Category Archives: TV

‘True Detective': Light and Darkness…

true detective

There’s a beautiful scene in the movie ‘Seven’ where the two homicide detectives meet for dinner. The young wife strikes a conversation with his husbands’ work partner and after a long time the senior detective enjoys a chat with a living human being. She is drawn to his avuncular appearance and sensing him to be all ears, speaks her heart out. He tries to dispel her doubts with the goodness of life, even while harboring a deep pessimism about it. But he doesn’t know how bad it would eventually turn out. The end makes him reconsider his retirement plans and get back to the dark alleys of New York City and even darker human minds.

‘True Detective’ season one, has a similar scene, which just like in ‘Seven’, a dinner happens on the insistence of wife and to her husband Marty’s surprise, Rust stays on after having shown up thoroughly drunk. This is an important scene early on, as it dispels any notion of humanizing Rust’s character. He is cold and a facts checker—the tax man as is he called, who carries a big note book all the time. In many ways ‘True Detective’ is Rust Cohle’s (Matthew McConaughey) story, his perspective of the world, while Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) fills in whichever way he can.

Typically, a buddy cop story plays out a few themes where the contrast between the two comes out in the open. Be it experienced & rookie clashes; outsider & insider tussles; loner & a family man dilemmas; love & hate outbursts…all these help in developing sub plots and the emotional fabric of the story. But most important of all is the inherent theme, which is Light versus darkness. As the two traverse across dark territories and even risk losing their mind while at it, it is that belief in some goodness…a sense of light overcoming darkness that gives them an intangible drive and provides story an overall purpose. It is precisely this reason that they manage somehow to come back to what they call a ‘home’ and attempt to be normal.

If Marty’s conception of a home is a wife and two kids, Rush’s sparsely furnished idea pad is what keeps him sane and focused. It is the same with other detective characters from movies like David Mills (Brad Pitt), William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) in ‘Seven’; Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) in ‘Lethal Weapon’ series and even David Callahan(Clint Eastwood) from the ‘Dirty Harry’ series). It’s all about how they unwind and find a safer haven tucked away from the reality is what keeps them going (including Holmes and Watson and their Baker Street 221A).

‘True Detective’ works primarily because its gets the buddy cop thing right, and tinkers the main themes just enough to make them appealing and new. For instance, Marty is a family man but has Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) in ‘Analyse this’ kind of ideas to find excitement outside his married life to stay committed to his family. Rust is the Holmes equivalent of a loner with a terrific mind that excels at the expense of having any decent human connection. But the writer creates a back story to give the viewers something to identify with and cheer him to solve the horrid case. Marty and Rust complement the experienced and rookie angle…if Marty is better socially, Rust is very good at the job at hand. Towards the end of the season one, Marty becomes more like Watson, while Rust seems to find his human bearings afterall, when he says this lovely dialogue. “Well, once there was only dark. If you ask me, the light’s winning”

Any good TV series ought to create the right milieu for believability and most importantly create enough diversions to keep the audience guessing. ‘True Detective’ does this very well, right from the episode one where you get a feeling that something might cook between Rust and Marty’s wife, to the confrontation scenes between Rust and Marty.  And thankfully, it doesn’t go ‘The Silence of Lambs’ route, limits the cat and mouse chase and keeps the murderer tucked in to the last.

Overall, season 1 is a good watch especially if you like movie like ‘Seven’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘The Silence of Lambs’ etc.

Tailpiece: So what keeps these crusaders hooked on to the last? Is it a thrill of solving a mystery or the hope of finding something good in the real murky world. Or is it because they are so good at what they are doing, they can’t imagine quitting. May be it’s a combination of all these. David Fincher would have thrown some light on it, had William Somerset returned for an encore?

‘You’- Beware of a Soulmate

youtvseries

(Spoilers ahead)

Ever wondered if there were somebody out there who knew everything about you and connected at a different level? Yeah, you might feel like the completed couple in the elevator scene from ‘Jerry Maguire’. If you do, then beware. There is very good chance that he could either be a phony Phil from ‘Groundhog Day‘ or a scary Joe from ‘You’.

By the way, ‘You’ was in the news (or a PR plant) recently about how it received a lukewarm response on a TV channel, yet garnered just the opposite reaction aka standing (sitting) ovation from the audiences of Netflix. Viewed by 40 million accounts and accumulated a zillion views? Let’s leave these zeroes aside and look at the content of ‘You’, the recent Netflix TV series.

It’s about Joe, a criminal (and mentally deranged) disguised as a softie, a no-body book store manager, who is just getting over his recent break-up and hoping to find his true love yet again. And much to the misfortune of Beck, he finds her. In no time, he makes it a point to know everything about her. His tactics are simple, just get her smart phone and hack into her life. And whatever little is left out of the puzzle; fill it in through physical surveillance and following her. Creepy as hell!

What really hooks you on to the TV series is the smart writing and terrific portrayal of Penn Badgley. He reminds you of the skinny Robert De Niro in The Godfather II and delivers a knock out performance. (He even dresses up in overalls in the book store just like De Niro in the grocery store).  He is brilliant in every scene that brings out the contrasting shades of the character…let it be his filial affection towards Pac or the absolute conviction for his behaviour towards Beck and her friends or the justification for his heinous acts or simply his shallow intellect. So, at the end of the every episode or atleast at the end of the season 1, you don’t want him to get caught or killed and you secrely goad him to go on, much like our beloved Walter White from ‘The Breaking Bad’. Speaking of which, Joe does remind you of the Chemistry Teacher turned Meth Don, when he expertly disposes of bodies and shows affinity towards cellars.

A few decades back Kamal Haasan starred in a psychological thriller ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’, in which he potrayed a handsome killer who buries the body of his victims in his backyard and grows a rose garden over them. (Pretty gruesome scenes, yet very enjoyable, thanks to a super score from Ilayaraja). The character aspect of wooing the girls would come out natural to Kamal with his looks and star persona, while the criminal aspect might have required some effort from him. But for someone like Penn Badgley, both are very difficult. The predicament is very similar to that of Robert De Niro, who had to convince the audience that he was the younger version of the most powerful don, when he had neither the persona of Marlon Brando or identification of any kind in the minds of the audience. Both Robert De Niro and Penn Badgley had to bring out something that isn’t there at their physical level and this is what great acting is all about. It’s the same with avuncular Bryan Cranston who transformed into Walter White. Class acting is one good reason to watch ‘You’.

‘You’ also is a good example of how to set up a premise and build on it without much fuss. It doesn’t go overboard with production design, limits itself to a few settings and focuses on the characters and their interplay. Your hero is a stalker for C****sake, so why take it beyond the bedroom, the closets and the cellars? The logic fits right in. But there are some interesting examples of creativity, like the theme parties in the book store or the various scenes in the cellar or the getaway of Peach Salinger.

You don’t want ‘You’ to end and Candace makes sure of it throughout and the end of the Season 1. Candace is ‘You’s equivalent of ’Rose bud’. Phil in ‘Groundhog Day’ changes his ways and wins over his girl, to live happily ever after. But no chance for Joe to redeem himself that soon, Netflix will cook a few seasons first.

Tailpiece: When my father was getting ready to play a professional killer role in a TV serial, one of his friends apparently asked how a medium built and rather soft looking person like my father would fit that role. Then a writer friend of his chipped in, saying that it is the portrayal that counts, not the physicality. He then went on to quote the example of the famous killer Charles Shobraj who looked anything but menacing and his external demeanour belied his inner demons.

Related Links
Netflix says its viewership is huge. The key words there are “Netflix says.”

 

“Bird Box”. Unseen Ghost/s

birdbox

In “Bird Box,” Sandra Bullock plays a single mom (Malorie) trying to save her kid’s lives after mysterious forces invade Earth and causes people to kill themselves. Survivors must wear blindfolds or be exposed to supernatural entities (or monsters) that embody their deepest fears and drive them to suicide. Directed by Susanne Bier, this apocalyptic horror film , is based on a novel by Josh Malerman.  Netflix claimed ‘Bird Box’ was watched by more than forty-five million subscribers, a record of sorts.

The premise of the movie is pretty unique, and it starts of well. It works here and there with a few thrills, but overall leaves you unsatisfied. You cannot complain much about the script in a horror set-up but it could have been better. The cast makes it up for the flaws in the script and engages you for most part, making it a watchable fare.

Birds being used as a way to foretell the onset of the monsters like dogs for ghosts is a pretty neat trick. It does remind you of the water ripple in ‘Jurassic Park’ and the associated music. The kids combination just like in ‘Jurassic Park’ and a not-so-good parent taking them to safety, is also a similar theme from the dinosaur movie.

Unlike ‘Jurassic Park’ you never to get to see the dinosaur, but you do bump into infected individuals every now and then.  In ‘Bird Box’ because the whole world is infected or you are unaware whether it is infected or not, Malorie’s  only hope is to follow the radio message and cross the river to safety. An effort similar to the Meryl Streep movie ‘The River wild’. The movie ends a bit like Hitchcock film ‘The Birds’, with birds returning to their habitat (birds were human’s foes in that movie though), and leaving many loose ends, keeping the possibility open for a sequel.

Guess the popular themes of apocalyptic world, escape from monsters, bad parent to good parent, race to survival, world wide calamity etc and the familiarity offered by popular actors, gave the movie its initial draw. Throw in the social marketing of Netflix, it is highly unlikely that anyone interested remotely in these themes would miss it.  The movie reportedly made with a budget of USD19mn is a tad low on production values, but it is enough to make the story believable.

Tailpiece from ‘The NewYorker’

Netflix notoriously doesn’t, in general, report viewership numbers. Yet it couldn’t resist crowing that more than forty-five million subscribers watched “Bird Box” in its first week online. How would it have done in a traditional wide theatrical release? Would it have taken in four hundred million dollars at the box-office in its first week alone? I suspect that its viewership depends upon its low barrier to entry. Even just the extraordinary cast, which also includes John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and Sarah Paulson, is good enough to watch for free. Unfortunately, “Bird Box” puts these performers through familiar paces, in roles of such tight typecasting that they seem like recurring characters in an extended TV series—which may also be part of the secret to the film’s Netflix success- New Yorker

Related Links

“Bird Box,” Reviewed: An Apocalypse Built for Netflix

The Mist
Jurassic Park
Evil Dead
The River Wild

The Birds