Archive for the ‘David Duchovny’ Category

DVD Review: Californication Second Season is raw but real

August 11, 2009

Give Californication this: The Showtime series, whose second season is new on DVD from CBS/Paramount, is cleverly and aptly named. It seems “Sex and the City” already was taken, so Californication works quite nicely, thanks–especially since this show is utterly, totally and shamelessly obsessed with sex.

It’s also utterly, totally and shamelessly obsessed with sex from the viewpoint of folks hitting middle age –you know, statistically the most horny time for men –NOT! But when your producer, director, star and head honcho is David Duchovny, who’s 49 and pushing 50, and his ego must be fed, stroked and — uh, let’s stop there — then you must make concessions. In short, you must throw all pretense to reality, balance and believability to the winds of wanton wildness, and you must let DD’s Hank Moody bask in the tawdry glow of being a once-great but now rarely-working writer who disdains LA yet bites into its forbidden (and readily offerred) fruit whenever he gets the chance — which is, oh, about every time he turns around.

Even though his ex-wife (Natasha McElhone) jilted her new fiance and took Hank back, and even though Hank vows to stay on the wagon of monogamy in her honor (as if), it seems every bar, party and jail cell harbors someone he knows who offers sex as if extending a stick of gum. Actually, I don’t even give away gum so readily.

But that’s LA for you, right? Or, at least, it’s LA in this guy’s wettest of dreams, where Hank is always the most irresistible guy in Hollywood, as if he’s Warren Beatty’s character from Shampoo on sex-roids. No matter that no one reads so they don’t even know he’s a has-been celeb. No matter that writers are the most lowly regarded creative types in Tinseltown. No matter that Hank is scruffy, unkempt and probably has bad breath from all his boozing and smoking. No matter that he’s not the fittest guy in a town of flat-ab obsessions–he’s Hank, and it says right here in the script that he’s irresistible! Got it?

But I forgive such contrivance and excess–mostly–because mostly this show has superb writing and strong performances — and because I love little Madeleine Martin as Hank and his ex-wife’s goth-chick teen daughter, who speaks with such intelligence and eloquence that you ache to protect her from the madness that is her parents’ lives. (Actually, her mom is an architect, ahem–allegedly, though she hardly ever works and looks like a model and dresses and often acts like she’s 17–but I digress.)

Yes, the show still takes too many sex-plex turns too often–perhaps even more in Season Two. And yes, such shock value wears off, oh, around the time the opening teaser and credits are done. But at least in other respects Californication feels real enough, with real people doing crazy things that are still real, given the phony company-town context, because hey, we’ve gotten to know them, and the cast is damn good.

That includes Callum Keith Rennie as Lew Ashby, a music magnate who’s even more degenerate than Hank, yet just as lovable in his warped way (and love that company town name, an amalgam of Lou Adler and Hal Ashby perhaps?). Lew is truly this season’s life force, along with superb song-score choices such as the moving final episode’s It’s My Life by the Animals and, of course, California Dreaming by the Mamas and Papas.

Hank, Lew and all the rest are just looking for love–or lust–in all the wrong places, so let’s cut them slack. After all, they gamely keep on trying, keep on grinding away and — oops, now they’ve got me doing it. But the bottom line, beyond the bottoms and other body parts, is quite simply their shared humanity, not their shared bodily fluids. And that’s why there’s one thing that draws me to the raw but real glories of Californication — and it’s not horniness.

It’s hope.

‘X Files’ movie gets pump primed

July 6, 2008

“The truth is out there” The X Files has long told us, and now its own truth is this: The franchise’s second movie — following a strong first one in 1998 — looms July 25, and the pump must be primed for its release.

Thus, an inevitable new X Files DVD is due Tuesday, inevitable not because it’s got much new, but because new flick The X Files: I Want to Believe must be marketed, and the new DVD from Fox, The X Files: Revelations, does the job.

Besides that, it’s been six years since the series ended, and the two-disc set’s refresher bent works well enough.

Creator Chris Carter has “handpicked” (is there any other way to choose?) eight episodes from his show’s nine seasons of intrepid FBI agents (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) chasing threats with a sci-fi, supernatural or “things that go bump” bent. Actually, the eight shows are spread out over the first six seasons only and include the very first episode, the 1993 pilot in which Duchovny looks so young he almost seems wet behind the ears, not a toughened FBI veteran.

Carter’s concept is that if you’re not familiar with the show, these eight episodes are a fitting sampler to prepare you for the new movie. Fair enough. There’s also a one-minute teaser trailer for that film , intros to each episode by Carter and exec producer Frank Spotnitz, and a sprinkling of other extras.

For loyal fans who already have purchased these eight episodes by buying the series’ entire nine-season run on DVD, those aren’t much. For those who truly do want and need a sampler, this set isn’t bad. But for those who seek stellar performances — well, there’s only one to be truly savored.

It’s not from Anderson, though at least she doesn’t phone it in, as Duchovny often seems to do. Hey, I love the guy, and I think he found a much better role that he loves far more in Californication, also new to DVD. But he certainly pales next to some of this show’s guest stars and supporting players, and none more so than Brad Dourif.

In the set’s second episode, Beyond the Sea, from later in the first season, Dourif plays a loathesome murderer who’s soon to be executed and who barters for a stay by revealing details about two kidnap victims via alleged paranormal powers. Haunted by her father’s recent death, Anderson’s Dana Scully is the female FBI agent sent to interview the murdering maniac in prison, and is this sounding a lot like The Silence of the Lambs or what?

The creators do acknowledge this in the intro — then downplay it by stressing how different it is. Yeah, well, the characters have different names, and Dourif doesn’t play a cannibal. But it is sooo like Silence of the Lambs.

At any rate, let’s not go there, because then we might start comparing Dourif to Anthony Hopkins, and that might undercut what should be our enthusiasm for and appreciation of yet another great performance by a character actor who’s been a master of twitchy, quirky, desperate roles since he made his first splash in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Here, the truth is, Dourif is quite wonderful He’s both internalized (you feel his rage, fear and frustration, not just hear it) and externalized, ranting and railing while trying to avoid trudging past visions of his victims as he nears the gas chamber — a fate he figures he’ll experience over and over for eternity in hell (creepyyyyy).

Yes, the performance is intense, even crazed, but no, Dourif doesn’t resort to cheap histrionics. Many actors simply pull a Pee-wee’s Playhouse and “scream real loud” to hammer home alleged intensity; with Dourif, it also comes from the eyes and the gut, and it feels like the real deal.

Besides Silence of the Lambs, The X Files certainly owed another debt to Twin Peaks, which also preceeded it, and you may recognize a fine actor from that “FBI Meets Boogeymen” show in Don S. Davis, who plays Scully’s father in this episode and one other. On Twin Peaks, he was the military major incongruously based in the sleepy logging town and, despite his surface serenity, involved in creepy things himself.

So there you have it: the truth now out there is that this new set primes the pump for what could be another great flick — I thought the ’98 movie was fully realized — and it’s good to see certain actors again, even if they aren’t the two leads. Which reminds me: the great Billy Connolly is in I Want to Believe, too. In fact, he’s prominent in the brief trailer you get on this DVD.

Whodat, you say? You can see Connolly out in countless fine films, including Oscar nominee Mrs Brown, but be sure to seek out Still Crazy, in which he plays an aging rock roadie who joins a reuniting ’70s group for a final hurrah.

Coincidentally, Still Crazy was issued in the same year as the first X Files movie, and the truth is — granted, we’re comparing apples to orangutans — it’s even more worth seeing. In fact, that tuneful, funny, heart-filled film (also with the fantastic Bill Nighy) is one of the finest relatively unsung movies ever made. And that’s the truth.

Duchovny’s ‘Californication’ may grow on you

June 13, 2008

Coming so soon after The TV Set, Californication — David Duchovny’s Showtime series about a disillusioned writer in La-La’s shark-infested waters — seemed at first overly familiar. But the show, whose 12 first-season episodes hit DVD Tuesday from CBS and Paramount, is much more.

Actually, it starts as less, in that the first couple of episodes are all about how shiftless, writer-block-hit novelist Hank Moody (Duchovny), who flourished back home on the East Coast but is aghast at L.A.’s warped movie biz, is not only God’s gift to writing but also God’s gift to women. Everyone talks about him like he’s the best thing ever to touch a keyboard, and women flock to him as if he’s People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. For such scenes, the Austin Powers-style crotch shielding is an inadvertent joke.

But for all his sexual conquests, Hank is unhappy. He can’t write for these Hollywood creeps, and he’s estranged from his girlfriend (Natascha McElhone), who’s also the mother of his young daughter (Madeleine Martin), a budding rocker with Bettie Page bangs. The guy has grown up enough to know that’s where he belongs: with the two leading ladies of his life.

Hank is desperate to reconnect, but not so desperate that he’ll turn down the bedmate of the moment. This gets awfully monotonous and contrived, making Hank seem more virile and desirable than Warren Beatty in Shampoo — and flattering the hell out of Duchovny. (Poor Tea, to have to watch this.)

But the show soon takes off, by exploring Hank’s relationships. Most of all, it sings with soulfulness given the fact that Californication, in its tarnished Hollywood heart of hearts, is about one glorious thing that doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. It’s about chivalry. Hank loves women — loves them — and he does what he can to protect and comfort them (while also having hanky-panky fun in the process).

Last time I checked, the last movie or series to champion this ancient quality was Sin City, albeit in an entirely different vein of fantasy violence. Californication’s fantasies spring more from its small-world contrivances and the obsessive and kinky horniness of everyone on screen, a uniformity as absurd and simple-minded as it is in Boston Legal. But like that show, this one rings with zingers in its dialogue, as it rips the phoniness of overrated Tinseltown product disguised as art, and that of so many people who aren’t honest with themselves, much less others.

I know that I’m hooked, and I eagerly await season two this fall. Until then, skip the kind of entertainment Hank rightly calls “more empty than a Michael Bay joint” and check out this witty diatribe on our junk-food pop culture and those who purvey it. Like Hank as he hungers for his ladies, you just might find yourself falling in love.