Halloween 2018 and Chronology of Slasher Films

Since I first started writing this piece inspired by the new Halloween sequel called Halloween coming out on 19 October, quite a lot has happened. The second trailer, released on 5 September, has almost cleared 4 million views on YouTube. The film itself premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. TIFF tends to be friendlier to genre films than most major mainstream festivals, so I'd say the jury's still out on if the film will live up to the hype. I'm hopeful. People I know and trust say it's the best sequel in the series and the best Halloween film since 1978 (the original).

Why did it take me so long to pull together a piece on the new Halloween when so many were satisfied with waxing poetic about the trailer? Chronology. In a move that will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed me for more than a day, I began to obsess over minutia in the trailer and needed to gather my receipts to feel satisfied approaching that subject. I do not like to speak out of turn and enjoy research work far too much to just accept my intuition and recollection as a valid source.

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The Haunting of Hill House: A History

Yesterday, Netflix announced that Shirley Jackson's gothic masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House is coming to the streaming service as a 10 episode series. Mike Flanagan, the writer/director of Gerald's Game and Ouija: Origin of Evil, is the show runner. I'll be perfectly honest. I did not expect this. I don't know if there was an earlier announcement I missed, but I never could have anticipated The Haunting of Hill House would be adapted into such a long format.

The Haunting of Hill House is a touchstone of literary horror. Originally published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's masterful haunted house story is one of the rare horror novels to be a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction (1960). It is undeniably a gothic horror in the Victorian rather than Southern tradition, set in a sprawling mansion where scientific research standards are used to prove the existence of ghosts. The novel comes complete with a tragic and lonely heroine, doors that open and close on their own, locals who refuse to go anywhere near the mansion (especially at night), a phantom dog, and a dark secret in the attic. It is an especially sophisticated entry in the genre, as much a woman's journey of self-discovery as it is a terrifying text. 

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On Integrity, Plagiarism, and Online Media

I've worked in arts education for over a decade year round teaching music and theater courses. I also spent the better part of three years hustling hard to get an English teacher position at the high school level. I'm still teaching music and theater, but my Bye Bye Birdie LARP adventure is suspended. The biggest lesson I try to teach any of my students is to act with integrity and compassion in everything they do.

English classes make that easy. If you plagiarize your paper--steal someone else's work directly, borrow ideas without attribution, or do the dreaded Ctrl-F and thesaurus combination, you fail and risk significant punishment. There is no gray area. You are expected to write and defend your own ideas. If you use someone else's work, you cite your source and make sure you get the last word in. Very rarely, you come across a student who does this and shows no remorse. They are the ones who wind up with major disciplinary records. 

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The Academy Awards Break Film Twitter with New Category and Broadcast Changes

or something I've heard referred to as irrelevant and out of touch with society for years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, aka AMPAS, aka the organization that runs the Academy Awards, sure did blow up film Twitter yesterday. The Academy announced three new changes that will impact how the Oscars work starting next year.

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Academy Awards: A Star Should Be Born: Auli'i Cravalho's Unstoppable Performance

There is a lot that can and should be said about the Academy Awards on Sunday. It's wonderful that Moonlight won Best Picture. Despite winning Best Actor, Casey Affleck received an icy, at best, response from anyone he attempted direct contact with throughout the ceremony. Jimmy Kimmel's worst bit--bringing "tourists" into the Kodak Theatre--is mercifully overshadowed by the chaos of the Best Picture announcement. 

But, for me, the biggest takeaway is what should be a young actor's a star is born moment.

After a brand new intro written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, 16-year-old Moana star Auli'i Cravalho took to the stage to sing "How Far I'll Go." This was Cravalho's debut performance in a film and it was a voice-acting role. For many, this is the first time she will be seen live, in the flesh, and it's on Hollywood's biggest night. That's a lot of pressure.

Then a few minutes into the performance, one of the backup dancers hits her in the head with a large prop and she doesn't even flinch. She doesn't miss a note, doesn't get flustered, a delivers the best song performance of the night.

Cravalho is already an unflappable pro at 16. If that performance does not sway casting directors for film, television, and theater to give her a chance, the industry isn't just.

Thoughts on the Academy Award Nominations

The big story for me is still the Academy Award nominations and what they actually mean for the state of entertainment.

Spoiler alert: We still have a LONG way to go.

This is the first time since I began writing about film professionally over ten years ago that I face a specific dilemma about the Oscar nominations. There are two major contenders for Best Picture and other big ticket categories I refuse to watch. 

I firmly believe that we, as a cinema viewing audience, need to take a stand with our wallets. If we blindly support films helmed by problematic people, we continue their careers far longer than they should last.

It's not that I have no interest in the plots or subject of Manchester by the Sea and Hacksaw Ridge; I have no interest in supporting the careers of Casey Affleck and Mel Gibson.

Mel Gibson's circumstances are better known. I haven't supported his work since his aggressive, anti-semitic and incredibly sexist tirade against the police. "Sugar tits" is iconic for being such an absurd attempt at getting out of trouble, but it points to greater issues with his level of respect for women; Passion of the Christ told you everything you needed to know about his attitude towards Jewish people.

Casey Affleck's issue is, sadly, not as well-publicized and points to major issues with attitudes in Hollywood and the Academy Awards. He was accused of sexually and verbally harassing women on the set of I'm Still Here, that awful Joaquin Phoenix not-documentary from 2010. That's not okay and should give people pause on supporting his work as more reports of a continued pattern of behavior emerge.

Now this is hardly the first time the Academy Awards looked past terrible behavior from privileged white men to reward work in film; Roman Polanski didn't win his Best Director Oscar until decades after her fled the United States to escape jail time for statutory rape charges. What is troubling is another could-be Oscar contender that became DOA because of similar abuse allegations.

Sundance buzz does not always equate to Oscar gold; it's not a common occurrence. Yet, the rapturous reviews for writer/director/star Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation seemed guaranteed to set up momentum for awards season. The quality of the film is pretty inconsequential when the narrative is right and Parker had it all in the bag. 

Then his court record from the 1990s emerged and destroyed his career before the film's wide release. Parker and a teammate were accused of raping an intoxicated student while they were in college. Parker claimed the sex was consensual, while his victim said she was drunk and therefore couldn't consent. Non-consensual sex is rape, period. Parker was acquitted on the charges while his teammate was found guilty (and appealed the decision and had the case thrown out by prosecutors).

How is it that Nate Parker, a black actor, had his career destroyed by decades old charges while Casey Affleck, a white actor, had much more recent charges ignored to lead him to potential Oscar gold? 

It's not just the abuse narrative and Oscar campaigns that connect these two stories. Parker and Affleck both were incredibly dismissive and said tone deaf things about the allegations against them while promoting their films. The difference is entertainment writers actively pursued the story for Parker and largely let it slide away for Affleck. That's an interesting choice.

It seems writers weren't, as a whole, really willing to go after Casey Affleck until after Mel Gibson got his big Hollywood redemption arc with six nominations for his war movie Hacksaw Ridge. The one-two punch of sexist, problematic behavior lit a fire under a much more docile-to-white-people narrative to create more clickbait stories.

I'll leave it for you to put together the pieces. Race appears to play a role in awards season even when the work could be a contender. Just think back to how much crap Mo'nique got for not campaigning for Precious and how many interviewers just assumed Gabourey Sidibe was an innercity nobody with below average intelligence to play the lead in the same film. Now compare it to the typical white actress questions related to fashion, the challenge of playing someone SO DIFFERENT from themselves, and blanket praise for actresses like Brie Larson and Jennifer Lawrence who roll their eyes at the traditional awards campaigns and appearances.

The Oscar nominations aren't all bad. I'm quite fond of most of these lineups, even if they don't come close to lining up with my own ballot. Arrival, Fences, and Hell or High Water, and Moonlight are excellent nominees. I don't mind Hidden Figures or Lion, either. La La Land is the likely Best Picture winner, which is unfortunate but easily explained by Hollywood's fondness for films that wink and nod at Hollywood and entertainment culture. 

I'm a huge fan of Original Screenplay where should-be Best Picture nominees The Lobster and 20th Century Woman earned the right to say "Academy Award Nominee" in their marketing. Visual Effects recognized the consistently magnificent work of Studio Laika as well as the best new character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange's cape. Documentary feature is incredibly strong (even if you accept made for TV documentary O.J. Made in America as a film) and Costume Design is the most contemporary crop of nominees we've seen in a long time (the oldest entries are set in the 1920s, followed by 1940s, 1960s, and modern). And it's always worth celebrating when the Academy goes all in on a queer film like Moonlight, especially a queer film from a non-white perspective. 

As for my own lineup, I literally have only one shared nominee, Moonlight, though my top choice The Lobster snuck in for Original Screenplay and Zootopia snagged its obvious nod for Animated Feature. 

Running down the list, I'm pulling for:

  • Moonlight in Best Picture,

  • Denzel Washington (Fences) or Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic) for Best Actor,

  • Ruth Negga (Loving) or Isabelle Huppert (Elle) for Best Actress, 

  • Mahersala Ali in Supporting Actor,

  • Naomie Harris in Supporting Actress (both from Moonlight),

  • Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) for Best Director, 

  • Yorgos Lanthimos and  Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster) for Original Screenplay,

  • Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) for Adapted Screenplay,

  • Bradford Young (Arrival) for Cinematography,

  • Madeline Fontaine (Jackie) for Costumes,

  • Steve EmersonOliver JonesBrian McLean, and Brad Schiff (Kubo and the Two Strings) for Visual Effects,

  • Eva Von Bahr and Love Larson (A Man Called Ove) for Makeup and Hairstyling,

  • Mica Levi (Jackie) for Original Score,

  • Lyn Manuel Miranda's "How Far I'll Go" from Moana for Original Song, 

  • 13th for Documentary Feature,

  • My Life as a Zucchini for Animated Feature

  • Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh (Hail, Ceasar!) for Production Design, 

  • Sylvain Bellemare for Sound Editing,

  • Bernard GariĆ©py Strobl and Claude La Haye Sound Mixing,

  • Joe Walker for Editing, all from Arrival.

I haven't seen enough of the short and Foreign Language nominees to form opinions.

But then we go back to my initial issue. Since I won't see Hacksaw Ridge or Manchester by the Sea, I can't REALLY judge the categories they appear in. The films exist and are supported despite the issues with the main men behind the campaigns. They could split all their shared categories in a tie and sweep everything else and I wouldn't be able to form an opinion one way or the other. 

I still won't see them, though. I'm not backing down from that. Vote with your wallet and the entertainment industry will learn.