CC – Baywatch (2017)

‘Welcome Back Buchannon’

“Welcome to Baywatch. Our team is the elite of the elite, we are the heart and soul of this very beach…”

Sixteen years after the final episode of the original Baywatch series aired, Baywatch is back! This time though, it’s in film, and the beach itself is just as much a beach of fun, sand, sea, drugs, and murder as it ever was. Yes, murder

Baywatch (2017) paints an idyllic image of both the beach and the Baywatch team themselves, however beneath the calm surface there is a much darker plot unfolding. It is this which carries the film, and in doing so, it manages to break away somewhat from the array of ‘beach bums’, toned chests, and slow motion running the film also has on offer. Once you wade your way through the elite of the Baywatch politics you find a simple but strong bond of friendship and trust amongst the lifeguards which is about to be turned on its head. The introduction of Matt Brody (Zac Effron), does this simply and quickly, with no regard for the other characters. He is a loose cannon who will not only butt heads with the team’s leader, Mitch Buchannon (Dwane Johnson), but nearly everyone on the team. So, in a film where ‘team’ is the word, Matt is an outlier who must conform fit in, which honestly, is easier said than done.

Challenge after challenge is thrown Matt’s way in order to prove he can be a team player but it seems that nothing will change the mind of this stubborn, swimming gold medallist. If possible, the more the team try and show Matt the way they do things it the better way to things the more he resists, and unsurprisingly so. As a main character, Matt is abrasive, and while on his own, honestly not overly likeable. In contrast with Mitch, who is the embodiment of charm and loyalty, Matt doesn’t come close. Yet it feels like you are positioned to sympathise more with Matt and his difficulty fitting in with the rest of the group. Once his personality smooths out it is much easier get on board with him as a character, and so follow him as he finally joins the rest of the team in trying to discover the truth of the dirty dealings for which the Bay is their base.

It is here that the film picks itself up, gets out of the calmer waters, and heads through the white wash to a very different world. We leave behind the Baywatch politics and delve into the much darker and grittier side of the Bay. Apart from the story though, and the revelation that all isn’t the perfect place they thought it was, there isn’t too much which changes. It is in this way, beyond their growth in the first half of the film the characters, in both themselves and their interactions, are much the same, and insight little interest beyond the humour they add. So though there is advancement in the story, which does well to keep the interest of the audience, there is little movement in the one way for the audience to really place themselves in the story.

It is here that the comedy of the film really comes into play. Against the backdrop of drug trafficking, murder, and a rather obvious villain, the humour really comes into its own despite the ‘cringe worthy’ way in which it is executed. It is here where, unlike in the beginning the humorous lines were punctuated with obvious places to laugh, the comedy is left to hold itself up and it really falls short of its goal. Though it in no way completely fails, it is easy to see the very forced way in which the humour was presented to the audience.

Beyond all its shortcomings, Baywatch (2017) managed to bring back a franchise with a well-worn history. They do this not only through adopting the tropes of the original series – slow motion running and all – but also through playing with them and trying to make them their own. There is no easy or correct way to bring back something so well-known but this has been done not only in an attempt to bring it back but also to give it new life, which is something it definitely achieved.

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CC – Better Call Saul: ‘Uno’

img_0940‘An Origin Story for the Origin Story’

The silence is agonising; broken only by the ticking of the courtroom clock, the shuffling of papers, and the impatient click of a pen. It’s easy to tell they’re waiting for someone, by the time over a minute has passed, you feel like you’ve been waiting just as long as they have. An officer of the court finally leaves the courtroom to collect the mysterious ‘someone’, it is only now that a voice breaks the silence saying this:

Think back…your brain…it’s just not all there yet. Uhh…if we were all held responsible when we were nineteen- I remember what it was like to be a kid. Think back.” – James ‘Jimmy’ McGill

As with the both introductions of James ‘Jimmy’ McGill/Saul Goodman at the beginning of this pilot episode of Better Call Saul (2015), the first thing you become familiar with in terms of his character is his voice. The first, through the unseen ‘Better Call Saul’ commercials which introduce a character with a very big presence, a stark contrast to that of the Saul we see on screen. The second, is paired with the shadow of the speaker, Jimmy McGill on the wall of the bathroom, arms outstretched in an almost exuberant gesture. From those two quite similar introductions you get to see both the Jimmy McGill of the present, and the future embodiment of that same man, Saul Goodman. This choice in scene sequence for the first ten minutes of the show not only sets up the bold character for this series but also instils curiosity within the viewer. Leaving them with a sense of wanting to know more about how this character manages to end up in such a state that his old work advertisements would bring him to tears.

As a pilot episode, ‘Uno’ sets up a trajectory which both the plot, and main character will follow for the remainder of the series. It sets up the tone, theme and motive of both major and minor characters for the rest of the series with ease while not completely giving away the main plot. As events seemingly go from bad to worse, climaxing at the end of the episode as Jimmy has a gun held to his face and is steered inside a stranger’s house, you can easily tell just how this show simply won’t be just another criminal law show, whether you know the origins of this show or not. It isn’t just Jimmy as a main character though who makes this pilot episode so rich in terms of storytelling. The choices made by writer and director Vince Gilligan in terms of the overall design of the episode, take a much more ‘show rather than tell’ technique which, interestingly, is quite far apart from the direct storytelling methods used by our criminal lawyer protagonist in his day to day life. This not only enables for small scenes to tell a much larger story than that which could be said in words, but also in this way highlights both the benefits and constrictions narrative can have on the message one is trying to get across. In terms of Better Call Saul (2015), as a criminal defence lawyer Jimmy becomes a story teller, trying to convince the jury of his clients’ innocence or even in the act of trying to pick up more clients.

It is here that it is easy to see the importance of the connection between the introduction of Jimmy first in voice then in face, and that of his profession as a criminal defence lawyer. It is all in the story which Jimmy tells each time he takes on a client which determines his livelihood. As the episode progresses and you see just how much his work means to him versus how much he is actually getting back from it, you begin to sympathise with this character. So, whether you get caught up in the strong, and almost cliff hanger styled ending or the carefully compiled humour in the show, it will always come back to the complexity and strength of character of Jimmy McGill to keep you interested. This is a clever technique as Jimmy originated as a well-loved minor character in Breaking Bad (2008), the show which Better Call Saul (2015) is the spinoff of. As without Jimmy, there would be no Better Call Saul (2015) at all.