Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: More Dana Andrews!

Another classic film with solid credentials that I somehow had never heard of, directed by Fritz Lang! With Dana and a very glam Joan Fontaine! Thanks, TCM, for introducing me to more Dana Andrews films J Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a fairly gritty noir with more twists than I expect from a classic film. It might seem a little tame now, after movies like Primal Fear and TV shows that have us guessing about twists from the start, but I imagine the end of this movie was genuinely shocking when it first came out.

The film starts with an execution and spends a lot of time in slightly grimy nightclub environs with “dames” from a burlesque show. Throughout there’s unsubtle innuendo and conversation about sexual attraction and sex, both between Dana and Joan, and among the ladies of the nightclub. Initially you think Dana Andrews is a fairly sophisticated writer slumming it to chase a story, but turns out he’s actually a tough guy originally from the burlesque and dames milieu playing the part of a sophisticated gentleman. Twist!

And about that very glam Joan Fontaine – I love seeing actors in roles that are departures from the ones they’re best known for, so it’s a delight to see Joan, not mousy or diffident at all as in Rebecca or Suspicion, but stunningly attired, husky-voiced, extremely confident, unafraid to express her desire, and unwilling to put up with any nonsense.

I also watched Sealed Cargo, another unknown-to-me Dana starrer. At the moment I’m not sure it merits its own post, but it was enjoyable. It also stars Philip Dorn, who is lovely in chock-full of lovely Random Harvest, and the always-welcome Claude Rains. It’s set during WWII, and I think what I enjoyed most is that it’s a process movie, this time about the processes and protocols of a ship. I’m kind of a sucker for a well-made movie about the self-contained world of a boat (more Hunt for Red October than Das Boot) and all the rules that govern it.

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Ms. Marvel rewatch continued

  • Episode 3 starts strong with Aamir’s wedding, especially the lovely conversation between Abbu and Aamir. It loses steam once it shifts from family celebration to fight with the Clandestines, though. The fight isn’t very well-staged, but I guess one related advantage is it’s not too intense for my kiddo to watch J
  • The Karachi airport arrival scene reminds me of my grandmother greeting us at the airport with flower garlands. It’s such a specific immigrant experience, and it’s bittersweet because at some point, those elders aren’t there to greet us anymore.
  • The Aisha-Hassan flashback is a lush, gorgeous sequence, like a mini Hindi film.
  • My bestie will tell you that I’ve come to hate time travel in movies/tv as a lazy cop-out. So when Kamala goes back to the 1947 train station, my brain boggled a bit: so there are two bangles in this moment? I get that it’s the same bangle, but basically baby Sana is holding it and Kamala is also wearing it because grandma Sana sends to her in the future. Doesn’t that cause some sort of timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly paradox?
  • There’s something Proustian about face-offs in a high school setting (probably all those years of watching Buffy) so it’s really satisfying (if a bit forced with Zoe and Aamir) when the team comes together at Kamala’s high school to protect Kamran from Damage Control. I love the goofiness and humor and camaraderie of the sequence.
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Queen Sugar

Spoilers ahead!

Just finished watching season 6 of Queen Sugar – I’m way behind the curve because I watch it on Hulu instead of OWN. As always when I watch this show, my heart is in my throat almost the entire time – I’m just so stressed about what else is going to happen to this family!! It amazes me how the writing can seem rather stilted one minute, and then the next I’m weeping because of how heartfelt and genuine it is. I love the show’s commitment to incorporating real world politics and social issues that impact the Bordelons, but sometimes the characters’ dialogue feels like a very well-informed essay rather than the way folks actually talk to each other. The next moment, though, the interactions among the characters can feel incredibly raw and vulnerable and real. An incomplete list of moments from all seasons of Queen Sugar when I’ve been bawling so hard I could barely see the TV screen:

Darla tells Ralph Angel that he might not be Blue’s biological father.

Ralph Angel tells the rest of the family that he’s not Blue’s biological father.

Ralph Angel tells Blue that he’s not his biological father but that Blue is still Ralph Angel’s everything.

(I’m sensing a theme here)

Ralph Angel and Darla have “the talk” with Blue, about how our society treats black boys and men. Darla’s expression of pain in response to Blue’s fear and confusion wrecks me.

Ralph Angel realizes that he might lose the farm because of his bad decision to steal from Landry. This scene works because we know how much of himself – his sweat and passion, his pride and sense of self – Ralph Angel has poured into the farm.

Darla’s speech at her baby shower, especially when she thanks Vi for raising Blue when she and Ralph Angel couldn’t and for supporting her when she relapsed, and especially especially (like runny-nose weeping by this point) when she thanks Hollywood for saving her at her lowest point. Again, this moment works because of the personal histories the show has so skillfully established and because Bianca Lawson is one of the strongest actors in this ensemble.

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My Foolish Heart: Dana Andrews plays a WWII flyer again!

The tagline for this Dana Andrews – Susan Hayward film on the TCM app is “An innocent’s life is shattered when she falls for a WWII flyer.” (Dana sure played a lot of WWII airmen – this movie, Best Years of Our Lives, AssignmentParis (former paratrooper)). Um, not quite accurate – Eloise falls for and actively chooses to get into a sexual relationship with Walt, a man she’s super attracted to but who she knows doesn’t care about her in the same way she cares about him. It does feel slightly scandalous for its time, and I’m rather impressed.

Another unusual conversation – Eloise’s dad tells her that he and her mom were essentially trapped into marriage because of hasty decisions during WWI. So of course Eloise doesn’t tell Walt that she’s pregnant before he goes off to war because she would rather he actually chooses to be with her, not feel obligated to her.

This movie could almost be the backstory of Dana’s character in Best Years – his marriage to Virginia Mayo, two people making perhaps not the wisest decision for themselves because of the emotionally heightened circumstances of wartime. It’s also an alternate version of The Clock (which I love) – this film is a less romantic version of that story, one in which the couple recognizes that they don’t love each other enough to rush into marriage.

Two stand-out moments:

  • Walt and Eloise are canoodling in an elevator and Walt slips his hand under her coat to caress her shoulder – yowza! She might as well be naked under there but this is much sexier. Reminds me of Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur making out on her front stoop in The More the Merrier – he cannot keep his hands off her and she’s into it.
  • *Spoiler*

The look of indecision/reconsidering/seriousness on Walt’s face just as his plane is taking off for his final flight: is he regretting his proposal to Eloise in a letter or is it a premonition of his death? I like the ambiguity.

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Assignment – Paris: Why have I never heard of this movie?

I mean, Dana Andrews and George Sanders? In a post-WWII cold war intrigue-y thing?? This is my catnip. Probably a Columbia Pictures B-movie cast-off, I thought, when it popped up in the TCM app, with nary a host intro or background bio in sight. But no, this is a stylish, entertaining, even suspenseful noir-Cold War intrigue-newspaper process film! Highly recommend!!

I think this movie is up there with Laura and Best Years of Our Lives for Dana Andrews performances. He plays a reporter – smart, dogged, hard-edged to hide his principles. George Sanders is his editor, and as usual he’s debonair and sly, without the smarm this time. Marta Torren is a fellow reporter whose profession, annoyingly, fades into the background a bit once the film establishes her romance with Dana. Audrey Totter (a noir regular, my bestie informs me) is underused but brings wit and depth to her character.

The script is smart and even packs a few surprises. There’s some spycraft and plenty of newspaper process – reporters calling in stories on wires, editors editing stories and reviewing front pages. The film also has some beautiful noir lighting flourishes – the shadow of a person standing up, caught on another’s face; rows of car headlights piercing the darkness.

And this surprisingly moving exchange between George Sanders (Nick) and a Hungarian newspaper employee (Grisha) offering himself up to get Dana Andrews out of communist Hungary, for a guarantee that Grisha’s children will be safe:

Nick: “I can’t send one man to his death to save another.”

Grisha: “If it was that man’s wish, and if his life . . . if his life was the only thing he had left to give to those that he love most, I think you could.”  


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Ms. Marvel: Rewatch with my kiddo!

We were originally planning to wait till our munchkin was around 10 to let him start watching Marvel movies, and Black Panther was going to be his intro to the MCU. But along comes Ms. Marvel, slightly ahead of schedule, and I’m so excited for our little brown boy to watch a show about a brown girl from Jersey City (where we lived when he was a tot) who saves the world! So I’ll occasionally post musings from rewatches with our kiddo:

Episode 1

  • Muneeba and Yusuf’s subtly affectionate Urdu background banter: “Hah, bolo,” (yes, I’m listening, go ahead); “Aap yeh le lo ji” (here you take this) across the dinner table – heartwarming and familiar and I never thought I’d hear snatches of my parents’ conversations in a mainstream TV show.
  • Yusuf, trying to put a more gentle spin on Muneeba’s “No, I don’t trust you”: “We do trust you, we just don’t trust everyone else.” Lol, welcome to my teenage years.
  • Not a bad approximation of Newark Ave. in Jersey City. And Ruby Aunty tsk-ing about Fatima and her gora boy certainly lends authenticity 😉
  • Muneeba to Kamala: “I’m not recognizing you.” Ouch. My mom said that to me a couple times in my late teens/early 20s, and it still stings. Parents struggling to reconcile their idea of their child with the person the child is growing up to be, in this case across the cultural divide of immigration in addition to the usual generational divide – that’ll leave a mark.
  • I am so relieved not to hear Peter Sellers-style horrible fake desi accents (Aramis Knight’s as Kareem is not good though). Not something I should have to grateful for, but the bar is very low.
  • Also, when can I buy the Ms. Marvel soundtrack CD (yes, I’m old), please and thank you.

Episode 2

  • Love the “Jalebi baby” needle drop.
  • Kamala to Kamran, in full crush mode: “I love the color of your car.” Bruno, muttering resentfully in the backseat: “It’s black.”
  • I would’ve gone with a deeper SRK cut – my personal fave is Raaju Ban Gaya Gentleman – but Shah Rukh’s early films came out before these kids were born, I’ll give them a pass 😉
  • Cousin “haram-dot-Kamran!” Lol.
  • Seeing worship at the masjid without any sinister-brown-people subtext shouldn’t feel so singular but of course it does.
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Ms. Marvel: A brown girl from Jersey City

Well, I never thought I’d hear a 1940s Hindi film song by Suraiya playing over the Marvel Studios intro, but here we are, and I’ll admit it makes me a bit emotional. Not that I look to Hollywood/Disney to fully represent my Indian cultural heritage, but to have those two separate streams of my pop culture interest intersect in such a visible way is surprisingly moving. It’s so different from random samplings like “Chaiyya Chaiyya” at the beginning of Inside Man, or ScarJo watching a 1960s (’70s? – it’s been a while since I saw Ghost World) Hindi film song to show that she’s quirky. Those moments just annoy me because they lack any cultural context. “Tu Mera Chand” at the beginning of Ms. Marvel episode 5 connects to Kamala’s personal and cultural context, and that lends emotional weight.

I’m an Indian woman who lived in Jersey City for 12 years, so of course I watched Ms. Marvel. I only read the first 3 issues of the comic, partly because (embarrassed to say) I didn’t really know anything about Captain Marvel at the time. I enjoyed the show so much more than I expected! Iman Vellani is charming, Zenobia Shroff (Muneeba aka Ammi) is a damn treasure, and Mohan Kapur’s (Yusuf aka Abbu) comic timing elevates even the smallest moments.

When it focuses on Kamala and her family, the show is so specific and funny and true. An incomplete list of the moments that made me laugh out loud in recognition:

  • Muneeba totally ignoring Bruno’s polite “no thank you” and instantly producing the neatly-stacked dabbas of food for him to take home, complete with less/more spicy options. My high school friends used to say that no matter what time they came over to my house, my mom was putting food on the table, and she always had some that was “not spicy, just for you.”
  • Bruno, about his kurta at the Eid celebration: “Is it too bright?” Muneeba: “I don’t understand the question?” with that hilarious lilt in her voice. We are not afraid of bright colors.
  • Nakia: “I also have pads; I know your mom is weird about tampons.”
  • Nakia’s shoes being stolen at the masjid. The show could’ve gotten even more specific – Kamala could’ve said, “Well, that’s what you get for leaving both shoes in the cubby!” I asked my dad about the single chappal in the cubby at the mandir a few years ago, and he laughed and said “Oh, some folks only leave one shoe in the cubby and carry the other one with them, so that no one is tempted to steal their shoes because who wants a single shoe?”

After the first few episodes, I found myself wishing that Ms. Marvel wasn’t part of the MCU, that it could just be its own thing about a desi girl navigating different, unexpected facets of her life, sort of like (I swear I made this reference before a panelist said it on Pop Culture Happy Hour) Never Have I Ever with emerging superpowers.

Sure enough, the show wobbles a bit when it has to connect to the MCU. I mean, it’s a hoot to have Farhan Akhtar (!!) pop up, but the show loses some specificity and emotional truth once we get into Clan Destines, Red Daggers, Damage Control etc. The flashback episode about Aisha and Hassan (Khoobsurat hottie Fawad Khan!) is lovely – their relationship is beautifully sketched, like a mini-movie – and I give the show credit for tackling the emotional trauma of Partition, but it loses some energy when it has to move pieces into their MCU places.

Overall, though, I think Ms. Marvel sticks the landing better than WandaVision and far, far better than Loki, which became practically inert at the end. It gets back into a grove once the action returns to Jersey City and Kamala’s community there (Bruno and Kamran’s halaal/haraam baseball caps – LOL). I teared up when Muneeba presents Kamala her made-in-Karachi superhero outfit, literally stitching various parts of Kamala’s identity together, and I gave a little cheer for Kamala’s “Embiggen.”

P.S. Thank you, Abbu, for explaining why we pronounce Kamala like the Urdu “kamaal” – wonder/marvel, instead of the Hindi “kamal” – lotus.

I was telling my bestie that the show explores, without being didactic, how questions of inexplicable borders, finding a new home, and creating a new identity are all part of Aisha’s story as a Clandestine, Sana’s journey as a muhajir (migrant in her new country of Pakistan), Muneeba’s life as an immigrant in the US, and Kamala’s navigation of her identity as a Pakistani-American girl and her discovery of her superpowers. Great job of showing, not telling, Ms. Marvel!

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Watchmen ep 6: Nostalgia

Watchmen ep 6, Nostalgia, is one of the best episodes of television I’ve watched this year, quite possibly ever. It’s specific about Will Reeve’s personal trauma and also clear-eyed about the national, generational trauma that white supremacy inflicts on our country. It suggests that trauma, quite literally, colors everything, by having Will’s fragmented memories of the Tulsa massacre and the death of his parents pop up in color at moments in his life, otherwise filmed in black and white. His trauma is generational too, since it’s now part of his granddaughter Angela’s memories.

Along with the Tulsa massacre, the near-lynching attack on Will by his fellow white police officers is foundational to his origin story as Hooded Justice. The scene is masterfully, harrowingly shot, notably through its use of Will’s POV during the lynching; the simple shift in perspective is radical and centers black pain without feeling exploitative – we’re not just observing the horror, but we hear Will gasp for breath and can almost feel him struggling against the noose. Angela-as-Will’s howl of ineffectual rage and grief after his attackers cut him down from the tree is a gut punch, and Regina King plays it stunningly. Moments later, when Will puts the hood and noose back on in his first act as Hooded Justice, we feel the cathartic fury and desire for retributive justice that fuel it. For me, these brief scenes, especially with Will’s memories of Tulsa popping up, succeed in capturing Will’s angry, almost desperate motivation for vigilantism in a way that the many depictions of Batman, whose vigilantism is similarly sparked by childhood trauma, somehow never have.

So the lynching hood, a symbol of white racist terror, is transformed into an emblem of black resistance and vengeance. The hood, not to mention the whiteface Will wears around his eyes as Hooded Justice, provides the protection of anonymity, but also, specifically for a black man, confers a default whiteness – the same default assumption of whiteness operating in the show  within the show about the Minutemen, which imagines Hooded Justice as a white man. It’s as though Hooded Justice’s default whiteness weakens his white opponents, in one case the very white men who overpowered Will and carried out the near-lynching. Is Will able to take them down as Hooded Justice simply because they’re disoriented and thrown off-balance by the hood, or is it that their assumption of his whiteness disrupts their belief in their own racial superiority over a black man and somehow undermines their strength?

Or is it that Will is stronger, more lethal in a fight, when he puts on the hood? Perhaps the protection of assumed whiteness somehow frees Will, so that the full expression of his own anger and of a collective black rage against historical racist violence becomes Hooded Justice’s “superpower.” Of course when reporters ask Hooded Justice about his “superhuman strength,” they’re unknowingly evoking racist stereotypes about black men’s “brute” strength, but since we know his real identity, we recognize the ways in which a full expression of black manhood can be read as threatening by white society.

When a newsstand vendor shows Will the very first Superman comic, it highlights the irony that an alien who looks white can become a paradigmatic American, but Will, as a black man, is not considered fully human, let alone authentically American, in a white supremacist society. So it’s especially galling when the Minutemen use Hooded Justice in service of a marketing message that dehumanizes black people – see the ad showing Hooded Justice apprehending a criminal, depicted as an offensive caricature of a black man.

In fact, the episode succinctly catalogues several racist stereotypes that are still familiar to us today: the Cyclops member Fred T. basically calls Will oversexed and says that all black folks look the same to him (just before Will gratifyingly, if unnervingly, shoots him dead); at the Harlem theater attack, white police officers refer to the black people involved as “animals,” and claim that Will “speaks their language;” they some inherent violence in black people for tragic incident.

The Harlem theater attack also points out a white supremacist feedback loop in the world of the show – mind control technology developed by the white supremacist (Nazi-sympathizing) organization Cyclops causes the violence, which itself reaffirms white people’s racist stereotypes about black people. And by having Will’s memories of the Tulsa massacre intrude into this scene, the episode reminds us that the white folks in Tulsa, unlike the black people in Harlem, perpetrated horrific violence all on their own, without psychic manipulation, to uphold white supremacy. Rather fittingly, Will later uses similar mind control technology to make a white man, Judd Crawford, hang himself.

There’s just so much to say about this incredibly dense episode, so here are some disjointed thoughts:

*The technical skill on display is astounding, and I don’t have the formal background in cinematography to fully discuss it. Just one example – when June hands Will a small mirror and the camera travels to reveal the reflected image of Angela-as-Will in the mirror.

* The music choices are on point without being on the nose, from the vintage cues of “Smoke gets in your eyes” when Will/Hooded Justice sets the Cyclops headquarters ablaze, to “I’m not angry” underscoring Hooded Justice’s raison d’etre, to the score transitioning to the modern, unsettling theme of the scenes set in 2019.

*The episode handles Will’s relationship with Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis with nuance – it’s not about labeling Will as queer but an almost matter-of-fact depiction of him having sex with a man. It even looks like June knows about his sexual relationship with Nelson.

*The particularly lovely sequence showing the passage of time for Will and his family, with “My echo, my shadow, and me” playing over it – it’s all about echoes of memories and shadow selves: children as reflections of their parents; the shadow-self of Angela-as-Will as she experiences her grandfather’s memories.

*When Will kills Fred T. and other Cyclops members and burns their warehouse headquarters, he’s not in costume as Hooded Justice. This suggests that he’s expressing his rage authentically without the cover of his costume. Will’s memories of Tulsa once again play over this scene, suggesting that this act of vigilantism is retribution for and perhaps partial exorcism of the trauma of the Tulsa massacre.

*I love how this episode and the show in general center black experiences and the history of black people in our country, which is most likely because there are black writers on the show. I thought about this when I was talking about Watchmen with my bestie – I mentioned that the first episode briefly features a black production of Oklahoma!, and she said that on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus refers to an all-black production of Oklahoma!, called Alabama! and featuring the song “People will say we’s in love.” That feels somehow emblematic to me – the idea of a black Oklahoma! as a joke because of a limited notion that black people only live in the South and speak a clichéd vernacular versus a straightforward, if pointed depiction of black people starring in Oklahoma! as it’s written (which is in part what the new Broadway production of the musical does). It seems like the difference between an all- or mostly-white writers room versus a diverse writers room, with folks educated in the parts of our history we tend to be ignorant about, who choose to write the black people who lived in the Oklahoma territory back into our history.

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Before We Go: Before Sunrise with Captain America

So apparently what Captain America really wants to do is direct. Sadly, his directorial debut is less than marvelous (*groan*). To be fair, I don’t think Chris Evans’ direction is actually the problem with Before We Go, starring Evans and Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness, Starter for 10). The main problem is the clichéd dialogue, which just doesn’t sound like two strangers slowly, haltingly getting to know and fall for each other over a limited period of time. For a stellar example of that, watch the much sexier Cairo Time or Before Sunrise.

Before We Go follows a tired, by-the-book script of how two beautiful strangers, Nick and Brooke, should interact with each other – initial wariness, antagonism that masks attraction, conflict based on how each really “knows” the other, and finally, acknowledgement of their mutual attraction. It even has the moment in which Nick and Brooke momentarily pretend to be together to ward off some troublemakers on the street – establishing their chemistry in a wholly unoriginal way.

New York City serves as the picturesque yet lived-in backdrop for Nick and Brooke’s night on the town, but not much of their interaction feels genuine or earned. Evans has an easygoing charm and light touch that help with the clunky dialogue, but Eve seems stiff and uncomfortable. I can’t really blame her when her character, impulsively suggesting that they go see a psychic, says things like, “You know my past, now I want to find out my future.” The movie tries to create suspense about Nick and Brooke’s backstories, but none of it feels surprising or worth the pay-off. I can’t really think of anything else to say about this movie, which makes me sad for Chris Evans. He makes some interesting non-Marvel film choices (see the exhilarating, whacked-out Snowpiercer), but this movie is generic and forgettable.

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Reflections on Madonna and Child at the Met

At the Met today, I was moved in a new way by depictions of Mary and Jesus, especially those of Mary mourning Jesus’ death. The paintings and sculptures of Mary holding and cradling the baby Jesus made me think of our son Satya; her grief made me imagine a parent’s worst fate – seeing his dead body. The emotion of the sacred images struck me in a visceral way, different from the appreciation I’ve always had.

I look at Satya toddling around the apartment or playground, and I think, twenty years from now I’ll watch him walking across a room and I’ll remember him like this. When Mary holds Jesus’ dead body does she remember the chubby, squirming baby reaching for the Magi’s gifts or tugging at her cloak? When Chris and I carry Satya now, we invariably remember that when he was born, he was tiny enough to fit in the crooks of our arms. There’s something so unexpectedly tactile about watching, feeling, and experiencing Satya grow – every inch, every muscle. Mary must marvel the same way as Jesus’ body grows and develops. So she must endure unfathomable pain as his lifeless body spills across her lap. This is what Christ’s humanity entails – not just his suffering, but Mary’s, too.

There’s a tragic juxtaposition between the themes of the most common depictions of Mary and Jesus together – Madonna and bouncing, lively Child, and the Pietà – Mother cradling adult, dead Son. Does Mary have an inkling of this future when she’s cuddling the baby Jesus? Is this among the things she “keeps and ponders in her heart”? Her haunted gaze, directed out toward the viewer, in Caravaggio’s Holy Family certainly suggests as much.

For Mary, does the Pietà obliterate or sanctify the joy of Madonna and Child? The lifetime of shared moments between Mother and Son, all the small intimacies and shared rituals – Mary feeding Jesus his first meal of solid food; the last time she nursed him; her pride at his first steps – all those  moments must collide in Mary’s mind as she holds Jesus’ body in her lap one last time.


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