Category Archives: Film and Television

The Witch: A New-England Folktale

the_witch_posterThe Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015) is an entertaining, wonderfully atmospheric and historically accurate take on witch mythology in colonial New England.

Plenty of films claim historic accuracy, but you rarely see it. Mel Gibson is notorious for his pseudo historical (but highly entertaining) historical fiction movies. The Witch, though a semi-low budget horror film, puts those to shame. Listen to what the director says about his attention to detail.

“I am positive it is the most accurate portrayal of this period in American history on screen. We went to such lengths to make it so,” writer-director Robert Eggers told the LA Times earlier this year. “Everything with the farmstead that we built, everything that you see on-screen is made from the correct building materials that would have been used at the time. Most often we used the traditional tools and techniques to create these objects. And the clothing is hand stitched based on extant clothing.”

Ok, except the nails, which are round and not square like they would have been in the seventeenth century.

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a clean, colorful, and vibrant movie about the disconnect between war and the home front, fantasy and reality, but trips up in the execution. Its much-praised frame rate of 120 frames per second (twice the previous record) isn’t really justified by the film’s simplistic plot, and in some ways it looked like a film school project. Its stereotypical portrayal of soldiers undermines what it gets right about the relationship between soldiers and civilians. Overall, it’s entertaining enough to watch but not something you’ll come back to again and again.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is based on a novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, a 58-year-old writer from North Carolina. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment about it in relation to the film. While I was watching the movie, however, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that this story wasn’t written by either a former soldier or someone who served in the Iraq War. “This is what a Hollywood screenwriter thinks soldiers sound like,” I thought as I listened to the dialogue. Turns out my suspicions were correct, which explains why the soldiers were so painfully stereotypical. A writer often falls back on stereotypes or popular tropes when not informed by personal experience.

The film’s portrayal of the disconnect between soldiers and civilians, however, is very insightful. It’s hard to describe the oddity of being involved in something like the military, especially if you have been deployed in a war zone. Everyone has an opinion about it, even though they have no direct knowledge or experience. Even comments from someone who supports the troops and the war effort can seem awkward and embarrassing, and this film captures that beautifully.

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The Edge of Seventeen

edge-of-seventeenIn The Edge of Seventeen (2016), 17-year-old Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) navigates the awkwardness of becoming an adult in her junior year of high school after her father dies of a heart attack. She reaches a crisis point when her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), hooks up with and begins dating her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Her relationship with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), further deteriorates as Nadine vents her frustration on friends, family, and her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). The cloud has a silver lining when she meets a similarly awkward young man, Erwin (Hayden Szeto).

The film has some bright spots, and some genuinely funny or touching moments, but mostly it is just the same cliched teen movie we’ve seen a hundred times before. Not Another Teen Movie already satirized this film in 2001. It may have a deeper meaning, however, if what I perceived as a genuine portrayal of mental illness turns out to be accurate.

Critics loved this movie, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Molly Eichel at the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “The Edge of Seventeen is funny and tragic, but most of all it feels real in the same way John Hughes movies felt real. It’s not a candy-coated version of teenagedom. It’s harsh, and awkward, and funny, just like being a teenager.” Other critics called it “straight and sincere,” “smart and perceptive,” and “there isn’t a moment in this movie that doesn’t feel completely true.” Who paid them to write this nonsense?

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My Favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Seasons

buffy1Few people remember the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer staring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, and Luke Perry, but the television show based on it would go on to become hugely popular. Buffy is one of my favorite horror comedies from the ’90s. Joss Whedon wrote it as a serious vampire film, but the studio turned it into a comedy. In a stroke of luck, he was able to return to his original vision when he created the TV series.

The series retained the essential elements of the film: a teenage “Valley Girl” destined to become the chosen slayer of vampires, her watcher, and an ancient evil that unleashes a plague of vampires on her hometown. The TV show occasionally references the events of the movie, but not explicitly. Buffy the Vampire Slayer the series starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, and Alyson Hannigan had a seven season run, from 1997 to 2003. It quickly gained a cult following. The following is a list of my favorite seasons, ranked from best to worst and why.

1. Season Six

buffy-season-6-review

Willow gets revenge

At the beginning of season six, Willow resurrects Buffy, who died at the end of season five. Although her friends believe they rescued her from Hell, Buffy had actually been in Heaven. This causes her to be depressed for most of the season, and leads to her giving in to Spike’s affections. Willow becomes addicted to magic, and a new set of antagonists, a group of nerds called “The Trio,” are introduced. When one of the Trio accidentally kills Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, Willow is consumed by revenge and rages out of control. She attempts to destroy the world to end everyone’s suffering. By reminding Willow of their friendship, Xander is the only one who can bring her back from the brink.

Season six is my favorite because I like Willow’s character and liked to see her progression over the course of the season. In past episodes, we caught a glimpse of what “evil Willow” might be like, and season six shows her as a formidable opponent. Of all characters on Buffy, Willow is the only one to undergo a significant evolution and the only one besides Buffy who ever had an entire season’s story arch devoted to her. In this season, Buffy and friends find their relationships tested like never before, which makes for great drama. In the end, Xander is the one who saves the day, not through great strength or magic, but simply through friendship, devotion, and love. Although I personally disliked the musical episode, “Once More, with Feeling,” it is a fan favorite.
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Dark Planet: Visions of America

dark-planetDark Planet: Visions of America, released in 2005 by Illuminati Pictures, portrays four youth subcultures as they are lived on the streets of the contemporary United States: skinhead, straightedge, black metal, and zealot. The documentary’s creators, Jason “Molotov” Mitchell and his wife, Patricia “DJ Dolce” Mitchell, are a new breed of conservative Christian, combining traditional values with a hipster ascetic. Both provide video commentary for WND.com. But “Molotov” Mitchell is familiar with subcultures and life on the streets. A former punk, Mitchell spent a year voluntarily living on the street and converted to evangelical Christianity in the late 1990s. D.J. Dolce appears in the documentary, but her relationship with the director, “Molotov” Mitchell, is not revealed in the film.

Dark Planet features interviews with members of all four subcultures. Three (skinhead, straightedge, and black metal) have evolved out of music scenes, and the fourth (zealot) was formed around evangelical Christianity. Zealot was the only subculture in this documentary that has not received much attention in literature about youth cultures, and seems to have been entirely made up by the filmmakers. Zealots, like straightedgers, reject drugs and alcohol, but also oppose pornography and feminism. They do not shy away from tattoos, piercings, and body modification.

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Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana

the-x-files-t-1920x1080_v2Suburban Gothic is a form of Dark Romantic storytelling set in a suburban environment. Traditionally associated with aging Victorian mansions, crypts, and other macabre settings, the neat rows of white picket fences, manicured lawns, and modern tract housing of the suburbs may seem like an unusual home for Gothic tales. The suburbs, however, are a logical place for writers and filmmakers to express American Gothic sentiment, and episodes from two television shows in particular, The X-Files (1993-2002) and Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), help us understand why.

American Gothic is our unique expression of Dark Romanticism, a broader nineteenth century literary and artistic movement. In early nineteenth century America, Romanticism gave rise to two opposing artistic and intellectual movements: Transcendentalism and Dark Romanticism. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, and that humanity is perfectible. In contrast, Dark Romantics like Edgar Allen Poe (who described Transcendentalism as a disease) believed humans were inherently fallible and prone to sin and self destruction. The modern Suburban Gothic tale is essentially a Dark Romantic argument against Transcendentalism.

In the nineteenth century, some Transcendentalists tried to put their ideas into practice by building utopian communities away from what they considered to be the corrupting influence of modern society. The idea that a carefully planned community could create a new, happier, and more productive life lived on into the twentieth century. As cities become overcrowded, the growing middle class sought refuge from high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were designed to alleviate  inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2 made it possible for millions of people to buy mass-produced homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

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