“HAIL, CAESAR!” (2016) Review

“HAIL, CAESAR!” (2016) Review

When I first that Joel and Ethan Coen was about to release a new film, I rejoiced. When I learned that this new movie – called “HAIL, CAESAR!” – would be set in old Hollywood, my joy increased. Then I discovered that this new film would be released in February of this year. And . . . my anticipation decreased. Somewhat.

Now, why would my anticipation for “HAIL, CAESAR!” dampened after learning about its release date? Simple. February is one of those months that is considered by the movie industry as the graveyard for second-rate films. A Coen Brothers film set in February. This did not sit well with me. But my enthusiasm had not dampened enough for me to forgo “HAIL, CAESAR!”. I simply had to see it.

“HAIL, CAESAR!” is the fictional story about one day in the life of Eddie Mannix, the head of “physical productions” at Capitol Pictures and a “fixer” who keeps the scandalous behavior of its stars out of the press. The Lockheed Corporation has been courting him with an offer of a high-level executive position, but he is unsure about taking it. While Mannix contemplates a career change, he has to deal with the following problems for his studio:

*Unmarried synchronized swimming actress DeeAnna Moran becomes pregnant and Mannix has to make arrangements for her to put the baby in foster care and then adopt it without revealing herself as the mother.

*Mannix is ordered by the studio’s honchos to change the image of cowboy singing star Hobie Doyle, by casting him in a sophisticated drama directed by Laurence Laurentz. Unfortunately, Hobie seems uncomfortable in starring in a movie that is not a Western and gives an inept performance.

*While fending off the inquiries of twin sisters and rival gossip columnists, Thora and Thessaly Thacker, the former threatens to release an article about a past scandal involving Capitol Pictures veteran star Baird Whitlock and Laurentz, when they made a movie together some twenty years earlier.

*Mannix’s biggest problem revolve around Whitlock being kidnapped, while filming one of Capitol Pictures’ “A” productions, an Imperial Roman drama called “Hail, Caesar!”. A ransom note soon arrives, written by a group calling itself “The Future”, who are a group of Communist screenwriters, demanding $100,000 for their cause.

There were a good deal about “HAIL, CAESAR!” that I enjoyed. Primarily, I enjoyed the fact that the movie was set during the Golden Age of Hollywood and that it was about the Hollywood industry during that period. I enjoyed the fact that this was one Old Hollywood movie that was not a murder mystery, a biopic about the rise and downfall of some actor, actress or director. And I was especially relieved that it was no borderline nihilist portrayal of Hollywood like 1975’s “THE DAY OF THE LOCUST”. I had no desire to walk out of theater, harboring a desire to blow out my brains. Instead, the Coens’ film gave audiences a peek into a Hollywood studio circa 1951 with a good deal of irony and humor.

Out of the five story arcs presented in the film, I really enjoyed three of them – namely those story lines that focused on Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Mannix’s new job offer. Although I suspect that the DeeAnna Moran character was at best, a superficial take onEsther Williams, I believe the storyline regarding the character’s pregnancy was based upon what happened to Loretta Young in the mid-1930s. I found this story arc mildly enjoyable, thanks to Scarlett Johansson’s funny performance as the blunt-speaking DeeAnna. But I would not regard it as the movie’s highlight. I also found the story arc about Mannix’s new job offer from Lockheed mildly interesting. There almost seemed to be a “would he or wouldn’t he” aura about this story arc. As any film historian knows, the real Eddie Mannix never received a job offer from Lockheed. Then again, he worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), not the fictional Capitol Pictures. And he was married twice with no kids, not married once with kids. So, at one point, I did find myself wondering if the events of the day would drive this Mannix into accepting Lockheed’s offer.

However, I felt that one of the movie’s real highlight centered around the Hobie Doyle and Capitol Pictures’ efforts to turn the singing cowboy into a dramatic actor. Why? It was funny. Hilarious. Not only did Alden Ehrenreich give a rather enduring performance as the charming Hobie Doyle, he was funny . . . very funny in one particular sequence. In fact, I could say the same about Ralph Fiennes, who portrayed the elegant director Laurence Laurentz tasked into transforming Hobie into a dramatic actor. I did not find this scene mildly amusing, as I did many of the film’s other scenes. Instead, watching Laurentz trying to direct the limited and very awkward Hobie in a sophisticated drama nearly had laughing in the aisle. Both Ehrenreich and Fiennes were incredibly funny and talented. The other highlight proved to be Josh Brolin’s performance as the much put upon Eddie Mannix. Brolin did an excellent job of carrying the film on his shoulders. More importantly, he gave a tight and subtle performance that allowed his character to serve as the backbone to all of the surrounding chaos.

“HAIL, CAESAR!” was set in 1951, a time when the Hollywood studio system was going through a traumatic shake-up. And this period was definitely reflected in two story arcs – Mannix’s job offer and the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock. However, a part of me wishes that the movie had been set in the 1930s – especially the early 1930s, when Hollywood was battling the censors and the Great Depression. Oh well, we cannot have everything. But I was not that particularly impressed regarding the story line involving Mannix’s concerns over Thora Thacker’s knowledge about some past scandal regarding Baird Whitlock. Why? The movie’s screenplay barely focused upon it. The entire story arc was wasted. And so was Tilda Swinton. I find this doubly sad, considering that Swinton gave a sharp and funny performance as the Thacker twins. Instead, the Coens used the Baird Whitlock character for another story arc – the one centered around his kidnapping at the hands of a group of Communist writers and a Communist contract player named Burt Gurney.

I might as well put my cards on the table. This story line featuring Baird Whitlock’s kidnapping did not strike me as well written. In fact, I did not like it at all. Neither George Clooney’s funny performance or Channing Tatum’s dancing skills could save it. The main problem with this story is that Whitlock was basically kidnapped to provide funds for Gurney, a song-and-dance performer who was a thinly disguised take on actor/dancer Gene Kelly, who was known to be a hardcore liberal. The end of the movie revealed that Gurney took with him, the ransom from Whitlock’s kidnapping, when he defected to the Soviet Union via a Russian submarine. The entire story arc struck me as simply a waste of time. And I found myself wishing that Whitlock had been used for the scandal story line, featuring Thora Thacker.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s production values. Jess Gonchor did a fairly decent job in re-creating Los Angeles in the early 1950s. His work was ably assisted by the film’s visual and special effects teams, Nancy Haigh’s set decorations and Roger Deakins’ cinematography. However, in the case of the latter, I could have done without the occasional use of sepia tones. I also enjoyed Mary Zophres’s costume designs. But they did not exactly knock my socks off. One aspect of the film that I truly enjoyed were the different “film productions” featured in the movie – especially the ones for DeeAnna Moran and the Hobie Doyle/Laurence Laurentz debacle. I know what you are thinking . . . what about the dance sequence featuring Burt Gurney and dancing extras portraying sailors? Well, I found it well executed. But the whole number, including Tatum’s performance, seemed to be more about skill, but with little style.

In the end, I rather enjoyed “HAIL, CAESAR!”. I believe the Coen Brothers did a fairly successful job in creating an entertaining movie about Hollywood’s Golden Age. The movie also featured excellent performances from a talented cast – especially Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes. However, I think I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more if it had ditched the kidnapping story arc in favor of the one featuring the potential Baird Whitlock scandal. Oh well, we cannot have everything we want.

The Great “ONCE UPON A TIME” Costume Gallery II

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Below is a gallery featuring the costumes designed by Eduardo Castro from the third and fourth seasons of the ABC series, “ONCE UPON A TIME” and the 2013-2014 series, “ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND”:

THE GREAT “ONCE UPON A TIME” COSTUME Gallery II
The Ladies

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Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and David try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Jones (Captain Hook) set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Isaac Heller aka the Author and Rumpelstiltskin.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences, and Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Favorite Films Set in the 1940s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1940s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1940s

1-Inglourious Basterds-a

1. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this Oscar nominated alternate history tale about two simultaneous plots to assassinate the Nazi High Command at a film premiere in German-occupied Paris. The movie starred Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

 

2-Captain America the First Avenger

2. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – Chris Evans made his first appearance in this exciting Marvel Cinematic Universe installment as the World War II comic book hero, Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who battles the Nazi-origin terrorist organization, HYDRA. Joe Johnston directed.

 

3-Bedknobs and Broomsticks

3. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomilinson starred in this excellent Disney adaptation of Mary Norton’s series of children’s stories about three English children, evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, who are taken in by a woman studying to become a witch in order to help the Allies fight the Nazis. Robert Stevenson directed.

 

4-The Public Eye

4. “The Public Eye” (1992) – Joe Pesci starred in this interesting neo-noir tale about a New York City photojournalist (shuttlebug) who stumbles across an illegal gas rationing scandal involving the mob, a Federal government official during the early years of World War II. Barbara Hershey and Stanley Tucci co-starred.

 

5-A Murder Is Announced

5. “A Murder Is Announced” (1985) – Joan Hickson starred in this 1985 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel about Miss Jane Marple’s investigation of a series of murders in an English village that began with a newspaper notice advertising a “murder party”. Directed by David Giles, the movie co-starred John Castle.

 

6-Hope and Glory

6. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

 

7-The Godfather

7. “The Godfather” (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote and directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel about the fictional leaders of a crime family in post-World War II New York City. Oscar winner Marlon Brando and Oscar nominee Al Pacino starred.

 

8-Valkyrie

8. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this acclaimed account of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson starred.

 

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9. “Pearl Harbor” (2001) – Michael Bay directed this historical opus about the impact of the Pearl Harbor attack upon the lives of three people. Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Harnett and Cuba Gooding Jr. starred.

 

10-Stalag 17

10. “Stalag 17” (1953) – Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this well done adaptation of the 1951 Broadway play about a group of U.S. airmen in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, who begin to suspect that one of them might be an informant for the Nazis. Oscar winner William Holden starred.

 

9-The Black Dahlia

Honorable Mentioned – “The Black Dahlia” (2006) – Brian DePalma directed this entertaining adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel about the investigation of the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 Los Angeles. Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank starred.

A Problem With “MAD MEN” Finale

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A PROBLEM WITH THE “MAD MEN” SERIES FINALE

I had a problem with the “MAD MEN” series finale, (7.14) “Person to Person”. Ironically, it had a lot to do with the characters of Don Draper and his first ex-wife, Betty Francis. And this problem first manifested in the series’ penultimate episode, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”.

Betty Francis’ sudden development an advanced case of cancer did not work for me. It seemed to come out of no where. I never understood why Weiner had saddled her with such a quickie death . . . yet, at the same time, allowed Roger Sterling to survive the end of the series. Yes . . . I am speaking of the same Roger Sterling who had suffered two massive heart attacks in the Season One episode, (1.10) “Long Weekend”. His heart problem never became a major issue again, despite his continuing drinking, whoring and occasional forays into drug use. I find that rather odd.

Then again, this is the same Matthew Weiner who had told television journalists that Betty’s main reason for divorcing Don in the Season Three finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, had to do with class bigotry. I never understood his comment. Betty had been aware of Don’s working-class origins throughout their marriage. She made that clear in (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”. When Roger had expressed his suspicions about Don’s class origins in (1.07) “Red in the Face”, Betty seemed more interested in the idea of learning more about Don than concern over the possibility that he might be working-class. She certainly seemed satisfied by Don’s revelation to her and their kids about his past on a poor farm, during a picnic in Season Two’s (2.07) “The Gold Violin”. She seemed thrilled over the idea that she was learning more about him. So . . . Weiner’s claim that class bigotry was one of the major reasons behind Betty’s decision to get a divorce never worked for me.

Between these comments about the Draper divorce and his decision to saddle Betty with an advanced stage of cancer makes me wonder if Weiner ever liked her in the first place. Is it possible that he saw Betty as a reminder of any mother issues he might possess? Some fans have claimed that Betty’s cancer finally gave her a chance to develop as a character. This is another argument I find difficult to accept. From the moment Betty had learned about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett in “The Gold Violin”, and kicked him out of the house in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, I believe her character had been developing. Yes, she had setbacks. After all, she was supposed to be human. Did the audience and critics really expect instant character growth from Betty? I certainly did not. And it was easy to see that she been slowly developing as a character over the years.

If we are truly supposed to believe that Don finally achieved character growth during his “Kumbaya” moment in “Person to Person”, then one could easily say that his development seemed . . . “instant”. I mean it came out of no where. The speed in which Don allegedly achieved final character development left me shaking my head in disbelief. I could have bought it if Weiner had allowed Don’s character to develop with the same pace as Betty’s – slow and over a long period of time, with the occasional setbacks. Instead, audiences were treated to a “Kumbaya” moment for Don at a California yogi retreat, followed by the famous 1971 Coca-Cola commercial.

Exactly what was Weiner trying to say with that last shot of Don? That the latter had created the commercial? Or was someone else responsible? Why leave the show on an ambiguous note for Don? Weiner could have ended Don’s personal story on a more final note . . . and still hint that he had ended one stage in his life and was about to embark upon another. Or . . . he could have killed Don off. I would have been happy with that scenario.

Do not get me wrong. I liked “MAD MEN” very much. After all, I had stuck with it for seven seasons. But there have been times over the years when I found myself wondering if this series may have been a little overrated. I certainly felt that way when I watched the series’ finale.

“ONCE UPON A TIME”: Tolerating Ambiguity

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“ONCE UPON A TIME”: TOLERATING AMBIGUITY

A good number of the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom seemed to be divided over what was revealed in the series’ latest episode called (4.16) “Best Laid Plans”. This division seems to be especially apparent in the episode’s flashbacks and the moral implications hinted from those sequences.

Since the second half of the series’ Season Four began, there have been rumors and hints on the Internet that two of the series’ leads – Snow White aka Mary-Margaret Blanchard and Prince Charming aka David Nolan – may have done something questionable or even terrible in their past in the Enchanted Forest. The first hint appeared in the episode,(4.12) “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, when the couple had protested against allowing villainesses Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella DeVille to enter their Maine community, Storyrbooke. Later in the episode, both Snow and Charming warned the villainous pair not to say a word about their past to anyone, especially their daughter Emma Swan.

The episode, (4.13) “Unforgiven” gave further hints of the royal pair’s ominous deed. The Storybrooke sequences featured Snow and Charming’s failed efforts to prevent Ursula and Cruella (with Rumpelstiltskin’s help) from resurrecting their former comrade, Maleficent. The latter had been trapped in dragon form by Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen in a cavern underneath Storybrooke during those 28 years of the first curse, until Emma killed her in the Season One episode, (1.22) “A Land Without Magic”. But the flashbacks for “Unforgiven” revealed that the Charmings had briefly formed an alliance with Maleficent, Ursula and Cruella to find a way to prevent Regina from casting the first curse. The alliance fell apart after Maleficent killed a pair of guards who blocked their way to a magical tree that could give them advice. Snow and Charming eventually learned – ironically from Maleficent – that the former was pregnant with Emma. They also learned that their unborn child would not only have the potential for good, but also for great evil. To anyone with common sense, this would be an apt description of any sentient being. Yet, the idea of their future child – who became dubbed as “the Savior” – possessing a potential for evil frightened the Charmings . . . especially Snow White.

So, what actually happened between the Charmings and the “Queens of Darkness” in the Enchanted Forest? “Best Laid Plans” provided the answer. The episode revealed that the royal couple had stopped to help a roadside peddler, who warned them that Maleficent had torched a village after becoming a dragon and laying an egg. He also advised them to seek advice from a “man in a cottage”. The latter turned out to be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the same elderly man who had directed Queen Ingrid aka the Snow Queen to our world and whom Rumpelstiltskin (with Hook’s reluctant help) had entrapped inside the Sorcerer’s Hat. It was the Apprentice who told the Charmings that their child would grow up with the potential for both good and evil . . . like everyone else. He also added that if they wanted to ensure Emma would remain good, they would have to find another sentient being to serve as a vessel to absorb their unborn child’s potential for evil. In the end, the Charmings kidnapped Maleficent’s egg, which carried an unborn child to use as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil. And the Apprentice, who cast a spell that sent Emma’s inner evil into Maleficent’s unborn child, took the royal pair by surprise by declaring that such evil should not reside in the Enchanted Forest. He sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, sucking Ursula and Cruella into the portal, as well.

The reaction to the Charmings’ actions in the Enchanted Forest and their subsequent lies in present-day Storybrooke proved to be very emotional and mixed within the “ONCE UPON A TIME” fandom. Many fans accepted what the Charmings did and recognized what they had done was wrong. However, other fan reactions to the Charmings’ actions and “Best Laid Plans” has been . . . well, interesting. Some fans have accused show runners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis of retconning Snow White and Charming’s characterizations . . . and bad writing altogether. Others have made excuses for the Charmings, claiming they could understand the couple’s need to save Emma from a life of evil. Others have used the peddler, who turned out to be the Author that many have been seeking, as an excuse for the Charmings’ terrible act. The episode revealed that instead of recording the going-ons in the Enchanted Forest, the peddler had been occasionally manipulating the actions of the inhabitants to “make a better story”. And since the episode revealed that the peddler/Author had manipulated the Apprentice into sending Maleficent’s unborn child to “the Land Without Magic”, he must have manipulated the Charmings into kidnapping the child in the first place. Ironically, the charges of bad writing and excuses reminded me of the reactions to Snow’s murder of Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”. For some reason, a certain portion of the series’ fandom find it difficult to accept any signs of moral ambiguity from either Snow White, Prince Charming or their daughter, Emma Swan. And there are those fans who have raked the Charmings over hot coals for their deed. I get the feeling these particular fans are angry at the couple (or at Horowitz and Kitsis) for shattering their ideal image of innate goodness.

Personally, I had sighed with relief over the revelation of the Charmings’ past misdeed. No one was more happier than me when Snow and David proved how low they could sink. Some might view my comment as crowing over the couple’s downfall. Trust me, I am not. I am happy that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis has finally resumed portraying the couple’s moral ambiguity after . . . how many seasons? I believe the last time audiences really saw any signs of questionable morality from either Snow or David was in Season Two’s (2.16) “The Miller’s Daughter”, when Snow murdered Cora Mills aka the Queen of Hearts by cursing the latter’s heart and emotionally manipulating Regina into placing that heart back into Cora’s body. Many fans – to this day – have used Cora’s own moral compass and goal to become the new “Dark One” as an excuse for her murder. These same fans continue to claim that Snow’s intent was to save Storybrooke from Cora’s machinations. But Snow White’s declared intent to murder Cora in revenge for her mother’s death in (2.15) “The Queen Is Dead” makes it clear that Snow White’s only intent was to exact revenge.

There have been other signs throughout the series of Snow’s moral ambiguity. Flashbacks revealed in episodes that she was a kind, yet spoiled and slightly bratty child. I have always wondered about her attempts to redeemed Regina on her own terms, instead of allowing the latter to make the choice to seek redemption, herself. Was this some effort on Snow White’s part to regain the affection of the young woman who first saved her when they met? Or to be the “loving” stepmother and mother substitute she had assumed Regina was before King Leopold’s death? Who knows. I also recalled Snow White’s attempt to murder Regina in the flashbacks featured in Season One’s (1.16) “Heart of Darkness”. Many fans had attributed Snow’s murderous intent to the potion given to her by Rumpelstiltskin, which stripped away her memories of Charming. Those fans seemed to forget that the potion merely erased her memories of Charming. It did not make her murderous. I suspect that the stress of being a fugitive, along with anger and resentment over Regina’s part in Leopold’s death had finally got the best of Snow and she decided to resolve her situation with an act of murder. Thankfully, Charming managed to stop her.

And for quite some time, I have brought up Snow’s action against Mulan in Season Two’s (2.08) “Into the Darkness”, in which she and Emma were trying to leave the Enchanted Forest and return home to Storybrooke. As many know, Mulan had snatched a magical compass that mother and daughter were planning to use to return home. But Mulan wanted to exchange the compass for Princess Aurora, who had been kidnapped by Cora. Snow and Emma managed to catch up in time, before the former engaged in a tussle with Mulan that led to an implausible victory for her. Angry over Mulan’s theft, Snow demanded to know the reason behind it. Even though Mulan admitted that she stole the compass to save Aurora’s life, Snow gave into her anger and tried to kill the former. Fortunately for Mulan, Aurora (who had been freed by Killian Jones aka Captain Hook) stopped Snow from committing murder. Emma, on the other hand, had done nothing to stop her mother. Wow. Snow managed to commit two murder attempts before finally achieving one, when she arranged Cora’s death. Now, her body count is a far, far cry from the likes of Rumpelstiltskin, Regina, Cora, Zelena and other villains. But for someone with a reputation for innate goodness, her penchant for murder (whether successful or not) is at least worth contemplating.

As for David, one of his major character flaws has always been his penchant for judging others with extreme prejudice. Not only has this trait been apparent in his attitude toward Regina – even when she finally managed to achieve some form of full redemption – but also toward others whom he would view as different. This is a trait that Snow White also shares. How else could someone explain the couple’s willingness to use Maleficent’s child as a vessel for Emma’s inner evil? As far as they were concerned, the baby was nothing more than a replica of her mother – a personification of evil. Transferring Emma’s inner evil to her would cause no harm . . . or so they would believe. David was also willing to destroy the book’s page that contained the entrapped Author – an act that could have killed the latter and robbed anyone else of a future “happy ending”. He wanted to destroy that page to hide his and Snow’s theft of Maleficent’s child from everyone . . . especially Emma. His willingness to destroy the page struck me as a stark example of his own personal cowardice that has manifested itself, time and again.

In the Season Two episode, (2.02) “We Are Both”, he told the citizens of Storybrooke that the cursed David Nolan who was too cowardly to be truthful about his adulterous affair with the cursed Mary Margaret Blanchard; and the heroic Prince Charming were one and the same. In Season Three’s (3.14) “The Tower”, he resorted to hiding from others for a few nips of booze in order to hide from his guilt over Emma’s upbringing away from the family and a fear that he might prove to be an ineffective father to his son, Neal, with whom Snow was pregnant at the time. In “Unforgiven”, Snow woke up in the middle of the night following a nightmare about Maleficent, and found David drinking on the staircase to hide his worries over Ursula and Cruella’s arrival in Storybrooke. I am beginning to suspect that he might be a secret lush. Oh dear. And most addicts, if not all, tend to resort to this behavior because they are afraid to face the complete truth about themselves – especially their less than admirable traits. Charming has always struck me as the type willing to face external dangers like evil magic practitioners, dragons, a dangerous water temptress and his malevolent adopted father. Facing his flaws, personal mistakes and demons has always been a problem for him.

Why is it so difficult for some fans to view the Charming family – Snow White, David, Emma and Henry – as morally ambiguous? I never understood this attitude. “ONCE UPON A TIME” is not a television series solely for children. If it was, ABC/Disney would have aired the show on Saturday mornings, instead of during the usual prime time hours. This is the same series in which other heroes and villains have been portrayed in an ambiguous light. Why should the Charmings be exempt from such ambiguity? Because they are among the show’s main protagonists? Some would point out that Emma is a morally ambiguous character, due to her past as a thief and ex-convict. But Emma has committed some questionable acts since the series began – destruction of property, breaking and entering, accessory to her mother’s attempt to kill Mulan in “Into the Deep”, changing the timeline and lying to Henry. In fact, she is still driving the same yellow Volkswagen that she and Neal Cassidy (Baefire) had stolen when they first met. However, many fans tend to brush aside these acts – including the stolen Volkswagen. With the exception of her lies to Henry, which they saw as a threat to the Charming family’s reunion, many fans were willing to brush aside Emma’s questionable acts as long as she was not guilty of murder. Personally, I find this viewpoint rather hypocritical and an example of certain fans’ insistence upon viewing protagonists like the Charmings as morally ideal.

I personally do not care for morally ideal characters. I find them rather boring and unrealistic. I remember reading in a few Agatha Christie novels in which the main character – usually Miss Jane Marple – tend to express the view that just about anyone is capable of murder, given a specific situation. I agree with this assessment. I sometimes feel that human beings like to regard themselves as better than we really are. Perhaps this is why they love the idea of fictional characters – especially those dubbed “the protagonist” or “hero/heroine” – as being morally ideal. Mind you, this is merely an opinion of mine. I tend to find morally ambiguous characters more interesting. Such characters are very entertaining and really do make a story bridle with energy. Characters of one-dimensional morality do not. Even one-dimensional villains. Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had struck me as a pair of uninteresting villains in Season One, until episodes like (1.08) “Desperate Souls” and (1.18) “The Stable Boy” revealed just how ambiguous and interesting they truly were.

After Season Two, both Snow White and Charming seemed in danger of becoming a pair of rather dull characters. Between (2.17) “Welcome to Storybrooke” (in which Snow tried to me avert the emotional impact of Cora’s death) and“Darkness on the Edge of Town”, they were not that interesting to me. Well . . . there was the (4.11) “Shattered Sight”episode, in which Queen Ingrid of Arendelle aka the Snow Queen’s spell in which the couple exposed their . . . um, inner resentments and anger toward each other. But for me, that was not the same as deliberately indulging in or utilizing one’s unpleasant traits. After all, they and other Storybrooke’s citizens were under a spell. However, this story arc featuring Maleficent’s stolen child is an entirely different matter. Yes, Snow and Charming’s crime happened in the past. But they were not under a spell.

But there is one potential problem. Earlier, I had revealed that in “Best Laid Plans”, audiences learned the true identity of “the Author” – a peddler who had been commissioned by the Sorcerer and his apprentice to record the happenings in the Enchanted Forest and other “fictional” realms. After the Apprentice had sent Maleficent’s child to “the Land Without Magic”, he confronted the Author and accused the latter of manipulating him into banishing the unborn (or unhatched) child to our world. He also accused the Author of manipulating past events in the “fictional” realms. Certain fans jumped on this narrative turn-of-events and claimed that the Author had manipulated Snow and Charming into stealing Maleficent’s child. Yes, it is possible that the royal pair had been manipulated by the Author. Then again, the Apprentice never accused the Author of that particular act. So, the audience will never learn the truth, until Horowitz and Kitsis decide to reveal it. If they reveal that the Charmings’ act of kidnapping had been manipulated by the Author, then I will be sadly disappointed.

But you know what? Even if the show runners decide to include that Snow and Charming had been manipulated into kidnapping Maleficent’s child, the royal pair still managed to commit some morally questionable acts since the Apprentice had entrapped the Author in that book. And because both of them, along with other characters in “ONCE UPON A TIME”, have shown they are capable of both decent and very questionable acts, I can never regard them as innately good. Frankly, I see that as a good thing. Because in my eyes, there is nothing more boring or damaging to a good story than a morally one-dimensional character.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Two (2008) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite Season Two episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON TWO (2008) Episodes

1 - 2.08 A Night to Remember

1. (2.08) “A Night to Remember” – During this game-changing episode, copywriter Peggy Olson agrees to help a friendly priest named Father Gill create a promotion for a Church-sponsored dance. Office manager Joan Holloway helps Television Advertiser Harry Crane read new television scripts and discovers that she likes the job. Still reeling from comedian Jimmy Barrett’s revelation of Don Draper’s infidelity, Betty Draper helps her husband with an important business dinner, before she later confronts him about his affair with Bobbie Barrett.

 

2 - 2.05 The New Girl

2. (2.05) “The New Girl” – Don and Bobbie heads out of the city for a night together, before getting into a traffic accident. Don recruits Peggy to help him cover up the incident. Meanwhile, a new Sterling-Cooper secretary named Jane Siegel begins working for Don.

 

3 - 2.04 Three Sundays

3. (2.04) “Three Sundays” – Over the Easter holidays, Don and Betty clash over the discipline of their son Bobby. Peggy meets the new family priest, Father Gill. And Head of Advertising Duck Phillips recruits the agency in an effort to win over American Airlines as a new client.

 

4 - 2.07 The Gold Violin

4. (2.07) “The Gold Violin” – Art director Sal Romano develops a case of unrequited attraction for Accounts man Ken Cosgrove. Joan and Jane clash over an incident regarding a new painting in owner Bert Cooper’s office. And Betty learns about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett at a media party, thanks to her husband Jimmy.

 

5 - 2.09 Six Month Leave

5. (2.09) “Six Month Leave” – Owner Roger Sterling leaves his wife for Jane Siegel. Senior copy Freddie Rumsen’s alcoholism spirals out of control. And the death of Marilyn Monroe has an impact upon the firm’s female employees.