Television is really ripe for parody, and web series like Burning Love and Children's Hospital are rising up to satirize all of our network staples. Rob Corddry creates a hilarious send-up of medical drama that pokes fun at the likes of Grey's Anatomy, ER, Scrubs, and Patch Adams.
The doctors at Children's Hospital spend more time focused on their love lives and personal problems than on the juvenile patients in their care. Sound familiar? Dr. Cat Black (Lake Bell), later replaced by Dr. Valerie Flame (Malin Akerman), gives a Grey’s Anatomy-style narration that pokes fun at the pretension and self-absorption of medical drama leads. Corddry plays Dr. Blake Downs, a surgeon who only uses "the healing power of laughter." The best character is by far Megan Mullally as the Chief, whose crutches and walker parody Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) of ER.
Each episode is comprised of one or two "episodes" of the web series. They include a "Previously On" reel of random intercut scenes that escalate a lot of the soap operatic plotlines of these shows. For example, Dr. Black gets into a relationship with a child with advanced aging disease played by Nick Kroll.
Corddry proves his real genius by penning a series that blends parody but still has its own unique spin. Not only does it borrow heavily from the genre, but it also manages to incorporate a blend of irreverent humor, the occasional offensive joke, and a lot of physical gags. There also is a meta-fictional element, with the characters occasionally breaking out of the hospital reality to reveal themselves as actors on the series Children’s Hospital. Corddry, for example, gives interviews before and after episodes as actor Cutter Spindell, and even gets his own spin-off that subsequently fails in enough time for him to return to CH.
A bonus: there are tons of cameos on the series. Quite a few members of The State pop up on the show. Ken Marino and David Wain are regular cast members and Joe LoTruglio (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Thomas Lennon, and Kerri Kenney have made cameos as well as other comic actors like Jason Sudeikis, Michael Cera, and John Hamm.
Not only is the series funny and addictive, it's also short. You can get away with watching an episode or a few episodes when you have some time to kill. Luckily the first two seasons are available on Netflix.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
Steven Soderbergh's crime-drama "The Limey" and Alexander Payne's high school satire "Election" led the pack of (relatively) low-budget, high-expectation projects as nominations were announced Wednesday for the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, honoring, yes, indie film.
"The Limey" and "Election" received a field-best five nominations each. Hollywood blockbusters such as "Toy Story 2" and "The Green Mile" received zippo. (They're not indies.)
With the studio heavyweights excluded, a variety of films that failed to garner tremendous box office during the 1999 film season found redemption as the Spirit nominations were handed down. David Lynch's "The Straight Story", a simple yet powerful film about an aging man's trek across country on his lawn mower, earned four nominations. Kimberly Peirce's controversial "Boys Don't Cry" also received four nods -- including ones for best lead actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting female (Chloe Sevigny).
The five films slated to do battle in the main best-picture event are: Payne's "Election," Soderbergh's "The Limey," Lynch's "The Straight Story," Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' "Sugar Town", and Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune".
Awards will be handed out in Santa Monica on March 25 -- the day before the Oscars. The Spirits are sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West.
The following is the complete list of nominations for the 15th annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards:
BEST FEATURE "Election" "The Straight Story" "The Limey" "Cookie's Fortune" "Sugar Town"
BEST FEMALE LEAD Diane Lane, "Walk on the Moon" Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds" Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" Susan Traylor, "Valerie Flake" Reese Witherspoon, "Election"
BEST MALE LEAD John Cusack, "Being John Malkovich" Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story" Terence Stamp, "The Limey" David Strathairn, "Limbo" Noble Willingham, "The Corndog Man"
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Barbara Barrie, "Judy Berlin" Vanessa Martinez, "Limbo" Sarah Polley, "Go" Chloe Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry" Jean Smart, "Guinevere"
BEST SUPPORTING MALE Charles S. Dutton, "Cookie's Fortune" Luis Guzman, "The Limey" Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Clark Gregg, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Steve Zahn, "Happy, Texas"
BEST DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, "Election" Harmony Korine, "julien donkey-boy" Steven Soderbergh, "The Limey" David Lynch, "The Straight Story" Doug Liman, "Go"
BEST SCREENPLAY Kevin Smith, "Dogma" Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, "Election" Audrey Wells, "Guinevere" Lem Dobbs, "The Limey" James Merendino, "SLC Punk!"
BEST FIRST FEATURE ($500,000-plus budget) "Being John Malkovich" "Three Seasons" "Boys Don't Cry" "Twin Falls Idaho" "Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl"
BEST FIRST FEATURE (less than $500,000 budget) "The Blair Witch Project" "La Ciudad" "Compensation" "Judy Berlin" "Treasure Island"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE Kimberly J. Brown, "Tumbleweeds" Jessica Campbell, "Election" Jade Gordon, "Sugar Town" Toby Smith, "Drylongso" Chris Stafford, "Edge of Seventeen"
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Tod Williams, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Charlie Kaufman, "Being John Malkovich" Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen, "Boys Don't Cry" Anne Rapp, "Cookie's Fortune" John Roach and Mary Sweeney, "The Straight Story"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER M. David Mullen, "Twin Falls Idaho" Lisa Rinzler, "Three Seasons" Anthony Dod Mantle, "julien donkey-boy" Jeffrey Seckendorf, "Judy Berlin" Harlan Bosmajian, "La Ciudad"
BEST FOREIGN FILM "All About My Mother" (Spain) "Run Lola Run" (Germany) "My Son the Fanatic" (England) "Topsy-Turvy" (England) "Rosetta" (Belgium-France)
DLJ DIRECT TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (for documentaries) Owsley Brown, "Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles" Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, "On the Ropes" Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson, "Well Founded Fear" Rory Kennedy, "American Hollow"
MOVADO SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD (for new directors) Dan Clark, "The Item" Julian Goldberger, "Trans" Lisanne Skyler, "Getting to Know You" Cauleen Smith, "Drylongso"
MOTOROLA PRODUCERS AWARD Pam Koffler, "I'm Losing You" and "Office Killer" Eva Kolodner, "Boys Don't Cry" and "Hide and Seek" Paul Mezey, "La Ciudad" Christine Walker, "Backroads" and "Homo Heights"
You won't be hearing the name Steven Soderbergh at this year's Independent Spirit Awards.
Instead, try Miguel Arteta, Darren Aronofsky and Kenneth Lonergan -- whose "Chuck & Buck," "Requiem for a Dream," and "You Can Count On Me," respectively, have nabbed a field-best five nominations each at the 16th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
"Chuck & Buck" -- the second full-length feature from Arteta -- was nominated for best feature under $500,000, screenplay, director, supporting female (Lupe Ontiveros) and debut performance (Mike White).
Among "Requiem's" nominations are best director (Darren Aronofsky) and best feature. The drug-addiction flick will go up against "Before Night Falls," "George Washington," "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in the best film column.
"You Can Count On Me" will run in the categories for best first feature, screenplay, male lead (Mark Ruffalo), female lead (Laura Linney) and debut performance (Rory Culkin).
"George Washington" and "Before Night Falls" garnered four noms apiece.
The nominations were announced at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. The winners will be announced March 24, a day before the Academy Awards, at a ceremony held at a large tent by the Santa Monica beach.
Here's a list of all the nominees.
"Before Night Falls"
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
"Requiem for a Dream" BEST DIRECTOR
Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon")
Christopher Guest ("Best in Show")
Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for A Dream")
Julian Schnabel ("Before Night Falls")
Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck BEST SCREENPLAY
Valerie Breiman ("Love & Sex")
Raymond De Felitta ("Two Family House")
Robert Dillon ("Waking the Dead") Kenneth Lonergan ("You Can Count on Me") Mike White ("Chuck & Buck") BEST FIRST FEATURE
"Love & Basketball"
"You Can Count On Me" BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
David Gordon Green ("George Washington") Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther ("Tigerland") Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") Jordan Walker-Pearlman ("The Visit") Ben Younger ("Boiler Room") BEST FEATURE - UNDER $500,000
"Chuck & Buck"
"Everything Put Together"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Rory Culkin ("You Can Count on Me")
Michelle Rodriguez ("Girlfight") Emmy Rossum ("Songcatcher") Mike White, ("Chuck & Buck") Ensemble -- Candace Evanofski, Curtis Cotton III, Damian Jewan Lee, Donald Holden, Rachael Handy ("George Washington") BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Pat Carroll ("Songcatcher")
Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem for a Dream")
Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock")
Lupe Ontiveros ("Chuck & Buck")
Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Willem Dafoe ("Shadow of the Vampire")
Cole Hauser ("Tigerland")
Gary Oldman ("The Contender")
Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift")
Billy Dee Williams ("The Visit") BEST FEMALE LEAD
Joan Allen ("The Contender")
Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream")
Sanaa Lathan ("Love & Basketball")
Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me")
Kelly MacDonald ("Two Family House") BEST MALE LEAD
Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls")
Adrien Brody ("Restaurant")
Billy Crudup ("Jesus' Son")
Hill Harper ("The Visit")
Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count on Me") BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lou Bogue ("Shadow of the Vampire")
John De Borman ("Hamlet")
Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")
Tim Orr ("George Washington")
Xavier Perez Grobet and Guillermo Rosas ("Before Night Falls") BEST FOREIGN FILM
"Dancer in the Dark"
"In the Mood for Love"
"A Time for Drunken Horses"
"The War Zone" BEST DOCUMENTARY
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye"
"Long Night's Journey Into Day"
Sound and Fury"