A Collection of My Outside Work

I have had the luck to share my writing on other film sites I admire over the years. It’s always a pleasure to be invited to collaborate. The following is a list of essays I’ve written. Thank you for reading and enjoy!

wingsofdesire

From Pinnland Empire 

Misunderstood Masterpiece: Return to Oz

Misunderstood Masterpiece: Marie Antoinette

Two by Wim Wenders: Pina and Wings of Desire 

Introduction to The Cinema of Todd Solondz

A Movie for Christmas: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

A Movie for Christmas: Go

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From Cut Print Film

The Leftovers: Season One

The Leftovers: Season Two, Episode One ‘Axis Mundi’

Sunshine Superman

Lucky Stiff

Set Fire to the Stars

Unfreedom

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From The Pink Smoke

Five From the Fire

dig

From Wrong Reel


DiG! podcast

Captain EO

captain eo
In early March I took a lovely vacation to Florida to visit my parents and Disney World. I had a great time with Mom and Dad, exploring wildlife(manatees are sweet creatures) and touring such oddities as Ca’ d’Zan, the former mansion of the circus promoter John Ringling. The Alfonso Cuaron version of Great Expectations was filmed in part in that mansion, before it was restored by historical preservationists. The decrepitude of the long-forgotten mansion enhanced the shabbiness of the art direction of that film. The most peculiar and exciting film-related objet d’art I saw during my vacation has got to be the attraction Captain EO, at EPCOT Center in Disney World.

If you have never been to Disney World, you may not be aware that in 1986 Michael Jackson teamed up with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas to create a short film attraction at EPCOT. Yes, you read that correctly; I am not making this up.  I remember seeing the film as a young girl and liking it. I did not realize until this trip that it was made by those masters of film. Can one imagine a hot director like Steve McQueen directing a short film with Beyonce for an amusement park nowadays? No, but back in the ’80s times were different and boy am I happy this merry trio made such a weird and wonderful production.

If you look closely at the picture of the poster, which I took, you will notice something very strange. The poster is housed within a regular old case and is damaged. The left-hand side is slightly ripped; this is decidedly un-Disney. Disney prides itself on creating magic within it’s parks. No details too small are overlooked; everything is pristine and as near to perfect as one can get. Unless one is at the Captain EO theater; then it’s like, ‘go see this movie or whatever, we don’t care.’ It’s abundantly clear that Disney was reluctant to bring back this film and did it only to placate Michael Jackson fans, after he passed. This is the ONLY place at Disney World in which you cannot buy a souvenir of the attraction. Gift shops abound at Disney World, but nary a small Captain EO t-shirt could be purchased to commemorate this film curiosity. Trust me, I tried to find anything; my husband and I viewed the film twice, but no luck with merch.

Instead of assessing this film with regular criteria, as it is a unique experience, I will give my notes on this film stuck in time. You enter the Captain EO theater and grab a pair of 3D glasses. Then all of the viewers stand in a pre-staging area to view the original ‘behind-the-scenes’ film on the making of Captain EO. I recall as a kid this area being very crowded. In 2015, it was a sparsely attended group consisting of Michael Jackson fans, Gen X-ers(me), parents with tuckered-out kids and random tourists who wanted to avoid the harsh sun. You then watch the production video highlighting the, at-the-time, advanced 3D camera used, the art designers and rehearsals with Solid Gold-style dancers. When the video ends, you are ushered into another theater with seats and the film starts.

The theater itself also shows the lack of care which Disney put into this returning attraction. In its original form, the theater was enhanced with plastic whip-like objects which would touch your legs and air jets which would blow back your hair at specific parts of the film. Additionally, there were lights within the theater walls that would flash, if a laser blast was on screen. In 2015, most of these elements are gone, simply taped over with duct tape. Finding two chairs together with fully functioning features was not easy. The only thing Disney took care of in terms of this attraction, was the film. To my eye and with my 3D glasses (some of them are warped; select wisely) the original 70mm print looks pristine.  At least they archived the actual film in the correct way; I’ll give Disney a pat on the back for that.

I will try not to spoil this child-like, sci-fi, music video bonanza for those who plan to visit EPCOT soon(I don’t see this film remaining much longer); I will highlight the memorable parts. After you put on your 3D glasses, the film starts with Michael Jackson starring as Captain EO, who is in charge of a rag-tag group of goofy space creatures on an important mission. Think pre-Jar Jar Binks-type characters and corny banter with Captain EO about doing a good job and believing in themselves. Little kids eat this stuff up, plus the 3D effects, so forgive the first few minutes of the film; it’s for the children. Then, inevitably, Captain EO’s crew crashes on an un-friendly planet and has to face their punishment for trespassing. This section was were the film greatly improved. The crew’s encounter with the Supreme Leader of this planet could be seen by children as ultra-terrifying. Think of a much scarier version of the Borg Queen; a villainous creature who is suspended in the air, made of tubes, with talon-like nails.  She sentences Captain EO and his crew is various awful punishments and then the magic starts.

Captain EO offers the hideous leader a gift before he and his crew serve out their sentences; a gift to unlock her inner beauty. This is when Captain EO becomes a straight-out Michael Jackson music video. His crew transforms into a band and he sings an original song ‘We Are Here to Change the World’ and it is glorious. It’s Michael Jackson at his best, at his peak; entrancing and really, really cool. I absolutely had one glove as a child and totally watched his videos all night when he died. I can’t deny that I was delighted by this film. He shots brutish robots with lasers and they become athletic back-up dancers; that was fun for my young self and remains so today. The film ends with a segue into ‘Another Part of Me‘, which was on the album ‘Bad’. Yes, a Disney attraction features a song off of one of the most popular albums of all time; that’s wild then and still is in the present. The finale of the film has the Supreme Leader transforming into a beautiful woman in colorful flowing garments, who just happens to be Anjelica Huston, waving to Captain EO and his crew. He has delivered on his gift of beauty and dances off the screen, to new adventures. The lights in the theater come back up and the Disney theater usher welcomes the audience back to 2015. Michael Jackson may be gone and Disney may not want to seriously invest in the upkeep of such a retro attraction, yet the peculiar enchantment of Captain EO prevails.

Inventory 2013 & Thoughts

2013 was a cruel year, it was.  This is not a confessional booth, but the events of the past 12 months took their toll on me. There were many unexpected deaths of loved ones, which cut into my heart repeatedly.  A prolonged, demoralizing legal battle made things even worse.  Bereavement and expensive litigation can really thrown a person off their game, which is what happened to me. Then I moved across country to start a new phase in life (with two freshly broken fingers), which is exciting but a huge upheaval.  I left everything behind because I realized this year, why the hell not?  Why live in a place where your career is marginalized, you fear for your safety, the standard of living is astronomically, prohibitively expensive and is filled with ghosts? The only constant good I have had in my life were my family, especially my loving, supportive husband, and a few good friends to help me through.  Starting this blog was a fun diversion for me and I thank all who have read my words.  It is a humbling honor to have strangers take the time to read my thoughts and I am so grateful for that.

The following list is of all the films/television programs which I watched during this past year.  I did not get out to the theater as much as I would have liked; kicking myself for missing Before Midnight.  Many of the films listed I have watched more than a few times.

Onward and excelsior towards 2014!

In Theater:

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  • 12 Years a Slave (2013) – Steve McQueen
  • Amour (2012)  – Michael Haneke
  • The Bling Ring (2013) – Sophia Coppola
  • Blue Jasmine (2013) – Woody Allen
  • The Great Gatsby (2013) – Baz Luhrmann –  in 2D
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)  – Derek Cianfrance
  • [Safe] (1995) – Todd Haynes –   MoMA screening
  • Trouble Every Day (2001) –  Claire Denis –  BAM screening
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Martin Scorsese

Fiction Film:

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  • All About My Mother (1999) – Pedro Almodóvar
  • Anna Karenina (2012) – Joe Wright
  • Bachelorette (2012) – Leslye Headland
  • Behind the Candelabra (2013) – Steven Soderbergh
  • Benny’s Video (1992) – Michael Haneke
  • The Blues Brothers (1980) – John Landis
  • Boogie Nights (1997) – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Carlos (2010) – Olivier Assayas
  • Enter the Void (2009) – Gaspar Noé
  • Flight (2012) – Robert Zemeckis
  • Frances Ha (2013) – Noah Baumbach
  • The Flower of My Secret (1995) – Pedro Almodóvar
  • Goodfellas (1990) – Martin Scorsese
  • Holy Motors (2012) – Leos Carax
  • The Iceman (2012) – Ariel Vromen
  • I Heart Huckabees  (2004) – David O. Russell
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – Nagisa Oshima
  • La Jetée (1962) – Chris Marker
  • Lust, Caution (2007) – Ang Lee
  • The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) – RZA
  • The Master (2012) – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Melancholia (2011) – Lars von Trier
  • Oldboy (2003) – Chan-wook Park
  • Only God Forgives (2013) – Nicolas Winding Refn 
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) – Carl Theodor Dreyer
  • Robot + Frank (2012) – Jake Schreier
  • Shutter Island (2010) – Martin Scorsese
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – David O. Russell
  • Skyfall (2012) – Sam Mendes
  • Sleepwalk with Me (2012) – Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
  • Sophie’s Choice (1982) – Alan J. Pakula
  • Spring Breakers (2012) – Harmony Korine
  • Sylvia (2003) – Christine Jeffs
  • Tiny Furniture (2010) – Lena Dunham
  • Velvet Goldmine (1998) – Todd Haynes
  • Wings of Desire (1987) – Wim Wenders
  • Zodiac (2007) – David Fincher

Documentaries:

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  • 30 for 30 – ESPN
  1. 9.79* (2012) – Daniel Gordon
  2. Broke (2012) – Billy Corben
  3. June 17th, 1994 (2010) – Brett Morgen
  4. You Don’t Know Bo (2012) – Michael Bonfiglio
  • The Amish: The American Experience (2012) – David Belton – PBS
  • Blackfish (2013) –  Gabriela Cowperthwaite
  • The Central Park Five (2012) – Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon
  • Dig! (2004) – Ondi Timoner
  • The Five Obstructions (2003) – Jørgen Leth & Lars von Trier
  • From One Second To The Next (2013) – Werner Herzog
  • Let There Be Light (1946) – John Huston
  • Pina (2011) – Wim Wenders – in 2D
  • The Queen of Versailles (2012)  – Lauren Greenfield
  • Room 237 (2012) – Rodney Ascher
  • Shoah  (1985) – Claude Lanzmann (first four and a half hours)
  • Sound City (2013) – David Grohl
  • Standard Operating Procedure (2008) – Errol Morris
  • Stories We Tell (2012) – Sarah Polley
  • This Is Not a Film (2011) – Jafar Panahi
  • Wagner’s Dream (2012) – Susan Froemke

Television:

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  • Arrested Development (2013) – Mitchell Hurwitz
  • Breaking Bad  (2008 -2013) – Vince Gilligan (I watched the entirety in 21 days!)
  • Game of Thrones (2011 – present) – David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
  • Survivor (2000 – present) – Charlie Parsons (It’s amazing that each season there are still contestants who don’t know how to make fire. Learn to make fire! You are going on a survivalist show; learn the basics!!)
  • Top of the Lake (2013) – Jane Campion
  • Treme (2010 – 2013) – David Simon

 

Holiday Picks: Auntie Mame & Goodfellas

During the holiday season certain films are standard viewing like A Christmas StoryScrooged, and The Sound of Music. I enjoy these films very much but find myself drawn to two others in particular.  Auntie Mame and Goodfellas are my holiday favorites not for festive reasons exactly, especially the latter, but for the satisfying repeat viewing factor.  These two films could not be more dissimilar; one is the kooky tale of an eccentric, single woman who is unexpectedly left to care for her nephew and the other is one of the best gangster films ever made. Both of these films contain scenes during the Christmas season but neither are about the holiday. It is difficult to parse out why I like these films so much during this time of year, as they are not in the holiday genre as such, but that is why personal preference is so hard to explain.  As my favorite film professor used to say, “No one cares what you like, that is subjective; what is your criteria for assessing a work?”  In this case it really does come down to the comfort of watching something I know will be quality viewing, over and over again. The holidays are about warmth, happiness and rituals; these films are part of my tradition.  May the winter holidays bring you good cheer, as these films do for me.

Auntie Mame (1958)

Goodfellas (1990)

Movie Theater Safety & Courtesy

Hi there Readers! This post is a little reminder about general movie theater etiquette and safety. Theater etiquette has become lax of late, which many are aware of.  Think about how often you go to a film and someone is chatting or texting throughout; not very courteous.  I went to see 12 Years a Slave, which I highly recommend, on October 23 and there were some curt words spoken between patrons over poor behavior.  One young gentleman had to firmly explain to a woman about why her texting was distracting.  Two others yelled at each other, “SHHHH, BE QUIET!” which was replied to with a “YOU don’t tell ME what to do!”  Ah, the pleasures of an NYC film audience.   I also had a mishap.

12 years a slaveUnfortunately, I had to duck out to the restroom about 45 minutes into the film.  As I was exiting the theater I tripped over something on the floor and fell directly on my face! Yes, I face-planted in a Times Square movie theater, not my finest moment.  I brushed myself off, ran to the restroom, washed off my blood and returned. Throughout the rest of the film I was flexing my right hand which was bruised and swollen. By the next day I went to the hospital, got a tetanus shot and had two broken fingers splinted.  This was the result:

broken fingers

Don’t be like me folks, watch where you are going.  I also relocated from New Jersey to beautiful Kansas City this past week, which is taxing on broken bones. I won’t be able to make a fist or generally write legibly for a while. So next time you go to the theater, put your phone away, be quiet and for goodness sake be mindful of where you are walking.  Be safe and good to one another.  Peace!  🙂

From One Second To The Next – Werner Herzog’s Texting & Driving PSA

from-one-second-to-the-next-L-jHPoeLWerner Herzog has teamed up with AT&T to direct a short documentary about the dangers of texting & driving.  An unexpected partnership possibly, but the resulting film is very successful in getting the idea across that texting while driving has horrible consequences. The film gives voice to both the victims of car accidents resulting from texting & driving and those who caused the accidents. This is not an easy documentary to view; you will cry.  I am pleased that this film will be used as an educational tool in high schools and other institutions in the US because people need to be reminded that cars are dangerous and need your full attention to operate. My grandfather was a body and fender man; he owned a body shop with wrecks scattered about the yard.  I learned very young that you can fix most cars, but not a person, so you better wear your seat belt and be a safe driver.  Respect cars for the dangerous machines they are and respect your fellow human by waiting to send a text.