‘Sharp Objects’ Recap: Closer

Each episode of HBO’s latest limited series invokes more and more anxiety, and its fifth episode, “Closer,” takes the cake. The episode centers around Wind Gap’s Calhoun Day, a celebration of the town’s Civil War history, right as Camille’s latest article on the murder investigation is published. While preparing for her leading performance in the day’s festivities, Amma confronts her sister about what she’s written and knowingly makes matters worse by telling Adora about the article. This leads to a tense scene that has been bound to take place, but no less excruciating to watch. After her mother harasses her to come out of the dressing room while trying on dresses for the day’s festivities, Camille reveals her scar-ridden body to her little sister, only furthering Adora’s annoyance. Since Camille arrived, Amma has begged to know why Adora claims that her sister is “dangerous” and she finally gets her answer. Her age becomes apparent in these moments, as she is forced to see not everything is fun and games. Alone in the dressing room, Camille lets out a big, slightly muffled scream and Adams’ ability to allow her character to feel and let go of her contained composure makes for one of the most chilling and heart-wrenching scenes of the series so far.

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‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ Is as Fun and Generic as Any Summer Popcorn Flick

The title of Susanna Fogel’s second feature may be a play on James Bond, but unlike The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the women of the story aren’t simply playthings – they’re at the forefront. The Spy Who Dumped Me is next on the growing list of female spy movies, and while it’s a fun summer popcorn movie, it doesn’t transcend the genre’s typical conventions.

The film follows best friends Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon) in the aftermath of discovering that Audrey’s ex, Drew (Justin Theroux), is a spy for the CIA. They soon find themselves sucked into an international espionage adventure that takes them from their quiet lives in Los Angeles to running for their lives around Europe. At its core, the film is about the strength of women and female friendships, but the buddy comedy fails to find the right balance of action to complement the film’s light-hearted vibe.

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Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis in ‘The Spy Who Dumped Me’ © Lionsgate

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‘Christopher Robin’ Adorably Explores Uninspired Ground

There’s a moment in Christopher Robin in which the older-but-definitely-not-wiser titular character and his best furry friend, Winnie the Pooh step into a dreary, muted, and unfamiliar version of the Hundred Acre Wood in search of their lost friends. Seeing Christopher Robin revisit a space he once inhabited, with his pure innocence and imagination- in a forgotten, disheveled state, was emotionally resonant. The once playful child, now cynical businessman, Robin suggests to Pooh to begin searching for his friends in the most efficient way possible by walking straight forward.

If you know Pooh, you’ll know this silly old bear is the opposite of efficient. While Robin’s approach takes him to point A and point B with little adventure, Pooh prefers to improvise, detour, and see where it takes him. Often, he finds success in unusual places. Marc Foster’s direction has great intentions, but its overall execution is sadly comparable to Robin’s method of exploration. This is where the film falls short. Christopher Robin is a sweet and sometimes interesting journey, but it squanders its ideas and chooses to be passable.

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Ewan McGregor as Chirstopher Robin, and our favorite silly old bear, Pooh.

For the record, I am behind a lot of the creative conceptual choices here. I loved the idea of an older Robin having to go on a metaphorical reclamation of his own youth, the muted color palette, the stuffed animal translations of these characters, and for the first two-thirds of the film, I was invested in where it was going. The overall high points of the film begin (and end) with the Hundred Acre Wood, as adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) trudges down the foggy forest, getting lost in his own innocence to find Pooh’s friends. The more in touch Robin becomes with his younger self, the more awake the Wood becomes, it’s vibrant and resonant visual storytelling.

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‘Love Island’ – A Classic for the Social Media Generation

Reality television has a tendency to become all-encompassing. Whether through demonstration of talent (The X Factor, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway), the close observation of an isolated group (I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother) or semi-scripted personality-driven chaos (The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea), this brand of entertainment asks for very little from its audience, while delivering a uniquely involved experience. ITV2’s Love Island is no different. The concept of the show is fairly simple: throw a group of young adults into a Spanish villa, instruct them to couple up, arrange some drama here and there, and the hoards of viewers will tune in nightly, becoming increasingly obsessed with the grafting, bitching, crying and scheming that naturally occurs once straight people are encouraged to find a partner. At the heart of the show, however, is a genuine charm that’s rarely found in reality shows, and a secure knowledge of an audience that has brought this controversial title its fame.

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The Love Island villa, where attractive single people are trapped for eight weeks for the entertainment of the masses.

Any fan of Love Island knows that the daily hour spent watching the Islanders’ antics is only the tip of the iceberg. Memes, hashtags, and viciously opinionated factions explode across the internet, providing ample content with which to pass the time between episodes, or even during ad breaks. The producers encourage this interaction, with the Love Island Twitter and Instagram accounts updating frequently to note key developments, and the voting portion of the show being entirely based within a downloadable app. The essence of experiencing this immensely popular show relies on a shared viewing event – even if the people you are sharing it with are situated miles away.

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‘Sharp Objects’ Recap: Ripe

TW: Self Harm, Alcoholism, Sexual Assault

“Shit, still in Wind Gap,” Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) mutters as he wakes up in his sweltering hotel room. Yes, Willis, we are still in Wind Gap and we’re now halfway through Sharp Objects. The fourth episode in the series is a kick to the face, addressing sexual assault, sexual tension, and the festering pain of the Preaker-Crellin family.

Adora is still whimpering about her hand, which she cut while trimming her roses. The small flesh wound is now being used as an excuse to have her husband, Alan, cut her breakfast and to cancel her social engagements. This means Camille must go meet Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins) and friends alone. The older women are just as gossip-focused as the rest of the town; No one is safe from their sharp tongues. 

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Elizabeth Perkins in Sharp Objects (2018)

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Searching the Ashes: Post-War Scepticism in Christian Petzold’s ‘Phoenix’

This essay is by our guest writer, Harrison Hughes.

When it comes to capturing the complexities of human relationships, there are few directors as bold and profound as Christian Petzold. Born in Hilden, Germany in 1960, Petzold graduated from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin in the mid ‘90s with his debut feature Politinnen (1995). Released on German television to critical acclaim, Politinnen depicts the close relationship between two working women as they drive across Germany selling cosmetics. Although distant in age, the two women bond over their mutual exploitation and grow closer as they navigate the German landscape. With Politinnen, Petzold establishes his cinematic approach to human relationships and interactions as they develop and unfold on screen. Jump forward 19 years and nine films later, Petzold directs Phoenix (2014), his most ambitious and successful work to date.

Set in the rubble of post-war Berlin, Phoenix explores similar themes to Petzold’s early films such as the confusion of identity and the uncertainty of love, but with a much more ominous tone. The second film in his self-proclaimed “Love in Times of Oppressive Systems” trilogy, Phoenix, is not so much about love, but the distrust that surrounds it. In the wake of WW2 and its horrors, post-war society was afflicted with a great scepticism that haunted the bombed-out city streets like a spectral reminder. From religion and politics to modern civilisation and the nature of mankind, everything was questioned, and nothing remained the same. Phoenix explores this scepticism on an individual level by questioning the extent to which we can truly know ourselves, the world, and the ones we love.

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Criterion Month: Breathless and the Anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl

This essay is by our guest writer, Shea Vassar. 

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the cute and quirky love interest that skips around in films that feature moody men who long to escape their current mundane lives. This archetype has existed since the beginning of cinematic history, but did not receive a proper title until Nathan Rabin’s 2004 review of Elizabethtown (Rabin, 2007). Rabin says that “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Though he later apologized for coining the term, Rabin was critiquing the one-dimensional female characters that are constantly displayed in the movies (Rabin, 2014). Many viewers enjoy the whimsical, fairy-like girls that seem to skip around due to their unexplainable amount of confidence. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl lacks motivation, significant or human-like flaws, and the ability to grow past their state of being simply adorable.

Many female characters that seem a bit out of the ordinary by dressing with a unique sense of style or reading a certain poet wrongly receive the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label. Sadly, viewers have grown used to seeing underdeveloped female characters who are only there to propel forward the male protagonist. This is where Breathless differs. Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, displays the Manic Pixie Dream Girl aesthetic: her blonde hair is cut in a short pixie style and she studies journalism at the Sorbonne. She also enjoys talking of romanticism and philosophy and her American status just adds to her appeal. But Patricia is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

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