Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Competition

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: THE COMPETITION

Written by: Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: November 2, 1985

One never forgets their first love, or whatever first love the script presents you. The Competition introduces a character's characteristic that will be seen in the future. It will also, just seven episodes in, make any kind of continuity almost damn near impossible to maintain. 

Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is delighted due to recent news. Coming to Miami is Augustine Bagatelli (Ralph Manza), her ex-fiancée whom the war separated. At first Sophia's daughter Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) is happy to see her mother reunited with a lost love. Her joy turns sour when Sophia tells her that she plans to go back to Sicily on a nostalgic return to the San Genero Festival where Sophia and Augustine met 65 years earlier. Dorothy refuses to let her go, let alone give her $1200 for the airfare.

This is where Rose Nylund (Betty White) can help. Rose and Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) enter a bowling tournament every year. While Blanche enjoys the social aspects of the tournament, Rose is an almost unhinged competitor, fierce and almost dangerous to play against. Determined to win, she dumps Blanche to get Dorothy to be her partner. Rose's competitive streak leads her to secretly dump Dorothy when she learns a better bowler broke up with her twin sister. However, when the sisters reconcile, Dorothy dumps Rose in disgust and joins Blanche. Determined to show that she is not a feeble old woman, Sophia joins Rose. 

The bet is on between Sophia and Dorothy: if Sophia wins, she gets the money, if she loses, Dorothy gets a pair of antique earrings. Who will win The Competition?

We learn new information about Sophia, Dorothy and Rose from The Competition. We learn that Sophia has been a widow for twenty-two years. That puts her still-unnamed husband's death in 1963. Dorothy says she is 55 years old, and that Rose has six brothers. Dorothy therefore would have been born in 1930 (Bea Arthur was born in 1922). That gives us a surprising, almost scandalous situation. In The Engagement Dorothy stated that Stan was 65 years old. That gives them a ten-year age gap. As Stan would have been 25 years old when they got married, that would mean Stan knocked up Dorothy when she was 15 years old. 

Sophia mentions that "The War" separated her and Augustine. World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918; if we go by Sophia's stated age of 80 from Rose the Prude, she would have been between 9 and 13 at the time of the First World War. It looks like the Petrillo women get engaged or married very early. It is also hard to think that Sophia meant World War II. She would have already been living in America at the time, especially since Dorothy and her younger brother Phil would have been born in New York. Add to that how Sophia and Augustine met at the San Genero Festival 65 years ago. That would have been in 1920, two years after World War I and nineteen years before World War II. 

Sophia would have been 15 years old when she and Augustine first met if we use 1905 as her birth year. While that aspect of her story makes sense, nothing else in Sophia's reminiscences does. 

A mere seven episodes into The Golden Girls' first season and now everything is an absolute jumble. Things are going to get hopelessly muddled as the years go by.

There are two sections cut or edited down from rebroadcasts. The first is extended dialogue between Dorothy and Blanche about sneaking in extra bowling practice to beat Sophia and Rose. The second is dialogue at the bowling tournament where they discuss a Viking funeral and how three of them are wearing the same blouse. Finally, this is the first episode to not open with music written for the show. Instead, we hear Sophia humming Musetta's Waltz from La Boheme. Given that Sophia is proudly Italian/Sicilian, she would enjoy opera.

The Competition balances sweetness and comic malevolence well. It is hard not to root for Sophia and Augustine, this adorable old couple reuniting after decades apart. The interaction between Getty and Manza is charming and sweet, selling the idea that these were two old loves reuniting, with fond memories but no desire to reestablish their long-lost romance. 

Each actress gave excellent performances. There was no one that towered over the other here. White was fun and outrageous as the hypercompetitive Rose. Getty was delightful as the happy Sophia and equally strong fighting for what she wanted. McClanahan's Blanche was a delight when she has to face her fear at having the tournament rest on her shoulders or anger remembering how she was dumped. Arthur was excellent in her sarcasm but also moving when she does the right thing by her mother.

What does put The Competition above other episodes so far is how we get a more well-rounded character in Rose. So far, she has been the sweet, naive farmer's daughter. Now we get to see a darker side: the aggressive sports competitor who will stop at nothing to win. She'll betray friends, push others aside and openly mock them for losing. 

I like that The Golden Girls opted to give Rose this flaw. More credit in that it is used for comic effect. At heart, Rose is a generally nice, caring person. However, as she says, she needs to win. The Competition ends quite well. Dorothy and Blanche, understandably, have frozen Rose out due to her outrageous and unsportsmanlike behavior at having won. Rose accepts that she is wrong, apologizes and makes what seems a noble gesture of including all their names on the championship trophy. 

While we don't get to see it, Rose still made her name three times larger than the others. As she put it, it's because she is the one that actually won. This is a nice way to punctuate The Competition, an episode that was funny and touching.

I wonder, though, if Coco would have been Team Dorothy or Team Sophia.

7/10

Next Episode: The Break-In

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman. A Review (Review #1822)

 

ANTONIA: A PORTRAIT OF THE WOMAN

The list of famous conductors known to the general public is probably small. People may know Gustavo Dudamel, Zubin Mehta, the now disgraced James Levine. We could go further into the past with Leopold Stokowski or Arturo Toscanini. Maybe Leonard Bernstein is the one conductor most people, classical music fans and non, can readily recall. Now we look at a rarity among conductors: a female conductor. Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman gives this strong, capable woman her moment, revealing a great truth about how the world loses when artificial barriers are placed.

Using the Brico Symphony, a Denver-based nonprofit semi-professional community orchestra, as a bookend, Antonia looks at the life and career of Antonia Brico. Born in Rotterdam, Brico moves to California as a child with her foster parents. Her musical career began thanks to her fingernails. Advised that piano playing would end her nail biting, Antonia found a passion in music. "That's one reason why it's everything in my life," she observes, "because the music was one thing that saved my reason, my sanity".

Brico shifted from the piano to conducting. She is aware that as a woman, the doors are if not shut at least extremely hard to pry open. Undaunted, she forges her own path. Brico creates her own all-female orchestra: the Women's Symphony Orchestra. She openly challenges men to have play-offs against her own members, with a blindfolded audience deciding which player is the best. While she continues teaching and conducting whenever she is invited, the frustration is clear. Brico is adamant that she can conduct five times a month rather than the five times a year she manages. 

Despite her professional frustrations, she is still full of life. Brico recalls her work with Dr. Albert Schweitzer and reminisces of composers and conductors she has known and admired. Among them is Stokowski, whom she holds as being in a class of his own. There is also Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who heard her conduct his work and welcomed her conducting.

Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman reveals a woman who is aware of the burdens against her but who opted to do what she could versus waiting for opportunities to present themselves. She did, up to a point, have to rely on others to champion her. However, Brico decided the best way to make needed change was to make the changes herself. It was a stroke of genius to create an all-female orchestra to show that women were capable players. Later, she opted to make it a mixed orchestra, arguing that art is sexless. 

The frustration and joy of Brico's life and career come through. She at one point is angry that opportunities for conducting are few and far between. She compares herself to a Russian woman who conducts on a more regular basis. Brico insists that the orchestra is her instrument and that she is all but forbidden to play it.

However, she is also upbeat and optimistic, ending A Portrait of the Woman by playing a little ragtime. Brico delights in serving as mentor and educator to new generations, primarily young women. The love she has for conducting is clear, comparing it to painting. She also speaks fondly of her work with Dr. Schweitzer, though we do not get much information on that.

One curious moment is an animated sequence providing an imagined battle of tympany players, one male, one female. Brico had issued that challenge to have a member of her all-female orchestra against men, but I do not think there were takers. As imagined, the female tympanist won handily, the male exhausted and soundly defeated. I get the message behind that sequence. However, someone being a better musician because that player is a woman is no less sexist than saying that a man is a better musician by virtue of him being a man.

Curiously, Brico observes that it has been women who have been the ones who have blocked her more than men. However, that statement is not expanded on. 

The title is accurate, as it is A Portrait, not The Portrait. Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman gives us Brico's life and work, the passion for conducting, and reminds us of a truth: that art truly is sexless. One hopes that Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman exposes more people, particularly females, that imposed limitations need not be obeyed. 

1902-1989


DECISION: B+

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Golden Girls: On Golden Girls

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: ON GOLDEN GIRLS

Written by: Liz Sage

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: October 26, 1985

On Golden Girls is the first time we see the younger set shown on The Golden Girls. We do learn a few things about one of the character's family, but we do get a bit too much teen drama to make this a good episode.

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) is distressed that her 14-year-old grandson David (Bill Jacoby) is going to stay with her while her daughter Janet and son-in-law David (or as Blanche calls him, "the Yankee") go on a second honeymoon to patch up their marriage. The presence of a teenager upsets Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), who wants to get an A on her French exam. Dorothy's mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is not thrilled to have to give up her room and stay with Dorothy. The last housemate, Rose Nylund (Betty White) is more enthusiastic about David, but that does not last long.

David is belligerent and rebellious, going out at all hours and finding a bad crowd. At one point, he tells them all off, leading to Sophia slapping him. This is really a way for him to express the deep hurt he feels about his home situation. David is about to run away when Dorothy gives him a good talk, mixing tough love with a gentle touch. Eventually, David shifts to a more welcoming figure thanks to some chores and the structure they bring. He wants to now move in with Grandma, which alarms all of them. Blanche calls Janet and David's parents invite him to join them in Hawaii. 

We learn that Blanche has at least one daughter and a grandson. On Golden Girls also has Rose mention she has a son. While we have yet to learn Blanche's age, her grandson's age is interesting. If you use McClanahan's actual age of 51, she would have been 36 when David was born. The actual age gap between McClanahan and Jacoby is 35 years (he was born in 1969, which would make him 16 at the time of On Golden Girls). In other words, McClanahan is old enough to be Jacoby's mother, not his grandmother. I figure that people mistaking David for her son rather than her grandson would have pleased Blanche. However, the issue here is where to put Janet's age. 

If we are very generous and have Blanche marry at 18, still using McClanahan's actual birth year of 1934, Janet could be born in 1952. For David to be her grandson, Janet would have had to been 16 or 17 years old when David was born. Yes, it is plausible that Janet and Michael the Yankee could have gotten married at that age, but it is very dicey to have it be that close. For the ages to work, both Blanche and Janet would have to have been teen brides. 

Two sections tend to be cut when On Golden Girls has a rerun. One is an extended kitchen scene where the women discuss both what Blanche and David could do while he's here and on the sleeping arrangements for the duration. The second is when Sophia and Dorothy get ready for bed. We see more of Sophia's bedtime preparations and Dorothy attempting to study for her French exam. 

On Golden Girls has a strong moment when David wakes them up in the middle of the night with an impromptu party and insults them to their faces. Sophia slapping David got an ovation from the audience (I presume this was filmed in front of an audience despite never hearing "this is filmed before a live studio audience"). "Is that all you Italians can do: scream and hit?", a surprisingly bigoted Blanche bellows. "No, we also know how to make love and sing opera!", Sophia retorts. While Dorothy is right to reprimand her mother for hitting anyone, especially a child who is not related to her, I can empathize with Sophia's reaction. This scene is filled with drama, which elevates the episode. The script, however, ends it with a great punchline. Rose comments that the situation is like the play Long Day's Journey into Light. Dorothy corrects her by saying "Night, Rose", meaning Long Day's Journey into Night. Rose, forever muddled, replied, "Night, Dorothy", making this a delightful pun. 

As a side note, I would love to see Long Day's Journey into Light, maybe a double bill with Singin' in the Rain's The Dueling Mammy

What makes On Golden Girls a midlevel episode is Jacoby. He and McClanahan have a wonderful scene where he expresses his hurt at how his parents ignore him as they fight. He also does well with Arthur, again in drama, for the most part. I think making Dorothy be a bit hip by using the term "wimp out" sounds a bit forced. Did teens use that term? It was fine, but I also thought that when he is trying to be insulting or rebellious, it comes across as insincere or forced.

I also have a question of logic, which I recognize might be a fool's errand. Blanche calls Janet to tell her she plans to keep David with her. She would be calling what I presume is her hotel or wherever she and Michael are staying in Hawaii. Hawaii is six hours behind Florida, meaning that if it were 8 p.m. in Miami, it would be 2 p.m. in Hawaii. Why then would Janet need to wake Michael up in the early afternoon? It is possible that he is napping, but that is stretching things.

I confess to not having seen On Golden Pond as of the time of this writing. Therefore, the connection to On Golden Girls escapes me. It is not a bad episode, more drama than straightforward comedy. Good performances from McClanahan and Arthur, along with a strong scene from Getty, counter the so-so performance of Jacoby.

I do wonder, however, how Coco would have talked to David. 

5/10

Next Episode: The Competition

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Triangle

 


THE TRIANGLE

Written by: Winifred Hervey

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: October 5, 1985

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) is the ultimate vixen, but in The Triangle, she is revealed as a loyal friend and a woman with certain standards. Funny thanks to some standout performances, The Triangle is the first time we see the housemates quarreling over a man, though not the last.

Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is not feeling well. With that, her daughter Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) calls for the doctor. Enter Dr. Elliot Clayton (Peter Hansen), who is currently sans wife. This delights Dorothy, who quickly gets him to ask her out. While Blanche is openly flirtatious with Dr. Clayton herself, she concedes that Dorothy saw him first and has dibs on the doctor. Little do either women know that Clayton is a letch. Clayton tries to manhandle Blanche, angering the respectable Southern belle.

Encouraged by their mutual housemate Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche tells Dorothy how Elliot attempted to force himself on her. Not only does Dorothy flat-out refuse to believe her, she calls Blanche a slut and accuses her of lying and jealousy. Blanche is first upset then angered that Dorothy would take Elliot's word over hers when she knows that Elliot is lying. Blanche orders Dorothy to move out, horrifying Rose. Despite Sophia's story of Sicily, Rose gets involved. Using her own wits, she tricks Clayton into a confession. This brings about both the end of Dorothy's relationship with Elliot and a reconciliation with Blanche.

The Triangle is the first Golden Girls episode where the girls are in conflict with each other. Each episode prior had at least one of the four women in conflict with someone else (Dorothy vs. Stan, Blanche vs. Virginia). Here, they face off against each other. We also get the very first story that Sophia tells about picturing Sicily. Her stories of her birthplace would become part of her persona, complete with her opening line of "Picture it: Sicily (fill in the year)". Here, she reverses the order as "Sicily, 1912. Picture this", though I think this is the only time we hear it this way.

If we go by Rose the Prude, in 1912 Sophia would have been a mere seven years old. Therefore, that would make her story about how she found herself in a similar situation like that of Dorothy and Blanche illogical. The "Picture it: Sicily" stories almost always ended with a wild punchline of Sophia somehow involved with a famous person. Here, her love rival turned out to be Celeste Lizio (1908-1988), better known as "Mama Celeste" of the frozen pizza company. Apparently this is a true story, as Sophia in a nice bit of comedy, opens the freezer and condemns something there, presumably a Mama Celeste pizza.

There are two sections that are cut from reruns. The first is early in The Triangle: dialogue from Blanche about her new dress and Rose's old doctor, who might have also been the veterinarian checking on the farm animals. The second is more plot-related. After Dorothy and Blanche's blowup over Elliot, all four Golden Girls are in the kitchen, attempting to go around each other. Rose is doing her best to keep the peace, Sophia trying to stay out of it and Dorothy and Blanche barely speaking. It is a pity that this is cut from rebroadcasts, as it adds more to the tension and sets up the first confrontation with Elliot.

The Triangle is elevated by a great scene between McClanahan and White as they tell competing stories to justify their positions. Blanche tells the sordid tale of when her efforts at truth-telling blew up in her face. That is the story of when she told her friend, Anderbeau Johnson, that Anderbeau's boyfriend Clyde Whitehead tried to get with her. Anderbeau refused to believe her, and Clyde wouldn't speak to Blanche after she told all. As Blanche says at the end, "I lost Anderbeau AND her beau!". 

Rose, confused over who "Anderbobo" is, comes up with a scenario where Dorothy marries Elliot. "They could have a child!", she tells Blanche, soon correcting herself with, "They could adopt a child!". This imaginary child, whom Rose names "Mei-Ling", will have her coming out party ruined when Dorothy overhears the towel lady tell someone at the country club that Elliot has bonged every female member.

McClanahan and White each have wonderful delivery in these two stories. They are equally hilarious, though McClanahan gets the edge because she gets to use Mei-Ling's story. After Dorothy refuses to believe her about Elliot, Blanche tells her that she's glad Mei-Ling's coming out party was ruined. When an understandably confused Dorothy asks what she is talking about, Blanche tells her to ask the towel lady. 

I think in this episode, Rue McClanahan was the standout performance. She mixed comic anger with genuine hurt about her predicament. She concludes on a joyful note, when after telling Dorothy that she has to think about forgiving her, she immediately says she thought about it and forgives her. While The Triangle is, according to Wikipedia the episode for which Bea Arthur was nominated as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series that year, I think it should have been McClanahan who had the nomination for The Triangle.

The whole thing was delivered and set up perfectly. The Anderbeau and Mei-Ling stories, coupled with Sophia's first "Picture It: Sicily 1912" story, elevate The Triangle to a standout Golden Girls episode.

However, what also works is how the characters fight and make up. You can see in each of their performances that Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sophia do care for and about each other. You see this in how Rose works hard to reconcile her friends. You see this the genuine anger and disbelief when Dorothy literally calls Blanche a slut. You see this when Dorothy goes and asks for forgiveness. 

The Triangle blends comedy and drama well, balancing the two in a strong fashion.

It is unresolved if Coco would have sided with Blanche or Dorothy.

8/10

Next Episode: On Golden Girls

Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Golden Girls: Transplant

 

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: TRANSPLANT    

Written by: Susan Harris

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: October 5, 1985

Sibling rivalry makes its first appearance in Transplant, the fourth Golden Girls Season One episode. We meet the first member of one of the character's family and learn that maybe blood is thicker than water.

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) is irritated that her younger sister Virginia (Sheree North) is coming to visit. She loudly proclaims how much she hates Virginia, much to the shock of Rose Nylund (Betty White). Blanche's fellow housemate Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) is too distracted by a friend's baby she is temporarily watching to give the Blanche-Virginia war much thought.

Virginia is civil, even pleasant to Blanche. However, Blanche is right in that she does have an ulterior motive for visiting. She is dying, in need of a kidney transplant and asks Blanche if she would go for tests to see if she is a potential donor. After some thought, Blanche agrees to go. Fortunately, Blanche ends up keeping her kidney and her sister. Blanche's kidney veins are too small for Virginia, but another donor has been found: a retired Mormon schoolteacher. More importantly, Blanche wants to build a positive relationship with Virginia, grateful for this second chance.


Transplant is the first episode to have a visiting relative come. We learn that Blanche has two sisters: Charmaine and Virginia. As she calls Charmaine her big sister, that would make Blanche at the very least the second child. Unless other siblings pop up, Blanche would be the Jan of the Hollingsworth children, the perennial middle child. We also learn that Virginia was married to a man named Tom, whom Blanche insists was a great love despite only going on two dates with him. Virginia does not dispute that she went with Tom when Blanche went to visit family, though whether Blanche's insistence that Tom was hers is debatable. Transplant is also the first Golden Girls episode that mentions Sophia's son and Dorothy's brother Phil. According to Sophia, Phil wanted to breast feed until he was twelve. 

Three sections are cut from reruns. There is a section where Rose says that she would have donated her kidney to a long-gone dog, Fluffy, had Fluffy needed one. Another cut is a bit about Sophia munching too loud for Dorothy's take. The third cut is a long section where Blanche explains to Rose why she hates Virginia so much. If Blanche's stories are to be believed, Virginia would always do something to Blanche and then tell their father that Blanche had done it. Mr. Hollingsworth, forever in awe of Virginia, would punish Blanche. Virginia even apparently tried to murder Blanche by electrocution on Christmas Day.

What makes this cut a poor decision is on two points. The first is that it gives greater insight into why Blanche is so snippy, petty and downright vicious to Virginia. Without this scene, Blanche's hostility is if not hazy more irrational. It makes Blanche come across as a bit of a bitch, without explaining why Blanche has this near blinding hatred for Virginia. True, the situation with Tom could be used to explain Blanche's hostility, but it does not have the same impact and even humor that the cut section provides.

I say humor because of the second point. McClanahan has a wonderful bit of physical comedy where she goes all rubbery recreating when she gets shocked by Christmas lights. McClanahan does a wonderful job revealing a mix of jealousy and mean-spiritedness that has kept the feud going all these years. 

Without this scene, Blanche's open hatred has no context. She comes across as irrational and extremely unpleasant. Now, at least there is some reason for her to have despised and fought her sister. 

Transplant is dominated by Rue McClanahan, and she runs with it. There is the aforementioned physical comedy. There is also her overall performance. McClanahan was funny but also moving in her doubts about what to do. For Sophia, the answer is simple: she'd donate her kidney in a heartbeat. For Blanche, it is tied in with bitter memories, real or imagined, of her younger sister. There is also Blanche's fears about her own health. While most people, I think, would donate to a relative, some may not. The scene where Virginia gives Blanche a surprise hug is a well-acted moment from McClanahan.

Less so from North. I found her Southern accent weak, though to be fair, McClanahan's Southern tones were always so big that perhaps genuine Southerners might feel like Yankees compared to her. For the record, North is not from the American South. I think North did her best, but to my mind, there was something off. 

Transplant, being a Blanche-centered story, gave the other cast members little to do. I think that is why Dorothy and to a lesser extent Rose and Sophia were placed to watch over baby Danny. I do not remember Rose or Dorothy offering much if any advise or heart-to-heart with Blanche. They discussed the issue of donating organs mostly among themselves. Sophia was, if memory serves right, the only one to comment on the situation to Blanche directly, and that was more in an insulting manner. 

Transplant is not a bad episode, but I felt it a bit weak. I do not think it had that many laughs, though to be fair that would be difficult given the potential of death hovering over Virginia. The subplot of the women, or more specifically Dorothy, taking in a baby is nothing but a way to get them out of the way. Transplant does establish more of Blanche's backstory, but on the whole it was not a standout.

I do wonder how Coco would fit into all this.

4/10

Next Episode: The Triangle

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Golden Girls: Rose the Prude

 

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: ROSE THE PRUDE

Written by: Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: September 28, 1985

While Dorothy Zbornak is a divorcee, the other three Golden Girls are all widows. Each loved her husband dearly and were never able to replace him. However, out of the four I think Rose Nylund (Betty White) was the one who idolized her husband the most and who struggled the most from grief. Ironically, while Rose was a grief counselor, she apparently never got enough grief counseling to fully work out her feelings about losing Charlie, the clear love of her life. Rose the Prude is the first time we have had frank talk about sex among the senior set. While I think the title is a wild misnomer, Rose the Prude dealt with a serious issue in a gentle way. 

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) needs a second for a double date. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) turns her down, determined to beat her mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) at gin rummy, something she has been unable to do in 30 years. Despite her misgivings, Rose agrees to go on the double date. She has not dated much after the death of her husband Charlie fifteen years ago. 

To Rose's delight, she and Arnie Peterson (Harold Gould) hit it off immediately. To Rose's consternation, Arnie invites her on a cruise. Rose has not slept with anyone other than Charlie, before or since. As such, she is terrified of intimacy, particularly after revealing to Arnie that Charlie died when they were making love. Does she give in to the pleasures of the flesh? 

For her part, Dorothy has reached her limit with Sophia's winning streak and quits playing cards. Sophia tells her that cards actually bore her. She informs Dorothy that what she actually enjoys is "the talking", noting that playing cards let them open up to each other. With that, Dorothy and Sophia start a new game, where Sophia tells her daughter about Aunt Jean, who once swam nude with Charles Boyer.

We learn the ages of two characters. Rose comments that she lived in Minnesota for 51 years. As there is no suggestion that she has lived anywhere else, we put her age as 51. That will make her birthyear 1934 if we go by the year of airdate (1985). Betty White was born in 1922. Sophia comments that she is 80. That would make Sophia's birthyear 1905. Estelle Getty was in 1923, making her a year younger than White.

Expect birthyears to fluctuate wildly from season to season or even episode to episode. The Golden Girls never cared about consistency on such matters. To the show's credit, we still have Rose be a widow for fifteen years at the time of Rose the Prude. Now, again using 1934 as Rose's birthyear and with a fifteen-year widowhood, Rose would have been a shocking 36 years old when Charlie died. 

It is starting to get a bit tangled up. Rose, born in 1934, was widowed in 1970 and has been widowed for fifteen years by 1985. Exactly how old Charlie was or how old both were when they got married is not set yet. The same for how old Sophia was when Dorothy was born. 

To be fair, the show has not established if Rose has lived anywhere else other than Minnesota and Miami. Therefore, 1934 is currently only a working birthyear and can, in theory, change. 

Rose the Prude also has a couple of interesting tweaks among the character's names. Blanche calls Sophia "Sophie", which I do not think she ever did again. While Rose calls her late husband "Charlie", Dorothy calls him "Charles". Again, I think this was a one-off event, as I think they would not be called that again. In a curious bit, the subtitles read Rose's last name and "Nyland". Most spellings, however, have it as "Nylund". 

Harold Gould makes his debut as Arnie. He would go on to return on The Golden Girls again as Rose's boyfriend but as another character altogether: Miles Weber. That, however, is still a ways off.

Only one scene gets cut from reruns. It is when we see Rose and Arnie in their stateroom for the first time. In this scene, Rose is first hesitant being with Arnie until he puts Glen Miller on his portable radio. They soon start dancing and Rose happily remembers meeting Charlie for the first time at a Glen Miller dance. Actually, it was not a Glen Miller dance but the Dick Singleton and the Singletones dance, who claim to sound exactly like Glen Miller. As she continues, she tells Arnie that he reminds her of Charlie in many ways. Arnie points out that he is not Charlie, but Arnie Peterson from New Jersey. With a mix of horror and sadness, she rushes into the bathroom and locks herself in.

It is unfortunate that this scene is cut, because it is a lovely moment between Rose and Arnie. We see how much Rose loved Charlie and how much she still misses him. We also see how good Gould is, making it clear that while he likes Rose, he won't play a ghost for her. It also clarifies how Rose is still in the bathroom the next day, which one misses when seeing reruns that cut the scene.

As a side note, how Charlie and Rose met will change. 

Rose the Prude does something surprising in terms of character. For as sexually voracious as Blanche would become, it is Rose Nylund who ends being the first Golden Girl to have intercourse on the show. 

I think I will pause briefly to touch on the sexual promiscuity on The Golden Girls. It might be a strange thing to think that really all four women had more sexual partners than most people. If we counted every boyfriend that came their way, along with all the ones they claimed prior to the show's start, and assumed that they had sex with them, the number of lovers for even Rose the Prude would run into the hundreds! For this retrospective, I will separate boyfriends from sex partners. Unless we see them specifically in bed or either party says they had sex, I will assume that they did not go all the way and were just boyfriends.

As such, Blanche's story that the first man she slept with after her husband George's death was the minister who officiated the funeral and Dorothy's assertion that her first lover post-Stan was her divorce lawyer will not be counted. 

Each woman starts out at one man: their husbands. Rose now has two established lovers: Charlie Nylund and Arnie Peterson. 

I think Rose the Prude is a misnomer. Rose is not prudish in that she does not shirk from sexual intercourse or finds it shocking. Rather, it is more a great sense of disinterest, loss and fear that keeps her from venturing into another affair of the heart. She loved Charlie more than any other man. She also feels great guilt over how he died when they were intimate. As Arnie wryly observes, if she hasn't made love in 15 years, she may really kill him. Rose the Prude tackles surprisingly heavy topics: grief, guilt and moving on, but in an exceptionally humorous way.

The episode is filled with great lines both comedic and mournful. We get Sophia taunting Dorothy with a tagline that would have been well-known at the time: ABC's Wide World of Sports opening of "The thrill of victory...the agony of defeat". When Blanch expresses genuine shock that Rose has had only one lover and was a virgin on her wedding night, Dorothy has a great retort. "Back off, Blanche! Not all of us are classified by the Navy as a friendly port!". Sophia asks Rose upon her return, "So, did you and Arnie play find the cannoli?", as outlandish and funny a question as one has heard.

The best lines, however, are Dorothy's words of wisdom encouraging Rose to go on the cruise. "The bottom line is if you take a chance in life, sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad things happen. But honey, if you don't take a chance, nothing happens". That is such a true axiom that should be remembered.

Rose the Prude is the best Golden Girls episode so far. It balances humor and heart, with standout performances by the cast and a funny script. 

Finally, what would Coco do here?

8/10

Next Episode: Transplant

Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Golden Girls: Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding

 

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: GUESS WHO'S COMING TO THE WEDDING?

Written by: Winifred Hervey

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: September 15, 1985

Out of all the four Golden Girls, only one was divorced. Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is the first appearance of Dorothy Zbornak's (Bea Arthur) yutz of an ex-husband. Surprisingly angry but with a great dramatic turn, Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? establishes a long and strange relationship that would be among the series' most enduring. 

Dorothy is thrilled when her daughter Kate (Lisa Jane Persky) comes to Miami to tell her that she is engaged to Dennis (Dennis Drake). Dorothy's enthusiasm is somewhat dampened when she learns that Dennis is actually a podiatrist versus a "real doctor" in the words of her mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Still, her daughter's upcoming wedding is joyful news. That is until she learns Kate and Dennis are going to get married in the Bahamas.

Why the Bahamas? Kate wants her father, Stanley Zbornak (Herb Edelman) to give her away, but two years after their divorce, Dorothy cannot stand the thought of Stan, let alone be in the same room with him. Sophia points out correctly that Stan is Kate's father and has every right to be at his daughter's wedding. With that, Dorothy calls Stan, now living in Maui with his new wife, to come to the wedding.

Dorothy is openly hostile to Stan. Her roommates, Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) and Rose Nylund (Betty White) attempt to keep Dorothy's rage in check. It takes the wisdom of Sophia to get Dorothy to finally confront Stanley and tell him goodbye.  

Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is the first appearance of Stanley Zbornak, who would go on to be a recurring character and a thorn at Dorothy's side. While the episode does establish that he and Dorothy were married for 38 years before their divorce, the actual time frame of both the wedding and the divorce will appear to fluctuate. Like many things in The Golden Girls, continuity is something the show never appeared to care for or about. 

If we go by the airdate and add the two years after the divorce, Stan and Dorothy would have been married in 1945. In The Engagement, we have established that Stanley was born in 1920 (Dorothy remarks that Stan is 65 years old at the time). That would have made Stan 25 years old when he married Dorothy. 

If we go by the actress' age as that of the character, Kate would be 30 when she got married. Using that as a base, she would have been born in 1955, ten years after her parents married in a shotgun wedding. As such, Kate would not be the reason they had to get married. We do not know exactly how old Dorothy was when she married Stanley as we have not been given Dorothy's birth year or age as of yet. Therefore, while it is still possible that Dorothy was underage when she and Stan married, we are currently skating on thin ice when it comes to logic. 

A minor point of logic is when Stan shows up for the wedding itself. Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? to my mind implies that this is the first time Stan has seen Kate since arriving in Miami. Surely, he saw his daughter before the actual ceremony, but as played by Edelman and Persky it appears that they had not seen each other until Stan comes to take her to the church. 

There are two sections from Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? that are usually cut from reruns. The first is the telephone call that Dorothy makes to Stan inviting him to the wedding. The second is when, at the small wedding reception, Dorothy comes into the living room with a butcher knife. Rose, terrified that Dorothy will literally stab Stanley, rushes her out into the kitchen before Dorothy makes clear she only intends to cut the wedding cake. 

As insane as the idea of Dorothy murdering Stanley in front of everyone is, on this one I have to side with Rose. Dorothy's anger is understandable and even relatable. It is her behavior that is beyond irrational, especially for the most level-headed of the quartet. She literally barks at Stan, which I understand is for comic effect, so it gets a bit of a pass.

What really makes Dorothy's behavior irrational is how she stubbornly refuses to accept or acknowledge Stan's role in Kate's life. For all his faults and all the hurt he caused Dorothy, Stan is Kate's father. Sophia is absolutely right when she says that Stan has every right to be at his daughter's wedding. Moreover, Kate obviously loves her father and has a positive relationship with him. For Dorothy to insist that he be excluded from Kate's wedding is clearly vindictive and short-sighted, not to mention utterly selfish.

This is not to diminish the genuine hurt, anger and hatred that Dorothy has. Arthur has a beautiful scene where she recounts their life together and expresses how she deserved better from the man she was forced to marry who ended up abandoning her for a younger model. It's a beautiful piece of acting from Arthur. It also was good for Edelman, who says very little but shows how Stan is confronted with his own selfishness and cowardice. 

Still, looking back at it, I think Dorothy's overall behavior slipped into tunnel vision. She loves her daughter, but in this case, she also here put herself first. This is terrible for her character, revealing a surprisingly vindictive manner. Dorothy also shows terrible disappointment that her future son-in-law is a podiatrist. It is not as if he is a mud maker or an irresponsible jazz musician. Podiatrist is a respectable position. I never got the joke about how Dennis being a podiatrist was a terrible thing. Rose's sincere question about whether Dennis has ever met Dr. Scholl was amusing.

As a side note, it is a strange coincidence that the character of Dennis is played by an actor named Dennis. 

Edelman does a good job in Stan's debut. His welcoming line, "Dorothy, it's Stan" would later evolve into the more familiar and comic, "Hi, it's me, Stan". The latter became a running gag and amusing entry into a more comic figure. Here, he was slightly more realistic as a character.

There is a nice bit of physical comedy when Dorothy all but crushes Blanche's hand out of suppressed anger. The gag about Rose forever guarding the meatballs from Sophia did not work, however. Why Rose thought Sophia grazing Rose's meatballs was such a crisis is unexplained, not to mention bizarre.

As Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is Dorothy-centered, both McClanahan and White were there merely for support. White was excellent when playing naive, less so when playing meatball police. McClanahan also did well when forcing Dorothy to pull herself together for Kate's sake. She also had a nice comic moment when she slips from talking about Dorothy to sweaty, muscular farmhands. Getty is snippier when mocking Stan and his toupee, sarcastically asking who invited Donny Osmond. She did however managed comedy and drama when comparing anger to a piece of shredded wheat. 

Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding? is better at playing the drama than the comedy, but it does have good funny moments. Stanley Zbornak may appear to be out of Dorothy's life, but don't could out the bad penny that is the first Mr. Dorothy. 

One last point: what would Coco do here?

7/10

Next Episode: Rose the Prude

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Engagement (aka The Pilot)

 

THE GOLDEN GIRLS: 
THE ENGAGEMENT (aka THE PILOT)

Written by: Susan Harris

Directed by: Jay Sandrich

Airdate: September 14, 1985

A television pilot, I have found, is not set in stone. Many things can be changed with regards to characters, sets and backstories. The Engagement, the premiere episode of The Golden Girls, would see characters that disappeared and never mentioned again. It was a good way to set things up, though with some curious moments.

Blanche Hollingsworth (Rue McClanahan) has surprised her two housemates, substitute teacher Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) and grief counselor Rose Nylund (Betty White) with news that she got engaged to Harry (Frank Aletter). This news comes as a surprise to their gay cook, Coco (Charles Levin). This news is particularly upsetting to Rose, who fears that she will have to find a new place to live as she, like Dorothy, rents her room from Blanche, whose house they live in.

Another surprise comes when Dorothy's mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) shows up unexpectedly. The retirement home she lived at has just burned down. Sophia instantly dislikes Harry, while Rose becomes quickly suspicious of him. Blanche nevertheless decides to get married quickly at her home. She gets a sad surprise when a cop (Meshach Taylor) comes to tell her that Harry has been arrested for bigamy. Devastated, Blanche retreats from the world until she realizes that her friends have helped her through this crisis. With that, they begin their new adventures.

The Engagement, as I said, sets up the scenario that would hold The Golden Girls together, with some future alterations. We learn that Rose has been a widow for 15 years, that Dorothy had a shotgun wedding and that she is from Queens. We also learn that Dorothy's ex-husband is 65. 

If we go by the original airdate, that means that Charlie Nylund died in 1970. Dorothy's ex, whom I do not think was named in The Engagement, would also have been born in 1920. As a side note, Herb Edelman, who would play Dorothy's yutz of an ex-husband Stanley, was born in 1933. Bea Arthur was born in 1922. 

One of the biggest things that stuck out to me is a bizarre editing choice. When Blanche announces her sudden engagement, there are three other people in the room: Dorothy, Rose and Coco. When we return from commercial, Coco is suddenly gone with only Dorothy and Rose in the living room. He and Sophia appear later in the scene, but I am surprised no one noticed how Coco was in and then out.

Perhaps this is for the best, as Levin's Coco was dropped from the series after his debut. His character, it should be noted, was not only heard from again but never mentioned again. I think that once people saw how well Getty worked well as the blunt Sophia, Coco was unnecessary. Moreover, I think that having any man, even a gay man, would have been distracting and not well integrated in future episodes. It makes sense to have the mother of one of the characters there. What would Coco do with this mix?

I also find that Coco would have suggested that the three women were more affluent than future episodes suggest they were. I do not know if The Golden Girls thought about such things as "representation" with Coco. I do think that it is amazingly progressive to have a gay character at all on a television comedy. He was, however, something of a stereotype: the slightly effeminate houseboy.  

The Engagement has two scenes that are trimmed from the reruns that I see. There is an extended section on the lanai with Dorothy, Rose and Coco discussing Blanche's whirlwind romance. The last scene with Dorothy, Rose and Sophia again on the lanai before Blanche emerges from her room is also longer than on reruns. 

Many Golden Girls fans complain that the geography of Blanche's house makes no sense. The Engagement makes the house more sensible, as we find that Blanche's room is located stage right where the cast goes out to the lanai. Even with that however, the actual layout would be highly illogical if one thought on it.

What I found was that The Engagement worked best when we get dramatic moments. The scene where Dorothy reads Harry's note to Blanche is well-acted by both Arthur and McClanahan. The visual gags of Dorothy attempting to silence Rose is also funny. Getty does great work in her bluntness. Levin did as much as he could as Coco, though he was given little to do.

Sometimes though, it looks like Arthur's Dorothy is almost too dominant, close to bellowing her put-downs and sarcastic remarks. Still, one has to remember that everyone is still getting their bearings. 

The Engagement ends up a good start to The Golden Girls. There is still work to be done, everything from character names and makeup work to removing Coco. While not laugh-out loud funny, The Engagement has good moments of humor and heart that make it a good but not great debut.

6/10

Next Episode: Guess Who's Coming to the Wedding?

The Golden Girls Retrospective: An Introduction

 

THE GOLDEN GIRLS RETROSPECTIVE:
 AN INTRODUCTION

The Golden Girls is a beloved television series, running seven seasons and maintaining a cultural hold long after it went off the air in 1992. Think of it: it has been thirty-two years since the series finale aired and the show continues to be seen in reruns, have endless merchandise and keeps gaining new fans. Such was the impact of The Golden Girls that when Betty White, the last surviving cast member, died two weeks shy of her 100th birthday, it was headline news, eliciting genuine public mourning. 

The Golden Girls has earned a place in television history. It won the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy back-to-back and was nominated for six straight years out of its seven year run. It also is one of only four television series where all cast members won individual Emmy Awards for their performances: White, Rue McClanahan and Bea Arthur for Lead Actress, Estelle Getty for Supporting Actress. 

The show really has universal appeal, and I think I can see why. Each character has something unique about them: terminally naïve Rose Nylund (White), openly sexually voracious Blanche Devereaux (McClanahan), sarcastic Dorothy Zbornak (Arthur), blunt matriarch Sophia Petrillo (Getty). The cast blended well, at least onscreen. The characters were relatable in their problems but also in their genuine affection towards each other. 

The Golden Girls tackled serious issues ranging from age discrimination and AIDS to dementia and drug dependency, mixed in with risqué talk of sex in all its forms. This was very daring stuff in the mid to late 1980s, especially on a show built around four senior women. I think, however, that part of The Golden Girls' success is due to them being four older women. It was like listening in on randy tales from your grandmothers. 

It did not matter that sometimes their situations were outlandish or bizarre. It did not even matter that continuity was almost nonexistent. The same actors could appear in different roles, and sometimes the same roles were played by different actors. The number of children and grandchildren fluctuated wildly. Ages of the characters shifted sans rhyme or reason save for Blanche, who persistently hid or lied about her age. 

There was some continuity: the husbands or ex-husband's personalities did not change when they popped up in reality or dream sequences. Their manner of death, however, was at the writers' whim.

I have long wanted to do a Golden Girls retrospective, where I look at each individual episode, review it, give my thoughts on it and rank the 177 episodes from Best to Worst. I have reviewed one Golden Girls episode, Empty Nests, for Rita Moreno Day when she was featured for Turner Classic Movies' Summer Under the Stars series. 

As a side note and a bit of a spoiler alert: Empty Nests will find itself among the Ten Worst Golden Girls episodes list.

Now I think I am ready to plunge into the life and adventures of Miami's most famous senior citizens. 

I, at long last, begin my Golden Girls Retrospective. 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Bad Boys: Ride or Die. A Review

 

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

It was the slap heard and seen round the world. On his inevitable (and to my mind, inexplicable) march towards his Best Actor win for King Richard, Will Smith publicly assaulted Chris Rock after Rock made an off-the-cuff joke about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith went from beloved superstar to public pariah. Now, he is on a comeback if not redemption tour. One way to do that is to return to a well-liked franchise almost guaranteed to be a hit. Thus, Bad Boys: Ride or Die. As it is the fourth Bad Boys film, calling it Bad Boys: 4 Life might have worked, but that title was used already. Bad Boys: Ride or Die is not good, but it should make fans happy, so I can't fault it for that. 

Mike Lowery (Smith) is finally getting married, with his bride the beautiful Christine (Melanie Liburd). There at his side, like always, is his other longtime partner, Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), forever in the hunt for snacks. At the wedding, Marcus suffers a near-fatal heart attack while doing The Wobble. While he does survive, Marcus does have a near-death experience where he sees the late Captain Conrad Howard (Joe Pantoliano), who tells him it is not his time. Now convinced that he is basically immortal, Marcus also sends a message from the Great Beyond, warning Mike that he has to make a serious choice.

A new danger comes from James McGrath (Eric Dane), a former Ranger gone rogue who is attempting to frame the dead Captain Howard as a dirty cop. Mike and Marcus are enraged that Howard's memory is being demolished and seek to find out who is attempting the postmortem frame-up. Now our bad boys must uncover the massive conspiracy. Aiding them are Detectives Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens) and Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), partners in so many ways. Also helping is Mike's ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nunez) and Howard's daughter, U.S. Marshall Judy (Rhea Seehorn).

Unexpected help comes from Mike's illegitimate son Armando (Jacob Scipio), who killed Howard in Bad Boys for Life. What role does Rita's boyfriend and aspiring Miami mayor Adam Lockwood (Ioan Gruffudd) have in all this? As Mike and Marcus become fugitives themselves, friends, foes and frenemies must make decisions that may cost them their lives. Except for Marcus, who apparently is immortal. All things end well, complete with a Fast & Furious style picnic. 

I have seen only the first Bad Boys film, which I found entertaining. I can't quite say the same for Bad Boys: Ride or Die. It might be because at 55 and 59, Smith and Lawrence look a bit old to be doing these action films. That might explain why a nice chunk of the action went to Scipio, who is a mere 31. It might also have to do with how I never saw any other Bad Boys films. Perhaps there I could have had a plausible explanation for how Scipio in any way, shape or form could be confused for Will Smith's son. They look nothing alike, not even a passing resemblance, so I am a bit puzzled as to how everyone and anyone could see Armando and say that was Mike's son.

It might have also something to do with Chris Bremner and Wil Beall's screenplay. After one of their informants, who was in the last film, is shot by McGrath's goons, Marcus takes cover behind a table with snacks and drinks. He finds the jelly beans unpalatable, but in the melee, a bowl of Skittles is shot. With Skittles cascading down, we hear Barry White's Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Baby playing as he, in slow motion, enjoys this forbidden treat. I guess one is supposed to laugh. I was more mystified by what I was seeing.

I think it is because the film's directors, Arbi & Fallah, were more interested in various shots than in things like plot or character. We get interesting POV shots of various moments. Interesting here does not mean good, merely a film choice that drew attention to itself. At a few points, it looked like a literal video game. I guess that is the current aesthetic in film, but it did not make Bad Boys: Ride or Die good.

The script goes hither and yon, adding things that are pointless, such as encounter with racist rednecks. It also goes for points of what I figure is unintended comedy. As the climatic raid on McGrath's crocodile lair goes on, we see the previously-mentioned Duke, world's largest white crocodile. The way Arbi and Fallah shaped it, I was waiting for Peter Pan's crocodile to start ticking. I literally could hear the music playing in my head as Duke started floating by. 

As a side note, I did wonder what D!J! KHA!LED! was doing here other than living out some fantasy. Really, what does DJ Khaled do other than shout his name out on whatever music track he is in? He and Tiffany Haddish are just here, add nothing to whatever plot the film has and leave.

One can also see that Bad Boys: Ride or Die is not good based on the performances. There were almost none. Everyone pretty much knows that their characters have one thing (wacky, whacked-out, dim, menacing) and played it as such. I give grudging respect to Ludwig, whose himbo Dorn was slightly amusing in his near-idiocy. I also respect Hudgens as I did not recognize her. 

Smith and Lawrence were not good. They were not called to be, and I figure that they know their characters well enough to not bother doing anything to make them different than the previous films.

While I did not think Bad Boys: Ride or Die was good, I can say two good things about it. The film gave fans of this franchise what they wanted, with the audience that I saw it with enjoying the goings-on. Also, at least it's better than Argylle

DECISION: C-

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Hit Man: A Review (Review #1820)

 

HIT MAN

There have been more than a few films that are not technically true despite being "based on a true story". Hit Man joins their ranks, taking a light approach to the subject matter. Longer than it should be, with some good central performances, Hit Man made me smile though I am still put off by one element.

Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) narrates his story. Johnson is a professor of psychology and philosophy in New Orleans. He has a side gig working for the New Orleans Police Department in undercover operations. His job is to provide listening and recording devices in sting operations, almost all related to the hiring of hitmen. The latest assignment hits a snag when Jasper (Austin Amelio) is suspended by the NOPD. Needing someone for the latest operation, Johnson is thrown into the assignment by two other officers: Claudette (Retta) and Phil (Sanjay Rao). 

Adopting the nom de guerre "Ron", he proved surprisingly successful at his first on-the-field operation. It is not long before "Ron", adopting various disguises catering to the specific target, is raking in potential clients for the police to arrest. Gary is enjoying his new venture, until Madison (Adria Arjona) comes into their meeting location.

Madison wants Ron to kill her husband, but Ron senses something different about Madison. She is nervous, hesitant, explaining that she is in an abusive relationship. Ron uncharacteristically urges her to take the money and start over, which is technically not breaking the sting but displeases everyone. Shortly afterwards, they meet again after Madison reaches out to Ron for a non-hitman-related event. Soon, they begin a romance and passionate affair.

Unfortunately, Madison's ex Ray (Evan Holtzman), encounters them outside a club. "Ron" pulls out his weapon, thrilling Madison and scaring both Ray and Gary, albeit for different reasons. In a twist, Ray reaches out to "Ron" for a hit, and now the various entanglements of Ron/Gary and Madison soon start becoming muddled and murderous. Did Madison take matters into her own hands? Will Gary/Ron find his way through the mess without being discovered?

Hit Man was inspired by a real-life person named Gary Johnson (1947-2022), minus the murdering part as the closing text informs us. Hit Man comes from some of the same people who brought us Bernie, another tale of comic killing. You have director and cowriter Richard Linklater (writing with the film's star, Glen Powell). You also have in a more circuitous manner the involvement of Skip Hollandsworth, who cowrote Bernie and wrote both Texas Monthly articles Bernie and Hit Man inspired. I was not big on Bernie, finding it too broad, though I may revisit it. 

Hit Man was not as broad, but I still had a few issues with it. The film is almost two hours long, and I think that much could have been trimmed. I appreciate that it is a showcase for Powell's range, but once the film started focusing more on Gary/Ron and Madison's kinky sexcapades, we did not have to go back to him being a fake hired killer. Same for a scene involving Gary's ex-wife Alicia (Molly Bernard). Alicia appears, if memory serves correct, only once, and does not add anything to the plot.

As a side note, I am not big on voiceovers.

Once we got to see Gary/Ron and Madison in various trysts, we could have shifted our attention there. 

I do see the temptation to make Hit Man into a more droll comedy, with occasional moments of broadness. Amelio's Jasper was broad, with his end played somewhat for laughs. That did not sit well with me. The ending did not sit well with me either. Though I know that Hit Man is fictional with regards Gary doing any actual killings, I still found the concept of Gary and Madison getting away with multiple murders to end as a happily married couple, well, disturbing and distressing.

Something about that did not sit well with me. I think I was meant to find Gary and Madison charming. I found them slightly repulsive by the end, more Madison than Gary. That is more due to Powell. 

There has been a concerted effort to build up Glen Powell as the next big star. Starting in small roles in films like Hidden Figures, he has built up bigger parts like in Devotion and especially Top Gun: Maverick. Now with Hit Man, Anyone But You and the upcoming Twisters, the Push for Powell is at full throttle. Yes, Powell did a good job here, essentially playing a variety of characters: Gary, Ron in many forms and Ron: the Madison version. It may be a case of "too much of a good thing" with so much work he has to do. However, one can accept Powell in these many roles.

Arjona was better as the vulnerable and kinky Madison than some kind of femme fatale. The last section when we find out that she took matters into her own hands was the weakest part of her performance. While not bad, I was not overwhelmed with her.

The supporting cast was strong. Amelio has this sleazy character down, yet he also managed good moments of actual police work; he figured out that Gary was involved with Madison, which no one else did. Retta and Rao were a good double-act as the detectives overseeing the various stings. I would not have minded seeing a film around them. I do not mean a sequel or spinoff, but a separate film with Gary and Madison as the supporting characters.

I thought Hit Man was fine, if perhaps overpraised. I smiled more than laughed, but Hit Man is serviceable. 

DECISION: C+

Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Omen (2006): A Review

THE OMEN (2006)

When you have the date 06/06/06 on the calendar, it does seem a waste to not try and capitalize on it by bringing us the tale of The Beast whose mark is also 666. Thus, we get The Omen, a remake of the 1976 Academy Award-winning film. So what if it happens to fall on a Tuesday when most films are released on a Thursday or Friday. The temptation was too strong to not release it that day. Unoriginal, slightly boring and toothless, The Omen is too much under the original's shadow to have been remade. 

Career diplomat Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber) has received the devastating news that his newborn is dead. This will be beyond what his unsuspecting wife, Katherine (Julia Stiles) will be able to endure. However, there is hope from a Catholic priest who tells him that another baby boy, born at the same time as his own, lost his mother in childbirth. Thorn agrees to take the baby, whom they name Damien.

Many years later, Robert finds himself Ambassador to the Court of St. James when his mentor meets a somewhat gruesome end. Katherine is delighting in their new home and child to care about Robert's rise. The suicide of Damien's nanny in front of everyone on his birthday, however, is alarming. The new nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow) should be more alarming to the unsuspecting Thorns. There is also Father Brennan (Pete Postlethwaite), a priest warning Robert that his child is dangerous. Finally, there is Keith Jennings (David Thewlis), a photographer who finds his pictures can predict the subject's demise.

Katherine begins having disturbing dreams about Damien and begins to fear him. She also wants an abortion when she discovers she's pregnant. No worries on that department, however, as Damien has caused an accident which in turn caused a miscarriage and Katherine's near death. Robert now begins to suspect Damien may indeed be the Antichrist. What role does Mrs. Baylock have in these evil games? Who will live and who will die as the spawn of Satan is shepherded into his malevolent rise?  

I remember well a coworker who was highly excited to see The Omen on June 6, 2006, which is when I first saw the film. I marvel that it is now eighteen years since then. I think of the long, strange trip my life has been since then, but I digress. I do not know if that coworker, with whom I have lost touch since, had ever seen the original. For those who had, I think the 2006 The Omen would be a pale imitation.

A good way to measure if this or any remake of a film is good is if you can see it without thinking or remembering the original. The 2006 Omen does not because, for the most part, it does not venture away from what came before. Almost all the same beats are hit, which makes one wonder why anyone even bothered. The Omen's cast and crew simultaneously wanted to make the film reverential to the original and more frightening. It failed in the latter, struggled in the former. The Omen did what many failed films have done: mistake stillness for suspense. 

Those of us who have seen the 1976 version can tell where some of the differences are. Those differences, however, reveal how much better the original was. A change is when Damien is with the animals. The 1976 version had Karen and Damien driving in their car among the monkeys, who sensed the evil to such a degree that they attack their car, with an understandably terrified Karen fleeing in horror. Here, Katherine is at a zoo on a school field trip. The simians start going berserk, but the glass stops them from going ape.

Director John Moore could not bring any sense of terror or tension to this scene or any. There was a detachment from things, coupled with an over-seriousness to everything, as if everyone was aware that The Omen was a remake to a horror classic and should treat things with almost reverence. It does not help that the acting is equally bad. Stiles observes during the ape frenzy, "They're afraid", but her delivery is almost bored. She might as well have said, "We'll have two ice cream sundaes," for all the alleged tension and terror of this moment.

It does not help that it is slightly unclear if her comment was referring to the various chimps or the screaming children fleeing in panic.

My late friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. and I disagreed on Liev Schreiber. He always thought he was wooden, while I thought he could, on occasion, be good. In The Omen, it is clearly in the former. This is probably the worst performance of Schreiber's career. Schreiber had the exact same expression throughout the entire film. I do not think that in the history of cinema, we have had someone not change his expression once on camera as Liev Schreiber did (or did not) in The Omen. The closest he came was when he learned that his newborn was dead. However, that small moment was not good.

Julia Stiles also seemed detached from things. It was only at her end that Stiles shows any emotion, and to be fair, it was good. However, that came too late to save her performance. I think, however, that the screenplay failed to give her much to do. Farrow's casting was stunt casting. Who better than Rosemary as the literal nanny from Hell? She was acceptable, though not great. She was better than Postlethwaite or Thewlis. The former was too serious to almost bored as the renegade priest fighting to save the world from the Antichrist. The latter tried too hard to be a casual observer.

The Omen also had moments of unintended hilarity. When Robert learns of Katherine's death, why they opted to have thunderstorms rolling in the background does not make things more serious. It makes them sillier. Same for when Katherine plunges three floors thanks to Damien. If that fall didn't kill her, why would a Satanic nanny? 

The film also suffers from a rushed to chaotic ending, with the editing going pretty much bonkers in a failed effort at tension. 

The Omen was cashing in on two elements: the date of 6/6/06 and the reputation of the original. If the original did not exist, The Omen would have been dismissed as so much schlock. As the original does exist, The Omen is just dull. 

DECISION: D+

Next Omen Film: The First Omen

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Revenge (1990): A Review (Review #1818)

REVENGE

When I think of Revenge, the term "generic" fits. Everything in Revenge is generic, starting from the title down to the plot and performances. Revenge, I figure, tries for something. One, by the end though, is not sure exactly what.

Michael "J" Cochran (Kevin Costner) has just retired from the U.S. Navy. With nothing but time and some disposable income on his hands, he opts to visit an old friend down Mexico way. That would be Tiburon "Tibby" Mendez (Anthony Quinn), a powerful kingmaker in Mexican politics. J once saved Tibby's life and Tibby has been forever grateful.

He might not be so grateful if he figured out that his much younger, beautiful trophy wife Mireya (Madeleine Stowe) needed some love, attention and affection. It does not help that despite her requests, Tibby will not impregnate her. It is not long before the hunky American and the luscious Latina begin a very torrid affair.

Their affair takes a while to be discovered, but discovered it is. Despite Tiburon having a slew of mistresses, he is quietly enraged at Mireya's own unfaithfulness. Tibby appears duped, but he's anything but. Tibby's revenge is brutal: burning down J's Mexican love nest, brutally beating J and leaving him for dead, slashing Mireya's face and dumping her in a whorehouse. Here, he gives instructions that she be used 50 times a day, using colorful language to make himself understood.

J, however, is not dead. He survives, is nursed back to health, finds a kind but dying American horse vendor and begins his own march to find Mireya. Along the way, others join J for their own motives against Tibby, but Tibby's revenge against Mireya has taken and unexpected and deadly turn. Will J and Mireya reunite before it is too late?

Revenge is surprisingly long at slightly over two hours. I think this is due to Jim Harrison, who wrote the novella on which Revenge is based on and cowrote the screenplay with Jeffrey Alan Fiskin. It is nearly a whole hour before J and Mireya consummate their desires, so the audience is left with a lot of buildup to the inevitable.

Same goes for once J is fully revealed in more ways than one. I do not know if Harrison thought having the dying horse vendor would make us sad or sympathetic to both that character or J himself. It did end up coming across as more a cliché than a real element of sadness. It is not as if he served much of a purpose apart from getting J his vehicle. 

As I think on it, a lot of Revenge does not have things that fit together. Late in the film, Sally Kirkland comes on as a rock band road manager. She flirts with a nonresponsive J, is there when other men come to join him to get their own revenge on Tibby, and then honestly I forgot what happened to her. From what I understood, the timeframe between when J and Mireya meet to when they have sex is five days. 

I think one of Revenge's great issues is with director Tony Scott, who seemed more interested in the look of the film than the film itself. We get lots and I mean lots of images of flowing curtains when Mireya and J are together. We even get them when they are apart, such as when Mireya is trapped in the whorehouse. Revenge focuses on looking very pretty but not on much else.

Revenge is so sluggish in its pacing as to be glacial. That goes for almost all the acting. It becomes an informal contest to see which of our leads can appear so disinterested and disengaged from things. Costner, I think, is the winner, his J coming across as less ardent lover and more as bored throughout. Stowe at least has something of a rationale for coming across as drugged: Mireya was drugged at a certain point in the film. That, however, does not excuse how bored and removed she is prior to her dramatic turn. She can't be bothered to show that Mireya loves Tibby, likes Tibby, tolerates Tibby, hates Tibby. Stowe's performance shows she does not even think about Tibby. She might not even be aware of Tibby.

Anthony Quinn is more engaged, though that is not always a good thing. He is close to hamming things up, but only skims the edges of camp. It might have been more fun if he had gone over-the-top, especially when seeing his goons go after J and Mireya in their love shack. I will say Quinn is fun to watch. I can't say whether he is fun to watch because he is good or because he is so bad it's good. The man's name is literally "Shark" (which is what Tiburon translates to). 

Revenge is too long, too dull and too focused on how it looks to be worth watching. If there is any Revenge to be had,  it is on the unsuspecting audience who endures all two hours of it.

DECISION: D-