Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, Graham Gordy
Directors: Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, Nic Pizzolatto
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Carmen Egogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Ray Fisher etc.
No. of episodes: 8
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Time is an unforgiving concept. It marches on and absolutely never stops until we are dust. While young we believe we have more time, but deep down we can see our own death. That fear will either drive us forward positively or send us insane. Old age is perhaps the bitterest turn in time we must suffer. If we live long enough to collect a litany of fine memories, the mind disintegrates them, cruelly disallowing us from recalling such happy moments. There is also regret. If you have a conscience you are likely to suffer regret. Regret of what you have done wrong, not done right and been simply incapable of doing. Lastly, it is said time and tide wait for no man or woman. But it is waiting; waiting for us to die.
Existential police procedural drama, True Detective, is back for a third season and very good it is too. Starring Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as the, as usual, mismatched cops; it concerns the hunt for two missing children in the Ozarks, Arkansas. Further, the supporting cast include the impressive Carmen Egogo and always compelling Scoot McNairy. Set over eight compelling episodes we criss-cross three separate timelines that centre on the said case. Events unfold circa 1980 (when the crime occurred); circa 1990 (when the investigation is re-opened); and the present with the characters aged and withering from time’s unrelenting march. The complex structure really enhances the genre plot as the intriguing timelines over-lap and bleed into one another, thickening the mystery and heightening suspense.
While the criminal case is central to the conventions of the genre, writer Nic Pizzolatto is as much interested in the character development and themes pertaining to: love, time, regret, guilt, aging, memory and death. The character of lead detective, Wayne Hays (Ali) is fascinating. A former U.S. soldier who served in Vietnam, he is a complex soul striving for meaning and trying to do the righteous thing. Consistently, however, he finds his race and social standing a barrier to solving the crime. Through his trio of timelines we feel his sense of loss, love, isolation, anger, happiness and confusion. The confusion especially worsens when his older self is hit by Alzheimer’s. Indeed, it is incredibly heartfelt while he attempts to piece together events from memories past including: the crimes, his actions, violent events, and the romantic moments he had with his wife (Egogo.)
Once again, Mahershala Ali proves he is pound-for-pound one of the best actors around. He gives an incredibly nuanced and intelligent performance as Hays. To inhabit the same character in three different guises takes a particular skillset and the subtle differences in performance are a joy to behold. He is assisted by uniformly excellent direction and production design. Indeed, some of the editing is sublime as the images switch between the young Hays and older Hays brilliantly; dissolves, reflections and over-lapping montage effects used imaginatively throughout. Lastly, it’s was also great to see Stephen Dorff too in a prominent role as Hays’ no-nonsense partner, Roland West. Dorff provides ebullient support during the investigation and their friendship is a mainstay of the show.
After the scintillating first season which had Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson burning the plasma off the TV screen with their intense performances, the unfocussed second season contained star acting power but a confused narrative. However, Season 3 is a fine return to form and if you love your cop shows: dark, existential, meditative, violent and intelligent, then this is definitely worth your time.
I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat. I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television. I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.
The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.
Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The TenCommandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as: Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.
While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut. Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.
Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV. Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.
Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set. Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation. Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me. Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.
While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen. But is it better than the cinema? Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS! Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.
The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.” Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot. Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema. It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!
In no particular order here are FIFTEEN moments, actors, scenes, characters, set-pieces, dialogue etc. which stuck in my noggin during the year of 2014.
SET-PIECE OF 2014 – QUIKSILVER SCENE IN FORT KNOX DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
VISION – JONATHAN GLAZER – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
Glazer showed that with a low budget, vision and powerful concept you could genuinely move, surprise, creep and capture the imagination of an audience. Sparse and enigmatic this film was my best of the year while scene on the beach was one of the most harrowing I ever seen. I hope this filmmaker doesn’t leave such a gap following the under-rated Birth (2004) ten years prior.
VILLAIN – MARTON CSOKAS – THE EQUALIZER (2014)
This okay-Denzil Washington-violent-80s-remake was lifted above the parapet by a stunning turn by Marton Csokas as the main evil Russian stereotype. I had a lot of fun with his actoring as he scoffed not just the furniture but the upholstery as well.
KICKING ASS – EMILY BLUNT – EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)
Doug Liman’s very entertaining sci-fi movie turned the gender tables with Blunt playing the action hero. Of course, the universe could not sustain such a polarity and in the final act Cruise’s initial anti-heroism was blown away. But it was good while it lasted!
FUNNIEST USE OF AIR BAGS – BAD NEIGHBOURS (2014)
BEST FIGHT SCENE IN A LIFT – CAPTAIN AMERICA: TWS (2014)
WORST BEST MAN’S SPEECH EVER – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)
Take it away Nic Pizzolatto and McConaughey in the best monologue of the year.
HAIR – AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)
A funny and suspenseful character-led con story found Bale, Lawrence, Cooper and Adams chewing up the scenery. However, their scenes were quite often stolen by their hairstyles and toupees.
STYLE – INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
Not much happened in this story of a failed folk musician grieving for a lost friend. But the whole design, look, colour, cinematography, music, period setting and cast made it an utter joy from start to end.
AWE-INSPIRING VISUALS – INTERSTELLAR (2014)
I have only seen this film once but had very big problems with the script but there is no taking away the incredible visuals on show. It was the storytelling and what the humans were saying I took issue with.
DEPICTION OF ADDICTION – THORIN OAKENSHIELD THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE 5 ARMIES (2014)
Peter Jackson dug into his box of magic tricks to pull off ANOTHER Tolkien-inspired series of battles. But it was Thorin’s battle with his addiction to gold which I connected with most.
BEST WAR – DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)
Arguably one of the most enduring images of the year was Koba riding into battle with fire burning behind him capturing the passion and anger of the character and intensity of battle raging at the time.
ONE TAKE – TRUE DETECTIVE (2014)
MOST COMPELLING CHARACTER LOU BLOOM/JAKE GYLLENTHAL – NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)
In 2014 I set myself a project which was to write a review for every film I saw at the cinema and post on my blog. I viewed TWENTY-EIGHT films at the cinema in 2014 and pretty much achieved my writing goal aside from one anomaly which is in hand.
Why EIGHT you may ask? Well, I wanted to put a bit of pressure on myself to really nail these choices and TOP TEN’S are a bit obvious too. Of course there are loads of films I DID NOT see plus many, many more films I did see on DVD, Netflix and Sky but you can only judge a films’ true qualities by watching it on the big screen.
So, these are my TOP EIGHT FAVOURITEST CINEMA FILMS OF 2014. They are maybe not necessarily the most-awards-friendly-critically- acclaimed films hence but they are the ones which completely blew me away when I saw them. They are ALL films I saw at the cinema BUT for one which is a TV movie. If you’ve seen it you’ll know why it’s on the list.
For the record the list will include: the film title; link to original review; quote from post; and a clip.
“UNIQUE filmmaking comes along every so often into the Multiplexes. This is cinematic Art of the highest quality, a sheer visual treat and an unnerving and very memorable experience…
..like all great art it stayed with me and I could not get it out of my mind. And I still can’t. It’s not a super-hero film. It’s not a date movie. It’s not a 3-D CGI sick-fest. It’s pure, pulsing, hypnotic cinema of the highest quality…”
**Yes I know this wasn’t on the cinema but it should’ve been!**
“Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,
McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock, He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked, Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop, Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop!”
“Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast… Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!”
“Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe… links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists. Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.”
“Martin Scorcese is one of the greatest living filmmakers still working today and The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from his other films. You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves; the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino and Goodfellas; the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear; the multi-character voiceovers; the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit; characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen most recently in The Departed; plus many more.”
“I loved this film for so many reasons. It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born. Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey”
“… the original book and 1968 film and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs. Overall, the Apes series is a conceptual and cultural phenomenon and Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.”
“There is so much heartache in the character of Turing. The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism. And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.”
Set in the picturesque Bayou from the stable HBO,
Dead as night; black as a murder of crows,
Southern Gothic of the police procedural persuasion,
True Detective’s a compelling, gripping, televisual sensation,
Sacrificial kill of a woman begins the murky plots,
As past and present collides, grips and clots,
A gloopy broth ensues of which there’s little filler,
As Louisiana cops pursue a nefarious serial-killer,
True Detective dials many a pulp-fictional cliché,
Yet we’re always wrong-numbered by Harrelson and McConaughey, Portraying mis-matched partners both with darker sides,
Suffering addictions, obsessions and existential slides,
Writer Nic Pizzolatto delivers a corrupt vision of humanity,
Amidst the Cajun swamps we’re in David Fincher territory,
Standard cop stuff like the Chief screaming “you’re off the case!”,
Is deftly masked by Cary Fukunaga’s directorial style and pace,
McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is post-modern Sherlock,
He will never cease until the mystery is unlocked,
Allied with Harrelson’s Watson the two just won’t stop,
Title may say True Detective but it should be Existential Cop,
Meth-head rednecks, biker gangs, Southern whores all feature, Alongside pederasts, tattooed maniacs and crazy preachers,
All travelling together down a path undoubtedly well-worn,
Nonetheless it’s a delicious slice of murder porn.