Mr. Tusk Watercolor Illustration

#29: The Walrus and The Carpenter

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Clicking on some links may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

Republished today in memory of Michael Parks, our own Howard Howe.


I became acquainted with a Walrus when I was lost at sea.

I would describe Tusk as a horror-comedy. I really would. I’d also describe it as the most atrocious, upsetting, horrific concept I’ve ever had to wrap my head (and my poor, poor eyes) around. So, while Kevin Smith will offer you his usual jokes, I cannot be responsible for how many of you will not find this funny. Just not even a little bit at all.

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Royalty Hightower in THE FITS | Review at

The Fits and other Films about Women, Girls, and Group Think

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Clicking on some links may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

If you haven’t yet found the time to watch Anna Rose Holmer’s  The Fits, now is the time (you’ll find it streaming on Amazon Prime).

The Fits (2015)

I first got wind of this “dance” drama last year while researching for my monthly Women to Watch list. I put dance in scare quotes not because this isn’t a film about dance (it absolutely is), but because it’s about much more than an all girls dance team in Ohio. But perhaps then “drama” should be placed in that context, too, because The Fits could just as easily be mistaken for a horror movie; with the tone and anxiety of the best psychological thriller.


What’s most special about this coming of age story is not what genre you choose to throw it in, but that it tells a story about girls, from a girl’s perspective, written and directed and produced by women. As might be expected (or not – because this viewpoint is so rarely achieved), The Fits’ take on a girl becoming herself is quite different from how it might be presented had a man told the story. Or had the story itself been filled with male characters (in this case, there are really only two, and they are background at best).

A Female Gaze

For those familiar with the male gaze, I think you’ll find Anna Rose Holmer and cinematographer Paul Yee rather deftly subvert it. The way Toni (Royalty Hightower) peers through windows, stands eavesdropping in locker rooms and by water fountains, makes her the immediate owner of this film’s eyes, and therefore, its magic. What Toni sees is what we see – and sometimes in The Fits, what we’re seeing is too strange, and too beautiful, to be fully believed.


Upon joining the dance team, members are suddenly afflicted with an illness. A seizure-like experience that is literally a fit spreads from girl to girl. Toni is inexplicably left out. She practices harder; helps the older girls; pierces her ears and lets them get infected.  So many films depict female coming-of-age as a sexual awakening. The Fits is about girls’ desires to be like each other – to emulate, idolize, and fit in. And unlike the typical Mean Girls depiction of that bonding (that it is nasty, dangerous, evil), it shows it as enviable. Safe. Beautiful.

Girls and The Perils of Group Think

It left me thinking of other films (not just Mean Girls, to which The Fits is diametrically opposed) that deal with women, girls, and the effects of group think. At first, I thought to call it a type of mass hysteria – and it is, to a degree – but what happens to the girls of The Fits isn’t to be perceived as negative in any way. Mass hysteria has such a connotation that it doesn’t quite fit. Interestingly, there are quite a few films, spanning many decades, that consider women and girls in this context.

Often horror films or mysteries, sometimes they portray it in a way that makes us more frightened of women, or asks us to see women’s friendships as suspect. In other instances, it endears us to them, demonstrating the power women can have when they find themselves in each other. In all cases, I think, it causes us to consider how we perceive the gender as a whole.

A few of my favorites:

You cannot possibly discuss women and group-think without referencing the Arthur Miller play about the Salem Witch trials. The 1996 film starring Winona Ryder and Daniel Day-Lewis was adapted for the screen by the playwright himself. Whether the girls are really witches or lying is of no matter – their hysteria presents a united front that directly threatens their patriarchal households.

A strange, complicated little mystery that begins with the sudden death at an all girls school. In the weeks and months that follow, the girls experience fainting spells en-masse.

  • Thirteen (2003) – directed by Catherine Hardwicke

A movie that collectively scared every mother of a soon-to-be teenage girl half to death when it came out. Tracy, under the influence of a new girl friend, goes from honor student to sexually aggressive, drug-taking, and tongue pierced seemingly over night. It remains one of the most difficult to watch films I’ve ever encountered.

Before The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson dealt almost exclusively in horror and magical realism, this being the latter (with a bit of the former mixed in). Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet (Kate Winslet) become fast friends. So fast, and so entwined, that it becomes difficult and scary to pry them apart. They create a “fourth world” together, with the help of plasticine models and their vivid imaginations. It’s some kind of love story, really.

  • Persona (1966) – directed by Ingmar Bergman

For me, this is the most important Bergman film (The Seventh Seal coming in a close second). Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse, Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) her patient. Throughout their time together, their personalities would seem to become totally intertwined, and their identities confused. At times, their union is unholy and stifling, other times beautiful and freeing. It’s a masterwork in its own right, but its depiction of how we perceive women is startling and important.

A surprising entry from the woman who brought American Psycho to the screen. Set at an all girls school (a running theme throughout these films, it seems), a new girl arrives (Lily Cole). She quickly becomes the object of attention for all of Rebecca’s (Sarah Bolger) friends. Her uncanny magnetism and looks, combined with her ability to maybe walk through walls, keeps Rebecca on edge, and increasingly distant from the others.

More suggestions?

Find the extended list on my Letterbox’d account. I’ll continue adding to it, along with your own recommendations – which I hope you’ll be so kind as to leave in the comments.

Meanwhile, watch The Fits and tell me what you think.

Still from The Young Pope (HBO) | Quick review at

Quick Crit: The Young Pope, Get Out, and More Short Reviews

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Clicking on some links may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

You need to know what to watch and you need to know what to watch now. Am I right? Last year I focused on the Women to Watch list each month*. This year, I’d like to give you more recommended viewing, more frequently. Short reviews, pointing you in the right direction.

*Is this something you’d like to see return? All feedback welcome and appreciated. 

With that said, whoever thought this presidency was going to be the gift of endless material that artists have been waiting for: it now takes me two hours a day to simply sift through the morning news. So no, I’m not finding the current era stimulating to my productivity. Opinions and emotions pour out of me in buckets of liberal tears, but knowing what and how to write it? That’s a challenge.

So with that in mind, here’s what I’m calling a bunch of quick crits; short reviews to get you interested, watching, and talking about what’s good.

Here’s what I’ve been indulging in lately.

Quick Crits for March 2017

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A still from Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust" (Photo courtesy | Getting to Know Black Filmmakers in America |

Getting to Know Black Filmmakers in America

It seems a particularly important time to be celebrating Black History Month in America. I don’t have to tell you why (please, don’t make me tell you why). In doing that this year, I decided to shift the focus away from icons of the past (though you’ll see the mark of history in every work within this post) and shine a lens on the black filmmakers working right now.

Who are the black filmmakers currently working in our film industry?

Some are studio directors. Others independent writer/directors. Interestingly, many are working with and employing each other. All are doing not just good work, but great work. And despite the general notion that black stories do not attract audiences or the money that comes with them, many (if not most) of those on this list prove that myth absolutely false.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. Rather embarrassingly, I haven’t watched every film on this list (or even the majority). Like you, and almost everyone else, I watch what is most easily accessible. That’s usually whatever my local Regal is playing on cheap Tuesday, or whatever Netflix suggests I might like next. It’s also usually something by a well-known, white male director – because that’s what’s marketed to us. That’s a shame.

But it’s okay. Because we can change it. If there’s anything helpful I can do as a white American, it’s actually watch the work of black filmmakers working in this country. So, perhaps we can start together. Maybe we can forego our Netflix suggestions and search  for one of these titles; maybe the algorithm will eventually pick up on it; maybe it’ll actually change what we’re regularly watching.

10 Black Filmmakers Whose Work You Can Watch NOW

What follows is a list of directors, a short biography, and the project they’re currently working on. A list of films by each filmmaker that you should start with. Finally, a trailer to help you pick something to watch tonight.

Sound good? Let’s get to it.

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Choosing a Valentine’s Day Movie: A Comprehensive Guide from Romantic, Horrific, to Totally Narcissistic

Me choosing a Valentine’s Day movie for you is like picking a chocolate out of one of those heart-shaped Russell-Stover boxes that’s missing its map. You just don’t know what you’re gonna get – or if it’s gonna make you barf.

I’ve put together a comprehensive list of the Valentine’s Day movies that I’d choose for myself any day of the year. It’s uniquely categorized; My definitions of love and romance are questionable at best. Proceed with caution.

And Happiest of Valentine’s Days to you and yours.

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DIY Film Watcher's Bullet Journal | A tutorial for film nerds and casual movie goers alike |

DIY Film Watcher’s Bullet Journal

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Asterisks (*) denote links that when clicked on, may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

So here’s a departure from the usual criticism and watch lists here on the blog. Today, I offer you my very own attempt at a DIY post -a tutorial on how to craft a film watcher’s bullet journal.

Don’t know about bullet journals? Well, first of all, you’re not very hip (SAD). And second of all, I can help with that. Here are the receipts:

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2016 Film and TV - The Best (and Worst) |

The Best (and Worst) of 2016 Film and TV

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Asterisks (*) denote links that when clicked on, may compensate myself and the blog. Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*

First of all, I’m late. Everyone else did these 2016 film and tv lists in January. It’s February 2nd. So in the interest of not repeating three thousand other lists (and also in being, well, interesting), I’m going to attempt to focus on the 2016 film and tv that you might not be seeing.

Yes, you should all see MoonlightHidden Figures, The People vs. O.J. Simpson – basically everything but La La Land (disclaimer: I haven’t even seen it, I just know I’ll hate it). But let’s not forget these lesser gabbed about gems that also made their mark on 2016.

And when it comes to my worst of 2016 film and tv, feel free to take me to town. There’s bound to be some disagreement – is Hardcore Henry the best thing that’s happened to cinema since the long take in Touch of Evil? (it’s not) – but also, I hope, some mutual understanding.

And as always, I appreciate a reason to rethink my initial impressions. So if you’ve got good crit on any of my worst picks (or the best ones), send it over. You just might change my mind.

2016 Film and TV - The Best (and Worst) |
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What to Watch? Trump Inauguration Day Edition | A list of movies and television to get you through the day and beyond |

It’s Here, So Now What? The Trump Inauguration Day Watch List

Inauguration Day has arrived. Whether you’re into it (you’re on the wrong blog), over it, or looking for some way to cope with it, here’s a list of what to watch to get you through.

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Film School: 10 Documentaries to Watch Now | What to watch now that the election's over |

Documentaries to Watch NOW in Trump’s America

I generally stick to fiction – you won’t find a lot of posts about documentaries here. That’s about to change.

The last few weeks were challenging. I have looked at this blog on numerous occasions and thought, NO – I can’t. Going back to #31DaysofHorror feels wrong, in light of the real world horror I and so many others feel after the results of this election.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t feel bad about it at all. There are those of you who will call me a “special little snowflake” and tell me to “buck up, buttercup,” because this is reality. This is who won. Donald Trump is the next President of the United States.

You’re right. So what do I do now?

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MOVIE REVIEW + GIVEAWAY! Celebrating Tim Burton's Corpse Bride on this 13th Day of #31DaysofHorror |

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride + Mondo Commemorative Edition Giveaway

*Danger, Will Robinson: Affiliate Links Ahead! Read the disclosure policy for complete info.*


MOVIE REVIEW + GIVEAWAY! Celebrating Tim Burton's Corpse Bride on this 13th Day of #31DaysofHorror |
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It’s been a minute, horror lovers. But who says you can’t keep on with your scary movie binge right past Halloween and into November? Let’s hop back on the #31DaysofHorror bandwagon with the new classic: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.

P.S. Stick around ’til the end. I hear there’s a GIVEAWAY in store…
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