Monday, February 15, 2016

Sydney Lumet's Films, Part I

I have been working non stop on creating my art history shows and my brain is frazzled. I am taking a short break until April 1st. Check back then! Carol

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hibernating Pleasures: Tv, Film & Books

Season One: racism in the criminal justice system but this was such an intelligent series that it went way beyond that one issue. The couple criminal, for example, does not have a drop of racism in them. However, they are also huge drug addicts and especially with crystal meth. These two do an incredible job. The woman is the huger addict and the depths she will sink to are truly extraordinary. There were some tragic stories throughout this series but I don't think this couple, and especially her, were ever meant to walk this earth. These two are NOT the two stars of this series, Hutton and Huffman.

Those two are the parents of the man who gets killed. They go through many levels of trauma. Dealing with the criminal justice system is not a mild element of that trauma. In fact, I felt at one point that everyone kept bringing up racism because it was such a hot buzz word in the criminal justice system. It gets their attention. Not many words do. The next trauma the series gets down perfectly is both interfamilial trauma as well as family to family interactions. There are lots of families here and when you put them inside the criminal justice system, it brings out the worst in all of them.

Felicity Huffman is an expert at portraying the woman who won't say no. She can be super obnoxious as she charges ahead. I liked her on "Desperate Housewives," but this is a far meatier role and series for her. Hutton as her ex husband is also quite good. He is a former gambling addict who keeps his life on track, barely, in middle age.

There is also a Mexican aspect to the case involving one man who may be a witness to the murder and a juvenile in an unrelated juvenile offense. The whole thing is set in LA and it is the perfect place to put this story as it has huge amounts of every kind of person on the planet. Name a group of people, any group, and they live in L.A.
Season Two: I watched season two before season one. It makes no difference because the two stars, Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman, are playing different roles from last year. In this, it is like "American Horror," and "True Detective"where the actors are the same but the story and characters change.

The topic could not be more timely. Our stars work in a lofty private school. She is the chief administrator and he is the coach. There is a party at a kid's house one weekend and one of the boys at the school is raped. The kids are all drinking tons at this party and drugs are being dropped in the drinks. Even worse, the other kids took pictures of it with their cell phones and posted them. The kid who got raped though is not one of the monied kids whereas the other kids are from big money.

So our two stars are not terribly interested in the victim. The coach, who seems to have a wandering eye for the underaged himself, is solely concerned about his team continuing to play and win. The administrator has a big fundraiser planned and doesn't want any bad PR.

The cops are thrown for a bit of a loop because they are not used to having a male victim. However, the medical people are letter perfect. Further complicating matters is that there are a lot of kids with sexual identities to sort out. It seems some of them are at least bisexual and maybe gay. That may be why this rape occurred at the party. But it is murky at this point as to whom is exactly what, and maybe even to them.

In short, this whole situation is building to a massive explosion and I could hardly wait!

Both of our stars are far more likely to be on the villain end of this show than the hero. That too is like "American Horror." Fine with me as I love great villains.
Midsomer Murders from BBC in novel form is splendid on murders in eccentric English villages  This is the duo of Chief Inspector Barnaby and his sergeant, Gavin Troy, from the tv series "Midsomer Murders." Caroline Graham wrote the original book BEFORE the series. I have seven of the books. I do not know the timeline on all of these but the series is derived from her work, not vice versa.

There are some important differences. The tv series has always strived to make all the major repeat characters likable. It leaves the unlikable to the various suspects. Not so the books. Gavin Troy is a married man who craves the "one off" with just about any available woman, which is very different from the series. Barnaby has a bit of a temper but not out of proportion to the frustrations of his job. As you get used to these flaws, however, they become funny. For one, Gavin usually is dropped on his head by all the women he drools over and approaches. Next significant difference: although you are given the solution and know "who did it" by the end of a Barnaby book, total justice may NOT be done. These cases do not wrap up on the neat and tidy side always as they do in the tv series.

Despite these differences, the premise is exactly the same. You drop one or more murders into all the the peculiarities of an English Village. The people all know one another, are frightful gossips, and know their social order in the village's hierarchy. Meanwhile, the police try to solve the murder(s) while victims drop like flies. The motivations for the murders always involve one of the seven deadly sins (lust, avarice, envy, etc.,) These are not books about serial killers or the unmotivated killer. The village characters are much more sharply drawn than the repeat police characters and are often hilarious.

Inspector Barnaby also cooks since his wife is a disastrous cook. He is either dieting or cooking on an almost constant basis. He also gardens. His wife and daughter are the same as the first Barnaby of the tv series.

This book involves a couple, Allen and Simone Hollingsworth, a wealthy and attractive couple fairly new to the village. Things start happening to this couple and that ignites the whole village of eccentrics.

I'm Glad To Take Them Back; Lizard Man Episode (No. 3) is hilarious.  Really, I never thought it was possible to get it back. It was just like old home week tuning it in. The fact that they are older is not bothersome. I had wondered about that. Their relative youth at taking on the old guard at the FBI had been a big part of their appeal. Mulder is a slovenly wreck as we open. His depressive, obsessive ways had gotten to Scully. So she had left their cabin (or whatever hole in the wall he resided) and returned to the city to do surgery. She is sleek and in control, as always.

They are called back to work on the X-Files. Mulder cleans himself up and looks a lot better. They start working their cases. We are right back with the aliens again if anyone is wondering. That is still priority #1. Mulder has never outgrown them.But the door seems open, as it was in the original show, to other oddities as well.

There are two other characters who are back so far. Skinner is still Asst. Director at the FBI and is their boss again. Smoking Man is still around although it is not clear where. He continues to smoke through a hole in his neck. These two are reintroduced to us right away.

Mulder and Scully are the same as they ever were. What always set them apart was their humor. Episode three, which is about a lizard who is turned into a man, returns them to full comedy thrust. This episode has nothing to do with aliens and that makes it one of my favorites. It is quirky instead and quirky is what they do best. This lizard man ends up being quite likable too which is unusual. Typically "the monster" is only scary. Duchovny was especially hilarious in this episode as Mulder always was a soft touch for a good monster.

Crosses Crime & Punishment with Leopold & Loeb into an existential pursuit of morality. These are familiar themes from Woody Allen. Philosophy of the grand old men of the discipline is something he's been processing in his films since the early 1970s. This time he crosses it with the Leopold and Loeb murder from the 1920s. Those two men were brilliant, like Abe here, but were entirely caught up in philosophy too. They decided they were supermen and could kill someone because they were outside the laws of men. They were also deeply conflicted over being gay which gave them a substitute conflict. Abe isn't gay but he is impotent and he sees dancing on the edge with death as a way of bringing himself back to life in all respects.

Allen has been fascinated with murder vs. crime and punishment in "Crimes and Misdemeanor," "Match Point" and now "Irrational Man." Both "Match Point" and "Irrational Man" lack the brilliant comedic counterpoint from "Crimes and Misdemeanors." So that film was the A+ of his efforts with this idea. If you have seen none of them and this subject intrigues you, start with that one first.

If you are already a Woody Allen fan, then you know he makes nothing less than a B film, with many more of them being As. This is one of his Bs. Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix are letter perfect throughout. Whether this movie was going to be an A or a B depended more on Allen's script than on them. No one doubts their talent (or they shouldn't). This is obviously a writing idea that continues to fascinate Woody Allen. I think he may want to consider that he already has done his best with the idea and maybe it is time to try another idea.

The irrational man is a philosophical concept from one of the central philosophers of the old school. That is why it was titled thusly.

Two master actors show great promise in new series. The two stars of this show, Damian Lewis and Paul Giametti, are not new to Showtime and HBO. They have both had a lot of success on premium cable. They were both great in the movies too but these days that seems to require a lot of "hunk" quality. These two are more well known for superb acting ability. They are also equally good at playing heroes and villains.

In this show one, would think that the makers were going for the white hat on Giametti as good guy US Attorney and Lewis as black hat bad guy financial wiz. It's not going to be that easy though because both of these guys have huge egos plus power and control issues. They are also both married and with two children. I would not put anything past their two spouses either.

I am going to keep watching because I am hoping that the series will focus on their egos, their fascination with power and control and what are bound to be some complex wife and children issues which are coming. However, if this devolves into a show that becomes just about the one prosecuting the other through long and belabored efforts, then I will probably stop watching. I would be surprised though if these two would have signed up for a show that would take such an easy dramatic route.

There is one scene Lewis handles with the widows and children of 9/11 which was brilliant. He was so calculating in that scene that I was wondering if someone in the Middle East had warned him to get out of the office that day (he was the only partner to survive). If he is that much of a plotter, this is going to be great!

Lewis was smart enough to realize he had done as much with HOMELAND as he could. He bowed out and has gone from success to success since (WOLF HALL on the BBC, to name one). It is astonishing he is British because he has every nuance of being American developed to perfection for his acting roles.

French TV Series: Season 5 had some real shockers to it but that is why people want to watch fast paced police thrillers. As usual, the police, the judges and the lawyers are completely mixed up with one another in every single case that comes in the building. This is very different from the U.S. where these groups do not intermingle in their jobs to this degree.The judges especially in the US have almost nothing to do with the police yet in France they are on a first name daily basis talking about their cases and working on them. It is very bewildering but it seems to work for them.

In this season there are several plot lines as usual. The most compelling one is a vicious girl gang which has moved far beyond lower level crime into just about any kind of crime. In just an instant they will be viciously attacking someone with little to no provocation. Most of them have been in foster care and in prison. What makes them come to notice is that they knew a mother and child whose bodies were found wrapped together in the canal.

Things are a bit more subtle but no less vicious when we move to the lawyer-judge side of the equation. Roban is, as usual, investigation his cases like mad but also making as many enemies as usual. He is an expert at causing personal misery without even thinking about it. The red headed female lawyer is still by far the most competent lawyer in the building and my guess is that she's also the most competent person in the building. She has some very high drama occur in her life and goes through a great deal of trauma.

The cops are our usual gang but there are some changes in status which shakes things up. This is a big plot point though so I can't say anymore.

In sum, this continues to be first rate television.

I was already a fan of Seinfeld and knew that Larry had been one of the creators (with Jerry). I had seen him perform as Steinbrunner and Castro and a few other parts on Seinfeld and liked all of those performances. Many of those did not involve seeing his face. So this show was the first time I got to see Larry in performance. I loved the show right from the start. I know some people had to grow into it but perhaps watching all of Seinfeld helped me accept it faster.

The show is Larry, supposedly in close to his real life persona. I am inclined to believe this is more true than not as his other roles are not far removed. He is totally obnoxious and that is half the fun. Equally as fun is that his obnoxious conduct usually gets him into hot water sooner or later. Very hot water. The supporting cast is great too. Jeff Garlin as his agent is wonderful and the comic who plays his wife Susie almost steals the entire show she is so funny.

Then there is Larry with anyone who is black. He is already pretty funny with anyone who is also Jewish but put him with someone who is black and he is in the stratosphere of comedy. Really a great show and I like it as much if not more than Seinfeld, which is saying a lot.

This is one of my favorite Scandinavian series. I've read all of the prior books and enjoyed them all. This one continues the excellence level. This time the Department Q investigators go to an island to investigate why a policeman killed himself when their department said they couldn't take his case.

This sets off a long journey into the past. The starting point is the title, the Hanging Girl. The dead policeman was obsessed about a case from 17 years ago involving a young girl who was murdered by a snow plow like vehicle hitting her and throwing her body up into a tree. She bled to death there. The people and places this story goes from there is in every intriguing direction possible. There are cult members and ex lovers of a charismatic hippie from back then named Frank and alternative medicine practitioners. And so much more too.

Although this is Danish instead of Swedish, the two countries have a lot to do with one another and the police have to cooperate a good deal. Department Q is located in the Copenhagen Police Department as is its cold case unit. I recommend reading this series in the order it was written. You can follow the mystery if you read them out of sequence but you really won't understand the personalities of the characters who make up Department Q.

I've read all of the Arne Dahl books which have been translated into English and seen seasons one and two of the Swedish tv show. This book (as well as its tv episode), so far, is the best of them. In it, we have the top Swedish cop team try to solve an American serial killer who has made it into Sweden. The FBI has just alerted them as we open. They know he's a middle aged white guy and try to take him right off the plane from America but he slips through their fingers. Soon he's serial killing in Sweden, just like he did in America, with these neck pincer tools. He is called the Kentucky Killer because that was his home state.

But this is a very odd serial killer. Although they are normally hard to predict, this one is off the charts. First the team is going in one direction to get him and then making a 180 degree turn to take him in yet another direction. And far from preying on young women in a Ted Bundy fashion, this guy twenty years ago preyed on those who had close ties with Russians and present day has switched to those with close ties with Arabs.

This novel takes some amazing twists and turns and is absolutely fascinating. And it's ending is right among the very best I've ever read. So far, all of the Arne Dahl books I've read have been great reads but this one knocked it out of the park. I did find this book at my public library BUT online using my Overdrive App on my iPad.

Will Robie is my favorite character by this author. He has a number of repeat characters going in different series but this one interests me the most. Robie is an assassin for the CIA, mostly of terrorist types. He is especially gifted as a sniper. This book starts out with one of his assignments having a horrifying collateral side effect ,which paralyzes him into being able to continue this job. His station chief suggests he needs to go home to Mississippi and deal with issues he's left unresolved there from twenty years ago. Thus, most of this book is set there.

The author is really familiar with this state so I assume he is from there. It is a very small town there and he finds out how everyone he knew from when he was 18 is doing nowadays. The biggest deal though is that his father is sitting in jail for having murdered a man. It only gets more interesting from there. Although the thriller aspect always grabs me, this look at life in this part of the country I found every bit as interesting. It could not be more different from my own Midwestern roots.

As usual, there are always great scenes where some yokel locals decide they'd like to beat up Robie. With all of this special training this is always entertaining, with such types needing emergency room attention afterwards.