Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I’m just back from watching Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which arrived in Sarasota today and is being shown at the Burns Court Cinema which is a wing of the Sarasota Film Society. Despite the ungainly title, and despite that fish and fishing are components of the film, please note that at its core – we have comedy, drama, and romance, and that’s why you should see the film.

I found it funny in spots – especially Kristin Scott Thomas as the British PM’s Press Secretary, Patricia Maxwell. That is – when I could understand her. She played a hyper-speed dynamo, in whirlwind fashion, disguised as the one who decided not only what news would be eminating from the PM’s office, but also when it might hit the airwaves or show up in the newspapers.

Mind you, this won’t be a knee-slapper of a comedy, but there’s enough sophistication, wit, and charm to get you to smile and chuckle.

Ewan McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, Britain’s leading fisheries expert. He is not going to be the most famous Dr. Jones in films – that honor goes to a Dr. Jones better known as Indiana. But this Dr. Jones plays a good guy, who is not given to deception or games. He says what he feels and says it with all of us feeling that it is exactly what he meant to say.

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NBC’s Smash: Episode 8 – The Coup aka Uh Oh – Recap

The NBC’s series Smash has been up and down – very predictable and yet, every so often, something might happen that seems to come straight out of left field. A good surprise is a good thing. They called this episode The Coup. Remember that.

The show opens with Ivy talking with Sam. Just for a few seconds. Then we’ll get two really unexpected surprises. One good and one bad. First, Julia’s husband Frank did his version of a Bob Marley song, ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright‘ – not exactly a highlight but it did signify that things at home were looking up. Of course no one could have expected Frank to sing – not even Julia.

Eileen and daughter Katie

Then, the second surprise – Eileen Rand’s daughter Katie arrived – played by Grace Gummer . I didn’t know who she was when I saw her, but I thought she looked like a younger version of Meryl Streep.  Later I found out why she looked so much like Meryl. Why wouldn’t she – since she’s Meryl’s real life daughter. Just after her introduction, the opening credits rolled.

After the break, Derek meets with Karen to tell her about a new song and a new approach (this is the ‘Coup’ in which Derek attempts to seize full control of the show), and, ‘we need you to sing it‘. So Karen rehearses the song, and between her, Derek, and the musician Ryan Tedder – they shape the song, season it, then stir it before eventually getting it into good order for a private performance for Eileen, Tom & Julia.

We then watched a short meting in the park between Michael Swift and Julia. Looks like they are over, as in really, really over. Their relationship looks worse than dead in the water. Which probably means it isn’t.

About the new song. It is so hush hush.  Derek instructs Karen to say not a word to anyone – “Tom and Julia cannot know.” Of course she tells Dev, who says he’s got a meeting with RJ who has info about the guy that got the job Dev wanted.

Eileen’s daughter Katie tells Eileen why she came back from India. It’s because Jerry has just put a ton of money into her trust fund. So Julia couldn’t get it. Which made Katie fly home from India immediately.

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Talking About The Hunger Games

I’ll take this opportunity to welcome back Didion of the Feminéma website (you can find this discussion on her blog as well as mine) for our 5th joint discussion/review. I’ve also included a side bar of a pair of mini-reviews from two young adults (teen-agers actually) who discussed the film with me. So without prolonging this prologue any longer – Let the Games, er, discussion begin:

Didion: I was getting a haircut the other day, and the woman sitting next to me spoke about her reluctance to see The Hunger Games. “I just hate gory movies,” she explained. “And the idea of children eating other children grosses me out.

They don’t eat one another!” I objected. “They’re forced to kill one another as part of a state-run reality TV show in a dystopian future!

Okay, this is kind of a big difference, eating vs. merely killing one another — and for squeamish readers I can assure you that the gore factor is fairly low considering the subject matter. It’s strangely difficult to explain what made the books so compelling. Yet compelling they are: I’m pretty sure my set of books ricocheted amongst 9 different friends over the course of a 4-month period, each time resulting in late-night emails from those friends that said, “OMG The Hunger Games!

Chalk it up in part to a powerful, driving narrative and a terrific central character in Katniss Everdeen. To quickly sum up the plot, Katniss has grown up in one of the nation’s poorest districts — so poor, in fact, that she and her best friend Gael have taught themselves to poach animals from the off-limits woods near home. Without her skills with a bow and arrow, setting traps, and scavenging for berries and other foods, her family would have starved long ago.

Welcome! … And Happy Hunger Games …

But then the annual Hunger Games begins. Long ago the nation’s 12 districts rebelled against the capital and when the federal government regained control, it instituted these “games.” Two children, a boy and girl, are chosen randomly from each district to compete against each other in a fantasy wilderness arena until only one is left alive. That battle is projected to every TV with the notion that it will somehow bring the nation together as they root for and celebrate the winner. But it also demands that the “tributes” make themselves TV-ready and appealing even as they kill one another or simply fight to survive — because the richest or most charismatic can get special gifts throughout the course of the games from sponsors who might tilt the balance between life and death with a packet of medicine, matches, or food. When Katniss is chosen alongside a baker’s son named Peeta, she is forced out of her “anything to survive” mentality, and must decide how much she’s willing to play the TV game.

Spoilers ahoy as you proceed! Please don’t read much further if you want to be surprised by the film’s plot.

As the blogger JustMeMike and I sat down to discuss the film, my first question to him is, have you read the books? and does the film seem to be the compelling document that I’ve described about the books?

JustMeMike: Thanks for the brief intro and plot outline. I only bought the book this past Thursday (March 22nd) and did my utmost to keep it closed. I brought it with me on my trip to New York, but I should have left it home, as I never opened it on either flight. I will admit to reading the first three pages before I left. So at most, I went in with scant knowledge. So go right ahead, and call me a newb.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I will readily agree that it is compelling, and that I’m 100% certain that I will go through all of the books that follow in the series – asap.

Since you’ve read the book, and I haven’t – can you give me a sense of how the film and book compare?

Didion: That might wind up being the most talked-about subject of the day! And that’s too bad, since I’d theoretically like to think of this solely as a film, but let’s face it: I can’t.

I’d say two main things. First, I walked out feeling impressed that the film had done such a great job of covering a lot of ground in the books — my partner and I were really happy about the film overall. I especially thought Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was just amazing — and I’d been skeptical, as she’s clearly a curvy 22-year-old, whereas Katniss is a skinny, half-starved 15-year-old.

I do have one criticism comparing the two (and this is my second point). For me, the most moving thing about the books was that Katniss agonized about appealing to TV viewers; she’s spent her whole life feeling defensive and protective of her family, so she *hates* smiling and pretending to like Peeta in order to gain TV fans. I felt the film gave short shrift to that storyline. Yet again, I still feel satisfied with the movie overall.

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HBO’s Series: Luck – Episode 9 – The Series Ends

When a series gets cancelled – it is usually because the show wasn’t very good – or it was decent but failed to attract viewers. Sometimes the creative people lose their mojo, or their steam – or they even have their creative juices just dry up. The again, a show can be pulled, and it may be none of the above.

Hell, no one is perfect. Not even me. I predicted a cliff hanger. And that’s exactly what we got. Only not the one I expected. I had said that the race was where they’d leave us dangling until season 2. Well, the race was run, to a terrific nail-biting conclusion, and dang it, I was so surprised that it was as exciting as any real race that I had ever watched, or wagered on.

In the case of the HBO Series Luck, the unfortunate deaths of three of the horses used in the production became a hot-button topic requiring public scrutiny, the wringing of hands, and a general hue and cry was voiced by PETA.  After which the Producers decided to suspend production of Season 2, and end the Series with just the 9 episodes of Season 1. The finale was just broadcast last night and I will really miss not seeing more of this series on a continuing basis.

A few new characters were introduced – Renzo’s Mom for one, Ace’s grand-son for a second, and a nasty looking assassin hired to take out Ace in the men’s room of an eatery as a third. Turns out that Renzo’s Mom was played by Mercedes Ruehl who also played Vincent Chase’s Mom in Entourage. Ruehl made her first appearance in this season ending episode, and was scheduled to play a recurring role in Season 2.

As was young Jake Hoffman who showed up as Ace’s grandson Brent Bernstein. The young Hoffman is producer Dustin Hoffman’s real life son. But what ever role the grandson was to take on in the second season, is something I can’t discuss beside commentating that Brent probably would have been brought in so Mike Smythe could some how corral him and use that to try to somehow leverage Ace.

The aforementioned assassin met more than his match with the sharp-eyed Gus Demitriou played by the always great Dennis Farina. Gus was not only Ace’s friend, driver, beard, and major-domo. He was also Ace’s bodyguard. We knew Gus was a tough dude – but we had no idea that his tactical and strategic awareness meshed so perfectly with his ability to kill another man with his bare-hands.

Besides the fact that Gus saved Ace’s life – we had a good many happy endings to close out the first (and only) season. And yet there’s some story lines which were purposely left dangling for the now not forthcoming second season.

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Back To The Movies – The Hunger Games

Sorry – this isn’t a review. It is only 7:15 AM on Friday, March 24th. I will be seeing The Hunger Games in just 75 hours. It will be my 1st movie since February 14th. Not the first movie I’ve watched since then, but the 1st one that I saw in the theater. Already have my tickets.

It’s just that I got this trip up to New York getting in the way. So I’ll wait until Monday.

On Monday night, I will sit down with the blogger/critic Didion, of the Feminéma  website, and we will have a talk about the film which will be published on Tuesday. Should be a lot of fun. We’ve already done four of these; the last one was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo back in December. Please stop by for an interesting dialogue. Thanks.

The Shawshank Redemption Revisited

The  cable channel AMC has run The Shawshank Redemption every night this week. They’ve been going with the headline: Can’t Get Enough Shawshank Redemption. I’ve now watched sections of it over the last few nights. I guess that means that I can’t get enough of this great film either.

This is the 3rd time I’ve written about this film. The first time was on a different website, and the second time was on this website back in October of 2009. I did a combined piece about The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke, and Apocalypse Now, and in the nearly two and half years since – not too many folks took the time to read it. So, because of AMC re-running the film again and again this week – during both days and nights – I’m going to post some of those thoughts once again.

I guess it was the script and the calming, soothing voice of Morgan Freeman that make the film so great. Tim Robbins was the central character, the one who clung to hope no matter what else happened to him in those many years of imprisonment. But it wasn’t just Robbins the actor that made the film so memorable – it was the very idea of hope that held the film together.

When you have time off to do what you want, sometimes the days seem to crawl by. But before you know it – you’re past the middle of March. Spring is upon us. A time when hope springs eternal, as they say. With the Daylights savings Time now in use, we have more sunshine, and more time to enjoy our days. When we watch a film that really gets to us, we no longer notice time. It passes, as it always does, but our attention is elsewhere as we are immersed in the events onscreen.

On the other hand, you have nothing but time on your hands if you are in prison. Morgan Freeman, portraying the convict “Red” in The Shawshank Redemption had this memorable line:

“They march you in naked as the day you were born, skin burning and half blind from that delousing shit they throw on you, and when they put you in that cell, when those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real. Old life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.”

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NBC’s Smash: Episode 7 – The Water in the Shark Tank Just Got Bloody – Recap

So this past Monday night, at 10:00 PM – actually it was 10:06, I parked myself on the couch and got myself into that shark tank that most of us know as the NBC TV Series Smash. By being six minutes late, I missed Katherine McPhee, as Karen Carpenter, singing a nice cover of the Colby Caillat hit song Brighter Than The Sun. This was a studio session to create a demo disc that could lead to a possible deal with Bobby Raskin, the biggest name in the world of music in Smash. We still haven’t met him, nor has Karen, as she blew off the call back.

We were all set up for the Workshop’s presentation of Marilyn, The Musical. But it wasn’t going to happen easy. First of all, the building’s boiler was stuck on full throttle so the rehearsal studio where the Workshop Presentation was being held, was like a furnace. Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) would get that dealt with through her new but not quite installed ‘beau’ who also was the bartender at the watering hole were Eileen claimed he made the best $7 martini’s in the city.

'Brighter Than The Sun'

The pressure that was caused by Julia’s (Debra Messing) affair with Michael Swift (Will Chase) reached epic proportions. Michael was all over Julia at the studio. Of course, creepy Ellis was lurking and he overheard Michael and Julia. Later he couldn’t wait to tell Eileen. He is such a rat.

But Eileen wasn’t happy about the news, and even less happy that Ellis was such a snitch. Eileen told Ellis that it was interesting news, but she was going to pretend that he hadn’t told her, and if he said another word about this to anyone, she’d make sure that not only would he be fired on the spot, but that he’d never work again in any Broadway production. So finally – Ellis got put in his place.

Later when Michael’s wife and little son showed up at the final rehearsal the day before the Workshop, Julia had to get the hell out of the studio lest she become sick right there in the studio, in front of everyone. Her writing partner Tom (Christian Borle) followed her out of the building, and collared Julia on the streets. Just one look told him everything.

“You didn’t (he’s asking)… you did sleep with him (he’s stating the obvious)”, said Tom. Julia fessed up and then immediately headed for her home. When she got home, she found her son Leo and his pot-crazed friend there instead of being in school. The confrontation exploded quickly and Leo told his Mom that he knew what she was doing. “And it sucked. And you suck! “, was what he said before he stormed off.

That, and the Mrs Swift and son’s appearance at the rehearsal were the last straws. Julia knew she must end the affair.It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t be pretty. There will be blood.

Leigh Conroy (Bernadette Peters) offers 'roses' to the ensemble

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HBO TV Series: Luck Episode 8 – Racing Toward Oblivion

Episode 8 of the HBO Series Luck was rolled out last night. For the first time, since the series began, I thought that an episode was not just bungled, but bungled badly. In Episode Eight one of the few highlights was the horse race.

Ronny Jenkins, the jockey known for substance abuse, was up on a horse. The Foray Stable guys had wagered on him, or at least talked about the horse. Jenkins’ horse broke out of the gate well and as they raced through the clubhouse turn heading for the backstretch, Jenkins settled into a comfortable lead. Down the back stretch, Jenkins sat still, and eventually the pack gained ground. As they passed the quarter pole deep into the far turn, it looked like Jenkins had let his horse run out of steam while on the lead. Approaching the 1/8th pole, Jenkins, clucking into the horse’s ear, gave the horse a hand urging, and like the horse was a race car – he just accelerated away from the pack chasing him.

He won easily by about six lengths. When questioned later on by Leon, Jenkins said the trick was to “… nurse my horse on the lead; put ’em to sleep behind me.

Well played Mr. Jenkins. Too bad the producers, director Allen Coulter, and the writers David Milch and John R. Perrotta followed the lead of one their own characters – and put us to sleep with the worst episode of the season.

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The Hunter (2011)

Ever been to Tasmania? Could you find it on a map of the world? That’s it – right under the continent known as Down Under. Well you can get a great look at Tasmania’s little known countryside in the new film The Hunter. It won’t be playing at a theater in the USA for a while, but it is available via cable companies with On Demand services. So today I pushed a few buttons on my remote, which will add $9.99 to my already expensive cable bill.

This is an Australian production and the stars are the internationally known Willem Dafoe (To Live and Die in LA, Mississippi Burning, Clear and Present Danger, Platoon) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Piano, The Hunt for Red October). Directed by Daniel Nettheim and adapted by Wain Fimen from the novel written by Julia Leigh, this is a story of a European mercenary hired by a bio-tech firm to hunt down an animal known as the Tasmanian Tiger. The film’s tagline is Some Mysteries Should Never Be Solved.

I’ll admit to not knowing a thing about this film, but after seeing it as a new release on Comcast’s On Demand listings, I decide to have a look at the film on the IMDB. After which I decided to see it.

Willem Dafoe plays Martin David, the mercenary, tracker, hunter, even calling him a soldier of fortune fits. You also might call him a man for all seasons – as he will meet lots of different kinds of weather once he’s up there as well as being a MacGuyver type of guy.

Up there? That would be the bush country. There are maps so some people have been there before. But there’s not much in the way of roads. You go up to a certain point and after that you’ve got to hoof it.

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