Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Future Legends



As part of my Five-Year Anniversary Celebrations, I've compiled a list of actresses and actors that I believe have delivered consistently quality work (with perhaps a few missteps) and whom I think will earn their place among the Great Actresses/Actors of Our Generation.  I had hoped to have Ten Actors and Actresses, but despite my best efforts, I could find only Eight: Four Women, Four Men.  However, Eight Is Enough. 

I welcome suggestions.

With that, I present my list in alphabetical order.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my 1200th article.  I am amazed myself.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams is someone who has been consistently excellent in her films.  She has in her relatively brief career five Oscar nominations (Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, and American Hustle, the last her first as Lead versus Supporting for the rest).  Her performance in American Hustle is simply brilliant: she plays dual characters: the American con-artist Sydney Prosser and her titled British heiress "Lady Edith Greensly" and does it so well that when she at a pivotal point drops her flawless British tone to her natural American voice, it is still a shock despite knowing she's been faking all this time.

Adams has incredible range, from the sugary-sweet Princess Giselle in Enchanted to the manipulative wife in The Master to the working-class girlfriend in The Fighter.  That she does it so well is a credit to her talents.  She's made a few dreadful decisions (Leap Year being simply atrocious, but a nice Irish holiday for her) and she is the worst Lois Lane I have seen (though Man of Steel is a pretty bad film on the whole).  It's sad that despite Adams' incredible talent she won't be Lois Lane to anyone.  Margo Kidder will be.  However, Amy Adams continues to rise and seeing her in almost anything is worth the cost of admission.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender is one of those actors who can lose himself so easily in almost any role we don't see him, but the character.  He can play evil (his Oscar-nominated turn in 12 Years a Slave being intense and chilling), but I think his forte is in playing highly conflicted beings.  There's the highly troubled sex addict in Shame, the brooding Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre (one of my personal favorites), Dr. Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, and perhaps best of all as the younger Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past

Fassbender is at his best when playing characters who have if not full-darkness at least deep shadows within their souls.  This is why I am eagerly awaiting his Macbeth, where he plays the title role.  Shakespeare is one of my great passions, and to see one of the best actors around playing Shakespeare on film...I'm so excited.  I'm also intrigued by the idea of his 'comedy' Frank, though from what I've seen it might be a little too off-beat for my own tastes.  Perhaps something a little less avant-garde, Fassie.

Oh, and about his full frontal nudity in Shame?  Well, I suppose it's all right...truth be told I have no other experiences of seeing other men's penises to compare his with.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has pretty much grown up on camera.  I confess to not liking him in Third Rock from the Sun, but perhaps it was more his hair than I disliked than him.  No more television sitcoms for JGL, for he's moved up to the Big Leagues.

It's surprising given how incredible he's been in such films as Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and especially 500 Days of Summer that he is still without an Oscar nomination (while Jonah Hill has racked up two so far).  He's become not just a great actor, but an entrepreneur, creating an outlet for creativity through his hitRECord production company.  Now, I also was one of the few who disliked his writing/directorial debut Don Jon, finding it far too smug for its smut-filled characters.  However, I like to think of it as more his creativity finding a bad outlet than a reflection of his abilities.  My admiration for Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows no bounds.


Scarlett Johansson

I am the first to admit that initially, I dismissed Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon co-star Scarlett Johansson.  I thought she was extremely beautiful, but apart from that saw little to nothing to recommend that she could 'act'.

How wrong I was, and pleasantly so.  Johansson reminds me of Marilyn Monroe.  Both were in their early career thought of as nothing more than 'eye candy', pretty girls who had only their bodies and faces to recommend them for film work.  However, both proved that within them there was intelligence and a great range.  I consider both of them extremely talented actresses, legitimate actresses.  Who else could be so convincing with just her voice (as she was in Her)? Who else could stand out among a group of superheroes as she did in The Avengers

Johansson is also a Tony-winner (which I think is rare for someone considered a 'movie star', Broadway being notoriously picky when non-theater actors trod the boards).  Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Hanks lost their Tony nominations, and both Denzel Washington wasn't even nominated when he took to the Great White Way.  Johansson, however, earned their respect, a most admirable thing.  I know she doesn't like the nickname ScarJo, but sorry, on this we must disagree.  It's a sign of love and respect, not dismissal. 

James McAvoy
Here's what I've always said about 'serious' actors in 'non-serious' roles.  If you give a thoroughly talented actor, one who will take his/her role seriously, a part in something like a comic-book film, you will get a great performance.  Such is the case with perhaps my favorite actor currently working today: James McAvoy (the only actor whom I could literally see eye-to-eye with).

Just look at the guy's range.  He's played romantic dramas (Atonement), action (Wanted), comedy (The Last Station), children's films (Arthur Christmas) and of course, Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past.  McAvoy to me is, like his X-Men co-star Fassbender, one who becomes the character, no matter how out-there the role may be (as his turn in Trance showed, a film disliked by many but which I thought was not bad at all). 

Out of all the actors I have seen, I can say that my favorite actor of the "classic" era is Claude Rains, and of the "current" era, it's James McAvoy.  Both had incredible range, both are talents beyond belief, and both are short.

Miles Teller

Where did this kid come from?  Miles Teller had had scene-stealing roles in Rabbit Hole and the remake of Footloose, but it wasn't until The Spectacular Now that I saw Teller is simply the best actor who is still stubbornly not a household name.  His performance in The Spectacular Now was real and heartbreaking and life-affirming.  I know it sounds wildly bizarre to be that enthusiastic, but I was so impressed with him (and the film) that I think he was simply robbed of a Best Actor nomination.   I've heard he's done equally great in a yet-to-be released film, Whiplash, so I am looking forward to that.

That isn't to say Teller hasn't made ghastly mistakes.  21 and Over and especially That Awkward Moment were clear-cut embarrassments, as if his team were trying to get him into quick-cash teen comedies that won't be part of any Kennedy Center Honors profile.  I also am not sold on him being Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four reboot (thinking he's just too young at 27).  However, one thing I know: Miles has miles to go in his career, and it's going to be an amazing adventure.

Mia Wasikowska

Mia Wasikowska is the great love of my life.  When I first saw her in The Kids Are All Right, I was completely convinced she was a California Girl.  I also thought she looked so much like Joni Mitchell that I thought she would be perfect in any biopic.  Then I saw her in Jane Eyre (with another Future Legend) and thought, 'Wow, she's British and has a great American accent".  Then I find out she's AUSTRALIAN!  After that, I think she's this generation's Meryl Streep.

Wasikowska has such great range that I hope she won't get stuck working on things like more Alice movies (terrible adaptation) or merely costume pictures.  I LOVE costume pictures, but she can effortlessly play contemporary parts too.  How I wish production companies would see just how good she is, what a thoroughly professional actress she is.  Minus Jane Eyre I don't think she's had a real breakout role but here's hoping that someone will put her in more movies and the world will really discover the love of my life.

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley has come into her own, following the pattern set by Jennifer Lawrence.   She's done the dramatic parts (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and now is earning massive raves for her action dystopian franchise Divergent (even if the film is less loved by critics, though not having seen it yet I cannot say anything about it).  Then throw in a well-praised performance in The Fault in Our Stars and you have the making of a great career.

Woodley is growing as an actress (her film credits read only seven films overall, and that's including the first Divergent sequel).  She has the range to be funny and serious, and one hopes that she will be well-guided in her career.

There is something to be said about the 'older' versus 'younger' people on this list.  Woodley at 22 is the youngest, followed by 24-year-old Wasikowska, 27-year-old Teller, and 29-year-old Johansson.  Amy Adams at 40 is the oldest, with Michael Fassbender at 37 being the oldest male (and ten years older than Teller);  McAvoy is only two years younger than his X-Men co-star, and Gordon-Levitt being two years younger than McAvoy. 

I think that by one's mid-thirties a certain mental maturity sets in, so the decisions that Adams, Fassbender, McAvoy, and Gordon-Levitt make will be more intelligent ones.  Johansson's artistic choices also denote much maturity, though it should be noted that Johansson and Gordon-Levitt had years of work before they 'made it big'.  Teller and Woodley really just broke out quickly (Wasikowska having worked on Australian television before advancing, coupled with her lesser notoriety compared to Woodley or Teller).  Teller and Woodley may still stumble (Teller already having done so, Woodley still yet to be part of a disaster). 

It isn't just their career choices that may be bad.  It may be their personal choices.  Adams, McAvoy, and Johansson have family lives, and Fassbender and Gordon-Levitt already have many years experience.  Even then, they, along with the younger set, may soon become 'divas' or 'divos', making fools out of themselves and wrecking their careers. 

I certainly hope not, and hope instead that they will earn their place to rank among The Greatest.

Will these kids join us?
 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Aragon On Bacall

1924-2014
I detest hearing people say that when a certain person dies, he or she was 'the last of their kind'.  When Elizabeth Taylor died, we were told she was 'the last of her kind', being 'The Last Movie Star'.  Same for Shirley Temple: 'the last of her kind' being 'The Last Child Star'.  There will always be 'movie stars', there will always be 'child stars'. 

Lauren Bacall similarly, was not 'the last of her kind': the sultry performer whose husky voice made many men whistle.  Bacall was someone who over her long career though, realized that one had to go beyond the image.  She was more than The Look: this extraordinary-looking being who made Bogie a man of her own (on and off the screen).

She was someone who could play comedy, like she did in Designing Woman or in her only Oscar-nominated performance in The Mirror Has Two FacesDesigning Woman in particular is interesting, in that she had to play this comedy at the same time as Humphrey Bogart, the true great love of her life despite their age difference, was dying. 

I think that if one looks at her early films (like To Have and Have Not, her first teaming with Bogart) or The Big Sleep (a film that, despite its reputation, no one appears to understand) there appears to be a hesitancy, a bit of unsureness in her performances.  I think she knew that she still needed to hone her craft (it should be remembered that in To Have and Have Not, she was just nineteen).  However, as time grew, she herself grew more confident, moving away from playing dames and into roles that required more than just her great face.

I remember Young Man With a Horn, where she starred with Doris Day and Kirk Douglas.  There was a vague hint of lesbianism in Bacall's part, unspoken of course, but it's a credit to her as an actress that she could suggest that while also suggesting a possessiveness to Douglas' character.  There was also the comedy How to Marry A Millionaire, where she was the brains behind the operation to help her and Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable land wealthy men.  Behind the bubbly exterior, there was a vague hint of cynicism behind her scheme, as if love were something that merely got in the way of a successful catch. 

Despite the years, Lauren Bacall never faded.  She was one of a handful of stars still living when the American Film Institute announced its 50 Greatest Stars (they can call their list 100 Years, 100 Stars, but with 25 men and 25 women, that still adds to 50).  Now there are only three left: Sophia Loren, Sydney Poitier, and her Young Man With a Horn co-star Douglas.  Despite being in only four films together (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo), they are still held to be among the greatest screen couplings in film history.

Bogie and Bacall.  The two just go together so naturally. 

I won't say that Lauren Bacall was 'the last of her kind', the sultry and seductive femme fatale.  She was not 'the last of her kind'.  However, Lauren Bacall was thoroughly unique, perhaps 'the Only One of her kind'.   That indeed is a great loss.

There will always be Movie Stars.  There will always be Child Stars.

There will never be another Lauren Bacall.



IN MEMORIAM

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Day the Clown Died

1951-2014

If I get out of work at 6 MST, I get a chance to listen to some of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, their evening news program.  On Monday of last week, I listened and when Robin Williams' death was announced, I did something I rarely do: gasped and put my hand to my mouth in shock. 

I thought it might have been a heart attack or something like that, but as news emerged we found that Williams had taken his own life by hanging, after attempting to slash his wrists.  The nature of his death, to take his own life, seems so at odds with the general idea of Robin Williams: always so up, so happy.

Yet we find that he, like all of us, goes through dark periods, where sometimes one manages to emerge or stumble out of the darkness, or falls into it.  He had projects ahead of him, such as a long-awaited Mrs. Doubtfire sequel, so it wasn't as if he was completely without options financially.  While this is merely my speculation, perhaps the cancellation of his series, The Crazy Ones, did not help his mental and financial state of being.

However, I believe that many suicides build up over time, and that perhaps the most trivial matter may be that trigger to unleash one's grip into total despair.  It saddens me, as it saddens many of his fans, to imagine that someone who brought us so much happiness was himself unable to find something in those desperate and dark moments to make life worth living.

I know people at these times ask, 'Didn't he think about his family?'  Sadly, when people are in the middle of suicides or suicide attempts, two thoughts come over them.  The first is that they are so in despair that their families and/or friends don't come into their mind.  The only focus is in ending whatever ails them, and there is a sort of tunnel vision to where 'ending the pain' becomes the only thing that enters their minds.  The other, and sadder, thought, is that they DO think of their families, but convince themselves that in killing themselves, they are doing their families and friends a favor.

I don't think there isn't one person who has not, in at least one moment of their lives, found themselves in a dark place, where desperate thoughts come in and will not let go.  All of us are fraught with human frailties, and when one finds him/herself in a Dark Night of the Soul, that which opposes them becomes stronger than that which has one hold on. 

Even those who have a faith-based system can find themselves in despair, where death appears to be the only answer.  Sometimes, people pull out: maybe something in them triggers a last-minute bid for life, or perhaps they fail and get the treatment they need, or even find that a situation becomes resolved or have the courage to speak to someone, anyone, to lean on in times of personal upheaval.

Sadly, for whatever reason, Robin Williams did not believe there was someone, and the world has lost a great talent who made us, and will always make us laugh. 

That perhaps is what one should focus on regarding Robin Williams.  All children will treasure his Genie from Aladdin (even though some of his characterizations may go over their heads).  Mrs. Doubtfire will remain among the greatest comedies ever made (Num. 67 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Laughs). 

We also have some underappreciated work by Williams.  A personal favorite is a film not well-remembered today but one that, when I saw it not too long ago, reminded me of how good both he and film was.  It was the movie Awakenings, where he toned done overt humor to be more serious and where he held his own against Robert DeNiro.  While Williams may have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting, I think that along with Awakenings, his best performance was in Dead Poets Society, where he urged his students to "Seize the Day!"  In what can be only more troubling for future viewers, a major character in DPS kills himself (by hanging, if memory serves correct).

There are two lines of thought that come to me when I think about Robin Williams.  We can focus on the horrors that accompanied his death or focus on the great joy and talent his life created.  I think it would be difficult to not think of both.  Robin Williams made and will make people laugh long after the headlines fade, but we should be conscious of the terrible toll suicide and suicidal thoughts take.  Anyone who believes that killing oneself would either 'free them' or improve the world and those who know them should seek out help immediately.  It could be as small as asking a friend to share a cup of coffee, or counseling via your religious or medical sources.  It might even require hospitalization, but in whatever form I urge people to seek out help.

There was none for Robin Williams, or at least none that could alleviate what turmoil was within him those last few hours.  We should remember how he died, but we should also remember what he gave in his life.

IN MEMORIAM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Plaza Classic Film Festival: Who's Got the Last Laugh Now?


 
PLAZA CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL
DAY ELEVEN OVERVIEW

Well, Sunday was quite a busy day for me.  There was the Luncheon with the EP Baseball Team manager Pat Murphy, then a few hours waiting outside for autographs from the players, and wrapped up with Safety Last!, one of my favorite films. 

In regards to the movie, this was Harold Lloyd's debut at the Plaza Classic Film Festival.   The Plaza Theater was completed in 1930, after the silent film era ended, but it is still equipped with a major organ which provided great accompaniment thanks to Walter Strony's magnificent organ-playing.

Watching Safety Last! again, I am amazed at Lloyd's genius.  It goes beyond the actual thrills when climbing the building, but also in having our hero, The Boy (who goes by the name of 'Harold Lloyd') place the setting at a department store.  We've all been there and seen that (and some have experienced the horror of working at a store).   By having him play 'one of us', Lloyd creates the ideal character: that of the upwardly-mobile young man, high on aspirations, low on achievement.  I enjoy the logic of the situations The Boy faced.  He might be a bit of a scoundrel, but it's his cleverness that we admire.

Now that the Plaza Classic Film Festival has ended, once I recover from all the bouncing around I've done in both the films and the baseball games I will write an overview, and then there are upcoming articles I must finish.  Therefore, I thank the El Paso Community Foundation, in particular Mr. Eric Pearson, for being so accommodating to me, member of the Online Film Critics Society, and all the volunteers at the PCFF.  They had a great selection this year and one hopes that we will get more great speakers and films.

And maybe soon, perhaps they could get a humble OFCS member to speak at one of their events...

Just a thought.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Plaza Classic Film Festival: Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves




PLAZA CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL DAY TEN OVERVIEW

By now, I am convinced that the Plaza Classic Film Festival does have themes emerging from the selected films.  Perhaps they are unintentional, but if not, then they are a series of extraordinary coincidences.

Today at the Philanthropy Theater I saw two films which dealt with the growing role of women in American society in the Twentieth Century.  One is a very serious drama, the other a comedy with dramatic overtones.  However, both in their way explore the difficulties of being a woman in a man's world, how they had to confront the dismissive thinking of their male counterparts, and how both rose to the challenge to become stronger people.

The first film, Salt of the Earth, is based on the true-life story of a strike of Mexican-American miners in New Mexico in the 1950s.   I'd say it's very true-to-life, particularly in how the Mexican-American male thought whatever they did was 'man's work', while all the domestic matters were 'women's work'.  As far as the men were concerned, they were the ones who brought home the bacon and fought the fights.  Women shouldn't even be at the meetings, let alone vote.

I remember seeing a documentary about the Chicano political movement (which, despite being Mexican-American myself, would be far too bourgeois to participate in), and in it, the women complained bitterly about not being included in the struggle for equal rights.  The men, true to form, were both shocked and contemptuous at the thought that 'las mujeres' would want or even need to find their own voice in the movement.

After the screening for Salt of the Earth, Elisa Sanchez, daughter of a striking miner whose story makes up part of the events in Salt of the Earth, spoke.  She cleared up some details about the movie: for example, she said that there was a Women's Auxiliary to the Union in 1948, rather than it being created during the strike.  She also remembers that children marched in the picket lines (though on the weekends, for school, as second-class as it might have been, came first).  "I'm the legacy of what they did", she said.  "It's my story.  It's my people." 

She also stated that there was a tiny amount of funding for Salt of the Earth from actual Communists, like Lorenzo Torres, who if memory serves correct was fictionalized in the film.  She makes it clear though that she and I believe her family were not aware he was a Communist until his death and that she and her family were nowhere near being Commies. 

About the one detail that I think she got wrong involves Salt of the Earth's screenwriter, Michael Wilson.  Wilson had been blacklisted as a Communist during the "Red Scare" of the 1950s.  Sanchez stated that Wilson had written Lawrence of Arabia but not credited for it.  Wilson wrote an early draft for Lawrence, but Lawrence's director, David Lean, had playwright/screenwriter Robert Bolt rework the Wilson screenplay. 

Wilson, however, did co-write the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, which won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.  However, due to the blacklist, Wilson was not credited for it, the Oscar going to novelist Pierre Boulle, whose novel the film was based on.  Given that Boulle did not speak English (let alone write it), it did make for a bizarre situation.  That wrong was corrected with the Academy acknowledging both Wilson and Carl Foreman, another blacklisted writer, with the Oscar posthumously, and credits now read "Screenplay by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle" rather than "Screenplay by Pierre Boulle, based on his novel." 



The second film, A League of Their Own, is a sharp contrast to Salt of the Earth.  While the former was a strong (though perhaps heavy-handed) drama, A League of Their Own was meant as a comedy.  It tells the story of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was created during World War II to keep baseball in the public eye while many of the Major League's best players were off to war.  While it is a comedy and has a lot of laughs, thanks to a real all-star cast (and perhaps Madonna's best work on film along with Evita), I freely confess that while I laughed at A League of Their Own, I also did cry a little.  It is filled with joy and sadness: the player who learns before a big game that she is now a widow, the final confrontation between the Keller Sisters and their reunion at the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

I found myself emotionally moved by A League of Their Own, much more than I thought I would be.  That's the greatest in the film: it made me care about these women: their hopes, fears, aspirations, and determination.  Many men, including their own manager, thought women shouldn't be in baseball, or as Tom Hanks' character so famously says, "There's no CRYING in baseball!"

It's curious that both Salt of the Earth and A League of Their Own touched on women going into 'a man's world' and showing men a thing or two about doing it right.  The former appealed to my mind, the latter to my heart.  I was more touched by the girl baseball players (even being called the "Girls League" shows that it was not 'real baseball') than I was by the miners.  That isn't to say I wasn't touched by what the miners had to go through.  It's just that Salt of the Earth was dangerously close to being propaganda, and that kept me a bit removed from it all: the 'evil' capitalist oppressing the minority proletariats.  A League of Their Own, however, used humor and heart to tell its equality story.  Salt of the Earth may be good for you, but A League of Their Own is the one people will love.  Salt of the Earth will be merely respected.

As if to tie it all together, right after A League of Their Own, I went a block down to Southwest University Park to see the EP Baseball Game in their first of a four-game series against the Memphis Redbirds (which EP lost 2-1). 

The Plaza Classic Film Festival has one more day, and with that, one more movie.  Safety Last! will be the only movie I've seen before, and I won't need to review it.  However, a chance to see Harold Lloyd is one I can't miss.  I admire and respect Chaplin.  I think Keaton is a genius.  However, I have a special place in my heart for Lloyd.

The Silent Comedy Trinity




Friday, August 15, 2014

Jared and Peter Up in Smoke


 
FRANKLIN & BASH:
THE CURSE OF HOR-AHA

Let us take a moment to mourn the late Jared Franklin and Peter Bash, who were killed by bad writing, bad acting, and the hubris of their creators, Kevin Falls and Bill Chais.  The Curse of Hor-Aha, the season premiere of Season Four of Franklin & Bash, is the worst episode of the show's history since the abysmal Freck.  Though perhaps nothing really will ever take Freck's place as perhaps the worst single episode of Franklin & Bash (and gives Love & Monsters from Doctor Who a good run for its money as one of the worst episodes from any television show), this was simply the worst way to begin a new series, shoehorning in 'wacky' characters, dumping the good ones, and giving us really dumb cases, dumb even for Jared & Peter.

Rachel King has left in disgrace, a fugitive from justice for embezzlement.  However, it appears she had an inside man as an accomplice.  To everyone's surprise, it appears it's Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell).  Apparently, even Infeld is surprise he's the accomplice.  With nary a fare thee well to everyone, including new Infeld Daniels attorney Ellen Swatello (Rhee Seehorn), who was once Jared's sparring/sex partner, Infeld leaves the firm in capable hands.

If you're thinking his long-suffering nephew Damien Karp (Reed Diamond), you must be new to Franklin & Bash.  Of course he's not going to put someone capable and sane in charge.  He obviously will put Franklin & Bash in charge!  Good thing too, since the boys just won their case thanks to their new investigator Danny Mundy (Anthony Ordonez) pretending to be a zombie storming the court.  With said zombie, they prove that some amusement park rides, which are advertised as 'scary', may be too scary, causing pain and emotional distress.

Already just writing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Well, at least his drawings
are good...

Well, it's four months later and Infeld Daniels, Los Angeles division, is all but dead.  Now THERE'S a shock!  Franklin & Bash are forced to rent out space to a plastic surgeon, and at least 11 partners have left.  Swatello, who is disliked back at the D.A.'s office, pretty much has to stay there, though as the only sane one she sees what a mess the place is.  Still, in these desperate times a case comes the boys' way.  Mason Trolley (Kevin Christy) needs their help in keeping what he has in storage, which he hasn't paid.  He's an archaeologist (thrilling the Indiana Jones-loving Jared, though perhaps River Song would be a better fanboy fixation), who claims to have the death mask of the Pharaoh Hor-Aha in his possession.  It must not fall into the wrong hands, for he believes there is a curse upon it.  Hor-Aha's name must NOT be spoken twelve times in a minute, or else an army of the undead will rampage the world.

Yes, he does believe this.

Money is money, so the boys take the case.  Facing off against them is...Damien Karp, who is still bitter about everything to do with them, right down to how they got to be in charge when Infeld, now working as a mechanic due to his disbarment, left.  He points out he was devoted to both his uncle and the law firm for decades, then these two clowns waltz in and in three years are put in charge.  In order to prove their case, which is hard given that they really don't have one, they must convince the court that Mason Trolley is crazy.  Therein lies their entire case: because Mason is bonkers, he was in no position to make any binding agreements, including the storage lease.

Swatello is put to work on a case she openly despises.  She must work to keep The Bone (Rhys Coiro), a 'medicinal marijuana' dispenser who 'prescribes' something for Jared's aches and pains, from having his business closed.  The Bone, who calls himself with a perfectly straight face, "The Gandhi of Weed", is facing a most curious threat.  Who wants to close it?  A sweet couple who wants to open a daycare across the street.  At the deposition (where a clearly stoned The Bone does not help), Swatello notices the couple use very interesting prison lingo against him.  Quick investigation by Danny finds the couple are really pot growers themselves, who are using the daycare as a way to close The Bone down so they could take over.  Things are looking 'high' up for them all when they come to an understanding.  To Swatello's horror and fury, the conference room is full up with marijuana smoke, and in the midst of the mist are her bosses, high as kites and laughing like all good 40-year-old men who still smoke pot for kicks. 

Still under the influence, they interview Anita Haskins (Toni Trucks), who basically bullies her way to joining the firm so that she can start trying cases immediately rather than take more lucrative offers from other firms and have to 'pay her dues'.  Franklin & Bash are pretty eager (and high) to take her on.

How'd we get stuck in this sh*t?

From the very beginning of The Curse of Hor-Aha, when the zombie storms the court to show how the client was too scared to be rational about going on a scary ride, I thought the whole thing was awful.  It all sank from this blatant stupidity (no judge in his right mind would have allowed this, and no opposing counsel would have settled after this stunt that would have made the jury burst out laughing rather than shock them into submission), and nothing in The Curse of Hor-Aha made me care about any of it.

Falls and Chais did what they did last year: write off characters, but this time really give us no explanation for their absence.  Hanna Linden was written off at the beginning of Season Three, but at least we heard she joined a more prestigious law firm.  Here, how characters were executed was hopelessly haphazard.  Rachel King was embezzling and fled to Croatia?  OK...

It's the mass exodus from Franklin & Bash that just is so frustrating, surprising, and unexplained.  Dana Davis' Carmen and Kumail Nanjiani's Pindar are now both gone with no real explanation as to how or why they left (possible theories include career opportunities, being fired, or realizing what a disaster Franklin & Bash is left before they sank further into the mire).  Even Damien Karp is now going to be a figure that kind of just floats around, not serving as full-on antagonist to Jared and Peter.

Instead, what we have now is Danny Mundy, Anita Haskins, and Ellen Swatello, and frankly, Franklin, they are all pretty poor substitutes.  Part of me dislikes bashing on Ordonez, particularly since I have been advocating seeing more Hispanics on television, and it's nice to see him play a non-Hispanic (or at least, a non-stereotypical Hispanic).  However, either Ordonez is a bad actor (which I don't think) or he is doing the best he can with such lousy material to work with (the more probable solution).   Danny doesn't come off as 'quirky'.  He comes off as psychotic, almost stalker-like. 

Carmen actually did some investigative work, and part of the fun was in watching Davis show that she was intelligent in how she went about getting the information.  We saw her do the footwork.  Danny, on the other hand, seems to just get his information from out of thin air.  We never see him doing anything, apart from listening in on his bosses by rigging their phones and looking up things online (Danny must be a Master Googler).   That whole 'quirky' bit about him sleeping with both eyes open was just lazy and nowhere near as funny as Chais and Falls envisioned it.  Despite Ordonez, Meyer, and Gosselaar's best, it came across as idiotic and boring.

Please Cancel Me...

Trucks had a few minutes, but her Haskins was only slightly better.  She too came off as horrible: pushy and belligerent when shrewd and calculating could have done more to make us, well, like her.  I really feel for both Seehorn and Diamond, who simply deserve to be on a better show.  Seehorn's Swatello is now the Karp stand-in, but frankly she like Karp has the misfortune of playing a character who is simply too sane to be anywhere near this.  She is the only one to have actual human reactions to all this.  Swatello is the professional, and as such seeing her humiliated by being surrounded by pot smoke (and her bosses getting second-hand high) just seems so awful.

As a side note, this juvenile schtick Franklin and Bash have going has grown stale and actually quite sad.  In real life, Meyer and Gosselaar have wives and kids and are 40 years old.  Seeing Jared Franklin and Peter Bash stubbornly refuse to grow up now just makes them look pathetic.  It doesn't make them look cool, or hip, or fun.  It makes them look sad and really objects of pity.  How is it that Infeld Daniels never had random drug tests (which the still pot-smoking Jared would have failed and I imagine be disbarred for)?  You know guys, 40-year-old bachelors who live together, still smoke pot, play video games, have an Indiana Jones fixation to where Jared I think giggles at having an archaeologist in the office, and use 'the walking dead' to win cases while watching their law firm disintegrate are not objects of male wish-fulfillment.  They are losers, plain and simple.

As I mentioned, one really feels for Diamond, who seems stuck in this nightmare (FIRE YOUR AGENT, STAT!).  The Curse of Hor-Aha doesn't make sense in so many ways.  The thing about Karp's deposition in the Rachel King fiasco (and as a side note, Heather Locklear's entire season and participation in it was a fiasco) is a case in point.  Am I suppose to really believe that no one at the two-day deposition noticed that Karp was a.) wearing the same clothes, b.) disheveled, c.) hung over if not still drunk, and d.) basically repeating what he said the day before (the dialogue Diamond says in what is suppose to be Day One and Day Two sounding very similar)?  We also have Infeld being arrested...again.  Snoozer Alert, Snoozer Alert.  Add to all this the following question.

Wasn't Infeld Daniels a major law firm with a New York office?  Doesn't the New York office, which had such a powerful role a season or two back to where Franklin and Bash were almost fired by them, have any sway or say in who actually gets to run the Los Angeles branch?  Would they, who were so trepidatious about Jared and Peter, rubber-stamp Infeld's decision to let these two run the firm?  Wouldn't they either send someone from New York to run things (I doubt they'd let Damien, who escaped a murder rap, take the reins).  Still, it's hard to believe that a major law firm like Infeld Daniels with branches around the world let these two run the firm (unless they want to let them run it...into the ground). 

About the only things to recommend this episode are Christy as Trolley (who is amusing in his straightforward acknowledgment of disliking the Indiana Jones films except for Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls) and a quick Doctor Who reference.  Trolley wasn't as convincing when he called Jared and Peter 'dream-killers' for insinuating that a man was mentally unstable for believing in curses, but more often than not made the best of the material.  As for Doctor Who, the boys give Karp a new witness opposing counsel hasn't heard of: a Doctor Hor-Aha.  A smarmy Jared asks, "Doctor Who?"

The Curse of Hor-Aha is just a lousy way to start a season.  It's beyond stupid.  It makes one root for the opposing counsel.  It doesn't really take time to acknowledge the wide cast changes (sorry, Trucks and Ordonez, I don't think you'll be as beloved as Carmen, who was one of the best things in the show, or even Pindar, who had his fans but his detractors as well).  The dynamic and interplay between the characters is gone, replaced by new characters that already gotten off on the wrong foot and who really are not interesting or funny.  Try as they might, Ordonez and Trucks are no Nanjiani and Davis, and their loss is highly felt in this chaotic rubbish heap of an episode.  Peculiar quirks don't interesting characters make (hence why Ordonez's Mundy fell flat so quickly and disastrously). 

With The Curse of Hor-Aha, Kevin Falls and Bill Chais have performed a television miracle.  They have made the season premiere of Franklin & Bash the worst episode of the season, because it's hard to imagine anything being as horrible as this.

Then again, season's just beginning...


 
JUST CANCEL THIS THING ALREADY!
 

1/10

Next Episode: Kershaw vs. Lincecum

Here's to The Ladies Who Lunch


THE WOMEN (1939)

The Women is a catfight from beginning to end, as this collection of women in all their shameful glory: their cattiness, their innocence, their viciousness, their wit, and their double-crossing and dealing, battle it out for supremacy.  As sharp as their fingernails (Jungle Red), The Women plays out among an unreal world of elegance where our characters can dress so well and be so horrid.

Mrs. Stephen Haynes (Norma Shearer), or Mary, believes she is in bliss: a daughter, Little Mary (Virginia Wiedler) and a happy marriage.  Little does she know that her best frienemy, Mrs. Howard Fowler (Rosalind Russell), or Sylvia, has come across some delicious gossip thanks to the manicurist.  Stephen Haynes has been stepping out on Mary.  Vicious to her core, she is dying to tell Mary but decides it's best to let Mary find out for herself...by suggesting Mary go to the same manicurist and ask for the new color, Jungle Red. 

The manicurist unwittingly spills the beans to a devastated Mary.  Soon, she finds herself competing with Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford), whom Sylvia and her gruesome pal Mrs. Phelps Potter (Phyllis Poovah), or Edith discover is a perfume counter shopgirl.  After going on a Bermudan vacation with her mother Mrs. Morehead (Lucile Watson), Mary decides she doesn't want a divorce but won't stand for Stephen having a mistress.  Therefore, at a fashion show, Mary, egged on by Sylvia, confronts an unrepentant Crystal.  The war is on.

Despite herself, Mary decides on a divorce.  Off to Reno she goes, where she finds another friend, Mrs. John Day (Joan Fontaine), or Peggy, a shrinking violet of a girl, and meets two other women going to Nevada for a divorce: the Countess de Lave (Mary Boland), or Flora, and Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard).  The much-married Countess begins a romance with a cowhand named Buck Winston, whom she will turn into a music star.  In a twist, Sylvia herself arrives later for her own divorce, only to discover that her husband's soon-to-be new wife will be...Miriam!  Peggy calls off her divorce when she finds she's pregnant and she and John settle their differences, but Mary isn't so lucky.  Despite a pep talk by the wise (and wisecracking) Miriam, Mary discovers that Stephen married Crystal. 

Two years pass, and Mary has contented herself with her new life and friends (much to Mrs. Morehead's disapproval on both counts), while Crystal, still as scheming as ever, has secretly embarked on a new affair, with none other than Buck Winston.  Sylvia discovers this and opts to hold back this delicious information, but no matter. Little Mary has inadvertently revealed this to Mary, who decides to go to a party and turn the tables on Crystal and Sylvia, telling her mother she's had two years to grow claws: Jungle Red.

At the party Sylvia can't help reveal things, and Mary traps both her and Crystal (in Sylvia's case, quite literally) and vanquishes her foe, but not before Crystal gives the best kiss-off lines in film.  "Well, I guess it's back to the perfume counter for me.  And by the way, there's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society...outside of a kennel.  So long, ladies".  And now at last, Mary can be reunited with Stephen.


What The Women has in spades is a total collection of all manner of personalities who with the exception of Allen and Aarons has one thing in common: they are all rich.  Part of The Women's pleasure is in seeing this world of lavish wealth where all these women doing terrible things can get away with it.  Before any Real Housewives came our way, The Women gives us everything people love about broads behaving badly, down to catfight, name calling, wife-stealing, and even a fashion show.

The big surprise in The Women is an elaborate fashion show that precedes Crystal and Mary's face-to-face.  Over director George Cukor's objections, this fashion show was put in and while he I think was right in objecting (since it slows the film down considerably) it is quite lavish, with the added bonus of being in glorious Technicolor (which must have been a great delight for 1939 audiences).  However, I found all that fashion business pretty but pointless.

Minus that, The Women has to be one of Cukor's best directed films, as everyone in the all-female cast delivers excellent performances.  Norma Shearer, a name not well-remembered today, was the big star on the MGM lot (her marriage to MGM wunderkind producer Irving Thalberg being of some help in that department, I suppose).  I think her performance is remarkably strong given that she is either forgotten or dismissed: she makes Mary into the sympathetic person she's suppose to be, staying within the boundary between weak and weepie and growing as a woman. 

While she's suppose to be the star and has a great chunk of screentime as befits her character, her two other main costars steal the show.  This was Crawford's real big breakout, and in The Women we can see her star rising while Shearer's star falling. There had been a fierce rivalry between Shearer and Crawford at MGM (Crawford complaining publicly about how she couldn't get good parts if her rival was sleeping with the boss) and the intense hatred the two had complements their performances.  As the bitch with the heart of brass, Crawford is unapologetic in how she plays this venomous being.

Curiously, while Mary is the sympathetic one, a certain part of you prefers the gleeful malevolence and determination of Crystal, who will claw her way to the top everyone else be damned. 

Finally, there is Russell, who is so comedically malicious and handles both body movements and rapid-fire line delivery, sometimes at the same time, as when she attempts to get back at Crystal when they first meet.  As Sylvia and Edith walk away from the counter as the store is closing, Crystal cattily refers to her as "Mrs. PROWLER", infuriating Mrs. FOWLER.  So determined is Sylvia to get back at Crystal that she and Edith didn't notice a bin in which they crashed and fell into.  We laugh at how horrid Sylvia is.

The other performances were their equal: Fontaine's meek Peggy, Goddard's brassy Miriam (I can imagine a Barbara Stanwyck being her equal), Boland's optimistic Countess (who still believed in 'amour, amour, amour').  We laugh at their antics and marvel at both their duplicitousness and bonds of sisterhood.  The Women has been remade twice: as a musical in 1956 (The Opposite Sex) which got away from the original's total absence of men by including them in the film, and again in 2008 with an all-female cast. 

Neither film is remembered today, with the 2008 version particularly reviled.  I think both were probably mistakes, and in the end it's this version that still holds up.

The Women drags a bit, but apart from that it has a witty script and some simply pitch-perfect performances from the whole cast.  In 1939, there were simply too many brilliant films for one year.  The Women takes its illustrious place among all those greats.

Ladies, chapeaus off to you.



DECISION: A-