• Drunk Napoleon

    What did we watch this weekend?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      The Wire, Season Two, Episode Eight, “Duck And Cover”
      This episode kicks off with Jimmy getting pissed off his face and going on a bender, listening to Irish rock. It amuses me that they genuinely delve into his Irish ancestry, and I never noticed til now how subtle the use of music as a characterisation device was.

      Ziggy completely botches a fight with that guy, egged on by the other dudes, but he manages to win them all over by buying a duck. I feel like we’re seeing what a potential successful Ziggy would have looked like, though I still don’t know where he’d have fit. Speaking of functioning, we see that McNulty does not function anywhere outside of detective work.

      “BAD ADVICE!!! YOU MOTHERFUCKERS HAVE ME BAD ADVICE!!!

      Bodie has been acting as our audience surrogate into drug dealing, growing and stepping up as our understanding of the drug trade grows. Presbo offers a similar perspective on the police work, frustrated that the stevedores aren’t anywhere near as good as the Barksdale crew, which sets up the sudden connection between that crew and the stevedores that they stumble on.

      Breaking Bad, Season Three, Episode Three, “I.F.T.

      After all those great dramatic openings, we get a flashback, showing the cartel boss who killed Tortuga via the cousins.

      Mike watches Walt clean the pizza off, and we learn Mike isn’t connected to Gus via Saul.

      Walt and Skyler’s power games come to an end when Walt calls her bluff, and she can’t bring herself to tell the police about her crimes. I admit, seeing Walt throw down like that was fucking awesome, even through how far he’ll take it. Skyler, on the other hand, revealed her weakness, unable to destroy her family completely. Walt’s low point has brought out his strongest sense of confidence – he’s carries himself with much more confidence, barely recognisable from the start of the series.

      Hank gets only a few scenes, where he reveals how bad his PTSD has gotten. Jesse is in a similar boat, when Jane’s phone is disconnected and he decides to throw himself into cooking to give himself a sense of purpose.

      Finally, Walt’s actions have brought in the top cartel people, who negotiate the right to kill Walt with Gus. Right now, Gus is the only thing keeping Walt alive.

      Deadwood, Season One
      As you know, Bob, I divide stories into four aspects: character, plot, theme, and medium. What I like about working my way through the original prestige TV shows is having one show that focuses on one element, not just executing it with verve and style, but making that element the central fulcrum around which every moment in the show works. Mad Men delivers character, The Shield delivers plot, The Wire delivers a theme, and here we have Deadwood delivering pure style, with its florid and beautiful language (you might have noticed that style infecting my writing here; it’s impossible not to hear my thoughts in Al’s voice right now).

      The thing of it is, beautiful and beautifully-spoken dialogue isn’t enough to sustain a story for me – there are parts of the show (usually revolving around Cy, and yes I feel bad about shitting on the character seeing as how Powers Boothe passed away today) that don’t push the story forward, don’t reveal or explain character, and aren’t tied into the theme of community, and these makes the whole series drag at points for me – I didn’t expect it to have the urgency of The Shield, but it lacks even the urgency of The Wire, which makes it hard to marathon.

      It vaguely resembles The Wire – setpieces connected by the choices that got us there – but without any kind of structural underpinning (aside from the one episode = one day structure). The Wire’s first two seasons begin with a case, and end when the case is solved; there’s no logical ending for uDeadwood’s first season. The closest equivalent to a logical ending is if it ever reached the point in history where the whole town burned down, and the survivors would decide whether or not they liked the town enough to stay and rebuild.

      There are several alternate versions of Deadwood based on comparing it to other shows – a Shield-like show where the death of the Norwegian family keeps coming back, or a Mad Men-like character study that deepened everyone and explained their origins. If the writers had gone for it, I think the Wire-like version of the show would have been the most successful – aside from the fact that characters, even main guys like Al, were often too shallow (or if you prefer, archetypical) to bother exploring in great detail, the show was always at its most effective when it was about people having to work together.

      One that more clearly rooted the character’s moralities in community would have been more effective – drawing a clearer comparison between Cy and Al, for example; focusing on the structure and building of the town over the soap opera dramatics it eventually fell into.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        You’ve crushed my spirit with your Deadwood opinions. Crushed!!

        McNulty’s whole drunken cold open perfectly blurs the line between hilarious in his glorious fuck up hijinks and horribly sad. There’s a little of Ziggy in McNulty in that there’s no real way for them to be successful without something going wrong.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          I still love the series! It has so many brilliant ideas and characters (shallow not meaning inherently bad, a la The Shield) I just think it’s structurally weak, which means it has high highs and crushingly low lows.

          I also forgot to put in that I’m frustrated that everybody talks about how good the dialogue is, but nobody deconstructs it. The best I know is that despite it being referred to as “Shakespearean”, only Al talks in iambic pentameter, and then only occasionally. But there’s a rhythm to it, a rhythm aided by the swears.

          That’s also very true of The Wire. I think that’s where the bleakness comes from – this sense that there are people who are stuck the way they are, which means they always only function in a limited capacity, and some only occasionally get to feel their potential and others never get that chance.

      • ZoeZ

        McNulty recreating his own car accident out of drunken curiosity is a delightful cap on a very depressing bender, while also being just phenomenally, breathtakingly stupid and reckless: this is what the McNulty who stood too long on the train tracks in the pilot is like when he doesn’t have anything else going for him.

        I recognize that Deadwood can be sloppy, but that messiness has never stopped me from loving it–I’ve currently got it ranked #2 in my personal pantheon. Season two is the season with the best structure, with Wolcott as a psychopomp for Hearst and with a natural ending point. But the raggedness works because it’s less a drama and more, despite the violence, a hangout show, dependent upon the pleasure you take at being in characters’ company and exploring how disparate people live with one another. One of the ongoing questions of the show is “what can you live with?” and it’s in that context that I find Cy interesting. I’m with you that his part is often the weakest–I think Powers Boothe lends him a lot of much-needed menace and cowardliness and that mostly covers for it–but he’s more interesting as part of the community than he is on his own. Cy’s a murderer, a sadist, a conniver, and a cheat; he has all of Al’s faults and none of his virtues; he wins no one’s loyalty. But society can continue with him in it and so he can be part of the community, an accepted evil. I’ve said before that Deadwood‘s morality is intriguing to me because while much of it is redemptive, much of it is also tied to old ideals of community and Classical ideals of temperament. The biggest crime on Deadwood, ultimately, is believing you can stand outside the community, that you can dominate it without serving it.

        I liked your point about the style being a primary selling point here, because it does strike me as the most auteur-driven of the prestige shows. If you find Milch’s voice irritating, there’s absolutely nothing here for you. He’s as authorial a presence as a Victorian novelist.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Cy indeed didn’t get the best plots – he’s at his best in season two when he’s a part of the Hearst dealings and trying to find his own piece of the action.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          Looking over my own writing, I’m talking myself into the idea that season three was, if not the best, at least showed the highest highs next to the lowest lows. George Hearst is an incredible creation, simultaneously a representation of a weak, lonely, bullying sociopath as well as a representation of the archetype of big business (cough, Trump, then fall over dead), who stands well next to Al (compassionate capitalist/pragmatic dude) and Seth (Rule Of Law/guy who hates bullies), bringing out the best of them as characters (I fucking love Seth dragging him by his ear).

          I like Cy in theory as a failed Al, who cultivates bootlickers and yes-men where Al cultivates genuine partners; I just find the execution lacking, Boothe’s staggering charisma and acting ability aside.

    • Twin Peaks, season 2, episodes 6 to 11. A great stretch of episodes, with a few cracks admittedly appearing at the end (James has ridden off on his motorbike and met a mysterious woman! I’m sure this storyline won’t drag on pointlessly!!!) but also some wonderful / terrifying moments from Ray Wise, the first on-screen appearances of Gordon Cole and Denise Bryson and the introduction of the White and Black Lodges. I’m also reading Mark Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks at the moment which has a lot of background information on Douglas and Dwayne Milford so I enjoyed their appearance too. Bracing myself for a rough spell now, but I know there’s plenty of good stuff left to enjoy.

      Oh, and also Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood – a 70s horror film set at a broken-down carnival, full of small-town atmosphere and cool experimental electronic noises, but light on plot. I enjoyed having it on as a sort of background mood piece but there’s not much depth to it – it has a similar kind of vibe to Messiah of Evil except, you know, not a masterpiece.

    • lgauge

      Your Name: A couple of moments that are a bit too cutesy (mostly to do with the music), but otherwise this was incredible. So damn beautifully drawn, so hilarious and such a moving story (it got repeatedly dusty in the room throughout the second half). As much as I love what I’ve seen from Shinkai before, this is definitely a step forward in terms of character writing and having a story that’s as anchored to characters and setting as to its concept. It should arguably have ended a few minutes before it did, but that’s perhaps demanding too adult an ending to a story that is clearly in many ways meant for a younger audience. Definitely one of my favorites of the year so far.

      Le Révélateur (Garrel): Cinema rebooted. Perhaps best described as an experimental neo-silent, this seems to me like an attempt at birthing Cinema II, just after Weekend declared Cinema (first of its name) finished/dead. Or maybe the film is just re-configuring cinema in the wake of the events of ’68 by going back to the beginning and making the changes necessary to develop into a new direction. Or maybe it’s a bit of both. Many of the aesthetic tools of the silent era are in play, but there’s a distinctly modern expression and re-purposing that makes this feel new. The gorgeous experimentation with light, especially early on, carving out pieces of the frame and dynamically evolving the shot by manipulation of light only; the rigid movements of bodies, together with some of the architecture giving a distinct expressionist feel; these must both at times give way to precise camera movements, for example a lot of tracking and lateral shots, and to a lot of film-breaking meta-touches, like the subjects interacting with the crew and the camera. All of this is put together in ways that really change the form into a whole new mixture. Infusing the old fantastical cinema with a new modernity.

      The boy at the film’s center seemingly switches between controlling the story, as if he’s directing the film, and being trapped in inescapable dreams and nightmares that keep switching around without much respite. As if the cinema here starts out as a controlled vision, but then morphs into an autonomous manifestation of the author’s/director’s psyche. There’s also the sense of change, and escaping from something, but there’s rarely any external forces to be seen. Escape in this case being perhaps mostly about ideas and the internal. The parents are both loving and cold, alternatingly seeking and abandoning the child. We never really get any true narrative, but through the above elements there’s certainly a kind of psychological continuity.

      The themes — beyond the post ’68-ness and certain very obvious imagery (like the boy spraying from a can towards a military base and using pages from the Bible to wipe his ass) — remain elusive on this first viewing, but there are enough ideas in the visual expression and enough curiosity teased by the not-quite-narrative to keep one engaged. The complete silence (there’s not even a second of a score for the film’s 67 minutes) demands concentration and preferably neighbors (or a screening room, if one should be so lucky) who aren’t too noisy, but doesn’t prove too much of a challenge. In a sense the complete silence connects to the terror of some of the film’s sequences, showing a lack of ability to communicate except through gestures. And clearly gestures cannot penetrate the walls of a young boys room.

      A very interesting (if possibly not representative) first encounter with Garrel.

      Also, about 5 episodes of Season 2 of Twin Peaks: I’m now through “the worst” of it I guess, but I never found it less good then okay. Honestly, I just don’t mind the James story, the civil war story or the Super-Nadine story. They all have their charms to me. There’s always something that’s at least funny or has some kind of emotional angle. The biggest let down is more the overall tone, how off it all feels. I don’t mind the increasingly silly and meandering plot so much as I mind the fact that it’s just not handled in the way it would have been earlier in the show. Partly this has to do with direction and the last two I saw fixed some of these problems, with Diane Keaton (!) directing one and old favorite Lesli Linka Glatter returning. There’s a lot more going on visually in these episodes, as Julius has noted in his reviews. On the other hand, there are moments that are so close to feeling like the “old” show, that fall just short of making it and hence become frustrating. In the latter episode, there’s the supernatural turn at the end, which should feel so vital in a way, but comes off kind of rushed and almost like a parody of the show. Anyway, I’m still feeling mostly good about things and now I’m getting closer and closer to the home stretch.

      • I love Super Nadine! I remember the civil war stuff being pretty amusing too. I’m hoping the James stuff won’t bother me as much now that I know not to expect anything from it, but we shall see…

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Some random stuff but Master of None dominated. Finished the second season and while the final two episodes involving a possibly doomed romance were somewhat undercooked and powered through with the style of the filmmaking and chemistry of Ansari and Mastronardi…they also really gripped me and triggered memories of my own screwed up romance that was kind of platonic but not. Being in bed together but not touching, walking through the park, etc. The show mastered a kind of melancholic, bittersweet tone rarely seen in American film. After finishing it I just packed for my trip listening to Walker Brothers songs in a state of longing and sadness. If we don’t get a season 3 as Ansari suggested, I’d be okay with this as a finisher.

      To be clear the other episode are fantastic, especially “Thanksgivings” and “New York I Love You”. Some remarkable filmmaking (the sustained silence of the 2nd segment in the latter is genius) and Angela Bassett better get a fucking Emmy.

    • Cabaret – Wonderful movie that I wish I hadn’t avoided (musicals aren’t my thing). Even for my jaded attitudes, there was something shocking about how frank it was with sex. I think the most transgressive thing about it is that it’s casual. Even the abortion is matter-of-fact to a degree we don’t see nowadays. The singing was great, and the MC was decedent, but it felt increasingly desperate and bleak as the Nazis grow in power.

      It’s interesting that it was the big winner at the Oscars, but The Godfather won Best Picture, and they’re two wildly different movies. Cabaret is kinetic and hedonistic, while The Godfather is stately and classical. I do think the right film won Best Pic, but I can’t argue with Fosse winning Director.

      Handmaid’s Tale, Episode 4 – Not as good an ep as the previous ones, but those have been so excellent, it’s hard to fault it. Two more themes are becoming evident. First is the double standard of putting women on pedestals. The handmaids are special and precious, and therefore they must be controlled and “protected”. The men, too, are trapped by the extreme regulation of sexuality (though still not as much as the women). When the commander can’t get it up, it’s humiliating (more than usual) because men are never sterile or impotent; it’s always the women’s fault when they can’t conceive. When the commander’s wife tries to help by initiating an honest and intimate encounter, she’s rebuffed. As in real life, these social norms and mores restrict men, too.

      • clytie

        LIZA! is so good in the scene where she tells Michael that she had an abortion that it takes her character to another level for me.

    • A Fistful of Dollars (though the “A” is missing from the film’s title card) – Is there anything I can add at this point about this somewhat flawed and intentionally derivative but utterly iconic movie that hasn’t been said. It’s earned its place as a classic just for the closing fight and for Eastwood’s sly grin and laconic interpretation of “Joe.” Second time I have seen this, and now I think need to follow it up with the other Leone/Eastwood classics.

      Looney Tunes Back in Action – The first time I saw this, I fell madly in love with it. The second time…well, the pacing is a mess, the story disintegrates faster than I realized, and it’s not hard to tell that Dante was struggling with outside factors the whole time. So I’ve lowered this a few notches. But I still cracked up at a good number of gags, still loved the performances by Cusack, Fraser, and Dalton, still love the film getting Bugs and Daffy and their dysfunctional partnership right, and still rate this far above Space Jam. And as we picked a film to watch with my mother for Mother’s Day, it went down well. So still recommended but not as strongly. (Two questions about this: 1) what the hell was Steve Martin doing? Beyond any doubt, the worst performance of his career. 2) What happened to Brendan Fraser? He was a star, and still should be. And now you have to dig deep to find him. Where did it all go wrong?)

      Fawlty Towers: Communications Problems – Always been my favorite episode, even if by pitting Basil against someone just as venal and unsympathetic as he, you aren’t sure who to root for (or if you should take sides at all). There is a lot of cruelty here, but also just a lot of incredible humor and timing.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        One account I’ve heard is that Fraser is a great guy and also a bit of a pothead so his career just isn’t a big deal to him. He got good notices recently though when he was a recurring cast member on The Affair and he might be in another show soon.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        Eastwood vs Mifune, go.

        I mean in terms of contrasting acting techniques but if you want to describe them fighting, go for it.

        • It’s somewhat hard to define Mifune entirely when you don’t speak the language, when I am missing a lot of the cues that Japanese vocal patterns offer to audiences that get all the intonations and patterns.

          But surely it’s fair to say that Mifune brought a lot more energy to his acting than Eastwood. Not that Eastwood was ever lazy. But Mifune always seemed to be bursting off the screen, and making everyone around him adjust (or rather, his characters were making the rest of the characters adjust). “In your face” is a bit extreme, but it isn’t far removed from Mifune’s approach, either. The world revolves around him, unless you have someone able to balance him out, as in The Seven Samurai.

          Eastwood? The world clearly revolves around him too. But a lot of the time, no one else knows this is so. The sly, cunning face that Clint wears often (not always, and less so in his later films) gives the impression that he lets everyone else do as they please, something that certainly seems to be at the center of the Leone films but that lurks around the edges of even the edgier, darker films where Eastwood’s charm turns into something harder.

          I think it would have been interesting to see Eastwood and Mifune play off each other. I don’t know if there is any way it would have worked, but it’s not hard to imagine a similar dynamic as between Eastwood and Eli Wallach (who strikes me as being closer in style to Mifune).

          The good news is that we don’t have to choose. And that we can keep watching both.

        • Fresno Bob

          Mifune’s range is much greater. Eastwood has created a wide variety of characters that function within his wheelhouse, but Mifune is Kikuchiyo, Kingo Gondo, Sanjuro, the guy from The Bad Sleep Well, the general from Hidden Fortress, the punk from Drunken Angel, etc. Eastwood has wisely picked characters that match his on screen persona, and I think his variety is best represented by his career as a director than by his career as an actor.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        I kind of had the opposite reaction to LT:BIA. I saw it when it opened and disliked it, despite being a major Dante fanboy, but I finally broke down and watched it again a few months ago and…well, I still wouldn’t say I loved it, but I enjoyed it a great deal. The studio meddling is still pretty obvious, but since Dante managed to get appearances by black-and-white Kevin McCarthy and The Man From Planet X, he still manages to (mostly) make it his own.

        • Miller

          I like how we used different examples to prove it, but still both see the Dante slipping through.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            And don’t forget Roger Corman directing a Batman movie!

        • Also, he has Picardo and Dick Miller in the cast, slips in a Wilhelm scream, indulges every so often in the mayhem that informs so much of his work.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I still remember the Psycho/chocolate syrup gag very fondly.

      • Miller

        Just watched Fraser’s other live action/toon romp! He benefits from being partnered with Daffy (poor Elfman has to play off Bugs and he’s far more restrained) but he also has the ability to keep time with Daffy’s lunacy. One of our finest doofuses.

        And yeah, the movie is a bit of a mess but I like it all the same, including Martin’s nutso take on Judge Doom. Studio interference may have hurt it but Dante gets to put in Robby the Robot and show Sam pummeling Ralph in the cantina, so he got a few wins.

    • A little bit of the director’s cut of Blackhat, which makes a little bit more sense (it addresses but never resolves why the hacker doesn’t just take lots o’ $$$ from the futures markets), moves faster, but still has the same fundamental problems as before. (We establish right away how protective Chen his of his sister Lien, but she tags along with Hathaway into an ambush? Hey no problem bro, never spoken of at all.) Watching just a little of it made me appreciate the sound design, with score moving into and out of the ambient sound, and also made me realize more missed opportunities: the real, resonant relationship here is between Chen and Hathaway, not Hathaway and Lien. The movie would have been better if the entire romance subplot had been ditched; Hathaway and Lien would have been uneasy with each other but then they reluctantly team up after Chen gets killed. Michael, you used to know this.

      • silverwheel

        I actually yelled at the movie (first, “what the hell?” and then “you’ve got to be kidding me”) when that romance subplot started. It is one of the most out-of-nowhere hookups I’ve ever seen in a movie, and is shockingly stupid for a Mann film. Hemsworth and Tang don’t have any chemistry with each other, and the hookup has no motivation to start or continue. If the movie had treated it like a random thing that complicates matters as the film goes along it might have been salvaged, but the movie keeps coming back to it like it’s some kind of profound thing, and Lien turns into a sappy cliché as soon as she sleeps with him. It’s a classic rookie mistake on the part of the screenwriter, but I’m still shocked that Mann went with it and didn’t seem to notice or care that it was really bad.

    • Miller

      Monkeybone! Yes it is cut to ribbons and at points makes no sense or has characters explaining things that were presumably shown in the original version. But I don’t care, the design of Downtown and its mix of practical and visual effects is wonderful and the nightmares are dark and twisted and beautiful in their Expressionist way. And the cast — Brendan Fraser is a sweetheart and a hilarious horndog asshole depending on who is in his body, throwing his gawky frame around with abandon, but he’s outdone by Chris Kattan, spazzing around with a broken neck and chucking his organs at people. And Bridget Fonda is the eye of the storm, she plays the girlfriend role with steel in her spine and love in her heart that creates a character instead of just an object of desire. Also, Bob Odenkirk yells at a shambling corpse. I love this movie.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        It also has the scene where we see Fraser’s childhood drawing of Harryhausen’s cyclops, and it looks so much like a drawing I made at that age…Okay, I’m going to admit it: Monkeybone made me cry.

        • Miller

          *nelsonhaha.gif*

    • clytie

      Continued season one of The Leftovers. I don’t know where this is heading and I love that.

      I got around to episode two of American Gods Mr. Nancy is my favorite character from the book, so I was happy when he showed up, even if it was only briefly.

      Reruns of Unsolved Mysteries and Forensic Files These things are like a drug to me.

      The Miss USA Pageant I like the pretty dresses!

      • ZoeZ

        I could totally get behind an Anansi Boys movie if anyone wanted to make that as an American Gods follow-up.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Same here! I actually prefer that novel to the Gods book.

          • Miller

            Man, I thought Boys was probably the weakest Gaiman I’ve read, padded out and poky with lame leads.

        • clytie

          There was supposed to be a BBC miniseries of it a couple of years ago, but it never got off the ground. I love the book.

      • Quinn the Eskimo

        Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy is just goddamn incredible, even if he’s been in just one scene so far. That boat scene gave me fucking chills.

    • ZoeZ

      I had a friend in from out of town, so only Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was the kind of affectionate Labrador retriever of a movie that mostly bypasses critical viewing for me and goes straight into enthusiastically licking my face. So, okay, the Baby Groot scenes suffer from the movie’s knowledge of Groot as a breakout character and they’re overplayed; Drax’s characterization gets reduced to comic relief and all too often comic relief on exactly the same beat over and over again. But those two points aside, I found this warm and funny and perfectly charming, with a strong emotional hook, a good villain, and at least one scene that made me cry. (It’s when Yondu gets the Ravager funeral after all.)

    • jroberts548

      I am the pretty thing that lives in the house. The most generous praise and most damning criticism I can offer is that this 90 minute movie would have been a pretty solid 25 minute episode of the twilight zone.

      The photography is good, but it’s much closer to photography than cinematography. Everything is very composed in that almost any frame would look good as a poster. But there’s little dynamism – the photography doesn’t use cuts or motion at all, except for one pretty good pan near the end.

      The direction is okay, in that the director successfully creates a sense of mid-level dread, which I think is what he wanted to do. So I’ll attribute the main problem to the writing. Unfortunately, the writer is also the director. There’s no rising action or climax. There’s just mood. The writing and direction is really effective at mood, but not at introduction – rising action – climax – conclusion.

      The acting is pretty good. Ruth Wilson does what she can. Lucy Boynton is not just pretty, but indeed frickin’ gorgeous. Bob Balaban does solid character actor work, as always.

      It’s not technically a debut feature, but it kinda is, so I’ll say I’m looking forward to Oz Perkins’ next movies.

      Ben Hur (1925) Compared to the Charlton Heston one, the end isn’t as good in that it doesn’t deal with the inadequacy of revenge in the same way.

      But wow! The chariot race is worth it by itself. The galley battle is pretty great too, if for nothing else for the weird production detail of the random crucified naked galley slave.

      And the technicolor! It’s very early technicolor, so it isn’t that great to look at, but it’s neat to see for film historical purposes.

      Dolemite. 15 minutes was the most I could tolerate. I don’t understand the cult appeal of bad movies.

    • Delmars Whiskers

      The Boy Friend–Ken Russell comes as close as possible to making a straightforward musical, and it’s still pretty out there. Vladek Sheybal plays a flamboyantly-garbed image maker, so I’m going to go ahead and pretend it’s a prequel to The Apple. Also, I can’t say enough good things about the Blu-ray from Warner Archives–Tony Walton’s sets and David Watkin’s cinematography make for dazzling eye candy, and it looks like it was shot yesterday.

    • Quinn the Eskimo

      The Insider – and to think that for even a moment I believed Heat was the Michael Mann-iest Michael Mann could get. This allows Mann to channel his obsessions with antiheroic codes and great men in impossible situations into the kind of taut journalistic thriller that gave Alan Pakula and David Fincher some of their finest work, resulting in an unsurprisingly gripping tale about the immense price of doing the right thing against all odds. What is surprising, though, is how almost surreal this film’s visuals are – Mann and Dante Spinotti embrace pure aesthetic maximalism, loading every unusual, rule-breaking frame with lush color and striking motion to the point where it almost eclipses the story (almost). Easily one of my favorite Manns yet (Miami Vice and the Director’s Cut of Blackhat are next).

      • Mann takes standard stories and lets the psychology of the characters push and transform the surface of the film until it becomes those psyches–the disconnected images of Collateral, the nightscapes of Heat, the tracking shots of Manhunter–but The Insider may be the most extreme, with Jeffrey Wigand’s grief so powerful it dissolves the room around him. I gasped the first time I saw that, and every time since.

        • Quinn the Eskimo

          It’s probably the most stunning moment I’ve seen in a Mann film so far, and it fits just perfectly into the way Mann destroys so many visual rules of cinema in order to show Wigand’s fractured emotional state. I remember my cinematography teacher showing us a lot of scenes from this film in order to give us an idea of how directors can break cinematographic rules to their advantage, and it speaks well to Mann’s credit that those scenes work even better and have a greater impact in the film even though I’ve seen them before. Context matters.

          • Even before the morph, the shot of Russell Crowe slumped in his chair, refusing to react to anything around him, with Lisa Gerrard coming up on the soundtrack, is one of the most purely cinematic things I’ve ever seen. It’s something that’s impossible in theater or literature; it could maybe happen in a comic book, but that’s it.

    • CineGain

      Blackhat: Director Cut-Now I haven’t actually seen the original cut that was released into theaters, from reading accounts of others, I can safely say this version improves on the previous while still needing more juicing to progress the film. As with @disqus_wallflower:disqus, I found the relationship between Hathaway and Lien to be banal and a drag on the film, which should’ve been eliminated from the film, though it’s understandable in the context of Mann oeuvre of criminals trying to connect with everyday society. I’m still not convinced the digital camera work’s with the landscape, which has me longing for the earlier cinematography that helped shaped the Mann universe. Many things get unresolved and we are left with what’s at a glimpse an intriguing concept that is never resolved into great cinema.

      • Excellent points, all. Mann somehow didn’t recognize that he already had the material for “criminals trying to connect with everyday society” without bringing in the insipid romantic subplot. I noticed that he eliminated the strong, Manhunter-like scene of Hathaway checking out Lien in the car, and Lien being aware of it; that played up the distance between Hathaway and everyone else and was effectively disturbing.

        Hacking and cybercrime have been around long enough to develop distinct generational styles, and I’ll maintain that the best route for Mann here was to develop a Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid story with Chen and Hathaway.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Black-ish, “Sprinkles.” Some genuinely tense and touching moments in this one, as health complications force Rainbow to go into the hospital and have the newest Johnson baby delivered prematurely. The show almost never gets this serious, but it really works here. Comedy highlight of the episode: Bow’s brother and Charlie bonding over “soul transfer math.” (Also, this episode was directed by Eva Longoria! I had no idea she was a hyphenate.)

      Great News, Episodes 5-6. The show expands to feature more of the ensemble in episode 5, a really good choice, and delivers some classic 30 Rock-style bits, including the largely botched drunk production. My favorite joke: “I hope it’s better than your last piece about the cat that dialed 912… and everyone died.” Episode 6 pushes Andrea Martin’s character a little too far into the crazy/overbearing role for me, but it does give Briga Heelan a chance to play more physical comedy than she had previously.

      Silicon Valley, Season 4, Episodes 1-4. Finally got to catch up on this season. I enjoy that this show has no problem accelerating plot developments, and there have been a few serious laugh-out-loud moments this season. Few things were more satisfying than seeing Jack Barker twist the knife in Gavin Belson’s back. Favorite running subplots: Erlich consistently making the wrong decisions with Jian Yang; Bighead accidentally becoming a guest lecturer at Stanford. Dinesh bonding with his date over how much they hate Gilfoyle is also a highlight.

      Norm Macdonald, Me Doing Stand-Up. I never get tired of this one, and I needed something familiar to watch while I grinded out some work time. Norm’s bits on death and dying, news coverage of missing white women, and alcoholism are classics. (Unfortunately, I just realized that some great bits, like the Tiger Woods bit, were cut from the Comedy Central special.)

    • Fresno Bob

      Well, I made it 3 days without you guys, and here I am, crawling back and begging for forgiveness. I thought I could be like James, and just drive away on my bike, but no such luck.

      Anyway, I watched Fateful Findings, which was terrible! I mean, that’s why you watch that movie, because of how bad it is.

      I also watched Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox, which had some terrific visual effects, but on the whole was pretty lame. If one can be disappointed in a Charles Band production, this was one where I felt there was potential that wasn’t met.

      • Fresno Bob

        Oh yes, and Buffy. Finally caught up with the episodes that I missed, and am now in the aftermath of The Body.

      • “You, me, and Fresno Bob. Do you know what they did to Bob?”

        Always welcome here under any name, friend.

        • Fresno Bob

          I always said that this was my number 2 choice for screen name, and after nearly 20 years as Glorbes, I figured a change was due. Thanks 🙂

          • Also ties in nicely to gillianren‘s article on Russell yesterday!

          • Fresno Bob

            When I clicked on here and saw that she wrote about Kurt Russell, I realized that I couldn’t stay away for long. Well that, and realizing that I had time to waste and was doing it elsewhere. I will say I had two very productive days at work though. Just need to keep the balance in check.

      • pico79

        I was legitimately impressed with the ending of Fateful Findings. Lots of movies are bad, but very few movies are that bold. I mean… goddamn.

        Also… welcome back! Neither crawling nor forgiveness necessary.

        • Fresno Bob

          It is indeed one corker of an ending. He manages to top Wiseau’s use of suicide by sheer VOLUME.

          • pico79

            Man, I’m cracking up just remembering the endless parade of “important people” saying their confessions out loud before going home and offing themselves so elaborately. Breen must have a Dantesque list of people who’ve wronged him over the years.

          • Fresno Bob

            Also, laptops.

      • Drunk Napoleon
      • clytie
      • Miller

        Welcome back!

      • DJ JD

        Late to the game but welcome back! RL needs to come first (which is why I’m just not around some days) but I was sad you were gone for sure.

    • Belated Comebacker

      Justified: Plowed through Season 4, and onto Season 5. I probably won’t do a play-by-play of each episode, so much as a highlights reel and certain aspects of the character development/plot points I enjoyed, due in large part to the speed at which I am re-watching the show. More details to follow tomorrow, when I actually get to this form earlier.

    • pico79

      American Gods, ep. 3. The much-discussed Jinn segment is every bit as good as people promised, a stellar short film (aside from some misjudged CGI) with an effective emotional hook. I don’t think I’ve fallen so fast for a couple of characters in a long time. A+ work from the two actors, Omid Abtahi and Mousa Kraish.

      One of the problems I am having with the show overall, though, is Shadow. Whittle is doing some really solid work (his comic timing is great for such a grumbly, passive character), but I think they’re having problems with the “how much further does this guy go without getting basic answers?” problems that a lot of mystery-focused series have. Readers of the book have explained that Shadow is very passive on the page, so he just lets himself be guided along through the increasing weirdness. A film version of that passivity wouldn’t work, so they’ve made this Shadow more vocal and more willing to challenge Wednesday, but then that clashes with how he’s still willing to keep being strung along without the most basic answers (along with the audience). We’re three hours into this story: that’s more than most features. The central conceit shouldn’t still be “You’ll learn more later.” Instead we’re getting weirder and weirder miracles and mysterious happenings and Shadow seems bothered enough to complain out loud, but not bothered enough to do anything about it other than scrunch his face. I’m losing my patience with the main storyline.

      • Miller

        Haven’t seen the show and haven’t read the book in a while, but my recollection is that Shadow is super passive, in part due to trauma of his wife dying, and that Gaiman does a good job of papering over that by having the supremely charismatic Wednesday running his cons and his mouth and by having those little vignettes like the Jinn pop up every other chapter. Both of those play to Gaiman’s strengths of writing tricksters and writing short fiction as opposed to longer stuff, and they float the book past a lot of Shadow doing not much of anything — it’s a con disguised as a novel.

        • pico79

          That’s similar to what other book-readers have said. It just doesn’t make as much sense for an often vocally angry TV protagonist, who frequently says what we’re all thinking (like, “What the hell is going on?”) then just settles back down into whatever they tell him to do without getting any answers. It’s not really working for me, though people seem to love it, so… *shrugs*

          • Miller

            Years of watching Always Sunny has conditioned me to expect that if a character is vocally angry about something he will god damned well act on it.

          • pico79

            I suddenly want Charlie to be a character in this universe. An unintentional Loki, just rampaging through the American landscape… !

    • The Ploughman

      I have watched virtually nothing as I have been buried on a work project for the past week plus. I have another week and a half to go!

      The Ploughwoman and I did binge finish Catastrophe season 3 before it started. If anybody else has watched this, speak up! Would love to dump thoughts on how many different ways the last episode could have been handled and why they chose the best possible option in my mind. Plus, the last appearance by Carrie Fischer and, of course, she’s hysterical. Deepens an already bittersweet episode.

  • Really enjoyed this article. I had mixed feelings about the film but there are certainly some wonderful moments along the journey, and you’ve captured one of the best here. I didn’t know the directors were doing an MCU film next – they seem an odd choice, but I guess I can’t begrudge them a decent payday.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Thanks!

      • Agreed, well done! (Remember we have a Scenic Routes tag for this kind of article, too.)

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Ah I forgot! I’ll keep it in mind.

      • Miller

        Yeah, nice work. More incentive to check this out.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Probably Reynolds’ best performance that I’ve seen. Its one of those movies that inadvertently analyzes a star persona and finds something interesting at the core of it.

          • clytie

            Even though the movie’s not very good, he’s excellent in The Captive.

    • Defense Against The Dark Arts

      I’ve noticed that’s been happening a lot. A first time director (or directors) make a low budget, indie movie and then follow it up with a big budget Marvel movie. Example: John Watts makes Cop Car and now he’s making the new Spider-Man movie.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Hint: They are cheap to hire and probably easy to manipulate.

        • Yeah, this seems to be the reasoning. It’s so weird that they don’t even seem to pick directors who have done a little action / sci-fi / something-vaguely-related, though. It’s not like there aren’t enough out there.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            I think the assumption is that the assistant directors/visual effects teams will take care of all of that, but that’s a big reason a lot of these movies feel lackluster when it comes to a creative voice or sterling action filmmaking. At least Watts made genre movies before Spider-Man.

          • Yeah, and he got good performances from kids in Cop Car so I can see some of the logic there.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            Ugh, the prominent role of the effects crew and the previz team is easily my least favorite part of modern blockbusters. The worst example of this has to be Age Of Ultron, which is directed in Whedon’s usual fairly prosaic TV style (not a judgement call, it works for him), but is periodically interrupted by frantically cut action scenes, full of movement and whooshing camerawork but damned near impossible to follow. I realize second unit directors have always played a major role in big-budget filmmaking (Andrew Marton probably has as much footage in Ben-Hur as William Wyler), but it at least seemed like the director had a bit more say. If Whedon had any significant input into that endless Hulk/Iron Man fight scene, I’d be surprised.

        • Defense Against The Dark Arts

          Good point. I didn’t think of that.

        • Miller

          This seems key. James Cameron is one of the best blockbuster directors out there, with a penchant for sci-fi that could probably translate well to comic book stuff (thinking of Iron Man in particular here). But beyond the fact that he has no need to join that machine — he clearly wants to play in his own sandbox — he’d probably rage quit a Marvel production in a week after being told how to make his movie.

        • Fresno Bob

          Spielberg said he always wanted to do a Bond film, but he was too established and expensive for the Broccolis.

          • Babalugats

            Also too American

          • clytie

            I’ve read claims that the Broccolis don’t like hiring directors that are “too famous” because famous directors demand a certain amount of creative control.

      • Drunk Napoleon

        It’s a trend I really fucking hate, because I think it’s what’s leading to mediocre blockbusters. Jurassic Park was Spielberg’s thirtieth film, and most of them had been suspense films; Colin Trevorrow had made a documentary and an indie film before Jurassic World, how the fuck did they think it would turn out?

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Annoyingly Safety Not Guaranteed is a very solid romantic comedy and I’d really prefer Trevorrow the indie filmmaker, not the blockbuster guy who somehow is doing fucking Star Wars.

          • He does have an interesting-looking indie film out soon, so at least maybe we’re getting a “one for them, one for me” scenario.

          • clytie

            I adore that movie. I honestly think it’s one of the best films of the decade.

        • Delmars Whiskers

          In fairness, Jaws was only Spielberg’s second feature.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Yeah, but his first was Duel, a suspense film that showed a lot of promise and genuinely lays the groundwork for his work on Jaws.

          • Son of Griff

            In terms of the dynamics of narrative rhythm, I’d say it paved the way for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, RAIDERS, and E.T. JAWS has great set pieces but it sets in spots.

          • Third if we count Duel as a feature; his first theatrical movie was The Sugarland Express. Still holds up.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            But if you count Duel, you’d have to count his other TV movies, Something Evil and Savage, which are…not as good as Duel.

          • Hmm. I think we can count Duel as a first feature because it was actually released in theaters, not just on TV. (IMDb indicates he shot additional footage to get the run time up to 90 minutes.)

          • Delmars Whiskers

            Sure, but it was still made for TV, when Spielberg was just another jobber on the Universal lot. It had a TV budget, schedule and star. And remember, in the seventies, the lines of demarcation between movies and TV were a lot thicker–movies were class, prestige, TV was what the boob tube, the idiot box.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            That still proves my original point – Spielberg had a lot of room to work his craft and get to Jurassic Park, and he had room to work his craft up to Jaws, and he had room to work his craft up to Duel.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            Absolutely, and the time he’d spent in episodic TV no doubt taught him a lot about basic craftsmanship. But it’s probably also safe to say Spielberg was wired this way from the get-go in a way that the likes of Trevorrow or Marc Webb aren’t.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Conceded. But I don’t like holding the fact that someone’s not a genius against them, and I definitely think any reasonably-constructed industry shouldn’t base itself around throwing people in the deep end hoping that they’ll be Spielberg-esque geniuses.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            But again, I think Spielberg’s time in TV, both before and after Duel, gave him both the confidence and knowledge to take charge of blockbusters, and I think it would be a more fertile area for picking franchise directors than the indie film world. (Marvel, at least, knows this: Whedon, the Russos.) They know how to manage a crew, maximize a budget and tell a damned story. It’s amazing watching old episodes of, say, The Rockford Files and realizing how many locations and set-ups would be used in the course of a single episode.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            I think we’re loudly agreeing with each other at this point!

        • Defense Against The Dark Arts

          Trevorrow is another good example. Scott Derrickson made a couple of low budget horror movies and then he makes Doctor Strange.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          Gonna reply to myself because I really wish there was a better system in place for directors to learn their craft before moving on to blockbusters. Like, you bum about on VOD for a few years before being snapped up by Hollywood or something.

          • Belated Comebacker

            I believe that (if not here, than elsewhere) there was a similar discussion about first-time directors moving from their low-budget indie to blockbusters, and how, due to the current Hollywood economic model, the mid-tier budget movie was no longer in existence compared to prior decades. TV has supplanted it, which is why a few first-time directors move into TV land, to hone their voices and such (Lena Dunham with “Girls,” etc.)