Pod Review: Babe

Title: Babe
Release: 1995
Director: Chris Noonan
Rating: G
Genre: Family
IMDb Score: 6.8/10

Babe is a film about a pig (Christine Cavanaugh) who finds its way to a sheep farm and learns how to be a sheep dog.  I could not believe it, that a pig could herd as well as a dog, I mean dogs are the best at everything.  I, for instance am the best pooper.  I take great care in following my horoscope, the magnetic fields, the alignment of the sun, and the landscape in order to apply my craft.  How could a pig understand such complexities?  Fine, this is a fantasy film.  For one, a little runt of a pig is stolen from a hog farm after its mom is taken for slaughter, before stealing the heart of a gruff old farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) at the county fair.  What pig could be that cute?  They all look like future bacon to me, at least the farmer’s wife (Magda Szubanski) agrees.  After a few mishaps and escapades involving a duck (Danny Mann) and a cat (Russi Taylor), things are looking good for Christmas dinner.  With the combined help of the batty farmer, the soft-hearted sheep dog Fly (Miriam Margolyes), and sickly ewe Maa (Miriam Flynn), Babe instead trains to become a sheep dog of all things.

My favorite part of this film is all of the chasing.  Dogs chase sheep, people chase pigs, cats chase ducks.  I want to chase all of them.  The opening credits were also amazing, it was an inside look of heaven with bacon, ham and sausage.  There was an even better dinner scene during Christmas.  Yum.  However, I did not like how some of the dogs were evil.  Dogs are the best, except for the neighbor dogs that think my territory is theirs.  At least the cat was evil, those creatures scratch and bite.

Overall, this film is a fun fantasy to enjoy with pups.  Of course a pig could never be as awesome as a dog.  Near the end, however you begin to actually believe in the pig, and cheer for the farmer to win.  I never thought I could be persuaded to root a pig over a dog, and definitely don’t tell my friends that.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me drool. -Pod

How GLOW improved upon Orange is the New Black

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Title: GLOW
Show Creator: Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV-MA
IMDb Score: 8.1/10

GLOW came out of the minds of Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch after watching a documentary about the original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.). It was around that time that Netflix was looking to expand their line-up of shows (and were willing to greenlight almost anything). Flahive was previously a producer and writer for Nurse Jackie, while Mensch was producing for Orange is the New Black (OITNB). Executive Producer Jenji Kohan also works on OITNB and brought her experience from numerous other shows to GLOW. I have binged watched this show at least 4 times, if not more, and it gets better for me every time. While I love OITNB, it never held the same weight for me, and I want to explore what makes a show about lady wrestlers so addicting.

Character Development
Ruth Wilder (Allison Brie) is a struggling actress who is starting to hit rock bottom. To top it all off she has an affair with her best friend Debbie Eagan’s (Betty Gilpin) husband, Mark Eagan played by (Rich Sommer). Debbie, Ruth and Mark all are prime candidates to be the embodiment of evil, but here they are treated with nuance. Ruth is not portrayed as a home wrecker, but as a woman who vulnerable to anyone who gives her attention. Debbie and Mark are in a loveless marriage, where Debbie resents Mark’s disdain for Debbie’s career as a soap opera star. Mark feels ignored by his wife. Each character is given a motive that the audience can empathize with. OITNB has too large of a cast to devote time to developing multiple dimensions to many of the inmates, let alone the guards (who make up most of the male cast members). Because GLOW has streamlined its cast (in relation to the source material), care can be given to every reoccuring character. The weakest development of the main cast are to the two comedic relief characters, Dawn (Rebekka Johnson) and Stacy (Kimmy Gatewood), but if the second season is any indication, the third season should flesh them out more.

Worldbuilding
As a period piece set in the 80’s, GLOW has the right mix of nostalgia and realism. Debbie and Melanie Rose (Jackie Tohn) are the most fashion forward based on their careers and bank accounts, while the rest style themselves according to budget and background. “Eyeliner, lipgloss, glitter in the hair,” glitter uni-brows, insanely teased shellacked coifs, I can almost smell the perms, this show is 80’s saturated. Other details like craft services of cheap coffee and donuts at Chavo’s Gym (a run down wrestling gym with one main locker room/bathroom) demonstrate the lack of funding for the fledgling show within the show. Fittingly both sides of Reagan’s America is represented, in the set pieces and the characters themselves. It follows the lead from OITNB with diverse casting, and the ladies have done their research. The icing on the 80’s cake is the soundtrack. GLOW knows what songs work with each character, and what works best for each mood.  I love how the textures of the score match the songs that do get picked. Also it would be hard to play 80’s song bingo with the amount of crate-digging that must have occurred to find the songs that made it to the final cut.

References and Call-backs
Ruth comes from a small town theatre background. Her favorite actress, Katherine Hepburn, embodies the confidence she lacks, but also shows how out of touch she is in 80’s Los Angeles. Her references often fall on unappreciative ears. In OITNB many of the references come from the writers’ attempts to be relevant to the audience, instead of to the characters. GLOW is not witty for wit’s sake, but uses quips to flesh out each character’s idiosyncrasies. In their own way all of the other wrestlers are just as culturally isolated as Ruth, but there are cultural common denominators shared by the whole cast. We feel sisterhood through the shared references. Even as absurd as the jokes are, they still are grounded in the reality of the character’s respective background.

Story-arc
After the first few seasons of OITNB, Piper Chapman’s (Taylor Schilling) story veers from the source material. As it is Piper’s story, sometimes she gets shoehorned where she feels even more out of place. Season-length stories also make OITNB episodic and loosely glued as a show. GLOW is not afraid to abandon Ruth for an episode to develop other characters and the show within a show. The gains and losses of the nested show give us natural transitions and growth. One thing that I appreciate is that off-camera moments occur and we are not privy to them only because our attention was on something more important at the time. Time passes, we do not get a full flash back of what we missed, and everything moves on, we see the results of what we missed. Not everything is documented, because not everything would be documented, by memory or otherwise. What is important is that we feel the emotional impact. I cannot chose any one character as my favorite, because I am emotionally invested in all of them. The plot is just as much about their friendship as it is about the show.

Reception
The one advantage that OITNB has over GLOW is audience reception. While I feel the intended demographic of both shows are the same (educated white women), the premise of OITNB is an easier sell. Rich white empowered woman gets thrown into a women’s prison. It plays into their fantasies, both sexual and philosophical. How do you sell wrestling to the upper middle class? Ruth and Debbie (as the audience member’s avatars) even have to be heavily sold on the premise. The original G.L.O.W. did not attract them, so why should the “remake”. Men, from a marketing standpoint, are repelled by the focus of empowerment over voyeurism. Netflix has noticed the lack of viewers, but has renewed the show based on critical reception. From acting performances, to writing, directing and design, this show has everything it needs to stand toe to toe with another 80’s homage, Stranger Things. Maybe Netflix needs to watch The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). -Nicole

Alison Brie, Kate Nash, Britney Young, and Sunita Mani in GLOW (2017)

Revisiting Real Women Have Curves

Title: Real Women Have Curves
Release Date: 2002
Director: Patricia Cardoso
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy
IMDb Score: 7.0/10

Some comedies age poorly with time. Jokes that are centered around trends or brands have short life expectancies, and some actors have flash bang careers without much substance. Films that keep their longevity focus on experiences as the common denominator. Not every audience member will understand the situation, but the evoked emotions are familiar, although some experiences are less common as society progresses. More often than not, it is the comedies we relate to that we keep going back to. We find comfort in it’s familiarity. One movie I did not expect to stick with me is Real Women Have Curves (2002). I am white and athletic, with a suburban upper middle class upbringing, and my grandparents were second generation immigrants from Europe. Why do I relate to Ana Garcia (America Ferrera), and why is this film still relevant?

Ana has just graduated high-school and has a scholarship to Columbia University in the fall. Her family never expected her to have this level of success. Her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros) is a Mexican immigrant who works in a garment factory in East Los Angeles, college was never thought to be a possibility for her children. Being successful to Carmen means working and having a family, which she sees Ana as lacking. On the surface level, what child has not butted heads with their parents on life goals? I certainly have. We are told when we are young to dream big and we can eventually become whomever we want.  When it comes to graduation time, then our parents hit us with the reality that we should strive to make money, or help our families. These obligations become more important than our own desires. Digging deeper there are social issues that the story also pursues. Immigration was (and still is) a hot button issue, and the film explores it through people trying to do the best they can for their families. Ana, being second generation Mexican-American, is somewhat sheltered from what first-generation migrants and immigrants faced to build their lives in her community. Via my own upbringing, I am more removed from the immigrant experience than Ana, and so learning about their hardships through her eyes bridges that gap.

The final icing on the cake is the journey of self-esteem that both Ana and Carmen travel. Ana is reaching her prime, and must learn to be the person that she wants to be. Carmen is aging out of hers, therefore she has to face the inevitable and at the same time embrace it. Real Women Have Curves is an opus for female empowerment. Girlfriends can share a pint (ice cream or beer) over it, but more importantly it can be a film for mothers and daughters to bond over. The story is universal, but in a package that is still relevant almost twenty years later. -Nicole

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Comedic Brilliance of The Little Hours

The Little Hours

Release Date: 2017
Director: Jeff Baena
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
IMDb Score: 5.8/10

Okay, I will admit it: I am a nerd, I read The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. Even though the medieval text is full of allegorical tales, it is not high art. Rather it is more akin to an Hieronymous Bosch painting (pictured below), than a DaVinci. The duplicity of man, the good and evil, is shaken up and strewn across the canvas. Boccaccio created a work that took an entertaining slice of life of his contemporaries and made something that still feels modern. Each of the 100 tales, told within a larger narrative, covers the loves, losses, and farces of average people. The Decameron is set during the height of the bubonic plague, our main protagonists are ten wealthy young adults (seven women and three men), who spend about two weeks traveling to country villas to avoid disease riddled cities. During each day they tell a story within a chosen theme to pass the time. In all there are ten days with ten stories each.

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The Haywain (1510-1516)

For his film adaptation, director Jeff Baena used a mixed selection of the stories. Day 3’s first two stories lay the backbone, following a rebellious convent and a lusty young servant (Dave Franco). Allison Brie plays Franco’s love interest in an affair that ties the two main scenarios together. From there Baena let his actors run wild, and it works. By not forcing accents, the language feels organic, no bombastic and flowery Shakespearean attempts to cheapen the effect. The cast is loaded with talent from Baena’s girlfriend Aubrey Plaza, to Plaza’s fellow Park’s and Recreation alums Nick Offerman and Fred Armisen. Not to mention Kare Micucci, Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Dave Franco, and John C. Reilly. Each actor plays to their strengths with Plaza as a psychopath, Offerman as a caricature of masculinity, and Micucci as earnest and naive. Essentially everyone is playing a medieval version of themselves.

While the main scripted beats are enjoyable, it is the visual gags hidden in each scene that elevate the film beyond the usual raunchy comedy. It starts with the opening sequence following Plaza as she returns to the convent on a donkey. Her struggles juxtaposed with the sacred score from Hildegard von Bingen set the stage for the farces that follow. The nuns go about their daily rituals and chores, but bored from their tedium, every new excitement is going to be milked to excess. This goes double for the convent’s new gardener, the former servant Massetto (Franco), whose mute “disguise” does not protect him from the wanted and unwanted attention he receives from the deprived sisters. He has to decide if living there is better than working for the bloodthirsty Lord Bruno (Offerman), whose wife Francesca (played by Lauren Weedman) Massetto is sleeping with. At the convent he finds Alessandra (Brie), who was sent to the convent because of her powerful family’s monetary woes. Their tryst must overcome Massetto’s “deafness” and hide from Alessandra’s senile sewing buddy. Further still, theirs is not the only secret kept at the convent.

To me The Little Hours is a spiritual sister to Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with it’s narrative winding through sketches of people trying to live their lives despite their own best efforts. It is as if the Castle Anthrax had its own film, except with less 70’s sexism (parodied or otherwise). Unlike what the trailers emphasized, the anachronisms are not haphazard or exaggerated. The score is either period pieces or thoughtfully composed additions, and besides the vocabulary nothing strays far from the source material. Even the language lacks truly modern lingo. Boccaccio’s emphasis on mirroring the world around him is done successfully via Baena’s comedic vision. Come for the cast, stay for the gags. -Nicole

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Review: Parker’s Anchor

 

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Parker’s Anchor
Release Date: 2017
Director: Marc Hampson
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: Not Rated
IMDb Score: 5.9/10

Disclaimer: I recieved this film to study and review.

What happens when your perfect life hits upon an impassable obstacle? For Parker’s Anchor (2017) the answer is not in the destination, but in the voyage itself. Titular Krystal Parker (played by screenwriter Jennica Schwartzman) is struggling after her miscarriage and infertility crumble her once passionate marriage. She is forced to move from the city to a small town and support herself. Through the opening monologue we learn that eventually Krystal rebuilds and has a family, but first she has to overcome her grief and depression to move on. Along the way she gathers an extended family of new and old friends.
If I had to guess, this film was made by a gang of cinematographers. Each shot was lit and staged with thought and care. Nighttime scenes were clean and felt natural. For an indie production, this felt big budget and allowed focus to be put on the actors. The chemistry between cast members was relaxed and comfortable. Sexy breakfast dance anyone? The inside jokes and shared culture sell their past history. Purpose-composed karaoke tunes are the icing on the cake. Krystal’s emotions are then reflected in the score. The intesity ramps up with her initial despair, then becomes sparse when her isolation comes to a head. Dynamics and texture carried the mood more than the harmonies, which carried a more neutral tone. Disembodied conversations, voices and the wide staging of characters and props emphasize this too. Krystal’s life is not her own. When Krystal finally stumbles into the adorkable relationship with Jared, played by Fanboys (2009) star Chris Marquette, lighter and diegetic music takes over and scenes overlap. She finally has agency, she can take care of herself and make her own decisions. While it is suggested that the initial narrator is Krystal’s anchor, Krystal ends up being her own anchor.
Overall Parker’s Anchor is a delicately paced cute romantic film.  It allows for reflection of Parker’s journey, a journey that includes an issue that does not usually get this level of care and respect. Miscarriage and infertility does not define Parker, and she learns to create her own self-worth. Tissues are in order for both sweet and melancholy moments. I see this film as a perfect compliment to book clubs and ‘girls’ night in’.  It pairs well with wine and ice cream, and friends. -Nicole