In Which Brent Recommends Three Things

The last week of March brought with it a plethora of pop culture, of which I devoured three things–this shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? I mean, I’ve spent the better part of the year reviewing HBO’s Big Little Lies, after all. While much of my week has also been spent re-watching the second season of Better Call Saul, which arrived on Netflix last Monday, I also managed to spend ample time in a movie theater to see two films currently in limited release, Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016).

On Wednesday March 29, my girlfriend and I made the drive to Nashville to see Raw at the lovely Belcourt Theatre near the campus of Vanderbilt University. She and I have both been looking forward to Raw since we saw the initial trailer late last year, and it did not disappoint either of us. The feature-length directorial debut for French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, Raw is about a young woman who enrolls in veterinary college, just as her entire family has done before her, including her older sister who is still a student. The student, Justine (the wonderful Garance Marillier in her film debut) is a vegetarian, also like her entire family, yet is quickly exposed to carnivore-ism as a result of the hazing rituals that the veterinary school employs. From there, the film quickly devolves into that of nightmares, and is full of both realistic and disturbing gore, as well as a fair amount of sexual activity. Saying a lot about this film is difficult without revealing too much, and the film actually works better if you go into knowing as little as possible. Still, the film is an impressively shot piece of art, bolstered mostly by Marillier’s performance, as well as Ducournau’s mature script and direction. A coming-of-age film at its most pure, Raw is a tough watch at times, although it is not nearly as graphically horrific as many reviews have claimed it to be. The film concludes as a metaphor for how far we, as humans, will go to be accepted by our peers, and is unflinching in its gaze, which both punishes and glorifies uniqueness and individuality. Raw is a film that will likely get better with every viewing, and I highly recommend it for fans of both horror, and of teen dramas. Check out showtimes and trailers for Raw on its website.

Last night I was lucky enough to catch another independent film in limited release, this time at the brand new Speed Cinema at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. The film I saw, Dark Night, was introduced quite cautiously by a member of the museum and is, as the title suggests, a reflection of the 2012 Aurora shooting at the screen of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although not a direct interpretation of the attack–indeed, there is a brief mention of the Aurora shooting, which strongly suggests that the attack in this film is a copycat attack of sorts–Dark Night uses the Aurora massacre as a sort of jumping off point to draw its own conclusions and to make its own powerful reflections on American society. The easiest comparison for this film is Elephant (Van Sant, 2003), but even that feels too easy a comparison. Dark Night is, above all else, a film about American desensitization and the physical and emotional distances that we put up to hide ourselves away. Many of the shots in this film are through mirrors, and almost every character expresses some sort of barricade: our ex-Marine is having a difficult time reintegrating into everyday life and is obsessed with guns, our young woman is a selfie queen, yet is hiding much more conflicting feelings about herself, and Jumper, this films eventual antagonist, hates the world and everything around him, only finding control and a place in this world in the film’s understated conclusion. Dark Night is a gorgeous film, and French cinematographer Hélène Louvart manages to find beauty in a dark world, one which she and director Tim Sutton strive to showcase in true colors. In a perfect world, Louvart would be nominated for an Academy Award come 2018.

My last recommendation is one that I won’t spend as much time on because it has already been written about extensively in the past week: the new podcast S-Town from the teams behind Serial and This American LifeS-Town, hosted by Brian Reed, is a glorious and hauntingly lovely podcast that, most notably, centers around the relationship between Reed and his muse, Alabama horologist John B. McLemore. S-Town is often compared to a novel, and that is the most accurate description I can give as well–bingeing through the seven episodes of the series, which were released all at once, is akin to feverishly reading a novel that you can’t get enough of. There are some wonderful articles about S-Town published in The New Yorker here and Vox here.

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Spider-Man Thoughts

Spider-Man is easily my favorite superhero and I am an unashamed defender of nearly all of his feature films so far, save for one example: I absolutely loved The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I did not enjoy Spider-Man 3, and the latter gets worse with each viewing. After the new trailer for the latest iteration Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped yesterday I had to reevaluate my overall thoughts about the franchise–after watching the trailer multiple times, of course.

First and foremost I do think this movie has some potential, and I’ll absolutely be waiting in line to see it on opening night. I was a huge fan of Tom Holland’s portrayal of the character in Captain America: Civil War, and I think the addition of actors such as Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Tony Revelori, Bookem Woodbine, and, particularly, Michael Keaton, give this movie a fresh, diverse group of talent. Although I am weary that the film has six credited screenwriters, I am quite excited for this film, apart from its awful title. Still, I don’t think this film needs to exist.

From a financial standpoint I do understand why this film has been made. Sony was desperate to move on from the lukewarm reception of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and their 2014 hack, while Marvel was itching to bring one of Marvel’s most popular heroes into their Cinematic Universe. Mutually, they agreed to co-produce the film pleasing fans almost universally, save maybe for people like me who loved Andrew Garfield’s take on the character. Despite this film’s good intentions, though, it feels like a cash grab to me. As Civil War shot to the top of the box office and the juggernaut of Star Wars continues to be the highest grossing film of the year even when it’s a mostly unrelated spinoff film like Rogue One, Disney and Marvel have proven that they are in it for the money, and we continue to give them ours.

I don’t want to sound cynical. I am monstrously excited for not only Homecoming but for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and I’ll buy my tickets for Star Wars: The Last Jedi months in advance, yet I wish we, America, gave a bit more attention to smaller independent films as well. (On a related note, I’ve bought tickets to see both Raw (Ducournau, 2016) and Dark Night (Sutton, 2016) this week so expect to see a mini-review of both of them in the coming days.)

You can check out the (very good) second trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming here.

Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Six – “Burning Love”

At the beginning of this episode I fully expected that, by the end, we would finally have an answer to our burning question: who killed whom? I falsely assumed that next week’s final episode would depict the fallout of our series-long mystery and our characters would have to pick up the pieces, yet I mistook Big Little Lies for other television shows. Had this show went the route of the often-comparable How To Get Away With Murder or even The Walking Dead but setting up a cliffhanger for its finale I wouldn’t have been surprised, yet thinking about it now I realize I likely would have been disappointed. Each and every week, even as the show has wavered between a solid A+ and a solid A-, I am amazed at how much this series is taking its time. I’ve mentioned in these reviews as well as amongst friends that Big Little Lies is the perfect excuse for a limited series and that HBO is the perfect network for it to call home. HBO affords this show immense liberty–for example, Witherspoon’s Madeline gives the greatest f-word laced tirade since Planes, Trains, and Automobiles in this episode–and this show has truly premiered at the perfect time and place. I predict this show will be endlessly re-watchable once it receives a home video release.

As of yet, things have still not come to a head for out characters, although long awaited plot developments have come to fruition, specifically regarding Madeline and Celeste. For episodes we know that Madeline/Ed and Bonnie/Nathan will have their dinner party, yet it finally happens in this episode with stellar results, excusing the show for dragging out the plot line for so long. The dinner scene is so interesting, I think, because it doesn’t really revolve around Madeline and Nathan like many expected it to–instead, the attention of the adults is drawn to Abigail, who has revealed that her super-secret senior project is to sell her virginity online, the proceeds going to Amnesty International. I can’t put my finger on it, but this shocked me. Although the whole of the show feels incredibly realistic, I at first did not think this seemed real, and it seemed too cartoonish for a show that dwelled in realism. After mulling it over the past couple of days, though, I have come to understand just how real it feels. In this time of armchair activism and faux-charity, Abigail’s disillusionment makes sense: she’s seen her mother exhibit these characteristics as well and, although deeply flawed and über-hip, Abigail thinks she’s making a difference. Of course the only reason for this story-line is to draw Madeline and Abigail close together as Madeline reveals to her daughter that she had an affair the year prior. (I also want to point out that Madeline’s vomiting reaction at the dinner table was by far the funniest and best used vomiting I’ve seen in the past decade, perhaps ever. Props to Witherspoon and Vallée for playing it so well.)

Another key turning point comes for Celeste, who seems to be finally breaking away from Perry. While all eyes point to the theatre as Madeline’s production of Avenue Q debuts, Celeste attacks Perry before the show and breaks his urethra after another attempted marital rape. We’ve come a long way since the production was almost shut down, but the musical still manages to be a key plot point and meeting point for the main characters, who are all there–even Bonnie and Nathan for some reason–except for Perry and Celeste. Perry lurks in the background of every scene he’s in like Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th series, and his injury feels more than justified yet terrifies us for what’s next. Just what will Perry do to Celeste in retaliation, especially if he discovers that she’s been quietly apartment hunting at the behest of her therapist?

Jane, meanwhile, manages to continue her self-doubt in a very interesting scene where she is trying to convince herself that her rapist might indeed be a good man and not someone worth shooting. This line of thought exudes Jane’s character who struggles with this all along. Although she doesn’t outwardly believe her son is an abusive bully, part of her still thinks he is due to the circumstances of his conception. Her nurturing wasn’t enough to combat the nature of his father. Even as she tries to make amends with Renata in this episode after poking her in the eye, this self-doubt is still there and the audience questions if Ziggy is a bully, too.

There is some wonderful music in this episode, especially the continued use of “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations and the titular Elvis song. There’s only one more week for me to be amazed at this show, and I anticipate next week’s finale to do just that, while still defying expectations that its genre has placed it in.

Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Five – “Once Bitten”

More so than ever I am amazed at how remarkably well Big Little Lies pulls off the dynamic of the American family, something it has been doing throughout the entire series, but something that it does particularly well this episode. Despite the fact that these families are lofty and obviously very wealthy, they feel incredibly whole and authentic, a large step in the right direction for “slice of life” television. While television shows such as Fargo and (more darkly) Breaking Bad have also touched on family dynamics in recent years, Big Little Lies uses the family as the entire basis on which the show is situated. The family, specifically the relationship that mothers have with members of their family, remains the focal point of the show, and the central star that the solar system of the series revolves around. These women are flawed, dark, complex, and, above all else, whole. The characters are remarkably well written and fleshed out, with most of the praise falling on the shoulders of their tremendous actors, as well as the tremendous editing of the show which I notice more and more each week.

In such a short amount of time this show has given us so much about our main characters, specifically Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, each of whom get ample screen time during the episode. The hour runtime of each episode helps the audience attach themselves to these characters, but the limited nature of the show also attributes to this–in the age of “event television” and the limited series, none more so than Big Little Lies cement themselves so firmly in their truncated series order. Each episode feels the perfect length and, although it would be quite easy to binge these episodes should they have been released all at once, releasing them once a week makes the feel more special, more justified. With only two episodes left, there isn’t much time for our characters to reach a homeostasis and each slowly advance towards the inevitable.

Nicole Kidman steals the show this week as Celeste travels to the therapist by herself unlike in last week’s episode where she and Perry went together. Triggered by yet another horrific incident of violence, which the audience is brilliant made privy to through the glorious editing, Celeste comes very close to revealing the true extent of Perry’s abuse before pulling back at the last second, hiding her bruises both physically and emotionally. Kidman is fabulous with the very tough and heartfelt dialogue written by David Kelly. I can’t even begin to understand Celeste, but I think that’s the point. It’s difficult to understand her motivations, yet they feel solely real, and Kidman solidified herself as an Emmy frontrunner for her performance this week.

Elsewhere, Jane inches closer and closer to violence by driving to meet up with the man that she and Madeline believe might be Ziggy’s father and the man who violently raped Jane. Gun in tow, Jane drives and faces him head on before scrambling out of the office with no clear indication to the audience what happened inside. Although her penchant for violence has been teased previously I still don’t yet think that Jane is ready to commit such an extreme act of violence, mainly for Ziggy’s sake. Perhaps Jane is the aggravator in the violence that this story has been framed around–indeed, one of the talking heads says “Jane Chapman? She’s crazy, too,” this week–yet something must put her into direct danger to literally pull the trigger.

We get our first real glimpse at the PTA fundraiser where murder is committed during this episode, and we get a further, very brief, shot of our lead detective played by Merrin Dungey but I remain surprised we haven’t seen more of after she’s given so much screen time in the pilot episode. Two weeks remain in Big Little Lies, so I expect our two timelines will intersect with bloody abandon very soon.

The Dramatic Comedy of Bob Odenkirk

With his show Better Call Saul about to enter its third season, Bob Odenkirk recently gave an interview to actress Anna Faris for her Unqualified podcast in promotion of both his television show and a new film he released to Netflix, Girlfriend’s Day. While the latter mostly dominated the conversation, Odenkirk touched on the upcoming season of Saul and revealed that he’s not a huge fan of being asked to define himself into one of two broad terms: comedy actor or drama actor.

Beginning his career in Chicago writing and performing improvisational comedy in the city’s thriving comedic sector, Odenkirk began writing for Saturday Night Live in 1987 and continued there until 1991 before leaving to pursue performing in his own right. Later writing for The Ben Stiller Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Odenkirk and David Cross created the sketch series Mr. Show which aired for four seasons on HBO in the late 1990s, earning him four Primetime Emmy Award nominations. From there, Odenkirk went on to act and write in television and film before landing the role of Saul Goodman in Breaking Bawhich remains, arguably, his best known work. For his role as Saul/Jimmy in the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, Odenkirk has received critical acclaim as well as two further Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, adding fuel to the fire for the question that he ever so dislikes.

The thing is, according to Mr. Odenkirk, the answer is never that simple, and the typecasting, sometimes, can be quite difficult–still, Odenkirk doesn’t think it should be. Every year, he noted, a comedic actor receives rave reviews for their performance in a drama (I thought about Steve Carrel’s Oscar-nominated turn in Foxcatcher, as well as Sarah Silverman in I Smile Back), but acting is acting. Although comedy and drama both have their distinctions, Odenkirk says that acting comes naturally, and brining different talents to the table is not only a good thing, but a necessary thing for someone to make their way up the acting pantheon. Odenkirk is often hilarious as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodmanyet his performance is also great enough to compete in the dramatic categories among heavyweights like Kevin Spacey and Rami Malek.

Better Call Saul season two arrives on Netflix on March 27, while the third season of the show will premiere April 10 on AMC.

Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Four – “Push Comes to Shove”

After being pushed to the background in a way in last week’s episode, “Push Comes to Shove,” thankfully, brings Reese Witherspoon’s Madeline back to the forefront, and the entire show is better as a result of it. I could write an entire blog dedicated to my love for Reese Witherspoon and, specifically, my love for this character of Madeline, but this is not the time or place so I’ll keep my adoration brief: Witherspoon is phenomenal in this role. Every week she adds something new, creating a multi-faceted character who, very easily, could be one-note. If she isn’t at least nominated for an Emmy come September, there’ll be another blog post debating why that is–simply, she’s wonderful week-in and week-out.

Other than Madeline’s renewed prominence, the fourth episode of the seven-part series also managed to bring sex/sexuality into the narrative, and I was surprised at how long it took for HBO to do so. Although underlying themes of sex were essential to the series before–Celeste and Perry’s uncomfortable and abusive sessions, for example–“Push Comes to Shove” managed to make sexuality an important plot device for just about every character. Logically this makes a ton of sense as we inch towards our bloody conclusion: sex is power, and murder and pain is also power. The two are tied together in interesting ways during “Push Comes to Shove.”

Jane, after revealing to Madeline in the previous episode that she had been raped, expresses lukewarm interest in dating again, much to Madeline’s surprise and approval. Still though, I don’t believe the audience is supposed to buy this. After three episodes of foreshadowing that something very bad and sex-related happened to Jane, it’s obvious that Jane just wants to move on, which she cannot do, not yet. As Madeline and Celeste attempt to track down the man who raped Jane, Jane deflects, saying that she’d rather just start dating anew and forget about the entire situation. For Jane it isn’t easy either. Because of Ziggy’s continued prodding over his father’s identity–Jane takes him to see a child psychologist in this episode to qualm some of her worries about her son’s mental state–she cannot let go just yet, and indeed we see her looking up the man’s identity as well as the episode draws to a close.

On the other side of the situation, the previously asexual Ed and Madeline explore their sexuality in this episode, just not with each other. The episode opens with Madeline and her ex-husband Nathan meeting for lunch where Nathan proposes a couples dinner between he and Bonnie and Madeline and Ed. Hyper masculinity illustrates itself again in Madeline’s ex husband. Attempting to make sacrifices for his wife but only to make himself look good, he stresses intently that he’s doing everything to be a good husband. Ed, meanwhile, seems to actually enjoy being a husband, putting on an impromptu Elvis impersonation when she comes home: “I’m your nut job.” This meeting of Madeline and Nathan prompts Ed to meet Bonnie at her studio where awkward sexual tension ensues, casting a bit of a shadow on the previous “all-American husband” persona that Ed exuded. Checking out other girls and saying point blank to Bonnie that he only came to gyms because sweat turned him on, the seed of doubt is placed in Madeline and Ed’s marriage, a seed which grows and grows with each passing minute of the episode, culminating in the reveal that Madeline has had an extramarital affair with the director of her play.

This shouldn’t really be surprising. Although Madeline and Ed seem very much in love, there isn’t much sexual tension between the two of them and very little actual physical affection. After Ed’s odd tension with Bonnie, Madeline’s make out session with her director, which is prompted by their successful defense of the play against Renata, makes sense. Madeline’s affair is revealed later which, again, almost makes sense in contrast to the characterization and Witherspoon’s performance. Is Madeline hiding something else? Is Ed? There isn’t much time to find out–three weeks left.

Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Three – “Living the Dream”

Without the risk of sounding like a certain green animated character, Big Little Lies is like an onion. Like many other “peak television” series, Big Little Lies is not afraid of showing you the end result of its tedious reveal and revels in the twist and turns that lead to its ultimate end: who is dead and who killed them? This week, even more is revealed and hinted at–at the end of the episode I had a clear theory about the shows mystery–yet even more is left in the dark to keep the audience coming back for more. Although “Living the Dream” doesn’t contain as much sheer drama as the previous two episodes, Big Little Lies continues to impress and remain surefooted in its execution.

Shailene Woodley’s Jane, the couple of Celeste and Perry (Kidman and Skarsgard, respectively), and Renata (Dern) take center stage this week after sitting in Witherspoon’s Madeline’s backseat in the last episode, and all four actors are wonderful–this will come up again and again, these actors are great and I’m continually amazed at what they do with this script week in and week out. Last week I was remiss to have not mentioned Celeste and Perry very much, yet it would be impossible to do so this week. As Perry continues his physical and emotional abuse of Celeste, the two decide to go to a marriage counselor. A lengthy scene ensues–one that it shot almost completely from two different angles, a clever attempt to keep the audience’s focus on the words being said–and, despite Celeste’s desire to keep it hidden, Perry eventually reveals to the counselor that he is physically abusing his wife. Skarsgard is terrifying creepy in this role and the tension in his scenes with Celeste is almost unbearable. Entitled and overbearing, he shares characteristics with the other characters in the show, yet goes one step further due to his use of violence, which few of the other characters have done so far. He’s insecure and overaggressive, yet not quite to the point of melodrama. Celeste too though feels easily swayed and easily impressed. In this episode she is manipulated with Perry’s gift of a bracelet and his insistence on performing a sex act on her in the shower, while in the previous episode she performs a striptease via the computer. Sex is powerful, yet those dull purple bruises are powerful, too, and I wonder when the pain will be too much.

We learn more about Jane as well in this episode, which occurs organically and realistically thanks to David E. Kelley’s teleplay. The first grade class is assigned to create a family tree which naturally leads to more father talk from Ziggy. It’s finally revealed that he is the product of a particularly violent rape, and one that we are shown in fairly graphic detail. Jane again withholds this information from Ziggy, remaining strong in the face of continued prodding, and not letting this traumatic experience shape her in an outward way. Although we see flashes of sadness and despair in flashbacks, Jane remains sturdy in the present, especially in front of her son. This performance is refreshing and exceptional on Woodley’s part, who commands most scenes she’s in–especially one that she shares with Madeline on the porch late in this episode–and I can only hope that her appearance in Big Little Lies will feed Woodley a wealth of more dramatically meaty roles.

The series-wide theme of popularity and the incessant need to be liked is again developed in this episode in quick scenes of Renata at her daughter Amabella’s birthday party, which was first mentioned last week. The night before the party Renata calls Madeline, who has bought many of the kids tickets to see Disney on Iceand essentially begs her to not go but to no avail. Renata needs to not only be liked herself, but for everyone to like her daughter, further emphasizing the class drama at the heart of this show.

(Oh, I haven’t forgotten about Madeline. Witherspoon continues to be excellent and her head-butting with Renata is a highlight of any scene the two of them share. Her eldest daughter, Abby, moves out this episode to live with her father, Nathan, and Bonnie. Will this drive Madeline and Nathan/Bonnie/Abby further apart or bridge the ever-developing gap?)

The show continues to steamroll towards its inevitable finale with a clear trajectory and precision, a technique not shared with other similar whodunnits in recent years–looking at you How To Get Away With Murder–and I can only hope that it will continue to do so with four episodes left. Still, I selfishly wish it would slow down a little, Big Little Lies is easily the best part of my Sundays.

Rebecca Hall on “Christine” and Gender Dynamics in Commercial Hollywood

Rebecca Hall, the British actress and star of the criminally under-appreciated 2016 film Christine, did not shy away from some revealing discussion about gender in an interview published late last on year on The Business podcast with Kim Masters, touching on both the struggles that the real-life Christine went through, as well as her role that was essentially left on the cutting room floor in 2013’s Iron Man 3.

Based on the real life Florida television reporter Christine Chubbuck, who took her own life on air in 1974 at the age of 29, Christine drew Hall in because of this story, one which she recalls was quite difficult to uncover. Notorious only because of the supreme and public act of violence which took her life, Chubbuck was, in Hall’s mind, at the risk of falling into the “annals of history” as a footnote and nothing more. “I did this film to know the person behind it,” Hall states and, although the film crew and Hall herself were unable to talk to many people who knew Chubbuck personally, Hall was drawn to the social-historical context of the film as well. The role, which Hall describes as “scary” on the podcast, is indeed a crucial and necessary one and one in which the supremely talented Hall rises to the occasion by delivering a deeply complex, thought-provoking, and absolutely Oscar-worthy performance.

The film, too, is an important one. On the podcast, Hall describes the complexity of the film as Taxi Driver-esque which feels aptly appropriate for a film that examines mental illness is such a genuine and non-judgmental lens. Important as well is that fact that the film features a strong (and fragile) female lead, another factor attributing to Hall’s passion about the project. Ever rare in any case, yet alone a case as delicate as this, Hall is no stranger to the unique position (to say the least) of women in Hollywood.

During the production of Iron Man 3, directed by Shane Black, whom I have mentioned previously here, Hall was reportedly told that she’d be playing the principal villain of the film. However, halfway through production, Hall found her role to have been greatly reduced prompting her to claim “I signed up to do something very different to what I ended up doing.” Even after the film was released and the news broke that the studio had changed Hall’s role because they preferred a male villain, nothing much came of the change and, although she was vocal in her willingness to talk about it, very few people ever asked her. Hall, a veteran of the industry, is well aware of the situation she found herself in–“I don’t get to be the lead in a tiny independent film unless I bring in the money to make it,” she said.

Hall, an incredibly talented and intelligent filmmaker, has effectively established herself, very quietly, as one of the very best in the industry even if she has yet to break into the Hollywood mainstream. If Hall continues to churn out reliably excellent performances–look at not only Christine, but also The Gift (Edgerton, 2015)–then it is not unreasonable to think that she will stick around in both independent and big-budget features for quite some time.

Review: Big Little Lies, Episode Two – “Serious Mothering”

As the fallout from Ziggy’s assault continues to permeate through the world of Big Little Lies the cast continues to receive ample opportunities to shine, many of them taking full advantage of the opportunity and running away with it in yet another very good episode of the HBO mini-series.

Battle lines are drawn very quickly in the episode, with the majority of our characters sitting on one side of the Madeline/Jane vs. Renata argument. Madeline continues to defend her new friend Jane and her son, Ziggy, while Renata fails to understand why Ziggy is still a member of the prestigious Otter Bay Academy. Although Renata makes a genuine attempt in the episode to move past the incident, Madeline again reignites the flames by confronting Renata for not inviting Ziggy to her daughter Amabelle’s birthday party, the same daughter that Ziggy choked in the previous episode. Madeline, ever the (wannabe) pacifist,  confronts Renata about the missing invitation to no avail, although Madeline’s youngest daughter attempts her own brand of pacifism by reuniting Ziggy and Amabelle in school, where Ziggy kisses the girl he previously choked. Another firestorm ensues, leaving Madeline’s social standing in no better shape than it was in the previous episode.

All these problems filter through Madeline, and, as played by Reese Witherspoon, she becomes the heart of this show, and our de facto main character in spite of the immense ensemble work going on. Witherspoon is terrific as Madeline, a character that feels very much like her, yet also a challenge, not unlike her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in Wild. While not as physical as a performance Witherspoon commits the same level of energy and intensity, creating a character that is subtly transformative, careful not to show her true intentions but in brief flashes of anger and passion. This anger comes through clearly in episode two as she confronts her theatre coordinator for pulling the plug on her performance of Avenue Q. Entitled to a fault, but also intensely desiring and passionate, Madeline fails to understand why her performance isn’t allowed to happen–a disappointment which she takes out on Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz).

Although Bonnie is a pivotal character in this show–in this episode it is revealed that she took Abigail, her step-daughter and Madeline’s eldest to get birth control against Madeline’s wishes–Kravitz hasn’t been given too much to do, the only fault in any otherwise very diversified and fully-fledged cast. Laura Dern’s Renata and Nicole Kidman’s Celeste are given far more to do in this episode and their respective actresses take this in stride, so I’m confident Bonnie too will step into the forefront, similar to Adam Scott’s Ed.

While mostly echoing Madeline in the past episode, Ed gets more a voice in “Serious Mothering” including a key, and darkly hilarious, scene opposite Nathan, Madeline’s ex-husband. Threatening yet gentle, Scott is impressive in such a meaty role enriched with mystery, a collection of adjectives which can truly be used to describe every character in the show.

We don’t learn much about the present in this episode, and very little additional information is given to us about the show’s frame story: “who is dead at the PTA fundraiser.” There’s an obvious desire on behalf of the show’s creators to withhold this information, but the question is raised as to how long they can stand to withhold it. Because the series is only a mere seven episodes, we won’t have to wait long before we find out.

The Semi-Rarity of a 100% Rotten Tomatoes Rating

On February 24th, Jordan Peele released his directorial debut Get Out in theaters which, at the time of this writing on February 25th, holds a perfect 100% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. This is not to say that every critic reviewing the film has given the film perfect scores, though, with the average rating of the film being an 8.3 out of 10. Still, this is a monumental achievement, especially for a director making his debut and working within the confines of two genres not known for their critical acclaim–comedy and horror. Get Out is a great example of how to do both genres well, and manages to be a great film in its own right, too, yet seems like a left-field choice for a film receiving unanimous critical acclaim. After doing some research, though, the distinction of a 100% rating is not as rare as one might think, and some truly odd films have achieved this feat.

Certainly some films in the historical canon of greatest/most important films of all time appear on the list: The Birth of a Nation (1915), The Kid (1921), Nanook of the North (1922), Modern Times (1936), The Grapes of WrathRebecca, The Philadelphia Story (all 1940), Citizen Kane (1941) and the first two Toy Story films (1995, 1999) all appear along with many other examples of classic films. Still, many other films with a 100% rating are more obscure and appear on the list thanks to positive reviews from just a handful of reviews–a 1993 Queer/exploitation film titled Totally Fucked Up holds a 100% thanks to six reviews. The amount of “perfect” films hasn’t decreased in recent years, yet it has most often occurred for documentary films including Netflix’s The Square (2013), Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014), and 2016’s O.J.: Made in America (for my review of that film, see here.)

In the modern age, though, it is rare for a film to be so widely seen and to still hold the perfect Rotten Tomatoes rating. Only three films have been reviewed by over 100 critics and still hold the unanimous approval rating: Toy Story 2, which has 163 reviews, Man on Wire (2008) with 154 reviews, and Get Out with 132 reviews and counting. This unanimous approval seems to be counter-intuitive to the nature of film criticism sometimes. Even films hailed as Oscar contenders in recent years–like Selma and Boyhood (both 2014)–received a handful of negative reviews even on route to numerous Oscar nominations. While many predicted that, because of the intense acclaim these films received, one of them would win Best Picture, it came as a surprise when both of these films went home with one award a piece on Oscar night and both losing Best Picture to Birdman, a film with a still very highly-resepectable score of 91%.

Immense critical acclaim does not often lead to being the big winner come Oscar night. Toy Story 2 lost its only nomination back in 2000 (for Randy Newman and Best Original Song), and Man on Wire won only the Best Documentary Feature Oscar with no other nominations. Will Get Out stick around long enough in the mind of Oscar voters to garner a few nominations next year? My vote is no, based specifically off of its genre which Oscar voters almost always ignore. However, the lack of award attention that the film may unfortunately fall victim to does not take away from the praise that it so deserves. As a consolation prize? Get Out is currently the best reviewed horror film and the best reviewed comedy of all time.