Sunday, May 31, 2009
Along with Lucrecia Martel's La ciénaga, Sébastien Lifshitz's Presque rien and David Gordon Green's George Washington, György Pálfi's Hukkle was certainly one of the most astonishing film debuts of the decade. Following a hiccup in La ronde style, Pálfi captures a rural village in Hungary (animals included) with an alternately twisted and playful sense of humor. Hukkle is a near-perfectly realized experiment; the only quibble I had arose during a brief sequence where Pálfi used noticeable special effects to show an X-ray view of one of the people (everyone else I know who had seen the film didn't seem as bothered as I was). Despite that (likely) singular complaint, it's hard to find anything else wrong with Hukkle, which Pálfi followed (after an omnibus film Jött egy busz... [A Bus Came...]) with the absolutely wonderful Taxidermia in 2006.
Screenplay: György Pálfi
Cinematography: Gergely Pohárnok
Music: Balázs Barna, Samu Gryllus
Country of Origin: Hungary
US Distributor: Shadow Distribution/Home Vision
Premiere: 12 September 2002 (Toronto Film Festival)
US Premiere: 12 October 2002 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Awards: Discovery of the Year (European Film Awards); New Director's Award (San Sebastián Film Festival)
Like the antithesis of all the loathsome biopics coming out of the US (and elsewhere), Im Kwon-taek's depiction of the life of painter Jang Seung-up (Choi Min-sik) proved that films about artists can be artful on their own. It's not that it hadn't been done before (like Pialat's Van Gogh), but it felt like it had been a really long time since one as good as Chi-hwa-seon came around. With the help of Park Seon-deok's exquisite, elliptical editing, Im illustrated Jang's life outside of the expected biopic mold, a surprising feat for a subject whose turbulent life as a doubting alcoholic sounds quite similar to all the other artists whose lives have been turned into films. The French title Ivre de femmes et de peinture [Drunk on Women and Painting] is a more accurate title than the US subtitle Painted Fire (or the British one, which is called Drunk on Women and Poetry for some reason).
With: Choi Min-sik, Ahn Sung-kee, Yu Ho-jeong, Kim Yeo-jin, Son Ye-jin
Screenplay: Im Kwon-taek, Kim Yong-ok, Min Byung-sam
Cinematography: Jung Il-sung
Music: Kim Young-dong
Country of Origin: South Korea
US Distributor: Kino
Premiere: 10 May 2002 (South Korea)
US Premiere: 28 September 2002 (New York Film Festival)
Awards: Best Director (Cannes Film Festival)
As I said earlier, there are still at least 15 films I want to write about from 2002. They will be unraveling throughout the next couple months as I get around to re-watching them (it's going to be easier the closer I get to December, with the later entries fresher in my memory).
Palme d'Or: The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Grand Prix: Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past) [d. Aki Kaurismäki]
Prix du jury: Divine Intervention [d. Elia Suleiman]
Best Director: (tie) Im Kwon-taek - Chihwaseon; Paul Thomas Anderson - Punch-Drunk Love
Best Actor: Olivier Gourmet - Le fils [The Son]
Best Actress: Kati Outinen - The Man Without a Past
Best Screenplay: Paul Laverty - Sweet Sixteen
Camera d'Or: Bord de mer (Seaside) [d. Julie Lopes-Curval]
Golden Lion: The Magdalene Sisters [d. Peter Mullan]
Grand Special Jury Prize: House of Fools [d. Andrei Konchalovsky]
Best Actor: Stefano Accorsi - Un viaggio chiamato amore (A Journey Called Love)
Best Actress: Julianne Moore - Far from Heaven
Career Golden Lion: Dino Risi
People's Choice Award: Whale Rider [d. Niki Caro]
Discovery Award: The Magdalene Sisters [d. Peter Mullan]
Best Canadian Feature: Spider [d. David Cronenberg]
Golden Bear: (tie) Bloody Sunday [d. Paul Greengrass]; Spirited Away [d. Hayao Miyazaki]
Best Director: Otar Iosseliani - Lundi matin (Monday Morning)
Best Actor: Jacques Gamblin - Laissez-passer (Safe Conduct)
Best Actress: Halle Berry - Monster's Ball
Jury Grand Prix: Halbe Treppe (Grill Point) [d. Andreas Dresen]
Outstanding Artistic Achievment: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Ludivine Sagnier - 8 femmes (8 Women)
Honorary Golden Bear: Robert Altman, Claudia Cardinale
Teddy (Feature): Walking on Water [d. Tony Ayres]
Teddy (Documentary): Alt om min far (All About My Father) [d. Even Benestad]
Teddy (Jury Award): Juste une femme [d. Mitra Farahani]
Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): Personal Velocity: Three Portraits [d. Rebecca Miller]
Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): Daughter from Danang [d. Gail Dolgin, Vicente Franco]
Director (Dramatic): Gary Winick - Tadpole
Director (Documentary): Rob Fruchtman, Rebecca Cammisa - Sister Helen
Special Jury Prize (Dramatic): (three-way tie) Manito, for Franky G, Leo Minaya, Manuel Cabral, Hector Gonzalez, Julissa Lopez, Jessica Morales, Panchito Gómez; Real Women Have Curves, for America Ferrara, Lupe Ontiveros; Secretary, for Steven Shainberg
Special Jury Prize (Documentary): (tie) How to Draw a Bunny [d. John W. Walter]; Señorita extraviada (Missing Young Woman) [d. Lourdes Portillo)
Cinematography (Dramatic): Ellen Kuras - Personal Velocity: Three Portraits
Cinematography (Documentary): Daniel B. Gold - Blue Vinyl
Audience Award (Dramatic): Real Women Have Curves [d. Patricia Cardoso]
Audience Award (Documentary): Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony [d. Lee Hirsch]
Audience Award (World Cinema): (tie) Bloody Sunday [d. Paul Greengrass]; L'ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss) [d. Gabriele Muccino]
Best Picture: Chicago [d. Rob Marshall]
Best Director: Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best Actor: Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
Best Original Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Ronald Harwood - The Pianist
Best Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall - Road to Perdition
Best Documentary: Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best Foreign Film: Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa) [d. Caroline Link]
Animated Feature: Spirited Away [d. Hayao Miyazaki]
Honorary Award: Peter O'Toole
Best Film: The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Best Director: Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best British Film: The Warrior [d. Asif Kapadia]
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - Gangs of New York
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
Best Original Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman - Adaptation
Best Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall - Road to Perdition
Film Not in the English Language: Talk to Her
European Film Awards
Best Film: Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almodóvar]
Best Director: Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Best Actor: Sergio Castellitto - Bella Martha (Mostly Martha); L'ora di religione (Il sorriso di mia madre) (My Mother's Smile)
Best Actress: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Ludivine Sagnier - 8 femmes (8 Women)
Best Cinematography: Pawel Edelman - The Pianist
Best Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Best Documentary: Être et avoir (To Be and To Have) [d. Nicolas Philibert]
Discovery: Hukkle [d. György Pálfi]
Screen International: Divine Intervention [d. Elia Suleiman]
Audience Award (Actor): Javier Cámara - Talk to Her
Audience Award (Actress): Kate Winslet - Iris
Audience Award (Director): Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Life Achievement Award: Tonino Guerra
Best Feature: Far from Heaven [d. Todd Haynes]
Best First Feature: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys [d. Peter Care]
Best Director: Todd Haynes - Far from Heaven
Best Male Lead: Derek Luke - Antwone Fisher
Best Female Lead: Julianne Moore - Far from Heaven
Best Supporting Male: Dennis Quaid - Far from Heaven
Best Supporting Female: Emily Mortimer - Lovely & Amazing
Best Debut Performance: Nia Vardalos - My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Best Screenplay: Mike White - The Good Girl
Best First Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson - Secretary
Best Cinematography: Edward Lachman - Far from Heaven
Best Documentary: Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best Foreign Film: Y tu mamá también [d. Alfonso Cuarón]
Someone to Watch Award: Przemyslaw Reut - Paradox Lake
Picture (Drama): The Hours [d. Stephen Daldry]
Picture (Comedy/Musical): Chicago [d. Rob Marshall]
Director: Martin Scorsese - Gangs of New York
Actor (D): Jack Nicholson - About Schmidt
Actress (D): Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Actor (M/C): Richard Gere - Chicago
Actress (M/C): Renée Zellweger - Chicago
Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Supporting Actress: Meryl Streep - Adaptation
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor - About Schmidt
Foreign Film: Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almódovar]
Cecil B. DeMille Award: Gene Hackman
Best Film (Meilleur film): The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Best Director (Meilleur réalisateur): Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best Actor (Meilleur acteur): Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Best Actress (Meilleure actrice): Isabelle Carré - Se souvenir des belles choses (Beautiful Memories)
Best Supporting Actor (Meilleur acteur dans un second rôle): Bernard Le Coq - Se souvenir des belles choses
Best Supporting Actress (Meilleure actrice dans un second rôle): Karin Viard - Embrassez qui vous voudrez (Summer Things)
Most Promising Actor (Meilleur espoir masculin): Jean-Paul Rouve - Monsieur Batignole
Most Promising Actress (Meilleur espoir féminin): Cécile De France - L'auberge espagnole
Best Screenplay (Meilleur scénario): Costa-Gavras, Jean-Claude Grumberg - Amen.
Best Cinematography (Meilleure photographie): Pawel Edelman - The Pianist
Best Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger): Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best European Union Film (Meilleur film de l'Union Européenne): Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almódovar]
Best First Film (Meilleur premier film): Se souvenir des belles choses [d. Zabou Breitman]
Honorary Césars: Bernadette Lafont, Spike Lee, Meryl Streep
Worst Film: Swept Away [d. Guy Ritchie]
Worst Director: Guy Ritchie - Swept Away
Worst Actor: Roberto Benigni, Breckin Meyer - Pinocchio
Worst Actress: (tie) Britney Spears - Crossroads; Madonna - Swept Away
Worst Supporting Actor: Hayden Cristensen - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Worst Supporting Actress: Madonna - Die Another Day
Worst Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Worst Remake/Sequel: Swept Away
Friday, May 29, 2009
Michael Geller finds inspiration from practices in Brazil, Turkey, Albania, Israel, Whistler
By Clare Ogilvie
As the global community comes face to face with land-use issues and climate change, unique and inspiring ideas are beginning to blossom.
Not every idea is huge and there are many obstacles to making sustainable and livable environments a reality.
But little by little land use planners and others and working to try and make sustainable living a reality. A few of these ideas were the topic of a popular seminar at the B.C. Land Summit in Whistler last week which looked at what lesson could be taken from countries around the world and put in place in B.C.
Hosted by Simon Fraser University's Michael Geller the audience learned about Brazil's transportation system in Curitiba, South America's most sustainable city; why row housing should and is coming back; why there should be more public art; and why taxi service needs to be overhauled to allow for multiple passengers at the same time.
The presentation was based on a tour Geller did of 31 countries across four continents in 2007.
Of all the lessons that need to be taken to heart the most compelling concerns transportation said Geller.
Cities on the water need to embrace more water based transportation, public transportation needs to be convenient and timely for the passengers and people need to realize that public transportation is for everyone, not just those who can't afford a car.
"One of the real problems with public transit is that most of us think we are too good to use public transportation, especially buses," said Geller.
"We will consider using things like Skytrain. But I think if you can change the public perception of public transit then more people will use it."
Officials also need to re-think what public transportation is. Geller used the "buses" in Turkey as an example. There the buses are more like mini shuttles and while they have a route, they can deviate to take you to a designated spot.
This can work especially well in areas that are larger and have low density, like many of the communities in B.C.
In Curitiba, said Geller, the busses run like a light rail with people buying tickets on a platform before they board the transit. In some cases the bus is in a designated lane and in other cases it melds with traffic.
In Israel's Tel Aviv, if you get a cab from the airport the driver waits until it is full of passengers before leaving the terminal.
"The notion of someone going in a taxi by themselves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is unheard of, and I really think we need to think about sharing taxis as part of our culture," said Geller.
The battle to get more people to ride transit was dealt with in an interesting way in Curitiba. There the mayor of the city decided to deal with two issues at once: getting people on buses and disposing of recyclables and garbage.
It was decided to pay people in transit tickets to get rid of their garbage sustainably. But as an added bonus each transit ticket used also had a number on it, which entered the rider in a state lottery.
"This is the kind of creative thinking that we really need to start to introduce to all of our communities," said Geller.
Whistler, he said, compares well with many of the most forward thinking communities when it comes to sustainable planning.
The town is built around a pedestrian system encouraging people to leave their cars behind while shopping. It is at the forefront of sustainable practices and while some may complain that it is too uniform in it's buildings it maintains an overall look that is welcoming and attractive.
"I think Whistler is on par with a lot of these places because it has done a lot of things very well," said Geller after the presentation.
"One of the things it has done is it allows you to get around without a car as a pedestrian, so many of the portions of the town centre are pedestrian-oriented."
Looking good is also important, though the beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, said Geller.
In Albania, for example, he explained, the new mayor of the capital Tirana, an artist, wanted to do something to fix up the cities decrepit housing. There was no money for new construction but he could afford to get paint for everyone.
Currently the city's buildings are covered with the most amazing combinations of colours and patterns.
"Now there really is quite an interesting sense of pride developing in this the poorest country in Europe," said Geller.
In Singapore, officials have an annual competition amongst the residents of government-owned housing to see which complex is the cleanest. It is hugely successful.
Geller suggested that the same be done here in B.C. Housing complexes.
"I think you could give $1,000 to the winning household and still be ahead of the game in terms of your maintenance costs and also create greater sense of pride in communities," he said.
There are a myriad of ways to improve the livability of a city, town or region said Geller. But to make it happen it takes vision.
Geller is a Vancouver-based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades of experience in the public, private and institutional sectors.
He also serves on the Adjunct Faculty of SFU's Centre for Sustainable Community Development.
And here are a few other DVD announcements:
- Serious Charge, d. Terence Young, 1959, VCI, 30 June
- Visioneers, d. Jared Drake, 2008, Virgil Films, w. Zach Galifinakis, Judy Greer, 21 July
- The Astonishing Works of Tezuka Osamu, 1962-1988, Kino, 28 July
- Phil Mulloy: Extreme Animation, 1991-1995, Kino, 28 July
- The Garden, d. Scott Hamilton Kennedy, 2008, Zeitgeist, 18 August
- Adam Resurrected, d. Paul Schrader, 2008, Image Entertainment, w. Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, 22 September
Thursday, May 28, 2009
What is the best breakfast for you and me my friend?
Of course, my sweet good morning wishes that I send you every morning
And your lovely smile for me J that you send me after reading it!!!!
Beauty of a flower lies in its color and smell, while the beauty of a wonderful morning lies in a cup of tea, a newspaper, and a beautiful good morning wish sent by a friend like me!!! Have a good day!! Good Morning!!
You still in bed
It’s really bad!!
Or, having tea without me
Smiling at my sms J
Then I am really glad!!!
Its time for your bed to sleep so get up and give it a chance to take restJ
To get what you want; stop doing what isn’t working. Have a good day!!!
You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning. Get up now and turn your dream into reality. Good Morning!!
The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. Good morning and make a goal in your life!!!
There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning. Wish you all three, Good Morning!!!
The brain is wider than the sky. Get up now, think big and fly high. Good Morning!
Receive my simple gift of good morning wrapped with sincerity, tied with care and sealed with a prayer to keep you safe and happy all day long Good Morning
May you begin this day with a smile on your face, and with happiness for your soul to embrace. Good Morning my love
I try to Beeee the best friend i can beeeee, so here u go, some Goodmorning flowers right to you from meeeeeee.
Night has ended for another day, morning has come in a special way. May you smile like the sunny rays and leaves your worries at the blue blue bay.
Morning greetings doesn't only mean saying Good Morning, it has a silent message saying: I remember you when I wake up! Have a nice day!
The Word 'Hello' means H=How R U? E=Everything all right? L=Like 2 hear 4rm U. L=Love 2 C U soon. O=Obviously, I miss you! Good Morning my friend
A night hug warms the heart, a night kiss brightens the day, and a gd morning to start your day!
Hello, wake up, Receive my simple gift of 'GOOD MORNING' wrapped with sincerity, tied with care and sealed with a prayer to keep u safe and happy all day long! Take Care!
I just love when morning gets here, cuz i can send a Great Big Good Morning sms to my bestest friend. what a lovely way to start my day
The sun rises into the sky with the warmest smile, he wishes you a good morning, hoping that you have the perfect day. Take care & miss you. Gd morning
Har sagar ke do kinare hote hain,
kuch log jaan se bhi pyare hote hai
ye zaruri nahi har koi pass ho,
kyonki zindgi ki har soobha me yaadon ke bhi sahaare hote hain...!Good morning!
May you begin this day with a smile on your face, and with happiness for your soul to embrace. Good Morning my love, Goodmorning to youuuuuuuuuuuu Cockacolate duuuuuu, Refreshed and newwwwwwwwwwww, skies are bluuuuuuuuuuuu, Goodmorning to youuuuuuuuuuuuuu
when i woke up early morning birds were singing i asked them i m missing a sweet voice in u a bird replied: u still havn't said good morning to taht sweet Angel....so GooD MorninG sweet heart
Muskan aapke hoton se kahin jaye na,
ansoo apki palkon pe kabhi aye na,
poora ho aapka har khwab,
aur jo poora na ho, vo khwab kabhi aaye na...!Good morning
Treat everyone with politeness,Even those who are rude to U.....Not because they are not nice,But bcoz u are nice....!!!**Good morning**
Friend nahi to life waste,
Salt nahi to food waste,
Story nahi to cinema waste,
Mera SMS nahi to tera cell waste...!GOOD MORNING!
Todays Thought: Try hard to get what u like (or) you will be forced to like what u get… Keep smiling always it increases ur face value… Good Morning and Have a terrific day…
As the sky breaks into a beautiful Sunrise ...may GOD open the window of heaven to shower U lots of blessings...Good Morning...
With petals of Roses,Palm full of Holly water,Light of Full Sun,Fragrance of Flower and Grass with dew.I wish u a very special Good Morning....
New day new blessing.Don't let yesterday's failures ruin the beauty of today,b'coz each day has its own promise of love,joy,forgiveness.....
All mornings are like Paintings:-U need a little inspiration to get going,a little smile to brighten up & SMS from someone who cares to color ur day...G@@D M@RNING.....Hav a Nice Day
Wakeup & Wink those Teeny Weeny Eyes.Stretch those Inzy Winzy Bones,Wear that Jolly Winning smile & tell urself today is a beautiful day...
See outside the Window,
Sun rising for U, Flowers smiling for U,
Birds Singing for U, B'coz last night
I told them to wish U G@@D Morning.
Between a 100000 yesterdays& a 100000 tomorrows, there is only one today and I would not let this pass without saying thx 4 being such a lovely frnd... Good Morng..............
The sun has once brought brightness to earth! lazy bone. it's time 2 wake up gd morning...
Early this morning God gave me 3 baskets of fruits -
LOVE + HAPPINESS + PEACE OF MIND and told me 2 share them with PPL Dear 2 me. I'm sharing all with U...
Close ur eyes, Take a deep breath, Open ur arms wide,Feel ur heartbeat, & Say " Its too early. Let me sleep again."
Your soul came back from dreamland re-united with a sleeping senseless piece of yourself slowly open ur eyes realize its a brand new day. Good Morning.
Its time to wake up my precious pearl!Good Morning
Good morning sweetheart
How are you today
Are you thinking of me
Are you coming my wayIt would be nice
To see your smiling face
I sure do miss you
Come on over to my placeLet me know
What you're up to
So I can make plans
For just me and you
Let's get together
For some morning tea
Soda, coffee or milk
It doesn't matter to meIt's your presence
That's important to me
It's time we get together
Don't you agree?Good Morning
Good morning my friend
It's a new day
I hope things get better
For this I did pray
May all of your problems
Be out on their way
On this bright morning
That starts this new dayGood Morning!
Good morning sunshine
I sure am glad That you are all mine
Above the dark horizon soon
new light rays will appear.
They signify to all the world
a fresh new day is here.
The sun has risen, and its light
may bring us hope for peace--
and with a deeper faith in God,
we pray that wars may cease.
Our time on earth is but a test--
a test we must not fail.
By building values, growth in faith,
may love from hate prevail.
So each new day we start once more
with rising of the sun.
May we have gained in stature when
our final day is done
The loss of Lost will leave a hole in my life that will be absurdly big for something as trivial as a TV show, but when Fringe turned out not to be just a procedural but just the kind of batshit sci fi continuity smorgasbord as Lost, I rejoiced. Could this patchy show fill the hole? Would it settle down and provide the brain fodder that Lost did? By the time the season finished, it was sadly still a long way off, with Dollhouse providing the mental workout. More on that some other time.
Of all the shows I watched this season, Fringe was probably the most exasperating. A lot of shows turned out to be just as good as I had hoped (returning shows such as FNL and Big Love), some surprised me (Party Down, Leverage, and Sons of Anarchy are currently making me very happy, though I had expected to be disappointed), and some were terrible from the get-go and never recovered (Knight Rider, Eleventh Hour, and The Unusuals deserve their ignominious cancellations). Dollhouse was the show I was desperate to love, started out hating, and then ended up adoring, but Fringe was one that tested my patience throughout. More than once I considered dropping it, until the episode Safe came along and showed that the glacial pace of Lost was not going to be replicated. At the midpoint of the season, everything kicked off, and it seemed like Fringe was going to be my favourite new show of the year. Except that Fox kept taking it off the air for months at a time, wrecking any narrative momentum, made worse by some dire standalone episodes that will be next to unwatchable when going through the season a second time. Lost's first season might not be a patch on later seasons, but it still maintained a higher standard than this.
It was foolish to assume the show would be Lost 2.0. For a start, ABC might not be the most daring network in the world, but they have been more than willing to give Cuse and Lindelof slack to create the oddest and most complex show on TV even as that oddness and dense narrative repels viewers who have lost patience with it. Fox are pretty much the opposite, as shown by their insistence on dumbing down Dollhouse long enough to put off any viewers who wanted something more intelligent than Bionical Woman. While Whedon seems to be incapable of creating anything that doesn't demand great attention from his audience, Fringe comes from the minds of a bunch of guys who are more than capable of creating challenging and entertaining TV, but also know that they have to play by the rules if they're going to avoid cancellation. The result is a show of dismay-inducing lowest-common-denominator standalone episodes that are filled with story beats that make absolutely no sense if you haven't seen every other episode. It's not quite the worst of both worlds, but it's close.
Compared to the first two seasons of Abrams' Alias (which had Kurtzman and Orci onboard as head writers), Fringe has been, at times, an appalling mess. Part of the failure is down to the main character, Olivia Dunham, who is nowhere near as compelling or consistently written as Sydney Bristow (and Anna Torv is no Jennifer Garner). Several episodes in, her mild-mannered responses to the death of her lover and revelation of his betrayal were obviously not working. At the time I thought Torv was underplaying great emotional pain, but in the sixth episode, The Cure, Dunham is suddenly a vengeance-crazed maverick, suggesting the character was rewritten to become more dynamic. Of course, it could also have something to do with her brain being invaded by the consciousness of her evil (or not evil) lover, but none of it felt like foreshadowing, merely tinkering.
As Masticator pointed out in another internet venue, the second half of the season saw her living with her sister and niece, probably in an attempt to make Dunham seem less like an unlovable career woman (can't have one of those on Fox!). If the network feels that's what Dunham needs, then fair enough. After all, Sydney Bristow lived with Francie Calfo and hung out with Will Tippin, and both of them allowed the writers to give Bristow more moments of vulnerability, as well as having a sounding board for her troubles.
However, Francie and Will were also used brilliantly to complicate her life, especially in the second season. For two characters that, at first, had seemed extraneous, the amazing second season finale would have been nothing without them. Dunham's sister Rachel (played by Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist scene-stealer Ari Graynor) adds nothing. She kinda flirts with Peter Bishop (the almost eternally smirking Joshua Jackson), and her daughter almost gets her brain melted by an improbable evil scientist in the desperately bad episode The No-Brainer, but other than that, there really is no purpose for them in the show other than to have a child around that Dunham can hug. Look! That woman is reading a story to a child before bedtime! I no longer hate and fear her. Good work, focus group.
Other characters have little or no purpose too. Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) is little more than a lab assistant with a wicked 'do, added just so Walter Bishop (John Noble) has someone to throw exposition at when Peter isn't around. Phillip Broyles (Lance "Intensity" Reddick) either gives Dunham some props or some earache depending on what is needed for each episode. He also seems to be simultaneously jaded by the mad science events in the show, and absolutely shocked by them. Happy though I am to see Reddick getting regular work, I wish he was given more to do. He needs to shoot a motherfucker or two in the second season.
Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) has proven to be significantly less interesting than Ben Linus, or even Charles Widmore. There's a bit of back and forth about whether she's a good guy or a bad guy, but compared to my endless pontificating about the alignment of Linus, I'm really not that bothered about her. When it's revealed on the show, I'll give a damn then. Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) has proven to be such a disposable character that he has been fired and not fired with great rapidity. I have no idea what the showrunners are up to there, though it does strongly suggest that people shouldn't drink consolation rum and then go posting on Facebook. Or wear certain egregious hats.
With almost all of the characters leaving me cold, the mad science has to keep me occupied instead, and a lot of the time it fails at that too. For every amazing, creepy visual like The Sealant (which makes your orifices close up, suffocating you to death), or a weird worm crushing a man's heart, there is some stupid Chimera monster on the loose, or a syphilitic cat woman that drinks spinal fluid (what the hell were they doing that week? Someone should tell the writers that three bad ideas do not equal one good one.). The main arc of the show is the thing that saves it, with Walter's tinkering in parallel universes causing a war with a technologically superior version of humanity.
The moment that was revealed was when I mentally committed to the show through thick and thin, as it promised some mindblowing stuff later on, but even then, we find out that Dunham was once a test subject for Walter and William Bell (Leonard Nimoy, in one of the most heavily promoted, and utterly awesome, surprise cameo appearances ever), in order to prepare her for battle as a psychic soldier. Shades of Scanners and X-Files there, and not a problem, except that Sydney Bristow, in Alias, was also trained as a child as part of the absurdly named Project Christmas. It's one thing to complain about how shows by J.J. Abrams seem to focus a lot on father issues, which is kind of unfair as it's not something he is alone in doing, but having two shows feature two special agents who have had a mysterious childhood is really taking the piss. Though still, psychic super-soldiers are a lot more interesting than just your regular super-soliders. I love Captain America, but is he as cool as Michael Ironside and his ability to blow someone's head apart? Exactly.
So, most of the characters suck. Some individual episodes are horribly goofy and uneffective. It can be dismayingly derivative. The format means most episodes end with a race against time, with, at best, a chase sequence or, at worst, Dunham talking someone out of setting fire to her with their brain (didn't they do that twice?). The science is offensively bad, even when you assume a daft sci fi show is liable to fudge the details somewhat. There is far too much evidence of the showrunners playing it safe and doing what the network demands. Why bother with it?
Because JOHN NOBLE IS LOVE, bitches! I can take any amount of dreary Dunham home chat, or Peter Bishop-style smarm, because every so often John Noble wanders into shot, and takes even the stupidest dialogue - yes, even the endless digressions about various foodstuffs - and turns it into a heartbreaking, shocking, hilarious soliloquy (yes, all of those emotions at the same time!). What's best about that is that he actually gets the best dialogue on the show, so imagine how incredible that sounds. His performance as Denethor in Return of the King left me cold, but in Fringe he performs miracles. In the season finale, There's More Than One Of Everything, he has some scenes in an old beach-house during which he has a minor breakdown in front of Peter. Kudos to Joshua Jackson for stepping up to the plate, but the real genius is being displayed by Noble, who is alternately terrifying and vulnerable.
Next to Gabriel Byrne and Michael Emerson, he's the best thing on TV.
He's not the only reason I keep watching, though. That amazing series concept, so much more interesting than "FBI investigates odd science things, has great potential. The episodes that furthered that arc the most were the season highlights, showing up the standalones for the silly mistakes that they were. The ratio of good to bad episodes is tilted in the wrong direction, but even so, the bad episodes often featured some moment of trickery that justified them. The Easter Eggs, mostly involving Michael Cerveris' cameos as jalapeno-loving curio The Observer, are always fun to look for, though again, how much the show will reward rewatching will depend on whether there are even more clues than we thought, and even more future plot twists have been foreshadowed without us even knowing it. Of course, that excludes the heavily sign-posted revelation that Peter is actually Alternate Universe Peter, a twist that was blatantly obvious very early on in the season (though I have to give props to internetter Diane Court for putting her finger on that before me). So far, though, I'm not quite sure what the lens flares mean. Is it to do with crossing back and forth from one universe to the other? Or just a test run for Abrams' dazzlingly bright Star Trek?
Speaking of The Observer, just how cool is he? His introduction in The Arrival was the first hint that Fringe was up to something more than just solving a case a week, and captured my imagination just as I was beginning to think the show was a misfire. It's a good thing too, as the pedigree of the showrunners promised something better than the humdrum introduction. As I am human, I tend to be more disappointed than usual when something doesn't live up to expectations. Kurtzman and Orci get a lot of flack for their film work, and sometimes there is a point there. Their script for The Legend of Zorro was a depressing failure, and the controversy surrounding The Island is the most interesting thing about it. However, they wrote some of the very best episodes of Alias, and only someone with a heart of stone couldn't love their Star Trek revamp. I also didn't hate Transformers, and will not apologise for that, even if judged by God him-and/or-herself (though I reckon God loves Transformers as much as me and has also watched it four times in one week like I did last month).
I'm not sure how much input they have in the show (according to Orci's IMDb page, they're developing nine projects, and that's in addition to their work on the next Star Trek movie), but hats off to them for hiding the real arc of the show for about half of the season, and for gathering together a strong team of writers and directors. Though it was sad to see X-Files legend Darin Morgan depart the show after only a few episodes, the showrunners managed to get some terrific writers like Jeff Pinkner, Zack Whedon, and J.R. Orci, and talented TV directors like Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Lost veteran Paul Edwards, and Christopher Misiano, among others. They also got Brad "Transsiberian" Anderson to direct some of the best episodes (including that excellent season finale), and, in a surprising masterstroke, brought in Akiva Goldsman. For a long time he has been loathed by cinephiles and nerds the world over for writing some of the worst movies of our time, but Bad Dreams, the episode he wrote and directed, was a taut forty-five minutes filled with creepiness, humour, and horrifyingly effective shocks. He can be extremely proud, and I can ease off the urge to scream when his name appears in credits. Give him some better projects to work on, and he might surprise even more people in future.
In the end, I like the idea of the show far more than I like the actual show. It's extremely gruesome, which I always appreciate. It's full of truly awful TV science, but the showrunners have at least made the mad science machines look like real world instruments - all dials and switches and rheostats - which is a lovely touch. The cast is largely forgettable except for one acting titan (Noble) and a bona fide sci fi legend (Nimoy), but I don't really mind, even though that's often a deal-breaker. This is your actual "damned with faint praise" review, but even though the things I love about few and far between, I still do love the show. A surprising amount as well. I can't really explain it. Maybe it's because it's the sort of show I get a kick out of even when it fails, like when you buy a car against everyone's advice just because you like the shape of it, and you can forgive it when the seats aren't that comfortable, or there's a weird smell that never goes away, or the windscreen wipers don't work when they get wet. It doesn't matter. This is the car you wanted! Sometimes that's enough.
People used to say that Heroes was Lost for Dummies*, but in fact it is Fringe that, right now, feels like the low IQ version of Cuse and Lindelof's epic. I don't mean that as an insult, especially as I strongly believe that after this opening season of promising set-ups, quirky narrative experiments, and interesting concepts, the best is yet to come. Let's hope I'm right about that, because after Lost leaves us fans bereft, with Dollhouse unlikely to make it to season three, and Goyer and Braga's Flash Forward an unknown quantity, this might be all we have left to cling to.
* In case you were wondering, Heroes is actually Smallville for Dummies. True fact.
Of course, this means I miss the real gems. Much as I liked Fringe and Dollhouse (and loved Journeyman), with all of their crazy sci fi speculative craziness, they will only occasionally give me as much satisfaction as, say, the whole second season of Mad Men. The rest of the time, I'll wince and hope the next episode is better. It's a sickness. I've not even watched Breaking Bad yet, despite the involvement of X-Files hotshot Vince Gilligan, just because a teacher making drugs doesn't interest me as much as a show featuring a big transgenic monster, even though that episode of Fringe was almost unwatchably stupid and boring, and Breaking Bad is apparently better than sex in a Ferrari, according to its many fans.
I'm my own worst enemy, because this bias stopped me from watching the first season of In Treatment, which struck me as a potentially tedious and earnest drama which would also require a huge investment of time. With the season running over nine weeks, and each week featuring five instalments of around twenty-two minutes in length, it was like watching nine two-hour movies featuring the same characters, the same structure, and surely the same dialogue. Descriptions of the show mentioned how it was the most realistic depiction of psychotherapy yet shown in TV or film, which suggested that development in the characters would be incremental, just like in real life. Why would I spend that much time with these people?
Sometimes I love being proved wrong. Canyon persuasively argued its case, and convinced me to give it a try (which is more than I have done for her new favourite thing in the world, So You Think You Can Dance [It is genius and you are watching the first performance show. Adam Shankman and L'il C 4-eva! -- Canyon]). After a few episodes, during which time I adjusted to the format (one-on-one conversations between therapist Dr. Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne, and his patients), it became apparent that In Treatment was the most intense kind of long-form storytelling on TV right now, and if you’re interested in “The Golden Age of TV”, and how newly confident TV writers and directors have become so adept at creating and sustaining this relatively new form of extended narrative, you have to try it out. Based closely on an Israeli show called Be'Tipul, which ran for two seasons, the show has been described as a series of vignettes or short stories that just happen to be linked by the main character, but really they are "TV as novel" just like shows that run for a longer period (such as The Wire and The Shield), but in a more concentrated dose.
Paul's patients are protagonists in their own way, and we care about the outcomes of their therapy, but more than that the show is an intricately detailed character study of one man, either by reflection - we see who he is through his reactions to his patients - or by action, i.e. how he breaks the boundaries of his role as therapist, and how he treats his family and therapist Dr. Gina Toll (played brilliantly by Dianne Wiest). By the end of the first season, it became clear that, though we had been following five stories, we had learned the most about one man, someone who had lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing and had thrown his life into disarray by committing the same mistake his patients had: not listening to good advice from those who care about them.
Both Canyon and I fell deeply in love with the show after rushing through the first season at a rate we've not done since we watched all of The Shield in a few weeks. Nevertheless, I was concerned about the second season, which was no longer run by Rodrigo Garcia, the man who had done such a good job of adapting the original series for a new audience. This change of leadership struck us as an odd move, thinking it was perhaps brought on by the low viewing figures and minimal press coverage; other than the odd rave here and there, what little attention it got was to point out how boring therapy is and silly it was, with plenty of whining about the amount of episodes. God, it must be SO HARD being a TV critic.
Turns out that making a series of thirty-five to forty-five episodes, with a shooting schedule of two days per episode (with no time to rehearse), takes its toll. In this interview with new showrunner Warren Leight, he tells of the deep fatigue everyone working on the show feels, with Garcia dropping out after one season, and Byrne and Leight both ready to move on as well. Sad though that is, I can completely understand.
And when I say sad, I mean really sad. This season was a marked improvement over the already impressive first, and that terrible burden of thirty-five episodes, that so upset the poor TV critics, was just too small. Could the show come back? Though each episode of In Treatment is based on a corresponding episode of Be'Tipul, the writers and directors and cast seem to have fallen into a consistent groove, rattling out incredibly complex and honest drama at an amazing rate. If HBO were willing to spend more money on development time, letting the writers construct a new set of patients and motivations for Paul, and giving the cast and crew longer to rehearse, there is no reason this show cannot continue indefinitely. Fans are talking about how the show could carry on with a new therapist, perhaps Wiest's Toll. Anything to get it back for at least another year.
Luckily, as the chances of the show returning are slim, this season did provide some measure of closure, though it stretches the definition of the term somewhat. As therapy is rarely able to completely fix a person, the show could not have each patient walk out with all of their problems solved. At best we got to see that some characters were willing to continue their therapy after a breakthrough, and others left before that could happen. Unsurprisingly, after spending the most time with Paul, and seeing him deal with divorce, lawsuits, estrangement from his family, and the death of his father, we got the sense that he was nowhere near happiness, only getting to the point where he wants to continue being a therapist after a crisis of confidence. A nice set-up for a new season, and a nice way to end it if that doesn't happen.
So why do I love it so much? Mostly for the same reasons that everyone does. The performances are truly magnificent (especially considering there are no rehearsals), the writing is perceptive and complex (and is apparently sometimes amended on set as the actors make certain choices), and the direction is a feat of engineering (different directors are expected to keep different "days" visually and tonally distinct even though the show is set almost entirely in a single room). Technically the show is a marvel, and the performers are repeatedly giving their best work ever. All of the characters in Paul’s circle are brought to life with incredible detail, but Byrne in particular deserves most of the praise. His personification of this complex, infuriating, and defiantly sympathetic character is one of the great acting feats of our age. This is not hyperbole; his commitment to emotional truth is revelatory.
I also love that the show is constructed with such meticulous care, even though the tight schedule demands that scripts are sometimes altered at the last minute. Despite that, the arc of the season, with Paul losing sight of what it means to be a therapist, and slowly coming to a realisation of what he can offer, is far more fascinating than some end-of-second-act crisis. While the first season showed him wrecking his life over a futile desire, and perhaps taking the life of one of his most combative patients, the second season showed the aftermath, and his slow climb back to a semblance of normalcy. Threatened with the loss of his practice, horribly lonely now his wife has left him, and increasingly frustrated with his antagonistic patients, Byrne brilliantly portrays his weariness in each session.
That's to be expected. What is even more pleasing is how each patient connects to the other patients, and to Paul. As his father lies terminally ill in hospital, the patients remind Paul of his own familial strife throughout.
Mia (Hope Davis) dislikes her mother and loves her father, while yearning for a child of her own and, possibly, a relationship with Paul.
April (Allison Pill) is dying of cancer, and unwilling to accept the help of her mother after years of caring for her autistic brother.
Oliver (Aaron Shaw) is a young boy whose parents, Luke and Bess (Russell Hornsby and Sherri Saum), are acrimoniously divorcing, and feels responsible for their break-up.
Walter (John Mahoney) is a CEO on the verge of losing his job, and who is too attached to his daughter at the cost of his relationship with his sons.
At first the connections between them are slight, but over the course of the season they become more pronounced. April's nihilistic attitude, refusing to treat her cancer, reflects Walter's late-season suicide attempt (both triggered by their dread of burdening their loved ones), which in turn recalls Oliver's guilt over the events occurring around him. Oliver, Luke and Paul all have fractious relationships with their fathers, while Mia seems to have a loving relationship with her father that turns out to be a lie, and Walter feels he has somehow failed his daughter. Mia and Paul both hide from the truth of their childhood, constructing fantasies about which parent was the most supportive, in order to blot out uncomfortable truths.
Bess and Mia are faced with the conflict between motherhood and career, though while Mia opts for career and ends up regretting it, Bess opts for motherhood and regrets that just as much. Paul loses a father, and Gina and Walter are both grieving for lost loved ones to varying degrees. Paul and April have given up on their futures due to circumstances beyond their control (a potentially ruinous lawsuit and lymphoma respectively). Luke, Mia and Walter all want families around them in order to prove a point, because that is the way things are done. Luke is trying to negate the neglect he felt from his own father, Mia thinks other people will make her happy as that seems to be the way of things, and Walter goes along with it as that is just the way things were when he was younger.
All of these connecting issues are secondary to Paul and his relationships, and how he manages, at the last minute, to use those experiences to help his patients. After telling Gina that he thinks he can do no good for others as he himself is so screwed up, she gives him the advice to act as if he believes he is helping them all. In the final week, Paul uses his experiences to bring some form of peace to all of his patients. Mia, whose relationship with her father has been so close that she cannot let any other man get close, despairs of ever finding intimacy, and when Paul tells her that her confessional sessions with him are perfect examples of her capacity for intimacy, he's telling himself as well, and reassuring himself that he is not necessarily alone, which generates the later realisation that he needs to cultivate more non-work relationships. April is unable to imagine a future for herself, and Paul's advice is given from the natural perspective of someone who has lived longer and seen how possibility can arise. He also symbolically stops her from using her brother's needs as a barrier to living life, by giving her his father's hat to use instead of the itchy one, given to her by her brother, that she had previously been using.
In the previous weeks of the show, Paul's father dies before Paul is able to reconcile with him after years of neglect, an error that haunts him until the end of the season, especially as his separation from his own younger son is troubling him. Using this pain as a touchstone, Paul tells Luke to do everything in his power to never lose touch with Oliver, and Oliver is reassured that his father really loves him and always will. As both man and boy respect Paul's judgement, you get the very real sense that they will take his words to heart. Walter is given similar advice about reconnecting with his sons, even though he is adamant that it is too late for him.
Of course, as he heals these people, they heal him. April tells him that Sophie, his suicidal patient from the first season, has written about him on the Internet, and is proof that he has been able to save a life. By keeping in contact with Oliver, Paul finds a new connection, one he can keep and monitor from a perspective of wisdom and not emotional irrationality, as he does with his own children. The advice that he gives both Mia and Walter, about not giving up treatment even though it seems like it is too late to help them (because of Mia's perimenopause and Walter's old age), applies to himself as well, giving him the awareness that what he does has merit, and that the parts of his life that are lacking are easily filled, especially once the lawsuit against him is dropped.
This satisfying cross-cutting complexity is good enough to make this one of the best shows on TV right now. Only Lost matches it for storytelling ambition. It's no coincidence that both shows feature some of the most detailed characters in modern fiction, spending hours revealing enormous amounts of back-story. Lost's use of this device is for story reasons that are not entirely clear right now (other than to have some great characters in the show, obviously), but what makes In Treatment so special is that without distractions (smoke monsters, time travel, the unbelievable hottness of Sawyer and Juliet), the show can concentrate on doing just one thing; illuminating the human condition. That remarkable format means it is done in enough detail that it speaks to all of us.
On top of that are incredible individual moments: Walter's final tearful breakthrough; Paul's confrontations with Alex's father, played by Glynn Turman; Mia’s defiant resistance to any possibility of change, and her epiphany in her final episode; Paul’s eruption at the breathtaking selfishness of Luke and Bess; Oliver contentedly eating the sandwich Paul has made for him; and all of April's fourth session, a masterclass in acting and writing that left me shaking with emotion when it was over. By the time the final week aired, I was sobbing at the end of almost every episode, especially Oliver’s final appearance.
All of this could make the show sound like a worthy slog, but it does manage some light moments too. In the final episode, it was especially pleasing to hear Paul's rant about how much he hates his chair, which must have been added by Leight as a nod to Byrne's real hatred of the prop he has been using. I also love that he is just about the least funny character on TV, occasionally cracking out some dreadful pun to lighten the mood (the only person who seems to enjoy his jokes is Gina, who is similarly nerdy). Nevertheless, the show deals with such bleak subject matter that the tone couldn’t sustain wisecracking from the characters. It’s not something you miss, though I appreciate that this might be a deal-breaker for some.
Right now the show is not watched by many in the US, and the UK is currently not showing it. Hopefully someone will buy it soon. It's on region 1 DVD, so US readers can hire it or buy it, and when it eventually gets shown in the UK, hopefully it will be on BBC Four and that format (one episode each weeknight) will be retained. If so, ignore the critics who label the show boring (it's actually horribly addictive), and don't be put off by the big commitment (you'll be gutted when it finishes). It's more rewarding than any other show in recent memory, and more moving. It's the kind of intelligent, daring, and compassionate experience that makes you glad to be alive. Good TV can help you pass the time. Excellent TV can change the way you see the world. In Treatment is so perceptive, and so profound, it might actually change the way you see yourself. Do yourself a favour and hunt it down immediately.