
And a Miniseries
Yes, I know the definition of a miniseries - they aren't supposed to last that long - but last summer's ABC hit "The Astronaut Wives Club" was one of the most fascinating network shows I've ever watched: 10 strong episodes about the wives of the first men who went into space, headlined by a fantastic ensemble.
But Above All...
If there's one show that deserved a renewal, or a revival on Amazon, Hulu or Netflix (if they were the content kings they are now back in '08), it's the FOX comedy "Back to You". Before Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd introduced us to their "Modern Family", they cast Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as local TV news anchors who secretly had a child together. Pre-"MF" Ty Burrell played a hilarious street reporter, pre-"Book of Mormon" and "Frozen" Gad was the news director and Fred Willard was in classic form, always making me laugh-out-loud as the sports anchor. All 17 episodes (3 didn't air because of the Writer's Strike) are sharply written, impecibly exectuted and memorable. You can make the arguement that Grammer, Heaton, Burrell, Gad and Willard - together - is the greatest sitcom ensemble of the past 20+ years.
When I met Grammer several years ago after seeing him on Broadway in "La Cage Aux Folles", I told him I never wanted the show to end. His reply, "Neither did I."
If ever there was an animated franchise that's been milked for all it's worth, it's "Ice Age" (though I'm not sure if you could actually milk Mooly Mammoths). What began as a noble and heartfelt, Oscar-nominated original back in 2002 (the first feature from Blue Sky Studios) is now four sequels, three shorts and two TV specials deep. "The Meltdown" ('06) and "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" ('09) were satisfying follow-ups, but 2012's "Continental Drift" proved the series had lost its edge. Now, "Collision Course" leaves no doubt that "Ice Age" is worthy of cinematic extinction.
The most, or rather, only, amusing element in "Collision Course" are the Scrat vignettes. This time, our acorn-loving saber-tooth squirrel has gotten himself "lost in space", and, as we learn from narration by scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has caused an asteroid to head straight towards Earth. The decision by the writers to bring back Buck, a great character from "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (voiced by Simon Pegg), was smart, but he, and practically everything in the movie, is too much to handle this time.
As for the plot - it's Buck who informs all the others (Manny, Sid, Diego, etc., etc., etc.) that the asteroid will end life as they know it unless they find a way to stop it. And there's a theme about dealing with change, as Manny and and Ellie's daughter Peaches is getting married and moving out. It's all as basic as that.
Of course, Mammoths, Ground Sloths and Saber-Tooth Tigers (et al) no longer exist. But, even though "Collision Course" is promoted as "The Defining Chapter" of this saga, unfortunately FOX doesn't stick to history, though I wish they had. Frankly, it's the only humane thing to do at this point in the series.
While "IA5" is expected to underperform in the US, it's already a monster overseas, just like its predecessors. That's the reason Blue Sky keeps investing time and energy into churning-out new chapters of the franchise. It's a bit of a surprise that the focus hasn't shifted to turning this into a TV series. The "Collision Course" script is worthy of a 22-minute cable/web treatment and the show would likely be very popular.
In a "nutshell": "Collision Course" is colorful and cheery, with rambunctious, non-stop, off-the-wall energy for 90 minutes. The dialogue is dull and there are fifteen-minute stretches without a single chuckle. New additions to the voice cast: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jessie J, Adam DeVine, Nick Offerman, and even Kelly Ripa's TV ex, Michael Strahan don't raise the entertainment level an inch.
A five year-old girl sitting in the row behind me loved all the action and hijinks. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, older than her will find themselves rooting for the asteroid.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Ice Age: Collision Course" gets a D+.
After a successful “Star Trek” reboot in 2009 and an even stronger 2013 sequel, J.J. Abrams handed control of the Starship Enterprise over to “Fast & Furious” director Justin Lin - who has now destroyed it, in more ways than one. Literally, the Enterprise gets demolished early in “Star Trek Beyond” - which features dazzling visuals and elaborate action scenes, but also, 50 years after the iconic TV series began, the big screen franchise has become, well, ordinary.
Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew are back. While on year three of their five-year mission, the gang runs into some trouble and a new foe in Krall (played by an unrecognizable Idris Elba). He and his army separate the Starfleet members, who must work their way back together throughout much of the movie if they have any hope of saving mankind. Simon Pegg, who returns as Scotty, co-wrote the script, and he infuses some quirky humor that’s hit and miss.
Kirk (played again by Chris Pine) remarks at the start of the film that he’s tired of the same ol’ routine - that the voyages are getting “episodic”. The “Star Trek” TV series really was episodic, with a good vs. evil, rescue mission plot every week, garnished with new aliens and situations to keep things interesting and fun. But what really kept millions of viewers coming back to the show and turning it into a cultural phenomenon? The core characters.
Abrams’ first two films took us deeper, with a serious, character-study approach, and some real drama and emotion. “Star Trek Beyond”, on the other hand, has the blatant feel of an extended TV episode. It’s also the most “commercial” entry of the new incarnation. This isn’t just an action movie, it’s an all-action movie, with Lin hardly making any effort to take it “beyond” the level of his “Fast & Furious” style.
Trekkies will no-doubt enjoy the non-stop action. And, don’t get me wrong, “Beyond” is far from a bad movie. The likable cast members bring their A-games, the makeup is spectacular and the effects are worthy. And there are some nice references to the Star Trek legacy, along with appropriate acknowledgements to the late Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin in the closing credits. But what hooked me about this new vision of “Star Trek” was that it didn’t need to succumb to the formalities of other blockbusters in this genre in order to prosper. It was the hip, cool outcast in the galaxy. “Star Trek Beyond” diminishes the franchise by boldly going where practically every other sci-fi series has gone before.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Star Trek Beyond” gets a B-.
Woody Allen's five films prior to "Cafe Society" included a couple of Oscar winners ("Midnight in Paris", "Blue Jasmine"), a guilty pleasure ("Irrational Man"), a mixed bag ("Magic in the Moonlight") and a bit of a disaster ("To Rome with Love"). This latest all-star, romantic dramedy is the first Allen movie distributed by Lionsgate and Amazon, with the online giant already agreeing to finance Allen's 2017 project for a reported $25 million. That decision was likely based on early box office results and not on the quality of "Cafe Society", which is on the weak side of the Allen spectrum.
Woody tries to suck us into the visual splendor of the 1930s, both in New York City, and particularly, Hollywood, but never quite succeeds. So it's up to story and performances to make this a winner, and neither are up to the challenge. Allen narrate this tale (sadly, at 80, the signature tone and tenor of his voice are all but gone), introducing us to a bulked-up Steve Carell as big-time Tinseltown movie studio agent Phil Stern. I've enjoyed Carell's dramatic roles over the years, and while his work as antagonists in "The Way, Way Back" and "Foxcatcher" was spot-on, he's not as convincing here.
Phil's timid, quirky nephew, Bobby (played by Jesse Eisenberg) has moved from The Big Apple to Hollywood hoping to land a job at his uncle's agency. He becomes Phil's assistant and immediately falls for Vonnie, Phil's personal secretary. Kristen Stewart reunites with Eisenberg for the third time, following "Adventureland" (2009) and last year's awful action comedy "American Ultra", and while they don't give career-best performances, their connection feels natural.
A love triangle (an Allen staple) soon develops that eventually changes shape, as a City Hall PR woman (played by Blake Lively) enters the picture. Her character's name will likely make your eyes rolls (as it did mine), with Allen, the writer, getting too cute for the movie's good. At one point Bobby states, "Love is a comedy, from a sadistic writer". This may be an attempt by Allen to salute himself, but unfortunately this script doesn't have the bite, irony or evil streak to live-up to that tribute. It's simply another in a series of Woody Allen's overly-crafted, fantasy romances.
"Cafe Society" also includes a few off-the-tracks subplots involving Bobby's gangster brother and his quirky, Jewish parents. Nothing new here. These elements, along with everything else in the tidy 95-minutes, faii to provide the charm that's always a part of Allen's best movies. Lively and Parker Posey (so good in "Irrational Man") are wasted in throwaway roles.
Not until the final moments of "Cafe Society" do we actually get a few things to contemplate, thanks to an authentic scene which touches on life, love and loss. It also got me wondering why Woody didn't put as much thought and care into the rest of this film.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Cafe Society" gets a C-.
When Hollywood said - “We Need Another Reboot” - Who Did They Call? Ghostbusters! Paul Feig (of "Bridesmaids" and "Spy") is the co-writer and director behind this female-led modern re-telling of the “Ghostbusters” story. And - I know the HATERS aren’t going to like hearing it - but this is a worthwhile fresh take on the original, complete with memorable moments and plenty of laughs.
Melissa McCarthy plays Abby - a longtime scientist who studies paranormal activity (the “real” stuff - not the movies). Kristen Wiig’s Erin is Abby’s longtime friend. They co-authored a “ghost” book together back in the day. After years apart they reunite following word that an old NYC mansion is haunted. Abby’s new partner, Jillian (played by “SNL” shining star Kate McKinnon) is a high-tech, gadget inventor and builder. A fourth member of their team, Patty (Leslie Jones), quits her job with the MTA after she’s spooked by a ghost hiding underground on the subway tracks.
They soon learn that there’s a lunatic behind these ghost sightings, who’s planning to open a portal to the “other world”, allowing the dead to return to the city and seek their revenge. And things get a little more complicated when the ladies hire a receptionist for their new headquarters. It's Chris Hemsworth in a role we’ve never seen him attempt before and one he pulls-off magically.
While the script never acknowledges that the other Ghostbusters ever existed, there are plenty of homages to the original film, including the theme song and cameos by both actors and CGI characters that will be appreciated by diehards (with an open mind). Dan Aykroyd’s bit is my favorite, while Bill Murray’s doesn’t work as well. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold also include several intentional references to the overwhelming negative backlash this remake has been getting since it was first announced.
But even though the film is two hours (the closing credits, thanks to a ton of bonus scenes, run close to 15 minutes) and it isn’t a classic, “Ghostbusters” is consistently fun and genuinely works for a new generation of fans, while pleasing the old ones who will give it a chance. The four ladies are great together, each bringing their own, smart style of comedy, which fits nicely amidst all the action and laugh-out-loud running gags.
Those who have a problem with this new “Ghostbusters”, after having seen it, clearly aren’t looking at it as a stand-alone movie. And those who decide to avoid it, simply on PRINCIPLE, are missing-out on one of the better legitimate comedies in recent years.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Ghostbusters” gets a B.