BINGE-R # 70: Godless + Personal Shopper
A note from your fellow binger: BINGE-R is back, so let’s call this season two. This year BINGE-R will be a weekly edition – every Friday morning – but the idea remains the same. I’ll break down the new shows and movies you should, and occasionally shouldn’t, be watching via Australia’s main streaming services. There’s no shortage of choices, so let’s get to it. Thanks for reading, CM.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All seven episodes now streaming
In this bloody and compelling take on the western the frontier is not just a physical location marked by red dust and lawlessness, but an unsettling state of mind and a sense that you might just outrun your past. “This here’s the paradise of the locust,” declares Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels), who runs a murderous posse capable of Cormac McCarthy-level massacres but also often appears the sanest person present in a land of contradictions. His gang is in pursuit of his prodigal son, Roy Goode (the remarkable English actor Jack O’Connell), whose uncertain redemption takes him to the ranch of Alice Fletcher (Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) outside the town of La Belle, New Mexico.
Blood isn’t just spilt in Godless, which was created by screenwriter (Out of Sight, Logan) and director (A Walk Among the Tombstones) Scott Frank, it pumps with creative vitality. Working at a slow, steady pace – the early episodes are over an hour in length – Frank remakes the Western’s conventions. La Belle, for example, is nearly devoid of men after a mining accident two years prior, and the female society has adapted to the unexpected circumstances; a saloon whore, Callie Dunner (Tess Frazer), is now the school teacher and unofficial banker. In the same way Steve Meizler’s cinematography is full of panoramic landscapes, but it’s punctuated by incisive handheld camerawork.
The dialogue is pithy – “man had two kinds of teeth,” observes an undertaker, “rotten and gone” – and there’s a sly strain of black humour to the words and casting. La Belle’s errant sheriff, Bill McNue, is played by Scoot McNairy, an actor whose haphazard failings are 180 degrees opposite the archetypal lawman. The better gunslinger is his widowed sister Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), who quietly exults in her sense of power and the choices available to her (she gives exceptional side-eye for 1884).
The middle batch of episodes really stretch out, with long sequences that illustrate characters while introducing new story strands such as La Belle’s neighbouring African-American settlement Blackdom. The measured expansion of the plotting is actually more likely to hold you back than not previously caring for Westerns. This frontier isn’t tamed by heroic men, it’s framed by committed women. Have faith in Godless.
In Brief: BERLIN STATION S1 (SBS On Demand): If, like me, your taste in espionage tales runs to the knotty, morally uncertain shadowlands pioneered by John Le Carre, then this tidy U.S. series about the CIA’s operation in the German capital will be of interest. Created by American author Olen Steinhauer, Berlin Station views the war on terror as an endless tide of operations, as much against the intelligence services of their host as possible terrorist cells, and the most prominent thing about these CIA’s agents – played by character actors such as Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes and Rhys Ifans – who are being exposed by a whistle-blower is how compromised in their own particular way each is. The gunplay is sporadic, the betrayal constant.
Personal Shopper (Netflix, 2016, 105 minutes): A love story about what horrifies you and a horror film about what you love most, Olivier Assayas’ psychological thriller connects the digital age to the spiritual realm so that the otherworldly resides both in a smart phone and a deserted French chateau. In a performance so emotionally open to her character that it’s soulfully translucent, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, an American in Paris mourning her dead twin brother while working as the assistant to a mostly absent movie star. Even as she’s pursued by a malevolent spirit – “I’m here, I’m watching you,” reads one text she receives – Maureen floats between certainty, trying on clothes and lives. Impeccably directed, the film is both scary and sublime.
Netflix Recommendations: Derek Cianfrance’s uneven but fascinating crime saga The Place Beyond the Pines (2012, 140 minutes), which entangles Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper; the eternally joyous Groundhog Day (1993, 101 minutes).
SBS On Demand Recommendations: The deeply felt expatriate coming of age drama Brooklyn (2015, 117 minutes), headlined by a terrific Saoirse Ronan; The Duke of Burgundy (2014, 100 minutes): the best – and only – Middle European Sapphic S&M romance set in an alternate reality.
Stan Recommendations: Martin Scorsese’s austere period romance The Age of Innocence (1993, 133 minutes), with Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder; Jessica Chastain as a take-no-prisoners Washington lobbyist in Miss Sloane (2016, 133 minutes).
>> Other Reading: I wrote about the significant failings of Stan’s Romper Stomper reboot for The Age [full review here]
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