There is a moment in the new Sam Mendes picture where it turns into a horror film. It's a moment that you'll miss if your ears are not completely tuned in. April (Kate Winslet) senses her husband Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), coming down for breakfast. They have had countless verbally violent altercations throughout the film and their previous one was the most heated. April faces the counter and Frank waits, knowing that she will turn and face him eventually.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Linde and Charley have covered their bases rather thoroughly in this expose of crime solving-gone-public, but I need to chime in and throw a couple jabs. Once NBC proved Law and Order spin-offs could be just as successful as the original, and CBS followed with CSI and its franchise, there was no stopping the explosion of investigative television into every type of programming possible. And while I tend to agree with Ms. Murugan that unconventional crimesolver television is not quite a genre just yet, it is without a doubt a solid subgenre, or perhaps trope, of an established genre.
It is not a mystery that I myself am addicted to FOX's Bones that is not so unconventional as Veronica Mars or The Mentalist, but it does use scientists and artists in a fictional Smithsonian Institute, known on the show as the Jeffersonian Institute, to assist the FBI through an analysis of bones, bugs, dirt, chemicals, art renderings, and genius-level 'quantum leaps.' More than this, the show's characters lend to an on-going narrative of objective science versus subjective humanity.
Two shows that have yet to be mentioned in this discussion that have done well enough to give this convention some weight are CBS's Numb3rs and FOX's House. In the first, An FBI agent calls on his genius mathmatician brother to solve crimes through formulas, graphs, chalkboards, and math so difficult nobody can question it. Not the greatest show, although featuring David Krumholtz as math whiz Charlie Eppes and Peter MacNicol as his university colleague, Numb3rs is in its fifth season and sould be used by math teachers everywhere to answer the infamous question, "when will I ever need to know this?!"
House, the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated and winning program, is FOX's fantastic medical drama that I include in this crime solving programming because of the episode narrative structure: patient with mystery ailment comes to the ultimate doctor-meets-detective, Dr. House, along with his team of interns and doctors, who investigate not just the body, but the home, personal, interpersonal, and professional history of the patient to solve the case within the last ten minutes of the hour-long program.
While there is no crime per-se in House, the crime-solving structure on a medical program and the doctor as detective are great techniques that allowed the show to last so long. These, and of course, great writing and Hugh Laurie's incredible acting.
As an addict of these programs, I hope there is a future for the structure. With the success of The Mentalist, I am certainly not alone. But with the cancellation of Pushing Daisies, Veronica Mars, and a show you may not even know existed - New Amsterdam, from last season - about an immortal cop who uses his experiences from past ages to help solve contemporary crimes, there is a delicate balance of convention and unconventionality, style and narrative needed for theses shows to succeed.
ADDENDUM: Not included partly because it is not American and mostly becuase I forgot about it while writing this, The amazingly hilarious BBC program, Dr. Who, that combines science fiction and crime solving is one of the longest surviving unconventional crime solving programs and should get an American rip-off soon if it's not already in the works. Catch it on BBC-America for now, and fall in love with ridiculous special effects and over-the-top everything.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Spirit is not a good film. It's one of the worst of the year, or perhaps any year. In most throwaway films, I tend to be pretty generous: "It was like a roller coaster. Fun while you're on it, but no lasting effects." I can't even say that about The Spirit.
But I have a problem. I like Frank Miller. I like comic book movies. While I cannot recommend this film to just any member of the general public, I can highly recommend it to those studying comic book film adaptations. Fortunately for The Spirit, I fit into that category.
The story is ridiculous. I'll do my best. A man called The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) wants immortality. But to do this he needs the blood of Heracles which is located in a vase held by Sand Serif (Eva Mendes). The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) protects the Central City metropolis and therefore must fight against Octopus' scheme. This is the roughest of outlines.
The only reasons for liking The Spirit lie in its construction - literally, how the film is made. Films based on graphic storytelling (comics, graphic novels) have existed for awhile. Tim Burton's Batman is a great favorite of mine. But the construction of the film is traditional. In the end, it looks like a regular action movie, based on a comic book series.
Frank Miller has had two of his own graphic novels adapted to film: 300 and Sin City. Miller's directorial debut, The Spirit owes itself to these two films in terms of its visual style. Almost all scenes were filmed against a green screen. In a sense these films are more like animated films than live-action. I see this as new filmmaking aesthetic: "Comic book filmmaking." I am not familiar with the source material for The Spirit, but the stories for 300 and Sin City follow their source material quite closely in both story and visuals. Indeed, the films look like translations of page to the screen. This is the essence of what I call "comic book filmmaking." Translation versus adaptation - making the film look as much like the comic book as possible.
So, when I say The Spirit is bad film, you can believe me. Is the dialogue campy and wooden? Absolutely. Can I see these same words appearing in a speech bubble? Absolutely. The visuals look much like storyboards and indeed, Miller drew the storyboards for the film himself. Adaptations tend to send cinephiles into a frenzy. "They got rid of this character! Why!" They complain when things are added, subtracted or perhaps worse, diluted. At least with Sin City and 300, they are faithful to their material. My big assumption here is that The Spirit follows suit. My response to those clamoring for faithful adaptations: Be careful what you wish for!
In the end, what The Spirit makes is three of a kind - Sin City, 300 and The Spirit. What do you get with three of a kind? Trend!
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The CBS network is now famous for saturating the market with police procedurals. CSI is still running strong. I had no idea that NCIS does really well. Perhaps most surprising is the success of The Mentalist.
The Mentalist stars hunky Simon Baker from past films like L.A. Confidential and more recently, The Devil Wears Prada. He plays someone skilled in the art of...observation...huh? I'll explain. He has an uncanny ability to “read” people’s gestures and body language and uses this ability to solve crimes in California. The Mentalist is not a traditional police procedural in that solving the case requires unconventional means.
But this is not a new phenomena. Let’s take roll of previous television shows:
Veronica Mars featured an amateur crime solver, Kristen Bell herself. She may have solved crime or mysteries using typical P.I. tactics, but her status as high school senior makes her eligible for such a distinction.
A more recent show is the now late Pushing Daisies starring Lee Pace and his eyebrows. He also teams up with a P.I. to solve crimes. But his ability is different – he can revive the dead with a touch of a finger. However, he must touch them again within 60 seconds or someone else dies.
Now, how viable is such a genre? Veronica Mars and Pushing Daisies are both now defunct despite receiving high critical marks. The Mentalist appears to have solidified its place on network television and perhaps its success can spurn new series with similar narrative tropes.
I ask you fellow jousters, is this trend of the “amateur/unconventional crime solver” something to be on the lookout for? Why has it not worked before? Are there other shows that I overlooked? JOUST!