Note: This is a deviation from the usual content on Critical Mess. But as it says right up there in the header, “Everything is text.” And today, “text” includes epidemics of punctuation errors.
My resume says I have a “passion for appropriate hyphen usage.” This isn’t me trying to be cute. This is just a fact. Hyphens are my personal windmills. Every day I tilt at examples of their misuse on the internet, wailing and railing and ultimately failing to change anything. When I’m done wailing, I take a screenshot of the offense and drag it into a desktop folder entitled “Word Crimes.”
For some time now, the worst repeat offender has been the Unmoored Compound Modifier. When you use two words to describe one thing, that is called a compound modifier, and it is compounded with the aid of your friendly neighborhood hyphen. All too often, though, your friendly neighborhood hyphen is neglected and left to sulk at home. Do you know how many “award winning journalists” are not award-winning grammarians? So, so many.
The only worthwhile part of the Girls finale was its first 100 seconds. In the opening shot, the camera tracks over a bed, and two pairs of legs entwined on top of it. We see, when the dolly comes to a stop, that Marnie (Allison Williams) is sleeping softly behind Hannah (Lena Dunham), who awakes with a start and asks how Marnie got into her home while she was sleeping.
It’s a perfect (though mirrored) replica of one of the very first scenes of the series. In the pilot, which aired over six years ago, the camera panned over the same nested bodies. But in that episode Hannah was the big spoon, and neither woman was surprised to find the other there when they woke up. Even the music playing through these bookend scenes was the same. It helped to highlight the fact that Marnie has been Hannah’s one constant throughout the series — a point that Marnie herself has no problem driving home in the finale. Continue reading
Sometimes, Buffy episodes are nonsensical dream sequences with repeat appearances from an unexplained Cheese Man. Sometimes they are thinly veiled metaphors for teen hormones wherein the spirit of a hyena demon infects a gang of high school boys, who proceed to eat their principal alive. Other times, though, the show does away with humor and absurdity altogether, and takes 45 minutes to talk about difficult, painful, important issues. “Seeing Red” is one of these episodes. Depression, toxic masculinity and gun violence are the main plot drivers. Victimhood, grief and recovery are their outcomes. Continue reading
I know I’m going to ruffle the feathers of a few Buffy snobs when I choose to write about an episode in Season 4 that is not “Hush,” but this series is called “My Favorite Patrols,” not “The Objectively Best Patrols,” so sit down.
This season is one of the best of the series. The transition from a high school setting to a college one doesn’t always work with a hitherto static cast of characters — especially in a show that relies so much on comedy — but in Buffy‘s case the Scoobies’ graduation probably saved the show from stagnation. The characters had long since outgrown the storytelling confines of primary education, and freeing them up to larger portions of the real world allowed them to grow and morph in delightful, disappointing, and even terrifying ways.
But what really sets this season apart, what makes it first in my affections, is a finale that makes absolutely no sense in context with pretty much the rest of the series. It marks a change from traditional season setups, where the finales are usually reserved for the height of action and drama. Instead, “Restless” serves as something of a debrief, space for the characters to relax from the last episode’s hijinks and for the writers to set up major themes to come in Season 5. (Game of Thrones has, notably, picked up on this format.) Continue reading
For the past week, the web has been awash in thinkpieces about Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the series that debuted 20 years ago and changed the course of American television forever. That is not an exaggeration.
Buffy was one of the first shows to commit to season-long story arcs, with every episode containing its own adventure while being housed within a larger succession of chapters that led to stunning season finales. It was also a pioneer in its exploration of genre. Buffy Summers was a fabled fighter of dark, supernatural forces, but she was also a teenager. Her show was just as full of awkward romances and memorable witticisms as it was with stabby-stabby action sequences. And, of course, Buffy as a show was uniquely feminist, launching a tradition of badass warrior women that continues to dominate entertainment to this day.
Being a little before my time, Buffy didn’t really enter my cultural consciousness until my freshman year of college, when my best friend forced me to watch an episode with her. The following summer, I blazed through the entire series in a number of weeks, and have probably watched all seven seasons at least three times through. I am not proud, but I’m also not super ashamed, either.
So for the next week, to celebrate 20 years of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Critical Mess is going to join the worldwide party of Buffy appreciation. Plenty of people are talking about the episodes that boosted the show’s acclaim. The Season 2 finale “Becoming,” “Hush,” “Once More With Feeling” — these are all the best episodes, but they are not my favorite episodes. Every 42-minute segment is as deserving of critical attention as the popular ones (except for, perhaps, most of Season 1, when the show was still trying on a bunch of weird outfits). Continue reading
It’s not very often that one listen to a new song has me typing in a furious, feminist rage by the middle of the second chorus. But the eighth song of Ed Sheeran’s Divide, released Thursday, got me there.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving this album. Rather than sticking to whatever formula got the most radio play on Multiply and beating it to death (lookin’ at you, Jason Mraz), he’s continued to explore the several distinct but connected sounds that make him so satisfying to listen to. Songs like “Shape of You” indulge fully in his clear affection for hip-hop, while “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan” spin Irish reel–inspired melodies that have you stomping your feet and smiling compulsively.
But while his sound has continued to grow and mature, Sheeran’s content seems mired in the same teenage angst that made him famous with Add, and then some. “Eraser,” the album’s opening track, finds Ed complaining once again about how hard it is to be rich, famous, and living the dream. “Castle on the Hill” is the slightly better version of that, though his vignettes of friends’ everyday English lives are unremarkable and clumsily worded.
At the end of the first episode of Westworld, I was enthralled, and so ready to jump onto this adventure. Robot narratives that question the nature of sentience and humanity are hard for me not to enjoy. But when the 90-minute finale concluded on Sunday, it was to a faint and jumbled echo of the thrill I had felt ten weeks prior. In terms of sheer entertainment, Westworld failed to escalate far beyond the excitement that its first episode promised; but more importantly, a story that purported to explore questions of identity suffered its own identity crisis. The show never grounded itself in a moral or intellectual core, instead leaning heavily on the ideas of these things. And when the ideas deflated under their own weight, the story fell flat. Continue reading
I remember the first time I noticed men looking at me. I was eleven, maybe twelve. I was with my mother in the car—on the way home from church, of all things—and the thrill of occupying the front seat still buzzed somewhere at the bottom of my throat. When we were parked a red light, heads bobbing to some song on the radio, my mother muffled a laugh and told me the man parked next to us was looking at me. I didn’t believe her, but when I glanced to my right I made brief eye contact with a man who I would have figured to be closer to my mother’s age than my own. He snapped his eyes back to the road, grinning.
“He was looking at you, not me,” I corrected, when the light turned green and we drove away. My mom just shook her head and smiled. “He was checking you out,” she assured me. “You’re a pretty girl.”
I felt sick and exhilarated, small and large all at once. I thought I was marked, somehow, by the gaze of a stranger—like I was able to call myself something new for having been seen.
Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls deals richly in the subject of being seen, of the constant awareness of their own visibility that young women so often feel but so seldom verbalize. The novel’s protagonist Evie Boyd narrates a heady, tumultuous recollection of a summer in her youth, which she spent in the company of a group of people that most now refer to as a cult. The “summer of ‘69” cliché finds itself refreshed in a coming-of-age meditation: as alcohol leads to drugs leads to dark and unexpected violence, Cline’s narrative focus—and Evie’s gaze—remains fixated on the only constant, on the girls. Continue reading
The most romantic and seeming true picture of the writer is this: fevered at his desk in the late hours of the night, hands dotted with ink, floor littered with crumpled stanzas, hunched and scribbling in a fit of inspiration as sleep, that temptress, eludes him.
In the early morning hours of Friday, the 30th of September, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump took up this standard and assumed the ultimate expression of creativity—with a few minor adjustments. His paper was an Android smartphone. His lines of verse were semicoherent tweets. His pen was a tiny, tiny finger. Continue reading
Alternative title: “There is no jar of ectoplasm.”
Here is something I learned this week: Dan Aykroyd is an alien conspiracist.
This may be, to me, the most significant facet of his identity. Dan Aykroyd may be anywhere between 25 and 50 percent of the reason that we have such cinematic treasures as Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers, but more interesting to me is his deep knowledge of Canadian UFOlogy symposia. Without Dan Aykroyd, we would not know that crossing the streams results in total protonic reversal, nor would we appreciate the importance of particle beams in the history of alien encounters.
This is all to say that Dan Ayrkoyd’s greatest gift to humanity is also possibly his least-known contribution: a feature-length documentary by Canadian sham David Sereda entitled Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs (2005). The production value is at Marianas Trench levels, the special effects were probably made in PowerPoint, the camera operator was likely Sereda’s 6-year-old niece, but this is my favorite movie of the year. Continue reading