The Light from the TV Shows: Jack McBrayer gives thanks for ‘The Middle’ and other post-”30 Rock” roles

It’s been a few years since Bullz-Eye last chatted with Jack McBrayer…and by a few years, we mean more than half a decade: the previous occasion was when both the second season of “30 Rock” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” – both of which featured McBrayer, in case you’ve forgotten – were making their DVD debut. Since then, “30 Rock” has taken its final bow, leaving McBrayer without a full-time TV gig, but lord knows the man hasn’t been lounging around doing nothing. In addition to a very high-profile role in last year’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” either his voice or his actual physical being have turned up on Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” and “NTSF:SD:SUV,” Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” and, to bring this intro in for a landing, ABC’s “The Middle,” where, as part of his recurring role as the dentist for whom Frankie Heck works, he’ll be turning up for the annual Thanksgiving-themed episode, airing on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

JMcB-Dentist

Bullz-Eye: Well, I was able to watch the Thanksgiving episode of “The Middle” this morning, thanks to the kind folks at Warner Brothers, and I’m happy to say that it lives up to the high standards the series has set for its holiday episodes.

Jack McBrayer: Oh, good! I haven’t even seen it! [Laughs.]

BE: So how did you find your way onto “The Middle” in the first place, coming off of “30 Rock” as you were?

JMcB: Well, I had been a fan of the show from way back. I’m friends with Neil Flynn, who plays Mike Heck. I’ve been a friend of his from way, way back. From Chicago days. He was in Second City. We were at Second City at the same time: he was performing, I was in classes. And, of course, Patricia Heaton we’ve all known for years and years. And the show in general just kind of struck a chord with me, growing up in Georgia, in a small town, with parents who were overextended and always tired, and, you know, we’d eat cereal for dinner and…it all hit home to me! And, also, I happen to know a couple of the writers. Robin Shorr is a writer over there. So I think when they knew “30 Rock” was over and that some of the cast members would be available, they were, like, “Oh! What can we do?” [Laughs.] So I was happy to say, “Yes!”

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Blu Tuesday: Nazis, Wolverines and More

It’s another busy week for Blu-rays, so I don’t want to waste too much time here, but with so much good stuff being released over the next few weeks, you might want to plan ahead so you don’t go broke buying all the great Oscar nominees and catalog titles coming to Blu-ray. With that said, there are definitely a few movies this week that no cinephile should ignore, so read on to find out which ones they are.

“Schindler’s List”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” but even after all that time, it remains one of the director’s finest films and arguably the best movie ever made about the Holocaust. Though the film is plagued by many of the typical Spielbergian problems – namely its bloated runtime, which is even worse than usual due to the somewhat meandering pace and useless subplots – Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is superb (it looks even better in high definition) and the acting is great all around. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes’ Oscar nominations were both fully deserved, delivering some of the best work of their careers as the heroic Schindler and psychotic SS officer Amon Goeth, respectively, while Ben Kingsley’s absence from the Supporting Actor category feels unjust in hindsight. Still, the movie walked away with seven Academy Awards that year – including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay – so it’s not like it didn’t receive its fair share of recognition, and now that it’s finally on Blu-ray, a whole new generation of moviegoers can finally enjoy Spielberg’s excellent drama the way it should be seen.

Blu-ray Highlight: The Blu-ray doesn’t actually feature any bonus material, but the accompanying DVD version does, although the only extra of note is a documentary from 2004 that combines archival footage with survivor interviews about the Holocaust. It’s just a pity that Steven Spielberg couldn’t be bothered to do an audio commentary.

“Wreck-It Ralph”

It’s been quite awhile since I saw an animated movie that I really loved (the kind you can watch over and over again), but Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” is that good. Though it was unfairly snubbed at this year’s Oscars in favor of Pixar’s mediocre fairy tale “Brave,” Rich Moore’s directorial debut has a much better chance of standing the test of time, even if the early rumors of a sequel don’t exactly fill me with glee. After all, its wildly inventive premise is one of the many things that separate “Wreck-It Ralph” from other films in the genre, and the fact that it appeals to video game fans of all ages certainly doesn’t hurt. The digital cameos lend some authenticity to Ralph’s world and are smartly integrated into the story without drawing too much attention, while the casting is pretty much spot-on, especially John C. Reilly as the title character and Sarah Silverman as his spunky sidekick. Though it would have been fun to see Ralph game-jump into more than a few games, I guess something has to be saved for the sequel, no matter how bad of an idea it may sound.

Blu-ray Highlight: Hosted by Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick, Disney’s latest Intermission feature reveals some of the film’s Easter Eggs whenever the disc is paused, but the real highlight is John Kahrs’ visually stunning (and Oscar-winning) “Paperman” short.

“Red Dawn”

As far as 1980s cult classics go, “Red Dawn” isn’t the most popular of the bunch, but it is one of the few movies to receive a remake that actually makes sense. Though it’s hard to beat the cast of the original, director Dan Bradley’s update boasts a solid group of young actors, including Chris “Thor” Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. The only real problem is Josh Peck, who isn’t terribly convincing as the impulsive star quarterback and falls flat in many of the film’s more emotional scenes. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t rely too heavily on the strength of its characters to move the story along, but when your lead is as bad as Peck is here, it’s hard to ignore. A lot of the film’s success ultimately comes down to the excellent action sequences, and that’s where having a guy like Bradley – who worked as a stunt coordinator and second unit director on several big movies – pays off. He may not get the best performances from his actors, but the action scenes are never lacking in excitement. Granted, the movie is about as subtle as a chainsaw, but it doesn’t try to hide what it is either, and that’s what makes “Red Dawn” such a fun guilty pleasure.

Blu-ray Highlight: A review copy didn’t arrive in time, but after the film’s theatrical release endured such a long delay, it’s hard to imagine MGM going all out for this one.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to November

After a tepid last couple of months, Hollywood is finally gearing up for award season, and with it comes a host of really promising films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, David O. Russell and Ang Lee, many of which are already projected to land several Oscar nominations. But perhaps the most highly-anticipated release this November isn’t an award contender at all, but rather the long-awaited 23rd installment in the James Bond series, which looks to be Daniel Craig’s best 007 adventure yet.

“WRECK-IT RALPH”

Who: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch
What: A video game villain sets out to fulfill his dream of being a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.
When: November 2nd
Why: I was cautiously optimistic about “Wreck-It Ralph” when it was first announced, but after seeing the film, I can say unequivocally that it’s one of the best movies the studio has put out in years, and that includes the Pixar stuff as well. In fact, “Wreck-It Ralph” is the kind of film that you’d almost expect Pixar to make, because it’s a remarkably original idea that’s catered to both kids and the adults who grew up playing retro games. Director Rich Moore comes from a background that includes “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” and it really shows in the type of humor on display, while John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman shine in their voice roles. The animation is also really gorgeous, especially the attention to detail between games, and the much-publicized cameos help bring an authenticity to the world that only makes it even more enjoyable.

“FLIGHT”

Who: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo
What: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals that he may have been drunk at the time.
When: November 2nd
Why: After spending nearly a decade helping pioneer motion capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” Robert Zemeckis marks his return to live-action filmmaking with something that has a little more bite to it. Early reviews have been almost unanimously positive, with Denzel Washington singled out for his amazing performance, and though he may be considered a bit of a dark horse with so much stiff competition this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy rewarded the actor with his first nomination since 2002’s “Training Day.” The subject matter certainly carries the danger of becoming too melodramatic, but between the interesting premise and excellent cast, “Flight” is exactly the kind of riveting character drama that should help remind audiences just how good Zemeckis’ movies used to be.

“THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS”

Who: RZA, Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, Jamie Chung, Rick Yune and Dave Bautista
What: A humble blacksmith defends his village from a band of assassins and mercenaries when they come to town in search of a fabled treasure of gold.
When: November 2nd
Why: Anyone who knows anything about Wu Tang Clan founder RZA is that he loves kung fu cinema, so you can be sure that his directorial debut is going to be nothing short of a love letter to the genre, albeit one with a hip-hop soundtrack. The fact that he’s managed to attract the kind of talent that he has is certainly a sign of the film’s potential, because let’s be honest, Russell Crowe is the last person you’d expect to show up in this type of movie, even if it only ends up being an extended cameo. With that said, however, “The Man with the Iron Fists” looks every bit like the kind of chop-socky B-movies that RZA grew up watching, so if you’re expecting something more along the lines of “Kill Bill,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk away disappointed.

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