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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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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Every movie seeks inspiration from films made before. Whether the homage is intentional or not, Hollywood is a land known for cannibalizing itself. Ocean’s 8 builds off several pre-existing properties, and we’re not talking about the film’s obvious inspirations, like the Steven Soderbergh trilogy starting in 2001 with Ocean’s Eleven, nor are we discussing the 1960 Frank Sinatra incarnation of the film of the same name.
What Ocean’s 8 does with its story of eight women and the jewel heist they pull off is draw from the crime capers of the pre-Code, studio era, most notably the 1932 features Trouble in Paradise and Jewel Robbery, where each emphasizes a world where women are in control and crime can be a fun adventure all its own.
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As audiences become more adept at understanding misrepresentations of women, race, and sexuality, the landscape is slowly turning towards acknowledging the lack of proper representation of disabled people. More than any genre, interestingly, it is horror that has covered disability in new and unique ways.
Last year, Jordan Peele’s Get Out subtly interrogated the nuances between race and disability between its main character Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Stephen Root’s blind Jim Hudson. Other works, like Cult of Chucky, Hush, and the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, have led numerous advocates with disabilities to question whether we’re moving in a positive or negative direction. As a disabled writer who’s often focused on disabled representation in cinema, I’m seeing a small crack of the glass ceiling happening, rather than a full-tilt shattering.
John Krasinski’s latest feature, A Quiet Place, is another film that makes tenuous steps toward disabled representation through the deaf character of Regan (Millicent Simmonds). Guilt-riddled over a death in the family, Regan is left isolated from her family, trapped in a world of literal quiet as well as existential alienation. Is Regan a character whose disability is just another “spidey sense?” Or is Simmonds’ portrayal, and the script that creates it, another small step towards a more inclusive look at disability?
Spoilers for A Quiet Place follow.
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