Now that I’ve finished recapping the German time travel nightmare that is Dark, let’s move on to the quintessentially American nightmare that is HBO’s Lovecraft Country. The series is adapted from Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, which takes place in 1950’s Jim Crow America, emphasizing the competing horrors of racism, trauma and monsters of pure fantasy.
The “Lovecraft Country” of the title is a pun, referring both to scifi-fantasy author HP Lovecraft’s non-human creations, which are referenced sporadically, and to his racist, xenophobic and misogynist beliefs, which permeated both his writing and mainstream America at the time. Lovecraft Country is an intricate dance competition between metaphorical, cinematic and human monsters. It’s not always clear who wins, but the people of color definitely fight for their lives, on every level.
Simply put, Daybreak, Netflix’s post apocalyptic Red Dawn meets Ferris Bueller zombie teen comedy series, is a hot mess. Or, as we used to say in the golden heyday of Tumblr of yore, a problematic favorite.
I purposefully stuffed way too many descriptors into the first paragraph and tried way too hard to sound cool and am now being way too obvious about every single thing I’m doing and speaking in the first person while breaking the 4th wall, in order to give you a sense of what might have been charming in Daybreak but is really just tres, tres obnoxious.
Daybreak, the TV show, is based on the comic book of the same name by Brian Ralph and created by Brad Peyton and Aron Eli Coleite. Like the comic, the main character is a self insert first person narrator who just happens to be a North American straight white male. I haven’t read the comic yet, but from what I understand, it’s more contemplative than the series, described in one article as being more like the 2009 Viggo Mortenson film The Road than Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Or, you could say more like the original, 1979 Mad Max film.
Always a Witch, or Siempre Bruja, is a Netflix Original from Colombia. This Spanish language show (with English subtitles and dubbing) is a time travel fantasy about a young 17th century slave named Carmen who is also a witch. She uses magic to escape execution and travel to the present day. Much like the series Outlander, she travels between the two time periods, fights evil foes in both, tries to save the man she loves, must adjust to her new time period, and works to make life better for the people of the past.
Always a Witch is a fresh take on the time traveling witch concept, with a young cast and storytelling that’s grounded in Latin American culture. This show avoids the graphic nature of Outlander, keeping its content more suited to younger audiences, while still addressing the harshness of Carmen’s life as a slave, and the realities of the modern world.
Because life is political, so is entertainment, and so is our blog. Because we know that the creators of the shows that we love can do better. If no one points out where the issues lie, how will they know where they need to improve?
We live in the real world, where mass media has an effect on people’s attitudes. It’s important to examine closely exactly what we’re being shown and what messages are actually being delivered. It’s the only way that change happens.
Whenever we start analyzing how a show is doing in regard to its male/female ratio and other forms of diversity, and compare how characters from different demographics are being treated, we are always met with the response:
But aren’t the male (and white) characters being treated the same way as the women?
This is where attention to detail becomes important, plus the ability to count, and the ability to distinguish between a named character and a background character. When we’re discussing violent acts, this argument is frequently made, because there will be so many more men running around on screen than women that, of course, in raw numbers, more violent acts are happening to men than women.
Last week, Kelly Marie Tran, the Asian-American actor who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, shut down her Instagram account after being bombarded with racist and misogynist insults for months. Daisy Ridley (Rey) was harassed into leaving Instagram in 2016. John Boyega (Finn) has received similar negative attention for his Star Wars appearances.
There were many things wrong with The Last Jedi, but Kelly Marie Tran, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were among the bright spots in a badly conceived story. Rian Johnson wrote and directed a film with a diverse cast that put the women and some of the people of color in prominent positions. Then he tore them down.
Dreams come true in this episode of Legion, but not all of them turn out the way the dreamer hopes, as is so often true of dreams. My dream of SpyCatSyd came true, and was as perfect as I’d hoped. Ptonomy and Melanie were also quite happy in their garden and game dream mazes. The group dream of finding the Mi-Go monk also came true, and was a disaster. Lenny’s wish to be set free is as far from coming true as ever. The Carries appear to be in some kind of limbo. This is very much an example of “Be careful what you wish for…”
Chapter 11 starts with the parable of the week. Jon Hamm describes the “nocebo effect“, which is the opposite of the placebo effect. Instead of a fake treatment working as if it’s real in a good way, as with the placebo effect, in the nocebo effect the patient is given an inert substance, told it will make something undesirable happen, and it does.* We see an elderly man given sugar water by a nurse who tells him it will make him vomit. He projectile vomits. “Your mind had the power to create its own physical reality.”
This parable makes me want to projectile vomit. Be forewarned, I’m only writing about the rest of the parable under protest.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri * 2017 * Rated R * 1 Hour 55 Minutes
😸😸😸🌑🌑 Rated 3/5 Happy lap cats
Let me start out by saying this won’t be a traditional review and it will contain spoilers. This film is difficult for me to write about, and I almost skipped it. But I set a goal to watch and write about as many of the 2018 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees as possible, so here we are.
This film is the epitome of what’s wrong with Hollywood, the system of film criticism, and the awards organizations in this century. It’s a prestige film by every measure, awards bait that’s worked. It was written and directed by Tony-nominated playwright Martin McDonagh. It stars three respected actors, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell in roles that call on them to give their all. It tackles some of the hot button topics of the day in a unique, original way. It’s a dark dramedy with a script filled with witty banter and poignant moments, as you’d expect from an acclaimed playwright. That’s why I looked past my anger enough to give it a 3/5 rating. I’ll probably debate with myself over that rating forever, and think it should’ve been a 2/5.
But it left me so angry that I had nightmares overnight, and I never have nightmares. The film should really be titled Two Racist Cops in the Good Old Boy Midwest, because that’s what it’s actually about. Sure, we see a lot of Frances McDormand’s Mildred, but she doesn’t get the redemption arc or the character growth that Sam Rockwell’s racist cop does. She’s a rage monster running around town ruining everyone else’s lives with her inappropriate anger.
The film Dunkirk, written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Inception) is a 1 hour and 46 minute long slow motion action sequence. It’s like watching snails race, with stops for a chat about the state of the world and a cup of tea every few minutes. But the snails don’t actually have much to say, certainly nothing that hasn’t been said before, and better, by others.
Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk Beach in France in 1940, early in World War 2. 400,000 soldiers were stranded there, with Germans pressing down on them and not enough ships to get them out. A flotilla of small civilian boats crossed the English Channel to pick up 300,000 of the stranded soldiers and return them to Britain, many more than were expected to be rescued.
The film follows men in the air, sea and on land who are fighting to get the soldiers home. Each element highlights a few characters and their journeys, but doesn’t develop them as compelling individuals. The focus is exclusively on the tasks at hand and the immediate difficulties they face. The only character background we learn is what affects getting the men home. What would, in most movies, be a few small vignettes is meant to pass as the plot of Dunkirk.
Jordan Peele has written and directed a powerful, thought-provoking movie with layers of statements to make. He’s also made a taut psychological thriller that combines the racially motivated social awkwardness of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” with the justified paranoia of “The Stepford Wives”and the slowly revealed evil of “Rosemary’s Baby”. Get Out reveals the truth about its premise incrementally, at just the right pace, so that the viewer, like lead character Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), ends up similar to a frog in slowly boiling water. When he, and we, finally become sure that things have gone bad, it’s already too late, and it’s unlikely any of us will forget what we’ve already seen. As with any horror movie, there’s no escape left, so the best way out is through.
Along with Chris, Get Out follows the story of Rose Armitage (Alison Williams), a white woman who’s been dating Chris, an African-American photographer, for 4-5 months. Rose has decided that it’s time to bring Chris home to meet her upper class parents, Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) who live in the exurbs of New York City, where the nearest neighbor is so far away that they can’t hear you scream. Chris asks his best friend, Rod, a TSA agent (LilRel Howery), to take care of his dog while he’s gone. They check in with each other several times during the weekend.
Mudbound is a family saga of life in the 1940s Mississippi Delta for two farming families. One family is made up of hereditary black sharecroppers descended from former slaves. The other is a white family of former landowners and slaveowners who’ve fallen on hard times. They’ve bought land in Mississippi hoping to reestablish their wealth. The families become intertwined as their lives intersect and affect each other over the years, until a tragedy changes everything.
Mudbound was directed by Dee Rees, who also wrote the script with Virgil Williams, adapted from the book of the same name by Hillary Jordan. It’s been nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Song for Mighty River, sung over the closing credits by Mary J Blige; Best Supporting Actress for Mary J Blige, who plays Florence Jackson, wife and mother of the Jackson family; and Best Cinematography for Rachel Morrison, the first woman to ever be nominated for this award.