The Stargazer

The Shining: Why it Works

””The Shining. If you were to walk around asking strangers about this movie, the chances are most of them would at least know of it, and those who had seen it would mostly agree–it’s a pretty solid horror movie. Some might even argue that it is the best horror movie, and these people are certainly not a minority, many people who have watched this movie rank it highly among the horror movies they’ve seen. Even now, 44 years later, this movie holds up and continues to terrify new and old audiences alike. Why?

The Best Musical Scores of 2023

””2023 was one of the most memorable years for film. Perhaps even more memorable than the films themselves were the musical scores that accompanied them. From sweeping compositions, epic accompaniments, and subtle yet destructive themes; 2023 has given us some of the most memorable scores in recent years. Here are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order.

It's Funny How One Verse Can F**k up the Game

””Kendrick Lamar said that on Hood Politics from To Pimp a Butterfly. He was right in 2015 when the song was released the same way he was right in 2013 and right again in 2024. Anyone with any semblance of understanding of modern hip-hop history knows about the “Control” verse. Kendrick Lamar, fresh off of the success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, hops on Big Sean's single, in the few-year stretch, when he was a still prevalent pop rapper. Sean still wanted to show off that pride in dense lyricism that Detroit was known for, along with that he invited Jay Electronica to the track, who, off the strength of a single song, “Exhibit C,” became a white-hot prospect and immediately earned the respect of legends. Noticeably Jay-Z who co-signed and supported Electronica over the decade-long wait for his debut album. With all this hype around the track in mind, it was eclipsed entirely by what Kendrick did.

Kung Fu Panda 4: The Five are Gone, and the People are Furious

””On a calm December day, the masses were blessed with the gift of the first Kung Fu Panda 4 trailer. While most had not even known about the film’s existence, the gleeful surprise would be a chance to see our favorite characters once more: a lovable panda, a wise master, a cunning villain, but mostly a stern, ferocious, oddly attractive tiger voiced by Angelina Jolie.

Problemista Deserves to Go Far

”” “She’s just trying to get to that audition,” Julio Torres says about “our Queen” Anna Faris’s protagonist character in Gregg Araki's Smiley Face. This is part of his answer I asked him in a college roundtable promoting his new Dramedy and directorial debut Problemista. The question being: “In an interview with the Hollywood reporter, you referred to your film as an example of an I-Don’t-know-how-i’m-gonna-make-the-rent genre. Are there other films or narratives that come from that same vein that helped inspire Problemista?” In his answer he delves into a few films that fall into that frantic and straightforward narratives rooted in common human experiences, but what struck me the most is his admiration of Smiley Face, with how apparent of an inspiration it is on Torres’s own refreshing film. Both follow a lead with ambitious dreams for their lives while dealing with the anxiety-inducing humdrum of low-income living. Smiley Face though has been relegated to cult-classic status, ultimately an unfortunately underwatched movie. Problemista doesn’t deserve that same fate. It’s a crowd pleasing wonderful time, with a lot to say on the chaotic positive potential of Karen-dom in the service of ambition. A uniquely modern theme that Torres gets so much mileage out of in this fast-paced gem of a movie.

The Muiscal Success of Poor Things and Where it Came From

””Praise has been heaped ad nauseam on Poor Things. Lanthimos’ pristine direction, with his signature embellishments of morbid deadpan, has now taken to new heights with a whole world to play off of his usual tricks. With some of the best sense of pacing and mise-en-scène in modern cinema- provided by production designers James Price and Shona Heath. Stone's transformation into Bella Baxter, a career-high for one of Hollywood's best actresses– completely embodying the naivety, sexual agency, and sense of wonder and exploration of the character. The recognition is all deserved. It’s an ambitious odyssey to execute on screen, and every aspect of the production works in an oddball harmony to make one of the best films in a frankly stacked year for cinema. I’d argue what ties this all together is the music. Equally as weird but never veering to nonsense as the rest of the film, Jerskin Fendrix created his own marvel of an unconventional but enticing soundtrack– which when looking into his roots as an artist is no surprise.

Before Midnight; After Dreams

””Before Sunrise and Before Sunset feel like the most important things in the world for these two tender souls. Jesse and Celine’s two most pivotal moments in their lives. When they fell in love, and when they decided to spend the rest of their lives together. Fittingly, the trilogy ends in a naturalistic way; the ideal and dreamy atmosphere of the last two films is forfeited here for a vacation date for the couple that could have been anywhere, any day. With it being set on the backdrop of Greece, it is just a plus for the audience, despite most of the film taking place in a hotel room. The magic of the scenery that inspired their love in the first place has faded out. Their younger years are gone, they’ve settled into a rhythm, and they’ve built something together, a family, a marriage. Before Midnight asks earnestly if the love between the two as it exists in their middle age justifies their staying together in the absence of that idealized love that once existed so intensely.

Disabilities Representation in Reality TV

””The Bachelor and all the other shows in the franchise have become a part of my weekly routine in the last couple years. It’s one of my favorite things to do with my friends. I love watching and yelling at the TV when a contestant or the bachelor/bachelorette is making terrible decisions and admiring all the gorgeous outfits. The first episode of the most recent season introduced Daisy, a 25-year-old account executive from Becker, Minnesota. Right off the bat all my friends (and I) marked her as a favorite because she was so sweet and caring. Part of her introduction video told viewers about how, due to both Lyme and Meniere’s disease, she experienced a variety of medical issues, including a significant loss of hearing in her left ear. She made the choice to get a cochlear implant and is now living her life to the fullest and is now ready to find love. Daisy got me thinking about how I’d started seeing people with different disabilities entering the world of reality TV, at least in some of the shows I watch.

Justifying my Purchase

””We’re at a point right now where the then-niche nerd interests of the past are the driving elements of pop culture. Being a superfan of anime, comic media or fantasy and sci-fi worlds is normal. These things make billions of dollars off of the casual interests of millions. A foreign concept not even two decades ago. Then comes the issue of quality control for these things- these companies have an incentive to “give the people what they want,” too often at the expense of the creative direction of the end product. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that a good fan speaks wisely with their wallet. Not everything associated with the intellectual property you’ve fallen in love with deserves the money you earned. However, every fan can make a sore mistake and see past their own bias- and contribute to a cycle that enables more half-baked content to be made. More importantly, it enables the continued exploitation of talented artists to keep pumping out this product rather than letting them work their craft. Recently I’ve spoken very badly with my wallet and bought a product that is not emblematic of the best qualities of the thing I’m a fan of. This isn’t a traditional review of the quality of my mistaken purchase, but rather a tale of how a deep love of something inherently nerdy led to nearly one hundred of my own money, being more or less wasted due to my fandom blinders. This is that going back to the beginning:

Black Swan, Suspiria, and the Horrifically Feminine World of Ballet

””As a psychological thriller, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) borrows heavily from the gendered tropes of the horror genre while also cultivating some of their own. With its sophisticated score and disorienting cinematography, the maddening beauty of the film defines the "feminine" canon of unsettling stories immersed in the world of ballet. These narratives spotlight its soul-crushing discipline, unnatural physical demands, and distinctly feminine grace to expose the anxiety of female perfection.