Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Favorite short stories Pt. 1: Car Crash While Hitch-Hiking by Denis Johnson

A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping...A Cherokee filled with Bourbon...A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student...
And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri...
...I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I've already named- the salesman and the Indian and the student- all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody's car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The travelling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside I knew we'd have an accident in the storm.
I didn't care. They said they'd take me all the way.

The man and his wife put the little girl up front with them and left the baby in back with me and my dripping bedroll. "I'm not taking you anywhere very fast," the man said. "I've got my wife and babies here, that's why."
You are the ones, I thought. And I plied my sleeping bag against the left-hand door and slept across it, not caring whether I lived or died. The baby slept free on the seat beside me. He was about nine months old.
...But before any of this, that afternoon, the salesman and I swept down into Kansas City in his luxury car. We'd developed a dangerous cynical camaraderie beginning in Texas, where he'd taken me on. We ate up his bottle of amphetamines, and every so often we pulled off the Interstate and bought another pint of Canadian Club and a sack of ice. His car had cylindrical glass holders attached to either door and a white, leathery interior. He said he'd take me home to stay overnight with his family, but first he wanted to stop and see a woman he knew.
     Under Midwestern clouds, like great grey brains we left the superhighway with a drifting sensation and entered Kansas City's rush hour with a sensation of running aground. As soon as we slowed down, all the magic of travelling together burned away. He went on and on about his girlfriend. "I like this girl, I think I love this girl- but I've got two kids and a wife, and there's certain obligations there. And on top of everything else, I love my wife. I'm gifted with love. I love my kids. I love all my relatives." As he kept on, I felt jilted and sad: "I have a boat, a little sixteen-footer. I have two cars. There's room in the back yard for a swimming pool." He found his girlfriend at work. She ran a furniture store, and I lost him there.
     The clouds stayed the same until night. Then, in the dark, I didn't see the storm gathering. The driver of the Volkswagen, a college man, the one who stoked my head with all the hashish, let me out beyond the city limits just as it began to rain. Never mind the speed I'd been taking, I was too overcome to stand up. I lay out in the grass off the exit ramp and woke in the middle of a puddle that had filled up around me.
     And later, as I've said, I slept in the back seat while the Oldsmobile- the family from Marshalltown- splashed along through the rain. And yet I dreamed I was looking right through my eyelids, and my pulse marked off the seconds of time. The Interstate through west Missouri was,in that era, nothing more than a two-way road, most of it. When a semi-truck came toward us and passed going the other way, we were lost in a blinding spray and a warfare of noises such as you get being towed through an automatic car wash. The wipers stood up and lay down across the windshield without much effect. I was exhausted, and after an hour I slept more deeply.
     I'd known all along exactly what was going to happen. But the man and his wife woke my up later, denying it viciously.
"Oh-no!"
"NO!"
     I was thrown against the back of their seat so hard that it broke. I commenced bouncing back and forth. A liquid which I knew right away was human blood flew around the car and rained down on my head. When it was over, I was in the back seat again, just as I had been. I rose up and looked around. Our headlights had gone out. The radiator was hissing steadily. Beyond that, I didn't hear a thing. As far as I could tell, I was the only one conscious. As my eyes adjusted I saw that the baby was lying on its back beside me as if nothing had happened. Its eyes were open and it was feeling its cheeks with its little hands.
    In a minute, the driver, who'd been slumped over the wheel, sat up and peered at us. His face was smashed and dark with blood. It made my teeth hurt to look at him- but when he spoke, it didn't sound as if any of his teeth were broken.
"What happened?"
"We had a wreck," he said
"The baby's okay," he said, although I had no idea of how the baby was.
He turned to his wife.
"Janice," he said. "Janice, Janice!"
"Is she okay?"
"She's dead!" he said, shaking her angrily.
"No, she's not." I was ready to deny everything myself now.
Their little girl was alive, but knocked out. She whimpered in her sleep. But the man went on shaking his wife.
"Janice!" he hollered.
His wife moaned.
"She's not dead," I said, clambering from the car and running away.
"She won't wake up," I heard him say.
      I was standing out here in the night, with the baby, for some reason, in my arms. It must have still been raining, but I remember nothing about the weather. We'd collided with another car on what I perceived was a two-lane bridge. The water beneath us was invisible in the dark.
     Moving toward the other car I began to hear rasping, metallic snores. Somebody was flung halfway out the passenger door, which was open, in the posture of one hanging from a trapeze by his ankles. The car had been broadsided, smashed so flat that no room was left inside it even for this person's legs, to say nothing of a driver or any other passengers. I just walked right on past.
     Headlights were coming from far off. I made for the head of the bridge, waving them to a stop with one arm and clutching the baby to my shoulder with the other.
     It was a big semi, grinding its gears as it decelerated. The driver rolled down the window and I shouted up at him, "There's a wreck. Go for help."
"I can't turn around here," he said.
     He let me and the baby up on the passenger side, and we just sat there in the cab, looking at the wreckage in his headlights.
"Is everybody dead?" he asked.
"I can't tell who is and who isn't," I admitted.
He poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos and switched off all but his parking lights.
"What time is it?"
"Oh, it's around a quarter after three," he said.
By his manner he seemed to endorse the idea of not doing anything about this. I was relieved and tearful. I'd thought something was required of me, but I hadn't wanted to find out what it was.
     When another car showed coming in the opposite direction, I thought I should talk to them. "Can you keep the baby" I asked the truck driver.
"You'd better hang on to him," the driver said, "It's a boy, isn't it?"
"Well, I think so," I said.
     The man hanging out of the wrecked car was still alive as I passed, and I stopped, grown a little more used to the idea now of how really badly broken he was, and made sure there was nothing I could do. He was snoring loudly and rudely. His blood bubbled out of his mouth with every breath. He wouldn't be taking many more. I knew this, but he didn't, and wouldn't therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person's life on this earth. I don't mean he couldn't tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn't tell him what was real.
     Before too long there were three cars backed up for a ways at either end of the bridge, and headlights giving a night-game atmosphere to the steaming rubble, and ambulances and cop cars nudging through so that the air pulsed with color. I didn't talk to anyone. My secret was that in this short while I had gone from being the president of this tragedy to being a fearless onlooker at a gory wreck. At some point an officer learned that I was one of the passengers, and took my statement. I don't remember any of this, except that he told me "Put out your cigarette." We paused in our conversation to watch the dying man being loaded into the ambulance. He was still alive, still dreaming obscenely. The blood ran off him in strings. His knees jerked and his head rattled.
     There was nothing wrong with me, and I hadn't seen anything, but the policeman had to question me and take me to the hospital anyway. The word came over his car radio that the man was now dead, just as we came under the awning of the emergency-room entrance.
     I stood in a tiled outdoor with my wet sleeping bag bunched against the wall beside me, talking to a man from the local funeral home.
The doctor stopped to tell me I'd better have an X-ray.
"No."
"Now would be the time. If something turns up later..."
"There's nothing wrong with me."
     Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere.
     "There's nothing wrong with me"- I'm surprised I let those words out. But it's always been my tendency to lie to doctors, as if good health consisted only of the ability to fool them.
     Some years later, one time when I was admitted to Detox at Seattle General Hospital, I took the same tack.
"Are you hearing unusual sounds or voice?" the doctor asked.
"Help us, oh God, it hurts," the boxes of cotton screamed.
"Not exactly," I said.
"Not exactly," he said. "Now what does that mean?"
"I'm not ready to go into all that," I said. A yellow bird fluttered close to my face, and my muscles grabbed. Now I was flopping like a fish. When I squeezed shut my eyes, hot tears exploded from the sockets. When I opened them, I was on my stomach.
"How did the room get so white?" I said.
A beautiful nurse was touching my skin. "These are the vitamins," she said, and drove the needle in.
     It was raining. Gigantic ferns leaned over us. The forest drifted down a hill. I could hear a creek rushing down among rocks. And you, you ridiculous people, you expect me to help you.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Groundhog Day- I'm a god


A scene that sums up the movie's thesis and the direction the story is going. These scenes, if you are listening to the prophetic words of Robert McKee, should come somewhere in the middle of the movie. So it comes as no surprise, the placement of this scene is squarely in the middle and acts both as a launching point for everything else that happens and as a summation of everything that has happened thus far.

Though they never show how long Phil Conners has been living the same day over and over and over again in the town of Punxatawny, no other scene better paints the length of time he has been there than this one. His enyclopedic knowledge of the residents- bringing attention to a young couple in a bit that will have an awesome payoff later on- to the knowledge of when a specific event will happen.
In the span of less than four minutes, performance, dialogue and writing manage to instill laughs, wonderment and tears. It's slapstick comedy, science fiction and drama.

More importantly, this scene happens after Phil has reached the lowest point as a character. Living through the same day over and over seems like hell, especially for one who is so self-centered and as smug as Phil is. So he turns to the one person who he thinks can help him: Rita. Yet it happens with the self consciousness of knowing that, in the process of living in a loop, that she will forget everything he just told her and the process will start all over again. This unlocks the third act of the movie. The act of redemption for Phil Conners. It harks back to the best of Frank Capra. A parable that shows the enormity of time.

That's all for now. I must get a move on if I'm going to stay ahead of the weather.



Friday, March 31, 2017

Hunger Pains: A review of Raw


Telekenetics have Carrie.
Werewolves have Ginger Snaps.
Now cannibals have Raw.

Cannibalism in popular culture has a resurgence every decade or so. This dates all the way back to Robert Bloch's Psycho, whose Norman Bates was based of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. The 80's brought us the Italian cannibal flicks Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox and the 90's gave us Silence of the Lambs. A film in which the villain was ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's Best Villains of All Time List. (Norman Bates was #2).

History has shown that cannibalism is more than just a cultural taboo, but was necessary for survival. Leningrad. the Donner Party. Medicinal cannibalism was practiced in Europe (particularly Spain and Germany) for decades. The practice is all over the animal kingdom. It's even in the Bible.

So what does Raw bring to the table? Well for one, it brings the coming of age genre into this subgenre of horror. That is not to say it isn't derivative or explores new territory. Quite the contrary.

There is a form of chaos that slowly pervades this movie. It starts out as a ritual hazing. A rite of passage for new veterinarians at the school that Justine (Garance Marillier) has just started. Her sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) lets her know up front that the first weeks are rough. After the first weeks of havoc being wreaked upon Christine, her sister ends up giving her a piece of meat that ends up causing a rash on Christine's body. She gradually develops an insatiable hunger for meat.

Beyond just beyond about that primal, animalistic hunger, Raw also focuses on a sexual hunger. One that gets even more complicated when you add a character that is gay. Narrative choices like this show a true artist at work in debut filmmaker Julia Ducournau. Like the past couple debut filmmakers to come out of the last two years, Robert Eggers (The Witch) and Jordan Peele (Get Out), Ducournau takes the already intriguing premise and adds layers to peel back on rewatch.

The violence in the film is something that it is already becoming infamous for. In an age where we have become overstimulated with excessive violence in the media and the ineffective gore that purported movie bloodbaths promise to deliver, it is relatively tame. What is truly effecting is not the excess but the restraint. The realism. Yes, there are things in this movie that are boundary pushing. Taboo breaking, even. Yet, what will get under the skin the most? A madman cutting an arm off or the infection that breaks out on your skin? Or the bitten lip?

For further information on the history of cannibalism, look no further than Bill Schutt's Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History


What I've been up to: January thru March 2017

JANUARY
1/3- La La Land, Zodiac
1/4- Krisha, Odd Man Out
1/6- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
1/10- Mean Streets
1/11- Obama's Farewell Address
1/14- Silence
         11/22/63 by Stephen King
1/15- Ugetsu
1/19- The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Hiroshima Mon Amour
1/20- From Russia With Love
1/21- Army of Shadows
1/25- Andrei Rublev
1/27- Beware the Slenderman
1/28- The Night Porter, Alien
1/30- A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyre

FEBRUARY
2/4- Toni Erdmann
2/8- Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
2/9- Goodbye Dragon Inn
2/11- It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (5 episodes)
         The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/12- Legion (1 episode); Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
2/13- Day of the Dead, Claire's Knee
2/14- Blue Is the Warmest Color; The Room
2/22- I Am Not Your Negro, Cameraperson
2/23- The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato
2/25- Get Out
2/26- Frailty
2/27- Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders

MARCH
1- Rushmore
4- Before Sunrise
5- Before Sunset
6- Before Midnight, Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny
7- Code Unknown, Moonlight
8- We Need to Talk About Kevin, Vagabond
9- Notes On Cinematography by Robert Bresson, Mouchette
10- Legion (3 episodes), Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis
11- My Own Private Idaho
12- Big Little Lies (2 episodes)
13- The Trial of Joan of Arc, The Passion of Joan of Arc
15- Hitchcock/Truffaut, Legion
17- The Wind That Shakes the Barley
18- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
19- Withnail and I
20- Black Coffee: The Irresistible Bean, The Soft Skin
22- Big Little Lies, MST3K: Time Chasers
23- Legion, Ikiru
24- A Serious Man, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, Touching the Void
25- Eyes Without A Face
26- Going Clear, Big Little Lies
27- Trainspotting
28- Trainspotting 2, Raw
29- Legion
30- Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
31- The Discovery, Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November 2016 Watchlist

1- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
2- Valeria and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)
     Devils On the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000)
     Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)                                                                                    
     Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
    Black Girl (Ousmane Sembene, 1966)
3- Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle, 1958)
6- The Wailing (Na-Hong Jin, 2016)
7- Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1950)
    Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965)
    Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)
8- Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
9- L'Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983)
    Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954)
   The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
10- Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975)
11- Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964)
12- The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wok, 2016)
14- Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
      Judex (Georges Franju, 1936)
      Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves, 1968)
15- Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weersathakul, 2015)
      The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)
16- Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990)
      Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
17- Alice In the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
      The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962)
19- When A Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960)
      Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) (Rewatch)
21- Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)
      Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) (Rewatch)
22- The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
      The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, 1992)
23- L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
      Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) (Rewatch)
25- Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 1975)
      Zazie Dans La Metro (Louis Malle, 1960)
26- Au Revoirs Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)
      The Fire Within (Louis Malle, 1963)
27- The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956)
29- The Honeymoon Killers (Leonard Kastle, 1970)
30- Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)
      Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)







Saturday, September 24, 2016

The State of Criticism

How do you know what movies to see? Where do you go to find these opinions? These are two questions that movie buffs are often asked. You could answer by saying "There's this blog such and such or video blogger such and such that writes or creates reviews. I usually go there if I want to find out what to watch." Personally, I browse a number of sites. There's letterboxd, a few movie blogs that I check from time to time, and a select few people who are interested in film who I talk to online.

Yet, there is one thing that is very important when reading a review or considering an opinion: that reviewer's singular voice and whether or not it translates to a genuine, honest opinion. This is something I always admired Pauline Kael and especially Roger Ebert for. Before Rotten Tomatoes, metacritic and imdb, Ebert was always showing how his view on a film could not be swayed by whether or not a movie was gaining critical praise or if it was not. He liked what he liked. He loved Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia but he hated A Clockwork Orange. He would champion smaller films like Chop Shop and along with Gene Siskel, championed films like Hoop Dreams.

Then the internet came along. With the internet, a free reign of blogs, youtube channels, movie news sites like Ain't It Cool and slash film, and so forth. Journalism has increasingly moved further and further away from print and onto digital. Much like film itself is making the transition. But if a person like me wanted to get their opinion out to the masses, shouldn't I be in praise of the online film community? Well, kinda not. The standards have just gotten lower. You see, like digital film, the sudden availability of the resources creates such a mass market for people who don't necessarily have an individual voice. Everyone and their dog could be a movie critic now. Now if I were to be against this very fact, it would be extremely contradictory. Since this IS a movie blog and I have reviewed several movies on it. What I will say is that, like any genre of film or music, when you get a massive influx of product, or in this case, movie reviewers, you tend to see a pattern: aggregates of reviewers that bleed into one another with their reviews on the newest movie that hit theaters. One site that sprouted in the wake of this was Rotten Tomatoes.

Consensus sites like Rotten Tomatoes have become a standard bearer to indicate what movie Joey and his date want to go see. What people sometimes don't realize is that 90% on the Tomato-meter means a lot less than you think. What it states is: 90% of the critics who gave reviews for the movie gave it a favorable review. Let's say half of the critics who gave favorable reviews thought it was above average. It averages out the consensus to give an idea of the quality. But why do people feel good about using these sites to judge the value of a work of art? It prevents any serious critical interaction between the viewer of the film and the film itself.

This is not even taking into account older films like Vertigo, whose initial reception was polarizing among critics and is now considered to be one of the best films of all time by Sight and Sound's 2012 poll. The 1958 reviews and it's now "reassessed reviews sit side by side on Rotten Tomatoes, causing a miscalculation of context. It pains me to see an entire shelf at Barnes and Noble dedicated to "Movie Certified Fresh By Rotten Tomatoes". A site that groups films into a binary of "Fresh" or "Rotten" and asks its audience to choose is doing more to hurt rather than help the craft of criticism. Don't even bother to read the full reviews.

In a video on film criticism, Siskel  and Ebert talk about wanting to be liked and how political correctness is the death knell to criticism. Wanting to go along with the group. This was in the 90's. Ebert went on to say the purpose of journalism is to break that type of thinking. In an era where "Social Justice Warriors" run amok and wanting to have an intelligent discussion has become nearly absent, summoning up the courage to say what you feel has become increasingly hard.

There's many youtube channels out there like Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns that are enormously popular. But when you watch a review, it doesn't feel like they are genuine. Take Stuckmann's review on The Blair Witch Project. In it he praises its realism but then says that the slew of imitators gave us more thematically and dramatically than Blair Witch did. Directly after that he says that that is it's strength. That it is grounded in reality. So here we have a review that is extremely contradictory and is weighed between not wanting to piss of its admirers and not wanting to piss off its detractors. Gene Siskel mentioned that wanting to be liked and go along with the group can be death to a critic. Following this type of thinking is tantamount to, as Ebert said, ventriloquism.

It's the same thing when you say you have guilty pleasures. You're just lying to yourself and anyone who will listen about that embarrassing phase you once went through in high school.
All art is subjective. So embrace it. Defend it. There's films like Tusk and Point Break that I will defend to no end.

Structuring your review or just throwing formalism out the window altogether and trying something new can be another thing that pulls the viewer in. There are blogs I have read however, who pull in hundreds of subscribers who structure every single review the same way: Plot Synopsis, Cast, Cinematography/Editing (the style of the film), Summation. It's a fucking chore to slog through these. There is no life in these reviews. Just imitating the film blurb key words of "dazzling, phenomenal, and spellbinding" that you find on the back of blu rays. It's on auto pilot.

Change things up. Think outside the box. Inject life into it. I'm happy you can churn out a review a week but put out something that doesn't continue to put me to sleep.

In this wasteland of appealing to the largest denominator through criticism, there are those that carry the flag as a bastion of hope. One such man is Mark Kermode. This is a man whose top ten films include The Exorcist and The Devils. Someone who doesn't just lambast a movie, he refines the art of doing so. Hatchet jobs, as he calls them. He's not an apologist for the movies he loves. The same way Kael didn't apologize for adoring Altman and DePalma.

Online blogging is not the death of criticism. Digital media hasn't inherently devalued the craft, it just made it harder to find the really good blogs that are writing with passion, honesty, and efficiency. When you love movies for so long, your tastes evolve. They are refined, sharpened. I'm not going to join blog number 156, 472 that only reviews the latest film that comes out or talks about what film they think should win an Oscar. But if a blog pops up about French crime films in the 50's and 60's or why Sterling Hayden is such a stellar character actor or Jodorowsky's films, then I just might join that blog. Because it's shit that I like.



In lieu of this rant, I thought I'd present a handful of sites that are good examples of the criticism I crave and the inventiveness I admire:

And So It Begins
Besides being a blogger Alex Withrow is a filmmaker to boot. He has come up with several ideas for lists that I wish I had thought of. His In Character segments are always a treat to read.

Bennett Media
The first film blog that I truly fell in love with. Stopped producing content in February but the That Moment series and article on 'better sequels' and 'adequate sequels' are worth the read. They are also really good editors to boot.

Every Frame A Painting
Tony Zhou has created several helpful videos for those interested in the mechanics of filmmaking and storytelling.

A Fistful of Films
Want an alternative to The Oscars? This blog has its own awards: The Fistis.

House of Self Indulgence
Erotica, exploitation, and the art of Jess Franco.

Not Coming To A Theater Near You
Your resource for exploring the fringes of cinema. Want essays on Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, Lucio Fulci and Samuel Fuller? Look no further.


Observations On Film Art
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog. Authors of books, writers of countless essays that are as educational as they are fascinating

Paul Schrader
His film criticism on the works of Ozu and Bresson are something to behold.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Night Of

"I can't be alone tonight."


There's a scene in season one of The Wire where paperwork is being filled in order to secure a wiretap from the court. Showrunner David Simon jokes on the commentary that this is the only show that stresses paperwork. But he touches on something that draws me into these types of crime dramas: the process. The horror of watching an individual get churned through the gears of an indifferent system. The Night Of is another one of those shows that stresses that very process.

The director Steve Zaillian has made a handful of features, some very underrated (Searching For Bobby Fischer, A Civil Action), but nothing really prepared me for this. Right at the start of Pakistani college student Nasir 'Naz' Khan's journey through New York in his father's cab, we are shown through various perspectives of surveillance. All timestamped. The toll booth, the gas station, the police stop later on. You get the sense that you are being prepared for something or Naz is unknowingly being prepared. Things lock into place. Wheels set into motion.

So much so, that after an event like a girl wanting to have him stab her hand has one thinking "how will this ripple outward into this man's life? How will it effect later events?" Zaillian wisely takes that notion and ratchets it up throughout the rest of the hour.

We've had plenty of true crime dramas play out in documentary form: The Thin Blue Line, the Paradise Lost Trilogy, Making A Murderer, The Jinx and most recently O.J. Made In America. What keeps me coming back to The Night Of is Zallian's directorial choices and Richard Price's writing. It's not a perfect opener but it's a hell of a lot better than many other crime shows.