Introducing 🎥 Reel Representation 🎥

Hello all. A disclaimer: I began this post in May, before my state was disrupted by riots and protests about the wrongful death of George Floyd. I remain safe at home, checking on loved ones and praying for peace. On with the post.

I know I promised to update more frequently with all the time on my hands, but a quarantine can’t stop college! Now that finals are over, I wanted to introduce a passion project, a new series on the blog. I was assigned to research a social issue throughout American history, and I chose to research “physical nonconformity in media” because it is close to my heart. I looked at movies such as The Elephant Man, Rear Window, The Greatest Showman, and the television show Speechless, These and other works of art are to be the basis for a new review series: Reel Representation.

First, a bit of background: I’ve chosen to use the term “physical nonconformity” as opposed to “disability” or “disfigurement”, because both common terms have pejorative and limiting connotations that I would like to avoid. As I said in my essay Breaking the Binary, the distinction between appearance and ability is often overlooked, yet incredibly important. Stories of physically nonconforming people in media often condescend to them in storie such as Everything Everything, or The Elephant Man. I do want to address these and other “classics” and how they portray distortions, but first I want to focus on positive portrayals.

Some positive examples of physical nonconformity on film include Penelope (2008), The Greatest Showman (2017), the novel Defect (2007), and the television show Speechless (2016-2019). These will be covered first

One important facet of representation on screen is the common correlation of physical nonconformity to “monstrosity” or evil in the horror/sci-fi genere. I tend to avoid scary movies, with one important exception: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I have two separate articles, one for the book and one for the 2004 Hallmark miniseries, and I will address the 1931 “classic” in a third piece. I’ve been passionate about this story for years, and I’m excited to share my thoughts.

Part 1/2-The Wonder of Miscasting

Part 2/2-The Shape of Ableism

Above is a two-part video essay by Sarah the Scrivener, a social commentator and activist. She explains the problems of media representation eloquently, with credible research and statistics.

I look forward to exploring stories of representation and sharing unique perspectives. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Frankenstein.

In Time-Instant Revolution

Hi friends! I’ve had a busy two months, with returning from my trip and taking an intense writing class over the month of January. While I adjust my routine and figure out my personal brand, here is a movie review I wrote on my trip of an indie dystopian. Enjoy!

I was first drawn to this movie for how it plays with time and power. In a dystopian future, time is the new money and “Darwinian capitalism” rules the masses. Unfortunately this intriguing premise is ruined with a generic plot and horrible characters. I don’t love doing bad reviews, but I’ll make an exception because I was inspired to fill in the gaps.

This “sci-fi noir” (early dystopian) film tells the story of Will Salas, a man who “just wants to wake up with more time on the clock then hours in the day.” After the death of his mother and an unrelated sudden inheritance, he heads to the capital to take down the oppressive dictator, with the help of said dictator’s bombshell daughter (Amanda Seyfried). The actual system collapse doesn’t start until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie

This movie is actually similar to the (author) short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, in that both explore the futility of greed and the endless hamster-wheel chase of survival in poverty.

While the movie has some interesting musings on capitalism, In Time suffers from what I call “Twilight syndrome”. Every side character is interesting and I want to explore their story, but I’m forced to watch Bonnie and Clyde stumble through a romance while destroying a nation. We have Henry Hamilton, a 105-year old who commits suicide and jumpstarts the “conflict”. We also local gang leader Fortis who is out to find Will and Sylvia and collect their bounty. And then we have Raymond Leon

This is Timekeeper Raymond Leon, and the whole reason I’m talking about this movie in the first place. Not only is Leon portrayed by our charming Cillian, he is far and away the most underrated character in this movie and the one with the most possibilities for backstory exploration. All we know about him is that he has been a timekeeper for 50 years, he was from Dayton but managed to escape, and he knew Will’s father. That alone is a more interesting use of the premise than the basic Robin Hood story we are given. His character arc is minor, but there’s room for interpretation of his motivations and actions. His ultimate demise casts the rest of his narrative into a new light, as a man failed by the system he fought to uphold.

Last Five Minutes of In Time

This ending to Leon’s arc reminds me of Luke Castellan’s ending in The Last Olympian. Those that fight hardest for corrupt systems fall farthest when they are let down.

The movie as a whole feels underdeveloped and more fitting for a soap opera series. The collapse of a way of life is seen as a matter of course and powerful leaders react with alarming indifference. The police force also gives up with no fight, setting down their guns and walking away as Sylvia and Will overthrow the system in front of their eyes. I understand the social commentary this movie is aiming for, but even in the real world dismantling a system is never resistance-free. Anyone who calls themselves a feminist can attest to this reality of life,

I give this movie 5/10 for interesting premise, good visuals, and Raymond Leon. Half points docked for a mainly insufferable cast and a generic plot. If viewers want to become emotionally invested in a semi-relevant side character, they are free to watch this movie, but the general *plot* and leads are an utter waste of time.

A River Runs Through It- A Beautiful Mess

Hi! This is actually a homework assignment so that explain the added length and detail. Shoutout to Mr. Becknell for introducing me to this tragic, profound, mysterious story. Also the movie was adapted from a short memoir, so this is another combination review.

Norman MacLean’s 1976 short story details his relationship with the mountains of Montana and with his wayward brother Paul. My tagline “A Beautiful Mess” refers not to the overall story but to Paul. Throughout the story he is seen as the inferior brother in many ways, but he also has an entirely unique relationship to the art of fly fishing and it is the one thing that keeps him sane and happy in the middle of his alcoholism, immaturity and lack of direction in life. This story could best be paralleled to Little Women-a fictionalization of a true story of American family life.

The first lines of the story are “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing”. This blend of nature and religion is the anchor of the story and most tangibly seen in Paul who appears to have no religious beliefs of his own despite being the son of a reverend.

Robert Redford directed the 1992 film adaptation, starring Craig Sheffer as Norman and a very young Brad Pitt as Paul.

One of the chief achievements of the movie is the cinematography. Nature shots and narration are utilized with finesse. The most poignant passages of the story are narrated by Redford and set to picturesque views of Montana mountains and rivers.

The movie adds some details about Norman’s life, one of them being his job offer at University of Chicago and his subsequent quasi-proposal to Jessie Burns. Riding on the high of love, Norman visits Paul in a bar and tells him the good news, about ninety minutes into the movie. Paul offers perfunctory congratulations but clearly has something up his sleeve. Paul ends up bringing Norman to a casino to “celebrate”-rather to manipulate hi brother’s luck in an attempt to get out of debt. When Norman confronts Paul and offers to help, Paul simply repeats in a steely voice “It’s my debt”. In this moment, Paul is somehow both hero and villain. Hero, because he shoulders his own responsibility, toxic as that mindset may be, and villain for manipulating Paul.

The MacLean family fishing trip is the most engaging  and profound scene in the story. This scene happens in the third act of the story, and serves as a “final battle on the hero’s journey” for Paul. Norman muses on the day later, saying “At the end of this day, then, I remember him both as a distant abstraction in artistry and as a closeup in water and laughter.” As my friend said about the scene It’s almost like he’s catching himselfit’s basically a Grecian fall”

One of the more poignant yet subtle details of Paul’s death is that the bones in his right hand were broken, the hand that held the rod that was his instrument. In addition to Paul’s personal tragic irony, the right hand is seen throughout the Bible as representing authority and power. In the end, Paul lost what little autonomy he had and dies alone.

The last lines about Paul (“He was a fine fisherman….he was beautiful.”) continue to trip me up and make me ponder. Paul is considered beautiful, even though he is an alcoholic, possibly a playboy, and has no real sense of direction in life. Norman may be the narrator of the story but Paul is clearly the hero. In addition to self-destructive and manipulative behaviors, Paul struggles with pride and lack of direction, One could infer that fishing is the only thing that centers him and keeps him sane and this is why he devotes so much focus and energy to the craft.

All in all, Paul is simply a human. He is a man who has nothing but the love of his family, but in that he has everything. He is an artist with a fishing rod and a degenerate with a beer pint. Paul is many things, bu above all, he is the river that runs through this backwoods odyssey.

The movie is a wonderful ode to family, religion, nature, and the bonds that nothing can break. 10/10 for amazing actors, amazing cinematography, and Brad Pitt’s amazing performance. A lovely movie to watch during family night, especially for those who have spiritual families and/or families that connect via nature


Age of Adaline-Brilliant Ideas, Subpar Execution

The 2015 romantic drama could be described as a gender flipped Tuck Everlasting for adults, centering on 108-year old Adaline Bowman, whose routines of loneliness and drifting are upended by charming Ellis.

Let’s start with Adaline and her sympathetic story. She’s spent over 60 years of her life alone, with only a dog for company. The movie tells us she changes identities every decade, and gives us some interesting content relating to that. A majority of the relatable emotion of the film comes from Adaline dealing with her life and doing what she has to in order to survive, until Ellis comes along with his charm and changes her worldview.

Here’s the problem: Ellis isn’t actually all that charming. The NYE elevator meet-cute is actually cute, but Ellis follows up with mild stalking after “Jenny” repeatedly rebuffs him. This type of behavior is common in romantic movies, particularly ones released before #MeToo, but it is not acceptable behavior in the real world.

I felt that while Adaline and Ellis have some charming banter, the pace of the relationship seems a little rushed. Adaline is meeting his parents all of 30 minutes into the movie-maybe two or three weeks of chronology. He tells her he loves her shortly after this, adding unnecessary stakes to an already tense dynamic.

I don’t want to explain the major plot conflict of the movie, but suffice it to say it is not something many rational humans would approve of. The movie tries to pass off some differing ages as an excuse, but it doesn’t work for me.

I will commend the two standout supporters for their work. Ellen Burstyn shines as Adaline’s 80-year old daughter Fleming. The strange age reversal does nothing to alter the sweet mother-daughter dynamic between the two, although Fleming is at times more wise than her mother. The other standout role goes to Harrison Ford-yes he was a supporter. He plays the third character in the strange plot conflict. He brings a good sense of confusion and yearning to the role.

As my mother said, “the movie is a vehicle for Blake Lively to wear outfits from different eras”. The idea of a woman drifting through time but never changing is very intriguing, but the movie puts all the focus on the romance that changes her and not enough on her life as an immortal.

The movie is good at musing about time, and mortal relation to it, and other deep topics, but the love triangle gets in the way of this being a serious, philosophical movie. 7/10 for a dash of philosophy, decent main actors, and stunning supporters. A full points lost for the weird plot conflict, one for each person involved, as well as pacing issues. Watch it, but don’t expect as much philosophy as Passengers or City of Angels.

Legally Blonde-A #MeToo Predecessor

Hi! Here’s a look at a 2001 classic that definitely deserves the status. I’ve seen this movie about ten times, but only recently did it occur to me to watch it through a feminist/#MeToo lens and I was pleasantly surprised.

Let’s start with Elle herself. One of the earlier scenes in the movie shows Elle calling a dress store clerk out for trying to trick her. Already we can see Elle’s sass and articulation combine flawlessly. One wonders what an intelligent witty young lady is doing with two supportive but shallow friends as her sidekicks. While her motives for going to Harvard Law are completely regressive and impulsive, her dedication and drive throughout the process is quite admirable. Once she gets into Harvard, she struggles to be taken seriously. My favorite little montage of the movie occurs around 42 minutes in, after Elle realizes that Warner is a dick who will never take her seriously. The glow up montage is backed by “Watch Me Shine”, a random power anthem by Joanna Pacitti.

Ok I must talk about Victor Garber’s role as Professor Callahan. This role might be one of the best examples of a subtle predator I’ve seen on film. He begins by praising Elle’s efforts in class and offering her an internship, but quickly turns to deriding her ideas in the courtroom and discounting her intuition. That’s annoying and sexist in itself, but he goes so far as to make an advance on her. For the first half of the movie one could excuse his behavior as “he’s the professor, he’s the adult”, but there is no way of excusing his lecherous behavior around 1:20:00. He gets his comeuppance in a cinematic manner and the audience is satisfied, but it serves as a heavy lesson to all.

Two other interesting characters are Warner and Vivan. Warner begins as Elle’s boyfriend but quickly ends up engaged to Vivian. Warner’s life track appears laid out for him and he rudely explains to Elle that she doesn’t fit. Vivian comes on the scene as an antagonist, but she quickly comes to appreciate Elle’s intuition and grit. The movie deliberately turns the “female catfight” trope on its head in an entertaining fashion.

Overall this movie gets 9/10 for a driven protagonist, an entertaining plot, and well-developed supporting characters. One point docked because a few of the plot points are just too far-fetched. A good pick for a girls night or a mother-daughter movie night.

Love Actually-A Christmas Tragedy

Hi! Welcome to part 2 of the Christmas series. So this movie is interesting because it’s one of the most popular modern Christmas movies, and yet….I don’t like much of it. It’s on Netflix so it’s easy to find, and I’ll break down why I don’t like it.

The film follows nine different plot lines in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I’ll review each individually. (The movie would be better with three or five plots, nine feels quite overstuffed) To be honest, I can’t remember most of the character names, but they’re all A-list actors.

Mark and Juliet- Juliet is marrying Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor pre 12 Years) and his best friend Mark is the videographer. Of course, Mark harbors a secret obsession for Juliet (Kiera Knightly does what she can with the role). Everyone knows the card scene, don’t get me started on how berserk that is. No. Just no. Marriage is a line that you do not cross Mark!!!! Juliet shouldn’t have kissed him, that was hella stupid.

yes Mark, enough of your stalker antics.

Laura Linney plays Sarah, the lovelorn accountant who can’t act on her crush because all her time is taken up with her mentally unstable brother. The one time she brings hot accountant Karl home (hot accountants only exist in movies, wtf?) they’re interrupted by said brother. This is the most tragic to me, because I’ve watched a lot of caregivers around me sacrifice their wants and desires to care for others. SARAH DESERVED BETTER!

Bill Nighy plays a washed up pop star recording and promoting a Christmas remix. The role seems (to me) like a parody of Mick Jagger or other aged rockers, and it’s actually kinda funny. His recording manager Joe serves as his companion and the movie makes a very clear point that they aren’t attracted to each other-fragile masculinity and homophobia anyone?

Colin Firth is a heartbroken novelist who has a weird, non-communicative relationship with his Argentinian housekeeper (this one bugs me so much). Spoiler: after about a month of stunted communication across a language barrier, this loser proposes because…Christmas romance and miracle? I’m a hopeless romantic but there’s this little thing called COMMON SENSE!!!

Liam Neeson plays a widower with a lovelorn 10-year old son (who apparently went on to star in Game of Thrones). This one is less about romance and more about family, which is really sweet. His sister (Emma Thompson) gives this gem: “No one’s gonna wanna shag you if you cry all the time”. Insert fake retching at how outdated and inaccurate this is. MALE VULNERABILITY IS BEAUTIFUL AND HEALTHY!!! End PSA/rant. Also he’s a recent widower….

Hugh Grant plays the prime minister (of course) who falls for his house servant Natalie (clearly this movie was made before #MeToo, with all the romancing of coworkers and subservients). There’s a nice little dig at Bill Clinton in the beginning, and that classic “Jump” dance that everyone loves, but overall this storyline isn’t too deep or grounded in reality. I thought it was very cute a while ago, but as I age the storyline loses its charm.

Colin-oh man, this one is just thrown in there randomly. A server for weddings, he suddenly has the epiphany that he’ll get laid in America because “American girls are easy”. Good lord, I cannot stress how “frat-bro-esque” this is. It’s just nauseating, and of course it works because it’s a movie…

Jack and Judy are stand ins on a movie, and all they’re filming is sex scenes…Martin Freeman is cute in this role, but it’s just so….cringe that I forgot about it.

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson play Harry and Karen, a married couple in a rough patch. The rough patch is due to Harry’s wandering eye for his slutty receptionist Mia. (I am not against women having fun, but 1) he’s married and 2) her innuendos are so far over the top)

The movie has enough stars for a constellation, but that doesn’t make up for a dated plot and abysmally shallow characters. Also, shoving nine plots into a movie is bound to result in at least half of them falling through the cracks. The writers tried to update and revitalize the story with “Red Nose Day Actually” two years ago, but it felt too short and too similar to the original.

A Simple Favor-Psycho Barbie Commits Fraud, Mommy Vlogger is Shady

Ok so I went with a neighbor to see this new thriller and….I cannot make heads or tails of it. Blake Lively stars as the aforementioned psycho who goes missing 20 minutes in. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers (yes her name is indicative of her personality), the over-eager mommy blogger trying to find her. Both women have shady secrets and nothing is what it seems. Literally nothing, the whole plot is upended about seven times.

First off, the two stellar femme fatales. While Kendrick plays “pretending to be naive but secretly shady” with perfect pitch, the show is Lively’s through and through. Yes yes, literally every review says this, and that’s because it’s true. But the intriguing thing about Emily Nelson is her insidious abusive nature. She consistently manipulates her husband into abandoning his family and friends, treats her “best friend” like a convenient assistant, and leaves her son behind “for his own good”. This raises an important question: can an abusivo, manipulative, pathological liar genuinely love their child? On the other side of the coin, Stephanie Smothers is quite clearly a doting, hardworking mother, but she isn’t as innocent as she seems. Throughout the movie she becomes more willing to lie and manipulate, and she pretty much steals the life of her missing friend. Both women believe the terrible things they do are for the good of others, but are either right?

Emily Nelson is married to Sean Townsend, a former writer who can cook and actually gives a damn about his kid. Sean is played by newcomer Hollywood prince Henry Golding. Both characters he has played so far are interesting but Sean is a bit more gullible than Nick Young. Sean is unwittingly a pawn in Emily’s insane insurance fraud scheme, and sleeping with Stephanie doesn’t make him any smarter.

A major point of interest in this film is the soundtrack. One of the songs on my September playlist, “Crier tout bas” was featured in the trailer, but not the movie. Despite the irritating lack of that song, there are other beautiful French pop tunes to underscore the lavish indiscretions of these desperate housewives.

The whole movie basically centers on a $4 million insurance policy, yet the final destination of this money isn’t quite clear. This is just one example of the many plot points heavily stressed but unresolved, or resolved badly. The last ten minutes of the movie will give viewers whiplash and then probably leave them severely disappointed. Overall the movie had amazing production and actors, but tried to shove too many plot twists into only 2 hours. 8/10 for stellar cast, beautiful set and costumes, and a great French Pop soundtrack. Two points docked for too many plot twists and an unsatisfactory ending .

Crazy Rich Asians-Romance, Opulence, and Nuance

I went and saw this mega-hit with my friend and we agree it is wonderful. It’s akin to 2009’s The Proposal, but set in Singapore, with some complex musings on family and cultural value differences.

In this latest blockbuster, Rachel Chu follows her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore for a wedding only to learn that “he’s the Prince William of Asia” and his family plays by unique rules. Let’s just start with the implausibly of dating someone for over a year and knowing nothing about their family, ignoring options like Google or Facebook.

While other Asian characters are often portrayed as passive, quiet, or shy (looking at you Lara Jean), Rachel Chu is outgoing and radiant, but also has the necessary strength to fight for love. Her lover Nick Young (played by gorgeous newbie Henry Golding) is the one who seems to lack a spine when it comes to owning his heritage, and he pretty much is ashamed of his family.

The main source of this shame is Nick’s mother Eleanor. She holds very traditional values and puts her family above all else, even passion and love. Nick refusing to inherit the family corporation sours Eleanor’s opinion of Rachel from the start, and the two are curt at best. Toward the end of the movie, Rachel and Eleanor play a symbolic game of mahjong, and there we see that Rachel truly does have the courage and elegance to join the formidable family.

Another reason Rachel is looked down on is that she was raised by an immigrant single mother. Never mind Rachel is the youngest economics professor at NYU, her family past is seen as shameful and scandalous. 🙄😡🙄😡 This plot line angered me to no end, but the character of Rachel’s mom is so well-done, and I wish we had seen more of her.

There are a few interesting side characters. My favorite is Nick’s cousin Astrid, married to a “commoner” named Michael. When Astrid learns Michael is having an affair, she keeps her composure and doesn’t let her personal issues upstage the wedding. But eventually there is a confrontation and it is quietly powerful and glorious. Another standout supporter is Peik Lin (nicknamed “Asian Ellen”) played by the hilarious Awkwafina. Awkwafina was clearly an underused actress in Ocean’s 8, but she shines in her comedic niche here. The other standout is Oliver. While he’s a total stereotype, the “rainbow sheep” clearly had fun in the role and adds a light air to a cold and reserved family.

Overall, 9/10 for intriguing concepts, overwhelming sets/costumes/beauty and great actos. -1 because Mrs. Chu was a bit robbed.

Moonstruck-Everyone Cheats

I recently watched this 1987 classic and actually quite enjoyed it. Driven by Cher and Nicolas Cage (but carried by Cage entirely), the film tells the story of a woman complacent in life who comes to appreciate passion and joy through interesting circumstances. For once, there will be spoilers.

Let’s start with the casting choice. The producers cast Cher (at the time a 41-year old global pop icon) and Nicolas Cage (then a 23-year old semi-known actor) as the two romantic leads, and to my utter shock, they have amazing chemistry despite an 18-year age difference. A word on Cage: he is not “pretty” by aesthetic definition, but he is absolutely…. magnetizing in this role, similar to his turn in City of Angels. A large part of his appeal is due to his delivery of well-written monologues, but more is due to his raw emotion in this role. (Plus, he somehow makes flipping a table look good)

The movie’s supporting cast is rather weak, but a standout is Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s (Cher) mother, dealing with age and her husband’s infidelity. (Her husband Cosmo is a snake 🐍). Another endearing supporting character is Cosmo’s father, simply named “Old Man”. His love of his 5 dogs and the moon is relatable and very endearing.

Overall I give this movie 10/10: 8 for Nicolas Cage, 1 for Cher, and 1 for Olympia Dukakis and the Old Man. (Seriously, Nic Cage was made for this role.) In conclusion, it’s a warm, funny, lovely movie and all hopeless romantics should watch it.

Wonder-Two Hours of Pure Sunshine

*Stay tuned!! This article is a segue into broadening this blog!!!

The critically acclaimed 2017 movie tells the story of August (Auggie) Pullman, a fifth grader with some unique physical challenges. The lovely thing about this movie is that the physical issues are only a catalyst for much larger social issues as he begins his first year in public school. Julia Roberts portrays his mother with a stunning blend of grace and grit, striving to pursue her own artistic dreams amidst the newfound free time. Izabela Vidovic adds a poignant humility to Auggie’s older, oft-ignored sister Olivia. But the breakout star besides Vidovic is Daveed Diggs (apparently of Hamilton fame) as Mr. Browne, the perceptive and compassionate teacher. Overall (and here comes the segue part), as a human with some unique physical challenges, I greatly enjoyed the joy and humor that set the tone of the movie and showed that humans are more than appearances or limitations. Auggie enjoys Minecraft, Star Wars, and family, he has friendship issues, and he remains optimistic and curious about life. 10/10 for unique characters, uplifting tone, and ability to relate. I recommend this for ages 8 and up, anyone looking for a feel-good family movie, particularly families in unique situations.

As this blog progresses, I’ll begin writing some personal essays, sharing some of my unique story. Stay tuned!