In Your Eyes, on your PC / tablet / TV

April 30th, 2014

The Joss Whedon-scripted romance In Your Eyes has been getting a bit of attention for having been given a global, online release rather ending up in cinemas. You can argue whether this is because Whedon's production company couldn't find a distributor for a film with no big stars based on a story idea he had back in the 1990s or because Joss Whedon is being paid so much money for Avengers 2 that he can afford to bypass the big screen entirely and indulge his artistic whims.1 Does Whedon see this as the way forward for all his non-Marvel work over the next few years, or just as a way of claiming a bigger slice of the smaller pie when he's not telling stories of superheroes? Beats me.

All that stuff about distribution is fascinating and five or ten years from now we're all going to be able to see that obviously this was [insert phrase according to taste: "the way of the future" or "a folly that only someone whose main job was making US$150 million blockbusters could get away with".] The question that matters right now is, how's the film we're being invited to send Joss Whedon and friends $US5 for?

The answer is, not bad at all. The film wastes no time clueing the audience in about the supernatural (and never explained) twist that our two main characters have never met yet each can experience life through the other's eyes. They can't read one another's mind, so they have to verbalise their thoughts. As the two characters conducted conversations as they shopped or walked along the street or just did their household chores the logical part of my mind2 wondered why they didn't carry round a mobile phone or better yet a Bluetooth handset, since nowadays we're quite used to people carrying on one-sided, sometimes quite animated conversations with other people who aren't really there. The dominant part of my mind didn't care, because Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David sold their delight in the conversation, and in the escape this new relationship brings from their daily cares, so well.

I won't go into detail about how their story develops, but let's just say that this is a romance and once the introduction of their mysterious connection is out of the way the story develops in ways that you might expect. But that's not a problem; the idea isn't to throw us all off the scent with unexpected plot twists every twenty minutes or so, it's to let us get to know a couple of basically likeable, yet very different characters and ride along as their lives are changed by this unusual means of communication.

Which brings me to the one respect in which I thought the film fell short. We get a reasonable sense of the personalities and priorities of our two lead characters, but there's not much time for us to get to know more about some of the peopke in their lives. Above all, Kazan's character's husband is just a sketch of a character, and given that she clearly loves him3 I think it hurts the story that we don't get to see more of his personality and their shared history. I know that he's cast in the thankless romance movie role of an obstacle to the story we're really watching, but given that from an objective angle his worries about his wife's behaviour looked not unreasonable and the actions he takes in response drive so much of the film I'd have liked the film to have been 20 minutes longer to give us some more time to see the shape of Kazan's character's life prior to the events that kick off the main storyline.

Still, my misgivings shouldn't be allowed to distract from the basic point: this is an enjoyable romance with a twist and whilst I wouldn't go as far as Stu and make it one of the five best films I've seen so far this year, I certainly got my money's-worth. I hope we'll see more such experiments from Joss Whedon. I mean, if Marvel will insist upon dumping truckload after truckload of money on his front lawn that man's got to do something to keep himself busy. It might as well be making little, witty novellas like this and making it easy for us to see them.

  1. In Your Eyes is the second release from Whedon's Bellwether Pictures, the first having been last year's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
  2. Or was it the sceptical voice of another person whose presence I haven't acknowledged yet?
  3. Albeit in a somewhat dependent way, as someone who is afraid that she can't be trusted to manager her own life.

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On the Edge of Slander

September 18th, 2013

Reading Stephen Greenblatt's NYRB review of Joss Whedon's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing makes me keen to see it again, despite it being a fairly odd story to modern eyes:

In a curious way the central figure in the splendid new film of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers), is the house in which the events unfold. Not that the house – Whedon's own – is particularly remarkable. It is a comfortable, sprawling Santa Monica McMansion, no doubt very expensive, with more than a touch of a suburb about it. But that is the point: we are not in faraway Sicily, where Shakespeare set the story, or in glorious, technicolor Tuscany, where Kenneth Branagh set his admirable film adaptation twenty years ago. We are rather on familiar ground, and, as if to conjure up the ordinary accoutrements of modern American upper-middle-class life, the camera dwells lovingly on the kitchen counter and the wine glasses and the piles of dishes and the stairs that lead up to the pleasant patio and, discreetly hidden, the video screens scanned by the bumbling employees of a security company – Whedon's clever incarnation of Messina's night watchmen.

All of this familiarity makes the circumstances that set the story in motion in Shakespeare and in his sources seem particularly discordant and weird. They were strange enough to begin with. […]

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Wells on Metropolis

April 22nd, 2012

H.G. Wells gave the original 1927 release of Metropolis a truly scathing review:

Rotwang, the inventor, is making a Robot, apparently without any license from Capek, the original patentee. It is to look and work like a human being, but it is to have no "soul," it is to be a substitute for drudge labor. Masterman very properly suggests that it should never have a soul, and for the life of me I cannot see why it should. The whole aim of mechanical civilization is to eliminate the drudge and the drudge soul. But this is evidently regarded as very dreadful and impressive by the producers, who are all on the side of soul and love and such like. I am surprised they were not pinched for souls in the alarm clocks and runabouts. Masterman, still unwilling to leave bad alone, persuades Rotwang to make this Robot in the likeness of Mary, so that it may raise an insurrection among the workers to destroy the machines by which they live and so learn that it is necessary to work. Rather intricate that, but Masterman, you understand, is a rare devil of a man. Full of pride and efficiency and modernity and all those horrid things.

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Jane Eyre

September 21st, 2011

Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre is about 90% of the way to being excellent. Michael Fassbender is a terrific Mr Rochester, Mia Wasikowska does well enough as our heroine,1 and there's a fine supporting cast featuring the likes of Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins.

There are really only two problems, so far as I can see. First, in a film that clocks in at two hours, there's not quite enough time for the plot and the relationships to develop. Not just Jane and Rochester, but Jane and St John Rivers and his sisters: I didn't feel enough of a sense of how thoroughly Jane had settled into her life with her new family by the time the prospect of going off to be the wife of a missionary came up. Fassbender and Wasikowska make their on-screen relationship work despite the lack of time, but it all feels a little rushed.

"Rushed compared to what?", you might ask. Which brings us to the second problem. My point of comparison is the 2006 BBC miniseries,2 which not only had the advantage of twice the running time but (more importantly) featured hugely accomplished lead performances from Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Fassbender is almost up there with Stephens, but Ruth Wilson was a revelation in her first major TV role; the chemistry between 1996's Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre took the entire production to another level. Mia Wasikowska, fine as she was, wasn't quite at that level.

For all that, the 2011 version is a handsome, highly enjoyable adaptation that's well worth a look.

  1. The simple fact that the actress is only 21 herself reminds us just how young Jane was when she set out in her career as a governess, but Wasikowska's performance is much more than her age.
  2. Previously.

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JBS meets Rambo (and Indy)

July 25th, 2011

Rather brilliantly, when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out the BBC World Service invited Colonel John Blashford-Snell to review it:

In any way, do you have assignments that are as hairy, in a sense, as some of the scenes that you see in films like the Crystal Skull?

Well, yes, er, I mean, some of the, on the – a few years ago we did an expedition in Bolivia and, ah, Brazil; and that was actually looking for a lost city. It was Paititi in this case, the great city of gold. But Akator came into it, because we found –

– which is in the present film – the current film –

– yes, it's in the present film – and I thought: golly, where did they get this story from? They must have read our book. One of the things about it was that we were faced with a bunch of neo-Nazis. They were real. And we were followed about by chaps with red armbands with swastikas on and that sort of thing. And this was in 2001. And so they created a lot of difficulties for us. And luckily the Bolivians equipped us with a wonderful Bolivian colonel, Hugo Cornejo, who was, um, built like Rambo, and his nickname was Rambo, and he dealt with the opposition … very effectively.

Sadly, the interviewer forgot to ask whether JBS had ever sheltered from a nuclear blast in a fridge.

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Making the connection, a mere six years after the event…

April 18th, 2011

Over at Feeling Listless, Stu has been looking back at his reviews of the first season of NuWho to remind us all of how far we've come, but also of just how vigorously the show returned and how nerve-racking it was to see if RTD & Co could pull it off.1

It's been an interesting look back, but then Stu's comments on Bad Wolf went and made me feel like a complete idiot. How come?

That's closely followed by the best cliffhanger of the series, simply because it's not really a cliffhanger, it's an ultimatum and a moment when the audience for once takes the Dalek's POV as we watch Eccleston give the line that makes all of the Big Brother references worthwhile. How giddy must Davina McCall have been to see the Doctor says "Rose, I'm coming to get you …"

I watched that episode when it was first broadcast. I've re-watched it multiple times since. It's one of my favourite Eccleston moments. I was quite familiar with Big Brother. And yet I never, not once, made the connection between the Doctor's line and Davina McCall. What a maroon.

  1. I feel a little bad that the BBC hardly ever repeat the Eccleston season. I appreciate that it's more important to them to repeat the most recent season at this time of the year as a lead-in to the show's new season, but given that BBC3 seems to have some season of NuWho on a repeat run over about nine months of the year would it really kill them to show The Doctor Dances or Father's Day one more time? Or even to show some ClassicWho? I can only assume that they'd rather we buy the DVDs.

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Adventures with the Wife in Space

March 24th, 2011

Neil Perryman has embarked on a rewatch of Doctor Who from the very beginning. What makes this worth posting about is that he's persuaded his wife, who is a fan of SF shows from Babylon 5 to Battlestar Galactica and is familiar with NuWho but not with the classic era, to watch along, rate the episodes and comment on each story. So far, their joint reviews are proving to be good fun. Take, for example, this exchange about first season episode The Azteks:

Sue: So, why are all the Aztecs speaking English?

Here we go. Why it's taken her until now to question why everyone is speaking English (including Thals, Voords and cavemen) is beyond me, but here it is. I can either tell her to wait until the 1970s for an explanation or I can give her the official line now. Sadly, we end up debating this during one of Hartnell's very best moments and she doesn't hear his passionate warning to Barbara. Not one line.

Me: It isn't stated on screen for many years but the TARDIS translates for everyone telepathically. Look, this was a big plot point in David Tennant's very first episode, The Christmas Invasion, which you've definitely seen –

Sue: Like a Baffle Fish.

Me: Yes, exactly like a Baffle Fish. Very good.

Look, my wife is trying to drop references to Hitch Hikers into the middle of a black and white episode of Doctor Who – you try correcting her.

[Via Feeling Listless]

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Reputation and expectation are the MSG of fine dining

March 7th, 2011

A A Gill on dining at L'Ami Louis, the worst restaurant in Paris:

Our servant glides past and does a silent-movie double take. "Your snails!" he exclaims. "They have not come!" His cheeks bulge as he flaps his short arms. In all my years of professional eating, I have never seen this before. I have seen waiters do many, many things, including burst into tears and juggle knives, and I once glimpsed one having sex. But never, ever has a waiter commiserated with me about the lack of service.

Twenty minutes later, possibly under their own steam, the snails arrive. […]


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How Much Tramp? That Much Tramp.

February 17th, 2011

Molly Lambert, whose piece on Jack Nicholson I linked to a couple of weeks ago, has now turned her attention to the sexual politics of Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot. Four quick points:

  1. I adore the title of Molly Lambert's post: In Which We Can Never Stay Out Of Trouble When It's Baited With This Much Tramp.
  2. I'd completely forgotten that Dennis Hopper directed The Hot Spot.
  3. I was never much of a Don Johnson fan, but he was pretty good in this from what I remember.
  4. I don't think I've seen The Hot Spot since it turned up in cinemas back in 1990. I should probably rectify that some time soon – ideally, in a double-bill with The Last Seduction.1
  1. It turns out that they made a Last Seduction II. Linda Fiorentino's part was played by Joan Severance, which I think tells you all you need to know.

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Explaining Lost

February 15th, 2011

I wonder whether anyone has brought this Craigslist post to the attention of Messrs Abrams and Lindelof:

Obviously this is a one-time deal. My offer is that I will buy you breakfast (anywhere you want) in exchange for an hour of your time and intimate knowledge of the TV series Lost. First, a bit of background: 1) I HAVE seen every episode of Lost, repeat I HAVE watched the entire series. I just can't tie it all together 2) I'm not a complete idiot 3) But I'm not a Mensa member either. Also, you're probably asking yourself, "Why don't you just look the information on the 'ol World Wide Web?" Well, I have a series of questions that aren't really answered by specific web posting(s). And while one posting might answer one question it can, at times, contradict another answer I thought I had nailed down. So I want to be able to ask follow up questions, in real time, as they arise. My main confusion (read: frustration) is the last season's crescendo of disappointment that climaxes with the last episode. I want to move on with my life; I need a healthy relationship with a new TV series, but I have baggage I need to check. This will be as cathartic as it is educational for me. That is also why it is of absolute importance that this happen with a stranger. I don't want to be reminded of this experience every time I see someone I know; it needs to be a clean break. What I need from you is a healthy and macroscopic understanding of the Lost universe along with grasp on tertiary plots/character arcs/unexplained island phenomena, a sympathetic attitude that understands why I might feel incomplete with the Lost anthology and a workman like attitude in tandem with razor sharp analytical skills.

The bottom line here is I basically need a therapeutic closing as it has been months and I can't shake this feeling that I've been given the business by this show. Also, yes, it must be breakfast as I am a morning person and my mind works best between my first and second cups of coffee. It is paramount that my mental agility be at its apex for this exercise. […]

I finally1 saw the Lost series finale over the weekend, so I have some sympathy for this guy.

I'd deliberately avoided all online discussion of the show during and after season 6 and fled any offline discussions that started up within earshot, so I came to season 6 with nothing more than a vague awareness that a lot of fans really, really hated the way the story ended.

Having seen the finale, one one level I can understand why some viewers felt cheated that we never got a proper explanation of why and how the island worked. On the other hand, as I stopped expecting anything of the sort some time ago I can't get too worked up about the omission. People appeared to come back from the dead. The island was home to a smoke monster. From time to time the island changed location. There was a wheel you could turn that would transport you to a spot in the Tunisian desert. Did anyone watch as far as season 6 and still seriously expect that the writers were going to come up with a coherent explanation for all that? It was a magic island. Accept it.

My take on the final season is that, having followed these characters for this long I simply wanted to see what would happen to them and trusted the writers to give me an enjoyable ride along the way. I think they succeeded admirably with the finale. Pretty much every time two characters 'connected'2 and remembered their shared history brought a lump to my throat. Eloise's concern that Desmond was going to take her son was immensely touching, not least given how much guilt she must have felt at what she did to him back on the island in 1977. Desmond-on-the-island's bewilderment that he hadn't been transported back to Penny. Jack's comment about disrespecting the memory of John Locke. Ben pushing Hurley out of the path of a falling tree. All immensely satisfying moments for anyone who has been following these characters since 2004.

I could nitpick all sorts of issues about the way the show ended3 but emotionally they got it right, from Doctor Linus making sure Alex got her letter of recommendation to Yale, to Hurley's fate, to Vincent lying down next to Jack at the end. Great moments, every one.

Lost isn't the best TV show ever made, but for my money it was clearly one of the 'event' programmes of the last decade. Perhaps after a few more years of seeing shows like FlashForward and The Event try and fail to pull off a similar trick we'll come to appreciate just how good Lost was.

[Via The Awl]

  1. As the show isn't on free-to-air TV and I refuse to sign up to a subscription service, I've been following seasons 3-6 on DVD. I wasn't prepared to pay the full price for the season 6 box set when it was released last August, so I've been waiting for the price to come down in the sales and finally picked up a copy a week ago.
  2. Especially Sawyer and Juliet, and Jin and Sun. Charlie and Claire. Sayid and Shannon. Even Daniel and Charlotte's kinda-sorta connection. OK, so I'm a sap.
  3. Why was baby Aaron with Claire in the church at the end? Kate's shoulder injury healed really fast when she and Sawyer had to jump off a cliff and swim out to a boat, didn't it? Didn't the smoke monster realise that he'd be mortal again once the plug was pulled, and what did that imply for his ability to wreak terrible acts of vengeance upon leaving the island? How did Allison Janney's character know how the island worked: did someone tell her? Was she an earlier protector of the island who went mad through a lack of human interaction once the smoke monster was trapped in that cave? Did she have her own Jacob-equivalent whispering in her ear?

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