Photo: LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions

Hollywood is no exception when it comes to the history of great trauma producing great art.

Unfortunately for Judy Garland, children were far from immune to the predatory behaviors and systemic injustices of early show business. As poignantly displayed in Rupert Goold's new movie, Judy, Garland was a tragic victim of maltreatment despite her many successes throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood.


In the film, Garland (played by Renée Zellweger in a career-high performance) arrives in London in 1968 for a string of sold-out shows at the nightclub The Talk of the Town. Garland is a haggard and unhealthy mother of three whose behavior and unpredictability have put her on an unspoken blacklist back in the States. It's only because she's strapped for cash and increasingly desperate that she accepts the headlining gig in the UK, leaving her kids behind to profit from the European market still pining for more Judy.

From Zellweger's very first scenes, we see the depths of Garland's diminishing mental and physical health, as the actress struggles with pill addiction, depression, alcoholism, and insomnia. But rather than harping on Garland's downfalls, Judy focuses on the cause of her dysfunction, flashing back periodically to her childhood, which, by today's standards, was fraught with undeniable child abuse.

Judy Trailer #2 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers youtu.be

Garland was only 16 when she was cast as Dorothy Gale in the classic film The Wizard of Oz. The unsuspecting teenager was pumped full of uppers and downers by her mother to control her mood, sleep, energy and ultimately ensure that she'd deliver a dazzling performance. We see a young Judy struggling to hold onto her youth, acting out in protest of the abusive manipulation of her mother, film producers, and handlers. We see them starve her, dangling promises of money and stardom in front of her face while verbally abusing her. They stage photo shoots at burger joints to make her look like the kid she desperately wants to be, but she's cruelly forbidden from eating in order to keep her weight stable (she's given even more pills to suppress her hunger).

Knowing the legend's heartbreaking tale and its fatal conclusion makes it all the more shocking to witness on the big screen. By the time young Judy is reprimanded by Louis B. Mayer, producer and co-founder of MGM, Zellweger is in the thick of depression and self-sabotage, with each night becoming a question of whether or not Garland can continue performing. Zellweger gives an excellent performance, fully embodying the singer's quirks, twisting and stretching her limbs to match Garland's bendy physicality on stage. She nails Garland's signature facial twitches, gait, and cadence. Though her singing does differ in octave compared to Garland's lowered register during that time, Zellweger still sounds angelic, even if blips of Renée break through.

Goold filmed the musical performances live, with Zellweger singing in front of a live band: a decision that paid off, as the authenticity is heard, seen, and felt on screen. The actress wraps herself in the blanket of Garland's sadness, turning heel in the film's climax to deliver a showstopping scene that transforms Garland's trauma into a triumph, reminding us exactly why Garland touched so many of her fans. Audience members are forced to simultaneously mourn and laud the tragedy of Judy Garland, who was a storm of emotions and charisma, on stage and off.

Judy serves up a revelatory performance that not only uncovers the depths of Zellweger's abilities but offers a peek behind the curtain of who Garland was, what drove her, and how she became so tortured and distrusting. With her joy and childlike innocence smothered by bureaucracy and constant stressors, Garland sought love from the only place it was readily accessible to her: the stage. Her audience was key to her survival; their applause kept her from breaking even earlier than she did. By contextualizing Garland's childhood, Judy allows Zellweger to deliver a beautiful testament to an icon who left us far too soon.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡/5

TV

Yes, “Fleabag” Deserves All the Emmys​

We watch the star for entertainment purposes and perhaps to learn about ourselves; she uses us as escapism, to break the tension in her life and hide from those she's afraid to let in.

Steve Schofield/Amazon

If a perfect season of television exists, that unicorn would be Phoebe Waller-Bridge's second season of Fleabag.

Waller-Bridge, the series' writer and creator, stars as a young woman we know only as "Fleabag," a volatile Londoner with an insatiable sex drive and an immensely combative nature. The series (an easy 12-episode binge) is just as complex as its lead character, serving a cocktail of cringeworthy humor and dramatic conflict that pulls hilarity out of its heavy themes of grief and sex addiction. The best part: Fleabag's direct line to us, her viewers.


From its very first moments, Fleabag breaks the fourth wall to give us the explicit play-by-play of a sexual encounter as it's happening. While it's a plot device that's been used from Ancient Greek theatre to House of Cards, having unfiltered access to Fleabag's innermost thoughts lets us diagnose her far before she's ready to confront herself. It's a mutually beneficial relationship. We watch her for entertainment purposes and perhaps to learn about ourselves; she uses us as escapism, to break the tension in her life and hide from those she's afraid to let in.

Fleabag Season 2 - Official Trailer | Prime Video www.youtube.com

Watching Fleabag is like being a fly on the wall, but to Fleabag, we're a key component to her survival. We become willing participants in her life as she struggles to connect with her remarried father (Bill Paterson), godmother-turned-stepmom (the radiant Olivia Colman), and uptight sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). While Fleabag lets us ride shotgun through her zany existence, those around her—particularly her family—tip-toe around a traumatic experience that shocked Fleabag's universe and inadvertently excuse her overly erratic and selfish behavior. Claire is resentful (and maybe jealous) of Fleabag's uninhibited self-indulgence, while her godmother treats her like a toxin. We did nothing to deserve such unique perspective into Fleabag's psyche, but it draws us closer to her than any other character is allowed to get. She fears intimacy, yet provides us with VIP privileges to peek behind the curtain. Are we more real to her than her family, or just a safer option?

Thanks to the constant feeding of her addiction, she's a pro at pretending she's not tormented by grief. But we see her hurt. We intuit that there's something she's not telling us until all is revealed in the season one finale. Even the truth about the death of her BFF, Boo, with whom she owned and operated a guinea pig-themed café, is hidden until a shocking plot element is revealed. Fleabag not only hides from a dark past but actively represses it. Her attempts to convince us that everything's OK are largely unsuccessful, because we're able to see through her charade.

In season two, Fleabag is on the path toward recovery until a charming Catholic priest puts her progress in jeopardy of relapse. Fleabag is used to getting what she wants with minimal effort, but once the mutual attraction is both acknowledged and refuted, she looks at us and says, "We'll last a week." Only when she actually has sex with the priest does she point the camera to the floor, shutting us out for the very first time. The priest challenges her in a way we can't. He calls her out on her fourth-wall dissociation, asking, "Where did you just go? You just went somewhere!" While others make allowances for her behavior and distance, the priest holds her accountable, tethering her to the moment. Once that relationship reaches its inevitable, amicable end, Fleabag walks away from him and us in one fell swoop. As a once unstable woman, she's no longer titillated by private confessions and airs; she decidedly leaves her baggage—and us—behind.

A relationship between viewers and TV screens is typically a one-sided affair, but Fleabag's perpetually shattered wall changes the dynamic and offers sharp insight into a complicated character. The show's 11 Emmy nominations should help shine a brighter light on Waller-Bridge's deserving brand of quirky dysfunction. It's not often that an outpouring of hype and praise is justified, but Fleabag is one of those unique cases. It's a gem that traverses a tightrope between learning to accept and better yourself and doing what it takes to survive. Fleabag is incredibly human, and in a way, we are all Fleabag.

MUSIC

Sheer Mag's "Hardly To Blame" Is a Cutting Ode to Heartbreak

Sheer Mag is known for revitalizing Classic Rock sounds for modern audiences, thanks to their American rock 'n roll attitude and groovy, no-frills licks.

Marie Lin

Philadelphia's Sheer Mag has released "Hardly To Blame," the latest single and video from their upcoming sophomore release, A Distant Call.

In "Hardly To Blame," the band continues to deliver heavy power-pop and bold convictions, albeit with more intimacy and melancholy than usual. Singer Tina Halladay pines over a collapsed relationship, addressing her former partner about the "landmarks of you" that make a break up that much more painful. The track laments the loss of familiarity and the haunting feeling of loneliness that prevails after heartbreak.

The video, directed by Jonathan Arturo, blends black and white images of a brokenhearted Halladay wandering city streets with in-color footage of the band performing. Guitarist Matt Palmer reflected:

"'In 'Hardly To Blame' we see the psychic landscape of Philadelphia transformed by the collapse of [vocalist Tina Halladay]'s relationship with her partner. The streets they used to walk together, the bars they used to drink at, and the friends they used to share have all been tainted by the lingering memories of their time together...'Hardly to Blame' gives us a glimpse at someone who thinks they've hit bedrock, unaware that the bottom is about to drop out."

Sheer Mag is known for revitalizing Classic Rock sounds for modern audiences, thanks to their American rock 'n roll attitude and groovy, no-frills licks. As with previous single, "Blood from a Stone," the band's upcoming record promises more of their signature scuzzy tunes, '70s riffs, and Halladay's raspy, soulful vocals.

A Distant Call is out August 23 via Wilsuns Record Company.

Sheer Mag- Hardly to Blame www.youtube.com



TV

“Veronica Mars” Explosive Finale Divides Fans (It's for the Best)

Veronica is better as a closed-off, emotionally-stunted pessimist, with a soft marshmallow heart deep inside.

Hulu

*SPOILER WARNING*

Fans were elated last week when Hulu's reboot of Veronica Mars dropped one week early following the cast's panel at San Diego Comic Con. The hype quickly turned on its head after viewers binged the eight-episode fourth season only to find that Veronica's nemesis-turned-lover-turned-husband, Logan Echolls, was blown to smithereens by the last bomb planted by serial bomber, Penn Epner (Patton Oswalt). So what happens when an underdog series with a cult-ish following kills off its fans' favorite love interest? A fandom fractures.

When the series began in 2004, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was a young teenage private eye, following in her Sheriff dad's footsteps and trying to solve her best friend's murder. Meanwhile, Logan (Jason Dohring) spent much of the first season as a volatile rich kid organizing bum fights and ostracizing Veronica when her father fingered the wrong guy in the murder case. But soon, Logan and Veronica bonded over their grief over the loss of Lily Kane, and they ended up secretly dating at the end of season 1, kickstarting an on-again-off-again affair. Fans of the series (coined "marshmallows") shipped them hard, creating the nickname "LoVe" for the two unlikely lovers.

Six years after its cancellation, fans raised $5.7 million on Kickstarter to see their favorite sassy sleuth back in action, resulting in a 2014 movie that fueled the saga of LoVe and reignited their sexual tension. Now, 15 years and another tumultuous season later, Logan and Veronica finally tied the knot— only for Logan to be offed just minutes after the nuptials. To say some marshmallows are upset would be the TV understatement of the year.




Although the quick one-two of marriage and death might have had a rushed execution, you can't help but balk at the overreaction from fans. Longtime fans have given up on the show, turning their backs on creator Rob Thomas for good. Some have even called him sexist and the writing lazy. For me, a strong reaction of any kind is a good sign; indifference is the enemy of fiction. I'd also argue that one character should not make or break a show. But in all the excitement, some may have missed the clues dropped by Thomas and Bell; and clearly, fans' failure to crack the case left them feeling blindsided.

But we can't say we weren't warned. Before season 4 debuted, Thomas tweeted, "The movie was nostalgic. The Hulu limited series isn't going to be. Hardcore So-Cal noir. One big case...This is a detective show." Bell even chimed in on the press tour, stating, "You might not want this version, but you do need this version."

It should've been clear that this was no longer the CW's Veronica Mars, nor would the season serve up a double-scoop of fan service like the movie did. As Thomas told TV Guide, "The show started out as sort of a teen soap-noir detective show hybrid. And in order for us to keep doing these, I think it needs to become a detective show—a noir, mystery, detective show—and those elements of teenage soap need to be behind us."

It was the right call. LoVe's relationship was just as much a ticking bomb as the explosive that killed Logan, and Veronica's tendency to emotionally manipulate Logan early in the season proved it. Drawn to the bad boy version of Logan from seasons past, the writers made it clear that Veronica was baiting him to lash out, despite his efforts to put his demons to rest. He worked overtime to overcome his traumas and be a better man for her, but Veronica remained hardened by her own past. Her initial rejection of Logan's proposal and her inability to confront their problems at his request is textbook Veronica: Trust is difficult for her, so she stays guarded. In sum, she's deeply flawed.

The DNA of the show needs to expand to move forward—and Veronica needed to be separated from Logan to do that. A season of couple's therapy isn't compelling television, nor is Logan's perpetual on-call status for the military. Veronica is now a woman in her 30s, and without Logan she can dig elbow-deep into her next case as a workaholic with severe trust issues, a passion for justice, and an extensive taser collection. Without Logan, her fire will burn brighter than ever.

It's uncertain if Veronica Mars will fight, scratch, and claw its way to a fifth season. If it's anything like its namesake heroine, it will. But the polarized reaction to Logan's death draws a definite line in the sand. There are those with fantasies of LoVe who refuse to let go of the past, and there are realists who can accept a necessary evil if it means more of the show they love. Veronica is most compelling when she's fighting from the bottom. Like so many classic noir heroes before her, Veronica is better as a closed-off, emotionally-stunted pessimist, with a soft marshmallow heart deep inside. She's the underdog we root for because she never gives up. But, as in all great fiction, the protagonist can't have everything she wants, and as viewers, neither can we.


TV

“Big Brother” Is Undeniably Racist

While the racism is clear to fans, the producers still try to cover it up in editing.

Monty Brinton/CBS

Three people of color left the Big Brother house on the same night amidst blatant racism and all sorts of other nasty behavior from the other contestants.

CBS' reality mainstay follows a group of houseguests stuck together in a house full of cameras as they compete for a monetary prize. To truly live up to the Orwellian implications of the title Big Brother, the show streams live footage of the cast 24 hours a day on the CBS All Access app. But what was once a summer guilty pleasure feels extra dirty this year, thanks to racially-charged bullying and disgusting comments from half of the show's contestants. But what's just as bad as the racism in the house is the producers' attempts to ignore it.

Racial lines were drawn from day one, when Camp Director Jackson selected Jess, a Latina woman, David, an African American, and Ovi, a Bangladeshi American, for possible banishment. Later, David, Ovi, and Kemi, a black female, were the first evicted and sent to Camp Comeback, a twist that allowed them to remain in the house to await a chance to re-enter the game. Viewers certainly noticed the race-based decisions of those in power. David went so far as to say, "Camp Comeback is looking real colorful," causing the live feeds to quickly switch off him.

Jack and Jackson, two physically fit white dudes, remain the two biggest problems. On the feeds, Aquaman-wannabe, Jack, was caught saying, "F**king Kemi makes me want to stomp a f**king mud hole through her chest." Jackson said he wanted to "cut this tumor out of us because she's a cancer on the house." What did Kemi do to deserve this treatment? She simply existed. But instead of showing footage in the episodes of Jack calling her "dogsh*t," "toxic," and a "f**king maggot," producers aired a clip of the Jacks insincerely comforting Kemi.

The show's production team is breaking a sweat trying to give Jack and Jackson glorified nice-guy edits, repeatedly refusing to acknowledge their racist overtones. The hate seems to be contagious, as many other houseguests are guilty of similar behavior. After David temporarily exited on Day 1, houseguests reamed him for being "a villain," "terrifying," "intimidating," and "disrespectful." David was only in the house for a few hours, yet the hate machine churned against him. And then there's Nick, a children's therapist, who said he wanted to spit in Kemi's face because "she's a piece of sh*t." Think this will make it on air? Don't hold your breath.

BB21 Nick wants to spit on Kemi www.youtube.com

So, when exactly did Big Brother turn into a dumpster fire?

This isn't the first time the show has faced accusations of racism. In 2013, four season 15 houseguests were fired for similar racist behavior. When the episodes' edits reflected what was actually happening, live feed fans felt vindicated that the racism and ugliness they witnessed was finally exposed on national television. When Aaryn Gries was evicted, host Julie Chen Moonves grilled the Texan college student, reading back all the disgusting comments she dished out on the feeds. It was a savage serving of justice. But it's not likely that a similar reckoning will happen in BB21. Kemi, David, and Ovi deserve better.

Adding salt to the wound, producers tried to manipulate Kemi to act like a racist stereotype. Kemi told other houseguests, "I think I'm portrayed as a bitch. One-hundred percent. They were like, 'Oh, why don't you, like, wag your finger and be like, 'Uh uh girlfriend.' I'm like, 'I don't even talk like that,' I literally don't talk like that, so, like, what are you trying to do?"

On the feeds, Kemi was sweet, hilarious, and loyal to her friends, yet the show worked overtime to paint her as a villain to excuse the other houseguests' racist behavior and opinions. If disliking someone's cooking and putting her water bottle in the fridge are reasons for this much hate, then this is a cruel world.

The show has a long history of hiding bigoted remarks from the designated Golden Child of the season, but Twitter is tired of the BS, defending Kemi and calling out the show.




Even former houseguests are stepping up. Audrey Middleton (the show's first trans contestant), recently called the show a "completely corrupt operation," tweeting, "They protect the worst individuals on the show and undermine the edits of the minorities because they need people to keep watching. They can't exploit the Jacks because they need to be likable for the long game to retain viewership. They represent those that suit them. If you don't, they will discredit, sabotage, and exploit those who they deem lesser than to limit their voice."

If the show is a microcosm of American society, it's clear we have a long way to go towards equality. While you can't always control what people say or do inside a pressure cooker like the Big Brother house, purposely altering the narrative or changing the context of houseguest's character isn't editing magic, it's unethical deception. As the novel 1984 warns, Big Brother is always watching. But heads up, Big Brother, so are we.

MUSIC

Blood Orange's "Angel's Pulse" Mixtape Is a Colorful Coda to "Negro Swan"

Pulse is minimalist but carries a message, beckoning listeners to figure themselves out while he's also trying to self-reflect.

Last year Blood Orange (né Dev Hynes) released the acclaimed Negro Swan, a stream of consciousness that served as a treatise on identity politics.

He explored what it meant to be black and depressed in a heteronormative society that seemingly rejects those who are different. On his new release, the Angel's Pulse mixtape, he continues his existential journey with 30+ new minutes that complement his catalogue like a colorful, free-flowing coda.


Like on Swan, Hynes fuses elements of R&B, hip-hop, and alt-pop to create tracks that are chillwave-adjacent. On board lending their talents are Toro y Moi, Kelsey Lu, Ian Isiah, Project Pat, Gangsta Boo, Tinashe, Porches, Arca, Joba of Brockhampton, Justine Skye, and BennY RevivaL, but the production and mixing are all Hynes's unique voice and flow.

"I put as much work and care into it as I do with the albums I've released, but for some reason trained myself into not releasing things the rate at which I make them. I'm older now though, and life is unpredictable and terrifying," said Hynes in a statement.

Pulse is minimalist but carries a message, beckoning listeners to figure themselves out while he's also trying to self-reflect. "What is it you notice all that way down? Our vacant sounds can help you figure it out," he sings on "Baby Florence (Figure)."

His ideas may individually seem like abstracts, but Pulse is an introspective downtempo collection that casts a much wider net, navigating pain, a broken heart, confusion, and the fear of lost connection. On "Tuesday Feeling (Choose to Stay)," he laments choosing "to ignore blues," while feeling scattered and misunderstood. "I want the lifestyle for free, I want the p**sy for free, an arm around me to grieve, a sleep without sweat and me, my self doubts in a tweet, my mood rests on coffee, try to understand me."

As with past releases, he's anxious about merely existing, yet confronts those feelings of unrest head on. On "Happiness," he asks, "How do you know when life will choose to fade away? How do you know if you've been wrong?" Fifteen years and five releases later, Hynes is still searching for meaning and answers in these tumultuous times.

Blood Orange records have always been about stepping out and owning one's differences. Musically, his mellow, moody beats and macro concepts make him a standout, yet thematically Hynes appears uncertain and wavering...and it's a relief to hear someone cop to that. On the mixtape's closer, "Today," he sings, "Loose touch and confidence never seems the same, eyesight stays clearer when selfishness became number one and chewing gum you were afraid, big mistake in stepping out...Nothing good today."

Hynes has always boldly represented himself with his originality, lush melodies, and poignant creative direction, never failing to unravel new layers of himself, both sonically and spiritually. On Pulse, Hynes proves to be the genre-spanning auteur we always knew he was. By continuing to focus on his insecurities and anxieties, he shows us that everyone—everything—is a work in progress and that recognizing imperfection is our greatest strength.

Angel's Pulse