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

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cloud Atlas

It’s like Metropolis meets The Matrix meets Magnolia meets The Road meets Star Trek meets Leprechaun meets yadda yadda yadda…ya dig?

Ahhhh…remember 1999?  It was sooooo cool to be a sophomore in college and watching movies, man…movies that spoke to my generation.  The old people just didn’t get it.  This was our time, and film was right there with us at the turn of the millennium saying, “Hey, ma!  Look at us!  We’re the first people to ever have these cool ideas!”  Of all the trailblazing films that came out that year, there are two that stick out in my mind the most as having been born of the moment – the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run.  Both played with film convention while waxing about alternate realities and parallel lives, and at the time….THEY BLEW MY MIND.  Unfortunately The Matrix begat two mind-bogglingly awful sequels that tarnished the legacy of the original, and as gimmicky fun as Run Lola Run was, it just never really held up all that well.  Though I liked some of Tykwer’s later work (Perfume still has to be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and I was one of the few who liked The International), the Wachowskis completely imploded.  And as it turns out, all of those cool ideas were just rehashed from previous cool ideas.

Now thirteen years later after they appeared to be the second-coming of cinema only to crash and burn, the three have teamed up and concocted a dazzlingly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s self-proclaimed unfilmable novel, Cloud Atlas – a nearly indescribable film that will infuriate those who allow it to while it should please those desiring to return to the bygone days of 1999.  So what do we talk about when we talk about Cloud Atlas? Continue reading

The Blues and The Grey

Shit...just when Liam Neeson thought things couldn't get any worse...he crash lands into the den of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Man, Liam Neeson has the blues something fierce.  The poor guy has completed one of the oddest transitions of recent memory by going from Oskar Schindler to “Total Bad Ass” in films both criminally overrated (Taken) and glumly forgettable (Unknown).  Now in Joe Carnahan’s transcendent survivalist thriller, The Grey, Neeson plays a man named Ottway who is reeling from the kind of blues that lead men to self-inflicted gun shot wounds to the head.  The film opens grimly enough with Ottway working on an oil refinery as a wolf sniper in the remote Alaskan wilderness amongst men “not fit for civilization.”  He waxes mournfully in voice-over about being separated from his wife (presented to the audience in smartly lit, intimate Nolan-esque slivers of memory) and working “a job at the end of the world.” 

One night he walks out from the rowdy violence of the camp bar into the snow to blow his brains out – but then he hears the ghostly howl of those beasts he’s been paid to study and control.  He can’t help but wonder if maybe he belongs out there – like the wolves – a stalker – a survivor.  He posits himself as much against Mother Nature as he is against his own nature.  These opening moments offer the viewer the type of emotional and philosophical trappings not usually found in your typical Hollywood product – especially thrillers of this sort.  With the help of his resurrected from the doldrums director, Carnahan (who finally fulfills the promise he showed in Narc after years of wallowing in the mediocrity of La La Land), Neeson completes his evolution as an actor through Ottway.  Here we finally have a character who marries the gravity of an Oskar Schindler with the gruff bad-assery of Neeson’s more recent commercial incarnations. 

Of course the bulk the of the film concerns Ottway and his motley crew of cohorts surviving a horrific airplane crash on their way to Anchorage only to be stalked through the frozen wilderness by a pack of ravaging and unmerciful wolves.  But it returns from time to time to those small moments and to the epic human pondering on live and death.  Continue reading

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

All beings great and small…stirring in the night.

The eyes are watching you.

Writer/Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (say that five times fast) has created Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives to be even more ponderous than his name or the film’s title.  In Thailand, an ailing farmer named Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is cared for in his final days by his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and nephew Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) while restless spirits lurk in the jungle around them.

The film’s central conceit is that as one approaches death, memories flood the mind, and loved ones living and dead pay a visit and watch over us.  As a Buddhist, Unlce Boonmee recalls not just his current life, but also past lives.  What was done for Christianity in films like Dreyer’s Ordet or Reygadas’ Silent Light is done here for Buddhism.  The spiritual lives of the characters are presented as if programmed in their DNA.  It is not questioned; it just is.  But whereas the other films presented a linear, “We live, We die, We rise,” narrative, here there is cosmic fluidity where one life or one being flows into the next for all eternity.  This inner knowing is translated onto screen in a mesmerizing cacophony of sound design and imagery that evokes that cyclical flow…the stirring…of all beings great and small…past and present and future…in the night (symbolic of death).

The recollections are presented in a quasi-Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness.  Continue reading

The Spiral of the Seasons

A photo I took someplace way outside of Wilmington, North Carolina.

During my senior year (2001-2002) at Elon University I took a year-long seminar course called “Quest for Wholeness”.  It was one of those courses that had a bit of a cult following on campus.  People whispered about it — I hear it lasts two semesters and there are no tests! — former students wrote about it, and there was a buzz to sign-up for it, especially among those in the Philosophy department.  The course was the brainchild of John G. Sullivan, PhD and his wife, Gregg, who had co-taught the class with him for many years even during her own battle with breast cancer.   Continue reading

The Coen Brothers Didn’t Do Anything

I wish my confirmation had been as fun as this kids bar mitzvah!

I wish my confirmation had been as fun as this kid's bar mitzvah!

We’re Very Serious Men

They had made it quite clear, hadn’t they, these Coen Brothers, that they didn’t much care about their audience’s expectations.  Hell, spare for Marge Gunderson in Fargo, they had never much cared for their characters either.  While they looked down on their subjects, they often looked right through those who watched…those faithful who tolerated the abominations that were Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers only left to be confounded by the philosophical nonsense wrapped in the ultra-slick throwback genre packaging of No Country for Old Men.  Sure, we laughed at the hatchet job that was their star-studded Burn After Reading…but where had that magic gone?  Where were those brothers who had brought us Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink and Fargo?  Had they really sold themselves out to those who had embraced The Big Lebowski as their magnum opus?  Oh, why had you forsaken us, Coen Brothers?  Where had you gone?  What did we do to deserve this?  We didn’t do anything!

Where were the Coen Brothers? Continue reading

A Tribute to Ingmar Bergman

Anything can happen; all things are possible and plausible. Time and space do not exist: over a minute patch of reality imagination will weave its web and create fresh patterns…”

–August Strindberg, Preface to A Dream Play (1902)

This spring I arrogantly went through my own self taught film school where I explored critically for the first time some of the defining works of legendary directors like Carl Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Carol Reed, Orson Welles, and Francois Truffaut, among others, many of which I have discussed and reviewed on this blog.  It seems foolish now to think I could sample all of the greats of cinema’s past in just a few short months.  What I came to realize is that my film school will never end as long as I continue my love affair with movies.  For all the careful planning that went into the selection of the films I explored and searched for, sometimes it is the film that finds me before I realize I had been looking for it all this time.  Thus is the case with Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. 

Two kids lost inside Ingmar Bergman’s head.

My interest in Bergman began with his 1966 classic Persona, which had allured me since first seeing David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive, as it was often quoted as a heavy influence.  Continue reading

The Thief Maker Named Finalist in Eric Hoffer Awards

Nearly a year and a half after its publication, my novel The Thief Maker continues to accumulate accolades.

The Thief Maker was recently named a Finalist in the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books.

Though it will not be taking home one of the grand prizes, being named a Finalist places The Thief Maker in “the top 10% of entrants to be considered for prizes…Less than 50 books each year are dubbed with the title of Eric Hoffer Award Finalist.”

Click here for the complete list of finalists.

Grand prize winners in each category will be announced April 22, 2008.

Eric Hoffer was one of the most influential American philosophers and free thinkers of the 20th Century.  His books are still widely read and quoted today.  Acclaimed for his thoughts on mass movements and fanaticism, Hoffer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.  Hopewell Publications awards the best in independent publishing across a wide range of categories, singling out the most thought provoking titles in books and short prose, on a yearly basis in honor of Eric Hoffer.

 

A Review of Yoram Lubling’s “Twice Dead”

Twice Remembered

Reviewed By  David H. SchleicherSee all my reviews

Though deeply personal (most of the book deals with correcting history and the memory of the author’s grandfather–a key player in the Treblinka Revolt) and at times impassioned, this is still an academic book. “Twice Dead” is meticulously researched and documented, and its heady philosophical ideas are argued and counter argued in an annotated style that will make it a rather dry read for the casual audience. However, for the student of philosophy or history, it makes for a great read. It is also of special note for those studying the Holocaust because of its foreword by Elie Wiesel, an expert in the field who doesn’t lend his name to things lightly.

“Twice Dead” refers to the idea that many Holocaust victims were murdered twice: once by the Nazis, and a second time by the generations that forgot them. Lubling touches on many subjects: the psychology of Holocaust studies, the ethics of memory, revisionist history, anti-intellectualism, postmodernism, and unreliability of eyewitness accounts, modern Zionism, and the radical Islamic movement. He ends his studies with a chilling visit to Poland and Treblinka visiting the actual spots where his family and countless others were murdered.

While I attended Elon University, I took two courses taught by Yoram Lubling on Martin Buber and Frederick Nietzsche. Reading this book brought back fond memories of the debates and lectures from the intimate classroom setting where Lubling captivated (and I imagine still captivates) his students with his quiet rage and conversational style that provokes as much as it enlightens. Those with vested personal interests in the topics discussed in “Twice Dead” will find much food for thought.