Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Odd Couple - The Third Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

From a hit Broadway play, to a hit motion picture, to a hit television series, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has transcended major forms of entertainment and remains an endearing classic in all forms.

Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson brought the television show to television, and had many episodes directed by Jerry Paris who would later work with Marshall on Happy Days and on bringing another odd couple to television in the form of Laverne and Shirley.

Many televisions shows would follow with the premise of combining two characters that were fundamentally opposite, but few would have the success of The Odd Couple starring Jack Klugman as the sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison, and Tony Randal the incredibly tidy photographer Felix Unger.

The premise was still quite fresh in season three, and subsequently yields a lot of fun in the twenty-three episodes due out on DVD January 22nd. Klugman and Randal provide award-winning performances with chemistry that is an obvious reflection of their talent as actors, but also of their friendship off camera, which Klugman wrote about in his 2005 memoir, Tony And Me: A Story of Friendship.

The characterizations were allowed to go beyond the simple aspect of clean and dirty, but delve into different upbringings and education throughout this series, and that is what allowed it to last five seasons, and remain enjoyable still today.

During this season we get to watch our team appear on two popular game shows of the era, take a few trips, redecorate, fall in love with the same woman, and take in a few other roommates.

Wonderful supporting characters and guest stars throughout this season surrounded Klugman and Randal. Any appearance by a young Penny Marshall as Madison’s secretary was a treat, and Al Molinaro, who would later play Al on Happy Days, as the couple’s good friend and timid policeman Murray Greshler could always be counted on for a good laugh. Guest appearances by Howard Cosell, Deacon Jones, Wally Cox, Brett Somers (Klugman’s wife), Betty White, and game show hosts Allen Ludden and Monty Hall make this set well worth owning as well.

Unfortunately no extras in the set, and the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. We should not have to move the DVDs to read the synopsis of each episode.

Recommendation: This is wonderfully written classic comedy performed by two masters of the craft. Fun for the whole family that can be watched again and again.

Zodiac - The Director's Cut (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)

Written by El Conquistadorko

It all started in Novato, a working class suburb of San Francisco, on July 4, 1969. Two teenagers, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau, are making out in their car at a lover's lane cul de sac, when a car speeds along the road towards them. Ferrin has a jealous ex-boyfriend, and she's convinced he's been following her around. The car pulls up and idles menacingly ten feet away, its headlights blinding the couple. Then it speeds away. And then the car returns, a man of average height and build jumps out, walks calmly toward Ferrin and Mageau, and starts shooting.

Ferrin died of her injuries but miraculously Mageau survived. Ferrin's supposed boyfriend had nothing to do with the murder; there's no indication he even existed. But a few days later, a letter arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle from the killer, who calls himself Zodiac. Thus begins a crime spree that left five known victims dead and which, along with the Manson family and Altamont, became part of California's dark departure from the halcyon 1960s and inspired the fictional serial killer depicted in Dirty Harry. Part of the public fascination with Zodiac is that he left an elaborate web of coded clues to his identity. The other part, of course, is that nobody ever completely cracked the code and caught the guy.

It doesn't ruin the enjoyment of watching Zodiac to know all this from the get-go. In fact, the lack of resolution in this film is exactly what makes it so intriguing and terrifying. Director David Finch's masterful storytelling propels what in many ways is one of the most subdued thrillers ever made, a film where the actual murders, which occur on screen are often less creepy than the scenes where the police and reporters interview suspects who turn out to be innocent.

Zodiac isn't a short film, but unlike Munich, for example, where the cat and mouse game between Israeli commandos and PLO terrorists seems to grind on as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, the film's pacing only grows in intensity as the cops seem to close in on the culprit only to realize they're no closer to finding the killer than when they started. These blind alleys and near-misses are exactly what makes the film so suspenseful and realistic. In fact, as the Director's cut reveals, every detail in the film is based on fact.

The two-disc set comes complete with a feature-length documentary, “Deciphering Zodiac,” that includes exclusive interviews with witnesses, police and even two Zodiac victims who managed to survive their encounters with the killer. There's also a feature, “His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen,” that profiles David Leigh Allen, and at the end of the film, despite knowing police could never link him to the crime and in fact established he couldn't have been the killer, you still feel like he was involved.

In the film itself, there's one scene toward the end where a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who helped crack the Zodiac's legendarily bizarre coded messages, which were sent to both the newspaper and police, confronts suspect David Leigh Allen long after police have closed the case and ruled Allen out as a suspect. Allen, played by the normally benign seeming John Carroll Lynch (most recognizable as the wooden duck-painting Norm Gunderson in Fargo), knows that Gyllenhaal's character believes he's the Zodiac and Gyllenhaal's character knows he knows. No words are exchanged, but the scene deserves to be celebrated as one of the most intimately disturbing conversations ever put on film.