Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2016 Best Supporting Actress: Some Thoughts

Thelma Ritter:
Record for Most Best Supporting Actress
Nominations Without A Win 
(Six Nominations)

This is the third part of a seven-part retrospective on the 2016 Academy Awards.  Today, I look at the Best Supporting Actress of 2016 nominees.

The nominees are:

Viola Davis: Fences
Naomie Harris: Moonlight
Nicole Kidman: Lion
Octavia Spencer: Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams: Manchester By the Sea

Viola Davis

Davis has had a long time with Fences, having played the part of Rose on Broadway (and winning a Tony for it).  It's not a big or showy part really.  More often than not, she is a silent or supportive partner to Denzel Washington's Troy.  However, Davis' strong performance comes from communicating Rose's emotions, her anger, her grief, and her love for her man with her face and her eyes.  Davis is a national treasure, and she makes Fences a wonderful thing to watch, even if it doesn't break far from its theatrical roots.

Naomie Harris

Give Harris credit: she never makes you doubt she's anything but this troubled, lower-working class drug addict as opposed to the glamorous British woman she is.  She is generally unsympathetic as Paula, who is horrible to her son (though whether she's horrible because of her addiction or because she suspects he's gay I'm not sure).  Her moment comes at her last scene, where a clean and sober Paula begs forgiveness.  Seeing the mix of repentance and regret within her, and the fact that there are no easy, pat resolutions to the chaos she created, tears at you.

Nicole Kidman

For a while, Kidman was lost in a mix of glamorous parts or just bombs.  One of two previous Oscar winners on our slate, Kidman looked as if she was relegated to perpetual also-ran, a figure known as a star but not an actress.  Good for her for turning that around and delivering a strong, heartfelt performance as Sue Brierley, adoptive mother of our main character.  She was a regular person, one who loved her two boys even when they caused her pain.  Again, we have another tear-filled moment when she informs her oldest son why she chose adoption when she was perfectly capable of bearing children.

Octavia Spencer

The second returning Oscar winner (and the only one to return to the same category), Spencer was the only performer singled out for Hidden Figures.  Spencer also makes history as the first black Oscar winning actress to be nominated again after her win (Hattie McDaniel never was renominated, and as of today neither Whoopi Goldberg, Mo'Nique, or Halle Berry have received another nomination).  As Dorothy Vaughn, one of the real-life African-American women whose work at NASA during the Space Race helped get men to reach the stars, Spencer balanced a quiet strength with strong determination.  Not as retiring as Taraji P. Henson's character, not as forthright as Janelle Monae's character, Spencer made her presence known, becoming a role model for all regardless of race and/or gender.

Michelle Williams

Whoever dismissed Williams for starting out in the tawdry teen drama Dawson's Creek is a fool onto him/herself.   Williams has been the only member of Dawson's Creek to have moved long past the series to establish herself as one of our top actress.  As Randi, the grieving mother and wife who attempts to build her life again after a horrible tragedy upends her if not idyllic at least accepted life, Williams again shows her extraordinary range and talent.  This, her fourth Oscar nomination, shows that Williams continues to be among our best younger actress working today.

Closing Thoughts:

It's a strange thing that Supporting Actress is both a tough competition and the last surviving lock for one nominee.  Every one of these nominees would be worthy of winning.  Each gave a strong performance, each in a searing drama (with the exception of Spencer, none of them had any light moments in their roles).  It's a heavy-drama slate, but it's one that is rich in performances.  Still, there can be only one, and almost from the get-go Viola Davis has been ahead and no one has ever proven themselves to be a serious challenge.  Unlike other categories where once-certain winners found themselves collapsing, Davis has not faced anyone to threaten her dominance.  While I wish there were other nominees, like Spencer and Harris' Hidden Figures and Moonlight costar Janelle Monae, I think the winner is almost a given.

My Prediction:  Viola Davis

My Rankings:

Viola Davis
Octavia Spencer
Michelle Williams
Nicole Kidman
Naomie Harris

Monday, February 20, 2017

2016 Best Director: Some Thoughts

John Ford:
Four-Time Best Director
(Most of Any Director)

The second of a seven part retrospective on this year's Academy Awards.  Today, I focus on the Best Director nominees.

The nominees for 2016's Best Director Are:

Damien Chazelle: La La Land
Mel Gibson: Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins: Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan: Manchester By the Sea
Denis Villeneuve: Arrival

Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

I loved Chazelle's work in Whiplash, a bold, thrilling debut.  La La Land, his ode to the Hollywood musical of yesteryear mixed with his Millennial sensibilities, has made him the man of the hour.  At 32, he will be the youngest Best Director winner should he win, tying Norman Taurog, who was also 32 when he won for directing Skippy (though given Chazelle was born in January and Taurog in February, I think Taurog would still be the youngest if perhaps you go by days and months).  Personally, I was not overwhelmed with his directing of La La Land.  Again, the hyperventilating the film has caused among my fellow critics pushes me to almost mark down my original view of the film, but now that I ponder things, I wonder whether I can say he directed people versus moving characters around.  With Whiplash, the characters were real, motivated by their emotions.  With La La Land, they were cute but not real, particularly Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling, who always struck me as being too forced in his performance.

Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)

Haven't seen Hacksaw Ridge, won't see Hacksaw Ridge.  I'm still personally reviled by Gibson's anti-Semitism and homophobia and cannot bring myself to support him in any way.  His nomination shows that he has come back into the good graces of at least certain members of the Hollywood community, but I find it most curious that all these actors, who bemoan American xenophobia/homophobia/Islamophobia et al. of the President can turn around and laud someone like Gibson.  Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is a great film.  However, I reserve the right not to watch it.  Curiously, Gibson is the only person nominated who has been a nominee and winner before for Braveheart.

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

There has been a dearth of African-American Best Director nominees. Think on it: in the history of the Academy Awards, there have been only four black directors nominated: John Singleton (the youngest nominee ever at 24), Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and now Jenkins (McQueen, being British, makes it hard to call him 'African-American').  Best Director has already gone to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), but it's in directing that the glass ceiling has yet to be broken when it comes to black directors (Chinese director Ang Lee already having won two).  Could Jenkins be the one to do it?  I certainly think so.  Moonlight was a hypnotically filmed picture, and Jenkins got his cast (a mixture of trained and untrained performers, most of them unknown) to give moving performances, to keep the story going, and to create a mesmerizing film experience.

Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)

First, I should say that I was not impressed with You Can Count on Me, well, apart from Laura Linney (but then I pretty much love her in anything).  Manchester By the Sea, this portrait of a grief observed, had excellent performances all around and was as real as anything I've seen this year.  These were real people in intense sadness, with no pat answers at the end.  A moving experience, albeit one that will not leave people leaving the theater in a jolly state of mind.

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

I skipped Arrival, though hope to see it before the actual ceremony.  I didn't boycott it like I did with Hacksaw Ridge.  I just didn't get around to it.  Going strictly by reputation, I figure this is an intelligent science-fiction film, a rarity in the genre. 

Closing Thoughts:

Damn La La Land

This incessant push to declare it a hallmark in cinema is endangering the chance for two better directors to win.  I simply won't consider Gibson: not only does he have a Best Director Oscar already, but there's that whole 'he's either insane or a vicious human being' business.  Villeneuve will have to content himself with the nomination, as the Academy has been fiercely resistant to science-fiction, even intelligent sci-fi (this is the same group that denied Stanley Kubrick a nomination for 2001: A Space Odyssey). 

That leaves three men with a realistic chance, or at least two, since I see Lonergan's chances fading.  Chazelle seems to be the odds-on favorite for the trifle that is the celebratory La La Land, but I would not discount Jenkins for Moonlight.  The Academy tends to prefer drama over trifles, so Jenkins isn't completely out of the running.  However, La La Land's excessively rhapsodic acceptance in Hollywood is hard to overcome.  Youth, I fear, will win out, and when it comes to Best Director, it's still #OscarsSoWhite.

My Prediction:  Damien Chazelle

My Rankings:

Barry Jenkins
Kenneth Lonerman
Denis Villeneuve
Damien Chazelle
Mel Gibson

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2016 Best Original Song: Some Thoughts

The first of a seven part series on seven categories for this year's Academy Awards.  Today, the nominees for Best Original Song.

I can't explain why Writing's on the Wall, a song written in twenty minutes and generally reviled by critics and Bond fans, became the second Bond Song to win Best Original Song.  Truth be told,  I disliked Skyfall too, but that's for another day.  Yet I digress.

First, let's cover the five nominated songs for Best Original Song, then some general thoughts.

The nominees for Best Original Song of 2016 are:

Audition (The Fools Who Dream): La La Land
Can't Stop the Feeling: Trolls
City of Stars: La La Land
The Empty Chair: Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I'll Go: Moana

Audition (The Fools Who Dream): Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

I think I might change my view on Emma Stone's singing.  It's not the greatest.  Having heard it, Audition is a nice ode to those who have big ideas, but as I hear it, I'm not overwhelmed with it.  Further, for a film that touts itself heavily as a musical, Audition isn't integral to the overall plot.  Granted, I'm shifting into a La La Land backlasher, sensing that my fellow critics have gone overboard with their anointing the film as the greatest musical of all time.  Even before the hoopla went bonkers for La La Land, Audition was the song most built up...but left me slightly cold.

Can't Stop the Feeling!: Music & Lyrics by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster

The most ubiquitous of the nominees, Can't Stop the Feeling! was in constant rotation long before Trolls was released.  Justin Timberlake certainly thinks he's a musical genius, and I'm not going to lie: I do enjoy some of his music.  The fact that it was a big hit long before the film was released is both a good and bad.  Good in that it's probably the song most of the viewers have actually heard.  Bad in that Can't Stop the Feeling! isn't all that different from any other Justin Timberlake song.  Perhaps I'm a bit at a disadvantage since I haven't seen Trolls yet, but while it's peppy and fun, I don't see it as particularly memorable.

City of Stars: Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Again, while Stone isn't a terrible singer, Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling is.  How he ended up on the Mickey Mouse Club with Timberlake leaves one scratching their head, but I digress.  I admit to liking City of Stars, finding a bit of melancholy behind what is supposed to be this generation's Singin' In the Rain.  Part of me now thinks, if you removed the songs from La La Land, would the film be an actual musical?  After all, my training when it comes to musicals is that songs are meant to be sung to either further the plot or express a character's emotions.  The opening song from La La Land, Another Day of Sun, is certainly in that tradition: as big a number as has been seen in film.  However, the songs get toned done, and when I think of City of Stars, it looks like our characters are writing the song rather making it a true duet. 

The Empty Chair: Music & Lyrics by J. Ralph and Sting

The big shocker when the nominees were announced, documentaries are now a good way to get songs into contention.  Melissa Etheridge won for I Need to Wake Up from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the first documentary song to win.  Since 2006, five other documentaries have been in the running for Original Song, four of those courtesy of J. Ralph.  Curiously, he and his collaborator Gordon Sumner are the only returning nominees.  The Empty Chair, if anything, will depress viewers, it's mournful quality matching the tragedy of James Foley.  Perhaps J. Ralph just gravitates to dour subjects: his previous nominations are all for slow, mournful songs.  Despite Sting's participation, The Empty Chair, if it is played during the ceremony, will leave viewers wondering what it's all about (if it doesn't leave them hopeless miserable).

How Far I'll Go: Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Again, I'm at a disadvantage in that I haven't seen Moana.  I can guess where it fits into the film (the line about trying to be a good daughter makes me think this song is before she sets off on her adventure).  How Far I'll Go is no Let It Go, a big showstopping number is almost built for a Broadway show.  It isn't even a Happy, a song that you can sing along to.  It's not a bad song, but given that it was written by Miranda, still on a high kick with Hamilton: The Musical, one wonders if How Far I'll Go is even the best song in Moana, let alone of all the five nominated.

Closing Thoughts:

I'm not impressed with our slate of nominees.  I think the Academy made a lousy decision to exclude either Runnin' or I See A Victory from Hidden Figures, both songs that I think are frankly more memorable, even more upbeat (with the exception of Can't Stop the Feeling!, which is really peppy). Regardless of which song actually wins, none of them will be mentioned with Over the Rainbow or High Hopes or Lose Yourself.   I think the winner, whichever one it ends up being, will be relegated to the likes of In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, Sweet Leilani, or more recent winners.

Writing's on the Wall.  Skyfall.  We Belong Together. Man or Muppet.  All those won Best Original Song this decade, and yet I doubt anyone really remembers them, let alone can sing them or even remember what film they came from.  In this decade, I think only Glory from Selma and Let It Go will carry on to immortality.  This year, we're going to get another Skyfall: a song people thought was good at the time, but that will fade into obscurity.

As I look at the nominees, there is one that I do like and think will win, and one that maybe might prove me wrong.  However, I don't hold out much hope for it. 

My Predictions:

Winner: City of Stars


City of Stars

Can't Stop the Feeling!
How Far I'll Go
Audition (The Fools Who Dream)
The Empty Chair

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mistress of Songs: Gigi Review


What truly astonishes me about Gigi isn't its elegant confection of color and music, a beautiful concoction of fin-de-siècle wardrobe and morals.  It's the fact that a story about a courtesan could not only be made past the censors, but that it could be considered a delightful, even charming musical comedy.  Did the censors not see that this was a tale of gleeful Gallic infidelity, of cute courtesans, of whores and the men who pay them?  Yet, perhaps because this somewhat sordid tale of unwedded bliss and the training of a nymphet pre-Lolita is couched with such wonderful music by Lerner & Lowe, a lot can be forgiven.  I'm not sure it winning Best Picture is one of those that can be forgiven, but more on that later.

Narrated by bon vivant and elder playboy Honore (Maurice Chevalier), he sings about how we should Thank Heaven For Little Girls (which, I understand, is Roman Polanski's theme song, but I digress).  The focus is on one particular little girl, our title character of Gigi (Leslie Caron).  She's a sweet but uncultured girl, fun-loving but not interested in the lessons in culture and breeding her Grandmama, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and her fearsome Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) give.  Unbeknown to her, these lessons are vitally important.

Enter Madame Alvarez's friend and Honore's nephew, Gaston (Louis Jourdan).  He is fond of "Mamita" and of Gigi, in an older brother type of way.  However, the Belle Epoque holds no beauty for him, as the constant whirl of Parisian lovemaking is one he finds A Bore.  He'll go through the motions, even having a mistress, Madame L'Exelmans (Eva Gabor), but he wishes for something true.  He finds that only in the gleeful innocence of Gigi. 

Things take a turn for everyone when Gaston dumps his mistress publicly for schtupping on the side with her skating instructor.  She 'commits suicide' (or rather, attempts it), but this is all part of what is expected among the higher echelons of the City of Lights, as is a devil-may-care attitude by Gaston.  He goes through the motions, but he's bored with it all.  Despite whatever good sense he may have, he has Gigi and Mamita come to the sea with him, where he laughs thanks to Gigi's joie de vivre, and Madame Alvarez and Honore have a reunion, where these two old lovers each say how I Remember It Well.

Aunt Alicia is horrified at her sister's clumsiness at allowing Gigi to go with Gaston with no promises to make Gigi his mistress, and now both sisters see that it is best to get Gigi all settled into her life as a courtesan.  Both Gaston and Gigi are not thrilled with this idea, but Gaston finds that he is in love with Gigi, and Gigi finds it hard to be without Gaston, so we will go through the motions.

Gigi's debut as his mistress (minus the sex, which for some reason we don't see) is a smashing success, with Gigi showing all the breeding required to be a great courtesan.  However, when Honore appears at Maxim's with his newest conquest and finds Gaston is with Gigi, his delight (not to mention perhaps the suggestion that Honore might like to take a crack at Gigi himself once Gaston moves on to someone else), is too much for Gaston.  Dragging poor Gigi back to her and Mamita's flat, Gaston asks permission to make Gigi, not his mistress, but his wife.

It's pretty incredible, as I said, to imagine that a tale that involves the training of a young woman to be someone's piece of ass can be thought of as a charming film, but it's a credit to two or three principle figures that makes Gigi work at being cute without being almost perverse.

The first is to the songwriting team of Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Lowe.  Gigi has at least four remarkable songs that expand on characters and are just some of their best work.  For me, their best song in Gigi is the duet between Honore and Madame Alvarez, I Remember It Well.  The back-and-forth between Chevalier and Gingold is lyrically so perfect (Honore's faulty memory to Alvarez's, but both acknowledging their fondness), and musically there is a mix of romance and melancholy.

We met at nine/We met at eight
I was on time/No, you were late
Ah yes, I Remember It Well...

Through the rest of the song, it goes back and forth like this, with Honore's memories not matching Alvarez's.  However, I don't think it's the fact that Honore has the details wrong, but that Alvarez was the one woman he wishes to remember that gets at the listener.  There's a sense of love still there, hazy memory and all.

The second is the joyful The Night They Invented Champagne. The delight and joy in this pure romp expresses not just happiness found in bubbly, but in company (in this case, between Gigi, Gaston, and Alvarez).  A third number, not as well remembered but still one I enjoyed, was Chevalier's solo I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore, where we see why Chevalier was so popular: a Gallic gaiety, with his signature dance moves (down to his hat at a jaunty angle).  The last, albeit perhaps the creepiest, is the aforementioned Thank Heaven For Little Girls.  It's a lovely melody, but the thought that a man as old as Honore would be singing about the joys of little girls, perhaps today, comes across as almost pedophilic (unless you're a twelve-year-old who likes to lick the fingers of someone twice your age that you're sexually attracted to).

The other songs were good but not something I figure are up to that level, and that includes the title song.  I could remember some parts of Gigi, but don't understand why that song was singled out when either I Remember It Well or The Night They Invented Champagne were better (and more memorable).  I can remember the melody of Gigi, but not the words, while with the other two, I can remember both.

The second person responsible for making Gigi into a treat and not a bore is director Vincente Minnelli.  Give him credit: he not only knew how to keep things flowing (I hardly noticed how the time flew) but brought great performances out of his cast.  Chevalier was a delight as the rakish Honore, unapologetic about his desires and pursuits, with a wry twinkle in the eye.  Caron was beautiful and enchanting as Gigi, this mixture of innocence and elegance (the transformation from tomboyish figure to sophisticated courtesan breathtaking).  Minnelli also made the world of Gigi just real enough without it being bogged down with too much logic.

As a side note, give credit also to Cecil Beaton, whose costumes and sets made things so much more posh and beautiful.

Finally, the third figure is producer Arthur Freed.  He was the master musical producer at MGM, and Gigi is as lavish and elegant a musical as any in his catalog (which includes another Minnelli directed-Caron acted/danced production, An American in Paris).

Now perhaps we come up with problems.  Gigi suffers a bit from being too similar to yet another musical, My Fair Lady.  Both were written by Lerner & Lowe, and both revolve around a woman being transformed into something else (a Cockney in one, a courtesan in another).  It follows a similar story arc and one wouldn't be blamed for thinking songs from one could have been used in the other (which is not off the mark, since Say A Prayer For Me Tonight, sung by Gigi before going to Maxim's to debut as Gaston's mistress, was meant for My Fair Lady's Eliza Dolittle before going to the ball to debut as Higgins' creation). 

Lerner & Lowe even have a similar 'debate' song in each, where the male character argues with himself about his feelings for the title female character; in My Fair Lady, Higgins debates what he feels in I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, in Gigi, Gaston debates what he feels in Gigi.

As much as Gigi creates this world of dalliances and elegant, almost delightful decadence, I don't get why so much humor was meant to be derived from a failed suicide attempt.  Granted, they mention that she's tried it before (and deliberately failing every time, almost like a ritual to be done to keep the game going).  However, I found that (and Honore's slight lechery) a bit surprising. 

Gigi is very pretty, with some wonderful songs and a cheery exterior.  I'm not convinced that it is a great film.  It's entertaining, it's delightful, but a bit shallow, and I figure that's all it set out to be.

One thing, at least for me, is that I'll Remember It Well.


1959 Best Picture: Ben-Hur

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Librarians: And the Fatal Separation Review


A little monkey business is in store for the episode of The LibrariansAnd the Fatal Separation has a lot more action and appears to be a showcase for a fan favorite: Christian Kane's Jacob Stone.  It brings to mind last week's episode, where one Librarian's story was at center of things.  And the Fatal Separation had a lot of action, a lot of comedy, and even managed to give everyone, even the guest stars, a moment.  One 'twist' to my mind didn't work well, which brought things down a bit.

We got to Shangri-La, where Stone has been in training in the martial arts (which should not be confused for THE arts per Meryl Streep's dictates), by none other than Shangri-La's leader, the Monkey King himself (Ernie Reyes, Jr.). Stone has progressed well both in the martial arts and in the philosophical wisdom he has gained, when out of nowhere ninjas storm the palace.

They are under the command of Sterling Lam (Robert Wu), a collector of rare artifacts and a rival to Librarian Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle).  Carsen relishes the chance to go after Lam again, as well as save Shangri-La, for whoever possesses the Staff of Shangri-La at sunset will rule over the kingdom.

His plan is a variation of the Trojan Horse, where Cassandra Cillian and Ezekiel Jones (Lindy Booth and John Kim) will bring in a rare artifact Flynn beat Lam to as a way to sneak himself, Stone, and Guardian Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) into the kingdom.  Things go from bad to worse when they find the Monkey King is under a spell that makes him dangerous.  Things oddly don't get better when Eve is captured and Flynn and Stone find Charlene (Jane Curtin), who has been hiding out in Lam's collection to hide her from Apep.

Charlene decides that in order to stop Apep, she must give up her immortality, which angers Flynn.  However, as the First Guardian, she agrees to help in one last mission.  Baird, for her part, is brought to General Rockwell (Vanessa Williams), who gives her some shocking information: Baird is a sleeper agent for DOSA (Department of Statistical Anomalies), which Baird was unaware of.

Despite this, Baird will not help DOSA take the Library, insisting the artifacts within it are not used as weapons of mass destruction but there to be protected.  It is a battle to save Shangri-La, especially with Lam's henchwoman (Michelle Lee) firing darts and controlling His Majesty, who in turn fits his protégé Stone.  Ultimately though, things are set right, with the Monkey King even giving Stone a spell, which shocks the vehemently anti-magic Stone.  Charlene goes into another world with the help of Jenkins (John Larroquette), who confesses his love.

Let's start with what I think is And the Fatal Separation's biggest flaw: the revelation of Baird's unwitting aid to DOSA.  For me, I think it robs some of the fun of how Flynn and Baird met way back in the beginning.  Up to a point, I can see why it was done: to tie DOSA to the larger Librarian mythos and give a shocking twist.  However, part of me felt like we lost something we had had for three years, as if some new information was just put there.

In short, something about it just didn't sit right with me.  Part of me wishes that they had tweaked things a bit: for example, kept Rockwell as Baird's mentor, but instead of saying Baird had been essentially placed there by DOSA three years ago to be an unwitting infiltrator, Rockwell had offered Baird a chance to turn double agent.  Then again, that's just my suggestion. 

Oddly, this is about the only thing that really displeased me about And the Fatal Separation, because everything else was really a knockout.  We had great moments of comedy (such as when circumstances force Jones to both remain silent and listen as his reputation gets knocked about by Lam, who refers to Jones' 'arrogant accent').   The humor was both broad like that, and subtle (who knew the Monkey King was so fond of smoothies).

There were moments of touching drama.  Jenkins takes Mr. Carsen to the Chamber of Memories, a recently rediscovered room where candles indicate whether someone connected to the Library is still alive.  When Charlene goes to the other side, we see her candle softly flicker out.  Even here, we aren't drowned in sorrow: earlier, Flynn is surprised and displeased that his candle is the smallest of all the other Librarians, with Baird's candle being the biggest and brightest.

There were moments of action.  In fact, I'd argue And the Fatal Separation was probably the most action-oriented episode of The Librarians we've had.  Starting from the duel between Stone and his mentor right down to the various ninja attacks (enhanced by Lam's henchwoman) to rescue of Baird (using a bit of cleverness by Cassandra and Jones) to the rescue of Shangri-La and the final battle with the Monkey King, we had a lot of daring-do.

As mentioned, everyone got one moment to be showcased, something that is difficult when you have just one hour.  Let's get the guest stars first.  Curtin's Charlene was her old sarcastic self (her quip about how their recaps takes up too much time for them to take action was a hoot), Reyes, Jr.'s Monkey King was in turns menacing and humorous, Wu's Lam was all-out evil (which all but calls for another Librarian film where we get to see him and Flynn fight for the Shield of Ankor), and Lee was wickedly fun as the henchwoman (whom I don't remember hearing a name for). Williams too was sharp and menacing as Rockwell, who dismisses the Librarians as a collection made up of a failed academic, a cowboy, a janitor, and a crook.

And the Fatal Separation was as I also mentioned, a showcase for Christian Kane, who I think is really a good number of Librarian fans favorite (in the interest of full disclosure, he's one of the two characters I identify with the most, Flynn being the other).  We pretty much know the gruff-voiced Kane can handle the action, but he also managed the emotion of having to fight someone he genuinely cared for extremely well. 

While Kane was the clear center of And the Fatal Separation, the episode managed to also give everyone else their time.  Larroquette's tenderness with Charlene, Kim's comic style when he's forced to just react, Booth's mix of wit and punk-menace, and Wyle's still slightly bumbling but heartbroken Flynn all worked so well that we see how well-acted The Librarians is.

As a side note, when Flynn throws the Staff to Stone to give to the Monkey King, the music was eerily similar to that in Doctor Who.  I find it fitting, given how Flynn is very much like The Doctor: a man who works best with Companions and uses knowledge to defeat his otherworldly enemies.  I'd say The Librarians is better than Doctor Who and it's a pity we can't have the level of wit, humor, and action on the latter that the former has in spades.  Yet I digress.  

There were lots of twists and turns in And the Fatal Separation, lots of fun, wit, action, even emotion.  We get lots of foreshadowing (Stone gets magical tattoos, something the fiercely anti-magic Stone doesn't like, and a small candle for our man Flynn). Minus that sleeper agent twist just doesn't sit well with me, And the Fatal Separation is pushing The Librarians to a hopefully epic season finale.


Next Episode: And the Wrath of Chaos

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Librarians: And the Eternal Question Review


As we wind down Season Three of The Librarians (with Season Four already locked in), I find that not only has it gone from strength to strength.  And the Eternal Question has a pretty sharp story, a strong mix of comedy, drama, and action, and should be the showcase to Lindy Booth as an actress.

The Librarians investigate what appears to be a case of spontaneous combustion.  As they look into the case, they find that both victims, a husband and wife, went to Vida de la Luz (Life of the Light) a holistic retreat to treat the husband's terminal cancer.  It appeared that the retreat managed to heal the man, but why then did he just burst into flames a week after leaving, and why did his healthy wife also explode?

The retreat is run by Sophia (Norma Maldonado), a Spaniard, and her two children, Tomas (Rafael Cebrian) and Estrella (Clara Lago).  They appear to be good people, but soon, thanks to the exam of the ashes by Jenkins (John Larroquette), it is established that the family is vampires.  Both Jacob Stone (Christian Kane) and Ezekiel Jones (John Kim) want to rush in and do some vampire hunting, but Cassandra (Booth) is firmly against it. 

Cassandra's hesitancy has multiple motives.  She sees that Sophia and Estrella have not acted on their vampire reactions, finding the retreat a safe haven. However, unbeknown to the others, the tumor she has in her brain has grown to such an extent it has to be operated on or she will die.  Fearful she will lose her powers, she won't go through with it.  Her behavior becomes extremely eccentric: she's more perky than usual, and even asks Jenkins out on a date!

Speaking of dates, Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle, who directed) under the guise of searching for Charlene, spirits Guardian Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) to a romantic retreat of his own (where they spend most of the episode).

Jones and Stone discover what is going on: a rogue element within the Vida de la Luz is trying to find a secret formula that will allow vampires to walk freely outside the retreat (the only place where they can go into the sunlight without it affecting them), and Cassandra figures out why the retreat has been a haven (the vampire-friendly minerals are in the water, not the soil or the fruits of the soil).  We also discover who is behind this plot to go all True Blood.

Jenkins, having found Cassandra's secret, comes to the rescue when the vampires appear to trap the three Librarians and rush Cassandra to the hospital.  It's a choice between her gift and her life, and in the end, she finds she need not lose one to keep the other.

And the Eternal Question is Lindy Booth's finest hour in The Librarians.  It is because she gets a chance to play a whole range of emotions and handles each of them well.  There's the typical Cassandra, upbeat and perky (so much so that everyone else assumes she has had too much coffee).  However, in the quieter moments, those where she faces her mortality, Booth is quiet, contemplative, even tragic.  She balances the dark drama and the perky comedy, giving the viewer a complete character.  In terms of acting, Lindy Booth really knocked one out of the park.

She is complimented in her performance by Larroquette, who makes for a strong partner in their scenes together. The script gives them a great deal to work with, even giving us little hints that hearts do beat beneath their exteriors (note, for example, that the formal Jenkins calls Cassandra by her first name rather than his usual "Miss Cillian" when turning her down).  It's a very nice interplay between Booth and Larroquette, one that shows they care about each other, but not in that way.

Larroquette also has a great moment when Jenkins showcases his sword skills when rescuing Stone and Jones, as befits Sir Galahad.  Stone and Jones' reactions are a comic delight: as both cry "Jenkins!", in their vocal inflections Stone's reaction is one of excitement, Jones' more of puzzlement.

Kane and Kim make for an amusing double-act, as if they are two kids relishing and fearful of having to face vampires (though, no worries...the swimming pool is blessed regularly with holy water according to Jenkins).  Wyle and Romijn were sadly off to the side and they had little to do, but given that Wyle already had double duty as actor and director, and that the episode had to balance so much one should cut them a bit of slack.

Guest stars Lago and Maldonado were good as the mother-and-daughter of the undead who didn't want to do any harm, and it's nice to see Hispanics on the screen (even if they are vampires).

If there is something to pick at with And the Eternal Questions, it is the somewhat rushed manner of finding out what the conspiracy is (though again, in an one hour episode, one has to get through things quickly).  It wasn't much of a mystery who was behind the machinations, and while that's no big issue, Cassandra's love life is curious to say the least.

Up till now, there's never been any notion that she carried a flame for Jenkins.  Even if there had been, the March-December romance looks wildly peculiar.  Add to that Estrella's own lip-lock with Cassandra and one wonders what exactly is going on here.  There's no indication that Cassandra is bisexual or gay, and while there's nothing wrong with having a gay or bisexual character it does all seem to come out of nowhere.

Or perhaps not: Cassandra finds attraction with two beings who are immortal.  Was it all a subconscious effort to reach out to live forever when her life is so perilously close to ending?  She was tempted to become a vampire in order to stop from dying, and she reaches out to the immortal Galahad.  Some food for thought.

Minus the rushed discovery of the villain and the odd shipping going on, And the Eternal Question has a major plus with Booth's performance: the mix of fear and faux-cheeriness giving her an immense amount of material to dive into.  Keeping the elements of action, comedy, and adventure that is its hallmark, And the Eternal Question is in turns hilarious and moving.


Next Episode: And the Fatal Separation