A long-in-development, eight-episode miniseries, The Night Of has the heft and snap of that rare crime novel which seems to have been written by somebody who has actually talked to a few cops and crooks in their time. That’s because it’s written by Richard Price, whose gritty, funny novels from The Wanderers to The Whites provide a kind of alternate history of New York.
What’s it about? In short, a good kid from Queens (Riz Ahmed) goes out when he shouldn’t, hangs out with a girl who fairly screams bad news, and ends up in a police station. For murder. John Turturro plays his low-end lawyer with a heart of gold; in a role that James Gandolfini originated not long before his death.
The Night Of is on HBO Sunday nights; check it out. My review is at PopMatters:
The world of cops, judges, and lawyers is one that sorts the people who come within its grasp. That’s at least the case in crime fiction like HBO’s darkly sparkling new noir miniseries The Night Of. It’s generally a binary thing, without much shading…
The newest Martin Scorsese/Terence Winter series Vinyl is in many ways like their last one, Boardwalk Empire: A pulpy concoction of jagged historical anecdotes thrown into the HBO antihero blender. This time, instead of bootleggers and crooked politicians conniving during Prohibition in a glitzed-up Atlantic City, it’s an origin story for punk (and potentially hip-hop) set in a rotting 1973 New York.
Vinyl is running Sunday nights on HBO. My review of the two-hour Scorsese-directed premiere is at PopMatters:
It’s easy to see what’s grabbing the attention of cocaine-dusted record exec Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) at the concert that bookends the two-hour premiere episode of Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s HBO series Vinyl. First, he’s watching the New York Dolls, slashing and burning their way through “Personality Crisis” at the downtown firetrap Mercer Arts Center before a crowd of rangy and be-glittered kids with the look of fervent religious converts. Second, although his company, American Century, seems to have once had a few hits, it’s now a creatively irrelevant laughingstock (nickname: “American Cemetery”) that he’s trying to unload to a cabal of clueless Germans before they realize just how cooked the books really are. His life is unraveling, and his juices are dry (more on that in a minute). The guy needs a fix. Rock and roll is there to save him, for the first time in far too long..
If the question of what would happen to the big-dreaming boys from Queens occupied you for one minute after Entourage finished its eighth season in 2011, then Entourage the movie might be your kind of superfluous entertainment. If not, then stay far, far away. After all, this is not a film so much as it is a shrugging “Sure, why the hell not?” afterthought of a media brand extension…
Even though it was produced in association with Kurt Cobain’s family, the new documentary about his tragically short life has a bracing honesty that makes it required viewing.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is playing now in limited release and also on HBO. My review is at Film Racket:
Brett Morgen’s deft and fascinating documentary about America’s last true rock star is shot through with inevitability. But that never detracts from the raw emotional power of a film made up mostly of Kurt Cobain’s nakedly confessional journals and recordings. The film’s story can’t help but carry a mythic quality. That doesn’t mean that Morgen, working with the authorization of Cobain’s family, created a worshipful monument to genius. It’s true that to appreciate Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, it certainly helps to at least approve of a Nirvana song here and there. But this isn’t a fan’s valentine. At times it feels closer to hate mail from the artist himself…
Curiously 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.
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.
My 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…
Larry 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…
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.
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.
Adding 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.
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?
Case in point, Louis C.K.’s latest special, Oh My God. If you read my review of it that ran on PopMattersyesterday, 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…
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.
Alfred Hitchcock had his issues, no question about that. But although his obsessions with guilt, control, and particularly various of his leading ladies have been well documented in print, outside of the cineaste world those proclivities are not well known. That might change somewhat with the release of The Girl.
Premiering in late October on HBO, The Girl is about the legendary campaign of intimidation that Hitch waged against his star Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds. Hedren herself has talked about what a miserable experience it was, calling him an “unusual, genius, and evil” filmmaker.
The film about the film stars Sienna Miller as Hedren and (applause) the great Toby Jones as Hitch himself. The director is Julian Jarrold, who directed the first and best of the Red Riding films back in 2009.
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