Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pondering the Make or Break Scene (or a half assed review of Stormy Monday because I didn't really like it)

So it was one of those Friday nights.   
I’m sure there were some social events I could have very easily invited myself to.  Or I could have gassed up the car and gone on a failed quest to find the best side of the road Taco Stand.   
Look, it doesn’t really matter.  
The point is that I decided to curl up on the floor with my dog and watch a movie on the tube.   
As if by divine intervention, I came across Mike Figgis’ stab at Neo-Noir known as Stormy Monday (1988).  
I had always wanted to see this.  
It has a killer cast (Sting, Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones) and was made by the man behind what I consider to be an American Classic, Leaving Las Vegas.   
And even a minute or two into the film, it actually looked absolutely gorgeous.  Each shot was immaculately composed, lighted, and executed.  This is what a highly trained film scholar like myself would call the “Oh, pretty...” effect.    
(The “Oh, pretty...” effect would be this movie’s down fall, as we will see later on in this makeshift essay).  
I throw the remote away (in the metaphorical sense) and settled down to watch a flick.   

There is a story in Stormy Monday, but unfortunately it’s incredibly boiler plate.  There is a hero (Sean Bean) who works for a baddie (Sting), and gets involved with a Femme Fatale (Griffith) that leads him down the Wrong Path.  We’ve all seen this story a million times.  There’s nothing wrong with it, if the filmmakers have an ability to execute it well or reinvent it.   
The problem with Stormy Monday is that the plot is simply background noise.  This movie is really about creating a “look.”  
What’s the closest thing I can compare the “look” of this movie to?   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I thought immediately of the American artist Edward Hopper.  Figgis and his director of photography Roger Deakins go to great lengths to blow misty smoke into the frame, light characters’ faces with the glow of neon signs, isolate Melanie Griffith in a flattering and flooding spotlight, etc. 
(If you’re not familiar with my pretentious reference, please google Edward Hopper.  You’ll recognize his “Night Hawks” painting.)
Wonderful, but why the hell should I care?  Here are a few movies that covered the Neo-Noir genre ten times better:  The Last Seduction, Red Rock West, and Brick.  
Why are those movies better?  Because they are actually engaging and they caused me to pay attention to them.   They had what could be called a “make” scene.  
(Here comes a bad transition...)  
The hosts of the Gentleman’s Guide to Midnite Cinema talk about “make or break” scenes.   
Until tonight, I hadn't really contemplated what that meant.  But now I think I get it.  
The “make” scene is the transitional moment that causes you to become fully engaged. The moment when you realize:  “This film has me by the gizzards and won’t let go.”  I suppose it varies on a case by case basis.  It could be emotional, it could be comedic, etc.  
The “break” scene is the point in time in which you realize that you have no interest in what you are watching.  (The healthier among us usually decide to shut off the film at that very point in time.  But the obsessives usually don’t ever learn better).  

There was not a “make” scene in Stormy Monday.  But I think I can confidently tell you what the “break” scene was.  The moment in which the Sean Bean character guns down two men that are beating up Melanie Griffith. He’s gone to the dark side, but it wasn’t the gut wrenching event it should have been.  
I don’t care=break scene.  No matter how pretty it looks. 
(That transition was ambitious but ultimately didn’t work.  I’ll give myself a solid “B” on this entry.)
Now why didn’t I go looking for that Taco Stand?  I could have been there by now.  
Stormy Monday
Rating: 6.5 (looks great, but is dull)


  1. I feel somewhat better about myself after reading this review. I too am unable to turn off a movie, even if it is really bad. I usually just start reading or painting my nails or cleaning my apartment while it plays in the background. I'm always nervous there will be one redeemable scene that everyone will mention and I won't have seen it. That being said, I'm just going to avoid "Stormy Monday" all together.

  2. Thanks for reading! Yeah, it's nearly impossible for me to shut off any movie (regardless of quality). I think I also carry the hope that the movie will improve as it progresses.

    I sort of unfairly "canned" Stormy Monday. From a filmmaking stand point, it's quite good. The problem is that there is just nothing there emotionally. It's a common mistake that a lot of filmmakers make. As far as I can tell this is Mike Figgis' first movie. As such, it's pretty good!