A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 1, Episode 4: “Thank You For Coming”

“She’s not shy.  She tells me how fast to go, how long to stay in a certain spot.  Is this the kind of stuff you want to hear?”

Four episodes in on a show about sex, I think we’re good talking about that kind of stuff.

After last week’s well done “Standard Deviation,” Episode 4, “Thank You For Coming,” delves more into the characters of William Masters and Virginia Johnson and show us their lives at home, with their families.  The more human side of Dr. Masters we saw last time gets some more development with the arrival of Masters’ mother, Johnson gets a visitor, and we learn that Johnson’s daughter is not a fan of any man who gives shots.  Who knew?

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The episode begins with an unnamed man answering Dr. Masters’ questions about sexual positions and his love life.  He does have a name, but we’ll return to that later.

As Masters told Johnson at the end of the last episode, the study was to resume at the hospital.  Now the two need participants who are willing to hook themselves up and masturbate in order to measure their reactions.  Masters falls into the clinical, doctor talk when describing the study, whereas Johnson is more upfront and practical.  It’s nice to see how Johnson seems more like an actual partner during this scene as opposed to playing second fiddle.

Following this, we see more of Johnson’s home life when she has an encounter with her ex-husband, George.  Just out of the blue, George is looking for a place to crash due to being behind on his rent and still owing his landlord money.  Not to mention losing his job.  And his car was almost repossessed.  George, however, sees this as an opportunity to be a free spirit and explore.

However, it’s here that Johnson pulls some role reversal and becomes the strict disciplinarian, chastening George for letting the kids watch television on a school night.  After all, we’ve seen how complicated a single mother’s home life can be, now her ex shows up looking for a place to stay?  For as liberated as Johnson can be compared to Masters, she carries some of his strictness at home, though it at least does show she’s a good mother.

Masters of Sex Ep 4- Mama Masters and Libby

Libby, meanwhile, is beginning to show signs of her pregnancy.  Dr. Masters is also showing signs, too, as Libby discovers when she’s awoken by the sound of the television and finds Bill in the middle of the living room.  Bill’s sleepwalking shows a moment of vulnerability.  Above all else, one thing Bill is interested in is maintaining control, yet here, Libby is in control, helping bring her husband back to reality.  But since Libby is with child, let’s get Bill some more assistance in the form of a visit from his mother, played by Ann Dowd.

Masters of Sex Ep 4- Vivian

Dr. Haas gets some screen time as we see him struggle to make acquaintances with the nurses and lunch ladies at the hospital- women he’s either brushed aside already or forgotten about.  When the woman serving you food doesn’t slap all of your serving onto your plate, you’ve screwed up.

Luckily, Haas does get the attention of a pretty young volunteer named Vivian, played by Rose McIver, who remembers that Haas danced with her when she was 16.  While it’s nice that Haas may have found a keeper for the time being, it’s not so nice when we learn that Vivian is Scully’s daughter.  But at least she’s turning 19 soon, so Haas can play ball.

Betty’s not around in this episode, and no Mae Whitman either, but we do get another moment between Dr. Masters and a patient with a foreign woman whose about to give birth to her second child.  However, that’s the cutoff for her.  She requests that Dr. Masters perform a tubal ligation so she’s unable to produce another child on the grounds that she cannot afford to take care of a third.

But Masters cannot perform such a procedure without the husband’s consent.  Masters, seeing some of the fear in the woman’s eyes upon bringing up a husband, levels with the woman and is well aware that this operation is less about money and more about trouble at home.  As the woman explains, having a third child would tie her to her husband forever.  Alas, Masters says he is unable to help her.

Haas gets his one-on-one with Libby and goes on about Virginia Johnson again, this time using an analogy from The Wizard of Oz.  For the longest time, Haas walked through life without a clue in a world without life or bloom.  After meeting Virginia, color has entered his life and he feels he has purpose.  With that affair over and done, Haas is stuck back in Kansas.  And, after all, once you’ve seen Oz, who wants to go back to Kansas?  Well, maybe Judy Garland and Ray Bolger do, but that’s beside the point.

Masters has received another participant for his study: Mr. Walter McAddy, the alias that Virginia’s husband uses to enroll.  We resume our regularly scheduled sexual adventures with the men and women being instructed to touch themselves as they would when they are alone.  Whether for facial expressions, reaching the plateau phase, seeing how soon their toes curl, the withdrawal of the clitoral shaft or reaching the orgasmic phase, Masters and Johnson watch with curious observation as their participants pleasure themselves for the sake of science.

Back at home, Masters and Mama Masters make an attempt at bonding when Bill learns that his mother now drinks.  But more than that, with a baby on the way, Mama Masters should make herself available.  As in very soon.  She and Libby are keen to the idea of her moving to St. Louis, at least close enough so she can help out.  Before Bill can even try to get that idea out of everyone’s head, the conversation shifts to the planned dinner party they’re he and Libby are having that evening.  In an attempt to play matchmaker, Libby has invited both Virginia and Dr. Haas.

However, as it turns out, Virginia’s daughter is smart enough to pick up on Dr. Haas and immediately does not like him.  Not because of his demeanor, but because he gives shots.  After all, those pointy needles can sting, don’t you know?  Haas’ attempts to reconnect with Johnson are met with her rejecting his advances, despite the fact that he did not plan to attend the party until Libby asked him.

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Bill and the rest of the guests get a taste of Bill’s life as a child through Mama Masters’ stories.  You know, those stories you wish your own mother would avoid telling to a group of people outside of your own family?  Well, turns out Bill campaigned for long pants in his youth.  So much that he took a sewing machine to a pair, proving that he was born to operate, even when young.

It gets a laugh out of the guests, but Bill is anything but pleased.  His temper is not placated when the toilet overflows due to whatever Johnson’s son did when in the facilities. We see a brief flash of unrestrained anger as Masters orders the children out while he tries to fix the mess.  And to prevent any further sidetracking or funny business, he offers to drive Virginia and her children home, rather than leave them in the hands of an intoxicated Dr. Haas.

Masters and Johnson have a brief conversation about the perils of childhood.  Masters, having observed Johnson, wonders how she managed to get so good at it, but Johnson is less sure that she even qualifies as a good parent.  Granted, she’s a hell of a better parent than her squatting ex-husband, and she makes that known when she returns home.

Haas, having lost another opportunity with Johnson, runs into Vivian, who happened to be out and about to return a book he let her borrow.  Despite his inebriated state, he managed to invite her into his home and continues to go on about Johnson, unable to let her go even for a moment.  The awkwardness is cranked up to infinity as Vivian removes her shirt and bra, with Haas taking an opportunity to play out a fantasy of him pouring whiskey onto a woman’s breasts.  Luckily, before this can become even more awkward, he’s called into the hospital for a surgery.

The next day, Mama Masters speaks of her sister, Darlene, and how she just had to get away from her for awhile.  In a sense, it’s given her a chance to be independent, spread her own wings and become self-sufficient.  She’s a risk taker now and makes spur of the moment decisions.  Bill, with icy disregard, comments on how pleased he is, but it’s clear that he’s holding back resentment.

Bill is then also called into the hospital and we’re treated to a brief flashback where Mama Masters, overhearing her husband beat Bill, drowns them out with music from the radio.  Back to the present, Masters operates on the foreign woman from earlier and delivers her child.  However, he then happens to notice some excess bleeding and orders her tubes tied in order to stem it.

After the birth, the woman’s husband is overjoyed at his second son.  He’s even more ecstatic about the idea of a third or fourth child, maybe even a girl, but a brief glance between Masters and the woman say otherwise.

Johnson goes to Masters and admits that Walter McAddy is her husband, explaining that it could compromise the integrity of the study.  Masters, surprisingly, does not object.  Instead, he goes back to review the files of Mr. McAddy and calls him in for a special session of question and answer.  With Johnson not present, Masters disguises this as an attempt to garner responses that could be inhibited by the presence of a woman.  With this one-on-one session, we return to the man answering questions at the beginning of the episode, who is, in fact, George Johnson, played by Mather Zickel.

He speaks of Virginia as a sort of liberated sexual goddess.  She knows herself, knows what feels good and wants you to tell her what feels good.  She’s magic.  She’s her own woman.

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She is Lizzy Caplan.

“Thank You For Coming” is, to me, not as strong an episode as “Standard Deviation,” but it does, again, let us glimpse into the life of William Masters before wanting to study sex, as well as give Virginia Johnson a chance to show how confident and competent she is as a mother.  The episode focused mostly on the trio of Masters, Johnson and Haas, with Scully’s screen time going to his daughter.

I’ll admit that seeing the study return the hospital was a letdown, if only for the fact that we’re no longer at the brothel.  The women at the brothel added a dose of extra humor to the sex study and that location changed things up from the sterile hospital.  Now that we’re back where the study first began, it would seem as if there’s no more need, but I do hope we haven’t seen the last of the brothel and the prostitutes.

There’s no good way to word that sentence.

Masters of Sex Ep 4- Mama Masters

The writers manage to build on Masters’ past through the introduction of his mother, who is a welcome addition to the cast.  Through William’s scenes with his mother, it’s clear that he holds some anger or resentment toward her and it’s seen in brief flashes.  We have seen Bill be manipulative, cold and frustrated, but he managed to keep it contained.

Here, particularly after his mother shares his childhood stories and the children make a mess in the bathroom, we see that Bill, as Libby points out, is always on edge.  It could be the idea of having a baby, the study, or his feelings for Johnson, but it’s evident that M

asters is building to something bigger to happen further on in the season.  I appreciate the writers taking the time to space out Bill’s past rather than condense all of the flashbacks in one episode.  With Scully, we got to see the spark that led Bill wanting to study sex, but with his mother, we see his vulnerable side.  It’s still not a clear explanation how he went from being open and optimistic to being cold and clinical because his father abused him, though.

Virginia Johnson, meanwhile, is another mixed bag for me.  Sure, it’s great that we get to see her stand up to her husband, but his presence tells us nothing new about her.  Yes, she’s sexually active and explorative compared to other women at the hospital.  This is information we learned through her tryst with Haas in the pilot.

However, her scene with Masters during the car ride home is telling, where even she does not know whether she qualifies as a good mother.  While trying to be taken seriously at work, she’s now out to prove that same confidence to her husband, who insists on being around to babysit his own children.

Also, while George may believe that Virginia is magic, let’s not ignore the fact that she had to fight off Haas in the first episode and is dealing with her ex and clinical boss right now.  Not to mention that her boss pines after her and almost sees her as a subject from the way he listens to her ex husband describe her.  She’s no princess, so no need to hold her up to some high standard when she acknowledges her own shortcomings.

Haas, meanwhile, continues down his self-destructive path with a few upswings.  The time spent with Vivian does provide him with a glimpse of happiness, but his pining over Virginia shows his inability to move forward to another woman.  You’re at a hospital in the 1950s!  Quit whining over one person and get on with your life.

Or at least grow something resembling a spine because his whining grows annoying.  After all, he couldn’t even keep his liquor down before going in to operate, compared to the always prepared Masters.  One can hope his awkward whiskey on the breasts moment with Vivian doesn’t get back to Scully.

Heather Silk

Side-note, Vivian bears a strange resemblance to adult film actress Heather Silk.  What?  I said slight.

Also, with Masters tying the tubes of the foreign woman, is the show trying to establish a ‘New Mother of the Week’ running theme with its episodes?  Because there are only so many ways you can pass off Bill doing a good deed before it runs dry.

Again, “Thank You For Coming” is not as strong an episode as “Standard Deviation,” but, like most first seasons, it continues to plant seeds of character development that, hopefully, will play out by season’s end.

The show’s strength still comes through solid performances juxtaposed with moments of humor that lighten the drama during tense moments.  How long will Mama Masters, George and Vivian stick around?  No idea, but their presence does expand the world created here and help provide some depth to our main characters.  All in all, still a solid episode.

Masters of Sex- Brothel

Seriously, though, let’s go back to the brothel.

A Look at Blue Jasmine

When you see a movie, television show or play, read a book, play a video game or any other form of entertainment, one thing is certain most of the time: you want to root for your protagonist.  For a fish out of water viewer who has no idea what they’re watching, you need a character whose as clueless and out of the loop as they are so they, the viewer, has a connection to someone they’re watching and observing.

Maybe the protagonist is down on their luck, has the weight of the world on their shoulders, just got fired, has an abusive boss, the reasons can rattle on like a shopping list.  But what if nothing connected the audience to the protagonist?  Nothing at all?

What if you tried to sympathize, but by film’s end you left just wondering what would become of this character?  Can a downfall from grace humanize a character, or do we encourage their struggle?  The line between being sympathetic and pitiable is hard to balance.

Here we have Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

Blue Jasmine Poster

In what could be a somewhat cruel look at humanity, Allen weaves a tale about a New York socialite Jasmine (Jeanette) Francis, played by Cate Blanchett, who finds herself broke and without a place to go.  The film begins with her on a plane, en route to San Francisco.  The woman next is subject to hear about Jasmine’s husband, as well as the rest of her life story, all the way until luggage pick-up, yet even after the woman leaves and meets up with her husband, she insists that Jasmine spent the flight talking to herself.

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Right from the start, we see that Jasmine, despite her situation, still sees herself as a woman of luxury.  She wears bright sunglasses, still carries around a monogrammed Louis Vuitton and dresses as if she’s off to a dinner party.  Though she talks of being broke, you’d think she still had a couple hundred thousand stashed away in case of an emergency.  When Jasmine arrives in San Francisco, she heads to move into the apartment of her adopted sister, Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins.  Jasmine finds the apartment homely- ergo, not the posh lifestyle of New York City, but it’ll do- and settles in.  Ginger finds it surprising that Jasmine, having little to no money, managed to fly to San Francisco on first class.  Must have known someone in the airline profession.  You know how connections work.

Blue Jasmine- Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett

As Jasmine settles in, she continues to reflect on her past life and this is where the film splits into two parts: the present day and Jasmine’s time with her husband, Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, before things fell apart.  Hal was a wealthy businessman and, as he puts it, a Philistine businessman who made many successful business arrangements.

Blue Jasmine- Four Together

At one point, Ginger and her husband Augie, played by Andrew Dice Clay, visited
Jasmine and Hal.  Though Jasmine accepts them in, behind their back, she talks of them as if they were low class commoners who didn’t entertain themselves with horseback rides and foot massages.  She even feels guilty for Ginger.  After all, not everyone can flaunt around wealth.  However, Ginger and Augie managed to hit it big and win $200,000.  Augie intends to start his own construction company, become his own man, but Hal insists that he help the two of them invest their cash in a hotel business.

Blue Jasmine- Dinner Party

While touring New York, Ginger spots Hal walking off and kissing another
woman.  When Ginger spots the woman with Hal at a dinner party that night, she comes to the conclusion that Hal is having an affair.  Ginger quarrels with the idea of telling Jasmine, while Augie insists that, as a friend, he would explain what’s happening.  I already like Augie and Ginger- they’re more down to earth and approachable.  Furthermore, they aren’t out for fame and fortune.  Rather, they will make the best
of their situation and if an opportunity comes their way, like winning $200,000, they’ll pursue their dreams.  Not out of obligation, but because the opportunity has landed in their hands.

Blue Jasmine- Rosetti

Back to the present, Ginger wants to get Jasmine dating again.  They go out on a double dinner date with Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili, played by Gyp Rosetti himself, Bobby Cannavale, and another friend.  Chili and his friend pry into Jasmine’s life, asking what she wants to do with her future.  In response, Jasmine states she would like to become an interior designer, but through an online course to save herself the money.  However, as she is not computer literate- in 2013, no less- she decides to take up a computer course.

The question aside of how a New York socialite in 2013 does not know have any computer skills, to further expound on Jasmine’s past life, Chili asks why Ginger openly accepts Jasmine, knowing that, as we learn, Hal swindled Augie and Ginger out of their money.  Jasmine sees both Chili and Augie, and any man that Ginger dates, really, as bad influences.  Like the strict mother that wants to meet her daughter’s prom date, Jasmine continues to tell Ginger that she can do better.  Apparently so could Jasmine, as, through another flashback, we see Hal offering his female fitness instructor on a date to a baseball game.  Jasmine is none the wiser and thinks nothing of it.  As we head back to the present, it becomes clearer that Jasmine is losing control of herself, as seen by her endless Xanax pill popping parade.  In addition to trying to pick herself up after losing everything, she appears to always be on the verge of lashing out or having a breakdown.

In an attempt to get back on her feet and make some money for the computer class, Jasmine find herself accepting one of those mindless, menial jobs only suited for commoners.  Can you imagine the embarrassment she felt in New York when she had to take jobs that involved waiting on her fancy, schmancy friends?  How degrading indeed.  She accepts a secretary position for a dentist, Dr. Flicker, played by Mr. Arnold Rothstein himself, Michael Stuhlbarg.

Blue Jasmine- Rothstein

So now Boardwalk Empire has had two of its actors make their way into this film.

Blue Jasmine- Dwight 2

Jasmine, meanwhile, meets a wealthy man named Dwight, played by Peter Sarsgaard.  Dwight is everything Jasmine wants in a man that she did not get from Hal.  He works in the State Department and has plans to become a Congressman, and, most importantly: he’s a widow.  In contrast to Jasmine’s brief moment of happiness, we learn that she was not always a mindless consumer, but soon found herself diagnosed with symptoms such as anxiety and claustrophobia.  These symptoms, among the affairs and other things, led to Jasmine endlessly popping pills just to maintain control.

And let’s leave the plot there.

Blue Jasmine is a stark, gritty look at reality.  Money is said to be the root of all evil, but for many, it’s seen as the root of happiness.  For Jasmine, wealth and fortune were what she knew best.  One of the film’s central themes is accepting the past.  Who can accept it, who refuses to leave the past behind them and who buries it?

Blue Jasmine- Ginger and Augie

For example, throughout the film, Chili and Augie in particular remind Ginger that when she was in need, Jasmine was never there for her.  Jasmine, obsessed over pilates and hot tubs, continued to look the other way not just with her sister, but husband as well.  It’s because Ginger tries to be the good sister by opening her home to Jasmine that shows how she wants to help.  But it’s when she calls out Jasmine on her pretentiousness that Ginger becomes fully realized.  As much as she wants to see Jasmine pick herself up, Jasmine continues to push her away with her snide remarks and constant reminders of her former wealth.  On that note, Ginger’s subplot takes her through a clear character arc.  She at first takes Jasmine’s advice about looking for better men and trying to put family first.  However, by film’s end, she rejects Jasmine’s words and focuses on being happy for what she wants, not what she thinks Jasmine would want.

Deception is another of the film’s main themes: the masks we wear in order to hide our emotions.  Some, like Danny, choose not to wear the mask at all and just let the past behind them.  However, some hide their emotions and let them boil over, as we see with Augie and Chili.  Jasmine especially, with her ramblings about her past life, about Hal this and Hal that, her lying to Dwight about how Hal died, berating her sister for not having a glamorous life- Jasmine refuses to accept what’s in front of her.  And when she does, it’s like she’s staring into a cracked mirror.  Allen found a way to create a character who is very unlikable, but not unsympathetic.  You want Jasmine to get on the right path.  You want her to go back to school and actually pursue that career in interior design, but Jasmine reels herself back in when she pops pills, hankers for another drink and hinges on her past, wealthy life.  It’s maddening to watch this self destructing character try and find some semblance in her now crumbling life, but Blanchett plays the part with great excellence and she leaves you wondering what Jasmine will do next.

Blue Jasmine- Four Picture

We know Woody Allen for his comedy, but he shines here with a look at what happens when someone tries to pick up the fragments of their shattered life.  Everyone is well cast.  Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale in particular turn in strong performances as the tasteless, but well-meaning boyfriends.  These men could have been written off as jerks trying to keep Jasmine down, but they have dimension.  They’ve seen Jasmine’s personality up close, Augie in particular with his dreams being crushed by Hal while Jasmine did nothing.  Again, they may be on edge, but they mean well.

There’s a cute scene where Chili and Ginger, who previously argued over turning off a boxing match so Jasmine could study, now playfully argue over who gets the last slice of pizza.  It’s a very real couple and you root for them.  Louis C.K. turns in a good performance with what he’s given, but he’s not on screen long enough for there to be much to say about him.  His performance as Al does feel like a breath of fresh air since he’s more fun loving than Augie and Chili.  He just happens to be unfaithful, as well.

Blue Jasmine- Baldwin and Blanchett 2

I’m unfamiliar with Michael Stuhlbarg’s work outside of Boardwalk Empire, so to see him go from being the cold and calculating Arnold Rothstein to a creepy dentist was jarring, but funny all the same.  Alec Baldwin turns in a great performance as the businessman executive who swindles and sidelines anyone he comes in contact with, not the least of which includes his many flings.  He’s practically playing Jack Donaghy, his character from 30 Rock, again.  Yet, this being Alec Baldwin, he finds that line between repulsion and attraction.  He wins you over with his charm while stealthily grabbing your wallet out of your back pocket.

Also, Sally Hawkins as Ginger is a nice contrast of what Jasmine could have if she got her act together.  Ginger, while not exactly living on Park Avenue, has what Jasmine lacks throughout this entire film: control.  All right, she can’t keep her sons quiet all of the time, but she has a steady job, a man who cares for her enough that he’ll come to her job and profess his love for her, and she’s more interested in focusing on the present instead of obsessing over the past.  She also knows how to keep Jasmine in check.  Ginger is warm and approachable, while Jasmine is rigid and reactionary.  It’s amazing that these two managed to stay under one roof for so long.

Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

As great as the supporting cast is, Cate Blanchett turns in an excellent performance as a woman wandering through life, in search of some clarity.  Through her drinking and Xanax binges, Jasmine is an absolute wreck.  From scene to scene, it’s uncertain whether she’ll have a breakdown or just ridicule someone for not having wealth, fame and power.  We roll our eyes when she talks of middle class jobs as if stepping into Hell itself.  I wanted to hate this character as much as I wanted to see her climb out of this hole she’s digging for herself.  From the flashbacks, we see that Jasmine is a woman sitting on a lot of frustration and rage.

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Wealth has blinded her to the stark reality of life and when she finds herself without that which gave her happiness, she finds solace in talking to random strangers on planes and talking about Hal in the middle of an intersection.  It’s sad to watch her make up stories about her past life and how she can’t move on.  Her insecurity and delusion paint her as a walking train wreck, but again, not unsympathetic, given everything she’s lived through.  We want Jasmine to move on, but she stays stuck.  Blanchett and Allen give Jasmine layers.  When Jasmine has breakouts, we see her at her most vulnerable.  It’s like looking at a cracked mirror and waiting for it to shatter altogether.

Blue Jasmine- Cate Blanchett 2

The flashbacks where we see her happier give us a glimpse at the amount of barriers she placed up to hide her insecurities, but also how she hid behind her wealth.  She knows everything about fashion and designer bags, but is blind to her husband’s slimy dealings and to her sister’s pleas for help when she needed it.  And that Jasmine still tries to walk around with this air of superiority shows she’s fallen to the point of trying to live out a fantasy where her perfect life remained unbroken.  We as an audience have to ask: Is Jasmine deserving of this because of her obliviousness to her husband’s infidelity and her pretentiousness?  Is she actually a victim we want to change, or should she wallow in her own self pity?  We aren’t given a clear answer and I think that was Allen’s intention: let the audience make up its own mind.

This is not an approachable film in the classic sense that we can’t fully relate to our main protagonist, but it’s the optimism that she’ll make something out of her crumbled life that kept me watching.  Not just that, but the cinematography is stunning at times.  Long panning shots of San Francisco filled with vibrant colors contrast well with the gloomy rain cloud that is Jasmine’s life.  Nothing spectacular, but from a visual point of view, the film is nice to look at.

Blue Jasmine dares to ask if, after you’ve been beaten down, do you pick yourself up and move on or try to cling to the past.  It’s an interesting commentary on how wealth and power do not equal happiness and, above all, control.  Is there any worth in holding onto your past life?  Or is what Augie said true: some people just don’t put things behind them.  It’s a well made film with some great dialogue and performances.  Could Blanchett be in contention for Best Actress?  I think so, given her work here as a fractured, yet layered woman with a multitude of problems.  There are laughs to be had with Blue Jasmine, but don’t mistake this for a full blown comedy we’ve come to expect from Woody Allen.  What you can expect is a well done drama with some uncomfortable, but thoughtful moments as we glimpse into the life of a socialite in a downward spiral.

Caution: do not see if rich, snooty or pretentious.

A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 1, Episode 3: “Standard Deviation”

“Since when can’t we joke about some worn out hooker?”

When that worn out hooker is a friend of Dr. William Masters, that’s when.

Three episodes in and we get not just the obligatory flashback episode, but some revealing character moments on this episode of Masters of Sex.

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We flash back to 1945, where a younger, more idealistic William Masters, then at Rochester, shows Scully an experiment with two rabbits copulating.  After his giddy fit dies down, Masters explains that he wants to take this study to the next level by studying human sexual relations.  As he tells Scully, neither of them, nor a lot of people in the world, knows the first thing about sex.  Therefore, someone should try and answer some of the questions people have.

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Flash forward to the present, where Masters consults a college student, played by Mae Whitman, unfamiliar with her cervix.  Again, given that it’s 1957, these unknowns about sex and the human body don’t come off as out of left field or strange for people to not know.  That said, it is unfortunate that you bring in Mae Whitman, better known to some as Ann from Arrested Development, and then do nothing else with her in the opening scene.  But then, it’s just another day in the hospital for Dr. Masters.

Virginia Johnson, meanwhile, is tired of playing second fiddle.  More to the point, she is irritated by the fact that Masters, still seeing this mostly as science, refers to her as a secretary as opposed to assistant.  Masters, however, is already preoccupied with Betty, who badgers him about reversing her tubal ligation so she can have children.  He’s still against the idea, but he concedes.

MastersofSex brothel

At the brothel, Masters and Johnson get to work with several prostitutes in one of the show’s humorous, but not out of place, moments.  And I will admit this got a laugh out of me not just for the premise, but for watching Masters and Johnson react to the women masturbating for their study.

-Ginger, played by Ellen Wroe, holds no bars and admits to having plenty of sex, as much as five times a day if she’s in a good mood.  Normal masturbation is no good for her, so she assumes the missionary position and requires Dr. Masters’ help- by spanking her.

-Maureen, played by Nicholle Tom, takes Ulysses (the name of the vibrator Dr. Masters concocted), and goes to town with screams loud enough to give the male johns competition.  But no, she faked the whole thing.  Hey, at least she got paid.  All in the name of science, she says, as she curtseys after her performance.

-Another, a glasses wearing blonde, tries for twenty minutes before giving up.  She admits that she has not had an orgasm in years and forgets what it feels like.

And the last admits that her first sexual experience came from her uncle, who found a use for her when she filled out.

So the prostitute life is not too glamorous.  Masters explains to Johnson that they will need male participants for the study, so he asks Betty, en route to surgery, if she can deliver on that.

Dr. Haas, meanwhile, has his storyline of the day play out in the form of quadruplets.  A very pregnant woman passes him in the hospital and he comes to her aid.  He tells Libby that the woman will be having not one, but four children.  Libby brings up the Badgett quadruplets and how both the family and hospital that delivered the babies received much publicity.  Still looking to step out of Masters’ shadow?  Haas goes to Scully and asks that he be the one to deliver the babies.  Scully eventually agrees, but since Haas is still a rookie, he requests that Masters come on as Haas’ second.

Masters and a few scrubs perform on Betty, but due to a complication, the surgery must be discontinued.  After the surgery, he informs her that she has chronic salpingitis.  Too much damage has left her scarred and even if he untied her tubes, she would still be unable to conceive.  In one of Masters’ more human moments, he comes off as genuinely upset and remorseful about Betty’s results.  Despite not wanting to go through with the procedure, he still respected Betty’s wishes and it’s a crushing blow to them both when it’s revealed that Betty will never be able to have a child, but more on this moment later.

Betty, not one to be spiteful and attempt to push Masters’ equipment out of her brothel again, does indeed hold up her end of the bargain and supplies the men for the study.  However, hence the episode’s title, they deviate from the standard equation: they’re homosexuals.  Figured this would pop up eventually, just not three episodes in.  After he and Johnson go through the routine question and answer with the recruits, Masters watches two of the men have sex.  For science.  He then tells Virginia that using outliers will skew their data because homosexuals fall outside the curve.  Even though one of the men offers to bring in more, Masters won’t allow outliers into his study because the scientific community would never accept it, the same way Scully told him that people would think of his work as smut.

Speaking of Scully, let’s have another flashback.  Back to the 1940s, Masters asks Scully that if someone wanted to study human sexuality, what steps would they have to take?  Scully responds that they would want to start off with obstetrics at a teaching hospital, as well as have the perfect family image: wife, two kids, a white picket fence and a nice home in suburbia.  You know, pretty much the poster White family during the 1950s.  To lead an unconventional life, Scully says, you have to know how to hide in plain sight.

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Libby’s storyline advances this week through her conversations with Virginia, who sees her when Bill is too busy with Betty’s surgery.  Libby is overworked due to having to prepare for a Trinity Deacon’s lunch.  She wishes she knew how to say no more often, in comparison to Virginia, who is a free bird that can do as she pleases. Bill is still busy when Virginia comes to the Masters’ home to bring Libby some food.  In her sadness and frustration, Libby asks Virginia to get a box from her closet.  In the box are baby clothes that Libby asks Virginia to give to the woman having quadruplets.  She blames herself for not being able to give Bill the family he deserves.  Virginia, unwilling to let Libby shoulder any more blame, admits that it is, in fact, Bill’s low sperm count that is preventing them from having a child.

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Going back to the quadruplets, a newspaper reporter comes by the hospital to ask Masters some questions about the quadruplets, something he did not know about until that very moment.  Masters goes to Scully and demands he be let in on the procedure not because of fame, but because of his experience in comparison to Dr. Haas.  Not to mention the possibility of infant mortality if something goes wrong.  It’s revealed that Haas never told Masters that he was to be present as Haas’ second, but Haas defends himself, stating that Masters is busy enough.  Not wanting to give him more stress on top of everything else, he decided to take the task himself.  As it is, Scully has Masters take over, which he does.  The procedure is successful and both Scully and Masters pose for the press, while Haas watches and seethes at a robbed opportunity.

Virginia catches up with some secretaries as they discuss the new woman at the hospital, Dr. Lillian DePaul, played by Julianne Nicholson.  Who, by the way, treats Virginia as an assistant as much as Masters does.  Virginia admires DePaul’s sense of self-reliance.  She’s inspired by the fact that DePaul made a life for herself on her own steam without a man’s help, but the secretaries don’t want any woman looking up their skirt.  Huh.  You know, I never knew how fierce competition amongst the secretarial branch could be.

Later on, Virginia catches up to Betty before she leaves.  Virginia is dismayed by the results as well, but Betty’s not concerned: she’s not going to tell her fiancé, Gene, played by Greg Grunberg, about the results.  She’s going to put on that white dress, walk down the aisle and take his hand in marriage, just as planned.  She wants to have that life, even if it turns out to be an illusion.  For a woman to get somewhere, she has to hitch her wagon to a man.  And if Virginia knew what was good for her, she’d just hitch hers to Dr. Masters and admit her feelings for him.  Virginia denies this assertion, but before the conversation can go further, Gene arrives and takes Betty home.

Bill, meanwhile, is heading back to the university when one of the men from the study approaches him, apparently familiar with the area.  He shares Masters’ enthusiasm for the project and promises he can supply more males.  He also wants to be a part of something he knows is bigger than both of them can imagine.  Masters, again, shoots him down because they deviate from the norm.  Not that they’re deviants, as the man implies, but just deviate.  As Masters walks off, the man remarks that Masters is not the first person in the medical field to fuck him.  Do tell.

Masters returns to his office, but not before Johnson confronts him and demands that she be treated as if they were equals, not just doctor and secretary.  Masters, however, has to meet with Scully.  In the final flashback, a party is held in Scully’s honor as he accepts a position as provost of Washington University of St. Louis’ hospital.  Though the hospital rejected Bill’s application for a fellowship, Scully says nuts to St. Louis unless both he and Bill come as a package deal.

Back in the present, Bill entertains Scully with the idea of adding homosexuals to the study.  He mentions that the men who pay for gay sex are family men who live double lives.  They live in the shadows.  He asks, rather, he pleads with Scully that the study continues because they have a responsibility to all of those involved, including those in shadows.  When that’s all said and done, he tells Virginia that the study will continue.  At the hospital.

Back at home, Libby has gone full Betty Draper with her demeanor when Bill arrives.  Repeating the good news that Haas told her earlier, Libby shares the delightful announcement that she is, indeed, pregnant.

Three episodes in and we’ve got our most character driven episode of the show so far.  Everyone is in top form here and the actors do a great job selling their performances.  The themes of this episode appear to be growth and acceptance: changing what you can and trying to make the most of what cannot be changed.

It’s interesting to watch Masters as a young idealist, the free bird that Johnson strives to be, and how hardened he becomes by the time his study begins.  He’s younger here, full of optimism and wonder for the future. It’s set up, but it is a nice contrast watching the happy Masters juxtaposed against the cold, by the book Masters.  Also, is it just me, or does young William Masters look a little too much like how Sean Penn portrayed Harvey Milk in Milk?

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Masters’ transformation from idealistic to hard is unexplained.  Even in the final flashback when he and Scully are accepted at Washington University, we still see a man who looks forward to the future.  How he went from that to clinical is a mystery, because I can’t imagine he woke up one day and lost all that optimism he had.  His cold and clinical behavior is in character, to be fair, but it can come off as a bit cruel.  When Betty confronts him about having the operation, he continues to berate her for wanting a life she can’t realistically have because of her night profession.  He warns her about the dangers and tells her to let the procedure go.  I kept thinking “Give the lady a break.”  It’s hard enough just being a woman in the 1950s that, as Betty says later, can only get ahead if she’s with a man.  Again, Masters is in character with this reaction, but it is a bit much.

Despite Bill’s stony demeanor, beneath that is a great respect for both his profession and the women around him.  During Betty’s operation, two scrubs make a joke about her and Bill sends them out.  And when Masters gives Betty the unfortunate news about her unable to become pregnant, there’s a genuine sense of dismay and disappointment in his voice.  Even though Bill was not in favor of the procedure, his openness shows that he wanted, wanted to give Betty what she wanted.  Combined with Betty’s fiancé confessing that she thinks Bill is a great doctor, I find that the two have a mutual respect for one another.  Despite the fact that Betty, at one point, was willing to push Masters’ equipment out of her brothel to get what she wanted, she does respect what he does to help her out and make a difference with his work.  Very much a love hate relationship and I very much want to see more of this friendship.

Speaking of Betty, she comes off as very sympathetic and it’s understandable why she wants to keep the reality of her operation a secret from her fiancé.  Betty runs a brothel.  The women who work there have a profession seen as tasteless by many.  To get along, you hitch your wagon to a man. She lives a double life, but she also wants the life she’s always craved: putting on the white dress and taking the vows.  Even if this means lying, Betty won’t allow the reality of the situation to ruin a chance she has at happiness.  Her motivation is looking toward her future.  It shows that behind Betty’s tough exterior, she has the shades of a softer, more compassionate woman.  When in her state of vulnerability before and during her operation, she still agrees to supply Bill with the male subjects he needs.  It shows that she consider Bill at least an acquaintance, if not a friend, and that she’s willing to lend him a hand in a time of need, just as he [eventually] did for her.

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The character growth we see in Betty cannot also be said for Virginia Johnson, who sort of plays second fiddle this episode.  Virginia is mostly here for conversations with other women and trying to get Masters to treat her as an equal.  We get some insight into the type of woman Johnson would like to be when she compliments Dr. DePaul on making it on her own steam- the type of life Johnson craves.  Other than that, she’s here to chat it up with secretaries, deny to Betty any feelings she may have for Masters, and relieve Caitlin of bearing blame for any inability to have a child.

Dr. Haas is a tricky situation here.  It’s difficult to tell whether he is just jealous of Masters or wants to step out of his shadow and be taken seriously.  He seems to want it both ways.  When he talks to Scully about how much he learned from Masters and is ready to do more, it comes off as a bit arrogant.  He still lacks the years of experience Masters has, though we aren’t given a look into Haas’ backstory the way we are with Masters, so maybe that’s coming later.  Either way, Haas comes off as petty when he does not tell Masters that Scully wants him in on the quadruplets operation as his second.  He claims it’s to relieve Masters of an already full plate of work, but given how quickly Masters insists on being involved with the operation, it’s clear that he could have made time.  Nicholas D’Agosto is great in his scenes.  The anger and jealousy displayed on his face as Masters performs the operation he wanted just shows his frustration.  When Masters holds up one of the babies during the press briefing, Haas watches amongst the cameramen, seething in silent frustration.  His motivation is self-improvement, but he’s going about it the long way and it feels more like he’s out to compete with Masters.

We also get a look into the life that Libby would like to have if she had a child which, according to this episode, seems to be the case.  We aren’t given much time with her, but her scenes with Virginia are well directed, painting the picture of a woman who just wants to make her husband happy.  Whether her slight transformation into Betty Draper at the end of the episode is a harbinger of things to come is unknown, but it was nice to see her happy for a change, rather than continue to blame herself for something that was not her fault.

This episode also had a good balance of drama and comedy, the humor coming through the study with the men and women at the brothel.  Watching Masters try to gingerly spank Ginger, who retorts that she is not made of glass, is a nice break from the seriousness the show has offered so far.  Nicholle Tom as Maureen steals the show with her earth shattering fake orgasm, but, as she explains, it’s all done in the name of science.  Johnson, the more down the earth between herself and Masters, is visibly awkward during the female masturbation scenes.  Masters, however, sees it as science.  Even when one confesses about her uncle abusing her, Masters does not flinch, just going along with the motions, but Johnson is disturbed by the story.  It’s another example of how well these two fit, but how great of a job Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan put into their performances.

It doesn’t look like Masters and Johnson will remain at the brothel, with Masters telling Johnson that the study will continue at the hospital.  I do hope that we get to see these characters again, and now that both male and homosexual subjects have been introduced, we’ll get a further look into this deviates from the curve.  And given what we learn about Masters and Scully by the end of the episode, it will be interesting to see how far this necessary evil goes.

Another good week for Masters of Sex.  Great character development, fine balance of humor and drama and some revelations make for an enjoyable watch from start to finish.  And hopefully Dr. DePaul finds more use of Johnson other than fetching her coffee.

A Look at Masters of Sex- Pilot

“He’s the alpha dog of coochie medicine.”

Guess I better sign up for that, and fast.

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Masters of Sex chronicles the team of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, pioneers in the world of human sexuality research during the 1950s.  The pilot establishes the tone and premise of the show very well, the performances, particularly from the lead characters, are well acted and while there are a ton of characters introduced, it sets up where the series can go.  As with most television shows, a lot of concepts and ideas end up dropped as the series progresses, so we’ll have to wait and see how this applies to Masters of Sex.

I first found out about this show through a preview during a movie screening at the cinema and was wary of the premise, but enjoyed the tone of the preview.  Much like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, Masters of Sex is a period drama where sex is one of the focal points of the show, but despite the title and premise, the work done here is not played for laughs or cheap giggles.

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All right, some of the work is played for laughs, but it never felt distracting.  In fact, the dialogue felt very natural and well placed in the time period for this program.

The series begins at Washington University in St. Louis in 1956, where Dr. William Masters, played by Michael Sheen, is an ob-gyn at the university’s teaching hospital.  By night, however, he observes people having sex for scientific purposes.  In this instance, he’s hired a prostitute named Betty DiMello, played by Annaleigh Ashford, to have sex with a man while he takes note.  No, seriously, he does.  He’s thrown by the odd idea that a woman would fake an orgasm, but, as women in the episode mention, it’s done to get onto more important things.  Remember, it’s the 1950s we’re talking about here.

Right from the start, Masters come off as someone very dedicated to his work and you get the feeling that he’s done this for years, with little touches like fumbling with his pen and pad so he isn’t discovered by the couples.  While he can be as cold and clinical as the white coat implies, Masters does very much believe in his work.  He’s doing this not so he can be seen as some pervert, as some imply, but because he wants to wade into uncharted territory.  As he explains to Scully, played by Beau Bridges, he could be on the verge of a breakthrough.  Masters wants to be taken seriously despite Scully explaining that many in the scientific field will pass his study off as smut.

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Masters is told by DiMello that he won’t get far into his study without a permanent female partner and it’s easy to see why: he just does not understand sex or the female body as well as he leads people to believe he does.

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While Masters is passionate about his work, his passion can and does lead to overconfidence.  His relationship with his wife, Libby, played by Caitlin Fitzgerald, is about as sterile as a doctor’s office and their lackluster passion during sex illustrate a few things: their frustration about their inability to produce a child, but also the lack of fire in their marriage.  Their lovemaking is like an assembly line: you put this part in this position here, you stick this part in this socket so they connect, you jiggle it around a little bit, if that doesn’t work, you try turning it on a different side until you get what you hope is the desired result.  And Libby’s facial expressions show that she is well past the point of frustration, but forces ahead anyway because, as she sees it, it’s her infertility that prevents them from having a child.

Masters’ overconfidence is no mystery to his medical partner, Dr, Ethan Haas, played by Nicholas D’Agosto, who does not agree with Masters’ study not on principle, but on practicality: the study of human sexuality during the 1950s will generate more than a few eyebrow raises, and not out of curiosity, either.  However, Haas soon sets his sight on newcomer Virginia Johnson, played by Lizzy Caplan, known to many as Janis from Mean Girls.  He tries to be a smooth talker, but the whole ‘Let’s be friends’ response from Masters goes further after she explains friends can kiss.  Yes, they can kiss, among other things.

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Moving along, Johnson applies for the position of the new secretary and it’s during her one-on-one interview with Masters that the dialogue and well written banter begins to shine.  Johnson is a single mother with two children and has gone through two divorces.  However, Caplan portrays Johnson as a woman with a backbone and sharp tongue, never one to let her situation weigh her down.  In fact, it’s her demeanor that makes her a perfect match up for Masters.  To her, an orgasm is just that: an orgasm.  And in one of the pilot’s many examples of good writing, she explains that describing an orgasm is like trying to describe salt to someone who’s never tasted it.  It reminded me of the line from United States of Tara where one of Tara’s female lovers explains to Tara’s husband that a penny and rainwater were among the things Tara tasted like.

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Masters of Sex takes itself seriously despite the giggles one may get from the title.  This is no comedy, it’s a drama about real life issues and changing attitudes during a period where Americans experienced more liberal changes to society, such as with race and culture.  What does a woman stand to gain from faking an orgasm?  Why are people so afraid to talk about sex when it’s the beginning of life?  These are questions that the show hopes to explore and I appreciate the seriousness of the show’s tone.  It would be far too easy to take a subject like sex and play it for laughs, yet despite the questions and positions characters find themselves in, the writing and direction play it all straight.

Sheen, who won me over for his performance in Frost/Nixon, is excellent as the calculating Dr. Masters, but shows his vulnerable side when he tries to impregnate his wife.  Side-note, I have to wonder how Masters is not the least bit bothered by the fact that his own wife calls him “Daddy.”  What we get from Masters is that he’s sitting on a lot of frustration, not just from his struggle to garner acceptance from his colleagues for his study, but at home as well.  His overconfident ego shows how one man can be so cunning, yet so naïve at the same time.

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Then there’s Virginia Jonnson, who Caplan plays with dimension.  She speaks with confidence and fights back when pushed.  She is more down to earth and practical, speaking her mind without hesitation.  She acknowledges the possible breakthrough of Masters’ work as one of the biggest achievements since women gained the right to vote.  She is not seen as this over sexualized, big breasted female or timid woman who remains in the background.  She’s realistic and Johnson is a great match-up for Masters because she adds a dose of level headedness that Masters lacks due to his calculating personality.

In addition, Johnson, as we learn, tackles her life situations head on.  Her two children, as she explains, take a toll on the amount of free time she has, but she’s no sad sack and feels more modernized than most of the show’s female characters.  Whereas Masters would take minutes to explain something related to the study, Johnson, pragmatic as she is, gets it down in a few seconds.  It just made me more interested to see how the show will develop this pair.

Masters of Sex feels very ambitions and from the pilot, one can tell that a lot of groundwork is being laid for a very lengthy study.  The one knock I have with the pilot is that, while we’re given tons of insight into Masters’ home life, we only hear about Johnson’s without seeing it play out.  Now this may have to do with so many characters being introduced that her home life got relegated to a few lines of dialogue, but given that she is our main female character, it felt a bit imbalanced to have a lot of focus on Masters’ life at home, but we only hear about Johnson’s life away from work.

Again, this may have to do with the show bringing in so many characters at once, but it’s all set up.  Some early reviews have recommended that viewers stick around because the show picks up a few episodes in, but the strong performances and premise from the pilot alone hooked me.  By pilot’s end, I wanted to see how Masters and Johnson progress in their study.  Their confidence behind the project is what drives their passion.  Sex sells, yet we know so little about it.  There are a lot of laughs, but with those laughs come a few questions.  What makes us feel and can we, in fact, choose when we want to feel?  Who is giving it their all between the sheets and who just goes along for the ride?  And is salt the best condiment to compare an orgasm to?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but Masters of Sex is an interesting show I recommend you give a watch.

A Look at Kick-Ass 2

Before we get onto new content, will just be transferring the reviews I did on some films over here.

“He has a special signal he shines in the sky.  It’s in the shape of a giant cock.”

Still waiting for that special signal, Hit-Girl.

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Kick-Ass 2 Into Darkness is the superhero action comedy follow-up to 2010’s Kick-Ass and picks up sometime after the events of the first film. Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are back to don their masks again with some more folks joining their ranks as they pick sides.

Through Kick-Ass, Dave Lizewski has inspired average citizens to become costumed heroes.  As a result, he rejoins the cause and receives training from Mindy Macready, better known as Hit Girl.  Mindy, meanwhile, now lives under the guardianship of Sergeant Marcus Williams, played by Morris Chestnut, and struggles to maintain the balance between a normal and her superhero life now that Big Daddy is no longer a part of her life.  Chris D’Amico- Red Mist- also struggles, but now to find his place in his family and establish himself as his own man since his father was killed in the last film.

When Hit Girl is forced to promise Sergeant Williams that she will be Hit Girl no more and focus on being a normal girl, she hangs up her wig and Kick-Ass finds solace in a group of vigilantes known as “Justice Forever,” led by Colonel Stars and Stripes, played by Jim Carrey.  On the other side, Chris becomes the world’s first supervillain, calling himself “The Motherfucker” and recruits his very own legion of doom…I mean supervillains.

Kick-Ass, both the comic and first film, is an interesting concept for a general audience.  Place a literally nobody in grounded reality, put them in a spandex costume, create a back story and see how they fare when trying to fight crime.  The first film had a relatively small cast focus on and a contained story that had full-fledged moments of action, but countered that with slow moments to allow the characters to interact and grow.

I’ll say now that Kick-Ass 2 is a very fun movie to watch, not just based on the reactions from the audience that I sat in while watching the film.  A lot of the new characters are well cast and the returning actors seem to have grown into their roles and are having more fun with them.  Now that this universe has been established, let’s have some fun with it, shall we?  The fight scenes are still over the top and enjoyable, though the special effects are a bit noticeable this time around, and the dark humor, much of it coming from “The Motherfucker” himself, is still here, though the film does unnecessarily dive into some gross out jokes.

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Director and writer Jeff Wadlow’s filming and editing pale in comparison to the pace at which co-producer Matthew Vaughn, who directed the first film, had with Kick-Ass.  As such, the film moves at a breakneck pace where the audience is not given enough time to process what just happened.  In addition, the slower moments of character development and interaction from the first film seem to be sacrificed for more comedic elements, almost if many character moments are missing or were left on the cutting room floor.

For comparison’s sake, there are two scenes in the original Kick-Ass that come to mind: Big Daddy training Hit Girl to take a bullet and the following scene where she tells Big Daddy that she wants a dog for her birthday, only for her to admit that she’s just screwing with him.  Those are two moments where the film slows down and lets the characters just be characters.  And there was such a genuine rapport between Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz that I found myself wanting a similar connection between Chestnut and Moretz here, but their interactions feel a bit more adversarial.  The shooting scene is replicated at the start of Kick-Ass 2, but the dynamic between Dave and Mindy isn’t as strong as Mindy’s was with Big Daddy.

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But the point is that the human element is, for the most part, lost.  Part of this has to do with how the film is presented: Kick-Ass 2 is an adaptation of both the comic book of the same name and a Hit-Girl spin off comic that occurs between Kick Ass 1 and 2.  Hit Girl’s subplot in the film where she learns to fit into a school environment and make friends with the girls is based off of her time in the spin-off, as is Chris’ storyline about how he goes through ninja training and his transformation into “The Motherfucker.”  Much of both of those plots is condensed into short scenes and we’re to believe that such big changes for the characters are handled in a few scenes.

To emphasize what I mean, let’s examine Mindy’s payback to the uptight rich girls after their endless taunting.

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In the comics, Mindy dangles the ringleader, Debbie Foreman, over a roof and then drops her into a garbage truck.  She then threatens to repeat the drop another day before the truck arrives unless Debbie cuts the crap.  Debbie complies.  In the film, ringleader Brooke and her sidekicks are humiliated publicly when Mindy uses a device on them that induces both vomiting and diarrhea.  I wish I could say I made that up, but I’m not.

This is an example of the gross-out humor that I’m not too fond of.  Yes, it got a chuckle, but for my money, it feels very out of character for Mindy to do something this juvenile.  Mindy is more cold and calculating than that.  When she wants to, she can and will go for the jugular.  No need for spectacle, just made her point while making her enemies fear her.  The movie’s revenge feels much more like a ‘Gotcha’ prank as opposed to Mindy using her superhero smarts, though I suppose not just anyone has access to a device like the one she used.  Also, the slowly rising music that plays in the background of this scene tips you off to the fact that Mindy already has a plan to get back at the girls.  I know I’m pulling too much from what I know about these characters in the comics and not just taking this as a movie, but the first film established how brutal Mindy can be, and I was surprised to see the sequel give her a gross-out revenge scene.

Condensing both the Hit Girl and Kick-Ass 2 comics into one movie was a gutsy move, but it makes this film too compacted.  I’d like to have seen Hit Girl get a spin off movie before Kick-Ass 2 and delegate the other characters to the background, but use them when necessary.  Chloe Moretz’s performance in the first Kick-Ass alone proved that she can hold her own with older actors.  As the main protagonist, I can’t say.  Though, given the enjoyment factor I witnessed in the cinema while watching the film, it’s clear that, for some at least, the film’s pacing did not deter from people having a good time.

On this, I have to wonder whether I’d enjoy comic book movies more if I was not a fan of them and had not read the original source material prior to seeing these films.  If I just walked into these films blind, it’d be interesting to know whether I’d have a better time rather than drawing comparisons from comic to movie.

I’m not trying to rail Kick-Ass 2 over the coals.  It’s still a good movie and a lot has to do with casting.  While I don’t think Dave and Mindy’s student/teacher is as strong as it could have been, their friendship is believable and I have no problem buying that these two have a connection.  Mintz-Plasse as “The Motherfucker” was a treat to watch as he struggles to be taken seriously as a supervillain.  The henchman, Javier, is a good counterbalance to Chris’ rage and I must mention that John Leguizamo is fantastic as Javier.  Now this is a relationship I’d like to have seen develop because their moments together are some of the funniest in the film.  Javier is the straight man to Chris’ “Motherfucker” and they bounce off of each other well.  Problem is Javier is not in the movie long enough to let that friendship grow.

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Equally underused, yet still great performance nonetheless is Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes.  No mugging for the camera or sound effects here- Carrey really does disappear into the role and it’s strange to see him playing this type of character, but I buy it because he gives a convincing performance.  He comes off as a man who knows how to lead a team and just wants to make the streets a better place.  I don’t hold anything against him for condoning the violence in the film.  It took nothing away from his work.  The rest of Justice Forever is well cast and they aren’t forced into scenes for the sake of having the heroes on screen at the same time.

Strangely enough, the side characters that aren’t utilized to full effects are Dave’s friends.  Clark Duke has more to do, admittedly since he’s a member of Justice Forever, but the rest are only around for a few scenes.  It’s interesting to note that Dave’s other male friend, Todd, has actually been recast.  I never would have noticed that, but what’s even stranger is that Lyndsy Fonseca reprises her role as Katie Deauxma from the first film, but after a simple misunderstanding, she’s completely forgotten about.  It’s as if this movie forgot all the effort Dave took to get this girl to like him in the first movie, now that’s all for naught.  It was not the right way to handle that relationship.  Or maybe it was this film’s contrived way of freeing Dave up so he can later hook up with Night Bitch.  You decide.

In addition to what feel like rushed choices, the film’s plot suffers from predictability.  Most of the characters who kick the bucket, you can see it coming a mile away.  And the deaths or attacks that we’re supposed to grieve over, we don’t get that opportunity to breathe because we have to move to the next action scene.  The comic had this issue as well, but I had hoped that there’d be more liberties taken with pacing the film.  Less is more here.  Let both the characters and audience soak in the magnitude of a scene before moving on.  Though one of the bigger scene changes ends up being used for comedic effect and given the severity of the original scene, I can’t say I blame those involved for making that decision.  Heck, the new scene is quite funny and shows how a gruesome scene can be turned into something humorous when done right.

Kick-Ass 2 does not require seeing the previous film to understand what’s going on or to have a good time.  The cast settles into their roles quite well and the growth of superheroes show what happens when normal people are inspired to do good.  This also shows what happens when those with ulterior motives decide to do evil.  Like the first film, it examines the superhero archetype, turns it on its side and holds it up to a cracked mirror.  And as with the first, this is no movie to take your kids to see.  Remember, one of your main characters is still a young girl who knows her way around bladed weapons and probably swears more than most adults.

The memorable performances and fight scenes do not overshadow the film’s pacing issues and lack of solid character development, but will you have a fun time watching Kick-Ass 2? I would say yes.