You Should Be Watching: Brit Marling’s stunning series ‘The OA’ (for The Buffalo News)

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I was thrilled to ponder Netflix’s “The OA” for The Buffalo News’ “You should be watching column. Brit Marling is, quite simply, my favorite current actor, so I was probably destined to love it. Still, I was unprepared for how invested I became in this stunning series.

The best series of 2016 debuted in full on Dec. 16, just one week after it was announced. Since then, Netflix’s “The OA” has enraptured, overwhelmed, and frustrated viewers nationwide. A highly spiritual, quasi-sci fi drama told in eight parts, “The OA” is the brainchild of two stunningly talented individuals. The series is the latest creation from actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, following the thematically similar 2012 mindbender “Sound of My Voice” and 2013 thriller “The East.” “The OA” represents their finest achievement to date, and it just might be your next pop culture obsession.

Title: “The OA”

Year it began: 2016 (December)

Where it can be seen: Netflix

Who’s in it: Brit Marling, Jason Isaacs, Emory Cohen, Phyllis Smith, Riz Ahmed, and Alice Krige

Typical episode length: Episodes range between 31 and 71 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 8

Brief plot description: A young woman named Prairie Johnson resurfaces suddenly after being missing for seven years. Blind when she disappeared, Prairie now has the ability to see. She also calls herself “OA,” and has unexplained scars on her back. Slowly, OA begins to tell her story — involving a scientist, an experiment, and similarly missing individuals — to four local high school students and their teacher.

Why it’s worth watching: For fans of the hugely talented Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the announcement that a new series created by the duo was set for release in one week’s time felt like a holiday gift. It became apparent after watching the first couple episodes of “The OA” that this series — a film in eight chapters, really — was even more emotionally resonant and adventurous than the great “Sound of My Voice.” Much of the joy that comes from watching the series comes from the constant story surprises/mega-spoilers that occur, but it can be said that the tale of Prairie Johnson involves near-death experiences, Russian oligarchs, the FBI, high school pressures, and the horrors of sudden imprisonment. In less than a month, “The OA” has earned the crown of most Reddit fan theory-friendly show since “The X Files,” and it shares “Files”’ innate conflict between faith and skepticism. To that end, it must be said that a leap of faith is required. Viewers who choose to buy-in are rewarded with an emotional, dramatically transcendent experience. A key part of this necessary acceptance involves the show’s “Movements,” a series of interpretive dance moves that are strange, a bit silly, and utterly enchanting. It all culminates in an already controversial ending — one critic believes the climax is “tasteless,” and you’ll see why — that is provocative and thrilling. In fact, the second it ends, you’ll have to fight the urge to binge-watch the entire thing all over again. And I guarantee you’ll be Google searching “The OA Season 2.”

Weekend Preview: “Much Ado” About Brad, “Bling,” Brit, and “Monsters”

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Last weekend was pretty special, with “Before Midnight,” “This is the End,” and “Man of Steel” all opening, but guess what? This Friday is just as solid.

The biggies, of course, are “Monsters University” and “World War Z,” and we can expect these to land 1-and-2 (unless “Man of Steel” trumps Brad Pitt — more on that below) at the box office. How high will each go? That’s the question. It has been a shockingly quiet summer so far for straight family fare, so Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” sequel is dropping at the right time. It does seem that there has been less and less buzz with each new Pixar release since “Toy Story 3” in 2010 — “Cars 2” and “Brave” both did well enough, to be sure, but neither captured the zeitgeist as strongly as some other Pixar releases. I expect “Monsters” to make more dough than either “Cars 2” or “Brave,” and to play well into July.

Ahh yes, “World War Z,” that embattled, bloated, ending-challenged franchise-to-be. I’m not sure all that talk has hurt the film much, but then again, I never felt it necessarily had franchise written all over it. Reviews have been mixed so far, but the trailer look good, Brad Pitt is promoting the hell out of it, and it is rather unique in the summer lineup. I have not read Max Brooks’s book, but the changes Marc Forster and company made seem to make it a less interesting product. But there is nothing else quite like it this season, and you have to respect its ambition. I could see “Monsters” doing anywhere from $70 to $90 million, with “Z” ringing up $40 to $50 mill.

Where will “Man of Steel” fit into this equation? Zack Snyder’s reimagining of Superman opened so large — wayyy more than I predicted — that it could certainly beat “World War Z” to the number two spot. This second weekend will really determine if the film has “Dark Knight” legs, or “Amazing Spider-Man” legs. I expect the former.

Indie alert: This weekend sees the Buffalo release of three fascinating, unique films. I’ve seen two of them, and loved one.

First is the long-awaited release of a film I’ve prattled on about too often (for obvious reasons), Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” I am anxious to see if the film will play as well to me now as it did on a Sunday morning at TIFF; I believe it will. It is exciting to see the smart, funny film make it to Buffalo. It’s showing at the Dipson Eastern Hills.

Brit Marling is near the top on my list of favorite young actresses, but her latest, “The East,” was a stunning disappointment, surprisingly. Its plot, about a former FBI agent going undercover with an eco-anarchist group, held great promise, but the execution is all wrong. It feels childish, horribly unsubtle, and worst of all, just plain phony. It will play, to some, and there are certainly successful elements, not the least of which is Marling’s performance. She, and director Zal Batmanglij, who last collaborated on one of my favorite films of 2012, “The Sound of My Voice” — will be back.

Lastly comes Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” a glossy, stylized take on the real-life robbers who shocked Beverly Hills. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m a Coppola fan, and her aesthetic seems an ideal fit with this material. Even if the film as a whole seems iffy, it stars the increasingly wonderful Emma Watson and a WTF-supporting cast: Gavin Rossdale, Paris Hilton as herself.

A couple other quick screening notes: The Screening Room is showing Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; it is followed at 9:20 on Saturday with the noir classic “D.O.A.”

And in the outdoor series world, Bacchus screens the iconic “Big Lebowski” on Wednesday (June 26); the UB North Campus shows “Oz the Great and Powerful” on Friday and “Monsters, Inc.” on Tuesday (June 25), both at 9:15; and the UB South Campus offers “Despicable Me” at 9:15 on Wednesday (June 26.)

All in all, a unique weekend. But sadly, there are some grim weeks of blockbuster releases ahead …

 

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions