31 January 2019

Hysteria (2011)

Humorous Hysteria a Much Needed Conversation Starter
by Kristin Battestella

In 1880 London, Doctor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) joins Doctor Robert Dalrymple's (Jonathan Pryce) clinic for women. Granville works tirelessly, catering to his patients to the detriment of his hand until his wealthy inventor friend Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) experiments with an electric duster that's actually a powerful, vibrating massager that makes the hysterical patients sing - literally. The demure Emily (Felicity Jones) catches Granville's eye, and Dalrymple hopes his protege and daughter will marry and secure his practice's future. Unfortunately, his older spitfire daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) advocates for the poor – butting heads with authorities who think she should be diagnosed with the titular medical condition. Granville must choose if he wants to idle in a safe practice or take a risk in helping Charlotte, who has no interest in his jolly machine.

A humorous montage of hungry, crying, depressed women wanting to kill the unfulfilling men in their lives opens this 2011 comedy directed by Tanya Wexler (Finding North). Unfortunately, be they young or old and whatever their problems, the baffled male doctors have diagnosed them all with hysteria. It's surgery for that overactive uterus or institutions for the permanently hysterical, which seems to be about half the women in London. The waiting room is packed as the trying to be sympathetic doctors one by one provide their ghastly, tiring women's medicine with manual stimulation. The patients are fully clothed, buttoned up, and veiled from view while the medically trained but nonetheless confused men calmly douse their hands in musk oil. They formally calculate the shortness of breath over the circular index finger motions, watch the clock, and take notes. The right hand is too cold, but the left takes too long without “completing the treatment.” No mentions of penis or anyone gaining pleasure parallel the inept male attitudes – Hysteria's not making a slight, just recounting the then misguided science. Rigid thrombus phrenology winks in the conversation accent the multi-layered humor as the whole idea toes the modern line between being unethical with your lady patients and just downright preposterous that this was the clueless norm. Here, women with an opinion are viewed as volatile, and men flustered over the forward ladies riding bicycles much prefer the easily smitten, gentile ladies under control. Fortunately, a wacky, spinning cleaning tool prototype with tingling, tickling vibrations massage the injured hand and just might hit the right spot. Our male inventors debate how something electrical and potentially dangerous could work on “a lady's most gentle areas,” but they put on the goggles as the generator flutters and the lights dim, astounded over the three paroxysms in five minutes. Marketing their device is a risky venture, but their hysteria cure is a success when women want to know what it is called so they can ask for it by name. Hysteria is not a traditional period piece but has a modern viewpoint moving at a quirky pace with montages, doors slammed in one's face, and bemusing visuals as all the ladies stare at the handsome doctors. While it would have been interesting to have a more dramatic telling, this is shrewdly impish rather than anything scandalous or torrid. Hysteria is a lighthearted tale of the women's experience inspiring a man to invention and profit framed in an obvious romantic comedy bend. The guy with the perfect girl really falls for the radical lady instead and it all comes out at a ball before a public resolution with his confession of love saving the day. At times, Hysteria also relies on millennial parallels and cliches with a woman talking of feminine revolutions or saying a man needs to walk a mile in her shoes. Such contemporary intrusions may seems uneven or ridiculous, however, the women here are punished by loans, fathers, and police with trials where the only line of defense is a doctor recommending the accused be sent to a sanitarium for a hysterectomy rather than prison. A woman cannot defend herself because she can only speak when spoken to by a man in charge, and the notion of a doctor simply talking to his lady patients to find out what other unsatisfied restrictions are happening in their lives is only briefly addressed. The upscale refuse to help the poor and the idea that all a woman needs is an orgasm to make her happy is a happenstance luxury while those with real medical needs can't afford treatment. Though the unjust statements are wrapped in humorous dressings, these Victorian dilemmas are not as far fetched as we'd like to think. We chuckle at Hysteria's story, but it's contemporary styling shows us that not much has really changed. We're still arguing over women voters and the female's right to be in charge of her own body, amirite? 

Hugh Dancy's (Elizabeth I) idealistic Doctor Granville can't get a job thanks to his outspoken confrontations with quack, so-called men of science who won't read the latest research and con their patients with placebo pills. Granville wants to help people with the emerging medical revolution, but he can't make his way in the world without help from wealthy, winking, experimenting friends such as Lord Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding) who jokes that the French use their tongues to aide female patients diagnosed with hysteria. Pleasure, however, has nothing to do with it, and Granville puts his duty to the practice above the randy maid's advances. He keeps his hand in ice and squeezes a ball to strengthen it as his appointment book fills with lucrative but exhausting patients. Of course, Maggie Gyllenhaal's (Frank) progressive and shocking Charlotte is a different kind of exasperating, arguing that all this hysteria would be unnecessary if husbands could just appreciate their wives' pleasures. Desperate to help the less fortunate, she takes the injured poor to see Granville against the wishes of her stubborn widower father. Jonathan Pryce's (Tomorrow Never Dies) set in his ways doctor refuses to give Charlotte her promised dowry to support her East End humanitarian causes – dowries are for marriage only and he's not wasting his own money on her efforts when they tarnish his upscale clinic. Charlotte embarrasses everyone by using her mind, proclaiming women won't stay in the kitchen or sit idle in the drawing room much longer thanks to new university options and suffragette protests. Her expecting equality in a relationship stuns one and all just as much as when she – gasp!– speaks of a friend's pregnancy at the dinner table. Such women without decorum just won't due, yet Charlotte's feisty makes Granville question his feelings for perfect English rose Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). A beautiful fiancee who knows her place, a partnership in a respected practice, and moneymaking royalties from his Jolly Molly massager should be everything Granville wants. However, he listens to his patients and sees things clearly once Charlotte's trial puts the need to respect women in perspective. 
It's both silly and scandalous, but the red velvet modesty curtains hide what's behind the medical stirrups – an elusive inner sanctum matching all this stiff upper lip decorum. Cheeky almost whimsical music accents those fancy frocks, feathered caps, furs, spats, and top hats peppering Hysteria's Victorian London. Damask wallpaper, carriages, and upscale private practices, however, contrast with early hospital crowding, dirty aprons, leeches, and arguing over sepsis. Sterilizing tools to clean away blood tainted with invisible infection causing germs does sound like some new kind of poppycock, doesn't it? East End settlement houses struggle with impoverished ideals while wealthy investors nonchalantly toy with newfangled equipment, unusual contraptions, early generators, and supposedly time saving inventions. The gizmos and gadgets add to Hysteria's charm, and the blu-ray edition offers commentaries, deleted scenes, making of features, and festival round tables alongside a documentary excerpt from Passion and Power: The Technology of the Orgasm. It's illegal to own more than six vibrators in some states? People don't not know what a clitoris is? In this sample from the 2007 feature length release, women authors and sexual experts recall life in the nineteen seventies when the man was the lion and it was a woman's job to please him. If she wanted pleasure, however, that made her a whore. Again, unfortunately, nothing has changed, has it? Hysteria took over seven years to make because no one would back such a risky movie by women, for women, and not just about women, but about women's sexuality. Today, however, I think a picture like Hysteria would be treated very differently, not swept under the rug, but sought out and embraced. Amen.

Then again, early in my first draft notes, I jotted this comment, and it's worth keeping:

If this is Rated R just because they talk about a woman's orgasm without showing any nudity or sex that is pretty shitty.

Indeed, Hysteria should be PG-13 at best. In fact, one would think it makes sense to discuss equal sexual pleasures in media and sex education rather than leaving the nitty gritty of the human sexual experience to the unrealistic presentations in pornography, which are designed to please men by degrading women rather than embracing equal opportunity thrills. What's with all the choke holds and women being so ecstatic over a shot of jizz in the eye? Why are our cultural depictions of sex designed for male gratification while the historical, amusing conversation about women's pleasure in Hysteria is restricted with a capital R? The female orgasm somehow still inspires fear yet western society encourages sexy advertising with a carefully crafted ideal of the sensual woman to stimulate men. Hysteria is worth seeing just to begin a healthy dialogue – illumining this mystique which is still perceived as something naughty and obscure rather than normal and natural. The lighthearted approach in Hysteria makes it easy to wink at the tingling and laugh at the shocks, intriguing those unaware to look up the tantalizing history behind the charm here.

29 January 2019

Ladies, Demons, and Blindfolds

Ladies, Demons, and Blindfolds
by Kristin Battestella

This trio of recent chillers features outdoor scares and forest frights as well as bedroom turmoil and sight unseen terrors for these tough damsels in demonic distress. Whew!

Bird BoxForeboding radio reports, risky rapids, blindfolds, and children not allowed to talk belie the lovely rivers and still forests of this 2018 Netflix thriller directed by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) starring Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), and B.D. Wong (Awake). Nothingness point of views from behind the blindfold accent the backpacks, lead lines, titular pets, riverside boats, and rowing toward the dangers unknown. If you look you will die, and mom means business as fog and water perils add to the lack of sight unease. Five years before, our mom-to-be is arguing with her sister and painting art full of disconnected, lonely people. These women have realistic conversations with layered dialogue and familial quips, but the relatable doubts about motherhood and everyday big decisions degrade into mass crowds, suicide reports, sudden hysteria, and panic as something seen by some but not others results in slow motion car accidents, road rage, and shocking deaths. Unlikely strangers fearing demons or religious judgment and arming themselves are thrust together amid busy signals, screaming cell phone calls, no media, and no military help. Is this some new biological warfare making people see something that kills themselves? Birds sense the danger and faint growling, but cameras are to no avail and our family on the river will only remove their blindfolds when huddled under blankets as the story goes back and forth between their journey with static on the radio and our previously housebound survivors concerned with rationing and the pregnant women among them. It's tough to think about baby names when electricity, supplies, and shotgun shells won't last. No one was prepared for the apocalypse to happen that day. Do they let others inside their abode or listen to voices on the riverbank saying it is okay to take off the blindfolds? Desperate runs to the nearby supermarket for essentials such as canned goods, toilet paper, diapers, booze, and electronics use GSP only with windows blacked out, tape over the cameras, and proximity sensors to warn when something comes near. The slow burn suspense allows time for these disparate strangers to forge late friendships amid fears they are all going to die and debates about living versus surviving in these topsy-turvy circumstances. Some briefly consider staying in the supermarket – leaving others behind while they maintain all they need despite the escalating violence outside. Whiskey talking admits how bleak the situation is while others hope things may get better. However, five years later our mother is still rowing toward the unknown possibility of safety as the family dangers on the boat increase. Of course, a few people do some foolish things, and there may have been other options than taking the most dangerous course of action. The supposedly helpful birds are useful or forgotten as needed alongside somewhat obvious metaphors about the people being who's actually box-bound and resorting to new, heightened senses. Understandably, the tension escalates when outside influences are let in – one by one people are lost as suspicious newcomers knock and hopeful possibilities end with appropriately blunt gunfire and shootouts. Training to survive without sight becomes paramount while terror in the home, outdoor separations, and family sacrifices test the temptation to look. Thanks to the courage and horror drama here with frights real and fantastic, there's no need for any spoon fed twist, toppers, scary movie cliches, or bombastic in your face. The multi-layered studies and suspense are well-interwoven, progressing naturally as the isolated settings allow the performances and storytelling to carry the must see intensity.

Pyewacket – Daughter Nicole Munoz (Defiance) invokes the eponymous evil to kill mom Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) in this 2017 Canadian parable featuring creaking forests, goth rebels, and can't take it back terrors. Our widowed mother is doing her best to keep it together and wants a fresh start, but moving is the worst thing for a teen with awkward crushes and an inseparable BFF. Relatable conversations on support versus instability, transferring schools, driving, and bad influences endear both ladies to the audience – even her friends insist parents are just as screwed up as teenagers are. Likewise the music is in the background rather than overwhelming viewers, a realistic rather than Hollywood choice as the camera follows this goth gang through the school hallways. We're the fifth member of the group and caught in the middle from the backseat as the vengeful spell casting looms. Pizza, a relatively small cabin, mom needing a weekend job, and say hey, a Latina lead, yes please – it's as if writer and director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) had a list of horror cliches and insists on how not to incorporate them. Although it's not expressly said to be Halloween, fallen leaves, pumpkins, cawing crows, and owl motifs accent the occult primer, sage, chants, binding rituals, and blood bowls. Despite the careful preparation and craft materials, there's an underlying sense of a not listening teen doing something she shouldn't – especially when mom apologizes and the gals bond over memories of the deceased. Her friends think this is all just acting out for attention, but soon enough indeed our daughter regrets the ritual. Unfortunately, a locked door can't keep out Pyewacket. Ominous knocks and creepy attic access escalate to vehicular frights, and innocuous shots – shadows about the house, rustling in the woods – become suspect while we wait for the subtly disturbing entity. Overhead slow spins and gradual zooms build unease as friends disappear before the camera shakes with unreliable delirium thanks to unfinished rituals, unexplained appearances, and darkness. Is this evil trickery mounting or is a scared teen roaming in the disorienting woods? Are forgiveness and reverse spells enough to put everything right when this festering horror was summoned in spite of be careful what you wish for warnings? Visions of the dead, distorted vocal inflections, rattling doorknobs, and pleas to be let in provide terror as this freaky manifestation is revealed. Some may not like the quick finale, but knives, gasoline, fiery mistakes, and a bitter comeuppance create a creepy atmosphere that does what it is says on the tin. Those skinny pants, however, are not going to look good in a few years.

For a Drinking Game Maybe?

Mara – Sleep paralysis statistics and fears of demonic possession open this 2018 thriller starring Olga Kurylenko (Centurion) amid children's bedroom terrors and behind closed door screams. Ticking clocks and blue lighting set off the creepy drawings, mental evaluations, and witnesses recounting their sleep demon experience – weighed down on the mattress and unable to breath. Unfortunately, there are too many of those Horror Movie Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing contrivances interfering with what should be an interesting story. Character sympathies and our strong woman psychologist in a tough policeman's world jar against the forced scary elements, making the titular ominous as laughable as the overly dramatic slow motion, arias, and ripped teddy bear on the floor. At times this wants to be a standard procedural using jump drives, CCTV, crime scene notes, and tablet technology, but then our gal goes off to a mysterious address without notifying police and listens to sleep deprived crackpot theories to learn about the sleep demon rather than just, you know, Googling it. The detective is right to remind her she's out of bounds, for this psychologist is easily bothered by what seems like a routine case. After hearing sufferers admit this sleep demon sounds like crazy talk, we're not surprised when the trapped sleep and stilted breathing happens to her – there's never any doubt this is a monster not delusion or delirium thanks to early reveals and unnecessarily spooky compromising any innate suspense. From a divorcing couple and their child to prayer freaks, disturbed veterans, and our psychologist with a crazy mom past, everyone who sees Mara has other issues yet nobody wonders what's really causing their sleepless nights. Hypnotic ceiling fans, fiery deaths, and gasping paralysis build scares, but bemusing bloodshot eye markings and demon mythology deflate the terror. Mara doesn't kill you right away, but comes in four assault stages that can't happen if you only sleep in twenty minute shifts. Predictable encounters and dream jump shocks tread tires while our agitated sleepless victims are more annoying than believable. With today's technology no one sets up a camera for proof? The notion to involve more science and sleep monitoring comes too late, and the doctors blame The X-Files and pop culture for scaring people anyway. Weak paranoia and guilt metaphors provide no payoff to the psychologist's suicidal schizophrenic mother backstory, but Olga's look becomes increasingly frazzled – physically changing her appearance rather than addressing her turmoil. Car accidents and fighting to stay awake chases in the finale could have been the entire strung out focus, but time is wasted on the demon doing both in your face screams and taking its sweet, creaking time to inch toward the victim. When we finally get to the desperate cutting off of the eye lids, it's just gore and a thin idea run out of steam. Although this could have been much better and seems content to be repetitive and Elm Street derivative, it can be a mildly entertaining late night watch or bemusing drinking game if you aren't looking for something really scary or expect any real sense of dread.

21 January 2019

Charming Interwar Entertainment

Charming Interwar Entertainment
by Kristin Battestella

Despite the turbulent times before and after, these films and television series set in the twenties and thirties are brimming with charming wit – mostly. 


The Grand Budapest Hotel – Snowy, bleak cemeteries contrast the orange mid century accents and picturesque postcard designs of this 2014 quirky comedy from director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums). While the visuals are aesthetically pleasing; the books, voiceover jokes, timeline transitions, and Jude Law's (Captain Marvel) detailing of the kitschy, dilapidated hotel's off season are a lot to digest amid dialogue within the internal monologue, rapid newspaper headlines, zany zooms, action pans, elevator doors parting, camera ups and downs, and in and out of focus views. Fortunately, the busy exposition gives way to calm and curious introductions – our hotelier F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) nestles in the baths of this enchanted old ruin as we follow the inter title style chapter cards back to a grandiose thirties heyday. Choice reds, lush purple, vintage cars, trains, delightful architecture, and golden chandeliers set the period lavish while tight camera angles convey the cramped servant areas and sweeping pans reflect the patron's splendor. Tom Wilkinson (Essex Boys), Jeff Goldbum (Independence Day), Saoirse Ronan (Byzantium), Edward Norton (Red Dragon), Lea Seydoux (Spectre), Adrien Brody (The Jacket), Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire), Harvey Keitel (National Treasure), Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris), Bill Murray (Little Shop of Horrors), a dynamite in the sack old lady Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), and more star power cameos, however, make for a vignette feeling as viewers wonder which part of the story is the story and not just another scene change. Thankfully, such hotel hustle and bustle fits the nostalgic whirlwind, and swift “Are you fucking nuts?” asides pepper the rose colored glasses framework as our lobby boy learns the ropes from Ralph Fiennes' (The English Patient) sermon giving, tight ship running, serving all the rich blondes concierge. Modern sarcasm lifts the who's swindling whom heists, and the best zingers come in the one on one, smooth talker tongue in cheek. We're invested in the interplay farce but take nothing at face value, reading between the lines of the embellished court case, recountings to the camera, and butler did it gags. Conspiracies and suspects mount, however the loyalty and button up routine of the jailhouse isn't that different from the formality of the grand hotel. In fact, impoverished origins and unusual circumstances unite these quirky gents when the players themselves admit the thickening plot confuses them. Shocking heads in a basket and a larger than life scale keep the murder and suspense stylish while cable car graphics and cats tossed out the window picked up at the coat check add to the bemusing hotel prayer chain. Genuine characters and core friendships sustain the increasingly preposterous on the run adventure – speed walking chases, monastery disguises, second copies of the second will, shootouts, and macguffins create a knowing cumulative amid outlandish travels, whimsical ski jumps, and silly poetics straying into the fantastic. At times, this is quite pretentious and overly clever, doing too much when the casting winks and lavish production handle the complexity without any extra need to be high brow for the sake of it. Some outwitting and double crossings are confusing, and the redundant, intentionally unreliable narration builds toward a bitter, black and white montage that feels abrupt and unfair compared to the preceding yarn. Fortunately, a fuzzy frame within a frame game of telephone wraps the past grandeur almost in fiction – a long gone embellished splendor made up by an old hotel proprietor and compounded by a wayward writer. Although one needs to appreciate old movies and what this film is trying to do to enjoy its wit, this is an entertaining, intelligent piece with a careful, award winning attention to detail that takes more than one viewing.

Mapp and Lucia – Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers), Geraldine McEwan (Marple), and Nigel Hawthorne (Richard III) lead this charming 1985 coastal comedy based on the books by E.F. Benson accented by English gardens, pleasant melodies, and jolly good formalities flummoxed by over the hedge gossip. Foreign metaphors, “Au Reservoir,” and fake Italian make one sound fancy while seething sighs, squinting “dear” objections, and frienemy let's do lunch fakery punctuate arguments over everything from who gets to play Elizabeth I in the local play to who's servants are courting who else's servants. Nobody says what they mean thanks to the stiff upper lip tone and attempted continental refinement, yet the over the top gentility provides backhanded zingers to match all the haughty decorum, period stylings, and fur coats worn in the summer. A quaint local artist paints scandalous nude portraits and content domestic evenings full of piano duets replace sexual acts. Oh, such harmony when they finish together! Some taboos can be chuckled over at tea time yet others ruffle the snobbish feathers one and all as vain high society facades parallel the subtle gender bending innuendo. Everyone lives to push someone else's buttons – back then one had to make her own entertainment with country drives in classic cars, telegrams to famous friends, or rival parties and art exhibitions scheduled at the same time. Despite unannounced pop ins, overcharging for a broken piano, faking influenza to get out of a concert, and real estate low balling; the love to hate, doing dirty ladies remain bemusing and likable characters without any venomous soap opera nasty to the secret lobster recipes, exposés, and just deserts. Who's eating the produce from who's garden tiffs rage over bridge in “they know that we know that they know that we know” suspicions that can't be proven until one climbs the church tower to spy. Townsfolk take sides over pearl clutching shocks and sordid tales of the sea as the stock market bound women whip the embroidering men into shape by coloring the gray in a beard and serving giant cups of sobering tea. Intercut policy debates in the street and servants gossiping at the beach lead to gas line mishaps and delusions of Roman ruins bested by veiled pregnancy scandals. The vitriol remains scrumptious in spite of the selfish church organ dedications, ulterior hospital ward donations, and manipulated local politicians as our rich snobs insist on making this pastoral little seaside town's society page all about them. The eponymous ladies welcome every opportunity to help the needy in the most self serving ways possible, and their attempts to look good always leave egg on the other's face. Marriages of convenience understood to have separate bedrooms and no caresses feign to be simple unions when the couple really seeks the spectacle of the year on top of carefully orchestrated mayoress achievements and making the bicycle all the rage. The poor chauffeurs would be out of work if they weren't needed to run behind the peddling ladies, a dead pet bird sat on is reused as the feather in one's cap – literally – and a true opera diva and a real drunken duchess deliciously put our tiny village big fishes in their place. Although these ten episodes are a little long at fifty minutes, the ongoing comeuppance arcs are staggered over the time and thus easy to marathon– half of one tale leads into the next episode rather than the expected, typical one plot sitcom. Those of a certain age can certainly enjoy the dulcet period piece snobbery and the snappy, pip pip cheerio camp rhythms here.

For the Kids Perhaps

Tutankhamun – Lord Carnarvon Sam Neill (The Tudors) hires Max Irons' (yes, Jeremy's son) Egyptologist Howard Carter to dig for undiscovered tombs in this 2016 miniseries from ITV opening with turn of the century desert rocks and orange haze in the Valley of the Kings. When one has enough money, you can buy the past regardless of proper papers and techniques, and the sophisticated parasols, entitled rich, upscale parties, and vintage cars contrast the tents, lanterns, dust, and pottery. Despite the atmospheric spectacles, books, maps, sketches, and parchments; the story restarts several times with introductions, historical figures, and obvious scene setting CGI. Fortunately, there's an enthusiasm over the possibility of unplundered tombs – innocent questions on seemingly deliberately desecrated relics and Amarna and Luxor references to the heretic Akhenaten and his obscure pharaoh son Tutankhamun. Archaeologists put the puzzle together without over-explaining or trite monologues, but the deductions and withered ruins must wait as The Great War interferes – leading to local resentment, plundered digs, and years of no luck in the Valley. Withdrawn funding and arguments about searching on a whim, however, finally lead to uncovered steps, tunnels, sealed walls, and hieroglyphics. By 1922 the golden splendor, jewels, and “wonderful things” in the antechamber begat flashbulbs, new tools, and dark rooms in nearby tombs as stunning artifacts are photographed and cataloged. Crowds full of a new post-war hope arrive amid gunfire, mobs, and exclusive newspaper backlashes with stories of theft and ancient curses. Our archaeologists fight humidity and fresh air with wax preservation but technicalities arise between these British finders and the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Local authorities wanting to keep their royal artifacts at home are unfortunately made the villain against the young and lovelorn Carter – who was really a crusty middle aged man more concerned with what his find meant to the world. Further unnecessary liberties are taken with love triangles and grossly inaccurate fluff padding the series alongside juvenile acting and supporting ethnic characters' deaths used for white man angst. Contrived rifts and blood poisoning drama become uneven in the final hour compared to the wondrous opening of the titular burial chamber. It's the moment we've all been waiting for but early film reels and one telling another about the nested sarcophagi cheat on the historical achievements. Thanks to all the superfluous flirtations and overly romanticized aspects, important deaths and the famous golden mask reveal are glossed over in favor of sappy breakups, laughable portrayals, and annoying man tears. What should have been a two hour event film becomes an overlong yarn frustrating to any academic Egyptology obsessed audience. However, the inaccuracies here also lead one to read up on all the facts, and this may have some merit for youthful viewers new to archaeology looking for a fun adventure.

I Wanted to Like It but...

Death Defying Acts – Bubbles, boats, chains, and crowds at the docks counting down to the spectacle open this 2007 Houdini drama directed by Gillian Armstrong (Little Women) and starring Guy Pearce (Brimstone), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter), and Saoirse Ronan (Byzantium). Unfortunately, the CGI and special effects are terribly cheap and noticeable, as are the poor accents. An unnecessary, flowery narration telling viewers nothing intrudes on visuals that need no explanation with spoon fed confusion, and the entire disjointed opening with our sassy gals picking pockets and living by their wits could have been left on the cutting room floor. Colorful on stage cons and exotic mediums better set the scene alongside period fashions, vintage streets, suave cars, and theatre marquees – mother and daughter seeing the Houdini mania newsreel at the cinema is all the connection needed. Instead, we have a little girl telling us about Houdini's inner dark side when viewers could be watching on mute and see his pesky manager or our psychic lady studying the newspapers for clues on the illusionist. The adults debate the fakery, hocus pocus, and mumbo jumbo, questioning whether showbiz needs proof or science, and the mature conversations prove this juvenile anchor is an absolutely unnecessary character altogether. Let us see the hotel maid stunts, handcuff tricks, and upside down tanks for ourselves as the onscreen audience holds its collective breath. Visions of dead mothers, $10,000 offers for psychics who can contact the great beyond, and pushing the titular limits are story enough alongside a bemusing montage of those tap dancing for that reward – literally. Edwardian sophistication sets off the experiments on the existence of the afterlife, pop powder cameras, and letters locked in a safe so a psychic can reveal the contents. Champagne dinners, playing hard to get, steamy dream sequences, and romantic evening races lead to ruined abbeys, gargoyles, and roof top stunts. However, the time wasting, childish storyline continues to sag, sputtering the already obvious and hamfisted by keeping the smoke and mirrors at arms length with superficial trite and no emotional depth. Third wheel intrusions replace the audience's fly on the wall view and we never get to be in on the daredevil charm. Though watchable for fans of the cast, the stars here deserved a better script, less liberties taken, and the gosh darn proper point of view. This picture is told from the entirely wrong perspective!

11 January 2019

The Bob Newhart Show: Season 6

Bob Newhart Show says Goodbye in Style
by Kristin Battestella

Bob Newhart's Doctor Robert Hartley, Susanne Pleshette as his wife Emily, Bob Daily as navigator neighbor Howard Borden, Peter Bonerz as orthodontist Jerry Robinson, and Marcia Wallace as receptionist Carol Kester return for The Bob Newhart Show's final twenty-two episode 1977-78 season full of change, goodbyes, and memories.

Everyone's already telling Bob to get with the times in the “Bob's Change of Life” premiere as The Hartleys move to the top floor of their apartment building. He's more interested in finishing his book, but has second thoughts about how that will impact his life before his parents moving from his childhood home puts things in perspective. The Bob Newhart Show opens its final season with a forward change that takes a sentimental look back while balancing the humor with the sight gags we know and love. Early in the year, some half hours tend to try hard with the laughter rather than let the beloved cast roll, but a call from the Peeper in “A Day in the Life” inviting The Hartleys to New Orleans raises the stakes. Bob doesn't like travel and Emily bets him he can't see to all his patients and the trip planning on such short notice. Onscreen time stamps chronicle the rushed day, and the pot boiler humor, calendar switches, airline mix ups, and drunk barbers provide wit before “You're Fired, Mr. Chips” and several bizarre applicants for Bob's new assistant position. Bob finally hires his old professor – who was recently forced to retire from teaching. He treats group therapy like lessons in the classroom, and Bob has too much respect to tell him different. Generational clashes and ageism accent the lecturing versus listening tactics, knowing when to put the patients before the textbook, and letting one past it down gently. Work problems put Bob and Emily's tenth anniversary off on the wrong foot in “Grand Delusion,” and young waitress Morgan Fairchild (Falcon Crest) leads The Hartleys to imagine what their lives would have been like without each other. Chauffeur Jerry and wealthy husband Howard don't do it for blinged out Emily when navigator neighbor Bob scandalously steals her heart – and race car driver and big game hunter on the cover of Time Bob falls for sexy hostess Emily when not helping patients the likes of Frank Sinatra or the President. Here near the end, The Bob Newhart Show uses a little fantasy time to solidify the series' core chemistry.

The Hartleys invite their lonely friends and depressed patients over in “Twas the Pie Before Christmas,” but their tree is a runt and another rate increase has Bob's patients in an uproar – especially when the printing company mixes up the fee notice with Bob's Christmas cards. Angry Mr. Carlin hires the titular pie in the face to get Dr. Hartley, with messy pastry mistakes and canceled party invitations sending The Bob Newhart Show off with some all out hysterics. Of course, in “Freudian Ship” Bob can't relax on a ten day cruise. He wants to take his files along despite the shark repellent gag gifts, bad champagne, and zany ship's activities which Emily always wins. Loony fellow passengers and a meek wife who isn't going to take it anymore thanks to Bob's advice almost ruin the winks and privacy– boilermakers and scavenger hunts notwithstanding – and it's delightful to see the same troubles in getting involved where one shouldn't even at sea. The ensemble also rises to the occasion for several episodes only featuring Newhart for call in bookends, making the best use of his telephone routine while everyone talks about how much they miss Bob. Despite technically doing so, nobody's 'phoning it in,' and reminiscing, goodbye undercurrents lead up to the series finale “Happy Trails to You.” Although The Bob Newhart Show has flirted with Bob going on professorship interviews in the past, this time we know it's permanent when Bob accepts a teaching post in Oregon. He regrets giving up his practice and can't break the news to his patients, saying that the group will do fine without him, but their therapy tears and Mr. Carlin's desperate posturing double the emotions. The crying is played for laughs over everything from canceling the newspaper to Howard's fainting upon hearing the news and one outlandish landlord. A year after The Mary Tyler Moore Show's quintessential finale, the self-aware pranks, sing a longs, and serious sentiments here go out on an over the top high note with onscreen toasts and an almost meta goodbye to us, too. They just don't end shows like they used to – Newhart being the exception, of course.

He's a fuddy duddy who never does anything crazy and doesn't like change – Bob Newhart's Robert Hartley must have everything the same, planned, and organized. Understandably he flips when the local pizza place changes the menu, but Bob takes a long look at himself in the changing times, and it's refreshing to have a lead character who is able to have self inspection and reflection even if he makes bad jokes when he's nervous and can't keep a straight face when a ventriloquist patient thinks his lookalike dummy is going to leave him. Of course, Bob can't get over his mom Martha Scott ditching the Hopalong Cassidy bedspread in his old bedroom, and he keeps a little bitty trophy from his brief high school basketball tenure. He's reluctant to send a cold steak back because he doesn't want to be left behind while everyone else is eating and calls himself to test his newfangled beeper, but Bob can admit it hurts a little when Mr. Carlin tells him he's short, talks in cliches, and has a beeper that doesn't beep. Though mostly absent in five episodes, Newhart's tried and true phone gags are put to good use as Hartley is said to be traveling on a book tour. The good doctor can't help helping people on vacation either, insisting everyone should be treated with kindness and understanding – which isn't always an easy thing to do thanks to the zany folk in his line of work. When he sees a clown who takes himself too seriously and doesn't want people to laugh at him, Bob can't help but laugh, too. However, he assures his patient that making people smile is actually a mighty fine, dignified job. Then again, when a new patient in “Shallow Throat” won't say anything to Bob, he's at his wits end until the patient finally does talk – and confesses to embezzling from his company. Certainly The Bob Newhart Show usually plays fast and loose with doctor and patient confidentiality with one and all often in on the psychological dilemmas. Here, however, Bob is torn by the serious crime revealed within his medical trust. It's unethical if he tells what's told in confidence and unethical if he doesn't contact police, and it's terribly amusing to see Bob dealing with his guilt while the criminal in question makes plans for Brazil and the police play guessing games with Bob's pathetic clues.

Stylish and always in vogue, Suzanne Pleshette's Emily Hartley adores their new apartment but writes a letter to complain about a faulty toaster! She gets take out if she's home late from school, but makes sure there is enough for Howard and puts Bob in his place a time or two. Emily finally gets some attention again in several of those episodes without Newhart this season, beginning with “A Girl in Her Twenties” when she meets their stuck in the past vaudeville neighbor Mildred Natwick (The Quiet Man). Emily debates if there is any harm in living alone with charming mementos while her family says it is time for a medical move. Even if a psychological evaluation is clearly in Bob's vein and the story wraps up easily, humor softens the dilemma alongside the nostalgia of being neighborly versus minding your own business. Emily's looking forward to fishing with Bob's dad Barnard Hughes in “Grizzly Emily,” but she has to put her foot down when told to cook and clean for the boys. Her younger successful woman clashes with the elderly, set in his ways attitudes, for Herb thinks women's lib works in the city but not in the wild – until a bear's outside the window, that is. An old college beau visits while Bob's away in “It Didn't Happen One Night,” but their friends don't think a newly divorced man and the married Emily can be just friends. She resents their suspicions, but when her guest does come on to Emily, she calls Bob. She loves his sensitivity, how he holds her, listens, and has cute ears that make her more in love with him everyday. The ensemble, however, still has a few dancing disguises and disastrous pranks to rescue her. Emily wears a Tracy Grammar School t-shirt and complains over cheer leading tryouts and her loosing softball team, yet we don't see her at work as a vice principal until the principal leaves her to blame after the school's terrible test scores in “Crisis in Education.” For this penultimate episode sans Bob, it's Emily on the phone battling parents concerned about their children's decline in reading, and rigid old teaching versus newfangled learning techniques lace the comedic moments with a layered debate still relevant today.

Peter Bonerz' Jerry Robinson wants patients to wear headphones so they won't hear the dentist drill and often appears in one scene just for a dental joke when not hitting up the ladies with 'What's your sign?' or flexing when no one's impressed. He doesn't want a collar on his hummingbird, but Carol says you can put a muzzle on this jackass. Jerry makes her type a nasty letter about his unpaid parking tickets before spending the night in jail and paying his fine in pennies. He's reluctant to take Howard to a game when he has an extra ticket but brings a giant little portable television when they're supposed to rough it at the cabin. Bob tells Jerry he comes on terribly strong and should change his approach in “A Jackie Story,” and Jerry's put in his place when fearing the great titular gal will dump him first. While a fun episode, it's another retread on his avoiding commitment – setting the character back when I almost wish they would have written Jerry off when he traveled the world so director Bonerz could move totally behind the screen. The late Bill Daily as Howard Borden helps The Hartleys move but has memories of their apartment they don't when Bob asks him about all their good times. He sleeps on their couch, gasps at the nerve of somebody else who comes for dinner with no notice, and puts his feet up when Bob's gone. If he's there, the knock at the door can't be him, for he never knocks anyway. He somehow passes a driving test despite thinking inkblots are French when he sees something risque in them, and Howard tries his hand at magic tricks – ending up locked in a trunk and the episode leaves him there. He doesn't want his son Howie to drop out of school and go on the road with a comedy act complete with corny punchlines, hand buzzers, and squirting flowers in “My Son the Comedian.” However, Howard's life isn't exactly grounded in reality either. He's only seen in uniform a few times and the character is so dumbed down it's tough to believe he's a navigator, but Jerry finally asks how he can possibly fly an airplane. Howard tells him he'll just have to take lessons like he did to know. She can handle seven phone calls despite wet nail polish, likes listening to the dirty prank calls, and practices holding her breath for scuba diving, but Marcia Wallace's Carol Kester Bondurant is also treated as a superb receptionist or incompetent as needed. So long as it is humorous or sassy, viewers aren't supposed to notice The Bob Newhart Show often only shows Carol in one or two scenes at her backwards desk – beating Jerry at arm wrestling while wearing some seriously bright eye shadow, big bell bottoms, and pinafore meets muumuu yellow dresses. Although she introduces herself with just her married name, Carol's travel agent husband Larry is only mentioned twice, and the late in the season “Carol Ankles for Indie-Prod” spends more time talking about Carol than featuring her. Bob says she deserves to win a Secretary of the Year contest, but she's leaving the office again to be Mr. Carlin's assistant. This is a nice episode – Carol quits by saying it hasn't been easy laughing at all Bob's bad jokes – and the goodbyes within the goodbye are touching. Of course, we've seen this plot so, so many times on The Bob Newhart Show, and fluffing Mr. Carlin's spare toupee is not what Carol has in mind when she wants to learn about real estate. For once, however, she sticks with it and gets her realty license.

Jack Riley as Eliot Carlin, John Fiedler as Mr. Peterson, and Florida Friebus as Mrs. Bakerman return often this season, and “Who Was That Masked Man?” has a reluctant Zorro Bob called from a costume party when Mr. Peterson's out on a ledge over his domineering wife. A comical battle of the sexes, Bob's straight man advice, and a giant mural of Mr. Carlin combine for one of the season's most on form episodes before Mr. Carlin's caught in a paternity claim for “Carlin's New Suit.” He uses Bob as his witness versus lawyer Ricardo Montalban (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) and single mother Loni Anderson (WKRP in Cincinnati), for the kid can't possibly be his. However, Mr. Carlin likes having someone to wear matching suits and impart his shrewd business ways. The visual gags, incidental quips, and humorously wrapped issues continue in “Emily Carlin, Emily Carlin” when Mr. Carlin asks Emily to be his impressive reunion date. Except, unlike Bob, she won't put up with his insults. Fortunately, Mr. Carlin can lie for two, and the 'Duchess of Carlin' need only curtsy. A kids radio show announcer with a stutter in “Easy for You to Say” asks Bob to help him prepare for a television opportunity, and although there are a few moments making fun of the condition, Bob assures everyone remains respectful. He helps his patient stand up, admit his problem, and inspire his youthful audience to do the same thanks to more touching statements amid the comedy. In “Group on a Hot Tin Roof,” Howard Hesseman's TV writer Mr. Plager tries his hand at theatre, and a local playhouse takes on his World War I re-imagining of the group itself. Mr. Carlin wants a percent of the profits while the rest feel violated over the breach of group confidentiality. This interesting debate on therapy in art and life as fiction provides plenty of meta – a sitcom about therapy doing a play about therapy in a serious setting that turns out to be funny. When Bob helps prisoners re-enter society in “Ex-Con Job,” unfortunately, the humor falls flat with Hispanic tropes and stereotypical African-American jive contributing to the already uncooperative attitudes. We've seen un-hip Bob nervous around criminals before, and this entry tries to do too much when the dilemma of a black man with a record trying to get a job is a topical situation The Bob Newhart Show usually does so well. Although “Son of Ex-Con Job” reminds everyone these are the same convicts when they're shocked Bob has a jailbird group, the stronger cell block hopes and dreams here actually don't need the first episode. Realistic therapy conversations reveal difficult family adjustments and doubts about going straight when crime is more successful. Only the fellow cons can understand each other – going into business together even when Bob says their reliance on each other won't make their barber shop boom and each needs their own goals to thrive.

While the funky theme remains, early in Season Six The Bob Newhart Show occasionally cuts the credits before going with longer titles featuring The Hartleys swanky new apartment complete with an obviously seventies fake city skyline, faux brick wallpaper, and heaps of orange. Rust couch, pumpkin chairs, some giant tangerine feather fern thing in the corner – it reminds me of the huge orange velvet couch my parents had when I was a child. There are paisley suits, wide lapels, men with sweaters tied over their shoulders, women wearing off the shoulder sundresses, and more plaid upon plaid to match the orange pants, gold lame, sequins, and curly perms. The Bob Newhart Show looks both so old and of its time yet changed so much from when the show began. We do however see Bob in his fedora one last time amid the Charlie's Angels references and Star Wars hype. Giant headphones, huge flashlights that barely shine any light, and rotary payphones begat ridiculous beepers, massive speakers, and pencil sharpeners. Never forget, these people had to lick their stamps! Fortunately, the The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series Bonus Disc has several features including a drastically different Original Pilot before the 1991 Anniversary Special. Here the cast picks up right where they left off with fresh eighties oranges and faithfully recreated sets framing a memory lane clip show tying directly into that Newhart topper. It's actually a good little episode, and if that had been today, you know there would be a revival season! A Group Therapy forty-five minute 2013 round table follows with Newhart, Daily, Bonerz, Jack Riley, and director Michael Zinberg recalling the show's origins, Pleshette and Wallace's casting, comedic pacing and timely editing, and how Pleshette was worthy of a spin off series. The boys also mention the wardrobe man was colorblind, which God bless him, that explains a lot!

The Bob Newhart Show had already grown repetitive before this season, and the early part of this final year is somewhat aimless before the phone set ups, humorous gags, and wit in wild settings provide more memorable episodes. Characters we know and love take a final bow with sentimental laughs and comforting but no less sophisticated banter. Fortunately, we don't really have to say adieu and can rewind the witty nostalgia with The Bob Newhart Show Season Six.