Archive for the Television Category

Life after Mars

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2019 by dcairns

Just finished Veronica Mars last night. Really dug it. Always liked that show.

Am going to avoid really specific spoilers but probably watch it with fresh eyes if you haven’t already.

It never had a really great visual style, and outside of the snazzy credits, it still doesn’t, though there’s one nice long Steadicam take reintroducing a great supporting character… but that fizzles out in a standard set of shot-countershot cuts. I’m always of the view that the longer a shot lasts, the more important its ending should be.

No, the appeal of the show was always, in no particular order, plotting, characters, dialogue, performances. I was in awe, during the first two seasons, of how Rob Thomas and his gang managed to cram into each episode one fully-developed mystery plot, one mystery subplot, and one development for the overarching series-long central mystery.

As with Nancy Drew, the key relationship was always between Mars (Kristen Bell) and her dad (Enrico Colantoni) and I hope that’s going to continue if the series continues (and it seems harder to destroy than its unstoppable, battered-about protag). The love-hate story with boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) was one for the ages.

These virtues survive intact into the new series, along with the political pessimism (the town of Neptune works even better as a microcosm for the US now — the show has the nerve to draw out plotlines about zoning laws). The eight episodes of season 4 explore one convoluted mystery which spirals off into sub-mysteries, all rounded off in satisfying finishes, but introducing characters perhaps susceptible to further investigation. The dialogue is as snappy, and saltier, than ever, since the original teen audience has grown up with the show. There were always old-timers like us watching, since we’re around the age of the series creators (and only a little younger than Keith Mars) so we felt in tune with a lot of the references.

So we really enjoyed it. Then we looked at the online reaction and Holy Shit. Rob Thomas, shrewdly, is avoiding Twitter. He fully expected an explosive reaction to the final episode’s tragic conclusion.

To me, this feels like the inevitable result of an audience reared on focus-grouped pap — you can’t feed them tragedy because they have no stomach for it. Every time a character they care about is killed, they get resurrected. Audience surveys ask “What was your least favo(u)rite scene?” and everyone cites the scene where something bad happened, and the market survey idiots don’t realize that that scene is where the audience FELT something — “pity, fear and catharsis.”

I could relate this to the audience response to the end of Game of Thrones, except we couldn’t take that show seriously and only watched one episode. Tolkein with tits. But it seems like a similar phenomenon. Social media gives fans the power to talk to creators and they feel ownership of the show. How dare the people who create the show do something that they don’t like? Does this also tie in with all the millennial-bashing stuff about how kids these days are hypersensitive and can’t handle touchy material? Well, that isn’t universally true — I find my students just as hardy, on the whole, as those I taught nearly thirty years ago when I first started — but to the extent that squeamishness and inability to deal with moral complexity or scenes of an adult nature may be on the rise, I would connect it to the feeding of market-tested pablum to the audience.

There are objections to Veronica Mars S.04′s ending that seem to make sense — “It wouldn’t happen, the police would have stopped it” — but are the same as the objections to the ending of SE7EN. The fact is, both endings WORKED in that they caused the audience to have a strong emotional reaction, one apparently intended by the creators. (David Fincher said that he persuaded the key producer to allow the bleak-as-hell ending by asking him to imagine some random TV viewer of the future catching the movie one night, and being forever unable to shake it off.) Quibble s are certainly possible but they don’t take away from the rightness of the overall concept.

I am disturbed at the idea that the media is evolving an audience that can’t bear strong emotion. That’s what you get if your diet is Marvel adaptations, I’m afraid.

I was reminded of this movie’s ending, the only really human moment in a Bond film, and one that would be inconceivable today.

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The Time Tunnel

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by dcairns

Yes, we are enjoying Dark, since you ask.

A German Netflix show about time travel, it so far, two out of three promised seasons in, shows every sign of being meticulously planned, so that it might be one of those rare shows that not only compels binge-watching, but leaves you satisfied at the end.

It’s set in the fictitious town of Winden, where it’s always raining and everyone’s miserable, so as Scots we related. As with any good small-town soap opera, everyone has a secret, too, which in this case translates into nearly everyone having a small package buried in the woods.

Timelines multiply — we meet the characters in 2019 but are soon time-traveling back to 1986. Then 1953, and so on — the number 33 is significant (yay! my favourite number, because in French it sounds like a fanfare). One of the amazing accomplishments is to have found so many sets of three German actors who can play the same characters at three different times in their lives. They use a few tricks like stick-on moles, an impressive cauliflower ear, and heterochromatic eyes to help you follow who is now who. But the line “Confused? You will be,” is still an apt one.

I instinctively distrust things without humour, and Dark is quite remarkably free of laughs. However, it doesn’t seem to be making many mistakes. One of the questions raised by the narrative is whether time travel precludes free will, as a way of preventing paradoxes, and the conclusion seems to be that it does. We even get Appointment in Samarra type instances of characters attempting to alter events, and their interventions become the springboards that CAUSE those events. The downside of this is a couple of scenes where the pre-determined plot causes characters to do things you can’t quite believe they WOULD do (like acquiescing to a loved one’s suicide, based on no proof that this is necessary, on the say-so of a character they have no reason to trust), or suddenly act stupidy because the plot demands it, despite being otherwise smart and capable (“Let’s go to the place where you’re supposed to die today, even though I’m trying to prevent that!”)

These are missteps, but they don’t cancel out the otherwise strong presentation (particularly gorgeous nocturnal establishing shots), performances (although humour could lift these even further), or twisty, moreish plotting. They’re the only indications that the showrunners, director Baran bo Odar and his writing partner Jantje Friese, might not be equal to resolving their tangle of timelines (a temporal wormhole thingy central to events fittingly resembles a ball of black wool having an epileptic fit). Oh, and a scene where three nice characters basically torture a friend, get what they need from him, and are then all friends again. Not wild about that.

The show is probably successful in part because it’s not WILDLY original. It takes time travel seriously and applies it to a soap format, and otherwise it borrows from other places in rather direct ways — the showrunners perhaps don’t even know they’re doing it. “It’s happening again,” says a character early on, straight-up quoting the Giant in Twin Peaks. The recurrent, cyclic spates of child abduction/murder echo Stephen King’s It. A mysterious, windy tunnel is right out of BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH, though its destination is not the inside of a famous actor’s head (unless that’s a plot turn being held back for Season 3). When Matt Groening created The Simpsons, he says, he tried to keep certain elements mundane — the domestic setting, the two point four kids — so the audience’s heads wouldn’t explode from all the other crazy stuff. This seems to work, but you have to be really good to pull it off.

The Dark team seem to be really good.

More TV stuff shortly — we’re halfway through the new Veronica Mars.

Under the Microscope

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2019 by dcairns

Since Felix E. Feist started his career, kind of, with the spectacular DELUGE, and later made DONOVAN’S BRAIN, which I must say doesn’t capture the brilliance of Curt Siodmak’s source novel (I always thought of Curt as a classic “idiot brother” figure until I read this one), I became curious as to whether he had a third science fiction movie under his belt. “One should always talk about doing trilogies,” as Terry Gilliam once said.

Well, he doesn’t, but if you turn to his TV work, you get several episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which I immediately discounted as unworthy of my, or indeed his, attention, but you also get a single episode of The Outer Limits.

I’m not a huge OL fan — I’ve never seen an episode that wouldn’t be better with a half-hour runtime. But the combination of Feist and Stefano’s anthology show seemed worth exploring.

In The Probe, a plane crashes in a hurricane, and we immediately get stock shots of model huts being blown away — maybe from Ford’s THE HURRICANE? At any rate, this harkens back cheerily to the miniature apocalypse of DELUGE, making this definite trilogy material.

It’s also crap material. The various human figures presented are just as stock as the disaster movie footage, indeed no attempt whatever to distinguish them is made. I kept expecting more of them to die, so at least they’d be individualised by manner of demise, but the show is oddly tender-hearted towards its worthless populace. Even Peggy Ann Garner, an Oscar-winner for A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, evinces a difficulty in saying basic English words.

The dialogue is the worst and best thing about the episode. Worst, in that it ruins suspense by having the characters figure stuff out with impossible ease. Trapped in an alien craft, they hear a whine. “Powerful engines?” suggests one. “Atomic?” suggests another.

On the other hand, the dialogue is terrible in a much more entertaining way. The show’s best moment is when the characters, at sea in a life raft, suddenly find they’re indoors. But while the notice that their tiny craft is resting on a metallic floor, they never react to the walls, and don’t seem to notice or consider the implications of being inside an artificial structure until long minutes later. It’s as if visual decisions were made without regard to the script, and nobody considered tweaking the lines to ensure that the characters didn’t come off as mad or blind or simply acting in a different show.

There’s a shit monster. Almost literally.

“Take a step towards that thing,” the square-jawed commander says to his square-jawed subordinate at one point, which somehow fails to elicit the normal response, “Fuck off, YOU take a step towards it.”

Foreground miniature!

Feist blocks the action well, but there’s little of the appeal of his noirs. A really creative adaptation of DONOVAN’S BRAIN, which is a kind of noir or at least crime book, could have exploited his shadowy talents to fine effect. But since Feist is credited as a screenwriter on the resulting brainfest, we have to hold him responsible and admit that he didn’t have a lot of feeling for sci-fi.