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Hidden Netflix Gems – Bringing Out the Dead

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Today’s entry is a hidden gem not only in the catalogue of Netflix, but also in that of beloved director Martin Scorsese, one of several underrated masterpieces so often overshadowed by more well-known ones like Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Along with films like The King of Comedy and After Hours, Scorsese’s 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead has been unjustly overlooked for the most part, and deserves more recognition than it has gotten. Sure, you could dismiss it as simply “Ambulance Driver” for its similarity to Scorsese’s breakthrough masterpiece, Taxi Driver, as well as the fact that both films were written by frequent collaborator Paul Schrader, but there is more to it than that. I’m certainly not saying it’s better than Taxi Driver, but it’s certainly different enough to warrant appraisal on its own merits.

The film follows three days in the life of constantly working New York City paramedic Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), who is so exhausted and depressed that he has begun to hallucinate. His most frequently recurring vision is of a young woman named Rose (Cynthia Roman), who he failed to save from a fatal overdose. Throughout the three days in which we witness his life, Frank is teamed with three different partners, each of whom seem to reflect different aspects of his personality and his viewpoint toward his job. Larry (John Goodman) does his best to not take his work home with him, looking at his work as simply a job by which he refuses to let himself be haunted. Marcus (Ving Rhames) is the polar opposite of Larry, a Christian who views his job as working the miracles of the lord, bringing the dead back to life. Tom Wolls (Tom Sizemore) represents pure, unchained id, a man who encourages Frank to release his own demons through naked aggression aimed at the patients he is meant to be helping.

Along the way, Frank saves an old man named Mr. Burke (Cullen Oliver Johnson), who is ultimately so far gone that he spends his recovery in an intensive care unit, repeatedly flatlining and being revived again. His former junkie daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette), forms a tenuous bond with Frank, and the two of them find some hope for redemption in each other, though without the expected romantic subplot that would have undoubtedly been exploited in a lesser film. Though Arquette’s performance feels oddly flat and this is not Scorsese’s best film, it is also far from his worst, which makes it vastly superior to the average movie. Bringing Out the Dead is a fascinating look at a profession that is oddly underrepresented in the movies, and the depths of the human soul that profession must regularly plumb.

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TCA Tour: “Medium”

During NBC’s portion of the January TCA press tour, I spotted “Medium” creator Glenn Gordon Caron at the network’s cocktail party. I cornered him long enough to tell him how excited I was for the series to return, then I asked him why the show hadn’t scored its own panel that day, even though the miniseries “The Last Templar” had. Caron shrugged and acknowledged that “The Last Templar” was an NBC-Universal production and “Medium” wasn’t, but if he had anything else to say about his show’s home, he was polite enough to hold his tongue.

Now that “Medium” has found a new home on CBS…well, Caron’s still polite, but he doesn’t mind acknowledging that he had some problems with the way the show was underpromoted in its time on NBC. (He also didn’t mind getting off a one-liner about how “the last time we came here, NBC made us walk here.”)

“You know, it’s so hard in this environment to launch a show and sustain a show,” Caron acknowledged. “I think we’re all incredibly grateful to NBC, we were on their air for five years, and nobody wants to take shots. I think there were times along the way when everyone, even people inside NBC, thought, ‘Gee, maybe if we gave that show a little more attention, if we publicized it a little more vigorously, it might actually do better for us and might bring more viewers to the network.’ I don’t think there’s been any great secret there. It’s been written about; it’s been talked about. Having said that, we had five fairly fruitful years at NBC. Looking back, could things have been done differently? Absolutely. Ben (Silverman), who is actually a friend, said some harsh things I’m sure he regrets about our show…and, by the way, you guys play no role in this whatsoever.”

Ahem.

Medium: Season 1 – 4.5 stars
Medium: Season 2 – 4 stars
Medium: Season 3 – 4 stars
Medium: Season 4 – 4 stars

I’m just saying: there are critics who’ve been supportive of the show, and I’m definitely one of ‘em.

Okay, back to business.

“Truthfully, we’re grateful to NBC,” said Caron. “We had a nice run there. But the good news is we’re on CBS now, and for the first time in three years, we’re going to do 22 episodes. We’re beginning a season, knowing when we’re premiering: in the Fall and doing 22 episodes. And as a storyteller, that’s a huge thing. It means I can say to you, sir, ‘And on Halloween, we will be doing thus and so.’ That’s a luxury we’ve not had for three years, and those are the sorts of things that are frustrating when you’re doing a show. But it beats not working.”

Indeed, it does. But as happy as he was about bringing the show to CBS (it’s perfect, really, since it’s a CBS production, anyway), Caron did at least try to keep the show where it was by writing a cliffhanger ending to the Season 5 finale…not that the plan actually worked.

“What I was trying to do was write an ending that was so provocative that it would be impossible to cancel the show,” he explained. “You saw how that worked out. It was sort of me being a wiseguy, frankly, and really trying to stack the deck in such a way. And for what it’s worth, NBC was complicit. We don’t make the shows in secret. I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do: she’s going to have a brain tumor, she’s going to go into a coma, and we’re going to put up a sign that says, ‘To be continued.’ And they said, ‘Great.’”

Caron gave us a big scoop, by the way.

“There’s so many of you here, I guess I can let the cat out of the bag: she comes out of the coma,” he revealed, with a grin. “And she’s on a different network. It’s the damnedest thing!”

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Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up: What Goes “Up” Actually Stays Up

Tonight, for just a few hours, the show business center of gravity shifts back to its old home of New York City for the Tony Awards, tonight hosted by Neil Patrick Harris — a guy just talented enough to get me to break my usual one-award-show-per-year regimen (Oscars, naturally). But we still have some box office news to report…

After yesterday’s b.o. surprise, the world has set itself right on its axis and Disney/Pixar’s PG-rated, family (if not toddler and kindergartner) friendly “Up” managed to nose out this week’s genuine sleeper, Warner’s “The Hangover,” $44.2 to $43.3 million. And, hey, it’s no revelation to say that “Up” appeals to people of all age groups and genders, but can someone make Nikkie Finke and the Hollywood denizens she writes for stop calling it a “four quadrant” film? They could say it was a film that appeals to “all audiences” or that it attracts, say, “everyone,” but then people might understand what they’re talking about.

Sleeeestaaak..........Of course, where there are winners, there are losers, and that would be what Variety perhaps laughingly refers to as a Will Ferrell “laffer,” “Land of the Lost.” The picture was apparently avoided by more grown-up audiences as one would avoid a Sleestak with digestive issues, netting a subpar $19.5, about one-third shy of the studio’s expectations. (Those seeking an extra bit of  schadenfreude need only see the comments by Dave, Jason, and Will on yesterday’s afore-linked “Hangover” surprise post.) Another, even less surprising, loser was “My Life in Ruins,” which netted a horrendous $3.2 million from 1,164 screens, coming in at the #9 spot in its first week. How many quadrants would that be?

A movie like “Ruins” really can be hurt by reviews, which is why it’s interesting to note that the week’s highest per screen average of $35,750 was achieved by “Away We Go,” the small Sam Mendes-directed comedy written by Dave Eggars and the alliterative Vendela Vida, and starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph,  I eluded to on Friday. As Anne Thompson pointed out in a post which I think I’ve linked to multiple times for multiple self-serving reasons, the film doesn’t seem to have the kind of reviews required for an indie hit, so I’m expecting this one to fade as it goes into wider release. Not that there might not be an audience for the film, which, going (unfairly, I’m sure) by the trailer, looks like a sweetened-up version of David O. Russell’s 1996 farce, “Flirting with Disaster” (am I borrowing this thought from someone?). Personally, I’ll take the tangier version.

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Currently on the Bubble: Half the Reasons I Watch Network TV.

Have you noticed an intoxicating scent of fear and desperation in the air recently? When you catch that scent wafting in from the general direction Hollywood, you know we’ve reached the time when the networks have begun to look very, very seriously at their schedules in order to determine which of the shows that haven’t yet earned pick-up notices for their next season actually deserve those notices. This year, the stench is particularly strong, what with the combination of Jay Leno’s new M-F 10 PM show killing five perfectly good spots for hourlong drama on NBC, the general economic situation, and the American public still not really having much of an interest in watching anything original. Keeping in mind, of course, that when I say “the American public,” I’m not talking about you

“No, Mum, they haven’t officially canceled ‘Eleventh Hour’ yet. I’ll keep you posted, though, shall I?”

Nellie Andreeva at the Hollywood Reporter has put together a piece where she gives a rundown of what shows are still waiting to find out if they’re going to get a pink slip or a terse note saying, “Yeah, yeah, you’ve got another season, now get your ass back to work,” while Hercules over at Ain’t It Cool News has taken the work out of it for you and simply offered up three succinct lists: Likely To Return, Unlikely to Return, and 50/50.

Taking the “Likely to Return” list – “Ghost Whisperer,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Law & Order,” “Numb3rs,” “Southland,” and “Ugly Betty” – out of discussion for the moment, I don’t mind telling you that, between the other two lists, it’s highly depressing to see about half of my TiVo Season Passes get cited. (Not mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter piece is “Kings,” but I agree with Herc that it’s probably been left out because its permanent vacation at the end of its Saturday night death slot run is considered a given.) Regular Premium Hollywood readers will already know that our man John Paulsen has been covering the death knell of several of these shows and established his feelings on what he’d be bummed to see depart, but here are the five shows – one per network, so as not to be greedy – that I’d most like to see earn a reprieve from cancellation:

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