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: The Vanishing of Sidney Hall

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I went into this film, much how I often do with indie dramas, without much information about the movie itself other than knowing that Elle Fanning was in the cast (and I’ll watch any movie she’s cast in). When I read the plot summary of the film stating that it was about a former writer who after his ascent to stardom, decides to throw a disappearing act ala J.D. Salinger and travels across America’s libraries and bookstores so that he can burn his Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel, Suburban Tragedy, I decided to give this movie a go instead of my default horror film selection.

The film is directed by former frontman of the rock band Stellastarr, Shawn Christensen, who also helped co-write the script with Jason Dolan. Christensen proved to be a competent storyteller and director a couple of years ago when he won an Academy Award for the short film, Curfew in 2012.

We’re first introduced to the precocious Sidney Hall (Logan Lerman) whilst he’s reading an essay for his English class where he describes a girl he used to fantasize about and masturbate to. Some of the students giggle, while others are appalled, namely the English teacher who wants to report him to the principal. Honestly, I had to suspend belief there for a moment, cause I can’t see anyone in my high school getting away with reading an essay about masturbation in class (the teacher never would’ve allowed a student to read it all the way through without truncating it before it went into NSFW realm). However, I can see why the director opened with that scene, we, the audience are supposed to believe that Sidney Hall isn’t your typical teenager. He’s got talent and talented people can get away with being blunt as long they’re being creative about it.

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Sidney isn’t particularly likable at first, but Christensen provides a “save the cat!” scene, where Sidney agrees to help jock and bully Brett Newport (Blake Jenner) with a favor if Brett in return promises to no longer bully the nerdy outcast at their school. Suddenly, we’re thought to believe that maybe Sidney isn’t such a jerk after all, but merely a misunderstood genius. Which is why we won’t bat an eye when he cheats on his wife (Elle Fanning) later on in life, because after all he can’t be too awful if he did that one act of kindness so many years ago!

The story is told in three parts, teenage Sidney, twenty-something successful Sidney, and thirty-year-old Sidney. Throughout the film we get scenes from all those three-time frames as we try to piece together exactly what happened that inspired Sidney’s debut novel, and also wish to know what caused him to become a hobo-looking book-burning nomad later on in life.

After viewing the film, I noticed that the reviews for it weren’t so positive. However, I loved the movie (maybe it’s because it’s about a writer who strikes it big but then has a major fall from grace moment, coincidentally that’s what made love Words too). Adult Sidney sees himself being stalked by “The Seeker,” (Kyle Chandler) which we don’t exactly know why he’s being pursued by him (if he the authorities or someone he wronged?). I thought the reveal of Chandler’s character was rather clever.

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I found the film to be compelling, emotional, and at times too raw and visceral but you can’t help but keep on watching and hoping that your hero will find some peace.

I recommend this to anyone who loves their indie movies to amp the tragedy and downplay cliché happy endings because if you’re looking for one you won’t find one here.

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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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My Top 3 Love Movies

Maybe it’s because I spent so many Valentine’s Days alone (even when dating someone, somehow they’d be unavailable/away, or if we celebrated it never felt like a true celebration but more something that they dreaded), so perhaps my choice of love stories probably won’t be your conventional sort. Love for me has always been complicated, more times hurtful and tragic than happy, so maybe I find unconventional love stories a bit more relatable than your run of the mill rom-com. These are my top three movies that feature a love story in them, let me know what you think of my selections and what movies would you choose?

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Untamed Heart

This ’90s romantic drama stars Marisa Tomei as Caroline, a waitress in Minneapolis who when walking home one night gets accosted by a few thugs who want to rape her. Her uber shy co-worker Andy (played by a dreamy Christian Slater) saves her, and soon the two become a couple. The love between the two of them help them become better people, but soon their little blissful world is shattered when Caroline learns that Andy has had a defective heart since birth and will die unless he gets a transplant. This was the first movie that made me legit ugly sob, and I’m not one who is easily moved to tears by cinema. It’s a wonderful, unpretentious love story, but get ready to stock up on tissues, you’re going to need it.

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The Crow

I know, I know what you’re all thinking, BUT IT’S NOT A LOVE STORY! WE BARELY GET TO SEE THE COUPLE TOGETHER! Yes, I know, but at the heart of it, The Crow IS a love story. As a deceased rocker, Eric Draven (played by the iconic Brandon Lee aka every goth girl’s wet dream) returns from the dead a year later after a bunch of druggie-thugs rape and kill his fiancee Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) to avenge what was done to her and himself (they killed him first). So yes, much of the movie is about revenge, but there are many moments where we get to see Eric’s relationship with Shelly and how the two of them were planning to get married the following night (Halloween) but their plans got tragically nixed the night before (Devil’s Night). I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for Gothic love, and with lines like, “Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever,” ending the movie to Jane Siberry’s It Can’t Rain All The Time, well, it’s just ALL THE FEELS.

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Romeo+Juliet

We all know the tale of Shakespeare’s famed “star-crossed lovers,” but no one had ever told it quite as boldly quite like Baz Luhrmann did in 1996. It was essentially Shakespeare for the MTV Generation, starring teen favorite Claire Danes (at the time from My So-Called Life fame) as Juliet, and budding rising star Leonardo DiCaprio as the brooding Romeo. The movie managed to keep Shakespeare’s language intact but was set in a modern-day Verona Beach (a carbon copy of Venice Beach). The plot is always the same, two teens from two feuding families meet at a party and fall madly in love. Due to their very young age and fearing their parents’ wrath, the two make some very rash decisions that will ultimately lead to their tragic demise. This movie is flashy, theatrical, with a swoon-worthy couple that we want to root for, all encased by the best music the ’90s could offer. I’m pretty sure even the Bard himself would find this movie entertaining.

Happy Valentine’s, peeps!

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3 Symbols You Missed While Watching Hereditary

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After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.

*SPOILERS ALERT* if you have not seen the movie yet, DO NOT read further!

Hereditary is Ari Aster’s first feature film, hailed as the “scariest horror movie of the year”. The film is packed with unsettling visuals and a creepy atmosphere. The movie sees a superb Toni Collette as the troubled Annie, who has to deal with the recent passing of her mother. But as viewers will soon see, it isn’t that death that is the catalyst moment of the movie, but rather a second more dramatic death that occurs shortly, that of daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro). This second death is the one that begins to tear the family apart at the seams, pitting Annie against her son Peter (Alex Wolff), and husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne).

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The movie is riddled with symbols and foreshadowing galore. During a class discussion about the flaws of Greek mythology Heracles, a student states: “The characters are all just pawns in this horrible hopelessness.” Which heavily foreshadows how every single character in this movie are simply just pawns of King Paimon, and that they will all be met with tragic deaths.

Here are THREE SYMBOLS that you may have missed whilst watching the movie:

001. Chocolate – Back in the early 1600’s, chocolate was referred to as the Devil’s elixir, hence where the name for the famous chocolate on chocolate cake comes from, Devil’s Food Cake. This symbol is used from the very beginning in the movie, suggesting that Charlie may already have been possessed by King Paimon (one of Hell’s kings) or just a foreshadowing that she will be possessed.

002. The Red Doorknob – Charlie’s room has a red doorknob, similar to the one shown in The Sixth Sense, symbolizing the presence of spirits or possible spirit possessions.

003. King Paimon’s Symbol – This is present from the very beginning of the movie, first seen as a pendant that Annie’s mother is wearing whilst in the casket at the funeral. Another instance where we see this symbol is on the pole that decapitates Charlie the night of the accident, as well as in Joan’s home after she has placed a curse on Annie’s family, and also in blood on the roof of the attic where Annie’s mother’s body has been placed. Lastly, at the very end, when the audience finally sees the idol representation of King Paimon, wearing that same symbol.

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Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Let me know below!

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Goodbye, Genius – A Farewell to George A. Romero

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Today, the horror genre lost one of the most influential people in its world, director George A. Romero, best known for being the “godfather” of zombies. Unlike any other horror movies in the genre, he often used his zombie movies to confront major political themes such as racism in Night of the Living Dead and capitalism in Dawn of the Dead. In his movies the zombies weren’t always perceived as the villains, while he’d often prefer to depict humans as such instead. You can see his affection towards the zombies in this quote, “My zombies will never take over the world because I need the humans. The humans are the ones I dislike the most, and they’re where the trouble lies.” Or when he stated, “I sympathize with the zombies and I’m not even sure they are villains. To me they are this earth-changing thing. God or the devil changed the rules, and the dead people aren’t staying dead.”

He not only heavily influenced the zombie genre, but even the horror anthology stories in works like Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside, which helped open the doors for shows like Tales from the Crypt and Freddy’s Nightmares.

I remember watching his movies and shows when I was six years old. Even at that young age I knew that there was something different about his movies than the other horror movies that I was watching at the time. His movies had intellect and a message. His movies made us see that the true evil in the world wasn’t coming from elsewhere, but rather from ourselves. We are the monsters. And as Romero himself said, “I always thought of the zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next.” A statement that is very telling for our times, and one that will probably always ring true.

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Goodbye, Mr. Romero, your zombies and your legacy will never die.

By: Azzurra Nox