BINGE-R #25: Love + Best B&W Movies
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 12 episodes now streaming
The first season of Love, Netflix’s offbeat romantic comedy, gave farcical truth to the notion that what we want is rarely what we need. The engagement between two Los Angeles residents both single and in their early thirties – Mickey (Community’s Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) – adhered to a tactic favoured by the show’s prolific co-creator, filmmaker and producer Judd Apatow: it took an unexpected path to a familiar destination. The first season ended with the bummed out duo, whose unlikely romance had briefly built and then foundered completely, kissing in a convenience store parking lot after a haphazard telling of truths.
Season two starts with that kiss ending and the tables being somewhat turned. Wising up to her self-destructive ways – or at least acknowledging them – Mickey is trying to deal with her issues (impetuosity and various crutches) before engaging with Gus, while he now has a degree of confidence to go with his nebbish persona. Her plan is to take a year off dating, a typical Mickey overstatement, but there’s a tense uncertainty – not always covered by the early episodes – to them circling each other and trying to figure out a way forward.
On one hand it’s welcome that the show has tried to find a new fulcrum on its return, but the great thrill of the first season – Jacobs’ marvellous performance as the messy, combative Mickey – isn’t as immediate this time around. Defined by selfish flickers and a doubling down of social sabotage, Mickey was compelling. Still, Love mostly remains unorthodox and intuitive, although I’m not convinced by the subplot of Gus working as a tutor to a child star (Apatow’s daughter Iris) on a studio set. The Hollywood ecosystem gags aren’t always connected to the rest of the show.
The first three episodes of Love’s new season don’t quite hit the illuminating reaches of the first, but like every Apatow project it has an exemplary supporting cast that can carry the weight. The Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty continues to track her own peculiar orbit as Mickey’s housemate, Bertie, while the third episode has a virtually self-contained short when Mickey takes off with an antic co-worker, Truman (Bobby Lee), to recover his stolen car and she instead finds that others are well-versed in convenient deception. Second seasons are always difficult, but Love does enough to keep you watching this mismatched pair.
>> Bonus Binge: Both Stan and Netflix have the one and only season of Freaks and Geeks, the celebrated high school series that was one of Judd Apatow’s first major credits. Placed in the TV pantheon post-cancellation, the bittersweet comic drama also introduced James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini, and Jason Segel.
BEST B&W MOVIES
The available selection of black-and-white movies – or really anything prior to roughly 1985 – on the major streaming services is abysmal; what’s available is a speck of sand on the beach that is the cinema’s history. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beautiful contrast and atmospheric shadowing of masterfully shot black-and-white cinematography. There is a small cross-section of classics available, each of which will make you look anew in appreciation.
Sweet Smell of Success (Stan, 1957, 96 minutes): So cruelly manipulative and witheringly dismissive that it could be an instruction manual for today’s gossipmongers and hopeful entertainment moguls, Scottish filmmaker Alexander Mackendrick’s bitter ode to 1950s New York fillets the warped relationship between a powerful newspaper columnist, J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), and a desperate publicist, Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), who needs his favour. Full of scornful assessments – “I’d hate to take a bite out of you,” J.J. tells Sidney, “you’re a cookie full of arsenic” – and set in a nocturnal landscape of nightclub booths and jazz joints, the film seethes with destructive energy as Sidney does J.J.’s personal bidding.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Netflix, 1962, 129 minutes): Adapted from Harper Lee’s revered novel and set in 1930’s Alabama, where the racial divide is so nightmarishly complete that an unfounded accusation is enough to cost a subjugated person their life, Robert Mulligan’s calm, compassionate adaptation sees two young siblings getting a sense of an unjust world through the mechanics of institutionalised racism. Gregory Peck, never more unswervingly noble, plays their father, local lawyer Atticus Finch, who tries to defend a local black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), accused of raping a white woman. The final scenes supply a sense of hopeful discovery, complete with the film debut of Robert Duvall, but the underlying lessons bitterly resonate.
The Third Man (Stan, 1949, 101 minutes): Made jaunty by corrupting swagger, the great Orson Welles rightly haunts Carol Reed’s post-WWII thriller, playing a black marketer named Harry Lime rumoured to be dead in the occupied city of Vienna but soon more than ready to explain his philosophy to an old friend, pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton). With dialogue alternately expansive and cutting from Graham Greene, Lime is a believer in working with the failings of others, and the cinematography of Robert Krasker gradually comes to reflect his selfishly persuasive worldview, complete with expressive close-ups and darkened corners from which untrustworthy creatures emerge.
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