Sunday, July 8, 2018

River | Lefsetz Letter


Never underestimate the power of great acting.

I’ve got all kinds of time for great, a little time for good, and no time for the rest…whether it be TV, music, sports, food… That’s the world we live in, one where time is precious and we’re overloaded with options. Our entire lives are tyrannies of choice, which no one is willing to address. There’s too much news, never mind too much Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Is Instagram the end of civilization or what? For a while there, I was loving that the internet brought reading back. But with broadband came video, and now with smartphones comes pictures. Maybe I’m just not a visual guy. But is anybody on Instagram doing anything but bragging? I know, I know, I’m overstating the case, there is some good information there, but two-dimensional promotional images just don’t hook me.

And we all follow different tweeters and we don’t listen to the same music and we don’t watch the same TV either.

This week’s story is Amy Adams’s new HBO show. The L.A. “Times” was not enthusiastic. The other reviewers seemed to have their thumbs up but I’ll be honest, I don’t read any reviews through and through, at least not until I finish a series or a book, because they give away the PLOT! What I love is the surprise, getting into a boat and going down the river. If you tell me what I’m gonna see, what fun is that?

And I’m not free the same time every week, which is why I won’t watch a network or cable show. Of course I can record it or watch it on demand, but my time doesn’t come in one hour chunks. I either have no time, or want to stretch out. The show of the summer is “Killing Eve,” Bywater and Wilson have raved, Benedek too. I pulled it up on demand, watched an episode, got hooked, and then saw it was still in process. I’m gonna wait until it’s done. Because I like to rip through the episodes, I like to get in the mood, turn off the lights and the phone and get involved.

So I was searching for a new series to binge on.

And the truth is almost all of them are crime dramas. And I’ve got no problem with crime, just the absence of other genres. Maybe they’re too hard to do. Like that Alan Ball/Tim Robbins show on HBO, what a piece of crap that was, at least they didn’t renew it, and to be honest I could only make it through one and a half episodes. And I know they’ve got “Succession” now, but… I can watch “Ozark” in a day or two, but I’ve got to watch a family argue about money over months? What’s so special about THAT?

And I’m a believer that foreign television is always superior. In America we try to milk it, overseas they oftentimes get it right, don’t go on too long, and the actors and actresses…oftentimes look like real people, you can imagine yourself in their world, whereas I’m never gonna be accepted by the TMZ people, first and foremost I don’t want to get plastic surgery, and I abhor a world where looks are everything. And the secret is if you get old enough, you come to learn looks don’t matter, not that much, you have enough experiences to discover other qualities are more important, like loyalty, compassion, the ability to manage money… Meanwhile, you’re prettifying yourself to get attention, who you gonna draw? As for Tinder… You’ve got to feel pretty good about yourself to play, or put up a doctored pic. But now we’re getting back to the Instagram paradigm. It’s about the one percent, only in this case it’s all about looks.

And Stellan Skarsgard has a pot belly. Nicola Walker has a cute smile, but she’s never gonna be in “Vogue” without airbrushing. No one is beautiful, everybody is imperfect, “River” reflects the world, which is why it hooked me.

And the darkness. The vibe. The rain. The train. If you’ve been to London you’ll get it, if you haven’t you’ll want to go, if you live there, you’ll nod your head.

So, the show is about dead people. And seeing dead people. Isn’t it fascinating that M. Night Shyamalan could never make another great picture, some people only seem to have one in them. Or more than that, and then burn out, like Francis Ford Coppola. Spielberg gets all the attention, but it’s Coppola who transcended, who is truly an icon. Come on, compare “The Godfather” to “Jaws.” A mechanical shark to an Italian family? And I could go further, but you get the point.

And “The River” is not “Apocalypse Now,” but it rings more true than almost any Spielberg film, because Spielberg is all about the image, whereas it’s truly about story, that comes first, the look comes second.

And the story is told by actors. And Stellan Skarsgard is believable. He’s tortured, yet brilliant. He doesn’t believe in the expedient, only the truth. Are you willing to sacrifice victory in pursuit of truth? Seemingly no one in America is, especially in sports, everybody’s looking for an edge, if they don’t get caught they win, but can you sleep at night? Edgar Allan Poe had it right in “The Tell Tale Heart.”

So I researched. So many sites. From the “New York Times” to the “Thrillist” to…

And my top pick you had to buy.

And my number two was on Hulu, which I refuse to subscribe to, it’s my own personal protest, if Hulu launched before Netflix, maybe. But I want to stick a knife in the side of TV, which believes they’re just going to recreate the old paradigm in the new world, peck me to death by ducks, have me paying a couple of hundred dollars once again.

And then I found on Rotten Tomatoes they ranked the best Netflix shows. And “River” got 100%. That’s quite a number. Although I just found out there weren’t that many reviews.

But I cross-checked the show after watching two episodes. Consensus is it’s a winner.

And the truth is I’ve seen the blue chips, the ones on Amazon and Netflix anyway. And I find that too many people’s recommendations don’t reach me. Once again, they promote what they like, when I search online and find the numbers are bad. Yup, you can argue with statistics, but you can’t argue with the fact that I have so little time.

And the truth is the seventies were a golden age of film. The late sixties too. It was an art form. The grosses were not printed in the newspaper. But after “Jaws” and “Star Wars” showed how much money could be made, and the auteurs flopped, the studios regained control and it’s never been the same. Whereas on Netflix and some cable outlets they give creators complete control. Creators know best, although they might drive you over the cliff.

And I want to check out that Brazilian show “3%.” And that Japanese zombie series. And all the comedies on Netflix are duds. But life is dramatic, my idea of escape is to see truth on screen. Make me feel like I’m living another life. Grip me to the point I can’t think about anything else.

Right now, “River’ does that.

P.S. It’s from 2015 and there’s only one season but we live in an era where being first no longer matters. Actually, that which explodes upon launch rarely sustains. We’re looking for land mines. To blow up our paltry lives. We live for entertainment. It’s our king. Never forget it.


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