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There are some movies so famous that everyone knows their name. Star Wars. Blade Runner. Alien.Police Academy. Young Frankenstein. These films are easily recognizable due to their success, even if you haven’t seen them. Strangely these films all have something else in common other than fame: they all largely owe their success to Alan Ladd Jr. Heartland Film Festival is about appreciating movies, so what better movie to do so than with Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, a celebratory look at one of film’s most influential executives.
by Emily ReubenZombies have been a cultural phenomenon ever since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead first frightened audiences in 1968. While by no means the first example of a “zombie-like” creature in film, Romero is largely responsible for the modern zombie we all known and love today. These mindless, brain eating monsters are surely frightening, but who knew they could also allow for a night of fun and community service?Every October across the world groups of people organize zombie walks. What exactly is a zombie walk? It is essentially a mob of people who come together dressed as zombies to lumber across town simulating a horde. Often, these events resemble pub crawls or organized flashmobs. According to a CBC interview with Sarah Lauro, a professor who studied zombies at Clemson University and author of The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death, the trend started in Toronto in 2003, but later became popular in 2005 as a result of the Iraq war and the subsequent cultural upset. In short, zombies became a sort of catharsis for the public.Lauro speaks about the cathartic effect zombies have:“And the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. ... Either playing dead themselves ... or watching a show like Walking Dead provides a great variety of outlets for people."So basically zombies can help society through some rough patches. With this explanation of why zombies are so popular in mind, let’s take a look at these zombie walks in a bit more detail. With this in mind, Lauro gives us a glimpse at the magnitude of zombie walk events:“As of ... zombie walks had been documented in 20 countries. The largest gathering drew more than 4,000 participants at the New Jersey Zombie Walk in Asbury Park, N.J., in October 2010, according to Guinness World Records.”Dressing up and walking around as zombies sounds great, but is there really a point to it other than blowing off some steam? Well yes! Other than allowing for a great time, many zombie walks serve as fundraisers for nonprofit organizations.An example of such a zombie walk happens annually in Indianapolis. Taking place Saturday October 21, the Broad Ripple Zombie Walk returned for its 12th year.Okay so people walk around dressed as zombies, but what else? While the undead parade happens later at night, there are other activities for zombie walkers and spectators to partake in while waiting. Notably, a large makeup table run by staff from Tricoci University of Beauty Culture. With plenty of costume accessories such as fake blood, bite marks, and pieces of “flesh” on hand, attendees were able to become zombified in a matter of minutes.For an event focused on brain eating monsters, Broad Ripple Zombie Walk offers plenty of family friendly activities. Other than the makeup booth on hand for children to transform themselves into freaky zombies, volunteers host carnival games for children to partake in and even win prizes.While celebrating guts and gore is always a good time, the Broad Ripple Zombie Walk serves a more important purpose as a fundraiser to benefit Gleaners Food Bank.According to the event’s official Facebook page, “The Broad Ripple Zombie Walk had over 1000 zombies and collected 4,500lbs of canned food.” During last year’s event, the Indy Star Reports that “The Broad Ripple Zombie Walk had more than 800 zombies and collected 3,500 pounds of canned food. Organizers have raised the goal to 5,000 pounds this year.” The amount of participants and food collected indicates that a zombie walk is definitely an effective way to host a fundraiser.
by Emily Reuben There are some movies so famous that everyone knows their name. Star Wars. Blade Runner. Alien. Police Academy. Young Frankenstein. These films are easily recognizable due to their success, even if you haven’t seen them. Strangely these films all have something else in common other than fame: they all largely owe their success to Alan Ladd Jr. Heartland Film Festival is about appreciating movies, so what better movie to do so than with Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, a celebratory look at one of film's most influential executives. "Who is Alan Ladd Jr.?" you may be asking, and this is a fair question. He isn’t an actor or director in the spotlight; instead he works behind the scenes helping to get movies made. He has worked as an agent, producer, president of Twentieth Century Fox, Chairman and CEO of Pathe Entertainment, and founder of the Ladd Company. Even more impressive, according to the film's official website, his filmography consists of 164 films, 150 Academy Award nominations, and 50 Academy Award wins. So basically Alan Ladd Jr. has had a major hand in the crafting movie masterpieces, but most people have never heard of him. He was not just a Hollywood mover and shaker; he was also a husband and father. Enter Alan Ladd’s daughter, Amanda Ladd Jones to remedy the issue with her film detailing the career and impact of her father, Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies. [embed]https://ksr-video.imgix.net/projects/903268/video-380252-h264_high.mp4[/embed] The film begins with Amanda interviewing San Diego Comic Con attendees asking who Alan Ladd Jr. is. Unsurprisingly, most attendees, even avid Star Wars fans, are unable to answer her question. This perfectly demonstrates her point: her father did had an almost incomprehensible impact on cinema, but he is hardly credited for his contribution. After this brief demonstration, the film goes into more detail about Amanda’s father. As the son of actor Alan Ladd, Alan Ladd Jr. (affectionately called "Laddie" for short) has never been a stranger to the film industry. In 1963 Laddie began his career as an agent working on behalf of big stars like Robert Redford, Judy Garland and others, later moving to London to produce films in 1969. After producing nine films, Laddie returned to America and was offered the position of Head of Creative Affairs at 20th Century Fox, which he accepted. It is during this time that Ladd helped director George Lucas get his vision for Star Wars off the ground. After studies were unimpressed with Lucas’ first film, American Graffiti, studios denied Lucas’ script for A New Hope. Luckily for all of us, Ladd saw great potential in George Lucas’ vision and funded the project. Even after the first internal screening of A New Hope, the studio executives thought the project would crash and burn, but Ladd continued to back the project. Now with his own reputation at stake, the pressure on both Ladd and Lucas for Star Wars to succeed was extremely high. Of course, Star Wars became the single most profitable film franchise of all time as well as a cultural landmark. In addition to George Lucas, another famed filmmaker that Laddie helped was Mel Brooks. While serving as the Head of Creative Affairs, Laddie decided that 20th Century Fox should pick up Brooks' film Young Frankenstein for distribution. Other members of Fox's executive structure were hesitant because of the lack of color in the film, but Laddie saw the potential in the film and more importantly in Brooks as an artist. [embed]https://ksr-video.imgix.net/assets/001/899/108/7390602790c1523341e26e31cd86f89b_h264_high.mp4[/embed] Eventually, Laddie became the president of Fox. During his tenure, films such as the infamous Alien were created. Alien director Ridley Scott also benefitted from Laddie’s input. Scott has initially envisioned Sigourney Weaver’s character as a male, but Ladd convinced him to make the protagonist a female. Considering that female leads, especially in action or horror films, were almost non-existent, this demonstrates Ladd’s dedication in including women on screen. Not only did he respect women enough to put them on screen, but he continued this inclusive attitude off-screen by giving women powerful roles such as producers. Despite his success, Laddie left Fox to start his own production company, The Ladd Company in 1979. The Ladd Company is responsible for such films as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. The Ladd Company would later go on to produce hits such as Braveheart and Thelma & Louise. Later in 1985 Ladd joined MGM/UA. Once again, he rose to the top ranks as Chairman and CEO of MGM Pathe Communications. Later, Ladd returned to The Ladd Company to work independently. While not celebrated by the masses, Ladd is widely respected within the film industry. Throughout the film various celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Mel Gibson, Morgan Freeman, and George Lucas praise Ladd for his work. For his accomplishments, Ladd was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. While Ladd’s work is fascinating, Amanda manages to brilliantly make the film a personal piece about acceptance. While her film undoubtedly celebrates her father, she does simultaneously criticize him for being too absorbed in his work throughout her childhood. This never comes off as disrespectful but the understandable perspective of a child longing for her father’s attention. Amanda spent her first 20 years wishing her father was around to be a father to her, but as she got older she realized how her father had done so much for his family. It is telling then, that as Laddie accepted the Academy Award for Braveheart he only gave thanks for one thing. https://youtu.be/Nfct6zqh4KI?t=193 Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is an important glance at this very influential man. We own Laddie for so many great pieces of cinema, but Amanda’s film is the only real glimpse many of us have had of Alan Ladd Jr. Considering his importance, this is a crime. Thank you Alan Ladd Jr. for your work, and more importantly, thank you Amanda for sharing your father’s story with the world. You can follow the film on Twitter, Facebook, and the official website. Featured image from Variety Sources: IMDb, Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, and laddiemovie.com
While a good portion of any film festival is comprised of new films being showcased for the first time, another privilege of attending these festivals lies in seeing older films with input from cast, crew, and interview subjects. Last weekend, Heartland Film Festival hosted a special screening of the director Steve James’ 2014 documentary Life Itself. Detailing the life of one of America’s most influential and prominent film critics, Roger Ebert, Life Itself is an emotionally impactful, beautifully crafted look at Roger’s career. For this special screening at Heartland Film Festival, Roger Ebert’s wife, Chaz Ebert attended and hosted a brief Q&A session after the viewing.
by Emily Reuben While a good portion of any film festival is comprised of new films being showcased for the first time, another privilege of attending these festivals lies in seeing older films with input from cast, crew, and interview subjects. Last weekend, Heartland Film Festival hosted a special screening of the director Steve James' 2014 documentary Life Itself. Detailing the life of one of America’s most influential and prominent film critics, Roger Ebert, Life Itself is an emotionally impactful, beautifully crafted look at Roger’s career. For this special screening at Heartland Film Festival, Roger Ebert’s wife, Chaz Ebert attended and hosted a brief Q&A session after the viewing. As a young film enthusiast, Roger Ebert is one of my greatest inspirations. I was initially introduced to Roger Ebert sometime in middle school. I had taken to watching online film reviewers, notably Doug Walker, better known as “The Nostalgia Critic.” I loved the comedic approach of looking at old, nostalgic content and found myself watching frequently. In one episode of Doug’s online review show, the criticism was directed at the film North. While the film had come out before my time, I had heard about its ridiculously racist attempts at humor and overall poor presentation, which piqued my curiosity. In the review, Doug made reference to a Siskel and Ebert episode of At the Movies in which Ebert boldly stated his distaste for the film. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAAEFRVQU14[/embed] In his written review, Roger went further: "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it." I thought this blatant dismissal of North was hilarious and immediately began to look more into Siskel and Ebert. Now I’m a college student majoring in Film Studies. Roger Ebert is one of the world’s most well-known and beloved film critics and for good reason. He always had a way of articulating the heart and soul of a piece with unique style that other critics could not hope to replicate. The Chicago Sun-Times’ film critic became the first film critic to earn the much sought after Pullitzer Prize, forever changing the world of film criticism by giving it much more of an important focus in mainstream media. Roger Ebert is celebrated not only for his independent criticism but for the work he had done in tandem with the Chicago Tribune’s film critic, Gene Siskel. The 1975 PBS program, Sneak Previews was a weekly series that ran for nearly two decades on public broadcasting, bringing film discussion straight into the homes of Americans. Following Sneak Previews was the duo’s most popular joint venture, At The Movies, which began in 1986. Widely known for establishing the infamous thumbs up/thumbs down rating system, At The Movies cemented Ebert and Siskel as America’s most recognizable critics. The two’s often heated debates and apparent rivalry was an instant hit for television audiences and more relatable than the academic, dry media critics of the time. All of this and more is covered in the documentary, Life Itself. While the film documents Roger’s life as a critic and his effect on the industry, it manages to both humanize and contextualize him. For example, when detailing Roger’s early days in the journalism industry and his subsequent successes, the film is careful to not shy away from his quirks and faults. Roger was a leader who took initiative, but he was also an alcoholic. He could write a stellar review in 30 minutes, but he was also overly confident in himself. Roger and Gene hosted a televised hit, yet the two could not stop fighting one another. Here, the faults demonstrated don’t make Roger less appealing but more human. In 2002 Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. Ebert underwent treatment but was diagnosed with bone cancer on the right side of his jaw in 2006. After surgery, Ebert was unable to speak or eat without a tube and communicated primarily through his wife, Chaz, though eventually he was able to make use of a computerized voice. Sadly, Ebert passed away of thyroid cancer on April 4th, 2013. Two days before his death, Ebert said in his last blog post, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies." [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4SgwBRq-fU[/embed] Life Itself is an exceedingly intimate film. Roger and Chaz Ebert allowed cameramen to film them at their most vulnerable moments. Seeing Roger Ebert, a man who eloquently and passionately lectured at film panels and review on television unable to verbally articulate his ideas is devastating. Ebert’s illness complicated his life and worse yet, often kept him from his passion: going to the movies. The film allows us to see this vulnerability and emphasize with it. Despite showing Roger's declining health before his death, Life Itself allows the audience to celebrate Roger's life and dedication to reviewing films. Ebert could no longer speak, but he most certainly could write. His blog became his voice and his outlet. To see this ill man diligently doing work in a hospital bed, often with undeniable wit and a massive smile, is heartwarming to say the least. It would be easy for this film to romanticize Roger and his career. While it does give plenty of credit where due, Life Itself doesn’t make Roger out to be some godly entity with no faults. Had the film not been diligent about this, Roger Ebert would be seen as less human, and thus less relatable. While Roger Ebert is the subject of the film, Chaz is also a key element. According to RogerEbert.com, “Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 18th year.” After the screening at Heartland, Chaz Ebert led a short question and answer session. Having the unique experience of hearing the views of someone involved with the film certainly offers a new take on the experience. Chaz mentioned that she had not seen the film since the year it debuted, and her love and subsequent passion managed to pierce the hearts of everyone in the theater. She briefly explained some aspects of her late husband's approach to criticism and how she has kept his vision alive through managing the other reviewers on the website. I had seen the film previously, but seeing Chaz's reaction to the film and hearing her own take made the experience a unique one. An audience member asked Chaz if there was any film that she and Roger had disagreed on, to which she answered that she loved a A Clockwork Orange and Roger hated it. On the other hand, Roger loved Joe Versus the Volcano, which Chaz didn't find it all that interesting. With Chaz present to answer questions, Heartland film-goers were able to gain further insight into the pair's relationship as well as personal film preferences. Throughout the years, people have welcomed Roger Ebert into their homes through At the Movies and through RogerEbert.com. While those avenues provide a detailed and even at times nuanced version of the man, none will ever be able to compare to the complexity shown through Life Itself. You can read Roger Ebert's reviews and those of other critics at RogerEbert.com. Featured image from IMDb
by Byte Staff Who doesn’t love haunted houses? They’re an integral part of the American Halloween tradition. The actors, spooky sets, dull lighting and scary sounds hold a special place in the hearts of horror fans and for good reason. According to the Smithsonian, this tradition has brought joyful fright to the masses as early as the 19th century, though not exactly with the time commitment and polish of today’s haunted attractions. Interest in these types of attractions began to boom after Walt Disney opened Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in 1969, making haunted attractions a staple of American Halloween tradition. After it became mainstream for patrons to pay to experience the frightful and spooky, Halloween horror attractions and haunted houses started popping up all over the country. With this brief background in mind, let’s take a look at a more elaborate, modern example of these horror attractions. Located in Anderson, Indiana is the famous horror attraction, Indy Scream Park. Originally founded in 2010, Indy Scream Park has become known as Indiana’s Premier Halloween event. When asked about how they go about recruiting scare actors, Indy Scream Park’s Marketing Director, Jon Pianki told us “We start initially in Anderson and then branch out from there, trying to employ as many people as possible. I think we bring in around three to four hundred actors each year. Each night takes around 150 actors to fully staff all the attractions. We just try to constantly reinvest in the park to keep it going.” So obviously a lot of love and hard work goes into crafting Indy Scream Park. But here's the real question: is it scary? Well let’s take a closer look at the actual attractions. Indy Scream Park features five attractions: Pandemic: Mutation Zombieland: Unchained Brickmore Asylum Backwoods Rage 3D Each of these attractions attempts to scare you in different ways. Nolan Leahy, a Byte staff member comments, “In my case, this was my first time going to a haunted house run by actors.” He continued, “The only haunted house I’ve been to in my life has been at Frankenstein’s Castle at Indiana Beach, which isn’t exactly the optimal experience for the die-hard horror fan considering it relies on mechanical prop scares.” Nolan was able to attend two of the attractions: Brickmore Asylum and Pandemic Mutation. First we’ll start with a look at Brickmore Asylum. Brickmore Asylum runs with the idea of a mental health institution that abuses its patients. [embed]https://youtu.be/Z2O9R3dlUa4[/embed] Nolan states that: “Brickmore Asylum caught me off guard from the get-go with its walkthrough event. The constant tension of walking in between rooms offered a much more serious tone than originally anticipated with blind spots strategically placed for the intended participants’ surprise.” He then adds, ”The rooms in the Asylum were mostly dark and foggy with only one well-lit room to break up its continuity, and the presentation also doesn’t discourage the act of looking around each corner with a careful step in mind.” So the premise here is simple: those who enter don’t make it out. Will you be the exception? Next, let’s take a glance at Pandemic: Mutation, one of the two new attractions featured this year at Indy Scream Park. This attraction is based on the idea of human-made mutations, and these cross-contaminated creatures gone awry fully intend to frighten park-goers. Even scarier: it is one of the interactive attractions. What does this mean exactly? Nolan weighs in saying that “each member of the group is given the option to wear a glow stick necklace or to keep it off." Why is this important? Wearing the necklace allows scare actors to touch you, so make sure you’re comfortable with that before going in! [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7YqhF6k_jg[/embed] In the end, the choice is yours. Jon Pianki says that “If you really want to kick it up a notch, wear the interactive necklace and become a part of the show.” For those who love the thrill of being scared, you may want to give this interactive option a try. If you need a break from the constant scares, Indy Scream Park features a hub area in the middle of all the different haunted attractions, appropriately named Monster Midway. This section contains stalls selling food, beverages and merchandise, as well as Zombie Paintball, a fun mini-game where you fire paintball guns at undead actors stumbling towards you across a field. When asked about his overall experience, Nolan Leahy had this to say: “Despite only visiting two of the five attractions, my experience with Indy Scream Park was phenomenal. The amount of work put into the attractions and acting makes Indy Scream Park well deserving of the title of 'Indiana’s Premier Halloween Event.” Horror attractions have come a long way since the beginning. It is highly unlikely you would find an interactive attraction that would allow actors to pull you from your group and place you in an electric chair in the 19th century. While times have changed and what constitutes as horror is subjective, Indy Scream Park is an undoubtedly scary experience that horror buffs and anyone looking to join in on the Halloween spirit will absolutely love. Indy Scream Park will continue running until November 4th. Tickets can be purchased online at Indy Scream Park's official website. By following Indy Scream Park on Twitter and Facebook, can participate in various contest giveaways for a chance to win tickets to the park! Image Gallery Click the image below to see more from the show! [ngg_images source="galleries" container_ids="2" exclusions="24" display_type="photocrati-nextgen_basic_slideshow" gallery_width="600" gallery_height="400" cycle_effect="fade" cycle_interval="10" show_thumbnail_link="0" thumbnail_link_text="[Show thumbnails]" order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"] Sources: Smithsonian, Indy Scream Park Images provided by Nolan Leahy
by Emily Reuben Similar to Tatterdemalion (you can read our review of it here), No Postage Necessary is another independent film premiering at Heartland Film Festival. No Postage Necessary is unique because it is created using actual film, which is nearly a lost art in the cinematic world. Director Jeremy Culver not only gives us a beautifully crafted film, but one that will make you leave the theater happier than when you entered. The film stars Sam (George Blagden), a brilliant computer hacker who deems himself a sort of vigilante. Having served time for his hacking, Sam yearns to turn his life around and find some meaning. However, being barred from the internet and surveilled by his probation officer (Michael Beach) and an FBI investigator (Stelio Savante), Sam is unable to put his talents to good use. Similarly, Josie (Charleene Closshey), a widowed mother, feels trapped and helpless after the loss of her husband compounds with having to deal with her troubled daughter. When Sam begins stealing mail in hopes of profit, he finds a letter written by Josie to her dead husband and instantly falls in love with the stranger. Now with some meaning in his life, Sam attempts to not only change his ways, but make Josie his. Now full disclosure, during the beginning scene of No Postage Necessary I was admittedly a bit concerned. The film starts with a typical news montage, which is a cliché nearly as old as film itself. I always find this to be a weak way of opening a film, as information is just thrown at the audience with little visual interest. Luckily, the visual editing here does allow for some interesting imagery rather than just a few talking heads monotonously relaying current events, so that’s a plus. Sadly, the film is full of tropes like this, the biggest being “the liar revealed”, which is the entirety of the plot itself. Any moviegoer will probably be able to figure out the entire plot right off the bat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the film is definitely more about the sequence of events and how characters get from start to finish rather than an “edge of your seat” sort of flick. Luckily despite these tropes, the film has plenty of heart behind it to make it a heartfelt, sometimes funny experience. Being able to identify tropes within a movie doesn't make the movie bad, just predictable. What's important here are the characters and how they react to the situations that they are in. The main character does an excellent job of making you want to relate to him while simultaneously wanting to punch him. He has this excellent sly smile that easily manipulates those around him, but he still does some bad, sometimes really creepy, things. He actually begins to stalk Josie, which despite the whimsical music, is really really weird. However, he is presented as being in the wrong as opposed to just shrugging this behavior off as “romance”. This tonal dissonance is played of as more purposeful than not, so this isn’t something I say is too problematic. Josie is by far the most relatable character, and this is largely because of Charleene Closshey’s stellar performance. You can really tell she is struggling and lost in almost every scene she’s in. She really feels like a single mother trying to get by. In many ways, this film is really hers rather than Sam’s. Personally, I found Sam’s co-worker and accomplice, Stanley (Robbie Kay), to be the most interesting character. Any time I chuckled was because of this character. The hypocritical Bible-loving hacker offers fun bits of dialogue throughout and his religious quirk is reincorporated beautifully. The choice to use film was a fantastic one. There is this unquestionably unique look that only film can accomplish, and No Postage Necessary looks and feels warm and inviting from start to finish. The themes of redemption and change are the main discussion points of the film. Both of these ideas are easily relatable and easy for audiences to grasp. No Postage Necessary is a lot of fun even though you can probably guess how everything will end, and that's a testament to the great acting and directing. When given the chance to see this film, don't pass up the opportunity! You can follow the film on the film's official website, Facebook and Twitter. Featured image from nopostagefilm.com
Similar to Tatterdemalion (you can read our review of it here), No Postage Necessary is another independent film premiering at Heartland Film Festival. No Postage Necessary is unique because it is created using actual film, which is nearly a lost art in the cinematic world. Director Jeremy Culver not only gives us a beautifully crafted film, but one that will make you leave the theater happier than when you entered.
by Emily Reuben One of the most exciting parts of Heartland Film Festival is being able to see worldwide premieres of films before they are distributed. One of the shining examples of these films is Tatterdemalion from director, producer and co-writer Ramaa Mosley. Mosley’s film offers an interesting and psychologically engaging addition to the Heartland film lineup this year. Returning to the Ozarks after her service in the army, Fern (Leven Rambin) yearns to reconnect with her younger brother. However, upon her return home, Fern realizes that the Ozarks hold many dark secrets that ultimately distract her from her mission. Among them is a mysterious child (Landon Edwards) whom she discovers abandoned in the woods. The child, who begrudgingly reveals his name is Cecil, forms an instant connection with Fern and temporarily takes refuge in her home. Almost immediately after Cecil enters Fern’s life she begins feeling ill and experiencing a string of inconveniences. Fern’s problems begin to further escalate once the local doctor concludes that Cecil is actually a Tatterdemalion, a creature from Ozark folklore causing Fern’s illness. The veteran becomes concerned for her own life and starts to suspect that the child is actually the strange creature. With the Ozark resident’s ideas of reality and superstition at odds with one another, it is up to Fern to uncover the truth behind Cecil’s origin and determine who, or what, he is. It’s no secret that female directors are not at all prominent in the industry. Out of 213 independent films showing at Heartland, only 75 are directed by women, and that is still a much higher ratio than is seen in the mainstream. In the world of filmmaking, it is always a happy surprise to see a female filmmaker amidst the male-dominated medium, and an even happier one when the execution is done well. One of the directing choices that really made the film shine was the choice to film everything on location in the Ozarks. As a result, the feel of the community, homes, and local ideologies really hit home. People live in decrepit homes, or don’t have a home at all. There are woods everywhere with few people scattered around. There is nothing glorious-looking or expensive to be seen. By all accounts, when Fern returns to her rural home she becomes isolated and vulnerable. Had the location not perfectly captured this feeling of isolation, the effect of Cecil being with Fern would not have been nearly as meaningful. Cecil may have been alone in the woods, but Fern is also alone within her community. Tatterdemalion does a superb job showcasing the connection between Fern and Cecil. Their interactions, both good and bad, are truly the heart of the film while the mystery is more the icing on the cake. Initially, Fern is understandably reluctant to care for Cecil, and this causes some tension and distrust between the two. Levin Rambin does an excellent job portraying a woman who wants to help a lost, lonely child, yet feels put-upon by his presence. When she begins to fear Cecil may be a Tatterdemalion, she manages to maintain empathy while simultaneously relaying a cautious, sometimes aggressively protective, attitude. The relatability of this rocky relationship is easy to latch onto, especially during scenes where Fern and Cecil begin to truly bond. It should be noted that Landon Edwards has never acted previously, which is almost unbelievable considering how effective he is onscreen. There are a few instances of awkward acting here and there, but I would honestly attribute these to the script rather than Landon. Anyone would be hard-pressed to find a child who could make the line “I want to stay with you forever” sound natural when randomly uttered splashing around in the water. While Cecil’s dialogue can be a bit unnatural at times, this is a minor nitpick. It can even be argued that the dialogue choice is purposeful to further bring into question if he is a child or not. Still, for me, this was a bit distracting. What this film does really well is blur the line between reality and fiction to touch on the dangers of superstition and how it can cloud judgement and dampen sympathy. The tale of the Tatterdemalion causes Fern to question whether or not her caring for Cecil will cause her harm. The theme here is very interesting and can almost serve as a commentary on religion or mysticism. A firm belief in something can cause blind fear, and blind fear can result in tragedy. This is a relevant, important observation that makes this film absolutely worth watching. In many films with similar ideas, the clues to the correct answer are often far from subtle and the person in question can easily be determined to be good or evil. While I figured out the correct answer pretty early on, the question perseveres for Fern through most of the film, thus maintaining the interesting dynamic between Cecil and Fern and leaving audience members who do know the answer with something to still latch onto. Again, the mystery is secondary to their relationship, so being able to determine the correct answer is not necessarily a fault. The majority of this film looks great, but some editing choices are hard to justify. Though a minor detail, the blue filters at night did take me out of the film at some points with the unnatural lighting tones. There was also an instance towards the end of the film where the scene suddenly changed from night to day with no indication of time passage, which was a bit jarring. However, these are largely insignificant when contrasted to the numerous successes showcased throughout the film and did not impact my overall enjoyment of the film. In Tatterdemalion, the positives far outweigh any negatives. With strong acting, good directing, and great visual aesthetic, this film is well worth a watch when it comes to theaters near you. For upcoming release dates and further information, you can follow the film on Facebook and Twitter. Featured image from Facebook
One of the most exciting parts of Heartland Film Festival is being able to see worldwide premieres of films before they are distributed. One of the shining examples of these films is Tatterdemalion from director, producer, and co-writer Ramaa Mosley. Mosley’s film offers an interesting and psychologically engaging addition to the Heartland film lineup this year.
Great. Another Facebook haunting flick. Didn’t Unfriended already use this schtick?
by Emily Reuben Great. Another Facebook haunting flick. Didn’t Unfriended already use this schtick? Friend Request is an odd little film. Apparently, it is a German supernatural-psychological horror film that initially released in Germany on January 7th, 2016. Despite having a German director and collaboration with German based companies, you would never be able to tell this was a foreign film. Everyone speaks English and the setting could be just about anywhere (though it was shot in Cape town, South Africa…as in not Germany). Just another Facebook haunting flick… Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is extremely popular, incredibly nice, and altogether perfect by movie standards. As evidenced by her Facebook profile, she has a lot of friends and is well-liked on her campus. Sadly for Laura, a student in one of her classes begins to take special notice of her. Marina (Liesl Ahlers) sends Laura a friend request via Facebook. Marina’s timeline is noticeably filled with strange animations and dark imagery, which Laura’s friends find off-putting. Even stranger, Marina has zero Facebook friends. Laura, stating that Marina seems to be a greatly talented artist, accepts Marina’s friendship thinking the girl is simply misunderstood. After a few strange interactions and constant private messages coming from Marina, Laura becomes concerned by Marina’s apparent obsession with her. Laura neglects to invite Marina to her birthday party and so Marina is sent over the edge after seeing pictures of the gathering on Facebook. After a heated confrontation between the two girls, Marina kills herself on camera. After Marina’s death, Laura’s Facebook account is seemingly hacked and Marina’s suicide video is shared around campus through Laura’s account. Having never seen the video before, Laura is understandably alarmed. Students begin to dislike Laura thinking she caused Marina’s death and is sharing the video as a sort of sick joke. Eventually the faculty also begins to suspect Laura as well. Unable to delete the video or her account due to an “unknown error” message, Laura is trapped dealing with the repercussions of Marina’s suicide as well as the gruesome imagery that is being shared mysteriously through Laura’s own account. Slowly, Laura’s friends realize they are also unable to delete their accounts. After one of Laura’s friends is killed and the video of his death is shared through Laura’s account, Laura begins to realize something more ominous is at play. After some Google searching, Laura’s friend Kobe (Conner Paolo) learns Marina wasn’t a normal human: she was a witch. Additionally, her suicide wasn’t actually a suicide at all. Instead, Marina was performing a ritual. Concerned for herself and the wellbeing of her friends, Laura must find a way to destroy Marina’s spirit. Mental health, suicide...witches? The plot of Friend Request is more than ridiculous. It’s disappointing. The film had an interesting premise in that Marina’s suicide was not prompted by bullying or malicious intent as in most movies; she was simply unstable. In all actuality, the kindhearted and patient Laura is the true victim. Dealing with the guilt and psychological impact of Marina’s death has on Laura would have been fascinating. Well that’s too hard apparently. You know what’s easy? Supernatural horror. Just stick a ghost or witch in the story, and you don’t even have to try! It’s Horror 101. Friend Request is lazy. More than lazy, it’s pointless. After we learn Marina is a witch, the film basically admits that the first twenty minutes building up the relationship between Laura and Marina were a pointless waste of time, but we’ll go into this in more detail later. If Marina would have performed the ritual without first feeling neglected by Laura anyway, then why show their dynamic and build it up as important? Marina is first shown to have been obsessive and abusive due to some instability, thus causing Laura to feel guilty when Marina dies and blame herself despite having been more than friendly to her stalker. This is a powerful example of a toxic relationship and a complex situation that would have made for a great conversation. By simply making Marina a witch who preys on random girls rather than a sick, unstable human, the film is downplaying the horrors of mental illness and abusive relationships in favor of a supernatural cop-out. Mental health is a real, often terrifying concern that is rarely discussed in film. Why? It’s a difficult topic. Honestly, the first twenty minutes are really well done in terms of making the audience feel simultaneously afraid of and bad for Marina. She is obviously in the wrong for stalking and harassing Laura, but she is obviously very sick. Wouldn’t a scarier scenario for this film be Laura dealing with the death of a stalker, blaming herself, and being blamed by her peers? While more psychological, what is real is always more terrifying than something that cannot logically exist in the real world. And who even thinks witches are scary? What is this, 1684? Random male aggression So the relationship between Marina and Laura is….rocky to say the least. But what about those glorious side characters? You could replace them with cardboard cut outs and have the same effect. That's how bland they are. I can't even tell you their names (without Wikipedia’s help at least). The only notable feature is that the males are all terrible. No seriously, they are notably mean spirited. Laura’s boyfriend literally starts yelling at her about hanging out alone with her friend because...jealousy? Apparently this is middle school. Kobe immediately blames Laura for uploading the suicide videos and later decides he has to kill her. Laura’s other male friend (he’s so unimportant that I’m not even going to look up his name) literally makes suicide jokes after Marina seemingly kills herself. Why does Laura hang out with these people? Maybe she just attracts bad company. Witches aren’t scary, but is this movie? Let’s cut to the chase, nothing in this film is scary. In fact, the film is more annoying than anything. There is a scene where the frame focuses on the unfriend button as Laura contemplates unfriending Marina. When she hits the button, the movie theater actually shook, because subsequent ‘’BWAHHHHHH’’ sound was so loud. That's not scary. I mean, it made me want to walk out, but not out of fear. The “scary” imagery on Marina’s page is little more than weird. There really isn't any imagery shown that you haven’t seen in other horror flicks. As mentioned above, a more scary premise would be focusing on the consequences Laura faces as the result of Marina’s suicide. It’s scary to think another person’s actions can have such a drastic impact on your own life. This would be served better as a pure psychological film rather than inserting spooky entities to try to make it scary. Honestly, it’s disrespectful how the film manipulates suicide for emotional impact when it has practically nothing to do with the plot. I mean, it’s shown the suicide was actually a ritual, so what’s the point? It's to make the audiences feel bad. It's a cheap way to make your audience feel something when there isn't enough emotion to keep viewers interested. How lame. And I want you to guess how the film ends. Seriously guess. No really you’ll get it. It ends with a jumpscare. In the words of the great Randy Marsh, “I’m so startled.” Animations that are to good for this movie So is there anything good about this movie? Well yes, but not much. The first 20 minutes shows promise (but later throws that promise out the window). The editing is passable, and the music is….well it didn’t make my ears bleed. What was impressive were the short animations shown on Marina’s Facebook page. While entirely pointless to the narrative, these were well crafted and much more fun to watch than the actual film. The gothic scenery and dark themes here are great. Why was money spent on animations for this movie? No idea, but at least they’re kind of cool. Lazy, boring, and not worth a watch Friend Request is a mess. The beginning portion feels like a completely separate movie than the last half. Nothing is really that frightening or strange, and characters are lackluster. More importantly, the film is too scared to actually discuss mental health, and that’s just a shame. Do yourself a favor, don’t watch it. Watch literally anything else. Don't give these terrible movies attention. Shield your eyes and walk away. Featured image from JoBlo
In this episode of Input 2, we discuss one of the newest horror movies to be released this fall, Friend Request, and try to decipher exactly what the creative minds behind the films were trying to say. We talk about the use of social media and suicide in both this movie and 2015's Unfriended, and what the fear of social media entails. Will social media continued to be used in horror movies? What do this films do to add to the conversation about suicide and mental illness. All this and more on Input 2!
With the release of the horror movie Friend Request in the United States, it is difficult not to think of the film Unfriended released in 2015. Both feature Facebook and cyberbullying as major plot devices, not to mention the names of each film are very similar; however, the critical reception of the films has been wildly different despite a similar subject matter.
by Emily Reuben With the release of the horror movie Friend Request in the United States, it is difficult not to think of the film Unfriended released in 2015. Both feature Facebook and cyberbullying as major plot devices, not to mention the names of each film are very similar; however, the critical reception of the films has been wildly different despite a similar subject matter. Unfriended was met with a respectable amount of praise for an independent horror flick: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="975"] Images from Rotten Tomatoes[/caption] Apparently Dowd isn’t the only one who praises Unfriended for its use of technology. CNN, IndieWire, and the New York Times have praised the “fresh” use of technology in Unfriended. On the contrast, Friend Request has been receiving terrible reviews: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="975"] Images from Rotten Tomatoes[/caption] So what is Unfriended, and why is it garnering so much praise while Friend Request is failing despite its similar subject matter? More importantly: what’s the deal with Facebook suddenly being scary and what does this new trend of Facebook focused horror movies say about the fears of modern society? Unfriended is your average cautionary cyber-bullying tale. High-schooler Laura Barns kills herself after an embarrassing video of her is posted online. The film operates in a found-footage style but with a twist: everything is seen on a computer screen. It begins with a group of friends on a Skype call, but the teen’s conversation takes a turn for the eerie when a stranger appears in their chat to harass them. This is the entire film. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Image from Giphy[/caption] Friend Request is a bit different in how it presents its characters. Instead of a group chat, the film is all about Laura - a girl who receives a friend request from a strange girl Marina. After accepting the request, Marina becomes obsessed and angrily approaches Laura wondering why she wasn’t invited to a party Laura posted about. After Laura unfriends Marina, the girl kills herself and posts it to Facebook. Laura is then haunted by the ghost of Marina. These films both feature Facebook and the main character being haunted by a ghost (or supernatural entity) after causing a suicide. The premises are similar, but Unfriended has a more consistent message. At the end of the movie, the audience is shown that all of these characters were terrible people thus to some degree, deserving of their gruesome fates. Stripping the cast of any redeeming qualities helps to lay out a moral judgement that audiences can easily get behind: these characters could have avoided their fates had they not been such awful people. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Image from MTV[/caption] Friend Request has a more confusing narrative. Laura is faced with an obsessive, abusive acquaintance and deals with it in a more or less healthy way by ending that relationship, but Laura is targeted and tormented by Marina’s spirit anyways (this relationship is explored further in a recent episode of Input 2). The moral narrative is inconsistent. Laura is more open-minded and demonstrably less judgemental than the company she keeps, but this vulnerability is what dooms her. Had she been like her friends and ignored Marina, Laura wouldn’t have been haunted. Narratively satisfying punishments usually match the nature of the original offense. In Unfriended the people who drove Laura Barnes to commit suicide are forced to commit suicide themselves. Conversely, in Friend Request Laura is rendered friendless by Marina because… she decided not to be friends with her stalker? What a monster. So Unfriended is the more relatable film. Putting aside all of the positive press coverage it had received which helped boost the film’s popularity, this is one explanation as to why Unfriended has fared better than Friend Request. Now let’s look at why social media is showing up more in horror. In 2011 Meghan is Missing showcased the story of two young girls who are kidnapped after chatting with a stranger online. This plotline arose again in the 2013 Russian film titled The Den. After the devastating suicide of Amanda Todd in 2012, cyberbullying was ushered into the mainstream, becoming a fear for many parents. Rather than placing a focus on stranger danger, the focus turned to cyber bullying among peers. This becomes apparent in 2015. Releasing roughly the same time as Unfriended was the film #Horror which ironically also discusses cyberbullying on Facebook. So what was happening in 2015 to spark a major discussion on cyberbullying? Well for starters, In 2015, the Cyberbullying Research Center conducted a random sample of 457 students between ages 10 and 15 which showed that the number of students who have experienced cyberbullying was 34.4%. In a 2010 sample of 4441 people aged 10 through 18 the number was 20.8%. As shown by the 13.6% increase, as more youth have grown up with social media, the numbers have risen. Between 2014 and 2015, the numbers were shown to be higher than ever before. So social media based horror films are nothing new; the way social media is presented simply changes to match the issues of the time. We as a society love to make a villain out of new technology and the misuse of it. That fear is being capitalized on in the horror genre. Consider for a moment parents with teenagers. In a digital world, there is no way to fully monitor what a child is doing and who they are communicating with, and Unfriended plays on this fear by showcasing the worst type of people doing despicable things online. This is where the praise of this film openly discussing these frightening possibilities stems from. After cases like Amanda Todd’s, media began to address the horrors of the terrible things young people do and say to one another rather than them being preyed on by older, unknown people such as in films like Meghan is Missing or The Den. The focus on strangers online with malicious intentions shifted to the evil that can be done by people you know online. The supernatural entity in Unfriended or Friend Request is the icing on the cake, not the source of the fear itself. Instead, what’s supposedly scary here are the “realistic” implications of what young people do online using social media, such as sparking suicides among their peers. The problem with cyberbully movies exploiting fear of social media is that the characters are typically terrible people irrespective of their use of technology. This is seen in Unfriended where even without social media, these characters would be doing terrible things to each other. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="580"] Image from Ricky's Film Reviews[/caption] Friend Request breaks this trope by making the protagonist sympathetic. However, as discussed previously, she is punished for her kindness. This is a strange message to send to viewers. Was Laura supposed to bully Marina? I doubt that’s what the filmmakers are trying to convey, but Friend Request is such a mess that an unhealthy message can easily be taken away by impressionable viewers. In reality, it’s unlikely the film was meant to have a message about cyberbullying at all. It was simply an easy method to garner sympathy from viewers. Instead, Friend Request focuses more on social media addiction and the effect of maintaining online personas; however Laura doesn’t suffer from any addiction, making the idea pointless. A counter on screen indicates that her friend count is dropping throughout the film, but Laura hardly seems to care. She isn’t shown to have an interest in an exaggerated online persona; Laura’s simply upset she’s being framed for causing a suicide. So to summarize, we have two Facebook horror films both featuring cyberbullying as plot devices but executed very differently. Unfriended is interested in showcasing teens going wild and being subsequently punished for their wrongdoings while Friend Request tries and fails to focus on the negative aspect of online appearances and online isolation. Unfriended was released when cyberbullying statistics spiked and the desire for public discourse was high. There is still a push to tackle the issue of cyberbullying, but after years of discussion, instances of cyberbullying have become regular occurrences. Let’s be frank, most celebrities and public figures engage in some unprofessional online exchanges. When our leaders and idols are allows to constantly tear down and and harass others with little to no repercussions, it's not exactly a promising sign that cyberbullying is being taken seriously. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/781788223055994880 Social media can be scary. We all struggle to get likes and get noticed, and sometimes this desire for attention clouds our better judgement. People hide behind screens to say and do terrible things. Predators stalk and harm people online. The internet is scary, and we should discuss it, but let’s not forget to talk about the people behind the computer. Facebook isn’t making anyone kill themselves, but the Blaires of the world are. Until horror movies are willing to stop making ghosts and witches scapegoats for human cruelty, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will continue to only be scary to those who think social media really does run on witchcraft. Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, CNN, IndieWire, The New York Times, Cyberbullying Research Center, BuzzFeed Images: Rotten Tomatoes, Giphy, MTV, Ricky's Film Reviews, Cyberbullying Research Center, Twitter
We’re back witches! This week, we call in our two resident South Park experts to talk about one of the most popular adult cartoons on the air. We delve into why South Park is purposefully offensive and outrageous, take a look at some of the actually serious issues in our society that the show addresses, and look towards the current season. All this and more on The Coven.
“Put it Down” is the best episode yet this season, as it mirrors the desire of a large portion of the country: to make President Trump put his phone down and stop tweeting. While this episode’s firm political criticism and stance on the President will undoubtedly result in controversy amongst viewers, “Put it Down” offers a fair amount of fun compared to last week’s dull episode.
by Emily Reuben “Put it Down” is the best episode yet this season, as it mirrors the desire of a large portion of the country: to make President Trump put his phone down and stop tweeting. While this episode’s firm political criticism and stance on the President will undoubtedly result in controversy amongst viewers, “Put it Down” offers a fair amount of fun compared to last week’s dull episode. The episode begins at a school assembly. Tweek takes the stage screeching about the threat posed by North Korea and that “we are all going to die”. After this strange public display, the kids urge Craig to calm down Tweek seeing as the two are still dating after season 20 (which is hilarious). Craig convinces Tweek to send the North Koreans cupcakes as a sort of peace offering. This initially seems to work until President Garrison antagonizes North Korea on Twitter, essentially stating that Tweek is playing a massive prank on them. Tweek, understandably upset, is now more petrified than ever. Cartman has his own B-plot in this episode. After leaving Heidi last week, Cartman proclaims that they had to get back together because Heidi is suicidal. However, Heidi provides Stan a voicemail in which Cartman begs Heidi to take him back and threatens to kill himself. After being ridiculed for his behavior in the voicemail, Cartman makes it his mission this episode to promote suicide awareness (though only in regards to himself), despite it being distracted driver awareness week. In the end, the school holds a recital urging “anyone who is president” to put down their phone, obviously jabbing at President Trump’s reckless tweeting. South Park is known for having great musical numbers, and this reputation is further solidified in “Put it Down”. While promoting awareness for his own apparent suicidal tendencies, Cartman creates a song titled “Eric We Don’t Want You to Die” in which he parades through the school asking students to care about Cartman’s “abusive relationship” and depression...and the school doesn’t care at all. This is reminiscent of the episode in Season 12 titled, “Elementary School Musical” where the boys attempt to be cool by breaking into song spontaneously and dancing, but the school hardly reacts to them. Cartman is always best when he is at his worst. Exploiting mental health awareness for his own gain is despicable, but that’s why we love Cartman. In the past season Cartman simply wasn’t interesting. It’s great to see his narcissistic, terrible side taking stage once more. It should go without saying that the satire here is great. President Garrison is obviously the show’s stand in for President Trump and Trey Parker and Matt Stone are obviously calling for the President to stop endangering the American public with his immature tweets. While by no means the most hilarious South Park episode ever made, this episode indicates a vast improvement for the series after a previous season of disappointment. If the season continues like this, we are in for a great ride. Featured image from South Park Archives
day marks the re-release of the second generation of Pokémon games, Pokémon Silver and Pokémon Gold on the 3DS virtual console. Generation Two tops many Pokémon fan’s best generations list, and there is little wonder why: It’s a whole new place with a brand new attitude. The region is massive, the gameplay vastly improved from the first generation, and most importantly, new Pokémon!