Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back to School, Alas

Oh, how I wish it wasn't so.

Well boys and girls, after three glorious weeks of vacation, just when I thought I was out...

Back to the old salt mines for me.  The Fall 2013 semester of my graduate school has begun.  The first official day was Wednesday, August 28, and ALREADY I had an assignment due Thursday, August 29, one of those awful 'icebreaker' things where I have to examine myself.  I'm not much for introspection, at least the kind that I enjoy sharing openly. 

Ah, professors...they really do think we have nothing in life besides their work.  I'd be more sympathetic, but I am the one staying up to two or three in the morning working on assignments, just to get up at 6:30 to get ready for a full-time job.

This little venture is already costing my thousands upon thousands.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't happen to have two thousand dollars lying around the house. 

I work for the government (read, poor...very, very POOR).

I'm given six days to get my hands on school books, which raises the cost considerably; well, actually six days to get my hands on school books, read three chapters, AND perform a timed quiz.  Of course, I won't get the books until Saturday, giving me exactly two days to read the chapters before said quiz. 

It should also be pointed out that I get out from work at 8 p.m. their time, giving me exactly four hours to work on said quiz...IF I made my half-hour drive home in a minute and skipped dinner.  A more realistic time table is to start at 10 p.m. their time...with the quiz due at 11:59 their time.

Such is life...

That explains why I threw in so many reviews in such a short period of time.  Truth be told, I enjoy writing my reviews much more than learning The Management of Information Agencies or Information Organization.

Well, maybe I'd rather read those than watch After Earth or The Host again...

However, as it stands my reviews might be more sporadic, though I hope that the longer semester (September to December) will allow for more time than the Summer (June-July...technically August but that was really the first week, where I bombed my final paper, an embarrassing 35, but I got a B in that class, and I never have to take that particular class ever again, so that's a plus). 

I will continue writing reviews, and I have a few already written and already pre-set to publish.  However, I will probably not be as proficient as I have been, so I ask for your indulgence as I work towards my Master's. 

And try to stay sane...

One piece of advise that I offer to all college students.  Take at least one day where you do absolutely no schoolwork.  No readings, no tests, no papers.  One day of total relaxation.  My regular day off was Sunday.  Sometimes I had to sacrifice a Sunday but if that happened, I switched it to another day.  If one worked every single day sans rest, one WILL go crazy.  This is why God instituted a day of rest.  I trust His wisdom more than mine...even though I often lapse to my own understanding (to my detriment).

In any case, I will work to keep reviewing films and television programs. 

And to aim for something higher than a 35.

Wish me luck!  

Of Human Bondage (1934): A Review (Review #563)


Beware Those Bette Davis Eyes...

Of Human Bondage is thought of as one of the great English novels, so naturally I have not read it yet.  The adaptations of the W. Somerset Maugham's novel appear to not tell the whole story but on one aspect of it: the twisted affair between clubfooted dreamer Philip Carey and tawdry gutter queen Mildred.   This adaptation of Of Human Bondage is a little creaky, showing its age.  However, it is elevated by Bette Davis' performance as Mildred, a vile woman who gets her comeuppance in the end, but which still makes it rather sad in the end. 

Phillip Carey (Leslie Howard) dreams of being a painter, but upon being told he has no talent for it he opts to go back home from Paris to London, where he attends medical school.  His clubfoot puts him at arms length from most of his fellow classmates, but not all of them.  He makes friends with Griffiths (Reginald Denny), who in turns is fascinated by waitress Mildred (Davis).  While she enjoys flirting with older (and wealthier) patron Emil Miller (Alan Hale), she doesn't reject Phillip, even if she doesn't care for him.

Phillip falls madly in love with her, but she is very dismissive of him.  "I don't mind," she replies whenever he asks her out or declares love for her.  He becomes more obsessed with her, so much so that a good girl that loves him for who he is, Norah (Kay Johnson) is no match for the vile Mildred.  Mildred runs off with Miller, but despite what she tells Phillip he didn't marry her.  He was already married, and she is with child.  Phillip puts her up (and puts up with her), even after she wanton flirts with Griffiths.

Phillip eventually sees the futility of his position and leaves Mildred, who unleashes her fury at him.  Eventually, Phillip has surgery for his clubfoot and finds love and fulfillment with Sally (Frances Dee), while Mildred succumbs to tuberculosis (in the novel, I understand it is syphilis, but censorship being what it was in the early days of the Production Code). 

It is strange that Of Human Bondage makes you wonder not what the 'hero' sees in 'the tramp', but why 'the tramp' would ever bother with 'the hero'.  I won't fault Howard for making Phillip this hopeless milquetoast of a man, perpetually weak-willed and downright stupid (I wondered why he would give up Norah given how vile Mildred is).  I figure that was the role, and he played it well.  Credit should be given to him for making Phillip's obsession complete and all-consuming.

However, Of Human Bondage is clearly Bette Davis' film.  Her failure to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination so outraged the members of the Academy the lofty organization was forced to abandon its standards and allow write-in votes to allow Davis a chance at an Oscar nomination she rightly earned through her performance.  First, Davis maintains a convincing Cockney accent.  Second and more important, Davis is never afraid to make Mildred a monster.  Shrewish, manipulative, and selfish to the bitter end, Mildred is not only a tramp, but unapologetic about it.  She never asks for forgiveness or absolution, but despite the end one might expect she deserved, one still feels a pang of sorry for the woman who would destroy so many lives (especially her own and her child's) for a quick and momentary satisfaction.

However, age has ravaged Of Human Bondage (and I don't just mean the film quality, which shows the importance of film preservation given that in the best available copy was highly scratched and worn down).  The film itself, despite its 88 minutes, drags and feels so much longer (particularly whenever Davis isn't on-screen).  When we spend time with Phillip and Sally's romance, to be honest I lost interest and barely paid attention, which is something I did when Davis entered the picture.

Of Human Bondage now is a bit dated and slow (dare I say, creaky), but for those who admire great performances, Bette Davis' turn as the tawdry Cockney should be something to feast on.


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Call: A Review


I got some bad news from my mother.  "Oh, mijo, I saw this GREAT movie on the Lifetime Movie Channel.  It was a thriller about a serial killer and a woman who fought back."  One can say that this description could fit just about ANY LMN production, to where even Mom commented that all they show is "thrillers".  The Call would fit within the network's schedule to where one can wonder whether it was intended for cable/satellite broadcast and just found itself in theaters.  The Call isn't terrible, and if it weren't for the final act which defies logic (or been a bit shorter) the film would have been the taut thriller it wanted to be.  It is a bit of a wasted opportunity but the majority holds up very well, and can even be a bit exciting and tense. 

Until the third act.

Jordan (Halle Berry) is a 911 call center employee, who takes all sorts of emergency and non-emergency calls.  By what we see, she is a thorough professional who, well, enjoys is not the right word, at least has confidence in her abilities.  However, this all comes apart when she gets a particular call.  Someone has broken into the home of Leah Templeton (Evie Louise Thompson), a young girl.  Leah calls 911, terrified of the intruder.  Jordan at first handles this situation well: calming her down, contacting the police, giving her advise on hiding.  Things appear to go well, until the call gets disconnected.  In a split-second decision, Jordan hits the redial button.  This has the tragic result of the intruder, who was about to leave, returning and finding Leah.  Jordan tells him that the police are on their way and for him to not hurt Leah.  "It's already done," he growls, before hanging up.  A distraught Jordan falls apart, even more so when Leah's body is discovered a few days later.  Not even her boyfriend, policeman Paul Phillips (Morris Chestnut) can comfort her.

Move up six months.  Jordan has now become a 911 operator instructor (whether she requested to be transferred or was moved for her own well-being or to get her out of the floor the film never answers).  By what we see, she is a thorough professional who, well, enjoys is not the right word, at least has confidence in her abilities.  As she is showing the trainees The Hive (the main call center floor) a trainee gets a very distressing phone call.

We have been watching Casey Welson (Abigail Breslin) at the shopping mall with a friend.  Her friend forgets one of her two cell phones, a disposable one.  Casey holds on to it before leaving, but in the parking lot she is abducted.  Terrified, she uses that phone (the abductor having taken her regular phone I think) and calls 911.  The trainee is not up to the job, so in another split-second decision Jordan takes over.

Most of The Call then follows Jordan and Casey as both struggle to keep in touch, jumping between Jordan's harried operator and Casey's efforts to be rescued.  The abductor along the way meets innocent bystander Alan Denado (Michael Imperioli).  Alan alerts him to paint leaking out of his trunk (which was Casey's attempt to attract attention), then when he checks in on the abductor the latter is forced to kill the former...and later kill him again.

One of The Call's mistakes, but let's move on.

Eventually through a lot of detective work on all sides we find the abductor's name: Michael Foster (Michael Eklund).  However, at the end the trail goes cold, and when Jordan uses his name at the end of the call, he tells her, "It's already done."  Shock: it's the same guy that killed Leah.

Jordan won't accept she did all she could, and then while listening to the recording, she hears a distinct sound.  Casey, meanwhile, is being tortured by Michael, and we learn why Leah and Casey were taken.  Jordan manages to go to Foster's hideout, and rescues Casey, and both in turn enact revenge on their abductor.

While watching The Call, I got a certain 80s vibe.  I was justified in this due to not just the criminals selection of 80s music, particularly his interest in alternative music, or even in John Debney's score.  The Call feels like something that could have come from the 1980s, a decent thriller that might have made a great, exciting thriller.  However, by the end of The Call, when we have Jordan turn detective/action heroine AND have the women take a stand, it did devolve to Lifetime Movie material, which makes everything that had come before sink. 

It's this final third, when Jordan does what all people in films tend to do: go to the killer's house, alone, without weapons and without telling anyone, that The Call lost the impact it kept up through much of the film.  For most of it, The Call was quite unnerving as Casey and Jordan on both ends attempted to end the crisis.  Credit should be given to director Brad Anderson for how the controlled chaos of The Hive is captured, how difficult this job must be.  The balance between Casey's desperate efforts to survive her ordeal and Jordan's efforts to provide both comfort and information is well-kept throughout the chase.

However, Richard D'Ovidio's screenplay (from a story by Jon Bokenkamp and Richard & Nicole D'Ovidio) wanted to throw certain things at us.  First was poor Imperioli, who was reduced to a bit of a cameo as the unfortunate bystander.  As if that wasn't bad enough, why did he suddenly have to come alive when we think he's dead?  I figure this was to try to give us a shock, but it was unnecessary, almost insulting.  If you get an actor like Imperioli, it seems almost a shame to put him in a throwaway part.

I can't say anything bad about Breslin, who was excellent as the tortured Casey.  She was frightened and abused but also did make efforts to get out of her situation.  I think Eklund did better in his role of mad abductor than what he was given on paper.  His motivations were a little vague (was he scalping girls in some mad effort to bring his dead sister back to life?) but on the whole, he was asked to play crazy and he did just that.

In regards to Berry, she can be good at times (the television specials Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and Queen for example), and in The Call, she gave a better performance than she has of late.  Jordan's journey from guilt to second chance at redemption was well-played and more important, believable. 

Still, it wasn't until we got to the last part, where the women decided to take matters into their own hands, that I felt a terrible disappointment.  If it had stayed with the police, or at least had Jordan take Phillips with him (or at least advise ANYONE where she was going), The Call could have been a taut thriller.  For most of its running time, The Call is an exciting and tense film, and to see it falter near the end with a 'women's revenge' ending is a bit of a let-down. 

At least one thing is certain: a particular pay network will be playing The Call in constant rotation.  Can't wait to her my mother's review...


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Iron-Man 3: A Review


The Rust is Starting to Show...

One of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking is that "Part Three will either be a disaster or the harbinger of a greater disaster".  I provide as evidence The Godfather Part III and Spider-Man 3 as proof of the first, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Batman & Robin for the latter.  The only Part III to escape this (so far) has been Toy Story 3Iron Man 3 is not a disaster on the level of Spidey's fiasco, but since we have not had an Iron Man 4 it remains to be seen whether the long, sad Golden Rule will apply.  Iron Man 3 was a misfire for me: while Robert Downey, Jr. still owns the part of Tony Stark and his alter ego, somewhere along the way it all started getting too big and too broad even for the franchise that revels in its own self of self-awareness.  Not having read comic books I am no expert on how Iron Man 3 stays within already established stories.  HOWEVER, as a film Iron Man 3 is a bit chaotic, throwing so much at me that I really wish it would end.

We start in flashback (via voice-over, and longtime readers know how I feel about voice-overs)  to New Year's Eve, 1999.  Tony Stark is doing what he does best: showing off his genius and picking up beautiful women.  He manages to find brilliant scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a botanist who has found a way to restore life to plants.  Tony is too involved in getting both Maya's formula and body that he blows off nebbish scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce).  At Tony's side is his loyal guard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). 

We now go 2013.  Tony Stark is still feeling some aftereffects of the events of The Avengers (which are referenced in the film from time to time).  While he continues tinkering with his Iron Man suit, Stark Enterprises is being run by his Girl Friday/girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Happy is now the hyper-efficient Head of Security (one that drives everyone crazy with his over-eagerness) and Killian has turned into a super-hot industrialist himself.  He tries to interest Pepper in Extremis (which can upgrade the mind or something like that).  Pepper declines, sensing that it can be weaponized, something she is steering Stark Industries away from.

The world might need more weapons, for a vaguely Middle Eastern/Islamic terrorist known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been committing violent acts against America as a way of striking against President Ellis (William Sadler).  The Mandarin enjoys taunting Ellis, so the government has Colonel Rhodes/Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle), formerly known as War Machine, to fight for us.  However, after a Mandarin attack at the Chinese Theater nearly kills Happy, Tony decides to take the Mandarin on personally.

Perhaps that is not the smartest move, to give an international terrorist your home address (although I wonder, given how large Tony lives, why would his home address be a secret).  Just as Maya returns to Stark's life, pointing out he had in a drunken one-night stand fourteen years ago helped shape the formula that Extremis is, the Stark mansion is attacked.  Pepper and Maya are almost killed, and while Tony is able to get into the Iron Man suit, loyal computer Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany) sweeps him to the coordinates Tony had earlier asked for: Tennessee.

Here, an injured Tony gets help from child Harley (Ty Simpkins), who is a bit of a brain himself.  Stark is able to track down The Mandarin, but at this juncture to say more would be to reveal a twist involving this character that to be frank I thought idiotic.  Eventually, after a long time, we find the real power behind the Mandarin, an epic battle (and I MEAN epic) and victory for Tony Stark. 

In the closing scene, we find the reason for the voice-over: Tony has been using this as a 'therapy' session with a particular doctor, a Doctor Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). 

Iron Man 3 has at least two strikes against it: first it is at two hours and ten minutes rather long for its story, going in odd tangents and moments of illogical humor (the idea that Iron Patriot would take a call from Stark that interrupts his assault on a terrorist cave AND that they would not only all understand English but find his password hilarious is itself unfunny).  The second strike is what screenwriters Drew Pearce and director Shane Black did with the character of The Mandarin. 

Now, one can take this twist one of two ways: either a clever send-up of 'the master villain' or something so far out of left field that I honestly wondered whether anyone was taking any of this seriously.  You have this villain, this man who plays at killing people in rather horrifying ways, only to find that is all an act?  Even worse, that the actor is so clearly out of it he truly believes it is all unreal?

I'll be honest: when we got the Big Reveal with The Mandarin, I lost interest.  Having the extended action scene at the Port of Los Angeles where the actual villain (one guess as to who it could be now) appeared to never die (exactly how many times did he pop up?) was both boring and overwhelming me.

There are good things in Iron Man 3, don't get me wrong.  Kingsley was a riot who clearly reveled in hamming it up, which was appropriate for the part.  Throughout his performance, either menacing or mirthful, he was excellent.  Downey, Jr. is still the quintessential Tony Stark, and in his scenes with Simpkins he allows Stark to be his true self: thoroughly unsentimental and unapologetic about it.  In other films, the 'cute kid' would have pulled at the lead's heartstrings, but Downey as Stark was having none of it.  He's still self-centered and immune to overt calls to be fatherly. 

I did also think well of Pearce's performance, particularly in the opening when he's the insecure Killian.  It would have been nicer to see more of the suave Killian given that Guy Pearce transformed himself into a rival to Stark in more ways than one.

However, for me, Iron Man 3 was a bit long and overblown for me to consider it as good as the first two.  No, it isn't a disaster, but if it keeps going the way it has, any Iron Man 4 may yet fall to that Golden Rule of Filmmaking...

Next Marvel Cinematic Universe Film: Thor: The Dark World


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bates Motel: Ocean View Review


Walking With Bates Breath...

Ocean View continues to build on the previous episode, giving us three stories: Shelby's sex slave, Summers' murder, and Dylan's drug farm.  We continue to get great performances, in particular the duo of Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as the most infamous mother-son duo since...well...

Norman is having the first happy moment of his life.  He has just lost his virginity and has experienced his first taste of love.  However, things are not all well.

Norma has been arrested for the murder of Keith Summers.  This comes as shocking news to Norman, which kind of spoils his losing his virginity to Bradley the night before.  While her sons Norman and Dylan (Max Thieriot) go to bail her out, she is livid with both of them, in particular with DARE he not be there when she needed him.  She rejects all peace offerings, insisting that there is a plan to separate them, which her hen-pecked son instantly rejects.  Her wrath is so venomous that she forces her beloved son out of the car in the rain. 

Norma Bates is someone who won't tolerate dissent...a bit like Bashar Assad.  Yet I digress.

Dylan suggests to Norman that he should leave Norma, but the younger son cannot bring himself to leave his Mommie Dearest.  Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke) is coming fast to finding more information about the girl in the journal, and she is determined to solve the mystery with Norman, whom she clearly likes as more than a friend.

Minus the murders and sex slaves, I don't remember being pursued by so many girls in high school as Norman Bates is, but again I digress.

Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) now helps with the cover-up of Summers' death by helping get rid of evidence (the Bates Motel's carpet which covered Summers' body if memory serves correct).

In what seems the strangest and most out-of-left-field scene in Bates Motel, Dylan and his weed farm partner Ethan (Terry Chen) are parked outside, having a pleasant chat when out of nowhere someone just shoots Ethan at point-blank.  Dylan, horrified, rushes him to the hospital but leaves before he can be asked too many questions.  Later on, Dylan spots the drugged-out killer and runs him down in cold blood, proving that murder definitely runs in the family.

Emma has found clues, while Norman tells her of his sexual encounter with Bradley.  Obviously hurt, she attempts to dismiss it all as just 'a hook-up', but Norman seems pretty insistent that it is more than that.  This does not stop them from pursuing finding the girl from the basement, tracking her to a boat Shelby owns.

Norma, still grateful to Shelby for destroying evidence that saved her from being brought to trial for Summers' murder, again refuses to admit that Shelby is anything more than both her ally and her boyfriend.  However, Norma is confronted with the actual Asian sex slave, and when she shows the slave a picture of Shelby, we have official conformation: Deputy Zack Shelby is a sex slaver...

Ocean View takes time out from the general weirdness of Bates Motel to give a few human moments.  We see the good and bad of people.  Cooke is just so wonderful as Emma, who is quite beautiful both physically and emotionally.  Despite her condition, she is the most healthy of anyone in White Pine Bay because she has a moral center.  She knows that she has to save the girl in the notebook and will not be dissuaded.

She also conveys beautifully the hurt she must feel when Norman tells her that he and Bradley are together (in his mind anyway).  Emma is completely realistic that for Bradley, her encounter with Norman was probably a one-night stand, but also sees that at the moment the boy she likes and is fond of won't see her in the same way she sees him.  It's a very subtle performance, and one that I was surprised did not merit more attention by award shows.

No surprise is Vera Farmiga's Emmy-nominated performance as Norma Bates.  Norma is simply a fascinating character: in her selfishness, her possessiveness of her namesake son, her need to have unquestioning loyalty from everyone.  She basically makes her son apologize for having sex, and in a bizarre way makes it seem that he should be with her and her only.  Not sexually of course, but in almost every other way: emotionally, physically as in present whenever she calls for him, him having to do what she says. 

Farmiga, however, does the smart thing in that she doesn't play her like a monster.  It can be so easy to make Norma totally irredeemable, someone who is almost crazy.  However, in her performance we see that she herself falls into strange situations not of her making (such as in the pilot when she is brutally raped and kills her rapist) and attempts to make the best of what she has been handed.  In many ways, Norma Bates is quite human: flawed, selfish, but also in her own way frightened, concerned, and hurt.  A strange mixture of vulnerability with malevolence makes Farmiga's performance so fascinating.  Vera Farmiga makes one almost feel for times.

In terms of the story, Ethan's murder as I said seems to come out from nowhere.  It certainly is shocking because we don't expect it at all (and it is graphic) but whether it works in the episode or is just something that will play out in the future we know not. 

Ocean View is still another brilliant episode in a fascinating series which keeps building to something big.  We have confirmation that Bates Motel is a true success, and that the 'nice-guy' is into sex slavery...  


Next Episode: The Truth   

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bates Motel: Trust Me Review


Master Bates In Love...

Of all the things I never expected to see in my lifetime was the sight of Norman Bates actually having sex...with a woman...without it being in any way connected to his mother.  Trust Me has so much in it that even having Norman Bates deflowered (by the prettiest girl in school no less) isn't the weirdest thing in the episode.

Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) is too involved with Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) to notice her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) at all times.  Particularly when Norma and Shelby are enjoying the pleasures of the flesh.  Of course, that isn't to say Shelby doesn't enjoy them when Norma's not there, what with that Asian sex slave he has in his basement.  Norman manages to escape, with a little help from his brother Dylan (Max Thierot), who had been observing Norman since he left for Shelby's home.

Now we get more relationships going on, with Shelby and Norma getting it together, and then Norman himself getting caught up in a love triangle.  While it's clear that Emma (Olivia Cooke) likes him, Norman has eyes only for Bradley (Nicola Peltz) the prettiest girl in town.  He is torn between his physical attraction to Bradley and emotional attraction to Emma.  Norman, at the moment, has his own problems.  Did he really see the Asian girl or was it in his mind?  Norma does not believe him (a rarity) telling him he is prone to see things that are not there. 

There are more problems facing the Bateses.  Keith Summer's hand has emerged from his watery grave, so now Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and Norma duel it out.  Norman offers comfort to Bradley when she puts a cross where her father crashed after being set a'flame.  Though Norma doesn't believe (or perhaps want to believe) her son's story, she still takes a peek at the basement, to find...nothing, not even the belt Norman kept as a souvenir from the Summers' killing.

Norman, now driven to distraction by Norma's relationship with A.) a man other than him, B.) a man who may be a sex slaver, and C.) a man who suggests he could take his father's place and make him a man, tells Dylan everything.  Eventually, he gets a text from Bradley.  Dylan tells his brother to go to her: girls don't send late-night text messages unless they want someone to come over.  Norman goes, and Bradley leads him to her room, where at long last Norman discovers the pleasures of the flesh...

Mother Bates is distraught to hysterics when Dylan suggests that her little Normie might be having sex, but Trust Me ends with more problems for her: Norma Bates is arrested for the murder of Keith Summers, to Shelby's distress and Romero's cool indifference.

Trust Me has so much within it that frankly I had a hard time remembering it all, even with notes.  However, what elevates this Bates Motel episode is the chance to see people have various conversations.  I think that there are so many two-person scenes: Shelby and Norman, Norman and Dylan, Dylan and Norma, Norma and Romero, that we can see how well the cast works. 

Trust Me also plays with the idea that since Norman is given to hallucinations, could he really have seen the girl from the notebook that has aroused his desires?  While we know that he is telling the truth we still have some hints of doubting the obvious.

Part of that is the fact that if Norman is telling the truth, we are left with the idea that Deputy Zach Shelby, who could have any woman he wanted, is keeping a woman as his personal sex slave. 

One thing about Trust Me that I enjoyed in particular was the face-off between Carbonell's Romero and Farmiga's Norma.  The scene between them is well-played, where underneath their calm, rational tones is a tense struggle for one-upmanship.  Neither wants to give in, both wants to best their foil, and they want to get the best of the other.

Kudos to Farmiga and Highmore, who have established wonderful performances as the twisted mother-son.  Norma's horror at the idea that her little boy is becoming a man is brilliant, showing that she is so possessive of her son she cannot imagine anyone else taking her place.  This is odd in that there is dialogue that suggests NORMAN might be slightly jealous of Norma's relationship with Shelby.  Highmore makes Norman this mix of formal and caring but also possessive and unsure of himself. 

One final thing that elevates Trust Me is what will become a memorable loss of virginity scene.  I don't think I've seen anything as overtly romantic as when Norman and Shelby go to bed: the blue tint and romantic music paints an image of a first time that I don't think matches any person's true memories of their first sexual experience.  Even if Norman is the strangest boy in history, his love scene is one for the record books. 

Bates Motel continues to be a well-acted, well-written show that builds on the mystery that we have been given, and we want to see where and how it all turns out.  This is one of the best Bates Motel episodes...Trust Me.


Next Episode: Ocean View 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Quartet: A Review (Review #560)


There are certain films that want nothing more than to please with a nice, light, charming little story that will entertain.  Quartet is that kind of film: gathering some of the best actors still working today to show the young'uns not only how it's done, but that they are still able to hold their own.

At the Beecham House for retired musical artists we find our collection of former singers and musicians thriving at the arts they so love.  Among the retirees are randy Scotsman Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), sweet and growingly senile Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins), and quiet Reginald Paget (Sir Tom Courtenay).  They enjoy their quiet years among others of their generation who enjoy a good song and melody.

However, there is a cloud hovering over Beecham House.  The home is teetering on financial ruin, but there is a slim hope that the annual Verdi birthday benefit will put the home in the black.  The divo of a show director, Cedric (Sir Michael Gambon) pushes his performers to give it their all, but still something is missing, especially since performers either won't do it or are simply too dead or ill to. 

Now the Beecham House is getting ready to receive a famous figure, but the residents don't know who.  If they did, it would be upsetting, especially for Reg.  The newest resident is none other than diva extraordinare Jean Horton (Dame Maggie Smith).  Not only is Jean a diva but she also is Reg's ex-wife!  While Reg is in a rage at the idea of his one and only coming to live at a home where he has been happy in, Wilf and Cissy are thrilled.  The four of them had once recorded a legendary Rigoletto that is still talked about, and the two of them hope that if they can convince both Jean and Reg to participate, they can recreate their quartet and bring enough publicity to make the benefit a smashing success.

Easier said than done, for both Reg and Jean are opposed for a myriad of reasons.  For Reg, the only peace he's ever had has been away from his ex, and he still hurts from their split all these years later.  Eventually, he softens on the idea but Jean is the one that now is the obstacle.  She has never recovered emotionally from the bad notices her career ended on, and fears a return, even one as brief as the benefit, would lead her to receive more humiliation at the hands of her eager detractors.

Eventually, all sorts of things are revealed: Jean still loves Reg despite her ill-thought affair that broke the marriage and Reg has never loved anyone else.  Cissy is becoming more and more confused while Wilf continues to hit on the ladies, and, well...if one hasn't figured out how Quartet ends then one hasn't been to many movies now, have they? 

Quartet is a light, charming, frothy affair, and as such it should be seen as such.  It seeks only to entertain with a light story about how being old does not mean being useless.  Far from it, one gets a great delight in watching four great actors show they are far from redundant.  We get what I consider rather stereotypical 'old people' situations (one has bladder problems, one is slipping into it me or does in every movie featuring a senior citizen of 65 and over have one person who is slowly forgetting everything?).  Sometimes I wondered whether Quartet was becoming one of those "aren't old people funny?" type of film, where we were asked to laugh AT rather than WITH them, but while it veered close to that, it didn't slip into full farce.

To the credit of Courtenay, Smith, Connolly, and Collins play their parts smoothly and with great dignity.  In particular the acting kudos belong to those who have been dubbed "Sir" and "Dame", for Courtenay and Smith work wonders together as the long-estranged couple who face off not with violent acts or cold silences but as how real people would: a mix of emotions where they both struggle between maintaining their composure and allowing their feelings to burst out.

"I wanted a dignified senility," Reg bursts out.  "Fat chance she being here."

We must remember, they ARE British, and in the stiff-upper lip mode too.

Above all things we must remember that it is a comedy, and as such we are allowed to laugh.  In particular Gambon, with his dressing-gowns and odd Dumbledore-type headdress, was deliberately over-the-top as the demanding egocentric musical director.  Perhaps the quality of Quartet is in that Courtenay by contrast was generally quiet and moreover real.  When he was speaking to the young kids about opera, Reg was open about not knowing who Lady Gaga was, but was equally open about how rap and opera were not dissimilar.

Opera, he tells them, used to belong to the regular people who brought rotten vegetables in case of a bad performance.  That was before it was taken over by rich people, Reg tells them.  Therefore, he at least understands where the kids are coming from, and seeing the kids at the end enjoy beautiful music shows what I have always said: once you expose people to the arts (be it music, Shakespeare, or classic films) people will lose their fear of the unknown and appreciate what makes these things a joy to life.

Dustin Hoffman, in his directorial debut at age 75, shows that being in the Golden Years does not mean one can't try new ventures.  He directs his actors wonderfully, allowing them to be funny and serious without slipping into either farce or melodrama.  Ronald Harwood, adapting his play, does leave a few threads unfinished.  A subplot about randy staff is brought up but then dropped. 

Quartet is a light trifle, charming, well-acted and directed, a joyful celebration of life.  It's a sweet little film, cute, and in its 98 minute running time a treat to see four great actors show life truly does not stop after sixty.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Golden Boy: Next Question Review


Rookie Remains Silent...

Next Question brings this back around to the very beginning of the series in our thirteenth and final episode.  It does what a good season finale should do: leave questions unanswered.  Unfortunately, because Golden Boy was cancelled long before Next Question aired, the little tidbits we are given will never be resolved.  Thus, what eventually happened to Detectives Owen (Chi McBride) and McKenzie (Bonnie Summervale), whom we are told met an unhappy end, will remain forever hidden.  These questions would have been answered as the series (would have) continued, but Next Question leaves other questions that the second season premiere would have answered.  As an individual episode, Next Question does better than some of the ones that have come before, but truth be told the series had put itself in a corner that it couldn't get out of. 

Let me start my review of Next Question the way the episode began, with a warning:

Scenes in this episode include flashbacks to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Nothing like using the horrific mass murder of thousands of people to close out a season of a low-rated television series. 

Commissioner Walter Clark (Theo James) is still being interviewed by Paul Daly (Richard Kind).  The Commissioner is admiring the Freedom Tower, the building that will rise 1,776 feet over New York City near where the World Trade Center once stood.  We then go back to present day, where Detective Clark, having been relegated to desk duty, is given something to do by his partner, Don Owen (Chi McBride).  He brings out his old cold case, that of Jozef Dworaczyk, a recent Polish immigrant who happened to be murdered on September 11, 2001.  In the midst of all the chaos of that day, he was kind of forgotten.

We now get flashbacks within flashbacks (if we go by the premise that Golden Boy really takes place seven years from now).  Owen is now in the Clark position, attempting to sort out this bizarre crime, bizarre in that Dworaczyk had no enemies.  He is in turn mentored by Andrew Lightstone (Robert John Burke), who advises him to never promise someone they will find the perp.  Circumstances force Lightstone to go the World Trade Center while Owen continues the case.  He is able to observe the second plane hitting the second tower, and later on, as he attempts to reach his partner and friend, the towers fall (though Owen bravely rescues a pregnant woman about to be engulfed by the debris).

In yet another of those strange twists Golden Boy takes, the Dworaczyk case is related to the case the 39th Precinct is handling, a drive-by where the driver is unharmed but the passenger is killed off.   Clark finds that Eddie Roque (Peter Scavanivo), who bore a striking similarity to Dworaczyk, has left prison.  Roark we find not only was the intended target but knows who put out the contract on him because Roark himself had used the same hitman. 

Roark, who now has months to live, decides that he might be in need of some redemption.  He tells Clark who the hitman is: Pablo Vega (Eric Todd Dellums...and is it me or is there something odd about casting an African-American in what would appear to be a Hispanic role?).  Cracking the case of a hitman would have great implications for whoever brings him in.  That person, in the mind of Detective Christian Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) is none other than Detective Christian Arroyo.

Arroyo really could do with some good news, given that he has had simply the worst day of his life.  First, his wife has found out that he has been having an affair.  While she hasn't found who his mistress is, he is unceremoniously dumped. Next, his actual mistress, Deb McKenzie (Bonnie Somerville) has really moved on, and he is actually heartbroken.  Third, he has grown tired of Clark thwarting him at every turn and will get that promotion.  He won't let some old man or his junior partner get in his way, especially since his onetime ally Deputy Mayor Holbrook (Eric Morris) all but screwed him over.  However, the hits keep on coming, literally: to add to Arroyo's awful, terrible, no good, very bad day, Mamma said knock Arroyo out.  Clark punches him unconscious and then handcuffs him to where he can't go with everyone else.

Roark goes to the shop to attempt to hire Pablo, but Pablo in turn tries to kill him.  He at first encounters Clark when attempting to flee, but since Clark has no gun or badge, he slashes him out of the way.  Owen, however, DOES have both.  Pablo, in his own way, is in need of redemption: he had given up the hitman job after the botched killing, for which he feels actual guilt. 

With both cases solved (at least I think both solved...we've all but forgotten about the first), Owen not only is able to close out his last case with Lightstone but bring peace to Mrs. Dwaraczyk and I figure her now 11-12 year old son (she was pregnant at the time she became a widow) AND get a promotion.  While Arroyo himself does nothing at this point, we know Deputy Mayor Holbrook does.  We discover that Holbrook has allowed innocents to go to jail (connected to this corruption case or the hitman job, I forget).  That, along with Clark sleeping with his wife, push him over the edge.  He approaches Clark and Margot while having dinner, first turning a gun on him, then on her.  The screen goes dark as shots are fired.

In a subplot, Junior finds that he needs the shady connections of Senior (Michael Madsen) to crack the case.  Senior for his part, convinces his daughter Agnes (Stella Maeve) to take a ride with him...what could have been for next season.  Next Question ends with us learning that Clark will now work to clear the innocents blamed for Pablo's killings, but that this cost him two weeks in a coma, and that both Owen and McKenzie are in seven years no longer with us. 

We are told to come back next week for more Golden Boy.  Promises, promises...

As I stated, Next Question left us with a host of questions: what DID happen to Margot?  how did Owen and McKenzie meet their ends (the pilot did suggest something about a shooting, but whether that would have happened in the future or was what already occurred in Sacrifice we know not)?  What will become of Arroyo now that his life seemed to implode in one day? 

Those questions are likely never to be answered now that Golden Boy has been cancelled, but for myself I am not a fan of long teases (which might explain my dating life, but I digress). 

Nicholas Wootton, Golden Boy's creator, penned the season/series finale, and I trust that he knew the wisdom of featuring September 11th as part of his story.  I do not look kindly to such things, fearing that such a horrific and traumatizing event in human history should not be relegated to a plot device. 

That, however, is not the only thing I found fault with in Next Question.  Again, the idea that all the cases have to be connected somehow is something I'm finding more and more ludicrous (McKenzie's brother, Holbrook's Client Number 9 deal), and now this: a twelve-year-old murder conveniently coming together with the case they are investigating?  That point I might concede only because I cannot recall anything about the present-day murder, which is not a good thing. 

That isn't to say Next Question didn't have anything good in it.  Michael Madsen, though underused in both his episodes, has a good comeback at the beautiful Theo James' expense.  This is the first time they have seen each other in years, and Walter Clark, Senior greets his son with, "How's your modeling career?"  Cinematically, I thought it was highly clever that McBride's Owen in his flash-flashbacks would enter the light whenever he threatened someone, but slip into the shadows when he was being soft and gentle; this is a good twist in the visual department.  Credit also has to go to Alejandro, an undiscovered acting treasure who really needs to work more.  Apologies to the breathtakingly beautiful James, but Alejandro was the more compelling actor with the deeper character as opposed to James' Clark, whom the series kept shifting from good to bad.

I know, that was the point of Golden Boy: to see how he became whoever he became, but James was a bit more bland, especially to the good cop/bad man Arroyo who in one season we see slowly evolve and even crumble.  Clark just seemed to be more grumpy and short-tempered, as if his years on the force did not shape him into someone with more (or less) compassion or insight.  Arroyo on the other hand, was the more fascinating character.  I'll give you that James is prettier than Alejandro (though the latter ain't bad-looking by any stretch), but I would give Alejandro the title of 'better actor'...and he wasn't the lead.

It almost made me wish Arroyo had punched Clark.  Heaven knows he had many reasons to do so.

Next Question was not a bad way to end Golden Boy.  However, the questionable use of September 11th as well as the questions never to be answered leave a lot to be desired....


Next Episode: None due to Cancellation.
Golden Boy Series Overview

You're the only one who does now...

Golden Boy: Beast Of Burden Review


Rookie Finds Client Number 9.5

Beast of Burden, our twelfth and next-to-last episode of this now-cancelled series, is by far the worst Golden Boy episode of the entire season.  Had there been more seasons, Beast of Burden might have been the worst Golden Boy episode of the entire series.  There is so much thrown at us, so many subplots and nonsensical story twists that appear in the hour-long running time that if Beast of Burden had been among the first instead of among the last Golden Boy episodes, the show would have been cancelled much sooner.

We go back to Paul Daly (Richard Kind), the reporter interviewing Commissioner Walter Clark (Theo James) in the pilot.   We hear about the issue with then-Deputy Mayor Carlton Holbrook (Eric Morris), and we now slip back into the past.  Then Detective Clark and the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Holbrook (Trieste Kelly Dunn) are enjoying the pleasures of a hot shower when duty calls.

In the first of what can only be called unbelievable twists, the case in question is tied directly to the Deputy Mayor.  A prostitute is found dead in a hotel, and the man last seen with her is none other than Deputy Mayor Carlton Holbrook.  Clark, who already hates Holbrook for being a nuisance in his relationship, now has something to use (apart from the bribes he has evidence Holbrook has been taking).  While Owen (Chi McBride) urges caution (which is really what he always urges but is rarely taken up on), Clark charges full steam ahead.

As it happens, Holbrook admits he was with his favorite good-time girl, but that what happened was that when he woke up, she was already dead and he has no idea how this happened?

What, did they steal this idea from The Godfather Part II?

In any way, we now have to find who killed this hooker.  The newest suspect is...MARGOT! (Dun, dun DUN).  Somehow, she failed to mention in her trysts that her husband had been consorting with a particularly hooker, and that she had been in a fight with her, or that she had a bracelet or necklace that once might have belonged to Margot.

How soon we forget...

Well, we now have the guy who set Holbrook up (seriously, did they steal all this from Godfather Part II?), an Armenian mobster (?) whom Holbrook at first asks Clark to kill for him (??) but who in a chase manages to get killed by Clark (???).   In exchange for this killing, Holbrook won't tell others that Clark once committed perjury for his father as a kid (????). 

Oh, and in between all this, we get a subplot where Detective Diaco (Holt McCallany) must deal with his increasingly senile father Francis (Dan Hedaya) and at long last, Agnes (Stella Maeve) meets her long-lost father (Michael Madsen).

I don't think they could have created as spectacularly disastrous an episode as they did with Beast of Burden.  Perhaps by now they knew Golden Boy was bound for the dump heap, so they opted to go all-out in creating something that would look so astoundingly bad it would justify CBS' decision to get rid of the series as soon as they fulfilled the initial 13-episode commitment. 

The chances that Holbrook, a man who has been fastidiously careful in all his actions, should suddenly be found to be the prime suspect in the killing of a hooker is insulting to the audience who has remained loyal to the show.  It also doesn't help that they appear to steal from the Law & Order playbook and make Holbrook a substitute for Elliot Spitzer, who minus the dead body was similarly brought down by a hooker sex scandal as "Client Number 9".

The fact that Clark, Jr. was the alibi for his father in, wait for it, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, is laughable (and another time I wondered whether the production team just picked movie titles and plots at random and shoved them down our throats).

Adding to that idea, since when did we slip into Dad territory?  While I don't find fault in Hedaya's performance, the entire subplot of Diaco's father seemed like filler, something to stretch out the episode while we moved away from the increasingly bizarre and idiotic storyline.  Until this point, I didn't even Diaco had a wife, let alone a family life.  This is clearly the production's fault, since no other episode has so much as bothered to give McCallany much to do.  The Diacos domestic situation seems to come from another show altogether, and I cannot understand why Golden Boy waited until now, near the end of their first season, to venture A.) outside the precinct into a secondary characters private life, and B.) away from the titular character.  We had the whole season to delve into the Arroyo/McKenzie affair, and got bits (usually at the end) with Owen's life.  We have been putting much effort into the love triangle of Clark, Dixon, and Holbrook, but now, NOW, we get Diaco's life.  Honestly, I rarely if ever even heard his first name, let alone anything outside the job.

Another aspect that was introduced way at the beginning but has never been touched since is Clark's nervous hands.  In either the first or second episode his trembling hands (the results of the circumstances that got him to Detective) were introduced, but now, after apparently never seeing a therapist (which I figure is standard in any shooting involving police officers) he is a dead shot.  I don't buy it, nor do I buy that the Armenian mobster (that already a bit of a stretch) would still be killed by Clark in a plan that works out for Holbrook. 

Beast of Burden shows Arroyo as being the most sensible detective around.  "History, motive, and means," he says when their attention turns to Dixon (already someone who never bothered to mention any of this to her lover, or apparently to her lawyer, who could make hay out of how Holbrook has been cheating on her).  Besides, given how Holbrook nearly got Arroyo killed you would think he would applaud Dixon. 

There are a few moments of wit.  "Which head are you thinking with now?" Owen asks Clark when the latter won't answer what he's thinking of.  Madsen also gets a great opening when he first appears, seemingly out of nowhere, to defend his daughter from a bully at the coffee shop. 

However, these bits are not enough to save Beast of Burden from being an embarrassment all around, as if even they gave up on the series altogether. 


Next Episode: Next Question

Golden Boy: Longshot Review


Rookie Shoots And Scores...

On the eleventh episode of Golden Boy we go into what seems to be a spectacular case: the murder of a major basketball star.  Longshot has in a sense, another continuing theme from Golden Boy: the sins of the father are visited upon the son.  In fact, if one thinks about it, this is the third episode where a parent's past fells the child (after Scapegoat and Sacrifice).  Whether it is intentional or not I know not, but Longshot is a more favorable variation on this theme and a better Golden Boy episode than we've seen...but not by much.

Commissioner Walter Clark (Theo James) makes a purchase of a very rare item, which takes him back to the case that brought him here.  Quinlan Reed (Jay Horton), a LeBron James-type basketball star, has been found murdered in the team's workout facility.  Given that Reed made his own version of "The Announcement" (side note: that was one of the most self-serving and embarrassing moments in television history, up there with the opening of Al Capone's vaults), there are many suspects. 

However, the 39th Precinct, including Detective Deb McKenzie (Bonnie Somerville), who doesn't know who Quinlan is (she follows baseball), narrow it down to one or two.  The first is Martin Wilson (Walter Jones), a member of his entourage who was helping train Quinlan.  Martin is as ex-con, so he claims to have panicked at finding Quinlan's body.  We then get another suspect in Vince Cole (Glenn Fleary), an old running buddy of Quinlan who recently had a fight with him (caught on videotape of course, think the Drake/Chris Brown fracas). 

As the investigation goes on, Deputy Mayor Holbrook (Eric Morris) wants regular updates into this high-profile case.  Complicating things is that Holbrook, soon-to-be-ex of Clark's mistress, Margot (Trieste Kelly Dunn), has finally found out about their relationship.  Is his interest in the case only because Quinlan played for New York, or is it to keep tabs on Clark?  It might be for revenge, as Clark and Owen (Chi McBride) are taken off the case after they arrest Vince, who has the most amazing alibi: he was robbing a store at the time of the murder.

The case takes a turn when we find that Quinlan's father Darryl (Charles Malik Whitfield) is the one that suggested Martin to his son and who was on the same winning basketball team with Martin back in the day.  The marks of a distinctive ring on Quinlan's face makes them turn their attention to Martin, who was on the championship team before he turned to crime.  However, I offer ONE GUESS as to who else might have a similar ring...

Darryl is much more involved in the case than he is letting on, and while Clark finds evidence that Holbrook is on the take, his mentor Owen (Chi McBride) offers advise of not moving in so quickly.  This corruption is connected somewhat to the case, for Darryl had mismanaged his son's finances, causing a break.  From there, we find that Martin might be trying to cover up for his friend, but Owen shows him that he now has a second chance and it would be foolish for him to give it up.  The sins of the father come to light as we find who killed Quinlan Reed.

On other fronts, Detective Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) is hedging his bets: while he claims to want to be with Deb, he hasn't quite given up on keeping his marriage to Lorraine going.  Nora Clark (Polly Draper) and daughter Agnes (Stella Maeve) in their own way attempt to get Walter to see or look for his father.  Agnes has discovered Walter, Sr.'s criminal past...on the Internet of all things.  We end with Commissioner Clark at someone's graduation, that of Martin's nephew, and the Commissioner presenting Martin with a particular ring...

Longshot again has that thread of how in particular fathers cause problems for their sons.  There are three screenwriters (Brett Mahoney, Jennifer Corbett, and Christal Henry), but I don't know if they were asked to hit on something we've seen already.  The major drawback to that is that since we've had the son be the killer in one episode, is it really a surprise when we see the father bump off his child in another?  More and more Golden Boy is focusing on the triangle between Clark, Dixon, and Holbrook, with sometimes laughable results (how did Holbrook manage to tip off his ex without anyone suspecting it).  What is suppose to be the subplot is turning into the central story, and I leave it up the viewer whether he/she likes it or not (I could do without it). 

I also could do without the talk of Clark's criminal past as a yute (to use Nuw Yowkese).  It is becoming uninteresting to hear in almost every episode how he was a juvenile delinquent who was either pushed into it via his father (the father/son issue coming in again) or just did it to vent.  Longshot was better than the past few episodes, but overall I find Golden Boy is beginning to dim.


Next Episode: Beast of Burden

Golden Boy: Sacrifice Review


Rookie Finds Model Behavior...

We've reached our tenth Golden Boy episode, and this one may be the worst one yet.  The show, which due to low ratings was cancelled before Sacrifice aired, could hardly afford to make episodes this weak and even nonsensical.  Golden Boy was sold as the backstory of how titular (and gorgeous) character William Clark (Theo James) became in seven years the youngest Police Commissioner in New York City's history.  Sacrifice now signals that Golden Boy will be about his love life, one that has nothing to do with the latest crime, a crime that leads us down so many roads that ultimately take us nowhere.

We start seven years in the future, where Commissioner Clark is at a parole hearing, speaking about how the parole candidate did not do what good parents do: make sacrifices for their children.  Instead, the parole candidate made his children sacrifice for him, and that leads us to the case in hand.

There is a missing girl who has sadly been found washed up from the river.  She is Shana Taylor (Harper Carroll), teen girl and aspiring model.  At the crime scene is none other than Margot Dixon (Trieste Kelly Dunn), Clark's unofficial girlfriend.  Oddly, this reporter thinks Clark will give her some information.  Can't imagine why.  It also strikes Clark as odd that her estranged husband, Deputy Mayor Carlton Holbrook (Eric Morris) has tapped him to be a liaison for the Safe City Initiative (whether this is related to the Safe Streets Initiative mentioned in Just Say No is left unanswered). 

As the investigation continues, we find that Shana might not have been an aspiring model, or rather that she herself did not actually aspire to be one.  These dreams of fame and fortune came about from her mother, Linda (Anastasia Barzee), who moved her daughter from the Midwest to New York to enter Shana in the world of high fashion (already we think shades of an older JonBenet Ramsey).  Shana's father Hank (Jeb Brown) had opposed her move, but he wasn't the one who had custody after the divorce, did he? 

While Detectives McKenzie (Bonnie Somerville) and Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) investigate the contemptible modeling agent Spenser Amano (Carman Lacivita), who had curiously taken out a life insurance policy on Shana, we get a clue from Shana herself.  She had been caught shoplifting, but her 'father' had come to the store and gotten her out without an actual arrest.  Yet how could this be if Hank was half a country away? 

Well, that answer comes easily.  Neil Jacobs (Christopher Evan Welch), a neighbor who sells antiques from his home, is the 'father' from the video.  However, when Owen, Clark, and Joe Diaco (Holt McCallany) come to ask questions, he has up and left.  It seems that The City Light, the newspaper Margot writes for, has received a mysterious scoop that allowed Jacobs to flee.

More incompetence from the future Commissioner, a little inappropriate pillow talk, perhaps?

Well, now the 39th Precinct has to find Jacobs, which they do.  At first he appears to be a potential but not serious suspect, but things get pushed to a whole new level when Hank decides to be an avenging angel and gun down Jacobs.  Clark instinctively tackles Hank, saving Arroyo in the process.

The shooting leaves Arroyo rattled in more ways than one.  It's bad enough that he nearly got shot, but that the Boy Wonder saved his life is almost unbearable.  Still, this changes Arroyo tremendously: he now seriously comes close to leaving Lorraine for Deb, and also pushes him to investigate the source.

Sadly, that source is not's none other than Holbrook!  The fact that his ally in bringing Clark down nearly got him killed infuriates Arroyo, so much so that he actually starts helping Clark, shocking everyone around him.  More devastating is that McKenzie has clearly moved on and is starting to see someone else. 

As for the investigation, well attention turns from Jacobs to Linda, whom they suspect of being a stage mother.  However, as it turns out Linda, while pushy, was also unaware of Shana's friendship with Jacobs.  A wristband both Shana and Jacobs wore proves the missing clue.

As for the future, we find that Commissioner Clark was at the parole hearing...of his father, and as he storms out angrily we find that Sacrifice would probably have caused Golden Boy to not be renewed if the decision hadn't already been made.

Frankly, this last twist not only was not a surprise but one I figured almost from the beginning.  It also is a flaw in Andi Bushell and Brett Mahoney's script (one of many) in that the theme of Sacrifice, that of the parent who sacrifices their child for their own interests, is not followed through. 

The end result is that Linda may have been a poor mother, but it never decided whether she was reprehensible or just clueless.  Barzee's performance as the constantly whimpering mother did not help.  Linda was softened in the screenplay to make it look like she might have been merely clueless rather than vicious.  Brown's distraught father was similarly overplayed, so much so that the phrase, "He doth protest too much" came to mind; I even wondered whether HE killed his own daughter given how exaggerated he was.  It certainly would not only have been a better twist but it actually would have tied into the theme of Sacrifice, whose ending was nowhere related to the crime of the weak...I mean, week.

That is just one of the myriad of difficulties Sacrifice has.  We have so many clichés of what we've seen before it really doesn't elevate the episode to anything particularly good.  You could even make an argument that even the title is unoriginal.  You have the stage mother, the father about to kill the suspect, the office shooting...what is special about situations that appear to be going through the motions than telling us something unique.

Further, one wonders HOW, given they no longer live together, Deputy Mayor Holbrook could be the inside source.  That question is never answered, as well as why Amano would take a life insurance policy on a teenager he is suppose to promote.  The shady world of teen/tween models is touched on, but not explored.  Instead, we get another cliché: the creepy neighbor who at first is innocent then via a convenient wristband is guilty. 

About the only good thing in Sacrifice was Alejandro's Arroyo, a man who, having faced death head on, might actually be turning a new leaf.  His story would be fascinating to watch, but given it's CLARK we're suppose to care about... 

Sacrifice signals that the Dixon/Clark/Holbrook triangle will become the central storyline of Golden Boy, which I think is a poor decision.  Less now about how William Clark found his destiny, Sacrifice shows it is slipping into soap opera. 


Next Episode: Longshot

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Golden Boy: Atonement Review


Rookie Shows Some Respect...

In our ninth Golden Boy episode, we get a little bit of divine guidance when investigating the murder of a priest.  Sadly, no miracles could save the sinking show, and while Atonement makes smart decisions in regards to previously-seen characters, we also get some truly laughable 'twists' that make this a pretty abysmal episode in a series about to meet an untimely end.

Father Steven Truitt (Hisham Tawfiq) approaches Commissioner Walter Clark (Theo James) in church, discussing the Commissioner's offer to be the NYPD Chaplain.  This has Clark going back seven years to when he was a rookie.  Clark has finally found a love life, having an affair with Margot Dixon (Trieste Kelly Dunn), the reporter from McKenzie on Fire who is doing 'undercover work' with Clark, shall we say.  She however, has a problem.  She is going through a divorce, and the soon-to-be-ex is none other than Deputy Mayor Carlton Holbrook. 

How a detective never figured out the woman he was sleeping with is married to someone who might cause problems for him in the immediate future is left unexplained, but I digress.

In any case his girlfriend is not his only concern.  Nora Clark (Polly Draper), Clark's mother, has going missing, and despite his sister Agnes' (Stella Maeve) concern, Walter is dismissive of the whole situation.  As far as he's concerned, Nora has been a screw-up and this disappearance is just another sign of how bad of a person she is. 

Still, cases must be solved, and we have a doozy.  A priest known for helping criminals has been murdered, and as far as Detective Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro) is concerned, good riddance to bad rubbish.  Even the remarkably pleasant Detective Diaco (Holt McCallany) is not broken up about the good father's end.  However, Clark and Detective Owen (Chi McBride) know personal feelings are irrelevant and the crime must be solved.

In the middle of this case is Natasha (Stephanie Brait), the reluctant informant last seen in The Price of Revenge and whom we know is doomed to die before Clark becomes Commissioner.  She was found with literal blood on her hands as well as stolen watches in her possession.  Has she been stealing and rubbed the padre out to protect herself?  No, she insists.  She was turning her life around and he was helping her.  She was attempting to save his life for she found him, but couldn't.

We do have a suspect: Miguel Montez (Andhy Mendez) whose daughter was killed and whose killer the Catholic priest would not reveal.  Sadly, he has an alibi and things are looking pretty bad for Natasha.  Arroyo is convinced she is up to no good, but given their past she won't talk to him or Clark, so we turn to the woman, Detective McKenzie (Bonnie Somerville). 

Arroyo has a habit of having conclusions and using them as a starting point, a bit of working his way backwards.  Despite his good track record obviously Clark is not going to try that approach.  Instead, he does what any sensible person would do: allow a suspect in a murder case one hour of unsupervised freedom to allow her to find the fence she thinks killed the priest.

Poor decision-making skills on the part of Clark give Arroyo a perfect weapon and at long last Owen let's Clark know what's what.  Part of that involves NOT letting suspects wander off without having any idea where they are going.  Eventually, the entire precinct is dragged into Clark's incompetence, leading to a wild chase where Natasha is being held hostage.  Atonement ends with Natasha getting shot (though whether she actually dies is left unanswered), Agnes discovering Nora's secret (she has found a job as a cleaning lady and does not want her daughter to know) and Holbrook needing forgiveness seven years from now.

Much of my difficulty with Atonement involves the idiotic decisions of the Clark family.  First is that the big secret of Nora's (that she's a cleaning lady) is so laughable, finding no payoff with this revelation.  Given how bad of a mother Nora has been, one would think if she had any common sense she would relish the idea of telling both her children that she has found a job.  We also have Walter's shockingly insensitive reaction to both his mother's disappearance and his sister's concern.  Yes, Nora may have been rather inept as a mother, but to just be so flippant makes our hero rather loathsome. 

Finally, the idea that any sensible person would allow a suspect to wander about without so much as having someone tail her is just dumb.  Andi Bushell and Brett Mahoney's screenplay make it clear that Walter is slowly blending Natasha and Agnes in his mind but somehow this boneheaded decision is simply inexcusable. 

It's clear that the affair entre William et Margot and the triangle with Holbrook is slowly building in Golden Boy, though I wonder whether the payoff will be anywhere as good as the future sequences suggest. this I am cheating a bit since I already know (somewhat) where this subplot is going, and it's nice to see the bits coming together.  It does work, but given what we already know, it does make the ending more vague, not less.

Still, I find Maeve's performance as Agnes the most interesting: at a crossroad between being a naïve, sweet girl and a woman, she is compelling in her story (and more nice than her idiot brother).  Kudos also to Alejandro, who shows that he may not be the best man around, but certainly among the best cops in the 39th Precinct. 

Ultimately, Atonement may not just be hinting that Holbrook will be playing a larger role in Golden Boy in the future, but also that the overall story is now turning to the here and now and less to how Detective Walter Clark in seven years becomes Commissioner Walter Clark.  On its own, I found Atonement starting to show Golden Boy is slowly losing its golden touch.


Next Episode: Sacrifice

The Happening: A Review


Everyone Knows It's Windy...

I don't care what anyone says, The Happening is one of the greatest films ever made, a terrific send-up of apocalyptic horror films and a delightful spoof of the genre. 

Oh, what's WASN'T suppose to be a comedy?  My bad.

When I think of The Happening, I don't think of this turd of a film, filled with its own self-importance and 'meaning'.  Instead, I think of a jaunty little number by The Supremes.  The Happening is a good song.  The Happening is a disaster in every way imaginable, as if M. Night Shyamalan, someone who apparently doesn't value his career anymore, wanted to spend the money given him and make just a terrible, terrible film...even by his mediocre standards.  The wunderkind who once was hailed as the next Steven Spielberg is now looking more and more like the next Ed Wood.

There are strange events going on in New England, particularly New York City.  In Central Park, people suddenly freeze, look blankly, then commit horrific acts of suicide (they stab themselves with hairpins, throw themselves off buildings).  Mass chaos ensues as the idea spreads that this is the work of 'terrorists' via some gas attack.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia science teacher Elliot Moore (Marky Mark/Mark Walhberg), is explaining to his students the disappearance of bees when he hears of these 'attacks'.  Sensing danger, he contacts his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and decide it is best to go to Harrisburg for safety. 

Taking the train, they are met by their friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez).   There is much danger within and without the train.  Alma might be having an affair, and Julian cannot reach his wife.  Eventually we learn that there are more victims, for this 'attack' is spreading.  As a result, the train is forced to stop almost in the middle of nowhere, forcing the quartet to attempt to move on.  Julian decides (after a long, long, drawn-out farewell) to leave Jess with the Moores while he goes to attempt to rescue his wife.  However, after being involved in a car accident, Julian does what the others do and kills himself.

The Moores and Jess eventually find others who are attempting to make sense of what is going on.  They are met by among others Private Auster (Jeremy Strong) and a couple of kids, Josh and Jared (Spencer Breslin and Robert Bailey, Jr. respectively).  Science teacher Elliot finally puts it all together: its the plants who are attacking humanity for reasons unknown.  Somehow the plants are communicating with each other and launching a series of attacks that cause people to kill themselves.  All the people have to do is stay ahead of the wind, Elliot Moore tells them.

Well, not everyone can 'stay ahead of the wind'.  Even Elliot realizes the insanity of talking to a plant to reason with it.  Jared and Josh are shot to death by paranoid people hiding in their homes, and the Moores and Jess finally take refuge with Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), who gives new meaning to 'crazy old lady'.  At the end, the Moores heal their marriage and basically 'adopt' Jess after surviving the horrors of the violent foliage, with the attack having been relegated to just New England; but beware: in Paris, people suddenly stop for no apparent reason...

 Mark Wahlberg's expression throughout.
Get used to it.
It just is hard to judge whether or not Shyamalan was serious when he made The Happening, whether he thought everything in it was either innovative or shocking or scary, or whether he thought it would be a lark to take the money given him, buy a house and car, then decide to throw feces on the screen for an hour and a half and try to pass it off as a real movie.  One can watch The Happening in some sort of stupefied wonder as to how everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I mean everything.

Let's start with the performances.  Mark Wahlberg has been hailed as a great actor, and an Oscar nomination for playing a version of himself in The Departed seems to have locked the deal.  I have long argued that Marky Mark can't act, but is just a smarter version of Channing Tatum.  Even if I granted that he could act, his performance was frightful: emotionalless, devoid of any sense, making his furrowed brow indicate all the range of a mannequin.  Any person who shows no emotion when attempting to convince an audience that his character could seriously be attempting to reason with a potted plant is already doomed to failure.  Of course, there is something to be said about Marky Mark playing the voice of logic and reason.  Perhaps not since Charlton Heston played a Mexican in Touch of Evil or Mickey Rooney the buck-toothed Japanese photographer in Breakfast at Tiffany's has an actor been so wildly miscast as Wahlberg was playing a scientist.

The only difference is that both Heston and Rooney could act...

How smart could Science Teacher Elliot be if he didn't realize he was inside a model house? 

Actually, there is not one good performance in The Happening.  Deschanel in her first scene looks comically crazed, as if she is still debating whether she was suppose to take any of this seriously.  In turns idiot and deranged, Deschanel should ask that all copies of this film be destroyed less they come back to haunt her New Girl career.  Leguizamo attempted to out-underact Wahlberg with his slow, dull Julian.  They both looked almost shell-shocked, as if wondering how they could get out of this fiasco.  His long farewell scene was so long at one point I actually wrote, "Oh, Leguizamo just GO already!" 

I hate going after a little girl, but Sanchez is simply the worst child actress of all time.  There is nothing that excuses her lousy performance where even the most simple line readings were delivered in a bored, dead manner.  I also hate going after old people, but Buckley's Mrs. Moore was just as idiotic.  She (or Shyamalan) could never decide whether Mrs. Moore was human: she was a creepy old lady who appeared to be insane even before she met the killer pollen.  She was comically crazy...and that seems to be a running theme throughout The Happening, how there were only two types of people occupying this world: either the comically crazy or the emotionally stunted.

The story itself doesn't want to take things seriously.  There is a subplot of Alma and Elliot's marriage being on the rocks.  If I understand it correctly, Elliot is jealous when Alma confesses she had dessert with another man.  DESSERT?  How dare she partake in pastries without her single-expression husband?  It reminds me of a scene from an episode of The Golden Girls, where Rose has gone to a fancy restaurant that her cheapskate boyfriend Miles only visits to pick up day-old pastries.  When she is discovered by Miles, Rose begs his forgiveness.  "I didn't mean to eat behind your back," she says.   Alma might just as well have said that.  It would have made as much sense as the introduction of a story that was ultimately irrelevant to anything going on. 

I also wondered why Julian had to constantly carry Jess around in his arms.  At one point I actually wondered whether little Jess was capable of walking given Julian's insistence on carrying his ten-to-twelve year old girl all over the place.

Characters pop in and out without reason, everyone was directed to play this as hyper-serious as possible and never show any real sense of emotion.  We're asked to believe nonsense (such as when after a frightful crash, Julian can walk out of it with hardly a scratch before taking glass and slitting his wrists).  James Newton Howard's score tries too hard to be spooky when it only adds to the ridiculousness of the entire project. 

There's taking things seriously, and then there's being serious to where it's unintentionally funny.  The Happening goes for the latter, determined to make every wrong decision whenever it can.  What can be said of someone who keeps making worse and worse films (The Village, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth) and somehow is STILL being hired?

The film is badly-written with an inane plot.  The film is badly-directed, with some shockingly inept performances from the entire cast bar none.  The Happening ultimately might not be the worse film M. Night Shyamalan has made, but for someone once touted as 'the new Spielberg', The Happening proves that reports of Shyamalan's genius were greatly exaggerated.