Being a Film Critic With a Disability

Earlier this year, I made the life-altering decision to move from my sleepy hometown of Sacramento and finally live in Los Angeles. Being disabled has always been a challenge I’ve navigated throughout my life and my assumption was that moving to Los Angeles would have little difference. But in the nearly 12 months that I’ve lived and worked in film criticism here, it’s opened my eyes to not just how others see disability in the entertainment industry, but how I see myself. And I’m not talking about disabled representation on-screen, which has been a problem since motion pictures were made. I’m talking about the limits of being someone who wants to be in this industry whether that’s as a performer, cinematographer or, yes, a film critic. 

I often get emails from disabled people who want to enter film criticism, asking how they can get in, and they’re not necessarily asking how to get a job. They’re specifically asking how to navigate the landscape with a disability. My responses are positive, but realistic. This piece only touches on a few things specific to my situation and location, but they speak to larger issues with regards to how we treat the disabled in the world. Navigating the world of film criticism with a disability leaves me to wonder if true representation for those with disabilities behind the camera can be achieved.

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Charlie's Angels and Sexuality

With the arrival of a new millennium, Hollywood believed they had to go further with their filmmaking. Gone was the simplicity of ‘90s filmmaking and in their place stood films that epitomized the nature of the word “extreme,” flash and whizbang with messages that were going to get inside your head even if they had to be beaten in. 

Or maybe that was just the experience of watching McG’s Charlie’s Angels. In 2000, audiences got a new take on a trio of beautiful women backed by an anonymous millionaire who solved crimes. The Charlie’s Angels of the 2000’s was loud and fiery and also took a ton of flack for its presentation on women. It’s sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in 2003 received a similar response. So when director Elizabeth Banks decided to tackle the property with last week’s Charlie’s Angels, it was meant to be a rebirth for a franchise often perceived as misogynistic.

And yet, the Charlie’s Angels universe is one that, at least to me, has always felt subversive and unique. McG, a man so associated with masculinity his last name sounds like a high school nickname, unwittingly crafted a film series so audacious in its presentation of relationships, sexuality, and, in some cases, kink, that it becomes a positive for women.

This post contains spoilers for the new Charlie’s Angels movie.

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doctor sleep rebecca ferguson

(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.)

Because Doctor Sleep is a sequel to Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation, it’s easy to say those are the only sources of inspiration. But while watching what director Mike Flanagan has conjured up with his newest film, there are other movies from which he draws on, both overt and subtle. One can talk about the movie and not need to bring up The Shining

In going down the Doctor Sleep rabbit hole, one thing became apparent: though set in 2019, the movie feels pulled from our current nostalgic love for the ‘80s, specifically the features of 1987. I’m not sure why the comparisons to 1987 come through the clearest, maybe it was because that was the year the ‘80s as an aesthetic was defined (Gordon Gecko would declare “Greed is good” in Wall Street that year). Either way let’s use this installment of Classically Contemporary to revisit 1987, The Overlook Hotel, and Doctor Sleep

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House on Haunted Hill Comparison

(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 1959 director William Castle, horror huckster and impresario, released House on Haunted Hill. A throwback to the old dark house thrillers of the 1930s with a devilish performance by ‘50s horror icon, Vincent Price, House on Haunted Hill is the gold standard when it comes to Castle’s work. Forty years later, Hollywood came calling to redo Castle’s films. Dark Castle Entertainment was a studio initially created to solely remake Castle’s films and they started with his best. The 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill boasted an impressive cast and a liberal use of late-’90s CGI. So how do both hold up 60 and 20 years later, respectively? Let’s dive into a dueling edition of Classically Contemporary. 

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Ready or Not Influences

(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.)

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a movie whose classic film influences were so prominent and varied (the last one would probably be A Simple Favor). That’s not to say there haven’t been other columns in this category that homage specific features, but Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not seems to be directly speaking to a world of filmmaking that is obvious and multilayered. So let’s dive into just a few of the classic film homages you can find within Ready or Not.

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Toy Story 4 and Classic Horror

(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.)

It’s hard to believe we’re still talking about Toy Story movies in 2019 and yet we are. The latest installment, Toy Story 4, charts the (presumably) final pairing between the heroes that started this series: cowboy doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). Toy Story 4 follows Woody as he tries to Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), the new favorite toy of owner Bonnie, back to the family RV. Along the way Woody stumbles upon an old friend, Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) and new villains.

The Toy Story features have all possessed random bits of classic film references, but Toy Story 4 discusses topics steeped in the history of classic cinema, particularly horror. So let’s dive into the classic world to better understand Toy Story 4!

Spoilers for Toy Story 4 ahead.

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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.)

With our current nostalgia boom in full swing, there’s certainly a fair amount of fatigue invading our daily viewing. This could explain why we’re seeing a bevy of films sidestepping certain eras and evoking specific genres. In a recent column, I looked at how Serenity was steeped in the world of ‘40s noir and ‘90s neo-noir and this seems to be happening a lot with weird trash cinema. Maybe because there’s little risk for high reward, but movies with lower expectations are jumping into specific film genres with abandon. Such is the case with the Octavia Spencer-starring thriller, Ma.

Ma stars Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann, a lonely vet tech still suffering the psychological scars from high school. When a group of teens ask her to buy booze for them, Sue Ann sees it as a way to relive her youth. But the desire to rewrite the past soon becomes an obsession.

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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.)

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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Cool Posts From Around the Web:

(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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