Lost in the Movies: June 2015

True Detective season 2 episode 2 - "Night Finds You"

This True Detective viewing diary is being written while the new series airs. As such, future readers need not worry: there are no spoilers for upcoming episodes.

With its mission clear and basic exposition out of the way, this second episode is a more satisfying experience than the first. It also makes the premiere look sharper in retrospect. Now that we're able to see the characters interacting (which not only provides dramatic momentum, but allows them to come out of their shells), the laborious set-up of the previous hour feels more justified. Even minor moments, like Woodrugh interacting with Velcoro's partner, are revealing and intriguing. Bezzerides and Velcoro have the most notable pairing, sharing many of the investigative duties throughout the episode. When Velcoro compares her e-cig to "sucking a robot's dick" she doesn't actually come out and tell him to shut up, but you can see it in her eyes; it seems like maybe they will be the closest thing to a Cohle/Hart pairing this season. Well, at least it seems that way until the ending...but more on that in a moment.

True Detective season 2 episode 1 - "The Western Book of the Dead" (episode 2 appears tomorrow)

This True Detective viewing diary is being written while the new series airs. As such, future readers need not worry: there are no spoilers for upcoming episodes.

True Detective's second season finds itself in a unique position. On the one hand, it has nothing to do with season one: different characters, different location, with the freedom to engage in an entirely different visual style and mode of storytelling. Even the director of season one, Cary Jo Fukunaga, is gone, to be replaced by a series of other directors (unlike that memorable first season, one filmmaker will not be overseeing the entire narrative). This could almost be seen as writer Nic Pizzolatto's "follow-up project" to the acclaimed miniseries that aired a year and a half ago on HBO. On the other hand, the title alone brings certain expectations with it, and if the new season abandons too many of True Detective's touchstones - the ongoing central mystery spread over eight episodes, the dual cop protagonists, the hints of corruption, conspiracy, and occultism haunting the show's psychosphere - many viewers will be disappointed. Is True Detective simply Pizzolatto's canny method to package his separate stories for a built-in audience? Or will there be a singular sensibility, style, and even story structure linking these disparate seasons?

True Detective season 2 viewing diary begins this week

This directory will be updated each Tuesday as a new review goes up for Sunday's episode

Despite regularly blogging, tweeting, and uploading videos (well, maybe not so regularly with the videos, but I'm working on it!), the truth is that I'm technologically backward. Because I don't have cable, couldn't access HBONow on my computer, and refused to resort to my phone's screen, I did not think I would be able to watch True Detective's second season until it hit DVD. But over the past week, as I listened to an old podcast on season one, noticed that some of my favorite podcasters were launching new podcast on the show, and attempted to tune out any spoiler-y buzz about the new season, I finally caved. Where there's a will there's a way, and so I have begun watching True Detective in less-than-optimal conditions (still not on my phone though!). Tomorrow I will post my reaction to the first episode, already written, and on Tuesday I will review tonight's episode. From then on, every Tuesday - sandwiched between a random Monday post and Wednesday's Neon Genesis Evangelion series - I will be reviewing a True Detective episode from two days earlier.

There have already been rumbles of discontent about the direction of the new season but I'll save my own reflections until tomorrow. For now, I really look forward to watching True Detective this way, even if the series itself ends up being disappointing. I haven't viewed a show while it aired since Lost (which I never finished) so it will be interesting to partake in the conversation as it unfolds, and offer my own humble contributions on this blog. Hopefully you'll share your own comments, questions, and answers below. I'd also like to recommend the True Detective Weekly podcast and forum by the folks who fostered such a great community around their Twin Peaks Rewatch, which just concluded. If nothing else, this will be a great dry run for Twin Peaks next year as I attempt to gather my thoughts and filter in, and out, other opinions in real time. Can't wait!

Meanwhile, if you want to read my thoughts on True Detective season 1 (which I watched on DVD this spring) check out my recently-completed viewing diary. See you tomorrow...

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Episodes 1-7 Review, plus Historical Context (by Murderous Ink)

A re-introduction to my Neon Genesis Evangelion series
A reflection on the phenomenon of Evangelion in Japan, written by Murderous Ink
A discussion with Bob Clark and Murderous Ink about episodes 1 - 7

This viewing series actually began back in 2012, a year when we were supposed to experience an apocalypse (remember the whole December 21 thing?). So it is appropriate that my posts resume in 2015, another apocalyptic year - at least according to the show itself. Neon Genesis Evangelion, which premiered in 1995, is set in 2015; in fact, the very first episode apparently takes place two days ago (June 22). Of course in this version of 2015 the world has been nearly destroyed by a mysterious cataclysmic event called "The Second Impact" and the remnants of society are now being attacked by terrifying giant creatures called "Angels." Only teenage pilots can save humanity by piloting Evangelions, weaponized robots (or so it seems) that sync up with their nervous systems. That is the premise of Evangelion, but by the end of the series it has gone far, far afield from mecha action and adolescent hijinks into the realm of avant-garde animation, hallucinatory psychodrama, and intense, poignant character study. Now that my Evangelion series has returned, weekly reviews of each episode alongside extended discussions with bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink, we will finally be able to reach those episodes and the even trippier film, as well as the recent Rebuild movies which extend and complicate the legacy of the show.

I know what you're thinking: you abandoned this episode guide two and half years ago - who is to say you'll complete it this time? Well, the good news is I already have completed it. In fact that's partly the reason why the series took so long to come back: I didn't want to resume until I was sure I would see it through. Several weeks ago, I reviewed the most recent of the Rebuild films and before that I held my last discussion with Bob, a massive two-part analysis of The End of Evangelion. While I still have some editing to do, and Murderous Ink may offer some further feedback, the bulk of the work is complete, scheduled behind-the-scenes in Blogger for every Wednesday through December 2. Therefore, barring an actual Third Impact, you will absolutely see a full episode guide for Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you decide to watch the show alongside us, you should be okay - we avoid any big spoilers though there are vague references to forthcoming characters or events so be warned. (That said, I doubt you'll be able to limit yourself to one 22-minute episode a week!) If you haven't watched the show yet, or haven't even heard of it, you probably shouldn't read any further - but keep your eyes peeled. I'm hoping to produce a very short video later this summer, introducing and recommending Neon Genesis Evangelion to those who haven't seen it yet (and celebrating it for those who have).

The upcoming posts were written in several installments, beginning last year - taking a break as I devoted most of my time and energy to Twin Peaks - and then resuming this spring for the final ten episodes. As such, I think you can see my perspective and knowledge of the show evolving over the course of these write-ups and discussions. I still have not seen much anime, but I have learned much more about the context of the show, the fan culture, and the mythology onscreen. Hopefully these posts can be enjoyed by Evangelion newbies and veterans alike - best of all would be to hear back from readers who have their own thoughts to share. In recent months, as I approached the final stretch of episodes (my favorite in the series) and began to really explore fan theories and analyses in depth I was blown away by the passion and insight of Eva fans. Although I've seen the show four or five times by now, my impressions will mostly by those of an outsider to anime and (at least initially) Eva. Hopefully that curious, fresh-eyed perspective will prove interesting, but keep in mind I will also be joined by two Eva fans whose histories with the series, and understanding of its world, go back much further than mine.

Bob Clark, who has been a participant in these posts since the very first one, is the blogger who introduced me to Neon Genesis Evangelion with his "Operation Yashima" essay on Wonders in the Dark in 2011. I don't incorporate dialogues into my blogging, but I knew when I tackled this series that I wanted him onboard. Bob's recent work can be found on NeoWestchester, a witty, inventive daily webcomic mixing sci-fi, politics, action, and affectionate satire of fan culture. Murderous Ink, a Japanese film writer who witnessed the Evangelion phenomenon firsthand in the mid-nineties, brings a much-needed socio-historical context to bear in his own analyses of the show, examining their resonance for Japanese society and their relevance post-Fukushima. When I discovered these essays in 2012, I invited him to join this discussion. He did not participate in the chats with Bob and I, but rather emailed his thoughts afterwards (to which we ourselves often responded). I have woven those longer reflections in with Bob's and my conversation and hopefully the presentation flows smoothly. MI's pereceptive, penetrating essays on classic cinema (particularly postwar Japan) can be found on his blog Vermillion and One Nights.

This week, in preparation for next week's resumption of the episode-by-episode approach with episode 8 ("Asuka Strikes!"), I wanted to share one of MI's more recent emails in which he replied to my inquiry about the state of the fandom in Japan. His response is presented here in its entirety, as a prologue to the conversation Bob, MI, and I had about the first seven episodes.

Fan Culture Wars (brief thoughts on 3 fandoms)

fan art by (l-r) Renny08, Mine Yoshizaki, Scott Campbell

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Apparently, by sheer coincidence today is "Evangelion Day" (the first episode takes place on June 22, 2015). My recap/discussion series on the show resumes in two days. Meanwhile, check out my archive of Neon Genesis Evangelion material.

Tonight I was going to review United Red Army, but had trouble activating the subtitles so it will have to wait. Instead I'll use the opportunity to share some musings on "fandom." These will be brief, speculative rather than deeply informed, and focused on the rather random sampling of Twin Peaks, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Star Wars (specifically, the prequels) rather than the big three - or so I'm told - of Star Wars (emphasis on the original trilogy), Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings. I don't know much about fan culture in general - until recently it was not my thing, and even now it isn't something I participate in beyond a few exceptions (maybe just one). So these are very much the observations of an outsider although I have some experience with all three of these fandoms. More importantly, I have a great curiosity about them, how they work, and particularly the existence of different groups within these fan communities, what those groups mean, and how they overlap. Let's take 'em each in turn.

True Detective: Conclusions (w/ final images)

This post will include spoilers for the entire series - as will the 25 images collected below.
For a round-up of the entire viewing diary, visit the True Detective directory.

"Then it finally dawned on me, as it probably should have long ago, that True Detective is not going to be a series of unrelated miniseries under the same authorship. The characters will change, but the underlying storyline and backdrop will continue to expand. I suspect we haven't heard the last of the Tuttles (although I assume we will be relocating along with re-casting for season two) and I'm positive we haven't heard the last of the Yellow King. At least, I hope..."
Those words were published by me a week ago, but they were written back in March - immediately after I finished watching the final episode of True Detective. As I recorded that viewing diary I stayed away from coverage of the series, trying to avoid not only spoilers but a sense of wider context. Only after I was done did I read articles and reviews and interviews, watching the special features on the disc and discovering how other people reacted to the material. One of the first things I discovered was that, by almost every single account, True Detective IS going to be a series of unrelated miniseries under the same authorship. And yeah, I definitely consider this a disappointment - one which has caused me to look back on the series with at least a touch more bitterness and frustration than I expressed in my final review.

My first reactions to Twin Peaks

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Starting with True Detective a few months ago, I am now keeping (and eventually publishing) a viewing diary on every series I watch for the first time. Part of the reason for this is my regret that I didn't record my initial reactions to Twin Peaks several years ago, even though I had just started blogging at the time. With this in mind, I recently opened a thread on the World of Blue forum, asking other Twin Peaks fans to recall their first reactions to a couple dozen major turning points on the show. The replies were fantastic, and eventually I decided to answer to my own question.

So here are my own responses, as I recall them. Some were positive, some were negative, and some were much harder to categorize (unsurprisingly, the Fire Walk With Me entry is nearly as long as the others put together). Some of these responses overlap with material I've written before for this blog - while others don't - so if you've read a lot of my Twin Peaks writing before you may want to skip around. Needless to say, it's all spoilers from this point on so if you haven't seen Twin Peaks yet, watch before reading. And learn from my mistake by recording your own reactions as you do...

Oh and one more thing. In the near future (possibly a month from now) I am going to sample lots of different responses into a big compilation post, showing different fans' reactions to various turning points. Frankly, it will be a much broader and more fascinating look at Twin Peaks fandom than I'm just able to provide on my own (not that that's stopped me from posting this as well!). IF YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE SHARE YOUR OWN RESPONSES TO THE FOLLOWING POINTS either here or, preferably, on the thread linked above. I will eventually mix and match from all the different participants.

True Detective episode 8: "Form and Void"

The following is a viewing diary I wrote as I watched the show for the first time, pausing after each episode to collect my thoughts. As such, it is spoiler-free for upcoming episodes (although the comments section may not be).

"You're looking at it wrong," the dazed, emaciated Rust Cohle tells his sturdy-looking friend Marty Hart. They are crouching outside the beautifully-lit hospital under a starry Louisiana sky. At least Hart is crouching; Cohle is collapsed in a wheelchair, barely out of his coma as he recovers from severe stab wounds. Hart was wounded too, but less severely, whereas Cohle has just finished describing his near-death experience with all the fervor of an atheist in a foxhole. And now Cohle is applying the same optimism to the firmament overhead, in which Hart has noted that the dark has much more territory than the light. Cohle continues, softly, "Once it was all dark. I say the light's winning."

Well, I was looking at it wrong too. Knowing that these characters were only on the show for this run and assuming (correctly, as it turns out) that the case they are investigating would be solved in these episodes, I also took it for granted that we would be getting answers on everything, that the big picture would be revealed. With the end of the last episode I was worried that True Detective would not be able to resolve all of its threads satisfactorily in less than an hour. What I didn't expect is that it wouldn't even try.

The Ballad of Willy Loman: a visual tribute to Death of a Salesman

I recently rewatched Death of Salesman (1985, dir. Volker Schlondorff) for the first time in several years, in prepration for a non-narrated video essay. I was struck by how visually rich this film is, despite the fact that it falls into that much maligned "filmed-play-for-television" category. The glowing colors and stylized sets are gorgeous, creating a poignant, stylized universe within which we can witness the Loman family's psychodrama. Here are 33 images from the movie...

True Detective episode 7: "After You've Gone"

The following is a viewing diary I wrote as I watched the show for the first time, pausing after each episode to collect my thoughts. As such, it is spoiler-free for upcoming episodes (although the comments section may not be).

Cohle and Hart began this story as opposites, the classic odd-couple cop partnership. In 1995, Hart was a backslapping, well-liked family man, a cop's cop but no great detective. Cohle, meanwhile, was an antisocial, fucked-up loner, brilliant and alienating. Their rapport was almost comical. In 2012 they still cut very different figures, maybe even more so than back then. Cohle has gone to seed, unshaven, long-haired, bug-eyed in his paranoia. He fell of the wagon long ago, and ran as far as he could in the other direction as it rolled away. Hart, retired from the force and operating as a PI, is clean-shaven and properly attired. He maintains chummy contact with his old pals in law enforcement.

But Cohle's and Hart's similarities speak louder than the differences. Both look sad, bitter, lost. Both are alone, utterly. Hart apparently does not even speak to his daughters and when he visits his ex-wife, it's only to make sure she didn't say anything bad about Cohle to the investigators. Then again, maybe they aren't quite alone...because once again they are partners. And they need one another more than ever, both personally and professionally.

Moments From the Movies: 32 Days of Movies "refreshes" starting today

Every day through July 2, I will be posting a new collection of film clips on Vimeo, in 32 chronological chapters stretching from the silent era to the digital age.

Three and a half years ago, I launched an ambitious video project called "32 Days of Movies" which collected clips from almost everything in my collection (at the time). The clips lasted 30-45 seconds. They were assembled in roughly chronological order and then divided into 32 chapters (roughly 7-9 minutes each), ending with a song from the particular era those clips belonged to. At the time, unfortunately, I limited myself to Blogger's video program and there were many, many technical limitations and hiccups. Sometimes the video was so pixelated that the screen became unviewable.

I have decided to fix this problem by re-uploading each of the chapters in higher quality on Vimeo. Just for fun I will be restoring them one day at a time. So the journey begins anew today, with Day 1 - "Dance of the Silents." The video follows the jump, along with explanations of how you can follow this series.

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