Unraveling Sam Raimi’s Forgotten Superhero: Darkman (1990)

Superhero films have become such an omnipresent part of our culture that it feels like there is a new one hitting theatres every month. That feeling may be warranted by the fact that in this year alone there is a total of NINE superhero movies set to hit the big screen. Most recently among 2022’s batch of superhero features was Marvel Studios’ newest entry in their shared cinematic universe: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The film serves as a sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, but much more noteworthy for many film buffs, it marks the return of cult-film icon Sam Raimi.

Raimi, who had not directed a feature film since 2013’s Oz: The Great and Powerful, is no stranger to superheroes. In fact, the current status of superhero films can be traced directly back to Raimi’s first bonafide mega hit: 2002’s Spider-Man and its two subsequent sequels. Though Sam Raimi has always had a die-hard, cult following thanks to his beloved Evil Dead trilogy, his films before Spider-Man were all moderate financial successes at best. Even the Evil Dead films, arguably Raimi’s most popular movies before Spider-Man, remained as more of a niche item, never quite reaching mainstream success outside of its devoted community of fans. Spider-Man, on the other hand, was the film that finally broke him into the mainstream. It was so successful that it proved to major studios that there was a rabid fanbase for this genre, causing the wave of superhero, comic book adaptations that still grows to this day.

Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002)

This cultural impact made the idea of Raimi returning to this genre to an exciting proposition, but what many fans don’t realize is that this will not be the first time Raimi had returned to the superhero genre, but rather, the second. Before he dropped audiences into “the Multiverse of Madness”, before dazzling the world with the high flying action of the Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi made another another superhero movie; one you may never have seen or even heard of, but one that is well worth discussing. In 1990, Sam Raimi followed up Evil Dead II with what would be his fourth major motion picture, a scrappy little superhero movie called Darkman. You may be asking yourself, “Who is Darkman?” If you were, then the marketing for this movie was way ahead of you, asking audiences that very question, offering only one cryptive response: “Find out this August”.

Official Darkman Teaser Poster, 1990

This marketing approach, effective as it was, was also one born out of necessity. Nobody had ever heard of him. Nobody read any of the Darkman comic books or listened to the old Darkman radio drama. This was because none of those things ever existed. In fact, before the 1990 film, Darkman didn’t exist anywhere but in the mind of director Sam Raimi. To understand how the film Darkman came to be, it is critical to understand the context of the time in which the movie was produced.

One year prior to this film, the blockbuster phenomenon of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman hit theatres and sent out a pop culture shockwave that left people in a true state of “Batmania”. This is not hyperbole. The impact of Tim Burton’s original Batman film is practically unparalleled to this day, outside of other blockbuster successes like that of Titanic or Jaws. Not only was it “the biggest movie of 1989 — it remains one of the top 60 films ever in domestic gross, when adjusting for inflation — as well as the only major superhero release that year” (Canva, 2019, para. 28).

Before its release, most studios had balked at the idea of making a superhero film, viewing the success of the Richard Donner Superman films as something of its own separate anomaly. As someone who grew up as a child and teenager in this era, I remember the feeling that the general public considered the notion of a superhero movie as silly, cheesy, and embarrassing; all buzz words that seemed to scare off most major studios from even considering the cost of adapting one. However, once Batman hit theatres and shattered Hollywood’s preconceived notions about what the genre could be or, more importantly, how much money they could make, a flood of films about costumed crimefighters went into production. One of the oddest things about this wave of trend chasers was how deeply they seemed to misunderstand what made the 1989 Batman a huge success. Instead of making the arguably more logical conclusion, seeking out other popular characters from DC or Marvel Comics to acquire the rights from, studios seemed to interpret that audiences wanted more period-piece adaptations of pulp, noir heroes from the 30s. So instead of more movies based on DC comic book heroes like The Flash or Wonder Woman, what audiences got were film adaptations of The Phantom, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer, and most notable for this retrospective, The Shadow.

If Hollywood did not see the difference between these pulp crime fighters and the popular superheroes most audiences were familiar with, ticket sales would certainly point it out for them. With the one possible exception of 1990’s Dick Tracy, no movie among these pulp crime fighter films was successful at the box office. Even in the case of Dick Tracy, which made a strong showing at the box office, primarily due to its star-studded cast featuring the likes of Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, and Madonna, it was still regarded as a failure in the eyes of Walt Disney Studios who were hoping for Batman-level hit.

The reason that The Shadow, which hit theatres in the summer of 1994, is paramount to this discussion is that it was the film which Sam Raimi had originally wanted to make. Raimi, already a self-professed comic book fan, was well-aware that Batman‘s success would draw interest to similar comic heroes and took great pains to make a live-action adaptation of The Shadow. Unfortunately for Raimi, at this point in his career, he was still seen by Hollywood producers as a relative nobody and didn’t get the job. Nevertheless, Raimi redirected all of his excitement toward making a Shadow adaptation into creating his own superhero. As chronicled by film journalist, Sergio Pereira, the influences of The Shadow are well on display, noting that “his 1990 hit film Darkman, starring Liam Neeson, was born as a homage when Raimi was unable to secure the film rights for The Shadow or Batman” (Pereira, 2020, para. 3). Pereira goes as far to state that “Anyone who has ever watched the film can attest to the obvious influence of the character in both Darkman’s look and traits” (Pereira, 2020, para. 3) On looks alone, the similarities are clear, as you can attest in the comparison below.

However, while the appearance of Darkman is heavily inspired by The Shadow, the traits of the character are cobbled together from a multitude of Sam Raimi’s other personal influences. In particular, Raimi’s Darkman is a character who shares much more DNA with the tragic characters from the Universal Monster movies than he does with any superhero. In fact, Liam Neeson cites his childhood love for the Universal Monster films of the 40’s and 50’s as not only inspiration for his portrayal of Darkman, but as a large incentive for wanting to do the film.

For those who have never seen the film, Darkman tells the story of scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), who is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough as he develops a new type of synthetic skin to help burn victims retain their original faces. Unfortunately Westlake’s experimental synthetic skin cannot get past one glitch that causes the skin to disintegrate after 100 minutes of exposure to light. Before he can perfect this experimental technology, Westlake is attacked by mobsters who are after an incriminating document which his criminal attorney girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) is in possession of. The gangsters beat up Peyton, burn his entire body to a crisp, and blow up his lab, destroying all of his research. Though assumed dead to the world, an unconscious Peyton is taken into a hospital as a “John Doe”, having no visible identification. The medical doctors have saved Peyton’s life through an experimental new procedure that renders him unable to feel pain, leaving him able to push himself further than before but also making him prone to violent outbursts. Now horribly disfigured, Peyton takes up residence in an abandoned laboratory where he uses his synthetic skin technology to make masks of the the same men who attacked him to infiltrate their mob and pull it apart from the inside. Meanwhile, Peyton uses a mask of his original face to show his grieving girlfriend Julie that he is still alive, but must keep their meetings short as the disguise still dissolves in sunlight after 100 minutes.

This plotline may make it sound like the film is at both times overly convenient in its structure and unnecessarily convoluted. However, the film wears the specificity of these details with pride, which truly feels like an homage to silver age origin stories that crammed as much exposition as they could into the limited page count that was afforded to them from their publishers. Truly, many of the first appearances of such beloved, classic characters as The Incredible Hulk, or The Amazing Spider-Man, were short, rapidly-paced stories that made huge leaps in time to fit the number of pages they could afford. Many of these origin stories were not even afforded a full issue to explore a new character and would often be told as a short story included in the back end of another comic.

In 3 short pages, The Fantastic Four discover their powers, name themselves, and decide to become superheroes. How’s that for economic storytelling?

This was a necessity for the comics industry as it was how they tested out the popularity of a new character with their readers before committing to publishing their own comic book. Like many forms of art, much of the trademark style was often born from the restrictions that were placed upon the medium. It is especially interesting to note the similarities between this style of the Marvel method of story telling and Raimi’s own style of film-making, which was greatly informed by the lack of resources at his disposal. In its structure, Darkman very closely adheres to the spirit of these pulp origin stories, embracing the heightened melodrama at every moment possible, cramming a love story, a mob story, a monster story, and a superhero story all into one package. It is this aspect that makes the film feel most closely aligned with comic publishers of the silver age who, desperate for a new break out character, would throw in everything and the kitchen sink to grab young reader’s attentions.

In reappraising this movie after over two whole decades of superhero films to compare to, there is a lot to love about Darkman. In particular, if you are a fan of Sam Raimi’s other films, then Darkman is a must-watch movie. From the first frame of film, Darkman is packed to the brim with Raimi’s trademark style and flourishes. Raimi has made a career out of squeezing a dollar out of a dime, often using creative solutions to solve issues that come with low budgets. Fans of Raimi’s filmography know that this approach has defined much of the filmmaker’s trademark camera techniques. Darkman is a wonderful showcase of Raimi’s first foray into getting a bigger budget to flex with. The result is a movie that truly takes Raimi’s kinetic camera movements and gives them a new playground to explore, truly feeling like comic book compositions come to life. In its best moments the film feels like it is torn from the pages of the earliest days of Marvel Comics; the days of “Tales to Astonish” and “Amazing Fantasy” that featured such tragic heroes born of the atomic age as The Thing, The Hulk, the X-Men, and Man-Thing. Just look at the clip below to see how Raimi shatters the background into flames and zooms into Peyton Westlake’s eye to symbolize his descent into madness! (All using practical, in-camera effects mind you)

A clip of Peyton Westlake having a meltdown on a Carnival date as shot by Raimi

It is choices like this that bring classic comic book panels to mind, where artists were not hindered by anything but their imagination to convey the emotional state of their characters. In comics, artists must deal with a static medium to portray a fluid series of events. Being a huge fan of comics as a child (Spider-Man being his favorite), Sam Raimi admits to having been influenced by the art compositions in many of the silver age Marvel comics in how he frames his shots. This is evident from his earliest of films, but is truly on full-display for the first time in Darkman.

Raimi’s evocative composition evokes some of the earliest Marvel Comics works such as this series of panels from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Incredible Hulk

In addition to this, Darkman is a film that offers Sam Raimi’s trademark brand of humor that you will not find anywhere else. If you consider yourself a fan of the Evil Dead films, it is highly likely that you enjoy a healthy heaping dose of “camp”. Never one to shy from a sight gag or slapstick beat, Sam Raimi finds moments in even the darkest corners of Darkman to wring laughs out of. In fact, I would argue that it is this special ingredient that makes the film more than another entry in a forgotten era of genre films. While many of its contemporaries have not held up with time, Darkman has survived largely due to the fact that so much of the film was injected with Raimi’s quirks and style. In contrast, movies like The Shadow or The Phantom come across as authorless works, feeling devoid of personality or signature. While that signature is undeniably Raimi’s, Darkman is a film that would not work as well as it does without the incredible performance of Liam Neeson at the center.

At that point in his career, actor Liam Neeson was not yet the household name that he is today. Before Darkman, Neeson had been working steadily in film and television for 12 years. Just three short years later, he would star in Steven Speilberg’s Schindler’s List which would forever change his career and set him off toward stardom. Watching Darkman, is a true testament to the level of craft and commitment which Neeson approaches the material. He truly seems to understand the exact tone, the exact flavor of pulp that Raimi is pulling from. His performance as Dr. Peyton Westlake/Darkman is genuinely operatic, expressing melodramatic levels of emotion that may make other actors feel silly or uncomfortable. You feel his love for Julie, you feel his torture and pain when he is transformed into Darkman, and you feel the boundless rage that incites him to exact his revenge. All of these extremes are portrayed by Neeson in a way that is both highly entertaining and totally authentic and, to top it all off, he manages to do so behind layers of prosthetics and bandages, often restricting him to expressing through only his eyes and his voice. It is a performance that is a worthy successor to the likes of such legendary monster men as Claude Raines, Lon Cheney, and Boris Karloff.

In addition to the cinematography and the performances, the film’s score is crafted by the greatest composer in all of superhero films: Danny Elfman. Elfman, who created the now iconic Batman theme used in the Tim Burton Batman films and even echoed in Batman the Animated series would later go on to write the score for many superhero films including Ang Lee’s Hulk and most famously Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. Elfman’s score for Darkman is appropriately tragic, moody and bombastic, elevating the story to a grandiose scale.

All in all, Darkman is a charming Frankenstein of a film; part monster movie, part tragic love story, part gangster film, part superhero comic, all lovingly stitched together by a director who truly felt like this would be his only shot to make a superhero film. With time and distance, Darkman has far more grit and personality than most superhero films of the modern era, save for Raimi’s own Spider-Man films which continue to stand above the rest as truly exceptional and timeless. As Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hits theatres this month, Raimi once again returns to a genre that feels like a true match made in heaven for his filmmaking sensibilities. But before going to theatres to see the new Doctor Strange, go back to see where it all began with Sam Raimi’s Darkman, now officially available at the Chester County Library!

By Eric

References

Cavna, M. (2019, May 31). How Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ radically changed the superhero-movie landscape 30 years ago. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/how-tim-burtons-batman-radically-changed-the-superhero-movie-landscape-30-years-ago/2019/05/30/9473bede-8233-11e9-95a9-e2c830afe24f_story.html

Pereira, S. (2020, April 15). Sam Raimi’s the shadow would’ve been a pulp fan’s wildest dream. CBR. Retrieved May 25, 2022, from https://www.cbr.com/sam-raimi-shadow-pulp-fan-wildest-dream/

May Staff Picks

Eric’s Picks

Greta

.

My top contender for the most overlooked, great film of 2019! This is a movie that builds its tension and scares entirely on the shoulders of its two leads, both of whom deliver incredible performances (Moretz and Huppert). Directed by master film-maker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with The Vampire), this film explores the horror and ugliness that resides within us all. Acting legend of French Cinema Isabelle Huppert, who plays the titular Greta, delivers a powerhouse performance that was truly robbed of an Oscar nomination. This movie will have you holding your breath until the credits roll.

Gorillaz/Plastic Beach

From their unique style of collaboration with a wide variety of musical acts, to their ongoing fictional storyline following animated characters who are treated as the real band members of the group, there is no band quite like the Gorillaz. While the Gorillaz have steadily built a strong discography ever since their self-titled debut album (Gorillaz) hit airwaves in 2001, their 2010 album Plastic Beach remains a true high-mark for the band’s career. Considered by many fans to still be their greatest album, Plastic Beach is a smorgasboard of catchy songs and high profile collaborations! Featured musical artists include: Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Paul Simon, Mos Def, and Lou Reed.

Kim’s Picks

Universe Revealed

As is common with BBC Earth, this is a state of the art, brilliantly-filmed, NOVA documentary. With our entire cosmos as the subject of this 5-part series, the specific topics are Age of Stars, Milky Way, Alien Worlds, Black Holes, Big Bang.  It’s 275 minutes long but holds the interest throughout.    

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

The author of outstanding nonfiction books (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck) constructs and deconstructs the events leading to the sinking of the fast and state-of-the-art steamship Lusitania on its way from New York to Liverpool in 1915.  The disaster was one of several incidents that propelled the United States into World War I.    

Felicia’s Picks

No One is Talking About This [eBook]

One of my favorite novels of the last year. This auto-fiction spans the bridge between poetry and prose throughout two parts; one focusing on life on the internet and another spent with the narrator’s real life, all told through brief snippets of her experiences.

The Lighthouse

One of the weirdest recent horror movies following two men completely isolated in a lighthouse by director Robert Eggers. A super tense film, with a surprising amount of fart jokes.

Jessie’s Picks

Some Like it Hot

This classic comedy is number 1 on AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Laughs list. It has a great cast (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) and a great director (Billy Wilder). Two musicians have to flee from the mob while disguised as women, and hilarity ensues.

Abbey Road/ The Beatles

This album deserves its #1 spot on WXPN’s All Time Greatest Albums list. There are so many great songs on it – “Something,” “Come Together,” “I Want You,” etc.

By Eric

World Dracula Day

“I never drink…wine.”

Bela Lugosi, Dracula (1931)

WORLD DRACULA DAY May 26

          It now seems fitting that on May 26, 2012 The Whitby Dracula Society initiated World Dracula Day to commemorate the publication in 1897 of Bram Stoker’s extremely influential novel.  Whitby, on the east coast of England, was the site of the running aground of the schooner Demeter, on which the Transylvanian vampire had made his way to Britain.

          A first edition of the novel can go for up to $45,000.

          World Dracula Day has gained in popularity worldwide.  It’s now “a thing.” 

“You would play your brains against mine?  Against me who has commanded nations!”

Christopher Lee, Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

By Kim

April Staff Picks

Felicia’s Picks

The Whole Story (Kate Bush)

A fantastic compilation album from the experimental British pop icon!

What We Do in the Shadows

A super fun vampire mockumentary! Definitely check out if you enjoyed HBO’s Our Flag Means Death.

Eric’s Picks

April Fool’s Day (1986)

A hidden MASTERPIECE from the teen slasher Renaissance of the 80s! Though it often gets lumped in with other Holiday themed slashers that were in vogue at the time, April Fool’s Day is far funnier, more ambitious and more clever than any of its peers! If you consider yourself a fan of horror films or “who dunnit” murder mysteries you owe it to yourself to check out this film!

Tropical Paradise/ La Roux

With summertime right around the corner, this album by English synthpop sensation “La Roux” is the perfect soundtrack to get you in the mood for some sun and surf and maybe a Mojito or two! Tropical Paradise is, top to bottom, all-killer/no-filler. Every song on this album is an absolute banger that would be the hit single and best track on anyone else’s album. As a musical act, La Roux remains criminally underrated and this album is one of her absolute best!

Kim’s Picks

Eden:  Untamed Planet  

For BBC Earth, Actress Helena Bonham Carter narrates beautifully this 2-disc documentary about five of the world’s still pristine locales:  Borneo, Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, Africa’s Namib Desert, Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago.

The Code Breaker:  Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of Humanity  

The author of many exemplary biographies, (Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Einstein), Isaacson delves into the modern technology of gene editing, specifically CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats).  Jennifer Doudna and collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for pioneering this technique.  Despite the complicated science involved, Isaacson makes it intelligible and thrilling as he interviews a plethora of biochemists, bioethicists, and microbiologists to track the discovery, advances, and ethical disputes involved in the new world of genome editing that promises cures for disease as well as enhanced human beings.   

Jessie’s Picks

Free Guy

This hilarious movie is a must-watch for video game fans! Ryan Reynolds is unaware that he is a character in a video game, and that he might be essential in saving his world and exposing a greedy video game developer.

City of Brass

Narrator Nankani brings this Middle Eastern set fantasy to life.  Nahri flees Cairo for the djinn city of Daevabad with an ancient warrior that she accidentally summoned.  But she faces new dangers due to Daevabad’s palace intrigue.

Hidden Gems: April Fool’s Day (1986)

On October 27th, 1978, a low-budget slasher film hit movie theatres and became an overnight success, sending cultural shock waves that forever changed the landscape of the genre. No, the movie I’m referring to is not April Fool’s Day, but rather John Carpenter’s beloved horror classic: Halloween; a film whose massive success inspired a wave of holiday-themed slashers, all trying to cash in on the latest trend. This fad gave birth to such films as: Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, The Leprechaun, Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, Bloody New Year, Graduation Day, Home Sweet Home and, most notably, the Friday the 13th films. Near the tail end of this craze, a film called April Fool’s Day was released into theatres and, even though it sold generally well at the box office, horror fans initially regarded its subversion of the slasher formula and lack of overt gore as too far a departure for the genre.

Here are just some of the many Halloween-inspired holiday slashers that came to pass…

This dismissal by fans definitely impacted the movie’s reputation, causing it to age into relative obscurity. Whenever the film was discussed, it was most often as another footnote from the era of Halloween knock offs. While there is no doubt that April Fool’s Day was sold to audiences as another feature of this ilk, the film itself uses the familiar formula of these movies as a Trojan Horse, sneaking in a far more clever and unique experience than was expected from the standard slasher fare of the times.

On the surface, April Fool’s Day sounds like your run-of-the-mill horror movie. During the spring break weekend that leads up to April Fool’s Day, a group of rowdy, oversexed, college kids gather at an island mansion owned by their old friend, Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman). Once on the island, it turns out that Muffy has set up a variety of April Fool’s Day pranks throughout the mansion. What begins with simple gags like whoopee cushions and dribble glasses, quickly escalates to more disturbingly dark pranks. The gang tries to stay in the spirit of the holiday and laugh everything off but this becomes hard to do once members of their party start turning up dead.

Pictured from left to right: (Amy Steel as Kit, Tom Wilson as Arch, Leah Pinsett as Nan, Clayton Rohner as Chaz)

While, this synopsis is accurate to the series of events that befall the characters in the movie, it is only a singular part of a larger story; one which I dare not spoil to any readers who have not yet seen the film. Suffice it to say, April Fool’s Day does something so original with its premise, so radical for the genre of story its telling, that it has not appeared in a slasher film before or since. However, even without its twists and turns, April Fool’s Day would still be a movie well deserving of considerable reappraisal. Upon watching the film, I instantly noticed that, while the familiar character archetypes were all well on display, a lot of them are given more depth and feel a bit more naturalistic as people than you come to expect from the genre. This is especially of note considering that it was released in 1986.

In a clever directorial choice from film maker Fred Walton, a handheld camera is introduced early on as a possession of one of the college kids. Through this premise, the movie gets permission to directly introduce us to each of the characters, as it establishes that it is for the purpose of a home movie. While this is an efficient way to squeeze in exposition at the beginning of the film, the movie also uses it for moments of extremely naturalistic acting that audiences wouldn’t become accustomed to until well into the 1990s with films such as The Blair Witch Project. Watching everyone in these early moments, performatively acting up for their friend’s home movie feels so genuinely real and unscripted that it immediately adds an extra layer to all of the characters. This narrative device pops up intermittently throughout the film, adding a level of truly unexpected authenticity that makes the characters feel more well-rounded and a bit savvier, at moments showing early shades of Wes Craven’s teenagers from Scream. In particular, Thomas F. Wilson, whom audiences will know as the mean spirited Biff from Back to the Future, steals the show as the jovial, prankster Arch. It is really fun getting to see him play a fun-loving, good-natured character after identifying him so much with Biff. In addition to Wilson, Deborah Foreman who plays the dual roles of Muffy St. John and her mysterious and haunted twin sister Buffy, shows great range and pulls off both characters effortlessly.

Deborah Foreman as Muffy (left) and Buffy (right)

Much like Muffy and her twin sister Buffy, who often feel like two halves of a whole, April Fool’s Day is actually two films in one. One of these films is a straight-forward holiday horror slasher, delivering audiences exactly what they came for, while the other is almost a satire of those kinds of films. I say “almost” because the film in no way operates as satire, at least not overtly so. What is perhaps a better description is that, while April Fool’s Day exists as one of those formulaic slasher films of its time, it always feels highly aware of itself and when it gives in to those expected conventions, it does so in pursuit of an ultimate end-goal. To speak to this “end-goal” any more, would be to give away the secret behind the mystery killer of the film. Suffice it to say, the reveal of the killer was such a radical choice that it was ultimately one which led to audiences initial rejection of the film.

By the time April Fool’s Day hit theatres in 1986, almost a full decade after the original Halloween, the market was over saturated with teen slashers (both holiday themed and non-holiday themed alike). Even though it did relatively well at the box office, April Fool’s Day never received any of the critical acclaim or lasting memory that many of its peers did. Then again, when your peers of the decade are such horror titans as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, Child’s Play, and The Evil Dead, it can be pretty easy to get lost in the shuffle. With time and distance, however, it was the film’s ambition and unwillingness to follow the formula of its predecessors that gave this film something truly unique and has helped it build a cult fan base that still grows to this day (something which cannot be said for Silent Night, Deadly Night). If you consider yourself a fan of slasher films or “whodunnit” murder mysteries, you owe it to yourself to check out April Fool’s Day, because I can almost guarantee, you’ve never seen one which ends like this!

By Eric

Celebrating Transgender Visibility in Media

When we think of our favorite stories, the ones which we form strong emotional bonds with are often the ones we see ourselves in. Stories like these are critical for our development and growth as individuals. They help us see ourselves in relation to the world and help us build connection and a sense of belonging. Often times, they help us to shape our own identity and build a sense of self-worth. At their simplest level, these stories communicate to an audience that they are not alone. It is the reason why representation in all forms of media is so important. For people in the transgender community, finding stories that provide representation has always proved difficult.

March 31st marks the annual celebration of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. For those who are unfamiliar, this day celebrates the existence, resilience, and accomplishments of transgender and non-gender conforming people all around the world. It is a day that can also serve to educate others on issues which the transgender community continues to face and the work which remains to be done for us to evolve into a trans-inclusive society. In honor of this day and the huge strides made by transgender artists who continue to push for the visibility of these stories, our Multimedia Department is putting a spotlight on items in our collection that represent different aspects and perspectives from the transgender experience. As trans artist and activist Janet Mock (Pose, Surpassing Certainty) puts it “Trans people are not a monolith. We come from many different experiences and backgrounds . . . (Mock J. as cited by Ifeany, K. C., 2016). We hope that in making these stories easier to find, so to can our transgender family and friends more easily find themselves.

Film & Television

Artist Spotlight:

The Wachowski Sisters

In 1999, the Wachowskis forever altered cinematic language with what was, at that time, only their second film. That film was The Matrix and, upon its release, it completely revolutionized filmmaking both through its technical approach as well as its screenplay, which presented radically new ideas and concepts film-goers had never before been exposed to. It was a clear game changer for the medium of film which broke down story telling barriers for years to come.
In 2010 they broke down barriers of different kind when Lana Wachowski came out to the world as a trans woman. Her sister, Lilly also came out publicly as a trans woman in 2016. As world-famous filmmakers, the Wachowski sisters’ transition was a journey which occurred under the spotlight of the media, which certainly helped wake up many outsiders to the narrative of the trans experience. Their established profiles as beloved blockbuster film-makers also made their public transition a tangible example which closeted or questioning trans people could identify and connect to. Because of their courage to live as their true selves, they have helped others to realize they are not alone, inspiring many to live out their truth.
Lilly and Lana Wachowski are both, in a word: uncompromising. It is what continues to make them such boundary breaking figures. They continue to push the boundaries of film-making to this day, constantly fighting for the integrity of their artistic vision, even when it challenges the comfort of our pre-conceived notions of story-telling. Continuing on in their spirit of subverting expectations, Lana Wachowski shocked fans by announcing her plans to return to the Matrix with a fourth entry in the series, 18 years after closing out the original trilogy. Her fourth Matrix movie, aptly-dubbed The Matrix Resurrections, is a wholly unique film, especially among the current trend of studios reviving long dead properties. Using a clever narrative which re-sets the returning heroes into a completely new environment, Lana Wachowski creates a meta-textual commentary for her own career; one which grapples with the legacy of her original Matrix film. The Matrix Resurrections, which is now available to borrow from the Chester County Library, is a daring work of art that actually uses its existence to say something new. While much of their work has often been polarizing, whenever you watch a Wachowski film, you are watching someone’s full artistic vision.

The Filmography of The Wachowski Sisters

Audiobooks

& eBooks

Detransition, Baby
by Torrey Peters
Future Feeling
by Joss Lake
An Unkindness of Ghosts
by Rivers Solomon
Little Fish By Casey Pelt
Birthday by Meredith Russo

If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

By Eric

References

Ifeanyi, K. C. (2016, December 2). “trans people are not a monolith”: Janet Mock wants to introduce you to 11 new friends. Fast Company. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3066073/trans-people-are-not-a-monolith-janet-mock-wants-to-introduce-you-to-11-new-friends

March Staff Picks

Jessie’s Picks

Resident Alien

This is a humorous Sci-Fi show about an alien (played by Alan Tudyk) that crash lands near a small town in Colorado. He assumes the life of the town doctor and becomes involved in the lives of the quirky townsfolk.

Abbey Road/ The Beatles

This album deserves its #1 spot on WXPN’s All Time Greatest Albums list. There are so many great songs on it – “Something,” “Come Together,” “I Want You,” etc.

Eric’s Picks

Metroid Dread (Nintendo Switch)

The wait is over! After being in development since 2005, Metroid Dread finally hit the Nintendo Switch in 2021 and, shockingly, it managed to exceed over ten years of hype.

Combining the side-scrolling action of the earliest Metroid games with the fluid functionality, slick 3-D graphics, and versatile gaming mechanics of today, this highly anticipated game brings Samus’ story to an epic conclusion well worth the wait! While the Switch’s handheld mode is fun, gamers should definitely play Metroid Dread in TV mode to get the full experience!

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott, director of such iconic films as: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), and Gladiator (2000) has made a big comeback in 2021 with two great films in one year: House of Gucci and, my personal pick for this month: The Last Duel

Not only does this film feel like a true return to form for filmmaker Scott, it also is the first film co-written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon since their Oscar winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting. Much like Hunting, Affleck and Damon do double duty, both writing and acting in The Last Duel where they join Adam Driver and Jodie Comer, all of whom turn in powerhouse performances!

This film has been compared most frequently to the film Rashoman, as both are films where characters tell the differing accounts of one event. However, what makes The Last Duel unique and worth watching, is that it doesn’t leave you questioning who is telling the truth. It gives you all the answers you will need to find the truth for yourself.

Kim’s Picks

Forever Young: A Memoir [Libby Audiobook]

The iconic child star of such Walt Disney Studios productions as Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, and That Darn Cat!, plus non-Disney films The Trouble with Angels and The Family Way, narrates her life story as the sister of actress Juliet (Avanti!, TV’s Nanny and the Professor), daughter of esteemed British actor John (Great Expectations, King Rat, Ryan’s Daughter) and writer Mary Hayley Bell (Whistle Down the Wind).  She does a superb job describing the glitz and glamour as well as the day-to-day joys and travails of filmmaking.  Equally fascinating and compelling is her tale of coming of age.  Making appearances are the Beatles, Judy Garland, and Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham, who put Hayley onto great literature.  Her education at boarding schools and a Swiss “finishing school” had been haphazard

Season of the Osprey

Enthralling PBS NOVA documentary follows a male osprey from the Amazon Basin 4,000 miles to the Connecticut River Delta where he finds the previous year’s nest and welcomes back his mate.  During spring and summer their three hatchlings grow to adulthood while the parents fend off such interlopers as bald eagles, other osprey and cormorants.  The osprey has a 6-foot wingspan but weighs only 3 pounds, which makes it a master of the air.  Osprey eat fish only but there are plenty of those in the delta. 

Felicia’s Picks

Paddington

One of the most heartwarming movies ever made. I have cried multiple times over how much I love this bear.

For the First Time

A fantastic debut album from a striking seven-piece band, which includes a saxophone player! Definitely leans towards the angsty side of things, with multiple anxiety inducing songs and some sleazy british vocals.



February Staff Picks

Felicia’s picks

Fiona Apple/ Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple’s fifth album is a phenomenal culmination of her career, and an overall fantastic listen.

Ex Machina (2014)

This small-scale sci-fi focuses on a high-stakes turing test between a newly developed artificial intelligence and an unsuspecting office worker.

Kim’s Picks

Season of the Osprey (2021)

Another miraculous bird, the osprey flies 4,000 miles from the Amazon basin to the Connecticut River Delta to mate, brood, catch hundreds of fish, and fend off thieving cormorants and eagles. Illuminating, beautifully photographed PBS documentary.

Devotion:  An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice (2015)

Jessie Brown, a black sharecropper’s son from Mississippi and Tom Hubner, a white son of a hardware store chain owner from Rhode Island develop a close bond while flying Navy Corsairs, distinctly sketchy WW II fixed-wing fighters converted into ground attack planes during the Korean war.  Makos, author of the bestseller Spearhead:  An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy and a Collision of Lives in World War II (2019) originally envisioned his tale as a magazine article but it quickly became a story so big it demanded novel length.  The story moves back and forth between Jessie and Tom, air and land operations.  Oddly enough, rising Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor has a small but significant role. Provides insight into the Cold War, carrier and ground warfare, and race.  

Eric’s Picks

Werewolves Within (2021)

A perfect comedic feast from beginning to end that is guaranteed to make you howl with laughter! Featuring the best ensemble of fresh, new comedic talent assembled in the last 10 years and masterfully directed by up-and-coming talent: Josh Rubin; this film is the unsung gem of 2021 and guaranteed to skyrocket to cult status! Rent it now so you can be that cool friend who heard about it first.

Pet (2019)

Set in a utopian future where all of society’s monsters have been vanquished, a transgender girl named Jam accidentally brings a creature named “Pet” to life from one of her mother’s paintings. Pet tells Jam that there are indeed still monsters living among them and that it is there to hunt one which resides within the family of her best friend. Wholly unique and raw, Pet serves as a commentary on abuse in many forms and the healing power of facing uncomfortable truths with those who love and support you. (Trigger warnings as the material does touch upon characters dealing with sexual abuse.)

Jessie’s Picks

So Far – The best of Sinéad O’Connor (1997)

This greatest hits compilation covers the Irish singer’s first eleven years (1986-1997) and four albums. It includes her biggest song, a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” along with her overseas hits and some rarities. If you like her Prince cover, then check out this compilation to discover some more of her great songs.

42: The Jackie Robinson Story (2013)

Chadwick Boseman gave a great performance portraying Jackie Robinson. He brings to life the struggles and triumphs of Jackie Robinson’s race barrier breaking joining of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Bitter Chocolate Binge:

Perfect Movies to Watch on Valentine’s Day When You’re Single

It has only been a month into the new year when a feeling of dread falls over you. You wake one morning and look at the calendar next to your bed. It is already February, which means one thing: Valentine’s Day is coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it. When it arrives, the sun shines brighter, birds chirp everywhere you go and, no matter where you look, couples are holding hands. It will be awful… Okay, okay, so maybe we are being a bit melodramatic but the truth is that Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a downer. It’s a holiday that seems engineered to be an annual reminder that you are still single.

This year, we at the Chester County Multimedia Department have concocted our own batch of movies, hand-selected to salve any of your Valentine’s Day woes. From perfect break-up comedies to those cautionary relationship horror flicks, we guarantee that when you are finished with our watch list, you will feel great about your single status.  So, this February 14th, put down the traditional sugary picks and try a marathon of something decidedly more bitter, but oh so enjoyable!  

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Topping off our list is a real nail-biter of a film that may make you swear off going on dates for a while. Fatal Attraction follows the story of a married man (Michael Douglas in the prime of his 80’s movie star run) who has a weekend affair with a new co-worker anmed Alex (Glenn Close). What begins as a passionate fling soon unfolds into a pulse pounding fight for his life when Alex refuses to let him go . This film was nominated for six Academy Awards including: Best Director (Adrian Lyme), Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Anne Archer), and Best Actress (Glenn Close, in a career-making, powerhouse performance). With the passage of time, Close’s performance as spurned lover Alex Forrest has only become more iconic. At both times sympathetic and frightening, Close turns in a portrayal of someone so clearly wronged that your heart would break for her, if it wasn’t busy pounding in terror. Often-imitated but never duplicated, Fatal Attraction kick started the late 80’s-early 90’s wave of erotic psychological thrillers, but arguably still holds its place as gold-standard of the genre. 

The First Wives Club (1996)

Sometimes what you really need to recover from a relationship ending is your friends. While divorce can feel like the ultimate end, it really isn’t, and as the ladies of the The First Wives Club will teach you, when it comes to love and happiness, “Don’t get mad. Get Everything.” This 1996 box office smash is headlined by three Hollywood heavy hitters at their absolute best! Goldie Hawn, Diane Lane, and Bette Miller star as old, college friends who have lost touch over the years but are brought back together by the death of their mutual friend. Reunited, they find that they all share a common problem: their husbands have all left them for much younger women. So what are three divorced ladies to do when their husbands take them for granted and coldly cut them out? The answer is simple: exact their vengeance until they get what they are owed. Hawn, Lane, and Midler have an electric chemistry that jumps off the screen. This feel good comedy will remind you that happy endings don’t need romance, so long as you have your girls by your side. So call up your best pals and make it a raucous movie night with The First Wive’s Club!

Down with Love (2003)

Do you think you may be a bit too cynical for all this love stuff? Do you think that love is nothing more than a chemical reaction similar to the dopamine kick your brain gets from eating chocolate?  If so, then 2003’s period-piece, rom-com Down with Love is the movie for you! First of all, this is not your average period piece. Director Peyton Reed doesn’t merely set this movie in the 1960’s, he styles the entire film to look like it was MADE in the 1960’s! Rene Zellweger stars as aspiring author Barbara Novak whose debut book “Down with Love” advocates for female independence. Novak’s book presents her philosophy that women should free themselves from the shackles of love and enjoy commitment-free sex “the same way that men do.” This immediately puts her in the sights of notorious womanizer and writer of Know Magazine: Catcher Block (played with bombastic delight by Ewan McGregor). Block adopts a false identity to woo Novak and get her to abandon her beliefs so that he can go back to his womanizing ways before any women get wise to his scheme. What ensues is a cat and mouse game that uses all of the familiar tropes of 60’s rom coms in a loving, tongue-in-cheek tribute. All of the performances are expertly in step with the acting style of the era and the chemistry between McGregor and Zellweger is dynamite! This is, hands down, one of the most colorful, zany, and loving pastiches of the genre ever done!

Fear (1996)

When it comes to scary, unhinged boyfriends, David McCall in the 1996 film Fear, is one for the record books. What starts as an idyllic YA romance between sixteen-year old Nicole Walker (Reese Withersoon) and the handsome and charming David McCall (Mark Wahlberg), quickly turns into a nightmare. Though he manages to charm the rest of her family, Nicole’s father doesn’t trust David’s motives. This instinct proves true as David soon turns from a seemingly normal boyfriend into a possessive and manipulative psychopath who will stop at nothing to have Nicole all to himself. Director James Foley gives Fear some cinematic flourishes that help to elevate it from standard fair of the genre. In particular, the film’s early scenes portraying David and Nicole’s wooing period masterfully conveys the overwhelming rush of young love. As vivid and powerful as the speeding rollercoaster they share on their first date, Fear presents love as an uncontrollable ride, both exciting and terrifying as the audience and Nicole brace themselves for whatever waits around the next turn. 

There are many films that play on the story tropes of an obsessive stalker, driven by their warped perception of love (Play Misty for MeSwimfan). However, the majority of these stories cast women in the role of the dangerous pursuer, hell-bent on obtaining the object of their affection. It is Fear’s gender-reversal of this relationship dynamic that both: sets it apart from its peers and also makes it feel like a far more accurate depiction of toxic relationships. Because of this, a warning may be advisable for anyone who may be triggered by portrayals of abusive relationships. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Sometimes we need to see how ridiculous love and misery can make us look and learn to laugh at ourselves. If you have ever been the one in your group of friends moping over a big breakup, then you may find yourself connecting a lot to the journey that Jason Segel’s character finds himself on in the hilarious 2008 comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The story follows Peter Brenner (Segel), the perpetual plus-one boyfriend of rising television actress Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell). Brenner doesn’t care that he is a relative nobody to the press, because he is blissfully happy and in love with Sarah. That bliss is instantly ripped away when Sarah breaks up with him, quickly moving on to a very public relationship with the mega famous rockstar Aldous Snow (Russell Brand in a debut role). To escape the constant reminders of his ex’s new relationship, Peter takes what was once their planned vacation trip to Hawaii by himself. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that Sarah and her new boyfriend Aldous had the same idea and show up at the exact same resort, in the very next room. If you have ever gone through the grieving period of a break up, you will find plenty to laugh at, relate to, and maybe in the end, put old feelings into perspective.  

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

If a good cry is what you are looking for then the 2017 Oscar nominee, Call Me By Your Name may be just what the doctor ordered. Set in 1983, this coming of age story follows 17 year old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet in his breakout performance) who is spending his summer with his parents in rural Northern Italy due to his father’s work as a professor of archaeology. Elio spends his summer with his childhood friends Chiara and Marzia, the latter of whom he has begun a romantic relationship with. When Elio’s father invites 24 year old American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to spend the summer with their family while helping with his academic paper, Elio becomes infatuated with the handsome stranger. As the two grow closer over the summer Elio is awakened to his own sexuality and experiences the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time in his life. Call Me By Your Name is a story about self-discovery, love, and most of all: experiencing your first true heartbreak. 

Death Becomes Her (1992)

When it comes to love triangles, there are few are as fun to watch as the A-list trio of Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis in Robert Zemeckis’ pitch black comedy Death Becomes Her. The film centers around the rivalry of two lifelong frenemies: narcissistic Broadway actress Madeline Ashton (Streep) and mousy, struggling writer Helen Sharp (Hawn). Helen has always lived in Madeline’s shadow, never having much to call her own, while Madeline has never known anything that she couldn’t (and wouldn’t) eventually have. That includes Helen’s spineless plastic surgeon fiancé, Ernest Menville (Willis) whom Madeline immediately snatches for herself. When Helen returns (years later), she has completely transformed into a beautiful and successful writer with a plan to steal Ernest back. Her secret? A magical potion that has granted her with eternal youth. Envious of her former friend’s beauty, Madeline takes the potion as well but soon finds out there are rather “unpleasant” side effects. The two women’s rivalry over the pathetic Ernest crescendoes to a knock-down, drag-out fight, heightening to a finale that features absurd levels of loony tunes inspired action!

This movie is truly a feast for the eyes with incredible direction from accomplished film maker Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit?), hilarious performances from all three stars who are at the top of their game, and special effects that look fantastic still to this day! It is fascinating to watch Willis, in particular, who plays a role so against type and does it so well, that it’s almost a shame he never does it again in his career. Death Becomes Her is a comedy that starts as a revenge plot, all centered around a man who is, pointedly, rather unremarkable. It is very transparent that this rivalry has very little to do with Ernest and speaks much louder volumes of how much each woman is concerned about the other’s perception of their life. In the end, it is an oddly sweet story about female friendship and how aging gracefully is over-rated when you have a friend to age poorly with.  

Midsommar (2019)

There is no movie that captures the essence of a break-up quite like 2019’s hit horror film, Midsommar. While the plot chronicles the end of a dying relationship, the horrors that the characters encounter along the way serve as an allegory for the emotional experience of a break-up. At the very beginning of the film we are introduced to the relationship between Dani and her increasingly distant boyfriend, Christian. It’s clear that this relationship is on its last legs, as Christian and his friends seem all too eager for him to split up with Dani before taking their trip to Sweden to attend a fabled Midsommar celebration. His plan is immediately aborted after Dani experiences a horrific tragedy that leaves Christian as the closest thing she has left to a family. Now, due to tragic circumstance, the two are stuck together: Dani, desperately clinging to Christian out of fear of being alone and Christian, trapped by his own guilt that leaving her now would make him an awful person. Much to the dismay of his friends, Dani tags along with Christian’s group to Midsommar; a pagan summer solstice festival that takes place once-every-ninety-years. There, they are greeted by the members of a secluded culture who have odd and mysterious customs, undocumented by the outside world. What begins as a spring vacation soon turns into a nightmare with the group growing fearful of the increasingly disturbing rituals, which they are expected to partake in.

What is so impressive about the horror of Midsommar is that it eschews the traditional visual tropes of the genre in favor of its sunny, idyllic setting. This is not simply a stylistic experiment, existing to impress fans of the genre; it’s a choice which reflects larger themes in the story. Springtime is the season of rebirth and the film places this idea front and center as the warm imagery of colorful foliage beckons Dani out of the bleak winter that was her misery and offers her a chance to be reborn. In the end, Midsommar crescendoes to a climax that is simultaneously horrifying and inspiring! If you like your chocolate (and movies) bitter sweet, then this is the perfect break-up movie for you!

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Three, previously married and now single best friends (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon) commiserate over the sexual repression they feel living in their conservative town of Eastwick. After a night of drinks where the three friends collectively paint the picture of their ideal man, a mysterious and eccentric stranger named Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) rolls into town. Though rude, brazen, and not traditionally handsome, Van Horne manages to seduce each of them, leading to their renewed sexual, emotional, and MAGICAL liberation as each begins exhibiting strange powers. Are these three friends being blessed or cursed? Either way, one thing is for sure: the town of Eastwick will never be the same again… 

Directed with a keen eye by auteur film-maker George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), The Witches of Eastwickis a wild romp of a movie, carried by the electric performances of all four of its stars. This is a movie about finding the empowerment in yourself and the magic that exists between best friends. This is another perfect movie for a slumber party with your best friends!

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Boy oh boy, love can sure make us do funny things. It can also make us blind to some serious red flags in a significant other that would send anyone else running for the hills. If any of this is sounding familiar, then you may more easily forgive the lead character of the 2013 French Erotic Thriller, Stranger by the Lake. This movie follows a man named Franck who frequents a nude beach which is a regular cruising destination for gay men. When Franck meets the handsome and charming Michael he is instantly attracted to him and soon-after the two start up a romantic relationship. One night Franck believes that he witnesses Michael drowning another man in the lake, but finds himself still unable to untangle himself from his attraction and growing love for the stranger. As dead bodies keep turning up on the beach and signs continue to point to Michael as the killer, the movie investigates the more dangerous side of infatuation and passion. Love can truly make fools off us all, but if we aren’t careful, it may turn us into something far worse.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003)

One of the most painful parts of any break-up is the post break-up period. Someone who has become a central part of your life is suddenly gone and their absence becomes all that you can think about. You try moving on without them but the memories you’ve made together keep weighing on your mind, bringing you nothing but heartache. If only there was an easy way to forget them; a way where you could skip this painful period of grieving and get back to your life…

Finishing out our list of films is a bitter-sweet, high-concept comedy which asks the question: “If you could erase the memory of someone, would you do it?” Born from the brilliant mind of Charlie Kauffman and the visual imagination of Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind follows a couple who undergoes a procedure which promises to do just that!

The movie begins after the painful breakup of colorful extrovert Clementine and sensitive introvert Joel (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey unlike you have ever seen them before). Still reeling from their recent split, Joel discovers that his ex-girlfriend Clementine has undergone an experimental procedure to erase all her memories of him. Heartbroken and spiteful, Joel decides to undergo the very same procedure, forever erasing his memories of her. Unfortunately, it isn’t until after the process starts that Joel realizes he doesn’t want to forget Clementine. What ensues is an adventure inside of Joel’s own mind as he and his memory of Clementine desperately try to outrun the memory technicians before she no longer exists.

This movie is as genuine and profound as it is off-beat and entertaining. Both Winslet and Carrey portray characters that are the complete antithesis to the types of roles they are typically known for and do so with such exceptional skill it’s hard to argue against these performances as career bests for either. Screenwriter Charlie Kauffman delivers his trademark quirky brand of humor as well as his dependably rich characters while Michel Gondry’s directorial flare adds levity and humor, even in the film’s saddest moments. As Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shows, our memories and experiences make us who we are, and to wish away a memory of someone is to wish away a part of ourself. 

So this Valentine’s Day, make a movie night out of our “Bitter Chocolate Binge” list and take solace in remembering that relationships aren’t all flowers and chocolates.

By Eric

January Staff Picks

Felicia

Sorry to Bother You

An absurd take on modern working culture, artfully directed by Boots Riley; In an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, Calif., telemarketer Cassius Green finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers a magical key that leads to material glory.

Lotta Sea Lice (Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile)

This collaboration album between local Philly based musician Kurt Vile and Australian sing-songwriter Courtney Barnett is a meandering, almost conversational album that is great for relaxed listening.

Eric

The Hudsucker Proxy

If you love Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, or Burn After Reading then this movie is right up you alley!!! A truly under appreciated comedy gem from the master story tellers: Joel & Ethan Coen. Set in a cartoonishly heightened version of New York City in the 1950’s, this film is packed to the brim with crackling dialogue, hilarious performances, and the kind of trademark camera techniques and cinematography that fans have come to expect from the Coen Brothers. 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

With no exaggeration or hyperbole, this is hands-down the greatest, most addictive video game that I have EVER. PLAYED. Breath of the Wild offers a level of exploration and freedom of choice beyond anything in the realm open-world gaming to this day. With its soothing landscapes, consistently engaging mechanics, and endless quests, Breath of the Wild will have you hooked from the moment you enter Hyrule.

Kim

Dolly Parton: Songteller:  My Life in Lyrics

In this biography (narrator, Robert K. Oermann) and autobiography, famed singer, songwriter, actress and big-hair exemplar Parton recounts her life from truly hard-scrabble beginnings in Tennessee (one of a dozen children) to the plateau on which she now stands, attained through gumption and grit.  A case can be made that her talent, longevity and likability make her the preeminent female country artist.  There are often hilarious anecdotes and turns of phrase, as when her husband Carl (of 50 years+) asked her after two months of marriage if she’d ever been with another man and she said she wasn’t going to begin the marriage with lie.  After all, who was he to deserve an angel?  The roster of famous singers, producers and other famous folk with whom Dolly has interacted and speaks about include Connie Smith, Skeeter Davis, Porter Wagoner, Kitty Wells, Willie Nelson, Mac Davis, Emmy lou Harris, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, well, everybody who is anybody in the country music field.  Song selections are short and do not slow the narrative.    

Blood on the Moon

Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) heeds invitation from Tate Riling (Robert Preston in his typical good cowpoke gone bad role) to join him and homesteaders seeking redress of specious grievances.  It is not long before Jim realizes Tate is using hired guns and a crooked Indian agent to essentially ruin the ranch belonging to John Lufton (Tom Tully).  Complications arise when Lufton’s daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) falls for him while his sister (Phyllis Thaxter) attaches herself to Tate.  Former Citizen Kane editor, now director Robert Wise was proving himself adept at westerns as he would with all genres.  This 1948 film is now considered western noir, like the previous year’s Pursued, also with Mitchum.

Jessie

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

A great cast (Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, and Michelle Yeoh) perfectly combines humor, martial arts, and familial drama in this Marvel movie.

So Far – The best of Sinéad O’Connor

This greatest hits compilation covers the Irish singer’s first eleven years (1986-1997) and four albums. It includes her biggest song, a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” along with her overseas hits and some rarities. If you like her Prince cover, then check out this compilation to discover some more of her great songs.

By Eric