Film Review: The Hunt

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The Hunt was touted as being one of the “most controversial movies of all time.” So much so, that they halted the release of it, and even the President tweeted about it stating that it “was made in order to inflame and cause chaos.” Truth is, this movie isn’t smart enough to cause chaos or inflame anyone.

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The movie has a lazy script at best. While The Purge franchise (especially the first movie) was a smart social commentary about the rich and poor, this movie merely seems to make fun of both the “elites” and the “deplorables.”

A movie that’s supposed to poke at both sides of the political divide doesn’t really garner any discomfort, questioning, or basically any immediate reaction or gut emotion. The reason for this is because every character in the movie is a caricature of what we think a liberal or conservative is. These characters never become real people to us within the realm of the movie, and thus we can’t take them seriously nor care about their survival. When you’ve got “elite” characters screaming, “Climate change is real!” to a “deplorable,” before trying to off them, you can’t help but think that they’re both loonies.

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The controversy and hype over this movie was way more than what the movie ever merited, to be honest. You’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’re not on either side because none of those characters will resonate with real people. And none of us will care what happens to any of them. The world would be better off with all those horrible caricatures gone, and Blum House should focus on making smarter films with some real horror. There’s never a moment in the movie where you feel the ever-growing sense of dread, and even in a splatter torture film, you wish to be terrified or at least feel some kind of tension or suspense. But there’s none of that. There’s nothing. The Hut was all smoke and no roast. You’re better off watching The Purge.

The Hunt

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Travel Post – New York (Part 2)

A Souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest

A souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest 

The first day in McKee’s genre fest was dedicated to horror. Ask me five years ago if I’d be writing my own tales about the darker side of life and I would have told you you’re mad. Nowadays I see the beauty in plumbing the dank, dreary depths of the human condition. Fear is a powerful force. It tears off the mask we wear for social acceptance and sinks its claws right into our subconscious. Horror is the one genre that has the potential to reveal our true selves: the good, the bad and the repulsive. It’s also a powerful medium for society’s response to polarizing topics like war, political corruption, and racism. Take the film Get Out for instance. Try to reframe that story as a simple family drama and see if it makes the same impact. Mr. McKee’s presentation had a lineup of film clips that demonstrated superb examples of spooky cinematography tricks, scare tactics and underlying themes in horror: eternal damnation, the monster within, and not so surprisingly, sex.

Since sex is such an anxiety-inducing topic for many Americans, it makes sense that this would be a core element in most U.S. horror films. And it was soon after Mr. McKee made this point that I observed a relevant example of this from the audience around me; a distinct difference in how horror affects us depending on our gender. Now I must take a small detour down a dark and thorny path. The especially squeamish may want to skip the next paragraph.

Out of all the horrific imagery of bizarre gore and gratuitous violence seen that day, do you know what elicited an audible groan from the men in the audience? The scene that made them most uncomfortable? A small, infamous snippet from the 1978 film, I Spit On Your Grave. Without getting too graphic, it involves a woman murdering a man out of revenge by cutting off his “ahem” and locking him in the bathroom to bleed out in a bathtub. Absolutely vile and cringe-worthy? Of course. But speaking from a female-identifying perspective, where the sexual violation and abuse of women is sadly a historical norm, this kind of sexual violence against a human body seems almost run-of-the-mill.

The fact that it happened to a man, however, is not.

It was a jarring example of how removed from empathy a majority of men are when considering the trauma many women live through every day. I don’t necessarily fault men for this, but consider how many countless films depict the sexual violation of women. How often do you see men squirming in their seats or averting their eyes at such a scene? It’s a dark, twisted perpetuation of human behavior that the patriarchal society shrugs at because, well, that’s just how it’s always been. The terrible truth is that most women will suffer some form(s) of physical abuse in their life because of their sex, especially in minority and trans communities. I’m in no way devaluing the experiences of male-identifying individuals who have suffered similar abuse. I only aim to point out an observation that a strong majority of the male population don’t seem quite as affected by the representation of violence against a person’s sex…until it’s their own. As gender fluidity increases in society, it is my hope that we’ll empathize beyond our own corporal boundaries and realize that harm to any“body” is intolerable.

I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

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Autumn in New York

The following seminars were just as eye-opening. Every day Mr. McKee broke down a film scene by scene, pointing out all the key genre elements that made it a successful story. I hadn’t seen Bridges of Madison County before this seminar and let me tell you, I cried like I had just seen a parade of dead puppies. It was very embarrassing to be sobbing and sopping snot from my nose in front of fellow colleagues. Good stories are supposed to move us, whether it’s wetting our seat in fear or doubling over in a fit of silent laughter…you know the kind where your face is frozen in an ugly-cry expression, your nostrils flare and you can’t breathe. A good story gives us a memorable experience and binds us together because of it.

For any budding writers out there, I can say whole-heartedly that Mr. McKee’s seminars are worth every penny. (No, I’m not being paid to write this.) I’ve dedicated most of my free time outside of writing to study great works in film, television, and literature and I like to think I have a pretty solid foundation of what makes a good story tick. I even expose myself to some pretty terrible material to understand why it’s so bad. But Mr. McKee’s complete and thorough understanding of successful story structure made me realize I still had more to learn. And I was most impressed by his genuine love of sharing this knowledge. He engaged us in thought-provoking debates and on every break throughout the day he made himself available for one-on-one questions, conversation and book signings. Nothing about his presentation felt mechanical. I can only imagine how many times he’s given these same lectures and been asked the same questions, yet he approached each day’s lecture with the enthusiasm of a passionate, seasoned professor. I left these seminars invigorated and inspired, eager to bring new energy and a critical eye to my works in progress.

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Veteran’s Day Parade preparations 

On the final morning of my stay, the city was buzzing with more activity than usual. It was Monday, November 11th and the streets around Madison Square Park were clogged with motorcyclists, floats and hundreds of uniformed men and women for the annual Veteran’s Day parade. I found myself surrounded by military faces easily 15+ years younger than me. Kids, really; each one with an air of discipline beyond their years. I had to leave before the parade kicked off but the celebration of honor and gratitude for all these service members lifted my spirits for the trip back home. I’m glad I gave myself permission to enjoy this little sidetrack. Sometimes being a responsible adult means making time for that little kid inside you that tugs your sleeve, points to your heart’s desires and says, “Let’s do that!”

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Veteran’s Day Parade

By: Erica Ruhe

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5 Horror Movies I’m Looking Forward to in 2020

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CANDYMAN

A “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 horror film ‘Candyman’ that returns to the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the legend began. It’s gonna be produced by Jordan Peele and Tony Todd is reprising the titular role of Candyman, so I have high hopes for this one.

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MORBIUS

Biochemist Michael Morbius tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease, but he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. Played by true-life Jared Leto (the man doesn’t age!).

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FRIDAY THE 13th

LeBron James of all people is actually going to be producing this remake. He claims to have always been a fan of the franchise, so I hope that he does a better job than the previous remake that was made a couple of years ago.

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FEAR STREET TRILOGY

A murder mystery shakes up the town of Shadyside, Ohio. Feature adaptation of R.L. Stine’s book series. As a huge fan of R.L. Stine and the Fear Street series, I am incredibly thrilled about this and can’t wait to see what they cook up since there are so many books in the series!

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SAW

A re-imagining of the franchise produced this time by Chris Rock. He says he’s a huge fan, again, I hope him being a fan means that he will do the franchise justice. But I really am looking forward to seeing Samuel L. Jackson in this project too.

What horror movies are you looking forward to? How do you feel about some of the remakes?

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Throwback Thursday: Welcome To The Dollhouse

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I first watched this movie back when I was sixteen. Living in Italy, this movie never made it to the theatres there, so I obviously found it at my local video rental. Welcome To The Dollhouse chronicles the life of an awkward seventh grader, Dawn Weiner, who is trying to navigate puberty while also having to deal with uncalled for bullying at school and emotional neglect at home. This is the movie that catapulted Heather Matarazzo into stardom, and with good reason. Her performance in the film is so honest, raw, and unflinchingly realistic that you can’t help but cringe in empathy for her character.

Welcome To The Dollhouse

Dawn is such a social pariah that even the so-called nerdy types at school don’t want to associate with her. Instead, she has to put up with goth girl Lolita’s bullying and bad-boy Brandon’s threats to rape her. Even her teachers are awful to her, as she’s given detention when she speaks up about Brandon copying her test. When she retakes the test during detention and receives a low grade, she tries to plead with the teacher for a retest. Said teacher finds her behavior revolting enough that she has her write an essay about dignity and grade-grubbing to read in front of the class.

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At home, Dawn is mostly neglected by her parents who only have eyes for her younger sister Missy (who is pretty and loves to parade around the house in a pink tutu). Dawn pours all of her frustrations towards her younger sister, but Missy always has the upper hand as her parents (especially her mother) are usually manipulated by the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is their youngest daughter. Things escalate, when one night armed with a hammer she stands over the sleeping figure of Miss with the intent to hit her, and then rethinks her choice and solemnly whispers, “You’re so lucky, you have it so easy.”

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Dawn sees a little light of hope when she befriends Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), a beautiful high schooler with dreams of becoming a rockstar. Steve has agreed to be in her brother Mark’s band in return of getting tutored in Computer Science. It doesn’t take long for Dawn to fall madly in love with Steve, whom in return only acts friendly towards Dawn cause he’s such a narcissist that he basks in her adoration.

The reason why this movie resonates with so many people, especially girls, is that it unabashedly shines a light on an underdog that is constantly taunted, but she isn’t such a good person herself (she ends up gravely insulting her one and only true friend Ralphie and is always bullying Missy). But Heather Matarazzo played Dawn with so much pathos that we can’t help but still side with her even when she’s being downright mean.

For having had one viewing of the movie as a teen, I surprisingly remembered a lot about it. And no matter how many characters kept telling Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn how “ugly” she was, there was something about the actress that compelled me to keep on watching her. She had a quiet charisma to her, and her portrayal of an awkward teen was flawless. I don’t know how many child stars could’ve pulled off such an emotional portrayal.

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I recall loving the movie for being a dark comedy, and even upon viewing now, the film is very funny but at the same time very dark. Things never did get better for our poor Dawn. She never gains the insight and self-awareness to be less socially awkward, nor does she get the boy. In fact, the ending is so bleak that you wonder what was the point of the journey. This isn’t the sort of movie that assures you that bullying will stop once you get out of high school nor that Dawn will shed her caterpillar skin to morph into a beautiful butterfly. No, the movie suggests that there are clear social standings in life, and often, where you stand as a teen is where you’ll find yourself at as in an adult. A bleak outlook indeed.

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Top 5 Mental Health Awareness Movies

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Since 1949, May has become synonymous with Mental Health Awareness Month. This topic is very dear to me as several friends, family members, and exes have struggled with mental health. And yes, at certain times in my life, even I have struggled with it to some extent. For many years there’s been so much stigma attributed to mental health and has led to many people who have struggled with it to not speak up, making them feel alone.

Throughout the years it has become much more common for movies to highlight mental health conditions. Since mental illness affects millions of Americans, it’s a very timely and relatable topic. Often though, these movies depict mental illness in a way that’s inaccurate or further propels the stigmatization of this condition.

But sometimes some movies get it right and are able to realistically depict mental illness in all its different forms. These 5 movies are my top picks for how accurate the characteristics of the mental illness depicted was as well as not creating stigma towards the condition.

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Welcome To Me (2015)

A mentally unbalanced lottery winner, Alice (Kristen Wiig) goes off her medication for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), buys a talk show and uses it as a platform to broadcast her bizarre opinions on a wide variety of topics. Despite this film being a dramatic comedy, Alice shows a plethora of BPD traits, which include mood swings and unstable relationships. As her behavior slowly pushes away the people closest to her, Alice begins to take her condition far more seriously and struggled to keep her loved ones in her life. This movie brilliantly falsifies the myth that a person with BPD is selfish.

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The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Following the many years of estrangement, twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) have an unexpected reunion after both have attempted suicide. The situation forces them to confront how their lives became so broken. For Maggie, it means examining why she’s so unhappy in a marriage to a loving husband. For Milo, it means meeting with his first love to see if their romance can reignite. Eventually, they learn that living truthfully and accepting each other is the only way to move forward. This film accurately expresses what it’s like to go through a depression.

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange. This film expertly represents the various ranges of emotion that often occur when living with bipolar disorder.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Socially awkward teen Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a wallflower, always watching life from the sidelines until two charismatic students become his mentors. Free-spirited Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) help Charlie discover the joys of friendship, first love, music, and more, while a teacher sparks Charlie’s dreams of becoming a writer. However, as his new friends prepare to leave for college, Charlie’s inner sadness threatens to shatter his newfound confidence. This movie genuinely depicts all the highs and lows of living with a mental illness.

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A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A human drama inspired by events in the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., and in part based on the biography “A Beautiful Mind,” by Sylvia Nasar. From the heights of notoriety to the depths of depravity, John Forbes Nash Jr. experienced it all. A mathematical genius, he made an astonishing discovery early in his career and stood on the brink of international acclaim. But the handsome and arrogant Nash soon found himself on a painful and harrowing journey of self-discovery.

I truly hope that Hollywood continues to make movies about mental illness, especially when the condition is depicted in a realistic and empathetic way. Which movies would you add to the list?

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Film Review: Ovunque Proteggimi (Wherever You Are)

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I had been planning on attending the Santa Barbara Film Festival, then work got busy and I only knew about which films were going to be screening at times the same day that they were screening so trying to take time off at the last minute was kind of difficult. However, out of the films that I was proposed to watch, I was curious about Bonifacio Angius’ film (maybe I was biased cause he’s a fellow Italian as myself), Ovunque Proteggimi (Wherever You Are for the English public) that was competing at the festival. I contacted the director and he graciously allowed me to stream the film since I couldn’t make the screenings.

I didn’t read the plot summary before plunging headfirst into the film, but I often find that going into a film blindly renders it more enjoyable as I have no expectations. The film is about Alessandro, an aging singer that primarily does gigs at local events with his childhood friend. One night, after a particularly failed gig due to the low audience outcome, his friend tells Alessandro that he’s no longer going to play backup for him and that he too, should think about quitting the local music scene. Depressed, Alessandro decides to hit up a club where he meets a group of young girls who want to buy coke. To show off, he assures them that he can get the money to buy the coke, he simply needs to stop by home first.

Once home, we learn that Alessandro still lives with his mother, and it’s her who he begs for the money. That’s when we learn that the protagonist has probably been doing this for years, abusing drugs and alcohol, and on this hapless night, his mother, fed up, decides to have him taken away to rehab. At rehab, Alessandro meets Francesca, a misfit like himself, whom he feels some affection towards, although he doesn’t readily admit to it at first. When the two of them are released on the same day, on a whim, he decides to accompany her to her house and that’s when Francesca learns that her parents had the child services take her son away.

This is when Alessandro begins to see the injustices that women who don’t follow societal norms befall to. Throughout the movie, we’re told by her parents and the child services that Francesca is a former junkie and “whore,” however, we never witness her using drugs, being promiscuous, nor crazy. The only time we see her lose her composure is when she is told that the child services has taken her son away (so in a way it’s understandable).

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Just like the audience feels sorry for Francesca and her plight, so does Alessandro who decides to help the woman reunite with her son. This journey allows us to understand that Alessandro deep down is a man with a good heart who can rise above his own flaws to do what he thinks is morally right, whether that is viewed right by society.

Throughout the movie, we can’t help but cheer for these two unlucky lost souls who clearly mean nothing to the people closest to them. This film isn’t overly dramatic, but it explores some heavy themes such as mental health stigma, motherhood, and the cost of following your dreams. The two leads Alessandro (played by Alessandro Gazale) and Francesca (played by Francesca Niedda) have quiet chemistry and they play their characters in such a broken, vulnerable manner that they manage to steer clear of any tropes or cliches. These characters feel real and because of that, we’re invested in their story, and we want to see them have a happy ending.

Ovunque Proteggimi is a film that will seize your heart and squeeze it ruthlessly, leaving you brutally breathless. Watch this if you want to experience a film that is full of heart and humanity. Hats off to Bonifacio Angius for directing a film that gives voices to those in society who usually aren’t allowed to have one.

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