Natasha Gregson Wagner, the filmmaker behind Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (2020), was eleven years old when her mother drowned off the coast of Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend, 1981, according to The Guardian. Natalie Wood died at forty-three years old, but the movie star, born 1938 in San Francisco to Russian immigrant parents, began acting as a five-year-old before earning an Academy Award at fifteen for Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955). While her daughter’s documentary does confront the suspicious circumstances surrounding Wood’s drowning, Wagner’s goal is to celebrate the life and career which have been overshadowed by it.
Vincent Pastore, who played Salvatore Bonpensiero on HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), told The Sunday Times series star James Gandolfini wanted to adapt the show to film before he died of a heart attack at fifty-one years old on vacation in Italy, according to Metro. Pastore says showrunner David Chase ended the series ambiguously on purpose so as to open The Sopranos up for a movie. Chase describes the “genius” actor as one of the greatest of all time, Gandolfini having won three Primetime Emmy Awards as well as a Golden Globe for his performance as conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano.
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.
Between AMC’s Mad Men (2007-2015) and HBO’s Chernobyl (2019), Jared Harris specializes in playing characters who meet a very specific fate.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Chernobyl is available on Amazon Prime. Showrunner Craig Mazin also wrote the historical drama, with Johan Renck directing. Both of them won Primetime Emmy Awards for their efforts, as well as Outstanding Limited Series.
The crux of the miniseries is the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Pripyat, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The characters encompass the bureaucrats behind the scenes of the meltdown in addition to its aftermath on the ground.
First responders, volunteers, and miners digging a tunnel under the compromised reactor are all spoken for here.
This USSR fable is altogether Hollywood in its presentation, not only for its production value, but also its characterization.
It is a post-September 11 American imagery to cast the firefighters on the scene, their health forever tainted from their own self-sacrifice, failed by the very government they serve.
Moreover, such dramatic democratization calls to mind Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958) as popularized through George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), with commoners leading us across this epic narrative of institutional corruption and environmental apocalypse.
The aestheticism hums with an intoxicating foreboding as punishing as the decay which both literally and figurative eats away at the characters.
This verisimilitude bridges the temporal and geographic gulf between the Soviet Union and the contemporary United States, and, with the political and natural degradation facing us today, the themes of the show are allegorical in their implications.
Bearing witness to the ruination of these historical figures may make the audience wish to turn away, but its import to our own cultural trajectory is impossible to ignore.
It has always struck this critic as silly, though, when English-speaking actors play non-English-speaking roles (especially when it’s accented). In our shrinking world, the network had the resources to cast Eastern European players.
Modern viewers are media-savvy enough to read subtitles.
But it can be read as a textualization of the rhyme this team is conducting between East and West, between past and present, a way to set the tragedy in a world which more closely resembles our own.
After the New Jersey Legislature approved tax credits for film and television production and Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law in July 2018, industry revenue could double and local businesses could expect hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Asbury Park Press. Todd Phillips’s Batman flick, Joker (2019), Alan Taylor’s prequel to HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), The Many Saints of Newark (2020), and Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical, West Side Story (2020), are all shooting in the state. Former Governor Chris Christie, in an effort to curb the budget, suspended the film and TV program in 2010 and allowed it to expire in 2015, blocking the 2009 incentive for MTV’s Jersey Shore (2009-2012).