Binge-r #96: Taboo + Duck Butter
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Taboo has much to offer. Muck, madness, and murder for starters, which are prime ingredients for an historical drama set at the centre of the world that is London in 1814. I’m not convinced it’s a great series, or even a very good one, but it’s certainly watchable. That’s because it stars Tom Hardy and the English actor has a charismatic conviction that spikes your interest. Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the resurrected road warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road, Hardy can be the vivid fuel in blockbusters. Here, if anything, he’s untethered. Covered in tattoos and scars with his sanity strained, Hardy plays the bloody anti-hero somehow soaked in both self-destruction and righteous revenge.
His character, James Keziah Delaney, makes his entrance at the funeral of his father, which causes a stir since he’s been presumed dead somewhere in Africa for a decade. There’s a long line of those shaken, beginning with his now married half-sister, Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin), who looks at Delaney with a trembling mix of loathing and longing, and culminating in the East India Company, the Google meets Blackstone of the day, which is intent on securing the last asset of the Delaney family business, trading rights to an island off the coast of Canada now of vast strategic importance to the British Empire and the fledgling American republic.
The plot slowly scrambles together all the strata of the Regency era, from the might of the Crown and the long arm of the “Company”, run with wicked dedication by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce), to the machinations of American spies, quicksilver assassins, and dockside brothels. London heaves with scams and scoundrels, and the historical detail – from the running of a creditors’ meeting to the costs required to keep a grave from being robbed – exerts a juicy fascination. But you may also wonder why this lurid colour runs parallel to Delaney’s uncertain masterplan instead of actually influencing his unerring path.
Series writer and co-creator Steven Knight does all this heavy lifting from an idea that originated with Hardy and his father, novelist and playwright Chips Hardy, and it’s as if the act of instigation has given Hardy free rein. His indulgence is not of grandiose gestures or exaggerated importance, it’s of magnifying Delaney’s trauma and unspeakable deeds, hinted at in florid flashbacks, so that the character has lost his bearings, and at times, his intelligibility. Hardy is most interesting as an actor when he’s restrained or even recessive – he did a terrific movie, written and directed by Knight, called Locke where he basically sat in a car and navigated a personal crisis by phone. Taboo, by contrast, is a grim feast of period excess. If you’re hungry for that, gorge yourself.
Duck Butter (Netflix, 2018, 94 minutes): This handheld independent drama tries to get at the uneasy trade-off between possibility and time, as two women decide after going home from a bar to reunite for 24 hours straight together – with sex every 60 minutes – as a way of breaking down expectations and meet cute strategies. Naima (co-writer Alia Shawkat) is an uptight actor off to an awkward start on her cameo-laden new feature, while Sergio (Laia Costa) is a Spanish-language singer with few inhibitions; the question is whether their physical attraction, played out with uninhibited sex scenes that are focused on the pair’s pleasure and not the camera’s, can outweigh their differences. Shawkat’s co-writer, veteran indie director Miguel Arteta (Cedar Rapids, Beatriz at Dinner), captures the intimacy and exhaustion of their union, but the writing never pushes for grand moments or dramatic resolutions. You learn that their concept is haphazard, but not will become of the two. Nonetheless it’s a great showcase for the former Arrested Development teen Shawkat, who has the more fleshed out part. As already suggested by the 2017 series she headlined, Search Party [full review here], she finds the truth in 20something uncertainty.
Also New on Netflix: Danny McBride and Jody Hill tone down their take on delusional macho idiots (East Bound and Down) for The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter (2018, 83 minutes), a panicked character study where Josh Brolin’s old school American dad tries to bond with his son on a hunting trip; a riotous comedy that’s also perceptive about friendship (and the myths made by romantic comedies) Bridesmaids (2011, 124 minutes) was a breakthrough for Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Rose Byrne.
New on SBS on Demand: The great Whit Stillman took his meticulous eye for bourgeoisie misdeeds from the disco to the drawing room with Love & Friendship (2016, 89 minutes), a period comedy with a never better Kate Beckinsale as a widow with plans; Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play an ageing married couple on a Parisian spree in the bittersweet reckoning of Le Week-end (2013, 89 minutes).
New on Stan: The wondrous Mia Wasikowska furthered her fascination with playing independent women in Tracks (2013, 109 minutes), the real life story of Robyn Davidson’s 1970s trek by camel through the outback; set against the Austin music scene, Song to Song (2017, 129 minutes) isn’t as elliptical as Terrence Malick’s other recent movies, but it still fragments romantic longing and poetic wonder around a cast led by Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, and Natalie Portman.
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