Tuesday, September 2, 2014

World War I in Classic Film: A Blogathon



Now that I've written this movie/television/culture blog for five years, it has come to my attention that I've never done a blogathon before.  Truth be told, I'm still a bit muddled into what exactly a 'blogathon' is.  The way I understand it, a group of bloggers write on a particularly topic and publish on our own site at a particular time.

Recently, through Facebook I came in contact with the site Silent-Ology, which is devoted to silent films.  However, they along with another silent film-centered blog, Movies Silently.  As I too love silent films, I approached them about participating and they welcomed me.  Now, the films covered for this blogathon, those that have something to do with World War I, are not all silent films.  They merely have to do with the First World War, which this year marks its centennial.

I consider myself fortunate to be invited, and encourage my readers (all 12 of you) to look at the other sites and wish me well as I participate in this endeavor, the first for me. 

My film is The African Queen, and I'm very excited about both the blogathon and the selected films (including my own). 

Hopefully I'll do this right and be a credit to the other blogs with which I'm participating with.

Finally, as we go through this blogathon, I hope we take time to pause and remember the terrible cost World War I took on those who fought it and those who lived through it, all gone now.  If you don't think the aftereffects of the First World War don't matter, think on this.

It was after World War I that the European powers broke up the dead Ottoman Empire, creating the current states of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq despite the aspirations of groups like the Kurds, who wanted their own independent state.  It was after World War I that the Balfour Declaration, where Britain stated a support for a Jewish state in Palestine, planted the seed for the eventual state of Israel.  Ho Chi Minh went to the Versailles Peace Conference, hoping for an independent Vietnam (then called French Indochina) from colonial French control.  The collapse of Germany led to chaos and the rise of both Weimar decadence and ultra-nationalist groups like the National Socialists in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. 

Our world today, with the horrors in Iraq, Syria, and Israel in particular, were basically created by this 'war to end all wars'.  Rather, it was the war that began all wars.

Still, let us also look towards a great retrospective on films made during and/or about World War I. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Scent of Love Is In the Air


FRANKLIN & BASH:
LOVE IS THE DRUG

After having two disastrous episodes, Love Is the Drug is the first good Franklin & Bash story this season.  This, sadly, isn't to say that it is particularly good or engaging, but at least it isn't as horrible.  I think what made Love Is the Drug better than what had come before is that Malcolm McDowell's Stanton Infeld, at least in theory, is there to rein in the excesses of Breckin Meyer's Jared Franklin and Mark-Paul Gosselaar's Peter Bash. 

Infeld returns to the firm that bears his name, interrupting the hijinks of a F&B staff meeting (no one can speak without holding a football, with those that interrupt having to run laps around the table).  They have two cases.  The minor one involves Twilera, a prescription sleep medication that apparently has made people do irrational things, like shop in a haze, or with the case the firm has, hire a dominatrix unwillingly and after having wax poured into their rectum they would like a refund.  Enter Ellen Swatello (Rhea Seehorn), the most sensible person at IDFB, who naturally is given this case against her will.  However, once we get a look at the plaintiff, Bob Allen (newcomer Alan Santini), she doesn't mind too much.  The much shorter and less attractive Jared, who still harbors conflicted feelings for Swatello, does mind.  Despite himself he 'accidently' gets their investigator Danny Mundy (Anthony Ordonez) to look in on how Swatello is making out with Bob (read into that whatever you will).

The big case involves Jimmy Lavanos (Derek Miller), a cab driver with an impeccable sense of direction who is being accused of stealing celebrity handbags, with Sadie Juvonen (Carrie Wiita) as his accomplice.  He denies stealing anything and calls upon Franklin and Bash (whom he's driven home after both were hopelessly drunk...again, aren't these guys both 40?) to help him out.  Things don't look good for Jimmy when Sadie, who had gone by an alias when with Jimmy, is located by the boys and at her arrest shouts out that Jimmy made her do it.  Things continue to go bad for our human GPS when she pleads guilty in exchange for information to get Lavanos, but we find that in a way, Jimmy has a chemical imbalance caused by Sadie that renders him disoriented.

Finally, in the actual subplot (since the Twilera case really goes nowhere and is just an excuse to make Jared jealous), Infeld finds himself punching a snooty restauranteur, Dominic (John Michael Higgins), with whom he's had a bitter rivalry going over 20 years over the most idiotic of reasons.  As a way to avoid having charges filed (and not having to pay extortion), Dominic agrees to give Stanton a punch.  However, the ever-wily, ever-bitter Dominic, using a clause in the contract, gets a substitute, none other than Iron Mike Tyson!  Needless to say, Iron Mike doesn't take kindly to having his friends mocked.


I'll admit that the Mike Tyson sequence was funny (especially how the tiny Meyer could think of taking on the champ), but there's something a bit sad that Iron Mike could do better than two actors who have spent nearly their whole lives on camera.  "I do theater now," Tyson at one point yells at them as he walks away, which is true (though at more than $50, I opted not to go to his one-man show when he came to El Paso).  Apart from that a lot of Love Is the Drug was a little flat.

Franklin & Bash's biggest problem, from what I see, is that the show stubbornly refuses to let the boys grow up.  The first season showed how they could be a bit wacky and offbeat but still have some sense to them.  This season, and last season, and the season before that, show they are devolving in mental age.  Nothing really captures this better than when they go to find the photographer who took TMZ-style shots at celebrity events where Sadie was spotted.  At the photo shoot, a beautiful woman comes up to them and asks for their opinion on whether she should or should not wear a bra.  Is it me, or is there something idiotic about two 40-year-old men giggling like horny teenagers looking at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue when this woman approaches them?  Seriously, I thought, could she not tell that these two 'brilliant' lawyers who have had hundreds of women between them (and in Jared's case, perhaps a few bi-curious moments) were all but drooling over the thought of a braless woman? 

That, perhaps may be forgiven, but given that she asked them that because she needed, as she put it, their "Queer Eye" (yet another 'people think they're gay' bit) it's puzzling how this woman could be so dumb.  With their 'drunken vomiting', their 'dart shooting games', their 'wacky meetings', and their giggling over models, Franklin & Bash has got to make our leads either a bit smarter or a bit more mature.  We had a lot of trouble accepting them as 'brilliant' lawyers when they appear to be nothing but goofballs who couldn't put two-and-two together.


Frankly, ANYONE
would be jealous...

In regards to other aspects, Love Is the Drug at least has a touch of the old Franklin & Bash logical insanity to it.  The idea that the Pink Sapphire perfume of Sadie would so set Jimmy off that he basically went haywire may not pass the smell test (pun intended), but at least it isn't as idiotic a reason as we've seen before.  The long and drawn out battle between Dominic and Stanton wasn't particularly clever or amusing (apart from Tyson), and I don't think Higgins did anything that would make us want to rally to his side (has he ever played anything other than 'fussy'?).  However, at least it gave McDowell a chance to look more sensible than he has been in ages (which is saying a lot) and puts him back into the stories rather than being a satellite that floats in and out (physically and mentally).

Poor Ordonez still hasn't been able to make Danny into anything other than downright creepy, even probably psychotic, and nowhere near a potentially good character who is a solid investigator.  With his wild, wide-eye expression (as if he never sleeps, and last time we saw him, he did indeed sleep with both eyes open, making him look even crazier than he comes across), Ordonez's Danny is not winning fans.  It almost seems like Jared & Peter just picked Danny as their investigator because he wandered in and they needed ANYBODY to fill Carmen's place.  Again, I still put the blame on the scripts than on Ordonez, who like the admittedly beautiful Santini (who had nothing to do apart from being beautiful) is starting out in his career. 

It's just sad that with Mundy, Franklin & Bash appears to be trying to mix the now-gone characters of Carmen and Pindar into one.  It isn't working, because Carmen and Pindar worked well separately: Carmen's sensible nature to balance Pindar's eccentricities.  Putting two of them into one creates an imbalance that no actor, particularly one who is in the first steps of a career, can pull off.  Even seasoned veterans like Gosselaar or Meyer would have difficulty with Danny Mundy, so Ordonez is given a thankless task.

It's also interesting that with Reed Diamond's Damien Karp missing entirely, we see just how important he was to the show.  He was the antagonist, the prime factor in Jared and Peter constantly 'going against the system', which he smugly personified.  With their main nemesis gone, who really are they going to be dueling wits with?  Our heroes need a figure to fight against, someone who will hinder them.  Stanton Infeld isn't going to do it: he gives them more carte blanche than they deserve.  Swatello is in no position to do it.  Last season's Rachel King couldn't do it (and poor Heather Locklear proved disastrous to the show overall).  Diamond was the only one who could make antagonism against Jared and Peter seem rational, potentially threatening, and at times, even endearing.  He has always had the talent for it, but seeing him gone only shows what a hollow show Franklin & Bash is now (not that seeing both Dana Davis and Kumail Nanjiani gone didn't make that clear already). 

Finally, the music was terrible.  It was as if they couldn't help themselves with the musical cues suggesting 'oh, this guy's hot' and/or 'oh, the girl turns him on'.  I get it, thank you very much.  I don't need to have music enhance what I already know.

However, there are some good things in the episode. 

Seehorn has softened her Swatello to be less hyper-aggressive and more the level head in a madhouse.   It's too bad that perhaps the best character will be gone too, as Seehorn is going to be in the Breaking Bad pre/sequel Better Call Saul.  Wonder why she would leave Franklin & Bash for something like Better Call Saul?  

As far as episodes go, Love Is the Drug happens to be the best Franklin & Bash of Season Four, though only by default (the other two so far being simply horrid).  After two false starts perhaps having Infeld at least try to rein in the boys may pull the show out from being a train-wreck.  It remains to be seen whether Stanton Infeld will turn Franklin and Bash around, or whether Franklin and Bash will instead push Infeld (and the show itself) into the swamp of cancellation.   

Bet Jared Franklin had THIS
in his locker...


4/10

Next Episode: Good Cop/Bad Cop

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Genius At Work



CHARLIE: THE LIFE AND ART OF CHARLES CHAPLIN

I think it's been established that Charles Chaplin was a true comedic genius.  His Little Tramp character is beyond iconic.  He is one of the few silent film stars who has transcended cinema and remains part of popular culture.  Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, delves into his creative and personal life.  A bit dry at times, it is still an interesting look at his creative process and one any film or Chaplin buff would enjoy.

Richard Schickel, film historian and reviewer, wrote and directed the documentary, narrated by Sydney Pollack.  Schickel's love for the subject is there in the film, as it covers with both film clips and interviews ranging from film historians to directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese along with Robert Downey, Jr., (who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in Chaplin).  The film Limelight seems to be the guide for our journey, as it seems to be the whole of Chaplin's career: his early days on the London stage, his fear of audiences rejecting him for any number of reasons (being too passé, too sentimental, old-fashioned), his melancholy beneath the mirth.

We see his triumphs and his tragedies, along with the problems that both surrounded him and which he caused himself.  His predilection for younger women was a source of great controversy (his last wife, Oona O'Neil, daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neil, was 18 to Chaplin's 53 when they married, causing an international scandal and a break between father and daughter).  Still, Oona was the last of what the film calls his 'three great loves', the first being a frequent co-star, Edna Purviance, the second being his third wife, Paulette Goddard. 

We do get some interesting insights from the interviewees.  Allen, for example, did not find the famous 'globe dance' in The Great Dictator amusing, and while if memory serves correct he never overtly states it the fact that as a Jew this spoof of Hitler might be too clownish for the horrors Hitler committed. We also get some insight as to how some of the great films, such as The Gold Rush, were made, and how a film praised by critics that he directed but did not star in, A Woman of Paris, failed.  We also get some coverage into another film, Monsieur Verdeux, which was a dark, dark comedy about a man who murders his wives and equates that with the wholesale slaughter of people through war. 



However, as informative as Charlie is, I found it a bit dry at times.  At one point I struggled to stay awake.  I think it has to do with the fact that Schickel is a bit too much of a fan.  Rather than take a more impartial or critical eye at Chaplin, Schickel is satisfied to let others talk about how great Chaplin was.  He certainly was that, for I am one of his fans (though personally, I love Lloyd and am more a Keaton person myself).  However, Schickel kind of skims over the failures of A King in New York and A Countess From Hong Kong, failures due both to his worldview and filmmaking style (which by the time they were made were too far rooted to the past).  The documentary is respectful of A Woman of Paris, but waxes rhapsodic about Chaplin's cameo in the film.

That should give on an idea of how Charlie sees Chaplin. 

Charlie also doesn't give enough time to how the political leanings of Chaplin, which were not in step with the times, affected his career both personally and creatively.  Finally, it is only again, when we go back to Limelight, that we even touch on any kind of rivalry between Chaplin and one of his silent film counterparts, his Limelight co-star Buster Keaton.   

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, will be enjoyed by those who love Chaplin and is a great primer for this genius.  A bit dry and a bit tedious at times, it still is worth looking into to get an idea about what makes Charles Chaplin one of the greats.   

DECISION: B-

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cantinflas' Song and Dance



EL BOLERO DE RAQUEL

Mario Moreno, better known by his stage name of Cantinflas (pronounced cahn-TEEN-flahs) is a comedic legend.  He is more than 'the Chaplin of Latin America'.  In a great example of genius influencing genius, Cantinflas took some Chaplin characteristics (the raggedy clothes, the expressive face) but unlike Chaplin, Cantiflas' greatest strength was his ability with words.  He could turn a simple sentence into something so complex and convoluted that a term was coined for someone who befuddled with linguistic prowess: to "Cantinflear" means to so confuse someone with verbiage that it becomes too confusing.

In return, Charles Chaplin commented that Cantinflas was the greatest comic alive. 

Genius Saluting Genius.

I had grown up watching Cantinflas movies, but this was the first time I had seen one of his most legendary films, El Bolero de Raquel.  An obvious pun on Ravel's Bolero, Cantinflas turned the iconic piece and made something both universal and specific to its setting.  Granted, those who speak or understand Spanish will appreciate it better than those who don't , but with or without subtitles El Bolero de Raquel is a delight.  In this, Cantiflas' first color film and the first after his brief foray into the American market with mixed results (the Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days followed by the disastrous Pepe), El Bolero de Raquel is a welcome return to form for a true comedic genius.

Cantinflas plays a 'bolero' (basically, a shoeshine boy), who scrapes a living by both shining shoes and hoodwinking clueless American tourists with his own bizarre history lessons on Chapultepec Palace.  He returns to his neighborhood one night to discover that his best friend has died by falling off the construction site he was on.  The widow, Leonor (Flor Silvestre) decides that she will go to her parent's home and plead for help, for her parents objected to her marriage.  As such, she leaves her son Chavita (Francisco Fernandez) in his care while she's away.

Cantinflas wants to do right by his godson, so he tries to get an education, where he falls for Chavita's schoolteacher, the beautiful Raquel (Manola Saavedra).  That doesn't go very well (when Cantinflas is asked to explain what shapes water takes, he says two: Major and Minor, expanding that Major Water is things like oceans, Minor Water being what you find in fountains and sinks).  An effort to be in construction also flops spectacularly, as does the highlight of the film.



He gets a job shining shoes for a cabaret show, and when the headliner goes on stage to perform a dance to Ravel's Bolero, he hears it as her calling for the 'bolero' to join HER on stage.  Finding no prospects in Mexico City, they go to Acapulco, where he tries to make money off the tourists, but again things go wrong.  He stumbles (quite literally) into a lifeguard job, but he proves typically inept (the large woman floundering in the ocean ends up rescuing him!).  They go back to Mexico City, but with enough money for Cantinflas to get Chavita what he's always wanted: a large ball.  When they arrive at the neighborhood, to their surprise Leonor has returned, having not only made peace with her parents but with a fiancée who is glad to take Chavita with them, and who comes bearing his own ball.

Cantinflas, sad to see Chavita go but resigned to it, begins to wander with his ball, and at a park kicks it away, only to find Raquel has picked it up.  She had fallen in love with Cantinflas, and we end with them together.

Cantinflas has a great ability to be hilarious and heart-tugging at the same time.  His verbal skills are in top form throughout El Bolero de Raquel.  Showing up intoxicated at the funeral with a mutual buddy (where no one appears to think it odd and goes along with it), as Cantinflas gives a rambling eulogy, he ends up falling into the pit.  Cantinflas insists he was pushed.  "Well, it's not like he dragged me in," he says in his defense.   In Acapulco, Chavita wants to snack on the shrimp they're selling.  Cantinflas says no.  "What about the seafood you have?" Chavita asks.  "That's for sale.  Do you want to get poisoned?" he replies.


The sight gags are also hilarious.  The naughty but still clean pleasure he gets in putting sunscreen on American tourists is extremely funny.  At one point, having poured some on a slightly elderly woman, he then finds that she calls her granddaughter.  He insists on being thorough and tells them he'll be back tomorrow.  What makes his efforts at seduction more amusing is that somehow we know he won't ever get far (his voice rises like that of a teen discovering girls for the first time).  There is a certain innocence to Cantinflas' persona, but one mixed with shrewdness.  While at the zoo, Cantinflas manages to get snacks for himself and Chavita by pretending to help a fat boy in a sailor suit 'feed the monkeys' by tossing them peanuts and taking oranges and bananas in the guise of tossing those.  The dance is also hilarious, showing off a physical dexterity to rival Chaplin.

It also brings up the cliché of every Mexican film having to have a cabaret scene. 

Going back to Chaplin, El Bolero de Raquel seems to have a bit of The Kid in it, with Cantinflas having to play a father-figure to the youngster.  Unlike Chaplin's version however, Cantinflas is not a reluctant father.  Furthermore, the idea of the 'padrino' or godfather is stronger in Latin America, where a man who is not the biological father assume fatherly responsibilities he promised to at the child's baptism is taken more seriously.

However, that is as serious as El Bolero de Raquel is, because both physically and verbally Cantinflas is a master.  From his bizarre chemistry and history lessons to his ability to outwit the police, we get the comedic side.  When he and Chavita offer prayers at bedtime, we get the sentimental side (though still with great humor and heart). 

Ravel's Bolero is built around its deliberate repetitiveness, which enhances its brilliance.  El Bolero de Raquel is built around Cantinflas' verbal and physical abilities along with a tender element of fathers and sons, which enhances its brilliance.

DECISION: A-

Friday, August 29, 2014

When Elizabethan Hearts Are Aflame


FIRE OVER ENGLAND

Fire Over England brought together two of the greatest screen and theater couples of all time: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.  The fact that they were married to other people did not stop them from beginning a torrid affair that mirrors the couple in the film.  Fire Over England also mirrors the oncoming storm of World War II, though perhaps this was unintentional.  I say "perhaps" because in 1937 it is hard not to think that Britain and Germany would once again take up arms against each other; a film like Fire Over England would serve as a reminder of another time when the sceptered isle was in danger of invasion and triumphed.

Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) is facing enemies foreign and domestic.  She is facing off against her former brother-in-law, King Philip II of Spain (Raymond Massey), determined to win England back to the True Faith and remove the heretic bastard Queen.  Her Majesty has only her loyal treasurer Lord Burleigh (Morton Selton) and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Leslie Banks), for whom she has always carried a torch.  Beyond that there is no one she can fully trust.

However, a new figure has entered her Court.  It is Michael Ingolby (Olivier), fresh off a daring escape from the Spanish who comes with news of a Grand Armada that is being formed against the Virgin Queen.  Elizabeth knows all about this, but she recognizes a young man with ambition, courage, and above all loyalty to the Crown.  There is one potential hitch: Michael is passionately in love with Cynthia (Leigh), Lord Burley's granddaughter and a lady-in-waiting to Gloriana.  Her Majesty cannot help but notice that Cynthia is young and beautiful, while she...

Still, despite Leicester's bungling of keeping Philip's agent Hillary Vane (James Mason, in one of his earliest roles) alive, there is still opportunity.  No one has seen Vane in Spain (there's a poem in there) and Michael is about the right age and height to match reports.  He also speaks fluent Spanish.  Despite Cynthia's misgivings and open objections, Michael will be bound to the Crown and not the heart.  Therefore, it's off to the Escurial, Philip's palace, to infiltrate the plot.  Michael, however, has issues of his own.



Michael is undone by the Lady Elena (Tamara Desni).  He had met the Lady Elena before, when he was hiding out in Spain before escaping back to Britain.  She still harbors feelings for him, but also harbors hatred for the English, whom she blames for her father's death.  While she doesn't give him away, their closeness raises the suspicions of her husband, Don Pedro (Robert Newton), and his failure to come up with the final name of the conspirator convinces Philip he's not the real Vale.  Nevertheless, to save Lady Elena's honor, Don Pedro 'allows' Michael's escape, and thus he races back to Britain to warn the Queen of who are the vipers at her Court.  She goes to lead the troops herself, unmasks the traitors (who now renounce their former allegiance and return to Liz's bosom, so to speak) and Michael along with the ex-traitors goes to smash the Armada. 

With victory assured, Cynthia and Michael are to be married at the same time Gloriana goes to give thanks for her kingdom's deliverance (and her own).  However, she recognizes that no Crown will ever win a young man's heart like that of a pretty face, and while she privately mourns the passing of her own youth, she continues to lead her people into the Elizabethan Age.

It is rather difficult if not impossible to not recognize that Fire Over England was in some way a form of rallying cry to the growing Nazi threat the British were facing.  Certain scenes, certain moments play as if the characters were addressing the Germans rather than the Spanish.  However, even if this were not the case, Fire Over England has several saving graces.

The first are the performances by Robson and Leigh.  As often as Queen Elizabeth I has been portrayed by a variety of great actresses (Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Bette Davis), I think Robson is perhaps the best (with Blanchett coming in an extremely close second).  Robson shows Elizabeth to be the imperious queen she needed to be, but she also shows a softer, tender side.  In one shocking moment, she slaps Cynthia for giving a smart reply to her line of questioning (when complaining that Cynthia is giving her 'crooked answers', Cynthia retorts, "Crooked answers to cross questions").  However, later on the Virgin Queen softly tells Michael that it is right that he ask Cynthia whether to endanger his life to serve as her spy.  Robson even stops to visit an ill Burley, and shocks her ancient courtier by serving him hot soup in a gentle manner. 

Robson does an incredible job of being both imperious and highly vulnerable, of being both woman and Queen.


Leigh also does a great job of playing the slightly fluttery but endearing Cynthia, who is cheeky and scatterbrained but also bold and daring.  She is openly defiant to her Queen when she insists that it is not right that Michael risk his life again after barely having escaped the first time.  In turns silly and serious, Leigh manages to out-act Laurence Olivier, who looks like he's having great difficulty toning down the more theatrical style of acting for a subtler film performance.

Olivier is highly theatrical in Fire Over England, as if he thinks he is on a London stage and has to basically shout to the gallery. More embarrassing, he never loses an opportunity to show off how vigorous he can be in even the slightest action scene, jumping and leaping about with abandon.  He manages to throw in a little song too, about the courting of an English man and a Spanish lady.  Pity that Spanish Eyes hadn't been written yet, otherwise he would have belted that one out too.

Out of all the performances, Olivier's wild hysterics made the difference between him and all his co-stars (even those with smaller roles like Desni or Newton or Massey, who appeared to take this seriously) all the more pronounced.

However, to their credit Olivier and Leigh look absolutely perfect together, these two people who would scandalize the theatrical world by their torrid affair while still very much married.  Fire Over England captures these two lovers in visually beautiful terms (aided by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe) and Elizabeth's rousing speech to her troops is among the best moments in the film.

There is also a great wit in Fire Over England.  When reprimanding his wife for keeping Michael's identity secret from him until she confesses, Don Pedro remarks, "The whole trouble comes from treating your enemies like human beings.  Don't you see my dear, that if you do that they cease to be enemies?"  While meaning it as a rebuke, Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov's adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's novel shows the foolishness of Don Pedro's thinking.

Fire Over England drags a bit and Olivier's performance is one of the hammiest of his early career.  However, thanks to Howe's beautiful imagery and both Vivien Leigh and Flora Robson's performances, it is a great treat for those who love costume films, romances, historic pictures and anyone who gets a kick out of reliving the past.

Gloriana Forever!  

Let's see the other Elizabeth
top this!
 



DECISION: B+

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Besties and Boozing



FRANKLIN & BASH: BRO-BONO

I enjoyed Bro-Bono thanks to the human element within the story, though perhaps I am not as enchanted with it as I watched it the first time.  It is a good insight into primarily Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer), whom we learn can harbor a grudge and first meets Ellen Swatello (Rhea Seehorn), who will come back to haunt him as his occasional lover with whom he can have 'hate-sex' with.

The fact that Swatello is remarkably bitter and mannish should not suggest that Jared Franklin is in any way sexually attracted to beings who have masculine elements.

We have the primary case, that of Rick Paxton (Harry Hamlin) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Maya (Bre Blair, not to be confused with Brer Rabbit).  Paxton, a Richard Branson-type, has built a reputation as the ultimate ladies' man, so much so that in the prenuptial agreement there was an adultery clause, stating that a fortune would be forfeit if either had an affair.  As the investigation goes on, could they actually have been sharing the same mistress?  Allison Cruze (Andrea de Oliveria) denies sleeping with either of them.  However, thanks to Jared's instincts, not only does the truth come out, but a reconciliation occurs between Rick and Maya.

The other case involves Jared and Peter's old friend Danny Dubois (Michael Weaver), better known by his nickname of Double D.  Jared still resents Double D because back in high school, his Big Man on Campus (no, not a Breckin Meyer short joke), showered with Jared's girlfriend (begging the question, Jared Franklin had a girlfriend?!).  Double D has fallen on hard times, which as far as his frenemy is concerned, is schadenfreude.  Double D is now forced to sleep on his grandma's couch at her retirement home, making money doing odd jobs for the residents, including driving them around.  To Double D's surprise, he actually enjoys his work there, but he needs Franklin and Bash's help due to an assault charge where he's accused of taking a swipe at a cop.  The boys are able to successfully argue that in the confusion who know if it was intentional or self-defense, but now he gets a drunk driving charge thrown at him.  This will mean that if convicted, out goes his license...and his spending money.

Some of the residents, including Nanette (Jenny O'Hara), who goes beyond cougar to Pindar (Kumail Nanjiani) into straight-up saber-tooth tiger, try to help Double D, but little things like Nanette's former past as a hooker get in the way (devastating Pindar, who is listening in on Franklin's phone while in court to shout out, "My God, My Nanette's a WHORE!).  Eventually, the case is resolved thanks to a patented F&B skit: Jared gets drunk in court to show that his blood alcohol level was fine at first, then over the limit some time later, proving that when Double D set out on his rescue mission, his two beers were under the limit, but by the time he got to the strip club, he was legally drunk.


Evidence that Jared Franklin is
indeed str8...
Granted, the two main legal defenses Bro-Bono came up with (the 'delayed drunk defense for Double D, the dumb dick defense for Rick Paxton) are a bit nutty, but then again, this IS Franklin & Bash (not the place to go to for sound legal advise).  Still, at least Bro-Bono has enough confidence in itself to know that in the end, a lot of this is silly.

Bro-Bono also works well because it throws great twists, some that make our heroes look downright foolish.  Take for example when the attempt to needle and humiliate Karp by throwing him a surprise "50th" birthday party (even though if we go by Reed Diamond's real age, he was only 44).  Karp, as unflappable as ever, not only just says he's nowhere near 50 but also borrows Bash's guitar and shows them that his skills at shredding are much better than Bash's (or almost anyone's really).  This little bit shows that Damien Karp is actually a human being, one with outside passions and skills, not the monotone stuck-up snob Jared and Peter insist to themselves he is.  Karp is far more formidable than anyone on the show (including the writers) have ever given him credit for.

We also get some strong work by O'Hara as the saber-tooth tiger who sparks in Pindar an erotic zest (it's for laughs, so we forgive what can come off as downright creepy...sexual desires for Grandma's friends), and I thought well of both Seehorn as the strict, straight-laced Swatello and Weaver as Double D, someone who really needs to grow up but who, unlike the juvenile Franklin and the struggling Bash, actually manages to show some maturity as the story goes on.

Bro-Bono was done in by a few details I didn't care for, such as Jared and Peter discussing a scenario where either 'dates' Karp (they're so not-gay).  Another aspect that was not that good was having poor Dana Davis' Carmen endure a second round of vomiting (this time thanks to Jared's boozing rather than Pindar's paranoia).  Come to think of it, didn't Jared cheat when he told Peter after the case that he had secretly drunk more alcohol between the first and second sobriety tests?  Bro-Bono also didn't answer how Swatello's team discovered Nanette was an ex-hooker with a long rap sheet.  Then we have the false trail of a shared mistress, which was I think a way to titillate the audience who goes into lesbo action, but that's just me.

However, Bro-Bono was a good way to introduce some backstory to Jared and Peter, a good way to show Damien Karp has more sides than even he lets on, and has two interesting cases that, while resolved a bit bizarrely, at least made some sense and provided good laughs. 



7/10

Next Episode: You Can't Take It With You

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Adding the 'Romance' in 'Bromance'

A Kiss Is Just a Kiss...


FRANKLIN & BASH:
KERSHAW V. LINCECUM

It's a depressing sign of just how bad Franklin & Bash has gotten that the two leads coming up with the legal strategy of declaring their former boss a sex addict to restore his law license is the most sane and rational thing they've done.  Despite my growing love for baseball, Kershaw v. Lincecum as a title went over my head.  Making matters even worse, despite their featured role the baseball rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers plays no role in Kershaw vs. Lincecum.  In fact, not much plays a role in this Franklin & Bash episode, apart from showing both their general incompetence and at last fulfilling my long-held idea that Breckin Meyer's Jared Franklin is a homosexual in denial, both about his sexual orientation and his love for his partner/best friend, Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). 

As befits the fact that business at Infeld Daniels Franklin & Bash, LLC. is drying up, we only one case for the boys to be involved with.  A divorce case comes their way, in the form of Chelsea Beckman (Kate Beahan), who wants a divorce from her husband.  They take the case, which especially pleases Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who is thoroughly smitten with Chelsea.  Only one problem: unbeknown to the boys, Chelsea happens to be the wife of Dr. Beckman (Willie Garson), the plastic surgeon who is subletting their office space. 

Do I hear 'conflict of interest'? 

Now the boys have a dilemma: they could work with their client and take Dr. Beckman to the cleaners, or they could please the only major source of income and not take the case, or at least make things hard for Chelsea.  This situation isn't helped by eager-beaver attorney Anita Haskins (Toni Trucks), who is desperate to win her case and start going to court as lead counsel.  She pushes ahead, despite Franklin & Bash's delicate balancing act between serving their client and serving their patron.

As if that weren't all bad enough, the building owner Nate (Ken Weiler) now has the temerity to ask for the two month's back rent Franklin and Bash haven't been able to come up with.  They ask for a longer grace period, but he won't go for it...unless they can get the Infeld Daniels season tickets to the Dodgers game which the firm has behind home plate.  Jared immediately promises that, even though he and Peter both know they had to sell those tickets to keep afloat.  And who do you think now has those tickets?


That's right: Franklin and Bash's favorite nemesis, Damien Karp (Reed Diamond).  He of course won't give them the tickets...unless they can score a table at an exclusive restaurant by the end of the week.  Jared, once again, immediately says done and done.  Only one problem (seriously, have Franklin & Bash producer/creators Kevin Falls and Bill Chais simply run out of ideas?): there's a six-month waiting list to get in.  Peter knows this, Jared doesn't.

No problem: they will use their charms to convince the chef to let them squeeze in two more.  Here, the manageress, Jocelyn (Christine Donlon), after some beers and a little Truth or Dare, gets them to a Dare.  She tells Jared to kiss his partner.  Where, he asks.  On the mouth, she says.  Thus, after four years of subtle suggestions, "Elmo" Jared Franklin finally fulfills his unspoken desire to kiss his 'life partner', Peter Bash. 

Whether this is all a rather sad and desperate ploy for ratings or an acknowledgment that at least on Jared's part, he may be a repressed bisexual or homosexual in denial I don't know.  In any case, this lip-lock is built up to a 'make-out' session by their erstwhile boss, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), who is now crashing at the beach-house the boys are living in (even though, technically, the house is Infeld's and they have been living there basically rent-free).  Despite the lips a'flame, she still can't squeeze them in because of fire codes stating a certain number of people.

No problem: they know someone in the Fire Department who can help them lift that number. 

Seriously, this is getting so out-of-hand, it's beyond sad. 

Well, their fire captain has this speeding ticket...

Let's wrap all this up shall we.

Anita fixes the ticket (even though she had to show the Wildlife Court, which is trying the case because it was a state park where the speeding and rolling past stop signs took place, her old law firm's card to impress the court), which allows the fire captain to add the number of occupants (but whose inspection closes the restaurant due to asbestos).  The chef, Sebastian (Ricardo Mamood-Vega) is convinced to cook a special meal for two (that being Karp's clients) in exchange for staying a free weekend at the beach-house (Sebastian being passionate about surfing), which in turn frees up the Dodger tickets, which in turn allows them more time in their office.  As for the divorce case, it looks like the pre-nup is solid, but with a little trick they are able to show that Dr. Beckman cheated on his wife...with his wife. 

Dr. Beckman had been giving Chelsea free plastic surgery, and to everyone's surprise he in a bizarre Frankenstein-like way had been subconsciously turning his wife into an old girlfriend. 

Finally, Franklin and Bash convinced the law license board that Stanton Infeld was in the grips of his sexual addiction when he got screwed by Rachel King (and thus incapacitated in his thinking) by presenting a smorgasborg of witnesses detailing his wild sexcapades (including, curiously enough, at least one man he helped join the 'mile high club').  Dr. Beckman decides that, his marriage ended but realizing his errors, he will move to Paris, where he will dedicate himself to perfecting the perfect breast...and throw in a few cleft palate surgeries for the Smile Train on the weekends.


I don't know why Franklin & Bash has crashed so spectacularly.  In fairness, Kershaw v. Lincecum isn't as dreadful as The Curse of Hor-Aha, so at least it has improved.  However, that's like saying a patient has improved because he's gone from Ebola to syphilis.  Kershaw v. Lincecum really couldn't be worse than the disaster that was the Season Four premiere, but it isn't to say it's any better.  About the only real improvement was not having the flat-out creepy Danny Mundy in the episode (though I lay the blame more on the script than on Anthony Ordonez, who I think did the best he could with what he got). 

That, however, doesn't excuse Trucks' rather peppy take on Anita (a poor substitute for either Carmen or Pindar).  Last week, she was passive-aggressive (emphasis on 'aggressive'), pushing the boys to get her to try cases and 'not be third chair'.  Guess what she was in the divorce case? 

That's right: third chair.

Kershaw v. Lincecum also has strange, even contradictory, plot points.  Unless Chelsea kept her maiden name did no one wonder why a "Mrs. Beckman" showed up in their law office?  Did it not strike Chelsea even the slightest bit odd that she would go to a law firm where her husband had his office?  The entire set-up to the divorce case is a bit muddled: either she got a sudden impulse to divorce Dr. Beckman and went straight from his office to Franklin & Bash's office or she had this thought out and decided the most rational course of action was to go where her husband was basically providing the funding for said law office.

Furthermore, it does seem strange that, despite their desperate financial straits, they would take a case that was so dangerously close to home.  Again, conflict of interest...

As all that wasn't bad enough (and it was pretty bad, if not sad), we get this cliché of 'one promise leads to another, with hilarity ensuing'.  Hilarity did not ensue.  Instead, all this quid pro quo business seemed to merely stretch out an episode that was so shockingly hollow.  It was almost like watching a scavenger hunt, and not an interesting one at that.

Finally, as for "The Kiss".  Again, I don't know if it was to give fans like me, who have long suspected Jared Franklin to be either bisexual or a homosexual in denial, a way to confirm the suspicions or a way to wink to those who think Jared and Peter's relationship is far more intense than viewers thought.  Still, the more things go on the more curious they get.  At one point Jared describes their kiss as 'hot', and I ask you, what straight man ever says that kissing another straight man was 'hot'?  Perhaps in gay porn movies, but apart from that it all seems so strange that these two are compelled by the silliest of reasons to share a brief moment of physical intimacy.  If they had been drunk, perhaps, and granted they were a little buzzed, but really?  Truth or Dare? 

Aren't these two, well, 40 years old? 

That, however, may not be as sad as seeing Malcolm McDowell's nude romp or Stanton Infeld's sex confessions.  It all smacks of either desperation or 'we just don't care anymore' on the part of the participants.  At a certain point in Kershaw v. Lincecum (when they are negotiating with Karp for the Dodgers tickets) I think I sensed that both Gosselaar and even Meyer (the more eager of the two in this sh*tpile) know all this is crap and played it as such.  It's as if everyone in front of and behind the camera has pretty much given up on making a good show and are just going through the motions, waiting for the ship to finally sink. 

Really about the only good thing in Kershaw v. Lincecum was Diamond (who still has the smug, dismissive nature of Karp down pat, especially in his dismissiveness of how Anita could find himself with these to nitwits) and the Smile Train shout-out.

Somehow, even by the low standards of what is suppose to be a frothy show (though TNT for some odd reason declares Franklin & Bash a 'drama'), Kershaw v. Lincecum sucked.  It just sucked.  There's no way around it. 

Then again, I get the sense that Jared Franklin would really love to suck...  


Jared Franklin's Dream Comes True At Last...


2/10

Next Episode: Love is the Drug