23 September 2013

A brief bit of culture

I have attended... probably a dozen too many films this summer. Some notes.
1) Iron Man 3 so far is still the "best" film throughout this year. Which is weak praise and a low bar. The best part of Wolverine was the end-cap introducing the next X-Men film (next year).
2) The World's End was a modest quasi Monty Python film (mostly because of the ending), and the various spoofs it involved. I would confidently say this is the most enjoyable film I've seen.
3) I haven't caught as many independent films yet (Fruitvale might be on the list so far). And I see a few decent-looking films coming out for Oscar bait. I expect the films will improve, but haven't been impressed so far by anything.
4) There's been several civil rights oriented films (42, Fruitvale, Butler, etc). A note on those on a moment.
5) Most of the historical/biopic style films have been a mess as films, but with interesting moments. Jobs was a mess (the story of Jobs interests people, but the movie was all over the place). The Butler was all over the place and didn't seem to settle into "the Butler" as a story so much as "whatever it is white people are supposed to feel bad about, which at least most of which we/they probably should". 42 was more about our worship and reverence of Jackie than the man and the player (though it did some credit to his play, which I was refreshed by).
6) Man of Steel was terrible and gets worse with every thought related to it (whoops there goes another building with hundreds of civilians, oh well, back to punching the bad guy even though that doesn't seem to be accomplishing anything). I skipped Star Trek. It doesn't sound like I missed much.

The civil rights issue interests me. This is the first generation of Americans without a major civil rights era moment to fight over. Gay rights is a civil rights issue, but it is distinct from the more momentous historical era of repression for blacks and the fights and fits to oppose it in the form of repression. This isn't the same as saying that racism is now defeated. Or that racist election strategies don't still try to pass laws restricting black votes (or Latino votes). But we also don't have fire hoses and dogs out and firebombing and beatings of men and women just fighting for those recognitions. I think therefore between Lincoln (and Django sort of) last year and 42, Butler, and Fruitvale, there's some basis for having these films out. People do need the dramatic impact and power of the stories of our past. Both to remind us that there were serious issues at stake, not that long ago, and that they were, at least in there more serious levels, overcome or can be. The problem with these as films tends to be that they very rarely humanize the figures involved very well and examine their motives and motivations. They function too often as "see, look how evolved we are today!" back-patting moments rather than enlightening portraits into the mixtures and multitudes that human beings contain and are. Racists today are jerks and complete assholes. Racists 50 years ago were, well basically everybody and everyone. There are and were decent people, who are otherwise sensible and capable, but who contain the presence of prejudices. Our prejudices and biases are subtle and insidious and not easily captured by screaming racial epithets at each other. I haven't really seen that covered, that hate is common and can be redeemed in some way more than that hate is stupid. Which it is, but that's kind of a boring film at this point.

Another cultural note:
Why is that shows have trouble ending? Writers can create books that end the story. Sometimes it takes a couple of books to do it, but it can be done. Why do shows have this issue? I've seen very few series terminate in a way that felt sensible, both as a series and as a last season. It's not limited to shows, as movies often have these formulaic battle sequences that get annoying to see with 30 minutes left of just special effects and explosions (even very good effects and explosions are more of "let's see what we can top here" than a good story conclusion).

Some examples:
Sopranos ending seems to have annoyed everyone (I actually liked it, but I also wasn't a huge fan of the show), but it's probably a low point for the series that people are confused if their TV is broken for a minute.

Wire's 5th season is still good, but nowhere near as good as the rest of the series. I never watch it other than a couple of episodes (Omar-Marlo feud coming to a fluky end, Mike killing Snoop, and the finale). Even the 2nd season I will watch on occasion well before sinking into the 5th. I expect part of the reason people keep wanting a 6th season is because 5 was kind of lame relative to expectations. (The 3rd and 4th seasons are still the top sequence of TV show for me, which is why 5 looks so bad in comparison. I've had trouble getting fully into Breaking Bad, but it has had some contention for high expectations on writing and story. And Firefly didn't continue beyond one season and could be the other contender except it worked more like a sci-fi setup and didn't always have a major plot point per episode to keep the writing tighter at times.)

Dexter's 6th and final seasons are a complete mess. The end itself was quite lame really. The show really came off the rails around the beginning of season 6, possibly because Dex stopped killing people as much and mostly because he didn't really have the distractions of "work-life-secret-life" balance. Which was the big part of the story interest of the show was how he concealed himself from those close around him. 7 was okay for that simple reason that he had to reveal and balance himself again.

Mad Men stopped being relevant a couple seasons ago.. and hasn't ended yet.

Homeland started off okay but since the show didn't kill the mole/terrorist as in the original series at the end of season 1, they charted off into 24 territory of absurdity-driven events. Which never ends well, since 24 was pathetic as a story-driven object.

Lost's ending pissed off everyone who followed the show. I didn't follow it since it was a JJ Abrams vehicle, which means it should have been pretty clear after the first couple of seasons that the writers didn't know where they were going. But still, the bad ending has basically dropped the show from the major following it had developed years ago to people just having no interest in it again.

Which is why the Breaking Bad ending seems to have been carried off pretty well.

I'm not sure why this is that challenging to write an ending to a story. Perhaps the problem is that TV shows don't always know this IS the last season, on the expectation that they could be picked up for another if this one does well. This is less of a problem now however for HBO/Showtime/AMC series that seem to have pretty steady control over when they will end, how long or short the series is per season, and so on, so I don't buy this as a full explanation.

I think the better explanation is that a lot of the fairly good series really work more like very extended films to explore a particular universe and its interactions. There's a first season which mostly works to set up the major characters and the universe they populate. A second to flesh them out and introduce new obstacles and characters, and a third or fourth to hit stride in writing and plot (and possibly kill off some people or write them out). It's not impossible to carry the tune out longer if it is working, but it seems like they start experimenting too much with pushing boundaries of the show rather than recognizing the limitations they've created in the universe of characters and working within those with some new twists and challenges that haven't been explored yet.
Post a Comment