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That Time I Wrote a Book! 📚📖

August 4, 2022

I am thrilled to announce that I am now a published author! My very first book TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema is out on October 4th in stores wherever books are sold. This has been a labor of love undertaken in the midst of the pandemic, during my move to Paris, and during the start of getting my masters in film studies. Thank you all for supporting me as a writer and all-around movie nerd for all of these years! I’m extremely honored to be a published author, alongside TCM programmer and podcast host Millie de Chirico, and to bring you all 50 films that we love and cherish. Follow me on Instagram for updates and information. Pre-order your copy today!

The Birth of a Nation and a Slap Heard Around the World

March 29, 2022
Will Smith (R) hits Chris Rock as Rock spoke on stage during the 94th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 27, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

I only meant to watch scenes from The Birth of a Nation for a research project I’m doing, but then I ended up watching (while multi-tasking) all three and half hours. Buckle up, this review is all over the place but mostly rooted in the conversation around Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. 

Everyone wants to be invited to the cookout but don’t want the realeness that comes with it. That is the theme of white America’s fascination, imitation, and deprecation of Black culture. There isn’t often a moment in our history when white America steps back and recognizes that Black people are not a monolith, that we operate differently as individuals and as a culture. We’re expressive, we’re vocal, we’re physical. Compound that with centuries of oppression, personal trauma, an ever-present judgmental gaze, digs at your personal life, and the stress of just living… and all of that makes a slap among two grown men seem like not that big of a deal. The reason there is such a reactionary cultural and classist divide around the Will Smith situation is exactly what watching The Birth of a Nation reminded me. Our worldview has always been through a narrow, white lens that filters Black people (and minorities in general but for the sake of this argument I’ll stick with Black) and our behavior through the confines of whiteness. Now society must reckon with the meaning of that and how to move forward. 

There’s inherited anger, fear, and a sense of betrayal that whiteness expresses when Black people walk into what is considered historically white institutions but do things “our way” (e.g. slapping someone because of disrespect at the Oscars or, in this film’s case, eating chicken in the White House). There has never been a widespread conversation or reflection on how cultures operate, integrate, and make do with scraps in white-dominated America; no reflection on how high-functioning Black people have to be in order to succeed in American society. We’re meant to assimilate, dress acceptably, act the part, and not complain. We’re still being coerced into suppressing parts of our cultural identity and our urges because those urges have been deemed “uncivilized.” From a Black viewpoint, Smith’s slap was a shock but also felt like a fitting bookend to the blackest Oscars in history: Produced by a Black man, kicked-off by Beyoncé, hosted by two Black women, then ending in a Black man winning an award in tears after slapping someone half an hour earlier. 

In retrospect, the 2022 Oscars felt like being at a family cookout or any Black family function, where everyone’s having fun and drinking and laughing until that one cousin or uncle says something that triggers another cousin or uncle and now someone’s ass has to get beaten to defend their honor. It’s both learned and instinctive social behavior, but because Eurocentric thinking dominates our culture, Black people have to pretend otherwise and thus fit the mold that white society has deemed civilized for us. A cabinet of Blacks eating chicken is deemed far worse than the real-life brawls and corruption that’s happened in the White House under white rule over the past few centuries. But the former is unacceptable for D.W. Griffith, Thomas Dixon, and white America, those that wanted to “secure their privileges” in a society that was opening up to progressivism and equity. Griffith’s film presents the belief that whiteness should be the one that dictates how to eat and what to eat and what is refined, what is acceptable, when, where, and how. After all, whiteness is civil and anything else is unacceptable. 

It feels reductive to say that Will shouldn’t haven’t slapped Chris Rock. I even initially kept thinking how embarrassing the whole thing was. But it’s only embarrassing because I was interpreting the situation from a white perspective: How embarrassing that this happened in front of all these white folks. The Birth of a Nation drives home the reality that we exist under the gaze of whiteness and therefore that dictates how we must behave to be seen as dignified and “welcomed.” Griffth shows this multiple times by using white actors in blackface for his main characters. 

Rewatching The Birth of a Nation has been a mindfuck. On one hand, as a passionate devotee to the art of cinema and its history, this over a century-old movie does things that modern movies simply don’t. I wonder if that’s because Griffith’s techniques have just been overlooked/forgotten or because modern filmmakers have avoided watching this film because we don’t have the proper language to dissect its racial components, and rightfully so. Some of these scenes are fucking *rough*, especially the KKK ones. Nevertheless, there are so many sophisticated shots, tender performances, and outstanding details that warrant validity to every single claim about this being a masterpiece. 

The racism throughout the film mostly feels mean-spirited because Griffith obviously thought so little about Black people as talent that he preferred the idea of having his white actors “play Black” by putting on burnt cork instead. (It’s even more of a mindfuck seeing the actual Black extras and how much fun they seemed to be having shooting this movie.) Griffith’s “Blacks” behave poorly as a means of reflecting the already present fear that the privileged, white classes in America had about decimating power and allowing equality. Oddly enough, even though his Black characters are flat and one-dimensional (and grossly subservient), their behavior is dictated and influenced by the white carpetbaggers of the North, the real “villains” of the film. 

This movie is made from a lens that is so nationalistic, so alt-right conservative in its values that it truly doesn’t think “all Black people are bad.” It calls that out in a few of the title cards. There it differentiates that “these” Blacks are different from those of you Blacks out there in the audience watching. Y’all are the “good” Black people, these are the niggers. And how fitting was it that Will Smith had his most “niggerish” moment with *the* comedian who brought the concept of niggers vs. Black people into the modern-day mainstream consciousness. So much so that it acts as a joke in The Office with Michael Scott feeling the need to do the bit using Rock’s “blaccent.” At the time, Rock’s joke was a commentary on how white America see Blackness (and thus how we’ve been conditioned to see ourselves), and Rock was saying what D.W. Griffith reflected to the country in his curation of American history by way of Thomas Dixon. Will Smith closed this aspect of history in one slap. A slap that said don’t forget we’re not stock characters. We’re not either/or. We are people with emotions, triggers, passions, intellect, and desires. We’re not a monolith that has to do things your way. We are not in a box. 

Mental gymnastics over whether violence was acceptable or not or how Rock and Smith should have handled it behind closed doors, etc., have no bearing here, especially since the African American community, in particular, knows that people get slapped for being out of pocket all the time. As D.W. Griffith reminded me while watching this ridiculous ass movie, violence is a part of the foundation of America. It’s in our DNA and African Americans have learned to survive under the threat, and at times promise, of violence, which has caused its own torment in our community affecting how we use violence on ourselves and our loved ones. One slap that was very personal and pointed has sent shockwaves through the fabric of the culture, one that we’ll be grappling with how to handle for some time. 

I’m simply stunned that this one movie is still able to act as a mirror to society and say so much about racial identity under a white gaze and the fears it elicits from the ruling, dominant class. The same fears and overreactions to the slap are the ones that drove the actions of Charlottesville, January 6, and all of the ongoing racial injustices in America. It’s all so stupid and so complicated but fascinating. This movie should not be relevant today. The Birth of a Nation should be an archaic relic of a society that is long forgotten, but it’s not. And, here we are. For better or worse, what a time to be alive.

An Ode to Yoko Ono: An Approximately Infinite Universe

March 10, 2021

Yoko Ono doesn’t get the respect she deserves. Sure, collectively most people are becoming aware of her once deemed as sinister now recognized as enlightening influence on her husband. And of course, it’s a known fact that she contributed to changing the game in the art world during the 1960s. But I don’t think enough people are aware of how musically significant she was—not just the wailing and shrieking— but her lyrical poeticism, her precursor to dark, almost goth-like dancefloor vibes, her intellectual witticisms and interpretations of society, what she was trying to teach the world, and the scars that she revealed.

Yes, the wailing and shrieking are abrasive. It’s super harsh but it’s also just a woman having fun with music and experimenting with vocal sound. Nobody bitched about it when the B-52s did it years later on “Rock Lobster.” Yoko was a classically trained pianist and found herself intertwined with the jazz scene of 1960s New York. She had critical awareness and knowledge of what makes a good song, a solid structure, and memorable melodies. The jazz movement was all about breaking apart notions of what classically trained musicians had been taught and Yoko did that with her music. She’s a conceptual artist first and foremost, and she brought that thinking into her music.

She wasn’t the first by a long shot. Experimental music of the avant-garde had its roots in the early 20th century, developing further by the 1940s with the advancement of technological sound. The art and music scenes of the era continually deconstructed sonics then put them back together again, and Yoko Ono found herself in the scene where the notion of questioning what is music and sound was explored. The influence of which expanded the mind of my soul mate and best friend, John Lennon.

Their first work of art together, the album Two Virgins, is a test of the listener’s patience. It’s not to be heralded as some underrated masterpiece, because it’s not. As lovers of both artists separately and together, I’ve only ever been able to handle a few minutes of it straight through. But Two Virgins is two people falling in love with a head full of booze and god knows what other drugs, turning each other on by playing a theater-like exercise of intimate bonding. The two are reacting to one another, teasing each other’s patience, exploring their own, opening themselves up to one another simply by saying each other’s names a myriad ways into a microphone and making primal guttural noise. It’s the ultimate release and show of intimacy and because of that, it’s kind of beautiful.

John’s musical palette expanded with Yoko. In his solo years, he matured as a songwriter, lyricist, and guitarist. His music in the latter half of the 1970s is undoubtedly more measured but unsteady without his chief songwriting partner Paul McCartney, but away from the direct influence of Paul, Lennon’s music is powerful, dark, and groovy. Supplementing Yoko’s influence instead, his music took on a sensual and raw power. His first two solo albums alone are staples among the greatest of all time. The consistency of his output is rocky when during his split with Ono, though he still crafts some bangers during his ‘blue period.’ Then, Double Fantasy gave birth to this new man honing a sound that was all him (or them), unlike anyone else before or after. And together with Yoko, they once again made an excellent album with some of their best tracks.

Yoko’s music hit its strongest stride in the 1970s. Afterward, it’s debatable if it’s “good” or derivative, though Season of Glass is a beautifully somber and underrated album that I highly recommend more people listen to. Nevertheless, between Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, Fly, and Approximately Infinite Universe, I’d argue that Yoko is among the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Her music is sophisticated in its approach, dark when she intends it, light as a feather when she wants, and above all, she’s funny and always honest and pure. Approximately Infinite Universe made a huge impact in my life in 2020, marking a monumentally hard, existentially frightening time period that was sunset by my 33rd birthday. Yoko helped me through some rough moments by reminding me of my place in the universe and letting me into the hardships she had endured herself in her late 30s.

In the 1970s—a time of war, social conflict, government corruption, and environmental crisis— Yoko Ono was one of the most hated women in the world. According to the press, she broke up The Beatles and was manipulating John by her strange, foreign ways. Who did that witch think she was? Yoko was depressed, suicidal, addicted to heroin, and periodically feeling like she was losing her husband. It was during this period that she wrote and produced her 3rd solo album, Approximately Infinite Universe, a stark departure from the long-winded jam sessions and free jazz vocalizations of her previous recordings into raw, honest musings over adulating jazz-infused melodic pop. Her lyrics resemble transcribed diary pages but only from the mind of Yoko. They twist expectations and are intentionally playful and daft.

In “Looking Over from My Hotel Window” she sings about regret for years of abortions, a series of decisions that along with her age and health issues made it hard to conceive with John during their honeymoon period. The two famously recorded and released Life with Lions after Yoko had been hospitalized following a miscarriage. The depression from the situation is also reflected on in “Death of Samantha,” a chilling song in which Ono grapples with guilt, sadness, and an attempt to keep up good spirits.

When I’m with people, I thank god
I can talk hip when I’m crying inside
When I’m with friends, I thank god
I can light a cigarette when I’m choking inside

She’s a woman of great eccentricities and active mechanisms of the mind. One of my favorite songs on the album is “Kite Song,” in which she sings about a symbolic kite that followed her around when she was a child, something that gave her peace and security, but one day it disappeared. Ono was a child in Tokyo, Japan, during WWII and suffered from extreme hunger. I like to think this imaginary kite gave her hope in dark times. In the song, she talks about seeing that kite again and watching it in awe as it came back to her surprise. As a child of abuse, I grew up with my own imaginary masses of thought that gave me comfort, my own “kite.” Often times throughout my life, I’ve felt that I’ve lost that “thing” only to find it again, bringing back a feeling of security and self-assuredness. It’s a song that’s unique to a particular experience and it cuts at the heart. Similarly, so does the raucous track “What Did I Do!” in which she searches for something that she’s not even sure what it is, but the search is urgent. This thing has to be found now! Who hasn’t experienced that in their soul? In their heart of hearts? I’m currently attempting to live abroad to look for it. I don’t know what “it” is but I feel compelled to find it.

Ono is a woman who opened her wounds in her art, airing out her personal dirty laundry in her songs. In “What a Bastard the World Is,” she documents a fight between herself and John after he’s come home late one night. Like the words from a personal diary, she recalls laying in bed, chain-smoking, and unable to sleep when he finally arrives. She tries to play it cool: ‘Oh yeah, you couldn’t call? I don’t care.’ Then she gets mad. She starts berating him: ‘You pig, you jerk. I can get someone else.’ Then when he turns to leave, she breaks down: ‘Don’t leave. I’m sorry. I need you.’ She’s vulnerable, hurt, and scared. Then she’s forgiving. Some witch, huh?

Lennon’s exploits with other women while married to Cynthia and then Yoko are well documented. He was a rock god in his prime and at peak virility during the 1960s and ‘70s. He was conditioned to roll around in the filth of misogyny, though he came to recognize and correct the error in his ways. Yoko extrapolates on this in “What a Bastard” and in “I Want My Love to Rest Tonight,” in which she urges women all over to recognize that men have been brainwashed by the patriarchy, too. There’s an unlearning that has to happen, but we first have to recognize it’s there.

Sisters, don’t blame your man to much
You know he’s doing his best
You know his fear and loneliness
He can do no more, no less
He was told by his mothers to never trust girls
He was told by his fathers to never shed tears
He sees girls chasing after superstars
While their men are sitting behind bars

Yoko also talks about their drug addiction in “Peter the Dealer” and the hours of waiting on dealers to deliver whatever goods they needed: sunshine and spring in the form of LSD-laced orange juice; heroin or poke as she often refers to it; and of course, pot. She and John wasted time together decompressing from their stressful lives in which the media constantly lambasted their new love, their fight for social justice, and their hopes for peace. And yet, Yoko never asked anyone to feel sorry for her. She wasn’t seeking pity. She just wanted to be heard. And society refused to listen. They continued to paint her as some gold-digging opportunist who only wanted to sell John’s legacy for money. Nothing she could do after Lennon’s untimely death could appease the doubters and naysayers.

The Yoko-haters always complain about her choices when keeping Lennon’s legacy alive. I always want to ask people, what would you do if the love of your life, the person you thought you’d be with forever was taken away from you? You’d continue their legacy for the rest of your life, in your way and in a way that you thought they’d want, right? I think she’s done that beautifully. In “Air Talk,” she manages to express her optimistic view of life. Despite the miscarriages, the guilt, regret, racism, and sexism she faced on top of the hate, the anger, the jokes, and the drugs, Yoko she still had a sense of humor and she still saw the good in the world. I’ll end this in Yoko’s words from “Air Talk”:

“It’s sad that life is such a heavy thing to bear
No matter how close we are it’s easy to despair.
[But] It’s also nice that you and I know it’s what we all share
No matter how far apart we are we can learn to care.

There’s something very nice to have something to share
There’s something very nice to have someone to care
We may not share our bodies but we have our minds to share”

The Cinephiliac on Slumberground

March 4, 2021

I’ve been working hard and long on a dream project over the past few months. Since September, I’ve been laughing, theorizing, spoofing, and gushing over movies with three amazing film fanatics as part of TCM Underground’s first ever YouTube series: TCM Slumberground. We’ve got nine episodes under our belts so far. I welcome you all to watch, like, and subscribe to the TCM YouTube channel, and join me in further discussing these movies that are near and dear to my heart!

Ramblings on Sex and the City and Society Reacting to Media of the Past

January 11, 2021

I am absolutely thrilled at the conversation happening around Sex and the City at the moment, thanks to HBOMax’s controversial decision to greenlight a final season of the show without its most beloved and culturally relevant character, Samantha (Kim Cattrall). I’m thrilled because I ended 2020 binge-watching Sex and the City for the first time in a span of about a month and it’s been all I’ve wanted to talk about. The series was surprisingly life-affirming for me: a city-dwelling single gal navigating dating and sex in a time rife with changing attitudes towards the topic of monogamy and intimacy.

However, the level of problematic, transphobic, homophobic, kink-shaming, and cultural appropriation that takes place in the series is outstanding. In fact, there’s an entire episode that just gives me the willies and made me want to turn it off with its level of ignorant conversation involving transsexual prostitutes. But this isn’t an article to tear down a show that’s old enough to have a beer. That’d be silly, right? Even though the current social standard revels in that. Instead, I want to look at how certain episodes of the series reveal something very important about society at large.

When Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker)—30-something white woman and socialite of New York— snooped around her boyfriend’s belongings and discovered he bought her a gold engagement ring, she balked at the sight of it. I side-eyed the TV in harsh judgment of her bougie discernment. “Bitch, at least he got you a ring!” I said out loud into my empty apartment. But it wasn’t Carrie’s reaction that stuck with me, it was her defense of the reaction. “But you wear gold jewelry,” her trusty honest best friend Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) reminds Carrie over brunch with their girlfriends. Carrie retorts, “Yeah, ghetto gold for fun but this is my engagement ring.”

There it was, and ooooh it stung. I had already noticed in earlier seasons that Carrie was rocking bamboo knocker-styled earrings, usually worn by Black and brown minorities from my childhood and all over America in the 1980s and early ‘90s. I even noticed she had a gold-plated necklace with her name on it, a piece of jewelry that’s the focus on an entire episode in the series’ last season. Once a symbol of style and coolness in my neighborhood was now a symbol of class and high fashion in these women’s world. But Carrie’s frank conversation with her friends over breakfast said it all.

And you know what? I wasn’t mad. I could have had an understandably knee-jerk reaction in a time where Kimberley Crenshaw’s coined term “cultural appropriation” is as well-known as the term “tweet.” But here, in 2001 New York City and more specifically in Sex and the City, that term and the lessons it packs in its powerful punch were far from the reaches of ivory ears wearing 24-karat gold earrings inspired by the urban Black residents of the boroughs that Carrie and her friends wouldn’t be caught dead in. (And if you let the show tell, didn’t exist.)

We’ve come a long way as a society in terms of how we see one another and the ways in which we interact with cultures and marginalized groups that we don’t belong in. And, looking back on moments in media and history with a negative emotional reaction is us recognizing that. But what we keep doing as a society is scapegoating the blame onto other people: white people, white women, the rich, the elite, the ignorant, the have’s, the technology-advanced, etc.

I told this Carrie ghetto-gold story to a friend who had already watched this show during its original run. She remembered every single detail about the scene I recalled except the “ghetto” comment. She was stunned she hadn’t heard it at the time. I reminded her, “you heard it, you just didn’t think twice about it because that’s not where society was then.” When we look back, historically speaking, it’s easy to think certain individuals were the only perpetrators and purveyors of such culture ills like racism, homophobia, misogyny, whatever names we want to put to it to box it up to differentiate the past from our highly esteemed better selves today. What we don’t do is recognize how implicit society at large was in the normalization of disenfranchisement.

We block out and forget that we laughed at homophobic jokes or didn’t think twice about a joke that said “chick” and “dick” in the same sentence because we were all conditioned together watching the same media, learning the same things about each other, and coming to the same wrong conclusions about ourselves. We broke away from these on our own accord years later thanks to more education, more experience, more awareness, more friends and acquaintances, and more representation. But that doesn’t make us immune.

I don’t speak for every person’s experience during this era when I say “we.” I am speaking generally because when Sex and the City was at its height, I was a 13-year-old media hungry teen watching any and everything television would allow my eyes to take in. Because of this, I learned through television what was “normal.” The outskirts of society were relegated to HBO’s more late-night programming like Real Sex, a show I watched during this era before  Sex and the City ever remotely even caught my attention. These elements of sex and kink captured on Real Sex were for the weirdos, the oddballs, the sex-obsessed people on the edge of society. Sex dolls, sex changes, latex fetishes, group sex, all of these things were normalized to me as a youth because I sought media that focused on the dredges of society.

But that still didn’t make me immune to words and how I talked about what was “normal” with others. And the fact that  Sex and the City helped “normalize” certain aspects around what goes on in the bedroom is telling of our conservative instincts at the time. It’s so interesting to think that in the late 1990s into the early 2000s, we were similar in our notions of sex as the 1940s into the 1950s. On the mainstream end, we were obsessed with it, investing our dollars and energy into singers who revealed enough of their bodies to titillate but damning and shaming them for it all the same. All the while, sex that leaned away from the cis, heteronormative way of seeing the world still kept happening, but god forbid if it made its way into the mainstream. Remember when Diana Ross playfully touched Lil Kim’s breast at the VMA’s or when Madonna, Britney, and Christina kissed on stage and how society’s head damn near exploded? When looking back now, we looked dumb, but this is exactly what this rambling is trying to convey. We can’t witch-hunt the past. Only learn from it and take those lessons to teach us how not to do the same thing now.

My line of work is separating the negative conations of the past with the moral responsibility to do better in the now and for the future. I work in the industry of classic movies, and I’m often asked how can I enjoy these movies with all of the negative factors stacked against them in terms of social representation. My answer is simply because I recognize the historical context. That doesn’t make me smarter, more focused, or anything special. I’ve learned a specific type of cognitive dissonance when engaging with media.

It hasn’t been easy. I learned that it does me no good to become angry with these images of the past. It’s a process that has been years in the making. The first time I remember having a visceral reaction to cinemtic images—the deepest sadness I’d ever known at the time— was when watching Spike Lee’s Bamboolzed for the first time in high school. His montage scene of offensive portrayals of African Americans in media was a disturbing insight into how society once saw my people—me—as shuffling, fried-chicken eating, lazy, good for nothings. I cried for days. I refused to eat fried chicken in front of white people for years after that.

But now, instead of getting angry or sad, I recognize the importance of calling these issues out to my friends and colleagues or whoever will listen whenever I’m talking about media that I engage with. That’s the only way to open other people’s eyes to something that has been normalized. Who all got mad back in 2001 when Samantha and Carrie made all of those awful trans jokes? Who all got mad in 2002 every time Carrie made a shitty, rude remark about Stanford being gay? Who all cared or even noticed when Carrie wore designer Kangol-inspired hats and gold bamboo knockers? Did anyone chew out the top designers of that era for re-appropriating a culture that wasn’t theirs and then marking up the price for rich white women who find out they’ve spent $40k on shoes? Who all batted an eye when Carrie dated that guy but couldn’t get over that he had sex with men? Did anyone realize then they were denying bisexual validity?

Sex and the City was made in a post-Kinsey world where sexuality had been realized to exist on a spectrum for 60+ years. But does that mean mainstream society was ready for it? Turns out the answer was no. That’s not necessarily the fault of the writer’s room or the producers. It’s the fault of our culture. Nevertheless, what I do love most about this show, besides their frank conversations around anal play, marriage, children, rape fantasies, promiscuity, love, friendship, shitty diapers and baby weight, balancing careers, giving up careers, and so on, is its ability to be a time capsule of what was considered “normal” behavior back then. This begs the question if a widely popular, syndicated television show like Sex and the City reflects a transphobic, cis-gender homogenous America of the early 2000s, then what media are we ingesting without questioning today, and what does it still say about what we largely deem acceptable and “normal”?

Quarantining on Letterboxd

September 14, 2020

I’m still alive but after six months of quarantining, my legs are buckling under the weight of America’s social reckoning and the global pandemic. I’m managing to keep steady and sane through a bevy of television shows and movies. I hope you’re safe and well too. Follow me on Letterboxd and let’s chat about recommendations!

Celebrating 25 Years of The Greatest Movie: A Goofy Movie (1995)

April 7, 2020

I don’t remember the first time I watched A Goofy Movie. I don’t remember the first time I saw the character Goofy either. I don’t even remember when I made the declaration that A Goofy Movie was my all-time favorite film. Feels like it just always has been. I was introduced to it at some point in my elementary school-era daycare center. Most of my early memories were formulated around television and movies. And, in those days, the afternoons and early mornings at Children’s Friend Day Care center fed my novel but growing infatuation. Of the dozens of movies I remember seeing at that center (Pete’s Dragon, The Aristocats, The ButterCream Gang, The Never Ending Story, etc,.), the one that always stuck out as my favorite was Kevin Lima’s A Goofy Movie.

Released April 7, 1995, this animated feature marked Lima’s directorial debut before going on to head Disney’s Tarzan (1999), 102 Dalmations (2000), and Enchated (2007). Modeled after the Disney series Goof Troop, which followed the antics of Goofy, his son Maximillion, and his neighbors, A Goofy Movie fast forwards the lives of Goofy and Max. Both are now older with Max in high school dealing with the pressures of feeling unseen as fears of becoming his nerdy, lonely father have taken over his thinking. He’s compelled to do something, to stand out. So he performs a musical stunt in the middle of his principal’s presentation which makes him a legend with his peers but the enemy of authority. His principal places an urgent, furious call to Goofy scaring the poor old sap into reforming his son. And what better way to reform than by taking your teenage son on a cross-country road trip? Let the angst and goofy hijinks begin!

I cry EVERY TIME I watch this movie. Every time. What is it about this father/son road trip movie that gets me deep in the gut and always has? Honestly, I have no clue, but I’ll try to figure it out by the time I finish typing. It’s fascinating when I think of how A Goofy Movie has come to define me for so long without me fully being aware of it. Someone in middle school, maybe even high school, gave me the VHS tape as a gift because they knew how much I loved it. (When I threw out all my VHS’s in the early 2000’s it was one of three that I kept.) In my current profession, I am well respected for my movie tastes and knowledge of cinema. And yet, a co-worker recently texted me to tell me how she mistakenly said that The Tigger Movie was my favorite and a room full of grown, corporate-working adults corrected her in unison to say “no, it’s A Goofy Movie.”

For me, A Goofy Movie isn’t just a lighthearted Disney musical that I watch through nostalgic lenses. I see it as a flawless coming of age tale that captures the angst and awkwardness of learning to find yourself. It possesses an abundance of heart and maturity, and it’s a time capsule of America in the mid-90s. I’ve had multiple people tell me in recent years that for some reason black people tend to cite A Goofy Movie as their favorite Disney film. The first time I heard that statement, I was confused because I never thought of it as anything other than a cartoon. But then upon reflecting, I realized I’ve never not seen the characters as anything other than “black.” I only just now learned that by some accounts, it was considered the “Blackest Nerd Classic” of its time. While I never associated myself with the characters racially, because at the end of the day they’re dogs, I do think that my deep connection to the film did have something to do with it being set within an urban environment with darker leads driving the story.

Disney films are known for taking characters, and thus audiences, to a far-away magical land of adventure and fantasy, but A Goofy Movie explores the fantastic within the very real landscape of America. Los Angeles; Lake Destiny, Idaho; that backwoods southern Possum Park; amusement parks; baseball stadiums; monster truck shows— all relics of America in its bright shiny glory and its harsh, blemished reality. A Goofy Movie shows both the heartland of the country and its sprawling cities, where adventure awaits on the highways and backroads of this geographically exuberant land.

Max begrudgingly embarks on this adventure. And rightfully so. There’s a calling to fulfill and a girl to impress back at home. Goofy’s attempt to bond with his son is only ruining Max’s future happiness, from his teenage preceptive of course. Because of this, we get a film that is rooted in tension, and it crackles with angst, lies, and pain. Goofy’s best friend Pete warns him against his kind-hearted ways of dealing with Max. Pete’s method is simple, keep the kids “under your thumb, and they’ll never end up in the gutter.”

Typical of American society, there is indeed a gutter for Max to fall in. Max’s principal berates Goofy all the same for it, warning that Max’s gutter will be the electric chair—and all because he pulled off an incredible artistic stunt. It’s interesting watching that scene now in the America of 2020, as Goofy sits in shock repeating the awful words the principal (who is notably a lighter shade than Goofy and Max) is throwing at him: “dressed like a gang member, your son has started a riot.” Interestingly enough, this film was made in and around the time of the East Coast vs. West Coast rap beef, the Los Angeles Riots, and a rising mainstream focus on inner-city crimes and issues.

Nevertheless, my most beloved aspect of this movie—besides Tevin Campbell being the angel that he was—is the moral dilemma Max is challenged with: how far is he willing to take a lie and deceive to appear as something that he’s not? It’s an interesting concept that Disney often plays around with in humorous ways but it’s so affecting here because the stakes of that lie are so high. If shattered, that deception risks breaking bonds with the people Max loves. It’s a hell of a lesson to drop in a children’s film. A Goofy Movie is more than its often given credit for. It’s a heartfelt drama about the journey to self-actualization and confidence. It’s about conquering fears and owning what makes you unique. It’s all these things and more, and for these reasons it will always be among my all-time favorite films, right up there with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

Cats (2019); Whatever You Do, Don’t Pay to See It

December 29, 2019

Cats has proven to be a failure and its mostly due to its own hubris. It’s a bloated catastrophe that rested on the laurels of a legacy brand’s built-in fan base, thinking said fan base, and other casual theater goers, would be enough to blow smoke up the film adaptation’s ass long enough to balloon it into a profit. Yet the bigwigs behind Cats didn’t seem to take into account that its golden calf of a property hasn’t held weight in popular culture since being the butt of jokes in the 1990’s. Nevertheless, the careless way this movie was slapped together is the reason I’m smiling ear to ear after learning this $100+ million dollar picture only made $6.5 million it’s first week.

Cats shows that Tom Hooper’s prowess is not directing musicals (and yes, I thought Les Misérables was trash). He sort of can’t really direct actors either. There are some strong and tender performances in Cats that should be noted, albeit the really wild, uncomfortable ones stand out the most (Sir Ian McKellen and that damn water bowl). But Hooper misfires constantly with Cats by refusing to let moments crescendo into a emotional bang. Right out the gate, everyone on screen is at a 10, and they just keep going up. I would say that Jennifer Hudson gives an astounding performance, if she had performed only one “showstopping” number where she cries streams of saline from eyes and even nostrils, but she does it not twice but thrice! Hudson’s intense emotional number is outdone by herself doing it again two more times with all the trimmings — nostril snot and all — making it tedious and eye-rolling to watch. And in typical Hooper fashion, the performance is captured through tight close-ups, you know so you can really FEEL the emotions.

If only that same intention of realness was brought to the insanely bad visual effects, which makes the entire film embarrassingly goofy in the worst ways. The use of motion-capture on the actors ruins any chance of witnessing the impressive flexibility of the feline or even the human body, as the VFX can’t capture minute, subtle details. Instead, it makes the dancer’s movements appear boxy and stiff while making all the cats look creepy in the most uncanny way possible. Perhaps this all could have worked if the characters of Cats had all been long-haired cats, but alas most are short-haired leaving a constant reminder to audiences that the human body just doesn’t resemble a cat’s anatomy at all.

The plot isn’t as daffy as others have exaggerated. It’s simply about a stray cat who stumbles into a cult that annually selects a member to die. Of course, this is a prestigious honorable death, so all the old heads of the cult want some of that sweet death release. The stray meets most of the gang and learns about them through song and dance, then she selects one of them to die and becomes accepted by the cult. It’s basically Midsommar. Some of the music is actually fun and entertaining, but again this movie is just god-awful because it didn’t attempt to bring true artistic integrity from the beginning. The cats don’t move like cats because they’re not trained contortionists or dancers, most of them are just actors. So then why use such elaborate visual effects if their bodies really aren’t the focus here? It instead just leaves trails of matrix-like glitches over background actors faces and inconsistent feet and hands.

Sometimes Cats is funny on purpose, but most times it’s not. In fact, when it actually tries to be funny through James Corden or Rebel Wilson, it falls flat through fat jokes and Wilson’s annoying shtick of being aggressively raunchy. Cats is a stupid movie, plain and simple and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get. Cats doesn’t care about you and you shouldn’t give that smug sonofbitch the sanctification of pretending it cares you. Skip this one. Knit a pair of booties or something instead.

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