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If cinema is to survive as anything resembling what we recognise it as today – and I believe that is worth preserving – then major theatrical exhibitors need to stop pissing into the howling gale that is the streaming revolution. Making that metaphor manifest by spraying water into the faces of 4DX audiences won’t secure that future.

Since Roma triumphed in some key categories at the Oscars, including the cornerstone craft of cinematography, the ongoing debate about the status of films developed or distributed by Netflix has been dialed up. The debate isn’t new: it’s well over a year since Cannes changed its eligibility rules in time for the 2018 edition in response to controversy around Okja and The Meyerwitz Stories, Netflix-only affairs outside the 2017 festival.

Since then, Icarus won a statuette at the 90th Oscars in 2018, and Period. End of Sentence won documentary short this year. However, the increasing amounts of money being thrown around – Netflix are set to spend over $15Bn on original content this year – have put the future of cinema has been into sharper and more urgent focus than before.

The Cinema ‘Experience’ & The Green Book Red Herring

The extreme opinions of the debate (also the most loudly expressed, as often seems to be the case) are, on the one hand, that those denigrating the ‘cinematic’ qualities of streaming-focused releases are simply not moving with the times and, on the other hand, that cinema is being taken over by glorified TV movies. Steven Spielberg has stated that streaming releases would be more than worthy of Emmys, but not Oscars, and has received plenty of flak as a result (the ‘Old Man Yells at Cloud’ meme has been given a good workout by online commenters).

Let’s put aside the contestable nature of what film deserved industry awards. The victory of Green Book nicely highlights the need to do this: for all its amiable performance-led charm, undermined by patronisingly racist moral themes, there is nothing particularly spectacular about the film. The idea that Green Book is inherently more cinematic than Roma by virtue of the primary release format is patently absurd, and serves to illustrate that films should be considered on their own merits, not that of its distributor.

Green Book (2018) – source: Universal Pictures

Although defending the theatrical setting is a worthwhile endeavour, the necessity of it has slowly been eroded, and the primary culprits are theatres themselves. A staunch defence of the status quo ignores the fact that the term ‘cinematic’ has ceased to be meaningful by the actions of the very companies whose bottom line now depends upon it. Lack of care in the presentation of films, for many years now, has manifested in a lack of respect for that presentation from audiences. The reasons are manifold: lack of skilled work for projectionists, meaning that projection errors go unnoticed or unactioned; increasingly long adverts pre-roll (in both multiplexes and independents); rising and unpredictable ticket pricing; high prices at the concession stand; out of focus pictures; no masking at best, and incorrect masking at worst; and homogenised offerings of blockbusters thousands of times a day.

The ‘picture palace’ concept died some time ago. Beautiful and unique cinemas are still present the world over, but the majority of filmgoers pile into multiplexes. This needn’t be a dreadful thing, but given that many operate on autopilot from a projection standpoint, filmgoers are increasingly aware of the resulting conveyor-belt feel. In addition, a lack of variety in the films offered has degraded the cinematic experience even as ticket prices have risen. Since adverts roll for an age, folk try and judge when the film will actually begin and eventually come in with phone torches glaring. Lack of consistent masking means that films are produced and projected in aspect ratios that don’t require it, or the screen is merely treated as a giant television with its aspect ratio changed. When obvious visual boundaries in ‘letterboxed’ views are removed, this contributes greatly to an ‘immersive’ feeling (and, indeed, was the point of Cinemascope when it rose to prominence), and many films can be subtly affected by this.

Audience Behaviour

It’s often reported that audience numbers are on the up in UK cinemas. However, the question has to be asked: who is going, and what are they going to see? In the period 2008-2018, admissions numbers rose approximately 8% over that period, albeit with some ups and downs (with higher numbers recorded in years with landmark releases such as The Avengers, Skyfall or Star Wars: The Force Awakens). However, over the same period the UK population itself grew by nearly 7%, the number of screening sites by 7% also, and total screens by a whopping 21%. A strong argument can be made that the rises in admissions seen are not an organic result of the silver screen’s magnetism.

If we fit a linear trend through box-office admissions (in an attempt to smooth out the bumps) the rise is a much more conservative 0.4% per year over the whole period. Even if an anomalously low 2014 is discounted (Paddington the comparatively restrained top earner in the UK that year), the trend is a mere 0.5% growth per year. If a derivative quantity of admissions per head of population is calculated, then growth has been flat at best, slightly declining at worst. If it is further normalised for number of screening sites, then there is a definite decrease of over 9% over the period, or a decline of nearly 1% year on year.

UK Cinema admissions and admissions compared to population and screening site number – source: Jim Ross based on BFI Statistical Yearbook

In a shorter period, Netflix has raced from a standing start in the UK to well over 8 million subscribers. The comparison isn’t perfect, but there is no way of presenting the numbers that would improve the view from theatre chains standpoint. Multiple people (and certainly families) often share streaming accounts, so there is not a one-to-one equivalence against potential cinema tickets. This also doesn’t address other streaming services, such as NOW TV and Amazon in the UK, Hulu and Amazon in the USA – where there will not always be overlap with the Netflix customer base – and newer emerging services such as the Criterion Channel, the forthcoming Apple streaming service and Disney+, and more niche services such as Curzon Home Cinema and MUBI. With over 80 original films – in addition to new and continuing serials – released on Netflix in 2018, it’s easy to see why 58% of subscribers rated cost-effectiveness as the reason for signing up in a recent survey.

When most cinemagoers cite ticket prices as the primary deterrent, theatres are clearly losing the battle in terms of cost. When streaming services start to offer comparable quality content on average, attempts to shut them out of the sphere smack of economic protectionism. Admittedly, the primary objective of the streaming firms will be to acquire subscribers, not exhibit cinema. However, if theatres (and the less progressive-sounding pillars of the filmmaking community, such as Spielberg) can find a way to work with these firms rather than automatically move to shut them out, then both can benefit.

Cinematic Protectionism & Unintended Consequences

When handled correctly, the theatre is worth preserving. But even if these aspects are addressed, the long-term business angle must evolve in order to allow for positive change. The recent decision by Picturehouses in the UK to require a long theatrical window for its releases is a good example of the puzzling approach some chains are taking in response to streaming. Requiring an exclusive theatrical window of 16 weeks, in one fell swoop the requirement rules out a number of films released by Curzon Artifical Eye simulataneously on streaming and in cinemas. Many of these would be perfect fits for the Picturehouse audience – Loro, The Souvenir, At Eternity’s Gate, to name just a handful – and brings the chain into line with overlord business Cineworld PLC. More stupidly, however, audience-going numbers – often presented with a rose-tinted reporting angle discussed earlier – don’t back up the decision to go this route. The streaming revolution may feel like it has been around for a while, but we are barely at the start of the wave, and these companies risk being washed away.

Loro (2018) is one of the film’s that will not be shown in Picturehouses UK owing to the ban on title released simultaneously online – source: Curzon Artificial Eye

Up until now the primary response to declining audience enthusiasm has been to differentiate on experience, rather than content. As discussed above, however, the old-school basics of cinematic exhibition have been neglected. Even if these problems admittedly go unnoticed by many cinemagoers, it would undoubtedly improve everyone’s theatrical experience were they rectified. Instead of putting effort into the fundamental art of screening, cinemas have sought to differentiate themselves through glorified gimmicks, or by screening non-cinema content such as theatre or opera productions, live music events, or – in an enormous irony – TV series finales. The appeal of 4DX and similar technologies seems minimal at best, amounting to not much more than the old Universal theme park rides.

Worrying about where your possessions are as you get buffeted around during Aquaman is not conducive to a fun or immersive experience. The enduring presence of 3D can be explained by the ease of post-conversion, increased entry-fees, and sunk-cost investment made in 3D screens, rather than anything to do with improved audience experience (since the release of Avatar, the percentage of screens equipped for digital 3D in the UK has increased from 2% to 48%, while the number of productions filmed natively in 3D is minuscule). Focusing on 3D offerings, whilst also offering patchy accessibility for the vision or hearing-impaired, simply means more audience segments easily driven to the couch. Theatre operators are fiddling while Rome burns.

Given the larger audiences, larger budgets, and apparently wider distribution offered by streaming services, it is highly likely that filmmakers and producers will start to focus on the creation of content more suited to the popular format, at the expense of ‘traditional’ cinema. This is the worst possible scenario, but it is a real possibility.

The average home setting, of course, detracts from the overall film-viewing experience in countless ways: it is much more limited in terms of equipment, and more distracting in terms of attention. Home viewers will naturally favour more easily consumed material, content that doesn’t require the same level of disengagement from our immediate environment. If that shift starts to be made on a fundamental cultural level, and the exhibition advantage of theatres is reduced, then truly there is no way for cinemas to ‘win’. Viewers don’t win, either.

In a way, the current industry response – from some cinema chains and some festivals, such as Cannes – can be equated with the economic policy of protectionism. In the same way that states often place barriers to cheap imports in order to protect domestic industries, so have theatres and the wider filmmaking world begun implementing the barriers mentioned above to streaming-focused production houses. Protectionism has its supporters and opponents, but one thing is very clear: if you’re protecting a busted flush, then you are doomed to failure. Furthermore, the recent successes of streaming productions on a critical level mean we are not dealing with something analogous to a cheap plastic imitation of the ‘real’ product.

The Way Forward

Cinema exhibition as we know it must evolve or die. There are small schemes already in place that could demonstrate something akin to the way forward. MUBI, for instance, allows subscribers to see one specific film in theatres for free every week as part of the subscription. This isn’t much use if there isn’t a showing nearby, but it does offer a continued theatrical opportunity (Under The Silver Lake was distributed by MUBI in the UK, and also offered under this ticket scheme), and something that could be adopted by streaming houses with cooperation from theatre chains.

A number of cinema luminaries – from Paul Schrader to Sean Baker – have offered other ideas, but only the bean counters at streaming giants and theatre chains know what would work. However, with the number of MBAs inside the corporate HQs and the opportunities for kudos and cash on all sides, it seems impossible that there isn’t a solution – or many – out there.

Under The Silver Lake (2018) distributor MUBI in the UK offered free tickets to subscribers of their streaming service – source: MUBI

Cinema is an art form that should be celebrated in all its guises, and only by evolving and redefining its cornerstone adjective – cinematic – along the lines of the content itself rather than the delivery method can that be done. At its best, the cinema is a space for people of varied backgrounds, tastes and lives to share a cultural experience. As the most popular artform it arguably has a responsibility to present that artform in the best way possible. Whether that involves soda or wine, popcorn or risotto, reclining chairs or deckchairs is down to the individual theatres and chains and local preferences.

What should be common, however, is an inclusive space that shows a fundamental and unwavering respect for what it shows audiences, regardless of whether the distributor’s business model is based on the silver or small screen.

Do you agree that the cinema business needs to evolve and work with streaming services, or will it weather the storm by battening down the hatches?

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Gabriela Lopez attended Auburn University for a year studying theater, signed with an agent in Atlanta and continued her training in acting classes and workshops. Within a year she was cast in the ABC Family movie, Teen Spirit. Two weeks after shooting the film, she moved to Los Angeles. Since she can be seen in UPtv movie Coffee Shop alongside Laura Vandervoort, Disney’s Million Dollar Arm and plays Chloe Grace Moretz’s best friend in The 5th Wave.

In her latest movie, The Browsing Effect, she plays a character named Gabriela, who begins dating a young Jewish millennial in Los Angeles. The Browsing Effect deals comically with the dating travails of an attractive group of diverse millennials, and it isn’t always a pretty picture. Is dating really this hard for millennials?

Is dating really this rough on millennials?

Lopez chuckles at this. “Honestly, yeah. I actually haven’t been on any online dating app myself but I have been out in the world dating and it is rough. It is actually that rough. Yes, I think it is an accurate representation of what it is like for millennials.”

Why does she think that is?

“Possibly our generation is just really self-focused,” she suggests. “I think part of that is true for millennials, it’s all about accomplishing certain things and investing time in yourself, and there is a selfish aspect to it. But you know, I’m mind boggled by it, I can’t really figure it out.  In LA it’s a little bit different. In LA everybody is so afraid of rejection that it’s something that kind of happens as a byproduct of all of the rejection that you get in LA. It kind of follows over into dating as well.”

source: Gravitas Ventures

Her character in The Browsing Effect is, if anything, one of the better adjusted characters in the movie.

 “Thank you” she says. “I appreciate that. I feel like I’d like to give her a whole journey of where she’s started, where’s she’s going and how that affected her, how she sees the world and I wanted to make her as relatable as possible that people maybe see the film and say, oh yeah, I’m like her.”

It seems that a lot of the problems the characters in The Browsing Effect are having is simply that they didn’t seem to communicate very well with each other. Does the actress see it the same way?

“They are just terrible at communicating.”

“I think that part of the comedy is that they are just terrible at communicating. Like this whole group of friends, they are not really getting the message across, not really telling everybody that this is what’s happening, and then they are talking behind each other’s back and that kind of adds to the comedy of that circle of friends. It’s interesting, as my character being like an outsider of that specific group of friends, her style is just different than the main group of friends that this film is about.”

There is also one sub-plot running around in the movie that could have turned the whole thing into The Silence of the Lambs, with the so-called Tinder-napper.

She answers: “Right, that was so scary.  I remember – there were some other scenes in the film that ended up getting cut that were intense, and really funny creepy, at the same time, and we were like ‘Whoa, this could have had its own movie attached to that.’”

How do Lopez get lined up with this project?

She says: “My agent got me the audition for it, and immediately when I saw the breakdown of Gabriela, which is the same way I spell it, and that she was Peruvian-American and I am Peruvian American, I was like ‘This is weird,’ and when I met Michael I was like, ‘Did you stalk me for a while, do you know me? Have we met before, this is just too weird.’ He said, ‘No I think it’s just meant to be,’ and I think it was definitely because working with everybody was just a dream because they are just all so collaborative and creative.”

There is a sense of spontaneity in some scenes in The Browsing Effect that invites the question was some of this dialogue improvised.

Scripted dialogue that plays like it was improvised

“You know what, I think this was actually like a testament to Michael’s writing because we were pretty much following the dialogue, spot on,” she says. “I know some of the scenes were maybe a little improvised, but most of my scenes were word-for-word what was in the script.  I think his writing just kind of makes it feel so real that it almost seemed like improv because it just had that natural dialogue vibe to it.”

About how long did it take to make the whole movie?

source: Gravitas Ventures

“I think we ended up shooting four weeks. I know I was on for about 3 weeks of it. It’s hard to get back into all of that now but I think it was about three to four weeks we were filming. I was on and off, so it wasn’t like consistent three weeks, but throughout the film, like throughout while we were shooting, it was like about I think three weeks that I was working.”

There is a scene in the movie where Gabriela’s character, who is indeed named Gabriela, brings her new boyfriend Ben (Josh Margolin) to her parents’ home for her birthday party. The scene would be familiar to anyone who’s had to meet a large family when first dating somebody, and many people wouldn’t know how to respond when somebody puts a heart on their lunch plate.

Warn your date before serving him hearts

This elicits laughter. “I know, I’ve actually been in the reverse situation with my boyfriend’s family, though about a week before filming started I was in almost Ben’s position, of meeting all of these people that I’ve never met before, although I didn’t have a heart put on my plate… I completely agree with you, I think I actually have some sympathy for him although my character was like, no this is my party, you are supposed to be here for me.”

But doesn’t she think that if you have any clue that someone is going to be serving hearts, you should give your date a heads-up?

More laughter. “Yeah, that’s true. But you know what, that’s actually my favorite food, cows heart. Anticuchos de Corazón.  I don’t remember what it was in the script, but I was like, ‘Michael this scene has to have cows heart, anticuchos,’ and he was like, ‘You’re kidding me, that’s a real thing?, I said yes, ‘It’s a Peruvian dish, it’s my favorite dish.’  He was like, ‘Okay, you’re right, that’s way better, let’s put that in there.’  And they actually went to stores, got hearts and were able to use it, because I actually made my boyfriend try cow’s heart and my Aunt makes it, so it’s a real thing.”

How do you prepare cow heart?

“I actually don’t know how to make it,” she admits.  “So I have recipes from my Aunt—my Aunt makes it the best. It’s honestly the rub that goes on it is what makes it so good. And if you don’t cook it right and then it’s too chewy, it starts to get freaky cuz you’re like—’I’m eating heart.’  It has to be sliced right and the rub has to be right to make good Anticuchos, I do know that.”

source: Gravitas Ventures

This writer tells her that he’ll file that away and if she wants to send him her Aunt’s recipe—that he makes no promises—but he does try to be open minded about food.  Is it true that Lopez is actually an Alabama girl at heart?

An Alabama girl at heart

“Yes, I am,” she says, a trace of pride in her voice. “So makes it a little interesting to be Peruvian and from Alabama, but yeah.”

And she started her acting studies in Alabama?

She did, though success came early. “At 18 I went to school in Auburn for about a semester, not very long, studying theater, and was driving to Atlanta for auditions and acting classes and that kind of stuff, and then booked my first film Teen Spirit kind of right off the bat.”

So fair to say that she hasn’t gone through that extended period of waiting tables while auditioning for a part?

“No, I haven’t but in between projects it can be challenging, you know I have done catering gigs and hostessing in LA, I’ve done it even after things have come out because it’s not always as lucrative as you would hope it to be,” she says.

What’s next for Gabriela Lopez?

Her voice is enthusiastic. “I have a film coming out this year called The Meridian Contact, it’s a short film, hopefully to be turned into a feature, that will be doing festivals.  I’m really excited about it.  I really liked the story, it’s interesting, it’s a story that needs to be told—I am just really excited about it. I am an acting coach as well, but I will be working alongside a production company here soon, so hopefully we will be starting to pump out projects and also be acting in this.  So I am really excited about that. I am based out of LA for work, but actually I live in northern California now, and fly down to LA when needed. I am actually going to LA in a little bit.”

The Browsing Effect is currently available from Gravitas Ventures on iTunes and Amazon and On Demand.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Congratulations, new showrunner. You have successfully got the green light to bring your vision to the small screen, and you will now be putting together a TV show that will hopefully run for many years and bring delight to many millions of viewers.

You should be warned however, that there are pitfalls to making a long running and successful TV series and sadly, over the years others in your position have presided over the television equivalent of the dinner party guest that outstays their welcome, still glugging table wine long after you have started clearing away the dishes. Do not be alarmed though, Film Inquiry is here to make things easier and give you a few things to watch out for.

The original premise has been fulfilled

Things have gotten off to a great start; your pilot laid out the terms of your show and made it clear what that premise is. A high-flying lawyer hires a talented but unqualified protégé (Suits) perhaps, or maybe a teenage girl attends high school by day and slays vampires by night (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), or even your very good-looking cast has been stranded on a desert island (Lost); the point is, the audience understands what they are watching and what the stakes are. We have all bought into the premise and are excited to see how it plays out.

source: USA

You get the green light to make your show and you know exactly how the first, and hopefully the second season is going to play out. The problems tend to start when, after a couple of seasons, the show has either solved the problem it presents us with, or needs to keep finding ways to keep it alive. You have no idea how long the money people are going to keep letting you make this show and so how do you know how to pace it? Some shows handle this by reinventing themselves entirely, whilst others do it by trying to keep the main cast together and just throw a new situation at the old dynamic.

Mike goes to prison for being a pretend lawyer but then gets to come out and be a real one anyway, then he leaves anyway, Buffy might have graduated high school but there is always college, the islanders escape the island but then come back (for some reason, it all got a bit blurry…). However, what separates the great shows from the ones that simply start great is a clear arc. Walter White starts as Mr Chips and ends up as Scarface, Don Draper starts as a glib ad man and ends reborn in a hippy commune (before he sells out and becomes a glib ad man again) and Kimmy Schmidt settles down and takes down toxic masculinity with her bestselling kids book, we are invested in central characters who have a clear journey that goes from one place to another.

You find yourself having to repeat story lines over and again

A patient staggers into the hospital with a strange and confusing combination of symptoms. The best efforts of the doctors yield no real results and the clock is ticking, who else can we turn to? The curmudgeonly genius, Dr House, that’s who! He starts by being mean to everyone, then he misdiagnoses the patient whose condition worsens; and then, just as time is about to run out… some unrelated event in his personal life triggers a realisation that leads him to a breakthrough! Phew, House has saved the day! But who will help him heal his soul? That more or less summarises the plot outline of the 176 episodes of House. In many ways, the familiarity is what we love about it but you might have thought that around the century mark they considered switching it up a little bit.

source: Fox

Okay, fair enough, House was a procedural on a major network and there is a degree of formula required to keep things ticking along, however when ‘it’s Lupus’ becomes an inside joke referring to a lack of imagination in the writing then it’s probably time to call it a day. It feels a little unfair to pick on House as it is by no means the only example of this but for some reason it was the first that sprang to mind.

Key cast members left

Most great shows hinge on the chemistry of the cast. After all, the way they relate to one another on screen is an essential part of what makes the whole thing hang together, can we spend our precious free time with these people? The death of many a great TV show has come from a key member of the cast leaving the show only to have their ‘role’ replaced. When I say ‘role’ I don’t necessarily mean to another actor stepping in to take over the role per se, but a new character comes in to take up the same space in the show that another left behind. Rob Lowe left The West Wing and Joshua Malina stepped in as the new speech writer, Michael J Fox left Spin City and Charlie Sheen came in, Charlie Sheen left Two and a Half Men and Ashton Kutcher filled the gap (sort of). Charlie Sheen seems to be involved in more of these than seems reasonable…

Usually when this kind of casting switch takes place it signals the beginning of the end. Despite the best efforts of the writers and the casting director, the dynamic has altered, the chemistry is not quite the same and everyone knows it. It is often a shame when this must happen, as so often it can be out everyone’s hands; Michael J. Fox left Spin City for health reasons after his diagnosis with Parkinson’s for example. There are some rare exceptions to this of course and occasionally it is possible to keep things going (Cheers springs to mind) but when the delicate balance is tampered with everyone can feel it.

Your ‘will they, won’t they?’ romance has gone through several iterations

A staple of the long running TV show, the ‘will they, won’t they?’ romance, is so easy to set up and so hard to resolve satisfyingly. You have successfully got your photogenic group of people together, one pair clearly have some nice chemistry but for some reason there is a barrier, or a series of barriers to them getting together. He’s got a girlfriend that’s all wrong for him perhaps, or maybe she’s just recently come out of a relationship and it’s all too soon, it could be he’s a secret serial killer than only murders bad people, or he’s a fake lawyer, or she’s a secret superhero and so on and so on. Eventually you have to give your audience what they are waiting for and get them to share a passionate embrace, but then you’ll need to break them apart again, then get them to kiss, then break them apart again etc etc etc.

source: ABC

The longer the show runs the harder this is to keep interesting, so you have some choices to make. Many shows have tried the below, but few have nailed them successfully.

  • You can get them together at long last and keep them together, this risks taking a lot of the fizz out of the show but does give you the chance to mine some new territory –Niles and Daphne, Frasier
  • Just keep going, if the central relationship is strong enough the audience might well stick around the see how it all shakes out. Ross and Rachel, Friends
  • Just give up on that idea and let everyone move on and sleep with someone else from the group. Everyone, Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
  • Keep your romance chaste until the very last minute. Donna & Josh, The West Wing
You think it might be a good idea to introduce a smoke monster

Okay, this relates very specifically to Lost, but come on, really?!

What other clues are there that your TV show may need to be put out of it’s misery? Please make your suggestions in the comments! 

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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The story of the underdog will always be a crowd-pleaser. An unknown phoenix yearning to rise from the ashes and pursue the limitless possibilities of their talent; an ordinary person the same as us, but with an extraordinary gift that sets them apart. And singing competitions have overwhelmed the pop culture and media landscape for what feels like an eternity – our endless fixation with seeing people like us become stars. If anyone can free themselves from the confines of mediocrity, then one day, we can too.

It’s a tale as familiar as an old friend from high school, but in Max Minghella’s directorial debut, he manages to keep the currents of the rising star story ever-flowing. In Teen Spirit, a young singer-to-be sees the chance for her dreams to become a reality when a singing competition rolls into her small town for the first time. Her desire to escape the confines of farm life with her strict, religious mother becomes as tantalizing as the promises dangled over her head for the price of stardom.

The film is, of course, about the struggles of staying true to yourself when an opportunity for fame and fortune becomes your own personal Cinderella pumpkin coach, but it remains a visually engaging narrative with an endearing father-daughter touchstone that anchors the film through recognizable beats.

Dancing on Her Own

Seventeen-year-old Violet Valenski (Elle Fanning) lives on the rural Isle of Wight with only her mother; a steadfastly religious Polish immigrant with a strict and traditional approach to parenting, while Violet’s father left them when she was little. When Violet isn’t in school, she’s waiting tables for the restaurant she works at, in church singing with the choir, or helping out on her and her mother’s farm.

Occasionally, however, she lets herself go from work a few minutes early to sing alone at a near-empty bar somewhere in town, when she’s not dancing and thrashing around in her room and singing along to the music she listens to on her old school iPod. Violet is an immensely gifted singer, but the confines of her home, school, and work life keep her from pursuing music to the extent she dreams of – or even hanging out much with people her age.

source: Bleecker Street Media

That is, until Teen Spirit heads into town; a highly sought-after and televised singing competition for young, musically-inclined hopefuls (not unlike American Idol); it’s the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show her stuff served up to Violet on a silver platter. While her vocal prowess does allow her to make it past the first round, she needs a guardian to be present with her and sign a form in the second round due to her being underage. So, she enlists the help of an older gentleman, Vlad (Zlatko Buric), who once offered to give Violet a ride home after one of her nights singing at the bar (and was the only soul to give her a rapturous applause).

Though initially and rightfully hesitant of Vlad’s kindness, she knows her traditionalist mother would never be the one to sign for her, and when she discovers Vlad’s former life as an opera singer, the pair begin a partnership to mold Violet into a singer worthy of winning Teen Spirit.

Solid Performances, Connections, and Craft

The film has the fairly standard plot progression imaginable for a Star-Is-(Potentially)-Born type storyline such as this, with a few flourishes and misdirections here and there that come as a partial surprise yet still feel a bit expected to spice things up. It’s a beautifully shot film, however – Minghella portraying Violet as the scared, awkward, and innocent teenage girl that she is, still ever-aware of her vulnerability and the strength she has within her as well.

Elle Fanning fully grabs hold of the role of Violet Valenski and jumps into her skin, evoking the girl’s simultaneous hungry ambition and insecurity. Though strikingly beautiful, Fanning does possess a gangly sort of awkwardness that properly sets her apart, and she finds success in embodying the character of the grounded underdog.

source: Bleecker Street Media

The singing performances from Violet are also particularly delightful, each one shot like its own little music video to maintain an engaging spectacle beyond simply watching someone sing on a stage, with Violet’s cover of “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox being particularly fun to watch. And Fanning actually does all her own, extremely impressive renditions of the covers she performs (Fanning had herself dreamt of being a pop star when she was little). But Teen Spirit’s greatest strength comes in the form of Vlad and Violet’s budding relationship as a surrogate father and daughter for one another.

Vlad is seemingly estranged from his real daughter, she herself a young musical prodigy off studying in France, and whom he has not spoken to for quite some time, while Violet has dealt with the after effects of being left by her father when she was quite young. Though the duo starts off as a somewhat testy and unlikely odd couple, it becomes clear that they see in each other a relationship they have been sorely missing, and it adds an extra little something sweet to a film that otherwise might feel fairly commonplace.

source: Bleecker Street Media Teen Spirit: Conclusion

For a film of about only ninety minutes, it does seem to drag a bit in parts – perhaps somewhat due to the cliché nature of the plot, or the way the film feels like it’s stretching its simple story out longer than it really needs to. And despite the fact that Violet remains bizarrely down-to-earth until far too late in the film before she finally catches the fame bug, it’s the emotional roller coaster of Violet and Vlad, of Violet and her mom, on top of the nicely stylized nature of Minghella’s filmmaking, that allows Teen Spirit to remain a worthwhile and joyous little journey to the “top.”

What did you think of Teen Spirit? Let us know in the comments!

Teen Spirit was released in the US on April 12, 2019. For full international releases dates, see here.

TEEN SPIRIT | Official Trailer 2 - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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If the Dancer Dances is a tender, intimate look at how the works of famed dance choreographers are kept alive, given the ephemeral nature of movement itself.  With the recent death of Modern Dance legend Merce Cunningham, famed Choreographer Stephen Petrionio felt compelled to stage Rainforest, the late choreographer’s seminal work.  He hands his company over to a group of top Cunningham dancers and for the first time takes a back seat to the creative process. The film delves into an aspect of dance that hasn’t been covered this in-depth before: movement vocabularies can only be passed down from dancer to dancer.

“The beauty and tender and amazing thing about dance is that it gets passed from one body, one soul, to another. There’s something precious about that; it’s fragile,” Petrinio muses as the film opens. For the first time, he is setting a piece that’s not his own. Dancers from Cunningham’s company aren’t going to be around forever. Where so much has gone digital, dance is insistently analog. What does this transmission of an entire language of movement look like?  If the Dancer Dances is the best way to appreciate this tender, necessary exchange.

Body Talk

What’s fun about this documentary is watching how each Cunningham dancer adds a radically different and necessary piece of the puzzle.  Without each new offering the translation isn’t complete. The language of the dance is absorbed by the unique person who interprets it in a different way than anyone else in the company. Cunningham dancers float through offering wisdom and interpretation that prove essential, causing the breakthroughs each company dancer needs to make the movement their own.

source: Monument Releasing

It highlights the challenge company dancers face in trying to embody languages of movement that feel completely alien to their bodies when their choreographer decides to try something brand new. This documentary captures that in riveting detail. Their bodies belong to them and to the ideas of the company director. It’s an act of trust that is unique to dance. A musician can put the violin away. The painter can put the brush down. A dancer can’t put her body away. If the job requires learning something that has no emotional or soulful resonance for the performers, how do they get through that to do real justice to the work? Petrinio’s style of dance is the opposite of Cunningham and his dancers work for his company for a reason. Watching a journey that’s unique to this art form widens the appreciation of dance.

What I also loved about If The Dancer Dances is the realistic day-to-day relationships between dancers in a company. Dancers understand they are putting each other’s futures in each other’s hands literally. A bad drop could end a career. A sloppy partner transition that twists an ankle could derail an entire season. Though vicious competition exists, as it does in every artistic profession, it’s rare to see the reality of kindness that is prevalent in the dance world.  Watching a dance company gently work through the common goal of a piece was surprisingly entertaining and oddly therapeutic. The sizzle of salacious high-stakes competition sells when it comes to movies about dance. If the Dancer Dances is bold in its rejection of that.

There are always going to be brutal, cut-throat companies. This documentary is encouraging to people thinking of perusing a career in dance, because companies full of nice, kind, sensitive people are common. While demonstrating the challenges of passing down an entire movement vocabulary, it’s the most familiar record I’ve seen of what real dance companies can really be like interpersonally.

A Missed Opportunity

This isn’t a documentary to learn much about Merce Cunningham. It provides no cultural history of why it’s necessary to pass down this man’s work to the next generations and no attempt to explain Modern Dance or Cunningham’s special place in its rich history. The film does actualize the philosophy of Cunningham, which seemed to be about zero narrative, context, or interpretation on anything, giving the audience the space to decide if it’s appealing to them or not.  Perhaps this is exactly the way Cunningham would have wanted it.

source: Monument Releasing

It’s difficult to say, since I don’t really know anything more about Cunningham after seeing the documentary. The film’s title is from Cunningham: “If the dancer dances all is revealed.” That philosophy alone doesn’t translate well to the medium of a documentary. This complete lack of context makes Stephen’s freak-outs about the magnitude of what he was attempting to pull off fall flat to anyone other than those deeply in the know about Rainforest. Had the film used the medium of cinema to its fullest, it could have been the place to tell the story of Cunningham in a way that people who aren’t dancers could relate emotionally. Some background could have offered insight and appreciation for a great artist’s work. Just a five-minute biography about Cunningham and a bit about Modern Dance would have made this an exceptional film. Without it, it’s largely a fan film.

Why Putting Dance on Film is Difficult

If the purpose of making a film about dance is for it to be appealing to a wide-audience, the thread that viewers can relate to has to be an emotional one. Dancer, about the famed bad-boy of ballet Sergei Polunin, is a study in a compelling dance documentary.  His life story and what drove him to become one of the best dancers in the world is haunting and heart-breaking. I still think about that film all the time, and I saw it on a plane while I also had the flu. The emotional weight of the last dance piece packs such a heavy punch. The critically-acclaimed Mr. Gaga, a 2018 documentary about Ohad Naharin, leans on a dance style that is cinematic itself. It’s emotional, music-driven, sensual, erotic, primal, dangerously passionate. All the things that make it impossible to look away. Though, perhaps If the Dancer Dances has it right. Naharin reveals towards the end of Mr. Gaga the story he created as to why he danced was completely made up; trying to put a firm narrative on why he danced felt impossible.

In narrative films about dance cruelty, madness and obsession are often the focus to great entertainment value. And not without validity, the rigor of being a top professional dancer takes something that not a lot of people have and exploring that type of personality is cinema worthy. Black Swan elevated dance to a fever pitch, following in the footsteps of The Red Shoes. Don’t get me wrong. I love these films. In the same way Whiplash doesn’t give anyone access to the true creative process between a mentor and student, dance movies that rely on insanity and extremes can run the risk of forcing dance into more spectacle than art.

source: Monument Releasing

Because the truth is the actual process is minute, tedious, pain-staking. And not grueling in the “cymbal to the head” kind of way but in the “watching paint dry” kind of way. Everyone in the arts has stories of the eccentric genius who threw things, screamed profanities and tortured their way into brilliance. The professional artist in any field knows that it’s far more common for the process to be repeating the same thing 100 times with no one watching. And, that’s just not compelling for a camera, hungry for pathos and drama. So, the art must meet the viewer where they are at in a way that makes the art more appreciated than more misunderstood. It may be why the musical is the main way dance has been introduced into film.

The core movement vocabulary of West Side Story is based in the movements of everyday people. And, dancers like Gene Kelly took natural movement and elevated it to the level of sublime. Everyday movement was expanded into art. When it’s a dance form only the most advanced movers can do (and even they struggle with it) and it’s on a stage, removed from everyday life, it can quickly drift into absolute boredom on film. It loses its availability and accessibility. And, if it’s a heady type of movement, removed from Circus Art, that thrives in its generosity of audience inclusion, it can disappear completely into the ethers for anyone but those who know it with their own bodies. Pina, the 2011 tribute to the beloved Pina Bausch, overcomes this hurdle brilliantly by staging the dances in unusual places, like on a bus or in a town square, putting even the most daring moves into someplace recognizable. It sparks the imagination.

Also, what makes If The Dancer Dances unusual is that Cunningham was famous for not marrying music to the dance. The dancers weren’t dancing to the music, they were dancing to counts that were unrelated to the counts in the music. Leaving out why he did that made the lack of a soundtrack to this dance film feel more tedious at times than interesting. In dance films that are beloved by a more mainstream audience,  dance and cinemas shared use of music to tell stories works brilliantly. They work together to make the story leap off the screen, often using the same music to blend narrative story-telling with dance pieces. Taking out the emotional undercurrent of music that cinema uses to tell the story of dance without sharing the compelling reason why Cunningham separated the two made If the Dancer Dances feel a bit unfinished and under cooked.

If The Dancer Dances: Conclusion

Though not a perfect film, I’m glad it is in the world. It’s a quality record covering new ground in the dance documentary genre. There is a simple joy in watching experts work their way through hairy problems for a greater good. Merce Cunningham is a huge figure in the dance world. If The Dancer Dances is a great start in unpacking everything that Cunningham represented. I hope more films are made about him. If nothing else, demonstrating how dances are passed down is no small feat and I love If the Dancer Dances for succeeding in that.

What are your favorite dance films and why? Let us know in the comments below!

If the Dancer Dances will be released in the US on April 26, 2019. For all international release dates, see here.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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The past couple of weeks have recalled the Treehouse of Terror installment where Homer is damned to hell and finds himself force fed all the donuts in the world, only to ask for more. That’s been me with the documentary program at this year’s SFFILM Fest, which has offered a punishing schedule of films that has left my mind numb and my thighs jellied from biking, but whose conclusion has me feeling an acute absence.

True to form, the festival saved many of the most significant non-fiction films for the back half of the fest. I’m as excited to take you through them as I am to sleep through the entire upcoming weekend, where I’m sure to watch more docs in my dreams.

Pahokee source: Cinetic Media

Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan‘s feature debut is a warm and tender community portrait. The filmmakers moved to Pahokee, Florida in order to enmesh themselves in daily life, and it really shows through the emotional life on the screen. The shots are beautifully and thoughtfully composed while the editing exhibits a restrained wit that adds to the narrative(s) without getting in the way. In putting the focus on high school seniors,  Lucas and Bresnan have crafted a unique paean to the forever unrecoverable feeling of wrapping up your childhood with a world of possibilities yet to be lived.

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements source: Vermillion Films

It’s always a tricky thing turning the lens on your own family. In her latest, Irena Taylor Brodsky precariously straddles the line between documentarian and family member. The film focuses on the family’s intergenerational relationship with deafness. One could wonder if Brodsky is shielding herself from her father’s mental decline with a camera, or missing being an active participant in her son’s discovering of himself. As tempting as it might be to get mired in those issues of ethics and objectivity, I was happy to take Midnight Sonata mostly at face value and vicariously enjoy the love so apparent on the screen.

Midnight Traveler source: The Film Collaborative

Another instance of familial documentation is the Western debut of Hassan Fazili, who chronicled his and his family’s long and arduous journey from Afghanistan to Europe entirely on three cell phones. Quite simply, this is the best refugee documentary I’ve ever seen. With minimal mediation (the film was “written” by Emelie Coleman Mahdavian) Traveler puts the format’s reputation as an “empathy machine” to work, approximating for the viewer as much as possible the unenviable trek made by those fleeing their homelands. As such it’s also perhaps the only instance I can recall where cell phone cinematography adds to the effect of a film beyond aesthetics, allowing the audience something close to a first-person perspective. I always hesitate to make statements like “everyone should see this move” but…

Always in Season source: Multitude Films

Jacqueline Olive probably could not have picked a more fraught and difficult subject. Always in Season deals with America’s long and shameful history of lynching, up to the present day. Citing Shoah as an inspiration, Olive looks at her subject from multiple, but congruent, angles. Always in Season demonstrates with pain and sensitivity that history is never past. With much of its run time devoted to the case of Lennon Lacy, the film shows how institutions of oppression will continue to perpetuate, and are unable to prevent, the atrocity of lynching so long as they fail to reckon with their role in its genesis.

Walking on Water source: Kino Lorber

Andrey Paounov had some major shoes to fill in choosing to document a project conceived by Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude. The famous artists have had many films chronicling their projects, all helmed by the legendary Albert Maysles, so comparisons are inevitable. Lacking some of the interior life of those films, Water instead embraces the spectacle inherent in Christo’s art, constructing itself mostly through conflict and sheer scale. An undeniably enjoyable film, more than anything it was just nice to see the 83-year old artist on the screen once again, like checking in with an old kooky friend. (Screening held at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive)

The Seer and the Unseen source: Submarine

Sara Dosa chose a wonderful premise for this unique spin on the standard enviro-doc. The film’s subject is Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jónsdóttir, a woman who claims to be able to see elves, who are believed to exist by half of Icelanders. Jónsdóttir is consulted by such believers on construction projects so as to not disturb their homes, churches, and businesses, but it seems major developers have little consideration for the invisible population. It’s an intriguing concept to meet environmental obstinance with a constructed belief system of your own, but I wish Seer spent a little more time investigating the magical world at its center, and a little less focusing on the inescapable realities well-known to enviro-doc audiences.

Honeyland source: NEON

Perhaps my surprise delight of the festival, Honeyland is a microcosmic tale of a woman whose entire way of life is threatened by leeching men and free-market capitalism. Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov bring us perhaps the documentary protagonist of the year in Hatidze Muratova, a seasoned beekeeper who sells her premium honey in town to support her sickly mother in their stone home in the Macedonian hillside. I think this is the best “bad neighbors” movie I’ve ever seen, and if that wasn’t enough, the film has an abundance of shots of babies holding kittens.

Warpaint: Live Score + Films by Maya Deren source: The Film-Makers’ Cooperative

When I saw in the program that there would be an opportunity to see some works by the iconic experimental filmmaker Maya Deren on the big screen I knew I had to get there. Live scoring, inherently revisionist, can either bring a silent film new life or serve as an awkward distraction to the work on the screen. I’m happy to say that Theresa Wayman and Stella Mozgawa minimalist electro-percussive score meshed well with Deren‘s signature dream logic. Due to a scheduling conflict I was only able to stay for the first two films, At Land and Ritual in Transfigured Time, but it was worth it to see these films on a screen larger than my TV, and anyone who has the opportunity to do the same shouldn’t think twice about taking it.

Jawline source: Caviar

Another documentary that was great beyond its abundance of kittens, Lisa Mandelup‘s feature debut stars my other contender for best documentary subject. Austyn Tester, whose greatest desire is to become famous on the internet, is as earnest and endearing as they come. It’s probably of great benefit to a documentarian to find someone who specializes in performing emotional honesty for the benefit strangers. Austyn’s story is complimented by that of “talent” scout and collector Michael Weist, an alarmingly savvy businessman well aware of the looming expiration date of his stable of cute teen boys. Mandelup somehow manages to entirely resist ridicule on all fronts of this weird new world by highlighting the yearning and desperation familiar to anyone who was ever a teenager.

The Elephant Queen source: Apple

Apple’s answer to the Disney Nature series, The Elephant Queen is an anthropomorphized epic that’s aimed at young children, yet features a surprising amount of hard truths about life and nature. Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble‘s film is brimming with beautiful and intimate nature footage, but I’m not the biggest fan of what it layers on top of it. The Elephant Queen features the dutiful narration of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who lends some further gravitas to the project, but I think what was filmed is strong enough that it could have easily supported the narrative without any additional assistance.

Street Food source: Netflix

The latest from Jiro Dreams of Sushi filmmaker David Gelb does its duty to populate one of the rectangles under the words “Because you watched Chef’s Table”. The first two episodes of the new Netflix series seem to have been resoundingly shaped by their algorithms, applying the slow-motion heavy food porn aesthetic to street food in Bangkok and Osaka, assumingly in an effort to “elevate” them for the foodie set. In doing so, and in neglecting to include any voices of local customers, the series misses so much of what is appealing about “street food”: the lack of pretension. I thought the Documentary Now episode “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken” put the kibosh on this type of thing, but here we are.

Grass is Greener source: Netflix

The feature directorial debut of the legendary Fab 5 Freddy attempts to pair the long and painful history of marijuana prohibition in the US with the even longer history of its use and cultural propagation by Black musicians. Grass is Greener doesn’t offer many revelations on either front and is a little slapdash in melding those two narratives, both of which could easily support their own documentaries, but the film is a tidy introduction to the subject. If anything, I’m glad what will inevitably be referred to as “the Netflix weed doc” is largely about the war on drugs’ outsized effect on radicalized communities and the current intense discrimination with regards to the burgeoning legal market.

The Nightingale source: IFC Films

Jennifer Kent‘s eagerly anticipated follow up to her breakout debut The Babadook is a dark and dour anti-colonialist revenge parable. The brutality of the opening sequences set a tone that  permeates the entire viewing experience (though by no means is the film’s cruelty relegated solely to the first act). There’s no question that The Nightingale is well crafted, well acted, well written, and well shot, so could justifiably be classified as a “good movie,” maybe even a really good one. Even so, there is very little to “enjoy” in the film, a relentlessly unpleasant affair.

Well Groomed source: Cattle Rat Productions

Conversely, the feature directorial debut of Rebecca Stern was absolutely beyond pleasant and had a wealth of things to enjoy. Introducing audiences to the burgeoning world of creative dog grooming, Well Groomed is a ceaseless joy. The film follows four different groomers at varying levels of prominence, but remarkably never feels like it’s shortchanging anyone as the film builds to a climactic showdown at the Hershey Groom Expo. Groomed is loaded with cute and colorful puppers but what really sets the film apart is the pathos Stern creates for her subjects. Well Groomed is a welcome respite in a field of heavy docs.

I should note the screening I attended was dog-friendly, and boy were those dogs friendly! There was some barking, sure, but it all served to enhance the experience.

Meeting Gorbachev source: The Orchard

The latest from Werner Herzog and regular collaborator André Singer takes a look at the political career of one seldom discussed in the current milieu, the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s a valuable summary of a uniquely transformative global figure about whom I knew very little aside from jokes from The Simpsons  and SNL. But I was a bit disappointed at how routine it all felt. Though he serves as the interviewer and narrator, Herzog‘s signature wit and pontifications were almost entirely absent from the proceedings. Consequently he’s relegated  to the role of reporter, though the reverence for his subject is certainly apparent.

Central Airport THF source: Luxbox

Karim Aïnouz takes us inside the eponymous building, which has been repurposed as a giant interim shelter for refugees awaiting their fate in Germany. With a loose but chronological structure, the film employs Ibrahim Al Hussein as the audience surrogate. His journey at the airport is ours and through him Central Airport THF does a good job of imparting the shiftless sensation of indeterminate waiting in what might be referred to as an open air prison. It is an experience characterized by persistent ennui, which perhaps doesn’t make for the most engaging film, but it’s valuable nonetheless for illuminating this hidden world.

Over the Rainbow source: Submarine

The feature debut of Jeffrey Peixoto is an admirably restrained look at the adherents of Scientology. The film give its subjects the space to plainly advocate for their beliefs without being intruded upon by those seeking to ridicule them. Over the Rainbow starts off strong, but the lack of interconnectivity between interviewees finds it grasping for a viable through line. There are a few transcendent moments in this film both in interviews and direct cinema, but this was one instance where I felt that the final product would have benefitted from some further structure and context, though this would be an easy pick should it show up on a streaming service.

The Hidden City source: Shellac

Victor Moreno‘s new film was among the most formally daring docs of the fest. A non-narrative light-poem where darkness is the default, the film offers admission into a world most would never have opportunity. Above and below are just words in the nondescript tunnel realm where water comes from all sides and the walls are stars. If you can settle into its groove and accept its aesthetic of abstraction, The Hidden City will be an entrancing watch.

Hail Satan? source: Magnolia Pictures

A new film from Penny Lane is..

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'Star Wars Episode IX' Official Teaser (2019) | Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega - YouTube

Star Wars has been one of the most tumultuous franchises over the last few years. Directors have come and gone and there seems to be no real vision or strategy behind the cinematic universe as things stand today. The live action TV series The Mandalorian, which is about to launch, looks like a much more timid affair in comparison with strong leadership from seasoned filmmakers such as Jon Favreau.

source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Star Wars Episode IX sees the return of J.J. Abrams to the franchise, this seems ironic considering the fact Episode VII – The Force Awakens was heavily criticized for being unoriginal with fans complaining it was somewhat of a remake of Episode IV – A New Hope. Things have changed since Episode VII with Rian Johnson‘s Episode VIII – The Last Jedi being heavily criticized for undermining most of the storylines that were introduced in The Force Awakens and Solo failing to meet box office expectations.

Originally, Episode IX was supposed to be directed by Colin Trevorrow, but he was let go due to creative differences. Considering the complaints about Episode VII being unoriginal it seems odd the first trailer for Episode IX immediately shows Lando Calrissian and Emperor Palpatine returning to the franchise. It will be interesting to see whether Episode IX will stick the landing.

Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’oand many others. It will be released on December 19th, 2019 in the U.K. and December 20th in the U.S. For international release dates click here.

Are you excited about the return of Lando Calrissan and Emperor Palpatine? Let us know in the comments!

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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I never thought of myself as a feminist. Sure, I owned a white T-shirt with the word FEMINIST in black bold letters that I had bought from Topshop for some stupid amount of money, but in general I rejected being called a feminist. Not sure why, because I most definitely wanted equality and not to be defined, or especially denied some privileges or opportunities because of my gender. Perhaps I just wanted to blend in, live my life in relative peace and quietness. The word feminist felt a bit dirty, a bit too extreme for a simple small-town girl like myself.

And then, about a month ago, something clicked. A small, little film was about to come out. You might have heard of it, Captain Marvel? Ring any bells? It’s Marvel’s first attempt at a female superhero in a standalone film and while it’s a bit of a mixed bag, it’s a hugely personal film for me. Not because of the story or even the characters, but because of everything that happened before the film came out and eventually those two hours spent in the cinema with Carol Danvers.

More Than Just A Film

Brie Larson plays the titular role and she has always been very vocal, especially online, about gender equality and human rights. Very early on during the film’s press tour, she called for more female journalists to cover the film, going to press junkets and reviewing the film. And oh boy, the men did not like this at all. AT ALL. For many of us female film journalists, it felt like maybe this was finally our time. Finally someone sees us, knows we’re there and we’re eager, hungry, but also sees that we’re never given the same opportunities. Unfortunately, many people, especially men, read this as a hostile call to arms. They interpreted Larson’s comments as them not being welcome at said junkets and that their opinions and reviews wouldn’t matter.

Captain Marvel (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

As a female film journalist, I have to say it has been hard. It’s a tough industry with a lot of competition and not a lot of cash flowing. The industry sometimes feels like a secret club that you try so hard to be a part of, but you’re never allowed ‘in’, there are still secret meetings, secret clubhouses that you’re just never invited to. There’s a lot of rejection and a lot of late nights. I work full time during the day and then use all my free time to write as much as I can. At times I’m angry at myself for not doing more, not learning and developing more. At the few press screenings I’ve gone to, the audience is roughly 80% male. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not against men in any way and I have met some amazing dudes through film journalism, incredibly talented and opinionated men whose writing is inspired and I could learn a thing or two from. I’m grateful for these friends and value their opinions, but I yearn to meet women like myself. To feel companionship and to navigate these waters together with.

I have also been looked up and down at, measured or just ignored. One guy once, despite my press pass hanging from my neck quite obviously, pointed me to the student queue when I joined him in queuing for a film at a festival. I politely corrected him that I was indeed in the right queue and he rolled his eyes at me and scoffed as if he couldn’t quite believe where his beloved industry was headed nowadays. Who let the young women in the house?! I reckon I could have learned a lot from that guy if he wasn’t so outraged about my existence and place in the same queue.

Captain Marvel (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

So when the Captain Marvel reviews started appearing online, many of them still by men, I was enraged. I was surprised how angry I was, to the point I was scaring myself a little. Where did the mild-mannered girl go and who is this feminist warrior instead? Many of the reviews were middling, 3-star reviews, with a couple of great 4-star reviews sprinkled in. And I was disappointed that the film didn’t seem to be the feminist victory I wanted it to be. And then it dawned on me.

All Rise

I did not need Captain Marvel to be a good film. I didn’t need it to discuss gender, it didn’t need to have a particularly feminist storyline. It just needed to exist right now. Alongside Wonder Woman, we needed another female superhero, battling evil on her own on the silver screen. I am happy to wait for a truly great female-fronted superhero film, but for the moment I’m just happy these ones exist, making way for new ones, better ones.

For years and for nearly 20 films in MCU’s case, women have been forced to identify with male characters. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s possible, it’s enjoyable and I personally love a good story about masculinity, it fascinates me. But isn’t it about time we allow women to see themselves, their bodies, on screen as we see them in real life; impossibly strong and capable of almost anything? Men will be able to see themselves in Carol Danvers just as we have been seeing ourselves in Captain Kirk, Indiana Jones or Tony Stark.

I also didn’t want to read any reviews by men, at least for the moment, in the first week or so. Not because male critics didn’t have anything to bring to the conversation or their opinion didn’t matter. Of course, it matters, but this is a different game. Women are bound by history to have a completely different experience watching the film. We have been denied so much, historically speaking but also just within the silver screen and even just in the MCU. We are experiencing something men have been experiencing for years, for the first time, thus the experience will be fundamentally different, informing our critique in a different way.

This doesn’t mean Captain Marvel is a good film, our female perspective doesn’t correct the film’s flaws, but I would have rather read a scathing Captain Marvel review from a woman than a praising review from a man, because, and I apologise for the extra cheesiness here, I needed to have hope that one day, I could review a superhero film of this scale, preferably with a woman as the lead. I needed those opportunities to materialise for someone else so they could become a reality for me one day.

Captain Marvel (2019) – source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In a study conducted in 2018 by the USC Anneberg, three scholars analysed that 77,8% of reviews of the top 100 films in 2017 were written by white men and only 22,2% by women. It gets worse. Only 18% of the critics were what they call underrepresented, while an overwhelming 82% were white. While there isn’t a more recent study, I doubt things are much better in 2019. What does film criticism mean? Why do we read reviews? Isn’t it, in a way, to dictate taste? Or at the very least, highlight great art or offer some insight into why something doesn’t work. While there are several examples of films that were almost panned by critics (looking at you Michael Bay) but the audiences loved, film criticism matters and we critics should advocate for films and bring tasteful and insightful criticism to the table. Isn’t it time for the 77,8% of critics to let us sit at the adult table finally?

All The Ladies, Put Your Hands Up

I’m still learning to speak louder, to demand to be heard, but Captain Marvel definitely played a part in making me embrace my gender and feminism in general. My feminism might only reach as far as film criticism and representation on screen, but I’m only getting started, give me time. Without Captain Marvel, I would have never specifically sought out reviews by fellow female writers and there are some great reviews that highlight our collective experience watching the film while also offer some great critique on the film. Seek them out, support them, they’re worth your time.

This is my call to arms. All you ladies at home, at your desks and at your university lectures. When you get home tonight, write. Record. Film. Do what you got to do and do it to the best of your ability. Release it onto to the world, pitch your heart out. There will be rejection, a lot of rejection, but there will also be someone who will look at your work and be moved beyond words and they will say yes. They will help you, they will guide you and there will be a whole community to support you. We’re all in this together, we can’t do this alone. So let’s get down to business and make our voices heard.

We’re here to stay.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Can anyone else believe we are now four episodes away from the finale? That’s right, on May 15th, season 3 of Riverdale will conclude, and with so many balls in the air, it is impossible to predict where they will all land. One thing is for certain, not everything is as it seems, and games are meant to be finished.

The El Royale Gym

Unfortunately, “Jawbreaker” brought back the feeling that the writers have no idea what to do with Archie Andrews (K J Apa), or Veronica (Camila Mendes) for that matter. There has not been much advancement for them this season, and while some may disagree, both characters seem to be falling on tired storylines warped to look new and advancing. Archie continues to fall back on the fighting from earlier this season and Veronica on her family’s ability to run business behind the scenes. My only hope, with just four episodes left in the season, is that this mundanity proves to be a trap, one that will rip us forward in a shocking turn of events. For now, that hope remains just that – hope.

Tonight, the El Royale Gym Hiram (Marc Consuelos) gifted to Archie tries to build itself up, offering free classes to those who sign up and a challenge to Elio’s (Julian Haig) gym and their fighters. Archie wants a rematch against Randy Ronson (Darcy Hinds), fighting in memory of Baby Teeth. Though as Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and FP (Skeet Ulrich) chase down tainted drugs around town, Elio has found a use for them amongst his fighters. With a warning from Mad Dog (Eli Goree) that the stuff Elio is giving his boxers makes them fight with uncontrollable rage, Archie pushes forward as he always does, ready to live up to his challenge and to become a part of the gym.

source: The CW

There is some intensity and concern the valiant Red Paladin will fall, succumbing to the fighter boosted with tainted drugs, yet Archie reigns true – as do his feelings for Veronica (which slowly begin to bubble to the surface). Victory, though, I am sure will be short-lived, as Elio doesn’t like to be crossed and does not like to be shown up. Archie may have won the battle, but it feels as though a war is one the horizon. Oh, and there is the question of whether he killed a man… again. After the final knockout, Randy lays on the ground unconscious, viewers unsure if Archie has give a final blow or the drugs have found their first victim.

A Family Business

If Jughead thinks keeping the truth about his mother a secret from his father is the best route, he is in for a rude awakening. The devestation his father is sure to experience when he does discover Jughead knew the identity of the kingpin they have been chasing the whole time, it will not just break him that his wife is the drug lord, but that Jughead lied to him. I don’t think it will be too long before he finds out, especially not with the events of the next episode played out like a real life game to save Jellybean.

At the conclusion of “The Raid”, FP discovered a ritualistic murder set in a clearing in the woods – a ritualistic setting mirroring the one Jughead had found earlier in the season. Putting all that has transpired between them behind, FP enlists his son’s help. Though what starts as a murder investigation quickly turns into a more immediate search for the source of tainted drugs making their way through town – drugs Jug does not seem convinced came from his mother.

source: The CW

As they weave through broken information and confusion, staking out individuals and rounding up the infected, they come to the understanding that it is not necessarily an individual but a king – a Gargoyle King. As they discover, YOU are not done with the Gargoyle King, the King is done with YOU. Hard as they try to beat the game, there is still one challenge left for the Hellcaster, one that has unknown ramifications on the princess – Jellybean.

The Illusion of Healing and Letting Go

Grief and coping have been a strong highlight with season 3 of Riverdale – especially within the Cooper family. Last season, it was discovered that Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Munro), Betty’s father, was the true Black Hood, his murderous rampage on the town finally ended, leaving his family to pick up the pieces of their broken family – a family whose fractures predated this reveal. While Betty has pushed forward, trying to return to some normalcy of life, her mother (Mädchen Amick) has given herself to The Farm completely – without question. What started off as herbs and meditation quickly escalated to giving away all possessions, selling the family home, and now possibly an engagement with the cult’s leader Edgar (Chad Michael Murray). All the while, Betty fought to bring her mother back, to reunite what was left of her family and keep the talons of those who prey on the weak as far away as possible. As she found out in “Jawbreaker”, though, sometimes the best thing you can do is let go.

After the kidnapping of her mother and forcing her to remember her past, to embrace it, Betty found that the only thing she could do was to give up control, allowing her mother to return to The Farm. It is heartbreaking to watch Betty return her mother, knowing Betty is right, yet understanding we can not dictate how someone grieves, copes and heals. This is what her mother needs, no matter how wrong it is. Thankfully, though, Betty has found a way to give her mother what she needs, as well as a means to get the intel SHE so desperately wants. With a new ally and a woman on the inside, time will only tell how long this freedom will be extended. Betty is not going down without a fight.

source: The CW Let the Countdown begin…

With only four episodes left, there is an immense amount of material for the series to conclude, or leave us obsessed with, before the finale. I do not think season three will go out with a whimper, though the implications of all that is to come may be delivered in an unexpected punch. As of right now, all bets are off.

Riverdale returns to The CW on April 24, 2019.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Someone Great is best pitched as Bridesmaids meets 500 Days of Summer — it’s a female led comedy with heartbreak, self-worth and self-realization at its core. The film is both raunchy and emotional, and is backed by an outstanding cast in Gina Rodriguez (Jane The Virgin), Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect, Hairspray), and Dewanda Wise (She’s Gotta Have It).

What’s perhaps most interesting about Someone Great, though, is that it’s writer/director Jennifer Robinson’s debut, and with it we’ll find she’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.

The Scoop

The film follows music journalist Jen Young the day after she’s been broken up with by romantic partner of nine years, Nate (played by Lakeith Stanfield of Sorry To Bother You). In grieving, Jen connects with two of her longtime best friends, Blair and Erin (played by Snow and Wise, respectively), for one last night out in the town before she endeavors off to San Francisco to start her new career. With a pop-up music festival taking place that night, the trio scurries for tickets, drugs, and overall contentment over the course of a shenanigan-filled day.

Behind The Casting

It may go without saying, but the cast behind this film is phenomenal. Gina Rodriguez absolutely adopts the role of Jen Young and is the captivating force behind Someone Great, but there is charisma spewing off nearly every performer as well. It was hard to not be drawn into the dilemmas of these characters’ lives. Admittedly, there are some less-than-spectacular performances, particularly by the male supporting characters in the film, but I feel that that’s more to do with what they were given and not so much a testament to their acting abilities, as Stanfield has had much stronger performances.

source: Netflix

The acting may be worth applauding, but what I don’t believe will get enough credit in this film is the creative vision. There was some absolutely stunning camera work with overhead shots and color implementations that ranged from fluorescent pastels to a variety of street light hues. Cinematographer Autumn Eakin and backing team of creatives truly put the time and care into the production of this film, and it shows. I believe the colors and angles were reminiscent of 500 Days of Summer in that plenty of the shots were able to subconsciously emphasize emotions and add power to scenes.

With that, there is also a handful of well-captured long takes. There’s a particularly enjoyable scene early in the film when Jen is pouring her sorrows out to a stranger. The shot is captivating, and the clip’s dark humor is sure to draw out some laughs, and as the film progresses, it continually offers lengthy scenes and montages that are effectively implemented.

Perfectly Okay

I’ve mentioned the way Someone Great is reminiscent of other films, and although it does a lot right, it doesn’t quite leave the same mark as other films in its genre. It’s an enjoyable comedy with emotional sways, but the moments never feel too emotionally powerful which leads this film to be. . .perfectly adequate.

There is plenty of commendable realism in this film with the way it expresses thought processes and the spectrum of emotions that come after a break up, but the film also uses plenty that feels artificial and trope-y. By that, Someone Great uses scenes that were simply used for the laughs or to move the story forward without adding depth. Even with elements tied to the narrative that should be powerful, there’s a minor disconnect with the audience. With Jen and Nate’s relationship, for example, it is hardly explored justly, and the end result is an unfelt takeaway.

source: Netflix

The film was more concerned with self-realization and the power of friendship, and in that it’s at least more successful, yet still there are hardly any barriers to get over or confrontations that add dramatic value. Because the conflicts are fluffed, the resolutions feel easy, and the film becomes predictable in its storytelling. For all the good that glues this film together, it suffers from a subpar script.

Someone Great: Conclusion

Although it’s not exactly faultless, Someone Great is visually stunning and adequately captures a certain relatability while exploring themes of lost love and the power of friendship. The film is held together by an exceptional cast, as Gina Rodriguez shines, and beautifully implements art direction to add to its story. Jennifer Robinson’s directorial debut is an enjoyably adult post-break-up comedy, and I’m excited to see what her future holds.

What did you think about Someone Great? What’s your favorite rom com? Let us know! 

Someone Great is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.

Someone Great | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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