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SXSW: M.F.A.

MFA-movieShortly after we are introduced to Master of Fine Arts candidate Noelle (Francesca Eastwood), she is raped by a classmate.  When she confronts him the next day, he denies doing anything wrong and winds up dead in a mostly-accidental way.  Somewhere during the events that caused Noelle to be a victim of sexual assault and a murder suspect, she snaps.  Formerly introverted and a loner, Noelle starts going to frat parties in order to seduce and murder other rapists who, due to a faulty system, got away with their crimes.

It will not be surprising to anyone who has seen the excellent documentary The Hunting Ground (or really, anyone who has attended a post-secondary institution) that despite her school having reported no sexual assaults at all, it is all to easy for Noelle to find rapists to kill on her college’s campus as she goes full vigilante.   In carrying out a series of increasingly violent kills, Noelle has no real fear of being caught even though she knows the police are closing in.

Eastwood is INTENSE in M.F.A.  Like, maybe more intense than her father has ever been, and that’s saying something because that guy’s face is frozen in a permanent, angry, “Ima kill you” sneer.  She is the best part of this movie and while she can’t make Noelle relatable, she keeps the audience on her side throughout the film, and that is no small feat in the face of her bloody killing spree.

M.F.A. offers an interesting twist on the typical slasher flick, and Noelle’s numerous kills are well-executed and, as is traditional in the genre, get more gory as she goes.  If nothing else, M.F.A. calls attention to the conversation we all should be having, namely why so many women are being sexually assaulted on college campuses and why the colleges are in many cases turning a blind eye to the rapes, or even discouraging victims from reporting these assaults!

The scary part about M.F.A. is not Noelle, it’s that the rapists and the evil administrator who blames the victim and covers up assaults are all too real, and are on your campus, or your friend’s, or your daughter’s.  We need to find an alternative solution, other than murder, so that a campus rape stops being a standard part of a Saturday night frat party, and so that when a college claims to have had zero rapes it’s not because the administration successfully intimidated and discouraged all potential complainants.  No more sexual assaults should be swept under the rug.  M.F.A. helps to shine a light on the problem.

 

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Penis in the Popcorn

Urban Dictionary defines the ‘Popcorn Trick’ as: If one is at the movies with one’s date, proceed to buy a extra large bucket of popcorn and place it on his lap during the movie. Cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket, and proceed to stick your bare penis in the hole (preferably bonered). When your date reaches in to grab popcorn, she will be delighted. Will she, Urban Dictionary? Will she?

Everyone knows about this “prank”  but has anyone actually encountered it? Perpetrated it? I mean, if the only way a girl is going to touch your penis is to offer savoury snacks and then pull the world’s most disappointing bait and switch, I’m going to go ahead and call this NON-CONSENSUAL. And if that’s the first time your lady meets your penis, I’m popcornbetting it’s also the last. I mean, has this ever resulted in a handjob? Wouldn’t it be easier, less greasy, and more hygienic to simply ask politely? Sure you’ll probably be rejected, but that’s a probable rejection vs a definite rejection, along with third degree burns from movie popcorn “butter.”  And you haven’t wasted $37 on a popcorn combo. You could probably find some derelict alley and purchase a handjob for roughly the cost of an extra large bucket of popcorn at the movie theatre. And a regular handjob will be a heck of a lot quieter. I mean, popcorn bags seem deliberately noisy. What were theatre owners thinking? Every handful of popcorn means a crinkly, wrinkly, rustly noise for the rest of us. But the tell-tale rhythmic rustling of a popcorn handjob is a dead giveaway. Popcorn handjobs are so indiscreet! How can you call more attention to this illicit act? Oh right, make it look like some sort of popcorn monster has grabbed hold of your date and won’t let go…and you’re somehow deliriously happy about it. Plus you’ll get salt down your urethra.

If you can picture any single man pulling this trick, who would it be? Mickey Rourke? Yeah, me too. Possibly because we HAVE seen him do it, in the movie The Diner. Boogie’s movie date reaches into the popcorn box on his lap and is horrified to discover his penis poking through the bottom of the box into the popcorn. To get an authentically shocked response, Rourke hid a dildo in the popcorn, which is a sweet touch. What a thoughtful colleague. But that’s kind of the thing: when would this ever be welcome? “Oh sweetie, your coercing me into accidentally touching your dirty popcorn penis really turned me on and now I realize that waiting until we care about each other is silly and we should just have a hot, buttery tug-n-pull right now.” IS THAT YOUR END GAME, MICKEY ROURKE?

Now, the above definition suggested that an extra large bucket of popcorn be used, but I suspect the truth of the matter is that most guys could do with a small. I mean, if you have to poke your erection through the bottom, then you’ve probably got six inches worth of popcorn for her to get through before she’d even graze the tip. Ideally I suppose you have forgone buying her supper to make sure she’s good and starved during the film. But how do you stay erect until she digs down far enough? Is the anticipation enjoyable? Is the slight friction of the kernels kind of kinky? Or do you eventually just become a flaccid inchworm lining the bottom of the bag, never to be discovered. I’m not sure how you discreetly took out your pocket knife, cut a dick-shaped hole in the bottom without a cascade of popcorn falling out, whacked off til you were hard enough to insert, quietly withstood the burning pain from the too-warm popcorn and the faux-butter that collects at the bottom, and I sure as hell don’t know how you’ll discreetly pull it back out. You’re probably looking at the mother of all paper cuts, with salt readily available for rubbing in the wound.

Now imagine that you’re sitting in a dark theatre with popcorn in your lap. And your dick stuck through a hole in that popcorn. Offer some to your date. You obviously cannot move the popcorn at all, so you have to offer it to her without moving it toward her, which seems like a dick move. Makes it seem like you’re hogging the popcorn, in fact. Not moving it at all, keeping it trained exactly on your crotch is probably…suspicious. And what’s your role in this? Do you eat popcorn out of your own dick bag? I mean, you’re probably pretty motivated to reduce the level of popcorn. But is this getting weird? Masturbatory?

Apparently I’m not the only one wondering about this. A couple of years ago, Playboy published an article featuring Redditors who’d copped to trying it out. The results:

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Do you have any good stories to add?

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn_monroe_as_an_infant_brightenedBorn Norma Jeane Mortenson June 1, 1926, Norma Jeane was not her mother, Gladys’s, first child, but she was the only one in her care at the time. Norma Jeane’s father is unknown as her mother would never reveal his name. Norma Jeane was raised by foster parents as a baby, though her mother also lived with them. Feeling strong, Gladys bought a small home for herself an90b3020fb6c5cac8599b74b35e21e038d for Norma Jeane and they lived there happily for a time. Gladys had tried her hand at acting but was now working at a movie studio as a film negative cutter. She was schizophrenic and had a very bad crack up, leaving her permanently hospitalized and Norma Jeane back in foster care. She bounced around from home to home, even spending time in an orphanage.

As a ward of the state she was sexually abused. She married just days after her 16th birthday as a way of avoiding going back to the orphanage, a factory worker 7415193named James “Jim” Dougherty. It wasn’t a love match and though she wasn’t unhappy, she wasn’t happy either. The two had little to say to each other, but Norma Jeane dropped out of high school and seemed to enjoy being a housewife. In In 1943, Dougherty enlisted in the Merchant Marine. When he went over to the Pacific a year later, she moved in with his parents and went to work for the war effort at the Radioplane Munitions Factory.

The Munitions Factor was oddly where she was MarilynMonroe_-_YankArmyWeekly (1)discovered. David Conover, taking ‘morale boosting’ photos of female workers came across her dark curls and brilliant smile. He persuaded her to defy her husband and her in-laws: she moved out and became a model. Her voluptuous body unsuitable for fashion modelling, she was featured instead as a pin-up in men’s calendars and magazines. She was told to straighten her hair and dye it blonde to be more employable.

Paramount Pictures didn’t want her, and 20th Century Fox wasn’t bowled over either, but signed her to a standard contract just to keep rival RKO from getting her. She was given the name ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and in 1946 divorced Marilyn_Monroe_postcardDougherty, who was against her having a career. She took acting, singing, and dancing classes, but had only a couple of roles with almost no lines between them. After the end of 2 terms, the studio dropped her. But the guy she was sleeping with, a Fox executive, persuaded someone over at Columbia to give her a try, and eventually they did, styling her after Rita Hayworth. Her hairline was raised by electrolysis (!) and her hair lightened even further, to platinum.  She starred in a low-budget musical called Ladies of the Chorus, which was released to no fanfare. She had an affair with her vocal coach, who paid to have her overbite corrected. Her contract was once again not renewed.

She then was taken under the wing of Johnny Hyde, vice president of the William Morris Agency. They too had an affair, though she repeatedly refused his marriage proposals. He paid for a silicone prosthesis to be implanted in her jaw, and for a nosejob.a9d314b03280df54b73375ab8324f20a

Finally, a breakthrough: she appeared in six films that were released in 1950. She had bit parts in Love Happy, A Ticket to Tomahawk, Right Cross, and The Fireball. She had minor roles in a couple of critically successful films as well: John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, and Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve. Her 5 minutes of screen time in The Asphalt Jungle merited a mention in Photoplay, and that moved her from model to actress.

Based on this success, Hyde negotiated a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox for her in December 1950 but died of a heart attack only days later, leaving her devastated. Despite her grief, 1951 was a big year for her. She presented at the Academy Awards, and had supporting roles in 4 films: Home Town Story, As Young As You Feel, Love Next, and Let’s Make it Legal. She played the same role in each: sexy arm candy, but The New York Times called her “superb” and the Los Angeles Daily News called her “one of the brightest up-and-coming [actresses].” She dated director Elia Kazan and had brief affairs with Nicholas Ray, Yul Brynner, and Peter Lawford.

A scandal broke involving nude photos she’d posed for in 1949, broke and needing money (she got $50). This should have derailed her career but Fox got on top of it by having her reveal it in an interview, stressing her dire financial straits. This not only BmWrbVCCIAE4WXJgained her public sympathy but cemented her status as a sex symbol. She followed it up with a very revealing dress as the Grand Marshal at the Miss America Pageant parade, and by telling gossip columnists that she wore no underwear. Joe DiMaggio saw pictures of the “it girl” and insisted they go out. She tried a couple of meatier roles that year: a fish cannery worker in Clash By Night, and a mentally deranged babysitter in Don’t Bother To Knock. Her other roles were more typecast: a beauty pageant contestant in We’re Not Married! served as an excuse to film Marilyn in not one but TWO bathing suits; a dumb blonde secretary opposite Cary Grant in Monkey Business; and a prostitute in Full House. 

Monroe had a reputation for being ‘difficult’ on set – being late, or not showing up, not knowing her lines, demanding re-takes. She depended heavily on acting coaches: she was a perfectionist with low self esteem, a bad combination in Hollywood. She was also f882d7ac58494cfaecd3420ab7a4673bterribly bullied and harassed by directors and male colleagues. This is when she started using barbiturates and amphetamines.

In 1953 she starred in Niagara, in a hyper-sexualized role: a 30-second long shot of her swaying hips while walking away was used in a lot of promotional material. She and her makeup artist had perfected her look: dark arched brows, pale skin, wet-looking red lips, and a beauty mark. She showed up at the Photoplay awards to accept the “Fastest Rising Star” award in a skin-tight gold lame dress that prompted Joan Crawford to describe her behaviour as s “unbecoming an actress and a lady.” Her next movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, would tumblr_mjh2ksCUZO1rgd1tuo1_500.gifclinch her on-screen person as the “dumb blonde.” That role was supposed to go to Betty Grable, Fox’s previous blonde bombshell, but Marilyn had eclipsed her. How To Marry a Millionaire was more of the same, and a huge box office success.

Hugh Hefner featured her on the cover and as the centrefold in his first issue of Playboy; Sem títulohe used a photo from that Miss America Pageant on the cover, and one of her 1949 nude photos as the centrefold.

Monroe was listed in the Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll in both 1953 and 1954, but note: money making, not money earning. She was a great asset for Fox, but still under contract, she wasn’t making much. She couldn’t even choose her projects. When she refused to do yet another “dumb blonde” comedy, the studio simply suspended her, in early 1954. This was front page news, so to counter the bad publicity, she married her sweetheart, Joe DiMaggio. The honeymooned in Japan (a business trip for him) and from there she traveled alone to Korea, where she performed in USO shows for the troops. By the time she got back to Hollywood in February she was Monroe_DiMaggio_Weddingpicking up Photoplay’s  “Most Popular Female Star” prize. She settled with the studio in March; she got a new contract, the starring role in The Seven Year Itch, and a bonus of $100,000. To generate buzz for this movie, they staged a filming of a scene on Lexington Avenue in New York. You know the one: she’s standing on a subway grate with air blowing up her white dress. She did that for several hours, attracting a big crowd with lots of professional photographers. The stunt infuriated DiMaggio, and they split just 9 months after marrying.

When filming wrapped, Monroe decided it was time to go to battle for control over her career and left Hollywood for the East Coast. She and photographer Milton Green founded their own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, which would later be called “instrumental” in the collapse of the studio system. She was “tired of the same old sex roles. I want to do better things. People have scope, you know.” She went to court about her contract with Fox, asserting the studio had not fulfilled its duties, such as paying her the promised bonus for The Seven Year marilyn-monroe-seven-year-itch-1955Itch. The press brutally ridiculed her for this move, and she was parodied in Itch screenwriter George Axelrod’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, about a Monroe lookalike (played by Jayne Mansfield) dumb blonde actress who starts her own production company.

Divorce proceedings didn’t mean she stopped sleeping with DiMaggio, but it did mean she also slept with Marlon Brando, and with a playwright she met through Kazan – Arthur Miller. Things between them heated up when her divorce went through and he left his wife, but this also meant the FBI opened a file on her. The studio panicked and begged her to end the affair, fearing she’d be blacklisted. She would not.

She and the studio came to an agreement: she would do 4 films for them in 7 years, be paid $100K for each, be allowed to choose her project, her director, and her cinematographer, and would be free to make a film with MMP for every film she did for Fox. Suddenly the press was calling her a “shrewd businesswoman.”

She married Miller, and converted to Judaism (Egypt then banned all of her films). She chose to do Bus Stop next, earning respect from her director, and legitimizing herself as Monroe_Miller_Weddingan actress and box office success despite its departure from her sexy comedies. She won a Golden Globe for her performance. For MMP she did The Prince and The Showgirl, with Laurence Olivier starring and directing. He’d originated the role on the stage, opposite Vivien Leigh. Monroe and Olivia clashed on set: he wanted her to take Leigh’s lead, and condescendingly told her all she had to do was “be sexy.” Her drug use escalated; she miscarried during filming. She took an 18 month hiatus to concentrate on marriage but had two more failed pregnancies.

She came back to Hollywood in 1958 to star in Some Like It Hot. There were problems on set but it was a box office smash and it earned her another Golden Globe. She did Let’s Make Love for Fox yet, and it was kind of a flop, despite Miller re-working the script. She had an affair with her co-star Yves Montand, which was publicized for the movie’s sake. Awkward. This means that when Truman Capote lobbied for her to star in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, he was overruled, and the part went to Audrey Hepburn instead.

Miller wrote a dramatic role for her in The Misfits, which would reunite Monroe with director John Huston. She played Roslyn, a divorcee who befriends 3 aging cowboys, played by Clark Gable, Eli Wallach, and Montgomery Clift. Monroe and Miller were basically finished, and he was already moving on. She didn’t love the role, which she felt inferior to the male ones. It was a difficult production, with her drug use so serious that she had her make-up done while “asleep” on barbiturates. Production was halted for a week while she detoxed. It was the last film she would ever complete.

When filming wrapped, she got a quickie divorce from Miller. The movie was not a article-2065939-09EFCC65000005DC-148_468x470success at the box office, though more recently it has earned critical respect. In 1961 she had surgery for her endometriosis and a cholecystectomy, and spent 4 weeks in hospital, including a sting in the psych ward for depression. DiMaggio helped her out, and she dated Frank Sinatra for a while. In 1962 she was back on set for Something’s Got To Give, but came down with sinusitis, delaying production. Despite having several doctors corroborate the illness, Fox alleged publicly that she was faking. In May she sang Happy Birthday to JFK at Madison Square Garden. Back at work, the studio invited photographers on set for a scene in which she would swim nude. The photos were published in Life magazine, a major shift from the studio’s earlier policy about nude pics. But when she got sick again, Fox fired her from the movie and sued for $750 000 in damages (they were barely afloat making marilyn-in-poolCleopatra, which was way overbudget). Fox told the press that she was mentally unstable. Of course Fox quickly realized this was a stupid idea and re-opened negotiations to get her back onboard the film. She tried to repair her image by posing for a Vogue photographer – those photos would be published posthumously in a spread called The Last Sitting.

Monroe was found dead in the bedroom of her Brentwood home by her psychiatrist, Dr. 177874721Ralph Greenson on August 5, 1962. The housekeeper had woken up during the night and when no one answered when she knocked at Marilyn’s door, she summoned the doctor. Her death was ruled a suicide, the drugs in her system several times over the lethal limit. Joe DiMaggio arranged her funeral service.

Marilyn Monroe: never dumb, and not even actually blonde. She was, and is, an icon, and never stopped being magical on screen.

 

 

What’s your favourite Marilyn moment?

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Top 10 Movie Scars

Scars are a movie shorthand. Bad guys often have visible scars, gruesomely healed. Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil has a huge scar, from the corner of his right eye down to his jaw. Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street is extensively scarred. Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes in Platoon has a face meant to tell you how crazy he is, right from the start. Most but not all of the scars on this list are found on villains, but in real life scars can criss-cross the bodies of all kinds of people, even, occasionally, good ones. Scars are portraits of courage and bravery, reminders of stupid decisions, the markers of time and change. My left arm was left completely scarred after a car accident; oddly, it is NOT the arm covered in ink (okay, it’s partially covered in ink). They make me a little sad, but also a lot grateful: scars mean you’re still alive.

tumblr_inline_nt3aoaZFge1tpfg2f_500.gifThe Joker: I suppose there are probably dozens of back stories as to how The Joker got his scars, but I love how Chris Nolan approaches them in The Dark Knight. The Joker himself tells several vastly different tales involving their provenance, which reveals nothing about their true nature, but tonnes about his sanity. The way he accents the scars with makeup makes us think he’s proud of them. He wants them to be noticed. Perhaps he wants us to believe they’re self-inflicted. Perhaps they are.

Tony Montana: It’s inevitable that a character nicknamed  ‘Scarface’ will make this list. tonyTony is blase about his scar, laughing it off, attributing it to his youth but never getting specific. It’s obviously a reminder of the past he left behind, and it’s a focal point to his enemies, something that makes him look scary and intimidating, perhaps warning them that he’s capable of violence. But in true Tony spirit, he addresses his scar only thusly: “You should see the other kid; you can’t recognize him.” I bet that’s true.

20110713_scars-1-harrypotter.nocrop.w375.h670Harry Potter: Harry got his distinctive lightning-bolt scar in a failed murder attempt, when Lord Voldemort put a killing curse on him (his mother’s sacrifice saved him from death, but he would bear the mark of the attack). The scar is legendary among the magic set, and it tingles whenever the Dark Lord is near. It wasn’t just a warning system, but a link to what Voldemort was thinking and feeling – actually a small piece of his soul, yearning to escape. Which is pretty crazy.

Edward Scissorhands: Edward’s face (and not just his face) is covered with fine scars, 350191the obvious result of learning the hard way how to live with scissors for hands. They aren’t terrible to look at, and actually give him a sympathetic look, reminding us of his hardships. Since the movie skewers conformity, Edward’s scars are just another thing that set him apart.

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson: Randy shows stripper Cassidy some of the many scars he’s accumulated over his years in the ring as ‘The Ram’ in The Wrestler. His broken body is a good indication of his mental state as well, beat down and tired. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Marissa Tomei quotes from the Old Testament. But his worst scar is yet to come: he undergoes bypass surgery on his heart, leaving the tell-tale scar down his chest, a constant reminder that his heart can no longer take the stress of his career. He’s forced into retirement, but can’t quite commit to it.

90f7a43a2555ef092a3825e3a5574878Marv: Sin City’s Marv puts Mickey Rourke on this list twice, ironic considering his own not-insignificant scars. In the 1990s he took up boxing, and had to have lots of reconstructive surgery as a result – two broken noses, a smashed cheekbone – but admittedly went to the wrong doctor to put things right. Finally, after massive amounts of plastic surgery, he’s starting to look good again. Regardless, in Sin City, Rourke’s face in prosthetic scars. Marv is supposed to be too “ugly” to attract the opposite sex, which is why his relationship with Nancy is so pure and good, and highly cherished by him.

Scar: In Lion King, Mustafa’s brother is marked for evil by eye-skimming scar that leaves him disfigured. The movie doesn’t tell us how he got it, but we do kn1000px-Gill-FindingNemo3Dow he’s defined by it, bearing its nickname.

Gill: Gill has terrible scarring to his face and fins after an escape attempt left him badly
wounded by dental tools. Voiced by Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo’s Gill seems dark and brooding because of his scars, but we come to understand that they’re a symbol of his fight for freedom, and what the fish are willing to risk in order to be free.

tumblr_mlg4d5SRte1s3oe2qo1_250.gifInigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” A mysterious man with 6 fingers attacked Inigo’s father, and presumably Inigo’s scar is from that same fight. His greatest wish is to avenge his father’s death, and he spends much of The Princess Bride pursuing the man who left so many scars in his wake.

Darth Vader: Vader’s scars represent his turn from annoying emo brat to pure evil. As main-qimg-b22185b5f56500fa08f9e8b3a426e005-c.jpgthe ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke: “When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever – he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred.” Those scars are kept underneath a menacing helmet for much of the series, but when that helmet comes off, oof: impact.

 

 

 

 

Ode To Ripley

Ridley Scott intended to kill off beloved butt-kicking hero Ellen Ripley in the very first of the Alien franchise. His script saw her harpooning the alien in her escape pod but it making no bloody difference, so the thing tears through her mask and rips her face off. Then the alien takes over the controls and sets his course – well, you can imagine the rest. The studio wouldn’t hear of it. “The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott has said. “So we didn’t do that [ending].”

tumblr_nbwng6xMfu1rp0vkjo1_500.gifAnd this might be the first ever case of me agreeing with studio interference, purely because the world needs more Ripleys. We admire her because she was tough and she was smart. I admire her, and Scott, because Ripley cried at work and it didn’t weaken her, didn’t sap her power.

As recently as last year, the New York Post ran an article literally entitled ‘Cry At Work If You Never Want To Succeed.’ It contains helpful nuggets such as “Sure, ladies, it’s OK to cry at work. If you want every male (and female) boss to think you’re a useless little Nancy who can’t and shouldn’t be trusted with a challenging assignment again.” And evidence that writer Kyle Smith has confused women with toddlers: “Crying is an absolutely spiffing way to get what you want — in the short term. But once you’ve hosted a one-person snivel party, people tend to remember it.” Crying at work is not the same as throwing a temper tantrum. Sometimes tears are a natural (and unavoidable) reaction to anger or frustration. Some men (and frankly, some women) might take those same feelings to a bathroom stall where they’ve made an indent in the plaster punching the wall. Others might take those feelings out an on unsuspecting trash can which gets kicked and spilled all over the office floor. Doors and drawers and phones slam. Assistants get verbally abused. Half a dozen donuts get guilty devoured. Most of those are much worse than crying, but only crying gets a bad rep. “Women will be set back 100 years if they start believing it’s OK to cry on the job” Smith tells us. “But hey, OK, fine, if you just want to remain on the Girl Track for the rest of your life, by all means interrupt the weekly departmental meeting to fill your empty venti cup with your hot, salty tears.” Um, Girl Track? Fuck you, buddy.

When Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her best-seller Lean In, she wrote that it was okay to cry at work. Crying just happens, it’s part of our biology, part of our survival tumblr_nx8ebcJVP91uk3oooo1_500.gifmechanisms. For many women, and many men, it’s just part of being human, part of having emotions, and most of us do not shut those emotions off at the start of our shift.  41% of women and 9% of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year and that it had made no difference in terms of their success (note: women have six times more prolactin – a hormone related to crying – than men).

All that to say: Ellen Ripley was a force to be reckoned with. She cried at work, not to manipulate her coworkers, not because she was helpless and sad, but because she was in a tough situation and it just damn well called for it. All her male colleagues perished while she survived. She kicked alien ass so hard they brought her back for a sequel.

SXSW: A Critically Endangered Species

a-critically-endangered-species-F64922.jpgOnce in a while I wish I had a more literary mind.  When I write, it’s pretty direct and while I used to attempt subtext I’ve pretty much given up on it at this point – too much effort for too little payoff.  But that’s for my writing, where no marks are given for artistry.  All that matters is the end result.

Whereas for Maya (Lena Olin), the protagonist in A Critically Endangered Species, artistry is all that matters.  She’s a very successful writer, possibly too successful in that she has decided her best work is behind her and she will kill herself rather than crank out any more mediocre books.  Her last project is to select a young male writer to inherit everything and safeguard her work after her death.

She holds tryouts that inevitably include detailed examinations of the applicants’ work, and with one notable exception end in sex.  The field is quickly narrowed to two finalists, a showdown between intellectual and sexual appeal.  For Maya’s part, she takes pleasure in sex but she obviously does not get pleasure or happiness from anything else, and sees no value in her life aside from her work.  The beautiful but muted shots of northern California are a good match for Maya’s melancholy state of being.

Which candidate wins is incidental.  The process is what matters.  Just as incidental is the fact of Maya’s imminent suicide.  Refreshingly, this is not a moral examination of Maya’s choice.  The focus of the movie is the competition between two very different suitors and the discussions between them about some very interesting writing.  The movie is extremely well-written and writers Zachary Cotler and Magdelena Zyzak deserve particular praise for producing so many stylistically different pieces of poetry for the applicants to read and defend against Maya’s criticism.  The acting is spot-on as well, giving us main characters that are both well-written and well-executed.

A Critically Endangered Species is heavily intellectual and took less than five minutes to go over my head as far as literary analysis goes.  Even so, it was extremely interesting to take in the poetry and the discussions that followed each piece.  This is a different sort of movie than I’m used to, and while I would have found the difference refreshing on its own, the quiet excellence of this film is what really made a lasting impression.   Added to that, if you have more than a passing interest in literature (which for me basically starts and ends with comic books), then A Critically Endangered Species is not only a good movie, it’s an intricate discussion piece that should rub you in a few different ways at once.  Which may be what Maya was searching for all along.

 

Star Trek Fandom

Fans of Community might have been delighted to see Danny Pudi in Star Trek Beyond; they may also be forgiven if they missed him. Pudi was playing an alien and was unrecognizable. The role was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and just 3-4 hours in a makeup chair transformed him into a creature only a mother could love.

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He learned fight choreography and studied the alien language alongside Kim Kold and Sofia Boutella. Despite the fact that sweat pooled under his prosthetics and his character gets beaten by Boutella, Pudi sounds ecstatic.

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There are lots of famous Trekkies: Mila Kunis, Daniel Craig, Angelina Jolie and Ben Stiller are all confessed die- hards. Whoopi Goldberg of course. Tom Hanks was such a fan that he went snooping on the Paramount lot where he was shooting Bosom Buddies at the time – it just so happened that The Wrath of Khan was shot there also, and he seized the opportunity to board the Starship Enterprise. He sadly turned down a role in First Contact due to his first directing job, That Thing You Do! Eddie Murphy nearly snagged a role in The Voyage Home and is probably a little heartbroken that it was re-written. I totally avoided the show growing up, relegating The Next Generation to ‘Boring Dad Stuff’ and not giving it a second thought until JJ Abrams decided to make my life a little more complicated by rebooting the franchise and obligating all the men in my life to insist that I watch. I have. I’ve even had my own Star Trek transformation. But only recently did I experience a Star Trek fan film – a story that exists within the Star Trek framework\universe, lovingly created by talented film making fans.

Paul Laight, a gentleman kind enough to have been visiting us here for some time, just so happens to be a writer and producer on the film, and he and director Gary O’ Brien generously granted us answers to some of our most burning questions. But first, please watch the film, Chance Encounter.

This is a bit rude, but I was frankly surprised by how good it is. We are sent all kinds of movies to review, and lots of them are amateur jobs that make us cringe with their bad writing or terrible acting. This little piece, however, is well polished. It isn’t just made with good intentions, but with talent and professionalism. Thematically it’s an excellent fit for the Star Trek family, but the story could and would hold up without it.

Without further ado, an interview with the filmmakers.

ASSHOLES: What came first, did you decide to make a Star Trek movie, or did the story just seem like a natural fit in the ST universe?

PAUL: The latter. Myself and Gary have made some very dramatic war and horror short films, plus comedies, in the past as Fix Films so when he came to me with the idea of something more gentle and romantic I thought that would make a great change of pace and genre. Gary suggested a short involving an older man and a younger woman. Now, usually this idea can lend itself to something more sleazy but we did not want that. We wanted something emotional which would resonate rather than titillate. So, I had a think about it and eventually came up with the idea you kind of see in Chance Encounter. Originally it was set on a rooftop and it was just two people meeting and having an impact on each other’s lives despite only meeting briefly. Then Gary suggested we could make it as a Star Trek fan film and I agreed it would a fascinating project to attempt.

GARY: Yes exactly, once Paul introduced a Sci-fi element to one of his story outlines it suddenly opened up a new area to us that I could see was very much Star Trek shaped!

ASSHOLES: What level of fandom do you have to achieve before attempting fan fiction? Do you worry about upsetting other fans?

PAUL: I guess Gary may be able to answer this question better than me as he is a proper Star Trek fan. My feeling was that as a writer I wanted to do my utmost to tell a compelling story with intriguing characters which connects with everyone. I wrote the screenplay not just for Star Trek fans but for those who enjoy good stories. I was very confident no one would be upset by the story as the characters are intrinsically positive and at no time are we parodying Star Trek or the franchise in general. What was always great about Star Trek is that the characters and concepts were always compelling, so while open to satire, I was not interested in that. If someone is upset at Chance Encounter then they probably have anger issues.

GARY: I think you have to just tell your story first and then fit the expected “fan” elements in around it, which is how the staff writers across all the series approached things too I suspect. “Star Trek” evokes certain things that one might assume you have to include – aliens, transporters, warp drive, photon torpedoes, etc, all of which are absent from our film, and so maybe if there is a level of fandom you need to reach before writing fan fiction, it’s knowing the franchise well enough to strip out all the surface elements like those and yet still feel true to the source material.

ASSHOLES: What was it like making a film with so many visual effects on a limited budget?

PAUL: Gary is the tech genius and it is a testament to his years of training that he was able to produce such great results on a limited budget. Kudos to him.

GARY: Thanks mate! I think on such a low budget, part of getting the visual effects “right” is knowing when not to do them. It’s tempting to think that once you’ve got the computer and the software the sky’s the limit and so why not go crazy. But that’s not how the shows were made. Why green-screen and motion track stars outside the spaceship windows when we can do it just as effectively in-camera with a black fabric and bits of tin foil? Less is more was our philosophy!

ASSHOLES: What was the casting process like? Had you worked with any of the actors before?

PAUL: Having made over ten short films and various promos over the years our casting process is very organised now. We use online casting websites such as Shooting People and Casting Call Pro and have also built up an ensemble of actors we have used in the past. There are SO many talented people out there and when we post on the sites you will get a hell of a lot of responses. We then sieved the actors down to a shortlist and then we either meet in person (where the leads are concerned most definitely) or Skype first contact before meeting them. We had only worked with Phil Delancy before (Captain Janssen) so this was a whole new cast generally on this one.

GARY: Yes the casting went pretty smoothly and we feel blessed that we found such good people for all the roles. Everyone was very professional and did a great job – a pleasure to work with them all.

ASSHOLES: What are the challenges of making a short film rather than feature length?

PAUL: Well, I haven’t made a feature film but I have worked on them as crew and obviously everything is bigger on a feature; even a low budget one. Personally, though I think the amount of hard work you need to put in is commensurate for both. Most importantly in any production is you must have a good story and screenplay as your basis, then you can get talented people to commit to the project. Of course, a short film for me is a microcosmic feature but the biggest challenge is me and Gary pretty much did EVERYTHING from start to finish. I guess it would be difficult to do that on a feature, but maybe not impossible – as Robert Rodriguez has demonstrated.

GARY: My only experiences on features were as a tiny cog in a very large machine, but as director on numerous shorts you have to do everything. I guess film-making always boils down to being incredibly hard work though, just different kinds of work.

ASSHOLES:How do you run a successful crowdfunding campaign?

PAUL: Gary was the brains behind our campaign and I chipped in with a little clip. I think the most important thing is not ask for too much money! Be realistic and HAVE A GOOD STORY or IDEA you feel passionate about. We believed in our story and the angle of making a Star Trek fan film really helped us too. I mean, if you’re asking for $1,000,000 to make a film about paint drying you could struggle!

GARY: Exactly – we didn’t want to ask for any more money than we thought was needed. Also, it’s our first, and so far only campaign so I don’t know if our success was a fluke or not! We were just open, honest and did what we said we’d do – the rest is just left to fate I guess.

ASSHOLES: What feedback have you received from your backers?

PAUL: Amazing! One guy has even done a fan review on YouTube. All the feedback so far for Chance Encounter has been SO positive. People love the story and characters and effects, so nothing but good stuff so far. No nasty Star-Trek-Klingon-Trolling on YouTube comments either. Well, not YET!

GARY: Yes at this point people have been overwhelmingly positive about the film. With so much content out there we’re really flattered that people have even taken the time to watch it – that they like it too is just wonderful. Also, many of the comments say how true to Star Trek it felt, so that is a huge compliment in itself of course.

ASSHOLES: You’ve (Paul) described various roles as “caterer, florist, dead body” – what has surprised you most as a producer on a low budget indie?

PAUL: Oh yes, that was an attempt at humour on my part on my blog article. Basically, with Fix Films me and Gary have taken on various duties in the filmmaking process over the years and we love that aspect of it. But the most surprising thing is that film is ultimately a collaborative process and the amount of assistance and support we have had with our projects has been amazing. I’ve had friends and family and people I’ve never met before helping us on productions; and Chance Encounter is a case in point. Being a bit of a cynic I kind of thought that raising even £2000 for a Star Trek fan film would be tough but people came through for us and helped us make a wonderful story. I thank you all.

GARY: Yes, both the effort and money from so many people that made Chance Encounter happen was a thing to behold – we’re incredibly grateful.

ASSHOLES: Any plans to revisit these characters?

PAUL: I wouldn’t rule it out at all. It depends on writing a script that would work and of course getting finance on another production. But we spent a lot of time working on the characters, creating their back stories and biographies, so there is a great foundation with which to work from.

GARY: Well these characters were created for this specific story, so as Paul says – if they do return would depend on if they fit into a future story or not. I suspect that there is another Star Trek film lurking somewhere within us, with or without these characters – but at the end of the day it would have to depend on whether future fund raising efforts were successful or not. Watch this space!

How to Buy an Oscar

When I watch the Oscars, I watch for 2 reasons: to see all the dresses, and to win money off my dearest friends. I often don’t agree with the choices, or even that awards should be given for art at all. At least half the time I think the host is a drag and the speeches are pretentious. But I’ll give respect where respect is due: it’s not easy to take home an Oscar. You can’t even earn an Oscar by acting, no matter how hard  you try. No, an Oscar must be bought, and Oscars don’t come cheap.

Variety has estimated that an Academy Award will set you back somewhere in the vicinity of 3-10 MILLION DOLLARS. It’s not George Clooney who’s paying out of pocket, mind you. It’s the studios. An Academy Award will likely give their movie a push in the box office, or consideration-coralinecertainly in at-home rentals (Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby went from just $8.4 million pre-nomination, to gross over $90 million after its Best Picture win). It’ll put a fancy gold sticker on the DVD box in stores. And it’s a shiny piece of hardware not only for their office, but for any movie poster coming out of their studio for the next several years. Prestige!

If you’re anything like me, you may have cringed over some blatant Oscar name-dropping. Take Collateral Beauty for example (this is the first and last time it’ll be mentioned in the same sentence as Oscar this year, poor dud). The trailers likely introduced the stars as “Oscar winner Helen Mirren”, “Oscar winner Kate Winslet”, “Oscar nominee Edward Norton,” “Oscar nominee Will Smith,” “Oscar nominee Keira Knightly,” “Oscar nominee Naomie Harris,” and “plain old Michael Pena.” Well, okay, not so much the plain old, but you catch my drift. It’s always a little embarrassing when inevitably someone in the cast has been left out. Michael Pena might be a little put out with his ranking, but on a movie like this, the studio will do everything in its power to remind you that the cast is stellar (the story: well, that’s another question – hopefully we’ve blinded you with all the Oscar talk!).

Two rounds of ballots go out to Academy members. The first went out to secure nominations. Now everyone can vote on who will actually win. People are encouraged to only vote if they know enough about the category to make an informed choice (possibly the costumer knows little about visual effects), and are encouraged to see all of the master1nominees in order to judge accurately. But these  Hollywood types are busy people! They can’t be hitting up the cinema like us regular folk! Solution: studios can send out free screeners so big important people can watch the contenders in the privacy of their own homes. It will cost the studio about $300 000 to do that (it’s a lot of free DVDs – and there’s always a chance of piracy) but that’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to buying an Oscar.

 

Next you have your print and TV ads, billboards and all the rest of the ‘For Your Consideration’ items to be paid for: all kinds of crap with the movie’s name tarted out all over it. And then there’s the constant round of balls, parties and teas, plus the special screenings with the stars in attendance, and all the talk shows and private lunches and everything else that come with pressing the flesh and hoarding votes. An Oscar campaign is like a political campaign. You have to be bold and ruthless. You have to want it, and you have to tell everyone you’re running. But you also have to pretend not to want it too much, while basically begging for every vote you can get.

If you’re really serious about toppling over, say, Natalie Portman, you may even hire an Oscar consultant. Yup, that’s a real job, and it’s their heavily-paid job to predict what voters are thinking, and try to swing it in your favour. Meanwhile, you’re going to rack up ridiculous airmiles, wear millions of dollars in outfits and jewels (about half a mil per event), and talk about the same damn movie over and over at press junkets for a good 9-10 months. You can make a human baby in less time!

Since we’re in the nitty gritty of Oscar voting now, there are some rules as to what the studio can do officially, so they’ve invented ways around, of course. The Santa Barbara film festival exists only to give fake awards to actors and industry in order to remind Academy voters who they are (this year, Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle, Denis Villeneuve, and Kenneth Lonergan ALL received Outstanding Director – suspicious much?).

If that made Damien Chazelle nervous then he could always start a whisper campaign about how Kenneth Lonergan needs to coat himself in pickle brine in order to fall asleep. ocrw2bgbThat sounds like I’m joking and indeed I’ve never heard anything about Lonergan and any kind of pickle, but Harvey Weinstein is famous for being – er – quite competitive, stopping at nothing, including the nasty rumour mill, and lavishing expensive gifts on Academy members just out of the “goodness” of his heart, no strings attached (except vote for my movie or I’ll blackball you forever).

This year there is arguably a three way frontrunner for best picture: La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight. So all three will ramp up spending in order to compete.Manchester was made by Amazon, who has deep pockets and is looking to establish itself as a  powerhouse. Moonlight on the other hand was an indie film, with a budget of just 5 million. This is where the personal touch comes in: it’s not enough to take out print ads (what are those?) – studios are making sure that the stars are available for selfies with each and every voter. Brie Larson, who took home best actress last year for Room said that her worst Oscar fear was “getting pinkeye” – she shook a LOT of hands, and god knows where they’ve been!

Harvey Weinstein is pretty much responsible for the modern, despicable Oscar campaign. He pours lots of money into wins, and he gets results: over 300 Academy Award nominations to date. 1990’s My Left Foot was Harvey’s first big campaign and he went hard: he had Daniel Day-Lewis testify to the Senate for the Disability Act; he chased people on holiday; he even set up screenings at the Motion Picture Retirement Home. He spent a record setting amount securing a Shakespeare in Love upset over Saving Private Ryan, and insisted the British crew move to Hollywood for the duration of award season. In 2002 he mounted a smear campaign against A Beautiful Mind, accusing the film of editing out the biography’s mention of homosexuality, and later pointed to “Jew-bashing passages” from the book. To take advantage of a loophole, he rereleased City of God 3 times to eventually secure it some nominations; it was first eligible in 2002 but received nothing, so Harvey kept it in theatres for 54 long weeks. He targeted Jewish voters for nominations for The Reader by screening at Jewish cultural events and seeking endorsements form the Anti-Defamation League and from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. While campaigning for Inglorious Basterds, he engaged a whisper campaign against Hurt Locker, hiring soldiers to come forward and call out the film’s lack of realism. When The King’s Speech went up against The Social Network, he had Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger host star-filled events. With The Artist, he reached out to Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughters. In 2013 he went so far as to hire Obama’s campaign manager to bolster The Silver Linings Playbook

 

Harvey’s not quite a pioneer though. The first real campaign reaches back to 1945 when 1945-joan-crawford_2149643iJoan Crawford hired a press agent to get her a win for Mildred Pierce. He kept her name in the news and planted items in the gossip columns. Still, she was too nervous to attend the ceremony, fearing a loss. Her agent, however, dispatched hair and makeup to her home while cover for her: a fever of 104 degrees, I believe he said. She won, and when press raced to her house, she was sitting up in bed, full hair and makeup, sexy negligee, and an Oscar cradled in her arms. Success!

Nowadays you have to have swag. When The Descendants was up for an Oscar, it sent out personalized ukuleles to members. More perplexingly, the team behind Lincoln sent out turkey roasting pans. Universal sent out iPod shuffles that just happened to be pre-loaded with music form Les Miserables. Disney sent out toy bows and arrows for Brave. None of this is exactly legal, but studios are willing to bend the rules to secure wins, and why on earth would the gift recipient ever complain? So yeah, the Oscars are a complete sham – or worse: they’re a 4-hour movie commercial.

 

 

Actors-Cum-Singers

I had heard she had some sort of music career fallback, but I didn’t really understand that I’d been hearing her on the radio consistently for quite some time. Hailee Steinfeld: you may know her as the little girl from True Grit, or else the young woman in The Edge of Seventeen, but a whole lot of young folk know her as a top 40 pop artist. She “broke out” after appearing in Pitch Perfect 2 and just like that she had a record deal and a music video.

 

Of course you may know that Pitch Perfect alum Anna Kendrick also landed on the Billboards with her annoying song, Cups. The music video, which I’ve neglected to see before today, is a bit aggravating since she’s play some working class baker in a horrid little diner that apparently refuses to sell drinks. Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on? Anna Kendrick’s gotten singy in a whole bunch of her movies, including Trolls and Into the Woods, so it seems unlikely that her vocal stylings are going anywhere soon (god help us all).

Kendrick’s not the only co-star of Hailee Steinfeld’s to have music on the radio. Her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges is super musical too. Of course you were likely blown away by his performance in Crazy Heart, but that’s not a one-off. He studied piano as a kid but now he’s usually seen with one of several guitars in hand, on set and everywhere else. In 1980, while filming Heaven’s Gate, he’d often jam with his co-star, singer\songwriter Kris Kristofferson, between takes. Kristofferson helped inspire Bridges’ Crazy Heart character, Bad Blake, who is described as being the fictional 5th Highwayman, alongside Willie Nelson, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

A bunch of actors tour with bands in their down time. Steve Martin’s bluegrass sound isn’t surprising to anyone who’ll recognize his banjo from his stand-up comic days. He’s put some real time and effort into his second career as a musician, and he’s picked up some Grammy awards to show for it. Billy Bob Thornton has released music with The Boxmasters and Tres Hombres. Michael Cera plays bass in Mister Heavenly. Kevin Costner’s band, Kevin Costner and Modern West, tours the NASCAR circuit. Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar reportedly gave Weezer their first touring gig opening for them in the early 90s. Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother in (you guessed it) The Bacon Brothers. Russell Crowe started out with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before he was super successful over here, and then graduated to Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God once he did. And perhaps most famously (or at least most successfully), Jared Leto formed alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars the minute he was done with My So-Called Life and has always gone back to it between film projects, ensuring the stability of the black eyeliner industry.

Jamie Foxx revealed his musical talent in the movie Ray, and then followed it up with a convincing Ray Charles impression in Kanye West’s song, Gold Digger. Foxx has also been feature on a Drake track (another actor turned musician; Canadians will never let him forget that he got his start on the Degrassi reboot). Solo, he’s released 4 R&B albums since Ray. His most commercially successful single, the heavily auto-tuned Blame It, has a music video that weirdly “stars” Jake Gyllenhaal, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, and Samuel L. Jackson. Never mind the Grey Goose sponsorship deal. Feel free to check it out and let me know what gives.

One of my favourie actor crossovers is Zooey Deschanel, who has a good thing going with M. Ward called She & Him. She’s pretty legit – she plays keyboards, percussion, banjo, and ukulele – and M. Ward lends a lot of blues\folk credibility. We know she can sing from her duet with Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, but she’s also appeared on a Coconut Records album, a band by fellow indie actor Jason Schwartzman. In this She & Him video, she’s helped out by her 500 Days of Summer co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In case you doubted that Ryan Gosling was singing (he was a Mousketeer alongside Justin Timberlake you know!) and playing the piano long before La La Land ever existed, here’s a pretty raw video of him and his band Dead Man’s Bones. The sound’s not great because it was recorded live, but you’ll get the gist.

There are many more besides who tried to sing and probably shouldn’t have, and I’m not even sure if William Shatner belongs on that list. He’s released so many albums at this point that I have to take him at least semi-seriously, or as seriously as the Shatner spoken-word singing can be taken. Which is still better than Cory Feldman sing-ranting about the pitfalls of being a former child actor. And I can only begin to imagine the highs and lows contained on an album by Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, or David Hasselhoff, and apparently there are 18 of those in existence! Can you even believe it? Well believe it:

 

Who is your favourite actor-musician?

Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.