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Who ever said that white men can’t jump obviously didn’t see the TV series The White Shadow (1979-1981). A show way ahead of its time breaking the “Welcome Back Kotter” and its idiotic “Sweat-Hogs” mold.

The White Shadow had the potential for really cliched premise for a show: a former NBA player forced to retire because of a knee injury returns to his old high school which is not the place it used to be. The school’s principal just happens to be his former roommate from Boston College and talks him into taking the job of basketball coach at their high school alma mater.  But there is a catch, these kids are tough and the times (and the kids) have changed and not for the better.

It’s tired story that has been overdone, like the White Shadow’s very popular contemporary “Welcome Back Kotter” for example, but “The White Shadow” was so much more than a Kotter redux. Produced by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s father) and MTM productions (the same folks who brought you “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda”), this wasn’t simply a basketball version of the insanely popular WBK.  The White Shadow was serious.  For the first time a prime time network show was centered around teenagers (black and Hispanic teens to me more precise) that didn’t reduce the characters into caricatures.  Everyone had their own complicated personality which saw the world as shades of grey rather than the often over simplified black-white or good vs evil typical of then network TV like WBK.  If you think about it, for all of the Sweat-hogs’ tough talk, the audience never saw those chumps get into a fight.  There have been a lot of stupid things forced down the throat of the America public, but “Welcome Back Kotter” is one of the dumbest.

Instead the “White Shadow” brought a real gritty reality to prime time television and showing the audience that modern teenagers didn’t live the life of Reilly and that the kids living in the ghetto are constantly bombarded with outright dangerous influences. From gangs to point shavings to drugs to high school prostitutes and even a member of the team getting gunned down in a liquor store before the city championship, if you were a Carver High graduate, you’ve pretty much seen the entire gambit of human misery. And it would’ve been easy for the writers to go the complete opposite way of like Kotter kids and make each episode a weekly “After School Special” about the danger du jour. They didn’t do that.

Unfortunately, The White Shadow didn’t garner the high ratings it deserved but the show received marked critical acclaim and paved the way for later more realistic dramas such as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and My So-Called Life.

Fun fact: The show originated from (coach) Ken Howard’s own experiences as a high school basketball star at Manhasset High School on Long Island.  Howard was one of the few white basketball players at the school and the only white player in the starting lineup and had been nicknamed “The White Shadow.”

When the JPFmovies staff acquired the DVD’s they were not easy to find, but given today’s availability of virtually any show ever made if you want to see something groundbreaking which themes and gritty techniques are still used today give The White Shadow a look, chances are you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Remember Tom Cruise and Michael Caine in Cocktail? Yeah it was an awful movie but leave it to the Japanese to produce a miniseries about bartenders and make it work! Bartender (2011).

Hello JPFmovies fans and welcome to another review of something a little different.  The JPFmovies staff remembers watching Tom Cruise and Michael Caine in the 1988 film Cocktail and wondering just how low Michael Caine could go after his stellar performance in Blame it on Rio (1984) and rolling our eyes at the thin plot, predictable ending and an overall shitty film—but of course earned a ton of money.  After that fiasco, members of the JPFmovies staff were certain that we had seen the last of media glorifying bartenders who, according to Michael Caine were “the aristocrats of the working class.”  However, in our relentless efforts to review the good, the bad and the ugly the JPFmovies staff was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Bartender (2011) a Japanese mini-series based on a manga of the same name.

Ryu Sasakura (Masaki Aiba) is a bar tending prodigy who won a European cocktail contest. He got into an argument with his instructor and was fired. In a state of dejection he came back to his native country of Japan.  He finds work again in Tokyo and also meets Miwa Kurushima. Meanwhike, Ryu Sasakura is able to listen to his customer’s problems and help alleviate their worries with his special cocktail mixes including work and love and family troubles, one drink at a time.  Our bar tending prodigy even takes on a disciple and enters him into a contest—only to have his lose magnificently!

Why is the Japanese series tolerable?  Because it does not portray the bartender as some flamboyant circus performer out to land a babe, some cash or another material recompense but a person who takes his craft seriously and listens to his patrons without judgment while providing honest, simple advice.  He even goes so far as to track the water used in a customer’s hometown to make the drink authentic.  What more could you want in a bartender?  No Ryu was not flinging glasses three feet in the air while dancing to some 80’s rock, he made his drinks with precision, attention to detail and an eye to match the booze with its drinker.  A consummate professional.  This is not a heavy and gritty film that makes you sweat, but a nice lite series that provides a decent respite from the world today, much like going to your favorite watering hole.  Take a few hours and watch it, you will be glad you did.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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JPFmovies goes to the land down under for our next review: Rake (2010-2018)

Rake is about love, madness, addiction, and the law–in short, it is about modern life.  How can you go wrong with series premises like that?  You can’t!  Rake is an Australian television program.  It stars Richard Roxburgh as rake Cleaver Greene, a dazzling but self-destructive Sydney criminal law barrister, defending typically guilty clients.  Outside of the courtroom, Cleaver Greene is immature, reckless and self-destructive.  Inside of the courtroom, he is pretty much the same, but his reckless courtroom antics help his indefensible clients escape justice.  During his free time, Cleaver wastes away the hours at a local brothel with his favorite girl, Melissa Patridge, if that is her real name as well as doing a cornucopia of drugs from cocaine to booze to marijuana.  Although his trouble with the opposite sex is fairly evident, his gambling addiction is far worse and usually ends with him being beaten by Col Mancusi a petty criminal.

Due to his gambling, Cleaver faces his own day in court, as he pairs off against his rival, Harry, Sorry, David Potter (Matt Day). The pair not only fight over Cleaver’s tax records, but also Melissa. Cleaver relies on his ex-wife, Wendy Greene (Carline Brazier), for advice from time to time, which also leads to complications. Things get a little crazy, when they discover their son, Fuzz Greene (Keegan Joyce), is having a questionable affair.

 

Of course, Cleaver gets into relationship trouble of his own, when he slips up and winds up in bed with Barney’s wife, Scarlet (Danielle Cormack). Despite attempts to keep the affair secret, it eventually emerges and could potentially ruin things between Cleaver and Barney.  Rake also straddles the high/low cultural divide.  Cleaver frequently quotes Yeats, is a fan of Balzac, but remains distinctly Australian, with sayings like “Christ on a bike” or “Fuck me Sideways.” And in one Cleaver even tells a priest: “I could out-Nietzsche you at five paces.”

With his many flaws, and blunt, dismissive outlook, Cleaver Greene joins a long list of charismatic television anti-heroes likes Tony Soprano or Saul Goodman.

Although his morals are questionable, close friends and colleagues still rely on Cleaver. Underneath it all, he seems to generally try to do the right thing, although it usually ends badly.

Rake is definitely a hilarious show that is packed with plenty of drama and a tad bit emotion every once in a while. Throughout the entire first season, all of the performances were excellent and each of the characters, despite all of their flaws, are somewhat likable. Still, it is Richard Roxburgh, who leads the way and manages to keep everything funny, but realistic, inside and outside of the courtroom.

All of the supporting characters help to enhance the show significantly. Russell Dykstra and Matt Day do an excellent job helping to balance out Cleaver’s crazy antics. While the show is meant to be funny, it takes a fun approach to exposing some of the hypocrisies of society. Don’t be surprised, if you find yourself nodding in agreement, with some of the political statements in Rake.  All in all, the show is tremendously clever, sufficiently hilarious and definitely worth the watch.

If you have access to Netflix, watch the Australian version of the series the JPFmovies staff was uniform in its admiration for this original series.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in cheesy television, Movie Reviews

 

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Ok Folks as Promised Our Look at Scy-Fy’s Ascension the Mini-Series (2014).

Our last look at Science Fiction (for now): Ascension—the miniseries.  Once again Netflix comes through with programming that we here at JPFmovies would not normally watch.  Netflix’s algorithm that provides the viewer with entertainment ideas suggested Ascension so we took a look and were not disappointed.  There’s a lot of Battlestar Galactica (2003) in Ascension, beyond the simple fact that they’re both high-production SyFy miniseries set on giant spaceships.  And anyone who’s familiar with JPFmovies position on BSG knows this is a good thing.  Like BSG, Ascension has a population that is confined to a life in transit—living in a transient space ship as they travel to their destination of a new world.  And like in BSG not only is there the gritty reality of living in a world of very limited resources with danger lurking around every corner (in BSG it’s the threat of Clyons and in Ascension it is the rigors of deep space travel).  The viewer is also treated to the familiar face of Tricia Helfer, who played the seductive Cylon No. 6 in BSG, here she plays the head “stewardess” showing us her long back every chance she can.

The show starts with the space ship 51 years into its 100-year journey to “Proxima.” Launched in the early 1960’s right out of the “Father Knows Best” period in American social history, the 600-odd people living on the ship missed such society changing events as “the summer of love,” “civil rights” and “The Clash.”  Making the population “pure” so to speak and ripe for study.  Things get a little more complicated (as any good series would) when we find out that the inter-generational space ship was not actually launched but instead is a huge black-ops structure-experiment simulating a deep space journey.  The Ascension program is credited with such scientific advances as “complex polymers” “MRI’s” and some forms of birth control.  The program’s director states that “when you take the best and brightest” and isolate them from any outside influences such scientific advances are inevitable.  We here at JPFmovies were rather surprised to find out that the Ascension program was not an actual space ship but a simulation experiment still here on earth.  Such a premise provided the story with many avenues to go down, including the massive effort and lengths one would have to go through to keep the 600-odd people believing that they were in deep space and not still home on their home planet.

Another similarity to BSG was the cut-throat political scheming and factionalism fighting for control of the ship.  In Ascension, sex is the main form of currency which is literally controlled by Tricia Helfer’s character as the head “stewardess” whose underlings are plainly charged with satisfying the desires of the men on the ship.  Marriage is determined not by love but a computer applying a mathematic formula to ensure ideal genetic matches i.e. a quasi-eugenics program.  And like in BSG, there is also a touch of the mystic through a young girl who represents “punctuated evolution.” She sees the “globus” which is the brand of camera hidden throughout the ship used to monitor every move of Ascension’s population.  The evolved girl in the last scene also transports one of the main characters (the ship’s executive officer) to some alien world that unfortunately leaves the viewer hanging in space raising more interesting questions than it answered.

Much to many people’s dismay, Ascension the mini-series was only that, a mini-series lasting 6 episodes played over three nights on the Sci-Fy network.  Unusually we here at JPFmovies agree with the many, another season was in order not only to answer the questions left as its end but also because an entirely different and interesting Sci-Fi story could have continued.  Ascension is actually a fine science fiction show, and one should catch the series on Netflix.  However, be warned that you will need to be a little patient with it.

What does JPFmovies contributor SJ have to say about Ascension?  One slang word: “meh.”  Different strokes for different folks.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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JPFmovies’ next foray into the Sci-Fi world: Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005). Almost everyone complained about it but we didn’t think it was bad.

The creation of Netflix, probably the greatest innovation for movie and T.V. fans since the introduction of HBO and similar channels, has given people like us at JPFmovies the ability to “binge” watch movies/T.V. series.  Well, we went on an Enterprise “binge” in “the blind” so to speak—not having followed any of the trials, tribulations and fan/producer politics.  If you look through our reviews over the years you will find very few T.V. series, much less American produced television.  In other words, we were not influenced by all the political machinations surrounding the three previous Star Trek series beginning in the 1980s and running though the late 1990s or by the opinions of their fans and producers.  So when we went on our Enterprise “binge” it was really with a fresh eye.  And you know what?  We thought it was a decent show (except for the theme song).

That said, when we searched the Internet for information about Enterprise, almost all the content we saw was invariably negative.  Enterprise was blamed for the end of the Star Trek franchise that had been running since the 1980s.  Fans blamed the show’s lack of continuity and rather thin plot while producers Berman and Braga argued it was some sort of “franchise fatigue”—a position we here at JPFmovies find self-serving, trying to avoid taking responsibility for the show’s short run.

 

So when we watched the show with a fresh eye, JPFmovies thought the show didn’t deserve all the criticism it received and should have been given some more seasons to let the show get some more traction.  Those of us at JPFmovies thought that T’Pol (the ever present Vulcan) was an interesting change of pace from the traditional steely-eyed monotoned alien who spouted nothing but “logic.”  As a Vulcan, she walked the line between Vulcans repressing their emotions and having them.  Frankly I didn’t mind seeing some emotions underneath the typical Vulcan surface.  We also read a lot of complaints that the actress playing T’Pol could not act and was there only for her eye candy appeal.  To deny she was eye candy would be foolish, but she also did a good job playing a full time female Vulcan.  In fact, a JPFmovie consultant found an interview with her where she herself said that you need more than eye candy to make a Trek series—you also needed decent stories.  So she was aware of the limits that she could provide as a model.

We also found Enterprise a nice change of pace in that the Capitan was not an all knowing, never making any mistakes character, i.e. larger than life.  Scott Bakula, as Capitan Archer, screws up all the time—as he should, because Enterprise was humanity’s first venture into space beyond our system.  Picard, Sisko, and Janeway always made the right calls—never faltering.  Archer was constantly screwing up, as the Vulcan delegation on earth was quick to point out.  A human out there in space interacting with aliens (hostile or not) is going to make mistakes—and lots of them.   There was also the ship’s doctor, Phlox, an alien who proved quite interesting—a “Denoublan” who used odd creatures in the course of his medical treatments and had three wives who each had three husbands.  He was always a great one to watch.  Then too, Jeffrey Combs, who played many roles on DS9, was great as Commander Shram—the head of an alien race called the Andorians.

 

To keep this review at a readable length, the last thing we will comment on was Enterprise itself.  The ship, unlike Voyager, TNG’s Enterprise, and DS9’s invulnerable space-station, was fragile—prone to damage and breaking.  The ship never had shields or phasors (until several episodes in).  Much more often than not, Enterprise was no match for many of the alien ships that it encountered.  Again, something that one should expect when humans first begin to explore space outside of our solar system.

 

We read an article on Syfy’s site which also brought up some good points as to why Enterprise didn’t go the distance: The Internet!  TNG, DS9 and Voyager were essentially all pre-Internet boom shows, while Enterprise was subject to hypercritical analysis, which was like a cloud of noise that had a profound impact on the ability of others to just enjoy Enterprise, and also created the perception that the show was more reviled than it actually was.  Another interesting fact we didn’t know about Enterprise that sprang from the Internet was that it was unsurprisingly, one of the most pirated shows from 2001–2005 on sites like the Pirate Bay—so many viewers would not be reflected in the ratings.  Two ideas that JPFmovies put some serious stock in.

 

Despite all the “bad press” Enterprise was subjected to, it seems that the show is having a renaissance, many people are going to back to watch the show streaming on such outlets as Netflix, and the “bad press” is starting to be replaced with more positive posts—a long overdue interpretation of the series.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Now for something completely different. JPFmovies is back after a long break to regroup and refocus on what quality entertainment may be out there as well as point out the crap—the original mission of JPFmovies. A foray in SCI-FI.

Here at JPFmovies we rarely look into SCI-FI—yes we have a bit of an institutional bias towards SCI-FI entertainment.  That said, due to SJ & EJ’s insistence on watching significant amounts of SCI-FI programming and of course the availability of Netflix binging, the JPFmovie writers and reviewers are now ready to competently review past and present SCI-FI franchises.

Here is what we are looking at.  Ascension—the Syfy miniseries that aired in 2014 about a generational spaceship modeled after the military Orion Project from the late 1950’s through the 1960’s.  As well as three of the major Star Trek spin-off TV series from the 1990’s (Deeps Space 9 and Voyager) until 2004 the fourth and last season of Star Trek Enterprise.  Why are we looking at the three Star Trek TV series you may ask?  In honor of the highly-anticipated Star Trek re-birth “Discovery” which is supposed to debut this year.

Where do we start?  Well according to SJ the choice is easy:  Deep Space 9 a/k/a DS-9.  Why?  Because it is the first one chronologically running from 1993 until 1999.

JPFmovies:  SJ what do you have to say about DS-9?

SJ:  It went places the other series didn’t.  It explored religion for instance but it was a little problematic that all the Bajoran’s had the same faith.

JPFmovies:  You also mentioned that the series was funny?

SJ: Yeah it was probably the funniest series.

JPFmovies:  Well how do you reconcile that statement with the fact that DS-9 dealt with some pretty dark themes like war and religion.

SJ: Well it had darker themes but also lightened up with episodes like “little green men,” “take me out to the hollo-suite” and “trials and tribblelations.”

JPFmovies:  Who was your favorite character on DS-9?

SJ:  Simple Dax.

JPFmovies:  You said that without hesitation.

SJ:  Yeah she is awesome.

JPFmovies:   What did you like most about DS-9?

SJ:  Ah . . . it’s hard to say.  I suppose it had sort of a diverse like episode topics going from fun to war to episodes about different cultures and romances with all of the characters.  Though I am not fan of that but some people like.

JPFmovies:  What did you like least about DS-9?

SJ:  Ah . . . it sort of there is only one religion for the Bajoran’s and it didn’t even have a name.

JPFmovies:  How would you describe the first two seasons of DS-9?

SJ: The first 2 seasons are O.K. but it definitely gets better with time.

JPFmovies:  How does it get better?

SJ:  Um the characters go more in-depth the plots get more interesting.  It goes from minor conflicts to major conflicts.

JPFmovies:  What do you say to the statement that they had to bring in a character (Warf) from Star Trek the Next Generation to keep the show’s ratings afloat?

SJ:  I think that Warf brought a lot to the show. I love Warf I can see how they needed someone that people were familiar with to keep the ratings afloat.

JPFmovies:  What do you have to say about DS-9’s original theme that it was supposed to be a western?

SJ:  I think it would have been hilarious, but it’s not super Star Trekkie—I mean Star Trek is not a western.

JPFmovies:  Reading things about the show now, how do you react to the statement that Dr. Bashir was for the series first 2 years almost removed?

SJ:  Yeah I could see that he was my least favorite character he was really annoying.  He really didn’t have much of a character they made him be more of a person with the Section 31 episodes.

JPFmovies: What was the deal with Captain Sisko’s evolution from a guy with a full head of hair to a bald man with a go-tee?

SJ:  How so?  I mean he shaved his head and grew a go-tee.

JPFmovies:  Well you have to admit that in a TV series that is pretty unusual.

SJ:  Yeah that is true but remember with the Next Generation and Riker’s beard it became a saying that a show got good when it “grew a beard.”

JPFmovies:  How do you respond to a 2007 interview with iF Magazine, where George Takei, who had played the character Hikaru Sulu in The Original Series, criticized DS-9 for being the polar opposite of Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy and vision of the future?

SJ:  I think that Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future . . . well when DS-9 was made it was outdated by then.   When you look at the original series it’s not super great with feminism and that.

JPFmovies:  Where do you see the Star Trek franchise going in the future?

SJ:  Well I think it sort of veered away from what it was.  I hope that the new series is going to be more like DS-9 and TNG but I kind of doubt it.  Each series was different but had the Star Trek feeling and I think the newer movies have not had that really.

JPFmovies:  You’ve heard about the new series that is to be released this year “Discovery”?

SJ:  Yeah . . . you told me!

JPFmovies:  Where do you want to see that series go?

SJ:  Well I am not exactly sure what it is about . . . IDK I’d like it to be as progressive as DS-9 and Voyager were but not too close because it is then just a remake.

JPFmovies:  Why do you think it took 13 years to make another Star Trek series?

SJ:  I feel like it fell out popularity after Enterprise.  Um unfortunately I don’t know any Star Trek fans other than my family.  I hope there will be more Trekkies because of this new series.

JPFmovies:  Well thank you for your insights and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on our next look at Voyager.

SJ:  Thank you.

Well folks as you can see DS-9 was well received by many a SCI-FI fan.  As always we welcome your comments.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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