Posted in Film

“The Importance of Outlander”

Note: This article was originally published in The Sting back in the fall of 2014. As such, this review only covers the pilot episode.

On August 9th Starz launched its new highly anticipated series, Outlander, a drama based off of the well-loved book series by Dianna Gabaldon, and found incredible success. The pilot could be viewed before its initial airdate and received positive reviews. When the series first premiered live the pilot had 72,000 viewers, and since then has landed over 3.7 million views, according to the TV by the Numbers website. Surprisingly for a show centered on a female character and involving a lot of romance, there was a near equal amount of male viewers as there were female.

Outlander centers on a nurse named Claire Beauchamp Randall (played by Irish model and actress Caitriona Balfe) who has recently reunited with her husband, Frank, after the end of the Second World War. On their honeymoon in Scotland, Claire manages to accidentally travel back in time to the year 1743—a time when Scotland was ravaged by civil war, fighting the English that wish to claim the country. How she appeared there is a mystery, but Claire soon finds out that she is not dreaming, because her life is constantly in danger from both the English and the Scottish soldiers. She crosses paths with an ancestor of her husband, Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies, who also plays Frank, most recognizable from his roles in HBO’s Rome as Brutus and his appearance in the third season of Game of Thrones as Edmure Tully, the groom at the infamous Red Wedding), but finds that this particular Randall, an English Captain, is far from the loving husband she left behind. Claire also meets Jamie, a Scottish warrior (Sam Heughan in a break-out performance) who helps her navigate the foreign, dangerous terrain.

The hit new series has a wonderful score composed by Bear McCreary, a man whose name you may not recognize, who has had untold success composing for many popular shows, such as AMC’s The Walking Dead, ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Starz’s series Black Sails, and Da Vinci’s Demons, the latter of which he won an Emmy for.

Due to Outlander’s successful start, the series will have a first season consisting of sixteen episodes, and has already been renewed for a second season. It may be that HBO’s hit Game of Thrones could soon find a worthy competitor in Outlander for TV’s favorite fantasy drama.

Along with strong performances, lovely music, and an entrancing mystery, viewers will be entranced by the lush scenery, filmed on location in Scotland, firmly believing they too have been taken on a trip back in time, only this is a trip they will not wish to leave any time soon.

Posted in Film

My Favorite Films of 2016

This past year was filled with many great and also disappointing films. Instead of merely focusing on the negative, I have decided to praise some of my personal favorite films of the past year.

If a film you enjoyed is not on here, it’s probably because I haven’t seen it yet.

These are some buzz-worthy films I have yet to see:

  • Moonlight
  • Rouge One
  • Fences
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Jackie

Now for some of my personal favorite films of 2016:

7. Zootopia

When this movie was released I had no idea it was coming out, so this was a pleasant surprise. It actually beat out Moana as my favorite animated film of the year, which I was not expecting. The film contains several powerful messages, which everyone of all ages should consider. Though the film is a bit on the nose at times (or should I say…on the snout?), its lessons are both timely and timeless. I’m also very pleased with how the film was able to build a very believable and well thought-out world (or city) for a film that doesn’t even clock in at ninety minutes. Judy Hopps is a great role model for children, more than recent and popular Disney characters like Anna and Elsa.

6. Anthropoid

A horror movie of a different sort, Anthropoid tells the story of two Czech resistance fighters’ attempt to assassinate a leading member of the Nazi Party in the middle of WW2. This film was largely ignored upon release here in the states and it’s a shame that this film has flown under so many people’s radars. It just might be that people are starting to get tired of only seeing historical movies about WW2 or viewers are tiring of listening to clearly British actors attempt to sound vaguely “European,” but this film definitely deserves a larger audience. While the first act of the film is rather slow, Anthropoid has at least three incredibly effective and suspenseful scenes: the first is the assassination attempt, another involves a surprise visit and a cyanide capsule, and the third makes up the film’s brutal final act. History buffs need to check this movie out, it is well worth the time.

5. The Witch

I’ve seen many horror movies and few of them legitimately scare me. This film is a terrifying exception. From the first few frames until the last few seconds of the ending credits, I was on edge and as the film crawled towards the climax, I was constantly in this state of dismay and dread. Some of the images in this movie will make you sick without being gratuitous. As a film lover, there’s much to love about The Witch. The music, especially the score in the film’s final moments, made my skin crawl. If you’ve seen the ending of this film, you know which song I’m talking about. The characters were fascinating and expertly played. I was also impressed at how good the younger actors were while having to speak in an old fashioned New England dialect which does not come easy to most people, much less child actors. This film also has the best and most unsettling performance by an animal in any horror movie. Also from a historical standpoint, the script is composed of actual text written during the 17th century, adding an uncomfortable level of accuracy and believability to a film that is also disquietingly realistic (minus the whole talking goat and evil witch thing.) After two decades of predictable horror movies, The Witch and last year’s It Follows are hopefully just the start of a new wave of good horror movies.

4. Green Room

There were a lot of great thrillers this year, especially ones that flew under the public radar. In fact, I had a difficult time choosing between The Witch, Don’t Breathe, and my number four pick Green Room as my favorite thriller of the year. In all honesty, the only reasons Green Room isn’t higher on my list is that I feel the first twenty minutes of the film are rather slow and the characters are rather one note. Ignoring that, this is an excellent film that didn’t get nearly enough attention as it deserved when it was first released! The film is notable for being the last film of Anton Yelchin’s career before his untimely death in a freak accident, and though he does give a stellar performance, the film is much more memorable even if one ignores Yelchin’s passing. Once you past the rather meandering first twenty minutes of the movie, the film suddenly kicks in to gear and constantly has you on the hook. Who knew Patrick Stewart could be so creepy while doing so little? In fact, everyone in this film turned in solid performances and this is just more proof that Imogen Poots is one of the most underrated young actresses in recent memory.

3. Don’t Breathe

Another unexpectedly effective thriller that borders on horror movie, Don’t Breathe is easily one of the most suspenseful movies of 2016. It also boasts one of the most memorable and fascinating villains/anti-heroes of the year. In fact, the two main characters are really intriguing, as is the concept of the film itself. The script flips your expectations and makes you wonder who is in the right and who is in the wrong. I don’t want to give too much away because the film is best seen with fresh eyes, unspoiled by trailers, but I will say that this gem flips the home invasion subgenre on its head. It will leave you, quite like the characters, breathless.

2. La La Land

I had a difficult time deciding between my number 1 and number 2 spots since I love both films to pieces. The only reason La La Land isn’t number 1 on this list is because the film is a study of style versus substance. Still, I love this movie. La La Land is a tribute and throwback to old Hollywood musicals, the kind that would feature Gene Kelly or Judy Garland. Though the songs are rather hit and miss—the soundtrack is not for everyone and our two leads aren’t terribly good singers—but what the film lacks in memorable lyrics, it more than makes up for with its score and choreography. Damien Chazelle is certainly a force to be reckoned with after directing this film and my favorite film of 2015, Whiplash. He has a command on cinematic pacing and language that few directors of his age group have in this day and age. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in his next film.

Before I unveil my favorite film of 2016, here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut:

  • The Girl on the Train
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Neon Demon

And my favorite film of 2016 is:

1. Silence

This long awaited drama from Martin Scorsese is well worth the wait. The film is nearly three hours long and has a rather slow pace, while peppered with scenes of truly disturbing violence, this film is not for everyone, in fact it will test the audience’s endurance as much as the characters’. Yet, if you can sit through the film, you will find that it is a deeply rewarding film that engages viewers in a complex moral and ethical argument: Would you sacrifice everything that you love to save someone else? I’ve noticed that many people online have had a difficult time understanding the main characters’ actions. Since the protagonists are Jesuit priests on a mission in Japan, where Christianity is forbidden on the threat of death, many viewers don’t understand why the two priests are so conflicted over the film’s moral dilemma. As someone who was raised in a semi-religious household, the film’s themes of faith struck a cord with me in ways most religious films don’t. If you’re a Christian and want to see a film that challenges you and causes you to truly think about you religion, watch Silence instead of the recent forgettable Pure Flix films. Silence a brutal and trying film, but one that is worth the effort and your patience. The best way to view the film is to ask yourself if you would spit on everything you ever loved in the hopes of helping others. Would you settle for a lifetime of misery if it saved someone else? Finally: is it better to die for what you believe in or to live believing in nothing at all?

Posted in Film, Uncategorized

Women in Alfred Hitchcock’s Filmography

Context: This little essay examines and destroys the recent belief that the women found in Alfred Hitchcock’s films are simple damsels and distress or one-dimensional sex objects. In this essay, I argue that his female characters are not misogynistic portrayals of helpless females, instead some of his films’ best and strongest characters are women. They are strong and fascinating because they triumph over the villain and survive much trauma.

More and more, I’ve seen one charge laid against famous and talented English film director Alfred Hitchcock by modern viewers more than any other: misogyny. This label, as both a woman and a lover of classic films, saddens me.

While his films have misogynistic characters, his films do not have a misogynistic agenda, in my opinion. The ill treatment of some of his heroines comes from the purpose of the plot, the fate of the lifestyle they are living, or the actions of the men in their lives. The male characters are not treated any better in a Hitchcock film, either. As to the suffering of his female characters, I have this to say: a character suffers in the first half of a story so they can triumph in the last act.

Classic examples of that last reason can be found in “Vertigo”, “Notorious,” and “Marnie.” The men in those three films are emotionally cold and sometimes dangerous, and while they sometimes have the attributes of a romantic lead (probably because of the actors playing those characters more than the characters themselves), Hitchcock tries, I believe, to make it clear that the actions of these men are wrong and it is only when the men come to care about the women they are hurting do they have any sort of redemption.

Take for instance Devlin from “Notorious”—his character is very unfeeling at times, but the way Cary Grant plays him makes me think that he knows he’s being a bastard and that he hates himself for it, but it’s part of his job. So that makes his attempt at redemption in the climax of the film much more powerful.

The other two men I’ve listed are past redemption in some viewer’s eyes—and perhaps rightfully so. Sean Connery’s character in “Marnie” spends the film as an emotionless plot device—he forces the main character to marry him (though this is after she stole from him, so maybe 60’s audiences weren’t too offended by this), then he practically rapes her on their honeymoon. We never really get to know how he’s feeling and he treats Marnie like she’s this amusing possession or pet of his—something to be trained and kept—so he is the worst (emotionally) of all of the three men.

Then there’s Scottie from “Vertigo”. How do I justify this man? He falls in love with another man’s wife, loses her, then finds a woman who looks remarkably similar to his lost love and decides to change this new woman into a replica of the woman he lost. The villain in “Vertigo” and the anti-hero are similar to Devlin in that all men are changing the women they love, but end up making them more attractive in the eyes of another man. In “Notorious” the other man is Alex Sebastian, in “Vertigo” the role of ‘the men who have transform the heroine’ is taken up by Gavin Elster, who is behind the scenes for most of the plot, and Scottie, which makes the final revelation all the more tragic. The anti-hero of “Vertigo” is emotionally traumatized and mentally scarred, giving him more justification then the other men I’ve listed I suppose, but what he does is horrible none the less. Yet the interesting thing about that film is that we sympathize with him the whole way through the film. It’s hard to have loved and lost someone. I could make a whole other essay on that character alone.

So, back to the women: the women they abuse share the fact that they take on many different identities and that they are all changed by the men who control them.

Most of the women in his films, though they go through harrowing experiences, have a happy ending—it’s a staple of almost every story ever told—the character suffers but might be rewarded at the end, and typically is in most genres, except for tragedies. Some of his characters, like in “Notorious” and “Marnie” or even “The Birds” have ambiguous endings, so we never get to know if the women survive or if they go on to have the happier life that they deserve. Some characters (SPOILERS) like Judy in “Vertigo” or Marion in “Psycho” have very violent and shocking deaths, but they are, in some ways, punished for their actions through this violent end of theirs. Judy has been an accomplice in a murder and Marion has embezzled from her employer—so their deaths are sort of justified in the mindset of moviegoers at the time these two films were made.

But it’s the heroines who suffer the most that we remember. Young Charlie in “Shadow of a Doubt” has lost her innocence after nearly being killed by her uncle, Alicia in “Notorious” has been used by the man she loves and nearly died because of it, Marnie was abused at every turn, Judy in “Vertigo” had to betray and hurt the man she loved the most to help another murder his wife, Margot in “Dial M for Murder” was nearly killed by a man her husband hired, and Melanie in “The Birds” was attacked by lots and lots of birds. They stick with us because they were strong and very well written characters, played by talented actresses who brought their character to life.

If Hitchcock hated women, he wouldn’t have let the writers of his films write such strong and diverse female characters. He’d have simply banished them to the backgrounds of the plot while the men took center stage. But no, his female characters—good and bad—are likeable and courageous—we care about them no matter what they’ve done. And while in movies the women always suffer the most—in Hitchcock films this is still the case—Hitchcock’s heroines are able to, for the most part, come out of these traumatic circumstances and go on living, content to walk into the sunset, or at least the next chapter of their lives, after making their way through hell. That takes a lot of luck and bravery.

To talk about females in Hitchcock films is to talk about females in the movies period. The women in his films are so extraordinary and well crafted that the writers, the actresses who play them, and Hitchcock all deserve more respect than they usually get these days. Just because a female suffers in a film doesn’t mean that she’s a weak character, in fact, it shows how strong she is that she’s able to push herself through the pain and find hope in a better life. So the next time you see a Hitchcock film—or a film in general—try seeing the female characters’ strengths, not their weaknesses and don’t blame the director or the writers if the heroines are hurt. Suffering is part of life in the movies.