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- M as in Mirror
I have grown a bit bored of the crime genre. The media landscape is flooded with podcasts, documentaries, films, and books all dedicated to murder, serial killers, and true crime. The last straw was the film, The Little Things, released earlier this year starring Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, and Rami Malek’s crazy eyes. It tried so hard to recreate the vibe of great shows like Mindhunters and True Detective, which showed that those who investigate the crazy can end up going crazy themselves, and instead, was a stylish-looking snooze fest. Shows like Hannibal and Dexter romanticize serial killers in interesting ways but I can't help but ask myself, "Should I be rooting for this person?" Even True Detective tried to ask big philosophical questions but it mostly got lost in its ideas rather than answer any of them. I was ready to give up on all things crime until recently, when I sat down to watch the 1931 German film, M. This 90-year-old thriller reminded me that the crime genre can be entertaining and thought-provoking. Its ending deals with issues like the culpability of the insane and society’s trust in government, better than anything I’ve seen in the modern crime genre. Its comments on these issues in 1931 are haunting, given Germany’s history at that time. The film takes place in Berlin, Germany. The city is on edge after a string of children go missing. The film opens with children playing in the streets, singing a sick song about a “nasty man in black,” coming to get them. Parents wait anxiously for their children to return home from school. We see children exiting a school, some leave with their parents, while others walk home alone. A young girl walks alone, bouncing a ball on a wall with a poster of the names of two children still missing. A shadowy figure begins to talk to her. We then see a mother preparing a table for dinner, looking at a clock, waiting for her child to come home. She sees other children coming home and asks them if they have seen her daughter; they say no. As she waits, we see the young girl with this mysterious man buying her a balloon and walking her around the city. These two scenes: the mysterious man with the young girl and the waiting mother, are edited in such a way that shows them happening at the same time. The viewer at this point knows that something bad will happen. This is confirmed seconds later when we see the balloon floating off into the sky and the ball bouncing away with no one going after it. We see nothing and yet we know this man is our killer. The director, Fritz Lang, leaves it up to the audience to imagine the grim details. He is more interested in showing us the aftermath of these events. We watch the killer writing an anonymous letter to the newspapers taking credit for the murders and promising to do it again. The police try to gather clues from the letter like fingerprints and handwriting analysis, all standard procedural crime narratives. As the investigation continues, the people of Berlin are restless, they begin to blame one another. Any man caught conversing with a small child is labeled a suspect and publicly attacked. The film builds this tense atmosphere between the public who are frightened and the local police and commissioners desperate to find answers. In another scene where we see two different events take place at the same time, the local authorities are trying to figure out how to move their investigation forward, while local crime bosses try to figure out how to keep the authorities out of their business. With the police leaving no stone unturned, a local brother is raided and the crime bosses are also trying to figure out their next move. In these scenes, we go back and forth between the authorities and the crime bosses, both stumped on how to handle the situation. The authorities decide to investigate recently released asylum patients, while the crime bosses decide to create a manhunt using the local homeless population. The police come close after they check the records of a man named Hans Beckert and search his house while he is not home. They discover evidence that he wrote the anonymous letter and wait for his return. This race between the authorities and gangsters to find the killer is thrilling to watch and you don’t know who you should root for. Hans Beckert’s fate seems almost certain as he walks the streets of Berlin. We see him notice a young girl looking at toys in a window and his face changes. He begins to look worried and troubled. It is almost like the monster within is creeping out and he is trying to keep it in. A groundbreaking technique this movie uses with Han’s Beckert’s character is a Leitmotif. This is a short musical sound or song that is associated with a person, place, or idea. In the film, Beckert’s character whistles: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Greig. This recognizable tune is whistled by the mysterious man at the beginning of the film, confirming Beckert is our child killer. The use of the Leitmotif builds the horror and dread of the film, knowing that when Beckert begins to whistle it, he is going to do something horrible. It also leads to his demise as he befriends another young girl and begins to whistle this tune. It is recognized by the blind homeless man who sold him the balloon earlier in the film. He tells his counterparts and they begin to track the man. They follow him from afar and in an attempt to not lose him, one of the men writes an M on his hand with chalk and brushes up against the back of his coat. M for Murderer. What happens next is an interesting chase sequence in which Beckert runs into an office building to hide from his pursuers. The beggars call the crime bosses for help and they rush to the scene. They tie up the doormen and torture them for information. This leads them to find Beckert, but one of the doormen trips the alarm system and they must rush to escape before the police arrive. They take Beckert to an undisclosed location. The police arrive just as the criminals are leaving and in the frenzy, the police capture one of the gangsters. The police think the gangsters came to rob the place. They use questionable interrogation techniques to get the gangster to admit that they were searching for the child killer and he reveals where they take him. It is interesting how the film shows that even though the gangsters find the child killer they torture the doormen to do so. They are criminals so this can be expected. The police, however, are shown to be just as bad with their interrogation. This highlights a real breakdown in society as a whole. Those in authority are bad and the citizens are bad. The criminals don’t trust authority and the authorities don’t trust the public. They say so earlier in the film when trying to figure out how to hunt for the child killer. They call the citizens stupid and unwilling to help in any tangible way. The most fascinating part of this film is its ending. Hans Beckert is taken to an abandoned factory by the gangsters, who have set up what is essentially a Kangaroo court. The judges are the gangsters, behind them are other criminals and citizens. They even give him his one defense attorney. The gangsters and citizens of Berlin have so little faith in their government that they instead take the law into their own hands. Beckert demands to be taken to the authorities, but everyone just laughs at him. They demand answers from him. He admits to the killings and defends his actions by saying that he can’t help himself. In an impassioned monologue, he talks about trying to quiet the voices in his head that urge him to kill and the only way to stop them is to, in fact, kill. In his monologue, he berates the criminals before reminding them that they choose to break the law while he, “has no control over this evil thing that is inside me.” His defense counsel agrees and recommends his client be handed over to the authorities. He tells the “court” that he belongs in an asylum. The court of criminals and citizens will have none of it, they laugh at Beckert and tell him that being handed over to the authorities would be pointless. He will be fed three meals a day and eventually let out on good behavior. Mothers in the crowd remind Beckert that he is a monster. The crowd demands death right here and now. They yell and scream at him, the looks on their faces are that of a mindless mob. Just as it seems Beckert is done for, we see a hand rest on his shoulder. We see the people in the crowd begin to raise their hands silently. The police have come to serve their justice. The film ends with real judges in a courtroom about to render their verdict. We see three mothers of the missing children sitting in the court crying and admitting none of this will bring their children back. M is already considered a classic film for its use of tracking shots and Leitmotif. It is the gold standard for what a crime thriller could and should be. What’s most interesting about M to me is that this German film deals with the idea of distrust in authority in 1931, when just two years later Hitler would come to power. When people lose faith in the powers that be, they will accept radical ideas that on the surface seem like the right choice. The history of the rise of Nazisim in Germany is much more complicated, but this film left me with chills just thinking about that aspect. The lack of faith in authority, especially in the police, is prevalent today more than ever with the Black Lives Movement and the recent collective sigh of relief Americans took after the verdict of the Derrick Chauvin trial. The amount of Americans who still believed the last presidential election was rigged is concerning. Conspiracy theories have become as American as baseball. M transcends the crime genre to hold a mirror to societies from yesterday and today and asks the question, "What is justice?" Sahil Sharma Sahil is a full-time student at Dutchess Community College and a part-time cinephile. He has been known to quote the film Step Brothers word for word, and he likes water to be at room temperature.
- The Inflection Point: A Conversation Between Three Films
In mid-March, I was visiting friends in Brooklyn (they are part of my quarantine pod), and one of them insisted that we needed to watch Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I had intended to watch this on my own anyway; some of you may remember that I wrote about their wedding a few years ago, and how symbolically important it felt to have Meghan join the Royal Family. Of course, the potential that Meghan could have brought to the relevance of this increasingly irrelevant family was all for naught. The notoriously ruthless and questionably ethical British tabloid press, as well as members of Harry’s family itself (or “The Firm,” as the couple referred to it with Oprah), subjected Meghan to a barrage of racist coverage, all seemingly designed to paint her as a “difficult black woman” (especially in comparison to Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife). It became clear over time that the tabloids may have been working in cahoots with certain high-ranking members of “The Firm,” with negative stories being planted by factions within William and Kate’s camp, and perhaps even by factions within Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles’ camp. There was a bombshell of a revelation that literally left Oprah speechless: that a member of the family had openly expressed concern about the potential darkness of Archie’s (Harry and Meghan’s son) skin tone while Meghan was still pregnant. And there was another bombshell revelation: that the choice to not give Archie a title upon his birth - despite it being the Royal precedent and his birthright - was not a choice Harry and Meghan made themselves (although the press had led the world to believe so), but because The Firm did not want a mixed-race child to be an official part of the Windsor family lineage. Because Archie lacked a title, he was not given a security detail. And because both Harry and Meghan had received death threats from racist crazies, the idea that their son would not be protected was utterly terrifying to them. Harry and Meghan were adamant that the Queen herself had never been unkind to them and that the skin tone comment was not made by either herself or her husband, the now-late Prince Philip. They pointedly refused to name who had made the comment as they believed it would be too damaging and cause more drama that they simply did not have the bandwidth to handle. And yet another bombshell: Meghan, from the pressure of being vilified by the press and the open racism on display from her in-laws, began to experience suicidal ideation during her pregnancy with Archie, but when she asked the family for help, they refused, on the grounds that a member of the Royal Family seeking psychiatric help would make the family look bad. Meghan continued to suffer up to and through Archie’s birth, and then she and Harry made a choice: they were going to step back from being senior members of the Royal Family, relocate to Canada (a Commonwealth country), and face a less stressful lifestyle out of the public eye. This choice, as we now know, backfired, because The Firm seemed to take this move extremely personally. They stripped Harry and Meghan of their titles and have seemingly disowned them. Harry and Meghan have now settled outside of Los Angeles and are figuring out what their new lives are going to look like. Oprah clearly understood why Meghan wanted to step back from active Royal duty, due to the racist press coverage and the lack of support from The Firm. But she made a point of asking Harry what made him step back - from a family, he was born into, a lifestyle he was born into, the only life he had ever known. How does one break away from one’s family at all? And especially, how does one break away from THIS family? (Which seems more and more like a cult the more I learn about them). Especially since it seems to have cost Harry his relationship with his older brother and his father, both of whom he is no longer on speaking terms with. But Harry was quite clear: he knew they had to walk away because he remembered all too well the toll on his mother Princess Diana’s mental health, of being married to his father, as well as the role of the paparazzi in her death. He didn’t want to see history repeat itself. But moreover, he wanted to protect his wife and his child. His mixed-race wife and his mixed-race child. He said that being in a relationship with a woman of color had opened his eyes to many things about society that he had been blind to, and he did not want to play a role in perpetuating racist treatment against his wife. He said he had made three statements denouncing the racist treatment of Meghan while he was still an active member of the family: once as a boyfriend, once as a husband, and once as a father, to no avail. Then, his wife became suicidal, and his family turned their backs on her. So he made the hardest choice of his life. This is remarkable considering the history of his family and the legacy of racism and imperialism that the United Kingdom left in its wake ever since abandoning all of its former colonies worldwide after essentially going broke during World War II. “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” it was once said. The British colonized half the world, and now have the temerity to complain about immigrants (Brexit), and one immigrant in particular (Meghan Markle). Harry decided to support his wife, at the cost of losing most of his immediate family. He took a stand. When asked, “What side are you on?” he said, essentially, that he was on the side of compassion, and anti-racism. * I know that I’m about to make what will feel like an insane juxtaposition, but as I watched Harry and Meghan’s conversation with Oprah, I started thinking about three films that came out last year that were contenders for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards: Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, Regina King’s One Night in Miami, and Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. These films all take place around the same time period in the 1960s, during the height of the civil rights movement in the United States; the stories all contain overlapping plotlines. It’s curious that we have three high-profile films this year that cover such similar themes. Or perhaps not. All three films were hailed as “timely” by critics given the political atmosphere last summer of the massive Black Lives Matter protests that erupted over the deaths of George Floyd, Elijah MacClaine, and Breonna Taylor, among numerous others, at the hands of the police. The Trial of the Chicago 7 allows Aaron Sorkin to do what he does best: snappy, sharp, intelligent dialogue about politics and the law; searing, inspirational speeches about justice and how great America has the potential to be; riveting courtroom cases, and sprawling ensemble casts. You can recognize bits and pieces of former Sorkin properties in this film: A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, The Newsroom. Sorkin has primarily been a screenwriter (and showrunner) during his career, but Chicago 7 is his second time in the director’s chair and it was the first time I’d seen him direct. Unsurprisingly, he understands intuitively how to match his direction with his writing, and although the film runs a smidge too long for my taste, it is ultimately a very compelling watch - not just for the trial scenes, but for the backstory of the disparate members of this group who have been put on trial, seemingly arbitrarily, against the toughest federal prosecutors the Nixon administration can bring, and with an outrageously biased judge, Julius Hoffman (played by Frank Langella). The Chicago 7 were all members of different groups protesting the Vietnam war at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The main focus in Sorkin’s film is on Thomas Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) from Students for Democratic Society (SDS), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen, in an absolutely spectacular performance) from the Youth International Party (often called “Yippies”), and William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), the attorney representing the group. The Chicago 7 were charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of starting riots at the DNC. Although riots did occur due to police taking control of the hill where the protesters were congregating, they were not premeditated by these seven men (nor anybody), and none of them actually incited the riots. The Nixon administration had seemingly singled these men out for being prominent members of anti-Vietnam War organizations. Originally, there was an 8th member charged along with the other seven: Bobby Seale, National Chairman of the Black Panther Party (Yahya Abdul-Mateen), who was only in Chicago for a few hours that night. He was represented by a different attorney than the Chicago 7, who could not attend the trial due to illness. The Judge keeps insisting that Kuntsler step in to defend Seale, which both Seale and Kuntsler vociferously reject (though behind the scenes, Kunstler keeps offering to help, only to be repeatedly turned down). Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panthers, comes to court to lend support to Seale, which the Judge assumes is legal support, and leads to further trouble. Hoffman openly mocks the court proceedings, much to Hayden’s dismay and frustration. Hampton is killed during a police raid, Seale continues to demand that he should not stand trial without legal representation, leading the judge to punish him by having security take him to another room and return him beaten, bound, and gagged, which is immediately objected to by both prosecution and defense. Seale’s case is ruled a mistrial and he is removed from the court, the judge begins to remove jurors suspected of sympathizing with the defendants, and charges the defendants and their attorneys with multiple charges of contempt of court. By all accounts, this trial is a complete clown show, and after court each evening the defendants debate with Kunstler regarding the best strategy to defend themselves, with Hayden and Hoffman in particular, continually clashing with each other. Hayden finds Hoffman too abrasive and antagonistic, and Hoffman thinks that Hayden is not strong enough in his espoused values. Kuntsler discovers a tape recording with evidence that a statement Hayden made the night of the riots (after his friend Rennie Davis is struck in the head by a police officer) started the violence, but Hoffman agrees to get on the stand and offers testimony exonerating him while criticizing the US Government’s leadership. Hayden uses his opportunity to make closing remarks to name all of the soldiers who have been killed in Vietnam since the trial started. In the end, only two of the seven were acquitted of all charges, while the remaining five were acquitted of conspiracy but convicted for crossing state lines intending to incite a riot. They were sentenced in 1970, but in 1972 all of the convictions were reversed by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. At the end of the day, The Trial of the Chicago 7 shows that despite the bickering and drama between the defendants behind the scenes, all of the defendants are in fact on the same side. Despite their differing tactics in how to effectively protest or conduct themselves in court, they all want the Vietnam War to end, and they act in accordance with that desire. They have taken a side, a side that with the hindsight of 50 years we can all agree was the right side; the Vietnam War was a failed war that killed far too many and ruined the lives of countless veterans who survived, the US should have gotten out sooner, and we probably never should have gotten involved in the first place. But the fate of Bobby Seale is the one that haunts me the most in this film. After he is finally removed from the courtroom, when his case is declared a mistrial after enduring horrendous brutality and humiliation at the hands of the court officers, we never see him again or hear about what happened to him. By including him in the story, Sorkin succeeds in further underscoring just how abhorrent the judge’s behavior was during the trial, but it felt a bit like a manipulative trick in the end, as if Sorkin was using Seale as a way to shoehorn in the idea of black bodies being abused by white law enforcement to enhance the “timeliness” of the film, but didn’t take any time to unpack how his position as one of the original defendants charged with this crime was dramatically different from those of his white co-defendants. There is a lot to like about The Trial of the Chicago 7, and I can understand why Sorkin would be reluctant to make a long film even longer, but I genuinely feel like this was a missed opportunity; we see so much of the rhetorical sparring between Hayden and Hoffman mediated by Kunstler, but we never see what Seale’s point of view in those debates might have been, and how differently he undoubtedly would have seen and felt his place in that courtroom. He, too, was on the same side as Hayden, Hoffman, and the other defendants, but as the Chairman of the Black Panther party, his tactics for protesting were notably different. Whose side would Seale have been on - Hayden’s, or Hoffman’s? I’m inclined to think it would have been neither. Hearing more of Seale’s voice would have made the conversation underlying this story far more interesting. * If you’re interested in a philosophical conversation about racism and protest, Regina King’s December 2020 film, One Night in Miami, will definitely appeal to you. One Night in Miami is a fictional account of an evening Malcolm X spent in a hotel room with Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay (not long before he converted to the Nation of Islam and adopted the name Muhammed Ali) in February of 1964, on the night of Clay’s historic defeat of Sonny Liston. The film plays out as an extended meditation on the nature of, and how to leverage the effects of celebrity, fame, and political power within the fight for civil rights. Malcolm X (Kinglsey Ben-Adir) pushes Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) hard, saying that he is disappointed that Cooke has such a powerful voice as a singer-songwriter, and could be using his talent to try to create meaningful change for Black people in society, but instead, Cooke only records crooning love songs. Cooke says that of course, he cares about civil rights, that his success and creative autonomy can serve as an inspiration to the Black community, and that protest songs aren’t radio-friendly, nor do they elicit millions of dollars in sales the way his music does. Malcolm then plays Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” on the record player, challenging Cooke about his assertion that protest songs aren’t commercially viable. Cooke eventually leaves in anger, with Clay (Eli Goree) in pursuit, while Brown (Aldis Hodge) asks Malcolm why he is being so hard on Cooke. Malcolm responds, “There is no more room for anyone… to be standing on the fence anymore. Our people are literally dying in the streets every day. Black people dying. Every day! And a line has got to be drawn in the sand… a line that says, either you stand on this side with us, or you stand over on that side against us.” In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died, was on trial for murder. Historically, we have not seen law enforcement be held accountable for their culpability in what is essentially state-sanctioned killing of Black and Brown bodies. In months since Floyd’s death, this has escalated into a debate about whether or not the police should be defunded. I wrote an essay recently defending Law & Order: SVU, with its coterie of do-gooding NYPD officers, continuing to be on air doing their always righteous thing as more and more police officers kill innocent Black people year after year. I predicted - rightly so, based on the 11 episodes of the current season that have aired - that the Law & Order: SVU team would directly address this issue in their storylines - because how could they not, right now? There is a moment in the SVU season premiere, which aired in the fall of 2020, where Chief Christian Garland (Demore Barnes) is infuriated after footage of the SVU squad arresting an innocent Black man seemingly for Exercising In The Park While Black goes viral. “The man had outstanding warrants; he wasn’t cooperating with the police on the scene. We were by the book,” Captain Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) explains. “That’s the book that got us here!” Garland shouts back. Right now, he says, given the state of the country after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, “business as usual” is not going to fly, and the man who was arrested is suing the NYPD and naming Benson and Sargeant Fin Tutuola (Ice-T) in the lawsuit. Later on, Garland pulls Tutuola aside and asks if he thinks racial bias had anything to do with what happened to the man in the park. Tutuola says he’s known Benson for twenty years, and “her only bias is for the victim.” Garland then tells him: “I know I’m not someone you relate to but we have something in common: we’re both black in blue. We’ve been on this job a long time… things are changing.” Tutuola laughs. “You know how many times I’ve heard that? The one thing I know, this country will always break your heart.” “Nah,” the Chief says. “This time is different. This is a true inflection point… I appreciate your loyalty [to Benson], but you need to watch out for yourself.” When I saw this episode, I was struck by Garland’s choice of words: “This is a true inflection point. Watch out for yourself.” When I subsequently watched One Night in Miami, I noticed that Malcolm X was essentially telling Sam Cooke the same thing, that despite his loyalty to those who buy his apolitical music and have made him rich, he has a choice to make about where he stands as a Black public figure. I’m thrilled to see that SVU has proven wrong all of the breathless uninformed op-eds last year castigating the show for even existing. And I’m intrigued that the themes that SVU is explicitly exploring in 2020-2021 are being implicitly echoed in three major films from 2020. Ultimately, the bottom line is that at some point, you have to pick a side, whether you are a famous musician or a fictional television cop. * The words of Malcolm X and Chief Garland were in my head when I watched Shaka King’s February 2021 film, Judas and the Black Messiah, a film set in the late 1960s about Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the aforementioned Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and his betrayal by William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), his security captain who is also an undercover FBI informant. While Hampton (almost always referred to as Chairman Fred) never became a household name in the same way Malcolm X did - he certainly did not have access to celebrity friendships with football players, champion boxers, and pop singers - his politics in regards to the civil rights struggle are not dissimilar to Malcolm’s. Both The Nation of Islam (in which Malcolm X was a prominent leader and chief spokesman) and the Black Panther Party (founded by Huey Newton and the aforementioned Bobby Seale in 1966, a year after Malcolm’s death by assassination), disagreed with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideology of using non-violent protest to further the cause of civil rights, even though the ultimate goals of both organizations are different. Malcolm pushed for a Black Nationalist movement, “by any means necessary,” to remove African Americans away from American society because he believed that as long as white people exist, African Americans would not be able to prosper. He, and the Nation of Islam, felt that separatism – even to the extreme of all African Americans going back to Africa – was the only way to ensure true civil rights and safety for the Black community. The Black Panther Party, on the other hand, did not believe in separatism; they wanted to end police brutality and the murdering of Black people, but they wanted to do so in a way that allowed Black people to exist in American society safely, even if it meant being heavily armed at all times. (This is why I wanted so desperately to see a conversation between Bobby Seale and the rest of the white defendants in Chicago 7.) Specifically, Malcolm’s words about picking a side resonate heavily with the story of O’Neal – a man who, depending on how you view his betrayal of Hampton, either didn’t pick a side, picked the wrong side, or desperately wanted to pick a side but was unable to reconcile that desire with his own selfish motives. In 1966, O’Neal was caught at the age of 17 by FBI Agent Roy Martin Mitchell (played by Jesse Plemons) for car theft. In exchange for having all of his charges dropped, O’Neal agreed to infiltrate the Black Panther Party in Chicago and provide intel to Mitchell as the FBI had expanded its dubiously legal anti-communist COINTELPRO program to include Black civil rights activists. O’Neal ingratiates himself with Chairman Fred and the other Panthers in Chicago quickly, and eventually, he is appointed as a captain for Chairman Fred’s security detail. Every now and then, he meets up with Mitchell to tell him what he knows about the Panther’s current plans and future demonstrations. However, by the summer of 1969, Hampton had been working with Chairman Fred’s Rainbow Coalition, an alliance between the Panthers, gangs, and minority groups within Chicago. The FBI was becoming increasingly nervous, not just about the existence of the Rainbow Coalition, but that their informant had gained political power by being such an integral part of the movement. The FBI raids Panther headquarters, burns down the building, and demands that O’Neal draw them a sketch of the layout of Chairman Fred’s apartment, so they could plan another raid, with the Chairman as the target. O’Neal complies. The night of the planned raid, December 3, 1969, at a gathering at Chairman Fred’s house, O’Neal spikes Chairman Fred’s drink with a sedative, so that he won’t wake up when the police come storming in. Then he fled and fell asleep at about 1:30 AM. The police burst into the Chairman’s apartment at 4:00 AM, killed the security officer on duty at the time, injured several others in the apartment, and then shot the Chairman in the back of the head two times. This film is astonishing to me for a number of reasons. First of all, by centering the story as ostensibly around the relationship between O’Neal and Mitchell, director and screenwriter Shaka King, managed to squeeze in a backdoor biopic of the life of Chairman Fred Hampton. We see that he was a charismatic leader, a brilliantly inspirational, poetic speaker, and a romantic - not necessarily characteristics one would associate with the typical stereotype of a “militant” Black Panther. He cared about his people. He set up programs so that children in the community could get free breakfast and people in the community could get free health care. I had no idea about these programs. In fact, I had no idea of anything about Chairman Fred, nor did I know much about the Black Panthers before watching this film, beyond what I was superficially taught in school. (All I remember from high school is that the Panthers were open to using violence as a means to protect themselves, as opposed to Martin Luther King Jr.’s devotion to passive resistance). Judas and the Black Messiah gave me some extremely crucial insight into this time period, and into how revolutionary Chairman Fred was. He believed in the idea of a collective being the way to raise his community up, which is why he formed the Rainbow Coalition. Daniel Kaluuya just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this performance, and it was well-deserved. But it would be doing the film a disservice to overlook the exceptionally nuanced performance by Lakeith Stanfield (also nominated for an Oscar in this category) as Bill O’Neal. At first, it seems clear that O’Neal is only in this FBI informant gig for himself, to avoid inevitable jail time for car theft. However, as the years go by and he spends more and more time with Chairman Fred and the other Panthers, you can see how he is slowly, perhaps without realizing it, growing and evolving his worldview by listening to what Chairman Fred says about the Black community and the issues of racial injustice in America. He is moved by Chairman Fred. He is inspired by Chairman Fred. And so, not only is this a story of a man betraying another to the latter’s peril, it’s a story about the fight for O’Neal’s soul. There is a moment during a rally after Chairman Fred has been released from prison and is giving a speech. At this point, Mitchell and the FBI are getting concerned about O’Neal becoming too entwined with the Panthers, given his participation in the Rainbow Coalition, and so, Mitchell shows up to the rally in disguise, just to show O’Neal that he is watching. While Chairman Fred gives a tremendous speech, O’Neal stands before the podium, as a security captain, and the fear in his eyes is so apparent. But what is he afraid of? Being accused by Mitchell of no longer following through with the plan and getting convicted of car theft? Being suspected by the other Panthers that he does not truly believe in Chairman Fred or the party’s platform, which would certainly not end well for him? Or is it that he is having a sudden realization that, separate from his relationship with Mitchell or with the other Panthers, he truly believes in Chairman Fred’s politics and platform? He feels like he is on the Chairman’s side. And yet… O’Neal gives the FBI that sketch of the floor plan, drugs the Chairman’s drink, and allows his boss and friend to be killed brutally in the middle of the night. So in the end, it can be argued that in the fight for O’Neal’s soul, Mitchell defeated Chairman Fred. O’Neal picked a side: the side of the FBI. The side against his community. Or did he? Judas and the Black Messiah is bookended by footage of an interview with the real William O’Neal from Eyes on the Prize, a 14-part PBS documentary filmed in the late 80’s about the history of the 20th-century civil rights movement in America. The film ends with O’Neal, simultaneously explaining that he had no allegiance to the Panthers, but also when he looks back on this time period, he feels proud that he was someone who took an active role in what was happening in his community. It’s a confusing statement. Does he honestly believe that being the informant who provided key information that allowed the FBI to murder the 21-year-old Fred Hampton in his sleep meant he was taking an active role in his community? Personally, I think it’s more muddled than that. Director Shaka King has said in interviews that O’Neal strikes him as the kind of person who, having been so beaten down by white supremacist culture, genuinely believes that what Mitchell, the white FBI agent, has to offer him is inherently better than anything Chairman Fred has to offer. While I can see his point, I don’t necessarily think that’s what bears out in the film. Stanfield’s edgy, agitated performance as O’Neal so clearly captures the struggle of a man who for the first time in his life is trying to discern what his own moral and ethical code is. While Mitchell treats him well, buying him expensive drinks and dinner at a posh restaurant when they meet to trade information, O’Neal also inherently understands that Chairman Fred’s progressive agenda could be massively powerful for the Black community that he grew up in, and he is flattered by the Chairman’s trust in him. The tragedy of Judas and the Black Messiah is that O’Neal never figures out which side he’s on - and that is even borne out in the coda to the film: after they play the clip of O’Neal’s Eyes on the Prize interview, a title card appears on the screen saying that O’Neal continued to be an informant within the Black Panther Party for several years and that he took his own life shortly after Eyes on the Prize began airing on television in January of 1990. The timing of his suicide, to me, feels telling. It almost seems as if once he was forced to confront the hypocrisy of the interview he gave to the documentary filmmakers, the reality of the toxic duality of his contribution to the civil rights movement was too much for him to bear. * I started writing this article at the beginning of April 2021, but during the lead up to the Academy Awards on April 25th, I ended up taking a pause, not just because I wanted to see how the awards shook out (especially with regards to these three films), but also because it turns out that Derek Chauvin’s verdict was to be handed down five days prior to the show. Like most of us, I was happy and moreover relieved, to see that Chauvin was found guilty of the three murder charges against him for the death of George Floyd on Tuesday the 20th. At the Academy Awards, Regina King began the show with the first of many references to the verdict that night, and I couldn’t help but think of Chief Garland on Law & Order: SVU telling Tutuola that we are at a “true inflection point.” Maybe he was right. This years’ nominee pool at the Academy Awards was the most diverse I have ever seen, and there were more winners of color than I have ever seen as well, including Youn Yuh-Jung (Best Supporting Actress, Minari) and Chloe Zhou (Best Director and Best Picture, Nomadland). Daniel Kaluuya, as I mentioned earlier, won Best Supporting Actor in Judas and the Black Messiah for his beautiful performance as Chairman Fred Hampton. Unfortunately, both One Night in Miami lost in all three categories it was nominated for, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 lost in all five categories it was nominated for. But it doesn’t mean that we have solved the problem of systemic racism. Not by having a diverse array of nominees and winners, including the two films I have written about here directly about the civil rights movement and the one that exists just adjacent to it, after several years of #OscarsSoWhite protests, in tandem with only one police officer being held accountable for the death of an innocent Black man to which he was responsible. Garland claims: “This time is different,” meaning as opposed to past instances of the United States reckoning with their history of racism. Malcolm X, in One Night in Miami, spends the whole film trying to convince Sam Cooke that this is the time to establish which side of the line they are on. This film, along with The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah, are an exploration of an earlier inflection point in our history on this subject. And there have been even earlier inflection points as well - going as far back as the Antebellum Period in the United States, and the protests of abolitionists that led to the Civil War, and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the complicated and fundamentally flawed period of Restoration after the South was defeated and slavery was abolished, which led directly to the Jim Crow era and lit the fire for the civil rights movement during which Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Fred Hampton were prominent leaders. In each of these inflection points, citizens have had to take a massive personal inventory about which side they choose to be on, and Judas and the Black Messiah is a tragic example of what can happen when someone is unable to make that choice definitively. The overwhelming celebration of Derek Chauvin’s guilty conviction (not to mention the conviction itself) gives us hope that Americans are beginning to take this inventory and are coming down on the right side of the line. They are beginning to make their choice. Right now this could, indeed, be the inflection point that causes real change. I’m reluctant to say that definitively. America doesn’t exactly have a great historical record on this topic. And it feels silly to take some dialogue from a fictional television character and use it as a declarative statement about the state of race relations in this country. But this brings me back to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. As I mentioned earlier, the United Kingdom has a particularly horrendous track record of exploiting the labor, bodies, and dignity of the people of color in the colonies they maintained for over 350 years, moving lower status populations of certain colonies to be indentured servants in other colonies. And now, 73 years after granting independence to those colonies, the British population voted overwhelmingly in support of Brexit, which exempts them from EU immigration rules and keeps foreigners from moving to the UK. In the meanwhile,15 of their former colonies belong to an organization known as the British Commonwealth States - countries that are technically independent and have their own rules of government and political leadership - where the Queen is still regarded as their ruling Monarch. Among these countries are Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. The rest of the former colonies are also loosely considered to be connected to the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth is reportedly something that the Queen holds dear to her heart, but in a very paternalistic, noblesse oblige way. This is the culture in which Harry grew up, and he reached an inflection point with the treatment of his wife by his family and by the British media. He took a personal inventory and he made a choice - an unprecedented one - to back away from that culture to protect his family. Granted, just because a white British Prince decided to definitely declare himself to be anti-racist doesn’t suddenly mean that the entire United States of America is going to follow suit; in fact, his estrangement from his family and the continued nasty media coverage of his choice in the UK proves that there is still a long way to go there, too. But it is a small step towards a larger hope of a true reckoning in society - the same kind of small step that the Chicago 7 were working towards in their protests of the Vietnam war, the same step, but larger in scale than Malcolm X and Chairman Fred Hampton were working towards in their championing of civil rights and raising up and protecting their community. These three movies feel timely for a reason, and the reason is, we’re not done yet. Derek Chauvin’s conviction is an encouraging development. Let’s hope we get more of this going forward, using the example of the protestors and agitators and inspiring figures who came before us that we have been so thoroughly reminded of in our most recent movie awards season, to continue to take an inventory, to leverage this inflection point, and to choose to make society safer for all of our citizens, regardless of the color of their skin. Reeya Banerjee Reeya is a Hudson Valley-based musician and writer. In her other life, she works as a hospitality finance associate, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU reruns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use. She can frequently be found in various coffee shops and bars drinking IPAs while reading pop culture news on her phone.
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Mortal Kombat (2021)
The latest movie adaptation of one of the most beloved fighting game, Mortal Kombat, series has dropped, on both small screens and big, inadvertently becoming a major talking point in the future of cinema, as well as acting as another installment in the long line of questionable video game movies. Jack is joined by Jeremy Kolodziejski to speak on how they felt about all of this. Listen on....
- MOVIE DADDY: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Throughout his career, Steven Spielberg has created some of the most popular films of all time, garnering him an enormous amount of respect on both a critical and financial scale. He is considered by many to be the most famous director of all time, given his track record as both director and producer of some of the most recognizable films of the past 50 years. Movie Daddy is a series by Story Screen Editor-in-chief, Mike Burdge, which aims to cover The Beard's directorial filmography in an attempt to present just why Steven Spielberg is very much that hot fire when it comes to being an American filmmaker. In this installment, we’re gonna hit one of the big ones, which arguably solidified Spielberg’s standing as an unmatched talent, and introduced to us one of the most recognizable figures in film, Indiana Jones. That’s right, we’re talkin’ dat' Raiders of the Lost Ark. ==================== “This movie we’re making now is not real life. But at the same time, it is not a send-up, it is not an imitation of anything.” -Spielberg on the intentions of Raiders Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fast film: fast-paced with a cleverly edited, throwback feel. It’s an ode to the nostalgia of the Saturday serials that inspired, in and of themselves, some of the strongest nostalgias we have today. Birthed from the same mind that drew on Flash Gordon to create the seemingly endless world of Star Wars, this new take on the adventures of a dashing and daring explorer only becomes even more impressive as your familiarity with these old school adventures increases. I'm sure the idea of a “love letter to,” within the film genre, sounds like a tired description at this point, but hoo boy, does Raiders beg for, and deserve that moniker. Yet, for all its massive popularity, and its nostalgic tendencies, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains, first and foremost, a masterpiece of filmmaking, and a testament to movie magic. It’s the movie Roger Ebert described as: “an out-of-body experience,” and which Gene Siskel referred to as “tight.” It also happens to be one of the movies totally engraved in my mind: every line, every shot, every moment. It just might be my favorite Spielberg film, purely for the fact that it’s kind of hard to argue against. It’s a flawless film, exceeding at every turn with effortless, dynamic ease. To put it bluntly: It’s a really cool movie. Also, there’s an amazing black and white version that exists, which I highly recommend catching at some point. It’s… insanely cool. But we’re not here to talk about that. Let’s go back: Born from Spielberg confessing that he would love to do a James Bond-esque picture to his brother-from-another-mother, George Lucas, Raiders of the Lost Ark began as an idea Lucas thought would pique Spielberg's interest to a unique level: the story of Indiana Smith (womp womp). Spielberg and Lucas had been good friends for quite some time at this point; they worked together in one form or another on several projects - through the American Zoetrope era, a production company founded by walking sexpot, Francis Ford Coppola. Spielberg had known Lucas for over 10 years before that fateful sandy beach conversation, where Lucas was hiding away during the opening of Star Wars, nervous of how his wacky space adventure would turn out with the general public. They were friends, so when Lucas brought up an idea he had been working on even before he started the script to Journal of the Whills, Spielberg decided to make this movie, for and with his friend. By the time they got started, the names Lucas and Spielberg attached to any movie was guaranteed dynamite, and these two Beard Bros knew it. With a little shot in the arm from noted dreamboat, Lawrence Kasdan, (who presumably gave the movie its pop and soul) they had a script that was ready to destroy the public consciousness of what it meant to make a throwback movie at that time. Then it came down to getting people to actually play these roles, primarily that of our hero, Indiana Jones, and his goddamn partner, Marion Ravenwood. Spielberg and Lucas searched tirelessly for an unknown actor to play Indie, feeling that this level of faux authenticity would allow the movie’s strengths to stand on their own. But eventually, Spielberg saw The Empire Strikes Back and called up Lucas, exclaiming: “He’s been right under our noses!” Lucas said he knew exactly who Spielberg meant right away, and while hesitant at first, (after working with him before) it became the final choice (after teen-heartthrob Tom Sellick fell through) that Harrison Ford would be the perfect fit for the fedora-wearing explorer. Ford was “enthusiastic” about the script, and also about Steven Spielberg. After wrapping on Empire, and moving into a new home, Ford turned down script after script, until a call from George Lucas brought up Spielberg’s next project. At the time, Ford was right in the middle of his launch to stardom. Given Ford's success as Han Solo in the first two Star Wars films, as well as his turn as Rick Deckard in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner the following year, his decision to take the role of Indiana Jones is as easy a mark as any to hit as the thing that finally catapulted him. And that’s not even mentioning the “You’re Goddamn Right, Gimmie My Money” one-two of Return of the Jedi and his Oscar-nominated performance in Witness in the following two years. Your dude was killing it. While, yes, Harrison Ford’s rugged good looks and insane comedic presence are both responsible for his rise as a star, as well as the success of Raiders becoming such a behemoth of entertainment, one of the things that really makes Indie sing is actually a result of Ford’s own no-bullshit persona. Throughout the shooting process, Ford really asked a lot of rational questions as far as his character's motivations in scenes, as well as his reactions. Ford being the prickly dude he’s now known to be, really helped the believability of Indie’s reactions and physicality within all the major and smaller moments found throughout Raiders. “What’s to stop me from just pulling the gun?” Ford would ask the stunt coordinator when choreographing the fight scenes in the movie. And while the good ol’ “It happens too quick” would work sometimes, we’ve all heard of the big one where Ford’s barbed point of view changed movie history forever: the infamous Swordsman Fight Scene. As the story goes, Indie was supposed to fight off a large swordsman with his whip, leading to a whole bit with a butcher getting “his work done for him” by the sword-wielding baddie. Ford’s version (the one now plastered in our minds) is funnier, even if it was the believed result of the actor feeling sick. This is inarguable. It’s the film equivalent of letting the bass drop. It hits, and it hits at just the right moment. I’m not going any further in this write-up without gushing, just for a moment, how absolutely out-of-the-park Karen Allen hits her shit as Marion Ravenwood. It is a transcendent experience. This movie is filled to the very brim with spectacle and WOW, that at times, I feel that Allen’s work can easily get lost within the extravaganza, but my good God is she something else in this movie. With practically nothing under her belt at the time of her casting, Allen brings the goods to a seemingly thankless role, something she would do again to equally impressive effect with her roles in 1984’s Starman and 1988’s Scrooged. How this woman didn’t become a superstar herself is frankly embarrassing to the entire human race. When discussing her experience on Raiders, she said this: "You get down into all the layers of all the technical things having to be working all at once. It wasn’t just the acting, it was being aware of what the camera was doing, and being in the right light, being in the right place at the right moment and not getting in each other’s way and all of these sorts of things, I mean it was fascinating." Karen Allen was a motherfucking star who beat the shit out of any scene you threw at her, not just with her insanely impressive presence and delivery, but with the seasoned know-how of a tempered actor who knew what she needed to get done, both when and how. Obligatory John Williams score shoutout!! What do you want me to say about this? Seriously? Pull it up on Spotify or YouTube and just deal with the fact that it’s a bop. It slaps and is easily one of the top five themes EVER. That’s it. GREAT JOB, JOHN! But let’s get into the movie proper, shall we? The beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a miracle; its opening sequence is a pacing and editing marvel, on both a technical and experiential scale. And if we can fast forward, the final big scene of the movie takes place on what is visually (and sort of literally), a movie-set, and is also a psychotic rollercoaster of entertainment and movie magic. Bookending your movie with these jaw-dropping moments is one surefire way to make a classic. Luckily for us, Raiders also has plenty of tasty filling: an impeccable tone, outlandishly enjoyable characters, and heart-racing action that all adds up to the very thing we think about when we imagine what movies can do. Let’s start with what makes the tone of this film so great. While the slapstick, tongue-in-cheek antics are great, they are the resulting leftovers of many cut moments of similar fun fare. Spielberg actively shot loads of funny moments within all points of the films, leaving it until the final stages of the editing room to hone the balance. The comedy within this movie is finely tuned and only released when narratively perfect. Similarly, Indie’s heroic nature (i.e. his badassery) is typically usurped time and time again. When we are first introduced to him, we see him fail and get run out of a jungle, nearly dying, only to escape by the skin of his teeth, and THEN we see he’s a big ol’ wuss around snakes. This narrative tactic of having Indie’s confidence get the better of him not only makes everything more believable but also ties us to the stakes of the moments. We want Indie to make it because, c’mon dude, you got this! The entire plane fight scene is pure magic. The dynamic the audience has with Indie, coupled with the added flair of Speilberg’s mesmerizing blocking, (we’ll get to more of this soon, I swear) creates an absolutely beguiling piece of cinema that is indisputable. And while we’re on the tone train, let’s talk about exposition. There is an amazing exposition dump with some military dudes early on in the movie that gives the audience every facet of information they could need in a purely naturalistic way. THIS is how you do it, baby. The exposition work in this film is just all-around perfection. Something is always happening and is always given just the right amount of attention. There is a keen eye on blocking with editing in mind. Watch the “Bad Dates” scene and tell me this movie isn’t made by a genius. I dare you. We’ve already discussed the two heavy hitters of this movie - Ford and Allen - but the secondary characters in this thing are out of control. Paul Freeman as Belloq is a world-class fuckboi; Ronald Lacey puts in the distinguished work of "That Creepy Guy" as Toht, and you’ve got John Rhys-Davies doing his shudderingly sexy thing as Sallah. And one would be embarrassed to not bring up “Sir” Alfredo Molina in a role that, even though he is only in the first ten minutes, you still think of his face and rubbing-fingers every time you think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it is in Denholm Elliot, playing Brody, that the brightest light of the ensemble shines, and while he isn’t given much screen-time in this first installment, he radiates ACTING in his brief scenes. Don’t worry, we’ll get more into Elliot's amazing abilities in the Last Crusade, where he’s utilized so much more, creating one of the greatest sidekick characters of all time. Brody speaks a dozen languages and knows every local custom, don’t ya know? The stunts in this thing are out of control, full stop. Keeping the natural feel and allowing the camera to flow through the scenes required an insane amount of talent and trust by the stunt team, something that I think is felt even while watching the movie as a spectator; you know that’s not Harrison Ford doing that, but it’s still Indiana Jones if that makes sense? It’s insane what the stunt team accomplishes in this movie. The more you pay attention to the stunts as events as opposed to moments, the more the awe sets in. A quick aside: One of the oddest moments in the film is when Indie supposedly rides a submarine to “Nazi Island.” You know the part I’m talking about. How does he survive this? A deleted scene does show him holding onto the periscope of the submerged submarine, seemingly explaining how his survival might have been possible. Does this make sense? No. Is that how submarines work? As someone who has served aboard a submarine, I can tell you: No. No, it is not. Is the mystery better than the deleted explanation? Sure. Great job, everybody. Keep giving me a good movie, thank you. And it is here, dear reader, that we must delve into the mind that brought this awesomeness all together: one Steven Allan Spielberg. This was, in many ways, a big rebound from the failures Spielberg perceived onto himself from 1941, which created some wounds to the director’s image that he hoped to heal. Spielberg very much wanted to be under-budget and under-schedule, the opposite of the plights that had plagued him in his previous films, whether successful and critically acclaimed or not. I spoke before on George Lucas’ dream of the idea, and Lawrence Kasdan’s injection of thrill into the story, but it is in Mark Dinning’s review from "Empire" that Spielberg is most eloquently placed: “If Lucas is Raiders’ guts and Kasdan its head, then Spielberg is its beating heart.” "The first film I ever saw was The Greatest Show on Earth, by Cecil B. Demille. That was the first experience I ever had in the theater. My father said that he was taking me to a circus movie. But I didn’t register “movie,” I registered “circus.” And I stood in line with him in the cold sleet in New Jersey. And I always imagined a circus took place in a tent, not a brick building, so it didn’t make any sense to me. I expected the curtain to open and I’d see real elephants, a real lion tamer, and the curtain opened and there was big white material, and this flat image came on this white sheet, and it was The Greatest Show on Earth. And my first reaction was that my father had betrayed me. He promised me a circus, and took me to something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but was not satisfying in any way. I couldn’t smell it, I couldn’t climb into it, you know, I couldn’t be afraid of it. And as I’m watching the movie, suddenly I’m smelling it, I’m afraid of it, I’m climbing into it and by the end of the film, I was really jazzed. I remember the spectacle." -Steven Spielberg There’s an outright ludicrous nature to some of the stuff on display in Raiders that is unbelievable, but you still believe it. You buy into it because it all happens naturally within the rules and tone that the movie sets up, mainly within its opening moments. Like, a whip? Whips don’t work like that! Or do they? Who cares? This is cool and fun! It is a transactional adventure. Of the film's escapism Spielberg says, “In Raiders of the Lost Ark, things happen that an audience would believe if they buy the first ten minutes of the movie.” There’s realism to all the moments and the look of the film. Spielberg was notoriously adamant to shoot quickly, perhaps worried he would fall short like his previous films, which went over-budget and over-schedule. His tenacity and vigor make the moments captured feel real and raw, something he would continue to use in the future: his techniques of blocking on the day, rolling with the improvised look and nature. There is a tone here that is meticulously calibrated, allowing the feeling to be natural. All of this is how you make a magical movie. Behind the scenes, we see time after time Spielberg perfecting moments within shots to use for edits in real-time. He’s literally seeing the movie as they make it, and accounting for these needs on the day to produce the exact images and feel he wants. This is what a director should do, and usually does, but ya boi does it very, very well. The technical aspects of making this movie shouldn’t be understated. They made this thing QUICK, finishing eleven days ahead of schedule. Given Spielberg’s track record, that’s very, very good. Spielberg longed for the days of shooting Duel and The Sugarland Express in under sixty days, these quick, intimate productions of verve and technique. Most big-budget, epic movies take many months, if not longer, to fully produce. He wanted to do something bigger than he’d ever done in less time than it had ever taken him to do it. And he did. That’s boss level. "Steve does a great deal of homework when he does a picture. And he’s very organized, and I think one of the main reasons the film is going so well and is ahead of schedule at this point, is because Steve also has gained a great deal of technical knowledge on making movies, he’s made these kinds of movies before, he knows what to anticipate. He knows how to make a production move. " -George Lucas This isn’t to say that there weren’t a number of major obstacles for Spielberg to overcome. There was grueling heat in the desert scenes, with the film notoriously shooting during the hottest time of the year in Tunisia, reaching over 135 degrees Fahrenheit. On a quick fun note: The legend of Spielberg himself being the only member of the cast and crew to not get sick while filming in Tunisia by eating only cans of Spaghetti-O’s is *chef’s kiss.* Spielberg’s display of handling tone and the adventurous exploitation is a wonder, something he would replicate so seemingly effortlessly in the sequels that it becomes something of an enigma that the (ahem) fourth installment in the series would be so generally lacking in the very things that made the series so interesting and exciting. While this is a fun movie to watch, it is apparent that it was a difficult movie to make, but Spielberg’s tactics and techniques work their magic at every turn. On mapping out set pieces to feel natural in editing, and therefore also in viewing, Spielberg says he thought, “Geography makes an audience more secure with the story.” Knowing where our characters are in relation to the world around them helps us understand what they are trying to do, and where they need to go to do it, naturally, allowing us to fall even deeper into the entertainment of it all. It also seems like Spielberg started figuring some things out while on the set of this movie, which is surprising, given how successful many of his previous films were. It’s kind of hard to imagine the director, who notably and obviously created the “Spielberg Look,” saying, “When you don’t really know what the effects are gonna be until you get into post-production, it’s very hard to direct somebody and say, ‘Look frightened, or look overjoyed, or look with awe at something that will not be in for a few months!’” But that’s what The Beard does: he’s a great director, and part of being a great director is both understanding your need, and having the ability to communicate the unseen to those who will need to perform and capture that vision. “Every actor needs a different director for each moment. And I think I have to be a different director for each actor, moment to moment,” he once said in an interview commenting on him working with so many different types of actors in different types of genre roles. Raiders was made for $20.8 million and grossed $363 million. Indiana Jones’ first cinematic adventure would go on to win five Academy Awards in the technical categories (Editing, Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction, and, of course, Visual Effects), losing the more major awards to Chariots of Fire and Reds. The technical Oscar wins make a lot of sense, especially the sound design by Ben Burtt, who is the John Williams of sound effects in many ways. Much of what makes Raiders so special isn’t just the things we immediately think about, but the entire piece as a whole and how it builds and releases tension, all the while maintaining a feeling of excitement and danger, and much of this is due to the sound design and previously praised editing. Some other final notes of interest include the amazing delivery of Ford’s, “Ha ha ha haaaa-sonuvabitch…” at the taunts of Belloq, as well as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it splatter of Indie’s blood on the windshield of the truck he’s driving after being shot in the arm. It’s fantastic stuff that high-definition conversion was made for. Speaking of which, a fond memory I have of watching Raiders took place at a screening of its 2K theatrical re-release, I believe for its 35th anniversary, where the screen was so massive and the picture so crisp, that my partner, Diana, and I, noticed a fly crawl into AND OUT OF actor Paul Freeman’s mouth during his ending monologue in the film’s penultimate moments. We lost our minds. Captain Katanga, played briefly by George Harris, never returns in any of the sequels, and this makes me sad. It should also be noted that this movie features one of the best examples of another Spielberg-ism the director is so regularly known for: the Mini Movie, wherein a scene placed perfectly within the movie contains, in itself, a dynamic 3-act structure that really builds character and sets the wanted mood moving forward (the example I speak of is, of course, the Drinking Shots scene, which acts as Marion’s introduction). Your honor, people of the jury… Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good movie, this much is undebatable. But I argue to you, that even in a filmography that contains the birth of the blockbuster, several Academy Award nominations and winners, the perfection of the CGI and practical effect balancing act, and arguably the greatest opening moments of any war movie ever made, Raiders is Spielberg’s most impressive film, if only for the fact that he makes perfection look so effortless that a viewer may be so wrapped up in the experience of it all that they might not even notice the craft and skill on display in every single frame. On the next Movie Daddy, allow me to explain to you why The Terminal is actually quite charming, if not also ridiculously problematic and loooooooooooong. Mike Burdge Editor-in-chief Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.
- PODCAST: Eight Bits - Mortal Kombat
Robby Anderson and Mike Burdge yap about the Mortal Kombat franchise, from its humble arcade beginnings to the recent massive blockbustin' return-to-the-cinema experience. Many adaptations, all with different things in mind, show a varied approach to just how video games can be brought to the big screen. Listen....
- Bored to Death: A Review of Blithe Spirit
The very essence of comedy, the one thing that it can truly be boiled down to if needed, is entertainment which intends to make an audience laugh. Blithe Spirit purports to be such a piece of entertainment, yet its intentions lack anything to laugh at, so much so, that it would be arguable that humor and wit were the furthest things from what was on its mind. This tale of pitiful personalities takes place in England in 1937, a time when, apparently, zero chemistry was required for all relationships, be them romantic, friendly, or even paternal. Walking snack, Dan Stevens plays Charles Condomine, a successful novelist struggling to churn out the next big piece: his first screenplay. While it is confusing just exactly what he is trying to do (it is inferred many times that he is simply adapting a previous novel, yet he is stricken with writer’s block, and we see multiple scenes of seemingly original content and dialogue being created. What?), the film has one small added pitch: What if the writer’s dead wife was helping him write the screenplay? Here’s where I’ll get the joke: “It feels like someone’s dead wife wrote THIS screenplay,” out of the way so that we can all move on. With the return of his deceased wife’s (Leslie Mann) spirit at the befuddled hands of a medium fraud (Judi Dench), Condomine is forced to deal with the feelings he may still harbor for his ex-love, even as these feelings begin to infuriate his current wife (Isla Fisher). There are many movies that Blithe Spirit thinks it is, and even more that it is trying to be. The modern-piece throwback to the Golden Age of Moviemaking and all its quirks in the film industry is ripe with situational humor and in-the-know winks and nods, yet this movie takes advantage of none of them. Based on the popular play by Noël Coward, one can see the seams where adaptation began to diverge from the original texts' intended bravado, which isn’t particularly a bad thing, but it does no favors to a movie that is literally about adaptation and it never seems to understand that there is at least something there to be played with for humor. But, to be fair, there’s a lot in this movie that should be funny which falls flat due to misshapen dialogue, the occasional overuse of editing or a general look and tone held tightly throughout that makes one feel like they’re watching a Drunk History segment with the funny voiceover removed. While watching the film, I kept finding myself vanishing even deeper within my own soul. This isn’t to say I wasn’t paying attention at any point in the film. This is my job, and it is a nice job to have, so for 99 minutes, I paid attention to this movie, a movie that at several instances seemed to be directly and intentionally attempting to make me die. Is this the worst movie ever made? Far from it. Is it bad? Oh, sweet lord yes. The lack of laughs is not the only sin on display here (although it is probably the major one). The film’s manic style and attitude are constantly working against anything it is trying to communicate. Scenes are either chopped up and scrambled together in moments of shot-reverse-shot with multiple camera angles being plopped down at different takes, with character’s appearances noticeably changing over the course of an intended one-minute discussion, or they are extended into long takes where we are just watching a couple of people in a room talking to each other with little motivation for plot and zero sense of situational dynamics. The audience is practically begging for someone to just trip over something already so that they can see something happen and have characters react to it comedically. And this, again, is the major issue I have with Blithe Spirit. It’s just not funny. I don’t need pathos in everything I watch, and I sure as hell don’t demand top-notch filmmaking from start to finish, but if you’re going to call yourself a comedy, base your project on the work of a notably very funny writer, and hire an overqualified cast, you should at least be able to bring the goods on the yuck-yucks every once in a while. Thinking back, the only times the film actually got an audible chuckle out of me were times when Dan Stevens would look physically sick from what he was doing (often), repeatedly noticing that there is just music playing ALL THE TIME regardless of what is going on, and whenever legendary Dame Judi Dench, (seen here doing her very best Anthony Hopkins from the Thor movies impersonation), would say the names of very hard to pronounce plants and flowers. In the end, Blithe Spirit is the type of film that doesn’t seem to care so much about its audience as it does about itself. In a movie that paints all of its characters with the same personality type, with the majority of the plot taking place in a single setting, you’d think there’d be a little movie magic left to go around, but every joke and observational quip land as hard and unfortunate as a convertible falling topside down off a cliff into a sea of anemic monotony. Mike Burdge Editor-in-chief Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Shiva Baby
Jack and Robby talk about Emma Seligman's phenomenal directorial debut, Shiva Baby. It is a good movie, this is a good podcast, and you are a good person. This all fits. And, as always, spoiler free chat for the first 20 minutes or so if you wanna check out the vibe of this thing. Seriously, it's really, really good (and playing for one more week at Story Screen Beacon Theater!) Listen on....
- An Irresistible Imp: Tim Curry at 75
Picture late-career Tim Curry, spotlit and standing in the center of a darkened Broadway stage. Imagine him singing mournfully of personal loneliness in the face of great responsibility, but in a way that conveys how that loneliness also reflects something deeper and universal about the loneliness of the human condition. His voice is rich and, despite the schmaltziness of the tune, you can’t help but feel somewhat moved by it. Now, picture him doing all this while dressed as Arthur, King of the Britons, and being mockingly accompanied in the song by his ever-present servant, Patsy, whom Arthur obtusely fails to recognize as a potential candidate to answer the central want of his song. The song in question is “I’m All Alone”, from Spamalot, the musical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Curry’s handling of the song is impressive because of how well he is able to convey both the humor and pathos of the song. Arthur does feel genuinely melancholy in this moment, which Curry delivers completely straight, even in the face of an uproarious audience and Patsy’s interjections. And still, Curry’s performance does come across as funny, but he gets there in character, without needing to wink at the audience to sell the laughs. There is something I think under-appreciated about the kind of work Curry is doing here that is part of what draws me to write about him. An unfortunate hallmark of his long career is that he has frequently been the brightest spot of some otherwise very unsuccessful projects, and I think this may have obscured just how talented he has been. There could be a temptation - particularly given the number of commercial failures he has been in that has gone on to develop a rabid following - to label him as a cult film actor. To do so would not only miss how good he was in those cultish films but would also fail to account for how impressive and versatile he has been in his career. On stage, Curry’s breakout, and most well-known role, came as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the original London stage production of The Rocky Horror Show. But, he was also a three-time Tony nominee. First, for the role of Mozart in the original Broadway run of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus in 1981. Again for the musical My Favorite Year in 1993. And finally for Spamalot in 2005. In terms of acting credits, the overwhelming majority of Curry’s work has actually come from voice acting. This change in direction began in earnest after the twin flops of Clue and Legend in 1985. Aside from being a recurring presence in many of the cartoons of my childhood like Tiny Toon Adventures, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Captain Planet, Gargoyles, or Freakazoid!, he won an Emmy for his work as Captain Hook in Peter and the Pirates and was nominated for a Grammy as the narrator of The Bad Beginning, the first book in the series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. A mere cult film actor, Curry is not. That Curry would find such success in voice work makes sense to me given how expressive and multi-faceted his performances could often be. Some of what Curry was doing as Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror, could be missed because of how big that character and film are, but he is really doing something nuanced throughout. Notably, in his last song of the film, “I’m Going Home”, Curry makes a believable shift from the limitless bravado he’s embodied for much of the film, to an almost maudlin vulnerability. And, while he’s sincerely conveying the homesickness in the song that the story demands, he is also delivering a knowingly Judy Garland-esque performance for a phantasmic audience it seems only he can see. It really should be too much and is in a way, but it completely works because of how well Curry sells it. Similarly, another quirk of Rocky Horror that relies entirely on Curry to succeed is that, by all rights, Frank-N-Furter should be the unambiguous villain of the tale, but he is the character that we’re mourning at the end of the film. Over the course of the story, we see him trap two stranded motorists, later sexual assaulting each of them, remove half the brain from one person to turn another into a living sex toy, before murdering that unwilling donor and feeding the remains to his dinner guests. This is a monstrous character as written, that has also been hailed for decades as a symbol of self-expression and tolerance for difference. That is just bonkers and is wholly a credit to Curry’s performance. The loveable or irresistible villain may be the most common theme of the characters Curry has played. There is something impish and mischievous he brings to his roles that makes it hard to treat the characters he plays as actually evil. Ridley Scott had a seemingly impossible wishlist when he was looking to cast the role of Darkness in his 1985 film, Legend. He needed someone who could convincingly play something like the Devil. He needed an actor that could simultaneously project menace, sexuality, power, and give a theatrically operatic performance, all while wearing stilts, and being covered head to toe in makeup and prosthetics. Scott had seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and based on how brave and compelling he thought Tim Curry’s performance in that film was, Scott knew that Curry was just about the only actor who could pull off a role like Darkness. Scott turned out to be right. Curry is extraordinary in the role, and easily the best and most memorable part of an otherwise mixed film. It’s impressive that Curry was able to do as much with the role as he did because of the limitations he had to contend with. In terms of the costume, some of the heavy lifting of the role was done by just how impressive he looked, but in terms of performance, his mobility and sight were so limited by that makeup and prosthetics that about the only tool left for him to work with was his voice. In the same spirit of Darkness, Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is the most memorable part of the 1990’s TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s It. It’s interesting to compare his performance against that of Bill Skarsgård in the same role for the 2017/2019 film adaptations of that story. This is something it’s hard to see past my own possible bias based on how old I was when I first saw it, but coming almost 30 years earlier, it’s Curry’s performance that I still find far more chilling. The biggest difference between the two seems to be that, though Skarsgård plays a compelling monster, particularly heightened by more modern costuming and effects, Curry’s performance hinges on him commuting to largely playing Pennywise like an actual schlocky clown and letting the horror build off of that. That choice gives him more range in that he’s actually able to bring humor that heightens the tensest scenes. It would go a bit far to say that one finds themselves rooting for Curry’s Pennywise, but it is true that he’s just about the only part of that 90’s adaptation that made an impression. An almost perfect inverse to Curry’s performance as Pennywise is his portrayal of Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. What’s most impressive about this role is that Curry manages to make Silver just as believable as a dangerous cutthroat as he is as a surrogate father figure to the young boy protagonist, Jim Hawkins. In those moments where it makes sense to play the scene for tension, Curry does; When the scene calls for warmth he plays that just as sincerely; And, when the scene requires him to sing alongside his muppet costars, he takes to it with gusto. In the case of the song “A Professional Pirate”, he needs to do all three in quick succession and he lands it perfectly. It’s a performance that would almost come off too manic to be coherent, but Curry seems to recognize how much wider a palette he can paint within the Muppet universe. All of this brings us to the role that I think may best capture what I’m trying to highlight with Tim Curry. The degree to which Clue works as a film hinges on a dizzying and multifaceted performance from him that needs to work for three different endings to the story. The endings break down into the two in which Curry, as Wadsworth the Butler, solves the case, and the final ending in which Curry, as Mr. Boddy, is the villain. Now, we’re talking about a broad, farcical comedy, so suspension of disbelief does some of the heavy lifting, easing the way towards being able to accept Curry as either the hero or the villain of the story, but it matters that there is something compelling about Curry’s villainous turn in the final ending that doesn’t leave the audience feeling cheated, or like the ending hasn’t been earned. Curry’s performance throughout the film is impressive, particularly the break-neck pace at which he is solving the murders in the final act, but it would be all for naught if he had lost the audience for any of the three endings. He pulls it off, though. He’s convincing as the hero. And, even more importantly, while revealing himself to be the villain, he overcomes the fact that this final ending does not make a whole lot of sense in relation to the rest of the film. There is something so welcome about Curry’s heel turn, that the viewer just goes with it, even welcomes it. I think there is something a bit magical about that, and, like so many of his roles, I don’t know that there is anyone else that could have pulled it off. Thankfully, Tim Curry is still with us for his 75th year, but an unfortunate stroke in 2012 has largely deprived us of his presence onscreen. His last acting role came that same year in a previously filmed performance of Eric Idle’s What About Dick? After that, a few voice performances that he had recorded before his stroke trickled out over the next few years. Rarely appearing in public at all, it seemed likely that this would have been the end of Curry’s career. Fortunately, and unexpectedly, he managed to find the perfect bookend to his career with a pair of returns to the story that started it all. With the help of some judicious editing, he was able to play the Criminologist in the 2016 TV Adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again. And, in 2020, with a great deal of help from his fellow cast members, he was able to return to the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter as part of a live-streamed performance to raise money for the Wisconsin Democratic Party ahead of the 2020 elections. The limitations of his speech are apparent in both, but each of these performances is still worth seeking out if only to see the infectious light to the man that still shines through. Damian Masterson Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.
- PODCAST: 93rd Academy Award Predictions
Mike Burdge, Diana DiMuro, Bernadette Gorman-White, Robby Anderson and Jack Kolodziejski get together for their annual episode covering their thoughts, opinions and predictions on this years Oscar nominations. Minari! Nomadland! Sound of Metal! Judas and the Black Messiah! Mank! Mank! MANK! MANK!! Juicy takes on all these, and more, await you.... Listen on....
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Godzilla vs Kong
Noted Big Boys Fightin' Historians, Jack and Robby, are joined by guest Jeremy Kolodziejski, to talk about the return to the cinema with this humbly made little feature about two bros who just can't seem to get along. That's right, it's Godzilla vs Kong. And it's cool, and it has a super, super dope score. Listen on....
- Dealing with Dementia
A look at love and loss of self in Supernova, Falling, and The Father. I didn’t expect 2020 to produce so many films dealing with dementia and getting older. Nor did I expect for them to hit me quite so hard. As I witness my own parents age and go through new challenges, I find myself identifying with various aspects in each of the films I watched recently: Supernova, Falling, and The Father. Each film portrays dementia from a different perspective, showcasing the struggles of the person going through it, as well as the person desperately trying to take care of them. If you have the time, they are all worth a watch. ———— Supernova “You’re not supposed to mourn someone while they're still alive.” (Stanley Tucci in Supernova) Supernova is a 2020 dramatic film, written and directed by Harry Macqueen, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. Firth and Tucci play Sam and Tusker, a longtime couple who load up their RV at the start of the film, ready to embark on a much-needed trip to visit friends and family in the Lake District in England. Sam (Firth) was once a concert pianist, and Tusker (Tucci) is a writer. Tusker has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and he is slowly losing his sense of self and ability to remember. Sam plans to become Tusker’s full-time caretaker. They are hoping to connect and getaway on this trip, but they each have their own agendas that do not quite match up. The film looks at their relationship and their love for each other, and it is one of the most accurate portrayals of a loving, challenging, long-term relationship that I have seen on screen. These two actors really do complement each other and bring out the best in each other’s performances. Tucci’s portrayal of Tusker’s dementia is the most understated of the three films I watched recently on the subject. But it is still painful to watch. Tusker knows what he wants and it is to not become a burden to his loved ones. It takes a while for Sam to finally come around to understanding and accepting his wishes, and Supernova is the journey that takes us there. ———— Falling Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut with Falling. He also wrote the script, produced, and composed the music for the film. Mortensen’s film creates a less sympathetic character facing dementia head-on than Tusker in Supernova, but his portrayal of dementia is perhaps more relatable. It centers around John (played by Mortensen) and his aging father Willis, (played by Sverrir Gudnason and the amazing Lance Henriksen). We realize that the present-day Willis (Henriksen) is constantly being thrust back into memories of his past, and then minutes later is forced to find his footing in the present. John attempts to calm his father down and corral him during these meltdowns of disorientation, all the while accepting his father’s frequent bouts of verbal abuse (which seem to span both past and present-day). Where Supernova displays a slower-paced, more understated view of a character losing their grip on reality, Falling’s Willis constantly vacillates between the past and present, almost aggressively so. It can be frustrating and exhausting to watch, and it garners empathy by proxy for his son, John. Occasionally, we shift to John’s own memories of his childhood and it enables us to speculate how they affect his feelings towards his father now. We realize that Willis was kind of an asshole long before he started losing his memory. Willis does not remember asking his son to help him move out to California where John and his sister, Sarah, both now live with their families. Willis is anxious to return home to NY. Mortensen’s look into dementia is an interesting one. Sounds often trigger memories - water, a glass hitting the kitchen counter - that transport Willis back in time. Laura Linney plays the older version of John’s sister, Sarah, and she is a class act as always. When Sarah talks about how beautiful the garden is instead of acknowledging her dad’s awful racist or homophobic rants, I shared in her awkward pain. In the end, Willis continues to remain angry and constantly rejects his son’s help. He feels betrayed by his children, suspecting that they always loved their mother more than him. And maybe he’s right. When John has finally had enough of his father’s behavior, he tells him that the thing that bothers him most is that Willis has never said he was sorry to any of them. It hit home for me: watching a parent age that does not recognize that they are at times extremely hurtful or even a burden. Viggo Mortensen’s first film definitely merits viewing, and I look forward to what he does next. ——— The Father The Father is co-written and directed by Florian Zeller, adapted from his 2017 play, “Le Père.” Anthony Hopkins portrays Anthony, the titular “father,” with the majority of the film’s action taking place inside what we initially view as his apartment (his “flat”) in London. His daughter, Anne, is played by the spectacular Olivia Colman. *(Side note: after seeing Colman portray the aging dowdy Queen Elizabeth on The Crown, it is a bit of a shock to see how beautiful and young she looks when she is playing her own age. She’s GORGEOUS. ENJOY.) Anthony is sure he can take care of himself, and he still seems pretty with it for a man in his eighties. Sure, he likes to hide his valuables and constantly suspects someone took his watch, but all in all, he does not seem to need a caretaker. The tone shifts once Anne tells her father that she has met a man that she really cares for and they are moving to Paris. She needs to hire a new caretaker to help look after her father who cannot be on his own. Anthony feels he is being “abandoned,” something familiar and saddening for any child to experience with a parent. That’s when things take a stark turn. I don’t want to spoil the film for those who have not seen it yet, so do yourself a favor and go watch it right now. Anthony Hopkins’ performance is amazing. His character - like Willis in Falling - starts to lose his grip on what is really happening, and frankly, so does the audience. Anthony initially attempts to just go with the flow and feign that he understands what is happening to him, but he becomes more and more disoriented throughout the film. He vacillates between being a charmer (to potential home health aide Laura played by Imogen Poots) and becoming hysterical at the thought of leaving “his flat.” He is at times cruel enough to bring his daughter Anne to tears, but then he turns on a dime and becomes so excruciatingly upset and pathetic that you can’t help but feel sympathy for him. Unlike Willis, Anthony has some brief moments of clarity and appreciation, thanking his daughter for “everything.” This makes it all the more heartbreaking when we come to the film’s conclusion and witness Anthony’s dementia fully. We watch as his character attempts to accept his circumstances and enjoy the few pleasures he has. In addition to the excellent Olivia Colman, there are great performances by Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss, and Rufus Sewell, but the film shines under the sun of Anthony Hopkins most of all. Diana DiMuro Associate Editor Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro
- PODCAST: Cathode Ray Cast - The Undoing
Bernadette dissects the enigma that is HBO's The Undoing, and its eyebrow-raising award season success, with special guest, Reeya Banjerjee. Listen on....
- Happily Ever After, Indeed
At a futuristic rave of a house party, bathed in the red and purple glows of a charismatic haze, two beautiful people lock eyes from across the room. Their instant connection is palpable, and, before you know it, they’re bangin’ in the bathroom. But this isn’t a first-time, heat of the moment hook-up. No, these two randy, attractive people are Tom and Janet; a happily married couple that has been going strong for 14 years. Their introduction within the film is cheeky and playful, and it sets the tone for the next hour and a half. It’s rare that a directorial debut can so playfully make a contract with the viewer, but Happily quickly assures you that it’s not gonna take itself too seriously. Happily is extremely comfortable sitting in the messiness of its genre-bending introspection of the romantic comedy oeuvre, and from the very beginning, BenDavid Grabinski (writer/director/puppet master extraordinaire) is completely in on the joke. Most films that focus on a couple in the trenches of the second decade of their relationship tend to dissect the imminent problems that arise from, well, a relationship that has grown stale. In Tom and Janet’s case, their relationship is just too stinkin’ moist to find any fault...unless you happen to be any one of their coupled-up friends who just can’t stand to be around their happiness. Tom (a casual Joel McHale - great, but toned down) and Janet (a delightful, on-the-rise Kerry Bishé) just can’t keep their hands to themselves, they rarely fight, and if they have a disagreement, they make up within hours...and usually, to sexual success. And their friend group has finally, and irrefutably, had it. So when their married friends, Val and Karen (Paul Scheer and Natalie Zea) spill the beans on their friend group's dissatisfaction with Tom and Janet’s marital satisfaction and disinvite them from the upcoming couples’ trip, Tom and Janet really begin to wonder; can their marital bliss exist in a world bent on curbing partners’ desire for each other? Is there something inherently wrong with their happiness? The question weighs heavily on their minds as they begin to wonder what their lives are going to look like moving forward, after having been dumped by their entire friend circle. And then things start to get really weird. A mysterious man (Stephen Root just really Rooting it up) shows up on their doorstep the following morning, claiming that he has a cure for their non-problem problem. He presents them with two syringes, full of a solution that will allow them to lose their sexual appetites for each other, causing them to argue more frequently and with more voracity, and finally let them blend-in in the world. No longer will others have to question the dysfunction in their own marriages because of Tom and Janet’s happiness. Their defects will be cured. Plus, as an added bonus, they will receive an unspecified amount of money, courtesy of this rogue syndicate of marriage rectifiers. Toms and Janets exist out in the world, but it’s rare that they end up together, and now this unknown agency is just trying to right the imbalance in the world. Most couples aren’t happy, so why should they be? And this is where I leave you, dear reader, at the end of the first act, because moving forward, the genre-bending truly begins and if you weren’t already aware that the world of Happily is a foreign one, now you most certainly are. I most often gravitate towards films where the rules of the world are slightly off, and knowing the rules of Happily were going to be strange after watching the trailer, I was already pretty excited to dig into this movie. But without belaboring the rest of the shenanigans, I’ll share one more nugget of information in that Tom and Janet, fairly immediately following Stephen Root’s visit, get re-invited to the couples’ trip, and the remainder of the film takes place within the sci-fi mansion that the five couples have rented out for their getaway. The five couples consist of Tom and Janet, Val and Karen, Patricia (Natalie Morales - truly, the ace-in-the-hole of the film - so funny) and Donald (Jon Daly, dilly-Dalying around), Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptiste, whom I’m happy to see popping up everywhere) and Carla (Shannon Woodward, playing an angry version of herself), and lastly, Richard (a scowly, bearded Breckin Meyer) and Gretel (Charlene Yi!!!). The cast really is top-notch, and while they, sadly, don’t have much to do, they all play their parts and completely fulfill the brief. As much as I enjoy the film, I won’t shy away from admitting that the characters (even Tom and Janet) aren’t exactly three dimensional, but in the case of a film such as Happily, where the ride is more important than the death drops and the loop-de-loops, it didn’t bother me that the characters were mere vehicles for the romantic thesis the film sets up. In fact, I think if they would have been more fleshed out, the world would have started to crumble around them. In watching Happily, it’s more about looking through the glass instead of wondering if the people are half full or half empty. Thematically, and through its stellar cast, Happily works on a lot of levels, but it would be nothing without BenDavid Grabinski’s exciting writing and directing, which I found very impressive for his first foray into the world of feature films. The movie looks great, even though it’s fairly simple, and it’s so, so, so, funny. While it’s difficult to understand why this friend group has remained friends after all these years (they clearly are all very unhappy), the actors’ chemistry and the delivery of Grabinski’s dialogue is whip-smart and extremely satisfying. Plus, the way Grabinski chooses to deliver tension through dialogue is unexpected and hilarious. Grabinski has worked on a handful of things over the past few years (including a reboot of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?), and after watching Happily, I’m very excited to see what he gets up to next. Clearly, if his debut held enough clout to land him the cast he got, he’s going to be someone to watch in the next few years. There have been a number of films in the past few years that take a deep dive into the idea of second maturity, a time where you’ve begun to settle in your relationship and are beginning to question the next phase of your life. I can think of four of them from 2020 alone: Swallow, Vivarium, The Rental, and Black Bear. I can’t be certain if it’s because I’m of a certain age in my early 30’s where this type of content resonates with me, or if it’s because all of them are experimental commentaries on what it means to be stuck in a box (whether that be in your relationship or even the context of genre in film), but I’ve continued to be impressed by these filmmakers who manage to produce innovative content that still feels fresh after a century of exploring these themes in the medium. (Well, except maybe for Vivarium, you can probably skip that one.) But while Swallow, The Rental, and Black Bear all feel a bit heavier in their exploration, Happily was a real gem of a film that gave me the opportunity to sit next to my husband and laugh and laugh and laugh. He’s a Tom, and I’m a Janet. So, if you have a free evening and you’re endlessly scrolling through Netflix, contemplating the “age-old” question of what to stream, take a chance on Happily. It’s only $6.99 on AmazonPrime, and I’d be hard-pressed to say you’d not enjoy yourself. At the very least, there’s a very cool Airbnb house to look at it, and it just so happens to be full of some very funny characters. It might not land as your favorite film of the year, but if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna still be thinking about it down the line. And in this expanding sea of films, year after year, I’d say that means it’s pretty good. Give it a shot; you won’t be sorrily. Bernadette Gorman-White Managing Editor Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.
- PODCAST: Overdrinkers - The Sound of Music & Star Trek VI
In this very special episode of Overdrinkers (I mean, they're all very special, aren't they?), host Mike Burdge is joined by fellow movie-lush, Reeya Banerjee, to discuss the career of the unfortunately late and exceptionally great, Christopher Plummer. Films of note include The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Beginners, A Beautiful Mind, The Man Who Would Be King, Inside Man and The Insider. There are also many attempts to perfect a Denzel Washington impression. Listen on....
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Saint Maud
It's here. Noted Spooky Bois™, Jack and Jeremy Kolodziejski, have watched A24's long anticipated and highly praised horror film, Saint Maud. And now, they are going to talk about one of the best movies of the year, Saint Maud. And you - yes, YOU - are going to listen. And all will be well. Now, listen on....
- PODCAST: Hot Takes - Nomadland
On the latest episode of Hot Takes, Robby chats with guest, Diana DiMuro, about Chloé Zhao's breathtakingly poignant and deeply emotional look into the lives of the modern Nomad: Nomadland. Listen on....
- PODCAST: Eight Bits - Super Mario Bros.
Mike Burdge and Robby Anderson embark upon a new exclusive mini-series, Eight Bits, where they discuss the seemingly cursed genre of film: video game adaptations. Up first, the one that started it all and pretty much set the precedent for all that followed: the 1993 cinematic nightmare known as Super Mario Bros. Listen on....
- A Soul Douching Sensation in your Living Room!
It’s been a year where any kind of escapism is welcome. This is especially true when the escapism dabbles in absurdity. The creative team from Bridesmaids, (with the exception of Paul Feig) are at it again with their extremely enjoyable foray: the titular soul-douching Vista Del Mar. Here’s the thing; you’ve met a Barb and a Star in your life. They are recognizable and relatable due to the down-to-earth, casual fun of Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig. These are two small-town ladies with teal ocean and dayglow beach dreams. You know their quiet sorrow and aspirations already, and Wiig and Mumolo are betting on that in order for you to buy-in to these ludicrous yet endearingly milquetoast characters. Immediately lulling you into a false sense of security, there is a joyous, twee-comedy introduction of an anachronistic young boy on a bike, delivering papers and lip-synching to a security blanket slow jam of early eighties goodness. This is obviously heightened, and comes off as the same tone as the sing-along at the end of Bridesmaids; which is simultaneously a tribute to the song and a mockery of the intense fandom that “Hold On” had in that film. Here, the film takes a sharp right turn into footage that feels like it ended up on the cutting room floor of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids franchise. This reveals the driving plot of the film and introduces Jamie Dornan’s aloof, love-drunk Edgar - in all of his himbo glory- trying to woo Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Kristen Wiig in what looks like a cosplay manifestation of her id). The camera cuts hard to Barb and Star in Soft Rock, NE (no, it does not exist) on a couch talking it out in a Jennifer Convertibles. This is the perfect employer for Barb and Star. It is extremely outdated, yet totally endearing. For instance, you are never as excited when you enter a Jennifer Convertibles as opposed to going into an IKEA, but you go to Jennifer Convertibles for comfort, and that’s about it. After they learn that their store is closing -undoubtedly due to Barb and Star’s inability to sell anything, they head to their talking club. What a treat this was! The talking club becomes a recurring figure throughout the film. It begins with hot dog soup, Rose Abdoo, Fortune Feimster, Vanessa Bayer, and Phyllis Smith having a themed discussion every night. When not speaking, if you squint really hard, you can actually see the little daggers coming out of all of the talking club’s eyes while looking at each other. (Kidding, but you can feel it!) It becomes apparent that Vanessa Bayer is the Queen Bee, making sure all of the conversations are on-topic, regardless of how much the talking club participants may want to veer off course. After being chastised and excluded from the talking club due to veering off-topic, Barb and Star are emboldened to take a journey by themselves. To borrow the parlance of Barb and Star, when they get to Vista Del Mar, well, that’s where it gets cuckoo bananas. Yet again, the absurdity is heightened when you realize that this comedy-adventure-spy romp also has full-on musical segments. To be clear, we are not full-on Busby Berkley, but there are a lot of full-on, glorious silver-age musical numbers. The entire soundtrack for that matter feels like the forgotten yacht-rock classics of yore. It’s full of lovely surprises and forgotten gems that will make you think "all mai tais, all day." I’m honestly surprised at the omission of the Sloppy Boys and their album Dancing on the Wind. Whilst in Vista Del Mar, Barb and Star have their own prerogative of bucket-list adventures, which gets quickly derailed with a magical drink in the lobby and the meeting of Edgar. After a hypnotic, drunken tryst, both Barb and Star begin their pursuit of Edgar, which turns into a delightful, uh, C plot? That being said, if you are watching this movie for the plot, you are missing the point entirely. It’s there and has its function, but come to this movie prepared to laugh and remove your plot hole seeing monocles. They are not welcome in Vista Del Mar. Sure, Bizarro-evil-Kristin Wiig -Sharon Gordon Fisherman- has a substantial backstory, including the traumatizing catalyst which started her on a journey to destroy the annual Seafood Jam with killer mosquitoes, but like the majority of the visuals, it’s enjoyable fluff. After landing in Vista Del Mar, the film begins to truly sing, literally. The pursuit of the potential relationship with Edgar and Barb, or Edgar and Star, rightfully lampoons so many romantic comedies by taking a carbon copy of their “date” scenes and CTRL+V’ing it for both Barb, Star, and directly into our hearts. At this point, Dornan’s lust for both sides of the Kristen Wiig coin crescendos with a scene-stealing musical debut for Dornan that is as impressive as the buffet at the Hotel Vista Del Mar. There is a sharp contrast between Soft Rock and Vista Del Mar visually. In Soft Rock- like our humdrum quotidien- it is a sea of desaturated stale colors. How many shades of tan and grey are there, do you ask? Soft Rock Nebraska answers: just enough to not call attention to anything at all. In comparison, Vista Del Mar seems like if David La Chapelle had to dress David Bromstad (host of Million Dollar Dream Home) and he could only use the color palettes in his work. It is in fact, a super-saturated and borderline eye-straining bright and vivid dayglow assault. Surely, I am not the only one noticing the outfits that David Bromstad wears, right? To summarize, it is a kitsch tiki-fetishist wet dream. Coupled with the aesthetic cameos in the film are a wide array of cameos, one of which is the post-lounge mainstay Richard Cheese of Lounge Against the Machine, in addition to one of my personal favorites: that one guy, from that one thing - Michael Hitchcock. There is also a magical character interlude with a delightful new lens while still being extremely tongue-in-cheek. Finally, there is a perfect suburban lady-dream fulfillment towards the end of the movie that is too on the nose to spoil here. In a bizarre, serious twist, the set design beautifully conjures up the "Wasted Away in Margaritaville" perpetual vibes of the fictitious Vista Del Mar, so much so, that there was a feature about it in Architectural Digest. To their credit, the production team packed this film with vibrant neon quirks, eccentricities, and tourist traps, a - "Oh, is that a shell bracelet stand? Ooo, I love these!"- plenty. After their dalliances, Barb and Star take some time away from each other whilst secretly reconvening repeatedly with Edgar, and rest assured, their adventures are an intriguing, and tit-flappin’ good time. Star’s adventures lead her to ludicrous sexual encounters with Edgar, and Barb goes on a harrowing path of self-discovery -sort of. Barb’s journey is packed with parodies of all of the spring break “transformational” moments and proves to be a jarring and hilarious romp. Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar was such a refreshing change of tone from the eternal doomscape that was 2020. It was stupid, vibrant, beautiful, and absurd, as breezy as Barb and Star’s omnipresent culottes. Jordan Young Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic, and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.
- VIDEO: What's Next for WandaVision?
In our latest video, Robby Anderson discusses just where our favorite television characters from the highly successful Disney+ show will end up, and how we got here. Watch on....
- PODCAST: Cathode Ray Cast - WandaVision
Bernadette gets cozy with guests, Robby Anderson and Diana DiMuro, while talking about the long-awaited slice of Marvel apple pie: WandaVision. From robots to twins, commercials to nosey neighbors, they dive into everything this cool af show has to offer. Listen on....
- The Birdcage, 25 Years Later: Problematic plot, flawless cast, timeless film.
I was 11 years old when The Birdcage, Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the 1978 film La Cage aux Folles, was released in 1996. The film depicts (the late, great) Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as Albert and Armand Goldman, life partners who own a nightclub/cabaret called The Birdcage in South Beach, Florida, navigating their son Val’s (Dan Futterman) engagement to Barbara (a very young Calista Flockhart), the daughter of a homophobic Republican Senator, Kevin Keely (played with hilarious bombast by Gene Hackman). Seriously, how wonderful of a cast is that already? And there are still more actors to come! I was probably too young to have been watching the film given its content and the time: Armand is the manager and artistic director at the club and Albert is a drag queen and the headline act, featuring a large crew of beefcakey male backup dancers and more drag queens - this at a time when depictions of longterm gay couples or any facet of gay culture were decidedly uncommon (and still somewhat taboo) in mainstream media. Their housekeeper, Agador (Hank Azaria), parades around the house wearing very little clothing, and there is a prolonged scene featuring him visible in the background of the shot, cleaning the pool while wearing a thong, butt cheeks un-ignorable. And the subplot involving Senator Keely’s colleague’s sex scandal with an underage prostitute was definitely not 6th grader material, though at the time it flew clear over my head. But I was completely blown away by the performances in this film - a sprawling ensemble of exceptional actors firing on all cylinders. One of the most notable things about The Birdcage is that despite the fact that one-half of the leading couple is played by the larger-than-life comedic force of lightening that is Williams, Armand is the straight man (so to speak) of the two. Lane’s Albert is the comedic center (and the bleeding heart) of the film, and it’s astonishing to see someone hold his own so strongly while sharing a screen with Williams. Azaria is absolutely hysterical as the hapless Agador, who is desperate to land a role within the nightclub’s company of performers despite an acute lack of talent, and somehow manages to steal the show in every scene he is in, even when sharing the frame with Lane and Williams. Hackman is clearly having the time of his life playing the deplorable Kevin Keeley, flailing as he attempts to reconcile his role as the co-founder of the Coalition for Moral Order with the news of his co-founder’s sex scandal all over the news, and Dianne Wiest does some lovely, subtle work as his long-suffering wife Louise. The sublime Christine Baranski is also here, playing Katherine, Val’s biological mother (Armand had a drunken one-night stand with her many years ago and in exchange for full custody of Val, paid her a large sum of money that allowed her to open a very successful dance studio). The performances hold up to this day - this movie is just as funny in 2021 as it was in 1996 - even if some aspects of the plot haven’t aged well. For instance, Barbara, in an effort to have her conservative father approve of her engagement to Val, has lied to her parents, telling them that Armand is straight and a cultural attache to Greece. (She also lies about their last name - saying it’s Coleman - to conceal that Val’s family is Jewish. Yes, really.) Armand is not happy when Val explains this to him, saying that he doesn’t want to be shoved back into the closet, but ultimately agrees to play along for Val’s sake. He recruits Agador and his club employees to completely redecorate their apartment to look more like a traditional Christian household before the Keeleys come over to meet them, and he enlists Katherine to join them for dinner and pretend to be his wife. Worst of all, Armand and Val realize that Albert is so effeminate that he would blow their cover, so they literally attempt to keep him out of his own house - this despite the fact that Albert helped to raise Val - which is just horrible. Albert discovers what is going on and says that he will pose as Val’s straight uncle, but after he fails at Armand’s crash course in performing masculinity accurately, he gets upset and locks himself in the bedroom - which Armand and Val decide is a good thing for this evening. Seriously. Armand and Val are fucking awful, y’all. And Barbara sucks too, for getting them into this mess. When they Keeleys arrive at the Goldman’s (sorry, Coleman’s) redecorated apartment, Kevin is agitated because he is trying to hide from the press so as not to have to answer questions about the sex scandal, and he’s also slightly worried that the Colemans (Goldmans - see, this is getting tiresome, Barbara, why, why, why?!) have heard about the scandal and will judge him. Armand and Val are agitated because there are so many lies they have to remember to keep the evening from going awry. Agador is awkward, attempting to act like a straight Greek butler named Spartacus. (Also, he has to wear shoes. He never wears shoes. This causes many problems.) And then, Katherine gets stuck in traffic, and everyone starts to wonder where “Mrs. Coleman” is. But Albert saves the day, by entering the room dressed and styled as a middle-aged woman. This terrifies Armand, Val, and Barbara at first, but he charms Kevin by pretending to be a small-town girl, espousing the traditional values of a housewife, and even makes Louise a bit jealous. The evening is a success - until Katherine knocks on the door and the whole complicated ruse is revealed. As the Keeleys are about to leave in a huff, taking Barbara with them, there is a knock on the door from two tabloid journalists looking to get dirt on the sex scandal, and they get a photo of Kevin. Turns out Keeley’s chauffeur tipped them off. More and more reporters begin to turn up outside the nightclub, and Kevin despairs. And then Albert saves the day - again - by realizing that they can sneak the Keeleys out of the apartment unnoticed by the media, by dressing them all as drag queens and sneaking them into The Birdcage through the back entrance and then out the door during the final number “We Are Family” amongst all of the other dancers and club-goers (Kevin looks utterly ridiculous in his dress and wig, but Louise actually looks pretty good in her leather-daddy getup, weirdly enough). And then, the happy ending - Val and Barbara do end up getting married, in an interfaith ceremony, attended by both families, the nightclub staff, and Kevin’s Republican friends and colleagues. (Bob Dole is declared a hottie by one of the club’s bartenders.) Moral of the story: DON’T LIE ABOUT YOUR FIANCE’S FAMILY AND FUNDAMENTAL IDENTITY TO YOUR PARENTS. BARBARA. And yet… despite Albert getting bagged on, insulted, and essentially erased from his son’s identity during Armand and Val’s desperate attempt to fool the Keeleys, there are some moments of true hilarity in the struggle - most notably Armand’s attempt to show him how to “act” straight, involving lessons in How Not To Hold A Glass Of Water With One Pinky Raised, How To Talk About Sports, How to SMEEEEAR Mustard On Bread In An Aggressive Manner (“Oh god, I pierced the toast!” “So what? The important thing is to remember is not to go to pieces when that happens. You have to react like a man, calmly. You have to say to yourself, ‘Albert, you pierced the toast, so what? It's not the end of your life.’”) and How to Walk Like The Ur-Straight Man, John Wayne. Watching Albert attempt to mimic Armand’s impression of John Wayne’s physicality makes me weep with laughter. And yet… despite Armand treating Albert like a freak of nature that needs to be hidden through a large part of the film, there are also some moments of genuine pathos. Armand chases Albert down after Albert melodramatically declares that he is going to the cemetery, as he is getting old and is clearly no longer wanted by his family. He catches Albert at a bus stop, and tells him he loves him: “...it's true: you're not young, you're not new, and you do make people laugh. And me? I'm still with you because you make me laugh. So you know what I got to do? I got to sell my plot in Key Biscayne so I can get one next to you in that shithole Los Copa, so I never miss a laugh.” After which he gives Albert a set of legal documents that he has had prepared for months that declare Albert to be 50% owner of The Birdcage - effectively declaring that they are, for all intents and purposes, married. Not gonna lie, the power and sweetness of this scene, completely lost on me when I was 11, now makes me tear up. In fact, one of the loveliest things about this film is how believable Williams and Lane are as an old longtime couple - before Barbara turns everything to shit with her lies, we see the warm, genuine affection between Armand and Albert, their comfort with each other, Armand’s willingness to put up with Albert’s anxiety-ridden ranting before a show, Albert’s pride in his home and his work and his family. We even see how much Val loves Albert, who he eventually introduces to the Keeleys as his mother when the jig is up. A lot has happened since this film was released - Flockhart’s brief dance with celebrity as the infamous Ally McBeal, the juggernaut that was The Producers on Broadway starring Lane, the tragic loss of Williams to suicide in August of 2014, Nichols’ death only a few months later of a heart attack, and Azaria being raked over the coals in 2017 for being a white voice actor playing a broad caricature of an Indian man on the Simpsons when people finally figured out that hey, that’s actually pretty racist. (Progress? Progress!) Even though 1996 feels like a whole lifetime ago, and despite the many plot elements that read as just plain cruel with the hindsight of 25 years, The Birdcage still manages to be funny. And ultimately, with the Keeleys’ embracing of Val and his unconventional-to-them family - which, to be perfectly frank, was groundbreaking in a mainstream film of its time - this story is a celebration of the messy realities of a family in general, where you love each other no matter what, warts and all. Love is love is love, as they say, these days. With that joyous premise as the film’s foundation, I’m willing to overlook the stuff that seemed normal when I was 11 but now looks ugly in my mid-thirties. And in a roundabout way, that also makes me happy - that our society has progressed so much in the last quarter-century that the main conflict that drives the plot of this story can now be seen for the heartlessness towards Albert that it is, as opposed to belly laughs at a man just for being effeminate. I hope I haven’t put anyone who hasn’t seen The Birdcage off with this write-up. It is still one of my favorite movies - again, with a cast like this, a witty script penned by Nichols’ longtime collaborator Elaine May, and flawless performances, it is a wildly entertaining ride. A lot may have changed since The Birdcage was in theaters, but the talent on display in this film is timeless. Reeya Banerjee Reeya is a Hudson Valley-based musician and writer. In her other life, she works as a hospitality finance associate, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU reruns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use. She can frequently be found in various coffee shops and bars drinking IPAs while reading pop culture news on her phone.
- VIDEO: Story Screen's Pop-Up Screening Recap
Before Story Screen was a movie theater, podcast, film criticism site or even a YouTube Channel, it was a pop-up screening cinema project, devoted to free screenings of all types of different movies all over the Hudson Valley, always with the intent of sparking conversation around film after each screening. Here's an awesome recap video we whipped together a few years ago, when we announced the opening of our permanent theater space, which covers every pop-up screening we ever held over nearly 5 years. Enjoy! Watch on....