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Captain Marvel Review

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Picture Source: refinery29.com

I’m still in awe of what Marvel has managed to do over the last decade. When I was little, I used to ask my parents what it was like watching Star Wars for the first time, living through that historic moment in film. And now, I can say I’m living through something like that; a point after which everything will be different. This level of interconnected storytelling, while commonplace in comic books, is still an extraordinary novelty in movies. It shouldn’t have worked. That it did is a miracle.

Still, they can’t all be winners. Every once in a while, you’re going to slip up. Even so, I was very excited for Captain Marvel for a number of reasons. Marvel had gotten Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the team behind the wonderful Half Nelson and Sugar, to helm the project. They’d gotten an all-star cast, led by Oscar-winner Brie Larson. Old favorites Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg were returning! There was gonna be a war between two interstellar races from the comics! Shape shifting aliens! It was gonna be set in the 90s! What could go wrong?

Already, there are articles appearing comparing this film to its closest apparent DCEU counterpart, Wonder Woman. It’s a cheap and easy comparison to make (take the two recent female-led superhero movies and pit them against each other!), but a quick point that I think highlights my issues with Captain Marvel is this: Wonder Woman was a focused movie. It knew exactly what it wanted to say narratively and it did so. It used its period-piece trappings to make a broader, empathetic point about gender struggles both then and now. But, above all else, the main character was extraordinary: a complex, multi-dimensional person who was an absolute joy to spend time with for two hours. I believed in Wonder Woman because I believed in Wonder Woman.

Captain Marvel, on the other hand, is all over the fucking place. It’s a space opera-turned 90s throwback movie-turned buddy cop romp-turned immigrant parable-turned CGI slugfest. To be clear, there are good movies that have incorporated all of these elements before. This is not one of them. There’s no clear narrative through line whatsoever. These scenes never cohese into a whole, and as such, it feels like they’re actively working against each other.

Part of this is the almost overwhelming lack of visual style. Remember how in Thor: Ragnarok, or the Captain America movies, or the first two Avengers, or Black Panther, you could just tell instantly who was directing the films? That immediate, clear authorial voice? That is completely absent here, and it’s a damn shame. One of Marvel’s most admirable qualities is their willingness to hire indie directors and let them do their thing. Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi is the obvious example, but even Avengers’ Joss Whedon, in spite of him creating three of the greatest television shows ever made (also Dollhouse), had only helmed one feature film before Avengers — the good-but-unprofitable Serenity. Like I said, Half Nelson was wonderful, but it was very low-budget. It’s useless to speculate, but it feels like Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were chewed up and spat out by the “Marvel machine”; for how blandly competent it was, I was half convinced they’d ditched Boden and Fleck about halfway through and brought in the guy who made Thor: The Dark World. This is a product made by an assembly line. In that way, it more closely resembles the directorless, hacked-to-pieces disaster Justice League, and I truly can think of no worse insult.

And so we come to Brie Larson. Now, Larson is an incredible actress. I feel like this is a given. While the Academy Awards have a very well-deserved reputation for being wrong on an alarmingly consistent basis (hi, Crash, Green Book, etc.), Larson’s Oscar for Room was one of those rare instances where the Academy got it absolutely right, both for the actress and the role. She brought a level of nuance and passion to that film that blew me (and seemingly everyone else) away. But there’s just something wrong here. She feels disconnected from everything, like the movie’s happening around her and she’s just observing it. Captain Marvel is a multi-layered character, but it really felt like Larson got stuck on the “stoic, dispassionate soldier” layer and no one knew what to do about it.

Also, the action scenes just generally suck. Part of this is again Larson, who never really seems to be in any danger. Even the early fight where her powers are greatly restrained, she plows through henchmen with about as much ease as ever, and always with that one stoic facial expression. But mostly, it’s the camera work, and the return of the dreaded shaky-cam quick-cut combo. There’s a chase scene, where Nick Fury and Phil Coulson are trying to catch up to a moving train on which Captain Marvel is dueling a Kree, and it plays like The French Connection but shitty. The chase takes place in broad daylight, but it’s practically impossible to tell where anyone or anything is in relation to each other.

Speaking of fights, there’s one where Captain Marvel has to go up against her former comrades in arms. These people, we’re meant to understand, have been fighting alongside each other for six years, having each other’s backs, looking out for the other. A unit. And now they have to battle for the fate of their civilizations. This should be some grand, Shakespearean shit, but it’s all just brushed aside for an empty, dispassionate, poorly choreographed fight set to a really bad tune.

This isn’t a completely bad movie. There’s the occasional moment of real charm, the most obvious being Stan Lee’s very sweet cameo. Talking of Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, the de-aging special effects are genuinely awe-inspiring. Sam Jackson looks exactly like he did in The Negotiator, and after about a minute I forgot I was looking at a special effect. Jackson and Larson have good interplay, as they do with Ben Mendelsohn’s character. His Telos felt very well fleshed out, and he gets some of the best lines. And the cat was cute.

But at the end of the day, the film is a disappointment. The lack of worldbuilding cripples any sense of reality the other planets might’ve had, the overall message is confused and unclear, and there’s a real sense that the main character just isn’t interested in anything happening around her. I don’t know if it’s an actor thing or a director thing, but somewhere something went wrong. I’m still excited for Endgame — of course I am — but this could’ve been so much more.

 

Us review

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Photo Source: www.vanityfair.com

If there were any lingering doubts as to Jordan Peele’s skill behind the camera, the opening minutes to Us puts them firmly to bed. Set in 1986 Santa Cruz, we follow a young girl on vacation with her parents, wandering through a an amusement park-illuminated boardwalk. Said girl is separated from her parents, whereupon she wanders into a hall of mirrors, where she finds…let’s call her a bad reflection. As you may have seen in the trailer, she grows up, marries, has two children, and goes back to that same beach, where they are all menaced by a whole family of bad reflections.

But back to the carnival; that first sequence is masterful. The movement of the camera both accentuates the size and unfamiliarity of the girl’s surroundings, and pushes in, giving the place a tight, almost claustrophobic feel. The sound design is perfect, expertly capturing the disorienting nature of all amusement parks everywhere. We are right there with the girl, being pulled into that awful funhouse of mirrors, and like her, we don’t like what we see. But we can’t turn away.

For his sophomore feature, Jordan Peele creeps along, the film at times seeming to move at a deliberate snail’s pace, forcing us to wait for the fireworks factory. Whereas Get Out was a perfect slow-burn thriller (its screenplay win at the Oscars was very well deserved), Us occasionally feels scattershot, jumping around in fits and starts all while displaying a mastery of the craft. While the pacing isn’t always up to snuff, the individual scenes are never less than wonderful; anyone who saw the masterful 2015 psychological horror The Gift will remember how that film expertly took advantage of both the foreground and background, using little details to mine extra tension. Us does this brilliantly as well, crafting scenes with such skill that you’d swear he’s been making films forever.

Us is way more of a horror film that Get Out, which was itself more of a thriller (though genres are, obviously, stupid and reductive). Us is also probably less of a social commentary than Get Out, at least in terms of having a clear, easily-digestible message. I feel like I need to see it a second time in order to parse out what it all means. Also, I really, really want to see it a second time just anyways. This is a film made with such a passion for horror, someone with a deep love for the genre.

If Us isn’t quite as clear and groundbreaking as Get Out, it’s always entertaining in the moment. I’m very curious to see what others think the film “means”; I’ll confess that it’s not quite as clear to me as Get Out was, the meaning of which hit me like a punch in the gut. Here, it could be any number of things things, and it occurs to me that it might actually be more vague on purpose; while the film certainly offers up a couple of potential underlying themes (the title itself might be a big clue), I imagine that this is something that will be argued about and debated indefinitely. That’s not a bad thing.

As much as the directing stands out, this is definitely an actor’s movie. Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave and provided the moral compass for Black Panther (lowkey, she’s the smartest person in that movie), and I was hyped beyond belief to see her tear up a horror flick. She does not disappoint. So good is she, in fact, that I feel comfortable in predicting that the Oscars will completely ignore her (it happened to Toni Collette, probably the best all-around performance in a movie last year). Winston Duke, her Black Panther co-star, captivates the screen with his charisma, creating the kind of dad I feel like we’ve all met. His comic timing is perfectly delivered and deployed. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex play their children, and they are both wonderful; one of the best scenes in the entire film has the four of them arguing at a dinner table, and through the dialogue and direction we are shown glimpses into their minds, their insecurities, their strengths.

There is some unforgettable imagery in this movie. As can be expected in a story about doppelgängers, the idea of doubles and mirrors is quite prevalent. Near the beginning of the film, we see a doomsday prophet with a cardboard sign with a quote from Jeremiah 11:11, Later, our attention is drawn to a digital clock where the time is 11:11. Soon after, the dad watches sports on TV, where the score is 11 to 11. When the Wilsons go to the beach, they meet up with another family, and it’s interesting to see them as even more of a broken mirror image than the doppelgängers. And I’ll just say this: there was a “Hands Across America” flyer in my old kindergarten classroom, the one where everyone’s holding hands and circling the globe. I will NEVER look at that the same way again.

I can definitely see being underwhelmed by Us. It’s an imperfect, confounding, at times frustrating film to get a handle on. But I really got into it, appreciating the crazy wavelength it operated on, as well as how Jordan Peele was taking deliberate steps to expand from his previous film. Whatever else, it’s a film I’ll be puzzling over for a long time coming.

The 2019 Oscars: or, An Exercise in Cinematic Cowardice

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(Photo credit: https://www.okayplayer.com/culture/green-book-wikipedia-page-sabotaged-after-oscars-win.html)

The Oscars getting it wrong – hilariously, spectacularly, unfathomably wrong – is nothing new. Hell, it’s practically a tradition in of itself. Much as I love Rocky, I’ll be the first to admit that it beating out Taxi Driver was ridiculous. Dances With Wolves was great, yes, but better than Goodfellas? For all of Forrest Gump’s charm, was it really better than Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption? And Driving Miss Daisy beating out Do The Right Thing? Well-

Actually, let’s stop there, because that kind of ties into the 2019 Oscars kind of perfectly. Scarily perfectly, in fact. In 1989, the Academy had a choice; a safe, cushy movie that kind of-sort of-didn’t really make them confront the ugly realities of the world we live in, or one of the most vital, incendiary, confrontational movies, one that shoved your face into the world and said, “This is you.”

Naturally, they chose Driving Miss Daisy. And now, exactly 30 years later, they have learned nothing.

And I had high hopes, too. I feel like every movie lover has that moment when they realize just how bullshit the Oscars are (mine was seeing Crash, and then a little later catching Brokeback Mountain and leaning that Crash had beaten it out), but all the same, I hoped. I really did. Not one year ago, Moonlight had crushed what had been considered to be the safest of all Oscar bets, the loving ode to Hollywood and musicals, La La Land. That the Academy had done this implied that maybe, maybe, they had finally grown some balls.

Nope. Here we are again, with BlacKKKlansman and Black Panther both in the running, and what won? Green Book.

Green Book.

Really.

It feels weird to say that I’m a huge Spike Lee fan when BlacKKKlansman is the first joint of his that I’ve seen on the big screen. I saw it in a packed house on a Thursday night, with many of my fellow theater-goers – at least, the ones in my immediate vicinity – of the elderly white persuasion. They were into the film, very vocally – they chuckled along with the jokes, they “ooohed” to Ron Stallworth standing up for himself, they audibly cringed and boo-ed when Trump was vaguely alluded to, and they cheered the end, when the racists get what’s coming to them, and everything is wrapped up in a nice, neat bow.

And then something very interesting happened. Because the film didn’t stop there, and I can honestly say that what we were treated to next was stunning. We cut to clips of Charlottesville. Trump speeches. Racism – modern day racism, something I genuinely don’t think any of Green Book’s writers think exist – and terrorism. Mass hysteria. No more fun and games.

The crowd was silent. Someone coughed. No one had turned against the movie, per say, but it was obvious they had been thrown for a loop. We had been promised a good time clowning at a few goofy racists, laughing at how incompetent and obviously evil they were back in the olden days, because obviously that’s where racism was, and only there. And sure, sometimes the movie would get serious, but not too serious. Right?

The ending changed all that. Spike Lee’s message rang out, loud and clear; we all had a good time here, he was saying, but don’t forget that for black people, this is reality. This is our everyday existence. You can go home, shrug all this off; we can’t.I was stunned. It was exactly as in-your-face confrontational as his previous masterpiece, Do The Right Thing. It was unapologetic and unafraid.

And then, as icing on the cake, they nominated Black Panther.

Love it, hate it, or feel underwhelmed by it, it’s impossible to deny how big a gamble Marvel took with Black Panther. Hiring Ryan Coogler, the master behind Fruitvale Station and Creed, Marvel was giving a multi-million dollar property to someone who’d never made a blockbuster. More than that, they were letting him make an unapologetically complex and nuanced movie – a genuine successor to Do The Right Thing in terms of racial understanding – all in the guise of a Marvel blockbuster. To say it paid off is obvious; to say it is easily the best MCU movie perhaps less so (though it’s by far the deepest and most emotionally wide-ranging). It was daring. It was ballsy. It was confrontational. It was everything we thought was a fluke in previous superhero films, and everything so many previous MCU movies just weren’t. And it was a Best Picture nomination.

And they went with Green Book.

Green Book, simply put, is a film for cowards, those lily-livered wimps who’d rather bury their heads in the sand and pretend racism was well and truly solved when one white guy gave one black guy fried chicken that one time. This film exists not only as the ultimate exercise in cinematic mediocrity but as the ultimate “but also” movie, the kind of film made for people who, when confronted with racism, randomly shout “BUT WHAT ABOUT BLACK-ON-BLACK VIOLENCE” out of nowhere. It’s a shallow, unfeeling movie with no interest in really diving into what drives these two people – how much of Don Shirley’s character is “part of his show”, or how long he spent cultivating his image, or whether or not Tony’s racism at the start is just ignorance, or something much deeper – this is all ignored in favor of a stupid, “They both need to change to get along” attitude. It is the last word in Oscar cowardice.

Consider the second Ancestral Plane visit in Black Panther. Killmonger has just usurped the throne from T’Challa and undergoes the same journey he previously did. Only, something’s wrong; whereas T’Challa was out in the open, here Killmonger is trapped inside the concrete walls he knew as a child, only able to see the vibrant sky from through a window. And whereas T’Challa was able to speak to his father man-to-man, as soon as Killmonger sees his Dad, he reverts – literally – to a little boy.

Meanwhile, Green Book has this scene where one guy feeds another guy fried chicken and this cures racism.

Sigh…

The really weird thing is, in some ways this was the best Oscars show in a while. Without a host, the thing moved along at a pretty brisk pace, and there were some fine speeches (petition to have every acceptance speech end with “LADY GAGA!” Bless you, Olivia Colman). I’ll never stop hoping the Oscars get it right. But they’ve been wrong – they’ve been cowards – so many times before.

Hilda Review

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(Photo Credit: http://www.animationmagazine.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/hilda-post2.jpg)

Hilda is a charming and overall very likable series on Netflix which I highly recommend checking out. It is the type of show I could see people watching on a cold fall night just before winter has fully settled in the air, or during a snowy winter’s day when you have nothing to do but curl up with a nice cup of hot cocoa (extra marshmallows, butterscotch syrup, and whipped cream) curled up nice and tight with a favorite pillow or blanket for warmth. It’s one of those unassuming shows that mostly fly underneath people’s radar, but I personally think it deserves an advocate, despite how simple and unassuming it might be. It may just be a silly little kid’s show, but once in a while I think silly little kid’s shows deserve their limelight too, and Hilda is one of those times.

If I had to equate it to other pieces of media, I would say it’s somewhere along the lines if Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall had a slightly less neurotic love child. A calming atmosphere with soothing tones to every episode, Hilda is the perfect Netflix show to watch if you want to be transported back to days of forgotten childhood where adventure and exploring the world was all that mattered. The relaxed story throughout the series follows the title character Hilda along her journey with her friends throughout the city of Trollburg and all the wild types of things they get up to.

The series touches on many topics that people can relate to even in college. Things such as leaving one’s home behind for a new one, trying to fit in, conquering your fears, and making new friends. While it does touch on some mature topics now and then, it handles them in a very nuanced and relaxed way, more focusing on the characters interacting with each other, rather than dwelling on issues and hitting you over the head with moral lessons and ethical philosophies. The animation style is also a breath of fresh air; soft earth tone colors scatter the screen in a relaxed and flowing manner. While it still grabs one’s attention, it doesn’t overwhelm the senses with erratic and overwhelming bursts of color every moment on screen. Even if cartoons aren’t your thing, I would recommend checking out the overall playlist of the show. It is super soothing and I would really recommend adding it to anyone’s study playlist if they like soft bouncy music without any lyrics that evoke the sense of wonder and adventure. Personally, those kinds of songs are the ones that get me through any form of math class. Not only that but also the main characters are also very charming as well, each one memorable and likable in their own unique way with a variety of personalities. If whimsical music and somewhat childish antics aren’t your thing, perhaps give this one a pass. If you are like me and love a burst of nostalgic intermingled with lovely calming visuals, interspersed with a soothing yet whimsical overall orchestration in the background swelling to reveal beautifully drawn landscapes, I highly recommend this show.

Serenity (No, Not That One, The New One)

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(Photo credit: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6476140/)

Baker Dill: “I need you to deliver me from temptation.”

Duke: “What temptation?”

Baker Dill: “You don’t need to know.”

Last year, it seemed that the whole film world collectively got up and declared Gotti the worst film of the year upon release. And while it wasn’t –– that particular dishonor goes to Holmes and Watson –– it’s all too easy to see where critics were coming from. Gotti was a special kind of bad, a movie where ineptitude and poor decision making seemed to become a character in of itself. Though it only came out in June, it seemed primed to be the butt of the joke even as December came to a close.

And now, we’ve got another impossibly bad movie, another contender for the “surely, this is as bad as it gets, right?”, except we’re only in January. Holy shit. If this is any indication, we’re in for a bumpy ride. A hilarious, fascinating, often awe-inspiring ride, and one in which we see Matthew McConaughey’s “O” face and bare ass way too much (if such a thing were possible), but still…batten down the hatches. Here we go.

The crazy thing is, I was looking forward to this one. I’m a die-hard neo-noir fan, and according to the trailers, that’s exactly what this was, though in my defense, the trailers didn’t give any hint to how batshit insane this movie is. The movie initially seems to follow Matthew McConaughey as a washed up fisherman, completely obsessed with catching this one big fish. He really wants to catch this big fish, and everyone knows he wants to catch this big fish, and everyone is always talking about how obsessed he is with catching this big fish, until I’m like, “Alright, alright, enough with the big fish.” This was less than a third of the way through the movie.

I’m gonna describe the first scene of the film real quick. We open on an extreme close up of a little boy, before zooming into his right eye to reveal the wide ocean, where Matthew McConaughey is sunburnt and fish hunting. In order to supplement his income, he allows himself to be hired out by rich old dudes to fish on his boat. When Matthew McConaughey’s lure catches the big fish, one of the old dudes try to take his rod away. Remember, this is the service that this man has paid for. So, the old guy tries to take Matthew McConaughey’s rod away, saying, “I paid you $700 cash for this!” Matthew McConaughey responds in the only way he knows how: he unsheathes his knife and charges at the old guy, hissing and spitting like mad. The only reason he doesn’t skewer the guy right then and there is the timely intervention of his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou). That Duke knows just what to do here implies that this isn’t the first time Matthew McConaughey has attempted to murder the people hiring him. After a valiant struggle, the fish gets away, and the old guy who has already paid $700 says, “If you think I’m paying you one cent for this, you’re out of your mind.”

Hoo boy.

What makes this attempted murder even more bizarre is that the rest of the movie hinges on Matthew McConaughey’s unwillingness to commit murder, this time actually justifiable. Anne Hathaway, who is introduced into the movie with a fake sparkle on her ring and a truly bizarre camera spin, reenters Matthew McConaughey’s life with a startling proposal: take her new, deeply abusive husband out to sea, and kill him before he hurts her and their son any more. Jason Clarke plays the husband, and in an early scene we see him talking about a rumor he heard regarding the cheapness of hookers on the island. This scene climaxes with Clarke saying the line, “I gotta hit me up with some of that $10 ass,” and if you thought the theater I saw this in wasn’t laughing uproariously…well, they were.

The film is filled with lines like that. Matthew McConaughey (whose name is technically Baker Dill, but c’mon; it’s Matthew McConaughey) describes his backstory as such: “I went away to war. The war fucked me up. When I came back, she was with him…except I never really came back.” Duke, his shipmate, describes their fortunes as such: “Ever since your wife died, we ain’t caught jack shit.” Matthew McConaughey’s abused son has a photo of his old man that has the words, “ME AND DAD BACK THEN” on the back. I literally don’t have the space here to go into all the other weird shit this movie does, with the fish-based dream sequence, the frequently appearing Ominous Seagull of Foreshadowing and Doom, the bespeckled guy everyone just calls “the skinny guy” even though he’s really not all that skinny, and holy shit there’s just so much. It’s genuinely overwhelming.

How did this happen? Steven Knight has two films under his belt, the Jason Statham vehicle Hummingbird (released as Redemption in the US), which I haven’t seen, and the Tom Hardy vehicle Locke, which I did see, and thought was absolutely brilliant. Locke (which at time of writing is available on Netflix, and I urge you to check it out) takes place entirely in one car, yet it is never boring. It is a lesson in technical expertise and pitch-perfect directing. Serenity has actors, including the main ones, looking into camera by accident. It boggles the mind.

Even before the big twist, I had this movie pegged as a serious drama as filtered through the mind of a six year old. I had no idea how right I actually was. Serenity is a movie so bad, so incomprehensible, so fucking weird, that the frequent appearance of Matthew McConaughey’s bare ass barely warrants a mention.

Book Review: The Odyssey, Translated by Emily Wilson

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Picture source: kensandersbooks.com

I read The Odyssey my sophomore year of high school, and the beautifully antiquated English and repetitive, ornamented epithets of the “wine-dark” sea and “rosy-fingered” dawn were not enough to entice me towards forming a personal connection with the text. Instead, I viewed the androcentric narrative of a man’s journey home after plunder and conquest as yet another ‘universal’ story that excluded, essentialized, and violated women. Call me naive, indeed I was; yet, it should come as no surprise to those well-versed or even peripherally familiar with classical studies that the boys’ club mentality of the discipline has a fraught history with welcoming female scholars to its elite ranks. In 2018, Emily Wilson became the first woman to publish an English translation of The Odyssey. Wilson’s introduction moves nimbly between the ancient world and the modern one. She presents a convincing argument for rendering an ancient text using frank, modern English. In effect, Wilson has authored a translation student readers will find accessible, casual readers enjoyable, and hopefully academic readers ideal for teaching and worthy of scholarly acclaim.

In her introduction to the translation, Wilson begins by defining an epic poem. According to Wilson, The Odyssey is an epic “in the sense that it is long, and in the sense that it presents itself as telling an important story.” On the one hand, The Odyssey’s elevated style, the regular poetic rhythm of dactylic hexameter (in Wilson’s translation iambic pentameter) and use of an assortment of formalistic language unassociated with the common dialects of ancient Greek peoples during any single time period, place the text in an elevated realm. On the other hand, Wilson notes how Odysseus’ story deviates from what modern readers may expect of an epic narrative in that there is no individual moment of climactic victory. Unlike “Jason claiming the Golden Fleece, Lancelot glimpsing the Holy Grail,” or modern examples such as Harry defeating Voldemort: “In The Odyssey, we find instead the story of a man whose grand adventure is simply to go back to his own home … For this hero, mere survival is the most amazing feat of all.” A central tenet of Wilson’s introduction is that Odysseus’ story is fundamentally tied to its roots in antiquity; yet, The Odyssey’s themes—of migration, ambiguous morality, homelessness and hospitality, fidelity and infidelity, deity worship, and the aftermath of violence and war—continue to carry profound relevance in the canon of Western literature, as in our contemporary world.

Wilson summarizes the contentious debate over the date of The Odyssey’s conception and the text’s authorship. The closest scholars have come to establishing consensus on the composition date of The Odyssey is sometime between the late seventh and late eighth centuries BCE. Long before the poem was transcribed, diverse versions and sections from the work were performed by bards as a form of entertainment for the elite families of ancient Greece. The poem’s origins in the oral tradition establish an additional level of complexity regarding the composition date and authorship of The Odyssey. Even if there existed a single author and scribe with an independent vision, the story of Odysseus predates The Odyssey as a written text.

The debate centering around The Odyssey’s authorship has therefore been similarly argumentative. In the nineteenth century, for example, Homeric scholarship was divided between the Unitarian and Analytic schools. The Unitarians believed that the poem was “not an aggregate of earlier, shorter compositions, but … composed by a lone author with a single overarching structure in mind.” Whereas, “[t]he Analysts, by contrast, argued that the epics [The Odyssey and The Iliad] were produced by many different hands.” Although it may be tempting to imagine Homer, “the poet,” as a single individual—most likely a man—Wilson invites readers to “question the notion that a unified structure and coherent creative product must necessarily be seen as the result of an individual’s work.” Modern readers familiar with the various forms of storytelling born as a result of advancements in technology may be more adept at viewing Homer’s text “as a mostly unified whole … which was created by multiple different people, over a long period of time.”

Migration, plunder, conquest, nationality, colonialism, and physical and racial Othering, are all recurring themes of The Odyssey. Wilson walks a careful line between using modern theoretical work in her introduction, while not utilizing terminology that evokes anachronistic interpretation in her translation. For example, while many modern translators have used the word “savage” to describe the cyclops, Wilson avoids the application of terms that carry connotations associated with British colonial history. Such terminology may cause readers to incorrectly map European colonialist practices on to those of ancient Greek peoples. In contrast to modern fears regarding migration, hospitality—albeit among elite, adult men—is a core motif of The Odyssey. Hospitality and the fair, honest treatment of strangers, or “guest-friends,” signifies for Odysseus whether or not an individual or a community is civilized. Wilson writes, “The word … xenos can mean both ‘stranger’ and ‘friend’; it is the root from which we get the English word ‘xenophobia’, the fear of strangers or foreigners, as well as the sadly less common ‘xenophilia’, the love of strangers or of unknown objects.”

The roles of women and the navigation of gender dynamics in The Odyssey are likewise rigorously addressed in Wilson’s introduction and translator’s note. Wilson discusses the text’s strong emphasis on female sexual fidelity. Although Odysseus has multiple affairs during his absence, the narrative rewards Penelope for remaining sexually chaste. Penelope’s fidelity to her husband, her role as the loyal partner, is paralleled with Agamemnon’s wife’s betrayal which results in the war hero’s tragic death. In regard to translation, Wilson does not use language that eroticizes the murdered slave women’s bodies at the text’s obscene conclusion: “in the scene where Telemachus oversees the hanging of the slaves who have been sleeping with the suitors, most translations introduce derogatory language (‘sluts’ or ‘whores’), suggesting that these women are being punished for a genuinely objectionable pattern of behavior, as if their sexual history actually justified their deaths. The original Greek does not label these slaves with any derogatory language.” Furthermore, Wilson refrains from presenting female beauty as a catalyst of male conflict, as in Christopher Marlowe’s famous words on Helen’s face: “the face that launched a thousand ships.” Directly translated, Helen’s face is described as “dog-like” and Wilson employs the verb “hounded” to describe the role of Helen’s objectified body during the Trojan War. Wilson emphasizes the patriarchal imaginary of The Odyssey, rather than attributing male actions to an essentialized aspect of women’s sexuality.

Wilson’s contemporary English translation flows effortlessly. Unlike many modern translators, Wilson engages poetic structure. She uses (unrhymed) iambic pentameter (five metrical feet, unstressed/stressed) the most common meter in regular English verse found in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Moreover, Wilson states, “Homer’s language is markedly rhythmical, but it is not difficult or ostentatious … My translation is, I hope, recognizable as an epic poem, but it is one that avoids trumpeting its own status with bright, noisy linguistic fireworks, in order to invite a more thoughtful consideration of what the narrative means, and the ways it matters.” Linguistic flourishes may have a pseudo-scholarly effect; but in reality, our grandparents’ English, or the English of their parents, is no closer to the ancient Greek than our modern tongue.

The Odyssey is a story that encompasses many themes modern readers will find familiar: “loyalty, famil[y], migrant[ion], consumerism, violence, war, poverty, identity, rhetoric, and lies.” However, this ancient text displays foreign characteristics as well: Gods move among men, and men move between the worlds of the living and the dead; sea monsters, sirens, and cyclopes inhabit the earth; nymphs live autonomously on islands, although mortal women are confined to their marital homes; and cunning Odysseus, who has survived against unimaginable odds, is trying to return home. At the conclusion of Wilson’s translator’s note, she invites her readers to imagine Odysseus’ story as one would a traveler, inviting him in with all the “warmth, curiosity, openness, and suspicion” that hospitality entails. Odysseus is a military leader, migrant, mass murderer, husband, and father. Above all, as the first lines of Wilson’s poem indicate, he is no ordinary hero: “Tell me about a complicated man / Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost.”

Emily Wilson is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her translation of The Odyssey has received widespread critical praise.

 

Bumblebee: or, How They Finally Got It Right

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Picture source: straitstimes.com

The Transformers were kid toys; they were literally meant to be played by children. You wouldn’t know it, though, based on the previous decade of movies: long, ponderous, grim, unintelligible, and so, so boring. In recent years, the Michael Bay Transformers movies have become every cinema geek’s go-to punching bag and for good reason. They’re really, really fucking terrible. But beyond all the poor directing choices, bad acting, and everything else, the movies seemed to possess a fundamental misunderstanding of who exactly the movies were supposed to be for. This fundamental identity crisis is just one of the many things Travis Knight’s Bumblebee rectifies.

Set in loose continuity with the other movies (meaning thankfully that seeing the others before this one is not at all necessary), the movie opens on Cybertron for an opening battle that – gasp, shock – I could actually see. Already, this was a damn game changer for the Transformers franchise. From there, we move to 1987s California, where an escaping Bumblebee meets up with Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager still smarting from the death of her father. Bumblebee has fled to Earth on orders from Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobot resistance, with a mission: protect the planet until further Transformer backup can arrive. Unfortunately, two Decepticon villains have traced his signal back to Earth and have teamed up with the military to take Bumblebee down. Further complicating matters, Bumblebee has lost both his memory and his voice. Will Charlie and Bumblebee be able to overcome their obstacles and save the world?

First off, this movie is fun. It is really, really fun in a way that Transformers movies haven’t been in a very long time. It’s a movie that completely understands that it’s about a robot that can turn into a car and shoot missiles. One of the Decepticons has a liquifier gun! A gun that liquifies! But the action isn’t centered around robot wars. For me, the best parts of the movie were the more low-key moments, when it became an Iron Giant-like story about a girl and her robot friend, just living their lives. This is a very low stakes movie for most of its running time, which was absolutely the right choice. Over the course of its 114 minutes, I got to know both Bumblebee and Charlie pretty well, which meant that by the time the fireworks factory opened its doors for the climax, I actually cared about what was happening.

Also, the action in this movie is very well done. Gone are the nausea-inducing clusterfucks of old, where you occasionally got a clear glimpse of Optimus Prime’s elbow (but really, it could be anyone’s). Travis Knight, in his second feature after Kubo and the Two Strings, knows exactly where to place the camera for maximum effect, getting everything into frame and making sure the punches have impact. The climax is legitimately thrilling, never descending into “two CGI things punch each other for 1,000 minutes”, but instead relying on both Charlie and Bumblebee to use their wits to defeat the menace.

For all that, the movie is not without fault. It’s a little too similar to The Iron Giant, for one thing, with shades of E.T. thrown in there for good measure, and this movie can’t help but pale in comparison to both. Some of the scenes are a little too rote, and while the movie is a deliberate throwback, that doesn’t stop it from occasionally feeling a tad too familiar. Love Simon’s Jorge Lendeborg Jr. gets too little to do as the love interest, Charlie’s family disappear from the movie for long stretches at a time, and John Cena’s character only has an emotional arc by virtue of John Cena giving it his all, performance wise. The script kind of leaves him out to dry.

But while watching Bumblebee, none of that occurred to me. I was hopeful a directing change would imbue new life into this franchise, and it’s always nice to be proven right.

 

The Mule and the Legacy of Clint Eastwood

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Picture source: irishfilmcritic.com

When looking at Wikipedia to research this review, I learned that Clint Eastwood is a big fan of jazz. It was one of those moments where, suddenly, a whole lot of things snapped into place. So much of Eastwood’s filmography, this film in particular, has a breezy, easy, almost lackadaisical quality. And like jazz, it’s best to just sit back and let the rhythm take you where it takes you.

The rhythm, in this case, takes us down the story of Earl Stone, the 90-year-old Korean war veteran turned horticulturist who has been all but rejected by his family. A lifetime of bad decisions and missed anniversaries has piled up, making him a pariah at most get-togethers. His twilight years are given new direction, however, when he stumbles into a new job: drug running. He’s now a “mule”, transporting bags full of cocaine through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel, all while the DEA (led by Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, and Michael Peña) close in.

Wouldn’t it be easy to write off Clint Eastwood? Here’s a man coming up fast on his 90s and still directing and starring in movies. Shouldn’t he be content with his two Oscars? But to do so would risk overlooking the legacy of one of cinema’s all time masters, as well as ignoring just how weird most of his career has been. Yes, he’ll most likely always be known first and foremost as The Man With No Name, with Dirty Harry as a close second, but does anyone remember that his first ever directorial feature was the stalker thriller Play Misty For Me? Or that he soon followed that up with the hippie-positive Breezy? Or what about The Bridges of Madison County? Or Changeling? The point I’m trying to make here is that Clint Eastwood’s collection of movies is far more diverse and experimental than most people give him credit for or even realize.

So in a way it makes perfect sense that this be his swan song. Why not? It’s no less weird than the time he planned Gran Torino, the movie about an aging war veteran coming to terms with his bigotry as his final bow. It wasn’t, of course. In the 10 years since Gran Torino, we’ve had a whole slew of films from the movie-making machine that is Eastwood. And honestly, a part of me can’t help but wonder if we’d be at all more charitable towards Eastwood if Gran Torino really were his last picture. It’s easy to forget, but for a while there the man was a God-Mode directing streak of Spielbergian proportions. Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, one after the other, all magnificent. In the decade since Gran Torino, while we did get the wonderful Invictus, we also got the “just alright” Sully, the tepidly recurved J. Edgar and Hereafter (though I do quite like that one), and the downright awful Jersey Boys and The 15:17 to Paris. By comparison, it’s hard not to think how the mighty have fallen.

If it sounds like I’m reviewing Clint Eastwood’s entire filmography more than Clint Eastwood’s latest film, it’s probably because I kind of am. But it’s also because at 88 years old this really might be it for him. And this man’s been working since movies were black and white, and he’s still at it, and for that we owe him our due. As far as swan songs go, you could probably do better than The Mule, although it’s by no means bad (and although I’m saying “swan song” here, no one would be less surprised than me if 10 years or so down the line, Eastwood popped back up for a third cinematic farewell). It’s interesting, certainly. I’ll admit to spending more time in the movie thinking about what Eastwood was saying about his enduring legacy than I did getting invested in the character, which probably speaks to some kind of failure in the way the movie’s written, but weirdly it’s not a crippling one. Eastwood is good in the movie, very good in fact. He manages to be funny in ways that aren’t immediately obvious and affecting in ways that are never in-your-face about it. I always like it when he reminds people he’s more than just a scowl and a growl (though he does a lot of both here). For a lot of scenes, his character is downright jovial. The supporting cast is certainly game as well, with Bradley Cooper in particular getting two very good scenes with Eastwood, although I can’t help but notice that the ending hinges on a connection between Eastwood’s character and Cooper’s FBI agent chasing him…a connection the movie doesn’t quite sell.

It’s also very obviously an old man’s movie. One of the running gags is the previous generation and how obsessed they are with their newfangled cellular telephone devices, and wasn’t it so much better when people just lived their lives instead of staring at a screen day in and day out, don’t ya think (although I’d probably be less annoyed, I think, if the dumbass next to me didn’t go out of his way to validate the movie’s point by going on his phone during the movie several times. Screw you, dude). The relaxed pace of the movie certainly benefits someone of Eastwood’s age (and I’ll warn you now, this isn’t a film with a BANG BANG BANG ending), and reminds me once again of Gran Torino, which was actually written by the same guy (Nick Schenk). And it once again has Eastwood playing a prejudiced old man, although like Gran Torino, the movie very explicitly doesn’t condone or agree with his views (this, of course, hasn’t stopped a fair number of online clickbait articles to decry “Eastwood’s racism”; I especially love the articles written by people who get critical plot elements of the movie wrong, indicating that they haven’t even seen it).

This is a movie with immersive scenes, but it’s not a particularly immersive movie, at least not in the way Eastwood’s been previously. But if it’s never quite immersive, at least it’s always enjoyable. It’s jazz: there’s the odd missed note, but mostly it’s just got this wonderful flow that carries you away and leaves you smiling.

Incidentally, it also taught me that horticulturists have their own awards ceremony. There is an awards ceremony for people who work on flowers. Hey, the more you know.

DeltaRune Review

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Emblem for the DeltaRune video game. Picture Source: aminoapps.com

DeltaRune is one of those games that I would recommend even if you aren’t a gamer in any sense of the word. As someone who finds video games to be often more expensive than they are worth and would rather just vicariously live through “Let’s Play” videos on YouTube, I can’t say I would define myself as someone who plays video games. However, Deltarune is different. I will admit I am a bit biased, but first a bit of context is needed.

Deltarune is the spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed indie game Undertale. Undertale is without a doubt my favorite video game, and its “sequel” really is no different. Although technically unfinished, Deltarune is a fantastic play, not just as a game but as an experience. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the game itself and at the request of the developer and creator of the two games, Toby Fox (Aka the Annoying Dog), I don’t want to disclose too many details (spoilers and all that). What I can do, however, is list the reasons why I find this game series so inspiring and captivating to the point that I will probably be annoying my friends about playing it for at least another two months (sorry not sorry guys).

From the very moment you start it’s clear that the graphics compared to the last game have drastically improved. The visual style in the first game, while certainly reminiscent of old-school 70’s and 80’s video games, still felt a bit lack luster at various points due to its very minimalistic nature. In the sequel, everything seems so enhanced. It’s bright and colorful yet still keeping its old-school pixelated style, which I just adore. It’s obvious that Toby Fox really pushed the pixelated visual style of his sprites and characters, this time drawing on what he learned in making his previous game. Another thing that I can’t stress enough about is how amazing both games are at overall story-telling. Toby Fox does a fantastic job of creating loveable characters that you can look back fondly on, almost like old friends. Not to mention fantastic worlds in which you will want to live in forever.

Another important aspect to the game is the play style. I highlight this aspect because unlike most video games the very playstyle itself helps tell the story of the game. Toby Fox has done a fantastic job of intertwining the game into the story and the story into the game. It’s one of the few games I can say I’ve seen a creator use the video game medium as an advantage rather as something to work around when creating it, and even more far and few between have I seen it be so intentionally and effortlessly done as Toby does with his works.

Another thing that I love about the sequel is that it is not a repeat of the same plot by any means. In fact, I would say that if you had no idea it was a sequel to anything, you wouldn’t really know other than a few character interactions later on in the game, which are winks and nods to the first game. Though, it really is worth it to check out the first game, Undertale, before playing the sequel as it will lend you to a lot more context within the universe Toby Fox has created as well as create further depth of characters. Of course, there are multiple endings to the first game which I would recommend looking at just to understand the full context of everything before going into the sequel, but as far as giving anything else away, I don’t think it would be right of me to spoil any more than that. All in all, please check out Undertale and its spiritual successor chapter 1 of DeltaRune if you have time over Thanksgiving break. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Halloween (1978) vs Halloween (2018)

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Picture Source: www.frightday.com

Horror is a genre full of killers, but the real killer is familiarity. Over the past thirty years, we’ve seen Michael Myers, the terror at the center of the Halloween franchise, unsheathe his knife and kill in ten movies. Ten times he’s come back from the dead, ten times he’s killed the horniest of teenagers, and ten times he’s been defeated in a slightly more extreme way than the last…only to come back and start the cycle all over again.

But this year was different. David Gordon Green, the director of the new version, went on record saying that he was ignoring every Halloween sequel after the first one; essentially, he was making a direct sequel to the movie from thirty years ago, thus unburdening himself from the overly convoluted mythology the franchise had accumulated over the course of ten movies (two of which are technically a reboot). The star of the first one was back, as was the original director to craft a whole new score. The stars were aligned to make something great.

I should probably get into the original. Fifteen years before the film begins proper, we see an eight year old boy pick up a knife and, for no apparent reason, kill his older sister. Cut to the present day, and the boy (Michael Myers, who I should mention shares no apparent relation to the Shrek actor) manages to escape from the mental institution he’s been kept in, seemingly intent on heading back to his hometown to terrorize the residents, including teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends. It’s up to Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to stop him before he kills anyone again. Loomis had spent the past fifteen years observing Myers, and has come to the conclusion that Michael Myers is pure evil.

While watching the original again, I found myself agreeing with Loomis. Michael Myers managed to be scary in a way he never really was again, and the comparison I kept coming back to was Jaws; like the shark, Myers is barely in the movie. His first on screen kill after the opening scene isn’t until almost an hour into the movie; before that, he kills a man off-screen to steal his clothes. But he’s always there, even when he isn’t, and this is largely down to the film’s greatest asset: the cinematography. In his review of the movie for The New Yorker, film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “The film is largely just a matter of the camera tracking subjectively from the mad killer’s point of view, leading you to expect something awful to happen. But the camera also tracks subjectively when he isn’t around at all; in fact, there’s so much subjective tracking you begin to think everybody in the movie has his own camera.” She obviously meant this as a knock against the movie, but it somehow winds up being what gives the film its awesome power. By never letting up on the slow, creeping build of the camera, director John Carpenter very deliberately gives off the impression that Michael Myers could be anywhere, and strike at anytime, doing wonders for Dr. Loomis’ claim that he is “pure evil”. When he is on screen, he’s usually in the background, slightly out of focus, or in close up, with his head cut off by the frame. We don’t get a good look at him until over an hour into the thing, and by then, it’s far too late for most of our protagonists, most of whom we’ve really come to like by then.

These two things – slow-burn dread and likable characters – were the first to go by the time the sequels rolled around, followed quickly by Michael Myers’ mystique and practicality. In the first one, he stabs and strangles people, and we don’t see all that much blood. In the next several movies, he bashes heads with hammers, electrocutes bodies with Christmas lights, impaled with extreme prejudice, and, in one memorable instance, drowns/burns someone in a hydrotherapy tub. Throughout all of this, he gets killed and resurrected so much, that he essentially becomes immortal, a far cry away from the power the first film was smart enough to only suggest.

So when David Gordon Green said he was going to get back to basics, I was understandably excited. I sat down to watch it, popcorn and soda in hand…

…and thought it was okay.

It’s probably the best of the sequels, honestly. Much as I have a soft spot for Halloween II, it does jettison most of the likable characters, including Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends about 80% of the movie confined to a hospital bed, dreaming in flashbacks. The 2018 Halloween, at least, does right by her, putting her front and center again to great effect. It’s easy to say that Jamie Lee Curtis is the best thing in the movie and leave it at that, but she is really, really good. For whatever problems the movie has otherwise, you feel Laurie Strode’s pain in a way you never did before, not even in II or H20. Laurie centers the movie in her character, and gives it a weight the original didn’t have.

Which is good, because everything around Laurie is a tad lackluster. One of the key elements of the original Halloween was how direct it was, and how well the slow burn was built to a fever pitch. While there are moments of excellent suspense in the movie (I’m thinking especially of the long-take in the middle, that has Michael move from house to house, picking off random people), the overall pacing itself is way too scattershot. Scenes begin and end at the wrong place, often cutting off when things are about to get interesting. And while Laurie and her immediate family are reasonably well-defined, the rest of the characters (or, more accurately, cannon fodder) suffer from only one dimension. And where the original got away with having little brutality, the new is chock full of gore. It has one character better served than in the original, but other than that, it falls short.

BY SAM STASHOWER

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