Netflix Series Review: Mindhunter Season One

Now that the second season of Mindhunter is finally out, I thought it appropriate to finally get my review of the first season up. Slight spoilers for season one ahead.

Mindhunter follows the development of the FBI’s theories and practices around identifying criminal psychology and profiling. In the first season agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench team up with psychologist Wendy Carr to study imprisoned serial killers and apply the knowledge they gain to ongoing and future cases.

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It has taken me a long time to digest my thoughts and feelings on this show. I honestly can’t remember when I started watching it (I want to say March? Maybe February?), or when I actually finished the first season. What I did know immediately was that I really liked the show. I’m a David Fincher fan and there is so much of his style in the first season. As an executive producer, and director of several episodes (including the pilot and the finale), it makes sense that his artistry would be a big influence.

I think his touch is most noticeable in the way tension is built throughout the series. There is a deliberately slow pace to the episodes, and scenes are often drawn out uncomfortably long. Sometimes this was a little heavy handed, and took away from its intended effect by drawing attention to how long it was taking to setup a particular story element. Most of the time though it had just the right impact, making a character or scene feel creepier just by letting things sit in the moment.

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Of course, it helps when a director has a great cast to work with, and everyone on the first season of Mindhunter is outstanding. I have been a fan of Holt McCallany ever since his CSI: Miami days, which I watched religiously for a time. He has always been a strong supporting presence and it was great to see him get a chance to shine in a larger role. He is the perfect no nonsense, straight man to Jonathan Groff’s eagerly enthusiastic Agent Ford.

Groff, of course, is a standout for his portrayal of the younger agent. He is perfectly disaffected by the things they are hearing and learning in the interviews, and it isn’t until the end of the season, as he starts to have a panic attack at the realization that he has more in common with these killers than his coworkers, that he starts to worry about this emotional disengagement.

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Now forgive me but it took me incredibly too long to figure out that Anna Torv was not Cate Blanchett. Torv looks very much like the other actress and they both are incredibly talented so you can see why the confusion would occur. Torv as Wendy Carr is the clinical cog in this serial killer study machine. She, as an FBI outsider brings the scholarly aspect to the study. She may be just as emotionally removed from things as Agent Ford but that is because she comes from a scientific background. She also doesn’t interact with the interview subjects so I’m interested to see if that changes in season two, and if so how her attitude adjusts as a result.

A show about serial killers obviously needs some of them around, and the casting directors did an amazing job filling these roles. The most memorable of them being Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper (the co-ed killer). His Emmy nomination was well deserved. He is creepy the entire time.

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As for the structure of the show, it is essentially a procedural format. The agents go to a town, give their lecture, and help the locals investigate a crime while interviewing the closest serial killer. The monotony is broken up by personal dramas and the effort to get funding and support for the project at the FBI.

Mindhunter season one is a moody investigation of criminal behavior, how it was viewed four decades ago, and the actors involved in shifting that viewpoint towards what we know today. The world was changing in the late 1970s and suddenly there were new trends appearing in crime and people didn’t know how to react. The show does a great job of immersing its viewers in the world of 1977 and reveals what a scary place and time it was to be. Great performances, excellent writing, and near perfect direction give the episodes an ominous feeling throughout, building tension all season until the audience feels like they too are having a panic attack alongside Agent Ford at the end.

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Time After Time (1979) Movie Review

This was a much more successful, and enjoyable experience of the Malcolm McDowell double feature I went to in June.

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In Time After Time Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells, who has created a time machine that Jack the Ripper uses to evade capture. Wells must then pursue the serial killer across time, eventually arriving in San Francisco in the 1970s. The film also stars David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen, to whom McDowell was married. He actually made a very sweet comment during the Q&A that his favorite memory from filming was meeting and falling in love with his now ex-wife.


 


This film was a lot of fun to watch. The idea of H.G. Wells hunting Jack the Ripper is interesting enough on its own, adding in the time travel element kicks it up a notch. It was great to see these two characters react so differently to the new time period, and I thought both actors were good. McDowell was incredibly charming as the slightly bumbling but earnest Wells, and Warner was cool and calculating as Stevenson. Steenburgen was such a bright presence any time she was on screen and you could practically feel the chemistry between her and McDowell radiating off the screen.

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Seeing McDowell as H.G. Wells was a fascinating experience because I’m so used to him in darker, more disturbing roles. Here he got to play innocent and earnest, and I have to say he was quite convincing on both accounts. I highly enjoyed the film, and was glad that it was the second of the double feature as it allowed me to end the night on a high note.


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Netflix Movie Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

An interesting take on the Ted Bundy story, this was well acted and effective in its tone and messaging. Rather than focus on the crimes, this film is all about the trial and events surrounding Bundy’s captures. There is more emphasis put on the impact of these events on his girlfriend. This shift in focus allows for heartier performances from the two leads, Zac Efron and Lily Collins.

Both Efron and Collins give good, solid performances. Collins can sometimes lean toward the melodramatic but she is convincing as the emotionally abused, naive Liz Kendall. It is Efron, however, that steals every scene he is in. Obviously he is the focus of the film but he deserves the credit. He is egotistical but charming, and he is incredibly delusional. Efron fully immersed himself in this role, and the result is a captivating performance that carries the film.

While the performances are good, the pacing doesn’t always work. Whereas The Deliberate Stranger did a thorough if not necessarily exciting job of laying out a detailed timeline of Bundy’s attacks, this film jumps around to try and hit certain “highlights,” so to speak. It plays more with style rather than paying detailed attention to accuracy. As such, it is an interesting experience in entertainment but not as any sort of historical commentary. The editing choices were also a bit odd at times. Again, I think this was a style choice that ended up making some things a bit hard to follow, if not pretty or interesting to look at.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the film are the reactions from people during Bundy’s trial, and his “celebrity” status. The film doesn’t shy away from casting Efron as Bundy in a good light but it also makes a point to contrast his charming personality with the violence of his behavior. Thus when his fans show up at the trial, they are not presented in a flattering manner.

Despite some pacing and editing issues, as a performance piece, and commentary on murder obsession culture, I thought the film was effective and insightful.

Netflix Movie Review: The Highwaymen

Finally sat down to watch this a few months ago and really enjoyed it. I can’t believe Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson never worked together before. Their chemistry was great, and one of the best things about the film.

This, of course, tells the story of the two lawmen that eventually tracked down and killed Bonnie and Clyde. It follows both of them as they come out of retirement, and piece together when and how to catch the infamous duo.

The movie looked fantastic, which is almost a negative thing because I didn’t get a chance to see this in theaters. I know it had a limited release but I never saw any showings for it, and thus was stuck watching it on my TV at home. So, while it looked good, I bet it would have looked even better on a bigger screen. This is one of my frustrations with Netflix films.

The story was told in an intriguing fashion, with the messaging and deeper themes well established without beating you over the head. This film definitely has an opinion on the celebrity status of the two criminals, and I think there were a couple of effective moments that drive that point home. One choice made was that the reveal of Bonnie and Clyde only happens at the end of the film. By not showing them earlier, the message about destructive criminal celebrity is made more effective. The film aims to not glorify them the way history has. These two were killers, and many people try to make them out to be Robin Hood type characters when they weren’t. This film, rather than glorify their violent history turns the lens quite literally on their victims, and the viciousness of their crimes.

The film is rather long. It meanders frequently, and although I mentioned it looks great, we do get maybe one too many wide shots of open country. Sometimes the slow pacing allows for a a bit of character development and a good performance piece but it definitely could have chopped off fifteen to twenty minutes.

Overall, this was a solid film. It’s low on action, strong on story and performances. Under lesser performers the film would have felt dragged down due to the deliberate pacing. It is thanks to Harrelson and Costner, who are heavy weights more than capable of carrying this film, that it works as well as it does.

Netflix Movie Review: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

I really wanted this to be great. I’d been anticipating it for years before it finally came to Netflix, and I’m a fan of Emile Hirsch, so I was excited to see him in something again.

The film starts with the discovery of a body in a house where there was obviously some sort of attack. As the police investigate the crime scene, they send the body of the unknown girl (now a Jane Doe) to the coroner for a full autopsy. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play a father-son duo who own this small family mortuary, and now are tasked with performing the operation just as a big storm is about to hit the town.

The setup is great. The vibe is creepy, we get locked into our main location quickly, and the chemistry between Cox and Hirsch feels genuine. The first third of the movie was actually pretty good. You get thrown into the story without too much exposition, which adds to the creep factor because you aren’t really sure what is going on. Then, about halfway into the film spooky things start happening and the film decides it needs to explain why. The rest of the film is an info dump of theory that doesn’t feel earned as there hasn’t been any evidence laid out to support it before the characters start jumping to conclusions about what it all means.

Unfortunately, what is a great setup for a film does not always result in a great execution. There were some effective visuals and some creepy scenes but sadly, the film falls flat in the second half. By the end you don’t remember what worked at the start of the film because you’re just left with a feeling that everything ties together a little too conveniently without really making any sense at all.

Spring Book Wrap Up

Catching up on the last few months of reading with a Spring Wrap Up. Check out what I’ve been reading in the video below.