Monday, December 30, 2013
Below are images from "AMERICAN HUSTLE", David O. Russell's new crime comedy-drama about the F.B.I. ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s:
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" (2013) Photo Gallery
Sunday, December 29, 2013
"AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.": THE LAST STAND AGAINST MEDIOCRITY
The age of serial drama or adventure is over. It is over. I came to this conclusion after learning the dismal ratings for the last episode of ABC's "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." called (1.10) "The Bridge". And ironically, my statement is not a criticism directed at the series or its latest episode.
I recently learned that the ratings for "The Bridge" had dropped considerably. Many fans would see this as a sign of the show's not-so-sensational quality. I realize that "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." is not flawless. There is no such thing as a flawless show. But it has the potential to become a first-rate one, as the quality of its writing grow with time. But judging from the reaction to the show from the past two months, I can clearly see that American television viewers and critics now lack the patience to deal with a serial drama. They will not allow shows like"S.H.I.E.L.D." to develop at a steady pace. They want instant perfection right off the bat.
I blame televisions series like "LOST", the new "BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA", and "ONCE UPON A TIME". All three shows gave television viewers an excellent First Season that seemed to blow their minds. And thanks to shows like the one I had just listed, an excellent first season is what many viewers have come to expect from a TV show in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Superb shows like "BABYLON 5", "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" and"ANGEL" did not have perfect first seasons. First first seasons were decent, but flawed. But in time, all three developed into excellent shows by their second and third seasons. And this is why I consider them among the finest series in television series. I am also reminded of cancelled shows like "FLASHFORWARD" and "THE EVENT". I might as well be frank. The first half of their single seasons never struck me as exceptional or impressive. But both shows managed to develop in quality by the end of their seasons. And both shows promised great potential, as well. But the respective networks refused to give them a chance and cancelled them, instead of giving them a second season.
Considering that the writing for television series like "BABYLON 5" and "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER"managed to slowly develop over time, I now realize that I can never consider shows like "LOST" and "ONCE UPON A TIME" among the best in television history. Sure, they were entertaining and revealed flashes of brilliant writing. Unfortunately, I believe that the writing for "LOST" flip-flopped in quality during its remaining five seasons. Despite some first-rate story arcs and plot twists over the years, it never reached the same level of quality that it had enjoyed during its first season. Many fans were dazzled by "ONCE UPON A TIME" during its first season. But the series is now in the midst of its third season. And I feel that eventually, it will suffer the same fate of inconsistent quality as "LOST" did.
The first season of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." reminds of those first seasons for shows like "BABYLON 5" and"BUFFY". Like the two now defunct shows, the first season for "S.H.I.E.L.D." is obviously flawed. But I feel that it has potential, especially in the story line regarding the agency's battle with an organization called Centipede. When the series first began, I could barely stand characters like Grant Ward, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons. I found the former aggressively bland, and the other two rather annoying and out of place. The series has just finished airing its tenth episode and I have grown to appreciate all three characters. This is due to their fleshing out as interesting characters, instead of remaining mere cliches.
For me, this is a sign of why I like the production styles of television producer/writers like Joss Whedon and J. Michael Straczynski. They do not try to wow the audience off the bat with a spectacular premiere or first season. Both Whedon and Straczynski, and other show creators like them, are willing to allow their stories and characters to develop with time . . . like true storytellers. But today's television viewers do not seem to appreciate real storytelling. They do not appreciate a steady development of story and characters. They want to be dazzled right off the bat. And the creators of shows like "LOST" and "ONCE UPON A TIME" are willing to feed them dazzling premieres to automatically draw in viewers. Because of this new style of storytelling and lack of audience patience, I fear that "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." will not last beyond a first season. And if it does last, I fear that the networks might force Whedon and his brother, Jed Whedon will transform the series into an episodic one that allow guest starring costume heroes to push the main characters into a back seat.
Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. In fact, all I can do is sit back and speculate on the future of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.". If it ends up cancelled by the end of the season or is transformed into episodic television; the show's fate will become another step down in the quality of television writing - especially for the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I fear culture is in serious danger of going to the dogs.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
"BIG BUSINESS" (1988) Review
Between the mid 1980s and the early 1990s, Bette Midler was something of a box office power house for the Disney Studios. The latter released a good deal of her movies through one of its distribution labels, Touchstone Pictures. And one of those movie was the 1988 comedy that she co-starred with Lily Tomlin called "BIG BUSINESS".
Loosely based upon William Shakespeare's 1594-95 play, "The Comedy of Errors", "BIG BUSINESS" is a comedy of errors with a financial twist that involves two sets of identical twins who were mismatched at birth. The movie begins in 1940s with a wealthy New York couple, Hunt and a very pregnant Binky Shelton being driven through the West Virginia countryside, searching for the summer house of a friend. When Mrs. Shelton goes into labor, a local worker named Garth Raliff direct them to the local hospital in the nearby town of Jupiter Hollow. After the Sheltons drive away, Mr. Ratliff's wife Iona informs him that he is in labor. Mr. Shelton has to purchase a furniture producing store called Hollowmade in order to get medical attention for his wife, since the hospital is only for the company's employees. The Ratcliffs arrive at the hospital and the doctor is forced to deliver a pair of twin girls from both of his patients. The hospital's elderly nurse mixes up the twins, placing a Shelton and Ratliff twin in one bed for the Sheltons . . . and a second pair in another bed for the Ratliffs. Mr. Ratliff overhears the Sheltons deciding to name their daughters Rose and Sadie, and suggests the same names to his wife.
Some forty years later, the Shelton sisters are now co-chairwomen of the family's conglomerate called Moramax. Sadie Shelton, a ruthless businesswoman, plans off-load Hollowmade to an Italian business raider with the approval of the conglomerate's board of stockholders. Meanwhile, Rose Ratliff, now the ambitious forewoman of Hollowmade Factory and a union representative, learns about Moramax's plans. She sets out to travel to New York City and stop the sale, dragging her sister Sadie along. When the West Virginia sisters arrive in New York, they are mistaken for the Sheltons and find themselves checked into the city's famous Plaza Hotel, where the Moramax stockholders' meeting is being held. Sadie Shelton learns of the Ratliffs' intention to travel to New York and orders her more passive sister Rose and two Moramax executives, Graham Sherbourne and Chuck, to find the West Virginians and make sure they stay away from the stockholders' meeting. With two sets of twins at the Plaza Hotel, a great deal of chaos ensues before the big showdown at the meeting.
I might as well lay my cards on the table. "BIG BUSINESS" is a silly movie. There is no doubt about it. Some of the humor written by Dori Pierson and Marc Reid Rubel struck me as so broad that it required a good deal of mugging from some of the cast. The two leads - Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin - certainly did their share of mugging. But silly movie or not, I also found it very entertaining. I cannot deny that "BIG BUSINESS" is a funny movie. It is not perfect. It certainly has its flaws. But dammit, it is funny! Every time I see the movie, it brings back memories of the excessive style of the 1980s. More importantly, aside from a narrative flaw or two, it is a good solid story about mistaken identity, family and high finance.
"BIG BUSINESS" featured some really funny scenes. One of my favorites is the movie's prologue set in the 1940s. Thanks to some stellar performances - especially from Deborah Rush, who portrayed the Shelton family's sharp-tongued matriarch - and cracker-jack pacing by director Jim Abrahams, the prologue is not only funny, but provided clear details on what led to the infant mix-up between the two families. Other first-rate scenes featured the Ratliffs' arrival in New York City and their meeting with Italian businessman Fabio Alberici, Sadie Shelton's encounter with her minions Graham and Chuck during her dinner with Signor Alberici, Graham and Chuck's evening with Rose Shelton and Roone Dimmick (who happened to be Rose Ratliff's boyfriend), Roone bunking with Graham and Chuck, and the four women's first encounter with each other in one of the Plaza Hotel's restroom. However, another first-rate scene that really benefited from Abrahams' direction and pacing was the breakfast sequence, which occurred just before the restroom scene. I was amazed at how Abrahams' direction, along with Pierson and Rubel's script, allowed the Sheltons and Ratliffs interchange at one restaurant table without anyone realizing they were speaking to the wrong twin.
As much as I enjoyed "BIG BUSINESS", it does have its flaws. There were times when the mugging got out of control. This was especially apparent in the bathroom scene. Speaking of that particular scene, although it seemed to start well, I thought it ended on a clumsy note when some of the hotel's employees, along with the men in the four women's lives spotted both sets of twins together. Even worse, the end of the scene featured too much mugging for my tastes. I had no problems with how Pierson and Rubel handled at least three of the four women's love lives. New York Sadie developed a nice, lustful relationship with Signor Alberici. Jupiter Hollow Sadie developed a warm relationship with the ex-husband of her New York counterpart. New York Rose fell in love with Jupiter Hollow Rose's boyfriend, Roone. But the one problematic relationship turned out to be the one between Jupiter Hollow Rose and the rejected fiancé of New York Rose, one Dr. Jay Marshall. The script allowed them to briefly meet outside of the hotel, with Dr. Marshall believing he had encountered New York Rose. They did not meet again until near the end of the movie. And I never understood why the script allowed them to hook up in the end, when their relationship was never explored in the first place. Talk about a badly written relationship.
I wonder how difficult it is for actors and actresses to portray twins. Both Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin did a fantastic job in this movie. Midler portrayed the two sisters born to the Shelton family - Sadie Shelton and Sadie Ratliff. As much as I enjoyed her warm portrayal of the good-hearted and slightly self-centered Sadie Ratliff, I really . . . really loved her portrayal of the ruthless and intimidating Sadie Shelton. Especially when she is allowed to shoot off sharp insults at the other characters. And Tomlin was not only marvelous as the warm and romantic Rose Shelton, who was both a homebody and slightly clumsy, she was a hoot as the sharp-tongued and suspicious Rose Ratliff, who was determined to protect the interests of her fellow workers and the citizens of Jupiter Hollow.
"BIG BUSINESS" also featured Fred Ward, who gave one of my favorite performances in his career. He was warm and sexy as the lovestruck and slightly dim Roone Dimmick. Edward Herrmann and Daniel Gerroll formed a hilarious screen team as New York Sadie's Miramax minions, Graham and Chuck. It is a pity those two never worked with each other again. Although his appearances were brief, Michael Gross gave a funny performance as New York Rose's frustrated fiancé, Dr. Jay Marshall. I read somewhere that Michele Placido had developed a reputation for action drama - either on television or in movies. It is a pity that his filmography did not include more comedies, because the man had a talent for subtle comedy - especially in reacting to madness around his character, Fabio Alberici. John Hancock, whom I have seen in both television and movies over the years, gave a funny performance as the Sheltons' sarcastic chauffeur, Harlan. But my favorite supporting performance came from Deborah Rush, who was hilarious as Sadie and Rose Shelton's sardonic and manipulative mother, Binky. Aside from Midler and Tomlin, Rush had some of the best lines in the movie. Sadie may have inherited her father's name, but thanks to Rush's witty performance, it is easily to see from whom she had inherited her personality.
Yes, "BIG BUSINESS" has its flaws, which included too much mugging, a badly written romance and some clumsy pacing in one major scene. But . . . it is still a very funny movie that handled mistaken identities and high finance rather well. Dori Pierson and Marc Reid Rubel wrote a very solid script. Jim Abrahams did justice to it, with the help of a very funny cast led by the always marvelous Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. After twenty to thirty years, I feel it still holds up very well.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
The following is Chapter Thirty-Two of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Thirty-Two - Unnatural Love
September 1, 1849
Two days have passed since our wagon party experienced the tragic deaths of Mr. Anderson and Miss Watkins. Mr. Cross remains seriously wounded, but alive. A dark gloom continues to permeate the group. The rumblings against Mr. James' leadership have resumed. And my earlier regrets for joining Benjamin on this trip to California has increased tenfold. Dear God! When will this all end?
September 2, 1849
A miracle has happened! Mr. Cross has begun to recover from his wounds, thanks to Mr. James and Mrs. Robbins' ministrations. However, he remains in no condition to drive his wagon and Mr. James continues to do so for him. As the wagon party's scout, Elias does not have the opportunity to relieve Mr. James. With Elias busy scouting ahead and Mr. James concerning himself with Mr. Cross' situation, neither man seemed concerned with the growing hostility toward the latter.
September 4, 1849
I cannot deal with Benjamin any longer. I cannot believe . . . I find it hard to accept that he has harbored such . . . such feelings about me for so long. During the noon halt, I found the time to briefly converse with Elias about the growing hostility toward Mr. James. Benjamin spotted us and practically dragged me back to our wagon. By force! An argument between us ensued, in which he called Elias every derogatory name that crossed his mind. I made it clear to Benjamin that as an adult woman, I have every right to talk with whomever I choose. I also reminded him that he was my brother, not my father. Benjamin countered that as my only male relative in this godforsaken wilderness, he has control over my life and that I am to obey his every word. His comments angered me greatly and a retort hovered on my lips, when his next words took me by surprise. Without missing a beat, his anger transformed into . . . passion. He begged me to obey his every word, claiming that he knew me better than anyone in existence, including our own family. Then he went into some speech about us being soul mates and how we need one another. It was not long before Benjamin claimed how much he needed me . . . and that Miss Guilbert was nothing more than a substitution for my company. When he made that last statement about Miss Guilbert and I, I realized with great horror how he truly felt about me. Miss Guilbert was a substitute . . . for me? What exactly was Benjamin trying to say? That he preferred my company in his bed over his current lover? Dear God! I hope not!
I cannot maintain this relationship between us any longer. If we stay together, who knows how Benjamin will next express his feelings. By force? I need to speak with the Robbins.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Below are some images celebrating Christmas at the two amusement parks at the Disneyland Resort - Disneyland and California Adventure - in Anaheim, California:
DISNEY CHRISTMAS Photo Gallery