Mandy Patinkin

Wish I Was Here

In spite of the Kickstarter hoopla and general hype surrounding Zach Braff’s return to feature filmmaking following a decade-long absence, Wish I Was Here is just about the movie you’d expect. It’s not technically a sequel to Garden State, but this is Braff exploring the same ideas in nearly-identical fashion. Imagine Braff’s Andrew Largeman ten years later but stuck-in-the-mud as ever and there’s Aidan Bloom, his protagonist here. Throw in the trademark Braff blend of fast, broad humor and unabashed sentimentality, plus a soundtrack packed with indie rock and lots of slow motion, and you can pretty much fill in the blanks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with returning to a familiar template, especially when it worked so well the first time around. There are considerable pleasures to be had in experiencing this story centered on a crisis-ridden moment in Largeman’s Bloom’s thirties, where a whole lot of negative news converges at once. It’s simply to say that when it comes to tone, structure and dialogue-construction, the picture seems awfully familiar.

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Homeland A Red Wheelbarrow

After last week’s episode focused on an intellectual debate between swift justice and the twisted road of espionage, Homeland ditched all of that entirely in “A Red Wheelbarrow” to opt for a well-plotted if characteristically ridiculous installment that found Carrie getting shot and Saul tracking down Brody in Venezuela. Like the William Carlos Williams poem it alludes to, “A Red Wheelbarrow,” is all about suspense: the “set piece,” I suppose, of Carrie butting heads with Dar and Quinn and getting a bullet in the shoulder for it and the longer one of Saul’s mystery trip. Both have in common Brody, who has been on the lam or drugged into glass-eyed docility since the Langley bombing. He’s maintained a presence back in Washington through Carrie, his sole advocate back home. She’s explosive in nature, attached enough to him and righteous enough about the truth that we don’t really need the excuse of a baby for us to understand why she’d champion him and his innocence within the CIA. I’m really hating this pregnancy for slathering an extra level of drama on a show that’s already 100% cheese. The show has written itself into a cowardly corner by making her fetus at 13 weeks, and therefore un-abortable. Of course, the best outcome might be for the massive blood loss from the shoulder wound to cause her to miscarry, or for Carrie to pull a Peggy Olson and put the baby up for adoption before telling the father about it. 

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Gerontion

The third season of Homeland has been a kind of meditation on the merits and and demerits of espionage, a thematic venture that sounds much more promising on paper than what’s been offered on screen. Part of that disappointment stems from the fact that the writers haven’t really come up with a point of view on the subject: one week Saul is the voice of reason for railing against the increasing devaluation of human relationships in spy work, the next week it’s that same kind of relationship that jeopardizes an operation. The show’s debates have become sound and fury, signifying nothing. Last night’s episode, “Gerontion,” is a continuation of this season’s unfocused jumble of ideas. Take, for example, its attempt at staging a debate between the moral relativism necessary to work with evildoers versus the ethical imperative bringing those evildoers to justice. “We should try [Javadi] for what he’s done,” says newbie analyst Fara, referring to the Iranian intelligence official’s role in funding the Langley bombing. Later in the hour, Quinn gets uncharacteristically introspective, declaring, “I just don’t believe it anymore…that anything justifies the damage we do.” He still feels guilty over killing that kid in Venezuela, which is good, because he’d be a sociopath otherwise.

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Homeland: Still Positive

Saul is a dinosaur. He wears his years on his face, in the form of a rabbinical beard. His marriage is based more on lifelong loyalty than passion or affection, while his faith in the old way of doing things — namely, espionage — is keeping him from his dream job as the Director of the CIA, as well as from having a say in the future of the agency he’s devoted his life to. His right-hand man, Dar Adal, senses the coming change in the tides and seems ready to jump ship. And neither Saul’s decades of experience nor his shared past with Javadi helps him in preventing the deaths of two innocents. Papa Bear started Homeland as a semi-peripheral figure of fatherly comfort and mentorship for Carrie, but this season he’s taken over her place as the center of the show. The switcheroo might be a betrayal of what the show initially promised — that it’s about a lady spy — but it’s one that makes a great deal of sense given this third year’s focus on the uncertain direction of the spy agency.

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After last week’s surprise ending, where we learned about Carrie and Saul’s two-person undercover operation, “The Yoga Play” couldn’t go back to the shock well again. Thus we have a more relaxed (and meandering) episode this week, one that’s more focused on character and (hopefully) wrapping up dud storylines. We finally get a glimpse of the terrorist du saison, Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), who cuts quite a different figure from the deceased Abu Nazir. In keeping with the third season’s focus on the white-collar aspect of terrorism, Javadi comes across as a baddie with soft hands, someone who has a white-shoe law firm on retainer, is rarely seen out of a suit, and for whom burger juice on his button-down is always a first-priority problem. And the tall, thin, neat-looking Javadi doesn’t just strike a different visual note from the Nazir: Saul theorized last week that the second-in-command in the Iranian intelligence agency is less motivated by ideology than by money. (Insert joke about wanting some cheddar to go with that burger.) If he’s already filched $45 million from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, though, it’s unclear thus far why he ordered the Langley bombing, unless it’s to prove his anti-American bona fides. 

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Homeland Game Over

Carrie is Homeland‘s cockroach. We begin “Game Over” with her mired in a Kafkaesque nightmare, frustrated at every turn and more or less confined to her bed. By the end of the hour, though, she’s the survivor who, with Saul’s help, outwits and out-wiggles her way to the top of the heap. There’s no way to get rid of her — she’s just too good. If Carrie and Brody’s affair is the adrenaline-pumping, feeling-your-blood-course-through-your-veins kind of drug, Carrie and Saul’s bond is the opposite — the calm that comes after, the sensation of landing back on Earth and feeling strong and clear-headed again. Though the idea of Saul and Carrie at war and butting horns was interesting in theory, it was less so on screen, largely because they plotted alone, then only met up so Claire Danes could yell obscenities at Mandy Patinkin. Thus, it was extremely satisfying to see the two characters reunite and celebrate the success of the first step in their plan. “You’ve been very, very brave,” Saul reassures Carrie, then offers, “Come on, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.” It feels so good to have Papa Bear back!

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Commemorating the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, director Rob Reiner, screenwriter William Goldman (also the author of the source novel) and stars Robin Wright (“Buttercup”), Wallace Shawn (“Vizzini”), Chris Sarandon (“Prince Humperdink”), Mandy Patinkin (“Inigo Montoya”), Carol Kane (“Valerie”), Cary Elwes (“Westley”), and Billy Crystal (“Miracle Max”) all gathered at NYC’s Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday as part of a New York Film Festival special event screening. This marked the first time in almost 26 years that they have watched the film with an audience, re-experiencing the saga of Buttercup and her Westley (and all swordsmanship and kissing involved). Throughout the film, which sold out the 1,086-seat Lincoln Center venue, attendees of all different ages loudly applauded and hooted for their favorite lines and for the first appearances of their favorite characters. They were worked up into a fervor, more closely resembling a ribald grindhouse crowd than one at a typical NYFF screening. This large-scale showing injected new life into The Princess Bride, and it is especially great that the audience was so responsive, given that the cast sat through the film and were able to witness the extreme appreciation of their work firsthand.

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Last Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of the theatrical openings of The Princess Bride, and this coming Tuesday sees the release of a 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of the movie, which features a new two-part retrospective documentary. Also on Tuesday, a new print of the fantasy adventure classic will screen during the New York Film Festival, complete with a reunion of actors Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane and director Rob Reiner (no Fred Savage? Inconceivable!) for a post-film conversation. So, we’ve got a new Scenes We Love this week to honor the beloved comedic romance (don’t call it a rom-com), and maybe this sounds like an impossible task. After all, if you love one scene from The Princess Bride, you love them all. We could just say, we love that 100-minute-long scene in which a stable boy-turned-pirate fights a giant, a genius and a swordsman in order to rescue a princess from kidnappers and then stop her from marrying an evil prince, all as it is told by an old man to his grandson. Then just embed the film in its entirety (if it were available this way). But we can isolate a handful of favorites — that’s six scenes, if we go by Count Rugen’s hand — and if there are any others you wish to bring up, we invite you to do so.

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When Jeremy said he needed someone to fill in on Commentary Commentary so that he could focus his energies primarily on South by Southwesting, I simply replied, “As you wish.” But then I was left with a conundrum. What movie should I watch the commentary track for? After rifling through my DVD collection I ended up with a handful of possibilities, and I wound up choosing The Princess Bride for one reason: when else would I ever listen to the commentary tracks on this movie, if not now? The Princess Bride is so much fun, such a whimsical experience, that if you’re going to put the DVD on, you want to watch the movie. You don’t want to hear some old guy rambling over all of the classic lines. Consequently, this thing has been sitting on my shelf essentially since DVDs began, and I still haven’t listened to either the Rob Reiner or the William Goldman commentaries. So, here we go, I’ll take the hit and give them a listen, pick out all the interesting stuff, and you can go about your usual business of properly soaking in all the action, adventure, and romance the next time you need to get your Princess Bride fix.

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Over the last month, many critics and even its creators have been citing Showtime’s new series Homeland as the first “post-post-9/11 program” as it deals with the issue of what to do now that the biggest threats of the last decade have been eliminated. It’s hard to say if that’s truly the case, but for now it would be fair to say that Homeland is the first legit espionage show to appear on the small screen in years. Legitimate in that this is a very realistic portrayal of what the word ‘espionage’ means. Webster defines it as “the practice of spying or using spies to obtain information about the plans and activities especially of a foreign government or a competing company.” It doesn’t make mention of aggressive tactical operations, shootouts, explosions, fist fights or kick boxing matches. The verbal form of spying, no matter the definition one uses, refers to the basic act of observing, not fighting. So much of what’s portrayed in television and film of the spy world is focused on offensive measures, often times meant to be interpreted as defensive counter-measures. But, in Homeland that concept is reversed, and to great effectiveness. Rarely do we get to see the truly defensive measures that are taken on U.S. soil and what our intelligence community’s response is when we are the foreign entity being infiltrated.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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