As a youth, I loved seeing movies where the whole point was that grown-ups really don’t have anything figured out, that everyone’s just bumbling through adulthood, taking blind stabs in the dark and hoping they somehow add up to good decisions. The Big Chill is one of my favorites in that category – you’ve got all these well-sweatered adults, seemingly keeping it together with varying degrees of success in their personal and professional lives.
But the minute they’re reunited, everyone safely under the same roof again and kitchen dancing to Motown classics, the masks drop, and it becomes clear that, in one way or another, they’ve all been faking it. Faking their happiness with their families, faking their confidence in their career choices, faking their contentment with how their lives turned out so differently than they had imagined 15 years ago. What I remember so clearly – watching it as a kid who had the whole minefield of growing up still stretched out before her – is that the film doesn’t judge them for their attempts to trick the outside world (and sometimes themselves) that everything’s going better than it really is. Instead, in The Big Chill, we get an acknowledgement that most of the characters are doing what they have to in order to get by. Now, in the thick of adulthood, its complications and let-downs, I can confirm that for most of us, some faking it is necessary, even if its just so we can face the next day of bumbling through it all over again.
There’s a moment late in Matt Spicer’s new film, Ingrid Goes West, that reminded me of that hard truth. In it, a character who’s worked so incredibly hard at presenting her life as perfect, to her circle of hip acquaintances as well as to her thousands of social media followers, is confronted by the title character, Ingrid. Ingrid angrily points to the reality of this character’s situation – that the people closest to her are deeply flawed, that her relationships are built on delusions, that her life is anything but perfect. And what I loved about this moment is that it doesn’t break this character or even seem to upset her. Unlike Ingrid, she knows that creating a gulf between your private truth and your public face isn’t always a betrayal of some truer nature, but rather a survival tactic for the ups and downs of reality.
Of course, for the characters in the The Big Chill, that gulf existed before filters and hashtags came along to put a more curated, but also glaring, focus on its contradictions. Ingrid has gotten plenty of attention for skewering our social media obsession with avocado toast that is also #blessed in the digital age. There’s a frightening accuracy in the way the movies captures that Pavlovian system of desire and reward when your phone dings, and – there it is – another human validating your existence. As Ingrid, Aubrey Plaza takes the social anxiety that comes with constant updates and the dreaded FOMO and dials it up to a level of jittery paranoia that’s uncomfortable to watch. And yet, as scared as you become of what she might say or do next, you can’t look away – an opening shot of her mascara-streaked face, eyes hungrily searching as she scroll and taps, scroll and taps, speaks to anyone who’s ever looked at images of happy people doing exciting things on their phone and wondered, why are they there having fun while I’m here, crying in my car and eating handfuls of cold french fries. So all of us really.
It’s a brilliant performance that holds the film together. Plaza sometimes suffers from being typecast or underrated because she does one thing – dry, acerbic wit – incredibly well. But as in other roles I’ve seen her in, she imbues Ingrid’s emotional life with a kaleidoscope of feelings under its dark exterior. Ingrid is a broken outsider dealing with the emotional fall out from her mother’s recent death, and she pursues an Insta star she stumbles upon online (Taylor Sloane, played by Elizabeth Olsen) all the way to Los Angeles. With the money her mother leaves her, she scrambles to buy the trappings of a life that will launch her into Taylor’s orbit. But only once she lies and cheats her way there – to the status of a new neighbor and then trusted friend, does the real fun/horror show start. Watch Ingrid’s faces as she watches the “normal” people around her laugh and chit chat, and you can see the internal acrobatics she has to go through to try and mimic their interactions. Whenever the real Ingrid slips out, there’s an intensity, a hot need that doesn’t match her new LA friends’ casual coolness – and in those moments you can also see them start to question who this new person is and why she’s sitting among them.
Ingrid doesn’t understand the difference between the white lies and pretty pictures everyone else uses to tell a nice story about their lives and the complete fabrication she creates from her online stalking of Taylor. For most of the film it’s her downfall, though the ending suggests it could also provide a sort of twisted redemption. Ultimately the movie recognizes the absurdity of our current preoccupation with social media without demonizing it. The problem isn’t that our lives aren’t as amazing as we present them to be, because that’s been true long before we started posting pictures of every #OOTD and mimosa. The problem is that a million followers can never equal one household of old friends. However popular you get, you still need someone to share all the imperfection with, someone you can cry about it and laugh about it with, someone to dance through the kitchen with to Smokey Robinson, all the while knowing your adult lives will never perfect, but that this moment comes close enough.
Ingrid Goes West is playing in theaters now.
The Big Chill is available to rent on Amazon Video.
Dune Part Two: The Lisan Al Gaib comes for you!
Welcome back to our struggle for control of the known universe already in progress, the continuation of the journey of Paul Atreides from exile to Emperor, Dune Part Two!
So when we last left our intrepid if dubious heroes, House Atreides had been betrayed and virtually destroyed, by a combination of House Harkonnens surprise attacks and the added treachery of Emperor Shaddam and his Sardaukar. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the last surviving heir (so far) of House Atreides and his mother Jessica, have taken refuge on the desert planet of Arrakis amongst the indigenous Fremen, and as far as most are aware, the other remnants of House Atreides are dead as well. And here is where we catch up with everyone, as the struggle for Atreides emergence and dominance begins in earnest!
The Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) is known for her many skills, but her copious note-taking and writings on the large events shaping her world come to the forefront as she takes counsel with her father amidst games of chance on their homeworld. Her life is one of luxury and privilege but alas, Irulan is a trained Bene Gesserit and is well aware that in all likelihood, she will be used as a pawn in the marriage games empires have to go through. Bet she never imagined it could be to a House everyone swore had been utterly destroyed.
Meanwhile, on Arrakis, Paul is trying to integrate himself into the Fremen way of life, which is admittedly far different from the life he led back on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan. (If nothing else, Caladan has vast oceans.) The Fremen are fiercely independent, gloriously strong fighters, survivors who dare to ride and revere the giant sandworms that inhabit their planet that they call Shai-Hulud, and rightfully distrustful of outsiders. After all, the previous stewardship of Arrakis belonged to House Harkonnen, known for their cruelty and glee at hunting Fremen and torturing their victims, sometimes for weeks at a time. But Paul won his and Jessicas way into the Fremen by fair combat against Jamis, and if nothing else, the Fremen are firm in their beliefs of the old ways.
Or rather, the elder Fremen are, most particularly the famed Fedaykin fighter and Naib (leader) of Sietch Tabr Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is adamant in his unshakable belief that Paul is the foretold Lisan Al Gaib, the Voice from the Outer World, that will lead the Fremen to peace and paradise. Stilgar’s steadfast belief in Paul’s potential only grows, and he manages with just that to convince a great many of the other Fremen elders. The younger generation of Fremen however, of which Paul’s beloved Chani (Zendaya) is a part, generally scoff at the legends of otherworldly prophets and Arrakis as a fabled green, wet heaven. In the beginning, Paul himself swears he doesn’t want to be the Messiah, only a Fremen fighter amongst the rest of them, hundreds of years of the Missionaria Protectiva, the Bene Gesserit practice of spreading useful religious propaganda as seeds on various planets, is working double-time against him. It doesn’t help that Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is expounding on that myth as much as she possibly can.
And why would she do that? Survival yes, but also, Jessica is a thoroughly trained Bene Gesserit and knows of plans within plans within plans. Jessica also has many secrets of her own, and one very important one happens to be that she’s pregnant with Paul’s sister. The Bene Gesserit bodily control may be something out of legend, but even Jessica, possibly Reverend Mother Mohiam’s best and most fractious student, will have trouble with the trial the Fremen are insisting she go through to become truly one of them. The Reverend Mother equivalent of Sietch Tabr, known as their Sayyadina, is old and dying, and the Fremen have to have a Reverend Mother. Jessica tells Paul this much and explains that each culture is different in their trial to become a Reverend Mother, so she honestly doesn’t know what to expect. The reality happens to be worse than she could’ve imagined – Jessica must drink the Water of Life, a deadly poison that comes from Shai-Hulud (sort of), and come out the other side of it. And Jessica manages to do it, barely, with almost all of the consequences going to the poor fetus in her womb, the girl that will grow to become Alia Atreides, an insane legend in her own right. But for now, the unnamed fetus is awake and aware and full of the memories of generations of Bene Gesserit women that came before her – before she was even born.
Paul participates in razzia raids amongst the Fremen as they work to take out the spice mining operations of the Harkonnens, immerses himself in the vastly different desert culture of his chosen people, and perhaps most importantly, his romance with his beloved Chani only grows stronger. After declaring his desire to join the fierce fighter elites amongst the Fremen known as Fedaykin, Paul is told by Stilgar that he must summon and ride one of the giant sandworms, the embodiment of Shai-Hulud where the Fremen get their terrible tooth Crysknives from. And after much sendup, in a glorious scene of blinding sand and huge monstrous killer worm-riding, Paul is triumphant and riding atop the sacred creature, his Maker hooks set properly to control the great beast, waving at great distance to his fellow Fremen as Chani looks on in bemusement.
But that’s all external, and inside Paul is beginning to become divided on what he wants to do. As Jessica pushes the Protectiva hard amongst the women and priestesses of the Fremen, she is also pushing her son to become much larger than he ever wanted to be, if nothing else a conqueror can take revenge for the destruction of House Atreides and the death of her beloved Duke Leto. Paul may have earned his place amongst the Fremen and been given new names – Usul, meaning the strength of the base of the pillar, as his private name within the Sietch; and Muad’Dib, from the small mouse survivor of the desert, well versed in desert ways, called ‘Instructor-of-Boys’ in Fremen legend, as his open-use name – but now everyone wants Paul to be something greater, and potentially more destructive, than what he currently is. It only gets worse when Paul begins to suffer prophetic dreams, and visions when he’s awake, prodding him further to his destiny as an epic conqueror of worlds. Nothing can be done for it, Paul convinces himself that he must take the Water of Life himself, to awaken the sleeping prophet inside himself, and allow him to hopefully See a path through the future.
The problem with that plan, is that Bene Gesserit are almost exclusively all women, and only they are supposed to know how to transmute poisons internally, along with all sorts of other “witchcraft”. But Jessica has been training Paul in forbidden Bene Gesserit ways all his life, and as much as Paul might rail and even quail against it, there is no denying his incoming destiny, crushing any resistance he may have with all the force of a giant sandworm hunting a spice blow. And even when Paul has finally given in and taken the cursed substance almost mockingly called the Water of Life, it falls to another strong and prophetic in her right female in his life, his beloved Chani, to save him from himself. But even Chani can’t stop Paul’s destructive destiny as the conqueror of the known worlds, guilty of slaying millions upon millions of people in his quest for vengeance, thinly disguised as peace.
Over on the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime, “Beast” Rabban (Dave Bautista) is disgusted and enraged at the continuing Fremen raids against the Harkonnens on Arrakis, and terrified of what his uncle the notoriously cruel Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), will do to him in response. The Baron’s nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), heir apparent or na-Baron to House Harkonnen, demonstrates his blood-inborn savagery in a slaughter of the remnants of House Atreides gladiator-style, as his birthday celebration. Pleased with the spectacle, the Baron commands Feyd-Rautha to take control of the fight against this Fremen rebel known as Muad’dib, as Rabban is proving himself more and more useless. And any tool or toy that the Baron finds broken or unusable, is destroyed before being discarded.
As the legend of Muad’dib grows off Arrakis and circulates among the Imperial worlds, the Emperor grinds his teeth in frustration and the Bene Gesserit, led by Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) as the Emperor’s Truthsayer, begin pushing forward their plots and machinations. Lady Margot Fenring (Lea Seydoux), a criminally underused character in this respect, demonstrates her willingness to be a pawn in Bene Gesserit machinations, but never forget, strong Bene Gesserit women have been breaking their own rules for generations. Just look at what Jessica did.
As the raids and rebellion on Arrakis continue, both the Emperor and the Baron become more and more desperate, sending in mercenaries and smugglers in the hopes they might have more luck. And aboard one of those smuggler’s vessels happens to be an old hand at being a smuggler himself, the warrior troubadour with the scarred face given him by “Beast” Rabban himself, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Reunited with his beloved Duke’s only son, Gurney finds himself swept up in the legend of Muad’dib in the making along with everyone else, though at least from Gurney’s point of view, Paul is using the messianic angle to take revenge for House Atreides.
Finally, in an act of what could be considered the ultimate in arrogance, Emperor Shaddam Corrino himself comes to Arrakis, along with Princess Irulan and many others of his Court, the Baron, and Feyd-Rautha in tow as well, to crush this upstart Muad’dib and his Fremen warriors. Sadly for all that the powerhouse actor Christopher Walken plays him, Emperor Shaddam Corrino is shown as a doddering old man, cowed in the face of Muad’dib’s overwhelming vitality and growing-ever-stronger legend. And there is where we will end the review, for the final confrontation between all key players in the Known Universe is full of spoilers and derivations from the original opus of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.
For those of you who stuck around long enough to get to the end, after all, Dune Part Two is almost three hours long itself, if you are fans of the original novel and the zany Lynchian masterpiece that was the first Dune film, you may be disappointed or even angered at the changes made to the story for the climactic end scenes. Director Villenuve has an eye for making grand epic scenes like Paul’s sandworm ride but can be a bit scattered when it comes to piecing the story together with all the key players needing to be involved in a way that can be understood by any layman. Dune in any form is a rich, vast universe of storytelling, and even an almost three-hour-long sequel simply can’t cover every last bit that’s in the novels. But if nothing else, the film is an overwhelming feast for the eyes and should bring a whole new legion of fans to the many worlds contained within Dune.
If you want to dive further into the Dune-iverse, do yourself a favor and read the Dune prequel books written by Herbert Jr. and Kevin J. Anderson. Until then, dive into the sands of Arrakis along with Shai-Hulud and scream vengeance to the skies with Paul Muad’dib Atreides in Dune Part Two, in theaters now!
Thatsmye Interviews: Les Weiler on Henchin’: the Series
The 8 Episode Series Tries To Encompass A Lot Leaving Fans In A Cliffhanger.
The 2010 “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie by M. Night Shyamalan faced criticism for its deviations from the beloved animated series. The film struggled with pacing, casting, and a lackluster script, disappointing fans who cherished the source material. In contrast, the 2024 Netflix series has generated positive buzz for its commitment to diverse casting, adherence to the original storyline, and improved character development. The series seems poised to capture the essence of the animated show, offering a fresh and faithful adaptation that resonates with both new and existing fans.
Even though the Netflix series comes closer to the core ideals of the animated series, I feel it lacks heart. Many scenes barely scratch the surface of the relationships between the characters and the push-and-pull relationship between Aang and Zuko. I will admit the CG versions of Momo and Appa are just so gosh darn cute.
The 8 episode series tries to encompass a lot leaving fans in a cliffhanger. It’s worth a watch and I am hanging on for the next season to be announced.