Monday, September 18, 2017

Music Video Monday: Julien Baker

Posted By on Mon, Sep 18, 2017 at 11:54 AM

It's Music Video Monday, and you've got appointments to keep.
Memphis emo queen Julien Baker has a new album, called Turn Out The Lights, which will drop on October 27. Baker recorded at Ardent Studios for the prestigious Matador label. The video for first single, "Appointments", directed by Sopia Peer, who has worked with The National, Paramore, and Interpol.

The video was shot at Shelby Forest. "Making the 'Appointments' video was an incredibly special experience because I got the pleasure of collaborating with artists I admire and to see them apply their creativity and talent to something I made," says Baker. "I've known Christina McKinney (choreographer), as well as a few of the dancers, since I was a kid. I've always been fascinated with how that art form works in tandem with music; it was amazing to see the vision that Christina had for the song, how she interpreted the sounds as movement, and then to see how Sophia chose to portray and capture it all. It felt very full circle to return to Memphis to work on this, I'm so proud of Memphis and wanted to show off the immense artistry that I see there. Not only were Christina and many of the characters in the video friends, but the crew also included many people I have known and worked with for years. All the scenes and locations are also central to Memphis, I think Sophia did such a good job of preserving the intimate feel of the video by shooting it with people/in locations that had significance to me, and I'm so thankful. The most gratifying part of making music is its ability to be shared and belong to more people than myself, and it was very meaningful to make something with and for other people, to take something as personal as this song and invite others in, allow them to contribute their 'thing,' whatever it may be."

If you would like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Outflix Tuesday: Signature Move

Posted By on Tue, Sep 12, 2017 at 7:23 AM


Described as a “coming-of-age Muslim melodrama,” Signature Move is the story of Zaynab, a young, orderly lawyer of Pakistani heritage, and her romance with Alma, a romantic bookstore owner. Zaynab (played by Fawzia Mirza, who also co-wrote the movie) lives with her recently widowed mother, Parveen (Shabana Azmi). Mother and daughter are close, but Parveen does not know about Zaynab’s sexuality — an issue that comes to light when Zaynab starts dating the honest, effusive Alma (Sari Sanchez).

In the background of this romance is a story about women’s Lucha-style wrestling. Alma’s mother, who immigrated from Mexico, is a former luchadora. Zaynab, meanwhile, trades legal work for wrestling coaching. As Zaynab’s wrestling skill grows, so does her assertiveness and need to grow in her relationship with Alma. But to do so, she will need to navigate her loving and complex relationship with her mother. Signature Move is a queer telling of a classic story, about the intersections of both romantic and familial love.

Signature Move screens on Tuesday, September 12 at 8:30 PM as part of the Outflix Film Festival.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Music Video Monday: Epps

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 4:57 PM

This Music Video Monday, we have a winner!
Last weekend, the second annual Indie Memphis Youth Film Festival took over the Orpheum Theatre's Halloran Centre. 7th to 12th grade students from all over the Memphis area came together for workshops on everything from writing to acting to audio recording to editing. Director Tom Shadyac, who recently announced his new film Brian Banks will be shot in Memphis, gave the keynote address and Craig Brewer, who is currently writing and directing for the smash Fox TV series Empire, hosted the awards ceremony.

Among the award winners from the student film competition was MVM alumnae Galen Hicks, Sam King, and Michael Price for trillcloud's "No Diamonds". The Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award went to director Vivian Gray's music video for "Steps" by Epps. The video features compelling black and white cinematography and a love of creepy layering effects. It's got a big cast and crew, so be sure to stay to the end for the full credits, where you will see the names of the next generation of Memphis filmmakers.

If you would like to see your music video featured on Music Video Monday, email

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Outflix Monday: The Lavender Scare

Posted By on Mon, Sep 11, 2017 at 7:18 AM


The Lavender Scare, an multiple award winning documentary from director Josh Howard, reminds viewers of a forgotten chapter in American history — that of LGBTQ civil servants during the Cold War. Most people are familiar with Senator McCarthy’s “red scare” tactics, but few movies look at President Eisenhower’s contemporaneous campaign to oust homosexuals and other “perverts” from government service. Over the second half of the 20th century, tens of thousands of gay Americans lost their jobs (and, in the case of some, their lives) as a part of the vicious and extra-legal campaign.

To tell the story of The Lavender Scare, Howard spoke not only to individuals affected by Eisenhower’s policies, but to the men who enforced the terror — some of whom seem repentant, others of whom are clearly oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Paired with these interviews are narrated excerpts from a huge paper trail, the result of Howard’s rigorous archival research. The latter half of the documentary focuses on the activism of Frank Kameny, an astronomer and activist who vocally challenged the government policies. The film deserves its awards for a nuanced, balanced portrait of a too-often-repressed history.

The Lavender Scare screens Monday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 PM as part of the Outflix Film Festival.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Outflix Sunday: Heartland

Posted By on Sun, Sep 10, 2017 at 3:34 PM


Heartland offers a tweaked version of what should be, by now, a familiar trope: A prodigal daughter, her life in shambles, returns to her family home and must confront the problems she’s long repressed. The daughter in this case is Lauren (Velinda Godfrey), who, after losing her girlfriend to terminal illness, begins an affair with her older brother’s girlfriend, Carrie (Laura Spencer). Heartland is set in a small town in Oklahoma that seems improbably normal, an anachronism from a quieter century. Lauren’s mom, played by Beth Grant (who you might recognize from her role as a deranged nurse on The Mindy Project), is at the heart of the pathology — tolerant of Lauren’s homosexuality without being truly accepting. Lauren’s brother, meanwhile, is trapped in an unhappy relationship with his own ambition.

Despite moments of predictability, Heartland is well-acted and moves along at a good clip. The climactic fight scene is satisfyingly reminiscent of Rachel Getting Married or, even, the more sober moments of Bridesmaids. The movie’s conflict resolves comfortably where another film might have taken things in a darker, more Freudian, direction (sleeping with your brother’s girlfriend… well, there’s a lot there.) But Heartland is, at the end of the day, a feel-good movie, a stone's throw away from something that might appear on Lifetime, but steamier and gayer.

Heartland screens on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 PM as part of the Outflix Film Festival.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Outflix Saturday: Jewel's Catch One

Posted By on Sat, Sep 9, 2017 at 8:04 AM


Jewel’s Catch One looks back at the scene-making Los Angeles gay disco, “Catch One” and it’s owner, Jewel Thais-Williams. For more than forty years, Thais-Williams operated one of the most lauded clubs in the city’s history. As one interviewee puts it, Thais-Williams is “an honored elder, superhero to the Los Angeles community” who came up against tough odds: “Not only was she poor, not only was she a woman, she was a lesbian, and she was a black one.” ‘

The documentary follows Thais-Williams from her days as a freshman club owner, through the AIDS crisis, the celebrity nineties, and into the aughts. While Jewel’s Catch One, directed by filmmaker C. Fitz, is a documentary cut from an established stylistic cloth, Thais-Williams and the community she has long nurtured make the film shine. Fitz pairs archival footage of Catch One in the glory days with a wide range of interviews of Thais-Williams friends and queer family. The result is a warm, heartfelt film that tells a critical story of perseverance.

Jewel's Catch One screens at 1:00 PM on Saturday, September 9 as part of the Outflix Film Festival.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Outflix Friday: Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 8:50 AM

Moises Serrano
  • Moises Serrano

Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America may be the most important movie on the festival circuit right now. The documentary follows Moises Serrano, a young queer man whose parents immigrated from Mexico to North Carolina when Serrano was only 18 months old. Serrano is a “Dreamer” (as defined by President Obama’s “Dream Act” legislation that attempted to make inroads for undocumented young people to become full citizens — legislation that President Trump just ended) and an activist for queer and undocumented Americans.

The film follows Serrano’s day-to-day work as a part of the struggle, as well as his personal life with his boyfriend and family. Serrano’s story is paradigmatic of how the personal is always political. When, for instance, he and his long term boyfriend speak of marriage, they are talking not just about gay marriage but about what marriage means for Serrano’s citizenship. Can they take such a big step? Should they?

It is difficult to watch Serrano’s work, deftly depicted in Forbidden by filmmaker Tiffany Rhynard, from the perspective of the current political moment. Serrano and his family’s paths have never been easy. They are getting no easier. But the film expertly crafted, and Serrano's message more important than ever—don’t miss it.

Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America screens at 7 PM on Friday, September 9 as part of the Outflix Film Festival.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Dreamer And The Dreamed: Grappling With The Final Mysteries of Twin Peaks

Posted By on Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 7:17 PM

25 years after an unresolved cliffhanger left FBI Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the well-appointed corner of the spirit world known as the Black Lodge, fans of Twin Peaks were ecstatic at the potential for resolution in Twin Peaks: The Return. The 18 hour series on Showtime, written by Twin Peaks creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and entirely directed by Lynch, who is undeniably one of America’s greatest living filmmakers, delivered all that and more. The story sprawled far beyond the confines of the Washington logging town that gives the series its name to become an examination of the troubled soul of America. Lynch used the opportunity to chase tangents, empty out his dream journals, and create some of his most startling and beautiful images.

Twin Peaks: The Return did turn out to be unlike any other television series in history. But last Sunday’s series finale—which may very well be the final Lynch we see—has turned out to be incredibly divisive, alienating a significant chunk of the online fanbase who were primed to see evil vanquished and good triumphant. Instead, they got an ending that, at first glance, is ambiguous at best. If you haven’t watched Parts 17 and 18, I advise you to stop reading this right now, go watch the episodes, and then get back to me while you’re still scratching your head over, as Jim Belushi’s Bradley Mitchum says, “What the hell just happened?”
This. This just happened.
  • This. This just happened.

Ready? Here we go.

Twin Peaks is sometimes talked about like its a sui generis creation, but it’s not. Lynch and Frost’s original intention was to simultaneously spoof and pay homage to soap operas. The thing about soap operas is, they don’t end. The three longest running scripted shows in television history are Guiding Light, As The World Turns, and General Hospital, all classic daytime soap operas which ran for decades. These shows, and the prime time soaps they eventually birthed such as Dallas, Dynasty, and Santa Barbara—and their descendants Empire and This Is Us—perfected the art of seeming like they have plots that are going somewhere, but never actually going anywhere. They never resolved a story line unless an actor died or the character involved was no longer popular, probably because it became obvious their story was going nowhere. Peaks was meant to be the same way. Lynch never intended to tell us who killed Laura Palmer. The mystery was intended to be the background to all of the other weird goings on in the town, a canvas of fake suspense on which Lynch would paint surreal images. By definition, Peaks can never have a satisfying ending.

And yet, in episode 17, Lynch and Frost do give us the satisfying ending we’ve been craving. Agent Dale Cooper returns to Twin Peaks with his full consciousness restored. His evil doppleganger, Mr. C., is killed by Lucy, and BOB, the demon from the Black Lodge that feeds on the suffering of humanity is dispatched into the void by what we thought was a throwaway character with a green garden glove. It’s all very soapy, right down to the sometimes intentionally wooden acting styles. But just we reach resolution, with all of characters lined up like a group photo and Cooper giving them all their goodbyes (“I’ll see you at the curtain call!”), something very curious happens. Lynch, who has made incredible use of transparencies and double exposures throughout the show, superimposes the image of an unmoving close up of Cooper’s face over the scenes of the wrap up. It's as if Cooper were standing outside the world, watching the scenes transpire.

Twin Peaks has always been meta fiction, meaning a story that is, on some level, self aware that it’s a story. In the original two seasons, the characters watched a soap opera called Invitation To Love that mirrored the events on the show. But Peaks had another meta element: The spirit world, consisting of The Black Lodge, The White Lodge, the red-curtained Waiting Room, and in The Return, a washed out realm of lonely towers and industrial looking infrastructure that may or may not have some metaphysical relationship to the boiler room of the Great Northern Hotel.
A glimpse into the spirit world of Twin Peaks. Pictured, a giant teapot that used to be David Bowie.
  • A glimpse into the spirit world of Twin Peaks. Pictured, a giant teapot that used to be David Bowie.

Agent Cooper and his partners in the Blue Rose task force—which not coincidentally include Director Gordon Cole, played by the actual director David Lynch—sought to solve the supernatural mysteries of Twin Peaks by mystical means. They wanted to break through the barrier between their world and the spirit world of the Lodges. Their inquiry goes beyond a series of murders, insurance fraud, and Canadian human traffickers to question the nature of reality itself.

During The Return’s end game, multiple characters, including Cooper and Audrey Horne, ask variations on the question “Is it all a dream? Who is the dreamer?” For the people of Twin Peaks, the answer is yes, it is all a dream. They’re characters on a TV soap opera called Twin Peaks, which was dreamed up by David Lynch and Mark Frost. The Lodges and the mysterious towers and industrial infrastructure of spirit world are a deeper layer of reality where time is meaningless and cause follows effect. The spirit world is the writers’ subconsciousness, the unseen infrastructure of consciousness, and therefore creation, from whence creativity flows. It is the land of archetype, race memory, and metaphor. Why was Agent Cooper immobile in the Black Lodge for twenty five years? Because he wasn’t on television. His show did not exist, so he was not needed, like a puppet on a shelf.
Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in the Black Lodge.
  • Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in the Black Lodge.

In the course of The Return, Cooper moved back and forth across the boundary between the worlds. He was split in three parts, changed identities, and lived whole lives. By the time he defeated his evil doppleganger and was made whole, he had gained mastery over the Black Lodge magic. He was able to move freely back and forth between the worlds and even create a doppleganger of his own, a benign spirit which he sent to live out his life as husband and father to Dougie Jones’ long suffering wife and child. He was a character who had gained the power of a writer. During the “finale” in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s office, Cooper finds himself both participating in the soap opera and yet outside it at the same time. His face superimposed over the regular show in progress is like a reflection of our own faces on the screen as we watch the show unfold.

All stories begin in a world in balance, until something happens, called the inciting incident, that unbalances the world. The ultimate goal of all protagonists is to return the fictional world to some kind of balance, be it the old balance or a new balance. Stories always involve change. In Twin Peaks, the inciting incident is the night Laura Palmer didn’t come home after being gang raped and murdered by the demon Bob who was possessing her father Leland Palmer. Cooper’s primary motivation has always been to restore balance to the world, and as a character in the soap opera Twin Peaks, the ultimate expression of restoring balance to the world is to undo the inciting incident. Cooper is not just bringing justice to Laura’s killers and banishing the evil Bob into the Black Lodge for good. He’s using Lodge magic to go back in time to stop her from being killed in the first place. He’s rewriting the show. From the perspective of a character on a soap opera, Cooper has achieved the power of the gods.

For a time in Part 18, we are literally back in the old Twin Peaks. Cooper inserts himself into scenes from Fire Walk With Me, intercepts Laura while she wanders deep in the woods, and tries to lead her to her mother’s home. But he is only partially successful. Laura’s hand slips from his grasp, and her screams echo in the dark primeval forest.

Then the show goes back to the opening scenes from the pilot, but there’s a difference. We see Laura Palmer’s body disappear from the beach where it was found. Pete Martell goes fishing, but never finds the corpse wrapped in plastic.

But Cooper’s job is not yet done. He must find Laura Palmer and return to her mother’s house. He sets out with Diane, who similarly has just returned from captivity in the Lodge, to once again break through the veil of reality, find where Laura Palmer’s character manifested itself after Cooper lost her in the woods, and return her to her mother’s house. After a long night drive full of dread, the pair finally consummate their relationship in a long love scene that starts out tender and then, as so many Lynch scenes do, veers off into the dark and disturbing.

Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper and Laura Dern as Diane prepare to go all the way in search of Laura Palmer.
  • Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper and Laura Dern as Diane prepare to go all the way in search of Laura Palmer.

When he awakens the next morning, Diane is gone. There’s a note by the bed addressed to Richard. Cooper has once again changed identities. After a bravado scene in a truck stop where Cooper takes on three violent truckers, he manages to find Laura Palmer in Odessa, Texas. Only it’s not Laura Palmer—it’s the same actress as Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), but she says her name is Carrie. When the two drive cross country to Twin Peaks, and knock on the door of Sarah Palmer’s house, they are greeted by a stranger. She’s never heard of Laura Palmer, or Sara Palmer. Significantly, the woman in the house is played by the actual owner of the house in the real world of 2017. Bewildered, Cooper asks, “What year is this?” Then, Sara Palmer’s voice floats in out of the either, calling Laura’s name. and Sheryl Lee as Carrie screams her otherworldly scream as the layers of reality all come crashing in on each other.

Cooper became aware he was living in a dream, and sought to take control of his story by psychically traveling into what he thought would be “the real world”. But in the end, he was just a creature of imagination, the dreamed instead of the dreamer. He could not escape the confines of his story, and ended up trapped in another story, with another, worse version of Laura Palmer.
Agent Cooper leads Carrie (Sheryl Lee) towards their fate during the climax of Twin Peaks: The Return.
  • Agent Cooper leads Carrie (Sheryl Lee) towards their fate during the climax of Twin Peaks: The Return.

In less sure hands than David Lynch, this could have been a disaster. But this is not Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, where everything good that happened was revealed to be a dream of a dying man. That was a writer abusing his power and betraying the audience. The seeds of this ending have been there all along, in a hundred small clues, and in the general tone of meta fiction that has been Twin Peaks operating space since it began. Cooper’s adventures have not been in vain. In the end, he is revealed to be a creature of story, inseparable from the narrative that defines his role in the world. Even his awareness that he is trapped in a dream is not enough to break him out of it, into the real world, because there is no “real” world. There are only dreams within dreams.

If this seems like a cop out, Lynch fleeing from meaning because he doesn’t have any good way to end his soap opera, consider this: Late last year, a man named Edgar Welsh shot up Comet Ping Pong pizzeria with an assault rife because he was absolutely convinced that the basement of the pizza joint was a torture chamber where Hillary Clinton and her evil Democrat cronies sexually molested children. In fact, there was no torture chamber—there wasn’t even a basement. But even when he was shown that there was no basement, Welsh still refused to understand that he had been deceived by a false narrative. He only said, “Maybe the intel wasn’t 100%.”

But it’s not just Welsh. The nation’s fourth largest city is underwater after an unprecedented flood, the West Coast is in the grips of a record heat wave that has left millions of acres of forest literally in flames, and as I write this, a category five hurricane is approaching Florida. All of these facts are entirely consistent with the theory of anthropomorphic climate change, and indeed events like these have been predicted by climate scientists for decades. And yet the president of the United States denies the fact of climate change, preferring instead to believe comforting lies dreamed up by the marketing departments of oil and gas companies. He would rather live in a dream than face reality. We’re all trapped in our dreams, our narratives, the stories we tall ourselves, and the stories others tell us. It’s how we make sense of the world, and even if those dreams turn out to not resemble the real world very much, we try to stick with them. When we’re forced to face the chaos and uncertainty of the “real world”, which is to say, we’re forced outside of our narratives, we find ourselves facing the horror of lost meaning, screaming like Laura Palmer.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Never Seen It: Watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Filmmaker Ben Siler

Posted By on Sat, Sep 2, 2017 at 9:22 PM

Francois Truffault as Claude LaCombe in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • Francois Truffault as Claude LaCombe in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

A fully restored, 4K version of Steven Spielberg's 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind is currently in theaters to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release. In this edition of Never Seen It, I took Memphis experimental filmmaker and Memphis Flyer contributor Ben Siler to see the film at the Malco Paradiso. It's one of my desert island, all-time favorites, but it seems Ben and I had very different experiences at this screening.

Before Close Encounters:

Chris McCoy: What do you know about Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Ben Siler: The song, mashed potatoes, beautiful UFOs at the end, Francois Truffaut is somewhere inside.


Afterwards, we retired to Whole Foods for lunch of chicken and mashed potatoes.

BS: It’s my knee jerk response to be critical about Spielberg.

CM: What’s your beef with Spielberg?

BS: Well, he’s schmaltzy, and he doesn’t know how to end a movie. He hasn’t for fifteen years. He’s a very skilled person, and great and wonderful, but I think he’s had enough praise, and it’s right to be skeptical of him. He’s not a wunderkind any more, I guess, so what he’s selling is a little more obvious. But this was a great film.

CM: So you just knew the highlight reel scenes, right? The infamous mashed potatoes, and the pretty spaceships at the end. What about the rest of it? Did it go where you thought it was going to go?

BS: It reminded me of Lost. J. J. Abrams was in the [retrospective documentary] short at the beginning. I loved the tension, and the buildup—basically, the globetrotting, finding the elements and putting them together to solve the mystery. I thought it was really nicely handled.

But again, I have a knee jerk thing against Spielberg. It all built up to the pretty lights and the schmaltz. Which is OK. I like different things to be emphasized when you’re dealing with the unknown and spirituality. It’s pretty spiritual and religious. It was a movie that, on my best day, I could dream about making maybe one frame of. But still, my favorite thing about that whole last sequence was Richard Dreyfuss kissing Melinda Dillon. That was tacky and kind of offensive and gross, and that’s what real life is like. It’s not hermetically sealed pretty lights that take you away out of your crappy 1970s marriage to Terri Garr. I feel like it needed more details like that, which was really a tone deaf thing put in there by Spielberg.

The movie is saying that you’ll transcend through your obsessions. I feel like Star Wars is much healthier when it comes to technology, and I’m not the first to say this. In that, technology is clunky and old, and you can bend it to your will to do amazing things. You can travel the universe, but it’s clunky and crappy and it’s old and you have to work with it to go really fast. In this, [Roy Neary's] obsession is just this spiritual thing. He has this marriage that is really…loud. There are a lot of loud things in the foreground, throughout the entire movie. The TV is always on, and five different people are talking while they tell the story visually. There’s a lot of people speaking French and Hindi.

Again, I’m primed to pounce on him. But the message is, your obsession will save you, it will be transcendent, it will carry you away, and it will be beautiful. In my experience, that’s just not the case.

Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary, model maker.
  • Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary, model maker.

I was most excited about Terri Garr and Richard Dreyfuss’ crappy marriage, and how unhappy it was. I like angry Terri Garr. I love Lost, and J. J. Abrams makes facsimiles of other people’s work. He made Super 8, which works for about 30 minutes, then it’s complete shit. This is what he was imitating. It’s a silver platter, a beautifully made film. I felt all of the emotions I was supposed to be feeling: Awe, wonderment, but tinged with horror.

I was just listening to a thing about those pilots who were lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Spielberg takes the unknown, and answers it with this quasi religious thing where they come back from the dead.

Bob Balaban finds Flight 19.
  • Bob Balaban finds Flight 19.

CM: I think you’re really onto it with the spiritual aspect. This is a non-religious, religious experience. That’s what this is about. Have you ever read Childhood’s End? It struck me this time that there’s a lot of Childhood’s End in Close Encounters. It’s a first contact story: What does first contact look like? Why is first contact with aliens even important? Why do we even care? It’s a transcendent, quasi-religious moment. Is there a sense that the aliens were going to come and solve everybody’s problems?

BS:That may be something I was adding into it.

CSM: They solved Roy Neary’s problems. But they also caused a lot of Roy Neary’s problems.

BS: They didn’t solve Mrs. Neary’s problems. They took away her husband.

Terri Garr as Ronnie Neary.
  • Terri Garr as Ronnie Neary.

CM: He was a pretty crappy husband, anyway. Spielberg said the only thing he regrets about this movie is that Roy Neary goes away with the aliens at the end and leaves his family. He said if he made it today, Roy Neary wouldn’t leave his family.

BS: I feel that would weaken it. He’s not interested in his family.

CM: I think the character also has to make a sacrifice to make what happens next meaningful. The sacrifice is his normality.

BS: You said first contact. I read this book about Captain Cook. It was just a long list of first contacts with people in the South Pacific. They were kind of interesting and fun. His main thing was, he would talk to people, and they would have a different concept of ownership than him. They would end up stealing one of his men’s canoes. Then he would go with a gun and an armed guard, find the chief of the town, and take him back to his ship and say, ‘You’ve got to return my canoe. Until then, I’m holding your chief hostage.’ That’s how he got killed. He tried that in Hawai'i, and someone brained him. That’s what first contacts are like. They’re not like, a spiritual transcendence. I looked at it through the lens of his marriage. She said they needed to go to couples’ therapy. Yeah, he should have gone to couple’s therapy.

CM: Terri Garr is fantastic in this.

BS: Old Terri Garr got angry. There’s a long interview in the AV Club where she says everyone she ever worked with was a sexist asshole. She names names…It’s refreshing to see elderly Terri Garr get angry about that. I thought their marriage was funny. I would like to see a movie about their failing marriage, and at the end, something unhappy happens. That would make me so much more excited. He has a marriage, for conditioned reasons, and three kids in Speilbergian suburbia. It’s not doing it for him. They don’t even like Pinocchio. I’m assuming because he’s a protagonist in a movie that he’s unhappy at first. Then he gets a new religion, which is, pretty lights in the sky, they’re special, and they're special to him. I didn’t notice if the dudes in the red suits went off in the end. Did they just choose the obsessive nerd?

CM: Yes

BS: Only Richard Dreyfuss got to go off with the aliens in the end?

CM:He was the one they invited. If Melinda Dillon had been in the front row, they would have taken her, too. They were invited.

BS: Not a great use of Melinda Dillon, I thought. She’s much better in Christmas Story and Slap Shot, when she’s being sarcastic and mean. My favorite part with her was when her little boy was running away from her, and she was running after him. Your little boy is about to get run over! When she was the beleaguered housewife, that was better than her being sad all the time.

Spielberg was obsessed with film. He snuck onto the lot of Universal and he started making movies. His obsession rewarded him many times over. He’s a billionaire. I feel like, for most people, it’s not good advice to follow your dreams…

CM: Well that’s horrifying.

BS: …at least not at the expense of your children. Maybe I have a really big axe to grind with Spielberg.

CM:I think it doesn’t work if he doesn’t go with the aliens. The crying in the shower scene was cut from the 1977 version. It goes straight from the mashed potatoes to working on the model train set. He wakes up and sees his kid there, watching a Marvin the Martian cartoon, and decides this whole thing has been stupid. Then when he tries to tear down his Devil’s Tower model, his obsession is renewed. He goes on to build an even bigger and better Devil’s Tower model that leads to the end of his marriage.

But this version we saw had the crying in the shower scene. That’s the most intense family conflict part. I think it’s an entirely different movie with that scene in it. You see the effect of Roy’s obsession on his family.

BS: Well, the kid was crying with the mashed potatoes.

CM: Yeah, but when they’re screaming and banging the door, it’s really intense. It’s hard for me to watch.

BS: I really liked that part.

CM: So basically, you just want to see scenes from Roy and Ronnie's marriage.

BS: It’s more what life is like. Inside the spaceship, it could be like “To Serve Man”. It could be a slaughterhouse in there.

Roy Neary is chosen by the aliens.
  • Roy Neary is chosen by the aliens.

CM: It’s difficult to separate this from the 1970s. There was a huge interest in the paranormal. It was the second American UFO wave—the 1950s and the 1970s. I love it that the Air Force guy is actually telling the truth. People shot six billion pictures in 1977 and none of them had any aliens in them. One of my favorite lines from the Ferguson Era has been, “Before everybody was running around with cameras in their pockets, we thought that UFOs were real and there was no police brutality towards black people. But now that everyone’s carrying a camera, there are no UFOs, and there’s police brutality towards black people."

There was a huge cultural obsession with all of that stuff: The Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, all of it…When the neighbor lady wakes up, she has a paperback on her chest that she had fallen asleep reading. That’s where all that stuff lived, in cheap paperbacks. People read a lot more, and cheap paperbacks about paranormal stuff was a huge industry. J. Alan Hynek, the guy with the goatee and the pipe who had an unexplained close up in the finale, was credited as technical advisor. He was selling millions of books about UFOs, and that’s what Spielberg was reading. The whole UFO myth is a redemption myth. They’re angels. My life is crap. Take me away. I think that’s what the UFO stuff in the 1970s was about, a longing for transcendence.
Carry Guffy as Barry, about to be taken away by the aliens.
  • Carry Guffy as Barry, about to be taken away by the aliens.

BS: Spielberg said in the intro that this was inspired by Watergate. If there was a conspiracy to cover up Watergate, then there could be an even larger conspiracy to cover up aliens. I think that’s a strange lesson to take from Watergate.

I used to watch TV shows about aliens, and then I would have trouble sleeping at night. I remember one night, I saw a reflection in my window. It was probably my own reflection, but I interpreted it as possibly an alien. So I froze, slowly lowered the blinds, and backed away. I was terrified of shadows. You take the unknown, and it’s exciting. But there needs to be a messiness to it. That ending is really clean.

I really love this YouTuber…actually, I don’t love him…This guy has made a three hour documentary called Ancient Aliens Debunked. He’s an archeologist, and he takes every episode of Ancient Aliens and inserts his debunking of each and every single claim. One of the guys from the show is Erik von Däniken, who wrote Chariots of the Gods. I bought that book for 50 cents at Burke’s Books and tried to read it. I got like four pages into it. It was fucking terrible. Spielberg is a better writer and craftsman than Erik von Däniken, but he’s selling a similar story: Not that aliens helped build ancient civilizations, but that aliens are some sort of place to look to. What about Larry, the guy who got gassed and couldn’t see the aliens? Nobody in America got to see that stuff, just some self-appointed assholes in government had a transcendent moment. Everybody else got screwed.

CM: But that wasn’t the aliens’ intention. The aliens invited all these people. It was the government assholes who got in the way.

BS: There was only transcendence for one person. I find that lousy.


CM: That’s very interesting, because one of the things I love about Spielberg is that he makes almost Soviet movies. This is a movie about a mass movement of people, like Battleship Potemkin. There is no real single antagonist, a group is the antagonist—the government. Roy is the one that we follow, but there is a whole movement of people who saw the UFOs and want to meet them at Devil’s Tower. There are whole groups of people who do things, and that things happen to, in this movie. 1941 is the same way, and the first half of Jaws is like that, before they get on the boat. It’s about what happens to Amity, the beach town, not just to one or two people. American movies are much more individualistic than Soviet movies, but not how Spielberg makes them. Amistad is about a mass movement of people. A group of people is a single character.

BS: Yeah, but in War of the Worlds, the aliens are mean, and Tom Cruise is trying to connect with his son. When I was a little kid, I read Jurassic Park. I loved evil John Hammond in the book. I thought the addition of Alan Grant’s problems with kids and divorce had nothing to do with Jurassic Park. It was just cynically put in to sell tickets. It doesn’t matter if Jeff Goldblum is there to say stuff about lunch boxes.

I wanted to say, the Ancient Aliens Debunked show, in the end, it turns around and becomes a commercial for “The Bible is real!” The archeologist who put this on his YouTube channel literally thinks that giants and angels are making all this stuff. It’s insane. What’s so lovely about that is, you start off thinking this guy is skeptical about all this stuff, then he turns around a makes a ridiculous claim. He’s an unreliable narrator, and kinda crazy. That’s awesome. He also has a very calming voice, which is good to fall asleep to.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Whose Streets?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 6:00 AM

With the ideology of white supremacy on the ascendant under the current president's reign, the activism that blossomed after a police officer killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri three years ago is more relevant than ever. And Whose Streets?, the new film by directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, traces the events of Ferguson from the activists' point of view. It lends a sense of hope to a story built on tragedy and deadly frustration.

Activist Brittany Ferrell marches in Whose Streets?
  • Activist Brittany Ferrell marches in Whose Streets?

Be prepared for a very different documentary experience, as this film forgoes many of the tropes of the nonfiction genre. There is no narration, only a few brief title cards that set the time and place, or frame the events with powerful quotes by the likes of Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes. The bulk of the footage is built from live phone videos. The opening scene intercuts the earliest cell footage of action on the streets with tweets posted at the same time by eyewitnesses.

Presenting the events from street level footage, without benefit of an all-knowing narrator, immerses you in the shock and chaos of the moment. You see the immediate rage from neighbors and Brown's family, as tweets broadcast the details of an unarmed teen shot down and left in the street for hours before being retrieved by a police SUV. And you see the immediate reaction by the police force, brandishing machine guns and a massive show of force from the very beginning. Most importantly, you see Michael Brown's community at a personal level, not merely as a mob. This immediately sets Whose Streets? apart from most of the media footage we've seen again and again.

The humanization of those touched by Brown's killing is carried throughout the film. Further footage recorded from the streets as police shoot huge rubber bullets or tear gas into crowds, or even at people standing in their own yards, is broken up by portraits of activists' family life. Brittany Ferrell, a young student drawn into activism by Brown's death, is seen teaching her daughter about social justice, then accepting a marriage proposal from her wife-to-be. David Whitt, a Copwatch videographer, is seen with his family as well. Such scenes of family love and support not only bring home the anguish of Brown's mother lamenting her dead son, but underscore the community interdependence that make the activists' work possible.

As the demonstrations surge, go quiet, and then surge again in response to new developments, one gets a sense of the deep investment these protesters have made in their fight for justice. This may be the most humanizing quality of all: the long term commitment of these families and friends is perhaps the most powerful counter-narrative to the “chanting mob” images disseminated in the mass media at the time. We hear the testimony of a white driver who tried to run down several protesters, claiming she was terrified of their “tribal chants”; but after having hearing these people speak articulately on camera, we see that testimony for the hyperbole it is.

The dignity and soulfulness of the activists is evoked with a moody score by Samora Pinderhughes. One can only hope that the soundtrack is released in its own right. I recently heard Pinderhughes lead a jazz quartet through the music at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, and it revealed the power and depth of the music when allowed to breathe. It is only used fleetingly in the film, perhaps because it could easily overpower the images.

All told, this documentary is not to be taken lightly. It is grim, but as political protest becomes a near-daily requirement in the face of a race-bating, corporate-coddling administration, the message of resilience and support among these community activists can inspire us all keep our eyes on the prize.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Indie Memphis Announces Opening Night Film, Special MLK50 Programming For 2017 Festival

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 3:43 PM

The Indie Memphis Film Festival will take place November 1-6, 2017. This will be the twentieth year the festival has brought films produced independently of the Hollywood studio system to the Mid-South, and organizers say they intend to pull out all the stops.


The opening night film will be Thom Pain, the film adaptation of a 2004, one-man play called Thom Paine (based on nothing) by English playwright Will Eno that won the first ever Fringe Award at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival. The star of—and presumably only actor in—the film, Rainn Wilson, will be on hand for the gala screening, which will be the film's world premiere. Wilson made his film debut in 1999's Galaxy Quest, appeared for five seasons on HBO's Six Feet Under, and achieved international notoriety with his portrayal of Dwight on the American version of The Office.

The festival is partnering with the National Civil Rights Museum for a series of films to commemorate April's 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. These will include Up Tight, a rarely seen, 1968 independent film by Jules Dassin starring Ruby Dee that includes footage taken at King's funeral, and the 1970 documentary King: A Filmed Legacy From Montgomery To Memphis by Sidney Lumet.

The work of American indie auteur Abel Ferrera will be celebrated with two screenings: Bad Lieutenant, a 1992 film starring Harvey Keitel as a corrupt cop who cracks up while investigating the rape and murder of a nun, and The Blackout, a 1997 comedy starring Dennis Hopper and Matthew Modine as a director and movie star who get themselves into trouble while drinking in Miami Beach. Ferrera will appear at both screenings, along with his cinematographer Ken Kelsch and editor Anthony Redman.

For its twentieth anniversary, the festival will have a three day block party in Overton Square that will block off Cooper between Union and Monroe. The party will feature the Memphis premiere of Thank You Friends: Big Star Live...and More, a concert film of Big Star's Third album performed live by an all star band that includes members of R.E.M. and Wilco, and Robyn Hitchcock, among others, with the sole surviving original Big Star member Jody Stephens on drums. “The Indie Memphis team went all out this year to celebrate our 20th anniversary,” says Indie Memphis Executive Director Ryan Watt. “The addition of the block party and more venues will make this our largest and most eclectic festival to date. I'm most excited to see our audience and filmmakers, local and traveling, come together as a community to discuss what they've seen after each credits roll."

The festival's competition lineup will be revealed at a party at the Rec Room on September 26. Organizers have had a record number of entries this year and expect to screen at least 200 documentary, narrative, experimental, and animated features and shorts during the festival's weeklong run. Festival passes are on sale now at the Indie Memphis website.

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Outflix Gala Kicks Off Twentieth Year Of LBGT Films

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 11:56 AM

Outflix, Memphis' film festival devoted to LBGT programming, is celebrating its twentieth edition tonight with a party at Evergreen Theatre.

The opening gala will feature highlights from past festivals and a preview of this year's fest, which promises to be bigger and better than ever. The party will also feature a screening of The Untold Tales of Amisted Maupin, a new film tracing the life of the beloved novelist and storyteller from his conservative Southern roots to his status as an LBGT literary icon.

The Outflix Film Festival will run from Sept. 8 to 14 at the Malco Ridgeway Cinema. The Memphis Flyer will have full coverage of the festival in print and online.

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Music Video Monday: Frenchie!

Posted By on Mon, Aug 28, 2017 at 10:14 AM

Today, Music Video Monday takes you back to the long ago days of 2009.

You might remember 2009 as the depth of the Great Recession, but the Memphis pop punker known as Frenchie! remembers it as halcyon days of slumber parties and first love. That's because you're old, and Frenchie! is not. Bathe your mind in the extreme short term nostalgia of "SMR GRLZ":

If you would like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email

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Friday, August 25, 2017

As Game Of Thrones Builds To An Epic Finale, What Has Been Lost Along The Way?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 8:55 AM

Game of Thrones' transition into sloppy blockbuster storytelling somehow feels exactly right: What better way to subvert expectations than to undermine its own fame for smart narrative? The lack of attention to detail in its scripts grows, but the community has already been made: this is the bread and butter of millions. As with Westerosi religions, you do not need anything meaningful at the center to worship.
Daenerys Targarian (Emilia Clark) rides into battle on Drogon.
  • Daenerys Targarian (Emilia Clark) rides into battle on Drogon.

If you are unfamiliar, the series' plot and title itself are a wonderful shorthand for how humanity misuses its collective resources, for both the medieval and modern idea that those adept at becoming rich attain power then maintain and bequeath it, abandoning the common good in its stead. They ignore threats like global warming, inaccessible health care, dragon riding invaders, or ice zombies. The series is on its second-to-last shortened season and has become a worldwide phenomenon. It itself has become rich, and like all things with money attached, there is an enormous pressure to make more of itself.

As an acolyte, I am snobbish towards those who treat the series like football—and this sometimes extends to its makers. I'll be lured back with the next bit of spectacle, then the process will repeat. The show has always been escapist fantasy tinged with a wonderful amount of dread about the human condition, and our aforementioned inability to deal with possible collective doom, be the system feudal or democratic. Episodes like this season's penultimate "Beyond the Wall," dispense with all that in a flurry of plot that doesn't hold up to even the minor inspection of one viewing.
The Night King (Vladimír Furdík) has mad javelin skills.
  • The Night King (Vladimír Furdík) has mad javelin skills.

In that episode, our heroes head north into the Land of Always Winter to capture a ice zombie and bring it back to Queen Cersei as proof of the existential threat posed by the Night King and his White Walkers. There, they do action movie things until a final, beautiful sequence involving a dragon's death. Because the setup makes no sense (Queen Cersei already has a zombie on her staff. The Wall is supposed to block all White Walkers. No one objects to a plan that means certain death to Jon Snow, the King of the North.) and the rules of time and space break down to facilitate a series of dei ex machina, the episode has become a bit of a rallying cry online. It is at least among the regular viewing and reading that I, like a sports fan, use to ritually wash down each episode. (For starters I recommend the Israeli college professors GoT Academy and the smoothly voiced conspiracy theorist Preston Jacobs.) It has united fans of the novel who are unable to get over expectations for complicated storytelling with those who just need character motivation to make slightly more sense.

The show has been rudderless for awhile now. Without George R.R. Martin's books as base, complex story has faded. Now, our heroes’ whim-based decisions are cogs in plot machinery, and most of the artistry has shifted to wonderfully realized action setpieces. But still, these climactic moments are better than most cinematic epics.
On the plus side, Flaming zombie polar bears.
  • On the plus side, Flaming zombie polar bears.

There are worse fates. The show has done its homework for years, studiously adapting the books internecine politics, and now in its dotage it can abandon them and devolve into an action movie battle of unabashed good and evil.

Game of Thrones will probably stick its landing with aplomb, considering how excellent it is at climaxes. But its very success lessens its impact a little bit. A show like Deadwood, cancelled in its prime, has the forever-young quality of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe: its characters are forever caught in a cliffhanger in which evil capitalist George Hearst dominates and controls them, and it comes across like an ugly truth. Martin has said the ending to his books, which will be spoiled before they ever come, will be “bittersweet.” To match that, the show needs to err, as it did in its start, on the side of displeasing its viewers.
The Sisters Stark: Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maise Williams) have a rocky reunion in Game Of Thrones season 7.
  • The Sisters Stark: Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maise Williams) have a rocky reunion in Game Of Thrones season 7.

Both book and show's emphasis on royals ruling nations while detouring to highlight the problems of serfs doesn't quite sell the sadness of real history. We are handed quite a lot of information about a select few and their wars and reigns, but less information about the commoners with whom we share an affinity. The everyday life of most is lost to time while the wealthy's every wart is recorded and propagandized. Martin did recently allegorize the anti-feudal 1381 Peasant's Revolt (in his prequel The Princess and The Queen) which in real life birthed the wonderful phrase, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" Spoiler: the nobility killed the peasants.

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Good Time

Posted By on Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 4:20 AM

In film, New York is a land of myth. Its architecture, which operates on both a human and inhuman scale, makes it endlessly photogenic. The contrast between the penthouse dwellers and the densely packed slums provides plenty of opportunity for conflict and exploration of character, as does the endlessly diverse population. From Gold Diggers of 1933 to The Godfather, New York has been a place where the line between heroes and villains blurs.
Robert Pattison in Good Time
  • Robert Pattison in Good Time

Good Time, directed by brothers Ben and Josh Safdie, is the latest story to use The City That Never Sleeps as a backdrop for an amorality play. Robert Pattison stars as Connie, a wise guy getting a little long in the tooth. His brother Nick is mentally handicapped. The film open with Nick, played by director Ben Safdie, in the midst of a therapy session with a kindly psychiatrist (newcomer Peter Verby), when Connie bursts in and rudely pulls his brother out to go rob a bank. Connie’s ostensible motive is to gain a new life, better life for him and his brother. As Nick (who has more than a little bit of Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men in him) says, they want to go live in the country and do anything they want. A noble goal to be sure, but not one that Connie’s level of planning is likely to accomplish. The two brothers make one rookie mistake after another. Once Nick gets nicked by the NYPD, Connie’s goal changes from getting away with the money to getting his brother out of jail to just getting out of this mess alive.

Good Time is not so much a heist film as it is a dive into New York’s underground cultures that hide in plain sight, like Something Wild or After Hours. As Connie’s situations spiral out of control, we get a tour of some of the most depressing parts of New York: Riker’s Island, various trauma and psych wards, and a bail bondsman’s office. Pattison once again confirms he’s not just a pretty boy vampire actor with an impressively controlled performance as a guy who is in too far over his head to even recognize how screwed he is. Pattison is operating in the same space Humphrey Bogart pioneered in Treasure of the Sierra Madre: The character who, at first glance, looks like a charming rogue, but in fact is a narcissistic villain, and a screw up to boot.. Everything he touches turns bad, and once the pattern is established, Good Time becomes an inventory of people whose lives he has or will ruin. The sad eyed Safdie drift impassively from one disaster to the next. Jennifer Jason Leigh pops with an extended cameo as Connie’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. Sixteen year old first-timer Talliah Webster is a young innocent who gets sucked up into the horror show and then tossed aside when she becomes inconvenient. Barkhad Abdi, who played the pirate chief in Captain Phillips, has a fabulously empathetic turn as a doomed security guard.

The Safdie Brothers succeed on the terms they set for themselves. Like the revisionist westerns of the 1970s, it takes the conflicted heroes of gangster films and shows them in a different, less flattering light. For me, Good Time is a film whose relentlessly punishing aesthetic and execution I can admire, but not necessarily love.

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