Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Familiar Formula: Fox’s The Resident

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a doctor on a network drama seems like he’s kind of an asshole, but his unconventional approach ends up getting results that no one else can achieve. He’s also sexy and brooding, clearly haunted by a past that he won’t open up about, but which has turned him into the person he is today. If that sounds familiar, you’ve hit on the central problem with The Resident, Fox’s new medical drama. In an era of so-called “Peak TV,” where there’s a show for virtually every taste, this one (co-created by Amy Holden Jones, Hayley Schore, and Roshan Sethi) feels too generic to stand out and merit the requisite investment of time and attention.

That’s too bad, because in this case the asshole doctor in question is played by Matt Czuchry, who’s distinguished himself through his work in supporting roles on Gilmore Girls and The Good Wife. Cary Agos, his character on the latter show, was a fascinating combination of conflicting impulses, someone whose aggressive ambition concealed unexpected complexity and humanity. He brings much of the same charisma to his role here as Dr. Conrad Hawkins, the titular resident. When new hire Devon (Manish Dayal) arrives for his first day on the job, Conrad’s predictably awful to him, but Czuchry lets us see how he’s testing this inexperienced and overconfident naif (Devon’s straight out of Harvard) to make sure he’s not going to get someone killed.

Friday, February 9, 2018

All the Money in the World and Phantom Thread: Another Planet

Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg in All the Money in the World.

All the Money in the World, Ridley Scott’s movie about the 1973 kidnapping of sixteen-year-old John Paul Getty III – known as Paul – garnered considerable attention when, following the sexual harassment claims against Kevin Spacey, Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer in the key role of Getty Sr., Paul’s grandfather – considered in his time to be the wealthiest man in the history of the world – and re-edited the movie at the eleventh hour. But the movie died at the box office anyway, and that’s a real shame because it’s a first-rate psychological study. In the opening voice-over, Paul (Charlie Plummer) begs us to forgive the behavior of his family because, he explains, they’re rich and the rich live on another planet. Hollywood has turned out many cautionary fables over the years that present the very rich as embodiments of the American dream gone sour. (Perhaps the latest famous example is Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.) David Scarpa, who wrote the screenplay for All the Money in the World (based on John Pearson’s book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty), takes a different approach: he depicts extreme wealth, wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams, as a pathology. Plummer’s J. Paul Getty may be a supporting part – the main characters are Paul’s desperate mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), who has to fight to get her ex-father-in-law to agree to pay her son’s ransom, and Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), the ex-CIA man whom Getty dispatches to negotiate with the kidnapers – but he’s at the heart of the film. And Plummer hovers over even the parts of the movie he’s not in, the way Brando hovered over The Godfather even during the many scenes when he wasn’t on screen. Plummer, who turned eighty-eight right around the time the picture was released, gives a performance that deserves to become legendary. We’ll never know what Spacey brought to the part, but when you watch Plummer you can’t imagine why Scott cast Spacey in the first place; it seems as if he’d be completely wrong for it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Load Checkpoint: Metal Gear Solid 2 (2001) – Engulfed In Truth

Raiden, in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001).

 “Our beloved monsters . . . enjoy yourselves.” – Colonel Campbell

By 1999, only a year after the release of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima’s plans for its sequel were already fully formed. Titled Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and developed for Sony’s Playstation 2 console, this sequel aimed to surpass its predecessor in every possible way, offering new gameplay mechanics and technical upgrades that would take advantage of the PS2’s upgraded power, and a narrative experience that would attempt no less than a deconstruction of the medium itself. Prior to its release in 2001, anticipation for this new chapter in the Metal Gear saga reached a fever pitch in both Japan and North America.

Initial reactions, however, were starkly divided. While it was praised for its technical achievements, many players were put off by the game’s lengthy and convoluted cutscenes, some of which were described as “incomprehensible.” Fans of the coherent (if complex) plot of Metal Gear Solid were baffled by the tangled, surreal structure of MGS2, which built up so many betrayals and reversals that it became difficult to separate fact from fiction within the text of the game itself. And most infamously, nearly everyone who had enjoyed the series so far were disappointed when, after an introductory chapter starring Solid Snake (David Hayter), the game’s protagonist viewpoint shifted to a new character, code-named Raiden (Quinton Flynn), whom you control for the remainder of the 12-to-15 hour experience. Many were strident in their criticism of this choice, to the point of refusing to play (and even boycotting) the game.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Well-worn Experience: Dance Hall by Jerry Granelli

Drummer Jerry Granelli in the studio. (Photo courtesy of DL Media)

I don’t know if it’s been properly proven but the adage that some things get better with age can often apply to a musician. In the case of Dance Hall (Justin Time), the new album from drummer Jerry Granelli, experience makes for great music. On this session, the producer is Lee Townsend, whose know-how makes him one of the best sound designers in the business. Dance Hall features guitarists Bill Frisell and Robben Ford, two of the most interesting and, I will say, distinguished musicians of the past 30 years. On electric bass is J. Anthony Granelli, Jerry’s son and long-time music director. To bring all this musical experience into one studio to record cover songs, no less, speaks to the essence of Granelli’s respect for and personal appreciation of popular song. As he says in the liner notes, “the key for me was not doing covers, but finding songs that were personal to my journey” and what a journey it has been for the famous drummer, who turned 77 on December 30th.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"My God, What a Woman!" Sarah Bernhardt Revisited

Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) as Floria Tosca in an 1887 stage production of Victorien Sardou's La Tosca.

The great – and inimitable – Sarah Bernhardt was a bird of many colours. Once the reigning symbol of France, she was the daughter of a courtesan, herself trained in the silken ways of harlotry. An art nouveau icon (vividly immortalized by the painter Alphonse Mucha) whose first ambition was to be a nun, she wore pants and played men's roles, though she was eminently feminine. An actress who was also a writer, a painter and a sculptor, she was the first international superstar.

The Divine Sarah, as she is called in the dazzling biography The Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt (Knoft, 1991) by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale (a former piano duo turned biographers, both now deceased), was the greatest performer of her day. Following an excellent convent education secured for her by her mother Julie (Youle) Bernard, a Jewish demimonde from Amsterdam who bore Sarah and her two younger sisters illegitimately, Bernhardt (the name is derived from grandfather Bernard and grandmother Hart) trained at the Conservatoire in Paris, where she was born in 1844. She started her career at the Comédie-Française, but was fired after only three years because of her outrageous temper.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Bad Dates and Una: Bad Dates and Worse Ones

Haneefah Wood stars in Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates at the Huntington Theatre Company. (Photo: T. Charles Ericson)

Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates was a hit for the Huntington Theatre in 2003, so the company has elected to resurrect it this season on its mainstage, which means that it programmed two one-woman shows back to back. (Mala closed last week in its South End space.) Bad Dates is by far the superior play – and the superior performance, by the bright-eyed, charismatic L.A. actress Haneefah Wood. It’s enjoyable if not memorable entertainment. I knew I’d seen Julie White in the show fifteen years ago but couldn’t recall a thing about it except the premise – a middle-aged single woman tells the audience about a succession of eagerly anticipated evenings with men that, one after the other, go wrong. The play hails from the Sex and the City era and the character shares with that series’ narrator-protagonist, Carrie Bradshaw, an obsession with expensive footwear and a frankness about life in Manhattan for an attractive thirtysomething with a career who’s trying to find the right man – though in this cases Haley Walker, who manages a relatively high-end restaurant for some shady people, is also raising a teenage daughter on her own.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Grown-ish: Smart, Funny, and more than merely Serious-ish

Trevor Jackson and Yara Shahidi in Grown-ish.

Grown-ish has been a weekly delight in my household since it first premiered on January 3. As a regular viewer of Black-ish, I’ve known about the college-set spinoff of ABC’s hit family comedy since last May, when its (literal) parent series aired an underwhelming backdoor pilot for the show near the end of its third season. It wasn’t the weakest episode of Black-ish’s otherwise strong season – that award goes to its cringe-worthy season premiere, set awkwardly within a half-hour advertisement for Disney World – but outside of spelling out the broad situation and setting of the new series, which would follow the Johnsons’ eldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi) to nearby fictional Southern California University, it gave few indications what was to come. But as we approach the midway point of Grown-ish’s “freshman” season (the 7th of 13 episodes airs this Wednesday), a couple of things have become clear: the first is that Yara Shahidi (who has been capably playing her own age since she was introduced as a 14-year-old in 2014) has proven herself wholly capable of helming her own series, and the second is that Grown-ish has quickly developed its own tone and voice, already making it much more than a Black-ish side project.