Book Review: Cinema’s Original Sin: D. W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture by Paul McEwan

In this fascinating and authoritative account, professor Paul McEwan offers an in-depth examination of the history of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and the irreparable harm it’s caused to the American psyche and film studies in particular.

Cinema’s Original Sin: D. W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture

by Paul McEwan

University of Texas Press

272 Pages

At the time of its release, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation was presented as “history.”

Except it wasn’t. 

The Birth of a Nation was based on The Clansman, a novel by the author Thomas Dixon, a fictional account of two white families living in the Reconstruction-era South. Despite being canonized as “one of the greatest films ever made,” and widespread commercial success (as well as receiving support from a number of influential figures, including President Woodrow Wilson, who ordered a special screening of the film at the White House (the first movie ever to receive that distinction.)

This critical support gave an air of legitimacy to The Birth of a Nation, which would go on to directly inspire the reformation of the Ku Klux Klan, which McEwan illustrates in no uncertain terms. The hooded costumes of the KKK are directly inspired by a scene from The Birth of a Nation

For the first several decades of its existence, Griffith invoked ideas of Art and freedom of speech to justify The Birth of a Nation. After getting its foot in the door, it used the justification of “history” to excuse its continued presence in the canon.

In Cinema’s Original Sin: D. W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture, McEwan details this fascinating, convoluted history – and the history of film as a medium, in the process. In 1915, when The Birth of a Nation was first released, movies were seen largely as a novelty and a gimmick. McEwan examines the rise of film as an artform, worthy of serious study and analysis, via the lens of The Birth of a Nation.

He then proceeds to examine critical and public sentiments towards the film across subsequent decades, first as a historical document and curiosity and later as an “important document,” worthy of inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art

Finally, he examines critical re-appraisals of the movie in the 21st Century via remixing and referencing, like DJ Spooky’s Rebirth of a Nation and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. In Cinema’s Original Sin, McEwan examines why a reappraisal of The Birth of a Nation is so necessary in 2022, talking about the lack of Black voices and perspectives in movies and TV, social movements like Black Lives Matter, and controversies surrounding the removal of statues dedicated to racists around the world.

Cinema’s Original Sin is a fascinating, authoritative, and essential text for anyone interested in film history, the history of racism and its on-going echoes, or examining the history of ongoing social conversations from the public, press, and academia. Conversations around racism, freedom of speech, and how best to approach history are just as important, if not more so, in 2022 than they were in 1915. 

D. W. Griffith is also eerily prescient of many modern right-wing voices. When he was (rightfully) criticized for The Birth of a Nation, he portrayed himself as the victim, going so far as to base his next film, the epic Intolerance, on the idea. it bring to mind politicians and billionaires portraying themselves as victims when they face rightful repercussions for their actions and decisions. 

In some circles, The Birth of a Nation is still considered a “classic” and an “important work of art.” That reputation would never have been founded in the first place without Griffith’s disingenuousness and shysterism. He used implication, people’s unwillingness to discuss uncomfortable topics, and America’s racial blind spots to forward his bigoted viewpoint for his own gain.

The Birth of a Nation is not a masterpiece. It’s well-executed propaganda. It’s time to call that out and acknowledge it, which Professor McEwan definitively does with flawless scholarship and inarguable logic. It’s an essential read and an essential contribution to numerous on-going cultural conversations.

Cinema’s Original Sin: D. W. Griffith, American Racism, and the Rise of Film Culture is available now from University of Texas press and as an audiobook from Tantor Audio

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Give Thanks: 6 Movies To Watch This Thanksgiving

There is much to be thankful for, this year. For many Americans, this is the first year they’ve been able to be together with their families again in-person since the beginning of the pandemic. Even if you’re not attending a family gathering or observing a traditional holiday, there’s always things to be grateful for. Gratitude is always important to remember – it sustains us through dark and hard times and reminds us to appreciate what we have.

Cinema’s always good as a reminder, showing us our lives, writ large, on the flickering screen. It shows us ourselves, as well as the lives of others, helping to foster greater understanding and empathy towards the world around us.

With that in mind, here are 6 movies to watch while you’re putting the finishing touches on your feast or for when you’re sleepily digesting on the couch.

6 Movies To Watch This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means a little something different to everybody. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together an array of different Thanksgiving movies to have a little something for everybody.

From the ever-classic Charlie Brown Thanksgiving to John Hughe’s weirdly dismal Dutch, this cross-section should have something for a wide varieties of moods and festivities.

1. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

This very short and very sweet Thanksgiving classic reminds you to be grateful for the good things in life, especially friends and family, whether chosen or blood.

It’s also a reminder that popcorn and jelly beans is a perfectly acceptable holiday feast!

Watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving for free on AppleTV.

2. Alice’s Restaurant

Based on the popular 70s ballad by Arlo Guthrie (who plays himself in the movie), this funky number is one for those celebrating with their chosen family this year.

It’s also a reminder to pick up after yourself once you’ve finished feasting.

3. Knive’s Out

Here’s one for anyone planning on seeing Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in the theatre this year, in case you need a reminder to catch up before seeing the sequel.

Plus, always gotta love a locked room mystery!

Watch Knives Out on Amazon.

4. Addam’s Family Values

A perennial Thanksgiving favourite, Addam’s Family Values addresses some of the more problematic aspects of the Thanksgiving myth. It’s also a reminder that, for some, summer camp could be a fate worse than death.

Watching Addam’s Family Values could help get you in the mood for watching Tim Burton’s new Wednesday series on Netflix.

Watch Addam’s Family Values on Netflix.

5. Dutch

John Hughes had a thing for making vaguely depressing, dismal Thanksgiving in the late 80s and early 90s (see also Planes, Trains, and Automobiles). As someone who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago around this time, I have a perpetual soft spot for these movies.

With its depictions of regular, working-class, blue collar people and families and irresponsible child-rearing, Dutch seems like it could never be made today. That’s a shame, as it’s got its charms, particularly the on-screen chemistry between Ed O’Neill and Ethan Embry.

Tragically, Dutch is not currently available on streaming. Maybe recreate the early 90s vibes and seek out a local video store? Bonus points if you watch it on VHS!

6. Garfield’s Thanksgiving

We’ll round out our list with one last short, sweet Thanksgiving classic as a dessert to help you digest. Thanksgiving is, after all, largely all about the food, and no one loves food more than Garfield.

It’s a great choice for anyone with kiddos, as well. If you’re a child of the 80s or the 90s like I am, it’s a wonderful opportunity to share something you loved growing up at the same time.

That’s what Thanksgiving is all about – sharing, coming together, and reminding people you love them.

That about does it for this year’s Thanksgiving movie roundup! Am so grateful and thankful for you all! Hope you’re safe and happy and healthy, wherever you are!

And what’re you watching this year? Leave us a comment and let us know.

If you’re looking for a soundtrack to finish up your Thanksgiving feast, here’s a mix of classic Thanksgiving songs, mostly jazz with a wee bit of old soundtrack music while you finish up your cranberry sauce and stuffing.

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63% Of Consumers Have Increased Online Spending During Coronavirus and other 2020 Consumer Trends

2020 ecommerce

Coronavirus/COVID-19 is changing the economy in every way imaginable. Some of these changes may be here to stay, as people grow more reliant on eCommerce, remote work becomes more mainstream, and social distancing continues to affect the public sphere. Some things may be gone forever, once the dust settles. Others may blossom, as a new way of living and working take hold. 

People are spending less money, which hardly comes as a surprise. 52% of consumers have reduced their overall spending since the onset of Coronavirus. 63% have increased their online spending, however. 

2020 Business Trends
image: Jungle Scout

These insights come from Jungle Scout’s 2020 Consumer Trends Report. Jungle Scout is a platform for Amazon Sellers, so their research is heavy with data pertaining to Amazon, but there are plenty of useful, actionable insights for anyone working in eCommerce or online business of any stripe. 

Read on to find out more about the 2020 Consumer Trends shaping today’s economy. 

2020 Consumer Trends According To Jungle Scout

As we stated at the beginning, Coronavirus is changing the way we think about and conduct business in every conceivable way. Some traditional business models may never recover. 39% of consumers polled by Jungle Scout indicate they’d be fine never shopping in a physical store again. 

Of course, the Brick-and-Mortar apocalypse has been going on for some time. That trend had been looking like it could turn around, however, as we’ve slowly, gradually recovered from the last recession. 

Here are some other 2020 Consumer Trends to help give you an idea of where people’s minds, hearts, and wallets are at. 

Consumer Trends 2020
65% of consumers make purchases on Amazon at least once a month. image: Jungle Scout

71% Of Consumers Have Shopped On Amazon During Coronavirus

As we also stated in the intro, Jungle Scout are a platform for Amazon Sellers, “Amazon Entrepreneurs” as they put it, so much of their data is focused on that marketplace. This figure shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise, given that Amazon are the largest online retailers in the world. 

Jungle Scout’s research indicates that Americans are heavily reliant on Amazon. 65% of consumers make at least one purchase on Amazon each month. 52% say if they could only shop at one store for the rest of their lives it would be Amazon. That’s also hardly a newsflash, considering you can buy everything from marshmallow fluff to goldfish

69% Of Consumers Will Maintain Or Increase Their Online Spending

It seems that shoppers are getting used to online shopping and are integrating it into their daily lives and routines. 

69% of consumers say they will continue their current rate of online shopping if not increase it, even after reopening. Likewise, 39% say they’d be fine never visiting a physical store again. 

This bodes ill for impulse purchases of giant bars of chocolate and overpriced breath mints. 

84% Of Consumers Are Brand Loyal 

Now here’s a surprising statistic. 84% of consumers shop for specific brands when they shop online. This is in spite of having access to nearly every product on Earth. Or perhaps it’s because of that fact. 

The 2020 Consumer Trends Report proceeds to break down this data further, revealing consumers’ brand loyalty for different products. Groceries, health and beauty, and pet supplies are the top categories where consumers shop for a particular brand. These are all some of the products people are buying most of right now.

2020 ecommerce
image: Jungle Scout

50% Of Consumers Are Buying More Groceries

The 2020 Consumer Trends Report breaks down consumers’ online spending habits even further, showcasing how people are spending their money during lockdown.

A lot of people are spending more on groceries, which hardly comes as a surprise given that restaurants have been closed. 47% of consumers have been spending more money on cleaning supplies, as well, which is also hardly surprising given that people have been home much more often.

People are spending less on clothing, however, with 47% spending less on clothes than they were before Coronavirus.

One takeaway from this could be that this is an excellent to promote household products or brands. Now would be an excellent time to launch any kind of home renovation or beautiful product, if you’ve been thinking of it. It’d be a good time to amp up your activities if you produce household goods of any kind, as well.

27% Of Consumers Will Increase Spending When Things Reopen

That’s not a ton.  45% of consumers report that their spending will remain relatively the same when things resume.  29% report that their spending will decrease after things re-open.

This seems to suggest that consumer uncertainty is still quite high. That’s likely to continue for some time, as the economy continues to get rocked due to Coronavirus.

Book Sales Are On The Rise

A great majority of consumers are still only spending money on essentials. Entertainment of various kinds is on the rise as well, however, which makes sense, seeing as how people are looking for ways to pass the time during lockdown.

20 – 29% of consumers have been spending money on books and e-books during lockdown. 13 – 24% still purchase toys and games, as well.  15 – 16% are still spending money on art supplies.

The takeaway from this consumer trend is that it’s still a good time to launch a product meant for entertainment or creativity.

46% Of Consumers Still Prefer To Buy Clothes In-Person

While some things have been changed irrevocably in the wake of Coronavirus, other things will remain the same. 46% of consumers would still prefer buying clothing in-person rather than online, for instance. This makes sense, as people still want to be able to try things on before making a purchase.

47% still prefer to buy Health and Beauty supplies in-person, as well. 42% still prefer to buy Household goods, like Home & Kitchen or Garden & Outdoor goods.

One takeaway from this insight is if you sell a product that involves a physical experience in some regard, you might experiment with ways to make the online experience more tangible for your customers. You could incorporate a virtual dressing room app like Zeekit, for instance, if you’re selling clothes. Or you could incorporate augmented reality for household goods, if you’re selling a product for someone’s personal space.

One thing is for certain, things will never be the same after Coronavirus. Things will look very different when society begins to re-open, whenever that may be. Now is a time to experiment, to get bold and try new things. It’s time to start conjuring The Future.

Jungle Scout


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The King Of Staten Island (2020) Movie Review

The King of Staten Island movie review

Pete Davidson‘s The King Of Staten Island is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, intimate yet cinematic. It’s one of the best movies of 2020 thus far and one of the most essential comedies in recent memory. 

The King Of Staten Island review
Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin in The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow.

There is a scene early on in The King Of Staten Island where Scott (Pete Davidson) discusses his reluctance to label his relationship with Kelsey (Bel Powley) after they’ve just finished hooking up. “I’m scared of myself and I don’t want to, like, scare you or me or like hurt anyone, so I think it’d just be best and really responsible of me if I just backed off.”

It’s a conversation no doubt familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in the confusion of the Millennial hookup culture. Scott’s behaviours are virtually indistinguishable from any emotionally unavailable bro/fuckboy. When called out on it, however, he has a stammering, faltering moment of honesty and vulnerability. He is being emotionally open, he’s just not very good with his feelings, many of which are hard, dark, and painful. 

He is being emotionally open, he’s just not very good with his feelings, many of which are hard, dark, and painful. 

There are countless moments like this in The King Of Staten Island. Scott is a damaged, emotionally-stilted 24-year-old man suffering from failure-to-launch syndrome. And yet, when the chips are down, he always pulls through, does what needs to be done, fumbling through young adulthood in a way that will likely ring authentic to anyone who’s come of age during the 2000s – 2010s. 

The King Of Staten Island begins with Scott driving down the highway, glancing pensively in the rearview mirror and bumping hip-hop. Momentarily overwhelmed, he flirts with death by driving with his eyes closed. He opens them, only to narrowly avoid a car wreck, and causing another one in the process. We get the sense right off the bat that all is not well with this 20-something. 

We’re quickly introduced to Scott’s world on Staten Island, meeting his family and group of going-nowhere friends, who spend all day smoking weed in a dingy basement. We find out that Scott’s troubles begin with losing his firefighter father, who died in a local fire, at 7-years old. He also has ADD and has a hard time focusing, as evidenced by his erratic-but-still-wonderful tattoos, like a bug-eyed Obama and a cat’s butthole around someone’s belly button. 

The King of Staten Island


Scott’s aimless bumbling results in his Mom (Marisa Tomei), whom he still lives with and has been single for the last 17 years following his father’s death, meeting a new love interest, Ray (Bill Burr), after giving Ray’s son Harold (Luke David Bloom) a tattoo in the woods. Furious, Ray comes screaming to Scott’s house, in Bill Burr’s iconic ranting brogue, but end up hitting it off and beginning a romance. Scott loses his shit when he realizes that Ray is also a firefighter, bringing up buried feelings regarding his father’s death. 

Scott begins a campaign to break up his Mom and Ray, getting dirt on him from his ex-wife, resulting in a fight that gets them both kicked out of the house. With nowhere to go, Scott drifts around for a while, only to straggle his way to the firehouse where Ray is also staying. Some of the other firefighters, most notably Papa (Steve Buscemi, in a standout performance), knew Scott’s Dad and take an interest in him. They let him stay at the firehouse, offering him a sort-of internship and letting him ease his way into the world of adulthood. 

The King Of Staten Island offers a deep, insightful look into a world that was, and the world that is. Oceans of ink have been spilled over Millennials’ “failure to launch” syndrome, the protracted adolescence, the traumas and hyper-sensitivity. But what do you expect from a generation whose earliest memories were of 9/11, spiralling the world into ever more uncertainty, confusion, and chaos? In fact, The King Of Staten Island is partially autobiographical for Pete Davidson, who lost his own firefighter father at age 7 during the 9/11 attacks. The movie takes an unflinching look at what some of those pent-up emotions can do, like the scene where he smashes his bedroom with a baseball bat after re-awakening his grief over his father’s death.

This behaviour has caused some other reviewers to read Scott as “childish.” Emotions don’t always come out pretty, though, especially grief and trauma. Men are so often given shit for not expressing their emotions, for being closed-up and cold and stoic. They are demonized when they express the “wrong” emotions. Anger is an emotion. So is rage. And, yes, oftentimes they are a mask for fear and sadness. That mask still needs to be shattered to get to the soft, pulpy underbelly. Which Scott is always willing to do, no matter how bad he is at it or how uncomfortable it makes him. 

And, yes, oftentimes they are a mask for fear and sadness. That mask still needs to be shattered to get to the soft, pulpy underbelly.

THIS is the engine that drives The King Of Staten Island, in my opinion. The willingness to grow and change, to confront challenges while simultaneously admitting their difficulty. 

The King Of Staten Island also reminds us of the world that was. Staten Island itself figures prominently, almost as a character in-and-of-itself. Staten Island seems almost locked in another time, a permanent 1970s1980s. People shout and swear at one another. They get in fistfights and make up. It’s hard to imagine another part of the country, if not the world, where two parents could laugh about a 9-year-old getting a tattoo in the woods. Comedy is notoriously tricky and hard to pull off in the 21st Century, with feelings running so high on a seemingly endless laundry-list of hot-button topics. The King Of Staten Island does not shirk away from these topics, nor does it focus on them. It illustrates a refreshing live-and-let-live attitude that i, for one, miss, as someone who grew up in previous eras. 

streaming movie reviews

Personally, i’d love to see more comedies like The King Of Staten Island. I’m almost tempted to label it a “dramedy”, as laughs and tears come in almost equal measure. It’s also one of the most personal “blockbusters” i’ve ever seen, more slice-of-life mumblecore than big screen spectacle. Some of the best moments are its quietest – Scott walking Ray’s kids to school, the moments bullshitting around the firehouse. It’s got real, actual heart, made by real, actual people instead of by committee. More mumblecore comedies, please!

The King Of Staten Island is available now on all major streaming platforms.

The King Of Staten Island streaming links

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We Go Way Back (2006) dir. Lynn Shelton movie review

We Go Way Back 2006 review

How would your 13-year old self view grown-up you? This is the question explored in the magically surreal directorial feature debut from Lynn Shelton, We Go Way Back

We Go Way Back movie review
image: Geisha Films

“Hey, grown-up Kate! What’s up? It’s me, your 13-year old self. How are you? Where do you live? Seattle? Paris? Are you happy? Do you have a boyfriend?”

These questions haunt We Go Way Back, underscoring a life that is both eccentric, strange and utterly banal. We Go Way Back tells the story of Kate (Amber Hubert), a 23-year old accountant by day, actress and theater patroness by night. Every year on her birthday, Kate opens a letter written to herself when she was 13. These letters serve as a haunting counterpoint to the confusing, triumphant ridiculousness of adult life. Until the haunting becomes more literal… 

We Go Way Back is a quiet, slice-of-life film following the sometimes interesting, sometimes painful frustrations of Kate-At-23. Kate spends her nights working at a small local theatre in Seattle, where the film takes place. She’s a textbook case of putting everybody before herself. She does the theatre’s bookkeeping, runs every errand by the eccentric theatre director, played by Robert Hamilton Wright, and performs often demeaning roles on-stage, including spending most of her last play as a decapitated corpse. We Go Way Back follows Kate as she undergoes experiences all-too-common for young women – drinking, smoking, having casual sex in the wake of a messy breakup. The words from her 13-year old self are repeated like a mantra underpinning the film, giving a poignant sub-text to these experiences while avoiding heavy-handedness or moralizing. 

We Go Way Back Lynn Shelton
We Go Way Back does for local theatre what Steve Buscemi’s Living With Oblivion does for indie film. image: Geisha Films

Much of We Go Way Back focuses on Kate getting cast as the title role of Hedda in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. There’s one catch – the director wants her to deliver her lines in the play’s native Norwegian. Except Kate doesn’t know Norwegian. Much of We Go Way Back revolves around Kate’s late-night study sessions, while enduring her boringly banal day job as an accountant. All the while, the words from Kate’s 13-year old self continue to underscore her day-to-day struggles. 

We Go Way Back Lynn Shelton movie review
13-year old Katie was a real wild child. image: Geisha Films

Katie, played by Maggie Brown, was a real wild child, spending her days roaming the forests with a battered old camera. She is the spirit of pure, primal, unbound creativity, forcing Kate to ask the question – “How did I get here?”

The slice-of-life quietude gets interrupted when things take a turn for the magical. Katie becomes real, dogging Kate’s footsteps. She spends much of the film trying to escape this shadow, only to finally submit and befriend her younger self. The two walk down long Pacific Northwestern roads, talking of life. “What’s beer like? Are you drunk? What’s that like?”

We Go Way Back review
image: Geisha Film

While the magical realism could make We Go Way Back light and trite, instead it allows subtle, unspoken themes to ring out, loud and clear. The image of adult Kate walking desolately down the road, followed by her younger self, will likely resonate with any frustrated artist, or anyone confused about navigating adulthood, wondering where our youthful dreams went.

The back-and-forth between magical realism and the painful mundanity of her day-to-day life makes both threads work. We Go Way Back might not be much if it just focused on the arthouse play rehearsals of Hedda Gabler, with Robin Hamilton Wright playing the flaky director to a T. We Go Way Back does for local theatre what Steve Buscemi‘s Living With Oblivion does for indie film. It offers some humour and levity in what could otherwise be an oppressively heavy film. It also serves as a poignant lens to view the string of casual sex Kate engages in. She’s rarely an active participant, it’s just one more realm where Kate prioritizes others before herself. 

It’s a good opportunity to note a content warning – a number of the sexual encounters throughout We Go Way Back are non-consensual at best. Those who have trouble viewing sexual assault should tread lightly. It’s a painfully clear depiction of what many women have to deal with, their entire lives. We Go Way Back is an important feminist film for that reason alone. 

It’s worth watching for the cinematography, as well. Benjamin Kasulke’s cinematography lovingly recreates young Kate’s wild gaze, lingering on the primordial forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a quintessential vision of Pacific Northwestern film, full of rural roads carved out of sprawling, ancient forests; the nearly molecular detail of mushrooms and moss. For anyone not fortunate enough to live in this beautiful part of the world, We Go Way Back offers a welcome window into the Pacific Northwestern wilds.

We Go Way Back is the directorial feature-length debut of Lynn Shelton, best known for 2009’s Humpday. If you follow movie news at all, you may have heard that Lynn Shelton passed away last week due to a blood illness. She was only 54. Watching We Go Way Back, we are reminded of what a great talent we’ve lost. It also offers a depiction of what can happen when mumblecore, a movement Shelton was often associated with, is paired with higher production values, hinting at an indie/Hollywood hybrid that really should be explored further. 

We Go Way Back is an unexpectedly moving experience, especially for creative types who wonder how their life’s turned out the way it has. It invites us all to rediscover the joy, optimism, imagination, and endless possibilities of making art when we’re young. 

We Go Way Back is screening for free tonight via the always excellent NWFilmForum.

It can also be streamed on Kanopy.

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Snowpiercer Episode 1 Review, “First, The Weather Changed”

Jennifer Connelly Snowpiercer

TNT’s unexpected dystopian sci-fi tv series based on Bong Joon Ho’s adaptation of Snowpiercer gets off to a slow and subtle but steady start. 

Snowpiercer TV review
image: TNT

There is a moment when Andrew Layton (Daveed Diggs) steps into bright sunshine from the perpetual gloom of the tail for what, we presume, is the first time in years. Despite being angered, confused, frustrated, he stops and drinks in the sunlight, tries to catch a glimpse of life outside the window. Despite all his rage, his convictions, most likely his fear, he still tries to drink in the light like a starving infant. 

This sentiment is further driven home when we see Layton eat a grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup. Here, we see a strong, proud man driven to the point of near-tears with a simple sandwich.

Can you imagine what it would be like to not see the sun for seven years? To not taste cooked food? 7 years ago, the United States was watching unemployment numbers fall while still arguing about same-sex marriage, to put that into context. I’m not sure that any of us can truly conceptualize what 7 years of hardship and privation can do to someone. But it’s the engine that makes Snowpiercer work, as a series. 

Can you imagine what it would be like to not see the sun for seven years? To not taste cooked food?

“First, the Weather Changed” begins with a chunk of exposition detailing the creation of the train, 1,001 cars long, to help humanity weather a sudden global Ice Age, brought on by scientists attempting to reverse climate change. We see an armed insurrection storm the train, in an attempt to survive the deep freeze. Many don’t make it, but some manage to make their way onto the train’s tail cars. These are “The Tailies,” the train’s unexpected, and unwanted, lower class. 

Jennifer Connelly Snowpiercer
image: TNT

The  scene cuts to First Class, a sterile white Kubrickian idyll, where we meet Melanie Covill, meticulously brought to life by Jennifer Connelly in a truly exceptional performance. Covill is the “voice of the train,” beginning each day with a status update over an antiquated intercom system. We quickly cut to the tail, where we see the tailies plotting a revolt. Their rebellion is cut short when Layton is removed, brought forward into the train’s forward sections. 

There’s been a murder. 

Turns out the mysterious Mr. Wilford, the beneficent wizard-behind-the-curtain entrepreneur who created the train, didn’t account for the possibility of crime. After all, how could there be crime if only the wealthy are on-board? (cue sarcastic laughter.)

Andrew Layton is the only hope they have of solving this murder, as a former homicide detective in a former life. It puts him in the unique, unenviable position of being branded a traitor or navigating the train’s complex social structure. He decides to help, bargaining for increased rations and a life on the forced sterilization of The Tailies, which has meant no new births in five years. 

For the remainder of “First, the Weather Changed,” we’re introduced to more of the train’s complex society, including the libertine “third-class citizens” as well as catching a glimpse of the uber-affluent First Class. We’re offered a glimpse of the train’s “first-world problems,” where a rich socialite woman complains about Scandivanian passengers visiting the sauna nude and singing. While, back in the tail section, passengers are having their arms snapped off, as dipped in liquid nitrogen, and living off of half rations of gelatinous goo.

Snowpiercer TV review
image: TNT

It’s a rather heavy-handed illustration of the “haves” and “have-nots” of late-stage capitalism. Ultimately, that’s what makes Snowpiercer a success, so far. Dystopian sci-fi is particularly effective at satirizing the present day, in a way that contemporary media seldom can. You can see all of the graphs and numbers and charts about wage stagnation and income inequality you want. Watching someone diving in oceanic splendour while eating fresh sushi and strawberries while little children eat literal grease drives that point home in a visceral way, however. 

So far, Snowpiercer is off to a great start! There’s been some exceptional performances, already, and the society is interesting and engaging. It seems on track to be more of a sociological study than Bong Joon Ho’s action epic. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it. 

Snowpiercer airs on Sundays at 9/8C. If you missed the first episode, you can watch on



ig: @snowpiercerTV

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Design of the Day: Needle Studio’s Minimalist Alfred Hitchcock Movie Posters

Needle Design Vertigo movie poster

Desginer Matt Needle’s alternate movie posters for 3 of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film seem both timeless and utterly fresh. 

Good design is as little design as possible,” states Dieter Rams’ 10 commandments of Good Design. While there is no one single metric that differentiates “good design” and “bad design”, if you pay attention to contemporary design, cross-referenced with how we tend to interact with the world around us – speaking as a Westernerer living in an Information Age society – a sense of “the good” in design does begin to emerge, no matter what branch or offshoot you’re looking at. 

Minimalist Design
Minimalism has been trending in recent years in everything from architecture to photography to interior and web design. Image: Sam Cormwell

One of those design trends you can’t help but ignore is minimalism. Writing about minimalist graphic design for Visme, author Orana Velarde begins “Minimalism is a visual concept that never goes out of style. It has been around for 60 years and it’s still relevant today. The main idea in minimalist design is to say more by showing less. Minimalist design is clean, crisp and timeless.”

She’s not wrong. Minimalism is the visual design trend that just won’t die. In recent years, we’ve seen everything from minimalist interior design trends to minimalist web design. And while it’s not necessarily the purpose of this blog to act as arbiter of good taste or gatekeeper of good design, it’s hard to argue that good design is minimalist design, in 2020, at least to some extent. While we find that some minimalist design is snooty and sometimes reeking of privilege, we feel like each design element should at least serve some function. We’re not here to way in on the “busy vs. clean” debate, or “ornate vs. austere,” but it does seem like in design and art, that the creator should have an idea of what they’re trying to achieve, and should ask themselves if some detail serves that vision or not. “Edit ruthlessly,” as advised by the fashion designers. “Don’t be precious with your art,” recommend the novelists. 

This is the long way of saying that designer Matt Needle’s minimalist movie posters for three of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movies are good design, by almost any metric you’d care to throw at them. 

Needle Design Vertigo movie poster
image: Needle Design

Look at this gorgeous alternate movie poster for Vertigo, for instance. Needle plays up the negative space in what seems to us a very modern way. The visual information is reduced to the bare minimum, and shunted out of the way while still communicating the relevant details. A simple ombre gives from turquoise to indigo gives the impression of sunset. The visuals are iconic, showcasing the Golden Gate Bridge of Vertigo‘s notorious San Francisco setting, the hatted silhouette of Jimmy Stewart and the distant, ghostly mystery of Madeline looming in the distance. If you’ve seen Vertigo, there’s a good chance you’d recognize Needle Design’s movie poster even without the text.  

That’s not where the good design stops, however. Otherwise, this would just be a good movie poster – always nice, but not necessarily that exciting. If you look closely, however, you’ll notice a faint texture of concentric circles – a subtle nod to Vertigo‘s iconic set design. Combined with a slight distressed, grunge effect to give the poster a more analog feel, and we’re left with a thoroughly modern design which remains rooted in the original. 

That, to us, is one of the commandments of good design that references the past, and the purpose of this blog in general. We must know the past, and understand it, to choose what to keep and what to get rid of. 

Which seems as close to a minimalist mantra as one could hope to get. 

Needle Design’s alternate movie poster for North by Northwest is similarly stunning. 

Needle Design North by Northwest movie poster
image: Needle Design

The one for Psycho is also a thing of beauty. 

Psycho alternate movie poster
image: Needle Design

Needle Design’s minimalist movie posters are things of such beauty, you want to hang them on the wall so you can admire them 24/7. The good news is, you can! The Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho movie posters are all available as prints from their Bigcartel shop. 

We’ve fallen for Needle Design’s work in a big way. They’ve applied their minimalist aesthetic to other cinephilic subject matter, like a series of portraits of Audrey Hepburn and another of famous directors. They’ve also got ’60s Pop Art-style original art, design, and illustration, 

Full disclaimer, it could be that Needle Design’s aesthetic just so happen to pretty much identically mirror our own. We are freaks for all things distressed and textured, when they’re well-done. Their sometimes soft or bruised color pallets, like the Vertigo poster or the faded rose of the Ladybird alternate movie poster, drive us to distraction. We’re also huge fans of minimalist 60s art and design. So, it just might be that we’re the perfect customers for Needle Design. Or they just might be stunningly good design. 

You be the judge. 

Needle Design

ig: @needledesign

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Design of the Day: Boston City Hall, the “World’s Ugliest Building”

Kallmann McKinnell Knowles architecture

Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles’ brutalist construction shows what beauty and grandeur are possible with concrete – even if not everybody sees it that way. 

Boston City Hall Brutalism
Credit: Ezra Stoler/Esto

Brutalism has been trending all over, the past several years. It’s been enjoying a resurgence in architecture for several years. It’s been adapted for interior design. It’s been increasingly prevalent in web design.  

Why is this blocky, streamlined design style seeing a comeback? Is it a sign that we’re returning to futurism? That form is following function again, in visual design? Is it a suggestion we’re returning to Cold War paranoia? Is it just more historic appropriation, mining the dustbin of history for irony and inspiration?

Whatever the reason, people are taking another look at brutalist architecture. Rather than the clunky, chunky, blocky, soul-crushing uninspired buildings they are sometimes seen as, designers and architects are discovering there is some actual beauty to be found in brutalism. Some genuine inspiration, as well, and an optimistic, utopian flavour not often associated with these bureaucratic-looking buildings. 

Boston City Hall Brutalist
credit: Berkshire Fine Arts

The Boston City Hill is a particularly noteworthy example of the style, with all of the unjust scorn and criticism to go with it. It has often been referred to as the “World’s Ugliest Building,” since its unveiling in 1968.

Kallmann McKinnell Knowles architecture
credit: Wikimedia Commons

The controversial building, designed by the architectural firm Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles, was intended to be provocative, as noted by Senator Ted Kennedy at the time. During the public unveiling, he makes the claim “Every important building is controversial. The Parthenon was called ‘remote’ because it was set upon a hill; and Faneuil Hall was called ‘a scar upon the landscape.’ I think we owe a debt of gratitude to those who had the vision to design this city hall and those who had the courage to accept the design.”

It seems the public sentiment was anything but grateful for Boston City Hall’s first 50 years. People hated it from the start, kick-starting a campaign and abuse that almost became a self-fulfilling prophecy. There have been cries to tear the whole thing down, to rip it up and start again. Luckily for those of us who appreciate modernist architecture, this didn’t come to pass. 

The History of Boston City Hall

Historically, brutalism was designed to uninspire. While its original connotations may have been futurist, when Le Corbusier began exploring the style in the early ’50s. Brutalism was quickly adopted to indicate a no nonsense, getting back to business attitude in the wake of World War 2. This is in large part due to the cheapness and availability of concrete, however. 

While Brutalism is often compared to Stalinist and Soviet Bloc construction styles and techniques, the approach was towards a much more democratic goal for Boston City Hall. It was part of a larger campaign to revitalize Boston’s City Center, which was beginning to slide into economic stagnation, decay, and disrepair. 

Michael McKinnell Architecture

Professor Mark Pasnik, of Wentworth Institute of Technology and author of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, puts it like this. ““Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles did have an idea that this would be a very democratic building.They saw it as open. There’s very large columns that allow you to enter into the building in multiple ways. It doesn’t work like that anymore, but that was the original idea of that.”

““The whole thing was conceived with that sense of openness and aspiration to be very public, to be grand, to represent the civic realm,” Pasnik said. “You might just flip through it like you might a galleria in Europe or something.”

Michael McKinnell Architecture

Everything from the open plaza at its center to the decision to build with concrete itself had a democratic ideal at its heart. The concrete was meant to deliver a sense of heaviness and weightiness and as a direct counterpoint to the stark, sleek steel, chrome, and glass modernism favoured by corporations. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the new City Hall was quite as by, for, and about the people as the architects had in mind. A campaign of abuse and neglect, beginning almost as soon as the building was unveiled, almost found the monolithic building fall beneath the wrecking ball. 

Boston City Hall renovation

The Renovation of Boston City Hall

Thank goodness the sentiments of architectural historians and enthusiasts came around before this fabulous, imposing, impressive,building would be binned for all time. Boston City Hall is now recognized as one of the most important brutalist buildings in the world, and one of the most inspiring examples of civic architecture in North America. This is in part due to an extensive redesign in honour of the building’s 50th anniversary. 

The renovation is truly a model of architectural revisionism done right. Rather than trying to rewrite the past, overlapping teams of designers worked together to take advantage of today’s technology to adhere to and emphasize the ideals of the original design. 

Boston City Hall Architect

Boston City Hall was originally meant to convey and represent greater transparency in government, which was symbolized by the concrete protrusion over the central plaza. Boston architecture and design firm Utile worked closely with city planners and lighting designers, Lam Partners, to draw out key features of the existing structure.

brutalist architecture

The interior got a much-appreciated update, as well, while still holding onto as many of the original features as possible. The open floor plan, concrete pillars, walls of glass, and exposed brickwork are all preserved from the original. 

The architects and designers were able to take advantage of shifts in technology to redefine and reorganize the interior. Instead of a space to pay parking tickets, which is now handled online, the renovation team created furniture-like fixtures throughout the lobby, as well as adding a coffee bar and a front desk, to better take advantage of misused space and create a sense of flow throughout the lobby. 

brutalist architecture revival

Many of these revisions were handled in conjunction with Michael McKinnell, one of the original architects who worked on Boston City Hall.

We wish we could announce that the inspiration for today’s Design of the Day is a happier one. Unfortunately, Michael McKinnell recently passed away due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19. He’s another in a tragically growing list of losses in the design and architecture community because of Coronavirus. That list is constantly expanding, and we’ll be exploring the myriad of ways Coronavirus/COVID-19 is impacting various sectors, in months and weeks to come. 

In the meanwhile, we take this opportunity to look back and remember the passion, wisdom, and inspiration of Michael McKinnell, while we take stock and assess of what we’ve lost. 

Michael McKinnell’s passing, and his work on Boston City Hall, was brought to our attention via a recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast. Many thanks to them for the heads up, and for their exquisite work, as always. Our hearts go out to Michael McKinnell’s loved ones, to the city of Boston, and to any and everybody struggling with Coronavirus in any way. 

KMW Architecture

KMW Architecture FB

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Design of the Day: Adam Brockbank’s Dark Rey Concept Art

Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art

Illustrator Adam Brockbank reveals three alternate visions of Dark Rey from The Rise of Skywalker

Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank

[Spoiler Alert: This discussion of Adam Brockbank’s illustrations discusses a minor spoiler from The Last Jedi and beyond. If you haven’t seen all of the final Star Wars triology – first of all, you should! Secondly, you might want to skip the rest of this article. Go read some of the other Design of the Day articles instead.]

Are you a fan left wanting more of Dark Rey towards the final act of The Rise of Skywalker? How could you not? We’re only offered a brief glimpse of Rey as a Dark Sith lord on the ruins of the second Death Star, in the wake of learning Emperor Palpatine is her father. In the movie, Rey sees herself wearing all black instead of all her signature all white. .  

Turns out that wasn’t the only concept art floating around. 

Illustrator Adam Brockbank shared three alternate vision to his Instagram account.

Adam Brockbank Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank

One sees Rey shrouded in all black. 

One sees Rey with Kylo Ren’s helmet:

Adam Brockbank Star Wars
image: Adam Brockbank

The final illustration depicts Rey in a pleated blood red robe, similar to the Emperor’s Royal Guard.  


Adam Brockbank Dark Rey concept art
image: Adam Brockbank


This is the most recent in a rash of new The Rise of Skywalker concept art. Much of this has to do with the release of The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker artbook, released in March of this year on Harry N. Abrams.

This is not the first time Adam Brockbank’s done concept art or illustrations for Star Wars. He’s done series for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Last Jedi and Solo. He’s also done lavish illustrations in his iconic oil style for nearly any and every genre film of the last 10 years. Browse the rest of his homepage for more illustration inspiration than you can handle.

Adam Brockbank

ig: @brockbankadam

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SXSW Movie Review: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me SXSW

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is an insightful, in-depth, loving look at the life of Brian Belovitch/Natalia “Tish” Gervais, a gender-fluid gay man who lived for many years as a trans woman during the 70s and 80s.

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me movie review
image: Amazon

To say that Brian Belovich has had an interesting life would be an understatement, as well as a misnomer. Lives might be more apt, as Brian has had numerous – first as a sensitive, effeminate gay boy; then as a larger-than-life transwoman and personality; then, finally, as himself.

Gender and sexuality have been two of the most hot button topics of the last 10 years. It’s such a sensitive and personal topic for nearly everybody, it’s easy for people to get worked up or their feelings hurt. It’s notoriously difficult to talk about, even when you’re in agreement and on the same side. The absolutist language of binaries lends itself to hurt feelings and black-and-white thinking, where you just end up talking past one another and in heated arguments, even when you don’t want to. That’s what makes director Karen Bernstein’s work with I’m Gonna Make You Love Me such a laudable achievement. She doesn’t shy away from hard or sensitive topics, while remaining sympathetic and empathetic, all the while.

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me SXSW
image: Amazon

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me starts off with Brian as a small child, growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. He started showing signs of “femininity” (as in, behaviour which American culture reads as ‘feminine,’ which is bullshit in its own right, but a topic for a whole separate lengthy essay all its own.) He speaks of being misgendered even as a baby, and of getting positive attention for entertaining people by singing and dancing. Some of the onlookers would mistake him for a little girl, much to his Mother’s horror. That’s the first heartbreaking thing about I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Today’s more inclusive, understanding, celebratory world (even as a bubble) is a recent development. Bernstein’s documentary reminds us of the pain and trauma LGBTQIA+ folks had to endure not very long ago, and are enduring still in probably most parts of the world. It breaks yr heart, when you see what a lovely, loving child Brian was.

Fast forward to the 70s, with Brian coming out, getting into drag and exploring the burgeoning gay scene in Providence. This proved to be of little solace to Brian, an effeminate man when bearish, bullish masculinity was all the rage. It seems Brian couldn’t even find a home in the gay scene. Instead, he decided to lean into the drag and begin living life as a woman.

And thus Natalia “Tish” Gervais was born. As Tish, she even went so far as to get married, to a G.I. no less, and lived for a time as an Army housewife in Germany. She did all of the things an Army housewife did during that era, but she ultimately felt bored and unfulfilled and moved back to the States, relocating to New York City just in time to become a celebrity in the burgeoning Downtown Art scene.

Life wasn’t easy for Tish. A series of events culminated with her de-transitioning in the late 80s and returning to life as Brian Belovitch, a charming and lovely man, sparking with life, generous of heart and spirit. Each chapter of his life is more interesting than a lot of people’s entire experience. In many ways, Brian’s lived three lives, and lived each one to its fullest.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is a thoughtful, insightful, and in-depth look at a tricky subject. Some members of the transgender community get touchy around telling stories about detransitioning, afraid it’ll get picked up as ammunition by bigots. To their credit, both Karen Bernstein and Brian don’t shy away from this, but also don’t let it stop them from telling their story. Bernstein remarked to interviewers for The Queer Review, speaking about some of the hard feelings and conversation that might arise, “I think she thought about it a little more than I did, and we had to have a really long talk about it and I did consider whether we should bring somebody else in and finally I just said ‘no, this is one person’s story’. It’s one person, two different lives perhaps, maybe more depending on how you want to count it, but I am not making a polemic here, I’m not making a political film.”

Brian’s very forthcoming about the roles that toxic masculinity and homophobia may have played in this decision to transition. He commented to the Austin Chronicle, “I rejected this idea that in order to be a man this is how you had to act. It was like garlic to a vampire to me. I guess I was just such a sensitive, aware kid that I recognized that there was something wrong about it at a very early age, and it was something I wanted no part of it. Of course now, as a man, an older man, a more mature man, I realize that there are very many facets of what it is to be a man in today’s society. It’s a very different world we live in.”

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me realizes that gender is complicated. Brian sums it up succinctly with the observation “Gender for some people is a destination. For me it’s a journey.”

“Gender for some people is a destination. For me it’s a journey.”

I don’t always like to include my own personality or history when it comes to writing reviews. I’m mostly here for you, merely sharing some thoughts for movie lovers and cinephiles wondering what to watch. This aspect of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me speaks to my personal journey, however. As a gender non-conforming/feminine man growing up in the Midwest in the 80s, i relate all-too-well to the struggles he faced, the garlic revulsion to toxic American masculinity, and the confusion that can come with it. Seeing the peace that Brian discovers brings a certain contentment to my own spirit. I’ve also come to grips with the confusing journey around gender, and come to a similar conclusion that Brian did.

That’s the beauty of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. This is not a political film, it’s a personal one, and a fascinating one at that. Like Brian himself says, “gender is a destination for some.” May everyone find their way to a gender presentation and identity that works for them, that makes them happy and free to express their own unique spirit.

For anyone interested in such topics and themes, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is a must-watch!

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me | Trailer from Karen Bernstein on Vimeo.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me is streaming, for free, as part of Amazon’s SXSW film festival until May 6!

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