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Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men; thoughts

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Credit: Endeavour, Mass Appeal, Polygram, Showtime, Sony all rights reserved

The Wu-Tang Clan was instrumental in the evolution of hip-hop music as we know it today. 25 years after their fantastic debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the clan gets together for a 4-part documentary explaining how it all went down.

Of Mics and Men follows the group from the very beginning up to where they are now. The nine living members of the clan narrate the series, each providing their own take at what has happened. Wu-Tang’s music touched millions of people worldwide, but the doc keeps it focused on the Clan’s perspective. It’s about looking at the audience from the stage, never the other way around. Ex-producers, family members and managers also briefly appear, sharing their points of view. Despite the multiple main players, RZA is the one moving the story. After all, he’s the one who came up with it.

Usually, documentaries about musicians try to cater to the largest possible audience, which means going only surface-level deep. Newcomers to the subject are intrigued while fans just get a recap of what they already know. Of Mics and Men thankfully avoids this. It provides enough information that even some of the most hardcore Wu-Tang fans will find themselves surprised.

The first episode covers the childhood of each member in detail. Narration from the actual people helps greatly with the believability of these (sometimes hard to believe) stories. Furthermore, it’s also easier for the audience to emotionally connect to their story. As the Clan starts gaining traction with their first single, Protect Ya Neck, the episode ends. They talk about their first jobs and provide reasons as to why they needed to make it out. It is an honest, introspective look into living legends of hip-hop.

The making of 36 Chambers is the main focus of the second episode. It shows that the album was made without a lot of money nor a proper studio to record in. All of it had a very DIY approach. They had to use what they had, which wasn’t much. Near the end, the show introduces a polarising, but nonetheless an important figure in the Clan’s history. RZA’s brother and the CEO of Wu-Tang, Mitchell “Divine” Diggs.

In his first ever interview on camera, Divine provides surprising information about the Clan and what lead to their eventual fallout. Due to his attitude and different approach, he’s the exciting stand-out of the show.

Third episode is the emotional centre of this series. It covers a lot of events that happened when Wu-Tang was at the height of their fame. The individual members went solo after the Clan’s debut. Therefore, we witness the history behind Liquid Swords, Ironman and Return to the 36 Chambers. The focus of this episode, and what makes it emotional, is Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The show introduces him in the first episode, but it’s obvious why ODB deserves his own. Through old interviews and testimonies of the remaining members, the doc shows his life. All the trials and tribulations he had to go through, while others were at the top. Episode ends on a somber note, which may tear up some of the fans.

The final hour of Of Mics and Men follows their life in the new millennium. Finale focuses mainly on the notorious album Once Upon A Time in Shaolin. If the name doesn’t ring any bells, you may remember the controversy surrounding its buyer, Martin Shkreli. It brings everything together and ties all the loose ends, making for a coherent and satisfying ending. Only if the finale could offer an emotional high similar to the one before.

Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men is an absorbing documentary for the newcomers and fans alike. Sacha Jenkins adds a beautiful visual layer to the story, making it that much more interesting watching it. It’s a joy seeing Wu-Tang talk about their music that influenced so many people in the past 25 years. Of Mics and Men is everything a documentary about an influential group like this should be and way more. It pulls everything off in a cool, relatable way, fitting for the one & only Wu-Tang Clan.

R.I.P. to Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

A Splash of Waters: Exploring the Theatrical Style of John Waters 50 Years Later

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Multiple Maniacs. © Dreamland, New Line Cinema, Janus Films. All rights reserved.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of John Waters’ debut feature, Mondo Trasho, which made his mark as one of the most provocative voices in American cinema. From controversial classics such as Pink Flamingos to his more wide-appeal favourites such as Hairspray and Serial Mom, Waters has truly proven himself as a distinctly brilliant auteur, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. What makes him so distinct is his consistently brilliant yet underappreciated style, despite such a wide variety of work under his filmography.

Waters has a strangely unique style that makes his films feel similar to stage productions. We immediately see this theatrical style in the performances alone. Looking at this scene in his second feature, Multiple Maniacs, where Mr. David (David Lochary) announces that he’ll be leaving his partner, Lady Divine (Divine), each of his actors are giving very heightened, over-the-top performances that translate better to stage than on film. He also writes very theatrical dialogue, especially in his monologues, such as the infamous “Filth is my politics” scene from Pink Flamingos, which is written, shot and performed as if Divine stepped out onto the spotlight at centre stage and delivered each viciously striking word of the monologue to the audience. Also, much like Shakespeare’s King’s Men company, Waters often uses the same actors throughout his body of work, specifically Divine, Mary Vivian Pierce, David Lochary, Edith Massey and Mink Stole, among many others, who are known as the Dreamlanders, named for his production company. His work is so perfectly tuned to the stage that it makes perfect sense that two of Waters’ films (Cry-Baby and most famously, Hairspray) have been adapted for Broadway.

Multiple Maniacs. © Dreamland, New Line Cinema, Janus Films. All rights reserved.

It’s a rarity for filmmakers to go for such a uniquely theatrical style throughout their career, but Waters pulls it off so perfectly. In an interview with frequent Waters collaborator Mink Stole, she described his writing and reading of the Multiple Maniacs dialogue as “frantic [with] lots of italics, no pauses for breath, [and] no pauses for emphasis.” In the context of Maniacs, it helps ramp up the tension as the murder plots of Mr. David and Lady Divine collide into a crazy climax that never simmers until the bitter end. In the context of his whole filmography, it takes us into a unique world of that same frantic madness that Stole described, and also allows Waters to get his points across in a way that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer swinging into the windshield of a car, which seems to be his mission. He’s definitely brash about it all, but Waters’ style definitely gives us a glimpse at his unique, unhinged view.

His style also greatly benefits films like Cry-Baby that rely so much on music. Looking at Cry-Baby specifically, Waters’ theatrical style really pays off during the climactic ‘Please Mr. Jailer’ number, which in the context of the film, is the big showstopping moment akin to any great Broadway musical. There are others like this one placed throughout the film, but a lot of the bigger ones are in the second half of the film. With that in mind, this and the other big musical numbers, should come out of nowhere, but it feels so natural not only because of his stage-like dialogue and performances from his actors but also in a visual way. During the number itself, Waters uses a lot of symmetrical framing in his wide shots, which makes it look like we’re watching people perform on stage. It’s also incredibly well choreographed, much like the other numbers of the film, and it helps give that heightened feel to the scene. It’s one of those beautifully perfect moments in his filmography that could have perfectly been adapted for the stage, and there’s no way that it would have the impact it does on the rest of the film if it weren’t for Waters’ heightened theatrical style.

Cry-Baby. © Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Whether he likes it or not, John Waters will always be remembered for creating some of the most fucked up films ever made, but it’s often easy to forget why we keep coming back to them. He found a way to make these fucked up films so interesting, and part of it has to do with his overtly theatrical style. Not only is it an incredibly charming way to differentiate himself from the rest, but it also adds a lot of heightened tension to his films like Multiple Maniacs that feed off of that. It may be such a minor aspect of his body of work, but John Waters’ theatrical style really is more major than we give it credit for.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

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credits: Chris Morgan productions, Seven Bucks productions, Universal all rights reserved

Who would have though that the Fast & Furious will become one of the biggest franchises with over 8 instalments and its own spin-off? Not me, at least. And yet, here we are. Watching a film that proves there is no reason for Fast & Furious to have its own spin-off.

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a big, American agent, always ready to kick ass with some humour. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is a small(er), British agent, always ready to kick ass with some elegance. They don’t like each other. However, they must cooperate to save the world and find Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who has a deadly virus, capable of destroying the world. Hobbs and Shaw aren’t the only ones going after Hattie and they soon face the the film’s villain, super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba). The plot doesn’t get more complicated than this, as the action is what moves the film forward. If you like the Fast & Furious films, you will probably be satisfied with this one. If not, I highly suggest checking out other (and better) work from the director David Leitch.

The film is called Hobbs & Shaw, but its the titular characters that make for one of my least favourite aspects of it. Both The Rock and Statham sleepwalk through the film, giving what is seemingly minimum effort. Statham comes out as the more memorable of the two, but only because The Rock doesn’t seem to care. They don’t bring anything new or exciting to their characters, and yet somehow manage to make their interactions entertaining. As individuals, I almost couldn’t stand them. But the way they play off each other is undeniably entertaining.

Idris Elba as the movie’s villain seems to be the only one who actually enjoyed playing his character. Brixton’s introduction to the film is amazing and Idris easily carries the film with his charisma. He poses as a formidable threat, as he easily beats both of them multiple times. Idris is not just a great physical actor, but he also delivers on all the drama and comedy the role requires. He is the one keeping Hobbs & Shaw alive.

Vanessa Kirby is the surprising standout of the film. She is the glue that holds the central trio together and prevents the film from breaking entirely. As an MI6 agent, she is no damsel in distress, which is a welcome change in this type of film. Kirby gets a few action scenes of her own, showcasing her ability to become a future action star.

The action in Hobbs & Shaw ranges from one-on-ones to large scale battles featuring a whole island. However, all of is is completely devoid of stakes. We know nothing serious will happen to either of the main characters. We are aware that they will manage to get out of any trouble, ideally with a funny one-liner.

The action itself is well choreographed and shot. The director clearly knows what he’s doing and the first few fights are entertaining to look at. As the action moves to bigger and more over-the-top set pieces, nearly all suspension of disbelief fades from the screen. The stakes are high and our heroes face tens of enemies. Whether it’s in a giant Ukrainian lab or on the entire island of Samoa, you don’t feel concerns for Hobbs or Shaw. At one point in the film, Brixton says: “I’m the black superman”. This feels more in line with the two main characters rather than Idris, as he’s the one who actually takes some punches and bleeds.

In a surprising cameo, Ryan Reynolds enters the film momentarily in the first act. He plays himself and still makes for one of the most memorable moments of the film. It is the funniest scene in the film, as Ryan brings his specific brand of humour. Shame that the film never manages to hit another comedic high-note like this again.

Walking out of Hobbs & Shaw, it was Brixton who I couldn’t stop thinking about. Not the two big undefeatable guys he spent the past two hours fighting against. The action is great when it is kept small, but less so when it moves to the third act. No matter how big and adrenaline-filled it gets, I couldn’t help but feel disconnected to it all. Hobbs and Shaw may play well together, but it’s the supporting characters that make the film worth watching.

Rape and Revenge Films: Feminism or Fetishization?

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Content Warning

The article below discusses non-graphic themes of sexual assault and violence. Please take caution before reading.

With so many genres of film, it is impossible for them all to exist without altercation, and no other category of film is as familiar to debate as Rape and Revenge. Hidden away from mainstream audiences, the rape-revenge genre is historically known for its controversially violent and sexual content, making it a frequent topic of discussion amongst cinephiles. While the majority of the genre is left unspoken about —a guilty secret amongst film lovers— movies such as the popular French-American Revenge (2017), have brought the category into the spotlight, begging the question: are rape-revenge films empowering, or are they marketing off of female suffering?

I Spit on Your Grave (1978). © The Jerry Gross Organization. Cinemagic Pictures. All rights reserved.

Although the rape and subsequent revenge of a female has been a concept within film since the start, the idea of it being its own complete genre was rather obsolete until the notorious, I Spit on Your Grave in 1978. Known for its sadistically drawn out sexual assault scene, the film was universally condemned for its treatment of women. Rather than focusing on the recovery, and subsequent payback for the woman assaulted, the film chooses to spend 25 minutes showing her gruesome attack. After the all-too-long rape scene, viewers then must sit through the lead praying for FORGIVENESS! While I will not go as far as to accuse the crew behind, I Spit on Your Grave of having malicious intent, I will say that the all-male team in charge of the film seem uneducated, and unaware of what they were projecting to their audience.

Revenge (2017). © Rézo Films. MES Productions. All rights reserved.

On the other hand, Coralie Fargeat’s 2017 flick Revenge manages to do exactly what I Spit on Your Grave couldn’t. Featuring a large female crew, the film makes a choice to show from the start that it was not going to be about the assault, but instead—as the title suggests, the later revenge. The protagonist, Jen, has an outspoken personality and wears sultry clothing, and yet the film doesn’t waste a second wondering if she is somehow at fault for her own attack.The movie makes use of empowering shots to tell its story; the lead character healing her own wounds, arming herself, and in the end? Standing victorious over her perpetrators, strong and proud.

Death Wish (1974). © Paramount Pictures.Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. All rights reserved.

A third vastly different take on the genre is possibly the worst. The films share the same conflict of sexual assault, but in contrast to the previous films,  the victim does not rise up and seek their own vengeance. In fact, the writers choose not to include them as central characters at all. Alternatively, their (generally male) relatives take on the role of vigilante and judge the attackers however they see fit. The lack of attention to the victimized character, and the inability to see them overcome their trauma paints a woman’s pain as a source of strength for their male counterparts. It is dangerous, lazy, and downright ugly. Some of these films are Death Wish (1974), or The Horseman (2008).

Revenge treated its lead as a victim, a fully rounded character worth more than what others did to her. By the end of I Spit on Your Grave? I couldn’t even remember the main character’s name.

I tried to take a step back and think about what made I Spit on Your Grave feel so dehumanizing, while Revenge made myself feel empowered to be a woman. They both had the same general plot, so what was the difference? Revenge treated its lead as a victim, a fully rounded character worth more than what others did to her. By the end of I Spit on Your Grave? I couldn’t even remember the main character’s name.

Watching these films made me realize that no, not every piece of this genre is one thing. Yes, some are cheap shots at female torture-porn, but many boost up their female audience, reminding them of their strength. At the end of the day the genre is the same as any; you can find both good and bad. To put a definitive label like “feminist”, or “misogynisic” on the entire category would be incorrect.

If you wanted my opinion on how to make more of these films fall into the feminist grouping? Stop thinking of female characters as props for violent interactions, and start thinking of them as people.

The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift: Mythical Masculinity

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There is something so overwhelmingly moving about the Fast and Furious series. I have spent many hours of the last few weeks trying to piece together an assortment of words that properly convey the emotional power that this franchise has left on me for years of my life. There will always be this mythical unexplainable element to it that words will never be able to articulate fully, that kind of gut feeling that sticks with you your whole life and that you’ll do anything to bring back over and over again. The closest conclusion I’ve come to is that the series is currently the closest view I have to a version of masculinity that is both recognisable to me as a man who loves the aesthetic and brotherhood of traditional forms of masculine existence, and utopian in how it’s committed to the idea of men pushing past their toxicities in favour of uniting as nakedly emotional and accepting people. The Fast and the Furious has never been about anger or revenge. Whenever acts of significant violence take place from the hands of our protagonists, it is done either out of a sudden impulse or because of the need to protect the family. The ancient cultural idea that a man must protect his family has morphed here into every part of the unit must do whatever they can to redeem the lives of those they’ve lost, to cherish their memories and make the most out of a world without them.

 

Grief is a constant amongst the series, whether it’s the lingering presence of a deceased cast member in Furious 7, to the death of an original member of the family at the end of the original movie, to the lingering spectres of long lost brothers and sisters over every action taken. The Fast and the Furious series is one of the only modern franchises that actually reckons with death and pain and allows men to bear their souls to each other without the fear of shame. The films are homoerotic as well, lingering with sexual and romantic tension throughout each of the main instalments. There is an asexual love between Brian and Dom, the two leads of the series, that transcends beyond the need for sex or declarations of romantic love. A bond thicker than blood, a partnership that lasts throughout space and time, no matter of place or circumstance or mortality. The idea of male queerness is never directly stated in the series but yet, these films have connected more to me as a bisexual viewer than most of the explictly gay traditional forms of representation playing in multiplexes and arthouse theatres. Bonds made out of gazes, bicep curls, sweat dripping off their angelic faces behind the wheel. The look that these men give each other before a race begins has no pretence of typical masculine bravado, the egotism often seems artificial as these boys put their lives on the line to earn a form of respect that feels more important than anything in the world. The commonality between Brian and the protagonist of The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, is that need for respect, respect that defies conventional forms of admiration and becomes a desperate search for validation and love.

 

Sean isn’t like the other protagonists in the series. He’s not really like anyone around him. Lucas Black has the face of someone out of time, he looks older and jaded and out of place anywhere he slots in. Sean doesn’t look right in a high school uniform, or in ragged clothes in a parking lot somewhere in the south. He looks like someone who never truly belongs anywhere, a phantom of a man. When he’s behind the wheel of a car, that changes. For once, his face relaxes, seems to feel natural in front of the camera lens. There is no distraction caused by his aged features or his intense accent or the lack of conventional acting ability he has as a performer, we are just lost in his pursuit of something more than he’s ever had the chance to capture. Like everyone in the series, despite differences, they are connected by a desire for family and an all consuming passion for the automobile. A factor of the series that has only recently come into mind in the last few days, working on Hobbs and Shaw coverage and reminiscing on a podcast recording I did on the series as a whole, is that I’ve always found a connection not just because of the beautiful melodrama or the subtle eroticism that emanates from each man, but because of something even deeper.

 

As an autistic person with an obsession over movies, it can be difficult to find a connection that properly allows me to spread the depth of my interests. I become rambling and intensely passionate, I write with a frenzy and a deep desire to get my every idea and piece of information out into the world. Movies have brought me comfort throughout all the roughest periods of my life, an escape from the situations that I’ve suffered through, a form of catharsis to reckon with my trauma or just a lingering sense of comfort that comes from sitting in a theatre and losing myself to my favourite thing in the world. All of the main characters from the series, whether it be Dom, Sean, Brian, Letty or Roman among many other members of the family, have found a form of solace in each other and the cars that they drive and piece together. It speaks to me as an autistic man. Their relationships with others that aren’t in the family are often stinted and struggling, like they’re dealing with strangers, but once that person is trusted and used to, they are just like blood. The connections run deeper than any allistic person can ever truly understand. It feels cathartic to watch a bunch of people I see myself in love each other and learn how to convey themselves through the art of driving, to express their feelings and love in the way that I have with writing.

 

Sean doesn’t have a relationship with his father. Sean has lost the ability to make a relationship work with his mother. Sean doesn’t have anyone left to turn to. He can’t stop himself from driving no matter the trouble it gets him in because he needs the intensity, the power that he gets from being behind the wheel, to cope with the feelings of insignifiance that his adolesence has created within him. There are two central arcs to Tokyo Drift that make it my favourite of the series outside of the perfect Furious 7, the personal relationships that Sean makes over the course of his living in Tokyo, and the methods he learns as a driver.

 

More than any other instalment of the series, Tokyo Drift is about the artistry of performance. The racing sequences are no longer just a display of exhilaration and tension, but an elegant form of martial art, where there is something almost spiritual in its energy. There is no skill in just intensity, in pushing your car through destruction and havoc in order to be the fastest. Using the machine as a tool of aggression leads into the cycles of toxic masculinity that the series is so steadfast on rejecting and disempowering. The racing scenes are the most beautiful they’ve ever looked in the franchise, stylish and beautifully lit in the neon industrial Tokyo nightlife. Cars glide through the frame with slickness and bombast. Colours pop out through the frame, the shine of the impeccable paint jobs burning your retinas as the cars drift. The reconciliation of natural skill and the catharsis of patience is done mostly through action and movement, Sean’s failures up against a naturally talented adversary The Drift King become the motivation for a journey of empowerment. He wants to be seen as more than a throwaway fuck up child. He wants the best racer in the city to look at him like a man. He wants to be desired and feared and respected like DK is. He wants to be a fucking beast, an alpha male, a figurehead of dominance like the ideas he’s idolised his whole life.

 

Yet, he doesn’t become another interchangeable driver. He learns how to care about the car, about the people involved in building it and the people who he challenges himself against. Sean learns not to just be focused on destroying, on assimilating into the conventional idea of what the best is supposed to be. He makes his own path, with the help of others, into a new future where things can be better.

 

While there is exposition, most of this fundamental development is conveyed through posture and the driving itself. Black, similarly to Paul Walker, has received criticism for his stoic and blank peformance in the leading role but I find his aloofness endearing. He’s doing a lot of work with just shrugs of his shoulders, the way he physically restrains his chest in sequences of tension with his father, the way his stance relaxes around the girl he likes. However, the most important aspect of the film is his relationship with a new form of father, a person that provides him with guidance and love and challenges him to think more about his place in the world. Han is widely viewed as the best character of the series because he is. An intensely melancholic cool as fuck prince, a man whose every word and glance conveys a history of pain and long lost feeling. He is immediately captivating, the way he throws keys, the attitude of apathy towards his property being destroyed and the swirling colours of his eyes makes everything stand still. The death of Han is one of the most tragic in media especially because of what preceeds and follows it. The euphoria of Sean finally finding synthesis with the car, using the lessons of his new father figure to create something more than chaos, contrasted by the immediate despair that losing the man that taught him how to open up creates inside him.

 

There’s a scene in the middle of the film, before the drama escalates to the point of Han’s death, where the two observe the streets of Tokyo from a height. Soccer fields, neon lights, HMV advertisements and tiny cars racing down the roads overwhelm the screen. These two men stand together in a quiet moment of conversation, as the world speeds up around them. Han talks about his struggles with existing in the absence of whatever he’s lost, and the beauty of being able to find new characters and people to trust in this spiralling haze of life. You make choices and you don’t look back. You live while you can, for the things you love, for the people that matter and all the experiences that can only be yours. There is only one you. Make the most of it. Before he dies, you get the sense as a viewer that he doesn’t regret the choices that has lead to his death. You get the sense that he is grateful to have lived and loved and passed on his skills to someone who has all his love and life left to give. Then he rides off for one last time, like the old cowboys in the westerns he used to love, and goes out in a blaze of glory.

 

The streets don’t look the same once you’ve lost someone. There is always a hint of their memory in there, a flash of beauty or sadness that comes from being in a space where they no longer can be. Driving will always be haunted by his loss, he will never be able to drift again without seeing the face of the man that loved him like he was blood, who believed in him when no one else would have. Sean uses that to keep driving, to keep remembering and uses his love and heart to win a race. Not for respect, not for money or fame or sex or anything else but devotion and compassion. For those who he has left, for those he’s lost and for himself. He is finally at peace with the man he wants to be. He has a future that isn’t determined by pain and regret. He is able to open himself up in a way he hasn’t ever been able to before. Because what’s life without loving someone? Tokyo Drift makes me glad to be alive so I can keep the memories of those who have faded away, so that they exist with me until I am dead. Hopefully I will be able to love people so much that I become a spectre of beauty, a reason for them to remember. A reason to keep on loving.

Netflix and The Rise of (Toxic) Teen Romance Dramas

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TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE - Credit: Netflix
AFTER – Credit: Netflix

After scrolling through Netflix to no avail one afternoon, my best friend and I settled on Wattpad fanfiction phenomenon to movie, After (2019). We really weren’t expecting much; maybe it’d be slightly problematic but nothing worth creating a discourse about. However, I was taken aback when the protagonist, Tessa, was vilified by her boyfriend for going to a college party. It got me thinking about how many unhealthy relationships and plots make it to the screens of young, impressionable viewers. Are these narratives harmless or could teenagers be projecting them onto each other and themselves?

Teen romance dramas have existed in film for decades but the market for them isn’t as saturated as those of sci-fi and adult rom-coms, for instance. Therefore, the films that are made for the teenage demographic should surely be sending the right messages and/or educational. “The right message” is pretty vague but I’d personally classify it broadly as not glorifying harmful behaviour and instead promoting healthy behaviour. Hollywood seems to shy away from producing teen films while independent cinema is still working its way to the surface but what we do have for our teen flick fix is Netflix. Netflix Originals are popping up every month and while that’s not inherently a bad thing, it’s not necessarily good either. I hate to be one of those “ugh, the digital age…” people but it’s clear that more on-demand films than ever are being produced and distributed within a matter of months which leads me to question the integrity and purpose of these films, especially when they’re directed at teenagers.

Sierra Burgess is a Loser, The Kissing Booth, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before were all released last year from May through September. Sierra Burgess is a Loser details the life of a witty but unconfident high school senior, Sierra. She’s frequently bullied by popular cheerleader, Veronica. Tropes can help a story feel familiar but I think this particular one could have done without them. The thin, conventionally attractive girl tormenting the bigger girl with no self esteem is not just demeaning to fat girls but it’s also a very tired concept. This bullying sets up the rest of the story as Veronica gives Sierra’s number (under the pretence that it’s her number) to the male protagonist, and football player, Jamey, in an attempt to embarrass her. Sierra goes along with it when Jamey texts her.

SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER – Credit: Netflix

We’re lead to be so caught up in Sierra and Jamey’s budding online romance that it’s easy to forget the grounds on which it started: catfishing. Thankfully, Sierra is given a brain by the writer(s) so it’s not as if she’s unrealistically unaware of what she’s doing. Wait, scrap that; she pretends to be deaf so Jamey doesn’t recognise her voice which is incredibly ableist and unnecessary. Fault comes in properly and undeniably when Jamey and Veronica go on a date. It ends with Jamey going in for a kiss and Veronica swaps with Sierra. Looking passively at the scene, it looks cheesy but kind of sweet. But when you actively watch it, the flaws are glaring. Sierra kisses Jamey without his consent. In a time when consent is becoming essential, and rightfully so, you wouldn’t expect something like that to be used as a plot device. It sends the message that uninvited romantic advances are acceptable if they’re concealed within quirky situations.

Films aren’t just guilty of doing this as it happens in TV shows too. In Netflix’s “The Society” there’s a scene wherein a straight character “tests” a gay character’s sexuality despite him stating that’s he not interested. But the persistence of the straight character isn’t shown in a negative light, it’s made to seem like a “friend for the end of the world” thing. It’s the lack of addressment that feeds into toxicity; presenting unhealthy behaviour without a counteracting reaction does nothing but reinforce said behaviour. That’s what I worry about, uncomfortable situations being used to entertain or shock audiences as opposed to educate and inform them.

The Kissing Booth is another film that completely misses the mark. Why someone thought it was a good idea to adapt a narrative about the taming of a teenage boy with violent tendencies at the hands of a teenage girl…I don’t know. At its core, it’s not completely awful; a spanner is thrown into the works of a lifelong friendship when one friend pursues the other’s sibling. Not problematic. However, when the sibling in question throws hands at any opportunity and controls his significant other, everything starts to go lopsided. It’s not cute or cool to police your partner under the guise of protection so I’d love to know why it’s so prevalent in this film. As I mentioned earlier, the target demographic is impressionable so they might internalise such behaviour and believe that it’s okay. The easygoing colour-grading and a handful of funny scenes make the film easier to stomach but it ultimately leaves a bad taste.

THE KISSING BOOTH – Credit: Netflix

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is on the right track compared to the other two films and it’s everything a teen romance drama should be: light-hearted, a bit far-fetched and cliché. I was going to sing nothing but praises about it when I realised that there’s an non-consented kiss about 20 minutes in which ought to have been addressed but you guessed it – it wasn’t. Is this an actual requirement of teen romance dramas now? It’s frustrating how some writers can’t see anything wrong with the material they choose to include and it’ll be the death of the genre. The feel-good element is swiftly making an exit because there’s too much to unpack in every narrative. In the same breath, presenting relationships as flawless to young people isn’t helpful nor educational as that’s not reflective of real life. However, more conversation is needed around unhealthy relationships on-screen otherwise I don’t see the point in showing them.

TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE – Credit: Netflix

A lot of media made for teens these days have condescending undertones and preconceptions of what we’re like. Not to mention that POC and LGBT characters only pop up every now and again like that’s a true representation of society. If Netflix and the writers associated with it would actually talk to teenagers, I think everyone involved would get a well-rounded view of what we want to see instead of assuming. Assumptions produce movies like The Kissing Booth and we do not want any more Wattpad fanfictions adapted to screenplays.

Dear White People (2014); thoughts

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Credit: Code Red, Duly Noted, Homegrown Pictures all rights reserved

Netflix recently released the third season of their hit comedy show and it’s more popular than ever before, so there isn’t a better time to look back at the film that started it all. Justin Simien’s 2014 hit of the same name; Dear White People.

Winchester is a prestige Ivy League university. It is home to both white and black students, although one group is still very much in the minority. At Winchester, we follow four black students over a five week period which ends with a blackface party, thrown by white students on Halloween night. Sam White (Tessa Thompson) is an activist, film student and a recently elected Head of House of the all-black hall Parker-Armstrong. In her free time, she runs a radio show bearing the same name as the film itself. Tessa shines in one of her career-best performances, bringing nuances to Sam’s character and making her relatable. She is a rebel with a cause and we are with her every step of the way. Despite her determination, Sam doesn’t change much during the film, and exits the story with only a slightly altered view, if at all.

Next up is a newcomer to the school, a gay student with an overgrown afro, Lionel (Tyler James Williams). He is an outsider, who doesn’t feel good in the company of neither the white nor the black kids. As a journalist for one of the multiple school papers, he spends much of the runtime in the background, observing or writing. It takes him time to make any form of connections at Winchester and Tyler James Williams perfectly shows the awkwardness many feel in school. One of these connections happens when Lionel gets a paired room with Troy (Brandon Bell).

Troy is a popular kid, the one who is welcome basically anywhere. He tried to run for Head of the House, but lost to Sam. Being the son of the dean, people place high expectations on him. Troy studies politics and tells people that his aspirations are in law, maybe even running in office. It’s not really Troy’s dream, but his father pressures him to work hard on himself. In reality, Troy wants to enjoy his time at the university. He uses his spare time to write jokes, hoping he’ll get into Pastiche, the school’s humour magazine. Sam may be the one who leads the film, but it’s Troy who comes out as the end as the most memorable character. He plays well with everyone in the film, as all the characters know him (opposed to Lionel, for example).

Last, but not least is Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners (Teyonah Parris). She’s a young woman determined to be famous, by any means necessary. If not through academic results, then reality TV. She feels better among white people, which makes the confrontations with other characters that much more interesting. Coco may not be given much to do in the film, but she represents a unique positions in this story. And she’s also the only character to get her own theme song.

The score, composed by Kathryn Bostic, is a minimalist mixture of modern jazz and classical compositions. There isn’t much of it in the film (the whole score is only 10 minutes long), but it uses it in the right moments to further the plot. It functions as a storytelling device, using the two genres to illustrate the conflict on Winchester.

Characters in Dear White People don’t have arcs, due to the slice-of-life point of view storytelling the film chooses. It’s Troy that changes the most and that’s what makes him so likeable. While others have their world-views only challenged, Troy is actively confronted with his and does something about it. By the time credits roll, his relationships to other students on campus changed significantly.

The film is divided into multiple segments, each separated by a title card. That gives it an episodic feel, almost as if you were binge-watching a show rather than a movie (wink). Surprisingly, the story flows well through these little bits of university life, as the film shows a situation and then the characters’ reactions. Each segment comes with its own little plot and jokes. Unfortunately, the latter is where the film fails. This, primarily a comedy movie, isn’t really that funny. Most of the jokes or references fall flat. Sam stands out as the comedic highlight, thanks mainly to the great delivery by Tessa Thompson. Her jokes are punchy, smart and actually funny. The rest of the cast stumbles, getting one or two moments that may be amusing, but you’ll have a hard time recollecting them after the movie ends.

Anchored by strong performances and a unique story, Dear White People is an impressive debut. However, it never feels like it reached its full potential. The episodic nature of the film makes it seem as the story was always intended as a show. In the end, I’m glad Netflix picked it up, allowed Justin Simien to flesh out the characters and story, and end up with one of the best comedy shows out right now.

Top 10 A24 Films (Part 1)

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A24 © Kulture Hub. All rights reserved.

Over the years, A24 Films has gained somewhat of a cult status among cinephiles. From the Best Picture winner “Moonlight” to the sleeper indie hit “Hereditary”, they have distributed many films that are universally adored by both critics and audience alike; so it would not be a surprise to anyone that I am a huge A24 fan myself.

At the beginning of August, I was determined to watch all A24 distributed films, a quite challenging task, with my friends. As I have only seen about 30 out of 85+ films that A24 distributed, I thought it might be fun to create two separate rankings for A24 films, one before the so-called “marathon” and one afterward. As a result, I have compiled my personal top 10 A24 films that I have seen so far for this first ranking. And to the readers, please be patient because part 2 of this ranking, in which I have caught up with all A24 films, is coming in the near future.

A24 © All rights reserved.

**Disclaimer: I have only seen about 30 A24 movies, so if you do not see your favorites on this list, it might be because I have not seen it yet. Secondly, I only include films that were released in the US before July 2019 since a couple of films have not been released in the UK and Australia. Sorry “The Farewell” and “Midsommar” 🙁

Honorable mentions: “Eighth Grade”, “First Reformed”, “High Life”, “Good Time”, and “Green Room”

10. ’20th Century Women’

20th Century Women © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Mike Mills | Release Date: December 28, 2016

Set in the gorgeous town of Santa Barbara in the late ’70s, Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women is an eccentric but emotional story about a teenage boy and the women who raise him. While there is a lot to love about this film, from Jamie’s (Lucas Jade Zumann) poignant voice-over narrations to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) dancing to Talk Heads, the film’s real star is Annette Benning, playing Dorothea, a single mother who is struggling to stay connected with her teenage son due to a large age gap. Benning’s Dorothea adds a genuine warmth and carefree vibe to the film, while at the same time masking the sadness as she admits the disconnection between her and her son. “You get to see him out in the world as a person. I never will,” as she said. The imperfection of the film and its flawed characters simply exudes charm, largely due to Mike Mills’ soft and quirky touches, making 20th Century Women one of the most flawed-yet-perfect coming-of-age films that deserve more attention.

Best Scene(s): “Clitoral Stimulation”

9. ‘The Witch’ 

The Witch © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Robert Eggers | Release Date: February 19, 2016

In many ways, Robbert Eggers’ The Witch is one of a kind. One of the first horror period pieces that set in a New England town pre-Salem Witch Trial, The Witch defies everybody’s expectation of what a modern horror film can be. Ditching the cheap jump scares, Eggers’ debut feature is brilliant at building tensions; as each minute passes, the film’s menacing atmosphere digs deeper and deeper into the audience’s skin until the sinister finale brings the long-awaited destruction to the family. Anya Taylor-Joy proves why she is one of the most talented young actresses working today as she screams herself into the “scream queen” status.

Best Scene(s): “Black Phillip Transformation”

8. ‘Ex Machina’

Ex Machina © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Alex Garland | Release Date: April 10, 2015

While Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is not the first film that A24 picked up, it is one of the first films to gain recognition from both audience and critics, putting A24 onto many cinephiles’ to-watch list. Among one of the first A24’s film to win an Academy Award (Best Visual Effects), the film is a stylish psycho-techno thriller that raises the age-old question, “What if Artificial Intelligent has a conscience?” Packed with mesmerizing performances from Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and especially Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina is sexy, hypnotic, and destined to be a classic within the science fiction genre.

Best Scene(s): “Dance Party”

7. ‘Hereditary’

Hereditary © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Ari Aster | Release Date: June 08, 2018

A dark family drama that is disguised as a terrifying horror film, Ari Aster’s directorial debut Hereditary is an examination of a dark family secret as the title suggests. But underneath the drama, the film is a devastating insight about family death and the trauma that comes with it. The horror in Hereditary lies beyond the disturbing imageries; the tension continues to build and build until the monumental climax reaches where all hell breaks loose. As Toni Collete’s Annie wails and cries, the audience descents into madness along with her. There is nothing short of amazing in Collete’s performance; from the subtle look of guilt in the support meeting to the outburst at the dinner table, Collette delivers one of the best performances in the last decade.

Best Scene(s): “Dinner Table” and “The Car Accident”

6. ‘Room’

Room © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Lenny Abrahamson | Release Date: October 16, 2015

Before taking on the titular role of Captain Marvel, Brie Larson plays Joy “Ma” Newsome in Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of a novel with the same name Room. The film tells a devastating story of Joy and her son Jack, who are both held captive by their mysterious abductor for several years. In this room, Joy has to raise Jack, while keeping the horrifying truth about their circumstances from him. A moving story about motherly love, Room handles the heavy theme with a delicateness, making the film more emotional. While Brie Larson’s Joy is broken and fragile both mentality and physically, Jacob Tremblay’s Jack brings a child-like innocent perspective to the film that is equally impressive; both Tremblay and Larson are able to conjure up raw emotions, making the film even more gut-wrenching.

Best Scene(s): “Pick Up Truck”

5. ‘Climax’ 

Climax © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Gaspar Noé | Release Date: March 01, 2019

Electrifying and terrifying, Gaspar Noé’s Climax is a technical masterpiece. With a runtime of 97 minutes, Climax packs with several jaws dropping long takes, but the most impressive one lasts over 42 minutes in the latter half of the film. It serves as a conduit to the never-ending madness of a bad psychedelic trip. Considered as Noé’s most accessible featured to date, Climax is surprisingly restraint and possibly the most emotional in his filmography. However, there is nothing subtle or tame about this film; everything is loud and aggressive, as the title appropriately suggests. But it is that aggressiveness that successfully transports the audience into the chaos of the neon-lit, claustrophobic building.

Best Scene(s): “Opening Dance Number”

4. ‘The Florida Project’ 

The Florida Project © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Sean Baker | Release Date: October 05, 2017

The magic in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project lies within its ability to bring a childlike wonder and innocence to the messy adult world without ever sugarcoat it. The juxtaposition between the magic of Walt Disney World and the poor surrounding motels is parallel to the juxtaposition between Moonee’s innocence and the corruption of the real world. Sean Baker creates a colorful and empathetic world with strong performances from Willem Dafoe and especially Brooklynn Prince. The Florida Project is a coming-of-age fairy tale for the underprivileged and underrepresented youths and raises important questions about modern society in America.

Best Scene(s): “The Ending” and “Breakfast Buffet”

3. ‘Moonlight’ 

Moonlight © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Barry Jenkins | Release Date: October 21, 2016

A three-part journey through a broken life of Chiron, Moonlight is a poetic revelation that is both deeply personal and touching. With the aid of beautiful cinematography and an immaculate score, Barry Jenkins gracefully brings beauty to an unfair world; a world that is full of abuse, and torment. An exploration of sexuality, love, and self-discovery while exposing the uglies and deglamorizing the sugarcoated coming of age genre, Moonlight is one of the most important films in modern cinema.

Best Scene(s): “Kiss on the Beach” and “Swimming Lesson”

2. ‘A Ghost Story’

A Ghost Story © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: David Lowery | Release Date: July 07, 2017

At first glance, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is confusing; the ominous title contradicts the image of Casey Affleck in a bedsheet, but the beauty of this film lies within its thought-provoking simplicity. Arguably one of the most original films that came out in the last decade, A Ghost Story is a poignant poem about the eternity of time and the ephemeral purpose of our existence. Maybe, we are just observers, as the world and time around us continue to exist and move on; Lowery delicately crafts a visual spectacle that is both compelling and fascinating with little to no dialogues.

Best Scene(s): “The Encounter of Two Ghosts” and “Eating Pie on the Kitchen Floor”

1. ‘Lady Bird’ 

Lady Bird © A24. All rights reserved.

Director: Greta Gerwig | Release Date: November 03, 2017

In an interview at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Greta Gerwig mentions that the original screenplay that she wrote for her directorial debut is called “Mother and Daughter” and it is over 400 pages long. From that moment, I know that Lady Bird is something special because of the time and love that Gerwig put into the story. Lady Bird focuses the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). Their disdain for each other often causes fights and outbursts, but deep down they love each other. Loosely inspired by her background, Greta Gerwig crafts a story that is so personal to her that the film that is just so full of life and personality. Lady Bird is so real and genuine that it is universally beloved. Funny, heartwarming, and self-reflective, Lady Bird is a glorious tale about a mother’s unconditional love that strikes a very personal chord, proving why it is at number 1 on my personal list.

Best Scene(s): “The Opening” and “The Drive”

Best Binges Of The Summer

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Ah, summer. As mass heat waves hit the world (I’m looking at you global warming), there seems to be a clear split through the world- those that spend every waking minute outside soaking rays and those that can’t wait for autumn to come around. Shamelessly I’ll admit I’m the latter. Despite the looming heap of films waiting for me on my watchlist, sometimes the summer heat leaves me craving a good tv show to dive into instead. Binging, whether it’s curled up in bed or on your old iPad sat in the back of a car, is a pass time we all engage in. Alone or with your best friend, here are my top picks of shows to dig your teeth into this summer. 

 

Euphoria (Season 1 on HBO)

Photo: via Netflix

If you haven’t caught wind of this show yet, you’re missing out. Euphoria follows a girl called Rue, a teenager fresh out of rehab with a dream to stay clean. As you delve further into this phenomenon of a show it tells the story of various teenagers, all suffering from personal issues and other problems that plague our generation. This show is the talk of the summer, and for good reason. Euphoria never shies away from getting gritty. Graphic scenes and sometimes triggering topics do feature, but the dizziness is grounded by strong lead performances and all the heart that shines through. If nothing else, this show will leave you wishing you could pull off neon and glitter makeup as donned by the bombshell leads. 

 

Dear White People (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix)

Photo: via Netflix

The third season of Dear White People just hit Netflix, and it’s just as relevant now as it was upon premiere. It follows a college with a harsh divide between the black and white students and the girl with a radio station all about it. The politics are slippery but they’re never danced around, everything from feminism and activism to racism is discussed and the rumours are debunked. Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s full of heart, teenagers are passionate but misguided and it’s rewarding to see them thrive and even learn a thing or two yourself. It isn’t a light watch, but no matter your race, it’s a good idea to check it out. 

 

Stranger Things (Seasons 1-3 on Netflix)

Photo: via Netflix

If you haven’t heard all about it already, Stranger Things season 3 takes place in the summer of 84, perfect for summer binging. Once again there’s trouble in Hawkins, each group facing challenges in a strange entanglement surrounding Russians, rats and radios. As always, it’s the performances that make the show (look out for nominations in award season), and it’d be damned if you don’t fall for at least one of the loveable teens. 

 

Lucifer (Seasons 1-3 on Amazon Prime, Season 4 on Netflix)

Photo: via Netflix

After getting picked up by Netflix for a fourth season, Lucifer is back and better than ever. Following the Devil escaped from Hell and a regular police detective, this show is so easy to get your teeth into. It’s quick-witted, light-hearted and full of characters that are so easy to love (especially the Devil himself). It’s based on a Neil Gaiman comic book, so if you’re into weird and wacky stories, or you loved Amazon’s new Good Omens, you’ll definitely love Lucifer too. Oh, and after the change to Netflix, it’s sexier than ever. 

 

Sex Education (Season 1 on Netflix)

Photo: via Netflix

Sex Education feels like exactly the kind of show you’ve been messing, with relatable teens and funny stories yet in a way Degrassi never could. Otis decides he needs some extra cash, so decides to become a ‘sex therapist’ to the teens in his sixth form college- inspired by his mother’s job (played by the one and only Gillian Anderson). It’s awkward, funny and real, it has an open-ness and honesty that most of our lives lack but definitely need. 

 

Russian Doll (Season 1 on Netflix)

Photo: via Netflix

Straight from Orange is the New Black, Natasha Lyonne thrives in this series playing a cynical but loving Nadia, a woman stuck in an endless loop on none other than her birthday. The Groundhog Day theme stops there though, as the Emmy-nominated show stays fresh and funny, with one of the best scripts of any Netflix show. It doesn’t falter for a moment, supporting acts Lizzy and Maxine bring just as much humour and fun as anyone else. Every episode stays great enough to keep you interested, with existential crises, addiction and irony add up to create great characters and a show you’ll probably finish in one sit. Oh, and the soundtrack is killer. 

 

Euphoria; thoughts

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Credit: A24, HBO, Little Lamb, The Reasonable Bunch all rights reserved

After the surprisingly good Assassination Nation, I was excited to see with what will Sam Levinson come up next. His film blended social commentary with heightened reality, making it enjoyable to see those characters as they offered a dark mirror to our society. Euphoria takes place in high-school again, but there is no heightened reality this time. It promised to “faithfully represent the modern teenage experience”. It is overflowing with style, but you’d have a hard time finding something of substance in Euphoria.

The show follows Rue (Zendaya), a drug addict in high-school. We witness as her addiction shaped herself and the people around her. She’s a loner, whose only friend is her drug dealer. However, as school starts she befriends a new student, Jules (Hunter Schafer). Their friendship is what holds the show together. I loved seeing them interact, even when they weren’t doing anything.

The other students never get the same understanding treatment as Rue or Jules. Despite having backstories at the beginning of each episode, they are very one-dimensional. Nate (Jacob Elordi) is an aggressive jock. Maddy (Alexa Demie) is the pretty cheerleader who only cares about herself. Rue’s mom (Nika King) and her sister (Storm Reid) are sad. Kat (Barbie Ferriera) is the confident girl on the outside, insecure on the inside. They are the high-school stereotypes that have been around since the 80s, only updated for today.

The show feels as if the writers tried to understand what young people do nowadays while they were writing it. From their POV, it seems that all they do is party, fuck, blackmail, take drugs and fuck. Yeah, there’s a lot of fucking on the show. I’m supposed to be the generation that Euphoria represents and yet it never explores what makes this one different from those that came before. Just adding smartphones is not enough.

That said, Euphoria is the most gorgeous show of 2019. Visually, every piece of it is stunning. It is shot beautifully, especially during the many night scenes or party scenes. The make-up and wardrobe are some of my favourite aspects of the show, as they actually understand the current trends. In this case, the clothing is a storytelling device that tells us about the characters in a way they never would. As for the music, it combines EDM, hip-hop and some throwback songs that make it feel timely, yet timeless at the same time.

Euphoria has been labeled as a controversial show, but not much that happens actually is. It tries to be provocative by being shocking, which results in a momentary surprise, that will be forgotten by the time the next episode rolls around. And when the finale ends, you realise there isn’t much that makes the show stand out in the long-time.

In a certain way, Euphoria reached its goal of social commentary. Like many things we are exposed to nowadays, it holds little to no value. Euphoria is a beautiful, yet empty shell that never delves beneath the surface to actually explore the behaviour of the young people its supposed to be representing.