IFC’s Portlandia is As Solid As Ever Now In Its Fourth Season

Courtesy:  IFC

Courtesy: IFC

When it first debuted on IFC almost four years ago in 2011, Portlandia was little more than an unknown sketch comedy show.  Now three years later, it has gone on to quite the unexpected success.  It has garnered itself a nomination for an Emmy award and even a Peabody award win; this despite the show still being largely a cult favorite.  Now with the recent release of the show’s fourth season on DVD, audiences that might still be unfamiliar with Portlandia will be able to see for themselves just what has made this little show that could a fan favorite for four seasons now.  The first and most obvious reason that Portlandia has garnered such a fan following over the course of its run is its writing.  The writing behind this show is the sort of writing that will impress any fan of The Kids in the Hall and The Upright Citizens Brigade.  Also worth noting of this season is the acting on the part of lead stars Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein along with their co-stars and guest stars.  Speaking of the guest stars, the guest stars lined up for Season Four add their own comedic element that audiences will appreciate, rounding out the whole presentation.  All three factors together make the fourth season of IFC’s Portlandia a presentation that audiences new and not so new to the show will enjoy from start to finish.

The central point in the enjoyment of Portlandia Season Four is the show’s writing.  This season’s writing is a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein take no prisoners with co-writer Jonathan Krisel throughout this season.  From social media to organized religion to horror movies, pet adoption agencies and so much more, nothing is off limits this season.  There’s even a spoof of the classic 1993 Robert Redford/Demi Moore drama Indecent Proposal in one episode.  The episode in question features none other than the star of HBO’s hit drama Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi.  The pokes at all things pop culture alone make Season Four well worth the watch.  They’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in what makes this season’s writing work.  As with the series’ previous three seasons, each episode is split into multiple segments with one skit serving as the hub of each episode.  That hub is sandwiched by a group of other stand-alone sketches.  This aspect of the writing is likely thanks in large part to SNL head Lorne Michaels also playing a role in this series, too.  And it proves to work quite well surprisingly enough even here.

Directly related to the writing behind Portlandia’s fourth season is the acting on the part of the both Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.  The characters that have become so familiar and beloved by fans throughout the show’s first three seasons are back once again.  And the way that Armisen and Brownstein handle their portrayals makes for more than its share of laughs.  Those that might not be so familiar with the duo’s brand of comedy might see the duo’s acting as being aimed at a very specific audience.  The reality is that their acting is meant entirely to poke fun at certain groups of people.  They do so by going completely over the top in their stereotypical presentation of said characters.  It works perfectly with the scripts in general to make each of the sketches even more of a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein’s acting combines with the season’s writing to make each of this season even more entertaining, regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the series.

Both the writing and acting that went into the fourth season of Portlandia play their own part in the overall enjoyment of this cult hit series.  Adding even more enjoyment to the overall presentation that is the series’ fourth season is the inclusion of a who’s who of guest stars.  It has already been noted that Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi is on board this season.  Joining him are the likes of Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman 1,23), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence DayHoly Man), and singer k.d. Lang among others.  Goldblum actually makes multiple appearances throughout this season’s sketches.  And Dunst opens the season in a hilarious episode that pokes fun at all of the really bad horror movies polluting theaters, store shelves and online retailers.  It is certain to leave any viewer laughing so hard that they cry.  k.d. Lang’s appearance later in the season is just as funny.  She appears in a skit about a group of lesbians on a nature retreat.  The retreat just happens to be led by an older man.  Needless to say that things turn rather interesting for him and Lang’s character.  These are just some of the laughs offered by the guest stars throughout Portlandia’s fourth season.  Audiences will find their own favorite moments when they pick up this season’s box set.

The guest stars tapped to appear in Portlandia’s fourth season make for plenty of laughs.  The same can be said of the acting both on their part and that of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (as well as their cat mates).  And the writing in general makes a solid cornerstone on which rests the equally solid acting and A-list guest list.  All things considered, Porlandia Season 4 proves in the end to be a collection of episodes that anyone looking for a good laugh will enjoy.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on Portlandia is available online at http://www.facebook.com/portlandia and http://www.ifc.com/portlandia.  More information on this and other releases from IFC is available online at http://www.facebook.com/IFC and http://ifc.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty A Surprisingly Enjoyable Story For A Reboot

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures

More often than not, Hollywood’s seemingly undying hunger for prequels, sequels, and remakes has led to some of the movie industry’s worst movies in memory in recent years. However, the 2013 remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye classic The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has proven to be the rare exception to that rule. One part Death of a Salesman and one part Forrest Gump, this last movie of 2013 is also the year’s best. This is despite the fact that it is just one more on the industry’s ever-growing list of prequels, sequels, and remakes. The very first factor in the success of this updated story is its writing. Writer Steve Conrad has taken author James Thurber’s original story and updated it in a way that works even despite being changed around so much.  Also to be taken into consideration is the acting of the cast.  Veteran actress Shirley MacClaine (Downton Abbey), comedienne Kristen Wiig (SNL), and Adam Scott (Parks & Rec) each expertly carry out their roles and make the story all the richer.  The same can also be said of surprise guest stars Patton Oswalt and Sean Penn.  The last aspect of the movie to consider in its success is its cinematography.  The scenes shot in Greenland and Iceland were beautiful to say the very least.  The same can be said of so many other scenes that make up Walter’s fantasies and his real life adventures.  That aspect comes together with the cast, its acting, and the general writing to make this movie one of the biggest surprises of 2013.

Writer Steve Conrad’s adaptation of author James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not the first time that the story has been adapted to the big screen.  Its first big screen adaptation was in 1947.  Little changed from that story–penned by writers Ken Englund, Everett Freeman, and Philip Rapp–and this latest take on Thurber’s story.  The one big difference between the two stories is that the original adaptation was a rom-com.  Conrad’s update is more of a human drama that centers on overcoming the fear of life’s uncertainties and taking risks.  Typically, making such a drastic change is a formula for disaster.  But this case is a very rare exception to the rule.  Somehow, Conrad has managed to make his story work.  And he has managed to do so in so many ways.  What he offers audiences in this adaptation is the story of a man that sets out to find a photograph, but ends up finding himself in the long run.  It’s all brought on as Life magazine, the magazine he works for is preparing to release its very last print issue before it becomes an entirely online entity.  This is another aspect of Conrad’s script that makes it work so well.  That’s because it is such a real story element.

The use of Life magazine transitioning from a print outlet to an entirely online entity is a hugely useful tool to advance this story.  That’s because of its realism.  So many branches of the print media have transitioned mainly to an online presence in order to survive in the digital age.  That transition makes for a lot of uncertainty in any number of individuals’ lives including the story’s lead character.  It’s that uncertainty of the future that forces Walter to make his daydreams become reality.  And Stiller’s take on Walter as he grows through his adventures serves to make the story all the richer.

Steve Conrad’s updated take on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is surprisingly enjoyable despite being an update on one of Hollywood’s classic movies.  The human drama that makes up the story’s main plot does so much to make the story work.  The same can be said of the acting of lead Ben Stiller and his cast mates.  He makes his take on his character one that is entirely believable as Walter grows from a socially awkward wallflower type of figure to a more self-confident man.  His isn’t the only portrayal that makes the story work, either.  Surprise guest star Patton Oswalt is spot on as a tech rep with e-harmony.  He interacts with Walter solely via phone throughout most of the story.  Even over the phone, those moments make for so many laughs.  Just as funnier is the reveal of Oswalt’s character late in the movie.  His joke of what he thought Walter would look like compared to his own looks makes for one of so many classic moments throughout the story.  Adam Scott plays the story’s antagonist, Ted Hendricks, that comes in to Life as a “cleaner” of sorts responsible for downsizing the magazine’s staff.  He was just as much on spot in his role as the rest of the cast in its roles.  He is a completely cold, despicable figure that cares only about his own advancement.  He makes audiences cheer happily for Walter both when he confronts him in his daydream and for real later in the story.  That’s the sign of an actor fully grasping his character and getting the job done.  The same can be said of supporting actress Shirley MacClaine as Walter’s mom.  She is Walter’s only real source of support among everyone around him.  And one can feel the love that Walter’s mom has for him, too.  Anyone that doesn’t laugh and smile at the pair’s personal moments have no heart.  That ability of the cast to reach audiences on so many emotional levels is just as important as the script itself in this story’s success.  The story’s success doesn’t end here, either.  There is one more aspect of this movie that makes it successful.  That aspect is the movie’s cinematography.

The cinematography of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is beyond belief.  From Walter’s imaginary fight scenes with Ted to his real life adventure across Greenland, Iceland, and Afghanistan, the camera crews and editors went beyond the call of duty.  The contrast of Walter set against the giant magazine covers that lined the halls of Life make for their own statement.  That’s because as Walter runs past the covers, audiences see the figures on each cover turn to Walter’s face.  It makes for a statement of his dreams potentially becoming reality.  And in its own right, it is also a foreshadowing of sorts, not to reveal too much for those that haven’t yet seen.  These are just some of the examples of the expert cinematography that is exhibited throughout the course of the story.  There is much more for audiences to see for themselves.  And they will indeed find so much when they watch this story for themselves.  And together with its casting and writing, audiences will find so much to applaud in this movie; so much in fact that they will agree that despite being a reboot, it still proves to be 2013’s best new movie.

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3rd Rock’s Season 6 A Funny Finale For Former Standout NBC Sitcom

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Today’s sitcoms are anything family friendly.  They have become increasingly over laden with sexual innuendo, foul language, and completely dumbed down humor.  These are the main complaints that are received by many audiences about many of the sitcoms currently airing on television’s “Big 4”, and even on some cable based comedies.  Thank goodness for companies Mill Creek Entertainment for offering audiences an alternative to the mostly blue humor that pollutes today’s comedies.  One of the most recent of those alternatives from Mill Creek Entertainment is the release of NBC’s hit sitcom, 3rd Rock from the Sun Season Six.

The sixth and final season of the once powerhouse NBC comedy is just as funny as the show’s previous five seasons thanks once again to the show’s writers.  The Solomon family continues trying to learn the ways of humans in its ongoing mission, all while creating its own share of laughs along the way.  Dick learns in the show’s final season that he’s *gasp* Canadian.  The Solomon family also temporarily takes on new lives in an alternate universe.  And Tommy experiences the human experience that is college.  These are just a few of the funny moments that fill out the final season of 3rd Rock from the Sun.  That’s not all that makes this season such a joy.  A who’s who of guest stars appears throughout Season six, too, adding to the laughs.  A whole slew of fellow NBC stars come in this season including former Saturday Night Live cast members Darrell Hammond, Tracy Morgan, and Ana Gasteyer.  Richard Belzer (Law & Order: SVU) and Mark McKinney (The Kids in the Hall) and singer Elvis Costello also show up this season.  Even as small as their parts are, the guest stars add their own comic element to the show, making it even more entertaining.

The writing in 3rd Rock’s final season is just as entertaining as it was in the series’ premiere season.  Some might have considered it a bit of a cheap thing to do a Saturday Night Live crossover and a slight pump for Law & Order: SVU.  But it all works quite well in the two-part episode, “Dick’ll Take Manhattan.”  The writers, probably knowing it was the show’s last season, take a playful stab at then fellow NBC hit, Saturday Night Live and even the NBC brass as Harry becomes the head of the network.  The writers didn’t just take a stab at NBC.  They even poked fun at HBO’s then hit show, Sex and the City, with Sally (Kristen Johnston) taking the place of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie.  It gets even funnier, with each member of the cast having their own hilarious moments.  This standout episode was just one that served as a tribute to the wit of the show’s writers.  Fans will also love the semi-political comedy of “Red, White & Dick.”  This episode sees Dick discovering that he is Canadian in his quest to become more American.  What it is about this kind of joke that makes it so funny is anyone’s guess.  Canada seems to be the butt of so many jokes in American entertainment.  But it is hilarious nonetheless, and it serves as a solid cornerstone for Dick’s attempts to become more American and in the same vein, more human.  It will have any viewer laughing till they cry.

The writing behind each episode of 3rd Rock’s final season offers nonstop laughs in every episode.  It’s a prime example of what used to make NBC a powerhouse network during the 1990s.  The cameo guest spots don’t hurt, either.  Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) appears as Mary’s (Jane Curtin) sister Renita Albright this season.  She sets out to steal Dick from Mary purely out of sibling rivalry.  That adults could be such strong rivals goes back to the show’s solid writing.  Audiences will love watching Mary and Renita going back and forth, sniping at one another like two little children.  Mullally is just one of the many guest stars that made an appearance this season.  Richard Belzer, Tracy Morgan, and Ana Gasteyer—all NBC stars—made appearances, as did singer Elvis Costello.  Costello made an appearance in the series finale.  The others all appeared in the two-parter, “Dick’ll Take Manhattan.”  Watching a then young Joseph Gordon-Levitt go toe to toe with the then rising SNL stars is a laugh riot.  Who ever would have thought that Tommy would date Ana Gasteyer.  And his moments with Tracy Morgan are just as funny.

The writing and the guest spots together make this final season a fitting way to close out what is by this critic’s view, one of the greatest sitcoms of the 20th century.  The DVD release of this season has one more aspect that while not being perfect, is still good in its own right.  Mill Creek has packaged all three discs of this set in their own envelope.  Mill Creek Entertainment is the only company that packages DVDs in this fashion.  It isn’t a perfect packaging method, considering that the envelopes are not padded.  That would make them perfect.  But having them in envelopes allows audiences to take as many discs as they want when travelling instead of having to take an entire DVD case.  This is actually quite smart in its own right.  If the higher ups at Mill Creek would maintain its form of packaging and simply make the envelopes padded, it would make this packaging fashion quite impressive and the overall presentation of its multi-disc sets that much more impressive.  3rd Rock from the Sun Season Six is available now on DVD.  It can be ordered online via the Mill Creek Direct website at https://www.millcreekdirect.com/3rd-rock-from-the-sun-season-6.html. After ordering the three-disc set, audiences can find out about more releases from Mill Creek Entertainment on its official website, http://www.millcreekentertainment.com or its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt.

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Viva Pictures Releasing New Top Cat Animated Adventure

Courtesy:  Viva Pictures

Courtesy: Viva Pictures

Top Cat is back!  One of Hanna Barbera’s most beloved creations returns this summer courtesy of Viva Pictures in a new CG based story.  Top Cat’s new adventure in sees him facing off against a new police chief.  The chief is bent on controlling everybody in his city through big brother style methods and a robotic police force.  But if Top cat has anything to say about it, the chief won’t be getting his way.  The story features the voices of veteran actor and comedian Rob Schneider and Danny Trejo.

A theatrical release is being planned for the return of Top Cat in order to celebrate the movie’s release.  It will also be released to DVD and digital format.  Tickets for the theatrical release are expected to be very family friendly. 

Victor Elizalde, a Viva Pictures representative expressed the company’s excitement at resurrecting this classic cartoon character for a new generation.  “We’re so excited to have the talent of Rob and Danny involved with this project,” he said.  “They truly bring the characters to life in the story!  We’re eager to bring Top Cat: The Movie to theaters in August.”

Audiences can view the trailer for the new movie now online at http://www.vivafilmco.com/topcat_trailer.html.  Fans can find out about all of the latest releases from Viva Pictures online at http://www.vivafilmco.com

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Mad Men Actor Tapped To Host 2013 ESPYS

Courtesy: ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Mad Men actor Jon Hamm has been announced as the host of this year’s annual ESPY Awards broadcast.  Hamm, who plays Don Draper on the hit AMC series, was announced as this year’s host this morning on LIVE With Kelly and Michael.  Hamm already has quite the resume.  He has already earned himself a Golden Globe Award, a Television Critics Association Award, and a Critics’ Choice Television Award.  He has also been nominated for awards at the Emmys and the Screen Actors Guild. 

Hamm will be in comfortable company for this year’s ESPYs broadcast.  He will be joined by some of the best of the best in the sports world.  This year’s list of celebrity athlete presenters will be announced at a later date.  He himself has quite the sports pedigree.  Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Hamm is an avid fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues.  He played in the Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Games in 2009 and 2012.  His role in the games allowed him to play third base, right next to his childhood idol, Ozzie Smith.  He will also be working on a new film from Walt Disney Pictures and Mayhem Pictures this summer titled, Million Dollar Arm.  The movie is about a disillusioned sports agent who is in search of professional pitching talent through a reality show set in India.

Hamm commented in a recent interview on the announcement of his being named to host the ESPYS this year.  “I’m very excited to be hosting the ESPYS.  As a longtime sports fan and a marginally successful high school athlete I feel my skill-set jibes well with a host’s duties,” he said.  “I now have to figure out what cleats to wear with a tuxedo.” 

ESPY Executive Producer Maura Mandt shared Mann’s thoughts about his appointment.  “The ESPYS is designed to showcase the year’s best sports moments in a sharp, fun and entertaining manner and Jon’s the perfect host for this year’s show.  His appearances on shows like 30 Rock and SNL show that humor and creativity are two of his main strengths,” she said.  “The combination of Jon’s dry wit with his passion for sports will give fans a unique and original view of the year in sports.”   

The ESPYS are scheduled to air live Wednesday, July 17th at 9pm EST/8pm CT/6pm PST on ESPN/ESPNHD from the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.  This year’s broadcast will be more interactive than ever for fans.  All categories except for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and other special awards will be chosen by the fans.  Voting can take place before and during the live show.  Voting will be open from June 28th – July 17th at 9pm EST on ESPN.com/ESPYS.  Voting during the show will be open during the show beginning at 9pm July 17th.  Voting for “Best Team” will be open only on Twitter.  Fans can vote for “Best Team” on Twitter during the show using hashtag ESPYSBestTeam and the team name.

For all the latest ESPYS news, fans can follow the ESPYS on Twitter at @ESPYS.

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Portlandia Season Two Another Laugh Riot

Courtesy: Independent Film Channel/Video Services Corporation

It’s time for another trip up the road to the one and only Portlandia.  The second season of this twisted, bizarre and completely outlandish sketch comedy show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  One part Saturday Night Live and one part The Kids in The Hall, this little show that could is obviously a niche show.  It’s not for everybody.  But for those who are open minded enough, this oddity of a show is a good escape from everything else currently cluttering the airwaves.

Portlandia’s second season offers more than its share of laughs.  Those who are not entirely enthused over this season are likely missing its whole point.  As with Season One, this second season continues to completely poke fun at the standard holier-than-thou too hip for the hip 90’s crowd who are stuck in that age to this day, as well as other groups.  For instance, audiences are introduced to Spyke and Iris as they plan their wedding in the episode, “Cool Wedding.”  Both Spyke and Iris fit that stereotype.  And seeing them trying to go against the grain in planning the wedding will leave anyone laughing.  It’s complete absurdity.  But there’s also a certain amount of truth to their characters as there are people still like them out there today.

Courtesy: Independent Film Channel/Video Services Corporation

Another great example from Season Two of its success comes in the form of “One More Episode.”  This episode pokes fun not just at the world of science fiction and its sometimes overly devoted fan base.  Audiences get to see what happens when Carrie and Fred start watching the recent Battlestar galactic series on DVD.  They keep saying they’ll only watch one more episode.  They become so wrapped up in the series that they lose sight of everything else.  They even become so obsessed that they go off in search of a man they think helped write for the show (but obviously didn’t).  Again, there actually is a certain amount of truth to this as there really are people like that.  The addition of guest stars Edward James Olmos and James Callis as themselves make this one even funnier.

Fans will also laugh out loud as a young man with the Surfrider Foundation tries to get a woman to sign his petition to ban plastic bags.  When she declines, his parents and even his grandparents get involved.  There’s even a great politically incorrect bit during the season’s first episode, “Mixology” that will no doubt stir up some debate among audiences.  It all comes together with the season’s other bits to make for plenty of laughs and a great escape from the current river of mindless reality television that currently pollutes the airwaves today.  Portlandia is now available on DVD and blu-ray. 

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