Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Stephanie Edwards is watching the new season of Survivor, Hawk Ripkaw checked out Gretel & Hansel, Natasha BC Smith discovered Myths & Monsters, and Vincent Greene recommends that you get around to watching Fringe already.
Survivor: Winners at War (Season 40)
Stephanie: The moment that all die-hard Survivor fans have been waiting for finally hit our television screens this past Wednesday. Survivor: Winners at War is the show’s 40th season and features a cast comprised only of previous winners of the game. Winners at War has been two decades in the making, with 20 winners returning once again for the chance to claim ultimate bragging rights as the best Survivor player of all-time and, even more enticing, the cool two million dollar paycheck that awaits them at the end—the biggest monetary prize in the history of reality television.
One of the most exciting things about this season of Survivor is the cast. Obviously watching the best of the best play together and against one another is thrilling enough, but even better is seeing some of these familiar faces back on our screens again. There are a few expected players returning back into the fold, like six-time veteran “Boston Rob” Mariano and the only two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, and although we love watching these two manipulate their way to the money, it is other returnees that make this season so special.
Both Ethan Zohn and Amber Mariano last played the game 16 years ago in the first Survivor All-Stars back in 2003. Amber, who married Rob Mariano in 2004 after the couple met while competing on the show, swore she would never play again and has kept that promise up until now, as she has said in interviews that she couldn’t give up the chance to be a part of such a milestone season.
Ethan, however, has been itching to get back into the game, but was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2009. Ethan has since beaten cancer and is fully in remission, happily passing all of the health requirement checks to compete in the show. One of the highlights of the pre-game interview and the premiere itself, was seeing Ethan’s sheer joy and excitement to be back in a game that he loves but one he thought he’d never get the chance to play again. His story is an inspirational one and pulls at the heart strings, making him simultaneously a fan favourite to win and a massive target for his fellow players.
The two-hour season premiere also quickly showed us that the journey to that two million dollar prize will not be an easy one. Castaways were quick to begin lying, backstabbing, manipulating and conniving as soon as the words “tribal council” were mentioned. Chaos seemed to reign over both tribes’ beaches almost immediately, as the former winners tried to rebuild old alliances and form new ones. The first vote-off is always one of the most complicated since no one wants to be sent home as soon as they get there. This vote-off only became more difficult this season due to relationships and friendships that exist outside of the game. Players, for the first time that I’ve ever seen in all my years watching the show, were even hesitant to throw a name into the ring since no one really knows who has built on and off screen alliances over the past 20 years.
I have been a fan of Survivor since its first season. I still remember Richard Hatch winning and Sue Hawk’s scathing snake-and-rat jury speech. I remember playing the Survivor board game, wearing the Survivor buff and pretending to play Survivor with my friends at recess. I’ve grown up watching and loving this game, and it really is special to see a season like Winners at War come together and to be able to watch it live with my family from week to week. Host Jeff Probst has promised that this season will usurp Heroes Vs. Villains as the best season of Survivor and, based off of week one, I am inclined to believe him.
And who is my pick to win the biggest game in Survivor history? My money is on Denise Stapley, the sex therapist from Iowa who knows how to manage big personalities and even bigger egos. I will definitely be tuning in every Wednesday at 8pm to find out if I’m right!
Gretel & Hansel
Hawk: Newly released in theaters, Gretel & Hansel follows the basic premise of the classic Grimm fairytale, but mixes it up with some very interesting artistic and narrative changes. In this new version, the children are cast out of their house when their mother becomes consumed with insanity and paranoia, and they set off into the woods in search of food and work. A hunter points them in the right direction, warning them not to stray from the path. Starving after two days, they come across a cottage and the elderly woman living there invites them in for an extravagant meal and a warm bed.
The reason for flipping the names of the children for this version is the increased focus on Gretel as the main character. Gretel is here just on the cusp of womanhood, and her role involving Hansel is somewhat maternal as well as fraternal. She’s obligated to watch over Hansel, but at times he seems like he’s holding back. The movie is told from her perspective through frequent internal monologue, wondering how long she dares to stay at the cottage and questioning whether some of the horrific things she’s witnessing are nightmares or reality. Before long it is revealed that the old woman in this version of the story is a witch, and she wants Gretel to stay with her so she can teach her witchcraft, sensing a “power” in Gretel she hasn’t felt in a long time.
The biggest thing Gretel & Hansel has going for it is an incredible sense of atmosphere. The 90-minute film is one of the slowest burners to come along in a while, and much of it involves long, meditative shots from a stationary camera, which does give it something of a “storybook” look. The production design is beautiful, tinging its dark fairy tale sets with influences from Poe and Lovecraft. The outskirts of the forest are awash in red light with the occasional black hooded figure, and there is a foreboding dissonance between the proportions of the interior and exterior of the cottage. What really completes the package is a fantastic synth-based score by Robin Coudert. It’s a bold choice, but utilized in a really clever way to harness the dread and evil at the heart of the forest.
The whole mood of this movie was just great, and seeing it in a theater with a recliner seat felt like drifting off to sleep. I initially thought I’d made a mistake by seeing a PG-13 horror on the weekend as the theater started to fill with teenagers during the opening trailers. But they must have been as transfixed as I was, because there wasn’t a single lit phone screen or side conversation during the entire movie.
Also, about that PG-13 rating: this isn’t just a standard PG-13 horror. Director Oz Perkins uses a less-is-more approach to the violence, and despite the more family friendly rating Gretel & Hansel ends up being surprisingly chilling. I’m not usually a stickler for ratings but it’s worth pointing out that the film absolutely has the atmosphere of a fully adult story.
Audience reviews on the film have been divisive. It’s got a very slow pace, it’s often very weird and some of the visions and tertiary events aren’t explained, which all contribute to the dreamlike feeling and make Gretel’s questioning of reality feel relatable. If that’s the kind of movie you can get into, Gretel & Hansel is definitely worth seeking out.
Myths & Monsters
Natasha: I’d heard of Myths & Monsters, the 2017 Netflix show, in relation to Joseph Campbell’s theory of the hero’s journey—a story structure he claimed was present in myths from all over the world. While only the first episode relates directly to Joseph Campbell’s work, Myths & Monsters is a fascinating and highly enjoyable watch throughout, and I sailed through all six episodes this week. It’s essentially a documentary about myths, the psychology behind them, and what they tell us about the cultures they come from. It features brief re-tellings of many myths, accompanied by unique animated sequences. These are interspersed with experts discussing their insights and analysis.
Each episode follows a particular theme, such as love, death, or war, and examines myths dealing with that subject. The show is presented by Nicholas Day, who greets us from a suitably cozy study, and reads the myths to us from one of the many books that surround him. This is a perfect set up, and Day has a fantastic voice for storytelling.
There’s something wonderfully comforting about being told a story, especially a myth or a fairy tale, since they’re designed to be told over and over again to children and adults alike. I found that whether it was a myth I already knew, or one I’d never heard before, I was transported back to primary school and to the childhood delight of listening to the teacher telling stories.
The show’s animated sequences reminded me of the ones in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey—different to traditional animation, and in some ways simplified, but with a definite stylistic flourish. Myths & Monsters actually found and commissioned paintings in various styles, and animated them with minimal movement to convey the action.
The combination of classic stories, gorgeous animation, and excellent narration makes this a great show to watch when you want to unwind at the end of the day. Aside from this, the show’s astute analysis is sure to peak your interest, inspiring you to think more deeply about a range of topics, including creative writing, literature, religion, history, psychology, and anthropology. It’s fascinating to hear the experts dissect the prevailing theories about each myth and point out little tidbits that you never would have thought of.
The one disappointing thing about the show is that it only deals with European myths. I was hoping to learn more about myths from around the world (and if you know of any other show or book that summarizes them as well as this show, let me know in the comments!). Apparently, the show’s creators had actually planned to focus on a different continent each season, so future seasons would indeed have been about non-European myths, but it’s been three years since the first season and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a second one.
Despite this glaring omission, Myths & Monsters is a great show overall, and if you’re interested in European myths, history, or storytelling in general, you won’t regret checking it out.
Vincent: Fringe is an incredibly well-crafted show which many call a new age version of The X-Files. In my opinion, Fringe surpasses its predecessor in every way, The X-Files had a longer run that petered out well before it left our screens whereas Fringe was going from strength to strength right up until its conclusion.
Each season of The X-Files is packed with so much filler, it barely ever strays from the monster of the week premise, and never truly outgrows its formative state. Its early years were its strongest, and it never recaptured the magic of the first five seasons after taking to the big screen with The X-Files: Fight for the Future.
Fringe, on the other hand, kept evolving with each and every season, with the storytelling becoming more and more complex. Abrams, Kurtzmann and Orci trusted their audience to keep up with some of the most ambitiously mind-boggling story arches that have ever graced the small screen.
One can not talk about Fringe without mentioning the performance of John Noble, whose portrayal of Walter Bishop has to be one of the most underrated performances in television history. Noble emotes loss with so much sorrow, every pore of his very being oozes pain and anguish.
Noble owns every scene and spends as much time chewing up the scenery in the best way possible as he does his red rope licorice. From minute one Noble exudes skill, subtlety, and grace with excellence as rare as Walter Bishop’s intellect.
Noble’s relationship with Joshua Jackson’s Peter is fraught with emotion and agony. Both men’s chemistry grows exponentially from the get-go. They work together perfectly in tandem. The casting agent really has to be commended here as the two men are so perfect for the roles they are cast in.
Joshua Jackson’s take on the brilliant yet troubled Peter Bishop shows that he has come a hell of a long way from Dawson’s Creek. Whereas Olivia is the focal point and Walter the pendulum swinging the story from one direction to the next, Peter, well Peter is the fulcrum, truly bringing each relationship together and holding them there with an industrial strength glue level of adhesion.
Jackson proves that he has real acting chops. Some of the scenes he shares with Noble are so incredibly well acted and just pure class, as the two men work off each other so naturally.
Even though his relationship with Olivia is of such importance to the emotional element of Fringe it’s Peter’s relationship with Walter that is possibly the strongest part of the shows entire run.
Anna Torv’s turn as lead protagonist Olive Dunham is very strong overall even if her start in the show was a little wooden. But every season we see a more assured performance from Torv as she settles into her station.
Torv eventually finds the strength to carry the burden that is placed upon her shoulders and shows all the star qualities that she possesses as the show progresses, later showing the skills she honed on Fringe in Netflix’s Mindhunter.
Torv proves quite clearly that if given time actors can excel in a part even if they get off to a rocky start, as she learns how to master the role as much as her own abilities as an actor, gaining an assured confidence in her role as Fringe’s lead that becomes quite clear by the time Fringe reaches its bitter-sweet climax.
Fringe began life as a monster of the week procedural show but grew into one of the most complex and layered shows that has ever been on the small screen or any screen for that matter. It really is a true gem in every sense of the word.
Fringe is a show that takes you on as much as an emotional roller-coaster as it does take you on an action-packed thrill ride. A show that is equal parts heartbreaking as it is breathtaking. To paraphrase Walter Bishop, to this day after multiple viewings, Fringe still is and will always be one of my favorite things, one of my very favorite things.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!