30 for 30: Mike and the Mad Dog

Release: Thursday, July 13, 2017

→ESPN 

Directed by: Daniel H. Forer

Love them or hate them, any appreciator of grown men yelling at each other over the airwaves in the name of entertainment has Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo to thank for giving birth to modern sports radio talk. At the height of their success, no one could touch them.

Directed by 10-time Emmy Award™-winning documentarian/writer/producer Daniel H. Forer, Mike and the Mad Dog offers one final parting gift to fans of the sports talk show that aired for 19 years and five — count ’em, five — hours each weekday afternoon on WFAN 101.9 FM. Nestled deep in the heart of New York, “The Fan” is famous for becoming the first radio station in the country to offer 24/7 sports coverage. Over the course of a fleeting but highly entertaining hour Forer digs into the origins of the show, the personalities that made it happen, and the mechanisms that both drove its success and that ultimately led to its downfall.

The first broadcast of Mike and the Mad Dog aired in September 1989. At the time there was little evidence to suggest the experiment would be successful, never mind end in the tearful manner in which it did in August 2008. Francesa had done the grunt work at CBS, starting out as a stat boy and college sports analyst, before expressing an interest in shifting over to radio broadcasting. WFAN at the time were looking for established talent rather than someone with no experience. Though Francesa’s encyclopedic knowledge helped him gain footing, station management had no desire to give him his own platform.

Chris Russo, on the other hand, was all but born on-air, his voice “a bizarre mixture of Jerry Lewis, Archie Bunker and Daffy Duck.” He was energetic, a Tasmanian devil behind the mic. Russo began his career at a station in Central Florida, where his thick New York accent was so alien he was sent to a speech therapist twice a week. He later relocated to The Big Apple, briefly dipping his toes into Christian radio at WMCA before becoming roped into a most unlikely gig with WFAN, where he’d spend the next 19 years foaming at the mouth over the days’ hottest sports stories.

Mike and the Mad Dog was created out of a need to better reach WFAN’s target audience — the city proper and its surrounding suburbs. A more traditional, buttoned-up format predated it and featured a revolving door of national anchors who all failed to resonate. The station desperately sought a more local feel, and in the seemingly diametrically opposed Francesa and Russo they struck gold. Not only were they true-blue New Yawkas, they were bona fide geeks who spoke in the language of the typical sports fan. They both loved sports and talking about them — they just didn’t really love the prospect of talking about them with each other.

The documentary covers an impressive amount of real estate, touching on a number of personal aspects before moving beyond the personalities and their disparate upbringings to address the numerous controversies they became involved in and occasionally triggered themselves. From the Don Imus firing in 2007 to the infamous broadcast on September 12, 2001, Mike and the Mad Dog have taken the show to some incredible highs as well as cringe-inducing lows. Consistent with their style, they dealt with backlash in their own acrimonious ways.

Given how routinely Francesa and Russo together (and individually) became the thorn in the sides of local sports figures — be they current team owners or retired players (even columnists, like the Post’s Phil Mushnick weren’t exactly safe) — those events weren’t aberrations. Of course their stance on Imus and reaction to 9/11 also didn’t do much to dispel the notion that after so many years the two had developed egos larger than the city they were covering. Their vast sports knowledge wasn’t to be questioned, yet it also couldn’t save them from getting into trouble. Forer holds interviews with friends and former colleagues who admit there were times the two just couldn’t help themselves.

Arranged marriages can be awkward, as the pair attest on camera. That’s how they viewed their relationship — less a natural coming together as it was a forceful shoving. Chemistry lacked to say the least in the early going. Yet, as time passed, they found their rhythm and gained a respect for each other, with Mike in particular being impressed with his very animated partner’s ability to hold his own in a debate. After so much time together, they became more like a family and the documentary effectively captures that spirit. As Russo might put it, sometimes family drives ya frikkin’ nuts.

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Recommendation: Mike and the Mad Dog is an intriguing exploration of the way ambition, recognition and egotism all play a hand in the shaping of high-profile careers. It is close to essential viewing for those who have lamented the break-up (now 10 years ago) and have never quite gotten over it. 

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 50 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.newyork.cbslocal.com

Hurricane

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Release: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 (Vimeo)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Christiano Dias

Directed by: Christiano Dias


This short film review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A tip of the hat to James, who runs the show over there.


Hurricane is the brand new film from Christiano Dias, an experienced short film director who has managed to fit 20 writer-director credits under his belt in the span of a decade. His latest puts a humorous spin on anti-Communist sentiments running rampant in 1950s America.

It tells a darkly comic tale of a couple, Oslo (Corey Page) and Eva Alduars (Lisa Roumain), experiencing some strange happenings during the course of dinner. A tense argument over the meal soon focuses on the radio they have playing in the background, which crackles in and out before eventually going silent. It reminds Oslo of a similar incident that apparently happened at a neighbor’s house, in which a man had discovered a wiretapping device inside his radio. Supposedly that same man had disappeared from the area not long after that. Oslo suspects the Commies got him.

Moments later, a knock at the door. A boy introduces himself as Benjamin Shaw (David Jay), and appears to be selling newspaper subscriptions. But something just doesn’t add up. Oslo begins to think the timing of these events is no coincidence. Meanwhile, a storm closes in on the house outside. Dias challenges us to consider all of the possibilities here, including what seems most unlikely.

What’s most apparent with Hurricane are the production values. Crisp colors and retro shapes and objects transport you back into the Cold War era, a physical sense of time and place conjured from wisely chosen props and set decor, not least of which is that pesky radio — virtually a character unto itself. Thick curtains drawn across large windows occupy considerable space within the frame, a not-so-subtle nod to the Red Scare.

It’s not just visual cues that tip us off, either. There’s a lot of strong eye-acting going on here, whether it’s an accusatory stare from over the top of Oslo’s glasses or the intense look of irritation, borderline anger, in Eva’s. Watch as the look turns from one of disgust to concern as she watches the man steadily come undone. The period details even is evident in the tones of voices used, the cadence with which the characters speak. Paying attention to these little nuances is more important than to the acting itself, which can be pretty shaky.

Those details add up to a unique and at times disconcerting experience that plays with notions of how paranoia and mistrust can lead us to make poor decisions and act irrationally. The set-up is simple but effective, making for a short film that I really kind of have to recommend.

Recommendation: An interesting take on the atmosphere of paranoia, fear and mistrust in the years leading up to and certainly including the Cold War. Juggles comedy with dramatic beats pretty effectively, even if the acting is at times a bit shaky. On the whole, though, these are 14 minutes very well spent. I enjoyed the strangeness of it all and this makes me really want to check out more of Dias’ work. An easy recommendation to make. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 14 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . .]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.screencritix.com; http://www.vimeo.com

Special Correspondents

'Special Correspondents' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 29, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Ricky Gervais

Directed by: Ricky Gervais 

I’m suspicious of any movie that literally ends with the line “This is like the end of a movie.” While exemplary of the meta flavor of comedy that’s been en vogue since at least the mid-2000s, that line is also symptomatic of a bigger issue: the movie it’s stuck in is atrocious.

Sure, that’s pretty brutal. But what’s more brutal is the thought that, should I hold my tongue, I might just bite it off and swallow. How is Ricky Gervais’ most recent palavering, the media-jabbing comedy Special Correspondents, this unfunny? Disregard the pedigree of pure comedy behind the camera and the script, how can a movie be this devoid of logic, coherence, entertainment value and, oh yeah did I mention logic? One of the ways you can get there I suppose is by concocting the following nonsense:

A radio journalist (Eric Bana) and his technician (Gervais) fake their coverage of a war erupting in Ecuador by hiding in the loft of a restaurant adjacent to the very station they work at in Manhattan. They can see through concealed windows they’re even on the same floor as their offices. This is as opposed to actually traveling abroad to do their jobs. Are they just feckless, ethically challenged professionals looking for a fancy way to get fired? Gervais doesn’t think that big. No, his character just accidentally throws their passports away. Proving at the very least they are unburdened by the weight of journalistic integrity and basic human morality, the pair feign a serious news report that ultimately culminates in a nationwide fundraising effort in the name of the two radio guys who went suddenly missing behind borders.

Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross claims — and bear with me here for a second — that most people, as they go through the grieving process, deny first and will eventually come to accept later. But in trying to process the immense pile of fuckery that has been put before me, I think the mission is far more do-able if we work backwards through the Five Stages. First, let’s address how inane a concept Special Correspondents is working with. The absurdity and lack of forethought, the sheer number of loopholes and contrivances that are needed to make the story work is difficult to accept, even by Gervaisian standards. So difficult, in fact, it’s impossible. The constant provocation of the suspension of disbelief is alarmingly thin cover for a director who doesn’t know how to tell a story.

Moving on past acceptance — which likely won’t be reached but let’s go with this anyway — we arrive at depression. This is actually dually appropriate given Gervais’ character is somewhat of a depressed mope whose marriage to the pretty awful Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) is a sham, and it’s depressing how bad Bana is in his role. Overacting as though his first day on the job, Bana’s Frank is either yelling incoherently at Gervais’ bumbling, nervous Ian or he’s generally being an ass just to be an ass. There’s a modicum of refreshment in watching the roles reverse, as Gervais goes nice and his co-star hams it up like John Ratzenberger in Toy Story. Most depressing of all, the movie turns Farmiga, a highly likable actress, into a gold-digging shrew of a woman absolutely devoid of redeeming qualities.

Bargaining. What can we bargain with here, then? I’ll concede that Special Correspondents strikes the right tone for what Gervais is going for: it’s as silly as the plot is ridiculous. Supporting turns from America Ferrara and Raúl Castillo as a pair of hospitable Latino immigrants help perpetuate the willy-nilly, carefree zippity-doo-dah. How do these two exactly expect this all to work out — like it did for Orson Welles? Will they become the heroes of their own fiction? I’m also willing to bargain with folks who think I’m dwelling too much on logical cohesion. Fair enough, I probably am. After all, it’s just comedy.

The talent that’s theoretically on display is enough to make a reasonable person who doesn’t throw away passports by mistake assume Special Correspondents delivers the laughs in spades. Barring some amusing exchanges between the two — basically whenever Ian does something Frank doesn’t like — the film is a poor effort on that front as well.  If you’re seeking Gervais’ raging Britishness (or that signature laugh) you’ll be left out in the cold. That’s enough to make me angry, and one step closer to fully cycling through this very difficult, very unusual grieving process. Someone help, because I know what comes next.

There’s some sort of socio-political commentary pasted in here about how we, the blind sheep of the American populace, form these relationships with the media and hang on their every word. Overreaction is an epidemic in a plugged-in society and David Fincher was brilliantly attuned to that in his recent Gone Girl adaptation. Of course it wasn’t really funny then, nor is it in other cinematic treatments of these curious societal habits of ours. But Gervais is simply not making any accurate statement about society, about the way media deals with hot button topics like securing American troops and journalists in peril. His is not a movie made to wake you up but rather to dumb you down. To not be aware of its massively underachieving status is to be in a true state of denial.

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Recommendation: Painfully inadequate on all fronts, the only real laughs inspired by the misguided, nonsensical plot and awkward direction, Special Correspondents suggests that perhaps the mouthy Brit should apply his talents to other areas — like in resurrecting David Brent. Why not stick with acting? I’m hoping there’s more to him that I can discover beyond his Office personality, because I like the guy and want to get the taste of this one out of my mouth as soon as possible.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “It’s quiet. Too quiet. In the sky, combat helicopters stop. An explosion rings out. My own technician has another near-miss. A bullet flies *inches* above his head. Lucky for him he’s so short, or he’d most certainly be dead by now. This is Frank Bonneville, Q63.5 News.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed, written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com