Tag Archives: Juno

In Praise of The Closer

Tonight brings us the return of The Closer on TNT.

The show has been a rousing success, nabbing the best ratings on cable TV and bringing adulation and awards to Kyra Sedgwick for her lead role as Brenda Leigh Johnson. And while I agree that her mannered Southern belle with a whip-crack mind is a fun character to watch, she’s also blessed to have a deep and solid ensemble cast that elevates the show from good to great.

Raymond Cruz, Michael Paul Chan, Jon Tenney, Corey Reynolds and Robert Gossett usually get a couple of strong minutes within each episode and the occasional featured sub-plot to flex their muscles. They’re all seasoned actors who quickly defined their characters during the first season, so it’s not necessary to waste time constantly redefining their motivation. Special kudos to Cruz for the episode about his brother’s death, and Gossett for his character’s arc from jealous adversary to admiring and supportive team player.

Even the recurring roles and guest stars are very well-cast, avoiding the “sweeps week” false notes that many other shows employ (where the guest actor is a big name draw but hopelessly mismatched with the pulse of the show). Barry Corbin is perfect as Brenda’s father, as is the electric Mary McDonnell’s recurring role as Captain Raydor, the Internal Affairs officer who is Johnson’s nemesis and intellectual equal.

But I have to admit I have favorites – three guys I’d watch every day and twice on Sundays.

Anthony John Denison and G.W. Bailey as Lieutenants Flynn and Provenza are the show’s comic relief; a wonderfully funny tandem act but far from buffoons. Bailey hasn’t had a role this good since Rizzo on M*A*S*H, and he plays the cantankerous vet with a heart of gold to perfection. And I’ve been a Denison fan since I first saw his magnetic turn as criminal Ray Luca on Crime Story; he also wowed me as the pensive and flawed John Henry Raglin on Wiseguy, filling in for an ailing Ken Wahl in a story arc featuring Stanley Tucci, Ron Silver and Jerry Lewis. (Needless to say, you must grab both those shows on DVD!)

And when you have J.K. Simmons in your cast, you raise the whole project one notch. Looks like this season his prior relationship with Sedgwick’s character will come back into focus as he jockeys for political position. Which will only give us more opportunities to enjoy watching him juggle frustration, respect, authority and anger as the conflicted and righteous Chief Pope. In recent years he’s received kudos for his work in Juno and Spiderman, and his turn as the fired employee in Up In The Air was the best thing in that movie. Hard to believe he once gave me chills as the racist homophobe prisoner Vern Schillinger on Oz.

Summer television is no longer a wasteland. Tune in tonight.

Season Six episode guide courtesy TV.COM

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And today we celebrate the birthday of a few very funny gentlemen…Bill Cosby, Milton Berle, Jay Thomas and hell,  even Curly Joe DeRita! Also my crush from the 70s, Christine McVie.

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Up in the Air

Flight of Fancy

Maybe it’s the big screen TV, maybe it’s life’s complications, but I don’t get out to the movie theatres much anymore. I usually get to see films right after they hit the DVD market, in the comfort of my own home. It’s more convenient, the food is better, the bathrooms are cleaner and if anyone does dare to talk or let their cell phone blurt out an obnoxious ringtone, I can pan back and replay what I missed.

But I sacrificed all that to catch Up in the Air the other day (no food, no bathroom need, some talking and yes, an idiot’s ringtone). I like George Clooney – he’s the Cary Grant of his era – and the cast was peppered with the likes of Jason Bateman (wonderfully smarmy again), J.K. Simmons, Sam Elliot, Zach Galifanakis and Danny McBride. It was entertaining and thankfully didn’t follow the typical Hollywood plot paths, but I’m not certain it was anything more than just a good day at the movies.

The plot centers on Clooney, whose character is a corporate terminator, hired by firms to downsize their employees. Comfortable in his non-existence, his Ryan Bingham is happy to eschew the real world as he pursues his singular goal of racking up a million air miles, with the occasional speaking engagement and harmless fling along the way. He’s very good at handling people one-on-one but we quickly learn that his script for these encounters is as pat as his presentation for his yet-unwritten self-help book “What’s in Your Backpack”.

Life then decides to intervene. He meets a woman who might be his soul mate (a wonderful Vera Farmiga), his company is about to use web conferencing to replace personal travel, and he’s about to get in a little deeper with a family he’s all but ignored during his adult life. Most of the events find him hitting the road with the new business school graduate (Anna Kendrick) to show her the ropes in an effort to convince her that technology can’t replace human contact. Ironic, since the only human contact Bingham has is with the people he’s firing.

Without spoiling the plot, these diversions are played well for the most part, avoiding the usual clichés and in some cases surprising you with the turns taken. By the end of the picture, each of the three major characters is affected in some way, but perhaps not changed. As a viewer, I felt the same emotional distance; I observed behavior but never felt like a participant.

Interestingly, director Jason Reitman interviewed unemployed people about their reactions and feelings – reportedly more than one of the cameo interviewees is a real person – in an effort to shine a light on what is a tough time in the nation’s economy. Not certain he succeeded there; while some segments are powerfully poignant, others are played for almost comic relief. And I think that might be my overall problem with the picture, too – what is he shooting for?

Up in the Air isn’t a feel-good picture, but then again it is in a way. It’s a drama with comedic elements, but also a comedy with some very pensive relationships and scenes. But does it ever…I dunno…move me in a big way? I was entertained, but I don’t think anything resonated after I left the theatre

Best Picture? Boy, I don’t know. I’d like to think the best picture of any year is more important, grander, more epic. (Then again, American Beauty wasn’t exactly Citizen Kane.) And when I look back at their respective years, I still think his most recent directorial efforts (Juno and Thank You for Smoking) hold up pretty damn well. Stranger things have happened.

Up In The Air at IMDB.com

National Society of Film Critics Awards

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