I know that everyone is endlessly reporting Impeachment news and we weighed in on it too here at GCN. We have an “impeachment is reasonable” moderate blue take, and an “impeachment is unreasonable” conservative red take. But I’m already sick of reading Ukrainian connected impeachment news and that story has only been around for a few weeks. So, instead - let’s talk about comic book movies!
Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips. Screenplay by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver. Starring Joaquin Phoenix.
According to some, mainly liberals, Joker is an incel friendly, dangerous film that humanizes the most infamous psychotic lunatic mass murderer in all comic book history. In fact, it’s so dangerous that, again - according to liberals - it will incite incels to armed violence everywhere! (Editor’s note. Incels are men who are “involuntarily celibate,” as in “women won't have sex with them but it’s not their fault that women don’t want to have sex with them - it’s society’s fault. And women’s fault, too. But not theirs at all.”) All over the country, for the realese of Joker, security was beefed up in preparation for the inevitable armed incel rise up!
An excerpt from Stephanize Zacharek’s Joker review from Time:
“In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week … And yet we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn’t had enough love … the movie lionizes and glamorizes Arthur even as it shakes its head, faux-sorrowfully, over his violent behavior.”
Fair enough. I do agree that the character of Joker should not be presented as a heroic figure because … well, he’s not. He’s a lunatic mass murderer. The comics really attempt to clinically explain Joker’s behavior and, to be honest, they shouldn’t. He’s a comic book villain. And that’s one of the reasons I generally feel that some things do not cross over well from comic books to live action film. Being lonely, unloved and mentally ill does not realistically create an unkillable, ever escaping from prison comic book super villain. But in live action film, depending on the tone of your story being a ridiculously over the top super villain does not exactly make a realistic looking lonely, unloved, mentally ill human being.
I mean, if you added up the comic book deaths caused by Joker it wouldn’t make sense that he would ever escape any kind of prison. After murdering hundreds of people, well, the fourth, or fifth, or sixth time he was captured, Joker would be over medicated into comatose form and locked away in a deep, dark hole - and no one would ever hear from him again!
But, that’s not exactly drama. And comic books don’t need to live in the real world and they shouldn’t have to. The medium that comic books exist in allow Joker to escape over and over so Batman can heroically triumph or occasionally, tragically fail against the antagonist. That’s drama.
And so now we have the new film, Joker. Which attempts to give reason to the “why” of the Joker's mass murdering madness. While I find the film compelling and Joaquin Phoenix is quite good in the lead role I keep going back to the “But, Joker isn’t a realistic super villain - he doesn’t need a realistic … ohh, never mind!”
The tone of Joker is dead serious. Sure, the film perhaps pays a bit too much homage to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (especially with that DeNiro casting) but, so what? General audiences would probably be shocked to realize how often film directors steal from each other. Paying homage to other film sources is not exactly the cinematic crime that cinephiles are pretending it is. It’s a film that drips with believable pathos and realistic character motivation but I’m not exactly sure I bought the societal folk hero angle as Gothamites embraced the crimes of Joker. I mean, IF something like that happened in a city it could very well be a realistic motivation for a Batman figure to rise up to fight that level of city wide injustice. But, as told in Joker, city folk rise up in riot for Joker I just didn’t find it very plausible. On the other hand, the Joker is a very unreliable narrator and much of the movie, especially the last fifteen minutes or so are wide open to multiple interpretations. My personal interpretation is clearly more accurate than most others, obviously. =)
BUT - I don’t really want to go into further detail about it because, spoilers. I guess I’ll just say that Joker is worth seeing; and lots of folks feel that way too as it broke box office records around the world. It received an eight minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival where it won the top award even though critical opinion is mixed landing currently at 68% on Rottentomatoes.com. Joker is neither as dangerous or as dull as critics are portraying it. And, I guess I didn’t find it to be the masterpiece a few are claiming.
As for the armed, violent incel revolt? Meh. Probably won’t happen. Don’t get me wrong. Some self absorbed lunatic somewhere might pick up a gun and go on a murder spree but, as we all know, they would have done it without Joker ever getting involved.
And now, I will leave you with the greatest Batman / Joker knock-knock joke, maybe - ever.
Joker: Knock knock.
Batman: Who’s there.
Joker: Not your parents.
It’s official. This weekend at the Star Wars Celebration Chicago, Disney confirmed the official subtitle of Star Wars Episode IX will be, “The Rise of Skywalker.” But, who is the “Skywalker” in question? It’s been confirmed in the previous film, The Last Jedi - that Rey’s parents were nobodies so - are we about to see JJ Abrams (writer / director of the The Force Awakens and the upcoming film, “Rise of Skywalker”) doing a slight rewrite on the previous film? Perhaps the information that Rey was told - was a lie? I mean, it did come from a dude who is full on Dark Jedi. Or, maybe it’s a literal title and that one of our old Skywalkers from the past - will rise?
Technically, Leia’s character didn’t die even though beloved actor Carrie Fisher passed away. So, Leia can’t be the Skywalker that rises. Or, maybe a brand new Skywalker baby will pop up? And, of course - Kylo Ren is technically in the Skywalker bloodline. So, there's that.
Too many questions, not enough Star Wars answers. I guess we’ll have to wait until Christmas.
Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker opens Christmas day, 2019. Featuring the return of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (using unused footage she had previously shot for The Last Jedi) and guest starring Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian. Returning to fight in the resistance will be Rey (Daisy Ridley, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) heading up against the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Written/directed by JJ Abrams.
Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, will bring an end to the saga of the Skywalker family.
For better or worse.
Disney and Marvel Studios have agreed to rehire writer/director James Gunn following his July 2018 firing over dozens of online statements he made regarding women and LGBT folks. So, what exactly happened (and for some folks - who is James Gunn and why should I care?):
James Gunn, he’s a writer/director of feature films who had to back to back hits with Marvel Studios Guardians of the Galaxy 1&2 both of which were surprise hits and have combined for a total world box office of $1.5 billion. So, when conservative personalities dug up old tweets on the Trump hating Gunn, they could not wait to manufacture some fake rage. Like most things in internet outrage culture it didn’t matter that Gunn wrote the tweets ten years ago and that, while tasteless and sometimes insensitive, they were clearly not to be taken seriously. But no matter. Disney caved to the faux rage and fired Gunn from the upcoming Guardians 3.
At the time, when reporters were questioning him about the tweets, Gunn clarified his earlier comments via Twitter: "Many people who have followed my career know, when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I've developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It's not to say I'm better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it's shocking and trying to get a reaction are over."
After Disney fired him for the decade old tweets, Gunn responded: "Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all."
And if you read over the tweets some of them clearly go to far. In fact, what I thought was far more inappropriate was Gunn’s post titled, "The 15 Superheroes I Most Want to Have Sex With," which was filled with some pretty idiotic fanboy misogynist writing. ( Editor’s note: We are unable to find a link to that now deleted story, but numerous op-eds exist in which they discuss it including this one at the Marysue.com).
So, my general take on the firing was, “Gunn wrote stupid tweets, probably when he was drunk.” He should apologize, not do anything that stupid again and move on with it. And that should have been the end. Alas, Disney caved to outrage culture and so Gunn was fired. And that as they say - is that.
But didn’t you say he got hired, again?
I did. Which means that, as they say, was not that. How did Gunn get hired back? Well, shortly after the firing, a pretty obvious narrative emerged - Gunn was an often harsh critic of President Trump and so therefor - angry conservative personalities manufactured some engineered fake rage to shut him up! And it worked. It did not matter that all the movie stars that worked with Gunn on Guardians were like, “Um, this is BS. Please hire him back.”
But that wasn’t exactly enough to get him hired again. Thankfully, according to Deadline, Disney felt Gunn’s apologies were very sincere, and they were impressed with how Gunn handled the firing and how he didn’t blame the company. The other thing Disney noticed is that Gunn’s firing didn’t stop other companies from hiring him as he had signed on to direct the next Suicide Squad film. Which means, Disney probably figured, “Well, if other studios are hiring him - maybe we screwed up what with that firing thing we did to him.”
And so Gunn won his job again and is back to directing Guardians 3. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Most of those tentpole flagship franchise films are so predictably cookie cutter that the director no longer matters - that much. Obviously, you need A director. But if it’s James Gunn, or Peyton Reed, or Joe Johnston, or Scott Derrickson, or hell even Brett Ratner or Katherine Hardwick … I mean, they’re all basically the same. The idea of the auteur director is mostly gone. At least, it’s mostly gone in Hollywood franchise films.
Okay. As a huge Michael Jackson fan I did not want to watch Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary detailing MJ during the height of his stardom and his relationship with two boys, aged 7 and 10 (now in their 30s), and their story of how MJ sexually abused them. I mean, I was always on the fence with MJ's guilt. I’m sure that over the years, I defended him in conversations, even though I had my doubt.
I grew up in the 80’s and MJ was THE super star of my generation. Everyone loved him. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there was always a kid or two that was like, “I hate Michael Jackson” but, whatever. No they didn't.
In fact, one of the hardest decisions my 9 year old self ever had to make was this: It was Friday night and there were two things on TV at the same time that I desperately needed to watch.
The first: Doctor Who: The Key to Time Part (something) Dude, you may not care about Doctor Who but for me, as a nine year old kid - Doctor Who was the everything! I can’t remember exactly which episode of Key to Time was going to be on, but I know that it aired at 10pm and went until midnight. On Friday.
The second: Friday Night Videos. Which, from memory was on from 10:30 to 11:30pm. And, you know what video was going to be the featured? Thriller! For the first time, ever!
OMG! What to watch. What to do? What to watch! Doctor Who or Thriller? Thriller or Doctor Who?
I watched Doctor Who. Which, come Monday morning at school, turned out to be huge mistake because everyone else had seen Thriller and I was suddenly the uncool kid, and the only kid in class - who had not seen it. Which, is a big deal when you’re nine.
Moving forward, personally, I think Bad is actually a more consistent album than Thriller, and Smooth Criminal is the greatest dance video ever produced and probably my favorite MJ song. I bought MJ’s early 90s album, Dangerous, but by then the magic was fading. I never bought HIStory and never even heard much of his music after that because by then we were neck deep in “Wacko Jacko” stories and abuse allegation trials. And, even if their wasn’t actual abuse, which is what I believed at the time - Jackson was f**king weird, man! He did himself no favors by … ummm … admitting to sleeping in the same bed with lots of children. For many years. At his private ranch. While the parents of the kids where at a completely separate part of the ranch. And MJ had alarms on his doors & hallways so no one would be able to sneak up on his bedroom unnoticed - where he was alone with the children. In bed. But, um, nothing happened (says Jackson.)
And a lot of us … kind of believed it. I mean, the idea that MJ, who’s public persona was nothing more than a grown up kid himself, actually molested children was difficult to believe. But now, in 2019, the very thought that I didn’t believe the allegations against him feels pretty damn naïve. But at the time, I mean, he was weird and he was rich - which makes him an easy target. And just because he’s weird and rich doesn’t mean he’s evil. And besides, I like his music and his dancing is awesome. Therefore - he probably isn’t guilty. Right? (And "probably" was good enough for me.)
Shortly after his death (in 2009), I read about a couple of the police officers that had collected evidence in the 90's Jackson child abuse allegations. And while they were under a gag order and were unable to discuss specifics, both of the officers said something that struck me, which was to the effect of, “I make sure no one, and I mean no one in my house, or family - listens to Michael Jackson. Ever.”
Hmmm. Reading between the lines there, it sounds as if the officers involved in collecting evidence from Neverland Ranch were so disturbed by said collected evidence against M.J. - that they refused to let anyone in their family ever listen to his music.
To me, that suggested - something. Not everything, yet ... but something. But still, at the time, had you asked me if I was 100% certain of MJs guilt I probably would have made excuses defending him, but then at the end of the conversation would have said, “But I don’t know, I wasn’t there. So … maybe he’s guilty.”
Back to the fact that I really didn’t want to watch Leaving Neverland. You know why? Because it’s pretty damn clear I always suspected in my heart that my childhood idol was guilty of pedophilia and I just didn’t want to hear proof. Which is a sad admission, but there it is. Also, I suspect many, many people feel/felt this way.
And so, I watched it.
Holy God. The documentary is as horrifying as you’ve heard. Part 1 details the allegations, which are stunning. Part 2 deals with family trauma, which is heartbreaking. And it's true that the documentary doesn’t offer “proof,” per say (for example - video of the abuse), it does; however, offer two extremely believable, sincere testimonials from James Safechuck and Wade Robson, both of whom accused MJ of sexually molesting them for many years when they were young, Wade as early as seven years old. Seven years old! And the documentary does not make any case that MJ doesn’t know what he is doing. In fact, it suggests the exact opposite in that MJ is a totally self aware f**king monster. The grooming. The planning. The lying. The seducing. The gifts. Getting the kids to lie for you. Just about everything we know about child molesters is there and it was probably always there, and most of us ignored it - because Michael Jackson is awesome!
Corey Feldman and Macaulay Culkin, MJ's two famous childhood actor friends, have both repeatedly said that MJ never did anything inappropriate to them which, I actually beleive because they were both famous child actors at the time. Pedophiles target kids with no power. Feldman and Culkin had, at least a modicum amount of power which is probably why MJ didn't target them. Culkin, as far as I am aware, has yet to comment on the documentary, but Feldman pushed back calling it “one sided” and criticized the film because MJ has no chance to defend himself. But, that's not exactly true, is it? I mean, MJ had every chance to defend himself when he was alive and in fact, he did so because there were acusations and trials. It occurred to me that we’ve only heard MJ’s side of the story - over and over and over - that he's innocent, he would never hurt kids, the alleged "victims" were out for money and that the media lied about him because he's rich and weird. That's the story we've been told. Leaving Neverland is actually, the first time we’ve ever heard from any of the alleged victims. So, I kind of feel like, while it's true we don't have "proof" that MJ is guilty or innocent - we've heard his side of things - that he's an altruistic angel and does nothing wrong and is the target of a smear campaign. And now we've finally heard from two of the alleged victims. And they are very, very compelling.
Feldman, himself an alleged victim of sexual abuse, quickly backtracked his early defense of MJ, telling CNN:
“I cannot in good consciousness defend anyone who’s being accused of such horrendous crimes, but at the same time, I’m also not here to judge him, because, again, he didn’t do those things to me and that was not my experience … It comes to a point where, as an advocate for victims, as an advocate for changing the statutes of limitations to make sure that victims’ voices are heard, it becomes impossible for me to stay virtuous and not at least consider what’s being said and not listen to what the victims are saying … As I’m watching it [the Leaving Neverland documentary], I’m going, ‘This doesn’t make sense to me. This isn’t the guy that I knew. But look, I’m a guy that at 14 years old was molested, did have a pedophile completely lie to me about who he was. I trusted him. I believed in him as a friend, and I thought he was a good person, and then he molested me. It all proves that I’m not the best judge, and that’s why I shouldn’t be the judge in this situation, and especially given the fact that I’m so close to [Jackson].”
Jackson still has his defenders. He always will. I used to be one of them. Not so much any longer. I mean, MJ was weird and rich and was an easy target and his estate is worth … God only knows … a couple of billion dollars? That, right there, is motive. So, I feel that I really understand all the reasons people don’t want to believe that, Michael Jackson, the best selling recording artist of all time - is a pedophile. I really do understand the reasons for doubt, but - I no longer believe any of them.
Not one bit.
Too much insider chagrin, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors decided that four Oscar categories (Cinematography, Editing, Live Short Film, Hair & Makeup) would be announced during commercial breaks and not live for the telecast. Now, this general idea is nothing new as the entire Scientific and Technical Awards take place two weeks before the Oscar ceremony. From the Oscars.org website:
“The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards honor the men, women and companies whose discoveries and innovations have contributed in significant and lasting ways to motion pictures. Honorees are celebrated at a formal dinner held two weeks prior to the Oscar ceremony. The Sci-Tech Awards presentation has become a highlight of the Academy Awards season.”
Okay. So we have minor precedent that some awards take place - well, off camera. And if you wanted to assign Hair and Makeup and maybe some of the technical awards for sound and visual effects to the Sci-Tech award dinner, there may (or may not) have been as much outcry.
But … cinematography? And editing? Are you kidding me?
Well, even though my stunned disbelief went unheard; the Academy was bombarded by negative press coming from all sorts of Hollywood bigwig insiders such as the American Society of Cinematographers, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild.
The intent of the Academy’s decision was to yearly rotate different category winners to be “off camera” and then have the edited speeches quickly shown in montage format later in the show. This is all designed to save time as the Oscar ceremony tends to run more than three hours. And, I guess folks complain about that. Or, perhaps there is a contractual agreement to have the show in 3 hours or less. Either way, I find it odd. I mean, the ceremony is long. It’s always been long. Deal with it. Or, don’t watch it. Or, don’t contractually agree to make it less than 3 hours because it might be 3.5 hours. It usually is. Why feign surprise this year? You know?
Anyway. The change didn’t settle well with some big named celebrities who threw their Twitter weight around and drummed up enough bad press and negative social media buzz for the Academy to reverse course entirely with this press release:
“The Academy has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards — Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling. All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24.”
First there was the "Popular Film" category that everyone hated. So it was dropped. Then their was Kevin Hart as host, who the Academy dropped. And now the off camera awards - decision revesed.
What's next, I wonder?
I guess we'll find out on Sunday night.
Movie Pass, a subscription based movie theater service exploded early last year when they offered a “$10 per month to see one movie per day” deal. Many thought it was too good to be true. And many NON subscribers to Movie Pass got high and mighty and wrote smug article, after smug article about how Movie Pass was going to crash and burn.
Well, they were all wrong. Movie Pass has actually been around for several years and it’s still here. Will it be here in five years? I don’t know. But I’m here to tell you that it’s currently still a good deal. It’s certainly not the sweetheart deal it once was, but it’s still good. And now, starting in January 2019, it’s going to get better. Again, not the sweetheart deal it used to be, but much better than the current, “Decent but kind of a pain in the ass” deal it is right now.
Movie Pass, currently, offers a subscriber three 2D movies per month for a $10 monthly fee. Which is a fine deal; however, Movie Pass chooses which movies you are allowed to see each day. And each day they offer a completely different selection. Which means you have to dig through their calendar and find the movie that you want to see. Then you note, “Oh, the movie I want to see is only being offered through Movie Pass at 4:20pm on Wed at a theater that’s 30 minutes away from me. Well, I guess that’s when / where I’ll go see it then!”
So, you will (probably) still get to see the movie you want to see. But you have to put some legwork into it. This is a far cry from their initial “You can see one movie per day for $10 per month.” So, I can understand why customers were reasonably pissed off with terms of service change after change.
But most writers are clearly not subscribers to Movie Pass. So they’re smugly writing snotty hit pieces so if Movie Pass fails they can say, “I told you so! I knew it was going to fail! That’s why I never signed up!”
Um. Okay. You go ahead and do that then. I’ll be over here saving lots of $$$ by using my Movie Pass three times a month. Here are their new terms of service starting in January.
The Select Plan ($9.99 per month): Three movies a month but your choices are restricted to selections by Movie Pass that changes each day. This is exactly what Movie Pass has been offering since August.
The All Access Plan ($14.99 per month): Three movies a month and you can see any standard 2D screening of any movie in your area. This looks to be the best deal.
The Red Carpet Plan ($19.99 per month): Any three standard 2D movies per month plus one Imax or 3D screening per month. I don’t give a damn about 3-D movies. Perhaps you do and this is the plan for you but I’ll be sticking with the All Access. (Here’s how I feel about 3-D films).
This is exactly what they should have been doing since day one. Three plans. I don’t see why it took them so long to figure this out. Now, just as Movie Pass offered last year, the best deal out of a subscription will be if you pay for the entire year up front. For example: if you sign up for the one year All Access Plan you only pay $120.00. Which is a significant discount. But, obviously, that means you have to pay the full $120 up front. Which I’m fine with but some folks might not be. You won’t be able to sign up for the plan until January but Movie Pass has them displayed at their site here for you to check out.
Finally, does this mean Movie Pass will succeed brilliantly? I don’t know. But the bottom line is this - they are currently offering a really great deal (again). Even at $15 a month, as long as you see three movies per, you are saving a ton of cash. I paid about $120 for my yearly subscription to Movie Pass and I watched about 30 movies in 2018 with an average ticket price of $12 per. That’s about $360 worth of movies for $120.
So, if Movie Pass lost $240 on me alone, how does Movie Pass make money, or stay in business? Well - that’s not my problem. =)
But to give you a general example of how they (potentially can) make money: they are investing in feature films, they are looking into building theater chains, they are advertising specific movies to the customers, they are data marketing and mining. Here is a good piece about how they (potentially can) make money if you want to spend more time reading into it.
Again, I don’t claim to know how long Movie Pass will be around. But for now, Movie Pass is still a good deal. And the pain in the ass “we change what movies you can see every day” will go away if I upgrade my subscription for an extra $5 monthly fee.
Which I will totally do as soon as I am able.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is Disney’s latest release, and not only are viewers anticipating a fairy tale story, dancing, melodious soundtrack and illuminating colors, but they are also expecting a parent to die or not be in the picture early on in the story.
It’s inescapable if you commit to emotionally investing in a Disney film. And if you look closely, it’s more often the mother.
Why? Well let’s first look at some of the classics.
1938 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Snow’s biological mother died and is replaced by the Evil Queen, her stepmother.
1941 Dumbo – our favorite elephant is parent-less in the movie.
1942 Bambi – sadly, graphic content below….
1950 Cinderella – the most famous princess to ever live is motherless in the movie and haunted by her big-footed step family.
1951 Alice in Wonderland – its been postulated Alice was orphaned and taken care of by a governess.
1963 The Sword and the Stone – Arthur is a 12 year-old orphan boy.
1967 The Jungle Book – Mowgli is found parent-less.
1989 The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s mother, Queen Athena, was killed, leaving her father Triton to raise her and her sisters.
1992 – Aladdin – Princess Jasmine is motherless.
In Tarzan's, Lilo's and The Emperor's New Groove's Kuzko, all lost their parents.
In 1994 not a dry eye was in the house during the scene in which Simba loses Mufasa in The Lion King….
1995 – Pocahontas – it’s revealed her mother had passed a while back.
And the most colorful and comical of the Disney films, Finding Nemo, wasn’t exempt either, with Nemo’s Mom being eaten in the opening scene.
Multiple theories were brought forward by Disney producer, Don Hahn, in an interview to Glamour. The first was that Walt Disney tragically lost his mother when he was younger.
In 1938 the successful film producer, young Walt, purchased a home for his parents and when the gas furnace was faulty he sent his studio men over to fix it. Unfortunately the repair was not adequate and it eventually leaked, and his mother, Flora Call Disney, soon died of asphyxiation.
It’s believed the grieving son found the interweaving of this tragedy into his work as a means to deal with his guilt.
The second theory is that Disney films wanted to mix fairy tale with the reality many children face, adding a sense of “realism” to the stories.
And final theory is Walt Disney wanted children to feel like heroes, and a film in which a child battles evil without the help of Mommy and Daddy infused a sense of empowerment to his target audience.
So the idea of celebrating the triumph of the quest of a parent-less child is probably more pervasive in these movies than the purposeful injection of a gory parental death. Although this makes Disney movies more palatable, I’m still hoping Mufasa was only unconscious and recovered off the set when we weren’t looking.
Spooky, spooky, scary, scary!
It’s that time of year again - where pumpkins are carved up, gutted and massacred. Where kids dress up and beg for candy - from strangers! And let’s not forget - Halloween just wouldn’t be Halloween without at least one news site running a, “Watch out for razor blades in those apples” story. (Hint: You’re more likely to get mauled to death by a goat then you are to get a razor blade in your apple).
And that means there will be an inevitable flood of lists of movies to watch for Halloween! Hell, even I wrote one last year called Underappreciated Horror Films for Halloween. I took the idea that most such lists have all the usual suspects: take your pick of a franchise - Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, Halloween, Hellraiser, [Insert Random Name] of the Dead, etc., etc. Throw in the obligatory mention of The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining, add another Stephen King adaptation for good measure, class it up with some vintage black and white: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein and toss in whatever is currently hip and popular with the cool kids these days, such as -- It Follows and Babadook.
Great! And done!
But, also, kind of boring.
And so I’m back with another list of underappreciated horror films for your Halloween viewing terror! Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of movies in the aforementioned list that I adore. But there are a lot of great horror movies that slip under the radar. If you are a true horror film aficionado there probably won't be much here you've not heard of. But for most movie folk this should be a nice list of underappreciated horror films you may dig.
The trailers were meticulously screened to avoid spoilers. No, seriously. I watched multiple trailers for all of these movies and selected ones that were cool but vague and non spoilerific!
Also, I just recognized that this year AND last year - most of my film selections were written by men, and all of them were directed by men. Hmm. I'll make sure future lists have more diversity. So, I'll work on that.
With that being said, some of my new favorite underappreciated films -- presented alphabetically:
Better Watch Out (2016): The movie's tagline says it all: On a quiet suburban street, a babysitter must defend a twelve-year-old boy from intruders, only to discover it's far from a normal home invasion. So, very true. =) Better Watch Out is a delightfully sinister Christmas horror film! The three young, unknown (to me) actors: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould are all well cast and will probably go on to bigger and better things (a quick IMDB search tells me they have). The film was mildly loved by critics but largely ignored by audiences. I haven’t found a trailer that didn’t ruin some of the film’s surprises so I would ignore them all if I were you.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2016): Often described as a "slow burn of a film," a phrase I typically dislike, because most folks equate that wording with, “Boring, but kind of interesting.” Instead I would describe The Blackcoat’s Daughter as a dark atmospheric exploration of loneliness. With some devil worship. The ending appears to have been largely misunderstood by critics and reviewers alike and without spoiling anything, I will say that any other interpretation other than, “holy fucking evil tragedy,” is wrong. All three of the female actors Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka and Lucy Boynton do fine work but I would say Kiernan Shipka pulls off an extraordinary take on the affected, especially since I always found her younger years as an actor on Mad Men, fairly inconsistent (she played young Sally Draper). Originally released as, “February” the film has been renamed for streaming and DVD. Official HD trailer for the Blackcoat’s Daughter.
Bone Tomahawk (2015): Kurt Russell. Sweet mutton chops. Western. Bloody vengeance. You read that right! Bearing the same badass mutton chops he flaunted in Tarantino's (kind of overrated) Hateful Eight, Russell steals the show as hard as nails Sheriff Franklin Hunt. The over all plot will certainly be familiar to anyone who’s seen a western before, but the tone of the film works well and carries the story to an effective, brutal ending. Nominated for and winner of - multiple indie / horror awards including the Independent Spirit Award, the Saturn Award and the Fangoria Chainsaw Award where Russell won for Best Actor. Official trailer #1 for Bone Tomahawk.
Compliance (2012): Based on the shocking true story, Compliance is a fairly accurate recreation of truly fucked up events that unfolded in the back of a Kentucky McDonald’s. Much like 2011's Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene the film is a non supernatural psychological thriller but, in essence - is a real horror film. There doesn’t have to be a supernatural presence, or a murder, in order for a movie to be down right chilling and horrific and Compliance is both. The premise of the film: A man, claiming to be a police officer, calls a fast-food restaurant and convinces the manager that one of her employees is a suspect and that the manager must strip search the employee. She complies. It gets worse from there. Compliance premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was … controversial to say the least. Audience members walked out because they found the movie too disturbing and then there was some kind of screaming match during the film’s Q&A all about the nature of compliance. Ann Dowd, as the manager in question, was nominated for all sorts of acting awards - winning the National Board of Review. Official trailer for Compliance.
Creep / Creep 2 (2014 / 2017): Writer / actor Mark Duplass, arguably the king of all fucking independent films in the last fifteen years (though he did not invent mumblecore films with The Puffy Chair in 2005 as many have implied, that was Andrew Bujalski with Funny Ha Ha in 2002). Anyway, Duplass pulls off another charming mumblecore-esq role as - the creep? Or is he? Also, this is one of the rare gems where the sequel might be better than the original. Both are found footage films with all the pratfalls that entails but are relatively short at 80ish minutes each and can be watched in one creepy evening. Official Trailer for Creep. And hey now, don’t go watching the Trailer for Creep 2 until you’ve finished Creep!
Hereditary (2018): Okay. I will go out on a limb and tell you that Hereditary is the greatest horror film of the last decade and might be my favorite horror film of all time. Criminally underappreciated actress Toni Collette turns in a powerhouse performance as artist Annie Graham. Her mother has just died and Annie inherits an enormous amount of emotional baggage the threatens her family and her very existential existence. Both Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff, as her children, are equally mesmerizing. Ann Dowd, mentioned above in Compliance is as universally great as she always is. Hereditary drips with imagery & symbols and heavily explores themes of the title of the film - inheritance. A simple enough premise but executed with unbelievable skill in front of and behind the camera. I hesitate to use the word “masterpiece,” because the word is so over used, especially in film criticism. But, use it I shall because Hereditary is a domestic nightmare, horror masterpiece. Official trailer for Hereditary.
Green Room (2015): Like many movies on this list Green Room was a critic’s darling that underperformed at the box office. Staring the late, great Anton Yelchin and the crazy talented chameleon Imogen Poots. Seriously, I could not believe she was the same woman from the perfect Fright Night remake. The movie is about a punk rock band, the Aint Rights, who find themselves attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads after accidentally witnessing a murder at the skinhead’s club. And who plays the leader of the skinheads? Patrick Stewart, naturally. No, seriously, I don’t know what convinced him to play the role of a skinhead Nazi but the movie gods should be thanked that he recognized the greatness that was about the become the film Green Room! And it’s really, really great. Official trailer for Green Room.
Thoroughbreds (2017): The movie that made me ask, “Um, who the hell is that actress? Because in the next ten years she’s going to be recognized as one of the greatest actors of her generation.” The woman in question - Olivia Cooke. You fine folks might be all like, “Oh, the girl from The Bates Motel - and Ready Player One, yeah, she’s great!” Well, at the time I saw Thoroughbreds Ready Player One had not been released and I had not seen a single episode of Bates Motel - but you can be sure I binged it in the next few months. (And, it’s okay. Cooke's character is very under written and she's underused which is okay since she's not the lead, and the two leads are great in Bates Motel - but that’s another story). Anyway, Thoroughbreds is more of a super dark comedy than a traditional horror film, but they often go hand in hand. I mean, it is a film about murdering one of your parents but, like - in a hip, non trite way. #amiright? As much as I love Angela Bettis in May and Robin McLeavy in The Loved Ones, I think Olivia Cooke’s sociopathic Amanda is the new big girl on the block. Official trailer for Thoroughbreds.
And there we have it. Another list. Hopefully, you’ll see something here that interests you. If you like a lot of films on this list, perhaps check out my list from last year, linked above. More of the same - underappreciated gems.
This years tally of horror: An on screen body count of approx. twenty four but maybe as high as eighty (hard to keep track of as some of the serial killer movies are deceptive about victims). Three movies with decapitations. Two about demons. Two with bad parents. One about Christmas. One on tour. Three, perhaps four (number debatable) about serial killers. Four with female leads. Two found footage. One with Nazis. One based on a true story. And one starring Kurt Russell and those glorious mutton chops.
Better Watch Out (2016), an Australian Horror Comedy film directed by: Chris Peckover and written by Zach Kahn and Peckover.
The Blackcoat's Daughter (2016), an American Canadian supernatural psychological drama written and directed by: Oz Perkins, son of late Anthony Perkins.
Bone Tomahawk (2015), an American western horror film written and directed by S. Craig Zahler.
Compliance (2012), an american thriller drama written and directed by Craig Zobel.
Creep / Creep 2 (2014 / 2017), American independent found footage horror film directed by Patrick Brice and written by Mark Duplass and Brice.
Hereditary (2018), an American supernatural horror film (masterpiece!) written and directed by Ari Aster. His first feature film.
Green Room (2015), an American horror film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. Also - fuck Nazi’s.
Thoroughbreads (2017), an American black comedy thriller written and directed by Cory Finley. Starring crazy, madman genius young actor Olivia Cooke.
Before bearing witness to the brilliant magic of Disney’s live-action Winnie the Pooh reboot, Christopher Robin, I was given goosebumps by the trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Dumbo. If you thought Disney was going to make money with its purchase of Fox’s Marvel Cinematic Universe or UFC, consider the money to made by remaking every classic Disney, cartoon movie.
Christopher Robin wasn’t just good. It was funny and heartwarming and transported me to another time and place like the tree transported Christopher Robin to the Hundred Acre Wood.
You can’t go wrong with Pooh. I’ve maintained that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and Robin retains that humor by keeping Pooh’s character, and all the characters of Hundred Acre Wood, consistently classic. All great reboots and remakes appeal to their longtime fans’ affinity for nostalgia by preserving the characters they grew up loving. I wrote about Solo doing so, and Robin is no exception.
Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger might have shed their cartoon bodies for live-action “stuff and fluff,” but they are otherwise unchanged and equally enchanting--if not more so. I actually felt as childish watching the grown-up Christopher Robin as Ewan McGregor looked playing with his friends upon his return to Hundred Acre Wood. That feeling was mutual for much of the United Kingdom’s moviegoers over the Labor Day weekend, as Robin topped BlacKkKlansman at the U.K. box office. It was sixth despite being in its fifth week in the states.
Robin has recouped its $75 million budget and has nearly made as much on top of that as of this writing. The live-action remake of The Jungle Book made almost a billion dollars on its $175-million budget back in 2016. It stands to reason that Disney could use the same template to turn its longtime, cartoon assets into revenue generators once again, and they are. Not only did I see the trailer for the live-action Dumbo remake, but the rebooted Mary Poppins Returns also made an appearance, and while the original was a live-action film, it is indicative of Disney adding some cars to the seemingly endless train of Hollywood reboots and remakes.
In May 2019, a live-action version of Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie will hit theaters, followed by John Favreau’s The Lion King in July and Milan in March of 2020. There is a score of reboots and remakes reportedly in the works at Disney, which should buoy its books well above water for a very long time. Imagine, a live-action reboot of The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under or, as I pitched to my sister during the trailers prior to Robin, a live-action remake of The Great Mouse Detective. Disney’s options are vast given the improved technology around visual effects, so it doesn’t have to rely on comic book movies to make its money in theaters.
Not only is Hollywood remaking and retelling the same fictional stories, but stories based in fact are also being retold because we keep repeating history. Exactly nothing has changed since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989 except, maybe, racial tensions becoming more tense. Black Americans are still being killed by racist cops and white supremacy groups are growing in numbers, getting mainstream support from the President of the United States and are killing way more Americans than Islamic Extremists. The Klan is back with a vengeance, and BlacKkKlansman isn't shy about sharing that fact.
BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of a black police officer in Colorado, new to the department and first of his kind, going “undercover” as a Ku Klux Klan supporter to investigate the “organization.” After cold-calling the Ku Klux Klan utilizing “white voice” not unlike black comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle, Ron Stallworth boasts to his precinct chief that he can speak both “the King’s English” and jive in order to infiltrate the local chapter of the Klan and determine the organization’s intentions and dangerousness while also getting an inside look at the college’s Black Student Union, who invited a Black Panther to speak in town.
The year is 1979 in Lee’s rendition of this true story, but the actual events occurred in 1972. Changing the date allowed Lee to reference then trendy blaxploitation movies and the KKK’s supposed support of President Richard Nixon’s re-election. It might look like 1979 on screen, but if you read just the script’s dialogue, you’d wonder whether it was 1979, 1989 or 2019.
Lee makes multiple references to current events throughout the film, making a comment on our time more so than a comment on the times in which it’s set. Stallworth is accused of naivety by a fellow officer when he says, “People would never elect a man like David Duke President.” Yet people elected Donald Trump, who called some white supremacists at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally “good people.” Good people, however, don’t discriminate as to whom they are good.
Duke, satisfyingly portrayed by Topher Grace, has a gullibility and all-around lack of awareness about him that somehow makes him not only tolerable but hilariously cartoonish. Duke was obviously concerned with how the film portrayed him, afraid that he’d come off as stupid. Lee didn’t care even though Duke told the real-life Stallworth that he “always respected Spike Lee.”
Duke also delivers a line drawing from current events in one of his many phone conversations with Stallworth, saying he wants “America to achieve its greatness again,” another obvious reference to the President's popular, campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” I suspect Duke and Trump share the same idea as to what constitutes this country’s greatest greatness, and if it’s not pre-Civil War, it’s at least a time when white people didn’t have to share anything with black people except the air they breathe.
Do the Right Thing, like BlacKkKlansman, was inspired by actual events. Black kids were indeed chased out of a pizzeria in New York City. Whether the boycott of said pizzeria actually occurred and resulted in a riot destroying the pizzeria is unknown. What is known and is made abundantly clear in BlacKkKlansman, is that the hostility and contempt underlying race relations in America have persisted if not worsened since 1989 despite BlacKkKlansman taking place 10 years prior. BlacKkKlansman transcends time in that sense, but it doesn’t attempt to transcend race despite an obvious opportunity to do so.
Stallworth is portrayed by John David Washington, who does the character justice by conveying both the gumshoe’s greenness and opportunistic, entrepreneurial spirit despite an obvious internal struggle between the black cop walking the beat and the black man longing for and working toward justice for his black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets by racist cops.
Stallworth doesn’t let anything stop him from pursuing his passion project. He is not the easily distracted Mookie of Do the Right Thing. Stallworth is as motivated as they come, and to him, the fact he’s black doesn’t mean he can’t infiltrate the local KKK chapter. There are more than enough white officers to serve as his stand-in, but it would take the right kind of white officer to infiltrate the Klan. Sure, the Colorado Springs Police Department, like most American police departments at the time, had more than its fair share of racist cops. But a racist cop could still give himself away as a cop despite the depth of his racism.
Enter Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish detective who wasn’t raised Jewish. Zimmerman is aptly portrayed by Adam Driver, who is almost too cool when accused of being a Jew at gunpoint by a member of the local KKK chapter. The Klansman is so concerned over Zimmerman’s bloodlines that he demands he take a lie detector test, but Zimmerman’s partner comes to the rescue just in time. Or does he? Zimmerman later alludes to the fact that he’s never really given his Jewish heritage much thought until now, but that doesn’t mean he could pass a “Jew detector” test at gunpoint, even if he wasn’t raised Jewish.
Despite the engaging performances of Washington and Driver, Lee misses an opportunity to make BlacKkKlansman a little more enjoyable and, dare I say, feel-good, by focusing on growing relationships between characters at the expense of others, and that’s likely by design. Lee doesn’t make many feel-good films, but Do the Right Thing certainly does a better job developing the relationship between Mookie and Sal than BlacKkKlansman does for Ron and Flip. Washington and Driver give fine individual performances, but their time on screen together isn’t ample or dramatic enough for their characters’ relationship to grow throughout the film like Mookie and Sal’s relationship does in Do the Right Thing.
Besides length, there’s really no reason not to give Ron and Flip a few moments to convey the growth of their work relationship. Any good film requires a hero to overcome conflict and grow as a person. The same goes for the relationships between characters. They too need to grow and motivate the action and change of the characters, and the relationship between Ron and Flip leaves much to be desired.
Not once do I remember Flip irate despite the danger Ron’s created for him. He’s the one risking everything while the “Black Klansman” sits safely at the other end of a telephone making friends with the grand wizard of the KKK. In fact, the film should have been called BlacKkKlansmen, because Flip is one half of the Black Klansman and has more at risk than Ron.
At first, Stallworth is completely careless when it comes to his new partner’s life, and there’s never really a moment where Stallworth shares a realization of and appreciation for the white man taking all the risk while the black man remains safe on the other end of a telephone. Just because Zimmerman’s white doesn’t mean the Klan won’t kill him. This missed opportunity for Lee to display the dynamics influencing the relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman is one that could have contributed to the film’s drama and the characters’ respective growths throughout the film.
But Driver seemed emotionally unavailable and barely vulnerable throughout the film, whether he was undercover or not. He had his guard up at all times, and that could be his interpretation of the character, as an undercover detective should probably have his guard up at all times. Or his lack of emotional range could be due to a lack of chemistry with Washington, which would explain Lee's limiting their relationship's screen time. Washington doesn't give Driver much to work with in Flip's most vulnerable moment, but if the scene in question is not ad-libbed, the script doesn't give Driver much to work off of either.
Driver might be a victim of pigeon-holing on a Napoleon Dynamite scale, where regardless of Driver's role in a film, he will always be Kylo Ren to some people, which isn't fair to him, but a role like that is sometimes inescapable and can be detrimental to any other performance at no fault to Driver except for being iconic. Driver's demeanor as Flip was almost as if he was inwardly lamenting his performance knowing audiences would disconnect themselves from the viewing experience at the shock of seeing a Star Wars character in a Spike Lee Joint.
For whatever reason, and I'm leaning toward creative choice, Lee focuses our attention on the relationship between Stallworth and his love interest, Patrice Dumas, a militant, student leader he meets on his first day working undercover. Her disdain for “pigs” only grows that evening when she’s harassed by one of Stallworth’s peers while he waits for her to meet him at a bar. Stallworth doesn’t let his secret profession stop him from making a rookie mistake and getting personal.
Lee’s focus on the fragile relationship between Stallworth and Dumas instead of the underdeveloped relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman robs viewers of a relationship that could have provided them a reason for hope, which is something Lee’s films tend to struggle conveying due to subject matter and history. Black Americans’ relationships with police, or lack thereof, have been and continue to be shaped by a very warranted lack of trust. Police have been and continue to be employed to further hinder black Americans, who in 2018 still feel the financial and social effects of slavery. That doesn’t scream hope, but neither do Spike Lee Joints. Spike Lee Joints mirror reality more so than most filmmakers in history.
Lee’s choice to focus on the relationship between black man and black woman and the struggles they experience despite sharing a skin color instead of focusing on the black man and white man and the struggles they experience working together in spite of their differing skin color might indicate that Lee believes black Americans still need to unify before all Americans unify. In Do the Right Thing, Mookie and Sal’s relationship isn’t cheated like Ron and Flip’s, but Mookie still pitches for his home team regardless of who’s signing his checks.
Mookie’s boss isn’t responsible for the death of Radio Raheem, but Sal’s already short and shrinking temper in the summer and pizza oven heat, and his growing defensiveness and displeasure with race-related questions posed as if he’s on trial for being racist because of the pictures of Italian-Americans he hangs in the pizzeria, escalate the incident to violence before white cops ever get their murdering hands on Raheem.
An argument over music and its volume in Do the Right Thing and the resulting response by police sounds eerily similar to recent smartphone videos taken of police brutalizing a minority amongst a crowd of minorities pleading for the police to stop. Again, not much has changed in 30 years except the number and quality of video cameras and camera operators and an increased means to share videos. The police beatings of minorities are just in high-definition and available to view from multiple angles almost immediately upon the completion of "principle photography." Lee's shot-for-shot videography of the riot in Do the Right Thing could probably be reproduced using smartphones, invoking an even more emotional response given the lifelike intimacy provided by the participants' cameras.
The riot really begins when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of his employer’s storefront near the end of Do the Right Thing. But he does it because it’s the right thing to do—not because he's taking the side of his people over that of his provider—but because he gives his people and his provider exactly what they need: closure.
Mookie dispersing the crowd with a sentimental soliloquy apologizing for his employer and fellow employees works better on stage than on screen and wouldn’t likely work at all in reality. Would heartfelt words of a pizza delivery boy be enough to soothe you and disperse a riot after your community lost a friend, brother, son and neighbor because the pizza delivery boy’s employer couldn’t stand his “jungle” music? I thought not.
Mookie gave his community exactly what it needed to get over its collective grief in a healthy manner. While looting and destruction of property are crimes, both are a lot healthier than murder or assault of those perceived to be responsible for the tragic death of Radio Raheem. Mookie might have actually saved Sal’s life, but that, like the reasoning behind Mookie’s throwing of the trash can, is not immediately evident to viewers given the emotion-evoking destruction of the pizzeria.
Like BlacKkKlansman, there was an obvious need for the end of Do the Right Thing to offer viewers a semblance of hope. Mookie coming back to Sal’s destroyed pizzeria the next day to collect his $250 salary and the two of them negotiating a settlement isn’t hope enough apparently. So Lee drops lines from both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to reinforce the dangerousness of duality—the idea that contrasting concepts cannot both be correct simultaneously. But two different concepts can be true at the same time. Nonviolence is a good approach until someone attacks you, which is the message Lee sent at the end of Do the Right Thing.
Lee has often echoed the words of Malcolm X and King, Jr. in his work, and BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Stallworth represents the teachings of King, Jr., and Dumas practices the teachings of X, putting them at odds as to which path is most likely to award “all the power to all the people.” In the end, of course, they realize the same things viewers of Do the Right Thing did: two contrasting concepts can be true at the same time, and if there’s to be hope for black Americans to ever overcome the persisting socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery, it’s going to require both nonviolent and violent acts by a unified, black people.
The black community's dismissal of the Asian grocer across the street from Sal's pleading with them that he too is "black" like them so the rioters don't loot and destroy his shop is a great example of the message Lee sends in both Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman. Black Americans can't climb out of the socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery as a group inside another larger group of minorities. No other American minority started with the disadvantage black Americans did, so Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. can't relate and, therefore, can't help black Americans overcome their socioeconomic disadvantage. And judging from Lee's apparent choices in BlacKkKlansman, Lee doesn't think white Americans can help either. It's something that has to be done solely by black Americans solely for black Americans.
So almost 30 years after people first saw a race riot explode on the big screen in a Spike Lee Joint, another Spike Lee Joint now shows people exactly how little has changed when it comes to race relations in America. If there’s one obvious changes between Lee’s films spanning almost 30 years, it’s that Do the Right Thing has a more hopeful ending than BlacKkKlansman, which tells me Spike thinks the future is more bleak for black Americans than it was in 1989. If you're looking for a hopeful, uplifting movie this week, see the relatively inconsequential Crazy Rich Asians. I haven't seen it, but I can tell you it will be an almost complete disconnect from reality that won't require your brain to enjoy. Romantic comedies are, by design, an escape.
Spike Lee Joints, however, mirror reality and are meant to make you uncomfortable with their unrivaled realness and borderline neorealism, making you aware of things previously foreign and challenging your beliefs of what you thought it was like to be black in America, because if you're not black, you only know what you see, hear and read. And no one provides as accurate and unabridged imagery of black lives in America as Spike Lee. If you're looking for a thought-provoking, uncomfortable, cultural commentary of American race relations then and now, this Spike Lee Joint is educational and entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission.