As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Goonie.
To me, being a Goonie was better than being President of the United States. Even before I first wandered into the theater for an after-school job, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there I belonged. To me, it meant being somebody in a neighborhood full of nobodies. They weren’t like anyone else. They did whatever they wanted in the Goon Docks. They’d double-park their bicycles in front of Lower Columbia Bowl and nobody ever gave them a ticket. In the summer when they played video games all night, nobody ever called their parents.
It was a glorious time. Goonies were all over the place. It was before The Avengers and before Kylo Ren decided to take on a Sith Lord. It was when I met the world. Saturday night was for second run matinees, but Friday night at the theater was always for the first run showings.
It was easy for all of us to disappear in these films. My childhood home may as well have been listed in Spielberg’s name, my VHS tapes displaying his extensive filmography. My movie memorabilia collection was vast. I never didn’t enjoy a theatrical experience. I didn’t have to pay taxes yet. My birth certificate and Social Security Number were all you’d need to know I was alive. I was young. They were simpler times.
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Like its debut season, The Umbrella Academy’s second season is oozing with historical, sociopolitical, and pop culture references, and nods to Gerard Way’s comic book source material. However, in the beginning of season 2, in each of the scenes during which the seven gifted children of The Academy travel back to the 1960s, a Hammer Film Production B horror flick, except for The Sergeant was a Lady, plays at the Avon Theater in Dallas, Texas, setting the tone for the rest of the season. And what a tone Hammer films have.
This post contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy season 2.
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Musician Elliott Smith has made an abundance of legendary contributions to cinema, both in his short lifetime (he passed away at the age of 34 in 2003) as well as posthumously. He is, arguably, the greatest singer-songwriter of his generation. In film, Smith is, perhaps, most well-known for his tracks on Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting in 1997, namely, his Oscar-nominated “Miss Misery.” That song played over the oft-quoted “Had to see about a girl” scene. Although Smith lost to Céline Dion’s (of whom he used to do a spot-on impression) “My Heart Will Go On” at the Academy Awards, “Miss Misery” and Good Will Hunting launched him from indie musician to somewhere in between the stratospheres of successful and superstardom overnight.
The Nebraska-born, Texas-raised, Portland transport’s hauntingly graceful tracks have also been featured in several other prominent films and television shows, including many indelible scenes. His hollow, whispery voice, forever yearning for a different reality, remains a staple in film. If Van Sant hadn’t run out of music to listen to on a cross-country road trip and been forced to listen to discarded soundtrack music for To Die For, perhaps Smith’s brilliance wouldn’t have been exposed to the masses. And he wasn’t exactly the type of person capable of bearing the pressures of fame. He had enough demons, as it was. However, fame was inevitable for someone as talented as Smith. Alas, it’s a delicate, almost selfish relationship we, as fans and admirers, have with artists. They create. We consume, and consume, and consume. If their art is deemed mainstream, we become exponentially more voracious. Sometimes, it can destroy a person. Sometimes, it can enable their most dangerous temptations. Sometimes, it can awaken their most sinister demons.
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Edward Scissorhands is more than a gothic fairytale. It’s more than a suburban satire. It’s a complex film about systemic societal and economic change. Writer Caroline Thompson, director Tim Burton, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and production designer Bo Welch convey timely themes of classism, diversity, and suburban vapidity (post-war Suburbia through the Reagan Era suburban revival) through the use of snow, Edward’s (Johnny Depp) peculiar, unchanging outfit, the suburban setting, and a stealthily symbolic mansion. The story of Edward Scissorhands was conceived during Burton’s awkward suburban childhood upbringing in Burbank, California. It can be dated back to a single drawing in Burton’s teenage years of an early iteration of the Scissorhands character, which represented Burton’s feeling of isolation, his inability to maintain friendships, and communicate effectively with his peers.
In Burton’s biography by Helena Bassil-Morozow titled, Tim Burton: The Monster and the Crowd: A Post-Jungian Perspective, he explained, “I never really fell out with people, but I didn’t really retain friends. I get the feeling people just got this urge to want to leave me alone for some reason, I don’t know why exactly. It was as if I was exuding some sort of aura that said ‘Leave me the fuck alone.’” What began as an auteur-in-the-making’s lack of belonging in his own neighborhood grew into an intelligent allegory for suburban America and humankind’s manmade, pun intended, prejudice against anything that is considered different from the current norm.
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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything.)
It’s difficult to place into words the impact Italian Neorealism has personally had on me. The genre speaks to me on a visceral level. The old Italian films, born out of desperation, still hold up against the blockbusters of today. In an age where authoritarianism is making a comeback, we are witnessing a subconscious reemergence of the formerly communist left-supported Italian Neorealism movement. A genre “reboot,” so-to-speak, passionately defiant of the Donald Trumps, the Boris Johnsons, the Kim Jong-Uns, the Rodrigo Dutertes, paralleling the recent wave of democratic socialism and a greater societal readiness to accept left politics.
In order to contextualize the circumstances surrounding its reemergence, one must revisit the circumstances out of which Italian Neorealism was born. By drawing modern parallels to classics of the genre with recent films such as Roma, The Florida Project, Tangerine, Support the Girls, Cold War, American Honey, and Winter’s Bone, the sociopolitical and stylistic similarities between Italian Neorealism’s “reboot” and its cinematic predecessor succinctly emerge.
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Comedy icon Will Forte received his first few breaks in Hollywood as a writer more than 20 years ago. The scribe soon discovered that he was equally adept as an actor, becoming an instant star in the public eye on Saturday Night Live (SNL), to which he graduated from the legendary Groundlings Theatre & School in Los Angeles. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Forte would dominate the comedy scene in the 2000s and 2010s, acting in noteworthy features such as Beerfest, Fanboys, MacGruber, The Lego Movie, 7 Days in Hell, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Booksmart, and Goodboys, appearing in hit TV shows including How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, The Cleveland Show, American Dad, The League, The Last Man on Earth, and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, and frequently collaborating with improv-friendly peers like Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island, Broken Lizard comedy troupe, and Tim and Eric. Forte even flexed his dramatic range, starring in auteur Alexander Payne’s acclaimed film, Nebraska.
As an actor, Forte benefits from his adroitness as a writer. And vice-versa. Both crafts come naturally to him, and both crafts work harmoniously with one another. When reading a script, Forte can more readily deconstruct it and discern whether or not the material works for him. When writing a script (The Brothers Solomon, MacGruber, and The Last Man on Earth are examples of works that Forte has either created, written, or co-written), Forte is finely attuned to the performer, creating scenarios that work for every actor, taking into consideration each person’s various, distinct skillsets, a quality that he undoubtedly picked up writing sketches for himself and his peers while he was at the Groundlings. For Forte’s latest film, Extra Ordinary, the comedic actor was intuitively taken with filmmakers’ Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s collective vision from day one.
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I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon on Sunday, January 12, 2020. Before delving into the magic of the runDisney weekend and event, the five-park course (Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and one of the water parks), the Disney characters and exhibits set up for picture-taking every few miles, classic Disney clips and tunes played on screens and speakers throughout the course, and exclusive memorabilia, many readers may be wondering why anyone not named Pheidippides, carrying the timely news of the Persians’ defeat to the Athenians, would run a marathon to begin with. In fact, running 26.2 miles “for fun” seems downright insane. My first cousin, Steve “Pre” Prefontaine, about whom Hollywood made two films, Prefontaine and Without Limits, had that brand of insanity.
Even after running the marathon, I still can’t fathom how certain people make them a regular part of their annual running schedules. I’ve always questioned whether or not I inherited the degree of insanity with which Pre carried himself on the track. However, after running the event, I know for certain that some of that fire roars in me now.
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When the term character actor is used in film discourse, Willem Dafoe is one of the most common actors to come to the collective mind of cinephiles. However, he is, and always has been, a leading man who simply isn’t deterred by the size, or lack thereof, of a given role to which he connects. The Wisconsin native could turn even the most seemingly banal character into something singularly mesmerizing. This intuition to excavate the humanity out of the roles he chooses is part of what makes Dafoe so effective as an actor. Perhaps it’s also what draws skillful auteurs like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Lars von Trier, Abel Ferrara, Sam Raimi, and Oliver Stone back to him for memorable repeat collaborations. Whether as a character actor, leading man, or disembodied voice (Vox Lux), Dafoe remains one thing above all: A universally sought-after director’s actor.
One collaboration that evaded Dafoe for nearly three decades was that with legendary Argentinian filmmaker Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman). It wasn’t until 2015 when the two longtime acquaintances finally made a film together with Babenco’s autobiographical My Hindu Friend – also titled My Last Friend – in which Dafoe plays a stand-in for the director during a particularly grim period in his life. My Hindu Friend is a thoughtful, honest exploration of death, life, cinema, and unlikely yet timely human connections. Shortly after the 2016 Montréal World Film Festival, Babenco passed away, delaying the film’s release nearly four years.
On the cusp of My Hindu Friend’s January 17, 2020 theatrical release, I spoke with Dafoe about his experience on Babenco’s final film, his aptitude for portraying real-life figures, the existential weight of death in cinema, The Lighthouse, the politics of the Oscars, and his storied career, including his collaborations with Anderson, Scorsese, and von Trier.
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Lauren Greenfield has been a professional photographer since the Reagan era, documenting the American Dream’s devolution into insatiable avarice and a form of capitalism increasingly based on cruelty through a singular lens. She’s also an acclaimed documentarian of the 21st century whose latest film, The Kingmaker, about former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos, tells a very different kind of wealth story than her previous films. Greenfield is a renaissance woman in every sense of the term. Working on her first narrative feature, Man Under, penned by Better Call Saul’s Ann Cherkis, Greenfield is at the peak of her burgeoning artistic career.
When speaking with Greenfield, it becomes immediately clear that she has a deep love for film. It was always destined to be her endgame. Further, it’s abundantly apparent that Greenfield’s work has consistently been driven by her cinematic inspirations throughout her career.
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Traversing slapstick comedy, political satire, and political docudrama sharpshooting seamlessly, director Jay Roach’s unorthodox career trajectory serves as a testament to both his artistic range and tireless work ethic. Not associated with the end product of Zoo Radio, Roach considers Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery to be his first project at the helm. A cultural sensation, it launched one of the highest grossing comedy trilogies ever made. In fact, Austin Powers in Goldmember remains the fourth highest grossing spy film in cinema history behind Mission: Impossible II, The Borne Ultimatum, and Skyfall.
The James Bond spoofs paved the way for Roach to align his directorial chops with subject matter that was closer to his heart. Recount, Game Change, and Trumbo allowed him to explore relevant current and historical political affairs, while The Campaign in 2012 bridged his background in comedy with his newfound aptitude for political perspicacity.
Dissecting the Roger Ailes scandal of 2016, Roach’s latest film, Bombshell, is an amalgamation of his most recent body of work. With help from Oscar-winning screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short) and three impressive performances by Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, Roach infuses a tragicomic, meta perspective into the narrative, crafting a biting critique about gender and power structure in the workplace and beyond.
On the cusp of Bombshell’s December 20 wide release, I sat down with Roach to discuss his career, the importance of authenticity in a story such as this, breaking the fourth wall, the progress of the #MeToo movement, the prospect of another Austin Powers film, and more.
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