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‘The Menu’: When your passion becomes a burden

The release of Mark Mylod’s “The Menu” came during a time where I was struggling with my passion for art. Where the fun was no longer there, not the carefree emotions I used to have, now being replaced with the burden of finishing work and moving on to the next piece. It was an emotionally draining time, one where I wondered constantly if I would be able to handle this lifestyle I’ve chosen for years to come. Then during winter break, I realized “The Menu” was on HBO Max and decided to give it a watch. What I expected to be a horror thriller about a psycho chef, turned out to be a beautiful dark comedy with themes on losing passion for something you once adored.

The film is centered mainly around “Food expert” Tyler Ledford (Nicholas Hoult) and his date Margot Mills (Anya Taylor-Joy) who travel by boat to Hawthorn, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) on a private island. Other guests such as food critics, washed-up celebrities and business partners also join the party. With all of these one-percenters paying over $1,000 to see and eat Slowik’s food, also comes with a lecture on the deep meaning behind each dish, with each course getting more bizarre as the film goes on.

I fell in love with the wackiness of each dish being presented, as I as well as others out there have at least once made fun of a renowned chef explaining their course and the meaning behind it. There’s no shame in having meaning behind a meal, but there comes a point where you wonder to yourself, “Why are you going so deep with this, it’s just food,” and Mylods represents that perfectly with Slowik’s meals. Warning, spoiler alert: One of the meals is literally a bread plate… with no bread. It is hilarious and entertaining to watch the food critics talk about the deep complexities of the dish, while our main character Margot calls the chef out immediately for how absurd this is. 

What I adore the most, however, is how they portray Slowik as a man who has forgotten the true purpose behind his profession. He tries his best to turn his food into art that he no longer enjoys cooking anymore. It is something I relate to. Art for me, used to be pure joy, where I can paint or draw whatever I want. I didn’t care if it looked bad or amazing, it was something I enjoyed doing. Now, I have a deadline to meet to finish pieces. I have to look for the deeper meaning behind my piece,with no room to truly experiment without the risk of making it look bad. It was and continues to be draining. Draining the passion I once had for something I love that is now just a burden.

I wish I could get more into the film without spoiling it, but “The Menu” is a fun time. The twists are executed well, and the chemistry between the characters is amazing. You can tell they all had a great time making this film. While it is not particularly scary, the suspense will keep you locked in and wondering about the fate of our cast, while also having a few laughs and learned lessons along the way.

Title: “The Menu”

Director: Mark Mylod

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Fiennes

Where to watch: HBO Max

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Gabriel Zarazua at gzarazua@nd.edu.

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‘Black Panther’ two, in a theater near you

Little did I know, when I took up a suggestion at my favorite Observer department meeting on Sunday to write a review for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I’d be enjoying almost four hours of my Monday afternoon, time I ought to have spent doing ethics homework, at the Cinemark in Mishawaka. Though I’m quite sure this was the first time I have ever gone to a movie theater alone, it’s not that I’m in any way movie theater adverse. I enjoyed watching “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in theaters with my friend Nate over the summer as much as the next 20-something-year-old. So, when I came across the opportunity to review a sequel who’s antecedent, 2018’s “Black Panther,” I had yet to watch, I jumped on the chance. It just didn’t cross my mind that they still released movies that weren’t on Netflix.

I know this is becoming a farfetched review — but please hear me out. Take Gregory Peck’s advice in “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around.” I took the story because I was greedy. I have yet to write for scene since fall break. As a liberal studies major, I encounter enough literature without appropriate context or foreknowledge all the time. Try understanding a lick of Dante without a multifaceted grasp of Medieval astronomy — I had no idea. Try understanding the Gospels before reading all 46 books in the Catholic Old Testament. It wouldn’t be the worst. Some points, like love your neighbor as yourself, stand alone.

Upon entering the theater, I did know that the lead actor of 2018’s “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman, had passed away. Therefore, I was not surprised that funerals and goodbyes were thematic points of emphasis. Two moments of silence were demarcated during the two-hour, 43-minute run time, at the beginning and end, when images of Boseman in character were flashed about the screen. Boseman was the first Black actor to star in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. A Cincinnati Reds fan, I had enjoyed watching Boseman play Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42.” The man carried a tragic colon cancer diagnosis for the final four years of his life — spending his brightest moments in the spotlight knowing he was good for dead.

I hand over all credit to the movie producers for creatively maneuvering the death of the real-life and fictional Black Panther. Strong female African American actors were the unequivocal answer. Shuri (Letitia Wright) knocked it out of the park in terms of superhero style. “Wakanda Forever” was par for the course in terms of my experience of Marvel and comic movies in general go — a familiar action arch. The emotional rawness of Boseman’s death on top of the universal joy of watching women triumph in roles typically played by white men (e.g., Superman, Batman, Spiderman) had me thinking when I left the theater, as if I had just left a drama.

Speaking briefly on the plot elements I have deciphered from the notebook I scribbled upon in the dark theater, a mythological element named vibranium seems to be central to the movie conflict. I was blown away by the underwater kingdom of the Talokan — very Gunganesce. I would have liked to see Namor disintegrate into pieces on that dessert and it’s not possible for Shuri to have survived that spear wound. The fact that Talokanil could lure all those sailors to drown themselves hit home to me as a reference to Sirens. The film, at its best, incorporated cultural elements from indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas as well as the West. No doubt, most of these references flew over my head. But, because I could sniff all the allusions I was missing, I knew it was a good movie.

Title: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Starring: Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett

Director: Ryan Coogler

If you like: “Black Panther” (2018)

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

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‘Petite Maman’: Like mother, like daughter

They say that great things come in small packages. In just 73 minutes, French film “Petite Maman” (translated “Little Mom”), directed by Céline Sciamma, tells a touching story of motherhood and memory.

The film follows eight-year-old Nelly, right after her maternal grandmother passes away. Nelly and her parents go to the grandmother’s old house in the countryside to move her things, and this is where they discover Nelly’s mother Marion’s old school books and toys. The film envelopes you in the clean coziness characteristic of a grandmother’s house, replete with butter cookie tins filled with sewing paraphernalia and quaint, floral wallpaper.

As they’re in the process of packing up the house, Marion goes back to the city for a few days, leaving Nelly with her father. Though it’s unclear why Marion is going away, Nelly feels nervous and sad in her mother’s absence and wonders if she is the reason why Marion is often unhappy.

While her mother is gone, Nelly begins to play in the woods alone near the house. Her imagination is captured by stories that her mother told her about the huts she used to build out of tree branches when she was growing up. The film’s cinematography is gorgeous, with the fall colors in the picturesque forest and the whimsical decor of the grandmother’s house. As she plays in the woods, Nelly encounters another little girl who looks remarkably similar to her, and they become instant playmates in the way that only eight year olds can.

Over the course of the film, Sciamma’s brilliant magical realism reveals itself. Nelly’s new playmate is Marion — except not her thirty-one year old self stressed by the pressures of motherhood and modern life. This is Marion as she would have been at eight-years-old. Nelly and little Marion make hot chocolate together, explore the woods and go over to each others’ houses to play elaborate games where they pretend to be countesses and inspectors.

At little Marion’s house, Nelly meets her grandmother as a middle-aged woman and tries not to flinch with shock. Nelly is able to relive memories with her grandmother and say a proper “au revoir” now that she has been given the opportunity. 

Through the film’s delicate time-bending and intentionally simple storytelling, we are able to fill in the gaps ourselves. In an interview, Sciamma said: “I did not put too much detail about the life of the characters in it. It’s not about how they feel … it’s about how we feel. Even if you have a good relationship or bad relationship with your parents, you don’t have to fit in with the film, the film will adapt to you.” For me, the film was a delightful way to remember all the stories my mother has told me about her childhood — playing hide and seek with kids in her neighborhood — but for others, like my friend who was in tears beside me during the screening, the film can be a poignant exploration of loss.

As I was watching Nelly and Marion during the film’s long and often silent takes, I realized that “Petite Maman” really encapsulates the different mother-daughter media I turn to for comfort. It embodies the same idealism of “Gilmore Girls” that in essence is about the tension and joy of mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory being friends in a picture-perfect, small American town. It also echoes the themes of A24’s “Lady Bird” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” that focus on the angst and pain of daughters trying to live up to their mother’s expectations and make them happy. The wise eight year old Marion answers all of Nelly’s anxieties in a tender scene where she simply says, “You didn’t invent my sadness”.

Title: “Petite Maman”

Starring: Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse

Director: Céline Sciamma

If you like: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Boyhood,” “Lady Bird”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Angela Mathew at amathew3@nd.edu.

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‘Barbarian’ and its missing depths

Editor’s note: This review includes mentions of sexual assault.

“Barbarian” is a genre-twisting horror film preying on the fears of dark basements, “nice guy” strangers and rust-belt neighborhoods. What seems like a simple, entertaining premise quickly transforms into a lurking exploration of a horror found in real life. Unfortunately, its thematic mystery falls apart under its own hypocrisy.

I first need to give credit to writer-director Zach Cregger for the adrenaline rush that is his first horror feature. The constant character reveals and genre-switching works every time in escalating the real tension of the story. The visuals are the impressive highlight, emphasizing how clever each character is — or the lack thereof — in silently creative ways. Some choices the characters make pull genuine laughs out of the audience, while others are jaw-dropping in shock value. This emphasis on surprise is the film’s strongest feature. It does not last the entire runtime, but it keeps you guessing on the edge of your seat.

The story branches itself into three characters that play off different genres to clash against the scares. What starts as a stranger-danger thriller suddenly cuts to a horror-comedy with delicious parallels, before once again cutting to a period horror with 80s-era serial killer stereotypes. Yes, the stereotypes are rampant throughout, but they are oftentimes used to double down on each genre in intriguing ways. Sadly, this switching of genre-play only happens in the first half of the film and disappears before reaching its full potential. Once the story merges into one lane, it leaves a collection of questions to be discarded and the remaining conflict to fizzle out in the end.

Now to where this film truly fails: what the characters stand for. One is a blank victim that exists only to be the “final girl” and the other is a predator that never realizes that his excuses are fantasies. The former is supposed to be the central character, but the camera and theme only seem to care about the latter. This is because “Barbarian” secretly revolves around men in denial for being the monsters we read about in accusations. It’s an intriguing premise that is clouded in execution. The worst part is that this underlying reality of sexual assault gets painted over when the predatory man serves as the comedic relief while the female victim gets no characterization at all.

The hardest scenes to watch are intentional. Much of the male character’s past is hard to watch in his self-excusing negligence and false promises, while his actions show his true nature. The female character, on the other hand, doesn’t have a past. She has no inner conflict, flaw or even a purpose to be involved. She’s just stuck there. The comparisons to Alex Garland’s “Men” (criticized for a male writer’s use of a blank female character for a two-dimensional-anti-male, feminist horror film) are so laughable that it sinks this film into ruin.

“Barbarian” is a fun watch in the beginning that accidentally drops all promises by the halfway point. What is left is its broken theme that wants to speak truths too little too late in the runtime with no explanation as to why. It is too busy prioritizing the schock value of genre clash and horror set pieces to effectively present its actual purpose. There’s not enough time with the isolated characters to flesh out their struggles, and the actual, sub-textual horror behind the scares is left off screen. The film’s cracks in the foundation are invisible yet deep, causing the whole story to crumble under the quickest scrutiny. In the end, the risk of tackling guilty men’s response to sexual assault was too catastrophic in the name drops alone; it needed time to grow and be part of the film’s message, but it had no energy or depth to explore correctly.

‘Barbarian’

Director: Zach Cregger

Starring: Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, Bill Skarsgard

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5

Contact JP Spoonmore at jpspoonmo@nd.edu