Category Archives: The Scope

Hollywood, the Sexual Predator

CREDIT: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go. Harvey Weinstein is going to offer both apologies and excuses, one on top of the other. Multiple Hollywood celebrities, commentators, and insiders are going to condemn him and his actions. Legal procedures will get carried out. Victims will offer testimonies, details, and depressingly vivid accounts of the experiences they went through. All through it all, people are going to say quote “This must never be allowed to happen again.” And then Hollywood will allow it to happen again, and then again, and then again, again and again.

This is not a pessimistic viewpoint. This is a fact. We live in a society where rape culture is in a constant flux of victim-blaming and lies, and through it all we lose focus and consistently fail to advocate for the victim. Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment extends well beyond three decades. His accusers consist of more than 32 women, including actresses Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Cara Delevigne, and Rose McGowan. How many people knew about this? How many complaints were filed to the Weinstein Company? How many times did they overlook those claims? His reputation was such an open-secret in the industry that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane even joked about it at the 2013 Academy Awards nominations announcement, saying to the best supporting actress nominees “You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” The room was met with a mix of awkward laughs and uncomfortable silence.

Yet, the most bothersome thing about this is not Weinstein’s egregious behavior. It’s not how far back the allegations extend. It isn’t even the Weinstein Company’s reaction to throw everything under the rug. It’s how much of a recurring trend it is in Hollywood to not only excuse criminal behavior, but to also silence and deflect the accuser’s voices away from the conversation.

Observe, for instance, the following names: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Casey Affleck. They all share three things in common with Weinstein. They’re all prominent Hollywood figures. They’re all Academy Award-winners. And they all have a history of sexual harassment.

Look at Allen, for instance. Winning four Oscars for Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris, Allen is highly regarded by many Hollywood award ceremonies, yet his controversies follow him just as closely as his award statuettes. For one thing, during his relationship with actress Mia Farrow in 1992, Farrow discovered that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who at the latest would have been 19 years old at the time they started dating. The fact that Farrow’s teenage daughter started a relationship with her 53-year old boyfriend is disturbing all on its own, but only a few months later her seven year old daughter Dylan said she was molested by Allen while Farrow was out of the house. The case has been reviewed back and forth, with Dylan’s own siblings both defending and criticizing Dylan’s testimony. If it means anything, however, Allen’s biological son Ronan sympathizes with Dylan. The case was closed and Allen was released of all charges, going back into the moviemaking world to win more accolades.

Roman Polanski. Directed the movies Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, and Chinatown. Won an Oscar for directing The Pianist. Raped a 13-year old girl in 1977. Entered a plea bargain with the judge to serve his time under probation. Fled to France when he learned the judge was going to ignore the bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison. You can think whatever you want about the events themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that when he won his best director Oscar in 2002, he was met with thunderous applause from everyone in the auditorium. He continues to work with many notable celebrity figures well into this day.

Casey Affleck. Won a Oscar last year for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Was sued by producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka for sexual harassment while he directed the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here. That controversy was so under-the-radar that it didn’t even hit mainstream conversation until Affleck’s win on Oscar night. I didn’t even find out about it until after I reported on it the day after.

As a film critic, I often find myself in a difficult position where my job is to critique the art and not the artist. Earlier this year, I received criticism for giving the superhero film Wonder Woman four stars out of four, mostly because of Gal Gadot’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The issue is that I wasn’t reviewing Gadot’s social views: I was reviewing her performance in a movie. And the fact of the matter is that she was outstanding in the picture, regardless of whatever real-life causes she advocated for.

The same thing goes for Weinstein. Here is a Hollywood media mogul responsible for the takeoff of so many successful careers and filmmakers. Quentin Taratino and Pulp Fiction. Lasse Halstromm and The Cider House Rules. Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. Multiple accolades have been garnered from his productions. Six of them won the Academy Award for best picture. He has without a doubt had a huge impact on Hollywood culture and storytelling, and will continue to influence it years beyond this controversy as well as his own lifespan.

But here’s the thing: his successes does not excuse him from his cruelties. Yes, he has produced multiple masterpieces throughout his career. So what? He still sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted more than 30 women for three decades. Where is the accountability? Where are his consequences? He’s been exercising this reckless sexual ego since 1984. Why is it that 33 years later he’s suddenly facing the music for what he’s done? As viewers, we are required to suspend our personal cultural opinions in order to observe the film and review it on its own merits. But as human beings, how can we be responsible for no less than holding each other accountable for our actions?

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

I am reminded of a quote by the iconic Marilyn Monroe, who’s life creepily enough was adapted into the Weinstein production My Week With Marilyn. In her book My Story, she writes “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” I read this somberly, imagining her 40 years after her death still singing “Happy Birthday” to the man in the chair. Only this time, it isn’t president John F. Kennedy sitting in it. It’s Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood’s executives are all sitting right behind him.

– David Dunn

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No Confederacy, No Common Sense

SOURCE: Ringo Chiu/Getty Images

I was 12 years old when I saw a confederate flag for the first time outside of a classroom. I was at first disoriented by the sight: confused that after a war had ended for nearly 150 years, a flag was still being hoisted that wasn’t our own. I asked my dad why that flag was hanging on the back of our neighbor’s truck. He said that she was “representing her Southern pride.”

I’ve never understood why someone would be proud enough to represent the Confederate flag. It makes no sense. Take away the racial and historical implications behind the flag for a second. Who in their right mind would be proud of something that is most known for losing? That would be like admitting that you’re a Detroit Lions fan, or that you like listening to Nickelback. Once those opinions have left your lips, everything else that comes out afterwards has an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing it everywhere. You support the Confederacy? Good luck being taken seriously after confessing that, folks. I would probably find it funny, if it wasn’t already so pathetic.

Regardless of what you think, the open display of the Confederate flag is a debate that rages on, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to deescalate anytime soon. The more recent controversy spurring on the discussion is the “Unite the Right” protests going on in Charlottesville, VA, where white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members flooded the streets and caused a state of emergency before killing three people and injuring 38 others.

“Unite the Right”? Ha. More like “Unite the White.”

I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about these protests, it broke my heart. I lived briefly in Charlottesville for a time last year, and the city that I remembered leaving was a bright, friendly place where you could strike up a conversation with anyone you met on the street. It wasn’t a hateful, divisive place. It wasn’t unsafe or shady. It was simply a beautiful city, and I roamed the downtown restaurants and venues freely and with ease. I will always have fond memories of Charlottesville and even plan to revisit at some point in the future, preferably before David Duke blows it to hell with a wooden cross burning over it.

So when I heard that once again racist and hate-fueled bigots were protesting in the town, the first thing I asked myself was why? Why were they making all of this fuss? Of course, racists like the KKK don’t need much reason to destroy public property, but nevertheless I was curious of their reasoning. What led them to such a violent escapade?

Well apparently all of this started when the Robert E. Lee statue was reportedly being taken down back in May. After news came out, white supremacists took to the streets in June, July, and August before their most violent outing yet on Saturday. By the way, after all of their protesting, Lexington mayor Jim Gray said they’re going to bring down two more confederate statues in response to their protests, and many more are following in his example. The “Unite the Right/White” march ended up harming the supremacist’s cause rather than helping it.

Like I said, an embarrassing odor of stupid trailing them everywhere.

Cartoon by Andrew David Cox

But it did get me thinking. White supremacists are very protective of their Confederate paraphernalia when it is threatened by the masses. Seriously, they turn into the most fragile little snowflakes you’ve ever seen, turning red anytime they see a pixel of blue floating near their precious flags. This overprotective mentality shows a rare vulnerability in white supremacists. At that point, you would reasonably think that the best way to disarm white supremacy would be to tear down confederate artifacts. After all, Germany doesn’t have Nazi symbolism publicly displayed anymore. Why would America have Confederate symbolism still exist 150 years later?

This is where things get really confusing, because while white supremacy is still very much a real threat, people continue to defend these supremacists and their hateful symbols. That to me is even weirder, because who in their right mind looks at a Nazi beating up somebody in the street, gives a thumbs up and says “You keep doing you, sir! You have every right to hate whoever you want!”

There are many arguments that pro-confederate advocates use to defend their claims. Allow me to deconstruct each of them.

“It’s for historical preservation.”

First of all, there’s a big difference between remembering history and reliving it. Remembering history means recounting past events and allowing them to influence your future decisions. Reliving it means re-enacting past practices to keep those ideologies alive.  A good way to differentiate is by judging the quality of the object’s preservation. Is the object properly stored away and maintained in a proper condition? Or is it constantly in use and faces regular wear-and-tear damage?

This is why the “historical” argument makes no sense to me. The core argument is based on preserving history, but the open public use of the flag is not even for preservation. It’s for decoration. And who in their right mind would want to decorate their belongings with something as ugly and putrid as the Confederate flag?

Then asks the Neo-Nazi “But if we can’t fly it, where do we put it?” You know, there are these amazing institutions called MUSEUMS that are specifically made for the purpose of storing and preserving ancient artifacts. You should try visiting one sometime, you might learn something for a change.

“Those people are exercising their freedom of speech.”

Nobody is denying that someone has the right or ability to openly share and express these ideas. That’s not the point. The point is should they express them? And if they do, does that automatically take away our right to speak out against them?

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence. If you’re going to say or represent hateful ideas, you should reasonably expect blow back from your critics, and you equally shouldn’t discourage those people for exercising the same rights as you do.

Here’s another way to view it. Say a man walks up to a woman in the middle of the street and calls her fat. The woman starts crying, local on-lookers start rushing to her defense and criticize the man for his hateful words. Now, with you bearing witness to all this, are you more likely to defend the woman for being victimized, or are you more likely to defend the man and his right to free speech?

The correct answer is, of course, the woman, because any decent person would defend those who are being unnecessarily harassed. If you, however, answered the man under any circumstance, then you misunderstand the rights that our constitution grants us and should never be allowed to comment on politics ever again.

“We have to remember history so we don’t repeat it.”

Well we pretty much failed in that mission, haven’t we? After all, 46 percent of the country elected a president who was publicly endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, hate groups have grown by 17% since election season began, and literal Nazis are marching in our streets. At this point, preventing history from repeating itself is no longer an option for us. We’re living in it right now.

COURTESY: The Inquisitr/ Rob Cotton

Look, I could counter every point thrown in my direction, but it’s not like it would make any difference. If this political season has shown anything, it has shown that people would rather sit inside their sheltered echo chambers instead of getting out and facing reality as it is. And right now the reality is we are living in one of our nation’s most divisive times in modern history.

Everyone is saying we need to end the hate and come together as one. This much is true. However, the people who divided us with their hate in the first place must be proactive in taking the first steps towards healing our nation. Because of this, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK must allow themselves to be disarmed as we tear down the symbols that inspire their racist-fueled agenda. This includes publicly displayed Confederate and Nazi artifacts.

I don’t want it to be like this. I would like a nation that is civil with each other and allows free, respectful discussion of these issues. But if one side is going to be intolerant with their movement, they cannot blame us if we in turn refuse to tolerate their insolence. It’s okay to tolerate different political ideas. It is not okay to tolerate overt racism and hatred. Unfortunately, our nation has come to that point.

I understand that the removal of Confederate and Nazi images won’t stop the issues this country is facing. Still, we need to take a stand. We must. If we claim that America is for the land of the free and home of the brave, then we must demonstrate that by being brave and fighting for those freedoms.

Removing Confederate symbols won’t cure this country of the hatred that has infested it. But it’s a good place to start.

– David Dunn

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White House, You’re Fired

After a series of shocking firings and resignations, President Donald Trump took his boldest step yet in firing the White House.

No, not the White House staff. The actual White House.

After openly calling the White House “a real dump” earlier this week, Trump fired the White House due to dissatisfaction with the décor and for suspected assistance in leaking to the press. Trump took to Twitter to voice his dissatisfaction with the inanimate object’s performance:

The announcement came after the sudden removal of communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who was employed at the White House for less than two weeks. Other staffers fired or resigned during Trump’s tenure include press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus, FBI director James Comey, national security adviser Michael Flynn, attorney Preet Bharara, director of ethics Walter Shaub, communications director Michael Dubke, and attorney general Sally Yates.

With the administration now in the market for a new place of residence, it is unclear where exactly they plan to relocate during this transition period. However, Russian president Vladimir Putin offered the Kremlin as sanction for the sitting president, releasing a statement saying that he’d “be happy” to help his American comrades during this time.

The White House could not be reached for comment. Wait, sorry, guess I need to differentiate that now. The president’s office could not be reached for comment. The White House building itself, however, is very distraught, saying it wasn’t expecting to get fired after serving presidents for more than 200 years.

Meanwhile, the physical staff inside the White House are equally concerned and confused with the announcement. Chief of staff John Kelly said that while he respects the president’s decision, he doesn’t understand “how you can fire a building, unless you’re physically setting fire to it.” Kelly could not confirm if that was what the president really meant or not.

At a press briefing for the announcement, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn’t give a clear answer when asked about the nation’s future relationship with the White House, saying to reporters in the room “I… I don’t even know anymore.”

The White House is expected to fully vacate from the lawn by mid 2020.

– David Dunn

Disclaimer: This piece is satire and is not an accurate representation of current events.
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La La Land, Moonlight Wins 89th Academy Awards (Sort Of)

I don’t even know what to say.

Every year, the Oscars hand out their fair share of snubs and surprises. Last year, it was when Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone for Creed. The year before that, it was when Big Hero 6 won best animated feature over How To Train Your Dragon 2, whereas The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated.

I’ve seen the Academy snub films every year, but I’ve never seen the Academy snub the moment of winning before. Unbelievably, the Academy did just that last night.

First thing’s first: Jimmy Kimmel was a fun host. Running the show like he was running his late night talk show, he quipped zingy one-liners, had nominees read mean tweets, poked fun at the president, recreated the Lion King moment with Lion’s Sunny Pawar, and even invited a tour bus into the stage area to meet all of the snazzy-dressed celebrities. He was a good host, although I think he did drag on the political jokes for too long (and tweeting the president was definitely a bad idea. You never stoke the flames of a forest fire).

Everything else, however, was in complete debacle. Let’s start with the biggest one of all on Oscar night:

Best Picture: The most shocking win from the night, and not because of who won, but because of how they won. At first, Faye Dunaway read La La Land off of the card and producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger came up to the stage to accept their award. A few seconds later, they retracted their statements and announced there had been a mistake. Moonlight won best picture instead.

How did this happen? Apparently there was a mix-up with the envelopes and Warren Beatty was given a replacement card for best actress instead. Since that card read Emma Stone, who won best actress for her role in La La Land, Dunaway mistakenly thought that meant La La Land won best picture. Her inferences were wrong and the La La Land team had to turn over their statuettes to Moonlight.

Number one: How could the Oscar staff mess this up this badly? The night went smoothly for all of its categories throughout the night until it came to best picture. Suddenly, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and announced the wrong winners. How could the production team be so negligent? How could they possibly goof it up so badly to the point where they hand a card that clearly reads “BEST ACTRESS” to the announcers for best picture? I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It is without a doubt the biggest and most embarrassing mistake in Oscar history.

Number two: Props to Jimmy Kimmel, who kept his cool and even offered a few laughs through the whole ordeal. When he got up to the mic after that massive upset, he turned to cheek and said “Sorry guys, I knew I was going to mess this up.” He made the best out of a terrible situation, and I’m grateful he was there to make everyone feel lighthearted despite going through such a heavy-handed mistake.

Number three: Respect also to the La La Land team, who graciously handed their awards over to Moonlight after that embarrassing stint. I’m sure no one was happy after having that moment taken from them, but the La La Land producers were quick to get off of the stage and to get Moonlight on it. They’ve clearly demonstrated their love, respect, and passion for the arts and were more concerned with honoring the rightful winner rather than take the moment away from them. Thank you to Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt. You are the definition of Hollywood class.

Number four: Obviously, congratulations to the Moonlight team, not only for being involved in making a brave and courageous film, but for also being brave and courageous enough to produce it in the first place. Independent film is a part of the industry that has always been wobbling on its own two legs, but putting Moonlight center stage gave the independent scene a little more foundation in its footing. Moonlight is a masterful picture, it is an important picture, and it is the best picture of the year. Congratulations to that talented team for their monumental achievements in storytelling and character development.

All that aside, I’m still frustrated by that massive slip-up. In one fell swoop, the Academy took that important moment away from multiple filmmakers at once. Somebody is definitely getting fired for that stint.

Best Director: No surprise here. Damien Chazelle won the Director’s Guild Award, so that means he also won best director. At age 32, Chazelle is the youngest best director winner in Oscar history. Congratulations Damien, and thank you for encouraging everyone to dream just a little bit more.

Best Actor: Another upset. I was split down the middle on this category since Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington were on equal footing for Manchester By The Sea and Fences. Since Washington won the screen actor, however, I felt that gave him a slight edge in his race towards the Oscar. Turns out I was wrong. Casey joined big brother Ben in the Oscar crowd and took home best actor for his quietly moving performance in Manchester By The Sea. Congratulations to him and for taking on a personal, intimate role that speaks on the human condition and for our longing to reconnect with the things we’ve lost.

Best Actress: Emma Stone won best actress for her performance as an aspiring actress in La La Land. She was a standout in the movie and deserved to be recognized for her complex role as a down-on-her-luck artist. It’s funny, though, how her win would come back to haunt the best picture category mix-up. But don’t even get me started back up on that again.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali won for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar at the Academy Awards. Congratulations, my friend. You were one of the strongest elements of Moonlight, and your speech was also one of the strongest moments of the night. You have my blessings.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis won for Fences. Her call to exhume and exalt the ordinary person summoned a powerful force in the room, and everyone resonated with her message to celebrate life, love, and the arts. Jimmy Kimmel hilariously followed that up with “I think she’s nominated for next year’s Emmy’s for that speech.”

I still feel Naomie Harris was more commanding in her role as a drug-addicted mother seeking redemption in Moonlight. But Moonlight already got some love. It’s nice to see Fences get some too.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia won, clearly. Look out for its sequel, which will be adapting the 2016 Presidential Elections. (I’m kidding, of course, but don’t be surprised if you see new characters introduced next year named Donald Skunk or Hillary Chimpton).

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America won best documentary. That was when Taraji P. Henson pulled out a paper tag from the card and read “MADE IN TAIWAN.”

Best Foreign Language Feature: In another upset, Asghar Farhadi won best foreign language film for The Salesman, making him one of the few filmmakers to win this award twice. Sadly, Farhadi could not come to the ceremony to accept his award in person due to the immigration ban placed on Iran. His call to empathize and understand beyond judgement and apprehension is a message we all need to hear more of.

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan won best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. Lonergan dedicated the award to many people in his life, including his father, who passed away earlier last year. Him winning for his passion project behind Manchester made me immensely happy for him, and I can’t help but feel he’s written something relevant for everyone, no matter what age you are. Congratulations, Kenny. No doubt that your father would be proud.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight deservingly won best adapted screenplay, as he guides us through Chiron’s complex childhood and clearly demonstrates how actions in the past affect decisions made in the future. Like many other winners from the night, Moonlight demands that we see people not for their labels, but for their experiences. Congratulations to him and his wonderful achievement in defining human empathy.

Best Film Editing: Before I get into this, I need to apologize. In my predictions, I commented that Tom Cross was going to win best film editing for La La Land, even though he was vastly undeserving compared to his great work on Whiplash. I want to now redact my statement. The Oscar for best film editing did not go to La La Land, but instead went to John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge.

It was my mistake to underestimate him. Gilbert has edited numerous films, from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring to Bridge to Terabithia. Hacksaw Ridge is a full demonstration of his talents as he expertly navigates us through the physical and spiritual warfare that happened on the battlefields of Okinawa. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Gilbert. You’ve delivered us a very powerful film.

Best Cinematography: La La Land. It should have gone to Bradford Young for Arrival, but since La La Land got snubbed way worse in the best picture category, I’m willing to hand this one over to Linus Sandgren. Hopefully it made the loss a little easier to bear.

jared-leto-joker-suicide-squad

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. Suicide Squad won the Oscar for best makeup over A Man Called Ove and Star Trek Beyond. While I’m happy that it won and agree it is the most deserving nominee out of the bunch, I’m frustrated at the Academy voters because they’re so blasted inconsistent with this category. The Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter in 2011. Les Miserables beat out The Hobbit in 2012. The Grand Budapest Hotel beat out Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Year after year, the Academy snubs the clear standout in this category for one stupid reason or another. Why is it this year that they decide to set themselves straight again?

Whatever. The DC Extended Universe now has an Oscar under their belts, and that’s one more thing they have over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Congratulations guys, but don’t let it go to your head. You still have Justice League coming up right around the corner.

Best Costume Design: Another infuriating upset. While I agree that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has some outstanding costume work, it does not warrant it for an Oscar, especially when you compare it to its nominees such as Allied and Jackie. Plus, its win now makes it the first film in the Harry Potter series to win an Oscar. Yes, dear reader: Fantastic Beasts is considered Oscar-worthy whereas none of the other eight Harry Potter films are. That’s just lividly frustrating to me.

In either case, Colleen Atwood is still the costume industry’s version of Meryl Streep. Congratulations and all that jazz.

Best Production Design: La La Land. A worthy winner, but are you really that surprised?

Best Musical Score: La La Land, obviously.

Best Original Song: La La Land, for “City of Stars.” John Legend’s cover of the song was the stuff of dreams.

Best Sound Editing: The first big surprise of the night. Arrival took home best sound editing and not Hacksaw Ridge. It didn’t seem likely that it would win considering it was a slow burning science-philosophy film filled with quiet moments and eerie alien moans, and most of the previous year’s winners were in-your-face action movies. However, I don’t take away its nomination or its worthiness of the award. Congratulations to Arrival for best sound editing. It was genuinely shocking to see you dethrone Hacksaw.

Best Sound Mixing: However, Hacksaw Ridge’s loss wouldn’t last long since it won for best sound mixing not even two minutes later. I keep debating back and forth in my head whether it was the most worthy nominee or not, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care. It’s outstanding sound work anyway, and the gunfire and bomb blasts made every moment tingle with excitement and urgency. Congratulations to the Hacksaw Ridge sound team. You did Desmond Doss justice.

Best Visual Effects: Since the Academy ruled out Doctor Strange and Rogue One, The Jungle Book won best visual effects that night. It’s not an undeserved win. Congratulations to Jon Favreau and for making these incredible jungle animals come alive. Don’t mess it up now with the Lion King remake.

Surprisingly, I even got one of the short categories correct, predicting that Piper would win best animated short film. With that, I’ve correctly predicted 14 winners out of the 24 categories. Not my worst record, but not my best either.

In any regard, congratulations to Moonlight, La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By The Sea, and all the other winners from last night. Hopefully next year the Academy will be more thorough with handling its envelopes.

– David Dunn

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2016 Oscar Predictions

I’m preparing to rename the 2016 Academy Awards “The La La Land Awards.”

Seriously, ever since it broke award records at the Golden Globes back in January, the amount of traction La La Land has received has been absolutely ridiculous. Almost immediately, everyone started predicting that La La Land would sweep awards season, from the BAFTAs all the way to the Academy Awards. That train kept going and going and going, and like the Energizer Bunny, it never stopped.

I know two things for certain at this point: Jackie Chan will win an honorary Oscar, and La La Land will sweep Oscar night. That’s it. I don’t know how many awards La La Land will win, or what awards the other best picture nominees will win, and I especially don’t know what will win in those blasted short categories. A lot of people are saying that there’s a strong chance that La La Land will win 11 Oscars, putting it in an exclusive club with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, and Ben-Hur. With my current predictions, I have them winning 10 Oscars, but it can really go in any direction on Oscar night.

Either way, I’m expecting a full rundown of snubs and surprises this year, just as there are a few during every ceremony every year. Let’s go through my predictions and see where they’re expected to be:

Best Picture: No surprise here. La La Land is going to take home the highly coveted award for best picture. Last year, I went against my gut predicting that The Revenant would beat out Spotlight for best picture. While I was correct in predicting the other categories, Spotlight still managed to nab the top prize, despite only winning one other award from the night. I’m not going to make the same mistake again this year. La La Land it is.

Best Director: Damien Chazelle won the DGA, so more likely than not, that also means he’s going to win the Oscar. He wasn’t nominated in 2014 for his masterful work on Whiplash. Him winning for La La Land this year will make up for that snub years ago.

Best Actor: One of the first categories where the odds are split right down the middle for me. It’s down to Manchester By The Sea and Fences for this one. Casey Affleck won the golden globe. Denzel Washington won the screen actor. Who’s going to take it?

It’s a tough race, but I’m going with Denzel for a few reasons. First, the Screen Actors Guild is more accurate at predicting best acting Oscars than the Golden Globes are, even if it is by a fraction. Second, with most best actor wins, their performances usually break out emotively, expressing a wide range of emotions for voters to judge from. Great as Affleck’s performance was in Manchester By The Sea, it was also very muted and soft spoken, which works against him compared to Denzel’s confrontational, intimidating presence in Fences. This category really is a flip of the coin here, but I’m betting on Denzel.

Best Actress: Another pincher. Emma Stone for La La Land versus Isabelle Huppert for Elle. Who will win? Since Stone has La La Land by her side, I’m betting on her. Again though, this category can go either way.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight. Even though you could make a strong argument for Dev Patel in Lion or Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals, Ali has had the traction for a long time now and strong support from the acting community. If he didn’t get it now, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the year. Considering we already got one last year with Sylvester Stallone losing for Creed, I’m not looking for another upset anytime soon.

Best Supporting Actress: Can we all agree that Viola Davis was robbed in 2011 from her performance in The Help? Her portrayal as a confused yet courageous housemaid compelled the film forward in its narrative and made her one of the standout performances of the year. She deserved to be recognized alongside her acting colleagues including Jean Dujardin in The Artist, Christopher Plummer in Beginners, and Octavia Spencer in The Help as well. The award instead went to Meryl Streep for her performance in the dull, lifeless, mind-numbingly tedious The Iron Lady. Oh, don’t worry about it Academy voters! Give her all of the awards, why don’t ya?

In the place of that massive snub, Viola Davis will win her first Oscar this year for portraying the supportive, strong-willed, yet heartbroken Rose Maxson in Fences. The fact that she will be recognized for her hard work is encouraging. The fact that she will get it at the cost of Naomie Harris’ performance in Moonlight is not. Different performances, yes. Powerful performances, yes. But when it all comes down to it, it’s a matter of opinion, not quality, as to which performance deserves the Oscar more. I felt Harris’ was superior, but I have a feeling I’m going to be in the minority on that one. It’s a shame Harris and Davis had to go against each other in the same year. They’re both outstanding talent.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia. Even though Disney’s other animated nominee Moana is more deserving, there’s no denying the popularity and the influence that people share for Zootopia. Cute and cuddly zoo animals beat The Rock going on a deep sea adventure.

Best Documentary Feature: O.J. Simpson has been getting a lot of attention this year. The TV drama based on his notorious murder case, “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”, broke critical and commercial barriers and won the Golden Globe for best television miniseries. His documentary O.J.: Made In America also swept critics’ top ten lists, both for best of the year and for documentaries. I can’t see another film winning this year, so I’m going with O.J.: Made In America.

Best Foreign-Languge Feature: I have a good feeling about Toni Erdmann. While The Salesman has also been getting a lot of traction and buzz for the Oscar, Asghar Farhadi already won the foreign-language Oscar in 2012 for A Separation. Repeated wins are unusual in this category, so I’m betting on Toni Erdmann in its place.

Best Original Screenplay: The great thing about La La Land is how many layers it has to peel away, not just as a fun and snappy musical and comedy, but also as a complex drama, a heartfelt romance, and a journey towards pursuing your dreams. The script is one of the greatest things about La La Land, but it isn’t the best thing. No, the best things from the film are its brilliant score and standout performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The script supplements their talent. It doesn’t provide it.

Since this is the case, I’m going against the grain here and guess that Kenneth Lonergan will win best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. That’s a movie that has less to work with than La La Land does, and yet, it ends up doing so much more. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy, a family drama, a dark comedy, and a tale of mending open wounds that achieves everything that it set out to do. For its ambition, bravery, and intimacy in handling the delicate topic of death and how we react to it, I’m going with Manchester.

Best Adapted Screenplay: It’s hard to imagine any other nominee winning this year besides Moonlight. That’s because with it, Barry Jenkins broke barriers in racial, economic, and homosexual communities, and it allowed viewers to understand its characters because of their experiences, not because of what they looked like. Arrival was equally genius in its structure and Fences was faithful to its source material. But I’m going with Moonlight, if for no other reason than it deserves it the most.

Best Film Editing: I’m going to start this by saying that literally everyone in this category deserves the award over Tom Cross for La La Land. Everyone. Joe Walker’s smart sequencing of events built up the intrigue and the mystery surrounding Arrival. John Gilbert’s assemblage of chaotic, bloody firefights in Hacksaw Ridge made all of the madness clear and readable. And Moonlight was especially outstanding in its editing, in how it gradually built up Chiron’s childhood and how it carried over into his adult years. All of these nominees are most deserving for the Oscar for best film editing. None of them will get it.

Instead, Tom Cross will win best film editing for work on La La Land. Why? Because he won the ACE award for best editing, which is more often than not accurate in predicting the Oscar winner. So Cross it is.

If this goes down as I predict, this will be the win that frustrates me the most on Oscar night. Don’t get me wrong, Cross is an exemplary editor. But the editing is not the thread that holds La La Land together. It is the music, the acting, the story, the cinematography, the art direction. Every element in the film fits and works with each other in the way that it needs to. Cross just had to assemble it all together. I realize that in itself is a time-consuming job, but it required no innovation on his part, no deep attention to detail. Just an observation on the characters and the scenery and arranging clips into the right order.

If you think I’m overreacting, look at his work on Whiplash, which won him his first editing Oscar in 2014. Now compare that to La La Land. You will see for yourself how much more difficult and impressive it was to edit that action together compared to the lighthearted ambiance of La La Land.

Moving on.

Best Cinematography: The best cinematographer in this category easily goes to Bradford Young, whose skillful, deliberate shots built up the suspense and the eerieness of Arrival. But by this point in the night, La La Land will already be on a roll, and I don’t expect Arrival to derail the train anytime soon. Linus Sandgren will win best cinematography for La La Land. Celebrate by singing a song and two-stepping to it.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: This is a difficult category to pick this year, because unlike previous years, there’s no clear standout among the nominees. A Man Called Ove is so under the radar that it’s barely gotten any attention, so you can already cross that right off the list. And everyone hates Suicide Squad, so I don’t expect a win there either. Since I’m out of options, I’ll begrudgingly guess Star Trek Beyond will win the Oscar, even though it’s only repeating the work that it did the first time it won in 2009.

Best Costume Design: While Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them both demonstrated some outstanding outfits, it’s hard to imagine La La Land working without the great costume work by Mary Zophres. From Ryan Gosling’s suave jazz suits to Emma Stone’s elegant dresses, her costumes made every scene come alive with the music. For that reason, I’m going with La La Land.

Best Production Design: First thing’s first: Passengers, get your butt out of here. Doctor Strange deserved to be in your place. Second: with a pack of outstanding nominees including Arrival, Fantastic Beasts, and Hail, Caesar!, it’s hard to pick the most worthy out of these nominees. However, none of these films throw you back to the classic Hollywood musical days where sets were filled with bright lights, vibrant colors and beautiful designs. I’m going with La La Land since it does exactly that.

Best Musical Score: La La Land. It will be a national outrage if anything else wins.

Best Original Song: This award is obviously going to go to La La Land. The question is for which song? La La Land is nominated twice here, once for “City of Stars” and another for “The Fools Who Dream.” Considering that I’m still humming “City of Stars” weeks after seeing the film, I’m placing my bet on that one.

Side note: Twenty One Pilots should have been nominated here for their phenomenally dark and ethereal work on “Heathens.” Suicide Squad got straight up robbed on that one.

Best Sound Editing: How many action films have won for best sound editing? Too many, that’s how many. From the past six years, six action films have won the Oscar in this category. Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied in 2012. American Sniper won in 2014. And Mad Max: Fury Road also won last year. At this point, I would be foolish not to go for the action-packed war epic like all of the Academy voters. So I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge. Deepwater Horizon also has a good chance of nabbing it too.

Best Sound Mixing: La La Land. It’s hard to time music to action on-screen, especially when that action includes tap-dancing and motion choreography. La La Land did exceptionally well not only with its music, but with making it relevant in every scene. So La La Land it is.

Best Visual Effects: The most visually impressive out of the nominees here is easily Doctor Strange, whose shape-shifting, mind-bending visuals bend and break reality barriers like you wouldn’t believe. Visual effects are supposed to be transportive in their art, and I haven’t visually seen a film like Doctor Strange since Avatar or Inception.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to get it. Why? Because a Marvel property hasn’t won a best VFX Oscar since over a decade ago with Spider-Man 2. If Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past couldn’t nab it, then it’s highly unlikely Doctor Strange will now, no matter how good the visual effects may be. The fact that Captain America: Civil War isn’t even nominated in this category should tell you everything about the Academy voter’s opinions of superhero movies.

Since that is the case, I’m going with my runner-up option, which is Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book. His team expertly combined practical effects with CGI, and the body movements of the animals were so accurately depicted that it’s hard to tell that they’re not real animals. If The Jungle Book had any achievement, it was in its visual effects, so that’s the one I’m going with.

And now we come to the infuriating short categories. I never know what to put any year, considering I’m never able to see any of the nominees. The following are just blind guesses: Piper for animated short, Joe’s Violin for documentary short, and Silent Nights for live action short. Watch me get all of them wrong this year. Just wait.

That concludes my predictions for this year’s La La— oops, I meant Oscar ceremony. I’ll see you guys on awards night, preferably without any singing.

– David Dunn

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My Final Thoughts On President Trump

Matt McClain/The Washington Post

This is it. This is the last time I’m writing about the 2016 presidential elections. It’s the last time I’m thinking about it, it’s the last time I’m talking about it. After this, if the new administration makes a decision that I feel conflicts or contradicts with America’s ideals, I might write about that then. But I’m done talking about the elections themselves. They’ve far outlived the conversation.

First of all (and I think this is a fair question to ask), what the hell happened? When I wrote my last post about the elections last year, I predicted that Hillary would be the next president of the United States. She had everything working in her favor. A well-spoken demeanor and good articulation of her argument. A political career that spanned more than 20 years. The support of an entire political party, multiple celebrities, and more than half of the country’s millennial population.

And of course, Donald Trump was her opponent.

I didn’t want Hillary to win. I didn’t want either of them to win. Both of them had demonstrated qualities that did not represent the office or America’s best interests, from the email scandal to the “Grab em’ by the p*ssy” video. But seeing her career pitted up against a candidate who had offended women, minorities, immigrants (both legal and illegal), the LGBT community, and war heroes, I didn’t see any chance of Trump winning. Perhaps underestimating him was my mistake.

By the end of it all, Hillary won the popular vote, by a small margin. 65 million votes against Trump’s 62 million. That’s 48 percent against his 46 percent, nearly split even.

But, as we all know, popular vote doesn’t count: electoral vote does. And since Trump’s biggest wins came from swing states (Ohio, Florida, etc.), he won the projected electoral vote and the presidency.

SOURCE: 270 To Win

I’m not surprised that the American people voted the way they did. Since Clinton was announced as the democratic nominee in July, the elections have been split sideways in every which way and direction. Yes, the Democrats had all of the ammo at their disposal that Trump tweeted about, but the Republicans had an equal amount of dirt on Hillary due to the WikiLeaks hacks. Russian interference or not, that information revealed some very important things about the Clintons to the American public.

That Hillary wasn’t as much for climate change and gay rights as she claimed she was.

That she told her Wall Street donors in a paid speech that they need “both a public and a private position.

That she was leaked questions in advance of the first televised debate.

That she hired Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on her campaign after she deliberately shut out Bernie Sanders from the democratic primaries.

That media directly collaborated with the Clinton campaign for coverage, including The New York Times, MSNBC, and The Hill, among many others.

What your opinion is of the information provided is up to you. The fact remains that this information was out there and it stirred up a paranoia of political distrust in the American people. That political distrust went head-to-head against Trump’s uncouthness, and eventually, political distrust won. Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

Honestly, what I’m most surprised about is not that Donald Trump won, but that the electors voted the way that the American public did. In 15 out of the 30 states that Trump won, the electors could have voted for anyone that they wanted to. They were not technically held by the votes of the public, although voting against them would technically be considered unconstitutional. They still had the ability to vote for Clinton against Trump if they wanted to. A few might have been hit with some legal fees or charges, but the vast majority was unhindered by these. Election or not, they had the real choice in their hands. They chose Trump.

What this tells me, then, is that the political paranoia is not just coming from the American people. It’s also coming from the governors, mayors, senators, and former politicians of this country. They could have voted to keep the political wheel spinning. They chose to stop it.

In a way, I’m glad that Trump won. It shows how broken the two-party system really is in our country, and his victory reflects the failures of both of those respective parties. Trump is everyone’s fault. Not just one party or the other’s. Everyone, mine included.

Trump is the Republican’s fault for allowing him to even run in the first place despite his inexperience. Trump is the Democrat’s fault for rigging their primaries and for trying to take advantage of Trump’s nomination. Trump is the Libertarians and the Green Parties fault for splitting the vote and the election. Trump is my fault for writing in a candidate instead of voting against him. But I wasn’t going to vote against my conscience, just as no other voter was going to do anything otherwise.

It doesn’t matter now. Trump won, and earlier today, he has finally been sworn into office. As I see these events unraveling, I keep thinking about what the next step should be for our country. It seems to be unanimous for everyone. “Unite”, is what I hear everyone saying. The Democrats want to “unite” against Trump. The Republicans want to “unite” under the new administration.

I’m offering a different definition. How about “Unite”, because it’s “The United States of America.”

I do not like Donald Trump. I fervently do not like Donald Trump. Anyone who follows my news feeds know this. But as much as I do not like Donald Trump, I like America even more. If it means a chance at sewing the divided seeds of our country, I am willing to put aside some of my contempt to call him “Mr. President” and to understand why half of our country voted for him. I know the thought of supporting President Trump is reviling to some liberals, but I don’t see it as supporting Trump. I see it as supporting our country. I feel we need that healing more than we need that harsh political discourse.

Creative Commons

This does NOT mean normalizing Trump, however, or the values his administration holds, or the hate crimes and xenophobia his platform has helped inspired. No, this means not avoiding the opposite side, but confronting it head-first to understand why events unfolded the way they did. Democrats can’t understand why Republicans would vote for a loudmouth and a Twitter bully. Republicans can’t understand why Democrats would vote for a criminal and a political mastermind. Since the presidential elections, I have renounced identifying with one party or the other in order to understand both sides. What I find is a recurring trend of everyone not understanding a perspective that the other has. The GOP does not see the hate crimes committed in Trump’s name, and the DNC does not see the political distrust brewing under Clinton’s. These may not be equal issues, but they are real issues nonetheless.

Because of this, I offer– no, I assert that we need to come together. Talk to people you disagree with. See why they think the way that they do. Debate on serious issues back-and-forth until you find one thing that you can both agree on. Demonstrate that you’re more American than you are liberal or conservative.

Do this, because if we don’t and we continue this nasty political discourse, we’re creating the social hemisphere that people like Trump can thrive in. I don’t want Donald Trump happening again. I want America happening again.

– David Dunn

 

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Top 10 Films Of 2016

I think I speak for everyone when I say this has been an exhausting year for us all. The politics. The presidential elections. Not to mention all of the celebrity deaths. I thought last year was bad. 2016 felt like it was having a competition with 2015 on how much more miserable it could make everyone feel. If I were judging, it wouldn’t even be a contest for me. 2016: you win.

During these difficult times, I try to find some positive from the year that everyone can take away to make the next year more positively impactful. Most years, they are the movies, because they usually reflect our mindset, where we’re at socially, and where we need to go from here together as a society. This year, however, my point of positive is not the movies (although that is a close second).

No, this year, its the people.

No matter what we’ve faced this year, there were always people there to help others with the horrible things they were going through. There were Christians that helped the homosexual community after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. Legal citizens helping their fleeing refugee neighbors from war-torn countries. The Americans that banded together for the ethnic minorities that were targets of many hate crimes during the presidential elections. On and on.

My point being, no matter who is triumphing over whom, there will always be a group of people there to hold everyone accountable for their actions. Cries for justice may go unanswered, crimes may go unpunished. But we as a people, for the most part, know the difference between right and wrong. And you can’t ever escape morality, no matter what office you hold or what seat you sit in. These same unnamed heroes are the same people who made the year’s most important stories on the big screen. Perhaps that is why 2016 is one of my least favorite years, but one of my favorite years in film.

Before we get into my top 10 list for the year, it’s important for you to understand that I have not seen every movie made this year. I tried. Films that I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to view included A Monster Calls, La La Land, Silence, Patriots Day, and Fences. What can I say? 2016 is a year filled with movies, but since the other 11 months aren’t close enough to awards season, those filmmakers decide to push those releases to the very end in December next to all the other Holiday releases. Since they’re more concerned about trophies than they are in reaching their audience, they will not be included on this list, even if their films deserve to be.

Also, this is my top 10 list. My favorite films. My opinion. You will notice that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not included on this list. That is because I saw 10 other films that I enjoyed more than I did Rogue One. That does not lessen or expand upon Rogue One’s success, or the success of many other films. It just means that I liked these movies more.

That being said, let’s hop into my favorites from this year:


10. Kubo and the Two Strings

A movie that is not only better than most of today’s animated films, but also better than most of its live-action ones as well. When Kubo (Art Parkinson) is being hunted by his evil grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), he enlists in the help of two new friends he’s met along his journey: Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Together, these three embark on an adventure to defeat the Moon King and free Kubo from his clutches forever. Filmed using stop-motion technology, Kubo and the Two Strings feels and breathes of Japanese mythology, its characters talking, fighting, flipping, and moving like the origami figures Kubo loves to craft. The action is also surprisingly exciting, with its fast-moving and acrobatic characters fighting in sequences that are more impressive than most of the year’s live-action films. There is one plot twist that doesn’t fit in with the overall plot, but beyond that, this is an excellent movie. Like Akira and Spirited Away, this is a movie that challenges animated movies and what they can accomplish. If Kubo is anything to go by, they can accomplish a lot. Three and a half stars.

9. Moana

A great deep sea adventure and memorable animated odyssey. When the powerful demi-God Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) loses an ancient artifact known as the Heart of Te Fiti, he sends the world spiraling into a pit of darkness that is polluting all of the Earth’s crops and lands. But when the ocean picks Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as the one who will rescue Maui, find the heart of Te Fiti, and restore the planet, she embarks on an epic journey to find the stone, and along the way, herself. Disney outdoes themselves yet again with this one. The animation alone is visually colorful and dynamic, even the waves are so detailed and accurate in their movement that its hard to tell the difference between it and the real ocean. The voice talent is outstanding, with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho surprising us at every turn with her singing and projection. A great throwback to classic Disney adventures and a great tribute to female empowerment. Three and a half stars.

8. Miracles From Heaven

Part medical drama, part family drama, part spiritual drama, all human drama. Based on a true story, Miracles From Heaven follows a tight-knit Texas family when their middle daughter is diagnosed with intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a fatal disease that freezes the intestines and makes it nearly impossible to digest food. Now left wondering how something so terrible could happen to a girl so sweet, Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) is determined to nurse her daughter back to health, no matter how many pills, tests, or doctor visits it takes. Jennifer Garner is a standout in this movie, expressing genuine joy and relief in some moments, while in others demonstrating genuine grief and depression, just like all of the ups and downs a mother would go through with her child. Despite this film being labeled a “Religious” film, it isn’t preaching to the choir, and is considerate and respectful to viewers of all faiths, especially those who don’t believe. Other movies should follow its template if they want to be as impactful and meaningful. Not just a good Christian film, but a great one. Three and a half stars.

7. Doctor Strange

A unique, compelling, visually spectacular entry into the superhero genre: one of the best. When Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets into a devastating car accident, he loses the nerves in his hands and his career as a neurosurgeon. When he is told that a monk called the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) can help him, he traverses to the deep mountains in Nepal to be cured, only to be introduced to a world full of magic and sorcery that he’s only beginning to understand. The visual effects are easily the standout element of this movie, with sorcerers kung-fu fighting each other on constantly shifting walls, windows, pillars, ledges, and anything else that can turn into a kaleidoscope of architecture. Not since Avatar or Inception have the visuals been so sensory that they felt more like an out-of-body experience rather than a cinematic one. Cumberbatch, just as well, plays his role with charisma and gravitas, making his character feel more tragically Shakespearean rather than larger-than-life. A great moviegoing experience that shows our titular character not as a superhero, but as a man, fatally egotistical, selfish, eccentric, ignorant, and most of all, flawed. Four stars.

6. Finding Dory

A surprisingly meaningful animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Taking place years after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to reunite with her parents, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family. With Finding Nemo writer-director Andrew Stanton returning to once again helm this oceanic odyssey, Finding Dory displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry. From its animation to its screenplay, Finding Dory is a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). Four stars.

5. Don’t Breathe

An intense, immersive experience that makes the best use out of its limited premise. When a team of professional thieves decide to rob the home of a retired blind veteran, they think its an easy job. But when one thing happens after another, they realize this veteran is not all that he seems, and soon they’re the ones fearing for their lives. This cat-and-mouse invasion thriller is excellently paced and tightly edited, with director Fede Alvarez making the best use of his environments and with how characters react to shocking revelations. He also makes great use of sound space, with the most tense moments often being the most silent. The cast is convincing in their roles, and Stephen Lang demonstrates the full capacity of his skills as this spine-chilling, creepy, yet sympathetic veteran desperate for the things that he’s lost. A creative, captivating thriller that is as unconventional as it is unpredictable. Four stars.

4. Deepwater Horizon

A unique and riveting action film that seeks to honor its real-life subjects by showing us exactly what they went through. Mark Wahlberg stars in this adaptation of the 2010 BP oil spill directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), and he handles this subject with delicate treatment of the events and for the real-life figures involved in the tragedy. Berg connects us to the crew members’ humanity before ominously foreshadowing to their dreary fates beyond the spewing oil, the collapsing metal frames, the wild fires, and the empty sea gallows looming beneath them. This is a movie that completely understands what the real-life crew members were up against, and they bring you every detail of that disaster with nerve-wrecking alertness and urgency. The PG-13 rating is deceiving. Definitely do not bring your children. Four stars.

3. Arrival

A science-fiction drama that starts out as one thing, only to slowly transform into another. When aliens land on multiple places at once on Earth, the U.S. army enlists in the help of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is notable for her translation of thousands of languages on the planet. As she investigates deeper into the reasons why the aliens are there, she makes a discovery that will change the course of the human species forever. Smartly crafted from the mind of director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario), Arrival is an intelligent observation of the extraterrestrial, how humans react to the unknown and how they build and learn foreign communication. Adams is a powerhouse as the lead, a hero who is intelligent, vulnerable, yet persistent in doing what she has to do. Smart, emotional, and leaving you with plenty to think about long after you’ve left the movie theater, Arrival is a science-fiction experience that you simply must see. The twist near the end will guarantee have your jaw dropping. Four stars.

2. Captain America: Civil War

The best MCU movie to be made to date. When the United Nations decides that the Avengers are too dangerous to be left unchecked, the team is split into two factions. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the team should be allowed to continue to operate freely without interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks that the team needs to be held accountable in some way, shape or form. As tensions between the two sides rise, the team eventually collapses and comes to blows with each other, never to leave them the same again. A film as politically-charged as it is fast-paced, fun, and exciting, Captain America: Civil War is unique in the superhero genre in that there is no black-and-white sense of morality. No established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. What’s left is an unconventional masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland shine in their breakout roles as Black Panther and Spider-Man. Four stars.

1. Hacksaw Ridge

A powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII combat medic who saved over 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. Most impressively, he did it armed without a single weapon. Directed by Mel Gibson, who is a master at epic filmmaking with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, Hacksaw Ridge pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. Andrew Garfield equally commits to this uncompromising role, showing how his character is scared, frightened, yet earnest and determined all the same. I can’t praise this movie enough. Hacksaw Ridge does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit. Four stars.


And now for my special prize. For those of you that don’t know, every year I award a special prize to a limited release that not many people heard of, but nonetheless deserves to be sought out just like any blockbuster out there. This year’s selection was difficult, because for the longest time, I debated if this film should be placed as my number one in my list over Hacksaw Ridge. I eventually decided that its achievement places itself at a higher, more important caliber than a top ten list. So I decided to give it the appropriate award for its uniqueness.

And my special prize this year goes to…

Special Prize: Moonlight

An urgent, important, and timely film that presses the viewer not to understand its characters by their race or sexuality, but by their personal experiences that mold them into the men that they become. Broken up into three parts, Moonlight follows a young man growing up in an ugly urban neighborhood that doesn’t care much about the people who live in it. As he is hit with one childhood trauma after another, we watch as they shape him into the man that he grows up to become, with all of his flaws, scars, and burdens on his shoulders intact. A great movie that hits on many important issues, Moonlight absorbs great performances from Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and even child actor Alex Hibbert, who surprisingly keeps up with the outstanding talent surrounding him. Barry Jenkins, who hasn’t made a film in eight years, comes back center stage with a film that is technically immaculate, creatively shot, and emotionally absorbing. It is a personal, astounding film that shows while a person may be scarred, hurt, maybe even broken, they are no less beautiful because of it.

I can’t make it any simpler than this. If you can only see one movie from this year, make it Moonlight.

And that’s my list, folks. Here’s to leaving 2016 behind, and looking forward to making 2017 better.

– David Dunn

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Staring At My Ice Reflection

There’s a little spot outside of my grandparent’s house in Chicago, IL, a white little gazebo that rests quietly by the lake in the park. I walk to it every year when I visit, usually in December. As I traverse through my personal winter wonderland, where snow cakes over the fields like frosting and the snowflakes brush against my face, I always stop at that spot and look at the frozen layer of ice staring back at me below.

I always feel a temptation to jump over the ledge and onto the ice, but I never act on this impulse. I imagine, of course, that the ice would collapse under my weight and I would fall into the frozen lake below, the cold water stabbing the nerves in my body, paralyzing me, and sinking me into the deep abyss where I would surely meet my end. But there’s a part of me that wonders, maybe even hopes, that the ice would be strong enough to hold me. That I could skate and slide all over the ice as happily as could be, enjoying and exploring a little more of my own winter wonderland.

That feeling I get when I look over that lake is the same feeling I’ve been having for the past few weeks now, ever since my college graduation. I feel like there’s a large sheet of ice that I’m looming over right now, and I don’t know if it’ll be strong enough to hold me. I have no choice whether or not to jump, of course, but after I jump… what is next? Will I be able to stand on it confidently, or will I collapse, fall in the frozen lake, and drown to death?

I would be lying to you if I said that it hasn’t be a strange five years for me. At this same time in 2011, I went through my high school graduation and faced the worst panic attack of my life so far. I remember my eyes darting from left to right frantically, looking for danger that wasn’t there. Tears kept streaming down my face, even though I didn’t know where they were coming from. And my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking, even hours after the attack had ended. The nerves in my body were so shot that I don’t think they knew how to process the things that were going on with my body.

Whenever I go through a panic attack nowadays, I’m usually able to get control of it either through deep breathing or distracting myself with other priorities. But back then, I had no control over it. As a result, I faced the full onslaught of my emotions, not knowing how to respond, react to, or process any of it. I’ve went through a lot of traumatic memories in the past few years, from heartbreak to getting fired from my job. My high school graduation remains to be my worst memory by far, hands down.

From there, I went through my first few years of my undergraduate, which was a very difficult transition for me to say the least. I started off my college career majoring in film, and the art department quickly proved how useless they were in my academic development. For one thing, the film professors that I had built curriculum mostly around film theory, which wasn’t very helpful when it came to my personal training. I needed technical help, instruction on how to operate a camera, white balance, frame, focus a shot, operate a boom mic, construct a lighting kit, etc. The help they were offering was in explaining the rule of thirds, the 180 rule, linear editing, and many other techniques which would take too long to explain here.

Note that I am not criticizing film theory as a whole. I am criticizing their teaching of film theory. Theory has an important place in film education, and that is in forming a general basis where filmmakers can start from to build and form their own ideas. Film theory is vitally important to the film industry, but at the end of the day, film theory is just theory. Artists have twisted, adjusted, and even straight-up broken numerous rules of film as the industry further developed, and in most cases, those breaking of the rules worked because it was for the narrative of those particular films.

The problem that I, and many other students, were facing in that department was that my professors were focused too much on theory and not enough on application. When I finally left the department, I still didn’t know how to operate a camera, I didn’t know how to use most of the editing software, and I developed no technical skills beyond what I already learned in high school. It was a wasteful education for a wasteful degree, so I left the department looking for help in other areas that I could find.

I soon transferred over to the communication department to major in broadcast journalism, which soon proved to be an immeasurably better education choice for me. I became the film critic for my newspaper, The Shorthorn, and soon moved to manage my own staff as a section editor. I worked as a radio personality for UTA Radio and hosted my own radio show, “The Talkie Tuesdays with David Dunn.” And this past year, I worked as a reporter, producer, and anchor for our broadcast station, UTA News. That last job in particular was special to me because it combined two of my passions: filming and writing.

The most unusual choice I made while I was in college was to join a fraternity. I never thought much of Greek life: I always imagined that it was filled with a bunch of egotistical, facetious hooligans that were more interesting in drinking and hazing than they were in academics and career-building. But the young man that I met in my advertising class back in 2013 demonstrated otherwise. He showed me pictures of his brothers working with the Boys and Girls Club down the street, talking about how Kappa Sigma was the leading philanthropy-based fraternity in the nation, and that they were on their way to coming back onto campus. He encouraged that I speak with the chapter’s rush chair and president, which I begrudgingly agreed to.

That meeting proved to be fruitful in more ways than one. The young men that I spoke to seemed a lot like me: young, ambitious, always looking ahead, eager to make a connection and have an impact on their campus. When I started the meeting, I told the them that regardless of how the meeting went, I would have to go home and discuss it with my parents. Yet by the end of that meeting, I decided to pay the registration fee and sign up right there on the spot.

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That spur-of-the-moment decision proved to be the best one I made. Not only did I get the opportunity to work on my chapter’s executive board as secretary: I also got to travel to Virginia, work in headquarters as an intern, and even won a national award for my term in office during 2015. My college years were a very strange mix of good and bad things. Kappa Sigma was easily the best.

I’ve gained a lot, yet lost a lot in the short five years that I’ve had. I’ve had four amazing internships in my last year of college, yet I was fired from a job I really cared about at the end of 2015. I feel deeply in love with someone in 2014, only to have my heart broken by this same woman later in 2015. I’ve built friendships with people I thought I’d never connect with, only to have some of them eventually abandon me altogether. I neither judge nor feel harshly towards these people. I’ve come to learn that friends make life worth living, and yet, they come and go as frequently as the wind. I hope a few of them stick around, but I won’t be surprised if most of them don’t.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this has been a trying time for me, but it has also been a worthwhile one as well. I’ve been asked this important question before: “If you died tonight in your sleep, did you feel like you lived a happy life?” Five years ago, my answer would have been no, because really I didn’t have much of a life to live. But after going through the highs and lows of employment, heartbreak, academics, friendship, and the pursuit of happiness, I can confidently say that my answer has changed. Yes. Yes I have lived a happy life, although I highly doubt that it ends here.

So to the people who have entered and left my life, I want to say thank you. Thank you to my dear friends Connor and Warren, who have impossibly been by my side since my traumatic high school experience. Thank you to Jayme, who has both healed and broken my heart. Thank you to Laurie, Andrew, and Julian, who has given me leadership and guidance in areas where others have ignored. Thank you to Nick, Magnus, Steven, Erick, Izzak, Davis, Dylan, Mitch, Sir, Micky, and many, many others that have given me a second family in Kappa Sigma. Thank you to my loyal readers who have kept up with this website since its creation in 2012. There really are no other words major enough or appropriate enough to say. Thank you.

 

I don’t know what’s next for me. Who would know? But as I plunge into the ice lake beneath me, I hope that it will be strong enough to support my next step. And if it isn’t, I’ll learn to swim to the next one. I’ve drowned once before. I’m not so afraid to be drowning again.

Merry Christmas.

– David Dunn

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Appreciating The Boy Who Lived

I have now committed what I consider a major sin as a film critic for this year: I will not be reviewing Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. At least, not in a timely matter to where it will make a molecule of a difference in whether you will see it or not. I suspect that for the most part, Fantastic Beasts will perform very well at the box office this week. It’s written by J.K. Rowling herself, it’s directed by Potter loyalist David Yates, and it has a solid cast to boast proudly about, including the Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne as the lead. I highly doubt that longtime Rowling fans will overlook this new venture into the Harry Potter universe, and I expect it to get a large turnout at the box office. Whether it deserves that turnout will be another matter decided once I have time to collect myself after Thanksgiving break.

I am a more recent fan when it comes to the Harry Potter franchise. My biggest appreciation of Harry Potter comes from the movies themselves, as I am one of the few that have not ventured far into the book series (I only read the first two. I lost interest after Chamber of Secrets).

Hardcore Potter fans criticize me frequently for watching the movies before reading the books, and maybe they’re slightly warranted in their frustration since they are more knowledgeable of the franchise than I am. After all, when Stephen Sommers changed the ending to Mark Twain’s endearing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I was livid. I can only imagine how Potter fans reacted when entire clops of characters were missing in multiple films altogether.

My defense is that by watching the movies before reading the books, it allows me to view those films through a different, vital scope that most don’t even think about: the eyes of a viewer as opposed to a reader. When watching adaptations, the job of a critic is to watch and judge the movie fairly on its own merit, not through the pages of the book that it was based upon. You can’t judge a movie through the same criteria as a book. That would be like judging a fish on its ability to fly.

Because of this, I rarely read the books before the movie comes out, and I actually make it a point to avoid reading them if I can. I’ve done this with numerous adaptations, from Lord of the Rings all the way to The Fault In Our Stars. I’ve always tried to watch the movie first, judge it on its own storytelling, then read the book and go back and see if my view has developed any further. It is not the movie’s job to adapt events, but rather emotions. If they invoke the same aesthetic and feel that the book did, I consider the film a successful adaptation.

I held Harry Potter to this same standard, ever since The Sorcerer’s Stone came out over 15 years ago. While my opinions of those films may differ slightly from fans of the books, we can all agree that Harry Potter is nonetheless astounding. Whether you’ve read the books or not, all of the elements are in there and retained. There is a boy who was orphaned after his parents died when he was just a baby. That same orphan was forced to live with a cruel aunt and uncle who spoiled their own son while neglecting their nephew. That boy gets swept up into a world full of wizards, witchcraft, and sorcery, and he learns about the true value of life, love, and appreciating the things that we’ve lost.

No matter what stance you have on the books, this much is intact in the film series: who Harry is, what are his desires, why he goes on this epic quest, and who he grows into as his journey comes to a close. This is why Harry Potter is one of the greatest film franchises of all time, as well as one of the greatest film adaptations. If both fans and non-fans can see, feel, and experience the same things in the movies, then the movie succeeded in adapting its source material. And Harry Potter definitely did that very well.

Another thing that impresses me with Harry Potter is the fact that this is a movie series, as opposed to a trilogy. Most movie studios do not have the gumption or the ambition to pursue book-to-film adaptations past three movies. Heck, Miramax films wanted to shrink The Lord of the Rings down from three movies to two, then to one. With Warner Bros. venturing to adapt all seven books as opposed to combining or omitting a few, Harry Potter went on to become the second highest grossing film franchise of all time, grossing over $7 billion at the box office.

(Although, I silently suspect Warner Bros. allowed the series expansion for more than just monetary reasons. With how large of a fan base Harry Potter had at the time, Warner Bros. might not have survived the backlash if they decided to mess with the official canon.)

Being a fan of film as opposed to a fan of Harry Potter has allowed me to appreciate its success without bias. It allowed me to go on Harry’s journey with him with fresh eyes, watching him grow from a boy to a man to a hero, facing all of his fears and overcoming them with the help of his friends. Fans of the books will voice that they went on it first, to which I fairly give them credit for doing so. But the point is I did go on that journey with him, and it is in no way less or more amazing because I haven’t read the books.

To which I now say that I am excited to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them for different reasons. This is an original narrative crafted from the mind of Rowling herself. There’s no concerns with being faithful to the book, or with taking narrative liberties, or with making changes fans won’t appreciate. The movie’s creativity doesn’t stop where the book does, mostly because there is no book to base it on. It excites me to see what new ideas and characters Rowling comes up with, and it excites me even further knowing that for once, myself and Harry Potter fans will be experiencing the exact same thing. This is new territory for all of us.

All of that excitement and anticipation will be paid off… soon. For now, I’m going to appreciate the boy who lived, knowing that I got to live right alongside him, as well as so many other muggles out there.

– David Dunn

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A Squabbling Between Children

Is this it? Is this the moment where we say the elections have officially gone to hell? My worst fears have been realized from both parties: Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton is the Democratic. They had their first presidential debate Monday. Neither one is qualified for president and neither one represents America’s best interests. Now, my second worst fear has been realized: Clinton has proven to be the better option between herself and Trump. A good option? No, but we have very little to work with.

I’ve kept my lip shut about the elections for the most part up until now. Even during the primaries, I’ve tried to keep a filter on my opinions and who heard them. What good would my comments have done? Both sides were already saying the things that needed to be said about the candidates. The problem wasn’t that people weren’t speaking. The problem was that everyone else wasn’t listening.

As consequence, we are given an ultimatum: Trump or Clinton. Top socket or bottom socket. A bullet to the head or five to the chest and bleeding to death.

They are both poor candidates for different reasons. Trump is a loudmouthed bigot who has it his way or the highway. Clinton is a manipulative politician who also has it her way or the highway, but is more secretive about it. Both are self-serving singlets who are more concerned with their own success rather than America’s. I not only don’t like either of them as presidential candidates: I actively advocate that they are not fit, appropriate, or even remotely good substitutes for office. Them trying to look like presidential leaders is more laughable than an SNL comedy sketch.

Regardless of how I feel, there is one thing I cannot ignore: Clinton is more fit for office than Trump is, even if it is by a decimal point. Why do I say this? Just look at her performance from Monday night’s debate. Her and Trump both had their platform to speak on what they believed were the nation’s biggest issues. Their differences lie in what they were doing when the other was speaking.

While Trump was talking, Clinton stood there quietly. Did she react to Trump’s aneurisms? Yes, but she didn’t respond to them, not until it was her turn to speak. When it was her turn, Trump threw a temper tantrum, interrupting her, berating her, yelling over her, making sure his voice was the one heard even when he shouldn’t be speaking. He did this constantly throughout the night, like a child being ignored by his parents, screaming for attention. Without taking a stance on either candidate or their issues, his behavior was embarrassing, immature, and stupid. I stared at the screen, baffled at how this could have been the Republican nominee America had picked.

But of course, people will defend Trump for his behavior, saying things like “That’s just how he is”, or “He’s just being assertive.” He’s being assertive, alright, if you annunciate the first three letters of the word. Just because you have a big ego doesn’t give you the right to dominate over others. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. If Trump can’t handle disagreements on a debate stage, what makes you think he can handle it in a congress chamber?

In turn, I know people will look at Hillary and think about what a manipulative crook she is. They aren’t wrong. Per the Espionage Act, Hillary shouldn’t even be in the running for president. She broke the law. She erased classified documents that should have been returned to the government. She writes the incident off as a “mistake”, which Trump rightfully corrects with “It wasn’t a mistake. It was on purpose.”

In a world where justice exists, Clinton would not even be up on that stage. Instead we get the blonde milf and her twin. And no matter how much I detest both of these figures, I can’t deny that Clinton kept her composure and Trump cracked under the pressure. Which is funny, because how does a guy get that angry while at the same time being the only one to say the most maddening things?

Another reason why Clinton proves to be the more reliable choice: she has political experience and he doesn’t. She’s been first lady of the United States (Monica Lewinski was the second). She’s been New York Senator. She’s been Secretary of State. Talk smack about how poorly she’s served in her positions all you want (please do, she deserves it): you can’t deny that she’s at least held an office.

Trump, on the other hand, has zero political experience. Zilch. Nada. None. His main platform is that he’s a creator of big business, which he is, that much you can’t deny. But it hasn’t been without its inconsistencies. Trump Steaks, Trump Mortgage, Trump “University” (The last of which is the most disastrous). He has failed business venture after business venture, and he has the bankruptcies to match it. And don’t even get me started on the fallout of employees he’s had as well.

You might argue that his outsider view of politics would help him in office. As opposed to Ben Carson? Where was that argument for him when he was in the race? At least he didn’t insult Heidi Cruz or Rosie O’Donnell.

Nope, we have Trump and Clinton. And if Clinton’s biggest crime is using the system to her advantage, Trump’s biggest blunder is bludgeoning the system with an elongated spear before blowing it up with a nuclear missile. Voting for Clinton would be participating in a crooked system. Voting for Trump is suicide.

I’m going to make an early prediction that Clinton is going to win the presidency. Why? Because the elections are about perception, not problem-solving. If it were about problem-solving, governor Gary Johnson would be allowed to debate on the stage alongside Trump and Clinton, given the fact that he has one of the highest third-party followings in election history. He was legitimately left out for one reason: to drive higher ratings from a conflict between an orangutan and a fraud.

The two debaters threw rhetoric and sprouted elevator speeches for over an hour instead of offering real incentives and solutions to problems our country is experiencing. They talked about what needed to change. They didn’t talk about how they were going to change it. And since these elections are about perception and not problem-solving, this statement from a cocky Clinton is what convinced me that the masses are going to go with her December:

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton laughed. “And yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.”

Shoot. With that much boldness and confidence? The worst part is I believe her.

I don’t know who I’m voting for come December. I simply don’t know. At this point, the elections have come to voting against the worst candidate as opposed to voting for the best one, like it should be. I’ve even toyed with the idea of not voting this season altogether, although I don’t know what exactly ignorance would accomplish.

All I know is this: democracy is threatened when an illusion of choice is presented. Regardless of who you vote for, we have no choice in what happens next. The only choice we have is in how we choose to participate. Whoever wins, America has already lost.

– David Dunn

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