Binge-r #133: The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story + Equity
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All nine episodes now streaming
The prodigious American television creator, director, and writer Ryan Murphy signed exclusively to Netflix last year, with his first series for the streaming service, The Politician, debuting this coming September. But some of his work is already available on there, including both seasons of the American Crime Story anthology: 2016’s The People v. O.J. Simpson [full review here] and now 2018’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Each title betrays a fascination with seismic moments in celebrity culture, and both also transcend the limitations of the initial coverage to speak with jagged, disorderly eloquence about crucial underlying issues.
The first season was a tart, tragic examination of racism in America, while the second season an even more ambitious historical telling of how gay men were denied a public life. It begins with the titular crime, the murder on July 15, 1997 of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) outside his Miami Beach home by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), a serial killer at the end of a murderous spree. While there are storylines of Versace’s past, including his relationship with sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) and boyfriend Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), the focus is Cunanan, an ambitious fabulist whose failings drove him to cold-blooded derangement against those had he known.
The narrative runs backwards, through Cunanan’s crimes and through the increasingly invisible history of gay men in America. “I try, I try,” vows an ageing and closeted Chicago property developer, Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), on his knees in his private Catholic chapel before Cunanan arrives for another visit. He’s photographed from the point of view of the religious iconography, a lurid angle that reminds you how horror has been a subversive genre for Murphy’s body of work. Miglin represents an earlier gay generation, while Cunanan’s former boyfriend and another victim, Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), is a naval officer whose sexuality ended his career but initially found solace in Cunanan’s support.
The show reminds you how Cunanan, during the media frenzy surrounding his manhunt, was described as a “gay serial killer”, a reminder that his sexuality was attached to even his crimes, and Criss is exceptional at sustaining someone whose flaws are real and crimes pulpy and monstrous. There are moments of pathos and tender fantasy, counterpointed by bloody close-ups, and the series suggests that there was no middle ground for gay men little more than two decades ago. This is a murderer’s procedural intertwined with an alternate history, an ambitious and occasionally wayward concept that doesn’t reduce the subject matter to true crime recreation but amplifies it into something fascinating and encompassing.
Killing Eve S2 update: The first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ferocious black comedy about the obsessive female connection between a British spy and a Russian assassin was BINGE-R’s number one new show of 2018 [full review here]. ABC iview also has the second season, with new episodes arriving weekly starting tomorrow night.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Equity (Netflix, 2016, 100 minutes): The women in Equity, a sharp Wall Street thriller where the participants play for contradictory stakes, are not neophytes in the world of finance. “I like money,” proudly declares investment banker Naomi Bishop (Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn), and she bears all the trappings of corporate success including the easy assurance of power. With the public launch of a feted Silicon Valley start-up as the agitating backdrop, director Meera Menon coolly frames Naomi as she navigates a male-dominated environment subtly weighted against her. But the focus is how Naomi interacts – and the assumptions that come into play – with other women, notably her hopeful underling Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) and an old friend, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), who is now a government lawyer investigating a hedge fund connected to Naomi’s next offering. Images of furious self-contemplation and solitude recur, and the idea of female solidarity is churned up by more tangled motivations. It’s a harsh, quiet film, with a detailed ledger of coiled expectations.
New on Netflix: A musical romance bursting with genuine emotion, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016, 128 minutes) is a glorious depiction of creativity’s difficult costs, with perfectly paired lead performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling; a conservative rebuke to outlaw culture, The Highwaymen (2019, 131 minutes) retells Bonnie and Clyde’s rise and fall from the ornery perspective of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson’s lawmen.
New on SBS on Demand: It’s easy to forget how wildly entertaining and physically composed Jackie Chan was in his breakthrough Hong Kong features, but thankfully SBS on Demand have added seven titles that showcase his graceful action movies and their sometimes mind-bogglingly risky stunts. Start with Police Story (1985, 96 minutes), which has the bonus of a young and immensely likable Maggie Cheung.
New on Stan: It can’t convey the scope of history’s crimes, but nonetheless Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017, 107 minutes) is a blackly comic romp through a dictator’s demise with an expert cast as the underlings hoping to seize power; Nicolas Cage goes full, well, Nicolas Cage in Mom and Dad (2017, 86 minutes), a B-movie horror-comedy about parents (Cage and Selma Blair) who succumb to an unknown affliction that makes them obsessed with killing their two children.
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