Thursday, September 28, 2006

Us & Them

Caution: Spoilers on old-ish movies Just Cause and Narrow Margin.

I think a major part of what separates me (and probably you) from other, perhaps more ‘normal’ movie viewers, isn’t so much that we’re ‘smarter,’ but rather are more instinctively analytical. For instance, a lot of TV dramas back in the day were heavily formulaic, and you could usually tell what stage things were going to be at by being aware of whether you were at the 15, 30 or 45-minute commercial break. Other people, however, don’t seem to so readily pick up on these sorts of plot mechanics. On the other hand, there are weird football rules that I'm never going to pick up on, while my brother has a violation pegged well before the ref calls it.

I can think of two incidents in which a friend (the same one, actually) got pissed off at me because I noted something that I was amazed to discover she hadn’t discerned. Again, believe me, I don’t think this is a sign that I’m more intelligent than her, but rather than we probably just think in a different way.

In Sean Connery’s Just Cause (a film so aggressively mediocre that I thought the actually title was the answer to why they made the movie; Just ‘Cause), Connery is a law professor and anti-capitol punishment activist—see the beginning of the film for a classic and hilarious example of how Hollywood portrays conservatives, with Connery besting debate opponent George Plimpton as an obvious William F. Buckley surrogate with ridiculous ease via a point that wouldn't even slow the real Buckley down—who takes on the case of a black man who may have been railroaded to a date with the electric chair.

Connery sure enough discovers sound evidence to this effect…by about 50 minutes in (as I remember it). I instinctively turned to my friend and said, “So the guy is guilty.” She responded what do you mean, and confused, I pointed out the obvious fact that if he’s found to be ‘innocent’ with half the movie left to go, it can only be to set up a plot ‘twist’ where he was in fact guilty. She hit me for ruining the rest of the film for her, while I was bewildered at how anyone could not find that just entirely obvious. (Again in terms of old cop shows, it’s like if somebody is already arrested at the 15 or 30 minute mark, you know they’re innocent, because there’s still so much time left.)

Meanwhile, in the tepid thriller Narrow Margin, Gene Hackman is a DA trying to keep a murder witness alive on a train trip. However, there’s a mystery assassin on the train. At one point, this attractive woman that Hackman had previously flirted with came back for a third appearance. I turned to my friend again and said, “Well, she’s the killer.” Again, amazingly (to me, at least), my friend asked, what do you mean. I explained the only other suspect the film had given us was this guy so patently suspicious that he had Red Herring written all over him, and that moreover there was no reason for this other character to keep popping up over and over again unless she was going to ‘surprisingly’ turn out to be the killer. Again, my friend hit me.

I’ve learned to shut up since then, at least until the movie is over, but it’s too late. For better or for worse, my friend has become at least somewhat more analytical, as it’s hard not to continue noticing bad scripting and such once you’ve started doing so. I’m not really sure I’ve done her any favors by that, though, considering that modern films are clearly aimed more at the passive viewers.


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Henry Brennan said...

Trust me - you've done her a favor. Being able to spot the obvious makes it all the more enjoyable when a genuine twist is presented. They say, "Ignorance is bliss" - but I disagree. One can enjoy the amazing abundance of crap right along with the cream if you have a discerning eye.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

I must admit, that's my feeling, too. On those rare occasions you find something you really, really like, it's an amazingly joyful thing.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous ericb said...

Just old cop show? Hell on the Law and Order shows you can usually rule out the first two suspects as dead ends to kill time and create a sense of "realism". Every once in a while they may screw with the formula but it's consistent enought that if you consistently bet on the innocence of the first two suspects I bet you could get rich.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

The problem seems to me that no one in Hollywood is really interested in writing stories anymore, they just want to reguritate the same old cliches. I guess they figure people don't want stories, they want special effects, shoot outs and beautiful people having sex (all at the same time, too).

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Brad said...

I'm with Eric B on Law and Order. You just KNEW there was gonna be a twist that was supposed to have the audience recoiling in horror, accompanied by the EXACT SAME MUSIC CUE, by the end of the first act. Law and Order ended up becoming my form of TV junk food, something I could watch while folding laundry, before I got fed up with it.

Ken, did you ever see the original The Narrow Margin? The twist in the original wasn't too credible, but it was a lot more creative than the remake was.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger John said...

Of course, the easiest way to tell who the killer on Law and Order is to just decide who the most prominent B or C-Level actor of all of the suspects is - there's your bad guy.


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