sSeriously. I watched one episode, and I can’t really answer that.
The IMDB.com entry describes the show as “part cooking show, part sitcom in the vein of the Addams Family and the Muppet Show,” but I can’t say that The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell succeeds on any of those fronts.
There are, indeed, puppets. There is a reanimated raccoon, a cat that was once worshiped in Egypt, and a werewolf who arrives as their guest. Oh...and an octopus who lives in the refrigerators, but she hasn’t any lines, yet. They are all painfully snarky, but not in a fun or joyful way. They just seem to hate each other and just about everything else than eating.
The Addams Family? I grew up on that kitschy masterpiece, and this show is nothing like that. The strength of the Addamses was that they saw their lives as completely normal and the humor came from the fact that they were joyously odd and “normal” people would react badly and then go on to learn some greater truth from Uncle Fester or something. There is no joy in this house. The raccoon honestly wants to kill people. They know they are weird, and they lash out because of it.
And the cooking part….well, that fails, as well. I think perhaps all of the other bells and whistles were deemed necessary because while Christine McConnell makes foods that are incredible to look at, her personality in front of the camera is - well - flat. Maybe that is an act, but it is entirely impossible to tell. Additionally, episode 1 saw two foods made. First, she made pretzel-based bones with so much white chocolate coating that the pretzel and peanut butter had to get lost in the mix. Then, after the werewolf arrived (lest you forget the crazy in which we are operating), McConnell makes a cake shaped like their Victorian home for his welcome party. Given, the cake is lovely, but we get to see very little of it made as the entire structure is formed when the segment begins.
I usually give a new show the customary four episodes to win me over, but I was making deals with myself before episode I hit the 10-minute mark. I don’t hate myself enough to watch another. I have one friend who is engaged via the “so bad it’s good” mentality, but I cannot even get there.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell may aim to kill us with creepiness this Halloween season, but it misses the heart.
Sometimes all you need for a successful film is the right twist on a tried and true formula. Hush found an interesting take on the home invasion horror film by giving us Maddie (Kate Siegel), a deaf author, as our lead. Taking away sound gave the invader, only referred to as “The Man” and played by a usually far less creepy John Gallagher, Jr., a significant advantage.
The result is a film that offers its audience a new look at an old genre by setting them off their axis a bit by reducing the usefulness of one of their senses as they empathize with Maddie. In addition to being a cautionary tale that one should always have a charged cell phone handy, the film builds suspense through a close relationship with the protagonist and the additional creepiness of a villian who seems to just be terrible for the enjoyment of it.
The acting is spot on with an obviously minimal script. The direction allows for an audience to follow Maddie’s processes while simultaneously honoring her deafness and the audience’s need to hear something to stay involved.
It’s a fun one if you are looking for a scary movie that relies more on a building sense of danger than jump scares. I tend toward movies that play with my brain rather than just throwing around buckets of blood, and Hush was entirely satisfying.
You know that genre of space dramas with the compelling main characters and the amazing, other worldly space vistas?
Yeah, this isn’t one of those.
I feel it necessary to lead with the fact that I do not dislike the film simply because I have so many criticisms that are going to seem to secure that fate. I don’t. I think Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy are about as dynamic of a team as a film could want. I think that it seemed to erase the romanticism of the space race amid the truth of vomit, fire, and pain. I think that the launch sequence is one of the best lead-up scenes in recent history. So, no, I do not dislike it.
But I certainly have some criticisms.
Kudos to the sound design and mix. Those two teams should be in Oscar consideration, for sure. It was exquisite. And the IMAX sequence was pretty, though expanding the height to show blackness at the top of the screen is...well...odd. Again, it was acted incredibly well and I cared about the narratives.
A couple random thoughts to close:
I do not really like movies that exist merely to emotionally manipulate me. I am willing to cry if a film is able to build a good enough connection through all of the Aristotelian criteria to earn the tragedy, large or small. I will be angry, however, if a movie seems to exist solely to make me cry (I’m looking at you, Forrest Gump.)
I walked into Life Itself having seen the trailer both on television and before some previously-viewed movies. I knew what I was walking into. The trailer didn’t pull any punches as to what it was going to be. It was going to be driven by high emotion. There is a reason they blitzed This Is Us with advertising for this movie. Sometimes This Is Us edges toward the cry/anger line for me. I was braced for what two hours of Fogelman might bring about.
I think it was a really good idea to knock a viewer like me off balance in the opening minutes. I wasn’t expecting to laugh that hard, and laugh I did. Laying out the theme of the film in such a comedic way did that whole Shakespearean thing of lowering my defenses with laughter so it seemed less sappy later. I am not sure that the college paper bit was needed. That was a bit heavy-handed and seemed to be a sign that the diretor, perhaps, did not trust his audience to get it without a decoder ring. I think it’s a stronger film without that bit, but I usually think that trusting the audience is a better move.
The cinematography by DP Brad Pawlak was beautiful and was very careful in guiding the audience’s eye. This was particularly important early on. The main cast for each act was ridiculously strong, giving honest performances of difficult material without seeming as if they were playing for the reaction. I am fairly certain that Oscar Isaac can do no wrong and isn’t Jean Smart having something of a big screen breakthough this year!
My main criticism comes with the movies final act. I do not feel that it was as earned. It was rushed and I didn’t really get a chance to care that everything had led to this one final truth. Due to this pacing problem, the denouement felt rushed and I was unsatisfied. In retrospect, the final turn was clearly built throughout the film, but it still was not given a chance to settle at the end.
I’m not mad at Life Itself and I don’t really understand the cold shoulder it is getting critically. It seems that, unlike my preference, many would prefer that tear-jerker films do nothing but make us cry. Leave style variations and timeline devices for the high drama flicks and just make us cry. In refusing to do so, the film gets accused of trying too hard.
I don’t want to sit through any film that isn’t trying hard. Honestly, “I’m not mad at it” is probably as high of praise as I am ever going to offer a cryer film. This isn’t inherently my type of film, but I can appreciate that it was creative and well executed. If cryers are your type of thing, give Life Itself a shot.
Whoo, that was a RIDE! As the lights dimmed, I intentionally knew nothing except for what the trailer had told. I knew director Drew Goddard’s work enough to know that it would be weird. I knew that the cast was fire. (I had the chance to see Cynthia Erivo live at a benefit concert during her The Color Purple days, so I was eager to have that voice star on the big screen.) I knew it looked like my cup of tea. That was all I knew.
I knew nothing.
The audience with which I watched the film may still be discussing it in the theatre. I had a dog to feed or I might well have joined in. This was easily the most-engaged audience I have seen in years. The jump scare got jumps. There was easy laughter. There were gasps. A couple of times, there were ovations. No one got out of a chair until the pretty credits ended. Most stayed after that. It was darn fun to watch, and this crowd appreciated that.
The plot - in its vague, spoiler-free glory - is that a bunch of troubled folks show up to a creepy, no-tell motel and then things go to hell. The film is not a horror film. It is more mystery/action than anything else. I have heard it called a thriller, and I don’t really agree. It is not scary or tense in the same way Cabin in the Woods or other thrillers are.
The tension in watching the film comes from the fact that the audience sees exactly what Goddard wants them to see exactly the way he wants at exactly the moment he wants them to see it. It is the surgical precision of the script and direction that keep audiences involved until the pieces start to come together. There are no tricks. It is just good narrative storytelling that makes great use of multiple perspectives and integrates Seamus McGarvey’s artful cinematography into a picture that really works.
The cast is stellar. We have established that I am Erivo fan, but I have to note that she does not fall victim to the American accent as many British actors do. She’s just incredible and I am excited for the film world to fall in love with her. Lewis Pullman is incredible as Miles, with a meaty character arc and the talent to dig in. The main ensemble fits together flawlessly and the supporting roles are solid, though the roles are largely very brief snippets.
I knew it would be weird and I knew it would be surprising. I did not know that the guy next to me would keep nearly leaping from his chair, yelling, “What the f….???”
It seems that he, too, knew nothing.
I have a few confessions.
I think representation really, really matters.
I think that Jodie Whittaker’s take on Beth Latimer in Broadchurch was just fine, but probably not a fair barometer of what her Doctor will be.
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the patriarchy sob at the mere idea that the Doctor, who canonically can be female and has shown some interest into regenerating into a womanly form, is a woman. The fact that ONE character might spend a couple years and one of 14 personhoods as a woman is enough to cause a year of mourning. Ah, fragility.
Eleven was “my Doctor” and I never really connected with 12. That is not because of anything but what seemed to be a meandering overall arc that never found its way. I wept when Matt regenerated, but I have Netflix, so I didn’t wish him back.
So, this afternoon I sat down with a very snuggly dog and some cheese to watch the debut of 13. I really like regeneration episodes. They mimic the audience’s adjustment. The Doctor is never quite sure who she shall be as the audience feels the same. There are vestiges of the past and new weirdnesses and far more questions than answers. I await the first time the Doctor self-identifies. (Honestly, this moment for Matt’s is one of the reasons I loved him. That and floppy dark hair and dorky wit.) What I don’t do in a regeneration is hold the past form against the new, wish the past actor were still there, or - honestly - reach any verdicts about the new path. I feel that, as a fan of the series, watching the Doctor’s first steps (again) is not enough for that kind of judgment.
I will say this, however: I enjoyed it. I smirked at some lines with the traditional Doctor quirkiness. I invested in the characters. I appreciated that the Doctor maintained a sense of justice that did not let the human’s off easily. I liked the references to change that resonated more fully due to the controversy of ridiculous proportions.
Earlier this week, I read where someone said that this needed to be the best Doctor Who episode ever to silence the critics. I do not agree. That is an impossible bar. For those who watched today committed to hating whatever they saw, it could have been “Don’t Blink” and they would have hated it. Regenerations will never be the best episodes because there is too much work to do and they are different because of that. I think that this episode did everything it needed to do, naysayers be damned. Most of us are never sure until halfway through a new Doctor’s first season.
There may well be some who walk away because a Doctor - an alien who travels through time and space in a period police call box - cannot realistically be a woman. To those “fans” I say go with grace and please just don’t mention that decision to the women in your life who deserve to not be devalued because of their sex.
The rest of us will be right here. Enjoying the Doctor and the upcoming adventures...no matter what form they all take.
Dir. Craig William Macneill
14 September 2018
SLOW. This film is a slow burn, possibly keeping audiences engaged through a mix of detailed performances and cinematographic beauty before rewarding them with the anticipated murders, but do not minimize the slowness of its initial pace. It is intentional. Subverting. Plotting. Stylistically mimicking the inner goings on of Lizzie, herself.
Lizzie is a 2018 Sundance film positing one theory concerning the deaths of Andrew and Abby Borden, the infamous titular character’s less famed father and stepmother. Exposition is woven into the creeping rising action rather than laid bare at the beginning. Chloe Sevigny’s Lizzie is uncomfortably relatable and a touch biting, with well-earned moments of verbal wit keeping me interested throughout. Kristen Stewart is well suited as Irish maid Bridget Sullivan. While the character is not a huge departure from Stewart’s expected roles, she is more controlled subtle here. Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan, and Denis O’Hare are excellent as characters we love to hate, though I would pretty much watch O’Hare watch paint dry at this point.
The film is a beautiful artwork. The set design, costumes, and camerawork add significantly to the experience. It is almost like a painting is taking form before you as you watch. It is that slow development that may be the film’s one drawback for a popular contemporary audience. It is an interesting film done well, but it certainly does require some work from its viewers.
Honestly, I went to see this piece largely based on my enjoyment of the stage play Blood Relations, which also presents a possible scenario for the murders. The play moves faster than the film and it also ends more dramatically. They are certainly two very different pieces, but if you are interested in the Borden case, Blood Relations is well worth your time.
Dir. Michael Moore
21 September 2018
I do not attend the First Church of Michael Moore. His heavy-handedness is bothersome to me. From my position as teacher, I found Bowling for Columbine to be shortsighted and problematic. Complex issues cannot be remedied with a crowbar.
I honestly walked into Fahrenheit 11/9 just needing to take the piss in Trump’s direction amid the Kavanaugh hell in which I am living. What I found was a film that was interesting in the ways in which it exemplifies none of Moore’s weaknesses...or strengths.
This at bat finds a Moore who admits to his willingness to embrace Trump and his support staff when it was beneficial. He confesses his complicity and, indirectly, ours. That is, perhaps, the greatest power of the film. He shows that we let it happen by showing that he let it happen. For once, we are behind the camera watching him make decisions he was bound to regret. This humility seems to be a bit of integrity that we might need to mimic before we can get to work. That is an important lesson, here. We cannot address the issue if we give ourselves a pass at being not an ounce at fault.
Moore’s method of building an argument is usually meticulous in its construction. At best, Fahrenheit 11/9 is disjointed, but amid the rapid pace of present history, that might be overlooked. Moore gets mired down in a Flint narrative that tangentially relates to the issues at hand by connecting them to President Obama, but the length of time spent building the case might not be worth the payoff in comparison for the tighter storytelling around it. I found myself wanting to watch a Michael Moore Flint doc, but not in the middle of this film. Instead, I genuinely missed how Moore usually makes ever tighter circles around his prey before inviting his audience to join the feast.
Overall, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a touch meandering, a bit stage-y, and entirely a conviction of the “good ones” who need to do better. It is far from perfect, but it might still be exactly what we need to hear right now.