Monthly Archives: January 2013

Great, or not so much?

Everybody should have friends.

Everybody should have friends.

I’m of two minds after watching the first two episodes of the new Fox show, The Following.

On the one hand, it’s beautifully shot, the casting is great and getting the opportunity to see Kevin Bacon exercise his dramatic chops on a weekly basis is sublime. Plus, Kevin Williamson – the creator of Dawson’s Creek and the Scream horror movie franchise, among others – has created a wonderful villain, the serial-killing high priest of an Edgar Allan Poe cult who lures his followers by becoming their friend. There’s a lot of potential here, a terrific set-up.

On the other hand, the writing is … not always awesome. When we meet Hardy (Bacon), it is years after he has captured the killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Carroll escapes, and Bacon – once the FBI’s darling, now an outcast from the agency – is brought in as a consultant. When Bacon originally catches Carroll, it is after Carroll has stabbed him in the heart with an ice pick. We find out through the course of events that Hardy also falls in love with Carroll’s ex, but doesn’t stay with her as Hardy fears for her safety should Carroll seek retribution. So as we watch Hardy work in the now, it is literally with a broken heart (powered by a pacemaker). That’s the labored, hammer-you-over-the-head metaphor from Episode 1. Another such metaphor pops up in Episode 2. Toss in some very by-the-numbers, on-the-nose, been-there-done-that exposition (see Hardy addressing the FBI agents upon first meeting in Episode 1), and it’s a little troubling. A lack of respect for the intelligence of viewers frustrates me in any show, and Williamson is a better writer than that.

That said, there’s enough here to keep my attention. I look forward to seeing where The Following goes.

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Dear Catholic Church

In case you’re wondering, this is what hypocrisy looks like. I’d tell you to look it up in the dictionary, but you probably had to sell all of those to settle the child rape lawsuits.

Hugs and kisses,

Someone not blinded by the light

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I need a hero

The face of a man truly wronged.

The face of a man truly wronged.

I recently had a conversation with a high school-aged acquaintance who hopes to someday write and produce anime. He has an idea he’s been working on, and he occasionally runs his schemes by me. The other day he asked this: What makes people identify with a hero? As the elder statesmen, I felt like I couldn’t just say, “Good question. That’s what every writer is trying to figure out.” Thinking quickly, I came up with this example.

SPOILER ALERT

I gave my young friend two examples from cinema: 1997’s Con Air, directed by Hollywood action maven Simon West and starring Nic Cage, as well as 2003’s Oldboy, directed by Korea’s Chan-wook Park (not the current version in production as directed by Spike Lee).

In Con Air, decorated military veteran Cameron Poe (Cage) is unfairly jailed after defending his wife from a bunch of predatory hoods. Scene after scene, we are reminded of how much Poe loves his wife and daughter, who was born after he was sent to prison. Poe, when not trying to reign in a plane full of violent sociopaths or find his best diabetic bud some insulin, spends the bulk of the movie attempting to keep track of a teddy bear he has purchased to give his daughter upon his release.

It’s simple … simple enough for simpletons, in fact. The wrongly convicted champion Poe loves his wife and baby. The wrongly convicted champion Poe loves his wife and baby. The wrongly convicted champion Poe loves his wife and baby. It’s classic Hollywood, an underdog and family man trying to right the wrongs and return to the loving arms of his family. West drives this into each viewer’s skull over and over again. A big-budget action flick like Con Air doesn’t have time for a vast plot or characters with depth. The idea of being separated from the ones you love and having no power to change that, that’s a concept anyone can understand. No explanation needed. You just need a teddy bear as a symbol and you’re ready for an hour and a half of shit blowing up.

Then there’s Oldboy. Our “hero,” Dae-su Oh, is a mess. Here’s a middle-aged man arrested for public drunkenness who handles his arrest with all the aplomb of a two-year-old who has had his favorite toy taken away. A friend bails him out, but Dae-su shows no gratitude. The friend abandons him in the street outside the police station. Then, with no warning, Dae-su disappears.

When we see Dae-su again, he is a prisoner in an odd hotel room. He has no idea where he is. The first thing he sees: A TV news report about the mysterious death of his wife and daughter, and the fact that he’s nowhere to be found. Dae-su is drowned in grief and rage, but has no outlet. In fact, for the next 15 years, Dae-su is trapped in the room, never seeing another human being, food handed to him through a slot in the door, occasionally gassed so faceless men can enter and clean the room (and, on occasion, Dae-su himself).

Then, as suddenly as he is imprisoned, Dae-su is released, a pocketful of cash and no explanation as his only parting prizes. His desire to find those who imprisoned him and seek revenge is all that remains for Dae-Su. He has nothing else.

Yes, it’s essentially the same idea as Con Air: A wrongly imprisoned man loves his absent wife and daughter and wants nothing more to return to them. The difference: Con Air spells out everything. There is no mystery, no gray areas, no room for interpretation on the part of the viewer. There is no doubt that Poe is the triumphant hero and will return to his wife and child and that, in the end, everything will be OK.

Oldboy … nothing is spelled out. We don’t know who imprisoned Dae-su. We don’t know why. And it’s hard to imagine what would compel someone to take such drastic action, especially against such a waste-of-space meat puppet like Dae-su. He hardly seems worthy of the attention.

We also don’t know how Dae-su will react. He is fractured, no longer human in the way most of us are. Will he seek the people who are responsible for his imprisonment? Will he become the drunken loser he once was? Will he lose his mind, alone in the wide world for the first time in more than a decade? Here, the connection isn’t as simple. You must be able to identify with Dae-su’s sense of impotent rage and total confusion. Chan-wook Park is asking for a much deeper investment on the part of the viewer. Not all viewers are going to be able to make the commitment – some of that comes from the fact that incest becomes a key part of this puzzle – but those who do will be rewarded with a tale that is Biblical in its sense of honor and vengeance. It also contains the most shocking final scene I’ve ever scene, in the sense that Park manages to create a happy ending out of a horrific tale … or, at least, the happiest ending that could possibly come from this situation. I consider Oldboy to be the best film I’ve ever seen (suck it Citizen Kane, which will surely be an “Overrated Shit” topic somewhere down the road).

In the end, did my explanation help my young friend? I’d say yes. Because one of the most important ideas to come from our talk was that, as the writer, you control the world. You don’t have to give the viewer/reader any information you don’t want to until you want to. Con Air chooses to put that all out front because it’s appeal must be broad. Oldboy gives away nothing, slowly unfolding until the final piece of the mysterious puzzle is revealed. One is about an immediate, broad connection. The other is about commitment by the filmmakers and the viewer to a complex, rewarding story.

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Favorite 12 songs of 2012

Adele, Set Fire to the Rain – If you don’t sing along with this, you have no soul.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife – She’s great on the piano, and just as great without it.

Azealia Banks, 212 – An ass-shaking track from the Missy Elliott tradition.

Gary Clark Jr., Bright Lights – Probably my favorite song of the year. Blues done right.

Divine Fits, Shivers – This is the one track where this indie “supergroup” really comes together.

The Flaming Lips feat. Ke$ha and Biz Markie, 2012 [You Must Be Upgraded] – Classic Lips weirdness with a pair of superfreaks contributing to the fun.

Japandroids, The Nights of Wine and Roses – It rawks, plain and simple.

Alicia Keys, Tears Always Win – This could have been a Motown hit in the 1960s.

The Lumineers, Dead Sea – Cool and soulful.

Frank Ocean feat. Andre 3000, Pink Matter – Deceptively mellow, until you get into the lyrics, and the intensity kicks up a notch.

Old Crowe Medicine Show, We Don’t Grow Tobacco – An old-school, bluegrass stomper.

Tame Impala, Elephant – Groovy as hell.

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Favorite Five Albums of 2012

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Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do – I’ve never been huge on Fiona before this, and the older she gets and the longer the albums titles get, the more annoying it gets. That said, she floors me on this one. There’s a maturity to her work now that gives her a base to work from, and her talent is undeniable.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops, Leaving Eden – If you’ve heard them, I shouldn’t have to say anything. If you haven’t, that’s your damn problem.

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The Flaming Lips, The Flaming Lips and Their Heady Fwends – “Gimmick” albums always tend to be a disappointment (I’m not just thinking of the Judgment Night soundtrack, but I can start there). The good thing is, The Flaming Lips tend to be a “toss in the kitchen sink, too” kind of band, so adding lesser known acts (Neon Indians, New Fumes), up-and-comers (The Tame Impalas, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) and fellow freaks (Biz Markie, Ke$ha, Yoko Ono, Nick Cave, Jim James) seems like a very natural thing.

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Fun., Some Nights – I’m a bit surprised to be finding this here, but so it is. Some Nights is pure pop end-to-end, but ranges stylistically from the piano showmanship of Billy Joel to the over-the-top glam of Queen. These guys should be interesting for a while.

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Murder By Death, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon – When you listen to an album and think of names like Johnny Cash, The Pogues and Tom Waits, that’s never a bad thing.

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