2017-2018 Year in Review
Critic loves this season's films
While the past few months have been devoid of the indie films I was anticipating, I was pleasantly surprised by what has been released. I have spouted enough praise for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and thoroughly reviewed 2017 as a whole, so I’ve decided to solely cover the films that came out during the spring semester.
My favorite film of 2018 by far has been “Death of Stalin.” Directed by Armando Iannucci, creator of “In the Loop” and “Veep,” the film centers around the transfer of power to the Russian council of ministers after Stalin’s sudden death in 1953. You may imagine that it’s a dark drama about the horrid treatment of the Russian people under corrupt and untrustworthy leadership, but it is actually a satirical look at the inner workings of the Russian government of the time — similar to the aforementioned projects Iannucci was responsible for. Standout performances came from Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Jason Isaacs as General Georgy Zhukov, as well as a welcome return to the limelight for Michael Palin and an Oscar-worthy supporting role by Simon Russell Beale as Lavrenti Beria.
“You Were Never Really Here” also took my breath away, though through tension rather than hilarity. The story reminds me of “Taxi Driver” thanks to similar tones and plot points. Lead actor Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of his best performances as a tortured veteran who spends his time searching for kidnapped girls in the most unholy of places. I expect director Lynne Ramsay to receive a lot of attention for the poignant and brutal story she told in the seedy underbelly of New York. The film occasionally veers into style-over-substance storytelling but is engaging and hair-raising overall.
Finally, I can’t really summarize the first half of 2018 without at least mentioning the phenomenon of “Avengers: Infinity Wars.” It’s already broken records and exceeded expectations. I would deem it the best Marvel movie to date, though not my favorite. From a filmmaking standpoint, it is a triumph and a feat that should be lauded. The computer-generated imagery is colorful and breathtaking. Thanos easily exceeds Marvel’s poor villain track record, and the almost- 25 main characters all get adequate screen time. The film is rarely subject to bathos, which is to say that the dramatic weight of a scene isn’t always undercut with humor. Stakes were realized (though that isn’t a high bar for Marvel). A large crutch, however, is that you must first watch a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, or else you WILL be lost.
Go out and see any of these movies. They’re a great time, and each one has garnered an A- from me. Oh, and “A Quiet Place” is highly recommended as well — it’s almost as scary as post-graduation prospects. Good luck, Class of 2018!
Spend an hour listening to 'Golden Hour'
Kacey Musgraves’ newest album, “Golden Hour,” shines with effortless beauty and genuine emotion. The innovative album blends country and pop styles — combining a simple singer-songwriter vibe and a catchy tune with strings, vocoders and disco beats. The lyrics are personal and specific to the artist, yet vague enough to be relatable without seeming commercial and derivative. The thoughtfully and honestly crafted melodies are undoubtedly Musgraves’ greatest talent. Featuring ballads like “Rainbow” and upbeat energetic beats like “High Horse,” her album is both eclectic and dynamic. One of my favorite songs on the album is “Space Cowboy,” an authentic portrayal of heartbreak with a clever hook.
Throughout “Golden Hour,” Musgraves composes her songs as though revealing the hidden melodies that always existed in her lyrics, instead of forcing her poetry to mix with the music. The album’s title song, “Golden Hour,” incorporates elements of jazz into the pop-country style and demonstrates more advanced compositional integrity than the songs from her previous albums. The variety of songs on the album creates a cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. While I am not a fan of country music in general, I found “Golden Hour” delightful and touching.
“Disobedience” begins when an elderly rabbi falls to his death in front of his Orthodox congregation. Soon after, the rabbi’s estranged daughter, Ronit, returns to London from New York to mourn her father’s death. At the house of mourning, Ronit runs into her childhood lover, Esti. Unlike Ronit, who fled Orthodoxy to become a photographer in New York, Esti remained within the Orthodox fold and married Ronit’s father’s most dedicated student, Dovid.
Although the film dealt with interesting themes, it lacked depth and nuance. For instance, many of the prayer scenes did not accurately depict the reality of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communal prayer. Moreover, I found it confusing when Ronit and Esti kissed for the first time in the film — there were no flashbacks to give background for their romantic history, and the plot jumped right into their love affair without sufficient development. I also did not appreciate how the film merely revolved around the forbidden lesbian relationship, ignoring other critical components of the plot. The film failed to touch upon other aspects of the characters’ identities that needed unpacking: the relationship between Esti and Dovid, Ronit’s life in New York and Ronit’s relationship with her late father.
Overall, I felt although the film was about forbidden love between two random women: a no-longer-Orthodox photographer and a married woman from the ultra-Orthodox community in London.
'Three Little Words," finding the right home
Spending nine years of her childhood in 14 different foster homes, Ashley Rhodes-Courter experienced inhumane conditions. Her memoir, “Three Little Words,” begins with the chilling story of how she and her brother, Luke, were taken by Florida’s department of Children and Families after their mother’s arrest. The reader is dragged through the horrors that Rhodes-Carter faced. She encountered various caseworkers, some good and some bad, and suffered physical abuse from a terrible foster family. This particular family manipulated the authorities into believing that they were providing a hospitable home for their foster children. Rhodes-Courter lost her few possessions and was repeatedly separated and reunited with Luke.
Ultimately, the story traces Rhodes-Courter’s childhood through to her adoption. The reader has the opportunity to analyze how her lack of a permanent home impacted her ability to trust those around her. For a long time, she thought that the Courters would abandon her, as so many others had already done.
This memoir is eye-opening for depicting the flaws of the foster care system and shedding light on a topic not typically addressed in mainstream literature.
Brontë still captivates in 2018
Do you have a free weekend over the summer? Great idle sight! Spend it reading “Wuthering Heights,” Emily Brontë’s classic (and only) novel. The book tells the story of the Lintons and Earnshaws, two English families whose fates become locked in a death spiral when Edgar Linton marries Catherine Earnshaw. “Wuthering Heights” is filled with unforgettable characters — from the irritable and sententious servant Joseph, who will befuddle you with his comically transliterated Yorkshire accent, to the passionate and self-absorbed Catherine, to the erratic and violent Heathcliff, whose bitter hatred of Edgar drives much of the novel’s plot. Confusing matters is the narration of housekeeper Nelly Dean, whose complicated relationship with Catherine and close involvement with both the Earnshaws and the Lintons calls into question the legitimacy of her account of several key scenes.
The reader’s main takeaway from this book is a lesson in the enduring consequences of childhood injustices: Mr. Earnshaw’s favoritism toward Heathcliff over Hindley leads to Hindley’s later mistreatment of Heathcliff, resulting in dire consequences for generations to come. While not a book to inspire much confidence in human nature, “Wuthering Heights” is an enthralling read and is certainly worth your time this summer.
Rivera’s ‘The Tiger’s Daughter’ thrills and excites fantasy lovers
“The Tiger’s Daughter” by K. Arsenault Rivera was a refreshing and exhilarating fantasy novel set in a world inspired by China, Japan and Mongolia. It was a much-needed break from the cliched, pseudo-European backdrops of typical high fantasy; the two female protagonists, who were born into a tumultuous world of demons and family responsibilities in the aftermath of a great war, must fight their way through prejudice, betrayal and awkward adolescent crushes. This book, published in October 2017, satisfied my love for court drama, mystery, adventure and queer romance. “The Tiger’s Daughter” is a force of nature, and I can’t wait to see what the author brings in the remaining two books of the trilogy.