A Look at The Walking Dead #131: “A Journey Begins”

The Walking Dead #131- Cover

Robert Kirkman has a way of teasing you, then taking it all away, doesn’t he? Issue #131 of The Walking Dead poses more questions and less resolution, but it does have some good moments of character development and quieter moments where the people try to live out some semblance of a normal life.

The Walking Dead #131- Marco talks of the dead speaking

Like Magna and her survivors finding Negan, I didn’t expect Marco’s revelation last time about the roamers talking to be discounted as quickly as it was. Here, it’s condensed down to ‘We’ll talk about this later.’ There’s a chance Marco may be delusional, but then there’d be no need to even have the scene of him hearing roamers talking, even if it was a dream. It could have easily been something he just imagined. And given all of the crazy things that everyone has seen since the apocalypse broke out, it’s not too out of place that something strange would happen involving the roamers’ evolution. But then, I’m just speculating and not a comic book writer.

The Walking Dead #131- Sophia the bad ass

Sophia! This time-skip has definitely done wonders for her and I’m glad she’s turned into such a badass after everything she’s been through. She has matured and lays the smack down on some bullies, but the instant she and Carl reunite, she turns back into the timid little girl- after she accidentally punched him, anyway- that we’ve known her as since Alexandria and prior. Given their separation, her reaction feels natural, but she doesn’t shed her badass attitude completely. It’s clear, given her reaction to Carl moving to the Hilltop, that there’s still a potential romantic spark between the two, but whether that happens may come after we learn about Carl’s letter. Hopefully it’s not a “Dear John” note.

The Walking Dead #131- Carl learns he can become an apprentice after all

Onto Carl- what a quick change of pace he’s been through. Now that he’s become an apprentice, having him become depressed at the idea of losing it now feels like forced drama in hindsight. He was still in his funk for a bit, but once he learned that he could be the second apprentice, all that moody behavior went away in an instant. To give him something to do, maybe don’t make him the second apprentice yet, but have him meet up with Sophia and spend time with her. All the while, keep the apprentice storyline in the background and let it be resolved later while Carl adjusts to his new home.

The Walking Dead #131- Maggie lays down the law

I’m very pleased how much Maggie has developed into a strong leader. She’s come into her own and it’s good to see her take charge of the townspeople. But she’s not overbearing or just showing flashes of anger for the sake of drama, the way Rick sometimes did and still does. Given what happened to Glenn, it’s clear that Maggie still remembers the past, but she won’t hold onto it and let it eat away at her.

The Walking Dead #131- Maggie and Rick talk about how humanity has changed

Like the last issue, we’re seeing how the Hilltop residents adjust to normal life. These aren’t the most engaging of scenes, but they’re important because they show how the people are trying to reclaim their humanity. Rick and Maggie’s conversation was one of the highlights of the issue for me. These two have a deep respect for one another and their bond remains strong, despite being leaders of two different groups. First off, it’s very foreboding of Rick to wonder aloud if the dark days are behind them. Fat chance, Rick. These people have never been that lucky and at least Maggie called him out on that. But their talk went deeper than that, with Maggie saying that this life could be preferable to life before the apocalypse. She says that people get along and don’t take each other for granted. They enjoy being around one another, which says a lot, given that most of these people were strangers to one another. We never know how good we really have something until it’s gone. In a twisted sort of way, humanity may have turned out for the better- as far as these people go- because they cherish what they have.

And then we got our Michonne tease. What happened to her? No idea, but Kirkman is teasing us.  And we got some follow up on Eugene and Rosita, but more will come on that later.

As for the final scene, it’s a little forward of Magna’s crew to just ambush Andrea, even after they didn’t buy Negan’s sob story. This won’t go over well with anyone. Sure, they haven’t fully trusted Rick, but they’re jumping the gun and ruining a good chance at maintaining bonds by ambushing Andrea. But this is Andrea and she can easily hold her own. We’ll see.

A Look at Gotham- Series Premiere: “Pilot”

There’s been a lot of speculation about Gotham, long before it came out. It’s another look at Gotham City, coming off the heels of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It comes at a time when shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.LD., Arrow, and the upcoming Flash series show superheroes done on the small screen. Rather than focusing on Bruce Wayne, the series takes a look at a young James Gordon as he comes to Gotham City and learns what kind of hellhole he’s walked into. The trailers raised a lot of eyebrows: Jada Pinkett Smith? Is that a young Penguin? Ivy Pepper? The same as Poison Ivy? Nygma works at the Gotham City Police Department? And what’s Selina Kyle doing besides just hanging around wherever she goes?

A lot of eyebrows were raised, but it looked interesting, to say the least. Batman has been around for a very long time and there will always be a new incarnation or reimagining of him. Now, fans won’t just look down upon a new version of Batman because it’s not their Batman, if the Nolan films are any indication of anything. Some prefer the more campy Adam West series. Others may like the Tim Burton films over any other version. Some, like me, still hold the Bruce Timm animated series in high regard. My point is that even if this isn’t what you think of when you think Batman or Gotham City, that’s perfectly fine. In my opinion, the pilot to Gotham is different. It has some interesting ideas and good chemistry between Gordon and Bullock. The pilot isn’t without its problems, but I do plan to stick around and at least see where the series is headed.

Pilot- Selina Kyle on the hunt

The series begins with a mute Selina Kyle, played by Camren Bicondova, doing what she does best: running and robbing. On this evening in particular, she spots a family walking down an alley. These are the Wayne’s: Martha, played by Brette Taylor, Thomas, played by Grayson McCouch and, of course, master Bruce, played by David Mazouz. Apparently, these Wayne’s learned nothing from past incarnations, as they once again walk down an alley after leaving a theater.

Pilot- Wayne's get robbed

We know where this is going. A robber approaches and demands the money and necklace. Despite getting that, the shooter still downs Martha and Thomas in cold blood, but leaves Bruce alone and alive.

Pilot- Bullock and Gordon argue

We’re then introduced to Detective James Gordon, played by Ben McKenzie. Gordon is new to the Gotham Police Department and came to the city because that’s where the action is. Odd reason, but sure, Gotham has the action. Jim is paired with Detective Harvey Bullock, played by Donal Logue and the two are sent to a crime scene involving the Wayne family.

Pilot- Gordon speaks with Bruce Wayne

Bullock is prepared to hand this case over to the Major Crimes Unit, as he doesn’t want it, but Jim goes to Bruce Wayne and asks him about what happened. Gordon sympathizes with Bruce- a drunk driver hit his family’s car and killed his father, so he knows how Bruce feels. The world can be a dark and scary place, but people like Jim and Bruce must be strong. He promises to find out who did it. Now that Bruce is orphaned, he’s left in the care of his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by Sean Pertwee.

The two detectives later discuss the case, with Bullock filling Gordon in on who the Wayne’s are and how powerful they are in Gotham. Bullock wants to close the case fast, but the perp could literally be anyone. Also, Gordon has just a bit too much fire in his soul for Bullock, but despite that, Bullock can’t just get rid of him. As such, he orders Gordon to just keep his trap shut and do as he’s told. Gordon refuses to leave anyway, though Bullock lets him know that Gotham isn’t the right place for optimistic cops like Gordon.

Pilot- Edward Nygma

We then meet Gotham PD’s coroner, Edward Nygma, played by Cory Michael Smith, who finds that the bullet that killed Thomas Wayne came from a gun not listed in the department’s database. And no prints, either. Also, what’s nowhere, but everywhere, except where something is? Nothing, which is exactly what else Nygma has for Bullock and Gordon.   Terrific.

Now, what are the odds that a professional killer would know that the Wayne’s planned to come down that particular alleyway that evening? Not too big. Hence, Bullock figures it’s time to pay a visit to Fish Mooney, who works for businessman Carmine Falcone.

Pilot- Fish Mooney, Jada Pinkett Smith, handles business

Following this, we’re introduced to Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and learn two things about her: she’s good with a baseball bat and does not like her hair getting wet. Luckily, if her hair gets frizzy, the only one who suffers is her lackey, Oswald Cobblepot, played by Robin Lord Taylor. When Mooney learns of Bullock’s arrival, she heads in while Cobblepot gets in a few swings at Mooney’s thieving staff member. The other thugs tell “Penguin” to take it easy. Why Cobblepot is called “Penguin,” even as a nickname, at this point, I don’t know.

Mooney and Bullock, old friends, reacquaint and Mooney is introduced to Gordon.

Pilot- Jim's fiance, Barbara, knows that Jim will deliver on his promise

Later that evening, Jim airs out his grievances to his fiancé, Barbara, played by Erin Richards and about making little to no progress on the Wayne murders. He made a promise to Bruce and can’t deliver, but will. Though Jim feels he may be out of his depth, Barbara gives him a quick motivational boost, among other remedies.

Later that evening, Jim gets a call from Harvey about a lead. They meet up at an apartment and Harvey fills Jim in on what he’s learned: one of Fish Mooney’s associates heard that a guy tried to sell an antique, four strand pearl necklace with one strand broken, similar to Martha Wayne’s. The guy’s name is Mario Pepper, who already has a long rap sheet.

Pilot- Mario Pepper is questioned by Gordon and Bullock

Inside, Ivy Pepper, played by Clare Foley, answers the door and warns the detectives that they probably won’t want to talk to her father. He’s a mean man. When Mario Pepper answers, the cops question his whereabouts the night of the Wayne’s murder. He says he was at home and his wife vouches for him, but if that’s the case, then he’ll have no problem if the detectives search his home. Normally, you’d need a warrant for that, but Mario is a felon on parole, so all the detectives need is reasonable cause. Huh. All right, I guess.

So Mario does the unreasonable thing and runs. The chase leads to a fight in the alley between Gordon and Pepper, with Pepper gaining the advantage due to his size and stature. Before he can finish off Gordon, Bullock downs him with a single shot.

Shortly after this, officers swarm the Pepper apartment and, in no time at all, find Martha Wayne’s necklace. Case solved!


Pilot- My parents are dead

If I can say something positive about Gotham, it’s that there seems to be a lot of ambition and drive behind this series. I say seems because a lot of characters and threads are introduced in this pilot to entice viewers to keep watching. Sure, this is nothing new in television and it’s important to remember that a lot of concepts, character motivations and personalities may change or be dropped altogether by the time the series ends. As such, the pilot feels the need to put in a lot of cameos and name drop hints that Batman fans will recognize, but they feel like unnecessary Easter Eggs.

Pilot- Cobblepot doesn't like the name 'Penguin'

For example, Cobblepot is called “Penguin,” a nickname that he hates. But why is he called that? He doesn’t have flippers and he doesn’t make a quack sound, a-la Burgess Meredith, so why do people call him “Penguin?” Same goes with Nygma. Does the guy have to only talk in mostly riddles and questions? And you could have given Selina Kyle one line of dialogue instead of just showing us that she exists. We saw her in the trailer. She was bound to show up eventually.

Pilot- Gotham title card

Arrow Title Card

Oh, and tell me that these two title cards aren’t similar at all.

Pilot- Bullock and Gordon at cafe

I do like the tone of the show so far. It’s very serious, even if feels a bit cheesy at times. The chemistry between McKenzie and Logue is the strongest part of the episode, in my opinion. Gordon is the optimist and idealist who just wants to do the right thing, while Bullock is the hardened, seasoned cop who knows the seedy underbelly that is all of Gotham City. You can tell that, even though he doesn’t like Gordon, he won’t watch Gotham’s criminals eat him alive. Sure, he can’t get rid of Gordon, but he does save him from Pepper instead of letting him get the hell beat out of him so he can lose that optimism.

I do wish we got to learn more about why Gordon is so optimistic about being in Gotham. He says he came there because that’s where the action is, but if he wanted action, he easily could have moved to Metropolis and helped clean it up after Superman and General Zod turned the city into a wasteland last year.

It’s the pilot and I’m sure we’ll get more into Gordon’s head as the series continues, but I didn’t hate what I watched. Are there slip-ups? Of course. The acting isn’t always great, the Easter Eggs feel forced and Gordon himself, the character we’re following, isn’t all that much of a draw right out of the gate. For now, Gotham is a decent start, but there’s a lot of ground to cover. I’ll be keeping watch.

A Look at The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins- Poster

The Skeleton Twins works on almost every level. It was made with a lot of passion through the prowess of director Craig Johnson and some very strong performances by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who don’t let their Saturday Night Live alumni status inhibit their ability to deliver great work in a film that made me laugh, tense and even hold my breath at times.

The film begins as most films should: with attempted suicide!

Skeleton Twins- Milo says goodbye

In one corner, we meet Milo Dean, played by Bill Hader, who writes a letter and drops a photo into a fish tank. He rests in his bathtub and slowly waits as blood begins to fill the tub.

In the other corner, we meet Maggie Dean, played by Kristen Wiig, as she prepares to down a bottle of pills before receiving a call from an unknown number. Maggie is understandably pissed since she put herself on a no-call registry, but it turns out that a hospital has called to let her know that her brother recently attempted suicide. Guess it’s good she didn’t swallow those pills.

So Maggie goes to meet her brother, who she hasn’t seen in over ten years. Milo will only be in the hospital for one or two days, but he’ll soon be discharged. Milo doesn’t want Maggie there, but she still plans to be around anyway.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie visits Milo after he's been discharged

Maggie meets up with Milo after he’s been released. She finds him reading Marley and Me and comments on how sad the book is, when Milo hasn’t finished it yet. He discards it after guessing the book’s ending, but reveals that he knew all about it anyway, showing Maggie that he still has his sense of humor. Given her brother’s situation, Maggie suggests that Milo move into her guest room in New York. Milo initially objects, thinking that Maggie is doing this because she was guilted into doing it. Plus, he still has his aquarium to think about, but he eventually relents.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Lance, played by Luke Wilson

At Maggie’s place, Milo meets her husband, Lance, played by Luke Wilson. Over dinner, we learn that Maggie has been taking scuba diving lessons. At the same time, she and Lance have been trying to have a baby even though, in high school, Maggie never wanted kids.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie checks on Milo

That evening, Maggie stops by Milo’s new room and the two talk about what they’ve been up to since their separation. Milo has been acting, but it’s hard to break into an already crowded field, especially without an agent. In the meantime, he waits tables and hates it. Such is the life of a customer service employee, really.

The next day, we cut to Maggie taking her lessons and meet her instructor, Billy, played by Boyd Holbrook. From the looks the two share, it’s clear that there’s a spark between them, but more on that later.

Skeleton Twins- Milo meets up with Rich

Milo, meanwhile, heads to a bookstore and meets up with his old friend, Rich, played by Ty Burrell. Rich is surprised and, quite frankly, not ready for this unexpected reunion.

So later that evening, Milo drowns his sorrows in alcohol, but unfortunately for him, he stopped by on dyke night. Unless he wants to start pitching for the other team, he’s out of luck. He gets himself drunk and rants his way all the way back to Maggie’s.

The next day, he apologizes for his behavior, saying he just needed to blow off some steam. As far as Milo’s job prospects go, Maggie has something in mind: Lance needs help on his trail project at a dam. Milo will just be helping him clean and though the job doesn’t come with a sexy outfit, as he’d prefer, it’s still a job.

That evening, Milo tells Maggie that he made a call and has a surprise for her. It’s a visit from their mother, Judy, played by Joanna Gleason. And after a longer-than-normal toast, an awkward dinner follows. Maggie is not a fan of her mother being there and makes it known by pointing out that Judy missed her own daughter’s wedding, always goes on retreats and calls her out for being a shitty mother. Well, that’s a family reunion! When dinner ends, Lance wisely offers to walk Judy out.

Maggie chews Milo out for inviting their mother, but Milo had nothing but good intentions. He honestly thought that Judy had changed. She could not have been that good if she apparently drove her husband to jump off of a bridge.

Later, Milo meets up with Rich and the two have a longer conversation this time. Again, Rich didn’t expect to ever see Milo again, especially since he’s moved on from their troubled past. Rich has a girlfriend, Melinda, and a son, Eric. Milo mentions what he’s been up to, but leaves out the part about not having an agent. Why make an already awkward situation even worse? I say that, knowing how this movie plays out.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Billy, played by Boyd Holbrook, get it on

Speaking of making a situation even worse, Maggie and the scuba instructor fuck.

The next day, Milo drops Maggie off at the dental office where she works. Maggie asks Milo for his opinion on whether she should have kids and if she’d even make a good mother. Milo doesn’t think she would and lets her know as such.

Skeleton Twins- Milo visits Maggie at work

After a brief talk with Lance, Milo heads back to the dental office and apologizes for pissing her off. The best way to make this up is to get high off of anesthesia. Hey, all the kids are doing it, so why not screw around?

When the two are high enough, they start sharing secrets. Milo actually went down on a woman because he was curious. And drunk. Maggie’s secret? She’s taking birth control and there’s a lot of remorse in her voice when she reveals this. Though it would be much easier to admit that she’s not ready, Maggie can’t reveal this to Lance because it would just destroy him. I wonder if that will come up later.

Milo heads off to meet up with Rich again and the two talk more about their pasts, with Milo saying that Rich didn’t do anything wrong. However, the time they spend together leads to Milo being late for work the next day. Before Milo leaves, Rich hands Milo a script and requests that Milo pass it onto his agent.

Oh, Maggie tries to break it off with the scuba instructor, but it just leads to round two.

Skeleton Twins- Jefferson Starship Duet

At home, Maggie takes her anger out on a pumpkin and then Milo for not being responsible. Milo knows just the way to calm her nerves: Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”

Following this quite amusing dance number, Milo heads to Rich’s home that evening, but Rich doesn’t want him there because his son could see him.

In his depressed funk, Milo downs some Cuervo at a bar before heading to a bridge and standing on the edge. He drops the copper whale figurine that Rich gave him and before he can decide on his next move, a police officer stops him.

When Milo is turned over to his sister, Maggie flies into a rage, but Milo insists that he would not have jumped. He thinks back to his father’s encouraging words about him blooming when he grew up after high school. Milo saw himself as happy, while he figured this one jerk named Justin would grow up to be unhappy. But it turns out that Milo did some research and not only is Justin now an electrician, he has a family and is happy. So Milo is the one who peaked. People try hard to not be disappointed with how their lives turned out, so they must find ways to deal with life.

And that’s where we’ll hold the plot.

There’s a lot to dissect with The Skeleton Twins. Despite the casting of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, I’d say there’s a lot more drama than comedy in this film. It makes you laugh, but also provides some very uncomfortable moments right from the start. Heck, you want to hook your audience at the beginning? Have the main characters both about to commit suicide and then expand on the reasons behind that. Well, sort of, but we’ll get to that.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie drives Milo to her home in New York

As Maggie and Milo are both very flawed, the film is about realizing and accepting the very imperfections that make us human. As we grow up and gain more wisdom and life experience, we see what we’re capable of, but learn to make the most of it instead of figuring that life dealt us a bad hand. This is at the heart of Milo and Maggie’s conversation when Milo realizes that he peaked early and his life isn’t as exciting as he had hoped. They expected to be somewhere else.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie helps Milo get ready for Halloween

The movie does a good job of showing what connects siblings together and how the relationship between a brother and sister goes deeper than one would get from a couple or best friends. Maggie and Milo are connected through their prolonged suffering: their mother rarely being there for them when they were young, their guidance counselor never being of much help and, ultimately, their father committing suicide. You know how people sometimes say that you know yourself better than anyone else? Here, Maggie and Milo truly know each other better than the people in their lives because, when you get down to it, they’re all each other have. This doesn’t mean that they intentionally close their lives out to other people, but that, in their eyes, no one else will really understand them.

We put on masks throughout our daily lives in order to mask our true emotions and keep people from knowing how we really feel. We put barriers up all around us and feel that if we put a smile on our face, no one will see us for how we really are. It’s how we cope with our own misery: by burying it. Not at all a healthy method, speaking from experience here.

On the flip side, venting, as Maggie does a lot of, helps us get great emotional bursts out all at once. This comes as a result of holding onto pain and suffering. But we don’t get bonus points for wallowing around in our own pity or wanting people to feel sorry for us. We can’t undo the past, but holding onto agony doesn’t help anyone. Venting comes as a result of burying anger deep and letting it fester into something much worse. As a result, our worst side can and will come out at the worst possible time, possibly on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie and Milo get high

Despite how serious this film can be, there’s plenty of comedy. Much of this comes through Hader and Wiig’s chemistry, but Luke Wilson is also charming in his role as the fun-loving boyfriend. The scene where Maggie and Milo get high off of anesthesia could be the closest thing to improv, but even that has some genuinely funny moments. During the awkward dinner scene with Maggie and Milo’s mother, Milo tries to break the tension by saying that he’s never taken a shit before. That’s the kind of conversation I want to overhear at a dinner table.

I liked the use of fish and fish tanks as representative of Maggie and Milo. Throughout the film, we see them getting new fish or caring for their current ones by looking for new tanks. The tanks themselves are see-through. The fish may be protected, but you can still see right through them and peer into their lives. The same applies to Maggie and Milo: they’re just going through the motions without clear direction, while we as an audience get to follow their every step.

I also think it was a smart move on the writers’ part to never show or fully explain Maggie and Milo’s father. I’m fine with this because he works better as a symbol. We know that he committed suicide and used to encourage Maggie and Milo. While I wish we got something instead of Maggie and Milo just telling us, having him only explained in bursts keeps him as a mystery.

Skeleton Twins- Maggie, played by Kristen Wiig, and Milo, played by Bill Hader

It is incredible how well Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig click together. Their time spent together on Saturday Night Live and films they both appeared in speaks volumes about their chemistry. I completely buy them as a brother and sister who just found each other again. Their arguments feel authentic and raw, as if they’ve been saving their worst insults during their separation. Both are self-destructive and needy, but it’s important to note that neither Maggie nor Milo are in competition with each other. They’re not trying to outperform or prove that their life is better since they’re both stuck.

Skeleton Twins- Bill Hader

Bill Hader in particular surprised me with his performance. Milo desires to make something out of himself, but his Hollywood career hasn’t taken off, like he had hoped. At the same time, he won’t allow himself to be babied by Maggie. He wants to stand on his own two feet, but that’s difficult because of how hard it is to make a name for yourself as an actor. Of the two, Milo is definitely the more honest, I think. He speaks his mind more often than Maggie, such as when he tells her that he doesn’t think she’d be a good mother, and he seeks out Rich, even though that just opens fresh wounds from their past. He’s more prone to suicidal behaviors and desperate for companionship, but he’s not completely needy.

Milo holds onto hope that the family can eventually work out its issues, such as when he invites their mother to dinner. He wants to lighten the mood when things are tense, proving this when he gets a reluctant Maggie to join him in a duet of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” one of the highlights of the film, if the trailer was any indication. And most important for me, the fact that Milo is gay is not one of his defining characteristics. Too often in films and television is a gay character defined by them being gay. Sure, it’s brought up, but it’s not the one thing you remember about him.

Skeleton Twins- Kristen Wiig

Equally powerful in her performance is Kristen Wiig. She’s trying to hold her life together through a steady job, a man who loves her and preparing to have a baby. But while Milo is more open about who he is, Maggie has more secrets that she hides from others, Lance especially. Now I won’t give them away because that would give away some of the best conversations later on in the film, but Maggie is not as open and honest as she would have us believe. She’s just as damaged goods as Milo is and is quicker to react negatively. She takes longer to lighten up because she wants to maintain some semblance of stability and rigidity. Now obviously the film’s opening contradicts that, since our first look at her involves her about to commit suicide, but she tries to keep a level head.

Maggie’s dishonesty is her downfall. She sleeps around and cheats on a man who, in my opinion, is too good for her. But instead of wearing her infidelity like a badge of honor, Maggie shows true remorse when she slights Lance, but doesn’t tell him about what she’s done. She wants to keep that happiness going, even if means keeping secrets.

She does truly care for Milo’s well-being. She worries about him when he shows up late for work and when he considers killing himself. Even after all of the crazy things they’ve been through, she still wants to make sure that she’s not walking through life alone.

Skeleton Twins- Luke Wilson

And Luke Wilson is just charming as ever. He’s a nice guy, but not clingy. He’s willing to step back when necessary and has quite a number of funny moments. Honestly, Lance deserves someone much better than Maggie. His undying devotion to her and unwillingness to believe that she would keep secrets shows how the trust between them is not two ways.

Again, there’s really a lot I’d love to say about this film, but that would delve into spoiler territory. I do have one minor complaint. Without giving too much away, this film goes to some very dark places. It’s very bleak. Often, writers want to give viewers a happy ending so they walk out satisfied, but others pull no punches. This is why I have such respect for programs like The Leftovers and, to a lesser extent, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. They prove that viewers shouldn’t get too attached to characters because everyone isn’t promised a happy ending.

The Skeleton Twins almost goes in a certain direction toward the end that I thought would have been very dark, but more surprising and risky. A gutsy move probably would have alienated viewers, so as much as I love this movie, I think it took the easy way out with its ending. That’s all I’ll say on that.

The biggest strength of The Skeleton Twins comes through the amazing performances of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. They, like Jenny Slate did earlier this year with Obvious Child, shed their Saturday Night Live personalities and deliver stunning work in a complex brother-sister relationship that feels real, raw and cuts deep, both figuratively and literally. The two struggle to stay afloat in a world that’s not as exciting as they had hoped. The movie examines this dysfunctional pair and shows that, despite their troubled pasts, despite the people who abandon or who they, in turn, abandon, they manage to be there for one another. They may not be the most functional pair, but they are the best for each other. To them, that’s enough.

I highly recommend The Skeleton Twins.

A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 2, Episode 11: “One for the Money, Two for the Show”

“One for the Money, Two for the Show” is a mixed episode for me. The concepts and ideas examined here are interesting, the actors in top form and we see how Bill and Virginia react to having their work watered down. Where it suffers is how it handles some character motivations and actions in some very forced situations.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Bill and Virginia fail to have sex

The episode begins with makeup. Yeah, makeup. Virginia suggests that Bill put on some makeup for tomorrow’s shoot. She asks if he’s spoken to Francis since their argument, but not only have they not spoken, Francis and Pauline went back to Kansas City. Bill still wants to make amends, but then Virginia focuses on Bill’s emotional reaction and how it gave him a little push. Bill, however, doesn’t want to analyze the situation. He just wants to know how good it was for Virginia. You know, how did she feel with him inside of her? Unfortunately, this doesn’t give Bill his second wind, meaning that, at least for now, this isn’t some sort of trend.

The next day at House Masters, Bill wakes up with a case of wood and Libby applies makeup to his face. Not to his wood, though.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- George comes to pick up Henry and Tessa

Over at House Johnson, George stops by to pick up Henry and Tessa. Tessa is preparing for her French presentation, which slips Virginia’s mind again, and young Henry has even been practicing driving. Not too bad for a kid who used to always have his head in his comic books. Virginia is encouraged not just by how well George still gets along with the kids, but how much his new wife, Audrey, is doing to encourage him.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Tally talks to Bill and Virginia about the CBS shoot

At the office, the CBS crew sets up for the shoot. Bill and Virginia believed that Lester would play some role with the filming, but Tally prefers this be left in the hands of professionals. This is a problem: sure, Lester may not be as well versed as professionals, but he knows enough about the study that he should be warranted some involvement. Even though Bill is used to explaining the study to new people, most of those new folks have been in the medical field. The task here is to capture the layman’s interest and be personable to make the audience want to invite them into their home. Bill tells Virginia that he’s not a fan of this salesman approach. He doesn’t do this to sell his work- he believes in it.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Flo makes plans for her and Austin

Austin reports to Flo that Jefferson City was a bust- only 26 women showed up. If that wasn’t bad enough news, Clark Gable has died of a heart attack! Tragic. Flo tells Austin about the first time she saw Gone with the Wind when she was 22. She remembers it fondly for the staircase scene where Rhett carried Scarlett up to her bed against her will. Girls wanted that fantasy to carry them through many lonely nights. Good thing home video didn’t exist back then, or those women would wear out the rewind buttons. But Austin has never seen the film. He still believes that he’s a man’s man, but Flo isn’t so sure, so she has a suggestion: Austin is going to enter her home uninvited and have his way with her, against her objections.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby learns that Martin Luther King has been arrested

Downstairs at the C.O.R.E. office, Libby, with a red tie in tow, stops by and also learns of the horrible news about Clark Gable-I mean, about Martin Luther King Jr. being arrested in Atlanta with 52 other people. Just bad news bears all around today, really.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Roger Corwin, played by Scott Michael Campbell, talks to Bill and Virginia about the questions

We’re then introduced to Roger Corwin, played by Scott Michael Campbell, who walks Bill and Virginia through how he plans to ask them questions. Virginia tells the story of how the two met when she was a secretary at Washington University hospital- basically an abridged version of the first episode. Bill is silent until he’s asked to describe the study. When he talks about sexual behavior, Corwin stops him the second he begins to describe anything on solo behavior, so no masturbation talk. Corwin switches over to the talk about married couples and how Bill and Virginia monitor their physical behavior.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Lester speaks with Dwight about the recorded subjects

Lester speaks with Dwight, one of the CBS crew members, about work being sanitized since CBS isn’t a fan of dildos. I guess ABC and NBC have that market locked down. Lester stands by his role on filming the truth about sex. By cleaning up or editing the work, you undercut Bill and Virginia’s intention of having an honest discussion about what happens to the body during sex. Dwight does respect Lester’s involvement, but doesn’t think he’s the best person to say how this can be presented on television.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby delivers a red tie to Bill

Libby presents Bill with the red tie that he doesn’t want and probably isn’t even his. Bill lets his wife know that he’s not pleased with being censored. Without the scientific terminology, Bill feels he just comes off as degenerate. Libby wonders what she’ll be asked since the crew will want to know about Bill’s life at home. Fortunately for her, she’s not nervous or uncomfortable about the idea at all. Oh, Libby and Virginia are also wearing almost the exact same outfit. Keep that in mind for later.

Back during the question and answer segment, Bill explains that the goal here is to provoke conversations not done in whispers.   Sexual language should be commonplace, not hushed. Censorship perpetuates shame, which fosters ignorance, which prevents change.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- George asks Betty about Virginia

George speaks with Betty about possibly seeing Virginia, but she’s still busy with the shoot. This has been going on for awhile, as George has made previous attempts to call Virginia, but she’s always been busy. It isn’t personal, as Betty points out that Virginia typically is buried in her work and isn’t able to find time to speak with others.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Bill and Virginia discuss the benefit of being a male and female team

Corwin asks Bill and Virginia about the benefit of being a male/female team, and the two speak about the bond that they’ve forged. They often complete each other’s sentences and have something that the other lacks. They want to move past the misconception that they are married, though. They’re only married to the work, not each other.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby, George and Harold talk

Libby, who saw this exchange take place, gets her Betty Draper on again by smoking a cigarette. George introduces himself and Harold, who thought Libby was George’s husband, knocks her down a peg by saying that she wouldn’t finish in a race between her and Virginia when it comes to the woman behind Bill. What a dick.

With that, Libby heads downstairs to the C.O.R.E. office and learns that Atlanta law enforcement plans to drop the charges against some of those arrested, but King remains imprisoned. Now they’re just waiting on an official statement.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Lester and Bill talk about CBS

Upstairs, Bill and Lester talk about CBS’ handling of the shoot. Lester thinks that maybe the crew knows what they’re talking about, but that doesn’t mean Bill shouldn’t push back when necessary. Bill thinks that the ends can sometimes justify the means, but Lester knows Bill better than that and calls him out on it. Even though Bill believes Lester isn’t in a position to say anything, Lester has devoted time, energy and his body to the study, so he does have a stake in it.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- George tells Virginia about his travel plans

George finally meets with Virginia to talk about plans. He and Audrey plan to go to Europe, but they want Henry and Tessa to come with them for six weeks. Virginia is against this idea, but she doesn’t have a good reason. After all, she barely sees the kids and they probably spend more time with Pam than their actual mother.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Flo and Austin do Gone with the Wind

So Flo and Austin’s re-enactment of Gone with the Wind goes into action when Austin cautiously enters Flo’s home. She wants him to grab her by the hair and drag her up the stairs. But then Flo tells him that she plans to go upstairs and lock her door, and there’s no way that Austin will ever get in!

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Meeting actors Bernadette, played by Katie Parker, and Kyle, played by Johnathan Brugal

Tally introduces Bill and Virginia to Bernadette, played by Katie Parker, and Kyle, played by Johnathan Brugal. Bernadette and Kyle are actors who will stand in as a couple while the crew simply gets footage of Bill and Virginia talking to someone. I get the point of why the crew needs this, but for the sake of the episode, Bill doesn’t like exploiting people he’s never met.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Virginia speaks with Herb

Virginia meets with Herb, the divorce lawyer from last week- well, that was awfully convenient- about George. It appears that George has been very responsible with the kids. Virginia, however, has had a very busy schedule and could use a break, but she doesn’t want that. She has every right to say no, but Herb advises against it because this could mean revisiting a custody arrangement. The problem with that is what George and Virginia have works just fine, so pushing back against George’s harmless request could open up a new can of worms.

Bill lets Tally know that he’s not a fan of the actors because it makes the re-enactment seem fake. It is, but Tally explains that they need to sell this to audiences. Therein lays the problem: Bill is not a salesman and is not in the pleasure business. This is a study. True as that is, Tally says that Bill should at least try anyway.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby and Robert talk

Robert drives Libby home and the two have a spat with Libby thinking that Robert wants her to fail when he randomly decides to test her. He believes that she’s uninformed, but Libby still believes in the cause. Oh, as they’re talking, a police cruiser drives in the opposite direction outside the Masters’ home. Why is that important?

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Officer doesn't like what he sees

Because seconds later, the officer, played by Derk Cheetwood, approaches the almost universally suspicious sight of a Colored male alone with a White woman and asks to see Robert’s license and registration. But Libby insists that she invited Robert into her home.

Once the shoot has ended, Larry, played by Lance Barber, asks Bill what it’s like watching people have sex all day, especially next to a woman like Virginia. He subtly implies that a woman like Virginia is well out of Bill’s league.

Back at House Masters, Robert, whose shirt was roughed up by the officer, awaits new buttons. He won’t take his shirt off for Libby to stitch up and he definitely won’t have it fixed inside the Bill and Libby’s bedroom.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Henry and Tessa tell their mother about Audrey's singing

Virginia speaks with Henry and Tessa about their upcoming trip. The two speak fondly of Audrey and how she sings in the car with George.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby and Robert about talk about being discounted

Robert’s shirt has been fixed, but the buttons are too big. He wonders what people would think about just the sight of the two together, but Libby turns it back on him by referring to the crime he once committed. He knows better now. He was just dumb and stupid. Libby never had that chance to be stupid. She was always the goody two-shoes teacher’s pet. Soon, she grew into what people expect of a pretty girl: a woman who has a nice home, good kids and keeps her voice down. Her own husband even forgets the sound of her own voice, but then she meets someone who doesn’t like her and finds relief that someone thinks ill of her. She’s not invisible anymore.

A clearly insulted Robert fires back at Libby’s insinuation that feeling discounted makes a person feel alive. It doesn’t. Heck, some White women go to Colored men due to low self-esteem. Is Libby like that? She doesn’t know, but maybe if she kisses him, she’ll figure it out. Sorry, what?

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Miscegenation

Then miscegenation happens on the kitchen floor.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- After Flo and Austin's game

Flo and Austin’s game has ended for now, though Flo isn’t a fan of always having to give Austin instructions. Austin knows quite a few games, but none like this. Flo just wants to be, well, wanted. Emotions make us do the damndest things, don’t you know? At the very least, Austin could give a damn.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Virginia about to hug Bill

Bill is out of his sweaty shirt and has removed the stupid tie. He tells Virginia that he can’t be the savior of sexual dysfunctions without an actual patient cured first. But he refers back to what Larry said about Virginia being too good for Bill. He wants to know why Virginia would be with him of all people? After all, he doesn’t have that twinkle and he can’t even fuck! Virginia approaches and embraces him as the episode comes to a close.

This episode does a lot of good, but a fair bit of bad as well. As always, the acting is strong across the board and, like the previous two episodes, it focuses on inadequacy and how we work around our personal problems that make us doubt ourselves.

Where the episode suffers for me is in trying to do too much and make all of these separate storylines connect to one another through the overall themes and messages. Sometimes that can work, but here it felt forced and shoehorned in so the episode wraps up in a nice, sexually complicated bow.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Hug

It dealt with the desire to be wanted and loved by another person. There’s solace in solitude, but that same joy can be shared with another person. I once heard someone say that people like to be asked to do things. We do. People love to feel wanted and involved. When someone requests our assistance, it validates our existence because we know that we’re needed for a task, no matter how big or small.

The characters this week found love and happiness not with their loved ones, but with their coworkers as they crossed the lines between personal and professional. This shows the disconnect they have with their home lives and how much they miss because they’re meddling in the affairs of others just to make themselves feel good. But, as Virginia learns, at the end of the day, we really don’t feel good about neglecting our families. It may provide a temporary relief, but you’re still distancing yourself. The ends do not justify the means, just as Lester says to Bill.

While the characters often hide their true motives in order to maintain their secrets, this episode felt very honest and open, which tied in great with Bill and Virginia’s frankness about sex when answering questions during the CBS shoot. This applies to Libby and Flo as well when their true desires and passions lead to some thoughtful conversations that helped advance their characters. Now, I still have a problem with Libby in particular, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m curious as to whether the show is just done with Francis and Pauline for now. Yeah, it sucks that it ended on a down note, but I hope there’s some better resolution than Bill just saying he’ll make it right and we have to contend with the Francis and Pauline leaving off-screen. At least we saw Virginia in her final moment with Lillian.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Flo on Clark Gable's death

While I’ve enjoyed Masters of Sex weaving in real life events into the narrative, I have to question who did their research for this episode. We have the Kennedy/Nixon debate, Martin Luther King’s arrest in Atlanta and Clark Gable’s death all mentioned within two scenes, as if they all took place around the same time, when we know that’s not true. It’d be different if only one of these events had been mentioned, but as we get all three, the incorrect timeline just sticks out a bit more.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Flo wants Austin to give a damn

You know, let’s start with Flo and Austin this time. First off, credit where it’s due, I’m loving Artemis Pebdani’s performance as Flo and I’m happy to see her show more range that she probably wouldn’t get on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia since that show is primarily a comedy. Now don’t get me wrong. She’s great on there as well, but here, she has more dimension, even though that involves being into a rape fantasy, which does make me tilt my head. We know that this relationship is more about job security and Flo wanting to get her rocks off- she wants to feel wanted and adored like the pretty girl who got crowned Queen at prom. Do they still do that? I never went to prom.

I’m still not sold on this storyline, even if I like the performances and humor that come out of it. If it means slowly phasing Austin out, I’m fine with that, but he just feels stuck here. He has a job, sure, but he’s still no further along than when and Elise separated. He’s just wiser, but we knew that from his conversation with Bill about whether an affair was worth all Bill could lose. I give a sort of damn about the plot, but I want to see it tie into the storyline of the season, and not by Artemis saying things that just happen to perfectly coincide with another character’s circumstances.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Libby wants to kiss Robert

And that brings me to Libby and Robert. Again, Caitlin Fitzgerald is great with what she’s given to do and Libby’s blissful reaction during sex with Robert reminded me a lot of what Margaret experienced when she first met Austin last season. Libby is a woman who has been long denied happiness. She’s blended into the background and served her role as the faithful wife, but she’s had her moments, thank God, of calling Bill out on his crap. She’s not complacent.

Her speech to Robert was very telling: in my opinion, Libby is probably the most traditional of the various women and housewives we’ve seen on Masters of Sex. She’s the complete opposite of Virginia in that she’s not too adventurous. She minds her business and, like she says, essentially becomes invisible. As the show progressed, starting, I’d say, with “Brave New World,” we’ve seen Libby grow more independent and outspoken. She wanted a family, and now she has two kids. When she gave her time and energy toward the Veiled Prophet Ball, we saw the shades of a woman who, when given the opportunity, can and will work hard for the benefit of others, and we’ve seen that continue with her work at the C.O.R.E. office. Yes, Libby has indeed made progress since the show began and I’m glad that she received the sexual satisfaction and pleasure that she doesn’t get from Bill.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Race mixing kiss

But this does not absolve Libby of the horrible things she’s done this season. I honestly don’t know why the show felt the need to phase Coral out after the time skip. Just because Libby volunteers at a civil rights office and shares her feelings with Robert doesn’t mean we just ignore how much of an absolute and insufferable jerk she was to both Coral and Robert. After all, she still had a police officer dig up dirt on Robert to prove to Coral that she shouldn’t be around him. Not too long ago, she didn’t even feel safe being around Robert. Now that she opened up about her feelings, we’re just supposed to forget about her horrible behavior that took place within the same season?

If Libby had been this much of a jerk during the first season, this season could be seen as her redemption, but these are actions that took place over the same time frame. Yes, there’s been a time skip, but Robert still acknowledged Libby’s dislike of lice, so it’s clear those raw emotions are still there. Libby and Robert’s complicated relationship is symbolic of what I often don’t like about some television and film relationships in general: the love and emotional attraction do not feel genuine. I cannot buy this, considering that the two were at each other’s throats not that long ago. People can change, yes, but my biggest issue with this season is that Masters of Sex does not seem to get how to tackle race without it feeling awkward. The second that police cruiser drove past Robert and Libby, it was clear that they’d be stopped. Sure, Robert was obviously more cautious and good on him for being smart about this, but they still allowed themselves to be caught! And I can’t imagine this is going to end well for either of them.

That was more on Libby and Robert than I intended to say.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Lester can't believe what Bill is saying

Briefly on Lester, who isn’t given much to do, but what little he has is very important. As he tells Bill, he’s devoted a lot of time to this study, so his opinion should be considered. To say otherwise would be to deny Lester’s involvement when he brings knowledge of technology, cameras and a general understanding of film that Bill and Virginia lack. And again, we see how much respect he has for Bill and Virginia’s attempt to have an honest conversation about sex. So while Lester doesn’t have much to work with, I appreciate that he had the chance to butt heads with Bill and call him out for believing that the ends justify the means.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Bill can't fuck

So let’s go to Bill, who went through absolutely Hell this week. We knew last week that he wasn’t a fan of using television to reach an audience, and we see that play out as he grapples with Corwin on terminology. In front of a camera, Bill felt as stiff as we’ve known him to be throughout the series, but from things like not wearing a bow tie or being able to say the words “masturbation” and “orgasm” show how uncomfortable he was. And I liked his practical reasoning for wearing a bow tie: so it doesn’t get in the way when he’s working. So there are moments where he feels comfortable with who he is when he isn’t grappling with self doubt and inadequacy issues.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Bill taking orders

As we’ve already seen with Dr. Greathouse, Bill is not a fan of having his work dictated to him. He prefers to do things his own way, which led him and Virginia to this point in the first place. Now he grapples with sacrificing his character for the sake of reaching a wider audience or, as we see him do on television, using his knowledge of human sexuality to have a conversation and never making it seem awkward. When Bill starts talking about censorship leading to ignorance, I got the feeling that this is the point he’d like to hammer home.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- George calls out Virginia about not spending time with the kids

Speaking of home, that’s definitely the one place Virginia would love to be more often. She’s spent so much time devoted to the study and Bill that it doesn’t hit her until her kids are nearly out of her grasp for six weeks that she’s been neglecting her home life. I’m glad this is being addressed because while we often see Bill at home, we rarely see Virginia at home or even interacting with her kids. It calls attention to the ever growing disconnect Virginia has not just with her kids or George, but everyone around her. Throughout the season, Virginia has made a habit of doing things for herself, and she’s made progress, but this comes at the expense of her happiness.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Virginia realizes she's distanced herself from Henry and Tessa

It’s really telling how much her life really does depend on Bill and their relationship, even when she insisted that it’s not an affair. And it’s no accident how similar she and Libby dressed, either. There was real sadness in Caplan’s face during the scene when Henry and Tessa spoke of Audrey with such longing and fascination that we rarely see them direct towards her. And at least George stepped up his role by being there for them. Even if Virginia doesn’t want the kids to go far, George has a point: Virginia is so focused on the study that family is almost becoming irrelevant. I think we’ve seen her spend more evenings at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel than we have at her own home.

One for the Money, Two for the Show- Tessa and Henry look pretty much the same

Oh, by the way, it is strange how Henry and Tessa don’t look any different at all since the time skip. Sure, Henry seems a bit more mature- and it’s about time is all I can say- and I’m not saying the two needed to recast by older actors, but nothing about them really changed.

As we approach the season finale, there are a lot of mixed emotions swirling all around. “One for the Money, Two for the Show” has set up what should be an explosive finish- hopefully one that doesn’t get Bill fired again. While the themes and performances were as strong as they ever have been, the haphazard handling of characters like Libby held the episode back a bit.

A Look at Masters of Sex- Season 2, Episode 10: “Below the Belt”

Let’s just get right to it.

Below the Belt- Bill about to cap Pauline

The episode begins with Bill capping Pauline. Though husbands typically don’t show up for their wife’s capping, Frank would have been more than welcome. Pauline just wants the two to mend the broken fences, but Bill doesn’t believe any mending is necessary. Plus, Francis has made peace with his past and wants a family, but that means more than a child. Suddenly, the lights go out.

Below the Belt- Betty explains to Bill why the power went out

Betty calms a now worried Bill that the power will be back on after the electric company finds their late payment. And why is the payment late? Betty had to wait for the checks to clear from eight patients, they owe the specimen lab and still had to wait for Cal-o-Metric to turn in its rent. The best hope would be to sublet the rest of the floor, Betty suggests, but Bill isn’t about to share the space with what he sees as second rate businesses.

Below the Belt- Dr. Madden knows Virginia was lying

To no one’s surprise, Dr. Madden knew that Virginia had pretended to be someone else. Did it help, though? Virginia responds that it didn’t do Barbara any good, but admits that she herself didn’t know how therapy works. In the meantime, she hopes to stay in touch, but the Doctor isn’t done yet. After all, Virginia took the time to meet him in person when she could have just called to admit that she was a fake. Madden asks if anything resonated with Virginia on a personal level during their talks. Not all that much. She’s still taking part in an affair, but she doesn’t see it as a traditional affair, which she believes is primarily sexual. Her affair with Bill is more complicated with that.

Below the Belt- Flashback, Bill and Virginia think of reasons for Bill's impotence

We then flash back to Bill and Virginia discussing the two years they were apart. Bill was still able to perform, even when Libby was capped after she had Jenny (the other baby finally has a name!). But Bill is experiencing secondary impotence: he can perform well enough on his own, but not with a partner. And Bill hasn’t brought this up to Libby. He just wants to be cured. Virginia suggests exploring causes or triggers, similar to what they tried with Lester. But then Virginia wonders if it was her relationship with Shelley that caused Bill’s limp. He denies that any jealously or insecurity led to this issue. But less talking, more working. Bill admits what Virginia already pointed out: they had strayed away from the work. But through this, she can help fix him.

In the present, Dr. Madden asks Virginia if she believes her relationship with Bill has a higher purpose. More than that, is she even qualified to develop a treatment? He then asks if this could be harming Bill’s own marriage, but Virginia doesn’t believe Bill’s marriage is at risk. You keep thinking that, Virginia. But then, it’s not impossible that Libby would feel the loss of sexual companionship. Hell, maybe she can perform well enough on her own, too. Madden asks one final question: if Virginia has already admitted to lying to both him and Libby, who else has she lied to?

Below the Belt- Essie and Bill discuss Francis

Essie puts Jenny to sleep. Libby is not home. Her work at the civil rights office keeps her out late, but Essie can prepare dinner. She remarks on how well lullabies worked on Jenny. They did nothing for Bill, but did for Francis. Essie finds Francis has grown much more serious with his self-preservation. Though they see the past differently, Essie says that everyone has their own version of everything that ever happened. Essie also isn’t a fan of Francis criticizing her drinking, while Bill believes she should be able to do whatever she wants. She blames Alcoholics Anonymous for doing this to her son, turning him into what she and Bill believe is an amateur psychologist who is a member of a secret club. And who benefits from Francis making amends, anyway? Spinning the past won’t help anyone. Essie feels that Francis’ forgiveness comes off like an accusation dressed up as an apology. Luckily, Bill doesn’t find his mother’s criticism of Francis all that harsh. Yay, mother and son bonding.

Below the Belt- Robert won't allow Libby to go canvassing

At the C.O.R.E. office, Robert splits everyone into four groups for apartment canvassing: they plan to speak with dirt poor Coloreds and hopefully convince them to stop paying rent on the most decent apartment some of they have ever owned. He doesn’t want Libby there, though. She would just be another White person trying to tell Coloreds how to live their lives. Besides, the buildings have lice. Libby is not a fan of lice. With that said, Robert sends her on another lunch run.

Below the Belt- Virginia and Bill read about Joseph Kaufman's study

Virginia reads from the latest issue of American Urology Review about Joseph Kaufman’s study on the human body and sexual response…and how Masters and Johnson are only reduced to a mere footnote. The two are understandably miffed, but for now, it’s just one study in a respected journal, right? Wrong. The people who make history are the ones who got there first, Bill says.

Below the Belt- Austin and Flo with Cindy, played by Karissa Staples

Over at Cal-O-Metric, Flo and Austin work with potential product model Cindy, played by Karissa Staples. When rehearsal ends and Cindy pops to the little girls’ room, Flo gives Austin a scheduled list of speaking appearances. One of them is an apartment- Flo’s apartment, to be specific. And Austin is to be there on time.

Below the Belt- Virginia and Bill discuss impotence and treatments for it

At Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Virginia notes that all of the marriage manuals she’s read have suggestions for impotence, plus everything she and Bill know from Betty, but Bill has tried all of the methods, even on Lester. But like Lester said, it could help if the subjects knew each other. So Virginia will use her hands and mouth, while Bill just stops thinking. It doesn’t go well, just to be brief.

Below the Belt- Barbara and Lester discuss beliefs

Lester spots a dizzy Barbara making her way down the stairs. Recognizing Lester, Barbara asks if Dr. Masters’ methods work, and Lester says that Bill can cure mostly anything. But Barbara doesn’t believe you can operate on the soul. Lester himself doesn’t believe in God, but Barbara points out that people need to find meaning in something. Lester does, though: the second law of thermodynamics. An insulted Barbara walks off when she gets the implication that Lester finds life meaningless and that pain is random chaos. Smooth move, Lester.

Below the Belt- Libby needs an alibi from Virginia

Elsewhere, Libby needs Virginia’s help. Even though the Coloreds aren’t a fan of her, she plans to go with them tonight during their recruitment, anyway. Bill already doesn’t like her working there, so she needs a good alibi: Virginia will say that her sitter canceled, so Libby offered to watch Henry and Tessa. Unless lying to Bill is too uncomfortable for Virginia. Luckily, that won’t be a problem at all.

Below the Belt- Bill introduces Virginia to Shep Tally, played by Adam Arkin

Following this, Bill introduces Virginia to Shep Tally, played by Adam Arkin. Tally is a partner at Williams & Kulick Public Relations. He once helped one of Bill’s colleagues, John Rock, who developed the birth control pill. Now the time has come to help Bill and Virginia.

While Lester shows Tally some footage, Virginia tells Bill in private that she doesn’t want to have to pay Tally. Bill just asks her to put her join him in putting their best foot forward.

Betty then brings in divorce lawyer Herb Spleeb, played by Jack Laufer. Spleeb is here to talk about renting an office. But no time for that. Virginia shows Tally the exam room. Tally is interested in Bill and Virginia’s most recent work. They bring up their study on dysfunctions, but differ on how approach it. Tally appreciates their banter, like they’re a married couple. This gives him an idea: CBS is looking for documentary subjects and the study would be perfect. After all, Lester already has tons of footage and the two of them can teach America how to have sex.

When Tally leaves, Bill suddenly apologizes for overreacting about the article. Virginia, however, is on board with the television idea. Sure, the medium hasn’t fully taken off yet, but they can still reach an audience. Bill is hesitant. If a group of doctors didn’t react positively to the study, then families probably won’t have a better reaction. Virginia reminds Bill that this was his idea in the first place. Bill wants attention. Hell, he’d like a Nobel Prize, and he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he did nothing.

Below the Belt- C.O.R.E. goes canvassing

So Robert and the C.O.R.E. members begin scouting the various apartments to convince the Coloreds to stop paying rent. One woman, Delilah, played by Kamirah Westbrook, doesn’t give Robert the time of day, but Libby has managed to convince one to start striking.

Below the Belt- Austin's equipment is working just fine

At Flo’s, Austin is nervous. He respects Flo as his boss, but doesn’t think this is possible. When he was married, he pretended to be interested in everything Elise said. With some women, he can’t fake it. And at times, his hardware won’t work. Unfortunately for him, his hardware is working just fine tonight.

Below the Belt- Virginia wants to do things to Bill

For our other two doctors, Virginia plans to do all of the worrying. Bill will just relax. She asks Bill what he’s ever thought of doing to her, anything unusual. She’s thought of making him powerless and at her mercy, even though she’s already done that. She wants Bill to beg for it, but Bill doesn’t beg. Ever.

Below the Belt- Virginia bares her breasts

So when Virginia ties Bill’s hands behind his back and we get another appearance of Lizzy Caplan’s breasts, she tells him to say how much he wants her. It gets Bill’s heart thumping, but he wants her to keep talking. When Virginia goes in, Bill tells her to stop. The thrill is gone.

Below the Belt- Flo wants Austin to make her feel good

Post-coitus, two times, mind you, Flo smokes while Austin gets dressed. His pants somehow ended up draped around a light. Don’t ask me how that actually happened. He’s just glad this is done and over with. He wants to resume a professional relationship without any awkwardness, but Flo isn’t done yet. This isn’t a one-time deal.   Sure, Austin is good at talking to women and making them feel good, but Flo wants him to do that for her. You know, make her feel young, desirable and beautiful again.

Below the Belt- Barbara and Lester talk about despair

After a brief, congratulatory exchange between Libby and Robert, we cut to Lester finding Barbara at the diner. He apologizes for unintentionally offending her. It’s not his first time, either. He was jealous of people that could believe in a greater power, dating all the way back to grade school when one of his classmates stated that they could just go to confession and be absolved of their sins. It’s not that easy, but there’s something comforting in telling the truth. The two agree that the greatest sin is despair. Lester himself may have given up and tells Barbara about how inability to perform. Despite all of Bill’s help, Lester gave up because he found it too humiliating. Barbara confesses that she believes her condition is due to God punishing her, but the two of them don’t have to despair.

Below the Belt- Betty tells Virginia about a client she couldn't help

Betty inquires about Virginia’s night with Bill, and it went as well as you’d expect. This sort of problem can get under your skin, Betty says. She once had a guy that came in every Thursday night and brought her flowers, but trying to get him up was like trying to raise the dead. That is a great analogy. Soon, she just kept pretending it would work and even had girls at the brothel give her an alibi when she happened to not show up for work. The man sometimes looked at her in agony, but she couldn’t fix him.

Below the Belt- Francis stitches up Essie

Bill gets a phone call and we cut to Francis stitching up Essie’s face. She was in a car accident. Yes, she’d been drinking, but Essie and the police officer believe the other driver is at fault. When Francis is hard on Essie, Bill advises him to ease off. Soon enough, Bill has Francis leave so he can stitch up his mother himself. As Francis leaves, Essie pleads Bill to not fight with his brother.

Below the Belt- Bill and Francis face off

While Libby takes Essie home, Bill and Francis face off. Francis came to Bill with good intentions. After the hell he’s been through, Francis now has clarity in his life. He figures Bill for an alcoholic and says he even has the signs, such as mood swings, aggression and lying. He’s lying to himself. The Masters’ are a family with a shared disease, Francis says. If they address it, then they can mend what’s broken and find peace.

Bill then directs his anger at their father, as he’s the one who beat them. But, Francis argues, their father hit them because he suffered from the same disease.   Bill thinks Francis is lying because he’s needy, but Francis, again, forgives Bill for leaving him. Again, Bill finds it strange that anyone would forgive such an action as walking out on your brother, leaving him to your abusive father’s wrath.

The difference is that Bill never begged his father to stop hitting him or avoid the beatings. Francis, however, pulled tricks. And why? Bill figures Francis for a coward- that’s his affliction. If anything, Francis should forgive Bill for not respecting him and seeing him as a weak boy who grew up to be a gutless man. They are both bound by their father forever. This causes Francis to punch Bill several times before he leaves.

Below the Belt- Virginia joins a beaten Bill in bed

Later on, Bill arrives at the hotel as a bloody mess. He won’t allow Virginia to clean him up and he can’t face Libby like this. He gives Virginia the option to leave, but she doesn’t. She stays by his side on the bed as he admits to abandoning his brother to that monster of a father, and now he’s punishing him for it. And then Bill’s libido wakes up!

What a dick. “Below the Belt” hits our characters where it hurts. Most of time, that’s in the loins, but it goes deeper than that. The episode hit a couple of major areas this week: finding meaning in our lives, dealing with despair, altering history to fit our own warped view, working alone against having a partner around, to name a few.

Below the Belt- Barbara believed her disease was God punishing her

At several points, the characters talk of giving up when they’ve hit a major snag. They haven’t hit rock bottom, but they’re definitely at a low point. This doesn’t mean they have to wallow around in their sorrows, as Barbara and Lester realize. Instead, they make something out of it and go forward. Or, in Bill’s case, you turn that snag into potency.

Below the Belt- Bill and Virginia discuss television

I liked the commentary and discussion on the idea that television isn’t a medium worthy of reaching your target audience. Sure, at this point in history, television has been around for awhile, but it’s still seen as relatively new compared to newspapers and radio. Bill balking at the idea of being on television makes sense, given how TV hasn’t really taken off yet, the way it eventually will during the nonstop coverage of Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.

Below the Belt- Libby delivers numbers

Like previous episodes this season, characters took control of their own lives and made decisions for themselves as opposed to having others dictate their choices. We see this play out with Libby who, despite what the C.O.R.E. members think of her, wants to prove she’s a valuable asset to them. And, as we see, she is, when Robert tells her that they received a much better reception to the rent strike than expected.

Below the Belt- Austin doesn't want to keep having sex with Flo

Oh, Austin, you’ve found a woman who wants to have sex with you and you’re not interested? Normally, I’d see that as a sign of growth, if not for the fact that Austin has crossed the boundary between personal and professional before. Despite getting cold feet, he’s still able to perform. Every woman we’ve seen Austin land has been someone on his level, like how Jane worked in the same place as him, but didn’t have dominion over him. Flo, however, is Austin’s boss and pays him. Engaging in such a relationship is dangerous, and Austin lectured Bill about this very topic earlier in the season. Now he’s in the same situation, but obviously with less consequence since Elise broke things off with him. As funny as I find Flo and Austin’s scenes, these still feel like a way to keep Austin around and give him something to do, even though his plot has no real bearing on the overall storyline. And if Flo did want to take advantage of Austin, from a narrative point of view, this feels a bit too soon.

Below the Belt- Lester talks about confession

Barbara and Lester complement each other well with their awkwardness because they have similar issues. We learned more about Lester this week through his views on religion, so his character was fleshed out a bit more in that regard, but it also served the purpose of having him address how he gave up believing. And luckily, Barbara and Lester don’t devolve into a debate over religion and science. I think this episode also speaks to Lester’s respect for Bill when he quickly tells Barbara that he can fix anything.

Throughout the season, we’ve seen Bill and Virginia’s relationship grow more combative, which was thoroughly played out during “Fight,” but here, we see that their ability to play off of each other has just as much of an impact for them as it does everyone around them, like Shep Tally believing their chemistry is a working formula for television.

Below the Belt- Virginia takes control

Like in “Giants,” Virginia assumes control of a situation, but with less success this time around because she tries too hard to fix a problem that she may not be able to fix. As Betty noted with her scenario, no matter how much she’d like to help the guy, she can’t do everything. She gets very close by being creative, though. One thing we’ve known about Virginia from the start is that she thinks outside the box, and that benefits when working with someone like Bill, who likes to stay by the book. Her domination over him did help, but when she kept going, she killed the mood. Not on purpose, but because she believed she needed to awaken his wilder side in order to get him going.

Below the Belt- Virginia with Dr. Madden

And just like how Essie pointed out that we have our own versions of what happened, Virginia creates her own by believing that what she and Bill have is more complicated than an affair. It is, to be sure, but it’s still an affair and she even pointed out that it had become more about sex and less about the work. More than that, she doesn’t believe she’s done anything wrong. Virginia couldn’t really be that naïve when it comes to Bill and Libby’s marriage. So it seems like she’s trying to save face, and good on Dr. Madden for calling her out on that.

Below the Belt- Bill baits Francis

Then we have Bill, who is becoming exactly like the man he and Francis loathe so much. Sheen continues to give masterful performances, but they don’t mask the fact that Bill is just an overall dick. He shuts down anything that doesn’t conform with his point of view, he makes Lester the guinea pig for his impotence issue and now he takes his brother’s recovery and throws it right back in his face. Such behavior is deplorable and while it adds to Bill’s complex character, it also paints him in a negative light again. The way he took Francis’ punches, Bill invited that beating because he so wanted to be right and take Francis down a peg. He baited Francis into attacking him because he has a way of getting under people’s skin through his clinical demeanor. Once again, his ego gets the best of him and he hits Francis over and over in an attempt to break him. Francis maintains his composure, yes, but he’s clearly rattled. The cycle of abuse just keeps on rolling.

Below the Belt- Bill talks about how he abandoned Francis

That’s not to say Bill was completely a jerk this week. For all of the tension between him and his mother, it was nice to see the two actually come to agreement on something. You just wish it wasn’t their mutual dislike of Francis. Bill probably came off the warmest he’s ever been toward Essie, such as when he tells Francis to not be so hard on her after her accident. Bill’s warm moments are few and far in between, but at least he and his mother had a nice, tense-free moment.

And I like how committed he is to making sure he and Virginia are recognized for their work on the study, but he won’t just do anything. As Bill learned in “Manhigh,” the scientific world was not ready for his study. The general public certainly wouldn’t be receptive, either, so I’m glad he’s willing to learn from his mistakes and won’t just go all out for the sake of shock value.

Overall, “Below the Belt” was a solid episode. It had some great moments of growth and character development, but also showed them that there’s more to life than despair and holding onto the past. Here’s to next week.


A Look at Love is Strange


There’s nothing overly complex or convoluted about Love is Strange. The plot itself is a very simple tale: a newlywed couple trying to make the most of a crappy situation and maintain the ties that bind them together. Oh, and it’s a same-sex couple. Despite the premise, Love is Strange, much like Blue is the Warmest Colour, isn’t a film about pushing any sort of agenda or making a big deal out of the fact that the couple is gay. What we do get is a very warm tale of love, separation and tolerance. We see the joys and hardships that come with getting older, but also the efforts people will go to maintain a connection with the people closest to them.

Love Is Strange- Opening marriage

The film begins in Manhattan with our two main characters: Ben, played by John Lithgow, and George, played by Alfred Molina, getting ready for the big day. In an open park, the two are wed, and do so of their own free will after having spent 39 years together.

Love Is Strange- Post marriage reception

During the after party, Kate, played by Marisa Tomei, speaks of the first time she met Ben. Kate’s husband and Ben’s nephew, Elliot, played by Darren Burrows, had been filming people in ordinary scenarios. One day, he brought Kate to meet his uncle. From there, she met George and sees their long commitment as an example of love to be followed.

Love Is Strange- George learns from of Father Raymond, played by John Cullum, that he's about to be fired

George teaches at the local Catholic school. One day, he’s called into the office of Father Raymond, played by John Cullum, to discuss the recent marriage. Father Raymond reads back the witness statement to illustrate his point that George’s recent actions have caused great concern within the church. People have known for years that George was in a relationship with another man, but word got to the Archdiocese Bishop after he saw a photo on Facebook. George must now be let go, effective immediately. Side note, the Archdiocese Bishop apparently uses Facebook. Who knew? Anyway, George, of course, is not happy. After all, the students grew up with him as their teacher. Despite the setback, George still believes, above all else, that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior.

So, time for an emergency family meeting. George and Ben now need a new place to live since Ben’s pension and George’s private piano lessons won’t be enough to pay rent. This means they’ll have to sell the apartment.

Love Is Strange- Family scene in hallway

When the meeting ends, the rest of the family grapple with figuring out who will house Ben and George. After all, the two don’t drive anymore, so getting them around will be a challenge. Mindy, played by Christina Kirk, offers to house the two, but the others have their own ideas.

Following the new living situation debate, we end up at Kate and Elliot’s home where we’re introduced to their son, Joey, played by Charlie Tahan. Kate and Elliot have a nice home, but they’re barely able to speak to each other because both are busy with their respective projects. However, Joey and his friend, Vlad, played by Eric Tabach, have a bit of trouble studying at home. Why’s this?

Love Is Strange- Joey, played by Charlie Tahan, and Vlad, played by Eric Tabach, want to study, but Uncle Ben is in the room

Because Uncle Ben is sleeping in one of Joey’s bunk beds.

Elsewhere, George crashes with two cops: Roberto, played by Manny Perez, and Ted, played by Cheyenne Jackson. He’s given a crash course on Game of Thrones because I guess the movie needed a relevant show that it figured most were familiar with, but George is completely clueless. It also doesn’t help that the scene in particular takes place during Season 3 during Daenerys’ slow ascent to power. You don’t just start the show from there! But I’m getting way off topic. Roberto and Ted live life in the fast lane, but George prefers to keep things slow. When he speaks to Ben on the phone, both agree that when you live with people, you tend to learn more about them than you care to. Very true.

Love Is Strange- Ben and Kate, played by Marisa Tomei

In an attempt to make conversation, Ben tells Kate that he ran into a friend of hers, Ada. Kate is trying to work, but she endures Ben for the sake of being nice. When Ben asks Kate to pick which of her own stories is her favorite, Kate doesn’t pick because she likes them all. Ben is the same way with his art. In that case, Kate says, Ben should start a new piece of art. However, Ben can’t work when someone else is around. Oh, is that so?

Love Is Strange- Kate talks to Elliot about Uncle Ben

When Elliot returns, he apologizes to Kate for not receiving any of her messages since he’s been busy all day. Kate loves Ben for sure, but it’s hard for her to tell him to shut up.

So Ben and George meet with a developer about finding an affordable apartment. The developer suggests that the two get in touch with the DFTA- Department for the Aging. Yay, an entire apartment just for them.

Love Is Strange- Ben painting, Joey thinks it's gay

On the roof of Kate and Elliot’s home, Ben paints a picture of the city before him while Vlad stands still as a statue. Joey comes to the roof and isn’t a fan of Uncle Ben’s art. In fact, he calls it gay. Not the homosexual kind of gay, but the ‘art is stupid’ kind of gay. That’s right. ‘Gay’ now means ‘stupid.’

Roberto and Ted host a party that George isn’t exactly a fan of, so he heads over to Kate and Elliot’s house as the two discuss an upcoming student field trip. George embraces Ben as the two reunite after being apart for so long.

So while Joey is forced to sleep on the couch for the night, Ben and George have pillow talk in the bunk beds about their respective new lives: they both hate them. Or rather, they just aren’t fans of them. George talked to the principal of the school about bringing back music. Ben still had any job offerings float his way. Ben asks George if he blames him for this mess, but of course he doesn’t. After 39 years, despite everything they’ve been through, the two still have each other.

And we’ll hold it there.

Again, there’s nothing really groundbreaking about Love is Strange. The story is very easy to follow and the characters are fun to watch. It tackles the issues of privacy and adapting to change. The film highlights the importance of bonds: how we strive to hold onto them when separated or realizing how unhappy we are when we do form bonds with people.

Love Is Strange- Joey talks to his mother

Like Ben tells George, when you live with someone, you learn more about them than you care to, and that’s exactly what happens here. We long to be close to people, especially if we manage to form strong bonds with them, but we don’t want to become overbearing to the point where we don’t give people their space. Ben and George are old, while everyone else around them is relatively young. As such, the two sides don’t always move at the same speed. When George is in the middle of a house party, we see that he’d much rather be sleeping on the couch instead of waiting for partygoers to leave. Sure, it’s great to bond with your elders, but sometimes you just want to have space to be alone with your thoughts. That’s exactly what Kate wants, but she can’t have because Ben, not needy at all, just wants to have a conversation. What he sees as friendly talk, she eventually sees as annoying. Not out of spite or anger, but out of losing patience.


Family is a key component of the film as we see relatives band together to help out one of their own. It may be an inconvenience, but they don’t give a damn about that because they care about Ben and George’s well-being. They’ll step in to help out, whatever it takes, regardless of what happens. These aren’t self-centered people too absorbed with themselves that they ignore helping their elderly relatives. The friends and family feel real and their support comes off as genuine. This is helped by the fact that they see Ben and George’s longstanding love as an example to follow.

Finding a place to live by itself is an uphill climb, but when you’ve just been fired, your significant other doesn’t work and affordable housing is next to impossible to locate, it’s understandable why Ben and George are so frustrated in their efforts to find a new home. This film feels very real and the characters come off as authentic as opposed to over the top.

I’ll say this now, Love is Strange is a gorgeous film, both visually and through its use of music. This is a very vibrant New York filled with colorful life and tons of hustle and bustle. Christos Voudouris’ cinematography makes certain scenes pop with life and the final shot is one of the most beautiful endings I’ve seen to a film in a long time. The use of Chopin helps establish the tone as light hearted, but often fills you with sadness.

Love Is Strange- George and Ben

While everyone in the cast is in top form, Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are just outstanding. They really do come off as a couple that’s been together for years and that’s reflected in their performances. Whether it’s the loving glances they give one another, how they comfort each other after being apart for so long and their bickering over drinks, I completely buy that these two have sustained a long-standing marriage. Nothing about them ever came off as over the top or forced.

Love Is Strange- Ben and George in bar

Molina feels a bit more seasoned and down to earth, while Lithgow has his occasional moments to fool around, such as when he tells a bartender about a time he denied the State Liquor Authority, which he never did, in order to get a free drink.

I have no idea why this movie is rated “R.” There’s no sex or nudity in the movie. There’s some language, sure, but really, this could have gotten away with a PG-13 rating, in my opinion.

Again, Love is Strange is a very warm, heartfelt film that shows how two people maintain their happiness and love for one another, despite the whirlwind that is their life. This movie is about people first. There’s no message pushed forward, no arguments about religion and gay marriage, and no overly forced drama. It treats the marriage with respect and not as a prop. The movie feels real because of how genuine Lithgow and Molina come across in their performance, aided by an equally talented cast, strong direction and superb cinematography.

Love is Strange may not be revolutionary or try and force a message down your throat the way a film like Milk does, but it does leave you feeling warm inside. Ben and George go through so much, but if they still have each other, then their real life struggles are worth it. And as long as there’s still family and love, those are the ties that bind. And you’ll have a family in your heart forever. All my love to you, poppet. You’re going to be all right. Bye-bye.

Wait, that’s another movie…

A Look at Frank


Frank is, by far, one of the strangest films I have ever seen, if not the strangest I’ve seen this year. Some of it will seem familiar: it looks at the music industry, but also whether mental illnesses can or cannot be the inspiration for what some would call creative genius. It’s a movie about the struggles of finding your creative spark. In essence, the movie plays out like an odd episode of “Behind the Music.” The band in question, though, has no real interest in fame or success- just creating the music for the love of the craft. This is seen through the eyes of the outsider who has a drive for fame, but lacks any sort of creativity. Should be a fun mix.

Frank- Jon

The film begins on the beach. We follow Jon Burroughs, played by Domhnall Gleeson, as he sings about what he sees, whether it’s children building sandcastles or women who walk past him. He’s been struggling with his lack of a musical career, but at home, inspiration strikes as he comes up with the name of a new song: Suburbia. How original. Oh, and by the by, Jon is an avid Twitter user, as he tells anyone who will listen that he’s working hard and eating panini.  Living the dream!

Later he spots a man in the water. Also watching this is Don, played by Scoot McNairy. According to Don, the man in the water trying to kill himself is the keyboardist of a band Don manages. Jon mentions that he plays, and since he can play C, F and G, Don allows him to come by and practice later that night.

That evening, Don arrives for practice and we’re introduced to the other members of the band called Soronprfbs (don’t try to pronounce that): Baraque, played by Francois Civil, Nana, played by Carla Azar, both of whom speak French, and theremin player Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Frank- Band practice

However, your focus will immediately go to the man in the giant, papier-mâché head. This is Frank, and although you can’t see his face, that is indeed Michael Fassbender underneath that huge head. The band’s flavor of music is…different, to say the least. However, the practice session doesn’t go well when the equipment decides to short-circuit. Don’t you hate when that happens?

The next day, Jon gets a call at work from Don, who tells them that the band needs a new keyboard player for a major upcoming gig in Warrington. Jon, eager to jumpstart a music career, is happy to commit for what he sees as nothing more than a weekend commitment.

When Jon meets up with Don before the group takes off, we learn a bit more about Frank. He never takes the head off. Ever. Even to eat or drink, the head is always on. Odd as it sounds, Frank is still a good singer regardless, so Jon needs to just go along with this. What is Don’s personality quirk? Well, he was labeled severely mentally ill because he used to fuck mannequins. And this is the band manager.

Frank- Recording sound effects

We arrive at a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere and Jon learns that he’s in for a very long musical journey. He’s not pleased since he told his job he would be back on Monday, but the band will remain there until the album is recorded. Frank has them taking part in tasks like recording sound effects for field work. Jon tries to mingle with the band, but Baraque, Nana and especially Clara, don’t like him at all.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, Jon decides to blog his experiences to the world. He finds Frank to be a friendly person and would like to know what goes on inside that giant head of his. At times, work can be overwhelming, but Frank pushes everyone in the band to their farthest corner so they can excel.

When Clara urges Jon to play something after he says one day that he writes his own music, he freezes on the spot and can’t come up with anything creative. He just hasn’t found his core yet when it comes to song-writing. Clara, not willing to wait that long, wants Jon gone. Oh, and she’d like to punch him in the face. Never get on Maggie Gyllenhaal’s bad side.

Frank- Goodbye to family

As practice continues, a family arrives at the cabin one day…the family that actually lives in the cabin. Frank speaks with the family in private while the others try to work out a way to remain there to finish their work. Frank somehow manages to convince the family to head off, with the wife having found new truth in her soul. Jon, meanwhile, decides to keep the operation going by funding it with his nest egg. How very kind of him. And very stupid.

Eleven months pass and Frank still needs perfection in order to begin the actual recording. Jon’s nest egg has been depleted and he’s still not closer to finding out what Frank looks like under that damn head. However, Jon has managed to compose something that Frank finds amazing. After some tweaking, in that the band ends up not using Jon’s compositions at all, Frank decides that it’s finally time to begin recording.

How delightful.

Frank- Jon hugs Frank

Like 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, Frank focuses on a musician whose creativity may not be accepted by society yet or is seen as outside of the mainstream music world. The quirky tone remains constant throughout most of the film as we follow this odd bunch of musicians, though it shifts by the time we reach South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The film goes to some dark places as we dig deeper into Frank’s head and find out what makes him the way he is. From the beginning, the film could just be mistaken for another story about an up and coming musician trying to attain fame, but once Frank appears on-screen, we’re in for an interesting trip.

Frank- Recording again

And that’s true when it comes to the recording process. Sure, Frank’s methods may seem odd, but that’s putting things in our normalized perspective. What we call strange seems absolutely normal to the band. They aren’t traditional, but this is how Frank believes they find their spark, as he finds inspiration in everything to the point that he gives the band members nicknames. Consider, it took over 11 months just to prepare to record the album. This may seem extravagant, but Frank strives for perfection.

Frank- Performing at SXSW

And similar to Begin Again, Frank pits fame against creativity in music. Jon represents the idealistic music agent who sees inspiration in someone’s work and wants to capitalize on that. He hones in on the group’s potential while pulling strings behind the scene to give the group a social media following. While Frank himself may be excited by the idea of so many YouTube viewers watching the group’s videos, the film points out, as we already know, that YouTube views aren’t that monumental. Jon wants quick fame, but I see the group as more tortured artists that strive to create great work. They aren’t interested in becoming world famous- they’d rather work on their craft for as long as it takes. The movie asks whether we would prefer to maintain that happiness or abandon it just for a few seconds of fame.

Frank- Clara with Frank

Let’s get into Frank himself. We never get too much into his head from his perspective, as most of what we’re told comes from other characters. We know he wants to help people reach the farthest corners of their potential. However, it’s said a few times that Frank spent some time in a hospital. Yet, those deep, psychological issues don’t affect his passion for music.

Michael Fassbender as Frank

It’s amazing how good of a job Fassbender does with the role despite his face being covered for most of the movie. There’s a lot of physical work that comes with his performance and the subtle shifts in his tone of voice make for a well-acted role. He can be jolly and happy when performing, but at times, he’ll enter a deep depression from which no amount of stardom can rescue him. Sure, Frank likes the idea of a following, but fame can be overwhelming at times. When you get the fortune and popularity you so want, sometimes you realize you were better off without it. I think that’s who Frank would prefer to be.

Frank- Jon blogging

Jon himself is not a bad guy, but he’s in over his head. Gleeson does a good job playing Jon as an aspiring artist with his head in the clouds. He’s not that good of a musician, if he can even be called that. His lyrics are uninspired and he latches onto the band like it’s his calling in life. He meddles with a dynamic that did not need changing and, as a result, he causes change way faster than necessary. But then, he also acts as if his lack of musical talent hinders him, despite the fact that he has a steady job already. He assumes he’s entitled to fame since he gave up some of his time to join the band, like he’s owed a favor. He’s not a tortured artist, just a struggling one. That doesn’t make him special.

Frank- Band watches

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the band since we don’t get to learn much about them. Baraque and Nana speak French and Clara can be violent. I wish we got to learn more about Clara’s close friendship with Frank, but that’s not the main focus of the movie. Gyllenhaal herself is quite fierce in her performance. I can understand why she wasn’t trusting of Jon since he tried to change Frank, but she came off as antagonistic from the start, so I’m guessing she just has anger issues. I mean, she did talk about how she’d like to stab Jon.

Frank- Dumping ashes

As I said, Frank is quite the oddball of a movie. It gives us a look at a musicians’ focus on their craft, no matter how strange or different it may seem to us. It shows the value of maintaining devotion to music, regardless of fame. We’re asked whether we would rather maintain our own identity and self-expression or sacrifice that in exchange for fame and fortune. Is fame even worth it if you’re not happy? Frank is not for everyone because of how odd some will find it. However, beneath the strangeness that is this film is an enjoyable watch about a man who loves to perfect his craft. Despite not seeing his face for most of the film, Michael Fassbender is expressive from start to finish. But once that head comes off, we see how fragile and vulnerable he truly is.