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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Sunday (12/20/15) 10:15pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  <none>
Movies:  Blood Simple
TV:  Good Eats [season two]

Blood Simple
This was the film debut from the Coen Brothers: a twisty little film noir centered around a seedy bar in a small Texas town.

A few weeks back I described Burn After Reading as the Coen Brothers' most clearly Fiasco-esque film.  I stand by that claim, but Blood Simple does provide some competition for the title.  It doesn't have quite the clear (and circular) chain of relationships that Burn After Reading sets up -- instead, it's more of a web of relationships among five or six people, but it's the same general idea.

And, as with Burn After Reading, they spend the first act of the movie getting lots of horrible plans into place.  If Fiasco is a game about characters with grand ambition and poor impulse control, Blood Simple definitely delivers on the latter, with its characters scheming towards adultery, theft, murder, and a whole flotilla of lies.  There is not as clear a "tilt" where one single thing happens that sets everything haywire[1], but there are a few candidates for that in the middle of the film.  And again, structurally, it functions in the same way: the first act of the film puts all these tensions into play; the second act springs the trap and makes all hell break loose.

This movie is phenomenal.  I greatly envy my sister, who saw it in the theater, walking in with no idea what it was about.  The script is like a Swiss watch: no wasted characters, no wasted lines, no wasted shots, no wasted props.  And the film's relentless, white-knuckle tension is almost unparalleled.  In proper Fiasco-esque fashion, this is a story where only the audience sees the whole picture, while each character blunders forward with incomplete information and tragically poor assumptions.  But no other movie in the Coen Brothers ouvre[2] makes those mistakes so terrifying, or costly, or consistently draws out the most agonizing moments to maximum effect.

P.S. Fun fact: a lot of this movie was shot in Austin!  The three-window upstairs storefront is a building just up the street from the Hideout Theatre.

Good Eats [season two]
This is the second season of Alton Brown's whimsical guide to the basics of cooking.

It's hard to find much of anything to say about this show that I didn't get to the first time around.  As usual, I'm not sure when I will put any of this knowledge into practice.  But as usual, Mr. Brown covers the basic science behind these various cooking techniques -- one can tell he only grudgingly includes recipes, because recipes aren't really the point, because they don't tell you *why* you're doing what you're doing.  Hopefully I can come away from this with a few basic ideas about how food works, after all the fine detail has left my memory.

The only drawback, to me, is that Mr. Brown plays such an unlikeable version of himself.  It seems like they're going for a Blackadder sort of feel -- surrounding a sharp-witted and acid-tongued main character with a whole range of hilarious dullards and letting the sparks fly -- but that's tricky to pull off.  Blackadder uses some canny techniques to make its misanthropic lead palatable: the objects of his ire are always completely blinkered to the fact that they're being insulted; Blackadder takes an obvious delight in constructing his insults; he has a sort of wonder at how stupid the people around him are; and he always gets a comeuppance, one way or another, that makes him realize, if only a little, that he's not as smart as he thought he was.

Good Eats does none of this in its sketch-like character interactions, which makes sense -- it's brutally unfair to judge a breezy cooking show against one of the best British sitcoms of all time.  And so, often Mr. Brown just comes off as a bit of a prat.  But just the fact that I can make this criticism lets you know what an inventive cooking show this is.  And in general, I've been happily entertained by the second season.

For next week: I'm watching season 3 of Good Eats and season 2 of Last Week Tonight while exercising.  I've also been watching Fullmetal Alchemist and reading The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker's disquisition about the macro-scale historical decline in violence.  And I'm just about to head out and watch the latest Star Wars movie.

[1] I think we can all agree on where that moment is in Burn After Reading.
[2] ... not even No Country for Old Men, though it comes damn close.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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