Saturday, August 10, 2013
2013 in Flicks: July
Copper Season 1 - Tom Fontana - After the first episode I thought perhaps I'd found a keeper - the costumes and sets looked mostly good (which is huge in a period drama), the characters were rough and the violence more so, and the errant knight angle was not stressed as much as the trailers had bludgeoned me to believe. The second episode went darker, though I had a strange sense of dejavu which turned out to be from the main story following the first two episodes of Deadwood rather closely, but it stopped there. And I wish I had too. After that it sadly became just another body of the week procedural (albeit, one with some nice period touches and a few strands of serialized story that occasionally flared brightly) that pitted one man against the corruption of the big city. Worse, he was way into using "science" to solve crimes. Seriously, I lost count of how many corpses this guy trundles off to a doctor's house for an autopsy or some other really time-consuming bit of deduction - and the findings are always right. Man, if you're going to go down the ill-advised road of 'new-technology-to-solve-crime' you have to have the guts to be wrong or have your faith in technique way misplaced once in a while. Or, shit, get all mystical and esoteric like Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks or Claire DeWitt in Sara Gran's books. I wanted to quit many times, but was oddly compelled to finish the season despite ceasing to be interested rather early, and by the end, I'd run entirely out of shits to give. Best moment: Franka Potente dispatches of competition.
you can read 'em here), but I'll mention a couple of points now. It struck me as kind of a high-brow exploitation flick. Exploitation-like in its extremes. Take the villains: sooooo over the top awful, asking a father to pimp out his fourteen year old girl for rough sex, murdering women, expressing open contempt for host cultures, using children to deal drugs, using sexual ties to manipulate their own offspring... and so forth. Now take the hero: incorruptible, a lawman who punishes evil by acting morally outside of the law, swift and unflinching in dealing out justice, compassionate and merciful, invincible, uses an ancient weapon while his enemies use guns, a good dresser and a hell of a singer, an honorable defender of his culture and protector of the vulnerable within his jurisdiction, an ideal, mythical - hell, supernatural - figure. Now take the cinematography: the isolation of colors - every object in frame held in a single color - and immense, inky-black negative spaces in nearly every scene... except one. Notice that when the hero confronts the villain, all the colors drop from the palette, replaced by all blacks and whites. But here's the chief curveball. Ryan Gosling, the star of the picture, is not the hero (or the villain), but very nearly the damsel in distress here. He's the impotent bystander (notice all the imagery of his hands - his power, his will - how he contemplates them, but does not act in any meaningful way... In fact, his only actions are against inconsequential figures who do not play any significant role) whose soul hangs in the balance while the forces of evil (Kristen Scott Thomas) and good (Vithaya Pansirigarm) clash to claim it. Now consider the opening credit sequence: in Thai with English subtitles - a big indicator as to how the film should be viewed. Imagine the same story as a white-hat western with foreign devils despoiling America - our land, our laws, our culture, our young women - until an ideal hero, who embodies our national myth, steps up to right the scales in a completely badass way. It's not a western, but an eastern, and a damn fine, hypnotic nightmare of biblical proportion. I saw someone, who hated the flick, charge that Winding Refn didn't care about anything "I even have this idea that Refn has personal problems. Seriously. Watch this movie and you'll soon be saying to yourself, 'Who the hell is this fucking guy? Is he a monster? A sadism machine? What does he feel? Who or what does he care about?'" (again, I refer you to this rankling review). It's pretty clear to anybody paying attention that the film maker cares deeply - as his hero does - about children and the vulnerable. Consider the punishment meted out by the hero. He lets a father's rage be vented against the monster that killed his little girl before taking punitive measure against the same father for letting his daughter's life go so far off the rails that she was at risk of the kind of fate that found her, and (more) as a reminder not to let it happen to his other children. We are also led to believe that he spares the life of a man who helped plan an assassination attempt on him because the man acted out of desperation to provide for his young and very helpless son. He cares too for his own child, whom he shares very tender moments with, and saves his most white-hot slaying for the one whose child-abuse has led to the tragedies of the film's plot, while punishing, but non-lethally, the man who tried to kill him, but drew the line at harming a child. Final note: the karaoke. Notice that every time the hero sings, it is in Thai and not subtitled, and his audience is entirely made up of policemen - like he's preaching to them, teaching them The Law. Like Jesus ending his parables with the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Now think about the non-cop karaoke scene where he systematically disables the senses of a villain - if you're not using your eyes/ears, let's get rid of them - or the ritual severing of hands (again recalling Jesus' words "If your right hand makes causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.") So, yeah, heavy religious, good and evil overtones... I love that shit, (have you read Fierce Bitches?) Best moment: the showdown between Gosling and Pansirigarm - made me think of Jacob (the younger, softer, less-macho and less-favored of two brothers) wrestling the angel - contending with God. It's the final big reveal of theme in the film, in case you weren't yet getting it. Wonderful scene.