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  • Love on Rye

    A review of Rye Lane (2023). Warning: Contains spoilers for Rye Lane. In the mother of all nods to the rom-com genre, Rye Lane’s main characters stop to eat at a burrito stand called, “Love Guac’tually.” I won’t say any more or it would spoil the surprise of what happens next. This is director Raine Allen-Miller’s feature-length debut, and it’s a love letter to South London (in particular, the districts of Peckham and Brixton), while also paying homage to films like Before Sunrise without copying them. Its protagonists, Dom and Yaz (played by actors David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah) get to know each other over the course of one day, while wandering through art galleries, markets, playgrounds, and karaoke bars, with a little breaking-and-entering thrown in for good measure. Allen-Miller’s South London is saturated in bright colors. She (and ​​cinematographer Olan Collardy) use wide and fisheye lenses and point-of-view shots to draw the audience in while conveying how the film’s main characters are feeling. Even though both Dom and Yaz are nursing broken hearts after recent breakups, the film’s writers, Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia, along with Allen-Miller, create a really funny and joy-filled story. The movie’s main characters have great chemistry but they happen to meet at the wrong time (or the best time, depending on how you look at it). Both of their breakups are reenacted in the film with present-day Dom and Yaz watching from the sides like a stage play happening before their eyes. The lighting is beautiful and full of color and the special effects are honestly amazing. The movie can be fast-paced and a bit jarring at times, but once you acclimate to Allen-Miller’s style it becomes all the more charming, as do the film’s leads. I recently read ScreenCraft’s “THE 9 ELEMENTS OF ALL GREAT ROM-COMS” and here’s why I think Rye Lane is indeed a wonderful addition to the genre and well worth the watch. Two Loveable Leads Dom (David Jonsson) and Yaz (Vivian Oparah) are definitely yin and yang. While Dom is an introvert wallowing in self-pity, he is also kind, thoughtful, and willing to go above and beyond for the people he cares about. Yaz is a wild card who is prone to a bit of “fake-it-til-you-make-it” bravado that can be disarming, but she’s just as empathetic as Dom. She’s not afraid to act on impulse and see where her choices lead her. They agree that everyone has their own mess. This understanding and the ability of each character to see potential in the other that they do not yet see in themselves is what makes them so great. A Meet Cute (Or… Not So Cute) Yaz initially overhears Dom sobbing loudly in the bathroom stall next to her at a mutual friend’s art gallery show. After seeing Dom’s hot pink sneakers under the stall door, she recognizes him outside the restroom and decides to make sure he is okay. Turns out, he’s not. After six years, Dom’s girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend and he never saw it coming. A Unique Troublesome Situation Not only was Dom cheated on by his girlfriend with his best friend, but three months later they have invited him to dinner to “clear the air” at the very restaurant he used to frequent with his ex-girlfriend. Yaz suggests she tag along but Dom is trepidatious. They’ve only just met. On the other hand, Yaz shares her own breakup story with Dom and recounts how one of her favorite records, which her ex does not like, is still in his apartment … you know what’s coming. At Least One Great Sidekick Rye Lane focuses on its two leads with little time spent on friends or sidekicks but we do get some brief scenes with a few memorable characters, in particular, their artist friend Nathan, his kind and supportive girlfriend, Cass, and some very judgemental “Aunties” who long for Yaz and her ex to get back together but let her and Dom stop by their backyard BBQ while Yaz (secretly) looks for a key to her ex’s apartment. Super Fun Montage In Allen-Miller’s film, Dom and Yaz traverse the South London districts of Brixton and Peckham. They wander in and out of markets, ride the see-saw in a park, and even perform a little Salt n’ Pepa karaoke together. They bring each other out of their shells and get each other out of their ruts. When they finally borrow a scooter from the aforementioned Aunties, Yaz drives with Dom clinging on for dear life before deciding to relax and go along for the ride. Relationship in Jeopardy Up until this point in the story, Dom has had no idea that Yaz was the voice in the bathroom stall next to him when he was crying. He also believes Yaz’s version of the story where she was the one who dumped her ex (not the other way around). Once these truths come to light, Dom feels betrayed and Yaz is embarrassed and defensive. All of the fun and joy they experienced together that day sours as they part ways and each goes home alone. The Lightbulb Moment Yaz starts texting Dom but keeps deleting her messages before sending any to him. Dom, back at his parent’s house, initially falls into old patterns, playing video games, until he begins to take small risks outside of his comfort zone. He decides to finally “try the spicy burrito” (and I mean that both literally and figuratively) as he realizes that being too cautious and closed off is not what he wants out of life or love. Yaz tries to stay strong solo, but when she thinks she sees Dom outside the movie theater she follows a stranger for a while before realizing it’s not him. After passing on an interview for her dream job earlier in the film due to self-doubts, Yaz finally gets a job doing what she loves. She starts to realize that Dom believed in her the whole time, even when she did not yet believe in herself. When their friend Nathan has a new art show opening, both Dom and Yaz are reminded of how they met each other. A Grand Gesture or Epic Line “This needs to be iconic, it’s the end of the movie, he deserves…some kind of grand gesture.” In the film’s climax, Yaz decides that Dom is the one who deserves a grand gesture. Her efforts call back to a story she told earlier in the film about her relationship with her ex and prove that Dom is the type of person she really wants to be with. A Happy Ending Yaz apologizes to Dom and says she’s sorry for lying about getting dumped but she liked the way Dom saw her that day (calling her “iconic”) so she lied to keep up the persona of confidence. Dom says it wouldn’t have mattered and that he would have thought she was cool either way, to which Yaz replies, “Yeah, I know that now.” They find each other and finally get to kiss in that epic 360-degree spinning footage you have grown to expect at the climax of any romance before we get the film’s title card. Well done. Rye Lane is now streaming on Hulu. Diana DiMuro Associate Editor Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro

  • PODCAST: Hot Takes - John Wick Chapter 4

    Mike Burdge and Diana DiMuro are back in the saddle with everyones favorite world renowned widow: John Wick AKA Cap'n Dome-Shot. In this episode, they go over the history and story of the series so far, what the future might hold, ranking their favorite fight scenes and talking about cute doggos. Listen on....

  • The "Dangers" of Marijuana

    Reefer Madness Through the Years The original Reefer Madness has a convoluted history. The film began its life as an anti-drug education film called Tell Your Children, purportedly funded by a church group of the same name. The film was meant to convey the “dangers” of marijuana through the fairly hyperbolic story of three high school students whose lives are ruined by coming in contact with the drug. This original intent for the film was probably sincere, if misguided, but that’s not why it has survived to our present day. A quirk of the time period when it was made was that one way to get away with exhibiting more salacious and exploitative films was to present them as if they were moral education films; So, a producer, Dwain Esper, bought the original film of Tell Your Children and added additional footage to make a more sensationalized version of the same story. Esper then released that film around the country under a number of titles, including Reefer Madness. Part of what helped turn the film into the cult object of fascination that it is was this strange tension between the two vastly different motives at work in the film. Reefer Madness took on a new life when it was rediscovered by advocates for marijuana legalization in the 70s, who found in its ridiculous and over-the-top morality tale, a perfect parody of the anti-drug movement of the time. They started showing the film around the country again, but now with an altogether new motive. In a generation, or so, Reefer Madness evolved from being anti-drug propaganda to being an ostensibly anti-drug exploitation film, before finally being reclaimed as an accidental pro-marijuana satire. And that’s not all, as another generation more, this story would be rediscovered yet again, now undergoing an evolution into the form I’m most interested in: a musical. Reefer Madness: The Musical (2005) is part of a lineage of satirical and off-kilter horror musicals, and shares more than a few things in common with one of the most well-known examples of the sub-genre: Little Shop of Horrors (1986) Both films began as small stage adaptations of cult films, made possible because the source material happened to be in the public domain. Both productions also developed such an unusually rabid following that they garnered themselves otherwise highly improbable film adaptations. Reefer Madness: The Musical was created by TV writers Dan Studney (Music) and Kevin Murphy (Lyrics & Book, also co-writer of the pretty great Heathers: The Musical), and manages to follow many of the core story beats of the original film, while also producing something much more unambiguously silly. In the original Reefer Madness, the three teens at the heart of the story are Bill Harper, his high school sweetheart, Mary Lane, and her older brother Jimmy. The musical streamlines this by combining the two boy’s characters into one: Jimmy Harper. The story beats of the musical basically match those of the original film. Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) and Mary Lane (Kristen Bell) are newly minted high school sweethearts, but things fall apart for them when Jimmy falls in with the wrong crowd. He meets Jack (Steven Weber), a reefer pusher who hangs around the local Five and Dime to pick up new customers. Jack manages to ensnare Jimmy, talking him into coming back to Jack’s place for a ‘real party’. There, Jimmy meets Mae (Ana Gasteyer), who runs the house for Jack, even though she’s conflicted about the younger clientele Jack’s been bringing in lately. Jimmy also meets Ralph (John Kassir) and Sally (Amy Spanger), a college dropout and a single mother respectively, who hang around the house full-time doing what Jack needs in exchange for reefer. Once at the house, this group peer pressures Jimmy into trying their special kind of cigarette for the first time, and after just one puff, he is completely lost. The rest of the film chronicles Jimmy’s out-of-control marijuana addiction, along with its deadly consequences. What Studney and Murphy add to that story is how absurd and cartoonishly they color in everything in between these story beats - in one sequence literally turning the film into a cartoon. I don’t want to spoil things for anyone coming to this film for the first time, but while the original film is a small-town drama, the musical adds sequences that take place in Heaven and Hell; There’s a zombie attack; Jesus gets his own solo song; there are additional musical appearances by Uncle Sam, George Washington, The Statue of Liberty, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Greek god Pan, an animated pot brownie, as well as a plate of pasta and clams; And, one of the high points of the film is a Busby Berkeley dance number orgy that takes place in a soundstage marijuana jungle. It’s a pretty wild time. The film works as much as it does thanks to how perfectly cast it is, most especially an unreal performance by Christian Campbell as Jimmy Harper. Campbell’s dimples, build, and boyish good looks help him believably pass for a high school senior. And similar to someone like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Campbell is playing a role he had already fully internalized, having been the one to originate it on stage. There are small takes and choices, and inflections throughout that show the benefit of someone that got to feel out their performance in front of a crowd countless times before the cameras rolled. For a role that asks a lot physically and vocally, he makes it look effortless. Campbell’s other half in the film is Kristen Bell as Mary Lane. Bell also had the benefit of having previously played this role in the 2001 off-Broadway run of the show (an unfortunately timed run that never quite found an audience, opening the week after 9/11). By the time this film came out, Bell had started her run on Veronica Mars, but she’s already undeniable here. Her chemistry with Campbell is through the roof, her sense of physical comedy and timing is already as honed here as it would be on The Good Place, and hearing her sing I can’t help but regret that the only other major musical role that we’ve gotten from her has been Anna from Frozen. Christian’s and Kristen’s best scene together is their first one. The musical takes a heavy-handed scene from the original Reefer Madness, where the teen sweetheart's tragic end is foreshadowed by them flirting with one another over a copy of Romeo and Juliet, and runs with that idea. In Jimmy and Mary’s first duet, they sing to each as Romeo and Juliet, while clearly demonstrating that neither of them has finished reading the play or has any idea how it ends. The song even mixes in a brief dream sequence with the two of them imagining themselves in period attire, being married by Shakespeare, while he’s also trying to waive them off each time they sing something hopeful that clashes with how the play turns out. This is probably Kevin Murphy’s smartest lyric in the show, giving you everything you need to know about these characters and their relationship with each other, while both drawing out their naivety and still scoring with smart theater kid jokes that shouldn’t work as well as they do. As great as Campbell and Bell are, the not-so-secret weapon of the film is Alan Cumming as The Lecturer. The musical is structured like the original film, where the framing device is that everything we are initially watching is being presented by a lecturer to a classroom full of parents, as an educational film depicting the tragic events that we’ve been discussing. Cumming is part The Music Man, going from town to town, riling up the locals about the dangers of marijuana, but he also has a bit of menace to him as well, akin to his turn as the emcee in Cabaret. Part con man, part fanatic, he’s almost the true villain of the film. He appears both in the framing sequences and throughout the film in the guise of different characters from around town, narrating the story as it moves along. Cumming is the embodiment of the propagandist impulse in the original film, framing for the audience, and the parents in the classroom, how they are “supposed” to feel about what they are seeing, and underlining how unpatriotic they are if they see it any other way. The rest of the core cast is wonderful as well. John Kassir is perfectly manic as the burnt-out college student, Ralph, who acts as Jimmy’s partner in crime before suffering his own psychotic break. Stephen Weber is having a ball, hamming it up as the reefer-dealing Jack, playing him like Jimmy Cagney - which is honestly a fair take on what the actor in the original film did with the same role. Amy Spanger doubles as the sexy femme fatale that plays the largest role in luring Jimmy to take his first puff of marijuana, while also getting some of the biggest physical comedy beats in the film as the most burnt-out of all the characters. Spanger also really gets to show off her vocal chops in the finale as Lady Liberty. And Ana Gasteyer wrings more comedy than one would think possible from a character that is trapped in a bad situation by addiction and domestic violence, who also has to function as a key part of the moral center of the film. It’s a role that asks a lot, and Gasteyer kills it as effectively as she ultimately kills Jack. Looking back at both films, they’re each strange time capsules in their own ways. Comedy generally ages poorly, and there are some gags in Reefer Madness: The Musical that does peg it to a different time, but I do think it mostly holds up. What’s most interesting though, is that fear over marijuana has largely dropped out of public discourse as states around the country have been legalizing it. You’ve been able to buy CBD products for a few years now, and can even get low-dosage THC products pretty easily, too. This debate is basically over. So, in one sense both of these films are artifacts of a bygone time. That said, there is still something timely about Tell Your Children, which is heightened by Reefer Madness, and is made explicit in the finale to Reefer Madness: The Musical - the constant to all three films is that something that never seems to go out of style is fear-mongering about perceived dangers to children as a way of exercising social control; and what makes it especially insidious is that there undeniably will always be actual dangers to children that ought to be controlled, if not eliminated. As long as there are children, there will be those that cast the things that they are personally afraid of as being some threat to the children; As long as there are children, there will be people like Dwain Esper trying to monetize parents’ fears about something happening to them. Here’s hoping though, that we’ll also always have films like Reefer Madness: The Musical to call out and ridicule that kind of corrosive nonsense when it appears. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

  • PODCAST: Overdrinkers - Heathers

    Mike Burdge sits down with his arch-nemesis, the enigmatic Scotty Arnold, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Heathers, the movie that changed a lot of us by accident one innocent afternoon on TNT. While chatting about the film itself, they also cover the many adaptations and inspirations the film produced, as well as some.... *checks notes*.... "slippery" content that maybe wasn't great for 1988 either. But don't worry, they LOVE the movie! Listen on.... Overdrinkers Cocktail: Ram+Kurt 1 1/2 oz Bourbon 1 oz Aperol 1/2 oz Simple Syrup Top with Topo Chico Mineral Water (or any mineral water) Orange Wedge and Peel (preferably blood orange) Combine all ingredients except for orange. Stir over rocks and serve in rocks glass. Squeeze orange wedge into drink, essence and garnish with orange peel.

  • A Mighty Wind: 20 Years Later

    For almost two months in the spring of 2003, during my senior year of high school, you could hear an echo in the school halls every few minutes from one of us kids yelling, "WHA' HAPPENED?!" - a catchphrase from Fred Willard's character Mike LaFontaine in Christopher Guest's mockumentary film A Mighty Wind. Something about this movie really affected us, and at the time, though I absolutely loved A Mighty Wind, I wasn't sure why this quirky story about a reunion concert featuring three washed-up folk music groups from the 1960s had caught on like wildfire amongst a bunch of jaded teenage Millennials in the early aughts. I have revisited the film many, many times in the 20 years since its release and I think I know the answer now. A Mighty Wind is Christopher Guest's third comedy film featuring his company of actors after Waiting for Guffman in 1996 and Best in Show in 2000. (1984’s This is Spinal Tap also features most of the company and was co-written by Guest, but it was directed by Rob Reiner, so I don’t consider it to be an official part of the Guest film cycle). While it's always fun to see legendary performers like Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Paul Dooley, Larry Miller, Ed Begley Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, and Guest himself in action playing off of each other (Guest famously creates his films by allowing his actors to improvise their scenes, hewing to a basic plot outline and structure that he co-writes with Levy), what makes A Mighty Wind really sing (so to speak) compared to his other work is by placing the smart, witty comedic stylings of these strong improvisational actors around a pivotal storyline that is quite sad, which is a significant departure from the zany antics seen in Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show (and of course, This is Spinal Tap). The film centers around a memorial concert at The Town Hall in New York City, organized by Jonathan Steinbloom (Balaban) and his siblings in honor of their father, Irving Steinbloom, a folk music producer who recently passed away. Jonathan, a fastidious and somewhat humorless man (who nonetheless dearly loved Irving) hopes to feature his father's three most famous acts at the concert: The Folksmen, The New Main Street Singers, and Mitch & Mickey. We see the three acts in rehearsals preparing for the show and experiencing various ups and downs during the process, and the film ultimately culminates with a depiction of the concert itself, televised live on the Public Broadcasting Network with the assistance of producer Lars Olfen (Begley Jr.), the child of Swedish immigrants who for some reason peppers his speech with Yiddish slang, and PR Consultants Amber Cole (Coolidge, giving us a taste of her amazing comedic screen presence that two decades later has finally made her a household name after her portrayal of Tanya McQuoid in HBO's The White Lotus) and Wally Fenton (Miller). The Folksmen are a trio comprised of Mark Shubb, Jerry Palter, and Allan Barrows (Shearer, McKean, and Guest, respectively, - yes, a folk-flavored Spinal Tap reunion!). They were once one of Steinbloom's most popular acts but they haven't played together in years. They are excited to reunite, buoyed by many happy memories of their time together in the 60s, and although there is some tension concerning which of their songs should be included in their setlist, overall, it is clear that they genuinely enjoy working together again. The New Main Street Singers are a second-generation spin-off of the original Main Street Singers, formed by George Menschell (Dooley), the only living member of the original group, fronted by Terry and Laurie Bohner (Higgins and Lynch), and prominently featuring Sissy Knox (Posey), the daughter of Fred Knox (an original Main Street Singer). In their new incarnation, they are managed by Mike LaFontaine (Willard), a former actor who appeared in a very short-lived 1970 sitcom called, “Wha' Happened?” and tends to confuse everyone by constantly quoting his sitcom character's catchphrases (including the titular tagline - hence everyone at my high school doing the same for months) and sticking his foot in his mouth at various PR events leading up to the concert by making tasteless jokes. The group is large - nine members in total - and is known for their complex harmonies (what Menschell calls a "neuftet") but they are also deemed the most "commercial" and cheesy of the groups, performing folk songs about stereotypically heavy folk themes in an incongruously carefree way. And finally, we have Mitch & Mickey (Levy and O'Hara), a former couple who released seven albums together and captured the hearts of their fans with their public image of pure, innocent, romantic love. They would end performances of their biggest hit, "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," by actually kissing each other on stage, to the delight of one and all. But behind the scenes, the relationship was troubled by Mitch's frequent infidelity, substance abuse, and gambling problems and Mickey's growing anger towards him, and they broke up dramatically, ending their creative partnership in the process. When they reunite after nearly 25 years apart to prepare for the concert, Mickey has moved on, she is married to a medical supply salesman and living as a housewife, while Mitch has never fully recovered from his emotional breakdown after Mickey left him and is still suffering from severe mental health issues and erratic behavior. During their rehearsals, romantic tension and personal regrets come to the forefront for both of them, which ends up nearly threatening their performance in the concert. And here, folks is the emotional foundation of A Mighty Wind. The lynchpin of the entire film is Mitch and Mickey’s relationship and their story. While the other actors in the film portray their characters and storylines with the wickedly funny comedic improvisation that one would expect from a Christopher Guest film, Levy and O'Hara play the Mitch and Mickey storyline completely straight. They reminisce about how they first met (he stepped in to fight a heckler at a folk club where she was performing with her sisters and got badly beaten up), remember the joy of creativity they experienced working with each other, and awkwardly stumble around how to end a performance of "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" now, with all of this loaded history behind them. There is a real poignancy to this storyline, as Mickey reflects that their fame was based on how their audiences believed them to be a perfect, golden couple - and she believed it too. "That's why I was able to sell it so well." And again later, when Mitch recalls the exhilaration and anticipation they always felt before each gig and Mickey confesses that she was always so nervous during shows that the only way she could ground herself was to ignore the audience and focus solely on Mitch. "I wonder if that will happen again?" Mitch wonders, "Oh, it will," Mickey says, "And I'll be there in the best seat in the house." Reader, every time I see this scene I tear up. There are some moments of humor in the Mitch and Mickey storyline, but they are darker, bitter humor. Mitch has a tendency to ramble nonsensically when he is nervous, but while it makes you chuckle, it’s clear that his verbal eccentricities are a result of his mental illness. Similarly, Mickey has a wildly funny outburst minutes before their set at the concert, as she, Jonathan, and Lars look for Mitch, who has gone missing, and she asks them sharply if there is a cock-fighting arena nearby, her French-Canadian-inflected accent increasing tenfold in her heightened emotional state. But again, this is also a dark joke, as you can see how much anger and hurt she still holds towards Mitch, who has obviously done this to her before (not to mention the implication that her first instinct as to where Mitch would have disappeared to is a place where he could gamble). When Mitch finally turns up, it's revealed he went wandering out into Times Square to look for a rose to place on stage for their set, and Mickey's rage melts away, so completely touched by this lovely gesture from him. With this one panicked scene, a whole relationship's worth of anguish and pain is revealed, and you understand the intensity of their love and how terribly it fell apart. The concert begins with a hitch: The New Main Street singers start their opening set with a folk standard called "Never Did No Wanderin'" which The Folksmen were also intending to feature during their set. The Folksmen express frustration backstage hearing this unfold, especially since they always perform this song in a passionate, emotional manner in the spirit of the song's lyrics, whereas the New Main Street singers do it in their usual peppy, show-boating way. The bad feelings this engenders, along with The Folksmen having to scramble to stretch their set to fill time while Jonathan, Lars, and Mickey search for Mitch, threaten to mar the success of the concert. But when Mitch and Mickey finally go onstage to perform and the other two groups realize that they are going to sing "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow", everyone begins to wonder whether Mitch and Mickey will go through with the onstage kiss as they did when they were young and still in love, and they gather in the wings with Jonathan, waiting together to see what happens. Who knew that a memorial concert featuring three throwback acts of various levels of musical irrelevance could feel so high-stakes? And all resting on a potential kiss at the end of a sweet little love song? I won't tell you what happens. You just need to watch this movie. Mitch and Mickey's professional and personal reconciliation is what ultimately brings all of the singers together in a place of true exuberance and collaboration for one final song, and gives the memorial concert real depth and meaning. Six months later, we see that the three groups have all come out of this experience for the better in very different ways, given their disparate goals and values as artists. Mike LaFontaine has brokered a deal for The New Main Street Singers to star on a sitcom as Supreme Court judges ("The Supreme Folk"). The Folksmen have decided to permanently reunite and tour again (mostly at casinos in upstate New York), and Mark Shubb (their upright bass player) comes out as transgender - a kind of random character swerve that is nonetheless handled surprisingly respectfully for a 20-year-old film made when trans rights and visibility were still often played for cruel laughs. And Mitch and Mickey? Well, again, I won't tell you what happens. You really just need to watch this movie. In my eyes, A Mighty Wind is the best film of Christopher Guest's oeuvre. The amount of work and love that went into authentically recreating aspects of the folk music scene of the 60s is astonishing - every song featured in the film is an original composition, written by Guest, Levy, Shearer, O'Hara, McKean, and his wife Annette O'Toole, but they sound uncannily like real folk music of the time period. John Michael Higgins arranged all of the complicated nine-part harmonies for the Main Street Singers, which is a staggering feat. Every single actor portraying one of the musicians did their own singing and played live in the film and for the soundtrack album. McKean and O'Toole were nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song for "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," marking the first time one of Guest's films was recognized by the Motion Picture Academy (while sadly they didn't win, viewers did get to see Levy and O'Hara perform the song live during the 2004 telecast as Mitch and Mickey). And the title song, "A Mighty Wind," won a Grammy in 2004 for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. The folk music verisimilitude and awards and accolades are not really what sets A Mighty Wind apart from Guest's other work. What makes this film so wonderful and so powerful was Guest's choice to have Levy and O'Hara portray the Mitch and Mickey storyline completely straight, showing the raw feelings and brokenness of these two characters and the love they used to share, and the real sadness of the loss of that love and the innocence that accompanied it. I don't think my high school pals and I were emotionally mature enough, back in 2003, to recognize that the Mitch and Mickey story was the true heart of the film, so that's why we ran around screaming "WHA' HAPPENED?!" at each other and laughing like idiots. But with the hindsight of 20 years - an entire lifetime, during which I have experienced my own forms of love and heartbreak and innocence lost - it's clear to me that the strength of this film lies completely within Mitch and Mickey's story, and that’s why it still holds up so well now. And even if we didn't fully realize it back then, Mitch and Mickey are in fact, subconsciously, what so deeply moved a bunch of jaded teenage Millennials in the early aughts. A Mighty Wind is available on Amazon Prime. Like I said, if you haven't seen it yet, please go rent it now. And if you have seen it - watch it again. As Irving Steinbloom used to say about The Main Street Singers, it's "the kind of infectious that's it’s good to spread around." Reeya Banerjee Staff Writer Reeya is a musician and writer based in New York's Capital District. Her debut album, “The Way Up,” was released on January 27, 2022. She can frequently be seen in her car on the NYS Thruway cursing traffic on her way to the Hudson Valley for band rehearsals or to Brooklyn for recording sessions. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU returns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.

  • PODCAST: Story Screen Reports - Will the Real Jenny Please Stand Up?

    Story Screen Reports is our team REACTING to the top 5 film, television and entertainment news stories of the month. Join us as we dissect and comb through everything from upcoming releases to studio drama. On this episode, Bernadette Gorman-White hops on to discuss the national controversy of that NOT being Jenny at the Oscars, Tarantino announcing the plot of his "last" film, Roger Deakins dropping straight knowledge on the Academy's taste in cinematography, as well as a few other stories. You can find those stories, and the sourced articles, linked below. 1. ‘The Lord of the Rings’: Amazon, Warner Bros. Ready for Tolkien Battle Written by James Hibberd at The Hollywood Reporter Other Sources: Peter Jackson was ghosted by Amazon Explainer and how fucking confusing the LOTR rights situation works Who is Embracer Group 2. Breaking Baz: Oscar Winner Sir Roger Deakins Says, “The Best Cinematography Hasn’t BeenNominated” This Year, Thinks Oscars Are “Snobby” About Cinematographers Of Popular Movies Written by Baz Bamigboye at Deadline 3. Quentin Tarantino’s Final Film Is Coming as Filmmaker Readies ‘The Movie Critic’ Written by Borys Kit at The Hollywood Reporter 4. Jenny the Donkey’s Oscar Cameo was all a Fraud Written by Zoe Guy for Vulture 5. Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson exit Star Wars flick Written by Jeff Sneider at Above the Line Listen on....

  • I Watched the "City Slickers" Movies and So Should You

    “Helloooooooo.” Every year after the hangover of watching "oh so many" films for both Oscars Season and forming my "Best of the Year" list, as well as my usual fare of consuming film after film for podcasts and other such content, I like to unwind with some casual viewing. This year brought me to the likes of binging all four Hunger Games movies in a single day (a choice I stand by), and also checking out two beloved films from my youth that I haven’t rewatched in over twenty years: the City Slickers movies. Now, historically, these films are considered to fall into the most common of two-part comedy franchises: the first one is really great and the second one kinda sucks. This is sort of true in the case, but I’d argue that’s because City Slickers is probably one of the best comedies made in the 90s, and a follow-up was already destined for falling behind. Let us discuss. The first film, released in 1991, finds three lifelong friends venturing out on the chest-thumping, manliness-proving exercise of driving cattle from one ranch to another across the Colorado landscape, all a part of a dude ranch experience they’ve paid for. These three men include: Mitch (Billy Crystal), who has become more and more depressed with his lot in life as a recently turned 39-year-old with an unfilling job and a family that is feeling the repercussions. Phil (Daniel Stern), has just ended a toxic relationship with a henpecking wife by accidentally impregnating a store clerk that works for him at his father-in-law's grocery store after very intentionally sleeping with her. And finally, there’s Ed (Bruno Kirby), a full-of-himself, machismo type who has recently married an underwear model but still has doubts about settling down. Great guys with zero issues. At the ranch, they encounter a number of oddball characters, but none more concerning than the cattle drive’s trail boss, Curly (Jack Palance), whose old cowboy ways and general “I crap bigger than you” demeanor leaves a lot to be desired on the communication front. What follows is a story about a group of (you guessed it) city slickers embarking on an adventure that has the “Old West” test their bravery, but more importantly, their friendship and worldview. Now, this first movie is an all-timer, loaded with absolute peak Billy Crystal charm-edy, and giving you all the laughs you want but with a little bit more heart and thought than you might have been expecting. That’s the secret sauce to City Slickers. The tangent conversations in the film range from matter-of-fact, slice-of-life comedy to truly personal thoughts of existence, time, regret, and love, made all the more affecting by the fact the three leads (and the script) really make you believe that these three guys have been friends for a long time. There’s a back-and-forth that is present in just about any buddy movie, especially comedies, but there’s an amazing lightning-in-a-bottle effect that occurs whenever Crystal, Stern, and Kirby are on screen together talking about anything from operating VCR recordings to having affairs with voluptuous aliens. Roger Ebert described the movie as being about “human nature” more than anything else, and I partly agree with him, since the movie is pretty much more about “mid-life crisis, white guy” nature. It’s about three men trying to prove their manliness, though that means something different to each of them, and learning that they’ve reached an age and a time in their lives where it’s more about being honest with yourself and finding out what matters most than trying to do what you think you’re supposed to, or even what you want to. Desson Howe of The Washington Post mentioned in his review at the film’s release, its similarities to The Wizard of Oz, which I agree with but also have some slightly different interpretations. Phil, who learns to stand up for himself and accept that life can start again even at his age, gets his courage. Ed, after realizing that life is too short to be hung up on what might be down the road, learns to think rationally. And Mitch, being given the meaning of life from Curly as “find that one thing,” eventually discovers that his family that he has built and the life he has been afforded is the thing that matters the most, finding his heart. All of this is due to the otherworldly guidance of trail boss Curly, as the “Dorothy” that leads them along in this scenario. But don’t tell him that. City Slickers is playfully action-packed and bordering on mumblecore comedy in all the right ways. The movie operates as a very good western tucked into the mid-life crisis comedy of Crystal at the time, who is the sex symbol we deserved in the early nineties. And I’m not one to preach the legitimacy of the Academy, but hot damn Jack Palance pulling in the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this is a hell of a win for Team Fun. After the massive success of City Slickers, it was only natural for a sequel to begin to sprout, and that came in the form of the much-maligned City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, hitting cinemas everywhere in 1994. While released three years after the first film, the plot of City Slickers II takes place one year after the events of the original, with Mitch now perfectly content with his family life and running a very successful radio ad agency. Phil, who has been sinking back into his self-pity and desperate lifestyle, is working at Mitch’s agency unknowingly as a favor from Mitch, one that has a ticking clock that unfortunately is about to bounce springs and gears. To top it all off, Mitch’s deadbeat, and previously undisclosed brother (we’ll return to this), Glen (Jon Lovitz) has dropped in for a surprise visit that Mitch and his wife are sure will lead to a little money lending and much Godfather reenactments. Long story short, Mitch discovers a treasure map in the hat of the deceased Curly, a token he had held onto from the first film, and he decides to use a business trip to Las Vegas as an excuse to go after the gold, bringing Phil and Glen along for the ride. But once they’re on the hunt, they encounter Curly’s previously undisclosed twin brother (see), Duke, once again played by Academy Award winner Jack Palance, who is also after the gold. The crew agrees to work together and split the wealth, forging forward into the West, all the while talking about VCRs and brotherly affection. So, let’s get two things out of the way: City Slickers II is nowhere near as good as City Slickers. I mean, it got nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Remake or Sequel, which is a totally legitimate reason for someone to think the movie sucks, amirite? But more importantly (or seriously), what City Slickers II lacks is the practically undefinable synergy of comedy and soul that the first nailed with ease. That’s the easiest takeaway. And while I agree that the sequel fails to live up to the levels of both of those ingredients from the first, I do think that there is a lot here of worth. I’m drawing a blank on thinking of anything in cinema history as impressive as the writers and everyone involved in this movie just being like “Fuck it, Curly had a twin brother and he’s played by Jack Palance again. His name is Duke. He pretty much acts just like him, only give him more dialogue.” That’s some baller shit, even if it’s also some daytime soap opera shit. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. And honestly, I think the choices they made with Duke’s character are pretty cool. He’s actually a bit more cutting and unkind than Curly, which isn’t to say that both characters have different hang-ups on “city folk.” It’s just that Curly had a very personal experience with Mitch in the first film that opened him up, and Duke doesn’t really have that, but he’s also not Curly. He’s a totally different guy. His distaste for these idiots is relatable to Curly’s, but he’s actually a bit nastier than his brother in the interactions. I think that’s a pretty cool choice! As for the rest of the movie, there’s an obvious parallel to Curly’s brother showing up just as we, the audience, are learning about Mitch’s relationship with his brother Glen. And I think that’s where the movie has its strongest through-point in comparison to what the first film was really talking about in between the jokes and gags. Bruno Kirby decided to not return for this installment, reportedly because he was aggressively allergic to horses, something I learned halfway through my rewatch of the first film, and, buddy, yep that shows. No disrespect to the actor, his character was usually miffed at all times anyways, but anytime he is in a scene with a horse, you can notice he is increasingly distempered. So, having to fill the third slot in Slicker's gang, Mitch’s brother makes the most sense given what the rest of the film is about to explore. Not only because of the similarities to the Curly/Duke dynamic but also as an extension of the first film that found Mitch coming to terms with who he is and what matters to him most: family. This chapter finds him not only wrestling with maintaining that newly found serenity in the face of wealth and success but with his past familiar actions as well. Granted, Glen is presented as a pretty lame, burn-out bro, but Lovitz brings an energy to the performance that is equal parts comedic and quotable as well as touching and understandable. I just really dig what his inclusion, as both actor and character, brings to this chapter. While we’re on Lovitz, I absolutely must confess this. I didn’t realize how formative this movie was to me until this recent rewatch. I owned City Slickers II on VHS when I was growing up, and would watch it repeatedly, for no reason I can fathom at this time. Rewatching it now, I was shocked to discover that I had seen this movie at least a dozen times before I had seen any of the Godfather films, and Jon Lovitz’s character bit of quoting Godfather scenes is actually where I pull a lot of the most famous quotes from those films. I know they’re from the Godfather(s), but they’re in Jon Lovitz’s voice when I think about them in my head, most specifically “THIS is the business we’ve chosen!” Just needed to speak my truth on that, and confess that using those quotes in my day-to-day life has returned and I don’t know how to feel about it. Ultimately, City Slickers II is a distant and different achievement than its predecessor, and that’s kind of why I love it. Some choices could’ve been made in the design and execution of the sequel that might’ve made it better, but I don’t think that any of those choices would’ve made it more enjoyable. The fact that they are making a movie about a bunch of guys chasing hidden gold while making a movie trying to capture the gold that was City Slickers, is just too hard for me to ignore as a context pervert. I just love them both so much, for different reasons, just like you would one son and another previously undisclosed son. City Slickers III, please? City Slickers and City Slickers II are currently available on HBO Max. Mike Burdge Editor-in-Chief Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading and listening to things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY, and most assuredly is going through a French Connection phase.

  • PODCAST: Cathode Ray Cast - The Last of Us S1

    Bernadette Gorman-White leads the conversation with guests Robby Anderson, Diana DiMuro and Mike Burdge to chat about the latest HBO sensation to sweep the nation: the television adaptation of The Last of Us. Robby and Mike discuss changes and comparisons to the game, while Bernadette and Diana bring fresh takes on the show and story. Listen on....

  • Rón Inis: Island of the Seals: Home

    If you grew up in the early to mid-90s, it’s safe to say you were deeply affected by one, if not all, of the following: 1993’s The Secret Garden, 1994’s The Pagemaster, 1995’s The Indian in the Cupboard, and 1996’s Matilda. Alongside the lingering effects of films such as Labyrinth and The Neverending Story, the last decade of the 20th century was filled with childlike wonder and films that bridged the gap between real-world limitations and fantasy, all focusing on the power children can possess. Creating strong ties between nature, exploration, imagination, and curiosity, these films all inspired the last pre-social-media generation to get out and discover their own fantasy worlds. Speaking as a member of that generation, it was a pretty good childhood. Despite the popularity of the aforementioned films, there was no other film that spoke to this sense of adventure, intrigue, and nostalgia in my household better than 1994’s The Secret of Roan Inish. It had been well over a decade, maybe two, since I had returned to Roan Inish, and I (alongside my husband, who had never seen it) was long overdue for a rewatch. Growing up in a family that sports an Irish surname, albeit a few generations removed, my mom, siblings, and I would watch The Secret of Roan Inish constantly on repeat during the 90s. Recently taking the time to revisit Roan Inish reminded me of a bygone era less saturated with streaming services and content and (here’s the nostalgia talking) it eased my mind as it took me to a time where I saw the world for possibility and not for what it would come to lack. On a more positive note, however, Roan Inish reminded me of the folklore I loved in my childhood and how it magically made me feel closer to my distant Irish heritage, not to mention, how watching the film itself became a beloved tradition in the threads of my own personal, immediate heritage. So, this St. Patrick’s Day, I hope to pique your interest in the little-known gem, The Secret of Roan Inish. Holding strong on Rotten Tomatoes with a 96% Tomatometer and an 87% Audience Score, I have yet to meet someone outside of my family who has seen this film. Let me tell you why you should. John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inish opens in 1946 in the aftermath of a series of family tragedies. Our protagonist, young Fiona (a delightful Jeni Courtney in one of her only three film acting roles), is being shipped off to stay with her grandparents in Donegal Town, due to her father’s lack of ability to care for her. In a series of flashbacks, we find out why Fiona’s father, Jimmy, has sunken into this state; before their entire family was evacuated from their generational home on Roan Inish during WWII, Fiona’s mother passed away, and then later, during the evacuation, their youngest son (in his ship-like cradle, resting on the beach) was taken out to sea during an unexpected tide, never to be seen again. Needless to say, Jimmy is well in his cups, so Fiona must go elsewhere, for her sake and for his. Once living with her grandparents, Hugh and Tess (a wonderful Mick Lally and Eileen Colgan), Fiona slowly learns more and more about her family history. She learns, from Hugh, the story of a distant grandfather who held onto his Gaelic dialect in the face of English suppressors. She learns more about fishing and boat care from her grandfather and her cousin Eamon (a great scene partner for Fiona played by Richard Sheridan), who accompanies Hugh on his fishing trips. But, most importantly of all, she learns from a distant cousin, Tadhg, about the legacy of the “dark ones” in their family. Legend has it that a member of their clan, generations ago, took a mysterious wife on Roan Inish. He went out to sea alone and came back with a beautiful woman, one he beguiled by stealing her skin, the skin of the selkie. The woman, Nula, stayed with her husband, Tim, and together they happily raised their brood. But Nula always ached for the sea, and one day, when her eldest asked why their father kept a leather coat hidden in the roof, Nula knew she must return. Generations later, Fiona’s family still occasionally birthed a descendant of Nula, known as a “dark one.” Jamie, her brother lost to the sea during the evacuation, has been rumored to be a true descendent of Nula, one of the generational “dark ones.” During her trips to Roan Inish (for Fiona begs to spend time on the island while her grandfather and cousin are fishing), she begins to see signs that Jamie might still be alive after all these years, living side by side with the seals. A fire just finished and still warm, an assortment of tools laid out on a table in one of the abandoned homes, footprints on the beach..and then an actual sighting! Similarly to the other fantasy films of the era, The Secret of Roan Inish never doubts young Fiona; what she’s seeing is the truth. So, she and Eamon hatch a plan to fix up the familial homes on Roan Inish in order to lure the grandparents back to the island and to finally be reunited with Jamie. But, will Fiona and Eamon’s plan work? It’s here I leave you with the tale of Roan Inish, but I promise there’s much more to be seen. The beauty in The Secret of Roan Inish is that the folklore is deftly woven into the story like a tapestry, inseparable from the “reality” of Irish life (and the film still feels remarkably fresh and spry after nearly 30 years). Adapted from a Scottish story, Roan Inish was originally called Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry by Rosalie K. Fry, but the story mainly remains the same as the selkie folklore, one of Celtic and Norse mythology, and could easily be adapted for an Irish setting. The Secret of Roan Inish may be my favorite selkie movie, but the mythology was also beautifully spotlighted in Cartoon Saloon’s 2014 Song of the Sea, as part of Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” sandwiched sequentially between the equally great The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers. Additionally, the selkie mythology was given a more “adult” treatment in 2009’s Ondine (starring resident Irish cutie Colin Farrell), which I will now be watching as it had not previously been on my radar. It’s a good time to be a selkie fan. Returning to Roan Inish brought me great joy this St. Patrick’s Day season, and I hope it does the same for you. With films like Leprechaun and The Luck of the Irish, there’s truly an Irish film for everyone, but I think the most special ones are those that bring you back to your family and those warm memories of yesteryear: an earlier time when wonder and luck felt vibrant, within reach, and just outside your front door. We’ve been blessed with some quality Irish films in the past few years (2015’s Brooklyn and 2022’s The Banshees of Inisherin, to name a few), and I hope they keep on coming. But sometimes it feels good to go home, back to Roan Inish. Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Éirinn go Brách. ************************** The Secret of Roan Inish is available to stream on AmazonPrime and Mason Daring’s excellent soundtrack can be found on Spotify. Bernadette Gorman-White Managing Editor Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.

  • PODCAST: Freakin' Out with Flanagan - Gerald's Game & Doctor Sleep

    Diana DiMuro and Mike Burdge take a trip to King Land with director Mike Flanagan's two feature film Stephen King adaptations: Gerald's Game and Doctor Sleep. And they both rip hard. Listen on....

  • Thank You, Beacon!

    Last week we announced over social media that founder, editor-in-chief, and all-around man-behind-the-curtain, Mike Burdge, is leaving the theater located at 445 Main Street in Beacon, NY, and Story Screen is going with him. We received an outpouring of love from the community, plenty of questions, and even some potential misinformation (No, Mike is not dead or leaving Story Screen. Yes, the theater will remain a movie theater, now called The Beacon). Mike started Story Screen in 2014, showing movies publicly as pop-up events around Beacon, NY while partnering with local businesses. He gathered friends who created fun engaging content for pop-up events and Story Screen's website, everything from one-of-a-kind film posters to podcasts, videos, articles, and reviews - all while building a community of movie lovers where everyone is treated like family. Mike, along with Robert Anderson, Bernadette Gorman-White, and Diana DiMuro, later became Story Screen’s managing team behind the scenes. Story Screen built up a fanbase that helped lead to our involvement in the opening and management of Wonderbar and the Story Screen Beacon Theater. At Story Screen Beacon Theater, Mike was the programmer, booker, and projectionist, while also working with the staff of both the theater and Wonderbar. Just when it seemed like the business had finally hit its stride, the pandemic hit. Story Screen reached out to its fans with digital movie screenings and fun live-streaming events to help keep the community engaged while they stayed safe at home. Eventually, we worked with the City of Beacon to build and operate the Story Screen Drive-In at the Beacon Settlement Camp. It was important to find ways during the pandemic to support other Beacon businesses and engage with the community. We were all in this together. The Story Screen Drive-In was a huge success. We even continued operating it for a while after the theater reopened. Once the theater reopened, Story Screen continued to bring quality film programming (whether new or old, mainstream, independent, or local) to the big screen, while also hosting special events at the theater like the Beacon HorrorShow, Trivia nights, an annual Oscars celebration, and our monthly VHS Pasta Night. These special events and themed film series built up a large and supportive audience. We have had a terrific response to events and tremendous community support from everyone in Beacon. We love engaging with you. We are always excited when someone says they recognize one of us from a podcast episode of “Story Screen Presents” or when they want to discuss a movie they enjoyed watching at the theater. We are definitely sad to leave the Beacon location behind, but we are also extremely excited about what’s next. On behalf of everyone behind Story Screen, we want to thank all of the staff (past and present) of Wonderbar and the Beacon theater, all of the artists, creatives, and writers who contributed over the years to special events and our website, businesses who donated, and to everyone who showed up for screenings, from the early days of pop-up events around Beacon to shows on the big screen at the Story Screen Beacon Theater. Thank you to the entire community of Beacon for all of its love and support. We could not have done it without you. PLEASE STAY TUNED, FRIENDS. This is not the end. While Mike Burdge and Story Screen are leaving the theater located at 445 Main Street, Beacon, NY, we still have so much more in store. We appreciate your continued support while we plan what’s next for Story Screen in the coming months. We are excited about new locations, themed pop-up events, movie trivia, games, and much more! To stay up to date on the latest and greatest, follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram & Twitter) and visit our website where you can sign up for our newsletter and find all of our fresh film content (articles, reviews, podcasts, and videos), as well as information on upcoming special events. Keep an eye out for the launch of our new membership platform where you can support us while gaining access to exclusive content, special merchandise, and admission to our upcoming events. We can’t wait to see you at the movies. Love, The Story Screen Family

  • In Defense of WHITE NOISE

    ** Warning: contains significant spoilers for White Noise ** Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise, was my favorite film of last year. More than that, I strongly suspect that it’s going to be a lasting all-time favorite film for me that I will happily return to repeatedly; But, something I’m discovering is that I seem to be somewhat by myself in that high opinion of the film. Now, I have no problem being the lonely voice trying to reclaim a maligned masterpiece, but I’m especially surprised that I need to play defender in this case, as I genuinely think White Noise is an obvious and straightforwardly great film. I remember when White Noise was first announced. It was thought to be a likely candidate to be in the mix for all manner of end of year awards, just on the strength of the book’s reputation and Baumbach’s recent success with Marriage Story. After people actually saw the film, though, none of that materialized. It ended up being largely absent from critics’ end of year top 10 lists; And, looking at review aggregator sites, it seems like it received a fairly lukewarm response from critics, and an almost hostile response from general audiences. Maybe part of the blame for its reception is that it’s a film about death; and not death in the usual heightened movie sense of something like a disaster movie or revenge film, but rather the disquieting and mundane sense of death as something ever looming in our everyday lives. Since this is exactly the kind of thing that people go to movies to escape thinking about, I could see how that might be alienating. To try and see where things might have gone wrong for the film, I went looking for some more specific complaints by skimming through the negative reviews of the film that I could find, and making myself a little word cloud of whatever terms appeared the most often. Based on that, the most common criticisms seemed to fall into a couple of different groups: first, that the film was seen as pretentious or vacuous, second that it felt detached and ungrounded; and third, that it seemed jumbled and haphazard. Harsh words, but, I can kind of see where each of those observations is coming from. I just happen to think each of those elements is largely intentional, and that they wind up contributing to my affection for the film. Structurally, White Noise is broken into three acts, along with a small opening prologue and a wonderful final coda that plays out during my favorite closing credits sequence since Inland Empire. The beginning is a short jaunty lecture being delivered to a college class by Don Cheadle’s professor character, Murray Siskind, discussing how he takes car crashes in films to be an example of secular optimism, showing the ever-expanding scope of what human beings can do with human things; and that underneath their seeming violence is a spirit of innocence and fun. Notably, this isn’t how the book opens, so the presumption from Baumbach is that he would like us to keep this in mind with everything we’re about to see, and we can decide for ourselves whether or not underneath the coming violence we’re about to witness, we will find that same spirit of innocence and fun. The first main section of the film introduces us to the Gladney family. Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is a professor of Hitler Studies, at The College on the Hill. He lives with his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), who teaches an adult education course on movement. They each have been married 3 times before, and are raising an eclectic brood of children from those various marriages, along with a young son, Wilder, that is theirs. This first act is mostly a skewering of academia and consumerism, featuring fatuous conversations between Jack, his fellow professors, and his friends Murray; often in the aisles of the local A & P Supermarket. This section of the film culminates in a surreal and bravura scene of the two men simultaneously giving different lectures to the same class, on Elvis and Hitler respectively. I’m vocationally predisposed to enjoy the jabs at academia, and the absurd, yet credible, idea of a college having a world class Hitler studies department amuses me to no end, but what I love most about this whole opening section of the film is actually the Altman-esque way we get to see the Gladney family bounce off one another in their home, especially the playful relationship between husband and wife, Jack and Babette. Their children are all wonderfully cast, each with their own voice and personality, but the moment I come back to the most is just between Jack and Babette. It’s a conversation between the two of them in bed, where they’re half joking about how they each want to be the one of them to die first, hyperbolically talking about not being able to bear the thought of having to go on living without the other. This exchange especially resonates with me because I know that I have had this exact conversation, in precisely this tone, with my wife. It’s a playful exchange, and sincerely so because that’s the only way to talk about such things, but both of them also know that they are whistling past the graveyard too and that there is real anxiety underneath what they’re saying. Going back for a moment, the transition between the first and second act is that simultaneous lecture that Jack and Murray are giving. As Jack is building to a crescendo, we start to see his words intercut with a disaster unfolding at the same time on the other side of town. While they are lecturing on Elvis and Hitler, about what those two figures share in the obsession about their lives and deaths, a train carrying a massive amount of hazardous materials is in the midst of derailing and ultimately exploding, due to a collision with a car. This chemical explosion will create a life-threatening airborne toxic event that will lead to a large-scale evacuation of the region. Due to this car crash, Jack and Babette’s fear of death has now become manifest as a literal dark and poisonous cloud looming over their heads. It’s in this second act that the film makes its first big shift, turning into a peculiar kind of disaster film. The train crash is dramatic, but there is an initial detachment to how Jack and Babette handle it. While their oldest son, Heinrich, is watching the rising plume of smoke at the crash site with a pair of binoculars through their attic window, Jack is actively downplaying the severity of what’s happening. Partly this plays like a parent wanting to put a happy face on bad news, but it also reads like denial on Jack’s part that such a thing could happen in his bucolic college town. It’s not exactly blindness to what could be happening, but a willful reluctance on Jack and Babette’s part to fully reckon with the worsening news, and increasingly frequent sirens, until finally a car with a megaphone drives down their street ordering all homes to be evacuated immediately. The evacuation itself is odd in contrast to other disaster films. The family piles into the car, and backs over their garbage cans as they quickly pull into the street, like you may have seen in a dozen other movies before, only to immediately settle down into the slow and orderly crawl of cars heading out of town. Rather than being panicked or exhibiting some heroic steely resolve or performing any number of other possible cinematic emotions, what they’re doing is looking to the people in those other cars in order to try and calibrate how scared they're supposed to feel. In moments the film can truly look like a disaster movie, though. We get one shot of the black cloud at night during the evacuation, dramatically lit by helicopter spotlights and bursts of lightning; a shot that would be right at home in a Roland Emmerich movie, right down to the people slowly getting out of their cars to stare in wonder and awe up at the sky. But nothing more comes of that moment. Everyone just gets back in their cars and starts driving again. Next thing we know, we’re arriving at their assigned evacuation point at a Boy Scout camp, Camp Daffodil for a brief respite. By the very next morning, they suddenly have to evacuate again as the cloud is still coming towards them. There is an actually thrilling sequence where Jack decides to follow some survivalists who drive off into the woods rather than following the rest of the evacuees out of the campsite. There is a high-speed chase through the woods, a chase that briefly entails their family car getting caught and sent floating down a river, only to escape the river by floating close enough to the river bank to gain enough traction to escape. Back on solid ground, they tear through the woods and into a cornfield that ultimately just dumps them out onto the same they would have been evacuating on in the first place, with all the cars that are making their slow and orderly evacuation from camp. In some ways, the third act is the wildest swing of the film, and possibly what might have been most alienating to some viewers, because we get something of a third mini-movie. After 9 days, the cloud has been dispersed, and everyone can return to their homes, and now the question is how to go about one’s life having survived something like this. The very strangest thing about this part of the film is that this seemingly fantastical disaster actually happened in real life only weeks after the film’s release, near the same part of Ohio where White Noise was filmed, with some of the very same people who played extras in this evacuation sequence having to evacuate their own homes for the same reason. A train derailed carrying large amounts of vinyl chloride that vented into the atmosphere creating an airborne toxic event like in the film, and it was five days before anyone from within a mile of the crash site was allowed to return to their homes. Something we are starting to see there that resembles what happened in the film is the strangeness of the beginning stages of normalcy reasserting itself in the aftermath, but particularly that kind of disingenuous normalcy that is just pretending everything is fine, or the kind of normalcy that is simply choosing not to think about what has happened or is still happening all around you. What I appreciate about White Noise is the way it captures something of this transition from mundane daily worries, to total catastrophe, and how complicated the pull of normalcy is in any aftermath. Maybe we haven’t all had the experience of fleeing some disaster, but most of us know something of being blindsided by tragedy in some form. There’s a complicated mix between things around you returning to normal whether you’re ready for it or not, your own desire to return to normalcy however impossible that might be, and the inevitable emergence of some new normal. There is never any going backward, but the vacuum created by any disaster or tragedy will be soon filled with something whether we like it or not. In the third act of the film, Jack, Babette, and the family are trying to get their footing after the disaster. Jack returns to the familiar, preparing for a conference his college is hosting and his regular shopping at the A & P; while Babette, on the other hand, is struggling to find a new normal. We learn more about something teased about Babette in the first act of the film. She has been secretly taking an experimental drug called Dylar, which has been specifically designed to help with anxiety about death. It does this mostly by creating a profound forgetfulness. Babette has now become even more dependent on this drug in the aftermath of the disaster and has had to go to incredible lengths to continue getting it. In the bigger picture, between both Jack and Babette, what we’re seeing is some of the unsatisfying ways humans try to cope with mortality: work, consumerism, pharmaceuticals; and before the film is done, we’ll also take a look at violence and religion as coping mechanisms, too. Jack will finally learn from Babette about the medication she’s been taking, why she’s been taking it, and what she had to do in order to keep getting it; and Jack will become completely unmoored by this knowledge. Now the film turns into a revenge thriller as Jack is driven to find the man that’s been manipulating Babette. Again though, like with our mini disaster movie, this thriller will also be subverted. In seeking revenge, Jack is looking for one more coping mechanism that will give him the illusion of control. He will track down the man that’s been taking advantage of Babette, and Jack will shoot him with a tiny gun lent to him by Murray during the evacuation. Babette, having followed Jack, will find him just after his having placed the wiped-down gun in the man’s hand. While Jack is distracted, the actually not-yet-dead man will fire the final bullet in the gun, grazing both Jack and Babette. For some actual thrillers, this could be the ending. But, seeing Babette, and maybe realizing that his revenge hasn’t accomplished anything, for him, the man, or Babette, Jack decides he’s not really a killer and that they can’t just leave the shot man to die. Fortunately for Jack, the man has been taking even higher doses of the drug than what he’s been giving Babette, and he has already forgotten that it was Jack that shot him. Jack and Babette drag him to their car, and drive to get them all help at a nearby emergency room run by an order of nuns. Jack and Babette pound on the door, while Babette calls out “We’re shot!” Literally shot, but the phrasing lets us know that they’re emotionally shot as well, pounding on the door of a building with just the word emergency and a giant neon crucifix over it. If Jack and Babette were looking for some comfort in religion here, though, they’re out of luck; as the nun they speak with has lost her faith. She can’t offer them Heaven or angels or hope for anything after this life, and can only recommend that they find what comfort they can by believing in one another. While the nun is speaking to them, Jack and Babette reach between their beds and take one another’s hand. On the screen, the subtitled text beneath their held hands is just the words “We pray”. When the nun leaves, Jack and Babette talk, and we can see that they’ve emotionally come full circle to where we met them at the start of the film. We end on the family, making another trip out to the A & P, maybe heading once more into the breach of distracting consumerism, but at least going happily and together. And, in that moment at the end of a film where the music kicks in and the screen would otherwise go to black, the camera stays with the family as they head into the store, and we watch they, and everyone else in the store, dance to LCD Soundsystem’s “new body rhumba” for the duration of the closing credits. This is the innocence and fun we were promised at the outset of the film. White Noise is a messy film. It has a strangely chaotic and playful energy throughout, which is striking because of what the film is so overtly about. But, as with a film like Harold and Maude, that odd energy is what lets you linger on the subject without getting overwhelmed. That odd energy is what lets us look at a subject like human mortality and hold onto the idea that there is still room in the days remaining to us for innocence and fun. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

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