On the Media: ‘The Jinx’ and Confessions

thejinx-posterCuriously enough, there is actually a precedent for the news that broke over the weekend with a blockbuster HBO documentary playing an outsized role in an ongoing media sensation of a criminal case.

Decades before Andrew Jarecki’s The Jinx played a (as yet not fully clear) role in the arrest of the perennial murder suspect and troubled millionaire Robert Durst, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s true-crime classic Paradise Lost (about the West Memphis Three) bumped up against the realities of an ongoing criminal investigation. While filming the proceedings, Berlinger was given a bloody knife that was similar to the murder weapon:

Berlinger told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on Monday that he immediately went to HBO, and together they decided to turn the knife over to investigators, even though it put their film at risk.

He said he would like to think that he would reach the same conclusion today, but noted the increased pressure to make films as entertaining as possible.

It’s not entirely clear what responsibilities the filmmakers of The Jinx had when confronted with potential evidence of Durst’s culpability some time ago. But the fact that Durst wasn’t arrested until just the day before the miniseries’ last episode on Sunday is being seen by some as a media-manipulated event.

I reviewed the first couple episodes of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst for PopMatters here.

 

On TV: ‘The Jinx’

'The Jinx': Kathleen and Robert Durst (HBO Films)

‘The Jinx': Kathleen and Robert Durst (HBO Films)

Tonight, HBO is premiering the first episode in its six-part true-crime documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. It’s a stranger-than-fiction tale from director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) who first tried to tackle the curious case of Durst with 2010’s fictional film All Good Things, where Ryan Gosling played Durst, heir to a massive Manhattan real-estate fortune, who was accused of killing his first wife Kathleen, who disappeared in 1982.

thejinx-posterMy review of the first two episodes is at PopMatters:

There’s no straight line through Robert Durst’s story. Instead, there is a curlicue leading from a privileged Manhattan childhood to Dynasty-style power struggles, a lengthy stretch of cross-dressing, and potential connections to three murders. The baffling particulars of Durst’s case and his resolute odd-man-out nature come with the added coating of unreality provided by a life of extreme wealth. It’s a captivating story, and a difficult one to tackle without succumbing to its and his Sphinxian spell. Fittingly, the first two episodes of Andrew Jarecki’s six-part documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, don’t reveal whether or not it will succumb…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘The Normal Heart’ is Heartrending, But Not Enough

Mark Ruffalo in 'The Normal Heart' (HBO Films)

Mark Ruffalo in ‘The Normal Heart’ (HBO Films)

Thenormalheart-DVD coverLarry Kramer’s 1985 play about the battle for gay equality and visibility in the early years of the AIDS epidemic was finally filmed earlier this year for HBO. It’s less facetious than you might think, given the presence of director Ryan Murphy (Glee and Eat, Pray, Love), but can’t quite replicate the gut-punch experience of the play itself.

The Normal Heart is on DVD and Blu-ray now. My review is at PopMatters:

The facts already seem like a tale out of faraway history. A mysterious plague stalks the land, slaughtering half of those who catch it, while craven officials refuse to acknowledge its existence and a terrified minority population is refused help even as they are dying…. Watching Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of The Normal Heart is to be taken back to a time when prejudice didn’t just cost people their dignity, it robbed some of them of their lives…

Here’s the trailer:

Tribeca Film Festival, Part II: ‘All About Ann’ and ‘Art and Craft’

(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)

(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)

In the last weekend of the Tribeca Film Festival, a strong slate of documentaries showed that covered things southern, eccentric art forgers and brassy politicos. My second dispatch runs today at PopMatters, here.

First is All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State. Befitting its once-in-a-lifetime subject, this clearly worshipful documentary is big-hearted and loud-mouthed, but gets by on the strength of sheer personality. It’s also screening tonight on HBO:

Ann Richards seems a perfect subject for a documentary. The beloved Texan progressive wore her hair in a signature bouffant and power-lunch suits, and was well known for her remarkable comic timing. Her knack for bringing crowds to their feet recalled a long-ago era, especially when she embarked on stemwinders skewering the traditions that kept women and minorities in their place (and her state in the 19th century), while also pointing the way forward. As her old buddy Bill Clinton—who is about the only Democrat of recent years to have come close to her facility with humor and language—notes in All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State, you can get a lot more people to listen to what you have to say if you’re funny…

Next up we’ve got Art and Craft, a taut story about a spindly little criminal who may not actually have broken any laws, just infuriated museum staffers across the south who have been taken in by his forgeries:

Already the subject of numerous news stories and magazine profiles, Mark Landis is a square peg in a round hole figure, the sort that raises questions about the “art world” every so often. Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker’s film shows an appreciation for Landis’ oddities, not just personal but also professional. Landis is an art forger and a schizophrenic, but he doesn’t forge for money. He just likes to create fake pieces of art and give them away to museums and other institutions under false pretenses. As he puts it, “I went on philanthropic binges.”

Art and Craft was already picked up by Oscilloscope for a release later this year; keep your eyes peeled.

Readers’ Corner: New George R.R. Martin Novella

Winter is coming...eventually.

Winter is coming…eventually.

So, as anybody who follows anything to do with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books knows, the man takes a while to write them. No surprise, as they’re all 800 or so pages of 110-proof plot, not a lot of air in there for character-building or atmosphere. It’s action and intrigue all the way through. So when he took six years from the publication of the series’ fourth book, A Feast of Crows, to come out with the fifth one in 2011, A Dance with Dragons, people were getting agitated. Now, with the HBO series adaptation going gangbusters, and with everyone all caught up on the books, anxiousness builds for the sixth novel, which will be released…sometime.

Dangerous WomenAdding to the anxiety is the fact that Martin took time off from that book to pen a short novella for a new anthology titled Dangerous Women that’s hitting shelves in December; Tor just posted an excerpt from it here; this is how it begins:

The Dance of the Dragons is the flowery name bestowed upon the savage internecine struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros fought between two rival branches of House Targaryen during the years 129 to 131 AC. To characterize the dark, turbulent, bloody doings of this period as a “dance” strikes us as grotesquely inappropriate. No doubt the phrase originated with some singer. “The Dying of the Dragons” would be altogether more fitting, but tradition and time have burned the more poetic usage into the pages of history, so we must dance along with the rest…

Enjoy the wait for the rest.

Laura Miller’s great New Yorker piece on Martin is here.

My review of A Dance with Dragons is here.

 

On the Tube: ‘Louis C.K.: Oh My God’

Louis C.K.: "I like to think I'm a nice person, but I don't know — a lot of it is context"

Louis C.K.: “I like to think I’m a nice person, but I don’t know — a lot of it is context”

So how long has everyone known about Louis C.K.? You try to be a culturally aware person, up on the latest things, familiar with the trending performers, and so on and so forth. But every now and again one or more slips through the cracks and you just … miss it. Then, you’re behind the curve, and the more people go on about him or her, you figure, well, I’ll get around to it eventually. And then you do. And then you realize … what took me so long?

louisck-ohmygod-poster-200Case in point, Louis C.K.’s latest special, Oh My God. If you read my review of it that ran on PopMatters yesterday, you might be forgiven for thinking that this particular writer had been following this guy’s career for years, when in fact it was a very recent development, and long overdue.

Anyways, it’s a great hour of comedy, here’s part of my review:

Whenever Chuck Klosterman gets tired of writing the New York Times’ “Ethicist” column, the editors there should consider throwing out a feeler to Louis C.K. They might have to put up with a few gags about the Holocaust and child murder, but he’s actually a good fit for the position. His media profile is that of the controversial shock-comic who leaps into territory that might daunt Sarah Silverman. But what’s always been most interesting about C.K. is his quaintly earnest examination of morality and life’s purpose, with the occasional joke about cannibalism…

Here’s the promo:

 

New in Theaters: ‘Nobody Walks’

With much less fanfare than greeted her HBO show Girls, Lena Dunham worked on Nobody Walks, a kind of lo-fi hipster / L.A. trash bed-hopping melodrama that gets creepier the closer you look at it. My full review is at PopMatters:

At the start of Nobody Walks, 20something New York artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) gets off a plane in Los Angeles and promptly gets into a heavy make-out session with the handsome man putting her bags in his car. Right there in the parking garage, he begins unbuckling his belt and she puts her hand on his chest and tells him that it was really great talking to him on the plane, but…. He cocks a “can’t blame a guy for trying” look at her, and then gives her a lift. It’s an innocuous and seemingly funny scene, the kind of fumbling comedy you would expect from cowriter Lena Dunham…

Nobody Walks is already playing in limited release.

You can see the trailer here: