Weekly Web Series Review: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

There may have never been a more self-explanatory title for a web series than Jerry Seinfeld‘s latest project, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The format is simplicity itself: for each episode, Seinfeld picks a different car, picks up a different comedian friend, and they go and get coffee and, often, a meal. Throughout the drive and the meal, they talk about various things, all improvised and frequently very funny. The main charm of the series, though, is watching the comedians make each other laugh. At best, it is almost like actually hanging out with a couple of very talented people for a little while. At worst, it is rather lazy and inconsequential, and Seinfeld sometimes seems to be exaggerating his reactions to the jokes told by his guests.

The series begins with Seinfeld’s most obvious guest, Larry David, with whom he co-created one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, “Seinfeld.” There seems to be some effort on Seinfeld’s part to pick a car that reflects his guest’s personality, as in this first episode, in which he chooses a 1952 VW bug as a symbol of David’s humble, unassuming nature. David, along with his other dietary idiosyncrasies, slightly messes up the premise right off the bat by ordering tea, but he offers one of the series more interesting insights. Discussing the difference between cigars and cigarettes, he suggests that a cigar imbues the smoker with an air of wisdom because of the time it takes to smoke, which lends itself to a “contemplative” posture.

Another very intelligent guest is “Mystery Science Theater 3000” creator Joel Hodgson in episode 5, who offers some interesting insights about nostalgia and economics. On the former, he says that the reason people love to look back at the past is that “You know what you’re going to say … you know what to say about the past, and you don’t know what to say about the future.” When Seinfeld brings up the mysterious economics of a restaurant, Hodgson offers a musical analogy: “The guy who sells the guitars makes the money, and not the guy in the band … How many guitars have you bought over the years … I’ve bought … six, and I don’t play the guitar.”

One of the series’ most enjoyable episodes is the third, in which Seinfeld’s guest is the great stand-up comic Brian Regan. The reason it works so well is that their conversation throughout feels like a joke-writing session, as if the two comedians are co-writing a sitcom or a stand-up set, often finishing each other’s sentences and collectively brainstorming jokes on each topic that comes up. Another especially good one features Alec Baldwin, whose overall attitude toward Seinfeld is playfully hostile, though he shows great humility when he credits the cast and writers of “30 Rock” for teaching him how to be funny. His story of a Rip Torn bar fight is not be missed, and this is where “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” excels: it presents very funny, interesting people just being naturally funny and interesting.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Glengarry Glen Ross

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992)

“Glengarry Glen Ross” is David Mamet’s film adaptation of his 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play of the same name. The star-studded drama depicts two desperate days in the lives of four Chicago real estate salesmen after Blake, a corporate trainer sent by the downtown office (played by Alec Baldwin in one of the best single-scene performances of all-time), announces that in a week all but the best two salesmen will be fired. The film is named after two of the properties the salesmen attempt to unload, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms.

Chief among the salesmen is office hotshot Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who knows every trick in the book and then some, always ready with another up his sleeve. Roma is joined by the less fortuitous Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), who are rightfully intimidated by Blake’s speech. Last is Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), an old-timer whose career was in jeopardy even before Blake showed up. The once-successful Levene’s glory days have long since passed, nothing but the distant memories of a man working support his daughter, who’s hospitalized with an undisclosed condition. Levene will be familiar even to those who haven’t seen the film, as the character was the inspiration for Ol’ Gil from “The Simpsons.”

Early on, Blake shows up to give his “motivational” speech, which includes a likewise familiar line: “A, B, C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing.” It seems there’s to be an office contest over the next week. First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado, second prize is a  set of steak knives, and third prize? Well, “third prize is you’re fired.” Central to the salesmen’s efforts are “leads,” the names and numbers of potential clients distributed by coldly reserved office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). Most of the leads are old and useless, the contact information of people the salesmen have already spoken with and who tend to lack the funds or the desire to actually invest in land. In spite of this, Williamson holds the more promising leads under lock and key, in reserve for the contest’s winners. The situation is a clear Catch-22, as the salesmen need the good leads to have any hope of keeping their jobs, but access to them will only be granted to those that do so by placing in the top two.

Because it was adapted from a stage production, “Glengarry” is minimalist in nature. Only nine actors have speaking roles, it seems every other line of the tight dialogue is highly memorable, while all the action takes place in a small handful of locations. The film is divided nearly exactly into two 50-minute acts. The first takes place on the rain-soaked evening of Blake’s speech and is propelled in large part by Levene’s bumbling attempts to get his hands on a worthwhile lead and make sales. It also showcases Moss and Aaronow’s strategizing in reaction to the announcement of the contest. Pacino’s character receives considerably less screen time in the first half than the other three salesmen, which serves to contrast them with Roma’s cool confidence as he neglects to show up to hear Blake speak and makes a sale with relative ease. On the other hand, the second act is largely Pacino’s turf as the salesmen and their manager show up to work the following day to discover the prime leads have been stolen.

The cast of “Glengarry Glen Ross” has jokingly referred to the film as “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman.” It’s a profanity-soaked, modern version of the Arthur Miller play the nickname makes reference to, and in each the salesman represents the reality and failure of the American Dream. It’s a fine line between deception and salesmanship, and the film gives us both. It’s the subtle contrast of Levene’s grandstanding—barking orders to an invisible secretary or pretending he’s got a plane to catch—with the defeated look in his eyes. He seems to be perpetually a moment from tearing up and two from a total breakdown.

A frighteningly accurate portrayal of working in sales, “Glengarry” has been certified fresh and currently sits at a 96 percent on the Tomatometer. Pacino’s work in the film garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but Baldwin’s speech alone makes “Glengarry Glen Ross” a more than worthwhile way to spend 100 minutes on a Saturday evening.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman

 

  

A Chat with Isabella Rossellini

Let us not mince words: Isabella Rossellini is one of the most beautiful actresses in the business. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows of her gene pool (she’s Ingrid Bergman’s daughter), but given that she seems to pop up all too infrequently in films and on television, perhaps a few more directors and directors need to be reminded. Fortunately for you and I, Rossellini can be found amongst the cast of the “The Phantom,” SyFy’s attempt to reinvigorate the franchise of the character often referred to as “The Ghost Who Walks,” which premieres on June 20th. This appearance was particularly fortunate for me, as it presented me with the opportunity to chat with Rossellini about her work not only in this production but also in “Blue Velvet,” “Friends,” “Alias,” “30 Rock,” and her infamous Sundance Channel short-film series, “Green Porno.”

Prepare for your heart to go pitter-pat as you read…

Isabella Rossellini: Hi!

Bullz-Eye: Hello! How are you?

IR: I’m fine, thanks. And you?

BE: I’m wonderful. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

IR: It’s nice to talk to you. Thank you for interviewing me!

BE: (Laughs) Not a problem! Well, “The Phantom” is certainly not your first foray into the world of science fiction, but are you actually a fan of the genre?

IR: I’m not really a fan of the genre. You know, I do see some films, but I must say I don’t go see them religiously. I love working with the producer, Robert Halmi, with whom I’ve done several films, so when Halmi called me to play this small role in “The Phantom,” I had no hesitation. I’ve been with him for five or six productions in the last 25 years, among which are “Merlin,” “The Odyssey,” and “Don Quixote,” and they’ve always been wonderful. They’ve always been… (Hesitates) It’s been great to work with the group, he has a fantastic eye, and every time he hires a director, it’s always somebody young who…well, he just has an eye. He hires them, and they turn out to be fantastic and, a few years later, they’re top directors. That’s how it has been with Paulo (Barzman), the director of “The Phantom.” So the reason why I said “yes” to this small part was because of this history that I had with Bob Halmi, and…I was surprised, actually. I had a doubt. For me, the Phantom was so much that image that I had from the 1930s, and he kept on saying, “No, no, it has nothing to do with that. It’s not trying to be retro.” And that image of the original comic strip was so strong that I was amazed, actually, when I arrived and had seen how they had transformed it to be a contemporary, modern film.

BE: So what are the challenges of playing a part like this? Because I’d think it would be a challenge to play a live-action comic book character without taking it over the top.

IR: Well, actually, you know, to tell you the truth, there were no challenges. At the beginning, you search a little bit for the look, especially when you play a small part. Every beat counts, you know. Sometimes when you have the lead, if you think it, you maybe play a part too seriously. You think, “Maybe I should smile,” and you have other possibilities later in the film to add a smile or to add some softness to your character, for shading. But when you play a small role, in a way, you have to hit every note correctly, so I think that the way she looked also was very important. When I was told that they wanted me to be a blonde…because they told me on the phone: I live in New York, but the film was shot in Montreal…I said, “Oh, blonde, it wouldn’t work with me. I’ve tried it several times, but I can’t go with it. My hair is brown. I can become easily black-haired. I can even become red-haired. But blonde has never worked with me.” But when I arrived, inevitably, there were all these blonde wigs, so I said, “Okay, I’ll show you what I mean.” And, instead, it worked perfectly, because the character should be totally artificial. I had these metallic clothes that always tended to be on the silver side, so, actually, the look of this evil person was helped a lot…it helped me to imagine the character. But the challenge is not the words. It’s so much fun that I’m always amazed that I even get paid for it. (Laughs)

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