LOGAN: The Duality of Brutality

With a perturbed groan, James wakes up to the clangs and exclamations of an uninvited clamor. He stumbles out of the car, swearing under his breath as he does, to unwelcome guests – someone’s trying to steal his rims again. He tries diplomacy; perhaps these men, crude as they appear, can be reasoned with, firmly yet politely deterred from his path. They laugh, and proceed to pump a few ounces of lead in his chest. With an exasperated sigh – born of general weariness, and the repetitious nature of what he’s about to do – James rises.

Normally, the wounds would’ve healed by now, and he’d have sliced their throats and severed their limbs far sooner. But he’s older now, and nothing works as fast as it used to; a half-hearted stumble will have to suffice. He tries diplomacy once more – no dice. These men don’t know who they’ve chosen to trifle with tonight; had they educated themselves on the weapons that reside between his knuckles, perhaps they would’ve chosen another car. He doesn’t want to bring out the claws again, but they’ve left him no choice.

Logan (2017) – source: IMDb

With 2017’s Logan, a masterful deconstruction of the hero and the mythological foundations on which they’re built, James Mangold and co. delivered unto the world one of cinema’s finest offerings to date in the CBM sub-genre. Hot on the heels of Deadpool‘s record-breaking exercise in R-rated trailblazing, The Wolverine was finally awarded the platform to slice and dice as his creators would have intended. However, there was a catch – Hugh Jackman’s latest foray into the personality of James Howlett would double as his farewell, a reveal that broke hearts and invoked tears around the world. Over the seventeen years and nine feature-length films Jackman had assumed the mantle of Wolverine, the line separating the personalities grew more foggy with each new expedition, until the two men eventually morphed into a shared identity; in other words, Hugh Jackman and The Wolverine are inseparable.

Logan‘s arrival to the silver screen was a touchdown of kaleidoscopic implications; not only would audiences be treated to one hell of a victory lap in Hugh Jackman’s final outing as the snarling meta-human, but they would finally receive a grisly limb-slasher that comic enthusiasts had both come to adore, and primarily associate with the character. However, that doesn’t mean James Mangold’s exercises in jaw-clenching gore are purely theater. While his opus can assuredly be satisfactorily consumed at face value, one simple choice, paramount in thematic relevance, elevates this redemptive odyssey from an eternally re-watchable action romp, to that of a deeply evocative character study, rivalling that of PTA’s There Will Be Blood and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler.

Logan (2017) – source: IMDb

In a thematic checkmate of subtle brilliance, Mangold does away with the X-Men‘s tendency to glorify Wolverine’s iconic snikt!, and instead opts for demonizing the auditory cue for destruction altogether. Whereas the appearance of Adamantium is generally posed as an avenue for eventual victory, Logan instead posits that its cameos merely delay the inevitable, often inviting further physical decay and misfortune on the characters’ travels to Eden. Such is the tragic poetry of the narrative — while its eventualities are all achieved organically, they all feel predetermined.

For the sake of dispelling analogous opacity, I harken back to Revenge of the Sith, particularly the saga-defining duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. By that point in the film, the viewer knows what must happen in order for A New Hope to be canonically plausible: the infant Sith must fall to his former mentor, giving way to his transition into the masked menace we all know and loathe. Likewise, every grunt, swear and perforation uttered and executed by Logan inches him even closer to demise. The film opens on a disgruntled has-been living on borrowed time, and its conclusion sees The Reaper cashing in on his negative balance – if you ask me, cinema doesn’t get more Shakespearean than that.

In the wake of Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox – a finalization of which sent the film world spinning and set my Twitter timeline ablaze – it’s tough to know whether or not we may ever see a film quite like Logan again. After all, the almighty Mouse has a proclivity for softening up his properties to maximize potential turnouts; here’s to hoping the future proves me wrong.

UNICORN STORE: Being Yourself Isn’t Something You Have to Give Up

Brie Larson’s feature-length directorial debut has been long anticipated. First premiering at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, Netflix only picked up the distribution rights to Unicorn Store in January 2019. The film follows Kit (Larson), a failed artist who moves back in with her parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford), and gets a job at a temp agency after feeling like a disappointment. Kit starts receiving mysterious letters from The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), inviting her to The Store which sells “what you need“. He offers Kit the chance to fulfill her childhood dream of owning a real unicorn.

Unicorn Store, written by newcomer Samantha McIntyre, offers an original and bizarre script which likely wouldn’t have been made without the interest from Larson. It’s a realistic portrayal of a struggling young adult mixed in with elements of pure fantasy. This combination doesn’t always work, but it makes for a fun and quirky watch. Unlikely to resonate with older people, the film speaks mostly to millennials who feel lost during their transition from college student to fully functioning adult.

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Unicorn Store (2017) – source: Netflix

After failing art school, we see Kit laying on the couch, watching television all day and feeling sorry for herself. She catches advertisements that highlight exactly how she feels: “You don’t want to be a great disappointment, do you?” the advert teases. This is an all too familiar feeling for many, which inspires Kit to get a mundane office job. Sadly, she packs away any remains of her exuberant personality, including her teddy bears (who she asks “You guys still like me, right?“) and her colorful, eccentric clothing.

Kit’s personality usually oozes out of her, but the following morning she appears in front of her camp counselor parents wearing a grey suit. She announces that she’ll be having “Grapefruit, flax-seeds and coffee” for breakfast. It’s satirical of real life and when her dad reveals that she doesn’t like coffee, she says: “That was old Kit and she didn’t try hard enough to like things that are disgusting.” This is a fun but sad piece of dialogue as it offers insight into how people view adulthood. Doing things you don’t like is often said to be part of life, but for those who feel like they cannot possibly cope in a dull, dead-end job, it can feel disheartening. Maybe you’re just not trying hard enough to like it? 

Even at her temp job, Kit can’t fully suppress her inner child when she starts photocopying her hand into black and white scans, instead of the pastel colors she’s used to. When her boss asks what her long-term goals are, she replies: “Uh, I would like to not be a great disappointment,” echoing what the television told her. Before she has time to really grow up, she receives a mysterious letter from The Salesman.

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Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Unicorn Store (2017) – source: Netflix

Jackson is great in his role as the enigmatic salesman. When we first see him, he’s wearing a bright pink suit with glasses to match – definitely attire that Kit would approve of. He seems like the prefect balance of childish and mature, as he owns a business but still declares his love for ice cream. He’s everything that appeals to Kit. In an interview with USA Today, Jackson revealed that he “kind of begged [Larson] to be in the movie” and he definitely delivers.

In order to get a unicorn, Kit has to prove she’s ready by completing three tasks. The Salesman tells her she needs to make a home, offer unconditional love and also provide a positive living environment (which includes patching things up with her parents). Even though these are the prerequisites for owning a unicorn, they also serve as Kit’s transition into adulthood as she learns about having real responsibilities and working towards a goal.

The film doesn’t feel the need to always be on Kit’s side as she goes on her character journey. This is seen through her interactions with her parents and Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), her love interest, who she hires to build her unicorn’s stable. Either unwilling or unable to grow up, Kit often doesn’t appreciate her parents and treats them akin to a how a moody teenager would. At one point, she says “I don’t know how to be a grownup,” and this is partly because she still sees herself a disappointment in their eyes. 

Virgil can also see that Kit tends to be living inside her own bubble most of the time, which fits perfectly with the coming-of-age themes that Unicorn Store explores. It sucks when you can’t do something you really want to do, and in Kit’s case it was being an artist and living life outside of the box. Confined to her office job, she is still determined to work hard in order to get her unicorn; a magical creature who will love her forever.

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Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack in Unicorn Store (2017) – Source: Netflix

The script is a mixture of strong and weak moments, but still remains entertaining throughout. The cast is one of the film’s main attractions and it’s unlikely Unicorn Store would’ve worked so well without them and Larson’s vision as a director. They all deserved better material to work with, but they each excel with what they’ve been given. Larson especially brings Kit’s colorful and demanding personality to life, whilst Cusack and Whitford are absolute treasures. Athie is also another highlight with his character’s more muted personality balancing out Kit’s.

Unicorn Store has a lot of heart and many important messages, which work well if you don’t over-think them. The most striking lesson is delivered by Kit’s mum who tells her: “The most grownup thing you can do is fail at things you really care about,” which is an extremely comforting takeaway. It’s reassuring to know that being yourself isn’t something you have to give up in order to be an adult: it’s just about finding balance and not being afraid to fail and try again, which is exactly what Kit realizes at the end.

Unicorn Store is currently available to stream on Netflix.

Top 10 Modern Scream Queens

The term ‘Scream Queen’ refers to actresses who are associated with the horror genre, either through recurring roles or one significant performance. Jamie Lee Curtis is regularly regarded as the ultimate Scream Queen and is usually who people first think of when they hear the term. Known mostly for her role as Laurie Strode in the Halloween franchise, Curtis has appeared in countless horror films since the 70s and has more than earned her title her reigning Scream Queen.

Having been around during the transition from silent film to ‘talkies’, Fay Wray is often credited with being the first ever Scream Queen. Her character in King Kong in 1933 spent a good portion of the film shrieking in terror, which has become a staple of the trope (but isn’t a requirement). Barbara Steele is also another example of an earlier Scream Queen, known for starring in many giallo films during the 60s and 70s, including Mario Bava’s classic, Black Sunday.

The 70s through to the early 80s saw the rise of the slasher sub-genre, which is a key period for Scream Queens. Olivia Hussey became one through her portrayal of Jess Bradford in Black Christmas, which is one of the films credited with the creation of the genre alongside Halloween. After Halloween, Curtis continued into the 80s starring in films like The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train (all from 1980). Not to mention Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street, which launched her career as a Scream Queen.

The resurrection of the slasher film came with Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996, which was self-aware of horror film tropes (much like his Elm Street series). This gave Neve Campbell the title of Scream Queen with her notable performance as Sidney Prescott. But what about today? Whilst slasher films aren’t as popular, the horror genre is still thriving across both film and television. Let’s take a look at the most noteworthy Scream Queens of the current decade.

SARAH PAULSON

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American Horror Story: Roanoke (2016) – source: IMDb

Although she began acting in the mid-90s, Sarah Paulson didn’t become a Scream Queen until she started appearing in Ryan Murphy’s highly successful anthology series, American Horror Story. Paulson began as a guest star in the first season, but was bumped up to series regular from season two onward. With eight seasons so far, Paulson is known for shrieking loudly in every single one, along with portraying some of the series’ most iconic characters.

Fan favourites include Lana Winters (AHS: Asylum), a journalist who was committed to an asylum in the 60s for being a lesbian, and Cordelia Foxx (AHS: Coven), a powerful witch who runs an academy for other witches. Paulson has also started branching out into film, having appeared in Netflix’s horror Bird Box alongside Sandra Bullock.

CHLOË GRACE MORETZ

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Carrie (2013) – source: IMDb

Chloë Grace Moretz was only 11-years-old when she appeared in her first horror film, the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror. She has continued to star in popular horror remakes such as Let Me In, Carrie, and Suspiria. She has also appeared in other horrors in-between, all of which have given her a strong association with the genre.

Whilst not the lead, Moretz portrayed Patricia Hinge in the Suspiria remake, and her role has been well received. Her latest film, Greta, is a psychological thriller which sees Isabelle Huppert’s character become obsessed with hers. Moretz is also voicing Wednesday Addams in an upcoming animated film based on the Addams Family comics. The Addams Family is set to be released in October 2019.

KATHARINE ISABELLE

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American Mary (2012) – source: IMDb

Katharine Isabelle first gained popularity as the titular character in Ginger Snaps, which has a steady cult following. She went on to star in more horror films such as Carrie, Freddy vs. Jason and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. Isabelle has also made many guest appearances in television, such as Hannibal and Supernatural over the years.

Aside from Ginger Snaps, Isabelle’s most striking role is as Mary Mason in American Mary, which was written and directed by the Soska Sisters. Mary is a medical school student who dreams of becoming a surgeon. She struggles financially and starts performing extreme body modification surgeries to make ends meet. Isabelle currently stars in Netflix’s horror series The Order.

VERA FARMIGA

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The Conjuring 2 (2016) – source: IMDb

Vera Farmiga has been acting for over twenty years, but has only gained prominence in the horror genre within the last six years or so. Whilst appearing in Joshua and Orphan, Farmiga is more known for her portrayals of Norma Bates in the series Bates Motel and Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring film franchise, both of which began in 2013.

Farmiga will reprise her role as Lorraine Warren, alongside Patrick Wilson as her husband Ed, in Annabelle Comes Home, which will be released this summer. Their characters are based on the real life paranormal investigators of the same name, and the role has led to Farmiga becoming a beloved modern Scream Queen.

TAISSA FARMIGA

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American Horror Story (2011) – source: IMDb

Having been in four seasons of American Horror Story, Taissa Farmiga is also becoming associated with the horror genre. She has gone on to star in The Final Girls and The Nun, a film within The Conjuring film universe which stars her older sister, Vera Farmiga.

Farmiga currently has a role in the 2018 film We Have Always Lived in the Castle, based on the novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. She will also appear in an episode of upcoming series, The Twilight Zone, hosted by Jordan Peele. It would be great to see her excel further as an actress and follow in her sister’s footsteps as a Scream Queen, but in her own right.

OLIVIA COOKE

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Bates Motel (2011) – source: IMDb

Whilst Olivia Cooke said she doesn’t want to be typecast as a Scream Queen (“You do one horror movie and you’re the scream queen and you’re like ‘No I’m not”), it’s hard to not include her as she’s done a great job in the horror genre. She has appeared in The Quiet Ones, Ouija and The Limehouse Golem.

However, Cooke’s most notable roles are as Emma Decody in Bates Motel from 2013 – 2017, and Amanda in Thoroughbreds, a dark comedy horror which has been well received. Cooke’s upcoming roles are not of the horror genre, but it would be great to see her return in the future and not be put off by her aversion to type-casting.

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY

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Thoroughbreds (2017) – source: Vulture

Having starred alongside Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbreds, Anya Taylor-Joy also doesn’t want to be typecast (“It’s difficult to avoid the box, because even if you’re doing alternative, kooky things you’re still in the alternative quirky box”). However, she has quite the impressive filmography, especially having received praise as Thomasin in The Witch.

Taylor-Joy has also appeared in Morgan and portrayed Casey Cooke in both Split and Glass. With quite a lot of projects coming up, her next horror is The New Mutants, which belongs to the X-Men franchise. Taylor-Joy portrays Illyana, a Russian mutant with sorcery powers. As a promising young actress, she’s also down to star in an upcoming remake of Nosferatu.

EMMA ROBERTS

emma roberts
Scream (2011) – source: IMDb

Emma Roberts has been acting since she was around 10-years-old and is attached to many coming-of-age projects. However, she eventually branched out into the horror genre starting with her role in Scream 4 alongside Neve Campbell. In 2013, Roberts began appearing in American Horror Story as bitchy witch Madison Montgomery, as well as starring in The Blackcoat’s Daughter’s (also known as February) in 2015.

Roberts further proved herself as a Scream Queen when she was cast in a comedy horror series, aptly titled Scream Queens, and starred in it from 2015 – 2016. The series was a satirical celebration of the slasher genre and Scream Queen trope, with Roberts portraying Chanel, head girl in a sorority house that is targeted by a serial killer. Jamie Lee Curtis also starred as the university’s Dean.

LULU WILSON

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The Haunting of Hill House (2018) – source: IMDb

Lulu Wilson is a very notable child actress who is known for her roles in well received horrors. She has appeared in Deliver Us from Evil, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation. Wilson also appeared as Young Shirley in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which has led to even more well deserved recognition.

Being a very talented actress has given Wilson the Scream Queen title at only 12-years-old. Hopefully she will continue to progress well with her career and still choose to appear in various roles across the horror genre. She definitely has a promising future ahead of her.

JESSICA ROTHE

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Happy Death Day (2017) – source: IMDb

Jessica Rothe hasn’t appeared in many horror films, but she has gained attention with her outstanding performance as Theresa “Tree” Gelbman in Happy Death Day. Luckily, we got to see more of her in a sequel to the film earlier this year. Rothe’s performance is entertaining and she fully earns the title of a Screen Queen.

Happy Death Day follows the life of Tree who gets murdered on her birthday and finds herself trapped in a Groundhog Day time-loop. She’s destined to relive the same day over and over again until she finds out who her killer is and ultimately puts a stop to her death. The black comedy slasher is a lot of fun and is not to be taken too seriously. Let’s hope she continues to star in more horror films!

The Enduring Brilliance of THE SOCIAL NETWORK

How does a billionaire get his start?

According to Aaron Sorkin, he gets his start by being verbally eviscerated by his girlfriend in a bar after insulting her family, her intelligence, and later, in private (as private as one’s LiveJournal can be), her bra size. When we first meet a college-aged Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), he puts his foot in his mouth at least four times throughout a conversation with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), until she finally gets fed up.

You are probably going to be a very successful computer person,” she says, leaning in close. “But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true,” She pauses. “It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg in the opening scene of The Social Network (2010) source: IMDb

And thus, Facebook is born. Well, maybe not exactly. But, as Sorkin writes in the screenplay for David Fincher’s film The Social Network, it lights a fuse. What begins as a night out with his girlfriend ends with a gloriously pissed off Mark Zuckerberg sitting at his computer, drinking beer, talking smack on the Internet, and starting FaceMash — a website that takes the directories of student photos from dormitories on the Harvard University campus, picks out the women, and puts them into an algorithm that allows the website’s users to choose between two and decide who’s hotter. It’s gross and sexist, and it’s our first impression of the man whose life and decisions we’re going to be following for the next two hours.

So what makes this story about fictionalized billionaires so great?

It’s a combination of Aaron Sorkin’s impeccably written screenplay, and, of course, the performances by the lead cast. The whole cast is fantastic, including Armie Hammer’s turn as Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, two twins who were members of the Harvard elite that sue Mark for stealing their idea for Facebook. However, Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield elevate the already brilliant script to new heights with nuanced portrayals of their real-life counterparts. Additionally, I would be remiss not to credit David Fincher’s direction for the success of the film, but his directing techniques could fill up another essay! It’s not easy to make a film about Facebook exciting, but The Social Network is a staple of the 2010s, and after many re-watches, it’s not difficult to see why.

The Screenplay

Sorkin is famous for his dialogue. He has a signature style — dubbed “Sorkinese” — that works to convey complex thoughts in rapid-fire conversation. It’s snappy, repetitive, and it has an almost musical cadence. We see this immediately in the now-iconic first scene of the film when Mark and Erica are at the bar. The voice-over begins before the picture comes through, with Mark stating that there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States, and Erica commenting that that can’t possibly be true.

But here’s my question,” Mark says. “How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got a 1600 on their SATs?” Immediately, we see that Mark’s main goal is to distinguish himself from the crowd — and we learn in the next few lines that he wants to do so by being a part of one of Harvard’s exclusive and prestigious “final clubs”.

Why are these first few lines important? Because we get the chance to see Mark in one of his purest forms, and it happens within the opening seconds of the film. He’s thinking quickly, leaving Erica behind (making her look slower and less intelligent by association), but most notably, he’s thinking about ways to climb his way to the top. Later in the conversation, when Erica asks which final club is easiest to get accepted into, Mark takes immediate offense, believing that she meant something she didn’t.

This is where things start to go downhill. Mark insults Erica by saying that if he were a part of a final club, he could “introduce her to people she wouldn’t normally have a chance to meet,” and then implies she isn’t intelligent by insulting her college. Erica puts it quite succinctly as she breaks up with him, saying that “dating you is like dating a stair-master”. But this allows the audience to realize a couple of things.

First, Mark Zuckerberg is obsessed with being known — most importantly, being known in an elite sphere. Secondly, we see that he is undeniably intelligent. His brain moves fast (and Eisenberg’s brain must move just as quickly in order to keep up with Sorkin dialogue), and he doesn’t care about leaving people behind. Third, we see that he’s rather socially awkward. He’s not quite shy (like the real Zuckerberg), but rather, his grim determination to be the best results in missed social cues and unintended (or maybe not so unintended) malice. This introductory scene makes it clear to the audience that it feels impossible to hold a conversation him. And finally, it becomes obvious that he takes things personally. Erica’s “you’re an asshole” zinger becomes the catalyst for the events of the rest of the film. Mark’s frenetic anger marches him back to campus, into his dorm, and sends him spiraling into the blissful permanence of the Internet.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010) – source: IMDb

All of this character introduction, motivation, and discovery occurs within the first ten pages of Sorkin’s screenplay — what boils down to the first five and a half minutes of the film. The rest of the script follows suit, with quick, repeating dialogue; characters speaking over each other; and the insertions of verbal tics like “um” and “y’knows” to create authenticity. Mark is a complex character, but we see most of his desires and fears on display during the first scene, a testament to both Sorkin’s script and to Eisenberg’s portrayal of a complicated man.

Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg

Sorkin’s script is incredible on its own, no doubt about it. But it’s the performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield that contribute to the film’s excellence.

Eisenberg plays the role of Mark with an extreme single mindedness, something that many critics of the film have said isn’t authentic. According to people who knew him, the real Harvard-era Mark Zuckerberg was quiet and shy, less likely to fabricate a story in the Harvard Crimson about his best friend engaging in the dubious activity of chicken cannibalism. But the hard-edged condescension to Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark is what makes his character so engaging and, at times, infuriating.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010) source: IMDb

Mark does a good job of hiding his insecurity. When his best friend Eduardo tells him excitedly that he’s been invited to join The Phoenix, a final club, Mark barely reacts, seemingly as a coping mechanism to hide his jealousy. As we learned in that first scene, Mark wants nothing more than to be a part of a final club himself, and on some level (as we find out later in the film) he views it as a personal slight that Eduardo was chosen instead of him. The closest he comes to displaying vulnerability is when he approaches Erica at a club and tries to…apologize? Explain? It’s unclear, because Erica doesn’t let him get that far. She has no interest in hearing what he has to say (“Good luck with your video game,” she says as he leaves), and Mark immediately turns around and begins explaining to Eduardo how he intends to expand Facebook to other schools. By this point, it’s clear that working on Facebook is the one thing that he thinks will help him achieve his goal of making something of himself.

The final scene of Mark, post-deposition, resignedly pressing refresh on Erica’s Facebook page to see if she accepted his friend request further exemplifies his insecurity. Not only is this scene a full-circle moment (“I don’t want to be friends,” Mark says when they break up during the opening scene), it’s a rare peek behind the curtain at Mark’s inner thoughts. Throughout the deposition process, Mark considers the entire ordeal to be beneath him, frequently making questions asked of him more difficult than they need to be and punctuating his answers with sarcasm and condescension. But deep down, nearly six years later, Mark still cares about what Erica thinks of him. He slumps in his chair as he clicks refresh on Erica’s page over and over and over again, and it’s remarkably humanizing. After all, who among us hasn’t done the same thing?

Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin

In contrast to Eisenberg’s self-serving Mark, Andrew Garfield portrays Mark’s best friend Eduardo with a charming and politely self-effacing manner. He’s a nice boy who wears suits every day, goes all in on Mark’s idea for Facebook without knowing if it will succeed, and somehow made $300,000 betting on oil prices. He is, to put it simply, the kind of man I would take home to my parents. Eduardo trusts Mark because they’re best friends; he doesn’t have a reason not to.

Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network (2010) – source: IMDb

We begin to see hints of Eduardo’s frustration after the introduction of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, who weasels his way into the place where Mark’s heart would be and, eventually, into the business end of Facebook. After all, it’s Eduardo’s name on the Facebook masthead with Mark’s, not Sean’s; Eduardo is the one who fronted Mark the money, who he confided in, who rode the subway fourteen hours a day looking for advertisers. Little by little, the audience’s sympathy for Eduardo rockets to high-gear, until finally, Eduardo is standing in the pouring rain outside the Palo Alto house that Facebook is using in place of an office — all because Mark forgot to pick him up from the airport.

So it makes sense, on some level, that Eduardo freezes Facebook’s accounts. The audience understands that he’s hurt and angry, and we feel a little hurt and angry on his behalf. We feel badly for Eduardo because he’s being treated like he’s disposable, but most of all, we want Mark to wise up and realize that he’ll never have the same thing with Sean that he does with Eduardo. To us, it’s not about the business and it’s not about the money; it’s about the friendship.

Garfield is on this journey with us, too. He’s more emotionally available for the audience to connect with, because we sympathize with the vulnerable. As the film switches from Facebook’s beginnings to the deposition room, we see him go from a young and intelligent college student to a grown man with an unyielding mission, and it’s a privilege to watch.

I was your only friend. You had one friend.

On the night of Facebook’s “millionth-member” party, Eduardo storms through the company’s headquarters (because Facebook has headquarters now, instead of a thinly veiled excuse for a frat house) to Mark’s desk after learning that his shares in the company have been reduced to point zero three percent and smashes Mark’s computer to the floor. Garfield plays Eduardo’s rage impeccably; a mixture of fury, hurt, and above all, betrayal.

Tell me this isn’t about me getting into the Phoenix,” Eduardo says. Mark doesn’t reply, but Eduardo has his answer. He deduces that Mark fabricated the chicken cannibalism story, too. “You better lawyer up, asshole,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. “Because I’m not coming back for thirty percent. I’m coming back for everything.

In a cruel twist of irony, Mark and Eduardo’s relationship becomes irreparable, just as Mark’s professional life is booming. As Facebook explodes in popularity, uniting people as “friends” across the globe, Mark Zuckerberg is officially friendless. Both he and Eduardo grow up during this scene; Mark comes to the realization that having business cards that say “I’m CEO, bitch” comes with a cost, and Eduardo is no longer the man who would drop everything to help his best friend.

“Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.”

Jesse Eisenberg in the final scene of the film – source: IMDb

The drama that unfolds onscreen is exaggerated, undoubtedly. But the fact of the matter is that Sorkin wrote a script about the creation of the world’s largest social networking site that was less about the actual business and more about the complicated relationship between two men caught in the middle of a tangled web; one desperate for renown, the other just trying to do right by his friend. Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield do an incredible job making their audience invest everything in their relationship, which is why the fallout is so heartbreaking. We learn to care about these fictionalized future billionaires and wonder why they can’t care more about each other.

The last words of the film are said by law associate Marilyn Delpy (Rashida Jones) after the deposition is finished. “You’re not an asshole, Mark,” she says, one foot out the door, “You’re just trying so hard to be.” She leaves, and Mark is fittingly alone as the film ends, the words “Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world” appearing on the screen as he hits refresh on Erica Albright’s Facebook page again, and again, and again.

My Top 5 Favorite Comfort Films

Home is undefinable. It’s not a place, not even a feeling, but a million different things at once. Built upon a mosaic of memories, thoughts, emotions and ideals, it is unique to every single individual, and endures and transforms with them throughout their life. It’s dually impermanent and ineradicable, something that can manifest in friends, family, and art – specifically, for me, in films. My home lies in films rendered through battered DVDs re-watched countless times in my childhood, films that make me laugh till my lungs creak and collapse, and films that melt my heart into a puddle of emotion. Some are objectively ridiculous, others genuinely splendid, but above all – they bring me ease and comfort like no other films I’ve seen.

5.) Shrek

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Shrek (2001) – source: DreamWorks Pictures

I managed to memorize the first few verses of All Star by Smash Mouth (famously featured in the opening credits) purely by re-watching this film over and over in the third grade. That’s how obsessive I was, and for good reason. Yes, subjectively, it’s a really great time, but it’s also an excellently layered (wink-wink) and structured film. I clung onto the satirical fantasy swarming this film with utter joy when I was younger, gleefully basking in Princess Fiona’s brash and beautiful personality, and enraptured by the unique romance completely separate of the Disney films that were dominating most childhoods.

Combined with the film’s body positive message, the central romance impressed upon me the concept of true, faceless, unconditional love that other films like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid lacked greatly. The fact that Fiona’s character development is equal with Shrek’s and that she’s given ample time to shine (despite not being the film’s titular character) also made a huge impression on me. There’s been plenty of ridicule over the past few years, but all memes aside – Shrek was the cornerstone of my childhood, and a film that kind of changed my life. I’m reminded of that with every wonderfully familiar re-watch.

4.) I Love You, Man

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I Love You, Man (2009) – source: DreamWorks Pictures

This film is a more recent addition to my mental “Comfort Films” catalog, but nevertheless one of my favorites. The soundtrack is killer, the L.A. setting is warmly immersive, and above all Jason Segel and Paul Rudd’s chemistry is off the charts. I adore films with genuine portrayals of male friendship, that don’t shy away or throw a “no homo” at platonic male intimacy. The friendship in this film is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The humor, which drives Segel and Rudd’s chemistry, is top-notch as well. It thrives off of the awkwardness of situations as well as the genuine camaraderie between the two leads. It’s also more low-key than most gross-out mainstream comedies, which may be why it’s not as widely recognized and loved. I can’t exactly pinpoint exactly what made me fall in love with the film – maybe it was the scene with Paul Rudd screaming under the Venice boardwalk while Vampire Weekend plays in the background – but I found myself re-watching it over and over just within the last summer. It’s absolutely addictive, an instant serotonin injection, a spoonful of warmth. Simply put: I love I Love You, Man.

3.) Twilight

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Twilight (2008) – source: Summit Entertainment

Blind scorn is what kept me away from truly watching and enjoying this film when I was younger, due to the intense criticism of the story and fandom I was surrounded by. But the recent Twilight Renaissance, in which there was an online resurgence of appreciation for the film series, gave me the chance to revisit it with a new perspective – and I became hooked. I finally understood why the large fan base for the amusingly melodramatic film series has persisted, and though all the installments are entertaining in their own right, my appreciation was strongest for the first film. Completely unique, it opens up the series and sets a high bar that the films succeeding it fail to reach – largely thanks to Catherine Hardwicke’s female perspective lending an appropriate slant on the story.

The ridiculous dialogue and acting, moody setting, fantastic soundtrack and score (shout out to Carter Burwell), and elaborate story-line meld in a delightfully kitschy way, all awash in blue-tone color grading. It’s become a pop culture landmark for good reason, with instantly recognizable scenes like Edward’s vampire reveal (“I know what you are.” “Say it.”) and the iconic baseball scene, as well as an overwhelmingly 2000s feel that evokes strong nostalgia now. It’s compelling, unique, and curiously enjoyable in a way I can’t put into words. But I find myself continually falling back into re-watches without complain, and I doubt that will change anytime soon.

2.) Kick-Ass

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Kick-Ass (2010) – source: Universal Pictures

I struggle to remember a time before this film, when I wasn’t swept away by the gloriously gory story of Dave Lizewski and his alter-ego, Kick-Ass. Uniquely intimate (in light of the current Marvel and DC films ruling the superhero genre), the film is an underdog tale rife with satire and ridiculousness – but with the self-awareness to make up for it. It poses the question: “why hasn’t a truly average person become a superhero?” and then answers it with rapid-fire violence and a hell of a lot of style. It oozes cool in every sense, and is absolutely entrancing. 

Not only was it my introduction to Matt Vaughn’s distinct direction, but it opened my eyes to the magic of editing in film, and what brilliant action movies look and sound like. It was the catalyst for the comics (primarily Marvel) affair I had throughout middle school, and though it’s a phase long behind me, it’s definitely shaped me into the person I am today. It encapsulates my middle school experience, an era that, though embarrassing and slightly painful to reminisce on, was the start of me carving out my own identity. The role that Kick-Ass has played in that journey is irreplaceable, and I will continue to revisit the film throughout my life to give thanks for what it has given me, and rejoice in the action-packed wonder that it is.

1.) Frances Ha

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Frances Ha (2013) – source: IFC Films

The perfect comfort film. A plot-less, meandering tale clocking in at a brisk 86 minutes, that asks very little of its viewer and offers in abundance. I can’t recall precisely how many teary-eyed and exhaustion inspired re-watches I’ve had with this film, because it has turned into something I reach for during my lowest of lows. It’s re-assuring in its solid black and white color grading and in Frances’s messy and careless disposition. She finds beauty in the broken, the crooked and strange, and asks us to do the same. “I like things that look like mistakes,” she says at one point, in reference to her emotionally charged and gorgeously clumsy choreography piece. She’s a bright and hyper soul, rarely in the same setting for more than 5 minutes onscreen. The narrative drift is grounded due to her, and instead of large jumps from Sacramento to NYC to Paris feeling alienating, it just feels like a new playground for Frances. A second home.

This comfort and openness that Frances emanates is something I was able to absorb readily during my first watch, and I was shocked to feel it intensify during every following viewing experience. I love each re-watch more than the last, and that’s not something I can say for many films. It’s the way that Frances adapts through mistakes with ease, and proffers that sense of ease to everyone she comes in contact with that has kept me coming back again and again. It drifts through the screen as well, as if Frances herself is embracing the audience. It heals me no matter how broken I am, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. This film is my home.

Sam’s Top 5 New Watches of March

It’s exhausting to love cinema. I already can’t keep up with new releases, let alone the hundreds of movies on streaming services or the thousands upon thousands of films released in the hundred-plus years of cinematic production. On top of all that, with social media like Twitter and Letterboxd making the logging of films into a competitive sport, it sometimes feels depressing if I “only” watch a few new films each month. Sometimes I just want to watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again for the seventh time!

But there is something special about discovering a new film, whether it’s a widely-acclaimed classic I’m finally watching or a little-known gem I stumble across and immediately love. We love cinema because it inspires us and it gives us joy, and no experience quite captures these pleasures that like the first viewing of an instant favorite. The first time we laugh, gasp or cry will forever inflect our repeat viewings or make up the descriptions we tell our friends.

I was inspired to start tracking my favorite new watches of each month by the Letterboxd user Kiki, whose list of her favorites inspired me to make my own. But, as a staff writer at The Simple Cinephile, I also wanted to offer some longer thoughts on my favorite new discoveries of the month. There won’t be any new releases on this list; it’s all about discovering the films from years past that have since become timeless, whether they’re from 2018 or well before I was born. This will be the first of a monthly series, so if you have any suggestions for April, let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Weekend

Weekend (2011) – source: Sundance Selects

Director: Andrew Haigh
Released: 2011
Where I Found It:
Criterion Blu-Ray

I grabbed this disc during Criterion’s half-off sale knowing nothing about the film except that it was a gay version of Before Sunset and was written and directed by the same filmmaker as Lean On Pete, which was one of my underrated favorites from last year. I was completely shocked to discover that Weekend is absolutely, utterly perfect, a tightly wound crystal of a film that immediately vaulted into the top ranks of my all-time favorites. This is possibly one of the best queer films ever made, although this distinction perhaps belies its universal, incandescent beauty.

Weekend is the story of two men, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) who wake up in the same bed after a Friday night drunken hookup. The film follows them over the rest of the weekend that they end up spending together, exploring their fears and desires through brilliantly written and performed dialogue. Gorgeous cinematography makes every scene simultaneously vibrant and dreamy, particularly the steamy sex scenes that are both the most erotic and accurate depictions of gay sex I’ve ever seen in cinema. This film revels in the quotidian beauty Russel and Glen experience together in a perfectly packaged film I cannot recommend highly enough.

Ida

Ida (2013) – source: Solopan

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Released:
2013
Where I Found It:
Kanopy

I know, I just wrote a longer piece about this film. But don’t read my spoiler-ridden article yet if you haven’t yet caught this stunning Oscar winner from Cold War director Pawel Pawlikowski. This film took my breath away and never gave it back, its short run time and formally restrained appearance doing nothing to halt its sheer emotional power. 

Ida is about a young novitiate in 1960’s Poland named Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) who discovers that she is actually Jewish and the child of parents who were killed during the Holocaust. Accompanied by her aunt (Agata Kulesza), Anna/Ida travels the Polish countryside in search of answers about what happened to her family, a search that ultimately becomes an inspection into her own identity. Both lead actresses give powerhouse performances, but it’s the direction, cinematography and editing that make this film a masterpiece. The same team that made Cold War demonstrates their prowess throughout every moment of screen time, from quiet beginning to heartbreaking conclusion.

Faces Places

Faces Places (2017) – source: Le Pacte

Directors: Agnès Varda & JR
Released:
2017
Where I Found It:
Netflix

I watched this film for the first time just hours after learning that Agnes Varda had died. I had previously loved her films Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Beaches of Agnes, but Faces Places, her final film, is probably my favorite one yet. While it’s perhaps more poignant after Varda’s passing, this film is a prime example not just of her film-making talent, but of her immense capacity for compassion and self-reflection that made her an icon to a new generation of film lovers born long after the French New Wave.

Faces Places is ostensibly a collaboration between Varda and the French artist known only as JR that combines photography, public art, and documentary film-making in an utterly unique project. The film follows Varda and JR’s trips throughout the French countryside, where they photograph ordinary people in order to turn them into massive murals. While this project makes up the majority of the film’s run time, it’s also a deeply moving meditation on the meaning of life and how one might approach the end of their time on Earth. The film’s conclusion, in which they attempt to visit New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard, offers a singularly effective moment that is an essential viewing for any fan of New Wave films.

Short Term 12

Short Term 12 (2013) – source: Cinedigm

Director: Destin Cretton
Released:
2013
Where I Found It:
Amazon Prime Video

This film was a quiet indie hit in 2013, but the success of the film’s cast in the following years speaks volumes about the incredible amount of talent packed into it. Brie Larson and Rami Malek have both picked up Oscars since their appearances in Short Term 12, while Lakeith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever shine in roles presaging their star turns in Sorry to Bother You and Booksmart. Director Dustin Cretton has also been tapped to helm a Marvel film in a move that will hopefully bring his sensitive, personal approach to a mainstream franchise that desperately needs it. Although it’s impossible to divorce the film from this context, Short Term 12 also more than stands on its own as a tender study of the exchange between trauma and kindness.

Larson stars as Grace, the director of a short-term foster care facility housing a number of children who are each bearing their own physical and emotional scars. While the film features some of the best young acting of the century, the film focuses on Grace, both in her heartrending moments with the children as well as her complicated personal life. It’s a tough balance between sincerity and saccharine, but the film nimbly navigates its complex subject matter without being trite or pitying.

Gravity

Gravity (2013) – source: Warner Brothers Pictures

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Released:
2013
Where I Found It:
Blu-Ray

We can all just pretend that Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side Oscar is actually for this film, right? That’s what I’m doing, anyway, after finally watching this multiple Oscar winning film from one of my favorite directors. It’s not my favorite Cuarón film by any stretch, but this film is remarkable for both its technical achievement and deft storytelling. I’m generally not a fan of hard sci-fi CGI flicks–sorry, Interstellar die-hards – but Cuarón’s script and Bullock’s performance sold me on this extraterrestrial thriller.

The film opens with Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone spacewalking alongside astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). An inciting incident rapidly arrives in the form of orbital debris that shreds their space shuttle and sends Stone and Kowalski spinning into deep space. While the film’s plot occasionally leans a little too hard into action-adventure tropes, stunning Emmanuel Lubezki cinematography and a flawless soundscape elevate Gravity above typical pulp fare. Bullock’s performance also anchors the film throughout, her incredible range bringing undeniable vigor to the computer-generated imagery.

Honorable Mention:

Birdman (2014, Alejandro Iñarittu); Ivan’s Childhood (1962, Andrei Tarkovsky); My Beautiful Laundrette (1985, Stephen Frears)

Stay tuned to read about Sam’s top 5 new watches of April next month!

Merci Beaucoup, Agnès Varda

The announcement of Agnès Varda’s death last Thursday was news I had been preparing for, considering her tender age of 90, but that did not stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I sat on my bed for a moment, unable to rush out the door despite being late to start my busy day. I felt it was vital to take a moment and remember her joyful, zesty spirit that translated so deeply into her work. Agnès has become a popular person among cinephiles, especially with this generation’s social media participants, who celebrated moments such as when Agnès sent a cardboard cutout of herself to the Academy Awards’ luncheon, but she was more than a cute, little lady. Agnès Varda was a mighty artist who loved life and has inspired many, including myself, to live life to the fullest.

Agnès was no ordinary artist. She was alive for some of the worst atrocities of the century and was the only female participant in arguably one of the most influential film movements since the invention of the medium. Her status of a legend is not just as a director, but as a photographer, documentarian, activist, feminist, cat lover and a friend to all she met. Agnès constantly had a camera ready to capture her own experiences while also admiring images enough to purchase pictures of unknown people, which she then framed and placed on her wall.

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Agnès on the set of Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)source: Ciné-Tamaris

Her admiration for life was a rarity which not only benefited the appearance and tone of her projects, but gave a unique authenticity to the final products. She was compassionate to those she met, giving out love in a way that was remarkably unconditional. Even her works of fiction contain empathy, which makes films such as Cléo de 5 à 7 an iconic work full of trust and charity, making a case to step inside the shoes of the protagonist. There is proof in Jean-Luc Godard appearing in the film without his dark glasses that Agnès was worthy of trust. In every film, she showcased friends and acquaintances and talked about them all like they are her favorite people in the world. I believe that Agnès truly did love the good in the world and was adamant about displaying it.

Agnès’ ability to love also led to her activist work. She did what she could to make the world a more enjoyable place for all those around her. In 1968, while living in Los Angeles, she documented the beginnings of the Black Panther Party and participated in anti-Vietnam rallies. When back in France, she signed her name on the Manifesto of The 343, a document of 343 women that publicly declared they had an abortion, admitting they had broken a law. In film, Agnès is a trailblazer for female directors and filmmakers to be in the industry. She never changed her style or personality for a man, even forfeiting the chance to work in Hollywood after she retaliated when a man pinched her cheek. In her film from 2003, Les plages d’Agnès, she explains that he deserved it. I bet he probably did.

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Jacques et Agnès – source: Elle France

Though Agnès treasured all those who she came in contact with, her main person was obviously Jacques. Her lifetime partner and fellow New Wave director, Jacques Demy, died in 1990 from complications with AIDS. His early death never stopped Agnès from sprinkling his memory into everything she did, like he was a muse from beyond. A few of her projects surrounded Jacques, including Les demoiselles ont eu 25 ans, which is a documentary displaying the behind the scenes footage of his musical masterpiece, and my favorite film, Les demoiselles de Rochefort. The footage collected is a mix of Agnès’ and possibly others who were also on set. There is a moment where Jacques takes off a sweater while explaining something to Catherine Deneuve. Agnès’ explains she knows she captured this moment because only a lover would so delicately catch a subtle moment. I strive to have a love and understanding like that one that existed between these two, that was tender, caring, and unafraid to appreciate the little moments. 

His impact on her life was a true example of love and understanding between two human beings, without gender roles or control that is still too common in relationships today. They raised two wonderful children, both who now work in the film industry, and displayed an understanding and acceptance for the next generation. I know that Agnès is happy to be reunited with her Jacquot.

The world has been around for 4.5 billion years and somehow I got to share the earth with Agnès Varda. Maybe we were never in the same room, or country, or even continent at the same time, but being able to know a world that has been touched by such a strong artist is an honor. She was a trailblazer for women, a representation of true love, and an example of how to live life to the fullest. Merci beaucoup, Agnès Varda.

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Agnès Varda – source: Bobby Doherty/Vulture

HOTEL MUMBAI: A Captivating Thriller In the Heart of India

When making a movie based on a terrorist attack or a tragedy or some combination of the two, the film-makers have to perform a balancing act. They have to balance a compelling story that honors its victims and pay tribute to the events that unfolded. If it goes the wrong way, it could come off as tasteless and exploitative, existing only for thrills and violence for the audience to eat up like empty calories. Hotel Mumbai sometimes steers into the latter category, but for the most part is respectful.

The movie is based on a series of terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai, India in late November 2008. While the attacks in question were in at least a dozen locations, the movie focuses on the events in The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. At the heart of the film is Dev Patel as Arjun, a worker at the hotel. We’re introduced to him as he’s running late for work. We see his pregnant wife and child, and we see he’s dedicated to his job at the Taj, where they say “Guest is God”.

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Hotel Mumbai (2019) – source: Thunder Road Pictures

There are a few significant guests at the hotel that the movie also focuses on. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniandi play a husband and wife on vacation with their infant son, while Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays their nanny. Also in the film is Jason Isaacs as a Russian businessman named Vasili. We’re introduced to his character looking up call girls over the phone loud enough so everyone can hear him describing women.

I was worried going in that most of the film would feature white savior clichés with Hammer and Isaacs serving as the heroes. Thankfully, for most of the film, it’s Patel’s show. I’ve heard rumors about him being the next James Bond if they were going to take the films in a different direction, and this film makes a solid case for the Oscar nominee to take those shoes. He has his share of heroic moments, never wavering in the face of danger and putting the guests ahead of his own safety.

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Hotel Mumbai (2019) – source: Thunder Road Pictures

Two scenes that Patel was in stood out to me that tie into each other very nicely. The first shows him talking to a woman who expressed discomfort at his beard and turban. Instead of complying and taking it off, he shows the woman his family and explains the significance of the turban in his culture, saying how it’s a symbol of honor. The second scene shows him trying to take care of a woman in danger of bleeding out, where he makes a bold move and takes his turban off to apply pressure to her wound.

Hammer and Boniandi are also really good in this movie, showing some solid chemistry even in the face of danger, while Cobham-Hervey is faced with the near impossible task of keeping the baby quiet enough so the terrorists won’t find her. Jason Isaacs, meanwhile, has a nice redemption arc through the movie. He goes from a self-absorbed business man to providing comfort to Boniandi when she and her husband get separated.

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Hotel Mumbai (2019) – source: Thunder Road Pictures

Hotel Mumbai doesn’t come without its shortcomings though. My main complaints lie with the terrorists, who are quick to kill men and women without batting an eye. It isn’t until the third act where we see humanity in one attacker, who hesitates to kill a woman while she’s speaking a verse from the Quran. It also unintentionally comes off as exploitative, holding on shots of bloody bodies or fixating on a TV showing news footage of the attacks unfolding.

I’ve seen my fair share of hostage situation/terrorist attack/based-on-a-true-story thrillers. The high mark for me would be two films of Paul Greengrass (United 93 and Captain Phillips). Anthony Maras’ directorial debut remains a few steps below those two movies but is still entertaining. When all was said and done, 31 hostages lost their lives in the Taj. Around half of that number were staff members who stayed behind.

While not without its faults, Hotel Mumbai pays tribute to their heroic actions while remaining a solid popcorn movie.

PET SEMATARY: A Needless Remake Better Off Left For Dead

Sometimes dead is better.

That iconic line, which some would say single-handedly represents the legacy of Stephen King’s haunting novel Pet Sematary, is a warning which is both literal and metaphorical in nature. In the context of King’s story, it’s a fruitless plea not to give into the worst inclinations of grief and despair, to let the dead stay that way or face the unspeakable consequences. Beyond that, it’s the words of an author who knows there’s little joy in bringing back what’s already in the past.

John Lithgow and Jason Clarke in Pet Sematary (2019) – source: Paramount Pictures

It’s a pity that lesson didn’t resonate with the filmmakers behind the newest adaptation of King’s arguably darkest novel, as they’ve unearthed the story for a pointless, gutless re-imagining that was better off left in the ground. Both an re-interpretation of the novel and a remake of the 1989 film of the same name, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s new Pet Sematary tries to differentiate itself by making asinine changes to the story, hoping the alterations alone are a compelling enough reason to return to the cursed woods of Ludlow, Maine. Countless King-inspired films have made wide-sweeping tweaks to his stories, from Stanley Kubrick’s masterful work in The Shining to recent smash hit It, but those far better movies knew you can’t get by on new story beats alone. You have to capture the twisted heart and soul of King’s prose to make a film adaptation worth it, and few of them fail as flippantly as this one.

The bare bones of the story are all present and accounted for: the Creeds, a picture-perfect family from Boston, moves to the remote Ludlow, Maine so ER surgeon Louis (Jason Clarke), can start a more stress-free job as the head of a local college’s clinic. His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children, Ellie and Gage (Jeté Laurence and twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), aren’t as thrilled about their new home. Rachel is suddenly plagued by flashbacks to a traumatic childhood spent caring for her sister Zelda, whose suffering from spinal meningitis led to a resentment of her healthier sister. Ellie is haunted by the discovery of the titular graveyard, an animal resting place in the woods that elderly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) explains has existed for centuries.

When Ellie’s cat, Church, is hit by one of the speeding trucks that constantly roar past the house, Jud brings Louis to a burial ground beyond the pet cemetery that supposedly brings the dead back to life. Sure enough, Church comes back, but the once loving feline isn’t the same, lashing out at the Creeds and harboring a newfound fondness for hunting. His newly violent nature is a warning sign of the nightmare that’s to come, and soon enough the movie barrels into the cavalcade of horror that made King’s novel so infamous.

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Jeté Laurence in Pet Sematary (2019) – source: Paramount Pictures

There’s a few inherent problems when it comes to bringing Pet Sematary to the screen, and it seems each of them is too tall of a hill for Kölsch and Widmyer to overcome. One lies in creating tension, as a fault of the novel’s now legendary status means you largely already know how the story plays out. When the audience already has an idea of where the story is going, especially in terms of a horror film, it’s key that you be innovative in the build-up to the release of the script’s waiting dread. Kölsch and Widmyer answer that call for novelty with increasingly obvious choices, from opening the film with a slow pan over the aftermath of the climax to a seriously ridiculous overuse of fog machines. There’s just no real sense of atmosphere here, with the film relying on decades-old horror tropes to go through the motions of getting to the more set-piece driven portions of the story.

The changes made to the source material, while meant to breathe new life into this tale of the dead, don’t feel like anything but workarounds for the tricky ugliness of King’s novel. By King’s own admission, this is a bleak, hopeless tale that he was surprised resonated with so many readers. The new elements of the script only cheapen that darkness instead of keying into what made it so successful in the first place, feeling almost like borderline cowardly choices that have the markings of filmmakers too scared of the work they’re bringing to life. Even worse is the fact that the primary change leads to some unintentionally comical bits of poorly directed child acting in a film meant to be deadly serious.

The ground here isn’t entirely sour, as the film at least pulls some great performances out of Clarke and Lithgow. Clarke, an increasingly employed actor who nevertheless can’t seem to find material worthy of his talents, is suitably twitchy here as the increasingly tortured Louis, giving him an emotional core that only bolsters your sympathy for his predicament. Lithgow still manages to conjure up a rousing performance playing a role we’ve seen a thousand times before, serving the story well as the well-intentioned outsider who arguably spurns the nightmare into reality. However, there’s again disappointment in how the relationships between the characters never really go anywhere beyond some routine dialogue.

Pet Sematary is ultimately an exercise in a futility, a needless return to already well-worn material that brings nothing fresh to the table despite the illusion it represents a shocking new take on King’s nastiest piece of work. In a time where original horror continues to thrive, the stale nature of this adaptation makes a case for letting the past stay buried.

THE OA Part 2: Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s Mind-Boggling Masterpiece

You have to pretend to trust me until you actually do.” The protagonist Prairie Johnson implores this of her audience in the very first episode of The OA. She goes on to relay her story of how she lost her sight, regained it, traveled across dimensions and discovered her true nature and self; The Original Angel.

Skip forward three years to The OA: Part 2. Three years in real time that is, as far as the world of the show is concerned it’s been mere seconds between the Part 1 finale and the Part 2 opener. We’ve left OA (Brit Marling) in a state. She was bleeding out, her gunshot wound proving to be fatal. Yet she awakens in the body of a Miss Nina Azarova, the body of herself in a parallel universe, another dimension. You still with me? Maybe, maybe not.

But I’m not here to talk you through the plot of far and away the most inventive and experimental TV show on Netflix, I’ll leave that to the masters of long form storytelling, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. I’m here to explain exactly why The OA is extraordinarily singular in its delivery.

Brit MarlingBrit Marling in The OA: Part 2 (2019) – source: Netflix

The Circles That You Find in the Windmills of Your Mind

Thematically, Part 2 unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle, each episode playing out like a physical puzzle piece. You can imagine yourself turning it around, trying to slot it into the bigger world – or worlds in this case – of The OA.  It’s no coincidence that newcomer Hakim (Kingsley Ben-Adir) inquires of Fola (Zendaya) “Back at the house, the kids were working together, but you say the game doesn’t like that.” to which Fola responds “Yeah, well, ultimately, a puzzle is a conversation between the player and the maker. The puzzle maker is teaching you a new language. How to escape the limits of your own thinking and see things you didn’t know were there.” This is exactly how we as an audience interact with The OA as a show. It feels as if we’re having a conversation with Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, a dialogue as opposed to simply being shown and told what to think.

It’s as if Marling and Batmanglij are testing what it means to be a TV show, searching for the limits of the medium and playing with the way we think about TV and entertainment in a more generalised manner.

This isn’t new to Part 2, in fact, one of the finest decisions from Part 1, the instant in which I knew I was truly watching something different to other TV shows, was the moment in which the opening title credits roll 50 minutes into episode 1. However, this experimentation with form remains in Part 2, with episode lengths varying, flashbacks taking us not only through time but also dimensions and actors playing several roles depending on which dimension the episode demands of them.

There’s a specific joy that comes from watching something where you can feel the love of the creators pour from every shot, every decision. One could easily take issue with the three year wait between seasons, but when you see a show in which no blade of grass is out of place and there’s no throwaway dialogue or references, it’s easier than you’d think to forgive.

Marling and Batmanglij are methodical and controlled without seeming clinical. There’s a scene from Chapter 1: Angel of Death in which we are faced with someone who looks very much like Prairie Johnson/OA from Part 1, but speaks with a clipped Russian accent and carries herself in such a way that we know it isn’t Prairie that we are seeing. Despite this, she hums a familiar tune, one that we know to be linked to Prairie’s childhood in Russia. It’s these details, the minutiae that creates the lavish and richly textured world of The OA.

If you expand outward, looking at The OA in its entirety, it’s impossible to miss the fact that it is written by people who extensively know their genre. They don’t shy away from existing works, rather they seek them out and aim to improve their storytelling through seeing what’s come before. Marling and Batmanglij are people who know speculative fiction, who riff off of works in the canon, who can make fleeting references to works that have clearly inspired them. This is evidenced in interviews with the pair in which they recite their influences such as The Passion According to G.H., obscure genre and form bending texts like House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and City of Lost Children.

The OA is so unflinchingly in its own world. It does what all great art does and takes you by the hand and guides you through, letting you see what you want as you go. What you bring to The OA as a viewer is just as valid as what Marling and Batmanglij give you.

The-OA-Part-2-Netflix-ReviewKingsley Ben-Adir in The OA: Part 2 (2019) – source: Netflix

Unwaveringly Bold and Wonderfully Weird

What’s wonderful about The OA: Part 2 specifically, is that it retains the essence of Part 1 whilst managing to feel fresh, not merely riffing upon the successes of the previous season. Part 2 still tackles questions of theology and philosophy, still ruminates on the meaning of life and looks at death as a journey and something to be celebrated as opposed to grieved.

On that point, Part 2 steers itself into darker territory regarding death. The tone is decidedly more dark, the stakes raised and the sense of peril is heightened. There’s still a saccharine optimism underlying the elliptical narratives, but the deaths felt more immediate and final this season. 

In regards to ideas of inter-connectivity of humans across dimensions, the revelations in terms of Hap, Homer and OA being co-dependent and inextricably linked was handled thoughtfully. The very notion of Hap as OA’s shadow if you will, someone to be integrated with instead of stifled, worked seamlessly alongside the parallel narrative of Nina and OA attempting to exist simultaneously.

The ridiculously meta ending nearly lost me. It had a smug and knowing air, but that’s why I love it. There are times when The OA is so absurd that it feels arch but it does it in a jovial and goading way, almost akin to an annoying younger sibling that you can’t help but dote on. With each prod and nudge into the realms of the unknown and borderline silly, The OA is saying ‘how far will you follow us?’.

The OA gang
Paddy Gibson, Phyllis Smith, Brendan Meyer, Chloë Levine and Ian Alexander in The OA: Part 2 (2019) – source: Netflix

Trusting the Story-tell

My question is this; What other show has the gall, the guts, the right to have an ending that feels so ludicrous yet simultaneously so correct? What other show could make me not even question the fact that a house is a maze, an Octopus can have an erudite discussion with a human who is actually an Angel via telepathy and dancing robots can open dimensions in a more sophisticated way than humans?

As much as I could try to fight it, The OA has earned my trust. With every twist, every layered and multi-faceted story-line, it earned the right to do whatever it pleased. The minds of Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij percolated their way through my own logic and granted me with an entirely new perspective. When the credits rolled on the final episode I realized that I was no longer pretending to trust Prairie/Nina/OA/Brit; I sincerely did.

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