Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Freedom from Formula: discussing David Lynch & Auteur TV with Martha Nochimson, author of Television Rewired


Five years ago, I spoke to author and David Lynch scholar Martha Nochimson about her two groundbreaking studies of the great director: The Passion of David Lynch explores his first few films through the lens of feminism and Jungian analysis while her follow-up David Lynch Swerves incorporates quantum physics and Vedic spirituality. Now she has returned to this fertile ground, with Twin Peaks and particularly David Lynch at the center of her new book Television Rewired. This study, subtitled "The Rise of the Auteur Series" does not just limit itself to Lynch and Peaks. Using his troubled ABC production from the nineties and his fully-flowered Showtime series from 2017 as bookends, Television Rewired devotes a chapter each to David Chase's The Sopranos, David Simon's The Wire, David Simon's and Eric Overmyer's Treme, Matt Weiner's Mad Men, and Lena Dunham's Girls. An introduciton called "The David Effect" discusses the genesis and evolution of the trend toward auteur TV while the penultimate chapter, "Backlash! Formula 2.0" focuses on innovative but still formulaic series such as Breaking Bad and The X-Files.

Struck by the way Lynch "modeled freedom," Nochimson builds on her previous work with both him and David Chase through new interviews with both those and other TV auteurs. She sees them as facing a challenge similar to Cooper in Part 3 of the new Twin Peaks limited series (while admiring the dozen poetic resonances of "The Return" she's abiding by producer Sabrina Sutherland's admonition to avoid that title). Unlike Cooper, however, Lynch, Chase, and others don't descend back into the confinement of the black box - they leap out into outer space, into the unknown...falling, or flying? Nochimson discussed this sequence extensively in a lively chat with Scott Ryan in The Red Room podcast a few months ago; for our part, we concentrated on questions about Judy and the presence of evil, the New Mexico girl and the possibility she's Sarah (an idea Nochimson loathes), whether there's a "there" there for poor Dougie, and if there's a relationship between Fire Walk With Me and season three. We also spend a little time on The Sopranos and Girls (I avoided reading about or discussing Mad Men and The Wire, shows I'm still in the process of watching) as well as discovering the stubborn divergence of how we perceive the David Lynch/Mark Frost collaboration - or lack thereof. And, after a ten-minute introduction of her premise, we open the back-and-forth with a particularly fruitful investigation of what TV formula means and how artists could, and perhaps should, relate to it.

I hope you enjoy listening to this lengthy, in-depth discussion as much I enjoyed participating in it (the video is primarily audio-only, but uses images to illustrate various sections if you want to jump around, leave and come back, or just have some visual stimulation as you listen to it unwind in one sitting). Nochimson's book is well worth reading not only for its insights but for the dialogue and reflection it opens up among readers.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Late summer update: a makeover and progress toward Journey Through Twin Peaks


I am currently in the midst of a massive, radical re-design of this site, the most ambitious such reboot since I founded this online hub in 2008. This will finally shift the focus away from a what's-latest blog template (although that approach will still be available for those who prefer it) and attempt to strike a balance between directing readers toward particular subject areas while also keeping Lost in the Movies' massive archive at their fingertips. Since this involves cataloging over a thousand entries visually rather than by text (I'm using movie posters as the "buttons" in most cases), in some cases slotting a single entry in a dozen or so different slots, the process is definitely taking a while. But I'm hopeful the new site can be ready by the end of August. And once it is, I can finally resume work on three video essays (two Side by Side analyses and a 3 1/2 Minute Review) which will be the only remaining obstacles between me and the new Journey Through Twin Peaks.

Back in the spring, I laid out my path to creating more videos and I've stuck to it pretty stubbornly. I decided to tackle the re-design before rather than after the Journey project, and I eventually relegated my Mark Frost readings (expanded to encompass his entire oeuvre) to a small patch each evening, a sidebar rather than a prerequisite to further work. Otherwise, though, I've accomplished my goals in a slow, steady, sure manner and it remains feasible - if not entirely likely - that I could land an early November premiere for the new video series. I can't commit to that, and an early 2020 launch seems more plausible but I can say that I'm on track to at least begin work on Journey Through Twin Peaks by Labor Day. My podcast episodes for September and October are long ago pre-recorded so I won't have to make choices about what work to focus on for another three months, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I originally hoped to let both the re-design and the rollout of new video essays speak for themselves. However, as I'm still bogged down in (at the moment) a sprawling cross-linked directory web of podcast topics, other commitments came knocking - hence the need for this status update for patient and/or curious readers. A month ago, I recorded and published an extensive, nearly three-hour interview with Martha Nochimson, the David Lynch/television scholar whom I first spoke to in 2014. I uploaded a preview onto YouTube and saved the interview for patrons at that time but, as promised, I'm now making the full conversation available: it's uploading as I type this and will be cross-linked on this site tomorrow. I also have a Twin Peaks Unwrapped appearance kicking around in the backlog - my guess is that Ben and Bryon will drop it this week but no promises. It involves a return to their wacky "Lynch Madness" format, this time for season one episodes - and with two additional surprise guests! I also plan to post a simple notice when I introduce the new site re-design in the next few weeks or even days (fingers crossed). Enjoy the old format while and if you can, because it won't be around much longer.

See you then!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Years, Continents, Bloodshed" (season 4, episode 8)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Scott Winant): The Mars family has a not-terribly-difficult decision to make, although initially they are loathe to make it. Penn insists that they work for him - after all, what have they got to lose? If he's guilty, great, they help keep him in jail. If he's innocent, they earn some money while catching the real killer. Sensing that they're being manipulated, Veronica and Keith reluctantly agree but insist on taking the investigation where they want it to go. This leads them back to the Pi Sigma fraternity, where Keith marvels at Veronica's ruthlessness, forcing the weepy Blake Long (Spencer Ward) to admit what happened during Spring Break 2015. Drunk and in the midst of hazing rituals, the bros lashed out at a hapless pizza delivery man, dunking him in the violent waves until he apparently drowned, his body washed away. When one of group expressed remorse, his tent was burned down during the night; since then they've adhered to a vow of silence although Blake suspects his own friends set the fire. Veronica has her own interpretation: the pizza guy didn't really die. He came back to kill one of his tormentors (ironically the one who felt bad), and three years later he's been avenging himself on the broader swathe of spring breakers. Matty, now edging her way into working full-time with Mars Investigations, learns that the pizza shop can't find the paper ticket from that fateful night's delivery, but Penn maintains that such an incident never happened to him. And then, a breakthrough...


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Gods of War" (season 4, episode 7)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright, Heather V. Regnier; directed by Amanda Marsalis): "What's a murderhead?" asks poor Wallace, as Veronica explains that actually they're going to attend a later screening of their planned movie in order to catch up with the latest conspiracy theories about the Neptune bombings. (Man, I hope he gets a quality scene in the finale, as Veronica's best buddy has really been given the shaft this season.) Nonetheless, Wallace takes Veronica's last-minute, admittedly self-serving change of plan in stride. Nicole, on the other hand, is appalled when she learns how Veronica has been using her - minutes after chuckling that whatever Veronica's done, she's done worse, Nicole flatly informs Veronica that actually, planting a bug in her office is something she can't top. She also emphatically denies responsibility for any of the bombings, although I suspect she'll eventually be pinned on the beheading and Veronica will forego the quarter-million and look the other way. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Veronica has professional duties to take her mind off personal problems. It looks increasingly likely that while Big Dick engineered the Sea Sprite and Perry explosions, Penn orchestrated the follow-up. The smoking gun, so to speak, is that nail - it only wound up in Penn's back because it was part of a painting on the lobby wall but it was incorporated into all of the subsequent bombs presumably because Penn assumed it was built into the first device.

Then again, as Keith observes, Penn shared that knowledge with the rest of his crew so it could've been any of them. That concept is forgotten as the Mars chase down Penn in his lovers' cabin in the woods and engage in a shootout with Alonzo and Dodie, who have decided they'll let the professionals lead them to the killer and then take out all three in one fell swoop. Keith, once again wounded by foggy cognition, leave his ammunition in the car and beats himself up afterwards: realizing that his condition nearly killed his daughter, he emphatically declares that he's "done." Fortunately, both are saved by the PCHers who show up on a fleet of motorcycles just as the Mexican hitmen are about to finish the job, and insist that El Despiadado's enforcers be escorted back to Neptune. Penn is taken back to the police station, where Leo says goodbye (and apologizes for taking things a bit too far with Veronica). With Cliff at his side, Penn declares his innocence and insists that the Mars - no hard feelings! - take up his case and find the real culprit. After all, there's another bomb set within twenty-four hours and the most important thing they can all do is figure out who's planting it and how to stop them.

My Response:

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Entering a World of Pain" (season 4, episode 6)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld; directed by Tessa Blake): And just like that, Logan's gone. A phone call from the Navy and he turns in his resignation as the congressman's bodyguard, effective immediately, and says goodbye to his girlfriend via voicemail (she can't answer her phone because she's in a strip club, natch). Before he departs - who knows for how long - he's already made an important contribution to the investigation(s), dressing in uniform to visit Daniel's blackmailer...17-year-old white nationalist Barton Netherfield, Jr. (Cyrus Arnold). Playing the part of a fellow traveler, Logan congratulates the teenager for "neuter[ing] that Muslim cuck...a Manchurian candidate taking his orders from the mullahs." Getting him to open up, Logan then forces him to delete all the video files, apologize to the congressman, and withdraw his threats. But the surly alt-right troll fires one departing shot: he has recorded a not-so-cryptocurrency transfer from Daniel into the accounts of two Mexican cartel members. This leads Keith and Veronica to sneak into Alonzo's and Dodie's hotel room, where Veronica snaps photos of the Carr brothers' IDs and Keith fakes a heart attack to distract the cleaning lady while Veronica sneaks away. But they aren't as clever as they think; the cleaning lady is, of course, Claudia, and when she returns home she tells both brother Weevil and boyfriend Alonzo that Veronica was snooping around (she also reveals that she's been fired for unrelated reasons; yet another small business is folding under the pressure of Casablancas' onslaught). Weevil, who predictably explodes at Veronica when he discovers what she did with Juan, is nonetheless clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of Alonzo paying her a visit.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Losing Streak" (season 4, episode 5)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by David Walpert; directed by Scott Winant): To hear Calvin Linden (Mather Zickel) tell it, his despised dead son was a prince. No, literally. "Prince Bryce Linden" was apparently heir to the throne of an island kingdom Calvin purchased on the back of his "gambling empire" built from a credit card with a $500 limit. Told off by Chief Langdon (who savors the opportunity to finally give it back to one of these pricks), Calvin offers a $250,000 reward for anyone who can catch his son's killer. Soon after Langdon's satisfying dismissal of this jerk, she has another rare opportunity to relish her job: a strange, sloppy anonymous letter threatens another bombing unless its absurd demand is met. Mayor Dobbins must run through the entire town, in broad daylight... completely naked. (His wife, played by Mim Drew, concurs that sneakers are probably okay.) If meant to humiliate the mayor, the stunt backfires: his courage and even his physique earn public admiration and soon dozens of equally naked men are jogging behind him. This results in a humorous moment as Alonzo and Dodie toast their brief sojourn in the land of "Normal," just before that flock of streakers passes by the coffee shop window.

Alongside these farcical elements, the strain of Veronica's personal life begins to wear her down (Logan compares her, to his mind, self-imposed suffering to the character in The Crucible who demands an ever-greater pile of stones on his chest rather than give in to his accusers). Her father's memory issues are now unavoidable and when she presses him to take a vacation after this case, he reveals that he'd rather close up shop altogether and free her to do something else, somewhere else. Logan concurs, even broaching the sensitive matter of a breakup if she thinks she'd be happier elsewhere. She wouldn't; asked where she'd be without Logan or Keith weighing her down, she embraces Logan and tells him her head would be in an oven because she would have lost the two people she cared about the most. This moment is worth keeping in mind when both Veronica and Keith struggle to trust newfound friends. Keith is tempted to excuse Clyde's suspicious activities even as Veronica digs up mountains of dirt. Veronica, meanwhile, is alarmed by the fervor with which Nicole shoots bottles during some stoned target practice (she proclaims the names of men she hates as she fires at each one). But she denies that the club owner could play any role in the bombings, even if they do link up to incidents at Comrade Quack's - a business, Veronica learns, that Nicole won in a lawsuit against its former owner, whose lax safety policies got her raped. Even if she was capable of building and setting off bombs, Veronica reasons, why would she harm her own pocketbook? This seems even more pertinent when another bomb goes off right inside the bar itself; but then Veronica learns that Nicole is just biding her time until the end of the season - the business has already been sold...to Nicole's supposed archenemy Big Dick.

Tensions emerge with an older friend as well; Weevil and Veronica fight over young Juan Diego, her mugger, whom Veronica decides to use as a pawn, getting Weevil (or, failing that, Juan himself) to identify Clyde as the liaison who orders and pays off the biker gang to disrupt life in Neptune. (Meanwhile, Penn and fellow murderhead Carol, played by Dannah Feinglass Phirman, make their own discovery: identify Big Dick as the author of the mayor-threatening letter based on how he words his tweets. They make love in celebration - or at least they would if they didn't discover a dead duck planted under their sheets.) Weevil, already unhappy with Veronica, is going to be pissed about Juan. And in a long, tumultuous relationship, this may be the point of no return, a risk Veronica runs to prevent future bombings and save lives. Veronica's other old pal fares better in "Losing Streak," even if just for the span of a line and a gesture. Wallace, still barely a featured character (his house party is an important early setpiece but we don't see much of him there either) earns an amusing moment on a school bus. There he watches his student Matty bat her eyelashes to melt brainy, standoffish Owen (Nick Alvarez) and get him to hack some secret documents. Chuckling as he recognizes who's encouraging this behavior, Wallace mumbles knowingly, with a big grin, "It's a slippery slope, Owen."

My Response:

Monday, July 29, 2019

July 2019 Patreon podcasts: Early access to Martha Nochimson interview, LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #6 - Season 1 Episode 6, and LOST IN THE MOVIES #57 - Twin Peaks Cinema - Fire in the Sky (+ favorites films archive #34 - 24: Band of Outsiders, White Heat, Easy Rider, Singin' in the Rain, Red Hot Riding Hood, Goodfellas, Fists in the Pocket, The Searchers, The "Up" Series, Mamma Roma, Young Mr. Lincoln & Twin Peaks Reflections: Cable, Chet & Sam, Teresa, Sam's apartment, Buenos Aires hotel, Teresa Banks case/Inland Empire)


Welcome to the new format for the Lost in the Movies podcast, in which my broad interest in cinema meets my particular emphasis on Twin Peaks. First up is a sci-fi film from shortly after the original series; like Peaks, Fire in the Sky features a disappearance that shakes up a small town while an out-of-town detective navigates local suspicions, as well as a terrifying abduction in the woods accompanied by a blinding light. The culprits, however, are much more specific and the film falls more firmly into a particular genre (or does it?).

On Lost in Twin Peaks, the $5/month members reach the first solo Mark Frost teleplay and we explore how his concerns are reflected in the results...



In addition to Fire in the Sky, my main podcast for July uses The Missing Pieces as a springboard to study several Twin Peaks characters and locations while connecting the Teresa Banks case to Inland Empire. My Favorites archive series covers a couple gangster flicks, a couple sixties Italian classics, and a couple John Ford masterpieces, and I close off the episode by updating listeners on my activities in the spring...



I'm also beginning to open up my old Lost in Twin Peaks episodes for all tiers (these will be published six months after the $5/month tier gets them, all the way through the rewatch). This kicks off with a special two-and-a-half-hour episode on The Missing Pieces, deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me. Today is the fifth anniversary of their release, so dig in if you haven't already...



Finally, I offered an interview with Martha Nochimson, Lynch scholar and author of the new book Television Rewired. Here is the full conversation, which will become public next month but is only available for patrons for now...



To clarify a point, I added a nine-minute bonus a few weeks later...



And here is a short highlight made public on YouTube...



Podcast Line-Ups for...

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Heads You Lose" (season 4, episode 4)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by David Walpert; directed by Rachel Goldberg): Sometimes style can be more effective than scale. If the previous bomb terrified beachgoers for its indiscriminate violence, the latest is chilling in its specificity. Bryce (Ian Bamberg), an obnoxious Comrade Quack's patron tossed out for spiking women's drinks, wakes up on the beach with a device strapped around his neck. Panicking, he races onto the boardwalk, shoving silverware into various slots as passerby scream and run away. And then, poof, with a small pop a headless corpse collapses into the sand. Few shed tears for this particular victim but it's hard to ascribe righteous motives to his murderer. With an apparent serial killer on the loose, Mayor Mark Dobbins (Andrew Friedman) calls the FBI to town. One of the agents, a certain Leo D'Amato, calls on Veronica for professional reasons (and perhaps a dash of old time's sake) - he's uncomfortably greeted by Logan at the door - and the duo end up staking out Clyde after he lingers near nails (for a bomb?) at a hardware store they're looking into. As it turns out, his bag is full of light switch covers and he's more interested in knocking back drinks at Keith's office than knocking off tourists at the beach. More suspiciously, however, several business owners who've decided to flee the town are selling to investors from their own home regions - obviously some kind of front for shadier real estate machinations. Having backed away from his Rep. Maloof theory without learning the larger lessons, Penn (who's been bugging Neptune Investigations) loudly proclaims Dick's and Clyde's guilt at a town meeting before being escorted out. If the Mars - embarrassed and potentially exposed by Penn's outburst - are wishy-washy on that interpretation, they still have their suspicions. Veronica visits Chino for interviews with two men she sent away in her Hearst days. Withstanding the expert needling of both murderous T.A. Tim Foyle and campus rapist Mercer Hayes, she manipulates them into providing information about Clyde and the other prisoners who've popped up in recent overlapping cases. Meanwhile, her re-acquaintance with Weevil is less successful. After saving her from his underlings' assault, he's scolded by her for running a chop shop and youth gang. But Weevil scoffs at her binary judgments as he walks away: "Must be nice to have a choice."

My Response:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Keep Calm and Party On" (season 4, episode 3)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Joaquin Sedillo; directed by Heather V. Regnier): Case closed. Matty is now ready to bring her troubles to the Mars family; they've been vouched for by Penn and Matty's physics teacher - Wallace as it turns out. She identifies a man with a mole as the guy from the Fitzpatricks' business who delivered the deadly vending machine to her father and a little surveillance work follows, during which Veronica begins to take the broken bird under her own wing (Matty asks her if she was angry after Lilly was murdered, and Veronica answers, "I'm still angry"). And Perry Walsh is soon identified as the culprit, his information turned over to Chief Langdon who leads a SWAT team on his house. Blowing himself up before he can be captured, Perry leaves a misogynist manifesto on his computer; the Mars collect their checks from the Maloofs, shrug as Langdon refuses to credit them for the tip, and tell each other not to indulge in their mutual history of "tilting at windmills." But when Alex asks Veronica if she really believes they got their man, she says, flatly, no. As she asks in the closing narration, gawking at a massive fireball on the beachfront while everyone runs away in slow motion, "Why do I always have to be right?"

Moving toward the halfway mark of the series, we reach a number of turning points. The bomb plot and Matty have already been noted, but we also meet Penn's murderhead crew who pester Veronica and Logan with prying questions about the legendary Lilly. Keith bonds with Clyde, who sends him to a lavish health service run by Dick, as he takes the Casablancas assistant's missing-girlfriend case and swats down Veronica's suspicions that they're behind the bombs. Daniel's stressful life has the most twists and turns; he asks Mars Investigations to find out who's blackmailing him over a masturbation video, gets kidnapped and tortured by the Carr brothers, and is rescued and nearly killed by Alonzo and Dodie before a radio report of Perry's death vindicates him. This wild ride ends with the congressman hiring his would-be murderers to kill the Carrs on his behalf. Alonzo meanwhile has been seeing hotel employee Claudia (Onahoua Rodriguez) who invites him to a family barbecue where he's introduced to her brother: Weevil! Recognizing Alonzo's tattoo he wonders if the Mexican's business in Neptune is related to the bombings, and when Alonzo assures him he didn't set any bombs, a savvy Weevil mutters, "That's not what I asked..."

A Chino connection between many of these disparate players is discovered; Dick Sr., Clyde, Perry, and even the random disgruntled customer Keith found planting rats at Hu's store all did time in the state prison. This as much as anything encourages Veronica to believe there's a larger conspiracy at work - well, this and that whisper of a feeling. She's also mugged by an incompetent young PCHer (Tyler Alvarez) before turning the tables on him. Inside his own wallet, she discovers six crisp C-notes. This same teenager, incidentally (or not) was photographed taking a dump in the ice machine outside the Sea Sprite. Is whoever he's working for a Chino alumnus too? (We see the boy, rather ominously, wandering around Weevil's barbecue.) Despite these shadowy connections and dark subjects, there are a few moments of fun and games onscreen (and not all of them involve poop). They usually star the younger Dick. He strips in Nicole's nightclub before taking ecstasy with her, Veronica, and Logan, and later he plays a promotional volleyball match on the beach with Logan as his partner. But even that later moment, one of the lightest and least consequential we've lingered over, ends with the second bomb. Going forward, there probably isn't going to be room for either half of the episode's title.

My Response:

Friday, July 26, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Chino and the Man" (season 4, episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright; directed by Michael Fields): With the town reeling from catastrophe, everyone has something to do in "Chino and the Man," and few witnesses, friends, or family members are content to demurely answer questions for the detectives - emphasis on the plural. Indeed, many are more interested in joining the ranks of those detectives themselves. Penn, it is revealed, is not just a pizzaman but a cold case-obsessed sleuth in his spare time. And as he tweets to his newly grown follower base, he has little faith in Neptune officialdom. ("But didn't you lose an election due to evidence-tampering?" he asks Keith, wide-eyed. "Didn't you investigate the wrong person in the Lilly Kane case?") A bit of a meta-element within this world, a true crime Greek chorus, Penn explicitly ties Neptune's present to its past even if his understanding of what went down then and now is a little screwy. By episode's end he's on national television spouting theories about Daniel Maloof planting a bomb in his sister-in-law-to-be's make-up bag. Given the Carrs' already belligerent attitude toward the Maloofs - the stereotypical roughnecks, looking for Tawny's expensive engagement ring, attack the congressman before Logan lays them out and gets hired as Daniel's bodyguard - I don't think murder accusations are going to help the family dynamic.

Penn's cavalier pronouncement also places the prominent U.S. politician in the Mexican cartel's gunsights - after Alonzo and Dodie have already slain the (apparently) wrong suspect. For the most part, their antics are played for laughs (even this bloody execution, with a severed head as the punchline). Attempting to fit in with the crowd of American kids the duo are more comfortable making smiling threats than casual small talk; if they operate as comic relief it's thanks to their bemused fish-out-of-water quality rather than incompetent bumbling. Then again, their cold-blooded proficiency as strongmen and assassins is not exactly matched by investigative prowess. Taking some frightened college students at their word is an amateur move and if these two are going to actually earn the wad of cash El Despiadado gave them, they'll probably have to join their ruthlessly sharp teeth to a real detective's keen nose. (I can think of just the Van Lowe for the job.) Veronica seems to desire a similar arrangement between her and Matty, but the kid has her own plan. She confronts Liam Fitzpatrick for selling her dad a possibly explosive snack machine and destroys their merchandise before Veronica arrives just in time with a getaway car and a gun. "Goddamn, I hate that girl," Liam growls, to which his pals retort, "Which one?" The now fully-grown Mars is forced to see herself through the looking glass: "Parents split up, then a murder, followed by the agony of not knowing where to focus her rage. I know the sort of person who emerges on the other side. I thought if I could solve the case quickly enough, she might not have time to set and harden. Once a girl sets and hardens, her life becomes a series of apologies."

And Veronica primarily owes an apology to Logan. Punishing him for his gentlemanly stoicism - why has he taken her rejection so gracefully? where's that old explosive Echolls temper? why does he seem so sedated? - she eggs him on until he punches a hole in the kitchen cabinet...and then they go straight to the sack (or rather, they don't even make it to there). Veronica, it seems, has internalized and articulated the writers' own rueful recognition: the more fucked up these two get, the hotter their chemistry. Logan, currently seeing a therapist and trying to keep his traumatic battlefield experiences from simmering to the surface, immensely - and rightfully - resents his girlfriend's expectations. If Veronica knows this dynamic is unhealthy she still craves it, or at least some sort of unattainable balance between the bad boy and the grown adult. Logan's beloved sardonic side, at least, does reveal itself more in the presence of the Casablancas, who feature heavily in episode two. Dick, Jr. is now an actor celebrating his latest movie while Dick, Sr. cavorts around the golf course and boardroom boasting about his years in the slammer. He even goes by "Big Dick," as his arm tattoo proudly proclaims, although a flashback reveals that the mark - violently etched by burly gangbangers - was supposed to read "Bitch" before Clyde Pickett (J.K. Simmons) intervened to protect him.

In fact, Clyde planned that whole encounter, guessing correctly that it would encourage a worried Dick, desperate for an ally, to offer Clyde employment on the outside. For the most part, Clyde spends the episode quietly observing, obeying, and enforcing (as when he chases away an underage girl, played by Victoria Bruno, who's clinging to Dick, Jr. at an afterparty). There's one notable exception: the gruff buzzard gently approaches Veronica to ask if she can find an old lover and she firmly but respectfully shoots him down. Clyde is impressed by her integrity and we almost wonder if this gesture was a test on his part. And why did Veronica, always pushing her dad to run a business rather than a charity, take the high road here? Perhaps she just wants one less thing to apologize for.

My Response:

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Spring Break Forever" (season 4, episode 1)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Michael Lehmann): In the spirit of "something old, something new" (a phrase whose implications our protagonist is determined to avoid), Veronica Mars deftly mixes familiar faces with updated-for-2019 references. From the opening scene in which Veronica brazenly assaults a smart house and earns a cool six grand as her reward to the conclusion in which the sight of a newly fatherless young girl reminds the thirtysomething detective of the vulnerable teen she once was and the quasi-orphan she nearly became, we are navigating good old Neptune through clear eyes, wizened by experience but freshly attuned to the present moment. As the episode title suggests, it's peak tourist season in town; the show's familiar social dynamic, the hardworking middle class vs. the entitled 1% (or, in Mars terminology, the 09ers), plays out against this backdrop. Small businesspeople like bar owner Nicole Malloy (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and motelier Sul Ross (Brad Morris) are eager to maintain the cashflow produced by party-hearty spring breakers (although not unethically eager, as Nicole demonstrates when she saves an unconscious young woman from a lecherous patron). And cleanliness-obsessed (or perhaps property value-obsessed) elites like Dick Casablancas, Sr., everyone's favorite white-collar criminal/father of a mass murderer, seek to "beautify" the town by chasing away the grubby tourist trade. Meanwhile Keith is hired by shopkeeper Hu (Francois Chau) who wants to maintain his small base of low-income clientele despite the rats being mysteriously released into his grocery store. A smallscale challenge (as are - for the moment - Keith's memory lapses which become evident as he initiates this investigation), cases like this aren't going to keep the Mars family business afloat.

Then comes the big bang. A devastating explosion in the lobby of the Sea Sprite, the shabby if serviceable inn of choice for beach-bound students, kills Sul, arrogant law student Jimmy (Mark L. Young), cheerfully nerdy Gabriel (Rudy Martinez), and Tawny Carr (Chanel Marriot), the fiancee of Alex Maloof (Paul Karmiryan), who is the little brother of Arab-American U.S. Representative Daniel Maloof (Mido Hamada). We meet Daniel and his mother Amalia (Jacqueline Antaramian) at the hospital where survivors are being treated. This scene not only introduces us to Chief - Neptune no longer calls for a sheriff, apparently - Marcia Langdon (Dawnn Lewis), who appears much more well-intentioned than the Lambs but inspires little confidence in the congressman. It also delightfully re-introduces Cliff. Elated by the cash crop of injured individuals, the amoral lawyer strolls through the ER, handing his card out left and right. A darker version of this cheerful-to-be-alive-and-profiting-from-pain persona is revealed south of the border where Alonzo Lozano (Clifton Collins Jr.) dispatches an informer for cartel head El Despiadado (Marco Rodriguez) while smilingly spouting his deterministic philosophy. His storyline dovetails with our central case when his boss' ex-wife Silvia (Alanna Ubach) convinces the powerful drug dealer to avenge her nephew Gabriel's death. Alonzo and Dodie Mendoza (Frank Gallegos) hit the road with a generous cash allowance and a promise they can keep everything they don't spend - as long as they deliver the bomber's head on a platter. Back in California, the Maloofs hire the Mars family to find out who maimed Alex, destroying his promising athletic career, and, very secondarily as they make clear, killed the woman his family did not want him to marry. Wounded like Alex, albeit to a much lesser extent, is Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt), a garrulous pizza delivery man; wounded emotionally if not physically is Matty Ross (Izabela Vidovic), Sul's daughter whom Veronica sees wandering the wreckage after they take the case. Something about this figure calls to her, and as Veronica's voice returns on the soundtrack to bookend the episode, she remarks, "There was a girl. And I started to care about the girl. And if you know anything about what I do, that's never good."

Forget it, Veronica - it's Neptune.

My Response:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Veronica Mars (the film)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. I will cover each TV episode (and eventually the film), several days a week, concluding with the Hulu revival. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on March 8, 2014/written by Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero, story by Rob Thomas; directed by Rob Thomas): Bonnie DeVille is dead. Who? A huge pop star who attended dated Logan Echolls for years, she was once known as Carrie Bishop (Andrea Estella, replacing Leighteon Meester on the series) - the gossip girl whom Veronica once helped take down a teacher that had an affair with her friend Susan Knight (Christine Lakin). This callback to season one's "Mars vs. Mars" is one of many times that Veronica Mars the film draws deeply upon details of Veronica Mars the series. It's the best kind of fanservice, elegantly nesting callbacks, inside jokes, and familiar faces inside a tight feature thriller plot that could theoretically get by fine without them. This is, of course, very much a film for fans. They clamored for it beforehand, they funded it by setting Kickstarter records, and they likely made up the vast majority of its generally small but profitable audience. A brand new viewer could watch it without seeing the series - hell, they could even walk in late after the opening explanatory montage - and still understand the basics, but they'd miss well more than half the picture. And what are those basics?

A young lawyer is pursuing a prestigious corporate law job in New York. The interviewer Gayle Buckley (Jamie Lee Curtis) asks her about her past, as a teenage private eye from a California beach town, involving multiple cases ranging from dognapping to murder, as well as her own sex tape circulating the internet. She handles their inquiries gracefully and is offered the job; this as well as her healthy love life, recently resumed with a young man she dated in college, indicate a promising future...but her past quickly comes back to take a bite. The death of a famous musician, and the charging of her ex-boyfriend (meaning both the lawyer's and the musician's) sends her home to help the suspect - whom she hasn't seen or spoken to in nine years - pick a good defense lawyer. But she gets drawn back into her old life in numerous other ways, attending a a disaster of a tenth high school reunion, investigating curious connections of old acquaintances to the murder, helping out her father and an old friend who are both attacked, and eventually vindicating her ex (no longer just her ex after she hooks up with him and her present boyfriend dumps her) and finding the real killer. The law firm passes on her when she fails to return their calls, and she decides to stay behind and re-join her father's investigative practice, back to her old ways (which she compares to an addiction) after she came so close to fully leaving it all behind.


Of course, fans - Marshmallows as they've been called since that term was used in the pilot back in 2004 - know that this young lawyer-turned-private eye is Veronica Mars. The victim she's investigating is the aforementioned Carrie Bishop, her ex is Logan Echolls (now an Air Force officer and veteran of Afghanistan), her New York boyfriend is "Piz" Piznarski, her father is Keith Mars, and the old friend who's attacked is "Weevil" Navarro. (The killer, in perhaps the weakest element, is Stu "Cobb" Cobbler, an entirely new character played by Martin Starr, who doesn't make much of an impression). What's more, the bratty Neptune alum humiliating Veronica at the reunion is Madison Sinclair, the killer's associate whom Veronica surveills to uncover the crime is Gia Goodman, the celebrity snoop who assists her in exposing their conspiracy is Vinnie Van Lowe, the carjacked rich woman who fearfully shoots Weevil when he tries to help her is Celeste Kane, the lawyer who comes to Veronica's help when she's arrested for snooping on crazed Bonnie superfan Ruby Jetson/Della Pugh (Gaby Hoffman) is Cliff McCormack, and the San Diego cop who turns up some helpful information for Veronica - along with some light-hearted flirting - is Leo D'Amato. And, with no real relevance to the plot but an absolute need to be part of the experience, Wallace Fennel (now a high school coach), "Mac" Mackenzie (now a well-paid if ashamed Kane employee), and Dick Casablancas (still a cheerfully crude surfer dude, but now with a new medical license for pot brownies) also appear. After the reunion melts down into the playing of Veronica's sex tape, Logan and a dozen others brawling at the bar, the sprinklers soaking everyone, and Veronica finally punching Madison in the face, Principal Van Clemmons even pops up to tell Veronica it's been awfully boring since she's been gone.

So the film's primary appeal is this checking-in-on-friends aspect, but it delivers an involving mystery too. Bonnie was electrocuted in a bathtub, her first music video featured ample water imagery, and her last album was called "Confessions." Veronica realizes that Bonnie was haunted by the death of her friend Susan on a boat years ago. Gia, Dick, Cobb, and others had all been there too - mostly 09ers partying the night away - but the lower-class Cobb was their drug dealer and ultimately the blackmailer who would hang Susan's overdose, and their disposal of her body, over their heads (using the secret to procure money, sex, and favors). Obviously inspired by the Natalie Wood drowning scandal, and the rumors that have swirled around since 1981, this plot offers many key elements of the Veronica Mars mythos: celebrity, crime, class tensions. Meanwhile, Keith is nearly killed (and poor, mustachioed Deputy Sacks is even less lucky) in a cover-up of corrupt Sheriff Dan Lamb (Jerry O'Connel) - less the comic incompetent like his dead brother, more the purely venal overlord. And when Weevil is shot, the cops plant a gun in his hand, following up the scene where Keith and Veronica watch police brutalize local Hispanic youths; the already divided, oppressive community of the series has become nearly dystopian in post-recession America.

It's this as much as anything that pulls Veronica back in. She may frame her proclivity for detection as a personal flaw, an embarrassing social stigma, a self-destructive addiction, but it's also clear that she's called to justice rather than comfort. New York offers the opportunity to service an elite and pat herself on the back for escaping her troubled past; but Neptune offers something more important, and she recognizes this in her memorable closing line. "I convinced myself winning meant getting out. But in what world do you get to leave the ring and declare victory?"


My Response: