“Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones” are Over, So Start Streaming Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake”

top of the lake

We are in the midst of a television renaissance — just about everyone agrees, including Bernardo Bertolucci. Yet I must admit, I’m not watching very much of it. Believe me, I am dying to watch “Homeland,” “Breaking Bad,” “Sons of Anarchy,” etc., but I am not overflowing with time for all of these, and when I do have time, I try to catch up with some movies.

However, I did watch the recently concluded seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” and was riveted by both. “Games” remains the most consistently surprising and involving drama on TV, while “Mad Men” did something pretty extraordinary over the last few months. I maintain that the first batch of episodes of the season were among the worst in the show’s history. The last batch? Undoubtedly among the best. I agree with a coworker, who wished the long episode had been the last of the season, instead of the first.

So my two shows are done. What to watch next, TV-wise? Some of the finest options can be screen on Netflix. Here are a few:

“Top of the Lake”: Jane Campion’s miniseries starring “Mad Men”’s Elizabeth Moss was screened at Sundance and aired on the Sundance Channel, but now it is streaming in full on Netflix. It is hard to argue against classifying Campion as hit (“The Piano,” the underrated “Bright Star”) or miss (“The Portrait of a Lady,” “In the Cut”) but even those misses are fascinating. “Top” was acclaimed by most as one of the hits. Film Comment’s Amy Taubin called this story of a pregnant 12-year-old-girl and a detective’s search for the truth “’Twin Peaks’ crossed with ‘The Killing.’”

The seven-episode series Top of the Lake, Taubin says:

“[I]s the toughest, wildest picture Jane Campion has ever made. Campion’s previous foray into television, ‘An Angel at My Table,’ a four-part biopic about the writer Janet Frame, was focused on a single character, and though dramatically and psychologically compelling, it lacked the expressive visual style of Campion’s features. With the emotional intensity of its performances and the urgency of its drama scaled to match its vast, primal setting and six-hour length, ‘Top of the Lake’ is something else again: series television as epic poem, the Trojan Wars recast as the gender war. Three women, each on her own journey, connect and bring the patriarchy to its knees. But that’s too bald a description.”

This sounds like Campion’s most important work in years, and a must-watch.

“Luther”: I can’t say for sure whether this BBC cop drama is more than just another cop show, but I can say its star is Idris Elba, and he is one of the finest we’ve got. Elba is on the verge of a major breakthrough — he appears in the soon-to-be-released “Pacific Rim” and portrays Nelson Mandela in a biopic out later this year — but many know him best from this series. The third season airs this summer.

“The Fall”: Gillian Anderson’s post-“X-Files” career has been quite interesting, especially her turns in Terrence Davies’s “The House of Mirth” and an adaptation of Dickens’s “Bleak House.” In “The Fall,” she plays a detective investigating a series of murders in Ireland, and Anderson plus detective plus murders equals I’ll watch.

“Hemlock Grove”: Eli Roth’s Netflix series received little of the critical love that greeted David Fincher’s “House of Cards,” but that’s alright. The horror series looks like a messy blast, and I like that the second Netflix original series went in such a different direction.

“House of Cards” (BBC): Speaking of “Cards,” the original BBC series is also streaming on Netflix, with Ian Richardson as the lead. It would be fun to compare his performance with Kevin Spacey’s often over-the-top but effective work.

“Arrested Development”: You know about this one. In fact, you’ve probably watched it — perhaps twice. I am working through it slowly, since any show that can show David Cross’s Tobias playing a fetus deserves to be savored.

 

Image from “Top of the Lake” from Indiewire

Wednesday Round-Up: Friedkin’s Failed “Sorcerer,” Cinephilia’s Survival, and Tarkovsky’s Polaroids

cargamaldita7709-spiffed-up

“I was listening to an album by Miles Davis called Sorcerer, with driving rhythms and jagged horn solos that characterized Miles’s band in the late 1960s. We painted the word Sorcier (French for ‘Sorcerer’) on the other truck, and I later decided to call the film ‘Sorcerer,’ an intentional but ill-advised reference to The Exorcist. The original title I’d proposed was ‘Ballbreaker.’”

So writes director William Friedkin in his recently released career-spanning memoir “The Friedkin Connection.” The book is a must-read for fans of 70s cinema, and an ideal companion to a book I’d imagine Friedkin hates, Peter Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.” (I briefly discussed the book in a recent buffalospree.com post.)

Whenever I read a book like this, I’m intrigued not by the tales of success — quite frankly, I’ve read enough about the making of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” — but of failure. (That’s why I am dying to find a bio of Michael Cimino.)

Friedkin has had his share, and he goes into great detail about them here. Yes, there is “Cruising,” but he is especially candid about his version of Clouzot’s “Wages of Fear,” titled “Sorcerer.” I rented the Roy Scheider-starring flop a few years ago, and found it taut, well-made, and compelling. (Incidentally, Friedkin still maintains that the film needed a star, and rues the day he spurned Steve McQueen: “I realized a close up of Steve McQueen was worth the greatest landscape you could find.”)

As Friedkin recently explained to Vulture, does not consider “Sorcerer” to be a remake, and in some ways, perhaps Friedkin faced the same issue David Fincher faced with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” As Fincher made clear, and any astute viewer could discern, the first entry in the Lisbeth Salander saga was most certainly not a remake of the popular Swedish version. It was simply another film based on Stieg Larsson’s book.

Friedkin:

“It’s not a remake of ‘The Wages of Fear’! Somebody’s probably doing ‘Hamlet’ somewhere right now; that’s not a remake of ‘Hamlet.’ ‘Sorcerer’ is a new version of a classic story, a novel by a French author named Georges Arnaud. Certainly my film was inspired by Clouzot’s film, which I consider a masterpiece. But then-contemporary audiences in the English-speaking world did not know ‘Wages of Fear’ that well. I felt that the underlying theme, the subject matter, and the characters were important enough to do a new version. Now, did some critics have their knives out? I think that would be to undervalue the nature of film criticism. I would hope not, but you’re posing the question, so it has to be possible. Occasionally, what happens when a filmmaker or artist is extremely successful in a certain period, there do seem to be critics who come out with reevaluations for one reason or another. I do know that I very much thought I was the center of the universe at the time. And a lot of people probably were waiting for me to crash.”

Copyright issues have surrounded “Sorcerer” for years, but it appears the director may finally have his say, with a remastered re-release on its way. There has never been a Friedkin Criterion release, but if ever one of his films cried out for such treatment, it is “Sorcerer.” In fact, there is even a “Sorcerer” blog, which is where the above image came from.

The rest of my Wednesday round-up:

  • Lots of good stuff on Vulture, including the many faces of “Mad Men”’s Ted Chaough (I think he and Harry Hamlin were this season’s unsung heroes), the late Richard Matheson’s classic “Twlight Zone” ep “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in full, and 10 tidbits that did not make it into “The Bling Ring.”
  • Richard Brody talks about the long-awaited Criterion release of “Shoah,” and asks an important question: Will cinephilia survive without DVDs?
  • Criticwire lists its best of 2013 so far.
  • The Playlist has its usual fine mix of features and news; two highlights are a look at five movies that triumphed over bad buzz and five that did not, and a Russian teaser for Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor.”
  • Two from Empire: First, will Rick Moranis be returning to the big screen in “Ghostbusters 3”? Maybe. And second, did you spot all these “Man of Steel” Easter eggs? Doubtful.
  • And lastly, even Andrei Tarkovsky’s Polaroids were stunning. I wonder what he would have made of digital.