Friday, October 31, 2014

Franklin & Bash: Spirits in the Material World Review


They Ain't 'Fraid of No Ghosts...

Whether because it was too obvious or because Franklin & Bash really has no ideas, it is surprising at the very least that you could have Ernie Hudson (one of the stars of Ghostbusters, or as Sophia Petrillo referred to him, the black guy they couldn't give a funny line to) in a ghost-centered Franklin & Bash episode and have him do nothing.  Spirits in the Material World tries to bring back some of the old F&B wackiness, but by now the schtick has gotten old. 

Oh look...Peter Bash is AFRAID of ghosts.   How original!

Again the concept of making Peter the patsy makes me wonder whether Breckin Meyer has it in his contract that HE cannot be the one made to look like the idiot but rather be the one who mocks his taller and better-looking partner (read into that whatever you wish).   I think thorough laziness has set in on Franklin & Bash because not only have we seen all this before, but Peter's phasmophobia has no basis whatsoever.  It's just introduced to give Mark-Paul Gosselaar something to do.

Peter Bash (Gosselaar) and HRH Elmo, Duke of Landingshire (Meyer) take the case of the Parkers (Brian McNamara and Ryan Michelle Bathe).  They bought a property from Freddie Silmas (Lola Glaudini) in the hopes of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast (a bed-and-breakfast in Los Angeles...OK).  However, they find that it's haunted, and they want their money back.  No surprise, Peter is afraid of ghosts, so afraid he does not want to take the case because it might require him to enter the haunted house.  It gets so bad that HRH has to slap him.  Peter agrees to take the case but on condition he does not have to set foot inside the house.

And again, how old IS Peter Bash?

They get help from Danny Mundy (Anthony Ordonez), who contacts a PIG (Paranormal Investigative Group) to locate spooks in the house.  PIG Lisa (Ava Gaudet), to whom Danny is sexually attracted, does find something, but her evidence is excluded thanks to F&B's former intern Bonnie Apell (Danielle Panamaker), who convinces the judge that ghosts are not real.  They boys don't help their case when they basically show off how stupid they are (more on that later).

Well, with that it looks like they might be without a ghost of a chance of winning, but thanks to a little investigative work by Danny, a helpful journal in Gypsy Romani, which of course can be read by Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), and a convenient witness who was once dead but now very much alive (if perhaps not mentally there) they win their case and even get a little love from The Chive, a website that caters to men like Peter and HRH.  Unfortunately, THEY don't win "Hottest Lawyer of the Year".

The winner is another IDFB attorney, Anita Haskins (Toni Trucks).  She makes up the subplot, and it involves her relationships with both Damien Karp (Reed Diamond) and Cheryl Koch (Jaime Ray Newman) her old moot court frenemy. 

It seems that Anita and Cheryl had a falling out over the use of information that allowed Cheryl to win her moot court case against her former friend Anita, and the latter has never forgiven her for this.  This is the primary reason Anita did not want to go to her moot court reunion (and I confess, I never knew there was such a thing as a 'moot court reunion').  In any case, tempers (aided by booze) flare again, and after Anita lays the smack down they agree to a redo to see who would win.  This gives Karp the opportunity to be a judge (his lifelong dream) and he makes the most of it, appearing at this moot court wearing a complete judge's robe.

This, I might point out, is about the only really funny or clever bit in Spirits in the Material World because it allows us to be laugh with and at someone as stuffy as Damien Karp.   As it turns out, there is somewhat of a reconciliation, which is good for Anita because in their hypothetical case (Is friendship a privileged status in the same way a doctor/patient or husband/wife privilege exists?) Damien tells her he and the dean would have ruled against her. 

All this comes together at the victory party in the haunted mansion, where Chives co-founder John Rezig (making a cameo as himself) finds the boys are to his liking and Anita is indeed the hottest lawyer thanks to her fellow moot court classmates uploading her verbal bitch-slap online.  HRH may have found a new Duchess in Bonnie, who isn't too upset about losing given a.) she didn't like Silmas and b.) finds the diminutive Duke cute.  Danny himself gets lucky with a PIG, while we find that indeed, there WAS something in the house...

I think by now we find that Franklin & Bash is perhaps due for retirement.  This comes to me thanks to a variety of factors.  Chief among them is in how the show is absolutely determined to make Peter and HRH complete morons yet brilliant attorneys simultaneously. 

When they go to the judge to argue to let Lisa testify, they dismiss the arguments Bonnie makes about the credibility of ghosts.

"That's what they said about gravity, Your Honor, until Galileo got hit in the head with an apple," said HRH.  "Louis Pasteur would have been stoned to death for inventing milk," added the scaredy-cat Peter in as serious a tone as Gosselaar could muster without throwing Patrick Sheehan and Bill Chais' script in their faces as damaging to his career. 

For once the judge seemed genuinely astonished at the pair's stupidity.  "There's so much wrong with that I don't even know where to begin," Hudson's Judge Perry tells them.

Yes, we're suppose to believe HRH and Bash are himbos with law degrees, but how could someone who knows of Louis Pasteur genuinely believe Pasteur invented milk?  Again, Gosselaar's delivery of this line showed that either Peter Bash KNEW what he was saying was idiocy (which is wrong in so many ways) or Gosselaar himself by now has given up on the show, realizing that no matter what he'll always end up having to play second banana to Breckin Meyer.

While we're on the subject of logic (something Franklin & Bash lost contact with three seasons ago), the whole case seems idiotic to the extreme.  Cloris Leachman is Irina Kruskal, the former owner of the hotel in question who sold it to Silmas and told her about the truth of what went on in the house (information Silmas withheld from the Parkers).  The story strongly suggests Irina is dead, but to perhaps no one's surprise she manages to pop up because, well, why not?

Going by the logic Spirits in the Material World gave us, Irina was spirited away on a world cruise by Silmas to keep her from testifying about the truth of the hotel's history.  Then who was it that was causing the damage to the Parker's investment (such as repainting the walls they had worked on the night previous)?  A more logical conclusion would have been that Silmas herself, who had a key, was infiltrating the hotel and causing mayhem to bring the Parkers to financial ruin (and get the hotel back for a song, which she could resell).  However, if I understand the situation, Irina was the one living in the hotel without the Parkers knowing, and if she was the one making mischief we're in a mess of a story.

Given how generally whacked out Irina was (which is a late-Leachman forte), how this apparently three thousand year old woman could work so hard and so fast is well, not something we need worry about.

Then there is the extremely convenient "Crazy Infeld can read Romani", because, well, it's cheaper than hiring someone who can, and, why not...Infeld is a perfect excuse for anything truly bizarre.

Then there is the remarkably lazy way Spirits in the Material World sets things up.  We get all the clichés: the haunted hotel, the finding of a witness swinging a meat cleaver (right down to the music and moody cinematography).  It isn't as if I don't realize what they are going for, but do they have to be so obvious?

Furthermore, what is IT with this show using the more physically appealing Gosselaar as the whipping boy for every situation?  Since when is he afraid of ghosts?  It wasn't as if his weight hasn't been mocked, or his mother's profession of a sex surrogate, or he's been punched or tasered before.  I'm by now really tired of Peter being the go-to guy for humiliation.  Maybe Gosselaar likes it this way, but for once I'd like Breckin Meyer to be made the fool in some way.

As for the Chive cross-promotion, I am not going to bash it simply because until Spirits in the Material World I had never heard of the Chive and really don't care to be a 'chiver' (thanks, Wikipedia: Fount of All Knowledge).  I think some people were put off that the episode became a virtual ad for the website, but for me, it was neither one way or the other. 

About the only thing that kind of worked was the subplot, not because it was particularly great (the old 'people don't grow up and behave the same way as adults as they did when they were ten to twenty years younger).  Instead, it was because it gave Diamond a chance to lighten up, and showed Trucks could handle comedy.  However, I agree with Damien: I would have ruled against Anita because her arguments (that friendship does come under a protected class) never convinced me and Cheryl's case for the negative were more real. 

I get that Spirits in the Material World is meant to be light and not taken all that seriously.  However, when your leads are suggesting Louis Pasteur invented milk or never give a real answer as to who was causing the mischief at the Overlook...I mean, Heathbrooke Hotel, you can't suspend disbelief for that long.

And really, you got one of the stars of Ghostbusters and you STILL can't give him one funny line?

Just End This Show Already!


Next Episode: Red or Black

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

We'll Always Have Oscar

Paul Lukas:
Best Actor for Watch on the Rhine


The 16th Academy Awards had some firsts and lasts.  It was the last time there were ten Best Picture nominees until 2009, a good sixty-six years later.  It was also the first time Supporting Actors/Actresses received statues rather than plaques, which always struck me as a bit odd.  It might be that now the Academy recognized that these actors who were dubbed supporting were also moving up in name recognition.  Whatever the case may be, we find that the Academy Awards were now striving to recognize the best of film.

That isn't to say they got it right in the long term, since at least with regards to the male winners, they are not remembered as well as those they beat.  It isn't to say they didn't deserve to win, just that people don't know the name 'Paul Lukas' or 'Charles Coburn' today. 

Especially Paul Lukas.

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).



Gladys Cooper (The Song of Bernadette)
Paulette Goddard (So Proudly We Hail!)
Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Anne Revere (The Song of Bernadette)
Lucille Watson (Watch on the Rhine)

I can't say that any of the nominees would be familiar with people today, which is a small criteria for those deemed 'worthy'.  We do have another case of two nominees from the same film cancelling each other out, which happens more often than not. 

Out of those that survive, the winner was Greek actress Paxinou playing a Spaniard, which given the odd castings for Hispanics in other films (say, casting British Ben Barnes as a Colombian in The Big Wedding with only an orange tan to suggest 'ethnicity' or Ben Affleck casting himself as the very Hispanic Tony Mendez in Argo), having a Mediterranean playing an Iberian isn't as egregious as other choices I've seen. 

Gladys Cooper (The Song of Bernadette)
Paulette Goddard (So Proudly We Hail!)
Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Anne Revere (The Song of Bernadette)
Lucille Watson (Watch on the Rhine)

For the moment, I don't see any of the other nominees knocking Pilar out of the running.  I truly cannot remember either Cooper or Revere from The Song of Bernadette, so that doesn't bode well for their chances.  Actually, I can't say ANY of them were particularly memorable, so by default the Greek gets her gift.

Susanna Foster (The Phantom of the Opera)
Paulette Goddard (So Proudly We Hail!)
Miriam Hopkins (Old Acquaintance)
Lena Horne (Cabin in the Sky)
Katina Paxinou (For Whom the Bell Tolls)

Well, this was unexpected.  For the longest time I had Lena Horne taking the prize for her temptress in Cabin in the Sky, then decided the role might be too slight for a legitimate win.  Then I turn to Miriam Hopkins in Old Acquaintance, thinking that maybe playing Bette Davis' rival would do wonders.  I now got spooked thanks to a mix of brutal reviews and am unsure whether Hopkins was MEANT to be over-the-top.  I turned briefly to Foster for I think she played the part of the ingénue correctly, but find myself back with Paxinou. 


Charles Bickford (The Song of Bernadette)
Charles Coburn (The More The Merrier)
J. Carroll Naish (Sahara)
Claude Rains (Casablanca)
Akim Tamiroff (For Whom the Bell Tolls)

Time has not been kind to Coburn's Oscar-winning turn insofar as recognition goes.   I think it pleased audiences back then, and it might be a charming turn as a match-maker.  Also, given that Coburn won for a comedy, it puts him in rare company for comedies are rarely rewarded.  However, Coburn has two strikes against him as of right now.  First, The More The Merrier isn't remembered (one shudders to think if it had won another of its nominations).  Two...

Charles Bickford (The Song of Bernadette)
Charles Coburn (The More The Merrier)
J. Carroll Nash (Sahara)
Claude Rains (Casablanca)
Akim Tamiroff (For Whom the Bell Tolls)

He isn't Claude Rains' Captain Renault.  I freely confess that Renault is my favorite character, and Rains one of my favorite Old Hollywood actors.   Rains is gleefully corrupt, aware that he is playing a game where he has to stay one step ahead of everyone in order to survive.  He goes wherever the wind blows, be it Vichy or Free French.  Rains and Bogart make a great double-act, and I simply can't think of anyone who deserved to win as much as Rains for the moment.

Dana Andrews (The Ox-Bow Incident)
Nelson Eddy (The Phantom of the Opera)
J. Carroll Nash (Sahara)
Claude Rains (Casablanca)
Vincent Price (The Song of Bernadette)

I think it helps that Rains' performance has become iconic. 


Jean Arthur (The More The Merrier)
Ingrid Bergman (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Joan Fontaine (The Constant Nymph)
Greer Garson (Madame Curie)
Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette)

We have the fixation on biopics again, as Jones won for playing a real-life figure.  Oddly, Jones' win for playing Saint Bernadette Souibirous is only the second biographical performance by a female to win and the first in seven years.   It is surprising that The More The Merrier was Arthur's only Oscar nomination, but again, when you're battling a literal saint no amount of laughs will get you anywhere.  The Swedish Bergman playing it Latina?  OK.  Granted, Bergman to her dying day insisted that she thought more of her work in For Whom the Bell Tolls than Casablanca (considering the former a more 'important' film than the latter, whose status as one of the "Great Films" always puzzled her).  Curiously, Bergman also I think said that after seeing Jones' performance, she cried because she thought it a beautiful performance...and realized she had just lost the Oscar.

Jean Arthur (The More The Merrier)
Ingrid Bergman (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Joan Fontaine (The Constant Nymph)
Greer Garson (Madame Curie)
Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette)

For the moment, I'm leaning heavily towards Fontaine's work as the embodiment of youth and innocence in The Constant Nymph.  So far the news about her has been highly positive, and I think that given that she was older than what she played I think Fontaine managed to get away with passing herself off as younger. 

Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca)
Joan Fontaine (The Constant Nymph)
Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette)
Ethel Waters (Cabin in the Sky)
Teresa Wright (Shadow of a Doubt)

Screw Bergman's assessment of herself: I LOVED her in Casablanca as Ilsa the divided heroine.  For now though, I think Wright's performance as Charlie, the adoring niece who slowly discovers her beloved namesake uncle is a psychotic killer, is the performance that is the standout of 1943.


Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
Gary Cooper (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine)
Walter Pidgeon (Madame Curie)
Mickey Rooney (The Human Comedy)

Can we say that no one remembers Paul Lukas, let alone his performance in Watch on the Rhine?  Is it a bad performance?  I can't say.  However, when I think "Paul Lukas" the only thing that comes to mind is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, where he played Professor Aronnax.  I thought he was great in 20,000 Leagues, but again...Paul Lukas?

Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
Gary Cooper (For Whom the Bell Tolls)
Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine)
Walter Pidgeon (Madame Curie)
Mickey Rooney (The Human Comedy)

So, out of all the nominees, which one do YOU remember?  You must remember's Bogie who is the icon in perhaps his most iconic role.  Casablanca did something for Bogart that he hadn't done before: be the romantic lead.  His hard-edged yet sentimental Rick was a wounded soul.  See his "Gin Joints" scene, and hear that quiver in his voice as he attempts to drown his heartache about 'that woman'.  Cynical, sarcastic, yet noble, I can't find a greater or more memorable performance among the nominees than that of Humphrey Bogart.

Sorry, Paul Lukas...

Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca)
Joseph Cotten (Shadow of a Doubt)
Henry Fonda (The Ox-Bow Incident)
Mickey Rooney (The Human Comedy)
Orson Welles (Jane Eyre)

Note I said, 'among the nominees'.  If we go outside the official nominees, I find one whose performance could trump Bogie.  In more recent years, killers and psychopaths have earned their way to Oscar glory (Kathy Bates in Misery, Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight).  Not so in the past, where darkness rarely reigned.  Think about it: the year's Best Actress was a SAINT!  How then would you reward someone playing a murderous monster?  As noir begins to creep its way into film, it might have been possible to have given the never-nominated (or Honorary Oscar-awarded) Cotten his due, but I think that we have a case where his villainous Uncle Charlie is still thought of as one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest characters. 


A Change of Heart (Hit Parade of 1943)
Happiness is a Thing Called Joe (Cabin in the Sky)
My Shining Hour (The Sky's the Limit)
Saludos Amigos (Saludos Amigos)
Say a Pray'r for the Boys Over There (Hers to Hold)
That Old Black Magic (Star Spangled Rhythm)
They're Either Too Young or Too Old (Thank Your Lucky Stars)
We Mustn't Say Goodbye (Stage Door Canteen)
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To (Something to Shout About)
You'll Never Know (Hello, Frisco, Hello)

I hate having to write so many nominees and don't understand why the Academy had to nominate so many songs.  Granted, this was during the height of the movie musical, so they were rather spoiled for choice. 

I have nothing against You'll Never Know, a song I associate less with a film than with a time and particular performer.  This nostalgic number was made much more famous during World War II by Dame Vera Lynn (who is as of today still alive at 97, along with Doris Day the last singers who are so intertwined with the Second World War era). You'll Never Know became a standard for that era, where the longing of the men at war and women waiting and praying for them seemed so well-captured by both the song and Dame Vera's rendition.  I recommend listening to it (it's beautiful).  One can see how it won, but for myself, I think time has dimmed You'll Never Know.  There are at least three nominated songs that have stood the test of time, three that are now American standards.  This is why I am making my choice...

From Star Spangled Rhythm, That Old Black Magic, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer.   

However, I am taking my privilege and making my own selection from a song not nominated.  I picked this number because I think it's extremely funny, with clever lyrics and a joyful feel.  Granted, it is also one of the weirdest musical numbers I've seen (the lyrics are open to suggestion, those bananas in the extended sequence are phallic symbols gone mad, and only the Is There Anyone Here For Love? number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is more, well, subversively overt in its suggestiveness of homoeroticism).  Still, I find it endlessly amusing.  Therefore, my choice for Best Song and my FIVE nominees are...


Happiness is a Thing Called Joe (Cabin in the Sky)
The Lady in the Tutti-Fruitti Hat (The Gang's All Here)
That Old Black Magic (Star Spangled Rhythm)
They're Either Too Young or Too Old (Thank Your Lucky Stars)
You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To (Something to Shout About)


Clarence Brown (The Human Comedy)
Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)
Henry King (The Song of Bernadette)
Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait)
George Stevens (The More The Merrier)

I think Curtiz as a director was underappreciated then and now.  However, I think we have a rare case of the Academy going with the right choice.  As Steven Spielberg observed, Curtiz brings the scene just as its getting interesting and leaves as soon as its over.  Credit should be given to him in that he kept things flowing and sensible despite the film not making sense if one thought about it.

Clarence Brown (The Human Comedy)
Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)
Henry King (The Song of Bernadette)
Ernst Lubitsch (Heaven Can Wait)
George Stevens (The More The Merrier)

Oh yes, Casablanca is also one of if not my favorite film of all time.  That might color my view on the subject.

Michael Curtiz (Casablanca)
Alfred Hitchcock (Shadow of a Doubt)
Vincente Minnelli (Cabin in the Sky)
William Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident)
Billy Wilder (Five Graves to Cairo)

My love for Hitchcock remains solid and true...but did I mention my love for Casablanca?

And now, The Best Picture of 1943

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heaven Can Wait
The Human Comedy
In Which We Serve
Madame Curie
The More the Merrier
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine

There are few films that I would watch more than the winner for 1943.  There are some good movies here, some that are pretty much forgotten (Madame Curie, where art thou?), but one still stands out, still holds a special place in the heart of all cineastes and casual filmgoers, still evokes great passion. 

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heaven Can Wait
The Human Comedy
In Which We Serve
Madame Curie
The More the Merrier
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine

Mercifully, the plethora of Best Picture nominees gets whittled down to five from hereon out, or at least for the next sixty-six entries in this painfully long retrospective.  Again, I truly can't think of a better choice from the official list.  I can't. 

And Now, MY Choice for the Best Picture of 1943 Based on MY Choices...

Cabin in the Sky
Five Graves to Cairo
The Phantom of the Opera
Shadow of a Doubt

Oh, Shadow of a Doubt comes very close, painfully close but my heart and mind still whisper to me...Casablanca.



Lowenstein, Lowenstein...oh, wait, wrong film.

Next time, the 1944 Oscars.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gotham: Arkham Review


Arkham, the fourth Gotham episode, left me quite thrilled.  From the opening where we get a repeat of The Balloonman's great ending to the ending where we see just how dominant Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot is, Arkham was to my mind practically perfect. 

James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is enraged that Cobblepot (RLT) has returned.  He is convinced that if Falcone finds out he's alive, he will kill both of them now.  Cobblepot doesn't think so, telling him who looks for a dead man.  Oswald also tells Gordon that there is a war coming, and it centers around Arkham, a district in Gotham City that has been left in wrack and ruin, right down to the old insane asylum that dominates the area.  The Wayne family wanted to develop the area for low-cost housing.  The Falcone Family did also want to join in this philanthropic enterprise (though one imagines their motives were far less altruistic). 

Enter the rival Maroni Family, headed by Sal Maroni (David Zayas).  He too has plans for Arkham, but how to get at them (and strike out at his rival Falcone)?  Did HE have a pro-Falcone Councilman murdered?  Perhaps, but when a pro-Maroni Council is offed in a particularly nasty way (not that the other Councilman wasn't exactly treated well) it looks like the all-out war Cobblepot predicted is coming to pass.

Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) get information about a potential hitman, a figure named Gladwell (Hakeem Kae-Kazim).  Gordon and Bullock track him down, but lose him.  Eventually Gordon, with a clue Gladwell left behind, realizes who the next target is: His (Dis)Honor the Mayor (Richard Kind). 

The war, meanwhile, continues to grow.  Someone has made a direct hit on Maroni's restaurant, infuriating the mobster.  However, Maroni discovers that not all his money was stolen: a certain dishwasher is found in the freezer, holding some of the money, terrified about what he just saw.  Waiting in the wings along with Oswald is Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), who wants to replace Falcone with herself.  She also has begun auditioning female singers for her club, though voice is not as important as seduction skills.  She is playing a long game.

Not as long as that of Oswald Cobblepot.  His game is more dangerous game, one where he manipulates everyone and everything around him to play off one side against the other, coldly calculating the human cost.  In the end though, Gordon appears to be unable to win.  Although he and Bullock got the hitman and saved the Mayor's life, the Mayor has decided to split the difference between the warring sides.  Arkham WILL have low-cost housing (the Falcone plan)...AND the waste treatment plant close to the heart of the Maroni Family.  This puzzles Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) who wonders how all this could have happened. 

Gotham thoroughly surprised me with Arkham.   Like the last episode, the blending of the crime-of-the-week (murdered Councilmen) and the Batman elements (particularly the Penguin) kept things flowing.  The crimes were bizarre enough for this world (darts of death) but the detective work put in by everyone was also something that worked well.  The other stories (Mooney's bizarre genesis of a master plan, the subplot of Erin Roberts' Barbara Kean outing herself to Jim and the wild opening of Oswald Cobblepot showing up unannounced at Jim and Barbara's apartment) took up just enough airtime, neither being short-changed or overwhelming the episode.   While perhaps the Kean/Gordon love story may be the least interesting aspect of Arkham, Barbara's ultimatum of "You either let me in or you let me go," is one of the best lines in the episode.  

What I really loved about Arkham is how each character had their moment, and in particular Cory Michael Smith as Edward  Nygma.  For too long my second favorite Batman villain (one guess who's the first) was being relegated to the background, just popping in quickly and having not much to do.  Arkham still has Nygma appearing in one scene, but this time was different. 

First, unlike his other appearances there was a shall we say, more rational aspect to Smith's Nygma, as if this person not only functioned well but was almost...normal.  Second, Smith's voice was less cartoonish, again, sounding like a real person.  Third, there were no overt suggestions that Nygma will become a criminal mastermind, let alone one known for his riddles.  The closest he came was when he told Bullock and Gordon that they had a paradox.  When Bullock asks what it is, Nygma begins giving a definition OF the word, to which Bullock brusquely cuts him off.  In the scene, Nygma's manner was perfectly rational and even gave a little insight into Nygma's character, one who knows he's highly intelligent and thinks Bullock (and perhaps Gordon) aren't. 

I can't help think that if Gotham had adopted this way of thinking on Edward Nygma from the beginning, we could have dispensed with the more overt shout-outs to his future Riddler persona, which hampered both Gotham and Smith.  In Arkham, the more silly aspects of Nygma were dispensed with, which made both Smith and his character both more entertaining and more relevant to the goings-on.    

In a smaller role, Mazouz similarly continues to impress (though I think it would be good if he left Wayne Manor at least once: it is becoming slightly claustrophobic).  His slow rise from shell-shocked victim to more inquisitive master of his fate is something I enjoyed watching as well. 

McKenzie and Logue continue to work well as the upright officer and his not-upright but still efficient partner.  Logue's Bullock is not a pleasant figure, but so far he hasn't gone outside the law, merely bending it to breaking point.  McKenzie still has the fierce intensity of a man struggling against a world that is determined to beat him into submission, but he also is showing a darker side when his conflict about having spared Cobblepot rises to the surface.

However, the prize for the standout performance HAS to be Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald/Penguin.  From the moment he shows up at the apartment through how he 'gets rid of the evidence' shall we say RLT dominates every scene he's in.  He plays frightened and frightful with equal ease, particularly when he presents his gang with cannoli.  Just in how he casually declines an offer to share it with his minions gives me chills.   I may be the only critic to say this, but I don't care.


There, I've said it.  If that final scene where he comes with his sweet-box of death doesn't show that RLT hasn't made the Penguin his own and shows just how perfect his performance has been in every episode, then nothing will.  The guy is simply brilliant as Oswald Cobblepot: mixing a genuine sense of fear with a cold ruthlessness that sends shivers in how evil the character is, how he is able to think five steps ahead of everyone else.  Certainly that last bit of how he came to be involved in the drug war was a twist I wasn't expecting, and he had me fooled when Maroni's henchmen come across this timid little dishwasher suddenly elevated to Restaurant Manager.

Another aspect in Arkham that is simply brilliant is the cinematography, which continues to be one bathed in light and shadows that so perfectly capture the noir world of Gotham.  The darkness of the Gotham City Police Department (where I noticed for the first time that Bullock and Gordon have a remarkably sweet spot in the office overlooking almost everyone). The seedy nature of Fish Mooney's club (and the girl-fight she insists on at the docks, showing Mooney to be one sick b*tch). The menace of the asylum itself and Penguin's minions safe house (where, to coin a phrase, he took the cash, left the cannoli); the cool sophistication of the Gordon/Kean apartment. Gotham has such a fantastic look that says as much about the crumbling world it occupies as the characters or their actions do. 

If one wants to be picky, the hitman storyline ended perhaps in a quick manner but I still found it all thrilling and well-crafted, as well as surprisingly violent and gritty given this is network television.  One wonders how far Gotham would go (how violent or sexually graphic) if it were on Netflix or HBO.  Given what they do show (or leave to the imagination), it certainly is more than I am used to.

With simply great performances from the entire cast, expanded roles for both Maroni and especially Cory Michael Smith (whom I felt had been underused greatly) and a story that took wild twists and turns in its hour, Arkham for me is the best episode so far.  It will be a tough act to follow, but so far Gotham has become my favorite television show.

Sorry, Doctor Who....


Next Episode: Viper

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Crucifer of Blood: A Review



The television film adaptation of The Crucifer of Blood is a curious addition to Sherlock Holmes-based productions.  It stars American acting legend Charlton Heston in the role of the very British Sherlock Holmes, one where he recreates his Los Angeles theatrical performance.  On the whole I think Crucifer of Blood is entertaining if one thinks of it as a theatrical adaptation, where the stage origins are clearly visible. 

A loose adaptation of The Sign of Four, we start with an extended flashback to India, where Private Jonathan Small (Clive Wood) falls into possession of a maharajah's treasure during the Indian Mutiny at the Red Fort of Agra.  Two British officers, Colonel Alistair Cross (Edward Fox) and Captain Neville St. Claire (John Castle) find Small with this treasure, where the two natives aiding in guarding that particular gate are killed, one by St. Claire, one by his own hand.  The suicide believes he is now cursed, and that this curse will continue.  As insurance, Small has Cross and St. Claire sign a blood oath to share the treasure.

Thirty years have passed, and St. Claire's daughter Irene (Susannah Harker) has come to London to ask for help from Sherlock Holmes (Heston) and Dr. Watson (Richard Johnson) to help her father.  The Captain has become an opium addict, and appears haunted by both a strange curse and the death of her mother, which she believes her father caused.  Holmes and Watson go to Colonel Cross' massive estate, where we discover St. Claire is hiding, terrified of the treasure Cross has been hoarding (and which St. Claire has sold his rights to in exchange for a smaller pension).  However, in the dark and stormy night Cross is murdered almost right under Holmes and Watson's nose. 

With one of the military men dead and the other terrified, it is a search to find St. Claire.  He is found in an opium den, where the Chinese owner Fu Tching is none other than Sherlock Holmes (passing himself off for the real Fu Tching, who owes him a favor).  However, Small manages to strike again, as St. Claire is poisoned like Cross was.  The search is now on for Birdy Johnson (James Coyle), Cross' manservant who has run off.  Birdy does go to 221 B Baker Street while Holmes, Watson (who has fallen in love with Irene) and Inspector Lestrade (Simon Callow) have gone off chasing after Small.  Birdy comes to find Irene, and we get one or two more twists which Holmes has managed to put together.

As I finished Crucifer of Blood, I admit I was entertained by it, although I can see why many Holmesians (as Sherlockians now is almost exclusively reserved for fans/lunatics of the BBC's Sherlock television series) find great flaws within it.  The biggest issue involves Charlton Heston himself.  It isn't that Heston is a bad actor.  It's in the fact that he never bothers to attempt a British accent.  Heston sounds thoroughly American, which puts him at odds with all the other actors (who are British).  Furthermore, near the end we see Heston slip into the more theatrical mannerism that Heston at the latter stage of his career adopted.  When he begs Watson to stay rather than leave his services, it was delivered as dialogue, not as a plea to his friend. 

Finally, there's the age issue.  Heston appears a bit too old for the character.  This isn't a deal-breaker per se but it does make the forced romance between Johnson's Watson and Harker's Irene look bizarre at the very least.  Johnson looks like he's romancing his daughter to granddaughter (or at least her friend).  To their credit everyone does what they can to make it believable, but it does look a little bit curious.

Another aspect that Crucifer of Blood has against it is the deliberate play structure the film has.  Director/writer Fraser Heston (adapting the Paul Giovanni play) takes a few good steps visually (such as the extended flashback and St. Claire's drug-induced hallucinations in sepia) but the film is filmed in such a way that at times it does appear that it is basically a filmed play.  The titles on the screen almost read like a playbill (a scene opens with "An Hour Later" on the screen), and the film doesn't take advantage of opening up the play.  In many ways, Crucifer of Blood has the stage dressings and structure of a television movie with some aspirations, which was exactly what it was.

However, the film had some great qualities.  Of particular note was Harker, who made the transition her character required both believable and highly entertaining.  Castle was similarly excellent as the dying and tormented St. Claire, and his final scene was quite moving and effective.  Callow, while having a smaller part, was deliberately funny (in that inept way all policemen are) and brought that 'comic relief' the character required.

In a surprising turn, Charlton Heston's moment as Fu Tching was quite good (and better than his Sherlock Holmes).  One figures this Chinaman (to use the parlance of the times) WAS Holmes, but Heston was so good under the make-up it did make one wonder for a moment.  As Holmes himself, Heston was a bit theatrical (I figure drawing from the more broad performance the theater requires) but he was still entertaining.  One figures that Crucifer of Blood captures what Heston would have been like on stage, so that's a bit of a plus.  Fox has the 'evil Englishman' part pat, and he came off as a bit comical. 

The Crucifer of Blood should not be seen as high theater (as one might see Charlton Heston's version of another play-turned-TBS film, A Man for All Seasons), but as light entertainment.  Certainly the play is that: the characters' names evoke other Sherlock Holmes stories (Neville St. Claire was The Man With the Twisted Lip, the boat the chase after Small being called the Gloria Scott, and Irene, well, one guess).  I can imagine the play being highly entertaining if one didn't think too greatly on it.  It was meant for a good time, and the film version of it should I think be seen in that vein.  I think Holmesians would get a small kick out of seeing all these little in-jokes thrown at them, and they don't disturb the flow of the story, another plus.

Charlton Heston certainly won't rank among the great Sherlock Holmes interpretations like a Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, Vasily Livanov, or Benedict Cumberbatch (though for full disclosure, I prefer Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary myself).  However, Heston managed to hold his own (American accent notwithstanding) and kept things rolling.   It is a good thing that we got to see his stage version of Sherlock Holmes captured in the TV-film, and while not great it isn't the horror others might have made it out to be.  On the whole, I found Crucifer of Blood entertaining, like a night out at the theater, where I could forget my troubles and dabble in a little Victoriana. 

It's unfortunate that the original John Watson in the Los Angeles production of the Heston vehicle was not in the film.  That actor's name? 

Jeremy Brett.   


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wilson: A Review (Review #669)



I'm going to give you a scenario for a movie: a progressive college professor is thrust into the White House by universal acclaim (and deep divisions within the opposition party).  This leader is noble, is pure, is beloved, almost worshipped by all mankind, untouched by corrupt forces.  Far above all mankind in wisdom and foresight, he stands up to these nefarious evildoers, for he is somehow above politics.  This leader also knows the high cost of war and how we must avoid it at all cost, and would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and though he would not be appreciated within his lifetime, today his Presidency is ranked with that of Washington or Lincoln.

Minus the death of the First Lady, Wilson plays like a dress rehearsal for the Barack Obama Story (which I understand will be called King of Kings Part II: Grandson of God). 

I note the sharp irony that in real life, Woodrow Wilson would not only have hated this particular successor (because Wilson was an out-and-out racist who went out of his way to bring segregation at all levels of government), but would have been disgusted that anyone would have spoken that 'mulatto's' name in the same breath with his.  I do hope that when the official portrait of President Obama is placed in the White House, it faces that of President Wilson, as a perfect irritant to the memory of the man who thought Birth of a Nation was a documentary.  Wilson, the hagiography of the 23rd President, does not justify its massive length. It also does something deadly to any biopic: it goes from being a chronicle of a man's life to being a lavish love letter to its subject.  Wilson doesn't dive into the man's psyche so much as give us a shockingly glossy portrayal, one where it all comes off in turns dull and laughable. 

We start in 1919, when Woodrow Wilson (Alexander Knox) is indeed President...of Princeton University.  The Democratic Party calls on him to run for Governor of New Jersey, and like Cincinnatus, he goes forth to save the state.  "You believe in the principles of democratic equality, the abolition of any special privileged class", his wife Ellen (Ruth Nelson) tells him.  Now, the Jersey Dems thought Wilson would 'play ball', but he shocks them by being as honest as Caesar's wife.   He is beholden to NO man!  His time as New Jersey Governor puts him in contention for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and while he does not campaign for the nomination (being too noble), his underlings are more than happy to do it for him.

Well, a divided Republican Party allows Wilson to sweep into office, where he brings peace and love and greatness to all mankind.  Thanks to him, we have the Federal Reserve, Anti-Trust legislation, Federal Trade Commission, an eight-hour workday, and sunshine on Sundays. 

However, there is crisis both external and internal.  The world is falling apart just at the same time Ellen is dying, and the burdens are becoming greater and greater.  Still, he must go on, and so must his efforts to keep us out of war.  He knows the high cost of war (especially since the side he favored in the American Civil War lost).   However, when war comes, he must lead the nation to victory.  After victory though, those evil Republicans, headed by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) will not give the world peace through the League of Nations.  Being always right, Wilson will not compromise and embarks on a cross-country tour.  In the middle of all this, though, comes more tragedy.  The President suffers a major stroke, and the new First Lady, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (Geraldine Fitzgerald) does her best to ensure that the gravity of the President's condition be kept as closely a guarded secret as possible. 

Though paralyzed he cannot would paralyze the WORLD!

Despite his best efforts to make the world safe for democracy, his party is voted out thanks to his stubbornness about the League.  Wilson leaves office, sad but not bitter about all this, knowing he will rank among the greats, like his hero, Abraham Lincoln.

I remember watching a documentary about Wilson's producer, Darryl F. Zanuck.  When discussing Wilson, the interviewee marveled at how Zanuck, as shrewd a producer as anyone in Hollywood, would have thought Woodrow Wilson would make for an interesting subject, let alone a brilliant movie.  Abraham Lincoln, yes, he said, but WILSON?  It should be remembered that President Wilson was a hero to Zanuck, and thus he would of course imagine the whole world would see Woodrow Wilson the same way Wilson sees Wilson (and I imagine, how Woodrow Wilson saw Woodrow Wilson). 

The great problem with Wilson today is that the film is far too laudatory, making the President such a saintly, holy figure one is surprised that he didn't just walk across the Atlantic to go to Paris rather than waste time by taking a ship to get there.  There are scenes, dialogues, and scenarios that are beyond historically inaccurate and just downright laughable. 

Woodrow Wilson was a racist, plain and simple.  He still harbored animosity towards the North as a Southerner, so why would he think so highly of President Lincoln.  The idea that someone who enforced strict segregation in Washington, D.C. when prior to him, blacks and whites could work together somehow "believed in the principles of democratic equality" is insane and asinine.  He no more believed in 'democratic equality' than he believed in monarchy.  A little part of me suspects that if he could, President Wilson would have revoked the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Another rather far-fetched scene is when he secretly serves coffee and donuts to troops of various nationalities.  The idea that Wilson would be so welcoming of all races is rubbish.

Wilson makes no mention of the department of propaganda he set up to promote the war, or how he locked up those who opposed the war, like Socialist Presidential candidate Eugene Debs.   Maybe those scenes were deleted.

Wilson, if one looks at it today, just seems so enamored of its subject that the film becomes this Profile for Sainthood for good old Woody, too busy building him up to be this Titan For All Ages that the few times we see Wilson the man they almost ring hollow.   Alfred Newman's score announces WILSON WAS A GREAT MAN, and the opening title cards are a howler:
Sometimes the life of a man mirrors the life of a nation.  The destiny of our country was crystallized in the life and times of Washington and Lincoln...and perhaps, too, in the life of another President...This is a story of America and the story of a man...Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States...

Talk about laying it on a bit thick!  That is a direct quote, and it shows just how Wilson flops as history, for it is stubbornly determined to show Woodrow Wilson as something beyond a mere mortal and into an almost divine figure. 

As a film, Wilson also fails because Henry King's direction has almost everyone behaving so stiff and formal, as if they know they are caught up in 'great moments of history'.  There are a few good moments (Knox's scene with Ruth Ford as his daughter Margaret when he remembers his late wife was good), and Thomas Mitchell's lackey was a breath of fresh air to the rather profound nature the Wilsons lived in (though I wondered why he always called him "Governor" even when Wilson got to the White House).  Knox wasn't bad as the President, just so righteous all the time as Wilson that I would have volunteered to serve the Kaiser if it meant getting rid of this moralistic figure.

It is only when Wilson's growing stubbornness on the League makes him ever-so-slightly unsympathetic that Wilson managed to get some air into its grandiose ideas about the subject.  By this time the nearly two-and-a-half hour snoozefest has all but either wiped us out or had us cheer on the Republicans.

Wilson is a wasted opportunity because it insists we all love, admire, even worship the subject of the film.  It hides the negative aspects of Wilson's character and Presidency (the muzzling of dissent, the overt bigotry) to give us a very whitewashed idea of who this man was.  However, given how Woodrow Wilson loved all things white...


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Coquette: A Review


When the transition from silent to sound films took place, some stars rose, some fell.  Among those who struggled with the coming of 'talkies' was Mary Pickford, who before sound had been America's Sweetheart (via Canada) and one of the great silent film stars of all time, known throughout the world.  She was about the only person, male or female, to rival Charlie Chaplin in popularity.  Pickford was the first major star to make the transition, her shrewd producer's mind knowing that despite her love for silent films knew they were coming to an end.  Coquette, curiously, is not just interesting because it was Pickford's move from silence to sound.  This is an early example of someone going for a radical change in persona. 

The Girl With the Golden Curls had become a star primarily for playing children (a remarkable feat given she was a woman in her 30s).  She was seen as this symbol of purity, spunk, sweetness, and Coquette showed a Pickford her fans couldn't imagine, what with her bobbed hair and wildly flirtatious manner.  This would not be the last time a star took a role where they played against type, or that they would be rewarded with an Academy Award for this wild turnabout.   However, Coquette as a film is a sheer disaster: stagey, clumsy, horrendously acted (even by Pickford), and so mind-numbingly dull and lifeless both the film and Pickford's performance will rank among the Academy Awards' worst choices.

Norma Besant (Pickford) is a total flittering flirt, going hither and yon from one man to another.  Her father, Dr. John Besant (John St. Polis) is displeased with his daughter's wayward ways, but given she just teases without actually attaching herself to any real scandal, there's not much he can do on the subject.  Dr. Besant prefers the solid Stanley (Matt Moore) for a son-in-law, and while Norma toys with him, she now has her eyes set on the newest hunk to come around these here parts, one Michael Jeffrey (John Mack Brown).  He, however, is poor, hill country folk I think, while the Besants are from Southern aristocracy.  Norma tells Michael she'll marry him once he gets established and can show Daddy he's a good egg.

We go from the Summer Dance on June 16, 1928, to the Autumn Dance on September 18, to find that Michael can't truly stay away from the divine Norma.  For her part, while she is happy to do the Charleston and be the flapper she was born to be, Norma too finds Michael too hard to resist.  Discovering he is hiding outside the Country Club, she goes to him and swears eternal love.  However, Daddy Dearest won't go for this poor white trash a'courtin' his little honey-lamb, and is more outraged when we all discover they 'spent the night together'.  There's an argument that ensues, with Michael swearing to take her away.  Dr. Besant isn't about to let THAT happen, and up at Michael's shack, he lays dying of a gunshot wound.

Norma comforts him, pleading for him to stay with her and of the life they will lead together.  However, it is all for naught, and now her father must stand trial for murder (I guess Islamists aren't the first to go for these 'honor killing' things, only Southerners at least killed the guy not the girl). 

In any case, at trial Norma confesses to her wicked, wicked ways.  She says she could not resist Michael's lovemaking.  As it stands, while on the witness stand she sees the results of her actions, and Dr. Besant sees that he was wrong in what he did.  Taking a page out of Chekov's belief that if you introduce a gun into the story, you should use it, Dr. Besant takes the honorable way out (because, well, courts usually leave bullets in guns used as prosecution exhibits).  Norma, devastated by all that has happened, walks back home sadly, saying she has to help her not-so-little brother Jimmy (William Janney) with his math schoolwork.

Whether it was because this was her talking picture debut or because this film broke from her "little girl" image, I think in the long-run Pickford could simply not have made a worse choice in material than in Coquette.  The mannerisms of silent films, coupled with the technical limitations of early sound films, seemed absolutely determined to make Pickford look more than ill-at-ease with the microphone.  It made her look incompetent and almost ghoulish. 

Unlike her previous films, Pickford could not rely on a sweet charm to carry her through.  The hair and clothes styles marked her as a woman simply far too old-looking to play what is suppose to be a teenage to early twenties character with any sense of reality.  That isn't a real deal-breaker, but her performance is.  Pickford's Southern belle is so broad and mannered she make Rue McClanahan's Blanche Devereaux seem downright tame.  Again and again her histrionics came across as if Pickford were either under the impression that Coquette was a comedy or a silent film.   Throughout Coquette one sees that Pickford was finding the transition from silent to sound film acting a bit difficult since she is technically speaking but using her face and body to push her performance.  Her overwrought reaction to Michael's death nowadays might elicit laughter rather than tears.

That isn't to say Pickford alone shares the blame for Coquette's failure.  None of the actors did particularly well, being so dramatic it is in turns laughable and unbearable.  Perhaps it is fitting therefore that Louise Beavers as their maid Julia is the only sensible character in the film.  As a digression, it doesn't help in making Norma a sensible person when she not only acts like a child, but goes so far as to sit on Julia's lap!  Of particular note in the 'really bad acting' department is Brown, who looks physically imposing and appealing but once he starts to shake his fists or do anything close to human actions, he is stiff throughout.  As a corpse he's quite convincing though.

What really damns the film more is the technical flubs in it.  It's so stagey, forcing everyone to stand in a particular spot to have the audio recorded.  Stanley, for example, stands in the exact same spot that Jimmy was only a few minutes prior, which makes clear where the microphone was.  Adding more chaos is in how the sets look just like sets, and how the transition from day to night looks strange, almost making it too dark to see.  Finally, at the country club scene, the music is curiously so loud that the dialogue is all but drowned out, showing that filmmakers still hadn't found the right balance and making this really a hard film to watch.

However, Coquette would be a hard film to watch regardless of the clumsiness of early sound films.   Badly acted (especially in what Pickford probably thought was one of her defining roles, down to a shocking Oscar win...and that was even before people thought the Oscars actually meant anything), Coquette is worth watching only to see just how difficult the transition from silent to sound was.  Perhaps if Coquette had been a silent picture, it might have worked better.   It still might have been a bit broad, but at least it would have spared us some really bad dialogue and dimwitted characters.  It might also have allowed for a more artfully crafted film where they were not confined by the locked-in camera.

Coquette may have won Mary Pickford her desired Best Actress Oscar, but this film does not a legend become.  To get a true taste of Mary Pickford's brilliance, try one of her silent films.  The least said about Coquette in terms of Mary Pickford and the Academy Awards, the better.  In this case, it is true: Silence IS Golden. 


Monday, October 13, 2014

Franklin & Bash: Falcon's Nest Review


My Father, My Frat Brother...

There is an unexpected benefit of going back to Season One of Franklin & Bash is that it gives me a chance to find out what has happened to characters from the past.  With Falcon's Nest, we revisit Danny Dubois, aka Double D, an old friend of Peter Bash and His Royal Highness Elmo, Duke of Landingshire. 

Double D first appeared in Season One's Bro-Bono, which is the last Season One episode of Franklin & Bash I've reviewed.  Here, he makes a return appearance, older, wiser, and more mature: three things the leads are not.  Falcon's Nest is a very interesting example of what can happen when a former dimwit with no prospects grows up while current dimwits with tons of cash will not.  In many ways, the contrast between Double D and HRH and Peter Bash are so sad in so many ways.

The last time we saw Double D, he was living at this grandmother's retirement home, where he found a place in this world of retirees.  However, now with his grandmother dead Danny has to vacate the retirement home where he is genuinely liked and where he has found a sense of purpose.  Stu Weston (Armin Shimerman), the tyrannical head of the Casa Del Palms Retirement Homes' board, wants Danny out.  It doesn't matter that the residents love him and are pretty much willing to give him an exception to the age requirement.  With that, Double D turns to Peter and HRH for help.  There appears to be a way out.  The reason Double D was allowed to stay was because his grandmother lived there, and so long as she was around he was permitted to stay.  Therefore, why not get Grannie's last boyfriend, a resident who calls himself Falcon (Barry Bostwick) to adopt him as his son?  Never mind that Daniel James Dubois is 36 and Falcon is 76. 

Details, details.

It seems a stretch, and Falcon's drunken behavior (compared to the wildly mature Danny) doesn't help.  What then?  Well, our boys, being the legal minds that they are, decide on a new strategy: get DANNY to adopt Falcon!  Being Franklin & Bash, you can guess where this went.

In the subplot, HRH is still struggling with his relationship with Ellen Swatello (Rhea Seehorn), going so far as to blame HER for him sleeping with his best friend's mom because she broke up with him.  Swatello though, is having bigger problems than Elmo Franklin (if you want to think of that as a Breckin Meyer short joke, have at it--I'm frankly beyond caring now).  The firm's mercurial head, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) sees nothing strange in giving a corporate lawsuit to virtually untested Anita Haskins (Toni Trucks) rather than the ex-ADA Swatello (who bristles at the idea of being second chair to someone with almost zero courtroom experience).  Pulling rank, Damien Karp (Reed Diamond), who is attracted to Anita, opts to join Anita's First Chair, of course.

This lawsuit involves GoWest Airlines, which cancelled a flight that caused scientist Erica Boyd (Erica Birdsong) to miss a major conference that would have awarded her millions in grant funds that was virtually in the bag.  Anita has a secret agenda in going against GoWest, which is clouding her judgment in the eyes of Karp.  Anita balks at the settlement Damien worked out, telling him that for all their faults, HRH and Peter go to the mat for their clients.  However, Anita also calls out HRH and Peter, telling them that Karp is actually a good guy and extremely capable lawyer and are far too dismissive of Damien as both an attorney and a person.

Well, in order to win that case, Damien actually adopts a somewhat F&B method: asking that since the cancellation was due to 'an act of God', they should be allowed to call God Himself to the stand.  They settle for Ted (Matt Doherty), a GoWest technician whose report caused the airplane malfunction to be called 'an act of God'.  Well, they win that case too and Karp finds why Anita harbored this hostility: she missed the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones due to a similar GoWest cancellation, which in turn caused her to break up with her fiancée when he told her all that happened on that episode.

Now, I'm going to say that Falcon's Nest did have at least one amusing bit: the question as to which one of our two dimwitted himbos with law degrees was the 'sidekick'.   Apart from the idiocy of the argument itself hearing them referred to as "Yogi & Boo-Boo" (Karp), "Sherman & Mr. Peabody" (the judge in the adoption case), and "Wallace & Gromit" (Karp again) seems pretty accurate as to the intelligence level of both HRH Elmo, Duke of Landingshire and Peter Bash.   There is something again sad about two men who tell the retirement board that in a mental age test, both of them tested at 13...collectively.  Danny's score was in the 60s age group.

That, however, was not how I would have described Falcon, and a little part of me thought Barry Bostwick could do better than his drunk, disheveled loon, a guy who describes himself as a Golden Girls God.   I figure he played the part well, but somehow, I couldn't help think that with Falcon, we were looking into HRH and Peter's future (especially since neither appears willing to move away from the other in a relationship I think has grown toxic).   I'm not going to argue against the adult adoption idea because it doesn't seem too far-fetched.  Having Danny adopt Falcon though...

In any case, there were things to enjoy in Falcon's Nest, such as the interaction of Trucks and Diamond as they continue their odd dance, and seeing Jenny O'Hara as the octogenarian ex-hooker Nanette is always fun (though sadly, I thought THIS should have been the episode Pindar said goodbye...even if seeing Kumail Ninjiani in bed with O'Hara would have scarred everyone for life).  I also thought Michael Weaver's Danny was a much better and stronger performance than last time, and I think he just deserves better than what he was given.  Seehorn similarly kept the stiff Swatello we've come to actually admire as one of the few sane people in this madhouse, but also brought a little softness when she realized that when Anita was asking her advise about someone being attracted to someone else at the law firm, she wasn't referring to Ellen Swatello herself.

If it weren't for those other factors (like Infeld so brazenly dismissing Swatello, or relying too much on Danny's maturity to bail them out), Falcon's Nest could have risen higher.  Truth be told, in retrospect Falcon's Nest might actually be the best Franklin & Bash of the season if you think an average Franklin & Bash episode should be based around idiocy.  It's harmless, dumb, and this might be the first time I think I was too harsh with a show that has just sunk. 

For the moment, I'm holding to my decision, but who knows...I may yet adopt a different idea.     

Yeah, an "Emmy-winning" script...


Next Episode: Spirits in the Material World

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gotham: The Balloonman Review


The Balloonman is the first Gotham episode that I felt brought together the police procedural we have and the Batman story we are leading up to in a perfectly balanced way.  This is due to having two stories going on simultaneously: the investigation of crimes that are pretty bizarre (fitting in this comic book-based world) and the slow rise of a prime Batman villain, The Penguin.  It also helps that nearly everyone's performances in The Balloonman are top-notch, with two or three standing out in a sea of altogether strong performances.

Gotham has a mysterious avenging angel.  He finds disreputable members of society (an embezzler, a dirty cop, a very dirty cardinal) and executes them by latching them onto a weather balloon and have them float up into the air.  As we know, what goes up...

Put on the case is Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).  Bullock is generally unconcerned that these figures are going up, up, and away, but Gordon, being Gordon, believes no one can take the law into their own hands.  As they continue to investigate, a clue finds that the case is tied to Gordon via the caseworker for Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who now has both provided information about the Wayne murders and managed to run off.

Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) has slithered back to Gotham, taking the first steps to become a master criminal.  He finds the grime and corruption of the city beautiful.  With his mind still on revenge against Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), he gets a job at the restaurant of Sal Maroni (David Zayas), the rival to Mooney's patron Falcone (John Doman).   Mooney, even if she were aware of Cobblepot's return, is too concerned with striking at Falcone, which involves having his girl go through an off-screen 'accident' and even getting rid of her faithful and loyal lover, Lazlo (Michelangelo Milano).  Gotham is coming closer to a crime war, but there are other players that have yet to make their presence known.

Meanwhile, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), whose drug and lesbian history is slowly being revealed to us (but not Gordon) keeps having doubts about James placed by her former lover, Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), who thinks Gordon is dirty.  She is convinced Gordon killed Cobblepot on Falcone's orders, so when Oswald shows up at Barbara and James' flat, it comes as a shock to both of them (and imagine if Montoya knew about this).

In all of this, young Master Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), becoming obsessed with the investigation of his parent's death and the actions of the now-captured Balloonman, he wonders whether someone may be willing to break the law in order to save it.  Who will defend the people of Gotham, a reporter asks, now that the vigilante Balloonman has been taken.  Young Bruce ponders such a query...

The Balloonman works so well because of three things: story, visuals, and performances.  In regards to the first, we see that the cases Bullock and Gordon are getting are not tied to the general Batman mythos.  They may be as I am not well-versed enough to know every detail of it.  However, the crimes of the Balloonman are bizarre enough to take place in this comic book-based world and yet be grounded (no pun intended) in that world's reality.  The actual revelation of the Balloonman was both logical in terms of investigative work (albeit with a touch too happy coincidence) and plausible.

The Balloonman himself is in some ways a more twisted version of Gordon.  James Gordon is someone who will fight to protect all, both guilty and innocent.  The Balloonman has similar goals, but he has decided to work outside the law to enact justice on those the law is unable to touch.  Despite the call for him to do the same, James Gordon is not prepared to slip into the darkness of justice.  Bullock, for his part, has no problem giving the Balloonman a taste of his own medicine, but while the shady Bullock and the moral Gordon have reached détente with their worldviews and are forming a solid team, Gordon will not slip into Bullock's darkness either.  Throwing himself onto a floating Balloonman, it is now Bullock who is faced with a moral dilemma: let the scum go up with his partner or bring both of them down to safety. 

Seeing the interaction between Logue (whom I'm starting to like as Bullock) and McKenzie (whom I'm also liking and identifying with) is one of the great treats of Gotham.  They even bring a touch of comedy, as when an irate Gordon asks what information Bullock got from a hotdog vendor.  None, Harvey replies.  He just wanted a hotdog.  Seeing Gordon save Bullock from having a large woman almost smash his head in with a television screen is tense.  Seeing Bullock punch said woman out is funny in a very creepy way.

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself.  The storylines of the Balloonman and Penguin's rise are balance with neither overwhelming the other.  We also continue to keep getting simply amazing visuals in Gotham, from the shocking rise and fall of Gotham's best and brightest to when Jimmy the balloon company head whose balloons were stolen.  Gotham has captured the noir atmosphere of a city crumbling all around us so well, again...Outstanding Cinematography Emmy consideration here.

It's a longer shot given how snobbish and at times idiotic the Television Academy can be, but there would be no justice if Robin Lord Taylor isn't already showing up on potential Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series lists for his pitch-perfect performance as Oswald Cobblepot.  Taylor shows Cobblepot to seemingly be weak, almost frightened (as when a low-level thug for Mooney recognizes him and is dragging him off to her club) to completely turn it around and show Cobblepot to be a dangerous and deadly enemy.  Very same scene, Cobblepot seems to gather his senses and violently kills this thug off.  Being network television there is only so much they can show, but the visuals and what we ARE shown are enough to leave their impression.  When Cobblepot is told he doesn't have the right kind of shoes to work at Maroni's restaurant, Oswald sees someone who does, and instantly we see the wheels turning.

In turns chilling and almost sympathetic, RLT is slowly creating what I think may be the most iconic interpretation of The Penguin.  As he once was in awe of Danny DeVito's Penguin in Batman Returns, so many Gotham viewers will be in awe of Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin. 

Pinkett Smith continues to have fun as the deliciously evil Fish Mooney, and while she had a small role Bicondova does great work as Selina.  However, for me the second standout (RLT being the first) is David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne.  Again, his role is small (understandably), but he so commands the screen with that mix of despair and innocence.  While watching the television report on the Balloonman, we can see that Master Bruce is pondering seriously who can be in a position to save Gotham from itself.  All the ideas of who Bruce Wayne will grow up to be appear to be entering his mind, and Mazouz continues to rise and rise in his interpretation. 

The Balloonman manages to tell two stories well, has strong visual elements, and really strong performances all around (Taylor and Mazouz being my favorites and I believe the strongest).  I'm so pleased that Gotham is finding its rhythm and that if it keeps producing episodes like The Balloonman, it will not only be a hit but will be a great addition to the Batman Canon.



Next Episode: Arkham