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Entries in ethan peterson (32)

Tuesday
Mar282017

In Which We Were Jewish Once And Young

Passed Over

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
creator Amy Sherman-Palladino
Amazon Studios

Until she takes the stage Midge (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) is unlike any character we have ever seen before on television. Her outward face, delicately applied during the early morning while her husband believes her to be asleep, is that of a Manhattan housewife whose parents (Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub) live floors above her in the same building. Her two children consist of a young boy named Ethan who may be autistic and a baby with a massive head. Her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) depends on her completely, and so when he announces he is leaving, we are not the least bit surprised.

Midge measures her calves and thighs, and claims she goes through this intense process on a weekly basis for ten years. When she cooks, it is with a hat that a woman twenty years older would be far more comfortable in. In other words, she is not really comfortable with herself at all.

We saw far more of truly ethnic portrayals of Jews in decades past. Most were contrived by Woody Allen, who did the work of the ADL in showing that traditional stereotypes about the characters of Jewish people were sometimes true, sometimes false. The ways in which they were true were charming personality quirks which allowed them to survive the difficulties if their lives as American immigrants, Allen explained, and the ways in which they were false painted Jewish-Americans as hard-working, patriotic citizens in therapy for the rest of their lives.

Midge Maisel is also somewhat religious – she refuses to eat nuts in the early morning of Yom Kippur, for example. It will be intriguing to see if she leaves her religion behind as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel goes to series, since almost every white person we see on the small screen has zero relationship with religion of any kind. Amy Sherman-Palladino's father was Jewish, and to some extent her ways of speaking have always been rooted in the cultural and environmental proximity that forced Jews to adapt by talking quite a bit.

It is strange that the women Sherman-Palladino writes so well for rarely struggle with poverty. But then, few shows on television deal with this theme in general. There was a time in the past where Rory and Lorelai were really living hand-to-mouth, and I will never forget the astonishing episode when Lorelai's mother viewed the place her daughter and granddaughter were living all that time. Lorelai made it, however, and hopefully The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will show us what it takes a single mother to survive on her own.

Sherman-Palladino has never received sufficient credit for the amount of visual perfection she achieves in her hour-long dramas. Gilmore Girls had a wonderful camera and the small Connecticut town of Star's Hollow where Rory turned into such a tragic figure was particularly evocative. On her short-lived masterpiece Bunheads, she gave us the porcelain charm of California, although we were unfortunate to spend so little time there. Given the task of creating New York in the late 1950s, Sherman-Palladino spares no expense in detailed stormfronts and meticulously wrought apartments. She never forces her characters to inhabit anything less than a fully realized world.

After her husband peaces out, Midge takes up a stand-up career of her own. She is not completely terrible, but it is still hard to watch stand-up routines written for other people. Even being forced to view her husband stealing wretched Bob Newhart bits feels like an excruciating waste of time.

It would be better not to have to watch her perform at all, since her life off-stage is so much more exciting than what she explains of herself when she is on it. Her struggle relating to her children seems a mere proxy for her inability to directly address the world at large in something other than a costume. We completely understand why her husband left her, and we are surprised that he even made it this far. What kind of person toasts herself at her own wedding? We are wanting desperately to find out.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


Tuesday
Mar212017

In Which He Returned From Heaven To Reclaim His Fortune

Think Tank

by ETHAN PETERSON

Iron Fist
creator Scott Buck
Netflix

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is a small man who does not wear shoes. He lives at the edge of Central Park where men cruise for other men, and drug addicts can occasionally find the private time to shoot up. One such fellow Danny Rand meets offers a sandwich he has fished out of the trash of a local deli, and Danny Rand eats it, with reservations. Later, he finds his salami benefactor deceased by way of a drug overdose. He leaves the body where it lays.

The three men and one woman who form the defenders have an intense love of New York. What do they like about it, exactly? Compared to the massive sprawl of Los Angeles that serves as the home of the people who produce these weird love letters to the Big Apple, Manhattan is only a reflection. Crime proliferates. Meals are had in massive, open-air restaurants totally unlike anything found in New York. Asians of unspecified origin dominate the local criminal milieu; they employ children in their drug distribution networks and plot something indeterminate for a place that can never be their home.

Rand is the presumed deceased heir to a massive company, suggestive of the actual RAND Corporation, which is engaged in the sort of research that it is better not to openly acknowledge. This sort of scientific research has deep impact across sociological and technological fields, merging them together amorphously while never stepping into the public eye. Despite having zero experience running any kind of business, Danny Rand returns from fifteen years living in a monastery in Heaven and hires a lawyer right away.

We know this attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Anne-Moss) from Iron Fist's sister series Jessica Jones, where she is a well known piece of shit. Oddly, she is Danny Rand's guardian angel. Even though every other person in Danny Rand's life refuses to believe that he is who he says, she is convinced in thirty seconds. She tells him that he needs to lay low while they negotiate with the previous heirs to the Rand fortune, Ward (Tom Pelphrey) and Joy (Jessica Stroup).

Danny Rand's only friend is Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), although she is repulsed by his general odor and lack of footwear. As soon as he can, he defeats her in a martial arts battle, because without establishing his physical superiority, a man can never be friendly with a woman. In her free time, Wing runs a dojo where she educated the local youth in hand-to-hand combat. For some reason this is more important to their lives than, I don't know, studying.

Danny's father's best friend Harold (David Wenham) is secretly running Rand Co. from a magnificent penthouse apartment. "Hire someone talented and pay them twice what they're worth," Harold explains to his son. "They'll always be loyal." Iron Fist is full of these Hollywood bon-mots. Whereas Luke Cage was a tribute to Harlem and Jessica Jones was more about downtown, Iron Fist is all about New York as Hollywood. Sensing this basic displacement, critics have savaged Iron Fist.

Why do so many people hate Iron Fist? At first I wasn't really sure, since nothing about it is particularly worse or better than anything else on Netflix. After entering into deep meditation, I concluded it is more a general fatigue of watching so many shows with a similar theme. Each of these people has only Rosario Dawson, portraying herself, to turn to in their time of need. They all fight against the exact same foe with the exception of Krysten Ritter, who battles against David Tennant because he committed the sinister crime of telling her what to do. At some point these Marvel shows start to become a lot more trouble than they are generally worth. Personally, I love a man who does not feel the need to wear shoes.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Monday
Mar202017

In Which Brie Larson Triumphs On The Merits

Tom H. Kong

by ETHAN PETERSON

Kong: Skull Island
dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
118 minutes

King Kong had a gentler side. He wanted to be with a woman in order to satisfy his emotional and sexual needs. This is deemed too reductive and animalistic. Now we need a new reason for Kong to protect a woman, in Kong: Skull Island a photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). This new reason is as follows: Kong respects her.

You see, one afternoon he comes upon Brie Larson, wearing the sort of top that is so crudely described, after the 1970s era events of Kong: Skull Island, as a wife beater. He sees this tiny woman attempting to lift the wing of a plane off of an oversized moose. She can't move it an inch, so he does it for her.

Later, his faith in this incredibly strong photographer is rewarded during his fight with a massive lizard. At a distance longer than a football field Ms. Weaver strikes the beast in the head with a flare gun. This magical shot indicates she has a future in the Olympics, and in fact the 1976 iteration of those events was held in Quebec. I hope Mason Weaver made it there.

Her other love interest is a human being named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston's upper torso is even more impressive than Larson's. The two project their chests outwards constantly in a subtle mockery of apes. At one point Hiddleston is patrolling an ape graveyard where the bones of Kong's family are scattered. It is not his custom to bury the dead. Hiddleston's chest area protrudes far out as he slices tiny pterodactyls out of the air.

Kong: Skull Island is kind of going for a Jurassic Park-type vibe, but the film struggles to be either scary or funny. A platoon of soldiers exiting South Vietnam is enlisted on a scientific mission. The film's most exciting sequence occurs very early on as Kong swats about ten helicopters out of the sky. Helos prove to be a very poor choice for the island, since Kong barely notices human beings when they are not in the air firing bullets at his face.

In the island's interior, we meet a fighter pilot (John C. Reilly) who crashed on Skull Island's beach during the last war. Coming across the comic aspect of this extremely serious film is a relief to everyone involved, although we quickly notice that Hiddleston has zero interest in any of the people around him. Some of the hot jokes Reilly is given include wondering if the Cubs have won the world series yet, and the names he has given to the local fauna and flora. He lives with an ancient, silent civilization who, along with Kong, have kept him from harm.

The depiction of these native people, suggesting that in one thousand years they haven't developed a spoken or written language of any kind, is distressing. Reilly aludes to the possibility that the group has a primitive form of telepathy, or maybe he is just saying that they can only understand each other through body language. This is even less advanced than dolphins.

Samuel L. Jackson is given the thankless, pseudo-satirical role of a commander who never wanted to leave Vietnam. He hates Kong and plots to destroy him, eventually managing to burn the monkey quite seriously with napalm. As Kong writhes from his wounds, it is hard to feel too bad for him, given that all he really does is mope around the island and kill foes. What kind of life is that, even?

Mr. Jackson is murdered by Kong's fist before he can achieve his goals. We never get to know anyone else half so well – I think Hiddleston has like six lines in the entire movie. Now that Kong is just a pathetically whiny beast, the entire theme of the original has been overwritten. The replacement for this allegory of man as beast is that Kong is only a man after all. It is almost impressive in a way that Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) is even able to construct a film this insubstantial, this devoid of plot or character. It is like eating a marshmallow the size of a human head.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.