Category Archives: Tea & Review

Tea & Review: ‘The Shape of Water’ is Incandescent

{All images used courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.}

Note: this article was also published on Contents May Vary.

The Shape of Water, written by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Copyright 2017. (Seen December 5, 2017.)

You ever read a book where the writing is so glorious it almost distracts from the plot of the book? Where you spend just as much time admiring the writing as you do thinking about the actual book? The Shape of Water is a gloriously filmed movie, with absolutely gorgeous cinematography — almost to the point of it being a distraction.

Set during the Cold War, The Shape of Water is del Toro’s take on the fairy tale. We are introduced to Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman. She works alongside Zelda (Octavia Spencer) during the night shift at a government facility as a cleaning woman. She lives with Giles (Richard Jenkins), a closeted gay man who does artwork for advertisements, watching musicals and variety shows on television. And every day is the same.

Every day is the same, that is, until Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is introduced, having acquired ‘the asset’ in South America for the facility to study. At first, we only see a container with water, with movements indicating some sort of creature. But one evening, Elisa is cleaning the room it is in, and meets him (Doug Jones).

At first, it’s a friendship: she sees him as a bit of a pet, trying to tame it and not wanting to see him hurt. But, this is at heart a fairy tale, and so the friendship turns to love as Elisa explains to Giles at one point that the amphibian man (as is listed on IMDB) is the only person to not care that she is mute, and sees her for who she is.

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Podcast Review: Ending the ‘Dinner Party’

Note: this article was also published on Contents May Vary.

The Dinner Party Download, produced by American Public Media, and hosted by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam. Was released weekly, with an approximate running time of 60 minutes. Started January 2012.

Back in October of this year, if you were near me at all, you would’ve heard me give out a tropey ‘big no’. You see, I had heard that one of my favorite podcasts, The Dinner Party Download, was ending in December. The last ‘live’ episode is set to be released this week.

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Tea & Review: Legends of Tomorrow, Season 3, Episode 1: Aruba-Con

When we last left our diamonds in the rough heroes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow the team had seemingly “broken time”. Our original leader, Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) had given his leading position to Sara Lance (Caity Lotz).

Last season suffered without the presence of Mr. Hunter along with the plotlines that didn’t quite live up to season one.

However, from the get-go Rip Hunter is no longer trying to figure out his place among the Legends. Now, he’s graduated from time pirate to laced up Men in Black (or Blue?)

In a span of minutes… or five years (time is super fluid) Rip has found a new group to enforce his rules on now that the Legends have outgrown him.

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Tea & Review: mother!

If you’ve watched Black Swan and/or The Wrestler you’d know that director Darren Aronofsky is big on the whole tortured artist motif. He plays this stories close to the vest and tries to distort the viewers’ perception of what is or isn’t real.

Unlike so many typical Hollywood films, Arononfsky isn’t trying to a movie that tries to make you feel a good warm on the inside. His stylistic choices are meant to disarm you, make you uncomfortable.

I laid low on seeking out a synopsis for the movie mother!. But to be perfectly honest, even if you read the synopsis or the director and cast explanation of the story it still won’t really validate what you took away from the experience.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – Somebody to Love

The finale of the Fargo’s third season is so unpredictable, so confoundingly inexplicable, that as I’m writing this review I’m really having trouble parsing it. If I had to rate it I’m not sure I would be able to, but thankfully all I really have to do is come up with a kind of easily digestible critical interpretation that tries to make sense of an hour that repeatedly reinforces the idea that life is inherently meaningless.

So here goes…

We open with Emmitt (Ewan McGregor) and Gloria (Carrie Coon) signing papers, both preparing to seal their fates and vacate long-held positions. Emmitt attempts to threaten Varga (David Thewlis) into letting him go and fails spectacularly, while Gloria gets a call from Chekhov’s IRS agent that makes her stay her retirement from the force. Then all hell breaks loose.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – Aporia

Season Three of Fargo has been the Cold War to the second installment’s World War, and the penultimate episode follows suit by building a climax out of an anticlimax. This year, eight episodes worth of buildup doesn’t amount to a massacre or a standoff or even a real shootout. Instead, what we get are small victories nestled in larger disappointments, and more importantly, characters coming to terms with who they are.

“Aporia” begins with yet another murder, though this one has even less to do with the main action than the unnecessary execution of Ennis Stussy that put to whole plot in motion. The victim, perhaps unsurprisingly, is another Stussy, killed by Meemo (Andy Yu) to make Emmit’s (Ewan McGregor) confession to Gloria (Carrie Coon) appear less plausible. Of course, given Chief Dammick’s (Shea Wigham) unwillingness to believe anything that isn’t completely straightforward (and the fact that Varga’s (David Thewlis) henchmen don’t just leave it at one dead name-alike), it works.

But that doesn’t mean the confession was useless.

Although Emmit is ultimately allowed to go free (for a laughable measure of “free” anyway), his admission of guilt allows the audience to hear all that he’s been bottling up about his brother through their troubles, in addition to providing him with some much needed emotional catharsis that will keep his conscience steady in the finale and hopefully fuel his ability to bring the hammer down on Varga.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – Who Rules the Land of Denial?

Fargo is a show that has always been unafraid to throw supernatural elements into narratives in which they would not normally be expected to fit. Though such elements were rather minimal and more subtle in the first season, the second introduced aliens and psychic dreams, and now the third, which has thus far held back on the otherworldly, appears to be going all out.

I’ll be honest and say I’m not entirely sure what the magical realist aspects of the prior seasons really added to the story, whether thematically, tonally, or in terms of narrative, apart from perhaps intentionally stretching the credulity of the idea that the stories being told are true. I mainly enjoyed those scenes because of how off-the-wall and unexpected they were; they were entertaining if nothing else.

But as of “Who Rules the Land of Denial?” I can safely say that Season Three is using the same conceit in a brand new way.

The episode opens with Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) escaping the clutches of Yuri (Goran Bogdan), Meemo (Andy Yu), and an unnamed third Varga henchman played by DJ Qualls. They flee into the woods with the killers in pursuit, and in the second best part of the episode, engage in a battle of wits-come-stamina in which Qualls is decapitated and Yuri loses an ear to Wrench (get it?).

They then stumble upon a bowling alley in the middle of nowhere, which may or may not be some sort of gateway to the afterlife.

There are several facets to the following sequence that I think are worth discussing…

While at the bar, Nikki meets a character played by Ray Wise, who if you’ll recall was the traveling businessman Gloria met on her way to Los Angeles some episodes prior. This man is credited as Paul Marrane, which research (i.e. reading online forums) tells me is one of the names attributed to the “Wandering Jew” of legend. Paul explains to Nikki that she is a lost soul and asks her to deliver a message to the wicked.

But that’s not all. He also makes reference to the massacre of the Jews of Uman at the hands of the Cossacks, as well as the revered Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who was buried among them. These seem to underline the recurrent motif of Jewish history and folklore that has danced around the edges of the season, relating both to the few Jewish characters we’ve been introduced to, as well as antisemites like Varga (David Thewlis) and Yuri.

Speaking of Yuri… After Nikki and Wrench leave the bowling alley in a green VW, everyone’s favorite modern day Cossack enters covered in blood. He too is greeted by Paul, who seems to recognize him and introduces him to the aforementioned Jews of Uman, as well as Helga, the girlfriend he murdered back in 1988. We do not see Yuri again after this.

So…what do I make of all this? Do I believe Fargo is suggesting its world is governed by laws similar to those outlined in the Old Testament, and that the truly wicked among its characters are all subject to Biblical levels of divine retribution? It would certainly be an oddly specific thing to bring up if I didn’t believe it…

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Tea & Review: The Leftovers – The Book of Nora

The Leftovers has come to an end. Three years of experiencing the maddening doubt of inexplicable loss through the eyes of an eclectic ensemble of characters and it turns out we were watching a love story the entire time.

“The Book of Nora” is as elegantly simple and simply beautiful a series finale as one could ask for. It provides potential answers while refusing to confirm anything; it gives us one final, meaningful look at characters we’ve grown to love; and it is as emotionally charged as anything on television has ever been.

This final hour (and a bit) devotes its first third or so to picking up where Nora (Carrie Coon) and Matt’s (Christopher Eccleston) adventures left off and seeing Nora through to her final destination, so to speak. She and her brother say their goodbyes, she records her last will and testament, she makes the final decision to enter to magical radiation departure machine, and she takes the plunge.

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Tea & Review: Fargo – The Law of Inevitability

The writers of Fargo have, over the course of nearly three full seasons, done an excellent job of crafting individual episodes which tell their own little stories while at the same time contributing to a larger narrative. This is a difficult thing to achieve in any serialized medium, but it is especially hard when you have a limited number of hours with which to work. Fargo doesn’t have the privilege of being able to stall or go on tangents, and yet it still manages to create little thematic pitstops on the way to each tenth episode.

In Season Three, it has been especially easy to pinpoint what each particular episode was about, or rather what each one did that set it apart from the rest. We had Gloria’s (Carrie Coon) solo trip to L.A., the Peter and the Wolf analogue, and an episode that delved heavily into Russian and Eastern European concepts. Other installments, meanwhile, have prioritized individual characters and relationships.

Tonight’s episode—“The Law of Inevitability”—is thus far the hardest to pin down. One could argue that it’s an episode that needs to pick up the pieces left after Ray’s murder last week, and so doesn’t have time to be about anything. And while I think that’s true to an extent, I also believe that same practicality affords it a theme that is in and of itself inevitable: transition.

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