Throughout the 21st century there has been a rise in the lazy, formulaic crime procedural spearheaded by CBS that has seen a rise in dull, rather cookie-cutter television filled with bland performances and wholly expected narrative outcomes. This was an unexciting transition for the broadcast television landscape but with the rise of streaming these shows are generally passing out of favor now that audiences have so much more choice. These shows' ratings dwindle due to the fact that there's no incentive to watch a show live anymore when the narrative outcome is so unsurprising, and there's a dearth of other options available to watch. To achieve success with this sub-genre, these tiresome conventions must be challenged and subverted; otherwise, people will lose interest. From its first episode, The Sinner achieves this immediately. A conventional procedural may open with the victim meeting their end and then the remaining minutes of the episode follows the team of protagonists doing their job so the criminal is caught and everything is wrapped up tidily, ready for next week's episode. While it's true that the show's opener shows the crime committed very soon into the first episode, the circumstances are changed and the narrative conventions are upended. As we see the perpetrator of the crime commit the criminal act before us there is no question of who, and she is quickly apprehended so there is no rush to capture the criminal either. Instead the focus is on why this inexplicable crime was committed as it appears that there is no circumstance apparent that would lead protagonist Cora Tannetti do such an act to a man she has no apparent connection to. The crime itself surpasses our expectations by being actually shocking in a genre that has become so exploitative. There's also such a palpable atmosphere when Cora repeatedly stabs an unknown male on a family day out to the beach in front of numerous spectators and her own infant child. Whoever selected the song "Huggin' & Kissin'" by Big Black Delta has a gift for selecting such evocative and moody music that becomes more emphatic every time it's played throughout the series. This song is a striking cue that brings back much of Cora's repressed turmoil that wounds her so tightly and the majority of the narrative is about her resurfacing her own suppressed traumas so that she can make sense of her inexplicable crime.
Opening with a thwarted escape plan, The Peanut Butter Falcon immediately establishes its winsome comedic tone. This is a film with a great deal of Old School charm as its most heralded influence (even mentioned within the film) are the stories of Mark Twain. Not that the film is dated by any means, carrying with it a lot of modern issues about the care system and discrimination but it has an appealing nostalgic feel to it that arrives from its earthy backdrops to gentle ease us into this warm and upbeat narrative. The film focuses on dual protagonists Zack and Tyler who are both runaways from some pretty substantial issues. Zack lives in a residential home for elderly people even though he is a young adult with a learning disability, he has been left there by his family he can not care for him. Feeling understandably confined by his life he sneaks out his barred windows in nothing but his underwear and meets Tyler (portrayed with abrasiveness and underlying compassion by Shia LaBeouf). Tyler is dealing with his own grievances and inner turmoil and doesn't particularly welcome Zack with open arms, but soon enough a mutual bond between the two forms. Zack wants to go to a wrestling school owned by his idol the Salt Water Red Neck and Tyler just wants to get out of the state so the two take to the road whilst being tailed by concerned carer Eleanor. The pair have electric chemistry, and breakout Zack Gottsagen is such an energetic and expressive performer that he lights up the screen with his infectious charisma and upbeat attitude. It's also so welcome to see an actor with a learning disability to be at the forefront of a film rather than an actor without receiving this role and using it as an opportunity to give a stunt performance like Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks both have previously. Writer and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz were even asked to give the role to an actor without a learning disability, which I find absurd and backward.
Lodge 49 arrived to me at a very difficult period of my life and captivated me with its surreal, humorous yet introspective look at life at the fringes of society. Blessed with a contemplative pace and perhaps the best ensemble of television, the show is an under-the-radar delight, and its low-rating figures concerned and baffled me at once. I just can't quite fathom why more people just would not be interested in this show, with its beautiful optimism, wonderfully moving character moments, and its winning humor. It's such a great detour from shock value, heightened drama of faux prestige television, I don't know how it hasn't built a bigger fan-base. I even sent AMC an e-mail out of sheer desperation for them to pursue a renewal, to make this their next under-seen passion project a la Halt and Catch Fire, but television is of course a business and this lovely little show would never hit the ratings as high as their proposed second Walking Dead spin-off. There are many alternative routes that the show can go to find a second home, but I'm just not that convinced that this will happen, and I'm quite frankly gutted to be honest. Sure, I'm thankful we were gifted with 20 episodes of the show but the story is incomplete, and the fantasy elements so carefully foreshadowed will never now get to be fully realised, and I'm saddened that the talented crew and cast won't get to finish the narrative that was envisioned. At least the sophomore season that recently wrapped was pretty much perfect, with so many iconic moments and moving beats that a re-watch is all but inevitable.
It seems like an annual tradition that a critically-acclaimed sci-fi from an auteur will be released to either adoration or derision or both from a general audience. Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival all earned acclaim and were generally well-received by audiences, but then Blade Runner 2049 and Annihilation faltered at the box office and the latter did not even receive international distribution, instead being bailed out by Netflix while a studio reluctant to even release the film barely marketed it at all. I think the box office results of Ad Astra will be carefully examined by studios to see whether this genre is worthy of being financed as original films’ performance at the box office continues to trend downward. What’s also interesting is that this film is a holdover from 20th Century Fox—now Disney owned—which could be completely reshaped itself under new management. Ad Astra’s release was pushed back numerous times which was concerning as it could have been a sign of studio apprehension, as the film is a clear financial film relying on star power, word of mouth audience response and marketing. The September release date the film was given was clearly a clever choice however, as only one franchise heavyweight was released, so it was mostly a level playing field between mid-budget original films, which was quite refreshing and I hope becomes the case more often. The film has performed better than expected, crossing more than 100 million worldwide, but it still stands to lose money, it’s box office performance similar albeit slightly better than another space-based film, First Man. These auteur-driven films go against typical Hollywood filmmaking, but it’s saddening to see such a lukewarm audience reception for a more creative take on the genre and going against convention.
Hustlers appears to be the breakout film of the year so far, earning strong reviews at Toronto International Film Festival, banking more than expected on its opening weekend at the Box office, and inciting unexpected but deserved Oscar buzz for an established star. Hustlers is also a welcome success for a great female-fronted film after Booksmart, Annihilation and Widows all earned significant acclaim but struggled to make the kind of money Hustlers has made in two weeks throughout their theatrical runs. These were disappointing results not only because these were films of high calibre, but because they made significantly less than lazy gender-swapped remakes Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters. Neither of these films are particularly awful but women deserve to lead their own standalone creative properties, rather than being handed recycled formulas from male-dominated franchises. These reboots don’t celebrate their female leads like they think they do, because they’re already being treated as an afterthought, coming years after the latest franchise entry in an attempt to cash-in on different marketable demographics. It’s disappointing that just by having name association these films will automatically make more money than this stream of original films struggling financially, it is indicative of the franchise-driven market we live in, but it causes me to worry. Hustlers like Widows and Annihilation is a mid-budget original film, these are the type of films that are becoming increasingly rare due to being a financial risk that even stars can’t bring big enough audiences to. Neither of the latter two crossed a 100 million worldwide, and it’s likely that Hustlers will, as this is a promising outcome that should hopefully encourage studios to carry on making these kinds of films. Hustlers is exceeding expectations due to good marketing, smart casting, and an interesting premise, it is possible for a film to have all three and still struggle, but the former is so crucial, and can often be mishandled by a disinterested studio, so it’s nice to see everything come together for this film to be the success that it is.
Hailing from BoJack Horseman heavyweights Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Undone has some serious pedigree to get expectations high, and similarly to Netflix’s groundbreaking animated series, Undone is funny, dark and deeply moving. Like BoJack too, Undone is an exploration of mental health in modern society and is an empathetic look at people afflicted with mental illness, perhaps inherited through family. Undone also has a unique animation style rarely seen on television by combining rotoscoping and 2D oil paintings to create an achingly beautiful look for this dark and surreal show. The series opens with our tear-stricken protagonist Alma crashing her car after seeing her deceased father on the street opposite her; the show’s pilot then retraces to introduce us properly to Alma and the people surrounding her all of whom she has complicated relationships with. There’s her deceptively optimistic sister Becca trying to masquerade some deep-rooted issues; her faithful, very concerned mother Camila trying to prevent her daughter from neglecting her own health; and then there's her boyfriend Sam who she shares a profound bond with but is concerned by their contrasting outlooks on life. Alma’s mental health is shown to be deteriorating from the onset of the episode as she’s struggling with the mundanity of her routine life, and this causes her to act self-destructively in a series of events that leads up to the crash and have repercussions when she reawakens in hospital some time later. However, what strikes her most after waking from her coma is that she can now see her deceased father, who sets a mission for her to uncover the mysteries behind his death with her new abilities to manipulate time and space. With this fantastical premise, Undone breaks a lot of rules to give a wholly unique viewing experience with amazing visuals and great lead performances both in the actors’ vocal and motion capture performances.