Thursday, January 31, 2013

And What Do We Do With Witches? Laugh!

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

Having seen Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I have to ask why is there such hatred towards it?  Is Hansel & Gretel a great film?  NO!  Is it a horrible film?  NO!  While Hansel & Gretel is by no means intelligent or clever and has issues in regards to overall plot, it is a fast, fun, zippy little bit of fluff, not to be taken seriously.

We get the basics to the Grimm fairy tale most of us know: little Hansel and his sister Gretel are left in the forest by their father (Thomas Scharff).  While there, they encounter a house made out of candy, enticing our pair.  However, it's a nefarious trap, set up by a witch, one who forces Hansel to eat mountains of candy with the intent of cooking them.  However, Gretel frees herself then Hansel and together they throw the witch into the fire.  They have found their mission in life.

Jump to "Many Years Later" (and that IS how it appears on the screen).  The adult Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have been summoned to a village because several children have been disappearing (we know this because their pictures are on milk bottles...seriously).  The local Sheriff (Peter Stormare) does not want these 'witch hunters' in his town, figuring he and his posse can do themselves.  However, their presence thrills Ben (Thomas Mann), their biggest super-fan.  He has been following their careers for years, keeping clippings of all their exploits.  Hansel isn't all that interested in Ben's fixations but Gretel is a little more gracious.

Soon, we find why the children are disappearing: there is to be a Blood Moon in three nights hence, and the children are needed in some sort of ceremony for a witches/bitches brew (or perhaps as snacks for the other witches to munch on).  This ceremony, which involves taking the heart of a White Witch (or a descendant) will make them immune from fire.  The head of the Witches, one Muriel (Famke Janssen), knows where she can get her hands on a certain heart, but more on that later.

Soon, after some hunting, the siblings are separated: Gretel inspires lustful thoughts to Ben, while Hansel inspires full-on frolicking with Mina (Pihla Vitala), a woman they'd saved earlier from burning.  We also learn that a troll named Edward (Derek Mears, voiced by Robin Adkins Downes) has been helping the witches, although he has a good heart (saving Gretel at one point).  Eventually, we discover there was a reason why Hansel and Gretel were left in the forest: far from being abandoned, they were being saved because their mother was a White Witch.  Their parents were killed by frightened villagers, and Muriel was too late to get at their mother's heart.

Not too late though, to get at the heiress.

Now Hansel, along with Ben and Mina (whom we discover is a Good Witch...begging the question if Glinda is her cousin because she tells us that basically only bad witches are ugly) must rescue Gretel and kill Muriel and her minions once and for all.

I just don't follow why so many of my brethren seem to detest Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.  I judge a movie based on what it is trying to do.  Hansel & Gretel is just suppose to be a good time, something to while away a pretty fast 90-odd minutes without taxing one mentally.  In that regard, the film then must be considered a success.

This isn't to say I thought Hansel & Gretel is a great film or even an intelligent film.  Often I was forced to suppress the giggles at some of the performances, in particular from Janssen as this wicked witch who can change from ugly to...well, Famke Janssen.  Then again, here we are at the crux of Hansel & Gretel: exactly how much are we suppose to take any of this seriously?  I'd argue that we aren't suppose to take much of it seriously. 

It isn't a spoof because there really is no winking at the audience where everyone knows this is all a joke.  Mann, Arterton, and in particular Renner (who often comes across as someone who can never take anything lightly) are playing the parts straight.  However, I'd say that the witches appear to be more the humorous group, not exactly playing it camp but also not appearing to be particularly straight.  In short, Hansel & Gretel is neither spoof nor downright action/horror film.

What is was in my view was a hybrid, one that accepted the oddball premise but didn't go too far in either ridiculing it or taking it all seriously.  I'd argue it leans more for the serious side, but it has enough action to not let it wallow in any grand tones.

However, this was an element that I found slightly disconcerting.  Writer/director Tommy Wirkola (co-written with D.W. Harper) were very indulgent in the gore and violence, which is far too bloody for my taste, and certainly not for children.  I was a little disturbed to see people (not witches, but people) being torn apart and in one point having their heads literally stomped on.  I would advise STRONGLY against taking children.  This is not a film for kids.  It is meant for teens and adults, so don't let the subject matter dull you into a sense that this is a family film.

In terms of performances the only one that stood out was Mann's eager fan Ben, who understood that he was playing the comic relief.  He was light and amusing.  Renner at times didn't appear to believe his own dialogue, but when we get the action scenes, his scowl works well.  Arterton is there, and while I wasn't impressed she didn't embarrass herself.

What I found to dislike (if anything) about Hansel & Gretel is that almost all of the action scenes were difficult to follow and the plot had one too many coincidences, such as the final confrontation between the siblings and Muriel taking place in the same candy-coated house of their youth.  Also, while it is good to note the danger of eating too much candy, I would imagine the diabetes Hansel acquired from his time with the witch did not spring from the overindulgence in what would have been a remarkably short time.

However, despite all these points, when I left Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I left with a smile on my face.  I enjoyed it (though not the hint of more films...never liked that in almost any film). It may have been dumb, it may have been goofy, and it may have been a weak film.  However, I can't say that I didn't enjoy my time with it.  Mindless entertainment that didn't aim for more than to give me a few laughs, some oddball action and a fast story (so fast I didn't think much on or of it)?   Can't complain. 

Yes, we read the script.
Why do you ask?


 
DECISION: C+     

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Franklin and Bash Remember Their First Time


FRANKLIN & BASH: WAITING ON A FRIEND

We now have in Waiting on a Friend another Franklin & Bash episode which is less about the case than about the characters, specifically in how "Jared" Franklin (Breckin Meyer, and the quotes will be explained later) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) came to be these lifelong friends who have never moved away from their decades-long bromance.  Perhaps I'm softening to how Franklin & Bash is no longer the show I remembered: one where the juvenile antics of our titular heroes was balanced by their relationship versus to this season where they are just two stupid men who find that either others or a little bit of luck can bail them out of things.  However, while Waiting on a Friend was predictable at every turn, in this case familiarity didn't breed contempt.

The New York office has come to Los Angeles, in particular one Richard Tafflinger (David Constabile, and even the character's name makes him sound villainous).  Whenever he's around, the firm knows he's after someone to fire.   This time, the targets are Jared and Peter.  A former client from their ambulance-chasing days, Tammi Sutton (Carla Gallo) has accused them of giving her money to skip trial.  To help investigate them Tafflinger brings Emily Adams (Shiri Appleby, whom I'll always remember from Roswell, a show cancelled far too soon, but I digress).

With Tafflinger in charge, he soon starts questioning those who work for Jared and Peter: their aide Pindar Singh (Kumail Nanjiani) and investigator Carmen Phillips (Dana Davis).  Of course, this really is nothing more than an excuse to flashback to when they first met.  We are also treated to when Jared and Peter first met, in 1988 when both were in elementary school.  Here's a shocker: Jared was the taller of the two back then, and Peter was a short, fat fellow! 

Whatever are the odds?

Pindar met them in 2000, when all were in law school and he was playing his panophobia to make himself a player-type.  Carmen met them seven years later when they worked her case and found her skills helpful.

Tafflinger selects Damien Karp (Reed Diamond) to defend them against Tammi, much to the consternation of all three of them. 

As the investigation goes on, we find that Franklin & Bash can't be constricted by Karp's limitations.  His inability to introduce Tammi's breasts (in particular, a tattoo over her left breast) into evidence gets him fired by our boys.  They now have to find their own way of winning their case even as the odds continue piling up against them.  We need only go back to their first case (which earned them the first of their 47 contempt charges) to see that their behavior, as dubious as it may be, got them results.  In their first case (mind you, they were cited for contempt on their first case, two days into it to boot), they were suing a theme park for causing trauma to a little boy who had the misfortune of seeing his favorite character remove his kangaroo head and take a drag.

It doesn't look like they are likely to win, and Peter isn't too keen on what Jared cooked up for him.  However, being a shockingly weak-willed individual, the taller of the two goes along with the midget's scheme: to burst into the courtroom wearing a kangaroo suit while dangling a cigarette from his mouth.  The little boy screams in terror, the judge throws them both in jail, and the theme park notifies them they want to settle.

In regards to Tammi, they discover that she had once worked on a roller derby team, one where the girls wore a rather revealing tube top.  Being the case, the judge overturns his previous decision and admits the breast into evidence.  We see that far from being bad lawyers, Franklin and Bash had actually been quite helpful to her, and that the tats she had were all related to her criminal past.  That includes that breast tattoo which showed she had indeed made a boob out of herself.

With Franklin and Bash vindicated, their jobs are not threatened...for now.  Jared, whom we discover is really named Elmo (a family name he says), also turns out to have won, successfully using his leprechaun charms to win Emily over.



It's a curious thing to me that Waiting on a Friend went back into the past to see how our anti-heroes first met because this flashback idea usually doesn't come so early in a series.  All television programs either start with the characters first meeting or have an episode where we see how it all started.  In that respect, Waiting on a Friend's screenplay by Pat Sheehan and co-creator Bill Chais doesn't stray from the formula.  It even gives us rather unsurprising scenarios (wouldn't it be HILARIOUS if the character played by the eventually 5'5" Meyer started out as taller than the one the eventually 6' Gosselaar plays, they might have thought, or how about when we 'first see' Pindar, he's a smooth ladies' man rather than the frightened individual we've come to know and love).

In that respect, going back to when our team got together, I find nothing wrong with Waiting on a Friend.   However, because we have this flashback set-up, we are in a sense robbed of a good opportunity to really develop how the relationship Jared and Peter have with Pindar or Carmen or even each other started, let alone grew to what it would become. 

So these two met at a park where they both feared being picked last (been there, done that).  However, in what circumstance did they really meet?  It's doubtful that the wealthy Franklin and the working-class Bash would have gone to the same school together (in Bachelor Party, a previous episode from last season, we've established that Jared went to a rather posh private school that would have been way out of the Bash family budget).  So how did they end up at the same park?  How did they keep in contact over all those years at different schools?  Would Leonard Franklin, knowing him like we do, have tolerated this kid from the wrong side of the tracks being best friends with his son?  What about Mrs. Bash? Why did they both decide to attend law school and go to the same law school together?

Yes, perhaps I am overthinking all this, but Waiting on a Friend pushes me to.  It gives us the scenario of how rich Jared and poor Peter first met, so given that they've been lifelong friends we have to figure out how things go on.  At least one thing is established: Peter appears to be the weaker of the two.  Despite his height Jared is the more dominant one because Peter, not Jared, burst into court wearing the kangaroo suit.  Ever since they were boys Jared has been the one to get Peter to do things, and even now Peter doesn't appear able to get Jared to grow up (again, not a Breckin Meyer short joke).  It looks like Peter WANTS to be the more mature one but at the same time can't cut off someone who doesn't shrink (again, not a short joke) from skipping out on meetings so as to satisfy his need for a special breakfast and amble into work whenever he wants to.

If anything, the relationship between Franklin and Bash now seems almost dangerous than beneficial to Peter's career/life, and it almost looks like they've grown psychologically dependent on each other, which is different than having an actual deep friendship.  It's a curious twist that in an episode that is meant to show how it all got started, to show the whimsy behind the men, it succeeds in making their bromance more depressing than amusing.

One thing that I did like was that Appleby has returned to the screen.  I've always thought she was a better actress than most and one that needs a genuine chance to showcase herself, and Waiting on a Friend shows that she can play smart (certainly smarter than either Jared or Peter).  The fact that she is there to give Jared a romance is almost moot: it was about time he had someone to sleep with.  Of course, given that both of Peter's girls this season (Officer Wendy Cowell and Assistant Prosecutor Janie) have been dropped and not heard from since perhaps Emily should not think about setting up shop. 

Moreover, given that Jared is the less mature of the two, why would we give him a long-term romance? 

In terms of the backstories of both Pindar and Carmen, like I've said it's unfortunate that both were sacrificed to just give us their very first encounters and leave it at that.  It might have been nice to have seen whole episodes on their 'first times', and they might have been good stories to explore.  However, this probably will not be.

It is nice to see Nanjiani play against type at first, but given that in an earlier episode we find that he began his phobias by being a 'sexile' unknown to both Franklin or Bash it does make one wonder how to tie it all together.  The first two episodes were devoted to a character arc about how Pindar became the fearful phobic germ-averse person he grew to be, but now we have a section of another episode devoted to how he managed to fool his classmates that he was in a four-year leg cast?  Somehow, I'm not buying any of it.

One thing that I thought was a lost opportunity was in having Karp defend them.  Perhaps this would have allowed both sides to show a mutual (albeit grudging) respect for each other that would have built up future stories.  We couldn't have that.  Instead, we had to dump Karp to show that our boys could still handle things themselves.  Whatever flaws Damien Karp has, he is not a stupid or incompetent lawyer, and the suggestion that he would have thrown the case is almost unfair. 

In regards to the actual case, given their antics it is amazing that this charge is what caught New York's attention.   Furthermore, the 'case file' Hanna and Karp had been building against them did play a small part in Waiting on a Friend, but was ultimately dropped to where they might not have bothered keeping a list at all.  Why introduce something if you're not going to use it?

Ultimately, while I'm slowly tiring of Franklin & Bash and would like the show I saw first season back, Waiting on a Friend wasn't all that bad.   Either that, or I've grown softer as the season winds down.   




I wonder if Waiting on a Friend was inspired in part by The Math Patrol...

5/10

Next Episode: 6:50 to SLC

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oh Victory, Where is Your Song? Oh Superstar, Where is Your Dance?


SEETHAMMA VAKITLO
SIRIMALLE CHETTU
(SVCV)

As I suspected, the reason we have a Tegulu-language film in El Paso has to do with the Indian community in my hometown.  Obviously, when one thinks of Indians in the West Texas town of El Paso, those from the subcontinent aren't the ones that spring immediately to mind.

However, I have for better or worse begun an unofficial tradition of watching these Tollywood films merely out of insane curiosity.  So for three years, I've been treated to the stylings of one Mahesh Babu, who is referred to as Prince Mahesh or Superstar in his presence.  I'm not going to argue with his fan base, but in the three films Superstar has been in that I've seen, I have enjoyed the experience.  Dookudu, his first, was not dubbed or subtitled, but I followed the plot and was treated to great songs.  The Business Man, the second film, was a darker turn from the zany fun of Dookudu: there was a nihilism to it.  The main character was almost Randian in his worldview with its ideas about rational self-interest trumping such things as 'morality'.  Now we come to his newest venture, Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu (or SVCV for short, which is what I'll be using throughout).  As much as I've enjoyed Superstar's other ventures, SVCV is a personal disappointment.

Yes, I am aware that language IS a big barrier to my appreciation of SVCV, but here's what I gleamed of the plot.  You have two brothers, Peddhodu (Venkatesh Dagubati, generally known as just Venkatesh), who is the older of the two, and Chinnodu (Babu), the younger.  They have a generally close bond.  In their home there is also Sita (Anjali), who I think is a well-regarded servant girl whose been with the family for years.  She is obviously in love with Peddhodu and while he may actually reciprocate her feelings, he is the type who keeps things inside.

Not so his younger brother, who does have a job in the big city (I think).  Well, there is a wedding of their sister or cousin, and at said wedding Chinnodu meets Geetha (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), and both are instantly smitten with each other.

The rest of SVCV relates to Peddhodu finally realizing that if he doesn't speak out about his love for Sita, he will lose her, Chinnodu and Geetha getting together, and the brothers breaking apart and coming together again and again. 

I think that my disappointment with SVCV doesn't come from the near-total inability to understand what is being said.  As I've stated before, I had in the past been able to follow the general plot of Tollywood films sans dubbing or subtitles, and I actually enjoyed The Business Man less with the subtitles (although the darkness of that film made my enjoyment shrink too).  My disappointment with SVCV comes from the fact that Babu is not the star of the film (among other things).  Truth be told, the lion's share of SVCV's storyline is for Venkatesh and Anjali as the frustrated couple. 

We aren't even treated to a big dance scene where they finally unite and confess their love.  Instead, we get songs sung over them, and these musical montages in a Tollywood film threw me off.  I have gotten so used to seeing big, lavish musical numbers that seeing only four musical numbers in the film (and three musical montages) makes me wonder whether Tollywood films are abandoning the format of putting in song-and-dance as part of the story.

We don't even get a nice Item Number (a musical sequence that really adds nothing to the plot but is just an excuse to see a beautiful woman perform with backup dancers).  On the one hand, perhaps writer/director Srikanth Addala was pushing the boundaries of Tollywood to be more character-driven than just an excuse for big numbers held together by a thin story.  However, when we do have musical numbers (including one that had Venkatesh and Anjali literally "singin' in the rain") it almost seems to be thrown in there because it's expected.

I found the numbers (few that there were) interesting cinematically (the first one where Venkatesh and Babu playing counterpoint to each other, though not sharing the screen was well-edited) but not memorable.   It's been two years but I can still remember many of the numbers from Dookudu, one year and I can recall at least one or two numbers from The Business Man.  With SVCV, I can remember two of the four, but I think I'll be hard-pressed to remember them a year from now.

Moreover, judging from the audience's reaction to SVCV (the first time I've seen a film in which I was the only non-Indian in the theater), even the college-aged guys who spoke Tegulu were finding things unintentionally hilarious.  Part of the plot was that these two brothers genuinely love each other but are almost always coming to a point where they break off their relationship (they don't finally forgive whatever they have to forgive until the end when a religious festival nearly gets everyone killed and they separately end up saving nearly everyone). 

I can say that it was a 'shocking' ceremony, but I digress.

However, when Victory and Superstar faced each other at (more than) one point, the guys were hooting and hollering at the screen.  I think they were telling them to kiss each other already.

I say this because as shot (complete with the score) the scene appeared unintentionally almost romantic between Victory and Superstar, as if they were more lovers than brothers.  I imagine this ISN'T what they had in mind, but sometimes it appeared that they were more passionate about each other than about Sita and Geetha respectively.

Mind you, I enjoyed the family relationship story and Venkatesh and Babu can still do what is required of them (dance and act), although in my view Venkatesh seems rather beefy to have me think him light on his feet.  I thought it was amusing to see how the brothers had distinguishing ticks: Venkatesh would constantly lift his shirt collar, Babu would constantly tug at his shirttails. 

On the whole, however, SVCV is the first Tollywood film (out of the three I've seen) where I didn't have a good time.  Well, I didn't enjoy The Business Man all that much, but it did have some good dance numbers that got me over the dark story.  Dookudu was an action/comedy that I really enjoyed (even with the language barrier).  The Business Man was more dramatic but still found time to throw in some musical numbers (even if one of them suggested near-rape with the girl in bed with a guy while clearly struggling to regain consciousness).  SVCV...well.... 

Finally, one last thing.  I found it so odd that SVCV seemed almost obsessed with a none-too-subtle anti-smoking campaign.  Every time someone had a cigarrette in their hand, an anti-smoking message would appear on the left-hand bottom side of the screen.  Both in the beginning of the film and at the beginning after intermission we got one of the few messages in English (how smoking can be injurious to your health).  I found it all rather odd, but then again I don't smoke.

     
Sorry, fellas.
I just didn't like SVCV.
India, please don't hate me... 

DECISION: D+

Monday, January 28, 2013

When No One Listens, There's No Use Talking At All



THE WORDS

"We authors, Ma'am..." So wrote Benjamin Disraeli to his sovereign Queen Victoria when he served as Her Majesty's Prime Minister.  If anything, Disraeli was one of the shrewdest Prime Ministers in British history, and such was his influence over Her Majesty that he turned her away from the liberalism of her late husband, Prince Albert, to his brand of imperial building conservatism.  

Such are the powers of words.  They can change the course of history. 

Pity that The Words, so earnestly trying to be a deep film, comes up short, almost comically so.

The actual plot of The Words is a bit convoluted, given that we get two or three stories that are locked each within the other.  If we go by logic, the plot of The Words should be about Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid), who is reading from his book, The Words

The Words (the book) slips into the main story of The Words (the movie).  Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer, and by struggling, I mean he has been writing for years with nothing to show for it except a hot girlfriend, Dora (Zoe Saldana).  He is told that he is a great writer, but that his latest work, a novel he titled The Burning Tree, is too 'interior' (which I figure means he writes about things of the soul and thus, he isn't commercial like a James Patterson or John Grisham). 

Despite this, Rory carries on, even finding time to make an honest woman out of Dora.  It is on their honeymoon in Paris (which I imagine was partly paid by his father as well as by Rory's job of mail clerk at a publishing house, which in turn begs the question as to exactly how much mail clerks make, but I digress).  While there, Dora finds an antique briefcase which she thinks Rory might carry his works.

Things are going along with them settling into life together, but Rory is still yearning to achieve literary success.  One day, Rory finds a manuscript inside the briefcase, and he types it out on his laptop.  While he has no interest in publishing this work, merely doing it to experience what good writing feels like, Dora accidentally comes across it and pushes him to present it to the editor where he works. 

He too recognizes it as a work of genius, and thus Rory Jansen is the new toast of the literati set with 'his' book, The Window Tears (a young man's journey through love and loss in 1940s Paris, if The New York Times Bestseller List descriptive guide is to be believed). 

Yes, The Window Tears (and that's 'tears' as in crying, not 'tears' as in breaking).

Of course, there is more to this story.  Clay continues his story, with eager audience member Daniella (Olivia Wilde) at intermission already hinting she wants more than an autograph. 

As Rory enjoys his success, having published those 'interior' books he couldn't get arrested with earlier, he is met at the park by The Old Man (Jeremy Irons, and that IS the way he's billed...The Old Man).  The Old Man knows the truth because it is HE who wrote The Window Tears, many years ago, in Paris.

Now we enter the third (so far) story in The Words.  The Old Man had been stationed in Paris after the end of the Second World War, when he was the Young Man (Ben Barnes, and yes, that is his billing, Young Man).  While there, the Young Man meets, falls in love, and marries the beautiful French waitress Celia (Nora Arnezeder).  In Paris, he was inspired to look for more to his life by the writings of Hemingway (who, curiously, was also Rory's hero...I can only imagine what would happen if I had ever read him, but again I digress).  Now that he's returned and back with Celia, he continues to write, but again, nothing.

They have a daughter, but she quickly falls in and dies.  A distraught Celia leaves the Young Man, and in a fit of writing orgy he pours his heart out onto the page, putting his story on paper and creating a masterpiece along the way.

So to recap, we have the story of a writer who wrote the story of a writer who stole the story of a writer who wrote a thinly-veiled story of his own life. 

The Young Man goes to Celia to show her his work, and she is overcome.  However, upon returning to Paris she accidentally leaves it on the train, and thus it is lost to history...until now.  The Old Man then goes, leaving a guilt-stricken Rory.   Rory confesses all to Dora (who is upset) and his editor (who is angry). 

After the reading, Daniella wants to know how it end.  Clay tells her the Old Man wants nothing from Rory except to say that he will recover from his lapse of judgment, the Old Man shortly afterwards dies, but while Rory chickened out and didn't tell the truth there was still a price: Dora left him.  Oh, and there's one last twist that pushes The Words down into a bizarre scenario that makes things slightly illogical.

What can I say?  The Words fails me.  It fails me because frankly co-writers/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal are simply trying TOO HARD to make this a deep and serious film that it becomes rather complicated and wrapped up in knots.

This is primarily due to the end of The Words, where it is strongly suggested but not overtly stated that Clay Hammond is really Rory Jansen and thus The Words (the book) serves as a confession to his sins.  Now, I've tried to think about this and have found one of two things.

If The Words (the book) is a thinly-veiled telling of Hammond/Jansen's first success (which was fraudulent), it then would stand to reason that Hammond's recent separation from his own wife (which he mentions to Daniella) might raise suspicions about how close The Words (the book) is to Hammond's own life. 

I thought about this when coming to the end of The Words (the movie) because I thought The Words (the book) had to be a novel because if it had been a non-fiction book about 'Rory Jansen', everyone would have known the story (thus negating Daniella's need to find out what the ending is).  However, if The Words (the book) is really Hammond's story, then it really cheats the audience because we are NEVER given the suggestion that Hammond and Jansen are/might be one and the same.

The mere fact that The Words (the movie) does not state it one way or the other pushes the film further from what could have been an interesting premise.  You have in The Words a story-upon-story-upon story structure that soon we forget exactly what story one should be focusing on.  Is it the Young Man's story?  Ostensibly it should be about Rory's story, but by throwing in Hammond (and by throwing in the Hammond MAY BE Rory twist) The Words soon ties itself in knots that it didn't need to.

Sometimes simplicity is best (given the Hemingway fixation, I'm surprised Klugman and Sternthal didn't get Papa's ideas about keeping things simple and short).

As a digression, I kept wondering about how she lost this manuscript on the train.  They didn't have a Lost & Found section at the Metro?  The Words establishes that she had just returned from the country when she lost the briefcase, so it couldn't have been more than a day between loss and discovery of loss.  The Young Man runs frantically to the train station, looking for that train to find his life's work, but all I could think of was, "GO TO THE OFFICE AND SEE IF ANYONE TURNED IN A USELESS BRIEFCASE!"

Really, one has to buy a lot of things like this to accept The Words at face value, and some things that are borderline creepy (more on that later). 

One thing I detested in The Words is that The Window Tears was seen automatically as this magical, brilliant, unquestioned work of genius, a work of such rare quality that everyone within its presence was overwhelmed to tears.  Geez, even such established masterworks as Pride & Prejudice or Catcher in the Rye have detractors.  It all seems a little too fantastical to imagine the entire world to fall at the feet of The Window Tears.   

A BIG problem with The Words is Marcelo Zarvos' score.  Already from the opening the music tells us this is a 'serious' film and should be treated as such.  The excessively serious score only serves to make things even more unintentionally laughable, as if everyone is trying so hard to sell this as a deep and serious work of art when it is quickly spinning out of control.

The very British Jeremy Irons as an AMERICAN?  He doesn't even bother sounding Yankee, making the flashback scenes even more bizarre.

Olivia Wilde's character as this book groupie-type?  Seriously, she came across as almost a stalker-like person with her telling Hammond she knew everything about him (then why bother asking how the book ends, I thought.  Surely someone as quasi-obsessed as Daniella would have read The Words by now). 

The voice-overs (Sweet Mother of Mercy, how I HATE voice-overs).  Even that I might forgive if the dialogue weren't so predictable.  "...or the loudest sound in the world," Hammond speaks.  Even before he said it I'd already shouted out, "SILENCE", which wouldn't you know it, turned out to be "the loudest sound in the world".  However did I know that?

We also have a discrepancy of sorts.  As The Old Man tells his story about his book, he talks about "my daughter" (like the one in the book) but then says "there was nothing he could do", as if he were quoting from The Window Tears.  It is trying to have it both ways: have The Window Tears both be and not be The Old Man's life story.

It would have helped if they'd settled for one of them.

Finally, as to our leads, Cooper didn't have much to work with.  His scene where he drunkenly confesses all to Saldana is the least convincing drunk confession and shocked reaction in recent memory.  Also, if you think on it, Rory really doesn't suffer much from all this: he never told, and any guilt was, to coin a word, 'interior'.  He might have fared better in denying everything...after all, what case did The Old Man actually have?      

You might have had a good film, the one they are so desperate to make, but The Words got in the way.

DECISION: C- 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dead Can't Dance

FRANKLIN & BASH: LAST DANCE

Last Dance had a return to the oddball cases Franklin and Bash specialize in, which is a plus.  However, it had secondary characters doing completely irrational things, which made Last Dance a story that had you question whether the water at Infeld Daniels makes everyone downright stupid.

We begin with Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), who receives a menacing package: a Buddha head with the eyes colored out.  He and his nephew, Damien Karp (Reed Diamond), quickly suspect (very quickly, but more on that later) it is the work of a disgruntled ex-client, one Samuel Jeffers (Todd Stashwick), recently released from prison.  Damien, in a rare moment of irrational love for his uncle, decide Jeffers needs to be taken down, but the personal touch doesn't help.  In fact, it backfires on him, and Jeffers, who received a law degree while in prison, actually wins over Karp in court and puts a restraining order on him and Infeld.  Karp, now more determined to win, asks Jerod and Peter's investigator Carmen Phillips (Dana Davis), whom he keeps calling Wilson Phillips (because they're really cool), to see if she can do something. 

The case with Jerod Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) involves the body of the late Dr. Strauss.   The widow, Martha (Anne Ramsay), has no problem following her late husband's wishes to have his body basically mummified as part of an exhibit, a Bodies in Motion-style scientific touring exhibition.  The problem comes when she finds out what he'll be permanently posing as: a dancer in the middle of a saucy Latin dance. 

The boys try to convince the court that as the widow Mrs. Strauss has the final say-so as to where and how the body will be handled, even if it means going against Dr. Stauss' wishes to be preserved doing the cha-cha-cha.  However, there is a twist: Dr. Strauss had secretly filed for divorce and been having an affair with his saucy Latin dance teacher, Alana (Andrea Gabriel).  The judge decides that Alana, not the Widow Strauss, was the closest person to the late Dr. Strauss, and Alana gives the Body View people the go-ahead.

Well, looks like the boys have failed again, but to help them comes Hanna (Gabrielle Beauvais), who has been part of their team on this case.  She points out that Dr. Strauss gave his soon-to-be-former his art collection in his will, and now that he's been turned 'into' a work of art...

Meanwhile, Karp's attempts with Jeffers continue to go disastrously wrong.  Carmen finds that Jeffers is in fact NOT Infeld's stalker, but at their next hearing Infeld asks forgiveness of Jeffers for not being able to win his case.  Far from being displeased, Jeffers thanks Infeld for what he did do.  He mentions that he had asked forgiveness from the teller Jeffers had held hostage in his robbery, but Sharon Wright (Meagan Fay) had refused him.  This is curious since she had told Infeld and Karp that she hadn't been contacted by Jeffers.  Now, why would she lie?

Finally, with a little help from courtroom sketch artist Nolan Tate (Boris Kodjoe), who also happens to be an old flame of Hanna's, the boys manage to win the body (even if it is in a dancing pose) for Mrs. Strauss (who had to divorce her late husband to win his body back) and have him buried at a family plot in the East Coast.

I'm not a legal expert, but I didn't for one moment believe that ANY judge would have awarded a body to a mistress.  Furthermore, they had been lovers for less than nine months, yet I'm suppose to accept that a judge would rule that even though the widow didn't know she was being divorced (the papers had never been sent to her) and that legally she was still married to him, the body really belonged to some saucy Latina that popped in out of nowhere?   Now, I figure that there has to be some legal overview, but I never figured that the mistress would be entitled to anything, let alone the body.

Now, in Kristi Korzec and Matt McGuinness' screenplay it should be pointed out that the Widow Strauss NEVER objected to her late husband being part of the exhibition.  It was on WHAT that position would be that was the question.  Dr. Strauss wanted to be be displayed as a dancing fool, but she didn't want her husband to be seen shaking his moneymaker.  Surely they could have come to some agreement on how to display the body, so the entire issue quickly deteriorates.  I kept wondering why they didn't come to an agreement over how to display the body.  Surely Body View wouldn't be so stubborn to perhaps change the doctor's position.

If that whole "let's give the body to the girlfriend" business wasn't bad enough already, we have the subplot of Karp vs. Jeffers that comes from another world altogether.   Given what we know of Damien, he's hyper-rational and not prone to hysterics.  Therefore, why suddenly shift him into this imbecile who is borderline insane?  With very little evidence Karp and to a lesser point Infeld zero in on Jeffers being the culprit.  I thought it highly bizarre that with no proof they pursued Jeffers, convinced that he was Infeld's stalker.

This isn't true to how Karp is.  He, the most rational (to his detriment) of the attorneys at Infeld Daniels, would have first investigated to see if Jeffers is behind all this.  You could have had the comedic efforts of Damien to ingratiate himself to Carmen (even that weak 'I keep thinking your name is WILSON Phillips' business) followed by her discovering that he wasn't behind it.  Instead, Korzec and McGuinness opted to make Karp such an idiot that he couldn't see straight and realize his actions were yes, idiotic.  I keep thinking that Karp's whole manner was changed to give Diamond a chance for a little more comedy, but comedy has to come from authenticity.  When people make fun of Karp, it has to come from his natural reactions to situations, not from changing his personality.

If anything, Last Dance has only one thing going for it: the Beauvais/Kodjoe interplay as Hanna and Nolan.  Not only does it give us more insight into Hanna's personality and thinking, but also a chance for Meyer to throw in some great one-liners.  When Hanna declines Nolan's first offer of a date, she tells Franklin and Bash that he's really intimidated of her.  Franklin is incredulous: "that Ebony Statue" that passed before them is somehow intimidated by her?  Nolan, the "Sex Luthor of sketch-artists, is afraid of Hanna?  It was nice to have a subplot on a character we don't see much of, especially given that at heart Hanna has been conflicted about Franklin and Bash.

On the one hand, she thinks like her ex Damien that both of them are bringing down the firm with their antics, but on the other she has grown to like these two and see them as good guys.  A deeper exploration of this conflict would benefit the show tremendously, but instead we get Breckin Meyer-ed by silly twists and another time when Hanna, not Peter or Jerod, found the solution.

One thing I found particularly atrocious was the music.  When Karp receives the restraining order, it would be a comical moment, but the score was so serious it made everything look (and sound) so unnatural.  Worse, we HAD to have these guitar riffs whenever Alana popped in, and I don't want to go into how stereotypical this was. 

There were some funny moments in Last Dance (McDowell expressing how he loved the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey is an amusing inside joke: McDowell was directed by Stanley Kubrick in A Clockwork Orange) and having Franklin & Bash use a stuffed bear to make their case about Dr. Strauss being 'art' was not entirely unexpected.

However, if it were not for the Hanna/Nolan subplot Last Dance would have been really hideous.  Reed as Karp was made to behave so irrationally and frankly out-of-character, and we again have a case where Franklin and Bash didn't solve their dilemma but had someone else basically do it for them. 

All this I will Bear In Mind when thinking of Last Dance and Franklin & Bash: Season Two.

We didn't grin, and we can't bear it.


3/10

Next Story: Waiting on a Friend

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sunset For Twilight


BREAKING DAWN: PART 2 (AKA
THE TWILIGHT SAGA:
BREAKING DAWN: PART 2)

At last, our long national nightmare is over. 

There will be no more Twilight movies, where middle-aged women scream at a hunky minor and a pale and sickly looking man in various stages of undress.  With Breaking Dawn Part 2 now part of history, I can report that it is not the best film of the series (all of which have been lousier than the source material).  Rather, Breaking Dawn Part 2 is the least worst of the series.

Starting where we left off in Breaking Dawn Part 1, young Bella Swoon, I mean Swann (Kristen Stewart) has achieved her lifelong goal: she has become a vampire.  She now is on equal terms with the most perfect being ever created in the history of all literature, if not all mankind (with the possible exceptions of Jesus Christ and his doppelganger, Barack Obama): EDWARD CULLEN (Robert Pattinson).  Being undead makes her actually the most alive Bella has ever appeared.  She is loving the chasing and hunting and now perpetual vampire sex, but there are a couple of hiccups.  Her thwarted suitor, one Jacob...Black...Oooh (Taylor Lautner) has 'imprinted' on EDWARD CULLEN and Bella's daughter (cursed with the soon-to-be popular name of Renesmee).  This means that once Renesmee is of age, she and Jacob...Black...Oooh will marry her (thus becoming EDWARD CULLEN and Bella's son-in-law, making that twisted Rory Williams/Amy Pond/River Song/Doctor Who tangle seem almost logical...damn you, Steven Moffat!!). 

For some reason Bella isn't happy about this, or in his nickname for Renesmee: Nessie.  "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?" she yells at him.  Given she's had sex with a vampire and was pursued by a werewolf, throwing in another mythical creature seems oddly fitting.

Well, Jacob...Black...Oooh forces the situation for EDWARD CULLEN and his wife by baring all to Bella's father, Chief Swan (Billy Burke).  He reveals that he is a werewolf and that his daughter is alive (in a roundabout way, although they present his inexplicable granddaughter as their 'niece'). 

However, we need conflict to push the story forward, and we get it in bushels.  Renesmee's existence alarms the Volturi (these Vampire Overlords in Italy).  They fear that Renesmee is an Immortal: a human child turned vampire who will become uncontrollable and devour at will.  There is only one thing for an Immortal: they must be killed.  Renesmee's rapid growth (aging from infant to child in a matter of months) probably doesn't help matters.  Fellow Cullen vampires Alice (Ashley Green) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) leave, but not before telling them to 'gather as many witnesses as possible' to try to reason with the Volturi, fight them at worst.

Thus we begin a Vampire World Tour, where we get visits to and visits from vampires spread all around the globe.  From Alaska to the Amazon, from New Orleans to Mother Russia the call goes out and the fabulously wealthy Cullens travel hither and yon to find fellow bloodsuckers and convince them Renesmee is a special creature.  This impending Coalition of the Willing does not spare Bella from fearing for Renesmee.  She has some plans, but they really aren't needed now that the Vampires and the Werewolves join in alliance (again) to battle the Volturi.


We then get an epic battle between the Volturi and the Were-Vampires with many falling.  Even the quiet but powerful Junior Volturi known by the powerful name of Jane (Dakota Fanning) facing danger, especially from bella, who now has powers of her own: the power to protect via some force field she can harness. 

However, here's a spoiler: it's all for naught.  Borrowing a page from Season Ten of Dallas, we find out that 'it was all a dream', or rather a vision presented to Aro (Michael Sheen), head of the Volturi who is convinced that 'the kid is alright'.  That and that wonderful Deus Ex Machina: a magical Brazilian that is also half-human half-vampire spawned from undead/human relations.

With that, our massive saga comes to an end...I pray Dear God it's come to an end.

I cannot verify how far Melissa Rosenberg strayed from Meyer's massive final book in her series, but what I found was that like all the other Twilight films, it's painfully slow and boring (at least until the 'battle').  However, one thing to BDP2's credit: unlike all previous Twilight films, this one doesn't take itself seriously (a major flaw in every part of this franchise). 

Instead, it seems to have accepted that everything about Twilight reduces your IQ every time you take time to read or watch it, so it basically dispenses with such trifles as characters or even acting.  Such is the goal of BDP2 that even those on screen aren't taking any of this seriously...unless Michael Sheen was suppose to make us laugh, but more on that in a moment.
       



It should be noted that BDP2 is unique for another reason. Jacob...Black...Oooh manages to literally keep his shirt on for almost the entire film, which might merit special recognition at the Academy Awards.  Considering that Taylor Lautner basically did everything in all Twilight films save the first shirtless, the fact that he only took his shirt off once in the film is downright shocking.   Of course, given this would be the final time we would see our teenage boy take it off for all those screaming middle-aged women (before he begins his inevitable slip into obscurity) Lautner had to go out with a bang, and this time we came as close as we will ever come to seeing him go the full monty.  In attempting to convince Chief Swan of who he is, Jacob...Black...Oooh doesn't just take his shirt off, he takes his clothes off (to where one might wonder if he was auditioning for Magic Mike 2 in hopes of starring with the equally famous and equally untalented Channing Tatum).

One thing that was genuinely surprising was that Stewart didn't suck (no pun intended) as Bella.  For four films she appeared more lifeless than her vampire family, but in BDP2 she appears fully animated, even I daresay alive, as if she's been desperate to have something close to emotions.  Who knew becoming an undead would bring her to life (which I suppose was the 'message/intent' all along)?  However, she still has perpetual puppy-dog eyes whenever anything connected to EDWARD CULLEN comes her way, so some things remain the same.

It's an unfortunate side effect of Twilight the source material that

Apart from that, BDP2 suffers from what every Twilight film has: simply no story.  The only reason BDP2 exists at all is because we can't have our 'she had great sex and the baby so her life is complete' ending.  Instead, we are given this 'epic' battle between Volturi and 'nice vampires', which really just seems absurd.  Haven't the Volturi ever rented Blade?  Actually, given how the Volturi behave, have they even heard of anything made after the Renaissance?  They don't seem to be living in this millennium (certainly their fashion sense hasn't gone past what they wore to Columbus' going-away party).



This might explain why we had some simply horrifying performances.  Michael Sheen doesn't so much give a performance as he does cash a check.  It's one thing to be self-consciously camp, but I do wonder if Bill Condon wanted audiences to laugh at his delivery, in particular when he says, "Young Bell--la, immortality becomes you", or worse, when his girlish giggle at Renesmee's heartbeat had those attending in stitches. 

For the record, he did make Bella's name about a three-syllable word. 

As for everyone else who is making their first appearance in BDP2, the scope of the story gives little time for them to stand out.  While some of them, like Lee Pace's Garret or Rami Malek's Benjamin (which does beg the question as to how an Arab vampire sparkle in the desert sun with their olive skin without being noticed) do have interesting stories, they have to be put to the side for their sole purpose to back-up our trio of stars.

In regards to everything else, it takes such a long time to get anywhere one starts becoming bored (at least those of us who aren't passionate for the series).  Furthermore, the 'it was all a fantasy' cop-out is just terrible.  I was happy when Carlyle lost his head.  At last, I thought, we get an emotional cost of being a vampire, but no, we have to have the rug pulled out from under us to provide this 'happy ending'.

Well, in a certain sense, we do have a happy ending...I will NEVER have to see another Twilight story again.      

DECISION: F

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Wackiest Lawyers In the Navy

FRANKLIN & BASH: SUMMER GIRLS

Here with Summer Girls we find that our heroes Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) regressing.  They once were free-wheeling but clever, and that was what we loved about them.  The cases may have been offbeat and their courtroom behavior bizarre, but at least they knew what they were doing and achieved positive results.

In Summer Girls, they are just idiots, and not just idiots but almost criminally irresponsible ones with their clients.  They are not only clearly over their heads with dealing with the military, but they know it and just don't care.  Convinced of their own brilliance and how their charm and antics will go over as well in the military tribunal as it does in civilian court, Summer Girls does nothing but embarrass our leads.  If not for the subplot involving Damien Karp (Reed Diamond), Summer Girls would have been the worst episode of Franklin & Bash, which given its track record this season it can hardly well-afford.

Franklin and Bash are throwing a bash for the summer interns, which displeases Karp but which he can't do anything about given his uncle and law firm head Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) endorsed.  One of the interns catches Karp's eye, but he is more nervous than aroused.  However, it's at this time that Jared and Peter are called to take on a case.

Petty Officers Monica Ward (Kayla Ewell) and Nicole Toomin (Gabrielle Dennis) have been charged with assault after a bar brawl.  They run the risk of getting thrown out of E.O.D. (Explosive Ornaments Disposal), the closest thing women can come to being a Navy SEAL (G.I. Jane be damned).  Their reputation precedes them, and off Franklin and Bash go to Malibu.

At base, it's clear these guys are not prepared, let alone take any of this seriously.  They certainly don't think JAG Steven Puckett (Josh Randall) is up to their level.  JAG Puckett obviously made a very simple-minded mistake by getting evidence against the Petty Officers without a warrant.  Franklin and Bash, these brilliant attorneys, are therefore shocked, SHOCKED, to discover the military plays under different rules and that they DON'T need a warrant.

After some investigations, where they bring in Hanna (Garcelle Beauvais), who had actually served as a JAG and has experience in military matters to basically bail them out, we find that they were set up.

In the subplots, Damien Karp both recognizes and is recognized by that intern, Alyssa Farrell (Tifanny Dupont).  She was a dancer at a club that Karp was compelled to go to by former clients who worked her way through college.  She remembers him because Karp was the only man to behave at the club, even keeping the other guys in line.  He's obviously attracted to her and vice-versa, but he tries to keep things professional.  However, being a man who has either been denied or denied himself sex, he gives in to temptation.  Alyssa likes him and is bright, but a mistake on her part gets her fired.  So determined is Karp to see her reputation not ruined that he goes over her report and finds she was right after all.

It's a curious thing that the actual subplot of Summer Girls proves more interesting than the case itself, in particular because the leads really don't solve the case or even help.  In the tradition of all slackers (which Jared and Peter would freely cop to being), it was Hanna who did the heavy lifting in putting the pieces together.  Furthermore, we see that Karp's journey from the stiff attorney to a man moved by his struggle between his ethics and desires proves more interesting and realistic than Franklin and Bash's shallow world. 

In terms of performances and storylines, Karp appears to be a real person.  Yes, he is the antagonist to Jared and Peter, and he is rather formal and snobbish towards most people.  However, he at least thinks about things.  He genuinely struggles between being a proper gentleman and being a man with all the passions that come from it.  When Karp finds that even his ethics can give way to his libido, we see that he struggles with the ramifications and even becomes slightly more human because of it. 

That can't be said for Peter and Jared.  From the moment they arrive at Malibu...no, from the moment they MEET their clients, they appear to be barely literate, let alone brilliant attorneys.  At one point, the petty officers giggle among themselves and say that these two have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to the EOD.  Being civilians, there is nothing wrong with not knowing that.  Why they felt compelled to pretend to know is a mystery.

Why they showed they were not taking anything seriously when their antics and behavior would show them to be frightfully inept.  I have a very limited knowledge of the law, let alone military law, but even I knew that the military wouldn't need a warrant.  How these two lawyers were not aware of that makes them shockingly inept and not worthy of any valued reputation for brilliance.  Sensible people would have checked up on these little things, and/or gone on to first accept Hanna's advise, not blow it off.

The joke about Franklin and Bash being cocky but brilliant is now wearing thin given that these two are slowly slipping into being more stupid than brilliant.

Perhaps my biggest beef with Aeden Babish's screenplay is that the resolution is rather cliched and dependent on things turning their way.  What exactly made anyone sure that the instigator would have a last-minute conversion and confess?  They were taking a strong risk that their clients would end up in prison, lose their chance to pursue their dreams of EOD and have a dishonorable discharge after serving their time.  Again, it was something out of their control that saved them, and they rolled the dice without knowing the odds.  It was fortune, not cleverness, that got them the victory, which never ceases to play like a cheat.

As for a sub-subplot involving Pindar and a valuable knife, Kumail Kinjiani got the comedy right in his regression to panphobia.  Of course, one wonders exactly why he would use the term 10 Stone to describe his weight (perhaps his nerves converted it from pounds, which he could have used by now).  Still, when the secondary stories prove more interesting than the main one, the series is in danger of slipping to DEFCON 5.   

How rare to see these guys NOT at attention 
when surrounded by women...
  

4/10

Next Episode: Last Dance

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A True Son of the Soil



THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN

Oh, how one is loath to go after a film that obviously had its heart in the right place.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green, at least to me, was less about Timothy Green as he spread his earthy wisdom to everyone he met, and more about his parents.  Said parents seemed to be desperate for a child, but one wonders what kind of parents they would actually make given how high-strung, neurotic, even self-centered they turn out be.

Told in flashbacks to an unbelieving adoption agency head, we begin with Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner).  They are desperate for a child but are unable to conceive.  Devastated, they soon somewhat drunkenly start writing the attributes their hoped-for child would have had: a sense of humor, honest to a fault, artistic, scoring the winning goal in the championship game.

A side note: I kept getting the sense that I was watching a child-geared variation on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf minus the drunkenness and hateful manner of George and Martha with Jim and Cindy's ideas of their 'son', but I digress.

In any case, they bury their 'wish list' in a box out in the backyard.  That dark and stormy night, there's an intruder, and they find to their amazement a ten-year-old calling himself Timothy (CJ Adams).  Minus the leaves growing from his ankles he is a regular child.  Since he insists on calling them "Mom" and "Dad", this once-childless couple now introduce him to their families.  You have Cindy's sister Brenda (Rosemary DeWitt) and her snobbish family, her Uncle and Aunt Bub and Mel (M. Emmett Walsh and Lois Smith), and Jim's distant father Big Jim (David Morse).

In the course of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Timothy goes on to fulfill all of Jim and Cindy's wishes, albeit not exactly in the way they had hoped or imagined.  At school, Timothy finds himself either romancing or falling in love with Joni (Odeya Rush), this Goth-like teen who has her own 'deformity'.   However, life even for a magical child like Timothy is fleeting. 
The town is dying.  Jim's job at a pencil factory is at risk of being cut by the owner's son, Franklin Crudstaff (Ron Livingston), as is Cindy's job as a tour guide for the local museum run by the fearsome Mrs. Bernice Crudstaff (Dianne Weist).  Timothy continues to go about spreading his magic, up to helping Jim create a new type of pencil made entirely out of leaves. 

Well, Timothy does indeed fulfill all his parent's hopes and dreams, and also manages to save the town (although Jim had to stand up for himself when Crudstaff attempted to take credit for his invention).  However, now that all the goals had been met, Timothy informs his parents that his job is basically done and he goes away.  Now we're back to where we started, and in the end, Jim and Cindy have a new child thanks to that adoption agent, Ms. Evette Onat (Shoreh Aghdashloo).

The more I think on The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the more horrifying it becomes.  I don't think that director Peter Hedges' screenplay from a story by Ahmed Zappa (that's right, Ahmed Zappa) had this in mind, but the message I got from Timothy Green is that children are only as important as their parents think they are.  Here's what I mean: this couple wants children, or at least A child.  When they manage through miraculous circumstances to get one, the child is there only to fulfill what THEY want him to (be artistic, musical, honest to a fault, score the winning goal).  Timothy is there, fully formed, and once he checked off all that his parents had asked of him, he can go. 

It strikes me as almost cruel to have Timothy leave (no pun intended) as soon as 'his job was done'.  He's not the Lone Ranger you know.  It's as if Timothy had no real right to exist outside his parents' expectations. 

Even worse, once Jim and Cindy GET a child, their behavior makes helicoptering parenting even more obscene.  Cindy's perpetually fretting over Timothy, wanting to keep him safe from all harm.  Jim is at turns more laid back and pushy.  Take when they take him for his first day of school.  Cindy overpacks his backpack with far too much (she mentions she put toilet paper...just in case).  Jim, who doesn't really object to her hyper-paranoia, tells Timothy to have a good day.  When she tells him this may be too much pressure for their son, he calls out to Timothy, "Have the day you have".   However, when on his first day the clueless Timothy was a victim of bullying by Crudstaff's own children and Timothy refusing to give names, Jim all but urges him to fight.

Again, Jim insists he doesn't want to be the father Big Jim was to him, but despite his protests Jim seems to be pushy, even slightly bullying to Timothy.  He pushes the soccer coach (rap star Common) to get Timothy to play because it is written Timothy will score the winning goal in the championship game.  Timothy, ever clueless, appears happy being the waterboy, but Jim and Cindy keep prodding both Coach Cal and Timothy to live up to THEIR expectations.  Jim has Timothy practice kicking the ball around apparently whenever possible, and when circumstances allow for Timothy to be played, the whole scene is actually quite horrifying.

On one hand, Coach Cal insists on telling Timothy to just stand there (so as to not cause any trouble and have the required players on the field).  In other words, we're suppose to believe that a coach would be encouraging a child to not play (and send the subliminal message that he's rather worthless). On the other,  Jim keeps pushing Timothy to actually start moving and participating, with him and Cindy telling all that Timothy will rise to expectations. 

To me, the messages are so mixed.  We're suppose to believe Jim wants to be a better dad to Timothy than Big Jim was to him, but Jim doesn't seem to care that Timothy in his blissful ignorance is happy or that perhaps all the practicing in the world won't help.  Rather than let Timothy find his own interests, Timothy HAS to improve his soccer skills because "it is written".  Jim appears to be just as bad a father as Big Jim appeared to be (Big Jim doesn't shrink from throwing a dodgeball at Timothy's head while his 'grandson' literally is soaking up the sun's rays).  In other words, should Timothy had stayed, one wonders whether Jim would have been a pushy father.

Cindy is no better, constantly fretting about her little son, worrying over him doing such things as riding on a bike with a girl.  The male is veering dangerously close to being a bully, the female likewise desperate to turn Timothy into a wimp.  Seeing how they are with this child, I wouldn't have let them near another child, as if their story wouldn't have already made them look like a couple of nutjobs. 

I kept thinking that Garner and Edgerton (two actors better than their material) thought that as well.  I'll give them credit: they gave it a good try, but the end result didn't show them as loving parents but as near-unstable.  Weist is wasted as the frumpy, grumpy, one-note Mrs. Crudstaff, but it is nice to see Livingston (who gained fame for Office Space) doing his version of Bill Lumbergh.  I'm not sure he ever asked Jim to come in on a Sunday, but Livingston came as close to spoofing his cult film and his nemesis in it as I've ever seen him.

The worst sin The Odd Life of Timothy Green commits is what it does to poor Shohreh Aghdashloo.  When you get someone of her caliber in a film, you don't have her popping in at intervals to merely react to the nonsense Jim and Cindy are telling her. Give her something to do!   

I know that The Odd Life of Timothy Green is meant to be a heartwarming little family picture, but how do you sympathize with parents as selfish as the Greens or with an elementary school child as naive (or dumb) who seems to be romantically involved with someone who both looks older and has a harder edge?  It's certainly a nice try, but I'd say I can only go Green up to a point.

Here Comes the Sun...
     

DECISION: C-

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Holmes Divided Against Itself


ELEMENTARY: M.

The six weeks are up for Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) to be the Sober Companion to Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller).  If Elementary had not been picked up/been a flop, M. would have been the end of the series, which is why we get not one, not two, but three Canon references.  Apart from that, M. is a showcase for the actors and for screenwriter/Elementary creator Robert Doherty which gave us a thrilling, tense and fast-paced episode that allowed for a greater exploration of the characters.

We begin with a man creating an elaborate method of killing a victim.  Not even the Arsenal game can completely distract him from his mission.  While Watson wants to have a conclusionary dinner with Holmes as something of an exit evaluation, Holmes being Holmes has no interest in this.  He does have an interest in the crime Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) brings him.  To Holmes not-so-secret delight, he recognizes the methods of the killer. 

It is a serial killer from London named M.  For over ten years he has killed 37 people of all stripes and persuasions, with nothing to connect them.  Holmes had assisted in investigating these crimes, but at a certain point his drug addiction took complete control and he became pretty useless. 

It looks like Holmes is again too close to the case.  Gregson suspects that there is a Holmes connection to the case that Holmes at first dismisses.  He also has an ulterior motive for solving this case. 

There is conflict galore with this case.  Watson struggles with ending her time with Holmes.  She has come to enjoy investigating crimes and is conflicted about leaving.  When the victim's body washes up and she is able to place the location of where it was found, she says, "I'm going to miss this," which catches Holmes' attention. 

Holmes has his own conflict.  He, via a previously-undisclosed hidden video camera system, has the first known photograph of this M.  He does not turn this evidence over to the police because he wants to catch M himself. This M had killed Irene Adler, the only woman to stimulate him intellectually as well as physically.  He has no interest in bringing him to justice.  He is going out for revenge.  Holmes will cross into the Dark Side, pledging to torturing and then killing M.

Watson is horrified by all this, and more horrified that he got teens to serve as "irregulars" to his own version of a police force.  With the evidence his secret youth branch brings him, Holmes is able to find M. just before he strikes again (where again M is in the grip of Arsenal football).  M is surprised to see Holmes, but Holmes now is an avenging angel.

Watson and Gregson are able to put together where Holmes went to do his evil deed, but they are not there.  However, we discover that M is really Sebastian Moran (Vinnie Jones), who has been a paid assassin for another M, a mysterious figure named Moriarty.  This Moriarty admires Holmes, but Moran insists that he didn't kill Irene Adler.  He can prove that he wasn't her killer because he was imprisoned at the time for having assaulted a Manchester United fan.  The killer was a copycat, and Moran is insulted that Holmes and Scotland Yard couldn't figure that out.

Moran now thinks that he was set up by Moriarty.  Moran knew nothing of Holmes' move to New York and thinks that Moriarty sent him there so that Holmes could track him down and kill him in turn.  Now he wants to get even. 

Holmes eventually (after extracting his metaphorical pound of flesh) turns Moran in, and claims Holmes used self-defense.  However, it is a hollow victory because Adler's killer is still out there.  It is here that Holmes tells Watson, "I'm going to miss this" when she offers a helping hand.  Watson contacts Sherlock's father, a certain M. Holmes, to stay on.  M. Holmes turns her down but she lies to Sherlock, saying he agreed to have her continue at his side. 

M. ends with Sherlock Holmes now focusing on a new enemy...a certain Moriarty.

M. is full of M's: you have the assassin Moran, the master criminal Moriarty, and Holmes' father, who is M. Holmes.  In the case of the latter, there's nothing to specifically state that he is Mycroft Holmes (who in The Canon is Sherlock's older brother).  Lest we forget, M. is also the French equivalent of Mr.  It could be Mycroft, but it could also be Monsieur.  Granted, a stretch but for the moment a perfectly acceptable usage. 

What M. also has is a brilliant turn by Miller as Sherlock.  He is for once someone not driven by solving the puzzle but by hatred, revenge.  He is full of righteous fury, one who is frightening in the lengths he will go to for vengeance.  His scenes with Jones show a hard, angry man blinded by the passions that overwhelm him.  For once, Sherlock Holmes is not the cold, logical thinking machine.  He is a man, a wounded man, a man who will extract a painful price for having The Woman removed violently. 

However, when he realizes that Moran, who as M really had nothing to do with Irene Adler's disappearance (since I'm convinced she is still alive somehow), the genuine conflict and emotional crisis is both frightening and heartbreaking.  Director John Polson did a brilliant job in not focusing on Miller's face as the truth slowly unravels before Holmes.  Instead, he allows for Miller's voice and body moments to show the emotions, which only serves to heighten the intensity of the situation.

Polson and Doherty also allow for both Watson and Gregson to be able to show that they can deduce things perfectly on their own.  It is Watson who with the clue of the chalk on one pair of shoes deduces where Holmes has taken M to.  It is Gregson who thinks that M might be targeting Holmes.  Sherlock, had he not temporarily lost perspective, would have been proud.

Again, we get great nods to The Canon, which curiously might have gone unnoticed.  Though never overtly stated, the young kids Holmes hires to check out the hotels M might be in are the New York version of the Baker Street Irregulars (it might have been nice that they had been named as such and we hope they come back for other appearances).  Perhaps because the material the killer used at first looked like a firearm, I figured it was Sebastian Moran, the second most dangerous man in London.  With the introduction of Moriarty, we now have a full-fledged Sherlock Holmes-based series rather than just having Sherlock Holmes in New York.

M. is a simply brilliant episode with great performances by the leads, a story that crackles with excitement and suggests that The Canon will make greater appearances in Elementary.  Any fear that Elementary would be in the shadow of the BBC's Sherlock are now rested.  It is now its own being, a separate entity that will work within the CBS style of procedural while also making The Canon an important guide to the series however long it lasts.

Benny and Marty,
meet the new kids in town.
        

10/10

Next Episode: The Red Team

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A True Movie Monster


THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL

We've had tales of the ugly side of Hollywood almost since the beginning of the film industry itself.  The Bad and the Beautiful has one great structural flaw, but apart from that, with a strong story and excellent performances, it is one of the better chronicles of the ruthlessness of those at the top of Tinseltown's heap.

Movie mogul Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon) gathers three people to his office one night.  They are director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and screenwriter James Lee Partlow (Dick Powell).  Pebbel wants them to work together on a new project from Harry Shields, despite each already having turned Shields down flat. 

Each of them hate Harry Shields (Kirk Douglas) for their own reasons, which in three flashbacks we learn why.  Amiel met Shields and Shields' father's funeral.  Shields, Sr. was brilliant but hated, so much so Harry had to hire mourners.  Amiel, an up-and-coming director, joins Shields in starting to make B-films under the schlock cheapskate Pebbel.  Pebbel isn't interested in prestige films, but Amiel years to turn a 'great novel', The Faraway Mountain, into the film he knows he can make it.  Shields not only sells Pebbel on the idea of The Faraway Mountain, but manages to talk major star Victor "Gaucho" Ribera (Gilbert Roland) to star. 

Only one thing: while Shields does produce, he gets European director Von Ellstein (Ivan Trielsault) rather than Amiel to direct.  The first betrayal.

We then get to Lorrison.  She is the daughter of a once-great star who fell into drink.  Georgia has little desire to enter showbusiness, but Shields wishes to make her a star.  Georgia is a bit unstable and insecure, but Shields has found a way: by convincing her he's in love with her.  While that gets her through the shoot, at the night of the triumphant premiere Shields fails to show up at the party.  When Georgia goes to his home, she discovers him with an extra, and finds he never loved her (or perhaps he does but does not want to love her back).

Finally, we go to Partlow.  He was a successful historian and novelist whose new novel has been optioned by Shields.  Partlow would rather not be part of the contemptible Hollywood scene, but his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) loves the idea.  She loves being wined and dined and meeting famous people, and while Partlow does agree to write the screenplay it comes at a high price.  Shields spirits Partlow to write in his cabin, but unbeknown to him Shields gets Gaucho to distract Rosemary.  In a shocking twist, Gaucho's plane crashes, killing him and Rosemary.  Already mourning, they continue production, with Shields' megalomania and need for control being so great he opts to direct the film.  Despite his experiences as producer, the film is disastrous, and even worse, Shields lets slip that he knew Gaucho and Rosemary were together that night.

As we wrap up our twisted tale of Hollywood, Pebbel subtlety hints that each has been 'ruined' by their association with Shields: Amiel has gone on to win a few Oscars, Georgia is a major star, and Partlow has gone on to win a Pulitzer for his novel, a thinly veiled story of his Southern belle wife.  Despite how they've succeeded with Shields, all three again flatly refuse to join him.  However, The Bad and the Beautiful ends with each of them listening in on a phone conversation between Pebbel and Shields, intrigued by his newest project.

What I found in The Bad and the Beautiful to dislike is the structure.  In terms of story the film is a cross between Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard.  We go through each flashback and when we return Pebbel is there to gently reproach them for how they could turn their backs on Shields when they all have achieved great success thanks to him.  The conflict between their morals and their success should be at the center of The Bad and the Beautiful, but the decision by screenwriter Charles Schnee (based on George Bradshaw's story Tribute to a Badman) to have each story appear in flashback only to return to the present I felt could have been dispensed.

Minus this, The Bad and the Beautiful itself is a twisted tale of how people can be corrupted by the desire to be on top and the need for total perfection and control of the artistic product.  Part of the fun in the film is to guess whom the characters are versions of real people.  In Shields' mad need to control every aspect of film production, one can imagine Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick.  I had no problem imagining Von Ellstein's grand European director being a version of Erich von Stroheim. 

However, even if we know nothing of Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful is rich with brilliant performances.  At the head of the performances is Kirk Douglas as Harry Shields.  In turns powerful and selfish, enthusiastic and ruthless, Shields is unknowable, someone who is driven to succeed regardless of who gets in the way.  While he obviously didn't intend Rosemary and Gaucho (one of the few people who seems to be something akin to Harry's friend) to be killed, but he certainly didn't shy away from using people to get what he needed.  Douglas is angry, cold, determined: an intense performance and one of the hallmarks of his career.

As much as Turner is derided for being more beautiful than talented, I thought her performance was strong as the fragile movie star Georgia.  Perhaps she was basically playing herself: a beautiful woman who knows she has more looks than talent, but I thought Turner gave a better performance than was the norm for her.  You can tell she wasn't the best actress around, but when she comes to Shields with love to his home only to find him pushing her away Turner is heartbreaking.

Powell may not be as well-remembered today as he once was, but his role as the intellectual seduced by the lure of Hollywood who in turns was destroyed by it was cynical and sincere, a delicate balancing act that was worthy of at least an Oscar nomination (which he never received).   Graham, in turns innocent and duplicitous, shallow and wily at the same time, did win a Best Supporting Actress for her performance, a remarkable thing given her role really is small.

Vincente Minnelli, better known for musicals, showed with The Bad and the Beautiful that he could direct drama of the highest caliber.

Minus the framing device of the flashback, The Bad and the Beautiful is a strong portrait of an ugly business where a good idea trumps such things as morality.  Curiously enough, one can imagine the same scenario occurring today.

      

DECISION: A-