Movies and writing in them and for them

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When a character you love becomes something else

Published May 1, 2012 by wyldflamingo

There’s been a trend, of late, in characters I love–both in print, and on television. I found myself with some down time this past week, and so gave in to watching a series I’ve been interested in, but had never watched before: “In Plain Sight”.

“In Plain Sight” follows the life of Mary Shannon, an inspector with the United Stated Marshal Service, who specifically works for Witness Security, or the Witness Protection program. Right off the bat, Mary resets expectations. She’s a strong, independent woman in what is largely a man’s world. She erases the vague idea I have that “WitSec” is mainly for people who have had the misfortune to see bad things–WitSec, in fact, protects a great number of criminals, who have made the choice to turn on their compatriots rather than go to prison themselves.

In Season One, it’s Mary’s caustic wit, prickly demeanor, and ascerbic resolve in dealing with her life that I adore. She is not the polished female we see with most women on network television (hideous reality TV shows aside). Her job can be dirty, and frustrating–she puts in long hours at her job, and by the end of the day, she looks tired, disheveled, and exhausted. Her sarcasm is softened by her interactions with her partner, Marshall Mann, whose laconic approach and wikipedia-esque knowledge make him an excellent foil for Mary’s often brusque or callous demeanor.  At the end of the day, Mary must deal with her alcoholic mother, and her screw-up baby sister. Mary’s childhood (bank robber father who vanishes when she is seven), carries into all aspects of her life. Despite–or perhaps because of–the way Mary uses sarcasm and cynicism in her day-to-day existence, I initially found her very endearing. We share a lot of the same characteristics, using these attributes as  a means of dealing with stupid policies, or perhaps stupid people.

By middle of Season Two/beginning of Season Three, changes are afoot, however. Mary’s mother, Jinx, has realized she is an alcoholic, and embarked into rehab. Brandy still stumbles, on occasion, but she’s going to school, and working through her own family issues. Mary, however, seems stuck in time; she’s grudgingly accepted her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, but verbally assaults his decision to take a car salesman job with Brandy’s wealthy boyfriend. When Mary’s mother comes home, she leaves liquor in the house, convinced it’s only a matter of time before Jinx fails. In fact, as Mary’s family and friends have grown,moved on, made changes in their lives–Mary has not. In fact, as they grow more successful, Mary’s comments become more biting, more cruel. Perhaps this is an accurate representation in “real” life–when a caretaker who has been disappointed time and again sees someone close to them succeed, they tear them down. But I don’t need that much realism in my television.

“In Plain Sight” is on its last Season (five)–and we’ve yet to see any of Season four–but I hope Mary starts to realize it’s ok for her friends and family to be successful.  Otherwise, it seems ironic that the solution to Mary’s problems are in plain sight, and she’s the one missing the clues.


“Big Fish”: writing, tone, and allure

Published April 9, 2012 by wyldflamingo

While working on a myriad of other things (because I’m incapable of sitting and just doing one thing at a time), my husband pronounced “I don’t remember much about ‘Big Fish’, and popped it into the DVD player.

‘Big Fish’ is a Tim Burton movie from 2003, and probably one of his most overlooked works. Burton is well known for odd-ball characters we might not normally find appealing (Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington, Beetlejuice), and his just-this-side-of-surreal sets and storylines. ‘Big Fish’ is a story about perception, and how the way one person may view the world is not the same way anyone else views it.

Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor both play Ed Bloom–Albert plays the elder Ed Bloom, dying of cancer and estranged from his son, Will. Will is perpetually embarassed by his father and his “fish stories”–what Will perceives as outrageous exagerations of of Edward’s past. As the story progresses, we see Edward’s life from his own eyes, and it’s up to the viewer to decide if one, or the other viewpoint is more accurate.

While Burton’s cinematography is always appealing, with its soft focus on female characters, and oversaturated background colors, its his ability to deliver a story and create compelling characters that lure and appeal. We’ve established, ten minutes into the movie, that Ed Bloom has a penchant for telling tall tales. But exactly how “tall” does the tale have to be, to estrange you from your son? Is it embarassment that pushes Will away?

What makes this movie for me is Ed Bloom’s viewpoint–he turns the mundane into the magnificent. I’m not sure how effective the same story would be, without Burton’s rich visualizations, but watching ‘Big Fish’ always makes me try to imagine…and practice my embellishments.