Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ozark | Lefsetz Letter

Felice has been asking me every month, “When is ‘Ozark’ coming back?”

They’ve got those preview issues in “Entertainment Weekly,” the newspapers, all about the coming books, movies, flicks and shows.

And I don’t pay attention to a one of them. I just immediately throw them in the trash, I’m not looking forward to anything in the endless line of crap spoon-fed to us by an entertainment industrial complex. But if I find something good, I yearn for it, I can’t wait for it to return, I, like Felice, couldn’t wait for “Ozark” to come back.

And it did yesterday.

Now back when school began after Labor Day, when the seasons seemed to change on a dime, it went from hot to fall. And unless you live in Southern California, or the Sun Belt, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the light, the weather, the death of grass and trees, the eventual drop in temperature, frivolity is dead and seriousness returns.

And “Ozark” has that vibe.

It’s about the interior, not the exterior. It’s about thought, not action. It’s about…

The passage of time.

What did Rod Stewart sing, “It’s late September and I really should be back at school”?

It’s too late for that. I never lamented leaving the educational system, other than for the fact it gave order to my life. But I had too many bad instructors teaching me stuff I did not want to learn.

But I do love to learn, and wrestle with the issues. And that kind of life is hard to find outside the academy, outside of a very few institutions. I was at a party today and a parent said his daughter had to go to college to get a business degree, to have something to fall back on. I have a law degree, I can’t imagine practicing the profession again. I’d sooner end up like that “Cosby” alumnus working at Trader Joe’s, at least my brain would be my own. You see too much of life is drudgery, so we look for excitement.

And we find it in art.

That’s not what’s being emphasized, that’s not what’s being sold, but it’s the essence of the appeal, why some stuff touches you and some stuff does not, why some stuff is remembered and some stuff is not.

And the truth is there is very little great stuff out there.

But “Ozark” qualifies.

We’re four episodes in. And so far it’s not as great as last year. Some things are too convenient, like Buddy’s connection to the Mob, or Rachel getting arrested and… These aren’t really spoilers, they make no sense unless you’re watching. And what you’re watching is great actors portraying life with few options, a maze where you’re avoiding death, your goal is not to ring the buzzer, just to stay alive one more day.

And Laura Linney finally has lines in her face. But the fact she has not had plastic surgery makes her all that more believable. This is not Meryl Streep, who you can see acting, Laura really appears to be Wendy. And she uses her chops to portray a whole range of emotions and draw you to her. Regular Hollywood just gets a young babe and tells you to fall in love. But that’s two-dimensional, like porn online, but Laura Linney as Wendy…you really believe she’s a middle class Chicago housewife displaced into downscale Missouri. And she knows there’s no escape, she throws in with Marty. That’s what all men want, a supportive partner. Sure, they’ll lavish you with baubles, support your lifestyle, as long as you support them emotionally. But too many are willing to leave on a whim. Men jump ship even earlier. It’s only the professionals who stay together these days, just check the statistics. What do they say, “For better or for worse.”? Everybody expects it to be clear-sailing forevermore, but that does not happen to anybody, there are always bumps in the road. No one is owed anything, never mind the inevitable health issues…they come along when you least expect it, when everything is going good.

And Jason Bateman is a revelation, not in Linney’s league, no one could be, but he’s measured, he doesn’t overact, you can see the wheels turning inside his brain, he seems real, not some bozo excited about a heist not caring he’s gonna get bumped off in the end.

And the Snells! The rules don’t apply to them. This is the appeal to all those who followed in the footsteps, who did what was right. This is what those going to music business college don’t understand, the music business is run by people like the Snells, who think outside the box. You’re born with it. You go your own way, the opposite one, and there’s a solution for every problem, even though the average person might not employ that solution. It’s illegal? Well, am I gonna get caught?

And Ruth! I’d really think Julia Garner is this character if I didn’t see her play someone without the accent in “The Americans.”

But it’s the vibe, the cinematography, the feeling. Like the fall. And you’d better watch your step. This is when life is truly lived.

Now the funny thing is I saw no notices of “Ozark” in the paper, no reviews on Friday when it opened. But it’s more important than “Crazy Rich Asians,” the producers of which turned down Netflix to prove something at the theatre. But what they proved is not what they think. They proved that a good movie will gain attendance, that it doesn’t matter if it’s populated with Asians or any race, creed or color. They operated in the last century, now it’s all on television.

Because that’s where the eyeballs are.

We learned this three decades ago, when movie soundtracks really started to sell when the flicks hit pay cable. Like “Eddie and the Cruisers.” Not enough people see this stuff on the big screen.

And Netflix doesn’t believe in delayed gratification. You can watch the whole series all at once. A ten hour movie where characters can be developed and storylines explored. You can marinate in the show, you can become enveloped.

That’s the biggest entertainment story this weekend. Eminem’s new album will be forgotten soon, seemingly all his projects are now, no matter how good. Music is a sideshow, a collection of niches, oftentimes for the hedonistic brain dead. “Song of the Summer”? SONG OF THE IDIOTS! Listen to the lyrics, all about dissing and acquisition. All fantasy, very little real life.

And despite a storyline far from the average person’s experience, “Ozark” is all about real life.

I feel isolated so much of the time, like no one wants to listen to me, that no one wants to hear my story, that no one gets me.

And then there’s a work of art that totally gets me. My sensibility, who I am.

I don’t care about driving a fancy car, I don’t care about living in a big bad house. The trappings are irrelevant to me. I’m all about peak experiences. And they always involve people.

But it’s art that comes through for me most.

I watch “Ozark” and I believe the people involved get me, that they’re trying to achieve greatness as opposed to executing entertainment. Nuance means everything, it’s the difference between a 7 and a 10.

But we only want the 10s.

My inbox is littered with people complaining I’m shitting on something. You’ve got to love the popular, give people a break.

Not me! I’m waiting for the apotheosis. Something that captures the zeitgeist.

Did you grow up in a family? Did your parents tell you to do what you didn’t want to, limit you? Did your parents argue? Did your dad get so consumed by his work that he sometimes seemed like an automaton? Did you think you were invisible? Did you wonder how you were gonna make it through another day? Did you ever wonder where the handbook for life was?

Then you’re gonna dig “Ozark.” Because the people in it are just like you…

They’re figuring it out as they go along.

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