Is it ironic or intentional that Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac didn’t get much of a rise out of me? I wouldn’t call myself a von Trier fan, but I very much liked Melancholia and The Five Obstructions, and I found many things to appreciate in Dogville, Antichrist and even Dancer in the Dark, even though there was also a lot about these films that irritated me. In online discussions about the Danish enfant terrible and his films, more often than not I’ve defended him: his provocations are smarter and less adolescent than they may look at first (though I’m sure the director is quite happy being an adolescent by choice at times), he’s not just screwing with his audience because it gets him all hot and bothered. He chafes, but the friction is there for a reason.
Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is a good movie, but it falls short of being great. Which is weird because the ingredients all seem to be there. That shortcoming is also a nuisance because at times, the movie looks so damn good and well-made, only to trip and fall over technical details. Let me grind my dagger of the mind and have at it.
Let’s say I was given a choice: either I give up all the movies in my collection or I say goodbye to all the box sets I’ve got. Which do I let go of? The Criterion disks I’ve amassed since I first discovered the Collection would make this a difficult choice, but in the end I think I would want to hang on to the series I’ve got. The thought of not having constant and (nearly) instant access to Six Feet Under, Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, as well as some of the later additions such as Treme or Hannibal is arguably worse than suddenly being bereft of the many, many films filling the shelves of the many, many Billy bookcases that we have accrued.
Against some pretty serious odds, I very much love James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour. I didn’t think too much of Jason Segel before. I sort of liked him in the goofy Jeff Who Lives at Home, but he was slightly too neurotic for me in How I Met Your Mother (yes, I know, neurotic behavior was that show’s trademark). Jesse Eisenberg is always watchable, even if he has to play uptight, angsty mid-twens most of the time.
I like good political TV. If done well, I like politics both as a theme and as a setting; arguably, a series such as the original BBC House of Cards looks like it’s about politics, but it’s really Richard III in a pinstripe suit, set in and around Westminster. It’s very much concerned with power and corruption, but does it tell us anything meaningful about politics? You may very well say think that; I couldn’t possibly comment. Then there are series such as The West Wing, and while may be something of a US-centric liberal fantasia, it is intensely concerned, and not a little in love, with the democratic process, which makes it a very different beast from House of Cards. Even if you look beyond conventional drama to genre TV, you’ll find politics: for much of its running time, I’d absolutely say that Battlestar Galactica (the Olmos/McDonnell one, not the ’70s extravaganza) was a deeply political series in both senses.
The Lobster is one of the most unsettling comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It might not be a comedy at all. What unsettled me was not only the world it is set in, but also some of the scenes of the movie. To wit: If you are single, the authorities pick you up and bring you to some cheerless high-end spa hotel where you have to find a partner because they are of the opinion that the world is a better place when there are two of something. This is why your one hand is tied behind your back for the first two days at the hotel. There are also silly dumb shows about how twosomeness is much safer. If you don’t succeed in finding a partner within 45 days, you will be transformed into the animal of your choice. The hotel manager (Olivia Colman) patiently explains that this will solve the problem of endangered animal species. That’s coercion for the greater ecological good; it’s a throwaway line because the movie also works without it, for instance as an absurd utopia, but it made my skin crawl.
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
— Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love
Remember the days when we were all wondering what was down that hatch and what the hell those numbers meant? (I sometimes can’t remember what I ate the previous evening, but I will be able to list those damn numbers on my deathbed: 4, 8, 15, 16…) Remember when we were itching to find out more about Jacob, or the Others, or what the hell that black fog creature was? And remember those last couple of seasons that basically mocked us for wanting to know by saying, “Answers? Answers are for dummies. Have a trite, saccharine scene in a church instead.”