• Drunk Napoleon

    What I really wanted to accomplish here was finding out what did we watch?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      LOST, Season Two, Episode Seventeen, “Lockdown”
      “Should I go and get a ruler?”

      “Have you seen your father since he died, Mr Locke?”

      If you were to see me watching this episode as a kid, you would see me vibrating at high speeds out of sheer excitement; some of that old feeling came back as I watched it again. You don’t get much cooler than a fucking treasure map painted in invisible ink on a blast door!!! It raises so many questions, both dramatic and literary – who painted it, and why? What are the other stations? What is the question mark? What will Locke do to get around the island to find this all out? It says something about the profound philosophical differences between me and Lost that none of these questions have satisfactory answers to me. Radzinsky painted it because he was bored. The other stations are, uh, other stations. The question mark is the closest, I think being either the location of the Incident or the Heart Of The Island? And, of course, none of the characters give a shit.

      (Also, the flavour of the imagined answers is given a major shot in the arm because the precise details limit the potential answers enough to fuel imagination. I imagined that the map was painted in invisible ink because the painter had someone to hide it from)

      What ties all this dissatisfaction together is that the map doesn’t drive the plot forward the same way that, say, the hatch or the button (or even Smokey) do. It doesn’t drive anyone’s behaviour forward (except maybe Locke’s general sense of faith), and solving it isn’t one anyone’s todo list, so there’s no big AHA moment (except maybe for that first question, and even then the reveal is pretty offhand). This is a midichlorian mystery, and it shows one of the weaknesses of using mystery for flavour in a story with big central mysteries – sometimes, it’ll be hard to tell what’s a Real Mystery and what’s a midichlorian mystery (by comparison, I’m rereading Watchmen, which has one central mystery and no others, while in reverse you have something like Halloween which has a central dramatic drive and flavours it with the mystery of Michael Myers). I’m not saying it’s a wrong choice, just that it’s a choice with certain consequences.

      (The upshot of this being I wouldn’t feel bad about stealing the map idea and basing a whole story on it)

      Every time we flashback with Locke, he has a different job; I always assumed this was both explanation and articulation of his broad base of knowledge, but this episode I find myself wondering if he’s a twist on the self-made man. He doesn’t go as far as Walt or Don, but there is an element of trying to control his environment himself (which gets brilliantly explained in these flashbacks, as he’s lost everything that ever mattered to him, explaining his obsessiveness in a broad sense and his appreciation for Henry returning his trust in this episode).

      (Speaking of the flashbacks, Locke meets Nadia, which adds further weight)

      Ownage: Jack completely owns Sawyer at poker, though Kate owns them both with the top quote.

      • On reflection, Lost‘s best mysteries were the ones that were answered along the way: how Locke was paralyzed, the origin story of Ben, what Penny was doing. The longer it pushed off answering questions while still making the questions matter to the story, the more it raised the stakes for the answers. It kept writing checks that the finale couldn’t cash.

        In contrast, and I think it was a deliberate contrast on Lindelof’s part, The Leftovers was organized around a central mystery but it never depended on that mystery. The third season premiere raised the stakes with another mystery, but after that, nothing was done about it until the finale, which explained both mysteries just as much as they needed to be explained to resolve the story, and no more. It was in the best sense, economical, and also emotional-as-fuck, a version of Penny/Desmond on Lost.

    • The Black Tapes (Podcast) – I have found the single worst finale I know of. It’s so bad, the most charitable assumption is outside forces compelled the series to end, because there is no way this could’ve been intentional.

      The show is Serial meets X-Files. Alex Regen is a public radio journalist who interviews Dr Richard Stand, a paranormal skeptic & debunker. But he has a collection of events he can’t disprove – the Black Tapes – and they might all be related. Bum bum buuuuum.

      It’s a puzzle box story, where the mystery is how the mysteries are all related. It draws in ancient cults, insane composers, sacred geometry, magical technology, creepy festivals, and so on. It wasn’t the best-acted show, but the leads were compelling, and I dug the mystery. So I stayed with it, even knowing that the ending would likely fail to resolve the mysteries satisfactorily (like many other shows of this type).

      Spoilers, but really, who cares?

      After a long hiatus, the third season began by introducing new twists in the story, but also felt rushed towards a conclusion. Not a good sign, but I was feeling forgiving. Then I started the final episode. The “previously on” was longer than usual. Hm. Then when the new content started, it introduced a new wrinkle in the case. Hm… Then a commercial. Then a revelation that Dr. Strand might be a key part of the apocalypse, and his upcoming trip to Geneva is actually a trap. OK, cool. Then more commercials. Ugh.

      Then the disastrous third act. Alex confronts Strand. While they had grown closer and more trusting, nothing indicated it was more than platonic. Except now, she might love him! Even though he’s still devoted to his not-really-dead wife! And he might reciprocate Alex’s feelings! She says she has two tickets to some place far away from the Black Tapes mysteries, and Strand can choose to either go to Geneva into a trap, or leave with her. Then it fucking ends.

      Literally no attempt is made to tie anything together. Not only is every thread left hanging, it ends on a cliffhanger. Only the most hardcore shippers were satisfied. Every other fan was pissed and confused. That’s why I think something outside the show impacted it – why else could it swerve so hard to throw out everything that built up to the end. Was one of the lead voices leaving? Did they run out of money? Was there a creative dispute and this was the shitty compromise? Maybe it’s a fake-out with more to come?

      I don’t quite know what else to say. The finale had almost nothing to do with the entire rest of the show. It all just feels so pointless now.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I tried those first two episodes, quickly lost interest and oh man am I happy I didn’t listen to all of them (sorry you had to)! See also Small Town Horror, where the acting and endless teasing out of stuff just wasn’t good enough for me to keep going after season two.

        • I was enjoying it, warts and all, and lowered my expectations accordingly. But even with my low bar, it tripped and fall on its face. Like, if you could combine the reaction for the finales of Lost, BSG, and the Negan season finale for TWD, that’s how the message boards are reacting.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            It is so frustrating when a show of any kind can’t sink the landing like that.

    • Arsenic and Old Lace – utterly insane. It took me a little while to get into the madcap spirit; for the first 20 minutes or so I thought this might be too manic for me. But it just keeps getting better and better, introducing more and more eccentric characters, and the dark humour kept growing on me. Peter Lorre was the highlight for me, he’s such a delight in comic roles. My only slight reservations were that Priscilla Lane gets sidelined for most of the film, and that the role intended for Boris Karloff is not played by Boris Karloff (although Raymond Massey is a solid replacement), but otherwise yeah, this is a real gem.

      NaSoAlMo update: managed to sketch out a third song, although it’s a very sparse arrangement at present. Good progress though, and having identified my tendency to waste time flipping through synth presets, I’ve managed to avoid it ever since.

      • A&OL was one of the first Classic Hollywood movies I’d seen – personal fav of my mother’s – and it kills me every time. It practically gallops!

        • It’s quite amazing how it keeps up the pace. I’d love to see the stage version (preferably with Karloff, via time travel).

    • Legends of Tomorrow: Phone Home – It’s Halloween 1988 and a kid has an alien in his bedroom. But the nostalgia vibe of Legends is utterly different than the vibe of Stranger Things, and that is good since one Stranger Things (as much as I like it) is plenty. The episode is utterly silly and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the whole premise of the show at this point is essentially “nothing makes sense anyway.” The cast is game, the jokes are frequent and funny, it’s really hard to go wrong with a show that includes a salute to Singin’ in the Rain and the discovery that Mick Rory loves Fiddler on the Roof.

      Also, the alien doesn’t eat the cat.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      Mindhunters – first two episodes. Fincher is of course a goddamn genius – dig his achingly slow, dread inducing mid-close up zoom into Ed(mund) Kemper’s face as Bill subtly interrogates him. (Also Cameron Britton is astonishing as Kemper, a mix of genial, terrifying, manipulative, and to his credit deeply aware that he is evil). So far I’m quite enjoying this even if I’m anxious that the other directors just can’t hold up visually to Fincher. Even when the writing can almost fall flat (I’m given hope by the touch of the former LAPD officer yelling at Holden then almost immediately after apologizing), it’s nice to see characters talking about ideas and do it because this is what they do for a living, a nice synthesis of my pet interests in fiction: professionals fulfilling a code and philosophy pushing a story forward.

      • Defense Against The Dark Arts

        I’ve watched the first episode but can’t seem to muster the energy to watch the second. Of course it’s visually and technically impressive but something about the first episode felt hollow to me. Maybe it gets better.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          I’d say watch the second episode just for Kemper then see how you feel.

          • Defense Against The Dark Arts

            Will do.

        • Hang in for Anna Torv!!

          • Anna Torv is in Mindhunters!?

            [Bumps to top of watch list]

    • lgauge

      Two Days, One Night: Well made and occasionally affecting, but falls into a few realist traps.

      One the whole, a film like this is hard to argue with. It has a strong central performance, a good and affecting story and a wide cast of characters with different personalities and needs. It’s also impeccably made from a technical point of view, using sparse frames locked into characters and sharp and distinct editing to delineate in time. However, its strong root in realism leads to a couple of weaknesses, one more objective and one more subjective. One of the gambles of what we might call “hard realism” is that one does away with artifice and devices as much as possible. This has the appeal that one can get very directly at and close to real issues and speak to the experiences of real people in the world today. On the other hand, this means that any deviation from realism and believability stands out much more distinctly than it would otherwise. In this case, I found the specific scenario of the story a bit artificial. The overall situation, the world and the characters could have been ripped from the headlines, but the construction here of having to win over such and such amount of people in such and such time, seems to me like such a Story. I’m not saying that this couldn’t in principle happen, but it’s all so very clean and precise, a little too rigid, for it to really meld with the rest of the film.

      Similarly, the film’s ending, which on the surface is so well balanced and elegant, is just too neat and perfect. Its bittersweet symmetry feels manufactured in a way it wouldn’t in a film that otherwise didn’t stick so close to what’s “real”. Real life is just so much more messy than this, in fact most of the film is much more messy than this, so it’s a little jarring to have such a story-like wrap-up at the end. This isn’t a severe flaw in any way, but I think it points to a structural, or maybe even philosophical, flaw in realist art that I haven’t seen addressed very much. One can argue that realism is just another form of artifice and a way of framing a story, but I think it requires a purity in the approach that can easily limit the possibilities for storytelling and reflection.

      As for the more subjective view, I often find that realism is much more hit or miss when it comes to inducing empathy for me than stories with a more melodramatic and/or heightened reality type of approach. This would seem counterintuitive, but for my own sake I have a lot of built up defense mechanisms against images and stories that are “real”, obtained from almost half a century watching and reading the news. Realism therefore often hits a bit too close to something I might see in real life and can become more emotionally distant for me as a result. Melodrama and heightened reality on the other hand, can provide a “safe space” for emotion and empathy by convincing us that what we’re saying is not true while simultaneously providing a bridge to real life experience, thoughts and feelings in a way that they can be processed in isolation.

      This is a lot of general criticism to level at a single film, so let me end by saying that this is still very good and that if it weren’t for its overall qualities, I wouldn’t feel the need to write this long-winded defense of why the film didn’t reduce me to a puddle of tears like it has so many others.

      The Unknown Girl: Almost like an episode of an Agatha Christie-esque British crime show, but in a different setting and draped in the specific realist world and style of the Dardennes (and somehow this is a good thing, I promise!)

      A few minor quibbles about character motivation aside, this is a wonderful film about endlessly fighting the good fight and the value of empathy. Its episodicness underlines the neverending struggle of being a general practitioner for mostly low income clients, with the long hours and often personal connections made over time adding to the stress. The few truly quiet moments in the film are of the main character calmly smoking by the window. Taking a short break from a perpetually hectic existence. Made with expertly controlled formalism throughout, the most impressive scene in the film is when the main character is suddenly forced to pull over and is confronted by two violent men. Like so many of the other outbursts of the film, always surprisingly breaking the steady rhythm maintained otherwise, it’s a real shock to the system. However, the most impressive part of the scene is the way the Dardennes constrain our viewpoint, keeping us close to the main character and making us feel as trapped and scared as she is. Though a minor detail, I would also mention the striking red sweater she sometimes wears, which due to the strong contrast with pretty much everything else in the film’s mise-en-scène becomes a strong symbol of her compassion, strength and overall willpower.

      As the film was wrapping up, I was first puzzled and then delighted to realize how closely some of the film’s elements map onto a sort of classic Agatha Cristie (or Christie-esque) British crime story. The main character is like the country doctor, meeting so many different people and having increased insight into their psychology as a result (also helped by the confessional nature of some encounters, which works both for a country doctor and a country priest). The way she mounts her own independent investigation (though helped somewhat by the police) and then eventually figures it out, just adds to that feeling. Honestly, if you stripped away the style and the specifics of the setting, I’m pretty sure you could map a majority of this film onto some 90 minute episode of some dime a dozen British crime show. And somehow best of all, I don’t think that makes this film silly or lacking in any way. I honestly find it delightful, though not in a way that takes away from the severity of the narrative. Obviously the emphasis here is quite different from what it would have been, but these similarities speaks to something about how we process dealings with crime, the police and an uncaring world and, most of all, how important it is to have individuals who truly care. The advantage of the framing here of course, is that it instills this final lesson without resorting to any cheap notions of “crime solving genius” or by denigrating real police work. It’s all about the value of empathy and conviction.

      • I’ve only seen one Dardennes film (The Kid With a Bike) but that point about realism and believability is exactly what spoiled it for me, and you’ve expressed it better than I’ve ever managed to.

      • The Ploughman

        TDON was my first Dardennes and I ended up preferring it to one of their more celebrated films, The Son. I understand the criticism of the break with realism (my biggest problem is the overdose on pills where she spends all of a couple hours in the hospital before continuing her quest). But I guess I prefer it to have that varnish of “story” around it to something supposedly completely “natural” like The Son.

        I have to ask – how much did the color scheme stand out to you? There’s a pretty good write up of the struggle for dominance of the framing here but it doesn’t go into the color as much. The scheme is so simple and literal that once I caught on to it fairly early on, I could not only predict the response of the person she was approaching, but exactly how the scene would play out, which is pretty amazing. This little puzzle-box aspect also kept the film from feeling strictly like an attempt at realism as well.

        • lgauge

          To be honest, I didn’t notice any of that (framing or colors). It wasn’t something I was looking for, so it passed me by completely.

          • The Ploughman

            I usually don’t notice things like that (I didn’t notice the frame divisions) but I found the salmon shade of her tank top appealing and somehow this clicked everything else. It isn’t foregrounded but it’s ridiculously precise. I’ve mulled doing a piece with screengrabs at some point.

      • pico

        We’ll have to talk more about this at length, but I don’t think there’s a necessary tension between realism (per se) and melodrama, or at least that’s not how they developed historically: the two often went hand-in-hand in their early development. In his book Melodrama and Modernity, Ben Singer talks a lot about their “convoluted” relationship: in the early 20th century, he says, theater melodrama was considered “the realistic class of plays” on the basis of their commitment to something like verisimilitude, either materially or substantively. Anyway, all kinds of reasons for their long, intertwined history – but I still get what you’re saying, which I think pertains to a smaller subset of what we call “realism.”

        I do agree with you in theory, and many critics felt it was the Dardennes’ weakest film for exactly the reasons you point out. Still worked like gangbusters for me, though, and I was a puddle of tears (on a plane! I watched this on a tiny plane screen!) at the end. People sitting next to me wondering why I’m openly sobbing mid-flight, heh.

        I think it’s also a good entry point to the Dardennes, since it has more familiar “hooks” of structure and content (and actress), even if maybe not their most accomplished work overall.

        • lgauge

          It’s definitely a mode of realism I’m talking about, though it seems to be the most common mode coming out of Europe in the last decade or two. And I do realize I’m painting with a broad brush here, as one tends to in these kinds of semi-polemical rants. I’d love to talk more about this whenever though.

          Two Days, One Night was indeed my first Dardennes film. Following it up immediately with the other film at least demonstrated that their style can accommodate a fair amount of material, so I’m not at all discouraged.

          • The Ploughman

            Your description of it makes we want to make The Unknown Girl my next one.

    • Follow up on Vice Principals, “Venetian Nights.” Holy shit, that fight scene, which the most cinematic damn thing the series has done, using horizontal tracking shots, depth-of-field shots (straight outta Brazil), sound editing, and a fire extinguisher all in the service of being just insanely funny. This episode was peak Goggins, and had the kind of moment where he can reveal or change an entire character in a single beat: whatever he did in gymnastics class in 1993, that’s the core of who Lee Russell is, and he knows it.

      @ruckcohlchez:disqus has pitched that it’s still 50/50 as to whether the shooter was Russell or Abbott; for me, I loved more than anything Russell’s who-gives-a-shit attitude. Whether or not he’s the shooter, Russell’s as comfortable with Gamby believing it as he is wearing his suit. On the level of plot, this episode did a great job of bringing everything crashing down, revealing who everyone is, and still keeping things rolling for Sunday’s finale.

      • Miller

        I am going off the standard mystery solution of “the character you least suspect” for the shooting, ergo Swift.

        • Can’t rule out that Gamby’s daughter was behind the whole thing, or that she was using stilts. I really enjoy (unlike, say, the final season of Lost) how Team Hill has made this mystery almost superfluous to the action. The question going into the finale is “will Abbott and/or Russell bring Gamby down?”; if I get an answer to “who shot Gamby?” that’s a bonus but it isn’t necessary.

      • ZoeZ

        I’ve been thinking that the two character questions of Vice Principals are whether or not Neal Gamby can change what being Neal Gamby means and whether or not Lee Russell can stop being Lee Russell (which speaks to Gamby’s comparative okayness and to the fact that he’s capable of happiness and Russell isn’t), and part of what makes the show great is that the first story is headed for redemption and comedy and the second story is headed for tragedy, but that the characters’ entanglement with each other means that whatever enormous thing would have to happen for Russell to stop being Russell, it’s going to happen to Gamby, too.

    • Miller

      The Wheelman — decent B-movie exercise. Frank Grillo is title for a robbery that goes south because of motherfuckery by the organizers and has to figure out how to survive and that is 95 percent of the movie, Grillo in a car figuring shit out mostly by talking on the phone. The camera is mobile but almost entirely locked in the car (when Grillo gets out the camera stays in and shoots action through the windshield, say) and it’s occasionally an instance of gimmick superseding function but largely successful at sticking the viewer in a tense and cramped situation. Some minor action and OK driving but the movie is carried by Grillo managing his stress and he does solid work here. Writer-director Jeremy Rush seems to understand genre work is best when it is lean and straight, and he shoots on his own terms instead of being overly indebted to aping past genre like some other filmmakers. Worth a look.

      The other interesting thing about the movie is its milieu — the movie was largely filmed in Boston and neighboring Chelsea with time up in Lawrence as well and after a few minutes I could recognize the feel of the streets and the architecture, but the movie almost never uses signifiers of the city (there is a blink-and-you’ll miss it view of the iconic Zakim bridge in the background). A lot of time is spent in the more industrial and outer areas, where a person could drive around and get up to no good. The lack of identification feels purposeful on Rush’s part, on one hand it allows him to fuck with geography on a major level (a convenience when shooting no doubt) but he still stitches together an anonymous city of unsafe places an anonymous man can navigate if he’s quick and clever. It’s a different atmosphere then movies filming in the area that emphasize the BAHSTAN, and a welcome one.

      • Speaking of the article here, Grillo is another actor who movies would have simply missed without his TV background (The Shield, Prison Break). He has a great lowlife vibe that we really haven’t seen in movies since the Golan-Globus years.

        • Miller

          Bernthal is aces but damn, I can see why there was a campaign for Grillo as Punisher. He’s another part of the more low-key Boston vibe — he brings in an accent (not bad) but more importantly has the right kind of face for the job and the town.

          • Robert Davi, Grillo, and Bernthal in a remake of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Just sayin’.

          • Miller

            Yesssssssssss. More Davi in everything, although I think with that cast we’d have to re-ethnic this — The Paisanos Of Vinny Corleni?

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Whoa I didn’t know he was Jackson!! Such an instantly unlikeable dude.

    • ZoeZ

      The Leftovers, “Orange Sticker” and “No Room at the Inn.” Hey, remember when I used to watch The Leftovers? Those days have returned! These are two exceptionally strong episodes–powerful and strange, and getting more power from their strangeness. Eccleston, in particular, does great work in “No Room at the Inn,” as Matt again has a crisis that both rewards his faith with miracles and tests it with blockades, and at the end he radiates a clarity of surety and compassion that everyone is rightly a little stunned by.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        The Leftovers had better go down as one of the great tv series. The last two seasons make that jump from very good to remarkable.

        • Picking up on the idea that TV gives you room to develop, weren’t the last two seasons were Lindelof went away from the novel?

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Yeah, they apparently function as a sequel really.

    • The Narrator

      I started going through Mosaic, and I cannot say I was expecting The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to be first an extended joke and then a plot point in a Steven Soderbergh project.

      • The Narrator

        I would’ve gone through more of it, but I was too transfixed by the story of Spacey getting replaced by Plummer with six weeks to go. That is absolute insanity, and god bless that workhorse Ridley Scott for it.

        • The Ploughman

          The big question is, will he also replace Spacey in the behind-the-scenes featurettes?

          • The Narrator

            Jason Reitman will bring back his script reads just so Plummer plays every part Spacey has ever played (don’t tell me you’re not shaken by the thought of Plummer yelling “WILL YOU GO TO LUNCH”).

          • The Ploughman

            We will finally get the smoother, mustachioed K-Pax we never realized we needed.

          • The Narrator

            American Beauty is now the debut entry in the Mike Mills Parent Cinematic Universe.

          • So… Plummer is Keyzer Soze? Helluva twist, right Bryan Singer?…

            …Singer? Where’d he go?

          • The Ploughman

            This is one of those comments I want to upvote but also don’t want to get my mouse pointer too close to. I hope you understand.

        • Jake Gittes
    • Jake Gittes

      Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express – never seen this series, but decided to check out at least this episode before heading out to see Kenneth Branagh’s version (more on that below), which I’ve been assigned to review. There’s a beat early on where Poirot and Mary Debenham (a pre-stardom Jessica Chastain!) watch a Turkish woman get stoned to death for adultery, Mary comments on how awful it is and Poirot replies with something to the effect of “Yes, justice can be distressing” – this nearly caused me to fall out of my chair and even though it’s only been seven years it’s hard to imagine anything like that being said by a heroic character today without at least launching dozens of thinkpieces. David Suchet really is phenomenal, going far enough with a less-is-more approach that he’s not afraid to appear hard-edged and sometimes downright unlikable, but at the same time conveying plenty of fierce intelligence and just enough quirky charm to make you understand why people are constantly drawn to him. The rest of the ensemble – besides Chastain, there’s Toby Jones, Hugh Bonneville, Barbara Hershey, David Morrissey, Denis Menochet aka the farmer from Inglourious Basterds, and that’s just the familiar faces – is also more than up to the task, and despite some really dodgy TV CGI the episode is dynamic and atmospheric when needed. I wasn’t nearly as keen on the decision to have the suspects themselves reveal their plan in the climax (it’s made clear Poirot has already figured it out for himself, but he’s still robbed of opportunity to own) and then to draw Poirot into a heated argument about morality and justice, but this had amassed enough goodwill from me beforehand that I still really enjoyed it overall.

      Murder on the Orient Express (2017) – I may be overreacting just a little having just re-read the novel and seen a solid, faithful adaptation, but this right here isn’t Christie, it’s a damn circus. If Suchet’s Poirot ever met Branagh’s he’d never sanction his buffoonery, and more than likely he’d turn him into dust with just one withering stare. The setting is still the ’30s, but now (confirming my suspicion) Poirot is a woke bae who Calls People Out, and instead of an immovable object – unbiased Justice itself in human form that encounters another sense of justice that’s all too human – he’s shouting a lot and is given a rote learning arc. The tone veers from broad comedy to impassioned drama, there’s a heaping of really obvious compositing and some woeful CGI, and the movie has no more respect for Poirot’s investigative process than it does for him as a character, simply rushing through much of it. Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman and Michelle Pfeiffer do quite well with what they’re given, and it’s shocking how tolerable, even engaging Josh Gad is when he’s serious and not mugging; the other actors are serviceable but too limited by the material, except for Depp, who doesn’t even try. (Compare him with Toby Jones in the TV series, who also plays Ratchett and despite the very limited screentime makes the best impression out of everyone who’s not Suchet, just throwing himself into this evil piece of shit.) Oh and in other minor good news, Patrick Doyle is here to prove that you can still write an actual score for a big studio movie. Thematically there’s a notably increased focus on race and prejudice, and if I were being really charitable I’d say it might have been intended as either a reminder of or a commentary on the impending Holocaust, but whether or not it was, it’s as clumsy and half-assed as damn near everything else here.

      • The Ploughman

        Is the solution the same?

        Have you seen the Lumet version?

        • Jake Gittes

          Broadly it is, although in both adaptations minor details are changed.

          I’ve seen the Lumet in 2010, but don’t remember anything about it at this point except that I really enjoyed Albert Finney’s performance. Might rewatch it tonight just so I have more to write about when reviewing the Branagh, although I’m afraid of letting myself get bogged down in comparisons.

    • Defense Against The Dark Arts

      Back-to-back Stephen King adaptations: 1922 and Gerald’s Game. Usually that’s a recipe for mediocrity, but not this time. Amazing performances by Thomas Jane and Carla Gugino, respectively. Both movies highlight the psychological horror in King’s work more so than the blood and guts. Although there are instances of the latter (the rats in 1922 and a hungry stray dog in Gerald’s Game).
      Perhaps the reason for their success is they both manage to hit the sweet spot between slavish adherence to the text and completely changing the story and merely keeping the title.

      • pico

        I’m usually a-okay with gore in movies, but that Big Moment in Gerald’s Game got to me. I think I shouted “holy shit” at the television. (I didn’t know anything about it going in.) Let’s just say the gore effects in That Scene are far more realistic and disgusting than I thought the movie was capable of. Yeeeeeesh.

        That epilogue, though? Less denouement than “King must have been snorting coke at this point, right?”

        • Defense Against The Dark Arts

          That Scene is taken directly from the book and even though I knew it was coming I had an audible reaction of something like, “Aaaaaaghhhhh.” I’m surprised they left in the epilogue which I’ve always considered a weird (yet creepy) digression by King.

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    I’m pretty sure War Machine is just a movie!

    But yeah I can’t imagine someone like Brad Pitt in a TV role. Tilda Swinton comes to mind – she’s too enigmatic and strange to work in a serial story.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Swinton is an example of someone whose range is so wide that putting her in a long-form story feels like wasting her talents.

      • I’m always more impressed when I see her in a normal role, like Michael Clayton, than when she’s doing something strange or flamboyant.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Me and my friend were saying that its a very unusual performance to win an Oscar (not that it wasn’t deserved) because it was so interior.

          • I really like when those performances win. Her, Louise Fletcher in Cuckoo’s Nest, even (sigh)… Casey Affleck (ugh).

          • Son of Griff

            Also a character who, while the villain in the piece, never really gets to “own”.

          • Belated Comebacker

            She outsources it to the other two guys!

            I always love Gilroy’s commentary on that scene, because it is chilling. No over-the-top violence, or psychotic monologuing. Just two workaday guys, killing someone.

        • Jake Gittes

          I think she herself seriously admitted she considered that her most challenging role (or at least one of the most), because Karen is such an aggressively normal businesswoman.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            What makes Karen such a good character is that she’s a person who is way, way in over her head and Swinton plays her so well in that every single instant that the plot goes further you can see Karen reacting to it and trying to work out how to respond to the situation.

          • Jake Gittes

            I was just trying to find a quote to back up what I said above and came across an interview where she’s asked why she gained weight for the role, and she said she immediately saw Karen as insecure and uncomfortable with who she is and where she is, and upon coming across a scene where she’s running on the treadmill she got to thinking that thin person on a treadmill = confidence and easy grasp of success, while overweight person on a treadmill means struggle and generally provokes a more complicated response from the audience even before any details are given. And she didn’t gain so much weight that it was distracting or even all that noticeable, but just enough for subtle suggestion of all those things. That’s character work right there. She earned that Oscar.

        • pico

          My favorite Swinton moment is in a role I dislike – the Ancient One in Dr. Strange. Cumberbunch compliments on her tea (“This is good tea”) and she has one word in the script: “Yes.” Heck, it may not even be in the script. I mean, that’s a toss-off line. Anyone else, I probably wouldn’t even remember it. But listen to the way she says “Yes.” Look at her face. She makes it into a really stunning character beat: a little bit of of arrogance, a little bit of taunt, a little bit of something that’d be impossible to ask an actor for because it’s so subtle and ephemeral.

          She’s one of the best miniaturists working in cinema today. Even her flamboyant roles are finely tuned, rather than haphazardly chewing whatever she can get her hands on.

      • Jake Gittes

        The solution of course is to get her to play a bunch of different characters, as long as whatever that hypothetical show is doesn’t get too impressed with itself for doing that concept but takes it seriously. Even then a miniseries made entirely by a single tight creative team (like Big Little Lies or Twin Peaks: The Return) might be safer.

    • The Ploughman

      Agreed! (I should have read further before responding above)

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    I should’ve mentioned too that Goggins is probably my favorite actor working and someone who can do pretty much anything.

  • Part of what makes TV acting different in the Second Golden Age is that TV acting is, quite simply, better than film acting–TV has beaten movies at their own game. In works of the 21st century, I haven’t seen movies that have iconic performers on the level of James Gandolfini or Bryan Cranston or the Goggins (the closest film runner-up is Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood), nor an ensemble on the level of The Shield (Zodiac is the closest), nor a set of comic performers like on Arrested Development, nor roles for actresses, let alone performances, like on Big Little Lies, nor an action hero on the level of Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer.

    One key difference is opportunity. With TV, there’s time to find what it’s about–it doesn’t have to be successful all at once. TV also still doesn’t draw the biggest actors; put those together and you have a wider pool of talent to draw from, and you find greatness that otherwise gets ignored. For examples, look at Gandolfini’s roles pre-Sopranos, or imagine what Elisabeth Moss’ career would have been like without her breakout roles in The West Wing and Mad Men. The talent is there; TV casts a bigger net to find it.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I’m oddly glad you spotlighted 24 because as fucked up as that show is nobody talks about how good Sutherland is in it.

      • He was fucking phenomenal. There wasn’t one beat of ownage that he didn’t, um, own, and he played every scene completely emotionally grounded. I wish that the writers had been interested in telling a story more complex than Jack Saves America, Fuck Yeah, because Sutherland could have gone anywhere the plot took him.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          There is no sense of a guy who is not in the moment every single second and that made the audience commit to the (totally absurd) situations at hand.

      • Fun fact: he found out there were drinking games for 24 for when he shouted “Dammit!”, so he instructed the writers to increase the frequency of it.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        And Sutherland is a perfect example of an actor who had a good but not spectacular run as a movie star, and went to TV because the opportunities and decent roles just weren’t there.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Like Gandolfini, Sutherland inadvertently found he was better on TV.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I keep forgetting to ask – when was the First Golden Age?

      • I understand it to be the 50s/early 60s, when you had a lot of plays broadcast live or made-for-television, shows like The Twilight Zone, and directors like Sidney Lumet or John Frankenheimer that came up through television. It’s a period when TV was closest to theater, and began developing into its own medium.

        • Defense Against The Dark Arts

          I would say it’s the mid-80s to mid-90s with shows like Hillstreet Blues, LA Law, Miami Vice, Thirtysomething, ER, Chicago Hope, etc. And I swear to God if you disagree, I’m going to turn this place into Benny’s World of Blood…

          • Oh, 80s-90s is great, no argument there, but I’m pretty sure “Golden Age” refers to the live-television era. Probably we should rethink our metals and start referring to Bronze, Silver, and Golden Ages. I hope we will get to the fabled Chromium Age in our lifetime.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            I think, even at the time, critics were referring to the best of mid-eighties TV as a Silver Age, the consensus being that there was a lot of good stuff, but not consistent enough to be golden.

            I would also point out that the current Golden Age of TV comes at a time when mainstream filmmaking is in an obvious rut, and the distinction between TV and film is getting hazier by the minute.

          • Defense Against The Dark Arts

            Maybe it’s the case that every generation believes they are living through a golden age. People who fondly remember TV from the 60s would passionately defend The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island or Green Acres.

          • Son of Griff

            I’m sure fans do, but for reasons that have nothing to do with quality but for wholesomeness and comfort. The term “vast wasteland” as a descriptor for the medium, came about in this era.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            Hey, Green Acres was one of the influences of NewsRadio!

          • Defense Against The Dark Arts

            I don’t remember any Arnold the pig in News Radio, but it’s been awhile since I’ve watched it.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            Oh, when Dave tries to convince Lisa to buy a TV, he watches quite a bit of Green Acres. He even breaks down his preferences of the four pigs who played Arnold!

          • Son of Griff

            Perhaps we can call this “The Lost Generation”

          • Drunk Napoleon

            That’s actually exactly what I always assumed he meant.

    • Miller

      “With TV, there’s time to find what it’s about–it doesn’t have to be successful all at once. ”

      You are not saying this here, but I think the truism you state above leads to people thinking that more time for acting is good for acting — sort of the opposite problem of the classic movie falsehood that more acting is good acting. Nuanced performances in tedious shows are still stuck in tedious shows and I feel help enable the tedium — oooh, what a good performance! This is why I’m sitting through this! (One of the reasons I like The Good Place so much is that it puts great performances in a quick-moving show.) As you and others have noted, a good movie performance is hard and writing an opportunity for that performance is also hard, I’m coming to respect it more than TV when it’s done well.

      • The Ploughman

        “This is why I’m sitting through this!”

        You got me to flashback to when I was being held hostage by Orphan Black last year.

        • Miller

          Great example — I watched the first season and liked it fine enough, obviously Maslany is amazing but the storytelling was eh… . Although I was also unreasonably annoyed by the show’s refusal to just fucking admit they were in Canada, dammit.

    • The Ploughman

      To play a little devil’s advocate (of the modulated-for-no-existing-screensize Pachino variety), there isn’t a television show that’s delivered the sublime moments given to us in the last 15 years by Javier Bardem or Tilda Swinton. I would say TV acting at its best has simply matched film acting. And there’s still plenty of very popular network shows where every line is like nails on a blackboard, shows that would work better if the scripts were just read aloud facing forward, in the style of high school competitive speech.

      • Maybe the resolution here is that movies are still oriented towards stars (mainstream or independent doesn’t matter), whereas TV is still oriented towards a breadth of performers.

        • The Ploughman

          I can dig it.

  • I have a (probably bad) habit of just referring to characters in films by the actor’s names, which I don’t think I’d do in television (if I ever watched any) – I feel like most Film Stars have a natural charisma that burns through whatever role they take, whereas TV Stars work to build a character and let that define them. Obviously there are exceptions on both sides who flit between the two worlds, but they’re probably not actually human (note to self: investigate)

    • Babalugats

      TV tends to give actors their first real shot. I mentioned Ted Danson as an actor with several successful TV shows, and everything after Cheers I always just called him Ted Danson. I don’t know if it’s a question of charisma so much as which name you learn first.

      • I’ll never know in Danson’s case, because my introduction to him was a little motion picture called Three Men and a Baby, in which he casually stole scene after scene from the usually spectacular* Steve Guttenberg.

        * ahahaha

        • Miller

          The Gute is an interesting case — I recently watched Police Academy and he’s a solid comic lead, handsome and (in an era where certain dickishness had a more mainstream appeal than it apparently does today) funny with decent timing. Not a comic star on a Bill Murray level, but not bad. Fast forward to his recurring role in Veronica Mars, where he is playing a different sort of person and also performing more — he’s using charisma in Police Academy but in VM charisma is one tool to create a persona (of a person who is consciously projecting a persona). And he can do this because we only see him infrequently, we require less of him and that allows him to give us more. I wouldn’t call him a great actor by any means but he calibrates well.

          • He always struck me as a solid supporting player who struggled in lead roles, but that’s interesting about his role in Veronica Mars. Always good to hear of half-forgotten stars finding a new niche.

          • Jake Gittes

            He’s a perfectly solid part of the Diner ensemble. I actually don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else.

          • Miller

            Oh, great point about Diner, a movie full of good performances.

          • Get thee to The Boys of Brazil post-haste, where the Gute goes up against Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason, and Uta Hagen and without question–well, he appears in the same shot with some of them. No doubt about that.

          • Miller

            Rob Thomas is apparently a fan, after Veronica Mars the Gute plays himself in an episode of Party Down and is hilarious, a bit skeevy and also somewhat wise. It’s a great episode.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Darn! I was just about to mention his role in Party Down.

          • Delmars Whiskers

            Guttenberg in the eighties was largely interchangeable with Tom Hanks in the same era–it’s easy to imagine The Gute in Dragnet or Bachelor Party, or Hanks in Cocoon or Three Men And A Baby.

          • Son of Griff

            The Gute never tried to hide his Jewishness, but never seemed to find a unique way to build on that as a persona. You always got a sense that there was an Albert Brooks trying to get out the Tom Hanks avatar, but the roles never really allowed for that.

          • Miller

            I never thought of that but wow, those are exactly his two poles, aren’t they?

  • Babalugats

    This is something that I’ve always found interesting. You would think that acting is acting, but there are so many actors who’ve thrived in one medium only. Ted Danson is my go to example, the best part of every show he’s been on (and he’s been on several), but never clicked in movies. Charlie Sheen is another, never more than a C-list talent on the big screen, he has genuine movie star charisma on television.

    I think we underestimate how difficult film acting is. You need to introduce a character and take it on a complete emotional arc in an hour and a half, without violating the foundation of who that character is. There needs to immediately be a strong enough baseline that we understand that the character is evolving, and not simply inconsistent. And the audience needs to be committed to your character, love/hate/whatever, within the first ten or fifteen minutes of screen time, or else they won’t care about the rest of the film. It’s kind of amazing that it ever works at all.

    TV allows actors to stretch that over a much longer time. Walter White has what, twenty/thirty hours to complete the arc that Michael Corleone completes in three scenes? Another big thing is that television gives the writers time to find their actors strengths. How many shows does it take a half a season before everybody starts to feel right? That’s fine for a long series, but you can’t just ignore the first six hours of a movie.

    • Another thing we underestimate: just how many good scripts are out there. Yes to all of the above, but also the actor (and director and everyone else) still needs a story where they can do everything you said in 1-3 hours. There’s also (as your last paragraph said) much much less room to improve while you do the work.

    • Son of Griff

      When I was growing up, T.V. stars were those who projected a low key affability whose tabula rasa personalities, as @disqus_wallflower:disqus pointed out yesterday, the audiences felt tempted to fill in. Pauline Kael made a comment similar to this in regards to James Garner when pondering why the T.V. star’s charisma didn’t necessarily translate to T.V. Danson, Mark Harmon, and actors in more episodic shows still tend to display that. Shows like THE SHIELD, and BREAKING BAD, have, as the article states, changed the performance style, largely because their novelistic approach allows actors to emphasize and shift the emotional expressions of its characters in a variety of ways as the arc of the show progresses.

  • ZoeZ

    You ruined any chance of objectivity I might have had by putting that Goggins still up there. I keep scrolling back up to look at it.

    Quality being equal, I prefer TV to movies because of the time you get to spend with the characters and how that time makes eventual moments and plot developments hit so much harder. There’s greater intimacy–as per your Brad Pitt/pub point–with long-form storytelling and the actors who are best at that, I think, are the actors who are best at portraying people. You can’t know a person in two hours. It’s the job of movie stars, on the other hand, to convince you that you can know their characters in two hours, which is why, I think, the truly great TV actors often don’t translate well into the movies. Their styles draw you in but don’t create neatly punctuated pay-off. They’re just slightly too quiet: exactly right for someone in the room for you but not quite right for someone at a distance. And the converse is true, too: put a great movie actor in TV and they often give too much away too quickly because their styles are designed to make an immediate impact rather than to entice.

    I suspect part of this may depend on when the actor makes up their mind about their character, and when they think the audience does so, and ties into the “TV is a writer’s medium” thing. If you know your character has actions ahead of them that you cannot anticipate, then you have to go at least partly Mamet and play the action rather than your interpretation of it; you have to play the character feeling what they’re feeling right then and doing what they’re doing right then, not a retroactive understanding of what the moment means, and that creates a difference. (Shawn Ryan didn’t tell Walton Goggins about the end of “Family Meeting” until after the Vendrells had their idyll in the empty house, with Shane picking out “Chopsticks” while his wife and son dance.) And then you get an identification/distance thing again–the movie actor knows substantially more than the audience, the TV actor only knows (in general) a little more.

    …And one last scroll up to the Goggins. (My favorite actor–high five, Conor.)

    • Belated Comebacker

      Excellent points being made here on the difference between movie stars and TV actors. This difference between the two, of course, is difficult to navigate in the indie film development scene, where the easiest actors to secure for a low-budget movie are typically TV actors that aren’t working on their shows. Which might be why some indies just don’t work: The casting is wrong (but then again, many stars aren’t about to take a pay-cut to do a little indie movie either).

  • Snake doctor

    How do you feel about Martin Sheen?

  • Delmars Whiskers

    In the seventies and eighties, “TV actor” was considered an insult. It referred to someone like Tom Selleck, an affable presence you’d like to see every week, but lacking the charisma or talent to make it on the big screen. TV actors weren’t considered versatile–they’d hit their one note, and that was it.

    This was bullshit, of course, and what many critics of the time considered one note was actually solid professionalism–TV guest stars had limited time to make an impact, so they had to establish their character immediately, with no time for frills.

    I mention this because I’ve always thought of Die Hard as essentially the greatest 70s/80s TV movie of all time. Bruce Willis was, at the time, thought of as a TV actor out of his league on the big screen, and in fact, his character is given a very TV-styled intro–we know everything about him, because he’s Bruce Willis. As the story goes along, many of the characters we meet are played by Familiar TV Faces–Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Hart Bochner, Paul Gleason. The performances do exactly what they need to do–they tell us what character types they are, and nothing more, because anything else would distract from the story.

    • Miller

      I like this a lot, and of course it lends itself to the big honking metaphor of workaday TV taking down the pretensions of cinema/theater in the guise of one A. Rickman.

      • Keeping the metaphor going, it was his first film role, and he learned right away how disposable he was if he didn’t do the job: his first scene had him faking an American accent (so if he couldn’t do it, someone else can get hired right quick) and his last scene was the fall off the building (so if he got injured, no big deal). Rickman didn’t do any kind of prima donna-ing, just owned the shit out of his role in the ensemble and even contributed–it was his choice to enjoy some shrimp during a speech to the hostages.

        • Belated Comebacker

          Haven’t seen it in a while, but didn’t he also need to fake a slight German accent? Or did McTiernan give him a pass on that? (I know Irons in “Die Hard with a Vengeance” had to actually speak some German, which is a different ball-game, naturally).

      • Delmars Whiskers

        Of course, Rickman’s plan was doomed the minute he brought in the sidekick from Walker:Texas Ranger as his tech guy.

    • Son of Griff

      Great point about Die Hard. Soap operas seem to be the exception of the “affable presence” rule with television, and I wonder if the generally low critical opinion of the work done on these shows (an opinion, just to let clytie know, I don’t share) comes from the fact that the emotiveness cuts against the TV acting grain.

  • John Bruni

    Peter Falk may be the MVP here. He made the Columbo act his own, while at the same time turning in stellar performances in films by John Cassavetes–financed in part with the money he made off of Columbo.

    • Delmars Whiskers

      One of the great joys of Columbo is the opportunity it gave to seemingly limited actors like Robert Conrad and Jackie Cooper to stretch out as Villains Of The Week. The writing was good, of course, but it also seemed like working with Falk brought out a wonderful looseness to their work, a semi-improvised quality rarely seen in 70s TV.

  • Belated Comebacker

    Good piece on Soderbergh here, both about “Mosaic,” Weinstein, and his process, for those interested:

    http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/steven-soderbergh-interview-mosaic.html