The Calming Power of 90s Nostalgia- A Look at The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story

The original cast of Nickelodeon’s All That

The world is a dark place right now. At every turn, we’re greeted with a new tragedy, violence, or people attempting to strip entire groups of people of their rights. And that’s not even including the plague that we’re living through. It’s hard to not think negatively all of the time. So, when something positive comes along, I think it is deserving of the highest praise. That is definitely the case with the newly released nostalgic documentary The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story. When I look back on my childhood, as I’m sure many who grew up in the 90s would agree, it is blatantly clear that Nickelodeon was a very critical part of my formative years. Watching TV was something that my parents and I did as a family and Nickelodeon was on nearly every night.

Stick Stickly- One of the many iconic Nickelodeon hosts

Enter Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney’s The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story. Coming in at just 102 minutes, this feature-length nostalgia generator sets out to highlight the origin of the children’s programming titan and how it was responsible for creating iconic television shows that serve as the backbone of an entire generation’s pop culture adolescence. Barber and Sweeney’s film is a broad overview of just how exactly Nickelodeon became the successful brand that it is, examining the early beginnings through the creation of the classic SNICK Saturday evening lineup. So, if you’re looking for a Spongebob Squarepants gush fest, this is not the documentary for you. Instead, we get a look at the earlier shows from the network like Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Clarissa Explains It All, Double Dare, and Guts, as well as the classic Nicktoons like Rugrats, Doug, and Ren and Stimpy.

The cast of Hey Dude

With so many programs and specific points to address, The Orange Years never gets too in-depth. But we get interviews with original cast members and creators of each of the shows highlighting how they came to be, how they contributed to the 90s Nickelodeon zeitgeist, and, in the case of some shows, how they were able to get away with some of the things that they did. The interview with former network head Geraldine Laybourne was a particular highlight here, because you can see just how much she cared about not talking down to kids as viewers and how she refused to see them as a consumerist opportunity, which the documentary goes on to note is a symptom of modern Nickelodeon. Overall, we’re treated to a few interviewees from each of the programs discussed. Highlights include: Marc Summers (Double Dare), Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Explains It All), Kenan Thompson (All That and Kenan and Kel), Lori Beth Denberg (All That), Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World of Alex Mack), Venus DeMilo Thomas (Salute Your Shorts), and many more. It’s legitimately a who’s who of my childhood.

Kenan Thompson, as interviewed in The Orange Years

The documentary works hard to provide the viewer with fun anecdotes from the sets, Nickelodeon history, entertaining memories from the cast members, and insight into just how these things came to fruition in the first place. The Orange Years prides itself on reigniting your love for your childhood and greeting you with familiar faces from the past. There are so many genuinely sweet moments with cast members talking about their time at Nickelodeon without reverting to the disingenuous and overly saccharine, as is often the case with attempts at igniting nostalgia. My only complaint is that I just wanted it to keep going. This is definitely a documentary that could lead to a more exhaustive product in the future. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed. You can see just how excited the interviewees are as they speak about their shows and you know that they could just keep going if the time was given.

The cast of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

One element of the documentary that I really appreciated was the discussion on diversity at Nickelodeon at this point in time. Geraldine Laybourne talks about how they wanted all children to feel represented on the network. All That was the standout program for this, as it featured a very racially diverse cast from the beginning, as well, as highlighting Hip-Hop and R&B musicians in their music showcase every episode. Looking back, I remember this being the first exposure I had to so many of the iconic singers and rappers that were featured. The documentary also reminds us of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee and just how effective it was at communicating real world news in an accessible way to children. The example they use is the AIDS special with guest Magic Johnson. Host Linda Ellerbee introduces Magic Johnson, who had recently been diagnosed as HIV-positive, but goes on to ask the children in the program to raise their hand if they too have HIV. Two young children raise their hands. One begins crying as she explains how she just wants people to view her as normal. There is a truly emotional and heart-wrenching moment where Magic Johnson explains to her that she is normal and comforts her. With the AIDS epidemic still raging, the importance of this discussion simply cannot be denied. Nick News gave a young face to HIV and humanized the epidemic to a generation who had simply seen those suffering from it vilified in the press.

Magic Johnson speaking with children about HIV on Nick News

The brief Nick News segment of the documentary is one of the few emotional moments of the film. The rest are there to make you think fondly of the shows loved by 90s kids. As we’re nearing the end of 2020, I can’t really think of a time when a fresh and loving nostalgia trip is more vital. For these 102 minutes, I was able to escape from the negativity and bitterness of the world. And I am confident that if you grew up during this era, that you too will welcome the escape to a time when, as the creator of The Adventures of Pete and Pete states, ice cream was the most important thing in the world. The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story is a very welcome and incredibly pleasant time capsule; one that could not have arrived at a better time.

The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story is available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray and is available to buy on iTunes.

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Review: Camp Twilight (2020)

Camp Twilight has been experiencing a string of missing campers recently. It’s nestled in a large state park. Naturally this is the place that Ms. Bloom (Sleepaway Camp icon Felissa Rose) and Mr. Warner (Barry Jay Minoff) decide to take their failing students for their extra credit class trip. Tensions between the students are high, as their phones are taken from them for the weekend and they are deep in some relationship drama. Will the weekend help them connect or will it be a blood bath?

One thing that really rang true here was Ms. Bloom’s enthusiasm as a field trip chaperone. I’ve been on many field trips where there have been parents and teachers that are just as excited as she is here. Felissa Rose is clearly just having a great time in this one and it shows. I also really loved her sundresses and her big sun hat (as shown below). Her performance definitely shines through and adds a layer of fun and humor to the project. The teenagers were a bit rough at first, for me, but I ended up liking some of them as the film progressed.

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Violence wise, the film is very limited in terms of blood. There are usually a few splashes of it with each death. But this isn’t a film that you’re watching to see high quality practical gore effects. One thing that is interesting, though, is the intimacy of some of the deaths. They give the actors a chance to really have some fun with their last moments on screen. That being said, a few of the students are far better than the others. There are also some fun references to famous horror films here, mainly a brief homage to Psycho and Misery. In terms of slasher character tropes, you’ve got the hapless park rangers, the randy students (and the randy teachers for that matter), and angsty drama that leads to murder. Honestly, there was less diversity in terms of character tropes than I was expecting. All three of the guys are jocks and two of the girls are considered “loose” by the guys, leaving the other girl to be the more virginal character.

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The film also features some well-executed drone shots that showcase the beautiful Florida terrain. The state park that they visit here looks really great. At about 45 minutes in, there’s a nice montage of the students and the faculty canoeing, speed-boating, and swimming that really highlights the location they chose. Aside from Felissa Rose, the setting is really the strongest element of the film. For horror fans, though, there are a bunch of fun cameos from the likes of Linnea Quigley, Vernon Wells, and Camille Keaton. 

Camp Twilight is not the best slasher film I’ve ever seen. But it is a fun time. It is very successful in the moments when Felissa Rose is on screen and while it does slow down a bit when focusing more on the students, it still features a decent climax and conclusion (no spoilers here). The build-up to the conclusion, however, can get a bit messy. There are moments that take you away from the main narrative for a bit, mainly in service of trying to make you guess who the killer is. The ending actually took a turn that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Overall, I had a fun time watching this one. If you’re looking for a slasher film that revels in the fun a bit more than in the kills, this is one to watch. Also, this is a must-watch if you’re a fan of Felissa Rose! It’s a film that you can just tell the cast and crew enjoyed making. While not scary, it was a fun watch. 

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Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 5. 

Camp Twilight is released digitally on November 1st. 

  • Directed By: Brandon Amelotte
  • Written By: Brandon Amelotte and Felissa Rose
  • Starring: Felissa Rose, Barry Jay Minoff, Brooklyn Haley, and Cougar MacDowall.
  • Running Time: 93 min.
  • Rating: Not Rated (at the time of review)
 
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Review: Love and Monsters (2020)

Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews, 2020) is the latest teen-targeted post-apocalyptic fare. I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t we done with that? Wasn’t the death of the Divergent franchise the nail in the coffin for the YA-focused movement? And I’ll be honest. I thought we were kind of done with it. I haven’t seen one that’s been really great in a bit. But, here we are. And once again, Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf, The Maze Runner series, American Assassin) is here to take us on a new post-apocalyptic journey.

I was actually a fan of all three of Wes Ball’s Maze Runner trilogy films, so I knew going in that O’Brien was more than capable of holding his own with this material. It turns out that by adding comedy and fun CGI-monster designs to the mix, we are treated to a film that takes a step beyond the popular YA trilogy. O’Brien’s Joel is your typical awkward and unsure twenty-something protagonist here, cooling off his intensity from the Maze Runner films. This is definitely the key to the success of this film. Joel is just such a likable protagonist. We are always rooting for him and we see him develop throughout the narrative of the film.

The film starts with the destruction of 90% of the population of Earth due to mutating creatures. Joel is living with his ragtag family of survivors, serving as the bunker’s cook. He is too nervous to go outside on any of their dangerous scavenging missions for food and he gets a reputation for not being the bravest person in the group. He is great at using the communications equipment though. We discover that he’s been communicating with Aimee (Jessica Henwick, Underwater, Iron Fist, and Game of Thrones), a girl that he had been dating prior to the end of the world. Once his bunker is breached by a monster, he decides to go out on his own and travel the 85 miles to her bunker to be with her.

The journey is one that will thoroughly test him and force him to prove that he is, in fact, capable and able to protect himself. Along the way, he meets Clyde (Michael Rooker, The Walking Dead, Mallrats, and Guardians of the Galaxy), young Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt, Avengers: Infinity War and Scoob), and a very good dog named Boy. His road is full of challenges, encounters with vicious monsters, and dangerous terrain.

Matthews has fused the perfect blend of comedy, action, and world building to create a film that is enjoyable but also heartfelt. It reminded me of the fun zombie-romance Warm Bodies (2013) in that regard. The monsters are threatening but not too terrifying for kids. Screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson give us naturalistic dialogue and provide the characters with charm and wit alongside the weapons they wield.

Overall, this is just a really fun film that distracted me from the state of the world right now. Which, if it can do that, I think it deserves some decent praise. It works perfectly well on its own, but also has the potential to create a new franchise from this original and engaging world. If you’re looking for a film to watch on another night in because of Covid-19, look no further. It’s definitely worth the watch and is definitely much better than some of the other alternatives right now. Looking at you Hubie Halloween.

Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Love and Monsters is currently showing in theatres that are open and is available to rent from Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, and Fandango.

  • Director: Michael Matthews
  • Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Ariana Greenblatt, and Dan Ewing.
  • Rated PG-13 for Action/Violence, Language, and Some Suggestive Material.
  • Running Time: 109 minutes.
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Revisiting the Cookie Woman: A Case For Halloween 5- The Revenge of Michael Myers

The Halloween franchise is one of the most oft-viewed of the classic slasher series. Every October, it only feels right to dust the films off and do an annual re-watch of films that I’ve seen so many times. While the films have been retconned twice at this point (originally with Halloween: H20 pretending that the films 4-6 simply don’t exist, and again with Halloween (2018) ignoring all but the first entry), the middle films often become overlooked. While I obviously love the Jamie Lee Curtis films the most, because Laurie Strode is the driving force behind the franchise for me, I also have some of the most fun watching these controversial entries.

John Carpenter’s Halloween is an undisputed horror masterpiece. There’s a reason that it has gone on to become the phenomenon that it has. With hardly any money at all, Carpenter was able to construct a timeless tale of terror that truly stands the test of time. The task of following that up with a number of sequels is a seemingly impossible one. None of the ten films that have followed have been able to live up to the stunning original. That’s not to say that I don’t love them. Because I truly do. This is my favorite of the horror franchises. Every year it’s like a comfortable visit with friends when you visit these strange characters. Also, I truly love the direction of the new trilogy of films produced by Blumhouse with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her iconic final girl role. It is honestly the first time that Michael Myers has legitimately felt like original Michael to me.

With this month’s slated Halloween Kills being pushed back to next October, now is the perfect time to revisit these films and reacquaint yourself with why they are so loved and so much fun. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers along with its sequel (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) are often viewed as the weak links in the Halloween chain. It should be obvious to fans that Halloween: Resurrection is the true disaster here, so why punish these earlier films so harshly? Also, I’m one of the folks who legitimately hates the Rob Zombie directed remake duo, so I won’t be acknowledging them here.

Let’s get to the real focus: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Released on October 13th 1989, it would prove to be the weakest performing of the franchise at that point in time, and would go on to even be out-performed by Halloween 6. Directed by Swiss/French director Dominique Othenin-Girard, the film had a troubled production due to many script issues and being forced into production without a final draft. Anyone who has seen the new Fantastic Four remake, Star Wars’ Solo origin film, and more, knows that studio interference and lack of faith in the filmmaker rarely results in a polished and flawless product. Many fans are quick to admit that Halloween 5 is clearly not their favorite, especially with how it disregards the successful storyline of its predecessor. Othenin-Girard’s film chose to tread new ground and break away from the mold a bit.

In one of the documentaries that focus on the making of this particular film, multiple members of the cast and crew of the film speak about how the director’s European film style makes its way into the film. And when looking at it, narratively you can see how the film steps away from the traditional mold of the 80s slasher film. We see the final girl from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Rachel Carruthers (Ellie Cornell) killed incredibly early in this film to be replaced by her friend Tina Williams (Wendy Foxworth). This was a controversial choice as fans really connected with the Rachel character and were rooting for her and her adopted sister Jamie (Danielle Harris), the daughter of Laurie Strode and niece of Michael Myers. But instead of simply focusing on Tina, Halloween 5 is really Jamie’s story and she becomes the final girl while battling her evil uncle.

Of the cliques of Halloween franchise teen victims, I truly feel that this bunch is the most enjoyable, second only to Laurie and her original friends. Are they the best actors of the series? Probably not. Are they given strong character arcs? No, with the exception of Tina. Many franchise fans brush Wendy Foxworth’s Tina off as simply another annoying victim of Michael’s. I think that is unfair and doesn’t give the character the respect she deserves. Yes, she blurts out odd dialogue on occasion that is definitely not the best. Yes, she has bad taste in boyfriends. But what Halloween character doesn’t? Of all of Michael’s victims, Tina is given a really odd and parental role in this film. With the absence of Rachel, Tina becomes the primary caregiver of Jamie, who is still mute and traumatized from her encounter with Michael in the previous film.

In a world of sex-obsessed characters, Tina cares more about Jamie than physical intimacy with her boyfriend Mikey, a car-obsessed jackass. Through Jamie’s odd psychological connection with her uncle, she is able to see that Tina is in danger after he has killed her boyfriend. Myers dons the mask that Tina bought for Mikey and drives his car to pick her up. This is honestly one of the creepier scenes in this part of the franchise. Michael is wearing a particularly creepy mask in the driver’s seat of the car and adds to the tension by tightly gripping the steering wheel and shooting creepy looks to Tina. Eventually the sound of Michael’s gloves on the steering wheel and a side-glance seem to warn Tina that something isn’t right. She states that she wants to stop at the gas station. This action, along with Jamie sensing where the car is, saves Tina’s life. While many fans brush Tina off as a stupid character, I think this moment proves that she is definitely more capable than some of her counterparts. There are multiple moments in the film where we see Tina sensing that something isn’t right. She feels Michael’s eyes on her when he is watching her leave Rachel’s house at the beginning of the film. She knows something is wrong in the barn at the farm party before discovering the dead bodies of her friends. To that end, however, she does foolishly decide to leave Jamie and go to the farm party, though. So, there are definitely limits here. However, I maintain that she exhibits more thought than the majority of Michael’s victims throughout the franchise.

 

Another point of contention with the fans of the franchise is the buffoonish cops that are entrusted with protecting the city of Haddonfield in this film. They are definitely two of the most incapable law enforcement agents in film that I can think of. Not only do they continually just toss unfunny jokes and remarks back and forth, but they are also accompanied with literal honking horn and whistle sound effects. This is something that I just find incredibly funny because of how severely unfunny it is. Say what you will, but I feel like it only adds to the entertaining vibes that this film delivers.

Is it scary? Absolutely not. Does it attempt to expand on the mythology of the franchise of the fourth film? Definitely not. But what it does do is give us a film where you can clearly tell the cast was having a really fun time making it. And the real-life relationships between the actors really come across in the film. Is it messy? Obviously. But that does not mean it is lacking any merit. We have another great and increasingly deranged performance from veteran Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, a strong performance by Danielle Harris who is forced to express emotions without any words for the majority of the film, and a respectable replacement for Rachel in Tina, who literally and willingly gives her life to save Jamie. Also, it would be a shame to not mention Jamie’s awkward friend Billy who likes cookies and somehow can understand her non-sign language gestures.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is a hot mess of a film. Narratively, it is all over the place. It strays from the format of the 80s slasher. It drifts off in random tangents at times. It removes the voice of the main character. There are so many questions raised, like did Michael really live in the hut with that homeless guy for a whole year and then just kill him after being fed and taken care of for that lengthy period of time? Even for Michael, that’s pretty harsh. In spite of (and because of) the craziness, the film stands out as one of the franchise’s fun entries. The mask looks better than in 4, Michael wields a scythe for a bit, Loomis loses more of his mind, Tina dances a lot, and Jamie and Billy have countless awkward moments with each other. All in all, Halloween 5, a film that I used to brush off as a weak entry in my favorite franchise, has become one that I truly enjoy watching, even more so than 4.

It’s time to forget about petty reasons for hating on this film. Is it great? No. But is it just a fun watch? Absolutely. And it’s one of the highlights of the franchise re-watch for me. So, instead of skipping over these middle entries in the franchise, I challenge you to really give them a go. You know what you’re in for. And they really help set the mood for fall and for Halloween in general.

Until next time, folks!

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A Quarantined Halloween: How Letterboxd’s Hooptober Is Salvaging The Spooky Spirit

It’s now officially spooky season, everyone! With restrictions on gatherings and people not feeling comfortable going out, it’s really easy to simply think that Halloween has been cancelled this year. While that may pertain to costume parties and fun social activities like that, Halloween can live on in other ways. Members of one particular social media outlet are making sure that Halloween is just as spectacular this year as it always has been.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)

Letterboxd is a film social media app where you can log the films you watch, review them, see what your friends are watching, and make new friends in the film community that have similar interests. I’ve been using Letterboxd for four years now to simply log the films that I watch, just to keep track as I watch so many. During quarantine this year, I decided to look further into the social elements of the app and discovered a really rich and excited horror film community that I am now a part of.

For 27 consecutive months now, Letterboxd has been the home of what is called the “Horror Hunt.” For this monthly event, all you need to do is follow the guidelines for that particular month and pick one horror film to watch each day. This obviously isn’t an activity that is possible for everyone, as that is a lot of movie watching, but there are plenty of folks on there that slowly get to their lists and spread them out over a couple of months or more. My first experience with Horror Hunt was in August this year. I watched 31 films in 31 days, and I loved every minute of it. Commenting on the concept of the horror hunt challenge, Letterboxd member Emperor Cupcake states, “It motivates me to watch a film every day, including some that have been on my watchlist for years.” Many Letterboxd members have film watchlists that include well over 1,000 films. Emperor Cupcake continues, “I don’t really know anyone into horror in real life, so it’s nice having an online community of like-minded folks.” Letterboxd provides a great outlet for genre enthusiasts to connect with similar fans who can discuss films they love and also find new films that they haven’t even heard of before. 

In Fabric (Peter Stickland, 2018)

In searching through Letterboxd, it is quite clear that the horror community is the most active and engaged with these challenges. There are other challenges but many of them include all genres or focus on periods in film history. Letterboxd member Jon Ursenbach is no stranger to Letterboxd challenges. Ursenbach writes, “This coming Hooptober is going to be my third year participating in it, but beyond that I’ve made a couple monthly horror challenges as well as a Quarantine Staycation Film Festival I ran earlier this year that had me watching 15 Godzilla films and 10 Terminator ripoffs (sourced from a list I’ve been curating) over 3 days. Later this month, in lieu of this year’s Fantastic Fest being cancelled, I’m also doing an Ordinary Fest where I watch 40 films (over 8 days) that’ve run at past Fantastic Fest years.” Many of the challenges were developed to help people get through quarantine while stuck at home.

The most popular of the horror film challenges is called “Hooptober” after iconic horror filmmaker Tobe Hooper. Created by a Letterboxd member known as Cinemonster, Hooptober is currently about to begin its seventh year. To hear Cinemonster talk about the origins of Hooptober and how it has evolved over the years, give a listen to The Podcast Macabre’s interview with him here

Some of the criteria. in the various horror challenges can be kind of difficult, sending members on lengthier searches for films that fit the challenge. When asked what one of the more difficult challenges has been, Emperor Cupcake states, “When I have to watch something terrible (like The Bye Bye Man (Stacey Title, 2017), but at least I usually get a good review out of it.” On the September Horror Hunt, we were asked to watch one of the lowest ranked horror films on Letterboxd, Mine ended up being I Know Who Killed Me (Chris Sivertson, 2007) the Lindsay Lohan vehicle where she plays a stripper who loses a leg and a hand to a sadistic abductor. Ursenbach writes, “This year’s August Horror Hunt had a criteria that was “Find a horror movie with positive LGBTQ+ representation and then watch it!” and it was easily the most difficult criteria I’ve faced since I started doing challenges three years ago. I ultimately settled on Lyle (Stewart Thorndike, 2014), after browsing some other user lists that were participating in the challenge, but that was after spending what seemed like hours trying to narrow down films that were LGBTQ+ positive. Just like Black horror seems to be having a resurgence lately, I hope that queer horror can as well at some point because they’re unfortunately underrepresented right now.”

I Know Who Killed Me (Chris Sivertson, 2007)

So what exactly do you have to do if you want to participate in this year’s Hooptober? First, simply getting a Letterboxd account will allow you to make your own list. But after that, it’s really up to you. The criteria for the event are pretty open, leaving you the chance to select as many or as few films as you want to complete the challenge. In his original post for the event, Cinemonster notes that the films you select can check off multiple boxes.

You’ll Need:

  • Films from SIX countries
  • Films from SIX decades
  • SEVEN films that are the 2nd film in their horror franchise (i.e. Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981), Friday the 13th: Part II (Miner, 1981), etc.)
  • FOUR films from the body horror sub-genre
  • TWO horror films released in 2020
  • THREE disease-based films (quite timely!)
  • The highest rated horror film from the 1950s that you haven’t seen and can access
  • ONE film that is set in entirely one location
  • ONE invisible person film
  • ONE film that doesn’t include Dracula from the classic Hammer horror film studio
  • TWO films from a Black director or with a predominantly Black cast or lead actor
  • ONE film with a movie theatre in it
  • And finally, ONE Tobe Hooper film

I was able to condense my list down to 23 films, as many of the criteria overlapped. Some members have lists going well past 30 films. Hooptober officially begins on September 15th, as many people are busy and simply can’t watch a horror film every day, giving them an extra 15 days in addition to the month of October to watch all of their films. They must be watched by 11:59 PM on October 31st, however.

For his second year in a row, Jon Ursenbach is adding a charitable donation element to his Hooptober. He writes, “Since moving back to Oakland last year, I had been looking for a good way to help out with the struggling community and class divide out here and decided ‘Hey I’m going to be doing Hooptober 6 anyways, why not put it to a good cause?’ I ended up donating a total of $550 to a local food bank, and it felt really great to help out a local organization while also discovering something like Bones (Ernest R. Dickerson, 2001) and Petey Wheatstraw (Cliff Roquemore, 1977) at the same time. I’m doing the same again this year, again donating $10 for each film I complete, for People’s Breakfast Oakland because they help a lot of the same community here that’s really struggling right now. If I can help them out by finally getting around to seeing Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983), why not? As for sourcing donations, I generally just tell people if they’d like to help out to donate directly to the organization and let me know on my Hooptober 7 list or a DM on Twitter so I can keep track for future lists.” Other Letterboxd members have stated that they’ll also be donating for each film that they view.

Bones (Ernest R. Dickerson, 2001)

To wrap this up, here are some of these Letterboxd members’ films suggestions:

Emperor Cupcake: “Lips of Blood (Jean Rollin, 1975) which got me into Jean Rollins’ work!”

Jon Ursenbach: “Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974), Eaten Alive (Hooper, 1976). [It’s] a film so bathed in red hues and sweat that you feel you’re watching an actual nightmare. I’m a big Tobe Hooper fan with his work on the aforementioned TCSM, but had never heard of Eaten Alive before, just the other Eaten Alive! (Umberto Lenzim, 1980). It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi, so if you haven’t seen it add it to your Hooptober list while you still can. And stay away from swamp hotels while you’re at it.”

And to close, my suggestion is Silver Bullet (Daniel Attias, 1985) which features a very enthusiastic Gary Busey and a young Corey Haim in addition to the original Anne of Green Gables, Megan Fellows, battling a werewolf in their small town.

Click HERE to support People’s Breakfast Oakland!

And HERE to get started your very own Hooptober line-up!

Until next time, folks!

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Blood Reds and Oceanic Blues: Looking at Color in Film

Film is a medium that combines so many elements to present one work to the viewer. It’s made of images, sound (or lack of sound), movement, color, performance, and so much more. Looking more in-depth at color in film proves that the variances in pigment on screen yield emotional responses and resonate with the themes of the movie. I’ve always been a fan of really dramatic instances of color that set films apart from standard and bland Hollywood fare. That’s not to say that blockbuster films can’t have incredibly colorful visual components, however. It’s just not usually the focal point of your average Fast and Furious vehicle. I love when filmmakers really attempt to connect the viewer to the characters through specific color palettes. It’s details like this that, while clearly visible, can often go unnoticed by someone casually viewing a movie.

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

When you think of color in film, Amélie is generally a great jumping off point. The palette of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 romantic comedy is one of lush greens, vibrant reds, and calming yellows. This is the definition of a feel-good film and the color in the images only adds a layer of calm and beauty. Paris is shown as this magically surreal world where Amélie helps those around her, solves mysteries, and falls in love. Romance is paired with awkwardness and tender self-revelation as she discovers herself through her desire to learn more about the world around her.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

I’m about to hit you with a pretty unpopular opinion. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is my favorite Wes Anderson film. I can’t even really explain why. It’s a hot mess. But for some reason, this one always hits me in a more emotional way than any of his other films, which I love. One thing that does stand out here is his use of more vibrant and bold colors. Anderson is usually one of the first filmmakers that pops up when discussing color in film, and that’s because each of his films feature very dramatic and calculated color to accompany the feel of each work. The Life Aquatic uses bright blues, soft greens, strong yellows, and bold reds to accompany the maritime surroundings and the decaying ship the characters live on. Like his other work, this film ties its use of color to the thematic content, as well. Passions run high throughout the entire film as romances bloom and die, pirates attack, familial relationships are challenged, and the sea creatures are examined with stunning stop-motion images.

Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrman, 2001)

Chicago (Marshall, 2002) is often credited with rejuvenating the modern Hollywood musical. But I think that credit must be paid to Baz Luhrman’s lush pop music production of Moulin Rouge! Luhrman’s films are all known for their spectacular production design. Romeo + Juliet (1996) brought Shakespeare’s tragedy up to date with tropical shirts and a stellar pop soundtrack. Moulin Rouge! fuses its romantic tragedy with images so colorful and vibrant that it’s nearly impossible to catch everything. Luhrman’s frenzy of a film delivers one beautiful moment after another, capturing the love of Christian and Satine in nearly every color imaginable. This is a film meant to soak in the look and feel of the period while you listen to fun music being played.

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikawski, 2018)

Going against the rest of the films here, Cold War tells its tragically romantic tale in a 1.33 aspect ratio with stunningly beautiful black and white images. With the A24 crowd proving that black and white films in classic aspect ratios can be successful (looking at you, The Lighthouse), contemporary B&W films are becoming more and more visible. While a lot of this can often be linked with hipster film trends, Cold War proves that it is the genuine article. This is a film that was truly meant to look this way. It was my favorite film of 2018 and continues to be just as emotionally effective for me. That is in no small part because of the spectacular cinematography. With such a small image, the lingering moments with these characters in these stark spaces add an extra punch. If you haven’t seen Cold War and are into depressing films that make you feel all of the emotions while being gobsmacked at just how beautiful the film looks, this one is definitely for you.

Three Colors Trilogy (Krysztof Kieślowski, 1993-1994)

With each of the three films being named after one of the three colors of the French flag, symbolizing the political ideals of the French Republic: liberty, equality, and fraternity. All three of these films are outright masterpieces, with Kieślowski giving each film it’s own thematic narrative while allowing the protagonists to cross over in the background of the other films. As the titles suggest, Blue (1993), White (1994), and Red (1994) all feature their titular color heavily in the aesthetic of their film. Blue and Red remain the most effective for me of the trilogy, but I love all three. If you’re looking for three films to make you feel a wave of emotions and to see incredibly beautiful visuals accompanying these themes, this is the trilogy for you.

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Spike Lee’s film could not be more relevant for the climate of the US at this point in time. This is one of those films that somehow has managed to become, tragically, more relevant as time has passed. The messages of how to counter hate in this film are driven by powerful quotes from Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and Spike Lee molds their perspectives together to create a really impactful message for the viewer. While the message about combating racism is clearly the main takeaway from this film, the color palette is critical in assisting Lee with hitting that message home. Red is a color that has always been used to convey passion, ranging from anger to love to desire. Here it’s used to convey all three, in addition to the rising heat in the neighborhood due to the aggressive heat wave in New York City.

Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004)

Paying tribute to the kung fu movies he grew up watching, Kill Bill incorporates a very colorful palette that includes over-the-top reds for the many explosive instances of blood spray, blues in the Bride’s stunningly beautiful showdown with O-Ren Ishii, and yellows as in the Bride’s Bruce Lee-inspired jumpsuit as she slays her way through the Crazy 88.

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

For a very dry post-apocalyptic world, Mad Max: Fury Road features stunningly colorful sequences to counter the many instances of sand and dirt. The sandstorm that Furiosa drives through highlights explosive bursts of color to accentuate the moment with tension. The nighttime sequences are bathed in a stunning blue. Overall, Miller uses color so effectively here, especially in comparison to his earlier films in the series, which rely mainly on sand-colored aesthetics.

Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

This controversial folk-horror film is one that features aggressively bright colors to tell its increasingly dark story. Most horror films utilize darkness to create moody atmospheres to scare the viewer, like Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018). Aster goes the complete opposite direction here, with nearly all of Midsommar taking place in the vibrantly beautiful and colorful Swedish countryside. It’s hard to imagine something horrific happening when the space is filled to the brim with vast numbers of colorful flowers, maypoles, and lush green grass. That’s one thing that sets Midsommar apart from the rest, not to mention the graphic and disturbing images that accompany the colors.

As these films show, color is used to capture themes, highlight emotions, and signal meaning to the viewer, sometimes warning them of things to come. While it may seem like a very simple thing, color is critically important to production design, and these are just a few films that prove just how effective it, or the extreme lack of color, can be.

Until next time, folks!

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A Look at the DC Animated Movie Universe (Or How 75-Minute Animated Films Build Better Characters than 3 Hour Live-Action Epics)

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you watch 15 animated DC films? To be honest, I don’t really have an answer to that question. But over the past few weeks, I have. And to counter that further, I’m glad that I did. Everyone knows that the current state of live-action DC superhero films is pretty messy. With Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017), Aquaman (Wan, 2018), Shazam (Sandberg, 2019) and Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Yan, 2020) being the exceptions, Zack Snyder’s competitor to the Marvel universe is chock full of weak characterization, poorly executed CGI villains that are mainly drawing the heroes to over-the-top lasers shooting up towards the sky climaxes. It’s because of this that the format of the animated universe is so successful.

While their live-action counterparts deal heavily with grandiose and tiresome CGI battles, the animated films focus on character-driven moments that really help the viewer understand the heroes fighting these battles. Did you like some of the characters in Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016) but were shocked at just how bad that film was and how it rewarded no time to anyone outside of the Will Smith/Margot Robbie/Jared Leto drama? Well, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (Liu, 2018) somehow manages to give an absurd level of characterization and development to the anti-heroes without the Hot Topic merchandising focal points. This applies to nearly all of the fifteen animated films in this series.

As a kid, Batman: The Animated Series was one of my absolute favorite things. This was a series that gave my favorite hero adult storylines that were still accessible to children. The creators knew that talking down to kids was not the way to go and made sure that these cartoons were elegant, well-acted, superbly drawn, and were guaranteed to stand the test of time. That vibe has carried over into this series of films. DC has released over forty animated films since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Radomski and Timm, 1993). This piece is focusing on what DC has coined the DC Animated Movie Universe which ran from 2013-2020. While the digital animation may not be as appealing as the classic hand-drawn style of Batman: The Animated Series, the films are still well-acted and the narratives are concise and effective.

This is a long journey, so I’m listing them in order below. Naturally, there are a few weak points thrown in, but overall, the majority of these films were very entertaining and stayed true to the nature of the characters. A lot of people may find that they are not always 100% faithful to their New 52 storylines, but as I have not read that many of the comics, I honestly didn’t care. They were entertaining to me, and that was really all that mattered. If that doesn’t appeal to you, now might be the time to stop reading.

Here we go:

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (Oliva, 2013)

This comic event was a huge deal. This was one of the few that I actually had read. This 50-something issue event spanned multiple comic titles and led to the beginning of the New 52 era, where DC re-created each of the superhero narratives. This film deals with the consequences of time travel and how Barry Allen as The Flash must come to terms with his tragic past to ensure the future of the world. This film really simplified the story of the comics, but it had to, really. There simply is no way to pack all of that information into one film. Some people will be mad about that, but I still thought the film was well-done. The Flash working alongside Thomas Wayne as Batman was really great.

Justice League: War (Oliva, 2014)

With the end of The Flashpoint Paradox serving as a clean slate, War sees the origin stories of many of the classic DC heroes. This one focuses on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Shazam, and Cyborg teaming up for the very first time (in this timeline) to protect Earth from Darkseid (a New God supervillain). I have to say, Sean Astin as Shazam in this series is one of my favorite casting decisions. He’s perfect.

Son of Batman (Spaulding, 2014)

This was the film that I thought would lose my interest a bit. The idea of Batman having a child with Talia al Ghul just seemed kind of odd to me. But I have to say, Damian Wayne is fascinating. Obsessed with violence and exacting bloody vengeance is Damian’s method as the new Robin. Some may not like the legitimate father/son dynamic between this new Robin and Batman, but I think it worked incredibly well, and set up some fun banter between Damian and Nightwing (former Robin, Dick Grayson). This is the beginning of several Batman films that take the attention away from the main storyline of the Justice League.

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (Spaulding, 2015)

You might have noticed that Aquaman was missing from the inciting battle against Darkseid. That’s because they give him his own origin story film here. This features several plot similarities to James Wan’s Aquaman film. I really enjoyed that film, as well. But this one works very well on its own merits. For one thing, animation proves to be more effective for showcasing underwater movement than the CGI hair movement in the live-action film.

Batman vs. Robin (Oliva, 2015)

This film pits Batman against Robin as they quarrel over Batman’s non-lethal moral code. It also incorporates the well-received Court of Owls story from the New 52 comics, which I have actually read. It is altered here to fit into this plot, but again, I wasn’t really bothered. The father/son dynamic works well with that story, and I found everything very enjoyable.

Batman: Bad Blood (Oliva, 2016)

Yep, two Batman side adventures back-to-back. Some viewers might not be thrilled about that, but I legitimately love how the characters are presented here, so I wanted more and more of them. This film features the introduction of Batwoman and the new Bat family’s fight against Damian’s mother Talia’s attempt to destroy Gotham.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (Liu, 2016)

Now, back to the main thread of the storyline. This film focuses on Damian joining forces with the Teen Titans to stop Raven’s demon father Trigon. After Damian is seen to be reckless when the Justice League first battles Trigon’s minons, Batman sends him to work with the Titans. I was also expecting to not like this one very much, as I have no experience with the Titans and was worried that this would be the point where the franchise began to target younger audiences instead. Definitely not the case. This film is just as adult and compelling as the others. The Titans are each given great depth and moments of characterization so we really get the chance to enjoy their combined efforts.

Justice League Dark (Oliva, 2017)

Oooohhhhh. Now we’ve got an R-rated film. Exciting. This film was very enjoyable. We get some darker narrative moments as Batman and the gang are joined by John Constantine (who is voiced by Matt Ryan from the cancelled, but now revived television series). We see how magic plays a big part in the superhero universe here and how it will impact things later. This one was a great time!

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (Liu, 2017)

This one was not my favorite in the series, but does feature some fun moments. At first I was really excited about the idea of Christina Ricci in the role of Terra (who, you guessed it, has the ability to terraform her surroundings), but her character was actually pretty annoying, and oddly inappropriate with Deathstroke . It’s got a crazy religious cult, fun Damian and Titans banter and drama, and more.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (Liu, 2018)

If there is one film that you can actively compare to the live-action DC universe and notice a VAST improvement in the animated film, it’s this one. The plots, thankfully, are nothing alike. It’s incredible to think that David Ayer was incapable of developing any believable banter and chemistry between his crew of well-regarded actors in the overly long live-action film, while this 86 minute film delves deep into each character and provides them the room to breathe and really connect and react to every other member of the Suicide Squad. Also, I really love Vanessa Williams as Amanda Waller, who somehow manages to provide more menace through a purely vocal performance than Viola Davis did in her incredibly monotoned, dry, and clearly paycheck-driven turn in the Ayer film. The absence of the Joker here is refreshing, as well. We see Harley as her own individual character instead of simply a reaction to the male characters, and hyper-sexualized male gaze in the live-action film. That being said, this R-rated animated feature is the one film in the series that features more direct sexuality. This is the film where you really start to notice how the series is beginning to really go for it. Nothing is held back here, as the film is frank, violent, but also pretty deep. Also, Christian Slater is really great as Deadshot.

The Death of Superman (Liu, 2018)/Reign of the Supermen (Liu, 2019)

This set of films was also combined into the 2 hr. 45 min. version called The Death and Return of Superman, which was how I watched it. This narrative focuses on Doomsday, an evil creation of Darkseid, and how he overpowers Superman, seemingly killing him. This was explored in a hyper-brief segment in Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Snyder included this legitimate threat as a final act brief conflict, when it clearly needs to be showcased as its own feature. These two films pack all of the emotional impact that Snyder was unable to convey in his terrible film. I said it, and I meant it. This longer version of both films was incredibly effective and well-made. I remember when it was released, they had a Fathom Event release in theatres, and now I really wish I had gone.

Batman: Hush (Copeland, 2019)

This one is kind of interesting. For some reason, they decided to adapt an older Batman story into this clearly New 52-focused series. As a result, you have a film that comic fans will mostly not like. Personally, I have never read the Hush comic, so I have nothing to really compare this story to. I know that people hate this one. But as a piece in this Batman-heavy series, I think it still works. I found it pretty enjoyable. It definitely isn’t as effective as the Batman and Robin stories that we get earlier in the series, though.

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (Liu and Copeland, 2019)

It’s hard to believe that they waited until the penultimate film to focus on Wonder Woman. Rosario Dawson, who has voiced the title character since Throne of Atlantis does an excellent job at creating depth in the role. This film was an exciting excursion into the world of Wonder Woman, who we finally get to see on her own without the Justice League.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Peters and Sotta, 2020)

It’s all been leading up to this: the ultimate battle with Darkseid. The narrative threads have all been weaving together to build up to this climactic event. We’ve got the Justice League teaming up with the Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad. This was one film that I wish was longer. The story here is so epic and I would have really loved more time with the team here as the heroes and anti-heroes all collide. It proves to be a great bookend piece to Flashpoint Paradox and really ends the series nicely. Also, it does not shy away from the gritty and dark reality of the world of the series.

There you have it. Fifteen superhero films made in seven years. This may seem like a hefty commitment, and it definitely is a lot to watch. I looked at it as one lengthy season of an adult-oriented Justice League. I think if you do the same, you’ll find that these films really do build on each other to construct a really immersive narrative. It’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to maintain the majority of the voice actors for all of the films following Flashpoint Paradox. I don’t know. I’ve read online that some people really didn’t like some of these films, and I understand that many won’t because they shift away from the comics sometimes. But when you look at them as one cohesive whole, they are drastically more effective at telling a story than their live-action counterparts. Not only is the lengthy narrative stronger, the characterizations are better, the chemistry between the characters is realistic and enjoyable, and they somehow strike a perfect balance between fun and super gritty. Overall, I loved every minute of it. These films were great distractions for me during this really stressful time and if you watch them, I think that you may enjoy them too.

Until next time, folks!

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Black Films To Watch (That Aren’t White Savior Narratives)

When looking at Netflix today, Tate Taylor’s popular film The Help (2011) was in the Top 10. To a lot of people this will make sense. It’s a film that multiple age groups have enjoyed and they feel good when they watch it. I’ve seen countless people post the image of Viola Davis comforting the child version of Emma Stone’s character in the film by saying “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” While that is a positive message that everyone can use to boost themselves up, the film is a symptom of a long and tired trope in Hollywood: the white savior film.

In talking about films that deal with race, some of the first films that white people will bring up are films like The Help, Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford, 1989), and now Green Book (Farrelly, 2018). This is very troubling. What these films have in common is their need to share the Black experience through the white perspective. Each of these films has a main character that is white and through their experiences with the Black people in the films, we see them develop and serve as the “woke” white person who no longer sees race as a barrier to friendship. These films continue to be made where white people become friends with Black people IN SPITE of their being black. The incredible actress Viola Davis has even gone on record for saying that Black voices were not heard in The Help. And when you watch that film, it is incredibly true. The focal point in this battle against racism is the white Emma Stone stepping in to help the Black maids who can’t stand up for themselves until she makes it accessible for them.

You might be asking, why is it a bad thing to show friendship between white and Black people? Technically, it’s not. It’s a great thing. We should be seeing all sorts of diverse friendships in film. The problem lies in the filmmaker and the audience members. These films serve as a point of validation for both. Much like the oft-used expression, “I have Black friends, I can’t be racist,” people can justify themselves by saying, “I went and saw Green Book this weekend.” And when they say that phrase, it carries a cache of social ideology, hinting to their friends that they are, in fact, not racist. This theme of overcoming racism to become friendly is such an outdated and frankly offensive message to be sending at this point in US history. With the Black Lives Matter movement being active for such a long time, white audiences need to be seeing Black narratives told from the Black perspective, not a preachy film made by and for white people to make themselves feel better. In understanding these experiences, white audiences will begin to become conscious of the silenced voices that have paved the way for the Black Lives Matter movement, and will get a tiny insight into the Black experience.

For me, film has always been my favorite way to gain insight into a culture. With films made within that culture, you get access to narratives that you don’t get in white cinema, you get music made within the culture, and so much more. For two hours, you are seeing a new perspective. As a white man, it’s very easy for me to see white narratives play out in literally every film that comes to the local movie theatre. That privilege is not given to any other race. People of color are given secondary characters to connect with or one leading actor in a predominantly white cast.

So, with The Help trending on Netflix, I felt the need to highlight some films that feature Black narratives from the Black perspective. If you’re wanting to learn about Black culture, go to the source, not a white-washed Hollywood film that erases the Black voices from the narrative.

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

The importance of this single film cannot be overlooked. The fact that this film is 31 years old and somehow is even more relevant today than it was in the 80s is very telling. The film comments on protesting racism, highlighting the history of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. If you’re going to watch one film to understand the boiling point of the cultural moment that we currently in, give this one a go. It showcases how little jabs of racism build up to a larger scale and how it affects a Black community, while also showing how the white Italian-Americans contribute to it. Do The Right Thing is an absolute must-watch.

Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000)

This film focuses on Black representation in media. We watched it in my Minorities in Film class in college and it has always stuck with me. It’s classified as a comedy on IMDB, and while it does have comedic elements, it also is just a striking blow at the racism that is inherently visible in mainstream US culture. It features great performances from both Damon Wayons and Jada Pinkett Smith, as well.

Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016)

The film that beat La La Land out for Best Picture is such a vital and rare look into queer Black masculinity. This is an identity that is so rarely explored in mainstream film. Barry Jenkins delivers one of the most beautifully shot and meaningful stories of journeying from childhood to adolescence to adulthood in this masterpiece. We see the same character grow through the film known as Little as a child, Chiron as a teenager, and simply Black as an adult. This feeds into the point that so many protestors have been making with their signs at marches, “When do I go from being cute to a threat?” Jenkins showcases this by having Black portrayed by the muscular and intimidating Trevante Rhodes. This characterization is countered by the quiet and really tender performances by both younger actors. The moment when Black is reacquainted with his former love interest proves that this mask is just an act to conceal his gay identity, however.  I can’t stress enough how great and important this film is.

Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000)

Many would categorize this as a simple romantic comedy, which it definitely does feature many of the elements of that genre. But it is also more authentic and genuine than the candy-coated films that we usually get. We see the complicated relationship between Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) and their shared love of basketball. The film also deals with very gendered elements of Black women in a sport that is targeted towards men. Definitely a less intense watch than some of the other films on this list, but it is a very fun and emotional film that will satisfy anyone that likes a good romance.

Barbershop (Tim Story, 2002) and Beauty Shop (Bille Woodfruff, 2005)

The Barbershop series is simply a trilogy of fun films with a Queen Latifah headed spin-off. All four films feature great ensemble casts that keep the laughs coming throughout and highlight simple everyday moments within these communities. If you’re looking for a fun time look no further.

BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

One of Lee’s more recent films, BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington), the first Black detective in 1970s Colorado Springs, who attempts to expose the KKK group in town. This film highlights racism within the police system, the KKK itself, and how Black protestors were continuing to fight for equality. The film was released a year after the infamous “Unite the Right” protests, i.e. the ones with the Tiki torches, and proves that the point that the Black community has been fighting the same fight for such a long time. Definitely a must-watch.

Lemonade (Beyoncé, 2016)

This simply couldn’t not be on this list. Many people have listened to this important album, but a lot aren’t aware that there is a 45-minute film made of the connecting music videos. This experimental piece highlights Beyoncé’s talent for combining music and visuals. The film incorporates stunning images of Black history, protest, and Beyoncé’s inclusion of so many different presentations of Black female identities.

The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)

This film serves as the first feature film directed by a Black lesbian woman. It is a semi-autobiographical story as Cheryl plays herself making a film about a black actress from the 1930s who is modeled after Hattie McDaniel who played Mammie in Gone With The Wind. It is a comment on how Black women are erased from film history and the ones that do remain are in racist stereotype roles. It goes on to point out that queer Black women have had no space in film history, at all. This thought-provoking film is definitely worth a watch!

Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018)

For my last film on this list, I’m including this very interesting and strange film. Sorry to Bother You is a very bizarre sci-fi film that deals with race and a new concept of futuristic slavery. I won’t spoil anything from this one, because it is just such a highly original and well-made film. I’m so excited to see what Boots Riley does next. It features great performances by LaKeith Stanfield (who is one of my favorite current actors), Tessa Thompson, and Armie Hammer. If you’re wanting something weird and meaningful, this definitely fits the bill.

So, there you go. There are 12 films that you can watch instead of The Help that feature authentic Black voices and narratives instead of a white perspective on the Black experience. This list is meant to give white people a jumping off point into Black cinema, which is full to the brim of great films and filmmakers that are sadly not given the spotlight that they deserve.

Black Lives Matter!

Until next time!

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The Problem With Guilty Pleasure Movies

When you think of the movies that you like the most, which films immediately come to mind? Is it the Oscar-nominated dramas that make you think and feel complex emotions for a two-hour period? How about the action films that you’re embarrassed to say that you’ve seen the entire franchise and enjoy each new entry (hello, Fast and Furious!)? Maybe the romantic comedies that you watched growing up with friends and family that created formative and nostalgic memories for you that you relive each time you watch them? Or maybe it’s just the movies that scare the shit out of you? For me it’s a nice mix of all of the above.

The concept of the guilty pleasure is something that I think kind of demeans the enjoyment that we get from them. What exactly is making us feel guilty about re-watching Dirty Dancing (Ardolino, 1987) or Clueless (Heckerling, 1995) for the umpteenth time? Why the hell should it bother us that we’ve seen all eight Fast and Furious movies, and also Hobbs and Shaw (Leitch, 2019)? This is something that has always bothered me. Getting a degree in film production and film studies can really make you feel a bit self-conscious about the films that you secretly enjoy. I love international film and challenging thought-provoking cinema as much as the next person, but there are times when I just want to sit there and watch Elizabeth Shue sing the “Babysitting Blues” in the bar in Adventures in Babysitting (Columbus, 1987).

So, here is a list of films that fill that space for me. Much like people have pizza and macaroni and cheese as their comfort foods, these are my comfort films. I’m done thinking of them as guilty pleasures, because there is no guilt associated with them for me. If someone judges you for liking films that make you feel good, maybe you shouldn’t be friends with them?

Adventures in Babysitting (Columbus, 1987)

For me, this film goes back to around 1997 when I had watched it on one of the free Disney Channel weekends, and I liked it so much that my parents bought me the VHS at K-Mart. My friend Abby, who lived down the street from me at the time, and I watched this so many times in my basement. It’s chock full of nostalgia for me. You’ve got big-haired Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) with her oversized coat and epic 80s dance moves taking the kids she’s babysitting (Brad, Sarah, and Brad’s friend Daryl) into downtown Chicago to pick her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) up from the bus station after she ran away from home. They get caught up in the criminal chop shop scene, when Daryl steals a Playboy magazine that the head of the operation has, for some reason, written down the plans for the criminal organization on the centerfold spread. It’s so weird to think of that even being shown on the Disney Channel now. This is a film that actually holds up very well, even when you take off the nostalgia glasses, as the many people that I have shown it to who had never seen it before can attest. When we were kids, Abby and I used to laugh so hard when the classic “Don’t fuck with the babysitter” line came as Chris pulls the knife out of Brad’s foot and aims it at the gang member threatening the group. This was a moment in the film that my parents had no idea about until many years later!

Good Burger (Robbins, 1997)

Nickelodeon was a huge part of my pop culture upbringing as a kid. My parents and I watched all of the classic Nicktoons of the 90s together, with Doug, Rugrats, and Hey Arnold! usually being counted as the favorites of the bunch. Saturday night usually meant we were watching the Snick lineup back then. As most 90s kids know, All That was the main focal point on Saturday night. This kid’s version of SNL featured so many classic sketches that are still funny today. Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were two of my favorite performers on the show. Kel was famous for the Good Burger sketches where he played the inept fast food worker Ed. The sketch was one of the defining comedy bits of the show, so naturally it paved the way for the inevitable Good Burger movie. Several of the All That kids popped up in various roles in the film, but the stars were Kel reprising his role as Ed and Kenan playing the money-scheming Dexter. Is Good Burger a good movie? Absolutely not. It’s beyond cheesy and really probably only accessible to people who grew up watching All That. I’d imagine the younger folks probably just wouldn’t go for it now. But as someone who owned the orange VHS of the movie as a kid, it still is one of my favorites from my childhood.

Clueless (Heckerling, 1995)

Damn! What is there to really say about this one? I mean, Clueless is pretty perfect. This is a film that stands the test of time and instead of turning out to be a dated and problematic film (looking at you Sixteen Candles), stands as a time capsule to this very particular cultural moment. Amy Heckerling’s dialogue is still just as funny and clever now as it was when the film was released, and Alicia Silverstone’s performance as Cher is still one of my all-time favorites. While it would be so easy to portray Cher as a dumb, rich, high school girl, (think of some of the performances in Mean Girls), Silverstone gives Cher depth that makes her truly relatable despite the fact that she has crazy amounts of privilege, money, and should be all-together unlikeable. Instead, Silverstone’s Cher is the heart and soul of this film, and you could argue one of the most likable protagonists of the 90s. My cousin Michelle and I used to watch her VHS of this film so often when we would have sleepovers at each other’s houses when we were growing up. This is also one where I still know all of the songs from the film’s soundtrack. It was just that iconic.

Wet Hot American Summer (Wain, 2001)

This is one of my absolute favorite films. I will never not find the awkward adventures of the campers at Camp Firewood funny. Wet Hot American Summer features so many early performances from comedic (and dramatic) actors who have since become incredibly famous, i.e. Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Rudd (that’s two of his films on this list, now!). It may seem like a very niche product just parodying the camp films from the 70s and 80s, but it is so much more. While the parody is incredibly effective and hilarious, the characters in the film work so well that they become genuinely original instead of just spoofs of tropes (that sort of limited comedy is more in line with the Scary Movie series and the many cash grabs that they brought about). If you’re wanting just a good laugh, this is definitely one to check out.

Out to Sea (Coolidge, 1997)

This is a film that I wouldn’t have watched if my friend Sean hadn’t brought it on vacation when our families went to Myrtle Beach together the one summer when we were in elementary school. We watched this at least three times that week. Now you might be thinking, that’s weird that kids would think Walter Matheau and Jack Lemmon’s shenanigans on a boat are hilarious, but here we are. Elementary school me loved this, and 31 year-old me still does. Is it great? No. But it does everything you need a Matheau/Lemmon comedy from the 90s to do.It has amazing character actor performances from Elaine Stritch, Rue McClanahan, and Brent Spiner and also a really alluring performance by the gloriously big-haired Dyan Cannon who is ageless. This is a movie that my parents and I still watch when we go to the beach each year, and it is just as fun each year.

You’ve Got Mail (Ephron, 1998)

If there is a film that I legitimately classify as a guilty pleasure, it’s this one. You’ve Got Mail is a film that, by all rights, I should not like. Yes, it fits well within the realm of the romantic comedy of the 1990s, and it has many fun moments. It also features the romantic leading man destroying the literal career and livelihood of the female lead. Meg Ryan’s Kathleen Kelly owns The Shop Around The Corner, named after the Ernst Lubitsch film that Nora Ephron based You’ve Got Mail on. Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox is heir to the Borders-esque Fox Books, which proceeds to ruin the business of Cathleen’s bookstore. Ryan and Hanks definitely have great chemistry, but I think it’s Nora Ephron’s excellent dialogue and the soundtrack of the film that really seal the deal for me here. Also, I’m just a sucker for Meg Ryan.

Since I’m done considering any film a guilty pleasure, these are films that I simply enjoy. They’re films that I can just pop in and feel better when they’re over. Much like the slasher films from my previous post, they create a great distraction during a stressful time like we’re all living now. What are some films that you love that you might not be willing to admit to everyone?

Until next time!

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