Favorite Films of 2013

Ok! So there are a whole lot of films I wanted to see this year and haven’t yet (20 Feet From Stardom and Stories We Tell come to mind). These were my favorites of the one I did see. I’m not really going to give you synopses, so you may need to use the google if you’re unfamiliar with what these films are about. I’m just gonna say the things I feel like saying because thank god I am not a film critic and I can just do that. Kind of in order:

10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire IDGAF, I really, really liked this movie. I cried multiple times. Jennifer Lawrence deserves more accolades for this layered, subtle portrayal of PTSD than her Oscar-winning turn in Silver Linings Playbook. Newcomers to the franchise Jenna Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amanda Plummer, Jeffery Wright and Sam Claflin are all great (even though I still wish Jesse Williams had been cast an Fennick. I do. This dude Claflin is pretty great, though). I was a big fan of the first movie (and defender of its much-maligned shaky-cam) but I concur that this one is better. There’s more interesting stuff going on psychologically, and I’m impressed with how much of that is indicated despite having to cram in so much action and plot. So many characters conveying so much in so little screen time! Casting, man. They nailed it. I mean, Peeta and Gale are a little out of their league–not bad, just not fucking awesome on the level of everyone else. Fabulously staged action sequences. Real characters. We can argue about how well The Hunger Games‘ media and war metaphors hold up under scrutiny, but I’m firmly in the camp that believes there’s a lot of good stuff to chew on here, and I’m glad these are huge mainstream hits.

9. Dirty Wars The documentary film version of Jeremy Scahill’s investigation into the covert operations of the Joint Special Operations Command, in Afghanistan and beyond. Frightening, tragic and enraging, Dirty Wars is an important, impressive and admirable piece of journalistic and cinematic work.

8. Blue Jasmine I made this list and wrote most of this post before the woman formerly known as Dylan Farrow recently came forward and confirmed that yes, Woody Allen did molest her at age 7. I can’t even. I remember that allegation being made back in the early ’90s, and my recollection was that it had either been recanted or disproven or…something. My adolescent brain had decided, perhaps all too conveniently, that that hadn’t happened. The stuff with Soon-Yi was inappropriate and creepy enough, but for me wasn’t “I’m never giving this man a dime again” territory. But now. Well. I’m not going to tell you to pay money to see this movie, however much I did like it when I saw it. I thought about replacing it with another film. I don’t think I would have paid to see it if the Farrow interview had occurred earlier. Is it still one of my favorite films of the year? I don’t fucking know. I do know that I will not be an apologist for a likely child molester, however much his films have meant to me over the course of my entire life (the answer is: a lot. A LOT).

Anyway. Here’s what I had written about the film. I still agree with all of it. I just don’t agree that this is a person who should be supported, or that art can neatly be separated from personal horribleness, at least so far as financial support goes. So I decided to just share my thoughts and feelings in retrospect rather than sub in another movie (it was going to be Inside Llewyn Davis, fwiw). Having many feelings, all bad. So I had written:

This reminded me of people I know. Not gonna get into it beyond that, but a big part of why I liked this so much is that I bought Cate Blanchett’s frozen, stunted character 100%, and was grateful for the depiction. She is excellent, as is the rest of the cast, with Bobby Canavale and Andrew Dice Clay(!) in standout performances. Louis CK is perfectly cast and lovely in a small role as well. File this under solid late-era Woody Allen.

Idk if “solid late-era Woody Allen” is a category that makes much sense to me anymore.

7. Newlyweeds Director Shaka King is one to watch, a new voice I’m excited to hear. Newlyweeds is refreshing and unique, a spot-on comedic nightmare about losing control over your weed habit and the fine line between charmed stoner romance and pathetic pot head crisis. It’s sure to leave viewers who like their weed laughing with uneasy recognition. Amari Cheatom as Lyle and Trae Harris as Nina are great as the leads in love. Harris’ scenes at her job as a tour guide at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum are a delightfully terrifying highlight. Oh yeah, this is also a great Brooklyn film if you’re into that sort of thing.

6. Blackfish This is an excellent, excellent advocacy documentary, one of the finest examples I’ve seen in recent years. Making great use of amazing, horrifying footage of messed up, covered up going on at Sea World and affiliated facilities, it’s hard to imagine a viewer walking away with the idea that the way we relate to orcas through such venues is remotely okay. It is moving to see trainers describe their disillusionment, sad and enraging to hear about and see the abuse of these animals, and fascinating to learn about their language, societal structures, culture. The film is hugely empathetic to the whales, including those who, in captivity, have killed people who in a way loved them, as well as said victims and their colleagues. Excellent journalism and filmmaking.

5. Carrie This was really good, and someone needs to write their thesis, or at least a weighty think piece about the odd, defensive middling reviews it received from mostly-male critics with bees in their bonnets about how, unlike De Palma’s “classic”, “definitive” version, the traumatic gym class shower scene is no longer early 80s Playboy Channel material. Sorry, dude critics. I know this is hard for you. Or not hard! LOL!

Anyway, much as I am actually a big fan of De Palma’s Carrie, overall I’d call Kimberly Pierce’s version superior. We get things like subtle character development (Julianne Moore’s excellent scenery chewing aside), motivations that make sense, storytelling rooted in empathy more than spectacle. De Palma’s split screens looked cool and all, but the clarity of this prom massacre was much needed and appreciated. Chloe Moretz is fabulous. There’s no imitating Sissy Spacek, she does her own thing.

Overall, anyone complaining about a “remake” can suck it, this is a necessary corrective to De Palma’s compelling but limited super De Palma-y personal vision that is much truer to the emotional world of Stephen King’s book. It is a Carrie that is actually for teenage girls, not middle aged critics who like to jerk off to images of them. Sorry dudes. Again, I know how hard that is to accept. Because I read a bunch of your weird reviews that were more about your own unarticulated feelings than the film. Too bad, this film deserved better.

4. Fruitvale Station An impeccably acted, tightly controlled depiction of the everyday leads up to horrific, sudden violence. The balance of dread that builds through the film interwoven with hope and levity is a potent, devastating mixture. Should be up for Oscars, isn’t. Even with goddamn Octavia Spencer in there. Guess the Academy liked her better in The Help?

3. 12 Years a Slave Very, very good. I am much more behind this than Shame, McQueen’s last film which, despite an interesting central relationship between Fassbender and Mulligan’s brother-sister characters, left me like “yeah, I get it, can we go a little deeper? No? It’s just gonna be this then? Over and over? Sigh.” over the depiction of Fassbender’s sex addiction. Maybe it’s just because I spent so many years as a phone sex worker, so I talked to a lot of guys like that, who had a compulsion, a need to get off but took no joy in it. It was really depressing to talk to those dudes. So I wanted some insight from McQueen beyond that I already had and came away with no such thing. But I digress. But you’ve doubtlessly already read a ton about this movie and I don’t know what I have to add that won’t be super redundant. I will say that if McQueen,  Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor don’t get their Oscars I will be very sad and angry.

Oh, also MoMA has this old silent short McQueen did called Deadpan that I really, really like.

2. Big Words Now that I don’t know how much I can get behind Woody Allen films, I’m extra glad to have a new, extremely talented voice on finely observed male neuroses to enjoy. Neil Drumming’s feature debut is a gem, filled with beautifully nuanced three dimensional characters, witty dialogue and truthfully dysfunctional relationships. Not just among the men who form the center of the ensemble–Yaya Alafia (also great last year in The Butler, a film I liked less well) and Jean Grae (in her film debut!) make strong impressions in supporting–but superbly drawn–roles. I was nervous given that Alafia plays a stripper, and stripper characters tend to be really crappy and offensive, especially if they’re women in a movie primarily about dudes, but Big Words manages to largely avoid stereotype and cliché in favor of depicting believable people. I maybe laughed more while watching this than at any other film this year, and those laughs meant more as this is a bittersweet relationship drama as much as a comedy. It’s not a cranking-them-out jokefest. It is a fine, fine film that I look forward to watching again.

1.The Act of Killing This movie is just…now that my more visceral memories of the experience of seeing it have faded, I’m getting worked up to watch it again on Netflix (it’s on there. Watch it.I went with three friends. One of them, who is Chinese, literally, loudly said “Holy shit” as the credits started to roll. Afterwards we talked a little about the film (mostly “Wow. Fuck.” etc), but there was no after-film drink and social. We were kinda like. “Ok. I guess I’ll go home. Bye.” We all really, really liked it, but also were completely spent and felt, well, fucked up. This film fucks you up. It fucked me the fuck up, and I don’t have nearly as direct a connection to the atrocities examined in it as some of my friends. About halfway through the film (I still remember the part, but I won’t spoil anything for you) I became physically nauseous, and the nausea did not go away until I went to sleep. The ability to make you sick is not, in and of itself, the mark of a good film, of course. This film was by far my favorite this year, despite how enormously unpleasant most of it was to watch, because it was the one that made me go “holy shit, this is what film can do”. Curious and generous in the face of real world horror, this film not only cuts  past platitudes and deep into the genuinely thorny question of how individual real, three dimensional people become willing participants in systemic violence, torture and murder, but takes its subjects through a narrative and consciousness altering experience as well. Fiction and documentary, film and reality may never have blurred to such a profound effect. This is not hyperbole. Everyone involved in making this (especially the countless crew members credited, for their own safety, as “anonymous”) are my heroes.

The Act of Killing, Big Words, Newlyweeds, Blackfish and Dirty Wars are all on Netflix. Please watch them.

Posted in Film, Media, Nicole Solomon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Albums from 2013

These are the 2013 albums I listened to most, which means they’re also the ones I probably liked the best. In reverse alphabetical order.

Kanye West – Yeezus: This would be at the end of my list if it was ranked. I love a lot about it–the production, the energy, the whole fuck-up-your-whole-afternoonness of it all, but I can’t get behind some of the last-minute, subpar lyrics. “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” is just not good, no matter how many fans scream it back to him from the audience. A lot of the lyrical ideas weren’t worked through, which is perhaps a necessary aspect of the project’s exhilarating rush, but is also a disappointment after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy raised that bar. I still listened to this shit a whole lot, though.

The Shondes – The Garden: I’m just so so so proud of them!

I made this. I’m making another video with them this month.

Savages – Silence Yourself: This is the first new rock band that I’ve liked in a while. I don’t like most new rock music the cool kids like. It’s flaccid. It doesn’t move me. I don’t think it moves anyone. This, though. The chorus of “She Will” makes me want to punch a hole in the wall, in the good way. DRUMS. Thank GOD for these drums. Yes, they do sound like long lost post-punk geniuses of a tense and aggressive flavor, so of course I’m prone to liking them. They don’t sound like any band in particular beyond isolated elements and overall vibe. Siouxie is a decent reference point vocal-wise, but Savages don’t sound much like The Banshees. Etc. Every member of the band is on point.

This fall I was at a video shoot with my friend Frank and it was like 2am and he was fading, and I just gave him my phone and ear buds so he could listen to this album for a few minutes, and then he was fine. Savages are better than coffee.

One of the absolute best live shows I saw (twice!) last year. Or ever.

Run The Jewels – Run the Jewels: So Killer Mike and El-P made an album.

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady: I have nothing bad to say about this album. I don’t understand critics who were mad the narrative wasn’t clearer–have they never heard a concept album before? As with several albums on my list, the whole Archandroid mythology adds a layer of enjoyment that listeners can delve into and engage with as much or little as we have the desire and attention, but aside from that you still have one of the most excellent collections of songs this year. That make me so, so happy. Seriously effective instant mood lifter, this album. Actually worthwhile skits, too. “ROBOT LOVE IS QUEER!”

MeLa Machinko – Hov Said it Best and 9am Blues: Another album that served as an antidepressant for me many days in 2013, Hov Said it Best also works completely as a collection of fantastic songs even without the Jay Z references woven throughout. Jay’s oeuvre may have been the muse, but MeLa moved well beyond clever fangirl response and establishes her own very specific voice as a singer and songwriter, deftly turning from bittersweet to choke-on-your-drink hilarious on a dime. Her voice is so purty and nice to listen to that you bliss out and start humming along to lyrics that you suddenly realize are about telling some dude to eat a bag of baby dicks. That’s the kind of thing that just makes my morning just a little bit better. Then, right before the year ended, she dropped an ep of more straight-forward songs that maintain Hov‘s balance of fantastic craft, humor and immediate relatability. Only thing is I wish both were available on vinyl.

One of my favorite songs on the album.

Jean Grae – Gotham Down Trilogy: If anyone paid me to write think pieces (or if I just had more time to think and write unpaid) I might do one about how the three eps that comprise Gotham Down prefigured Beyonce with their sudden, direct-to-fans-style releases (They were eventually compiled as Gotham Down Deluxe). As for the contents– Jean introduced an assassin character on 2003’s choose-your-own-adventure-themed song Chapter One: Destiny, which ends on somewhat infuriatingly open note, if you were me in the aughts wishing the prompts inside the song to skip to various other tracks in order to continue the story actually did so (there was no track 7!) That story is continued here, ten years later, though chronology is a little more complicated for the time-traveling character. The more you listen to these songs, the more the different pieces of the complex narrative tapestry begin to come together though, in keeping with a theme of this list, the songs work perfectly well on their own, as  self-contained stories.

Alongside consistently stellar fancy wordplay and jokes (and lots of violence,) Gotham Down contains some of Jean’s most biting, emotional lyricism, despite what the action-packed high concept. Volume One: Love in Infinity is the most obviously partially autobiographical of the trilogy, but the other volumes also make room for sweet and painful moments, notably the apocalyptic gut-punch of the beautiful Crayon Ruins off Volume 2: Leviathan. Elsewhere we get some of the densest, funniest work of Grae’s (or anyone’s) career on tracks like 76% and FUCKERY LEVEL 3000, in which Jean manages to work in references to Rick Moranis and John Goodman’s character on Roseanne (and one million other awesome things. I counted.) respectively between spitting on children and going her office job with fresh assassination blood on her blouse. So. Pretty happy about that.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the rewards the song cycle allows careful listeners. Who exactly finds the (faked?) suicide? Do all the Hunter S. Thompson references mean more than that Grae is a fan? So many questions I’m still delighted to explore.

Available only directly from Jean.


Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap: Yeah, me and everyone else.

Beyonce: I loved it, like most people around me. Loved it. More than I expected to!

Almost everything I have to say about these songs has already been said to death, but I will comment on how much I appreciate the “visual album” aspect, which I originally feared might be a somewhat underwhelming excuse to jack up the price. Hahahahahahaha. No. Who makes an excellent video for every single track on their album? Plus some song that was originally a Pepsi tie-in? Beyonce, motherfucker. Every video legitimately builds on the song, there’s not a lazy or half-assed filler clip in the bunch. They’re all some of the best music videos I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a bad time for the form, and it’s one I greatly enjoy. Beyonce did a whole lot to remind us of how they can be, I hope she inspires others to step up their game, though videos with these kinds of production values are not gonna be feasible for most artists. All I can figure is that she shelled out a lot of her own cash to do this, because no label is gonna pay for that many videos, let alone ones that were obviously so expensive. And, I believe, free of paid product placement, the usual way lavish videos get funded these days. I used to have a job that involved spotting product placement in movies and TV shows, and now I can’t help but notice logos and product appearances. I was shocked and refreshed by their anachronistic absence here, especially when opportunities for brand integration abounded. Good for Beyonce! I would pay to see the whole visual album projected on a big screen in a theater.

I love this video, even though it was directed by Terry Richardson. I guess it’s pretty hard to mess up Beyonce-at-Coney-Island. This is great because of the footage, which really could have been shot by anyone with a good camera and a rig to attach it to the Cyclone. Just sayin’. Still great.

Posted in Hip Hop, Music, Nicole Solomon, Pop | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not an Open Letter to Anyone Re: Miley Cyrus or Sinéad O’Connor

As you may have heard Sinéad O’Connor wrote a very critical open letter of concern to Miley Cyrus, upon learning that Cyrus was a fan and some of her recent work was inspired by O’Connor’s. This was followed by tweets from Miley and more letters along the same lines from Sinéad, as well as more open letters from others in response to Sinéad’s as well as countless think pieces and blog posts and because (like much of the internet, apparently) we both had strong feelings about Sinéad’s letter(s) here is one more of the latter.

Robin initially tweeted upon reading:

Robin tweet 1

Robin tweet 2

Robin tweet 3

Nicole agreed with pretty much all of this, and we decided to move the discussion off twitter, resulting in this blog post.

NICOLE: I started reading Sinéad’s letter ready to love it. I’m no fan of Miley’s current incarnation (not that I was a fan of any of her previous incarnations, but this one even less!) and would have loved to have read some righteous guidance from such a fierce woman who has been through the popular music controversy ringer many times over and lived to tell the tale. I also agree that the gist of her point–that a lot of the people around Miley don’t GAF about her art or wellbeing beyond how much money it makes them–is valid.

That said, the letter was really patronizing. I think Miley’s work right now is bad and offensive, but I don’t think she’s the stupid, innocent naif Sinéad portrays her as being, or at least I don’t think I have any reason to assume she is. Sinéad’s insulting portrayal–not of the work itself, but the supposedly clouded reasoning behind it–would be reason enough for her subject to shut down immediately. I probably would. She literally refers to Miley as “young lady”, repeatedly! What effect do you think that’s going to have? It’s not going to open Miley’s mind to a larger, more critical analysis of anything she’s been up to. It’s going to make her think “This scolding old lady doesn’t get me at all, so why should I listen to her?”

None of that remotely excuses Miley’s response, retweeting old tweets of Sinead’s in which she asked for psychiatric help as a way of dismissing the critique. That was obviously off-point, ableist, specifically stigmatizing towards anyone who identifies as having or has been diagnosed with mental illness and generally awful.

ROBIN: I’m also right there with you in that I had high hopes from  Sinéad’s letter. She’s been so historically amazing in really strong feminist ways: not just the SNL pope photo ripping, but also in how she became ordained as a priest in a really subversive way. I have hopes, though, that other female musicians who have”been through the wringer,” as you so appropriately put it, will step up and add to the conversation, as it were.

Like you, I disagree with Sinéad’s supposition that Miley is stupid and naive. I mean, sure, maybe she is. I think that’s a huge part of what’s wrong with all of this, how this weird system is set up: I feel like we never have any way of knowing these things, what any female pop star is really all about. I think a lot of the difference between  Sinéad and Miley is that  Sinéad has always very clearly been interested in being on the outside and has a lot of intention about that, whereas Miley desperately wants to be cool. Miley has never been cool. It seems likely to me that Miley will never be cool. Maybe that’s a high school way of looking at things, but every stunt Miley has pulled has been a desperate attempt to fit in, whereas Sinead was always working so hard not to get sucked into all of that.

Sinéad inspires and enrages on SNL

NICOLE: I hear you on the popularity front, I think that’s a reasonable way to look at how Miley positions herself versus Sinéad. Danny Brown agrees, and literally said Miley’s “just trying to be cool” in response to her recent Rolling Stone cover story in which she talks about how she grew up so much the summer she spent filming LOL in Detroit and got a tattoo without her parents’ permission on 8 mile. Danny Brown is also much better with metaphors than Sinéad in his critique, describing the cosigns Miley gets from some black men in hip hop as the equivalent of the rich white girl who you let hang around because she can get pills. But I digress.

The letter’s repeated “prostitute”-as-slur also bothered me tremendously, and was disappointing coming from Sinéad who I respect for continually speaking unpopular truths to power.  It hurts to read such whorephobic drivel woven throughout her whole argument. It also undermines her argument! If her point is “what Miley is doing is bad because she is acting like a sex worker”, she’s obviously lost me.

ROBIN: Prostitute-as-slur was easily my biggest problem with the letter. I don’t have a problem with her coming down hard on the types of people whom she sees as pimps, but that was gross. See also: how she used “prostitute” as a verb. Gross, gross. gross.

NICOLE: I’m going to keep harping on the constant “pimp/prostitute” language because it’s so bad. I’m fine with her criticism of so-called industry “pimps”, but can’t we talk about these issues without resorting to using tired sex trade metaphors to (not really) explain what’s problematic about the dynamics? Does Sinéad really see sex workers as these ultimately debased victims (who may have victimized themselves) with no moral or bodily integrity? Stop using sex workers as a metaphor for that. There are real world consequences. The ways sex workers generally appear in media are either as offensive, two dimensional caricatures or not even as people at all, but metaphors meant to illustrate how bad some other problem is. Sinéad is contributing to a culture that undermines the humanity of sex workers and increases stigma, encourages criminalization and violence. These aren’t abstract, metaphorical issues to any of us who have done sex work or loved sex workers, and every time I read another contemptuous “prostitute” I felt like I was getting slapped in the face, until I just numbed out.

ROBIN: I also hated how she said that because she’d never relied on selling sex in order to sell records, her career is a-ok. I don’t want to snark on Sinéad’s career, but I’m curious as to how she perceives women like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Tina Turner. They’ve all had a sexy image, and they all have long, fruitful careers.

NICOLE: Yeah, Sinéad seems to view going the overtly, normative sexy route as the path to personal and professional ruin, countless prominent examples to the contrary. Aside from mainstream pop stars, what does she have to say to Betty Davis? A lecture on not pimping herself? If Sinead is so attached to being oppositional to and outside the mainstream, I can respect that, but why is overt sexuality–at least when women do it– bad in and of itself? If that’s not what she meant to say, she worded her letter really badly, because that’s what I got. There was no nuance.

Poor Ms. Davis, killing it onstage in the 70’s without O’Connor around to set her straight .

ROBIN: Also, beyond her implication that it’s bad, why/how is overt sexuality automatically mainstream, which seems to be something else that Sinead is saying? What about, say, Riot Grrrls, who took overt sexuality and flipped the table, turning it into conversations about sexual violence and power? And when overt sexuality is mainstream, who’s to say it can’t be subversive, or have the potential to be subversive? What about Lil Kim, Lady Gaga, and especially Madonna?

If Sinéad is legitimately coming from the position that all women who are overtly sexual are sex workers and that all sex workers are “prostituted” against their true will by pimps, then I’m not sure how she’s qualified to think that her opinion on any of this is really relevant, and that’s why this troubles me so much. There are obvious intersectional feminist problems with what Miley is doing these days. The fact that she’s doing all of this in various stages of nudity isn’t really the crux of the problem at large, and it has zero to do with sex work.

NICOLE: Yeah, Miley has nothing to do with sex work, besides occasionally trying to appropriate strip club moves for some extra edge.

Miley, no. Just: no.

Largely driven by a desire for popularity or not, Miley, so far as I can see, is authentically doing exactly what she wants, it’s just that what she wants sucks. Not because it’s overtly sexual, but because it plays into so many tired and damaging tropes. Primarily, her objectification of her black women “friends” and how it seems like she primarily relates to black people and black culture as a bridges to self-growth or means through which to build and manifest her own cool, (or attempt at such).  She specifically uses black women as props to legitimize her own new performance of raunchy sexuality. She’s also only the latest in a very long line of white, almost always blond female pop stars to use black culture and bodies in this way; Madonna, for all that I do like about her work, being another example.

One of the distinctive traits of Miley’s racialized sexual-coming-of-age in pop is that it’s not really good on any level. Her videos and the VMA performance looked like the Kreayshawn rejected video concepts archive threw up all over Miley’s sad attempts to twerk, which really should have stayed in front of her bedroom mirror. My  issue with Miley isn’t that her art is sexual, it’s that her art sucks. But she’s playing with well worn and successful pop tropes, so no one on her team is gonna tell her “Hey Miley, what you’re doing actually sucks” because it’s making them money. and thus, by definition, is good, whatever ill effects it has on Miley herself or anyone else. I’m a lot less concerned for Miley than Sinéad is, though. Because she’s a pop princess she gets to have her big, shocking (post-) teenage rebellion on television, it seems like she’s having a good time. I don’t think she’s condemned herself to eventually selling her teeth because she licked a sledgehammer or whatever. I assume she’ll ride this for awhile, until she “grows up” again into a more mature, clothed, and less raunchy, older-skewing pop artist, just like Xtina (whose Dirrty phase was way better btw).

Posted in Award Shows, feminism, Media, Misogyny, Music, Nicole Solomon, Pop, Robin Jacks, Sex Work, social media, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Horror Movies Directed by Women that I have seen

Another post for Women in Horror Recognition Month. Last time around I shared a list of scary movies directed by women that I’m psyched to see, this time I’m sharing my thoughts on this sadly short list of horror films directed by women that I have already seen. If there are more than this (and I’m guessing/hoping there are,) I can’t think of them.

Please leave suggestions of other horror films written and/or directed by women in the comments!

1. American Psycho (Dir. Mary Harron)

I didn’t used to really think of this as a horror film, more like a violent satire, but I guess the two are hardly mutually exclusive. I frequently see this referred to as horror proper, so I am including it, especially because it is one of my favorite movies of all time. Christian Bale lecturing Jared Leto about Hewey Lewis and the News is priceless. Mary Harron’s masterful cinematic transfer of Bret Easton Ellis’ much-maligned censorship-bait keeps all the biting critique while honing the gender politics to a sharper, less problematic point. One of the best and most entertaining cinematic takedowns of what bell hooks used to call white supremacist capitalist patriarchy I’ve ever seen. Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman is a stunning creation and one the most enduring villans in the last few decades of film–to think, Harron had to fight tooth and nail, almost losing the project, to keep him in the role! I wish David Cronenberg had taken notes before casting (or at least directing) that sparkly vampire in Cosmopolis, but not all 1% nightmares are created equal…

2. Slumber Party Massacre (Dir. Amy Holden Jones)

Celebrated queer feminist novelist Rita Mae Brown is responsible for the screenplay of this parodic entry in the 80’s slasher genre. While such flicks have been more thoroughly deconstructed in the Scream series, Cabin in the Woods, and a number of lesser rip offs, SPM got to the roots of the ridiculousness first, while still functioning as horrifically viably as its sequel-ready cohorts, with enduringly entertaining results. More than just a notable pop culturally engaged feminist artifact of particular note, SPM is funnier and livlier than most similar films of it’s time by a long shot, and holds up as a good, bloody time today.

3. Jennifer’s Body (Dir.Karyn Kusama)

The film whose box office failure launched a thousand women-don’t-want-to-see-horror-after-all think pieces, even in my beloved Entertainment Weekly [link]. As if few of the young men who must exclusively be to thank for the success of every horror hit might want to see Megan Fox, or almost any of the potential mall audience even knew that this was both written and directed by women, or that horror films with female protagonists are anything new (see almost every teen-appeal horror film ever for a bevy of celebrated final girls. Jesus.)

One possible explanation for why this didn’t do well is that it wasn’t that good. It likely didn’t get great word of mouth, the key to most non-franchise fright flick success. It had a great conceit and two excellent sequences (stick around for the closing credits), but it wasn’t scary, and featured a lot of terrible, distancing CG effects. I absolutely enjoyed it, and would say it’s worth watching if you’re curious, but it didn’t quite hang together right. IMHO.

4. Pet Semetary (Dir. Mary Lambert)

I grew up obsessed with and terrified by horror films. The Gremlins trailer fucked my shit up as a six year old. The weird Gremlin tittering as soup pots rattled. Microwave explosions. Small enough to hide anywhere. Oh god, it was aweful. And the mere knowledge of Freddy Krueger fictional existence kept me up at night. I remedied my six year old’s fear by exploring horror…not by watching it (we were still renting VCRs at that point, and no way my parents would add some slasher flicks to the pile of My Little Pony and Star Wars fare) but by sneeking peeks at Hershal Gordon Lewis cases at the video store. The Wizard of Gore made a huge impression just based on the back cover’s mutilated magic show assistants waaaay before I ever saw the actual movie. These images made me fear the unimaginable monstrosities that must lurk within grownup horror, feeding my terrified fascination. I began reading synopses of every horror film I heard of in my parents’ Leonard Maltin Video Guides, dying of terrified curiosity. I watched PG/13 fare on cable. It wasn’t so scary. The real hard stuff must be in the R-rated films, I thought. By middle school my parents had withdrawn the ban on my watching R-rated movies, and I selected Pet Semetary as the entertainment for a sleepover. The scariest Stephen King book in film form–this was going to be the real deal! Right?

Wrong. To my relief and disappointment, the film didn’t scare me. At all. And thus began the whole frustrating cycle of life as a fearlover.

I should probably watch it again now that it’s been a few decades and my expectations are lower. Here is something to psych all of us up. Interesting how much more poignant this songs sounds now than at the time of its release. RIP Joey.

5. Twilight (Catherine Hardwick)

I KNOW. I know. The inclusion of this here speaks to the pathetically small number of fright flicks directed by women that I can recall seeing. Notable as one of the most successful “horror” films of all time, setting the stage for the most successful “horror” series of all time, by a very large margin. So there’s that. Also, to its credit, I was able to watch the whole thing with some help from intoxicants and snarky company, which is more than I can say for the book. Now let us never speak of it again.

Rather than a trailer, clip, or related music video, I will leave you with this:

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Women in Horror Recognition Month: Films to See

February is Women in Horror Recognition month. I like horror. A lot. As many of you know, I’m currently in post production on a short horror film I wrote and directed called Small Talk. I hear the same old bs all the time about how women don’t like horror, or don’t like gory horror, or only like horror for the excuse to snuggle into the arms of our boyfriends or what the anachronistic fuck ever. It’s 2013 and people still say this. I read that the majority of the audience who showed up for the recent Texas Chainsaw reboot were women, but such facts don’t seem to register among all the “common sense” in countless magazine articles and blog posts I will refrain from linking.

I know of course that while there are tons of women horror fans, women are way under represented when it comes to writing and directing films (at least those that get distribution and seen). I didn’t realize quite how especially dire the situation was until I tried to brainstorm scary movies I’d seen that were directed by women. The list I came up with is depressingly short, and I will share it with you in a future post, but for this one I decided to do something different: come up with a list of horror films directed by women that I’d like to see.

The selections below run the gamut from intentionally campy to likely seriously disturbing, relatively “mild violence” to gorehound candy, art house to mall-grade sequel cash-in. If you’re like me and have been missing women’s voices in your horror, maybe you’ll find something here to rectify this absence.

1. Trouble Every Day (Dir. Claire Denis)
A Salon review promises “lurid spectacles that would challenge the imagination of Herschell Gordon Lewis or H.P. Lovecraft”, and everything I’ve read makes it this sound right up my ally. Some of the stills I’ve seen are pretty gorgeous.

Trouble Every Day

2. The Commune (Dir. Elizabeth Fies)
This coming-of-age-in-a-cult horror film sounds promising and is getting good word of mouth. It’s streaming on Netflix, so I’ll definitely be checking it out.

3. The Field Trip (Dir. Tiffany D. Jackson)
I saw this film come up a few times while googling about women in horror. I’m not usually a big fan of found footage horror (thought Blair Witch was just boring) but have heard some good things about this from the blogosphere. Also, director Tiffany D. Jackson has made it available on YouTube, and it’s a short, so why not check it out? To keep this blog post concept in line, I have not watched it yet, but will after this goes live. Here is the movie:

4. The Moth Diaries (Dir. Mary Harron)
This boarding school vampire flick didn’t get the best reviews, but I’ve loved every movie of Mary Harron’s so far. American Psycho is one of my favorite films of all time. So I’m more than ready to give this the benefit of the doubt, for now. Besides, it looks fun.

5. Blood and Donuts (Dir. Holly Dale)
For the name alone, but then David Cronenberg is in it also!

6. Office Killer
(Dir. Cindy Sherman)
I’ve been curious about this since it came out, and it’s been sitting on my Netflix queue for awhile. This shall spur me to actually watch it. I remember it getting lukewarm-at-best reviews, but who knows? I’m intrigued by the idea of Cindy Sherman directing other people in a full length genre film, however successful or not the film ultimately proves itself.

Office Killer DVD art

7. Near Dark (Dir. Katherine Bigelow)
It’s so stupid that I’ve never seen Katherine Bigelow’s vampire movie. WTF.

8. The Rage: Carrie 2 (Dir. Katt Shea)
I’ve heard it’s not so bad. ’90s teen movie Carrie sequel–even if it’s awful, it’s a collision of enough things I like to make me want to see it. I meant to see it back in the ’90s, for god’s sake. Might as well do it now. It looks pretty fun. Katt Shea has a bunch of other scary movies under her directorial belt as well.

As an aside, I am thoroughly looking forward to Kimberly Pierce’s (Boys Don’t Cry) remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore. It’s coming out in October. I’m as fond of the DePalma film as anyone, but this is no sacrilege.

9. American Mary (Dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska)
I’ve been hearing really good things about this movie from the festival circuit–that it has amazing f/x makeup, great acting, a story that is actually thought provoking…really, really hoping this comes to Netflix STAT. LOL! That was an accidentally appropriate turn of phrase as the film follows a med student through her debt and disillusionment into the world of extreme underground surgeries. Writer/director team Sylvia and Jen Soska also serve on the Women in Horror Recognition month board
American Mary Trailer

10. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (Dir. Rachel Talalay)
Just about the only film I haven’t seen in one of my preferred horror sequelfests. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who later brought us a killer soundtrack and Ice-T as a kangaroo in the Tank Girl movie adaptation.

Freddy’s Dead teaser one sheet

Idk if it’s the best, and I know it definitely wasn’t the last, but if I actually sat through Freddy Vs. Jason, and that Freddy baby one, I have time for this.

Well, those are my picks for films to check out. Next I will share my thoughts on some horror movies by women that I have actually seen, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll spare you the bloody jpg I’d really like to include now, because maybe not all of you are into that. I tried to keep the in-post images mutilation-free, for all the splattered blood. Happy Women in Horror month! Support women in horror! xoxo

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Just in time for the cool, cruel autumn, Jean Grae has released a track from her upcoming album Gotham Down, and it is something! Set to a scary minimalist beat and featuring some of the densest wordplay I have ever heard in my life, Kill Screen is a must for fans of rappity-rap, 80’s video games, ultraviolence, or all three.

Trust me, you will want Rap Genius for this one:
Jean Grae – Kill Screen a.k.a. Steve Wiebe Lyrics

The song was inspired partially by King of Kong, the 2007 documentary about world Donkey Kong champ Billy Mitchell and challenger to the throne Steve Wiebe (to whom, even aligned with the underdog, Jean subtitles the song.) The titular kill screen is the song’s central metaphor: the final frontier of a supposedly infinite video game like Kong or Pac Man, the level the programmers didn’t actually finish as no one ever expected anyone to reach it.

The infamous, virtually unplayable Pac Man kill screen.

The song runs through a litany of cultural references at psychopathically calm whiplash speed, from the Oedipus complex to MC Escher to the “Skarsgaard hotties” of True Blood. Extended metaphors, rhythmic complexity and quadruple entendres abound. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s brilliant, and, if you are like me, it is supremely motivating. If you are trying to stay on track to achieve a goal and have had a very hard day, this is exactly the song for you. Listen now, thank me later.

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Who is 1101?

[WARNING: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Clean Up BPPA campaign. That’s a really diverse group of individuals, of which I am only one.]

It’s probably clear to anyone who follows the Occupy movement that the relationship between occupiers and police is a tricky one. I can only speak for myself, but the way I feel about the relationship between Occupy Boston and the Boston Police Department is that it’s “awkward.” On the whole, we certainly haven’t had it as bad as other cities have. I disagreed (and still do) with the city’s decision to evict our occupation of Dewey Square, but an hour before they cleared our camp, I watched the Boston Police Department swiftly and professionally apprehend and arrest a man who struck me in the face and stole my phone. The latter act doesn’t excuse the former; rather, it’s evidence of how complicated all of this is. In my view, the Boston Police Department aren’t wearing black hats in contrast to our white ones. It isn’t that easy.

On March 20th a group of Occupy Boston women called an impromptu march in response to the abuse of women by NYPD officers at the March 17th march and Zuccotti Park reoccupation attempt. We had held a march a few nights before, and our relationship with the BPD officers who’d been assigned to our march was the same as it had typically been: we didn’t interact much, but when we did, it was professional (“Don’t open that tent in this park”), cordial (“Hello so-and-so, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”), or a mix of the two.

March 20th was an anomaly of an evening. That was our introduction to an officer that we grew to know as “1101,” as that was his badge number. Very few officers had ever interacted with us other than to answer questions, give orders, or exchange pleasantries. 1101 was, in internet speak, a troll. He wasn’t an epic troll, as his trolling wasn’t particularly clever or unique. It was just weird. He kept yelling at us and speaking to us, telling us to go back to Brookline and Cambridge, even though very few of us live there. He yelled at one female occupier to get a job and pay taxes; her response was literally to rattle off her 2011 tax returns, but he continued to yell at her to pay her taxes. He told one woman to get a job; she told him that she has a job. His response to her was something along the lines of, “you need a husband to keep you in line.” He told a queer female marcher to go back to Cambridge. She jokingly replied that since she’s a gay woman, she lives in Jamaica Plain (non-Bostonians: Jamaica Plain is where all the gay ladies reputedly live).  His response was odd. He told her to watch her voice (I’m unclear as to whether that was about the scratchy state of her literal voice, or a “watch your mouth, young lady,” type of admonition), then said, “you get too angry.” A few seconds later: “I mean, a lot of guys would say… to think, you could be somebody’s wife, screaming like that is…” The woman’s response: “Someone’s wife? That is something I will never be.” 1101 then visibly cringed. Another officer then stepped in to diffuse things while the occupier leaned on her bike and lit a cigarette.

Watching this whole thing unfold was just plain weird, and different from any other BPD interaction we’d had. Interactions with 1101 continued to be weird. He was really bitter; we could literally feel the anger emanating from him. People livetweeted what he said, and many occupiers’ cameras were on him, but he kept going (I remember thinking, “if he does this when we’re all filming him, what does he do when there are no cameras on him, no press livetweeting his every word?”). He accused another occupier and me of having our daddies buy our cell phones. He called us all one-percenters. We would ignore him, but he would keep trolling us, so we stopped ignoring him and started responding to him. Eventually it became kind of a weird game; we’d feed him more information simply to watch him say weirder, more offensive things, or to see him parrot the same things he’d said before. Someone said something about protesting for what they believe in, and 1101 yelled, “I gave up a long time ago!”

When this whole BPPA campaign started, I randomly remembered that night in March: how 1101 kept insisting that we were rich kids from the suburbs, that we were one percenters, and, most offensive of all, that some of us we were less than human due to our statuses as women and lesbians. On this march for women’s rights, we were actively belittled and degraded by a male police officer. I attempted to track down my tweets from that night, and eventually came upon this Storify/blog combo from Carly Carioli of The Boston Phoenix. (Although he was only watching the livestream, judging from the title, Carioli apparently found the whole scenario as weird as we did.) I also dug up some video from Jay Kelly, a Boston occupier.

In Jay’s second video below, you can hear a BPD detective refer to 1101 as “James” as he walks 1101 away from a steadily escalating scene.  Furthermore, two sources within the Boston Police Department who wish to remain anonymous have told me that 1101 is one James Carnell. I can’t prove it without outing these sources, so I’m hoping that someone who sees this video can confirm or deny this, because the coincidence would really be something. Many occupiers are in the process of accumulating old notes and tweets in order to write written statements describing what happened that night, as much of the worst content isn’t on the video. Regardless of who 1101 is, the re-emergence of this video has reminded a bunch of us that we need to file a complaint.

The first person who can tell me who 1101 is wins a really awesome prize.


(Second video is now working!)

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