Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mr. Monk and his OCD

This is my entry in the Medicine in the Movies Blogathon hosted by Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews.

Adrian Monk was the title character on the USA TV series Monk. A little background to the character, garnered over the span of the series:

Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk

Adrian Monk was born in 1959 to a later absent father and a rather over-protective mother.  He had one brother, Ambrose (John Turturro), who later developed agoraphobia, and by the time of the first encounter on the series, remained a recluse in his childhood home.  Monk is viewed by his brother as the braver, more adventurous brother, as a result, because Adrian actually went out into the world, got a job in the police department, and actually got married.

Adrian did get married, and while his OCD tendencies were present during his tenure, he managed to be a productive officer.  All this came crashing down when his wife, Trudy (sometimes seen as a halluciation by Monk in times of stress, played by Stellina Rusich in the early episodes and by Melora Hardin for the remainder of the series), was killed by a car bomb.  Monk became catatonic and was out of it for a long period of time, but his boss, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) hired a personal nurse, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), to help him through this time.

By the start of the series, Sharona has been with him for several years.  She serves in the first two seasons as his driving force to get him to focus on his job, which is as a consultant to the police force.  Sharona treats Monk as a patient but somewhat demanding person would a unruly child.  Later, (after Bitty Schram left the series), this role would be taken over by Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), a former client who becomes Monk's assistant in his crime solving capers.

Much of the series has, as a subplot, Monk's efforts to get to the bottom of who was involved and why his wife was murdered.  (In fact, most of the series' final episode of the season centered on his attempts to do this.) Because of his obsession with the loss of his wife and his inability to come terms with it until the mystery is solved,  he spends time with a psychiatrist at regular intervals.

Dr. Charles Kroger (Stanley Kamel) serves in this capacity for the first six seasons.  After the unfortunate death of Dr. Kroger (due to the fact that Kamel himself had died in real life), this psychiatric relationship was taken over by Dr. Neven Bell (Hector Elizondo).  Also a recurring character is Harold Krenshaw (Tim Bagley), a man with many of the same issues as Monk and thus a constant thorn in Monk's side as each one tries to prove to the other that they are crazier than their respective nemeses. (Now if that ain't sick, I don't know the meaning of the word...)

Monk has a list of phobias a mile long, including germs (he constantly cleans his hands after shaking hands or touching things that are dirty), heights (he's even afraid to get on the first step of a two step ladder), crowds (an extension of his fear of germs),  and milk.  Monk is usually immaculately dressed, but I guess he must have a phobia for ties, since he never wears one.  maybe he just has a fear of strangulation, but then who, outside of a masochist, doesn't?

 It is significant that, not only does his assistant Natalie have to carry around a list of his phobias, but it is hinted at on at least one or two occasions that there is a ranking of the phobias in order of which is the most horrifying.  It is a credit to his OCD that he has to rank them, I think.

Monk's relationship with his psychiatrist is highly dependent, sometimes bordering on obsessive.  In order to really delve into the psychoses of Monk, I have chosen a handful of episodes which center more or less on Monk and how he has to deal with Drs. Kroger and Bell.

Stanley Kamel as Dr. Kroger
Hector Elizondo as Dr. Bell

Most of the first two seasons of Monk only deal peripherally with Monk's relationship to his therapist.  We continually find out more about the character, including his phobias and obsessions (including his need to have everything in order.  At one point in season 2 episode "Mr Monk Goes Back to School" Monk pours decaf and regular coffee together in a teacher's lounge, in an attempt to make them at even levels, despite the fact that they are two different coffees).

Season 3: " Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine"

One of Monk's fears is pills.  At the beginning of this episode, Monk is extremely distraught over the apparent slow success (or lack of success) in getting cured of his psychoses.  Kroger gives him some pills that are supposed to have some success  in curbing depression, but Monk is reluctant to take them.  However, when he is really down, at one point, he succumbs to the desire to be free of his depression and takes them.

Kroger suggests only a half a pill at a time, but if you pay attention, when Monk takes them, he swallows two pills.  There is a serious side effect to this overdose, however.  Sure he loses his depression, but he also becomes extremely un-Monk-like.  He loses most of his phobias, and becomes extremely rebellious.  He also appears to lose the focus he usually has, and becomes mostly useless to the investigation of the crime he has been called in to investigate.

Season 5: "Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink "

This episode had one of the more direct and expansive involvements with Dr. Kroger.  In it, the doctor's maid service employee, Teresa Mueller (Lisa DEmpsey), gets murdered while cleaning Kroger's office.  The evidence initially seems to suggest that a patient of Kroger's was trying to raid his files and got caught, instigating a need to murder the woman.

Dr. Kroger, aghast that he did not see it coming, decides to retire from his practice.  Monk, devasted because of his dependency on Kroger as his psychiatrist, tries many different tactics to try to get his weekly sessions, including showing up at Kroger's house.  Kroger arranges for Monk to have a new therapist, highly recommended, but Monk has a serious issue because the new doctor (Kevin Fry) has only one arm.  (And as a side note, Tony Shalhoub insisted that the character be played by a one-armed actor, so it's not just camera trickery.  The actor only has one arm.)

Eventually, to the relief of Monk own psyche as well as his relationship with Kroger, it is determined that it was NOT one of Kroger's patients who committed the crime.  In the process of solving the case, however, we get to see a little more insight into how Monk's OCD has a hold on him.  In one scene, he and Kroger are kidnapped, tied to chairs and put in the back of a van.  Monk insists that they move themselves into a position resembling a session and Monk begins in as if it really were a session.

As stated earlier in this post, Stanley Kamel, the actor portraying Dr. Kroger, died between the end of season 6 and the beginning of season 7.  In the series, it was established that Dr. Kroger had died, too. As a result, Monk had to find a new therapist.  Enter Dr. Nevin Bell.  It is a rocky start, of course, but Monk manages to establish a good rapport with Bell by the middle of season 7.

Season 7: "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized"

Seeing some success in Harold Krenshaw, due to Krenshaw's having gone to a hypnotist, Monk tries the hypnotist for himself.  As in the episode "Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine", Monk has a disastrous side effect from the hypnotism and becomes extremely child like.  (He finds and becomes friends with a pet frog he calls "Hoppy").  Dr. Bell tries to warn him beforehand of the unreliability of hypnotism, but Monk is, as usual, desperate to be "normal", so he ignores his therapists advice.

Season 8: "Mr. Monk Goes to Group Therapy "

Late towards the end of the final season of "Monk", our hero receives some devastating news from his HMO; he has reached the end of what his insurance covers in private sessions.  Of course, Monk thinks this is the end at last, but it is established he can still go to his psychiatrist, but only to group therapy sessions.

The problem with that is that Monk does not deal well with others, and the most frustrating part of it is his nemesis Harold Krenshaw is also a member of the group.  The two are at constant odds with each other, as usual.  And when other members of the group are being killed, both try to accuse each other of killing them so they can have Dr. Bell for themselves.

The good news is that the series ends with Monk finally finding out the truth behind Trudy's murder and capturing the culprit.  In the process, by that success, Monk becomes more like a normal, functioning human being.  You should check out this series.  "Monk" was awarded several Emmys, including a couple to Shalhoub as Best Actor.  It is a very entertaining series.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Black Magic in Chinatown

This is my entry in the Favorite Director Blogathon hosted by yours truly and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

My first introduction to John Carpenter was with Escape from New York.  I instantly became a Carpenter fan.  Over the ensuing years, I made a point to go see each new movie that Carpenter put out.  It is curious then that this one escaped my notice when it was in the theater.  I didn't actually get to see it until it was out on video.  Perhaps that is part of the reason why it ranks as my favorite Carpenter movie.  (Not the ONLY reason, to be sure.  The plot and the presence of Kurt Russell has a lot to do with it too...)

The script started out in life as a Western, if you can believe it.  The script was given an extensive re-write by W. D. Richter, a great scriptwriter in his own right who, among other scripts, worked on the scripts for the 1970's remakes of both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dracula.  He also directed (but not wrote) one of my other favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

The movie was made at the same time as the Eddie Murphy flick The Golden Child.  In fact, there was a concerted effort to get this movie in the theater before the Eddie Murphy movie because it was thought that it would flounder in competition with a movie that had the superstar.  As it turned out, it didn't matter anyway.  The movie bombed at the box office.  But it has something going for it in it's after life.  It is more fondly admired than the turkey Eddie Murphy put out.  It has a HUGE cult fan base (of which I am one).

Carpenter with Hong in his Lo Pan makeup

Carpenter's output has been largely in the horror genre.  His output includes the original introduction to slasher extraordinaire Michael Myers, Halloween, The Fog, the remake of The Thing, the film adaptation of Stephen King's Christine, as well as the previously reviewed They Live.   He has also delved in the sci-fi world, as evidenced by Starman and two features, previously reviewed, with the anti-hero Snake Plissken, Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.

Early Carpenter work includes a TV movie about Elvis (featuring today's movie's star, Kurt Russell), and an excellent nail-biting remake of sorts of the classic John Wayne flick, Rio Bravo, set in modern day, Assault on Precinct 13.  Not all of Carpenter's works have been gems, however.  (Take my advice and avoid Memoirs of an Invisible Man at all costs...)  But Carpenter has made more hits that are genuinely revered by people, like me, who like his kind of movies, and you can guarantee this won't be the last time I review one of his movies.  Just waiting for the right moment (or the right blogathon...) 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Jack Burton (Russell) is an independent truck driver owner/operator of "The Pork Chop Express".  At the beginning of the movie he is driving a load of cargo into San Francisco, specifically Chinatown.  After dropping his load, he spends an evening indulging in some of the delights of Chinatown, including food and gambling with dock workers.  At the end of the evening (actually early morning, by this time) he makes a bet with his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) which he wins.

But Wang hasn't got the money, so Burton accompanies him to get it.  But before this can happen Wang has to go to the airport to pick up his fiancee, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai), freshly coming in from China.  While there, members of a Chinese street gang, The Lords of Death, try to kidnap another Chinese girl, Tara (Min Luong), a friend of Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall).

Burton foils the kidnapping, but in the process, Miao Yin is kidnapped instead.  Burton and Wang give chase and end up back on the streets of Chinatown.  There they encounter a funeral procession for a member of the Wing Kong (the good tong).  Members of Chang Sing (the bad tong) interrupt the funeral procession and a mini-war breaks out.

But this battle is interrupted by the three "Storms", three brothers with phenomenal powers; Thunder (Carter Wong), Lightning (Peter Kwong) and Rain (James Pax).

 These three make short work of the two gangs, but the  two heroes don't stick around.  They drive off, but run over, seemingly, a wizard, David Lo Pan.

Lo Pan is the villain of the piece, so you just know he is not killed.  Jack and Wang go to Wang's father's restaurant where the plot becomes even more complicated.  First it turns out that everybody but Jack knows Gracie.  Then we find out that the reason that Miao was kidnapped is she has green eyes (apparently a rarity among Chinese people).  She is being held in a brothel in Chinatown.

The heroes enlist the help of Egg Chen (Victor Wong) to rescue Miao, but the plan falls through because the three storms show up and kidnap her from the brothel.  Now we find out that Lo Pan is older than Methuselah.  He is cursed by an ancient emperor and the only way he can remove the curse is to marry a Chinese girl with green eyes.  But the only problem with that is that he must sacrifice her after he marries her.  Which makes it a little easier, so he thinks, when he captures Gracie, who also has green eyes.  He plans to marry them both, sacrificing Gracie to the Emperor and living out his life in joy with Miao.

The film is replete with Chinese black magic.  To counteract it, Egg Chen comes along with his own brand of white magic.  You can see it for yourself even in the beginning of the movie. A beginning, BTW, that was demanded by Barry Diller and the executives at 20th Century Fox because they didn't understand the movie and were afraid that Jack Burton's character did not come off heroic enough.  That's Barry Diller conducting the interview with Egg in that scene.  It was a last minute addition after all the rest of the movie had been wrapped up.  The original movie was intended to start with Burton driving into Chinatown (the part where the opening credits roll).

The white magic that Egg uses includes potions to help the heroes be brave in the face of the monsters and traps that lo Pan has set up, and also to do battle with his guards.  Not that Burton really needs it.  He's a gung ho, devil-may-care type with an over inflated sense of his own bravado, but it gives us some great moments in the movie.  And the movie is funny as all get out, if you can appreciate the humor.  One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Jack and Wang come up along a door with Chinese writing on it.

Jack: "What does that say?
Wang: "Hell of Burning Oil".
Jack: "You're kidding?"
Wang: "Yeah.  I am.  It just says Keep Out."

All of this leads up to the final confrontation between our good guys and Lo Pan and the Three Storms. And of course the saving of the damsels in distress.  Big Trouble in Little China is a great place to start with Carpenter, especially if you are a little squeamish about blood and gore and don't want to experience Halloween or The Thing.

Keep in mind there are a whole raft of other great directors in this blogathon.  Be sure to check them out.


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Favorite Director Blogathon Stats Today!

The Favorite Director Blogathon gets underway today.  For those of you who have already entered you can post any of the four days you wish.  If you posted early, it will be added.  And last minute entries will still be accepted if you want to join in the fun. We have decided to do just do one post and update it continuously as entries come in, so keep checking back here & on Phyllis Loves Classic Movies to see new entries as they come in.  Hope you get time to read and enjoy every one.

The Roll Call:  (These will be updated as newer entries come in)

Angelman's Place gives us the story of a happy occasion for a woman (or, maybe not so much...).

Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Cinematic Scribblings delves into family life, Japanese style.

Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring (1949)

Love Letters to Old Hollywood gives us some insight into the world Billy Wilder's The Apartment.

 Billy Wilder's The Apartment

Classic Movie Treasures tells us how hard John Ford had to work to get his dream picture made.

John Ford's The Quiet Man (1952)

Caftan Woman enlightens us with two William Wyler westerns.

William Wyler's Hell's Heroes and The Big Country

Plot and Theme delves into the production of and background of a Kubrick masterpiece.

Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964)

John V's Eclectic Avenue  gives insight into the world of director Jacques Tourneur

Jacques Tourneur's World

Anybody Got a Match  shows Stanley Donen's take on a Hitchcock style movie

Stanley Donen's Charade (1963)

Demanded Critical Reviews makes a point we shouldn't leave out the Russian auteurs.

Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979)

Christina Wehner  shares a love for director William Wellman

William Wellman

The Midnite Drive-In (ME) wants you to take a look at horror master John Carpenter.

John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society extols the wonders of George Cukor

George Cukor

Hamlette's Soliloquy gives an in-depth study of a classic western.

John Ford's The Searchers (1956)

Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews takes a look at a Swedish classic.

Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Reelweegiemidget  pays tribute to a tribute to my second favorite director, Ed wood

Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994)

Crítica Retrô extols the wizardry of  Orson Welles

Orson Welles

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies (my co-host) delves into a classic writer/director relationship

Frank Capra and Robert Riskin

Champagne for Lunch discusses the output of Mervyn LeRoy

Mervyn LeRoy

LA Explorer presents a view on a Preston Sturges classic

Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Well, that about wraps it up for this blogathon.  Hope you all had fun.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Not THAT Damn "Long Ago"

"A long time ago..." (Actually only 40 years, but it SEEMS like a long time ago...) " a galaxy far, far away..." (Actually in the Milky Way...), a movie was released that had a profound effect on Hollywood and the public in general.  Today, May 25, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of the first movie in a seemingly never-ending saga of the battle between the forces of good, represented by the Rebel Alliance and the good side of the Force, against the Galactic Empire and the Dark Side of the Force.

Yes, I said 40.  Face it, if you went to see this movie in the theater when it first came out, you have to be pushing 50, at the very least, if not older.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...

This was the movie that was the crossing point of my threshold of innocence.  If you have been a regular reader since the beginning you already know the story, but I'll repeat it here for the newcomer.

In 1970, my father took the family; my mother, my sister and me, to the drive-in to see Patton. It was rated PG, so there probably should have been some warning bells, but my father was disgusted by the language.  (Sure.  Tame by today's standards, but we kids were both less than 10.)   My father was pretty straight-laced, and did not like having his children exposed to such language.  So we were only allowed to go to G-rated movies after that.  The violence apparently did not bother him, but then, this was a war movie, after all, and what did you expect in a war movie?  Love and butterflies?

Flash forward 7 years.  I, being the voracious reader, have acquired the novelization of the movie Star Wars.  The movie is now out.  I plead with my father to let us go see it, but his staunch determination to not expose us to filthy PG standards still existed.  (Notwithstanding that by now, both my sister and I have been hearing such language even on the playground...)  I pointed out to him that I was reading the book and there wasn't one foul word in the whole thing.  (In retrospect, I think there might have been one "Damn", but I can't be sure...)  Anyway endless wheedling and begging finally prevailed, and my sister and I got to go see Star Wars.

Star Wars  eventually became a cultural phenomenon.  (Witness the two sequels in the 80's, the less than stellar prequels in the 90's and the current series began last year with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, plus the plethora of novels placed in the Star Wars Universe, oodles of toy tie-ins from various sources, a comic book series or two, and commercials out the wazoo both in the Star Wars heydey of the late 70's/early 80's and recently as well. And, I might add, all that money going into George Lucas' pocket, since he managed to finagle the studio into giving him the merchandising rights to the movie.  (And many an executive are probably still gnashing their teeth over that faux pas...)

Lucas credited the Akira Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress for inspiration.  And there are a lot of parallels in the two.  If you know and like Kurosawa, you can't go wrong with watching this one.  But that isn't the sole inspiration for this movie.  Saturday morning matinees, westerns, Sinbad (the movie swashbuckler, not the 90's comedian),and even WWII air battle scenes in some classic war movies helped to create this dynamic film.

And a huge credit goes to a rousing soundtrack by John Williams. If your blood doesn't pound when you hear the opening score to this movie, if you don't feel a chill in your bones when you hear the Imperial Death March, if you don't want to get up and dance when Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes play "Mad About Me"...(That's the cantina band and the name of the song they're playing.  Didn't know the band actually had a name?  Or there was a name for the song?  Well, you just learned a new lesson...There are people who spend their whole lives in the Star Wars Eric Forman from That 70's Show...)  BTW, an artist named Meco released a disco song that featured a mix of the opening, and the cantina song, with a disco beat background... and it went to #1.  (see even more proof of the impact of the movie...)

Star Wars (1977)

George Lucas' epic story began in 1977.  It had a long history.  And the final version, although with some similarities and many of the same characters would have been entirely different if he had gone with his first draft.  A fascinating book with a whole chapter dedicated to the various incarnations that Lucas conceived for the original movie can be found in the Star Wars FAQ by Mark Clark.

The movie was an experience like I'd never seen before.  Nowadays the special effects could be done with CGI, but this was in the prehistoric days before such things had been perfected.  And you can't quite get the phenomenal impact it had watching it on a 19 inch screen.  Needless to say, if there is a revival of it at one of your local theaters and you've never had the chance to see it on a big screen, you ought to take a couple of hours out of your day and go.

The original movie had a rolling story background (minus the later addition of the words "Episode IV", which would definitely have caused a bit of consternation if we knew beforehand...) which told of what had been happening in the history leading up to the film's opening sequence.  Then we saw our first spaceship, and the Empire's battleship that was tailing it.  (And here is one of those scenes that suffers somewhat if you only got to see it on a TV.)

The two robots who are the central characters of the movie, R2D2 (Kenny Baker), affectionately called "Artoo" for short and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) are among those who are rushing along in the havoc.  Somewhat reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, the two do a bit of friendly backbiting against each other.  (The characters are based, somewhat, on two characters of similar comedic value in Kurosawa's film)

Artoo gets fed some input data fed to him by a mysterious woman [who it turns out is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the planet Alderaan, and a secret contact with the Rebel Alliance, but more on that later.]  Artoo and C3PO escape in a jettisoned pod, which fortunately is not blasted into smithereens by the Imperial gunner at the helm, because it has no "life forms".  (Wanna bet he was called on the carpet after all that transpired later...?)  Sure enough, the pod lands safely, but Artoo and C3PO have a falling out and go their separate ways on the planet (which is named "Tatooine")

Meanwhile, back on the cruiser, the dark knight himself, Darth Vader (David Prowse, but voiced by James Earl Jones), takes the Princess and her crew captive.  It seems he has information about her "secret" mission, which is not the same mission as has been officially declared, that it is a mission of diplomacy.  (Naughty, naughty, Princess.  You shouldn't lie to a guy who has the entire weapon cache of the Dark Side on his side).  The real mission was to deliver blueprints of an Imperial WMD  (one that makes anything Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush had seem like Tinker Toys).

Well here's the twist.  It seems that the Princess managed to conceal the blueprints into Artoo's memory banks, the same Artoo that the Imperial machine gunner let slip by in the escape pod.  (Whoops.)  Back on Tatooine, both Artoo and  C3PO are captured by scavengers, called Jawas, who end up selling the pair to the aunt and uncle of Luke Skywalker.  (We get to see a lot of Luke, since he's the star, but tell me, how can he go gallivanting across the universe and never realize he left home wearing his pajamas?)

Luke, while doing some minor repair work on Artoo, accidentally triggers part of a message that was meant for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness).  When Artoo deserts his new owners to go looking for Obi-Wan, Luke and C3PO go out looking for him and find a bit more trouble than they bargained for when they attacked by native Sand People.  Fortunately they are rescued by Old Ben Kenobi, a hermit, who is, you guessed, also known as Obi-Wan... (Is this starting to sound like one of those Saturday matinee serials from the 40's and 50's?  Good because that was yet another influence on Lucas).

Unfortunately for Luke, but also fortunately, his aunt and uncle are killed while he is out looking for Artoo, thus escaping the same fate.  Obi-Wan convinces Luke to accompany him to Alderaan, where he has been summoned by the Princess.  The pair and their robot companions go to Mos Eisley, a city on Tatooine, to hire a pilot to take them there.  What they get is a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder (Got to wait for the sequel to get that one), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his co-pilot, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Getting to Alderaan is only half the problem, however.  See, when they get there, Alderaan is no longer there.  What's that you say?  How can an entire planet just disappear?  Now you know why I said the Imperial WMD is such hot stuff.  It blew up the entire plane to hell and back.  So, as you can see, now it is imperative that Luke and company get the plans for this weapon to the Rebels.  Except that's not going to be an easy task, since the WMD also has a tractor beam to beat the band and captures Solo's ship as well as all those aboard.

Again, what with plot twists going their way, the crew manage to get out of the ship and avoid capture.  But they still have one to disable the tractor beam so they can escape.  This would be the point where all members get separated, since that's how these old Saturday serials went, and sure enough, they do.  But they do accomplish one major score in their tribulations, Luke manages to rescue Leia...and develop a crush on her; (and if you've already seen the trilogy, don't spoil it for the rest of the crowd...)

Will Luke and Han escape the Death Star? Will the Rebel Alliance succeed in defeating the Death Star?   Will Obi-Wan convince Darth Vader to abandon his evil ways and come back to sane side of the Force?  Will Luke and Leia do something that they'll regret when the sequel comes along?  Will Artoo and C3PO find happiness in a duplex in the nice, fashionable side of town?  These and other equally egregious questions will be answered when you watch the next exciting installment.

Happy birthday to Star Wars.  Just think, in another 25 years you'll be able to many of your original enthusiastic viewers already have...