1. “Doc Jensen on The Strain—and when real life interrupts TV.” A wonderful, heartfelt piece in EW from Jeff Jensen about the Guillermo del Toro show, our “Ebola jittery moment,” and the recent death of his wife.
“The Strain is another vampire story about people willing to trade their better selves for love and more life. But unlike many vampire stories, it takes place in a post-Christian world, ruled and rocked by reasonable atheism, dog-eat-dog selfishness, and too many dispiriting catastrophes. In this miserably materialistic expression, love is not something people make, only consume. At one point, our heart-challenged, all-brain hero of science ogles the design of parasite-morphed bodies, marveling over their improved efficiencies. Only someone who thinks of human beings as mechanical animals that eat and sh– unto death could find such hyper-human creatures beautiful. The Strain presents a world where humanity has been infected not only by a virus, but also by a degradingly low opinion of itself. Here’s hoping our plague-fighters find the balls to be and believe in something bigger, or it’s flush city.”
2. “Marilyn Burns R.I.P.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre star dies at 65.
“Marilyn Burns, one of the original ’scream queens’ who starred in Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, died Tuesday in Texas. She was 65 and was found dead in her home near Houston. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was her first lead role; in it she played teenager Sally Hardesty, who goes with her brother and friends to the cemetery where her grandfather is buried and ends up as the only survivor of an encounter with the insane family led by chainsaw-wielding Leatherface. Burns was born in Erie, Penn., raised in Texas and had small parts in films including Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud while she was still in high school, and George Roy Hill’s The Great Waldo Pepper.”
3. “Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel.” I’ve always been proud of Israel, but the brutal Gaza assault requires Jews worldwide to be honest, not nationalist.
“But it is the brutality of that assault that finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the IDF has engaged in the same criminal behavior that the world condemns in other struggles: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization). Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as ’human shields’ and placing its war material in civilian apartments, Israel has managed to kill more than 1micha,000 civilians and wounded thousands. The stories that have emerged from eyewitness accounts of hundreds of children being killed by Israel’s indiscriminate destructiveness, the shelling of United Nations schools and public hospitals, and finally the destruction of Gaza’s water and electricity, guaranteeing deaths from typhoid and other diseases as well as widespread hunger among the million and a half Gazans most of whom have had nothing to do with Hamas, highlights to the world an Israel that is rivaling some of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the contemporary world.”
4. “Cinemax’s Terrific The Knick Is a Statement About the Past.” Matt Zoller Seitz on the Steven Soderbergh show.
“Whether it’s women trying to mine a bit of autonomy from the margins of a male-dominated society or newly arrived European immigrants struggling with whether to assimilate or wall themselves off from Wasp culture or African-Americans less than a half-century away from slavery fighting to define themselves, every scene admits that, to quote the song, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. TV dramas set in the modern era rarely examine this stuff in such a head-on way, urging viewers to draw inferences about power relationships simply by how they arrange the material, yet always keeping the scene’s meanings fluid and open-ended, so that one can never accuse the writers of making a single, simplistic point about history and congratulating themselves on their supposed cleverness.”
5. “William S. Burroughs and the Dead-End Horror of the Centipede God.” Mark Dery takes a deep, dark look at the world of Chilopodophobia, compliments of William Burroughs.
“Obsession, more than character, plot, or scene, structures Burroughs’s fiction; centipedes are a recurrent motif throughout his work, unchanging as the Mayan codices and temple friezes that fascinated him. In his literary debut, Junkie (1953), the thinly fictionalized ’confessions of an unredeemed drug addict,’ the smack-addled narrator recounts a heroin daydream in which centipedes and other arthropods rule the ruins of a derelict, post-anthropocene world—a cynic’s eulogy to human potential. ’One afternoon, I closed my eyes and saw New York in ruins. Huge centipedes and scorpions crawled in and out of empty bars and cafeterias and drugstores on Forty-Second Street. Weeds were growing up through cracks and holes in the pavement. There was no one in sight.’ A lifetime later, Burroughs still has centipedes on the brain: in a journal entry written in 1997, the last year of his life, he mutters to himself, ’What hideous dead-end led to the creation of the centipede?’ The centipede’s reason for being, he decides, is to remind Homo sapiens of the ’fall’—evolutionary, not biblical—’we might have taken.’”
Video of the Day: A blooper reel from Community’s fifth season:
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.