Becker s01e02 – Take These Pills and Shove ‘Em

So if “Becker” is going to get on more solid ground, post-pilot, it sure isn’t happening with this second episode. It exacerbates the problems from the previous episode, without offering much in the way of improvements. Sure, Terry Farrell is a little better, but Ted Danson doesn’t get a good doctor arc. After however many years of being an asshole to his patients, he finally runs into two patients who react poorly to him being an asshole. The episode is him obsessing over one of the patients—an untreated diabetic—while dealing with a hypochondriac (a muted and strong Lin Share). Subplots have blind Black guy Alex Desert going to a sculpture class to meet women and office assistant Shawnee Smith being too honest with patients about the scare factor of their tests.

The Alex Desert stuff gives him a chance to act, even if it’s all incredibly problematic—he’s a smooth, soulful Black guy in his seductions—but he’s still just a plot prop. Differently utilized, but still a prop.

Smith’s thing is a decent showcase—much better than anything Hattie Winston gets this episode, unfortunately—and it’s definitely better than Danson’s A plot, but it’s still not particularly good. There are a handful laugh out loud moments, but mostly sporadic. They just haven’t figured out how mean to make Danson and have it work. The pilot humanized him while this episode is more than comfortable having him be a caricature. There is a funny running joke with an airhorn though.

Danson’s opening rant is fine, but far from memorable this time, especially since it segues into him making fun of Desert’s blindness.

Oh, the nineties.

The show being on shaky ground two episodes in isn’t concerning—I distinctly remember it getting much better—but it’s weird to have such a lackluster second episode. Or maybe it’s not. I can’t remember… were nineties second episodes better than pilots or worse than pilots.

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Becker s01e01 – Pilot

I have a history with “Becker.” When it first came on, I was aware of it because it was the new Ted Danson show post-“Cheers,” Terry Farrell had jumped ship from “DS9,” and Alex Desert from “The Flash” was on it.

I watched a lot of TV in the 1990s.

But I didn’t watch “Becker.” In the mid-aughts, after Ken Levine started blogging and talking about “Becker” being this under discovered gem—something I would listen to Ken Levine on, because we’d been marathoning “Frasier” DVDs (I also watched a lot of TV in the 2000s)—I decided I’d try to give it a shot. And I didn’t make it through the pilot.

I don’t think I made it through the first scene. Now it’s funny because now I love the first half of the first scene. A few years after that first fail, I was still reading Ken Levine and he was still talking about “Becker” so I gave it another shot and made it through the rough stuff into the good stuff.

The show started in 1998 and the pilot has a very late nineties, we’ve figured out how to make sitcoms feel. It’s assured. The show knows you can make Ted Danson’s Becker only so much of a dick. He can’t be racist but xenophobic is okay. He has to respect strong women in his life to make generalized gender cracks. And the funny thing, going back to “Becker” a second time now, is how it’s Ted Danson. Old Man Ted Danson doesn’t incorporate any of the Sam Malone, but he does use some Becker. Just with a lot of pot.

The pilot introduces Danson as the loud-mouthed meanie doctor with a heart of gold. Spoiler: he uses his personal savings to get a young Black patient into an HIV treatment program because it’s 1998 and it was on CBS and old people have always watched CBS so there’s something false saccharine about it but Danson and the other actors are still able to get some material from it. And “Becker” is an actors’ show, at least once you get out of the diner and away from Terry Farrell—who’s really not funny and really trying—and Alex Desert—who gets to be the butt of Becker’s mean jokes because you know, gosh darn it, Black, blind guy Desert is actually Danson’s best friend. “Becker” isn’t aging particularly well. It’s not aging poorly, but it’s got some major strikes from the era.

Like the transphobic joke. It wasn’t funny then. Danson’s got a number of rants in the first half of the episode before it gets serious and he starts showing vulnerability; the joke about talk shows seems like it’s going to be good, ends up crap. Most of the other rants in the first half are gold. Laugh out loud gold.

Back to the actors’ show thing. Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith as Danson’s assistants are great. Even if they’re both problematic character types. Winston is the sassy Black woman who runs the successful White man’s life, Smith’s the ditzy grunge girl. But they all have great timing. The rhythm of their back and forth. It’s fantastic. And the time they both get to just act. Desert and Farrell just get reaction shots—until the end of the episode when Farrell gets the close and still can’t deliver the line with any humor but it’s a pilot so hopefully it’ll get better. Smith and Winston get some time. And they maximize it.

Occasional cringes over dated material aside, “Becker” has a good pilot. Though some of being positive about it is knowing it does indeed improve. Even Farrell.

Not sure how it’d play from scratch.

September will be great

So TV is starting in September. Not sure what the first series I’m going to do a deep-dive on, but it’ll be… something finite. Cable or streaming or British. We’ll see how it goes. Schedule-wise, for TV, I’m thinking one TV post a week to start. Then more once I get a feel for it. Or maybe not more if it doesn’t feel right. We’ll see.

At the same time, there will be more regular Comics Fondle posts. I’m not waiting until September for the next Punisher arc, but there will be a Punisher arc next month with the new schedule. It’s currently looking like–Stop Button, VR or CF, Stop Button, whatever wasn’t the previous, Stop Button, and so on. Visual Reflux posts will either be a TV post or just some blathering like this post. Stop Button gets the most posts because it gets the most readers. I think it’d be even more accurate to say it gets readers. VR and CF are read. They do not have much in the way of regular readership, however. The whole idea of creating a centralized posting site instead of changing The Stop Button into that centralized posting site was a mistake. But I’m not running to change up Stop Button. My self-hosted WordPress experiment was miserable. I got nothing out of it except Google Analytics telling me no one was coming to the site. It would’ve been a fine idea for 2007 or 2008. But not even 2009, as CF was one relaunch too many of comics blogging after I split the comics from the movies on Stop Button because I couldn’t get it to work right on WordPress. And doing both side-by-side crashed Sandvox a lot.

Punisher will start either at the end of this week or the beginning of next. I’ve got a couple comics to read before I get to it and I’m also reading Feminista Jones’s Reclaiming Our Space and not putting it on a shelf this time. I was doing a lot better on reading in January 2019 than any other time this year. Meanwhile there’s a lot of Stop Button posts this month—I know because I’ve got three in the queue and I never have many in the queue anymore. Six blogathon posts in August, then five more the first week of September. The new Stop Button scheduling officially takes over after those September posts. So eight more movies between now and September 8. Not a lot of time for comics or TV, unfortunately. At least not TV I’m then going to write at length about. I didn’t end up writing about “The Boys” after the first couple episodes. I don’t have an “Elementary” post I don’t think. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I see the last episode.

But there was also the plan for how I was going to do the “focused” posts for TV: watching the season through (hence shorter seasons), then go through episode-by-episode to post. I’m not sure if it’ll work. Maybe the better thing would be brief posts and build up once I get used to writing about TV.

I’m sure I’ll figure it out by September.

“Mindhunter” starts in a couple days. Maybe I should try to work with that.

July 2019 movie capsules

The Heiress (1949, William Wyler)
★★★★
Outstanding period drama about unmarried heiress Olivia de Havilland’s courtship by charming but poor Montgomery Clift and the repercussions for de Havilland’s relationship with her father, Ralph Richardson. Small story grandly told; Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted their own play (which was adapted from Henry James’s Washington Square). Fantastic performances from everyone involved, stellar direction from Wyler.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Wonder Boys (2000, Curtis Hanson)
★★★½
Beautifully directed “man in [madcap] crisis” movie with writing professor Michael Douglas dealing with his wife leaving him, his girlfriend getting pregnant, his agent snooping for his overdue and overlong new novel, one student trying to seduce him, and another student killing his boss’s dog. All those threads overlap too. It’s a bit of a plotting mess, but well written and wonderfully acted. Hanson and his talented crew make a sublime picture.
DVD, Streaming.
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Hello Down There (1969, Jack Arnold)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Atrocious “family” “comedy” about Tony Randall dragging his family into his experimental underwater house of the future to prove the validity of the project to boss Jim Backus. Janet Leigh plays Randall’s wife (she could’ve done a lot better); she’s terrified of water. Their kids are in a band. The band comes along (including very young Richard Dreyfuss). Dumb script, some awful performances, lousy music (and a lot of it). Leigh’s okay, the rest is very bad.
DVD, Streaming.
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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, Jon Watts)
★★½
Fun, funny sequel has Spider-Man Tom Holland touring Europe on a class trip (leaving his Spidey suit at home) and trying to recover from AVENGERS: ENDGAME. He’s also wooing crush Zendaya and avoiding Sam Jackson’s pleas for help in battling giant monsters. Great anchoring performance from Holland. Loads of other good stuff… just not the big third act action finale. The two additional endings are way too essential not to be in the film proper.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Charlotte and Her Lover (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
Not Recommended
Tedious thirteen minute short has Jean-Paul Belmondo monologuing a misogynist rant against silent ex-lover Anne Collette all to get to a predictable twist ending. Director Godard (poorly) dubs in himself for Belmondo. Blah.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Greta (2018, Neil Jordan)
★★
Effective (rather than good) thriller about a young woman, Chloë Grace Moretz, discovering her new best friend (Isabelle Huppert) is a possibly dangerous stalker. Lots of suspenseful set pieces; they just don’t add up to a successful film. It almost gives Huppert a great movie villain role, only not to have any idea what to do with her once she’s primed. Good acting, fine direction, and very efficient storytelling. A little too efficient storytelling.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Best of Enemies (2019, Robin Bissell)
★★
Could be worse, but should be a lot better based on a true story about a 1971 North Carolina school desegregation crisis. Sam Rockwell is the Klan leader, Taraji P. Henson is the (Black) community organizer. Will they somehow work together to make the world a better place? Henson and Rockwell have real thin parts–courtesy director Bissell’s script–but they do a lot with them (for basically no reward). Bissell can’t hack it as director or writer.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophüls)
★★★
Rather strong character study masquerading as a thriller about wealthy housewife Joan Bennett contending with a rebellious teenage daughter (Geraldine Brooks, in the film’s only weak-ish performance), the daughter’s skeezy older lover (Shepperd Strudwick), and the blackmailer who finds out about the illicit affair (James Mason)–all while getting the house ready for Christmas. Bennett’s phenomenal, Mason’s good, Ophüls’s direction is excellent.
Blu-ray (Region B).
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Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan)
★★★★
Singular, sweaty modern noir about charismatic, hunky, and dim lawyer William Hurt having an affair with trophy wife Kathleen Turner much to the detriment of his career and relationship with closest friends, D.A. Ted Danson and cop J.A. Preston. It gets even more complicated after Hurt meets her husband–a perfectly icky Richard Crenna–and working on revising his will. Great dialogue, great direction, great photography, editing, all of it. It’s awesome.

DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Swindlers (2017, Jang Chang-won)
★★½
Well-paced, emphasis on fun fun con movie with corrupt DA Yu Ji-tae and his team of blackmailed con artists trying to take down the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in South Korean history. Everyone’s got their own agendas, their own secrets, which complicates the already arduous task. Especially newest team member Bin Hyun, who thinks he’s too smart for Yu. Writer-director Jang concentrates on the fun of the reveal and his likable cast.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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nullNarc (2002, Joe Carnahan)
★★★
Hyper-gritty cop movie about ex-undercover officer Jason Patric returning to the force to solve the murder of a fellow undercover cop (they didn’t know each other, but the NARC bond is apparently strong). Once back, Patric enlists the aid of bull in china shop tough cop (an awesomely bloated and belligerent Ray Liotta). The filmmaking’s gorgeous; in addition to flipping when it should flop, director Carnahan’s script hampers an otherwise strong Patric.
DVD, Streaming.
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In a Lonely Place (1950, Nicholas Ray)
★★½
Overall disappointing noir about down-on-his-luck screenwriter Humphrey Bogart getting his mojo back thanks to fetching neighbor Gloria Grahame taking an interest. Unfortunately they’ve just met because Bogart’s a murder suspect and, despite falling for him, Grahame isn’t exactly sure he didn’t do it. The leads are far better than the script, just never at the same time. Ray’s uneven direction doesn’t help. Bogart’s mostly just okay, but Grahame’s fantastic.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Le coup du berger (1956, Jacques Rivette)
Not Recommended
Obvious short about unfaithful wife Virginie Vitry’s attempts to con husband Jacques Doniol-Valcroze into unknowingly giving her the fur coat her lover (Jean-Claude Brialy) bought her. Middling writing and directing leads to middling acting.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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The Boys S01E01-E02

“The Boys” is better than it ought to be. It’s so good you almost wonder if they’d done Watchmen as an HBO series ten years ago instead of the movie… (and without Snyder)… who knows. Maybe.

Anyway, “The Boys.” It’s been a long time since my readthrough, but it’s sticking pretty close. And it’s well-executed enough I’m almost wondering if “Preacher” might be worth a look. Or I’ve hit my head too many times recently.

I didn’t watch any of the trailers, I didn’t pay attention after the first promo picture (aping the first trade cover) appeared and it looks poorly Photoshopped. But then I got thinking maybe they’ll actually do some kind of commentary on the modern superhero movie, something Snyder swore Watchmen was going to do but he was lying like Paul W.S. Anderson lied about the far superior Alien vs. Predator extended version (I mean, AVP is fine, don’t @ me). The show’s not that modern commentary. It’s way too close to the original series. Lots of scenes straight from the source Ennis, lots of “panels” straight from the source Robertson. The show feels like an homage to the comic, which is something considering it’s 2019.

Good acting from Jack Quaid (who looks more like a young Michael Shannon clone than either of his parents), Antony Starr, Erin Moriarty, and Elisabeth Shue. Shue’s the Mrs. Big bad guy. I didn’t expect to be particularly impressed Moriarty as the good girl amateur superhero who grows up to discover actual superheroes are scum. Her training montage and the modified origin story raised flags—she’s got an overbearing stage mom (Ann Cusack), who I don’t remember from the original comic and she doesn’t have the Christian Teen Titans background. But she’s strong by the second episode.

So’s Starr. Quaid’s not very Wee Hughie in his performance, but he’s all right. Shue’s a good Mrs. Big.

Notice I didn’t include Karl Urban in my list of good performances because he’s not actually good. I like watching him do the part and he can handle the physicality and the performance is just starting to get interesting but his English accent is Australian.

Urban’s not even Australian; he’s a New Zealander. But his fake English accent isn’t.

His story really seems to be deviating from the source, which is expected. Be interesting to see where it goes.

Good production values, decent effects; the fake Panavision aspect ratio isn’t bad. It isn’t great. But it also isn’t bad.

So two in… on with “The Boys.”

Social-less Micro.blog

I’m not sure if I’ve written at length about micro.blog; I might have over at Summing Up before. But I don’t have any tags or categories for the majority of the older posts and… I’m not doing a deep dive to find it.

Basically, I was waiting for micro.blog to launch (knowing about it because of the excellent Core Intuition podcast) and got tired of waiting so I launched Summing Up. I stopped doing Summing Up because 2016 election basically. It took a while to kill my blogging (inauguration put the real nail in it) and, even though I had a micro.blog I didn’t use it).

A year after deciding micro.blog wasn’t for me, I’ve decided to start using it as a Twitter posting client for ramblings. Because it turns out I don’t fit in at micro.blog, social network-speaking, which is fine. Core Intuition doesn’t do a Patreon so a fiver a month plus using MarsEdit via SetApp in addition to owning MarsEdit because it’s awesome gets to be my support.

What’s interesting is how much response I get on Twitter to my micro.blog posts. More than when I just tweet. Maybe it’s something about how I conceive of tweets vs. micro.blog posts. Though micro.blog doesn’t have posting photos into the post yet, which is one of my favorite web ux things.

I can’t help but note I still haven’t gotten around to any TV content for Visual Reflux. It’s going to happen. It’s imminent. Once I read the second Punks Not Dead arc, TV (well, streaming) is happening. This post is because I just noticed yesterday how I got zero interaction on micro.blog but a bunch for the same posts on Twitter. I have a solid Twitter. A cultivated Twitter. Especially mutuals. Even if many folks have left because it’s a shitshow.

I’m hesitant to give myself a TV schedule for VR just because it’s all new. But maybe I will. When I get closer to it making sense. I’ve got to do things like sign up for Hulu and install the app and so on. Headphones. Need to find my headphones. TV watching on lunch breaks makes sense but I’ve got zero experience with it these days. It’s been almost fifteen years since I first did it, with “Battlestar.” It’s possible I blogged about “Battlestar” back then. Who knows.

Dreck’s not an adjective

It’s been a week since my last Visual Reflux post. Soft renovating the garage to make it a cat paradise takes up a lot of time, even if it doesn’t take up a lot of mental space. I also sort of forgot where I was going with VR after my last post; I went from a post about all the blogathons I’ve been participating in the last couple years to finishing the blogathon index on The Stop Button, which has no deadline. Whatever was I going to do on VR and why hadn’t I given myself a deadline. It’s entirely possible I’ll have a “triage journaling” post one of these… weeks, but it’s a little less likely than a post about the new Bastille album, which at one point seemed certain.

Just like at one point doing a watch-through of “Penny Dreadful” was going to happen.

And now a watch-through, in some fashion, of “Mr. Rogers” seems more likely.

I’m not really big on sticking to my plans for my blogs. They don’t pay anything. And they’re a hobby, not an interest.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve made that “hobby, not an interest” Carlin reference since I started blogging—fifteen years ago—but I’d guess at least six.

It’s how I think of blogging. It costs money. It doesn’t make money. But I’ve got it cost-effective at least. Especially now Visual Reflux has moved off self-hosted because why in 2019.

Anyway, if I’m sticking to the schedule I set up… this post is actually going to be Stop Button’s new programming. See, when I started Stop Button I was still trying to watch something like a movie a day. At least one every two days. Something extreme and difficult. For a long while I was doing at least three features a week; shorts came in to supplement. But it was a lot. It’s not a lot anymore. When I watch a movie on a work night, it’s a lot to keep rattling around my head. I’d almost prefer bad movies. Of course the trick of hits on a bad movie post is the bad movie has to be popular enough someone once saw it and almost liked it or used to like it and then came to reason. Because why else write about bad movies if not for the hits. Bad movies of course being different than terrible movies. Or godawful ones. Hang on. Let me find a good adjective.

Dreck. But dreck’s not an adjective. I don’t discuss movies in relation to one another in posts if I can help it. It’s kind of… the goal, actually. The purpose. Other than occasionally making witty quips or finding a good sentence to shit on a terrible movie like Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

The point is it’s hard to come up with a watch list. It’s hard to program. Life doesn’t lend itself to marathoning Jerome Bonnell because life sucks.

So starting in September, I’m starting to think of Stop Button in programming “seasons.” Because everything is fucking seasonal now—I was on the bleeding edge of comics having seasons, for distribution, I have witnesses—so why not my movie blog. It’ll be two probably unrelated features a month, plus whatever else incidentals (features, shorts, whatever)—I’m going to be loose with that scheduling at the start—then two probably unrelated features the next month, then a return to the most popular (either with me or with hits) categories the third month. Because if I don’t systemize this shit… I’m never going to get around to watching Desert of the Tartars again and I’ve wanted to watch that movie again since I finished watching it the first time. Azumi 1 too. I really want to return to that post-undergrad pre-MFA era. But I also want to really get to some Catherine Corsini. Or Moonlight. Or Beale Street. There are almost 2,000 movies on my watch list and I’ve only been working on it for three and a half weeks.

I’ve got to get moving on this shit.

And I’ll also be posting the short capsule reviews en masse here once a month. A Visual Reflux special.

Speaking of VR specials—I’m going to assemble all my latest Punisher MAX posts over here in the next couple days; just not sure how.

And there, another post. Easy-peasy.