Netflix’s Adaptation Of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ Doesn’t Do The Book Justice

Netflix’s star-studded adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy” is a missed opportunity, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. In director Ron Howard’s capable hands, J.D. Vance’s memoir is transformed from a complicated cultural commentary into a myopic personal narrative. That would be forgivable—laudable, even—if the film didn’t also look like a made-for-TV movie.

Glenn Close and Amy Adams deliver piercing performances as Vance’s mamaw and mother respectfully. What’s odd is how some scenes feel like selections from an Oscar-worthy film while most of the movie feels more like an after-school special. From the writing to the directing, it’s really cheesy, and not in a good way. Again, Close and Adams shine, and Howard treats their performances beautifully in a few key scenes. But they’re the exceptions.

Vance’s book is dotted with Putnam-esque analyses of cultural decay, using the author’s compelling path from Appalachia to Yale as a way of putting a human face on the trends identified by Charles Murray and other social scientists. It was a controversial effort, even in conservative circles, but given that Vance tricked droves of educated elites to read about and empathize with the country’s suffering center, his project was certainly a valuable one.

Despite its narrow focus on Vance—and weirdly low quality—Netflix’s “Hillbilly Elegy” does, at least, also ask viewers to consider the plight of Appalachia, of working class people in the throes of addiction and divorce and civic decay. That alone seems to have been enough for progressive reviewers to give the film low marks. One such writer complained that the film is objectionably insistent on personal responsibility.

That’s laughable because the film isn’t coherent enough to be insistent on any broader message at all—other than Vance’s personal path to success. There’s little to no emphasis on his community. The film lacks the sense of place that his memoir crafted carefully.

I’m admittedly among the conservatives who regularly chide Hollywood for paying far too little attention to stories like Vance’s, people who know and empathize and understand these experiences, which are so essential to understanding our politics right now. The decision Netflix, Howard, Close, and Adams made to take up this project is certainly a heartening one.

It shouldn’t have been controversial but, of course, it was. That, perhaps, explains why a memoir that usefully and purposefully sought to explain cultural patterns that rankle the left was diluted into the “Hillbilly Elegy” of Howard’s lackluster rendering.


Netflix’s ‘Rebecca’ Is An Unremarkable Adaptation Of An Excellent Story

Netflix’s “Rebecca” is a bad dream from which audiences will quickly want to wake — not because it’s frightening (it isn’t) but because of its dreadful dullness and waste of serious potential and talent.

The film, based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, follows the unnamed Mrs. de Winter, the second wife of a wealthy widower, as she grapples with settling into her new marriage and the sense of being haunted by the omnipresence of her husband’s late first wife, the seemingly perfect Rebecca. There is a certain irony that a film focusing on a woman worried that she will never live up to the memory of her predecessor is a pale imitation of its source material.

How did Ben Wheatley, the director of the dark, atmospheric, and engaging “Kill List,” “Down Terrace,” and “High-Rise,” manage to suck all of the gothic elements and excitement from the classic horror romance “Rebecca”? Netflix’s new romantic mystery is a serviceable if dull adaptation of the classic novel, but it strips away any of the charm or personality that elevates the material above any of the blandly dark romances. 

The central problem with the adaptation is an identity crisis: The film does not appear to know what it wishes to be — a gothic thriller or a grand romance? In refusing to commit to either, it fails in both senses, providing only a lukewarm treatment of both. The treatment of much of the runtime as a charming love story destroys any momentum or suspense built by the scenes attempting to capture the novel’s tone, leaving a confused output. 

The cast is as variable as the tone, with both genius examples of perfect casting and actors ill-suited for their roles. The film is centered around the unnamed narrator and protagonist, Mrs. de Winter, played with charm but little substance by Lily James. James is certainly a gifted actress and has been excellent in other films and TV shows, but she brings very little to her character, leaving her as a relatively depthless black slate. 

Kristin Scott Thomas was the ideal selection for the villainous Mrs. Danvers. Her balance of stoic propriety and menace is phenomenal. The devotion to the late Rebecca is palpable in each scene. Thomas’s performance in a climactic moment of shocking evil toward the protagonist elevates the lackluster writing and direction, providing one of the few genuine moments of tension and excitement. 

Armie Hammer is likewise wonderful as the enigmatic love interest, Maxim. His dashing good looks and effortless charm give the character a natural appeal, which contrasts nicely with his bursts of cruelty. The shift of Maxim near the end is somewhat out of nowhere, but that is more the fault of the script and direction than his performance. 

It is an immense task for anyone to step into the shoes of Alfred Hitchcock, but the creative team behind this offering should have been more than up for the job, with credits on films and series that could and ought to have served as inspiration for “Rebecca.”

Director of photography Laurie Rose, who has worked on all of Wheatley’s previous films, served as cinematographer on the miniseries “London Spy,” which mixed romance, tension, and mystery in the manner which ought to have been applied to this film.

Clint Mansell, another frequent collaborator of Wheatley, wrote a fine if forgettable score. While it didn’t soar to the gorgeous heights of “Requiem for a Dream” or reach the dramatic potential of “Moon,” the music suited the tones nicely. The main problem with the score is not inherent to the music itself but rather a factor of the greater tonal issues. 

The “Rebecca” remake is perfectly enjoyable in a mindless way, if you’re just seeking an unremarkable period romance with some mystery to give the illusion of tension. If you’re seeking anything that comes close to capturing the essence of the novel, however, you’d be much better served staying with the original.


Jennifer Newsom’s Documentary Blames The American Founders For Democrats’ Failures

Jennifer Siebel Newsom pulls no punches with the title of her latest documentary: “The Great American Lie.” According to Newsom, America doesn’t fall prey to human error or mistakes in governance; no, America “lies” that it is founded on the idea of equality, which has allowed white males to hold down women and minorities for centuries. A collection of leftist pundits, journalists, and academics expound on this “lie.”

Inevitably, the documentary’s conclusion lands right on critical theory’s rocky shore: America’s founding at the hands of white males is so inherently racist and sexist that all negative life experiences can be attributed to it, and radical change is necessary to correct it. While Newsom never tells us what that radical change might entail, if viewers know anything about the French, Bolshevik, or Maoist revolutions, they should recoil in horror.

Siebel-Newsom is the wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and thus the self-titled gender-inclusive “first partner.” She scolds the United States for being greedy and uncaring, despite the American people’s astounding charitable donations.

Her experts are doing well, however, such as a school principal at more than $112,000 in salary, an NBC personality at more than $2 million per year, and of course the Newsoms themselves, reportedly worth $20 million from businesses financed by a close family friend and uber-wealthy Gordon Getty of Getty Oil. Perhaps the governor took business advice from other wealthy kin, like Nancy Pelosi.

It is, of course, all perfectly legal and commendable for a wealthy family to sponsor a bright young man in business and politics. It also looks an awful lot like an aristocracy — or a bipartisan, rent-seeking division of the informal Ruling Class.

With ominous bass notes sounding in the background, the film opens with two immigrant children walking down a rough street expressing hope for their American dream. We are led to believe that they are sadly naïve, as they sit in class wide-eyed with fright at the mention of Trump’s name.

For most of the documentary, as in this scene, Newsom’s argument rests on anecdotes and opinions. Yet, for every anecdote she presents, most of us, of course, can recount others. Like my friend who came to the United States legally with her mother and two brothers who are now doctors, and who is now a registered nurse.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that except for a brief interregnum with nominal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm, her husband’s party has ruled California exclusively for the past 20 years. After the defeat of ballot initiatives at the hands of powerful unions, The “Governator” simply gave up trying, hired a Democrat chief of staff, and signed whatever that staffer put on his desk, including the ruinous Global Warmings Solutions Act.

So California, the sixth-largest economy in the world, should be by now an exemplar of income equality, right? Not so. The state currently leads the nation in poverty, homelessness, and unaffordable housing and energy costs.

Sadly, Newsom’s husband’s new plan reflects the state’s trend towards more of the same. He even proposes government-provided child care for every child’s first three years, as if K-12 were not adequate evidence of government failure, plus more regulation and redistribution elsewhere.

The data show income inequality, but the documentary never pinpoints the cause, instead suggesting more wealth redistribution. The film ignores that since the War on Poverty began in 1964, the U.S. government has redistributed trillions of dollars to combat poverty.

Even the Washington Post admits that, if not the exact figure of $15 trillion oft-cited by right-leaning sources, taxpayers have spent vast amounts on social programs in the past 60 years. Increases in government spending on schools have resulted in zero net gain in student performance. So why is more spending the answer? The school principal we follow rightfully rails against the “system” but never mentions competition to replace this very system.

The viewers would do well to compare and contrast the governor’s wonky, control-freak plans with the President Trump economy. Both men have had to adjust to new realities because of COVID-19 yet Trump’s plan has resulted in astounding growth, the lowest unemployment ever for black Americans and Latinos, and the ability for America to begin energy independence, making the Middle East oil card unplayable.

The film also bemoans the lack of affordable housing in the state. Again, Newsom uses the editorial “we” to ask why “we” have not provided adequate salaries or lower-priced homes for the middle and working classes. She does not address analysis by land-use experts like Joel Kotkin, who cites California as an evolving progressive feudal society, with lords like the Gettys and Newsoms living far better lives than the service workers below them. But cutting off the land from development means we have our precious open space, say the bien-pensant!

We have all seen this narrative before: the destruction of industry, the persistent poverty in the inner cities, the failures of government schools, constant violence in the schoolyard and the street. The blame — or the “lie,” as she puts it — is not in the nation’s founding. No, the lie is inherent in leftism and globalism.

A cynic might surmise that these films are designed not to answer questions of policy but to tug at the heartstrings, all to persuade another generation to fall for the same lie that leftists have been telling since Franklin Delano Roosevelt built and Lyndon Johnson perfected the welfare state machine. Sixty years of progressive policy has created more problems than it has solved.

The “first partner” might want to interview some of the CEOs she condemns for her next film and ask why they donate so heavily to politics, as well as to the social justice movements that burn and destroy our cities. What’s in it for them?

Increasingly, the American people know the answer to that question. The super-rich and the corporations lean left because corporations thrive under specially designed regulations and wages, with middle-class Americans on the losing end. More and more Americans are rejecting the shallow culture of victimhood and anti-Americanism as depicted in this film, and simply walking away.


Netflix’s ‘The Devil All The Time’ Is A Hellish Bore

“The Devil All the Time” is not a film as much as it is an audiobook with visuals. The new Netflix film, which follows cycles of vengeance, violence, and religious fanaticism within a few families in the post-World War II Midwest, is based on Donald Ray Pollack’s novel. With a dozen central characters, a two-hour runtime, and several subplots lasting over a decade, the movie is a rushed endeavor.

The film tells the story of first disturbed veteran Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), and then his son, Arvin (Tom Holland). Throughout their path, they come across serial killers, corrupt policemen, and a wicked preacher.

The film wildly over-relies on a narrator, who explains every single action as it happens, and moves the plot along from scene to scene. Some narration can be helpful, especially in a cinematic adaptation of a dense novel with many complications, but film is predominately a visual medium. Viewers would rather watch the actions happen, rather than hear about them after the fact.

Many major plot points are described rather than shown, which gets quite boring. Further, the narrator explains nearly every emotion experienced by the central characters, which ought to be instead demonstrated through the actors’ performances and the camerawork. It is far more gripping to witness a characters’ epiphany or emotional state, rather than have a disembodied voice hold your hand through each moment.

Much of the narration problem comes from the pacing. There is simply too much plot to fit into a two-hour movie. The story would have been much better as a miniseries. This change would have allowed each important character and story to have time to be fully realized, so that when important plot points occur, the audience knows and cares about them, and has a vested interest in the story’s outcome.

The acting ranges from passable to excellent, with no awful turns, but many lacking energy. Tom Holland is fine as the protagonist, effectively capturing his anguish and weariness. However, a major driving force for Arvin is rage, something Holland seems incapable of mustering, aside from one early fistfight when protecting his sister. The final 40 minutes of the film are exclusively driven by his violent quest for vengeance, but Holland struggles to capture his character’s mental state.

Bill Skarsgård was excellent at capturing the more unhinged aspects of Willard, truly selling the desperation and fanaticism needed. However, he never allowed viewers to see the calmer, more balanced side of the character, leaving the scenes intended to be dramatic bursts of passion feeling frustratingly par-for-the-course. Even in Willard’s contented scenes, he appears to be a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the latent instability to burst through, leaving the incredible later scenes with less of an impact on viewers.

Jason Clarke and Riley Keough were disappointingly bland as the serial killer couple Carl and Sandy, though much of their problems were in the script. Most of their scenes were spent committing murders, with their differing intentions and psychologies told to viewers by the narrator, rather than allowing the two talented actors to present any motivations.

Sebastian Stan is effectively loathsome as Sheriff Lee Bodecker, a corrupt cop and Sandy’s brother. He’s frustratingly one-note as a character, identified exclusively by his ambition and greed. Stan has previously been excellent as morally dubious characters, such as the tormented antihero Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tonya Harding’s abusive ex husband in “I, Tonya,” and the duplicitous Carter Baizen in lurid teen drama “Gossip Girl.” It’s clear he attempted to bring some subtlety to the role, but there is nothing upon which to build.

Robert Pattinson was excellent as minor antagonist, Reverend Preston Teagardin, a corrupt and sexually exploitative minister. Pattinson struck a perfect balance between charismatic and menacing. His performance had shades of Paul Dano in “There Will Be Blood,” but Pattinson’s overcompensation is replaced with a predatory vibe which permeates the atmosphere every time he is on camera. He’s the type of villain who you simultaneously wish was around longer, yet viscerally crave for his comeuppance.

The true standout in the cast was Eliza Scanlan as Arvin’s pious step-sister, Lenora. She was one of the only virtuous characters in the film, but rather than be a one-dimensional ingenue, Scanlan imbues Lenora with startling humanity and depth. Her deeply limited screen time is a tragedy, as she absolutely lit up each scene she was in and elevated her section of the movie.

The biggest problem with the film is that we don’t have enough time with any of the characters, and therefore have no real reason to care about them. In place of showing us who the characters are and using scenes and dialogue to explain their relationships, everything is spelled out by the narrator, which wildly harms an audience’s ability to get invested in the story.

We’re told Lee loves his sister Sandy and cares about his reputation. We’re told about the marriage between Willard and Charlotte. We’re told about the complexities in Sandy and Carl’s relationship and serial killings. However, all of this happens off camera, with only a few brief scenes to demonstrate any sort of connection.

The only relationships that actually were demonstrated rather than explained were Lenora’s with Arvin and Teagarden. However, this comes as much down to Scanlan, Pattinson, and Arvin’s performances as the somewhat increased focus they are given.

Obviously, not every character and relationship in a film can gain substantial screen time and development, while other aspects must be covered by exposition. However, it’s a problem when every relationship and character is glossed over with a few sentences of narration, rather than actually showing the action. Further, in an ensemble cast where the plot is predominately driven by the interpersonal relationships, they need to be remarkably strong or the story falls flat.


‘Then Came You’ Is A Slog But A Pleasant One

“Then Came You” is like Valentine’s Day—painfully contrived, cheesy, and easy to forget, but ultimately still satisfying on some level. The film, helmed by a radiant Kathie Lee Gifford and rakish Craig Ferguson, is not destined for the rom-com hall of fame. But with sweeping shots of Scotland, a quaint setting, and likable leads, it’ll do just fine as an easy companion to your microwave popcorn and five-buck chuck on a slow Wednesday. 

Gifford’s character is the strange and steely widow of a hardware-shop owner from Nantucket, who transports her husband’s ashes in a chocolate box (his favorite movie was “Forest Gump”) on an extended Eurotrip, which lands her at Ferguson’s inn outside Glasgow. Ferguson is a charming widower whose deprecating humor masks his immense supply of both pain and compassion. 

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The screenplay, penned by Gifford, is disjointed and overly ambitious. The dialogue induces constant cringing. The acting is stilted. Both main characters are prone to sudden outbursts of emotion that feel completely random.

As you might imagine, their bickering melts into banter. At its heart, “Then Came You” is a movie about love and grief and aging, and the impact of all three hitting at once. The plot takes some twists and turns, one of which near the end emerges laughably from the left-most corner of left field. There are montages. There are sheep. There is Elizabeth Hurley. The ending really drags. It’s essentially a Lifetime movie that wanted to be something a bit better.  

But Lifetime movies serve their purpose in our vast cinematic ecosystem. If you watch “Then Came You” with the right expectations, it’ll do just fine. The beautiful setting and too-perfect plot create decent conditions for escapism.

The film’s greatest strength, however, is Gifford and Ferguson, neither of whom delivered the performance of a lifetime, but both of which were a lot of fun to watch. They clearly believed in the movie and poured their hearts into making it. That goes a long way, especially with likable and familiar personalities.

They’re both naturally funny people, and managed to produce some funny moments together. Gifford, of course, sings. It’s amazing, as usual. “Then Came You” is a testament to Giffords’ undeniable charm. Even as the film clunks along, Gifford’s intensity and dedication makes the journey kind of fun. 

It’s not a movie that will change your life. It may not even change your night. But we could all use a little sugar in our coffee these days, and sometimes you have to make do with Splenda.

“Then Came You” is available in theaters Wednesday and on-demand Friday. 


Smart Satire Is All Too Rare, But ‘An American Pickle’ Pulls It Off Seamlessly

There’s a lot to like about “An American Pickle,” HBO Max’s new Seth Rogen flick, which is a surprise success on several levels. It’s both an on-demand release and a hilarious comedy, and a provocative cultural satire that resists the urge to get bogged down in anti-Trump politics.

Based on a Simon Rich novella, the movie documents the smart, absurdist tale of an Eastern European immigrant who literally gets pickled for 100 years, wakes up in modern America and meets his grandson. Both grandfather and grandson are played seamlessly by Rogen himself.

Skeptics might expect Rogen’s outspoken liberalism to hamper the topical film’s humor, but it’s actually a rich, provocative, and timely satire on cancel culture, more interested in having the conversation than insisting it’s already over. Herschel, Rogen’s likable, industrious, immigrant grandfather, proves a perfect foil for Ben, his millennial grandson, a Brooklyn-based app developer with a liberal worldview. He’s also a foil for Ben’s neighbors, whose response to Herschel makes an interesting point about generational culture clashes, and the way Americans perceive their ancestors and history.

What’s more, the jokes are on par with Rogen’s classic movies, which is impressive both for an on-demand release and, sadly, for comedies in general these days. It’s seriously funny, and not insufferably political.

With the fate of Hollywood comedies shifting increasingly to streamers, funny films have been few and far between. They just haven’t stacked up to their theatrical predecessors—although the genre’s current theatrical offerings haven’t really measured up either. From “Brittany Runs A Marathon” to “Wine Country” to “Palm Springs,” on-demand comedies always seem to underdeliver, serving up laughs every ten minutes, always with a side helping of mediocre emotional gravity.

“American Pickle” has the emotional gravity, but it goes down much more smoothly given the film’s sharp script, silly gags, and smart commentary. If future filmmakers model their on-demand (or theatrical) comedies on “American Pickle,” we could be in for a renaissance.

Good comedies are rare. Good political comedies are really rare. Good on-demand comedies are even rarer. “An American Pickle” is all of the above, and that’s pretty impressive.

Director Of Feminist Film ‘Dollhouse’: ‘I Actually Didn’t Feel As Exploited Being A Stripper As I Do As A Screenwriter’

Nicole Brending wore many hats on the set of “Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Pop Culture,” a tale of the rise and fall of fictional child pop star Junie Spoons. Brending wrote, directed, edited, and produced the film, voiced many of the characters, and designed the dolls that are used in place of actors.

Brending and I spoke about her film, its feminist messages, the mid-2000s pop culture satirized, and creating a film with dolls in place of actors.

Junie goes through not just the typical rise and fall of a child star, but through some remarkably heightened issues. What inspired you to take her story to such highs and lows?

There’s a number of things. One of the things that the film is satirizing is how the media is always topping itself. After each episode that Junie goes through, it had to get worse, or crazier, or just more extreme. That was the part of the concept of the film, but also the challenge of the film was to see, like, how much more insane can we get? How can we take it to a place that is inevitable but that’s also unexpected?

The ending of the film was a phenomenal twist. It was simultaneously shocking and yet felt like the only logical conclusion to the story. How did you decide to end her story in such a way?

That way this movie is looking at how we destroy women and dismantle them and take from them and so, like, that’s a part of it. So it was kind of like the only thing to do eventually is to discard her when she’s no longer useful, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

There are obvious practical reasons for animating this story — the sexual escapades of a 12-year-old are not something that can or should be filmed with actual actors. The stylistic choice to use the creatively designed and eerie dolls was a really interesting workaround. What made you choose the specific doll-based animation for this film? Did you ever consider other animated forms?

I worked dolls and puppets before, and one of the things that I really love about them is, more than traditional animation, people really seem to connect with them. There’s kind of a living quality to them that a regular animation wouldn’t have. I had this one film some years back called “Operated by Invisible Hands” that was this love story between these two dolls. At first, people are laughing, and they think it’s funny.

Then there’s a point at which they get quiet, and you realize it’s not because they’re not engaged; it’s because they’re so engaged with the love story. I think there’s something there’s that aspect of them that I really wanted to bring to the project. It’s important that people connect to the story.

I also think, like you said, for the purposes of satire, there’s a lot of stuff you can’t do with real people or it would be unpalatable. You could, but it would be unpalatable, like the sex tape, like literally all of the film. In order to really get across the truth of I’ve what I’m trying to explore in terms of misogyny in our perspective on women, I wanted to do it in a satirical way, and I wanted to do it in a way that people could watch and get the meaning from and really, really take some truth from it, but not feel like they were being preached to, and not feel like they were being alienated.

With static dolls, there is an added benefit of style and it contributes to the doll motif throughout the film. However, you do lose facial expressions and body language. Did you ever fear the effect of losing this form of storytelling? As a director, how did you work around that? And how did it factor into your design of the dolls?

One of the things that I enjoy doing with puppets is finding an expression that really captures the essence of that character. That came through the story, and then through the directing of them, the way that we shoot. I’ll get certain angles and certain kinds of staging. It actually really changes your perception of their expression.

And then of course there’s the voice acting, but I’ve had actors say to me, after seeing some of my puppet movies, “Yeah, it really means you don’t have to do much as an actor.” There are tricks to dealing with that, and I kind of prefer it and having the mouths move. It cheapens the effects of them being toys.

One of the other reasons I think viewers like the dolls is that they seem like toys. There’s this idea that you could maybe be doing this at home. To have things that are professionally made, or that were made for them to be on film, cheapens the effects.

For the latter third of the film, the film is hijacked by a new character from seemingly out of nowhere, and that is Trans Junie. What was the inspiration behind that character, and what were you trying to get across to audiences?

What we’re trying to get across to audiences in that part is the eradication of female subjectivity from American popular culture. One thing that I thought about just in terms of the structure of the project was that, eventually, Junie would need to be eliminated from her own story.

I thought about different ways to do it. We always hear about these rooms, you know, of white men making decisions about women’s bodies, but I think there’s another way that women are being silenced right now. And I think that’s through gender politics, actually, which is kind of surprising. Their perspectives are being eliminated. I want to look at the logic behind trans ideology, and then see how that logic was being used to silence women.

I think there’s also just an aspect of, like, looking at how we don’t really even respect women’s talents. It doesn’t matter that Junie’s talented. She just is something that we feed off of, and then we get rid of her. It’s just the image of her that Trans Junie takes on. There’s a lot going on in that.

I would say, generally speaking, when we’re talking about the controversial aspects of the film, it’s definitely this part of it. What I’m trying to really demonstrate, because it’s really happening, is how trans ideology is being used to silence women, and it’s unacceptable. I think as women, we are entitled to define what it means to be women.

The film has a clear message against the commoditization and sexualization of young women in the music industry. How do you want audiences to relate the themes of the film into their own lives?

I don’t see this movie as actually being about a pop star. I think women [have] everyday experiences like this, where they are being silenced or they are being ignored. To me, Junie’s story is very much about trying to look at various ways that we deny women their own subjective perspective. I’ve had many women come up to me after a screening and say, “This is what my life is I feel like. I relate to this, like, entirely.”

I definitely think it has broader applications than just the pop world. I’ve also been really pleased with how a lot of men have said, “You know, I really love this movie.” I feel like it’s a way that men can be a part of the conversation about the subject because it’s not vilifying them; it’s looking at how everybody’s culpable.

I think that’s a really important thing to think about, is that we’re all culpable in misogyny and the silencing of women. It’s a lens, so misogyny is a way that we perceive people. It’s not just a group of people acting upon another. I want people to be thinking about that in their daily lives. Even my manager is said, “It’s actually changed the way that I interact with my wife.” That’s really cool. I think that’s like the best thing you can hope for. It starts conversations.

When I was at Slamdance, a filmmaker came up to me in the filmmaker lounge, and he said, “So what movie did you do?” I said, “I did that one with the puppets.” He responded, “You know, I’ve been hearing conversations about that movie, just like overhearing conversations that I couldn’t stop listening to, because people are talking about that subject matter in a way that I’ve never heard people talk about it.” It’s really exciting. I mean, that’s the best you can hope for. I think it does inspire conversations. I also hope people find it funny, and they can have a laugh at the same time.

Real-life pop culture, especially mid-2000s, clearly inspired lots of the aesthetics and events of the film. What was the intention behind that choice? Was it contemporary pop culture or was it more to sort of couch it in a sense of reality, or both?

It’s a little of both. I was thinking of the Britney Spears video “…Baby One More Time.” She’s super sexualized, in a Catholic school uniform, but like she’s like 15. I mean, she’s a child. When I was working on the songs, we were trying to go through an evolution of the music, but then also how the music videos might change as well, with them based on the kind of videos that I’ve seen. To both, not mock them, but satirize them, but also to give people a sense of “this is the world that we live in and this is really happening.”

The songs they felt like music that I grew up on, that early-mid 2000s pop. I was at a party a few months ago and parties were still happening and people playing throwbacks, when we collectively realized how some of the lyrics that we would scream at age like eight, nine, ten. Things like Rihanna’s S&M, or Britney Spears lyrics, that we didn’t understand at the time. Your film did a great job with highlighting like these innocuously shocking lyrics for children…

So funny, it was like, you have that one Christina Aguilera song, “Genie in a Bottle,” and it’s so dirty. They would do interviews with her, and she’d say, “No, it’s not about sex. It’s about respect.” It’s funny how people will try to buy into the marketing even though they know deep down that the messages are there. “Genie in the Bottle” is like, “You got to rub me the right way.” Not all about sex. But you can tell people it’s a metaphor, and for some reason people buy it for a while. I find it fascinating how over and over again, the marketers with the labels try to deceive you that something blatantly sexual is not sexual.

Speaking of that era in pop culture, what is your opinion on the #freeBrittney movement? That whole story seems like something straight out of your film.

Yeah, #FreeBritney certainly feels like an episode straight out of Junie’s life. We’ve even adopted a #FreeJunie hashtag. I haven’t been following too closely, but Britney’s conservatorship certainly looks to be a way for some people to profit off of her. Conservatorships are really only for people in comas or who are so severely mentally ill, they can’t function on a daily basis. Since the conservatorship went into effect, she’s had a Vegas show and was on “The X-Factor,” working the entire time.
Again, I think we are getting back to this principle that women are a kind of property and not autonomous, conscious people. Britney has suffered from a very classic method of control, which is to permanently label a woman as crazy if she acts out. The fact that it’s led to conservatorship and control over her assets is a symptom of how little we regard women and their ability to manage their own lives, and how easily their assets can be taken from them.
If she’s so mentally ill that she needs constant care, then she shouldn’t be working. She should be getting care. But if she’s still capable of making the kind of money she makes, then it would follow that she is capable of managing her own life. Instead, she’s a cash cow for others while she has to ask permission to go to Walmart to spend her own money. It’s disturbing. But, unfortunately, not surprising.

In a film with several unsettling aspects, I found the PhD character to be the one that got under my skin the most. I didn’t really know what to make of him until the ending. What was the purpose of his character, and what did he represent?

He’s the kind of guy who says he’s a feminist but doesn’t actually respect women. He represents a man who thinks that studying feminism entitles him to certain kinds of attention from women. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the SNL skit where these guys try to pick up a woman at a bar, and when she says no, they’re like “Screw you, b-tch.”

He’s a creepy guy. I mean that’s kind of his deal, that he uses academia, he uses all of this rationalization. You see that a lot of those who commit sex crimes against women have a way of thinking, they’re treating her as if they were, you know, gentlemen.

So in the setting, I don’t think there really is a character other than him that really represents a kind of hostility towards women in deeper, sexual kind of way. He is sort of obsessive, thinking women are objects, women are things to be controlled, really in a basement dungeon kind of way.

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple projects. I’m working on a feature based on my experience when I was a stripper. I think it…ought to be a totally other debate that we have, but I read about how radical feminists tend to be really anti-sex work. I don’t consider myself a radical feminist, but I don’t disagree with that.

However, there are men who make money out of their bodies too, like as construction workers. I actually didn’t feel as exploited being a stripper as I do as a screenwriter. I also have a something in the pipeline on a woman mathematician.

Netflix’s ‘The Old Guard’ Is The Superhero Movie We Need Right Now

“The Old Guard,” Netflix’s newest superhero film based on the comic of the same name, is an engaging and clever look at immortality through fun action set pieces and interesting characters.

The film doesn’t do anything particularly special or new with its genre, but it’s a smart movie, and certainly worth watching. The most compelling superhero worlds are the ones where heroism has serious downsides and consequences.

Batman will forever be isolated by his duty to Gotham. The X-Men face rampant discrimination. Spiderman’s powers put everyone he loves into jeopardy. Likewise, the titular heroes must face the brutal problems associated with their expanded lifespans.

The concept of immortality is played with beautifully in “The Old Guard.” The film doesn’t bombard audiences with information or deep mythos surrounding their powers, as the characters themselves don’t know all that much. Bits and pieces of the film’s lore are peppered throughout the film, with hopefully more to be fleshed out in the likely upcoming sequel.

There is a profound sorrow throughout the film, but it never overindulges in bleakness to the point of banality. Director Gina Prince-Blythewood handles the tone nicely, allowing a surprising sense of hope to what could have been a boring, depressing mess.

The air of mystery surrounding the group’s powers is welcome in a genre that often attempts to over-explain the more magical aspects of their story in order to ground them in some sense of realism, only to inadvertently reduce the realism due to unforeseen plot holes. By not creating a convoluted explanation for everything, but rather create lived-in, set rules, the film can abide by its own internal logic much better than its genre compatriots.

The effects for their healing are fairly standard, nothing that hasn’t been done before and done better by cinematic portrayals of Wolverine. Nevertheless, it never gets old, watching the slow reversal of wounds as our heroes recover.

The central team is fantastic, sharing an easy and believable chemistry for a groups supposedly working together for centuries. Likewise, each character in the eponymous “Old Guard” comes from a different era, which plays into their characters and relationships.

Charlize Theron has cemented herself as a fantastic action star in recent years, turning in excellent turns in the phenomenal “Mad Max: Fury Road” and underrated “Atomic Blonde.” Here, she shines as Andromache of Scythia, or Andy, a 6,000-year-old woman who has dedicated her incredibly long life to protecting humanity. The oldest of the group, Andy is a woman wearied by seeing the worst of humanity for millennia, and, despite lifetimes of effort, evil still exists and thrives.

Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) fought for Napoleon, and primarily views his immortality as a curse. Forced to watch his wife and children age, suffer, and die in the 1800s, he knows immortality means slowly losing everyone you’ve ever loved.

Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) met while fighting against each other in the crusades, ultimately falling in love. Their relationship leaves the two of them the least resentful with their immortality, as an extended lifespan means more time together. Further, it is a nice change to see two immortal beings in a stable, committed relationship lasting centuries.

The newcomer of the group, Nile (KiKi Layne) was a marine who discovered her immortality upon being killed in the line of duty and awakening with her wounds entirely healed. It is through her eyes, as well as Andy’s, that we are primarily seeing the film. Nile serves both as an effective audience surrogate and an interesting character in her own right, as her emotional journey of dealing with newfound immortality is compellingly treated with nuance. Layne was excellent in 2018’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and “The Old Guard” cements her as a talent as someone to keep an eye.

The villains are likewise each individualized, with disparate motives and degrees of humanity. All three are after the secret behind the protagonists’ immortality, but with disparate methods and motives. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the primary antagonist, James Copley, who is likewise the most sympathetic. A former CIA agent who lost his wife to a long battle with ALS, he is desperate to understand how wounds can heal and death can be undone to make sense of his wife’s suffering.

Pharma Mogul Steven Merrick (Harry Melling) is driven by one motive – profit. He sees the potential in using the immortals’ DNA to market lifesaving drugs and make a fortune, not caring if he has to imprison and torture five people for decades to do so. Lastly, the desire for scientific discovery and helping people is worth the cost of human suffering for Dr. Kozak (Anamaria Marinca). Rather than make the villains a generically evil monolith, the trio’s respective complexities deeply enhances the story.

The action in the film is very enjoyable. Theron’s dance training allows for longer choreographed fight sequences, rather than an over-reliance on quick cuts to simulate action. Prince-Blythewood uses that to its full potential. In a film with immortal characters, it can be tough to generate high enough stakes to make anyone care about the outcome of fights aside from watching pretty movements.

Prince-Blythewood, however, leans on the immortality aspect of the story, emphasizing their ability to survive many deaths, which can be in and of itself a curse when faced with endless torture. The most horrifying sequence in the film shows one of the immortals’ former teammates stuck in an iron maiden at the bottom of the ocean for centuries, drowning over and over again in perpetuity.

I do hope that we get more films in this series. The characters are engaging and sympathetic, and there’s a lot more that can be done with them. I’m looking forward to seeing the continued adventures of Andy, Nile, Joe, Nicky, and Booker.