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Crime, Passion, Absurdity: More Darkly Twisted Comedies

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No Spoilers

In my first blog on Darkly Twisted Comedies, I listed some of my favorite comedies, acknowledging that the selected films are often too dark and twisted to be considered amusing by some audiences. That original post was so popular, and generated so much interaction on readers’ parts, that I’ve written a follow-up listing more films in that genre. To my surprise, it wasn’t difficult to find more brilliantly acted, well-written, sometimes award-winning films that are considered “dark comedy.” Sometimes the absurd premise in these films delivers laughs, sometimes the easily recognizable human scenarios are amusing, and sometimes the compassionate view of humanity against its occasionally blatant stupidity is what does the trick. Here’s my next list of darkly twisted comedies, presented in no particular order unless it’s from least to most “dark,” without any Spoilers, so you can enjoy them for yourselves.

The Last Supper
(1995)

After an accident, a group of five idealistic, liberal graduate students (Cameron Diaz, Annabeth Gish, Courtney B Vance, Ron Eldard, Jonathan Penner) decide to make a difference in the world through action, not talk. Each week, they find someone to invite to Sunday night “dinner and discussion,” where the group attempts to change the guest’s social views.

Guests include Ron Perlman, Bill Paxton,

Jason Alexander, and Charles Durning, among others.

Things quickly go awry, spinning out of the students’ control, forcing each member to re-evaluate his own ethics and morality.

Staged like a play, where most of the action takes place in the confined quarters of the grad students’ dining room and kitchen, The Last Supper is an intriguing exploration of the ever popular “What would you do if…” scenario where you ponder your own hypothetical behavior given a chance to change the world.

The Last Supper is available to rent for $2.99 on Amazon, and is free if you subscribe to Starz or to DirecTV.

 ♦

Death at a Funeral
(2007)

On the day of Daniel’s (Matthew MacFadyen, below R) father’s funeral, everything is supposed to be sedate and dignified. Instead, from the moment the coffin arrives, everything goes topsy-turvy. Daniel desperately strives to maintain order and to stay in control, but everyone else seems to be going mad. From his brother Robert (Rupert Graves, L),

to his wheelchair-bound Uncle Alfie (the late Peter Vaughan),

from his father’s friend Peter (Peter Dinklage),

to his cousins (Daisy Donovan and Kris Marshal),

who accidentally drug the fiancé (Alan Tudyk, below, R),

they all try Daniel’s patience. Despite Daniel’s best attempts, chaos erupts, threatening to expose family rivalries and skeletons.

Witty and farcical, with nudity and a few instances of scatalogical humor, Death at a Funeral encapsulates some of the weirdest and most notorious moments possible at a dysfunctional family’s gathering. Death at a Funeral is available for rent for $3.99 (free if you’re a Prime Member) from Amazon.

The 2010 remake of Death at a Funeral, starring Zoë Saldana, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, James Marsden, and Peter Dinklage, is available free to DirecTV subscribers, but it’s not the version of the film I saw, so I cannot yet recommend it.

The Lobster
(2015)

In an unnamed place, in an unspecified future, humans — who are known mostly by their “defining characteristics,”  such as a limp, a lisp, or being short-sighted — are not permitted to be alone. If they are widowed or divorced, they must check into The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find another life partner. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it seems to find someone to love in this dystopian world since partners are required to be physically alike as well as emotionally compatible. If a Guest cannot find a partner within the time limit, s/he is transformed permanently into an animal released into the woods. Newly divorced David (Colin Farrell) wants to be a lobster if he fails, and is accompanied by his brother, who is now a dog.

In order to prolong their stay at The Hotel, Guests may earn additional days by going on a Hunt and killing Loners: people who refuse to find a mate and who hide in the Woods, vowing to forever remain single, isolated, and hidden from society.

David doesn’t know which life is worse: that of the Guests or the Loners, but he knows he’s lonely and doesn’t want to turn into a dog.

Narrated in VoiceOver by the Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weiss), The Lobster  begins with a startling and absurd premise but manages to carry it successfully to its absurdly logical conclusion.

In this new twist on dystopian literature or films, the actors do a wonderful job behaving as if they have no emotions, sexual drives, or otherwise subversive feelings. The Lobster is available for rent for $4.99 (free if you’re a Prime Member) from Amazon and is free for DirecTV subscribers.

Fargo
(1996)

One of the Coen Brothers’ classic films, Fargo explores the world of crime when the criminals are inept, incompetent, and extremely dangerous. Car salesman Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy)

hires two bumblers (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife.

Jerry is über-confident that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the enormous ransom, which Jerry needs for an unspecified reason. It’s a lot of money, but despite his father-in-law’s devotion to his daughter, he isn’t about to let Jerry handle that much money. In any event, the kidnapping immediately goes wrong,

which gets a hugely pregnant local police-chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) involved. She’s desperately seeking criminals in an attempt to save the kidnapping victim’s life.

Buscemi shines as the violent, impulsive kidnapper. The Oscar-winning screenplay garnered an Academy Award for McDormand as the quirky but diligent law officer, and an Oscar nomination for Macy as the dull-witted and desperate Jerry. Fargo is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon, and is free if you subscribe to Showtime or DirecTV.

Fight Club
(1999)

When a dissatisfied, support-group-hopping, insomniac (Edward Norton), who’s the unnamed Narrator,

meets a charismatic, renegade soap-maker (Brad Pitt), the two form an unlikely bond. In their desperation to live a fully experienced life, they form an underground Fight Club, where the “first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.”

The fights bond the two men until Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) — another support-group Crasher — resurfaces in the Narrator’s life.

In fact, Marla creates at least as much havoc as the ever expanding club, which begins to spread its exponentially increasing violence outside the metaphorical ring.

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, this is one of the few films that surpasses its source material in quality, if only because the (book) Narrator’s lines are spread out around the film’s principals. Brilliant and dangerously quirky, Fight Club is worth watching multiple times to get all the important details. Fight Club is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon or free if you subscribe to DirecTV.

American Beauty
(1999)

One of the darkest comedies ever made, Oscar-winning American Beauty explores the rot and ugliness beneath the seemingly perfect exteriors of an upper middle-class family and of everyone who comes into contact with its seriously flawed members. Head of household Lester (Kevin Spacey, in an Oscar-winning performance) is about to lose his job to down-sizing,

and is despised by his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening, in her best role ever).

Both of them repulse their daughter Jane (Thora Birch),

especially after Lester gets a blatant crush on Jane’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari, on bed).

When the new neighbor, boy-next-door drug-dealer Ricky (Wes Bentley), falls for Jane and makes her feel special for the first time in her life, her life becomes intolerable.

To make things worse, Lolita-like nymphet Angela begins to fall for Jane’s sexually frustrated father Lester, and is openly hostile to Jane’s quirky boyfriend Ricky, whom Angela considers a “psycho.” Yes, everything falls apart.

Stunning performances by all actors combined with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Alan Ball take this dark comedy from its amusing beginnings to a much deeper exploration of beauty, happiness, and the meaning of life itself. American Beauty is available for rent for $3.99 (free if you’re a Prime Member) from Amazon, for rent for $3.99 for DirecTV  subscribers, or free if you’re a subscriber to SundanceTV.

Though some of the films contain violence or explicit language, I don’t find graphic or sexual violence humorous, so none contains that. All of the films should be considered for mature audiences, however.

And, as always, if you have any films you’d like to suggest for future lists, I’d love to hear from you (and to see the films).

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Crime, Passion, Ambition, Stupidity:
Darkly Twisted Comedies

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Why TRUE DETECTIVE 2 Failed

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Warning: Spoilers,
In Case Anyone Cares

images-9When Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson hit HBO last year as the mismatched detectives Rustin Cole and Martin Hart, investigating the ritualistic serial killing of a missing prostitute, creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s show became a minor cult classic. The nihilistic Rustin Cole, modeled almost exactly after the protagonist of Nic’s novel Gavelston, was a perfect foil for good ol’ boy Marty, who didn’t take anything seriously unless it was a new piece of ass and it wasn’t his wife’s.

Critics and viewers alike have complained that season 2 of True Detective, despite some of its fine actors, simply didn’t live up to the expectations generated by season 1. Todd VanDerWerff, writing for Vox, said,

After seeing all eight and a half hours of True Detective, season two, I think it’s fair to peg the entirety of the story somewhere between “massively disappointing” and “unmitigated disaster.”

adding,

I accept that part of the crime thriller genre will involve delving into the criminal underworld, into the darkest heart of what humans are capable of. It goes with the territory, and this kind of storytelling can be a safe way to exorcise those demons. But season two of True Detective was often oddly hilarious in what it considered transgressive. Everything from women performing oral sex on men to the drug Molly to Ani’s love of seemingly rough sex was considered, at one point or another, super “edgy,” even though all of these elements have ceased to carry much ability to shock in decades.

Meanwhile, over at Variety, Matthew Chernov was equally succinct about True Detective 2‘s failure:

Ultimately, this season of True Detective barely seemed concerned with who murdered Ben Caspere, or why. The mystery and the crime itself were never more important than the atmosphere of dread and corruption that permeated those early episodes. If only that was enough to hold more interest.

With all the promise of season 1, why, exactly, did season 2 of HBO’s True Detective, once again penned only by creator Nic Pizzolatto, fail so miserably?


Insulting Its Viewers

imagesFrom the amputated Barbie doll in the milky substance found in murdered city manager Ben Casper’s house,

images-22to the guy in the Raven mask who shot Ray (Colin Farrell) at the end of episode 2,

images-3to the dreary soundtrack provided only by Lera Lynn for some inexplicable reason,

images-4to the virtually ignored death of the mysterious Pantsuit Woman, who had the power to invest law enforcement officers without jobs with the authority to continue investigating Casper’s death and some missing girls (just for the hell of it), the show’s writer seemed to mock viewer complaints about any misogyny, child abuse, plot-holes, story-line inconsistencies, or “red herrings” that had appeared in season 1.

Viewers sophisticated, intelligent, and articulate enough to have enjoyed True Detective 1 most assuredly know when the very same writer is mocking them in season 2.

They didn’t like it.

And the plummeting ratings confirmed it: 3.17M for this season’s premiere down to 2.18M for episode 7, the penultimate episode.


Too Many Characters

images-7Let’s see: we had morally compromised and eventually unemployed Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell),

images-8knife-wielding Sheriff Ani (Rachel McAdams),

images-5unemployed from the first episode CHiP Paul (Taylor Kitsch), all from different jurisdictions, playing the “detectives” attempting to work together to discover who had murdered Vinci City Manager Casper.

images-11That should have been enough for 8 episodes, even if one of them was 90 minutes long (which was about 75 minutes longer than it needed to be).

But wait: there’s more.

We also got Gangsta-Frank (Vince Vaughn),

images-9and his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly),

images-1along with so many henchmen that when one of them — Stan — got killed, none of the viewers even knew who Stan was, let alone why somebody would kill Stan, leaving his grieving widow, Joyce, and their son devastated.

UnknownWhen you devote an entire, rather lengthy scene to a dead guy named Stan, whom none of the viewers know, the waters are getting too deep and some of the characters need to be pulled out.

Instead, Nic gave us even more.

Let’s not forget the Mayor of Vinci,

images-19Ray’s son Chad,

images-18Ray’s ex-wife, who was fighting for custody, maybe because of Ray’s cocaine- and alcohol-fueled rages, maybe just because she was tired of Ray’s scenes at the school,

and her new husband, whose name isn’t important.

Pantsuit Woman (above), the bar singer (above), the mysteriously scarred bar owner (below),

UnknownPaul’s pregnant girlfriend,

images-14his mother (Lolita Davidovich).

imagesone of Ray’s many corrupt superiors, played by James Frain,

Unknownand you begin to understand why True Detective 2 not only failed, but crashed and burned.

Way

Too

Many

Characters.

Most of whom had nothing to do with the ostensible main storyline: who killed Casper?


Convoluted Plot

images-11The crime supposedly being solved this season was who killed Vinci city Manager Casper.

The fact that he was dead in episode one and none of the viewers cared about him didn’t help the plot.

Now, throw in a few blue diamonds from a heist in 1992,

images-6where the owners of the jewelry store were killed but their two little kids survived by hiding in a display case, and were unnoticed by police.

Note to Nic: Virtually all jewelry store display cases are almost entirely glass — even the shelves — except for the locked backs and the bottoms, so you might want to re-think two kids hiding from police-thieves in glass jewelry display cases. You know, if you ever want to use that kind of thing again…

Casper turned out to be the father of not one, but both of those children, because he was having an adulterous affair with the wife of the owner, and the orphaned kids were fostered out and had super-bad experiences, mostly with rape, sodomy, and prostitution. So the son-now-grown-up is the one who killed Casper and then shot Ray at the end of episode 2 while wearing a Raven-head mask.

So, let’s recap: some dirty cops stole blue diamonds — because, you know, they’re so unremarkable that when you take them to the neighborhood Vinci pawnshop, no one will remember them — and City Manager Casper, who likes undefined kinky sex acts, had the blue diamonds, or the surviving son thought he had them, so he tortured and killed Casper trying to get him to reveal their location.

What happened to the blue diamonds?

I do not know.

Throw in lots of prostitutes at silly parties which are about as orgiastic and wicked as the one from Stanley Kubrick’s uninspired Eyes Wide Shut,

imagesand make the prostitutes completely unimportant except for the fact that one of them — Tasha, whom we never even saw — was a fave of Casper’s and he mentioned the blue diamonds to her, and she talked about them to some of her girlfriends who opened their silly, drugged mouths before they intentionally disappeared or got butchered in that cabin in the woods…

Wait: I think I lost the plot line again…

Let’s throw in another aerial freeway shot while I try to regroup.

images-24As if all that weren’t complicated enough and more than enough material for 8 episodes of a show, you can throw in some railway corridor that’s going to be built through central California and have all these Gangstas trying to buy the land around it, including Gangsta-Frank, who gave City Manager Casper $10M when the price was really only $7M, and the Russian-Gangstas buy all the land around the railway corridor as well as all the the liens on Grangsta-Frank’s casinos, and he has no more money, so he blows his casinos up since no one would ever suspect him…

Add some Mexican-Gangstas who think they have a right to the proceeds of Gangsta-Frank’s casinos, and then let Gangsta-Frank make a stupid deal with them, before he blows up his own casinos, not realizing, I guess, that they were going to be really mad about their loss of earning potential and take him off into the desert where a grave was already very neatly dug…

And most of this information was thrown in to the last two episodes.

The TD2 plot was more twisted and complex than all the freeways in Cal-i-for-ni-a after a major earthquake.

No wonder viewers couldn’t figure out what was going on.

images-4

Why TD2 Failed

Because nobody — not even the actors themselves — could figure out what was going on.

From far too many characters, most of whom were irrelevant, to a plot so convoluted that Alexander the Great’s Gordian Knot seems like an untied shoe-string.

From endless aerial freeway shots (over 90% of which were in the Finale) to custody battles (Ray and his ex-wife) and IVF attempts (Grangsta-Frank and his wife Jordan) that had nothing to do with anything else.

From a dead man that nobody cared about (Casper) to a dead man that nobody knew (Stan).

From Gangstas who make huge cash transactions and carry tons of money around in humongous black duffel bags (because they never heard of wire transfers, I guess) to corrupt police who “confess” to the very detective they set up to take the fall (Ray), in a crowded public place, no less, after 23 years of silence and without having the blue diamonds in their possession.

From improbable action scenes and shootouts that rival the tripe Hollywood churns out for teenagers every summer to even more unrealistic shootouts in heavily wooded and isolated areas where most all the stars got killed.

The show failed because nothing in the show worked.

Its dialogue, its plot, its acting, its cinematography, its soundtrack, its writing were all so contrived, heavy-handed, and poorly executed that if one of my University students had turned it in for his final Creative Writing assignment, I would have handed it back to him with this advice:

Pick the one character that you like the most, throw out all the others, and pick the one event that has completely disrupted this character’s world, and see where you go from there.

Then I would have crossed my fingers and hoped he didn’t sign up for my Advanced Creative Writing class the subsequent year.

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Answers to Your Questions about HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE season 2

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UnknownDespite the fact that True Detective season 1 quickly developed cult status and a large fan-base, season 2 is floundering in the ratings.

It’s also confusing fans.

Now, none of us who admired creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective season 1, starring Matthew McConaughey as nihilistic but doggedly efficient Rustin Cole, and Woody Harrelson as his “good ol’ boy” partner Martin Hart, will say that the initial season was perfect: there were too many plot-holes that were never answered and far too many “red herrings” for the show to be considered stellar.

Not even Pizzolatto’s post-Finale interviews satisfied viewers (in fact, in those interviews, Pizzolatto seemed disdainful of the questions and appeared to mock fans).

The acting of the two principals, as well as an edgy serial killer plot, seems to be what made True Detective so fascinating during its initial season. It would be a shame to lose all its fans during season 2.

In an effort to help viewers enjoy the final two episodes of True Detective season 2, I decided to find answers to some of the questions that seem to be troubling fans the most.


Why three detectives?

images-2Because 3 is one more than 2.

Don’t worry about the fact that none of them, technically, is really a detective anymore, and most of them don’t have jobs. Just enjoy the fact that there are three of them: Ray (Colin Farrell, above R), Ani (Rachel McAdams, above L), and Paul (Taylor Kitsch, below).images-5If two were good, then three is better.


Who is the mysteriously
scarred woman in the bar?

UnknownShe’s the daughter of the villainous pedophile and serial killer Scarred Errol (from True Detective season 1)

images-14and his biological sister, who “planted flowers” together.

imagesBetween the finale of season 1 and the premier of season 2, the mysteriously scarred woman was rescued from Carcosa.

Who did Rachel McAdams hair?

She did it herself.

Blindfolded.

You couldn’t tell?

Who is Pantsuit-Woman
and how did she get so powerful?

images-4I don’t know, but when she bosses people around, they listen.

Besides, she represents two minorities in one character, even if she’s not a major player in the show: an African-American, and a female, so just thank Affirmative Action.

Is Pudgy Ginger really Ray’s son?images-23

Eleven years ago, Ray and his wife were trying to have a baby but nothing was happening. Then she got raped and got pregnant.

Look at Ray (above).

Look at his wife (below).

BN-JD454_tdspen_G_20150629082903Next question.

Will Gangsta-Frank and his wife Jordan
ever be able to have a child of their own?
images-1

Just as soon as Gangsta-Frank (Vince Vaughn) can relax enough to do it in a cup for IVF since his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) has admitted that she had 3 — not 1 — legal abortions, which everyone knows — except, apparently, writer Pizzolatto — do not affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.

Chubby Ginger will play gangsta-son, in a dual role.

images-20


What’s on the missing hard-drive
that everyone’s searching for?

Unknown-1All the deleted scenes from True Detective season 2 that were considered “too slow,” or “less interesting,” or which had “more senseless, meandering dialogue” than the others.


Who are these missing women
everyone’s mentioning?

imagesThey’re female crew-members who got left behind in the Louisiana bayous from True Detective s1.

They got walk-on roles — one dead at the dumpster, one stoned at the Kubick-Eyes Wide Shut-inspired orgy — as part of their settlements.


Is Gangsta-Frank ever going to go legit?

Yes, it’s already been revealed that Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell will play the detective partners in season 3.


Who the hell is Stan?

UnknownLast week, Gangsta-Frank and wife Jordan were seen comforting Joyce, who was weeping over the death of her husband Stan as Jordan handed her an envelope stuffed with mucho bundles of cash-o-la.

Twitter feeds lit up over the death of Stan.

stan-tweetsPajiba was nice enough to interview the always-in-the-background character actor who played Stan for a few minutes in a couple of early episodes: Ronnie Gene Blevins.

Who was Stan in True Detective?

One of Frank’s bad boys.

He dead.


What’s with all the aerial freeway shots?

images-24So viewers remember what California looks like before the San Andreas fault goes berserkers and Beach-Boy-Land falls into the Pacific Ocean.


What’s with Ani and the knives?

images-8Ask the boyfriend from episode 1 who “went limp” when she asked for something special while they were having sex.


Why is Lera Lynn always singing
those depressing songs in the bar
where Gangsta-Frank and Ray meet?

images-3Because the ratings keep going down.


What’s with all these tagged sticks in a field?

images-21That is a very good question.


How does a “town” the size of Vinci (pop. 94)
have both a Mayor and a City Manager?

images-19Excellent question.


What’s creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
obsession with masks?

images-2Ask Nic.


What’s with creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
gang-raped or mutilated Barbie doll fetish?

imagesAsk Nic.


Who shot Ray?

images-22The same guy who killed Casper.


Who killed Casper?

images-11Who cares?


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Pizzolatto Goes Down in Flames: TRUE DETECTIVE season 2

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No Spoilers
No Plot

Judging from the critical acclaim and the massive number of fans HBO’s True Detective s1 garnered, the show was virtually an instant hit. Starring Woody Harrelson as good ol’ boy Martin (Marty) Hart, paired with  Matthew McConaughey as the nihilist detective Rustin (Rust) Cole, the first season threw its viewers into a maelstrom of corruption, kidnappings, and serial murders from the start, with Hart and Cole investigating a ritually murdered prostitute, bound as if she were praying to a tree, wearing a “crown” of antlers, with a spiral “tattoo” on her back. It was spooky. It was gripping. It was intense.

images-2Given the tremendously fierce storyline from season 1 — despite its manifest plot holes — it’s no wonder fans and critics alike are more than a bit bewildered by TD s2.

As Sydney Bucksbaum tearfully wrote for E! Online, “[F]ive hours in, we still have no idea what’s happening.” Grabbing another tissue from the box on his desk, he added,

With only three episodes left in season two, you’d think True Detective would have picked up some steam by now. But instead, HBO’s critically-acclaimed drama served up another hour filled with nothing but long-winded conversations about…well, we’re still not sure!

Tyler Johnson of Hollywood Gossip, attempted to hide his bewilderment by quipping that

Maybe [creator-writer] Pizzolatto will not only deliver a satisfying conclusion, but also (as some fans are hoping) connect this season’s massive conspiracy to the one that was never unraveled last season.

 Meanwhile, a sincerely disappointed Chris Mandle of The Independent wrote that True Detective s2 is

a show that’s flailing about without the big stars from last season, trying to make sense among a heap of convoluted plotlines, hammy dialogue and slack narrative.

And Huffington Post tweeted this meme for True Detective s2, starring Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan as the “true detectives”:

nancy-kerrigan-and-tonya-harding-on-true-detective-season-2Come on, everybody: let’s stop being such Negative Nellies. We all knew that there was no possible way for season 2 of True Detective to be as good as season 1. Anyone who’d read creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston — as I had — could have told you that Pizzolatto’s talent is obviously extremely limited.

images-12Even Rust Cole, as brilliant as he seemed in TD s1, was just a slight variation of Pizzolatto’s protagonist in Gavelston. The only difference between the novel and the HBO series was that the nihilistic protagonist had his “good ol’ boy” buddy Marty off which to bounce his “time is a flat circle” Weltanschauung.

So, let’s stop whining about how this year’s show is nothing like last year’s show, and look at the bright spots in True Detective s2.

Tres Amigos

UnknownLast season, we only got two detectives. Two. That’s it. And they did everything. This year, we have three. For the same price of admission. To make it even better, only one of the three is a real detective, and as of last night’s episode, most of them weren’t even law-enforcement officers any longer, having been demoted, suspended, or having quit. (It seems that Ray, played by a continuously stunned-looking Colin Farrell, quit his job between the end of last week’s shoot-out and this week’s opening credits.)

How cool is that?

Three cops of some sort, now three former  or otherwise disgraced cops of some sort, playing “detective” to figure out the murder of some city manager.

If two is good, then three is better, right?

Of course, right.

The Dead

images-11Forget the fact that when Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ani (Rachel McAdams) saw all these sticks in the ground, one of them said, “Maybe that’s where all the bodies are buried.” We know there are no bodies this season except for one.

images-2And let’s be honest about last season’s dead: there were too many of them. From missing children who were ritually raped and murdered, to missing and murdered prostitutes, to molested and raped young boys, there were just too many victims to keep track of. We didn’t even get all of their names. They were just gone. But we knew that they’d suffered hideously before they died. We knew that their families still suffered, never knowing what had happened to their children, sisters, and other family members. That’s really traumatizing for viewers.

images-8This year, we only have one dead guy: a corrupt city manager named Casper. And nobody really cares about him. The reviewers and critics care so little, they spell his name about a dozen ways: Caspere, Caspar, Caspare, and Casper, among them. And the viewers never got to know him since he was dead in the first episode.

Yes, the prostitute with the stag-horn-crown was dead in the first episode last year, too, but we got enough of her story through the season to care about her and her degrading fate. Besides, her death was clearly the work of a serial killer. A serial killer the detectives thought they’d caught, but who was still active.

Casper wasn’t the victim of a serial killer. Casper’s just a dead minor criminal. And Casper’s “life,” which is being sporadically investigated, is, at best, uninteresting, and, at worst, a pulp crime fiction cliché.

It’s so much easier for viewers to be emotionally dis-engaged when there’s only one victim.

Especially when nobody cares about him.

Gangsta Rap

images-3Forget last year’s villain, the serial killing pedophile Scarred Errol. The creepy guy whose brutality drove one of his child-victims into catatonia, until she was reminded of him by Detective Cole, when she went into a screaming fit. Forget how Scarred Errol “planted flowers” with his own sister in that creepy house down in the bayou (below).

imagesThis year we have a real Gangsta, played to cadaver-ish perfection by Vince Vaughn.

images-7Veteran comedic actor Vaughn is cleverly using only one facial expression for the entire season, no doubt saving directors tons of money because they never have to re-shoot his scenes.  Frank (Vaughn) is such a bad Gangsta that when City Manager Casper disappeared with $10M of Frank’s money for a land deal, Frank couldn’t replace it. Ostensibly because he’d already mortgaged his house and business for (at least) a second time each.

Frank doesn’t even carry a weapon.

Instead, when confronted by other criminals, Frank head-butts the big fat gangsta-leader and then pulls out Fat-Gangsta’s gold teeth with a pair of needle-nosed pliers Frank just happened to have on him.

It is such a relief to have a completely innocuous Gangsta once in a while.

Pronouns 101

Gangsta-Frank has a beautiful wife, Jordan, played by Kelly Reilly. When she’s not calling him a “gangsta” — which he tells her he doesn’t like by repeating it about a half-dozen times himself — or calling him a “pimp,” she’s giving him English lessons. Like he’s Scarface or Don Corleone or some other gangsta who wasn’t born in this country and doesn’t know English as his native language.

Last night, some of her dialogue went something like this: “I’m me, you’re you, and we’re us.”

The only one she forgot was “they’re them.”

Let’s hope that one’s not on the test.

Pantsuit-Woman

UnknownLast year, the “Yellow King” was on everybody’s lips. Nobody knew who or what it meant, but it seemed to connect some of the victims. After the finale last year, reviewers and critics had to interview Pizzolatto, crew members, and others to determine who, exactly, the “Yellow King” was.

Someone from the crew said that the skeleton in Scarred Errol’s maze was the Yellow King (above).

I missed that completely when I was watching the finale last year because I was paying attention to Detective Cole chase Scarred Errol through that maze down in the bayou.

We don’t need any Yellow King this season.

We got Pantsuit-Woman.

I can’t find her in the show’s credits, so I don’t know what her character’s name is, or the name of the actor playing her. But I do know that she has the power to give all three of the no-longer-cops-let-alone-detectives the “under the radar” authority to continue investigating Casper’s murder. Despite Ray’s, Ani’s, and Paul’s (Taylor Kitsch) participation in the big, bad, this-should-qualify-as-enough-action shoot-out which ended last week’s episode.

She also has the authority to help Ray get custody of his son, although she didn’t say how.

Pantsuit-Woman, she must be bigger than the NSA.

Femme Fatale

images-3Last season, Marty’s wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), though she played the betrayed wife almost to perfection, was actually a frightening Femme Fatale, right out of the best 40’s noir fiction. If viewers thought she was nothing but a victim, they got their heads straightened out when Maggie intentionally and cruelly seduced her husband’s partner Rust by making him believe she cared about him. Then she told her husband Marty that she’d had sex with Rust, and that it was the best sex she’d had since before their two children were born. She claimed she wanted to “make Marty leave.” She couldn’t do it herself, she insisted. But she could seduce his partner and tell her husband about it afterward, intentionally hurting the two of them and destroying their relationship forever.

That was last year’s femme fatale.

This year’s villainous female is also posing as a loving and devoted mother: Ray’s ex-wife Alicia (Abigail Spencer), but she’s much more vicious.

BN-JD454_tdspen_G_20150629082903I don’t know if she’s going to have sex with either of the other two “detectives” that Ray’s working with, because none of them are really partners. What I do know is that she’s going to do something much worse.

Not to her ex-husband Ray.

To her son.

She’s going to tell her eight-year-old son — after the paternity test confirms it — that the man who’s raised him, the man he knows as his father, is not really his father at all.

Nope, his real father is the guy who brutally raped and assaulted her.

Gee, thanks, Mom.

Love the full-disclosure-routine.

TD
Season 2

images-4So, come on, you viewers. Stop complaining that you can’t understand what’s going on because, basically, there’s no plot to speak of. Stop whining that there are too many characters, none of whom are very interesting. Stop insulting the dialogue. Stop yawning during all the fly-over shots of the freeways.

images-6If you don’t stop complaining, you’re going to make the ratings go down even faster than they already are: from 3.17M for the premiere, down to 2.36M for episode 4 (red = TD s1, green = TD s2).

a67041d56abe975b8c1c228f89687434

Instead, look at the good in the show this season.

More detectives. Fewer victims. A Gangsta.

Free grammar lessons.

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TRUE DETECTIVE season 2 is Truly DOA

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Warning: True Spoilers

images-4God, I was excited when I heard that Colin Farrell was going to be in HBO’s critically acclaimed and popular anthologized series True Detective, Season 2. I was impressed that a female was going to play one of the law enforcement officers, even though the actress who was cast is awfully young to have made detective rank in such a male-dominated profession. I was a bit leery about Vince Vaughn playing the professional criminal-mobster, since he mostly does comedies, and the few dramas he’s been in have been mediocre at best.

But I adored True Detective Season 1 and thought that, despite the serious plot holes and pretentious, obscure allusions last year, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson did a brilliant job as Detectives Hart and Cole, respectively, in an intriguing detective story.

true-detective-first-season.16295I hoped the creator-writer, Nic Pizzolatto, could, at the very least, do as well with the story and characters this season. I prayed that he would learn from his mistakes last season — pointed out repeatedly by viewers, critics, fans, and reviewers throughout the season, but especially after the finale — and would strive to become a better writer.

Alack and alas, that does not seem to be the case.

Instead of learning from the valid criticisms and critiques of True Detective Season 1’s articulate viewers, instead of addressing the story-telling problems which left serious plot holes in the premiere season, instead of respecting his intelligent viewing audience, writer-creator Pizzolatto seems instead to be trying to insult the show’s fan-base by mocking viewers (more mutilated  & nude Barbie dolls, endless whores, beaucoup misogyny, and a “Violet-veiled Skeleton King” prominently standing in for last year’s Yellow King).

 Huffington Post’s entertainment editor Matthew Jacobs wrote that “episode 2 was only marginally better than episode 1,” which was a “Snooze,” while his fellow HP entertainment editor Erin Whitney wrote, “Pizzolatto has somehow lost all sense of subtlety in his writing to the point that I can’t help but wonder if he’s playing a joke on us.”

The joke’s on HBO, who’s paying Pizzolatto.

The mockery’s directed at all of us viewers who were intelligent enough to see the plot holes, and articulate enough to refute Pizzolatto’s bizarre or lame “explanations” for them.

In any event, the momentum of the show has been completely changed.

Instead of a fast-paced, psychologically intense, visually memorable series of murders and missing persons investigations headed by two diametrically opposed detectives, each with his own conflicted philosophical and moral strengths and weaknesses, this season’s first two episodes have been filled with endlessly dull backstory for each of the major characters.

And there are too many of those to keep track of.

Season 2 of True Detective is already, truly, DOA.

The Cast of Characters

o-VINCE-VAUGHN-COLIN-FARRELL-570The cast of characters is so large that it’s impossible to understand who everyone is, how they’re related to this season’s crime(s), and what, exactly, the storyline is. Colin Farrell (above R) plays an alcoholic and drug-addicted city of Vinci detective, who is on the payroll of gangster/mobster Frank (Vince Vaughn, above L) because long ago, Ray’s wife was raped and brutally beaten, and Gangster Frank gave then-Sheriff Ray the identity of the perpetrator.

I’m okay with that so far. I was also fine with the symbolism of the song “My Least Favorite Life” being played at a bar while the two exchanged “dirty” money. It worked. And I didn’t find the song “depressing” as some reviewers did. I actually kind of liked it.

But these two fellows aren’t the only major players in the series this year.

slide_333216_5296892_compressed Rachel McAdams  plays Ani (short for Antigone, apparently), a County Sheriff, who has a troubled relationship with her sister, and with her “new age” faux Buddhist father (played by David Morse, below L), who runs an institute with an unpronounceable name. She also wants some sex act so weird or perverted that her boyfriend goes limp and, despite his apologies, she storms off.

Unknown(There are already people Googling the Institute’s name, as well as the story of Antigone, a Greek tragic figure, and trying to figure out the “Puzzle” for this season. If there’s a puzzle, viewers better be able to figure it out without external resources, or the show’s poorly written.)

But wait, there’s more!

We’re still not done with the law enforcement officers.

o-TAYLOR-KITSCH-570Taylor Kitsch plays Paul, a war veteran or civilian involved in Black Mountain, who is now a California Highway Patrol Officer, suspended with pay after he stops a famous actress for speeding recklessly into traffic and does not accept her offer of sex in return for dropping the ticket. He’s seriously psychologically scarred, it seems, and his body is physically scarred.

I really hate it when films (e.g., Platoon) and shows hammer viewers over the head with symbolism. Every viewer would have gotten that Paul is extremely emotionally and psychologically scarred from his virtually incoherent, mumbling interactions with his girlfriend. We didn’t need the physical scars to “prove” it to us.

The Fly-Over Freeway Shots

images-3Too many of them.

Way too many of them.

And, in case Pizzolatto didn’t know this, California just doesn’t have the brooding atmosphere and ominous threat of the isolated and rural Louisiana bayous of season 1.

The Backstory

vince-vaughn-kelly-reilly-true-detective-season-2Backstory (also called exposition), which has no forward momentum, is a very tedious and ineffective way to develop characters. It’s in the past already. Instead, hints about their pasts — woven into the present story — work better. Not long scenes from every single character, one right after the other. Not long monologues in bed with the wife (Gangster Frank with his wife, played by Kelly Reilly, above), not faux interviews by custody lawyers against a backdrop similar to last season’s (Ray in the opening scene of the season).

images99% of the show so far this season has been backstory.

That’s

Way

Too

Much.

The Storyline

slide_333216_5296894_compressedHere’s what’s happened so far.

Episode 1: “The Western Book of the Dead.”

Some city manager named Casper, who’s involved in some kind of shady land deal, didn’t show at a big gig thrown by gangster Frank, which made him cuss and throw a glass. CHiP Paul, after a blow-job and a fight with his girlfriend, was riding real fast on his motorcycle in the dark, and he found Casper’s body, seated in rigor, at a picnic table in the County where Detective Ani works. But Casper is a “missing person” from the city of Vinci, where Frank works.

Pizzolatto decided that all three of the law officers, though from wildly different jurisdictions, have to work together to solve the murder.

Even though the CHiP’s not a detective.

At the end of last night’s episode, after more backstory was concluded, in a True-Psycho moment, Ray (Colin Farrell) got shot — twice — at close range, with a shotgun, by somebody in a full-feather-and-beak crow head.

images

The memes are already out (above), and this is one of the nicer ones.

But maybe you should look at the official HBO trailer yourself and decide if you want to jump in for episode 3.

It’s not like you missed anything important so far.

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