Sunday, December 23, 2012

Serious About Satellite

Another benefit of time off, as far as what I've gotten to take in and enjoy in comedy programming has been SiriusXM's OnDemand service, started a few months ago. There's a wealth of great material on there to be had -- some of it only running for a fixed time, and some of it apparently evergreen. Among the highlights so far: an hour of Opie & Anthony (filed under "The Worst of O&A", in the Entertainment section) with Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Jay Mohr and co-host Jim Norton together shooting bull about comedy on the heels of Louis and Gervais appearing in HBO's "Talking Funny" special last year. Their personalities were so dominant that you didn't even hear much of Opie & Anthony themselves getting any word in -- and actually, Mohr was only heard occasionally in the hour as well.

Norton turns up again in another fun O&A tidbit -- an appearance by Donald Sutherland on the show, where Norton, to his credit very knowledgeable of Sutherland's film history, geeks out in the actor's presence. Louis C.K. and Gervais are almost omnipresent in SiriusXM OnDemand programs, including the "Getting Late" show, which consists of interviews that run about 15 minutes. While not comprehensive, these pieces are still entertaining and interesting. Paul F. Tompkins and Bill Burr also appear in episodes worth catching.

The point of all this geeking out over SiriusXM content is to emphasize that for comedy fans, satellite radio with this new added feature that lets listeners find exactly what they may be interested in, is well worth the subscription. Currently, the OnDemand service is only on the mobile smartphone app, but it should hopefully be added to the web streaming version soon.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Back To Black

I remember blogging awhile back that it had started to seem that every performance Jack Black was giving, in both movies and talk show appearances, was the same kind of mugging or shtick. But as I've headed into an extended holiday break, I've caught two overlooked movies Black was in last year where he gave great and very understated performances, "The Big Year" and "Bernie."

In "The Big Year," Black plays a down on his luck birdwatcher, divorced, living back with his parents, and dreaming of achieving what's called a "big year," recording the most bird species sightings within the bounds of a calendar year, Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. It may be hacky to say it, but Black's characterization in this movie has heart, and gives the viewer someone to care about moreso than Owen Wilson's veteran but sneaky birdwatcher and Steve Martin's more privileged dabbler. Not to malign those performers -- their characters in combination with Black give the movie its dynamic, but it's Black's character you end up caring most about.

"Bernie," unlike "The Big Year," is less earnest and more arch -- a black comedy, but oddly enough based on a true story. Black is very tightly restrained in playing the title character in this film, a sweet, kind funeral director who snaps under the weight of Shirley MacLaine's domineering widow, Marjorie, who hires him as an all-around companion, gofer and assistant after meeting him at her husband's funeral. It's remarkable how Black inhabits Bernie Tiede -- speaking in an effeminate voice, wearing a conservative haircut and clothes reflecting his sense of propriety and, as the story progresses, conveying his exasperation with Marjorie with just a look in his eyes or slight change in facial expression. For a movie like this, Black, working with Richard Linklater, his director in "School of Rock," finds just the right performance to match the tone of the movie, and thus leads it to becoming a classic that will find an audience over time, rather than a misfire.

So should you have time on your hands over the holidays, "The Big Year" and "Bernie" are two movies well worth catching. Black's performances in them invests the comedy in them, whether light or dark, with a real human element.