Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is an irreproachably beautiful movie, which is problematic when making a movie about beauty. Ostensibly the movie decries objectification of beautiful women, while the cinematography enhances it, to the point that any feminist critique is rendered inert at best and hypocritical at worst. Continue reading →
Month / June 2016
Braindead 1×02: “Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown – A Critique”
We have SINGING PREVIOUSLIES!!! A male voice (which I hoped was Aaron Tveit’s but, tragically, is not) narrates everything that happened last week: the mysterious meteor, the space bugs, the brains, Laurel’s sad documentary, Luke’s job, Laurel’s job, Gareth’s job, Senator Weenus’s job, the government shutdown, Luke’s affair, Scarlett’s “space bug problem,” and the good doctor’s exploding brain. It’s pretty damn catchy too.
Laurel’s listening to pundits discuss the shutdown and trying to spray the ants that are parading in a column right towards her feet. They do not give one shit about the spray, so she stomps on a couple of them with her hipster-masquerading-as-professional-lady clunky boots, and then runs out the door. The camera gets way too close to the ants, who seem to be nudging each other and possibly reanimating. Yikes. OK so it’s been like a day, and already these things are ALL OVER D.C. and in Laurel’s actual apartment. Realistically, does Laurel have a chance of surviving the season with her brain intact? Things are moving way too quickly here.
Links We Loved This Week — 6/26/16
For those in NYC, happy Pride! Check out these photos from NYC Pride through the years at AMNY. It’s definitely cool to see the early days of the march, but 2013 is my favorite.
Probably the best-titled book list we’ve seen in awhile: the Millions has “A Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery.”
The Times’s fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, passed away recently and the Times has a moving obit.
And finally, Robert Downey Jr. shared this amazing wedding cake on his Facebook page.
Braindead Recap: 1×01 “The Insanity Principle : How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century”
We open with title cards over a set of TVs playing political rants, like we’re in the world’s most stressful Best Buy or something. “In the year 2016 there was a growing sense that people were losing their minds… and no one knew why… until now.” I’m a fan of the eighties-pulp-movie red lettering they’re using.
We see some people being overpowered by a wave right after what looks like a meteor strike.
“Meanwhile,” the title cards announce: and we cut to a young woman on the phone fretting that she can’t get some unnamed large amount of money in a week, but will try when she gets back to LA. She hangs up, swears to herself, then stares at a set of monitors playing news about a fire, Hillary Clinton, and Trump. (They really lucked out here that Trump won the nomination. I mean, not as citizens of course, but as writers peddling a show about how politicians are having their brains eaten.)
Why You Should Watch Braindead, The Summer’s Weirdest New Show
I didn’t really think there was any way for a show with a premise like that of Braindead, the newest show from Good Wife creators Michelle and Robert King, to hold together. A political satire, but with zombies? It sounded like a hot mess. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Aaron Tveit (who plays Laurel’s love interest and counterpart across the aisle) had suddenly broken into song: everyone loves a Zombie Musical!
But I was wrong. I admit my massive fangirlishness for The Good Wife may be biasing me here, but I think this show, like Buffy or Community, has the potential to be one of those curios that in its refusal to fit in a genre manages to carve out a big new place for itself in the TV landscape.
Links We Loved This Week — 6/17/16
There was a Friday Night Lights reunion in Austin. Where do Minka and Taylor think their characters are now? (at Vanity Fair via Lainey Gossip, which has lots of squee-worthy pictures of same.)
The New Yorker has a compelling piece on unREAL.
…beneath the giddy parody “Unreal” offers a singular meditation on stardom, media mendacity, sexism, and competition among women
The Bronte society is having some, errrr, issues (from the Guardian, via the Rumpus).
You’re the Worst‘s Aya Cash gives a typically funny and insightful interview with Indiewire. Give this girl all the Emmys!
An interesting piece from AV Club on the success of Scream and the curious subsequent disappearance of meta-horror. (But would Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next, and Tucker and Dale versus Evil have existed without Scream? Probably not.)
Writing Beautifully About Nazis: The Strange Failures of All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr’s body of work is filled with characters who have extraordinary gifts. In his earlier novel About Grace, a man could dream the future. In his short story collection The Shell Collector, people were gifted with everything from metal-eating to speaking with the dead. In his most recent work, the Pulitzer-prize-winning World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See, a young German boy has a preternatural ability to work with radios. And if Doerr himself has a near-magical gift, it is that of spinning sentences that each have the lush beauty and soft sheen of a perfect pearl—a gift on full display in All the Light We Cannot See.
Daredevil Recap: 2×02 “Dogs to a Gunfight”
Previously: THERE ARE NO PREVIOUSLIES THIS IS NETFLIX.
Open on Foggy on the phone, talking to (we infer) Karen, the morning after Shane tried to kill Grotto and ended up shooting D. Neither of them have seen Matt since the night before. Foggy finds himself at the police line (what are these called again?) around the hospital, and hears a radio mentioning shots fired on a rooftop “on 10th.” He immediately heads for a building “on 10th,” gets buzzed in by saying he lost his keys, and runs to the roof, where he finds… nothing. So we get an honestly-pretty-funny montage of him getting buzzed into building after building by making up excuses, and occasionally getting berated for being “an idiot.” He finds Matt facedown, draped over a skylight, and panics, runs over to him with a bunch of “No no no no no!”, and pulls off his mask. I really hope this is the last occurrence of “No no no no no” in Foggy’s scripts for this season, because I’m already sick of it. Matt appears to breathe and flap his mouth in response, although he still looks really dead. Time for the opening credits!
Let’s start with a slow pan over Matt on a couch in his underwear. Why not? His face is still covered in his dried blood, and he’s in his apartment. He calls out to Foggy for an aspirin, who responds, “You’re sure you don’t want an x-ray, maybe a psych eval?” This scene is serious Foggy all day, so I obviously love it. Foggy is super pissed that Matt almost got killed, that he could have been seen wearing his costume, and even more pissed that he wants to keep looking for Shane “The Punisher” Walsh [Did you know Shane’s last name in the Walking Dead was “Walsh”? I just had to look it up… Rick Grimes is pretty much the only character with a last name on that show.]. Matt, meanwhile, is supremely dismissive and condescending—he calls Foggy “buddy” multiple times, and calls it a “dumb mistake” that he didn’t notice Shane had the ankle-holstered gun that he got shot with. Matt is positive that the police won’t be able to handle Shane, and that he needs to keep looking for “the shooter.” Foggy tries to take the suit away, and Matt grabs it—”Let go.” “You first.”—and then yanks it away. That little exchange is great: at first it seems like Matt’s ability to beat Foggy up is part of the conversation, but it resolves with him pettily yanking his suit away, and Foggy’s righteous anger maintains all of the moral high ground.
Karen and Grotto are in a room in a police station, working on his witness protection application. Foggy comes in, still amped up, and grills Grotto about why he told them the Irish were hit by “an army” when there’s only one Shane; Grotto replies that he thought the stories that the attacks were done by one man had to be “ghost stories.” Cop-friend Brett comes in with an orange prison jumpsuit for Grotto to change into (“Protective custody,” he explains, to Grotto’s total lack of satisfaction), and asks to speak with Karen and Foggy outside. He tells them that the cops know a little more about “the shooter”: he’s working independently, a vigilante targeting different crime families. This leads to the exposition—I mean revelation, sorry—that there are other vigilantes copying “Daredevil” (“We call them ‘Devil Worshippers,’” Brett says), and that the police are divided over whether they approve of the murderous tactics of the shooter. Looks like some Thematic Tension!
Back in Matt’s apartment, Senses have gone haywire: quiet things are loud, Matt’s ears are ringing, and he isn’t entirely aware of the world around him, accidentally knocking a glass off a shelf that he’s then unable to catch. As the glass shatters, everything goes quiet: Matt can’t hear anything at all anymore, and sinks to the ground, clearly yelling loudly, though neither we nor he can hear his voice. Apparently being shot in the head is bad for you. I guess we had to expect a Coping With Loss of Powers storyline at some point, but it’s still disappointing when it actually happens: I wish the show was better than this.
In the police station, Foggy is at first nervous and uncomfortable as the power-suited, dyed-blonde DA walks up, but then quickly transitions through quippy to confident. She expects to be able to force Nelson and Murdock to give up representing Grotto, and to be able to make whatever witness protection arrangement she wants for him, but, as blurry-Karen-in-the-background does a amused/impressed/slightly-turned-on face, Foggy out-bullies her, threatening to involve federal authorities and remove the DA from the case. After this brief visit from actually-good-at-his-job Foggy, everyone heads into the holding room to hear what Grotto can give the DA in exchange for witness protection.
Grotto offers to give up everything he knows about “those Irish pricks,” with which the DA isn’t impressed, since they’re all dead (she offers that “the ones who aren’t dead are fleeing the country,” which I guess is a way that his offer could be not the stupidest thing he could have said, but… whatever, Grotto isn’t supposed to be a brain surgeon). They want him to meet with a drug dealer named “Brass,” while wearing a wire, he doesn’t want to, blah blah, and to finish pressuring him, they throw dozens of autopsy reports from people killed by The Punisher—sorry, I mean “the shooter from the hospital.” DA steps out of the room, and the assistant DA (Assistant to the DA? Unclear. [I searched youtube valiantly for a clip of Dwight shouting “MICHAEL!” but couldn’t find one. I’m ashamed of you, Internet.]) says [Wow, how was that for a parenthetical? Do you have any idea what we’re talking about anymore? Me neither… ok I just checked and we’re learning what the assistant DA says when the DA leaves him in the room with Grotto, Karen, and Foggy] that the “intelligence people” have completed a profile, and have given “the shooter” a code name. Foggy scornfully suggests some great ones, including “Killdozer,” but the reply is “They’re calling this one [meaningful pause] The Punisher.” Rather than breaking into riotous laughter, Foggy and Karen look scared and worried. Maybe the ominous music overlaid on the end of the scene surprised them, since I’m sure they were thinking, along with the rest of us, “Come on there’s no way the writers expect us to take this seriously… right?” Let’s cut to another scene because this one is awful. [Janes: Seriously. This was the most laughably bad scene in the whole season—at least that didn’t involve magical Oriental ninjas.] [Technically that was a spoiler but if you didn’t know, you want to start preparing yourself now. It’s not good.]
The back of Shane’s head walks into a badly-lit and out-of-focus pawn shop, where the grizzled pervy-looking owner is selling something to someone whatever. Shane asks to buy a police radio which gets encrypted channels, and Pervy has one in the back, and is charging $1,000 for it—sure, why not. Shane also asks to buy the surveillance video from the store. (…What? He just walked undisguised through a hospital shooting everyone! What is this supposed to achieve?!?) Finally, after he also buys the shells out of the guy’s shotgun for a few hundred dollars (again, what?) and is walking out, Pervy lives up to his name and tries to upsell him some child porn: “She’s barely 12, guaranteed!” Shane ominously flips the sign out front to “Closed”—oh hey, there’s the Potbelly on 14th across the street—and grabs an aluminum bat as he stalks back towards Pervy, whose suggestion that Shane “just take it easy… I’m just trying to make a buck!” is answered by a wet CRACK offscreen as the scene ends. To find out who Shane actually hit, tune into Season 7 of The Daredevil. If you don’t get that joke, I envy you so, so deeply. [kht: I don’t get it. Do you envy me?] [So, so deeply.]
Foggy and Karen look at some bills and morgue reports from Punisher killings, and Karen feels like she’s doomed, or deserves to be, because she’s still working out guilt from killing a bad guy last season. Killing is bad, everyone. Kudos to Foggy for the “you’re not the one who deserves to be punished” semi-pun: we’re all going to handle coping with that awful name-reveal scene differently, and I’m glad to see him starting the process.
Karen comes to Matt’s apartment—he has a nosebleed, but can hear again—to tell him about the meeting with Reyes, the DA. When she sees the broken glass that he dropped earlier, she asks if it was hair-of-the-dog, and says that “whenever he wants to talk about what’s really going on with him, she’s there,” calling back to Foggy’s revelation that he explains Matt’s bruises to her as the results of an alcohol problem. This is actually pretty touching. Then we move on to the point of the scene: after describing the DA meeting briefly, she moves on to the new vigilante in town (“They’re calling him The Punisher,” she says, sounding a bit pained. So are we, Karen. So are we.), and Matt says they need to put together a file on him, “find out who this guy is.” When Matt asks if she thinks The Punisher is crazy, she says, “No, we created him—when we let The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen…” “There’s no connection,” Matt interrupts, defensively. Thematic Tension, welcome back! Karen insists that D’s actions open the door for “men with guns, who think that the law belongs to them,” and Matt says that Daredevil has never killed anyone. Karen isn’t so sure, and says that “there’s something about this city that makes good people shoot their way out of bad situations… he could be any one of us.” I don’t get what you’re saying there, Karen! Thematic Tension is always so hard for me to interpret. And then she immediately makes an awkward exit, although on her way out she stops in the door to stand waaaay too close to Matt, and say “We care about you… you’re worth having around,” and glance repeatedly at his lips. He really needs to talk to Nelson and Murdock’s HR rep.
Matt rushes out to talk to Melvin, his suit- and helmet-manufacturing friend, about the bullet hole in his stupid piggy facemask. (I didn’t actually realize it until this scene, but this was actually a great way to undo the horrible costume design from the end of the first season…) But actually, as soon as we have a glimmer of hope, Melvin says that it will take him days, and all he can do tonight is add some padding. PigHelmet it is. Lots of hamfisted foreshadowing here about something bad happening to Melvin or Betsy, in the form of a dozen repetitions of “I’ll keep you safe / we keep each other safe / nothing bad ever will happen to anyone in this room or any of their dependents.” We would have gotten it the first time, I think, but this way is good too.
PigHelmet isn’t ready yet, so Matt returns to the scene of the Irish shooting wearing only a hoodie, and finds a blood trail using senses, which leads him tooooo: an apartment with a scary-but-chained-up dog, an active police scanner, and lots of assault weapons! Chez Shane. The decor is little too Se7en for my taste, but to each their own.
Meanwhile, in some warehouse, some Dogs of Hell have stolen a semi cab. They drag out the unconscious/dead driver, and start breaking the truck down for parts. This scene is actually pretty cool: the guy washing out the truck is wearing ear protectors, and so doesn’t notice the gunfire behind him until blood sprays on the panel he just washed off, followed quickly by a dead body—he turns to see a blood-spattered Shane. Uh oh.
Chez Shane, Matt notices one of the scanners has voices talking about the operation to get Brass: Grotto’s witness protection deal. Let’s check in on them. Grotto is getting fitted for his wire, and complaining about it to Karen, Foggy, and Reyes, ordered by reaction from sympathy to awkward humor to angry threats. Before heading out, cute moment: he asks Karen for a good luck kiss, and she leans in slowly… to flick him off. Best friends!
Grotto walks next door into a parking lot, and starts yelling for Brass. No one answers, and we’re momentarily confused about how anyone ever thought this was going to work, but suddenly a body-armored silhouette appears near a shipping container at the side of the lot. Grotto follows him into the container, off-camera from the observation room, and his radio gets cut off by the container. Surprise! It’s a cop, who throws Grotto some body armor—the DA is using him as bait for the Punisher. Back in the control room, Karen and Foggy figure this out pretty quickly, and start threatening to sue the DA. They’re too late to stop the ambush, though: the semi cab we saw earlier appears, and crashes into the vacant lot as it and its driver are shot to pieces by the SWAT team.
Surprising no one except everyone in the show, the driver isn’t The Punisher, because The Punisher—sorry, I meant Shane—is standing (?) on a water tower (???) nearby, waiting to shoot Grotto. I guess mostly we’re supposed to focus on how this looks cool, but I keep coming back to this: the thing that was so great about Season 1 was how grungily realistic most of it felt, and in any reasonable world this guy standing upright on top of the tallest object around would have been seen and shot ten minutes ago. Ugh. Anyway, just before he kills Grotto, D arrives, clad in PigHelmet, with a smoke bomb and a flying kick, and they start Roof Combat Round 2, this time fighting amid water leaking out of the suddenly-bullet-ridden water tower, and, relatedly, conveniently-off-target bullets from all those snipers.
In the middle of all this, Karen wants to go out and get Grotto, who’s running for it, but Foggy stops her: “You can’t go out there, it’s about to turn into a war zone!” You mean, a PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, Foggy? Now the snipers say they can’t shoot, because they don’t have a “clean shot,” meaning D is in the way… but they’ve just been shooting at him for all of the last minute… whatever. Anyway, Reyes insists that “You know what to do,” and so they start shooting (again? Or maybe just continue shooting?), and Foggy lets out a really whiny “Nooo….” Not quite Backstroke of the West level, but not his best work for sure. Seriously, writer’s room—get him another word to say. Any other word.
Net result of all these bullets: Punisher gets shot in the arm once, and then suplexes both of them through a skylight, where they can’t be shot at any more. Foggy runs out—not at all suspiciously—to try to find Matt, who’s trying to gather himself after that fall. As foreshadowed, suddenly his powers fail him oh no what a surprise! The Punisher seems to realize he can’t hear-see anything, and by the time Foggy gets there, they’re both gone. And the episode is finally over.
I definitely regret blow-by-blowing [Phrasing!] that last scene—probably won’t be doing that anymore… but that is my takeaway from this episode, and really most of the season so far: the more attention you pay the worse it looks. Which is really disappointing: I like these characters a lot (in the critical sense, which in Matt’s case is more like hate in the emotional sense), and so far it feels like they’re getting drowned in cartoony melodrama. If only I could say that we were done with the cartoony melodrama for this season…
Links We Loved This Week: 6/4/16-6/10/16
UnREAL: “Walter White in power heels: UnREAL is evil, twisted, unmissable TV” from The Guardian
Ploughshares takes a look at literary friendships throughout history. Didn’t know that Oscar Wilde inspired Count Dracula, but how PERFECT that he did!
The Tiny Doors art project in Atlanta shows you that “Not all doors need to be opened to be interesting” (via Atlas Obscura)
At The Millions, Kaulie Lewis writes about writerly jealousy. “When we say, ‘all of my ideas have already been had,’ what we’re expressing isn’t jealousy, it’s doubt in our own creativity, in our worthiness to write about anything at all.”
The Lola Quartet: Emily St. John Mandel
In Emily St. John Mandel’s 2012 literary “thriller” (misnomer though this may be for a novel that is more suspenseful than actively thrilling) a moderately successful reporter finds his life upended when his sister sees a photo of a young girl who looks exactly like him. Haunted by the possibility that he has a daughter he never knew about, Gavin slides into a life of fraud, unemployment, and finally violence. The seeming stability of his life was just an illusion; in fact, it is a net, on which he rested for years but through which he can easily slip.
In this novel, the world of crime and poverty is distinct from, yet terrifyingly close to, the everyday world of law-abiding, middle-class citizens. The stories of Gavin, the other members of the jazz quartet that sustained him in high school, and the girl who disappeared while carrying the mysterious child, weave a tighter and tighter web that draws every character under the surface of the everyday. Mandel shows skillfully how the rest of society maintains itself only through a conspiracy of denial, in which people willfully refuse to see the addictions, abuse, and trauma that hide behind the closed doors of their neighbors’ homes.
The novel, whose prose doesn’t have quite the mature elegance of Mandel’s most recent work, the spare and gripping Station Eleven, doesn’t make its characters round enough to render fully convincing the mysterious self-destructive impulse that propels so many of them. But it is a sensitive, gripping portrayal of how fragile a construction American “normalcy” really is.