VOD Log: Making a Murderer

Making a Murderer - title shot 2

Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.

SPOILER ALERT!!  Spoilers follow:

Assuming the facts presented in the series are accurate and more or less complete, a logical individual would have to conclude that there is at the very least  solid evidence that reasonable doubt has been established in the case of Steven Avery.  Not one bit of her blood was found anywhere on the Making a Murderer - title screenAvery premises except on that bullet and in the back of her own vehicle — as just one glaring example of the facts pointing toward his innocence.

As far as Brendan Dassey, there is no evidence of his involvement at all.  His conviction was based entirely on his own confused and constantly contradictory and coerced words.  There isn’t even circumstantial evidence against him.

I think the moral of the story is that the legal system is completely broken, unless you’re on the side of prosecution.  Regardless of guilt or innocence.  Not that we didn’t know that already.

[End of Spoilers]

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Watching my first VOD-exclusive TV series has made me rethink TV a bit more.  Now, with one of my favorite filmmakers Jim Jarmusch producing an Amazon exclusive, I may finally have to cave to a Prime subscription.  Ugh.  Well at least I’ll get free shipping.  Which I get anyway with a minimum order.  Then if and when Twin Peaks comes out on Showtime… well another subscription there.

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I am loving “Lazarus” from David Bowie.  He pulled a Johnny Cash / Warren Zevon, recording a final album as his own death knell.  I suppose it’s just the timing, but it seems to fit Making a Murderer perfectly.

New from Jarmusch: Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive - poster large

S E H R  L A  N   G    S     A     M.  PACING has always been an important aspect of the films of Jim Jarmusch.  And pacing is what Only Lovers Left Alive needs a cold hard injection of.  I have no problem with a movie taking its time, but there’s a difference between taking your time and being downright lethargic.  I take it that lethargy is a theme of this vampire tale, but for large swathes of the movie I wished that everything could just speed up.  Having said that, I liked this movie.  I think the pace could be picked up, but at the same time it’s not particularly draggy.

Only Lovers Left Alive - text blockAnother problem: it’s never very dramatic, or romantic, or comic — but I suppose that too would be missing the point.  These vampires are decidedly disconnected, and Jarmusch I think wants to emphasize that fact — even if it risks disengaging the audience as well.  For positives, I liked the original music, and the atmosphere and vibe of the film, and the little chips of humor.  The settings and location shooting in Detroit and Tangier fit very nicely, and are properly exploited.  The movie is greatly enlivened exactly when needed when the sister (Mia Wasikowska) visits.  And finally, though Tilda Swinton is not always my favorite actress, she is perfectly cast here.  She really gets the whole vampire gig.

So a mild recommendation — though as I reflect on it now, my memories grow fonder.  That vague quality of vibe is difficult to define, and even more difficult to achieve — though I reckon the music has a lot to do with it.  Only Lovers Left Alive achieves that great vibe.  Another way to put it: it’s got some mojo.  Mojo, or vibe, should not be under-accounted for.  It’s a shame that pacing and plot don’t live up to the vibe.

Somehow I felt like this was a good version of last year’s Much Ado About Nothing, but I’m not sure why I draw a connection.  Only Lovers Left Alive exhibits a trend of Jarmusch films becoming less and less recognizable as Jarmusch films.  I hope he can return to form, because if not he’s simply past his prime.  The trailer’s a good tell on this one: if you like it, you’ll like the movie.  6/10

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Comparison Notes: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Immortal Beloved (title only), Dead Man, every vampire movie ever made

Upcoming Movies: Jarmusch, Woody Allen, Under the Skin

THE LOCAL ARTHOUSE showed some trailers of note last night before the feature Nymphomaniac Vol. I (last post).  First off is a new Jim Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive — his take on the vampire genre — which is interesting in that he’s taking a genre at all.  I’m not sure we need another vampire film, but I am a BIG fan of Jim Jarmusch — so I’m excited to see it upon release in my area (click for site & trailer):

Only Lovers Left Behind

Only Lovers Left Alive

Next, John Turturro wrote and directed Fading Gigolo, which, surprise surprise, features Woody Allen acting in a film that, watching the preview, I assumed was a Woody Allen film — it had that comic flavor.  VERY unusual to see Woody Allen acting — or indeed involved at all — in a film he did not make.  It looks a little silly and simple, but it could be fun.

Fading Gigolo - trailer

Fading Gigolo

And then there’s the ever-inceasingly-ballyhooed Under The Skin starring Scarlett Johansson — this indie is making such a splash that the local, very mainstream, very commercial classic rock station’s DJ just mentioned it.  As you can see at its site, it has received a lot of advance critical praise.

Here’s hoping all three of these indies offer big entertainment value.

Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Stranger Than Paradise

Stranger Than Paradise

Eszter Balint and John Lurie in Stranger Than Paradise

I’ve been intrigued lately to discover early Jim Jarmusch movies, so last night I watched Stranger Than Paradise (1984, B&W).

To give you an idea what this movie is about, I’ll cite Pauline Kael (from the Wikipedia entry):

The first section is set in the bare Lower East Side apartment of Willie, who is forced to take in Eva, his 16-year-old cousin from Budapest, for ten days. The joke here is the basic joke of the whole movie. It’s in what Willie doesn’t do: he doesn’t offer her food or drink, or ask her any questions about life in Hungary or her trip; he doesn’t offer to show her the city, or even supply her with sheets for her bed. Then Eddie comes in, even further down on the lumpen scale. Willie bets on the horses; Eddie bets on dog races. Eva, who never gets to see more of New York than the drab, anonymous looking area where Willie lives, goes off to Cleveland to stay with Aunt Lotte and work at a hot-dog stand. And when Willie and Eddie go to see her, all they see is an icy wasteland – slums and desolation – and Eddie says ‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’ The film has something of the same bombed-out listlessness as Paul Morrissey‘s 1970 Trash – it’s Trash without sex or transvestism. The images are so emptied out that Jarmusch makes you notice every tiny, grungy detail. And those black-outs have something of the effect ofSamuel Beckett‘s pauses: they make us look more intently, as Beckett makes us listen more intently.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Kael is saying, and I haven’t seen this Trash movie.  For me, these three characters command an infectious charm which make them eminently watchable, and Jarmusch is content to let the camera linger on them.  The characters are the heart of the movie, not so much their settings.  You can’t help but to like these three.  One problem I had early on was that though Eva has supposedly stepped ‘right off the plane’ from Hungary, she has not a whiff of a European accent whatsoever, and speaks English too well.  Willie too has no accent.  But who knows, maybe Hungary had exceptional English programs in the 1980s that wiped away native accents.  I doubt it and see this as flaw in the movie.  But I was able to get over it quickly enough.

I am giving this a qualified recommendation.  IF you already have seen and loved each movie in the Jarmusch trifecta, Mystery Train, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, then check out Stranger Than Paradise. It has the same understated comic elements found in those movies, but even more understated.  Consider Stranger Than Paradise a deep cut in the Jarmusch oeuvre.  You might really hate this movie, or you might love it.  At the time of its release it received a lot of critical praise.  Other than the accent issue, I had a little problem with the lack of a momentous plot line.  You know how I’m big on plot.  Jarmusch’s stories in his later movies are potent while maintaining the charm and good will of their characters.  I’ll give this movie a 7/10, but again on the contingencies I’ve stated.

When I have time, I will write more in depth about Jim Jarmusch, a key figure in the burgeoning 80’s avant garde, new wave indie or whatever you want to call it movement, in which you could loosely group David Lynch and John Sayles.  From the very first frame of this movie, you recognize that this director has an idea.  He has a vision that’s all his, he knows what he is doing and he is going for it.  He is not content to be a cog in the wheel of big-money Hollywood machinery and he’s not going to spit out formulaic drivel.  It’s refreshing and at the core of what good movie-making is all about.