Issue #45: Sweet Birthday Baby! 🎉
Paddington 2 + Deep Blue Sea
By some miracle of time and poor public health planning, it’s officially been an entire calendar year since we’ve been writing this newsletter. So much has changed since we began during the halcyon days of early-COVID, when we thought a three-month stay-at-home order would solve all our problems. We needed something to occupy our time while we waited in stasis for the world to start spinning again. And here we are, a year later, a year older and we’re gonna assume a year wiser too.
So this week we’re celebrating birthdays. First, Cate writes about the utter sweetness of Paddington 2, then Zosha gets some thoughts down about the inimitable classic Deep Blue Sea.
Having this project to work on during this past year has been a blessing, a needed distraction and a wonderful way to stretch our skills. We’re so grateful to all of you who have been along for the ride with us, and we’re so happy you’re here. Here’s to many more years to come <3
Cate on Paddington 2
You may have heard that this week, Paddington 2 overtook Citizen Kane as the highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes. Judgments on Orson Welles aside, it was a development that delighted me, if only because it meant that more people would be charmed by the little bear from darkest Peru. The 2014 Paddington film is such a lovely bit of nostalgia gone right that it’s not unusual to find that fans of the film reach levels of near ecstasy as they evangelize its merits. And that response is only magnified when it comes to its even better 2017 sequel.
The appeal of Paddington 2, in particular, is hard to quantify, but it largely comes down to the titular character’s oft-repeated mantra: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
Paddington’s life philosophy (passed on from his Aunt Lucy) is such a simple idea that it feels almost quaint. But the magic of Paddington 2 is that it goes to great lengths to show just how much “right” we miss when we don’t treat each other with the kindness and decency that we all deserve.
In Paddington 2, Paddington has settled into life in Notting Hill with his adoptive family The Browns, but he still misses his Aunt Lucy and writes to her frequently. When an expensive pop-up book that he is saving to purchase for her birthday is stolen, Paddington is wrongly convicted of the crime and imprisoned, leaving the Browns to find the real culprit and prove his innocence.
You wouldn’t think that lessons in prison reform for age-appropriate for children, but somehow Paddington 2 makes it work. Paddington approaches prison with the same earnestness and sincerity that he brings to every other situation in his life. He says “please” and “thank you” and kindly advocates for himself when the situation calls for it. And over time, his philosophy of kindness infects the other prisoners too, creating a utopian vision of prison as a kind of cooperative experience where the incarcerated can all pitch in and contribute to the quality of living they’d like to enjoy. Mystery meat becomes marmalade and sweet pastries, and the mess hall becomes a well-decorated bistro.
Setting aside abolitionist goals and the utter unreality of the situation (prison guards for example, are largely and notably absent) it’s such a hopeful vision for the world that it’s extremely hard not to get sucked into the fantasy that kindness is all it takes to right the ills of the world.
The film’s music also adds a touch of whimsy to the story. Largely inspired by Trinidad’s own famed calypsonian Lord Kitchener, the sweet, melodic tunes contribute to the film’s notion that kindness is not just a choice, but something we do to make each other’s lives better.
What so sweet about this film is that it knows that it’s fantastical in its premise, but it invites us to imagine a kinder, softer more sincere world anyway. Paddington’s imprisonment has tangible effects on the community he leaves behind, making them colder, crueler and rougher without his guiding influence. And we might not have a Peruvian bear to remind us to mind our manners, but we do have this wonderful reminder that kindness takes little, but gives a lot.
Zosha on Deep Blue Sea
I know what you’re thinking: Deep Blue Sea? Quite possibly the most famous birthday scene in any film, ever? It’s possible to forget that you’re even watching a shark movie when you see this puppy; it is definitely, not at all a blink and you miss it affair.
After all, when you watch Deep Blue Sea you know what you are in for — or, so I thought. Here are some stray thoughts about the film:
In a typical Big Monster movie, the birthday scene (or its script equivalent) is used to really establish the characters as people. We get a sense of their divisions, their crossovers, their shared dreams, their favorite type of booze. No such luck with Deep Blue Sea, where the “shark movie characters are people too” scene brings heavy exposition and wooden acting. I’m all in at this point.
For a movie that my knowledge of came mostly from a Psych joke, this cast is surprisingly stacked in a 1999 kind of way. We’ve got LL Cool J, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson, of course, the only three who I could name on sight. Then there’s Thomas Jane, who until The Expanse I knew of as a fictional Arrested Development character. Add in Phoebe’s cop boyfriend from Friends (Michael Rapaport) and two very distinct takes on the ‘90s Film Woman (one: dark-haired, vaguely European looking (Saffron Burrows); the other: blonde, short spikey hair (Jacqueline McKenzie)) and we’re really rounding out a decade of my touchstone-based knowledge.
Much like Jurassic World, there’s a perversity that Deep Blue Sea takes in its assault on humans. Usually for humans to be harmed in such a gratuitous way there’s been a violation. It’s a lot easier to watch a character get rammed through a glass window by a shark while strapped to a gurney, or pulled into the water in the middle of a speech (and shown being pulled apart once they’re in there) if it feels like nature is the natural cause for man’s hubris. But Deep Blue Sea goes out of its way to establish the good in its characters (which, again, have little character to begin with); they’re here trying to solve degenerative brain diseases, and thought shark brain cells could help re-activate dormant human brain cells. Most of the crew didn’t even know that their leader had crossed any sort of “Chimera Codes.” So when one of our players gets boosted up through the water as they desperately reach for help only to reveal it’s a shark eating them from the bottom up, it seems particularly cruel and unnecessary.
LL Cool J is often very good, but he is delightful in his small moment making a survival video for his loved ones.
Despite its innate knack for punishment against even unknowing sins against nature, it has a good sense of propulsive action. Once it manages to set the table, the film moves into survival mode quite quickly, letting its characters scramble, settle, and fight through their new reality.
That being said, it’s oddly unconcerned with its surroundings. Unlike most site-based (sci-fi) horror films, it feels as if our characters move from one room/shaft/level to the next. My guess would be that the filmmakers (if they cared at all) felt like the pressure of the water would be enough for audiences to sink into the anxiety of the characters. It’s not as concerned as I would like it to be with placing the viewer in the space, letting us understand where and how these chambers connect and try to solve alongside our heroes.
The stripping down to out-swim the shark scene is very silly in a sea (sorry) of silly choices. It’s also pretty resourceful and badass. What’re you gonna do.
Speaking of silly things that really worked, Tom Jane rising from the depths with the sedated shark in the beginning and shaking off his hair is both incredibly Monster Movie Action Star macho, and also very effective with his whole look.
LL Cool J’s weakest bits are when he does a little prayer as they fill up the compression chamber with water so they can swim to the surface (this movie, folks). It’s not only a waste of air but it comes off as more wooden than when he is getting dragged around by the shark.
LL Cool J is one of the MVPs of this movie, is what I’m saying.
“That’s just so much blood.” - a real thing I said out loud at the end.
I can think of no better ending for a 30FF anniversary piece: Thank god Fast & Furious is picking up the slack ending on a kitschy themed rap song. I mean listen to this gem:
Assorted Internet Detritus
CATE: What Rebecca Black’s been up to, twenty years of All For You, the pleasures of discount shopping, 25 songs that matter now, a truer, fuller story of Hattie McDaniels, on post-pandemic dating, bad tech did one good thing, and “cheugy” and it’s implications.
ZOSHA: How we got the phrase “cancel culture” and how it got twisted. An ode to Kimye and the love and power that flowed between them. Misery memes run the internet. Climate change, pets, and you, starring one of my favs. How the Oscars (aside from the ending) showed how “normal” isn’t always worth preserving.