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Home » Culture and Criticism

Back to School: High Art, SLaP, and more

Submitted by on September 8, 2011 – 6:57 AM13 Comments

A roundup of what I've written and watched recently…

In case you missed it, I wrote a few things:

Vulture invited me to revisit Dawson's Creek for their rad recurring feature, Nostalgia Fact-Check. (Warning: Contains crying-Dawson GIF.) It's actually not horrible, in retrospect, although it's more boring than I remembered and Kerr Smith's man-smooch dread is even more palpable the second time around. Tobey is still a fox, though.

2) Revolting Snacks you may have missed include the Lady Linda Crème Finger (I probably violated like four laws just typing that…so gross), the Twin Bing (two words: "poo boobs"), and the World's Largest Gummi Worm™, a.k.a. "Three-Pound Gummi Dildo." …Upon reflection, perhaps "missed" isn't the right term, but in any case, "enjoy." Or inject an entire salad into your eyeball. Your call.

In between various assignments, I also watched a few things:

High Art. I liked it; the casting is flawless (Patricia Clarkson is so sad and frustrating as Greta), and it really captures that junkie claustrophobia — and at the same time its twisted appeal to a twentysomething like Syd, whose own internal claustrophobia makes the fuggy loft upstairs seem like a wide-open, wonderful country. But the movie doesn't do much other than atmosphere; the ending is abrupt and feels a bit like Cholodenko didn't trust her story. Syd is recognizable and real, which is a nice marriage of writing and performance, but she's also recognizably annoying — we all had that annus weirdabilis in our twenties, but a little of it goes a long way on film.

Prime Suspect 3 and 4. I'd seen the first PS and the last, but this is my first time through the ones in the middle. The plots can present PSA-ishly, and the fashion is truly painful at times. I know it's a series about the police in London, but does it seem to anyone else like every other suit in the '90s looked cheap and rained-on as well? And could British TV detectives please please buy a tin of Carmex? Between Tennison and Lynley, I'm about to take up a collection. Visual nitpicks aside, it's good storytelling even when the twist is telegraphed, and Helen Mirren is just great, because Tennison is an ass. Not "sometimes"; usually. Insecure, territorial, insensitive, a user, needy, imperious — and eminently sympathetic. Her behavior is painful to watch, because Mirren gives you all the reasons for it; the scene at the end of PS 4's first segment when she comes home and just sits and stares is perfectly done.

I haven't decided if I want to try to watch the American version, because the original worked in its time, but I don't know if we need another iteration of that character in 2011 — and regardless, I don't know if Maria Bello can pull it off. I find Bello enormously likeable but at the same time not a very good actress, although when she's cast correctly, she's just the thing; I don't think she's the thing here, and that thing is already everywhere you look anyway. Sedgwick on The Closer, Giddish in whatever U.S. Marshals show last year that only I watched (and only for three episodes), Mary McCormack, Holly Hunter…the plight of the tiny white beauty with the flawless blowout in law enforcement, again? Really? Nothing against those shows or those actresses, but put a real-looking lady in it. Get a middle-aged woman who will cut a bitch: Christine Baranski, Cecelia Roth, someone like that. Or! Dropping Melissa McCarthy's Bridesmaids character in it wholesale — but not making it a comedy? That I would watch. I don't need yet another 42-minute clinic on hot rollers in a police procedural, is my point. Toughen her up. It's the whole reason the original is awesome. (…Melissa Leo? Is she too fancy for that kind of thing now?)

The Son. The camerawork verges on the precious at first — some reviewer grumped that he could pick out the back of Olivier Gourmet's neck in a crowd of a thousand people, and: seriously — but at around the half-hour mark, everything begins to click into place, and what might have felt pretentious or like an exercise up to that point will contribute to an unrelenting tension from then on. Gourmet plays a carpentry teacher with a perhaps-unseemly interest in a new student at the vocational center where he works, and I shouldn't say any more about the plot — but once you see what's going on, you also realize you don't see, at all, and you can't wait to see, and you're afraid to see. The script uses the metaphors of wood and precision and building things deftly and doesn't push them too hard; the acting is great; it's subtitled, but there isn't much dialogue, really. Give it a chance to work on you, because you will sit there thinking it can't, and then, it does. Great storytelling whose apparent simplicity is deceptive. Try it.

One last thing: if you like The Vine, but think it needs either more pop music or more Mark Blankenship, it's your lucky day! Send your questions in matters of the heart, career, or whatever else ails or confuses you to soundslikeaplan1 at gmail dot com; I'll tell you what to do, and Blanko will recommend something to sing while you do it.

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  • Kizz says:

    I'm drawn to the US version of PS but just don't know if I'll be able to do it. The cutesy, sharp, funny, masculine promo close to made me punch my TV. They seem to have taken the name but almost nothing else from the show. There was nothing masculine about Mirren in PS, she didn't wear pantsuits or hipster lids, she was who she was and she forced her way into the job anyway by being intelligent and resourceful and measured. No grandstanding was what made the accusations of her grandstanding because she is a woman so much more infuriating. I think The Closer is probably more in the spirit of the Brit PS overall, though it's clearly lighter. I also think that your last two instincts are the best. Leo is the right US version of Mirren for something like this if you want to truly reflect the same spirit. But the McCarthy character from Bridesmaids in the role? I'd watch that forever and ever amen.

  • Matt says:

    Re: Maria Bello – yes! Exactly! Loved her on "ER," love her in interviews, love her taste in projects, but she's not a great actress. She's almost a good actress, sometimes a good actress, and great in a supporting or ensemble role, but not versatile enough (I'm thinking of your James Gandolfini definition of range) to pull off a lead.

  • JF says:

    Sars, I'm cringing at every (American) Prime Suspect advert — Mirren's Tennyson is awe-some — you wouldn't want her as a friend, relative or colleague (or, god forbid, a boss) but man, you'd want her to solve your case. . .

    and toughening up the tiny white beauties in crime procedurals, remember M Leo's Kay in Homicide? I adored that character — Kay looked and sounded like a homicide detective — no hot rollers, flawless blowout or designer duds to be seen. . .some eps I remember thinking, "jeez, Kay, a bit of mascara wouldn't kill ya"

    is anyone else irrationally irritated over the New Girl commercials?

  • Isabel C. says:

    Well, Nostalgia Check has pretty much killed my afternoon schedule. Especially the Little Mermaid feature (re-watched that with a friend a few years ago, and…man, Ariel, you are so the Timothy Treadwell of the mer-people. Also, shut up), and…ooh, Ace of Base?

    Yep, not getting work done today.

  • MizShrew says:

    As far as I can tell, the only similarity between the original PS and the upcoming American version is the title. There is no way it can compare to Mirren's performance. Not even close. It might may still prove to be enjoyable, but I have no expectation of it measuring up to the original.

    And I agree on the "perfect blowout" etc. thing. Part of what makes Mirren's character relatable is that she looks real, like she's actually lived a bit. Like she leaves the house without the assistance of a stylist. Although I'd say in general that the BBC casting (at least what I see here in the US) is so much better in that regard.

  • MizShrew says:

    I mean "may" not "might may." Oy.

  • Profreader says:

    Ditto on what everyone has said about the US version of Prime Suspect. What's hilarious to me is – why even bother? Prime Suspect paved the way for all the shows you mention (The Closer, etc etc), so it's not like the concept is a brand new one now. The changes will only infuriate the fans of the original – and if someone doesn't know the original, the title and concept won't particularly stand out. So who thought this was a great idea lo these many years later?

    Melissa Leo is a perfect suggestion. I am currently rewatching West Wing, so of course Allison Janney jumps to mind – probably it would be too close to WW/CJ Cregg-vllle, so she wouldn't do it – but I'd watch it. Or Mary McDonnell (undo that surgery!) Or – a really crazy suggestion – Roseanne Barr. She is probably too old for the character now – but I think she would surprise everyone. Or I'm just on the crackpipe.

    In the end, though, I love PS so much (the first one really) that I can't see the point at all. Maria Bello is charming and fine and all that – but she falls under "personality rather than an actress" in my book. Perhaps I'm wrong; she strikes me as Mary McCormack-ish but without the acting chops that MM has.

    Just wrong, wrong, wrong.

    In other news: YAY for more revolting snacks. On my recent series of summer road trips, every stop at a gas station was an opportunity to look for the strangest off-brand regional crazy snacks. Loved it.

  • Georgia says:

    I've never watched the original Prime Suspect, so I'm not biased toward it (though I do love Mirren), and just the posters for the American remake cause me to roll my eyes (just that tagline — "Cop. An Attitude." — ugh.), BUT I may watch some of it because there were scenes filmed on my block! Right outside my apartment! The same reasoning applies to my affinity for Teen Wolf II, because it was filmed right near my college.

  • attica says:

    And after all the very good reasons the Bello version of PS is unpalatable listed above, there is this: there will be no opportunity for Maria to growl, "Don't call me 'Ma'am'; I'm not the bloody queen!"

    Look: Having MB as a ladycop might work fine. It might have the right level of realism to make a show worth a viewer's time. But if you're gonna do that, have the stones to not poach some other franchise's trademark. Calling it PS serves only to invite comparison, and without Mirren, comparisons won't be kind.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Kizz, hear you on that stupid hat. I've seen those promos over and over now and all I can think is "I hate that hat." Is it her secret weapon? Do the perps see it and burst into bemused laughter and that gets her close enough to make an arrest?

    Also, I admire any actress who's willing to be thrown into a car window, but don't show her in angelic white with hardly any bruising and no swelling going "good day at work! *chipmunk grin!*" like two minutes later. Your face would be so swollen it would look like you spent the night making out with a puff adder AND an Africanized honeybee, not just a little owie.

  • Matt says:

    Don't know if I'll watch the new PS, but probably not, because the likelihood of smokin' scenes like those from History of Violence or the Cooler won't be shown, and that's Maria Bello's best side. She can act a little, but yow, she's good lookin'.

  • Jaybird says:

    I am sitting here right this very minute, with the animated-Dawson-crying-face GIF going over and over. I could spend an entire day Zumba-ing without getting the same aerobic benefit I'm getting from laughing so hard. I was never a DC fan, but even the recaps and the few scenes I've watched have left me wondering why the other characters didn't spend every minute of screen time punching Dawson in the head, and why the reruns are not now airing on SyFy.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I just watched the PS pilot, and Bello is really good here. She seems to do better when she's a bit of a hard-ass, and she's definitely that, plus there's a great cast around her and it's shot well. Can't say whether it'll hold up, but I liked it much more than I'd expected to.

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