Monday, 30 December 2013

Phase IV (1974)

Although arguably best known for his work with other directors, particularly Alfred Hitchcock, Saul Bass had his one and only stab at making a feature film with this apocalyptic sci-fi oddity. Phase IV does mine some of the same territory as Hitchcock’s The Birds, with humans being challenged for their place at the top of the natural hierarchy, but instead of glamorous stars and taut, suspenseful set pieces, Bass goes for a mix of icy cold detachment, surreal and experimental montages, and a subtly unnerving design aesthetic.

An unexplained cosmic event has caused ants to evolve and seemingly develop an advanced "hive" mind, leading to some perplexing behaviour on their part. Two scientists set out to investigate strange towers that the ants have started building in the desert, but quickly find themselves outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, and soon, the future of the human race is under threat.

Bass started life as a graphic designer, making film posters, before moving into his memorable title sequences such as The Man with the Golden Arm, Vertigo and Psycho, so it is no surprise to see that his strengths as a director lie in the visual side of things.

Other ant themed films such as Them or Empire of the Ants, have the insects portrayed as equal or larger size as humans, using models or trick photography to establish this, but with Phase IV, Bass takes a different approach. He drafted in wildlife photographer Ken Middleham to shoot the amazing macro zoomed footage of ants that takes up a good chunk of the screen time. Any time the ants are shown physically adjacent to humans they are normal size, and rather than being physically overwhelming monsters, it is their ingenuity and overwhelming numbers that makes them seemingly unstoppable. By giving so much screen time to the magnified scenes, it does subtly imply a comparison and equality between the two species.

The story is more opaque than confusing, and there is extensive use of voiceover to provide the exposition, a trick sometimes used to cover over gaps or problems in the script or production. Here it works to the film's advantage, so that we are not bogged down in the narrative, and can focus on the visuals and the interplay between the two scientists, the excitable Hubbs and the more reticent Lesko.

Hubbs, (played by veteran British character actor Nigel Davenport), is the real human star of the show. Utterly devoted to his work, he is able to see the up close, micro level world of the ants, and their wider implications their behaviour has for the world. However, he seems utterly oblivious to the effects of his actions on the world between those two, that of individual human beings, especially when he starts wanting to provoke the ants.

Lesko, (Michael Murphy) is more quiet and reserved, preferring to use his analytical skills to try to understand and communicate with the ants, so makes less of an impact as a character, but still plays a pivotal role in the story. The weakest link in terms of characterisation is Kendra, played by the late Lynne Frederick, a young girl taken in by the scientists after the ants destroy her Grandparents farm, and Hubbs inadvertently kills her Grandparents. The role is underwritten, and the tensions caused by being trapped in the bunker with Hubbs are never really explored. This is not helped by Frederick being wooden and ineffectual, and having an accent that veers all over the Atlantic.

Things like this might have been picked up by a different director, but the impression I got, given the dominance of the visuals, is that that this is where Bass had the most talent and interest, and was perhaps quite happy to leave the actors to get on with things by themselves. This is fine when you have an actor of Davenport's calibre, but less so with one of Frederick's.

Although this is the only full length feature Bass ever directed, he had a rich body of work both in and out of the film world, and we can see some recurring themes from this in Phase IV. A glance at his film posters and opening titles, and even his corporate design work, shows a fondness for clear lines and geometric shapes


We see this in the designs of the ant nests, which incorporate clean, straight lines to give them a modernist look, unlike the rough and ready mounds of earth we are used to seeing, a neat way of underlining the mysterious change that the insects have undergone.

The rest of the film looks just as exquisite, especially the landscapes and homesteads, ravaged by the unstoppable insect army, adding to the feeling of inevitable defeat of mankind.

The only serious weak point is the way the film ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. However, this is not the fault of Bass, as somebody at Paramount studios decided that the final montage, which somehow manages to be even more disturbing and strange than anything that has gone on before, was too much, and cut it from the released version. Unseen for decades, thankfully, the footage has recently resurfaced, and it feels like the logical extension and conclusion of what has gone on before, both in terms of the style and content.

Although only about 3 minutes in length it distils everything that the film has been leading up to at this point, and is a master class in surreal cinematic montage. Commencing with our hero’s descent into a hole, to the underworld of the ant kingdom (Freud/Jung fans, read into that whatever you like), after that, without a single spoken word, it sums up the grim, seemingly inevitable vision the ants have for the future, with the inevitability of the end of humanity as the dominant species.
Aside from the apocalyptic elements, the hopeless irreversibility of the ending, the feeling that things will never be the same again, taps into the ideas of the human fear of impermanence, and the futility of fighting against it. This reading invites us to think of the ants representing death itself, something we can control only temporarily before succumbing to, something that will permanently change life and existence.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Morning Glory (1933)

On her way to making classics like The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby, Katherine Hepburn cut her teeth in nondescript fare like Morning Glory. A brisk, affable but ultimately forgettable film, it did get Hepburn the first of the four Academy Awards she would earn over her long career.

Hepburn plays Eva Lovelace, a small town stage actor, wanting to make it big on Broadway. After many fruitless auditions, a big time producer (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) takes a chance and gives her a part in one of his upcoming plays. However, on opening night, Rita Vernon, the star of the show storms off after demanding more money - can Eva step in and save the day?

The script focuses mostly on Eva, but does not really flesh her out as a character beyond the archetypal starry-eyed wannabe. Her well-off upbringing mirrors that of Hepburn to some extent, so the role might not have been too much of a stretch to act, but, she certainly comes across as convincing, and her distinctive speech patterns and accent are already in place.

The rest of the characters are largely unexceptional stereotypes, such as the diva actress, the powerful but put upon producer, and the writer who wants to stop doing hit plays and try something artistic. The one exception to this is Robert Hedges, the veteran actor who takes Eva under His wing, played with warmth and likeability by C. Aubrey Smith. A former Sussex and England Cricketer before turning to acting, Smith founded the Hollywood Cricket Club, roping in fellow expats such as David Niven, Nigel Bruce and Boris Karloff to play.

Whatever their individual faults or merits, I often like watching films from this era once, if only to see their place in the overall story of the development of cinema, as it sometimes feels as though people were still working out how to make talking pictures. The acting, with the exception of Hepburn and Smith, is a mix of the stilted and the slightly too theatrical, and the dialogue flat and uninspired. In addition, aside from scene filmed from the perspective of Rita Vernon's mirror, most of the shots are flat and unimaginative, something I seem to notice quite a lot in Hollywood films of the early 1930s. I have often wondered whether this is due to the directors or studios assuming that the novelty of sound was enough to keep the viewer interested.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Quatermass 2 (1957)

Although they have their place as influential science fiction, ground breaking television, and a vital part of the Hammer Film Studio story, to me the Quatermass stories are also a kind of 20th century English mythology, an attempt to examine and explore the post-World War Two English identity, politically and socially. The first, the Quatermass Experiment showed a country trying to maintain its status as a world superpower through space exploration. The third, Quatermass and the Pit, looked at issues of race and identity. Sandwiched between those is Quatermass 2, a paranoid tale of Government cover-ups, colonisation, attitudes to authority, and mob mentality. The end result is tense, fast paced, and even more thought provoking than the original.
Professor Quatermass and his team of scientists have been tracing mysterious objects that have been falling to earth from outer space. Tracking them to their landing place, Quatermass finds a town that has been almost completely destroyed, some rocks filled with a mysterious, ammonia-based gas that infects his assistant, and a shadowy refinery that bears a striking resemblance to his rejected plans for a Moon colony. Officially, it is producing a new synthetic food, but it actually harbours a terrifying secret with deadly implications for the future of humanity.

Like the other two Quatermass films made by the Hammer Studios, this started life as a six part BBC TV serial, which was condensed into a 85 minute film, and as with the other two, the original story stays largely the same, but moves along at a much quicker pace. The only significant change is in the climax, where instead of Quatermass piloting his experimental rocket to destroy the invaders, an unmanned craft is sent up instead.

Director Val Guest had a long and varied career, and although he never settled on a particular style or genre, when faced with subject matter of a fantastic nature, such as here or The Day the Earth Caught Fire, he would often mix this with a low key, more realistic filming style. Events are presented in a matter of fact style, and many of the scenes set in everyday locations, such as pubs, or out in the countryside. In addition, Guest employed cinema verite techniques, such as hand-held cameras, to give something of a documentary feel and by having the dialogue delivered at a rapid pace, sometimes overlapping, he stops it feeling too staged and stilted

A standard practise in British films at the time was to cast an American actor (usually one whose services could be obtained cheaply) in order to maximise box office potential in the US. Hence, Brian Donlevy reprises his role as Professor Quatermass from the first film, and, as before, he is both a liability and an asset.  The character was originally conceived as a thoughtful, somewhat reserved scientist, a world away from Buck Rogers-style action heroes, and Donlevy rarely seems convincing when having to play that role. However, plenty of fictional characters, from Hamlet to Dr Who, have been played in plenty of different ways, so why not Quatermass? His real strength comes when events call for, if not aggressive, then at least assertive action, as this Quatermass is no shrinking violet.

As a film, although not overly gory, Quatermass 2 manages to be gruesome and quite shockingly violent at times. The brainwashed refinery guards cold-bloodedly gun down their fellow citizens, who respond in kind when they get chance, while at one point the aliens use pulped human corpses to block pipes pumping out deadly (to them) oxygen. There are also more subtle nods to the horror genre, particularly the sight of the townsfolk forming themselves into that classic horror archetype, the lynch mob, to attack the refinery.

It is fascinating to consider some of the historical context in which Quatermass 2 would have been seen originally, and the picture of 1950s Britain that it presents. Identity is one of the key themes of the film, both national and personal, and the big influence on both would undoubtedly have been World War 2. With Britain under threat of invasion, whether fighting overseas or keeping the home fires burning, it was something that everyone was involved with and affected by, and something that they would still be reminded of some years after, in the landscape of bombed out buildings and craters, in the continued rationing of food, and in the dead and injured soldiers and civilians.

The Britain shown on screen is not a "green and pleasant land" but a grey, frightened, paranoid country, coming back down to earth from the giddy euphoria of victory over Hitler, to face the harsh and potentially apocalyptic realities of the Cold War. Writer Nigel Kneale cleverly combines this with drawing on contemporary fears and events such as the Chemical Warfare plant at Porton Down, and the (nowadays, largely forgotten) state of emergency that the British Government declared in 1955, and these are reflected in some of the images and situations in the film.
Yet there is still possible to see something relevant to modern life in Quatermass 2. The idea of aliens infiltrating the government predates the X-Files by several decades, along with the general air of paranoia, and cover-ups. That infiltration could also be read as commentary on creeping corporate influence on government, while fears over loss of identity, both national and personal, are perennial.
Ultimately, what I love about the Quatermass stories, and Quatermass 2 in particular is how it almost sums up my love/hate relationship with both England and being English. It has elements and themes that are everything I dislike about this country: New towns, deference to authority (at one point, we see a sign behind a bar saying, "Secrets mean sealed lips"), small-minded pettiness, Government secrecy, and the lynch mob mentality.
However, Quatermass 2 also represent plenty of things I like about England: It is a Hammer film; the script is full of a thoroughly English dry satirical wit and a streak of paranoia, and understatement; and, in a sign of the obvious influence on that other English sci-fi icon Dr Who, the calm logic of science and the decency and heroism of the individual cools the raging heat of the mob and saves the day.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Halloween 2 (1981)

Being threatened in a supposedly safe place is a classic and effective horror trope, and one that, being set largely in a hospital, Halloween 2 exploits as well as its predecessor did with the domestic setting. However, while capably shot, directed and acted, the script, (written, like the first, by John Carpenter and Deborah Hill) is something of a let down. By showing too much of the killer and his back-story, we lose the ambiguity that gave the previous effort an unsettling depth beyond the surface shocks.(

Continuing directly after the events of the first film, the murderous Michael Myers is still on the loose in the city of Haddonfield, despite being shot six times by his psychiatrist -turned-nemesis Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance). Myers heads to the hospital where one of his targets, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been taken, and we now find that there is a reason why he is after her - a chilling reason, of which both Laurie and Dr Loomis are completely unaware.

As mentioned, compared to the first film, Halloween 2 sees Myers take a more central part of the story, both in terms of his increased screen time, and some revelations about his past. This, however, is a mistake, as showing more of him diminishes his mystery and power, while the confusing back-story, with hints of links to the supernatural and ancient pagan rituals, feels poorly and barely thought out. It eventually becomes something of an irritating distraction, and the big shocking twist, the reason Michael Myers is stalking Laurie, ultimately feels shoehorned in, as another afterthought.

Ironically, some of the best and most effective elements are those that feature Myers in the background or do not feature him at all. By about half way through the film, jittery townsfolk are seeing his shape everywhere, and a lynch mob (another classic horror trope) is trying to smash up his old family home. Here, we realise, once again, how much more effective a monster Michael Myers is, when we do not see him, only the consequences of his actions. 

For example, in one of the best scenes in the film, a nurse runs to the hospital car park to try and get away, only to find the tyres on her car slashed. As she looks around, she sees another car with slashed tyres, then another, and another, and with mounting horror, she realises that every single vehicle in the car park has been sabotaged. What kind of person could do this? Someone unhinged or somebody supernatural? It is this sort of behaviour, bewildering, almost impossible to believe, and largely unseen that works best, and would be spoilt by having too much explanation. 

The other significant change is how much more explicitly violent this film is compared to the first. This, presumably, was done for commercial reasons, with the flood of slasher films released in the three years between Halloween 1 and 2, continually upping the gore ante, and, more importantly, the audiences lapping this up. This is not a criticism of cinema violence itself, as that is often the whole point of the slasher genre, to entertain (or offend, depending on your viewpoint), with ever more elaborate and imaginative killings. However, when everyone is doing that, it is the one who is not who stands out, and in that respect, Halloween 2 remains merely a part of the crowd.

However, in other respects Halloween 2 does stand out from other slasher films of the time. For all the flaws and half thought out ideas in the script, it does try to something different and a bit more complex, by having two story arcs, that of Laurie and Loomis, run separately throughout, only bringing them together at the end. In addition, director Rick Rosenthal does take time to set up some of the characters and situations, which stops it becoming a conveyor belt of killings.

Halloween 2 also invites some interesting thoughts on two subjects that inevitably crop up in Horror – sex and death. Firstly, although it might on the surface look like one of the inevitable slasher movie clich├ęs, I was fascinated by how slowly Myers stalks Laurie through the hospital corridors. Granted, she is heavily sedated for a lot of the film, which stops her from running very quickly, but other times she could get away easily. Why does he not walk any faster? In that respect, Myers becomes, like the zombies in George Romero films, a symbol of death and our own mortality – slow but inevitable, no matter how fast you run.

Secondly, a frequent criticism levelled at slasher films is misogyny, and while there may be a debate to be had about other films, particularly the linking of female, often teenage, sexuality and violent death, there is little of that in Halloween 2. Admittedly, the main female character is largely passive and has to be rescued by men, but there is a crucial difference between this film and Halloween, or, indeed, its many imitators. 

In the original, where his motives are more ambiguous, and all of the victims are teenagers who engage in drug use or premarital sex, it is possible to see Myers as some sort of force of Puritan vengeance, punishing people for their sins. However, here, there is no suggestion of a sexual agenda to either the killings, or the stalking of Laurie Strode.

Conversely, however, it does mean that Halloween 2 lacks some of the sense of danger, and even the uncomfortably perverse streak that other slashers have. Watching these films does not automatically make you a misogynist, and they can raise, sometimes uncomfortable, questions about the attitudes of the characters, the film-makers, and perhaps ultimately you, the viewer.

Lacking these sorts of extreme elements, what is left with Halloween 2 is a competent, workmanlike slasher film that, aside from the unique elements of the franchise, has little to heavily distinguish it from the scores of others in the genre.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Bride of The Monster (1956)

Ed Wood seems to have a status as one of the worst, if not the worst film director of the 20th century. This reputation, established by snarky works such as the Medved Brothers Golden Turkey books, and maintained through the likes of Tim Burton's, admittedly well intentioned, film Ed Wood is, to my mind unfair, as a movie like Bride of the Monster ably demonstrates. While I am not suggesting Wood should be put on a pedestal with the likes of Kubrick or Kurosawa, nobody who produces work this entertaining and unhinged can possibly be called a failure.

Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi, in one of his final roles) is holed up in his secret lab with his mute sidekick, Lobo, trying to build an army of atomic supermen so that he can conquer the Earth. Unfortunately, thanks to his decision to use a giant pet octopus to guard the lab, he seems to be attracting the attention of the local police. It seems the creature is responsible for the deaths of some of the local townsfolk, news which also attracts both a determined reporter and a shadowy figure from Vornoff's past.

Now, granted, on a technical level, it is certainly possible to point out some flaws in Wood's approach to filmmaking. His shot compositions are often flat and uninspired, and he seems unwilling or unable to get anything like decent performances from his actors (or hire decent actors in the first place). 

Instead, Wood's skills lie in his montage of ideas, and his relentless energy and enthusiasm. A lesser director might have buckled under the strain of a morphine-addicted star, a minuscule budget, a rancher turned film producer insisting his son take a major part, and a malfunctioning stolen mechanical prop - but not Edward D Wood Jr.  Unfazed, he works like a chef, blending whatever ingredients are to hand. He has Bela Lugosi, so we can have a mad scientist character (he certainly makes a wise choice by giving as much screen time as he does to Lugosi, the film's biggest human asset). It's the 1950s, so he has the perfect subject matter, with everyone thinking about atomic power, and its consequences for humanity - such as giving people superpowers; and he has access to a giant rubber octopus - so that’s the creature for the feature sorted, even if it means that the people being attacked by it have to move the creature's limbs themselves.

In addition, a lesser writer might have made a boring script. So many 50s monster flicks are largely turgid affairs, but not Bride of the Monster. It zips through in just under 70 minutes, and constantly piles in with crazy plot twists and ripe dialogue. As mentioned, much of the talking is wisely left to Lugosi, who seems to relish the chance to get stuck into it, especially the big speech where wistfully he speaks of being “outlawed in a world … which previously honoured me as a genius”

Dialogue like this shows that, although entertaining in its own right, when placed in the wider context of the lives of Wood and Lugosi, Bride of the Monster becomes quite a poignant milestone. Lugosi finally managed to kick the morphine addiction that had plagued him for years, only to be killed by a heart attack shortly after the film was released. Wood would go on to make his best-known film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, but his reckless ways with money and booze would soon kill off his Hollywood hopes forever. 

It would be a shame if people only watch his films in a sneering and ironic fashion, as, for me, the complete lack of sneering and irony in them is what makes his films so endearing. They are heart felt expressions of Wood's love of movies, monsters, and Bela Lugosi. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Full of fun and energy, Singin’ in the Rain is a glorious celebration of film, both the history and the medium, and easily one of the best movie musicals ever made.
Read the full article at Static Mass



Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013)


A certain amount of delusion can be a perfectly good coping mechanism for the difficulties of life – but what if that delusion completely takes over your view of reality?  Moreover, what if it starts to impact on other people, especially your family? It is these sorts of questions that lie at the heart of Blue Jasmine, a surprising, funny and, at times, brutal character study, written and directed by Woody Allen.

Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a former Manhattan socialite whose world collapses around her when her millionaire businessman husband is jailed for a massive Bernie Madoff style programme of fraud, taking all of her money, possessions and identity down with him. Forced to move to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger, Jasmine tries to put her life back together piece by piece, while swilling back vodka and pills. Will she find the right man to help her get things back on track - or is it time to learn how to count on herself to survive?

There are some familiar Woody Allen themes in Blue Jasmine, such as adultery and madness, but also some unexpected elements. The first thing that I found surprising about Blue Jasmine is the ferocious energy, a welcome change of pace after the rather laid back, rambling films Allen has been making recently, an energy that mostly flows from the performance of Cate Blanchett.

There is also a change of tone from recent work, giving the second surprise, namely, what a harsh film this is. The harshness comes from the situations in which Jasmine finds herself, and granted, some are of her own making, but others are a result of bad luck, a wise choice on Allen’s part, that helps engender some sympathy with a character that could otherwise become unbearable.  He also sensibly balances the intensity of the drama with flashes of humour, and not from the traditional Woody Allen one liner (don’t get me wrong, he still writes good ones), but more through the juxtaposition of Jasmine and her deluded world view, with that of those around her, or with the reality of a situation.

The third, equally welcome surprise is the characterisation. Too often of late, characters in Woody Allen films seem two dimensional, unreal, and uninspired people, who simply exist to spout dialogue. This is less of a hindrance in a comedy film if the jokes and situations are good enough to pick up the slack, which is why Midnight in Paris worked as well as it did. However, much as I liked Midnight in Paris, the characters were the US equivalents of the sort of god-awful bores you expect from a Richard Curtis script. For a serious, believable drama though, you need a believable lead character, especially if the film revolves around this character, and Allen has delivered it in Jasmine.

The aforementioned ferocious energy in the film largely originates in Cate Blanchett's performance. She throws herself into the role and, with a refreshing lack of vanity for a Hollywood star, is not afraid to show herself in an unflattering light physically, with a haggard looking face and sweat stains under her arms.

As usual, Allen assembles a strong and varied supporting cast; Alec Baldwin delivers another memorable turn as Hal, Jasmine’s greedy slime ball husband, although admittedly, this kind of role is nothing new to him. More surprising is a brief but memorable appearance from Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband, so far removed from his brash obnoxious stand up persona. Clay brings a convincing humbleness to a character understandably aggrieved as he has to watch his one chance as financial independence gets flushed down the toilet, (along with, shortly afterwards, his marriage), thanks to Hal and his fraudulent activities.

For a change, there is no "Woody Allen" character, in other words, an actor doing, to a greater or lesser extent, a Woody Allen impression, something that usually occurs in a film of his in which he is not appearing. Sometimes this can be the lead, such as Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, or a supporting character such as Will Ferrell in Melinda and Melinda. Louis CK, who has a brief role as a slightly nerdy man who has an affair with Ginger, comes close, but lacks the neurotic ticks and speech patterns.

In the final few minutes, we get an unexpected twist, one that adds a further layer of complication to Jasmine’s situation, but one perfectly in keeping with her immaturity and self-destructiveness. Avoiding a happy ending, which would not have rung true, Allen wisely lets the film conclude in a downbeat manner, and shows that when he cares, and when the story and characters are engaging enough, he can still be a distinctive, funny and interesting filmmaker.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Lost Squadron (1932)

Films about films are an endless source of fascination for moviemakers and audiences, and this is something that goes back to the early days of cinema. With a script that blends stunts, comedy and melodrama, and combines the behind the camera story with themes of friendship and betrayal, The Lost Squadron packs a lot into an entertaining 75 minutes. It also has a great appearance from legendary director Erich von Stroheim, playing up to his reputation as an unhinged despotic genius.

Set at the end of World War I, three US army pilots and their mechanic, 'Gibby' Gibson (Richard Dix), 'Woody' Curwood (Robert Armstrong) Red (Joel McCrea), and Fritz (Hugh Herbert) find themselves back in civilian life, where things are less than rosy. Gibby discovers his girl has run off to marry tyrannical film director Von Furst (Stroheim), Woody’s business partner has absconded with all his money, Red quits his job rather than watch a friend be fired, while elsewhere newspaper headlines tell us that political squabbling means Congress fails to pass a package for veterans benefits, forcing men onto the breadlines. Eventually, all four manage to find work, working on aerial stunts for pictures by Von Furst - but the director is seething with envy at his wife’s old flame, and plots a nasty on set accident for him.

The screenplay, which is partly written by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) is based on a book by real life stunt pilot Dick Grace. Despite a synopsis that includes war, jealousy and attempted murder, the majority of the film is relatively light-hearted, especially the character of Woody, played as an archetypal comic drunk, admittedly, perhaps not the best person to be doing hair-raising stunts in a plane.

Many of the real life flying sequences are well done, using a fleet of war surplus aircraft. Back on ground, the dialogue is snappy and the camaraderie between the four friends believable, even if the performances are a little broad and hammy at times.

The other star is Stroheim, playing himself, or at least a version based on his reputation as a maniacal and visionary filmmaker, with no regard for other people’s money or lives.

It is his character that drives the second half of the story, which sees the upbeat tone turn dark, with murder and revenge taking over from thrills and stunts, leading to an ending that seems tragic but inevitable.