COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

BLACK VENUS, IT, THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY, TIDELAND, THE HOT ROCK, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANDJARO, GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, THE HIRED HAND, DAY OF THE JACKAL, and DUCKMAN THE COMPLETE SERIES

Friday, June 10, 2011

THE COMPANY MEN: UPLIFTING DOWNSIZE

There are movies that are made that are noted as being timely. These movies take on the day to day stories that many of those viewing them are going through and turn them into stories with compelling characters, events that viewers can relate to and that touch the heart all at the same time. THE COMPANY MEN is just such a movie.

Ben Affleck is Bobby Walker, a sales director for a global transportation company, GTX. He walks into a meeting one morning after a great golf game only to discover that not only has part of his staff been let go but his position is no longer in existence as well. The company, in an attempt to show itself as more profitable, has let go a number of people as well as two departments.

Given severance pay and the assistance of a job placement service, Bobby hopes to find a new job within days. The reality of the matter is that this is not the only company going through downsizing and he is not the only person with the same qualifications. While his wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt in a fantastic performance) supports him in his search, she has a more realistic viewpoint. As Bobby continues to search for that elusive dream job, Maggie is the one that makes the tough decisions and keeps the family together.

But that’s only one story going here. Another involves Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a long time employee in his fifties who began with the company on the manufacturing end when they built cargo ships. Phil starts fearful that he will be let go next. With a daughter in college and a luxury home to care for, Phil’s fears begin running his life.

The third story, thus making it company “men”, revolves around Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), another long time employee and Bobby’s supervisor. It’s Gene’s departments that have been eliminated and he feels for the workers under him. Having started the company with long time friend James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), Gene thinks the company should be more than just figures. It should have an ethical responsibility to its employees as well. Needless to say the company disagrees.

The movie weaves back and forth with these three businessmen, showing that it’s not just those on a factory floor that are damaged when a company changes its focus. As with most things the trickle down effect touches all, starting at the top. It doesn’t just affect the company itself or the lives of those it employs but the lives of their families as well.

The paths that these three characters take from the start of the film to its conclusion touch the viewer on an emotional level more so than most films I’ve seen of late. You worry about each of them but not the same way. Each one touches you on a different level and the story telling done here is remarkable in the way that it moves you. Be it the young man early in his career or the elderly statesman past retirement age, you feel a concern for each and watch wondering just what they will do next.

All of the actors here do a remarkable job. You feel the pain of Affleck, a man who feels he’s become a loser in every respect of the word as he finds difficulty taking care of his family. Cooper’s despair as he does all he can to hold onto his job can bring tears to your eyes. And Jones’ depiction of a man who thought his company would be different than the rest only to find himself on the outside of the decision making process is one that offers a resilience to all that happens to these three. Kevin Costner as a hard working construction owner and Affleck’s brother in law who sees the worth of work in a hands on basis only does a great job as well whether he’s needling Bobby for not being a working man or giving him a job to help him get by. But the stand out performance to me was DeWitt. You truly believe her character and sympathize with her being there to handle the bills and to help her husband find his way.

This movie does not set out to be a feel good movie and yet by the end it becomes just that. Not in a neat and tidy here’s a big rescue sort of way but in the idea that just when things look their worst a glimmer of hope might just happen. It shows a world in which company men, often portrayed as unfeeling money grubbing millionaires, can also be touched by the necessities of the business world. They are no different than the dock worker or secretary; they have problems and the possibility of losing their jobs too. And in the end it takes people uniting together to find a solution, to endure all the pain and suffering, to get back on track. This movie may not have been tops at the box office, but I found it to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

BURN NOTICE SEASON 4: THE PLOT THICKENS

I’ve said that this series is one of the best there is on TV now and I don’t intend to change that opinion. It remains one of the freshest shows in some time with characters that you find yourself not just rooting for but loving along the way. And season four is no different than the pervious three; it remains a great show.

An intro for those who haven’t been watching: Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) is a spy for the U.S. who suddenly finds himself burned. By burned we mean that he’s taken off the list of active spies and tossed aside with no money, no identity and no history, left in whatever town he was in when he was burned. In this case it’s Miami and fortunately for him he has friends there: an ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) who’s ex-IRA with a nasty temper, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) an old SEAL buddy who sold info on Michel to the FBI and his mother Madeline (Sharon Gless), a chain smoking woman who loves her son but is greatly aggravated in learning what he did for a living. Left to his own devices, Michael and his friends help people in trouble using their talents when no one else will help. At the same time, Weston continues to search for whoever it was that burned him in an attempt to get back into the spy game. Got it?

At the end of season three we had Michael saving the life of the man who burned him and capturing a serial killing maniac who was once a spy just like Michael. But Michael broke a few laws to catch him and is now a prisoner himself, held in a lock up that’s not the normal kind. Instead Michael is introduced to a new “friend”, a man who says that he wants to assist Michael in finding out just who is behind a secret global attack on the country, a person or group that is doing damage from within. Michael agrees to help but at the same time still distrust everyone but his friends.

As the season opens, Michael is given a pass card to gain access to a federal building to obtain information. Before leaving he witnesses the man whose card he had, a spy named Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), being escorted from the building. Michael has just burned another spy, doing to them what was done to him.

Keeping an eye on Porter in the hopes of gaining information, Michael discovers another person in need of assistance and takes on Porter’s case. As it moves forward Porter eventually tells Michael that like him he was burned and that his sole motivation now is to find the man that burned him and kill him. So naturally Michael takes Porter under his wing and adds him to the team. So much so that he eventually finds a place for him to live: with his mother in the garage.

The season continues on with various people coming into the scene in need of help. At the same time Michael and the group continue to seek out the truth behind what is going on in the spy world, who is burning whom, how all of it fits together and keep Porter from discovering that Michael was the man who burned him. By the end who knows, perhaps Michael can discover who he was burned by…but then Porter might find out as well.

Each story features the client and subsequent rescue by the team but at the same time adds bits and pieces to the main puzzle that Michael has been going with since episode one. The amazing thing is that each episode while telling these concurrent stories is filled with action, adventure and an actual story to boot.

The acting...I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this entire team here is a perfect fit. If one were to disappear it would be felt not just by the characters but the viewers as well. They just gel together better than most. That’s rare for most TV series but lately it seems like more thought is going into making a fantastic ensemble in shows than in the past. I honestly can’t imagine this show without the entire team intact.

The new season of this series is about to begin soon. Picking up all four of the previous sets can only help to not just increase your awareness of the show but make you a fan as well. Then you can sit back with the rest of us, waiting in anticipation each week to find out what new case they will assist with and who is behind the whole burn notice plot.

While discovering TV series on DVD is a great thing (and I’ve often talked about how wonderful it is to get into an entire season rather than waiting for the cliffhanger each week) the fact remains that TV needs viewers to keep a show on the air. For me the important thing about the DVD sets is that you can miss a season or half of it, watch the DVD and catch up in time to get back on once more. While BURN NOTICE may not be on one of the three major networks, it goes to show that the cable stations are becoming the place to go when looking for quality programming. Give this series a shot and my guess is you’ll be hooked.


WHITE COLLAR SEASON TWO: CLEVER CON

Last year USA Network rolled out another series that was on the fantastic end instead of the here we go again side. That series was WHITE COLLAR and I talked when the first season came out about how great it was, how the cast worked, the stories worked, etc. The fact is that with season two now out on DVD you can discover just how much better it got and catch up as season three begins.

As with my review for BURN  NOTICE SEASON FOUR, here’s a refresher for those who haven’t seen the show: Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is the ultimate con man and a gent who seems to always find a way out of trouble. In prison and placed there by FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), Caffrey attempts to escape but fails, caught once more by Burke. But there was a reason why Caffrey, so close to being released, attempted that escape. He talks to Burke and gives him a part of the reason, his girlfriend has disappeared and he’s concerned about her. Burke gets Caffrey a work release deal that has him wearing an  ankle tracker and as long as he co-operates assisting the FBI on other cases, Burke will help him with his problem as well. By the end of season one, Caffrey’s girlfriend Kate was blown to pieces in a plane explosion that he was set to be on as well.

Season two begins with Caffrey trying to find out who was behind the whole situation we saw him in in season one. Along with his best friend and fellow con artist Mozzie (Willie Garson), Caffrey follows the clues to this puzzle while at the same time assisting Burke take down white collar criminals for the FBI. One major piece that comes into play here is a music box that Caffrey comes into possession of. He may have the box but Peter has the key to the mystery that will reveal just why it is so important. And that information will lead to the biggest case the pair have ever worked on and the possible killer of Kate.

Other cast members that come into play throughout the series include Tiffani Theissen as Peter’s devoted wife Elizabeth, a woman that Neal becomes close with, a friend he never really had. But the same holds true for Peter as well. While the pair has been at opposite ends of the criminal world throughout most of their careers, there is a certain amount of respect they share for one another. And as they solve each new case, the bond of friendship between the two builds. But all of that may dissolve by the end of the season as each one plays out their own search for the answers to their important question, never quite knowing if they can trust the other.

The thing that makes this show click is, to start with, the ensemble they’ve collected to play these roles. Not only that, the characters themselves makes the show not just fun to watch but interesting as well. So many times we are presented with characters that you either care for to much or don’t care for at all. Here you worry about each, you care about them all and you root for not only the good guy but the bad guys too. Well at least some of the bad guys.

Each of the actors is perfectly suited for their role. Bomer exudes the confidence that a con man needs, easily fitting into an upper crust society while being from a low level life. DeKay not only looks, feels and sounds like an FBI agent, he comes off as a man who wants to accomplish his job but at the same time has a heart as well. And Garson as Mozzie is a treat. Smart, paranoid and quirky, he completes the main trio of male roles that forms a bond that just works.

If you take the chance with this series, you’ll find yourself drawn in not just by the weekly cases they have to solve, great writing and shows in their own right, but also drawn into the whole mystery that began with the very first episode ever. This is a well crafted series that will hold your interest better than most offerings on TV these days. Who could ask for more from a show?

RAWHIDE: SEASON 4, VOLUME 1: HITTING THE TRAIL AGAIN

There was a time when westerns were a staple of the small screen. Each week a different tale of the old west unfolded before a number of viewers that has seemed to dwindle of late. Be it a secret service agent for President Grant or a riverboat gambler, the variety of westerns on TV was great and helped jump start the careers of many famous movie stars. Perhaps the most notable example of this was Clint Eastwood who began his career on RAWHIDE.

Previous seasons have come out on DVD in the past and they’ve just added the first volume of season 4. Having not seen the earlier ones, I can only tell you that this one comes off as the perfect example of the early TV western. The stories are simple yet deep at the same time. The acting isn’t nearly as bad as some comedies seen on TV right now and the ideas presented are well thought out and valuable for a younger viewing audience while remaining entertaining for adults as well.

The idea behind the series was the cowpoke, the drover who rounded up cattle and delivered them to market. Along the way they ran into problems on the trail, made problems of their own at saloons along the way and became an American icon of what a real man was all about.

Eric Fleming starred as Gil Favor, the trail boss that brought together this rag tag group of cowpokes to run the herd. A fair man and a fair boss, he kept them out of trouble while keeping the cows rounded up. His right hand man, his trail boss, was Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood), a young man who enjoys the life he leads and helps keep the men in line. At the same time he isn’t averse to joining in on the fun when they hit town though. Rounding out the three main characters of the series was Paul Brinegar as Wishbone, the cook of the outfit. Making sure the men had hot meals and hot coffee, Wishbone was also the conscious of the outfit too, often letting folks know what was really going on beneath the actions of one man or another.

This time around the series begins with the men gathering to take on a herd of beef to market. But by the first episode they’ve lost the contract and are on their own. With enough money to start out with and a plan to gather lose steers along the way, Gil recruits the men to work for him, rounding up cattle and joining with another group on the trail. This time it’s their own cattle going to market.

As things would have it while on the trail stories start making their way into a simple cattle drive. In one episode one of the drover’s is almost hanged by his own brother, a judge. In another a wagon train master who deserted his group and was the sole survivor of an Indian attack must face the mother of one of the victims as well as a mean partner of the same deceased man. Civil War spies, a circus, a Christmas episode and more work their way into the stories on the trail and make this a series that showed the Wild West for the hard work it was but also offered a ride that wasn’t boring either.

In black and white (come on don’t be prejudiced against this format…shows and movies were once made that way so get over it), the series is well shot and well acted by all. Some notable guest stars make their way here as well, some stars before and some later, including Ralph Bellamy and Darren McGavin just to name two.

There are no shows like this on today. As I said at the start, the idea was simple, but stories wound up covering more than you would bargain for in a western. And yet they told a story that wasn’t preaching about anything or condemning anyone while at the same time entertaining. Yes, we could use a show like this today.

The western is all but gone these days not just from TV but in films as well. Even when movies like TOMBSTONE, SILVERADO and 3:10 TO YUMA do big business, it’s as if no one notices. Perhaps one day Hollywood will realize that westerns can offer the escape today that they did way back when. After all, who would have thought that a movie about pirates would span three sequels? Until that day arrives we will have to be content sitting back and watching the classics like this one. And with RAWHIDE you can’t get much better.