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It’s harder reviewing the really, really good movies. What more are you going to say about There Will Be Blood? Yeah, Daniel Day-Lewis was awesome, and Paul Dano was too. The soundtrack was terribly cool — I didn’t read it as a horror movie soundtrack so much as I took it to be a parallel narrative of the industrialization of the United States. It groaned and crashed and squealed like machinery. Lovely.

The movie is the awesome achievement everyone’s saying it is. 2007 was an insanely good year for Americana movies, what with this plus No Country for Old Men. P. T. Anderson has pretty much come into his own.

Hm, one interesting aspect of the movie, which is not exactly a surprise if you’ve seen anything else Anderson’s made: there’s about zero narrative thrust. Most of the big pivotal events aren’t foreshadowed, and have no build up. There’s a distinct arc of degradation as Daniel Plainview descends into the depths of misanthropy, but there’s not exactly a story there. It’s simply people being people.

See it. Love it.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I don’t really care about the Oscars anymore, thanks to Forrest Gump. However, I’m still capable of getting curious about the winners, and if Best Foreign Picture didn’t go to Pan’s Labyrinth, a small part of me wants to know why.

In this case, The Lives of Others just happened to be a better movie. Not by a huge margin, but I have no complaints about the Academy’s decision in this case.

It’s about two intertwining lives; that of Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi agent, and that of Georg Dreyman, a playwright. One watches the other; the other performs, unknowingly, for the one. The third actor in the drama, Christa-Maria Sieland, is a pivot point for everyone else in the movie. Her choices create the context in which the others…

Fail to meet, because they don’t ever really. But it’s her actions which bring Wiesler to reconsider his life as a watcher, and which bring Dreyman to idealism and subversion.

Despite the humanistic, nearly redemptive ending, I have to think of this movie as a tragedy. You have — well, five interlocking wheels of motivation, albeit the three mentioned are the major ones, which drive inevitably towards a tragic ending. There’s a coda, after the Wall falls, but it isn’t anything other than bittersweet.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I’m mildly addicted to Hard Case Crime books. (Parenthetical trivia: Charles Ardai, the editor and founder of Hard Case Crime, is married to Naomi Novik, who writes the Temeraire series. Fantasy Napoleonic dragons vs. noir thrillers. Small world.)

Anyway, mildly addicted. The new books are in the style of the old books, and the old books are a fun read. Slick, completely stuck in the preconceptions and prejudice of their day, but fun. Tough guys slouch around dealing with rotten people in seedy situations, and there’s a bad idea for every gin mill and a gin mill for every chapter. There’s something charming about a milieu in which the world isn’t measured by the time it takes for an email to get to you — I suspect that one of the key dividing lines of modern fiction is the point at which cell phones became so common that you had to assume them. It’s a fundamental change in the difficulty of interactions.

The view of organized crime is a really interesting difference between these books and modern mysteries slash thrillers. Blame the trinity of Puzo, Coppola, and Scorsese, I suppose. All these old books have an organized crime that’s almost completely a corporate matter. The Organization (or Outfit, or Family, but not Mafia) has lawyers. It wears three-piece suits and does business in a fairly chilly, austere kind of a way.

In Point Blank, the money quote goes like this: “Let me tell you something about corporations, Walker. This is a corporation, I’m an officer of a corporation, and we deal in millions, we never see cash. I’ve got about eleven dollars in my pocket.” That’s the size of it. You see hints of Sicilian heritage here and there, but they get shoved into the background a lot. Sometimes you don’t really see organized crime as much as you see a big businessman whose pursuits lead him across the legal limit now and again.

I figure this reflects the corporate mindset of the fifties. It wasn’t till 1969 that Puzo blew it apart with The Godfather, and Coppola and Scorsese nailed the coffin shut, or some such suitably violent metaphor. This is about a ten year lag from the point at which the Mafia as we think of it today first really hit the American consciousness, but that sounds about right for pop culture.

This primary realization, along with a week or two spent swimming in 50s-60s noir, was the clue that unlocked Edge of Midnight for me. You want to pull back a notch and go for that chilly, corporate feel or the world doesn’t quite make sense. At least, not for me.

This leads to my one-shot idea, which is an Edge of Midnight game set in the aftermath of one of those failed jobs you got all the time. I think I’d want to kill off the protagonist, or rather, the person who’d be the protagonist in the book. I could do worse than lift Max Allan Collins’ first Nolan novel, with a dead Nolan; that leaves us with the older guy who plans jobs, his eager but wet behind the ears nephew, his nephew’s friend the driver… I’d have to rework the girlfriend, who is in no way a playable character, but I’ll think of something.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

January 2017

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