Amanda Knox on Netflix is a shorter version of Making a Murderer. Shorter because there isn’t much evidence that Knox had anything to do with the murder of her housemate. The documentary has extensive interviews with the lead investigator, a blowhard who likens himself to Sherlock Holmes but whose idea of deduction is that the murderer must have been a woman because the body was covered up. Surprisingly, the one clear sociopath isn’t the actual killer but the journalist whose lurid dispatches turned a tragic but ordinary murder into a witch hunt–a real Nightcrawler. Throw in some nationalism on both the Italian and U.S. sides and it’s not surprising that justice went awry. Trump has a cameo.
Luke Cage, also on Netflix, is the latest Marvel superhero story set in the same New York universe as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Harlem is lovingly portrayed and the barbershop name dropping–Walter Mosley, Zora Neal Hurston, Crispus Attucks–and various basketball, jazz, and rap references adds color. The central conflict, however, is flat. Super-strong, well-nigh invulnerable Cage is not evenly-matched by drug dealer-businessman Cottonmouth. Despite a watchable performance by Mahershala Ali, Cottonmouth is no Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin had Shakespearean intensity, depth, and the physical power to battle a super-hero. Indeed, one of the things that made Daredevil special was that you could see his exhaustion and pain in every battle. Similarly, Jessica Jones’s nemesis, Kilgrave, was one of the most horrific characters ever seen on television (in a great understated performance by David Tennant) and Kilgrave had Jones under his thumb for much of the season. Super heroes need super villains. To be sure, there is pickup in the second half of Luke Cage, but it takes a long time to develop.
Westworld (HBO)–this is the one that you must watch. The first two episodes have been remarkable. Every scene has something to see or to think about. Audience expectations are continually subverted. The cinematography is stunning.
One characters says “That’s what I love about this place all the secrets, all the little things I never noticed even after all these years. You know why this place beats the real world…in here every detail adds up to something.” Very meta. The shots also speak to the structure of the plot. Look at this amazing shot of the control building–levels of meaning.
It does not pass notice that it’s bright and shiny on top but the lower levels–the subconscious–are dark, moist, subterranean. We are told that WestWorld is a maze, a maze literally and figuratively, in our heads.
Westworld also challenges us with questions. Who are we? If we visited Westworld would we be the good guys or the bad guys? How many of us secretly harbor the desire to do evil and are restrained only by fear of punishment? What kind of Zimbardo experiment is Westworld?
Or are we the operators of Westworld who treat other people (?) as mere means and not as ends in themselves? Parts of Westworld look like an abattoir and from one perspective there are mass rapes.
Or are we the robots, living in a simulation, a reality of someone else’s construction? And what is going on with the corporation? The ultimate god?
The executive producer of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, and writer or co-writer of Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Night and Interstellar.
We are only two episodes in but so far this is thrilling art in action.