Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"My new cat has lymphoma"

Yeah, maybe I'm just a sick puppy, but that's the deadpan dark, out-of-nowhere line that marked the point where I decided to just relax and have fun with HEIST, the new NBC caper show. It's uttered by a LAPD officer on the shooting range to the female detective (Michele Hicks) beside her, who's convinced a major robbery is about to take place somewhere in town. And she's right.

The show's about a group of thieves (the usual mix of oddballs) assembled to hit three major Beverly Hills jewelery stores during Oscar week, when they'll presumably be full of all sorts of goodies (the stores, not the thieves).

Now, this show is NOT gonna change anyone's life, but it's clever enough and entertaining enough, visually and musically cool enough and the pilot promising enough that I watched the second show, only to feel that the show was already beginning to run out of steam and that the producers were pumping up the schtick as a cheap fix.

And then I realized that what had appealed to me in the first place, beyond the typical caper machinations of the pilot, WAS the schtick -- the slightly irreverent black humour and the cartoony quirkiness of the Oprah-ready characters (EVERYONE has major issues with something). In other words, it's SUPPOSED to be funny. And once I realized that, I began to REALLY enjoy it.

I think. Watch tonight's episode turn all po-faced gloom and doom and glum and dumb now that I've announced it's a comedy.

It stars Dougray Scott, Steve Harris (the black lawyer from THE PRACTICE , who's really good here as the second banana of the gang), Seymour Cassel, Reno Wilson, Marika Dominczyk, David Walton and Billy Gardell and a bunch of other people nobody ever heard of and is supposed to run for 13 episodes.

I like it, so it'll probably be canned. In fact, I just found out they're (already) moving it around the schedule, placing it at eight o'clock, up against mega-hits AMERICAN IDOL and LOST. In other words, the bastards are planning to kill it off deliberately.

But what do you expect in a universe where the brain-dead LAS VEGAS is a hit? Is it just me, or does James Caan wandering through that sorry ass show remind you of Bob Dylan scowling through those Victoria Secret's ads? Is this a new trend, presenting respected talent and arguable genius (in Dylan's case) against a backdrop of boobs, a way to put intelligence and art in its place in the new Age of Dumb?

But I digress...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Gone Fishin'

Thank God for NetFlix!

Or else I would have probably never caught SILVER CITY, a little-seen indy flick by John Sayles rushed out in a fruitless attempt to derail the re-election of the Republicans in the American 2004 presidential election.

Sure, on the political level, it's easy to see it as just another over-exuberant bit of Bushwhacking (and Chris Cooper's portrayal of Dicky Pilager, a gramatically challenged Colorado gubernational wannabe captures perfectly you-know-who), but give Sayles credit -- despite its flaws, this is also a finely nuanced and often-thoughtful thriller that owes at least as much to CHINATOWN and the works of Raymond Chandler (much-cited by Sayles in the DVD commentary) as it does to Michael Moore.

Sure, it deliberately pushes buttons, and the large ensemble cast is heavily stacked with committed showbiz lefties (Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Richard Dreyfus, etc. -- and even Steve Earle pops up to sing during the closing credits, in case anyone missed the point), but at its core, it's as much about the corruption of the political process itself by special interest groups as it is about any particular political party.

And for you crime-reading anglers out there, it all kicks off with a great fishing scene that recalls both John D. MacDonald's THE GIRL IN THE PLAIN BROWN WRAPPER and Richard Hoyt's FISH STORY. Bumbling Dicky, the ne'er-do-well son of a powerful Colorado senatorr, decked out in fishing gear, inadvertently reels in a corpse during the filming of a carefully staged campaign ad/photo op that attempts to portray him as a simple outdoorsy kinda guy.

Campaign manager Chuck Raven (Dreyfus) promptly takes charge, hoping to head off any suggestion that Dicky had anything at all to do with the stiff by hiring a local detective agency, suggesting they focus on the Pilager family's enemies to see if this is some sort of underhanded political trickery or settling of accounts. And at first it looks like a simple enough case for investigator DANNY O'BRIEN, a burned-out former reporter. O'Brien, ably played by Danny Huston, makes for an apealing eye, bringing a slightly dazed Fred MacMurray deer-in-the-headlights affability to the proceedings.

But nice guy Danny gets more than he bargains for, to the chagrin of both his pragmatic boss (Mary Kay Place) and his client. He eventually finds himself over his head in a toxic waste pool of influence and corruption, possibly involving lobbyists, the media, the local police, the mining industry, real estate developers, a nymphomaniac Olympic archery contender (Hannah), undocumented migrant workers, a rabble-rousing Web site heading by a former journalist buddy (Tim Roth) and an old girlfriend (Maria Bello).

As I said, it's all got a bit of a rushed feel to it, and too many of the characters, as appealing as they are -- not to mention the romantic subplot -- could have been better developed (or dropped completely). As well, the political points are often delivered with too heavy a hand, to the detriment of the story itself. But the solid cast, and some great camera work by the legendary Haskell Wexler, keep things moving along, and O'Brien is fun to watch as the unimposing, shambling Everyman Eye.

It'll be interesting to see how this one ages.

And was it me, or did anyone else see Lou Reed cowtipping?