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Emily Browning (#110 of 11)

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”

“Come to Jesus” ends the first season of American Gods on an awkward and anticlimactic note. Creators and co-screenwriters Bryan Fuller and Michael Green seem to be aware of their own perversity, cracking a joke about it early in the episode. Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) are at the office of Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), the present incarnation of the god Anansi, who’s tailoring suits for the next leg of their journey. For a moment, it seems that we’ve dodged the obligation of sitting through a deity origin tale that typically opens each episode, until Mr. Nancy announces that he has a story, which Wednesday greets with comic frustration while nursing a tall whiskey. Wednesday is clearly speaking for the audience here, who may be understandably weary of yet another damn flashback.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 7, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 7, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”

Tonight’s episode of American Gods, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” pivots on another extended flashback, illustrating once again that the series is concerned less with tending to a singular narrative than with offering riffs on a theme. The show’s first season is nearly over, and we’re nowhere near the end of the story told by Neil Gaiman’s source novel, which also allowed for thematically intertwined tangents. The loose structure works better in the series than the book though, as the former has a decadent and melodramatic style that renders the plot nearly beside the point.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 6, “A Murder of Gods” 

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 6, “A Murder of Gods”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 6, “A Murder of Gods”

Tonight’s episode of American Gods, “A Murder of Gods,” has a central image that’s particularly resonant when seen a few days after Donald Trump announced that the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement, fueling bipartisan exasperation. The image is a master shot of a fictional Virginian town called Vulcan, which offers a parodic microcosm of the issues of pollution and gun lust that grip this country. White townspeople stroll the streets with rifles and red armbands, while a great plant operates in the background, dwarfing the foreground and pumping vast and supernaturally dark plumes of smoke into the sky.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 5, “Lemon Scented You”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 5, “Lemon Scented You”
American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 5, “Lemon Scented You”

Whether we’re talking cinema, television, or theater, conventional drama is predominantly made up of exposition, which experimental art seeks to transcend or obliterate so as to theoretically tap into deeper meanings. For better or worse, deeper meaning often equates to obliqueness, which means less to most audiences than repetitive variations of common pop-art symbols. There’s another way to approach exposition, though, as American Gods and the new Twin Peaks illustrate: double down on it so transparently that it serves as an orienting device as well as a flourish of stylized abstraction. “Lemon Scented You” is entirely expositional on one level, but it’s so flamboyantly and decadently realized that it doesn’t matter, as it satirically equates exposition to sales as necessary binding agents of contemporary life.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 4, "Git Gone"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “Git Gone”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 4, “Git Gone”

“Git Gone” playfully refutes our expectations of American Gods, opening on Egyptian wall paintings and leading one to assume that the show’s traditional god-centric prologue will be set in Egypt, perhaps as a complement to the introduction of Anubis (Chris Obi) in “Head Full of Snow.” But these paintings are revealed to be fake, existing as part of a backdrop of a gaudy casino where Laura Moon (Emily Browning) once worked. There’s no supernatural prologue in this episode, which is concerned with sadder and more trivially human affairs, offering a series of flashbacks that recount the meeting of Laura and Shadow (Ricky Whittle). “Git Gone” recalibrates portions of the series, so far, from Laura’s point of view, telling a story of a relationship tragically governed by imbalance of power.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 3, "Head Full of Snow"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Head Full of Snow”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Head Full of Snow”

After the enraged and despairing racial-religious politics of “The Secret of Spoon,” “Head Full of Snow” serves as a tonal palette cleanser for American Gods, reveling in the solace of belief during times of loneliness and despair. The episode is appealingly scruffy around the edges, as television isn’t usually allowed to roam this freely. At times, “Head Full of Snow” suggests that creators and screenwriters Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and director David Slade are getting high on the existentialist fumes of Mad Men. And this episode also once again recalls certain portions of Fuller’s Hannibal, notably the first half of the third season, in which the characters wandered the Italy of our opera- and horror-film-fed imaginations.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 1, "The Bone Orchard"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “The Bone Orchard”

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “The Bone Orchard”

While reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I was often stopped in the street by people who saw it in my hands and wanted to have an impromptu pow-wow about its greatness. I often have a book in my hands, and I’ve never before encountered such reactions, which I enjoyed more than the novel. Gaiman’s narrative is imaginatively conceived, but it’s composed of hundreds of pages of exposition preceding a battle that never commences. Gaiman tells a long shaggy-dog joke, in which humankind’s various gods across the ages are revealed to be as gullible as their worshipers, subject to the manipulations of a rigged society that distracts us from our subservience with a trumped war between cultural factions that serve the same leader. It’s quite resonant politically, but the novel is all theme. There’s barely a plot, the characters are ciphers, and Gaiman’s prose is lean and studiously workmanlike. The notion of gods as scared and foolish projections of their scared and foolish creators (for we are their gods) is poignant though, and it’s this idea that’s ostensibly captured readers’ imaginations.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Sleeping Beauty, The Woman in the Fifth, & The Lady

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>, <em>The Woman in the Fifth</em>, & <em>The Lady</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>, <em>The Woman in the Fifth</em>, & <em>The Lady</em>

Sleeping Beauty: Having already portrayed a Pussycat-Doll Alice in Zack Snyder’s CGI derangement of Carroll, Emily Browning embodies a drowsy Princess Aurora in Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s archly Lacanian investigation of Perrault. First seen playing lab rat with a medical balloon being inserted down her throat, the first of the film’s sundry invasions of body and psyche, Browning’s blank, creamy college nymph (a naked performance in every sense of the word) is an opaque creature of impulses whose sexual adventurousness and need for money lead her to a lavish chalet for upper-crust sybarites, Leigh’s version of the dark castle in the woods. There, she tastes the magic potion that turns her into an unconscious canvas for the carnal needs of sagging, goatish clients; “No penetration” is the sole rule in these sessions, though it isn’t long before the somnolent Belle de Jour becomes obsessed with finding out what takes place while she’s drugged. Though she’s clearly studied Haneke and Breillat, Leigh isn’t a natural filmmaker; symmetrical compositions and unheated long takes abound, yet concepts and monologues that might have worked on the page turn arid on the screen. It’s about passivity and revolt, ritual and discovery, the excavation of a fairy tale’s psychosexual text, and the thorough debasing of it. It’s also enervated, ludicrous, and the sort of unique debut that makes one impatient to see what comes next.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Oslo, 31. August, & Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Once Upon a Time in Anatolia</em>, <em>Oslo, 31. August</em>, & Predictions

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest cinematic breadcrumb trail, follows a group of conflicted institutional figures (lawyer, doctor, police chief, mayor) trying to reconcile the difference between public record and fairy tale. Both inevitably become part of the same communal lie, markers of deep-seeded social and familial manipulation. Throughout Ceylan’s sprawling anti-mystery, where these “respected” men escort a criminal around the desolate Turkish countryside fruitlessly trying to find the body of a murder victim, fact and fiction often overlap through lengthy conversations and shared memories. But this isn’t a form of togetherness binding the men. Ceylan is purely interested in slowly unveiling a thematic can of worms that will tear them apart one long take at a time.

Limited character perspective develops mystery and tension during the long and arduous all-night police search. The characters are sectioned off into three vehicles, and we listen in on segments of each group’s meandering displays of verbal one-upmanship. Ceylan weaves the men’s competing voices together in interesting ways, overlapping dialogue and sound design to maximize a sense of character and place. As with Distant, Ceylan revels in hypnotic extreme long shots of the countryside, capturing the wind in the trees, a falling apple rolling down a stream, and the endless rolling hills of Anatolia. His static camera examines long character exchanges from afar, usually in one master shot, extending the duration and importance of seemingly minute details about each character.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Midnight in Paris, Bellflower, & Sleeping Beauty

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Midnight in Paris</em>, <em>Bellflower</em>, & <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2011: <em>Midnight in Paris</em>, <em>Bellflower</em>, & <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>

“Nostalgia is denial of a painful present,” says Michael Sheen’s “pedantic” academic Paul in Woody Allen’s luminescent new film, Midnight in Paris. The smug quote is directed at Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful screenwriter who’s struggling with his first novel while visiting Paris with his fiancée, a beautiful but bossy downer named Inez (Rachel McAdams). Even though Paul, all endless lecturing and deceptive cynicism, is the film’s dismissive heavy, he actually has a point regarding Gil’s disintegrating personal life. Immersed in the romantic history and setting of Paris, Gil is obviously “in love with a fantasy” all the while ignoring his soon to be wife and her judgmental parents, creating a deep tension culminating in the wondrous creation of a Parisian dream state filled with past personages and iconic locales.

The narrative trajectory of Midnight in Paris may be one-note, but it’s a lovely and charming one that directly contrasts with Allen’s recent studies of human frigidity. Every night at the stroke of midnight, Gil gets transported back to a smoky, idealized version of Paris circa the 1920s, finding momentary distraction in the charming dalliances of his favorite artists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Huddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stroll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody). They all seem to exist in a spinning ornate merry-go-round full of intricate art design and sparkling interiors. Gil connects most with Adriana (the jaw-dropping Marion Cotillard), a kindred spirit of sorts in that she also yearns for a Golden Age that doesn’t really exist. Through Gil and Adriana’s conversations, Allen hypnotically personifies the universal tension between nostalgia and present-day angst. Gil must experience the delusions of the past in order to fully recognize the disappointments of his present, and his process of realization feels entirely human.