How Does a Man Become a Cow in The Salesman and My Cousin Rachel?

“How does a man become a cow?” a student asks in reference to a realistic story with one, odd, fanciful element being analyzed in class.

“Gradually,” Emad, the teacher (Shahab Hosseini) responds in a prescient scene in the beautifully layered, rightfully Oscar-winning Iranian domestic melodrama, The Salesman.

The better animal choice might be a pig…but the answer, crypto-Feminist writer-director Asghar Farhadi implies, is the same.

(SPOILERS AHEAD – READ WITH CAUTION)

No man is born a disgusting, sexist pig. You become one…gradually, based on the choices a misogynistic society forces you to make. When you live in a religiously repressed and politically oppressed society that systematically puts value on their women based on what their men do (or don’t do) to them, and in turn puts value on the men based on the value put upon their women, men will often too easily devolve into metaphorical pigs obsessed with shame, dishonor and possessions…even unwittingly sometimes.

Take for instance Emad, the teacher who brings to his students eye-opening Western literature and moonlights (along with his loving, lovely wife, Rana, played by the powerfully emotive About Elly alum Taraneh Alidoosti) as an actor, currently putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” where he is Willy Loman and Rana is Linda Loman. The play, by the way, is being threatened with censorship by the government. I loved how this threat of censorship is presented as a throwaway line, a common, all-too-everyday annoyance in Iranian middle-class society (and don’t think this couldn’t happen here…or anywhere, with the right strongman in place). This couple seems like a liberal bastion in a repressive society, self-aware and quietly trying to bring about enlightenment through education and the arts.

But the world they live in wants to turn women into objects and men into pigs. Continue reading

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Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Eight

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERSThese weekly posts are meant to recap what happened (SPOILERS AHEAD) and provide conversation starters for fans to comment and share theories. Do not read if you have not watched this week’s hour(s) yet.

HOUR EIGHT

“We lived above a convenience store.”

David Lynch and Mark Frost have broken the television.

Like some living, breathing, electrified nightmare, Hour Eight starts with Ray shooting Mr. Cooper, who is then visited upon by the most startling set of engine oil-scorched ghosts whose otherworldly movements and nefarious shamanism bring him back to life.

Flashback to 1945 and a nuclear test site, where Lynch then employs cinematographer extraordinaire Peter Deming to slo-mo pan in on a burgeoning mushroom cloud before going deep inside it to the atom-splitting core. It’s a completely mesmerizing mosaic of meditative horror that could only be done on film (or is this digital, well, you get my drift…it’s purely and wholly cinematic) that seems like the rebirth (or afterbirth) of the artistic medium, though somewhat reminiscent of those fantastic sequences from the close of Kubrick’s 2001 and the middle of Malick’s Tree of Life. The fifteen minute sequence, despite its quasi-eerie familiarity, is completely beyond words and comprehension, and pardon the lame cliché, it will blow your mind. Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Seven

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERSThese weekly posts are meant to recap what happened (SPOILERS AHEAD) and provide conversation starters for fans to comment and share theories. Do not read if you have not watched this week’s hour(s) yet.

HOUR SEVEN

“I Don’t Know Where I Am”

Jerry Horn (David Patrick Kelly) announces this, while lost in the middle of the woods, to his brother Ben (Richard Beymer) at the start of Hour Seven. But really, it’s an echo of the audience groupthink around the new series, and of perhaps the Good Agent Cooper…who, thanks to those recently discovered pages of Laura Palmer’s diary (alas, a fourth page is still missing!) mentioning that creepy dream from Fire Walk With Me where Annie Blackburn visited her and told her about Cooper, and Hawk’s keen detective work, we communally recognize and confirm (as theorized by many fans) is still perhaps trapped in the Lodge.

Meanwhile…Bad Cooper reveals his unique blackmailing techniques using severed dog’s legs to get Warden Murphy to allow him to escape from prison all easy-peasy at 1am with his henchman and a car…but not before Gordon and Albert talked a hard-drinking, “My attitude is none of your damn business!” Diane (Laura Dern – perfect) to come out to Sioux Falls to interview Coop for herself, leaving her to proclaim broken-heartedly to Gordon that something key was missing from that thing claiming to be Cooper (namely, a heart). Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Six

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERSThese weekly posts are meant to recap what happened (SPOILERS AHEAD) and provide conversation starters for fans to comment and share theories. Do not read if you have not watched this week’s hour(s) yet.

HOUR SIX

“Diane?”

While Albert fulfilled the promise at the end of Hour Four and finally delivered us Diane (Laura Dern), it was the actress who played another Lynchian Diane, Naomi Watts as Janey E. Jones, who owned Hour Six, channeling the rage of the 99% and teaching some nefarious tough guys who were after Dougie a lesson about how to treat people and collect debt. Her diatribe was all at once heartfelt, clunky, tough-as-nails, and borderline funny (at one point I expected her to echo the words of George Costanza and explain to them, “We’re trying to live in a society!”), and it left the bad dudes shocked and muttering, “That was one tough dame.”

Weather it was the Neanderthal bookie thugs (who might make harassing phone calls or even break a leg or two…but wouldn’t kill a guy, right?), a psychopathic teenager with the last name Horne (who runs over a kid in the middle of the day!), a “magic man” drug kingpin (Balthazar Getty – last seen flirting from afar with our dear Shelly – a scene viewed as sweet in hour two, that in hindsight now hangs with a pall of sickening dread), or a miniature assassin who brutally murders a woman in her office in cold blood…Lynch and Frost are showing us that sickos not only lurk everywhere…but are now out of the shadows and in broad daylight. But for each deplorable in the basket…there were glimmers of decency…as seen in our dear Shelly, giggly Heidi, and a pie-loving teacher; in the officer who takes a dementia-riddled Dougie home; and in chain-smoking trailer-park Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) who comforts a grieving mother in the middle of the street while others look on with distant horror. It was both the distance and intimacy of that universal sense of horror that Lynch so awkwardly captured in tonally discordant ways this hour…capped off by the most haunting closing song yet at The Roadhouse and a soft yet hoarse velvety guitar playing chanteuse singing about wanting to forget… Continue reading

All Defiant on the Western Front in Wonder Woman

Early on in Patty Jenkins’ confident and electrifying big-screen Wonder Woman epic, after getting rescued by the film’s hero (a robust yet appealingly vulnerable Gal Gadot), our guy in distress (a somewhat charming gritty Ken Doll with a sense of humor, Chris Pine) upon being asked about how he stacks up to other men says, “I’m above average.” In some ways, that’s the best way to describe Wonder Woman in comparison to every other superhero movie. It’s above average. But to leave it at that would be deny the film’s subversive charms and contextual place in the pantheon of fantasy films as mirrors into the audience’s psyche.

Let’s not dismiss, however, just how fun it is to simply watch an above average film in this over-saturated genre. Jenkins and her crew show great creativity and tactical savviness in their treatment of all the genre clichés while choosing a relaxed and serialized pacing in the action, following each big set piece with moments of more intimate drama and character development (witness celebratory Belgian villagers and our heroes dancing in the streets in the evening snowfall that seems ripped from a great war-time romance).

The film’s inherently silly exposition (routed in Greek myth) is made palpable thanks to beautifully rendered Renaissance-style paintings of Greco-Roman fantasy come to life – smartly linking the lore and art of old with modern comic book pages and colorful cells flipped through feverishly by childhood’s fingers. Playful camera angles bring to life a rousing aeronautical flyover of an exploding enemy bunker and battle horses and motorcycles racing through war-torn woods, while slo-mo is used judiciously when warranted and not just for the sense of style. Continue reading

Twin Peaks – The Return: Hour Five

Twin Peaks – The Return: Complete Hour by Hour Guide

NOTE TO READERSThese weekly posts are meant to recap what happened (SPOILERS AHEAD) and provide conversation starters for fans to comment and share theories.  Do not read if you have not watched this week’s hour(s) yet.

HOUR FIVE

“The Cow Jumped Over the Moon”

Well, well, well…where to even begin? So much happened in hour five, yet nothing happened…and with a resurgence of “high-hat-jazz” meets “1950’s grunge” music throughout the hour, this was the closest we’ve gotten to traditional Twin Peaks yet…Yet there was that mondo-bizarro Buenos Aries (yes, that’s right, Buenos Aries!) and Buckhorn, South Dakota stuff too!

So what did we learn this hour?

Under the radar character actor Jane Adams’ Buckhorn forensic scientist apparently moonlights as a comedian. “I think the cause of death was his head was chopped off.” And whose head was it? Well, apparently it was someone whose stomach contained a wedding ring engraved by none other than Janey E. Jones!

Back in Rancho Rosa, that sad-eyed kid with the drugged-out mom watches as some morons accidentally torch themselves after setting off the bomb some other morons set underneath Dougie’s car outside the foreclosed house where he had his trysts with Jade. Cue the scene of Jade (the no-nonsense yet somewhat empathetic Nafessa Williams – quickly becoming a sardonically sexy fan favorite) dropping the Great Northern key that magically showed up in Dougie’s pants (and he dropped in her car) into the mailbox.

Meanwhile, Janey E. Jones (a wonderfully exasperated Naomi Watts) is just about losing her patience with her husband, Dougie (who apparently has psychic abilities that tells him his insurance company comrade, an always slimy Tom Sizemore, is lying).  “Ok, Dougie, you’re acting weird as shit,” she tells him while he gets teary eyed looking at his kid. Yeah, our thoughts exactly, Janey… Continue reading

The Greatest Television Series of All Time

Next up for polling at Wonders in the Dark are The Greatest Television Series of All Time. For theses ballots, both series and mini-series can be considered.

As daunting as this was (and as difficult as it was to consider current running series that deserve a spot, but who knows how they might last or age over time), I had to put in my ballot.

The Top 60 countdown at WitD will begin later this summer.

Until then, see how your own choices would stack up against mine.

#57 I’ll Fly Away

#53 Newsradio

#49 Chappelle’s Show

#35 The Kingdom

#31 Homefront

#18 Elizabeth R

#14 Rome

#10 The Prisoner

#7 BoJack Horseman

#4 The Decalogue

#1 Twin Peaks

And now for the Spin’s Full Top 60 (with some “oh-so-close’s”) Continue reading