It Happened Again on True Detective

True Detective - Rust and Marty in the Car

A Note to Readers: The following contains descriptions of events that have played out over True Detective’s eight-episode run and details on the finale.  Read with caution if you are afraid of spoilers before having seen the entire season.

“It Happened Again on True Detective”

About six months ago the initial previews for True Detective boldly announced The McConaissaince was coming to TV, and just look at how gristly Woody Harrelson had become!  It promised yet another slow-burning mystery…this one on the oilfield strewn and smokestack choked bayous of Louisiana (the cable network’s favorite homestead, seen also in True Blood and Treme).  The big boys at HBO were gonna show the basic cable boobs behind The Killing and The Bridge how it should really be done.  It all felt a little tired.  We’d seen this before.  And it was with a morbid curiosity that I tuned into the first episode.

The opening credits embraced the conventions with seductive glee.  A creepy folksy tune titled “Far from Any Road” by the Handsome Family spun tales of a “poisoned Creole soul” and brooded over a graphic artist’s phantasmagoria of overlaid images, like a deadly serious realist flip side to the trashy-kitschy credits of the supernatural True Blood.  It was stylish and admirable…but predictable…HBO shows are known for their innovative and signature opening credit sequences.

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Highway Face

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Burning Face

It wouldn’t be until later episodes that I realized the credits’ subliminal power.  The image of a winding highway superimposed over Woody Harrelson’s face, in particular, was something that began to creep into my poisoned TV soul and became more unsettling every time I saw it.

The first episode, too, catered to the conventions.  Two prickly opposites were partnered to solve the murder of a drug-addled prostitute named Dora Lange who was found with antlers on her head and other cultish mumbo-jumbo casting a pall over the scene.  The story was presented in flashbacks as the elder versions of our detectives were questioned separately in 2012 about the case from the mid 1990’s hinting at something larger…a new copycat killer perhaps…and a current riff between the former partners.  Episode One was slow…methodical…well acted…well directed…tinged with nihilism…yet where was it going and would anyone care once we got there?

Eight episodes.  A complete story.  An anthology series in the style of American Horror Story – a title that could’ve easily been used here.  True Detective, unlike Twin Peaks and The Killing before it, promised completion…no long drawn-out anti-climax stretched over multiple seasons.  The approach was like that of an eight-hour film with one director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (the mastermind behind two stylistically disparate but equally compelling films, Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre), who armed with the scripts from under-the-radar novelist Nic Pizzolatto created a consistent and quietly thrilling tone.  So I stay tuned in…and slowly but surely I became addicted.  The communal fervor for the show bloomed along with my obsession.  Continue reading

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Tales of Woe

In a telling bit of dialogue about a fourth of the way through Cary Fukunaga’s impeccably directed adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a brooding Rochester (Michael Fassbender) asks the alarmingly beautiful Jane (Mia Wasikowska) to tell him her tale of woe.  You see, all governesses have tales of woe.  They make great stories.

While Jane Eyre targets the refined literary crowd with its tale of woe and romance, the surprisingly adept but still a bit creaky contemporary haunted house tale of woe, Insidious, targets the not-so-fickle horror crowd.

Mia Wisakowska bewitches in Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre.

Nineteenth century feminist literature is not typically my cup of tea.  I’ve not read Bronte’s tale.  Nor have I ever seen any previous film adaptation, and they are legion.  But like the works of Shakespeare, I know the story.  Rave reviews, including a most excellent piece from Wonders in the Dark‘s own Sam Juliano, peaked my interest.  Superb production values, understated but quietly sweeping cinematography, and a note perfect score from Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli help make this a world-class endeavor.

But the greatest appeal of this latest adaptation (apart from the uniformly excellent performances) is Cary Fukunaga’s direction.  Continue reading

Cinematic Culture Clash

I believe it was Chaim Potok who once said something to the effect of “all great literature is about the clashing of cultures.”  In his novel, The Chosen, his insular idea of culture clash was an Orthodox Jewish boy befriending an Hasidic Jewish boy.  I think the same can be said of great cinema, though independent filmmakers often take a more volatile approach.

Below are four films that have passed through my Netflix queue this year that I believe deserve to be singled-out, praised, buzzed about…chosen.  All four are in a way about the clashing or melding of cultures and the effects that has on individuals, and three of the four are from directors with immigrant heritages.  Three of them have a good chance of making my top ten list for 2009, while another (from 2008) is in the running for my top 25 of the decade.  As is often found in independent films, with lower budgets and tighter focus on achieving a personal dream, filmmakers hone in on story and character with often startling results.  Low profile or lost in the shuffle either due to foreign origin or lack of widened stateside distribution, they deserve a larger audience, and those selective cinephiles who routinely uncover them have a duty to pass on the word.  Queue these up, post haste. Continue reading