“Arrested Development” rejects the money in the banana stand


I haven’t written about television before on the blog, but I wanted to say a few words about the new “season” of “Arrested Development” on Netflix Instant. Maybe it counts because I write every week about the movies on Netflix in my Instant Gratification column, or it counts because this all seems to be building to an “AD” movie, or, why the heck not.

Anyway, I’ve only seen the first two episodes so far, so I’m in no position to judge how Mitch Hurwitz and crew have executed their vision for this fourth season, seven years after the beloved series was cancelled by FOX. What I want to talk about is that vision they had, and why I think it’s laudable, no matter how well you think they pulled it off.

First off, it feels like a misnomer to call this “Season 4,” any more than you would call a future movie “Season 5.” As you may know, Hurwitz decided to approach the “Arrested Development” universe in a very different way for these 15 episodes. Part of this was driven by the freedom allowed by the Netflix release model, in which all the episodes could be released in one glomp, and he didn’t have to adhere to the rigid 22-minute model of network television. And part of it was driven by the limitations of his cast — most have gone on to successful careers in movies and TV after (and because of) “Arrested Development,” so trying to get the whole ensemble to commit to a full season at the same time was impossible.

So, instead, Hurwitz has made a “Pulp Fiction”-style version of “Arrested Development,” in which each episode follows one of the main characters around through the same massive storyline. The episodes all fit together, so if you see an ostrich show up in Episode 1 (and you do), odds are it will be explained by someone else’s episode later in the season. “Arrested Development” always had complex storylines and callback jokes; this format makes the callbacks an essential feature of the complicated storyline.

Opinions differ widely as to whether this is working or not. I thought the first two episodes, one following Michael (Jason Bateman) in is descent into financial misery, the other following George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) and his “sweat and squeeze” scheme to get rich.  I laughed; in true “Arrested” fashion, I’ll probably laugh more the second time I watch them.

But, even more than liking them, I appreciate that Hurwitz has tried something different. I think that’s almost noble in an entertainment age that seems built around franchises, and selling back to the audience what it already owns. You see that in films like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which takes entire scenes and lines from an old “Star Trek” movie and repackages them for a new era. You see that in veteran bands, like the Rolling Stones or U2, who release new music that seems carefully crafted to sound just like their old music. All this rebooting and remaking can make for fine entertainment, but there’s always this nagging sense that we’re being pandered to a little.

In the hype leading up to the release of the “Arrested Development” episodes last Sunday, I was getting a little worried that the show would do that, use Season 4 as basically a victory lap of callbacks and “There’s always money in the banana stand” signifiers that served only to keep the franchises going, make the diehard fans feel clever and satisfied. However successful it ends up being, this season isn’t pandering to the faithful. It assumes that if you liked a show as groundbreaking as “Arrested Development” was on television, you would like to see it continue to break ground.

Instant Gratification: “The Intouchables” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Sure, I’m watching the new episodes of “Arrested Development” on Netflix like everybody else is. But eventually, we’ll get through them, or at least need a break from binge-watching them. And when that happens, the Instant Gratification column is there!

Pick of the week: “The Intouchables”: My full review is here. Not the Eliot Ness gangster movie “The Untouchables,” but the highest-grossing film in France, a slick and charming comedy-drama about a paralyzed tycoon who hires a street-smart Senegalese man to look after him. It’s high-concept ripe for a Hollywood remake (which is in the works), but it’s a well-acted crowd-pleaser that ultimately earns its emotional payoffs.

Documentary of the week: “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” — My full review is here. Cinematheque first screened this documentary in Madison, a fascinating look at a visual artist who creates cinematic tableaux that look like key frames from movies that were never made, equally informed by David Lynch and Douglas Sirk.

Action movie of the week:Sleepless Night” — My full review is here. This 2012 French action film was a ton of fun at the 2012 Wisconsin Film Festival, all taking place entirely in a labrynthine nightclub as a desperate man tries to rescue his daughter from a crime boss.

Drama of the week:End of Watch” — A visceral action film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as L.A. rookie cops who run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel, David Ayers (“Training Day”) made one of the sleepers of 2012.

Political film of the week:The Revisionaries” — Teachers, parents and others interested by where Wisconsin’s education system is going might want to check out this 2012 documentary, which looks at the war over textbook standards in Texas between creationists and, you know, science.

Instant Gratification: “The Fairy” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix right now


Today I’ll be debuting a new weekly feature here on Madison Movie, “Instant Gratification.” While Netflix Instant and other online streaming services are great ways to access tons of good movies, searching for stuff you haven’t seen before can be a hit-and-miss proposition.

So, every Tuesday, I’ll feature five winners that were recently added to Netflix Instant, trying to focus on movies that you might not have heard of. And I may include other streaming sources as well. If you’ve seen something good that you think I should include in this column, let me know in comments. (And hat tip to my brother Dave for this column idea.)

Top pick of the week: The Fairy“: One of the sheer delights of the 2012 Wisconsin Film Festival was this ingeniously daffy film about a seedy motel clerk who meets a zany fairy who grants him three wishes. From there comes some truly inspired physical comedy and oddball musical numbers, all delivered with charm and brio. Highly recommended.

Action movie of the week: “Safe“: Jason Statham action movies are a dime-a-dozen, but I enjoyed this gritty R-rated film about an ex-cop protecting a young girl from both cops and criminals alike. The action scenes are filmed with style but relatively believable (by “Transporter” standards anyway) and the movie actually takes a little time to develop the relationship between Statham and the girl.

Arthouse film of the week: “Alps“: Greek writer-director Yorgos Lathimos followed up his black comedy “Dogtooth” with this unsettling film about a group of well-meaning people who volunteer to play the part of deceased people for the benefit of their grieving families. When a thirtysomething woman gets too attached to her new role as a high school tennis star, chaos ensues. The comedy is so dark and so dry that I can’t say it elicits any laughs, but “Alps” is still a strange and singular film.

Kids movie of the week: “ParaNorman“: This stop-motion animated marvel got a little overshadowed by Tim Burton’s similar “Frankenweenie,” but shouldn’t be missed. It’s a nifty twist on the “ghouls-invading-a-small-town” plot, as a boy who can see dead people must deal with a vengeful spirit. The painstaking animation, filmed one frame at a time, is simply gorgeous to look at.

Documentary of the week: “The Island President“: Unfortunately, we’re starting to see movies that don’t just talk about the effects of global warming, but can actually show us the real-world damage being caused. To “Chasing Ice,” add “The Island President,” a stirring film about the president of the Maldives, whose country is literally being submerged around him by rising sea waters, as he urges the global community to act. My full review is here.