Tuesday, June 08, 2021

TV: Mini-King and Mini-Halston

Tone and perspective can add a great deal. Too often, however, they're missing in television works. We were reminded of that once again while watching APPLE+ mini-series LISEY'S STORY. Like many offerings these days, it's based on a work by Stephen King. The cast includes Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joan Allen and Clive Owen. Due to that, we were expecting an acting tour de force. However, that was about all we were expecting. 


CASTLE ROCK was saved by acting -- by acting and nothing else. The HULU offering, also based upon a work by Stephen King, was the typical TV offering, hastily shot, poorly planned and no real visual point of view. The camera existed solely to shoot whomever was speaking at the time. A show that really uses strong visuals to tell a story, something like Gregg Araki and Steven Soderbergh's NOW APOCALYPSE, is a rarity. If Detroit used to be an assembly line, TV is more of a bakery using the same cookie cutter pattern. The thinking seems to be, 'If we all look the same, we can spread around the blame."

LISEY'S STORY doesn't look the same. It has a muted, fogged look that adds to the texture of the story unwinding.

Scott Landon (Clive Owen) was an author who was shot dead by a man claiming Scott stole his life and story. Lisey (Julianne Moore) is his widow who is dealing with demented fans including a rude professor who wants to grab all of Scott's papers. She and her sister Darla (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are also dealing with the mental issues of their sister Amanda (Joan Allen). Amanda appears to be communicating with her late brother-in-law.

The Water Cooler Set seems iffy on it and we're wondering if it's because it's a female-led show or if they're just unfamiliar with the storyline? This adheres to the novel King wrote and hints of what it to come -- including a monster that will destroy one of Scott's fans -- have been established in the opening episode. The story unravels in an almost dissociative fugue state which is more than appropriate for the plot of the mini-series.

We've waited and waited for some offering from APPLE+ that we could praise. This is it, LISEY'S STORY is a stand-out and could point a way forward for the streamer -- as an auteur service, a streamer where quality and vision matters. In a very crowded market, that could allow APPLE+ to stand out.

As we noted last time, the pandemic has been a Golden Age of streaming for NETFLIX which has had a huge number of offerings worth watching. But not everything has been a high mark.

For example, HALSTON was hideous. So hideous, in fact, that we'd propose Ryan Murphy not ever be connected to a project set in the 70s again. It reeks of internalized homophobia and gives off the creepy vibe so many projects once did where they went for 'tolerance' -- as though humanity is something you have to force yourself to tolerate.

The mini-series is based upon the life of the one-named fashion designer Halston. Ewan McGregor plays the role with all the reach of Christopher Reeve trying to 'understand' homosexuality -- an understanding we never felt that Christopher had to reach that hard for since, after all, he had that semi-infamous affair with Casey Donovan back when Chris was mouthing lines on LOVE OF LIFE, Ewan seems to think bitchy is the way to play Halston and it may very well be one way to play him. It might have even worked had the series had wit, style or camp. Instead, it's just sort of tired and dirty, as though it were inspired by Madonna's "Bad Girl" video.

There's no joy to be found in the sleazy morality tale that is HALSTON.

When we watched ROCKETMAN, we thought Taren Egerton did an amazing job but we rolled our eyes over John Reed. Richard Madden was effective in the part. But we rolled out eyes because of the way he was portrayed in the film. Reid was the bad guy. Okay? Some would disagree -- some we know very well -- but okay. But did Elton and company need to lie to turn him into the bad guy? We see Reid being rough with Elton when the two are involved. Bad Reid1 -- that's what we're supposed to say.

But the reality is that, in the 70s, Elton was known for being into, for lack of a better term, rough trade. Elton didn't want to be cuddled all the time. And that's why Reed was attractive to him.

It would have been more truthful to show that, in the early stages, Elton was excited by Reid. We don't deny that abuse took place. But without understanding the way Reid treating Elton roughly initially delighted Elton, you never understand how the two ended up together let alone had the basis for a long standing relationship.

Halston, like Elton in ROCKETMAN, never really appears to enjoy sex. It's something to do and check off the list.

Where is the joy in HALSTON? Drugs don't make the title character joyful, sex doesn't, even success doesn't. It's a joyless life and feels like one of those preachy 70s and early 80s TV specials about how we should pity the homosexuals.

How do you make a series about the fashion industry in the 70s -- the height of recreational drug use and disco and sex (pre-AIDs era) -- and not find any joy? More to the point, why should anyone want to watch a depressed and depressing offering like HALSTON? Ryan Murphy is good at churning out product but he appears to have lost both vision and perspective.


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