Soap gets in my eyes

I’ve admitted this before: I watch Grey’s Anatomy. And here comes an even bigger admission: no, I don’t just watch it because my girlfriend does. In fact, I like it – or rather, I used to like it. I liked the characters, especially Bailey and Christina.

Throughout the third season, though, I’ve started to find several of the characters kickable. In some cases that’s because they’re snivelling, self-righteous idiots. Which is fine, really; I don’t need everyone in the series I watch to be 100% likeable. I’d even say that series that try to make their characters too likeable will quickly become insipid.

They’re expecting me to speak those lines? And in front of other people?

What I mind, though, is how some characters have been reduced more and more to one-dimensional cardboard cutouts of their former selves. The worst offender in that respect is Izzie. She’s never been the most complex character – but within the confines of the genre of medical soap, she had some depth and even genuine tragedy.

Lately, though, her character has been reduced to one thing, and one thing only: pining for George. I don’t mind her pining, but I very much mind this being her only characteristic. (And no, saving Bambi does not make her a fuller, more interesting character.) Some actors can pull off two-dimensionality well and even make it into something more interesting – Bailey isn’t a cool character to watch because her writing is so much more complex, but Chandra Wilson turns the scripts into a living, breathing human being. When her material is good, Katherine Heigl does well, but with the sheer insipidity that she’s been given throughout the last ten episodes or so Izzie is becoming more and more ridiculous and unbelievable as a character.

And I can’t believe that I’m getting worked up about a medical soap! Gotta go watch some HBO, gotta go watch some HBO…

Burial blues

I’ve had the DVD of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for over a year now, but we finally got around to watching it yesterday evening only. What a weird film! I think you can clearly see the ways in which it’s related to Guillermo Arriaga’s other scripts Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. There’s the playing with chronology; there’s the themes of migration and alienation; there’s the transnational cast of characters.

Melquiades Estrada, three burials earlier

In terms of tone, though, there’s a difference. Iñárritu’s films may be highly constructed and symbolic, but in terms of the acting they are firmly grounded in naturalism. Tommy Lee Jones’ first cinematic film, on the other hand, isn’t. I’m not quite sure what it is grounded in – theatricality, perhaps? Brechtian V-effect? Some of the acting feels more like the actors are wearing an emblematic mask: I am sad and distraught, I am bored, I am frustrated. The first half hour of the film, Tommy Lee Jones’ character looks like he’s about to burst into tears – and it doesn’t change.

The weird, unsettling thing is, though, that once you’ve eased into the film’s style, it’s oddly compelling. We’re so used to naturalism and, even more, Hollywood’s mock-naturalism that we expect filmic reality to have a certain style. When we get a film that visually seems to be realistic but the acting is stylised, it’s disorienting. My first thought was: the acting in this film is really, really bad. My third or fourth thought was: there’s something to it. And by the end of the film I’d fully accepted the style.

It’s also a beautiful film to look at, and an intricately written one. There are elements that are too broad, perhaps, such as all the Mexican characters being portrayed as proto-Communists willing to share any- and everything. (“Mi caballo es su caballo”, that sort of thing.) Some of the satire is heavy-handed. But then there are scenes that develop in strange, unexpected ways: the old blind man who asks the protagonists, quite reasonably, to shoot him (see the video clip above). The Mexican cowboys sitting out in the wilderness, watching American soaps. The ways in which Jones’ character deals with Melquiades’ increasing putrefaction. And the ending, which stops just at the right moment.

But, man, what a weird film!