(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood or how classic Hollywood continues to influence modern filmmaking.)

In 1941, in the midst of World War II, the Walt Disney Studios put out a movie about a little elephant with big ears. Dumbo was the savior of the Disney Company at the time, swooping in to save them after a huge financial loss after their experimental musical, Fantasia, the year prior. The film became Disney’s biggest hit of the 1940s, producing an iconic moment with the sweetly tempered “Baby Mine” sequence. With 78 years passed, it’s time to remake Dumbo, at least according to Disney, and Tim Burton’s feature owes more to the circus worlds of his own films (Big Fish) and the studio era than it does to its predecessor.

Somewhat similarly to the original, the film follows a playful pachyderm named Dumbo whose large ears give him the ability to fly. He’s helped in his quest to rescue his mother by the precocious Millie Farrier (Nico Parker), a budding scientist, and her father, former cowboy star, Holt (Colin Farrell).

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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: film festivals treat disabled attendees as an afterthought – and that needs to change.)

When it comes to the state of disability access, one thing is for certain: we are an afterthought. It’s remarkable to think that with all the ingenuity in architecture and discussions about representation that disability continuously falls through the cracks. I’ve lived as a wheelchair user my whole life and never felt limited until I started working as a film critic.

No, the nature of writing and seeing movies isn’t a problem. But as any writer will tell you, a key component of this job is going to film festivals. Festivals aren’t purely a means of seeing a hot new release months in advance, but present networking opportunities and greater access to events and people that help us do our job. When I first seriously started writing I knew festivals would be great to attend, but they come with a wealth of problems for me.

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(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood or how classic Hollywood continues to influence modern filmmaking.)

Jordan Peele’s Get Out reinvigorated a horror landscape rife with jump scares and standard monsters. Horror features with political overtones have existed since the genre was created, but in the Blumhouse era, they were sometimes harder and subtler to find. Peele’s second feature, Us, similarly infuses the filmic and the societal in a way that’s just as fresh and unique as Get Out, while being even more cerebral. Where some movies easily lend themselves to classic film comparisons, Us uses them more as influences. Several times, I saw wisps of a classic film though the name escaped me. I’m eager to see what other references people catch while watching Us.

Us follows the Wilsons, a family spending a quiet vacation at their summer house in Santa Cruz. When a family arrives at the end of their driveway the Wilsons must confront their greatest fear: themselves.

This article contains major spoilers for Us.

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Creature From the Black Lagoon at 65

(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood or how classic Hollywood continues to influence modern filmmaking.)

In 1954, a little feature called Creature From the Black Lagoon crawled up from the seas of Universal Studios to terrorize audiences. While never taken as seriously as other Universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, the Gill-Man has created his own cult-like following that’s kept the film in the public consciousness for the past 65 years. When Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water was released in 2017 with its story about a woman who falls in love with a similar aquatic creature, the director was vocal about the film’s chief influence being the original Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The horror classic premiered 65 years ago today, so it’s worth exploring all three Creature films to examine how they hold up in 2019.

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serenity film noir

(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood.)

By this point audiences have been scratching their heads and questioning their film choices with the release of Steven Knight’s Serenity. It’s a movie that is as compellingly bonkers as it is exceedingly dumb. It’s a fun bad movie that you’ll enjoy if you’re into that kind of thing. But, in watching it myself (and loving everything about it), the classic film comparisons flew fast and furiously. Knight certainly did his homework for key portions of the film and it’s worth using the Classically Contemporary forum to examine all things dark, noir, and silly about Serenity.

Serenity follows Plymouth fisherman Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) who seems to spend his days doing little more than fishing and getting laid. When his ex-girlfriend, Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up with a proposition, Baker isn’t having it. She wants to pay him $10 million to murder her husband. Will the fisherman do it? Will Karen and Baker get together at the end? I’d say yes but the movie goes FAR further than that.

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(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood.)

When classic film fans heard Bradley Cooper was directing A Star is Born a collective sigh went out. Telling a story that’s been done no less than three times already isn’t exactly innovative, and yet A Star is Born has been a popular story to tell since its inception in 1932.

Unlike the previous Classically Contemporary article, we won’t be looking at outside influences from the classic era, but how this incarnation of A Star is Born is influenced by the versions that came before. How does Cooper’s story hold up alongside its previous iterations, and what does its placement in 2018 say about us and celebrity? Let’s go far from the shallow and get classically contemporary with A Star is Born.

This post contains minor spoilers for all four versions of the film, including the new one.

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A Simple Favor Influences

(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood.)

Director Paul Feig is no stranger to reference and parody, with the strongest example being his 2015 James Bond-esque Spy. Feig enjoys playing with classic film genre and his best representation of the past is found in A Simple Favor.

Based on Darcey Bell’s novel, A Simple Favor follows mommy vlogger, Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), who falls into a fast friendship with the beautifully acid-tongued Emily Nelson (Blake Lively). Emily seems to have a wonderful life, but when she goes missing Stephanie quickly learns she didn’t know much about her new (and only) best friend.

This article contains spoilers for A Simple Favor.

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Are You Afraid of the Dark Revisited

(Welcome to Nostalgia Bomb, a series where we take a look back on beloved childhood favorites and discern whether or not they’re actually any good. In this edition: revisiting the classic Nickelodeon series Are You Afraid of the Dark.)

It’s been 18 years since Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark went off the air, yet in that time the audience who grew up with the anthology series have never forgotten it. The weekly horror show followed a group of teens telling ghost stories around a campfire, telling us what to fear about life and adolescence.

But in the time since its debut in 1992 – its 26th anniversary just passed – Are You Afraid of the Dark has aged beautifully, telling stories that did more than just present ghosts and ghouls, but gave kids a look at the more amorphous frights they’d never thought of. Maybe this explains why its success has never been completely replicated since?

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(Welcome to Classically Contemporary, a series where we explore the ways in which new releases echo classic Hollywood.)

In 1998, a new generation of filmgoers got an opportunity to visit the Walt Disney Studios classic, The Parent Trap, with a hip, modern remake (that hit theaters 20 years ago this week). The film followed the basic tenets of its predecessor, originally released in 1961, that saw two twins, separated at birth, who decide to reunite their estranged parents. The Parent Trap was a film of its time back in 1961, with a peppy, beach-inspired soundtrack (with a title song sung by Annette Funicello). By 1998, with divorce more common, The Parent Trap became timelier, with two tween girls (both played by Lindsay Lohan) tackling a new scheme to stop their father from marrying the “evil” Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix).

Blake is the character who dominates the film 20 years later, with a cool style and confident air that’s pulled straight from the world of classic cinema.

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disability in skyscraper

I initially had little interest in watching Skyscraper, the new action adventure feature starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I hadn’t watched any of the trailers and knew little more than “It’s Die Hard starring the Rock.” I had even more trepidation upon discovering Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer, is a disabled man with a prosthetic leg. As a disabled writer, I worried how the movie would use disability. Would the Rock be a man with a magical leg that did all manner of things? Would the disability be considered a curse his character resented until it benefited him personally? But in the end, Skyscraper, a B-movie throwback, might have actually given me a portrait of disability I supported.

Skyscraper follows Will Sawyer, an American security consultant traveling with his family to Hong Kong. Will’s job is to check the safety protocols of a new high-rise building called The Pearl. But when The Pearl is set on fire by a gang of mercenaries, Will must find a way to get into the building to save his wife and children.

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