Profit, Episode 4: Healing

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

As I predicted, Profit continues to get better.  Although Jim Profit does not face anyone as clever as Sykes, the situations he puts himself him get tougher, and the suspense and drama grow through that.  This is what happens:   Profit and Joanne get summoned by his boss Charles Gracen, who is fed up with suspicious activity, to inform them of a lie detector test scheduled for in a few days.  Profit spies on Joanne’s bearded, proud psychiatrist, Dr. Grant, and, with information about his sexual relationships with his patients- some bordering on rape, some even resulting in warding to get them silenced- blackmails him into manipulating Joanne.  This seems to be for ruining her test.  Grant has to use hypnosis, which Profit knows will work only on people willing to believe hypnosis works.  With some direct help from Jim, Joanne activates repressed memories about her father’s suicide when she was very young, resulting in her fleeing home to be hospitalized (which Profit pretends to finds shocking).  Grant gets arrested, and Jim frees Joanne, and seemingly befriends her.  Maybe he did this because he felt sorry, or maybe because his plan was to win her over all along and not have Chaz get suspicious.  Joanne, armed with a gun, finds Grant, who seems to have escaped from jail, but the doctor convinces her not to let herself be manipulated by Profit.

Throughout the episode, Profit also gets close to impotent and unimportant Pete Gracen, who actually seems to be planning something with Jeffrey Sykes- who claims he wants Profit to get off his case.  He gets to have whipping-belt-enhanced sex with Bobbi, while rekindling romance with Nora, wife of Pete Gracen, his recent fling and comrade.  Jim prepares for the lie-detector test by stamping one of his feet into a spike in his shoe.  Joanne, with her sanity regained, eagerly takes the test as well.  Both pass.  Chaz assures them this could be a problem much greater than he could comprehend.  Profit tells us about fighting hard battles and the comfort of sleep as he enters his box and bids us goodnight.

more scenes from Profit, including Jim's bizarre bed

Like I said, Profit continues to improve its passion and polish all the way through this episode.  My disgust for Jim Profit came back when it seemed he reached yet another level of evil- he was apparently willing to destroy an essentially innocent person’s dignity and sanity.  There were many twists in the plot.  The important events were kept in a linear structure, and the side stories- to of course be expanded upon in the near future- were kept somewhat separate.  The cliffhanger where Jim closes the screaming mouth of Joanne was intense, as was the scene where we fear Jim and Nora might get caught making sexual advances on each other.  The cutting back and forth of the camera, the slow panning and tracking around individual characters, and other techniques show masterful television production.  “Healing” loses all traces of campiness. The dark themes and events don’t lack sincerity anymore.  The acting is now at Law & Order: Special Victims Unit quality.  Even Profit’s totally cool visits to cyberspace are kept to a minimum. And there is still some nice humor- mostly through the southern-style quips of Bobbi.

I find myself asking about the story.  What is the fate of all these characters?  Has Grant escaped?  Has Jim changed Joanne, or was his pursuit in vain?  What are Pete and Sykes planning?  What depraved figures will we meet next?  I’m even pondering ethical questions.  Is it right when a hardcore white-collar criminal gets a sex offender punished?  After doing evil deeds, is it not justified to keep doing more, equally or less despicable deeds, to save oneself?  Am I amoral the way Jim Profit is?  His advice about working hard and understanding people is extremely useful.  He is admirable in ways that self-sacrificing heroes, reckless anti-heroes, and overly ambitious villain protagonists aren’t.  Profit cares about the challenge as much as the result, about rising to the top as well as down-time.  I don’t experience moral conflicts in my life, but rather seek the kinds of things Profit does.  I think episode 5 will be just as good.

Watched: March 13, 2010, at night, in my bedroom.

Overall Rating: 5/5

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Profit, Episode 3: Sykes

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The story of episode 3 is neater and easier to manage than in the previous two.  It cuts out uninteresting subplots and underwhelming plot twists.  But it’s still very dense for a television program.  I tried to make things easier- and more fun- by taking three-or-four minute breaks between the show’s actual breaks.  “Sykes” goes as follows:

Jim comes out of the shower in his fancy suite to find his stepmother Bobbi Stakowski with audio tapes to blackmail him into giving her more money for living.  At the G&G office, Chaz Gracen instructs his subordinates to acquire the business of Ian Karpov.  Jim goes to a fashion show, and gets suave African American gentleman-lawyer Jeffrey Sykes to join his team.  Sykes’s wife is in the show.   He spikes the food with an insect in order to better his own quality-striving public image.  Profit wants Sykes at G&G because- through internet research- he knows that Sykes had a vendetta against Ian Karpov, who is really a Russian mobster responsible for the deaths of many people, including one of Jeffrey’s friends.  Profit meets Karpov at his office and makes a deal to clean Karpov’s unclean records for a share of the company.  Profit now works with a timid, nerdy, fat man named Edgar as an assistant for computer-related work.  At Sykes’s home, he lightly argues with his wife about his revenge plots.

Profit sees Pete Gracen at G&G, and openly lies to him – “Who would be more qualified than you?” – about taking more power in the company.  Bobbi- acting as a designer, though totally unqualified, advises Pete about a new painting- with some help from her smarter son.    We see Sykes planning to make a virus.   Profit confronts Joanne Meltzer, who knows that this designer is his mother.  But Profit makes the convincing excuse the he does not want to break her Alcoholics Anonymous anonymity.  Sykes steals data through a disk in a dark room.  After finding more about this conspiracy, profit meets Ian again, who threatens him by pushing him into glass for being so sneaky.  Sykes saps information Profit (and Edgar) needs, so he has to find another way.  What happens next may be the best scene of the episode- Jim goes to Joanne’s door- which is secured by a chain, and tries to swift-talk his way into getting company data from her, but does not succeed.  Profit meets his sleazy mom again in her suite, but has to go back out when his secretary Gail Cohen gives him a call to action.

Jim Profit, posing with his two greatest co-workers/adversaries

Profit confronts Sykes at another fashion show- and threatens him with a concocted potential drug-bust on his wife.  Sykes is distraught, and gives into the threat, submitting the data and agreeing to resign from G&G.  At Profit’s computer, the funny-looking 3D avatar of Sykes- just like the other vanquished employees- explodes.  Cut to a shocking and intense scene- Jack Meltzer, the “hero” from episode 2 and former VP of Acquisitions, is in prison.  A guard tells him to cut off his hopes of revenge on Profit- because, in a complicated move, Profit has made it so the guards can collect money if they murder Jack when Profit is not alive.  At Sykes’s home, his wife confronts him on putting him in this danger she found out about- despite some calm affection and negotiation, this woman indeed leaves him.   Jim meets Karpov in his lair again, but it is a setup- Ian gets arrested by some high-level police.   Our protagonist is happy- but then Sykes comes back.  I can’t remember exactly what happened, but Sykes either had a backup computer scheme that contributed to the arrest, or simply came back because he has other ambitions for Gracen & Gracen, and to tell his nemesis Karpov to know he got revenge.  Sykes’s avatar reforms.  Chaz reprimands Profit for acquiring Karpov’s assets through a very risky and possibly controversial means.  On his way home, Jim gets nearly hit by a car.  The driver apologizes.  But he says- to the camera- “I’ll be just fine.”  Cue the rockin’ end theme and its credits.

I am surprised at how much Profit improved in one episode.  It’s as if the writers, television directors, and actors just got more comfortable with the characters, setting, and themes.  When Sykes confronts his disappointed wife, the love and fear they both have is real.  The office of Karpov is intimately intense, filled with lies and danger.  The relationship between Profit and his stepmother is increasingly unique.  They are enemies and friends- but accept each other’s personalities and need to exploit each other.  The score is finally a healthy mix between tough-guy 80’s rock and eerie orchestral and electronic tunes.  When Profit tries to convince Joanne for help, you have to root for and feel sorry for him.  Jim and Sykes suspensefully reveal their schemes, and both make bittersweet levels of progress.  Although I despised what Profit did to Jack, his voice-overs about learning from mistakes are more inspiring than ever.  It’s also easier to like our villain protagonist when his opponents are also vengeful liars.  Profit’s audience-intimacy via camera contact and voice-over was corny before, but now it’s genuinely charming, and at the end of the episode, offers closure of today’s plot and curiosity for the next.  What foes will he take on next time?  How evil will they be, or become?  What challenges can Jim profit overcome?  According to the DVD, one is a lie-detector test with Joanne Meltzer.  I think that episode four will be even better.

Notable quotes-

“Oh please, Jim, break down the door.  Give me another excuse to blow your psychopathic head off.” -Joanne, to Profit

“Hiring a human being isn’t much different from acquiring a company.  You mount an approach and appeal to the seller.” – Profit, voice over

Watched: March 3, 2010, in my room in the evening

Overall rating- 5/5

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Profit, Episode 2: Hero

March 1, 2010 1 comment

In this second episode, the pace slows down a little and a more easily coherent story is told.  Jim Profit does battle with Jack Walters and Joanne Meltzer; they look up each other’s information and set traps to expose the other.  Despite getting in some rough spots, Profit is  always one step of ahead of his moral and brave colleague.  He frames Walters for business lies and a biological murder, leaving the innocent man imprisoned for thirty years and Meltzer with greater resolve to take down Profit.

Though the acting wasn’t spectacular, there were a lot of things I liked more about this episode than the first.  It seems the show seized its chance to function within just one hour smartly.  Profit pits people against each other, and when they have resolved their differences (Walters and his wife, for one), it is too late.  Profit is so sincerely passionate about and proficient with his computer research, so much that one wonders with fear how he has such omnipotent access to other people’s lives.  He makes fools out of people who get friendly with him, and reaches a level of evil I hadn’t even considered in a villain protagonist: try to get a man locked up whom you attacked first.  Still, he is endearing and and sometimes bitterly hilarious; loudly practicing his Chinese and denying his sadistic actions in a warm and sincere tone.  Also gleefully disturbing is when Jim makes ally Nora Gracen put herself down, and resolve to change her moral ways.

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The principal characters, going clockwise, starting from left: Nora Gracen, Joanne Meltzer, Jeffrey Sykes, Jim Profit, Bobbi Stakowski, Gail Koner, Charles Gracen, Pete Gracen

Though he seems often like a shallow character who doesn’t really seem to be that interested in people he lectures to the audience about via voice-over, the voice-overs still have a good amount of meaning.  Profit tells us to enjoy life before it ends, and to not be brash or reckless.  This show makes one feel strange in this regard: we are learning deep and sensible life lessons from a man whose existence is about ruining other people’s livelihood and families.  They are warnings, yet more than warnings- he seems to want the viewer to become a better person by becoming more careful of people.  Though he himself was cursed with a dismal family, and he feels genuine pity toward his victims.    Also great is discovering the plan he had set out along- to have Walters arrested- right after a heroic confrontation with Jim in which his dark past is almost exposed- by planting medical materials in his house, while pretending to befriend his wife.  The dramatic tension works much better in Episode 2 than 1, with the tragic married couple, vengeful Joanne Meltzer, Profit, and other corporates showing relationships and desires to help or one-up the other.

I am not totally engaged with the show’s story just yet, but I think the next episode will take this twisted tale even further.  Profit has a lot of goals left to achieve, and according to the episode descriptions, a whole gallery of enemies.

Overall rating: 4/5

Watched: Sunday, February 28, late at night in the Library Cafe

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Profit, Episode 1: Pilot

March 1, 2010 1 comment

Meet Jim Profit: A brimming new employee at multinational corporation Gracen & Gracen.  He’s got an intimidating but oddly rusty voice when serious.  His stare at colleagues, friends, and the camera, is unsettling but not quite genuine.  From the beginning of this awkward pilot, he tells the audience the general plan, which involves going as far upward as he can from Junior Vice President of Acquisitions as possible.  By the end, he’s made a ton of progress.  Profit’s is a casual sort of berserker: he lies very frequently, and without struggle.  He doesn’t need to contemplate morality before offering false praise to alcoholic Senior VP Pete Gracen, while seducing his wife Nora.  He isn’t afraid when arguing against the ethics of lie detector tests, after stealing company information, in front of his boss Chaz Gracen, or confronted by President of Acquistions Jack Walters.  Before we can predict how Profit will get out of trouble, he’s gained the trust of his blackmailed and would-be enemy Gail Koner by paying off her mother’s medical expenses.

A lot of things happen in this episode. So many plots and schemes are brought to fruition in such a short time.  I can hardly remember the order of it all- except for the climax, when Jim infiltrates a hospital in order to murder his helpless (though once abusive) father, to the dismay of his stepmother, whom he has been romancing, and at this point, now blackmailing.   Along the way Profit has exposed an ethically questionable choice by the company regarding baby food production, in order to ruin several people, and make antagonists out of some others. If I could have changed this pilot, I would have cut down on the stories and helpless minor antagonists.  The pacing is fast, though the dialogue is calm and hard to hear without subtitles.  But that’s one of the things I like about Profit– it doesn’t suffer from dragging on or teasing the viewer with story interruptions.  I enjoy not knowing all about the protagonist, or having his plans dictated to the viewer before they happen.  I want to find out more about the cast of characters, and their corporation,  but there isn’t much time to absorb relevant plot development.

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various scenes from Profit

But I’m not as interested in this show’s universe as I could be.  The acting is consistently mediocre.  It’s not incredibly believable, like House or Seinfeld, yet not phony like CSI or The George Lopez Show.  Nobody, not the smart nor the vulnerable characters, feel to me like honest representations of adults  (Nor are they going for a presentational style).  Maybe this is to show how corporate people are childish or lack dignity; maybe the directors lack talent.  I think I may be able to tell in future episodes, if it is not a sort of balance.  Profit himself is a powerhouse of intelligence when compared to his peers, but doesn’t seem all that engaged in his environment.  His voice over quotes are actually pretty poignant and humanly psychotic (they include “doing your best” even if it’s murder and blackmail).  However, his dark and brooding tone, along with the somber soundtrack, don’t seem to fit.  The show is a festival of depravity, but treats itself like some sophisticated tragedy.

I am unsure of whether I am supposed to be laughing when I laugh.  I can’t always tell if it’s quality dark humor, or the overplaying of Jim’s evilness.  I can’t tell is Profit is aware of its own shamelessness, or too proud of it.  A red herring of a dream in which Profit chokes someone, his sleeping in a customized box caused by an absurdly horrifying childhood, saying “Hi Mom” to the woman he just made out with, and ignoring his father’s pleas for mercy, are quite shocking, and cause me to have the slightly evil grin that Jim is too cool to even have.  But does this show want me to grin at how brutal this all is, or am I catching on to campiness they did not intend?  I hope to make sense of this in future episodes.  But regardless, I will continue to enjoy the scenery and dynamic camerawork that make Profit a spectacle worth seeing.   Even his searches into the 3D-database are entertaining.  I hope the show slows down a little and becomes more sincere, to make this good technical work used well.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Watched: Friday, February 27, on DVD player at home

Categories: Uncategorized

Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech, Commentary 2

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

                                                                                                                                                                                                       

This part of the documentary deals with Debbie Almontaser, the American Muslim teacher in New York City.  The New York Post basically caused her to resign from the Board of Education and lose her chance at becoming permanent principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.  In spite of her career based on promoting intercultural, trans-religion understanding and peace, New York City’s school Chancellor and Mayor were convinced by the Teacher’s Union that she is agent of threats of violence.  When asked on phone by the New York Post to explain the women’s T-Shirt of a Yemeni organization which Almontaser was part of, saying “Intifada NYC”, she explained the passive root of the often rebellious term.  This acted as evidence against her.

I think that it is okay for a newspaper to “be this partisan” as my professor asks.  “Partisan” in this case might offend reasonable Republicans (since the target is probably not Democrats when describing the Post.)   In America at least, there are plenty of big newspapers at the opposite end of any spectrum of opinion.  But I think the act itself is despicable.  From what I’ve heard, it was a cruel trap based on semantics.  I believe whomever called Almontaser did not have the desire to find out the truth, but to fulfill either media frenzy or appeal to anti-terrorism fear in the buying audience.  It may be vague to say this but, I think what makes the investigators of Watergare honorable was their urge to expose lies, not help craft a negative statement to take down the enemy.

I think our media is offended a little too easily about negative statements regarding the United States and the September 11, 2001 attacks.  But what I think, or at least some of the media finds acceptable, is explanations of bad choices made by the government, or waning public values, that allowed anti-America aims to carry out.  You can’t say “America deserved the deaths of 2,000 people” or “our lifestyles are the kind that ought to be punished.”  But you can say “If we hadn’t gone into this country and manipulated this region or regime we could have avoided this” or “we’ve become too soft on security and have to improve our homeland defense.”  Few Americans would say “America is not good”, but many say “America is misusing its potential” or “abandoning what makes this country great.”

A person that is close to an organization with a negative public image, in some circumstances, may be justifiably fired.  But what I dislike is the frenzy to boot people out of their position.  People get so passionate about being invaded or tarnished by an ideological enemy, that neither gets to have their facts properly checked, nor has a real debate with the other.  This may just cause greater opposition and disrespect toward the accuser.  Then again, media with a good following like the Post may not mind the public image of hardcore knavery.

I would like for the Post  to prove me completely wrong with evidence- about the phone conversation, or Almontaser’s true nature.  Until then, I will not take their side of the issue.

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A response to a scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

                        

In what is equivalent to Chapter 3 of the book, Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo are in a hotel bar.  They’re on their way to report on the Mint 400 race, toward the beginning of a drug-fueled journey in Las Vegas.  When Duke eagerly consumes some of the doctor’s Sunshine Acid, his altered perspective made of brightened colors, squiggly angles, and storming bats goes from psychedlic to scary and uncomfortable.

Everyone in the bar becomes a human-shaped reptilian being.  Duke panics at being so freaked out.  He raves about defending himself against these beasts, who have since caused blood to spill on the floors.  Perhaps what inspired this part of author Hunter S. Thompson’s  book was a random hallucination.  But I think this reflects that the author, if not his main character, has simultaneously become paranoid and disgusted by other people.  He is already nervous; being terrified by the clerk, the lady who says someone is looking for him (whose face turns into an eel’s), and his own inarticulateness.

I think Duke sees those who run the media (the lizards at the press table) just like everyone else (the lizards at the bar).  People that consume and produce news may be mindless consumers (of alcohol) and malicious exploiters (biters of humans).  Las Vegas is an epicenter for indulgence and deception.  Duke seems helplessly jaded and suspicious.  Maybe he is a victim of his own reporter’s mentality- to find the most obscene and savage aspects in people.  He certainly seems silly enough for this to be the point.  But both may be true concepts.  I should really watch or read the rest the movie/book to understand this character better.

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Profit- My Television Series to Review

February 15, 2010 1 comment

The main part of this blog project will be my review of the 8-episode 1996 drama, Profit.  I think this will be a fine way to get started on actually consistently watching a TV drama.  I’ve spent the past decade watching scattered episodes of comedy, while only making serious commitments to anime.  Profit piqued my interest, because the main character of the series, conniving businessman Jim Profit, seems to be a villain protagonist.  To those who haven’t heard of Death Note or Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, both anime series more or less star a young man who, with the aid of a supernatural power, lies, kills, manipulates, and risks his life with the goal of radically changing the world.  I get a rush from sympathizing with such normally immoral activity.  In the latter series, the protagonist redeems himself; I heard Jim does the same, so it will be interesting to discover how.

I have watched Big Brother for the past few years.  It is in may ways a silly reality show, with adults throwing tantrums and jumping around ridiculous obstacle courses.  But my favorite part is watching contestants who lie and deceive their way toward the top.  The guessing and finding out of whether they succeed or fail is thrilling.  They also have the realistic drive for acquiring prizes and cash you see in a game show.

I expect great things from Profit- not only because of its wrongdoing main character, but the reviews online claim that the story, the acting, the tension, and the characters are all great.  I think Profit will help me discover some of the greatness of live-action dramatic television.  I know that it is different from movies because dialogue is king, not visual expression.  And different from serious anime, in that you trade seamless portrayal of the fantastic and liberation from the camera for human actors and familiar perspectives.  I am stepping outside of my comfort zone in many ways.  I have seen even less premium-cable shows than other shows.

I do not want to set my hopes too high, because that has ruined certain movies (Paranormal Activity) for me in the recent past.  I am sure there will be weaknesses in how enjoyable the show is.  I have also read there are outdated concepts of computer technology in this 14-year old series.  However, these inevitable anachronisms are charming in whatever stories they show up in.  Also, I may dislike having only eight episodes to see.  Then again, they might be more than adequate.  I may have to get used to this new variety of entertainment, or it maybe it is already accessible.  Let’s hope Amazon quickly sends me my DVD.

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