Posts Tagged ‘the a.v. club’

who watches the watchmen

November 3, 2017

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I know it shouldn’t, but it shocks me how people who devote time to criticizing arts criticism can understand so little about arts criticism.

BTW, not that you should go by letter grades, but my averaged-out grade for the show I tried really hard not to like for some reason? B.

(PS: That’s not really Nev from Catfish)

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten

October 25, 2017

Holden’s meeting with Ed Kemper, who attempts suicide and names Ford as his medical proxy in order to force another meeting, is the first time any of his conversations with murderers has felt like something out of a serial-killer-as-supervillain movie. It’s not actor Cameron Britton’s fault—he plays Kemper with the same unnervingly conversational affect as ever. Rather, it’s the mechanics of the meeting: revealing the stitches from his suicide attempt like he’s a breath away from one of the Joker’s “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” speeches, leaping from his hospital bed with cat-like reflexes, threatening to murder Holden and make him akin to the “spirit wives” he gained when he killed his previous victims, then reversing course and hugging Holden, thanking him for his honesty. When Holden says he doesn’t know why he came, it turns Kemper into a criminal mastermind, luring the FBI’s best and brightest into a potential deathtrap just to show he could. I’m sure it’s supposed to say something about Holden’s increasingly agitated state of mind, but it just makes him look dumb and indecisive, two things he’s never been.

The follow-up is even more of a misfire. The instant Holden hits the door out of Kemper’s hospital room, Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” kicks in. The song’s creepy-cool John Paul Jones synthesizer opening had been used to great effect during Holden’s flight to California, but this time the track is fast-forwarded to Jimmy Page’s triumphant, upward-climbing riff. The transition is so abrupt, the musical sentiment so poorly matched to the moment, that I actually laughed out loud—yet that’s not even the half of it. Holden staggers down the hallway and collapses, in the grips of a full-fledged panic attack so severe he thinks he’s dying. As the hospital staff frantically tries to aid him, he hears the voices of other characters in his head, reliving times they called him on his bullshit and warned him about his behavior: Bill, Shepard, Wendy, Kemper, even Principal Wade. “Wait,” you may be thinking, “you mean like the ‘I made my family disappear’ scene in Home Alone?” Yes, exactly like the “I made my family disappear” scene in Home Alone. Add a few floating-head visions and a “You’re what the French call les incompétents” and not even David Fincher and Chris Columbus could tell the difference. The device is so hackneyed it comes across like a joke from a children’s comedy.

Worse, it’s unnecessary. Did we really need to hear people telling Holden he fucked up for us to understand, while watching him have a panic attack brought on by a serial killer who took advantage of him and could easily have murdered him, that Holden fucked up? I can’t remember the last time I saw a season finale swing and miss this hard.

I reviewed the season finale of Mindhunter, which I did not care for, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine

October 23, 2017

For the Behavioral Science Unit, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1 shows the team operating at the peak of their powers, working in in tandem to create the term for which they’ll go down in history: “serial killer.” It also depicts faultlines forming that could jeopardize the whole project (if this weren’t verifiable historical fiction, anyway). If you’ve been following along, it’s not hard to understand why the former aspect of “Episode 9” works much effectively than the latter. Mindhunter is always better when its characters are all on the same side.

The “serial killer” scene is the most satisfying example of this phenomenon yet—a conference-room scene between Holden Ford, Greg Smith, Bill Tench, and Wendy Carr that feels like watching a tight jazz quartet trade eights. Wendy tries to come up with a term for murderers who carefully prepare for their kills versus those who go on a spontaneous rampage. Smith asks if that isn’t simply organized versus disorganized killers. Wendy says, no, that refers to the process during the crime, not the pattern behind it. Killers like Charles Whitman or Richard Speck, she says, take random victims during rapid-fire rampages, so their existing term of art “sequence killer” doesn’t work. “Whitman was on a spree,” Holden says, with Wendy and Greg backing him up. Bill agrees too, but then expresses doubt about the “sequence killer” label for a killer like Ed Kemper: “It feels too…cadenced,” he explains, starting to actually sound like a musician. Debbie thinks he might be on to something. “It should feel like a long story,” Holden follows up, “continually updated.” “A series of killings,” Bill replies. “Serial?” Holden murmurs. “Serial murderer?” Greg suggests. “Serial killer?” Bill says, refining the concept, and you can see on everyone’s face that he’s hit the mark. “That’s better,” Wendy says, impressed. “Let’s see if it sticks.” Yeah, let’s see!

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1, with David Fincher back in the director’s chair, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight

October 23, 2017

For Mindhunter to succeed, its investigations have to be successful too. That doesn’t mean Holden, Bill, and Wendy need to solve every case or understand every unique pathology they encounter. It simply means that the temperament and technique that help them produce their best work — the blend of curiosity, cooperation, openness, and uncertainty I spelled out last time, during an episode where those traits were largely absent — help the show produce its best work as well. Given what came before, “Episode 8” makes the biggest leap in that direction since the series began, in what for my money is its most riveting and revealing interview with a serial killer to date.

I reviewed episode eight of Mindhunter, powered by <deep sigh> a great Jerry Burdos scene, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven

October 21, 2017

To paraphrase the great Yakov Smirnov, on Mindhunter, case cracks you!

I reviewed episode 7 of Mindhunter, in which the team meets cartoonishly nasty serial killer Jerry Brudos and starts to lose their shit because of it, for the A.V. Club. I get why the show did what it did here—I just don’t enjoy it as much.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six

October 20, 2017

But once again, Mindhunter refrains from the mistake it made in its earliest episodes, where Tench and Ford’s boss was a mouthpiece for outdated and ignorant views—a convenient obstacle to be overcome by the real visionaires. It’s true that the D.A. doesn’t quite grasp the complex interplay of impulses and triggers that shaped Benjy, Frank, and Rose’s respective involvement in the murder and its aftermath. But it’s not that he can’t understand it, or doesn’t want to understand it. Wendy, Holden, and Bill simply haven’t figured out how to express it in a way that will get a guilty verdict out of a jury. When Wendy asks him “How do we translate this so you can use it?”, it’s neither a rhetorical question nor a passive-aggressive dig—she really wants to find a way to make their findings useful outside the laboratory conditions of their office.

And when the D.A. approaches them after allowing Frank to cop a plea, he’s sincere when he tells them why his hands were tied. It’s a utilitarian numbers game—“the lowest cost for the highest quality justice”—and he couldn’t take the risk of confusing a jury and letting justice of any kind slip away. Even when Holden and Bill grumpily reject his offer to take them out for dinner by way of an apology, they still shake his hand when he offers it. There are no hard feelings. How can there be? “What difference does any of this make if we can’t communicate it to the people who matter?” Holden asks Bill before they drive away. “I don’t know,” Bill sighs. Their own uncertainty about the trail they’re blazing makes them more forgiving when others demur from following.

I reviewed episode six of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. Solid and thoughtful.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five

October 20, 2017

The late great Halt And Catch Fire famously took a while to actually become great. It got there because its writers figured out a new way to create personal and professional dilemmas for its characters. Rather than present black-and-white choices in which someone was clearly in the right and someone else in the wrong, or follow the shades-of-gray antihero-drama approach where the interest lies in studying why people do the wrong thing to begin with, Halt took a third route: It constructed scenarios in which the protagonists faced two equally compelling options and had to choose between them with no clear-cut right answer at all. For example, should they gut the creative innards of their new computer, lowering the price tag and guaranteeing competitiveness in the marketplace at the expense of what made the product special? Or should they keep their innovative interface intact and take a shot at something great, risking not just their livelihoods but those of everyone who worked for them in the process? Each path had its partisans, each argument was persuasive, and in the end they had no more idea of what would be best than any of us do when we face turning points in our own real lives. The show’s total lack of hand-holding for either its characters or its audience made for riveting viewing.

I thought about this a lot while watching this episode of Mindhunter. Focused almost exclusively on the murder and mutilation case that Bill Tench, Holden Ford, and local cop Mark Ocasek started working in the previous installment, it’s the story of three investigators hashing things out as they go, testing competing theories of the crime with no slam dunks in sight. It’s not about winnowing out false leads until the one true answer is found—even though they make an arrest by the end of the hour, the exact circumstances of the killing remain a mystery. Rather, it’s about trying to figure things out in a field, and a world, where there are no sure things. It’s a very different way to write a procedural.

I reviewed episode five of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s become a much better show. There are still music-cue misfires and problems with Debbie galore, but it’s settled into a highly watchable groove, particularly if you’re a serial-killer buff and are interested in seeing how the conventional wisdom got hashed out conversation by conversation.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four

October 19, 2017

Twitter is a portal straight into hell, but every so often a li’l angel of insight manages to spread its wings and fly out of its maw. So I offer a sincere thank you to the twitter userwho put into words something I might not have been able to put my finger on otherwise: The more like a procedural Mindhunter becomes, the better it gets. Sure enough, the show’s fourth episode spends nearly all of its time watching Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and their new partner Wendy Carr at work, and it’s the best episode yet.

I reviewed episode 4 of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s like VH1 Classic Albums, but about the concept of serial killers.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three

October 17, 2017

Kemper [is] back for another round of interviews so thick with gallows humor you can almost see the nooses. “Big Ed” had a sick sense of humor during his murders, one he can’t help but chuckle about to himself as he recounts the details to Bill and Holden—like how he shoved his mother’s severed vocal cords into the garbage disposal to shut her up permanently, or how he buried the decaptiated heads of his victims face up near her window, because “Mom always liked people to look up to her.”

These exchanges say a lot about both the killer and his questioners. Ed thinks he’s winning them over with his gruesome gags, but he’s really revealing the depths of his disregard for other people: The women he killed meant nothing more to him than becoming potential punchlines for sick jokes played at his hated mother’s expense. Bill and Holden, meanwhile, react with the reluctant but irrepressible exclamations you might hear from the crowd at comedy club where the stand-up said something particularly off-color—until they get to their car afterwards and simply stare at each other in disbelief. They’re good enough at their jobs to instinctively transform their shock and disgust into reactions that will keep them on Ed’s good side, so they can keep getting what they want from him in turn.

Bill spells all this out to Holden on the flight home, in one of the show’s best conversations yet about the nature of their job. “There’s nothing behind Kemper’s eyes,” he says. “It’s like standing near a black hole. And he thinks we’re his friends!” He pauses. “Well, he thinks you’re his friend.” Then he leans in to Holden for the conclusion: “Which makes you a pretty great FBI agent.” These guys are uniquely equipped to gaze into the abyss without its returning gaze getting the better of them, for now at least.

I reviewed episode three of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s improving for sure, but the conversations that don’t include serial killers still sound like they were written by aliens.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two

October 15, 2017

Edmund Kemper is not your average pop-culture serial killer. That’s the point. Mindhunter’s second episode may be dogged by many of the same problems as its premiere—we’ll get to that later—but its decision to cast “The Co-Ed Killer” at the Hannibal Lecter to restless FBI Agent Holden Ford’s Clarice Starling is as smart and sinister as the man himself. Played by actor Cameron Britton, whose performance is already one of the most chilling of its type, Kemper is the embodiment of Ford’s argument that this new breed of killer is too crazily complex for the existing rulebook to cover.

The “we’ll get to that later” is doing a lot of work in the above paragraph, but nevertheless I enjoyed the Ed Kemper material in episode two of Mindhunter, which I reviewed for the A.V. Club, a great deal. Just be prepared for my very different thoughts on the music cues and the female lead.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode One

October 14, 2017

“It’s not like there’s some magical machine that makes identical copies of things.” To its eternal credit, Mad Men got the single worst line of dialogue in the entire series out of the way in its pilot episode. Don Draper’s brief aside about the state of the art in office equipment functions as a gag only from the perspective of its 2007 audience, at the expense of its 1960 characters. What we know, and what Don doesn’t, is that of course there are magical machines that make identical copies of things, or that there will be eventually. The poor sap has the temerity not to have journeyed via time machine to an era where photocopiers are a thing. Joke’s on you, buddy!

I thought of this line a lot while watching Mindhunter, Netflix’s new serial-killer procedural from writer-creator Joe Penhall and producer-director David Fincher. The difference is that while Mad Men relegated its “look at these troglodytes who haven’t even heard of Xerox yet” hindsight to one brief, bad joke, it’s Mindhunter’s entire premise.

Based on the influential true-crime book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, and featuring analogues for Douglas and his fellow Fed Robert K. Ressler, it chronicles the birth of criminal profiling and the concept of the serial killer as we know them, during an era when law enforcement’s skepticism of such notions—and of psychology in general—was ingrained and endemic. In other words, it’s a war story written from the perspective of the winners, one which enlists its audience as recruits for the retrospectively inevitable victory. That’s the problem, really: It’s a tale of bone-deep uncertainty in uncharted territory, told with the quiet confidence of a sure thing.

I’m covering the first season of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club, where believe it or not I’ve never written about television before! Here’s my review of the premiere, which helped me realize there’s basically a whole subgenre of “based on a true story” that I don’t care for: the origin of something everyone thought was wrong but which we in the audience know turned out to be right. Also, you gotta hear the dialogue in this thing. It’s like an alien wrote it.

The A.V. Club’s favorite comics of 2017 so far

June 30, 2017

Mirror Mirror II (2dcloud), anthology

As with any anthology, Mirror Mirror II features some entries that will leave more of an impression than others, but the totality of the work presented is both haunting and astounding. Collecting comics, prose, and illustrative work from such luminaries as Clive Barker and Al Columbia, as well as work by younger authors like Céline Loup and Trungles, editors Sean T. Collins and Julia Gfrörer have curated quite the book. The theme unifying all of these pieces is the convergence of the erotic and the macabre—some works being more explicit than others—but that may be the only commonality between them. Each one offers a striking aesthetic vision. And though some will resonate more deeply than others—which works stand out will most certainly depend on the reader—they accumulate to form an impressive volume. An enormity of spectacle is brought to bear on exploring the commingling of the pleasurable with the painful, the fantastic with the nightmarish, and the result is a series of truly shocking and often deeply moving images. Mirror Mirror II is troubling and challenging, but it is also rewarding and stunning—a thrilling experience that readers won’t soon forget. [Shea Hennum]

I’m proud to say that the AV Club selected Mirror Mirror II as one of its favorite comics of the year so far.  The reviews for this book have been just wonderful.

Phoebe Gloeckner on reopening “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”

August 13, 2015

It was funny: I haven’t talked to the real person that [Monroe] was based on in a long, long time, but then I saw he was on Facebook. I wrote to him and I asked him if he’d read the book, and he hadn’t, so I sent him a copy. He said he read five pages and couldn’t read any more because it was “too intense.” Then he kept saying he’s going to read it, but he can’t. But when he found out there was a movie, I sent him the trailer, and he was really excited. He showed the trailer to some friend at a bar—I don’t think he’d said that it was supposed to be based on him—and that person said, “Wow, that relationship is really screwed up. Why are you showing me this?” The guy said “What do you mean, ‘screwed up’? That’s a real man!” You know? “He’s a real man! He’s going for it!” You can see that that particular person, that character…I mean, if I treated him correctly, he’s not the type of person who’s able to reflect on any of that. Which contributes to Minnie’s loneliness. It takes her a while to realize that, because she’s thinking she’s in love with him. What do you do when you’re “raped,” in quotes, by someone who’s thoughtless and unaware? There’s no way to have a discussion about that with him because he’s not on the ball enough to even grasp the situation. I don’t know what people think. You could argue rape or not—I mean, I don’t fucking know. It’s a complicated situation.

For my A.V. Club debut, I interviewed Phoebe Gloeckner, my hero, about The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. I first interviewed Phoebe 12 years ago, and she’s been my hero ever since.