sâmbătă, 22 martie 2014

Defending True Detectives

It's only fair if I start with some confessions. Among many other things I am fond of, I am a huge Woody Harrelson fan. Also, I am fiercely loyal to almost everything HBO ever made and I consciously choose to defend its productions. This all leads to one possible conclusion: I will treat "True Detective" with the same bias everybody else across the media did, but acknowledge that I am not the most objective reviewer. So, just to make it clear, I really love the show.

I felt a certain amount of outrage at the negative reviews, but then again, there is no bad publicity in show business. The entire Internet seemed flooded with theories about deeper meanings, conspiracies and, of course, possible endings. I am deeply thankful to all the nice people who have obsessively searched for cultural references, through weird fiction and Lovecraft, taking it so far, that at a certain point, I felt like reading somebody's doctoral thesis in comparative literature. Connections to great writers who ever mentioned Carcosa or the Yellow King would have eluded me if it weren't for these people. With their commentaries, they made the show richer, without diminishing its appeal. To all of you, sincerely, "Thank you!!!".

Here are some of my reasons that account for this show being a highly enjoyable experience:

"Location, location, location"

My strange fascination and love for the Deep South started with "True Blood". Until then, I knew only a handful of things about New Orleans, Mardi Gras and the swamps. Curiosity made me read more and more about the region, its culture and history, the strange ethnic mix which made this society and its cuisine unique, the great people born there and, of course, the arts and music they created. The southern accent grew on me as I got used to the beautiful and melodic tonality. So you can understand my joy upon discovering the setting in "True Detective". I am aware that the portrayal of these faraway places is not completely accurate, but I fell in love with the image. Across the vast expansion of the bayou, little wooden churches rise; tents echoing with preachers’ voices, people singing, the air vibrating to the tunes of gospel music and the sound of the banjo. Abandoned buildings and homes, houses engulfed by savage vegetation, murky bars and strip joints surrounded by drunkards and laughter. This exaggerated, caricatured place is the perfect background for a gritty police drama.

Louisiana in itself is a character of the show. The decaying landscape, painted in a heavy, foggy orange tint showcases a collapsing society. Humanity and its values fade away as the universe that spawned them is falling apart. As Matthew McConaughey's character puts it, "this place is like someone's memory of a town, and the memory is fading". The noir character of the series is perfect for a good Southern Gothic story.

The mix and match cliché

This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that we have an ill-matched police duo on the small screen. During the last decades of television, we have grasped the secret to crime solving: putting two opposites together. Take, for example, Riggs and Murtaugh ("Lethal Weapon's"), Carter and Lee ("Rush Hour") and the classical Mulder and Scully ("The X-files"), to name but a few.

Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) seems the very embodiment of the latter tradition: a man of strong belief in family values and social order. Being a cheating (? philandering) husband, absent father, heavy drinker only makes his character complete. Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) left family life behind after the death of his child and replaced it with loneliness and a deeply nihilistic philosophy.

As the detectives are interviewed in 2012 regarding a murder investigation they had conducted in 1995 and their falling out in 2002, we gradually find out that their rendition of past events is not exactly accurate. This becomes clearer while the story moves back and forth during the season. The entire charm of the plot is built upon these unreliable narrators. We are all, in fact, inaccurate storytellers, making up interpretations for others and for ourselves as we go along.

The men we later meet in 2012 are very different from their younger selves. Marty is a divorced, sober private eye, while Rust seems to have left himself and all his hopes behind while working in a broken-down bar. As a matter of fact, the two characters have more in common than they would like to admit. Even after their falling out (sleeping with your partner's wife is sort of a deal breaker), they remain loyal to each other. This is how a real bromance works. Deep down, we all knew, right from the start, that "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship".

The controversies

Much was written about the show’s take on women and religion. No matter how much we deny it, I am convinced we all love to get into endless, profound fights on these topics, throwing argument after argument at our adversaries without ever convincing them.

In the age-old story of good versus evil, in a story set in the Bible Belt, religion will always be important. It shapes mentalities and influences behavior. I admit enjoying Rust Cohle's cynical ranting about the world, the condescending attitude towards everybody, especially towards narrow mindedness ("Well, if the common good has got to make up fairy tales, then it's not good for anybody") and a fake sense of morality ("If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit"). I loved every catch phrase I rarely have the opportunity to hear on TV. As much as I understand the importance of religion as a theme in the series, I do not think of it as being anything more than a piece in the puzzle, one of those elements that allots a sense of completion to a (fictional) universe if depicted the right way.

Let's now move up to what really annoyed me. I know people only see what they want to see and I am no exception. As Darren Aronofsky put it in "Pi": ""You want to find the number 216 in the world, you will be able to find it everywhere. 216 steps from a mere street corner to your front door. 216 seconds you spend riding on the elevator. When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere." According to this principle, I can analyze the perspective on gender in everything. But I don’t want to.

Each time I read an article about how badly women are portrayed in this TV series, I felt like calling "bullshit" and feminist hogwash. A review in The New Yorker accuses the show of treating its female characters poorly. I do understand the point, but I disagree with it being "macho nonsense". The women we meet are not "paper-thin". A lot of the women we are introduced to are prostitutes, I’ll give you that. On the other hand, the first victim is also one, so of course you would meet some more trying to find out who she was and with whom she had come in contact. Marty's mistress, a young beautiful woman, is a court stenographer, not a dumb bimbo. If the fact that she has fallen for a married man and has a hard time letting go means women are badly portrayed, then I am sorry, but the world is full of badly portrayed women. I kind of disapprove of her for going to Marty's wife, because I would never do that. It is childish revenge without any thought of consequences, additionally to being humiliating.

Since we mentioned Marty's wife, Maggie, she is called a "fuming prettiness" in the same article. I honestly enjoyed her being pretty and I do consider it is important to her character. I love seeing a good-looking woman on TV because "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". I am convinced she is calculated and manipulative in her own way. The revenge sex with Rust seems a bad decision, but it is one made out of desperation and lack of further solutions. She is entangled in the very fabric of the narrative as a wife, mother and loyal friend to both Marty and Rust.

Comparing her to Claire in "House of Cards" seems absurd. These are two very different women in two different circumstances. Most women would never tolerate the fact that their husband has occasional affairs for some profitable reason, no matter how much his Washington career depends on it. Her cold and understanding reactions seem unrealistic compared to the frustration, anger and desperation Maggie feels. This seems real to me. She remains dignified and accepts his missteps until her everyday life and dignity have been bruised.

And the last point on the "to be annoyed about list" is the many comparisons. If I try hard enough, I can compare any number of random shows and movies, but some analogies are exaggerated. There is a huge number of police dramas at any given time. So comparing this show to "The Fall", only because it has a female police officer as a lead character is somewhat far- fetched. Yes, there are parallels, but each TV show has something that makes it similar to next one, as well as things that set them apart. Comparing something you do not like to something you like a lot is pretty easy. Sometimes things need to be treated as singularities, enjoyed as unique creations.

The True Detectives

Beyond my admiration for the great performances of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, I have discovered my love for the characters they portray. Heroes and anti-heroes in their own right, they do bad things and good ones, because "The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door".

I always thought that being a good policeman required a certain calling, like being a good doctor or teacher; that only a certain type of men (or women) would choose to put themselves in the service of others without blinking. In my idealistic world view, being a cop requires sacrifice and devotion. And this is what I saw in Marty and Rust. Most people are capable of leaving work at the office, but I live with the impression that law enforcement, especially being a detective investigating homicides, makes this almost impossible. Haunting images of old and current investigations are probably impossible to get out of one’s head.

Marty uses occasional visits to a bar or his mistress as a relief system before switching to “family mode”. Is this only an excuse to promiscuity and self-indulgence or a very own self-defense mechanism? Probably a little bit of both. Rust, on the other hand, has given up on sleeping around and having a personal life, immersing himself into the investigation.

But there is one thing they both have in common. They want to mend the world. Seventeen years after the start of their investigation, ten years of estrangement later, they let go of old grudges and team up to solve the crime that had happened almost two decades earlier. They risk their life without even being cops anymore. A true detective goes all the way to solve his case, to find the criminal, to achieve closure and bring about justice. "Fiat justitia, pereat mundus", because there is no price to be put on justice and it has to be fulfilled at any cost.

The ending

Viewers and critics always have high expectations from a show's ending. They all want their own personal finish, rarely the one writers want. They build their hopes and desires up, so when the grand finale is there, they usually feel disappointed, instead of accepting the writer's vision.

Much was said about Rust's sudden revelation while facing imminent death, how he was suddenly converted into a believer. That this was allegedly not consistent with his character. On the other hand, I ask myself, how would I react in a similar situation? Wouldn't I also remember the people I cared about, the ones I lost and the ones to whom I still owe something? Rust feels the love of his estranged father and the daughter he lost. Most people probably search for something to hang on to when faced with death. And for a man who has nothing left to lose, it is a good excuse to find something worth living for. So it is in no way out of character.

Another issue everybody seems to have are the loose ends. They caught a murderer, but since there is an entire organization of criminals hunting women and children, their victory is shallow. People felt like they needed an ultimate solution, but there is none to give them. It is true that nothing gets truly solved, because there is no ending to their work. We all know it, the world will keep on spitting out murderers and psychopaths, as well as men and women trying to catch them. Rust Cohle was right, "time is a flat circle": we as well as versions of us, repeating the same things over and over again.

Eventually, we should all remember that this is a TV show. It depicts real events but it is not real. It has its own take on the good versus bad story, but it is masterfully told, with great writing and great cinematography. And the fact that it went viral all over the internet, that everybody, including me, feels they have to express themselves in one way or another, only proves that they did something right.

joi, 16 ianuarie 2014

Detectivii din Louisiana - Seria 1, Episodul 1 - Ce este un "detectiv adevărat"?

Genericul promite multe. Pare familiar… Muzica sumbră, imaginile încețoșate, atmosferă greoaie. Parcă filtrul gălbui din „Six Feet Under” este suprapus imaginilor din „True Blood”. Începe bine.

Povestea pare simplă: doi detectivi sunt intervievați. Par diferiţi. Ce ar fi o dramă fără două personaje diametral opuse? Este o dramă?

La baza oricărei povești polițiste, stă diferenţa dintre bine și rău. Aici avem aparent un conflict între personajul lui McConaughey și cel al lui Harrelson. Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) reprezintă tot ceea ce credem noi despre Sudul Statelor Unite: un bun detectiv, om integru și bun creștin, care pune mai presus de orice familia (atât cea proprie, cât și ideea de familie). Este ospitalier (îşi invită colegul la cină) şi sociabil. Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), texan de origine, este ceea ce noi nu ştim despre Sudul Statelor Unite, şi-anume că un texan poate fi şi introvertit, analitic, înconjurat de mister și de un aer tragic. Pare lipsit de pretenții, resemnat, singur. Nu este creștin, recunoscând faptul că în opinia lui, conștiința de sine este un accident al evoluției. Ceea ce ne definește ca oameni este doar o iluzie, zice el.

Trimiși să investigheze o crimă „ocultă”, presupusa operă a unui psihopat (poate satanist), tradiționalismul molcom și nihilismul rece se ciocnesc. Ambii sunt polițiști buni, dar în timp ce Hart caută urme, martori, analizează locul, discută cu cei din jur, Cohle face schițe în caietul său, încercând să întocmească un profil al victimei și al făptașului. Este evident, cei doi lucrează și gândesc diferit, și totuși, forțați de împrejurări (mai bine spus de către scenariștii iscusiți) par a forma o echipă bună.

Al treilea personaj principal este chiar mediul înconjurător. Louisiana este o capsulă, separată de lume, ce pare pare a fi în declin. Cum bine observa unul din personaje este asemenea unei amintiri care se estompează. Nu avem de a face cu Sudul american cald şi primitor. Este locul unor crime şi dispariţii, o lume în care oamenilor nu le mai pasă de adevăr ci de aparenţe. Detectivul Cohle este sfătuit de către partener să îşi ascundă ideile şi opiniile pentru a nu părea un ciudat. Dispariţia unei fetiţe pare să fi fost superficial cercetată. Se pare că universul este la fel de străin de personaje ca şi oamenii unii faţă de alţii.

Aflăm că în anii ce au urmat cei doi parteneri au mers pe căi diferite. Nu sunt sigură ce este mai trist, faptul că Hart găseşte numai cuvinte de laudă la adresa fostului coleg, pe care îl consideră un poliţist foarte bun, sau faptul că acesta s-a transformat aşa de mult. Lasă impresia unui alcoolic cinic, care printre vorbe bea fie din berile din faţa lui, pe care cu nonşalanţă le solicită intervievatorilor, fie din ploscă. Spunea iniţial că nu bea, decât ocazional, iar apoi vorbeşte de ritualuri care conţin consumul de alcool, încă de la prânz.

Nu au trecut neobservate accentul anevoios a lui Harrelson şi privirea goală a lui McConaughey. Am impresia că au muncit mult atât la personaje cât şi la serial, ambii fiind printre producători. Mărturisesc că de la "White men can't jump" am dezvoltat o slăbiciune aparte pentru Woody Harrelson. În încercările mele de a reda primul episod prietenilor am avut în repetate rânduri ceea ce se cheamă un "freudian slip", pomenindu-l pe Harrelson când mă refeream la oricare dintre actori.

Am aşteptat timp de o lună seara premierei. Obosită după o zi de lucru dificilă, am pornit televizorul şi am schimbat pe postul preferat cu două ore mai devreme (mi-am ocupat timpul cu un alt film). Nimic nu se compară cu senzaţia de a vedea pentru prima oară, de demult, pe ecran: Seria 1, Episodul 1. Îmi era dor de un nou serial, de o nouă obsesie care să îmi ţină mintea ocupată. Şi o ştim cu toţii: „It’s not TV, it’s HBO”.

Vom vedea ce se întâmplă mai departe. Aparent, realizatorii au ridicat ştacheta foarte sus. Cu nerăbdare spre episodul 2.

miercuri, 13 noiembrie 2013

Running with Scissors is not only dangerous

I have always loved the feeling you get when characters start growing on you, while reading a captivating book. But sometimes, they grow on you like cancer does, and with each page, each chapter, you dislike them more and more. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is actually awesome, especially in a book that is well written.

At first, I didn’t really know what to make of all the characters in ‘Running with Scissors’. They kind of piled up, and there were more of them with each page, one freakier and more extravagant than the other. The book felt strangely predictable during the first pages, because I was sure that the main character was gay as soon as I realized he was a boy. From this point on, I was sure there would be no major surprises. I have to add that I knew nothing about the story, the movie or the book, prior to my reading. My first suspicions were confirmed by a friend from whom I had borrowed the book. I was somewhat disappointed that her confirmations did not feel like spoilers. To my surprise, however, things turned out much more complicated than I could have imagined. The major survivor of all these revelations was a feeling of annoyance I was not able to get rid of.

The key word will become ‘annoyance’.

The first subject of my annoyance was the mother. A self-absorbed, neurotic woman, living in her own world, is prone to cause feelings of antipathy. Next on the list was the father, and trust me, it is easy to resent a violent, alcoholic man who is absent most of the time, and horrible when he is present. Soon enough, I realized that the two of them had almost nothing in common, except for being oblivious to their son’s feelings, thoughts and problems. At this point I was painfully reminded of all the troubled families I know. So many of my neighbors and acquaintances grew up in somewhat similar circumstances. Having a neurotic mother and a drunken, violent father is not that uncommon. There are enough mothers in the world ignoring their children, their physical and emotional needs, and there are so many seemingly respectable men, who turn out to be cruel husbands and fathers. People handle situations like these as good as they are able to, but being a child diminishes one’s possibilities. There are not enough viable solutions for similar situations.

At this point I started to develop some sort of pity for the poor suffering child. Unfortunately it went away quickly because, you guessed it, I was again annoyed. Instead of turning into a tormented soul, the boy grew more spoiled and silly. For the sake of making that point, I will ask myself if it a nature versus nurture dilemma. I understand granting freedom to a child, but not without setting boundaries. How much of his persona is caused by his parents’ failure and how much is really him, I wonder... Sure of the fact that a big part was really his character, his own flaws, I eventually got back to being annoyed. I have to admit though, I felt a bit guilty for not liking him, since meanwhile, I have found out that he is a real person, not only a character. Maybe it is just the way he was described?

Young Augusten was basically abandoned by his family and moved into the house of a psychiatrist who attended to his mother. I wondered if this was going to make his life a bit easier. And I actually think it did. Maybe, in some weird way, it helped him gain some distance from his own dysfunctional family, while becoming a member of another one.

Each chapter is a rendition of weird events taking place in the Finch household. The doctor seemed to use some unorthodox measures right from the start, but I would have never expected to find out that he is the best candidate for looney-ville, and that he should be locked up together with all his patients. Not since Jane Austen have I met such a dull and flat character like Agnes, the doctor’s wife. A good Christian soul who left all the values of Christianity behind once she got married and faced real life does not seem uncommon either. She is as much of a stereotype as the abusive father. The two sisters seem much too exaggerated to me. Their behavior is beyond anything I have seen in spoiled children. And the baby, well the baby makes the entire picture complete. Somewhere in between we find out that there are actually more children, but I lost track of them. And of course, there is Hope. What a beautiful name the author chose, like she would represent some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Creating a somewhat normal character, there was a balance between the casual and the insane. She is actually as demented as the rest of the Finches, but it takes some time to notice. It would have been a miracle to develop a sane personality in that household. Eventually, we all meet Neil. For a second I almost thought he wished to escape his family and live a peaceful life. He is truly as deranged as all the rest, and should be considered a danger to himself and those around him. There is no way to sugarcoat it, he mistreats and abuses a thirteen year old boy, while having the blessing of his family. In other circumstances one would be glad that we see a loving and caring relationship develop. Just that it is not. It is gross and horrible and wrong.

Augusten is turning ambivalent. While being mature in so many ways, understanding the world of adults and social constructs, he relishes in his misery. He would have had some strings he could have pulled, but on several occasions, he manifests a strange comfort, he is engulfed by the weirdness and enjoys it. Is he a victim, or does he support the system that tries to destroy him? If he is able to keep himself fed and sheltered without adult supervision, how come that his survival instinct does not tell him to leave the mess he lives in behind?

To make things easier for me, he even gave his novel the title “Running with Scissors”. Taken by its true meaning, the title is an essential argument in favor of the point I am making. If somebody who chooses to run with scissors, I would imagine he is perfectly aware of the lunacy of his actions. The logical conclusion, again, would be that Augusten was always well aware of the risks, but was determined to follow the path even though he might have metaphorically “cut himself”. I am not sure if the author was aware of this while choosing the title. If he was, it could only mean, for me at least, that he was always mindful about the repercussions.

Finishing the novel, I started to research. I was curious about the story, the background and the details. I found out about the scandal the book caused, the movie it inspired and the settlement made. This is how I found out that the author claims to have a really good memory, going back to when he was approximately two years old. If this is true, the logical conclusion can only be that the novel is a pretty accurate memoir, a detailed recollection of events, conversations and thoughts. And with this, I realized why I had the constant feeling of annoyance. Our young Augusten is profoundly self-conscious, it is not an imaginary maturity[1]. If the child was mature enough to realize the faults of those around him, why did he not react differently. If he was able to threaten a man with accusing him of statutory rape, if he felt that he was being abused, emotionally suffocated, why did he nourish the relationship? He was a teenager, and at that age, doing the right thing is often difficult. We all know that it is a hard time, even for those growing up in normal families. It is impossible to put myself in his shoes, since the life he lived seems too outlandish to be real.

Undeniably, the writing is hilarious. The ironic, and sometimes naïve voice makes you forget that the things you read about are horrible. But is a funny package enough to sell the story? I often dislike memoirs, since I consider that anybody who has lived for a while can write one. A really good memoir is the one containing extraordinary events or characters, the ones telling great stories of mankind, humans interacting with the crumbling or blooming world around them. A bonus is, of course, if the memoir is written in a witty and catchy manner.

I feel a bit bad about the fact that I find Augusten annoying, like this is something I need to apologize for. And I know why. Because he is not entirely fictional. He is a real human being, who really lived that life, who really experienced all these things.

Bottom line is, it is definitely worth reading. It is shocking and captivating. It makes you laugh regardless of the eerie and bad things happening. And if I dislike a character, so what? It only means that I will remember him, and I think this is the reason why authors write, and why we all read.

vineri, 21 iunie 2013

Spartacus - my unsung hero

Historians and the entertainment industry created several versions of the story of Spartacus. But honestly, I like the one created by the latest TV series most.

When the last episode ended a few weeks ago, I actually felt really sad. Even a bit melancholic. And of course, I wondered why. Later I realized where my feeling came from.

I followed the entire show, from the glorious beginning until the bitter end. The story of Spartacus could be considered as a victory of the underdog.  I am sure that he was also convinced that no one can attack the mighty Roman Republic and live to tell the tale. But he made it, he actually died to tell about it.

The show presents Spartacus as the most noble human being there is. A man driven by the love for his wife and by the loyalty to his brothers, he gets to a point of no return. To paraphrase the series itself, he has nothing left to lose, thus being the most dangerous kind of man possible. And yes, for several months, he made Rome tremble.
I am not sure if the real Spartacus was just as the one we saw on TV. I honestly doubt it. We are presented with a good and kind man. He cares for those around him, he even tries to help his Roman captors. Above all, he is honorable and just. He does not hurt people if he does not have to, but at the same time, he is capable of brutally slaughtering enemy soldiers and those who betrayed his trust. I am not really / entirely convinced that Spartacus  was the gentleman the show tries to present. It was the producers’ way of making us all fall in love with the characters and the events that shaped our history.

We could not know what possibly moved Spartacus. The show offered a convenient answer, by making his lanista kill his beloved wife. Outraged by the abuse he, and others alike had to suffer, he savagely took back his freedom, and continued to fight against the discrimination and agony Romans imposed on them. I am not sure the real Spartacus had such noble thoughts. It might be that he only wanted to be free, and in order to achieve his goal, he needed others who shared his desire. So, I conclude that there is a possibility that he was not the noble hero we see in the show.

One might accuse the series of being much too violent and bloody and pretty explicit. Well, I am not going to deny it. But I consider the era that is portrayed. Noble Roman citizens often lived an opulent and extravagant life. That what we would consider decadent was daily business for them. Educated in the high art of corruption and treason, their greatest concern was to enhance their wealth, while trying to further climb the social ladder. Maybe some things are a bit over the top, but it is still a TV show, meaning to attract and keep audiences.  The characters were nicely carved, and their environment was created with a lot of love for details. The buildings, the interiors, the clothing and the makeup were all impressive and added to the bigger picture presented to us. Some things were clearly distorted, historical facts about gladiators and their lives. Most of them survived, since one could not afford to lose a fighter he had paid for. Being a gladiator was a job, many of them being Roman men in need of money. But again, one needs an adventure in order to capture audiences.

I know everybody somehow wished for Spartacus to succeed. As I was saying, he is the underdog, and people tend to favor them.
But he is the proof that history is not always written by the victors. Sometimes one man can make a change and can inspire and move people, he can take up a fight with the big and powerful ones, even if he loses.

And after considering all the details of the show and the real story I realized why the end of the series made me so sad. Of course, I usually get this feeling after I’ve read a good book or watched a good show or movie. It is the “…and know what?...” feeling. But it was something more than that. I actually realized that there was a time when not only history was made, but when legends were born. When one man could change history and become an iconic figure and a symbol for all others who will oppose injustice and oppression in the future. Sure, I suppose men like him are born today, but we will never know. I just wish I could somehow feel what it was like to live in that time. How would I act as a roman? Or a freed slave? Would I be able to face such a destiny? And above all, faced with such a destiny, how would I handle it? Would I hide or would I embrace it, follow the course ancient gods of fortune laid for me, in spite of all the pain and sacrifice? I presume, no! It takes a special kind of man to die for his beliefs and be reborn as a legend.

So does this answer the question, why I am so fond of the show?       

duminică, 19 mai 2013

Argo - or why James Bond is a coward

Ian Fleming describes James Bond as being so successful at what he does because of "his exact attention to the detail of his profession". I have to disagree.

A single thought crossed my mind after watching "Argo": Finally a decent and reasonable spy movie! Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a great action movie as much as anybody else, I love James Bond (especially for the cars) and also the entire "Mission Impossible" series. They all have their own charm. But we are allaware that the technology they use is unrealistic at best, the situations they escape absurd and the characters highly distorted So yes, I consider the people of "Argo" worthy of praise and respect.

Since the movie is based on a true story, I feel good knowing that reality can be, and occasionally, even is more ludicrous than any thought a scriptwriter could have. Secret agents are depicted as real people, flawed, weak, afraid. Although we know that their life is not all fun and games, we still envision the job they do in a distorted manner. It seems to me that they are often lonely, alienated from their friends and loved one. Dangerous situations are probably part of their existence, but not in the way the movie industry makes us believe through narratives filled with action and thrill. The true weapons of a good secret agent are deceit and wit. He is the perfect liar, he can be anybody and he is able to improvise even in the most perilous situations. It might be that my vision is biased and a bit askew, but I consider this image far more interesting than the typical Hollywood spy. Sorry to disappoint the fans of action movies, but they will not find the effects they are accustomed to in "Argo". Violence in that form and of such a magnitude can only exist in real life (unfortunately). No James Bond or Ethan Hunt ever found himself in such a position. So excuse me if I am impressed with what a handful of people managed to do and the courage they all showed. And above all, these are actually real people, who did it without being superheroes. I would have probably cried my eyes out in a similar situation. Few of us would be able to keep their cold blood, to adapt while helping others in the meantime. I ask myself, what would James Bond do? Our usual action movie character would have just ignited the entire building, while shooting his way out of the ruins between the few surviving enemies. Real people do not have this option. Capture and torture is not a passing adventure in the true world. You get hurt, you are scared, you devise a working plan, and all this while trying to save yourself and others around you. James Bond would have probably failed, while using as few resources as the characters in the movie. Real courage is not to look danger into the eyes, but to keep on going without looking at it at all;not to use the biggest guns, but none at all. True art is to escape unnoticed, not to leave explosions and destruction behind.

What I absolutely loathe about all the B class action movies is the lack of a coherent story. "Argo" is so much better, not only because of the sophisticated story line, but because it does not feel predictable. And this is a great accomplishment for a story I already know, since it really happened. I laughed at the absurdity of it all, I held my breath awaiting the next scenes and only at the end did I notice that my back was tense anticipating the escape of the hostages. Rarely do movies manage to make me feel like this, but this time it is an even greater accomplishment, since it is a historical movie and I knew the end.

Spies are maybe the last of their kind, men and women who posses true grit, risking their lives for others. I think of them as being the unsung heroes of our times, never officially rewarded for their deeds And this makes them so much more awesome. They don't ask for attention, on the contrary, they hide and sneak. I am sure they sometimes fail, but when they are victorious, you only see the saved day, not the saviors.

My only conclusion is that James Bond would have failed miserably. If actual people have accomplished to save themselves lacking support and training, then James Bond is kind of overrated.

In the end, I am happy to have seen a movie that touched me, that made me curious, that made me question and wonder. I suppose there is nothing more important.

luni, 21 ianuarie 2013

Atonement - the longest week of my life

First, I would like to make it clear, that I have the utmost respect for Ian McEwan. I would probably show  the same amount of respect for anybody capable of writing over three hundred pages.
This is exactly the problem with the novel...somewhere between the many pages you tend to lose it, you miss the overview of what is happening in the characters’ lives. McEwan is trying hard to describe as many details as possible regarding the surroundings, but leaves out interesting character hallmarks. As much as I like to know, the color of the furniture, its exact size and shape, each little crack it has, at a certain point I feel like I’m reading a description of a furniture shop and not a living, breathing environment the characters share.
Even though I realize the importance of creating an accurate image of the surroundings, there still remain things that I personally do not consider of any importance. This means, that a specific environment contributes to describing a character, as the interior design of a house does for his owner in real life. But no author should ever go so far, that his readers become bored and jaded.
The novel is well organized, describing events in a logical order in three different sections. While the first one is abundant with far too many design details of the house and the garden the characters inhabit, it  is still the one, where things actually  happen. It’s because of this fact, that certain characters are annoying, lack depth in my opinion, or are just shallow. Briony is much too spoiled for a child, even for one from the upper class. She is allowed to indulge in whatever hobbies she wishes, because her parents seem much to busy with work or migraines to be able to educate her. This is why her childish tantrums are almost ignored, while an innocent man is sent to jail. I find it not only unfair but somewhat unrealistic, that the police relies solely on the statement of a pre-teenage girl, ignoring  the facts and the testimony of the accused.
For a paranoid and deeply sensitive woman, Emily is strangely oblivious to the way mister Paul Marshall spends time with the children in the nursery and his attitude towards Lola.
At this point, I already pictured him as a weird type of man, buying children’s affection with chocolate.
On the other hand, it is stated that Emily, the matron, is always aware of things happening in the house and to the family, even if her headaches make her unfit to move or do things. So I wonder how  somebody with this kind of an intuition and so much sensitivity does not see beyond her daughter’s statement, realizing the motivations for her lie. How is it possible to accuse a boy who grew up together with your children without relying on everything you already know about him and his family? I have a strange sensation like the crime and the entire drama connected to it is a hoax. It is impossible to take the events seriously.

The second part of the novel, describing Robbie’s struggles during the war, is unfortunately even less entertaining. I understand the difficulty of writing war stories, but some authors manage to make it right. McEwan just describes different marching episodes with a few stops, inserting a few gruel images every now and then. Maybe he knew that readers might just forget what the walking was about if he would have avoided the brutal intermezzos of cruel imagery. There are enough novels describing scenes of war. I could say that I have read better and more interesting ones, from Rilke to Hassel. On the other hand,  I am not much fond of war stories anyway, no matter how well they are written. Still, Robbie is transforming on the battlefield, he is no longer an naïve and scared young student. It is obvious that war changes a man deeply and I like the fact that McEwan included the metamorphosis into the novel.

Last, but not least, the final part, describing Briony’s experience in an army hospital. It’s true, some details are interesting since this is an extraordinary experience. Meanwhile, Briony is turning into a more mature and developed character. She asks herself questions about her life and her actions. She feels regret, anger and shame. What I miss (even though it would fill another 200 pages) is the way she turned into a woman, the steps of her transformation and how she got to reject her family almost completely.

All in all, the novel is a beautiful mixture of characters, people of all sorts. The problem, well actually, my problem, is that I am not capable of falling in love with them. But on the other hand, falling in love is not always enough. The characters annoy me, I fail to understand them and I would so often like to change the course of their actions. I do not understand why serious police officers would trust a scared  young girl without further investigating a case. Why is Emiliy portrayed as someone who knows everything in her house, by just lying in bed with migraines, while she proves incapable of seeing that Briony is uncertain, that Robbie is saying the truth. How is it possible that she never noticed the truth about Paul Marshall. Why did Robbie consider going to war, since he was some kind of a nerd and he also knew that it would never rehabilitate his name, as long as Briony keeps lying.

I don’t like the characters Emily and Briony, I find them inconsistent and lacking depth. I feel like the author was moody when creating them, as if he was unable to decide what to do with them. Emily fails to be the matron she should be. I am bored by characters portraying upper class women, who are so sick of everything good they got in their lives, that they need to have migraines in order to have something to complain about. It seems that Briony is turning into her mother. She is not a special child because she is organized and creative. Many infants are like that. In the end, it think of her as a failure; she is not a special child, she is horrible as a sister and daughter, since she betrays and rejects her family. As a writer, I am not sure that she had success because of the beauty of her novel or because readers always enjoy the scandal and the misery of others. I refuse to acknowledge her novel as a form of redemption, on the contrary, instead of understanding or forgiving her, it makes me judge her even more.

One would think I am discontent with the entire novel. But in end, if I managed to remember as much as I did, if I got annoyed, if I got angry, if I disagreed, it can mean only one thing: the book made a  greater impact than I thought.