Binge-r #87: Troy: Fall of a City + Anon
TROY: FALL OF A CITY
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Sturdy but surprising in both promising and unwelcome ways, this BBC production updates the swords and sandals epic for the Game of Thrones age. The gods circle, but it is humans who share the sharpest of emotions and draw blood in an update of the Trojan War that’s as much about Brad Pitt’s 2004 Hollywood epic as Homer’s Iliad. From the birth of Alexander, a prince of the city state of Troy who is subsequently raised as the cattle farmer Paris before reclaiming his royal place, there are earthly pleasures and spooky ramifications; not for nothing does his sister, Cassandra (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) constantly look terrified by her visions of the future.
Creator and co-writer David Farr is a playwright, stage director, and associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he’s tried to balance the wonder of the mythic text with the psychological turmoil of contemporary television. When the newly restored Paris is sent by his father, King Priam (David Threlfall) on a diplomatic mission to Sparta, he finds what the goddess Aphrodite once promised him: the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen (Bella Dayne). But this Queen is older than her headstrong suitor, and in an unhappy marriage to Menelaus (Jonas Armstrong), and when the mother and wife flees it’s to have a life she’s never experienced instead of satisfying a whirlwind romance.
There’s an amusing strain of everyday dialogue – “how did you two get together?” Paris casually asks his hosts – but it’s balanced by the technical depth of the mostly British multiracial cast, who slot into their roles in ways their American contemporaries rarely can. But when Menelaus summons his brothers, including Agamemnon (Johnny Harris) and Odysseus (Joseph Mawle), and their armies, their demands include not only Helen but control of Troy’s economic wellspring. The looming war is both a source of machination and escalating madness, made horrifyingly personal for the Greeks by the need for a sacrifice to appease an angry deity.
This version of Achilles (David Gyasi) offers quiet menace, and while there’s a ready, ripe pulse and impressive production values, the series has the most to offer when it steps aside from its predecessors. The first battle between the two armies has an arcane air of predestination as goddesses stride through the opposing ranks, and instead of a visceral clash there are theatrical effects and a cut to the dark conclusion that perfectly suggests a day of carnage. I was never sold on the love between Helen and Paris, but the events that flow from their calamitous union make for a curious hybrid where the otherworldly seeps into the clash of steel.
Anon (Netflix, 2018, 100 minutes): The New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Niccol makes worlds run on science-fiction conceits that haven’t amounted to much since he announced himself two decades ago with the DNA dystopia of Gattaca and the Peter Weir-directed The Truman Show. His latest feature Anon, which Netflix purchased and exclusively released, is set in a near future New York where everything that everyone sees and does is data to be shared. For police detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen, all hardboiled minimalism) solving a crime requires nothing more than accessing the relevant database, but when a series of murders suggest the system is hackable and the female suspect (Amanda Seyfried) reveals no identifying data his perspective changes. “We’ve actually got ourselves a whodunit,” muses Sal between cigarettes, but his pronouncements steadily become obvious commentary as the empty, disaffected world reveals little more than glacial pacing and gratuitous sex scenes that suggest the male gaze still thrives. Niccol toys with the idea that Sal can’t trust his own eyes, but he seems proudly content to merely reference privacy in the digital age and not actually examine it. “Anonymity is the enemy,” Sal’s boss confesses, but this torpid movie is bereft of defining traits.
Also New on Netflix: One of the best – that is inexplicable and resonant – movies of this century, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001, 147 minutes) is a mystery about identity starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring that resides in the subconscious; Christine (2016, 119 minutes) is built around a masterful biopic performance by Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbuck, a U.S. television reporter who committed suicide live on air in 1974.
New on SBS On Demand: Pedro Almodovar is one of the key European filmmakers of the last 40 years, a punk escapee of Spain’s Franco regime who decisively combined Hollywood melodrama and queer farce into a ground-breaking career. There are 11 of his features collected together on the SBS On Demand site, including Law of Desire (1987, 102 minutes), Talk to Her (2002, 112 minutes), and Broken Embraces (2009, 127 minutes).
New on Stan: Nothing good this week. Amongst the catalogue titles try The Raid (2011, 101 minutes), an Indonesian action from Welsh direction Gareth Evans that is brutally kinetic or the heartrending romance of Jane Campion’s Bright Star (2009, 120 minutes), with Ben Whishaw as the 19th century poet John Keats.
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