I cancelled Britbox this week, not because they are a bad service but because I like switching my streaming services up now and again. I wasn’t sure what I was going to subscribe to next, spent entirely too much time going through them all before making a decision, actually. Then I saw that the third season of True Detective was starting, and I immediately signed up to HBO.
I caught the first two episodes (which I’ll talk more about in a minute) then started in on several other HBO shows I’ve been hearing good things about (one of which I’ll get to in another minute, others I’ll wait until next week to discuss). So let’s get started.
True Detective: Season Three
Like just about every one, I absolutely loved season one of this anthology crime show. It was brilliantly shot and acted, philosophical and atmospheric. Just fantastic television all around. I even like its rather contentious ending. Also, like just about everyone else, I didn’t care for season two. I won’t say I hated it but after three episodes, I moved on and never came back. Early reviews for Season Three called it a return to form, and I was ready to see where it went.
Two episodes have been released and it definitely feels like a course correction. Once again, we’ve got a violent crime set in a southern town (this time it's set in western Arkansas not far from where I grew up) with two very different but equally committed cops out to solve the case. It flashes forwards and backwards through time much like Season One did, except now it's moving through three different time periods - 1980, when the crime happened;1990, where one of the cops is being interviewed by fellow officers about the case; and 2015, where he is being interviewed by a true-crime show.
Mahershala Ali plays the lead and he’s mesmerizing no matter the time period. The first two episodes were directed by Jeremy Saulnier whom I love. I’m excited to see where it goes.
The reception to this film has been very strange to me. There was a very fast and very powerful blitz of buzz just before and right after it dropped onto Netflix. It felt like everyone was talking about it. In a rare instance, Netflix then released ratings for the movie indicating it was watched by more than 80 million people. At first, it seemed like every one liked it. I caught up with it a few weeks after that, and when I tweeted that I was watching it, multiple people commented that it was overrated and meh.
I suppose that’s normal for any massively popular show; there are always going to be those who hate it or find it over rated. I guess what seemed strange to me about Bird Box is that I really liked it. I found it to be a thrilling piece of cinema. So to have my reaction immediately negated by my friends was weird.
Real quick, the plot works like this: in a post-apocalyptic world, monsters have invaded Earth and infect anyone who looks at them so that they either immediately commit suicide or become their slaves. We learn about the early days of this disaster and then follow Sandra Bullock as she takes two small children with her down a river to a sanctuary. There are lots of things one could nit-pick including the fact that there is no way Sandra Bullock is surviving navigating a winding river in a small boat with two kids in tow while blind-folded, but for me that’s just part of the genre. There are always nit-picks in thrillers and if you are going to be bothered by unrealistic things, you need to pick another genre. I put my mind in check and enjoyed the ride.
The Pizza Tapes: Extra Large Edition by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman became friends in the late '60s and were in the seminal bluegrass group Old & In the Way during the early 1970s. Then they lost touch with each other for over a decade. In the late 1980s, they reconnected and would periodically get together over at Grisman’s house to hang out and play music. Thankfully, Grisman recorded pretty much everything they played and has released half a dozen records out of it.
During one of those jam sessions, Grisman invited Tony Rice to join them. Rumor has it that a pizza delivery dude stole Garcia’s copy of that tape and it made the rounds amongst bootleg collectors. This pissed Grisman off to no end and he stuck the masters in a vault for a long while. He finally released the recordings, snarkily entitled The Pizza Tapes, in 2000. It is a fantastic album.
In 2010, he released this deluxe edition which includes 16 additional tracks. Most of these are run-throughs with the musicians practicing the songs and working out the versus, solos, etc. The music on these extra tracks ins’t necessarily all that amazing, or at least not as amazing as the fully played songs, but the conversations are priceless. This is three master musicians working out how to play together, and just having fun all laid out before out ears. It is insightful, delightful, and wonderful to hear.
My embarrassing admission is that I initially thought this HBO series was about the early days of Barack Obama. I didn’t change my mind when I learned it starred Bill Hader. I actually thought he played Obama and that the series would be a satire playing up the alt-right conspiracy that Obama was secretly a Muslim spy.
I was completely wrong, of course. Hader does play Barry. He’s not the former President but rather a hitman who really just wants to act. It's a very dark comedy that is sharply written and finely drawn. I’m only a few episodes in but I’m really enjoying it.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins adaptation of the James Baldwin novel is sumptuous, ethereal, and utterly gorgeous. The characters are not really well drawn and the plot is a little thing, but it more than makes up for it in cinematography and mood. The actors are all quite good and say more with an expression than any of their scripted words. It's a film I immediately wanted to go back and see just to live inside those images one more time.
I Am the Night
Chris Pine teams up again with his Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins for this TNT series about a girl with a mysterious past and a washed-up reporter who discover the dark underbelly of Los Angeles and possibly solve the famous Black Dahlia case. Or maybe not. But it definitely has something to do with the Black Dahlia. Trailer looks good.