It’s endlessly entertaining watching the montage — an old-fashioned, familiar, nearly-cliched storytelling device — and the cold open — a sort of newfangled, disorienting, “edgy” storytelling device — used to such loving and sincere effect throughout Better Call Saul. Both were hallmarks of Breaking Bad, too, from the “Crystal Blue Persuasion” cooking montage to the pesky little housefly of that third season episode. But here in Saul they’re more frequent and often more ambitious, and in “Fifi” there were multiple examples to this point.
Before we dive into those devices it’s worth noting that this is the home stretch of Saul‘s second season, and the arc has become superbly focused and compelling in ways that the earliest episodes of Season 2 (“Switch” and “Cobbler” in particular) hinted at ever-so-subtly. For a show about a guy who wears orange suits and wails on the bagpipes at the office, for a show built on flashy devices like the montage and the cold open, for a show peopled by characters as bombastic and iconic as any of the Salamancas…if the writing were equally outlandish we’d have an entirely different show. Instead, the character arcs intersect with intricacy and propel forward in subtle ways, lending no small degree of unease to the thematic undercurrent.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 2.8 – “Fifi”
Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.
Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?
Continue reading Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
Beasts of No Nation lives in the space between realism and allegory. Uzodinma Iweala’s original novel approaches that space but seems far less concerned with it, narrated entirely by the young central character, Agu, in his simplistic present-tense dialect. A child soldier in West Africa, Agu’s journey in the novel is one of survival. His family is killed, and to avoid being killed himself he accepts an offer to join the army of the Commandant, a rebel warlord. At first he declares “I am not wanting to fight”; eventually, though, Agu is killing with knives and guns, willfully attacking “enemies”, tearing through his war-stricken country at the whim and call of the Commandant.
Everything about the novel is heartbreaking, but nothing more so than the sense that Agu is too young to realize that his journey across his country is also a descent into hell. The first-person narration is one that nonetheless conveys the bare minimum about Agu’s own thoughts and feelings about his actions, and yet at times it conveys more than enough. “I am liking it” — this is what Agu says about the sound of his knife hitting a woman’s head, about the splashing blood. It’s brutal in how direct it all is, in its impossibility and in its plausibility. Iweala never has to name the West African country or convince us that someone like Agu really exists; Agu very definitely does.
Continue reading Beasts of No Nation (2015)
- Both the New York Film Festival and the New York Comic Con concluded this weekend. From the former, I’d like to give a sarcastic shout-out to the idiot who talks through the Closing Night premiere and is inevitably seated right next to me; from the latter, I’d like to give an actual shout-out to the girl dressed as Harley Quinn that I saw zipping through Grand Central. Nice mallet.
- Quentin Tarantino is cutting two versions of The Hateful Eight (rather than, you know, eight versions), one for 70mm and one for the rest of the peons to check out in digital. I really cannot for the life of me think of a good reason for this, other than because he’s Tarantino.
- Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Bob Balaban and Edward Norton will be voicing a pack of dogs for Wes Anderson’s next stop-motion animation film. Even if you’re not a huge Wes fan, that’s a pretty top-tier voice cast.
Continue reading Film & TV News: October 13
Sometimes drama is hard. Part of the reason why people are throwing around phrases like The Golden Age of Television is because great drama often implies a certain longevity, a depth not only of feeling but of space and time as well. Rust Cohle’s True Detective arc spans more than a decade, and we’re allowed insight into that arc for eight hours rather than for the limited runtime of a film. Walter White’s (d)evolution is likewise more effective for the time it takes building itself. In the coldest sense television allows what comic book chronology allows, simply more, and thus more of a compounding effect in the later hours or later seasons. True Detective and Breaking Bad are intense in their final sequences mostly due to brilliant writing, brilliant directing, brilliant acting — nothing replaces storytelling (preach!) — but partially due to what came before.
And yes: sometimes drama is easy. Fabricated drama isn’t hard to find. Heck, take Best Picture winner Argo, which climaxes with a harrowing scene at the airport where the heroes are really just standing in a room sweating as to whether they’re about to be let out of the country or not. Quick cuts are made to the drama, vehicles holding the bad guys hurtling along the tarmac. It’s all spiced up, and usually when you have to spice up your scene with cuts to action that simply happen faster and faster as the music plays faster and faster — well, maybe there’s another way to extract drama, a less easy way, an infinitely more effective way. Argo is hardly the worst example. The cringeworthiest one that leaps to mind is all the extraneous shit going down at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, because Spidey battling his enemy isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies while a hospital full of people is in danger and a plane full of people is about to crash isn’t even enough, so throw Gwen Stacey in there. There we go: amazing.
Continue reading The Leftovers 1.10 – “The Prodigal Son Returns”
Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.
But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.
Continue reading Black Mass (2015)
One might have hoped that the second season of True Detective would end up being something more than it appeared to be at the outset. Not just that the overall story would improve or that the episode-by-episode characterizations would gradually become more palatable — many hoped that the end of the sophomore outing would shine a light back on the beginning in such a way that a second viewing might be more rewarding than the first. This kind of retroactive structuring isn’t impossible, but it is pretty damn rare. The example I always use is Lost (yeah, I use Lost as a barometer for pretty much everything) which had an ending that might not have pleased everyone but managed to turn back and gracefully incorporate disparate elements from the first few seasons.
Did True Detective do that? The answer’s probably more No than Yes, and although the one major Yes is worth discussing the Nos just seem to pile atop one another immediately after watching the finale. Spoilers follow for “Omega Station”.
Continue reading True Detective 2.8 – “Omega Station”
One writer I enjoy reading and rereading is Don DeLillo, author of Underworld and White Noise — arguably his most famous works — and my personal favorite Libra. I rambled about him in relation to Birdman in this article. His relation to True Detective? Negligible, mostly, except for the fact that the sheer volume of characters in play during the second season of the HBO series has frequently recalled the densely-populated neighborhoods of DeLillo’s books. This dude packs characters into his stories, and if it gets out of control at times it’s still a very intentional and graspable phenomenon wherein the primary characters both stand out from the pack and blend into it. They get sort of out of control, these chessboards of intermingled personalities, and in the case of the 800+ page Underworld things get downright daunting; but it’s all controllable and palatable at the same time, somehow, in the way that all of the disparate colors in a kaleidoscope can still be explained as part of a single device made of cheap plastic.
True Detective is, I hope, more akin to that kind of a story than we’re able to grasp with the final episode (which will be an extended 90-minute finale) still to go. At the moment, one would be forgiven for wondering what in the heck it is we’re even rooting for here. Caspere’s killer? Maybe. That’s the event that kicked the season off, and it’s definitely still “unsolved”. But there are more loose threads in this season than there are loose threads on David Morse’s drug rug, so let’s get down to detecting some truth. Spoilers follow for the seventh episode “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”.
Continue reading True Detective 2.7 – “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”
Like this season’s third episode “Maybe Tomorrow“, “Church in Ruins” did something important: it peeked out, briefly and with clear purpose, and tried to put forth something that we’d never seen from the series before. This is essentially the equivalent of inching the shower curtain open just enough to reach your arm through to grab your towel before the cold air comes rushing in — again: brief, purposeful, a foray into something different characterized with intent on avoiding that something different. I could continue to over-convolute this line of thinking, but, hey, if you’re entertainments of the more Byzantine variety, I give you True Detective.
“Maybe Tomorrow” was packed with humor, and it was the type of humor that ‘Tec had never engaged in until that point. “Church in Ruins” was a milestone of sorts, too, but far more difficult to pin down. Yes, there are way more going-ons in Season 2 as compared with Season 1 — cadres of tough-looking supporting characters in slim-fit suits, piles of dead bodies with/without eyes, hooker parties, gambling addictions, custody battles, missing blue diamonds, etc. etc. etc. You’d be forgiven for rewatching an episode or two out of confusion. But, really, the confusion one might have felt after “Church in Ruins” likely had nothing to do with what just happened and more to do with the weird way in which it all went down.
Continue reading True Detective 2.6 – “Church in Ruins”
- Sam Mendes has officially stated that he won’t return for a third Bond outing after Spectre… but by now, of course, we pretty much know to take these sorts of “confirmations” with a grain of salt. Mendes also teased that we might expect the artist of the theme song to be made public sooner rather than later.
- Another Accidental Franchise Sam (this one’s Raimi) has given his blessing to Marvel’s high-school approach to the new Spider-Man. So, yeah. Rest easy.
- We noted how weird the career of David Gordon Green is in our review of Manglehorn, wherein we also lauded the fact that he’s leaned toward smaller indie-feel projects like Manglehorn and Joe. Now Green will allegedly be directing Stronger, one of the many adaptations concerning the Boston Marathon Bombing, thus remaining one of the most unpredictable directors in Hollywood.
- It Follows is now available on Amazon Instant Video and several other platforms, so your excuses for not watching it are really starting to thin out (you know who you are).
Continue reading Film & TV News: July 21