Film

In Defense of In The Heights

A skit in the second episode of the brilliant second season of A Black Lady Sketch Show depicts a market research focus group with Black women for a fictious real housewives type series called Black Women Doing Stuff that hilariously doesn’t go very well. Even before the market researcher starts playing the pilot episode, one of the participants invokes Twitter and notes that she would have, “sent my 67 Tweet thread.” The market researcher starts to play Black Women Doing Stuff and the first thing we see is a leg getting out of car wearing a red high heel. Within two to three seconds, the video is paused on the leg: “I have notes!” And WOW, do they have notes:

“A show about Black women and the first thing you show us is a disembodied leg?”  

“Why not have her drive a black Jaguar?”

“Don’t link Black women with cats! We are not catty!”

“And where is Miss Leg even from? Are classy people from the diaspora excluded from this experience?”

“If she is not a descendent of enslaved people, I don’t why I am here.”

“A little light to be dark skin and a little dark to be light skin.”

You get the picture. The researcher never gets beyond the leg getting out of the car. I could not help but remember this skit when I saw some of the unreasonable backlash to In The Heights.

Perhaps the most preposterous assertion came from The Washington Post which declared in a headline that “‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood.” The article asserts, “With its White and light-skinned leading roles, the film became part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.” Really? We must not have seen the same film. I did not see one white actor playing the part of a Latino/a/x individual. Corey Hawkins certainly isn’t light skinned and no one in the United States would ever confuse Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz, Anthony Ramos, or Daphne Rubin-Vega for white. Most Latino/a/x people are of mixed races. My own DNA shows that I come from people who were Portuguese, Spaniard, Native American, African and several other peoples. In my own extended Puerto Rican family, there is a range of skin tones and hair colors and textures. Better examples of whitewashing would be Natalie Wood playing Maria in West Side Story; Marisa Tomei playing Dorita Evita Pérez in The Perez Family; Kyra Sedgwick playing Suzie Morales in Man on a Ledge. Whitewashing is a film like Birth of the Dragon, which was supposed to be about Bruce Lee but is largely told from the point of view a fictitious white character. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, noted, “The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material.”

Proper representation is best achieved when the people being portrayed have a voice. Isn’t that exactly what In The Heights is doing? Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Nuyorican (New Yorker + Puerto Rican) from the neighborhood (I grew up a few blocks away from him) who, through this musical, is exploring issues that affect all Latino/a/x Americans, of all colors, in various ways including gentrification, immigration, identity, discrimination, and profiling. The character of Nina, for example, was accused of stealing pearls from her dorm mate at Stanford and her belongings searched: the way the story is told leads one to realize this may not have happened if she looked more like Cameron Diaz. The film even features a brief, but effective, exploration of Latina/x women’s history. Miranda and Chu also manage to prominently highlight authentic Latino/a/x cuisine without one Goya product in sight! Including Goya would have been whitewashing.

During the 2019 Museum Mile Festival, a group of protesters distributed flyers at El Museo Del Barrio called the Mirror Manifesto that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto explored the meaning of Latinx:

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.” Loosely defined, this is the Nuyorican, the Dominiyorker, the first, second, and third generations of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans that make up a barrio in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. It is the El Salvadorian and Guatemalteco kids in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Cubans in New Jersey, the Tejanos, the Chicanos. It is the dreamers and the migrants who identify with a U.S. lived experience. It is the children of immigrants at the border and the children of recently arrived Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Pennsylvania Post- Maria, that have and will grow up here.

In The Heights is not exclusively an exploration of Washington Heights; it is a partial representation of the diasporic Latinidad in the 21st century described above. Miranda and Chu did an exceptional job representing the colors of the Latino/a/x rainbow. Often many of those colors are not represented, except as criminals and maids. You know where the representation is really lacking? American Spanish language television.

James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, wrote, “It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” Miranda gave us a story of a hopeful and positive diasporic Latinidad that deftly responded to the bigoted Trump era still lingering. It’s not Scarface or Carlito’s Way. Artists with Miranda and Chu’s scope and vision should be revered, not reviled—they are the ones carving paths. Anyone saying otherwise is just a limited focus group participant.

edwinroman.com

The Music Video as Art: Dark Ballet by Madonna

Since the video became a ubiquitous part of popular music nearly forty years ago, it has sometimes struggled as an art form. The marriage has not always been harmonious: sometimes you have great songs with mediocre videos and vice versa. What I have always appreciated about it, when it does approach art, is that a story or message can be conveyed without the constraint of a script, spoken word, or even the lyrics of the song.

Madonna, who rose to prominence during the early years of the music video, has produced a stunning body of work in both video and song. However, in the last decade, this has not been case; she seemed more occupied with collaborating/cannibalizing younger recording artists and touring than producing thoughtful work. Thankfully, she has returned to form with “Dark Ballet.”

The song and video are essentially a pop version of the opera by Tchaikovsky, The Maid of Orleans, which tells the story of Joan of Arc. Interestingly, this is not Madonna’s first time exploring Joan of Arc in her work: in her last album, Rebel Heart, she had a song titled “Joan of Arc.” In my review, I noted it as the most irritating song because she was essentially complaining about being famous and I questioned what that had to do with Joan of Arc.

“Dark Ballet” is told from Joan of Arc’s point of view. In the brilliant bridge of the song, set to a pulsating electronic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker, Madonna speaks:

“I will not denounce the things that I have said
I will not renounce my faith in my sweet Lord
He has chosen me to fight against the English
And I’m not afraid at all to die ’cause I believe him
God is on my side and I’ll be his bride
I am not afraid ’cause I have faith in him
You can cut my hair and throw me in a jail cell
Say that I’m a witch and burn me at the stake
It’s all a big mistake
Don’t you know to doubt him is a sin?
I won’t give in”

The video is book ended by quotes, with one by Joan of Arc and another by queer poet and activist Mykki Blanco, who was cast as Joan of Arc in the video. Madonna is surprisingly absent except for a very brief cameo. Blanco gives us some incredible acting here. I also can’t heap enough praise on the cinematography, production, and direction by Emmanuel Adjei (he is one to watch).

And while the song and video is about Joan of Arc, it feels as if Madonna and Adjei are also addressing the toxic mix of bigotry and religion that pervades the world: too many people use religion to justify their prejudices and fears.  

Madonna’s pop version of the opera The Maid of Orleans is “Dark Ballet.”

www.edwinroman.com

Book Review: Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo

I love cats, art, comic books, science fiction, film, Alfred Hitchcock, documentaries, illustration, photography, architecture, music,humor, and food television shows. I love it when two of my favorite things meet— such as cats and science fiction.

Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with friends regarding science fiction franchises. I have always favored Star Trek above all because of the extensive story of Starfleet via decades of films and television series. Cats have appeared on Star Trek, in two episodes of the original series (on the episode “Assignment: Earth” I loved that Isis the Cat broke through Spock’s cool logic) as well Data’s cat, Spot, on The Next Generation who appeared in several episodes (my favorite moment between them was in TNG’s first Film, Generations, when Data finds that Spot survived the ship’s brutal crash). I named one of my cats Seven after the character from Voyager.

My second favorite science fiction franchise is Alien. Yes, there have been several missteps since the second film, but I appreciate the various visions that have been brought to the overall story. Only one cat has made an appearance so far: Jonesy, the Nostromo cat.  He appeared in the first Alien film and its follow-up, Aliens. And let’s face it, he is the only cat the franchise will ever need because he had a ton of personality! I am not the only one who thought Jonesy was a personality—not long after I got on Facebook, I found a that Jonesy has a presence there! More recently, is the brilliantly graphic novel by illustrator Rory Lucey, Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo.

Jonesy is a graphic novel in the tradition of Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, in that there is no dialog. The story is told from the point of view of Jonesy, so why would there be a need for words? The novel faithfully follows the first Alien film, but adds some details that we may not have seen in the film. For example, when the Nostromo crew is first awoken from their cryostasis sleep, Jonesy, in a bit of foreshadowing, gives Ripley a preview of the facehugger. Similarly, we see what Jonesy is doing while the crew is out investigating LV-426.

As scary as Alien is, this book is really funny—and it is because of Jonesy! Cats are funny and Lucey brilliantly captures that. My favorite moment is near the end of the book when Ripley is trying to eject the alien off the shuttle and Jonesy is in the cryostasis tube licking himself!

The illustrations are terrific and Lucey shows that he has lived with a cat (he dedicates the book to his wife Emily and his own orange feline, Caesar). He beautifully conveys with watercolors all the crazy and funny things cats do.

French author, Colette, once said, “There are no ordinary cats.” Lucey upholds this with his truly wonderful and entertaining book. A MUST for fans of the Alien franchise!

www.edwinroman.com

Halloween Movie Picks 2018

I love Halloween. Psychology Today interestingly noted that it best holiday because we don’t have to worry about it.

“Nobody frets about being lonely, abandoned, heartbroken, alienated, or bereft on Halloween.”

When I am not donning a costume, one of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Below are my 2018 recommendations currently available on various streaming services (I cut the cord three years ago).

Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts. And be sure to explore my recommendations from the previous two years: 2017 and 2016.

The below film titles are linked to their respective trailers.

Netflix:

47 Meters Down: Two young women are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean with less than an hour of oxygen and sharks circling. Claustrophobic with hungry sharks!

Gerald’s Game: While trying to spice up their marriage in a remote house, a woman must fight to survive when her husband unexpectedly dies, leaving her handcuffed to the bed. You can’t help but think of what you do in that situation. Also, you may actually think twice about letting someone tie you up for fun.

As Above So Below: When a team of treasure hunters venture into the Paris catacombs and discover more than they bargained for. Seriously claustrophobic and the scenes where they emphasize that are the best.

Classics you may have missed that are available on Netflix: The Shining (my go to film during a snowstorm); Hellbound (Horror S & M); Interview with The Vampire (Brad Pitt as Louie and Tom Cruise, who gave an unexpectedly superb performance, as Lestat in the film based on the classic Anne Rice book of the same name).

Honorable mentions featured last year that are still available: Train to Busan, Death Note and The Void.

Amazon Prime:

The Skeleton Key: A young nurse cares for a mute senior citizen in an old, remote and really creepy Louisiana plantation. She discovers the family’s dark and dangerous past.

The Stepford Wives (1975): An aspiring photographer and full time housewife has come to the little town of Stepford, Connecticut with her family, from New York City and discovers a sinister secret in the flawless demeanor of the other wives. This film has aged really well.

The Strangers: A young couple staying in an isolated vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants. After seeing this film, soft knocks on the door will scare you for months to come.

Stir of Echoes: After being hypnotized a man begins seeing a girl’s ghost in his home and works to solve her murder.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist: I was not sure about including this because it is one of those films that has an excellent concept, but is not executed well. Interestingly, there are two versions of this film (the other being called, Exorcist: The Beginning) and the other also has an excellent concept, but is poorly executed. The film takes place about 20 years before Father Merrin helped save Regan MacNeil’s soul in The Exorcist. The film details his first encounters with the demon Pazuzu in post-World War II Africa.

The Cell: I actually reviewed this film 18 years ago when I worked at the now defunct, on-line magazine Latiknow. I recently saw it and was impressed with how well it has aged. It is a masterwork of surrealism that stars Jennifer Lopez at the height of her powers. She plays a social worker who is experienced with technology that allows here to enter the mind of a serial killer who is in a coma.

The Satanic Rights of Dracula: I have always loved Christopher Lee’s Dracula films. They have this wonderful texture and excellent gothic horror.

Horror Express: Speaking of Christopher Lee, he stars as a British anthropologist who discovers a frozen prehistoric creature and must transport it to Europe by train. But is the creature frozen?

The Woman in Black: A young clerk travels to a remote village where he encounters the vengeful ghost who is terrorizing the locals. The direction on this film is nothing short of brilliant.

Daybreakers: A plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a blood shortage, the vampires plot their survival, while a researcher works on a way to save humankind. Sleek and modern stainless steel horror.

Hulu:

The Others: A woman who lives in her darkened family mansion with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that the home is haunted. But is it?

Blow Out: John Travolta stars as a movie sound recordist who accidentally records a car accident which turns out to be a murder and eventually finds himself in danger. Terrific 1970s horror.

Insomnia: Brilliant performances from Robin Williams and Al Pacino. Pacino stars as a detective dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the murder of a local teen.

I am actually still exploring some other films listed on Hulu’s Huluween and may have an addendum to this blog entry. If I do, it will be before Halloween.

Frightpix:

Firghtpix, which is a completely free, but loaded with commercials, streaming service, has the following worth watching:

You’re Next: A family is attacked but the gang of mysterious killers soon learns that one of the victims has an unknown talent for fighting back.

 

edwinroman.com

P.S. I need to write this blog today. After all of the domestic terrorism we experienced this week, I needed the escape.

 

 

Halloween Movie Picks 2017

I love Halloween. One of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Below are my 2017 recommendations currently available on various streaming services. Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Netflix

Train to Busan: If you only see one film for Halloween, this should be it. Train to Busan shines in the Zombie genre. Superbly acted, directed and produced, the film tells the story of a father and daughter’s harrowing train journey to reach the only city that has not been affected by a massive zombie outbreak. A real nail biter.

Korean with English subtitles.

What Happened to Monday: This is my second must-see after Train to Busan. What Happened to Monday is a dystopian thriller where overpopulation and famine have forced governments to undertake a draconian one child policy. The film follows the story of seven identical sisters living a hide-and-seek existence. Brilliantly directed and produced, Noomi Rapace is superb playing the part of seven distinct sisters. I feel this film is a severely overlooked gem.

Hush: If you loved Wait Until Dark, then you are going to love this one. Hush tells the story of a deaf woman who lives a near solitary life in the woods and fights for her life when a masked killer suddenly appears. Supremely suspenseful.

The Void: If you loved John Carpenter’s The Thing, then this one is for you. After a police officer rushes an injured man to an understaffed hospital, mysterious figures surround the building’s exterior as strange things begin to happen inside. The plot can be confusing at times, but this film made my list for its texture, visuals and throwback feel.

Death Note: Many did not like this American, live-action remake of the popular Japanese manga series because it deviated from the original. I liked it for that very reason. Why re-enact the original? I think this version has excellent texture and tone. Death Note follows Light, a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook from a demon named Ryuk (played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe) that grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. Both the American live-action remake and the animated original are available on Netflix.

The Windmill: A young woman on the run attempts to evade authorities by joining a tour of Holland’s windmills. When the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she and the other tourists, who, like her, have a dark secret, are forced to seek shelter in a windmill where a legendary Devil-worshiping miller once grounded the bones of locals. They start dropping one by one in rather gruesome ways. Definitely the goriest film on this list.

Notable classics on Netflix: Children of the Corn, The Legend of Hell House, Hellraiser, Sleepy Hollow and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Amazon Prime

Sleep Tight: A concierge who believes he was born without the ability to be happy decides to make everyone in his building miserable. While most of his tenants are easy to upset, one young and very cheerful woman proves herself to be a challenge in his quest to spread misery. He goes to the extremes to make this woman lose it.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Pan’s Labyrinth: Set a few years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and during World War II, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of young girl named Ophelia and her mother who arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband, a merciless military captain (played by Sergi López, who brilliantly embodies Franco’s fascism) who is working to suppress a revolt in the area. In the middle of this, Ophelia explores an ancient maze where she encounters a faun named Pan (based on the ancient Greek deity of shepherds and flocks) who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to become immortal. This film is beautiful, dark and seems apposite to what is currently going on in Spain and Catalan.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Notable classics on Amazon Prime: The Oblong Box, The Blob and Pumpkinhead.

 

Hulu

The Babadook: A child’s recurrent tantrums become ominous when a creepy children’s book mysteriously appears in his room and he asks his widowed mother, “Do you want to die?” The Babadook is a snaggletoothed, black-hatted monster with the ability to inflict harm and just scare the hell out of you!

Room 237: Okay, this is technically not a horror film, but a documentary about the horror classic, The Shining (a favorite film of mine). It is so good that I had to include it on this list. Interestingly, Hulu has placed it in the “Stephen King” category, which is kind of funny because the film notes how much Stephen King disliked the film version of his novel.

Click here to read last year’s picks.

 

edwinroman.com

Wonder Woman, The Movie

If you loved Superman, The Movie (1978), then you are going to love Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman focuses on the horrors of war, the value of friendship and comic book heroism. The film tells Wonder Woman’s story before she was Wonder Woman — when she was Diana, Amazonian princess and warrior in training. One day, after a fierce training session, a handsome pilot named Steve Trevor crashes off the shores of her hidden homeland of Themyscira and tells of a conflict in the outside world.  Diana leaves to fight a “war to end all wars” (then known as The Great War or to us, World War I), discovering her full powers and ultimately her destiny.

Like the film that launched the superhero blockbuster nearly forty years ago, Wonder Woman sets a new standard, most notably with regards to how timely it is. When Wonder Woman is challenged with propaganda about war, her eyes see the truth in the faces of the wounded soldiers and civilian casualties. She’s horrified by the generals who simply stand back with no consideration for the loss of life. Echoes of Syria can be felt in this film where helping people in need should be placed above religion, race or politics—something Wonder Woman conveys several times in the film. The humanity this fictional character demonstrates stands in complete contrast to the draft dodging, xenophobic “reality” show tangerine Mussolini currently in the White House. As Arris Quinones of Variant Comics noted, “…it is just really an inspiring movie. It actually made me want to go out and do good in the world.” Not surprisingly, the snowflakes at Fox “News” and the New York Post belly-ached at how Wonder Woman’s costume no longer looked “patriotic.” It should be noted that the costume still has many of the recognizable symbols, but largely draws inspiration from the mythical armor that the Amazons have been wearing for centuries (which, like democracy, has roots in Greco-Roman culture). Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth is a breath of fresh air in this time of alternative facts and fake news.

Director Patty Jenkins does a remarkable job bringing the world of Wonder Woman to life. Most notable is the depiction of the Amazons: it was truly page to screen! If you look closely, some of the Amazons were wearing elements seen in different versions of Wonder Woman’s costume.

 

Gal Gadot, as I noted last year in my review for Batman v. Superman, is nothing short of wonderful. The supporting characters all stand out with kudos to Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor. I am looking forward to seeing the Amazons in action in the forthcoming Justice League film.

Wonder Woman should have been made a long time ago, but this film is one that was worth waiting for. It is truly worth seeing, not only because it was directed by a woman and stars a woman, but because it is the best superhero film DC has produced since the Dark Knight trilogy. Like Superman, The Movie and the Dark Knight films, this one will age really well and become a metric for superhero films.

Wonder Woman, 2017.

Directed by Patty Jenkins.

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Ewan Bremner, Lucy Davis, Eugene Brave Rock, Emily Carey, Lilly Aspell, and Saïd Taghmaoui.

RECOMMENDED VIDEOS

The History of Wonder Woman

 

Wonder Woman’s Strongest Moments

 

The Origin of Ares

 

READING RECOMMENDATIONS

 

DC has a miniseries about the Amazons, years before the birth of Diana (Wonder Woman), titled The Odyssey of the Amazons. It is the story of a group of Amazons who are traveling the ancient world to find others like them, encountering legendary creatures and beings along the way. An excellent companion would be Wonder Woman Rebirth #8. It is a year one interlude where a young Barbara Ann Minerva (before she was Cheetah and before Wonder Woman arrives) is on an exhibition to prove that the Amazons did indeed exist (an excellent story).

 

What I wore to see the film.

What I wore to see the film.

 

edwinroman.com

The cast of Julieta.

Film Review: Almodóvar’s “Julieta”

Julieta is Pedro Almodóvar’s twentieth film and joins the pantheon of his best works. It was inspired by three short stories from the book by Alice Munro, Runaway, as well as the female-centric films of the 1940’s with hints of Hitchcock as well as Almodóvar’s own earlier works, most notably, his masterpiece, All About My Mother. One might even consider Julieta to be the 21st century All About My Mother.

The film traces three decades of the title character’s life. It starts with a middle-aged Julieta living in Madrid, with her boyfriend Lorenzo, and they are planning to move to Portugal. One day she runs into Bea, former best friend of her daughter Antia, who reveals that Antia, whom Julieta has not seen or spoken with in twelve years, is living in Switzerland and is married with three children. Julieta abruptly cancels the move, breaks up with Lorenzo, and moves to her former building, hoping that Antia someday communicates with her. Julieta, alone with her thoughts, starts to write her memories and her story is told in a series of flashbacks.

One of the most interesting things about Julieta is the double casting: Julieta in her twenties and early thirties is played by Adriana Ugarte, while in middle age is played by Emma Suárez. We witness what heartache and time can do to a person through Emma Suárez. Both actresses did amazing work, but I don’t think they were able to fully realize a powerhouse performance—they shared one. Had either actress solely portrayed the title character, the performance would have likely emerged as comparable to Cecilia Roth’s in All About My Mother. Speaking of performances, I want to note Rossy de Palma’s performance in this film: she amazingly “frumped” it up!

Clothes, wallpaper and furniture continue to play an integral part in Almodóvar’s films. Starting with Live Flesh, architecture has also played a major part in Almodóvar’s storytelling and is most evident in Julieta. The contrasts between urban and rural, wealthy and lower middle class are greatly explored though architecture.

Most notably, the film explored several thought-provoking questions:

  • Are we doomed to make the same mistakes our parents made?
  • Can we break the cycle of mistakes?
  • When is it okay to move on from a relationship that has ended because of a death or illness?
  • Does the physical proximity of family contribute to your mental health in a positive or negative way?

The final moments of Julieta actually address many of these questions in terms of the title character, but you may find yourself asking these of your own life. I think this is what makes the film great: it forces introspection and that is what stays with you.

 

Halloween Movie Picks 2016

Halloween Movie Picks 2016

I love Halloween. One of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Detailed below are my recommendations currently available on various streaming services. The films here are certainly not mainstream and, by and large, foreign. Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

On NETFLIX:

Rabid Dogs: A new French favorite of mine. The ending was so unexpected that the following day I watched it again to see what clues I may have missed. Rabid Dogs has my highest recommendation of all the films on this list. A must watch. There is even a rendition of my favorite Radiohead song “Creep” in the soundtrack.

High Lane: This is a French film and pretty intense. If you can take it…you have been warned…seriously.

Horde: A French zombie film, which I think may have inspired the visual feel of the hit television series, The Walking Dead.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: I thought the vampire genre was done until I saw this Persian language film. I loved the direction and cinematography of this one; a truly unique film.

Dark Was The Night: Mysterious creature thriller starring Kevin Durand from The Strain television series. This has some great moments of suspense.

Odd Thomas: This is much lighter than most of the other films on this list. I loved that it was filmed in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. It stars the late Anton Yelchin of the contemporary Star Trek films.

On HULU:

The Barrens: Is the Jersey Devil real? Stars Stephen Moyer from the True Blood television series.

The Descent: Cave exploration, claustrophobia and something unexpected. Highly recommend this one, but quite intense.

High Tension: Insanely intense French horror film with a surprise ending. Perhaps the most tense of all the films on this list.

Horror Express: A Spanish English language film from the early 1970s that stars Christopher Lee as an archeologist who makes a horrifying discovery. It reminds me of something I would have seen on Chiller Theater via WPIX in New York City.

Psycho Beach Party: The crashing of genres: a spoof of the horror and beach films of the 1960s. This one is a lot of fun.

Them: Another supremely intense French film. This one is based on a true story.

On FILM MOVEMENT:

Wolves in the Snow: A French Canadian film about a woman who kills her husband only to find out that he has ties with the criminal underworld and now they are after her.

Remarkably, Amazon Prime did not have any films I would recommend.

A Middle-Aged Fanboy Reviews Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

My love affair with comics began in the late 1970s with the television series Wonder Woman: it was because of Lynda Carter that I picked up a comic book! I remember the first issue I ever read where Wonder Woman said things like, “Great Hera” and “Merciful Minerva.” This intrigued me because I was learning about Greek mythology in school. I became enamored with all things Greco-Roman and read Wonder Woman to find the connections in the architecture of Paradise Island (I had already looked up the Greek column orders in the encyclopedia) or the Greek Gods and Goddesses the Amazons worshiped (I remember noting an inconsistency with regards to how she would sometimes use the Roman names for Greek Gods and vice-versa).

About one year after I started watching Wonder Woman, the now classic Superman: The Movie came out and it cemented my bond with comic books: I can still recall the joy and excitement I felt watching that film in the Valentine Theater on Fordham Road. I then started to regularly read Action Comics, All Star Squadron, Detective Comics, Justice League, Teen Titans and, of course, Wonder Woman. I also became a life long fan of artists like Jerry Ordway and George Perez.

I stopped reading comics when I started college in 1985 because I couldn’t afford the time or the money. I did, of course, see films and television shows based on my favorite comic book heroes. I started to read comics again because of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and DC’s 2011 reboot of all their titles and characters known as The New 52. Some recommended reading from the New 52 includes the first 24 issues of Batwoman (the artwork of J.H. Williams III is nothing short of thrilling), Earth 2, Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl, Batman (the Court of the Owls story line) and Justice League. Another great read is the graphic novel Superman: Earth One, which clearly had a major influence on 2013’s Man of Steel.

Man of Steel was a good film, but it wasn’t great. I am not sure if it will age as well as the Dark Knight films. I liked the origin story, the portrayal of Krypton and Henry Cavill in the title role, but I agree with critics regarding the over-the-top, Michael Bay destruction of Smallville and Metropolis. Interestingly, this is exactly where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice starts. (Note: if you have not seen Man of Steel, and intend on seeing Batman v. Superman, you must see the former to understand plot elements of the latter.)

The opening moments of Batman v. Superman recounts Superman’s battle with Zod from the street level. These scenes are quite haunting and bring some much-needed humanity to those over-the-top battle scenes from Man of Steel while effectively setting up the animosity that Batman harbors toward Superman for most of the film. What follows is a relatively action-free hour that explores the film’s central theme: can absolute power (Superman) be trusted? Director Zak Snyder also lightly touches on other themes like media manipulation, money in politics and journalistic responsibility.

Snyder excels with the superhero, comic book come-to-life imagery (as he brilliantly did with Watchmen). He clearly took images and ideas from the pages of the comics that those who don’t read comics may not recognize (see below). However, he does it at the expense of the film’s pacing. There are also too many plot elements and plot holes, which CinemaSins is going to have a real feast with. Some of the biggest plot holes stem from character motivation. I also think it was a mistake to reveal the Doomsday character in the trailers; his reveal in the film would have been a great moment for the collective audience experience.

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From the film and from the graphic novel, Damian: Son of Batman

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From the film and from the graphic novel, Superman: Earth One

Casting was outstanding. Ben Affleck does an excellent job playing Bruce Wayne and Batman. Affleck’s physique in this film is impressive–he is a walking wall of muscle! Also, watching him use all of the Batman gadgets was a lot of fun. Gal Gadot, who plays Diana Prince / Wonder Woman is a revelation—even when she is not in costume as Wonder Woman, she commands your attention! I overheard a lot of chatter from fellow audience members afterward and everyone loved her portrayal. One of my favorite moments in the film was when Wonder Woman used her golden lasso—it beautifully glowed as it does in the comics! I am really looking forward to the Wonder Woman film next year!

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Batman v. Superman is fantastic visually and the action scenes are engaging, but overall the film is not as thoughtful as it could have been. For the upcoming Justice League films, Snyder needs to reel in the action a bit and give the audience more credit for being able to think. After all, Comic book fans are quite thoughtful and imaginative.

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I wore my George Perez, Wonder Woman t-shirt to see Batman v. Superman!

Godzilla Thoughtfully

Godzilla

I am a die-hard, life long fan of Godzilla. As a child, growing up in New York City during the 1970’s, I tuned in every time WWOR / Channel 9 had their awesome “Monster Week” movie marathons (check out this terrific YouTube video of an actual WWOR advertisement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOZciXXbSCo from that era). As I got older, WWOR seemed to undergo changes and played those films less frequently.

By the mid-1980’s, Godzilla had been absent from my life and imagination when, during my freshman year at John Jay College, Godzilla 1985 was released. Godzilla ‘85 was a direct sequel to the original (American) version starring Raymond Burr, which ignored the subsequent films of the 1960’s and 1970’s (with Burr reviving his role). With the advent of the VCR, I was able to rent and sometimes buy my favorite Godzilla films. Since 1985, Godzilla has remained a constant part of my life, imagination and sometimes, my art.

My initial attraction to Godzilla was purely visual: as a child, I often imagined what it would be like to see Godzilla walking by my window, or to see him in the distance wreaking havoc on upper Manhattan. Later I saw the deeper meanings and themes that were explored, particularly in the first (Japanese) version. The most typical was Godzilla as the physical manifestation of fears stemming from humanities’ ability to literally destroy the planet. His origins are in the early atomic age. Sixty years later, one has to ask: has humanity learned anything? That is the deeper question being asked by the current American-produced version of Godzilla. We have seen the disasters created by the folly of man, yet we have done little to address and prevent them.

The most thoughtful aspect of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the exploration of humanity and disaster, whether by man or nature. Edwards reminds us of recent disasters including the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He also reminds us of the human toll these disasters have and how they can sometimes be prevented. Why are we still using nuclear power when technologies to harness the power of the sun and wind have been developed? Humanity has to live in harmony with the planet and not destroy it or we will pay the consequences ( As seen in the New York Times earlier this week: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html?action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry319%23%2Focean%2520levels&_r=0 ). In this, Edwards is in step with Godzilla’s tradition of exploring contemporary fears.

Many have already grumbled that title character doesn’t make an appearance until nearly the end of the first hour and is then not given as much screen time as he should have. As in the very first film, Edwards holds Godzilla back for some time. The protracted build up may not agree with a contemporary audiences’ appetite for quick storytelling and non-stop action, BUT once the monsters get going, it is truly something to see. Edwards is a filmmaker in the tradition of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, NOT Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich (the director of the disastrous–no pun intended—1998 Godzilla wannabe). Godzilla is a beautifully crafted science fiction film in the tradition of Jaws, Jurassic Park and Aliens. Like those films, Godzilla deserves multiple viewings and a sequel (helmed by Edwards). I predict that this film will age well.

Godzilla

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Written by Max Borenstein, based on the character “Godzilla,” owned and created by Toho Company Ltd., and a story by David Callaham

Director of photography, Seamus McGarvey

Edited by Bob Ducsay

Music by Alexandre Desplat

Production design by Owen Paterson

Visual-effects supervisor, Jim Rygiel

Costumes by Sharen Davis

Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent and Brian Rogers

Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes.

 

STARRING: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), Sally Hawkins (Graham), David Strathairn (Adm. William Stenz) and Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody).