“Video Games”, the seventh episode of Girls Season Two, focuses on Jessa and after a season and a half, some light is finally shed on why Jessa is the way she is.  Hannah accompanies Jessa on an overnight trip to the countryside in upstate New York, where Jessa is visiting her father.

Hannah and Jessa at Train Station

The episode starts out with the two girls being stranded at the train station and waiting hours for Jessa’s father to pick them up.  This is the first inkling the viewer gets that Jessa’s father is certainly not Parenting Magazine’s Father of the Year.  When he (Ben Mendelsohn) finally arrives, he is aloof, out of sorts and somewhat cold to his daughter.  The next scene introduces his live in-girlfriend Petula (Rosanna Arquette), an aging hippie type wearing a vintage Jefferson Starship t-shirt.  Everyone gathers around an outside picnic table for dinner, which consists of the same rabbits that Hannah petted and found cute and cuddly earlier that afternoon.  Jessa’s father announces to her that he and Petula have plans for the evening, and Jessa and Hannah are on their own.  Jessa seems quite disappointed, although she tries to hide her hurt.

Hannah and Jessa eating rabbit

In a distracting scene, Hannah and Jessa go out with two local boys and drive a sports car blindfolded through the winding country roads, while doing Whip-Its.  During this scene, Hannah is the only voice of reason and she actually gets out of the car in fear for her life.  We don’t typically see Hannah act as the level-headed one, but for a character who strives to be different and likes outside the box experiences, the entire trip to witness where Jessa has come from, makes Hannah realize she is actually the normal one.  In true Hannah fashion, she does sleep with Petula’s strange son and, I find I’m beginning to grow tired of Hannah’s carefree attitude towards her sexual encounters.  It seems that Dunham puts her character into this type of scene in almost every episode of Season Two.  Knowing that Dunham writes with purpose, I’m hoping there will be some kind of revelation about her carefree attitude towards sex somewhere near the end of this season.

The following day, Hannah and Jessa go to the local country store to stock up on edible food and once again, Jessa’s father never comes back to pick them up.  They have to walk back to the father’s house and, it’s during this walk, that Hannah realizes just how screwed up Jessa’s father is and why Jessa puts on a front of being such a carefree, liberal flowerchild type.  Unfortunately for Jessa, this is the only behavior she knows, but it’s really rather sad.  She is craving her father’s attention, but is rejected over and over again during her visit.  It’s because of this episode, that it’s now clear why Jessa rushed into marriage with Thomas John.  She has a serious need to seek male attention, whether it is the father of a child she babysits for or an uptight business man, like Thomas John.

Jessas Father

While Hannah is in the bathroom dealing with a urinary tract infection, Jessa vanishes, leaving Hannah stranded with only a note that reads, “See you around my love, X.”  The way in which Jessa appeared on Shoshanna’s doorstep in Season One, is the same whimsical way in which she departs from Season Two.  This episode concludes with Hannah phoning her parents from the train station to tell them how much she appreciates them for always being there for her.  In typical Girls fashion, the call doesn’t go smoothly; Hannah’s mother thinks Hannah is full of shit.  But whether or not Hannah’s mother believes she is genuine, Hannah knows the truth, that her upbringing, no matter how messed up or insane, doesn’t hold a candle to the way in which Jessa grew-up.

Jessa

In a look inside the episode, Dunham explains that writing this episode helps to give the viewer a chance to feel sympathy for Jessa.  Otherwise, they would have never felt anything for her.  On a whole, the episode is a success in that it properly mixes backstory with emotion to show that Dunham’s created characters, like Jessa, are not one-dimensional or mere satire.  They are deeply layered people with past wounds, and their present day actions come from a real place of conviction.

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Ray and Adam with dog“Boys”, the sixth episode of Girls Season Two, primarily follows two of the male characters, Adam and Ray, as they make a trek to Staten Island to return a stolen psychotic dog.  In a great running gag about the book Little Women, Ray ends up befriending Adam when he visits him to find his missing copy of Louisa May Alcott’s famous novel.  In true Adam fashion, Ray finds a mad dog locked in Adam’s bathroom and when he discovers that Adam stole the dog from its owner, who was yelling at it, he pontificates that dogs are like family members and you can’t steal them.  Adam agrees to return the dog but only if Ray accompanies him.  What follows is Girls first look into the minds of males and their interpersonal relationships.

Going to Staten Island from Brooklyn is like Odysseus’ trip in the Odyssey.  It involves a ferry, and that can feel like ten years.  This gives the men, or boys as the episode is titled, time to talk about women, relationships, and their fears.  Adam attempts to convince Ray that he is over Hannah by using one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard.  He compares Hannah to the inflatable Tweetie Bird you win at a carnival by tossing three rings into a bucket.  It seems easy, but in reality it’s really rigged to torment you.  Then, when you finally win, you’re stuck carrying a big yellow blow up plastic toy around for the rest of the evening.  Ray agrees and makes a disparaging comment about Hannah, and Adam becomes angry, defends Hannah and yells at Ray.  He storms off leaving Ray all by himself with the muzzled dog.

Ray and Adam on Ferry

Ray continues his trek to return the dog and he encounters a Staten Island girl, on her way to work at Webster Hall, who turns out to be the daughter of the dog’s owner.  She tells him she hates the dog and doesn’t want it back.  She then hurls a slur of racial and homophobic insults at Ray and stomps off.  Ray is dumbfounded and he finds the nearest bench and breaks down crying.  His tears aren’t because the uneducated girl from Staten Island called him a “kike” and a “fag”.  They’re because he feels lost.  He’s 33 years old, works at a coffee shop and his longest relationship is the four-week long one he currently has with Shoshanna.  Earlier that morning, Shoshanna tried to convince him to take a class at the Learning Annex where Donald Trump would be speaking.  He asked her why he’d want to do that and she explained because obviously he doesn’t want to work at a coffee shop forever.  It’s not that Ray wants to serve coffee for the rest of his life, but he also doesn’t have the hang-ups that 23-year old Shoshanna has.  During their pilgrimage to that “other island”, Ray tells Adam that Shoshanna doesn’t understand.  She’s at the age when she still thinks her life will turn out exactly the way she planned.  She hasn’t experienced all the letdowns and disappointment that someone in his thirties has lived through.  Ray speaks as though he is okay with not having a perfect life, but his breakdown, later that day, shows that he is bothered by his current life status.  However, he makes some accurate points and one can see the delineation between a Millennial and a Gen Xer.

Ray and dog on bench

The B Story of this episode concentrates on Hannah and Marnie and what is going on in each of their lives.  Hannah attempts to write her first eBook, while Marnie is excited to host her first party with her new boyfriend, Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone).  Each girl wants the other to be happy for her, but when they try to share their world with one another, the only thing that results is failure.  Hannah attends Booth’s party to support Marnie, but she finds herself uncomfortable with Marnie’s posh artist friends and leaves after only a few minutes.  It’s not that she’s jealous of Marnie’s new life, but she isn’t sure where she fits into the puzzle.  She wants to understand Marnie and what she is experiencing, but all she really wants to do is go home and work on her eBook.

Hannah and Marnie at Booths party

If Hannah stayed longer, she would have witnessed a fight between Marnie and Booth, where Marnie realizes that Booth only wanted her for sex and to carry out personal assistant duties.  Like many naive young women, she thought that Booth was her boyfriend.  Booth gets Marnie to admit that she really only likes the idea of him, but doesn’t really like Booth himself for who he really is.  Booth has a temper-tantrum, like a two-year old who wants his mommy, and breaks several bottles of expensive wine from his wine cellar.  Marnie leaves crying, but her mood perks up when she receives a call from Hannah, who’s experiencing a serious case of first-time writer’s block.

Marnie crying in subway

The short telephone conversation concludes the episode, but it leaves the viewer with chills.  Both women are desperate for the other one’s care and understanding, but they gloss over their predicaments and lie to one another.  Hannah fibs that her writing is going extremely well, while Marnie tells Hannah how amazing the party was.  Marnie has tears in her eyes and Hannah reflects the pain she feels in her soulful expression and balled up fist.  It is at this point in the episode that Girls does a tremendous job of pinning down the intricacies of female friendships.  What is important is what Hannah and Marnie are not saying to one another.  There is an eerie uneasiness lurking just beneath their conversation, like an invisible mysterious power threatening to incinerate their friendship.  Both girls can feel it, but they can’t reach out and stop it from seeping into their relationship.  Friendships among women are often similar to male-female love relationships, in that they can often carry the same deep emotional connection despite being strictly platonic.  Many friendships are simply elements of location and time, and friends often grow up and apart.  Most women can probably remember the exact point at which they felt the divide between themselves and their best friend begin.  It’s an ugly feeling when a chasm develops and when one realizes that a person they’ve had a deep connection with may be drifting away from them.  It’s like watching someone float away on a raft and you have no ability to throw them a life saver.  You know it’s happening, but there’s no simple fix.

Any writer will tell you that it’s quite a feat to write from the point of view of the opposite sex.  So it’s not surprising that this sixth episode of Girls was co-written by male writer, Murray Miller.  He and Lena Dunham, both do an excellent job at exploring male to male bonding and female to female drifting.  Actor Alex Karpovsky, who plays Ray Ploshansky, also shines in this episode and we get to see him stretch from delivering one-liners to Hannah to almost carrying an entire episode.  I enjoyed seeing him peel off a few layers of sarcasm and show us his deeper side.  Although, he delivers the funniest line of the episode when he quips, “Whenever somebody says they want to be a writer, they really don’t want to do anything.  Except, you know, eat and masturbate.”

Grumpys argumentThe fifth episode of Girls Season Two, “One Man’s Trash”, is a departure from the regular formula that Girls follows.  The episode focuses solely on Hannah and plays like a half-hour drama, instead of the single-camera half-hour comedy ensemble show it usually is.  The episode is well-written and Hannah shares screen time with Patrick Wilson, who plays new character, Joshua.  I didn’t necessarily miss the other three characters, because I was drawn into the strange trip that Hannah takes.

Joshua comes into Grumpy’s Coffee Shop and complains that the store has been using his private trash cans.  After an argument with Ray, the coffee shop manager, the man leaves disgruntled but Hannah follows him to his private brownstone.  She innocently knocks on his door and he invites her in.  This is the only moment in this episode where I felt like I had to take a leap of blind faith.  I didn’t understand what Wilson’s character’s motivation was to invite a strange girl into his apartment.  On the other hand, Hannah blindly going into his brownstone, against her better judgment, is quite fitting with her character.

After a glass of lemonade, Hannah admits to Joshua that she is the one who has been dumping the coffee shop’s garbage into his trash cans.  Her excuse is rather convoluted, but Joshua seems to accept her explanation.  Hannah then makes a pass at Joshua and they end up in bed together.  After sleeping with the handsome 42 year-old Joshua, Hannah attempts to make a sexit.  Joshua asks her why she is leaving, and she responds that she wants to give him space.  This response by Hannah is a window into her soul.  She has become so accustomed to immature men treating her like garbage; she doesn’t feel comfortable over staying her welcome.  But Joshua begs her to stay and she does.

Patrick Wilson reading paperThe next morning, Hannah and Joshua act like any other yuppie middle-aged Brooklyn brownstone-dwelling couple, by reading the New York Times in his solarium over coffee and toast with jam.  For most people, this is an ordinary moment, perhaps even a dull moment in the life of a stable couple.  But for Hannah, this entire experience is surreal.  She looks at Joshua as he reads the paper, and one can see a calmness wash over her face.  Is Hannah finally at peace?

Joshua calls into work sick and Hannah agrees to stay for another day and evening.  At one point she decides to take a shower, and she goes into Joshua’s beautifully remodeled bathroom, and stands inside it mystified by the multiple shower heads and steam settings.  To her, this is a world she has never seen before.  Perhaps she’s caught a glimpse of it in a television show or in a trendy magazine, but she’s never lived it.  Her life involves living in a tiny apartment, rotating out insane roommates every other month, and working at a hipster coffee shop.  She never would have imagined she’d be spending a lost weekend with a good-looking, wealthy doctor, who is kind and nurturing.

Dunham breaks downAfter Hannah passes out from too much steam in the shower, Joshua consoles her and she begins crying.  When Joshua asks her what’s wrong, she delivers a monologue.  In her speech, she explains that this life that he has, that she has pretended to have for the last two days, is something she thought she’d never have.  She further details, that she has spent her entire life being an unhappy person that is against societal norms and tries to live outside the box.  But being with Joshua, in his brownstone, has made her realize that she is just like everybody else.  She too wants the beautiful home, great husband, and stable relationship.  This very fact scares her to the core, because she now questions everything she thought she knew about herself.  It is an epiphany moment for Hannah, and she may have matured in a way that previously would have been impossible.

Unfortunately for her, this bold, but honest speech makes Joshua’s eyes glaze over.  Like most men, he liked Hannah when she was sweet and in awe of him.  But as soon as she shows her vulnerable side and explains to him how she feels, he loses interest.  Hannah sees it in his demeanor and, when he tells her he needs to get to bed because he has to get up early for work.  Ultimately, Joshua may have disappointed Hannah, and their short-lived rendezvous may be over.  But, he served as a spark for Hannah’s inner-emotional journey.  It is one that she needed to take and that the viewer needed to take with her.

In an insider’s look into the episode, creator Lena Dunham explains that the idea for this episode started out as a dream that Hannah would have, but then Dunham decided to morph it into reality.  It is interesting that she remarks on this, because the tone of the episode does have a dream like quality, and, although it really happened, the way in which the events unfold is quite allegorical.  I highly respect Dunham for going in a different direction with this episode and really exploring her character.  It has elements of HBO’s other half-hour comedy show, Enlightened.  Perhaps Dunham is a fan and wanted to explore how her character, Hannah, becomes enlightened.  Overall, it was a risk that paid off.

Sweater costs more then my rentI love the series Girls for its ensemble cast and uncanny way of making the most ridiculous and disgusting things hysterically funny.  I think the series works best when all four young women have screen time and there is humor involved.  But, a strange departure now and then is what makes certain television series remind their viewers that the writers are full of novel ideas.

The second episode of Girls Season Two, “I Get Ideas”, plays like a fast-paced soap opera.  The thirty minute episode involves quick cuts from girl to girl and scene to scene.  The drama is heightened and Dunham explores the dynamics of specific relationships.  This second episode didn’t create many laughs and when it ended I said to myself, “That’s it?”

SandyDespite the jumping around from situation to situation, Dunham’s character Hannah steals the limelight for the majority of the episode.  Anxious to have her new boyfriend, Sandy, read an essay she has written, she pressures him until he gives her his opinion.  During this process, it’s revealed that Sandy is a Republican but Hannah is okay with it.  That is, until he tells her he didn’t like her essay because it basically didn’t go anywhere.  Kind of like this episode.  She then declares there is no way she can date a Republican who hates Gays and thinks everyone should have a gun.  I shuddered for a moment at the mention of gun rights.  Obviously it is a hot topic now, both politically and socially, but this episode was written way before the tragic events of Newtown, Connecticut played out.  Kudos to Dunham for being ahead of the curve.  With not much more thought than deciding what to eat for lunch, she decides she and Sandy are over.  I suppose this new character is just a distraction for the audience and not a part of the storyline for Season Two.

Later that evening, Hannah’s ex, Adam, shows up unannounced and refuses to leave.  Hannah dials 911, an obvious overreaction, but then thinks better of it.  But, unfortunately for her, the police show up and arrest Adam.  It is the second scene this season where the viewer feels sorry for Adam.  He didn’t mean any harm nor does he deserve the wrath of Hannah, who dumps men like a line cook in a high school cafeteria swats flies.  I dislike Hannah’s actions, mostly because she doesn’t seem to have any sense of remorse or empathy towards the men she leaves in her wake.  I’m not sure if the character is written this way because she’s supposed to be devoid of emotions or because it’s intended to be funny.  I also will suspend belief that the police in New York City respond to an accidental dial of 911 from a cell phone.  I believe they will call you back right away, but it seems questionable that they would automatically appear at her Brooklyn walk-up two minutes later.

Thomas John and JessaShoshanna appears in only one scene during this episode.  She’s in bed with Ray and the audience is clued in that they are now pursuing their relationship.  Jessa also has limited screen time, appearing in just two scenes.  In the first, she is painting a portrait of Thomas-John and they are still completely enraptured by one another.  In the second, she tells Hannah that Sandy should want to read her essay right away, thus planting the seed in Hannah’s head that what she and Sandy have is not love, or certainly not as potent as Jessa and Thomas-John’s love.  It’s too bad that Hannah doesn’t realize that unstable Jessa just threw a stick of dynamite into her relationship with Sandy.

Marnie too had limited scenes, but she makes hers count.  After being rejected for a potential art curator position because the hiring manager tells her she just doesn’t look like the type of person who would have that job, she complains to Shoshanna and Ray and tells them she doesn’t want to be around people who like their lives.  Shoshanna comments to Marnie that she’s pretty and should do something like hosting, but not modeling because she’s not that pretty.  Although she turns her nose up at the idea of taking people to their seats in trendy overpriced restaurants, the next scene shows Marnie in a revealing hostess outfit.  She shows up on Hannah’s doorstep where Elijah is the only one home.  MarnieHe quips, “You look like a slutty Von Trapp child.”  This had to have been the best line of dialogue in the entire episode, and the only time where I laughed out loud.   It’s then revealed that Elijah and Marnie have decided not to tell Hannah of their “almost” sexual encounter and are keeping a secret from her.  Marnie doesn’t like the idea of hiding anything from Hannah, but she agrees to keep mum for Elijah’s sake.  This is an important plot device that will certainly affect some of the upcoming episodes.

Episode Two was not on par with most of the episodes from Girls’ prior season, but I am still hopeful that the current season will not disappoint.  You can almost categorize it as a throw-away episode.  It’s a necessary evil in order to keep the storylines moving forward and set-up situations to come in future episodes, but on its own merits it isn’t very memorable.  The true standout is Allison Williams, who makes the character of Marnie her own and gives her as many layers and as much depth as Dunham’s character, Hannah.  I’m interested to see in which direction Marnie goes.  Will she completely self-destruct or will she make it look like she is the only one who has it together, at least on the outside?  Let’s wait and see.

Its About Time HannahI highly anticipated the premiere of the second season of HBO’s half-hour comedy series, Girls.  Directed, produced and written by its main star, Lena Dunham, and executive produced by filmmaker Judd Apatow, the sophomore show had won my allegiance during its debut season.  There was a lot of buzz surrounding the new series when it first ran in April 2012.  The critics lauded the show, but there was some backlash among the viewing public that it was simply a knock-off of the popular Sex and the City HBO series.  As word started to spread that Girls wasn’t to be missed, then the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, began taking hits for having a show that wasn’t diverse.  The common complaint was that if the show was supposed to be about life in New York, why did it only star white people?  Dunham stayed strong through the hits and let her work speak for itself.

Having always respected HBO’s innovative television choices and unable to ignore both the positive and negative PR surrounding Girls, I tuned in.  I found the pilot interesting enough, but thought that Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, was a little whiny, self-obsessed and clueless.  The second episode shocked me a bit for its blatant nudity and sex scenes.  But I stayed with it, and by the time the credits rolled on episode three, I was hooked.  I can also identify the exact point at which I fell in love with the series.  It was Season One’s episode seven, “Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident.”  When naïve Shoshanna Shapiro, played masterfully by Zosia Mamet (the daughter of famed playwright David Mamet), accidentally takes a hit of crack at a party in a warehouse in Brooklyn and then runs through the streets with no pants, my heart fluttered.  In this one instance, Dunham wrapped every single characteristic about living in New York in your twenties into a perfect little package and served it up brilliantly.  In Season One’s finale, I also cooed when Mamet’s character, Shoshanna, in shock that her cousin Jessa Johansson decided to marry an older man, who she only met two weeks prior, deadpan’s, “Everyone’s a dumb whore.”

If hard-pressed to compare Girls to Sex and the City, I admit I can find some similarities.  They both center on a group of four female friends that live in New York.  If I had to decide which character on Girls is the “rip-off” of a Sex and the City character, I can figure it out quite easily.  Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, the aspiring writer and main character would be a parallel to Sara Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw.  Innocent and virginal Shoshanna is obviously an ode to Kristin Davis’ Charlotte.  Free-spirit Jessa could be loosely linked to Kim Cattrall’s Samantha and practical but uptight Marnie Michaels depicts a few characteristics of Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda.  But that’s where the comparisons end.  Sex and the City centered on thirty-something women in Manhattan who dressed like runway models, attended events at the hottest spots in the city, and rotated hot men in and out of their lives like a lazy susan at a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant.   Girls follows four women in their young twenties, just out of college, who live in dumpy apartments in grimy, but trendy, Brooklyn.  Most of them can’t hold down a job or a boyfriend.  They are completely clueless and finding their way one mistake at a time.  Where Sex and the City is all pizzazz, Girls is all grit.

The season finale of Girls Season One ended on an ambiguous note.  Hannah wakes up in Coney Island, having accidentally fallen asleep on the F train.  She is reeling from a fight with her best friend, Marnie, and having seen her boyfriend, Adam, get hit by a truck because he was angry that she didn’t want him to move in with her, we, as an audience, are left with an edgy feeling.  We’re not sure what will happen to Hannah and her friends next, and that’s a great setup for Season Two.  I’d wondered how Dunham would deal with her open ending to Season One.  Many shows choose to jump time when they return for a subsequent season and rather than explain what happened to their characters in the interim, they have them trapped in new obstacles six months to a year later, leaping over their original predicaments.  Dunham chose not to take the easy way out and I applaud her for that.  Season Two picks up almost right where Season One left off.  The opening episode involves her spooning with her gay college ex-boyfriend, Elijah.  The audience can infer that he has moved in and Adam hasn’t.  Dunham makes a reference to Adam, but it is more of a complaint that she has to still take care of him.   At this point, she no longer has strong romantic feelings for Adam, but still feels obligated to see him, since it was somewhat her fault he got hit by a truck in the first place.

Its About Time SandyThe next scene goes straight to Hannah having sex with an unidentified new character, named Sandy.  And wait for it…he’s black.  I know it’s 2013 and not 1960 in Mississippi but, if you remember, I mentioned earlier that Dunham faced criticism during Season One for not having a diverse cast.  She made a comment during the taping of Season Two that she would address that concern.  Some viewers were angry that she caved to the pressure and felt that her show didn’t need to answer to anyone.  I expected that in Season Two someone in her inner circle of girlfriends would be black.  But instead, she decided to make her new sex buddy black.  To me it’s a giant F U to the critics, and I think it’s awesome.

Its about Time MarnieThe Season Two opener centers around Hannah and Elijah throwing a house party.  It’s an easy way to assemble the entire cast and show the viewer what is going on with each of the girls.  Marnie, played by Allison Williams, runs into her ex, Charlie, at the party, and although she tries to pretend she’s over him, the audience can tell she is lying to herself.  Fresh off a lunch with her mother, who tells her she looks 30 and needs to act her age, and then she gets downsized from her gig as an assistant at an art gallery, she reaches new heights of self-pity.  She attempts to sleep with Elijah in some effort to make herself feel better.  Maybe she thinks she can even get a gay guy to fall for her.  But although he tries, Elijah just can’t perform and the viewer is left staring at Marnie and can sense her self-esteem plummet.  It’s such an effective scene that the viewer feels like they are right in the room with her.

Shoshanna reveals she is no longer the 23 year-old virgin, but is quite angry at Ray, the coffee store manager who deflowered her.  Apparently, he never called afterwards and she spends the entire time, at the party, trying to ignore him.  The ridiculousness of doing that in a ten-foot living room is laughable.  It’s unclear what Ray’s motives are, but both he and Shoshanna are such eccentric characters that the audience wants to see more of them together.

Its about Time AdamHannah spends half of the episode playing caretaker to Adam, bringing him pain killers and emptying his bedpan.  He has a full cast on one leg reaching to his upper thigh and can’t take care of himself.  He’s moody, angry and depressed.  Not much different from his usual personality, but what Hannah once found lovable she now can’t stand.  She’s in a quandary and wants to do the right thing.  But she finally has had it and tells him they are over.  Adam is left standing on one leg in the middle of his apartment and, for a split-second you begin to feel sorry for him when he never was that likable to begin with.  Is Hannah shallow?  Yes.  But, can you blame her?  No.  How many young twenty-something’s do you know, who would be selfless nursemaids?  She’d rather be back at her party and, for once she decides to do what she wants to do.  It’s obviously not the end of Adam.  Hannah may think so, however the audience knows better.

Jessa, absent for most of the episode, only appears towards the end.  She and newlywed Thomas John, played by Bridesmaids, Chris O’Dowd, appear tanned and Caribbean “islandified”.  They take a taxi from the airport, after cutting the line, and passionately make out.  I’m not sure where their relationship is going and it may be my least favorite storyline.  It just seems too obvious to me that this is going to end in disaster.  Although, Dunham may have something up her sleeve and we’ll have to stay tuned to see if she is going to pull a rabbit out of her magic hat.

If you’re still not sold on Girls, maybe the fact that the show won best television series-Comedy or Musical- at the 70th Annual Golden Globes will entice you.  Lena Dunham also won best performance by an actress in a television series-Comedy or Musical.  Since Season Two of Girls was written and filmed long before the current awards season, I’m optimistic that the second season will live up to its expectations and continue to bring laughs and pure raw awkwardness.

jackreacher-mv-11Jack Reacher is the main character in a popular book series written by Jim Grant, under the pen name Lee Child.  The series includes 17 books in total, with the most recent released in September 2012.  The film Jack Reacher is based on book nine, titled One Shot.  Distributed by Paramount Pictures and made by Tom Cruise‘s own production company it, of course, stars Tom Cruise as the lead character, Jack Reacher.  If you miss the Tom Cruise of Top Gun, A Few Good Men, and the more recent Collateral, see this film.  Cruise, who reached his 50 year milestone this past summer, is on top of his game.  He plays the good hero, with an edge, infallibly.

Jack Reacher is an ex-military police investigator who served with several distinctions.  But now he lives off the grid, and only comes forward when he learns that James Barr, an ex-army sniper, has been arrested for the killing of five innocent people.  Reacher knew Barr in Iraq and investigated him for the unauthorized murders of several independent contractors.  According to Reacher, Barr confessed to him about killing the contractors, but was never prosecuted because the Army chose to look the other way.  Reacher promised Barr that if he ever did anything like that again he would come for him.

When Reacher arrives in Pittsburgh and meets Helen, the attorney defending Barr, he gets more than he bargained for.  Originally convinced Barr was guilty, he agrees to be Helen’s lead investigator and stay open to the fact that Barr could be innocent.  After a barroom brawl gets staged to run Reacher out-of-town, he realizes Barr is being framed and he sets out to uncover the truth.  This is not a spoiler because, if you are paying attention, the opening scene gives the viewer a clue as to whether Barr is guilty or innocent.  The mystery lies in who really killed these five people and why they committed such a heinous crime.

jackreacher-mv-12What follows is your classic action-thriller genre film with just the right amount of plot twists to keep you guessing and action sequences to keep you in a heightened state of anxiety.  Reacher has a penchant for “borrowing” cars and conveniently ends up in a Chevrolet Chevelle SS during a police chase.  I only cringed when he took a hit from another car and damaged the front end, not because I worried Reacher would get caught (we all know the hero always evades the cops in the car chase scene), but because it is a crime to bust up such a beautiful classic car.  Cruise, who usually opts to do all his own stunts, did his own driving in this film.  Maybe that’s why he looked like he was having a little too much fun.

Cruise, who served as Executive Producer on the film, surrounded himself with a great ensemble cast.  The British-born actress, Rosamund Pike, plays Helen.  Although her chemistry with Cruise is palatable, it is never tested.  Her character is all business and she never strays from her main goal of defending Barr.  Her father, played by Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins, is the D.A. and her main legal adversary.  His role is small, but he is one of the top-five character actors in the business today, and he delivers just the right amount of suspicious behavior concealed in fatherly concern.  His partner, Detective Emerson, is acted by the same David Oyelowo, who turned heads in this past autumn’s indie, Middle of NowhereRobert Duvall rounds out the cast as an old-time gun aficionado who befriends Reacher and serves as his back-up during the climax, which takes place at an old rock quarry.  Although Duvall only turns up in the fourth quarter of the film, his performance is priceless and he delivers one-liners like, “Get her number and let’s go,” that only he could do properly, with the possible exception of Clint Eastwood, and only prior to the RNC chair debacle.

Jack Reacher is both directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie.  His previous screenplays include Valkyrie and The Usual Suspects.  His director resume is quite short, with only one previous feature film under his belt.  In the wrong hands this film could have turned out like an 80’s action flick that you’ve only heard of because you were looking for something to watch on a cable movie channel for free.  The dialogue is often cheeky and if it was being delivered by an action-hero like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, I’d roll my eyes.  But Cruise knows how to walk the thin-line between schmaltz and funny.

No matter what you’ve read in the tabloids about Cruise’s personal life this past summer or how you feel about Scientology, you’ll want to pat him on the back after seeing this film.  I couldn’t think of a better role for Cruise to play to reinvigorate his career and remind us why he is a star.  It is roles like this that he should be recognized for and remembered for when reflecting on his acting history.  With 16 other books in the Jack Reacher series, the door is open for a sequel and it could be a bankable franchise for Cruise.

rustandbone-mv-1The theatrical trailer for Rust and Bone doesn’t show much more than a Killer Whale, a woman who appears to be drowning in the water, and a couple frolicking on the beach.  After seeing it several times I’d already put this film on my “do not watch list.”  But a message through the film community started to spread that Rust and Bone shouldn’t be missed.  The truth lies somewhere between.

Rust and Bone is a French Film directed and written by Jacques Audiard.  It stars the talented Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Some of Cotillard’s more popular American films include Contagion, Inception, and Public Enemies.  Schoenaerts is pretty much an unknown in the states, but he managed to hold his own in scenes with Cotillard.

The premise of the film is simple.  Cotillard’s character, Stephanie, is hurt in a freak accident where she works, at Marineland.  Having met Schoenaerts character, Ali, who worked as a bouncer at a nightclub, only once, she then calls him for help after her accident leaves her a double leg amputee.  The one impression Ali gave to Stephanie was when he asked her why she dressed like a whore?  So it is somewhat of a leap to believe that Stephanie would ever call Ali, no matter how alone, desperate, and depressed she felt.  But Ali comes over to Stephanie’s place and what results at first is a friendship.  It is also unclear why Ali would respond to Stephanie.  The only logical assumption is that he is a bit of a loner and besides working nights as a security guard, boxing at the local gym, and having one-night stands with women he picks up, he really doesn’t have anything better to do.

In a predictable fashion their friendship turns sexual, but only in the confines of a friend helping out another friend.  The person in the seat next to mine whispered to me, “That is some friend.”  He was referring to the fact that Ali would bed Stephanie at all, since she had lost both of her legs from the knees down.  After the climax of the film, which I won’t detail in order not to spoil it, the film becomes even more predictable when both Stephanie and Ali realize they’re in love.

I really didn’t think this film was original.  In fact, it was just a retelling of a story that has been told a hundred times before.  But where the film stands out is in its performances by the two leads, its visual effects, its comedic writing despite such a dark premise, and some of the feelings it invokes in the viewer.

rust and bone 2Cotillard’s name will be tossed around this upcoming movie award season and it is because of Rust and Bone.  She gives a powerful performance throughout, of a woman who has lost everything and must learn to find the pleasures in life again.  One scene in particular that really shines, is when she awakes in the hospital disoriented.  Like any of us would do she tries to prop herself up, but doesn’t seem to move an inch.  In a last-ditch effort she throws off her sheets and the viewer is exposed to the fact that her legs are gone.  Does Stephanie know this?  She panics and falls out of bed.  Dragging her upper body across the floor, she screams for help and then yells over and over, “What did you do to my legs?”  It is the type of scene that makes you grimace and your stomach twist.  But Cotillard played it perfectly.

rustandbone-mv-5In Ali, Schoenaerts plays a despicable character.  He is rude to almost everyone, has a son that he barely takes care of and when he does he ends up physically abusing him, and engages in an illegal fighting ring where he feeds off his ability to bloody his opponents into submission.  Despite Ali’s attempts to help Stephanie, he is still unlikable.  The character never really wins over the audience and it takes real acting talent to play this type of role.  Everyone loves a Prince Charming, but what is harder is to play a man with so many wounds he is almost irredeemable.

The visual effects in this film mostly center around Cotillard’s character’s legs.  In scenes where she is in a wheelchair, she is likely just sitting on them.  But in the others, where she is sliding on the floor or learning to walk with her blades, computer-generated imagery (CGI) is used.  The editors did an amazing job making Stephanie look like a real person with two amputations.  There is only one scene in the film, where one can see the outline of Cotillard’s legs.  It is during a swim in the Mediterranean Sea on a sun-filled day.  Ali carries Stephanie out of the water and for a brief second you remember this is all make-believe.  The bright sun reflecting off the sea must have been too much for the color correction editors to battle and they missed fine-tuning the absence of legs for a few moments.

Rust and Bone has a dark undertone and a script that needs some work.  But there are parts of the dialogue that invoke a laugh or two.  Most of it is sexual innuendo and at the hands of Ali, but it really is funny and adds a layer of levity to the film.

The other thing that this film does right is its scenes with the Killer Whale.  In the beginning of the film, prior to the accident, we catch a glimpse into Stephanie’s work world.  She is a trainer at Marineland, the French equivalent to SeaWorld.  Before a packed crowd of eyes, she uses different hand gestures to control the enormous Killer Whale.  The spectators clap, hold balloons and are entertained by a group of cheerleaders, pom-poms and all.  Popular rap anthems from the early 1990’s blast through the filled arena, ramping up the crowd even more.  And then the camera goes underwater.  We see the Killer Whale swim in its prison like tank and hear what it sounds like beneath the surface.  It is a combination of a loud roar and something similar to a stampede.  I’m sure representatives from most aquatic parks would tell us the whales are used to all the noise, but it seemed to me the film was reminding us that this isn’t normal.  These whales aren’t only being tortured by swimming the rest of their life in captivity, but also by the obnoxious crowd of patrons who gear up to watch a trained mammal do a trick.  They act like they are seeing the final touchdown at a Super Bowl game.  The scene was so effective in pointing out the absurdity of it all, I actually felt a little guilty for my past trips to SeaWorld.

rust and boneWhere this scene, right before the accident, invokes a feeling of shame and terror because if anyone has seen the trailer, they know something bad is going to happen; a scene later in the film does the exact opposite.  It uses the Killer Whale to show both the change in Stephanie and the relationship bond that can form between animal and human.  With her new-found confidence, thanks to her blades and sexual relations with Ali, Stephanie pays a visit to her former employer.  She stands behind a giant glass wall that is a window into the tank where the Killer Whale resides.  She puts her hand up to the glass and waits.  And then, after a few minutes, the whale comes to the glass and puts his nose right up to Stephanie’s hand.  It is a heart-felt moment, because we see how Stephanie feels about these mammals she has trained.  Even though her job resulted in a horrible life changing event, she still connects to the whale and doesn’t hold the animal accountable.  If the first scene at Marineland echoes an environment of disgust, this second scene details the beauty in life and the ability for the human body and mind to heal from tragedy.