After a train derailment, Ohio residents are living the plot of a movie they helped make | CNN



CNN
 — 

When Ben Ratner’s family signed up in 2021 to be extras in the movie “White Noise,” they thought it would be a fun distraction from their day-to-day life in blue-collar East Palestine, Ohio.

Ratner, 37, is in a traffic jam scene, sitting in a line of cars trying to evacuate after a freight train collided with a tanker truck, triggering an explosion that fills the air with dangerous toxins. In another scene, his father wears a trench coat and hat while people walk across an overpass to get out of town. Directors told the group they wanted them to look “forlorn and downtrodden” as they escape the environmental disaster.

The 2022 movie was shot around Ohio and is based on a novel by Don DeLillo. The book was published in 1985, shortly after a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed nearly 4,000 people. The book and film follow the fictional Gladney family – a couple and their four kids – as they flee an “airborne toxic event” and then return home and try to resume their normal lives.

Ratner tried to rewatch the movie a few days ago and found that he couldn’t finish it.

“All of a sudden, it hit too close to home,” he said.

Ratner and his family – his wife, Lindsay, and their kids, Lilly, Izzy, Simon and Brodie – are living the fiction they helped bring to the screen.

Officials ordered them to evacuate their home last week, a day after a Norfolk Southern train carrying 20 cars of hazardous materials slid off the rails and caught fire, threatening to explode. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the incident.

“The first half of the movie is all almost exactly what’s going on here,” Ratner said Wednesday, four days into their evacuation.

In a way, the movie has provided a point of grim humor about the situation facing the residents of East Palestine – the joke no one wanted to make.

“Everybody’s been talking about that,” Ratner said of his friends and neighbors who are keeping in close touch through the crisis. “I actually made a meme where I superimposed my face on the poster and sent it to my friends.”

In the 2022 film

Scholars who study DeLillo’s work say they are not surprised by the collision of life and art. His work is often described as prescient, said Jesse Kavadlo, an English professor at Maryville University in St. Louis and president of the Don DeLillo Society.

“The terrible spill now is, of course, a coincidence. But it plays in our minds like life imitating art, which was imitating life, and on and on, because, as DeLillo suggests in ‘White Noise’ as well, we have unfortunately become too acquainted with the mediated language and enactment of disaster,” Kavadlo said.

The night of February 3, Ratner was watching his daughter’s basketball game at the local high school when the crash happened. He didn’t hear it over the noise of the game, but when they walked out of the building, he could see the massive blaze. He shot a few seconds of video on his cell phone.

His family returned to their house, which sits less than a mile from the crash site. Throughout the night, he said, they heard sirens but got little information. “We weren’t sure exactly what the danger was.”

While his family slept, he stayed up, nervously watching the fire and the news.

The next morning, activity around the site had picked up. “There was a lot of commotion, helicopters and people hightailing it out of town, and it was it was a little intense,” he said.

His wife and kids headed to stay with his wife’s parents, who live about 2 miles from the crash site. Ratner went to work running the coffee shop he and his wife own, LiB’s Market, in nearby Salem.

By that afternoon, an official alert warned that people needed to move even farther, beyond a 2-mile radius. Roughly half of the town’s 4,800 residents had to evacuate.

A friend offered to let them stay in their pool house. They later moved to another friend’s house next to their café.

School was canceled for the week. They got their dog out of the house, but they had to leave the pet turtle behind.

For now, they’re keeping their distance. But even after they go back, they have to decide whether they’ll stay.

East Palestine is in an economically depressed area, Ratner said, but it had been on a rebound. He and his wife had been considering opening another café there, but now they’re worried that plan is in jeopardy.

“That’s where we’ve been raising our kids, finishing college, buying a business, and that’s been our place,” he said. “In the future, are we going to have to sell the house? Is it worth any money at this point?”

Five of the tankers on the train that overturned last week were carrying liquid vinyl chloride, which is extremely combustible. Last Sunday, they became unstable and threatened to explode. First responders and emergency workers had to vent the tankers, spill the vinyl chloride into a trench, and then burn it off before it turned the train into a bomb. Authorities feared that an explosion could send shrapnel up to a mile away.

But that didn’t happen. The controlled burn worked and the evacuation order for East Palestine residents was officially lifted Wednesday after real-time air and water monitoring did not find any contaminant levels above screening limits.

“All of the readings we’ve been recording in the community have been at normal concentrations, normal backgrounds, which you find in almost any community,” James Justice, a representative of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said at a briefing Wednesday.

Support team members prepared to assess remaining hazards in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 7.

Although authorities have assured the residents that any immediate danger has passed, some residents have yet to return home. Ratner said they’re worried about longer-term risks that environmental officials are only beginning to assess.

Real-time air readings, which use handheld instruments to broadly screen for classes of contaminants like volatile organic compounds, showed that the air quality near the site was within normal limits.

The decision to lift the evacuation order was based on analysis of air monitoring data, according to Charles Rodriguez, community involvement coordinator for the EPA’s Region 5 office.

Up to this point, officials have been looking for large immediate threats: explosions or chemical levels that could make someone acutely ill.

“Under this phase, it’s been the emergency response,” Kurt Kohler of the Ohio EPA’s Office of Emergency Response said Wednesday. “As you see the emergency services go back home, off-site, Ohio EPA is going to remain involved through our other divisions that oversee the long-term cleanup of these kinds of spills.”

The cleanup and monitoring of the site, he said, could take years.

Although the explosion risk is past, Ratner said, people who live in East Palestine want to know about the chemical threats that might linger.

Fish and frogs have died in local streams. People have reported dead chickens and shared photos of dead dogs and foxes on social media. They say they smell chemical odors around town.

When asked at Wednesday’s briefing about exactly what spilled, representatives from Norfolk Southern listed butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride and a small amount of non-hazardous lube oil.

“Butyl acrylate is a lot of what we’re gathering information on,” said Scott Deutsch, a regional manager of hazardous materials at Norfolk Southern.

Butyl acrylate is a clear, colorless liquid with a strong, fruity odor that’s used to make plastics and paint. It’s possible to inhale it, ingest it or absorb it through the skin. It irritates the eyes, skin and lungs and may cause shortness of breath, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Repeated exposure can lead to lung damage.

Vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC pipes, can cause dizziness, sleepiness and headaches. It has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, brain, lungs and blood.

Although butyl acrylate easily mixes with water and will move quickly through the environment, it isn’t especially toxic to humans, said Richard Peltier, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Vinyl chloride, however, has a specific and important risk in that is contains a bunch of chlorine molecules, which can form some really awful combustion byproducts,” Peltier said. “These are often very toxic and often very persistent in the environment.”

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed February 3 were still on fire the next day.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern acknowledged but did not respond to CNN’s request for more information on how much of these chemicals spilled into the soil and water.

The Ohio EPA says it’s not sure yet, either.

“Initially, with most environmental spills, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of material that has been released into the air, water, and soil. The assessment phase that will occur after the emergency is over will help to determine that information,” James Lee, media relations manager for the Ohio EPA, wrote in an email to CNN.

Lee said that after his agency has assessed the site, it will work on a remediation plan.

Vinyl chloride is unstable and boils and evaporates at room temperature, giving it a very short lifespan in the environment, said Dana Barr, a professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“If you had a very small amount of vinyl chloride that was present in an area, it would evaporate within minutes to hours at the longest,” she said.

“But the problem they’re facing here is that it’s not just a small amount, and so if they can’t contain what gets into the water or what gets into the soil, they may have this continuous off-gassing of vinyl chloride that has gotten into these areas,” Barr said.

“I probably would be more concerned about the chemicals in the air over the course of the next month.”

State officials said they would continue to monitor the site for exactly that reason. They are also continuing to try to dig and remove contaminated soil.

“Right now, we have a system set up. As the data comes, it is distributed to a network of people to look at both on an immediate-phase – ‘Hey, is there anything really alarming to look at’ – and those smaller numbers that really matter to long-term health,” Kohler said at Wednesday’s briefing.

He said the local health department would test residents’ wells to make sure their drinking water is safe. Officials are also offering to test the air in residents’ homes before they come back.

Norfolk Southern is funding a phone line for residents to speak to a toxicologist with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, an environmental consulting firm.

No one is quite sure whether to trust the help, though, since it’s coming mostly from the company behind the spill. Some residents have already filed a class-action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern.

“We’re definitely signing up for the air testing of the home before we get in there,” Ratner said.

The first trains to pass since the accident started rolling through again midweek, Ratner said. The roar of the trains, a sound he used to tune out, is now jarring.

Even the sounds of loud trucks are “off-putting,” he said.

Don Cheadle, left, and Adam Driver star in

Ratner said it was fun to be part of a disaster movie – a stylized, darkly comedic Netflix streamer starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle.

In real life, the situation has been gutting.

“Those are great actors, but it was hard to see it as a put-on,” Ratner said.

He shares the sentiments of Lenny Glavan, a local tattoo artist, who wrote a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on Tuesday to express the town’s anger and frustration over the accident.

“You just ripped from us our small-town motto ‘A place you want to be,’ ” Glavan wrote.

“It may not be beach-front property, it may not even have the highest paying jobs, or much else to offer, but in my experiences in life, the place I and most people want to be is when you need a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to pray with, or a place to call home East Palestine has always been that place to want to be,” he said in his note, which was publicly posted on Facebook.

“With the events in which have occurred, the railroad that gave this small town life has now taken the life, the heartbeat, the unity and that security that families or individuals long for in this wild world away … possibly indefinitely.”

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John Connors to host Craic Music Fest in New York this month

Actor John Connors has emerged as one of the most vital – and sometimes controversial – voices in Irish cinema. Agree or disagree with him, there’s no doubting his gift as a screen star.

Connors is back in New York next month at the 25 Craic Fest with his new film “The Black Guelph,” about how Ireland deals – and fails to deal – with its past.

But Connors will also be on site this month to MC the Craic Music Fest on February 24 at Rockwood Music Hall.

First, though, let’s start with his film: “The Black Guelph” is his hard-hitting drama about the way generations can unwittingly hand on trauma – and consequences – to the ones that follow them, but it is also a black mirror reflection of the kind of country that Ireland actually is. 

“The Black Guelph were a group of people in ancient Rome that wanted to uphold the power of the Pope, they were pope loyalists, and anybody went against them, The Black Guelph either massacred or banished them,” Connors tells IrishCentral, with the kind of follow the dots speaking style that can infuriate his critics.

“What we’re essentially saying,” he continues, “is that the Irish state and successive governments are The Black Guelph, because they protected the power of the church’s interests over time.” 

The film is set in the modern day, he continues. “We follow a young man called Carl who has drug addiction problems and who is selling drugs, and you see him as a bit of a thug, a bit of a gangster.”

Soon we settle into the assumption we watching a film about his struggles but then his father comes into the situation, the father who once abandoned him, and we get into his father’s story too. 

“Eventually audiences figure out that we’re actually watching a film about intergenerational trauma, but specifically about the effects of intergenerational clerical abuse, about how all that trauma gets passed on.”

It’s heavy subject matter, Connors is the first to admit. “But there has never been an Irish film that has carefully examined the intergenerational trauma arising from clerical abuse. It’s something we’ve avoided. Yet it’s such a massive problem in Ireland and I think it’s a big reason why we have so much drug addiction, alcohol addiction and so on. These are just the tools that people use to repress their emotions rather than to express themselves.” 

To be clear, did you say that the church colluded with the government to look after its interests, I ask? Is that what you believe?

“Absolutely and literally. Of course. That’s clearly what happened. And it was about protecting the institutions against the interests of the people. The Irish state has never acted in the interest of the people. Or at least not all the people. And I could still say that today,” he continues. 

“Instead it has always acted in the interests of the powerful elites, who are all attached to the big institutions. We are a small country. And the people who run the institutions are all friends that are all in the one club. And you know, we the ordinary people also definitely colluded with the church.”

Breakout Irish star Graham Early in The Black Guelph.

Recall that the last Magdalene Laundry in Sean McDermott Street was still open in Dublin until 1996, Connors reminds me. “And since then, there hasn’t been real justice. The redress system was set up in order to address the problems and grievances of abuse survivors, the physical abuse, the emotional abuse, and people were supposed to lodge a a claim and get money, but what would actually happen is that they’d have to go on the witness stand and be lambasted by the state’s solicitors and by Vatican employed barristers, or a combination of both.”

Lawyers would say the most unbelievably ugly things in the church’s defense, Connors said. “A disgusting thing is that they call the victims liars, and there are loads of public transcripts for this. A lot of people who went through that redress board system after taking the stand said they felt that they betrayed themselves and betrayed the rest of the survivors. And, you know, it was reliving the trauma for them all again and opening up all the wounds.” 

Connors’s new film goes into that system in what he calls “a very important and pivotal way” to show what it was all about “and how corrupt – and I would go as far as saying evil – that system was set up, and the redress board system, because it has to be been one of the worst things they did.”

It’s not all trauma and outrage onscreen, Connors adds. “There are so many beautiful things about being Irish. I think we’re great storytellers and great rogues. But that’s the veneer of Ireland, the storytelling and the charisma. Behind that that we repress so much, and there’s a real darkness to the place, and we all became experts in repression.”

He adds: “You know they say what isn’t said becomes a symptom. And that symptom can become a disease, and that disease can kill. I think what happened with the Catholic Church is a perfect example of that symptom. Some people didn’t want to talk and some people were silenced.”

“We don’t want to talk about the trauma, we don’t want to talk about what happened, we want to act like this was all ancient history, in prehistoric times. Because we’re still we’re still seeing the ramifications of all this trauma, all this unresolved trauma, we continue to see it. It’s getting passed down every generation and if you don’t resolve it there will be generations ahead that don’t even know where it came from.”

John Connors takes on the legacy of trauma in The Black Guelph

John Connors takes on the legacy of trauma in The Black Guelph

You can tell he is only getting started with his desire to hold the mirror up to his country. You can tell his screening and talkback at the Craic Fest will be a sell-out on the night. 

Meanwhile, he is also going to host the Craic Fest concert, which this year will be an exciting blend of music and standup. Previously he has performed his one-man show “Ireland’s Call” here, but this night will see his unscripted but always engaging stage presence emerge.

“I’ve been over five or six times now and I suppose I’m a part of the Craic Fest history. Terence Mulligan, the festival director, and I are now friends and I believe he is concerned for survival of Irish culture in America, which I think is really important. 

“I think the festival has influenced American culture in a very positive way, and probably shows the best of Irish and maybe left behind some of the bad stuff. So yeah, it’s the festivals 25 year anniversary and he asked me to come over and emcee the event. Obviously, there’s a great lineup of spoken word, people in comedy and songs so I said, why not? It’s a going to be a great festival!”

Slated to appear at the Craic Fest concert are comedians Siobhan Fallon, Katie Boyle, and Craig Geraghty alongside musician Brendan O’Shea and surprise guests!

The Craic Music Fest concert will be held at Rockwood Music Hall on February 24 at 7:00 pm. You can book your tickets online here. For more information, visit TheCraicFest.com



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‘Groundhog Day’ movie: The Buddhist lifehacker film | CNN



CNN
 — 

“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another – it’s one damn thing over and over.” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’ve seen the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” again and again and again, but only once on the big screen, a few years after it was in theaters. It was shown in a packed lecture hall inside Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, followed by a lecture from a comparative religion scholar who took us through the spiritual meaning and symbolism cleverly packaged in what, on its surface, is a rom-com with a “Twilight Zone” premise.

Even if you haven’t seen the film you still know the basic plot because the term “Groundhog Day” has entered the common vernacular – which alone speaks to its resonance beyond the film itself – as shorthand for repeating the same experience over and over.

But it’s worth seeing, for the first time or the tenth, to witness self-centered weatherman Phil Connors (a role only Bill Murray could master) breaking that cycle through personal redemption. It’s a grand metaphor some scholars see as Buddhist, Christian or secularly philosophical. It’s also directly, practically applicable to how you spend your day today, and everyday.

I think the film is best described as “Buddish,” an adjective coined by the film’s director, Harold Ramis, to sum up his own belief system. His mother-in-law and one of his best friends were devout Zen Buddhists who hooked him onto its precepts. “Memorable, simple, didn’t require articles of faith, but completely humanistic in every way that I valued,” he said in an interview for Chicago magazine in 2008. “So I proselytize it without practicing it.”

And what an entertaining Buddish proselytization “Groundhog Day” is. Like sushi or a Jamba Juice shake, it’s so delicious you barely realize you’re eating raw fish and fruit. That’s the reason for this metaphysical movie’s enduring cult status: a genuinely hilarious film that glimpses the meaning of life.

There are many theories about Phil’s temporal loop (which by one estimate lasted nearly 34 years) and his eventual escape. One sees it as a metaphor for psychotherapy: repeating the stories of one’s past until you have a breakthrough that allows you to dismantle old patterns. Another claims it illustrates a classic economic paradigm.

But the most wisdom-invoking evidence amounts to religious insight and how to most fruitfully spend our precious hours.

One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that we must continue to reincarnate until we find enlightenment. The concept, called samsara, keeps us living out many lives through “various modes of existence” (called gati), some lowly animals and others god-like, as determined by your actions (karma). Once ignorance and ego are destroyed by your actions and awareness, you awaken to the true, interconnected reality, which frees you from the cycle and into heavenly nirvana.

In the film – written by Danny Rubin, a Zen Buddhist, according to Ramis’ DVD commentary of the film – Phil reincarnates each day, but he also transforms his behavior over “time.” He takes self-centered advantage of his unique predicament – robbing bank trucks, stuffing his face with angel food cake, tricking a woman into bed – but eventually perfects the day with creative self-improvement tasks and compassionately helping others. Once he becomes the best possible version of Phil Connors, he is released from his temporal prison, while simultaneously winning the love of his virtuous producer, Rita.

Phil’s plight is not unlike a character from Greek mythology who was doomed to eternally and perpetually push a boulder up a mountain. In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus uses the story to illustrate the absurdity of lives that toil away at meaningless jobs. But Camus says we must find hope, and therefore meaning, in such a plight and he imagines Sisyphus understanding and accepting it.

There’s a similar Buddhist tale of an enlightened monk who climbs a mountain to get a spoonful of snow in order to fill a well at the bottom of the mountain, again and again. Some lessons take a long and seemingly futile amount of time to learn. Buddhist monasticism is itself “Groundhog”-like with the same routine, clothes and daily rituals – for decades of practice.

Yet every moment is still different. Remember what the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” In that sense, Phil doesn’t repeat the same day over and over because one significant thing is different each Groundhog Day: him. He is the one thing that is changing.

What is time anyway? Illusory, says Buddhist dogma, a notion contained in the Zen koan Phil asks as he begins to understand that his own time is not progressing: “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers, there is no past or future. There is only now.

The Catholic concept of purgatory, a spiritual realm where souls must linger until they expiate their remaining sins and earn their way into heaven, fits the film’s bill as much as the Buddhist concept samsara. And many references and motifs that recur in the film support the notion that “Groundhog Day” is Christian rather than Buddhist. “These sticky buns are heaven.” “When you stand in the snow you look like an angel.” The groundhog hibernation – rebirth after a death of sorts, and emerging from the sleepy tomb – is reminiscent of Jesus.

There’s even a delightfully blasphemous scene in which Phil declares that he is a god. “I’m not the God … I don’t think,” he wonders aloud as he contemplates how close he comes to the Catholic conception of monotheism. “Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long he knows everything.” This after he has shouted, like an angry deity, “I make the weather!”

Then there’s the film’s montage with a homeless man whom Phil brushes off early on, patting his pants pockets like he doesn’t have any cash. Later Phil tries to help repeatedly, only to find the man dies every time. It’s the lesson of the Serenity Prayer, written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and later co-opted by Alcoholics Anonymous:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

After accepting that he cannot save the old man, Phil turns an optimistic and meaningful corner in the plot and begins living in service to others (catching a falling boy from a tree, saving the mayor from choking etc). It’s this change of direction that allows him to escape purgatory.

Whatever spiritual takeaway the film holds for you, it’s an undeniable call for hope. Phil survives his many attempts at suicide – leaping from a church, dropping a toaster in the tub, driving off a cliff – and is reborn a hopeful, charitable man. Baptized by death and stronger for it on the other side, he tells his television audience: “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life.”

Winter is such a great metaphor for the bleakness that precedes rebirth. “I’ll give you a winter prediction,” the weatherman reports in the “hopeless” second act of the film. “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

But in a more optimistic stage he wakes up one happy morning and surprises a stranger with a hug and a Samuel Coleridge quote: “Winter, slumbering in the open air, wears on its smiling face a dream…of spring.” It’s from the sonnet “Work Without Hope” which contains the famous line “bloom for whom ye may,” which Phil does.

This is the classic hero’s journey. Phil is exiled into an unexpected adventure, despairs, suffers losses, but eventually learns how to overcome his obstacles and hopelessness. By the end of the film, he has managed to become the town hero for all the mitzvah he crams into a single day.

You don’t have to subscribe to Buddhism or Christianity or believe in reincarnation or heaven for this story to be directly applicable to your daily life.

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” Phil asks a townie, Ralph, in the film.

“That about sums it up for me,” says Ralph.

And who doesn’t relate, at one time or another, for one day, or many years, to that sentiment. It’s Thoreau’s “life of quiet desperation.” It’s Sisyphus. It’s George Bailey pre-epiphany in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“I think people place too much emphasis on their careers,” Phil says to Rita. “I wish we could all live in the mountains, at high altitude. That’s where I see myself in five years. How about you?” This sentiment echoes an earlier role in Murray’s career as Larry Darrell in the movie, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, “The Razor’s Edge.” Darrell takes a pilgrimage to find enlightenment with Tibetan monks high in the Himalayas where he observes that, “It’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.”

The rest of us are down here in the valley, where it’s harder. Each day is not that different than the last. We’re on autopilot sometimes. We’re bored. We repeat our bad habits. We are often self-centered and usually under-inspired.

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  • But something does change every day, even if it’s imperceptible. It’s ourselves. And we can choose how this day will unfold, and how we will slowly evolve. There might even be a “Groundhog Day”-inspired resolution: memorizing French poetry, playing the piano, figuring out how to help others more often. Like Phil, we can utilize creativity and compassion to change a glass-is-half-empty paradigm, to half full. The pursuit of meaning is itself meaningful. And today, as well as everyday, can be your first day of spring.

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    Best Movies on Netflix Right Now | Wealth of Geeks

    For as many streaming services as there is currently are, Netflix remains possibly the premiere platform to watch movies and television shows. The first mainstream streaming service there was, it’s a platform that continues to boast some of the finest and most noteworthy movies you’ll find anywhere.

    With a streaming catalog mixed between Netflix original movies and endless amounts of well-known movies like It, La La Land, and The Lord of the Rings, there’s no shortage of potential viewing options when it comes to Netflix’s impressive lineup of movies.

    Here are some of the movies you can currently find streaming on Netflix that we’d recommend checking out.

    Updated: February 4.

    Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

    Since JRR Tolkien’s fantasy classic, The Lord of the Rings, was first published in 1954, film studios have tried time and time again to adapt the series onto the screen. It would take five long decades before audiences finally saw a decent adaptation that lived up LOTR fans’ expectations, but when Peter Jackson finally did release The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, it was well worth the wait.

    When the mythical Ring of Power ends up in his possession, a hobbit (Elijah Wood) embarks on an epic quest with wizards, Elves, Dwarves, humans, and his closest friends to destroy the One Ring and prevent the Dark Lord Sauron from returning to Middle-Earth.

    Using state-of-the-art special effects, an incredible soundtrack, excellent direction, and superb acting, The Lord of the Rings became the fantasy equivalent of Star Wars, garnering the same widespread attention as George Lucas’s space opera decades prior. On a whole, the trilogy is a modern masterpiece, but even when looked at individually, each film in the series is a ceaselessly entertaining epic in its own right, as seen with The Fellowship of the Ring.

    Horror: It

    With how many movies based off of Stephen King’s books there have been over the years, it seemed like filmmakers couldn’t strike any new ground when it came to adapting King’s stories. In 2017, though, director Andy Muschietti produced not only the scariest film adaptation of King’s work, he also created one of the most horrifying films of all time with his supernatural horror movie, It.

    In the small town of Derry, Maine, children are preyed upon by a sadistic, inhumane monster that feeds off of fear and takes the form of a demonic clown (Bill Skarsgård). Realizing the threat posed by the creature, a group of miscast outcasts band together to hunt the monster down.

    Tweaking elements of King’s story just enough for an easier translation, It managed to remain both entirely true to its source material while just distancing itself slightly to scare even those familiar with King’s original novel. Relying on some naturalistic acting from its young cast and a bone-chilling performance from Skarsgård, the film was quickly (and accurately) named one of the best horror movies in recent memory.

    Musical: La La Land

    If Damien Chazelle’s feature-length debut, Whiplash, is a musician’s worst nightmare, La La Land is a music-filled dream, a whimsical fantasy tale of love and romance with nods to everything from Singin’ in the Rain to Rebel Without a Cause.

    As they each pursue their individual artistic careers in Los Angeles, a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actor (Emma Stone) meet and fall in love with each other, their romance threatening to become undone by their plans for the future.

    In both Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle excels at creating conflicting portraits of artists desperately clinging to their hopes, all the while struggling to reconcile their dreams with reality. At once destined to be together but constantly pushed apart by their individual ambitions, Gosling and Stone deliver devastating performances as the two leads, possessing a chemistry not seen since the likes of Leo and Kate in Titanic.

    Comedy: Julie & Julia

    Needing an outlet to express herself, New Yorker Julia Powell (Amy Adams) starts a blog, walking through her experiences cooking through Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) famously difficult cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

    In the early days of the Internet, amateur writer Julie Powell managed to turn her love for cooking into a project of large-scale proportions. Documenting her experience cooking through Child’s cookbook, Powell earned the love and encouragement of hundreds of readers who tuned in every day to see her progress.

    Adapted from Powell and Child’s separate memoirs, Julie & Julia illustrates the connection that might exist between an artist and an aspiring talent influenced by said creator’s work. As seen at the end of the film, the two cooking personalities may not have always agreed with one another, but their shared passion for cooking helped them escape the monotony of their everyday lives, a lesson many of us could learn from this film.

    Drama: Roma

    It’s been a few years now since we’ve seen a film from director Alfonso Cuarón, the last movie from the man behind Gravity and Children of Men being his Oscar-nominated 2018 drama, Roma. However much we miss him, the superior quality of Roma is more than enough to sustain viewers until Cuarón’s return, the movie serving a tender slice of life that transports audiences to its historical setting.

    Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) works as the maid of an upper-middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City. Soon, her peaceful life is interrupted when the patriarch of the family runs away with his mistress and Cleo finds herself pregnant.

    Inspired by Cuarón’s childhood upbringing in Mexico City, Roma is both an authentic and stirring film that explores mundane issues in a brilliantly insightful way. Slower-paced movies like this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Cuarón still manages to present an emotionally engaging story that feels achingly personal (because it actually is).

    Documentary: Pamela: A Love Story

    In the 1990s, Pamela Anderson was the decade equivalent of Marilyn Monroe. Adored by fans across the globe, she was the kind of universal sex symbol that comes around only so often, her public image forever emblazoned on promotional material for Baywatch or on the cover of glamor modeling magazines.

    With Netflix’s most recent documentary, Pamela: A Love Story, Anderson relives the course of her career in her own words, sharing illuminating stories about her past and rise to fame.

    Particular points of interest that crop up are some of Pamela’s many troubled romances, her treatment in the eyes of the media, as well as the notorious release of her sex tape with her husband Tommy Lee. Candid, straightforward, and rarely mincing words, Pamela allows Anderson to explain her life story, complete with previously unseen footage and interviews.

    Family: Flushed Away

    Flushed Away doesn’t tend to rank as highly as other DreamWorks movies, but at the end of the day, it’s still a fresh, funny, and visually striking film that utilizes a wholly underused animation technique (stop-motion) and a memorably great cast.

    Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is an upper-class pet mouse used to the finer ways of living in his luxurious London apartment. After being accidentally flushed down the toilet, Roddy teams with a resilient, street-smart mouse (Kate Winslet) to evade a criminal toad (Ian McKellen) and return to the surface world.

    Possessing DreamWorks’ signature humor and Aardman’s penchant for stop-motion storytelling, Flushed Away is a wondrously underrated movie that’s an ideal option for family movie night. The emotions may not be as front and center as they are in Shrek or Puss in Boots, but the movie’s delectable comedic style is enough to make Flushed Away worth a watch.

    War: Apocalypse Now Redux

    It’s not often that a director releases not one, but two films that become undisputed classics in their respective genres. After having established the tone for the modern crime movie with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola set the standard for war films with his hypnotic, surreal, nightmarish epic, Apocalypse Now.

    On a secret mission to assassinate a demented former military commander (Marlon Brando), an elite Special Ops soldier (Martin Sheen) travels up the Nùng River with a small Navy crew, witnessing the horror and chaos of the Vietnam War firsthand.

    Re-edited with about 49 minutes of additional footage inserted in, Redux is the ultimate way to watch Apocalypse Now, as Coppola originally intended. At a numbing three and a half hours, it’s not exactly a light film to watch on a lazy afternoon, but it’s certainly a movie that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime, much like The Godfather.

    Teen: Edge of Seventeen

    Not to be confused with the equally enjoyable 2016 film, The Edge of Seventeen, 1998’s Edge of Seventeen covers much of the same ground as other teen films of its day, but goes one step further by exploring issues related to the LGBTQ+ community.

    In 1980s Sandusky Ohio, a troubled teenager (Chris Stafford) comes to terms with his sexuality, pining after a college student (Andersen Gabrych) he works with at the local Cedar Point amusement park.

    Putting its historical settings to good use, Edge of Seventeen follows a young man as he takes his first tentative steps towards embracing his sexual identity, as well as the fear and uncertainty he feels revealing his true self to his family and friends. It’s a wonderful film with issues and explorations well ahead of its era, brilliantly personified by its talented young cast.

    Underrated: Arctic

    Mads Mikkelsen is an actor who never fails to disappoint, even when the movies that he appears in are less than great or are overlooked by mass audiences. Five years after its release, one of Mikkelsen’s most exciting movies — Arctic — has been steadily climbing the Netflix’s most-watched list this past week, proving his continuing rise to popularity among a larger viewership.

    Following a plane crash in the Arctic Circle, a survivor (Mads Mikkelsen) must decide whether to wait for rescue or journey across the freezing tundra to search for help.

    The most ingenious part of Arctic is its realistic nature. There’s no ravenous wolves hunting Mikkelsen, no horrifying monsters lurking in the outer reaches of the Arctic plains. There’s simply a man trying his best to survive against the elements, making for one of the most grounded yet exciting thrillers streaming on Netflix right now.

    This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


    Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).


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    The Best Movies Streaming on Paramount Plus | Wealth of Geeks

    Since its debut in 2021, Paramount+ has quickly risen to become one of the greatest subscription-based streaming platforms you can currently find online. Combining a range of properties from CBS, Paramount, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central, it boasts a rich library of beloved movies, TV series, and documentaries.

    Like all the most noteworthy streaming platforms, Paramount+ also has a ton of exclusive content at its disposal, such as Star Trek: Picard, 1883, and The Good Fight.

    Along with those exclusive titles, the platform also has a dense catalog of movies streaming on the service, from newer films like Scream and Casino Royale to classics like RoboCop and Bull Durham.

    Here are some of the best movies you can find playing on Paramount+ right now.

    Updated: January 30.

    Thriller: Casino Royale

    Shortly after obtaining 00 status, MI6 secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent undercover to Montenegro to compete in a high-stakes poker tournament against criminal financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).

    After the promise shown by Pierce Brosnan’s GoldenEye gave way to the utter catastrophe that was Die Another Day, it seemed that James Bond’s best days were behind him by the beginning of the 2000s. But in 2005, the series promptly managed to course-correct, revitalizing the name James Bond and re-establishing it as a viable critical and commercial franchise on par with Mission: Impossible (the public’s new go-to spy thriller).

    Returning to the more grounded realism of the original Ian Fleming novels and initial Sean Connery films, Casino Royale was the most critically well-received Bond film in years, ushering in a new golden age for the gentleman super spy that would only continue with Skyfall.

    Sci-Fi: RoboCop

    After being tortured to death, murdered police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is resurrected by a tech company as the cyborg policeman, RoboCop. As Murphy takes to the streets to combat the increasing levels of crime in dystopian Detroit, he begins experiencing memories from his previous life.

    The genius behind Paul Verhoeven 1987 masterpiece, RoboCop, lies in its ability to skewer genres. At once a sci-fi dystopian film, it contains subtle satire of everything from modern society’s indifference to everyday atrocities to cutthroat business ethics in the tech industry (two thematic subjects only too relevant today).

    But even more than that, RoboCop is also an intense study of law and order, as well as what it means to be human. At once a compelling superhero story mixed with a revenge film, it’s one of the finest achievements in the sci-fi genre there is.

    Horror: Scream

    Twenty-five years after the Woodsboro Massacre, a new Ghostface killer once again begins terrorizing the town, targeting individuals with familial connection to the original massacre.

    After the lukewarm reception to Scream 4 and the passing of director Wes Craven, it seemed that Scream 5 was fated never to see the light of day, languishing next to the other great what-if sequels like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 or George Lucas’s Star Wars sequel trilogy.

    But against all odds, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett managed to take the Scream franchise and introduce it to a new generation of viewers, cementing the slasher series’ place in the current Gen Z culture. Just as sharply written and every bit as meta-aware as its predecessors, it was the perfect way to revitalize Scream for a new era of film.

    Action: The Warriors

    In the years since its release, The Warriors has evolved from a moderate sleeper hit into one of the most beloved cult movies of all time. Perhaps it owes an obvious debt to its video game adaptation, Rockstar’s The Warriors, but even without the popularity of Rockstar’s game, it still makes for a enjoyably campy crime film.

    Framed for the murder of an influential criminal figure (Roger Hill), a small gang spend the night traveling home through the streets of New York City to their home turf on Coney Island, dodging the pursuit of various rival gangs out for revenge.

    The Warriors may seem dated by today’s standards (after all, it’s hard to view any of the antagonistic gangs as genuine threats compared to the actual gangs populating New York today). But the movie’s over-the-top nature is part of its appeal, triggering the same nostalgic reaction as other hardcore ‘80s movies like Escape from New York, The Terminator, and even RoboCop.

    Comedy: Barbershop

    One of the great comedies you’ve probably never heard of, Barbershop is a lesson on how to use a large ensemble cast. Though each actor who appears in the film should be singled out for praise, the movie continuously cycles through them with ease, no single actor stealing the show, all of their performances complimenting each other like a fine garnish.

    Resolving to sell his father’s failing Chicago barbershop business, the money-savvy Calvin (Ice Cube) experiences a day at the shop, interacting with some of its most eccentric customers and staff members.

    Relying on a cleverly written script, Barbershop is an incessantly funny movie where the jokes don’t ever let up. Filled to the brim with memorably hilarious, vivid characters, each character who appears in the movie is perfectly capable of headlining their own movie. (God, what I wouldn’t give to see a spin-off film about Anthony Anderson’s J.D., Cedric the Entertainer’s Eddie, or Keith David’s Lester.)

    Romance: The Duchess

    It’s hard to make a historical period film exciting for all audience members. Thankfully, while The Duchess may not enrapture all viewers, it does a good job presenting the true story behind Georgiana Cavendish (a direct ancestor of Princess Diana) with enough style, empathy, and intimacy to catch the attention of more patient viewers.

    Marrying into the British aristocracy, the newly-named Duchess of Devonshire (Keira Knightley) maintains an exciting but tumultuous marriage with her unfaithful husband (Ralph Fiennes). Focusing on her own happiness for a change, the Duchess pursues a romance with the Earl Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), leading to some unexpected consequences for all parties involved.

    Like nearly all big-budget period movies, The Duchess features some exquisite outfitting and set design that makes it truly seem like you’ve wandered into 18th century England. Aside from its Oscar-winning costume design and art direction, the movie is a fascinating look at the life and decisions of Georgiana, led by some inspired performances from the three main cast members.

    Drama: Inside Llewyn Davis

    With how many successes they’ve had, it’s hard to pinpoint the most underrated film in the Coen brothers’ career. As remarkable as Blood Simple or Miller’s Crossing is, though, our money would probably have to go to Inside Llewyn Davis, the most original and stylistically unique movie in the brothers’ career to date.

    Aspiring folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) navigates the Beat scene in Greenwich Village, all the while trying to make it as a musician in the unforgiving world of 1960s New York City.

    To be sure, the subtle humor found in most Coen brothers films is present in Inside Llewyn Davis, as is the more downbeat quality of the duo’s later work on Fargo and No Country for Old Men. But aside from appearances from frequent Coen collaborators like John Goodman, it’d be hard to tell this was a Coen brothers movie at all.

    Anchoring their fictional hero with all the intricacies and complexities of a real person, it’s a moody and sordid film that analyzes the harm inflicted by your aspirations (both on yourself and on others).

    Sports: Bull Durham

    One part sports drama, one part romance film, Bull Durham crafts a narrative capable of drawing in viewers of every background and interest imaginable, appealing to those who alternatively either love or despise baseball, romcoms, and drama films alike.

    Playing for the minor league Durham Bulls, aging catcher Crash (Kevin Costner) is assigned to mentor the team’s new pitcher (Tim Robbins) prior to his departure to the major leagues. Before very long, both men enter a love triangle with an ardent baseball fan (Susan Sarandon).

    Bull Durham can be best described as a film following a young man who receives guidance from the most unlikely of sources, evaluating how the positive and negative experiences he encounters shape him into the best version of himself. Buried underneath its hardcore baseball-centered exterior is a surprisingly moving film full of drama and emotion, expertly balanced by its talented trio of players.

    Classic: The Most Dangerous Game

    One year before they changed the face of horror with King Kong, producers/directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack took the world by storm with their adaptation of Richard Connell’s widely-read short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

    Washing upon the shore of a remote South American island, a shipwrecked sailor (Joel McCrea) and several other stranded survivors are hunted by a sadistic Russian count (Leslie Banks) for sport.

    Retaining the literary quality that made Connell’s story the beloved classic it is, The Most Dangerous Game is an intelligent and well-made early horror film from Hollywood’s Pre-Code era. With a smooth-cheeked McCrea as the hero, a dastardly Banks as the villain, and Fay Wray (who would become the proto-scream queen just a year later) as the leading lady, it’s as suspenseful a thriller today as it was 90 years ago.

    Underrated: But I’m a Cheerleader

    Seventeen-year-old Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is a happy-go-lucky high school student who begins developing homosexual feelings for her fellow cheerleaders. Staging an intervention, Megan’s conservative parents send her to a conversion camp to “cure” her lesbianism.

    Over the past decade, Natasha Lyonne has gone from a noteworthy character actor to one of the most exciting stars of her day, as seen with her award-winning performances in Orange is the New Black and Russian Doll (not to mention her starring role in Rian Johnson’s new Poker Face).

    However, it’s worth remembering that years before she received her breakthrough on Orange is the New Black, Lyonne was winning hearts in numerous indie films throughout the late ‘90s and 2000s.

    Take, for example, But I’m a Cheerleader, a fiercely clever tongue-in-cheek look at homosexuality in a straight-laced environment. With its heavily satirical presentation, the whole of But I’m a Cheerleader comes across as a feature-length SNL skit, headlined by a notably strong performance from Lyonne.

    This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


    Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).


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    The Best Quentin Tarantino Movies Ranked

    There may be plenty of directors like him, but it’s safe to say that there is no director as bold, original, or controversial as Quentin Tarantino.

    Since his debut three decades ago, the award-winning filmmaker has been responsible for delivering some of the most profane, twisted, violent movies ever released. Often a subject of criticism for his usually expletive-and gore-filled films, he’s credited with being one of the most popular directors working today, having won numerous prestigious awards both domestically and internationally.

    Whether you love his movies or hate them, the effect Tarantino has had on mainstream film and an entire generation of filmmakers and moviegoers is undeniable. Along with other modern directors like Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese, he’s one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood, having developed a significant cult following from hardcore fans.

    Let’s take a look back at the director’s career so far, ranking his nine movies (technically 10 if you count the Kill Bill movies as two separate films) from worst to best.

    10. Death Proof

    Courtesy of Troublemaker Studios

    In 2007, Tarantino collaborated with his close friend and fellow director, Robert Rodriguez, to produce the exploitation-themed double feature, Grindhouse, comprised of Rodriguez’s retro zombie film, Planet Terror, and Tarantino’s throwback slasher, Death Proof.

    The movie stars Kurt Russell as a former stuntman turned serial killer who preys on young women in his souped-up vintage muscle cars, only to confront victims who are a lot tougher than he originally thought.

    Death Proof is a good movie by regular standards, but falls flat when held up to Tarantino’s other films. (Even Tarantino himself considers it the worst movie he’s ever done). Perhaps the biggest problem with Death Proof is how rooted it is in its B-movie-type storyline and archetypes, as well as its unusually tedious pacing.

    Full of Tarantino’s signature pop culture-laced dialogue, it moves along a little too slowly for the kind of film it is, characterized by lengthy conversations that don’t altogether have much to do with the plot itself. The movie received mostly positive marks from critics when it was released, but has slowly gained a stronger fanbase in recent years, with many viewers considering it among Tarantino’s most underrated movies.

    9. Kill Bill: Volume 1

    kill bill 1
    Courtesy of Miramax

    After a lengthy six-year hiatus following the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino returned to Hollywood in 2003 with Kill Bill: Volume 1, a kung fu extravaganza that combined elements of Chinese martial arts movies, Italian giallo films, ‘70s exploitation revenge thrillers, and Spaghetti Westerns into one massive, incredibly unique movie.

    Split into two-parts, the Kill Bill films feature Uma Thurman as The Bride—an initially nameless former assassin out for revenge after her former team members leave her for dead and seemingly kill her unborn child.  Like all of Tarantino’s movies, Kill Bill contained numerous homages and references to some of the director’s favorite genres (Game of Death, The Bride Wore Black, Lady Snowblood, and several Shaw Brothers movies).

    Miraculously, rather than feeling overstuffed or seeming like a hodgepodge of obscure film genres, the balance Tarantino strikes between an original narrative and cinematic genre throwbacks is surprisingly fresh and entertaining. In the grand scheme of things, the Kill Bill movies look and feel like something completely different from every other movie in Tarantino’s filmography, serving as the perfect amalgamation of several genres near and dear to the director’s heart.

    Like most of Tarantino’s movies, Kill Bill: Volume 1 may be extremely violent for some—it ends with a massive sword fight so bloody, the scene had to be released in black and white to appease censors—but for others, it’s an extremely enjoyable entry in Tarantino’s canon.

    Upon its release, it would earn Thurman a Golden Globe BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actress. It would also earn a spot on Empire’s list of the “500 Greatest Films of All Time” (coming in at number 325), with The Bride ranked number 66 on the magazine’s “100 Greatest Movie Characters” list.

    8. The Hateful Eight

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    Image Credit: Visiona Romantica

    A movie that came very close to never happening at all, The Hateful Eight marks Tarantino’s second official Western film, one that is—like Django Unchained before it—based heavily on Tarantino’s love for Spaghetti Westerns.

    Set in post-Civil War Wyoming, The Hateful Eight follows a group of strangers holed up in a remote cabin in the middle of a massive snowstorm. Before long, one of the strangers—a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) escorting a dangerous prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh)—begins to suspect that one of the group is secretly there to free the prisoner, leading to an intense, claustrophobic mystery as to who it might be.

    Twists and turns abound in The Hateful Eight, though most of the action is carried by Tarantino’s tight script and incredibly interesting characters, all of whom are disgustingly unlikable and unpleasant in their own right. Tarantino nearly gave up on making The Hateful Eight after his initial script leaked online. After seeing the positive reception the screenplay had at a live table reading in Los Angeles, though, Tarantino changed his mind, delivering this thoroughly suspenseful thriller that is equal parts Sergio Leone as it is Agatha Christie.

    Like Death Proof, The Hateful Eight may be a bit slow in some places for some audience members, relying on more stage play-like dialogue to carry the story rather than the action-packed showdowns of Django Unchained. 

    Regardless, it received an overall positive reception from critics and film institutions, earning the movie’s composer, the legendary Ennio Morricone the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Score, and garnering Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Leigh) and Best Cinematography.

    7. Kill Bill Vol. 2

    kill bill 2
    Courtesy of Miramax

    After the hyper-violent, action-heavy introduction to the Kill Bill universe in Volume 1, Tarantino crafted a surprisingly softer conclusion to his two-part kung fu genre film, providing more background on The Bride’s history and shedding more light on the surviving team members she’s hunting down.

    In Kill Bill: Volume 2, The Bride tracks down the last few members of her former mercenary team, before coming face-to-face with Bill himself (David Carradine), her former lover and mentor. It’s up for debate which volume of Kill Bill is superior—it really depends on individual preferences and taste—but there’s no question Volume 2 does a phenomenal job exploring The Bride’s character a bit and adding a ridiculous amount of depth to her story.

    Focusing more on her emotional connection and relationship with Bill, it’s a fine conclusion to The Bride’s story in a completely unexpected way. Ending it on a bittersweet note where The Bride finally achieves her revenge, it shows that sometimes, vengeance isn’t necessarily as comforting or cathartic as you might’ve initially hoped it would be.

    Similar to Volume 1, the critical reception to Kill Bill: Volume 2 was very positive, earning Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress (Thurman) and Best Supporting Actor (Carradine).

    6. Jackie Brown

    Jackie Brown
    Courtesy of Miramax Films

    One of Tarantino’s most underrated movies, Jackie Brown is a surprisingly mature, relatively tame thriller compared to all of Tarantino’s other crime films.

    Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel, Rum Punch, the eponymous Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant who secretly smuggles weapons for an illegal arms dealer, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). When she is caught by the police, Brown makes a deal to turn informant, embarking on a cat-and-mouse game with Robbie alongside a bail bondsman (Robert Forster) whom she forms a romantic connection to.

    Tonally, Jackie Brown doesn’t resemble the postmodern revisionist crime films Tarantino had crafted with Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, nor did it seem like the overly-stylized genre films he would produce in the 2000s’. Instead, it looked and felt like a completely different sort of project.

    The first and so far only adaptation of an existing book by Tarantino, the director decided on Jackie Brown as his next project following the critical success of Pulp Fiction, believing it to be a stylistic departure from his earlier film.  Uncharacteristically, the movie doesn’t contain many scenes of gory violence—even the handful of scenes that actually do show violence of any kind are notably dialed-back and palpable for even the most squeamish viewers.

    Not only that, but the movie also offers a tender, more realistic meditation on age framed around Grier and Forster’s on-screen relationship and their desire to leave their criminal past behind and start anew.

    It’s a surprisingly emotional film that critics and even fellow filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson were very receptive to. The film was credited with revitalizing Grier’s and Forster’s careers, leading them to receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Grier) and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Forster).

    Jackson’s role in the film was also critically praised, with his performance earning the prestigious Silver Bear Award for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

    5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Courtesy of Sony

    After his various genre films of the 2000s and 2010s, Tarantino returned to the more grounded, albeit stylized films he made early in his career. The resulting project—Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—was universally praised as a return to form for Tarantino, offering a day-in-the-life look at several characters adapting to the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s.

    Set in Hollywood during the final days of the 1960s, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood details a once-successful television actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double best friend (Brad Pitt) struggling to find work in the changing film industry. Juxtaposed with the final few years of this Golden Age of Old Hollywood is the looming threat of Charles Manson and his followers, representing a time in America where the idealism of the peace-loving ‘60s was replaced by the fear and paranoia that swept through during the 1970s.

    One of Tarantino’s most successful movies ever released, the accolades Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are practically endless—second in critical acclaim only to Tarantino’s earlier success with Pulp Fiction. 

    The film would win Golden Globes for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Pitt). It was also nominated for a total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, winning for Best Supporting Actor (Pitt) and Best Production Design.

    4. Django Unchained

    Django Unchained 1
    Courtesy of Sony

    From his debut in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino had thrown in the occasional homage to famous Spaghetti Western scenes, notably referencing the genre in Kill Bill and using Ennio Morricone’s extensive Western scores in Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds.

    Tarantino’s first official foray into the genre, though, came in the form of Django Unchained, a stylized Spaghetti Western set in the Old South shortly before the Civil War.

    Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave rescued by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), who trains Django how to become a successful (and deadly) bounty hunter in his own right. Now a master gunslinger, Django and his German companion turn their attention to finding Django’s wife, who is now under the ownership of a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

    The highest-grossing movie of Tarantino’s career, Django Unchained was a refreshing Revisionist Western that explored the horrific racism and atrocities of the Antebellum South without holding anything back. For this reason, it was the subject of equal parts praise and controversy, although it received virtually unanimous critical acclaim.

    At the 85th Academy Awards, the film earned five nominations, including Best Picture. Both Waltz and Tarantino would also win a Golden Globe, Academy Award, and BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay, respectively.

    3. Inglourious Basterds

    Inglourious Basterds
    Courtesy of Universal

    After the somewhat shaky reception of Death Proof in 2007, Tarantino turned back to an old project he had been writing for over a decade—a screenplay he believed was the finest thing he’d ever written.

    Set at a critical moment in the course of the Second World War, Inglourious Basterds follows two separate assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler’s life. The first is orchestrated by a young French Jewish cinema owner (Mélanie Laurent) whose family was brutally killed in front of by the monstrous SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).

    The second is planned by a team of elite Jewish-American military commandos, led by the unconventional Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his British counterpart (Michael Fassbender).

    Watching the film, it’s easy to see why Tarantino himself viewed Inglourious Basterds as the finest thing he’d ever written. Complemented by line after line of amazing dialogue and a suspenseful, engaging story, it’s a wonderfully crafted film, made only better by its amazing ensemble cast and unique alternative depiction of WW2 history.

    A far cry from the lack of accolades Death Proof failed to garner, Inglourious Basterds earned numerous awards and nominations upon its release, including Academy Award nominations (notably Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay).

    The character of Hans Landa and Waltz’s performance was also the subject of universal praise from viewers and critics, resulting in Waltz winning the Oscar, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Cannes Film Festival’s Award for Best Actor.

    2. Reservoir Dogs

    Reservoir Dogs
    Courtesy of Miramax

    When Tarantino first came onto the scene in 1992 with his debut effort, Reservoir Dogs, he forever changed the world of independent film.

    It was a movie that was so fully formed, so effortlessly well-made, so amazingly well-written, it not only won the praise of indie filmgoers but quickly earned a place among mainstream movie audiences as well. Presented in a non-linear fashion, Reservoir Dogs follows a group of professional criminals who take part in a botched bank robbery.

    Meeting at a secure warehouse shortly after the robbery takes place, they gradually begin to suspect someone on the crew is an undercover police officer.

    Channeling his love for the French New Wave and the New Hollywood crime films of the 1970s’, Reservoir Dogs introduced many elements we’ve commonly come to associate with Quentin Tarantino’s movies.

    There’s the dialogue-heavy scripts, sudden and horrific violence, pop culture references, a retro soundtrack composed of obscure songs from the 1970s and ‘80s, a non-chronological story, and numerous instances of extreme profanity. Seen today as one of the greatest independent movies of all time, Reservoir Dogs’s reputation has only grown more favorable over time, especially in the wake of Pulp Fiction. 

    It was placed at number 95 on Empire’s “500 Greatest Films” list, and later came in at number 2 on the magazine’s “50 Greatest American Independent Movies.”

    1. Pulp Fiction

    pulp fiction scaled
    Courtesy of Miramax

    Commonly seen as one of the greatest and most influential movies of the past 30 years (as well as being frequently referred to as one of the best films of all time), Pulp Fiction is often considered Tarantino’s masterpiece.

    Framed in a nonlinear format, Pulp Fiction is a darkly comedic anthology that focuses on two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a crime boss’s wife (Uma Thurman), an aging boxer (Bruce Willis), and a pair of amateur thieves (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer).

    The movie that made Tarantino a household name, Pulp Fiction was universally praised for its unconventional narrative, original script, and the performances of every cast member involved. A cultural phenomenon when it was originally released, it won the prized Palme d’Or at Cannes, and also won or was nominated for virtually every film award there is.

    Winning an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, it also received Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Travolta), Best Supporting Actor (Jackson), and Best Supporting Actress (Thurman).

    Since its release in 1994, Pulp Fiction has gone on to become a classic of modern cinema, earning places on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies and 100 Years … 100 Thrills. In 2008, it was named by Entertainment Weekly as the best film release since 1983.

    Every one of Tarantino’s films have done very well critically over the years, but few have managed to come even remotely close to measuring up to the place Pulp Fiction holds in pop culture as we know it today.

    This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


    Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).


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    How ‘Skinamarink’ made $1.5 million on a $15,000 budget

    A still promo for the film Skinamarink.

    Coutesy: Bayview Entertainment

    Experimental horror film “Skinamarink” has been all the buzz on social media for months — and now it’s a sleeper hit at the box office.

    “Skinamarink,” the first feature from Canadian director Kyle Edward Ball, has pulled in over $1.5 million at the box office in just over a week of release, according to Comscore.

    Some film enthusiasts have compared the experimental movie, with its $15,000 budget, to found-footage horror classic “The Blair Witch Project” and David Lynch’s surrealistic 1977 midnight movie “Eraserhead.”

    To be sure, “The Blair Witch Project,” which was a trendsetter for movies propelled by internet buzz, grossed $140 million in 1999 on a budget of less than $100,000, but the success of “Skinamarink” is helping define the current era of lucrative scare flicks.

    According to data from Comscore, the horror genre generated about $700 million in domestic ticket sales in 2022, less than 10% of the $7.5 billion in total domestic box office sales. Much of these sales come from the most wide-released horror films that had budgets between $16 million and $35 million.

    Shudder, a horror-focused streaming service owned and operated by AMC Networks, picked up exclusive rights to the film. The movie will premiere on the platform Feb. 2. “Skinamarink” currently has a “fresh” rating of 71% on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

    “Skinamarink” centers on two children who discover their father has disappeared, along with all the doors and windows of the home. The film makes use of grainy, hard-to-decipher shots of walls, furniture, television screens and ceilings to depict the eeriness of the abandoned, liminal home. It doesn’t show the characters’ faces. Ball told Vulture he intended the film to feel “as if Satan directed a movie and got an AI to edit it. An AI would make weird choices, like, ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna hold on this hallway of nothing for a while.'”

    Some observers in the indie film industry saw it as a potential hit early on. Co-executive producer Jonathan Barkan, head of acquisitions at Mutiny Pictures, found the “Skinamarink” trailer on Reddit in late 2021 and took a gamble it would outperform many of its competitors and resonate with viewers.

    While horror is seen by some as being a tried and true film genre that will return a profit, Barkan said making money with scary movies isn’t that easy. Independent horror films are released every week, and it’s very difficult to stand out among these releases, he said.

    “For being a genre that is already typically a lower-budget genre, you have filmmakers who need to be very creative,” Barkan said. “They need to think, how can we stretch our budget? How can we do something really creative and still get across what we’re trying to convey, which is a sense of fear?”

    Going viral with $15,000

    Ball previously created and released short films based on people’s childhood nightmares for his Bitesized Nightmares YouTube channel. The channel, with over 11,400 subscribers, has pulled in a few thousand views for three- to five-minute horror shorts, as well as for his half-hour film “Heck.”

    Ball used his childhood home in Edmonton, Alberta, as the film’s setting and his childhood toys for props. Ball stretched the $15,000 across equipment, lighting and film-editing software, in addition to film festival costs and legal documentation. He called in favors for casting and equipment, as well, according to Barkan.

    There is “really no way to skirt around a certain budget” in all genres, though Ball took some creative alternatives to high-cost filming conventions, according to Josh Doke, an executive producer of “Skinamarink” and creative director at BayView Entertainment, which acquired Mutiny Pictures.

    “A lot of filmmakers who are making a film, either for the first time or with a really low budget, they are trying to emulate … a Hollywood style with people in front of the camera who are talking and acting, and they maybe don’t have access to the best actors or the best lighting or the best equipment,” Doke said. “It comes off not looking quite like how they had in their head.”

    Still shot from the film “Skinamarink”.

    Courtesy: Bayview Entertainment

    Ball avoided some costs by not shooting characters head on and instead having them speak off-screen or showing only their backs or feet. “You don’t need George Clooney in front of the camera,” Doke said. Lighting in many shots came only from television sets or a night light.

    After acquiring the film, Barkan worked to get it into the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, where he previously served as a jury member. This was the “first domino” in propelling its success, he said.

    “It’s a stretch to say that there’s anything new under the sun or really original in our industry, but this really does feel like it’s not only experimental horror but experiential horror,” Doke said. “I think that what it does for people is it puts you right in the middle of a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.”

    The world premiere attracted 22 reviews from critics, and it caught the attention of Shudder. This notice led it to film festivals in Europe, one of which saw its entire slate of films leaked.

    While the production team tried to keep a lid on the film after it was pirated and file takedowns on illegal sites, clips of the film went viral on TikTok. #Skinamarink now has over 27 million views on the platform.

    The film was originally intended for theatrical release around Halloween 2023, but plans were thrown out the window as demand to see the film grew rapidly.

    “[Shudder] adapted it to embrace what was happening because there was no way to stop it,” Barkan said. “Rather than try to fight it, they worked with it.”

    Snowball effect

    With internet buzz and illegal downloads surging around Thanksgiving, Doke said the film could not wait another 10 months to release. The movie opened Jan. 13 in North American theaters.

    “Initially, we were talking about a fairly limited theatrical release through Shudder and IFC just because with a film of his size, you never know the interest, and getting a big theatrical release is always a challenge,” Doke said. “But the snowball just kept rolling down the hill.”

    Still shot from the film “Skinamarink”.

    Courtesy: Bayview Entertainment

    Shudder and the film’s production team agreed to an all-rights deal, meaning Shudder had not only streaming rights but also exclusives on subscription video and pay-per-view video services. Next, IFC Midnight, also owned by AMC Networks, was brought in to do theatrical showings prior to its exclusive release on Shudder.

    “Once we saw the incredible response online, we knew we had to bring this film to as many theaters as possible nationwide,” Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films and IFC Midnight, said in a statement. “Kyle has made a film for a new generation and has proved yet again what horror films and its community are capable of even with the smallest of budgets.”

    What was expected to be 10 to 20 screenings led to 692 theaters predominantly in urban areas. Its first weekend “Skinamarink” grossed nearly $900,000. Last weekend, the film reached over 800 theaters and brought gross box office sales to more than $1.5 million — over 100 times its budget.

    “To make a film for $15,000 and then to release it and get this level of attention and this wide of a theatrical release, and to reach this level of box office returns, is an incredibly rare feat,” Doke said.

    –CNBC’s Sarah Whitten contributed to this report.

    Disclosure: NBCUniversal, CNBC’s parent company, owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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    The Best Movies on HBO Max | Wealth of Geeks

    HBO Max may be one of the newest platforms to enter the streaming world, but already it’s one of the best. Not only does the service offer a ton of exclusive content related to its hit properties — like Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos — it also has a ton of fantastic films strengthening its online catalog.

    Thanks to HBO’s partnerships with standout companies and networks like TCM, Studio Ghibli, and DC, the service has an absolutely stacked selection of films you’re able to choose from.

    Whether you’re in the mood for a classic black and white monster movie from the ‘30s, a beloved anime film from Hayao Miyazaki, or a recent blockbuster from this past summer, there’s no end to the number of great films you’re able to choose from.

    From universally praised films like Donnie Darko and Chinatown to celebrated modern films like Drive My Car and Spotlight, here are some of the best films you can find currently streaming on HBO Max.

    Updated: January 24.

    Drama: Drive My Car

    Drive My Car was quite possibly the most celebrated film that came out in 2021. Adapted from a short story by the award-winning Haruki Murakami, it’s a tense and expertly-made meditation on grief and the healing process, built around a narrative that’s both complex and thought-provoking.

    Upon receiving an offer to direct a theatrical production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, a brilliant actor and director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) experiences intense remorse over his wife’s recent death.

    At nearly three hours, Drive My Car is obviously on the longer side. But like all the best movies, the movie’s runtime coasts by, fully absorbing you in its main storyline and holding you in rapt attention. Lulling you with its calming imagery, its heaviest scenes are enough to knock the breath out of your lungs. Nishijima and Tōko Miura display everything going through their characters’ minds without ever having to utter a word.

    Horror: Donnie Darko

    One of the most frustratingly open-ended movies ever made, Donnie Darko is nevertheless considered a cult masterpiece among hardcore horror buffs. Its ambiguous narrative, dreamlike tone, and surreal imagery make it either a film you either emphatically love or intensely hate (but no matter what, you’re bound to have some sort of emotional reaction after the fact).

    Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an emotionally despondent young man who lives in a world mixed between fact and fantasy. As his parents try to help him receive psychiatric support, Donnie starts experiencing vivid hallucinations of a mysterious man in a bunny suit (James Duval) who warns Donnie of a coming apocalyptic event.

    It’s helpful to think of Donnie Darko as the film equivalent of Twin Peaks or Silent Hill. Despite its allusive, hard-to-penetrate narrative, it serves as a clever combination between science fiction, horror, surrealism, and subtle characteristics of a teen movie.

    Comedy: 9 to 5

    If you’ve ever worked a nine-to-five job (or really any job at all), it’s likely you’ve imagined some elaborate fantasy where you finally told off your boss. Channeling every working person’s adult daydream is 9 to 5, the ultimate escapist movie for anyone who has to deal with a domineering employer.

    Tired of being abused by their sexist, ill-tempered, arrogant boss (Dabney Coleman), three underappreciated women (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton) at a large company decide to overthrow him, secretly installing themselves as surrogate managers of the workplace.

    If you’ve never seen 9 to 5, it’s almost a given you’ve heard Parton’s Academy Award-winning theme song of the same name. As catchy as Parton’s song is, we recommend tuning into this underrated 1980 gem — a satisfying and succinct comedy ensemble if ever there was one.

    Romance: Chungking Express

    Commonly named one of the most heartfelt romance movies there is, Chungking Express offers not one, but two love stories in its breezy hour-and-a-half-long runtime, each of which are as tender and emotionally gripping as Casablanca or Annie Hall.

    Split into two sections, each part of Chungking Express follows separate policemen (Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) as they search for love in their lives, finding it in the arms of an elusive woman smuggling drugs (Brigitte Lin) and a peculiar convenience store worker (Faye Wong).

    It’s not often you see a movie succeed in telling two stories at once. But like most successful anthology movies, Chungking Express alternates between its two central narratives with ease and precision, allowing you to easily bond with every character and relate to the storylines presented in each section of the movie.

    Biopic: Spotlight

    In the early 2000s, the staff of The Boston Globe uncover a lengthy history of cover-ups by the Catholic Church related to allegations of priests sexually assaulting children in the city.

    The investigation on the decades-long sexual misconduct by Catholic priests was one of the most shocking exposés ever conducted by a media organization. Facing continuous pressure to silence their story, the intrepid team at The Boston Globe continued with their probing, unearthing a legacy of startling allegations against official members of the Church.

    Providing a snapshot of this investigative team is the film Spotlight. Relying on an ensemble cast of veteran actors (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci), the movie portrays the earliest forays of The Globe’s reporters as they unknowingly stumble into the biggest story of the time.

    Musical: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

    It’s strange to think that a director as famously off-beat as Tim Burton is so effective at handling musicals. Taking Stephen Sondheim’s hit Broadway play to the big screen, Burton’s aesthetic made for an ideal fit with the gothic world of Sweeney Todd — a sharply tuned musical tragedy with elements of a slasher blended in.

    In Victorian London, the formerly exiled barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) returns home, seeking revenge against the power-mad judge (Alan Rickman) who banished him from England in order to steal his wife.

    Perhaps the darkest movie Burton has ever worked on, Burton uses his explicit R-rating to its fullest extent in this film. While some sections of the movie might be hard to stomach, the main narrative of the film and the cast’s performances make it an effective adaptation of Sondheim’s musical.

    Mystery: Chinatown

    On the surface, Chinatown may seem to have all the glamor and glitz of a classic ‘40s noir film, yet it’s anything but. Far darker, more biting, and incredibly shocking even by today’s standards, it’s a gritty and cynical movie that makes classic Bogart films seem upbeat by comparison.

    Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a suave private detective working in 1930s Los Angeles. Hired to follow a man accused of cheating on his wife, Gittes enters a labyrinth of corruption, putting him at the mercy of the city’s most elite officials who want to keep their secrets buried.

    Largely considered to have the greatest script ever written, Chinatown comes across as a postmodern takedown of the hard-boiled noir genre. Tackling subjects seen as taboo then and now, it’s a wildly inventive if frequently disturbing mystery film.

    Classic: The 400 Blows

    The crown jewel of the French New Wave, The 400 Blows is one of the most important international films born out of the 1950s. Prior to its release, no film had ever broken quite so many rules, reexamining what a movie can be and what subjects it can explore within its limited runtime.

    Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young teenage boy in Paris who loves trouble. Ignored by his bickering parents and misunderstood by his teachers, he spends his days escaping into adolescent adventures in the city.

    The French equivalent of Rebel Without a Cause, The 400 Blows was responsible for ushering in a new movement not just in French film, but in the entire world of cinema. Lacking any semblance of a plot, it’s a slow, dramatic film that touches upon the more sobering aspects of childhood, from fear and loneliness to parental fighting and authoritative adults who emphasize conformity.

    Family: Kung Fu Panda

    There aren’t many DreamWorks movies able to match the popularity of the Shrek franchise, Kung Fu Panda being a rare exception. While each film in the franchise thus far boasts its own individual sets of strengths, the original Kung Fu Panda is more than enough to please viewers, regardless of your age.

    In a version of ancient China populated by anthropomorphic animals, Po (Jack Black) — a panda bear noodle chef and an avid fan of kung fu — is unexpectedly named the Dragon Warrior by the wizened master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). With a limited time to complete his training, Po is mentored by Oogway’s pupil (Dustin Hoffman), building up to a climactic battle between Po and the fugitive kung fu master, Tai Lung (Ian McShane).

    A rare children’s film with a heart, Kung Fu Panda effortlessly vaults between an abundance of laughs, some first-rate action, and plenty of grounded emotion. For audiences young and old, it’s a creative and original martial arts parody with some surprisingly strong undertones and themes permeating throughout.

    Underrated: De Palma

    Brian De Palma is rarely singled out as the greatest director of his generation. Coming of age during the influential New Hollywood movement, De Palma was a filmmaker who gained prominence the same time his close friends George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese were redefining the American landscape of film.

    Unfortunately, De Palma’s later career undermined the success of his earliest projects (Carrie, Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise), leading to his relative lack of success compared to colleagues like Spielberg. Thankfully, Noah Baumbach’s touching documentary, De Palma, sheds light on the director’s career and influence in Hollywood.

    Comprised almost exclusively of De Palma discussing his start as a director and each of his many films over the years, De Palma is just as much an examination of the filmmaker’s rise and fall as it is a portrait of the oppressive and incredibly demanding Hollywood system.

    This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


    Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).


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    Ranking All the Movies of the Twilight Saga

    Twilight has been a part of the cultural consciousness for almost fifteen years. Here’s how all the movies stack up.

    A Phenomenon

    Image Credit: Shutterstock.

    When the first Twilight book arrived on shelves in 2005, it quickly became a favorite for many readers, and it didn’t take long for a movie deal to come together.

    Three years later, in 2008, the first film arrived in theaters and broke box office records. The film’s debut – and the phenomenon it inspired – made Twilight inescapable for the next four years. The film series was everywhere as a new entry in the saga arrived each year and continued to break box office records through to the end.

    Image Credit: Shutterstock.

    Backlash

    Image of the cast of the Twilight Saga
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Of course, there was a significant backlash during this time and after. The “still a better love story than Twilight” meme reigned on the internet, and the fandom was the target of much ridicule.

    Luckily, in recent years Twilight has bounced back in a significant way. The “Twilight Renaissance” has been going strong since 2018, the first film’s tenth anniversary year that saw it re-released in theaters (which your humble writer excitedly attended). And in the summer of 2021, the top five movies on Netflix were all the Twilight Saga films.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Twilight Renaissance

    Twilight stars at the movie premier
    Image Credit: Shutterstock.

    It’s unclear what brought the franchise back to such glorious life. Still, it seems that the renaissance isn’t ending anytime soon. This time Twilight may just be cool now and forever. So in the spirit of engaging with one of the most loyal fandoms and offering some new fodder for discussion, I’ll dive into the saga and rank every film from worst to best.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    5. Breaking Dawn – Part 1

    Image of the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 1
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    After the Harry Potter franchise split the final book into two films, to great financial successThe Twilight Saga followed suit. Sadly, the novel, Breaking Dawn, doesn’t lend itself to splitting very well. The first half adaptation suffers significantly from the break as it mostly feels like set dressing for the more successful second half.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Significant High Points

    Image of the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 1
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Breaking Dawn – Part 1 follows the wedding of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) and their subsequent honeymoon, where they finally have sex. Sex leads immediately to Bella’s pregnancy and, ultimately, her needing to be turned into a vampire to save her from the otherwise fatal situation.

    The movie isn’t necessarily bad and, in fact, has some significant high points across all the films. The wedding is beautifully realized and emotionally potent for any series fan.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Horror Territory

    Image of the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 1
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Bella’s pregnancy is the farthest the series ever pushes into horror territory, with her half-vampire fetus feeding on her blood and growing faster than a human fetus. The pregnancy culminates in a cesarean-section sequence that’s genuinely disturbing and easily the most frightening thing in the entire series.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Struggling for Time

    Image of the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 1
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    The reason that Breaking Dawn – Part 1 lands last in this ranking is simply because not much else happens. Most of the honeymoon period is dull, especially in the wake of the gorgeous wedding. In addition, the pregnancy plotline takes some time to come to a head, leaving the film often feeling like it’s struggling for time and serving as filler.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    4. Eclipse

    Eclipse movie poster
    Image Credit: Shutterstock.

    Eclipse brought in director David Slade, who wasn’t (and sadly still isn’t) a household name. However, he had two films under his belt, making him an excellent choice for the Twilight franchise. Before coming onto Eclipse, Slade helmed the Elliot Page starring sexual predator revenge movie Hard Candy and the vampire action-horror 30 Days of Night.

    These movies showed that Slade could handle delicate topics, mainly concerning teenage girls, and create striking action sequences centered on vampires.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Action-packed

    Image from the movie Eclipse
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Sadly though, Eclipse focuses more on the action than the drama. Instead, the film centers on the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard, replacing Rachelle Lefevre), as she seeks revenge on Bella, Edward, and the entire Cullen family for their murder of her mate James (Cam Gigandet) in the first film. She sets up a base in Seattle and begins turning more and more humans into vampires so that she can lead an attack on the Cullens.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Best in Series

    Image from the movie Eclipse
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Slade creates a distinct look and sound design for the vampire violence unique to Eclipse. In addition, he allows for some stretching of the PG-13 rating regarding dismembering bodies. Perhaps making the action in the film the best in the entire series.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Strange Detour

    Image from the movie Eclipse
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Still, the story of Victoria’s revenge feels unnecessary. It draws focus away from the drama of Bella, Edward, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), which seems like a step back for the saga after the introduction of the Volturi in New Moon.

    Eclipse is a solid standalone vampire action film. Still, it’s a bit disappointing as a film in the ongoing Twilight Saga. It’s a strange detour from the teen drama storyline and the developing threat of the Volturi.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    3. Breaking Dawn – Part 2

    Image of the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 1
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Breaking Dawn – Part 2 suffers from the same issue as Part 1: it feels like half a story padded out to an overlong runtime. Unfortunately, that padding overwhelmingly comes in the film’s first quarter, where we see the immediate fallout of Bella’s becoming a vampire and Jacob’s imprinting on baby Renesmee.

    To be fair, this does lead to one of the most wonderfully quotable lines in all the movies: “you nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness monster?!” But overall, it takes longer than it should in a film with much more interesting narrative ground.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Strictly Forbidden

    Image from the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 2
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    After the first quarter (almost third) of the movie, the Cullens learn that the Volturi believe that Bella and Edward turned a child into a vampire, which is strictly forbidden.

    The Volturi then set out to attack our heroes, prompting the Cullens to gather vampire “witnesses” from across the globe to testify that Renesmee is, in fact, a hybrid vampire/human child.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Teamwork

    Image from the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 2
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    These scenes are a lot of fun and bring to mind “getting a team together” sequences from heist films as we’re introduced to several new and exciting characters allied with the Cullens.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Join Forces

    Image from the movie Breaking Dawn - Part 2
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    When these characters join forces with the Cullens and Jacob’s werewolf pack, it results in the most significant action scene in the film’s finale. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 hits a high point that stands as one of the best in the series. However, it still can’t escape feeling like half of a story, and a movie significantly padded out with unnecessary material.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    2. New Moon

    Image from the movie New Moon
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Despite the significant critical dismissalNew Moon broke multiple box office records upon release and remains the second-best of the movies. New Moon lands high on this ranking for the same reason that Eclipse lands low; the focus on teenage drama.

    New Moon centers on Bella’s sadness over her break-up with Edward early in the movie. Then, we watch as she begins to recover through her friendship with Jacob, with a quick lore introduction of the Volturi at the end.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Teenage Drama

    Image from the movie The Twilight Saga New Moon
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    The story is quite similar to Twilight‘s as Bella becomes aware of and a part of a new supernatural community. But this time, instead of Edward’s world of vampires, she finds herself in Jacob’s world of werewolves.

    This focus on teenage drama and how New Moon retreads the beats of the first and (spoiler alert) still best movie in the saga makes it stand as one of the best movies in the series. New Moon functions a bit like a coming-of-age story for Jacob as he learns to accept and control his new abilities as a werewolf.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Casual Chemistry

    Image from the movie New Moon
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    The time we spent with Bella and Jacob was lovely. Stewart and Lautner have casual chemistry that invites the audience to feel like they’ve known these characters as long as they’ve known each other. And the support that they lend one another through their struggles in the film feels authentic to teenage relationships and friendships.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Hang-out Movie

    Image from the movie New Moon
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Oddly, this movie about vampires and werewolves often feels like a hang-out movie, which is a good thing as the draw of The Twilight Saga has always been the characters.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    1. Twilight

    Image from the movie Twilight
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    This list wouldn’t exist without Twilight taking the top spot. There wouldn’t be five or even two movies in the saga if Twilight weren’t the colossal success it was.

    First, of course, there was the built-in fan base from the books. Still, not every hugely successful book series becomes a hugely successful film series, as we’ve learned from The Golden Compass and Eragon adaptations. Quick (maybe not so) fun fact: New Moon director Chris Weitz had previously directed The Golden Compass.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Moody Atmosphere

    Image from the movie Twilight
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Twilight‘s deserved success is a sign of director Catherine Hardwicke’s vision for the film, which bears a striking visual style and moody atmosphere. It’s also a result of the talents of Stewart and Pattinson as leading actors.

    In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, Twilight could easily have felt empty, like a weak cash grab attempting to capitalize on the success of the books. Instead, the film is a distinct piece of media that builds on Stephanie Meyer’s narrative and has a real sense of personality.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Iconic Performances

    Image from the movie Twilight
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    That personality is, of course, helped by the iconic performances from Stewart and Pattinson. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t offer their best performances (though it may offer Pattinson’s most prominent). Still, their charisma and chemistry make Edward and Bella exciting to watch.

    Like New MoonTwilight is first and foremost a teen drama, a subgenre that succeeds or fails on the strength of its teen leads, and the pair is fantastic here.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Flawed

    Image from the movie Twilight
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    The first movie isn’t without its flaws, though. First, there’s Edward’s gaslighting and his possessive and extremely sex-negative behavior. Still, these behaviors exist and evolve in later films, so those flaws aren’t only in this movie in the series.

    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    Cullen Clan

    Image from the movie Twilight
    Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

    More specific to Twilight, there’s the abrupt tonal shift from a fun teenage melodrama to an action/horror movie in the film’s finale as James hunts Bella. She is then saved by Edward and the rest of the Cullen clan.

    Twilight has been inviting viewers to a melodramatic, romantic, and slightly scary adventure in Forks for almost fifteen years as its performances and feel continue to overshadow its flaws.

    More From the Wealth of Geeks Network:

    Twilight stars at the movie premier
    Image Credit: Shutterstock.

    Follow us here for the latest on movies in theaters now.

    This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


    Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.

    He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.

     


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    ‘M3gan’ box office success sets the stage for a scary good year in horror

    A lifelike doll programmed to be a child’s greatest companion and a parent’s greatest ally turns murderous in Universal Studios and Blumhouse’s “M3GAN.”

    Universal

    A fashion-forward, murderous doll is ringing up big bucks at the box office.

    “M3gan,” the newest release from the Universal Studios and Blumhouse collaboration, will end up with more than $100 million globally. It’s the latest success in a string of lucrative theatrical runs for the horror genre.

    While Hollywood’s big-budget blockbusters typically get the most attention, the consistently strong performance of scary movies at movie theaters is good news for the cinema industry.

    The pandemic fundamentally altered how and where consumers view entertainment. To be sure, people have returned to theaters, but not in the same volume as pre-pandemic times. Additionally, fewer theatrical releases have resulted in a smaller overall box office in the last year. The domestic box office reached $7.5 billion in 2022, better than $4.58 billion collected in 2021, but down around 34% compared to 2019.

    Films like “M3gan” collectively add incremental value to the box office. In 2022, the horror genre accounted for around $700 million in domestic ticket sales, according to data from Comscore. While that figure is down compared to pre-pandemic levels, it indicates persistent demand for spooky entertainment as the theater business rebounds.

    Horrifying but good

    Paramount and Universal were the top contributors of horror content last year. Paramount’s “Smile” sold $105 million in tickets domestically and $217 million globally. Its newest installment in the Scream franchise took in $81 million in the U.S. and Canada and $137 million worldwide.

    Universal’s “Nope” generated $123 million domestically and $171 million globally, while “The Black Phone” scored $90 million stateside and $160 million worldwide. The studio also released “Halloween Ends,” leading to $64 million in domestic ticket sales and $104 million globally, even though it hit streaming service Peacock the same day.

    Ethan Hawke stars in Blumhouse and Universal’s “The Black Phone.”

    Universal

    Additionally, Disney‘s Searchlight Pictures released “The Menu,” which snared $38 million domestically and $70 million worldwide.

    Notably, Disney and Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which features horror elements, was not included in the tally. The film generated $411 million during its run in the U.S. and Canada and nearly $1 billion worldwide.

    “We’re in the middle of horror’s new golden age,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s a genre that has ebbed and flowed in past decades but one that’s always evolved, maintained commercial appeal, and helped introduce new filmmakers to the world.” 

    Here are several titles to expect from the horror genre in 2023:

    • Universal’s “Knock at the Cabin” — Feb. 3
    • Paramount’s “Scream VI” — March 10
    • Sony’s “Insidious: Chapter 5” — July 7
    • Warner Bros.’ “The Nun 2” — Sept. 8
    • Neon’s “Cuckoo” — Sept. 29
    • Universal’s “The Exorcist” — Oct. 13
    • Lionsgate’s “Saw X” — Oct. 27

    Scaring up dollars

    Blumhouse, a producer of “M3gan,” has revolutionized the horror genre in the last decade, turning small budget flicks into huge box-office returns. The studio has been responsible for the profitable and popular “Paranormal Activity” films as well as the Academy Award-winning “Get Out.”

    “Paranormal Activity,” which was released in 2009, had a budget of just $15,000 and went on to make more than $107 million in the U.S. and nearly $200 million worldwide

    Following that model, “M3gan” was made for just $12 million and is on its way past $100 million. Already, Universal and Blumhouse have greenlighted a sequel due out in 2025.

    Still from Universal and Blumhouse’s “M3GAN.”

    Universal

    Last year, most wide-released horror films had a budget of between $16 million and $35 million. The only outlier was “Get Out” director Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” which carried a $68 million production budget. Films with smaller budgets mean don’t have to generate blockbuster-size ticket sales in order to turn a profit. Those economics also help to make horror films one of the most consistently well-performing genre of all time.

    For example, consider “Skinamarink,” an experimental horror film out of Canada, which cost $15,000 to make and has gone on to generate more than $1 million at the box office.

    “At the heart of its sustainability has been a generational turnover of young audiences that drive many of these movies at the box office, a pre-pandemic constant that’s picked up right where it left off as post-pandemic moviegoing has rebounded,” Robbins said.

    Unlike fans of comic book films, who can be easily turned off by an unfaithful adaptation of their favorite character, horror fans don’t seem to mind if the film isn’t totally up to par. So long as the movie had some good scares and was seen as a fun experience, they’ll be back for the next installment.

    Additionally, in the last two decades, the quality of the horror genre has greatly improved, due in large part to support from indie companies such as A24 and Neon, as well as distribution from streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Peacock.

    “A systematic, incremental increase in the quality of horror films, a genre that was once considered the smash and grab, take the money and run, open on Friday, close on Sunday genre, has now, with the creative vision of amazing production companies and brilliant filmmakers, earned respect of critics and audiences alike,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst, at Comscore.

    “M3gan,” for example, currently holds a 95% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

    “The genre and its audience are invaluable to the industry ecosphere, and 2023’s promising release slate looks to help maintain that status quo,” Robbins said.

    Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal has a partnership with Blumhouse and owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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