Tag Archives: plot

Lie To Me, Honestly?

16 Feb

lie to meWe’ve been watching Lie To Me lately — which I understand is already cancelled, and so my comments here are not exactly topical (I have kids, give me a break) — and in the absence of any more seasons of House to watch, I’d have to say that this is a decent low-Cal version of that.

A show that revolves around catching people out at lying was probably always doomed to have a short shelf-life, because you can only say, ‘Ah, you twitched just there,’ so many times before the audience feels perpetual deja vu. It also tends to patently explain itself to the viewer far too much, and it does have sequences given over entirely to Tim Roth’s exaggerated swagger.

These crimes are fairly widespread in the TV world and I can usually overlook them. But I suspect one of the reasons it got cancelled is also why it features on this site. That is, Season 2 is a terrible liar.

Season 2 seems to think we’re about to accuse it of being boring, and deep down it agrees with this judgement that we’ve not yet made. Flashes of shame in the corners of its eyes give it away. Instead of owning up, the entire season is an exercise in distraction tactics. Each episode therefore tries ludicrously to be The Most Exciting Thing On Television. (Some spoilers to follow) it has so far featured:

  • Multiple Personality Disorder
  • A murder accused taking the office hostage (in which Cal almost gets killed)
  • Cal getting kidnapped by a mobster (in which Cal very nearly gets killed)
  • Cal joins a mission into Afghanistan against the Taliban (in which he comes startlingly close to getting killed)
  • A man trying to blow up the CBD with a tractor full of dynamite (in which Cal might have been killed)
  • A UFO sighting and a psycho serial killer (by whom Cal is partly killed)
  • A car bomb, an apartment bomb, and a confrontation with a UK terrorist bent on revenge against Cal (in which Loker, Foster, and Cal all flirt with being killed)
  • A high-profile court case after the murder of a billionaire (in which Cal inexplicably becomes a cocky, clowny, annoying witness for both sides,¬† landing in jail for contempt, but still being allowed back into court; he doesn’t nearly get killed, but you wish someone would)
  • Another serial killer, complete with summer camp genesis (in which Cal ducks just in time to avoid being killed)
  • Volatile drug gang leader tries to avenge his dad’s death (in which no-one knows how Cal avoids being killed)

In short, the storylines are just a little over the top. I haven’t seen the last disc of the season or Season 3, but I can only assume that Cal continues to rack up more danger pay than Jack Bauer, an impressive feat for a scientist. I know he’s contracted to the FBI, but about half of those plot threads aren’t even related to FBI cases.

What’s wrong with that?

I’m all for unhealthy levels of excitement, but the assumption seems to be that more explosions and more shouting pistol stand-offs and the occasional suggestion of lesbian experimentation will keep us from noticing that they really have little idea what makes characters interesting. Revealing a bit of back-story is not the same as depth. Insisting on your leading man’s infallibility might preserve his ‘coolness’ but at the expense of his development. Tim Roth does admirably well at being both loveable scamp and sneering smart-alec, but he and his fellow cast-members chase the action and go nowhere.

It’s still a good show, but it promised to be so much better. In their efforts to get Cal Lightman to star in every blockbuster ever, the makers of the show have sacrificed their characters, ironically making them more boring. I can only assume that Season 3 isn’t an improvement, seeing as there isn’t going to be a number 4.

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Edit: started the last disc last night, and the characterisation was actually quite good… Also, Cal didn’t come all that close to dying. On the other hand, another cast member got shot three times in the chest.

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Stupid-scene highlight

Special mention must also go to an episode about Iraq-war-based post-traumatical stress disorder, in which Foster, the psychologist, is revealed to have invented a functioning virtual reality device for use in therapy. In her spare time. And just for the purposes of this episode. To help this soldier remember, the VR machine replicates the relevant location in Iraq, generates battle-ready enemies, weapons, and vehicles in real time as the soldier barks out his recollections of the battle. Five keys get tickled, and there’s a virtual-reality Warthog plane flying a realistic route overhead, providing cover. Another button, and insurgents appear just in time to rocket-launcher a Hum-Vee.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when you have to imagine the writers saying to you, “OK, for this next scene, pretend you’re a complete idiot and that you believe computers are magic!” It kind of ruins the experience.

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Happy-Go-Lucky Movie

5 May

Happy Go Lucky PosterAlmost by definition, stories must have a Predicament – a defining point of conflict that drives a story forward – and a plot – events connected together by cause and effect, by which the conflict is raised and resolved. Without these things, a story isn’t a story.

Mike Leigh sets about challenging these assumptions in his film Happy-Go-Lucky, a film about… uh… uh… Hmm… Well, you see… Um, there’s this girl in it? She’s a pre-school teacher, and we see a bit of her doing that… Um… She’s quite nice to the kids, but she’s a bit of a thicky herself, so… Oh yes! and she’s taking driving lessons with this angry guy. He physically attacks her for being an idiot towards the end, but he clearly has a point. That was quite a good bit actually, or it seemed to be. I had put on the headphones at about the 1 hour 45 minute mark, but it looked dramatic… Oh that’s not all, she arbitrarily wanders around at night and inexplicably follows the sounds of someone shouting to himself in the back end of an industrial area. Instead of getting murdered, she pretends to understand the ravings of the crazy homeless man, because she’s that kind of sensitive. The pretentious kind, evidently.

So there’s a bit of character study here: a charming and witty woman (read unbelievably grating child-in-an-adult’s-body) seems to be pathologically irresponsible, but when the chips are down, she expresses tenderness towards the unlovely. That’s all terrific if you don’t mind 2 hours of someone saying banal things as though they’re jokes, and then making a little inhaled laugh at the end of every sentence, irrespective of the humour content. But seriously, nothing happens. Nothing. Can I be clearer that there is bland scene after bland scene that have no connection to each other, but that they feature the same annoying laugh-breath punctuation. We watch a class of kids making paper-bag-bird-hats. For A-G-E-S.

Verdict
A friend of mine gave me a money-back guarantee that this was worth renting, but that’s not good enough. I want him to pay me for the time that I lost and that I’ll never get back. I’m not the kind of movie-goer who needs explosions and fist fights. I quite enjoyed that Sandra Bullock drivel where she’s the evil boss who’s actually a softie and has to marry her assistant for a green card (I should probably just have looked up the title; that took ages). I also sat through three hours of Dogville and loved it. This was rubbish.

The only value in Mike Leigh’s apparent underlying question in Happy-Go-Lucky (‘Does a story really need a Predicament and a plot?’) is that we discover that the answer is yes.

2/10 – Go and read a book.