Monday, May 3, 2010

Affinity #21

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The Collection Project Film of the Day:
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For many years, the sole draw for me of the 1986 sort-of-horror-but-mostly-suspense film The Stepfather (d. Joseph Ruben) was the fact that it was written by Donald E. Westlake, creator of the amoral thief named Parker, and author of any number of classic, brilliant crime novels. When I finally saw the film last year, after it was released, at last, on DVD to coincide with a quickly forgotten remake, I can't pretend that I wasn't let down. Though Westlake gets the lone screenwriting credit, it's no secret that Ruben sort of messed with it afterwards, and it's sort of hard not the think that the basically rote thriller elements of the last third came from Ruben, not Westlake (though maybe that's wishful thinking on my part). Not that Ruben doesn't do a good job actually directing the film -- the reveal of that massacred family at the beginning is superb, for instance -- but the more of Westlake's fiction I read, the more I can't help looking at The Stepfather and thinking "if only", "what if", and etc.
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However, the other thing that happened by the time I got around to watching the film was that I'd become a huge fan of the film's star, Terry O'Quinn, who for the past six years has been mesmerizing on a weekly basis on TV's Lost. O'Quinn is a sublime, effortless actor, and his presence in The Stepfather was almost as big an incentive to watch the film as Westlake's involvement. Unlike Westlake's work, however, O'Quinn's performance is pretty much an unqualified success. The big moment in The Stepfather is towards the end, when Jerry Blake, O'Quinn's character, makes one slip-up while talking to his wife (Shelley Hack) that brings his whole secret world -- as a man who marries into father- and husbandless families, whom he then butchers when his badly skewed, idyllic view of how that family should operate doesn't pan out -- comes crashing down around him. O'Quinn's signature line at that moment ("Waaaait a minute -- who am I here?") is so good, his delivery so beautifully tweaked to expose not only Blake's diseased brain, which we already knew about anyway, but the amount of stuff he keeps in that brain, the stuff he needs to keep straight in order to function, and also the resignation that his plans for moving on are going to have to be speeded up, that the producers of the film, or whoever, did what stupid people always do and blew their film's iconic moment by slapping it on the poster.
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Oh well. It still works like gangbusters, and represents to me one of the finest moments of writing, but primarily of acting, in the psycho-thriller genre, and further points to what The Stepfather might have been had some people not been concerned that the film as originally laid out to them, before the cameras rolled, didn't resemble closely enough all the movies they were trying to cash in on.
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Ah, I'm being cynical. Terry O'Quinn is awesome.

29 comments:

Greg said...

I remember saying it was pretty lackluster (you may remember, it was in a comment conversation some time ago) and it's what has kept me from returning to it. It has a very much quickie 80's thriller feel to it, not the quality of production or writing that performance by Terry O'Quinn deserves.

The other moment for me that's just wonderful is his basement freak-out before the stepdaughter makes herself known.

And I know I always tout this any chance I get but if by some miracle you ever get a chance to the episode of L.A. Law where O'Quinn plays a multiple personalities killer, well let me just say you will not be disappointed. He made a rather standard twist reveal at the end of the episode so creepy I've never forgotten it or his delivery.

Dr. J said...

Gotta see this one again someday. I remember liking it a lot when it first came out, and O'Quinn's performance no doubt had something to do with that.

On the other hand, I wonder if some of the disappointment with it might come from too-high expectations. It may not have been a particularly ambitious thriller, but it still strikes me as a movie that achieved exactly what it set out to do, and I'm not sure how it could have done much more than that without making a joke out of the idea or collapsing into a melodramatic mess.

bill r. said...

Greg, I don't think you ever called STEPFATHER lackluster, and that's a more negative term than I'd use. I do think it's a solid movie; I just think it could have been more than that.

You have mentioned that LA LAW episode -- I need to see that. Maybe it's on Netflix insta-view...

Dr. J -- I think there's probably no question that my expectations got in the way. That happens to me frequently. But the film IS flawed, and anyway, wheb you're set to watch a film that has a rare screenplay written by one of your favorite novelists, expectations are going to be high, no matter what.

Ed Howard said...

An appropriate post with a new Lost coming tonight. And in a season where O'Quinn has been typically amazing but in a very different way than past seasons. Who would've thought, way back when he was smiling with an orange in his mouth, where that character and actor would be by the end of the series?

Anyway, this movie sounds like it's at least worth a look, even if only for O'Quinn's performance. Sometimes a strong central performance is enough to make an otherwise lackluster movie enjoyable.

bill r. said...

Ed -

An appropriate post with a new Lost coming tonight.

Oh shit, you're right. This move to Tuesday is screwing me up.

And I know he's not Locke anymore on the show, but he still somehow FEELS like Locke. I wonder how O'Quinn feels about the direction his role has taken. I know he was vocally unhappy with certain moves with his character in past seasons, but God knows he still has plenty to do this season.

THE STEPFATHER's worth seeing. My hopes were high, and the potential was there for something great, but they didn't get there. It's still a solid movie.

Ed Howard said...

I'm excited; I think this season's been very good and has especially been picking up steam really well in the last few episodes. Not to jinx it, but it does seem to be moving towards a fairly satisfying finale.

I think it's obvious that O'Quinn is having a lot of fun playing this new twist on Locke, and it's giving the character a certain energy that's really needed. He just seems so eerily serene and charming. I can see why he would've been annoyed by some of the repetitive business and out-of-character flailing about they sometimes gave Locke in earlier seasons, but I'm sure he's glad they've given him such a meaty role even though, technically speaking, the character he originally played is dead.

Greg said...

Ah hell, you'll never get a chance to see it so basically, here it is if you're curious.

He's on trial for murder and he's got a split personality, the old evil fucker brother and nice brother routine but like I said, O'Quinn makes it work and not seem tired as hell. He goes back and forth on the stand and with the lawyers and finally at the climax when they're in chambers trying to decide what to do, prison or mental hospital, because he won't confess to the murder as either brother - And remember, this going to sound cheesy as hell and stupid but O'Quinn actually made it work and even made it creepy - suddenly you hear this weird, Irish accent and everyone turns around and the camera starts a slow zoom on O'Quinn who is now a new third personality, the mother of the two brothers, explaining she killed the "worthless bitch" to protect her two boys.

I really think they specifically hired O'Quinn because they couldn't think of another actor who could have successfully pulled that off.

Anyway, I'm hating this season of LOST less now a few more episodes into the season and even starting to like it again. But still, I did a quick perusal of the first five seasons on Netflix Instant out of curiosity and it's like a whole different show from what started. I mean, so much seems so utterly superflous now in regards to where it seems to be going. Like they could have done it all in two seasons practically, definitely three.

Ed Howard said...

Holy fuck that episode tonight. Damn. That actually kind of hurt; not too often you can say that about TV.

Anyway, Greg, I actually like that the show has moved so unpredictably since its origins. Yeah, a lot of the older stuff was rendered irrelevant in retrospect (I'm looking at you, most of Season 2) but the last few seasons have been so satisfying that I can overlook the loose ends left dangling from earlier seasons, before they knew when the end would be coming.

bill r. said...

I DVRed it! I haven't watched it yet! Shut your mouths!!!

Ed Howard said...

I'm glad I didn't say anything more specific then. Enjoy!

Greg said...

Ed, I'm becoming more satisfied with this season as it goes. And I agree with you about the show's direction, which is what I intended but probably didn't say clearly. Scanning through the first seasons it's kind of amazing how much utterly unnecessary stuff is there. You think, "Oh yeah, I remember this. In fact, I remember this taking place over an episode or two, not ten!" They really padded and stretched things out on this show. Like I said in my previous comment, you could trim the fat on this thing and get it down to three seasons, which means, essentially, cutting it in half. That's a lot of fat!

And yes, season two is an almost complete waste but did produce at least two glorious results, the introductions of both Desmond Hume and Ben Linus.

As for last night's episode (don't worry Bill, no spoilers) it was good and clearly necessary at this point to start streamlining the story. I mean, hell, there's only two episodes left before the big finale. I do wish they'd gotten to this point a little sooner though.

I do have a question or two I'd like to pose to both of you about the episode but Bill has to see it first. There's just no way to disguise it or code it for Ed without giving away story to Bill.

Ed Howard said...

Once the series is done and the complete DVDs are out, I plan to rewatch the whole thing, and I am kind of dreading the more unnecessary and silly subplots winding through, especially, the first 2 seasons. Remember when Charlie and Sawyer kidnapped Sun? Or when Kate kept seeing a horse roaming around? Yeah, that kind of stuff. It's very obvious when revisiting those first 2 seasons that the creative team was dragging things out, that they were just killing time since they didn't want to rush towards the end of the story with no end date in sight. There was still good stuff in there, of course, notably Desmond and Ben, and even some of the Tail Section stories were compelling even if those characters ultimately wound up being totally extraneous, but the overall impression is of a show without a clear direction.

Setting a hard six-season limit for the show (which they did around the middle of the third season, precisely when things really started picking up steam) made a BIG difference. I'd argue that most of what they've done since then has been much stronger. There are still some puzzling bits, of course, like what purpose Ilana and her whole crew ultimately served other than fodder for the Smoke Monster, considering they're now all dead without ever amounting to much. But on the whole, seasons 3-6 have had a purposefulness, momentum and coherence that was very much lacking before the end date got set.

Anyway, Bill, watch this episode so we can talk about it some more!

I'm VERY excited for next week, incidentally, since I read what, in general terms, it's going to be about, and the promo kind of confirmed it.

bill r. said...

Shit, I wish I could watch it now. Or perhaps that I controlled my TV choices every night.

Speaking of Ben, I remember reading once that he was supposed to be a much more minor character, and that Emerson only signed on for a few episodes, before the idea occurred to them to turn Ben into what we know him to be now. That's amazing to me. They didn't have Ben set up from the beginning, let alone by the time they cast Emerson??? And look what they were able to do with him!

Similarly, I think it's pretty well known that Jack was originally intended to be killed in the first episode, or right around there. I could never write for TV. The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ethic of a lot of it, which is by necessity, coupled with all the money that's on the line, sounds incredibly stressful.

Ed Howard said...

It is amazing to me that Ben was not originally meant to be a major role. I think the plan was to have him be an Other scout or something, sent to spy on the survivors. Then the producers saw how good Emerson was and reconceived him as the Others' leader with a much bigger part. Smart to adapt like that to actors' strengths. (And weaknesses: I think one dropped thread, the "specialness" of Walt, is largely due to the actor's growth spurt and what an awkward actor he's turned out to be once he got past his little kid phase. I imagine he'd be playing a much bigger role now if the guy could actually act now that he's a teen.)

The original idea for Jack reminds me of Peter Milligan's comic X-Force, in which he introduced a new super-team, developed these characters really well, including a strong leader who seemed destined to be the star of the comic, and then by the end of the first issue most of them were dead. Would've been a neat trick, but mostly I'm glad Jack has stuck around, even though his character has often been infuriating over the years. He's been really good this year especially, with a very compelling character arc.

Incidentally, one other change I've read about was that Eko was supposed to be an important character for the Jacob vs. Smoke Monster endgame, but the actor wanted to leave the show, so they had to kill him off. That's a shame, I think; he was a great character, and if he was still around and squaring off against Smokey, it'd at least lend some relevance to the otherwise wasted Tail Section arc.

Greg said...

It was apparent to me watching the episodes when they happened that Eko was intended as a special or important character and then he was killed off. Why did the actor want to leave?

As for Walt, apparently his "specialness" will still be dealt with but without the actor be needed, according to the producers. I found the whole Michael/Walt storyline among the most annoying of the whole series and was, frankly, glad it was dropped.

Ed Howard said...

Apparently Eko's parents both died in 2005 and he wanted to take some time off and direct an autobiographical film; not sure if he ever finished that or not. I know he wanted to be one of the guest stars returning in the final season, though, a la Libby, but I guess they decided his story was sufficiently resolved.

Michael and Walt were never favorite characters for me either, but it did feel kind of abrupt when they kept building up how Walt is special and has all these powers and is important to the Others and then suddenly Walt's not on the show anymore at all. Just one more loose end that never went anywhere. At least Michael got an appropriate ending to his part of the story.

bill r. said...

I'm surprised they haven't brought Eko back, at least in flashbacks, since the actor said he really wanted to. Just for a little something.

I thought the Michael side of the Michael/Walt story ended well, and I liked where they went with it. It was a bit of left-field storytelling (with him killing Libby and Ana Lucia) that I thought was really effective.

It would be nice if the Walt thing paid off, but here's a question: whatever the intentions were, how many of the dropped storylines need to be resolved for them to be considered effective? By which I mean, in a story like the one this show is telling, wouldn't a little remaining mystery be nice? Or at least, couldn't it technically work out pretty well anyway? Knowing too much about the production of the show hurts that effect, because you know storylines get dropped because actors left, or grew up, or whatever, because that stuff leaks out, and it might seem phony, even if it's only done on a fan level, to try to justify stuff as "mysterious" after the fact. Also, letting things hang in order to preserve some mystery is a very fine line to walk, so I don't know if LOST can work that way right now, but maybe years down the line, when the show is just this huge movie we all have on DVD and watch periodically, maybe some of that stuff can just work as unexplained color to this wild story.

Also, I like Jack, and I like Fox's performance. I've never understood why the actor and character get singled out for so much criticism. Because he's a bossy know-it-all, tends to the be the reasoning behind hating the character, but goddamnit SOMEBODY had to step up, and not too many people were volunteering at the beginning.

Greg said...

I don't like Jack, Sawyer or Kate much because I find them boring characters played by boring actors. It's the same old hero, anti-hero, empowered girl triangle we've been getting variations on since, I don't know, Casablanca? Star Wars is the obvious big one that did it but I just find the whole routine stale. I think they're really dull compared to a Locke or Linus or Hume.

I've also always seen Sawyer and Kate as fashion models playing characters on a tv show. They feel about as real to me as Heidi Klum playing the D.A. in a film noir. I half expect them to finish each scene by turning to the camera, holding up a cologne bottle and saying, "Calvin Klein, Island Scent for Men."

Honestly, without Locke, I would've dropped this show after watching the first season. Fortunately Locke was there and Linus and Hume joined him. I was really, really hoping back in the last parts of the fifth season that everything was going to come down to Locke and Linus with Hume as a kind of medium but it doesn't look like that now. Although, maybe. It's a long shot but Linus and Hume are still out there and haven't been killed yet, at least not as far as we know.

Ed Howard said...

I don't hate Jack like some people do. His character was sometimes annoying, but then I think virtually every character on the show got some annoying arcs and subplots. And, like I said, Jack's arc this year has been very interesting. Matthew Fox is a fine actor, I just wish he'd had more to do in past seasons than some of the repetitive material about what a stubborn jerk Jack is.

Sawyer I was indifferent about until season 5, when he unexpectedly became the emotional center of the show for a while there, and I was very impressed. Josh Holloway was able to show sides of his acting ability that I hadn't previously suspected existed: it was great to see Sawyer finally settled, able to get over his past, look out for his friends, take on a leadership role, and fall in love. His relationship with Juliet was great and, ultimately, very moving.

Kate has never had much real consequence on the show, though, no doubt about it, and I really, really, really hope that all the love triangle nonsense plays no role whatsoever in the last few episodes.

Greg, I'd be VERY surprised if Desmond doesn't play a major role in the end of the show. He's obviously a key figure as the only person, at this point, who's aware of both timelines/universes/whatever, and who seems to be working to make the alt-timeline characters aware of the plane crash timeline.

Based on how this season's been going, and the themes of redemption and sacrifice that seem to be central to it, I see a heroic death in Ben's future.

bill r. said...

Based on how this season's been going, and the themes of redemption and sacrifice that seem to be central to it, I see a heroic death in Ben's future.

I see that, too.

Sawyer does bug me a bit. I'm not sure Holloway has a hell of a lot of range. I don't dislike him, or even his character, but episodes that focus on him tend to bore me a little. When you have people like Locke and Linus wondering around, almost everybody else is going to seem dull sometimes. But even one of Sawyer's main characteristics -- sarcasm -- is handled much better by Ken Leung as Miles, a character I love, for reasons unclear even to myself.

I'd like to add that I, too, love Desmond, and Cusick's acting, and I think he's been especially good since he came back this season.

Greg said...

No, Bill, it's not for reasons unknown! I love Miles too and he is, indeed, MUCH better at sarcasm than Sawyer. His is delivered dryly while Sawyer's always has a sneer behind it, telegraphing it all the way. With Miles, he just kind of says it, and every now and then you don't even recognize it right away and the laugh comes a second or two later. He's great. I wish he was on more too.

bill r. said...

Yeah, my confusion over my love of Miles really comes from my confusion regarding his purpose. Yeah, he can talk to the dead, and that's come in handy, but so can Hurley. But Hurley's not always around, so I guess they needed two.

But I like him anyway, because he's funny, I like the way they write him, and I like Leung's performance. So wo cares why he's there, I guess.

bill r. said...

Well, I've seen it now. Have at it.

Greg said...

Okay,great. Here's my question for both of you. The show kind of cheated last night by showing Locke find the c4 when no one else was around. Now, since no one was around, and he can't die (from gunshot, stabbing, explosives, etc) why not just have everybody get on the goddamn plane, hit the ignition and they all die? Since he didn't plant it, Widmore did, it doesn't fall under the "Locke can't kill us directly" bullshit rule. So, I think that was either a huge mistake on the show's part or a huge cheat of some kind, intending to throw us off.

Also, he's made clear that he doesn't give a shit about Clair and will most likely kill her anyway. Why not give her the c4, without the timer, tell her to quickly throw it in the sub and close the hatch? If he said it was for a purpose or to get her son back, she'd do it.

bill r. said...

Well, that's probably all true, and unless either Ed or myself can figure out a way to bail the show out of this one, I'd go with the "cheat" idea.

But is it okay, even if you're right about all this, that I don't care? It's the sort of thing that a little bit of easy re-writing could have avoided, and they would have ended up on the sub, etc.n and things would have played out the same. When a plot turn isn't wholly dependent on that kind of cheat -- if things would have gone the same way with a few writing tweaks regardless -- I tend to give it a pass. If nothing works without cheating, then I get pissed, but otherwise, all things being equal, I'm able to go along with it.

But let me think on it. Maybe you're just wrong!

Ed Howard said...

I'm sure, depending on who planted that dynamite (Widmore? Richard/Ben/Miles?) there's some kind of rule governing why that trap couldn't have killed the candidates. I gather that they can't kill themselves, and Locke can't kill them directly, which is why he set up the bomb so they'd tamper with it and wind up killing each other. Maybe since Lapidus isn't a candidate, and he would've been starting the plane, he couldn't have killed them either.

Or maybe it's just a cheat, I don't know.

Either way, as Bill says, it's something I can live with.

The thing that nagged at me last night was that when Jin and Sun were dying, I was just waiting for Sun to tell him to leave her for the sake of their daughter, so that the kid wouldn't grow up without both parents. It just seemed weird that their kid, who they'd just been talking about not long before, seemingly wasn't on their minds at all at that moment.

bill r. said...

Pffff. It's just a baby. Those things don't even eat real food.

Greg said...

I'm sure, depending on who planted that dynamite (Widmore? Richard/Ben/Miles?) there's some kind of rule governing why that trap couldn't have killed the candidates. I gather that they can't kill themselves, and Locke can't kill them directly, which is why he set up the bomb so they'd tamper with it and wind up killing each other. Maybe since Lapidus isn't a candidate, and he would've been starting the plane, he couldn't have killed them either.

You'll break your back twisting it around that kind plot logic but it's not your fault or mine or Bill's, it's how the show has set itself up, which is kind of silly.

Or maybe it's just a cheat, I don't know.

It was, so that we would trust Locke momentarily to misdirect us as they all got aboard the sub. They further cheated by having Kate shot. If she hadn't been Jack wouldn't have gotten aboard and then Locke's plan wouldn't work and how shitty a plan is it to cross your fingers and say, "Please let someone shoot Kate, my whole plan is built around it."

Either way, as Bill says, it's something I can live with.

We all can because we want to follow the show to its big finish but quite frankly, I am, at times, a little put off by how much of a pass this show gets. I think it's good but not great and a part of that is all the cheap tricks like this one we're discussing. Television is as much an art as cinema but I feel like because it's tv it's getting a much bigger free-ride than a movie would with the same cheats. Eventually the producers notice this and start playing fast and loose with the rules because they know the fans will forgive any trespass committed. And I fear that may translate into a huge cheat with the finale, and that, to quote Don Vito Corleone, I do not forgive.

bill r. said...

Kate getting shot isn't a cheat. Locke had some plan to get Jack on the sub, but he didn't get a chance to put it into effect because A) Jack pushed him off the dock, and B) Widmore's boys showed up and started firing. The fact that things worked out for Locke anyway doesn't count as a cheat.

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