The Haunting of Hill House

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

[C.G. Jung]

Without diving too deeply into the specifics of the show, I offer a few quick comments for those considering watching The Haunting of Hill House. 

Mike Flanagan has been no stranger to Netflix and good reviews, with Hush (directed and wrote |RT: 92%), Gerald’s Game (directed and wrote|RT: 90%), & Before I Wake (wrote|RT: 62%) currently available to stream. With Hill House, he makes an indelible mark on the horror genre where the efficacy of the mini-series, consistently advocated on this page, shows itself a formidable force for sucking in the audience into what they know will be a manageable weekend binge. When it comes to the horror genre, writing is the missing element that directors need to embrace even if the audience is satisfied with cheap thrills. The reason for this is because horror taps into the visceral ethos of the human experience as it mines the depths of fear and anticipation in a way that suspends the audiences capacity to think outside themselves and force the memory of death on their being. To say this another way, horror, written well, can force us to confront the phrase Memento Mori (“be mindful of death”) and the psychological threat of our eventual undoing. Our minds, like our bodies, appear resilient, but with every foreign attack we can either develop the antifragile state of Nassim Taleb or become a slave to a fearful state of existence that has plagued our college campuses (see this and this).

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I say all this because Hill House shows glimmers of this throughout. Not only through a craftsmanship of directing (especially that Episode 6), but also through its complex storyboard editing and temporal shifts that invoke the appreciation of the psychological elements of mental breakdown in a completed cycle. We cannot see our own undoing or creation tomorrow, but we can certainly reflect on our potential for either today. Hill House is most scary when it delves into the theology of mental collapse and reminds us of our frail natures.

That said, much of the show strikes parallels with the writing of Jung, and it was here that Flanagan missed an immense opportunity to delve deeply into the psychology of the unconscious and the psychiatry of dreams and religion. Certainly the series is full of obvious plagiarisms from The Conjuring, Babadook, and that Westworld opening rip (that must have been pre-approved or a lawsuit is coming). Some of the writing is abysmal, saying too much and not enough when the plot is begging for clarity or silence. This is part and parcel the problem with American cinema, though. No one seems to be reading anymore and films are becoming little more than the routine small talk that is little else but noise pollution. The ending is disappointing, although many will find it exactly what they hoped for after the nine episodes of emotional disturbances.

There is much to discuss in the series and I encourage people not to simply be satisfied with the obvious entertainment, but use it as an opportunity for introspection.

RATING: B-

La Forêt

RATING: [C-|👎]

As is the nature of Netflix Originals, Delinda Jacobs’s The Forest is a French crime mini-series that feels like a completion project ripping off the creative works of better filmmakers. An unfulfilled esoteric narrative filmed in the beautiful northern forests of France hints at some rooted mystery just around the corner until you turn that bend and realize that the writers had nothing better to offer.

The series traces an all too familiar plot of a small town murder mystery where everyone and no one is a suspect and things are strangely appearing that end up rooted in a mundane explanation. A wild card village citizen who decides to commit her independent spirit to solving the mystery, while finding her own familial story in the process. Sexual tension across the board. Cops being largely useless and seemingly easy to lie to. A saddening demonstration of the corruption of the youth in no small measure due to the lax sexual expectation placed on children (especially French society). Generally unlikable people across the board with alot of warm bodies who do little else than walk around. A melancholy developing dynamic between the town-folks with liars and thieves handing out plot hole fixers.

The show comes nowhere near to a creative development worth watching past the first three episodes. Where a mini-series is supposed to develop and introduce layers to the complex web of fine-tuned writing, The Forest is an exercise in futility comparable to watching hamsters running theirs wheels. weaving narrative that attempts to overlap with the plot-murder that takes an all too familiar feel-good dive into a family  melodrama. And in the end, an immesely boring villain that makes it oh so much easier to appreciate how perfectly casted Glenn Fleshler was in True Detective.

For people who really like crime dramas, it’s not the worst thing in the world, and certainly after Dark, I wish that Netflix had more foreign crime dramas, but much better crime shows exist* for you to waste your time here unless you’ve seen them all.

RATING: C-


*  Here are 5:

  1. The Fall
  2. Mindhunter
  3. Dark
  4. Broadchurch
  5. Luther

And if you can get you hands on True Detective (season one), that is the place to start.

Westworld: SEASON 1 (spoilers)

RATING: [A-|🍅]

I have not decided completely how this review will pan out, but at the very least it will give you a little background on the show and a rating of the series thus far (including S2E1). This post could progress along as S2 progresses, and unveil new theories and ratings and ideas about where the show is headed.


Jonathan Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy have done tremendous things with Westworld season one. And, now, after taking off in 2017, have given us the next installment of this mind-bending ride.

Season 1, with all of its twists and turns seems to just be breaking the surface of what the creators have in mind with this. Westworld is just the beginning, and as we see at the end of Season 1, we see at least one more world (other than “Westworld”) coming onto the scene. We see the letters “SW,” which could either be taken as “Samurai World” or “Shogun World”, especially from the Eastern feel we get from those new/hungry hosts. When Nolan was asked by IGN if “Shogun world . . . [is] the name,” he responded, “[y]ou’ll have to stay tuned.”

With the possibility of other worlds and only having experienced one of the worlds, this means we have only scratched the surface of the show. By the end of Season 1 we haven’t even had a chance to see the “real world” or where in the world these people even are. The only two locations we see are Westworld and the lab that runs it. This is something to expect in Season 2 to be explored more fully. When taking all of the shows elements into perspective this show just barely hits an A, but still hits. There are only a few shows that would best it, never less those few and far between have the higher ratings reserved for them.

Worldview

In regards to worldview, the show seems to present a secular worldview (see final episode “The Bicameral Man” and Ford’s explanation of Michelangelo’s painting), but also (and maybe accidentally) plays into the mind of a Christianity, with the dichotomy between Creator and Created. A natural question throughout the Christian life is the same question that Bernard asks Maeve at the end of Season 1:

“These things you are doing, have you ever stopped to asked yourself, why you are doing them?”

Maeve believed herself to be acting on her own accord the whole time she was part of the rebellion, but it was revealed that each of these steps (all the way to her leaving on a train to the real world!) were already part of her “loop,” or part of her story already written by a Creator. So the Created will always be asking about their own story, much like Maeve reflects on in these final moments of Season 1:

 Is my story already written? How much of my story is already written, and how much am I deciding on?

In other words, who is telling our story? Me? Someone/something else? I love how Aslan responds to Shasta in C.S. Lewis’ Horse and His Boy:

“Child, I am telling you your story, not hers, I tell no one any story but his own.”

Questions about free will or predestination come into play here as well. Are we just automatons of a sort that have a story written by a Creator even though it feels like we make our own decisions? Is it like Ford says, and there really is no need for a Creator, pointing out the human brain hidden in plain sight in Michelangelo’s painting? Or do we have some sort of free will, or can we even break off of our story lines like Maeve ends up doing at the end of Season 1? Remember she gets off the train, thus breaking from the story her creator had destined for her. All interesting questions to think about.

Reminders:

I know it has been a while since Season 1, so let’s remember some things that can help you get back into the show…

Westworld (RECAP)

We are left with Westworld in disarray. A once sprawling countryside with guests who can run amok and do what they will—to a place where not even the guests are safe. There is a rebellion or mutiny of sorts that is getting under way, led by our sweet country girl Dolores and in some ways by our sweet madame of the brothel Maeve.

Delos Corp.

Delos (the company that owns Westworld), have slowly been ousting Ford from his post as headmaster. Run by a little whip Charlotte (who is stuck somewhere at the cocktail party at the end of S1), they will do anything and everything to get rid of Ford. It should also be noted that Delos has been sneaking information out of the park for some use that we do not know.

Ford (Anthony Hopkins)

Ford claims at the end of season 1 that he has done something that Arnold (co-creator of Westworld) could not figure out how to do, and that is to save the hosts. How has he done it? We don’t exactly know, but one thing to remember is that soon after saying he figured out how to save the hosts, a host blew his brains all over some well-to-do humans at a cocktail party. Thus far, we know (and Nolan confirmed via IGN) that it was indeed “a Ford” that died at the end of Season 1. I thought it was very interesting that Nolan said “A Ford” and not “The Ford” or simply “Ford” in his response to IGN about the conclusion of our dear park host (host as in someone who entertains people as guests, not host like . . . well, you know).

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood)

Our sweet dear Dolores has wandered far from her little loop out in the country home with her father. She now is causing a rebellion of Worldly proportions: The voice in her head is now her own and she kicks off these new-found desires with doing what? Oh ya, blowing the brains of Ford all over some well-to-do guests at a cocktail party. Did she do this of her own volition? I don’t know but I could have sworn I saw a twinkle in the eye of Ford (or was that a round making an exit wound) as he raised his glass to toast like he knew exactly what was about to happen.

The Man in Black/William (Ed Harris)

Let us not forget what we already were shown in Season 1, that William is the same person as the man in black separated by about 30 years. Remember we were running two different timelines (at least); and, in one, we have a nice light-haired kid (William) who wants to be respectful of the park and be a gentleman. And, on the other, we have a man [in Black], going to and fro trying to figure out some maze, and who just wants the hosts to fight back. We are left with the Man in Black at the cocktail party getting shot in the arm, to which we can tell he finds extreme delight in. He may finally have a game in which he wants to play.

Bernard (Jeffrey Wright)

Bernard is left at the cocktail party with maybe some insight into what is about to happen. We have no idea where Bernard will end up, or who will find out his dirty little secret. Remember a big secret of Bernard’s is that he is actually a host, who does the bidding (at least until the end of S1) of Ford.

Maeve (Thandie Newton)

Maeve has brought most of the lab/office down and is now boarded on a train to head to the real world. She decides last-minute after having seen a mother and a daughter on the train, to get off and go locate her daughter (who may or may not be “real”).

I hope this article gives you some insights as to the things that are coming and a little refresher or what you most likely have forgotten. Stay tuned as I cover this season and discuss further (on another post), all the new questions that arise in Season 2, and all the theories to go with it.

Enjoy and remember: “These violent delights, have violent ends.

RATING: A-

Wild Wild Country

RATING: [A-|🍅]

“With every crown comes the guillotine”

Exuding an immense level of profundity; here, in the bowels of the Way Brothers, we find a true-life mini-series that taps into the very fabric of human capacity. It taps deeply and with prejudice, collecting in its pedagogical wave of expression incredible stories and overlapping subject-matters that seem only too convenient to be real. And that is precisely what the show warned you would happen. Without ruining the details, here is a quick summary and then I will shut up.

Brothers Chapman and Maclain Way chronicle the incredible tale of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and thousands of his devotees, also called sannyasins, who moved to Antelope, Oregon, a rural community southeast of Portland, to establish their own Heaven on Earth prototype. Bhagwan arrived in 1981, inaugurating years of clashes with local residents, who wanted nothing more than for their new neighbors to pack up and leave. What followed was an array of theological, legal, and cultural overlapping narratives that compliment the direction of the film in its brilliant use of music, cinematography (Adam Stone), and story telling.

In the midst of the Netflix indiscriminate welcome of content that largely serves to waste the time of viewers, once in a while you will find a true pearl of cinematic brilliance: Wild Wild Country is that gem.

RATING: A-


For those interested in more, see this fine display of investigative journalism by the reporters at The Oregonian and the recent interview in the Columbia Journalism Review.

 

Mosaic

RATING: [B-|🍅]

Steven Soderbergh has been a favorite of mine for a long time (admittedly my love for him began with his Ocean trilogy), but has of late failed to produce the same quality film he used to. He has developed an incredible knack for taking good stories and essentially created movies that leave you unsatisfied. I was not expecting much from Mosaic, but found myself pleased with the end result.

Olivia Lake who is played by Sharon Stone (Casino: best actress in leading role) is a well to do artist of a picture book that is a big deal around the circles that surround her in Summit Utah. She has a poor taste in men and seems to attract trouble at all angles, and winds up missing after a New Years party.

The series has typical feel and what ensues is a crime story that leaves the viewer with fragmented pieces that you will not be able to put together. Soderbergh released Mosaic as an app in 2017, but can more recently be viewed as a 6 part miniseries (about 6 hours) on HBO.

You will be guessing to the very end who was involved in the disappearance of Olivia Lake, and many viewers have even found that by the end they were disappointed with the answer, or lack thereof. The final episode on IMDb is the lowest rated of the entire series at a 6.9 because of this. I disagree with IMDb and think the story resolves itself by the end and would actually rate the final episode among the top 3 of the entire series.

Stellar performances by Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound) and Devin Ratray (Nebraska and Buzz from Home Alone!) along with the writing and cinematography place this series among some of the greats. Although True Detective (HBO) and Happy Valley (Netflix) are better crime series, I think this one was underrated on the whole.

The Review from The Atlantic sums it up like this:

“At any given time, it’s both a dazzlingly experimental work and a totally conventional murder mystery. It’s frank and secretive, flooding viewers with information without giving them the tools to make sense of it. The story has multiple different paths to follow, but they all end up in the same place. Less a show than a television experience, it’s brilliant and exasperating.”

Take some time and watch, and I believe you will not be disappointed.

RATING: B-

Collateral

RATING: [C-|👎]

“there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune”

An exhibition of waiting for the main characters to intersect and euthanize the audience into a blissful sleep. With the plot revealed in under 90 minutes, the rest of the show meanders in hopeless writing and banal policing drawing circumstantial conclusions from inane plot development that eventually tells us what audience already knows. If David Hare meant anything by the title, it’s that he’ll continue to wage his on-screen soporific posturing and make the audience the collateral for his banal political discursive.

Checking all the boxes to get BBC on board, David Hare distracts from the murder (which he sacrifices early in order to give his real motivation primacy) with incessant side-piece material regarding the mistreatment of immigrants, sexual harassment in the army, normalization of LGBT sexual relationships among clergy officials (as though the social gospel gives license for carnal indiscretion), subtle hints at human rights violations by Israelis, and reminders of the Iraq War bundle.

Sophie Gilbert covers this well:

Hare, by his own admission, did no research before writing Collateral, which is framed as a police drama but is actually an interrogation of the refugee crisis in Europe. Well, less of an interrogation, more of a lecture series. For a show ostensibly about migration, it spends 95 percent of its time with westerners, who argue incessantly about whether Britain has a right to protect its borders or is cruelly ignoring the plight of the desperately needy. This could be a fruitful exercise, if tackled with care, and a willingness to find nuance in a subject that’s deeply fraught. But Hare, whose work has always had a polemicist strain, paints only in black and white.

Reasonable observers, even with the four episodes, will likely call it a night midway through the second, as one character said, with “a feeling of being played.” If Netflix has proven anything with Mute and now with Collateral, it’s that their modus operandi is quantity over quality: accepting lower end works from directors seeking completion credit.

Of course, critics could not pass on an opportunity to reward banality. Based on the positive review and the inane community college writing from Daniel Feinberg, it does make sense how he could have come to this conclusion:

Hare’s theatrical chops are on better display in the second half of the season, when there are a handful of tremendous two-hander conversations, boosted by series director S.J. Clarkson’s ability to get as much tension from two characters talking as the threat posed by the killer.

The only tension was in the first 30-minutes where the show peaked my only interest in its Type-A baited performances from Hayley Squires and Billie Piper. The performances from the women who dominated the series at every level could have been compounded without losing a thing. With the exception of several parts involving Carey Mulligan, who, although usually great, walks around for most of the show with a countenance of self-satisfaction before solving anything. I’m glad someone else noticed this and wrote it down: “the tough pole-vaulter-turned-detective Kip Glaspie, played by Carey Mulligan with smirking, self-assured charisma.”

If a personification of the script was ever had in the character it portrays, it was in David Hare’s Kip Glaspie, whose entire career in pole-vaulting was ended in a circus spectacle while / trying / her / best.

Uncanny how art imitates life when human error drives both sides.

RATING: C-

Dirty Money

RATING: [B+|🍅]

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Between the four-part documentary based on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, the readily available and affordable book by Lawrence Lessing on the role of money in our government, or the most recent Oscar nominated documentary on the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the story of money and its immense role in our system of governance is anything but boring. And now, famed director, producer, and screenwriter, Alex Gibney, already well known for his impressive body of work on, e.g., Enron (in Smartest Guy in the Room), the War in Afghanistan (in Taxi to the Dark Side), Scientology (in Going Clear), and Wikileaks (in We Steal Secrets), coordinates a Netflix Original about corporate greed that is this years most captivating miniseries (so far).

Dirty Money centers around six-episodes.

EPISODE 1 covers the fraud perpetuated by Volkswagen (VW) when it lied to consumers about the environmental friendliness of their vehicles, while passing U.S. emissions standards for their diesel engines (TDIs) by installing “defeat devices” that gave false readings to regulators. This issue not only implicated VW, but the enforcement mechanism in Germany and a number of German car manufacturers who attempted to run contrived research studies (including testing on “non-human primates”) to continue in their deceit.

Dirty Money Ep 1

RATING: B+

EPISODE 2 is about Scott Tucker and his payday lending scheme that preyed on the poor living paycheck-to-paycheck by approving short-term loans and then gouging borrowers through finance charges. Among the strategies was hiding the payday enterprise using Indian Tribes exempt from state lending laws by virtue of “sovereign immunity” and shady lawyers who knew full well that the language in the contracts was unintelligible to average consumers.

payday

RATING: B

EPISODE 3 begins with “pharma boy” CEO, Marin Shkreli, who spiked the price of Daraprim (prescription medication) and got sent to prison for securities fraud. However, the episode is not about him, but about the industry that allows losers like Shkreli to thrive. Stories include: the rise of Valeant behind Mike Pearson; stock short sellers driven by the narrative of an incredibly interesting individual named Fahmi Quadir (obsessive in her research: a real life Taylor Mason); Philidor‘s con by contrived subsidiary pharmaceutical shell for the purpose of running prescriptions through insurance companies; and, the impact that healthcare fraud has on the average American. Richly complicated and deservingly so with a story of this magnitude.

valeant

RATING: A-

EPISODE 4 is about HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) and their conspiracy with the Mexican drug cartel to launder money and enable the corruption, murder, and injustice already rampant in the country. Illustrated partly by an incredible journalist, Anabel Hernández (wrote about the Mexican cartel/government connection), this episode talks about the failure of the U.S. government to adequately prosecute HSBC, instead deciding through a deferred prosecution agreement that the banking executive can pay a fine to stay out of jail (precisely what happened after the housing collapse – “too big to jail”).

hsbc

RATING: B

EPISODE 5 is about Canada’s maple syrup federation, their attempt to control the production of maple syrup, and the theft of millions in surplus syrup by anti-federation producers. Episode touches incidentally on some of the themes prominent in the series, but it’s ultimately the ugly duckling of the group.

maple-syrup-21

RATING: C+

EPISODE 6 is about everyone’s favorite new president and how he climbed his daddy’s real estate ladder to wealth, how he failed miserably in Atlantic City, how he manufactured his delusion self-image, and how he went on to success once more by befriending corrupt foreigners and conning the American people through Wizard of Oz-type branding. Interestingly, this episode is listed as episode 2 on IMDB, suggesting the order was adjusted (I’m guessing) in a strategic move to stir up the viewers for maximum resentment against Trump.

trump-taj-mahal

RATING: B+