TV Review: GLOW Season 1

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At one point during the penultimate episode of the first season of GLOW, Netflix’s new show from creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, a character states about wrestling that they’ve “come close to getting what all the fuss is about”. That’s how I felt throughout the shows strong freshman effort. I don’t watch wrestling, I don’t know much about wrestling, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a wrestling fan. It’s not because I dislike wrestling, it’s just not something that holds much interest for me. But when the wrestling truly begins in earnest in GLOW it is genuinely captivating and exciting. Mensch and Flahive, along with executive producer Jenji Kohan create wrestling scenes that manage to be funny while also informing character and advancing the plot. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to get to them.

GLOW the TV show is loosely based on real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a women’s professional wrestling league begun in 1986 and lasting in some form or another until the present day. It begins with struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Allison Brie) receiving an invitation to audition in 1985 for an all women wrestling show. Directed by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a sleazy former exploitation film director and produced by Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), a trust fund kid paying for the league with his parents money, the fictional GLOW gathers together a bunch of misfits and follows them as they struggle to launch their wrestling league.

If a group of misfits try to do something unique and struggle to overcome outside barriers while also learning to accept the others in the group sounds like a bit of a sports film cliche, that’s because it is. However, GLOW uses this setup as a springboard to showcase a variety of captivating and compelling supporting characters. Characters such as Sheila “the She-Wolf” (Gayle Rankin) who always appears dressed as well, a she-wolf, or Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young) who simply wants to follow in her wrestling family’s foot steps feel like they have real reasons to want to wrestle, to fit in somewhere. Maron hilariously steals every scene he’s in, and Lowell adds depth to a someone that could have been a stock rich kid character. It’s a real joy to watch these actors play off of each other and this interaction provides many of the shows plentiful laughs. When GLOW wants to be funny, it can be really funny.

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It is when GLOW wants to be more dramatic that it can grind to a halt. Chief among these is the shows most annoying subplot, the fallout between Ruth and her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) after Ruth has a brief affair with Debbie’s husband Mark (Rich Sommer). Debbie, a former soap drama actress, eventually joins GLOW as it’s lead wrestler and main draw while also attempting to reconnect with her estranged husband. While Gilpin’s performance as Debbie is great, managing to be both funny and heartfelt, the scenes devoted to her attempting to save her marriage feel like something that has been done a million times before.

That is the one main problem with GLOW, that the dramatic beats of the story aren’t anything new. The league will need money, certain people will have a falling out, friendships will need to be mended, and at the last minute someone will bail them out and they will succeed against the odds, learning something about themselves through wrestling. It’s something that’s been done before. These characters are so good it does them a disservice to put them into cliched dramatic moments. It also takes time away from one of the shows real strengths, watching these characters behind the scenes of creating a wrestling show. We don’t see much them learning to wrestle until episode 5, and there isn’t a training montage until episode 7 which is also when the first real wrestling event occurs. The scenes of them learning to wrestle and wrestling in front of a crowd are such a joy that you wonder why it took them so long to get there.

That isn’t to say to that every dramatic moment the show has is bad. A late season abortion story line manages to be both funny and grounded, it feels in character and never become preachy. Another solid dramatic moment is when a character reveals that she is Sam’s daughter, a move which reveals new things about both of them and creates a new interesting character dynamic that can be interestingly explored in a future season. Even the more dramatic interactions between Ruth and Debbie can be good, with both Gilpin and Brie showcasing real dramatic skills that make you feel and empathize with both of them.

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But where GLOW really shines is when it devotes its talented actors and strong characters to wrestling and comedy. While never treating the act of wrestling itself as a joke it creates situations within the ring that manage to be very funny with one notable moment being a match involving KKK members and a welfare queen. This is also one of the moments that touches upon the ability of wrestling to perpetuate negative stereotypes by showcasing them, an interesting thread that is hopefully expanded upon in further seasons. GLOW also leans into it’s 1980’s setting, never becoming a parody of the 80’s, but mining it for some really funny jokes such as a house party a drug toting robot butler.

When GLOW is firing on all cylinders it is a genuinely great show that can bring a smile to your face and make you laugh while also making you wish you could spend more time with its characters. When it’s off it can feel like a prequel to a much better show that appears right around the corner, where it isn’t bogged down by cliched dramatic beats. Luckily for us, GLOW is firing on all cylinders far, far more often than not. GLOW season 1 may be uneven at times but it creates compelling characters, memorable scenes, big laughs, and ensures that you’ll want to get back in the ring for season 2.

Rating: 8/10

GLOW Season 1 (Netflix, 2017)

Starring:  Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young and Marc Maron.

Rated TV-MA

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Film Review: Excalibur

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Excalibur is the type of movie where all the men wear suits of armor or robes and all the women wear nuns habits or shear dresses. Excalibur is the type of movie where every battle scene takes place in either mud or at night. Excalibur is the type of movie where things just sort of happen. Excalibur is a movie where almost every shot is bathed in green light. Excalibur is the only good King Arthur movie. Excalibur, based on the 15th century retelling of the Arthur legend “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Thomas Mallory, is directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman. In it Boorman, director of famed films such as Deliverance and Point Blank, tells an epic story covering the fall of Uther Pendragon and the life of his son King Arthur.

The film begins with the wizard Merlin (Nicol Wiliamson) bestowing the eponymous sword to King Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) after the latter secures an truce with the Duke of Cornwall. The truce is soon broken after due to Pendragon’s coveting of the Duke’s wife. Pendragon convinces Merlin to cast a spell allowing him to enter the castle while the Duke is away and while magically transformed to resemble the Duke beds the Duke’s wife. After the Duke is killed and Pendragon conquers his lands the Duke’s wife gives birth to a son who is claimed by Merlin as compensation for his aid of Pendragon. Later Pendragon is killed searching for Merlin and his son but before dying manages to thrust Excalibur into a stone where it will remain until the true king pulls it out. All of this happens in the first half hour of the film.

After this we are introduced to a teenage Arthur, played through his entire life span by Nigel Terry, who while at a tournament squiring for a knight pulls Excalibur from the stone and is hailed by some to be the new king. From here we follow the traditional Arthurian legends, albeit streamlined for film, pretty closely as Arthur establishes himself as the true king, recruits his knights and creates the famous round table. We see as Arthur deals with the affair between his wife Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), the threat to the kingdom by Morgana Le Fay (Helen Mirren) and Prince Mordred (Robert Addie), and the search by his knights for the Holy Grail. As you can see Boorman has recruited a team of heavy hitters to make this film, and that’s not even counting Patrick Stewart, Ciará Hinds, and Liam Neeson as some of Arthur’s knights.

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All of this is a lot of story to cram into a two and a half hour film, and doing so leaves precious little time for characterization. While Terry does a solid job of expressing the change in Arthur from his unsure teenage years through his confident middle-age and finally to the world weary tired old-age, the other actors are given little to work with character wise. Events seem to simply occur because the story says it should, events that change the dynamic between characters such as the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot receive no foreshadowing or explanation. Ultimately, Boorman seems more interested in story rather than character and the film at times seems more like it is following a collection of moments than characters. The amount of story that Boorman wants to put into this film makes things happen quickly and never allows the story to breathe or for emotional moments to get the gravity they deserve. Perhaps it would have been better had Boorman focused on one area of the Arthurian legend instead of attempting to cover the whole thing.

For all it’s failings there is a lot that is done well. The movie looks incredible, the sets feel huge and create a moody atmosphere while the stunning costumes create memorable images on screen, most notably Prince Mordred’s all gold armor. Boorman does a beautiful job of manipulating light to demonstrate the tone of the scene and to amplify the way characters are feeling. The deliberately mythological tone of the film gives a dreamlike feel and the world it exists in feels fully fleshed out. The all-star cast do an incredible job in their roles even if occasionally they are given clunky dialogue. The shadows and fog present in battle scenes serve to create striking imagery and ground the often fantastical film by creating an ugly and dirty contrast to the idyllic images of the Camelot. Boorman clearly has a love for the source material and creates a film that does the epic nature of the Arthurian legend justice.

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Excalibur isn’t a perfect film, far from it, but it does show the power that a good retelling of the Arthurian legend has. In the hands of a strong director such as Boorman the story has the ability to become truly epic in scale and tone. Yes there are problems, heavy handed symbolism, a bloated story, and poor characterization but the beauty of the film push those problems to the back of your mind. Every few years we get a new King Arthur movie and they would do well to learn a few things from the successes and failures of Excalibur.  In Excalibur Boorman has created a flawed film that demonstrates why King Arthur still captures the imagination even after all this time.

Rating: 7/10

Excalibur (1981)

Directed by John Boorman

Starring:  Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Paul Geoffrey, Nicol Williamson, and Gabriel Byrne.

Rated R

 

 

 

 

Film Review: Baby Driver

baby-driver-3For many of us music is an essential part of the way we live our lives. Music comes out of speakers at the mall, from street corners, from our headphones, and from our computers. It’s probably not surprising that I’m listening to music as I write this review. In a world where music can easily become part of the background it’s often refreshing to have a film push its music to the foreground.

Baby Driver, the newest film from British writer and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), takes that idea and ramps it up to 11. Not only does the music serve to advance the story and reveal character, as it does in Wright’s previous work, in Baby Driver the music is woven into the very fabric of the film demonstrating why Wright may be our best working technical filmmaker. Wright’s spectacular direction, expert choreography,  on beat editing, and beautiful sound come together to create what is most likely his greatest technical achievement. Throughout the film music played by the eponymous main character, a mostly silent but expressive Ansel Elgort, serves not only as the soundtrack to the various heists and action scenes but also syncs up to the movement on screen of the actors and camera. Wright has previous explored this idea in a music video for “Blue Song” by the band Mint Royale and in several scenes through out his films, most notably a scene in Shaun of the Dead where a fight with zombies is synced up to “Don’t Stop Me Now”. If this sounds like a cool idea and is one you enjoy, as I did, than you’re almost guaranteed to like this film.

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But what happens in the movie itself? Baby Driver is the story of a getaway driver called Baby and follows him through a series of heists as he tries to clear his debts to Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, and tries to eventually leave his life of crime with Debora, a diner waitress played by Lily James. Through a rotating cast of criminals, including Jamie Foxx in a truly insane role, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm in one of his best film performances, Wright showcases some truly great action scenes and car chases to rival any in the past decade. These heists also serve to inform the character of Baby and his relationship to both Doc and Debora. While ultimately the plot of the film may not be anything special or new, the “one last heist” trope isn’t exactly unknown, Wright does play enough with genre conventions to make it interesting.

Where Baby Driver falls a little flat is in its characters and relationships, while Baby is a fully realized and compelling character, Debora is a flat love interest who isn’t given much back story or really a reason to fall for Baby. The same goes for several of the criminals that commit the heists, luckily Wright has enlisted great actors for theses parts with Lily James and Jon Hamm in particular saving the characters of Debora and Buddy with their considerable acting chops and charm. This is the first film written solely by Wright and perhaps it would have benefited from the having some touch ups done by his frequent co-writer Simon Pegg. That’s not to say that it’s a badly written film, far from it, Wright’s dialogue crackles with wit and provides many of the films considerable laughs. Along with Jordan Peele’s spectacular Get OutBaby Driver goes to show that there is a place for directors to mix comedy with other genre fare while still preserving the core appeal of the genre, in Get Out horror and in Baby Driver action.

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Ultimately Baby Driver is a great film, blowing past its plot and character faults with its wonderful visuals, inventive use of music, strong performances, and playful style. Wright’s use of scene transitions to further the story remains second to none and his command of the camera and frame to tell a story, add comedy, and display an action scene are exceptional. Adding music into this mix creates an incredibly memorable film that is well worth watching in theaters. It may not be Wright’s best but it’s still pretty damn good.

Rating: 8/10

Baby Driver (2017)

Directed by: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx.

Rated R

The Birth of Popular Arts

Hello everyone who might read this. My name is Mikael Mostert, and I love pop culture. My hope for this blog is that it might serve as a place for me to look at and review the various art forms that make up the ways that we receive entertainment in modern society. I’ll be looking at Film, Music, Television, and anything else that I can get my hands on. Hopefully others will find this site and I’ll be able to engage with you, the reader, in order to discover why we feel the ways we do about our entertainment. It’s also my goal to improve my writing as this adventure continues so bear with me as I find my voice. Finally, it’s my belief that reviews and criticism are, at their core, a way of trying to articulate our emotional connection to art. As this blog continues and I gain experience I hope to become better at that.

Tomorrow this sites first review will go up and this journey will begin in earnest. I hope you’ll join me.

Thank you,

Mikael Mostert