Tuesday, September 11, 2018

You Want It Darker

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in “Ozark.”
The Lady Macbeth’s of “Ozark” ... Why So Sad Jack Ryan/John Krasinski? ... The charm of Burt Reynolds ... and a pause to remember this day in history.
by Denis Ferrara

“WHAT happens when the bride that took your breath away becomes the wife who makes you hold your breath in terror?”

That line, uttered by Peter Mullan in the second season of Netflix’s “Ozark” series pretty much sums up the series this year.  I binged it in one night. (To think; I used to roll my eyes and write disparagingly about binging. It really is best never to say never.)

“Ozark” remains almost ridiculously dark thanks to its storyline about a money launderer on the run with his family (Jason Bateman is the criminal, Laura Linney is his not-at-all clueless wife) settling into a small Ozark town — with two predictably annoying children. There, every one of his actions causes death and destruction. (Once a white collar launderer, now he cleans cash for a vicious drug cartel.) 
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney with their two children played by Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner in “Ozark."
The events — horrors and missteps happening like dominoes falling — would be enough to keep the show pitch black. But it is Bateman’s sole facial expression — bleak and blank — that casts an incredible and admittedly magnetic pall to the proceedings. It’s a one-note performance but that limitation — which I don’t think is deliberate — serves as a showcase for the violence, and more interestingly, for the quartet of rich female performances that drive “Ozark.”
Linney, and Lisa Emery (as the truly fearsome Mrs. Snell) are the two Lady MacBeth’s of the show, Janet McTeer, a cartel lawyer, is casual, bone-chilling evil dressed in chic wrap dresses and fetching shawls, and Julia Garner is a young woman continually caught by circumstances.  Struggling mightily with her I’m bad/I’m good/I’m smart/I’m dumb impulses she is unable to extricate herself or help the one person she cares most about.  She exists in a constant state of fear, frustration and rage. It is an epic performance, which I don’t say lightly in an ensemble that includes the great Ms. Linney. 
Lisa Emery as Mrs. Snell.
Janet McTeer as Helen Pierce.
Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore.
By the end of the second season, Linney’s character has morphed into something truly terrifying — she is the equal of the ghastly women she has bargained with, under the morally compromised guise of helping her husband and children and getting out of “the life.” (Her ability to dominate the screen by simply being on the screen has never been more powerful. The lift of an eyebrow, a twitch at the corner of her mouth, one line of potent dialogue — she rules.  Linney has won four Emmys, four Tonys, two Golden Globes and has been nominated three times for the Oscar. So, one can hardly say she is an unrewarded actor.  Still, I hope to see her holding a naked golden guy, some day.)
In the final scene Bateman’s exhausted frozen face is never more aptly empty — shock has driven what little life, soul and conscience he had, out of him. Linney looks serene. 

What I liked about the first season of “Ozark” was its lack of humor — it was so relentless.  Well, it is more relentless in season two, and perhaps the lack of any spark of light, suits my current state of mind.  As with the first season, every time one of the characters says “I have an idea” or “don’t worry” you know somebody’s gonna get shot, stabbed or strangled.   I must say, there is some form of gallows humor in that.

No word yet, that I’ve heard, about a season three.  But as I felt about the finale of the first season, if it ended here, even with storylines dangling, it would feel complete and sensibly concluded.  I mean, things can only get worse for all these people! 
MORE BINGING — I turned also to Amazon Prime over what became an extended Labor Day “weekend” for me, and checked out the latest incarnation of Tom Clancy’s famous character Jack Ryan, in the more than aptly titled “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”  I’ve never read a Jack Ryan thriller.  I have seen all the films and all the various Ryans — Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford (he played Ryan twice) Ben Affleck, Chris Pine.  I’ve never felt the urge to ever re-watch even one of them.

Still, the character and the films, no matter if not really to my taste, have been so popular, are so beloved, I might as well check out the series, yes?
John Krasinski as Jack Ryan.
The show looks good, is reasonably engaging and watchable, but I was utterly distracted by the appearance of John Krasinski.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in anything before this year’s great horror film, “A Quiet Place” which he also directed.  In that he sported a full beard and looked appropriately unhappy and scared. (I know, I know — he was in “The Office.”  Never watched it.)

Clean-shaven in “Jack Ryan” Krasinski still looks unhappy — no, mopey, morose, depressed.  He has a killer body that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a head that — in this series at least — looks like it is always about to burst into tears. Given that Krasinski’s Ryan has some haunting issues from his time as a marine in Afghanistan, his look of perpetual pain is likely an acting choice and the director’s choice.  Still even with that assumption, I wanted to giggle at the most inappropriate moments — or reach into the set and tickle him.  My feeling is that he has a basically happy-looking face that maybe “Jack Ryan” isn’t supposed to have? (I mean, who is more naturally sullen-looking than Jack Ryan # 4 — Ben Affleck?) 
In real life, Krasinski is married to Emily Blunt. (He directed her, wonderfully, in “A Quiet Place.”)  Some years ago I spent the better part of an hour in her presence and I couldn’t stop laughing and grinning.  She is so witty and such fun. Nobody married to Emily Blunt could possibly look mopey by nature. 

The show has been picked up for a second season.  Likely, if all our heads or Earth itself hasn’t exploded, I’ll watch it. (Maybe in season two they’ll tell him, “Look, you’re saving the world again — it’s okay to crack a smile!”)  He does take his shirt off a lot.
I DIDN’T make it a regular habit to see Burt Reynolds movies during his phenomenal heyday. Perhaps they weren’t to my taste, but I think I didn’t make the effort because I felt I was seeing all there was to Reynolds — as much as public people display — on the countless talk shows and specials on which he appeared. 

He had so much relaxed charm, nothing apparently forced or false.  Reynolds  always looked to be having a wonderful time being a great big movie star, and that in itself was kind of thrilling.  He didn’t appear to take himself seriously.  He wasn’t trying to convince us that he really wanted to play Willy Loman in “Death of a Saleman” or even Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” And certainly not Shakespeare — although he would have been a perfect Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew.”  Nope. Burt Reynolds existed to say that being rich and famous and sexy was just fabulous.  And he took his fans on the joyride that were his best years.

Of course there was more to him than that, and later on there were health issues and marital woes and self-awareness that he’d squandered some good career opportunities to, well — have a damn good time.  Even so, he said — and quite convincingly — that he didn’t regret those good times.  And I’ll always remember invariably stopping whenever I saw him on TV, chatting up Merv or Mike or his flame, Dinah Shore.  Being utterly at ease, expansive, happy in his fame, relishing his good luck.  You don’t see much of that from movie stars anymore. (Or writers!)  Everybody’s way too serious.   

RIP, Burt Reynolds.
IT SAYS  a great deal about where we are as a country — our obsessions and fears and divisions — that the memory and horror of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, seems much further in the past than a mere 17 years.  Everything moves so fast now, nobody has time to think, reflect. One way or another, we’re all binging.  

I hope today that some of our fears — as well as the exhaustion and pettiness — can be put aside and there will be eloquence, respect and profound remembrance. 
Contact Denis here.