How SPIDER-MAN: Into the Spider-Verse Expands Whatever a Spider Can Do

Spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ahead.

There’s a ringing sound—high pitched, like a whistle.

Spider-Man and Miles flinch in pain. There are glossy dots in the background, giving the screen an old comic-book feel as it shifts into neon color. The ringing signifies the iconic ‘spidey-sense’ which tells us that danger is nearby.

You’re like me,” Peter Parker says in awe to the panicked Miles, kicking off the theme of the film.

A Quick Recap for Those Who Need It

It’s been a whirlwind few years for Marvel’s most iconic superhero. After Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise in the early 2000s, the series got a full-on reboot by Sony starring Andrew Garfield. It aired simultaneously with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with some hopes for a crossover. Those hopes were dashed after no apparent third film was being released in the Amazing Spider-Man series.

People wanted to see Spider-Man in the MCU, which was pretty revolutionary for Marvel’s B, C, and even A-list characters. In a way, the absence of the X-Men and Spider-Man allowed the others to breathe and headline in their universe. But again, people wanted to see Spider-Man in the expanding and relatively well-received world. He is, after all, not only Marvel’s most popular superhero but the genre’s most popular superhero.

:/

So, after Marvel and Sony brokered a deal to share the rights of Spider-Man, Peter Parker flipped into the MCU for the first time in the Captain America: Civil War trailer.

Since 2017, Spider-Man got this full franchise reboot, an acclaimed video game, and a striking performance in the one of the most watched crossover events ever. Now, a gorgeous, otherworldly animated movie.

This essay is not necessarily about Spider-Man: Homecoming or Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (but full disclosure, I love it and him). This is how 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse explores the complex character of Peter Parker, his legacy, and how it all makes you fall in love with Miles Morales.

What makes Spider-Verse different is that Spider-Man isn’t Peter Parker—the nerdy and lovable brunette from Queens whose backstory is so ingrained into our pop culture awareness that it’s almost a joke (*insert Toby Maguire crying meme here*). It’s Miles Morales, a sweet and anxious, kid from Brooklyn.

Miles is voiced adorably by Shameik Moore who perfectly captures the eagerness and nerves of a young teenager. He is Afro-Latino and one of the few heroes of color given a production as large as this one. Miles also made an appearance in Disney XD’s animated series and the video game, but this is his first time as the lead in a media setting.

And what a perfect, perfect debut.

Great Expectations

Spider-Verse opens with Miles going to a new, high-achieving school, put under pressure by the expectations of everyone around him. Miles is pulled apart by his own insecurity, underestimating his worth as a student, as a son, and later, as a superhero. After getting bitten by a radioactive spider, he stumbles into a battle between mobster Kingpin and renowned hero, Spider-Man (voiced by Chris Pine). Spider-Man takes note of Miles and his new powers, promising Miles that he will show him how to handle his new hopped-up genetic abilities.

My thoughts on Peter B. Parker

But Spider-Man is murdered—and a horrified Miles is struck with guilt and fear on what to do with his new powers. He runs into Spider-Man again—but it’s an older, sadder, deadbeat Peter B. Parker, voiced perfectly by Jake Johnson.

With Kingpin’s new machine converging alternate universes together, Miles and Peter need to find a way to pull the seams of reality together so Peter can go back home.

The movie also features other alternative universe Spider-People who fall into Miles’s world, including:

  • Gwen Stacy: one of the most infamously frigid girlfriends of the genre. However, with some acclaim from Emma Stone’s performance in The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen’s legacy got a lot of reshaping and even her own series where Peter Parker dies and she is Spider-Woman. She is a surly loner who lost a best friend, choosing to keep others out of her life (Miles also has an adorable crush on her.). Played by Hailee Steinfeld.
  • Peni Parker: who is rendered in an Anime-styled mecha series (a very neat animation feature). The radioactive spider is in her robot and is psychically linked to it. Played by Kimiko Glenn.
  • Spider-Man Noir: a smooth 1950s Nazi-puncher. Played by Nicolas Cage.
  • Spider-Pig: The Simpsons did this to us. Played by John Mulaney, a human Warner Brothers cartoon.

The film has a wild, expansive comic-book plot that embraces its roots and goes all the way out there. The animation matches the details of an old school comic, from the 3-D art to the tiny speaking marks when a character exclaims or laughs loudly. The way the characters swing, the way the colors mash together and the way the film portrays the breaking of time itself is some of the most remarkable I have ever seen. The way it pushes the medium of animation into something crazier and different with a blend of the language within comic books and visual signals is so creative.

As someone who was a fan of Infinity War, Spider-Verse was the film event that truly encompasses the concept of comic-book events. They are big story-lines that can get convoluted, but Spider-Verse tackles an origin story extremely well. It’s about Miles, but also gives Peter, Gwen, and others their due. It’s about the characters but also about what the superhero genre means.

Alright, Let’s Do This One Last Time

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. He’s my favorite character, period. I couldn’t delve into how much this franchise means to me and how much I see myself in this awkward teen boy. How I grew up watching Neil Patrick Harris’ Spider-Man series on MTV, how my family set up the projector to watch Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker against the living room wall. How I love comic books, even with how infuriating they can be most of the time.

The arching quote, “You’re like me,” rings so true in the film. It’s the message to say that you aren’t alone, that if you let people in your life, you can grow from your insecurities and anger. From Peter B. Parker’s bitterness at the state of his life, to Gwen Stacy’s insecurity of losing a best friend, they all learned something about taking a leap of faith and trying to better themselves instead of conforming to what feels comfortable. Miles’s intense insecurity of feeling like an inadequate Spider-Man is his own barrier to overcome.

In a meta sense, the film touches upon the legacy of Spider-Man and who Peter is. Many of the Spider-Man properties deal with Peter Parker as a high-school or college student, approaching his new status with a baby deer-like shakiness. An underdog going through the ropes, experiencing his first heartbreak and his first failure, yet these films rarely engage with him later in his career. This is often the way we approach superheroes—not always, but often. Reboot, restart, new tone.

The world of comic books are their own kind of special arrested development. It is often said that there is a fear of change and embracing new character arcs embedded in the comic book industry. It makes a bit of sense—sadly—since they run on serial story-lines. If there is no end in sight for a character, why push them through the motions of change so quickly. None of the above aspects truly mean that there is an end for a character if its in the hands of a good writer, but that’s an argument for another day.

Change is Good

In Peter’s case, there is something so exciting about seeing him dissected as an older character. Run-down, yes, but experienced. To have him react to his long career with resentment, as it caused damage to his personal life and his esteem. It is clear that he still has a lot of learning and growing to do—that the way he was running for so many years was not self-sustaining. He has a chance to change his course in order to become a balanced husband, hero, and person. I like that no matter where you are in life, you can change and grow. There isn’t an end or a deadline.

He’s in your Sunday cartoons, on your cereal box, your little sister’s book bag, maybe even your first celebrity crush. You grew up with him. This is kind of the first time where the legacy of Spider-Man is dissected. What does he mean as an icon?

He’s everyone. He’s not a billionaire, he didn’t land on Earth in spaceship. Spider-Verse emphasizes that the powers are not what makes the hero. It’s that these are very normal people with normal and scary problems but still find themselves striving to do good in the world. That means everyone can be Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – source: Sony Pictures

Reminding us of the scene from Spider-Man 2, where Peter is lifted by a crowd in a broken train and shielded by civilians from a blood-thirsty Doc Ock. Or the little kid from The Amazing Spider-Man who chorales Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man to keep on fighting. Because that’s what Peter says: “…no matter how many hits I take, I always find a way to come back”.

Spider-Verse forces the character to recognize their potential as well as their limitations, and their connection with others while still being good people. It’s a unifying, hopeful message— a sentimental embrace of love instead of masking that anger and hurt with cynicism and suppression of emotions. The Spider-Man franchise has always leaned towards optimism, even when the plot, villains and feelings get dark.  

Miles Morales is an icon for Black, Latino and Afro-Latino children, and an icon for children of color who are starving to see themselves in their favorite characters. This is a perfectly developed theme and message of unity. Go to Twitter’s hashtag Spidersona and see thousands of artists and fans develop their own Spider-Characters, using their own cultures and background to create a mirror of the familiar hero that evokes warmth and childhood memories.

It’s almost head spinning how good this movie is. It almost feels like it shouldn’t be possible. I feel like I should personally send a thank you card to each person who worked on this project. (It also makes sense this movie shared people from The Lego Batman Movie— another fantastic animated film that broke down the icon and history of Batman and how he is bad at feelings and should deal with them with family.)

It fits perfectly,

Vulture had a lovely article featuring screenwriters Rodney Rothman and Phil Lord that explained how they got you to fall in love with Miles under a minute. Moore does a wonderful job of capturing this scratchy and sweet essence of Miles’s youth and how much natural spirit he has.

Marvel Comics

What struck me about Miles was his intense insecurity— a trait that he shares with all teenagers, including a younger Peter Parker (and myself, but I’m 22). Miles, near the beginning of the movie, spray paints ‘NO EXPECTATIONS’ for his graffiti-art, encompassing his isolated feelings and uncertain future in his new school. As we roll into the battle, he constantly feels inadequate to the other Spider-People, who all seem to gently agree with him. Miles spends much of the beginning needing Peter to teach him when it was his own self-doubt blocking his ability to grow—he couldn’t mimic another Spider-Man. The film also doesn’t prescribe to the notion that tragedy makes us stronger, it makes us more tired and worn out.

It is Miles’s father, who opens himself up along with the lines of communication with his son. It is a moment of bare feelings, especially from a figure in superhero movies that is often regulated to a shadowy beacon of masculinity than pure familial love. “I see this…this spark in you. It’s amazing, it’s why I push you. But it’s yours and whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.

This is what spurs Miles into action. It is love and connections that makes a person stronger.

During the climatic moment, Miles takes a leap of faith, jumping from skyscraper to test his web-slingers. It’s his moment of truth and the jump he needed to take—that came from his love of his parents, his new Spider-family and his background. Miles couldn’t rely on approval from the other Spider-People, not even Peter (If anything, he serves as a figure for Peter to take his own steps towards building a family with Mary Jane.) Miles needed his own boost and path and suit.

It’s remarkable and so, so meaningful to not only open 2018 with Black Panther but to end it with Miles’s swinging across New York, finally able to declare himself as his world’s Spider-Man with confidence.


It’s Time to Talk About Amy Adams

The same girl did ‘The Fighter’ and ‘The Master’ and ‘The Muppets?’ Give me a break. She can do absolutely anything—and better than anyone.” – Paul Thomas Anderson

Amy serving us farm girl chic in GARAGE Magazine – dare I say, yee haw?

Amy Adams has been gracing our screens for decades. From her first major role opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can to this past year’s Vice, she has been turning out masterful performance after masterful performance to great acclaim. She has proven herself a favorite among critics and audiences alike – a small but devoted army of Twitter fans (myself included) and six Oscar nominations exist as evidence of this adoration.

After her most recent loss at the 91st Academy Awards, it seems that now is a good a time as any to revive the rallying cry and confirm: it’s time to talk about Amy Adams.

I mean – I personally always think it’s time to talk about Amy Adams, but maybe I should give my barista at Starbucks a break from my unsolicited thoughts on her appearance in The Office.

The DiCaprio Comparison

Here, we have a photo of an actor that became known for Oscar snubs. Leonardo DiCaprio is also in the picture. – source: IMDb

It’s ironically fitting that Amy’s first major film role was opposite Leo, an actor who was destined to achieve a certain reputation as a consistent Oscar loser. Each year, the fervor surrounding his perceived snubs grew louder and louder until, when The Revenant rolled around, the win felt a bit inevitable – the local outcry seemed to imply that Leonardo DiCaprio simply deserved that statuette.

The same energy has not been applied to Amy Adams (or the similarly outstanding Oscar-less Glenn Close!), despite the fact that Amy managed to accrue a higher number of nominations in a shorter career window than DiCaprio. While there is certainly a small but impassioned outcry each time Amy has not claimed victory with the Academy, the digital noise does not have the same scope. This isn’t to say that Amy Adams deserves to win on the idea of being “overdue” alone — rather, she is overdue for a win because her performances have just been that good. Let’s explore.

Critical and Popular Breakthrough

Following her endearing performance in Catch Me If You Can, Amy found her critical breakthrough through her role in Junebug. Her performance as the wide-eyed, talkative Ashley catapulted her to a new threshold of success. She imbued the part of the young woman, anxious and excited and extremely pregnant, with enthusiasm and radiance. She steals the entire film away – even her audition is worth the watch. Critics immediately fell in love with Amy, as any reasonable set of people would, and her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress was a lock.

Rolling off of the momentum from the success of Junebug, she went on to beat out almost 300 other actresses for the role of Giselle in Disney’s smash Enchanted. Her genuine joy and three-dimensional energy complete the film. It simply would not have worked without her performance. The attention to detail and level of nuance that she captures in her physicality and in her voice (both speaking and singing) is remarkable. The reception to the film confirmed Amy as a sought-after talent to watch.

Consistent Acclaim

After the massive success of Enchanted, she began turning out role after role in a golden period of critical acclaim. Her transition from ingenue roles to the more dramatic began with Doubt in 2009 – she rounded out an all-star trio opposite acting powerhouses Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film follows a Catholic school embroiled in scandal with Amy appearing as a wide-eyed nun caught in the crossfire. Doubt locked in her second Oscar nomination.

Shortly thereafter, boxing drama The Fighter provided the first iteration of a couple of major pairings: Adams’ first appearance opposite Christian Bale, and her first time working with director David O Russell, who would go on to direct the pair again in American Hustle (Adams and Bale reunited yet again for this past year’s Vice). This role marked the most significant departure from her filmography at the time as this even grittier figure gave her the chance to truly demonstrate her vast range, locking in another Oscar nomination as a result.

A still of Amy from Enchanted (2007) – source: IMDb

Continuing her work with acclaimed directors, Amy joined Paul Thomas Anderson for the disquieting psychological drama The Master in which she worked again opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman’s enigmatic cult leader. The Master featured a stacked cast — in addition to the central performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the film included appearances by Laura Dern, Rami Malek and Jesse Plemons, but Amy’s scenes as Peggy Dodd are the most chilling and severe – the effects linger even in moments she is not present. Sweet, angelic Amy of films past is nowhere to be found: Giselle could never! Disney was left shaking! Yet another round of nominations rightfully poured in for this part, but the momentum was not enough to derail Anne Hathaway’s eventual Oscar win for Les Misérables.

Her sunnier role in The Muppets (a return to form, if you will: Disney was left joyful and not shaking), and sultrier performance in American Hustle continued to reinforce the range she has at her fingertips. The latter film led to yet another nomination, this time for Best Actress, in the same year that she appeared in Her (which was also nominated for Best Picture that year). Someone needs to quickly write a film starring Amy in a gender flipped re-telling of the King Midas story, because every project she touches turns to gold. Except, apparently, specific evenings in the Dolby Theater that involve small golden statuettes. Anyways!

It’s worth mentioning that American Hustle is a great watch for Amy alone, if for whatever reason a crime caper set in the 1970s doesn’t appeal to you, nor does it matter to you one way or another that Bradley Cooper’s hair was in rollers at some point and the resulting perm is absolutely insane. Regardless: the cuts on Amy’s dresses in this film are deeper than Timothée Chalamet’s character in Lady Bird thinks he is, so, in other words, the film is a delight.

The Big Snub

This brings us to The Big Snub, which is not a sequel to The Big Sick, just to clear up any confusion in advance. Amy’s work in 2016’s Arrival yielded some of the strongest praise in her already fairly illustrious career, and with good reason. Her work in the film is exemplary.

Arrival tells the story of Louise Banks (portrayed by Adams), a linguist recruited to assist with communication when a small collection of extraterrestrial creatures land on earth. The science-fiction film is, under the surface, a quiet and intense exploration of grief and humanity, and certainly atypical for the genre in which it initially seems to fit. Arrival lacks many of the traditional hallmarks of science-fiction, and while it does feature alien lifeforms and spaceships, the small cast and sparse script push it to a categorically different place. By the time the devastating conclusion is reached, audiences have been completely swept into the world that Louise Banks inhabits. Amy carries the entire film on her petite but capable shoulders – her watchability in this film cannot be overstated.

Amy glancing out of frame, looking for the Oscar she deserved for this film, Arrival – source: IMDb

While Arrival was released to rapturous reviews, with words of praise particularly focused on its central actress, the Academy failed to recognize Amy Adams in the lead actress category. Arrival received eight nods, ultimately winning for Sound Editing only, and audiences and critics alike were truly shocked by the snub. This would have perhaps been the most appropriate role for which she could have accepted the Oscar statuette, and the decision to omit her from the nominations entirely is all the more confusing when the movie landed in categories like Best Picture. The film would have been very different, if not impossible, without her.   

Here is a brief list of things Amy Adams successfully does in Arrival:

  • Captures the viewer’s entire heart and soul in the first three crushing minutes
  • Seems like the loveliest college professor of all time and makes me feel briefly nostalgic for classrooms?
  • Shuts down the people around her who think they know her work and her career better than she does, solidifying Dr. Louise Banks as a low-key feminist icon
  • Reacts convincingly to Jeremy Renner unconvincingly delivering a line that was not written too well at a pivotal emotional point – if you’ve seen it, you know the one, but if you haven’t, pause on your read-through of this article and go rent Arrival (2016) and then circle back with me

The first time I saw Arrival in theaters, I cried the entire eleven minute drive home to my apartment, which could be a personal problem, but within the context of this article is meant to emphasize how enthralling her work is in this film. If eliciting that kind of reaction from a viewer doesn’t deserve an Academy Award, then what possibly could? Do I cry at most movies? Yes. Do I believe that WALL-E deserved Best Picture? MAYBE! But this article is not about me, it is about Amy Adams.

Looking Ahead

After her most recent loss for Vice, solidifying her name towards the top of all lists focusing on those in the industry with the most nominations without a win, it would appear that the tides may turn soon. A legacy isn’t dependent on the awards collected, and Amy Adams certainly has an incredible portfolio of work that will exist as a testament to her abilities, but after so many losses on such incredible work, Amy Adams deserves a victory – and we deserve to see it happen.

Just a Taxi Cab in LA: 15 Years Celebrating the Effortless Cool of Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL

The tagline for Michael Mann’s tight, tense crime thriller is “It started like any other night“. It is here that the film announces before it has even begun that things aren’t gonna go according to plan.

The plan? Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a hit-man whose meticulousness is par with his flare for his work. We follow him around during a night in Los Angeles with Max (Jamie Foxx), a meek cabbie who is forced to participate in guiding Vincent to cross some names off of a list. We soon figure out that some of the people that Vincent is after have meaning to Max. When the film is stripped down, bare bones from the sleek and grainy, signature Mann style, it’s just two men trying to understand one another when their routines are suddenly disrupted.

Mann takes this standard initial set up and brings his standard blend of style and realism – a look and feel that has become synonymous with his name. This style taught me what cool meant, that even a bad person like Cruises’ Vincent can be engaging to watch as much as our everyday man like Foxx’s Max. It isn’t left up to Cruise to make a character out of thin air – Mann creates a villain that is easy to understand and spends a majority of their work trying to blend in with everyone else.

Nothing about Vincent indicates that he’s our bad guy. In fact, we are seduced by his swagger as opposed to his intimidation as soon as he gets into Max’s cab. From the grey attire, silver fox mane and dark shades, this is not only a subversion of the typical Cruise look but also calls back to the über sexy look given to Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley in Mann’s 1995 crime sage Heat. Something that separates Mann from other notorious crime filmmakers is that he’s aware of the amount of flash being put into his work but never calls attention to it, it’s just a part of these worlds that he creates.

Collateral (2004) – source: Paramount Pictures

L.A. nightlife has never looked more attractive than in this film. The warm and welcoming presentation fused with the flashes of danger reminds us exactly of Vincent’s violent persona. It comes from the car headlights, the never silent streets filled to the brim with individuals looking for a good time, to the implication of ironic isolation in a metropolis which houses one of the largest populations in the country.

Mann implements these integral senses to make Los Angeles more of a character than a backdrop to fill in space – a space that comes from a place of loving attachment as opposed to unwanted cynicism. Yes, this is 2004 Los Angeles, but it feels timeless. Take the moment during Max and Annie’s meet-cute, we hear “Hands of Time” by The Groove Armada come on, a song that makes you swoon and feels almost celebratory. The tune plays with overhead shots of a gorgeously lit up L.A., making us forget for just a little bit about any worries. This also ties in nicely with Max’s flirtation with Annie, signaling that he’s feeling good, despite his internal flaws we discover later on.

To Michael Mann, Collateral can’t just be set anywhere, just like Cruise and Foxx are inseparable from their respective characters that they so brilliantly bring to life.

Image result for collateral jamie foxx
Collateral (2004) – source: Paramount Pictures

Los Angeles is notorious with inhabiting people with dreams that keep them going from one day to the next and making sure that their dream can one day come true. Mann subverts Max’s dream of opening his limo company afloat when he lies to himself and his mom about how well things are going. He can’t think of a way to escape the taxi cab business, so he has to create an illusion to keep himself satisfied. He has been at this for quite a long time as he grew up in L.A. and knows it like the back of his hand. Max wants more out of himself but fails to catapult to escape his comfort zone due to the lack of confidence he has in himself.

Then he meets Vincent, who then psychologically pushes him to reach his potential as a person, then persuades him towards his ideology. That’s a good enough reason for Vincent not to kill Max. Even though he is just using him to get around for the night, he feels like Max needs some educating. Although the further he educates, the more it backfires with Max gaining the upper hand. It is this consistent power struggle that is masterfully handled, even rewarding patience and intrigue.

Image result for collateral michael mann
Collateral (2004) – source: Paramount Pictures

Michael Mann has always admired people who are absurdly good at their jobs. Men on missions determined to get things done by any means they can find. In the way they are shot and framed, it’s communicated that this is just drudgery and routine for them, like filing paperwork and working on computer in a cubicle. He can’t help but resist those who love what they do even though they aren’t necessarily categorized as good people, but ones who are presented as disrupting others living their life.

Thinking back to the antagonists of 1981’s Thief and 1995’s Heat, we follow these people without judgment or criticism, in a keen eye that brings us as much fascination as it does to Mann. In this fascination comes respect, which is then betrayed by their downfall and the sudden reminder that we have been more attracted to our villain than championing our hero.

It’s not just Cruise and Foxx who are the ones hard at work during this particular night. We also witness great supporting performances from Jada Pinkett Smith, playing stressed out prosecutor Annie and Mark Ruffalo, playing suspicious and professional Detective Fanning. These two act as our outsiders into this situation that are unwillingly caught into the web. Fanning is the only person that we see in the law enforcement side that believes they have the wrong guy, that things are getting to be too easy and there is something larger going on. He’s the only way out for Max, a gleaming star in the darkness, which then makes his death even more tragic.

Unlike the people Vincent takes down throughout the night, we don’t know then, but they’re just names on a list. However, Fanning came untimely and unwarranted with reasoning that Vincent took him down for the assumption that Max was getting away, out of grasp. At the end of the night, Fanning is just another person doing his job with Vincent trying to do his – bombarding his goal for the night at the same time.

Image result for michael mann collateral jazz club
Collateral (2004) – source: Paramount Pictures

Collateral‘s legacy has held strong but I think it can hold even stronger. The film came at an interesting time in both of the lead actors careers, when Michael Mann was a hot commodity and his next project would mean something big for whomever he wanted to work with (especially after getting an Oscar nomination for Will Smith in Ali). Cruise has this sandwiched in his career in between Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai in 2003 and second collaboration with Steven Spielberg in War of the Worlds in 2005.

Unfortunately the films he made before and after Collateral were macro sized. They garnered more publicity when compared to the micro sensibility of Collateral and how much Mann is able to achieve with so little, thus eclipsing the chance for the spotlight to be shined on a film that deserves any amount of attention. Jamie Foxx had an unprecedented 2004, on the other side of spectrum. He got nominations for both Best Actor (Ray) and Best Supporting Actor (Collateral) at the 2005 Academy Awards (they sadly negated Cruises’ nomination). He ended up winning Best Actor for the Ray Charles biopic Ray. Foxx plays Max with noticeably less flash and appeal than Cruise plays Vincent, so maybe the love that his performance garnered is an indication of how big of a push there was for Ray during that awards season.

Action movies are easy to dismiss. Once put in that genre, it would seem like the filmmaker would more than likely choose spectacle over character, which disorients one into disinterest from a lack of one person to guide them through a carefully defined world.

Collateral doesn’t feel obligated to choose spectacle or developing characters, yet balances its character so well that it makes the palpable action all the more rewarding. When all the gushing and complementing is over, reflecting fifteen years later, Michael Mann is probably one of the best action directors we’ve ever seen and his work in 2004 is one of our finest and most electric thrillers of the 21st century.

4 Reasons You Should be Excited for LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

In this list, I offer some reasons to be as excited as I am for the release of this year’s adaptation of Little Women.

I don’t know about you, but the year of a good cinephile only begins properly after the annual Oscars ceremony, where we can entirely focus on the lists of the most anticipated movies of the year. It seems logical — we said goodbye to the past year celebrating its best films, then progress into the year ahead while keeping an eye on the new films coming out. 2019 seems particularly promising when we look at the premieres that await us. Just to name a few, directors Jordan Peele and Ari Aster offer their new films, Us and Midsommar respectively, after being acclaimed for their previous projects, Peele’s Get Out in 2017 and Aster’s Hereditary in 2018.

Disney will be especially busy with all of the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe productions, the final episode of Star Wars saga, and not only one but two live action films adapted from a classic animation: Aladdin and Dumbo, one signed by Tim Burton as the director. But of all future releases, one specifically caught my attention.

I’m talking about this year’s version of Little Women, the newest film adaptation based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel, and I have four good reasons for that.

No. 1: THE DIRECTOR

Known for her scripts with coming-of-age characters in contemporary contexts, Greta Gerwig signs on as director of the feature, and I’m really excited to see how she will work from the perspective of a more classic time period.

Greta Gerwig directing Lady Bird – source: CBS News

Greta has already been nominated for an Oscar in Best Direction and that same film she was nominated for, Lady Bird, was up for Best Picture. I honestly don’t expect anything less from her than something similar to what Sofia Coppola did with her version of the story of Queen Marie Antoinette — behind all the costumes of time, it is perfectly possible to see the essence of youth and what it’s like to be a teenager.

No. 2: THE CAST

The cast of the 1994 version had big names like Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale in the leading roles, long before they became world-famous stars. The supporting cast contained Gabriel Byrne, John Neville and Mary Wickes, all of whom can be considered Hollywood veterans due to the extensive list of films made throughout their careers.

From left: Emma Watson, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen and Timothée Chalamet on the set of Little Women – source: Instagram

The lead cast of Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women will include Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, all of whom are already well-liked by the public and some of them even past Oscar nominees. Saoirse was twice nominated for Best Actress, the first time for her role in Brooklyn in 2015, a second time for Lady Bird in 2017, and once for Best Supporting Actress for Atonement in 2007. Timothée was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Call Me By Your Name in 2017.

The supporting cast of this new version couldn’t be more grand, including Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Louis Garrel, all with careers which speak for themselves. With such a great cast including all these stars, it will be difficult for this movie to receive low ratings.

No. 3: THE FEMALE POWER

Despite being the eighth film adaptation of Little Women, I believe it never hurts to reinforce the facts on women’s struggles discussed in the novel published during the late 1960s, nor to remind us how far we have progressed as a society and how much progress we still have to make.

Topics such as women’s rights to vote, social obligations determined by gender, and dress code impositions may seem absurd to us nowadays. It’s by watching Marmee assert to a man that women are capable of so much more than wearing a bodice, and Jo struggling to become a writer in an extremely disheartening environment for women, that we take the courage to fight our own battles.

After all, if today we openly deal with issues related to equal pay for men and women, increased participation (and recognition!) of women in areas still largely dominated by men (such as cinema!), and greater engagement in protests such as the #MeToo Movement, its thanks to all the incredible women of the past who did not give up.

No. 4: A COZY CHRISTMAS

The premise of the 1994 version of Little Women was “The story that has lived in our hearts for generations, now comes to the screen for the Holidays”. Following this, the feeling I had as soon as I finished watching this particular version can be compared to what you feel when someone you care about prepares your favorite food for breakfast on Christmas morning. It’s something so special and it’s made with so much love that it not only makes you happy and can improve the rest of your day, but it also warms your heart.

A shot from Little Women (1994) – source: IMDb

This year’s version has its release date set for December 25th. That’s why, even if the movie ends up being a disappointment and all the reasons mentioned above have been in vain, I hope that at least we can count on a valid option for Christmas movie — just a bit more better than the Christmas productions made by Netflix last year, please!

Disney’s History of Gay-Coding and Why It Matters

The cultural impact of Walt Disney Studios is immense and undeniable. Their films have cemented themselves into the hearts of children across the world, as well as adults who grew up on classic Disney features. As the years have gone by, the studio has successfully expanded their demographic while maintaining a clean, family friendly image, simultaneously shifting with changing times. Their expansive reach and large audience puts them in a major position of power, which is quite concerning when you take into account one of their most popular tropes: the gay-coded villain.

The Roots of Disney’s Gay-Coding

The first appearance of the gay Disney villain is more explicit than some of the studio’s more understated characters: Ursula in the 1989 film The Little Mermaid. Her character was directly inspired by the drag queen Divine, evident in her exaggerated makeup, buxom figure, and deep voice. Her main motivation in the film is stealing the youth of the petite, girlish mermaid Ariel, a feminine paragon of sorts. In the end, she is ultimately defeated, and it’s important that we remember that.

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The Little Mermaid (1989) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Ursula is touted as a ‘gay icon’ among many circles but the truth and intent behind her character is villainy. She is a drag queen-esque antagonist written into an overtly patriarchal and heterosexual film, where the lead girl runs off with the guy she loves after her dad gives his permission. Ursula demurs this clean society. She was not meant to win at the end of this story, and her presence in the film is so purposefully malevolent that it’s difficult to imagine why people would be discussing her “ties to the LGBT community” with positive connotations.

Subtle “Representation”

More popular than explicit portrayals such as Ursula, however, are gay-coded villains who are rooted in effeminacy, and stand opposite of deeply masculine protagonists. Two classic examples are Scar from The Lion King and Hades from Hercules. In the 1994 Hamlet-esque film, Scar is brother to Mufasa, the lordly leader of the Pride Lands. There’s a stark difference simply in their character design – Mufasa standing broad and strong while Scar is spindly with a lazy, slinky posture. Scar’s biting sarcasm is often tinged with sassiness, and many have attributed his personality to one of a “bitchy old queen” in the gay community.

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Hercules (1997) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

This personality is also evident in Hades, the villain of Hercules (1997), whose loose, gown-like toga clad figure is in opposition of the film’s ultra-macho namesake. He serves as a “gay best friend” of sorts to Megara in the film, guiding her to make Hercules fall for her, and providing witty comments on-hand. His body language and mannerisms are similar to Scar’s, and perhaps even more heavily gay-coded than the lion’s (a wig joke in the film comes to mind). There’s also a heavy overlap with the aforementioned Ursula, both in the witchy character design, as well as the storyline. The plot of a young woman selling her soul to a powerful (and, again, drag queen-esque) being in hopes of uniting with a male lover (though it plays out much differently in both films).

This gay-coding could arguably be unintentional, but either way, the pattern of effeminacy among Disney villains is certainly enough to raise eyebrows. To continually paint these character traits as villainous and glorify masculinity and traditional gender norms is not something that can be dismissed as coincidental or menial.

Pushed To The Sidelines

Avid Disney fans will bring up “positive” gay-coding in the films, but there is yet again another common theme there: they are all side characters. Take Timon and Pumba from The Lion King, for instance. They could be easily interpreted as a gay couple, but are just subtle enough to pass off as static, background comic relief. Same with Cogsworth and Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. Or literally any double-sidekick pairing in Disney films.

Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella in The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

If you reach and reach enough, subtext is there, but there’s a hell of a lot of reaching to be done. Disney has mastered walking the tight line between excitement and controversy, giving tidbits of homosexual subtext to their audiences willing to analyze the film, but not so much as to flip the whole table. However, these tidbits have curiously evolved over the years, even morphing into a questionable sort of “representation”.

Present Day: Limiting Gay Characters

That brings us to current Disney era, the Revival/Second Disney Renaissance. Where “gay” characters have taken an entirely different role. Presumably after an increasing demand for diversity, and an inherent need to keep up with the times, Disney delivered on the diversity front. Sort of. Representation is present if you squint, and fully shunted to the side. There’s a flash of a lesbian couple in Finding Dory, an allusion to a man having a husband in Frozen, and many, many more subtleties. And yet, gay-coding of villains still persists, like Evelyn in the long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles. She was originally conceptualized as a man, as is evident in her tomboyish character design, but was switched to a woman so that she could have “more rapport” with Elastigirl (wink wink).

Josh Gad and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Beauty and the Beast (2017) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

The most controversial of all though, however, came with the character LeFou in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast. The original depiction of Lefou – the lackey of the main villain Gaston, who he is constantly fawning over – is already heavily gay coded. So when it was announced that the character was to be canonically gay in the remake, people lit up with excitement at the newfound representation. But when the film was released, the “representation” was revealed to be a split second moment in the film’s final dance scene, where LeFou switches dance partners from a woman to a man. And the disappointment set in. To have been baited and failed by promises of major representation is upsetting in itself, but I think the more important question is: why are we accepting this representation in the form of villains and expendable side characters in the first place?

Gay Audiences Unheard

By no means am I condemning Disney fans who have affection for these gay-coded villains. All art is open for interpretation, and I’m happy for people who feel connected to these characters. But LGBT audiences as a whole deserve so much better than villains or disposable comic relief created at the hands of heterosexual people. There is an increased demand for gay stories with gay leads, and Disney has danced around it for far too long. They have pushed a rather harmful rhetoric by slapping stereotypically “gay” traits onto villains, and clumsily making up for it by creating “positively” gay-coded side characters. They’re one of the world’s largest corporations, and without a doubt, the biggest film production company today. To have millions of children watch their films and soak in the archetype of the gay Disney villain is deeply unjust. We need solid representation, but it doesn’t seem like it’s coming anytime soon.

Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff in Frozen II (2019)
Frozen II (2019) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Frozen II is slated to release later this year, and many fans have been theorizing about Elsa having a female love interest, though the possibility is highly unlikely. Disney would likely lose a chunk of its audience were it to feature a gay lead, because their success is maintained by avoiding major controversy. Featuring an unquestionably gay lead would go against their formula, and that’s truly disappointing for all audiences (especially younger ones). Elsa made her mark in the first Frozen film by establishing her independence and strength – all without a man by her side. To push that character one step further by making her the first lesbian Disney lead would no doubt serve as a huge role model and eye-opener for so many children. But alas, that’s too radical. Back to the gay-coded villains we go, regardless of how the portrayal of those villains will impact young viewers.

In 2016, in response to the Beauty and the Beast controversy, director Bill Condon said “This movie is about…accepting people for who they really are…and in a very Disney way, we are including everybody,”. I absolutely agree, and I think that quote truly embodies Disney. To marginalize LGBT characters, place them in villain/side character roles under the guise of representation, and continually gay-code but evade portraying actual gay characters is the “Disney way”. And that is exactly how they’ve been “including everybody”. Things need to change, if not for the adults who grew up on gay-coded villains and want to see proper representation, but for the younger audiences watching.

THE EXPANSE: An Intense Space Opera Worthy of Your Time

Set in a future where humanity has colonized the Solar System, The Expanse follows a group of characters who find themselves at the center of a conspiracy that threatens the very existence of humanity. It’s based on the science-fiction novels by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who have created a very rich and entertaining experience with diverse characters.

The main factions are Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Earth and Mars have their own governments – the United Nations and the Martian Congressional Republic – who both control and oppress the Belt. Those born on the Asteroid Belt are called Belters. They’re on par with the working class and have their own distinct language and dialect. They work for the other planets – mining and such, to ensure that everyone has enough resources.

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Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Cas Anvar and Steven Strait in The Expanse – source: IMDb

In response, the Belters formed the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), believing that the Belt should be self-governing and equal with Earth and Mars, instead of being controlled by them. The OPA also aims to protect the interests of Belters, much like a trade union. Some members are anarchists who want nothing more than to watch the System burn, whilst others genuinely want equality and a better life. But Earth and Mars, who already have tension between themselves, tend to focus on the bad eggs and consider the OPA to be a terrorist organisation. 

It’s no surprise that the political and social issues that exist today are also present in the future depicted in the series, but on a much larger scale. The characters are a perfect reflection of this divide, each of them belonging to different factions who come together for one common goal: to save humanity.

The Characters

James Holden, Alex Kamal, Naomi Nagata and Amos Burton all work together on The Canterbury, a large ice hauler ship, and find themselves in danger after responding to a distress call. Joe Miller, an ex-detective born and raised on the Belt’s Ceres Station, also finds trouble when he’s hired to track down Julie Mao, the missing daughter of a very powerful man within the System. There’s also Bobbie Draper, a tough Martian Marine who feels something doesn’t add up when she and her crew are attacked by a mysterious being. Somehow, everything is connected and it’s very exciting and intense to watch these characters explore the conspiracies around them. 

In addition to Naomi and Bobbie, The Expanse has many strong female characters. Chrisjen Avasarala is a fan favorite who serves as Deputy Undersecretary of the United Nations. Portrayed by Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, she is a powerful woman who takes her job very seriously and will do anything to defend Earth. Her character arc is a notable one to watch unfold onscreen.

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Cara Gee as Camina Drummer in The Expanse – source: IMDb

Camina Drummer, a Belter who is senior staff aboard the Belt’s Tycho Station, is someone else who stands out. Cara Gee’s characterization of Drummer – everything from the way she looks, acts and speaks (in her fascinating Belter dialect) – is a very captivating performance. She’s not the only character raised on the Belt who has strong views, but she’s the one that truly captures what it’s like to be a Belter. Holding a position of power within the OPA, Drummer really represents the fight.

Most of the characters interact with one another at some point and their varying experiences are inherently reflected in their words and actions, which is a sign of great writing. This can even cause conflict among those on the same side of the fight, but it ultimately paints them all as anti-heroes who are just trying to do their best. There is no one right point of view in The Expanse as the series works to show things from everyone’s perspective.

This makes for an interesting watch; it proves that complex characters are worth writing and varied social classes are worth exploring. As a bunch of people who started out with seemingly nothing in common, they work exceptionally well together when they find out they all care about doing the right thing for humanity no matter their birthplace.

The Science

Having a series set in space means you can tell when special effects are limited, but The Expanse has a decent budget which they certainly haven’t wasted. We get to see many beautiful and terrifying visuals of various planets, their stations and asteroids, in addition to what life is like on them for their inhabitants. There are countless ships, of all sizes, each with different interiors. There are weaponry, explosions and special maneuvers, as well as shocking, graphic and sudden deaths. Not to mention the special effects pertaining to the alien life they find, which is both chilling and captivating. These are all key staples of the series which wouldn’t work as well without the budget to achieve them.

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Florence Faivre as Julie Mao in The Expanse – source: IMDb

It’s also based on real science. There’s no “Beam me up, Scotty” or messages received from across the galaxy in a matter of seconds. In The Expanse, characters wear gravity boots at all times whilst abroad their ships. Some also have to be properly strapped to their seats whilst doing high G burns, and can need gravity injections to prevent their bodies from turning to mush. Everyone has adjusted to their environments and the series reflects this throughout.

This is refreshing to see as it’s noticeably different to shows like Star Trek, and these factors can also affect the narrative. However, as it’s science-fiction, there are still many things that have been invented to aid the story and its advanced technology. The includes the invention of the Epstein Drive, which allows for long-range space travel. Either way, the characters get themselves into some pretty anxiety-inducing, life-or-death situations as they try to cope with the unpredictable dangers of being in space.

There’s always so much happening in The Expanse and each season dives further into the mystery created by the writers. The way the story perfectly unravels on-screen in both political tension and suspense-packed action is mesmerizing. The Expanse definitely lives up to its name. It’s one of the best sci-fi series of all time and if you’re not watching it then you should start.

Seasons 1-3 of The Expanse are available on Amazon Prime and season 4 is expected later this year.

SHARP OBJECTS: A Slow-Burning Masterpiece

Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s dark and twisted debut novel by Marti Noxon, Sharp Objects is voluntarily a transit of darkness into another life. Noxon is most recently known for being the show-runner and executive producer of Dietland, and her most famous oversight and writing within the hit 90’s show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This limited series is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who also directed all six episodes of Big Little Lies, and stars the multiple Oscar-nominated actress Amy Adams.

Sharp Objects very much feels like the unholy child of Gone Girl and Big Little Lies. The eight-episode limited series is perhaps one of the most distinctive and intense directorial debuts in television history. Adams plays reporter Camille Preaker, who is sent to her hometown in Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the story of two girls – Ann Nash, murdered, and Natalie Keene, who has gone missing.

Preaker’s boss gives her this assignment as a gesture of compassion and an intention to give her a chance to exercise the childhood traumas that have been haunting her throughout her whole life. Within dealing with her childhood demons, Camille drinks rapidly. She displays that she has massive alcohol dependency, as well as showing us occasional glimpses of scars on her body – indicating a history of self-harm.

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Sharp Objects (2018) – Source: The Atlantic

A string of hallucinations start to occur when flashbacks of wandering in the woods and teenage dens filled with porn start to close in on Camille’s mind. Wind Gap is like a suffocating dream and the shards of repressed memories that come back to her lead her to the longest and thickest hangover yet – with no real explanation. The troubling hallucinatory scenes that intertwine with Camille’s day-to-day efforts start to build up a picture of the dead and the missing.

The town is noticeably polite and forthcoming with situations surrounding their community, but just like her mother Adora, they want things to stay nice and quiet for as long as they can. This becomes difficult when Keene’s body is discovered, though, as Adora pleads, surely not impossible.

Sharp Objects (2018) Source: IMDb

Patricia Clarkson pours so much viciousness and resentment into Adora Crellin. The piercing rays of golden light beaming from her blonde hair makes her come across as a sentimental and respectable mother; but this isn’t the case. Living in a Southern-Gothic house of horrors, we start to see Adora’s passive-aggressiveness lure throughout her actions and behavior, towards the little things her older daughter, Camille, does.

Through flashbacks we are shocked to learn that Adora is a monstrous mother, a hog-farm heiress that tortured her rebellious firstborn out of spite. The home that she lives in is tinged with perfection, but almost seems infiltrated with supernatural possessions. Her dressing room is tiled with real ivory, a platform that poses expense; with even the wall’s painting coming from France. It’s right to think that Adora does it for the public: a disguise of the soft and sweet Southern lady living in a town with a husband and two daughters, while voluntarily offering the community to celebrate annuals outside of her large mansion – but that’s not really her. Adora Crellin is a direct contrast to Camille’s broken skin and crumbling body. Clarkson goes big with her role, giving such a brittle performance that it masks the deep reserves of cruelty under the hollow side of her character’s womanhood.

Wind Gap is a town full of interlocking histories. From the use of drugs, to community-sanctioned rape; at times it seems like the sins of the town is being hidden under the praises of celebrations, all-American-cheer leading groups and annual events. This is dramatically convenient, of course. But it also pin-points the town’s ghastliest secrets and the way that the people within it live their lives. Camille seems to be the only character who sees her hometown for what it really is – a walking manifestation into a pit of darkness.

From the beginning, her sole intentions were to investigate the two mysterious, unsolved crimes and search for clues. But through reuniting with her estranged family and overbearing mother, she has rekindled her traumatic childhood memories and erupted a span of visions of her younger sister Marian, who died from an illness years before. Adams’ character is someone who has to maintain survival at all costs – her life being nothing but desperation, and a headlong attempt to outlast her own pain.

The interactions that she has with Adora bring nothing but stinging pain and an exertion of flashbacks, however her half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) seems to accompany a sign of relief to her burdened mind. Perhaps a reminder of what it was like having a sister; or what it felt like having no absolute care in the world, just the road and a pair of four-wheeled roller-skates.

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Sharp Objects (2018) Source: IMDB

Amma first walks into Sharp Objects announcing that she has darkness suppressed hiding in her soul. She says to her older sister, “I’m incorrigible. I knew we would be.”, as an early admission to test if Camille is someone she wants to fully connect with after living in the shadow of her late sister, Marian. We then start to truly understand her web of control and way of thinking.

Living as the “it girl” in the town Wind Gap, Missouri, Amma’s life is a huge mess of contradictions. Displaying herself as the perfect Southern daughter when she’s at home, dressing in pink pinafores and bows for her mother’s delight and spending countless hours rearranging her picturesque dollhouse, she is in fact living a secret double life that’s filled with cruel machinations aimed to rule everyone around her. Crellin roller-skates through the town while drunk and high with her friends; terrorizing those living in Wind Gap in attempt to get what she wants – but she hides this rebellious side to Adora.

Amma’s character seems to gain tolerance to her mother’s wants and needs each episode, until finally showing her dislike to Adora’s controlling personality and eventually turning to Camille and telling her that she wants to leave Wind Gap, which I think brings massive effect to Camille. Since being a teenager and living with such an overbearing mother in a town with almost nothing to do, Camille can somewhat relate with her distant half-sister and shows a tendency of support and comfort for her. They form a relationship that resonates with only the similar indiscretions that they both hate about their town and their mother.

Sharp Objects (2018) Source: HBO

In a scene where a drunken Amma returns from a night out in Wind Gap, she says to Camille, “You hate this place like me, but you love dead girls.“; she uses this sentence to try and prove that she and her half-sister are the same – that they both share the same darkness. The other conversations that she has with Camille are mostly based upon soul-baring information that leaves our protagonist hooked to decipher a double meaning.

In one episode, Amma says “Do you ever feel like bad things are gonna happen to you? You can’t stop them? Can’t do anything? You just have to wait?“, which could be considerably tragic for Camille because this statement could embark on her reliving flashbacks from when she and Marian would be treated completely different, and being the oldest, she would have to distant herself away from her mother in case she lashed out with judgement.

Amma is coddled and nurtured throughout the whole series, so its brave to see Camille embrace such an affection for her sister when she has never been nurtured with any endearment in her entire life. Adora even tells Amma to stay away from her sister because she’s “not safe around her” and that she is a “dangerous person”, which just shows the lack of trust and perception that Adora has for her own daughter. It’s a sticking point in their relationship, a continual hatred that they share for each other. This becomes explicitly clear when Adora accidentally slices her hand open on a rose-bush and viciously tells Camille, “nothing is ever your fault.” This is like a wound re-opened from the past, and Adora continues to blame her daughter’s death on Camille; which is undeniably false.

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Sharp Objects (2018) Source: ImgCop

Sharp Objects is such a slow-burning masterpiece. The continuing developments of the mystery in Wind Gap and the perception of women’s violence and viciousness are so exceptionally well-done. Its doubtful that something so dark and immersive could ever be created again. This limited series is a mix of brilliant acting, direction, and storytelling. The intricate details of each character; the glimpses of Camille’s intriguing past and the traumatic events that occur within this ghastly hometown are all beautifully wrapped up in the disturbing undertone and remarkable soundtrack that complements the plot with every episode.

This series holds such a brilliance that occupies a very prominent place in popular culture. From its outwardly realistic performances and atmospheric location shooting, to the sound design and meticulous editing, Sharp Objects is understandably one of most intoxicating and strongest shows that has ever been shown on television. Living as a tactile-seeming depiction of life, it’s truly a tragedy-and a look of how a character can be so damaged from a disappointing childhood that they can spiral into terms through immersing themselves into hell one last time – and managing to survive.

Death, Injustice, and Tennis Rackets: A PADDLETON Study

Released on the 22nd February, Netflix’s Paddleton straddles the wide, wide line between buddy comedy and complete existential devastation. Following Mark Duplass’ Michael on his journey into terminal cancer and euthanasia alongside his best friend and neighbor, Andy (Ray Romano), the film subtly focuses on one major theme. That theme is prevalent in each and every facet of the pair’s lives – unavoidable injustice.

Paddleton (2019) – source: IMDb

Despite only having a 90 minute run-time, the film manages to stretch every second of the first hour into a patient, low budget indie flick. However, as the momentum increases, and ‘the time’ comes, Andy’s anger turns to acceptance, and Michael’s calmness turns to fear. Anger at the unfairness of living, and calmness at the undeniable outcome of being alive. Alexandre Lehmann’s use of long shots and closeups forces an awareness of these emotions, and however nuanced, the audience’s emotion is felt.

Through the ambiguous time period leading up to Michael’s death, the buildup is relatively understated. On first viewing, it’s reasonable to expect a ‘last ride’ type story, but the road trip in the film is rather uneventful. This non-event is what, in my opinion, makes the film pack such an emotional punch. The theme of masculinity, too, is brought about by the lack of reaction the difficult reality gets. At least, the lack of a similar reaction shared by the two friends. As Michael gets closer to death, the pair’s walls are broken down, the impact is felt, and the emotional climax of the film is coaxed out.

The ending. Not the last scene. The ending. Michael’s ending. The sudden existential anxiety, Michael’s desperate struggle and Andy’s helplessness, and then the quiet. Through this climax, the injustice of this film is truly felt. The deep feeling of unfairness makes it so hard to see, like an innocence lost. Michael was the young one, the generous one, the fun one, but also the one diagnosed with cancer. This injustice dives head first into human empathy, and challenges it to help what it so fears. Andy’s denial is the lens for this empathy, and through him, the sadness refracts into bitter-sweetness, warmth, and an appreciation for the important friends we have.

Paddleton (2019) – source: IMDb

By balancing a refreshing intimacy and a touching story of loss, Paddleton is quiet, heartbreaking, and soul lifting. During the story finale, Michael holds Andy’s hand, reassuring him that he loves him. Andy does the same. The relationship they share is innocuous, inconspicuous, and irreversibly impactful. Paddleton is the most I have cried at a film for a long time. Actually, Paddleton is the most I have cried at all in a long time. Please, watch Paddleton.

O, Woe Is M(ovi)e: My Issues with Getting into Film

Ever since I was a kid, I always knew that I wanted a part in the film-making process, whether it’s as an actor, editor or director. However, it wasn’t until around two years ago when I started really getting into film (thank you Letterboxd). Since then, I’ve become an avid film watcher. A lover of the craft. A simple cinephile, if you will. But during this time, I’ve come across a few roadblocks, and I reckon I’m not alone here.

What makes someone a cinephile? Is it after they’ve seen 500 films? 750? 1000? Or maybe the answer is just “loving film”, which to me, it is. Still, I find myself wrestling with issues such as the amount of films out there, their availability, as well as gate-keeping among film fans. And I don’t think I’m the only one who attends this self-pity party.

Scooby-Doo (2002) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Too Many Classics To See?

Maybe the biggest problem I have is that there are just so many movies to watch that I can hardly keep up with all of them. The number of classics that I still haven’t seen can be intimidating, including Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I end up feeling as if I’ll never know enough – or see enough – to consider myself a true fan of the medium. “Oh, you like film?” says the theoretical bully in my head, “Name five Academy Award-winning films from the 70s that you’ve seen”. And I won’t have an answer, because I’ve just spent all my free time watching movies from this year’s Academy Awards.

Whether on YouTube, Letterboxd, Reddit, or even The Simple Cinephile itself, you will always come across people who are passionate about movies. To the point where they can contribute these incredible, long form analyses that praise what they love about films in a unique fashion. Whether discussing production design or themes, these are writers who appear to have a true grasp over cinema. So, to even consider myself a ‘cinephile’, in comparison, can come off as silly. I end up feeling like a bit of a fraud. Can I really consider myself knowledgeable over cinema if Mamma Mia and Scooby-Doo are some of my favorite movies?

On one hand, it’s great that we can look up a movie and watch it then and there (whether it’s via streaming, renting or digital). But even then, maybe I’ve missed the right jumping on point for seeing all the classics? Perhaps if I had been born around the 70s or 80s, I’d have a chance to absorb all these films at a relaxing pace. Or maybe I just procrastinate too much.

The older the industry gets, the bigger the backlog becomes for new fans. The awards season for 2018 just wrapped up, and now I find out that there’s even more films coming out? They never stop, they’re relentless! Just think about how many fresh and significant pictures we’ll get in the next few decades. How long before we end up seeing books called ‘2001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’?

Availability & Gate-keeping

Roma (2017) – source: Netflix

By now you may have heard of the current debate between Steven Spielberg and Netflix. While the issue at hand is more complex than it seems, I stand by the fact that movies are movies, and that going to a theater to see a film should not be a requirement. From a global perspective, it’s not hard to believe that many don’t have access to movie theaters, or that they can afford going to one on a regular basis (especially when ticket prices continue to rise year after year). Of course, there are subscription services available – but MoviePass is crumbling and AMC’s A-List program is only exclusive to, well, AMC.

But I’m broke and don’t live near an AMC, so when it comes to smaller films, it’s historically unlikely that they’ll be showing a theater near me. To give an example for this oft-repeated scenario: When Eighth Grade first came out, the nearest cinema showing ended up being so far out of my local area that I had no choice but to wait until the digital release. Cue the tiny violins.

As with any large community, it’s no surprise to anyone that there’s gate-keeping among film fans. There will always be people who think that some movies are just too lowbrow, or that someone’s opinion is outright wrong. It’s fine for people to disagree, but I wholeheartedly believe that every film is someone’s favorite. In fact, I’m reminded of an anecdote John Krasinski gave in an interview with The New York Times, about Paul Thomas-Anderson:

I had just seen a movie I didn’t love. I said to [Paul] over a drink, ‘It’s not a good movie,’ and he so sweetly took me aside and said very quietly, ‘Don’t say that. Don’t say that it’s not a good movie. If it wasn’t for you, that’s fine, but in our business, we’ve all got to support each other.’ The movie was very artsy, and he said, ‘You’ve got to support the big swing. If you put it out there that the movie’s not good, they won’t let us make more movies like that.’”

John Krasinski

I’m all for constructive criticism about why someone thinks a film is bad. But, frankly, if your favorite movie isn’t hurting anyone, who cares what the majority have to say about it? If your favorite movie is a rom-com, or a cheap B-movie, you can parade that badge of honor as much as you like. At the end of the day, whether or not you’ve seen old black-and-white movies does not matter. Will it teach you more about the craft? Absolutely, and that door is wide open for you.

But I don’t think that being a film fan means having that knowledge or experience. For me, it means having the constant desire for it. It’s about always wanting to watch more movies, always wanting to understand why something works and something else doesn’t. It’s about loving film. Ultimately, my issues with getting into film barely matter; not when we can watch what we want to watch, love what we want to love, and enjoy it.

Charlie Kaufman’s ADAPTATION and the Importance of Sincerity

Cinema will always be full of adaptations. From Webber and Watson’s experimental Fall of the House of Usher to the groundbreaking epic of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, adaptations have come in a multitude of forms, and for as long as there are still books to adapt we can be safe in the knowledge that even when our favourite screenwriters are running out of ideas they can always turn to a novel. Heck, even Marvel’s box office beasts are all adaptations of their respective comics.

There is no doubt that adaptations aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, which is why I think it’s important to look at the them and ask: what makes one worthwhile?

I believe two things are vital when adapting a book to film; an understanding of the text and a sincere connection with the original story. While an understanding is pretty self-explanatory, what do I mean by sincere connection? To put it simply, the filmmaker must have an emotional connection to the story, a connection that will make them approach the film with enough care that they will adapt the film faithfully while letting a piece of themselves slip through the cracks.

In my mind, no film does this better than Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation.

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Adaptation (2002) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Now, if I’m being honest, I have never read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief so I am slightly unqualified to comment on the faithfulness of books direct depiction in the film, but from the way Kaufman presents this story to us, I have no reason to question it. From the very start, Nicolas Cage’s sweaty Charlie Kaufman talks about wanting to stay true to Orleans’s original intent, to remain faithful without “Hollywood-izing it.” So from this, I have no reason not to believe that after scenes of Charlie (writer’s note: I’m going to differentiate between the character of Charlie Kaufman with the writer Charlie Kaufman by referring to the character by his first name, although is there really a difference?) sat by his typewriter, desperately trying to write a faithful and true version of Orlean’s book, that the scenes of The Orchid Thief are Kaufman’s genuine attempts at being as sincere as he possibly can.

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Adaptation (2002) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Obviously, Charlie Kaufman doesn’t exist in the world of Orlean’s book but it is impossible for Kaufman to not exist in his own world when reading. Kaufman’s reactions and feelings towards the book are all real and sincerely felt, ignoring these feelings and adapting the book straight would be disingenuous. By abandoning the idea of a direct adaptation of The Orchid Thief, Kaufman was able to explore the text more thoroughly and take a hard look at his own passion: screenwriting. This kind of self-reflection is what’s key to Adaptation.

Kaufman sees himself in Susan Orlean, relating to her sense of purpose in the world. But, he couldn’t write a film based on her character with elements of his own personality added in to make it seem like a personal piece of work; no. Kaufman pays respect to her, writing her as he sees her, making this clarification clear with writing himself as a separate character in the screenplay to parallel the differences and similarities between the two writers.

Taking a step back and looking at the themes and values of Orlean’s original text, Kaufman could stay true to her work with his own sincere take. This is key to a strong adaptation. Staying true to the key ideas and themes, even when changes are made in the narrative. That’s what makes a film faithful.

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Adaptation (2002) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Not all adapted films should take the Kaufman route and include a fictionalized version of the screenwriter to lead the film, but all good adaptations must include at least some of the filmmaker’s own views and feelings. Without this comes a lifeless version of what might be a masterpiece of a novel. Film is a different art form, give the viewer a reason to choose it over the original text. If you’re a screenwriter adapting a novel, try new techniques, hell, even write yourself into the screenplay if you have to, but give the viewer something, and if you really connect with the work, that understanding and passion will come through into the film.

Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time.” – Charlie Kaufman, 2011

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