Top of The Lake/Wild Target
I love movies. I know I'm not the only person to ever say that. This is not, at all, an original statement. But it is certainly one of the things that people have to know about me. I watch everything. I paid money to see Mirror, Mirror in the theater last year. Seriously. And I'm not at all embarrassed. I love watching movies, and even more, I love talking about them. But as a PhD candidate looking for any reason to avoid writing my dissertation while living in a dying college town whose tiny, sticky, freezing cold movie theater finally kicked the bucket last year, I'm always looking for ways to fill the cinephile void"”most frequently, Netflix Instant is that filler. It has been a great way to catch up on many of the things that I have missed because I'm too lazy to drive 40 minutes to the nearest theater, it has turned me on to directors and performances that I'd only heard about in passing, and it has filled in many of the gaps in my movie knowledge. It isn't perfect, but there is a lot of great stuff in there"”if you know where to look.
As it has for many people, I imagine that Netflix Instant has become the go-to option for last minute entertainment, but often the choices are either overwhelming, or filled with unknown quantities. That's where Instant Gratification comes in. Whether you use Netflix Instant to catch up on TV shows that you've missed (Hi, Sherlock!) or the occasional rainy day movie viewing, I'll do my best to fill you in on what I've found, be it fantastic, so bad it's good, or something that you absolutely shouldn't waste your time on. Hopefully we can turn you on to something you might have otherwise missed, or prevent a two-hour time suck.
Top of the Lake:
This Netflix Instant recommendation probably isn't a surprise to anyone who has been keeping up with recent trade news"”Jane Campion's seven-hour miniseries Top of the Lake starring Elizabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, and Holly Hunter was nominated last week for two Emmy awards, including "Best Miniseries or Movie" and "Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie" (Moss). Knowing, of course, how misleading Emmy nominations can be with regards to quality or entertainment value, it would be easy to dismiss this as a ploy to lure some big names to the ceremony (I'm looking at you, last year's nominations for Hemingway and Gellhorn"¦), but here, they've actually got it right. Seven hours may seem daunting, but once you start, you'll be hooked on this engaging (and frightening) small-town mystery.
Without giving too much away (which is admittedly difficult to do), the series begins with twelve-year old Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe, in a haunting debut) walking into the freezing lake in her small New Zealand hometown. This incident exposes the fact that the young girl is pregnant, and when she refuses to talk to anyone about it, Detective Robin Griffin (Moss), a police inspector in Sydney and a specialist in working with troubled children, is brought in to help with the case. After making a connection with Robin, Tui disappears into the vast and treacherous mountains surrounding the town, and Robin stays on to work on bringing Tui back home. Running alongside Tui's disappearance is the conflict between real estate agent Bob Platt (Darren Gilshenan), and Tui's father, Matt Mitcham (Mullan); Platt has recently sold off "Paradise", a piece of property that Matt has been working to reclaim from the bank, to a woman's commune run by GJ (Hunter). Matt's conflict with both Platt and the Paradise community, and Robin's attempts to balance her professional life with the struggles she faces in returning home to a place she has been trying to forget, all while searching for the missing girl whose time is running out, swirl together into one of the most harrowing and fascinating small-town dramas imaginable.
But what really makes this story so incredible to watch is the way that Campion's direction uses the natural world of these New Zealand lakes, woods, and mountains"”they are awesome in the most biblical sense of the word, and their beauty and sheer vastness make the series more than just visually compelling: they paint a clear and looming picture of the urgency of finding Tui and the difficulty of doing so. This could easily have been a two and a half hour film that Campion could've marketed towards traditional release, but she would've had to lose the power that the wilderness gives to the film. If you think you've seen New Zealand because Peter Jackson showed it to you, think again.
Though sometimes the story goes too close to melodrama for my personal tastes, and there are some initial weirdnesses that you are asked to accept long before you are given any explanations, this series is grounded in remarkable performances, fascinating characters, and despite the coldness of the landscape in combination with murder, statutory rape, and other assorted troubles I don't want to give away, there is a real sense of community that pervades, and the ending is entirely satisfying. The first hour is great, and it just keeps getting more interesting from there.
Wild Target (2009, dir. Jonathan Lyman:
You might think that the sheer volume of charm generated by putting Rupert Everett, Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint into a room together would be enough to, I don't know, cause underwear everywhere to just burst into flames, or more realistically, allow you to overlook plot holes, weak storytelling, and flaccid attempts at madcap humor. Alas, it doesn't. There are definitely moments where this group of actors almost carry this off, but overall, it is"¦boring. And just not worth two hours of your time. It's too bad that this is more like director Jonathan Lynn's The Whole Nine Yards and less like his Clue or My Cousin Vinny.