'Puzzle' is Well Made, but a Few Pieces are Missing

Based on the film Rompecabezas, Puzzle is one of those little-known independent films that sneaks into theaters with little to no fanfare, although the fact that it is being promoted “from the producer of Little Miss Sunshine” should help it get noticed somewhat. Puzzle is a quiet, little film about a woman who discovers that jigsaw puzzles are the key to changing her life. While the subject matter doesn’t sound all that exciting, the film really isn’t about puzzles but instead about one finding their voice, or so it appears. It’s also a message film that has its own agenda expecting the audience to agree with the choices of the main character and applaud her “brave” behavior. Frankly, it just feels manipulative.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle’s most impactful scene comes within the first few minutes. We see Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) cleaning up the house and they decorating it for a birthday party. Then we see her serving appetizers while being ignored by the guests. …

Last Man Standing Should Sit Down

Tuesday, October 11, ABC introduces us to Last Man Standing (LMS) in back to back episodes. Despite its title, unless it improves, it could be the first ABC show to be cut this season. (The two episodes will be repeated on Friday, October 14 as well.)
Mike is a man’s man living in household of women. His only ally is his grandson, and he’s only a few months old! He’d rather spend time at his store, “Outdoor Man,” where men can buy guns, jerky and a camouflage recliner. In the pilot episode, we learn that Mike’s job has been downsized and he can no longer travel for work. Instead, he is put in charge of the company’s website where he decides to voice his thoughts on “What happened to men?” on the site’s video log. Mike works with Ed (an underused Hector Elizondo) and Kyle (Christoph Sanders) the young new hire.

ABC/Disney has had a long relationship with Tim Allen starting with the days of Home Improvement. That family comedy ran for eight years on the network, which led to multiple Santa Claus movies and Tim’s endearing voice as Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies. Obviously, they are hoping for lightning to strike twice with LMS, but are relying too much on the old formula. Instead of playing “Tim the Tool Man Taylor,” Allen is playing “Mike the Internet Ranting Baxter.” Instead of running the “Tool Time” TV show, he is busy with an outdoor sporting goods store. Instead of three sons, he has three daughters. Instead of being married to Patricia Richardson, he’s married to Nancy Travis.
Back at home, his stay-at-home wife Vanessa desires to go back to work full time making Mike a Mr. Mom of sorts. His children include Eve, the 13-year-old tomboy, Mandy, the 17-year-old airhead and Kristin, a 20-year-old single mom. This is the first family sitcom I can remember with an unmarried parent.
The biggest problem with LMS is that the actors are better than the lines they have to deliver. The lame jokes are punctuated with an awful laugh track as well. It is nice to see ABC introduce another family show in its’ line up, but this one feels dumbed down and may be this season’s Hank, Kelsey Grammer’s failed sitcom of last year.
The two shows airing are “Pilot” and “Last Baby Proofing Standing.” The latter is better than the former, but not by much. Allen and Travis make a great pairing and are enjoyable to watch. They get a few good lines in too. When Mandy the middle daughter asks her father for money and he tells her “no,” she asks, “Oh my God – are we poor?” Mike’s response is “No. You are poor. We (meaning him and his wife) are doing very well.” On the screener that I watched, there was even a spot where the laugh track hadn’t been added yet and actually made the scene funnier. Maybe they will be wise and either film the show in front of a live audience or delete the track altogether. Nobody wants to be remembered to laugh. The concept of baby-proofing the entire house should have led to much funnier bits than the writers came up with.
The second problem with the show is that the storylines feel fake. For instance, in Baby Proofing, both Mike and Vanessa make decisions for the family without consulting the other. By the end of the episode, they agree that they must work together as a team. A nice message, but one never gets the impression that neither parent was that upset to begin with. Like you’d expect, all the storylines wrap up with a happy ending, but without the warmth you’d like to see. It would also be nice to get to know the kids better. Currently, they feel like accessories. The writers of LMS should take notes from ABC’s better sitcoms, The Middle and Modern Family.


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