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- PODCAST: Overdrinkers - The Living Daylights & Licence to Kill
Mike Burdge is joined once again by Reeya Banerjee to talks dat Bond, this time covering the latest news on the new casting, catching up on what they've been watching, and honing in on five very different yet surprisingly connected Bond entries from over the years: You Only Live Twice, Moonraker and The World is Not Enough, but especially the two Timothy Dalton entries from the 80s, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. They behave themselves, we promise. Listen on....
- Empathy for the Living & the Dead
A look at The Civil Dead and Jethica An idea most frequently associated with Roger Ebert is the description of films as empathy machines. In 2005 he gave a speech outside the Chicago Theater, when a plaque was being dedicated to him, where he said: “We are all born with a certain package. We are who we are. Where we were born, who we were born as, and how we were raised. We are kind of stuck inside that package, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people, and find out what makes them tick, and what they care about. For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.” Now I would push Roger a little on that last line, but only in the sense that it’s not films that make us empathic - we already are unavoidably so by nature - but a film can do an effective job of enlivening our empathy or guiding it in new directions. Exactly how empathy functions is a contentious issue, but there are features of empathy that have been well-established for a long while now. Notably, our empathy is most readily activated by that which resembles ourselves in some way, and this impulse is surprisingly broad in its application. If you’ve ever put a pair of googly eyes on something, then you know firsthand how readily we can anthropomorphize basically anything in the world. It’s this same principle that does a lot of the heavy lifting in most animated films. One wouldn’t think, for example, that you would be able to tell a compelling narrative story about abstractions like our emotions, yet Pixar’s Inside Out was able to sufficiently humanize concepts like Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness, to tell an enthralling tale. More impressively, that story also was able to say something worthwhile about the young human girl, Riley, that was experiencing those emotions, and by extension, was able to say something about the human experience in general. Almost anything can trigger our empathy, and it reveals something about us when it happens. I say all of this as a preamble to discussing the unexpected role that I see empathy playing in two smaller films from earlier this year: The Civil Dead and Jethica. Both of these films are ghost stories of a kind, though neither is, strictly speaking, a horror film. In both cases, they are stories about people who are haunted by ghosts but are using a literal haunting to say something about being figuratively haunted. They are also both stories that take some pains to get us to sympathize with both the haunter and the haunted. To explain what I think is most interesting about this approach, forgive me for a brief digression into the history of empathy. One of the earliest robust discussions of the mechanism of empathy occurs in Adam Smith’s 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This discussion occurs so early in the historical discourse on empathy that it precedes ‘empathy’ being coined as a term by 150 years. At the time he was writing, Smith and his contemporaries used the term ‘sympathy’ to refer to what we now call empathy. I mention all of this here because the culmination of Smith’s first introduction of what he takes sympathy to be, is his pointing out what he takes to be the furthest extreme of our natural impulse to sympathize: our inclination to sympathize with the dead. What’s so noteworthy about our impulse to sympathize with the dead is that we’re experiencing some kind of fellow feeling with someone we know to no longer be feeling anything at all anymore and that asymmetry highlights how our empathy always says far more about us than it can ever say about whomever we are empathizing with. We can never actually know how someone else really feels, but only how we imagine we would feel in what we take their circumstances to be. Smith says this of our sympathy with the dead: “We sympathize even with the dead, and overlooking what is the real importance of their situation, that awful futurity which awaits them, we are chiefly affected by those circumstances which strike our senses, but can have no influence upon their happiness. It is miserable, we think, to be deprived of the light of the sun; to be shut out from life and conversation; to be laid in the cold grave, a prey to corruption and the reptiles of the earth; to be no more thought of in this world, but to be obliterated in a little time, from the affections, and almost from the memory, of their dearest friends and relations.” For Smith, all of our sympathy for the dead, even our understanding of the dead, only comes to us through a prism of our being alive, and it’s very much that idea that’s at work in these two films I want to discuss. It won’t be possible to fully explore what I want to say about The Civil Dead and Jethica without spoiling those films, particularly their endings. However, since I think not many people have seen them, I’ll begin with a rough sketch of what they’re each about, and let you know where to jump off if they sound like something you would want to check out without being spoiled. The Civil Dead is about a young photographer, Clay (Clay Tatum), who lives in an apartment in LA with his girlfriend. One day, while his girlfriend is away on a trip, Clay goes out to take pictures and runs into someone he used to be friendly with back in his hometown, Whit (Whitmer Thomas). Whit talks Clay into hanging out the rest of that day, and on through the night. Whit finally reveals to a hungover Clay the next morning that Whit has actually been dead this whole time, and is a ghost that only Clay can see and hear. The rest of the film is the two of them navigating that dynamic. Jethica is about two women, Elena (Callie Hernandez) and Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), who are each being haunted by the ghosts of men who forced themselves into their lives. Elena is living way out in the middle of nowhere in a trailer in the desert that belongs to her grandmother, trying to figure some things out with her life. One day she runs into an old friend of hers, Jessica, at a gas station. Elena learns that Jessica is driving cross country, seemingly on the run from something, so Elena invites Jessica to come to stay with her at the trailer as long as she needs. Jessica agrees, and once at the trailer, she confides in Elena that the reason she had left home was because of a situation with a stalker that got out of control. A guy named Kevin (Will Madden) had been following her, leaving her unhinged messages, demanding she sees him, and threatening her if she didn’t. Elena hears Jessica out, even listening to some of the messages, and tells Jessica that she’s safe now and can go take a shower and relax. While Jessica is in the shower, though, Kevin shows up outside the trailer, ranting and pacing outside, yelling for Jessica to come out. This is a little bewildering, not least of which because the trailer is truly in the middle of nowhere, nothing but flat desert to the horizon in every direction, and there’s no sign of another car out there. Kevin eventually disappears again, and Jessica brings Elena outside to show her Kevin’s body in the trunk of her car. Jessica tells Elena how Kevin had shown up at her house threatening her, and she had stabbed him in self-defense. She had fled with his body in her car, but his ghost had been haunting her ever since, continuing to stalk her even in death. I’ll pause here because I haven’t yet relayed anything important that isn’t already in the trailers for these two films. If either of them sounds intriguing, please check them out before reading on if the element of surprise is important to you, because each film takes these initial premises in some interesting directions. That warning given, I proceed. What The Civil Dead is interested in, in a loose sense, is what we owe others. The film is told from Clay’s point of view, but there is an interpretation of what happens that would straightforwardly paint him as the villain of this story. When we meet Clay, his girlfriend has just left town, so Clay starts running a scam out of their apartment. Posing as a realtor showing his apartment as available to rent, he holds an open house, collecting application fees from people excited to find such a large apartment available so inexpensively. When we first meet Whit, we learn that he first moved to LA to become an actor, and had reached out to Clay to try to connect with him early on, but Clay kept blowing him off. Even aware of how Clay had been ducking him, Whit is thrilled to now have someone who can see and hear him. At this point, Whit doesn’t know how long he’s been dead, but it’s been a crushingly lonely experience, being invisible, and unable to sleep, or eat, or touch anything. Just stuck existing emptily. Clay and Whit do find a brief camaraderie with one another, in large part because Whit can help Clay with his money problems. Clay wheedles his way into a high-stakes poker game run by a producer he knows, where Whit can tell Clay what cards everyone is holding during the game. At this point, the way the rest of this film could play out is a string of adventures that Clay and his ghost buddy could have, but Clay doesn’t really want that. Clay finds Whit to be too clingy. So, under the guise of arranging for them to be able to spend some quality time together away from Clay’s girlfriend, who still doesn’t know anything about their situation, Clay takes some of his poker winnings to rent a cabin in the woods for him and Whit to go hang out. They go and do even have a fun first night together, but on the second day, Clay lures Whit up into the attic of the cabin, shutting him in up there, knowing that Whit has no way to let himself back out. And the film ends with Whit yelling to Clay for help as Clay packs his car up and drives back home, the cabin slowly receding in the car’s rearview mirror. The way our empathy is manipulated here is impressive. We can step back and look at the way that Clay probably tells this story to himself after the fact and the way this film could have been framed; Clay found himself being haunted, stalked even, by a creepy ghost he never asked for. But, he was ultimately able to outsmart the ghost, trapping it somewhere it couldn’t bother him anymore. What makes the film play out differently than that for us is that we like Whit, feeling bad for what happened to him, both in his life and death; and we kind of think Clay is a douchebag. All of our empathy is with the ghost in this case, because our understanding of what he is going through is all familiar to us as experiences from our own lives: feelings of invisibility, isolation, loneliness, and embarrassment. But even all that said, Clay never consented to being haunted, and doesn’t owe Whit companionship. Clay may be a pretty garbage person otherwise, but it gets really complicated to say what he did was wrong. The way that Jethica plays out is almost the inverse of what happens with Clay and Whit. What we discover that Elena and Jessica have in common is that they are both haunted by men that they killed. In Elena’s case, she was driving down the road, got distracted, and hit a guy walking down the side of the road named Benny. (Andy Faulkner). After he is killed, Benny’s ghost mostly just keeps walking up and down the stretch of highway where he died, and we see Elena sometimes pick him up and talk to him, as a way to make peace with what she did. It’s only towards the end of the film that we learn it wasn’t an accident that Elena hit Benny. She happened to be distracted, and maybe she could have avoided him if she hadn’t been, but he deliberately jumped in front of her car. He was ready to end it all, and she just happened to be the one passing by. The shared theme between Elena and Jessica ends up being women whose lives were derailed by sad and selfish men, but what’s so surprising about where the film decides to go with that is how much empathy it still chooses to have for those two men. Kevin and Benny are undoubtedly the villains of the story, but after Benny absentmindedly reveals to Elena what he did, and Jessica gets Kevin to realize that what he has been doing, in both life and death, has been hurting her, the resolution to the story of the two ghosts is that they stop haunting these women, but also find a friend in one another before finally disappearing. The film doesn’t need to do that, and neither Benny nor Kevin is really owed such grace, but the empathy extended to them is still moving because we can’t help but hope that, even at our worst, such kindness might be extended to us. Neither film does, or really even could, tell us anything definitive about death, but both stories do contextualize something important for us about how we should treat others while we’re alive. How Clay treats Whit isn’t unambiguously wrong, but we still judge him harshly for how little empathy he has for Whit, also seeing it as an extension of the general selfishness with which we already saw him treat others. Clay may not have owed Whit companionship, but it was a choice to be such a dick about it. Conversely, the care that Elena and Jessica showed Kevin and Benny was probably excessive. No one owes kindness to an abuser, but, in general, anyone willing to extend empathy to others tends to receive ours. Such is the esteem with which we hold empathy that we always prefer the one who shows too much to the one that shows too little. And that’s part of why we love films, not because they are empathy machines, but because we are, and a good film reflects that back to us. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.
- PODCAST: Overdrinkers - The Crow, The Shadow & The Mask
Mike Burdge is joined by Tim Irwin for round two in their Overdrinkers mini-series covering the comic book adaptation surge of the 90s in response to the success of Tim Burton's Batman. In this episode, they talk about three films all released in the year 1994: the angsty The Crow, the ridiculous The Shadow and the superb (and annoying) The Mask. Listen on....
- PODCAST: Cathode Ray Cast - Schmigadoon! S2
On this episode of Cathode Ray Cast, Bernadette is joined by Yarko Dobriansky to talk about season 2 of the AppleTV series, Schmigadoon! They also discuss musicals they've watched in the "Big Apple," how excited they were to see most of the old cast back for another season, and what their favorite new moments were now that they found themselves in Schmicago. Listen on....
- Feeling Lucky, Hank?
Midlife Crisis? Or the Effects of Lifelong Unresolved Trauma? A review of the new AMC series Lucky Hank CW: this article contains spoilers for the first season of AMC’s Lucky Hank and contains references to suicide. As you may know from my previous listicle about Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, I love me some Bob Odenkirk and I have been eager to see what he would do next after 14 years of playing Saul Goodman (aka Jimmy McGill), the sleazy lawyer with a secret heart of gold. So I was super excited to see that he was due to star in AMC's new series Lucky Hank, a comedy series based on the 1997 novel Straight Man by Richard Russo, and I happily watched as Odenkirk set off to separate himself from his most famous role. And he did well! Odenkirk plays the titular Hank - William Henry Deveraux, Jr., a tenured professor, and head of the English department at the (fictional) Railton College in (fictional) Railton, PA. Hank is going through a midlife crisis that has ripple effects on his colleagues and his family. He has spent his life trying to be like his father - or his perceived image of his father - a prominent professor of English who abandoned Hank and his mother in pursuit of a prestigious job at Columbia University when Hank was a very young boy. Over the years, the father and son grew increasingly estranged, through a combination of Henry Sr's ambition (and womanizing) and continued disengagement with the family he left behind, and young Hank's increasing resentment at being seemingly forgotten by his father. Lucky Hank's storyline is a deft satire of the (if you pardon the expression) circle-jerk of academia. The petty politics within the Railton English department staff, the ongoing conflict with the school administration about budget cuts, and a clash with a clueless, smug student in Hank’s fiction workshop class reminded me not only of what I witnessed during my own time as a student at a small liberal arts college but also stories my father told me about his time as an English professor at the University of Maryland - a job he fled when my mother, an attorney at a high profile white shoe law firm in Washington DC and the primary breadwinner of the family became pregnant with me. The reason my father gave his family for leaving academia was that babies are expensive AF, my mom was going to be on maternity leave after I was born and then returning to work only part-time until I was old enough for preschool (taking a pause and then a decrease from her generous full-time salary), and professors are woefully underpaid until they get tenure. The official reason, though, was kind of all of the above but mostly because he was just goddamned sick of the petty politics, pressure to publish, and general pretentiousness of being a career academic. He liked teaching, he hated the other stuff, but you can't not do the other stuff and succeed as a professor. So he finished his Ph.D. and walked away, attended business school, and then ended up having a 37-year career in corporate banking. (In our case it ended up being an exceptionally good decision because, by the time my mother was ready to go back to work full time, she was diagnosed with cancer and embarked upon an eight-year battle with the disease. She never did go back to work.) At any rate, the depiction of the environment of an academic workspace in Lucky Hank is very well done and absolutely hilarious. Any hint of Saul Goodman disappears as Odenkirk sinks his teeth into the character of the dour, profoundly depressed Hank (he declares Railton “Mediocrity’s Capital” in the first episode), who begins to spin out when he gets word that his famous father - the one who abandoned him - is retiring from Columbia University. Odenkirk is joined by a wonderfully quirky cast - Diedrich Bader as his best friend, philosophy professor Tony Conigula, Oscar Nunez as Dean Jacob Rose, Kyle MacLachlan as the corrupt college president Dickie Pope, Cedric Yarbrough, Suzanne Cryer, Sara Amini as a few key colleagues in Hank’s department, and the luminous Mireille Enos as Hank's wife Lily, the assistant principal of the local high school. It becomes very clear early on in this show that Lucky Hank is not just about Hank's purported midlife crisis around his career - it's just as much about Lily hitting a crossroads in her career as well. She receives a job offer to be the principal of a prestigious private school in Manhattan - a job that Hank supported her pursuing under the assumption that she would use the offer as leverage to get more money at her job at the high school in Railton. When she realized that the idea of moving to New York and working at a school that has the resources and support she needs to truly pursue her calling as an educator is something she really wants, she tries hard to get Hank to join her in New York, citing it as a new beginning for him - he could start writing again (he only ever published one book and has been working on his second for decades, never able to get much done amidst the demands of being a professor), he could find a different, more fulfilling teaching job, he could get away from his annoying colleagues and the demands of being the head of a department that he hates, he could get away from the mediocrity he espouses in the first episode, and he could forge a path in his life that is independent of his desire to impress his famous college professor father, towards whom he still holds a lot of anger. But Hank is stuck. He seems open to New York at first, then waffles. He says that he doesn't want to abandon his career at Railton (somewhat understandable, as tenured professorships are hard to come by), even though he clearly despises his job. During a dinner party at the Deveraux home with the entire English faculty when the subject of Lily’s job offer comes up, she decides that she’s going to go for it, and the rest of the faculty are thrilled for her. They start peppering Hank with questions about what he will do in New York and who will take over as head of the English department at Railton (and Paul hilariously makes more and more outlandish offers to buy their house - a house he's been coveting since before Hank and Lily moved to town 18 years ago). Hank is not pleased with this development, but Lily has his number and calmly asks him in front of everyone what percentage of unhappy he would have to be to make a change in his life - knowing exactly how unhappy he is because he talks about it at home constantly. At this, Hank absolutely loses his shit, calls his daughter and tells her that her mother is leaving them, returns to the table and screams that he's not leaving Railton and if Lily goes to New York she's going by herself, and has a full-on breakdown, sobbing hysterically, ending the dinner party abruptly and prematurely. This is where I need to pause and say that, much like my irritation with the way Apple TV+ promoted Shrinking as a show about a therapist who goes rogue with his patients as a way of dealing with grief when really it was a show about complicated grief and how healing it is to have a chosen family to help you through it, I am massively irritated that AMC promoted Lucky Hank as a show about a college professor having a midlife crisis. Hank is not merely having a midlife crisis. Hank is dealing with massive childhood trauma due to his father's abandonment - a situation that is casually tossed off in one line by Lily while she's trying to mediate a fight between her daughter and her son-in-law and never mentioned again. The downplaying of this trauma on the show is absolutely absurd. Because not only did Hank's father leave him and his mother, but on the day he was leaving, a young Hank, in despair, attempted suicide. Hank thankfully did not succeed, but when his father found him on the ground with a noose around his neck, he didn't acknowledge what had happened, instead walking away and calling out for Hank's mother to deal with it. And Hank's mother's solution to the problem was a hug and a promise to pretend the suicide attempt never happened. Hank then spends his entire life hating his father, missing his father, trying to become his father, and struggling with the unresolved grief he has over his father's abandonment. Lily is well aware of the circumstances of Hank’s childhood, and his suicide attempt, and yet the series keeps trying to portray Hank’s behavior as the quirky offbeat mannerisms of a man who’s just having a midlife crisis. The tone of the humor around Hank’s genuine despair is, quite frankly, inappropriate given the severity of what the character has suffered through. A compounding effect on Hank’s existing trauma is that his father has relocated to Railton after retirement inexplicably to live with his ex-wife, Hank's mother, who it turns out has agreed to take care of Henry Sr as he is struggling with age-onset dementia. Henry Sr's mental condition prevents Hank from properly confronting his dad about the abandonment, as his father doesn't even remember what happened, basically blocking Hank from attaining anything even remotely close to closure about a seismic event in his childhood that he has struggled with for his whole life. Is it any wonder that he wigs out when his wife takes a job in New York? Even though she wants him to come with her, to him it feels like a repeat of the scenario where his father abandoned him to take a job in New York. "Why are you trying so hard to leave me?" he wails at the aforementioned dinner party. When Lily says that her decision to take the job has nothing to do with her feelings towards him (she wants him to come with her!) he can't hear it. All he can see is someone who he loves trying to leave him behind. As a fellow sufferer of childhood trauma with severe abandonment issues (that'll happen when you watch your mom fight cancer for 8 years and then die when you are still a child), this scene, in particular, resonated strongly with me. This is hard for me to admit, but I have said and done similar things in the past in my relationship under similar circumstances. It's not logical. It's not rational. It's not based on fact. But the emotions are overwhelming and losing control - and being unable to shift perspective and actually listen to the words being said to me, words that are trying to reinforce that I am loved and there is no intention to abandon me - is all too easy when your entire body shifts into fight or flight at any presumed threat to the safety of the status quo. The big problem with Hank is that his unaddressed trauma impacts everyone around him. He insults three years' of Tony’s work after a failed presentation at a conference by making a not-well-thought-out joke about how conferences are dumb, resulting in his best friend, deeply hurt, telling him that he doesn't understand how year after year Hank becomes more cynical, more withdrawn, and more depressed without doing something about it. Decision paralysis is another key hallmark of unresolved trauma, and Hank's decision paralysis leads him to keep stonewalling Dean Rose when asked to provide a list of three professors in his department to cut for budget reasons as decreed by the nefarious Dickie Pope, leaving the employees in Hank’s care on edge and in limbo. Hank screws over Meg, one of his post-doc students, by refusing to give her any classes to teach even though he could have, because he is passively trying to force her to leave Railton and not get stuck there like him - but he isn't honest with her about why he does it, causing a permanent rift in that mentor-mentee relationship. And while he's so focused on pushing Meg to leave Railton, why won't he himself leave? Why won't he go to New York with his wife? The season culminates in Hank finding a way to expose Dickie Pope's corruption and questionable reasons for the budget cuts, thus saving the jobs of his colleagues and the other departments who were subject to layoffs. After trying to share the good news of his success in saving his department with his father, hoping to receive some kudos from the former esteemed academic, he learns that his father was forced to retire from Columbia not for his dementia, but because he had falsified a memoir piece that was about to be published claiming he had participated in the 1965 Civil Rights March on Selma and in the fact-checking process the falsehood was discovered. When Hank asks why his father would do something so reckless, Henry Sr claims that it’s not that big of a deal (and his mother infuriatingly agrees), saying he did it because that’s the job of a career academic: you do what you have to do to keep getting published, you have to keep publishing to remain relevant, to keep getting invitations to conferences, give talks, appear on panels, be “famous” - even if the fame is only in the rarefied world of higher education. By the time you get to the level of prominence that Henry Sr reached, that dubious fame becomes part of your sense of self, and losing it is destabilizing. This rather shocking and pathetic reveal from his father seems to be the wake-up call Hank needs to get away from a career path he hates. He submits his resignation to Dean Rose and drives to New York, finally feeling free of his burdens, to be with his wife. But we end on a point of ambiguity - Lily doesn't seem all that happy to have him there in her new Brooklyn apartment. When she first arrived in New York for her new job, she indirectly admitted to one of her grad school friends that she's considering asking Hank for a divorce - that in the marriage she feels she has grown. He's remained where he was when they first met, and she can't keep taking care of his needs at the expense of her own. She doesn't say this to Hank when he turns up on her doorstep, triumphant with his success at saving his colleagues’ jobs, sticking it to Dickie Pope, walking away from the circle-jerk of academia and the looming specter of his father's abandonment in his psyche, and consciously deciding to change his life by coming to New York and fully supporting Lily's career the way she did for him for so long. While he excitedly whoops with joy in the bathroom, she sits down on her new bed in the new space that she’s set up exactly the way she wanted quietly, with an uncomfortable look on her face. And in the meantime, Dean Rose, upon reading Hank's resignation letter, immediately puts it in the shredder. Hank may think he's released himself from the shackles of Railton College and has found a new start, but it seems that those around him may not feel the same way. Lucky Hank is a smartly written, fun romp in the pretentious world of academia, and it's also a thoughtful exploration of the complexities of a marriage between two people who love each other dearly but may have grown apart. (And Bob Odenkirk boxes a goose!) There's great stuff here, and I'm excited to see how this all continues to shake out next season. But until AMC - and the showrunners - accept that the show is not about a professor having a midlife crisis, but about a deeply traumatized man with maladaptive coping mechanisms he developed in place of treating his trauma who may be permanently destroying his marriage, leaving him languishing in a career that exacerbates his depression, the real heft of the emotional stakes at play in Hank's story won't ever be fully realized. I liked the first season of Lucky Hank a great deal. It’s smart and witty, the dialogue is sharp, the season’s structure is well-plotted, and the characters are very well-developed - even the more minor characters who make up the English faculty Hank oversees at Railton. I hope that the show can do a bit of a course correction for season 2 so that we fully acknowledge the harm that Hank has inadvertently wrought (and those around him have enabled) on himself due to his unresolved trauma and see if he's capable of healing and true change, or if he is going to remain stuck and repeat the cycle of family abandonment trauma that has so truly damaged the course of his life. You can catch the entire first season of Lucky Hank on Prime Video with an AMC+ subscription. Go check it out. Bob Odenkirk’s work as Hank is exceptional (despite the show’s flaws), so much so that you may even forget that Saul Goodman exists… Reeya Banerjee Staff Writer Reeya is a musician and writer based in New York's Capital District. Her debut album, “The Way Up,” was released on January 27, 2022. She can frequently be seen in her car on the NYS Thruway cursing traffic on her way to the Hudson Valley for band rehearsals or to Brooklyn for recording sessions. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU returns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.
- PODCAST: Freakin' Out with Flanagan - The Haunting of Hill House
On this episode, Diana DiMuro and Mike Burdge are haunted by the charm of guest Tim Irwin, as they discuss Flanagan's breakout limited series: The Haunting of Hill House. There are a lot of ghost jokes. Listen on....
- Never Say Neverland
A look at Peter Pan in film through the years 'Proud and insolent youth,' said Hook, 'prepare to meet thy doom.' 'Dark and sinister man,' Peter answered, 'have at thee.' - from Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie (1911) When I saw the trailer for David Lowery’s latest film, Peter Pan & Wendy, I was pumped. Lowery directed 2016’s Pete’s Dragon remake for Disney; he also directed The Green Knight, one of my favorite films of 2021. I hoped that Peter Pan & Wendy would be weird, ya know, in a good way. I also knew it was set to release straight to Disney+ which gave me my doubts. Upon viewing, I was initially a bit underwhelmed (NOT WEIRD ENOUGH, I thought), but it got me thinking about all of the other movie adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s famous story that I had watched over the years. Which film gets it the “most right”? Do any of them? There’s a lot to like about Lowery’s movie but, ultimately, there still seems to be something missing. After watching Peter Pan & Wendy, I revisited a few of the more recent films featuring the boy who wouldn’t grow up, namely: 1991’s Hook, 2003’s Peter Pan, 2015’s Pan, and 2020’s Wendy, to see which movies I liked the most and why. Is there a film version of Peter Pan that you love the most? What (or who) makes those versions work so well? Wendy Moira Angela Darling Wendy Moira Angela Darling is a girl on a precipice. She still wants to play with her younger brothers, but at the same time, she admires her beautiful adult mother. She knows she is on the verge of “growing up,” but she doesn’t want to, not yet. She’s a bit smitten with Peter Pan when he arrives, encouraging her and her brothers, John and Michael, to leave their London bedroom for Neverland. J.M. Barrie’s original play and novel is not titled, “Peter Pan,” but actually, “Peter and Wendy.” At times, she is the “damsel in distress” and, at others, Wendy is the voice of the audience, taking it all in, wondering whether or not to return home or to continue on the adventure. If I’m being honest, I always found the 1953 Disney animated version of Wendy kind of annoying. Maybe because she is voiced by an adult woman? She seems a little too proper to be a child. It was hard to find admiration and sympathy for a little girl who sounded like she was about to give Peter a history lecture. In Lowery’s film, Wendy is played by Ever Anderson (daughter of actress Milla Jovovich and director Paul W. S. Anderson). She is scolded for accidentally breaking a mirror while “swashbuckling” with her brothers the night before she is scheduled to leave for boarding school. Her father tells her to “grow up,” but I found that Anderson’s Wendy already seems older than some of the other film versions I have watched. I liked her strength of spirit and curiosity, but I found I wasn’t as drawn to her as much as I’d hoped. She seems a bit too skeptical at times, which doesn’t really play well with the idea of wanting to stay a child forever. Part of drinking the Kool-Aid of Peter Pan is being excited by at least some of his shenanigans. Anderson starts the film already a bit too “wise beyond her years.” Or at least, she acts like she thinks she is wise. Lowery seems to want to update Wendy’s character a bit and make her less reliant on Peter to save the day (which I totally respect) but it doesn’t quite flow with the rest of the story. As I watched other versions of the story, I started to better understand why that is the case. I forgot how much I liked Rachel Hurd-Wood’s portrayal of Wendy in the 2003 film Peter Pan, directed by P.J. Hogan until I watched it again all these years later. Hurd-Wood’s Wendy is a bit younger than Anderson’s. She’s an imaginative storyteller, who gladly plays with her younger brothers. Her adult aspirations include becoming a great writer of adventure stories. Peter Pan is drawn to her home because of her ability to tell these captivating stories. It is not until her stuffy and proper Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) visits that Wendy’s parents begin having doubts about her “unladylike behavior” and tell her (hesitantly I might add) that maybe she has to start growing up. Aunt Millicent starts talking about getting Wendy on track to become more fashionable and worthy of eventual marriage (she is only 12 in this version). This includes having her shy father engage more among “polite society.” Hogan’s film takes a little more time initially building a backstory and sympathy for both Wendy and her father, played by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter) as they both try to fit into the molds society seems to want for them. I found this version of Wendy a lot more compelling. It made me want to see her escape the daily grind and reach her potential that much more by the time Peter Pan shows up. The biggest contrast in Wendy's representation in the movies I rewatched comes in 2020’s film Wendy. A modern-day Wendy (played by Devin France) is tempted by the daily trains that stop and pass by her home above the diner where she helps her mom wait tables. Her twin brothers hint at stories of their mom’s wild youth before she had children. Wendy is disappointed by how her mom’s dreams seem to have diminished and rebels at the same possible outcome for herself. One night, the children hear a giggling boy outside their window on top of a departing train; they decide to jump aboard and follow him on his adventure. This is director Benh Zeitlin’s second film. He also directed and co-wrote the screenplay and music for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a beautiful and emotional movie that I think can never be replicated. Wendy is always told from the titular character’s point of view. The movie takes the themes of Barrie’s story and tempers them with some more somber modern changes while still trying to keep some of the fantastical elements of the story. I think Wendy best captures childlike wonder while showing how quickly that can change. It’s a cautionary tale, more so than any of the other film adaptations I viewed. “Proud and Insolent Youth” Peter Pan. Lots of things come to mind when you read the name, but for me, it is mostly a mischievous grin. Pan is the embodiment of youth, play, bravado, and often, freedom. Jeremy Sumpter, star of P.J. Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan, is the most like the Greek god Pan (god of the wilderness). When Sumpter’s Peter leaves Neverland, it grows snowy and cold there. When he returns, he brings springtime with him; the ice thaws and the flowers bloom. Peter has wild hair and clothing made out of leaves. Sumpter (as Peter) also happens to be very cute. Of all the movies I rewatched, Wendy seems the most enamored with Peter in this particular film. There is something of Romeo and Juliet in the initial interaction between Wendy and Peter as he convinces her to leave her home behind. Despite not wanting to “grow up,” Peter and Wendy spend a lot of time play-acting as grownups in Neverland. They act as “mom” and “dad” to the rest of the Lost Boys. There is a hint of romance mixed with childhood innocence in their interactions. You get the feeling that Wendy believes being with Peter is both completely safe and the most dangerous thing in the world. However, this version of Peter is a bit more chauvinistic. He often tells Wendy to “wait here,” while he goes off to save the day. When it comes to “love,” Peter denies knowing what it is, but Wendy believes he is lying. At one point of contention, Peter tells Wendy to go home and “take her feelings with her.” In this film, Peter often tries to present himself as invincible to having his feelings hurt, but what finally does hurt him is Captain Hook telling him that Wendy will leave him and he will die “alone and unloved.” In contrast to Sumpter’s dreamboat version of Peter, Wendy’s Peter is played by much younger Yashua Mack; he is playful and full of laughter. He brings the Darling children to an island with a massive active volcano. Once they arrive, they encounter Thomas, a boy who ran away from home a few years ago and has not aged a day. Peter seems to conduct the eruptions of the volcano like a maestro with an orchestra. He talks about “The Mother,” who seems to be part mythical sea creature, part Mother Nature and the spirit of the island itself. She and Peter share a special connection. He loves his mother and she loves him. Wendy describes The Mother the way J.M. Barrie describes fairies in his text: if you believe, you will never grow up. One of the things I love most about Wendy is how Zeitlin shows us the power of children’s ability to play and use their imagination while enjoying and respecting the natural world around them. Peter and his Lost Boys all love and respect The Mother. But Peter can be fickle. He is quick to threaten expulsion from the group for those that do not follow his rules. The power and magic of play and using your imagination come to the forefront of the story in 1991’s Hook, directed by Steven Spielberg. It stars Robin Williams as Peter Banning, the adult version of Peter Pan who left Neverland and ultimately lost his way. Now Peter is a workaholic dad who misses his son’s baseball games and is always on his massive 90s cell phone with some work colleague. When he and his wife Moira take their kids to England to visit (great) “Grandma Wendy,” Moira gives Peter an ultimatum: he has to “fix this family.” Peter doesn’t remember his life before age 12. It takes returning to Neverland, a bonk on the head, and lots of “training” with the Lost Boys for him to become Peter Pan again. Peter’s imagination brings an epic food fight to life during dinnertime with the Lost Boys. Spielberg brings the power of imagination to the screen in globs of colorful puddings and pies as Peter and the Lost Boys can let loose and really play. Hook is about a father (Peter) learning to be a kid again (Pan) so he can connect with his children. All of these versions of Peter made me reexamine my thoughts on the latest Pan: Alexander Molony in Peter Pan & Wendy. Molony as an actor is pretty endearing, but as Peter, he doesn’t seem as puckish as Sumpter or his animated predecessor. Even Robin Williams looks a bit more windswept and wild than Molony’s Peter when he finally becomes Pan. Molony’s Peter is sure of himself on the outside, but a bit more introspective at times in private. The main issue I have with Lowery’s film is that Peter and Wendy never really seem to hit it off. They don't have the same chemistry that Sumpter and Hurd-Wood have in Hogan’s film. In Peter Pan & Wendy, Wendy thinks Peter is showing off most of the time and even hits him in the face at one point. She doubts aloud that he would be able to defeat Captain Hook on his own. Peter expresses his frustration to Wendy that he thought they would be friends and have fun. As the audience, I feel just as frustrated. I like the self-assuredness of Lowery’s Wendy, she saves herself on more than one occasion and relies less on Peter, but in doing so, the two main characters seem too much at odds. I think for the story to work, you have to believe in the chemistry and camaraderie between these two characters. You have to accept that Wendy would consider staying in Neverland for Peter and that he might consider leaving it for her. We don't have that strength of bond between Molony and Anderson and I think that becomes the greatest flaw in Lowery’s film. Finally, we have a horse of an entirely different color in 2015’s Pan, directed by Joe Wright. Pan is an origin story (that I am not sure anyone ever asked for) about the J.M. Barrie character, showing us how the boy, Peter, escapes London, journeys to Neverland, and ultimately becomes the legendary figure, Peter Pan. This tale begins during WWII; Peter is at an orphanage run by mean nuns that is a bit too much like Oliver Twist. He insists his mother will come back for him one day, but before you know it, he is kidnapped by pirates and put INTO SLAVE LABOR mining in Neverland. Joe Wright directed one of my favorite book-to-film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, but I dunno what happened with Pan. Levi Miller as Peter is a different kind of cutie patootie than Jeremy Sumpter, and he’s not exactly Peter Pan either. His whole story arc is about finding his mother and learning in the end how much she loves him and will “always be with him.” To me, this message is kind of the opposite of what Peter Pan as a figure stands for. In this origin story, there is a prophecy of a boy, born from a human and a fairy, who could fly. He is supposed to return to Neverland to lead an uprising of the “natives” against the wicked pirate Blackbeard. Whew, just summarizing that for you made me tired all over again. “Dark and Sinister Man” What would the story of Peter Pan be like without Captain Hook? The true love affair in every film adaptation has to be between Peter and his supposed arch-nemesis, James Hook. One seems to lose purpose without the other. Hook and Peter are described in Barrie’s original text: In person he was cadaverous and blackavized, and his hair was dressed in long curls, which at a little distance looked like black candles, and gave a singularly threatening expression to his handsome countenance. His eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly … Such is the terrible man against whom Peter Pan is pitted. Which will win? Peter was such a small boy that one tends to wonder at the man's hatred of him. True he had flung Hook's arm to the crocodile; but even this and the increased insecurity of life to which it led, owing to the crocodile's pertinacity, hardly account for a vindictiveness so relentless and malignant. The truth is that there was a something about Peter which goaded the pirate captain to frenzy. It was not his courage, it was not his engaging appearance, it was not—. There is no beating about the bush, for we know quite well what it was, and have got to tell. It was Peter's cockiness. - from Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie (1911) As Captain Hook in Peter Pan & Wendy, Jude Law is a little repulsive (but only a little bit). Grungy with long stringy dyed hair, he’s like someone who is trying to hide that he is balding with a long comb-over. Jim Gaffigan plays his first mate, Mr. Smee, delivering a few funny one-liners throughout the film, but he also remains extremely sweet and somewhat protective of Hook. Law’s Hook seems more melancholy than other versions, but you can tell the actor is still having a great time. Without giving away too much, Lowery creates a backstory for Hook and Peter’s relationship that paints Peter in a less favorable but much more realistic light. While I mentioned earlier that we don't have a strong bond between Molony and Anderson’s Peter and Wendy, I do think we have it between Molony’s Peter and Law’s Hook. Their back and forth is some of the best exchanges in the entire film. I think if I were going to get a prequel to the famous story, I’d be more likely to trust Lowery to write a thoughtful prologue to how Peter and Hook became enemies. As the titular Hook in Spielberg’s 1991 film, Dustin Hoffman seems to be emulating Jeremy Irons with his deep growling voice. Hook is dressed to kill in this movie. He looks like a British buccaneer with a Salvadore Dali mustache. I never knew Hoffman could shine as brightly as he does playing Captain Hook. Honestly, I would have watched an entirely separate film about Hook with Hoffman performing. Bob Hoskins is my favorite version of Hook’s right-hand man, Smee. He introduces Hook as the hype man to Hook’s rockstar about to take the stage. When Hook meets the adult Peter, fresh from London still in a bedraggled suit, he pities him. Peter is no real enemy. Without a real adversary, Hook becomes depressed and lost, suicidal even. Tinker Bell the fairy convinces Hook to give her and the Lost Boys three days to get Peter back into fighting shape for the all-out “war between good and evil” that he had promised his men. Despite Hook also being a new story in itself, I enjoy this version of Hook the most. He seems the most in line with the spirit of J.M. Barrie’s tale. While it can’t quite compete with Hoffman's (or even Law’s performance for that matter), one of the best twists is in Hogan’s version of Peter Pan when he casts Jason Issacs to play both Wendy’s father, Mr. Darling, and Captain Hook. Once Wendy sees Captain Hook for the first time, she finds herself entranced by his blue eyes rather than being afraid of him. Earlier in the film, Wendy does not view her father as brave or adventurous, but her mother says, “There are many different kinds of bravery.” She explains that their father had to give up many of his dreams to make sacrifices for his family and that makes him brave. As Hook, Jason Isaacs is pretty wicked. Onscreen, I think he kills the most people out of all of the film adaptations I watched. He’s just shooting people left and right. It’s a little disturbing. The only thing that seems to scare Captain Hook himself is the crocodile that ate his hand and now wants the rest of him. At the time of filming, Jason Isaacs was 40 years old. I’m about to turn 42, and I now realize how hot stuff Isaacs was in all of his Hook glory, wearing a wig of long curly hair and a van dyke beard. Zaddy, indeed. Issacs definitely had the sexy rockstar look down, even if Dustin Hoffman was the Hook with the actual gravitas to pull it off. Wendy has a more non-traditional interpretation of Hook. Wendy has twin brothers, Douglas and James, who follow her and Peter to the island of Neverland. When Doug becomes lost, James is so distraught that he starts to age rapidly. First, his hand starts to wrinkle. He asks Peter to cut it off, hoping it will stop the aging process. Peter agrees to help but says that James has to believe it for it to really work. It doesn’t. Eventually, Wendy finds other grownups on the island, living in a settlement of adults who were once Lost Boys that Peter now pretends no longer exist. It’s a hint at the cruelty of little boys like Peter. Now exiled, the adults, led by a much older James, decide that they should try to catch and eat “The Mother” to become young again. The film’s message seems to be that adults will abuse Mother Nature to stay young while children can appreciate her for what she is. Later in the movie, adult James laments that he cannot go back home. Wendy and Doug are sad until Peter challenges James to stay on the island, now as Captain Hook, “his sworn enemy.” This new role gives James purpose and they play, sword-fighting in full display to the admiration of the rest of the Lost Boys. Again, Peter and Hook have formed a bond that gives each other purpose. The story doesn’t work otherwise. And then there’s Pan. (I know, I’m sorry.) In Pan, Hugh Jackman does not play Hook, instead, he is a steampunk-pixie-dust-addled-nightmare version of the pirate Blackbeard. As Blackbeard, he looks like a cross between a rotting Don Quixote and something out of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. He puts children and adults alike to work, mining for chunks of something called, “Pixum,” (think the amber equivalent of residual pixie dust). He has already killed off all known pixies in Neverland and he craves more dust, breathing it in through a terrifying mask to keep himself young. For some reason, all the captives mining for Pixum sing modern songs like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Garrett Hedlund is a miner named James Hook (presumably before he becomes the fearsome pirate Captain and loses his right hand). Hedlund does some seriously bizarre voicework in this film. I’m not sure what kind of accent he is trying to put on but it mostly makes him seem like a worse actor than he actually is. He helps Peter escape the mines once Peter learns he can fly, hoping it will lead to their escape from Neverland. We never get the full transformation of James into Captain Hook in Wright’s film. It can only be assumed that Wright hoped there might be a sequel that never came. I love Hugh Jackman, but even he could not save the film. Pan was panned at the box office. The film’s production budget cost $150 million (with an estimated $100-125 million additionally spent on marketing) but it flopped, only grossing $128.4 million worldwide. The Other Woman(en) In almost every version of Barrie’s tale, two female characters create tension between Peter and Wendy: Indian princess Tiger Lily and the fairy Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell is often portrayed as jealous of Wendy from the very beginning of the tale, convincing the Lost Boys that a flying Wendy is really a bird that Peter wants to be shot down from the sky. The Lost Boys almost kill Wendy early on in the story and Tink doesn’t bat an eye. This plotline and Tink’s subsequent banishment from the group by Peter Pan, are recreated in the 2003 adaptation. In Hogan’s film, Tinker Bell is sort of a comic mime using CGI. It is one of the aspects of the film that I like the least. Tink doesn’t speak a language that we can understand, instead, she makes a lot of garish facial expressions and angry hand gestures. As Peter and Wendy grow closer, both Tinker Bell and Captain Hook bond over their fear that they will lose “their Peter” and they form a pact to exact revenge. Tinker Bell inevitably falls victim to Captain Hook’s devious ways. Yara Shahidi (Black-ish) plays Tinker Bell in Peter Pan & Wendy in a role that I wish Lowery had expanded. I was pleased to see that this version of Tinker Bell is not malicious toward Wendy at all. Tink speaks in hushed ringing tones, so initially, Wendy can never seem to hear what she is saying. Peter translates, acting like he knows what Tink is saying, but in fact, he doesn’t seem to actually be listening to her. It’s another way Lowery’s version of the story paints Peter in a less favorable light. Tinker Bell often looks like she is trying to help steer Peter into better actions throughout the film but is often ignored. It presents a more interesting take than the jealous lackey character. Eventually, Wendy really listens to her and Tinker Bell thanks her for it. It’s a great way of having those characters find a connection and common ground instead of being antagonists like in all the other versions of the tale. It also promotes a positive message that even if someone is on the quieter side initially, it doesn’t mean they can’t help out or that they don’t have something to say. In the 1953 Disney animated film Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is portrayed as an attractive Indian girl who makes Wendy jealous. She dances with Peter amidst a sea of blatantly racist caricatures of Indians during a song titled, “What Made the Red Man Red.” Now Disney+ puts a disclaimer before the movie for anyone about to watch it. Hogan’s 2003 version of Tiger Lily is still problematic, but it tries to make some improvements on earlier versions of the character. In his film, Tiger Lily is played by Canadian actress Carsen Gray, who is a Haida descendant. She doesn’t speak English in the film, but she is still a bit stereotypically dressed in “Indian clothing” and Wendy’s brother, John, initially refers to her as a “savage.” In a change from Barrie’s version, Hogan has John save Tiger Lily from the pirates. She kisses him in thanks and it gives John instant strength and courage (almost like a cartoon Olive Oyl kisses Popeye moment). The most tone-deaf portrayal of Tiger Lily, however, is in Joe Wright’s Pan, where the young James Hook seems to be attracted to the princess, who IS PLAYED BY ROONEY MARA. Don’t get me wrong, I like Rooney Mara, she is a great actress, but she should not have played Tiger Lily. Her tribe looks like a colorful circus troupe inspired by the works of Baz Luhrmann. Mara’s acting is pretty benign but not memorable. She fights the pirates and scolds Hook. Her character embraces Peter as the tribe’s “savior” from Blackbeard, a problematic and frequently used plotline. Peter the Savior is a boring plotline. It helps me appreciate Lowery’s Peter who is often a brat but starting to learn from his mistakes by the end of the film. By far the best changes to Tiger Lily’s representation have come in David Lowery’s 2023 film. Early in the story, Wendy is separated from Peter and her brothers after they are attacked by pirates. Tiger Lily and the Lost “Boys” find her. In Lowery’s film, the Lost Boys are not all boys and the group is a lot more diverse than many earlier film adaptations. However, I want to point out that just three years before complaints surfacing on Twitter of Lowery’s “woke” version of Peter Pan, Behn Zeitlin showed us a diverse group of Lost “Boys” made up of both boys and girls of different races, in Wendy, a film starring a young Black boy as Peter Pan. In Lowery’s movie, Tiger Lily is played by Alyssa Wapanatâhk, an indigenous actress, who is a member of the Bigstone Cree First Nation in Alberta, Canada. She is the only character in the group who is a bit older (the actress playing her is 22 in real life). She speaks both Cree and English throughout the film, and she is a badass fighter. Rather than making Wendy jealous, Tiger Lily proves to be a strong guiding presence. She gives both Wendy and Peter aid as a big sister figure when they need it. Despite Peter’s early protests that he will always defeat Hook without any help, he ends up needing it. That’s the real lesson for Peter in Lowery’s film, that he needs help sometimes and he should not be afraid to accept it. While I will admit, I missed the personality of the crocodile from the original 1953 animated Peter Pan, I realized upon rewatching all of these movies that the inciting events of each film adaptation mostly stayed the same over the years. What changed is how each film represents its main characters and their relationships with each other. Some of them do a better job than others of capturing the whimsy and magic of J.M. Barrie’s original story while updating aspects for more modern audiences. Rewatching all of these earlier versions of Peter Pan in film helped me find a deeper appreciation for David Lowery’s Peter Pan & Wendy. Lowery’s version, while lacking in Peter and Wendy chemistry, has a great cast, a far better representation of Tiger Lily, some new and interesting character development, and a love affair for the ages between its frenemies: Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Give it a watch and try to give it the benefit of the doubt. I think you’ll find there’s more to enjoy than you might think. Diana DiMuro Associate Editor Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Robby Anderson chats with Mike Burdge about the latest ( and possibly last?) adventure of those plucky lil space criminals: The Guardians of the Galaxy. Along the way they discuss what works and doesn't with the film, the current state of the MCU and just what it means to be a good dog. Listen on....
- Such Great Heights
Jim Gaffigan Goes ‘Above and Beyond’ in Linoleum Linoleum is a challenging film to talk about fully without spoiling what it’s really saying. It is a film with a twist, but it’s not really about that; The film is not trying to be coy that there is something more to the story than what’s on the surface. And it’s not trying to be a puzzle for the audience to solve, either; The film’s not looking to give the audience all the pieces it needs to work out what the bigger picture is ahead of it being revealed. The best I might be able to say to describe Linoleum is that it’s something like a dream that only comes into focus right before you wake up. The heart of the story is a fairly grounded family drama, overlapping with a coming-of-age story, along with a story of personal crisis; but, ultimately, the film has even greater ambitions than all of that. Written and directed by Colin West, Linoleum is ostensibly the story of Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the middle-aged host of a little-watched children’s science program, Above, and Beyond. He is currently married to his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn), the former cohost and co-creator of the show. Frustrated with the show’s struggles to find an audience, she left Above and Beyond for a job at a local air and space museum, and we learn at the top of the story that, though they’re still living together, Erin is in the midst of serving Cameron with divorce papers. They have two children, Nora (Katelyn Nacon), who is in high school, and her younger brother Sam. We’re meeting Cameron, Erin, and Nora at a tumultuous time in their lives, particularly for Cameron. He is feeling unsettled in his life. His show is struggling and about to be taken away from him; his wife is leaving him; he’s feeling regret over never having fulfilled his dream of working for NASA, and coping with it being too late for that now. Also, Cameron is starting to watch his father fade away as he struggles with worsening dementia. Erin still loves her husband, but she sees how lost he is, and is letting go of him now so she can move on to the next stage of her life. She has her own dreams of working as an aerospace technician and is entertaining taking another museum job two hours away that will get her closer to that goal. Nora’s struggling with all there is that comes with being young and in high school, but compounded by confusion about her sexuality. Nora is a model of how most anyone should wish they were in high school, though. She’s mixed up, but only because she’s still working out who she will be. Otherwise, she is happy and confident being who she thinks she is so far. It’s Cameron that is the most lost, though. Part of what is amplifying his discontent is that the person who has been chosen to replace him as the host of Above & Beyond is the person he wishes he had become, a former Astronaut named Kent Armstrong (also played by Gaffigan), who has also just moved in across the street with his son Marc (Gabriel Rush). Marc is also trying to find his way in the world, as an always-on-the-move military kid trying to live up to the expectations of an incredibly demanding father. Marc is the new kid, starting the school year late, but he ends up being placed in the same class as Nora. They take to one another quickly and form an undefined relationship of sorts, but one that will be forcefully resisted by Marc’s father, who doesn’t want his son hanging out with someone like Nora. The inciting event for the story is that, while all of these issues are bubbling away, a literal manifestation of Cameron’s dream crash lands in his backyard, in the form of an old capsule from the space program that had been abandoned in orbit during a previous mission. No organization is entirely clear about whose responsibility the capsule is, so the Edwin family is ordered out of their home while the matter is investigated. Erin’s sister agrees to take them in, but she clearly doesn’t approve of Cameron and seems to be the biggest cheerleader for Erin and Cameron getting divorced. Feeling unwelcome in his sister-in-law’s home, Cameron moves back into their condemned house; And, with no job to occupy his days, he pulls the capsule out of the crater in his backyard, and decides to start building a rocket of his own in his garage. Jim Gaffigan is truly wonderful in this film, and not at all what I expected. He has no trouble holding the screen in two different roles. His performance as Kent Armstrong is so distinct from his Cameron character that it wasn’t until someone else in the story mentioned their resemblance that I realized Gaffigan was playing both. Gaffigan’s Cameron is believable as a kid’s science host in the spirit of Bill Nye and a dad any kid would want; And, maybe more impressive, behind his ever-present business suit, and slick backed hair, and precisely clipped mustache, Gaffigan’s Kent is genuinely threatening as an ex-military former astronaut, who expects the world, including his young son, to conform to his high expectations. To say more about the plot would begin to spoil things more than I would like, but I will say that at this point in the story, we’re in a very strange place. There is something just a little bit off about everything we’re seeing. We are told enough to make it credible that Cameron could have the degrees and know-how to refurbish the capsule, but if it crash-landed it’s still odd that it survived well enough to be refurbished in the first place; Also, it’s perhaps odder still that no one ever comes to take the capsule out of his backyard. The film mostly feels grounded, but at the same time there are these strange elements that keep popping up, like Cameron having always wanted to be an astronaut, only to lose his job to a former astronaut named Armstrong, who just happens to move in across the street from him, and just happens to be his doppelgänger. Without talking any more about the details of the story, I do want to talk a bit about how deeply the story connected to me. Besides Cameron, I could see something of myself in all the characters of the film, like it was all a bit like watching the story of my life behind me and the life still ahead of me. To more concretely tie this to the central metaphor of the film, it's like all the characters were the components of one multistage rocket lifting off. In Nora and Marc, I could see all the bad and good in being young and lost, and how much it helps at that time to find somebody to go through it with. In Sam, who becomes more crucial and meaningful to me each time I rewatch the film, I can see all the unexpected things that shape our lives in all the ways we can never plan for. In Cameron and Erin, I can see the recognition of finding yourself in a life that wasn’t what you planned and the rush of deciding that there is still time to do something different. And, in Cameron’s dad, I can see the reminder that even if all stories have to have an end, there can still be a good story along the way. Taken as a piece, they all tie together like the pieces of a single life. It’s a wonderful film that truly rewards each rewatch, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.
- PODCAST: Story Screen Reports - Drop the HBO... It's Cleaner.
Story Screen Reports is our team REACTING to the top 5 film, television and entertainment news stories of the month. Join us as we dissect and comb through everything from upcoming releases to studio drama. On this episode, Mike Burdge hops on to discuss the latest developments at HBO Max (aka Shitstorm City), including the announcement of one of the dumbest ideas to ever be taken seriously, as well as a few other stories. You can find those stories, and the sourced articles, linked below. 1. HBO Max to be renamed ‘MAX’ with addition of Discovery + content, launch date and pricing revealed Written by Todd Spangler at Variety 2. ‘Harry Potter’ TV Series on Max Written by Tom Tapp at Deadline 3. Star Wars Celebration 2023: Everything Announced Written by Adam Bankhurst and Ryan Dinsdale at IGN 4. James Bond Casting Director: Younger Actors Have Lacked the ‘Gravitas’ and ‘Mental Capacity’ to play 007 Written by Zack Sharf at Variety 5. Joe Russo and ‘Fortnite’s Donald Mustard Weigh in on the Future of Story telling, Gaming and Entertainment Written by Tamera Jones at Collider Listen on....
- Who You Were Before, and Who You Are After
A Review of Apple TV’s Shrinking In 2005, my father and I went on a trip to New Delhi to visit my uncle - my mother’s older brother. My mom and my uncle were very close in their youth - both academics, both activists heavily involved in the growing culture of intellectual thought and rejection of the relics of British imperialism in India in the 1970s (a period during which my father likes to say “Political India” was born). Mom moving to the States with my dad and her subsequent multi-year battle with cancer naturally caused a bit of distance to grow between the siblings, but my uncle always had a soft spot for her and was absolutely shattered when she passed away. So ok, it’s 2005. I’m 20 years old. My mother has been gone for eight years, and I haven’t seen my uncle since I was a toddler. My uncle and aunt came to meet us at the hotel where my dad and I were staying, and when my uncle saw me for the first time in so many years, the shock on his face was impossible to hide. “My goodness,” he said, and then was unable to speak for nearly a minute. In the silence, I wondered if I had done something wrong, offended him somehow. Or if I had smudged my mascara, or had something in my teeth. “You look just like your prototype,” he finally said. According to my dad, who was Suhash Uncle’s best friend back in the day, this was a quintessential Suhash thing to say - an eccentric turn of phrase, trying to inject some quirky humor into a heavy moment. But there was a sadness in his voice too. He was looking at me, and all he could see was how much I resembled my mother. His little sister died far too young. He didn’t speak much during lunch (which, according to my dad, was not normal behavior for my uncle). Over the next few days we spent together he got more and more chatty with me, but that first encounter had clearly rattled him a great deal. * There was a moment during the pilot episode of Apple TV’s newest comedy series Shrinking, starring Jason Segel, Jessica Williams, Christa Miller, and Harrison Ford (in his television debut) when the show really got its hooks into me. Segel plays Jimmy Laird, a psychotherapist who is dealing - poorly - with the death of his wife Tia in a car crash a year prior. When we first meet Jimmy, he’s so off the rails with grief that he’s partying all the time, phoning in his work at the therapy practice where he works with Gaby (Williams) and Paul (Ford), and completely unable to parent - or even communicate with - his teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell), who is also obviously grieving her mother. During a tense conversation between father and daughter, where Jimmy is ineloquently trying to explain why he finds it hard to be around Alice these days, he stumbles over his words a bit and then finally says, “You just look so much like your mother.” It reminded me of Suhash Uncle’s prototype comment. And that was when I realized that this show really understood the complexity of grief. How you can love someone profoundly, and struggle to be around them because they remind you of someone you lost. Shrinking was created by Bill Lawrence, Brett Goldstein, and Segal. Lawrence has a sizable pedigree when it comes to television - he is the creator/co-creator of Scrubs, Spin City, Cougar Town, and Ted Lasso. Goldstein is famously part of the Ted Lasso team - in addition to playing fan-favorite character Roy Kent (“he’s here, he’s there, he’s every fucking where!”) Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis hired him as a part of the writing team. Segal - well. Everyone knows Segal from his role as Marshall on How I Met Your Mother (not to mention his many film roles), but in my heart, he will always be Nick Andopolis from the wonderful and tragically short-lived Freaks and Geeks. Segal is known for playing kind-hearted, gentle-natured characters. His fundamental goodness is impossible to mask, which is how he keeps his portrayal of Jimmy Laird on Shrinking likable and somehow relatable, even when he is drunk or high to numb his grief, half-assing his work with his patients, and neglecting his daughter, or even as he begins to recover but still retains some fundamental selfishness that we learn pre-dated his wife’s death. This first season of Shrinking shows how Jimmy, in trying to overcome his grief, begins to breach ethical barriers with his patients by telling them bluntly what he really thinks they should do with their lives instead of gently guiding them over time. You know, like a normal therapist would. This form of “therapeutic vigilantism” ends up concerning his colleagues Gaby and Paul (Paul especially, who owns the practice and is Jimmy’s longtime mentor), but in a roundabout way, his unprofessional behavior ends up having positive effects on his patients and even helps him learn how to begin to process his grief in a healthier way. It’s interesting to me to see descriptions of Shrinking in the media just focusing on Jimmy’s unethical practices as a therapist, because throughout the first season, much like Lawrence’s other television shows, Shrinking is a bit of a hang-out show - a story about a bunch of disparate characters who spend all their time together and effectively have formed a chosen family. Christa Miller does a wonderful job as Jimmy’s neighbor Liz, an empty nester who steps in to basically parent Alice during Jimmy’s Lost Weekend of grief and then slowly realizes that she has to relinquish control of Alice back to Jimmy as he begins to heal and be a good dad again and is then forced to reckon with how to define herself now that her own kids are grown and Alice doesn’t need her as much. (Special bonus: Ted McGinley, National Treasure, is hysterical as Derek, Liz's wife.) Jessica Williams is fantastic as Gaby (honestly, she is the MVP of this show), Jimmy’s colleague who is also grieving Tia (who was her best friend) while also grieving her recent divorce (her marriage fell apart in the wake of her husband Nico’s struggles with addiction). Harrison Ford seems to be having the time of his life playing the ornery Paul, who is worried about Jimmy, gives Alice informal grief therapy sessions, struggles with his difficult relationship with his grown daughter Meg (Lily Rabe), and contemplates his mortality after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Michael Urie gives a memorable turn as Brian, Jimmy’s best friend, who was deeply hurt when Jimmy essentially ghosted him for a year after Tia’s death, and Luke Tennie does some fine work as one of Jimmy’s patients Sean, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is struggling with anger management issues. (Jimmy ends up allowing Sean to live in his guest house after Sean is thrown out of his own home by his father - see above re: ethical breaches in therapy practice.) You may be wondering, after all that I’ve written, how Shrinking can be billed in any way as a comedy given how much of the subject matter concerns grief and people’s complicated relationships with it. The answer to that is simple: much like Ted Lasso - a show ostensibly about a clueless American attempting to coach an English soccer team that’s actually about a bunch of misfits and underdogs who carry extensive baggage related to their misfit and underdog status and find community and family together in that shared experience - Shrinking is a lovely show about fundamentally nice but flawed people who care about each other, and a lot of the humor is found in the way these characters play off of each other in the mold of the Bill Lawrence “hang-out/chosen family” show. It is delightful to see the various permutations of characters interacting with each other, becoming close friends, helping each other, and generally having fun together. But the real foundation of the show is grief, and man, does this show understand grief. Late in the season, as Jimmy and Alice’s relationship begins to improve and Jimmy finds ways to process his feelings about Tia’s death in a more constructive manner, Alice falls apart after a happy memory she has of Tia when she realizes that she cannot remember what her mother’s laugh sounds like. I know that feeling well. At some point in the last 25 years, I’ve lost the sound of my mother’s voice. People tell me that I have her laugh, and at least that’s something. But while I have vivid memories of conversations I had with her, I can no longer hear her voice. And the moment I realized that, sometime in college, it felt like she had died all over again. That’s the thing about grief - as time marches on, it doesn’t go away. You find a way to live with it. And every once in a while, just when you feel like you’ve gotten to a point where thinking about the one you lost doesn’t feel sad anymore, something small can sink you back into the sadness - a song on the radio, a realization you’ve forgotten what they sounded like, a television show about people grieving the death of a loved out. I think of it like a houseguest. It comes to visit periodically, and I have to deal with it, entertain it, not ignore it, co-exist with it, and just let it be there for a while. And then it will leave, but I know it will always return. There is a quote by psychologist Ted Rynearson that I think about often: “There are really only two stages of grief… who you were before, and who you are after.” I was 12 when my mother died. Now I am 38. For the last ten years or so, I could no longer remember who I was before. But Shrinking does a wonderful job of showing who these characters were before Tia’s death by showing who they have become in the aftermath, and it’s been helpful to me personally in that regard, in seeing how to find the threads of that very old self of mine by looking at how I exist in the world now. By the end of Season 1, Jimmy is able to look at Alice and say “You look so much like your mother,” and instead of it making him want to avoid her, it makes him happy to be around her, because it means he can always find Tia in his daughter, and that makes the loss feel less raw. And for Alice, it helps her find a way to connect with her father so they can remember her together and find comfort in that. Suhash Uncle passed away in 2008, due to complications from lymphoma. While I’m grateful for the time I got to spend with him during our trip to New Delhi three years prior, I am sad that I never got to develop a relationship with him that could have been more about how we remember my mother - my prototype - together instead of being constantly reminded of her loss. * The season finale of Shrinking does end on a very shocking note, with one of Jimmy’s patients acting on his ethically questionable advice with potentially devastating consequences. I won’t elaborate here because I don’t want to spoil the show for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, but given that Shrinking evolved into more of a hang-out show than a show about Jimmy’s therapeutic vigilantism (despite how it was originally presented conceptually to critics and viewers by the folks at Apple TV), I look forward to seeing the intersection of Jimmy’s personal mental health improving and the consequences of his unprofessional actions while he was still in the thick of crisis. I’m not saying that Shrinking needs a course correction - as a first season of television it was pretty damn near perfect in terms of getting me invested in all of the characters and their stories - but the chickens were gonna come home to roost for Jimmy at some point, just as Paul feared, and it remains to be seen whether this will end up adversely affect his healing process and the tenuous repairing of his relationship with Alice, not to mention his professional life and his relationships with Gaby and Paul. No matter what goes down, I’m here for it. Reeya Banerjee Staff Writer Reeya is a musician and writer based in New York's Capital District. Her debut album, “The Way Up,” was released on January 27, 2022. She can frequently be seen in her car on the NYS Thruway cursing traffic on her way to the Hudson Valley for band rehearsals or to Brooklyn for recording sessions. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU returns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.
- PODCAST: Overdrinkers - Dungeons & Dragons: The Movies
Mike Burdge is joined by guests Linda Codega and Diana DiMuro to yell at each other about the 2000 "feature film" Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the recently released Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Throughout the chat, they also cover some John Wick hot takes, street corn flavored Cheetos, the recently cancelled Willow series and, of course, The Lord of the Rings films. Listen on.... Overdrinkers Cocktail: 1 gp 1 oz Brandy 1 oz Bourbon 1/4 oz Goldschlager 2 dashes Angostura bitters 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters Lemon peel garnish Combine all ingredients, shake over ice, strain into rocks glass, top with ice. Add lemon peel essence and garnish. Advertising Links: Nature's Pantry: https://naturespantryhv.com/