Nick's Pics Nick
Nicholson Film & Home Entertainment Critic
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Fame, fortune, luxury, and letting it all go to your head; agents, managers, publicists, and everyone else that will lie, cheat, or steal to get a piece of you; and remembering your real friends. These are all key ingredients that make "Entourage" thoroughly entertaining, as well as freighting when you think about how it's based on reality. I take the show as a cautionary tale; the entertainment industry is where I have just barely started to get my feet wet. There is a lot of truth in this fictional show: either everyone wants a piece of you or no one knows your name and can't spare a minute of their time. From my limited time spent dealing with people of the industry, on either coast, I have already found more jerks and egos-out-of-control than I care to recount. "Entourage" does an excellent job of exposing the dangers of the L.A. lifestyle, while simultaneously managing to present them in a thoroughly enjoyable manner.
The superficial world that is the entertainment business is navigated successfully through the four different personalities that make up the entourage. The four personalities of the Rising Star, Has-Been, Bum, and Level-headed Average Guy balance out the cast and provide a character for everyone to enjoy or relate to. Their friendship and their dependence on each other make the characters a success, as well as a success in the world of the show.
Adrian Grenier plays an up-and-coming actor who can't make decisions on his own. Kevin Connolly is the star of this show, playing best friend Eric, who manages Vincent Chase's career and other choices, even though he doesn't have any experience in Hollywood or any personal connections to it, other than being the high school buddy who gives up his personal goals to follow his famous friend to Hollywood. He is the brains behind the group and should be the one making the Hollywood career instead of the lame-brained actor friend. Jeremy Piven's role as agent to rising star, Vincent Chase, is thoroughly entertaining as well as aggravating. He's not quite the villain, but the perfect embodiment of the guy you don't want working against you. His quick one-liners and perfect delivery make it a joy to watch the show, whereas a real-life encounter with a guy such as him would probably make you want to deck him. Jeremy is an actor I'd like to see in more meaningful roles, so hopefully this series will graduate him out of the cast-typing of loyal sidekick into an actor of his own standing.
Jerry Ferrara as the wise-cracking friend Turtle reminds me of many sidekicks who tag along in life to their star buddies. He offers much of the humor with his comments delivered with a Brooklyn-style accent (although they are from Queens). He has a loyal guard dog vibe, all too willing to accept left over scraps of women Vincent no longer wants or never wanted. Kevin Dillon plays the older brother of Vincent with a waning acting career of his own. Its an ironic role, as he looks and sounds familiar to his own famous brother Matt Dillon. However, I find his character to be the most annoying, particularly that he's a hanger-on, expecting his brother's popularity to help his own career out of the B-list of actors.
"Entourage" is rife with inside jokes, but not enough to lose the average viewer. Instead, the average viewer might just see the show as a bunch of losers whining about the good life and living high off the hog without really working. I enjoy it, but it's certainly not for everybody. I see it as another example of why I don't, and never want to, live in Los Angeles. Show business is unlike any other business: they work by their own rules and decide who to let into their little clique. It's about as safe as sleeping in a pit full of vipers, but our glimpse at what it's like to live on top is good a one.
Starring: Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly and Jeremy Piven
Director: Adam Bernstein, et. al.
Now Showing: Available on DVD
MPAA Rating: NR
One of the most successful British television dramas, Upstairs, Downstairs became one of the few English programs to attain global recognition, garnering an impressive seven American Emmy awards when it originally aired between 1971-1975. Most Americans saw the series when it ran on local PBS stations and later cable's A&E channel, while Canadians viewed it via the CBC. The series dealt with the rich and the poor and as any lover of soap opera knows when you pit these two types of people together fireworks will ignite. Indeed a soap, Upstairs, Downstairs dealt with the rich Bellamy family living in the high class Belgravia neighborhood in London. Their lives were intertwined by their servants who lived "downstairs" and who wanted to attain the richness and social standing of their employers. World War I was the backdrop for the serial which only added extra drama to the show.
Lady Marjorie Bellamy (Rachel Gurney), considered one of the most beautiful and cultured women in England, is married to the stern but kind-hearted Richard Bellamy (David Langton), a Tory (conservative) Member of Parliament. Their son, James (Simon Williams), is a captain in the British Army, while their teenaged-daughter, Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett), has just returned from schooling in Germany (later, James's step-cousin and ward to Richard, dewy, sensual innocent Georgina, played by Lesley-Anne Down, will grow up in the Bellamy household). Models of propriety and sober deliberations, the very guardians of Britain's aristocratic class, the "upstairs" Bellamys do have their secrets--although very few escape the notice of the "downstairs" servants who loyally uphold the honorable Bellamy name. Lady Marjorie, a pillar of the gentry class whose family fortune allows the Bellamys to live in such comfort, has been tempted out of her sometimes unfulfilling routine by the promise of illicit love. Richard, the son of a lowly parson who married above his station, may stick with the Tories when it comes time to vote in Parliament, but he is troubled by his debt of gratitude to Marjorie's family, a debt that frequently influences his politics. James represents the cream of the English aristocratic officers' corps, but he's often weak and destructive when it comes to women. And English rose Elizabeth's schooling in progressive Germany may have backfired against her parents' attempt to solidify her future position in English high society.
Downstairs, where the servants toil from before sunrise to late in the evening, the clockwork-like timing of the innumerable chores that are needed to keep a fashionable London home running to perfection are organized with steely resolve by Hudson (Gordon Jackson), the family butler. He alone is permitted upstairs access to the Bellamys, and all problems of the house and staff go through him first, before they are measured and conveyed by this fiercely loyal, beautifully "correct" Scotsman. Hudson's opposite number in demeanor is Mrs. Bridges (Angela Baddeley), the perpetually scowling, grousing cook who keeps the scullery maids in order through sheer terror. Dark, grave-eyed, clear-thinking parlor maid Rose (Jean Marsh), is third in rank behind Mrs. Bridges and Hudson, while footman Alfred (George Innes) is a troubled cynic with dark secrets to keep (later, good-natured, fun-loving Edward, played by Christopher Beeny, will rise up through the ranks, beginning as Alfred's replacement) . Lady Marjorie's personal maid, Maud Roberts (Patsy Smart), is even more of an acerbic whinge than Mrs. Bridges, if that's possible. Most troublesome of all, though, is Sarah (Pauline Collins), an inveterate liar who worms her way into the Bellamy household time and time again, thumbing her nose at both the "upstairs" and "downstairs" hierarchies and snobberies (later, lovely Daisy, played by Jacqueline Tong, will present a much different portrait of a Bellamy housemaid). Through the decades (up to 1930), and through the various comings and goings of the players, this "family" created by the complex, sometimes cruel, sometimes loving, arrangement of master and servant, provides a window onto an England irrevocably changed by politics, war, and fate.
Upstairs, Downstairs is known as the series where many Hollywood leading ladies received their start, most notably Jean Marsh (who had a hand in the creation of the show) and Lesley-Ann Down, most famous for her role in "North and South" and currently starring in "The Bold and the Beautiful." This beautiful box set contains 21 DVD's featuring all the show's 68 episodes and has a plethora of extras that include over 25 hours of never-before-seen footage! The bonus features include a 5 part documentary called "The Making of "Upstairs, Downstairs", 24 episode commentaries, interviews with cast members, and more. Sadly, when the producers went into the ITV archives to clean the show's original prints it was discovered the pilot had been "wiped" which was the custom for many British shows in the early seventies.
Starring: Gordon Jackson, David Langton & Jean Marsh
Director: Bill Bain, et. al.
Now Showing: Available on DVD
MPAA Rating: NR
We are doing a Free DVD Giveaway! If you are interested in a chance at winning a free copy of Strawberry Shortcake: Puttin' on the Glitz, it is really easy! All you have to do is send me an email at HoustonMovieGuy@gmail.com. The subject line of the email should read DVD GIVEAWAY. In the body of the email, be sure to put your name, full mailing address and which DVD or Blu-ray you would like. Winners will be selected by random drawing. Best of luck!
KEN BURNS' THE CIVIL WAR - Paramount
The most successful public-television miniseries in American history, the 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation, reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era he depicts. The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller, and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it.
THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN - IFC
The French import "Father of My Children," which won a Special Jury prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, has a quiet intensity that sneaks up on you. This drama about a man in despair and a family in tumult is also an insightful look at the modern film industry. The film presents us with Gregoire, a French film producer who is struggling to finance the various projects his company is juggling. Assured and well liked, Gregoire is the consummate professional dedicated to the artistry of film. As the business situation becomes more dire, his relationship with his family becomes increasingly distant as work starts to intrude on quality time. On this occasion, however, Gregoire may not be able to extricate himself from the financial burdens that threaten the company. When the aforementioned tragedy takes place, everyone is shocked and left to pick up the pieces. The family must rely on one another in unexpected ways and take up new responsibilities at home and with the film company. It's an emotionally difficult period that helps to redefine the roles and relationships within the clan.
COOL IT - Lionsgate
The documentary Cool It presents itself as the "alternative" view to Al Gore's award-winning An Inconvenient Truth on the issue of global warming. But the reality is that Cool It, which focuses on the boyish and controversial Danish scientist Bjørn Lomborg, presents solutions and theories on global warming that actually complement Gore's position, but without the "scare tactics" that Lomborg believes are breeding worldwide hysteria on the subject. Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, is apparently not skeptical at all when it comes to believing whether human impact and carbon emissions are causing the earth to warm. But Lomborg's proposals steer away from Gore's proposed caps on carbon emissions as being "completely un-cost-effective," and suggest several other tactics world and energy leaders might take. Lomborg is a fan of making alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and even wave power more affordable, and exploring more radical ideas like a revamped approach to nuclear energy. Cool It is slow to get traction, as it first lays the background of how controversial Lomborg's book is and how disliked Lomborg is among certain policymakers and academicians. It's only in the second half of Cool It that Lomborg finally delivers his own proposals about global warming, in lectures to students and in a series of interviews. And once he begins to unveil his suggestions, most of which he makes a fairly strong case for, the viewer becomes eager to hear a third party ask both Lomborg and Gore together what each thinks of the other's ideas, and how they might work on the same team.
WHO'S THE CABOOSE - Flatiron
For nostalgia alone, "Who's the Caboose?" is a terrific find. In addition to Silverman and Seder, the movie boasts bit parts and supporting roles populated by names such as David Cross, Andy Dick, Laura Kightlinger, Kathy Griffin, Andy Kindler and H. Jon Benjamin. It's a veritable treasure trove of comic talent--even if not everyone has much to do. Silverman, as an aggressive ingenue, seeks success at any cost while her mild mannered boyfriend Seder becomes a more unexpected Hollywood discovery. Both find their ups and downs in the ruthless entertainment world, but it may not be a land where their romance can survive. Filmed by a fictional documentary crew, the film has the confessional style of modern reality TV and the unsuspecting videographers often become part of the inherent drama. Dick, as Silverman's manager, and Benjamin, as Seder's promoter, are both spot-on in their hysterically over-the-top (yet surprisingly believable) depictions of industry insiders.
THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE - New Video
The Swimsuit Issue, the latest film from Swedish director Mans Herngren, was a big hit at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. I was hoping to see it in U.S. distribution. It has a fine and original story line -- a group of thirty-something guys lose their arena hockey playing space and switch sports to fit what space is available. It happens to be a swimming pool; and the new sport for the disenfranchised aging jocks is synchronized swimming. A lot of grief follows as the sport is rarely practiced by men and for most, a masculine form just doesn't provide the same level of grace and beauty that the women's sport does. For the guys on the new team--a disparate group that has more slackers than hotshots--it becomes a matter of pride and way to prove to themselves and their families that they are not chronic losers.
TANGLED - Disney
Disney's 50th full-length animated feature film, Tangled is a visually appealing, music-filled adventure full of romance and humor. The movie focuses on Rapunzel, a girl with long magical hair who's lived her entire life imprisoned in a tower by her greedy mother. Naturally optimistic and acquiescent, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) rarely complains about her circumstances, but for her 18th birthday she longs to leave the tower to see the floating lights that appear every year on her birthday. Her mother (Donna Murphy) refuses her request, but when thief Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) climbs the tower to escape his pursuers, Rapunzel (once she's conked him on the head with a skillet multiple times) impulsively decides to trust the young man and convinces him to help her escape to see the floating lights. Thus begins a journey that alternates quite schizophrenically between optimistic excitement and guilty remorse that will ultimately change Rapunzel's and Flynn's lives forever. Tangled is a masterful blend of humor, adventure, passion, and drama combined with a great musical score and top-notch animation. The Real 3-D effects add to the experience but probably won't really be missed in other formats.
MESRINE: Public Enemy #1 - Music Box Films
The man of a thousand faces continues his incredible lief of crime while manipulating the media,the government and the police.He plans his last and greatest escape,hoping to leave France - and the character he has made himself into behind forever.
MAD MEN: Season Four - Lionsgate
When I think about Season 4, one word comes to mind -- "dark". This is the season of Don's discontent -- indeed, his comeuppance, if you will -- and as the season opens we find him living in a seedy Greenwich Village apartment, where his rendezvous with the ladies end all too often in rebuffs rather than ravishings. On the work front, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has all the trappings of success. They have nice offices, a corral of secretaries, and a big client list. Don is being interviewed by a magazine asking the question "Who is Don Draper?" and further on into the season, we see him accepting a Cleo for his talents. The only problem is, he's drunk when he's accepting it. In fact, he's drunk most of the time. Dead drunk, and his decisions and fine-honed genius with words suffer for it. Of course, being Don, he looks good. Hard to believe a man can drink that much and still not show the wages of sin. But as the season progresses, we see him losing his grip more and more, on the business as well as the personal front. He blows up at clients, neglects his children, and uses his women to get what he thinks he wants. At the same time, he is watching himself, from a distance, deconstruct. He starts keeping a journal and swims every day to clear his mind. You keep thinking he's going to get a grip on it. He has to. He's Don Draper.