Archive for Se7en

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.

Stentorian!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on August 3, 2018 by dcairns

The FBI are watching you neck. But it’s all in the line of duty.

I followed up director Gordon Douglas’s THEM! with director Gordon Douglas’s WALK A CROOKED MILE, released on a box set of Columbia noirs. But it’s an example of that T-MEN school of pseudo-documentary procedural with stentorian voice-over that always strikes me as too authoritarian to qualify as real noir. In noir, there’s a fundamental problem in society or in human nature, which the story exposes. A rather overt example is ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW where, in telling a heist story, the film attempts to deal with racism. But that’s too obvious to be properly in the spirit of noir. What I really mean is the less explicit critiques of human nature implied by THE KILLING, OUT OF THE PAST, LADY FROM SHANGHAI. The proper ending for such stories is downbeat, though there are plenty of noirs with happy endings — it’s a very flexible form, resistant to the kind of prescriptiveness I’m offering right here.

  Raymond Burr is watching you neck! But only for his personal satisfaction.

But WALK A CROOKED MILE situates all the story’s problems outside American society — it’s eastern block spies that are the problem. The film functions as a detailed and somewhat terrifying portrayal of FBI methods in surveilling and apprehending these soviet skunks.

The almost-bellowing VO is part of the film’s pro-American stance. Talking a little too loud, a little too slow, and telling you all sorts of stuff you never asked to hear, it simulates the experience of being cornered by a friendly drunk in a bar, although the film ends before the narrator can declare you his best pal in the world.

Starring Monty Brewster, The Man in the Iron Mask (both of him), Lars Thorwald (in a rather fetching beard), and Dr. Franz Edleman, who had to play a rather colourless US general in THEM! but here has a slightly meatier bad guy role. Plus lots of what are called attractive San Francisco locations.

One sense in which the film seems noirish — nobody turns their lights on. And, with the film’s preponderance of location shooting, this starts to register as an overt stylistic choice and a slight violation or realism, which it never usually does. (We had a similar but different experience seeing SE7EN for the first time — as detectives probe Gluttony’s horrible apartment, we wondered why they don’t turn a light on. Then we realised that multiple lights already WERE on, they just were failing to pierce the Stygian gloom. Dark with something more than the blinds being closed.)

Good work by Gordon Douglas — all the compositions of crisp feds packed into tight rooms are brimming with dynamic tension. The story is by Bertram Millhauser, whose movie-writing career began with THE PERILS OF PAULINE in 1914, and in a sense this isn’t any more sophisticated, the good-guy/bad-guy lines starkly drawn and the verité style excusing any need to go deeper than the surface anywhere.

Belated Sequels

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2014 by dcairns

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I think belated sequels are great! Doesn’t everybody? Like remarriage, they represent the triumph of hope over experience, as studios pray that for once the desperate target of making a follow-up to a film their audience only vaguely remembers, with clapped-out stars or new nobodies, will respark fading careers and fill box office tills. Here are some that should happen.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS 2. Admittedly, both stars of the original are dead, but Jean-Pierre Leaud is still clinging to life and sanity and Bernardo Bertolucci may be poorly but it’s not like we’re asking him to do the shagging. Would necessitate retroactively retitling the previous installment, George Lucas fashion — something like NEXT-TO-LAST TANGO IN PARIS. So maybe the new one could be POSITIVELY LAST TANGO IN PARIS, though that would be a hostage to fortune come the inevitable Part III. Still, even if we’re unsure about the title and cast, we have a slogan and so the thing should immediately be greenlit: “LAST TANGO II: Just when you thought it was safe to whack off in the butter.”

DR STRANGELOVE II: DR STRANGERLOVER. It might seem that destroying the world at the end of the first film would preclude a follow-up, but there is precedent here — EVIL DEAD II opted to pretend the first film never happened, and stage a mini-remake with Bruce Campbell and a new co-star. So the urgent need to address global warming, the new end-of-the-world peril, can be assuaged with a film in which, I don’t know, Eddie Murphy or somebody puts on some masks and pretends to be different people while we all boil to death in our own industrial effluent. And Kubrick’s heirs can reassure us that it’s what Stanley intended all along.

BIRTH OF A NATION II: AFTERBIRTH OF A NATION. Cinephiles have long agonized over the fraught position of DW Griffith’s epic. Historically and artistically significant, yet morally and politically abhorrent. Could not the problem be solved altogether with a belated sequel? In this thoughtful reworking by Ron Howard, the second half of BOAN, which contains all the really unspeakable stuff, turns out to have been a dream sequence. The Little Colonel comes out of the shower and realizes it was all just an overheated fantasy brought on by the trauma of losing the Civil War and eating too much cheese. Then he fights the Klan, possibly by joining the FBI or something. We can get a CGI Lillian Gish. It’ll be super.

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SE7EN 2WO. The hard-hitting sequel to SE7EN in which Kevin Spacey plays the nicer brother of his character from the David Fincher classic, Jim Doe, who is out to kill people in ways reflecting ironically on the Seven Cardinal Virtues. “It’s a less dark, less rainy film, and Jim Doe is really a positive guy,” explains Spacey. “Instead of trying to point at all the evil in the world, he wants to use his murdering to highlight the good things.” Baz Luhrmann will direct, as long as they agree to add an exclamation mark.

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2005: SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE. This one would be exciting because it’s not only a sequel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but also a prequel to 2010: ODYSSEY II. It’ll also be a futuristic science fiction film set in the past, which is obviously twice as exciting. “It’s what Stanley would have wanted,” say heirs. It’s set after astronaut Dave Bowman disappeared near Jupiter, but before he turned up again, so I guess he won’t be in it. Mostly I guess it would be about Dr. Heywood Floyd relaxing at home. Since he has a dolphin in his living room (and possibly a bush baby by now) it’ll be by far the cutest film in the series.

BARRY LYNDON II. Basically three hours of a one-legged Ryan O’Neal losing at cards. Kubrick’s heirs voice quiet doubts.

THE GREAT ESCAPE II. Contemporary setting. POW camp is still running, having somehow been missed at the end of the war. Producers are determined to unite as many of the original cast as possible, including those whose characters died in the first film. So, David McCallum, who is basically immune to old age it seems. Expect extensive flashbacks.

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KING KONG DOESN’T LIVE. In an effort to expunge the memory of his misguided sequel to his KONG remake, John Guillermin will return to the director’s chair to lens this epic production. “It starts with Kong coming out of the shower,” he explains, “Which is the waterfall he bathes in with Jessica Lange, and then we realize that the last half of KONG and the whole of KONG LIVES were a dream. A giant gorilla’s dream.” Guillermin hopes to reunite Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, “Because they’re all still alive, unlike that GREAT ESCAPE crowd.” The sequel will pick up exactly where the middle of KONG leaves off, with Guillermin explaining the cast looking 36 years older as “The effects of the shock of seeing this giant gorilla. I mean, I aged ten years when I saw that stupid heap of junk Carlo Rambaldi had built.”