IMO: Extremism is the New Reality

I assume the intellectual set has come up with the term for today’s obsession for extremism representing the last decade in television and filmmaking. Or is this post-post-post modernism? Netflix and Amazon, HBO, to name a few, have kicked the shins of the traditional format for movie making and television. They don’t have to abide by FCC rules. FCC rules found here. The result? Cable television has few restrictions, if at all. Their influence has had a dramatic effect.

1. Nudity and sex are commonplace.

2. Profanity has never been raunchier.

3. Deviant behavior storylines abound.

4. Apocalyptic storylines abound.

5. There is no God.

By now I’m guessing you think I’m a prude and ultra-Conservative suggesting we reinstate a censorship board to protect the virtues inherent in children and society as a whole. Like in the 80s when the moral majority attempted to control the hair bands by censoring their music with a warning label.

NO. I’m not on a soapbox trying to persuade you that amorality has us enthralled. I’m saying we are desensitized. Like blogging and self-publishing, we are inundated with choices. The speed at which the removal of barriers, not for the purpose of telling a story that needs to be heard, but for the shock value to hook us, is akin to the rush of cocaine to distance oneself from the boredom of normalcy. The barriers I’m referring to are 1 – 5 above. 

For the record, narratives of varying viewpoints are welcome. Go LGBT. My idea of deviance is a storyline about torture. Especially children. (Absentia, The Alienist). Nudity and Sex in all its variations. Game of Thrones. Westworld. The use of extreme profanity. Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has its raunchy moments. Pick your series!

Take Netflix’s new hit, The Russian Doll, for instance. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, it is a dark comedy-drama that has a smart, highly entertaining storyline. Natasha Lyonne’s character Nadia describes herself as “If Andrew Dice Clay and Merida from Brave had a child…” referencing the Disney heroine with big red hair along with the 80s NY comedian who was banned for his crass and rowdy routine. (Since A Star is Born, his raunchy routine redux tour has sold out.)

I focused on the Mindbender aspects of the story when I watched season 1 and tried hard to ignore the extreme profanity and casual sex and substance abuse like it was a mainstream part of life. It’s obviously made for a mature audience, but like the previous examples, the access to them is unrestricted. The story for select audiences becomes mainstream. 

As a teacher,  I have seen students watch this before, during lunch, and after school, because they heard it was really good. I have to confiscate phones daily. Students will plug their buds in their ears and tune in to their phone during the middle of class. They are addicted to extremism. And it can’t compete with learning. Learning a subject takes imagination and repetitious practice and active engagement.

Dragons and witches will rule in April with the advent of Game of Thrones. Who does the storyline target? Banging sex is a part of the package. It’s hard to watch students obsessed with it during school hours. I’m betting elementary and middle school kids have seen it, too.

It’s the stripping of inference and the death of imagination for the sake of extremism that has me concerned. When you reposition what was once behind closed doors to the center stage and put it up on a platform for all to see, especially children & teenagers, the loss of innocence has me wondering what price will we pay for this new liberation? 

Can you imagine films and television in the next ten to twenty years? What happens when there is no more envelope to push? Taboos a thing of the past? Do we need taboos in society? Or will it one day be okay to watch child sex in a television series and sadomasochism and bestiality?

“Restriction” has now become the foulest word in the English language followed closely behind “moderation”.

I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir. Talk about gritty, deviant storylines. I know Hitch was restricted by the studio system (probably a good thing) because it caused him to tell a creepy story by using devices that activated the imagination. I enjoy historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries. I crave complicated characters and smart dialogue. Tell the story. Please, don’t forget the underrated technique of subtlety.

The point: films and television series have pushed the envelope off the table with unnecessary jolting language and abusive or sexual situations to the mainstream.

What films or television series do you notice embrace the extreme? If you took out the extreme elements would the storyline suffer?  

Are you not entertained? Films & TV

Here is what I have seen lately. Did you like these, too? 

FILMS     

First Man (2018) I like all director Damien Chazelle’s films and several times I have enjoyed watching Ryan Gosling on the screen. There was a lot to appreciate in First Man, the story behind NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. The acting of Claire Foy and the entire ensemble cast including (Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, and Jason Clarke) combined with the launching of Apollo 11, all shots on the moon from the first imprint to the epic “A small step for man; a giant leap for mankind,” the absence of sound, the contrast of heat and ice, the sacrifices of the pilots, and the tragedy of the daughter all took my breath away. The only issue I had with the film was Ryan Gosling’s performance. Yes, Neil Armstrong was a cool cucumber under crazy twisty-turvy situations. Gosling interpreted Armstrong by standing devoid of emotion for two hours. Despite the weeping scene at the beginning, Gosling performance was much like Officer K in Blade Runner 2. Maybe you liked how Ryan played the engineer, the emotionally distant husband and father, Neil Armstrong? Regardless, the movie made feel like I was an astronaut with the shaky camera making me dizzy at times, and I suspect that was Damien Chazelle’s intention. I like visceral films. It was well worth the price of admission.  4.2/5

  Look Who’s Back (2015) is a satirical, black comedy from the best-selling book by Timur Vermes, published in 2012 by Eichborn Verlag. Hitler comes back through some cosmic time hole and wakes up in present-day Berlin. The gag is people around him think he’s an actor in costume. People think it is some type of joke and amuse Adolf (Oliver Masucci) asking at times, “Don’t you ever break character?”  Hitler is introduced on a comedy show and he goes viral. As his confidence grows, his rhetoric turns dark but those around him are enjoying the advance in their careers and tolerate the kinks in his personality because they want to milk the cash cow. There are a couple of obstacles. One lone studio colleague points out the crass, despicable raising of another Hitler to popularity, but he is ignored by ambitious Katja (Katja Riemann) — she is omnipresent in all German or Holocaust movies, doesn’t it seem? Fabian (Fabian Busch), a character who accompanies Hitler throughout the film,  brings him home to visit his girlfriend’s family. The Grandmother recognizes Hitler and screams at him with hatred to leave. Hitler is unperturbed and discounts her behavior as a hag who is a Jew. Fabian realizes, finally, that this befuddled man is really Hitler. Fabian tries to take matters in his own hands with predictable results that still shock. The seductive power of the media is the heart of this satire and serves as a powerful reminder of letting history repeat itself. Who would helm the fourth Reich? That character Christoph, the media mogul, in a scene mimicking Downfall when Hitler closes the door and yells at his minions while everyone in the office listens in shock is suggestive. 4.2/5

Fugitive Pieces (2007) focuses on the imprint from the Holocaust on a boy (Robbie Kay), raised by Athos, (Rade Šerbedžija, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey) a teacher from Greece. He sells his home and moves to Toronto. The boy becomes a man with an excellent acting performance given by Stephen Dillane (The Hours, Stannis in GoT) with lasting issues like the incapability of intimacy with amiable, exciting Alex (Rosamund Pike). Eventually, the serious intellectual Bella (Nina Dobrev) understands the depths of his loss and saves him. The film is beautiful; the passion and poetry of love is the cause of his blossoming. It was rewarding to watch him overcome his personal demons. For some, it might move too slow, but engaged was I from beginning to end. It’s one of the better Holocaust films and stories about love that I have seen in ages. Highly recommended. 4.5/5  

Did there need to be the fourth rendition of A Star is Born? Regardless of how you feel about remakes and the challenge it sets to create a fresh approach which will rise above the nostalgic emotional connection of its predecessor, I’m happy for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga who expanded their talents to give directing and acting a go. They created a convincing chemistry not seen since Walk the Line (2005). Cooper sounded like Kris Kristofferson and looked like a younger version of Jeff Bridges playing his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart. Throw in another cowboy, The Stranger, from The Big Lebowski, actor Sam Elliot, who sure felt like the real-life brother of Bradley Cooper, and it all felt cozy including the usual dysfunctional topics that plague the Rock and Roll family. On Gaga’s side, she was beautiful sans makeup and outlandish costumes. Her on-screen father Andrew Dice Clay surprised me with his portrayal of the NY/NJ blue-collar father. Was Cooper’s direction a tender-footed misstep? The editing spotty at times? What of Lady Gaga’s voice? I don’t think she sits with Barbara Streisand or Judy Garland, but her presence is impossible to discount as she is the diva of today. All in all, it was more entertaining than distracting.  4/5 

TELEVISION 

Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong in my eyes. It takes a lot of talent to deliver fast, intellectually difficult monologues and manic-depressive facial expressions like an opera singer’s trill, and that’s what he does. His Shakespearean background combined with sardonic humor–well, no one does it better. I thought he was magnificent in the dark comedy Patrick Melrose, a five-part television series based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) is from a privileged but traumatic childhood stemming from abusive parents (Hugo Weaving & Jennifer Jason Leigh). As a boy, the story is set in the South of France. In his 1980s, Patrick is in his twenties and hooked hard on alcohol and drugs with an NYC backdrop. The story ends with his attempt at recovery back home in Britain. If you like your stories dark and sassy with great performances, you shouldn’t miss this. 4.8/5

Are You Not Entertained? Books and Films

I’ve watched a lot of films and read a lot of books this past month, and many were okay, but I’d rather cut to the chase and share the best book, film, and television I highly recommend.

BOOKS 

The Shadow of the Wind is a 2001 novel by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller. The story begins with 10-year-old Daniel in 1945 in Barcelona. Deep in a library called the “cemetery of lost books”, forgotten, out of print books are shelved and Daniel chooses from a choice of thousands The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. The book contains gothic elements with chilly descriptions of the temporal as well as the temperamental weather. Outlandish and believable characters like sidekick Fermín Romero de Torres whose clownish physical features melt with wise advice and passionate feelings for women contrast the rain clouds that seem to drip blood over haunted mansions. As the novel progresses, Daniel ages and he experiences love and becomes obsessed with the life of Julian Carax. In fact, Carax’s story parallels David’s so that the novel is structurally interesting. Above all, the novel is a mystery. It is beautifully written; most of the characters get their own flashback narrative where obsession becomes a major theme of the novel. It’s a true page-turner, a rare luscious novel that’s florid in style and exciting to read. 4.5/5. 

FILMS 

I watched several, but they were mediocre at best, so I don’t have any to recommend.

TELEVISION

 

Alias Grace was Margaret Atwood‘s 1996 fictionalized account of the notorious Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a servant who was convicted along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) of the 1843 murders of employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin). Grace leaves the prison every day to talk privately with psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) who falls in love with her. Grace retraces the steps of her life for him while he furiously takes down notes. His job is to determine whether she is insane or deserves to be set free after being in the penitentiary for fifteen years. The committee determined to set her free has paid Dr. Jordan to give a favorable report. This six-part series on Netflix is not to be missed.

Other than Paquin, the cast is refreshingly unrecognizable. Sarad Gadon is breathtaking as Grace and the acting by the ensemble is commendable. Margaret Atwood sits as executive producer while Mary Harron is the director. She did a marvelous job framing the landscape and switching camera angles from far to the minute stitching of the quilts. Favorite detail? The explanation of the quilts and what they represent. Here’s a great article introducing the females behind the series in NOW TORONTO ARTICLE FOUND HERE.

As Grace tells her story, the flashbacks are abundant, and I wondered if this overused device would kill the project for me. But by the conclusion of the series, I understood the purpose was to show the various perspectives from the trial, so that the audience wonders, “Is Grace innocent or guilty?” Grace is so charming and practical, you want her to be innocent. But flashback perspectives are so contrary, one wonders what really did happen?

I won’t ruin the climax of the final installment of the series, but my skin crawled. The dual contradictions and confusions finally made all the sense as the story came to a satisfying ending. Beautifully filmed, expertly acted, an exquisite script including the details of the life of females in the 1800s showcasing their conflicts and impossible oppression without preaching made Alias Grace the best television I’ve seen in years. 4.8/5. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑