Editor’s note: An extended weekend vacation out of town is the main reason this post is just now going up. Even though Valentine’s Day is two days past, I think it’s a good thing to keep those loving, heartwarming feelings going even after the holiday has ended. So here’s to love, relationship, and just really good romance movies!
The Formal Review: As an almost 31 year old movie, Ghost (1990) is still one of the best romantic movies to watch. It was directed by Jerry Zucker, written by Bruce Joel Rubin, and stars Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, and Rick Aviles. It is about a young woman in trouble (Moore) who has to be saved by the ghost of her murdered boyfriend (Swayze), and a reluctant psychic (Goldberg). Yes, the plot may seem a bit cheesy but if audiences suspend their disbelief for a little bit, they’ll be rewarded with a phenomenal love story. Regardless of its age, the movie is still enticing, even with a simple, yet tragic, love story. Once the movie begins you will not want to fast forward anything as it has a number of elements that make it irresistible to any viewer; from comedy to thrills, and (obviously) romance. The performances are fantastic, especially by Whoopi Goldberg in her sole Academy Award winning performance. There are some things, like the CGI, that may be a bit dated, and yes, Molly probably should have simply changed her locks. However, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze’s chemistry keeps the most important part of this story, the romance, intact. There’s a reason why this movie brought back the 1965 Righteous Brothers’ cover of “Unchained Melody” to the top of the radio charts, and was made into a stage musical in 2011. It has one of the most iconic moments of 90’s cinema–and the word “ditto” has never had more emotion tied to it. It’s a film that will make viewers cheer and cry on every rewatch, again and again.
Rachel Wagner: There are so many reasons I love You’ve Got Mail. To start off it is probably Nora Ephron’s best script; she manages to take a classic film like, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and add her witty banter throughout. Then you add the incredible chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and you are in for a treat. I also love the supporting cast with Dave Chappelle, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Dabney Coleman and Jean Stapleton. There are so many quotable lines like, “You don’t go to Spain and fall in love with fascist dictators,” or, “When I get out of this elevator I’m having my eyes lasered,” and,”They are called readers, Dad.” All of that comes from Nora and her brilliant script. The other aspect of You’ve Got Mail I love is what it has to say about work. Joe and Kathleen have both defined themselves by their work and yet it is not who they are. It’s no wonder they don’t fall in love until they meet each other outside of work where their vision is broader and open to trying new things. It’s such an easy trap to define ourselves by our work, and yet, it is not truly who we are. If we can broaden our horizons perhaps love and happiness will in our lives as well. There’s always hope!
Sam Cooley: Dan in Real Life is not only one of the greatest romantic comedies, it’s the quintessential comfy movie. In one of Steve Carell’s first leading roles, it looks at a single dad of 3 girls just trying to keep it together. The surrounding feel of the flick just adds to the coziness, set at an autumn family reunion in Rhode Island. The soundtrack is contagious. Laughs are constant from everyday blunders and the often inconvenience of love. Touching moments, sincere characters, helpless attraction, jealousy, more laughs–it’s so fun! Dan in Real Life is a sweet look at the complications of being a dad, and that of being open to love for a second time. It’s appropriate for all ages, and it’s soooo rewatchable.
Parker Johnson: About Time may be the greatest love story ever put to film in my completely authoritative opinion. Very few films have impacted my life in the way this one has. And apparently, I’m not alone. Go to the trailer on youtube and look at the comments, or whenever this movie is mentioned on reddit. This is no mere “will they, won’t they” rom-com, but a lesson on the true meanings of romantic love, familial relationships, and life. Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson as Mary and Tim are amazing, and Tim’s relationship with his Dad (played by the amazing Bill Nighy) had me tearing up. Most rom-coms will have you feel the warm fuzzies at the end, and even though About Time indeed left me feeling warm and joyful, it was even more than that… it left me wanting to be a better person. I cannot express how great this movie is, and cannot recommend it enough.
My film collection is now almost 800 movies strong, with 135 of those being 4K UHD discs, 524 Blu-rays, and 133 DVDs. Now, why do I collect? Why stay with physical media when Netflix has been broadcasting some content in 4K since 2014 and Amazon, Apple, and HBO Max now offer 4K content too? The reason is how the video and audio components are affected by streaming. In theory, these streaming services offer picture quality that is comparable to discs the latest in digital video disc technology. However, when the same movie compared on that versus a Blu-ray disc and a 4K disc, A/V enthusiasts at WhatHiFi.com found that the 4K streaming experience was actually more in line with watching a traditional 1080p Blu-ray—and that Blu-rays had a clear advantage in terms of contrast and color. However, 4K discs looked far better than either. They even compared audio quality and they found that streaming would get compressed Dolby Digital Plus.
Dolby Digital Plus has been around since 1992 and it has been on televisions since 1998. More advanced surround sound formats encode discrete sounds on different channels.This audio technology was mandatory on DVDs and is now mandatory to have at least this on Blu-rays, though, obviously at a higher level. When we watch movies at home either via streaming or disc, this audio can be experienced or lost either by your television speakers or your streaming service (dependent on your internet). This can reduce the movie watching experience. How this is prevented is through a number of lossless audio compression formats Dolby and DTS. While there are many out there who would state their preference, in turn have found they are fairly interchangeable. DTS Digital Surround is comparable to Dolby Digital, DTS HD Master Audio is comparable to Dolby TrueHD, DTS-X is comparable to Dolby Atmos. The latter two audio are currently the two best audio formats out there. The problem is that streaming reduces the high level audio down to the old technology.
This is due to compression as the picture and sound information have to be processed in a way to send it over the internet. On top of that, the content has to be there. To get authentic 4K content on Netflix, one must pay for their premium subscription ($17.99/month) and then your internet needs to be able to handle it. Both Netflix and Disney+ say that at least 25 megabits per second is needed to stream UHD (ultra high definition) content, and Amazon needs at least 15 Mbps to watch videos in UHD. The two cheapest high speed internets for the most bandwidth in the US are Verizon and Comcast at $40 and $35/month, respectively. This will get you download speeds of 100mbps for Comcast and 200mbps for Verizon. However, this is only if the streaming device is hooked up directly to the router and wifi is about 70% as fast, at maximum. Additionally, there are more confounding factors such as the type of router and how many other devices are on the wifi–even if your streaming devices are up to speed and your internet is the best possible, there will still be some information lost along the way. Compression is inevitable. That’s not to say that streaming services aren’t useful and don’t have some real advantages. Streaming services do provide a deal when it comes to price, selection size, and ease of use.
Ultimately, the streaming experience is more like channel surfing through many channels, especially now with almost everyone having their own streaming service. Using these services may be nice for the selection but that selection is determined by someone else. Netflix constantly removes content depending on the month and so does HBO Max. It all depends on licensing similar to that of cable channels running movies during the day. In the past, cable became so expensive to get access to movies and tv shows. This allowed Netflix to become popular. People didn’t enjoy having to pay for movies so this company created a way to only pay a monthly fee and you get as many movies as you wanted but one at a time. This led to their streaming services which had all people’s favorite shows. You could find everything on Netflix which was a game changer. Now, it may not be called “cable” anymore but it’s essentially the same thing.
On top of that, Netflix announced in August 2020 that they were going to rencode all 4K, HDR and HFR titles in its catalog. They claim to be able to deliver the same quality 4K video at half the bitrate. They stated, “For members with high-bandwidth connections we deliver the same great quality at half the bitrate on average. For members with constrained bandwidth we deliver higher quality at the same (or even lower) bitrate.” Other advantages of the new approach include “higher initial quality,” and “fewer quality drops while streaming,” less buffering, and a reduction in “initial play delay by about 10%.” Also in October, Disney revealed that in order to further accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy, it would be centralizing its media businesses into one entity that would be responsible for content distribution, ad sales and Disney+. This move was obviously done in response to the global coronavirus pandemic which crippled the theatrical business and pushed more viewers to streaming services. As of August 2020, Disney had over 50 million subscribers to Disney+ alone.
So with Netflix compressing their content and Disney moving towards streaming services, films have the potential to become less impactful due to streaming limitations. This makes physical media more and more important. Physical media has been shown to be the better, more pure way to view movies for a number of reasons including the audio and visual components. While there are some who disagree and say that physical media is a fad and that streaming is the more modern way to go, the questions about internet speeds, the content, and the technology surrounding streaming still remain. When Wonder Woman 1984 was released on HBO Max, director Patty Jenkins stated that it would be the first film on HBO Max to be in 4K Ultra HD, HDR 10, Dolby Vision and have Dolby Atmos. However, Warner Bros. hadn’t released any information about what internet speeds were needed for this. On top of that, some devices that should get 4K content such as the Xbox Series X were not able to get 4K; it was only on certain devices. This again shows that most likely the high end video and audio components of the movie are being limited by these streaming services and their technology. Even if you have the highest and most consistent bandwidth available, physical media holds the upper hand. The compression still happens, and thus streaming limits viewers from getting the true aspects of the film and seeing what the filmmaker intended. Furthermore, having the movies in the palm of your hand can give a more direct connection to the movie itself that can last a lifetime. Even if you hate the idea of physical media, you have to admit at some point that you are okay with getting a lesser quality film experience. Streaming may be cheaper and more convenient, but physical media is a more premium experience; which is why I support physical media, and you should too.
*Editor’s note: The year that seemed like it would never end has done the impossible… it’s actually over. 2020 has been a year unlike any other in our lifetime, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us are glad to see it go. Through it all, we have gained experiences and memories (both good and bad) that will shape our lives for years to come. Movies, and the lack thereof, might seem a trivial things when compared to the crushing challenges many faced in 2020; death, sickness, unemployment, school closures, social interactions etc. have all paid a heavy toll on societies around the world. Encouragement, hope, friendship and love are forms of strength that can be derived from stories, and as pillar of modern day storytelling, we want to share with you which movies we fell in love with in 2020 and wholeheartedly recommend to you. Enjoy!
André Hutchens: As bad as 2020 has been for the movie theater industry (and I only hope a speedy recovery for the industry), streaming services have never been more in demand. Lockdown mandates and social distancing policies have all but crippled movie theaters globally, but one industry’s tragedy is another industry’s triumph. And no streaming service has reaped the rewards more so than Netflix. With over 200 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix is the King of streaming, and continued its dominance in 2020… which is where I will pull my movie recommendation. Hillbilly Elegy tells the true story of real working class Americans and their struggle for survival in towns long forgotten by the broader public. You’ll see lives and relationships shredded by drug addiction, the struggle of single parents trying to play the part meant for two, and how life can feel hopeless when you’re drowning in life’s struggles. But the reason why I am recommending this film isn’t for the depiction of real life struggles, but for how the characters are able to overcome them. With the help of family, the power of forgiveness, and the guiding hand of faith, Hillbilly Elegy will show every viewer the possibilities of a better life when you begin to take responsibility for it. Easily my favorite movie of the year, I unequivocally recommend watching Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix.
CJ Marshall: Pixar has maintained such a high standard over the years. Their projects are mostly varying degrees of “Good” rather than good or bad. Soul is no different. The film already had wit, charm, and an authentic Black culture flavor coursing through its veins (Spider-verse anyone?) Who could know what significance its message would carry going into a year like the one just past? Soul carries that added weight because of how sturdy Pixar built its foundation. It should rightfully take its place as one of the jewels in the Pixar crown. My single regret is that I couldn’t see this film on the big screen in 3D.
Parker Johnson: 2020 was a tough year for all of us, and The Personal History of David Copperfield was a perfect, charming movie to come out during this trying time. Dev Patel shines as David Copperfield, and this colorful cast brought this delightful pseudo-biopic of Charles Dickens to life in such a heartfelt way. Like Little Women (2019) and Emma. (2020) before it, The Personal History of David Copperfield was a perfect blend of wit, charm, and warmth that should delight anyone… as long as you don’t confuse it for David Copperfield the magician, like my mom did.
Rachel Ogden: The near impossible task for sequels is to find a way to provide the protagonist with new obstacles and growth without losing the character’s identity that made them cheer-worthy in the first place; in essence, changing the character without changing the character. Though it will draw dissent, I say Wonder Woman 1984 does this perfectly. Gal Gadot continues to amaze as a dynamic woman and superhero that even villains want to be like. The movie’s 150-something minutes follow three different character arcs that are integrated into a simple yet powerful plot that I found both well-written and engaging. What does it mean to be great? Both the message and material of the film serve as a satisfying answer, even if it’s not a popular one. Don’t let the haters get you down.
Rachel Wagner: Tomm Moore is perhaps the most consistent and underrated director working today. He already had triumphs in The Secret of the Kells and Song of the Sea and now he dazzles audiences once again with Wolfwalkers. Not only is the 2D animation beautiful but the story of 2 girls coming to understand their connection and who they are rings true. I love the way Moore weaves in his Irish lore into his stories without feeling the need to over-explain what is happening. We are charmed by both girls and that’s enough to get us invested in whatever fantastical challenges and adventures come their way. I also loved the music by Bruno Coulais and Kila. It all combines to make a special film that we are not likely to forget. Watch Wolfwalkers on Apple TV+ as soon as you can!
Sam Cooley: What’s crazy about The Invisible Man (2020) is that it came out before COVID blew up, but it still came and went nearly… invisible to audiences. But it is so deserving of all the attention and praise it can get. Between a chillingly unique premise of abuse and deception, subtle works in suspense and terror, and another expert, almost exhaustive performance from Elisabeth Moss, this is confidently endorsed as one of the best films of the year. Though its namesake is a classic, the most it has on the 2020 version is originality, but even then, 2020’s new and fresh version still approaches surprisingly close in that regard.
Shay Satmary: Palm Springs was definitely the movie of 2020 that I told everyone I know to watch immediately after I watched it. It’s one of those movies where the less you know about the plot, the better it is to watch. What you do need to know is that it does a cracking job of summing up the feelings and aesthetics of most people’s 2020. It also stars a hot, understated Andy Samberg, à la Celeste & Jesse Forever, and Cristin Milioti from Black Mirror. Along with invoking specific 2020 feelings and wonderful acting, Palm Springs will make you laugh out loud, and if you’re a sucker like me, you’ll end up crying too.
The Formal Review: Research has shown that there is an appeal of rewatching movies because of the familiarity of characters, settings and plots–and Tenet exemplifies this. Nolan uses numerous scientific theories, and the ROTAS palindromic square, in a very ambitious and ingenious way. He is able take those ideas and stage them via action sequences that run backward and forward through time simultaneously. Yes, it will require multiple viewings, but that is in no way a bad thing. Each time will allow for new details to be discovered and will increase the appreciation for this movie. It is in the top tier of Nolan films. Complex? …sure, but phenomenal as well.
Thank you for your support of Backseat Directors this last year. It ended up not being the most ideal year to launch our new movie website, but we’ve made it out alive! May this new year be better than the last. Happy 2021, everyone!
Ha ha. Shower thoughts! Get it? Alright, alright; I’ll lay off the puns.
If you can believe it, there was a time when I wasn’t completely obsessed with movies. Back in high school, I took a “Literature Through Film” class as an excuse to watch movies as the class of the day. It was a chance for me to relax for an hour before going off to work. I remember when it was announced that we would be watching Psycho (1960), the principle of the school came in and assured us that even though this movie was rated R, there was nothing in this movie that would violate our cultural religious beliefs. However, if anyone felt uncomfortable, the teacher would provide an alternative assignment. (I grew up in a very conservative part of Utah) No one took the alternative, and I myself was super excited to see a real life, unedited rated R movie! (Once again, I was really conservative growing up.) When the credit rolled, I found myself with a deep sense of…boredom. Despite being in a film class, I had not begun to appreciate all the nuances and technical aspects that comes with filmmaking. I had expected a lot more shocking visuals and graphic violence to accompany the movie regarded as the greatest thriller/slasher film ever made. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I wrote off Psycho as being overrated and was determined to leave it at that. Thankfully, I grew up.
My Redemption Arc
It was around 2014 when I discovered my love for watching and collecting movies, and around the fall of 2015 when I first began seriously studying film as a medium. I took an introduction to film class with my roommate, and I began really appreciating what goes into making a film. I began to expand my watch-list beyond the bi-annual Disney and Marvel movies, getting into more independent films and familiarizing myself with different directors. About a year later, I realized that I still had neglected a whole genre: horror. I had always been a bit apprehensive about horror film because of my conservative upbringing, but I also knew I wouldn’t be a very good film critic if I refused to watch an entire genre. So I began to ask around to see what the best horror movies were. I slowly began to really appreciate and admire horror as a genre simply by how much effort it takes to create a good horror picture. Cheap B-horror movies are a dime a dozen, and I can’t tell you how great it is to see a fantastic horror movie. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when the Backseat Directors writers were having a group discussion about critically acclaimed movies that were overrated (in contrast to our “Defend Your Movies” series on the podcast). I threw out that I thought Psycho was boring, and the gasps of outrage and disbelief could be heard throughout the far reaches of space. André (the founder of Backseat Directors) brought up the suggestion that I should watch it again and see how I feel about it now. Knowing that my knowledge of movies had grown, and I’d probably have a different opinion now, I agreed. So, what’s my verdict? Psycho is a masterpiece.
Surprise vs Suspense
Many fans of Hitchcock are likely familiar with his famous advice about surprise vs suspense:
There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean…TV interview with Alfred Hitchcock
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!
In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.
One thing that plagues a lot of modern horror/slasher films is the over use of jump scares, and the lack of suspense building. They tend to go for the surprise angle and not the suspense. For some movies, that’s completely fine. However, an over reliance on suspense over surprise actually cheapens the quality of the film. This is the reason the original Halloween (1978) was such a success. It wasn’t as bloody or gory as most modern movies, and even the Halloween sequels themselves. But the constant stress of waiting and not knowing what the killer was going to do next kept us on the edge of our seats. I believe this drew its inspiration from Psycho.
“Re Re Re Re”
The music of Psycho is the heart and soul of the movie. Hitchcock even admitted that without the music, he was convinced that Psycho would be doomed to be a made-for-TV movie. However, after seeing the film with the finished score, he was confident in the film.
Going back to my comparisons with the original Halloween… in both films, the music elevated what could have been a B-movie into a masterpiece. Both had great themes and haunting melodies that accompanied the sense of being watched and stalked.
I just want to acknowledge how outstanding Anthony Perkins’ performance is in this movie. When we first meet Norman Bates, he seems like the perfect boy next door: a shy, but good natured man. Then slowly we learn that he is a peeping tom, and covers up for what he believes is his mother’s murders. The subtle change in his face and in his eyes over the course of the film is absolutely brilliant.
Back in high school I knew almost nothing about different types of movies, nor how they were made. In the words of my old boss at the movie theater, I was a “popcorn muncher.” Now, I totally understand why this movie is referred to as a classic and a masterpiece. Those terms are rightly used. It was because of Psycho that movies like Halloween could become so beloved. I’m so glad I watched this movie again. I own it now, and so should you.
- Box Office
Good evening foolish mortals! It is I, the grandmaster of ghouls Josh here to share with you 31 films that I personally will be watching this October. One horror film for every day of the month is my tradition and we will be going through old classics and modern terrors, a mix of mainstream and indie, and none of that fun family Halloween. This is pure screams and gore. So please, sit back, relax, and don’t look behind you….you might not like what’s there.
Oct. 1 – Midsommar: You might ask yourself, “What’s so scary about a fun festival that takes place in a constant daylight setting?” Ari Aster is ready to show you. Ambitious, disturbing, and excellently made, Midsommar is modern horror that must be seen.
Midsommar is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Oct. 2 – The Wicker Man (1973): Keeping our theme of terrifying cults, The Wicker Man is ultimately a story of faith in God against the sinners, though the ending is not a victory.
The Wicker Man (1973) is available streaming on The Criterion Channel.
Oct. 3 – They Live: What I love about They Live is that it challenges modern media even in today’s current times. It’s a film about breaking the status quo and not falling for media deception. Very relevant for today.
They Live is available streaming on STARZ.
Oct. 4 – Se7en: “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!” is one of my all time favorite lines in cinema and Se7en is one of my all time favorite detective films. What makes it so terrifying is how real the whole film feels, and a serial killer who is always one step ahead.
Se7en is available streaming on HBO Max.
Oct. 5 – The Conjuring: A movie that nails the “based on true events” theme that it is based on. James Wan excellently directs a fine period piece that is heavy on the scares.
The Conjuring is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 6 – The Strangers: While not the strongest movie per se, what The Strangers does right is instill the fear in you that this could really happen to someone. Reckless violence is truly terrifying.
The Strangers is available streaming on SYFY.
Oct. 7 – Raw: This movie absolutely shocked me when I first saw it; a sweet girl who is a die-hard vegetarian finds out she has a penchant for the taste of flesh, while also discovering herself in college. What could go wrong?
Raw is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 10 – The Babadook: Using the horror genre to explore how difficult motherhood can be sounds like a daunting task, but Jennifer Kent makes it look like a cakewalk. It balances tension and scares in a masterful way.
The Babadook is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 11 – Don’t Look Now: A movie that strays away from a lot of the conventions of horror, but rather focuses on very human themes such as grief and the mental anguish one suffers. This movie changed the way I see horror and should not be missed.
Don’t Look Now is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video and The Criterion Channel.
Oct. 14 – Scream: Wes Craven not only helped create the horror genre but he also re-invented it. A very meta film that breaks all the rules. Scream may seem by the books now, but at the time this was a whole new ball game.
Scream is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 16 – Bone Tomahawk: A genre mashup of western and horror is as appetizing as peanut butter and tuna. But Bone Tomahawk relishes in its disgustingness with disturbing visuals and intense gore. Not for the faint of heart.
Bone Tomahawk is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Oct. 17 – Suspiria (1977): Italian director Dario Argento’s magnum opus, this is punk rock horror. One of the last films made in Technicolor the reds of the blood are intensely crimson, and the vibrant colors terrify the eyes.
Suspiria (1977) is available streaming on tubi.
Oct. 18 – Audition: If you have never seen this movie I highly suggest going in blind. If you have seen it then you know why. A total smoke and mirrors show that is also a pressure cooker that explodes in the nastiest way, Audition will leave you in total shock.
Audition is available streaming on SHUDDER and tubi.
Oct. 19 – Friday the 13th Part 2: I actually think that Part 2 is the best entry in the series, and is actually the film where Jason Voorhees is the primary villain. Gory, choppy, and brutal, what everyone loves on good ol Halloween.
Friday the 13th Part 2 is available streaming on sling.
Oct. 20 – A Dark Song: This little indie film is the very definition of a slow burn horror. Nothing but setup for what feels like an hour and you’re ready to give up. But if you stick through it you’ll witness a film that will chill you to the bone.
A Dark Song is available streaming on sling.
Oct. 21 – Lake Mungo: A ghost story in mockumentary form, Lake Mungo feels so real that you have no choice but to sympathize with the characters on screen. The power of this film is how tragic it is; it’s a feeling that stuck with me for weeks.
Laker Mungo is available streaming on Amazon Prime Video and tubi.
Oct. 22 – Martyrs (2008): This is probably the most controversial film on my list. A French shock film that pushes the absolute limits. I wish I could stick my brain in a dishwasher to take this film out of my memory.
Martyrs is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 23 – The Blair Witch Project: This is seriously a once in a lifetime kind of film. While it feels tame by today’s standards, The Blair Witch Project has actually helped shaped the current landscape of film today. An absolute must see and horror classic.
The Blair Witch Project is available streaming on DirecTV and sling.
Oct. 25 – Psycho (1960): What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this film? A contribution to horror and proof that the genre itself is an art form.
Psycho is available streaming on peacock.
Oct. 26 – Candyman (1992): Taking place in a public housing project and featuring one of the most interesting horror movie villains around, Candyman isn’t your average slasher. It digs a little deeper to show a classist message that is still relevant.
Candyman (1992) is available streaming on DirecTV, fuboTV, and sling.
Oct. 27 – The Exorcist (1973): I’ve been frequently told by people that The Exorcist, “just isn’t scary anymore,” and I couldn’t disagree more. To this day and after several watches this movie still sends a chill up my spine. Its legacy is eternal.
The Exorcist (1973) is available streaming on DirecTV and sling.
Oct. 29 – Get Out: One of the most important films of the 2010s and an insightful commentary on race relations, Get Out is a thriller where you don’t know whether you should be laughing or crying in fear, that’s what makes it scary.
Get Out is available to rent or purchase on most VOD services.
Oct. 30 – Alien: The very essence of Alien isn’t sci-fi but rather gothic horror. Carefully crafted by Ridley Scott, this movie is good not because of its complexity, but its lack of it. Being trapped in a giant tin can with that Alien will always be scary to me.
Alien is available streaming on DirecTV and HBO Max.
Oct. 31 – Halloween (1978): This is the movie I watch every single Halloween. I first saw it when I was a junior in high school and it affected me so much that I continue to watch it like some sort of sick ritual. Halloween is the horror genre distilled into a perfect formula.
Halloween (1978) is available streaming on The Roku Channel and on SHUDDER.
Well, there it is folks! This isn’t a list of what I think are the best horror movies, but rather a guide of movies that I think are fun to watch to get in the spooky mood during this festive month. There is a certain beauty in the Horror genre. Beneath all the blood and guts, the dirt and the grime, there is a certain catharsis that one feels after conquering a fear. It is a genre that is always innovating and always looking to evoke emotion. After all, what’s fun without a little fear? Happy Halloween!
Before the release of Malcolm X (1992), Denzel Washington was already a rising star and an Oscar winner. Under the direction of Spike Lee, he would receive widespread acclaim and yet another nomination for portraying the famed activist and minister. Yet the film marked the genesis of another, unexpected career. In one of the final scenes of the film, young Black students in a Harlem classroom come to their feet and declare with resolve and reflection, “I am Malcolm X!” Lee invited Denzel’s oldest son, John David, to play one of the kids, and his parents agreed. Lee saw it as an opportunity to enhance the young boy’s resume, but even he couldn’t have anticipated that John David Washington would be fated to have a career as great as the film he debuted in.
Washington is the son of not one but two famous parents; his mother Pauletta Pearson Washington is also an actress and Juliard-trained pianist that has worked on Broadway as well as in film. Acting appealed to Washington from a young age; he recalls being enchanted by his mother’s music and his father performing Shakespeare in the park . But he also wanted something for himself, far from the impressive shadows of his successful and talented parents. He found that independence in playing football. Washington soon established himself as a talented running back in high school, an All-American recruited by several FBS colleges. His choice to attend and play for Morehouse College was unexpected, but he held the record there for career rushing yards for seven years. Upon graduation, he suited up as an undrafted free agent for the St. Louis Rams, but never made it to the field. Instead, he spent some time playing in the United Football League and overseas. While training for an attempted return to the NFL, all his athletic efforts ended with a pop; he had torn his Achilles tendon, and with it went his football dreams.
Despite the inherent dejection, the injury gave him the push to pursue his acting ambitions. His mother took him to his very first audition, while he was still on heavy painkillers from surgery and in a boot . The get-up probably made an impression because after multiple, grueling auditions he landed the part in HBO’s Ballers (2015-2019) alongside Dwayne Johnson. Considering his background, playing the role of a controversial football star seemed tailor-made and Washington excelled. He continued his work in Indie films, starring in Love Beats Rhymes (2017), Monsters and Men (2018), and All Rise (2018). While filming The Old Man and the Gun (2018), he got a text from Spike Lee. The director invited him to read a book about the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, who also managed to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan. When he finished the compelling narrative and came back to report, Spike said, “See you this summer” . Just like that, within 3 years of making a career change, Washington had the leading role in a historical drama that was nominated for Best Picture, for which his performance was universally praised.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, Washington’s next gig was the lead in a Christopher Nolan movie alongside Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branaugh. The mind-bending spy-thriller Tenet (2020) is now playing everywhere that theaters are open. It proves that Washington has what it takes to be an action star, as his athleticism enabled him to perform many of his own stunts. I think it’s also worth adding a seemingly small detail about his performance in a Hollywood where most movies steer away from actresses that are taller than their male costars. Debicki, who is 6’3” without heels, walks tall and brings her acting A-game while Washington holds his own with the confidence necessary to be her costar. That presence, along with his killer fight scenes, is going to make him an international household name.
He’s still young in the business, but Washington isn’t taking anything for granted. And now that he’s proven how well he stands on his own two feet, injuries and all, perhaps we can see a collaboration within the brilliant Washington family. It’s plain to see he inherited talent, but the success he can claim for himself. What we’ve seen suggests there’s much more ahead for the second-generation actor; will he claim an Oscar, suit up as a superhero, or portray a historical icon? Whatever the endeavor, John David Washington won’t be filling anyone’s shoes; he’ll be taking to red carpets in a pair all on his own.
As a new comedian, Eric Marlon Bishop was making a name for himself in L.A. at open mic nights. His impressions and physical comedy would frequently draw standing ovations. However, his success was undercut by the comedians who controlled the set list; they weren’t interested in being upstaged by a newbie, so they’d keep an eye out for his name and keep him off the list. Bishop’s solution was to sign up with different stage names every time he performed, using gender-neutral names because he noticed that there were far fewer female comedians at open mic and they were more likely to get called up . One of these aliases would become his identity in the entertainment world as he rose to A-list status not only in comedy but also in music and film. Now, everybody knows him as Jamie Foxx.
Bishop/Foxx was an eminently talented kid; not only was he a great student and the first quarterback at his high school to pass for over 1,000 yards, but at 15 he became the musical director for his Baptist church choir . He attributes much of this to his grandparents, who raised him in a strict Christian household in Terrell, TX. Foxx credits his grandmother as being his first acting coach because she taught him to “act like you got some sense” and “act like you’ve been somewhere” . But from a young age, Foxx was a class clown. His antics would get him in trouble, until a third-grade teacher decided to use his talents to her advantage. As a reward for good behavior, she would let Foxx tell jokes to the class on Fridays, mostly bits he picked up from watching Johnny Carson . Even though he got a university scholarship for piano performance, Foxx left higher education to pursue comedy in L.A. and marked that departure with a new name.
His gift for hilarity eventually enabled him to join the cast of In Living Color (1990-1994), a sketch comedy series that launched the careers of Jim Carrey and Jennifer Lopez. Foxx’s first movie role was soon to follow, making his debut alongside comedy legend Robin Williams in the movie Toys (1992). For his first few years, it seemed that comedy would define him; he was passed up for the role that won Cuba Gooding Jr. an Oscar in Jerry Maguire (1997)  and instead went on to play a character named Bunz in the much-maligned movie Booty Call (1997). His first dramatic role came as a struggling quarterback alongside Al Pacino in the sports drama Any Given Sunday (1999). Later he portrayed Drew Bundini Brown, trainer and cornerman in Ali (2001) with fellow comedian-turned-actor Will Smith in the titular role. He was critically praised for his performance as a day-dreaming taxi driver whose life derails when he picks up a hitman (played by Tom Cruise) in the thriller Collateral (2004). These, together with his talent for music and impersonations, laid the foundation for his critically-acclaimed role as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray (2004). His work won him the Oscar for Best Actor, not to mention the SAG, Critic’s Choice, BAFTA, and Golden Globe awards for the same category. Recently, he began work on a biopic for his friend Mike Tyson, with himself playing the much-debated boxer. The project is years in the making, but Foxx is already bulking up for the role, sharing his progress on Instagram.
Despite his accolades, his detractors often claim that Jamie Foxx plays himself in every movie he stars in. While I wouldn’t call him chameleonic, I will defend the depth he brings to his characters. While still maintaining aspects of his signature charm, Foxx manages to pull off a menacing criminal in Baby Driver (2017), a cynical sports reporter in Valentine’s Day (2010), a U.S. President in White House Down (2013), a homeless musician with schizophrenia in The Soloist (2009), an all-in Marine staff sergeant in Jarhead (2005), and an freed slave bent on revenge in Django Unchained (2012), among his aforementioned projects. When he plays a record executive in the movie Dreamgirls (2006), he flawlessly transitions from likeable chum to sleazy dirt-bag. Even if his persona never fully disappears, I feel that his storytelling abilities are undeniable. Despite his talent for impersonations, I can’t think of an actor/comedian/musician to compare him to; he is simply his own category.
RELATED:‘Project Power‘ Movie Review
I’ve chosen to focus on Foxx’s film career, but his career in music is no less impressive, and he has a Grammy to prove it. But if you feel like a laugh, then I recommend you watch “Wheel of Musical Impressions with Jamie Foxx” . I’m pretty sure Jimmy Fallon created the game with Foxx in mind, and I can almost guarantee it will make you laugh at least once. If you’re in the mood for more dramatic performances, Foxx recently starred in Just Mercy (2019) as the wrongfully-convicted Walter McMillian and Project Power (2020), which is now streaming on Netflix. Though I wonder if there’s anything he can’t do, I believe Foxx’s x-factor is not his talent, but his personality. His free time is spent throwing wild parties, playing celebrity basketball, and shooting the bull with those in the biz . In almost every interview, whether he is a guest or the host, Foxx begins by complimenting the person sitting across from him on their recent work. Though he may not be doing stand-up, his comedic timing enables him to make memorable connection with both viewers and his peers. The day he wants to take over late-night television, all he has to do is say the word. For now, I’ll just look forward to his vocal talents in the upcoming Pixar film Soul (2020).
People go to conventions for many reasons; one of the biggest reasons is to meet like-minded people and industry peers. They can bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a similar passion for whatever the convention is about. San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) International is a non-profit, multi-genre entertainment and comic book convention held annually in San Diego, California. It has become essentially the quintessential celebration of all things nerdy. Each year, fans of TV, movies, comic books, and pop culture head to the city (that was not “discovered by the Germans in 1904”) where networks, studios, and publishers release information on their most exciting upcoming properties. Over 100,000 people pile into a big convention hall—dressed in costume, meeting celebrities, taking pictures, and/or buying products. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first year since 1970 that the convention did not happen in-person.
Comic-Con@Home (2020) was certainly a risk; it had to come together really quickly under unprecedented circumstances. Would this stop people from coming to San Diego all together in the future if they continue to offer the “@Home” experience? It may have been far easier to postpone or cancel the entire convention. However, as with a lot of planned events, a lot of money prior to the pandemic was invested in putting this convention together. They had to contact people to record panels via Zoom or Skype; they then released the videos on YouTube without allowing people to comment. This makes the content not as “exclusive,” as people don’t have to be somewhere specific to see the videos at a specific time and date; you have the option to watch the videos later at your own convenience. As such, this can be somewhat of a loss for both the fans as well as the studios and networks. However, for someone who always wanted to go to San Diego for this convention but never had the time or money to do it, this was a dream come true.
Even though Comic-Con@Home was entirely virtual, it was still the source of some major announcements in the entertainment world and, if viewed, had the power to inspire and connect with fans even without direct contact. “Inspiration” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”; without a doubt there were numerous events over the course of the weekend that not only could help fans and future industry workers be inspired, but also touched on the creators’ inspiration. The many panels showed how a lot of these people (who fans view as “A-list celebrities”) are very similar to a lot of the fans sitting at home watching these videos; to be sure, there are obvious differences, but the similarities in interests and likes still exist.
Anyone who has attended a convention knows that people want the backstory of their favorite creator, to see if there is a similar line that can push them to do what they want. This theme of inspiration was embedded in the entire weekend starting on Thursday, July 22, 2020 continuing into the evening of Sunday, July 26, 2020. As there were many events to participate in, this recap will be covering specifically the events that are applied to films.
Thursday, July 23
The New Mutants Panel
The New Mutants has been the target of constant jokes, memes, and sarcasm for how many times the release date has been pushed back. Hilariously, the film’s producers knew this would be a topic as the panel opened with a series of dates flashed across the screen. They showed “in theaters April 13th, 2018,” and then that date was crossed out. It is then replaced by “in theaters February 22nd, 2019,” which is again crossed out and replaced by “in theaters August 2nd, 2019,” “February 22nd, 2019,” “August 2nd, 2019,” and “April 3rd, 2020.” It was really great to see that the studio is embracing this self-depreciation. They are not trying to hide the fact that this happened, which I think could be a good thing. They know the issue is the release date-—if the film was bad, they probably would not have kept on pushing it back. It probably would have already been released on streaming services. For better or for worse, the studio thinks that this film is worth the wait.
Fans have been anticipating this movie for a while now because of how it would present horror elements in the superhero genre, based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name. It was directed by Josh Boone and stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. The panel included all of these people plus the designer of the original material. The panel touched on some of the auditions of the cast members, and newly released emojis for each of the mutant characters. Due to the pandemic there is still no confirmed date on when the film will arrive in cinemas but it was confirmed it will still be released at some point. They even presented a glimpse of the opening sequence and a new trailer. This film has pushed through a lot of resistance, whether from the studio, the pandemic, or something else unknown, and that in and of itself is inspiring. The film still does look intriguing and we’ll see how it turns out when the film is finally released in theatres.
Directors on Directors Panel
Robert Rodriguez (director of Spy Kids, El Mariachi, Sin City), Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Dominion), and Joseph Kosinski (director of Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, and Top Gun: Maverick) provided a great discussion about the craft of directing and projects past, present, and future. They discussed how in some ways the pandemic has been a blessing to them; it has allowed for them to stop and reflect on what they have done already, which is something they normally do not get to do. They normally get a certain amount of days to film and that’s it. Now, if they do not like something, they can possibly reshoot it or change it when they get back to production (which Jurassic World: Dominion is officially doing now).
Talking about technology in film, Trevorrow indicated that Jurassic World: Dominion would have the most animatronic dinosaurs ever used in the franchise:
We’ve actually gone more practical with every Jurassic movie we’ve made since the first one, and we’ve made more animatronics in this one than we have in the previous two. And the thing that I’ve found, especially in working in the past couple months, is that we finally reached a point where it’s possible to… Digital extensions on animatronics will be able to match the texture and the level of fidelity that, on film, an animatronic is going to be able to bring.Colin Trevorrow, Director of Jurassic World: Dominion
Also touching on the technology, Trevorrow stated that he used virtual reality to help him film scenes in fantasy spaces, and Kosinski stated that for his Top Gun film he used new cameras. These cameras were similar to GoPro in function but produced IMAX-quality footage.
The best moment of the panel was when Rodriguez was responding to a question of pushing back when needed and described his experience when he pitched Spy Kids. Rodriguez described how the film was based on his own family; Rodriguez is the son of two Mexican parents, and his uncle was a spy who brought down two of the top ten criminals in history. He grew up with ten brothers and sisters, so when the studios asked why he wanted to make a film with a “Latin family” it seemed pretty obvious to him. The studio thought that because it had never been done before that it may decrease the audience to only other Latin families. He pushed back with the argument, “You don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being so specific, it becomes more universal.” He “set [his] flag” and stood his ground. He is now making a film called We Can Be Heroes which is about the children of Earth’s superheroes teaming up to save their parents and the world. The film is going to be a sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D. It will star Priyanka Chopra, Christian Slater, Pedro Pascal, Sung Kang, and eleven kids from different backgrounds. However, one of his most successful films to this day remains to be Spy Kids. The film went on to make $147.9 million on a $35 million budget and spawned three sequels. Whatever your opinion might be of the sequels, Spy Kids had a huge impact on diversity before it was really a push to make diversity important. This all came from the director believing in his idea and sticking to it.
Friday, July 24
Charlize Theron: Evolution of a Badass – An Action Hero Career Retrospective
In recent years, Charlize Theron has become a huge action star, starring in films like Æon Flux, The Old Guard, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Atomic Blonde; even establishing herself as a top-notch villain in The Fate of the Furious (2017), Cipher. On top of being an action star, she has had critically-acclaimed performances in the comedy-drama Tully (2018), the romantic comedy Long Shot (2019), and the biographical drama Bombshell (2019). The latter earned her a third Academy Award nomination. Her prior two were for Monster (2003) and North Country (2005), and her performance in Monster won her an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Female Role. As of 2019, she was paid $23 million and was the 9th highest paid female actor and about the 18th highest paid actor in the world, taking into account the top 10 from both categories. In 2016, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. They stated that “she is deeply involved with her foundation, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project helping young South Africans protect themselves from HIV.” But also, “she’s incredibly results-oriented and knows her programs really well.” They also said that “she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind,” and this panel was no different, particularly when asked, “What draws you to these roles?”
Theron said growing up in South Africa played a part as her mother loved Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson and her father loved the original Mad Max movies. But her biggest reason was this:
I’m intrigued by the messiness of being human, especially a woman. We talk about representation, not just racial or cultural representation but female representation. I remember vividly just feeling such a lack of watching conflicted women in cinema. There was a part of me as an actor that felt so unbelievably jealous of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro who got to play all of these really f****d up people, and women very rarely got to explore that. There was almost this inert fear of putting a woman in circumstances where she might not shine. I do believe society has us somewhat in his Madonna whore complex box. We can be really good hookers or really good mothers but anything in-between, people are sometimes not brave enough to want to go and explore…It’s so sad to me because the richness of those stories are not only great entertaining stories to tell and great movies to make but it is a disservice to women in general. We are more complicated than those two things and we can be many things. Our strengths can come from our faults, from our mistakes, from our petty, from our vulnerabilities, and our madness. Those are the things that make us interesting… [All of my characters] are all survivors and they are trying to survive… That, as a woman, I can relate to.Charlize Theron
She said her main inspiration was Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley in the ALIEN movies, “[Ripley] was real and she was living in this world. The amount of intelligence she brought to that role, she was completely in demand of it; she owned that role. But it wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t written, and it wasn’t acted, it was just lived. She was just living in that world in such an authentic way. And Furiosa was the first time I felt like… she just felt so real to me.”
This realness is shown in Theron’s personal character as well. She is a hard worker as she is one that “was raised to get up and do work.” This gives off a fearless quality that many in Hollywood often compliment her for, and it even happened in this interview. She said she was thankful for this but she is scared a lot of the time and is only “really good at covering it up.” She stated she is afraid because she does not know how long she’ll have roles in movies. She almost feels that each role may be her last. This anxiety-like feeling leads her to work harder at her job, be more creative, and be able to stay awake long into the night to get her work done. Theron may state that she’s not a hero but she is in a way; she speaks her mind, no matter the consequences, and takes roles to not only show complex female characters, but also represent women in the best way, as real people. She admits her flaws and perhaps hides them at times, but when asked about them she is true to herself. That is an admirable quality in a person, and Theron establishes herself as a true role model and an inspiration to people everywhere.
Saturday, July 25
The Art of Adapting Comics to the Screen: David S. Goyer Q&A
David Goyer’s most famous screenwriting credits include the Blade trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Dark City, Man of Steel and its sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This interview had Goyer discussing his writing process and how he brought these comic book characters to the big screen. While his most successful work is obviously the Nolan trilogy, one of his most controversial adaptations is in Man of Steel (2013). When he worked with Nolan they approached the Batman character in a more serious and grounded way that hadn’t been done in previous live-action versions of the character, though they did keep some comic book aspects out like the Lazarus Pit.
Many fans have thought when Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) closes his eyes toward the end of Batman Begins (2005) (when Batman beats him on the train) that it was Nolan and Goyer’s attempt to imply that al Ghul knew that he could come back after the crash like he does a lot in the comics to which Goyer replied:
…there was never any discussion that Chris or I had about that, but if you think about it, it was a fairly realistic approach. I think if you introduce something like the Lazarus Pit into that (I’m not saying you couldn’t tell a cool story with the Lazarus Pit; I think you could), I just don’t think that the Lazarus Pit would’ve gelled with that approach.David S. Goyer
They attempted to apply the same realistic formula to Superman in Man of Steel, which to some worked well, and to others it did not. Their interpretation of Superman’s origin story brought about the arrival of the alien militant Zod, similar to that of The Dark Knight (2008) pushing Joker to come out in response to Batman revealing himself. In Man of Steel Superman kills Zod in order to save planet Earth. This decision rightfully upset a lot of fans of the character. Goyer said that the reason for them having Superman kill Zod was two fold: one, because they wanted to do something drastic, similar to the risks that he and Nolan took with Batman; and two, because they felt that Superman had no other choice but to kill Zod.
At times, he seemed unsure in the interview that everything they did was the right call for the film; however, Goyer, sticking to his guns regarding the controversial decision, shows how even a writer can be inspirational even if you do not agree with the final product.
Constantine: 15th Anniversary Reunion
This panel included starring actor, Keanu Reeves, director Francis Lawrence, and producer Akiva Goldsman who reunited to reflect on the making of Constantine (2005). This film marked Lawrence’s first film and also starred Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, and Peter Stormare. For those who are not familiar with the film or the character, John Constantine is a cynic who can communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He tried to commit suicide as a child so he is trying to redeem himself to avoid eternal damnation in Hell. The film holds an approval rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes based on the reviews of 224 critics and an average rating of 5.4/10. The critics’ consensus states: “Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix.” On Metacritic (which assigns a weighted average), the film holds a score of 50 out of 100 based on the reviews of 41 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.”
This film is very different from a lot of comic book movies as it deals with the occult, magic, Heaven and Hell, etc. When asked about his inspiration for this film, Lawrence stated that he looked to noir films such as Blade Runner (1982) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) instead of other comic book movies. Lawrence felt that Warner Bros. didn’t give much respect to this film mostly because Batman Begins was being filmed next door. Even though this movie is rated R, the movie was filmed to be PG-13. He states that there was a checklist they followed to the letter but then was given an R rating “based on tone.” As such, he felt that they didn’t push the boundaries as much as they could have if they had known they were going to get an R rating. The film does touch some really interesting concepts of how Heaven and Hell are actually parallel to the current world but respectively are nice and awful.
Constantine, as a character, has gotten a following in recent years after having an NBC television show starring Matt Ryan. Ryan continued this role on the CW’s Arrowverse, mostly showing up in Legends of Tomorrow. He also has voiced the character in three DC animated movies, Justice League Dark, Constantine: City of Demons – The Movie, and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Unlike Ryan, Reeves is not a blonde British man like the source material but he connected with John Constantine’s cynicism. “He’s tired of all the rules and morals and ethics, and angels and demons, but is still a part of it,” Reeves said, and he “loved his sense of humor.” Though they wanted to do a sequel, the film’s oddness and only moderate box office success prevented them from following up with a sequel even though, “we always talked about a sequel more than the studio.”
They fought for the movie to be filmed in Los Angeles because of the city’s grittiness. The film has been slowly gaining a cult status and it has a 72% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Lawrence has also had a very successful career after this film directing the zombie apocalyptic I Am Legend, the romantic drama Water for Elephants, three of the four films in the Hunger Games film series, and the spy thriller Red Sparrow. You add Reeves’ resurgence as an action star and there might be a market for a sequel that has “[John] wakes up in a cell. He has to identify the prisoner… And it was Jesus.” This sequel would be “a Hard-R sequel, I think we could probably make it tomorrow.” Fans of this movie, and the people making the film, could be enough for Warner Brother’s to be inspired to make another film.
Guillermo del Toro and Scott Cooper on Antlers and Filmmaking
Both of these directors have had big impacts on cinema. Del Toro is one of the biggest names when it comes to Mexican filmmakers and he is also good friends with the other members of “The Amigos of Cinema,” Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. This designation was due to their friendship being comparable to Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma. The world has not always been keen on bringing Mexican films to the front, but all three have changed Hollywood for the better. They all have their own type of film and del Toro’s usually is connected to fairy tales and horror. He tries to combine the idea of beauty and the beast, giving things that society has viewed as “grotesque.” He also usually ties this in with Catholic themes and is known for using practical special effects for his films. His most famous work is Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water, the latter of which won him an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture. He also has produced and/or wrote on The Orphanage, The Hobbit film series, Mama, and Pacific Rim: Uprising. Cooper has not had as long of a career as del Toro but he has had a lot of success as well. His first film, Crazy Heart (2009), won Jeff Bridges a Best Actor award of which he also was a writer on. He has directed Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), and Hostiles (2017). Where these two men come together is in Cooper’s next film, Antlers starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan. The film was previously scheduled to be released on April 17, 2020 but, because of the pandemic, it will be released on February 19, 2021.
The movie is about a schoolteacher and her police officer brother in a small Oregon town, where they become convinced one of her students is concealing a supernatural creature. It is based on the Wendigo, a mythical creature in the folklore of First Nations Algonquin tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, First Nations consultants were hired to work on the film. According to del Toro:
The Wendigo has very specific cues you have to follow. The antlers, for example, are a must… We’re not creating a monster, we’re creating a God. So the design needs to have elements that are completely unnatural, that are almost surreal or abstract.Guillermo del Toro
This will allow for another great practical effects creation from del Toro, and will most definitely benefit Cooper, as he has never worked with creature effects. Cooper was excited to work with del Toro because they “created something that’s wholly unique.” The film will be touching on ideas of being an individual in a time dealing with climate change, how Native Americans are treated, and the Opioid drug epidemic. Cooper went on to say that one of the best things he has gotten out of making this film is del Toro. He stated that because del Toro was a young director, he knows a lot of the ins and outs of the filmmaking process. He provided insight that a producer could not which helped him make a better film. On the other side of it, del Toro stated that he produces “to learn from the filmmakers.” It was quite a pairing for these two to work together as their needs matched up perfectly.
Outside of their own work inspiring each other, Cooper and del Toro jointly said that the Coen Brothers were the directors that truly inspired them, describing The Coen Brothers’ work as “poetry” and “utterly mysterious.” Del Toro continued to say that watching films is what inspires him to make more movies. For all those out there that collect hard copies of movies, del Toro can relate as he has a collection of about 7,000 discs that he can pull from to watch. Now that is something to gravitate towards even if one does not like his films.
Bill & Ted Face the Music Panel
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in 1989 and its first sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released in 1991. Now, almost thirty years later, the second sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music is about to be released. This panel was a little different from the rest of them as it did not have the actors Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill) reminiscing and/or answering questions about their time on the older films. It wasn’t about giving some sort of big news, trailer, or giving something exclusive—it was about the love shared between the filmmakers, the actors, and the fans. The panel included actors, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, director Dean Parisot, and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson.
Whether you like these movies or not, the love when making them is there as well as the fanbase. Weaving, who plays Bill’s daughter in the newest sequel said, “Watching those three have that very special [time], it felt almost intimate, that was really touching and incredible… I felt so lucky to actually be there and watch that.” This love was shared by Reeves: “I can’t feel or laugh or do anything like the way that [I do] working on Bill & Ted and working with Alex… That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world for me.”
Even Kevin Smith (who moderated this panel) couldn’t hold back his love for the original film and stated that “there would be no Jay and Silent Bob if there was not a Bill and Ted.” He has even seen this new movie and said that it is hilarious. The best word he could use to describe it was “adorable,” but not in a bad way. He wanted to show that this film was very emotional for him to see. Smith is an acclaimed director in his own right, and also technically canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, one of the things that he never stops being is a fan (more on that below in the next panel). Smith moderating this panel allowed for this love to come through from both the fans and the actors on set. This love between these people has extended over thirty years and will hopefully continue on with old fans and new fans when the next film is released.
An Evening with Kevin Smith
The final event of Day 3 was concluded with a video from director, Kevin Smith. As mentioned above, Smith is an acclaimed director who is mostly known for Clerks (1994) which he wrote, directed, co-produced, and acted in as the character Silent Bob. He also created Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Clerks II (2006), and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019). All of these films are primarily in his home state of New Jersey and are part of a shared universe known as the “View Askewniverse.” Interestingly, this universe is technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Stan Lee’s cameo in Captain Marvel had him reading the script to Mallrats of which he was acting in.
One thing that Smith never stops being is a fan and a self-proclaimed nerd. He never shies away from it. If he cries during a season finale of The Flash television show, he will post up on YouTube for everyone to see. He owns a New Jersey comic book store called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. He also has a movie-review TV show and multiple podcasts. The title of this video is an obvious allude to sessions Smith held with fans at various American colleges in 2001/2002. During the sessions, Smith answers questions regarding his movies, as well as his life. While there was not so much a questions portion to this video, Smith provided his fans with an update on what’s been going on with him. While most of the video had Smith discussing his tour for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and what he is doing in the podcast world, his best moment came when he told his story of how he became immortalized in Hollywood:
When I was a kid, before there was internet and before there was cable tv, I loved Hollywood…I didn’t do sports. I just loved movies and tv…When I was about nine years old in 1979, my father said to my mom, ‘The fat one loves Hollywood. Let’s take the fat one to Hollywood.’ So [my family] got on a train to California… First stop was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre… My father says to me, ‘Maybe you’ll be here one day.’ Forty years later, my father was right. The morning of the premiere of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, me and Jay, two Jersey kids, got to stand in the forecourt and put our feet in the cement and write our names into Hollywood history.Kevin Smith
Even if you do not care much about his films, Kevin Smith is one of those people who always feels grounded, not only in his work but also in his personality. To see someone come from a town of about 12,000 people, son of a homemaker and postal worker get to where he’s gotten in his lifetime is inspiring. He is also an inspiration to a lot of people especially after his 2018 heart attack caused by a total blockage of the left anterior descending artery known as “the widowmaker.” Following the episode, he lost a doctor mandated 58 lbs., going from 256 lbs. to 198 lbs. He has maintained that via a vegan diet and now is a paid spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Going through something like that can really change a person and even that hasn’t really changed Smith. He is still doing who he wants to except now with a healthier lifestyle which is what many of us want as well.
Sunday, July 26
First TMNT Film 30th Anniversary
On March 30, 1990, a film about crime-fighting mutant ninjas was released. Oh, they also happened to be upright talking turtles. The film was based on a comic book, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a somewhat homage to Marvel’s Daredevil in 1984. The comic was dark in tone and content, but the 80s animated series brought a more lightheartedness to the tone and the turtles–the animated series became very popular. The 1990 film kept more of the DNA of the comic while also adding in things that the animated series had popularized.
The panel was made up of producers, Kim Dawson and Bobby Herbeck; they gave viewers a history behind the making of this iconic movie and showed how much impact their film had. The film saw ultimate success by getting $202 million worldwide which spawned two sequels,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). The turtles then saw success on the small screen in 2003, 2012, and 2018,. There was also a new animated film released in 2007 and then the live action films were rebooted by Michael Bay in 2014 and in 2016…for better or worse. The Ninja Turtles franchise has remained popular in the pop culture landscape, spawning a number of different animated shows, comic books, toys and video games. This franchise will continue for many years and impact a new generation of fans as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are set to produce a new animated movie for Paramount Pictures. There is also a rumored new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series currently in development for the CBS All Access streaming service. It is rumored that the series is set to adapt The Last Ronin, which is the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles five-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing.
The TMNT franchise has been around for over 35 years thanks to Eastman, Laird and this film.
Wakanda Forever! The Psychology of Black Panther
This panel included Scott Jordan (Psychology Professor at Illinois State University), Alex Simmons (Blackjack), Victor Dandridge, Jr. (Vantage Inhouse Productions), Daniel Jun Kim, Dr. Vanessa Hintz, PsyD, Eric Wesselmann (Psychology professor at Illinois State University), and Dr. Stanford Carpenter, PhD (Institute of Comic Scholars) as they discuss the psychological issues addressed in the Black Panther movie and comics, including topics such as micro-aggressions, cultural representation in media, and the power of love and empathetic leadership.
On February 16 2018, the newest Marvel film was released about a character that had debuted in another Marvel movie two years prior (Captain America: Civil War). Ryan Coogler, the director, had only made two prior films, one of which was a minor success (Fruitvale Station) and the other was a huge success (Creed). Chadwick Boseman, the starring actor, had only two big starring roles at the time. Would this film succeed? Most likely because it was a Marvel film. However, no one thought it would have been as successful as it was. Dandrige even pointed out that most likely not even Marvel nor Disney knew. An example that Dandrige points out is the quick time it took for society to get a Baby Groot doll versus how slow it was to get children friendly Black Panther items. He stated that the only iteration of the character little kids had to read after the release of the film was the stories by T-Nehisi Coates, which were geared towards adults. He stated:
On a multi-cultural level, everyone appreciated what Black Panther was. You had young white kids running around in Black Panther costumes. This should have been capitalized on the onset after Civil War but it wasn’t. You can really get the sense that they didn’t know what they had. If you actually take Black Panther out of the equation on the road to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the story doesn’t miss a beat. The only thing is that [we know] Bucky is in Wakanda.
He then goes on to point out that Black Panther (2018), by design, was a standalone movie. He states that Bucky should have been involved with the fight with Killmonger as the ruler of Wakanda clearly affects Bucky’s life. If in Infinity War, it’s easy for him to get involved, he should have been in Black Panther more. Shuri even says “Another white box to fix.” With their advanced technology, he should have been fixed by the events of this film. They fix bullet wounds within 24 hours and essentially do neuro surgery within a few hours, at most. Black Panther takes place one week after Civil War, they could easily fix Bucky within that time frame. It doesn’t make sense, aside from trying to keep Bucky and other Avengers outside of the Black Panther film. Again, it was made to be a film that was connected, sure, but not in a way that would affect the overall story, aka a standalone movie.
This panel was one of the most detailed and analytical panel I attended during Comic-Con@Home. I will be writing up a thorough analysis of their discussion in a future editorial, so be sure to check back with Backseat Directors regularly to catch that article. I also encourage you to take to time to watch this panel, as I believe you will learn a great deal, even if you’re not a fan of the Black Panther film.
San Diego Comic-Con@Home was a very unique experience, but it was also a great pleasure to be able to attend. No one knows what the future holds for comic book conventions and other large gathering events, but it is nice to know that we have the technology and infrastructure to be able to share and participate in the things we love with other people who enjoy the same.
Movies are the creation derived from the dreams, inspiration, ideas, and hard work of countless minds and hands. If you stay at the end of each movie as the credits begin to roll, you’ll get a glimpse of just how many people it really does take to bring a movie to life. The name Robin Bissell might not sound entirely familiar to the casual movie fan, and it might even elude some of the more self-declared cinephiles, but without a doubt it is a name you’ll want to follow in the Hollywood industry.
Have you ever heard of Pleasantville (1998), or Seabiscuit (2003)? How about The Hunger Games (2012)?—only the third highest grossing movie at the domestic box office in 2012, grossing over $408 million. Bissell served as an associate producer and executive producer (respectively) on all three of these films (among others). But Bissell’s path to Hollywood was an unexpected one to say the least.
Bissell’s upbringing exposed him to theater and plays, but it was at the end of his freshman year at the University of Maryland that Bissell discovered his ability to write music. This discovery inspired him to drop out of college during his sophomore year and head west to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in either music or acting, both equal passions of his. Friends and family admonished him to choose one and focus on that—and he chose singing/song writing. Bissell was able to form a band and land a record deal with A&M Records, only to see that deal nullified once PolyGram bought out A&M Records. This didn’t stop Bissell and his band, Everything, from pursuing their love of music and playing shows all over town.
After a few years of playing music, Bissell felt ready for a change; a new adventure of sorts. Bissell’s love of film had never diminished, and ultimately, it was Bissell’s connections that he had made through music that landed him an opportunity in the film industry. Bissell’s friend, agent Melanie Ramsayer, lined him up an interview as an assistant to a movie writer who was about to direct his very first film. This new director had fired his last three assistants, and Bissell went in to interview for the opening. Even after being warned at how awful this assistant position was going to be, Bissell persisted and never wavered during the interview. When the interview concluded and Bissell was making his way to back to his car, he realized he had forgotten to ask for a script of this new movie. So Bissell went back into the building only to run into the new director himself, Gary Ross, who then hired him on the spot. This new movie being made was Pleasantville, starring Jeff Daniels, Reese Witherspoon, and Tobey Maguire.
Bissell’s hiring came two months before principal photography began for Pleasantville, and with no experience and no idea how to actually do his job, Bissell became a sponge, soaking up as much knowledge as he possibly could. He worked long hours and took on more responsibilities, and during the extensive fifteen-month post-production of Pleasantville (while other producers left to take care of other projects), Bissell picked up the slack and made his worth known to Gary Ross as well as others; Ross ended up making Bissell an associate producer for Pleasantville.
And thus began his new journey in Hollywood.
Bissell would go on to be hired as a full-time producing partner for Gary Ross and Larger Than Life Productions, and would be part of the making of such films as Seabiscuit, The Tale of Despereaux (2008), and The Hunger Games. When Comcast bought Universal Studios back in 2010, they ended up buying out the contract that Universal had with Larger Than Life Productions. Gary Ross, Bissell, and co. were still able to make The Hunger Games, whose financial success allowed Bissell the flexibility to set off on his own in pursuit of a project he had been thinking of making for a number of years.
It was back in 2005 that Bissell came across an article in Time Magazine about two individuals back in the 1970’s that were on opposing sides of civil rights activism occurring in Durham, NC; Ann Atwater, a Black woman and civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a White man and president of the KKK chapter in Durham, NC. This story grabbed Bissell’s attention, and years later would end up being the passion project that put him in the director’s chair of his very own movie titled, The Best of Enemies (2019). This story is explored in detail on episode 110 of the Backseat Directors Podcast. Bissell’s journey from college drop-out, to musician, to an assistant, to associate producer, to executive producer, to a writer and director of his own movie was likely the most unexpected journey he could have imagined. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bissell’s career is to follow your heart. Even if the path before you is uncertain and obscure, the only way to know is to take that leap and move forward. I encourage all readers to listen to the rest of his story and learn more about the man, and the movie fan, Robin Bissell.
I’ve always been interested in the stories of how movie stars are “found”; it always seems a perfect blend of hard work, sacrifice, and a little dumb luck. Charlize Theron’s moment came from inside of a bank in Los Angeles, where a teller had just refused to cash her check. Broke, far from home, and desperate to pay the rent, Theron found herself yelling at the bank teller, begging him to find a way. Prompted by her pleas, a man in line behind her offered his assistance, and eventually the check was cashed.  That man was John Crosby, a talent agent who helped her get connected in the industry and land a part in her very first movie, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995).
Only a few months earlier, she’d been an 18-year-old looking down at her one-way ticket, worried that she was going to the wrong place because it said “Los Angeles” and not “Hollywood.” She hadn’t planned on being an actress; she came to New York from her native South Africa to study at the Joffrey Ballet and chase her dream of being a dancer, only to be told that said dream was no longer possible due to her persistent knee injuries.  But here she was, in a bona fide Hollywood picture! Her appearance was little more than a gross death scene where she’s mutilated by a Stephen King monster, but it was so important to her that she spent precious money on a brand-new pair of shoes for filming. Not only were her shoes ruined by the fake blood and muddy terrain of the corn field, but when she went to see the movie in theaters, she realized that her voice had been dubbed and she wasn’t listed in the credits.  It was clear that the interest was in her visage, but she didn’t want to be pigeon-holed because of her looks or her thick South African accent. She knew she could be more.
“Range” became the name of the game for Theron. Beginning in 1996, she appeared in at least two movies a year, everything from critically acclaimed dramas like The Cider House Rules (1999) to panned comedies like Waking up in Reno (2002). Even if the movies bombed, her stardom was on the rise. Then, she had a breakout year. First, she joined the popular caper The Italian Job (2003), which showcased her ability to hold her own in a star-studded cast. Then, she took the lead role in Monster (2003), a Patty Jenkins biopic about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a mentally ill prostitute targeting former clients. She gained significant weight and shaved her eyebrows, disappearing in both features and physicality to morph into a different person altogether. Film critic Roger Ebert hailed her work as “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema.”  It made her the first South African to win an Oscar for acting and proved her versatility once and for all. No one would ever mistake her for just another pretty face again.
Theron continued to challenge herself with a myriad of characters: a victim of workplace sexual assault in North Country (2005), a police detective in In the Valley of Elah (2007), and an exhausted mother of three in Tully (2018). Her marketability has helped to fuel box office smashes like The Fate of the Furious (2017), Hancock (2008), and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), and her comedic chops continue to surprise in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) and Long Shot (2019). The voice that wasn’t good enough for Children of the Corn was cast in Astro Boy (2009), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and The Addams Family (2019); she was able to showcase her transformative abilities yet again in Bombshell (2019), where she was unrecognizable as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. But perhaps her most well-known films are her action flicks. Despite Aeon Flux (2005) being a notorious flop that almost paralyzed her,  Theron returned to the genre with a vengeance in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) as the now cultural icon Imperator Furiosa. She’s also had to learn fight choreography for Atomic Blonde (2017) and most recently The Old Guard (2020) (which is now available to stream on Netflix). And that’s less than half of her filmography from the past 25 years.
Despite her status in the upper echelon of acting and activism, I find the most compelling characteristic of Theron’s persona to be her relationship with her mother, Gerda. She is mentioned in almost every interview, appears as Theron’s date to award shows, and is constantly acknowledged as a co-parent in the raising of her two adopted grandchildren. She’s been there from the beginning: a cheerleader in Theron’s ballet classes, modeling gigs, and movie roles. But her daughter grew up with an unpredictable, alcoholic father—and Gerda was there when an incident of domestic violence resulted in Theron’s father’s death.  Theron was only 15 at the time, and firmly asserts that her mother’s actions saved her life. While some may point to such trauma as the fuel for what she has become, I think Theron’s success should not be attributed to tragedy. Hers is the kind of depth earned not only with experience, but also an inexhaustible work ethic and enthusiasm.
When I see Charlize Theron, I am reminded of the artist P!nk: the toughness and edge of someone who’s bigger than their problems, accompanied by the vulnerability necessary to talk about therapy, darkness, and heartache. She’s a renowned action star, so it might not be surprising to learn that she’s a UFC fan and can eat hot wings with levels of spice that nobody has any business trying to eat.  That commanding presence is evident on screen, and yet, there is a level of raw complexity in her performances that humanizes even the superhuman. Not everyone likes her tough exterior, her sarcastic sense of humor, or her candor, but in those traits I can’t help but see resilience and resolution to play a better hand than the one she was dealt. Rather than being intimidated, I choose to be inspired by the idea that we can live indefinable—despite trauma, struggle, and how others perceive us.
- “Oprah Talks to Charlize Theron”
- Charlize Theron Biography
- “Theron’s Film Debut Pride Ruined By Dubbing”
- “The Warm Embrace of Charlize Theron”
- “Charlize Theron Has Seriously Damaged Her Body More Than Once During Filming”
- “Charlize Theron Details the Night Her Mother Shot and Killed Her Father: ‘I’m Not Ashamed'”
- First We Feast
If you asked me who Alexander Hamilton was five years ago, I would’ve maybe remembered that he was the guy on the ten dollar bill. If you asked me what he did with his life, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much at all. My interest in Hamilton: An American Musical began when I was on vacation in New York City. We were walking through Broadway, trying to find the specific theater our show was being performed in, when we passed the Richard Rodgers Theater that was housing Hamilton. I thought that the outside of the theater looked really cool; it was something I had never seen before. However, I didn’t feel the need to look anything up about the musical until later.
When I returned to college for the Spring semester, I was browsing Pinterest when I saw someone had animated Hamilton as a traditional hand-drawn Disney film. I was intrigued that a musical about the Revolutionary War had gotten so popular; not only that, but a hip-hop and rap musical had gotten so popular. I downloaded the soundtrack, looked up the lyrics on Google so I could understand what they were actually singing/rapping, and prepared to see what the hype was all about. I was completely captivated by the musical genius and the story of Hamilton. Thus began my obsession with everything Lin-Manuel Miranda has done. In the process of learning about how and why he created Hamilton, I began to understand how influential Hamilton was—not only as a small glimpse into a lesser known narrative of the Revolutionary War, but celebrating diversity. As Miranda so eloquently puts it, “Hamilton is the story of America then told by America now.”
One of the main criticisms of Hamilton is that while almost all of the characters are played by people of color (POC), there are actually no POC characters in the story. There is one throw away line about Sally Hemmings (a slave that Thomas Jefferson owned and had a relationship with) but that character is played by an ensemble dancer and has no significant involvement in the story aside from taking a letter from Thomas Jefferson. Other than this three second sequence in the song “What Did I Miss?” there are no characters of color in Hamilton.
The phrase, “History is written by the victors” is commonplace now in this age, but no less true. Right now, especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, we are more focused on scrutinizing our media and the way we view and understand history. Many films about race have come under fire for being “White savior movies.” Historical accounts of people of color have been coming forward to highlight how significant their role was in the history of our country—it seems as though diversity has never been more important, analyzed, and talked about. So why did Miranda choose not to include POC characters in the story? After all, In the Heights (Miranda’s first musical) was entirely about POC characters. Couldn’t he find a Revolutionary War story from a perspective of a person of color?
Before Hamilton, my knowledge of Revolutionary War history was very minimal: the British were taxing the colonies without allowing the colonies to have representation in Parliament, we protested, revolutionary sentiment spread , we went to war, George Washington was awesome, and somewhere in between Ben Franklin discovered electricity. That was pretty much it. I had no idea what Alexander Hamilton contributed, or who he even was. Even the lyrics of the opening number of Hamilton acknowledges this: “His enemies destroyed his rep/ America forgot him.”
Hamilton’s first act focuses on a group of revolutionaries that not many people are aware of: Hamilton himself, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens, and Hercules Mulligan. We are given a very basic story of what they contributed to the war effort, all under the legendary George Washington. The second act takes historical figures we know (Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and deconstructs them into more antagonistic roles while still respecting all that they did for the founding of America.
While Hamilton may be historical fiction and has taken creative liberties, it is a brilliant introduction (and it really is only an introduction) into the complex nature of the founding of our nation. However, I think the historical backdrop is secondary to the actual message of Hamilton.
Who Tells Your Story
Ultimately, Hamilton is a tragedy. The character even refers to himself as “another Scottish tragedy,” comparing his life to Macbeth’s. Hamilton was so caught up in his legacy (a constant theme of the show); he spent a plentitude of time dedicated to his writing and securing that legacy at the cost of his wife and children. He was even willing to die in order to be remembered—and eventually, he did die over an argument about his reputation with Aaron Burr.
The truly ironic thing about Hamilton’s obsession with his legacy is that he would’ve been forgotten if not for Eliza—the wife he neglected for so long. In an earlier draft of the song “Burn” Eliza sings, “And when the time comes//Explain to the children//The pain and embarrassment//You put their mother through//When will you learn//That they are your legacy?//We are your legacy.” The final shot of the musical is Miranda leading Eliza up to the front of the stage, and she sees the audience, realizing that Hamilton’s legacy exists because of her.
Miranda has taken the founding of America—a story told traditionally through the lens of White men—and recontextualizes it to fit the story of modern America. Hamilton is a story about immigration, slavery, feminism, the value of family and marriage fidelity, and the inherent worth of all people regardless of gender, race, or financial status. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Aaron Burr in the Broadway production, viewed the message of Hamilton as a vehicle for these themes when he addressed Vice President Pence:
“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values. We truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.”Aaron Burr in Hamilton: An American Musical (2015)
Rather than telling the people of color’s story during the Revolutionary War, Miranda instead chose to correlate the struggles of the Founding Fathers then to the diverse America now. Through our own dedication and determination, we have a chance to improve our nation, and leave behind a legacy of good for our children. People of all colors, genders, sexualities, races, nationalities, and abilities have an opportunity to “rise up” and create a better world. And that is a message we so desperately need in our time.
I was lucky enough to hear about Blindspotting (2018) when it was initially released in limited theaters. I could have easily missed out on this movie. Its release fell during a quiet time for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; five years after the group’s inception, and two years before the latest resurgence. That being said, I feel like this film could have been used by the movement to sincerely and humbly show the world what life might be like for a Black man living in an urban area. Unfortunately, Blindspotting went under the radar for most of the country; chalk it up to bad timing, perhaps. However, even two years after its release, this movie’s impact hits just as hard now as if it came out two to three weeks ago.
I want to add a little bit of context to me as a viewer: I grew up in a place that was often rated #1 on lists for safest cities in the world. I’m a white male, and my parents provided everything I would ever need. From my limited perspective, I was truly touched by this film and felt an overflow of empathy for a population of people that deal with the issues displayed in this movie every day. The movie also managed to make me laugh—a lot!
Daveed Diggs (original Hamilton Broadway production, and Wonder) and Rafael Casal grew up together in Oakland and both experienced much of what they eventually created in this film. They both co-wrote and co-starred in Blindspotting and their chemistry makes for an enthralling and hilarious watch by itself. I was hooked all the way from their playful banter to their emotionally and racially charged arguments.
The film itself really works with two distinct elements (though they are interrelated): the often comical predicament of Diggs’ and Casal’s characters dealing with their hometown slowly and annoyingly gentrifying due to the influx of hipsters and software company executives, and the anxiety Diggs’ character feels from racial tensions on so many sides—whether it’s judgement from his appearance, witnessing police brutality, or dealing with the label of being an ex-convict. The way these two elements collide is done in such a meaningful and heart-wrenching way, but I won’t go further into detail because you need to watch it!
All in all, the most important lessons I’ve learned from this film are the following:
- I’m more aware that we live in a society that often bases grave decisions on far too limited of information or preconceived bias, and it’s in large part of the reason why BLM exists.
- A White man can have the exact same upbringing and live in the exact same area as a Black man, and they’ll more than likely have a huge divide in experiences, treatment, and anxieties.
- Whether or not racism has gotten worse, life in an urban area makes it so heartbreakingly normal that people often take it with a grain of salt.
- Just as the movie utilizes comedy and friendship to get through the heavier parts, grace only through unity is going to be essential to get through our current predicament.
- If there’s anything more I could say, it would just be that if you want a movie free of any condescension that expands your perspective of why the BLM movement is happening, I think this is a fantastic choice.
If you have yet to see Blindspotting, take advantage of the time left to watch this movie for free on video-on-demand services like iTunes, Amazon Prime, or VUDU. Or if you have an HBO Max subscription, it’s currently streaming there as well. This film is well worth your time, and you just might gain more insight and empathy to demographics of people different than you.
My first memory of Spike Lee was following the 91st Academy Awards. Upon the announcement that Green Book (2017) had won Best Picture, the acclaimed director reportedly rose from his chair and angrily attempted to leave the Dolby Theater. It wasn’t uncommon for nominees to thinly veil their disappointment, but the idea that he would storm out because his movie didn’t win set me against the acclaimed director. As such, my first ever Spike Lee Joint was only two months ago when I finally got around to seeing the film he had so badly wanted to take home with the Best Picture honor: BlacKkKlansman (2017). Making my way through his filmography has convinced me that there is more to Lee than being a seemingly sore loser. So here is what I’ve learned about the man named Shelton Jackson Lee or (as his mother took to calling him) Spike.
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Spike Lee’s mother was a teacher of arts and Black literature. “She was the one who introduced me to film,” he says of Jacquelyn Shelton Lee. “My mother had the vision to introduce all her children to the arts…. but she never got to see my success” (1). She died during his sophomore year at Morehouse College. He would later continue his education with a Master’s in Film and Television from NYU, where he is currently a tenured professor. He has used his powerful storytelling to change the perspective on historical figures, as in Malcolm X (1992), or to tell criminally untold stories, as in BlacKkKlansman and most recently Da Five Bloods (2020). He cares for these stories as if they were his own, like many of his joints are. His filmography feels at times like a biography, as the experiences and places that formed him permeate his narratives: the innocence of childhood and maternal loss in Crooklyn (1994), the portrayal of social issues within the Black community in School Daze (1988), and the racial tensions and gentrification of Brooklyn in Do the Right Thing (1989). Lee makes his movies even more personal by starring in many of them himself. In fact, every member of his immediate family has participated in at least one of his projects; his father, a jazz musician, recorded the music for Lee’s first four films, including Mo’ Better Blues (1990). Spike Lee co-wrote Crooklyn with his siblings Cinqué and Joie, and his brother David has done the still-photography for almost all of Lee’s films.
For me, Spike Lee Joints stand out as unsatisfying—not in quality or content, but in terms of the feeling that sits in my gut when the credits roll. He doesn’t shy away from displaying brutality, violence, and overt racism (as a result all but two of Spike Lee’s films have an R-rating). But what sets him apart is his determination to deny any resolution to the discomfort. Lee creates this feeling of unease not only with subject matter and dialogue but also with camera angles and movements. His signatures are a double-dolly shot where characters appear to be floating, and the simple direction of having characters break the fourth wall; but they aren’t looking at the camera—they are looking at you. The implied sense of obligation or responsibility for what is going on, especially when the subject matter is so jarring, isn’t pleasant. It’s impossible to watch Lee’s films and feel that everything is hunky-dory in the world and that there is no need for outcry. It’s why his films have become the standard for education on the social issues at hand.
Common criticisms of Lee include that his work can be heavy-handed and transparently political, and I don’t think he would disagree. In an interview with Piers Morgan, he said, “I know I have a reputation, but I’m always being put in this position [where] I have to speak on race… on behalf of 45 million African Americans” (2). He takes that responsibility seriously. For one, the name of his production company is “40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks”, referring to what was promised by the federal government (but never given) to newly freed slaves following the end of the Civil War; a reminder of what Black Americans have suffered at the hand of systemic injustice. In almost every one of his films a character says, “Wake up!”, sometimes repeatedly and directly to the audience. He’s been openly critical of directors that he believes are misrepresenting Black people, including Clint Eastwood, Tyler Perry, and Quentin Tarantino. He felt that Do the Right Thing was passed over in favor of a more polite and comfortable narrative in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), which was showered with praise, even the Academy’s top prize. When asked about his apparent agitation over Green Book’s similar victory, Lee responded, “Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose” (3).
Despite losing Best Picture and Best Director, Spike Lee did not go home empty-handed. He won his first non-honorary Oscar for BlacKkKlansman’s adapted screenplay. The announcement was made by Samuel L. Jackson, who got his start in Lee’s films and has starred in six of them to date. At the news, Lee bounded onto the stage in a bright purple suit and leapt into Jackson’s arms, wrapping all four limbs around his old friend’s frame for a good few seconds before finally making his way to the microphone. The speech was characteristic of Lee: reminding those present that their country was built on the enslavement of an entire race and the genocide of the Native American people. As a fully committed people-pleaser, it’s hard for me to relate to someone so trenchant and passionate in their viewpoint. Like his films, Lee’s voice abandons subtlety and favors outrightness and unflinching sophistication. It may not be easy to hear, but without such a bold and unrelenting voice, would we see things the way we do now?
With some movie theaters cautiously reopening, and after an incredibly frustrating work day, I decided to escape to the cinema this evening. It definitely wasn’t the bustling, thriving celebratory grand reopening I was hoping for, but… Well, here’s my review of the experience:
The theater lobby was a combination of sparse but upbeat employees surrounded by expired standees, scaled-down concession stands, and abundant cleaning smells. It felt as if someone had broken into an abandoned building and discovered how to turn on a few working breakers. I began to feel a little disheartened. COVID-19 has already changed everything about day-to-day life, but now it was threatening to permanently infringe on one of the few places I can go to escape.
I bought some popcorn, was rationed some napkins, a straw and a lid, and headed down the barren hallway into the auditorium.
It was mostly empty—just a few teenagers and me. Not quite the communal experience you typically want at a theater.
Then the lights dimmed and the trailers (without dates) played. I love trailers but these were for movies that had already missed their original releases, again a reminder of the reality I wanted to forget about for awhile. After the trailers, there was a lengthy clip of the President of Megaplex Theatres awkwardly welcoming audiences back and, again, reminding us of the detailed protocols his company is following to protect us. How could I forget?
Finally, after nearly three months of drought, the movie started. And that was it—the shiny floating distributor logos, the larger-than-life images, the seat-shaking surround sounds—I was transported.
The movie wasn’t new, I’ve seen it at least a dozen times. But it worked. No matter how hard the theater kept trying to remind me of the new reality, the cinematic experience worked.
For a few hours I didn’t have to think about the new normal. Covid, protests, politics, social media, work stress, all took a back seat while my mind was creatively recharged and emotionally reinvigorated.
Thank goodness for movies.
After the credits rolled, the lights came up, and I put on my face mask and headed back into wherever we are now, feeling a little more prepared to face this new normal.
To commemorate our trip to the Final Four tournament, my college rugby team made a fairly impromptu music video featuring Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.” It comprised of us dancing and lip-syncing like goofballs, all the while actually believing that the color of our skin didn’t matter. We were sisters, teammates, and eventually national champions. Today, the video reflects fond memories I have with teammates of all colors and backgrounds. When I think of “race relations,” those sweet expressions of unity and friendship are the summary of my limited personal experience; but I know that for my Black brothers and sisters, this is not the case. The fictional character Aibileen recalls the wrongful death of her son, saying, “The anniversary of his death comes every year and I can’t breathe, but to y’all it’s just another day of Bridge.” It’s this disparity in perspective that is stirring me to educate myself and increase my own awareness of racial injustice in the country I love.
The movie The Help (2011) has received both warm praise and heavy criticism. While some heralded it as inspirational, others claimed it was whitewashed, watered-down, and even harmful in combating real racism. Even actress Viola Davis, who was nominated for multiple awards for her portrayal of the previously mentioned Aibileen, expressed her disappointment with the film’s inability to focus on the characters that comprise its title, going as far as to say she regretted starring in it. I agree with her; the movie would have been better had it played out as the stories of a dozen black maids, interweaving with each other to actually answer the question “What is it like to be a Black maid in the 60s?” Instead, it spends considerable time on Skeeter (played by Emma Stone), a young, White post-grad who has an awakening to the atrocity and hypocrisy of her culture. Some would attribute this oversight to the author of the novel on which the film is based, claiming that she was not the right person to tell the stories of black maids because she is White. I disagree with the logic but consent that the story was not sufficiently focused on those it claims to represent. In spite of that and its other flaws, I still think The Help is worth watching.
The reason I make that statement is this: the story is not about fighting racism or injustice. There are other and better depictions of what it takes to combat an uneven and dangerous playing field. What I love about The Help is how it iterates the nature of relationships that exist in defiance of social injustice and inequality before the law. The character Aibileen works in the homes of 17 children and helps to raise them, often speaking of how much she grows to love them. These bonds run deep, but they are eradicated and defiled by a system that dehumanizes a member of that family unit based on pigmentation. I feel like The Help is actually a story about developing trust sufficient to cross imaginary lines with too-horrible-to-imagine risks. The process of collecting the interviews of the help shows the importance of listening, even if you don’t like what you hear. It’s not a White woman playing savior to a Black woman; it’s Black women and White women learning to trust each other with the truth. The precious, familial bond portrayed in The Help reminds me of what is at stake if we allow injustice to continue. It proves that there is power in telling our stories, or at least sharing the stories that inspired or changed us. And it’s the only reason I’m sharing my limited perspective at all.
I’m grateful for those critical of The Help because they offer insights that I could not see on my own, and that has shaped the way I watch the film today. But I think to discount the film completely is a mistake. There is value in stories about friendships and personal trust developed between individuals with diverse backgrounds; yes, it’s remedial and at times cheesy (it’s distributed by Disney, after all). Like Remember the Titans (2000), it sacrifices the gritty reality of the past for palatable victories in manageable conflicts. As far as education, it’s about as informative as my rugby team’s music video. But as long as it serves as an appetizer and not your one and only course, The Help can leave you with warm fuzzies and hope that things can get better; that despite differences we can actually come to understand each other and, together, work for real change. This is just one of the films that the team at Backseat Directors will be discussing; don’t let it be the only one you watch.
When filling out my Apocalypse Bingo sheet, I could have never guessed that a second Civil Rights Movement would be on the horizon. I found myself woefully undereducated about the nuances that are required for this subject. Luckily, one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that I have more time and the resources to learn more. And so, I set out to watch two movies that focus on two of the most recognized figures of the First Civil Rights Movement in America: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
During my elementary school years, I grew up in a small town near Memphis, Tennessee. Those days were filled with stories about Martin Luther King Jr.— taking field trips to the hotel where he was assassinated, and learning how much progress and change he brought to our nation. The impression I got was that he was a national hero that helped end racism in our country.
So imagine my surprise when I found out that, at the time when MLK was living, our government had the exact opposite opinion of him. I was shocked. I thought only white supremacists and racists had a poor opinion of him. So, when Ava DuVernay announced that her film Selma would be available to stream for free, I leapt at the chance to watch it. It ended up being one of the most relatable films to our current times that I’ve seen. David Oyelowo was the actor casted to play MLK, and I’m not sure there is anyone else that bears such a striking resemblance to him.
The movie tells of the struggle between the people who demanded change and equality for the Black community, and both the local and federal government who were more complicit with the status quo.
What I really appreciate about this film is that it highlights King’s dedication to non-violence, and his cunning in using his enemies’ prejudice against them to the movement’s advantage. He puts their bigotry and violence on full display for the country to see, and when the Alabama state troops conceded because of the backlash against their violence, the marchers turned back. This allows the President to reflect on the violence and outrage, which convinced him to pass a bill that will allow Black citizens to vote without restrictions.
While knowing a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the First Civil Rights Movement, this film helped me see him as a more layered, complex, and cunning person that helped the cry of the oppressed be heard more loud and clear.
Malcolm X (1992)
I grew up not knowing who Malcolm X was, but once I heard of his existence, I was immediately bombarded with the accusations that he was a terrorist. I took that accusation as fact, so I spent years thinking that Malcolm was the radical violent version of MLK. While researching about the First Civil Rights Movement, I discovered that I was wrong. So, I was determined to watch the Spike Lee Joint and see the history I missed out on. The movie was three-and-a-half hours long, but it flew by with how interesting and enjoyable it was to watch.
While MLK was a Christian pastor who believed in unity and non-violence, Malcolm was an Islamic minister who, for most of his life, believed in segregation and equality “by any means necessary.” He taught that the white man had stripped the Black people of all their culture, their right to commerce, and even their identities. So there was nothing to be done than to live apart from another. He condemned leaders like MLK for pandering to the white community.
After becoming disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, Malcom took a pilgramage to Mecca where he realized that members of different races could live together in peace. He believed this could be obtained through Islam. After returning to the United States, he began to change his views on Black nationalism, and was later assassinated while speaking at the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
This film’s ending was especially powerful, with actual footage of Malcolm’s speeches interspersed with the film and a surprise cameo from Nelson Mandela. I am so glad I watched this film. It gave me a newfound respect for all of the different factions of the First Civil Rights Movement, and allowed me to view the depth of pain and alienation that bigotry and racism caused. Malcolm X was a powerful figure in the First Civil Rights Movement that should be highlighted just as much as MLK.
What Have I Learned?
We are all (hopefully) taught that overt racism is wrong. We’re taught not to judge people based on the color of their skin, not to call others names, that violence against others because of their race is wrong. This is overt/individual racism. Nearly everyone recognizes that this is wrong.
We are rarely taught about the real history of racism in America. It took the recent events of police brutality for me to really reflect on how much race, education, and socioeconomic circumstances are a factor in each of our lives. Whether we like it or not, slavery and racism is part of the history of our country and have cultivated many of the social situations that communities and families find themselves in today. Watching Malcom X and Selma have helped me realize that while overt racism is generally frowned upon today, we still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing outdated policies and ideologies that seem to perpetuate racial tensions in our country. It’s easy to say in hindsight that we would have walked hand in hand with MLK Jr. or Malcolm X in the last Civil Rights Movement, but that might be disingenuous if we’re standing on the sidelines now. We must confront these issues head on and leave a better country and world for the next generation.
Before he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, Josh Gad spent four years being roommates with a musical theater hopeful named Rory O’Malley, who became his close friend. A few years after graduation, both Gad and O’Malley were cast in a Broadway show called The Book of Mormon. It would go on to become one of the most successful musicals of all time and earned both roommates Tony nominations. O’Malley says of Gad, “I’ve certainly had faith in Josh…I always knew that he is a comedic genius and it was just a matter of time.” He added that Gad was a drama major and never in the musical theater program; he just sang on the side.
Though he got his start on Broadway, Josh Gad was born to be in Hollywood. He was actually born in Hollywood, Florida, the youngest of three brothers and raised by traditionally Jewish parents. Both of his older brothers became lawyers, but from a young age Gad knew he wanted to be an actor. As a kid in the 90’s, he was obsessed with Disney movies, his favorite of which was Aladdin (1992) because of Robin Williams’ performance as Genie. Little did he know that one day he would be a Broadway star living in the same building as Williams and get to meet him in person. Josh Gad himself is most famous for his own portrayal of a comedic Disney side-character: the loveable, magical snowman Olaf in Disney’s Frozen (2013) franchise. Apart from the success of the film and its effect on his career, Gad became the first actor ever to win two Annie Awards for Voice Acting, both for his portrayal as Olaf in Frozen and Frozen II (2019) respectively. The character even got its own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and has appeared annually since 2017. He doesn’t let that go to his head though; he scored not one but two nominations for the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor for performances in The Wedding Ringer (2015) and Pixels (2015). Ironically, he shares that accolade with none other than Robin Williams, who was also nominated twice in 1999.
But even for someone that’s talented, trained, and motivated, finding success or even just work as an actor can feel impossible. A few years after graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Gad grew weary of rejection and decided he was going to quit and go to law school like his brothers. When he told his mother, he was shocked to hear her crying. “I’m disappointed with you,” he recalls her saying, “I’m disappointed because you’ve spent 15 years dreaming about doing something and only 3 years trying to live out that dream.” Gad credits that conversation with giving him the courage to fly out to New York and audition to replace a Tony-winner in a Broadway production called, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. At the time, an episode of ER was his only professional acting credit, but he won the part.
It wasn’t too long after that that he exploded onto the scene as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon, and then made seemingly seamless transitions into television and film. One of his breakout movies was Love and Other Drugs (2010), where he played an awkward but entertaining brother of Jake Gyllenhal’s character. From there, he’s been in comedies, murder mysteries, dramatic biopics, as well as a long list of voice-acting credits. He’s gotten to use his Broadway-level singing voice not only in Frozen but also in the live adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (2017) as LeFou and as Birdie in Central Park (an animated musical sitcom that just debuted on Apple TV+ and is getting great reviews). As for movies, you can catch him as Mulch Diggums in Artemis Fowl (2020), which just debuted streaming on June 12 via Disney+.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the work hasn’t stopped for Gad. For kids, the “At Home with Olaf” animated shorts are fun and entirely produced from home by Gad and the animators, but by far my favorite is his “Reunited Apart” Youtube series where he brings together casts from classic films via Zoom in order to raise money for charity. Recently he brought together the cast of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and I loved every second of it. Despite it all, he still finds time to go on daily walks with his kids and read them the Harry Potter books (complete with his multitude of character impersonations, of course). I’m glad he’s had time to be home with his family, because his stardom train has been going strong for some time, and I don’t anticipate him giving up the spotlight any time soon.
As I peruse the awesome film lists that people have been compiling to educate allies on racial inequity, there are a couple films that seem to be missing (The Help and Green Book are decent and all, Hidden Figures as well) but where is Higher Learning or American History X? Where is Queen & Slim? Where is 12 Years a Slave?
… I have an opinion on that.
As a Black man, I’ve looked at many of the recent films on Civil Rights and thought to myself, “That’s not for me. That’s for the white audience.” These are films that focus more on portraying Black people as people of virtue and worthy to be treated fairly. News flash, folks: we deserve equal rights based on our humanity. Nothing more. Nothing less. These films offer no accountability, which is what is sorely needed now. The latter films are rarely mentioned because they hold a mirror to people’s faces and show them things they don’t want to see or acknowledge. I believe 12 Years a Slave is the perfect film to watch if you’re serious about understanding.
To clarify, I’m not saying you aren’t serious about being an ally if you don’t watch it; I’m saying it’s the perfect film to watch. It’s an essential film based on the craft used to create it alone—impeccably shot. Solidly written. Powerfully acted. Emotionally scored. It has all the makings of a film that garnered multiple prestigious awards. It’s also without a doubt the most unflinching portrayal of slavery ever committed to film. This is what we need right now. Our streets are filled with gas. Our buildings are burning. Alliances are shifting. Friends are becoming enemies. Enemies are becoming allies. It’s a tumultuous time.
Almost all of this turmoil can be traced back to the slave trade, and what better way to educate yourself on a root cause than to watch the best film made on the very subject?
To those who haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave, or are descended from slavery, I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t your typical slavery film. This isn’t about glorifying a historical figure. It’s about narrowing the lens on the crime against humanity that is slavery. This is about one man’s fight for his freedom on a physical and existential level. You can take that harrowing journey and then realize that millions fought that same battle in their own way. Slaves were not a monolith then, just as marginalized people are not a monolith now. The oppressors would have you believe this because it’s how they reconciled their atrocities—by convincing themselves we are not individuals and we are lesser beings. There’s even hope among the chaos, because Solomon Northrup persevered through his ordeal. We, as descendants, can take his example as a microcosm for our own struggles. He survived with his character and dignity intact. He remained sure and proud. He never quit hoping or fighting. We have that same spirit within us. We’ve had no choice, because the alternative is more knees on our necks and guns in our faces.
I’d like to leave you with this in closing: changes in perspective and hard conversations need to happen in order for us to progress. Both of these won’t come by avoiding the elephant in the room—pretend it’s not there and you get trampled. Our streets are evidence of this in recent weeks. I truly, truly believe that 12 Years a Slave will stir something within you. It could be anger. It could manifest as sadness or disappointment. It might even (hopefully, prayers up) awaken you to the pain of a people. Whatever those emotions may be, I say let yourself feel them. You won’t be in a theater. You’ll be in the comfort of your own home or another familiar place. If it gets too tough (and it will) take a break. Don’t fast forward or skip. Gather yourself. Discuss it with your viewing partner. Analyze it. Work through it. Use the film as a tool toward better understanding and empathy.
My hope is that you leave your viewing experience a little beat up and worse for wear, but also energized and ready to take action—even if that’s simply getting another person to watch. The scars of slavery are evident in the Black community down to our inner psyche and the marrow of our bones. There are reminders everywhere—the monuments to leaders who believed they had the right to own us; the confederate banner they fought under; police brutality; malicious legislation; predatory loans and debt; defunded education; mass incarceration; the people afraid to sit next to you at the movies; even the disparity between elite athletes and ownership—all of it is born from the desire to maintain a 401-year-old status quo.
Let’s not make it 402 years.
It’s a great day for all movie fans in Utah. Megaplex Theatres, part of the Larry H. Miller Company, just announced today that they will be reopening most locations on Thursday, June 18.
Theaters nationwide shuttered their doors in early March in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Regal Cinemas was the first major theater chain to announce closures of their theaters back on March 16, 2020.
It has been a long three months for moviegoers as they have had to wait patiently for things to settle down enough for movie theater companies to even consider reopening. Megaplex Theatres officially closed their doors on March 18, 2020—exactly three months to the day from their scheduled reopening.
Megaplex Theatres has made assurances that they will go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their employees and patrons. Megaplex has officially adopted Utah’s Cinema Promise:
Utah’s theatre exhibitors, in collaboration with statewide elected officials and health experts, recommend that individual owners and operators design and implement voluntary commitments and practices regarding the health and safety of their employees and customers, resulting in “Utah’s Cinema Promise.” This promise correlates with the state’s “Utah Leads Together” plan and its specific industry guidelines for all phases of COVID-19 stabilization and recovery. “Utah’s Cinema Promise” was developed to help instill comfort and confidence that cinema operators will take appropriate actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among employees and customers.Utah’s Cinema Promise – Final Draft 3_050720
Rocky Mountain National Association of Theatre Owners
To see Megaplex Theatres’ full guidelines and procedures for reopening, click the following link: Reopening Guidelines.
However, not every Megaplex Theatre location will reopen on June 18. Here is the list of locations that will reopen:
- Jordan Commons in Sandy
- The Gateway in Salt Lake City
- Thanksgiving Point in Lehi
- The District in South Jordan
- The Junction in Ogden
- Legacy Crossing in Centerville
- Valley Fair in West Valley City
- Providence in Logan
- Cedar Stadium in Cedar City
- Pineview in St. George
- Geneva Mill in Vineyard
- Cottonwood Luxury in Holladay
As businesses and other institutions begin to reopen, the feeling of normalcy seems to be creeping back into the lives of Americans everywhere. The Coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented event in our lifetime; with over 30+ million having lost their jobs, it has turned lives upside down and inside out. The reopening of movie theaters might seem fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but even the small things (like movie theaters) help our society come back together.
For more information regarding the reopening of Megaplex Theatres, click the following FAQ link.
During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.
This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?
Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.
People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.
Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”
Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”
Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.
Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.
Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.
“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)
This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.
In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.
Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!
This week in Utah, where I live, the Coronavirus task force lowered the risk from ‘orange’ to ‘yellow’ phase. As part of this phase movie theaters could start to reopen if they followed the hygiene, cleanliness, and other social distancing rules and kept crowds to under 50 people. Larger chains are still staying closed, but independent theaters have slowly begun to reopen with carry-over films from the spring or library releases of classic favorites. One such theater is the SCERA Theatre in Orem, Utah, and I was fortunate enough to go and visit it, catch a movie, and talk to the theater owners about their experience. Not everyone will be ready to embrace theater-going just yet but I can confidently say I felt very safe and was impressed with what I saw.
The decision to reopen was not an easy one for the team at SCERA. Adam J. Roberson, President & CEO; and April Berlin, Operations Manager/Marketing & Development said, “We made the decision cautiously and optimistically, and after many hours on the phone with state and county officials, and discussion with staff on their comfort levels.” Upon opening they decided to start with a showcase of the Harry Potter film series since most new films have been postponed or delayed. I was able to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which is one of my favorites in the series.
When I arrived at the theater I immediately noticed they had a separate entrance for high-risk individuals marked, ‘High risk persons enter here,’ along with signs reminding audiences to practice social distancing and wear masks. When I stepped inside I was immediately greeted by a hand sanitizer station and reminders on the ground for social distancing at the ticket booth.
Once inside the concession stand was staffed by young people wearing masks who I later found out were SCERA volunteers, which warmed my heart. They all said they were happy to be there and to be out of the house working. If you want a refill on the popcorn they will issue you a new container rather than refill an exposed bowl.
April and Adam described to me the procedures they have put in place to make things safe for the moviegoers:
“Reduced capacity, sanitizing between shows, hand sanitizer stations in lobby, staff wearing masks and gloves, and social distancing markers and signage. We’ve blocked off every other row in the Clarke Grand Theatre. The unique thing about our theatre is we have 733 seats, so the huge auditorium makes it very easy to spread out and enjoy.”
Indeed the beautiful Clarke Grand Theatre is a wonderful place to watch a movie in. The historic touches throughout and the large screen and sound system make you feel like you are truly witnessing something special, not simply seeing a movie. I loved seeing such an epic movie like the final Harry Potter film in such a wonderful old theater. I had my mask on and aside from brief moments to get popcorn in my mouth I kept it on. I felt very safe and it was a terrific experience.
When I asked April and Adam why go to the theater instead of watching at home they said, “Our screen is 40’ tall, and that epic experience in digital projection and sound is something that can’t be replicated (even with big-screen televisions and in-home theaters), and buttery theatre popcorn, that’s just a bonus!”
While at the theater, the manager, Dahl Jenkins, spoke to us about how to exit while maintaining social distance; but then he added that he hoped for the day we could all see each other’s smiling faces, and that it is important to be together as humans. It was very sweet and touching. It is these human interactions, all witnessing the same art together that make going to the movies so special. I wouldn’t trade it for the best home movie system in the world.
Going out to your local theater is a very personal decision in this tender time and I would never push anyone to do something they are not comfortable with. So much depends on where you live, what precautions are in place, and your individual risk factor assessment; however, I am certainly glad that I went. The ironic part is I think it was probably one of the safest trips to the movies I’ve ever taken with all the space, safety, and precautions!
If you feel comfortable going, then I hope you do go and support your local theaters, especially in this new and difficult phase. It’s hard being the first to open up again, and these theaters (as well as drive-in theaters, which have had a resurgence) need all the support we can give them.
I would love to hear about your experiences if you go to the theater. Please share in the comments section about your experience and how the theater helped you feel safe. Thank you!
Wednesday, May 20 will be a day long remembered by fans of Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). For over two years now, fans of Zack Snyder and his vision of the DCEU have been advocating for the release of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League, and they finally got their answer this morning. In a live stream watch party of Man of Steel (2013) on VERO, director Zack Snyder gave the announcement himself. We will walk you through the days leading up to this event, the announcement, and then the reactions from fans everywhere.
Let’s back it up a bit and start at the beginning. For some of you readers who might be unfamiliar with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement online, it all began with this single tweet from user @MovieBuff100 only 4 days after the worldwide release of the theatrical cut of Justice League in 2017:
Ever since this tweet, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has become a rallying cry for supporters of Zack Snyder and his original vision of the Justice League movie. When leaks began to surface online regarding the troublesome production and reshoots of Justice League (director Zack Snyder being replaced by Joss Whedon), and that much of the actual film seen in theaters was not what Snyder and Co. had filmed, fans of Snyder began to organize, using this hashtag as their rallying cry. Unelected leaders took the reigns and created the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut Twitter account, all dedicated to the promotion of Snyder’s Cut of Justice League, and the education of those unfamiliar with the movement:
As the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement grew, the online support began to transcend the social media arena, and fans really put their money where their mouths were. Billboards, bus stop posters, and banners flown from planes during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con were all organized by Snyder fans to show their support of the filmmaker, dubbed #ProjectComicCon, and to make a public statement to Warner Bros. that there were indeed many fans who wanted to see the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League:
Money from fans all over the world was donated to make these banners and billboards come to life, but the fans didn’t stop there. Half of that same money raised for these signs was donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Zack Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, who died by suicide during the post-production of Justice League back in 2017:
After the success of #ProjectComicCon, fans moved their attention to creating awareness of their cause at the 2019 New York Comic Con. Once again, thousands of dollars were donated from fans all around the world, and organizers were able to purchase screen time on a billboard in Time Square:
At this point a lot of steam was building behind the movement, and people were beginning to take notice. Bloggers, big media outlets, and even Zack Snyder himself gave their attention to what these fans were doing. The stage was now set for the second anniversary of the theatrical release of Justice League; the time was ripe to make a huge statement to Warner Bros. that the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was to be taken seriously, and that they were here to stay. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019—a day that will be long remembered as a key turning point in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement—hundreds of thousands of fans and supporters across the globe rallied to make the hashtag “trend” on Twitter—and trend it did. The real turning point was when Wonder Woman, Batman and Snyder all joined in to tweet their support of the ‘Snyder Cut’:
On March 28, 2020 Snyder announced on VERO that he was going to host a live streaming watch party of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Sunday, March 29 and would include director’s commentary on the movie.
At the end of the live stream, Snyder teased his audience with a cliffhanger message shrouded in mystery. Check it out below:
Now we’ve arrived at Monday, May 18, 2020. Snyder announces another live streaming watch party of his 2013 film, Man of Steel, on VERO. It is now the morning of Wednesday, May 20, and rumors all over the internet are swirling about what could come out of this watch party hosted by Snyder:
If you are interested in reading a recap of the entire director’s commentary, and want to save some time without watching the three-hour VERO stream, check out the Twitter thread posted by the Backseat Directors‘ Twitter account:
Both Zack and Debbie Snyder were in attendance on the VERO stream, providing commentary on the making and production of Man of Steel. As the movie began wrapping up, fans online began to get anxious, wondering if Snyder would actually reveal any news regarding his ‘Snyder Cut’…
Until Superman himself showed up:
Henry Cavill (who has been noticeably quiet about the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement) dropped in on the VERO stream to everyone’s surprise:
As Cavill and the Snyders continued their conversation, more people began to pop up on the VERO stream. Fans and supporters of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were invited to participate in a chat and ask the Snyders questions. The very last question was asked by Twitter user @CaresDaniella regarding the ‘Snyder Cut’ and when we would all be able to see it:
The moment the entire internet had been waiting for had finally come. No more beating around the bush; no more sugar coating; Zack was asked clearly and directly, and here was his response:
Yes! It finally happened. Zack Snyder officially confirmed the release of his cut of Justice League, set to debut on HBO Max in 2021, with the official title being, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (very appropriate, in my opinion):
Years of hard work, dedication, and a love of the Snyders came pouring out all at once in a flood of tweets for so many that had a hand in this movement. Here are just a few:
The journey of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement has been full of ups and downs, hard fought battles, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to both the cause and to AFSP, and years of hoping and waiting. These fans will see their dreams become a reality in 2021 when Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuts on the shiny, new Warner Bros. streaming platform, HBO Max. And for the Snyders, a sense of joy and vindication has to be swelling within them. Debbie and Zack suffered an unthinkable tragedy during the making of Justice League, and in many ways this is sure to feel like the ending to a chapter left unfinished.
If this entire experience (which is sure to be made into a documentary at some point) can be summed up in a single word, I think the most appropriate would be ‘hope.’
“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”
“It’s not an ‘S’. In my world it means HOPE.”
If you’d like to watch the entire VERO live stream of Man of Steel, with director Zack Snyder, the link has been posted below.
What’s your favorite movie?
Don’t say you don’t have one. Everyone has one, you just don’t know what it is yet; it’s something you can turn on whenever; something that makes you smile every time you talk about it; something that impacted you and continues to amaze and delight you with every re-watch. I also believe our favorite movies are ones that define us, that connect in perhaps indefinable ways to our own stories and help mold and shape our choices onward. Is that a little extreme? Maybe. But quarantine has made me extremely grateful for movies and for the Backseat Directors community. So as we celebrate its 20th anniversary, allow me to share with you my all-time favorite movie: Gladiator (2000).
A Dream that was Rome
Let’s set the scene—it’s 180 A.D., and Emperor Marcus Aurelius is waging war with Germanic tribes, accompanied by his loyal Roman general. His son, Commodus, is brutal and unfit to be emperor, so Marcus Aurelius asks this general (who is the former lover of his daughter Lucilla) to take his place as heir to the Roman Empire. Naturally, Commodus is hurt by his father’s decision, and Marcus Aurelius is killed. Without the Emperor’s choice of heir made public, Commodus takes his father’s place as Caesar while the loyal general is exiled.
Those who have seen Gladiator might recognize the plot points and characters found in this description, but this synopsis actually belongs to a movie called Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). Considering the latter was released to an audience well-acquainted with Roman epics, the studio expected it to be a smash at the box office like Quo Vadis (1951) and Cleopatra (1963) before it. After all, it starred such titans of the screen as Sophia Loren (Two Women), Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music), Alex Guinness (Star Wars) and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur). The studio had spared no expense; the film’s Battle of the Four Armies (not to be confused with the Hobbit movie) involved 8,000 extras, and the Roman forum they built is still the largest outdoor film set in Hollywood history (yes, even bigger than Hobbiton). But the film was an utter failure. It tanked at the box office, almost single-handedly bankrupting its production company. Critics of the time panned it as being too ostentatious and devoid of humanity and drama (ironically today it holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). So much for the glory of Rome. Fall of the Roman Empire was the last of the old Hollywood Roman epics, famed for making its title ironically intuitive and credited with killing the genre.
For 35 years, Hollywood steered clear of Ancient Rome, the Caesars, and the Coliseum. That is, until a screenwriter named David Franzoni had a pitch meeting with DreamWorks and suggested that they make a gladiator movie. Even though Fall of the Roman Empire was a disaster, the idea of making a Roman epic was thrilling enough to attract an acclaimed cast and crew. This included Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) as director and a rough-and-tumble, goofball Aussie/Kiwi named Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential) as the lead character, Maximus. The supporting cast included seasoned veterans like Richard Harris (Harry Potter) and Oliver Reed (Oliver!) and relative newcomers like Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) and Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman). Hans Zimmer was invited to compose the score, and he had the good sense to bring on Lisa Gerrard. In addition to these well-knowns, 566 other names are listed in the credits (I counted). It was the dream team, and the movie’s success is owed to each and every one of them.
Death Smiles at Us All
When Gladiator won Best Picture at the 73rd Academy Awards, three producers took the stage to accept their Oscars. One of them was Branko Lustig, a native of Yugoslavia who as a boy spent years imprisoned during the Holocaust. He survived Auschwitz but lost the majority of his family. The life he went on to live is the best representation of why the movie he helped to make endures. Maximus is a hero who loses everything, but not because of a mistake or a momentary lapse of judgement: it is his very goodness that brings on his head punishment, heartache, and loss. But it’s his adherence to his principles that allows him to rise and eventually challenge the corrupt Emperor in the Coliseum, becoming leader to a Rome that lost its way. Overcoming adversity through strength and honor against even insurmountable odds is not uncommon in Hollywood pictures, but few films resonate with a worldwide audience the way Gladiator did. It’s what made Roman epics so popular in the first place.
Despite the talented and dedicated people involved, the making of Gladiator was fraught with difficulty and chaos. Much of Franzoni’s original screenplay was thrown out, so they began shooting with only about 31 pages of script. Dozens of other writers weighed in, brainstorming ideas that were often rejected and ridiculed by Scott and his actors (especially Crowe). While filming, the script was often freshly written the night before. When they flew a 300-person team to film the second act in Morocco, there wasn’t a line of script to work with, just a repurposed soccer stadium where they could shoot some gladiator bouts. The toll of filming such an epic affected everyone involved; Crowe was battered and injured throughout shooting, and Phoenix was incredibly anxious about his performing abilities and physique. Just as the end of the arduous shoot came into sight, tragedy struck: Oliver Reed (Oliver!), who plays the retired gladiator Proximo, died while shooting in Malta. Instead of replacing him with another actor, the ending was rewritten and filmed with the help of CGI and extra footage.
Gladiator was released on May 5, 2000. Even with its first act similarities to Fall of the Roman Empire, the final result was a journey more reminiscent of Ben-Hur (1959) and Spartacus (1960), with similar success. It’s a simple story: the general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, and the gladiator who defied an Emperor. But it did the impossible; it ushered in another age of sword and sandal epics with a loose remake of the very movie that killed the age before. It won five Oscars, conquered the box office, and won over fans everywhere. Despite the legendary and extensive careers of both Crowe and Phoenix, today it remains the film they are most asked about in interviews. Franzoni, whose script was repeatedly thrashed, rewritten, and criticized, earned an Oscar nomination for his writing and took home an Oscar beside Branko Lustig when the film won Best Picture. It renewed a love and interest in Roman history in the United States (termed “the Gladiator effect” by the New York Times) and led to a series of movies and television shows set in Ancient Rome, though none of them were able to reach the same level of success. A Roman epic was not, and still isn’t, a guaranteed win for a movie studio, but Gladiator was a home run.
Are You Not Entertained?
So why now? Why take the time to extoll the stories and virtues of this film beyond my own obsessive fandom? Because I think Gladiator is the kind of film that inspires people to be artists. It’s the kind of film that pulls people like Richard Harris out of semi-retirement because they just can’t say no to starring in it. Nobody would go into entertainment if not for those kinds of films, and I’m sure everyone at Backseat Directors could tell you the films that made them love movies. With a founder who left a corporate career to pursue a passion and a group of writers made up of professional critics and film fanatics alike, we might be a dream team of dreamers not unlike the one Ridley Scott put together.
Hollywood became an empire because it told stories that captivated our imagination and elevated our perspective. Seated with our popcorn and good company, we enjoy visual storytelling that transports us across continents and to time periods both real and imagined. The beauty of art is its subjectivity, so this will not be true for everyone, but for me, Gladiator is Hollywood at its best. It is the ultimate hero’s journey: overcoming adversity by maintaining principles that the outside world calls you to abandon. The story on the screen and the one taking place behind the scenes can inspire and encourage us as we write our own stories. Daring to believe in your own creativity and build something that’s yours is not always easy, and the rewards are not always apparent. While your leap of faith may not be quitting the corporate life or standing up to corrupt dictators or taking a 300-man crew to Morocco with only an inkling of what you’re going to film, seeing people do so can give you courage. There’s always a chance that your idea will turn out like Fall of the Roman Empire; but if there’s something you feel drawn to do, something you can’t stop thinking about that lights you up inside, could it be worth the chance of failing? I’m certainly no expert on the subject. If there’s anything we can learn from Gladiator, it’s that life is short; but as a fictional man once said, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
“When you grow up in the suburbs of Sydney or Auckland……or the suburbs of anywhere, you know, a dream like this seems kind of vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable. But this moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings, and for anybody who is on the downside of advantage, and relying purely on courage: it’s possible.”Russell Crowe, Oscar for Best Actor acceptance speech (2001).
If you look up any list of “The Top 10 Modern-Day Thrillers”, you’ll likely run into one of David Fincher’s films. Being that he only has 10 entries to his directorial filmography, I’d say that makes him noteworthy, and one of the most bankable directors in Hollywood today. That being said, some of his work has been underrated, so if this entry convinces you to visit or revisit any of his films, the Fincher fan in me will have done his job!
About a decade ago, a forgettable, high school weekend spent binge watching cable (pre-Netflix) led me to my first Fincher film, Zodiac (2007)–one of the finest biopic thrillers of all time, and massively underrated (starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo). Jump forward… When I first decided to pursue movie-watching beyond just your regular pastime, I started by seeking out the directors of my favorite films, and then exploring their work. I knew that Fincher would be one of my reliable directors to look into further based off of Zodiac alone—and I was right! He did not disappoint as I was introduced to inevitable favorites like Se7en (1995), The Social Network (2010) and Gone Girl (2014). In every case I started to realize that you can expect a few things from almost any Fincher film: visceral realism, high octane, stacked casts, and rewatchability.
David Fincher got his start working on classic films like Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Though having a solid foundation with his father also being a screenwriter, he had to go through some years of directing commercials and an almost “Josh Trank-esque” experience with his directorial debut. Though the Alien franchise had garnered considerable success up to this point and his start with Alien 3 (1992) was met with mixed reviews (along with an Oscar nod for visual effects), there was a ton of studio interference along with nine different writers. Fincher would go on to disown the film saying, “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.” Though I think it is far from the weakest in the franchise, it’s definitely not one of the strongest sequels.
Luckily, his films have only gotten better as he has since been given more management over them. Se7en and Fight Club (1999) found their way to many of those aforementioned best-thriller lists with their engaging stories, novel twists, and great performances from Brad Pitt (in both), Edward Norton (Fight Club), and Morgan Freeman (Se7en). Honestly, these flicks are quality, and if you want to see how Fincher’s talents developed over the years, watch his movies in chronological order.
More recently, his installments have gained significant commercial and critical success, grabbed the attention of award circuits, and have been heavily considered some of the best movies of the year in which they came out. In fact, it’s been preferred by many that The Social Network had beat out The King’s Speech (2010) for Best Picture at the Oscars. Other Fincher films that have received more recent notoriety includes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and Gone Girl. I would strongly suggest that you watch the latter if you haven’t already. Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck and even Tyler Perry give intriguing performances, and the story (written and based on the bestseller by Gillian Flynn) makes for one of the most jaw-dropping, entertaining, mind “messer-uppers” that could only be flawlessly brought to life through Fincher’s expert directing.
Fincher’s next movie should be released this year (fingers crossed with COVID). It’s titled Mank (2020), which will chronicle a screenwriter’s battle with Orson Welles over writing credit for the movie Citizen Kane (1941), which many consider to be the greatest movie of all time. Being a big fan of The Social Network, and already seeing some striking similarities, I’m very much anticipating this release. Mank was actually written by David Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, and is set to star Gary Oldman in the lead role. Keep an eye out!
Fincher has said that he was heavily influenced by Hitchcock, which shouldn’t be a surprise as most of his movies have a considerable touch of Hitchcock-like suspense, albeit modernized. Common throughout his films, the cinematography has a signature dark-and-musky shade. You’ll notice it (if you haven’t already) while watching his films—it’s like a desaturated, monochromatic coloring that really ends up reinforcing the usually dreary world that his characters live in—what mostly comes to mind while explaining his style in Blade Runner (1982). Really, it’s a lot of that neo-noir, but without the sci-fi—and trust me, it works!
The funny thing is that there are many commonalities like this throughout his filmography, but he doesn’t seem to collaborate very much with the same people. The similarities in tone and style probably have something to do with the fact that he’s known for being a bit of a meticulous micromanager. Some of his lead actors (e.g. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rooney Mara) have spoken about their exhaustion from having to do retake after retake to get “the perfect scene”. But in turn, his perfectionism hasn’t been wasted as one of his editors said, “[It’s like] putting together a swiss watch… all the pieces are so beautifully machined. He’s incredibly specific. He never settles. And there’s a purity that shows in his work.” Honestly, in consideration of how much I love his films, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time and detail he puts into his work, even at the slight expense of his cast and crew.
Below is my ranking of Fincher’s movies. Check them out, and leave me a comment on whether you agree or disagree with the ranks, or if you love, hate or don’t care about David Fincher!
- Gone Girl (2014)
- Se7en (1995)
- Zodiac (2007)
- The Social Network (2010)
- Fight Club (1999)
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Panic Room (2002)
- The Game (1997)
- Alien 3 (1992)
The year is 2053. The Disney Wars continue to engulf the nation as the Mouseketeer Army advances from their home base on the Anaheim System. Both the Warner Bros. and the Universal Systems have fallen, causing the Netflix and Apple Systems to form a Resistance Alliance. In a last ditch effort to boost morale, the Alliance sent two undercover agents to Galaxy’s Edge in order to procure a rare asset to the Disney Empire to hold hostage: the theatrical releases of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The spies were successful in stealing the asset and hiding the films, but were ultimately captured before they could escape and get them to the Alliance. Held beneath Smuggler’s Run, the spies are interrogated about the location of the rare films and forced to watch reimaginings of their childhood classics in an attempt to have them psychologically broken. Having grown up watching both the prequel and the sequel trilogies, the spies are confident that nothing can break their resolve. That is until The Empire puts on a TV special from 1978…
The two spies looked at each other nervously as the guard wheeled in a very old brown TV with a VHS player on a wheeled tray. The elder spy leaned over and whispered, “What are they gonna show us now? That looks like something my great-grandfather used when he was in elementary school!”
The other shook his head, “They wouldn’t be showing us the original Special Edition, would they? We lived through those AND The Last Jedi. There’s nothing more that they could show us that we haven’t already suffered through.”
“So you may think,” said a sharp voice smugly behind them.
The two men whipped their necks around to see the tall figure striding into the room. The spies allowed a small smirk to play across their faces for an instant. If their shenanigans aroused the ire of the Captain of the Lucasfilm Division himself, they must’ve done something right.
The Captain smirked back as he walked around them to the TV, shaking a VHS tape in front of their faces. “You see gentlemen, what you have stolen is quite valuable. We were planning on releasing those films in a higher definition format as an…heh hemmm…reward for those who lay down their arms and surrender. However, because of your antics, the Alliance has deprived the citizens of something they’ve been wanting for over fifty years. As we cannot allow this and nothing we have shown you seems to have no effect on you, I’m afraid we must subject you to our last resort.”
“Last resort?” The older man scoffed. “On a VHS? What could you possibly…”
The Captain laughed as the spy’s eyes went wide in shock as the realization hit him. “Ah, it’s nice to see the older generation still remembers it. Who told you about it? Your grandfather?”
The spy didn’t answer the Captain, but turned to his companion in a panic. “Don’t look at it, Roderik! Just close your eyes and don’t look!”
The Captain barked out an amused laugh and rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t be so dramatic. I am prepared to make a deal, since you two seem determined to defy us. You watch this tape, and I will give you the choice to reveal the location of the original trilogy. If you do, you are free to go with no consequences, provided that the films are still where you say they are. If you refuse, you will be allowed to keep the original trilogy, but we will release this film in high definition to counter it.”
Roderik frowned. “How is that a threat? What could you possibly show us that will persuade us to give up our most valuable hostage?” He grew more angry. “Do you take me for a weakling? I lived through the High Republic trilogy—through Rey Palpatine! What could possibly be so horrifying that it would sway us from our goal?”
The Captain smiled cruelly as he inserted the tape into the VHS player. “Why don’t you watch and see?”
The old grainy footage opened to reveal a familiar scene, Han Solo and Chewbacca speeding away from the Empire in the Millenium Falcon. Han promises Chewy that he will be home in time for Life Day...
Roderik frowned. “I don’t know what this is.”
The older spy groaned and hung his head. “I don’t think I can bear watching this again.” The Captain slapped the back of the man’s head. “If you want to go free, you will watch all of it.”
The older man reluctantly lifted his eyes back to the screen as the title credits rolled: The Star Wars Holiday Special.
As images of the cast flashed across the screen, Roderik leaned over to the other man and whispered, “John, why does Mark Hamill look so… weird?”
“Just keep watching,” John muttered.
The scene now shows the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk as Chewbacca’s family appears to get ready for Life Day. They groan and moan in the Wookie language to each other over…and over…and over again.
Twelve minutes later…
“How long does this go on,” Roderik cried, struggling against his restraints. “No subtitles for this? I can’t take it anymore!”
“Calm yourself, man,” Roderick hissed. “It’s only going to get far, far worse.”
Lumpy, Chewbacca’s son, turns on a holographic display of what seems to be acrobats. After this, the family tries to contact Luke Skywalker who is fixing his X-Wing.
“What in the name of all that is holy is wrong with Luke’s face?!” Roderik shouted. “It looks like he has twelve pounds of stage makeup on! And don’t get me started about that haircut!”
“You will be silent,” the Captain growled, cutting the younger man off.
For the next hour, the Alliance spies were subjected to a variety of different clips that aggravated Roderik further, and caused John to slip into a deep despair—from an alien cooking show, tech support , a rock music video, an actually semi-decent Boba Fett cartoon, and another musical number. What nearly drove Roderik over the edge, though, was the erotic music video that Chewbacca’s father found great pleasure in watching near the middle of the special.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he yelled at the Captain. “What the hell is this? Who signed off on this? This isn’t Star Wars!’
“Rod, shut up,” John snapped. “There’s only an hour left. One hour and we are free to go. Remember why we are here!”
Holding back his sobs, Roderik nodded and continued to watch.
Nearing the end of the special, the Chewbacca family reunite with Han, Luke, and Leia as they gather around the Tree of Life; Leia sings a song about Life Day as they all hold glowing orbs. The dead look in Harrison Ford’s face as the film ended is the same look that reflected in Roderik’s own face.
“So, now you have a choice,” the Captain declared. “Do you tell us the location of the stolen films, or do we release the Holiday Special? The choice is up to you, Roderik.”
John’s eyes flickered back to full alertness at this new development. “Why only him?”
The Captain grinned. “Because you are the last of the older generation that understands just how many changes were made to the franchise. His generation does not. If he wants the pure, unadulterated films as they were originally, he should have the knowledge of everything that came out in those days, not just the ones you older folks seem to worship. So, what will it be? The responsibility is yours.”
“Rod, think about it! For the first time in history, we can have the original films legally! No unnecessary CGI! No dubbing over Boba Fett and Darth Vader! You can see Darth Vader’s original Force Ghost…”
He was cut off by the Captain raising his hand to silence him. “Your choice, Roderik. Make it quickly.”
After a long pause, Roderik sighed. “We hid the tapes in a room under the Pirates of the Carribean ride when we were trying to escape.”
He looked over at his companion. “I’m sorry, John. No one should ever have to suffer through this. The changes are bad, yes. But it’s all we know. This will totally destroy their perspective.”
“A wise choice,” the Captain sneered. “Guards, let them go and retrieve those tapes.”
Two guards stepped forward and began dragging them away, not noticing the look of triumph in John’s eyes. The third guard looked at the Captain curiously. “Sir, how did you know that showing them the tape would break them?”
He chuckled, “We’re part of the Disney Empire. Ruining childhood memories is what we do.”
The guard started laughing but then suddenly stopped, his eyes growing wide as something Roderik said stood out to him.
The Captain glared at him. “What is it man?”
“They said they hid the tapes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Fantasy Land is quite a distance from here sir. Why run there?”
“They were running?” he scoffed. “Who knows their logic?”
“Sir, they said they hid them in a room underneath the ride. No one is supposed to know about that room.”
The Captain stopped, his normally calm demeanor shattering as terror filled his eyes. “No… You think the tapes were a decoy? But that means…” As if his fears could hear his thoughts, a message blared over the speakers of the ride:
“ATTENTION, IMPERIALS. THIS IS THE ALLIANCE. WE HAVE WALT DISNEY’S CRYOGENIC CHAMBER. YOU HAVE LOST.”
The Star Wars Holiday Special is every franchise at its lowest. It attempts to cash in on its popularity without providing the effort to connect it to what makes the franchise so beloved among fans. With only half-hearted cameos from the original cast that look like they’d rather be anywhere else and guest stars performing dated sketches that range from weird to seriously uncomfortable, this TV special is a stain on the Star Wars legacy that even George Lucas is ashamed of. What they should have done is have Lumpy watch an hour-long cartoon about Han Solo and Boba Fett. The cartoon segment was the only unironically enjoyable segment, and could have provided some interesting segway into The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, we are left with an uncomfortably bad TV special that is so reviled that it can only be found on YouTube in a very low resolution quality. The one spot of hope in this monstrosity is that no matter what Lucasfilm comes up with next, it will never sink lower than this. Although the above story is a humorous work of fiction, it would not surprise me if this Special was used as a torture device somewhere. It’s that bad. If you’re brave enough to venture into these depths, the entire video is posted below. May the force be with you!
Recommendation: SKIP IT
Recently, I found myself watching Date Night (2010), a couple comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. At one point, they show up to a shirtless Mark Wahlberg’s house to ask for his help and expertise in evading the powerful mob boss they’ve accidentally provoked. In the course of their conversation, his girlfriend came down the stairs and I found myself exclaiming, “It’s Wonder Woman!” Sure enough, the girlfriend was played by Gal Gadot, six years before she became a superhero and before anybody knew she could have single-handedly taken down the mob the couple was fleeing. Looking back, it seems ridiculous to me that she could ever have been destined for anything but stardom.
Gal Gadot grew up in a small city in Israel, where she loved to dance and play basketball. To earn money, she babysat and even worked at Burger King for a short time. What’s interesting is that she had turned down various offers for modeling gigs because she didn’t think she could live that life. (Just in case that didn’t register, she rejected modeling gigs and chose instead to work at Burger King. I worked at Burger King, too, but that’s about the only thing we have in common.) Eventually, Gadot’s mother entered her in the Miss Israel competition, which Gadot was surprised to have gotten into. Imagine how she felt when she won, and at 18 was invited to compete at the Miss Universe pageant. At age 20, she enlisted in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat instructor. Following her two-year service requirement, she enrolled at a university and married Yaron Varsano, with whom she now has two daughters.
Her first movie audition was to play the Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, all the while she was studying law and trying to build a “serious” future for herself. Despite losing the role to Olga Kurylanko, she fell in love with the profession. She left school and found work in Israeli television and film before getting her first Hollywood film credit in Fast and Furious (2009), where she plays Gisele Yashar. The role suited her well, as her previous military experience and love of motorcycles aided her in the stunt work. She went on to appear in the next three installments of the franchise, as well as taking smaller roles in comedies like Knight and Day (2010) and the previously mentioned Date Night.
But the success was costly. The repeated commute from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles just to audition and often be rejected was taking a toll, and Gadot was considering giving up on her acting aspirations. That is, until she got a call from Zack Snyder to audition for a “mystery role.” She packed up once again and made her way to Los Angeles, said some vague lines into the camera and made her way home. The trip proved successful because she landed the role of Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), winning the part over Olga Kurylenko. Zack Snyder cited her “combination of being fierce but kind at the same time” as the reason she was chosen, and although her casting was met with some criticism of her physique, she was widely considered one of the best parts of the critically-panned film.
And then there was Wonder Woman (2017). Any doubts about Gadot’s abilities or appearance drowned in the waves of success that ensued. The film brought in $821 million worldwide and $412 million domestically, making it the highest-earning film with a solo female director. It holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critical consensus reads, “Thrilling, earnest, and buoyed by Gal Gadot’s charismatic performance, Wonder Woman succeeds in spectacular fashion.” For me, she has become Wonder Woman, so much so that whenever I see her on screen I call her Wonder Woman, even if it’s in Date Night. Barring further delays, we’ll see her reprise her role in the much-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 in August of this year. Future projects include Death on the Nile and Netflix’s Red Notice, which also features Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but was forced to halt production due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a world where the beautiful and famous seem to represent the unattainable, the word I would use to describe Gadot is “inviting.” Whatever she achieves, she gracefully shares the credit without putting herself down or deflecting. Even when hailed as an advocate of women’s rights and empowerment, her statements seem to elevate and encourage everyone, rather than asking some to step aside. When exclusivity seems a prerequisite to popularity, she seems comfortable in treating any and all with respect and even warmth. Though her pageant days are in the past, Gadot remains Miss Congeniality.
At the beginning of the month I had a completely different topic in mind for an article. Boy, how the last few weeks have brought perspective. Thankfully, most of us aren’t critically affected by this event, but we might be left with a cloud of gloominess as we continue to get through the unknown. As our day-to-day activities have been reduced to what we can do in doors, here’s just one pro-tip to get you through your quarantine. The following are movies that I feel will most likely get you out of any biohazard blues due to their common thread of cheerfulness, low stakes, and unapologetically happy endings. I’ve broken them up into a few different categories based on your taste or mood, but why not work through them all!?
Inspiring Feel-Good Movies
Eddie the Eagle (2016), PG-13
This one kind of flew under the radar when it came out in theaters a few years back. As it turns out it’s one of the most underrated movies of 2016 and has joy-filled performances from Hugh Jackman and the fast up-and-comer Taron Egerton (Rocketman, Kingsmen: The Secret Service). Based on a true story, Eddie (Egerton) is an awkward outcast that’s always had a burning desire to be in the Olympics. Once he meets a cynical has-been Olympic skier (Jackman), a fateful journey begins leading to one of the biggest and most heartwarming flukes in Olympic history (along with the Jamaican bobsled team). Honestly, this movie brags a music score and climatic scene that brings happy tears to my eyes everytime! Such a sweet story of friendship and determination. Watch it!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), PG
So, I’m a little ambivalent about the following pick. This movie may inspire you to get out and explore the world… which is kind of a complicated endeavor at this point. But if you’re able to just store that motivation in your backpocket till hopefully the near future, you’re still going to get a movie that offers a quirky, picturesque story. A daydreaming (this element is hilarious by itself), timid corporate worker played by Ben Stiller is forced to get out of his comfort zone and travel to multiple countries in the hopes of saving his Magazine company’s final printed cover. What comes next is an awesome, unique viewing experience that you’ll want to revisit again and again. Also directed by Ben Stiller!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) PG-13
Alright guys, this was hands down one of the best movies of this past year, and probably one of my top 3 favorite feel-good movies of all time. Reminiscent of a Mark Twain story, this modern day journey through the po-dunk south will make you so pumped for a post-pandemic summer full of rope swinging into lakes and beachy bon-fires. A fugitive fisherman played by Shia Labeouf befriends a runaway nursing home resident with Down Syndrome (Zack Gottsagen). Together they go on a search for the latter’s wrestling idol which turns into a journey of self discovery and brotherly love. I’ve watched this like 4 times since it came out a few months ago because I just keep wanting to show it to my friends.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2013), PG-13
Taika Waititi is getting pretty well known at this point with directing Thor Ragnorak and winning an Oscar for Jojo Rabbit (both may deserve to be on this list themselves!). In case you missed this earlier gem, now’s the perfect time. This movie is full of beautiful landscapes, quippy one-liners and characters with hearts of gold and the best accents ever. A foster boy named Ricky causes himself and his reluctant, old guardian, Hec to have to go on the run from child welfare. They end up having the time of their lives in the New Zealand Bush.
How to watch: Streaming on Hulu. Buy or rent on iTunes or Vudu.
Classic Feel-Good Movies
Angels in the Outfield (1994), PG
Say what you will about 90’s Disney movies but this is, and forever will be, a classic in my home. Sure it’s got clichés all over the place and a plot that’ll make you scoff when first hearing about it, but it’s truly just the best. Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a foster kid who wants his dad to finally commit and make them a real family. In passing, the dad says they’ll finally work things out around the same time the Angels (who suck) will win the Pennant. Roger then prays to God for a miracle, and literal angels start helping the titular major-league team. Yeah, it’s bananas but it stars a young Gordon-Levitt, Danny Glover, a pre-famous Matthew McConaughey, and a heaven-sent Christopher Lloyd. And it’s just a chill, goofy, old, kids’ movie. Give it a chance!
How to watch: Streaming w/ tv subscription to DIRECTV.
The Goonies (1985), PG
Pretty much the original Stranger Things but it was actually made in the 80’s… so it’s not even trying profusely to be 80’s-like! A bunch of dorky teens living in a soon-to-be-demolished neighborhood find an old pirate map in one of their attics (the Dad is a curator). They then go on a legendary Oregon treasure hunt. But will a homicidal family that the map leads to end up killing the vibe… Or even killing the teens?! You gotta find out, it’s so great. Starring a young Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Corey Feldman (Stand By Me, The Lost Boys), and Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
The Three Musketeers (1993), PG
Another slightly campy 90’s Disney movie, this one’s just a good time. I don’t know if it’s anywhere near accurate to the book, but it’s fun! Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin), Kiefer Sutherland, and Charlie Sheen.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
School of Rock (2005), PG-13
I think we’ll all be pretty familiar with the rest of the nostalgic picks. Jack Black plays a dead-end musician that tries to make some extra money posing as a substitute teacher. He ends up realizing his purpose to turn his elementary school class into the greatest rock band of all time—and the result is stuff of joy. If you haven’t watched the final performance in a while, you need to revisit this!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Galaxy Quest (1999), PG
Honestly, this has gotta be the best space movie spoof ever made: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell—it’s stacked. Galaxy Quest is a hilarious meta movie about has-been TV stars that get abducted by aliens who are under the belief that their old Star Trek-esque episodes are historical documents, and that the actors really are intergalactic heroes. They then have to try to improvise through the most realistic, deadly mission they’ve ever encountered.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
A Knight’s Tale (2001), PG-13
I’m sure we’ve all at least heard of this one. Heath Ledger is a peasant in Medieval times who sneaks his way into becoming a jouster and changing his destiny. Probably the most historically inaccurate, but most fun soundtracks of all time.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Maverick (1994), PG
Underrated Western film! Set in 19th Century American Frontier, Mel Gibson plays an aspiring poker player looking for his biggest win yet—and everyone west of the Mississippi is out to get in his way. This flick has that total campfire feel that takes you for a fun stagecoach ride. Really gives just a truly happy, old-timey feel to it that’ll bring you to a simpler age. Also starring Jodie Foster, and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2).
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Laugh Out Loud Feel-Good Movies
Pineapple Express (2008), R
This movie is for stoners but also for the friend that declined the joint, and then proceeded to be entertained for the rest of the night. Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Danny McBride. A pothead and his dealer try to evade a drug kingpin after witnessing a murder, and it creates the biggest, funniest mess in the world.
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
21 Jump Street (2012), R & 22 Jump Street (2014), R
The most non-stop hilarious buddy-cop movie series that’s out there (though I love me some Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour). I believe that both the first installment and the sequel are equally quotable, hysterical, and self-aware. If you’re trying to get through four or so hours of being indoors and just need a good laugh, watch both of these. Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, and Ice T.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Bridesmaids (2011), R
A lot of people call this “The Hangover for Women”. Forget that. This movie makes for twice as many laughs with 10 times as much heart. It’s one of the best comedies—period. Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy.
How to watch: Streaming on HBO Now and HBO GO. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Romantic Feel-Good Movies
About Time (2013), R
This totally flew under my radar for years. Then my brother convinced me to open my heart up to another romantic comedy. And God bless him for it! This is a simple, but lovely story about a man who realizes he can travel through the past, and uses this to help him find love and cherish the present. It’s honestly a beautiful, purely happy movie. Stars Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars, Ex Machina), Rachel McAdams, and Margot Robbie. Same director as Love Actually, but this is far superior. Warning: One scene makes me weep like a child every time (happy tears!).
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Pride and Prejudice (2005), PG
The one with Keira Knightley! When I say “low stakes” being an essential element to feel good movies, this is the movie I think of. The worst that can happen is marrying someone that makes less than a billion dollars a year, and people will speak gossip about your family. I’ve read the book, seen the A&E series, and this captures the spirit of the Jane Austin story to a T. As a bonus, the cinematography and music is truly breathtaking. This is one of my go-to Sunday afternoon movies. Make sure you watch the version with the final scene, or find the scene on YouTube (for some reason, one version ends super abruptly before you get the last bit of closure).
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Dan in Real Life (2007), PG-13
You guys… I love this movie. I’m pretty sure this is one of the first films Steve Carell was in that wasn’t a straight-up comedy. He’s a widower with three daughters, and writes a periodic news column on parenting—but he has no idea what he’s doing as a parent and it’s hilarious. The love interest is introduced in a clever way, the relationships feel real and familiar, and the backdrop of a family reunion makes for such a homey, comfy viewing experience. I’ve probably watched it like six times this year because it makes me feel so good. I want to watch it right now just writing about it.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
While You Were Sleeping (1995), PG
The Smash Critic awarded “Best Sandra Bullock Rom-Com” (and there’s a lot to choose from). This may belong with the others like Angels in the Outfield and School of Rock just because of how ridiculous the plot sounds, but it’s gold, true gold. Crazy story short: Sandra’s character likes this man that’s in a coma and his family is misled into thinking that she’s engaged to him. She’s not, but doesn’t know how to tell them the truth, so she goes with it. The movie tells it a bit better, but it is pretty dumb sounding. But trust me—it’s a good time.
How to watch: Streaming on Showtime. Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Road Trip Feel-Good Movies
*Note: this section isn’t about movies that are good for watching on road trips. There are just literally enough fantastic feel-good movies with the majority of their run-time spent on road trips to demand its own section.
A Goofy Movie (1995), G
This is old enough that maybe some of us aren’t aware that Goofy has a teenage son named Max and they go on a zany field trip together (against Max’s will) full of the best cartoon dance scenes and the most obnoxious but hilarious Bigfoot representation.
How to watch: Streaming on Disney+. Buy or rent on Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Fundamentals of Caring (2016), TV-MA
Oh my gosh, you guys. This is the most relentless feel-good movie I’ve ever seen. By that I mean every second you think something awful is going to happen (like the car crash in Remember the Titans or the freaking rope swing in Bridge to Terabithia), you’re reminded, “No stupid! Relax—this is a happy movie”. Paul Rudd plays an unmotivated, soon-to-be divorcée that starts care-taking for a quadriplegic, viciously sarcastic teenage boy. Together they go on a trip to the most mediocre American landmarks. It’s so great. When I was dealing with being indoors all day and getting very little sleep on paternity leave, this brought me out of my funk!
How to watch: Streaming on Netflix.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006), R
My friend won’t watch this movie no matter how much I plead and beg. This is all because he didn’t like the trailer when he first saw it like 15 years ago. It brings me sorrow because I know he’s missing out on a little piece of happiness that this film will give to whoever watches. Comical, messy, sincere family relationships all put to the test in a cramped VW van headed toward a children’s beauty pageant three states away. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collete (Hereditary), Steve Carell, Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man, There Will Be Blood), and a little, sweet, Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin (Signs, Zombieland). And Alan Arkin won the supporting Oscar for playing the coked up Grandpa. It’s a gem.
How to watch: Streaming on STARZ. Buy or rent on Vudu.
Tommy Boy (1995), PG-13
Like many of you, I grew up with these last two picks. They probably belong in the classic section but it was just too convenient to not create a road trip section! Tommy, played by Chris Farley, goes on a sales trip with his pessimistic coworker, Richard (David Spade), to try to save his dad’s company. It’s quotable beyond compare, it’s heartfelt, and it’s gut-bustingly funny—even the 100th time around. If you haven’t seen it, get on this train! Or even if you have, get on it again!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
Dumb and Dumber (1994), PG-13
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. The epitome of stupid buddy films. I hope you’ve seen this. But in case it’s been awhile, cheer yourself up with this classic!
How to watch: Buy or rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime or Vudu.
And there you have it! Even if you just take one movie recommendation from each category, that should keep you busy through the weekend. Let me know in the comments which movies you decided to watch, or reach out to me on social media.
As the son of a Japanese immigrant, Akira Kurosawa was embedded into my life at a very young age. Kurosawa has inspired some of the world’s most successful directors; he was highly regarded by Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, where the latter even referred to him as “the pictorial Shakespeare of our time.”
Kurosawa was born in Tokyo, Japan on March 23, 1910 and was the youngest of four sisters and four brothers. His family could trace their lineage back to 11th century Samurai. As he grew older, he became close with his elder brother, Heigo. Kurosawa later said that he and his brother “would go to the movies, particularly silent movies, and then discuss them all day” (McDonald, William. The New York Times Book of the Dead: Obituaries of Extraordinary People. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2016). Eventually, he started working as an assistant director right before World War II.
Directing and International Fame
He started directing films in 1941, but it was not until 1950 that he shocked the world with his film, Rashomon, about the psychological struggle over the nature of truth itself. Rashomon went on to win an Honorary Academy Award for ‘Most Outstanding Foreign Language Film’ and Akira Kurosawa’s name became forever embedded into history. Rashomon marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage. This also came at a time where the United States had defeated Japan in World War II just six years prior.
After Rashomon, Kurosawa went on to direct The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress and many more films. Over his 57-year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films and won over 50 awards worldwide for his cinematic work. Some of his accolades include a ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ Academy Award in 1976 for Dersu Uzala, a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Academy Award in 1990, and a Directors Guild of America’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1992.
Some may say that Kurosawa’s films can feel a bit slow because there are long periods between the main plot points. However, if one is only watching a Kurosawa film for the action scenes, they are already missing the point of the film—Kurosawa uses repetition in his films’ stories to show how life is cyclical. He also uses pauses internationally so the audience will analyze what has come before the pause and then understand the following results. Kurosawa’s most important theme is drawn from his personal belief that humans are fundamentally good. A film’s ability to affect the audience through its themes and messages are qualities of a good film. Kurosawa took that one step further and embedded that idea into his film-making process.
Kurosawa is the man who opened Asian cinema to Western audiences. While some film junkies may not have ever seen his films, they for sure have seen the films he inspired, or other adaptionations that are based on his films. Rashomon has inspired numerous films such as The Usual Suspects, Gone Girl, Vantage Point, Hoodwinked, and several Quentin Tarentino films. George Lucas’s Star Wars was based on Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood is a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. 2016’s The Magnificent Seven starring Chris Pratt is a very loose remake of the original 1969 The Magnificent Seven, which was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai; this film was also the inspiration behind Three Amigos and A Bug’s Life. Kurosawa has also influenced the film world in other ways, from editing to how a scene is blocked. Both current and future movie fans across the globe can learn a lot from Japanese cinema and other Asian films.
Early on in his career, Kurosawa had to overcome post-WWII sentiments and prejudice, specifically in the United States—anti-Japanese and anti-Asian propaganda was abundant. Much has changed since then; there have been two Academy Awards for Best Picture given to Asian directors (Ang Lee in 2013 for Life of Pi and Bong Joon Ho in 2019 for Parasite). Four Asian directors (including Kurosawa) have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (Ang Lee, Bong Joon Ho and Hiroshi Teshigahara). Both Ang Lee and Bong Joon Ho won the Oscar for Best Director for their aforementioned films. It’s safe to say that these modern directors would not have accomplished what they have without the foundations laid by Kurosawa. Progress has been made in recognizing quality filmmaking at the international level, but we still have a long way to go.
Kurosawa’s embedded themes still resonate with viewers today. If you have not seen any of his films, Throne of Blood, Ran, Kagemusha, plus the others mentioned in this article are a good place to start. If you’d like to check out Kurosawa’s entire directing work, click HERE to see the rest of his filmography.
How many Akira Kurosawa’s films have you seen? Let me know in the comments section or hit me up on social media.
As the world has gone on lockdown with the Coronavirus Pandemic, we are all on the lookout for different kinds of entertainment to pass the time. Whether it be a Netflix binge or a movie marathon, we all have our own ways of distracting ourselves from the mess. However, what if you are one of the unlucky folks who gets sick (this would be mildly sick, not hospitalized or anything like that)? Indeed, this week I was tested for COVID-19 as I have been fighting off pneumonia-like symptoms for some time. Thankfully, I tested negative for the virus, but I am still staying home and looking for great films to watch.
There are many factors that go into a great sick day movie; however, I was able to narrow it down to four. Let us know how you decide what to watch on those under-the-weather days:
1. It Must Allow For Naps
When you are sick you need to sleep, and sometimes your body falls asleep mid-movie and that needs to be fine. My number one suggestion for this is the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. This movie is a perfect fit for this criteria because it is really long and most of us know the story (and this adaptation) so well we can fall asleep at any time and then wake up and keep watching. Colin Firth is the best Mr Darcy to-date, and it has so many iconic sequences like his memorable rage-swimming over his longing for Elizabeth Bennett.
2. It Must Be Moderately Cheerful
Let’s be honest, when most of us are sick we feel a little sorry for ourselves. This is especially true if we are alone and have nobody to take care of us (we all need our mothers when we are sick!). My movie of choice for this category is 2006’s Happy Feet. Who can be unhappy by scene after scene of happy dancing, singing penguins? Come on! Plus, it also satisfies requirement one because the plot is totally bonkers, and you can come in and out at any moment and not miss a beat.
3. Having Sick People in the Movie is Helpful
There is something cathartic about seeing a sick character on screen when we are not feeling well. It gives a sense of understanding and empathy we need in times like these. And I actually have two suggestions for this qualification! Probably the most iconic ‘sick person’ role in cinema and theater is Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. In the movie version she is played by Vivian Blaine, who also performed the role on Broadway. Her performance of ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ is an absolute classic.
My next choice for a ‘sick person’ movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Poor Cameron, played brilliantly by Alan Ruck, is pulled out of bed by his friend, Ferris, and dragged around town when he was perfectly happy to have his own sick day. However, as the day goes on he examines his relationship with his father until he is ready to confront him after destroying his car. It’s a powerful moment in an otherwise comedic film.
4. It Can Stretch Out Over Multiple Days
There are a lot of films you can use to satisfy this requirement. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would be a good choice, or a marathon watch of any series like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) or Star Wars films. However, let me offer a more outside of the box idea: how about watching The Up Series?
The Up Series started in 1964 when director Michael Apted gathered British 7-year-olds from differing classes to test out an old mennonite saying—”Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”. Then every seven years a new film is made updating all of us on how the children are doing and if their lives turned out the way they expected at seven—it is a fascinating series. In 2019 (2020 in Utah) the latest entry was released with 63 Up. The movies are super bingeable and you will likely find yourself getting attached to one or more of the subjects, like Suzy or Tony.
Roger Ebert said The Up Series was the most “inspired, even noble, use of the film medium,” and that the films “penetrate to the central mystery of life”— and I would have to agree. Plus, they are just really entertaining—so perfect for a sick day!
What do you think? Which films do you like to watch when you are feeling under the weather and stuck in bed? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Let us know in the comments below. And we hope none of you do find yourself sick during this tense time!
Today marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most debated and controversial comic book films ever made—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (known to many as BvS). Even four years later you needn’t go further than the screen of your phone to see how widely discussed this movie is among fans and detractors alike. And “discuss” might be an inaccurate description of the types of conversations happening on social media platforms and other chat forums alike. Fans of Batman v Superman show a passion and loyalty to the film and its director, Zack Snyder, that is only matched by the fervor of Star Wars fans. Detractors and critics of Batman v Superman find it difficult to understand the logic of this fandom, and pick out easy targets to demoralize those that enjoy it. Reminiscent of party politics that dominate our county, chances of having a respectful, non-combative discussion of BvS continue to prove to be slim. I’d like to change that narrative. If this article is able to do anything at all, I hope it fosters people’s willingness to listen and have their minds changed. Two people on opposite sides of an argument cannot both be right, and neither rarely are. Truth is often found in the middle—in the divide. You must be willing to meet in the middle in order to discover that truth.
I walked out of the packed theater and into the lobby of the Century 16 theater in Salt Lake City just having seen the newly released Batman v Superman on March 25, 2016. I waited for my brother and some other friends as we all congregated outside to recap our experience of seeing this monumental movie for the very first time. Much like today, it was a rainy evening, and the smell of wet roads permeated the inside of the theater. It’s as if the rain from Gotham City carried over into the real-world, and kept that somber mood lasting even when the movie had already ended. It’s hard to remember the exact words shared among our group regarding our initial experience of seeing BvS, but the overwhelming feeling I had was total and utter disappointment. Almost a sickening feeling—a feeling of disbelief or denial that what you saw was actually real. I’ve only ever experienced that feeling on a few other occasions, namely after seeing a movie for the first time that I was overly excited for (The Last Jedi was the last time this happened, but that movie left me in despair, and that’s another conversation for another day). As I walked out of the theater with my brother, we looked at each other and knew with a certainty that our feelings about the movie were mutual. Most of the car ride home was spent trying to make sense of what we just had seen. How could the same studio that produced The Dark Knight trilogy be the same studio that produced Batman v Superman? My mind was spinning.
To add some context, let’s back it up a couple of decades. Like many children of the 80s, I grew up a passionate fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, Super Mario, Back to the Future, Superman, and Batman. Some of my earliest memories of Halloween featured me, dressed up in my Superman costume: velcro red cape, and cotton-stuffed sleeves to improve the muscular tone of my four-year-old arms (I still need cotton stuffed shirts to enhance my muscular physique). Christopher Reeve was my Superman. John Williams’ Superman theme was THE one and only Superman theme. I watched those VHS tapes regularly, and made sure that my mom gave me the definitive Superman styled hair with the curl. My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)—the first movie I actually remember seeing in theaters. I wasn’t just a Superman fan anymore: Michael Keaton’s Batman was now my Batman. I had made a place in my heart for these two Superheroes. These were my superheroes. But perhaps unlike many closet nerds of the 80s and 90s, I never got into comic books. Even though I was fanatically obsessed with the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight of Gotham, my exposure to these iconic characters was based primarily on the movies, and both DC animated series on tv. My nerdiness and love for these characters waned somewhat through me teenage years, as the rise of the nerds and nerd culture had not yet swept through our society— that is, until June of 2005.
Christopher Nolan Changed the Game
Arguably the greatest comic book movies (CBM) ever made, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy is well-regarded and esteemed by fans and critics alike. Nolan gave audiences everywhere a reason to believe that comic book movies aren’t as far-fetched or unrealistic as we had all been made to believe—a precedence set by every other comic book film ever made before. Nolan’s Batman was grounded, dark, authentic, and just felt REAL. Christian Bale as Batman introduced a more nuanced portrayal of the Caped-Crusader. You identified with Bruce Wayne, and almost sympathized with his character in that you didn’t envy him for being Batman. There was a real toll and cost to donning the cape and cowl, and these movies showed audiences everywhere that being a superhero comes at a price: it’s not all sunshine and roses, as many comic book movies before had led us to believe. The Dark Knight trilogy was not the first CBM, but Nolan’s trilogy changed the game forever. The comic book movie genre was to be taken seriously now. Dark and gritty was now very much in fashion. Campy was out. Realism is what moved this genre forward.
Man of Steel debuted in 2013, and under the supervising eye of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder took the wheel and launched both DC and Warner Bros. (WB) on a new course. Man of Steel continues to age well, and every time I go back and revisit that movie, there are new things I learn and appreciate more and more. Man of Steel gave me confidence heading into the sequel. It gave me confidence in Zack Snyder and his vision for more DC movies to come. However, I felt some apprehension with WB introducing a new Batman in the middle of Superman’s own story. When Batman v Superman was announced, my initial reaction was surprise; it felt as though we had skipped a movie in between Man of Steel and BvS. Even though Batman had already graced the silver screen in eight solo films, this was a new DC universe with new stories and a new vision. Batman and other characters needed time to be reintroduced to the world. Come to find out, Snyder had made the case to introduce more characters in solo movies before BvS, only for his ideas to be shut down by execs at Warner Bros. In a quote from Heroic Hollywood, industry insider, Neil Daly confirmed these conversations:
Daly claims that Snyder hadn’t wanted to rush straight into Justice League after Man of Steel. He thought there should have been solo films for each of the heroes that were introduced in Batman v Superman, but Warner Bros., spurred on by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wanted to accelerate things. Snyder, according to Daly, had a six-film plan, and wouldn’t have directed all of these solo films. Rather he would have let other directors flesh out the characters in sync with his vision, while he worked on finishing the main arc of the DCEU, which would have consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, Man of Steel 2, Justice League 2, and Justice League 3.DC Insider Reveals Zack Snyder Wanted Solo Movies Before ‘Justice League’. By Cole Albinder, Jan. 19, 2019
Without the context of a new Batman movie, the audience was jumping into a story that felt like we opened a book and started reading from page 100. What ensued after the release of Batman v Superman was only an inevitability. We looked for context in the most recent parts of our memory, and all we found there was Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan.
Open to Being Wrong
So here I am, driving home with my brother just having seen Batman v Superman, and the dominant part of our conversation was how different this movie was from Christopher Nolan’s iconic trilogy. We discussed how different Ben Affleck’s Batman was to Christian Bale’s. We ended up talking more about Nolan’s Batman movies and how much we wished this new one was more in line with Nolan’s. And for the better part of a year, this was my stance: Zack Snyder’s Batman is not as good as Christopher Nolan’s.
That was my impression of a film that I saw once in theaters and didn’t revist for almost an entire year. That is, until I met some friends who challenged my opinions on BvS (here’s looking at you, Ry, Formal and Mikey). Friends who hold the Nolan trilogy in such high regard, and yet were able to distinguish between that trilogy and this new iteration of Batman, and still enjoy it. It was confusing to me how these new friends of mine could see and experience the same quality of TDK Trilogy and still find value in Zack Snyder’s new movie. It honestly did not make sense to me. Some number of conversations later I was determined to give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice another try. But not the theatrical cut. Not the cut that WB interfered with, but the cut that Zack Snyder had intended the world to see. An additional 31 minutes of footage not shown in theaters, known as the “Ultimate Edition.” I bought my Blu-ray and popped in the disc, and began to experience a movie I had written off completely in a whole new light. Going into the “Ultimate Edition” with an open mind, I began to notice things I never did in theaters: the powerful, haunting score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the emotional and poetic opening scene of the Wayne’s tragic murder, how far Bruce Wayne had fallen, and how true Alfred’s words rung. But more than anything, I discovered my new-found appreciation for Batman v Superman. More so, my new appreciation for Zack Snyder and his vision was found in the bonus features of the Blu-ray. Within these bonus features I discovered how much Zack Snyder genuinely loves DC Comics and these iconic characters, and how much he cherished this opportunity to bring them to life on the big screen. Anyone who thinks that Zack doesn’t understand the true nature of Superman and Batman, go watch the special features of Man of Steel and BvS and then tell me you haven’t changed your mind. And if that’s not enough for you, take some time and read the incredible work put together by this Twitter user in comparing Zack Snyder’s DC movies to the actual DC comics.
Over these last few years as more behind-the-scenes information spills out regarding the tumultuous relationship between Zack Snyder and Warner Bros., and Snyder’s unceremonious departure from the DCEU, the more appreciation I have for Snyder’s vision and the story he was trying to tell. Like a table with only three legs, Snyder was trying to create something wholly unique and distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but without the real support and backing from the studio that seemed to have never been fully behind him in the first place. Snyder is often criticized for his storytelling ability (or lack thereof), or for his use of violence and mayhem, but one thing about Snyder that is undeniable is his keen eye for aesthetic and cinematography. Snyder is one of the most gifted visual artists in the business and his movies speak for themselves. Warner Bros. incessant meddling in Snyder’s DCEU, and their fears of falling behind Marvel Studios in the race for Superhero movie supremacy, cost us fans what could have been some of the most epic Batman and Superman stories ever told. I am grateful though, that we did get the highly ambitious and controversial, Batman v Superman, a movie that has challenged the comic book movie industry, and continues to spark debate even four years later. And I will forever be grateful for friends who were good enough to challenge my opinion, which opened the way for me to change my mind.
Last “Black Friday” I decided to rectify a huge error I made as a cinephile and watched the John Wick trilogy. Walmart had a pretty good deal for all three movies on Blu-Ray, so I went ahead and bought them. Flash forward to last month when I wanted a break from the cycle of television binging and decided to finally see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that all the films totally lived up to the hype! All three films were nearly perfect action films that actually had great fight choreography, unlike our modern, almost-epileptic, overly cut and edited fight scenes (looking at you, Black Panther). But even more enjoyable to watch was the way John Wick utilizes different aspects of Greek, Roman, and Christian mythology to tell its story. I originally was going to use this editorial to describe the various myths and the way they were portrayed in the John Wick franchise, but I think Movies With Mikey has me covered. Instead, I decided that I would use this time to explore the ways that John experiences grief and loss, and how the story is more in line with a typical Greek tragedy.
Orpheus: What if?
The Greek Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is a tale about a man (Orpheus) who descends into the Underworld to retrieve his wife (Eurydice) from Hades. He is told that he can take her, but only if he does not look back during the long road up to the surface. At the very end of the journey, Orpheus, unable to resist, looks back and thus loses his wife forever.
In the John Wick universe, The Continental rules the crime world, and can be symbolic of the Greek Underworld. In the first film we learn that John has a chance to leave the Underworld (The Continental) to be with his wife Helen (a reference to Helen of Troy), on the condition that he could not return to the life he had known. Unlike Orpheus, John does not look back. He and Helen stay happily married for (presumably) many years. This retelling of the Greek legend doesn’t end in tragedy—or rather, the same kind of tragedy…
At the start of the first film, Helen dies from an illness and leaves John with an adorable little beagle in order to make the grieving process a little easier to bear. Unfortunately, Ioseph, the son of a notorious Russian mafia boss, has his eye on John’s car and decides that he wants it for himself. After having John refuse to sell it to him, Ioseph and a couple of his cronies break into John’s house, steal his car, and kill his dog. This act sets in motion a chain of events that leads John to taking on the Russian mafia, The Continental, and the all-powerful High Table. He plows down wave after wave of enemies in order to take vengeance on those that wronged him. But the ripples he makes in the Underworld only cause him to be noticed by prying eyes as more and more people seek an audience with him—for good or ill. The legend of ‘Baba Yaga’ (the Boogeyman) grows from a ghost story of the past into a threat of the present.
John’s legendary status in the Underworld, and his actions in taking back the mantle of ‘Baba Yaga’, ultimately condemns John: he loses not only his dog and car but also his house, and finally his wedding ring.
The reason we love John Wick is that it gives us the ultimate injustice—the loss of the ability to grieve. John has almost everything taken from him, and goes on a rampage to seek catharsis; and we, the audience, need the catharsis too. But that feel of relief comes at much too high of a cost. What starts as a simple revenge spirals into complete chaos until John is forced to take on the entire Underworld. Near the end of the third film, Winston, the owner of the Hotel Continental, tells John, (and I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find the exact quote) “You have a choice: you can either give up now and honor her, or you can become the monster she’d always feared you were.”
In the ultimate twist of irony, John Wick (the modern Orpheus) turned back after all. In seeking revenge against Ioseph, John returned to what he sacrificed in order to be with Helen; and as consequence, lost all physical reminders of her: his car was stolen and destroyed, his dog was killed, his house was blown apart, and even his wedding ring was taken by the Elder of the High Table. Throughout the course of the trilogy, the man known as John Wick slowly died, taken over by ‘Baba Yaga’.
Ultimately, I predict that the story of John Wick will not end happily. In my opinion, there are only two ways the story will conclude. The more optimistic way to end will have John finally refusing to kill, and lay down his weapons of war. This act of defiance to the High Table would lead to his death, but he would die as John Wick—the man who loved his wife.
The more tragic end that could possibly occur is where John Wick fully embraces the mantle of Baba Yaga: the Boogeyman of the High Table—he would live, but now fully trapped, in the Underworld.
But no matter when and how the series ends, there is one thing for certain: the John Wick franchise will go down in cinema history as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I am super glad I picked up the series on Black Friday, and I can’t wait to see what the future installments have in store!
With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, it seems like we are all in need of a little luck. Fortunately, St. Patrick’s Day is here and we can all celebrate in our quarantines to our hearts content. To increase the fun, put on an Irish-themed movie and have a blast!
My Top 10 Favorite Irish Movies
Honorable Mention: Christmas Perfection
First, I would like to give one honorable mention. I am a huge fan of TV movies, particularly those found on the Hallmark and Lifetime Channels at Christmas. In 2018, Lifetime Channel had a film called Christmas Perfection, which is hilarious and is all set in an Irish Christmas village. The movie takes on the tropes of a time loop movie, but this time it is Darcy who keeps living her ideal Irish Christmas over and over again, with it eventually getting pretty desperate. It’s not a St. Patrick’s Day movie so I couldn’t include it in the main list but if you want some laughs check it out.
How to watch:
10. Far and Away
In this unfairly forgotten epic frontier film, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play immigrants from Ireland who come over to America with big dreams. The film is worth seeing just for the land rush alone, but the then-married Cruise and Kidman have tremendous chemistry and both pull off their Irish accents quite well.
How to watch:
9. Waking Ned Devine
If you are in the mood for a laugh, Waking Ned Devine is the perfect choice. It focuses on a town that comes together after a lottery winner dies, but still wanting to get the payout. It’s funny and sweet, with a nice heart to it as well.
How to watch:
8. The Quiet Man
No film on this list made Ireland look more beautiful than The Quiet Man. John Wayne gives a more nuanced performance than usual as an ex-boxer who moves to Ireland to get rid of his demons (unsuccessfully, I will add). Soon he falls in love with Maureen O’Hara, and the two have a fiery, passionate romance.
How to watch:
In many ways Broolyn is a simple story. It’s about one woman in the 50s who comes to America for an adventure. However, the characters are so likable and the atmosphere so immersive that it just works. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as the lead character, and Emory Cohen and Domnhall Gleason make for a convincing love triangle.
How to watch:
Once is another simple film that packs an emotional punch. It tells the story of two singers who meet and decide to record the perfect album together. It is not a romance, but a meeting of two like-minded people who have the same passion. The songs are so good they made a successful Broadway musical off of them.
How to watch:
5. My Left Foot
It’s hard to not put a film with an Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Day Lewis at the very top. His performance playing a young man with cerebral palsy is moving and humanizing. Brenda Fricker is also great in her Oscar-winning turn as DDL’s mother. It’s a moving film that can also be quite irreverent. A gem.
How to watch:
4. In America
If people ask me for a film I find underrated, one of my first responses is In America by director Jim Sheridan. In the film a family led by Paddy Considine comes from Ireland to the United States to start a new life. Along the way, they face all kinds of challenges while their little girls give them hope. It’s an honest movie with characters anyone can relate with. Just beautiful.
How to watch:
3. Sing Street
In 2016 when the world was ga-ga for La La Land I was obsessed with Sing Street. I love basically everything about this story of an Irish teen trying to win a girlfriend. It’s so charming!
How to watch:
2. Darby O’Gill and the Little People
If you want a true St. Patty’s Day film, check out the only one on this list that features leprechauns! This is kind of The Quiet Man lite, but it is a lot of fun. A young Sean Connery is very charismatic, and Albert Sharpe is great as the leprechaun Darby O’Gill.
How to watch:
1. Song of the Sea
Irish director Tomm Moore scored a hit with his film The Secret of the Kells, and then knocked it out of the park with his second film Song of the Sea. I absolutely love everything about this film from the beautiful world-building and lore, to the emotion of a boy having to say goodbye to his mother. The animation is so stunning and full of movement and life. It may be too emotional for some kids, but I think most of them are going to like it!
How to watch:
So there you have it. What are your favorite Irish films? Do you agree with my list? Let me know! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
The Hollywood box office just had its worst weekend total since 1990 (I really hated writing that sentence). And unfortunately, this might be the predominant Box Office Bulletin headline for the foreseeable future (I really don’t want to get used to that either…). As we move into discussing the box office numbers from movies this past weekend, keep in mind that every single movie currently in theaters is being impacted by Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and the current global climate of self-isolation and social distancing will force these numbers into record lows.
As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic begins to settle in, lives around the world are forced to adapt. It’s safe to say we would all prefer things to go back to what we call “normal” and for life to resume the way it was just a few weeks ago: but this is the new reality (for now), and adapting is something that humans do very well. We adapt, we move forward, we find ways to make the best of what life gives us. Rocky probably said it best when dealing with tough challenges in life:
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”– Rocky Balboa (2006) | MGM Distribution Co.
And with that, let’s get into some numbers.
Pixar’s Onward captured this past weekend’s top spot by earning an additional $10.6 million at the domestic box office. Onward‘s global total has now reached $101 million. From week one to week two, Onward dropped 73% in its domestic earnings, becoming the steepest decline for any Pixar movie in its second weekend. The Good Dinosaur (2015) previously held that spot, dropping 61% in its second weekend, followed by Cars 2 (2011) dropping 60% in its second weekend. This is without a doubt a huge disappointment for Pixar and the filmmakers of Onward, as these numbers are no way reflective of the quality of the film.
In its opening weekend, faith-based film I Still Believe was able to gross $9.5 million domestically, coming in second just behind Onward. Lionsgate’s newest inspirational film did see a few international screens in Australia and New Zealand adding less than $300k to its box office totals. I Still Believe follows in the footsteps on another “true story” faith-based film distributed by Lionsgate called, I Can Only Imagine (2018) which grossed over $85 million total at the box office. Sadly, I don’t believe (pun absolutely intended) that I Still Believe will come close to making those kinds of numbers considering the current COVID-19 global climate.
Sony Pictures’ Bloodshot takes third place for this past weekend’s box office. Bloodshot earned $9.1 million domestically, with an additional $15.1 million at the international box office. This is the lowest domestic opening weekend total for Vin Diesel since his 2015 film, The Last Witch Hunter. Even with current public gathering restrictions being implemented worldwide, Bloodshot debuted in 14 other countries, with Russia, Indonesia, and Mexico being the top three international markets. Vin Diesel stars in the lesser-known comic book adaptation from Valiant Comics as a technologically enhanced super-soldier named Ray Garrison. Bloodshot is the first of more Valiant Comics adaptations to come. Harbinger is the next slated adaption to hit theaters and is currently in development. Bloodshot earned a “B” from CinemaScore, while Rotten Tomatoes showed the common divide between that of critics and the general audience. The approval rating from critics is at 32% with 111 reviews at the time of writing this article, while the audience posted a 78% approval rating with 1,080 reviews.
Rounding out the top five of this past weekend’s box office are two films from Universal Pictures. In its third weekend The Invisible Man added $5.9 million to its domestic total, bringing its global box office total to $122.6 million. Kudos to Universal Pictures for instilling confidence back into the public that their iconic collection of ‘Classic Monsters’ can be adapted into compelling modern-day stories. The second Universal movie is the highly controversial film, The Hunt. Originally slated to release in Sept. 2019, the movie was pulled in the wake of the Dayton and El Paso shootings last year. The Hunt is a political satire and dark comedy about wealthy elite liberals who kidnap young adult conservatives to their ranch where they hunt them for sport. The Hunt made $5.3 million domestically, while receiving mixed reviews from both critics and audience members alike.
Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:
Sonic the Hedgehog – $145.7 million domestic total, $306.4 million worldwide total.
The Way Back – $13.3 million domestic total, $14.3 million worldwide total.
The Call of the Wild – $62 million domestic total, $107.2 million worldwide total.
Emma – $9.9 million domestic total, $25 million worldwide total.
*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.
Pixar’s Onward claims the top spot in this weekend’s box office totals. Including its Thursday night previews, Onward grossed over $40 million domestically over its initial three-day weekend, which might seem like a very good haul for an animated feature film… But everything in context. Pixar Animation Studios has built a reputation for some of the most popular animated movies of all time. The last Pixar movie to gross under $50 million domestically in its opening weekend was Ratatouille in 2007. Including the international box office, Onward grossed approximately $68 million in its first three days. To put things into perspective, the last two Pixar feature films, Toy Story 4 (2019), and Incredibles 2 (2018) grossed $120 million and $182 million, respectively, in their opening weekends. Out of Pixar’s 23 animated feature films, Onward sits at 18th in opening weekend numbers. The film is receiving mostly positive reviews from critics (I personally highly recommend seeing Onward), and audiences seem to be really enjoying the movie as well. CinemaScore awarded Onward an A-, while the audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 96% with over 3,750 reviews at the time of this article.
So what happened? Don’t be surprised when the answer might be something as simple as the Coronavirus (even though the Coronavirus issue is anything but simple). Onward did not have the support of international audiences like most other Pixar films. The movie did not debut in any region of the world that is currently being impacted by the Coronavirus—including one of the biggest international box offices, China. In 2019, Toy Story 4 enjoyed a box office bump of over $13.2 million from China in its opening weekend. Expect this to be a trend as more movies continue to release this year. Some studios are trying to avoid these box office disappointments by delaying their releases (see: James Bond, and My Spy), hoping for things to settle down globally concerning the Coronavirus.
Universal’s The Invisible Man dropped 46% from its opening weekend, but still managed to take second place over newcomers The Way Back and Emma. In its second weekend, The Invisible Man brought in an additional $15 million domestically, bringing its global total to $98 million. Undoubtedly an impressive feat seeing the movie’s production budget was a mere $7 million. This is a huge success for Universal Pictures and their abandoned franchise (Dark Universe) that, like the phoenix, has somehow been reborn and risen from the ashes of The Mummy (2017). Director Leigh Whannell has proven that ‘Universal’s Classic Monsters’ do not need the star power of Tom Cruise nor the production budget of a Marvel superhero movie to succeed. The more grounded and intimate character driven approach of The Invisible Man will hopefully help steer the direction of the upcoming ‘Classic Monster’ movie reboots in Dark Army, and Frankenstein.
Rounding out the Top 3 is Warner Bros. The Way Back. Ben Affleck returns to the big screen after two previous roles in Netflix original movies, The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) and Triple Frontier (2019). The Way Back grossed just over $8.5 million domestically. Even though Ben Affleck has the star name and star talent to go along with this movie, it seems as though Warner Bros. wasn’t too concerned with spending resources in marketing this movie more to the public, and that’s a shame. In recent interviews, Affleck has opened up and shared intimate details of his life and his personal struggles over the last few years, and how much this film meant to him personally. Affleck most certainly cared about this movie; it would have been nice to feel as though Warner Bros. cared about it too.
Number 4 on this weekend’s top box office numbers was Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which grossed just under $8 million in its fourth weekend. Its global total now sits at $295 million (not including China, Japan etc.). Number 5 is 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild with $7 million domestically. The Harrison Ford starred movie unfortunately is set to lose the studio over $50 million. Like some of the aforementioned movies in today’s bulletin, marketing and global health concerns have played major factors in this movie’s financial failures.
Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:
Emma – $5 million domestically, $6.8 million worldwide total (Emma just debuted in its first weekend)
Bad Boys For Life – $202 million domestically, $415 million worldwide total.
Birds of Prey – $82 million domestically, $195 million worldwide total.
Brahms: The Boy II – $11.7 million domestically, $18.1 million worldwide total.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire – $3.3 million domestically, $8.8 million worldwide total.
*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.