Brie Larson Trifecta: Short Term 12, Room, and Unicorn Store

Recently, I found myself with a to-watch list that contained three Brie Larson films. So, in a very late celebration of her film Captain Marvel reaching the billion dollar mark at the box office and Avengers: Endgame taking all the rest of the world’s money, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Larson’s filmography. 

Short Term 12Image result for short term 12

Short Term 12 is about Grace (Brie Larson), a young counselor at a care unit for at-risk teens. Grace herself was once one of those teens, but now is a model for the kids as she cares for them in a calm, firm, and compassionate manner. The slice-of-life drama follows Grace and her boyfriend/ fellow counselor Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) as they face new challenges at the center and in their relationship. 

There’s not a single weak performer in the cast. While Larson got deserved praise for her performance, John Gallagher Jr. is equally perfect. He does most of the comedic lifting, but he has a number of small dramatic moments that make the film work so well, and he and Larson have perfect chemistry. The supporting cast, including rising stars Rami Malek and Lakeith Stanfield (go see Sorry to Bother You!), are equally great in their roles. 

The film is so authentic and realistic it feels like a documentary, but it never once lost my attention. It is, simply put, riveting. Short Term 12 never shies away from the flaws of its characters, but it also never forgets their dignity and beauty either. It is the kind of film that pulls you completely into the story, and makes you feel the pain of each character, yet also makes you feel stronger and more ready to take on life when you leave the theater. I believe it is a must-see. 

RoomImage result for room movie

Like Short Term 12, this is another realistic, serious film that is almost documentary-like in parts as it tells the story of Joy (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as they escape their kidnapper and restart life in the real world.

I resisted seeing Room for a while, knowing it was going to be a hard watch. Thankfully, it’s not a shocking or gratuitous film, but it is still emotionally heavy. This story is about a crime but that’s not its focus; the focus is on the human soul. 

Every time Room could fall into a cliche about the inspiring strength of the human spirit or the resilience of kids, it sidesteps the cliche gracefully and tells a fuller story. It is a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the resilience of kids, but the movie doesn’t end on a victorious or inspirational note. Instead, it embodies an honest view of the evils of the world but with a persistent attitude of hope. Another must-see, if only for Larson and Tremblay’s incredible work.

Unicorn StoreImage result for unicorn store

A lighthearted departure from her other films, Unicorn Store is Larson’s directorial debut. She stars as Kit, a young adult who refuses to grow up. She meets a man called The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), who promises to give her her heart’s desire- a unicorn- if she prepares a home for it. Kit accepts the challenge and must learn how to take care of the creature, and maybe along the way learn to care for herself. 

Kit as a character is very uneven, like the film, but I did like that she offers up a fresh breath of air as a heroine. A lot of female characters are getting the “strong” treatment, in which the description of “strong” ceases to have any actual meaning and instead becomes code for, “just like the ideal male hero,” which means completely competent and physically tough with a lack of or at least a comfortably low count of any feminine qualities. (Obviously, there is a discussion to be had if being “strong” should be thought of as a firstly masculine trope and narrative at all, but that’s a different discussion). Anyway, here Kit is not strong in any of the ways the word is used. She’s not physically strong, she’s not particularly mentally strong or tough, and is not someone to look up to. She is *gasp* flawed and must grow. 

Kit is silly and immature and unsure of herself, and yet that is never equated with her femininity, which itself is never taken from her, even as she matures. The problem with Kit is never presented that she likes glitter and unicorns and pink- an over-the-top feminine aesthetic- the problem is that she is resistant to change and unprepared for adult life. I found that refreshing and know the character of Kit will resonate with a lot of women. 

Unfortunately, Unicorn Store really wants to be quirky and unique, which is usually the mindset that makes a film fail to be either quirky or unique or good. The forced whimsy of the film, combined with an all-too-obvious metaphor, keeps it from being much of a meditation on the difference between being childish and being like a child. This is furthered by the uneven tone that fluctuates between child-like wonder and childishness, which might have been an interesting way to reflect Kit’s character but is clearly out of bad filmmaking instead. 

As for her directing, Larson is fine but is bettered by the cinematography by Brett Pawlak and is weakened by Samantha Montgomery McIntyre’s script. There’s still potential here for Larson’s next directorial effort- and I do hope she does another film- but I think it would be better for her to focus on a more minimalistic story.

Is there a common thread between these projects? I would say so. Both Room and Short Term 12 are about people in crisis that are trying to regain an identity outside of being in crisis. Unicorn Store is also about identity, but the crisis has much lower stakes and comes more from personal failure and dissatisfaction than the outward influences that plague the characters of Short Term 12 and Room

Unicorn Store relies on Larson to play a bold, quirky, and altogether more performative character, while her other work has her do the opposite in extremely subdued, naturalistic characterizations. Her performance in Unicorn Store is not bad, but it doesn’t play to her strengths, which makes it comparable to her work as Captain Marvel. Her uniqueness as an actress lies in how she makes each character feel lived in, to such a degree that I feel, watching them, that I could sit down with Joy of Room or Grace of Short Term 12 and ask them about their pasts and they could tell me all sorts of things. Both Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel and Kit from Unicorn Store are big personalities that make it seems like Larson is impersonating other actors who would fit those roles better (although I truly think Larson will come more into her own as Captain Marvel by her next appearance and under better directors).

Watching a selection of films from an actor’s filmography is a helpful way to not only understand the actor better but the craft of acting. And I think this experiment not only gave me two excellent films to enjoy but also should serve as a reminder that Brie Larson does not deserve all the online trolling and hate she is getting. So, if you’re a Marvel fan harassing Brie Larson online- quit it! I would say I will find you myself, but after seeing how ripped Larson got to play Captain Marvel, I think she can take care of herself. 

-Madeleine D. 

Toy Story 4 Video Review ft. Mark Branson Thurston

In honor of Toy Story 4, I wanted to do something special, so I recruited my friend Mark Branson Thurston, a filmmaker and fellow film-lover, to make madeleinelovesmovies.com’s first video review. Mark and I discuss various themes of the film, Woody’s character arc, and whether or not you will cry (I didn’t find it as emotional as the other Toy Story films, but Mark disagreed). I went into Toy Story 4 with low expectations, not believing the movie could live up to the ending of Toy Story 3. What I should have remembered is to never underestimate Pixar. 

Mark Branson Thurston currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He loves spending time with family and friends, staying connected with the local churches in the Tulsa Area and is working on scripts as well as treatments for the films as we speak. He is the creator of Notebook Chronicles Studio, where he has made four short films along with a multi-part youtube series, and make one-minute movie reviews.

Notebook Chronicles Website

Youtube

Thurston’s personal quote for film-making is: “Films making us think, cry, laugh, or strive are enjoyable. Creating a film that possesses all of those qualities is what makes it stand out from the rest.”

-Madeleine D.

The 10 Best Things of 2019 (So Far)

Around this time, people start making “best of” lists for the first half of 2019. Unfortunately, I have not seen 10 movies that have come out this year that are worth being on such a list. But if we expand past movies, I do have a few “best of” things I would recommend you check out.

Movies

How to Train Your Dragon 3

The best animated movie of the year so far (until maybe Toy Story 4), this gorgeous and mature final entry into the groundbreaking franchise finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) making difficult choices as the leader of his clan and transitioning from a boy to a man. The film is both laugh-out-loud funny and sensitive, truly a treat for all ages.

Everyone Knows

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi specializes in stories where a crisis quickly unravels to reveal long-kept secrets held by the characters, and nothing is solved until the truth is brought into the light. Everybody Knows beautifully executes this framework, telling the story of a woman whose daughter is kidnapped at a wedding, and the entire family becomes suspect. Despite the sensational stakes, the drama is highest in the intense, fiercely personal interactions between characters. Don’t let the subtitles scare you- it’s one of the best dramas of the year.

Music

“Old Town Road” [Remix] by Little Nas X ft. Billie Ray Cyrus

Yeehaw. I can’t wait for the emerging hick-hop genre to bring this divided country together.

Wasteland, Baby! album by Hozier

Hozier, best known for his runaway single “Take Me To Church,” follows up his self-titled debut album five years later with a moody, sometimes sultry, and always tortured reflection about wrestling between his desire for the pleasures of earth and the cautious hope of a spiritual dimension. He goes back and forth on the album between “the world is ending, nothing matters, but I love you so let’s just go with that,” and “things do matter and we have a responsibility to fight for them.” This tug-a-war, no matter how much you may agree or disagree with Hozier at any point in the album, never fails to be interesting and honest. He takes up Mumford and Son’s mantle of obscure and somewhat confusing mixes of biblical and literary references that make me miss Mumford and Sons, but alas, they died in 2013, and Hozier is a suitable heir.

I also had the fortune of seeing Hozier live in concert, and he was just as good there. He’s not a one-hit wonder, but hopefully here to stay. My favorite songs from the album are Dinner and Diatribes, Nina Cried Power, and Sunlight.

Podcasts

Cape Up with Jonathan Capehart, Voices of the Movement

Jonathan Capehart is a journalist and contributor to The Washington Post. A series within the podcast, “Voices of the Movement”, began earlier this year and tells the story of the Civil Rights movement. As of this writing, there are nine episodes, each about 20 to 30 minutes long. Each one focuses on different aspects of the movement, such as women of the movement, children in the movement, how Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “The Letter From Birmingham Jail” was snuck out of jail, and so on. It’s not only well-done but gets below the surface facts and stories you’ve already heard to bring out unsung heroes. Finally, Capehart ties it into today, asking listeners how the strategies used during the Civil Rights era can be applied today in other areas of injustice.

My favorite episodes are Episode 6, “How segregationist George Wallace became a model for racial reconciliation” and Episode 7, “How music propelled the civil rights movement.” You can download it wherever you get your podcasts.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

John Green is best known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars and some other young adult novels, along with running a youtube channel and making educational content with his brother Hank Green. While I don’t love his books, I find him fascinating as a person and like a lot of his other content (thank you Crash Course for helping me in school!) His monthly podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed, is a fairly straightforward concept, despite the title. In each episode, Green picks two things from the world and reviews them on a five-star scale. The items don’t have any clear correlation. He’s done things from Hawaiian pizza to Super Mario Kart, CNN to Viral Meningitis, and Diet Dr. Pepper to Canadian Geese.

What is not so straightforward is how he presents each topic. Green ties in deeply personal anecdotes from his life, with acute observations and quandaries about what the items in questions mean in relation to their spot in human history and to the current culture. The podcast, like Green himself, can be quite melancholy, but in a way that never ceases to express genuine wonder at the natural- and unnatural- world. If approached right, The Anthropocene Reviewed is not only a peaceful listen, but an exercise in gratefulness. I give it five out of five stars.

I recommend Episode 8, “Whispering and the Weather,” and Episode 10, “Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad” (these are both episodes from 2018, which isn’t to say the ones from 2019 are lesser, these are just my favorites.) You can download it wherever you get your podcasts.

Youtube

Can You Judge Art Objectively?” from Just Write

Sage Hyden, a wonderful youtube essayist aimed at media criticism with an emphasis on application for writers, breaks down the theories of criticism by 18th-century thinkers David Hume and Immanuel Kant to argue why conversations about art and all art criticism is subjective, why we shouldn’t be afraid of looking at art through multiple lenses, and why “there are plotholes” is not a reason to give for disliking a movie. As someone who writes reviews, understanding the history of criticism and the role of critics and picking and choosing which schools of thought I subscribe to and how they inform my approach is important, but I also think it is important for everyone, whether you write your thoughts about art down or not. The way we, as people, discuss art not only can make a difference in what kind of art gets produced, but it affects (and reflects) our relationships with other people, ourselves, and how we perceive the world.

Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laugh” from Pop Culture Detective

Pop Culture Detective has done many thoughtful analyses of the intersection of masculinity and pop culture, but this extensive look at the way media portrays male sexual assault, from “don’t drop the soap” jokes in children’s media to the racist and homophobic undertones in prison rape narratives may be Jonathan McIntosh’s best work. It’s a difficult watch, and I would skip it altogether if you have experience with sexual assault or harassment. But if not, I strongly recommend everyone, particularly men, watch it to have your eyes open to the prevalence and seriousness of this topic.

Television

Season 3 of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix

I’ve talked extensively about my love of this series, and the final season did not disappoint. “The Penultimate Peril: Part 2” and “The End” are the best episodes.

Articles

Avengers: Endgame is a Secular Meditation on Death, Resurrection, and a Cathartic Afterlife, by Leah Schnelbach

The Tor blog gives a lot of thoughtful writers a platform, and this essay by Leah Schnelback is one of her and the website’s best as she tackles a complicated topic and gives the reader a clearer insight into why both Endgame and Infinity War caught people’s attention so much, how the films speak to our cultural anxieties and questions and gives more evidence to why superhero movies can’t be dismissed as irrelevant or mindless.

-Madeleine D.