Coming – and going – on the small screen

Houdini, hipsters and farewell to Fontana.

December 8, 2016 17:56
3 minute read.
Houdini TV series

Houdini TV series. (photo credit: PR)

The idea of casting Adrien Brody (who won an Oscar for his performance in The Piano) as the legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is an intriguing idea. While Brody doesn’t really resemble Houdini, he does have this quirky, crazed look that fits the Houdini persona. Certainly, it seems like more appropriate casting than Tony Curtis in the 1953 Hollywood film, Houdini, in which his real-life wife, Janet Leigh, played Houdini’s longsuffering wife, Bess.

The 2014 four-hour movie (in two parts, approximately two hours each), Houdini, with Brody, is free on HOT VOD.

Unfortunately, in spite of the special effects and some grittier material than they could show in the 1950s, this Houdini is disappointingly literal-minded.

For those with only a casual interest in Houdini, there isn’t much here.

The story features narration by Brody, with lines like “The greatest escape I ever made was getting out of Appleton, Wisconsin.” It opens with one of his most famous stunts, a jump into an icy river in which Houdini was chained, then flashes back to his childhood, with his brother, also a magician, and his rabbi father. It goes on to show how he met his wife, Bess (Kristen Connolly, a very appealing actress who played Christina on House of Cards), dancing in a carnival act, and various other episodes in his life, including how he spied on Germany and Russia during World War I.

Houdini’s life was very exciting, but the movie is flat and generic, and there is a reason it has taken nearly three years to reach us.

That said, it isn’t terrible. Just a missed opportunity.

Sad news for Crazy Ex Girlfriend fans: Santino Fontana, who plays Greg, has definitely left the show, to work on other projects he committed to when it wasn’t clear if the series would be picked up for a second season. That farewell to Rebecca at the airport was the real thing.

Fontana has been a standout as the sardonic, self-hating but extremely attractive Greg. It didn’t seem at all implausible that he ended up winning the lead character’s heart, even though she moved to a small California town to win back her former boyfriend, Josh. Fontana was especially wonderful in some of his musical numbers on the show, including the Fred Astairestyle “Settle for Me” and a few others that are too R-rated to describe here. Fontana, a celebrated Broadway musical actor who voiced Hans in the movie Frozen, is also a writer/ director, and I hope to see him again in something else soon.

Season Two of Crazy Ex Girlfriend is running on YES Drama.

If you’re getting impatient waiting for the new season of Girls, which is coming up in February, you might want to check out the documentary Hipster Handbook on YES Docu on December 10 at 11:10 p.m. and on YES VOD.

It is presented by Peter York, a marketing consultant, and directed by Graham Strong. It starts out in East London, where the British version of hipsterdom has taken hold, and then moves to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I’m not sure that you will learn many facts from this documentary, but York gets in dozens of sardonic lines as he investigates them with an anthropologist’s perspective and an adman’s zeal. He is at his best when exploring the merchandising of and by the hipsters.

One of York’s more memorable points is that the earlier incarnations of hipsters, the Beatniks of the 1950s and early 1960s, were whites taking their inspiration from black culture, but the current hipsters — with their lumberjack shirts, beards, focus on craftsmanship and ironic love for Americana, including such brands as Pop Tarts — are riffing on white stereotypes.

Whether or not that strikes you as a revelation, you may enjoy this hour-long investigation.

Another interesting documentary on YES Docu, Sue Meures’s Raving Iran, is about Iranian DJs who play the music they love and set up dance parties, which in that country means they risk getting sent to prison by the morality police.

It’s showing on YES Docu on December 13 at 10 p.m. and YES VOD, but most of it is in Farsi with Hebrew titles.

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