Movie Review – The Favourite

The Favourite (2018)
Written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

In the early 18th century, Britain engages with France in war. All of that is unimportant because we are front and center in the court of the highly dysfunctional, depressed, and insecure Queen Anne. She is in the middle of a tug of war between the Whigs (who seek the war to continue until a victory is secured) and the Tories (who are tired of being taxed to fund a seemingly never-ending battle). Showing very little interest in all of these boring matters of state, Anne allows her longtime friend and confidante Lady Sarah Marlborough to handle them. Sarah is quite comfortable by the queen’s side and in her bed until her estranged cousin Abigail arrives. This wastrel finds a place as a scullery maid but wants to regain a position of import. Abigail cleverly listens and observes learning all she can about the court and in particular the specific whims of Anne. A power struggle begins between cousins, Sarah versus Abigail, a polite war that escalates quickly.

The Favourite is a film that left me thinking, without hesitation, “this is a masterpiece.” I am a rare fan of period pieces, particularly English historical ones. However, the lure of director Yorgos Lanthimos brought me to this one. His acidic humor has given us great films like Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. The promise of more of his particular style combined with the talents of the three actresses helming this production (Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Coleman) was enough to entice me to the theater with little argument. What I found was a profoundly complex comedy about depression and the nature of codependency. Overlooking the trimmings of the age, the story at the heart of The Favourite is both relevant for our modern political times and our personal experiences.

Queen Anne, played stunningly by Olivia Coleman, is a walking shambles of a human being. The only thing that keeps her going is the fact that she is the queen of England. She’s plagued by nighttime throbs of gout that have forced her to use either crutches or a wheelchair. Anne harbors an infection of sorrow and pain over the death of all seventeen of her children. She cannot even enjoy the simplest of sweets without her stomach going into fits forcing her to vomit it up. The combination of physical ailments and emotional ones has made every personal relationship she has a potentially dangerous one. Any person that gets into her good graces is going to have their lifeforce drained from them. Sarah appears to be managing this as well as anyone can, giving into Anne’s desires while using a stern hand to rebuke her honestly. The film, much to its benefit, never truly makes Sarah’s intentions clear. She’s been friends with Anne since they were little girls and keeps it real with the monarch. However, there is an ever-present unanswered question about what Sarah truly wants. The film makes it clear that no one at Court is there out of goodwill.

Sarah and Abigail prove to be proper foils for each other. Sarah is well versed in the political process, having been raised as a noble since birth. She dresses in a masculine manner after her husband leaves for the war, wearing pants and jackets, allowing her to slide into the realm of men without any question. Sarah can maneuver with ease when it comes to balancing the moodiness of the queen and the demands of Parliament. Abigail acts as a wrench in the gears practicing a more improvisational act to gain the affections of Anne. Abigail appeals to the emotions of Anne; her first gesturing is embracing an element of Anne’s life that Sarah rejects in the opening scene. Unlike Sarah, it is blatantly apparent to the audience that Abigail has a reason to manipulate the queen. She was lost by her father in a card game and spent years with an old man whom she worked to escape. Abigail tells a member of the court that she isn’t on anyone’s side except her own and that fate sometimes causes her side to coincide with another’s.

The Favourite keeps in tone with being a pitch black film as we would expect from Yorgos Lanthimos. He isn’t here to offer a happy ending, but rather an honest one. There’s no way these three characters, after the way they venomously manipulate and emotional torture each other, are going to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They orbit around a figure who is trapped in her neuroses and has been given near limitless power. There’s no real escape, and the hill they scale has no summit. Everything is the mire, and they are wallowing in it.

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TV Review – American Horror Story: Apocalypse

American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018)
Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, James Wong, Manny Coto, Tim Minear, John J. Gray, Crystal Liu, Adam Penn, Josh Green, and Asha Michelle Wilson
Directed by Bradley Buecker, Jennifer Lynch, Loni Peristere, Sheree Folkson, Gwenyth Hordor-Payton, Sarah Paulson, and Jennifer Arnold

The season opens with the destruction of the world. Bombs fall. Humanity is depleted with only the wealthy and their servants surviving in secret bunker sprinkled around the world. The survivors of Outpost 3 while away the days doing nothing and being tortured with adult contemporary music from the 1970s. Then Michael Langdon arrives, an agent of the Collective, the secret society behind the bunkers and possibly the end of the world. Langdon interviews the survivors one by one, searching for some factor unrevealed to the audience. One lowly unassuming servant seems to possess a spark beyond her station, and this intrigues him. However, things go south, and a series of deaths lead to the surprise arrival of some familiar faces of a season gone by. Also, then most of the season is a flashback taking place before all this happens.

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Movie Review – Suspiria (2018)

Suspiria (2018)
Written by David Kajganich
Directed by Luca Guadagino

suspiria 2018

In 1977, Suzie, a young American woman arrives into the heart of political strife igniting Berlin. She has come to join the prestigious Markos Dance Academy, hoping to work under the tutelage of Madame Blanc. Suzie slowly becomes aware of interpersonal conflicts that happened between the matrons of the academy and former student, Patricia. Patricia fled the school and sought out the help of psychologist Dr. Josef Klemperer. She tells him that the women of the school have eyes and ears that can see her no matter where she goes and that she is a marked woman. Klemperer becomes further convinced when he reads the girl’s diary detailing her discoveries of a cabal working beneath the surface of the Markos school. All the while, revolutionary groups sow chaos throughout Berlin, dredging up guilt from the war and forcing a confrontation.

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TV Review – Channel Zero: The Dream Door

Channel Zero: The Dream Door (2018)
Written by Nick Antosca, Alexandra Pechman, Lenore Zion, Lisa Long, Mallory Westfall, Isabella Gutierrez, Justin Boyd, and Angel Varak-Iglar
Directed by E.L. Katz

dream door channel zero

Jillian has just married her childhood sweetheart Tom, and they have moved into his family home with plans to renovate it. One day they discover a door in the basement that wasn’t there before and appears to be impossible to open. Using saws, sledgehammers, and even a shotgun they find the baby blue door won’t open. Finally, Jillian realizes she can open it without a key, it only responds to her touch. Hidden on the other side of the door is something from Jillian’s past, dredged up by her anxieties over her new marriage and questions of her husband’s faithfulness. A new neighbor is there to comfort her. Her psychiatrist is skeptical of her claims and tries to help her. However, this evil thing is awake, and it is leaving the basement.

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TV Review – The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Written by Mike Flanagan, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Charise Castro Smith, Rebecca Klingel
Directed by Mike Flanagan

haunting of hill house

Hugh and Olivia Crain bought Hill House in the summer of 1992 with grand plans to renovate & flip the house as the final stepping stone on their way to building a dream home of their own. The Crains brought their five children to live with them and over the course of the next few months, their lives descended into a nightmare. Twenty-six years later the Crain children are dysfunctional and distant, each attempting to make his or her way through life with little hope. Steve is a famous horror author who lives in denial while Shirley runs a funeral home and always seems on the verge of exploding in anger. The rest don’t fare any better. An event occurs one night that forces them all back together, forces beyond their control as moving them towards a moment of confrontation with their family’s past and their horrors. It is time to come home.

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Hypothetical Movie Marathon – Haunted Places

It’s October, so that means audiences seek out stories of horror both old and new. One common trope is the haunted place, typically a house but it can be any location where someone has died in an extremely violent or tragic manner. Here is a selection of films (and one tv series) that I think present hauntings in an exciting and sometimes very different way.

The Innocents (1961)
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer
Directed by Jack Clayton

the innocents

Based on the novella by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, this adaptation tells the story of Miss Giddens, a governess who has just arrived at a remote estate in the countryside to care for a wealthy bachelor’s orphaned niece and nephew. The children’s behavior is extremely questionable, and Giddens finds herself attempting to uncover what is driving them to such bizarre extremes. Eventually, she learns of dark events that took place before her arrival between members of the staff and the specters that remain as a result. There are some deep psychological levels to this story beyond the ghosts and this masterfully written, and directed film will linger with you for a long time after viewing it.

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Movie Review – Thelma

Thelma (2017)
Written by Eskil Vogt & Joachim Trier
Directed by Joachim Trier

thelma

Thelma grew up in a fiercely sheltered and religious home. Now she’s eighteen and attending university, out on her own for the first time. Most of her days are spent trekking from class to class and then in her apartment alone, eating dinner. This changes when she meets Anja, a fellow student that has concerns for Thelma after witnessing one of her seizures. The women begin an intense friendship which suddenly takes a turn for the serious after some wishful thinking on the part of Thelma. Questions arise about what is causing Thelma’s headaches and seizures and what happened in her childhood home years prior. The revelation of these things will shake the foundation of this woman’s life forever.

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