Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Cold Takes: The Founder

Hi internet,

Cat here. I'm not sure what the format of this series is going to be but I hope you'll stick with me as I figure it out. Today I'm just going for stream of consciousness. Light discussion of the movie but no major spoilers.

Streaming Service: You can find The Founder on Netflix.

Mood: I wasn't feeling great when I sat down to watch a movie but I didn't want to force myself to cheer up with a comedy, romantic or otherwise. And I also didn't want to have to engage with something intellectually challenging or emotionally intense. And so I settled on The Founder. For better or for worse I'm generally good at gauging what I need to program for myself in a given mood so I'll keep my eyes glued to my laptop and The Founder felt like just the thing I wanted in that moment.

Temperature: The Founder was released in December 2016 so it's not as cold of a take as some of the other movies I have planned for this series. I'd call it Lukewarm.

My thoughts on the movie evolved as I watched it. At first I was just taken in by Michael Keaton's performance and the look of the film. From the first sales pitch that opens the movie, you can instantly tell that Keaton is operating on a higher level than most as an actor. He makes the kind of smart acting choices that communicate so much about the character beyond what's in the script. For example, both he and the screenwriter are aware that this is not the story of a great man or a charismatic huckster. And so time and time again, Ray fails at bamboozling his targets. He doesn't get what he wants through charm or force of personality though a movie star like Michael Keaton should be more than capable of conveying that should the role require it. Also, this is my bias, but I enjoyed the pleasantly washed out colors at the beginning of the movie. It looked like the real world. I avoid a lot of bigger movies because I just can't stand all the orange/blue high contrast and blue filters.

My opinion shifted as the movie increasingly made more obvious directorial and visual storytelling choices and the script became more predictable and more of a Hollywood gloss came over the proceedings. When Ray meets the McDonald brothers for the first time the movie almost morphs into a commercial/documentary style that feels borderline cheap. But from that point on, things start to look more familiar. The color palette of the movie becomes more recognizable until the feeling that you've seen similar scenes in other movies is inescapable and that suspension of disbelief starts to dissipate. Cues that something notable is being communicated are very apparent. The movie tries its best not to knock you over the head but you can feel that it really wants to. It's hard to miss the introduction of Fred Turner. They play up every time Ray lies about his ideas for McDonald's or founding of the company. The contrast between his relationship with his wife and other marital relationships in the movie is very apparent. One of the more egregious choices is when Ray is tempted by both the wife of a franchisee and a scheme to cut costs with an inferior product. The scene ends with a close up shot of the powdered mix milkshake, framed so that you also get a direct look at the woman's cleavage. Her chest is slightly out of focus. See, subtle.

Speaking of the female characters in the movie, they aren't handled terribly well. Laura Dern does her best in a thankless role as Ray's wife. She's sketched in just enough to make demands but not be shrewish and to be sympathetic but not really have a significant role. As portrayed in this movie, Ethel is perhaps a little superficial. She wants to have dinner at the club and she has poor taste in friends. But she also just wants to spend time with her husband and in spite of his complaints, she does support him and try to make the effort to help him grow his business and even help him find franchisees once she realizes what he's looking for. But her efforts are never enough. It's perhaps her easy acquiescence and lack of drive that prevent him from ever seeing her as a full partner. In direct contrast to his tall, slim, and quiet wife is the previously mentioned temptation of another man's wife who is petite, curvy, and bold... but in a feminine and seductive way that doesn't challenge his dominance. She's written as a plot device, a femme fatale who doesn't scheme at the level of Lady Macbeth but does seem oddly compelled (and not rebuffed) by Ray's clear inroads into her seemingly happy marriage with the gorgeous Patrick Wilson. There's no explanation besides her heretofore untapped ambition for why she'll stay up late murmuring sweet words of encouragement to Ray over the phone like a sultrier less manic version of the modern manic pixie dream girl. Ray also has a secretary but she barely registers as a character.

Another poorly written character is B.J. Novak's Harry Sonneborn who might as well actually be Mephistopheles for all it makes sense how he sweeps in to the picture and why he helps Ray pursue his business interests the way he does. His character is not particularly devious or demonic but he does enable Ray to go from making small, notably unsuccessful trespasses to finally building his empire and gaining all his heart desires. But that's what a deal with the devil can do.

So... let's finally talk about McDonald's. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch turn in wonderful performances as the brothers who actually opened the restaurant and, more importantly, devised a system to streamline and speed up food preparation and eliminate some of the pitfalls of drive-in model. They created the model on which franchises could be started. When I say their introduction serves as a bit of a commercial for McDonald's, I mean that the movie certainly chooses to be generous about their genius and embodiment of American values and the American dream. More time is spent on a Moneyball-style focus on numbers and mass production instead of lingering on those shots of greasy burgers and potatoes being dunked in vats of oil. The movie does argue persuasively for the convenience of the experience and the fact that it provides customers with what they want. It never explicitly condemns the fast food chain but as the business franchises expand across the country and the marketing touts home and family messaging and also proposes the idea that burgers, fries, and milkshakes are an acceptable regular diet and not an occasional indulgence, the sense of distaste is unavoidable.

Ultimately, the movie falls short of what it's trying to be... which ended up being The Social Network with a Death of a Salesman twist. It shortchanges its narrative with stereotypical female characters and walks the line of being heavy-handed with scenes of Keaton clutching dirt in his fist. We wander so far from Ray's initial struggles as a mixer salesman that it's almost jarring at the end when he brings up his Slavic sounding name and his coveting of the American moniker of McDonald's (let's not get into how at that point they weren't too many decades removed from anti-Irish and anti-Scottish sentiment). Speaking of discrimination, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the lack of acknowledgement of the casual integration of the crowd scenes. This movie starts in the 50's. The movie's final scene doesn't pack an emotional punch but there's a lot to recommend it throughout, mostly to the credit of the actors and the way it stays on a pretty even keel.

CONCLUSION: I wouldn't seek this one out. But if you're in a similar mood and looking for an unchallenging biopic that mostly avoids heavy-handed Hollywood storytelling, consider checking out The Founder. The talented cast anchors the film with very solid performances. Birdman is probably a better movie but I won't know until it's on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

If you're curious about how far the movie diverges from the real life story, I found this website after I finished watching it. It's worth a quick read if you do watch the movie.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New Series: Cold Takes

Cat here. Sorry for the unexpected hiatus. My attention was elsewhere.

Much ado is made about the divided TV landscape. There are too many things to watch! Programming is targeted so specifically to individual consumer groups! We don't all gather around the TV at the same time and discuss it at the water cooler the next day! Horror of horrors.

Well, sadly I don't have a solution to remedy all of that. But I do find myself watching more Netflix and Amazon Prime these days and wanting to discuss it and so we have the birth of a new series on this blog... Cold Takes.

I don't know what this is going to be yet. I could be watching TV shows or movies or stand up specials. These might be formal reviews or they might just be scattered thoughts. But I will be finding these pieces of media on Amazon Prime and Netflix and I will most likely be watching things long after they're relevant to the cultural conversation. Thus... Cold Takes.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: 2016 Good Trailers

Hello there,

Cat here. As your reward for returning we finally get to talk about the trailers that I did like. In another post we can discuss the remaining shows that didn't put out trailers. Yes, I know there was a big delay in between this post and the last few. Sorry about that.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (the cw)
God bless the crazy people who haven't given up on musicals on TV. Santino Fontana is in this. Why am I even still typing? Of course, I'm watching this. I hate the name though.

Angel from Hell (CBS) 
I can't say that I watch a lot of CBS shows or that this looks that great to me but I can be pretty loyal. Maggie Lawson pretty much got me from Model Behavior and even though I eventually gave up on Psych (after 5 seasons you're pushing it) I'm probably always going to be interested in her next project. We've also got Liza Lapira in this who I've followed from Traffic Light to Don't Trust the B in Apt 23 to Super Fun Night. You're great, Liza Lapira. Please find a show that doesn't get cancelled after a season. There's also Kyle Bornheimer from Perfect Couples and a brief stint on Agent Carter. And of course, Jane Lynch. I watched all six seasons of Glee and I love Hollywood Game Night though her banter on that show is awful. I don't see this show having a long life but I'll probably tune in as long as it's on the air.

Supergirl (CBS) 
So opinions are divided on Supergirl. Again, I'm very biased. I have no attachment to the character or the canon but I like too many of the people involved in this show to not watch. It feels like even more of a girl power show than Agent Carter and I'm not as put off by the supposed gendered storytelling. We'll see where they go with it. I mean, let's not pretend that Smallville, Arrow, and The Flash don't spend a fair amount of their running times on romantic foibles and somewhat frivolous concerns. We have Melissa Benoist, who was bland but relatively charming as Marley on Glee, the goddess Laura Benanti, and the fabulously talented and most likely to be wasted in this Jeremy Jordan. They've also included Mehcad Brooks (The Deep End), Chyler Leigh (Not Another Teen Movie), and David Harewood (Selfie). The only cast member who is really throwing me off is Calista Flockhart. I'm really not sold on that character at all.

The Grinder (FOX)
The trailer made me chuckle which is more than I can say for a lot of comedic trailers. The cast is solid and I like the guest stars/character actors. I'm in.

Wicked City (ABC)
Look, I watched every episode of Gossip Girl. #ChairForever. As soon as I saw Ed Westwick, I knew I was going to watch this show. He looks like he's doing a great job in this. I'm really not into the idea of another show with vulnerable women being murdered all over the place but I will give it a chance for him.

Best Time Ever with NPH
I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this but I will give it a shot. Will it be Maya Rudolph's show or another Hollywood Game Night? Again, who knows?

Minority Report (FOX)
This reminds me of Person of Interest and maybe a little bit of The Flash and you know, just a lot of other shows. That said, of the high concept show trailers that were released for this kind of show, this is the one that jumped out at me the most. Also, I like the team aspect. One day I will find my next Leverage. One day.

Lucifer (FOX) 
I cannot justify this one at all but I was kind of into this trailer. The leading man seems charming enough. I don't mind supernatural shenanigans on similar shows like Reaper or Deadbeat or Charmed. I don't like that it seems like another crime solving show with a Brit but yeah, I liked this trailer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: UnReal

Hello there,

Cat here. Let's talk about UnReal. Yes, I know it usually takes me ages to talk about a pilot now but the ratings for UnReal weren't great (not that the hits for this blog are fantastic either) and I want to see this series through to the end. A bit of background first. I haven't watched that much of The Bachelor/The Bachelorette. I can't remember watching any of The Bachelor actually. I tried to watch some of last season (Andi's season) of The Bachelorette but I quickly became bored and hated everyone too much and got distracted by other things. What I have watched is every available episode of Burning Love and a lot of other terrible dating reality shows so I do have some inkling of what's being satirized and analyzed here.

UnReal, in case you were one of the under a million people who caught the pilot, is a show about the world behind the scenes of a show called Everlasting. It's pretty much The Bachelor but with even more emphasis on the fairytale romance. The Bachelor doesn't try this hard. So I guess more like "I Want to Marry Harry" if they took it seriously? I don't know. The series seems like it's going to focus on Shiri Appleby's (Dating Rules From My Future Self) character Rachel Goldberg but there's a nice ensemble dynamic happening. There's a lot of shorthand in the pilot but I'm willing to move past that as long as they find the depth in the characters during the rest of the season. Right now, Appleby makes the show. I can't remember seeing a female character like this for a long time... maybe ever. She's almost the opposite of most male antiheroes/geniuses who are running around solving crimes and diagnosing illnesses. She's smart and warm and empathetic and she's using her powers for evil. She feels bad about it but there's still a ruthless streak in her that's very compelling. She does drink a bit in the pilot but so far we've gotten no sign that she can't handle herself (in spite of her having to ask her boss to sign something saying she was sober and showed up to work on time). It's what she has to do at work that's actually taking a toll on her physical and mental well-being.

Other than the fantastic casting of Shiri Appleby, I think the best part of the pilot was the behind the scenes machinations. I came into the show expecting soapy trash. The kind of fix you get from Empire or Devious Maids. UnReal tries for that a bit but I don't think the humor or the dysfunction quite lands because you're held at such a distance from the action. You're not watching The Bachelor. You're watching The Bachelor sometimes two or three steps removed as the people in the control room watch Rachel watch the contestants. No, what's most interesting is not the tough-talking boss who is being played a little too over the top right now. It's seeing how the pieces are choreographed and coordinated and seeing those final pushes from Rachel that seal the deal.

Of course I do still have concerns. I'm hoping the show doesn't play too much into cliches and stereotypes. In addition to the unnecessarily brash boss who's secretly caring we have a workplace rival who can't match up and a quiet intern who they lingered on way too many times for her not to be important in the future. Even then I'm encouraged by the diversity of this cast in terms of gender, ethnicity, and age and the fact that they tackled the lack of the diversity on The Bachelor franchises in one of the first lines of the show. My other big concern is avoiding a romance, unrequited or mutual between Rachel and Adam Cromwell, the bachelor character. I can feel them pulling in that direction and I really wish they wouldn't.

CONCLUSION: Watch this show. This was a very solid pilot. I think it's a show with something interesting to say. It falls into that nice middle ground between a show that tries so hard to shock you that you're left with a ton of filler episodes and a show that never shoots for the fences but puts out a consistent product... that you can skip for a bunch of episodes and not really miss. I can't sell it any more just from the pilot but I have faith in it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: 2016 Meh Trailers


So you came back. Yes, we're continuing to analyze the trailers for the 2016 TV pilot season. This round is a kind of nebulous grouping of all the shows that fall in the middle. The trailers weren't so boring or uninformative that I completely wrote them off but they also weren't enough to guarantee that I'd watch the show. There were things in all of these trailers that I liked. And also things that I didn't.

Quantico (ABC)
So I know I rejected Code Black which is a similar shows about a group of newbies plunged into a competitive environment, blah blah, formula. There's something about this ensemble show that grabbed me a little more. Maybe it's just that it's not in a hospital. Granted, there's not a lot that I'm drawn to right now but if it's done well, I could see myself liking this one. Certainly more than Covert Affairs.

Scream Queens (FOX)
So the good news, at least for me, and you if you like reading my thoughts on TV shows, is that the horror doesn't seem gory enough to make this a hard pass. It feels more like Pretty Little Liars than American Horror Story. The bad news is that this trailer was not that impressive and there's a lot of, erp, not quite A level talent, that are making me question the quality of this project. Oliver Hudson from Nashville? Nasim Pedrad? All the stunt casting? Why is Lea Michele in headgear?

The Real O'Neals (ABC)
I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. I won't jump to saying it as good as the family comedies that ABC delivered last season but it feels like one of the better family comedies... maybe one of the ones I never watched like The Middle or Raising Hope. Were those good? Obviously I don't know.

Uncle Buck (ABC)
This trailer was fine. I don't think I'll get far past the first few episodes but it seems like a decent TV movie or a lower tier feature.

Life in Pieces (CBS)
They put together a good cast including Zoe Lister Jones (Whitney), Colin Hanks, James Brolin, and Dianne Wiest. Yes, I watched Whitney. Don't judge me. This is what I imagine Parenthood was like never having watched it. I don't think I'll watch this show either.

Of Kings and Prophets (ABC)
I'm not a big fan of Biblical dramas and I still haven't watched Rome or Game of Thrones, epic ensemble dramas in this vein. Nothing in the acting or story I can see in the trailer is compelling to me. So why is this in the "meh" group? Look, this could very well be that ancient Egyptian (?) show from last season that they cancelled before it even aired. But it does look like they spent the money to bring a pay cable style epic ensemble drama to network so I'm at least a little interested.

The Player (NBC)
Why isn't this show about Wesley Snipes? If this show was just about Wesley Snipes I would have put it in the good category. It's not even about a team including Wesley Snipes and that lady with an accent. Instead it's about another capable white guy and his dead prop wife and... nope. It looks good for what it is but what it is isn't a show I'm going to watch.

DC's Legends of Tomorrow (CW)
There was no way I was going to watch Arrow but I fully intended to cover at least the trailer for The Flash. It got away from me. I saw it. My general impression was... this is very conventional and somewhat lacking in depth and heart. Legends of Tomorrow looks like more of the same except I do like the fact that there's a clear team and not just a star and all his sidekicks. My heart hasn't forgotten Leverage and apparently I haven't lost hope that I'll find another team show again. I got my hopes up for Alphas but that didn't pan out. And it's nice to see a team with diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, and age (shout out to Victor Garber). I will try to cover the pilot but I doubt that it'll be a show I keep up with.

The Frankenstein Code (FOX) 
Is it wrong that I don't hate this? I feel like I should hate this. That's not to say that I like it either but yeah, I could watch it.

Heartbreaker (NBC)
This is another perfectly fine trailer. It doesn't look awful. I'm sure someone will like it. But I've definitely seen this show before and I'm not interested in watching it again.

Grandfathered (FOX)
I think I like Josh Peck and John Stamos but this premise is entirely uninteresting to me. Otherwise, it was a decent trailer.

Rosewood (FOX)
These crime-fighting male-female team-ups live and die on the actors they cast and I'm not feeling it from the trailer. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: 2016 Bad Trailers

Hi there,

Cat here. No idea why you're still with me on this weird diversion we've been taking for much longer than I thought we would but I'm glad you're here. Like the misguided Married at First Sight, we're going to be taking another crack at analyzing pilot season for 2016 so let's take a look at the shows that may or may not be occupying our time. I'm getting the bad news out of the way first by starting with the trailers for shows I will most likely not watch, at least past the pilot.

Blindspot (NBC)
Based on her role in Kyle XY, Jaimie Alexander seems to be perfect casting for this show. That said, I'm not excited by the idea of this completely objected nonperson female protagonist. However, Agent Carter made me realize I might be more into fight sequences that I thought I was so I will at least watch the pilot for this.

Code Black (CBS)
This show doesn't look terrible at all. It just looks very, very boring. Marcia Gay Harden has not grabbed me with her presence in the last two shows I've seen her in, Trophy Wife and How to Get Away with Murder, and yet she's the strongest member of the cast from the trailer and that has me worried. I've also just found it difficult to care about medical dramas since House ended. Luis Guzman is an interesting addition but Octavia Spencer wasn't enough to get me past the first dreadful episode of Red Band Society so I don't imagine he'll do much better. Plus, we've got Raza Jaffrey who I'll contend ruined the first season of Smash more Katharine McPhee. Yeah, I said it. I may watch the pilot if I have the time.

Containment (The cw)
This show doesn't look bad. Actually the quality seems rather good for the cw. Or at least the cw before all the DC comics properties. I'm just not interested in this show at all. I also didn't watch that Contagion movie. There's a reason why Titanic was successful. There are too many people in this trailer and I don't care about any of them. I have no idea where this show is going. Are they just going to force you to watch large-scale human suffering every week? Sure, that sounds fun.

Limitless (CBS)
I did not watch the movie with Bradley Cooper though it looked better than this. This started off annoying with the same goddamned voiceover that plagued me throughout the 2015 pilot season and then quickly became the same procedural where a male and female lead solve crimes. I need really compelling actors if I'm going to sit through that again and I don't think Jake McDorman (Manhattan Love Story) and Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) are those actors.

The Family (ABC)
What is with all these bland titles? I know it worked for Friends but do you want it to be impossible for your show? Are you just counting down the days until it gets cancelled? I was burned by that Impostor documentary, which you absolutely should not watch, and I just don't find these kinds of things compelling. It's nice to see Allison Pill and Andrew MacCarthy and Liam James (Psych) but I don't like any of them enough to suffer through this.

The Catch (ABC)
I wasn't grabbed by the acting in the trailer. I don't really care about the mystery. And I was burned by my first Shonda show, How to Get Away With Murder. I'll pass.

Dr. Ken (ABC)
I don't hate sitcoms. Last season ABC did well with Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, and Cristela. But I'm not just going to watch a show for the sake of supporting diversity if the show's not any good. This show seems to lack the heart, solid acting, and writing of those other comedies. You have Ken Jeong (Community), Dave Foley, Tisha Campbell-Martin (My Wife and Kids), Suzy Nakamura (Go On), and Albert Tsai (Trophy Wife, Fresh Off the Boat) who I've liked in other things but I don't know if I'll even watch the pilot.

The Muppets (ABC)
I'm certainly not saying this show will be terrible. What I'm saying is that as a non-fan this trailer did nothing to sell me on the show.

Oil (ABC)
The premise and the world of the show do not appeal to me. I didn't watch the original Dallas and I didn't watch it when it came back on TNT. Also as a loyal viewer of Gossip Girl I have absolutely zero faith in Chace Crawford's ability to carry a show.

Heroes Reborn (NBC)
I did not watch Heroes when it originally aired and while I do like Zachary Levi I did give up on Chuck a season or two before it was cancelled. The trailer gave me nothing to go on. I will probably pass on this.

People Are Talking (NBC)
I'm not sure if the situation in the trailer is just limited to the pilot or if that's supposed to be the premise for the entire show. Regardless, while this wasn't awful, there was nothing here that made me want to watch this show. It's another bland comedy that will either be cancelled immediately or amaze me when I realize it's still on the air in a couple of years. It does have Mark Paul Gosselaar in it but then so did Franklin and Bash.

Bordertown (FOX)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Underthinking Pilot Season: Backstrom


Cat here. Yes, I'm just racing through these today. I forgot about Backstrom. I think I'd convinced myself that I'd already written this post. I was looking forward to this show since I saw the trailer and yeah, I like it. I missed having a procedural in my life. House has ended. Psych has ended. I think Burn Notice has ended but I just stopped watching one day and never looked back so I can't be sure. I can't watch Bones anymore. It's too dumb. I tried, probably two or three seasons longer than I should have, but I can't watch that show anymore. Castle is alright but it's not a show I want to watch every week. And there are only so many Law and Order reruns you can watch. Backstrom fills that void for me.

There's not that much to say about it. It's a fine little procedural in the vein of all the other special, quirky dudes solving crime or illnesses with their unique brand of snark and insight. You know what you're getting into when you turn one of these shows on. On a positive note for Backstrom, I actually like the rest of the ensemble. I think the weakness of the show is when it wants to get too serious. Everything with Backstrom's back story and those little close-ups of Rainn Wilson... "feeling" things really deeply are just... Yeah, it's sweet that they're trying to go there but it doesn't work.

CONCLUSION: Do you need to watch Backstrom? No. But if, like me, you're looking for a procedural to fill that void... maybe check it out. You could certainly do worse.