Jenn Wexler Beautifully Blends Punk Rock and 80s Slashers in ‘The Ranger’

The woods are no place for punks—at least, that seems to be the case in Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger. Despite their studded jackets and tough attitudes, Wexler’s punks are no match for a deranged park ranger who knows these woods like the back of his hand. Set to a screaming soundtrack and chock full of gnarly kills, The Ranger is a creative reimagining of 1980s slasher films that rewrites its more harmful tropes into something perfect for our current cultural moment, a brilliant mashing of nostalgia and progressive filmmaking.

Chelsea (Chloë Levine) is an angsty punk who is haunted by a trauma in her past. She snorts coke, thrashes around at shows, and surrounds herself with insufferable people who help her keep the demons at bay. All that is initially shown about this trauma is a younger version of herself (Jeté Laurence, fresh off a wild performance in Pet Sematary) sitting on a cliff with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm), who tells her she is a wolf. But her coke-fueled haze is interrupted when cops bust into the bar where she’s partying with her boyfriend and friends. As she tries to escape the law, her intolerable boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), stabs a cop to help her get away.

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Review and Interview: Dasheng Zheng’s ‘Bangzi Melody’

During an Q&A for Dasheng Zheng’s funny and deeply concerned film about a rural community during the early 1980’s, an audience member asks if the film did well in China. The director sorrily negates the question. There is a palpable sense of urgency when he talks about his project, which has went under the festival radar of many critics and thus lost any chance to be put into a bigger circles of discussion. Later I speak to him outside, he draws on a cigarette and blows the smoke into the starry sky above. I ask him, who he’d like to see the film.

“For a young generation in China…they don’t know what happened before. They don’t know enough. And they are too detached from these topics, there are too many distractions. If we don’t know enough, we don’t have the opportunity to think. First we need to know, then we might have an opportunity to think it over. For the future.”

In the tradition of many filmmakers, Zheng is raging against the cold threat of history falling into oblivion.

“I’m from the city […] I didn’t really know what happened to ordinary Chinese people then. This is why I wanted to make this movie. I tried my best to understand.”

Drawn from the material of three short stories by Jia Dashan, Bangzi Melody tells the story of a pending challenge to the peanut farmers of a small village in the North-East of China. They coincidentally find out that a land reform will take place and that they are to receive political guests very soon. Until then, their task is to rehearse and perform a classic, pre-revolutionary opera for the cadres, supposedly a sign for reinvigoration after decades of systematic oppression during the cultural revolution.

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‘Doozy’ Successfully De-mystifies the Queer-Coded Villain

The campy villain is undoubtedly one of the biggest staples of traditional animation; this trope runs through film and television alike, regardless of audience and story. From The Lion King to The Powerpuff Girls, Gravity Falls to Wreck-it-Ralph, the comedically limp-wristed bad guy is an intrinsic part of American society’s casually homophobic output, setting up an environment where these behaviours are automatically associated with social ills. 

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The historical context of this stereotype is explored in Richard Squire’s documentary ‘Doozy’, through the example of comedian and voice actor Paul Lynde (1926-1982). Lynde, otherwise known for roles in Bewitched and Bye-Bye-Birdie, is fondly remembered as the voice of various ‘campy villains’ across four Hanna-Barbera productions – Charlotte’s Web, It’s the Wolf, Where’s Huddles? and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. Squires utilises a combination of interviews, animated re-enactments, and talking heads to trace Lynde’s life in relation to the stereotype he so brilliantly portrayed, with ample consideration for the personal and professional impact this may have had on him as an individual. 

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‘Booksmart’ Is a New Breed of High School Classic

Comedies about American teenagers are not all created equal, but they are certainly created similar. Timeless classics such as Clueless and poorly-aging hits like Easy A all share the same basic ingredients—outcasts, jocks, house parties, sex jokes, and One Last Night (or Day, or Week) to turn the tables and fight the powers that be. Yes, I just described genre as a whole—welcome to Much Ado’s Intro to Film, please have your books ready by Monday.

But like its title suggests, Booksmart already knows this history, and it won’t let that knowledge go to waste. By carefully choosing which tropes to play with and which to forgo, first-time feature director Olivia Wilde has accomplished the impossible: making the high school comedy fresh again. Funny, modern, and uniquely kind, Booksmart is a party film that, while not entirely free of formula, marks a new generation of movies about kids figuring out who they are and who they want to be—with the help of some drugs and a good time. Along with its inventive direction, pitch-perfect performances from Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever cement Booksmart as the movie of the summer, and cement the leads as comedy stars in the making.

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Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in ‘Booksmart’

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Tribeca 2019 Review: ‘Ponyboi’

It can be read everywhere: queer cinema is on the rise. It’s quite hard to disprove that statement at first glance; there have been truly great films about queer individuals in the past years and they have garnered a level of attention that seemed almost impossible just two decades ago. But ‘queer’ can be a very dangerous word. While it eases the way to separate non-heteronormative experiences from heteronormative experiences, it also has the downside of being an umbrella term for a great amount of extremely distinct experiences, which can quickly blur their unique and autonomous nature. The term is already being criticized in larger discussions and even when not digging into those discussions, there is no denial that it has distorted the conversation around the rise of films that are inhabited and led by queer characters. These films only apply to a certain, more widely accepted line-up of queer experiences. While gay, bisexual and lesbian films have certainly managed to thrive in recent memory and offer more stories that don’t merely exist to please and educate straight audiences, there still is a dangerously high amount of cinema about other forms of sexual expression, that does exactly that and gets away with it, only because their filmmakers are also ‘queer.’ Case in point, the highly-irresponsible Girl, directed by a gay, cis-gender man. It’s a film which both fetishizes the trans body and wallows in exploitation of trans pain for affect, which didn’t hinder it from being celebrated by critics and rewarded with several festival prizes.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to every single one of these films. Cases for Tangerine have been made as a film that grapples with and respects the trans struggle, while being directed by a non-trans person that has merely done his research. There simply is a frequent amount of examples that reduce queer individuals to concepts, stemming from a lack of accuracy and nuance by filmmakers that are not a part of the represented group. These films are dangerous, because they distort other people’s experiences and create misconceptions and prejudice in the eyes of uneducated viewers. It’s not that the filmmakers don’t usually mean well, but they often simply don’t do enough to redeem this intention.

While the inter* community doesn’t have a lot of representation on-screen in general, rare exceptions such as XXY and Predestination display how right and wrong it can go in the hands of non-inter* filmmakers. So it’s a great pleasure that with Ponyboi, there’s finally a piece of intersex representation made by an intersex-man, about an intersex-man and it’s an even greater pleasure that it’s wonderful.

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‘Rainbow Ruthie’ Blends Nineties Nostalgia and Today’s Social Media Culture

Since 2005, YouTube has been the haven for creative individuals to express themselves and bypass the industry gatekeepers. A blessing an a curse to the general public, the platform has spawned legions of careers for singers and makeup gurus, comedians and “influencers” of god knows what. For the millennial generation, can you remember what life was like before the age of sharing everything on camera? Before now, what did we have to share our creativity and parts of our lives with our community? For some, that medium was public access television. In its heyday, public access TV was a breeding ground for original, and unconventional entertainment in a golden age of sitcoms and teen soap operas.

Back in the nineties, Ruthie Marantz had her own public access show in Manhattan. Her show, Rainbow Ruthie and the Color Kids gained a cult following during its run. Ruthie’s allure was that she was just a young girl having fun and speaking her mind, something not so common during the time. In various episodes, Ruthie is seen interacting with people on the streets of New York City, and occasionally running into celebrities at events, such as the Spice Girls.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Season Three Perfects The Genre of Comedy

This is a largely spoiler free review.

Nothing about Santa Clarita Diet is supposed to work out logically on television. It is absolutely ludicrous, absurd, and simply downright unbelievable. A woman turns into a cannibal and is worshipped as the messenger of God. Organs grow their own legs and murder people. Somewhere along the way in this season, we have ancient knights fitting in perfectly in a white, suburban, and soccer-mom-dominated neighbourhood. We have characters questioning the point of existence, as if that even matters when cannibals are accepted as the de facto state of affairs in the show. However, not only does Santa Clarita Diet manage to find a coherent logic amidst the chaos, it also shows us that the comedic medium does not need to thrive on bigotry in order to question what it means to live in a world so horribly broken. Continue reading “‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Season Three Perfects The Genre of Comedy”