23 May 2017

Top Ten: Vincent Price!


 


Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.


This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...




Our Top Ten Vincent Price Pictures!





Please visit our Vincent Price tag, browse our Horror page, or check out or American International Pictures rundown for even more classic frights!


I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.


12 May 2017

Top Ten: Directors!




Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.


This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in alphabetical order...


Our Top Ten Directors!




Please see our Movies page for even more Classic or Horror Directors listed by Genre or Decade! And don't worry if you don't see a famous name – there are more Top Tens to come all year long!


I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review

 

07 May 2017

Brimstone



Brimstone a Disturbing yet Must See Parable
by Kristin Battestella



I want to write a entire opus on the 2017 European co-production Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce as a hellbent minister and Dakota Fanning as Liz, the mute midwife afraid of him. The layered statements from writer and director Martin Koolhoven (Schnitzel Paradise) are heavy handed and uncomfortable – many may find Brimstone at best over long at two and a half hours plus and at worst, the picture will be trigger inducing to sensitive audiences. However, with those caveats said, I don't really want to summarize much else nor especially spoil this western thriller, as it is best to go into this must see genre bending parable cold.

The bleak narration and biblically steeped onscreen chapter titles hit home the seasoned frontier, rough childbirth, and rustic farms. The white church and cross atop the steeple stand out as a sense of order amid the natural wilds, and sermons warn of false prophets, wolves among the sheep, and hellish retributions worse than one can imagine for those who stray into lawlessness. Breach births mean choosing between the mother or the child, creating an ostracizing, easy to manipulate divide. Is such a delivery up to God or the midwife's fault? Whispers of evil doing can quickly sway a community to fear and violence. Fiery calls for retribution and paying for one's sins add to the fear and grief of an unbaptized stillborn not finding salvation. Reverse persecution is disguised as divine, and the wolf in sheep's clothing is almost the devil himself indeed. Why be afraid of a reverend and not welcome him into your home? The foul afoot need not be said, and Brimstone doesn't underestimate the audience, letting the drama play out with gruesome animal paybacks, abductions, and torturous injuries. The simmering suspiciousness allows the audience a sense of stillness, time to focus on the characters while the iconography builds suspense. The man in black before the burning building or dragging a girl in white through the mud and calling her unclean are allowed to speak for themselves. Brimstone uses a western setting of creepy brothels, servitude, and no justice for working women to tell a medieval morality play – an already damned purgatory epic a la Justine's virtues made vice with shootouts, dead horses, and all the abuses we can infer. Brimstone's pursuits may be taking place in an abstract limbo, beyond time and space with different girls who are one and the same, perpetually chased by the same terror with precious few other devil or angel on the shoulder characters. The out of order segments change the settings as they advance the tale, behaving more like acts themselves where the audience is at first unsure if this is what happened before or what comes next. Brimstone keeps viewers interested enough to see how the vignettes tie together; we trust the unique constructs are part of the juxtaposition highlighting how the code of the brothel and the rules of the fanatical minister aren't very different and both inescapables can even be one and the same. Obey the nastiness of the patriarchal for body and soul or you are guilty and will be punished. Whatever the origin of her sinful behavior, a girl should be ashamed – it's her fault that menstruation makes her Little Red Riding Hood fair game. Once there is blood there is no innocence, and the vicious cycle continues with twisted irony, fateful orchestrations, and sins that cannot be out run. We'd like to think this was just how it was ye olde back then, but not much has changed has it?


Many actors today simply would not take such a role, but Guy Pearce puts on an incredible presentation in Brimstone as this extremely unlikable manipulator. Our foreboding minister justifies his grooming righteousness with warped scripture, remaining nameless beyond his title or fatherly names – respected monikers advantageously misused along with creepy chapter and verse and touchy feely, uncomfortable familiarity. He knows when Liz is hiding near him and taunts her on how she as such a terrible murderess can sleep at night. This minister has come to punish her and will use her husband and daughter to do it. He immediately expresses a shuddering attachment to her little girl, and after initially claiming his actions are of God, this minister festers into an unstoppable, almost immortal embodiment of the sins made flesh carrying him. Hellbent and beyond salvation, this Big Bad Wolf howls and embraces his brutal scourge. I'm not often disappointed in Pearce's work despite learning early on thanks to superior quality like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, L.A. Confidential, and Memento (For shame on those who discovered Memento and Christopher Nolan so late, and why is Snowy River: The McGregor Saga still not properly available in the U.S.?) However, this may be his darkest, finest performance, and it's surprising no awards followed. Likewise, Dakota Fanning (The Secret Life of Bees) looks the pioneer part. She's kind in an unforgiving landscape, mute and disliking guns, but strong and we immediately root for her survival at every struggle, be it a neighbor's cold shoulder or a freezing last stand. There's never a doubt that she's in the right, doing what she has to do – her lack of a heard voice lets her actions speak louder than words. Emilia Jones (Utopia) as the younger Joanna is also a spirited girl who learns of her own strengths the hard way. Despite all the abuse and persecution in Brimstone, these ladies are not victims. The Minister believes a woman can't out run what a man has in mind for her and she will pay the price for her resistance, but Joanna flees to the frontier for her freedom. She continues to out run evil in all its disguises whether it is a losing battle or not, and Liz repeatedly take matters into her own hands, refusing to surrender regardless of all that's taken from her.

The ensemble behind the leads in Brimstone really are a supporting cast helping or hindering, well-intentioned or misused, stepping stones and catalysts. Carice van Houten's sorrowful mother and helpless wife Anna is completely relatable. The audience wants to protect her from her husband or see her stand up and do something for Joanna, but her weakling mother who can't do anything contrasts the strong woman alone daughter we see later. This minister's wife won't do her wifely duty, thus she needs to be gagged in an iron mask for not holding her tongue and whipped until she can gain the Lord's favor. Hers is a pathetic existence, and this bittersweet role is the complete opposite of van Houten's Game of Thrones ruthless. Fellow Thrones star Kit Harrington is also featured in Brimstone for Chapter Three – perhaps mostly for the financing incentives and audience appeal after several casting changes – for his accent is terrible and he looks a little too pretty boy modern rather than gritty cowboy. Although we don't doubt his anti-hero outlaw's earnest or sincerity toward Joanna, his masculine intrusion is the first of many would be hopeful sparks used against her. Fortunately, Carla Juri (Wetlands, but more importantly, the gal plays ice hockey!) is a fun and feisty prostitute when it comes to the disagreeable male clientele. She's tender with Joanna, and they plan to leave together as mail order brides after one too many pimp abuses. Viewers hope for their escape from the cathouse – even if we know better. The leaning toward lez be friends because of male hatred innuendo and sacrificial BFF turns may be slightly cliché, but the ladies are likable and charming with turnabout twists right up to the end.


Brimstone is visually aware of its bleak tale, contrasting the gunfire, outhouses, hangings, and blood on snow with birds chirping, hymns, and sunshine. Fine cinematography accents the international locations with overhead angles and camerawork that knows when to move but also how to be still and let the action happen. The sign language, costuming, horses, and wagons add authenticity, and the color schemes don't feel digital or over saturated. The natural outdoor palette and interior patinas reflect the chapters being told – a rustic harvest autumn, the hot summer and barren saloons, the budding fertile spring of a New World congregation, and a frigid, snowy twilight with cleansing water bookends. Ironically, Brimstone was shot in relative chronological order with Three first, then Two, and later chapters One and Four, and the impressive looking blu-ray release includes lengthy behind the scenes interviews and detailed sit downs with numerous cast and crew members. Brimstone is recognizable as a western yet when and where it takes place isn't definitive. There's no cowboys in white hats or other familiar archetypes, only a desolate mood and lawless atmosphere that don't shy away from the period brutality. While not horror per se, Brimstone has many horrific scenes to match its warped attitudes, telling its difficult to watch tale in its own time with no genre limit to stop it from going too far – a refreshing lack of cinema restraint which again, for many audiences, will cross the line. Brimstone is difficult to watch, yet there's little vulgarity, no unnecessary visuals, and no major nudity. Corsets and pantaloons invoke enough saucy, leaving the story and characters to tell the numbing brutality instead of today's desensitizing flash in the pan in your face style. However, I must say I don't think I've ever seen that kind of... um... creative... use of intestines in a movie, ever.

So many Hollywood movies go through the motions, and Brimstone's negative stateside reviews may be because American audiences aren't accustomed to this kind of hardcore storytelling. Period piece horror dramas transcending genre like Brimstone such as Bone Tomahawk and The Witch are being made, however their statement making frights inexplicably remain elusive festival finds outside mainstream release. Spoilers aside, I didn't cover all the details here simply because I didn't take many review notes. I was too busy paying attention to the not for the faint of heart as Brimstone strips the viewer mentally and emotionally with its offensive no holds barred. Maybe rather than shying away from the viewing conversation, we should be embracing a quality motion picture that wouldn't be any good if it didn't push us to our limits as Brimstone does.


04 May 2017

The Bob Newhart Show: Season 4



The Bob Newhart Show Peaks with Season Four
by Kristin Battestella



The 1975-76 twenty-four episode season of The Bob Newhart Show tosses new husbands, potential kids, and one zany Peeper at psychologist Robert Hartley, his schoolteacher wife Emily, their neighbor navigator Howard Borden, orthodontist Jerry Robinson, and receptionist Carol Kester. That's not to mention some wild patients and one drunken Thanksgiving...

Future Newhart costar and third Mr. Pleshette Tom Posner guest stars in the “The Longest Good-bye” season premiere when Bob's college roommate Cliff 'The Peeper' Murdock comes to Chicago – leading to a hokey, you had to be there trip down memory lane. The gags a minute provide our usual straight man psychologist the chance to have some fun, however The Peeper's colorful Vermont pranks and syrup on everything eating habits drive Emily crazy as his leeching stay grows to include their den, Bob's wardrobe, the car, and their credit cards. Fortunately, The Peeper finds a fellow spirit in Jerry for an impromptu sing a long and a fun start to the season complete with snakes in a can. Bob, meanwhile, gets dressed up in his 'bill paying ensemble' for “Change Is Gonna Do Me Good.” His fifteenth of the month ritual annoys Emily so they decide to switch his bills for her grocery shopping. Too bad Emily's checks bounce when she can't follow his payment categories – bodily maintenance, domicile, and communication for the phone and newspapers. Bob can't read her grocery list, either, but calculates the price per ounce at the store and alphabetizes the kitchen in descending order of spoilage. The battle of the sexes psychology spins continue in “Shrinks Across the Sea” as a visiting psychologist exchange has The Hartleys disagreeing on everything from dust to whether they should eat at an American restaurant or cook at home. The Bob Newhart Show has some unusually off handed French snides here, but their guest is fittingly snobby, claiming Paris is nothing to see and afraid Chicago wouldn't have toilet paper. Each psychologist can spot the opposite's stress but can't notice their own petty arguments. After all, Bob thinks their balcony is like Paris in Spring, but Emily says it is Chicago in winter. But hey, this is the seventies, there's no need for prudes to be so provincial. Yogi Bear is on at the same early bird time and everyone will miss it, but Bob intends to wax on the overall effectiveness of group therapy when a television host asks him to be on her talk show in “Who Is Mr. X?” Unfortunately, the barracuda host rips psychology as nothing more than a flimflam after Bob says there is no one cure and he cannot guarantee his work. He's back peddled into revealing that he's counseled an elected official, giving The Bob Newhart Show a humorous debate on how viable therapy may not be or whether it matters who has been treated or not. Bob sticks to his ethics while facing the social stigmas on mental health, but TV has no qualms when audience grabs are at stake. Everyone wants to know who the patient is, with even the newspaper proclaiming, 'Shrink refuses to Name Loony Legislator.' His progressive congressman patient, however, is willing to speak up unashamed after Bob helped him. Bravo!


The Bob Newhart Show peaks with the famous “Over the River and Through the Woods” episode. Emily braves flying to see her family in Seattle, leaving the boys alone for Thanksgiving football and one drunken tough time ordering their moo goo gai pan. Mr. Carlin wants $9.95 for the scotch he brought, Jerry's got a pigskin drinking game, Howard's depressed, and Bob didn't know it was going to be this bad this early in the day. After all, 'You know you're at a bad party when Elliot Carlin is the happiest person in the room.' The titular singing livens things, but four drunk men should not be in the kitchen – nor the turkey in the dishwasher. Bob is drunk but trying his best to remain the straight man on the phone while ordering $93 worth of Chinese food, and it is downright hysterical. Likewise “Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital” so our doctor overreacts at the open back of his paper gown and fears he won't make it home to see the Christmas tree. Mr. Carlin gives Bob back the small ugly sweater he gave him for Christmas last year – he expects to have his session post op, too – and Bob's worried, cranky behavior and lack of seasonal spirit spreads to one and all. With no cheery music nor festive decorations and a drab hospital night, this doesn't feel much like a holiday episode. However, it's amazing to see adults facing Christmas as just another crappy day in this non-traditional but realistic half hour. A basketball star with a similar attitude ordered to see Bob in “Duke of Dunk” is also unaware he's a hot dog – he may have sixty-three points in one game but the Sunspots have lost thirteen in a row. Good thing the entire team joins Bob for a 'Fear of Winning' group. In “Birth of a Salesman,” Bob tries to get a salesman patient to be more assertive and helps Emily contest an erroneous ticket, for he doesn't like the nation becoming a flock of sheep not standing up for what we believe. The judicial system needs wise judges to hear all the facts if it is to remain just, but Bob's advice backfires into lawsuits, who is parking in who's parking space, and finger pointing over who started it first semantics bullying another into relenting. The quality of The Bob Newhart Show dips somewhat this season, yet just when you think things feel stagnant late in the year, a still timely episode like this happens. Of course, no one but Bob is happy to see The Peeper and his sparklers in the season finale “Peeper Two.” He has more college glory stories to share, but his wife has left him for the milk man so he's going to stay with The Hartleys for an entire month. Fortunately, dribble glasses and gizzard gags break the serious moments with humorous wallowing. Bob takes The Peeper to the piano bar, refusing to let him sulk and putting him back on his feet – except all the girls in the bar want a married sugar daddy and keep hitting on Bob.

Bob 'The Mooner' Hartley Class of '52 had a brush haircut, a convertible in college, and in flagrante paperbacks under his mattress – but he isn't too proud of such youthful antics. Grown up, inflexible Bob chews his food exactly thirty-two times, always buys Emily the same perfume, and goes really bold by setting his electric blanket to four instead of three. Newhart still does phone skits, but Dr. Hartley questions how much he actually helps his patients in “What's It All About, Albert?” Everyone is successful and accomplished but him, putting Bob on the couch taking advice from others and seeking his college professor mentor. Unfortunately, Bob's not hip with the new go with how you feel hugging campus, W for Wonderful grades, and no need to whisper in the library philosophies. Are scream therapy, inkblots, and psychology really all a crock? The scatterbrained circumspection is able to laugh at the paid to do nothing appearances, allowing Bob to realize his dedication to his work is worthwhile – or at least more important than golf. He's willing to let his patients go to prove he isn't a fraud, but honestly, $35 an hour is a steal! Of course, “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” has Bob up at 7 am for Mr. Carlin and home after his 'Fear of Darkness' group at 10 pm, letting his patients dictate his life until another suave psychologist offers him a partnership. Onscreen time stamps and quirky scene transitions a la The Sting accentuate the zany, but poor Bob ends up working twice as hard – and stuck with an old lady patient who reads poetry and insists on a ninety degree office temperature – while his partner's off on a yacht with pineapples and champagne!


It's been a few years on The Bob Newhart Show and Suzanne Pleshette's hair has grown out – a fuller, mini fro cut to match Emily's long, swinging seventies dresses. I'm not sure about the dresses with hoods, super wide collars, and Little House on the Prairie denim pinafores; but the big shirts, wide belts, flared pants, and black velvet remain far out. Those capes and ponchos are back in vogue, too! Emily says there are still things she doesn't like about Bob, such as his rigid unchanging ways, and they argue in bed about their less than perfect anniversary gifts. She pushes him to update his routine but is not a morning person and dislikes when Bob's stressful hours interfere with their dinner. Emily still stinks at matchmaking, too – relying on if a man sounds gorgeous on the phone and tales from an old best friend who drove a pink t-bird. She doesn't always get Bob's analogies and can't understand basketball, but Emily can bluff through a hockey article when hogging the newspaper. She gets jealous when Bob talks about former school sweethearts – especially the young thin blonde ones – and yells at Howard yet always sets three dinner places to include him. It's nice to have a full plot focusing on Emily when she is promoted over a more experienced male colleague in “A Matter of Vice-Principal.” She's happy to have the unexpected job but is more concerned about telling the teaching couple who were set on the position. Rather then tell her what to do, supportive Bob says she needn't feel guilty over their resentment, but she does think it is her fault, making for a fine mix of professional versus friendship, female authority over males, and crisscrossed couples. Not to mention Emily ends up stuck behind a desk making tough phone calls and disciplining students while piles of paperwork and lack of funds tie her hands. A classroom snake is on the loose and Tracy Grammar School is out of hot dog buns! Fortunately, Emily gets a spiffy parking spot with her name on it – and a $10 parking ticket.

Director Peter Bonerz' onscreen orthodontist Jerry Robinson prefers to be a free cruiser – a debonair swinger with a devil may care vanity hiding his fears of being thirty-seven and alone. He's still very selfish, placing money above people, and wants everyone to overpay in his complicated football pool scheme. Jerry's annoyed Carol's wedding may interfere with his tennis time and takes odds that the groom won't show. He's mostly seen in the office lobby this season ordering her to do something menial, expecting donuts in the morning or complaining about his $200 hard contact lenses – a pricey luxury in the mid seventies – because he doesn't want to wear glasses. While apparently good at his job and seen mentioning his work or coming and going with young patients, Jerry isn't seen doing much and he doesn't know how many teeth people have. Fortunately, he says the pride and accomplishments of his work are better than money, and he does seem to care about events at his former orphanage. Jerry spends Christmas arguing with Howard, too – The Bob Newhart Show seems to forget whether Bob's best friends are currently friends or enemies themselves depending on the situation. Jerry strikes out a lot, and he's not as smooth as he plays it up since he's really only serious about Gail Strickland as the world traveling Courtney. She returns this year in “My Boy Guillermo” wishing to adopt and marry Jerry. She's ready to settle down, but they have very different views on how to raise a child, where to live, even what to name a son and whether he would also become an orthodontist. Naturally paperwork intervenes and Jerry loses the family he didn't have, but seeing him be serious instead of jerky is always a nice moment. Of course, by the next episode he's whining for Bob to get him free tickets and uses some orphan abandonment tears just to make Carol get him a cup of coffee.


He's obsessed with ironing and not interested if life is discovered on Jupiter because he can't fly his plane there, yet Bill Daily's Howard Borden passes his co-pilot test. He eats a piece of celery in the store – finishing it is snacking not stealing – but tomatoes give him hives and cucumbers make him itch. He lays tiles in his kitchen but they won't stay because he didn't peel off the sticky back, and Howard can't spell 'pride' as in 'he pried himself from the cockpit' for a book about himself – and it's not an autobiography because that's about cars. Howard worries about being cremated or frozen and wants to leave The Hartleys the key to his apartment when he dies so they can take back all that's theirs. Outside of such humorous excuses, slapstick magic tricks, or intrusions next door, Howard has very little plots of his own in Year Four. When he comes over at 1:30 am asking for cereal, the milk, a bowl and spoon, and his mail even Bob asks why he is always there. Young Howie visits late in the season for “The Boy Next Door,” and Howard wants his son to live with him. Unfortunately, his airline job makes the child more of a community responsibility – circumventing how despite his love and sincerity, Howard has been made so dumb that he can't be responsible enough to raise a child on his own. He gets his son a coffee maker for his birthday and says he will have to plug in his stove for Thanksgiving in typical bachelor scenes with no mention of Ellen Hartley even though Howard asks her to marry him in “Here's Looking at You, Kid.” Though humorous, the hot out of the street corner station wagon wedding ring, Harvey Wallbangers, and a bumbling proposal don't make us forget how The Bob Newhart Show spent half of Season Three doing the exact same maybe, maybe not marriage. Pat Finley's Ellen is now a legit newspaper reporter and interviewing sportsmen in the locker room, yet she remains wedding shy with cold feet in every one of her appearances – even referring to all the other times they didn't want to get married right now, because they weren't ready, again. Not only does the show not know what to do with the character, but at this point, why would a smart journalist want to date silly Howard at all? We actually see Ellen writing a brutal piece about the medical center in “The Article,” and I don't know why she couldn't just be a strong independent reporter stopping by to recount her latest literary misadventures. Instead, this episode spends more time on her photographer and the quirky doctors with Ellen's article never even going to print. And how about Howard, who walks in, eats toast, and leaves for a flight without ever acknowledging his supposed fiancee – although eleven people pile into Jerry's office for her attention and Bob defends her right to print the truth even when his colleagues humorously threaten him. Whether the visiting tomorrow seven episodes ago mention was a production order mistake or a throwaway line, Howard is surprised to see his brother in “Warden Gordon Borden” and Gordon uses the same family golly gee to also woo Ellen. Like Howard, he's in love and ready to marry her in one episode, and it would be funny if we hadn't seen this merry go round already in every Howard and Ellen episode. I love Pat Finley, but I'm glad Ellen doesn't want either Borden brother and moves to Cleveland, never to be heard of on The Bob Newhart Show again.

But whoa that tie dye denim! Marcia Wallace's Carol Kester is the highest paid receptionist in the building but wants a realistic raise and gets tired of the office routine. She's able to talk frankly to the overweight group about her past, but draws the line at dating a nasty patient who takes her to the Venus Theater for Lady in the Barracks. However, her parents won't visit in “Carol's Wedding” because they say she cried wolf too often, and her overnight husband Larry Bondurant (Later Newhart director Will Mackenzie) is somewhat dull. The series couldn't keep almosting Carol to the altar, but all the courthouse wedding planning happens offscreen in favor of other busy gags. She asks Bob to give her away, but it seems like Carol settled for less than a winner just for the humor. Larry's a travel agent with a discount honeymoon to Japan, but he's late to the wedding because he filled out his ticket wrong and ended up in Cincinnati. This is a significant but fast moving episode, and Carol ends up complaining to Bob about Larry. Perhaps if they hadn't rushed into it, the couple wouldn't have so many issues made humorous? Carol's on vacation for two episodes and only appears briefly in others before doing her nails at her desk and refusing to file when previously she was funny yet efficient. Her marriage isn't addressed again until “Carol at 6:01,” six months later when she should be used to Larry's overly attentive behavior. Marrying her off was supposed to solve her old maid fears, but now her problem is that the husband she barely knew is smothering her with affection, complimenting her cooking, taking her picture, and preparing coffee for his 'Big Red.' If he were charismatic, she'd love the attention, but Larry is played as a dry, annoying dork. Carol still has career woman troubles, too in “Guaranteed Not to Shrink,” but this time his doting inspires her to go back to school to be a psychologist. She only wants to be one because Bob is, and when she realizes psychology isn't for her, Carol switches to teaching like Emily. Bloop.


Kristina Holland's (The Courtship of Eddie's Father) two episode receptionist Gail Bronson is actually just as fun while Carol is on vacation, breaking her leg by falling off her shoes but taking no guff from the doctors. She tells Jerry to get his own coffee, and Carol says in twenty years coffee making will be fully automated anyway! More guests include the debonair cape wearing French psychologist Rene Auberjonois (Deep Space Nine), Philip Allen (The Bad News Bears) as upscale psychologist Frank Wahlburn, and ruthless talk show host Jennifer Warren (Slap Shot). Mrs. Hartley Martha Scott visits in “Fathers and Sons and Mothers,” making her 'sonny' some lemonade when he asks for a drink. Emily calls her mom now but Mrs. Hartley insults her cooking and complains about a lack of grandchildren. Each of her visits has Bob disliking his mother's mothering, but its charming fun to see him squirm. Of course, Jack Riley's Elliot Carlin hates everybody, and Jerry bets he would have been the first of Bob's patients to die. Mr. Carlin says he was Bob's first patient and how Bob feels is irrelevant so long as he feels better. Mr. Carlin appears several episodes in a row, more than some of the regular cast, and has a few plots of his own, including “No Sale” when Mr. Carlin wants Bob to go in on a sweet real estate deal turning tenement buildings into townhouses. Bob's reluctant to go into business with a patient, especially for a seventies steep $5k a piece, and the building is an inner city slum with cast out elderly residents. Though a little heavy on the social commentary with some humor more flat than usual, this is an interesting ethical debate on several layers – forward cutthroat revitalization versus supporting the downtrodden needs – and we're still dealing with this kind of shady business, aren't we? Most of Bob's patients such as John Fiedler as Mr. Peterson, Florida Friebus as Mrs. Bakerman, Renee Lippin as Michelle, Lucien Scott as Mr. Vickers, Merie Earle as Mrs. Loomis, and Oliver Clark as Mr. Herd are seen individually instead of in group therapy, but the core group humorously goes from hating Mr. Gianelli to having awkward vigils after his zucchini related demise in “Death of a Fruitman.” Larry Gelman's Dr. Tupperman joins the 'Overweight Workshop' in “The Heavyweights,” and despite encouraging group openness, Bob uses every euphemism possible rather than say fat. It may not be a perfect episode, but it's interesting to see size debated on television when it wasn't as much of an issue compared to today's onscreen stick figures. The Bob Newhart Show uses humor to address negative personalities, people hiding behind their weight, and lingering appearance prejudices.

Frequent The Bob Newhart Show directors James Burrows and Michael Zinberg return alongside oft writing teams Gordon and Lynn Farr and Tom Prachett and Jay Tarses, however this season's onscreen and behind the scenes changes feel like a second half of the series changing the guard. A funk mix is added to the theme, and though I still like the original brassy 'Home to Emily' best, this update is indicative of the late sixties classy becoming down with the times seventies. The credits are also different, beginning with Bob and Emily at home before his commute and empty coffee cup at the office amid sliding orange screens. Some episodes have a shorter syndication sequence, yet others mistakenly preview a later opening sequence featuring their new apartment while another uses credits from the First Season. The sound is again uneven on the The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series Season Four discs, but the season is easy to marathon alongside commentaries on several episodes, a behind the season featurette, and a gag reel made funnier by its innate retro style. Of course, there's bandannas, big scarves, loud red blazers, wide paisley ties, polka dots, plaid jackets, brown, yellow, stripes, and gingham check. My poor television screen can't handle it! The apartment is still the same from last season's redo, with Howard still using the old brown curtains and orange couches. Actually, I suspect his apartment set is really on the other side of The Hartley's kitchen, as outside of the Chicago establishing shots, precious few sets are used on The Bob Newhart Show – the apartments, the doctors offices, and the occasional restaurant or old green hospital rooms. We see The Hartleys' den, too – with its yellow and orange pullout sofa – and the Rimpau lobby has its own plot when its drab blue walls are painted bright orange. But wow, look at that old blue vacuum, and those manager specials at the grocery store are stamped with one of those giant old price clickers. The cheap champagne price goes up from 89 cents to $1.09 and four donuts cost $1.17! Pencils break and they make Halloween masks out of paper bags when not staring at the test pattern bars on the television. It takes a moment for the boob tube to warm up, too. Remember that? I feel so old now!


Although the quality this season dips somewhat with similar stories standing pat and an uneven character focus on the ensemble, I feel like there's a lot of déjà vu Frasier imitation of The Bob Newhart Show here, too. Ironically, the series also peaks midway through Year Four, becoming a midpoint change with new patients and more gags alongside the still timely statements and downright hysterical, memorable episodes. Despite some hiccups, The Bob Newhart Show Season Four remains nostalgic comfort for the whole family.


25 April 2017

Top Ten: Shakespeare!






Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.



This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...
  


Our Top Ten Shakespearean Shows!





Do Please see our Shakespeare Viewing Lists for more!


I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.


22 April 2017

Macbeth (2015)



This Latest Macbeth is Unfortunately Disappointing
by Kristin Battestella



Director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) helms this 2015 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender as the titular Thane of Glamis and Marion Cotillard as his grieving wife. Bleak child funeral pyres and a misty atmosphere match our witches' prophetic rhymes, and opening scrolls recount the Scottish war. Calm face painting rituals escalate to war cries, shouting rage, brutal swords, and battle chaos while slow motion torches and an intercut sense of stillness add to the trickery and kingly feasting. At times, these two hours move fast by showing the usually off screen killings – bringing the Bard's suspense alongside symbolic rain for the washing of blood, tense confrontations over fatal discoveries, and one suspicious coronation. Cathedral echoes mirror the growing power, but our soldier turned king spirals downward with his wife at his leash. Macbeth's contemporary grief and traumatic stress are best when the court intrigue brews, letting the play's innate zing overcome the pretentious, too arty for the sake of it voiceovers. There's a somewhat surprising lack of dialogue for, you know, Shakespeare, yet subtitles are a must to discern all the mumbling and grumpy who is who. The modern issues aren't a bad addition, but the contemporary stylishness becomes counter intuitive to the original drama and period setting. Though it holds fast to the well done historical locales and the ensemble is capable of doing clear spoken, straight Bard; this Macbeth never chooses what it really wants to be, ought to be better than it is, and doesn't seem Shakespearean enough. Had there been updated dialogue for the recent themes or a present setting with the original text as in Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus, Macbeth may have hit home the relevancy for Shakespeare today. Instead, what begins as a promising take becomes slow, tiring, subdued, and at arms length. This tale is not untouchable, but if you are going to deviate, run with it. 

 
Certainly, Michael Fassbender (Shame) looks the battle field bearded, painted, gruff, and game on as Macbeth. There's no doubt of his warrior skill, but he's confused by the cryptic coming to pass. Why should Glamis stop at becoming Thane of Cowdor when the witches also said he would be king? Macbeth loves his wife and listens to her ambitions, however, their strain is apparent on top of his battlefield stress and conflicted flashbacks. He's caught between what's said about him and told to him, what he wants from his wife, his hidden cowardice, and a whipped position at home. Macbeth's supposed to be king yet he's repeatedly proving his manliness as he descends into madness. The dark picture and voiceover asides, however, make it feel like we don't see Fassbender embodying the turmoil enough. The language seems unnatural when his accent waivers, but Macbeth's lack of scenes actually talking to people adds to the isolation over what he has done – only the camera comes close as he messes up the kills and leaves his wife to handle the weapons. Although, I almost would rather not see the king's killing onscreen, just the traditional daylight discovery and a shady Macbeth washing. The suspicious snips of the deadly action as he is crowned are a nicer accent to his sullen deed is done and fair is foul change as Macbeth festers over the scorpions in his mind. He's losing control he never had, and Macbeth's a man meant for the battlefield as his leader commands or the bedroom when his wife says – but not worthy to be king. Is that his own weakness or the puppeteer wife behind him? Maybe a bit of both. The unmerited interplay is better than the arty interference, and the narration in the final battle scene feels unfair. Use those words for some crazy desperate trash talk! The lack of a beheading is disappointing, too, an unsatisfactory end when this Macbeth is all about his unraveling headspace. Fassbender was filming Macbeth amid the awards flurry for 12 Years a Slave and some personal tabloid fodder – preoccupations that also perhaps show. I like the uniqueness of Frank and Slow West, but without the refreshing take from First Class, I'm disinterested in the latest X-Men films. The Counselor fell flat; I have no desire to see Steve Jobs, The Light Between the Oceans, Assassin's Creed, or Song to Song, and after years of waiting for Trespass Against Us, I'm in no rush now. Instead, I find myself increasingly enjoying films Fassbender left or lost, such as Only Lovers Left Alive or The Force Awakens. He seems to be at a career crossroads – an indie darling franchised with Alien: Covenant but unknown to the mainstream with precious little box office success. It's ridiculous he's against today's new, superior scene chewing television platforms, and had the upcoming The Snowman been a serial caper, I might be more intrigued. While newer viewers may have found Fassbender over some sort of heartthrob status, I'm more and more aware that I miss his prime acting and dislike his recent, disappointing movie making choices.


Of course, a dead baby adds to Marion Cotillard's (La Vie en Rose) warped Lady Macbeth as she waits at home in the dark to hear tell the news of victory. This Mrs. is vicariously pleased with her husband but angry, wishing to be unsexed with her milk taken. She's unhappy at home and stronger in the scheming department than her man – Lady Macbeth has had to sit back from the glory, but now she has the chance to take matters into her own hands. She's cruel with nothing else to do but aide her husband's rise to the top as her own, and the grief of an heir lost contributes to her twistedness. The childless angle is implied in the text, and its a relatable connection today. However, I kind of rather like not knowing why she is so poison bent. I can't see Natalie Portman for Lady Macbeth as originally cast either, but Cotillard has no problem with the language barrier as our wife admits her deceptions. She says she's done her marital job, using her sex to trap her husband into violence. She wears white for the coronation, almost appearing in an angelic disguise, putting the crown on Macbeth and egging him on when he doubts. He reminds her how her barrenness ruins their monarchy progeny, but the intercut table top panting and killer planning is an unnecessary sexual visual. There's enough reading between the lines to know Lady Macbeth manipulates him by not putting out and refusing his touch. She is in charge, not seeing them have any sexual intimacy is a better indication of his emasculation. Yet for all her behind the scenes power, Lady Macbeth is a fallen figure, an unwelcomed mother with no child save her corrupt ruthlessness. She faces her guilt in a tearful church soliloquy where the camera rightfully remains on her mea culpa realizations.

Sadly, Macbeth's supporting cast feels wasted, and we hardly see usual bad boy Sean Harris (The Borgias) as good guy Macduff. He's enraged over the king's death, throwing up and shouting. He's battle ready and on his game for the finale yet never really built up as a proper rival. Likewise, I feel like I didn't even see Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz) as Banquo until he died. His ghost is hardly present in favor of other anonymous dead boys on the battlefield apparitions, leaving the internalized Macbeth with no real friendly reflection or sounding board. Is it even really Banquo's ghost at the feast or just a figment of Macbeth's madness? Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) as Lady Macduff is also just sort of there, and though his delivery is fine, David Thewlis' (Harry Potter) King Duncan is made lax, a distant, inept king who should be deposed to make us relate to Macbeth as his sad, victorious stand-in. David Hayman (Trial & Retribution) is made irrelevant as Lennox, and the unique witch potential added to this Macbeth never fully embraces its surrealism, which is surprising amid a visual display that could have gone for the ultra bizarre seen in Julie Taymor's Titus and The Tempest. Ultimately, it feels as though the ensemble is here because they have to be – a guy to kill, a friend to betray, another usurper to fight. If Macbeth could have been done with just the unhappy couple, this version would have done so. Actually, now that I think about it, that would have been a two-hander tour de force update I'd like to have seen!


Fortunately, authentic filming locations, Scottish castles, and gritty leather costuming invoke the historical atmosphere alongside slicing sharp sword sounds and blustery winds. Basic wooden structures are fittingly small against snowscapes, mountains, and rustic waters, and the women's costumes are likewise drab, minimally adorned robes with simple braided hair styling. The blue nighttime schemes are realistically grim but also incredibly picturesque, and a lot of time in Macbeth is spent outdoors with orange battlefield heat. However, the vintage candlelit interiors and firelight designs can be tough to see – viewer eyes must continually adjust to the flickering flames with each surprisingly traditional crosscut edit – and the artistic scene transitions are pretty but unnecessary. Again, the phantoms in the mist and witches mirages contrast the historically accurate approach, adding a whiff of fantastic whilst remaining reluctant to totally embrace the surreal. Instead, our Wood that moves becomes molten fallout ash – a shrewd and unique but too contemporary rather than theatrical twist. Macbeth plays at the mentality of its characters in a modern cerebral bend, but the impressive look and internal circumspect disconnect more than accent each other. Why not have Macbeth's traumatizing soliloquies become side by side Smeagol and Gollum split screens, faces in the fire, or watery reflections? Despite the beautiful design, I wonder what the dailies covering each actor looked like. Did the production not really like Shakespeare, so they felt the need to ramp it up by dropping most of the text for awe-inspiring visuals?

All my complaints, yet Macbeth didn't deserve a blink festival tour and miss it cinema release with no award hopes – like Coriolanus, The Weinstein Company distributor strikes again in squashing Shakespearean competition. Maybe it was asking too much to be blown away, but this is not the best introduction to Macbeth thanks to too much artistic unevenness for the purist and a lacking straightforwardness for classroom. Macbeth is one of my top three Billy favorites – competing with Othello and Julius Caesar for number one. However, I wasn't looking forward to this version after it sequestered the long gestating Enemy of Man production from Vincent Regan and Sean Bean. The 2010 Patrick Stewart version also better retained the source material with complimentary fascist parallels. If you are going to add back story changes and stylish designs with such a fine cast, be an intimate multi part serial taking its time with the ensemble in this unique world and its titular head space. The gritty realism for today's audiences is too try hard, a dry, modern psychosis jarring to the play speech and historic setting. Polarizing at best, Macbeth tries to have its cake and eat it too but halves the retelling's own changes, remaining mumbly timid while unnecessarily treating Shakespeare as too stuffy and in need of meta trauma.