Last year, 2018, was the biggest year ever at the domestic box office. There were some great movies, sure, regardless of their financial success, but it still felt like a weird year for Hollywood. The dark pall cast by the Weinstein case revealed the industry to be hopelessly stuck in the past (to understate the matter), run by rich white men and increasingly monopolized media conglomerates. Green Book winning Best Picture did not help.
So, how did 2019 respond? Essentially in two ways:
- Martin Scorsese refers to Marvel movies as “not cinema”. He goes on to clarify and reclarify his position, which is in turn either refuted or bolstered by nearly everyone in Hollywood. But the point is out there now, whether you agree or not: there’s the Hollywood that cares about money, about starpower, about IP, about all four quadrants, about comic-book fandoms and release calendars and streaming services and cosplay-riddled convention hall trailer reactions; and yet, somewhere, there’s still the Hollywood that truly cares about the movies, quaint an idea as that may be. Partly due to Scorsese’s willingness to speak truth to power, many spent 2019 redefining and rediscovering cinema.
- Disney, meanwhile, spent 2019 expanding its revenue base by a record $10 billion.
I watched about 100 new movies in 2019 and it seemed like Adam Driver was in most of them. The first one I saw was Alita: Battle Angel and the last one was The Two Popes, both of which were full of guns-blazing action. Chris Evans holds the distinction of starring in the year’s biggest (Avengers: Endgame), one of the year’s best (Knives Out) and also one of the year’s absolute worst (The Red Sea Diving Resort). And just when you thought toxic discourse about Star Wars fandom couldn’t explode any further, The Rise of Skywalker and Baby Yoda brought us to the brink of an Alderaan-level event.
But those aren’t the stats you care about. You just came for the best:
Continue reading Best of 2019
For a good long while the prestigious mantle of Most Overdone Superhero Story was without a doubt the origin tale. Dead parents, ancient birthrights, Chosen Ones, freak laboratory accidents — after a while people caught on to the fact that all of these were basically following the same formula. We’ve seen Bruce Wayne witness the death of his parents upwards of seven different times. Time for something new! Take the third season of Jessica Jones, a show which gracefully skirted an origin tale in its first season only to backtrack into one for its sophomore outing. Surely the third season of the most unlikely Marvel/Netflix venture must break fresh ground, especially considering that this third season is also the last. Right?
To be fair, it’s more likely than not that Jessica Jones was never intended to conclude after Season 3, what with the collective axing of Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Punisher and any future spinoffs Marvel/Netflix might have had in the oven. Despite the popular rumor that Disney might resurrect some of these properties for their Disney+ platform, that seems doubtful to me. And with the increasing tedium characteristic of each and every one of those shows, maybe that’s a good thing.
Continue reading Jessica Jones – Season 3
Television is an unforgiving medium. Superficially, the longer format should theoretically give rise to opportunity for deeper character development than can usually be accomplished in a two-hour film. Among many takeaways from the first chunk of episodes of True Detective‘s third season was this: Wayne Hays is a great television character that would likely turn out differently in almost any other medium. The other edge of this sword, of course, is that a whole season of television is a fairly long time to invest in any specific narrative. And among many takeaways from ‘Tec‘s third season finale “Now Am Found” was this: Wayne Hays deserved a much better ending.
The issue with the climactic hour — which has already proven fairly divisive amongst both fans and detractors of this season’s arc — lies less in what happened than in how it happened. In our review of the penultimate episode “The Final Country”, we listed a few things that we expected out of the finale. Not all of them came to pass:
Continue reading True Detective 3.8 – “Now Am Found”
Though “The Final Country” didn’t pack quite the wallop of last week’s “Hunters in the Dark”, one can mostly chalk that up to the role of a penultimate episode of television in properly setting the stage for a finale. “Hunters” seemingly had a cliffhanger, but in actuality the hour told one of the most self-contained stories in True Detective to date. We saw and understood Tom Purcell’s shift from sobered-up reformee to off-the-wagon vigilante, spurred by an unjust targeting from those he thought were his friends (and by a little eavesdropping at the police station). Tom’s ultimate fate wasn’t necessarily something we knew, but then again the reveal of his dead body in the opening minutes of “Final Country” felt pretty inevitable. If “Hunters” hadn’t been such a closed loop, any remorse over Tom’s death would’ve felt unearned.
The end of “Final Country” was a true cliffhanger, though. The primary question isn’t so much whodunit? anymore, though we do still need specifics regarding how the Hoyt Family, a man named Watts and/or Mister June, Lucy Purcell, Dan O’Brien and Princess Julie all fit together. The primary question now, as 1990 Wayne hops into the car with The Character That Knows the Truth, is how 2015 Wayne could still be so far away from that truth all these years later.
Continue reading True Detective 3.7 – “The Final Country”
If you’re as into this season of True Detective as I am, “Hunters in the Dark” had it all.
Plot-wise there were developments we knew were coming, like the wrongful incrimination of Brett Woodard in the 1980 timeline. There was a whole bunch of stuff we probably didn’t know was coming, mostly stemming from the 1990 timeline and Tom Purcell’s regression back into a suspect in the eyes of the police. There was, of course, a big ol’ reveal at the end, one that we’ll talk about in a second after we issue a spoiler warning for that spoilery spoiler.
Continue reading True Detective 3.6 – “Hunters in the Dark”
My favorite moments of True Detective, regardless of which season we’re discussing, are those that find an artful way to play with the storytelling devices. Very few television series even attempt something besides linear narrative, but at times ‘Tec goes beyond just a standard bookend flashback structure. At the outset of the first season, “The Long Bright Dark” seemed content to tell a 1995-set story framed by grainy camcorder footage of two characters recounting their experiences in 2012. But by the end of the episode our 2012 lens separated itself from the camcorder, and from that point on the first season had two timelines running with equal weight on both.
The third season has three of those timelines, more of a challenge in maintaining the feeling that each of them is as important, and “If You Have Ghosts” wobbled ever so slightly in juggling all of that. 1990 Wayne may always have been predisposed to snapping into an argumentative holier-than-thou rant, but his fuse in those segments of the story is now almost comically short. “Ghosts” felt like the longest episode of the season (which was actually last week’s 75-minute “The Hour and the Day”), partially because we’re inescapably at the threshold of a big break in all three timelines. We know the Woodard Altercation is linked to the Purcell case in 1980, we know Wayne and Roland do something bad in 1990, and we know 2015 Wayne will experience a revelation in what he does and does not remember about his life’s work. The fact that the specifics of that knowledge are still being withheld is still mostly tantalizing, but slightly frustrating in an episode as “long” as this one.
Continue reading True Detective 3.5 – “If You Have Ghosts”
The fourth episode of a given season of True Detective is apparently where the action comes in. After the first season kicked off with three episodes of deep philosophizing, “Who Goes There” gave us a heart-in-your-throat action chase in one of television’s most ambitious tracking shots. The fourth episode of the second season, “Down Will Come”, similarly launched us into a shitshow shootout that we’d eventually learn was the high point of the season.
The third season’s fourth entry brought us right up to that point, prepping us for a major action sequence…and then it cut to black right at the literal detonation. It’s somewhat rare to have a dearth of action sequences in our modern film and television entertainment, regardless of the genre. Outside of Mindhunter — which had not a single car chase, shootout, fistfight or explosion over the course of ten hourlong episodes — police procedurals are especially reliant on action. NCIS and the like have at least one set piece per episode.
Continue reading True Detective 3.4 – “The Hour and the Day”
As we discussed in our review of last week’s episode “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” the macro-level focus of True Detective has eschewed a mere whodunit? in favor of complex, haunted characters embroiled in ever-shifting family dynamics. When the two switch places — when plot overrides character, or when the plot twists at the expense of character development — it doesn’t necessarily make True Detective into a bad show so much as it makes it an atmospheric version of every other police procedural on TV. Working out a case is fun as a viewer, but it’s far more compelling to tag along as a well-crafted set of characters works it out (or doesn’t).
…that being said, the case unfolding in the third season of ‘Tec is a very, very compelling one. What started as a cut-and-dry kidnapping case was already more complicated by the end of the first episode, but “The Big Never” threw several big wrenches into the mix. In 1980, Wayne and Roland look into a possible connection with the local grocery plant and chase down an angle concerning the Purcells’ “best friend.” In 1990, Roland gives a deposition that paints both of those developments as important revelations. And in 2015, Wayne desperately clings to the facts of the case in an effort to finally solve it.
Continue reading True Detective 3.3 – “The Big Never”
HBO’s release strategies for their flagship series have always been carefully planned, and the one-two punch of the first two episodes of True Detective’s new season is no exception. The hooks were in after the first episode, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” but the character depth provided by “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” all but guarantees a return audience next week. The eight episode season will take us to the end of February, when the hype train for April’s Game of Thrones will be full steam ahead. And then, though there’s no official release date, look for HBO’s Watchmen to premiere right around the end of Thrones.
The premiere placement of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” was smart on another level, though, because it got to the heart of what made ‘Tec great in the first place. Both episodes unfurled a twisty and time-jumpy mystery, but “Goodbye” had a particular focus on family that heightened investment in the whole affair. Complicated family dynamics are what the first season had and what the second season lacked, and the characters of this third season — Hays and the Purcell Family for sure, but even “minor” characters like Woodard — are better for having to balance a home life with their work.
Continue reading True Detective 3.2 – “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
To a child of the 21st century, the ancient era referred to as “the Eighties” must seem like a difficult place to live. No cell phones. No internet. None of that pervasive interconnectedness borne of technology where everyone knows everything the second it happens. If you hear that Steve McQueen just died, you hear about it through a friend who heard from somewhere else. And if your kids don’t come back home when they’re supposed to, you can’t just ping the Find My iPhone button in your pocket.
About one-third of the new season of True Detective is set in these quaint, social media-less Eighties — starting on November 7th, 1980, to be exact. A few things happened that day. Steve McQueen died. It was a full moon. And two kids went missing in Arkansas, Will and Julie Purcell, ages 10 and 12. That missing persons case extends far beyond 1980, though, having a profound effect on those involved for decades to come.
Continue reading True Detective 3.1 – “The Great War and Modern Memory”