The best thing about Netflix release films, for reviewers, is having it right there, whenever you want it. For instance, should you watch El Camino, love El Camino, and then feel the need to rewatch it the very next day in order to better itemize the reasons why you loved it, it's right there in your house!
Fans of the Breaking Bad series are well accustomed to the cinematic qualities director Vince Gilligan uses in his small-screen storytelling, and they're all present in El Camino, but one does get the feeling that such elements--shadowy shots at unconventional angles, time lapses of the New Mexican landscape, and even the opening credits--would be all the more impactful when viewed on the big screen of an actual theater. Either way, the El Camino experience is a fulfilling supplement to the original series which focuses on the story of chemist-turned methamphetamine empire boss Walter White's second-in-command, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
As we witness the aftermath of the series' resolution and the events leading up to it, it's easy to start feeling a little guilty--Jesse's story is sad and terrible and quite honestly, I had forgotten most of it in favor of the conclusion of Walter White. In the race (via train heist, via great escape northward, via oscillating machine gun antics) to the end of the show, Jesse's experiences got a little lost in all the big plot moments and took a backseat to the bigger picture but the beauty of El Camino is that it doesn't need to hurry.
The film doesn't only make us remember Jesse's experiences, it walks us through Jesse's emotion, pain, and humanity in every scene. Multiple traumas and humiliations have rightly made Jesse desperate: his face is scarred, his voice is low and strained when he speaks, and his main goal is survival. We mourn for the old Jesse when we revisit his friends Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), whose experiences with drugs and White have been significant, but no where near as damaging as Jesse's. Despite everything, their loyalty to their friend is touching, reiterating to us that in this unpleasant story, there are people within drug culture still very much in touch with empathy and humanity.
The chronology rotates between flashbacks and the here-and-now in a lot of clever ways to expose little puzzles as the show once did--a phone book page, a hidden bundle of cash, a letter in an envelope-- specific objects refer to past events or are slyly referenced only to come back into the picture in very important ways. Pay attention or take notes if you feel like it might be helpful, just know that everything matters.
Do you need to do a complete re-watch of the series for El Camino? No, but you'll probably want to afterward. Definitely catch the recap Netflix provides and if you're really at a loss for the events, maybe rewatch the finale, which is also currently available on Netflix. Todd (Jesse Plemons), Mike (Jonathan Banks), Walter, (Bryan Cranston) and Pinkman's aforementioned buddies all factor into the story significantly but even if your memories of specific interactions between these characters isn't the greatest, the film is strong enough as a stand-alone to be an intensely compelling story. The late Robert Forester reprised his role as Ed, the escape-aiding vacuum salesman, and as with many of his other roles, plays his part straight-up, subtle, and with that deep genuineness that he was so adept at doing.
Anna writes film, television, and literary reviews that are heavy on theme and experience. She received her BA in Cinema Studies and Media Culture from the University of Minnesota in 2003; her reviews have appeared in various local sites as well as her own media blog, Televisionlady.com. Anna lives in Minneapolis with her family."
For Immediate Release: 5-26-20
Press Contact info: Paul Anderson https://m.facebook.com/ReOpenMNCoalition/?
In the wake of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz's shelter-in-place order several groups formed on social media to take political action against what they saw as a violation of their Constitutionally protected rights.
In late May a large meeting was held by the owners of several businesses worried about their livelihoods to discuss reopening efforts in defiance of the governor's orders.
Recognizing the growing desire to open their businesses in a coordinated fashion, several of these social media groups came together in a combined effort, calling themselves "The ReOpen MN Coalition".
The group's Facebook page states, "This has gone on long enough. It’s time for Minnesota to get back to work. We’ve all done our part and flattened the curve. We’re ready. Now it’s time to open back up before everything we cherish is destroyed. Minnesota’s unique culture—the bars, restaurants, resorts, campgrounds, gyms, small businesses that make our communities unique are disappearing."
The groups post continued, "Let’s stop the carnage. On June 1 businesses across the state will reopen en masse. There is safety in numbers. We are collecting the names of businesses ready to reopen safely and will announce their reopening on Sunday, May 31 so customers can find and patronize them. If you want your business added to the list, sign up here: http://tiny.cc/reopenMN"
"We've seen businesses publicly announce their plans to reopen and even though local law enforcement is not shutting these places down in many cases, the Attorney General of Minnesota has taken it upon himself to threaten these business owners personally. We're keeping their names secret until the last possible minute, when people in the community will find out anyway." Paul Anderson a spokesperson for the group stated.
The groups plan is to support and organize these businesses in preparation for a June 1st statewide reopening. The coalition plans to keep participating businesses secret until the day before they open. They have set up a Facebook page and a Go Fund me account to support this effort.
In the film world there are workplace comedies and there’s 9 to 5. Written in 1980 by Patricia Resnick and directed by Colin Higgins, 9 to 5 is a film that gets everything right: the laughs are smart, the cast is perfect, and hey, that song, right?
One of my parents picked this out at a video store’s liquidation sale in the late eighties and I fondly remember watching it on our beta for probably a straight year with my brother and best friend where we delighted in memorizing Violet Newstead’s lines and reciting them to each other in everyday moments of life (“Thanks, Ros, I know just where to stick it”). We may or may not still do this. In fact, I may or may not be able to recite the entire film from start to finish.
In any event, this is a throwback with some serious staying power. The story begins with Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) arriving for her first day at a busy corporate office; Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is the supervisor charged with training her. Violet is a twelve-year company veteran, Judy, a recently-divorced housewife, but they easily connect over the work, which employees are gossips, and the truth about their boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), a semi-competent vice president but disgusting human being.
When he’s not taking credit for Violet’s ideas or explaining the greater points of men’s superiority in areas of teamwork or dealing with numbers, Hart is setting up disgusting schemes to sexually harass his secretary, Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton), who is shunned by the rest of the office. When Hart finally crosses the line with each woman--giving away Violet’s promotion, admitting he’s been spreading rumors about Doralee, and firing one of Judy’s friends--the three get together and bond over fantasies of serving Hart some payback and taking him out.
When Violet mistakenly seasons Hart’s coffee with rat poison (the same method she’d used in the fantasy the night before) and he’s taken to the hospital, the women eventually find out just how far they’re willing to go to defend each other and how maybe, they might be able to do Hart’s job better without him. Throughout all the action, some of it serious like gunfire and car chases, the comedy takes a few different forms. Tomlin as Violet is full of wit and one-liners; her exchanges with office employees range from sarcastic to all-out snappy, but she’s also not above making sentimental comments about cartoons or singing the praises of her son’s marijuana.
There are nice bits of physical comedy that usually focus on Hart tripping or flinging objects around or the entirety of each woman’s “kill fantasy” as imaginary Hart tries to wiggle his way out of justice (Doralee’s hog-tie comes immediately to mind, which she performs brilliantly), and Judy gets some pretty major mileage out of the sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot reference, but underscoring all this funny business is the persistent idea that Hart is offensive and vile.
The message is that he’s getting his comeuppance, but he’s too much of a jerk to even see it. Late in the film, when the unrepentant Hart realizes he’s been outsmarted he asks, “Don’t you think I might be missed at the office?” Our ladies don’t answer, but they don’t really need to, do they?
By Anna Purrington
Protesters called on the governor of Minnesota to lift his 'stay-at-home' order and reopen the state's economy at a demonstration outside the governor's residence in Saint Paul on Friday. People at the protest stood closely together, with the majority not wearing masks, in spite of social distancing guidelines that aim to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Demonstrators waved signs calling on Governor Tim Walz to "hire new modelers," while other signs demanded businesses be allowed to reopen, dubbing the current measures "tyranny."
The demonstration was organised by Liberate Minnesota activist Michele Even, with US President Donald Trump using the group's name on Twitter on Friday afternoon, along with similar movements in Virginia and Michigan.
Under Walz's order Minnesotans are directed not to leave their homes other than for jobs or activities considered essential, with many businesses forced to close and either furlough or fire employees.
There are around 2,000 cases of coronavirus in Minnesota, with over 100 people dying with the disease as of Friday.
Submitted to a nation of stir-crazy people confined to their homes I give you Rear Window, a story of a stir-crazy man, also confined to his home. This guy is crabby, he’s bored, and he’s sick of being in his apartment until one of his neighbors inadvertently provides him with something to do--solve a murder! Is this simply a straight-forward suspense story? A cautionary tale of men versus women, the old school versus modernity? Nearly anything goes in terms of defining what it all means, but if anything positive is to come from our own sheltering at home it should be for all of us stir-crazies to unite in our love of film (and voyeurism). Let’s dig in.
Alfred Hitchcock’s films are a dream to review and discuss because like many auteur directors whose work carries a collection of recognizable properties (almost like a personal seal or thumbprint), Hitchcock puts a ton of interesting elements into every film he does. For example the slowness of the moving camera commonly conveys suspense, the classic composition of shots can portray power or vulnerability, and all the little items that inhabit the setting (in this case, camera lenses, cigarettes, jewelry, and saws) together with the way these items are used go a long way in showing, not telling, some of the important things we need to know about the characters. L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is a photographer confined to his apartment having been severely injured at a photo shoot.
His days are scattered with visits from the insurance-appointed nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his love interest, Lisa (Grace Kelly), but Jefferies seems to be preoccupied with the goings-on of the apartment dwellers across the courtyard, fully on display through open windows. Notable tenants include Ms. Torso, a young, pliable ballerina, Ms. Lonely-Heart, a heavy drinker who imagines interactions with beaus, a party-throwing songwriter and pianist, and the Thorwalds, a man who lives with his wife, also confined to her room. Jeffries becomes suspicious when Mrs. Thorwald suddenly disappears, and after noticing several occasions of strange behavior from Mr. Thorwald, Jefferies decides the man must have murdered his wife. Technically speaking, this film is easily an aesthetic masterpiece. A soundstage this massive (three separate apartment dwellings, courtyard, background street, and distant restaurant) is impressive on its own, but the filmmaking techniques, color, and music are all pleasantly memorable. The camera, which serves largely to stretch out scenes or reveal things slowly, is quick and sudden when it needs to be, usually in moments of fear, danger, or measuring Jeffries’ reactions to fear and danger.
Lighting has a huge effect on the story: whose windows are illuminated, how shadows protect or hide Jefferies as he spies, or where Thorwald is and whether or not he’s watching as betrayed by the glow of his cigarette. Color explodes in the summer environment through the flower bed, the choices in paint inside the apartments, and the outfits of the female characters. The musical choices and sound design amplify the interconnectedness of the neighbors through an ongoing accompaniment of piano (courtesy of the musician), vocal scales, folk fiddle, and whistling while also giving way at crucial moments to more sinister elements such as breaking glass, a thunderstorm, and a woman’s scream.
So how does it all come together and what’s being said under the surface events of the story? Questions of impotence and inferiority have been raised (why does Jefferies keep rejecting Lisa, physically?) as well as the play between more traditionally-valued Stella and Detective Doyle who have a stated aversion to psychology versus Jefferies and Lisa, who take a more modern approach to thinking things out and analyzing their feelings. Jefferies speaks at length on what he considers to be barriers to a future marriage with Lisa that really only amount to differences in class and personal interests, but seems to put all his concerns to rest once Lisa begins to take his side in questioning Mrs. Thorwald’s disappearance.
The issue of voyeurism is not exactly subtle in this story; in a precursor to Ira Levin’s Silver as well as reality television proper Rear Window is about a man peeping in on others’ lives. How do we feel about this, and how does it translate to the things we watch today? At a bit of a reach yet still worth mentioning-- Jefferies' perception and treatment of Lisa changes pretty significantly once she leaves his apartment and becomes a player in the events across the courtyard, after she becomes someone to be watched. In school, one of my professors from the West Bank (photography and art history department) preferred to keep discussions on film contained to the narrative and technical arenas, whereas several others on the East Bank (comparative literature and film theory) lived for the discussions of the underlying themes and what it all meant in the scheme of the universe.
This film was a top pick for both camps, but for decidedly different reasons. What are your thoughts? What bank are you on, and why?
By Anna Purrington
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 14, 2020 Contact: Michele Even Phone: 952-277-9114 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Liberate Minnesota - Reopen Our Lives Credit River Twp, Minn. – Gov. Tim Walz issued an Executive Order on March 13, 2020 declaring a Peacetime Emergency that he just extended into the middle of May. This has effectively put the entire populace in the state on hold that is now destroying our economy and people’s homes along with it.
“This overreaction by the governor has gone on long enough and we aren’t going to take it anymore,” Liberate Minnesota organizer, Michele Even, said in a statement. She continued, “All jobs are essential. People need to support themselves and their families. The governor and these legislators need to stop hurting us. We need someone to care about us. Give us our life back!”
Liberate Minnesota is seeking to send a message to the governor and legislators by exercising their 1st amendment right to peacefully assemble and use their free speech. “People’s lives are already in turmoil and the cure is worse than the disease at this point,” Michele said. “People are fed up with this lock down and want to get back to their jobs to support themselves and their families. This ‘Stay Home’ order has destroyed homes. Enough is enough!” she concluded. Liberate Minnesota will be holding a 1st Amendment peaceful assembly at the Governor's mansion on April 17, 2020 from 12:00 - 3:00 pm to send a strong message that people have had enough and they’re not going to take it anymore. It’s time to Liberate Minnesota now.
Director Stanley Kubrick lets us know immediately the type of film experience we’re getting into with his 1964 satirical comedy, Dr. Strangelove. First, a text crawler at the behest of the US Air Force explaining how the events depicted in the film couldn’t really happen, and second, an extended collection of scenes of an airplane refueling another midair with a decidedly sexual theme.
The effect of this introduction is clear: we are about to see a crude, outlandish mockery of governmental situations. The mockery goes on to take several forms throughout the film, playing often upon character names, generalities of hawks, doves, Russians, and Germans (among many others), and a stubborn obsession over bodily fluids. That said, Dr. Strangelove will not be every person’s kind of comedy.
The Cold War was a very serious situation; not everyone will see the humor in making it ridiculous. Communism and Nazism aren’t light-hearted topics, nor are mutinies, hydrogen bombs, loss of life, or suicide. Kubrick is able to sidestep the seriousness of these issues by focusing not on the issues themselves but rather the poor decisions that led to them.
The theme here isn’t necessarily about the evil men do, it’s about the stupid, the confusing, and the outlandish, and we can feel fine laughing about these things. The narrative, driven by ongoing tension between American and Russia over nuclear weapons superiority (and any ‘gaps’ between the two nations’ perceived might over the other), is fairly straight-forward. An Air Force general goes rogue, sets in motion a nuclear attack on Russia, and the president’s cabinet bumble about trying to thwart the attack while maintaining diplomacy with the Russians. The character Strangelove (one of Peter Sellers’ three roles in the film) is minor but memorable as an advisor to American president, Merkin Muffley (also Sellers). Suggesting previous Nazi association, Strangelove’s behavior involving a maniacal right arm and constant verbal lapses into “Mein Fuhrer” provides not only comedy but tongue-in-cheek stylistic homage to German Expressionist cinema.
The Air Force Base, which sets the story in motion, is initially a very confused environment. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) suddenly ordering a nuclear strike and blathering on about fluids; is this guy for real? Yes, he is, and no, he won’t recall the code he’s just authorized, so a retaliatory attack on his base commences. Here we see the newsreel look of active battle juxtaposed with extended scenes of the Royal Air Force executive officer Lionel Mandrake’s (also Sellers) uncomfortable reactions against the paranoia of General Ripper and later, a comically dim set of interactions with a Colonel “Bat” Guano, a phone booth, and a coke machine.
Arguably the most stylized setting in the film, the War Room is composed of a giant oval table which seats the president’s cabinet and dignitaries and over which hangs an enormous board map of Russia, complete with lights and other strategic features. Size is definitely key, and the board is often acknowledged as a powerful tool that should be kept secret at all costs.
The comedic performances of the war room are dynamic and constant, fluctuating back and forth between the monotone President Muffley and General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott). Hawkish Turgidson’s character exists to egg on the entire attack, and comes off as both logically stoic and giddy at the prospect of dropping a warhead on a Russian target, but Scott’s portrayal of the general-- tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures-- steals virtually every scene until Strangelove arrives.
It’s been noted that George C. Scott was not pleased with the performances of his that Kubrick chose to use in the film, but it’s no understatement to say that nonetheless, Scott as Turgidson is a huge part of the film’s success. The B52 plane piloted by Major “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) is the most light-hearted of the settings, and relies on music (When Johnny Comes Marching Home), close shots of the technical aspects of the aircraft and its gear, and Pickens’ gentle western drawl to color the experience of something serious that becomes funny.
Bombs are not funny; dropping a bomb on a country is not funny, but Kong and his crew make it so. The film’s famous conclusion takes this concept a step further by returning sexual innuendo to the final act as Kong rides a warhead out of the plane and onto Russian soil. We are somehow left feeling satisfied with such a resolution simply because the bomb and the entirety of international diplomacy have been treated as jokes, mishandled by a crew of incompetents.
Should politicians and generals be mocked if they’re shown to be incompetent? Kubrick thought so. The book Red Alert upon which the film is based does not take a comic approach to any of the events depicted in the story, but posited two serious thoughts that Kubrick chose to include: “You say, ‘War is too important to be left to the generals?’ Well I say war is too important to be left to the politicians!” Despite such bravado, neither make a very convincing argument in the film, which is clearly what Kubrick set out to show us in the first place.
How might Stanley see things today? I’m not sure I want to know . . .
By Anna Purrington
During a video posted Tuesday April 7th, Minnesota (R) Senator Scott Jenson stated he had received a 7 page document from the Minnesota Department of Health on the handling of death certificates. He insinuated that the document may promote false statistics by using presumptive cases of COVID-19 on death certificates. Here is a link to that document. and a link to the video.
Governor Tim Walz extended the stay at home order on Wednesday until May 4th. This comes after the state has experienced only 39 deaths and is the #1 state in the country "flattening the curve" using the stay at home order and social distancing for businesses that are still allowed to operate.
Minnesota's rate of new infections have been doubling at 8 days instead of every 2 days when the Governor implemented the stay at home order.
Also of note is that Minnesota is the first in the country to have in place and be able to issue the $600 in federal unemployment assistance to the many of Minnesotans currently on unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the state.
Small businesses can also apply for loans and even a $10,000 federal grant at www.sba.gov.
In the two decades I’ve been writing about film, The Shawshank Redemption has come up frequently. Nominated for countless industry awards for acting, writing, cinematography, and sound, this film hasn’t just entertained audiences for the last twenty-five years but has served as a sort of gold standard to what cinematic storytelling can accomplish.
Back in school, my professors always emphasized a criticism style that took into account a film’s narrative, technical, and thematic aspects, so my reviews always followed that format (often with a stubborn obsession on theme). It’s a rare joy to be able to write about a film that succeeds in all three areas the way this one so skillfully does. Well-written, expertly crafted, and still relevant to the human experience, this throwback is exactly what we all need in these uncertain times. It reminds us that hope is possible.
Based on Stephen King’s short story (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), the film follows former banker and convicted murderer Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) as he serves two life sentences in a New England state prison.
Andy is initially a very distant protagonist who navigates the dangers of prison life in a practically removed fashion, but fellow inmate Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), or “Red,” as he’s known, befriends Andy, an unlikely relationship develops, and on it’s taken. The redemption piece emerges pretty clearly throughout the film and definitely at the film’s famous conclusion (which is among the most infamous and visceral-reaction-provoking in film history), but it’s important to not forget the little redemptions that take place throughout the story, too: music, books, baseball, and in a nice moment of self-reflexivity, the film-within-the-film Gilda (starring, you guessed it, Rita Hayworth, complete with the hair-toss moment and everything). The little things that Shawshank’s prisoners took for granted on the outside become the very things that allow them to maintain their humanity on the inside. Screenwriter/director Frank Darabont added several such supplementary items not originally included in King’s original story but none as powerful as the prisoners’ responses to a Mozart opera when Andy illicitly broadcasts it on a record player over the prison yard. These moments do more than just keep the viewers from drowning in the appalling world of hazing (“Fresh Fish!”), assault (head guardsman Byron Hadley or even more distressing, The Sisters), maggoty meat, and corruption. Andy is showing his fellows (and us) that in a terrible situation, there are still things that matter, things that humans can share and enjoy, things that allow humans to hold onto hope. Hope also shines through many of the technical aspects of the story.
Fans of cinematographer Roger Deakins’ work will recognize his always “right-for-the-movie” composition, camera work, and emotional ties to the film’s subject matter in nearly every shot. Slow pans of the unflinching jurors in Andy’s trial give way to the same motion across prison bars. Eagle eye views and slow, moving camera approaches of the environment of the prison and beyond show the characters as masters of these spaces, slaves to them, or eventually, becoming redeemed by them. Music shifts in and out in varying forms: a staticky victrola, folk fiddle and guitar, Hank Williams, and rockabilly together with the aforementioned Mozart provide not only accompaniments but extension and depth to the actions of the characters and their responses to those actions.
How is hope achieved thematically, and why do we need this in our lives? Prison films are not always high on everyone’s must-see list, after all. For better or worse, friendship is shown to be an insulating factor for the prisoners and a band-of-brothers camaraderie develops and intensifies throughout the film, showing us positive belonging and loyalty. Rather than waiting out his time, sullen and alone in his cell, Andy creates a library and becomes a sort of mentor, teaching other inmates to read, and offering insight into music and literature. Insane optimism? Maybe, but the bigger message could simply be “find the good and share it with others,” (if you can).
The good versus evil aspect of this film (largely avoided in this review so as to be spoiler-free) factors into every action within the prison of course, and early on, one gets the feeling that Andy Dufresne, in his day-to-day activities and later his complacency within the corrupt prison system, is fighting an unwinnable fight against a giant (or in this case, a pious warden). We are not in Andy Dufresne’s situation, but many of us have been in touch with hopelessness, have tried to achieve something impossible, or have longed for resolution that just didn’t happen quickly enough. The fact that we crave Andy’s success and root for him (and Red) throughout the film drives the experience--we all have hope, that greatest of all things, inside us, we just want to see it realized.
The first step is where we are now, the second is whatever we decide to get busy doing.
By Anna Purrington
"I expect 100% compliance by Minneapolis residents and visitors with the governors stay at home order. a failure to comply with this order will result in our city reaching peak cases sooner then we are ready to handle. and therefore a failure to comply with this order will result in lives lost. this is not optional, this is not a half measure. This is a mandate and i expect it to be followed for the sake of our great city." Firmly Stated by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey during a press conference on Friday March 27.
He also stated:
"For most its not a matter of if, but when. the order is built not to reduce the number of people that eventually contract COVID-19 but to extend the time that we collectively have to prepare for the inevitable rate of infections. Its coming and we must be ready. by taking action now and enforcing the governors order at the local level, we can save lives."
Even with the firm statements he also reiterated that he expects the community to step up to their responsibilities as individuals and that law enforcement would only intervene if absolutely necessary.