2013 Milwaukee Film Festival Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Aug/150

In Appreciation: True Detective Season 2

TD TitleThe story’s told
with facts and lies
I had a name
but never mind
-Leonard Cohen-

I don't dip into the well of television writing very often with the most prominent exception being our final thoughts on the finale of Breaking Bad.  But the loud and frequent flogging of True Detective's second was both somewhat expected and still unnecessarily harsh.  Nic Pizzolatto won more of the creative freedom he sought after his behind-the-scenes clashes with season 1 director Cary Fukunaga.  As the saying goes, he was expected to put up or shut up, and based on the critical reaction to season 2 it seems many would be fine if he shut up.  Admittedly, I haven't followed many of the reactions closely give or take a casual glance through the AV Club reviews and the writings of Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic I admire very much.  Seitz's reaction went from cautious praise of the first episodes to carefully metered admiration of the few high points in an otherwise deeply flawed season in his later writings.  His reaction, and now my own, are why True Detective's second season is worthy of greater conversation than the first, because the general reaction to the second season shows the way we watch and evaluate television has changed greatly since even The Sopranos or Breaking Bad kick-started the latest televisual renaissance.

Thanks to the wonder of HBO Go, I was able to marathon all eight episodes of season 2 yesterday on my 75-inch television.  I don't point these details out as a lark, but because how I watched it greatly changed my reaction to it.  Television is still in that murky spot where audiences are growing to anticipate each show follow a sort of serialized structure but creators are slowly forgetting that for the serialized structure to hold up each episode has to stand on its own.  Being able to go right from one episode to the next in great visual clarity allowed me to more quickly understand the scope of Pizzolatto's vision for season 2 as well as understand the frustrations of those who had to watch it week to week.  The fifth episode was so wretched and inconsequential that if I watched them as they aired I'm sure I would have either given up on season 2 or adopted a similar position to Seitz's.  Instead, I was able to watch it in great quality and gird myself through the tedium through to the home stretch.  It's a luxury, one not everyone shares, and I don't intend on bashing the critics for not being able to construct the same experience I did.

What I will do is bemoan some of the asinine responses bordering on "buy my True Detective fan-fiction" and concern trolling pieces about the slight decline in viewership numbers.  Both of those articles make a mistake common in criticism by analyzing the product for what the author wants it to be instead of what it is.  I'm not immune to slipping into this mode of analysis and a lot of my early writing flings out terms like "unsympathetic" or "plot hole" as if these were robust criticisms.  The problem with this approach is the product is not, as some have suggested about season 2, a story "bored with itself", but something that requires the viewer to get outside themselves for a moment to try and consider just what the product is doing.  This is why I've gradually shifted from a "will people like this?" approach to reviews and more "what is this doing?"  If you decide to join me in this path, I assure you more works of art, not just movies or television, will appeal to you.

Since I brought it up, what is season 2 of True Detective up to?  Let's start with the lead investigators of season 2, which director Justin Lin creates an instantly recognizable short-hand for in the first episode and the remaining directors (with one notable exception) disregard.

12Oct/130

2013 Milwaukee Film Festival Wrap-Up – Stephen Dorff’s Weird Buddy Movie and the Most Terrifying Film of the Festival

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The Rambler

The Rambler (Dir. Calvin Reeder) – 4/5

Trying to give a rating to a movie like The Rambler is hard, because your initial impression is likely to change over time. It's bizarre in a way that's hard to do justice to in words, at times feeling like what would happen if Twin Peaks had been made by Rob Zombie. My first thoughts immediately after watching it were that while impressive, a movie so viscerally demanding needed to offer something a bit more for the audience than to be able to walk out of the theater thinking, “Hey, that was real weird.” Coming around to it a few days later, I'm not sure that's fair. The Rob Zombie comparison is especially appropriate in the case of a movie like The Devil's Rejects—both films are so morbidly committed to their subjects that they create a real world out of the absurd, and while no sane person would wish to visit these worlds, they're fascinating to behold from a distance.

9Oct/130

2013 Milwaukee Film Festival #6 – Jafar Panahi is a Saint, and the Flight of the Conchords Movie That Wasn’t

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Closed Curtain

Closed Curtain (Dir. Jafar Panahi) – 4/5

Jafar Panahi has more or bigger balls than I do — if I was delivered a 6-year prison sentence and banned from making films for 20 years by the Iranian government, I would not continue to make them in my home and smuggle them out of the country, and then on top of that boldly claim that they aren't films for satirical, tongue-in-cheek reasons. It's the equivalent of getting yelled at for picking on a sibling, and then standing with your finger a half-inch away from them repeatedly saying “I'm not touching you.” That the films Panahi has made are funny, heartfelt, and maintain a sense of undeterred hope overlays the courage necessary to make them in the first place with a kind of humanistic sainthood.

7Oct/130

2013 Milwaukee Film Festival #5 – Snow White the Bullfighter and a Cheery Look at Healthcare

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Blancanieves

Blancanieves (Dir. Pablo Berger) – 5/5

Blancanieves is a modern silent film adapting the Snow White story to early-1900s Spain shot in stark black and white and set in the world of bullfighting. If that doesn't sound like something you want to see, then I fear for you. Director Pablo Berger proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that black and white can produce some of the most stunning images in the medium, and the decision to shy away from not only synchronous sound but also color was appropriate for a fairy tale world, where something unknown lurks around every corner and characters are either Good or Bad, with little room in between.

5Oct/130

2013 Milwaukee Film Festival #4 – If You Build It and The Act of Killing

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If You Build It

If You Build It (Dir. Patrick Creadon) – 3/5

If You Build It is about two high school teachers who have thought long and hard about how to incorporate an answer to that familiar question of “when are we ever going to have to use this” into their classroom. Patrick Creadon's documentary follows Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller over the course of a year teaching an innovative (and underfunded) hybrid between design and shop class called Studio H for a North Carolina High School. Students get special credit for enrolling in the off-site afternoon class, where they learn the fundamentals of design, how to create models, and how to use a variety of tools, and they eventually must put these skills to use creating a permanent structure for a farmers market in their town.

The documentary shows the benefit such a program has for the kids, as they learn the potential to actually affect the world around them, and it raises questions about the importance of application to certain types of education. The topic is timely, but the film isn't necessarily essential to the larger current conversation about education reform. Still, it's worth checking out if you have the chance.