What I love most so far about Dune is how it takes the generic sci-fi/fantasy trope of the “Chosen One”/fateful prophecy protagonist and spins it into a fascinating exploration on the nature of religion with some colonial undertones. Still loving it.
Movies: The Place Beyond the Pines
I’m sure this has been pointed out plenty of times, but I’m gonna bring it up once again because it’s just too weird not to mention: Ryan Gosling plays a stunt driver who also works as a mechanic. He commits crimes on the side. He meets a woman with a son and wishes to become a fatherly figure towards him. The words of this description do not have to change in any way whatsoever in order to describe the setup of the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn masterpiece, Drive. Well, okay, Gosling is the actual father of the kid he’s trying to be fatherly towards, but the way I phrased it is only slightly misleading.
If this were the entire plot of The Place Beyond the Pines, I’d surely call plagiarism, but the film takes a drastic, more original turn about an hour in. [SPOILERS] During a high speed chase, the film’s perspective shifts from Gosling’s character to the perspective of the cop chasing him. At first I thought this was an interesting way to shoot an action sequence, but then the cop, played by Bradley Cooper, shoots and kills Gosling. At that point I perked up: This isn’t Drive anymore, this is something definitely inferior but interesting in its own way. While the first section of the film certainly employs the theme of toxic masculinity much like Drive, the rest of the film makes it clear that the thesis of the film revolves more around what it means to be a father. Gosling was forcing himself into the life of his infant son without realizing that the way he is going about it is dangerous and detrimental to the lives of everyone around him. Cooper struggles with his own definition of fatherhood as he finds it increasingly difficult to get over the fact that he killed a man with a son the same age as his own. As we see following a 15 year time jump, Cooper has left his troubled son with his ex-wife, and now his son is desperate for a positive influence lest he do something he regrets. We see an adversarial relationship develop between Cooper’s and Gosling’s sons, butting heads without even knowing of each other’s connection. It’s tragic, and only becomes more upsetting once they find out the effect their fathers have had on each other’s lives.
The Place Beyond the Pines is too long. It loses focus near the end. It’s relentlessly depressing. Despite all this, it’s the rare movie that knows exactly what it wants to do and executes it exactly as intended, which makes it not only good but respectable. This feels like a passion project for Derek Cianfrance that may have lost some perspective in terms of length and the necessity of certain scenes, but retains a strong thematic line and some heartbreaking characters. It’s far from perfect, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking to sit down, hate the world, and be thankful for your father for over two hours.
TV: The Great
Huzzah! The Great is the best TV show of 2020. I’ve previously praised Tony McNamara for writing historical drama/comedy The Favourite and proving me right about Yorgos Lanthimos: He’s a terrible writer but a fantastic director, so I would love a movie that’s directed by Lanthy but written by someone talented. McNamara went above and beyond with The Favourite, writing one of the most clever and hilarious scripts of 2018. McNamara seems to be going through a historical phase of his career as he adapts his own play telling the (occasionally) true story of Catherine the Great, eventual Empress of Russia.
The Great builds on the feminist recontextualization of history established in The Favourite in a much funnier and even more satirical fashion. Elle Fanning plays Catherine the Great and does so brilliantly, with all the fragile confidence of a 20 year old woman who has tasked herself with saving Russia from her husband, Peter (Nicholas Hoult), an incompetent and violent emperor who was never told “no” as a child. The show certainly takes liberties with the real history of Catherine the Great’s rise, but every inaccuracy is purposely placed to poke fun at the fact that the 1700s were a time of massive cultural change that did not sit well with many of the world’s men. That’s not to say that the entire show is one big joke, however. The Great is filled with incredibly complex characters, each with their own justifiable motivations and ulterior motives for supporting Peter or Catherine. The Great is gruesome at times, never shying away from the fact that the era was filled to the brim with glorified violence and men dying for no reason other than the pride of the men in charge. Yeah, it’s not too tough to see how the show ties into modern day themes, but it’s never on the nose about it. The Great has its own story cemented entirely in its era, and any parallels to the clusterfucks of today is up to the viewer to begrudgingly bring up. It’s wonderfully acted, brilliantly paced, and one of the funniest things I’ve seen this whole year. Regardless of whether you’re fascinated by Europe and Russia during the 1700s like I am, you owe it to yourself to watch The Great. It’s…really good. Fantastic, even. Delightful. Huzzah!
This week’s shoutout? Oh, it goes to