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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 1 year ago

Binge Blog: Not all treasure is silver and gold

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"Shirley" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" are this week's picks.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

The round-up

  • Netflix debuted the trailer for "The Devil All the Time" on Thursday, the film based on Donald Ray Pollack's sprawling novel about bad goings-on in post-World War II Appalachia. I'm currently a few chapters into the novel myself, so I can't say how faithful the trailer is to anything, but it looks great regardless — like season one of "True Detective" without all the rambling philosophy. The film has a stellar cast, including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlen and Binge Blog favorite Robert Pattinson. 
  • The original creators of recent Binge Blog selection "Avatar: The Last Airbender" have exited Netflix's live-action remake of the series, saying while the series Netflix produces might be good, it won't have the vision they intended. This is disappointing but not all that unexpected. Creators get booted from remakes all the time. We'll see how Netflix handles this property on its own because we all know how the last live-action "Avatar" adaptation went
  • "The Farewell" filmmaker Lulu Wang is set to direct an English-language reimagining of classic Japanese film "Like Father, Like Son." 
  • Per Indiewire, film fans can now spend a night in the last-ever Blockbuster Video store in Bend, Ore. It's a limited time thing and only open to Deschutes County residents, so we're all out of luck, but it's a fun little oddity regardless. A documentary about the store is also currently playing in some drive-in theaters.

"Shirley" (2020)

Hulu, rated R, 107 minutes

 

The word that remained lodged in my brain while watching "Shirley" was fuzzy. 

Director Josephine Decker's decisions to use woozy visuals, drearily moving the image in and out of focus, is a strong one. She used a similar technique to similar effect in her last film, "Madeline's Madeline," which I also loved — here, again, it represents the clarity of a person's mental state, flowing from sane to something else and back again. The difference is thatthis time, the protagonist isn't a fictional teenager; it's author Shirley Jackson (Elizabeth Moss). 

"Shirley" follows the (fictionalized) process Jackson goes though while writing her novel "Hangsaman." Her husband, college English professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), has invited Fred, the young assistant professor his school recently hired (Logan Lerman), and Fred's wife, Rose (Odessa Young), to stay with them while they find a house of their own. 

Despite the title, "Shirley" is mostly told from Rose's point of view, as she tries to bond with Jackson, one of her favorite authors, but suffers repeated verbal abuse at her hand instead. Rose at first believes Jackson to be a crotchety and rude eccentric, but soon comes to understand what has made her this way: the suffocating lifestyle expected of women at the time. 

When films portray difficult geniuses, they're almost always portrayals of men. These geniuses have their actions waived away as part of the art-making process, giving them free rein to take advantage of their subjects or muses. "Shirley" flips this dynamic. It doesn't excuse Jackson's actions, but it does give an explanation for them and makes the audience just who they're willing to forgive and who they aren't. Rose, too, undergoes a transformation of the sort, as she stops giving in to the "normalcy" expected of her and starts to express herself in unexpected ways. 

 

It's difficult to say more without telegraphing the directions the film foes, but it plays out like a psychological thriller. Almost everyone is lying about something. Remember when I mentioned the word fuzzy? Well, it applies to more than just the screen. There are a lot of plot threads at play, like the disappearance of a young college girl in Shirley's town — the case that is inspiring Jackson's novel — and the feelings that Jackson may or may not be developing for one of her house guests. Much of the resolution of these threads is left up to interpretation, and that's before the film's final scene, which might leave viewers wondering how much of what they've seen they can believe in the first place.

As always, Moss is exquisite in her portrayal of the famed author. The other three try their best to match her, giving admirable efforts. Stuhlbarg comes the closest, playing Hyman like a surface-level puritan bursting at the seams with pent-up desires. It's a blast of a performance, and watching him and Moss verbally play out Jackson and Hyman's relationship is worth a watch alone. Thankfully, the rest of the tale is worthy, too. 

Just throw on some shoegaze once you're done. You'll want to keep the fuzz party going.  

 

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003)

Disney+, rated PG-13, 143 minutes

Johnny Depp. Photo source: Disney+.

More movies should try being fun. It's good! Being fun is good, and the first installment in the "Pirates" franchise is one of the most fun.* 

Seriously, think about all the things that happen in this movie:

  • Johnny Depp plays Jack Sparrow like a character, not a caricature (yet). He's a bumbling idiot who fails upward from the start, but he does get a lot of cool lines to say. 
  • Keira Knightly steps out of her comfort zone to play a well-to-do English woman in a period piece — wait. (She's great, though.)
  • The film walks the line between not taking itself too seriously and building a colorful world with a deep mythology. The cursed Aztec gold, the lineage of Bootstrap Bill Turner, the Black Pearl itself: Learning about the "history" at play is always interesting. 
  • "You best start believin' in ghost stories, Miss Turner. … You're in one!" Geoffrey Rush delivers this line like it's his only purpose in life. 
Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom. Photo source: Disney+.
  • Orlando Bloom reminds us why we all thought he was a future megastar in the first place. 
  • Not just pirates, but ghost pirates! I hope whoever thought of that got a raise. 
  • There needs to be more pirate movies. Not "Pirates" movies, mind you — those those are also coming — but movies about pirates. I'd love to see a modern day tale about people trying to live like pirates but with up-to-date tech. Maybe instead of cannons the ship uses drones? But they still drink a lot of rum and search for treasure and wear big hats? Maybe they also commandeer a cruise ship at one point? I have to put more thought into this. 
  • "If anyone so much as thinks the word 'parlay,' I'll have your guts for goggles." Don't quite know what this means but it sounds sick.

There's not many great character moments here. The biggest growth is in Will Turner (Bloom), who learns that … sometimes being underhanded is good? Other than that, it's all spectacle. But that's OK when the spectacle works as well as it does here. Before I got heavily into film, I long considered this my favorite movie. It's not (even close) anymore, but it holds up way better than I feared, and that makes me happy. 

*As long as you don't think about the outside context of the film at all, i.e. how Johnny Depp is at best a hot-tempered asshat and at worst is something else, and how Orlando Bloom's career absolutely tanked after these films, and how one of the writers of the film believes calling people anti-vaxxers is equivalent to saying the n-word. Other than that, tons of fun! 

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I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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