Autumn hasn't even cracked officially in Whistler and already it is feeling like a good time to catch up on some marathon TV show sessions. The hot new show is Narcos, a Netflix original based on the life of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the infamous Medellin cartel of the 1970s and '80s.
Aside from the natural excitement and drama that comes with watching one of the richest, most violent and most legendary criminal enterprises in the history of civilization, Narcos also smuggles in some good culture-clash themes and insightful political context via America's "War on Drugs" and the ramifications for Colombia. And the details are gritty: Escobar once bombed an entire commercial airline flight to kill one politician (and didn't get him) in order to battle the policy of extracting drug lords for trial in the States.
Narcos also stands out among contemporary shows in that much, close to half, of the dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles. North American audiences are notoriously unenthusiastic about "reading" their on-screen entertainment but Netflix is aiming for a global audience here and if one of the world's most notorious villains can't lure us in, what can?
Another cool aspect is the use of real documentary footage and photos cut amongst the narrative scenes. Much of the story is grounded in true fact and the series was developed with input from the actual DEA agents who pursued Escobar, as well as Brazilian documentarian-filmmaker José Padhilla.
Padhilla is best known up here for Bus 174, a heart-pounding documentary about that time a dude in Rio De Janerio got super high on drugs and took an entire public transit bus hostage. The verité/voyeurism aspects are engaging but ultimately Padhilla uses the situation to investigate the impoverished and generally shitty reality of what life in Rio was like at that time for millions of people. Bus 174 is the download of the week.
Narcos is not the best stream-show going these days, but it certainly demonstrates a step forward in what can only be considered a golden renaissance of TV programing. Television has been a popular medium since the Second World War and yet we have only begun truly realizing its potential for storytelling within the last 15-20 years.
TV Miniseries have existed for ages but that sort of long-form entertainment has never thrived like it has since The Sopranos. After decades of laugh-tracked sitcoms and soap operas it's interesting to see how TV is suddenly producing better characters and stories than most feature films. Much of the success lies in being able to watch your favourite show without commercial interruptions but the DVD and streaming delivery format is equally significant and dishing up an entire season of episodes at once might be the secret. Netflix, HBO and the others have figured out what the Narcos knew along — give people something awesome to binge on, and they will.
At the Village 8 Theatres this week The Visit is the only new film opening and despite a creepy trailer the sad fact remains that it's written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who rose to prominence with 1999's The Sixth Sense and 2000's Unbreakable — and has essentially sucked a wagon full of donkey turds ever since. Sure The Village was passable, but barely, and film critic Josh Cabrita recently compared being a Shyamalan fan with cheering for a professional Vancouver hockey team — they won in 1915 and it's been disappointing ever since.
Personally, I'll still go watch the Vancouver Canucks but there's no way I'm paying to see a Shyamalan flick in the theatre (and this one had no pre-screenings anyhow). From the trailer, though, The Visit actually looks intriguing — a pair of children are sent to spend a nice week with their grandparents and the narrative goals of mending family dysfunction go out the window as the tweens begin to realize that dysfunction is the least of their worries; their grandparents are straight-up demonic.
Or something, I haven't seen it... but with Shyamalan I suspect there will be some terrible dialogue and un-relatable characters with a couple ridiculously stupid scenes thrown in to help counteract any momentum the concept has. The trailer for The Visit makes it look like a decent horror but this guy loves his trick endings and the joke is usually on us. Beware.
Otherwise, Mad Max: Fury Road is finally available for legal download and if you missed that one on the 3D big screen you missed the cinematic event of the year (so far; Tarantino has one coming in December). There are over 90 minutes of Fury Road extras available on iTunes that make a pretty kick-ass consolation prize though. And keep your eyes out for Turbo Kid a Canadian-made '80sploitation BMX flick that's got a little Mad Max in it and a whole lot of awesome. Happy autumn!