Amazon Prime review: HBO’s “Sharp Objects” (2018)

The 2012 novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn should have won the Pulitzer Prize, or, at the very least, a National Book Award, for its postmodern black comedy of manners on marriage and relationships.

David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of the same title, from a script by Flynn herself, was likewise snubbed at that year’s Academy Awards.

Flynn, a hybrid between Stephen King and Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Missouri’s answer to King’s Maine, debuted in 2006 with Sharp Objects, and mainstream literature as well as popular genre fiction have found a lovechild in her, too.

If you don’t know what to watch next, HBO’s Sharp Objects (2018) is available on Amazon Prime.

Marti Nixon’s psychological thriller miniseries was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series of Movie for Amy Adams, Outstanding Supporting Actress for Patricia Clarkson, and Outstanding Limited Series.

Flynn herself executive produced.

Recently released out of a Chicago hospital for self-mutilation, alcoholic crime journalist Camille Preaker (Adams) is assigned to cover multiple child murders in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri.

The visit forces her to reunite with her estranged mother, Adora Crellin (Clarkson), a small-town socialite.

As the mystery unfolds, the troubled Camille finds herself losing the battle with the demons from her past.

Camille is one of the great antiheroes in the Golden Age of Television, as desperately needed a woman for this archetype as Norma Bates.

Across a pseudo-feminist landscape of problematic superwomen who do not so much empower women with humanization as pander to their pocketbooks for corporate fat cats who run Hollywood from the other side of the glass ceiling, Adams’s turn is a breath of fresh air.

She is as flawed as any noir protagonist, but not at the expense of an ethical characterization.

What makes her a sympathetic leading lady are her faults, for she is as much a victim of Wind Gap’s violent misogyny (which is symptomatic of the slave state’s Confederate history) as the girls whose murders she’s compromising her own mental health to help investigate.

A contemporary Southern Gothic murder mystery in the same vein as William Faulkner and Daphne du Maurier, the quasi-Italian neorealistic setting calls to mind the juxtaposition of ancient Roman artifacts against postwar modernization in the aestheticism of Federico Fellini.

The production constructs a morose tone through the overexposed lighting of the cinematography and the suffocating diegesis of the soundtrack, provoking the same numbing mood as the traumatized main character between her broken interactions and dark flashbacks.

The Crellin family is the most dysfunctional this side of Tennessee Williams, even though they’re just as picture perfect. Anchoring this dichotomous image is Clarkson.

Adora recalls Blanche DuBois in the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara herself, Vivien Leigh, the aging Southern belle in a changing world, using her fading beauty to dress up the ugliness of Southern American culture in moth-eaten clothes.

Clarkson is an icy Hitchcock blonde where Adams is a psychologically tortured noir antihero.

But a filmic adaptation of Flynn’s book might have been stronger.

The episodic format of the miniseries pads some scenes for runtime until they’re filler, with subplots from secondary characters who pale in comparison to Camille’s character study and the murder mystery as a framing device.

Granted, at two and a half hours, Gone Girl still makes a meal of its source material, but not one frame of the final product belongs on the cutting room floor; the same can’t be said about Sharp Objects.

But if Sharp Objects is guilty of any sin, it’s being too much of a good thing.

Some would call it and its writer misogynistic, and the case could be made against the “false accusation” narrative in Gone Girl (though one could argue it’s a critique of “white woman gone missing” feminism), but Sharp Objects is not unsympathetic toward Camille, or even Adora.

To the critical viewer, it is more an indictment of its setting than its cast (like many Great American Writers, Gillian Flynn trained in the unsentimental, lowest-common-denominator mass appeal of commercial journalistic storytelling).

She is possessed of a Hitchcockian pragmatism for dolling up such universal themes of the human condition as sex and death with timeless craftsmanship and mastery, casting all her Tarantinoesque pulp fiction through the same literary lens as her masterpiece.

Amazon Prime review: Adam McKay’s “Vice” (2018)

To quote one of this reviewer’s film professors, “George Bush wasn’t evil. He was just an idiot.”

If you don’t know what to watch next, Adam McKay’s Vice (2018) is available on Amazon Prime. The biographical comedy-drama was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Delaney won for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Narrated by Kurt (Jesse Plemons, a fictional War on Terror veteran), the film charts the career of former Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney (Best Actor nominee Christian Bale), as well as his marriage to Lynne Vincent (Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams).

President George W. Bush (Best Supporting Actor nominee Sam Rockwell) only runs for office to please his father, former President George H.W. Bush (John Hillner), and so delegates executive power to his vice president.

Cheney’s Machiavellian political ambition leads to party polarization in America, the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and historically low approval ratings for himself.

McKay is the recipient of three nods from the Academy as co-producer, director, and writer of the original screenplay. In addition, editor Hank Corwin was up for an Oscar.

The two collaborated together on The Big Short (2015), another historical black comedy for which McKay, Corwin, and Bale were nominated (with McKay and Charles Randolph taking home the trophy for Best Adapted Screenplay).

The Big Short also marks another critique of the Bush years, namely the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.

McKay and Corwin’s creative partnership is as vital as the professional chemistry between Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, with Corwin cutting satirical meta-references from beyond the fourth wall into McKay’s production.

This stylization underscores the absurdity of the apocalyptic incompetence in the Bush Administration that empowered an Antichrist like Cheney to reign supreme across the post-September 11 geopolitical hellscape.

The cosmetic Oscar is well-earned, as the star-studded cast transform themselves under McKay’s direction into their characters so unrecognizably, the line between “parodical imitation” and “masterful tour-de-force” is crossed.

Bale, Adams, Rockwell, Steve Carrell (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld), Don McManus (Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington), and Camille Harman (consultant Mary Matalin) all characterize Cheney and his inner circle with a gravitas that transcends appearances.

But Vice speaks with Plemons’s voice, and his Iraq and Afghanistan vet is one of many victims of Cheney’s plunder, one of the best candidates to tell this story.

But not the best.

It would have been more morally sound to hear from an Arab or Muslin arbitrarily detained and tortured at one of the U.S. government’s international “black sites.”

Furthermore, the movie’s farcical tone begs the question: is it artistically just to turn eight years of corruption and war crimes into a punchline?

As tempting as it is to make fun of Bush (who once used the word “misunderestimated” in a sentence), his regime’s record of human rights violations is no laughing matter.

“Irregardless,” Vice as an historic document is strikingly relevant to the Trump era, and if that means we learned nothing from our recent past, then maybe the joke is on us.