Binge-r #144: Black Spot + Too Old to Die Young
BLACK SPOT S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming, plus S2
Situated amidst vertiginous walls of trees, the isolated French mountain town of Villefranche is short on mobile signals and heavy on gory corpses. “We’re a dead zone,” the local police chief, Laurene Weiss (Suliane Brahim) tells Franck Siriani (Laurent Capulleto), an urban prosecutor assigned, for his mistakes, to investigate their backlog of unsolved murders – she’s talking electronic signals, but it could equally apply to the body count. This French crime drama adheres to a similar approach: there’s both a literal and metaphorical translation for the mysterious offences that afflict the community, which come with a suitably moody aesthetic of nature’s thriving greens bearing down on the desperate bodies.
In the first episode a mother insists that it’s the “local soil” keeping her son alive in his vegetative state, with the plot dialling up both a raft of crimes and accompanying supernatural allusions. “The forest takes what it wants,” publican Sabine (Brigitte Sy) observes, and with the mayor’s teenage daughter – also the best friend of Laurene’s daughter, Cora (Camille Aguilar) – there are flashbacks to the police chief’s own disappearance as an 18-year-old, which she returned from without memories and two less fingers. The show isn’t subtle, but the storytelling moves with pace and assurance to reveal a distinct sense of people and place. There are strands of that modern French classic Les Revenants, as well as The Killing, but Black Spot, which has just added a second season, stalks its own distinct beat.
TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
The Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has already made a pair of menace-laden thrillers set in Los Angeles, with Drive and then The Neon Demon, but this story of a corrupt young police officer, Martin Jones (Miles Teller), drawn into a criminal netherworld takes his neon nightmare aesthetic to its zenith. Sparsely paced, with enervated performances that counterpoint the sudden violence, it is underworld pulp shot thot through with David Lynch’s beatific deviance as assassins, cartels, and rogue syndicates take shape around Martin’s downwards trajectory. The presence of the great character actor John Hawkes is a bonus.
“You’re beautiful. Like Elvis,” the unsettling father, Theo (William Baldwin) of Martin’s 17-year-old girlfriend, Janey (Nell Tiger Free), tells him, and the writing by Refn and comic book creator Ed Brubaker approaches the crime epic from oblique angles; here the city’s law enforcement is some strange and unknowable institution. The show looks aces – every nocturnal shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji is delectable – but its appeal is rarefied. This is very much my thing, but even I’m more curious than compelled by its baroque blows.
>> Other Reading: Foxtel’s Chernobyl is one of the surprise television obsessions of the year – a grim reconstruction of the lethal 1986 Soviet nuclear power plant disaster starring mostly British character actors. It’s both calmly nightmarish history and connected to our fears of an apocalyptic future, a connection I made in this piece for The Age [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: I Am Mother (2019, 113 minutes) is a tidy and self-contained Australian-made science-fiction thriller about maternal lies, set in a dystopian future where a young woman (Clara Rugaard) raised by a robot (voiced by Rose Byrne) has her perspective changed by a human intruder (Hilary Swank); a wealth porn romantic comedy with expertly played performances from Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians (2018, 120 minutes) has more than enough pleasures to outweigh its failings.
New on SBS on Demand: A transformative drama about adolescent uncertainty and artistic appropriation, Madeline’s Madeline (2018, 93 minutes) is the story of a working class New York teenager (Helena Howard) who is drawn into the artistic practices of an independent theatre director (Molly Parker). Yes, that’s Miranda July in a downbeat supporting role.
New on Stan: A searing and timely study of a husband’s rage, Xavier Legrand’s Custody (2017, 91 minutes) is one of the best French films of recent years, a precise dissection of a father’s foreboding presence in the life of his son and ex-wife; A Little Chaos (2014, 113 minutes) was directed by the late actor Alan Rickman, who co-stars as King Luis XIV in a period romance about garden designers played by Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts.
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