“Thirteen”—An Unlucky Life

 

Thirteen BBC America

Thirteen BBC America

The BBC mini-series Thirteen (available online) follows 26-year-old Ivy Moxam, who was held captive in a cellar for thirteen years. After escaping from her attacker’s prison, she returns to her family home outside of London, but struggles to put her life back together. There is an uncanny resemblance to the story in the American television series, The Family. (See July 3, 2016 review)

Thirteen presents the police investigation as a secondary plot and focuses on the victim’s situation and psychology, touching upon the Stockholm syndrome and the fragility and unreliability of memory. Everyone closely associated with the crime is also, in some way, a victim. With a steady, stark stream of plot twists we see the kidnapped woman (Ivy), try to adjust from being the thirteen year old abductee to a 26-year old woman trying to catch up to a world that has changed radically. It is a sensitive interpretation of an outlier—not unlike an alien from another planet–with memorable impact on the viewer. In some ways, she is a thirteen-year old pubescent girl trapped in a young woman’s body.

What happens once survivors return to their previous homes? Like oreign residents reentering their homeland, Ivy suffers from culture shock. How does a victim begin to return to their previous life? In Thirteen Ivy’s family attempts to turn back the clock with serious consequences. Things remain unsaid, and secrets and lies unravel.

Thirteen is fiction depicting a grisly reality only truly conveyed by dramatic plot twists allowing the viewer into that world. While the ending for this viewer did not have the tension I expected, never the less Thirteen is gripping and unforgettable television at its best!

 

The Fundamentals of Caring—A Different Sort of Road Trip

Fundamentals of Caregiving

In this Netflix original film, The Fundamentals of Caring, (based upon Jonathan Evison’s novel,“The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,) takes us on a road trip with a sullen teenager, Trevor (the disingenous Craig Roberts), confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy. His loving and overprotective mother– divorced and struggling with career and parental responsibilities—sequesters her son at home where he watches soap operas all day, bored out of his mind.

Along comes a writer wannabe (Paul Rudd), Ben, who is a freshly minted caregiver, desperately looking for a change in his life after suffering a horrific personal tragedy. Trevor’s mother reluctantly hires him after her son shows a fondness for his style, even though Ben lacks any experience or references.

Both Trevor and Ben share a fear of moving on with their lives and seeing their place in the world. The two embark on a bizarre road trip seeing sites like the world’s deepest pit, something the viewer can only imagine in a snow globe or other kitschy tourist souvenir.

Along the way they meet a young abandoned girl, Dot, trying to get to Denver ( a strong performance by Selena Gomez) and a pregnant women trying to get home before her baby arrives (excellent Megan FergusonThe road trip clinches the change in both of them.

The Fundamentals of Caring is a well-crafted, well-acted comedy-drama without predictability or cliche and  remains, at its core, a heartwarming story to watch, a solid choice even for family viewing.

 

 

 

“The Night Of”—A Tale of Darkness

 

"The Night Of" HBO series

“The Night Of” HBO series

In the mini-series “The Night Of,” currently on HBO, the opening scene showcases a mysterious and beautiful young woman who dies and someone goes to trial. Will justice prevail?

“The Night Of” combines elements of the popular podcast “Serial”’ and the  TV series“Oz”. “The Night Of” depicts the horrific conditions endured by Naz Khan on Ryker’s Island, reminding the viewer of “Oz”. And half-truths and damning evidence suggest the Serial podcast about a young Pakistani American teenager, Adnan Syed. Did he or didn’t he—that is the question in both. Both the real-life Adnan and the fictional Naz maintain their innocence, even as more distressing details of the crime surface.

Naz Khan (played by Riz Ahmed from “Nightcrawler”) is a young Pakistani American student charged with the murder of the mysterious young woman from the opening scene. Detective Sergeant Box   (the superb Bill Camp, Tony winner for the Broadway revival of “The Crucible”) charges Naz. A bottom-feeding, grizzled lawyer named Jack Stone (the astonishing John Turturro) is Naz’s legal counsel.

Turturro plays a smarter-than-he-looks lawyer: part-Columbo, part-Monk detective. He’s quirky and wry, his physical awkwardness, and his long trench coat make him as memorable as the more well-known Columbo and Monk. As Jack Stone, he picks at the eczema on his feet with a chopstick as he interviews witnesses and waits to appear in court. Layers of financial and psychological costs are embedded in a justice and penal system Naz and his parents do not know how to navigate. Naz pays the price of not knowing.

We see Naz transform. At first a virginal, studious young man who is naïve and eager, we see his vulnerability preyed upon. We witness Naz feeling cornered, bewildered, and terrified.

“The Night of” features spellbindingly subtle acting with pitch-perfect poignancy and desperation on the part of Riz Ahmed, and steely determination and grit from both John Turturro and Bill Camp, equally matched as dueling seekers of justice.

The connective tissue holding together the evidence both for and against Naz constantly shifts the viewer’s assessment of his guilt or innocence. This dark tale is addictive, deeply moving, compulsive television!

Note: The late James Gandolfini (of “Sopranos” fame) produced “The Night Of” and was intended to be the character Jack Stone.