Three questions about Mindhunter‘s second season, which I’m in the middle of re-watching: (a) Which of the two seasons have struck you as the more involving, complex, haunting or whatever? And why?; (b) What are your feelings about the two absorbing but less-than-essential subplots (the creepy saga about Bill and Nancy Tench’s beastly son, and Wendy Carr‘s ill-fated love affair with Kay Mason); and (c) Damon Herriman‘s Charles Manson rant, which happens during his interview with Tench and Holden Ford, is so brilliantly written and performed that you can’t help but say to yourself, “Jeez, Quentin Tarantino had this guy on OUATIH and all he did has have him drop by the Polanski/Tate house and wave with a creepy smile?”
I really love how Mindhunter 2 focuses almost entirely upon the Atlanta Child Murders investigation over the last…what, five episodes? And on the eventual discovery of likely child-murderer Wayne Williams, and how the guy who plays Williams (still searching for his name) looks almost exactly like him. Ditto the actors who play Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper).
In the below video Holt McAllany (who plays Bill Tench) explains how and why the resemblance is so precise.
I was completely riveted and I may even re-watch for good measure, but there are two things I wasn’t especially transported by.
One was the subplot about Tench’s malignant son, Brian, who says exactly four words (“Did the fish die?”) in the whole series and is clearly destined to become some kind of super-fiend when he grows up. Nothing happens, nothing develops…the kid is just a zombie from the get-go. Brian is adopted but what a nightmare regardless, and there’s no way out of it for poor Bill and his wife Nancy (Stacey Roca).
The other “what?” is the serious attention paid to the love affair between Anna Torv‘s Wendy Carr and Lauren Glazier‘s Kay Mason, a foxy divorced bartender. Their relationship is not without intrigue and the performances struck me as exactly right, but the whole subplot is just an aromatic sideshow. It has nothing whatsoever to do with serial killers, interviewing serial killers, finding Wayne Williams or the BTK killer, FBI politics or the BSU. Takeaway: Workaholics and obsessives aren’t that great at relationships, etc.
The night before last I was watching the first three episodes of the second season of David Fincher‘s Mindhunter. Not at home but on a large Hollywood Arclight screen, and it was quite the odd feeling — curious but so pleasurable — to watch a quietly chilling procedural that’s mostly about dialogue, dialogue and dialogue.
But always dry and succinct. Cunning and crafty and joined with a visual palette that tells you that something wicked will eventually this way come. Or is actually happening right now but hard to get the goods on, much less stop.
At first I was saying to myself “God, here I am in a mostly full theatre and we’re all just listening to razor sharp dialogue, and it’s so great to be doing this…to be part of what amounts to an almost surreal viewing experience by today’s standards.” Not just dialogue, of course, but Erik Messerschmidt‘s muted, shadowy cinematography along with some wonderfully fleet cutting by Kirk Baxter. But the talk is just wonderful — taut and crisp and on-point.
But the main element, as with season #1, is an inaudible hum of some kind…something strange and unsettling that you can’t quite put your finger on, but is there in spades every step of the way. It’s “normal” seeming but at the same time spooky. This is a signature Fincher thing, the same quietly throbbing undercurrent that made Zodiac such a deliciously creepy sit.
All nine episodes are currently watchable…binge-able, I mean…on Netlix as we speak. The first three were directed by Fincher, episodes #4 and #5 by Andrew Dominik, and #6, #7 #8 and #9 directed by Carl Franklin. The screenwriters vary from episode to episode, but the principals are Courtney Miles (credited with story or teleplay credits on seven out of nine episodes), Josh Donen (story credit on seven) and Liz Hannah (co-teleplay credit on #4, full teleplay on #6).
A Netflix rep just asked me what I thought. “Brilliant, haunting, masterful,” I replied. “Never poking or jolting viewers with conventional thriller or horror moves, but at the same time throbbing with a certain kind of under-the-surface tension.”
All you know for sure is that Fincher and colleagues won’t be resorting to the usual cops-vs.-serial killers razmatazz, and that you’ll believe absolutely everything they show and convey and fill your head with.
I love that Mindhunter #2 has been shot with a 2.2:1 aspect ratio (standard widescreen 70mm a.r., used for 70mm screenings of Apocalypse Now), and that the camera was a Red Xenomorph Dragon, and that it was shot in Dolby Vision 6K.
I love these episode summaries: (a) “The investigation zeroes in on a prime suspect who proves adept at manipulating a volatile situation to his advantage”, (b) “Bill’s devastating family situation spills over during his interview with Holden’s holy-grail subject: Charlie Manson. Wendy’s new romance heats up” and (c) “Hitting a dead end, Holden suggests a bold plan to draw the killer out. Bill’s family faces more scrutiny. Wendy chafes as her job begins to shift.” I eat this shit up.
Things begin almost immediately in the wake of season #1’s final episode, when Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) lost his composure and possibly some of his mind in the too-creepy-for-words presence of serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). This feeds into the threat of recurring anxiety attacks plus a new Xanax prescription, which leads into Holden’s Behavioral Science Unit partners, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), quietly worrying about his ability to handle high-stress situations.
We learn early on that BSU boss Robert Shepard (Cotter Smith) is “retiring” under duress, and that his replacement Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris) understands the methodology and is particularly supportive of Holden, who isn’t exactly a by-the-book type and is occasionally given to following his instincts.
Season 2 of David Fincher and Joe Penhall‘s Mindhunter series returns to Netflix on August 16th. Based upon or at least inspired by (I’m presuming) “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Season 1 was set in 1977. Season 2 is set two or three years later and covers the Atlanta murders of 1979–81. It also includes an encounter with Charles Manson, once again played by Once Upon A Time in Hollywood‘s Damon Herriman.
As with season 1, Fincher has directed four of season 2’s 10 episodes.
“Mindhunter Finality,” posted on 10.27.17:
I finally finished watching Netflix’s Mindhunter last night. All ten episodes. Wow. Precise, patient, unnerving, character-rich, exacting dialogue, blissfully intelligent. By far the most engrossing Netflix thing I’ve sat through this year, and that includes Okja, First They Killed My Father, Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories.
I’m really glad the second season has been approved as I couldn’t get enough of season #1. Really and truly riveted. A perfect thing to watch at the end of a long, vaguely depressing, anxiety-ridden day consumed by writing and researching and…you don’t want to know the rest.
Though Mindhunter I’ve come to know four…make that five actors I’ll never forget and want to engage with again — Jonathan Groff (Holden Ford), Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Hannah Gross (Debbie Mitford), Anna Torv (Wendy Carr) and even Joe Tuttle, who plays God-fearing, goodie two-shoes FBI agent Gregg Smith, who ignominiously rats out Groff when he sends a Richard Speck interrogation tape to a pair of FBI internal affairs investigators.
I finally finished watching Netflix’s Mindhunter last night. All ten episodes. Wow. Precise, patient, unnerving, character-rich, exacting dialogue, blissfully intelligent. By far the most engrossing Netflix thing I’ve sat through this year, and that includes Okja, First They Killed My Father, Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories. I’m really glad the second season has been approved as I couldn’t get enough of season #1. Really and truly riveted. A perfect thing to watch at the end of a long, vaguely depressing, anxiety-ridden day consumed by writing and researching and…you don’t want to know the rest.
Though Mindhunter I’ve come to know four…make that five actors I’ll never forget and want to engage with again — Jonathan Groff (Holden Ford), Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Hannah Gross (Debbie Mitford), Anna Torv (Wendy Carr) and even Joe Tuttle, who plays God-fearing, goodie two-shoes FBI agent Gregg Smith, who rats out Groff when he sends a Richard Speck interrogation tape to a pair of FBI internal affairs investigators.
An HE salute to producers David Fincher (who directed episodes #1, #2, #9 and #10), Charlize Theron, Josh Donen and Cean Chaffin.
For whatever reason I didn’t do my research until a week or so ago, and hadn’t realized that Holden Ford is based on former special agent John Douglas, who co-authored the same-titled book about his 25 year career with the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit.
I loved the Holden and Debbie breakup scene in episode #10. [After the jump.] Or rather the “Holden breaks up with himself” scene. Debbie is radiating that silent hostility thing that women love to radiate when so inclined, signalling everything and saying nothing. Holden calmly adds up the signs and indicators and comes to a conclusion that “you’re breaking up with me?” Yup, that’s what she’s doing but she’s making you do the work.
There are three things that a film has to do in order to qualify for eternal blue-ribbon, Mount Olympus status and the simultaneous allegiance of Joe and Jane Popcorn along with your elitist, dweeb-level, ivory-tower critics.
One, it has to deliver the plain, honest truth (or undercurrent of truth) about a given world or situation — along with a little entertainment value, okay, but without undue exaggeration, no shallow exploitation, not too much sugar or vinegar, and no blatant bullshit of any kind. (This requirement in itself leaves out at least 80% of commercial cinema.)
Two, it has to persuade audiences to emotionally invest in it — to trust what it’s doing and where it seems to be going.
And three, it has to put you into a kind of alternate-reality mescaline dream state that you want to stay in and never leave, or at least make you want to return to frequently — a realm that feels so inviting or stylistically transporting that you want to live in it, even if it seems a bit dangerous.
Yes, of course — all movies are dream states, in a way. The better ones always lead to a certain primal feeling of alteration or discovery (the film has taken you to an entirely new but seemingly straightforward place) or emotional comfort and reassurance. But the ones that hit the jackpot are the ones that tell you what this or that slice of life on planet earth (or life aboard an intergalactic space cruiser) is basically like …how it really is…the full, honest, non-delusional truth of things.
There is no bullshit and nothing but truth in The Bicycle Thief (notice that I didn’t call it The Bicycle Thieves), North by Northwest, East of Eden, Mean Streets, Repo Man, Election, The Hospital, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, David Fincher‘s Mindhunter series, Gunga Din, Some Like It Hot, Two Women, La Strada, Zero Dark Thirty, Vertigo, Fellini Satyricon, Manchester By The Sea, Paths of Glory, Vertigo, Nomadland, Only Angels Have Wings, Collateral and 12 Years A Slave.
Except I didn’t want to live in or even visit the Nomadland realm (bucket pooping, bald tires, borrowing money for van repairs, shooting the shit around campfires) so I guess it doesn’t qualify.
Let’s look at the 2021 Best Picture contenders and ask ourselves “which of these films did we actually want to live in, or at least frequently visit?” The general truth is nobody wanted to live in [most of] these films, and that’s one basic reason why nobody watched last month’s Oscar telecast.
“In the early aughts screenwriter William Goldman (Marathon Man, All The President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) explained what a ‘drop-out’ moment is — i.e., when something happens in a film that just makes you collapse inside, that makes you surrender interest and faith in the ride that you’re on. You might stay in your seat and watch the film to the end, but you’ve essentially ‘left’ the theatre. The movie had you and then lost you, and it’s not your fault.” — from “Drop-Out Moments,” posted on 4.11.17.
After too much delay, Hollywood Elsewhere sat down last night and consumed the first three episodes of Scott Frank‘s The Queen’s Gambit. Now I know why it’s so popular. Then again three fucking hours on the couch and another four to go.
I don’t like binge-watching unknown quantities as a rule, although I’ll gladly and happily gorge myself on a longform series if I know and admire the creators (like with Joe Penhall and David Fincher‘s Mindhunter). Yes, I’ll definitely be watching the remainder of The Queen’s Gambit. And yet (and this is important) with reservations.
I went with it for the most part, and especially when chessmaster Anya Taylor-Joy began to defeat all those presumptuous and in many cases arrogant male opponents. It hooked me good and proper, partly because I love watching geniuses dominate the also-rans while re-ordering the known universe. I don’t like alcoholism or drug-addiction stories for the most part because they’re all the same thing, but I’ll tolerate them if the addicted protagonist is brilliant or clever or inventive enough.
But I dropped out at the very end of episode #1, and as a result stopped investing. And so my current attitude is “I like The Queen’s Gambit but I don’t trust it.” Because the stealing-the-sedatives scene is completely ridiculous.
As a young teenager, Taylor-Joy’s Beth Harmon may be emotionally uncertain or naive but she’s obviously a strategic genius in terms of outwitting her opponents. And yet we’re asked to believe that Beth is the world’s stupidest and clumsiest thief when it comes to ripping off handfuls of green-and-white pills from a locked office inside the orphanage.
She decides to make her move while kids and staffers are watching a 16mm showing of Henry Koster‘s The Robe (’53), which lasts 135 minutes. Beth may not know the exact running time, but most films are between 95 and 115 minutes, and any idiot looking to steal drugs during a movie knows that the smartest time to slip out would be around the halfway mark, at which point the audience is fully engaged (unless the film stinks) and less interested in the whereabouts of a young girl who’s gone to the bathroom.
So does Beth make her move around the one-hour mark? Of course not. She waits until the very last scene, when Richard Burton and Jean Simmons are being sentenced to death by Jay Robinson and the 16mm spool of film has nearly run its course.
You can say “but Beth is so addicted to sedatives that she’s lost her mind and all powers of reasoning.” Bullshit. Smart people might act foolishly or irrationally, but they never behave like morons. Addicts value getting high more than anything else in the world, and will use every clever gambit and connivance they can think of to score a good supply of whatever.
And then it gets even crazier. When Beth finally gets her hands on the big jar she wolfs down several pills (at least 10 or 15) while stuffing her pockets. And then she collapses from an overdose less than a minute later, even though it always takes at least five or ten minutes for drugs to enter your bloodstream. And then she drops the glass jar and it shatters on the floor and blah blah.
The scene is just absurd, and it told me that as good as the series is for the most part, Frank and co-creator Allan Scott are willing to fiddle around and flim-flam for the sake of fleeting impact, and so I couldn’t watch the rest with any sense of faith. And when faith goes, belief goes. And when belief goes, caring quickly dissipates. And that leads to alienation.
Nick Santora and Keifer Sutherland‘s The Fugitive might be good (who knows?), but I have to watch it in Quibi-sized bits?
I’m literally starved for some kind of adult-level longform that I could actually get into, but everything out there is thriller-ific, fantastical, horror-fied or supernatural-ed.
I’m thinking of re-watching Mindhunter, Season 2. That has the stuff that I’m looking for…that I need want, cherish.
It’s a fact that Williams (now 61) is (a) serving life imprisonment for the 1981 killings of two adult men in Atlanta, and (b) is believed by police to be responsible for at least 23 of the 30 Atlanta murders of 1979–1981, aka the Atlanta Child Murders. Although Williams was never tried for killing kids and has long maintained his innocence, there have been no similar killings of young black men since he came under suspicion in May 1981.
And yet Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children, a forthcoming HB0 documentary, seems to suggest that because Williams was never charged, much less convicted, for any of the 23 for lack of hard evidence, that his guilt is an open question and that others might have been responsible. Yeah, maybe, but how come the child murders stopped after May ’81?
Documentary quotes: (1) “‘We found the killer, and that’s it’, but that really wasn’t it“; (2) “People saying this has to be the Klan or some crazy cop, but nobody really knew anything”; (3) “They didn’t follow those leads…[instead] they chose one [suspect]”; (4) “Elected officials did not want this [murder investigation] to go on” and so they decided to pin the killings on Williams and be done with it.
It’s not surprising that David Fincher‘s Mank (Netflix, award season) was shot in silvery monochrome, but it is a bit curious — certainly noteworthy — for a film set in old-time Hollywood (1940 to ’41) to use an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. In a period realm, widescreen a.r.’s summon associations with the ’50s and ’60s. Then again I personally adore black-and-white Scope — it’s among my absolute favorite formats (along with 1.37:1 Technicolor and 1.66:1 VistaVision).
It’s also unusual that Mank was the first theatrical feature to be shot by Erik Messerschmidt in a senior dp capacity. Fincher is using him because he served as dp on a few episodes of Mindhunter. Messerschmidt also did additional photography on The Empty Man and second-unit photography on Sicario: Day of the Soldado. He served as gaffer on Fincher’s Gone Girl (’14).
There are two kinds of movie devotees, and they can be neatly divided by their reactions to the news that Martin Scorsese‘s The Irishman runs three hours and 29 minutes. The first group of supposed movie lovers is aghast at this news (“My God, my aching ass! And the bathroom breaks!”), but at the same time they’re totally down for an eight-hour couch marathon watching David Fincher‘s Mindhunter 2. The second group is utterly delighted by the news that a genius-level filmmaker, a half-century veteran whose vision and knockout chops have been hailed time and again, has made a nice, long, super banquet-sized film…”I can’t wait!”
Second group to first group: No good movie is too long, ond no bad movie is too short. Period. End of story. Shut up.
From HE correspondent Mark Smith: “The second season of Mindhunter is about utilizing the new FBI science: can the psychological profiles of the incarcerated serial killers that Holden and Bill have so far gathered be used to catch a killer who’s still active? Is all this interviewing and traveling and sharing pizza with Ed Kemper worth a shit? This question is not only relevant to the Atlanta Child Murders, but to Bill Tench‘s creepy future-killer adopted son.
“One of the common traits of a serial killer (confirmed by Ed Kemper) is that he’s compelled to return to the scene of the crime, especially if there’s a chance to see the killer’s nefarious deeds being inspected by police and/or civilians. It gives his ego a jolt, fuels the narcissism.
“In episode 6, about 31 minutes in, we see the Atlanta police chief and Holden on the side of the road where a massive search is taking place for new bodies. A group of reporters/photographers chases down the chief. When he gets into his car, the reporters turn and see Holden walking away, the giant yellow letters FBI leaping off his windbreaker. The throng chases him down. He calmly gets into his car and shuts the door.
“And then something weird happens…
At the very end of the shot Holden’s car is surrounded by reporters and photographers, and one of them suddenly spins toward the camera, right in the foreground. He’s got a camera around his neck. He looks around and runs out of frame, as if trying to find another bit of the action to focus on, scanning the area for a Pulitzer-prize winning snapshot. It happens fast and is made to feel random, like another part of the chaos.
“But anyone who’s watched Mindhunter knows that it’s extremely deliberate: the shot selection, the editing, the camera movements, the acting. No one is Method Acting here, no one is holding court: you say your lines with clarity and honesty, and please shit-can the histrionics. Camera movements are usually slow and deliberate, if they occur at all. And the action is staged with almost robotic precision.
“So when a guy in the foreground spins toward the camera and rips the viewer’s attention away, you can bet it’s deliberate.
“I’m not saying I jumped from my chair and screamed, “That was the killer…that was Wayne Williams!” but the moment stuck with me.
“It felt odd, out of place, a red flag, a mental coupon to be tucked away and cashed in later.
“And then when they showed Wayne Williams after they pulled him over on the bridge (50 minutes into episode 8), that’s when I jumped out of my seat in triumph.”