Why I Prefer "Soft" Science Fiction

I recently came across a list on Letterboxd that interested me. It was about science-fiction films where the "sci-fi" element is not the main plot point of the film. I have linked this list below -- there are a lot of really good movies on it that you should check out.

I was really intruiged by this usage of "soft" too -- it's the perfect descriptor for films like Another EarthMelancholia, and even Tarkovsky's Stalker which use the sci-fi element of their film more as a backdrop and less as an overt plot point.

Take Melancholia for instance. The film (as the opening minutes reveal) takes place right before the entire Earth is destroyed. In this way, it is a science-fiction film, concerned with the imminent destruction of the planet. However, the substance of the film is about depression -- mainly Justine's depression as she goes through the motions of her wedding day.

Lars von Trier uses the intriguing sci-fi element (the destruction of the planet) to tell a more powerful, human story. By doing this it not only elevates the genre itself, it also puts the human story in a fresh perspective. The planet is used as a metaphor, rather than just an overt plot device.

Take another film -- Spike Jonze's Her. In it Joaquin Phoenix's character is depressed and lonely. Then he gets Samantha -- a Siri like device which speaks with him. Eventually, he develops a relationship with this device. However, the story is not about the device itself, or its cognitive capabilities (though they are mentioned throughout the film); the story is about loneliness, attachment, human interaction, and depression. By putting it through a sci-fi lens, though, Jonze was able to take old themes and present them in an exciting way, making them feel fresh and original.

But "soft" sci-fi doesn't have to just reprise old ideas. Films like James Ward Byrkit's Coherence stand out as incredibly impressive independent efforts that use science-fiction to twist a narrative in creative ways. While the underlying themes of Coherence are familiar (paranoia, lost love, etc.) the way Byrkit tells his story is new and interesting. The way he twists his narrative is unexpected. He uses science fiction to tell a very interesting, very engrossing, very original story that could not have been told to the same effect with that "soft" sci-fi element.

Now, none of this is to say that there is anything wrong with more generic science fiction. I, like everyone else, enjoy films like The Martian, Terminator, and 12 Monkeys (just to name a few). But I do prefer making "soft" science fiction films (Mirror is a good example of that) and I do prefer watching those films as well.

I always go back to Fritz Lang's masterpiece, Metropolis, when discussing this dichotomy. While there is a lot of science fiction going on in that silent masterpiece, it's a story about workers rising and fighting back. It's a human story at its core, in other words. That makes it more accessible and more engrossing.

Big blockbuster science fiction films are also human stories but in a different way. Films like Star Wars or Armageddon are so wrapped up in the science-fiction element their human drama often gets replaced with melodrama. Often times those kinds of films are only trying to entertain their audience, not make them think. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. I just prefer the films that push me; "soft" science fiction tends to do that the best.

Bates Motel Is One of the Most Important Modern TV Shows Ever Made

Season 5 of Bates Motel recently arrived on Netflix. I had missed its original run last year and I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival on the streaming platform so I could finish up this very surprising, very good show.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the fifth season of this show cements it (in my mind, at least) as one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.

For those who are unaware, Bates Motel is a prequel of sorts to the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, Psycho. It follows a young Norman Bates as he and his mother, Norma, move to the small town of White Pine Bay and establish the Bates Motel -- a rather seedy motel off the highway.

Hitchcock's original film is incredible for a number of reasons (seriously, if you haven't seen it you need to), but one of its main draws is the huge twist. Marion Crane, the main character for half of the film, is killed off in one of the most memorable sequences of all time (while it seems tame nowadays in terms of violence, this scene caused people to faint in the theater). So, as you can imagine, setting up the characters before this event is like setting a stopwatch and waiting for it to tick down to completion.

To be quite fair, I spent the better part of three seasons waiting to see how the show was going to carefully move its chess pieces to give us this incredibly pivotal scene in the film. But, much like the series itself, it sometimes does what we're expecting it to do, but not exactly how we're expecting it to do it.

This happens mainly in seasons four and five. I won't get into spoilers here, however there are a number of pivotal moments that occur differently than the backstory that was developed. At first I was confused about why these changes were made. And then it made sense.


Bates Motel is important because it isn't connected to the Psycho universe. I mean, sure it shares some of the same characters, similar settings, and even some similar cinematography at times. However, this show is much more inspired by the original film than making a prequel of it.

The difference is important. If this were just a prequel then my stopwatch analogy would be applicable -- we would spend the entire run of the show waiting for the other shoe to drop (the other shoe here being Marion's shower scene). But with Bates Motel the plot, and even some of the characters, aren't that important. It takes its own path, taking inspiration from the source material to create something new and original from it.

Because the writers decided to do this, we got some incredible new characters: Dylan, Sheriff Romero, Emma, Chick, Caleb, etc. Not only that, I had no idea going into this final season who was going to live and who was going to die. I had my suspicions (slight spoilers: this is the season that deals with the aforementioned shower scene), but I was continually surprised again and again until the shocking ending.

Bates Motel is important because it took one of the most iconic pieces of entertainment ever created and put it aside. It took the pieces it wanted from it, but -- at the end of the day -- it became its own entity. This world of White Pine Bay, of Norman and Dylan's sibling relationship, of the Twin Peaks-esque nature of the small town paid homage to the film without dipping overboard into prequel territory. I respect that.


In a decade where producers of film and television are more concerned with creating franchises, prequels, and sequels (and in the age of television where some producers are milking a show for everything it has -- *cough* Walking Dead *cough*) its amazing to see a show that so boldly does its own thing.

Bates Motel isn't perfect. It's first couple seasons are more interested in the town of White Pine Bay than in the Norman Bates story, but this dedication to world building and character development really pays off in the climax of the series in surprising ways. It's for this reason that I confidently say it's one of the most important modern TV shows ever created.

The MPAA Needs to Go. Here's Why.


We have all seen this image before. It begins before the vast majority of trailers released in the United States. Most of us take it for granted -- it doesn't mean much to us when we are in the theater. Even the rating system itself is taken for granted. Every now and then we may scratch our heads at it, but the average moviegoer doesn't analyze the rating system.

And yet, this private company (this will be important later) is the keyholder for a film's success in theaters.

I think it's time we drastically re-invent our rating system in the United States and do away with the MPAA once and for all.


Firstly, it's important to understand that I am not saying we shouldn't rate films. Quite the contrary. We have always had rating systems and censorship boards in place since film's inception.

In 1909, the New York Board of Censorship was created to dictate specific standards of morality for films being released. This spread to other states, who did the same thing, eventually becoming known as the National Board of Censorship. However, its name was changed to the National Board of Review to avoid the term 'censorship.' They still acted as a censorship board, though, as producers would submit films for review and adhere to the changes the Board requested.

The Board's goals ultimately changed, though, around 1930. They began focusing more on championing art and reviewing films than dictating what sort of moral fiber should be present in filmmaking standards. The National Board of Review still functions to this day, but its film commentary and awards (as seen in Screen Magazine) became its primary goal.

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was created in 1922. It quickly took responsibility for creating industry standards for ethics and guidelines, ultimately coming up with the Motion Picture Production Code.

The Motion Picture Production Code was implemented from 1930 to 1968. There were a strict set of guidelines filmmakers had to follow in order to be in good standing with the MPPDA. They included the following:

"Don'ts & Be Carefuls":

  • profanity (including words like God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, hell, damn, and other curses)
  • Suggestive nudity (including on-screen nudity and silhouettes)
  • drug trafficking
  • inferences of sex perversion
  • white slavery
  • sexual relationships between white and black folks
  • mention of venereal diseases
  • scenes of childbirth (on-screen or silhouetted)
  • children's genitalia
  • ridiculing the clergy
  • offending any race, creed, or country

Also in the code was a list of things where "...special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized."

This included:

  • using the flag
  • avoiding any unfavorable mentions of other countries' religion, history, institutions, etc.
  • arson
  • using firearms
  • theft, robbery, safe-cracking & the dynamiting of trains and buildings
  • brutality and gruesomeness
  • committing murder
  • smuggling
  • actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments of crime
  • sympathy for criminals
  • attitude towards public people and institutions
  • sedition
  • cruelty to children and animals
  • branding people or animals
  • the sale of women, or a woman selling herself
  • rape, or attempted rape
  • one night stands
  • men and women in bed together
  • deliberate seduction of girls
  • the institution of marriage
  • surgical operations
  • the use of drugs
  • titles or scenes dealing with police
  • excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one is a criminal.

Seem ridiculous? That's because many of the things in the Motion Picture Production Code were ridiculous. Films had rules where kisses could only last for three seconds, and the act of flushing a toilet could not be filmed. Things that seem excessively trivial today (one night stands, drug use, interracial relationships, nudity, profanity, etc.) were strictly enforced for over thirty years!

The Production Code eventually stopped being enforced, but only because a rating system was being formulated. Unsurprisingly the MPPDA renamed itself the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) and created a new rating system. And here we are today.


So what's so wrong with the rating system? It seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, it is and it isn't.

Let's start with the things that make sense. Firstly, it makes sense to categorize films that are okay for children (G & PG) and films that are not (PG-13 & R). It also makes sense to divide these films by their content -- things like blood, sex, profanity, etc. would not be expected in a film marketed for five-year-olds, while it would be expected in a film marketed for adults.

For films that only adults should see (meaning a kid can't see them with a parent/guardian), the MPAA created an NC-17 rating.

So far so good.

Now here's where things get weird. The MPAA is a private organization. It claims that it does not censor films because the rating system is strictly voluntary -- films can be screened without being rating, or with extremely adult ratings 

However, the vast majority of theaters refuse to screen unrated films and films with NC-17 ratings. This means that if you submit your film for review by the MPAA and you receive an NC-17 rating, your film will not get sold in theaters. Additionally, if you reject the rating and submit the film as unrated, your film will not get sold in theaters.

So you end up with two choices: either you re-submit your film to be rated again, or you cut out the things the MPAA mentions and re-submit your film to be rated again hoping they will lower the rating.

A very famous example of this, as was seen in the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which I highly recommend) is Kimberly Pierce's film Boys Don't Cry. When Pierce submitted the film to the MPAA for a rating they returned it with an NC-17 rating in part due to a female orgasm that "lasts too long." When Pierce called the MPAA to ask what was wrong with that particular scene she says the MPAA responded: "well, we don't really know but that's offensive."

Another famous example is Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. During the fight at the House of Blue Leaves, the reason why the film becomes black & white halfway through is that the MPAA wanted to give it an NC-17 rating when the entire scene was in color. By changing it to black & white the MPAA re-evaluated their decision and gave it an R rating.

So what you have with the MPAA is, like with the National Board of Censorship, a de-facto censorship organization. They have a team of screeners who decide the ratings every film gets. Without those ratings, filmmakers don't have a chance to end up in theaters nationwide. So while they claim the entire process is voluntary, and therefore not censorship, they have created a system where filmmakers and production companies can't function without them.

And (unsurprisingly) the MPAA is just as ridiculous with their standards as they were when they were the MPPDA and were enforcing the production code. Female sexuality (ranging from explicit nudity to showing a female orgasm) often gets an NC-17 rating right away while violence, blood, and torture will get R ratings. If you say fuck more than once in a film you automatically go from PG-13 to R. In fact, there are some films that are rated R only because of their curse words (words, I should add, teenagers are already using on a daily basis in their personal lives).


So what do we do? Well, while I suppose it's not practical, what we should do is scrap the MPAA.

Firstly, as has already been detailed, it acts as a de-facto censorship board with ridiculous standards. It is not a voluntary system for directors who want their work to be seen (which is everyone) and it tampers with creative vision. In other words, the system is already so corrupt that trying to alter it would be just like the MPPDA changing its name and creating a new system.

Secondly, the ratings do not protect kids. This is their main goal, and yet more parents are bringing their kids to rated-R films every day. I remember sitting in the theater when Logan was playing and seeing parents file in with their six to ten-year-old daughters and sons. So if the system isn't "protecting children" what is it good for?

Finally, the MPAA rating system has often revealed itself to be sexist and homophobic, often giving films that deal with female sexuality and same-sex relationships much harsher ratings than films dealing with male sexuality and heterosexual relationships.

If you need a clear example of this, just look to Ghostbusters where Dan Akroyd's character gets oral sex from a ghost. That was rated PG. Boys Don't Cry had to fight against an NC-17 rating in part because of a female orgasm that went on longer than the MPAA liked.


Now we can't have total anarchy, either. I don't subscribe to an "anything goes" style system. But a new system needs to be built from the ground up. Maybe by directors; maybe by filmgoers. Regardless of where it comes from, though, it should not be shrouded in secrecy and held to complete privacy like the MPAA is. People have the right to know what is in the films coming out -- it can help them decide whether or not they want to see it. But the focus should not be to deter people from going to see films. It should be to excite them.

Just ask yourself this question: would you still have gone to see Kill Bill Vol. 1 if it had an NC-17 rating? If the House of Blue Leaves sequence had been fully in color? An NC-17 rating, or the lack of a rating, shouldn't bar someone from participating in the theater experience. The MPAA makes it so those filmmakers cannot have that experience, though, unless they bend the knee and obey their (often) ridiculous wishes.

That is why the MPAA needs to go.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi -- Leaving the Past Behind


Star Wars: The Last Jedi was sold out in every theater in my hometown -- not just in one theater, but in three. To put that in perspective, I can't think of any other film that has successfully sold out one theater here, let alone three of them.

It is an understatement to say that The Last Jedi was one of the most anticipated films of the year. Coming off the heels of the socially and critically lauded The Force Awakens fans were ready to see what Rian Johnson and his team had in store for them. 

Or were they? Because while the film made an astounding $220 million at the domestic box office and $450 million worldwide, and despite the overwhelming critical praise -- this film holds an 86/100 on Metascore and a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- fans have been very split. In fact, this is the lowest rated Star Wars film for fans -- rated lower than both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

So what happened? Why are fans so angry with Rian Johnson's vision?

I think it's important to mention, firstly, that the hype for this film was unbelievable. It may have been more anticipated than J.J. Abrams' effort back in 2015. The trailer for The Last Jedi seemed to show a gritty, dark installment that hinted at Rey teaming up with Kylo Ren, facing off with Snoke, and learning from a potentially Gray Jedi-Luke. There was a lot of anticipation for how Johnson was going to add to the narrative. However, the fan expectation was that he was going to add to what was already set up before him.

Rian Johnson had other plans. He wanted to make his own film in the Star Wars universe. So he essentially took what he liked from The Force Awakens and explored the themes he was interested in while cutting off (literally and figuratively) the roots he wasn't interested in. He also took Luke, as a character, to a much darker place than fans were expecting and wrapped up a lot of major points of speculation (Rey's parents, Snoke's backstory) within minutes.

Oh, and he killed off Luke Skywalker.

Part of the reason so many fans were disappointed was that they believe Rian Johnson did not honor the legacy of the Star Wars franchise. It wasn't just that he killed off characters and ended big plot points from The Force Awakens, it was that he didn't honor the legacy of the original films. I don't agree with this point for a few reasons.

 © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Part of the difficulty with this new trilogy is its purpose -- is it allowed to be its own entity, or must it exist as a revamp of the original trilogy? J.J. Abrams managed to avoid criticism from some fans by delivering A New Hope 2.0 -- complete with a new Death Star, a new orphan stranded on a desert planet, and a new Empire. While there is no denying how effortlessly Abrams executed this vision, one also cannot deny that it was a bit easy. It didn't take any risks. Even the aspects of the film that hinted at larger themes for the trilogy -- the mystery of Rey's parents, who is Supreme Leader Snoke, etc. -- didn't blow me away. If anything, they were almost frustratingly one-note. Supreme Leader Snoke was just another evil, old dude who was really strong with the force (he was so familiar, in fact, that some fans theorized he was Darth Sidious). The mystery of Rey's parents was only interesting insofar as we would learn possibly why she was force sensitive.

There is no denying that these mysteries fueled fan theories for the past two years. In fact, that sentence might be an understatement. Who is Snoke? He might be Darth Plageuis! He might be Sidious! He might be Mace Windu! Who are Rey's parents? Luke! Han! She's related to Obi-Wan?

So what does Rian Johnson think? Well according to him -- and what is now canon -- Rey's parents were drunks who sold her off for a beer. Supreme Leader Snoke is another evil guy who is too blind with arrogance to see his own death. And fans are pissed about that. To be denied their theories, and to have two years of speculation end so anti-climactically, felt like a slap in the face for a lot of people.

But let's really pull apart these ideas -- did we really care about Supreme Leader Snoke? I mean, sure it would have been cool if he was Darth Plageuis or if he was Mace Windu. But those ideas betray everything we know about the saga. Darth Plageus's death was an essential part of Revenge of the Sith -- learning how to conquer death itself was what helped turn Anakin to the dark side, and Sidious's story becomes either ridiculous or silly (or both) if he ended up surviving. Mace Windu was a Jedi who channeled the dark side during battle, but he was still a Jedi Master held in high regard on the Council. Not only that, he was essentially second-in-command to Yoda in terms of power and reputation. Not to mention he got thrown out of a window. But even if he did survive that fall somehow, he was not going to turn to the dark side because of it.

So I would assert that people aren't necessarily angry about Snoke's character being killed off, but that their theories that have been percolating for the past two years have been thrown out the window for a rather anti-climactic ending. And I will absolutely grant that Snoke's death is anti-climactic (and very surprising). But did we really want to go down that road again? Another robed figure with lightning powers who's impossibly old and wants to rule the galaxy? We've seen that already. So why would we want to see it again? Killing off Snoke may have been a surprising move, maybe even a clumsily handled one, but it was the best decision available. It sets up Kylo as the main villain (which is definitely for the best as he is a more engaging character than Snoke ever could be), and keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

Rey's parents are still a point of speculation, as many fans are theorizing that Kylo was lying. But if he wasn't (and I like to think he wasn't) then what does it mean that Rey's parents were nobodies? Well, it means that midichlorians, and the whole aspect of the prequels that fans despised, no longer matter. Anyone can be a Jedi. It further cements the force as a binding, universal force that holds us together and not just a platelet count. 

 © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Another point of contention for fans was Luke's characterization. How could this beacon of the light side, of morality and goodness, almost become dark? Further, how could he shirk his duty as a Jedi and become such a morose, frustrated person?

People seem to forget that Luke had to stop himself from murdering his own father in Return of the Jedi. After Vader manages to anger Luke by saying he would turn Leia, Luke screams "never", fights his father, and cuts off his hand. People also seem to forget that Luke has always been tempted by the dark side, ever since Dagobah. So why is the notion that he would be tempted again be ludicrous? Because he's a Master now? He's still a person at his core -- a person who has seen untold sadness, shame, and pain in his life (including almost killing his own nephew because he saw the dark side in him). Why wouldn't he exile himself? Yoda did, too for many of the same reasons.

What is most frustrating for fans, though, I think is that this is the first film in 34 years to actually push forward, to leave behind the original films and the extended universe and to create something new. And this comes back to the purpose of this new trilogy: do we just want these films to rehash the nostalgia of the original trilogy? Or do we want original Star Wars films that push the saga in new, brave directions?

The Last Jedi is not perfect. The second act sags, and there are some very jarring editing moments throughout the film. Some characters aren't very fleshed out either (Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo, for instance). But, as a whole, The Last Jedi succeeds more than it fails, in my opinion. We just need to get beyond the fact that our fan theories weren't entertained and that the saga is moving forward. It's going to be weird and it's not going to be perfect. But it's time we leave the past behind and move forward.

If you want to watch the original trilogy, watch the original trilogy. It's time for this new trilogy to do something new. We should embrace that, not be angered by it.

Top 10 WORST Films Released in 2017

2017 has brought us some really incredible films. From directorial debuts, like Jordan Peele's Get Out and Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, to lavish productions like Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 and Edgar Wright's Baby Driver we have had a slew of really incredible examples of quality filmmaking all throughout the year.

However, not every film is great. 2017 also had some stinkers. These are my least favorite films released this year.

All critic scores were pulled from Metascore.com.

10. The Book of Henry


PG-13 | 105 MIN | 31/100

Starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, and Dean Norris

"With instructions from her genius son's carefully crafted notebook, a single mother sets out to rescue a young girl from the hands of her abusive stepfather."

 Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa / Focus Featur - © 2017 Focus Features LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa / Focus Featur - © 2017 Focus Features LLC. All Rights Reserved.

At its core, I can see what director Colin Trevorrow was trying to do. Even if he executed it more skilfully, I don't think it would have saved this film, though. In attempting to be a brooding drama, this film feels like a parody one would see as a Digital Short on Saturday Night Live -- it's silly, poorly written, and seemingly unaware of its own stupidity.

That is especially unfortunate given the film's all-star cast and decently respectable director (who, before this film was released, was slated to helm Star Wars 9). 

It's not the worst film of the year for me (obviously), but it wasn't too far from hitting rock bottom. Just a soulless, messy, incomprehensible affair in every sense.

9. Transformers: The Last Knight


PG-13 | 155 MIN | 28/100

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, and Stanley Tucci

"Autobots and Decepticons are at war, with humans on the sidelines. Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth."

 Photo by grochon - © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS, and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro.2

Photo by grochon - © 2017 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. HASBRO, TRANSFORMERS, and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro.2

Nobody -- myself included -- holds the Transformers films to the standard we would hold any of the best films released this year. In much the same way that it is difficult to compare a comedy and a horror (insofar as you need to use what amounts to a different rubric to judge them), it's hard to compare a film that has been made purely as epic sci-fi escapism to any sort of serious standard. I even liked the first Transformers film.

This does not detract from the fact that Michael Bay is one of the dullest, vapid, and shallow directors working today. His overreliance on poor dialogue, cliched and conventional writing, and splashy CGI hampers his films almost as much as his unforgiving two-and-a-half-hour runtimes are.

Michael Bay said he made this film for the fans, not the critics. If you don't mind the aforementioned issues then this film very well may be for you. For me, though, this film was boring. It slogged by, with CGI-fueled action setpieces blending together with Mark Wahlberg's frustratingly one-note performance.

In other words, this was one of the most frustrating theater experiences I have had in a long time.

8. Rings


PG-13 | 102 MIN | 25/100

Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, and Vincent D'Onofrio

"A young woman finds herself on the receiving end of a terrifying curse that threatens to take her life in seven days."

I was surprised when I learned there was going to be another Ring film. While Ringu is a cult classic, and Gore Verbinski's 2002 American adaptation is a respectable (if a bit critically mixed) effort. However, Ring 2, released in 2005 (and directed by Hideo Nakata, who directed Ringu) was both socially and critically panned. So the fact that a new installment was made with the possibility of it being a franchise should Rings do well at the box office (it made back $27 million at the box office with a $25 million budget, not counting marketing costs) surprised the hell out of me.

Unsurprisingly, though, Rings is a mess. Attempting to both create a new mythos and update the basic plot of the film to modern times (you won't find any Cathode-Ray tube televisions in this film) bogged the plot of the film down, while the overreliance on jump scares and forced tension made it annoying to watch.

I would be surprised if we saw any sequels to this effort considering it barely making its budget back at the box office and it was widely panned by critics and fans alike. However, stranger things have happened in Hollywood.

7. Death Note


TV-MA | 101 MIN | 43/100

Starring Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, and Willem Dafoe

"A high school student named Light Turner discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within its pages and launches a secret crusade to rid the world of criminals."


Oh, where to start with Death Note? There is so much wrong with this film that it's almost insulting to watch.

To preface, I haven't read the manga, nor have I seen the show this is based on. However, immediately, I can see an issue in trying to adapt a feature-length film from those sources. It's a lot of material to cram into a small runtime. Things that could naturally unfold over the course of a few episodes, or a few pages, get crushed together and spit out as lousy dialogue, plot conventions, and weird character motivations.

The film is poorly made in almost every respect. The writing is clunky and odd; the cinematography is dark and muddy; the narrative structure is jumbled and contrived. In other words, there isn't really a redeeming factor here.

6. Kidnap


R | 95 MIN | 44/100

Starring Halle Berry, Sage Correa, Chris McGinn, Lew Temple, and Jason George

"A mother stops at nothing to recover her kidnapped son."



I genuinely couldn't tell when the film was trying to be funny and when it was being unintentionally funny. While that can sometimes lead to a fun theater experience, Kidnap is just so dull I couldn't really enjoy it on any substantial level. Enough said.

5. Snatched


R | 90 MIN | 45 MIN

Starring Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, and Wanda Sykes

"When her boyfriend dumps her before their exotic vacation, a young woman persuades her ultra-cautious mother to travel with her to paradise, with unexpected results."


Comedies, above all else, are supposed to be entertaining. Yes, they should make you laugh; yes, they should be emotionally and/or cerebrally interesting (like The Big Sick, released this year); most importantly, though, they should provide some sort of escapism.

Snatched isn't particularly entertaining though. And, unlike Schumer's other film, Trainwreck, it isn't very engaging on the emotional/cerebral front. Like many other films on this list, it just ends up being dull due to poor writing.

4. The Case For Christ


PG | 112 MIN | 50/100

Starring Mike Vogel, Faye Dunaway, Erika Christensen, and L. Scott Caldwell

"An investigative journalist and self-proclaimed atheist sets out to disprove the existence of God after his wife becomes a Christian."

Marketed as "the film to prove atheists wrong" (on the heels of two other films -- God's Not Dead and Left Behind -- which claimed to be able to do the same thing), The Case For Christ is just intellectually dishonest. While it provides a potentially meaty human store at its core (the idea of reconciling opposing viewpoints in a family), it is painted over with the same "Christians right, Atheists wrong" brush that every other faith-based film uses.

That would be okay if it did engage the debate in a way that was fresh, new, exciting, or even challenging -- instead, it uses the same platitudes and debate points to pre-suppose, and "prove", its own conclusion.

3. You Get Me



Starring Bella Thorne, Halston Sage, Taylor John Smith, Nash Grier, and Anna Akana

"Tyler's crazy in love with his perfect girlfriend Ali, but when a big fight makes him and Ali break up, he lands in the arms of sexy out-of-towner Holly who shows him a night he's gonna remember. The next morning he finds that not only is Ali taking him back, but Holly is a new student at their school and is dead set on her new man."


Oh, man. I knew I was going to hate this film five minutes in. Such a horribly written script. Horribly written characters. Dull, conventional cinematography. Frustrating narrative tropes and conventions. A ridiculous final act. A ridiculous first act. Did I mention how bad the writing was?

Maybe I'm being a little overly critically, but this truly was one of the most boring, stupid, and frustrating films of the year.

2. The Bye-Bye Man


PG-13 | 97 MIN | 37/100

Starring Douglas Smith, Erica Tremblay, Lucien Laviscount, Jenna Kanell, and Doug Jones

"Three friends stumble upon the horrific origins of a mysterious figure they discover is the root cause of the evil behind unspeakable acts."

The Bye Bye Man is the epitome of what is wrong with modern horror. Jump scares, bad character writing, dull cinematography, and horrible story structure. There is nothing redeemable about this film.

1. The Emoji Movie


PG | 86 MIN | 12/100

Starring T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Sofia Vergara, and Patrick Stewart

Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji.

Do I need to even explain this one?

Every Time You Receive A Rejection Letter From a Festival, Submit to Two Others

After months of waiting, I finally got the ever-depressing notice that Sundance Film Festival was not going to be including my film in their festival. While Withoutabox.com -- one of the sites I use to submit my films to various festivals -- still lists it as "In Consideration" the full list of accepted short films was released on Monday, and my film was not among them.

Getting that rejection notice is always difficult. After you put your blood, sweat, tears, and heart into a project it's frustrating to be met with a wall of rejection notices preventing you from moving forward. It is especially frustrating if you have spent money on your project (like I did) and/or have had someone invest in your vision (like I did). You want to get your name out there and you want to deliver for the people who put their time into making your film work -- mainly your producers, your crew, and your cast.

But sometimes it doesn't work out like that.

Sundance is the Holy Grail of film festivals. If you get into Sundance, it means your filmmaker career is officially on the up-and-up. It is also a great sense of accomplishment, given the small chance of being accepted.

I knew Mirror was most likely not going to be chosen. That's not because it's a poor film in any regard. However, with 8,740 short film submissions and only 69 spots available, we had a 0.78% chance of getting in. It was going to take quite a miracle, in other words.

It doesn't make the rejection sting any less, nor does it make dealing with the rejection any less difficult. However, going in with the knowledge that you are going to get that rejection slip dampens the blow a bit.

I know a little bit about getting rejected from film festivals. I also know about getting rejected from publishers, literary magazines, and literary journals. I'm not going to lie to you -- every single one of those rejections feels like a sledgehammer to the gut. After a while, your response to them stops being "why won't they accept my film?" and becomes "of course."

 A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

A small sample of the rejection notices I have gotten from festivals listed on FilmFreeeway.com

The important thing to understand about this business, though, is that it's a numbers game as much as it is a game of luck. The vast majority of films that get rejected from film festivals are good films. Just, for whatever reason, they weren't the right films for that festival. 

So every time you get a rejection notice, I want you to submit to two more festivals. Use websites like FilmFreeway and Withoutabox. Submit to local film festivals; submit to international film festivals; submit to Cannes; submit to Sundance. Submit to every film festival your film is eligible for. The more places your film is submitted, the higher your chances of it getting accepted are.

A perfect example of this is in that picture above: in the list of festivals you will see a listing for the 44th Student Academy Awards. I submitted my thesis film, Stalker, to that festival last year. They received 1,749 submissions that year, and Stalker was among roughly 87 films (5% of submissions) that were shortlisted. And while it didn't make it into the actual festival, that is a number to be proud of. Too often we dismiss the "almosts" because we don't consider them successes. That is a success, though.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't feel bad about the rejection notices; it also doesn't mean that licking your wounds and being frustrated is bad, either. After I realized Mirror was not going to be in the festival I played Call of Duty to keep my mind off of it, and then I came here to whine about it a bit (while also, hopefully, imparting some wisdom). It's not wrong to feel bad when your films get rejected. You just can't let that rejection keep you from pursuing this career.

You are going to get many, many more rejections than successes. Very few people take the Tarantino route. The road to success in the film industry is paved with frustration and hard work. You just have to put that hard work in. Maybe it wasn't the right festival; maybe it wasn't the right project. But that doesn't mean you will never make the right film or submit to the right festival.

As I said, it's a numbers game. So keep submitting and upping your chances.

Top 10 Films Released In 2017

There have been a lot of really great films released in 2017. I have been fortunate enough to see 63 of them so far, and I plan on seeing more before the year is up. However, as of today, these are my top ten films released in 2017.

As an aside, the following films are not included because I have not seen them yet: Dunkirk, Lady Bird, Mother!, The Florida Project, The Disaster Artist, Coco, Call Me By Your Name, Good Time, and Logan Lucky (among others).

All scores are pulled from Metacritic.com.

10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)


TV-MA | 112 MIN | 79/100

Starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace van Patten, and Dustin Hoffman

"An estranged family gathers together in New York for an event celebrating the artistic work of their father."

 Photo by Atsushi Nishijima - © NETFLIX

Photo by Atsushi Nishijima - © NETFLIX

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) was a complete surprise to me. Netflix originals have a sort of stigma due to their wide range in quality -- from very good to very bad.

However, this effort from Noah Baumbach manages to be a heartfelt exploration of a dysfunctional family. It's also very funny. Most surprising of all, though, is how incredible Adam Sandler is in it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best performance he's ever given. Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, The Meyerowitz Stories is a Netflix Original that showcases the kind of indie film possible when partnered with a capable writer/director and Netflix's resources.

9. John Wick: Chapter 2


R | 122 MIN | 75/100

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ricardo Scamarcio, Ian Mcshane, Ruby Rose, and Laurence Fishburne

"After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life."

 Photo by Niko Tavernise

Photo by Niko Tavernise

The John Wick films are some of the best action films ever released. Part of this is due to Keanu Reeves's fiery performance; much of it is due to the taut writing, and the solid direction. The fight scenes are gorgeously executed and brilliantly edited (in an age where every action scene seems to get cut to pieces in the editing process, it's nice to see the John Wick films embrace skillful choreography and wide shots over close-ups and rapid editing), and the world is rich with textured characters and mythos.

John Wick: Chapter 2 raised the bar in this trilogy (Chapter 3 is currently set to hit theaters in May of 2019) by both expanding the mythos of the hitman underworld that was introduced in the first film and greatly increasing the stakes of the film.

In every way, John Wick: Chapter 2 works as a sequel and as a stand-alone film. It was definitely one of the most entertaining films released in 2017.

8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer


R | 121 MIN | 73/100

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, and Sunny Suljic

"Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister."

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is perhaps the most original, and odd, film of 2017. Written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (who also directed 2015's The Lobster), this is a film that consistently keeps you unnerved. Utilizing odd dialogue, a potent combination of wide tracking shots and tight close-ups, and long moments of silence this film manages to keep you uncomfortable throughout the entire runtime.

Based loosely on the tragic Greek play Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides, this film manages to deftly balance extremely dark comedy with extremely dark drama. Its climax is tense and uncomfortable. It took me a few minutes to fully process what I had seen once the credits started to roll.

7. Logan


R | 137 MIN | 77/100

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keene, Boyd Holbrook, and Stephen Merchant

"In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X, somewhere on the Mexican border. However, Logan's attempts to hide from the world, and his legacy, are upended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces."


Few superhero films have earned the distinction of transcending their genre wrapping -- in fact, The Dark Knight is really the only film to be judged truly as a 'film' and not just as a comic book movie. However, Logan came damn near close to reaching that upper echelon; in doing so, it became one of my favorite films of 2017 and one of my favorite superhero/comic book films ever.

Part of it is due to the finality of the film -- this was Hugh Jackman's last performance as Logan. You can see the passion in his performance and the raw energy in every frame of the film. It's this dedication to the character and the performances (including a heartbreaking final performance as Professor X from Patrick Stewart) that make this film as good as it is.

It does stumble in a few places along the way (the film is more overzealous with the F-bomb than it needed to be), but it really soars in the places it succeeds.

6. It Comes At Night


R | 91 MIN | 78/100

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbot, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

"Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge."

 © All Rights Reservedericmcnatt

© All Rights Reservedericmcnatt

It Comes At Night toys with you throughout its run time. I'll tell you this up front (it's not a spoiler) we don't find out what comes at night. It's not important to this story. The title is more allegorical than literal.

If you can get past this, then you will find a film full of tension, horror, and suspense. The core cast is incredible and the threat in the film is palpable.

The final act of this film will leave you breathless, sad, angry, and confused all at once. That is the mark of a great film and a confident director.

5. Mudbound


R | 134 MIN |  85/100

Starring: Garett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Banks, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige

"Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after the war."

 Photo by Steve Dietl

Photo by Steve Dietl

Mudbound is a sobering film in every respect. Another Netflix Original, this one (helmed by Dee Rees, who also directed 2015's Bessie) explores racism and classism in Mississipi during, and after, World War II.

The cast is incredible at every turn, and the cinematography is gorgeous. The writing slips into melodrama at times, but that only complements the themes at play in this film. Mudbound was a complete surprise, but that doesn't change the fact that it is one of my favorite films of the past few years.

4. Baby Driver


R | 112 MIN | 86/100

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Elza González, Lily James, and Kevin Spacey

"After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail."

 Photo by Wilson Webb - © 2017 TriStar Pictures, Inc. and MRC II Distribution Company L.P.

Photo by Wilson Webb - © 2017 TriStar Pictures, Inc. and MRC II Distribution Company L.P.

Edgar Wright exploded back onto the silver screen with the sleek, visually stylish Baby Driver. Part heist film, part music-driven driver film this is a wholly engrossing, entertaining, and surprisingly funny film that encapsulates everything we love about Edgar Wright's films.

The visuals in this film are incredible, with the car chase scenes standing out in particular. The usage of music (and the music used) is perfectly integrated into the narrative. Ansel Elgort is great, as is his supporting cast.

This was one of the most fun theater experiences I have ever had, and that is saying something.

3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


R | 115 MIN | 87/100

Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones, and Kerry Condon

"A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter's murder when they fail to catch the culprit."

 Photo by 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right

Photo by 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right

Speaking of directors returning to the silver screen in style, Martin McDonagh brought us this film -- his first directorial effort since 2012's Seven Psychopaths. Featuring his trademark dialogue, his incredibly dark humor, and his excellent narrative structure Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a hilariously dark dramedy with a lot of heart.

What is most surprising, though, is Sam Rockwell's character. Without spoiling anything in the film, his character goes on a surprisingly interesting and powerful arc that complements Frances McDormand's character arc as well.

While I don't expect Three Billboards to get much love during awards season, I do think it is worthy of the critical and social praise it has received thus far.

2. A Ghost Story


R | 92 MIN | 84/100

Starring: Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara

"In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife."

I will say this upfront -- A Ghost Story is not for everyone. It is a very slow, methodical, meditative exploration of time and space. However, for those who are patient enough to watch the entire thing, you will be blown away by its scope and ambition.

This is also a very intimate story. Following the ghost of C and his widow, M, we get to see how heartbreaking it is for life to move on after you have died. Despite the fact that our main character is covered by a white sheet for the majority of the film, this is an incredibly emotional concept, and it makes for an incredibly emotional film.

It's also quite impressive the kind of philosophical elements this film is able to explore in a 90-minute runtime.

1. Blade Runner 2049


R | 164 MIN | 81/100

Starring: Ryan Goslin, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Jared Leto

"A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years."

 Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It saddens me (though I don't find it surprising) how poorly this did at the box office. However, this was just as mammoth in scope, visually gorgeous, and narratively satisfying as the original Blade Runner. 

Denis Villeneuve brings his calm, steady directorial presence to this film. Nothing is rushed. He takes his time with every scene. The film may be long because of this, but none of it feels forced or rushed either.

Roger Deakins' cinematography is ethereal. He seriously deserves an Oscar for his work on Blade Runner 2049. This film is a visual feast in every sense. It was the perfect theater experience.

In every way, this was exactly what I had hoped it would be -- a gorgeously created sequel to one of the best science-fiction films ever made. It's for that reason (among others), that it is my favorite film of the year.

The Top 3 Mistakes I've Made On Film Sets (Which You Should Avoid Making)

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
— Murphy's Law

Maybe it's a bit cliched to begin this post with one of the most over-quoted adages in existence; however, it is important to mention, mainly because of how true it is in the film business, and on film sets.

I have been fortunate enough to be on many film sets (here defined as sets with more than one actor and more than two crew members). Of my own films, in the past five years, I have behind the camera four times. If there is something I have learned while on these sets, it's that Murphy's Law can be expected to rear its head at some point or another.

No film runs perfectly. There are always human errors that are made, whether you have a crew of five or a crew of five hundred. These mistakes are things that could have been avoided through simple logical deduction, and some precise planning. However, for one reason or another, I messed up. More importantly, though, here is how you can avoid making them yourself.


This itself is not always a mistake. There are plenty of films out there (Jaws for example) where they practically wrote the script on location. In the 2017 documentary, Spielberg, Spielberg himself admits that they had no finalized script when Richard Dreyfuss joined the project. There are also situations where improvisation is more applicable than a rigid script. Taika Waititi used a more improvisational style for What We Do In the Shadows and Thor: Ragnarok.

I wrote the script for my 2016 feature, Departure in about two weeks. It was 60 pages long, was very rough around the edges, and desperately needed further re-writes, revisions, and -- most importantly -- time for me to think about it. However, I did not do these things. Instead, once I had written those words "HARD CUT TO BLACK" on paper, I was instantly putting out casting calls.

Departure ended up being a mostly improvised film anyway. I realized that my cast worked best when they were able to take control of their scenes with general tips -- it gave the film a more relaxed, casual, and accessible feel than the script would have. This is easily noticeable when comparing the scripted scenes with the improvised ones. While the former feel stilted (due to my dialogue that I didn't revise), the latter felt more natural, and more believable.

Making a feature is complicated and there are a lot of things I would go back and change. However, if I could choose only one thing to do over again it would be to spend more time with the script. Doing so would have allowed me to flesh out my ideas more, trim the fat on the story, and overall create a more engaging, accessible, and enjoyable film.


Even in the digital age where we aren't literally burning money by running rolls of film, time is still the most crucial aspect for a film set. It spells the difference between a well-made, and confident, film and a less cohesive effort. As a director you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, especially if you have a rigid budget -- you want to spend more time with the material, on set, so that you capture the best takes and are able to fully realize your film. On the other hand, you are spending more money every second you, your crew, and your actors are on set. In other words, sometimes you have to sacrifice perfectionism for budgetary comfort, and vice versa.

In my most recent film, Mirror, I overestimated how quickly we would be able to shoot the scenes we had. I inferred, based on my script, and on my shot list, that we would be able to get through everything in three days, roughly averaging around nine hours a day. Boy, was I wrong. We spent roughly ten to twelve hours a day on set shooting. 

Most of this was my fault, as I continually called for multiple safety takes, and would try and challenge my DP and have him set up complicated shots. Because of this, and because of the nature of the film's narrative itself, morale in the cast and crew eroded at a quick pace. By the third night we were all overtired, overworked, and ready for some R&R.

If I had been a little more flexible with my scheduling, and if I had been more efficient (or more intelligent) on the set, I could have shaved hours off each scene, and saved a lot of time and effort. However, I didn't and -- while the film itself came out great -- cast and crew morale suffered for it.


I am still learning, and still honing my skills behind the camera. Part of being an effective director, especially one that likes to be a part of on-set tasks beyond working with the cast, is being a leader. No matter how tired, how sapped of energy, or how irritated the cast or crew may get, it's the director's job to pull everything together, and to get the team through the day.

However, the director can't do this if they, themselves, have burned out.

My team and I shot Departure in roughly fifteen days. We had a few half-days thrown in there, and a few overly long ones as well. These days were roughly ten to twelve hours long, and sometimes consisted of driving two hours between our locations when necessary. Needless to say, this took a huge toll on our crew members, our cast, and on me. In fact, by the end of it, I was barely making it through the day. Our last few days of shooting I was sick, tired, and stressed -- I relied a lot on my team to bolster morale in the group, and to get us through each and every day. Needless to say, some simple planning, and better scheduling, could have changed that.

When I shot Mirror we worked incredibly hard every day. By the end of the third day, I was burned out yet again. I wasn't as involved on set as I usually was, and my cast noticed this (and called me out on it). I managed to find some energy in me to push through the rest of the day, and we wrapped on a positive note. However, the energy and excitement that had been present on set during the first day of shooting was gone by the end of our final day.

The point I'm making here is that making a film, like many things in life, is like running a marathon. If you run really hard for the first six miles, the remaining length is going to be a pain-in-the-ass to get through. When you're on a film set, though, there are people's careers, money, and precious time on the line. You can't afford -- both literally and figuratively -- to overwork yourself, and to burn yourself out too quickly.

At the end of the day, your team is going to be the most important part about this shoot. Even if you manage to avoid these three mistakes I have made, there will undoubtedly be other hurdles to overcome, and other challenges to face. The goal is not to avoid tribulation entirely, but to know how to handle it when it inevitably occurs. Having a good team by your side, who believe in you and your story, is priceless especially during those moments when you don't believe in yourself.

What Happened to "The Walking Dead"?


Believe it or not, there once was a time when the critics loved The Walking Dead. Granted, even in the shows deepest nadir (mainly season 7) the critics didn't hate the show. However, there was a time when the critics were genuinely enamored with it.

This has dwindled over time. The show, now on its eighth season, has seen its viewership, and its critical scores, dwindle. Despite attempting to change things up in season 7, with the introduction of Negan, the show has felt stale for quite some time; viewers and critics alike have noticed it.

So what happened to the show? Why has it dipped in popularity and quality over the years?

Metacritic Scores for The Walking Dead (Season 1-8)

Part of the show's decline can be attributed to age. The show has been on the air since 2010, and has gone through seven seasons of essentially the same storyline (survivors find a place, place gets destroyed, they go on the road, find a new place, and repeat) and essentially the same villains (The Governor and Negan have slight personality differences, but their characters, and their motivations aren't all that dissimilar). 

First and Last Episode Viewership (Seasons 1 - 7, in Millions)

Age can also explain some of the viewership descent the show has seen. Besides the huge drop off between season 7's premiere and finale, the show remained relatively constant throughout its earlier seasons -- it would have lower premiere viewership, and higher finale viewership. In other words, viewership would grow every season.

Things changed during season four. After a tumultuous three seasons where showrunners Frank Darabont (who created the show) and Glen Mazzara were fired, Scott M. Gimple -- one of the fan favorite writers, who penned critically acclaimed episodes like "Pretty Much Dead Already", "18 Miles Out", "Clear", and "This Sorrowful Life" -- came onboard as the showrunner. He has stayed on in that role since. However, his focus on character development, and in particular individual bottle episodes, has left some viewers frustrated. This can also explain some of the drop off.

 Photo by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC - © 2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Jackson Lee Davis/AMC - © 2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Furthermore, the show itself has increasingly become reliant on poor dialogue, an inflated amount of "filler" episodes (episodes largely devoted to character development, and not plot), and convenient plot devices to tell its story. Additionally, the previous two finales saw higher amounts of poor reviews, leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth for the end of the season they just watched, and leaving them less likely to return for the next season. This can also explain the descent in viewership.

So what is the solution? Is there any? 


Ultimately, the issues with The Walking Dead are inherent to its storytelling devices, and its length. While we cannot judge season eight in its entirety yet, last night's episode showed many of the flaws that I have mentioned above -- poor dialogue, bad pacing, and an over reliance on clichés.

Ultimately, if the show is going to inject new life into its tired veins it's going to need to think about its ending. The main problem many have with the show, beyond its writing, beyond its dwindling quality, is that it doesn't have an endgame. It follows a perpetual cycle, and in doing so feels tired. Every episode feels as though we've seen it before.

So, ironically enough, the best thing The Walking Dead can do to enhance its quality is to pick an ending point. Maybe it's season nine. Maybe it's season twelve. But there needs to be some sort of end point the show is leading to. This can make the show feel more final and more tense. There will actually be stakes, which there currently are not.

I still enjoy the show for what it is, and many others do to. But even the show's most ardent fans and defenders have come to realize that this is a show that has wrung every drop of originality from its premise, and is now rehashing old ideas, themes, and stories. Sadly enough, it's time that the show figured out how it wants to wrap up its story. If it continues to churn out what it's currently producing, we will see lower critical scores, lower viewership, and lower quality.

10 Horror Films On Netflix Right Now Worth Your Time

We are in the middle of October at he moment, which means many people (myself included) are curled up with Netflix, looking for horror movies to watch. Which ones are worth your time, though?

With this list, you are guaranteed to get some scares, some gory laughs, and some genuine tension. So read on, check these films out, and enjoy!

As a side note, I have included the Rotten Tomatoes percentages on all films. Take these with a grain of salt, though.

10. Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)

62% | RATED R | 90 MIN

"Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless maze containing deadly traps."


Cube is a surprising film. It's gory in certain parts, extremely tense and scary in others, and action-packed in others. It combines all of these elements very well. Its narrative is surprisingly interesting, and the characters are distinct. The acting is superb all around, and director Vincenzo Natali manages to wring a surprising amount of tension from the premise.

There is no other film out there truly like Cube, and it is definitely worth your time this October.

9. Deathgasm (Jason Lei Howden, 2015)

86% | NR | 86 MIN

"Two teenage boys unwittingly summon an ancient evil entity known as The Blind One by delving into black magic while trying to escape their mundane lives."

I put Deathgasm on a previously list of mine, too. It's just a ton of fun. Using the same kind of comedy that made films like Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead popular, Deathgasm manages to provide plenty of chills, and plenty of laughs.

Be warned, though, this film is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely gory. If you don't mind that kind of thing, though, then you will absolutely adore this film.

8. Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016)

94% | R | 81 MIN

"A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window."


Hush was a huge surprise to me, and many other people who saw it. The film's premise surrounds a home invasion, with a small twist: our main character is deaf.

What follows is a genuinely chilling, new take on the home invasion film. Mike Flanagan's direction is taut, and Maddie is a likable, and badass, character. In other words, Hush is a surprising horror film that works, and puts a new twist on an old sub-genre of horror.

7. Tucker and Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig, 2010)

84% | R | 89 MIN

"Affable hillbillies Tucker and Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are mistaken for murderers by a group of preppy college students."


Tucker and Dale vs Evil is an extremely fun horror film in every sense of the world. Following two affable hillbillies who are mistaken for murderers by a group of college students, this film does everything it can to subvert horror cliches.

There isn't much horror in this film (in terms of scares), but there are plenty of horror elements, and the comedy is excellent. In other words, it's well worth your time.

6. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)

97% | R | 100 MIN.

"A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter."

 © 2014 - RADiUS/TWC

© 2014 - RADiUS/TWC

It Follows is one of the recent slew of horror films we've gotten that have changed up the dynamic -- The Witch, The Babadook, and It Comes At Night all fit on that list. These films don't rely on jump-scares to sell their horror.

Because of this, It Follows doesn't feel like a modern horror film, nor will it scare you like The Conjuring scares you. However, it is an extremely unsettling film that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

5. Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016)

95% | NR | 118 MIN

"While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan."


Train to Busan is a zombie film from South Korea, and it was a huge surprise to me when I first saw it. The majority of the film takes place on a train, right after a zombie outbreak has happened in South Korea. The passengers on this train are trying to reach a safe zone, which is at the end of the line. However, they will have to fight their way through hordes of zombies to make it there.

The most impressive thing about this film, though, is its characterization. It is filled with cool, memorable, and likable characters, all of whom you root for. It's very emotional as well, with plenty of dramatic moments throughout.

This is definitely worth your time, even if you're not used to watching foreign films. It's one of the best zombie films out there.

4. The Wailing (Hong-jin Na, 2016)

99% | NR | 156 MIN

"A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter."

 Photo by Pan Media & Entertainment - © Well Go USA Entertainment

Photo by Pan Media & Entertainment - © Well Go USA Entertainment

The Wailing may have a daunting runtime; however, it is well worth watching every second. This is a tense, atmospheric horror film that has a ton of twists up its sleeve. I won't go too much into detail here, as I don't want to spoil the film's many surprises. However, I will say that this film surprised the hell out of me when I first saw it -- I'm confident it will produce the same reaction from you.

3. We Are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan, 2015)

95% | NR | 2015

"In the cold, wintery fields of New England, a lonely old house wakes up every thirty years - and demands a sacrifice."

 © Snowfort Pictures and Dark Sky Films

© Snowfort Pictures and Dark Sky Films

We Are Still Here is not the best horror film on this list. However, where it succeeds is in its accessibility. This is a short horror film that pays homage to the haunted house films from the 80s, while putting a new twist, and a New England setting, on this conventions.

The acting is excellent, the cinematography is gorgeous, and the narrative has a few surprising twists and turns. If you haven't already checked out this film, it's definitely worth your time.

2. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)

88% | NR | 100 MIN

"While attending a dinner party at his former home, a man thinks his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister intentions for their guests."


The Invitation doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to horror movies and horror conventions; however, it does provide some decent scares, and a surprisingly engrossing narrative. This film is also beautifully shot, and is very accessible for all types of horror fans.

1. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)

90% | R | 99 MIN

"When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her."


Raw was a hell of a surprise. I cannot express that enough -- this is a very unique, very scary, very odd film. This is also the director's debut feature, which makes it all the more impressive (before this, Ducournau had directed a short and a TV movie).

This is not a film for the faint of heart -- it is very bloody, and very disturbing in parts. However, if that doesn't phase you, you will find a very interesting, and very unique, horror film in Raw.

"Blade Runner 2049" Is the Science-Fiction Film We Need

Science-fiction films have been in a pretty dismal place in the past decade or so. Every now and then we get an impressive installment in the genre (like Arrival in 2016, or Edge of Tomorrow in 2014); however, for the most part, the sci-fi films we are getting range from 'just okay' to 'poor'.


The main reason for this (from my personal perspective) is twofold: firstly, all of these films feel pretty much the same. There's no originality, in other words. Secondly, all of these films rely on spectacle, rather than narrative, in a number of ways.

Even directors who have given us important, groundbreaking science-fiction films have fallen into this trap. The Wachowski siblings, who gave us The Matrix in 1999 directed the critically and socially panned Jupiter Ascending in 2015. Ridley Scott, while giving us science-fiction classics, like Alien and Blade Runner, has been very hit or miss recently -- The Martian was very well receieved, both critically and socially, while Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, and Exodus: Gods and Kings have all been panned.

Blade Runner: 2049 is therefore a breath of fresh air in the genre. Denis Villeneuve understands the genre, and the source material, extremely well (as can be seen in the aforementioned film, Arrival.

 © 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

© 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

The original Blade Runner was a hugely influential science-fiction film, pondering about the importance of humanity, forcing its audience to question whether the human characters valued life more than their replicant counterparts -- and, more importantly, if not: why?

Denis Villeneuve, with Blade Runner: 2049, explores this question as well; however -- thankfully -- he doesn't create a carbon copy of the original film, nor does he try to copy its visual aesthetic. He clearly takes inspiration from it, and he pays enough respect to it thanks to Roger Deakins incredible cinematography, but Villeneuve is clearly the director here, not Ridley Scott.

There is also something to be said for the way these narratives are told. The original Blade Runner is a very cynical film. The city it takes place in is teeming with technology that has taken over the humanity of the environment; big billboards sell specific brands, and people wander like ants throughout the neon-lit roads. Harrison Ford spends most of his time in a depressed stupor, drinking away his feelings, and mechanically completing his job 'retiring' replicants.


In contrast, Blade Runner 2049 is an optimistic film as a whole. There are certainly moments of heartbreak, and the aforementioned city still gleams over rain-soaked people; the ads are still present, and this atmosphere of menace is still very present. However, once the credits roll, you don't get this feeling of hopelessness that you get at the end of the first film. Instead, you feel rather hopeful for the characters, for their respective arcs, and for what they may do after the credits roll.

Essentially, Blade Runner 2049 is the kind of science-fiction film we need nowadays. With its profound discussions of humanity and existence, its gorgeous cinematography, its very crisp sound design, and its taut direction, this is a stellar example of how science-fiction can explore themes that are important, philosophically, to real life. It's also a further example of how film -- slowly, methodically, precisely -- can transcend its own medium and meet the criteria required to be considered art.

 Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Blade Runner 2049 is impressive in a number of capacities; however, for filmmakers, filmgoers, and cinephiles, it is going to be most impressive for how well it captures the essence of the original, explores new ideas and themes within the parameters of what Blade Runner originally introduced, and pushes the envelope within its own genre.

In other words, Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of the year, and one of the best science-fiction films ever made. I have no doubt it will be regarded with the same level of respect, and awe, as the original in thirty years time. 

Why "Luther" Is So Damn Good

On the surface, Luther looks like every other crime drama and police procedural out there. It follows a uniquely gifted detective who solves crimes, and overcomes adversity in each episode to bring justice to the world. 

Luther is not like every other show on TV, though. As someone who has never really enjoyed police procedurals, and as someone who likes only very specific crime shows, I can say with confidence that Luther is really damn good.

So what makes it good? What are its benefits?

 Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

I stumbled upon Luther on Netflix. I had put it in my list some time ago, and it had gotten lost in the shuffle. With only 16 episodes available, I figured I would knock it out, and cross it off of my list of shows to watch (until it comes back for its fifth season, that is). 

I was, and still am, very surprised at how entertaining, and oddly profound, this show is. The main benefit it has, as far as I can see, is its narrative structure. Usually with crime shows (especially shows that are made from the police's perspective) we either follow a case-of-the-week format, or a season long arc. The latter we see in shows like Dexter, and Justified, whereas the former is found on Criminal Minds, CSI, and Bones.

Luther does both, though. Its seasons are very short (season one has 6 episodes, season two and three have 4 episodes, and season 4 has just 2; the upcoming fifth season is slated to have 4 episodes; they are all roughly one hour long). Because of this truncated length, Luther, and its eponymous detective, doesn't have much time to mess around. However, the show still manages to run a case-of-the-episode (the four-episode seasons are two, two-hour long episodes in actuality) structure, focusing on a different criminal in each episode, while also following a season long arc that usually comes to its climax in the final installment of the season.

It is a very interesting mix of two formats which we are used to seeing run parallel to each other. Yet Luther pulls it off with style. Certain narrative elements -- usually dealing with Luther's personal life, or legal troubles -- play out over the course of four episodes, while smaller arcs -- usually the ones dealing with the direct case that is being worked -- plays out over a single episode, or two. In this way, we get more depth in terms of character, while still getting fresh, interesting crimes. While shows like Criminal Minds become a little stagnant after a while -- there are only so many crimes, and types of criminals, one can explore over 250+ episodes before the writers begin to repeat themselves -- Luther has the gift of efficiency. Every crime is interesting, usually following a macabre case that plays out in surprising ways.

This is not to say that Luther is without its faults. It has been criticized for making its criminals larger than life, while trying to ground its hero; in other words, the show tries to dabble with serial killers and mass murderers while also trying to humanize its main detective; it's the age-long battle between spectacle and character, and Luther is not immune to it.

 Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

Photo by Steffan Hill/BBC 2015 - © Copyright: BBC 2015

The show also works because of Idris Elba's performance. He is just incredible in every scene he inhabits, whether it's a pulse-pounding race to find a killer, or it's a quiet, introspective conversation with another cop. He kills the role, and watching him helps elevate some of the more clichéd, or conventional, aspects of the series.

In summation, I highly recommend everyone gives this show a shot. It's well worth the watch, and it's easy to get into. It has something to offer everyone, and it is easily accessible for all kinds of viewers, no matter which type of detective television you prefer.

Season 5 of Luther will air sometime in 2018.

25 Films All Beginning Filmmakers Should Analyze

Part of being a filmmaker is learning from those who came before you. While film school can provide you with a more structured exploration, and analysis, of films and their importance, you can certainly do this homework on your own.

If you are a beginning filmmaker, and you seriously want to explore this medium, I highly recommend you watch, and study, the following twenty-five films.

25. A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès, 1902)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


 Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy  photo12.com

Photo by A7A09064_035.JPG - © Archives du 7e Art/DR - Image courtesy photo12.com

A Trip to the Moon is one of the most famous short films of all time, and is often shown in film classes due to its incredibly innovative effects, and ambitious story. It is also one of the earliest science-fiction films ever made.

There's a lot one can learn from this short film. Effects are front and center, as there are some clever usages of editing and perspective at play here. However, one can also learn short story structure from this. Most importantly, though, A Trip to the Moon offers a valuable insight into film's infancy, and the creativity that is possible even when restricted by equipment and budgetary parameters.

24. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



Documentaries are often not what most film students aspire to create. There's such an allure around narrative, fictional filmmaking that documentaries and other 'real' forms of artistry in this medium are rarely pursued. However, learning how to tell a story (whether fictional or truthful) is always important. Enter Werner Herzog, and his highly praised 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man. Depicting the life, and unfortunate demise, of Timothy Treadwell, this documentary is full of things to analyze and understand.

In particular, character development is on display. While Treadwell was a real person, Herzog still unfolds his story in a precise manner. In doing so, and controlling which images and scenes we see first, it's almost as though we can see a progression of personality in Treadwell that follows a typical narrative arc.

Furthermore, Grizzly Man is excellent for those who may be interested in documentary filmmaking. It shows that documentaries can have an overt directorial presence without taking eyes, or thought, away from the subject material.

23. Suspira (Dario Argento, 1977)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



Suspiria is among a select few films I would deem 'artistic' -- not just good horror films, and not just good stories, but true art in every sense of the term. This is accomplished through its use of lighting and cinematography; both elements help enhance the horror on screen, and consistently set the tone and atmosphere.

If you are going to learn how to do horror from any film, Suspiria is an excellent place to start. No jump scares or forced horror here -- just pure fear, excellent escalation of tension, and precise filmmaking.

22. Intolerance: Love's Struggles Through the Ages (D. W. Griffith, 1916)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆



D. W. Griffith is one of the most important directors in cinematic history. He was one of the first directors who managed to create huge, expansive experiences that pushed the medium into new directions. He was the first director to use a close up, and his narratives often spanned many years, characters, and themes.

After the intense revulsion to his incredibly racist 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, he set out to create a film that negated that claim, and pushed his career to new heights. That film was Intolerance, a three-hour epic that spanned three different time periods, all interconnected by the singular theme of 'intolerance'.

This film is not as successful in its execution as others in this list; however, it is important to analyze due to its production, and its innovative usage of narrative storytelling. While interconnected stories across different time periods isn't exactly 'new' nowadays, knowing how to accomplish it affectively can enhance your stories, and help you view your narratives in new, fresh ways.

21. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



In all honesty, Charlie Kaufman's writing is something all film students should analyze. He is one of the most inventive, and sharp, writers currently working. However, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is perhaps the best example of how Kaufman manages to make a rather tired, overdone story (AKA the break-up story) into something unique, enjoyable, and profound.

Michel Gondry's direction also perfectly complements Kaufman's writing, making this film both visually and literarily incredible. New filmmakers can learn a lot from this film in every respect, and so it is an important entry on this list.

20. It's Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


 © Don Hertzfeldt

© Don Hertzfeldt

Often times, aspiring filmmakers will focus too much on the visual imagery of their story, and not the narrative substance. This can be detrimental for a few reasons -- as numerous films prove, pretty imagery doesn't make up for a poor story. Don Hertzfeldt, with his trilogy of short films (which were eventually cut into this feature film) prove that, even with simple, stick figure animation, you can tell an incredible, heartfelt story.

It's Such a Beautiful Day is a testament to good, heartfelt, and profound writing. 

19. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆



Breathless is important from a couple of different perspectives. Firstly, it is an incredibly interesting discussion (some may even go so far as to call it a parody) of American crime films. With our main protagonist dressing up, and acting, as though he is Humphrey Bogart, it's hard not to draw parallels.

However, it is also important from a post-production perspective, as there is an interesting usage of voiceover and editing to enhance mood, tone, and atmosphere. Furthermore, from a visual perspective, Breathless is a gorgeous film, and offers plenty of analytical material for those who wish to find it.

18. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Before Sunrise, and the following two films in the Before trilogy, are testaments to incredible writing, fantastic acting, and pitch-perfect chemistry on set. Sunrise all takes place over one day, involving different, provocative conversations about a variety of topics. What's incredible is how riveting this film is -- we're only following two people getting to know each other, and yet it's a wholly engrossing experience.

Before Sunrise is a great example of how to write great dialogue, and how to trust your talent. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke both added a lot to the script, as they got to know their characters. This, in turn, helped enhance the quality of the script, and the quality of the film.

The cinematography itself is very minimalist, and allows the viewer to focus on the characters, and the dialogue.

17. The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez; 1999)

MY RATING: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆



I really dislike The Blair Witch Project. I think it is an incredibly manipulative film, with horribly written characters, and an extremely anti-climatic ending. However, I cannot deny that it was a box office smash, and an audience sensation. It caused a proliferation of found-footage films (another reason I'm not fond of it).

When it comes to the film 'business', this is an important film to analyze. With a budget of roughly $60,000, and eight days of principal photography, they made this film. It has now grossed over $140 million (meaning it made back over 6,000% of its budget).

So while I may dislike this film from an artistic perspective, I can't deny that it is worth analyzing from a business mindset.

16. This Film Is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


This documentary is hard to dig up, however I highly recommend you do so. This Film Is Not Yet Rated offers rare insight into the MPAA and its rating system. More importantly, though, it offers insight into the corruption that exists in the MPAA, and the film industry, and the ridiculous standards this private business has for films.

While it may frustrate most filmmakers, it is also important to understand how this side of the business works. Filmmakers are held to certain standards, and held within certain parameters, that make artistic exploration difficult (especially in the context of what some may consider offensive).

15. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆



There are a huge slew of World War II films that have been made, mostly from the perspective of the US (Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, The Thin Red Line). However, Army of Shadows explores the struggles, and the moral difficulties, inherent in the French underground resistance. In many ways it is the best film made about the war, and it is much more profound, and intellectually provocative, than many other films about the war.

If you are a filmmaker interested in historical fiction, then Army of Shadows is an excellent film to analyze, and pick apart.

14. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich; 2003)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


 © 2003 - Pixar/Disney

© 2003 - Pixar/Disney

Finding Nemo may seem like an odd addition to this list, but it is important for a variety of reasons. From a storytelling perspective, this film manages to transcend age groups, being entertaining for children, and profound for adults. It's visually inventive, with cutting-edge animation, and it has an excellent story at its heart.

In essence, Finding Nemo is the epitome of what animator have always tried to do. Even with films like Toy Story, or Monster's Inc., animation has the ability to push boundaries in new, inventive ways while still delivering powerful narratives, and great characters.

For animators and filmmakers alike, Finding Nemo is an important film to analyze.

13. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


 © 1968 Paramount Pictures

© 1968 Paramount Pictures

We don't talk enough about methodical plotting in filmmaking, and we should -- especially when it comes to horror. Polanski is a master of perfectionist plotting, making sure each, individual element is delicately placed so it can all come together in the third act. Rosemary's Baby is the best example of this perfectionism on display. Tension is slowly, deliberately ramped up to the terrifying, and stunning, climax.

Too many films rush their plot, or sloppily integrate their story elements. Studying a film like Rosemary's Baby can help you avoid such pitfalls.

12. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


 Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani - © 2010 Fish Head Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

For a while now, but especially since 2005, the US film market has been obsessed with remaking foreign films for an English-speaking audience. We've seen this in the numerous remakes of Japanese horror films, like Ringu, Ju-On: The Grudge, and One Missed Call. Most of these remakes are bad, poorly translating the elements that make the original so frightening. However, every now and then, we get a remake that both honors the spirit of the original, and creates something new with the narrative.

Let Me In is one such film. Adapting the original film, Let the Right One In, it manages to strike the appropriate balance between horror and drama. With an incredible cast, solid direction from Reeves, and gorgeous cinematography, Let Me In is an excellent example of how to do a remake.

11. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


 © Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

© Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Back to more inventive filmmaking! The One I Love also takes on the romance genre, portraying a couple on the brink of separation. However, how McDowell explores these characters, and how he portrays their struggles, is innovative and fresh.

This is also a funny film, with plenty of levity to balance the more dramatic moments. It is a great example of how to write a tired narrative in a fresh, exciting way.

10. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1960)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Marker's La Jetée is important for a number of reasons. First of all, its science-fiction narrative is incredibly interesting, and well written. Secondly, its usage of still images can be seen as a deconstruction of the film medium, and an extremely unique storytelling tactic. Thirdly, its usage of voiceover adds an ominous atmosphere to the entire film, making it more suspenseful, and more interesting.

For a short film, La Jetée is incredibly influential and important. It is well worth your time.

9. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Stalker may not be Tarkovsky's best film (that is left up to debate), but it is certainly his most accessible. With an incredibly interesting story at its root, and profound philosophical themes of hope, loss, and exploration, Stalker is a beautiful blend of poetry and filmmaking.

With this film, you can gain an understanding as to how film can transcend its own medium and become something more important, and more powerful.

8. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



One of a few pretty stereotypical choices, Pulp Fiction is, nonetheless, an extremely important film. It's non-linear narrative was extremely innovative at the time, and the dialogue is incredible. Tarantino's direction is also incredibly solid (which is impressive, considering this is his second feature), and the cast is perfectly chosen.

Pulp Fiction defies a lot of typical filmmaking conventions, and for that reason it is vital to understand on a deeper level. From its simple cinematography, to its great sound design, to its pitch-perfect writing, this is a film well worth your time.

7. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


 Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images - © 2013 Silver Screen Collection

One-location films are really hard to accomplish. Unless you have a really interesting story, and some well-defined characters, a viewer may get bored with the story, and the setting. One-location films have often proven to be some of the most tense, and powerful, though. It is all dependent on the execution.

With 12 Angry Men, the set-up is very straightforward: a man is being tried for murder. The twelve jury members have to decide unanimously whether or not he is guilty. Eleven of them say he is; one says he isn't.

What ensues is a powerful exploration of morality and the judicial system. Filled with an incredible cast of characters, and extremely taut direction, 12 Angry Men is an incredible film, and one you should watch over and over again.

6. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Children of Men excels in a number of capacities, but it really does well at injecting subtext and character into each moment. The story at its core is exciting, and there are a number of action scenes in the film, and yet the most tense moments are the calms between the storms. You feel uncomfortable even when the characters seem safe. That is powerful writing and direction at work.

Furthermore, Children of Men shows how the single-take shot (something every cinematographer seems to be obsessed with right now) can be used effectively to add realism to the scene, and to create suspense.

Children of Men is just a very well rounded film with a lot underneath the surface. You can learn a lot from it.

5. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



Another pretty stereotypical entry on this list, but there is a reason why The Godfather is consistently hailed as one of the best (if not the best) films ever made. Every component works beautifully -- the visuals are memorable and gorgeously crafted, the cast is impeccable, the story is well adapted and tautly written, and Coppola's direction is stellar.

In other words, The Godfather is a gold mine for beginning filmmakers. Not only is it easily accessible, and fun to watch, it also has tons to offer.

4. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆


 © Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

© Universal Studios - All Rights Reserved

As the 'master of suspense', there is a lot one can learn from Alfred Hitchcock. Vertigo is the perfect example of taut plotting, well-developed characters, and inventive imagery -- all of which works together to create a compelling, and suspenseful, story.

While Vertigo may not be as well known as Psycho or North By Northwest, it presents a level of maturity that the others don't, which makes it more helpful to beginning filmmakers.

3. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


 © 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

© 1976 - Columbia/TriStar

The main difficulty many writers and directors deal with is the desire to push artistry and experimentation in a business that wants convention and marketability. In other words, if you are interested in making more experimental, ethereal, or contemplative cinema you have some difficulties ahead. It's not impossible, as these final three films will demonstrate, but it is a challenge.

Scorsese's Taxi Driver shows that art can be blended with convention, though. While the story of a cab driver taking revenge against the evil in his city may not seem like an incredibly original story, the artistry comes from Scorsese's direction, the cinematography, and De Niro's performance. All of these elements come together to create something unique, and -- in some ways -- profound.

2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★



David Lynch is a beacon of hope for those filmmakers who aspire to make films that challenge their audiences. Whether you want to make completely experimental films, or if you just want to write challenging narratives, David Lynch is proof that it can be done.

Mulholland Dr. is not his most experimental film, but it is his best. Combining an engrossing narrative with his trademark dialogue, dreamy imagery, and deliberate editing, this film is full of things to learn from, and understand.

If anything, Lynch's continuous subversion of expectations, and his ability to control the story with a taut grip, are things to understand so you can use those lessons in your own projects.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★


 © 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

© 1968 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

There is no film like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Equal parts profound and engaging, this film is full of things to analyze. Its narrative is notoriously ambiguous; its visuals are beautifully crafted, and precisely framed; its sound design is legendary; its philosophy is profound; and Kubrick's direction is masterful.

In every way, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an incredible film. it singlehandedly redefined science-fiction filmmaking, and has inspired tons of filmmakers to begin their own career (I challenge you to find a filmmaker that started post-1968 who doesn't have something to say about this film). In every way, this film will help you understand the medium more, and, in turn, assist you with your own film.


In Defense of Netflix Original Films

In 2015, we were presented with this trailer. Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation was the streaming giant's first foray into live action film production. Up until this point they had created critically acclaimed television shows, like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, and they had put out some comedy specials for Bill Burr, Craig Ferguson, and Chelsea Handler (among others). However, this film was different.

Netflix wasn't just creating a film. With Beasts of No Nation, and with a high-caliber director like Fukunaga, Netflix was pushing what it meant to release a film. With no theaters, no DVD or Blu-Ray sales, and no marketing campaign beyond some social media outlets, they released a $6 million film to its, at that time, 57 million subscribers.

Beasts of No Nation received widespread social and critical acclaim. It promised a level of quality, too -- or, if not promised, at least insinuated -- which excited viewers. If Netflix could consistently release films of this quality, they could change the face of filmmaking, and of film distribution, forever.

As many know, though, that's not what happened. The next Netflix original film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny was panned by critics and audiences. Since these two films, Netflix Original films have oscillated between well received and panned, with the case often being the latter option.

Metascore Rating of Netflix Original Films

6 films have been omitted for lack of critical reviews

As you can see, the critical reception of these films is all over the place. While there are some standout entries (Beasts of No Nation, Tramps, Okja, I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, etc.), many of these films receieve average, or below average, reviews.

To compound this, many Netflix subscribers leave poor reviews on these films, vocalizing their dissent for the film's quality, and -- sometimes -- for the concept of Netflix's venture to create original films for their subscribers. In fact, some subscribers feel that Netflix should stick to TV and streaming existing films, not creating films of their own.

This dissent towards Netflix, and their original films, was even seen at the Cannes Film Festival this year, when an entire theater booed Netflix's logo at a screening of Okja. Despite the director, Joon-ho Bong, being well regarded, and despite Okja's critical and social praise the Netflix logo itself was enough to cause outrage.

So we are presented with two questions:

  1. Why do so many people dislike Netflix Original films?
  2. What benefit do they offer Netflix subscribers, and filmmakers?
 A still from Nic Mathieu's 2016 film,  Spectral . Available on Netflix.

A still from Nic Mathieu's 2016 film, Spectral. Available on Netflix.

To begin, let's address that first question: why do so many people dislike Netflix originals?

From my perspective, it can be boiled down to two things: they are often poor in terms of quality, and nobody really cares about them.

As you saw in the chart above, many of the films that Netflix produces and releases through its platform are just "okay". Some are poor, some are great, but most get average reviews. Netflix also has a lot of users who are subscribing looking for films they want to watch. Whether someone subscribed to see The Avengers every night for the next month, or they subscribed because someone told them that Breaking Bad is available to watch, most Netflix subscribers aren't subscribing specifically to see original Netflix content.

As you can imagine, average films aren't going to persuade subscribers that the "Netflix films" venture is a valid one. I'm sure if you took a poll of the people currently subscribed to Netflix, most would advocate putting money towards other ventures (like their TV shows, which are doing very well, or towards getting more popular films available to stream) than they would advocate for funding Netflix original films.

And, to be fair, there have really only been two highly acclaimed, popular films that have challenged this notion: Beasts of No Nation, which was released way back in 2015, and Okja. The other 29 films that have been released with the "Netflix Original" descriptor often are not up to the standards of quality these two films are.

 A still from  Charlie McDowell 's 2017 film,  The Discovery. Available on Netflix.

A still from Charlie McDowell's 2017 film, The Discovery. Available on Netflix.

The other reason these films are often poor in quality is because they are being created by beginning writers and directors. Alistair Legrand, who directed the 2017 Netflix film, Clinical, had only directed one feature film beforehand. Emily Hagins, who directed the 2017 Netflix film, Coin Heist, is a young writer and director. She had made feature films previously, but this was probably her first time making a film that would be seen by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. Karl Mueller, who directed the 2016 Netflix film, Rebirth, had only directed one feature previously.

Sensing a pattern?

Netflix is a business, and their consumers want films they already like. It is very hard to get someone to watch a film they've never seen before (unless coaxed into it by a relative or a friend), and when you do manage to get someone to watch your film there is always the chance that they will be disappointed by it. Will Netflix lose subscribers over their original films? Most likely not, considering they still offer a huge library of popular films and TV shows that people love. However, they won't gain many, either. Or, at least, they won't gain many people who are interested in exploring their original films.

Now let's address the second question: what benefit do they offer Netflix subscribers, and filmmakers?

The theater nowadays seems less diverse than ever. People like to gripe about the influx of superhero movies, sequels, and remakes. They're not wrong when they point this out, either -- now, more than ever, Hollywood is cashing in on nostalgia and spectacle. On top of that, the costs at the theater are rising. Ticket prices are soaring, and many people -- who are trying to tighten the belt a bit -- cannot justify spending money, and time, going to the theater.

Netflix is in an interesting position, then, because they offer instant access to new, and beloved, films from all over the world. While most families may be content with Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, the more adventurous viewers will find interesting independent nuggets that make the monthly cost worth it.

Netflix original films are a way for Netflix to challenge theaters. Right now you can watch films that have already been released, but you can't watch films that are in theaters -- nobody can acquire those screening rights except for the theaters themselves. But if Netflix can create high quality, new, and exciting content for its subscribers, they can get people to stay home and watch their films. Instead of Joe and Jane deliberating about whether or not to see Fast and the Furious 57, they can sit on the couch and watch a brand new Netflix film from the comfort of their couch.

Furthermore, Netflix is much more adventurous itself in what it funds. Showrunners often are told to push the envelope, for example. Scripts that may seem absolutely ridiculous are funded. Directors are given virtually complete artistic freedom to make their film without a studio breathing down their neck, and back-seat driving.

That is an incredible freedom, both for filmmakers and for viewers. Viewers get access to interesting, new, fresh films, and filmmakers are allowed to create the art they want to create.

This does have its pitfalls, though, and we've already discussed the main one: quality. It's noble to want to provide filmmakers and audiences with the freedom to create and watch new things, but we often end up with poorer films as a result.

 A still from Macon Blair's 2017 Netflix film,  I Don't Feel at Home In This World Anymore.

A still from Macon Blair's 2017 Netflix film, I Don't Feel at Home In This World Anymore.

The Netflix original film needs to stay, though, for all the reasons people hate them.

It cannot be understated how important a platform like Netflix is for new, and unestablished filmmakers. The film business requires filmmakers to jump through hoops, and work within the parameters of the studio system. The independent scene is even more difficult, as it requires filmmakers to find funding of their own most of the time, in hopes that their film will get some sort of distribution deal at a festival.

By funding a wide variety of scripts and film ideas, Netflix is unleashing young filmmakers upon the world. They are providing their tool to promising individuals who otherwise may never have been able to make the film they wanted to make. Sure, those films may not be of the best quality. Sure, we may have to suffer through a few stinkers to get to a decent one. But you know, every time you watch a Netflix original film, that you are getting the pure, unedited vision from a filmmaker. You're getting purity in a way you know you're not when you go to the theater.

If Netflix were to end this venture, or to restrict it to established filmmakers, it would be defeating the purpose of the venture itself. If Netflix's aim is to create new, quality content that rivals what theaters offer, then they need young filmmakers. And by virtue of working with young filmmakers, there will be some poor quality films (and sometimes Netflix will make deals with people like Adam Sandler, which will make all of us scratch our heads).

The Netflix original is not loved by all, or by many, but it is cherished by the few who need it. Without Netflix producing original content, we wouldn't have films like Tallulah, or Barry, or Tramps, all of which are well reviewed, well received, well made films from young (or new), up-and-coming directors. Not every film will be a success, but when it comes to getting what we want -- great, original content -- we'll have to suffer a few losses every now and then.

Netflix still needs to work out its model, and its budgeting system. However, we need the Netflix original film available to us. Netflix is one of the few film distribution businesses that is providing new, and original, content to its subscribers. They are one of the few people standing up to the homogeny we see at the theater right now. That's not to say seeing a film at a theater should be dismissed, or avoided, but it's nice to know we have an extensive library of films at our disposal when we're too tired to make the trek out to the cinema.

How Cinematography Affects Story In "Mr. Robot"

Mr. Robot is one of the most interesting shows currently on television. Returning for its third season on October 11th, this show works both as a boldly modern discussion of mental health and moral philosophy with an intriguing core narrative about hacking, while simultaneously working with the aesthetic of an 80s thriller, both in terms of its sound design, and some of its visuals.

What's most interesting about Mr. Robot, though (at least from my personal perspective), has to do with its most obvious element -- its cinematography.

There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to cinematography, though unwritten. Generally, filmmakers and viewers fall into one of two categories. Some people feel that cinematography should be used to impart the narrative. In other words, it should be used strictly as a tool to present the narrative, and should not call attention to itself, so that viewers are not taken out of the story. Others feel that cinematography should augment the narrative, and introduce subtle elements of its own to enhance the written story.

Mr. Robot is interesting because it does both of these things. The show, and its creator Sam Esmail, is no stranger when it comes to shaking cinematic conventions. The show breaks the 4th wall with ease and fluidity, affectionately calls the main company in its narrative "Evil Corp", and utilizes voiceover to explore Eliot's state of mind, and philosophical musings. So it should come as no surprise that the cinematography in this show dips into both pools.

Most film students come across the rule of thirds, and other composition "rules" at the very beginning of their education. I use quotes for the term 'rules' because, as you will find, or have already found, there are no true rules in filmmaking. In fact, like with all art forms, the people who are most successful, or who find the most pleasure, in this medium are the ones who consistently break these rules.

The above video, brought to you by YouTuber D4 Darious (who runs an excellent filmmaking channel; I highly recommend you subscribe to him for more DIY filmmaking tips, and filmmaking analyses) discusses the basic premises of these compositional "rules". All of them, in general, can be relied upon to help you create an appealing image, and -- to be fair -- many professional filmmakers and cinematographers rely upon these basic compositional rules in their films and shows.

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Mr. Robot is different though. It purposefully, and overtly, bucks typical cinematic trends to create something different. Whenever I watch the show, I always have this gut feeling of unease, or of concern. Why is that? What do these visuals have to do with that feeling?

This goes back to my first mention of imparting a story and augmenting a story. While it's fair to say that all cinematography imparts a story -- by virtue of being the visual element, it is what connects us with the scripts, and character outlines, that have been written out -- it can be harder to identify how cinematography alone can augment, or enhance, a narrative. 

Look at the image above. Without any context, this looks like a badly framed image, right? Sure, it still follows the rule of thirds (she is placed on the right side of the grid), but there's no lead room. Because we cannot see anything beyond what is captured in this image, it feels as though Angela, the character in this shot, is looking at a wall. It's uncomfortable.

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

The same is true of Elliot in the above photo -- again, still technically following the rule of thirds, but we are again confronted by this odd lack of lead space. Everything feels scrunched together, and the balance of the image seems off.

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Some other examples, like this one, are more drastic. Here the cinematographer isn't even following the rule of thirds. Philip Price is relegated to the very corner of the image, while the expansive office around him seems more imposing, more important. 

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

And again here, where Elliot, who is our main character, is pushed to the very corner of the frame, the environment around him seeming to swallow him whole.

When I discussed this with a filmmaking mentor of mine (this was when I had just started watching the show), he quipped that cinematographers had gotten bored with convention, and were just messing with audiences for the hell of it. Maybe there's some truth to that. But with Mr. Robot, I would like to think there is something underneath the surface here.

That's because these images do augment the narrative. Elliot is an anti-social character, who enjoys spending more time by himself, with his computer, than he does with other people. He only truly considers one person, Angela Moss, a close friend. Further, the story is centered around his desire to help people, and his actions to bring down "the man", so to speak -- all of this is fueled by the mysterious figure, Mr. Robot, who has a very antagonistic relationship with Elliot.

With all of this in mind, is it so odd that the cinematography would reflect these things? By pushing our characters to the edge of the frame, the viewer is unable to really see what is coming, while also feeling very uncomfortable -- we're not used to that type of framing. So by using this unconventional framing, the show is able to make us confused, and/or uncomfortable, and set itself apart from competing shows.

This is further compounded by the usage of wide angle shots that do follow conventional composition rules.

 Photo by USA Network/Sarah Shatz/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Sarah Shatz/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

This speaks to the "imparting and augmenting" dichotomy I spoke of earlier. Shots like this are purely technical (or mostly technical). They provide us with a sense of time, place, and tone which is written into the narrative of the story. These kinds of shots bring the words to life. What was a paragraph of Courier font is now a robustly beautiful, and informative, image.

 Photo by USA Network/Peter Kramer/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Peter Kramer/USA Network - © 2014 USA Network Media, LLC

Regardless of whether or not these images have a modernist aesthetic, or if they are recalling grungy, textured imagery from past films and shows, we regard these shots as normal. We may comment on their beauty, or on how cool they are (as we do nowadays when we see a single-take shot), but we generally don't dive into them further to analyze their meaning.

 Image taken from IMDB.com

Image taken from IMDB.com

Mr. Robot has plenty of this style of cinematography -- cinematic, informative, pretty to look at. It imparts information well, and allows the viewer to passively ingest the story, the setting, and the characters.

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

However, it also throws us imagery like this -- unconventional, odd, confusing, and unnerving. Yet it speaks to the confusing, dreamy, or suspenseful elements of its narrative. This kind of cinematography takes us out of the experience, if but for a moment, and yet in doing so it provides us with the chance to delve deeper into the narrative, and to analyze its characters.

 Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

Photo by USA Network/Michael Parmelee/USA Network - © 2016 USA Network Media, LLC

It is very possible, as my filmmaking mentor quipped to me, that these cinematographers are just bored, and are trying to see what they can get away with. It is also entirely possible that creator Sam Esmail wanted to create a distinct visual aesthetic that would set his show apart from other dramas currently on television. But these choices feel very deliberate. And, whether by happenstance or by design, they speak to the underlying themes of the show in a way we are not used to. In an age where the majority of thematic understanding comes from overt dialogue and obvious themes, it's both refreshing and confusing to see some of Mr. Robot's themes being discussed in such an obvious, yet subtle, way.

If anything, Mr. Robot's cinematography speaks to the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that has lead to so many film movements, and so many television revivals. We may be in the Golden Age of Television currently, but that does not mean there isn't room for innovation -- quite the contrary. Mr. Robot will continue to challenge us, I'm sure, and I hope its boldness will inspire other creators, and other cinematographers, to do the same.

Talent and Perseverance Will Always Overcome Budgetary Issues

Coherence is a micro-budget science-fiction film, released in 2013, about eight friends who gather for a dinner party on the night a comet is passing over Earth. What ensues is a mind-bending deconstruction of what humans are capable of when anything is possible, and when infinity is the limit. It is an incredible story that has received plenty of praise since its release, earning a 65/100 on Metascore, an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 7.2/10 on IMDB. It grossed roughly $68,000 at the box office.

Coherence is the kind of film that gives independent filmmakers, like myself, a beacon of hope. This is because Coherence was made on a budget of $50,000, and was shot over five nights using the director's home as the main location. Furthermore, the majority of the film was improvised, with actors going off of general scene descriptions and character motivations to propel the story. To compound these parameters, the director's wife gave birth to their child during shooting.

This film is proof of an important rule of filmmaking, though an unspoken one: you don't need a huge budget to tell a damn good story. You just need a good story.

That's perhaps the most important aspect of this film, and its production: James Ward Byrkit and Alex Manugian developed this story over the course of a year, shooting test footage in the process. Doing this helped them fully develop their story, its many intricacies, and the underlying character moments that the narrative is exploring.

 Photo by Oscilloscope Laboratories - © Copyright 2014 by Oscilloscope Laboratories

Photo by Oscilloscope Laboratories - © Copyright 2014 by Oscilloscope Laboratories

When it comes to the filmmaking process, one of the most difficult aspects of pre-production is raising the necessary funds to cover your budgetary needs. There are a variety of costs to cover, whether that is the cast's salary, or the technical costs associated with the crew, or production design, or any of the other myriad of factors associated with a film's production. When you write your script, or develop your story idea, it can be easy to become discouraged. It's hard to raise money for films, and if you don't have any major studio backing it can be even harder. It's not impossible, though.

Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, writers/directors of the horror film, The Void, were about to raise over $80,000 on Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding website. That film is now available to be viewed on Netflix. The 2014 Veronica Mars film's $6 million was raised in large part through crowdfunding.

In essence, because of the powerful reach of the Internet, it is possible to raise large portions of a budget, or entire budgets, through crowdfunding sites. 

But the real importance that filmmakers should keep in mind is this simple truth: talent and perseverance will always overcome budgetary restrictions. Even with all of difficulties that came with shooting Coherence, the cast and crew were still able to create a unique film that garnered a respectable amount of praise. Not only that, it managed to make back its budget, and then some, at the box office.

My low-budget films, more than anything, taught me that you’ve got to create cool, likable characters and great stories because, if you don’t, it doesn’t matter how cool it might look - no one is going to care about it.
— James Wan

A filmmaker who has the passion and drive to make it in this business will be able to make gold out of straw, no matter their budgetary constraints, or their production constraints. That is, perhaps, one of the most important things young filmmakers can learn about this business.

If you are a filmmaker, particularly a young filmmaker, don't allow a small budget, or tight parameters, deter you from making the film you want to make. It may take you a year of figuring out the specifics of your story, but the end result will display your talent, your perseverance, and your ambition.

"It" (2017) Review


It is a mammoth novel. At over 1100 pages, containing a huge assortment of characters, and spanning over 200 years of mythos, you can imagine just how hard this novel is to adapt. It's not just an issue of plot, it's an issue of time. While King has over 275,000 words to tell his story (the equivalent of a 4,500 hour film, if 1 script page is equivalent to one minute of film time) Andy Muschietti has given himself roughly four hours -- around 240 pages -- to adapt both halves of these novels.

 A still from  It  (1990)

A still from It (1990)

The 1990 miniseries showed that this novel is both incredibly hard to adapt, and impossible to water down. While Tim Curry shines through, in that adaptation, as Pennywise, the rest of the film around him is rife with bad acting, poor writing, stilted dialogue, and cheesy effects. This miniseries covered the entirety of the novel, but even its three-hour runtime wasn't enough to effectively adapt King's story. Additionally, this adaptation avoided almost all of the violence, sexuality, and dark humor that made the novel unique, and memorable.

Andy Muchietti's It suffers, too, from this inability to capture the temporal expansiveness of King's novel. The first chapter of the film, clocking in at a little over two hours, covers the majority of the plot points contained in about half of King's novel. However, it fails to capture the depth, and the intricacies contained within those pages. Furthermore, its horror is executed in the most lazy, and frustrating, way: jump scares.

Let's begin with the writing, though.

This adaptation of It was originally written by Cary Fukunaga and Chase Palmer. Fukunaga was originally attached as writer/director for a long time. You may know Fukunaga from his directorial efforts on films like Beasts of No Nation and Sin Nombre, along with his directing work on the first season of the HBO show True Detective.

Fukunaga was fired from the project after it had been mired in development Hell for quite some time. After being fired, he shared some details about why he was given the boot, and what the producers wanted his film to be.

I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.

The main difference was making Pennywise more than just the clown. After 30 years of villains that could read the emotional minds of characters and scare them, trying to find really sadistic and intelligent ways he scares children, and also the children had real lives prior to being scared. And all that character work takes time. It’s a slow build, but it’s worth it, especially by the second film. But definitely even in the first film, it pays off.

It was being rejected. Every little thing was being rejected and asked for changes. Our conversations weren’t dramatic. It was just quietly acrimonious. We didn’t want to make the same movie. We’d already spent millions on pre-production. I certainly did not want to make a movie where I was being micro-managed all the way through production, so I couldn’t be free to actually make something good for them. I never desire to screw something up. I desire to make something as good as possible.

We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it. Chase and I both put our childhood in that story. So our biggest fear was they were going to take our script and bastardize it. So I’m actually thankful that they are going to rewrite the script. I wouldn’t want them to stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would had done. I was honoring King’s spirit of it, but I needed to update it. King saw an earlier draft and liked it.
— Cary Fukunaga

Ultimately, Fukunaga and his producers were trying to make two different films: Fukunaga wanted to make something akin to The Shining, or Rosemary's Baby, whereas his producers wanted him to make the next Conjuring film.

When Fukunaga was booted from the project, the producers hired writer Gary Dauberman (writer of Annabelle and Wolves at the Door) to make extensive changes to Fukunaga and Palmer's script. They also hired Andy Muschietti, writer/director of the 2013 film, Mama, to replace Fukunaga in the director's chair.

Sadly, what Fukunaga divulged in that interview is completely true. While some elements of his script has been kept, much of it was re-written to fit Muschietti's vision (which, in turn, fit Hollywood's vision). By this I mean to say that Muschietti's It is full of poor dialogue, jump scares, and very flat characters.

 Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Part of this stems from what I mentioned above -- trying to adapt a huge novel into a relatively short script. Supporting characters, like Henry Bowers, or Beverly Marsh's father, are fleshed out in the novel, and given compelling backstories. In the film, they are defined by very rigid, and thin motivations. Henry Bowers, for instance, is a bully because his father is a violent drunk. That's it. That is the entire motivation behind this bully's extremely violent, and destructive tendencies. Beverly Marsh's father has no motivation, nor any backstory. He's just a looming, abusive figure that is shrouded in darkness.

The real issue with the writing of this film, though, is the depiction of Pennywise the Clown. Obviously this character is essential to the novel, and to the overall story.

 Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Bill Skarsgård is fine as Pennywise, though he is very forgettable. His performance can be summed up as "forced" -- a combination of whisper-talking, and overacting. Pennywise's horrific actions are augmented by poor CGI, which takes away from both the character, and the Skarsgård's performance.

Furthermore, this Pennywise never feels like an organic part of the story. Pennywise is an old entity, spanning well beyond the lifespan of the children. Yet we never get a feeling for that age beyond some vague dialogue which speaks to it. Furthermore, because of all of the jump scares, Pennywise never feels scary. In fact, all of the scares in the film feel very forced, and inorganic to the atmosphere Muschietti attempts to set up.

 Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Photo by Brooke Palmer - © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The main cast is good, though, and they are the saving grace of the film. While Pennywise, and the fear surrounding him, feel inorganic and forced, the interactions and chemistry between the core characters is strong. They are funny, endearing, and realistic. 

The real standout performance in this film comes from Finn Wolfhard, who plays Richie Tozier. Carrying the majority of the comedic relief on his shoulders, Wolfhard is able to punctuate each scene he's in with authenticity and endearing realism. 

The rest of the cast works well, even if they don't quite fit the character descriptions we remember from the novel. In this respect, while they may not replicate the characters we have envisioned, they certainly embody them. The performances are all solid.

In fact, ironically enough, the younger performances are much better than their adult counterparts. Part of this could be from the shallow writing, or the stilted dialogue the adults are often stuck with, but it is worth mentioning.

 © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The real issue with this film comes from the jump scares, though. Jump scares, by themselves, are not inherently evil. They are most certainly lazy, but they aren't the worst thing ever. A horror film can still be very good if it has a couple of jump scares in it. However, like many other things in the filmmaking world, less is more

Muschietti does not abide by this adage, as everything from Pennywise's interaction with Georgie to the climactic third act are rife with forced jump scares, grating musical cues, and dramatic lighting. 

That first interaction with Georgie helps set up the entire film, both in terms of tone, and in terms of scares. The script has jarring shifts in tone, which are best exemplified by Georgie chasing his boat down the street happily, running into a road block, and then meeting Pennywise. In a matter of a minute or two, we change the entire tone of the film three times, and without warning. This happens throughout the film continually, with varying degrees of success (blending horror and comedy can work, it just depends on how you do it).

My opinion of Skarsgård's performance is complicated, and this scene perfectly encapsulates why. There are fleeting moments where he captures the essence of Pennywise as a character -- this lure for children that is used so he can feed -- and there are moments where he feels like he is trying to be scary (which, as we all know, generally doesn't work; just like when someone is trying to be funny, it comes off as forced).

Skarsgård oscillates between these two positions frequently throughout the film. When he releases some balloons to reveal his face to one of our core characters, it feels forced. It's supposed to be scary, but it isn't. When he is playfully tortures Eddie, who has broken his arm, he inhabits the comedic, and terrifying, nature of Pennywise as a character. I don't know how much of this is Skarsgård's performance, and how much of it is the writing, but Skarsgård as Pennywise is wildly inconsistent, to say the least.


I guess those are the two terms I would use to best illustrate my feelings about this film: forced, and inconsistent.

None of this is to say that the film is unwatchable -- if you don't mind jump scare horror, similar to what James Wan provides (though Muschietti is not nearly as skillful as Wan when it comes to delivering said type of horror), then you will probably like this film. 

However, from my perspective, as a filmmaker and a film lover, Muschietti's It is the kind of film that exudes all of the issues the horror genre currently has. It's full of forced scares, and light on depth and characterization. That doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed, nor does that mean it's devoid of any quality; it just means that, as an adaptation of its excellent source material, and as a film, it fails in a number of capacities.

Twin Peaks, and What It Means to Return


I studied film in college, and -- as you can imagine -- one of the main things I would do when I had free time was watch a ton of films and TV shows. I tried to keep a healthy variety of content in circulation, and this allowed me to ingest a wide array of genres on top of what I was already watching, and studying, in my classes.

It was during this time that I discovered David Lynch. Of my own volition, and out of general curiosity, I rented Mulholland Drive. Since doing so, my perspective on filmmaking, and narrative structure has never been the same. Later, in one of my classes, we watched his masterpiece, Blue Velvet, and this amazement continued. I realized that Lynch was a master of creating a cohesive narrative from a sum of jumbled parts; no other filmmaker has handled surrealism quite as well as him (except for, perhaps, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí when they made Un Chien Andalou in 1929). Furthermore, Lynch inserts this element of pulpy, lustful noire that is twisted wonderfully into his narratives.

It was not long after this class, and these experiences with Lynch's work, that I began to watch Twin Peaks.

 © 1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

© 1990 ABC/Spelling Ent./CBS Paramount Domestic Television

The pilot of Twin Peaks, and the ensuing episodes, was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was deeply Lynchian, and yet it wasn't entirely Lynchian. You could feel Mark Frost's guiding hand, giving some semblance of episodic form to Lynch's surrealist tendencies. And yet, Lynch's direction in the pilot gave the entire series an ethereal sheen. The town of Twin Peaks had an appeal to it, and yet it was wholly unnerving. Twin Peaks was the kind of place where a man could call his Sheriff if he needed anything and get through to him immediately. It was also the kind of place where a man would need to do so after finding the homecoming queen dead on a beach, wrapped in plastic.

In the pilot, a single question was dangled before us with tantalizing precision: who killed Laura Palmer? Lynch and Frost then introduced us to a variety of characters, most of whom had some kind of motive, or were rather suspicious. Whether that was Jocelyn Packard (played by the alluring Joan Chen), who we see moments before Laura Palmer is found, or James Hurley, a biker who has half of Laura's golden necklace, we were thrust into a tantalizingly macabre town, given a host of characters to suspect, and provided with only the subtlest of hints.

Enter Special Agent Dale Cooper -- a man who is as eccentric and Lynchian as they come, with a penchant for a hot cup of coffee, and a thick slice of cherry pie. With Dale Cooper the audience is given some sort of light in this dark town. With Dale Cooper, we get a moral compass. With Dale Cooper, it seems as though we can figure out the answer to this mystery.

 Photo by CBS Photo Archive - © 2008 CBS WORLDWIDE INC.

Photo by CBS Photo Archive - © 2008 CBS WORLDWIDE INC.

I devoured thirty episodes of Twin Peaks in a matter of days. I was amazed, and terrified, by our first exploration into the Black Lodge, and our introduction to The Man From Another Place; I watched Dale Cooper get shot at the end of season one by a mysterious figure; I saw his first interaction with the Giant; I saw the reveal of Laura's killer; and, most shocking of all, I watched Cooper's trek through the Black Lodge at the end of season two, and theorized about the lingering question he asked the entire audience, blood dripping from his forehead, the bathroom mirror shattered: "How's Annie?"

 Photo by Suzanne Tenner - © 2017 - Showtime

Photo by Suzanne Tenner - © 2017 - Showtime

That was how audiences were left for twenty-five years. Whether you watched the show during its original run, or through a streaming service (like I did), you were equally frustrated, confused, and saddened. For all we knew, this was the end of the line for Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, and the rest of our affable characters.

And then, on October 3rd, 2014, David Lynch set out a tweet that excited, and shocked, fans.

With this tweet we knew, on some level, that we were going to see Cooper again. But how? In what state? What would this show even look like two decades later?

We got that answer in Twin Peaks: The Return, an eighteen-hour film (as Lynch calls it) that brought back old characters, introduced us to new ones, and frustrated fans just as much as it did during its original run. It gave no quarter, no answers, and remained stubbornly deceptive, and wonderfully mysterious, right up until its final seconds. It defied expectations, and carved its own path; by doing so, it redefined television forever.

The main question many fans had going into this newest season was how they were going to continue their story after 26 years. Some hints were given in the 60-second trailer, titled IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN.

Fans immediately began theorizing, trying to dissect the images we were shown, while remaining in awe that we were actually going to see (most) of our favorite characters again. 

 © Showtime

© Showtime

  Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

 Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

What we got with these eighteen episodes, though, was nothing like what we could have imagined. It was equal parts challenging, infuriating, and rewarding. We were shown a new array of images and characters that have become immortal in the mind of all Twin Peaks fans: a large glass box, an older version of the Giant, the Woodsman, the dark version of Cooper, Dougie Jones, the birth of BOB, Diane, and -- perhaps most importantly -- Laura Palmer's scream.

That final element is what we are left with in the finale. Cooper, having transcended time itself in an attempt to save Laura Palmer, brings Carrie Page -- the alternate version of Laura Palmer in the skewed timeline Cooper created, or entered (or both) -- to her home, hoping her mother, Sarah Palmer, will be there to greet her. Yet, instead Cooper is baffled when Alice Tremond answers the door, saying she doesn't know who Sarah Palmer is. In fact, Alice bought it from a woman named Mrs. Chalfont -- a character fans will remember from Fire Walk With Me and the original run from Twin Peaks, who also goes by the name Mrs. Tremond. Rebuked and confused, Cooper and Carrie Page walk back onto the street. Cooper stands there for a moment. We see a familiar light pole. Cooper then visibly weakens, seeming to double over, asking "What year is it?". We hear a faint whisper, "Laura", on the wind, in what sounds like Sarah Palmer's voice. And then Carrie Page realizes who she is. She screams, the lights of the house go out, and our screens fade to black.

It's a suitably Lynchian ending, leaving plenty of questions up in the air for viewers to dissect, while giving a rather poetic conclusion to a season that is all about "return."

In fact, one of the most interesting things about this season has been how that subtitle has changed in meaning over the course of these eighteen hours.

When we first see that 60-second trailer, it is easy to assume that "The Return" only points to the show's return to television after its two-decade absence. Then we learn that bad Cooper is running from the Black Lodge, avoiding returning so he can stay out in the real world -- we can then infer that "The Return" is pointing to his return to the Black Lodge. Then we learn about Dougie Jones, and we see that arc unfold before our eyes, and we can insinuate that "The Return" points to Dougie's return to Dale Cooper, in terms of identity and functionality. Then Cooper returns to life, and we can infer that "The Return" points to his return to Twin Peaks.

What does it mean with this finale, though? Where does Cooper return after the essence of BOB has been defeated (if only for the moment)?

Cooper returns to the moment where Laura was murdered, saving her from her fate. Her corpse is scrubbed out of existence on the beach we see in the opening moments of the pilot episode. And then she disappears, that bloodcurdling scream echoing through the woods as Cooper is left alone, his arm outstretched, his hand holding nothing but air.

Futility is perhaps the essence of what we can take away from this season as a whole, and its oddly fitting when analyzed in comparison with the social response to this season in general. Everyone jumped on board thinking they were going to get Cooper and his wild antics, his affinity for coffee, and scenes of him throwing stones at bottles to deduce who Laura Palmer's killer is. They didn't get that, though. Even when the show brings us back to Twin Peaks, with Cooper in tow, it's not truly like it was twenty-five years ago. 

Because that's the ultimate truth about the past: you cannot truly return to it. And, more importantly, even if you could it wouldn't necessarily fix things. Cooper is given the unique opportunity to return to the past, to attempt to save Laura from her grisly fate. In doing so, he skews the timeline; yet, he doesn't change the past. If that scream is any indication, Carrie Page remembers in that moment who she is. With Sarah Palmer's whisper, all of those memories come flooding back. Cooper fails.

Now there is an interesting theory I saw online that offers a rather simple explanation to what we saw in episodes 17/18.


Regardless of whether or not this is true, though, I think we should return to this notion of "returning". What does it mean to return, especially in the context of a show where we see a spirit world existing beside, and encroaching on, reality?

Twin Peaks: The Return, if nothing else, proved to us that David Lynch was well aware that fans wanted him to take the easy way out, just as Coop wanted to do: give us the nostalgia we wanted, reap the benefits; save Laura, stop the entire process of events from happening. But it's not that simple. 

As Margaret Lanterman said, to open Robert Jacoby's eulogy, in The Secret History of Twin Peaks, “This is now. And now will never be again." In essence, we cannot return to before, whether we want to relive the nostalgic memories of Coop trying to solve a crime, or we want to save Laura Palmer from her fate. We are in the now, in the present, and accessing the past only has consequences. 

Maybe it's Coop's nightmare to never be able to help Laura Palmer. In the series' original run, he is never really able to bring BOB to justice. Sure, Leland is caught, and dies in custody, but Leland was only a conduit through which BOB was able to enact his treachery. Even when Coop visits the Black Lodge, it is to save Annie, not to help Laura -- and in doing so, dark Cooper is born. So I suppose it's only poetic that Cooper's attempts to save Laura here fail as well. Why would they succeed? The past is the past -- it cannot be changed, re-written, or overruled. Attempting to do so only delays the inevitable. 

It's a depressing way for Twin Peaks to go out, presumably forever, but it also is a perfect ending for this series. It says a lot, without explicitly revealing his hand.

I'm reminded of the frustrated response to the series finale of The Sopranos whenever I see the response to this ending for Twin Peaks. People hate not having resolution; especially in film and TV, where we expect to have some sort of finality, the blatant choice to not give viewers what they want, and to take a different, more artistic approach, is often met with vitriol, anger, and frustration. To those people, I must only offer this: it's okay to be confused. 

The ending to Twin Peaks has come and gone. Lynch has done what he has always done, and told a story that defies expectations. He has used our linear logic against us, as he always has, and he has still managed to create a poetic ending to this incredible show. We don't have all of the answers when the credits roll -- that much is true. But if you think Lynch didn't provide you with the tools necessary to figure it out, you are very mistaken.

Those who want to figure out what happened in Twin Peaks will figure it out, just as those who wanted to figure out what happened to Tony Soprano figured it out. I know I will be revisiting this finale, and this 18-hour film, sometime in the future to do some analyzing of my own.

If anything, watching these three seasons of television is the only way to experience the past. Though we cannot change it, and we cannot relive its former glory, we can understand it; perhaps, when it comes to Lynch, that is what we should strive for.

The Epidemic of Over-Explaining Science Fiction

What is wrong with this scene?

Think about this question for a while, because there is a lot wrong with this scene. While the Wachowski siblings did set a precedent for these kind of overly verbose scenes in the first Matrix film, with Morpheus explaining the intricacies of the matrix and the real world, this scene from The Matrix Reloaded perfectly presents the mistake many science fiction films make.

Science fiction is a form of fiction which utilizes fantastic themes, and ideas, which are based on some sort of scientific platform. This includes stories that deal with subjects like time travel, space, futuristic cities, parallel universes, aliens, robot sentience, and much more. As you can imagine, these themes and stories are incredibly complex, intricate, and difficult to pull apart in the context of a 90 to 120 minute film.

The Matrix trilogy is telling the story of Neo, and utilizing religious imagery, and metaphors, to tell a story -- none of this is necessarily subtle. But, at its core, the Matrix films are science fiction films -- the premise of these films are based around a war between robots and humans.

So you've thought about the question that I opened this with; let's return to it. What is wrong with this scene?

In my mind, the existence of this scene is the problem.

As I mentioned before, these themes are incredibly complex. Explaining them within the confines of a relatively short runtime would be futile; films that push the limits of theatrical runtimes (The Matrix being one of them (the trilogy clocks in at 409 minutes in total, or roughly 6.7 hours). So why do writers and directors constantly try to explain their film to the audience? If it is extremely difficult to explain the small details of a sci-fi theme, why try and do it with a scene of expository dialogue?

It's not just The Matrix that suffers from this, as you can imagine. A wide array of modern science-fiction films fall into this trip of over-explaining their plot, or the 'scientific' aspect of their narrative.

This scene from Source Code also helps exemplify what I'm talking about.

The explanation of what "the source code" is doesn't add much to the plot of the film. It only clarifies the scientific aspect of the film, while wasting three minutes in the process. While three minutes may not seem like a lot, when you put it in the context of the film's 93 minute runtime, that's 3% of the film dedicated to a scene which doesn't do much to benefit the film itself. In fact, the majority of the information in this scene is information we, as viewers, are already aware of. 

So essentially what we have in Source Code, like we have in The Matrix Reloaded, like we have in a variety of science-fiction films, is a relatively large portion of the runtime dedicated to just explaining the "science-ey" stuff, if you will, in the plot.

What fun is that? What benefit does that offer us? And, most importantly, why do writers do it?

Let's start with that last question first: why do writers do it? 

There are a number of reasons why writers over-explain elements of their film -- this is true across all genres, not just in science fiction. This comes down to one of three things (or a mix of them):

1. Bad screenwriting habits

The first one is the easiest to dissect: everyone starts out somewhere. It's possible that the screenwriter is either very new to screenwriting, or that they are in the habit of relying on poor screenwriting tricks to tell their story (i.e. using flashbacks to explain plot information, using narration to explain expository details, etc.). This can be fixed with consistent writing, reading screenplays from a variety of writers, and getting constructive criticism on current work.

I recently watched a film called Uncanny, which is available on Netflix, that displays this kind of a amateur reliance on expositional dialogue to explain its scientific narrative. You can even see this in its trailer.

I am even guilty of this with my films. It can be hard, especially with dialogue, to strike a balance between intriguing and clear. You don't want to lose your audience, but you also want to make sure your dialogue is unique, well-written, and crisp. This is difficult to do without practice; that is, both for better and for worse, the only solution to this specific problem.

2. A lack of trust in the target audience

This is a very big part of why so many films, and so many science-fiction films, are being excessively explained. Put simply, writers don't trust you -- or, at least, they don't trust you to understand their themes, or their narrative, without explicit clarity.

This can be seen all throughout big Hollywood films. In an effort to make the most money, and to cater to the widest demographic possible (filmmaking is a business, after all), it is not uncommon for writers to overly-clarify something, especially when it comes to dialogue, so their is no confusion as to what is going on. This is true of films I love, too.

Christopher Nolan is the perfect example of a writer/director (though his brother is often the credited writer on many projects) whose dialogue is unusually on-the-nose and expository. His films are enjoyable, and I find myself consistently impressed with their ambition, and his penchant for cerebral spectacle. However, no one could ever call Christopher Nolan subtle with a straight face.

The same is true of directors like Neil Blomkamp. District 9 is an incredible sci-fi film, and yet it opens with the most boring, expositional scene that is completely devoid of any subtlety. It uses the documentary style for realism, but imparts the same information scrolling text, narration, or dialogue would. In this way, it's not really doing anything different.

There is no real solution to this, because this is most noticeable in high budget films. That means that this problem is intrinsically linked with the final one.

3. Pressure from studios, producers, or financiers

Every filmmaker takes marching orders from someone, and everything in the film business is based around profit. Therefore, a lot of this insistence on clarity and expositional dialogue can be traced back to studios, producers, and financiers.

A studio's, and a producer's, goal is to market their film to a demographic that will make them money, and to invest on projects which will return, and capitalize on, said investment. That is why so many horror films are full of jump-scares and immediate thrills -- that's what audiences want to see right now, and that's what they pay for. That's why superhero films have become as popular as they are, and why so many actors, directors, and producers are jumping into bed with Marvel and DC -- these kinds of films make money, and tons of it.

So, in some respect, it's not surprising that sci-fi films are being over-explained; to get the widest audience possible, you need your material to be widely accessible. If you confuse your viewer, or require that they think about your film after the credits roll, you will lose money.

Hollywood has never been shy about this fact. What is surprising, though, is the widespread acceptance of these kinds of overt explanations, and the rejection of anything that is different, or less-than-overt.

Just compare this scene from the 2016 film, Midnight Special, and any of the other scenes I have presented you with.

Why is he wearing goggles? Why is his dad so forceful with protecting him? Why are their meteors falling to Earth? Why is the child apologizing for it?

This one scene produces so many questions, and yet it refuses to answer any of them. Why? Because the answers aren't important. What is important is that we understand that the kid has some sort of powers, that his father is protecting him from the world, and that they are going somewhere.

Yet none of the above is mentioned explicitly. Except for the ending of the phone call, where Michael Shannon's character says "we'll be there soon", the rest of this information is imparted through tone of voice, the juxtaposition of dialogue and imagery, and editing.

Midnight Special remains like this throughout its runtime. It refuses to answer the simple questions that it seems to raise, and instead does what all great sci-fi stories do: it tells a humanistic story with the backdrop of a fantastical scientific setting.

The critics loved the film, giving it a 76/100 on Metascore, and an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. So why don't films like this get made very often, especially today? Well, because Midnight Special only made $3.7 million of its $18 million budget back, has a 6.7/10 rating on IMDB, and a 67% audience rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, these films aren't made because they don't make money, and because audiences don't want to see them.

What do audiences want to see? They want to see films like The Martian, which has a 8.0/10 rating on IMDB, a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why do producers want to fund movies like The Martian? Because The Martian made 211% of its budget back at the box office.

I know what you're thinking: "does The Martian have a scene similar, or the same as, the other examples provided?" You bet your ass it does.

Now, I want to grant a couple of things, and, ironically enough, clarify some others.

Firstly, just because a film tends to placate its viewer with palatable metaphors and physical demonstrations, or a ton of dialogue from a character whose only purpose is to explain the film doesn't mean that the film will be bad. I like The Martian, and Interstellar, and many other science-fiction films that have come out, both from Hollywood and from the independent scene. Films are more about the sum of their parts than they are about any specific, individual aspects.

Secondly, with films about space travel or aliens (especially in our current era), there will always be a scene where an organization like NASA has to be involved; because of this, it's guaranteed there will be this kind of dialogue, both to assert the realism of the scenes, and to help clue in the viewer.

However, I do want to posit this notion: are these additions -- the continuous clarification, and explanation of science-fiction narratives -- beneficial to the respective stories as a whole?

Compare the opening of the 2011 film Melancholia to any science-fiction film you've seen recently. Melancholia's opening eight minutes has no dialogue, and no attempts at explanation. And yet, you understand exactly what is happening on a global scale, and you get an intrinsically unique, and intimate, understanding of specific characters.

Compare any of the "explanation" scenes I've described above with the ending scene sequence from Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (complete with the Pink Floyd track "Echoes" synced to the action).

This is twenty-three minutes of perfection, of science-fiction at its finest, most profound, and most beautiful. And yet it offers the viewer no dialogue, no explanations, and little coherence beyond what you are able to glean from the imagery, and the editing. Furthermore, Kubrick refused to explain the ending of the film.

2001 is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and nineteen minutes of film, there are only a little less than forty minutes of dialog. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content. To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the medium. I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to “explain” a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film - and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping an audience at a deep level - but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to purchase or else fear he’s missed the point. I think that if 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man’s destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life. But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in 2001, if presented as abstractions, would fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; as experiences in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one’s being.
— Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick understood the power of science-fiction, of how these scientifically based themes and stories can elevate human thinking, individualized stories, and profound thought. He understood, also, that through buying a ticket to the theater (or nowadays utilizing one of the many streaming services available), the viewer is, in essence, agreeing to give their time, and their thought, to a film. He understood that film is an art form, capable of entertaining, but also capable of imparting wisdom; it is as much upon the filmmaker to understand that as it is for the viewer.

If you would like to take anything away from my thoughts here, I recommend you take this: films can be good when approached from an entertainment-based philosophy (as they currently are). They can be masterpieces when they are approached from an artistic perspective.

Science-fiction has the unique ability to tell incredible, unthinkable stories all while grounded by a scientific platform.

With science-fiction things like time travel, and space travel, and aliens all seem within our grasp, and attainable.

When we use that power just to placate an audience, or an investor, we, as filmmakers, are wasting our time.

I Have Finished Writing My Next Short Film!

With the successful completion of Mirror, and while waiting to hear from festivals, I have decided to move forward with another project, currently titled Weekend.

A script has been completed, and pre-production will begin soon.

The logline for Weekend is as follows: "A couple visit a remote cabin in the wilderness in an attempt to salvage their dying relationship."

More info on Weekend will be released as I gather it.