Fig Tree movie review

Fig Tree 2018 movie review

Fig Tree movie review

Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s directorial debut humanizes the horrors of the Ethiopian civil war via the lens of a young couple in love in Fig Tree.

We are drowning in tragedies. We are inundated with the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse – War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death – on a daily basis. It can be too much to take in, too painful to process. Our nervous systems shut down and we resign ourselves to apathy – “Oh well, what can I do anyway?”

Personal stories, autobiographies, memoir, and lived experience cut through that sheet of static, that deadening blanket of deafening noise. They peel the callous away from our skin, remove the stones from our hearts, and allow us to feel and empathize with distant conflicts. They help remind us that we are more alike than not, even when the day-to-day life looks so very different.

Aalam-Warqe Davidian Fig Tree

Fig Tree follows Mina (Betalehem Asmamawe), a 16-year-old young woman living in the Shula, or Fig, neighborhood of an impoverished area on the outskirts of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Mina’s family are Jewish and are laying plans to emigrate to Israel to escape the brutal reign of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the head of the revolutionary army known as the Derg that overthrew the Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974. Set in 1989, Fig Tree drops us in 15 years into the Derg’s reign. To supplement the Derg’s declining forces, Mariam’s rounding up and kidnapping all males between the ages of 16 and 30 to join the Derg’s army.

This poses as immediate threat to Mina’s boyfriend and pseudo-brother, Eli (Yohanes Muse). Eli’s a Christian boy that was adopted by Mina’s grandmother years ago, when his mother fled the country. He hides out in a fig tree on the outskirts of town in a bid to escape the marauding bands of kidnappers.

African movie reviewWhile hiding out in the fig tree, Eli and Mina find a soldier who’s lost his legs in war, who’s attempted to hang himself with thin orange twine. Eli and Mina rescue him at the nick of time, carrying him back to the village on Eli’s back. The soldier returns to consciousness and hauls himself away using a pair of crude wooden hand supports, dragging his torso through the dust and dirt, making it about 50 yards and then collapsing in the street. No one thinks anything of it, simply stepping around his prone body. The passive resignation to such a heartrending sight is the perfect representation of the heart and soul of Fig Tree. What effects do a life of terror, poverty, and brutality have on the human soul and psyche?

What effects do a life of terror, poverty, and brutality have on the human soul and psyche?

Most of Fig Tree focuses around the twin plots of Mina and her family’s escape to Israel and Eli’s hiding from the authorities. Mina’s family secures passage out of the country, leaving Mina worried about what will happen to Eli once they leave. She plots and schemes various ways to save Eli, including sleeping together to make him her husband. Mina’s family discovers her machinations to save Eli. Her father beats her unmercifully with a leather belt, with her grandmother scolding her to be smart, even if she can’t control who or how she loves.

All of these cogs come together, resulting in the film’s gut-wrenching final moments if not causing them directly.

Betalehem Asmamawe Fig Tree

Reading this synopsis, it may seem as if not much happens in Fig Tree. You wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not really the point of Davidian’s debut feature film. Based on her own experiences leaving a war torn Ethiopia as a young woman. It’s more of a slice-of-life depiction of a very unique upbringing during very tumultuous times. The film is more about the textures of everyday life of a regular girl than any kind of epic. That’s what makes it so successful, landing like a steel fist to your rib cage, like a steel-toed boot to the base of your neck. The detailed cinematography, with long languorous looks lavished on the rich malachite greens and brick reds of Mina’s grandmother’s linens; on bright, burnished steel and glass, glinting in the sun; the nearly sexual shape of figs rolling around in the dirt; the sweat running down a child’s forehead. This nearly microscopic exposition of life in an Ethiopian village transplants you behind the windshield of a young girl’s eyes, feeling her excitement, her terror, her incomprehension of the world’s brutality and the ferocity of her heart.

This radical empathy makes the painful reality of the brutality of life in Ethiopia under the Derg hit home like a closed fist. You will cry, most likely. You will leave, stunned, shaking your head.

The relationship between Mina and Eli offers a particularly poignant perspective on the situation. The scene where Mina offers herself to Eli so he can become her husband, is heartbreaking in its innocence. The pair sit down to play a hand-clapping game, with all the seriousness of a newlywed couple. The juxtaposition of childhood and adult life is striking. Every young adolescent thinks they’re wiser than they are, that they know everything. Coming of age stories are often moving, due to this, and the fact that it takes us back to a time where everything is so vibrant, potent, and intense.

Anybody that’s gone through adolescence will likely be able to empathize with Mina and Eli. It’s a universal story, as old as time. Which makes the brutality and terror of life under a brutal regime all the more striking, all that much harder to watch. Which is why it’s so important we do so, to pay witness, to truly open our hearts to make sure these things don’t happen again, even though they’re probably happening right this second.

Full disclosure, all of this talk of being numbed to the atrocities happening around the globe are written from a place of my own privilege. While these atrocities may be foreign and remote from where i am writing in Portland, Oregon, this is just daily life for people living in Ethiopia and likely much of Africa, as well as other parts of the globe. The ability to tune out is a luxury, which makes it that much more essential to rip the callous off our hearts, to tear down the walls of our own perceptions. Or perhaps i am unique in this, and others remain more tender and open and informed around the clock. Either way, this screening at the Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Portland Art Museum made a big, big impact on this particular viewer. I’ve long had a fondness and a fascination with Ethiopian culture, mostly the music and the food thus far, as that’s what i’ve been exposed to. Fig Tree humanizes the struggle that’s been going on for decades in Ethiopia. I’m not really sure how things stand today, i’m ashamed to say. I’m going to be fixing that. I encourage you to do the same, and watching Fig Tree is a great place to start.

Amazing performances, outstanding cinematography, and an invaluable illustration of a very important historical epoch that not enough westerners know about make Fig Tree essential viewing for all lovers of African film and culture. Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s an auspicious talent and definitely one to watch. Cannot wait to see what she gets into next!

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Book Review: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic Stalker

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugasky book review

Roadside Picnic is like a Russian novel’s magic realist take on H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. It’s also one of the finest works of Science Fiction of the 20th Century. Or all time.

Nothing Matters: The Cosmic Indifference of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Humanity loves to center itself as the center of the universe. Suggesting that the heavens did not whirl around the Earth was enough to see Galileo imprisoned for the remainder of his lifetime.

The reality of humanity’s insignificance lies at the heart of so much 20th Century science fiction. The weight of whirling electrons, the endless expanses of the infinite void, was enough to send H. P. Lovecraft‘s imagination into paroxysms, with his Great Old Ones acting as allegories of cosmic forces beyond our comprehension. While the ennui of Roadside Picnic is more in keeping with Pink Floy’d “quiet desperation” than the diabolical malevolence of Azathoth and Nyarlthotep, that’s actually what makes it even more impactful and unsettling.

Roadside Picnic tells the story of Redrick “Red” Schuhart. Red’s a stalker, private citizens who illicitly enter “The Zone,” the area surrounding the location of an inexplicable alien visitation. We don’t meet the aliens in Roadside Picnic nor know anything about them. We only see the remnants of their visit, abandoned gadgets cast-off like so much trash.

No one knows the purpose of the alien’s visit. The characters of Roadside Picnic are pretty sure there wasn’t one. The alien technology littered throughout The Zone – causing all manner of bizarre, deadly anomalies – is thought to be so much leftover trash.

As Dr. Valentine Pilman puts it, towards the beginning of the book, delivering its title as well as its raison d’etre:

“A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around… Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind… And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow.”

Roadside Picnic science fiction book review
The Zone is a place of both wonders and terrors.

The Zone is a place of both wonders and terrors. The discarded “empties” create all manner of deadly occurrences, atmospheric conditions that can kill a stalker dead in a blink of an eyelash, as well as having all kinds of inexplicable effects on their inner workings. The children of stalker’s, including Red’s, are born with all manner of strange birth defects. Red’s daughter is healthy and normal in every way, but just happens to be covered in a sheen of fine black hair. They call her “Monkey.

This is just some of the strangeness that occurs around The Zone. The dead also return to life, returning to their living domiciles. Red’s father comes back from the dead, a silent shambling shape. No one knows what purpose the dead serve or what they want. They keep their secrets, except from others touched by The Zone.

In one of Roadside Picnic‘s most affecting scenes, Red and his wife Gula, awaken to hear The Monkey communicating with Red’s deceased father in a series of unearthly tones and wailing. It’s never made clear what they’re saying or what it means, which makes it that much more unsettling.

Nothing is clear in Roadside Picnic. There’s no grand plan to take comfort in or provide meaning to the otherworldly machinations. Humanity are merely insects, ants at a picnic, trying to make sense of higher lifeforms who might as well be gods.

Roadside Picnic occurs in sections. We first meet Red as a young stalker trying to go straight. He takes a job with one of the government agencies investigating The Zone. Unfortunately, they want Red for his stalking abilities, making him a sort of privateer. They send him to retrieve a special artifact, a full “empty.” This mission ends up costing the life of one of Red’s only friends.

Some time passes, and we find Red back to his unofficial stalking duties. He’s given a task by Burbridge The Vulture, who earned his namesake from profiting off of the death and misery of others. Karma catches up with The Vulture, who steps in a pit of “hell slime,” melting his legs down to the bone. It is here that we learn, as does Red, he’s actually a good person. He drags The Vulture out of The Zone and drops him off at a surgeon, losing his legs but sparing his life. This sets in motion the events of Roadside Picnic’s third act.

In Roadside Picnic‘s final segments, Red is sent into The Zone for one final mission. The Vulture sends him to find the “golden sphere,” a mythical, nearly-magical device that is said to grant wishes. At a cost, of course.

The book concludes with Red and Arthur, a fledgling stalker, and their harrowing journey into The Zone’s hidden depths. It’s the book’s most iconic, and most exciting, segment, making The Strugatsky Brother’s a slow-burn that explodes like a powder keg in the final moments.

Roadside Picnic Stalker
The Zone is portrayed as a blurry, Technicolor, tranquil and quite beautiful, obscuring the madness and menace that lies beneath its surface

Roadside Picnic and Stalker

Of course, Roadside Picnic is best known as the inspiration for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, released in 1979, a scant few years after the book’s troubled publication. Stalker shows Roadside Picnic to be the slowly-unfurling, dreamy work of magical realism that is its hidden heart. The Zone is portrayed as a blurry, Technicolor vision, tranquil and quite beautiful, obscuring the madness and menace that lies beneath its surface.

Roadside Picnic serves as a lovely counterpoint to Tarkovsky’s otherworldly vision. The director’s surreal, poetic imagery helps you to fall in love with The Zone and the realms surrounding it, surrendering to its mysteries, digging for its secrets. The novel, on the other hand, offers a glimpse of the interior lives and worlds of Red and his fellow stalkers. It also offers a more thorough and comprehensive overview of The Zone and its effects on the societies surrounding it.

Roadside Picnic is essentially a Russian novel’s take on magical sci-fi realism. If Gogol and Borges were to have a baby in space, it might write a book kind of like Roadside Picnic. Seeing the rich web of characters and their interactions that surround The Zone also serves as an illustration of the troubled history of Roadside Picnic and why it’s so important.

Roadside Picnic is essentially a Russian novel’s take on magical sci-fi realism. If Gogol and Borges were to have a baby in space, it might write a book kind of like Roadside Picnic.

Roadside Picnic The Strugatsky Brothers

The Troubled History Of Roadside Picnic’s Publication

Publishing a book in Soviet Russia was a challenging pursuit at the best of times, let alone a novel as subversive, misanthropic, and nihilistic as The Strugatsky Brothers’ vision. Unsurprisingly, Roadside Picnic would take seven years to publish, as Arkady writes in the novel’s afterword.

It wasn’t due to an anti-Communist rhetoric, however, despite the fact the book and film could easily be read as a particularly scathing satire.

Instead, the censors took issue with the hard-boiled world of the stalkers. They objected to the depictions of hard drinking, smoking, bar fights, obscenities, and callousness that make up a bulk of the book’s actions. They were afraid the sci-fi novel would act as a corrupting influence on the impressionable Communist youth.

Reading Roadside Picnic after the fact, its quiet desperation is quite in keeping with any economically disenfranchised locale. Either the censors had never spent any significant amount of time in a working-class town, especially after its decline. Or, if they had, they wanted to bury that reality like black mold in a house they’re selling.

Roadside Picnic serves as a magic realist satire on the grim realities of both capitalism and communism. It shows a world without wonder, with no hope, without escape. The Zone is a symbol of Wonder, of Miracles and the terrible price people are willing to pay for Hope.

The Zone is a symbol of Wonder, of Miracles and the terrible price people are willing to pay for Hope.

If a gateway to a faerie realm were to open in your hometown, would you visit? If the aliens offered you a ride in their whirling disk, would you hop aboard? Roadside Picnic reminds us that there will always be those who will, at any cost or price.

It’s one of the finest works of science fiction ever laid to page, in any culture or epoch. It sets the stage for latter-day works of speculative fiction like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, serving as the inspiration for 2018’s Annihilation. If you’re looking to make sense of the collective unconscious of late-stage capitalism, and how we got here, read this book. Now.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky from your local independent bookseller!

J. Simpson occupies the interzone between criticism and creativity. As a cultural critic, he traces the obscure, the hidden, the subtle, through books, music, television, and film. He is obsessed with everything that people make, believing it offers an insight into our collective dreams and desires.

Follow J on Twitter and Instagram and GoodReads.


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Other Voices: Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading Event for AWP 19 @ Devil’s Den Wine Bar; Portland, Or.

NY's Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading at AWP 19

Dead Rabbits Razor Blades Reading At AWP 19

Subterranean underworlds, anonymous gay sex, alcoholic fathers, menstruating women… the down-and-dirty, the under-represented and unexpressed, were given voice at the Dead Rabbits/Razor Blade reading at Devil’s Den for AWP 19.

Author Rudine Sims Bishop writes about the power of stories and storytelling, and why it matters, in her essay Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Doors, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

NY's Dead Rabbits & Razor Blade Offsite Reading at AWP 19
Two of NY’s finest reading series, Dead Rabbits and Razor Blade, held court in Devil’s Den, a cozy-but-posh wine bar on Alberta St. in Portland, Or.

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity and representation in art in recent years. Every medium has been broadening their scope, looking for new stories from untold perspectives. While Hollywood and TV are starting to catch up, the literary world is also evolving to include more and different stories from all walks of life. This has caused a backlash against the cliche white-bread intellectual, with their omnipresent copies of Infinite Jest and The Catcher In The Rye.

While we’re still fans of both David Foster Wallace and J. D. Salinger, as unpopular as that position may be, we’re every bit as passionate, if not more so, about finding new stories, voices, and perspectives. The literary underground is serving these amply, these days, bringing queer, trans, and non-White perspectives to the table, as was evident at this reading, co-hosted by two of New York’s finest reading series, Dead Rabbits and Razor Blade.

The sky was turbulent, bruised, and sullen as literary lovers packed the cozy confines of Devil’s Den, a swank-but-approachable wine bar on Alberta St. in Portland, for the first full day of AWP 19. There was a similar electric feeling, the air pregnant with possibilities, as six exceptional authors shared a deluge of personal perspectives, told in language both poetic and gritty.

Krystyna Byers Southern Fried Karma
Not All Migrate will be released on June 4, 2019 via Southern Fried Karma Press

Toronto author Krystyna Byers kicked things off with an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Not All Migrate. Byers’ debut novel tells the story of Mark Hansberg, a young man whose wife dies from a mysterious drug overdose. Hansberg submerges himself in a subterranean world of drugs and low-lifes, looking for some answers.

Byers’ writing is gritty, stripped-down, stark, and real. It’s a bit like if Dashiell Hammett and Jim Carroll were to get together and write a novel about 21st Century drug addicts. What was most striking, and most evident, in Byers’ prose is the way she captures the speech patterns of the underworld. It’s not prettied up or sanded down. If you’ve ever spent any time looking to buy bad blow from morally repugnant coke dealers, these interactions may ring true.

We’re not sure of the origins of Not All Migrate, but it seems safe to say that Krystyna Byers has seen some things. She lived to tell the tale, and shares her grim, sordid world with the rest of us.

Not All Migrate will be out in June 2019 via Southern Fried Karma press.

Next up, poet Michael Broder regaled the room with his hilarious, down-and-dirty perspectives on queer living. Reading from his book Drug and Disease Free, from Indolent Books, Broder’s worldview is both hilarious and moving. A standout piece told the story of an anonymous gay hookup, from an anonymous payphone call, beneath the boardwalk of Coney Island in 1981.

“This is going to be dirty,” quipped Broder as he began to read. He wasn’t kidding. Brilliantly, poetically dirty. He had the room wrapped around his scatological reminiscences, with lots of laughs and a few sighs. A definite highlight of the evening, and a talent to keep an eye out for.

Michael Broder – Drug and Disease Free is out now on Indolent Books.



Britt Canty author
original illustration by Dolan Morgan for The Rumpus: @dolanmorgan

Last up before the break, NY author Britt Canty shared her most recent essay, Voices On Addiction: One More Conversation which recently published on the literary website The Rumpus. Voices On Addiction tells of what it’s like growing up as the child of an alcoholic – the ups and downs, the hope and smashing despair. More than just another sordid autobiographical skewering of a troubled childhood, Canty lays out her journey to acceptance, that her father is just another person, as troubled and capable as any of us. Voices On Addiction is framed through the lens of receiving a phone call of her father’s passing. For anyone who’s ever loved an addict or alcoholic, you know what it’s like, waiting for that phone call.

This personal outpouring offered a deep, personal counterpoint to the more sensational tales, serving as an emotional gut punch, as well as a velvet touch to the cheek. As someone who’s both lost his father, has struggled with addiction, and known many others who have done the same, Canty’s reading landed like a concussion grenade. Let this serve as a reminder – do not take those you love for granted. You never know how long they’ll be around. Once they’re gone, you’d give anything to tell them how you really feel. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Following the break, three last readers fired off in rapid-fire succession. Poet John Deming shared his insightful, emotional, oddly poignant poetry sourced from headlines from all over the globe. Dead Rabbits’ own Brian Birnbaum told a VERY down-and-dirty story of an alcoholic who shits himself in his tiny apartment while on a bender. You can practically smell the disinfectant, taste the amphetamines at the back of your throat. That is a compliment, by the way. We’re entirely too tired of uber-polite art and society, especially when we’re living in such a mad, mad world.

Brian Birnbaum Dead RabbitsBirnbaum’s writing, taken from his debut novel Emerald City, peels back the surface of polite society, taking a long, deep, unflinching gaze at the muscle and marrow, the fat, disease, and infection that often lies just two inches in front of our face but just out of the line of sight. It’ll make the ground quake, shaking your worldview as you realize just how tenuous this existence can be.

Emerald City will be released on Dead Rabbit Books in September 2019.

Finally, Melinda Wilson closed out the evening with some much-appreciated feminist poetry. Her words lay out the reality of the feminine experience in gristly, visceral detail. Not shy, not polite, not demure – she speaks of women’s sexuality like a warm, womb-like den in the center of the Earth.

As someone who’s a devout feminist but doesn’t happen to inhabit female flesh, these perspectives are so invaluable, so refreshing and moving. Getting a glimpse into the experience of others, like crawling through their eye sockets and being allowed to look around, opens up our minds, our hearts, our worlds to the perspective of others. It’s the antidote to all of the xenophobia, the in-fighting, the blaming and Othering that has gotten our society into such a mess.

Art is the key that will set us free, letting us come together and actually connect rather than floating in isolation.

An inspiring, intoxicating whirlwind of words. AWP 2019 has been amazing, so far! And there’s much to come! So get out, check out some events, and watch this space to hear about what we’ve been seeing and hearing!

Krystyna Byers

Krystyna Byers FB
IG: @krystynabyers

Michael Broder

Michael Broder @ Indolent Books
IG: @michaelbroder

Britt Canty

ig: @britt_canty

John Deming

ig: @johndeming
Headline News by John Deming on Indolent Books

Brian Birnbaum

ig: @briandoesanig

Melinda Wilson

ig: @dogs_rule_everything_around_me

Dead Rabbits

Dead Rabbits FB
ig: @deadrabbitbooks
Dead Rabbits YouTube
Dead Rabbits Podcast
Dead Rabbits on Spotify

J. Simpson author
Yr intrepid reporter; J. Simpson at AWP 2019

J. Simpson occupies the interzone between criticism and creativity. As a cultural critic, he traces the obscure, the hidden, the subtle, through books, music, television, and film. He is obsessed with everything that people make, believing it offers an insight into our collective dreams and desires.

Follow J on Twitter and Instagram at @for3stpunk.

Classic Cinema Review: Three On A Match (1932) movie review

Three On A Match Pre-Code review

Mervyn LeRoy’s Three On A Match – featuring a young Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis as well as Hollywood Rebel Ann Dvorak – checks all of the Pre-Code Hollywood boxes – adultery, drug addiction, wanton sexuality, mobsters, child endangerment, all in a taut 63 minutes. Read the full Three On A Match review to find out how it holds up!

Three On A Match classic movie review
Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, and Ann Dvorak in Three On A Match (1932)

Mary, Vivian, and Ruth are long-lost childhood friends, reuniting over a luncheon and comparing their fortunes. Vivian (Ann Dvorak) seems like she has it all, being married to a rich lawyer with a young, adorable son at home. Mary’s (Joan Blondell) doing okay, but struggling as an up-and-coming actress. Ruth (Bette Davis) is quiet but content.

Three On A Match Mervyn LeRoy
Children smoking is just one way Three On A Match depicts a much different world.

You realize there’s more going as the luncheon wears on, as Vivian begins to open up about her discontent, despite the fact that she’s supposed to have it all. This sets the stage for the rest of Three On A Match, which mostly revolves around Vivian’s fall from grace into a life of drug addiction and squalor.

Three On A Match: Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)

Three On A Match Humphrey BogartMervyn LeRoy’s racy Pre-Code melodrama opens with the three women as young girls. Mary’s a carefree tomboy who doesn’t care who sees her knickers and skips class to smoke cigarettes with boys. Vivian’s a goody-two-shoes who’s desperate to be the center of attention, at any cost. Despite her primness, Vivian has a magnetic, charismatic personality, resulting in her being voted “Most Popular Girl In Class.” Ruth is quiet and studious, receiving an award for “the highest grades the school had ever seen.”

Three On A Match races through the years to find the trio as adults, in 1932, with a clever use of montage and historical ephemera to suggest the passage of time. As a struggling actress, Mary’s getting her hair done in a beauty parlor, featuring a truly bizarre curler contraption that makes her “feel like an octopus”, only to discover that Vivian is in the next booth. They plan a rendezvous luncheon to catch up, as mentioned up top. Here’s where Three On A Match picks up, hurtling towards its truly startling conclusion.

Vivian’s unhappy in her marriage to Robert Kirkwood (Warren William), who seems like a good guy despite being perceived as “stiff” or “boring”. He suggests Vivian take a solo trip to Europe to brighten her spirits, taking their young, adorable son Robert Jr. along with her.

As the cruise ship prepares to depart, Vivian meets Mike Loftus (Lyle Talbot), a ne’er-do-well with a silver tongue, and immediately falls under his spell. Vivian and Junior never leave New York City, instead going into hiding. Mary, ever the loyal friend, finds Vivian and suggests finding a surrogate home for Junior while she’s working out the details.

Vivian and Robert are ultimately divorced, resulting in one of the film’s first surprising twists. Robert and Mary have grown close when she was helping him find Vivian and Junior. The moment Robert and Vivian’s divorce is finalized, he remarries Mary, who becomes the new Mrs. Kirkwood.

The film jumps forward another few years. We find Vivian in dire straits, having become addicted to cocaine in her new life with Mike. We find Vivian outside the beauty parlor where the film begins, waiting for Mary to ask her for a handout. She gives Vivian $80, to help out an old friend, which turns out to be not nearly enough.

Mike’s fallen afoul of some gangsters, including Harve (Humphrey Bogart), who works for Ace (Edward Arnold). Ace is none-too-happy with the down payment. Mike gets desperate and decides to kidnap Junior on a whim from a local park.

Three On A Match Ann Dvorak
“I’ll bear that in mind”; Humphrey Bogart in one of his early gangster roles in Three On A Match (1932)

Here’s where Three On A Match reaches its final heartbreaking conclusion. Mike, Vivian, Junior and the gangsters hole up in a seedy apartment like caged rats. They try to ransom the child but the hand-off is heavily monitored by the cops. Harve realizes they’re not getting away unscathed, especially as the child’s seen all their faces and knows all their names. He knows the only way out is to kill the kid. Vivian overhears the plot, which pierces through her narcotic haze. She quickly scrawls a message in lipstick on her nightgown and throws herself to her death, to alert the authorities and save her son.

Turns out lighting three cigarettes off a match is bad luck after all. At least for Vivian.

3 On A Match: Final Thoughts and Historical Significance
3 On A Match is considered one of the penultimate Pre-Code Hollywood films. It features nearly all of the themes which define the era – lascivious sexuality and its seamy repercussions, drug abuse, addiction, and the criminal underworld. It seems to use morality as an excuse to tell a sordid tale, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear moralistic worldview when it’s all said and done.

Three On A Match is noteworthy as a number of these themes would be impossible to show on-screen a short 2 two years later. Sexuality of any kind would be forbidden, as would child abuse or neglect, drug use and addiction.

The film also offers some insights into the world and psychology during The Great Depression, which had been raging for four years by 1932. There’s tragic scenes in a girl’s reform school, where one of the inhabitants remarks “but at least we’re not waiting in line for a bowl of soup.” There also seems to be a mistrust and dislike of the rich elite, but not entirely, as Robert Kirkwood is shown to be a decent man, a good father, an attentive business man, and an understanding lover.

3 On A Match is usually referenced as being vehicles for several huge stars, early in their career. While it’s a delight to see a young Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, that’s not the only reason to love this Pre-Code Hollywood melodrama. Actually, it’s one of the last reasons to check this one out, as Bette Davis is barely there (which she resented terribly, adding to the tension between Davis and Warner Brothers that would erupt in a few years.) Bogart is magnificently chilling as Harve, in an early gangster role, but he doesn’t even show up until 40 minutes in, in a 63 minute film.

How Does Three On A Match Hold Up?

Interestingly, despite their age, Pre-Code Hollywood movies are actually some of the best older films for modern audiences. First and most importantly, they waste no time, getting in and out like a stiletto wound, while dishing as much nastiness as possible in just a little over an hour.

Secondly, their sordid subject matter is more in-line with today’s viewing, delving into the dark side of human life, psychology, and desire. It’s even more striking to watch Pre-Code Hollywood movies today and realize that the industry would be all Shirley Temple movies and saccharine musicals in just a few years, when the Hays Code would be enforced in earnest.

Ann Dvorak is certainly one of the draws for Three On A Match. Producers had noticed her ethereal, waifish quality in Scarface, which also came out in 1932. She’s just as much of a spitfire in Three On A Match, which is reflective of her personality in real life. This hot-headedness would end up having major repercussions on Dvorak’s career, as she was deemed as difficult to work with. Some of these early Pre-Code films are your only chance to really see Dvorak at the peak of her powers.

Every performance is wonderful in Three On A Match, despite the fact that several of the stars aren’t used to the full extent of their abilities. Bette Davis is criminally side-lined in her role as Ruth, a sweet-but-quiet-and-serious court stenographer. Davis had been trying for years to ditch the “good girl next door/sister” stereotype which had plagued her career up to this point.

When Three On A Match was coming out, the Star machine had pegged Joan Blondell as the most likely to succeed. Mervyn LeRoy disregarded the rest of the cast, putting the full weight of the promotion machine behind Blondell. Davis never forgot the slight, which LeRoy mentions in his biography Mervyn LeRoy: Take One.

“There was Three on a Match. They gave me three unknown girls in that one – Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak. I made a mistake when the picture was finished. I told an interviewer that Joan Blondell was going to be a big star, that Ann Dvorak had definite possibilities, but that I didn’t think Bette Davis would make it. She’s been cool to me ever since.”

To learn even more about Three On A Match, read this wonderful in-depth review/synopsis from TCM.

I’m enjoying this deep-dive into the world of Pre-Code/30s Cinema so much! Learning a ton and gaining a deeper appreciation for the world of the 1930s. If you’re looking for period-specific trappings and trimmings, to see how people lived, loved, moved, walked, talked, laughed, sang, and screwed, you need to get into these cinematic treasures.

Next week, we’ll be taking a look at 1933’s Babyface, so check back in next Tuesday for that. Watched 1932’s Call Her Savage, featuring Clara Bow in one of her few talking roles, which I’m going to try and review, as well, in the interim. So lots of classic movie action in these parts!

Is there an old or classic film you’d like to see mentioned here at Mastering Modernity? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try and get around to it! Will watch any and everything, at the very least!

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30th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Winners

Joanna Kulig cold war palm springs film awards

The Film Festival season is firmly upon us. Beginning in November and ramping up to The Oscars at the end of February, the festival season is where the film industry takes stock of itself. It’s a frenetic feeding tank of retrospectives, critical assessment, glitz, glamour, and prestigious awards.

Given the explosion of independent cinema in the 21st Century, it’s no surprise there’s a vibrant independent film festival scene going on. British film researcher Stephen Follows postulates there have been nearly 10,000 film festivals throughout the world over the span of the 14 year range of his investigations. Of that number, there are nearly 3,000 that are currently operational.

With so many festivals happening all over the world, it might lead one to wonder how important movie festivals are, exactly? The answer is – very, which you likely know if you have any experience in the film industry, even just as an audience member.

Film festival accolades can be an important segue towards more mainstream appeal. Rapturous reception of Napoleon Dynamite at the Sundance Film Festival helped that film go on to earn an impressive $45 million – not too shabby for a film made for a modest $400,000. It also helped to secure the legacy of The Blair Witch Project as a legitimate indie horror, and helped kickstart the Found Horror genre in the process.

For the last two weeks, the cinematic universe has had their eyes and ears trained on Palm Springs, in the radioactive depths of the Mojave Desert, as the 30th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival entranced viewers with independent cinema from all over the globe.

This weekend, the PSIFF have announced the festival winners as the fest winds to a close. As one of the largest independent film festivals in North America, these films are sure to shed some light on the current state of global independent cinema.

Here’s all of the winners of the 30th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival for those not lucky enough to have been in attendance. These films are sure to keep you in cinematic ecstasy throughout 2019 (and likely beyond).

2019 Palm Spring International Film Festival Award Winners

The judges didn’t have an easy task in front of them, weighing in on 78 films from 226 different countries which played over the span of 11 days. The awards come in the form of 5 different juried categories. These include the New Voices New Visions Award for unique cinematic perspectives as well as the GoE Bridging the Borders Award, which honors a film that brings the global film community closer together.

Here’s a list of the 2019 Palm Springs International Film Festival winners.

Shoplifters movie awards

FIPRESCI Prize for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Shoplifters (Japan)

One of the biggest joys of independent cinema is the window it offers into disparate lives, and the empathy it brings. Japanese film-maker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s tender tale of a struggling Japanese working class family, in the wake of an unexpected addition.

Shoplifters follows two thieves, Osamu and his son, on one of their shoplifting expeditions. They stumble upon a little girl, near-frozen in the cold and take her in. The family’s already having a hard time making ends meet, and Shoplifters delves into the nature of family, finally erupting in an explosive, unexpected third act.

Shoplifters has been lapping up critical praise all over, so far this Awards Season. Cinephiles recommend catching it on the big screen for an immersive, emotional experience, so get on that if it’s playing in a theater near you.

Dogman 2018 movie awards

FIPRESCI Prize for the Best Actor in a Foreign Language Film: Marcello Fonte in Dogman (Italy)

Marcello Fonte was honored with the Best Actor in a Foreign Language Film award for his depiction of Marcello in Matteo Garrone’s Dogman. Marcello is a mild-mannered dog groomer who gets mixed up in some nasty business with a local thug.

All of the characters in Garrone’s seedy, seamy underworld seem deep, real, and fully fleshed-out. Marcello Fonte’s performance still steals the show, as a Human who simply prefers the company of dogs to people. It’s another worthy exploration of the darker side of Italian life from director Matteo Garrone along the lines of 2008’s Gomorroah. Don’t let the calm demeanor of this one fool you – Dogman has bite.

Joanna Kulig cold war palm springs film awards
Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig in Cold War

FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actress in a Foreign Language Film: Joanna Kulig in “Cold War” (Poland)

It’s nice to see a stark, crisp black-and-white film about a pair of star-crossed lovers in post-War Poland getting lots of love. Director Paweł Pawlikowski transports the audience, casting an immersive spell with period-specific lighting, film quality, and, above all, music. Joanna Kulig plays Zuzanna “Zula” Lichon, a sultry jazz singer who falls in love with Wiktor Warski, played by Tomasz Kot. The pair can barely stand one another, yet they can’t stand one another.

Cold War has been called “The Love Story Of The Year“, yet it could’ve been filmed in any year. Cold War‘s been tearing up the festival circuit this year, as well, winning awards and receiving rave reviews at Cannes and The Golden Globes. It’s a contender for an Oscar this year, as well, so big things are in store for Joanna Kulig and Cold War.

Sofia Movie Awards

New Voices/New Visions Award: Sofia (France/Qatar); Meryem Benm’Barek

Apparently it’s illegal to have sex out of wedlock in Morocco. This archaic law lays the dramatic groundwork for Sofia, the directorial debut from Meryem Behm’Barek. Sofia tells the heartbreaking story of a young mother who breaks the law by having a baby out of wedlock. The hospital authorities give her 24 hours to provide the name of the father before alerting the authorities.

Sofia‘s a slight 80 minutes, leaving the audience hungry for more. That’s no easy feat, considering such somber subject matter. It’s one of the virtues of global cinema – it opens our eyes to things happening around the world of which we might not otherwise be aware. It gives them a Human face and voice at the same time.

Turkey’s Saf, directed by Ali Vatansever, also received an honorable mention.

Ghost Fleet 2018 movie
The John Schlesinger Award: Ghost Fleet (USA); Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron
The John Schlesinger Award is given for outstanding first feature. Ghost Fleet, from American film directors Shannon Service and Jeffrey Waldron, is given the distinction, for its unflinching investigation into human trafficking, modern day slavery to feed the global fishing industry.

Bathtubs Over Broadway (USA), directed by Dava Whisenant, also received an honorable mention.

Carmen and Lola movie award

CV Cine Award: Carmen & Lola (Spain); Arantxa Echevarria

The CV Cine Award is given for the best Ibero-American film, which are films coming from territories formerly colonized by the Spanish. Carmen and Lola received the award for its love story between two gypsy girls. It’s been compared to a mash-up between The Florida Project and Call Me By Your Name. It sounds lovely.

The Chambermaid (Mexico/USA), directed by Lila Avilés, also received an honorable mention.

Cathy Yan Dead Pigs

Ricky Jay Magic of Cinema Award: Dead Pigs (China); Cathy Yan

The Ricky Jay Magic of Cinema Award is a new honor these year, being dedicated to films that further storytelling and the magic of cinema. It couldn’t go to a more worthy recipient than Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs, a magical realist film set against the gruesome backdrop of a river full of dead pigs.

Dead Pigsis one part surreal modern fairy tale and one part Robert Altman family drama. It veers and twists and turns into moments of neon chaos, as plot twists twine out of nowhere, so don’t expect some tame pastoral slow burner here. It evens turns into a karaoke video, towards the end.

Cathy Yan is directing an upcoming Harley Quinn movie, Birds Of Prey, so it should be cool to see what this madcap imagination comes up with, and what she can do with a budget!

Eldorado 2018 movie awards

GoE Bridging the Borders Award: Eldorado (Switzerland); Markus Imhoof

Another humanitarian piece, Markus Imhoof’s Eldorada is spared from being “just another refugee documentary” by looking at the current European refugee crisis through the lens of the memories of Giovanna, an Italian boy who was 8 during World War II.

The Bridging the Borders Award is given to works of great humanitarian significance. Eldorado pulls this off with aplomb, giving real Humanity and dignity to refugees from all over the world.

What Will People Say movie award

Youth Jury Award: <em<What Will People Say (Norway/Germany/Sweden)l Iram Haq

Immigrants, and the child of immigrants, often face a kind of divided personality in their daily lives. This schism forms the tension points of Iram Haw’s What Will People Think, a film following Nisha, a sixteen-year old Pakistani girl living in Norway. Nisha’s just your normal Norwegian teenager when she’s out, but she’s forced to play the perfect Pakistani daughter when she’s home with her parents. She gets caught in bed with her boyfriend and her parents decide to take drastic measures, kidnapping her and taking her to Pakistan to live with relatives.

Nisha’s never even been to Pakistan, yet she has to learn to fend for herself while navigating her heritage. It offers an empathetic glimpse into the struggles of multi-cultural families and the pressures to both fit in as well as remain separate from the culture where you live.

The Awards Season is really picking up, at this point. We’ll be doing what we can to follow along and keep tabs on all of the movie festival news to pass along to you. Your watchlist will be overflowing in no time, so be careful!

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Meet Dead Rabbits Books, a new book imprint from the East Coast

Dead Rabbits Books indie book publisher

Dead Rabbits Books is a new book imprint opening windows and doorways into unglimpsed realities, taking the bold stance that reading still matters. Find out a bit more Dead Rabbits Books and the community they surround them!

As the traditional keeper and holder of language, it’s no surprise that books attract all manner of colorful metaphors. Books can be a window, sliding door, mirror, or even a pick axe, depending on who you’re talking to. It’s as author Rudine Sims Bishop puts it:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

While there’s no over-stating the importance of books’ abilities to expand our self-awareness and inner knowledge, there’s even more that can be said about their ability to open our minds, our eyes, and our selves to new thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.

For years, theorists and cultural alarmists have been decrying “the death of reading“, as part of a larger conversation about the decline of pretty much everything. While it might not make for as many sexy 32-point headlines, many cultural pursuits are actually on the mend. Print book sales rose in 2018. There are still more bookstores than there were in 1930. Bookstores still account for nearly $700 million each month, as of October 2018.

Clearly, reading still matters and isn’t going anywhere. These trends are brilliantly illustrated in a new book imprint, Dead Rabbit Books, based out of the U.S. East Coast.

Indie Book news
Dead Rabbits Books inkwell design by Xiaolin Li

Meet Dead Rabbits Books

Dead Rabbits Book co-founder Brian Birnbaum‘s origin story is likely familiar to most published writers. Birnbaum spent years writing is debut novel, Emerald City, while completing his MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. The manuscript met with enthusiasm and praise from the literary establishment, with an agent taking passionate interest in Birnbaum’s ambitious debut.

Sadly, over the course of the edits and revisions, Birnbaum’s agent left the interest, taking the momentum and industry interest with him. Going from being a literary wunderkind, Birnbaum found himself rootless and wandering. He queried over 90 literary agents with no bites.

Birnbaum had a literary asset closer to home than he realized. His childhood friend Jon Kay had been working as a team leader at Amazon for the last 7 years. He took an interest in Emerald City, and the idea for Dead Rabbits Books was born, as the pair sought to revolutionize the world of indie publishing.

As the idea for Dead Rabbits Books was gaining ground, fellow Sarah Lawrence MFA holder Katie Rainey was brought in to assist with acquisitions and for streamlining Dead Rabbits’ innovative editorial process. Dead Rabbits Books offers a unique opportunity for authors to take a hands-on interest in every stage of their book – from the design and layout, to publicity, to when it will be released – without actually having to become marketers, graphic designers, or business majors.

Indie Book News
illustration: Shawn Ferreya

Why Dead Rabbits Books Matters

Dead Rabbits Books’ mission statement is simple yet profound – “creating books that matter.” What constitutes a book that matters, here in the seemingly post-literate world of 2019?

First and foremost, Dead Rabbits Books focus on telling new stories told from unique viewpoints. For instance, Brian Birnbaum is the child of deaf parents. The experiences of being raised by those suffering from physical impairments has shaped his worldview in every conceivable way, which greatly informs his original fiction.

This is relevant as there is a somewhat disturbing tendency in art, lately, to only comment on your first-hand experience. This completely disregards fiction’s ability to imagine, to widen our worldviews, broaden our perspectives, and open our eyes to the world we’re living in. That’s not to say you should just stumble in willy-nilly and start writing things of which you know nothing about. If you’re creating from a perspective other than your own, you should take every pain to research as carefully and deeply as possible. The same could be said even if you are writing from your own perspective.

This is relevant as there is a somewhat disturbing tendency in art, lately, to only comment on your first-hand experience. This completely disregards fiction’s ability to imagine, to widen our worldviews, broaden our perspectives, and open our eyes to the world we’re living in.

Beyond that, every member of the Dead Rabbits Books inner sanctum has extensive experience in the publishing industry, not to mention a lifetime’s experience as passionate readers. They’ve also spent the last 5 years building an extensive network of industry contacts, giving authors every tool they need for their creations to succeed.

Finally, Dead Rabbits Books is an extension of actual community. The idea for the imprint came from an on-going reading series in NYC. They’ve since branched out to launch a podcast, currently on its third episode. Community and collectives are an essential part of maintaining real excitement and artistic momentum. It’s also a remedy for bland, cookie-cutter corporate creativity for profit at the sake of everything else.

Dead Rabbits Books is a testament to everything we’re doing and stand for here at Mastering Modernity. It’s one of the central tenets of this project to Read More, Skim Less. In-depth thinking and analysis is essential to make sense of this world and its cultures. Books inherently cultivate this deep, patient awareness.

They’re also a sign that independent art can thrive in this new world, as we circumvent the corporate gatekeepers. New book publishers and bookstores are a great sign we’re moving in the right direction!

Dead Rabbits Books have announced their first three books, starting with Brian Birnbaum’s long-anticipated novel Emerald City. Pre-orders will be up soon, so keep an eye on that space!

If you’re wanting to support Dead Rabbits Books in the meanwhile, they’ve got a bunch of stylish swag on their site as well. If their literary works are anywhere near as slick as their graphic design and visual aesthetic, we’re all in for a serious treat.

Dead Rabbits Books FB
ig: @deadrabbitsbooks
Dead Rabbits Books YouTube Channel
Dead Rabbits Books reddit
Dead Rabbits Books Spotify
Dead Rabbits Books podcast on iTunes

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Classic Cinema Review: Scarface (1932) Movie Review

Scarface Pre-Code Cinema review

Howard Hawks’ gangland epic Scarface is a particularly gritty, nasty, mean-spirited gangster flick. It remains a high point of Pre-Code Cinema – genuinely startling in its intense violence and bizarre, unsavory relationships.

Filmgoers tend to go into films from the 1930s expecting a certain cozy quaintness, perhaps expecting some Shirley Temple cuteness or Marx Brothers hijinks. The films of the early 1930s are a much different, more vicious breed, however. Film-makers were desperate to capture the fascination of audiences using every gimmick at their disposal, as the newly invented “talkies” left movie lovers hungry for innovation.

Like any business, Hollywood’s first response was to create controversy. Movies released before the Hays Code was enforced in earnest in 1934 are a carnival of vice. Drug addiction, wanton sex, alcoholism, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, and intense violence were all too common. You’d even seen your occasional incest, as evident in a bizarre subtext of 1932’s Scarface, which we’ll be discussing in-depth.

The films of the early 1930s are a bridge between the innocence of Early Cinema and the later cynicism of Film Noir. Ironically, the Hays Code played a large part in the creation of that genre, as film-makers had to get savvy and tricky to get around the censors.

Scarface exists in the intersection between these two distinct eras. The non-stop depictions of violence are particularly gritty and realistic, even by today’s standards. This isn’t your usual cinematic action, where a cowboy simply falls from his horse like a cardboard cutout when shot. Instead, the gangsters of Scarface are cut down in a hail of hot lead, reaching for the bullets like a swarm of angry hornets. While censors may have been worried these films were romanticizing violence and criminal behavior, Scarface seems anything but romantic. Instead, these are hard, fast, desperate lives, wedded to the gun and holster.

Let’s take a closer look at 1932’s Scarface.

Scarface Pre-Code Cinema review

Scarface (1932) Movie Review

Scarface is considered the last of a triptych of legendary Gangster Movies, alongside Little Caesar and Public Enemy. It’s also the grittiest and most violent, which would tangle the film up in legal complications for 2 years, even before the Hays Code was being enforced in earnest.

Scarface Plot Synopsis

Scarface tells the story of Tony “Scarface” Camonte, played with fervor by Paul Muni, a fictionalized depiction of fearsome Chicago gangster Al Capone. It starts off with Camonte taking out the competition, gunning down Big Louie Costello, the last of the old-world Italian mobsters. With a sudden vacuum in the power balance of Prohibition-era Chicago, Camonte and his new boss Johnny Lovo move in to take over Costello’s action.

Scarface wastes no time in getting to the shooting, but we meet the rest of a memorable cast of characters at the same time. There’s Cesca, played by Ann Dvorak, Camonte’s sister, who he has a particularly protective streak towards. Tony catches her kissing a fella and throws the poor boy out into the street. It’s unclear if Camonte’s just playing the old-world protective patriarch or if there’s a little more to it, just to add to the moral ambiguity of the film.

Ann Dvorak Scarface
Paul Muni and Ann Dvorak as Tony and Cesca Camonte, a brother and sister with a bizarrely close relationship

We also meet Poppy, played by the under-appreciated bombshell Karen Morley, who is lovers with Johnny Lovo at the time. We’ll quickly learn that Poppy’s loyalty is less-than-reliable. As is Tony’s, as he begins to double-cross Johnny Lovo while still serving as his right-hand man.

Lovo and his gang already own the South Side. A mobster named O’Hara owns the North Side and Lovo forbids Camonte from making moves into O’Hara’s territory. Camonte ignores this advice, kick-starting a gang war that sends the public into a panic.

Karen Morley Classic Cinema review
Karen Morley as Poppy, a stone-cold Gangster moll

The introduction of Tommy Guns changes the game completely. Camonte finally has the tools he needs to make his move, and the streets of Chicago run red with blood and beer.

Johnny Lovo loses his status as Camonte moves into to seize the power, as the most ruthless, violent gangster the city had ever seen. Poppy finally succumbs to Camonte’s persistent advances, but it’s a little too late at that point.

Camonte orders Johnny Lovo gunned down by Guino, the archetypal coin-flipping movie gangster played by George Raft. Camonte and Poppy pick up stakes and head to Florida to let things cool down. His undoing would be waiting for them immediately upon their return.

While Camonte was in hiding, Cesca makes her intentions clear towards Guino, whom she’s been flirting with throughout the duration of the film. Camonte returns to find his sister gone, living in a small apartment with Guino. Furious, Camonte busts in on the happy couple and cuts down Guino, one of his last friends, in cold blood. It turns out Guino had made an honest woman of Cesca, as the pair had been married just the day before. Destroyed, half-mad, Cesca lays into Tony, calling him a butcher and a murderer.

This mis-step would prove to be Tony’s undoing. The cops catch wind of Guino’s murder and send a squad to Camonte’s bulletproof lair. It turns out to not be bulletproof enough, and the film’s final moments finds Camonte alone and afraid, having lost everything he loved and held dear. He died, as he lived, by the Tommy Gun.

Scarface '30s movie review
The World Is Yours; Paul Muni and Karen Morley in Scarface

Scarface‘s Critical Reception

Even in the years before the Hays Code was being enforced in earnest, Scarface managed to scandalize very nearly everybody. First of all and unsurprisingly, the usual keepers of morality, the Church and concerned citizens groups, protested the film. Both Irish and Italian groups felt the film cast immigrants in a negative light. 

Scarface actually holds to certain tenets of post-Code Hollywood, even if they didn’t need to. Most notably, wrong-doers are punished, which prevents Scarface from feeling like its glamorizing the Gangster lifestyle. Some of these changes were forced, as well, however, as the film underwent extensive reconfiguration over the span of 2 years to please the censors.

This additional material comes largely in the form of a few newsroom scenes, where outraged reporters froth about what this country’s coming to. The exposition is rather heavy-handed, but is salvaged with some passionate delivery by the head reporter.

Given the concern over the depiction of immigrants in Scarface, it’s slightly ironic that the film is one of the least whitewashed, Americanized gangster films out there. The characters are clearly Italian, complete with accents and everything. Never succumbing to stereotypes, Scarface depicts the real struggles of Italian-Americans, complete with some realistic characters, like Tony and Cesca’s mother, who adds even more moral condemnation on the film’s proceedings.

Scarface Final Thoughts

Scarface was ready to be released in 1930, you must remember. This means the United States was reeling from the Great Depression and from the memories of The Great War, aka World War I. Films of this era reflect this loss of innocence and cynicism in a way that would finally blossom into the Flower Of Evil that is Film Noir.

Scarface also reflects this moral universe using strong, striking contrast in the black-and-white film. It can be read as a kind of proto-Film Noir, but is even uglier and more malevolent than that genre, which had to rely on shadows and subtlety to deliver its moral worldview.

Scarface also benefits from some of that era’s more adventurous film-making techniques. Certain moments seem cribbed from the German Expressionist playbook, with weird, cock-eyed angles reflecting an unhinged worldview. All of the technical niceties are nice and all, but they’re mainly setting and stage-dressing for insanely strong performances. Paul Muni is beyond belief as Scarface, who manages to be simultaneously hideous and likable, sometimes in the same scene. The women are strong and sure of themselves, even if they do succumb to the men’s authority. It was still the early ’30s, after all, and the Suffragette movement was still getting going, especially here in the states.

For all of its moralizing, Scarface doesn’t preach. Instead, it tells a tale. It follows deep, intriguing characters as they follow their passions for power and money. Unsurprisingly, they get what they sow. You’re left not really knowing how to feel, which is truly the mark of a thought-provoking, masterful film.

Scarface was screened as the first installment of the Putting The Sin In Cinema series at Cinema 21 in Portland, Or. in conjunction with Oregon State University. The film was screened, and a fascinating follow-up conversation was had with film instructor/programmer/analyst Elliot Lavine.

There’s still 9 weeks of the course left, so it’s not too late if you’d like to join in with some fellow Portland movie fanatics. You can find tickets and register via OSU.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Three On A Match, also from 1932. Check back next Tuesday for more classic Hollywood movie reviews!

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Putting The Sin in Cinema: 10-Week Course On Pre-Code Hollywood Starts Tomorrow at Cinema 21 in Portland, Or.

Your average film-goer might think of old movies as “boring,” “safe,” “campy,” “schmaltzy” etc. Old black-and-white films portray a moral universe, where good deeds are rewards, the wicked are punished, the hero gets the girl, and it all ends with a somewhat chaste kiss.

Hollywood Babylon Hays Code
Hollywood Babylon: The Documentary

Hollywood was not always like this. It’s no mistake that Kenneth Anger described Old Hollywood as Hollywood Babylon. In the brief window between the advent of the “talkies” and before the Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, was enforced in earnest in 1934, film-makers would use any trick at their disposal to put the bodies in the seats.

The cinema of the late ’20s and early ’30s depicts a cynical, gritty realism that’s a far cry from the Bugsby Berkeley musicals, tame romances, and over-the-top melodrama commonly associated with “old movies.”

This era, known as “Pre-Code Hollywood”, is seeped in a sordid worldview of strong-but-damaged heroines, down-on-their-luck gamblers, hardened gangsters, as well as an ever-present entourage of prostitutes, junkies, homosexuals, depicting edgy topics like infidelity, abortion, promiscuity, and intense violence.


Putting The Sin in Cinema and Pre-Code Hollywood

Pre-Code Hollywood is the theme for a new course being offered by Oregon State University as part of their Professional and Continuing Education program. Putting The Sin in Cinema is a 10-week course being held at Cinema 21 in Northwest Portland. Films will be screened at 11:00 am on Tuesday mornings.

Elliot Lavine film studies
Professor Elliot Lavine

Putting The Sin in Cinema is being taught by Oregon State University professor Elliot Lavine. Lavine rose to prominence in the Bay Area of the early ’90s, where he detoured from his burgeoning film career to discover his true calling as a film programmer, scholar, and critic. Elliot Lavine played a pivotal role in the re-discovery of Film Noir as a valid genre, before turning his keen eyes on other fascinating topics like sci-fi films of the 1950s.

Lavine pulled up stakes from his Bay Area home to live beneath our fair gray skies here in Portland, Or. He’s so beloved he gets articles written about him when he moved. Elliot Lavine received the prestigious Marlon Riggs Award from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle for his revival of rare archival titles in 2010. He’s also taught Film Studies at Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program since 2006.

It’s been said of Elliot Lavine that he’s “to movies what a feng shui master is to furniture. The master doesn’t make the furniture but knows where to place it in considered relationship with the other pieces — and what the combinations will mean. This philosophical approach to film has always been part of who he is, even decades before he had a theatre to program.” It’s also been said he’s a born advocate for the neglected and underappreciated.”

It’s beyond exciting to speculate what Levine’s subtle, nuanced analysis and appreciation of lesser-known historical curiosities will bring to this fascinating 10-week series.

Pre-Code Hollywood movies will be shown, in full, at 11:00 am on Tuesday mornings at Century 21. It’s definitely a course for the hardcore cinephile, as you have to audit the whole course and individual tickets are not available. So excited to see this independently-owned-and-operated theater transform into a makeshift Film Studies classroom for ten weeks.

Three On A Match 1932

The movies that will be screened as part of Putting The Sin in Cinema are:

  1. Scarface (1932; Howard Hawks)
  2. Three on a Match (1932; Mervyn LeRoy)
  3. Baby Face (1933; Alfred Green)
  4. Island of Lost Souls (1932; Erle C. Kenton)
  5. Safe in Hell (1931; William Wellman)
  6. Red-Headed Woman (1932; Jack Conway)
  7. The Cheat (1931; George Abbott)
  8. Downstairs (1932; Monta Bell)
  9. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931; Rouben Mamoulian)
  10. Footlight Parade (1933; Lloyd Bacon)

It is our distinct pleasure to be able to take this course with Elliot Lavine and some of Portland’s diehard movie fanatics. We’ll be covering the series as it goes on, so make sure to watch this space for news, reviews, thoughts, ramblings, etc.

You can sign up for Putting The Sin in Cinema via OSU. Lavine is also teaching a course on Saturday mornings on Film Noir in the 1950s. You can find tickets for The Grit and the Glamour over here.

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Get 50% Off A Ton Of Valfre’s Looks At Her Year-End Clearance Sale!

2019 indie fashion

There’s 24 hours left on indie fashion designer Valfre’s 50% off sale!

Ilse Valfré is the definition of an Indie fashion design success story. She started her brand, Valfre, as a humble Tumblr blog in 2011 while working as a Montessori pre-school teacher in San Diego. She eventually moved back in with her parents in Tijuana, Mexico to focus on creating her brand in earnest.

Valfre kept on keeping on, generating over 680,000 followers on her Instagram account. She’s the definition of an indie success story, as well as an icon of what makes indie fashion so essential. First of all, she’s an immigrant and a woman of color. Secondly, her fashion sports a social conscience. She describes her brand as “indie feminism,” with numerous political slogans on a number of social issues, from feminism to immigration rights. She also donates portions of her proceedings to charity.

Buying Valfre gear offers you the opportunity to support indie fashion AND great causes, simultaneously! Now you can do so with some exceptional savings, as she’s extended her Year-End Clearance sale by a few days. Valfre’s offering some of her classic styles and designs with some incredible deals. Browse the ‘Sale Section‘ and use the clearance code ‘EOY-Clearance’ for 50% OFF an extensive selection of different styles.

Valfre Clearance Sale
For the streetwear lovers, make sure to check out the many sickly sweet tees on display. Valfre updates the classic ’50s rocker aesthetic, all bowling jackets, slogan tees, and embroidered button downs, with a distinctly modern malaise. Her designs will instantly snare the Sad Tumblr girls out there. In 2019, aren’t we all Sad Tumblr Girls at this point?

It’s 2019. Aren’t we all Sad Tumblr Girls at this point?

Check out her Loteria-inspired graphic tees while you’re at it. Valfre’s doing such a wonderful service, helping to introduce the wider world to the glory that is Mexican art and graphic design. It’s such a warm, inviting culture, with such a long, vivid history, more people deserve to know about it. Absolutely anybody would freak out for these Loteria designs, like the La Rosa tee, gal or guy alike.

Valfre fashion designer

There’s plenty of more upscale looks, for the fashionistas and the glamour gals out there. Like the fabulous Stella Blue crop top, that’ll have you feeling like Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe at the same time. Bonus points for the sweet Grateful Dead ref.

Valfre indie fashion
There’s also several super sweet dresses like the luscious lime-green Phoebe Dress, for the Barbarellas and the Jackie O’s out there.

High fashion isn’t cheap. Looking yr best can be expensive. Sales like this don’t come along all that often. Here’s your chance to update your wardrobe and bring in the new year with a new look and a New You!

Ilse Valfre’s designs sell out quickly, with many of the size options already vanished from a lot of these items. Don’t sleep on these deals or forever hold your peace!

Valfre 2019 planner

I first discovered Valfre via my partner Pink Gorgon‘s rather insistent ‘suggestion’ (spoiler: it wasn’t a suggestion) that i get her the ‘Gal With A Plan 2019‘ planner, which i ended up sourcing from Darling Distractions on Alberta here in Portland. She ended up with a new planner, which she’s been using and loving, and i ended up with a new fashion obsession.

Looking like 2019 is the year i finally get into the ’60s/’70s revival of the past few years. If you’ve got any recommendations for any other retrodelic designers, shops, or boutiques, or just ideas for other fashion-related topics in general, leave us a comment and we’ll look into it!

Valfre FB
ig: @valfre
Valfre Pinterest

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A Series Of Unfortunate Events Series 3, Solo, and the Indiana Jones Series are coming to Netflix in January 2019

Netflix Movies TV

Watching Netflix’s rotating shelves of movies and TV series can be a roller coaster of emotions. Here are some of Netflix’s best movies and TV series in January 2019 to get excited about.

Netflix’s catalog is rather a revolving door, coming and going, rising and falling with each passing month. Netflix Search Engine Flixable reports that the number of movies on Netflix has fallen by over 2,000 titles since 2010. The number of TV Series has exploded dramatically, however, rising from 530 series in 2010 to 1,569 series in January 2019.

Each month, Netflix’s rotating roster is an emotional roller coaster. It’s tragic when former favorites leave the fold, especially if you haven’t had a chance to knock them off your watch list yet. Simultaneously, you’ll experience the sugar rush euphoria of a vast treasure trove of new titles hitting the library of the streaming monolith.

Netflix are kicking off 2019 with a bang, with a bunch of old favorites joining Netflix’s streaming on-demand library. A truly impressive array of Netflix Original movies and TV series are also coming to Netflix in January 2019.

From the entire Indiana Jones saga to not one but two Solo movies, a new series of A Series Of Unfortunate Events and the life-changing magick of Tidying Up, here are a few of the most notable movies and TV series coming to Netflix in January 2019.

Movies & TV Series Coming To Netflix in January 2019

Netflix January 2019

A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 3

The creators of A Series Of Unfortunate Events have tried with all of their might to get you to stop watching for the last two seasons. All of the promotional materials hinge around one fact – the show’s too grim, too bleak, for anyone’s viewing pleasure, let alone a young audience.

It’s a good thing viewers didn’t listen, continuing to watch the adventures of the Baudelaire family throughout two successful seasons. The viewer’s loyalty has allowed the series of unfortunate events to play out to their inevitable end.

People are saying A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 3 is the best one yet. The series is able to go out with a bang, solidifying its legacy as a new classic of Young Adult TV.

You can read a review of Season 3 of A Series Of Unfortunate Events over at IndieWire.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 3 comes to Netflix on January 1, 2019.

Netflix January 2019

The Indiana Jones Series

Indiana is the dog’s name.

How long’s it been since you’ve watched the Indiana Jones movies? You might be surprised how well they hold up.

There’s the snakes, the bugs, the monkey brains. People get their hearts ripped straight out of their chest. Boulders are outrun. Birds are used to shut down airplanes.

Certain aspects of the Indiana Jones movies feel timely, as well. First of off, it’s got Nazis as the bad guys, which is decidedly 2018. There’s also some bizarre pseudo history, like some Ancient Aliens special, particularly in the slightly-underwhelming The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Starting January 1, you can watch all four of the Indiana Jones movies on Netflix. Take the opportunity to ring in the new year with Harrison Ford. Speaking of which…

Netflix January 2019

Solo: A Stars War Story

I’m gonna call myself out here a little bit. I’m a few Star Wars movie behind. I haven’t even seen Rogue One yet, not even to mention some of the TV series. Starting January 1, you’ve got another chance to catch up on the newest of the Star Wars canon.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is the Han Solo back-story, starring Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, and Woody Harrelson, among others. Some consider it a non-essential Star Wars film, but the consensus is that it’s an enjoyable, watchable action/SF flick.

We’ll try and let you know what we think when we get a chance to finally watch.

Solo: A Star Wars Story comes to Netflix on January 9.

Tidying Up Netflix 2019

Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

Getting organized is a popular New Year’s Resolution item. It’s good timing for Marie Kondo’s new reality show to hit Netflix’s airwaves.

Marie Kondo’s approach to cleaning and de-cluttering is clear and simple. If it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s got to go. Her new series finds the popular author of the best-selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Some critics have called the series the next Queer Eye, while others claim it fizzles as a reality show. Either way, most of us could use a little inspiration downsizing our lives.

Solo Netflix January 2019

Solo (Netflix Film)

The other Solo coming to Netflix in January 2019 is decidedly different than the Star Wars film. It follows the travails of a surfer who falls off a cliff and must struggle to stay alive.  The film was shot off the coast of the island of Fuerteventura under arduous circumstances.

Solo hits Netfliz on January 11.

Sex Education Netflix January 2019

Sex Education (Netflix Original)

Otis Thompson realizes he has a super power. Although he’s a shy virginal high school shut-in. But his mother’s a sex therapist, so he’s surrounded by sex knowledge. He pairs up with a “bad girl” named Maeve to set up an underground sex therapy clinic in their secondary school.

Sex Education is a British comedy-drama was created by  Laurie Nunn. It will feature Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson. It looks rather hilarious, and worth a watch.

Sex Education comes to Netflix on January 11.

These’re just a few of the nearly overwhelming cavalcade of new releases coming to Netflix in January 2019. You can find the complete list below, as well as what’s leaving. Make sure to check back throughout the month for more streaming news.

What’s Coming To Netflix In January 2019

January 1
A Series of Unfortunate Events: Season 3

Across the Universe


Black Hawk Down

City of God

COMEDIANS of the world

Definitely, Maybe


Happy Feet

Hell or High Water

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

It Takes Two

Jersey Boys

Mona Lisa Smile

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pinky Malinky

Pulp Fiction


Tears of the Sun

The Addams Family

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Dark Knight

The Departed

The Mummy

The Mummy Returns

The Strangers

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo



XXX: State of the Union

January 2

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

January 4

And Breathe Normally

Call My Agent!: Season 3

El Potro: Unstoppable


January 9

GODZILLA The Planet Eater
Solo: A Star Wars Story

January 10

When Heroes Fly

January 11

Friends from College: Season 2

ReMastered: Massacre at the Stadium

Sex Education


The Last Laugh

January 15


Sebastian Maniscalco: Stay Hungry

January 16

American Gangster

January 17

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

January 18

Carmen Sandiego


FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened


Grace and Frankie: Season 5



The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes: Season 2 Part B

Trigger Warning with Killer Mike

Trolls: The Beat Goes On!: Season 5

January 21


January 24

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

January 25


Black Earth Rising

Club de Cuervos: Season 4


Medici: The Magnificent


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4 Part 2

January 27

Z Nation: Season 5

January 29

Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias: One Show Fits All

Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp

January 30

Disney•Pixar’s The Incredibles 2

Marvel’s The Punisher: Season 2

What’s Leaving Netflix in January 2019</h3<

January 1

Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure


Blade II

Bram Stoker’s Dracula



Finding Neverland

Friday Night Lights

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

I Am Ali

Interview with the Vampire

Into the Wild

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Kung Fu Panda

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifteenth Year

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Seventeenth Year

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Sixteenth Year

Like Water for Chocolate

Love Actually

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Marie Antoinette

Meet the Fockers

Meet the Parents

Million Dollar Baby

Monsters vs. Aliens

Mortal Kombat



Sharknado 2: The Second One

Sharknado 3

Sharknado 5

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens

The 6th Day

The Godfather

The Godfather: Part II

The Godfather: Part III

The Green Mile

The Iron Giant

The Princess Diaries

The Queen of the Damned

The Reaping

The Shining

January 4

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World

January 13

It Follows

January 14


January 18

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

January 19

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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