Smash & Nashville: Pick Your Poison

smDid the latest Smash episode called The Bells and Whistles finally manage to crawl out of whatever hole in the sand the show has been mired in for most of this season, or was that a mirage? Will Nashville, which finally broadcast its 15th episode entitled When You’re Tired of Breaking Other Hearts, after being off the air for four weeks, follow Smash and be banished to the wasteland of Saturday Night TV? These are the questions before us this week.

I’m going to toss the playbook out the window and make this a doubleheader – random thoughts on two shows for the price of a single click.

As usual, Smash masqueraded as a tennis match for a while as we watched things go this way then that way. People fought, and disagreed, but we should remember that quote made by Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.

Each of the characters faced disappointment and travail, and all except one got what they wanted. This week. Yes that means spoilers a-plenty will follow, as well as comments and opinions. However before we all go off tooting our horns and wildly celebrating that this wasn’t a bad Smash episode – let me remind you of one hard, cold fact. This was just Episode 8. So we’d be lunatics if we didn’t expect the return of dust bucket episodes, otherwise known as  ‘must-avoid-television’ in the coming weeks.

Smash - Season 2

Let’s start with Eileen Rand, who has suddenly developed a new press agent – the no-nonsense Agnes (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Agnes brings bad tidings, the New York Times Editor of the Arts Section, one Richard Francis (played by Jamey Sheridan) has passed on an opportunity to do a story on Bombshell. He’s heard enough of the old Bombshell news to not be interested any longer. So he’s in the same boat as most of us, which means I must be doing these recaps as a penance for something.

But Eileen won’t take no for an answer. Meanwhile Eileen is pissed at Tom for his directorial choices – specifically for bringing in Sam Strickland (Leslie Odom Jr.) to do a number as Nat King Cole, without consulting her or getting her approval. She says that will be two numbers about JFK and isn’t this supposed to be a show about Marilyn? But the song, Let’s Start Tomorrow Tonight, even if out of Bombshell, gave the episode a nice lift with some clever staging in Tom’s apartment.

Tom, new to the director’s chair, both literally and figuratively, is trying to run a democracy at Bombshell – bring me your tired and hungry – ideas, actually, all to make friends. But at what cost – he makes friends and loses the respect of the cast. That’s what he gets by trying to be the anti-Derek. Isn’t every one an anti-Derek?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Top of the Lake: Episode Three – Where are the Tigers?

Top of the Lake 01-03

In the first two episodes of the Sundance Channel’s new series Top of the Lake, we met the characters:

Tui Mitcham – a 12 year old girl who tried to kill herself as the series began. She’s both pregnant and missing.

Robin Griffin – a brave detective with a specialization in sex crimes called in as a consultant in the search for Tui Mitchell. She’s tough – but she carries secrets.

Detective Sergeant Al Parker – Robin’s boss and mentor. He’s a policeman who appears to be a gentleman whereas his associates appear to include some lowlifes working as cops.

Matt Mitcham – Tui’s father. He’s more than violent. He’s the show’s main source of power, mayhem, and menace. We never know what to expect from him.

GJ – In The Matrix, the Oracle was embodied by a nondescript woman in a house dress. GJ may lack otherworldly powers – but she still conducts herself as an Oracle. She runs the New Age compound for women at Paradise.

Our discussion with reader FD continues;

JMM: I detected a distinct change in direction in Episode Three. The first two episodes got the story going, introduced the settings, the characters, and gave us the mystery of Tui’s disappearance. But this time – I think the story didn’t quite go forward as much as the three lead characters: Robin, Al, and Matt – were given a whole lot more depth. Does this seem accurate to you, or is your take on the episode different?

FD: Yes, I thought this episode drifted far too much. It seems like most cable series lack appropriate pacing (this was also true of The Killing which ran 20 episodes over two years!).

Episode 3 was a cavalcade of Campion characters, but there was far too much time spent on sex and drugs while the mystery engine was left idling. I also thought the investigation turned up too many obvious red herrings. Did you think maybe someone was being framed?

JMM: Not quite. One of the red herrings from last week, the Austrian barkeeper Wolfie, can no longer be considered a suspect in the disappearance of Tui. I do believe he’s going to be blamed, but I don’t think that will fly.

Who else can be considered a possible candidate/suspect in Tui’s disappearance?

FD: Hold it! Tui may have left on her own. We’re not sure Tui’s dead yet, are we? So far, we have no reason to assume that.

JMM: No one said she was dead. I was referencing the red herrings.

FD: Okay the red herrings – We do know that Platte’s dead. We do know there was a hanging. And we were shown the graves of some dead animals. Clearly, with Tui still unaccounted for, these events were red herrings, so no surprises there. On the other hand, I was surprised by Robin’s sexual encounters (I’m about to get married – I don’t want to fall in love).

JMM: The first time with Johnno, in the ladies room in the bar, she was surprised and passive, and the second time, she just wanted it.

FD: But, the best part of last night’s episode was Holly Hunter’s performance as GJ. Totally original! She’s so good, I’m sorry she has to compete against so many other unusual character types. GJ is riveting. The others, not so much.

Continue reading

Top of the Lake: The New Series on the Sundance Channel

top-of-the-lake-posterSo where is Tui?

That’s the big question surrounding the brand new mini-series called Top of the Lake which premiered with two episodes on the Sundance Channel on March 18th. But it is hardly the only question nor the only mystery. Merely, it is the one on the surface. As we learn, the show is less about solving mysteries as it is about finding the truths.

Written by Academy Award winner Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, with Campion also sharing the directing duties along with Garth Davis, the series is set in the wilds of New Zealand; specifically,  we find ourselves in a small town called Queenstown.

We first encounter the lake when a young girl, one Tui Mitcham, purposely enters the lake with intent of killing herself. Only because she was spotted by the local school mistress and pulled out of the water, is why she is still with us.

After her rescue from the lake, Tui is taken back to the school, and is looked over by the school nurse. We learn that she’s okay and isn’t suffering from any hypothermia from her brief immersion, and that she’s just 12 years old, which seems a tad young for a suicide. We also learn that Tui is nearly 5 months pregnant.

Which prompts an investigation of statutory rape.

The local cops can’t get anything out of Tui in their interviews, so a former resident of the town, Robin Griffin, now a police detective specializing in cases of sexual assault in Sydney, Australia, but presently in the area visiting her ailing Mom, is called in as a consultant. Two things become immediately clear – Robin, played by Elisabeth Moss, is a no-nonsense, can-do cop, and that she is able to form at least a preliminary bond with Tui.

All of the above, seems like a proper way to introduce the series which will run for 7 episodes. This also seems like a good place  to begin a discussion. My discussion partner today will be reader fd, a frequent visitor and a person who often offers comments on this blog. PLEASE NOTE THERE ARE A FEW SPOILERS AHEAD WHICH I WILL WARN YOU ABOUT.

JMM: I’ve just set the stage for you by introducing Top of the Lake. Admittedly, I’ve just touched on the top of the story, so now I’ll ask you for your initial impressions.

fd: It looks like this series will require some patience on my part. Initially, the setting and story reminded me of The Killing, a previously broadcast AMC mystery series that I greatly enjoyed.

But, as soon as the opening sequence ended, I began to lose my bearings. I realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Or the Pacific Northwest region where The Killing was filmed.

This was New Zealand! The land looks beautifully moody, but the inhabitants we come across make the Mad Max gang look conservative. Everyone appears quirky. Difficult to read. And potentially sinister.

This is good stuff, but it quickly took me out of my comfort zone. There are so many strange characters. What were your impressions of the main characters, Tui, Robin, GJ and her flighty friends and the ultra heavy Mitcham men? Were you disoriented by the first episode or did it hook you from the start?

JMM: Not disoriented, but rather concerned. Tui was closed off, Robin was capable, even more than capable, but working in an atmosphere which required the Southern Lake cops to make a radical adjustment – this was not the kind of woman that they were used to. GJ represented a number of themes – chief of which was Earth Mother but in a different mind-set as was said by one the lakeside ladies., who were all characters, or should I say ‘unusual’.

As for the Mitcham men folk – yup, they were scary, and that’s being kind.

I also found the policeman Al Parker, to be one of the few normal folks – although obviously he could very well have a sinister side – but his accent was somewhat difficult to understand. And yes – I was hooked immediately as we were looking not only at a culture clash – but a bloody one as well.

Continue reading

Smash – Sn 02 Episode 07 – Musical Chairs

In case anyone is still thinking about or has any interest in Smash – the series that NBC recently banished to the wastelands of the Saturday Night tv schedule – I’m not quite done with it.

From my write-up following Episode 5 – The Fringe:

All of a sudden Producer Jerry Rand is throwing his weight around. First he’s going to cut Karen’s song (he claims the song is ‘too intellectual’). Then he manages to piss off Derek. All signs of what? All together now – Jerry’s exit likely as soon as next week.

Sure enough, Jerry is out. They had to bring back Grace Gummer who is Meryl Streep’s daughter who is playing Eileen and Jerry’s daughter Kate to help change Jerry’s mind. That along with Julia finding the ‘silver bullet’ – a document from the Marilyn Monroe Estate which granted EXCLUSIVE USE of the materials to Eileen and Julia. That was fine. Jerry had to capitulate because otherwise they might have shut the show down. Adios Jerry.

Also from my previous Smash post:

Also remember that Tom is pro-Ivy. And we all know that the Liaisons production is going to crash and burn soon enough. It would have to – to get Ivy back to Bombshell.

Well, guess what? Liaisons did crash and burn. First the opening night audience was either bored, disinterested, or asleep. Even though Terry’s bawdy song injected some laughter into the affair, everyone knew it wasn’t enough. Then Terry fell off the on-stage swing causing grievous injury, rendering him unable to perform. So Timothy, having no other viable option, announced the show was closing. Wasn’t that the broadest of smiles on Ivy’s face on hearing that news? Especially since earlier in the episode, she had told Terry point-blank that she wished she could leave Liaisons.

What I didn’t see coming was Karen going from a mild disagreement with Tom’s new directing efforts to quitting Bombshell. Tom was just named Director last week.

Continue reading

The Bullet Vanishes

Let’s start with a crackling good mystery. People are shot. Some in front of witnesses. Yet forensics can’t make a case of death by gunshot. Why? Because without a major piece of evidence – the bullet – the cause of death cannot be ascertained only assumed.

vanish00002

At a local munitions factory, a woman is accused of stealing a box of bullets. Is she fired? Are the authorities brought in to question her. Neither. She’s offered “The God’s Will Resolution.” Basically, she must play a one-round game of Russian Roulette. If she is innocent, God will spare her from blowing out her own brains and everyone would return to work. If she’s not innocent…well, the case would be opened and closed right then and there.

Let’s make it a period drama. Set it in the 1930’s. Lots of men in long overcoats, newsboys caps, or fedoras. Plenty of pistols and tommy guns. Big cars that look boxy and black.

We will need a couple of heroes for the film. One is a local cop who is known as being the fastest gun in the area. The other is a brilliant detective known for both his eccentricities and amazing investigative and deductive powers.

Add in a beautiful woman doctor of forensics as the Medical Examiner (M.E.). And a little exotica in the form of a mysterious fortune-teller. Spice it up with dance halls, opium dens, and houses of pleasure. Then set the whole story in Tiancheng Province in China. They call this film – The Bullet Vanishes.

If we were pitching the story to investors we might describe it as something along the lines of CSI meets Sherlock Holmes with a hint of Miller’s Crossing and Last Man Standing. Actually, TBV only resembles those films based on style and look rather than subject. I’ve used those films as examples only in a general sense of saying that the costumes and cars, the guns and gals, the science, and the period settings of those films are as good a way of describing The Bullet Vanishes as any other.

Continue reading

London Paris New York

Continuing with my mini-series of films made beyond our shores – our next film is called London Paris New York. In fact this is the last in the series for a while. That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing film reviews on films made in countries other than the USA, or in exotic locations – of course I will – but just not as part of an on-purpose series.

This is a romantic comedy, and it is from India. While the story is as old as the hills, the production does veer away from the standard rom-com formulas. But before I discuss some of those factors, I’ll give you a very brief bare bones outline.

2005
Boy Meets Girl at airport in London. They spend a day and a night together. She continues to New York – he stays in London. Promises are made but not kept.

2006
More than a year later, she flies over from New York to London for the dreaded surprise pop in. A disaster.

2007
Another year has passed. He sets out to find her and does in Paris. They spend a day and a night together. Sparks fly. But the fire goes out as quickly as it started.

2012
He’s now a successful film producer. He tracks her down in New York. The timing is all wrong, as she is getting married the next day.

First of all, there’s just two main roles – Nikhil played by Ali Zafar, and Lalitha played by Aditi Rao Hydari. So we are unencumbered by annoying sidekicks, friends, and or relatives all of whom are usually on board as listening posts.

The film is made on location in London, Paris, and New York; and the locations clearly fit within the context of the story. This is not like a classic Bollywood romance where the lovers are suddenly transported to an alpine meadow, or find themselves in a wheat field in Punjab, or at a long-abandoned castle on a remote Scottish coastline.

Continue reading

Delicacy

 One dictionary definition of the word ‘delicacy’ might include: something delightful or pleasing, especially a choice food considered with regard to its rarity, costliness, or the like: Caviar is a great delicacy.

Another could be: a sensitive and careful way of dealing with a difficult situation.

Discarding the first definition would lead you to the second and you’d arrive at the 2011 film, Delicacy. starring Audrey Tautou. The paper sleeve for the Delicacy DVD contained a description written by the Netflix staff:

Tragic circumstances create an opportunity for new love in this romantic drama when a young woman, still grieving over the death of her husband years ago, is slowly brought out of her shell by a caring and courtly co-worker.

Tautou stars as Nathalie, who as the film begins, sells programs at a Parisian dramatique theatre. But romance arrives and quickly. A guy (Francois) is having coffee and notices Nathalie as she comes in and sits down at another table.

Francois: [As Nathalie peruses the menu] If she’s ordinary and orders coffee, I’ll be disappointed. Ditto for juice. But if she orders apricot juice – then I’ll speak to her.
Waiter: Are you ready to order?
Nathalie: I’ll have coffee … no make that juice … apricot juice …

And voila, soon Nathalie and Francois are married and hosting a dinner party for her parents and his. All of whom are wishing for grandchildren. Before coffee and dessert are even finished, Nathalie and Francois excuse themselves to go off to make a baby.

Did I mention that this romantic film is a bit off-beat?

But Francois meets his destiny when he’s jogging and an automobile enters his space. Nathalie is now a widow. Three years pass. She’s still a widow and has done well in her career. She an exec for a Swedish firm in Paris that is promoting tourism in Sweden.

Word around the office is that Nathalie has no life other than work. And it’s been three years since Francois died. Her boss, Charles, has had his eye on her for a while. And yes, he’s married.

Did I mention that this is a French romantic drama where affairs are the norm?

But she makes it clear, at a dinner with Charles – that she’s NOT attracted to him. And at some point in time, when she’s ready to move on, it still WON’T be with him.

Boom.

Continue reading

Smash: Sn02 Ep06 – The Fringe

Smash

Did you catch the latest episode of Smash tonight? Looked like a ping-pong game with a few Broadway songs mixed in. They pushed us one way, then the other way. Over and over.  Smash is not only manipulative but it is so predictable. The Episode was called The Fringe. And almost devoid of any highlights.

All of a sudden Producer Jerry Rand is throwing his weight around. First he’s going to cut Karen’s song (he claims the song is ‘too intellectual’). Then he manages to piss off Derek. All signs of what? All together now – Jerry’s exit likely as soon as next week.

You didn’t really think that he was going to stay in power all that long, did you? Lucky old Ellis’s ex gf strolled by and mentioned that Ellis was working for Jerry to Karen. And Karen would convey this to Eileen. And Jerry was dumb enough to leave a paper trail right in his office. Puhleeze!

It won’t be the usual torches burning march through the streets, and it won’t be the cast revolution I wrote about earlier. Either way, or anyway, Jerry’s ticket will get punched.

Derek quit in a snit. Or was it that Jerry called his bluff so he had no choice but to say he had enough and quit in a huff. Wasn’t it convenient that Hit Song needed a director?

Continue reading

The Day I Saw Your Heart

Hmm, another day, and another country. Ever been to Paris? You say you’d love to, but so far, you haven’t done it, is that right? Peur de ne pas. That’s French for ‘fear not’. We will get you there today.

TDISYH cover combo

Our film is called The Day I Saw Your Heart and stars Michel Blanc and Melanie Laurent who I loved in Inglorious Basterds and Beginners which was written and directed by Mike Mills.

This 2011 film’s French title is Et Soudain Tout le Monde me Manque, which translates into English as And Suddenly I Miss Everyone. Seemingly that has nothing to do with Today I Saw Your Heart. Now neither of those titles gives you any inkling about what the film is about. But I’ll help you out on that score too.

TDISYH is a comedy drama with Laurent as Justine Dhrey, a Radiology Technologist. She’s a nearly 30-year-old woman who is unable to finish anything she starts, or said another way, has a fear of commitment. Her father, Eli Dhrey, is 60 and has all the pointers or indications of being an immature adult, an asshole, and something of an insensitive lout. Think Seinfeld’s George Costanza character plus 30 years and you’ll have your man.

These two are not quite estranged. But apparently Justine has a long-simmering distrust/dislike of her father that goes back to when she was just three, and her father disappointed her. On top of that, Eli would soon leave home, when Justine was just a child, to try to become a globe-trotting jazz musician. After a lengthy tour of the world’s finest jazz hot spots,  he returned home and when his father was getting elderly and infirm, Eli took over the family business in the rag trade. Meaning he dealt in schmatas, or the kind of cheap clothing you wouldn’t be caught dead in. In this field, Eli was a success.

Suzanne is pregnant

Suzanne is pregnant

There’s a family gathering: Justine, her half-sister Dom and her husband Bertrand, Eli, and his 2nd wife, Suzanne. It is at this time that Eli announces that he and Suzanne are expecting a child. This doesn’t go over well at all.

Oh no! My Dad as a Dad....

Oh no! A kid with My Dad as its Dad….Madness!

Eli says, That went Ok...but Suzanne's face says otherwise

Eli says, That went Ok…but Suzanne’s face says otherwise

Justine has experienced first hand Eli’s failures as a parent. Dom and Bertrand have struggled mightily because they’ve been trying for two years to have a child, and Dom hasn’t conceived yet. So neither of the daughter/sisters are the least bit enthused with this news.

That sets the stage. But wait. There’s more. While Justine works taking MRI images, X-Rays, and other kinds of internal scans, she’s really an artist at heart.

Continue reading