Greta (1 March 2019)

This week’s movie viewed was the newly released Greta, the first horror/thriller I’ve seen this year, though surely not the last. This chilly time of the year always feels to me like a good time to bundle up and get some adrenaline pumping, and Greta is a good choice for that.

The film centers around Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young woman who has recently moved to New York City to live with her friend Erica (Maika Monroe) following the death of her mother the previous year. From the first scene she’s in, she is full of charm and sweetness. Indeed, living in such a large city for the first time, she is portrayed as a bundle of naivety (although the way she acts and is perceived by others, it would seem more fitting that she be from a Midwestern town rather than Boston, which doesn’t strike me as a hub of politeness and meekness). It is the combination of her personality and circumstances that lead her to seek out the owner of the handbag she finds abandoned on a subway, who turns out to be a lonely, widowed piano player who introduces herself as Greta Hideg (the talented French actress Isabelle Huppert). Hideg is not shy about speaking about her loneliness, and particularly vulnerable– she is missing her mother, especially since her father has begun a new relationship, and is trying to adjust to living in a new city. This vulnerability leads her to seek out a friendship with Hideg, who soon is revealed to be less innocent than she seems.

The film chooses to get to the heart of its tension and conflict sooner than its trailers would lead the viewer to believe, and it’s a good choice, allowing the film to showcase the gradually increasing stakes that come with being stalked. Moretz is an incredible actor, and through her, the viewer is able to feel the palpable increasing despair and helplessness her character feels. She makes the events of the film feel real and relevant, in ways that I’m sure will hit close to home for those who have been victims of stalking or the inability to feel safe in their own homes.

Greta doesn’t earn any points for believability (how, for instance, does a widowed piano player afford to live in a nice house in New York City?), and it’s never quite engaging enough for the viewer to be able to suspend disbelief. The script on its own is relatively flat, and doesn’t bring anything new or innovative to the genere. However, the actors give every scene their all, perhaps more than the film deserves, and somehow makes everything work. Going by script alone, for instance, the friendship between Erica and Frances doesn’t seem particularly close or believable, but the actors manage to give the friendship depth, a bond between the two that one is somehow able to take at face value. Likewise, Huppert gives life to an increasingly unsettling villain.

This movie does strike me as guilty of an error seen in far too many horror movies and thrillers, in that it does at times appear to demonize mental illness. Greta Hideg is described as “very ill” and alluded to in fact having some form of mental illness. While untreated mental illness and grief can lead people to be irrational and overly dependent on others, they rarely (if ever) lead people to go to the lengths Greta Hideg does, especially without ever appearing to feel a semblance of remorse. It’s true that this is a movie, but attributing atrocious acts to a character’s mental illness is far too common, and damages those living with mental illnesses, especially considering these individuals and far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. It’s a common trope that cannot go without criticism.

That being said, there is one scene in the film that introduces an interesting character, and I wish the scene had lasted longer to add further depth to the film. It begins to explore the effects of abuse on individuals, and to look at PTSD in an intriguing light, but unfortunately is incredibly brief. It feels as if there is more to be said by that character and in that scene (kept vague for purposes of avoiding spoilers) that is instead glossed over so that the story at hand can unfold, and that’s a shame.

Overall, the movie’s pacing is commendable, one of its highlights. Greta isn’t an incredible film overall, but it’s an enjoyable horror flick, buoyed by a talented cast. Additionally, it’s one that will stick with the viewer a little more than other films of its ilk, whether ot not one realizes it immediately after watching it.

Roma (21 November 2018)

In preparation for the Oscars this coming Sunday, I finally sat down to watch Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s Best-Picture-nominated Netflix original. The film focuses on a a wealthy Mexico City family and, specifically, on one of their two maids, Cleo. Amidst political chaos, the characters go through trials and trauma in their personal lives as well, and although an incredible film from Cuarón is no shock considering his past films, Roma is a uniquely well-crafted piece of art.

Because Y Tu Mama Tambien was released nearly two decades ago, it is easy to assume Cuaron has an extensive filmography. However, aside from the aforementioned, the only films of Cuarón’s in wide United States consciousness prior to Roma were 2006’s Children of Men and 2013’s Gravity. Roma, set in Mexico City, hails back to Cuarón’s country of origin. It follows Cleodegaria Gutiérrez and the family that she works as a maid for. The majority of the film is in Spanish, although at times its indigenous main character occasionally speaks in her native language.

The black and white film manages to be incredibly vibrant for all its lack of color– one is able to imagine the bright plumage of the birds that are shown, along with the elaborate clothing worn by many, the decor in the house, and the buildings on the streets. The film is able to ignite other senses as well– one can almost smell the cigarette and cigar smoke, the food, the smoke from a forest fire. One can feel the warm sun, the salty ocean waves. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what about the film does it, and perhaps it is the simplicity, but it manages to be an incredibly somatic experience. Cuarón has managed to create the type of film that truly is an entire experience, showcasing skill unparalleled by many talented directors.

The film takes place in the early 1970s, amidst political turmoil, and the majority of it shows relative calm in the forefront, with chaos weaving in and out of the background. Early on, one of the four children in the family mentions that he saw someone gunned down by a soldier, but meanwhile he and his siblings play pretend games in which they themselves wield toy guns. A later scene focuses on Cleo’s stillness as an earthquake shakes the hospital she stands in. Unrest in her marital and familial life make it increasingly harder for matriarch Sofía to remain composed and pretend that she and her family are fine. As the film progresses, both personal and political chaos become increasingly harder to ignore, and begin to take the forefront, both in frame and in idea, culminating in a quietly chaotic and lovely climax.

The film broke my heart in a multitude of ways that I was not prepared for, but I have absolutely no regrets about watching it and, indeed, wonder why it took me so long to do so. It’s a film that encourages and rewards increasing vulnerability, both in its viewer and characters, even when that vulnerability leaves one open for a more raw form of pain.

One may wonder if the class dynamics in the film are handled as deftly as they could and should be, especially considering Alfonso Cuarón himself grew up in a wealthy family in Mexico City, and Cleo herself is based on Cuarón’s family maid. The casting of Yalitza Aparicio, herself an indigenous Mexican, is an encouraging one. The actress is phenomenal, absolutely deserving of her Academy Award nomination, and the presence of an indigenous actress in such a high-profile role is an encouraging one, as colorism and racism against indigenous people is incredibly widespread, and hopefully will pave the way for further roles for indigenous Mexican women. All that being said, one does at times feel like Cleo is pushed to the side in what is supposed to be her own story, and it’s not always easy to differentiate how much of her quietness is commentary and how much of it is a missed opportunity to delve into the character’s past and her motivations and desires.

All in all, Roma is an incredible piece, assisted by a talented cast and breathtaking cinematography. Its success and Best Picture nomination further cement Netflix as a distributor of quality films, and it will be interesting to see tomorrow whether or not one of Netflix’s original movies can nab the ultimate award.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (8 February 2019)

The Lego Movie (2014) was stupendous– it was charming, creative, heart-warming, original, and contained a song that I still get stuck in my head nearly weekly. Due to the originality of the first film, and the fact that sequels often don’t live up to expectations, I was convinced The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part would be at least somewhat disappointing, especially after viewing its trailer. The Lego Movie, no matter how fantastic, has been rooted in capitalism, so it was easy to be concerned that a sequel would be purely a cash-grab after the success of original, without the heart and creativity. In reality, I left the theater feeling warm-hearted and satisfied.

The film picks up five years after the events of its predecessor, but in flashbacks relays what happened immediately after the finale of the first film. Aliens from another planet landed with the intent to destroy all creations in their past, and now, whenever Lego creations are built, they’re soon destroyed by these big-bricked Duplo aliens. Over the past five years, the citizens of what’s now called Apocalypseburg have become hardened– they sport tattoos, dark clothing, and sometimes tougher names (this includes a gritty version of Abraham Lincoln, which is fun to behold). One citizen, however, Emmet Brickowski, remains essentially unchanged from the first film. He is optimistic, friendly, and full of goodwill, even in this world of Legoland meets Mad Max: Fury Road. This bothers the eternally tough Lucy, also known as Wildstyle, who feels that he is naive, and needs to toughen up to better function in the world that they now live in. When Lucy and four other Apocalypseburg citizens are taken away by the invading General Mayhem, Emmet makes it his mission to rescue them, meeting up with super tough raptor-training spaceship captain Rex Dangervest on the way.

The original film focused on the importance of creativity, and how children don’t need to fit into boxes, and should be encouraged to express themselves in whichever ways come naturally. While seen in films before, this message is an important one, and was well-handled in the original movie. The messages of this film are also incredibly important, and it’s a positive sign that they’ll be viewed by a large audience of children, especially boys; the film targets toxic masculinity, and the idea that one has to fit a “tough loner” archetype to be a hero. It also targets the idea seen frequently in films that one has to become hardened by the traumas they experience, rather than allowing themselves to be vulnerable. A film that challenges the idea of “strength” and where it comes from us always welcome.

The first two thirds of the film are jam-packed with musical numbers, and one gets the impression that the film is trying (in vain) to match the success of “Everything is Awesome” from the first movie– a success that really can’t be paralleled. Some of the songs are catchy, but after a time it begins to feel as if the movie is trying to throw out a bunch of songs in hopes that one of them will stick in public consciousness. Ironically, the most effective song in the film is a poignant remix of “Everything is Awesome” from the first film, which also samples songs played previously in this film. It ties the messages and plot of the film together in an emotionally satisfying manner, and jumpstarts the film’s conclusion.

This is a children’s film, but still contains plenty to keep adults engaged. Bruce Willis makes appearances that are amusing but also work to advance the message of the film. Songs and dialogue contain snippets that are incredibly amusing to those with knowledge of Batman’s extensive cinematic history, and several references to recent and older action movies. The film is so full of a variety of types of jokes that it feels as if it’s easy to miss them, and that one would benefit from a second watch and listen. There are visual puns and jokes, and witty lines delivered quickly in long stretches of dialogue. The majority of names in the film contain a joke of some sort or another. One has to keep their eyes and ears open, and are rewarded for doing so with a genuinely funny, witty film.

One way this movie falls flat of its predecessor is the live action sequences. In the first film, they were used sparingly, and packed an emotional punch. In this film, they come up slightly too frequently, and come off more as a second story than one intertwined with the animated portion. A large part of the impact of the live action portions of The Lego Movie came from the unexpected factor and the originality, something that a sequel wouldn’t be able to replicate, but they still don’t feel as seamlessly integrated as they could be. For a lot of the sequences, the viewer can understand and imagine what’s going on without having to be shown it, and being shown directly takes the viewer away from being optimally engrossed in the movie. This isn’t to say that the live-action portions of the film shouldn’t be there, merely that they’d be more effective if used less often and slightly differently.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part doesn’t pack quite the punch of the original, but it manages to switch the formula around enough to make for an engaging and satisfying sequel full of laughter and loveability.

One Day at a Time Season 3 Episodes 1-5 (2019)

A Note:

I’m going to preface this review with a note instead of having one at the end.

As you may have guessed by the title, this isn’t a movie review. It goes against my plan for the entire project. I didn’t have time to make it to the theater this week due to my work schedule, and planned to catch Roma on Netflix instead. However, when I opened up Netflix, I discovered that there were new episodes of one of my favorite TV shows. Keeping up with this project is important to me, but at its core, isn’t it about increasing my overall happiness and mental well-being? Watching this show made me genuinely happy, more so than watching Roma would have, and I decided to do that. Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. I would like to note that this review will contain some spoilers for the first two seasons of the show.

Back with a movie review next week!


One Day at a Time, a Netflix original series based on a 1970s sitcom of the same name, premiered in 2017, and quickly became a valuable addition to the streaming service’s lineup. In many ways, it harkens back to a classic family sitcom format– yes, there’s a laugh track and everything, and the show oozes charm. However, it’s a show that differentiates itself from classic sitcoms in key ways. The family in focus is the Cuban-American Alvarez family, which consists of veteran and nurse Penelope, her mother Lydia, and her two children, daughter Elena and son Alex. The modern TV show keeps the character of Schneider, the rich and over-involved landlord of the building. The character is consistently cringe-worthy, but by season 3 he has also become nearly as loveable as the Alvarez  family themselves.

Season 3 picks up a few months after the end of Season 2; life is fairly stable for the Alvarez family at this point. Lydia is mostly recovered from a stroke at the end of Season 2. Penelope is continuing to work as a nurse while studying to become a nurse practitioner. Elena, a lesbian, is happily dating her significant other, Syd, a non-binary teenager who uses they/them pronouns. Alex is now 15, and a fairly typical teenage boy, trying to balance family and a social life.

The show follows the classic sitcom format of half-hour episodes, each with a mostly-container arc, but contains continuity and connection between each episode that make it a more satisfying overall experience than some other shows. This season seems to do that especially, harkening back to events an episode ago at times, a season ago at others. It truly feels like snapshots of the life of a family who could very much exist. The actors are incredible, and their performances add to the realism.

Also in the same vein of many sitcoms, the show has several “issue” episodes– episodes designed to bring attention to societal issues. These often come off as heavy-handed it sitcoms, and at times do walk that line in One Day at a Time, but manage to end up as poignant and timely. The episode that addresses sexual harassment and assault, and how different generations have perceived them, feels like a conversation that has surely happened in households across the country. Additionally, many of the topics are addressed as they specifically relate to queer people and Hispanic Americans. This is something that there isn’t a lot of in media, and it feels wonderful to have it at the forefront of this show.

The show also manages to incorporate several classic sitcom tropes. A lot of the plot points in the the season so far have been done and seen many times before, but One Day at a Time always manages to put a slightly new twist on them, or just make them particularly effective. Often this is due to Rita Moreno as Lydia specifically. At 87 years old, the actress is dynamic and charismatic. The entire cast excels at balancing emotional punches with humor, but Moreno is an extra delight.

The show is truly spectacularly funny, and its sense of humor surely appeals to multiple generations. The humor ranges from wonderfully excruciating puns to long setups to classic misdirection. The jokes are all carefully crafted, and while they may poke fun at individual characters, the jokes never approach offensive.

The first five episodes of this season build upon the previous seasons, while striking out in new directions as well. New characters are introduced, along with fabulous guest stars (such as Melissa Fumero, Gloria Estefan and Stephanie Beatriz. Watching the new season feels like catching up with an old friend, and it’s delightful. The remainder of the season is sure to remain a treat.

On the Basis of Sex (11 January 2019)

There’s never been a bad time to celebrate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but arguably there’s never been a better time than now. The 85 year old has undergone three broken ribs and a lobectomy in the past three months, and still remains on the court, with no plans of stepping down anytime soon. The film celebrates her individual triumphs, and the triumphs she pioneered for the American judicial system and equal rights for women.

The film’s first part takes place in 1956. It begins with a sea of men in grey suits and briefcases walking in one direction, and in their midst, a women with bouncy hair and a blue dress, eyes full of determination. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of nine women in her class at Harvard, and immediately not treated as an equal to the men in the class; the Dean addresses the bunch as “Harvard Men” and at a dinner that is theoretically to honor the women, asks them “Why are you here,  taking a man’s place?” Ginsburg herself delivers a witty and scathing retort; the film establishes early that she has never been one to be intimidated, merely exasperated.

In this first semester, Ginsburg’s husband is diagnosed with testicular cancer, a disease which, at the time, had an incredibly low survival rate. Ginsburg immediately took his place in his classes while he underwent treatment, attending the classes of two people, transcribing his papers, all while taking care of an infant daughter. It’s a story that seems too impressive to be true, except, of course, that it is.

The film goes on to highlight the struggles Ginsburg had at finding a job as a lawyer in a heartbreaking sequence, and then makes a jump to 1970, where she has been teaching at Rutgers for the last decade. The heart of the film takes off from here. The film makes Rutgers look like a bit of a dump, in a bit of an unfair move, but one that highlights why Ginsburg feels unsatisfied with where her life has taken her, especially after she excelled in law school and graduated at the top of her class. She then comes across a case that she sees as an opportunity to further the fight against sex-based discrimination against women.

Felicity Jones is lovely as Ginsburg, arguably nearly too much so, and she gives an engaging and nuanced performance. The film does at times drift into the territory of being heavy-handed, a film about “Overcoming Adversity,” but its performances, especially Jones’s, keep it grounded. The film is at its most powerful at its most human moments– close-up shots of its actors faces, conversations between mother and daughter. It’s a film about a family, and about someone trying to do what she believes is right– real people, working together to engineer change. It isn’t a story, at its heart, that is larger-than-life. It’s a story about people, and the film flourishes when it remembers that.

Some of what may be perceived flaws are hard to discern, due to the fact that the film is based on a true story. For instance, it paints the women’s rights movement and Civil Rights movement as parallel, rather than intersecting movements. The Vietnam protests are also seen as parallel, or as a plot device when mentioned at all. The importance and intersectionality of the movements isn’t addressed as deftly as perhaps was possible. True, the film has a focused story to tell, but it’s hard for me to believe that the story couldn’t have been told in a more rounded manner. Black women have always existed, and have fought for their rights both as women and as people of color. This is something the film glosses over. Nonetheless, the story it does tell is an engaging one, and inspiring.

The film is not accurate in every way, I am sure. There are inaccuracies about specific years, specific timelines. Nonetheless, I feel like I did learn a lot that I didn’t know before about the life of this incredibly justice, and I feel that the point is not pinpoint historical accuracy, but an accurate portrayal of the spirit that it took to succeed against the odds. This isn’t to say that Bader Ginsburg has had only her spirit to thank– she is white, and had the support of a wealthy husband throughout her quests– but no one can doubt the astonishing amount of determination, perseverance and intelligence that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has possessed her entire life. She would not be where she is without those, and the country itself, one is sure, would not have made quite as much progress as it (in some ways) has. This film makes for an earnest celebration of her life and work, work that she continues to do, and succeeds in highlighting an iconic American figure.

A Note From the Author:

I’m well aware that this is far from my highest quality of writing. It’s been one of those weeks were just getting anything written and semi-completed is a feat. And yes, it doesn’t help that I got my wisdom teeth out, but this week has been like walking through sludge. Today, I just wasn’t able to get out of bed until my cat prompted me. Spero helps a lot with my mental health. He’s curled up on my lap as I type this. Some days that’s enough to keep my head above water, for sure. Some days it still feels like nothing’s worth it, and some days I can’t find the motivation to do anything at all. I have an appointment with a new therapist tomorrow night, and I’m trying not to put too much hope in it, but I have tried so many therapists trying to find one who’s even close to the right fit, and I am so worn down.

This project does feel like a chore sometimes, but I think it’s important to me. It makes sure I leave the house and it makes sure I do something that feels productive. It makes sure I actually practice writing, which is a huge deal to me. Being a “writer” used to be part of my identity, but I kind of lost that somewhere along the way, and I want to make sure I start writing more and don’t stop, because it is something I love dearly.

Mary Poppins Returns (19 December 2018)

Before seeing the film, my friend and I discussed some of our favorite classic movie musicals; Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins itself. Mary Poppins Returns absolutely captures the spirit of a classic movie musical, and makes for an incredibly engaging sequel, albeit one released 54 years after its predecessor.

The film itself takes place a generation after the events of Mary Poppins (1964). The children from the first film, Jane and Michael, are grown up. Michael has three children of his own (Anabel, John and Georgie). Michael and the new Banks children, along with maid Ellen, reside in the Banks house, a house currently feeling the absence of Michael’s wife after her death about a year ago. The children have had to grow up significantly to care for their bereaved and flighty father, ‘little grown-ups” as Ellen says, and then it comes to light that the family is set to lose their house. This final crisis is what prompts Mary Poppins to arrive.

It’s not a delightful premise for a film, but the delight and magic are derived not from the situations at hand, but how the characters react to them. The film begins with lamplighter Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda as a working-class Bert stand-in toting a slightly better accent than Van Dyke) singing about the “lovely London sky,” a statement that has rarely if ever been objectively true– but he sings it in such an earnest fashion that it’s obvious he really believes it, and in experiencing his optimism, the viewer becomes somewhat optimistic as well. Jack’s optimism remains a guiding force in the film– Mary Poppins focuses more on getting things done, in whatever manner is necessary, even sometimes bordering on cruel. Jack, however, lights the way for the other characters in the film, and believes in them all earnestly and without question, just as he believes that the world is at its heart a beautiful place. His presence occasionally comes off as overbearing, but it’s necessary to the film and to the world in which it is set.

Mary Poppins takes the children and the viewers into a delightful world of imagination and resilience through some breathtaking musical numbers– first emerged in a bathtub to a fantastic ocean, and then to a world within a porcelain bowl, in a long and gorgeous 2D animation sequence, some of the most beautiful animation that has been on the big screen in recent years. The film’s musical numbers aid the film in combining whimsy and reality to make for a lovely adventure.

Although the film’s internal conflict is about coping with grief, its external conflict focuses on working class individuals and labor organizers uniting against bank owners. This is a classic conflict that never fails to hold up in film. Although many struggles are overcome in this film, it does seem necessary to have an external struggle parallel the internal ones, and that’s one reason a malicious, pocket watch-twiddling banker is so important. The struggle  to avoid foreclosure provides the excuse for the personal growth that occurs in the film, and it’s a compelling and classic struggle indeed.

Poppins doesn’t always hit its mark. There’s a lengthy scene and musical number involving Meryl Streep as Poppins’s Cousin Topsy that leans heavily into (not entirely flattering) Romani stereotypes, and the whole scene feels a bit contrived and unnecessary, an excuse to utilize Streep in a film. At times in the film, one gets the impression that musical numbers were written first and the plot had to be hammered into a certain mold. Certain moments feel jarring, when one is lifted out of the magic of the film to feel somewhat uncomfortable. This is mostly a testament, however, to how engaging and immersive the film is overall (although, I truly cannot stress enough how much the film could and should do without Streep’s entire scene and number).

In the middle of a very cold winter such as this one, I feel that many people are in need of some extra magic, and Mary Poppins Returns delivers that. This film’s magic, however, is made arguably more powerful than the original Mary Poppins, due to the fact that it comes amidst sadness, grief and loneliness. Even the finale, as heart-lifting as it is, carries an underlying current of melancholy. These emotions do not diminish the magic, but make it more powerful; even amongst struggles and heartbreak, whimsy and magic can be found and embraced. This is an important message, perhaps now more than ever, and the film and its musical numbers are sure to remain near and dear to many hearts for years to come.

The Favourite (21 December 2018)

The latest film from director Yorgos Lanthimos, the man behind The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer, is slightly less surreal than his other films, which could be ascribed partly to its historical setting and partly to having separate screenwriters. A film many years in the making (Deborah Davis first penned the script two decades ago), The Favourite transports the viewer to 18th century England. The film is far more concerned with telling a compelling story than with historical facts, but because its colorful characters are so compelling, it never feels artificial or inauthentic.

The film takes place in an England at war with the French. Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) is a physically and emotionally fragile monarch who deeply desires the approval of her subjects and confidantes. She relies heavily on her advisor Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), whom she has known since childhood, both personally and professionally. Sarah is unapologetically blunt and brilliant. She does not so much advise Queen Anne as instruct her, making decisions about battles to be had and money to be spent. Although the palace is far from calm and quiet– separate political parties vie for power, with differing opinions about the best way to handle the war and the debts it is accruing– it seems that there is a stability of sorts, a balance that has been achieved.

This balance is disrupted with the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), a cousin of Sarah’s, fallen from noble status due to her father’s choices. Abigail arrives to the castle covered in mud but bright-eyed, described by Sarah at one point as “too kind for [her] own good.” She begins her time in a grueling position as a chambermaid, but before long falls into the queen’s good graces.

One is not always sure where the motivations of the characters lie. For at least the first half of the film, the viewer may find themself looking for the subtlest of cues to hint at where Sarah and Abigail’s loyalties and aspirations lie– are wide eyes due to horror, or the arrival of an opportunity? Is a smile from satisfaction with a plan going correctly, or from genuine joy? As the loyalties of characters shift consistently through the film, the viewer may find that their loyalties and sympathies shift as well. At times this feels dizzying, but it’s exhilarating to be sure.

It is refreshing to see a film written by a woman, that centers on the dynamics between three women who are each powerful in different ways. The actresses are all incredible, in their individual scenes but also in the ways in which they interact with one another, flowing in and out of one another’s favor depending on the scene. One finds themself looking at Stone and Weisz carefully, examining their expressions for any hints of actions yet to come. Each character is compelling, and at least at times sympathetic, especially Coleman’s unstable Queen Anne. There are of course men in the film, but usually they play a secondary part, utilized in one way or another by the intelligent female characters, or entangled in the plots of the women in one way or another. This is a refreshing change from so much of how women and men are portrayed on screen, and it’s managed to be done in a way that doesn’t feel at all out of place in a historical setting.

The film is aided by its score and soundtrack, similar to that found in other films by Yorgos Lanthimos– Organs boom, strings swell regally, or vibrate rapidly. The strings are especially evocative, aiding often to eerie discomfort that is present in so many scenes– the source of which is often not entirely clear.

The film excels at inciting discomfort. Often, scenes that leave the viewer incredibly tense end only in a release of breath, whereas tense and disturbing moments often seem to strike the viewer out of nowhere. It is without a doubt an unsettling film, but manages to also be at times hilarious– there were multiple moments in which the theater was filled with laughter. Often the disturbing moments manage to coincide with the humour, and it is perhaps the way in which the film leaves the viewer continuously slightly on edge and disarmed that allows it to be as funny as it is.

The plot twists and turns in unnerving, intriguing ways, many of which I would love to discuss on paper but fear spoiling even the slightest of twists. The film is worth seeing, especially for those who are fans of Lanthimos’s earlier works. Even those who felt alienated or too thrown off by those earlier works may find The Favourite more palatable, more grounded. At its center, this is a film about the relationships between women, both to one another and to the society in which they exist.

A Note From The Author:

When I started writing reviews, I couldn’t figure out when, if at all, to mention the state of my mental health. Was I clever enough to somehow work it into weekly reviews? The answer to that is a decided “no”, and so here we are. I probably won’t include after-thoughts such as this one every week, but I think that there are some things worth talking about.

I think I mentioned in my introductory post that this project would be a good way of holding me accountable for plans and making sure I got out of the apartment, and this was absolutely true this week. Even the fact that I had made plans with someone might not have been enough to get me out– even as I went out the door I was tempted to cancel. I felt like I was crumbling all day, and the thought of walking, and talking to someone, and driving, sounded paralyzing. Knowing that I had to see a movie this week, however, was just enough to get me moving.

Aquaman (21 December 2018)

I had the opportunity to see Aquaman with my father while he was in town, adding to the long list of superhero movies the two of us have seen together. He’s the one who got me into comic books, and has therefore been my favorite superhero-movie-buddy for the majority of my life. Having seen so many superhero movies, I can say that Aquaman falls squarely in the middle in terms of quality. It overtakes the majority of DC films since 2013 (Wonder Woman being the exception, in my opinion) but falls short of some of the recent superhero-based films.

While Aquaman  is the hero’s first standalone film, it benefits from having already established him and his powers in the previous Justice League (2017), both in-universe and to viewers. Therefore, exposition can be cut down to only what furthers the plot of this specific film, and the film is able to reach a little past the “coming to terms with superhero identity” that others feel compelled to include.

When the film opens, one might worry for a moment that it will be too similar to its Zack Snyder-directed predecessors– against a palate of greys, a woman (Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman) is splayed dramatically on the rocks as waves crash against her. However, it quickly becomes clear that this dramatacism is tongue-in-cheek, and although the film does continue to be melodramatic (“in the ocean, the sea carries our tears away”), it also includes genuinely fun fight scenes– hand-to-hand combat is used, along with weapons such as tridents and spears, and later on, seahorse steeds. The movie can be a bit over the top, but it acknowledges and embraces that. It isn’t worried about making sense– when underwater, the film doesn’t try to include telepathic communication, instead just having the characters speak to one another as if they’re on land. In all honesty,  having a film that allows itself to be silly in this universe is refreshing after some of Snyder’s films.

The premise of the film isn’t groundbreaking– Arthur Curry, dubbed Aquaman by the media, must learn to reconcile is on-land upbringing with his Atlantean heritage and prevent an uprising against land-dwellers, who have been polluting the ocean and killings its creatures for many years. The uprising is to be lead by Aquaman’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), a smug blonde much more interested in power than any real justice against the humans on land. The sea-dwelling Mera (Amber Heard, sporting a painfully bright red wig) goes against her people to assist Aquaman, although it’s obvious that she’s the far more competent individual. Heard’s acting occasionally comes off as stiff, but nonetheless she’s a literal and figurative bright spot in the film, an independent, intelligent and strong person who, very honestly, probably puts too much stock in Aquaman and his ability to unite the worlds of land and sea. Nonetheless, it’s engaging to watch her fight the foot soldiers of Atlantis (wearing suits that are a hybrid of Power Rangers and Bionicles), pilot undersea ships, and experience land for the first time.

Another character that breathes life into the film is Black Manta (a compellingly charismatic Yahya Abdul-Manteen II). Watching this character rise from modern pirate to supervillain, driven by understandable grief and a desire for revenge, is some of the most fun I’ve had watching any comic book character come to life on the screen. Abdul-Manteen II does a fantastic job with this character, and it’s a shame this film doesn’t do more with him. The film’s version of this character alone is enough to hope for a sequel.

The film contains some delightful visuals that become more bright and compelling as the film progresses. CGI is utilized well for some fantastic scenes, especially late in the film– The Trench is the first that comes to mind. Species of humanoid seafolk are well-designed in this film, and through short shots of various royals, the viewer does get a good feel for the varying cultures of different undersea societies. The film’s costume design also helps with this; Atlantean foot soldiers aside, the characters are fitted with a diverse range of clothes and costumes that bring the universe to life.
Aquaman isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a fun one, with a coherent plot and competent cast. It contains several staple elements of superhero films, and although it doesn’t add anything innovative or groundbreaking to the genre, director James Wan has added an enjoyable entry to a the list of superhero films.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (14 December 2018)

Early on in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, main character Miles Morales, aided by his Uncle Aaron (the Oscar-Winning and excellent Mahershala Ali), creates a wall-spanning piece of graffiti art containing the words “No Expectations”, a play on Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a book being read at Morales’s school. While it sets the tone for Morales’s character, it’s also something the reader should keep in mind– since the web of parallel universes and compelling characters go in so many directions anyway, it is best to go into the film without expectations one way or the other, and to let oneself be carried in the +many directions the film takes. Into the Spider-Verse is electric and dynamic, a wonderful ride of a feature. From the moment the opening credits begin, it is immediately immersive, with intense beats and bright colors that dash across the screen. Movies based on comic books are frequent, but rarely are they able to so artfully give the viewer the feeling of being transported directly onto the pages of the medium. This is just one way that the film benefits from its animated format.

The witty web-slinger has graced the big screen nine times in the past 17 years, so viewers are familiar with Peter Parker’s origin story and personality, a fact the film quickly and humorously references. However, Miles Morales is a generally lesser-known iteration of Spider-Man. Created in 2011 by the comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli, Morales is a Brooklyn teen with an African-American father (voiced in the film by Brian Tyree Henry, who gave a performance that brought me to tears) and Hispanic mother. Morales really feels like the kind of teen one would meet in Brooklyn. He sings along to excellent music in his room, gets embarrassed by his policeman father, tries to impress girls (such as classmate “Gwanda,” voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) and worries about finding an identity and place in the world, especially after being forced by his parents to attend a private school instead of his former public school. Relative newcomer Shameik Moore does a fantastic job at portraying an authentic, kind-hearted, bright and occasionally awkward teenager. The tone of the film changes greatly, often from scene to scene, but Moore makes sure we never feel jerked around. He keeps the film squarely grounded in humanity, even as it swings us through the trials and tribulations of a superhuman universe.

Spider-Man has often been a hero strongly tied to tales of coming of age and finding one’s identity, and this film doesn’t stray from that template. Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider (neon and stunningly psychedelic) while in the subway creating graffiti art with his uncle, one of the few adults in his life with whom he feels safe. After discovering, and struggling with, newfound spider abilities, he returns to the scene, only to find his universe’s original Spider-Man in a struggle with Kingpin, who is attempting to access parallel universes. Morales is tasked by this Spider-Man to find a way to disable Kingpin’s particle accelerator, and therefore save the universe, but this cosmic task seems very grounded with the struggles Morales faces in feeling alone and lost in his task and world. With the help of spider-powered heroes from other universes, Morales must find an identity, confidence, and strength, a struggle taken on by many teenagers (although I would argue that his race and struggles with class, as evidenced by his father’s pressure to “move up,” make these universal struggles even more relevant for a large audience). Although the teen often feels alone, he is, though sometimes begrudgingly, joined in his task by a wide cast of characters.

Each character, and sometimes iterations of the same character, have something to add to the film, and although the film is animated, rarely do they feel two-dimensional. Even Aunt May (voiced by Lily Tomlin) is a different version of the character than previously seen, more independent and resilient than films have given her the opportunity to be in the past. In a world that has seen Spider-Man on screen so many times in the last years, it’s hard to imagine a film with so many versions of the hero to allow them to be unique, but the film even allows us a version of Peter Parker very different than any we’ve seen before, described accurately by Morales as a “jenky old broke hobo Spider-Man.” Even the porkine hero Spider-Ham, voiced by a delightful John Mulaney, features in the film and manages to be at least a little more than a gag. The cast of characters from different genres and dimensions allow the film to flourish, and allow both artists and actors to showcase their skills.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is visually and auditorily stunning in ways I wish I had the knowledge to more accurately describe. It’s obvious that the film was crafted by artists who truly love what they do, and who truly love and respect comic books. Daniel Pemberton has composed one of the most fantastic original scores I have ever heard, and artists like Nicki Minaj, Post Malone and Blackway and Black Caviar do an excellent job adding to the fresh and invigorating feel the soundtrack adds to the film. The art style is also something unique for a feature film– modern 3D computer animation is combined with the traditional 2D “dot” style of comic books. This style allows the film to surpass some of the confines comic book films face in live-action format. The concept of “Spidey Senses” has never entirely worked in live-action, but in animation, is able to simply be drawn on the screen via colors and wavy lines, so that the viewers can experience it without having to rely on tired explanations by characters. Additionally, the film uses traditional comic book techniques such as panels, which are able to provide humor and emotional punches depending on the scene. Onomatopoeias scroll up and down the screen, love notes to the original art form. Scenes such as doors of a subway car opening and closing are gorgeous in ways they perhaps wouldn’t be able to be in any other medium. The film is a beautiful piece of art, an homage to comic books and wholly unique, along with being a love story to Brooklyn, to change, and to evolution.

I would argue that the world already knew from films such as 2018’s Black Panther that comic book movies can be culturally-relevant pieces of art rather than just action-filled “popcorn flicks”, but through the use of classic yet groundbreaking animation, a compelling cast of characters, and an immersive soundtrack, Into the Spider-Verse further elevates the genre and adds a unique and breathtaking work of art to its list.


When people find out you’re suicidal, they usually try to figure out a reason why. If there isn’t an obvious one, they try to figure out factors to keep you from going through with it– support systems, sure, but also hobbies. “I like to read, and to write,” I told numerous professionals during my hospitalization this autumn as they stared at me expectantly over their clipboards. “I like… movies. I like to watch movies.”

I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was thirteen years old. Like with being suicidal, people tried to figure out a cause, but there didn’t appear to be one. I had supportive and loving parents who had had an amicable and non-traumatizing divorce over a year ago. My middle school experience was not much more difficult than anyone else’s. I had friends. Nevertheless, I was angry and sad and bogged down for months on end. I hated myself. I was started on Prozac two months after my diagnosis, the medication I remained on for the next six years, before switching to Zoloft and finally Cymbalta. I also remained in therapy.

Getting a shy, sad teenager to talk about their deep feelings and insecurities was not an easy feat, but getting me to do so in therapy was even more difficult. However, my therapist Harriet quickly discovered a way to get me to open up; at the beginning of our sessions, or when we reached a wall, she would ask me if I’d seen any movies lately. Usually I had. I wanted to be a film critic until sophomore year of high school, and even after I decided to go into nursing, movies remained something I was passionate about. So I would spend a few minutes talking to Harriet about movies, and often the topic would fairly naturally shift into more serious subject matter.

Along with being something I love, movies have been a way for me to gauge the severity of my depression. I remember sitting in the theatre watching A Quiet Place early this year and thinking, “I know myself, and this should be making me sob, but I don’t feel anything. I’m just numb.” That was a marker to me that things had gotten bad.

My love of movies has been with my longer than my depression has. As a toddler, I was discussing gender roles and workplace practices in A Bug’s Life with my mom. For most of my childhood, I read Entertainment Weekly religiously. I remember begging my mom to let me stay up long enough to watch all of the Oscars as early as 2005, when I was nine years old. My family has participated in Oscars ballots for over a decade.

I will never be a professional film critic. However, I can still review movies, from a novice perspective. So that’s what I’m going to do. 52 times, in fact, one movie for each week of 2019.

This quest, which I’m calling Cymbalta Cinema, serves a few purposes. One of these is that it gives me something to work on, and strive toward. For most of my life, I’ve been in school, working to graduate high school, and then college. Now that I’ve accomplished those goals, as much as I adore my job, it’s been hard to find things to work toward and to keep myself going day to day. Watching and reviewing one movie a week gives me something to work on, and also ensures that I’ll be out of bed and up and about at least once a week– often with friends, hopefully! The second purpose to bring awareness to mental illness. It’s a struggle a lot of us face, and too often in silence. It’s something I’ve been hesitant to talk about. There are very few people I told about my hospitalization this fall. There are very few people who know the extent of my depression. And I feel that that silence perpetuates a stigma. Far too often I’ve heard co-workers on my floor refer to the psychiatric patients on our unit as “crazies.” If I said anything about my struggles I’m sure they’d say “oh but you’re not like THOSE people” as if there’s something wrong with having a mental illness. I’m not ashamed that I have depression, that I take medication for it (Cymbalta, 90mg a day), and I’m not even ashamed that I had to be hospitalized so that I wouldn’t kill myself. I want to get better, and I’m working on it. Recovery is a process, and it sure isn’t linear.

So, I came up with Cymbalta Cinema. Starting in January, I’ll be seeing a movie a week and posting and sharing film reviews every Saturday. If you could follow along and read a few reviews, that would be incredible. Projects like this are easier to maintain if there are people holding me accountable. I’ll be posting the reviews here, and sharing on social media. At the very least, thank you so much for reading this far. That in itself means a lot to me.