A Shawshank Redemption by Anna Purrington #KowalaCinemaThrowback

A Shawshank Redemption by Anna Purrington #KowalaCinemaThrowback

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

Do you need to do a complete re-watch of the series for El Camino? By Anna Purrington

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 Purrington

 

 

 

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."

 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 2019. by Anna Purrington

“You like that scary stuff?”

This is what the school librarian asked me the first time I brought one of Alvin Schwartz’s short story collections to the checkout counter. It was the now-famous triology’s second volume, More Scary Stories; the first had been lost or stolen and the third not yet released, but I was still excited that my name had come up on the waitlist and I could finally get my hands on it.

 

 

I not only liked the scary stuff but thrived on it, and together with my younger brother, sought it out regularly, anywhere I could. We eventually read all three of Schwartz’s novels, and together with favorites such as Mother Bates, the beguiling Grady sisters of the Overlook, and Pet Semetary’s Zelda, committed the stories and their creepy images (courtesy of illustrator Stephen Gammel) to the depths of our horror-crazed memories.

 

 

 

It was easy to get hyped for film adaptation--André Ǿvredal (Trollhunter) and producer Guillermo del Toro are two brilliant, talented artists who have a solid grasp on the narratives, techniques and themes of effective horror. Overall, the film delivered with a skillful mix of new fear and old school ghost/monster horror (think Stranger Things or the recent It adaptations with the music of Lana del Rey mixed in for fun), but I suspect true fans of the books, like me, would happily trade a half hour off the film’s beginning or end for just one more of Schwartz’s stories.

The vehicle of the stories--a group of awkward teenagers who steal a magical book out of a haunted house--is intriguing, but it eats up a lot of time in setting up how and why everything is going to go down. As it’s no longer unheard of to experience character development in horror films, we get some, and it’s sort of nice, but not all that necessary; we came to the theater for “The Toe” and “Me Tie Doughty Walker,” (not backstory) and we could forgive a few less personal details in favor of a few more scary things from the books.

 

 

 

 

Aesthetic detail, large and small, was what this film succeeded at best--the places and all the little pieces within them gave a classic, almost John Carpenter feel to the story (rather fitting considering all the hurting, maiming, and killing that begins on Halloween here). Dark and shadowy nights alternate with gold, rusty days. It’s 1968, so the cars are huge, as are the eyeglasses. Drive-ins are still a thing. Corn fields, haunted houses, and psychiatric hospitals are pretty standard horror staples, and we see a lot of those, but we also get innocent little objects like a music box, a wax cylinder recording, and a self-writing book that assume very sinister properties in the context of the lighting, sound, and creature design of the film. Without spoiling any of the story-within-a-story choices or accompanying villains, I will tell fellow fans of the book to rest assured: you will recognize each “enemy” and often cringe or shield your eyes because you know what’s coming next once it has been introduced. I brought my kids to this film and afterward, each of us walked out having been wickedly disturbed by a different character, so in addition to being well-designed and true to the source, they’re a pretty broad reaching crew, as well.

Dust off the old books, grab a friend, and see this one for the nostalgia. If you, too, like the scary stuff, let’s talk again next month after the second part of It, shall we?

 

 

-Anna Purrington

 

 

 

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."

80’s Ladies: Netflix to Stream Season 3 of G.L.O.W. Friday August 9th by Ryan Scott

An overwhelming wave of 80’s nostalgia has swept over our current pop culture zeitgeist. As ruffles, scrunchies, and damaged hair are once again en vogue, it seems only natural that a slew of 80’s themed shows have made a massive impression over the past few years.

 

 

The Goldbergs, Red Oaks, & Wet Hot American Summer: The Series have all been shot out of the canon within just five years of each other, and all with a certain degree of success. Out of this slew of “80’s Nostalgia” television, one show has risen to the top of the pack. That show is of course Stranger Things. Smart, suspenseful, heartfelt – the show is perfect in every way. However, while Stranger Things is most undoubtedly the show giving 80’s babies the warmest of the warm fuzzies right now, in my own subversive opinion, it’s Netflix’s G.L.O.W. that ends up taking the cake for best new show of the 80’s in the 2010’s.

 

I absolutely love G.L.O.W., if you’ll let me gush for a minute. I’ve always been drawn to quirkier, character-driven fare, and over the course of its last two seasons, G.L.O.W. has proven itself the perfect outlet for audiences of those sensibilities. With dialogue that causes frequent snort-laughs, emotionally engrossing characters, and a chemistry amongst the women of the cast that basically leaps out from the screen and body-slams its audience, G.L.O.W. is that rare confection: a smart show that ends up getting to the throat by way of the heart.

 

Inspired by the true stories (with a fair amount of fabrication thrown in) of the stars and creators of the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” Pro-wrestling promotion that began shooting in 1985, G.L.O.W. deserves a special place amongst the current wave of 80’s Nostalgia Shows for, if nothing else, being the first show to handle the themes and issues of the decade with an integrity that reaches beyond the campy, gimmick-laden, and tongue-in-cheek. Isn’t it the ultimate irony that the Sci-fi Horror of Stranger Things ends up giving us a warmer glow than the decidedly darker screwball comedy of G.L.O.W.? G.L.O.W. for the last two years, has been consistently unafraid to give us more than a glimpse of the dark underbelly of 1980’s Los Angeles, the women who were fighting for autonomy, and the sleazy men who ran the show. It’s no coincidence that G.L.O.W.’s popularity exploded in the era of #MeToo, but G.L.O.W. remains remarkable for being both a touchstone of the movement’s social footprint, while also transcending it as great entertainment for the ages.

 

Season Three of Netflix’s hit comedy drops this Friday, and by all accounts, it appears that the series has hit a graceful stride, with Allison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron, and the rest of the cast returning and production of the series within the series moving to Las Vegas, (Nerds will be thrilled with this little historical easter egg. The real G.L.O.W. moved headquarters from L.A. to Las Vegas in 1987) Joining the cast this season is Academy Award winner Geena Davis, who’s slated to play the former showgirl-turned-entrepreneur who owns the hotel where the Las Vegas G.L.O.W. promotion is being housed. The star of Thelma and Louise, A League of Their Own, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, the athletic actress was one of only a handful of genuinely bankable female action stars throughout the 80’s and 90’s and she feels like the perfect addition to a show about strong women navigating a world that was entirely dominated by men.

 

It was long overdue that our current pop culture started examining the 1980’s under a microscope and much kudos is due to G.L.O.W. for achieving just that. We’ve seen sitcoms and dramas taking place in the 80’s yes, but G.L.O.W. consistently goes in for a deeper dive, closely examining the issues women were dealing with at this time. What makes the show really remarkable, from a feminist standpoint (and I understand I am saying this as a male) is that it really goes a long way in revealing how much of an identity crisis professional women had at that time, acting under specific professional personas, then dealing with a frustrating lack of autonomy under their real names.

 

What can we expect from Season 3? Said co-creator Liz Flahive: “The stakes are going to be higher. Their show has been dropped from morning television. The move to Vegas is about survival.” The shift from L.A. to Vegas will be more than a little jarring for the principal cast, and the first part of the season promises to explore this in humorous detail.

 

You can see from the trailer, released by Netflix last week, that everything seems to be taking a step-up: The relationships run deeper, the women are growing closer, the obstacles become bigger, and on top of it all, the season promises a degree of Las Vegas flash we didn’t get from the grungy Los Angeles gymnasiums of the first two seasons. Ultimately it's the relationships between the characters that keep bringing us back. This is what the show is really about, and undoubtedly Netflix has truly mastered a particular brand of hilarious and intelligent relationship driven comedy that still seems to be balked at far too often by mainstream networks.

 

 

 

-Ryan Scott

 

 

 

Ryan is a Film and Pop Culture/Content Contributor at Kowala Media.  A free thinker and free-wheeler born and raised in the dirrrty south. Ryan has received his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis. He currently works as a free-lance performer, educator, speaker, & singer in addition to teaching classes on Acting, Lyric Interpretation, Modern European History, Southern Writers, Contemporary American Literature, & American progressivism. When he's not acting or teaching or writing, he's usually trying to remember why he went into the Kitchen - or doing everything in his power to keep up with his 4 and 7 year old daughters.

The Irishman Teases ‘Fresh Paint’: Netflix and Scorsese team up to chase critical Glory by Ryan Scott

One of the buzziest properties headed into the fall of 2019 is Martin Scorsese’s epic crime drama The Irishman starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

 

 

 

The trailer alone feels epic, spanning decades as it provides audiences with small pieces of the puzzle that will be Scorsese’s The Irishman.

 

 

De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a WWII Vet who became a mob hitman and played a crucial role in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. Pacino is starring as the notorious union boss Hoffa. The supporting cast includes heavy hitters like Harvey Keitel and Anna Paquin, but also Scorsese’s as-usual out of left field supporting choices, like Ray Romano (remember when he put JoAnna Lumley in a small but crucial role in The Wolf of Wall Street – Scorsese has a penchant for giving pop culture junkies plenty of gleeful Easter eggs in his casting.) Every one of these players are featured in the two-minute-twenty-second trailer released by Netflix (yes, Netflix – more on that later) yesterday.

 

 

Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses – uttered in the opening moments of the trailer by Al Pacino (who surprisingly enough has never worked with Scorsese until now) the film marks Scorsese’s long awaited return to the Gangster genre (which many feel he all but perfected with films like Mean Streets, Casino, & the all-time great Goodfellas,) after over a decade of forays into projects as varied as Hugo, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, & Silence.

 

 

The two biggest stories surrounding The Irishman concern Scorsese’s choice to use CGI FX to de-age his actors (Upon seeing the trailer, this viewer did a double take. “There’s not enough Vaseline in the entire World” I said out loud) and Scorsese’s much surprising and much opined decision to distribute the film with Netflix streaming service rather than through a traditional cinema distributor route. As for the former. Yes, I must admit, seeing Robert De Niro go from youth to middle age within a span of a few seconds in the trailer is jarring to say the least.

 

 

Ultimately, this new VFX technology helps the actor remain consistent in the role. While we may lean in when the trailer lingers over a seemingly younger De Niro’s face, rest-assured Scorsese is aware of this, and he has stated that he will be working on perfecting the film’s “De-aging” special effects right up until the movie’s fall release.

 

Scorsese’s decision to release his film through Netflix is a big deal – one that is worthy of everything that has been written about it in the past few days. At a time when film festivals are turning their backs on streaming services, Hollywood VPs are crying foul, and the Academy awards are demanding their films secure a theatre release to be eligible, the fact that Scorsese wants to take a $175 million film starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to Netflix, is, as one journalist for NBC News wrote, “absolutely remarkable.” Is Scorsese’s decision to partner with Netflix a show of solidarity with an Underdog distributor that has been largely ignored the same way he had been in his early days? Or is it a numbers game?

 

One has to take into consideration that even the films that would most certainly skank up the box office can come out on top when placed on streaming services where they are easy “hit play” offerings for bored homebodies.  Not to say that Netflix at all feels like a place for B grade movies – quite the opposite is turning out to be true in fact, but when a shitty made for Netflix rom com can get 30 to 40 million views, Scorsese knows exactly what he’s doing here.

 

The Irishman will begin streaming on Netflix and showing in select theatres later this fall.

 

 

-Ryan Scott

 

 

 

Ryan is a Film and Pop Culture/Content Contributor at Kowala Media.  A free thinker and free-wheeler born and raised in the dirrrty south. Ryan has received his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis. He currently works as a free-lance performer, educator, speaker, & singer in addition to teaching classes on Acting, Lyric Interpretation, Modern European History, Southern Writers, Contemporary American Literature, & American progressivism. When he's not acting or teaching or writing, he's usually trying to remember why he went into the Kitchen - or doing everything in his power to keep up with his 4 and 7 year old daughters.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Revenge Fairy Tale by Ryan Scott

 

If We’re going to reflect on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as Tarantino’s Fairy tale, then one has to take into consideration the underlying theme of revenge that permeates all of his film oeuvre.  Tarantino has created a 1969 Hollywood that is so sumptuously textured and sensually colorful it is immediately more like a fairy tale than anything Hollywood has ever been in any reality past or present.

 

 Once Upon a time in Hollywood is immediately remarkable in that it is a Tarantino film like no other, while also being the quintessential “Tarantino” movie.  If you’re looking for Tarantino’s subversive take on the socio-political climate of 1969 Hollywood and an exploration of the social and psychological reverberations of the Manson family murders, please turn around and walk in the other direction, because that is not this movie.   What Tarantino is striving for seems to be a bit more difficult to put your finger on.  What is clear is that Tarantino has created the film he wanted to make, even if it is indulgent and thematically in-cohesive, but I digress.

 

Every single one of Tarantino’s films has revenge as a central plot point (The Hateful Eight, Kill Bill, Django Unchained, Deathproof, True Romance) or have it tangentially connected to characters within the plot thematically (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds.) At first glance, none of the formula for anything remotely resembling a revenge story is present in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

 

While the title’s “Once Upon a Time” calls to mind bloody crime thrillers like Once Upon a Time in New York or violent epics like Once Upon a Time in the West, it might actually be most apt to read Tarantino’s title as quite literally the homage to fairy stories it has been for centuries. During one scene, DiCaprio’s character has an exchange with a child actress on the television show he is working on in which she declaims to be reading a book about the life of Walt Disney. She then refers to Disney as “Magical.” Throughout Disney’s career, he turned a profit by taking classic, often gruesome stories, re-arranging their unpleasantries and making them more palatable as entertainment than as moralistic warnings. Tarantino’s cinematic world is often so self-referential, I couldn’t help but be stricken by the parallel Tarantino seemed to be drawing between himself and Disney.

 

Tarantino too has of late made a name for taking painful history, infusing it with a shared pop culture, and making it into entertainment. He tackled World War II atrocities as a B-Movie Caper flick in Inglorious Basterds. Slavery, racism and the civil war were spun as a spaghetti western in Django Unchained. And in Hollywood, we get perhaps the most poetic and personal “Tarantino=i=zation” of history as Sharon Tate’s tragedy is spun into a screwball buddy comedy.

 

But in the film’s final frames, as the credits begin to roll, we begin to understand that what Tarantino has in fact done is enact his own revenge against the harsh facts of history that ended Tate’s promising future as well as one of the most creative, diverse, and hopeful eras of Hollywood history. The film itself becomes an act of revenge. And that is a breathtakingly beautiful, if almost childishly naïve feat to accomplish. One that we as the audience who know the truth, can really only accept if we believe in the ‘fairy tale’ Tarantino is trying to tell us. In this way, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood unexpectedly becomes Tarantino’s most gentle, humane, and perhaps poetic film. Immediately I recalled a feeling similar to the one I felt upon first viewing Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Both Anderson and Tarantino seem to want us to understand first and foremost that the world of their respective films is a façade. Tarantino uses this façade to make a grand mockery of tragic events in our shared history – turning horror into bro-banter and dick jokes. Is it escapism? Or is it revenge? Always under the dopey dialogue and beautifully shot cinematography (let’s get real, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a movie ABOUT cinematography) is this sense of impending doom – a sadness for the thing that we know will eventually snuff out this light. This sad undertone elevates the zaniness, making Tarantino’s film feel like an assertion of some fundamental human right to be silly amidst the horrors of man’s inhumanity.

 

Did I love Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? No. Am I glad it exists. Absolutely. Will I watch it again? Probably not before I review Pulp Fiction for the thirteenth time. Ultimately, while the film didn’t add up to the sum of its parts for this viewer, I did fall absolutely, madly and deeply in love with the ideas in this movie. And when a big summer blockbuster has ideas as big as this film does, that’s reason to celebrate.

 

 

-Ryan Scott

 

 

 

Ryan Scott is a free thinker and free-wheeler born and raised in the dirrrty south. Receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis, Ryan originally began his career as a performer, traveling the U.S. with productions of Beauty and the Beast, The Who's Tommy, Rashomon, Sweet Charity, Light Up The Sky, Jerry Springer the Opera, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Reefer Madness, and countless others. After making the Twin Cities his home for six years, Ryan was awarded the 2018 National Master Teacher Fellowship and began teaching with Schools in MS.  He currently works as a free-lance performer, educator, speaker, & singer in addition to teaching classes on Acting, Lyric Interpretation, Modern European History, Southern Writers, Contemporary American Literature, & American progressivism. When he's not acting or teaching or writing, he's usually trying to remember why he went into the Kitchen - or doing everything in his power to keep up with his 4 and 7 year old daughters.