Friday, September 10, 2010

Netflix Friday #14: BODY HEAT

1981? Really? Damn.

It's hard to do better than the poster copy to describe this film.

"It's a hot summer. Ned Racine is waiting for something special to happen. And when it does ... he won't be ready for the consequences."

The "something special" is Kathleen Turner. Now, what's amazing here is that although Kathleen Turner is quite lovely, she's not the most gorgeous creature on earth -- until the film convinces you she is. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan -- hey, wait a minute, I bet this is online:


The Miranda Beach High School Orchestra is playing to a
full, sweating house; the audience is a sea of orange
programs fluttering away as fans. People come and go

The atmosphere is as innocent and informal as the music
the band is playing now.

Racine leans against the back rail, smoking, his eyes
playing over the scene with no expectations.

Then, down near the center aisle, a WOMAN rises. As the
band plays on, this extraordinary, beautiful woman, in a
simple white dress, moves down the aisle. She moves
wonderfully. The dress clings to her body in the heat.

Racine watches, mesmerized, as she walks directly toward
him. She passes within a few inches of him, her eyes
lowered. Racine's body sways a moment as she goes by, as
though buffeted by some force. But they do not touch.
She goes out onto the Beachfront walkway.

"sways as she goes by", that's a beautiful, dense bit of writing there. Never mind how Kasdan establishes in just four pages -- four minutes of screentime -- that Racine is a lout who's lived in the same shitty Florida town for his whole life, sleeps around, and is a shitty lawyer to boot. Four. Effortless. Pages.

(Oh, and if you're going to watch the movie, don't read the script first.)

The main appeal of the movie for me is that it's a master class in terse, expressive dialogue. There's not a line that isn't doing five jobs at once. When you go back and watch this, you have to watch it twice -- because the first time, you spend the whole movie going "Oh, that's where that famous line is from." I can watch the scene where Racine meets Maddy a hundred times and never get bored. Oh, it makes me want to quit writing, but I'm never bored.

When you talk about Noir, you're talking roughly from The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil, give or take. Talking about Neo-Noir, one could argue the "wave" begins at Blood Simple -- but this is such a perfect example, it's hard to consider it an outlier.

Because the primary difference -- and yes, this is pretty early and rough, stay with me -- is that in Noir, the characters are trapped in a corrupt world. Corruption is their operating system. Eventually the rot destroys (most) of them. Sometimes their own quest for virtue detroys them, sometimes merely being virtuous destroys them, because we are all sinners in the hand of an angry God.

In Neo-noir, people make choices to fuck up what is usually a pretty innocuous status quo (and there's very rarely a quest for virtue). In Noir, the question is "who's clean and who's dirty?" In Neo-noir, the question is "Are these people as smart as they think they are?" And the answer, of course, is "no."

Neo-noir is about hubris. To steal from the role-playing game Fiasco, which I state unapologetically is the finest bit of writing on neo-noir I've encountered in years, neo-noir is about "powerful ambition and poor impulse control." The perfect neo-noir quote is in this film, spoken by the criminal Mickey Roarke: "Anytime you try a decent crime, there is fifty ways to fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them you're a genius. And you're no genius."

Make a drink with some tequila in it, and watch Body Heat. It's your Netflix Instant Streaming recommendation for this weekend. And in the comments, your favorite cinematic fiasco.

(NOTE: If you're curious about Fiasco the game, there's a great two-part writeup here and here.)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Red Dead, Mafia 2 and Game Movies

To be clear, I'm separating this discussion off from whether the games are enjoyable, or how they happen to bring you pleasure in your gaming style.

Having taken a run at both RED DEAD and MAFIA 2, I think one can argue that they're not so much games as movies where you participate in the narrative and fill in the off-screen (sometimes quite boring) bits. Interestingly, I prefer games like, say BATTLEField bad company 2 or MODERN COMBAT, or particularly UNCHARTED 2, in that they obey the rules of good narrative structure -- that is, leave out the goddam boring bits. You lose a degree of freedom in theory, but do you really gain enough in entertainment or emotion investment to trade off for the pleasure of story clarity and momentum?

All games are hacking about in similar evolutionary space right now, but I'd say the Bioware model -- where one has at least the chance of winding up with different narrative outcomes -- is both what I prefer and what is more, for the lack of a better word "game-y". It's the most intriguing new model.

Sound off down in the usual place.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Balloon Juice points us to an article in the WSJ (paywall) about how kids are not allowed to walk to school. Yaaaay, Culture of Fear. I would note that I once did the math for another blog post, and based on current crime figures your child is literally more likely to be struck by lightning than abducted by a stranger and murdered. But, hey, statistics is for weenies.

Peripherally interesting was this article on how late start times for high school produces better results. I've been digging a bunch of the recent TEDtalks on education (on of the shining uses of the iPads is video podcasting), and I think (or, hope) that we're on the verge of some serious rethinking about how we train kids for the 21st Century by preparing them for 19th century factory-work.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Snake Robot


I'm just trying to stay off my Dyson's list of six.

(h/t BoingBoing)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

LEVERAGE #313 'The Morning After Job" Question Post

And sure, we'll slip a spoiler or two in about the winter eps if you're clever. Go for it.