Come Sail Away on a Wave of Heartache & Constant Regret: Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan began his directing career back in 2000, adapting his own play for You Can Count On Me. After beginning his second feature, Margaret, in 2005 and completing it in 2011, it’s only natural that after so many production headaches he would wait until now to give us Manchester by the Sea, an unapologetically emotional drama about grief and the often suppressive way people–especially East Coast men–deal with it.

As we get acquainted with the day-to-day existence of janitor and handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), it’s plain to see he’s operating solely at a base level, barely able to shake himself from his zombie-like state–masking the inner agony inside–to respond to tenants’ verbal abuse. One of said tenants manages to irritate him so much regarding her pipes (it’s all very porno plot) that he returns, “I don’t give a fuck what you do.” When his manager disinterestedly chastises for him it, it becomes clear that this type of behavior is pretty standard for Lee, and he knows he’s untouchable because he gets paid essentially nothing and is still dependable.

The other form of behavior that comes standard for Lee is ignoring women who blatantly hit on him and engaging in bar brawls whenever he feels someone even remotely looks at him funny. Even as he’s being informed over the phone that his brother’s in the hospital back in Manchester by the Sea, Lee remains emotionally impenetrable. Then again, through the interspersed flashback structure, we soon learn that Joe (Kyle Chandler) was always doomed to come to an early end thanks to his congestive heart failure condition. Though Lee and his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), had been bracing for this moment for years, it doesn’t make the reality any less difficult to bear.

And yes, much of Manchester by the Sea deals with this notion of insurmountable heartbreak–the kind one simply lives with like a terminal disease or HPV. The quote to end all quotes comes from Lee’s ex-wife, Randy (Michelle Williams), when she confesses to him, “My heart’s broken and it’s always gonna be broken.” Lee one-ups her by saying there’s nothing where his heart used to be anymore. Their shared pain over an accident that destroys both of their lives is something that Lee can never get over, and something he feels he must punish himself for eternally, which is, in part, why he works the job he does–it helps with the debasement he’s searching for to make up for his unforgivable sin.

It’s a sin we’re given gradual clues to, until the entire memory is shown as Lee is being informed that Joe has left him to be the guardian of Patrick. Though he’s always had a strong rapport with Patrick (tenderly revealed through their picturesque boat outings together on the Claudia Marie–named in honor of Joe and Lee’s mother), he’s still in disbelief that Joe would enlist him for such a responsibility. And more than that, it’s the sting of memories—better times–of Manchester by the Sea that makes Lee question why Joe would torture him with the obligation to return to the scene of his crime.

Patrick, on the other hand, can’t fathom why Lee would drag him to Boston to live with him when all his friends–his entire life–is in Manchester by the Sea, whereas all Lee has going for him is a career in the custodial arts that he could pursue anywhere. But it’s pretty clear that Lee doesn’t exactly feel comfortable being back; the legend of his legacy can be felt wherever he goes, with residents incredulously asking, “That’s the Lee Chandler?” But to Patrick, he’s just Uncle Lee, and always will be.

Almost as noticeable as the constant state of anguish Lee walks around in is the Massachusetts accent and salt of the earth, working class (read: alcoholic) persona, which remains in full play throughout the narrative–what else could you expect from a Matt Damon-produced vehicle? And with these things comes the torment of repressed emotions that can’t be picked at too intensively, lest everything comes apart at the seams. In truth, it’s a film that coincides quite perfectly with the holidays. A new classic for the season, if you will.

Who’s A Neo Maxi Zoom Dweebie Now? Anthony Michael Hall to Face Potential Jail Time For Assault

Though Anthony Michael Hall has been kind of buff ever since 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, the masses always remember him–if they remember him at all–as that “neo maxi zoom dweebie” archetype “wailed on” by John Bender (Judd Nelson) types in John Hughes movies.

And maybe this sort of perception can really get to a person who is no longer the persona the media made of him in his youth. Whatever motivated Hall to get into a physical altercation with his neighbor back in September, the severity of the assault and battery has resulted in the actor being charged for his crime on November 17th, though Hall has yet to give himself up to the authorities.

In the meantime, the unnamed neighbor has taken a restraining order out against Hall, who has purportedly had past run-ins with this person. Maybe he provoked Hall in a Bender-style manner though–you never know. But there’s no way Hall was about to live up to the callow reputations of his three most iconic roles: Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles, Brian Johnson in The Breakfast Club and Gary Wallace in Weird Science. And in any event, isn’t this violence all very expected from a condo in Playa del Rey?

Wes Anderson Infuses H&M With A Touch of The Darjeeling Limited

One supposes H&M has now reached that point where it doesn’t need to really advertise for the actual clothing it sells. It’s just far too much of a fast fashion institution for that at this point. Undoubtedly, this is the reason why they tapped Wes Anderson to write and direct a commercial ostensibly advertising nothing except Christmas cheer and good will.

Called Come Together (Yoko could sue for that, you know–except she probably consented to the project), the short three minute and fifty-three second ad opens on Adrien Brody as Conductor Ralph at the helm of H&M Lines Winter Express, a train that’s been derailed from its original route thanks to weather conditions that will delay the original arrival time by eleven hours. As the passengers listen to the news with stoic expressions that exude just how accustomed people are to disappointment (especially during the holidays), pieces from H&M’s winter collection are showcased.

The person most affected by the news, however, is a young boy with a particularly ennui’d countenance, not wanting to fully resign himself to the idea that he’s not going to have a “real” Christmas–which, in America, means getting some presents under the tree. But Conductor Ralph isn’t going to let sadness pervade the aura of his train, calling upon outside help for materials like scissors and a (royal) tannenbaum to create a Christmas of his own.

Nineteen minutes later, and with all the passengers wearing Santa hats, Conductor Ralph welcomes the little boy into the common area so that he can place the star atop the tree. And it’s all capped by the playing of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”–giving John Lennon credit where credit is due with a title like Come Together. It’s all very touching, but still, one can’t help but prefer the short Anderson did for Prada. There’s a hair more artistic integrity to it (plus, it inspired a boss restaurant at the Prada Foundation in Milan).

Search Party Unravels the Buildup to a Disappointment That Serves As A Metaphor for Modern Letdowns

It’s that thing that can’t seem to be avoided in any new show these days–that overarching theme: millennial ennui and lack of direction/purpose. While Search Party–named for a literal reason and for that more figurative one about searching for oneself–is about more than just this, it can’t help but bleed into the entire motive for Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) seemingly random obsession with wanting to find a missing girl named Chantal (Claire McNulty) who she went to college with.

In the opening episode, “The Mysterious Disappearance of the Girl No One Knew,” co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers establish the distinct breed of self-involvement cultivated by the current generation in the form of Dory’s friends, Elliott Goss (John Early) and Portia Davenport (Meredith Hagner). Then there is her boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds), arguably the most humane of the quartet, but too “noble” for Dory to appreciate. Upon seeing the MISSING flier for Chantal, a woman on the street passes her by and notes, “Girl, you standin’ in shit.” This statement is kind of a blanket one, as Dory has no concept of just exactly what she’s about to get into on her hunt.

Drifting aimlessly in her own life and not making any progress in her career, Dory works for a rich woman named Gail (Christine Taylor), who treats her in the same doormat fashion as everybody else. This leads Dory to apply for a more meaningful job in the Women Leading Women program, only the interviewer, Paulette Capuzzi (Judy Gold), doesn’t exactly do much to boost her self-confidence, remarking, “These girls need to be challenged and I just feel like with you, they’d be bored out of their minds.” This sentiment is one echoed by Dory’s constantly reappearing ex-boyfriend, Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall), a journalist with a generally “too amazing for you” air. With the fear that her blandness and directionlessness can be sensed from a mile away, Dory laments to Paulette, “Everybody can tell me what I can’t do. But nobody can tell me what I can do.”

Trapped in the same position as before, Dory decides to make finding Chantal her sole mission in life. Find Chantal, find some arcane meaning. The fact that she spots her hiding out in a Chinese restaurant in Flushing only further propels her lust for gumshoe greatness. Plus, Chantal leaves behind a seemingly clueful copy of Anna Karenina.

In the second episode, “The Woman Who Knew Too Much,” we’re given the blessing of seeing Rosie Perez onscreen again as Lorraine, a realtor who Dory encounters at the police station when she’s reporting her sighting of Chantal at the restaurant. When Lorraine tells Dory that she, too, saw Chantal, the former’s faith in her sanity is restored and the two convene at a coffee shop to discuss what they know, though it becomes gradually apparent that Lorraine is either some sort of schizophrenic or just garden variety New York crazy. Still, a corresponding doodle in the copy of the book she finds lines up with the one seen on Chantal’s video of her ice bucket challenge (she’s a real do-gooder type, that one), and it lends Dory the continued glimmer of hope she needs to keep searching.

This sets up the series of “suspects” Dory and her friends unearth at a vigil for Chantal in the third episode, “The Night of One Hundred Candles.” Among the prospects are her ex-boyfriend, Gavin (Griffin Newman), and the adultering “nanny daddy,” Chuck (William Ragsdale), that Chantal babysat for. Unfortunately, from the outset, it’s clear to everyone in attendance that Dory, Drew, Elliott and Portia are outsiders, and it highlights the way in which people of the twenty-first century have this tendency to grieve in a selfish way, one that allows them to showcase it to everyone just to get the point across that they really care. But Dory, a person that genuinely does, is cast out by the family because she’s not deemed close or relevant enough to the situation. Nonetheless, in keeping with the more underhanded person she’s becoming every day, Dory manages to find a sonogram in Chantal’s room that leads her to believe this is part of the reason she’s on the run.

Assuming that Gavin might be the father, Dory invites him over in “The Captive Dinner Guest,” much to Drew’s dismay. In point of fact, the search for Chantal serves only to accent the latent rift that has long been developing between Dory and Drew. And in inviting Gavin to their apartment, Dory only summons the worst qualities about him, as he, too, is almost as emotionally unstable as Lorraine. Interestingly, the most alarming thing about the case is how many nutjobs it draws to Dory, indicating the notion that the lack of caring in the current era has turned everyone coldly psychotic. By the end, however, Dory knows one thing for sure: a private detective–one that’s been following her–named Keith (Ron Livingston, always happy to step in for an antagonistic role) is also looking for Chantal.

As the two team up in “The Mystery of the Golden Charm,” Dory suddenly feels more alive and exhilarated than she ever has–taking on this sort of female version of Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) in Bored to Death. But excitement comes at a price, as she soon steps into the bizarre alternate universe of Chantal’s former apartment, where her ex-roommate, Penelope (Bridey Elliott), offers visitors an “immersive and non-interactive intimacy experience” (yes, it’s very Brooklyn) for those willing to pay her price. While Penelope has no problem expressing her contempt for Chantal’s hygienic habits, she doesn’t offer much in the way of clues–which is precisely why Keith steals a necklace from the box Chantal left behind, leading them to Bellow & Hare, the store where she bought it from. According to Elliott, however, Bellow & Hare is a notorious cult run by a woman named Brick (Parker Posey, never not willing to make an NYC-based cameo).

While Dory gets deeper and deeper into the quagmire of Chantal’s disappearance, her friends remain wrapped up in their own lives–Elliott trying to raise funds for a bottled water company for Africans and Portia caught up in landing a role on a cop show as an ambiguously “ethnic” rookie named Courtney Garcia. Though, yes, the two remain willing to help when it’s convenient, it’s evident that this quest is all on Dory. And when Brick invites her to their next meeting, she falls further down the rabbit hole. As the first of three episodes written by Ryan McFaul, it speaks to the concept of how susceptible the current twenty-somethings are, how willing to take chances on obviously bad ideas for the sake of feeling something at all.

“The Secret of the Sinister Ceremony” drives home this point, as Dory drags Elliott and Portia to the dinner she was invited to by Brick, promising Drew she’ll be done in time to meet up with him and his family in the Theater District later. Drew constantly being pushed to the backburner and taken for granted is the most overt way of displaying Dory’s brand of self-interest, preferring to crack the case than consider the needs of one of the only people who’s actually there for her no matter what. And as Drew is sitting down at Sardi’s for dinner, Dory sits down for her own fucked up “family” gathering, with the head of the cult, Edwin (Tunde Adebimpe), criticizing another member for giving him the worst blow job of his life last night.

During the time the cult members wait for “the moment” to happen–which we later find out is a birth, hence everyone at the party being pregnant–Elliott, Portia and Dory flee when it finally occurs. Except Dory can’t resist going inside to see what’s really going on. As she watches the birth, her cell phone goes off, and everyone looks over at her. It is for this reason she believes she gets a threatening note in her own home, warning, “STOP LOOKING FOR CHANTAL.”

Of course, she can’t. She has no other purpose now, as “The Riddle Within the Trash” resuscitates Lorraine once Dory and Keith find a check made out to the cult from the same real estate company, TW Brownway, Lorraine works for. In the midst of this major find, Dory gets caught up in the thrill of the danger–the sexual energy that’s been developing between her and Keith, which, yes, is kind of gross. It is this indiscretion that prompts her to stop the search, horrified by her behavior and the fact that Drew felt guilty just for watching their deranged neighbor sexily dance for him to Grace Mitchell’s “Runaway” and confesses it to her in elaborate detail. She, on the other hand, is a monster–a cheating, self-consumed monster adrift in the kind of latent narcissism that at least Elliott and Portia put on blast.

“The Return of the Forgotten Phantom” offers special emphasis on Elliott, who has been lying for half of his life about beating Stage 4 lymphoma cancer. But before the truth comes out, Julian dupes him into believing that New York Magazine wants to cover the benefit he’s putting on for his bottled water geared toward Africans. Catching Elliott in his own web of deception when it’s over, he instead uses the space in the magazine for an article entitled “The Millennial Who Cried Cancer,” which comes out the next day–the very nature of this title speaking to the self-indulgence and absurdity of millennial comportment. Meanwhile, Dory tries to act as though her search never happened, even toying with the idea of taking the job Paulette from the Women Leading Women program wants her to have when she runs into her at a coffee shop.

Yet the dull aura surrounding Paulette now makes her return to the mystery, especially after she learns of Lorraine’s death by subway mow-down, an act she believes to be murder. In another instance, this scene explores the insensitivity factor of most these days, as the women she worked with as a temp laugh at and mock her death.

With the stakes getting higher and higher in “Password to the Shadows,” and Keith’s identity revealed to be something other than who he said he was, Dory tracks down one of Chantal’s friends, Agnes Cho (Jennifer Kim), that she saw in security footage of the Chinese restaurant. Admitting that she knows where Chantal is, Agnes is willing to give the information only for the price of $5,000 (the zoo she works at won’t give her enough funding for the animals). Painted into a corner, Dory tries to ask Elliott and Portia–obviously well-off–for the money. Their refusal is yet another testament to the friendship prototype of the twenty-first century: sure, I’ll be your friend, if it doesn’t inconvenience me too much or dip into my bank account. But Drew, now just as good at this scheming thing as Dory, offers the idea for Portia to blackmail Chuck a.k.a. “nanny daddy” for the money.

“The House of Uncanny Truths” is when all of the pieces at last come together for Dory, even though she realizes they’re not the pieces she thought they were. Traveling to Montreal with Elliott, Portia and Drew, Dory throws Keith off the scent by telling him she found out from Agnes that Chantal is in Miami.

On the drive there, Elliott once again fucks up the continuity of his lies, thereby unearthing to Drew that Dory has cheated on him. He pulls the car over and the two get into an argument that leads Drew back to that narcissistic conclusion, “This whole thing has been for yourself.” Still, he’s trapped on this journey with her, and must see it through.

Ultimately, the true motive behind why Chantal decided to go missing is so disappointing and so void of meaning that Dory can’t handle it–and, in the process of it all, there’s now a dead body on her hands, which will inevitably color most of season two. With this level of insignificance as a result after all the hard work she put in and all the risks she took, Search Party becomes an allegory for so many people’s lives.

Blending the surrealism of Twin Peaks at times–in addition to that whole searching for a missing girl thing–and the sinisterness of Stranger Things, Search Party is a new take on millennialism with far less of an annoyance factor. Further, it’s really going to help give TBS a sorely needed edge.

Such A Mean Old Man, Such A Dirty Old Man: Bad Santa 2

The sequel is rarely a one-up of its original, except in the case of The Godfather: Part II and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. But, at the very least, Bad Santa 2 doesn’t disappoint with bringing us Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) back at his most curmudgeonly and cynical. After the thirteen years that have passed since last we saw him, Willie is in a worse state than ever before: unpaid bills, lost his girlfriend, Sue (Lauren Graham–maybe her Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life filming schedule conflicted), and zero job prospects to be had.

Sure Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly)–now a 21-year-old sandwich-making aficionado at Hungry Hoagies–still hangs around, loyal to a fault, but that isn’t much consolation to someone like Willie. And then, just when he’s truly about to end it all (via some trial and error methods), Thurman bursts through his apartment with a letter filled with cash and a cell phone. The contents are, naturally, from Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) the unloveable “dwarf”/business partner who betrayed him during their last big heist together, you know, when Willie got shot repeatedly and still survived. This time, he has a job for him in Chicago, though he fails to reveal the two most important details about it: 1) it’s money from a children’s charity called Giving City and 2) his mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates), is working on the job with them.

If you thought you hated your family, Willie outshines this sentiment with the pure contempt he holds for his mother, a woman that calls him “Shit Stink” and rehashes memories like, “I didn’t know I gave birth to him ’till I tripped on ‘im.” It is his long-standing ire that nearly prevents him from working the job, but then, if he didn’t there would be no movie.

The shift of creative hands from Terry Zwigoff to Mark Waters and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (of I Love You, Phillip Morris fame) to Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross lends the sequel a more commercial feel–there is certainly not the same level of natural grit as before, though the jokes remain worthily raunchy. And with Christina Hendricks in the role of Giving City chairwoman Diane, the sex fetish core of the original story changes completely (now Willie has to beg her to say his favorite line, “Fuck me, Santa,” whereas it came quite effortlessly from Sue). Diane’s undercover nymphomaniacal ways are also in keeping with the nature of any female character that has crossed Entourage creator Doug Ellin’s path.

Still, if you can get past the whole, “Ugh, it’s a sequel” thing, Bad Santa 2 does have a worthwhile message underneath it all: family is made not born into. Though the holidays frequently like to make those who aren’t particularly close to their family feel like shit, the season is really about the people you choose to surround yourself with in good times and bad. This is not always necessarily one’s blood relatives. And even a congenitally self-involved Leo (we find out Willie’s birthday is August 4th after his mom guesses the date wrong a few times) like Willie can sift through his selfishness every now and again to appreciate the one person who has ever truly been there for him through thick and thin: Thurman.

Maybe a happy ending is a copout for a movie like Bad Santa 2, but as Willie reminds, “Even when there’s one happy ending some new shit starts all over again.” So don’t get too fuckin’ excited about it.

Gilmore Girls: Seasons Change, Drinking Intake Increases

It’s been almost a full decade since Gilmore Girls wrapped up its seventh and final season in May of 2007. For many fans, it was both bittersweet and unsatisfying. The fledgling quality of the series began somewhere around season six, when the creative control seemed to slip from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino’s hands with the show’s transition from being on the WB to the then newly merged with UPN conglomerate, CW.

And though it’s arguable the integrity of Gilmore Girls started slipping somewhere around the end of season four, when Rory (Alexis Bledel) had an affair with her first–and most annoying–boyfriend, Dean (Jared Padalecki), it never fully lost that rare TV show characteristic: intelligence and sincerity. Still, it seemed as though the Palladinos had been hankering to compensate for the latter years of the series ever since it concluded. But perhaps it wasn’t meant to be until Netflix’s binge-watching platform of original programming became fully realized. Because, in truth, there is no other way Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life could have come to fruition, given more freedom than it has ever known before (whether thematically or language-wise–Emily [Kelly Bishop] screaming “bullshit,” for fuck’s sake).

For those worried that the same “magic” might not be there between Rory and Lorelai (Lauren Graham)–or worse, that the two might have changed–fear not, everything is very much the same. In point of fact, much of the four episode arc focuses on the struggle both of them have with remaining the same when it seems as though everything and everyone else around them is evolving. Beginning with “Winter,” the Gilmore girls are at their most hopeful, in spite of the recent death of Richard (Edward Herrmann, who died in real life in late 2014) four months ago as a result of yet another heart attack. Lorelai is now in a stable domestic partnership with Luke (Scott Patterson), while Rory is living “here and there” in the wake of giving up her Brooklyn apartment in search of some sort of free-wheeling writing adventure. Emily, on the other hand, is in a much more overt state of pain after losing the half that completed her for the better part of fifty years. An extremely unflattering pair of stories about Richard told by Lorelai at the wake further causes a strain in her relationship with Emily, who feels isolated and alone without even her own daughter to turn to.

Still, it wouldn’t be GG without plenty of levity thrown in for good measure, like Rory’s forgettable boyfriend, Paul (Jack Carpenter), who is white noise compared to her three former flames–all of whom make appearances, by the way. Best of all, “Winter” features one of Paris Geller’s (Liza Weil) most “Paris” moments, when she has a meltdown in the Chilton bathroom after she thinks she sees Tristan (Chad Michael Murray) at an alumni event. Now a fertility doctor, much to Luke and Lorelai’s horror when they go to consult her, Paris’ confidence can still be shaken by the notion that she’s just the same invisible girl she was in high school. Sadly, Rory’s other best friend, Lane (Keiko Agena), has a far less memorable “transformation,” her life pretty much exactly the same as when we last saw her, and a shockingly paltry appearance by her notoriously dictator-like mother, Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda).

“Spring” commences with Lorelai and Emily in therapy together with a helpless wisp who watches their weighty silences and heated arguments with something bordering on terror and tiredness. Ultimately, Emily backs out of the sessions, leaving Lorelai to attend them on her own, though she doesn’t tell Luke about this little detail, re-establishing a long-running trend in their relationship: secretiveness. In turn, Luke doesn’t bother to tell Lorelai that her mother took him on a nerve-racking tour of potential locations for him to franchise his diner, all at the behest of Richard, who stipulated Luke should get a certain amount of money from his Will provided it was used solely to expand the business, which most definitely proves that Gilmores can haunt from beyond. Rory’s recent piece in The New Yorker–getting less recent by the day, automatically spelling death for the freelancer hunting for the next major byline–was a well-received interview with British feminist/loose cannon Naomi Shropshire (Alex Kingston), and now she’s trying to coast on the success by co-writing a memoir with her. Only problem is, Naomi’s constant drunkenness and incoherence has Rory running in circles amounting to very little in the way of writing material. When the collaboration falls through, she even resorts to running around New York interviewing people in lines for a speculative GQ article.

And yet, her fondness for London remains as this is where Logan (Matt Czuchry) now permanently resides. Though Logan’s gotten slightly less douchey since we were first introduced to him, Gilmore Girls purists will undoubtedly lament that the Palladinos didn’t opt to instead make her and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) an item again–though there is one brief glimmer of hope to suggest it could be possible toward the end of the final episode, “Fall.”

Arguably the most forgettable of the 90-minute narratives, “Spring” does offer up Rory at her most vulnerable and willing to admit failure, chastising herself for having her first one-night stand at 32 years old and sinking to a new low when she can’t even get a job at some fourth-rate website called SandeeSays, prompting her to storm through Lorelai’s house with several pieces of luggage at the end and declare, “Movin’ home.”

“Summer” establishes a lot of the causes for the effects of “Fall,” with Rory and Lorelai hanging out at the local public pool we never knew existed primarily to mock others wearing bathing suits. Though Rory herself feels a bit mocked, too, as all the townspeople greet her with a salutation that cuts her to the quick, “Welcome back,” setting us up to meet the Thirtysomething Gang, a group of thirtysomethings who got chewed up and spit out by the real world and now have to live with their parents as well. Rory refuses to be deemed a part of this group, taking up editorship of the Stars Hollow Gazette in the wake of Bernie Roundbottom’s (jokes galore) retirement. It’s around this time that one fully apprehends just how much more freely the liquor flows into the Gilmores’ mouths, an integral part of the coping process post-Richard’s death and post-falling back on youth (Rory quips, “I don’t need Lipitor, I need to be twenty years old again”).

Lorelai’s “beach read,” Wild, is somewhat less predictable than Eat Pray Love, but becomes slightly vexatious when it ultimately plays into her decision to pack her bags for the Pacific Crest Trail to seek some sort of answer that she can’t find in her life right now. Before this revelation, however, there is Stars Hollow: The Musical, a showcase of third-rate Broadway imitations written and directed by town narc Taylor Doose (Michael Winters) that Lorelai offers to critique in its early stages with other members of the community. While everyone else is riveted, Lorelai is appalled by the hackneyed lyrics, storyline and presentation. And, indeed, what makes “Summer” one of the most interesting episodes is just how much the Palladinos choose to focus on this musical, both as a catalyst for what propels Lorelai to take off for the west and as a statement on how the masses only love pure shit and balk at anything with actual quality. It is, you could say, Gilmore Girls at its most The Sopranos. Save for the equal surrealism of the reemergence of the Life and Death Brigade, resuscitated by Logan and his friends in an effort to end things with Rory on a positive note before he marries a French heiress named Odette.

With “Fall,” Emily has come out of the darkness and partially into the light, telling off a trophy wife in one of the most memorable monologues of the series and selling her and Richard’s home for a place in Nantucket. One of the strangest plotlines of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life hones in on her maid, Berta (rumored to be played be Rose Abdoo, who also acts as irritable mechanic Gypsy). Somehow having managed to stay employed by Emily throughout the year, she also manages to get her whole family the Gilmore hookup by bringing them into the house to perform other odd jobs for her, a development that might be seen as mildly offensive. Nonetheless, what’s most bizarre about this element is Emily’s constant mention of how she has no idea what Berta puts in the food or what it actually is, paired with her seeming occasional dementia with regard to remembering things. It’s almost as though they were thinking of setting up a murder for money plot point that never quite pans out.

Revisiting the rift aspect of Lorelai and Rory from Season Five, the ramifications of a fight the two have at Richard’s gravesite are felt strongly in this episode, after Rory has informed Lorelai she’s writing a non-fiction book about their lives, at the recommendation of Jess no less. Angry and hurt over the idea of Rory “using” her life, Lorelai refuses to give her “permission” to do it. At Lane’s, Rory grapples with Lorelai’s reaction, complaining, “She knows I’m a writer. She knows everything is fodder.” That being said, Lorelai does come to terms with Rory penning The Gilmore Girls–though she does have a “The Facebook” moment, merely suggesting, “One note. Take off the ‘The’ so it’s just Gilmore Girls. It’s cleaner.”

On the other hand, there’s nothing clean about the final four words that compose the denouement of the show, continuing to dangle loyal fans with the hope of hearing more about these characters we’ve come to feel are a part of our own family after all these years. And, yes, like family, you can always go back to them. No questions asked.

Allied: Like if Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Inglourious Basterds Had a Baby

“French” Morocco, 1942. A man drops down in the middle of the desert by parachute, walks a while and gets into a car where he’s told, “Your wife will be wearing a purple dress.” So begins Max Vatan’s (Brad Pitt) buildup to meeting the charismatic Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), his fellow spy in crime against the Nazis, in the simply titled Allied.

Because it wouldn’t be a Robert Zemeckis film without a very deliberate formula for emotionalism, Allied is extremely strategic with how it unfolds. From the moment Max, a French Canadian in the Royal Air Force–which prompts Marianne to lovingly and derogatorily write his accent off as “Québécois”–locks eyes with his female cohort, it’s all very evident where this is going.

As Ace Rothstein in Casino once said, “The sad thing about betrayal… it never comes from an enemy.” And though Marianne is initially quite adept at acting nonchalant about her profession as an undercover assassin, boasting to Max, “I always play the emotions real,” it’s apparent that there’s more to her agenda than mere fulfillment of lust. The fact that the first act of the narrative takes place in Casablanca is undeniably a nod to the classic film of the same name, likely a deliberate choice on screenwriter Stephen Knight’s (better known for his grittier scripts Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) part. There are certainly often parallels to the grand Hollywood movies of the WWII era, both Casablanca and For Whom the Bell Tolls coming to mind. But more than anything, Allied is the lovechild of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (obviously not the Hitchcock version) and Inglourious Basterds. And it’s not just because the latter takes place during the height of Nazi occupation in France or because the former broke up a real life marriage just as Allied was purported to. No, it’s more than just those things. The subterfuge, the stifled, forbidden romance predicated on lies, for one, is Mr. and Mrs. Smith to a tee.

With identities and emotions concealed, Marianne points out to Max that, “It’s not fucking that gets you into trouble in these situations. It’s feeling.” And who has time for feelings when the sky is quite literally falling? As Max and Marianne both allow their defenses to wear down, they each become more willing to take romantic risks as the night of their mission–to kill a Nazi ambassador–approaches. In one particularly player move, Marianne remarks to Max, “We could die tomorrow and no one would know,” as a sandstorm bombards their car in the middle of the desert, which they had only gone to at Max’s suggestion to “watch the sun rise.” And what puts someone in the mood like swirling sand that could spell imminent death? Hence, one of the most exciting scenes of the movie, in which you can sort of see two of the highest paid actors in the buff–and if that’s not what Hollywood movies are about, then I don’t know what is.

Like Inglourious Basterds, the female protagonist, Emmanuelle Mimieux (Mélanie Laurent) is, well, sort of a bastard–granted out of necessity, much in the same way Marianne must betray Max for her own self-preservation. But maybe it’s wrong to compare Allied to other films, as one could also throw Vertigo (the whole two films in one element) and Nocturnal Animals (the intense backstabbing also at play) into the mix. Maybe it’s precisely because Zemeckis is such a formidable auteur that he knows how to draw on manifold elements of pastiche to invoke all of these comparisons. Or maybe the WWII romance has simply been “done to death,” and can’t help but seem somewhat derivative. The bottom line is, this man is capable of going from the camp perfection of Death Becomes Her to the box office pleaser of Allied, which is a level of versatility possessed by few living directors.

Allied, however, is most definitely his first movie to deal with the subject of deception on this scale (Marty McFly not telling the past version of his mother who he is doesn’t count). The tag line, evolved from the bold reminder–“Remember the enemy is always listening.”–in Max’s London office is brings to light a lamentable reality: the enemy often turns out to be one’s significant other. And, in this regard, love is frequently the most dangerous secret weapon.

 

In Another Country: “It Takes Courage For A Foreign Woman to Travel Alone”

In the endless arsenal of Isabelle Huppert movies, one of her most recent–from 2012–features, In Another Country, stands apart not just for how noticeably it contrasts the foreignness of Huppert as Anne, marooned three different times as three different variations on the same character in a remote seaside South Korean town called Mohang, but for the unique structure crafted by Hong Sang-soo.

Anne is sprung from the mind of a bored film student, Won-joo (Jung Yu-mi), living with her mother, Park Sook (Youn Yuh-jung), as the two pass the time running away from their debt in the sequestered, nature meets strip mall abyss. To break the tedium, Won-joo decides to write a screenplay about a “charming French woman.” In the first incarnation of the foreigner, Anne is a confident and famous film director seeking momentary solace from the pressures of work while visiting her married friends, Geum-hee (Moon So-ri)–currently pregnant–and Jong-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo). According to the philandering Jong-soo, the two have already shared a kiss, though Anne doesn’t really seem to remember such an event occurring.

Dressed simply in flats, jeans and a long, purplish button-front shirt, it’s clear from the outset that costuming is one of the key factors in setting apart each rendition of Anne. The common denominator between all of them, however, is the attraction to a daffy, nameless lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang) she encounters while wandering on the beach in search of the town’s only notable landmark, a small lighthouse. The brevity of the first story paves the way for our second Anne, an adulterer with a daintier look, accented by the fact that she wears her impractical heels for every excursion.

Opting to stay in the room being rented out in Mohang for the sake of sustaining anonymity for both her and the director she’s having an affair with, Moon-soo (Moon Sung-keun), Anne is upset and irritated when she calls Moon-soo only to learn that he is still hours away from arriving as a result of accommodating a meeting with an actress. Bored and left with nothing to do but wander, she continues the same trend established by the first Anne when she asks her host if there’s a “nice place” she can go to. And, just as before, her host obliges her by offering to take her around on her way to going shopping. Still, Anne ultimately finds herself walking around alone on a path that leads to the beach, where her lifeguard prince continues to await. More prone to fantasy-indulging and daydreaming, Anne sits on a rock in the water and imagines that Moon-soo has come to surprise her. Instead, a random man interrupts her reverie, prompting her to run off and trot along next to the lifeguard for protection.

Leaving her cell phone behind on the beach, the lifeguard keeps it for her until Moon-soo, now outside of Anne’s door, calls it. By this time, Anne has fallen into a deep sleep that Moon-soo finally manages to coax her out of with the pounding of the door. Informed of her phone loss, Anne and Moon-soo rush back to the beach, where Anne engages a little too flirtatiously with the lifeguard, a fact Moon-soo brings her attention to later when they’re eating together at an empty restaurant. It is, in fact, this element of jealousy in the second story that lays the groundwork for an even more extreme form of it in the third and final act.

This time, the Anne we know is more subdued, recently left by her husband for his young Korean secretary. Accompanied by a professor friend of hers, she seeks peace and refuge at the Mohang getaway. Once more, the married couple, Geum-hee and Jong-soo, appear, with the latter making even bolder advances toward Anne than in the first scenario. But what makes the final narrative most rewarding is that Anne at last gets to take it to the next level with her lifeguard, so chaste were here previous two selves.

Each Anne is lusted after by various and/or the same men in each tale, a testament to the appeal of foreign women–and the exotic in general. Furthermore, the motif of infidelity that colors all three stories provides a somewhat dark undertone to the levity of the script, written by Sang-soo after he had secured the location and cast. But who can remain faithful when the temptation of foreign snatch presents itself?

All in all, the concept of In Another Country is what makes it such a standout film, Sang-soo’s rendering of a unique, yet simple concept interpreted in myriad ways with few overt changes beyond wardrobe.

 

 

The Edge of Seventeen Often Feels Like The Edge of Thirty, Forty & Beyond

Billed essentially as the teen movie that’s been missing in our lives since Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman brought us 2007’s Juno, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t disappoint when it comes to delivering on the distinct brand of sentimentality in the triumphant vein of the John Hughes’ school of adolescent-geared films.

Indeed, Hailee Steinfeld as the awkward, insecure protagonist, Nadine Byrd, is a natural progression from the likes of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) and even Angela Chase (Claire Danes). Elsewhere in the necessary formula of teen girl-centered movies, her contentious rapport with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), is established from an early age and through a flashback to her eight-year-old self being dropped off at school with her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner–no relation to the ones you’re thinking of). While Darian effortlessly gets along with all the other kids, Nadine is either ignored or ruthlessly tortured, making her refuse to get out of the car most days when her father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), and Mona take her to her own personal hell. But at least Tom has a way of managing Nadine’s expectations and comforting her in a manner that Mona can’t–what is it about girls and their fathers (it’s all very Molly Ringwald and Paul Dooley in Sixteen Candles)?

Fremon Craig’s evolution from the rather clunky 2009 movie, Post Grad, is a testament to her sensitivity to the subject matter, proving that regardless of how much older we get, the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy often associated with being an adolescent rarely go away. Whether or not this is assuaging or depressing is at the viewer’s discretion.

Mercifully, however, Nadine is able to secure one lifelong friend in elementary school: Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), a kindly girl who non-judgmentally offers to co-mother her caterpillar with Nadine. Cut to one of the heights of Nadine’s gawkiness–2011–when she’s now thirteen and channeling the look of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. Meanwhile, Darian only gets better looking and more popular. But the future holds far worse for Nadine when she witnesses her father having a heart attack as they’re driving back home from picking up fast food (it’s a cautionary tale about eating habits, really).

Now, four years later, at seventeen, Nadine’s life is no more enjoyable, save for the fact that Mona’s often gone trying to seek a man who will make her feel even just a little bit less alone. In fact, Mona’s grand life advice for coping to Nadine is: “Every once in a while I like to get really quiet and think to myself: everyone in the world is as miserable and empty as I am–they’re just better at pretending. You should try it some time.”

But the after effects of a drunken night at Nadine’s house in the wake of Mona’s absence leads our heroine to realize that her brother and her best friend have feelings for each other–which essentially means she’s totally alone in the world. Unless you count her dark-sided, Mr. Feeny-esque teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), and a fellow student vaguely obsessed with her, Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto). Naturally, Nadine’s own obsession is with a guy totally unaware of her existence, Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), former juvenile delinquent and Petland employee.

Though she tries to “tag along” with Darian and Krista to a party, the tables woefully reversed with regard to her role in the trio, her ungainly nature only gets the best of her, especially after the only other loner at the party asks, “You ever watch TBS?” to which Nadine replies, “Yeah, sometimes.” The loner then probes, “You know that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and the little short guy from It’s Always Sunny…?” Nadine encourages,”Uh huh. Twins.” And the loner shuts it down with, “You and your brother kind of remind me of that.”

Alas, ostracism and a constant sense of self-loathing/doubt are not exclusive to being a teenager. While, at times, Nadine verges far too close to what non-Hughes enthusiasts will write off as white girl problems, she always reins it in before things get so out of hand as to not be empathetic. And really, the core of The Edge of Seventeen is a comfort to those in all age brackets: it never really gets any easier, but at least there is ice cream and occasional romance in between.

Kristen Stewart and St. Vincent: Proof That Lesbianism Is Frequently A Straight Person’s Act of Desperation

Though Lindsay Lohan kind of blazed the trail back in 2008 with the whole straight woman randomly deciding to date another female trend, at least Samantha Ronson was already a lesbian (or bisexual, if you prefer) to begin with–making one-half of the relationship at least somewhat sensical.

But in the here and now that is 2016, it seems as though the options have become so limited–even for celebrities who aren’t buttface ugly–that it’s easier to just “revert” to lesbianism. Take the most overt case in point in pop culture of late, Kristen Stewart and St. Vincent. While St. Vincent has always been one of those bull shitters that say things like, “I don’t really identify as anything… I think you can fall in love with anybody,” it seems as though Stewart is the first girl she’s been willing to go public with on such a casual scale (there was more fanfare surrounding Cara D, and look how that turned out).

And as for Stewart, well, she’s always been pretty on blast about her fondness for dick while dating co-stars Michael Angarano and Robert Pattinson (so very Brad Pitt of her). Granted, she made the segue toward women earlier this year by dating her personal assistant and Soko, a French singer-songwriter, for a few months before taking a more public plunge (is that somehow an innuendo?) with St. Vincent–maybe because she knows she can’t break her heart as callously as Cara Delevingne.

Stewart and St. Vincent aren’t the only ones who have seemingly taken a stance with bending the rules of sexuality in the face of extremely limited hetero options. Miley Cyrus, too, has been serving as the celebrity representative of pansexuality–the lazy and greedy person’s sexuality choice–declaring, “I don’t feel straight and I don’t feel gay. It’s because I’m not.” And yet, one can’t help but feel that if Liam Hemsworth wasn’t the most masculine man out there right now, she might feel differently.

Likewise, one imagines Stewart wasn’t exactly blown away by the male gender after co-starring with Jesse Eisenberg in Café SocietyPerhaps on the heels of Stewart’s next film, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, she’ll have a rejuvenated zeal for men. St. Vincent, on the other hand, is likely to stay into women if she couldn’t be allured by David Byrne. But the bottom line is, the twenty-first century takes the notion of being born with a certain sexuality and turns it on its ear with that other unexpected factor: limited straight person’s choices.

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