REVIEW: Poor Things

Welcome to the fantastical world of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. The 2023 film is based on the 1992 book by Scotsman Alasdair Gray, a riff of the well-known Frankenstein  with some rather venereal counterplots. With an abundance of Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Academy nominations, Poor Things has thoroughly charmed modern cinemas.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) is the culmination of a creepy science experiment by a uniquely kind mad scientist, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), giving a woman driven to suicide a second chance—with the brain of her unborn infant. Bella matures quickly, first discovering her balance, gravity, and empathy, and eventually philosophy, sex, and personal fulfillment. Her developmental journey is natural, but odd perceived from a fully developed women’s body. Godwin maintains a careful grip over Bella’s freedom, supervising her alongside his collegiate assistant, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef).

Bella ultimately winds up following the conniving lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) across Europe on an expensive bender, fueling Wedderburn’s desire for passive companionship and Baxter’s ache for adventure. The two create quite the disruptive pair, while Bella meets a selection of romantic partners and friends, and sees true inequality for the first time.

The narrative consistently intrigues with its quasi-realism, engrossing the reader completely in a sci-fi-coated London. Each character is extremely animated, like that of a children’s book. Stone effortlessly captivates Bella’s inner yearning for adventure and search for truth. She is curious and unafraid—a portrait of young women without society’s ruminating judgment. Bella has a fearless curiosity and confronts the world as such. It left me in a state of reflection watching a young woman discover life with (mostly) her own free will without the knowledge or care of society’s judgment placed upon her.

(Ramy Youssef (left) and Willem Dafoe)

The design presents a nod to the Victorian elements of Frankenstein while exploring fantastical sci-fi embellishments that separate our reality from that of Poor Things.  It brought home Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Design, and Best Make-Up and Hair, (as well as Stone for Best Actress)—an unsurprising selection of accolades, in my opinion. The Academy clearly agrees that Frankenstein never went out of style.


141 minutes. Rated R for nudity, lots of sex, and disembowelment. In theaters now.

Image thanks to The New York Times and Fast Company.

PREVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors

What: a comedy horror musical, brought to UM by the student theater company MUSKET


  • Friday, November 18, 8:00pm
  • Saturday, November 19, 8:00pm
  • Sunday, November 20, 2:00pm

Where: Power Center

Tickets: $7 for students, $13 for adults, available online, at the MUTO ticket office, by phone, or at the box office 1 hr before the performance. More details linked here.

Little Shop of Horrors is a Broadway musical in which Seymore, a nerdy plant shop assistant, pines hopelessly after his coworker, Audrey. The plot revolves around a strange plant, named Audrey II, which Seymore discovers will bring business and popularity to the failing shop–if only it is fed with flesh and blood! The show is produced by MUSKET, one of the university’s longest-running student theater companies. The organization produces two shows each year in the Power Center, and has tackled both classic and contemporary performances such as West Side Story, Oklahoma, Hairspray, and Rent. Scanning photos of past performances, I am blown away by their evident production value, and I can see how MUSKET represents a Michigan legacy of passionate, skilled students and their dedication to the arts. I look forward to getting a glimpse of this legacy during the Sunday performance tomorrow, and hope others will consider picking up tickets at MUTO for the darkly funny, campy experience that is Little Shop of Horrors.

REVIEW: Don’t Look Up

Filmmaker Adam Mckay ditches all subtlety in Don’t Look Up, weaponizing comedic satire to lunge straight for the throat of his target— which is, seemingly, almost everyone with media power. Don’t Look Up follows the story of two astronomers, played by Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover a deadly comet speeding straight toward Earth and desperately attempt to convince the world of the event’s urgency. Facing the insurmountable obstacles of political corruption, corporate greed, and the happy-go-lucky culture of the celebrity world, the two struggle to make sense of the media’s ignorance as inevitable death approaches.

Don’t Look Up has an impressive range of talents under its belt, demanding the attention of anyone who previews it. Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, and Ariana Grande, to name just a few, bring to life an array of caricatures. Bubbly talk show hosts, self-absorbed celebrities, and money-hungry politicians take turns looking science in its fiery, unyielding eyes and denying it outright, engaging in nonstop arguments with the only two voices of reason— and somehow always coming out unscathed.


The film is fast-paced and blood-boiling, ensuring that you want to tear your hair out and scream at Meryl Streep’s uncharacteristically smug face for the entire 138-minute runtime. The dialogue teeters between over-the-top ludicrosity and sobering realism; it clearly points fingers at real-life media personalities and politicians that exhibit similar attitudes and refuses to water down their ignorance. Some scenes lean too much into the caricatures and come off as corny, but the premise remains intact and believable. The plausibility of the “comet” situation and media reaction mirrors the harrowing reality we live in; as an obvious allegory for the accelerating climate crisis, Don’t Look Up reminds us of exactly how and why the environment is heading towards total decay and which systemic problems are to blame.


Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rotten and pitying 55%. To be fair, Mckay’s Don’t Look Up lacks nuance and bold ideas, instead infusing what we already know with a sense of existential dread and powerful anger. The comedic route is also a less effective form of delivery than a more serious satire that could delve even deeper into its criticisms. However, my agreement with the critics’ ratings ends there; as designed for a mass audience, rather than an audience of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, Don’t Look Up is a perfectly accessible and entertaining vessel for an urgent message. Grim comedy and familiar faces make the plotline easier to digest, easing the anxiety of the catastrophe. Overall, Don’t Look Up is not intended to be an innovative cultural masterpiece, and that’s okay. At its best, it is a sobering and well-scripted analysis of the twisted hierarchy of power that we live in, given credibility by its parallels to reality and a star-studded cast. At its worst, its comedy detracts from its effectiveness and the film leaves us feeling hopeless.


Don’t Look Up pleads for the world to listen to its vindication of America as we know it, and I believe it should be listened to. Packed with enough cynical cleverness and lively dialogue to keep you on your toes for the whole two and a half hours, it’s undoubtedly a worthy watch. Grab some popcorn and a few friends and check it out exclusively on Netflix.

REVIEW: The Favourite

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I walked into a screening of The Favourite at The Michigan Theatre. I had heard it described as a dark comedy, while other people had told me definitively that it wasn’t a comedy. I knew it involved queer relationships, but people had also told me not to think of it as a gay love story. Emma Stone was the only actress with whom I was very familiar, and her own past filmography has been so varied that it was hard to predict what type of role she was going to play.

As a result, it’s saying something that even throughout the length of The Favourite, I still struggled to pinpoint exactly what type of a movie it was. This isn’t meant as a slight. The movie is of course a historical drama, set during the reign of Queen Anne in Britain during the early 18th century. The comedic elements, although dry and often subtle, were often at the forefront of the screen, from the petty arguments and witty bickering between Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz, The Lobster) and Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road) to visual jokes, like Robert Harley pushing Abigail Masham (Stone) into a muddy ditch. The romance took a backseat to the drama, to be sure, and The Favourite could not quite be classified as a romance film. However, a major element of the emotional weight of the end of the film was the factor of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) discarding of Sarah, which only landed in the way that it did due to these characters’ romantic history.

The Favourite is a difficult film to characterize, but this lack of definitiveness is done purposefully and well. At its core, The Favourite is about manipulation, which is why it feels fitting that even as the three central characters — primarily Sarah and Abigail — manipulate each other, the film is also manipulating its viewers. It is tempting to side with Abigail for much of the first half of the movie, as she is constantly undercut and underestimated by the other characters. Abigail seems kind and relatable, bringing Anne medicine for her pained legs and shrugging off the advances of Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). She is also in competition with Sarah for Anne’s attention, and Sarah, while at times genuinely funny and surprisingly endearing, can also come across as intimidating (especially to a new servant like Abigail), vindictive, and callous.

In the end, though, the film makes a point about the tremendous bearing that wealth and stature can have upon the way that a person acts. When Abigail ultimately succeeds in becoming Anne’s “favourite” and edging Sarah out of the queen’s inner circle, it becomes clear that she was truly the vindictive one all along, motivated by material gain and greed rather than by any real attraction to or interest in Anne. When Sarah is distanced from the queen and then exiled, she comes across as emotionally closer and more attached to Anne than ever before. Anne herself, as the queen, is in a position to take her wealth and status more for granted than the other characters, and therefore exerts the bulk of her emotional energy on her own profound loneliness and despair.

The Favourite ends with an incredibly sad, grave, loneliness-oriented scene, far from the comedic and more lighthearted elements that punctuated the film earlier on. And yet, despite some of the seeming tonal shifts, it feels apparent that this gravity was what characterized the film from the very beginning. On the one end, this movie is about three women possessing varying degrees of power, each able and willing to do various things — some of them outrageous things — in order to gain and maintain this power. On the other hand, it simultaneously perfectly captures the notion of desperation, of seeking all of the material promises of a good life — wealth, power, beautiful objects, political sway — only to be crestfallen upon the realization that these gains have come at the cost of forsaking true and meaningful companionship. Each of the three characters embodies some angle of this concept by the end of the film, completing a trifecta of powerful acting and storytelling. The Favourite is currently playing at local theaters such as the Quality 16 and the Ann Arbor 20 IMAX.

PREVIEW: The Favourite

The Favourite has become one of the most talked-about films of late 2018 and early 2019, receiving no less than five nominations at the Golden Globes (including a win for Olivia Colman as Best Actress — Motion Picture Comedy or Musical). Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the film stars Emma Stone (Maniac) and Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel) as two cousins competing to be the “favourite” of Queen Anne (Colman) in 18th century Britain. The Favourite is showing this week at the State Theatre as well as at Ann Arbor’s Quality 16.

REVIEW: L’etat de Siege (State of Siege)

I want to say I was mindblown. But I left the theater mostly confused and somewhat annoyed.  Some comments:

I liked the metaphors: “Black horses of love.” “Summer is here.”” Winter is coming. (wink wink) ” My brain wore new clothes each time a supertitle spat out a line of beautiful poetic imagery. Each of these metaphors added new dimension to my understanding of different concepts. I can taste the salt of the sea when I hold “freedom” in my mouth, for example. Whenever I hear “repression” in my polsci class, I’m reminded of the claustrophobia created by Plague’s rule over the people. “Love”, to me, clings like the primeval, earthy smell of manure.

I liked the setup: The black garbage bag-like material that was spread across the stage created an eery sense of suspense: its supposed to CONCEAL something in or under the floor. And yes, Death and Plague showed up from underneath. The weirdly detached voice recording of a man in the beginning of the performance was a pleasant “addition” to the performance. He didn’t seem to show up after the first few seconds but it was entertaining for a while. The videos shown above the stage complemented the themes of the play. When the governor was speaking and the screens showed his silently screaming face, it gave a Big Brother-esque vibe to the play.

This is “Death” talking.

But I just didn’t enjoy the performance:

 (a) Maybe it’s just the times. I wasn’t able to enjoy it because it was not relevant to me. I don’t “see” the problems that the performance seemed to be harping about. But maybe that’s just because the play was written during World War 2 when totalitarian and fascist governments really did make cities feel more like coffins.

(b) Maybe it was just too “romantic” for me. I don’t know. One of the messages I got from the play was that one must be able to forget the fear of death to initiate regime change. Hm. It seems to particularly glorify this romantic martyr mentality instead of, I would say, the more important pragmatic coordination needed to create a successful revolution (it’s almost polsci midterms, so I’m reviewing my notes simultaneously). I know the play is not a handbook, but I’m also questioning its appropriateness in our time, when populists who appeal to emotion are starting to take the reins and terrorists are able to convince people to die for their cause by painting visions of heaven.

Diego can run away with Victoria, giving the city to Plague. Or he can die for Victoria to live.

(c) I didn’t understand the “jokes”. It made me salty.