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What Are We Up To? 09/09/22

My So-Called Life


Hank Azaria may not be any more familiar to most people than the once proud game of baseball. One is best known for his years of service to comedy, in large part behind the camera on The Simpsons. The other is a majestic, ancient sport that’s still called “America’s Pastime”, despite having long since ceding its place to freakishly muscled professional misogynists in brightly colored knee-pants.

Both are front and center in Brockmire, the laconic sports comedy about a hard-drinking baseball announcer whose on-air mental breakdown actually changes his life for the better.

Jim Brockmire (Azaria) once was in the conversation concerning the great sports announcers of all time. Then, he discovers his wife having an affair and cracks up on air. A big enough celebrity to weather that storm, he effectively cancels himself with a subsequent series of embarrassing public meltdowns.

Broken, he travels the world, acquiring a crippling drug habit and even becoming a minor celebrity in the Philippines (both of which are directly related).

Eventually, he lands in a small Pennsylvania town where he’s offered a chance to reclaim his career. The Morristown Frackers need an announcer and their owner, Jules James (Amanda Peet) thinks Brockmire and his notoriety may be the draw she needs to bring players, fans and legitimacy to the franchise.

Of course, Jules is single and age appropriate for Brockmire, but don’t make any assumptions just yet. Season 1 starts out looking like it’s going to be a reverse Major League, with an obligatory love subplot tacked on for good measure. But fear not.

You wouldn’t think a curmudgeonly sports announcer’s struggle for redemption and sobriety would be fertile ground for topical humor, but it damn sure is. Not unlike The Simpsons, Brockmire is a social commentary delivery system disguised as something else.

In this case, a…hybrid workplace comedy?

The road to one man becoming a better human being takes us through the gamut of human experience be it sobriety, sexuality, racism (in sports? no!), drugs, family, love, death and painfully glorious price of nihilism.

Brockmire himself is often his own chorus, delivering real-time life commentary in Azaria’s (literally) inimitable voice. This is a 23 minute comedy, yes. But it’s also full of compelling character driven beats to the degree that I’d readily compare Brockmire to higher profile dramedies like Monk, Psych, or even Bones.

All crime procedurals with double the run time, I know. But it’s hard to think of many other recent comedy/dramas that so successfully straddle the fence between humor and warmth and are anywhere similar in scope to Brockmire.

A word of warning: none of the shows I just mentioned are what you’d call “edgy”. Not so here. Brockmire revels in dark, salty humor. It’s funny and inspirational, but also tonally somewhere between a PG-13 and a soft R.

Best of all, it’s made with a genuine love of the game of baseball in mind, and almost everything circles back to its occasional usefulness as a metaphor for life itself.

Scream 4

This week’s selection with that Special Someone was Scream 4. Of course I agreed, but inside I was conflicted.

Look, I thought the first installment was funny. I saw it when it came out. I still have a crush on Neve Campbell, or as I like to call her: ‘the only reason to watch these things in the first place’.

I’ll even grant you the sequel, because okay fine. When a movie is a hit you make more of then as quickly as you can. You keep making them until the public turns on you and begs you to stop, even as they continue to hand you their money.

Then, you make at least two more.

Neve was smart enough to bow out of part six. I was foolish enough to see the one after this, too. The problem is that the first film’s premise – turning common horror movie tropes inside out – was clever…twice.

Since then they’ve been reheating the same broth from last night’s dinner and serving it up with bits of the sausage you didn’t finish two mornings ago. Like the characters in a Dickens novel, fans of this franchise have been eating the same meal out of the same grimy skillet for decades.

If you enjoy it, that’s fine and I don’t begrudge you. I certainly don’t blame them for continuing to make the same movie over and over again. I imagine whoever makes the most money from this franchise stopped scratching their heads about it a long time ago.

Personally, I sit through them not because I have to, but because I want to have to.

The Hunt for Red October

I literally watched this the next night, to make the Scre4ming stop.

I am an unabashed fan of this film and I always know, going in, that I have very few faults with it…outside of the most haphazard bunch of Russian and Not-So-Russian accents since the Timothy Dalton Bond films.

Tim Curry isn’t even trying not to sound British. Sam Neill, who grew up in New Zealand, is clearly making an effort, only to sound somewhat like the least enthusiastic participant in “Talk Like Nikita Khrushchev Day” at the office.

How bad do you suppose Tim Curry’s Russian accent was that John McTiernan threw up his hands and said:

“You know what? Just skip the accent, Tim.”

Despite these many flaws, Red October was a huge hit at the time, and leaves a lasting cultural impact to this day. Connery (his own accent notwithstanding) was near flawless as the dogged Russian captain trying to defect to the West, and Alec Baldwin is bristling with promise in his one and only outing as CIA analyst Jack Ryan.

A handful of clumsy narrative or dialog choices keep this from being a transcendent experience, but will you care about that by the end?

No, because this is as close as we’re likely to ever get to Top Gun underwater, and this is a better film than Top Gun by far. They made more Jack Ryan films later, (sadly) without Baldwin. But were any of them as exciting or as memorable as this one?

Red October stands alone.

Boundless (Sin Limites)

I am fascinated by history in a way that few people I know are. I am fascinated by sailing in the way one can be only if they’re mortally terrified of the ocean in all ways possible.

That’s probably why I gravitate toward anything involving adventure on the high seas. It takes a certain type of person to want to make a life on the ocean, in any age. But to do so at a time when most humans still weren’t certain how big the Earth was, whether it was even round and whether the ocean was full of dragons or not?

I can’t even imagine. But then, we live in an age when every mountain has been climbed, nearly every square inch of the planet has been disturbed by human feet and we’ve even mapped the surface of Venus.

So imagine living in a time where it was still possible to be the first person to do…pretty much everything?

Ferdinand Magellan was such a man, today celebrated as a hero to the degree that the two galaxies orbiting our own are named after him. That’s funny because while he was undoubtedly one of the greatest seamen in history, he was also the product of a time when culturally or physically erasing entire civilizations in the name of “progress” was A-OK.

I don’t mean to criticize the man; we’re all products of our environment. If there’s anyone still around 700 years from now, I’m sure they’ll have notes for us, too.

It’s just that the tragic irony of Colonialism is what cost Magellan, the man who opened up the entire world to it, his own life. And it happened early enough in the voyage that the great Captain never had an inkling fewer than eight percent of his crew would return to Spain.

This has an effect on Boundless (Sin Limites) a limited series (con limites) produced by Spain’s RTVE and Amazon Prime Video. The cast are largely Spanish television and film personalities who I won’t pretend are known to me, but Magellan himself is played by Rodrigo Santoro, best remembered for playing the King Xerxes in Zack Snyder’s swords-and-sandals-and-leather-underwear epic 300.

The performances are as solid, as most of us have come to expect from these kinds of prestige pieces. The teleplay, predictably, takes some liberties with the source material and perhaps leaves Magellan looking a little gauzy. But there’s no denying the enormity of the feat and the suffering his men endured both with and without him.

Besides, even though he died doing it, Magellan did exactly what he said he was going to do, and became just as famous as he thought he would.

And in just six episodes! Joke’s on us, I guess?

Criticult will return…

Bruce Hall View All

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."

3 thoughts on “What Are We Up To? 09/09/22 Leave a comment

  1. I was sad when I realized they weren’t going to use Baldwin for any more Jack Ryan movies. I think it could have made the franchise something big instead of the mish mash that it is that nobody knows about. Ahh well, at least we got a good one out of it.

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