American Horror Story, all boxed up

American Horror Story season 1

Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga arrive at the ‘murder house’.

Has it been a year already? Ghosts of Christmas past or what?

Last year we scoffed down American Horror Story, an incredibly thoughtful and homage-laden haunted house story with some exceptional ghost work. Well, season three has just been commissioned, and the first season has recently been released on DVD.

I got sent a review copy of the DVD package, and it’s handsome.

Do not watch the extras if you haven’t watched the show. Half the fun is trying to work out the back stories of the characters and, indeed, work out who’s a ghost and who isn’t, and who will become one and who won’t. So an extra profiling the who and the how of the spooks is great to recapture or put things in perspective, but will screw up the show.

Film fans will enjoy the info about the title credits — great to see some Nine Inch Nails input there! — and the ‘making of’ likewise sheds some light while talking up the show.

Strangely, for a show that worked hard to avoid cliche even while exploiting so many tropes, the ‘Murder House’ extra, dressed up as a ghost tour visit riffing from the show, added little that wasn’t covered elsewhere, and let the side down.

The commentary from creator Ryan Murphy on the pilot isn’t overblown and provides some interesting tidbits and insights.

Online, there’s a shallow doco site about crime scenes/haunted places, and it covers six in Australia. They’ve misspelt Boggo Road in Brisbane and bollocked up the text for Snowtown (awesome movie, by the way!). Sigh.

Still, watching the pilot again reminded me of just how superb Jessica Lange is in this show — indeed, the performances are first rate across the board — and I reckon it will reward a second viewing to appreciate all the bits ‘n’ bobs the makers have used to set up the succinct 12-parter. I remember being a tad disappointed with the final episode’s touch of twee and apparent set up for season 2 (falsely, because 2: Asylum, is all new), so another viewing could indeed be illuminating.

One for the Xmas pressie list, for sure.

Hurrah for Golden Globes winner Homeland … and Luther!

Homeland has been the compelling viewing at our place, so it’s grand to see Claire Danes pick up a Golden Globe for best actress and the show score one for best drama.

Based on an Israeli series — imagine the extra emotional baggage this storyline would have over there — it tells the story of a CIA analyst (Danes) tipped off about a US POW turned by Al-Qaeda. There follows a game of superb cat and mouse as the returned POW is feted as a hero while Carrie, fighting some nasty demons of her own, tries to unravel the alleged plot. Such murky waters, flowing superbly, with plenty of eddies and rapids as the camera reveals several sides of the unfolding story — inside the CIA, the soldier’s eight years of imprisonment, his family’s reaction to suddenly having him return after having been declared dead.

Homeland is not a Stars n Stripes show, but rather shares a more British sensibility in its approach to national moral issues and the way to conclude a spy drama. Gripping stuff, superbly acted across the board, and a big tick mark for its representation of the soldier’s wife — played by Firefly and V remake star Morena Baccarin, Jessica is far from window dressing.

A second season has been approved.

Stars of two other shows that have occupied our spare time were also acknowledged at the Globes (commentated entertainingly at ABC online): Jessica Lange for American Horror Story, which I’ve praised before, and Idris Elba for Luther. Luther is a superb British crime show with Elba playing the eponymous cop right on the edge — he’s starred in superb vampire UK series Ultraviolet and brilliant US crime series The Wire, amongst many other things; a chameleon of accents and wielder of a striking screen presence.

New series of both are in the works.

Christmas viewing: Ides of March, Black Mirror, American Horror Story

I’m starting to quite like George Clooney. I like his attitude. He isn’t afraid to play the non-hero, either. He does subtle and quiet well. We saw one of his latest movies, Ides of March yesterday: it stands out from the pack of twee Christmas fare; our choices were quite limited. The movie tracks the campaign of one of those things they do in America, where candidates to run for president must face off against each other to represent their party … Clooney is the green of the piece, espousing policy that will never be accepted in the American dream however much we might wish, things such as alternative energy and a fair health system for all. And he’s doing well, if only he can win this one state over, it’s all the way to the White House. The focus is on the campaign managers, how they fight for the public’s vote. It’s image and it’s spin and it’s dirty tricks. Ryan Gosling is trying to fight clean. Unspectacular and unsurprising though the movie may be, watching Gosling’s tyro fall is a bittersweet delight. Well played, all.

To the small screen, and there are two shows we’ve gulped down recently: American Horror Story and Black Mirror.

American Horror Story puts such a delightful spin on the trope of the haunted house, it is must-see. It doesn’t throw the viewer any bones, either; flashbacks can occasionally be jolting and confusing, but it all comes out in the wash. The ghosts are amazingly well drawn, to the point where it took quite a while to work out just who was haunting who. And Jessica Lange’s performance is to die for. Heh.

Black Mirror, alas, a mere three episodes of which have been made, is British. Three standalone episodes survey issues of society and technology. The first, a terrorist demands the UK prime minister fuck a pig on national TV, or the kidnapped princess gets it — media and internet communications are in the spotlight. The second, a future world, and celebrity can be the way out of drudgery, but there’s a price… And in the third, what if we all did have implants that allowed us to never miss a thing — memory on instant playback?

Black Mirror comes from Charlie Brooker, the writer who gave us Dead Set, simply one of the best zombie dramas of recent years, and Black Mirror is likewise sharp and unstinting. Brilliant dialogue, perfectly timed, superb world building without and not needing explanatory notes, effects that enhance without jarring or looking trite.

And one of the things that makes all three shows stand out is the quality of the acting. From the minor to the majors, the casting on all three is superb. Black Mirror in particular makes impressive use of non-verbal cues — the silence can be so telling. Black Mirror has to be one of the best shows of 2011. Let’s hope there’s more to come…

Speaking of more, the trailer for David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has me all excited (the eight-minute version moreso; the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross soundtrack is a delight). Not so much, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but I’ll go anyway. And Ridley, oh Ridley, you had me all in a fluster about Alien “prequel” Prometheus, and then I was told it’s being shot in 3D, and now you’ve got me all afeared. Thank goodness there’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the way: we saw a trailer while waiting for Ides of March, and the cast, the mood … it all looks just bloody brilliant.