Ghosts of Sundance Past #3: Crown Heights (dir by Matt Ruskin)

The 2017 film, Crown Heights, tells the story of two friends and a miscarriage of justice.

In 1980, a 19 year-old Trinidadian named Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Taken down to the police station, Colin is told that he has been arrested for the murder of Marvin Grant, a man who he has never heard of.  When Colin says that he is innocencent, he’s informed that eyewitnesses saw him at the scene of the crime.  Though he continues to protest his innocence, Colin is transferred to a jail where he is to await his trial.

From the start, it’s obvious that Colin didn’t have anything to do with the shooting of Marvin Grant.  What’s messed up is that the people prosecuting him know it as well.  When another prisoner tell the detectives the name of the man who actually committed the murder, his statement is ignored because he refuses to name his source.  When one of the prosecution’s witnesses testifies that he saw someone other than Colin fire the gun, the prosecutor “corrects” his witnesses’s testimony in open court. After the jury returns a guilty of verdict for Colin and another man, the judge says that he can’t be sure whether or not Colin is guilty but that he can only follow the law.  And the law says that, as an adult convicted of a crime, Colin is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  No one in the legal establishment cares that Colin is obviously not guilty.  He’s a young black man with a minor criminal history and, by convicting him, the police can close one homicide investigation and move on to the next one.

In prison, Colin finds himself isolated, both literally and figuratively.  When he refuses to get involved with any of the prison gangs, the other prisoners shun him and he finds himself being targeted.  When a prison guard pushes Colin until Colin finally snaps and throws a punch, Colin ends up spending two years in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Colin’s best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), attempts to prove that his friend is innocent.  That proves to be even more difficult than Carl initially expects.  No one is interested in reopening a closed case and Carl can’t even afford a good attorney to help him pursue Colin’s appeal.  Still, Carl never gives up.  He even trains to become a process server so that he can have an excuse to hang out at the court house and hopefully meet a lawyer who will be willing to take on Colin’s case.  Amazingly, that’s exactly what happens.

Of course, by this point, Colin Warner has been in prison for 20 years….

Based on a true story, Crown Heights was a hit at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for the U.S. Dramatic Film competition.  Watching the film, you can easily see why it was such a crowd pleaser.  Not only does the film deal with serious issues of race and economic disparity but, when watching the film, it’s impossible not to be moved by the strength of Carl and Colin’s friendship.  Despite all of the difficulties that are placed in front of him, Carl never gives up in his quest to prove Colin’s innocence and get him out of prison.  The film works as both a cry for freedom and a celebration of friendship.

The film’s execution is not quite as strong as its message.  Matt Ruskin’s direction occasionally veer towards made-for-TV (or, at the very least, made-for-HBO) territory and the film’s constant switching back and forth between Colin in prison and Carl searching for witnesses sometimes seems to prevent either storyline for really maintaining a consistent momentum.  20 years is a long time to cover in just 90 minutes and sometimes, it’s hard not to feel as if important parts of the story have been left out or, at the very least, glossed over.  That said, it’s a heartfelt film and it’s blessed with two wonderful lead performances from Lakeith Stanfield and Nnamdi Asomugha.

Crown Heights is not a perfect film but the story and the performances are powerful enough to make you think and to leave you moved.

Here Are The Costume Designers Guild Winners!

Mindy Kaling hosted the ceremony, which sounds like it was to die for.

Excellence in Contemporary Film

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Arjun Bhasin
  • Hustlers – Mitchell Travers
  • WINNER – Knives Out – Jenny Eagan
  • The Laundromat – Ellen Mirojnick
  • Queen & Slim – Shiona Turini

Excellence in Period Film

  • Dolemite is My Name – Ruth E. Carter
  • Downton Abbey – Anna Mary Scott Robbins
  • WINNER – Jojo Rabbit – Mayes C. Rubeo
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Arianne Phillips
  • Rocketman – Julian Day

Excellence in Sci-Fi / Fantasy Film

  • Aladdin – Michael Wilkinson
  • Avengers: Endgame – Judianna Makovsky
  • Captain Marvel – Sanja M. Hays
  • WINNER – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – Ellen Mirojnick
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Michael Kaplan

Excellence in Contemporary Television

  • Big Little Lies: “She Knows” – Alix Friedberg
  • Fleabag: “2.1” – Ray Holman
  • Killing Eve: “Desperate Times” – Charlotte Mitchell
  • Russian Doll: “Superiority Complex” – Jennifer Rogien
  • WINNER – Schitt’s Creek: “The Dress” – Debra Hanson

Excellence in Period Television

  • Chernobyl: “Please Remain Calm” – Odile Dicks-Mireaux
  • The Crown: “Cri De Coeur” – Amy Roberts
  • Fosse/Verdon: “Life is a Cabaret” – Melissa Toth & Joseph La Corte
  • GLOW: “Freaky Tuesday” – Beth Morgan
  • WINNER – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: “It’s Comedy or Cabbage” – Donna Zakowska

Excellence in Sci-Fi / Fantasy Television

  • Carnival Row: “Aisling” – Joyce Schure
  • WINNER – Game of Thrones: “The Iron Throne” – Michele Clapton
  • The Handmaid’s Tale: “Household” – Natalie Bronfman
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: “Penultimate Peril: Part 2” – Cynthia Summers
  • Watchmen: “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” – Sharen Davis

Excellence in Variety, Reality-Competition, Live Television

  • Dancing with the Stars: “First Elimination” – Daniella Gschwendtner & Steven Norman Lee
  • The Late Late Show with James Corden: “Crosswalk the Musical: Aladdin” – Lauren Shapiro
  • WINNER – The Masked Singer: “Season Finale: And the Winner Takes It All and Takes It Off” – Marina Toybina
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race: “Whatcha Unpackin?” – Zaldy for RuPaul
  • Saturday Night Live: “Sandra Oh / Tame Impala” – Tom Broecker & Eric Justian

Excellence in Short Form Design

  • Katy Perry: “Small Talk” music video – Phoenix Mellow
  • Kohler Verdera Voice Smart Mirror: “Mirror, Mirror” commercial – Ami Goodheart
  • Lil Nas X: “Old Town Road” music video – Catherine Hahn
  • Madonna: “God Control” music video – B. Åkerlund
  • WINNER – United Airlines: “Star Wars Wing Walker” commercial – Christopher Lawrence

Hazel Newlevant’s “Queer Uprisings” : How History Lessons Should Be Done

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Long a proponent of sexual and bodily autonomy (see Sugar Town and Comics For Choice, respectively), cartoonist Hazel Newlevant has always shown a frankly uncanny facility for communicating the political and the moral by means of the personal and intimate, but Newlevant’s 2019 self-published mini Queer Uprisings takes a different, though equally successful, tack : originally published on The Nib website, this is a nuts-and-bolts recounting of various instances of largely-impromptu LGBTQ+ anti-injustice rebellions that actually predate Stonewall and place the community’s struggles and triumphs as they exist today within a larger — and, who are we kidding, lengthier — historical framework than many are/were aware of previously.

And, let me be perfectly clear so as to not to absolve myself of any lame-ass ignorance on my own part : that “many” includes me, which means that I’m squarely among the audience this work aims to educate.


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Club Paradise (1986, directed by Harold Ramis)

I think I was nine or ten years old when I first saw Club Paradise on HBO.  I remember thinking it was pretty funny.

I recently rewatched Club Paradise and I discovered that ten year old me had terrible taste in movies.

Robin Williams plays Jack Moniker, a Chicago fireman who gets blown out of a building while rescuing a dog.  Living off of his disability payments, he retires to the island of St. Nicholas, which is basically Jamaica but with less weed.  Jack and reggae musician Ernest Reed (Jimmy Cliff) open up their own Club Med-style resort, Club Paradise.  Jack doesn’t know much about the resort business but he does know how to put together a good brochure.  Almost the entire cast of SCTV shows up at Club Paradise, looking for a tropical vacation.  Things quickly go wrong because Jack doesn’t know how to run a resort and there’s also an evil developer (played by Brian Doyle-Murray) who wants Club Paradise to fail so that he can get the land.

Club Paradise has got a huge and impressive cast, the majority of whom probably signed on because they were looking forward to a paid Caribbean vacation.  Peter O’Toole plays the British-appointed governor of St. Nicholas.  Twiggy plays Jack’s girlfriend.  Joanna Cassidy plays a reporter and Adolph Caesar is cast in the role of St. Nicolas’s corrupt prime minister.  Because the film was directed by Harold Ramis, it is full of Ramis’s co-stars from SCTV.  Andrea Martin tries to get her husband to enjoy the islands as much as she’s enjoying them.  Joe Flaherty is the crazed pilot who flies people to the resort.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy play two nerdy friends who are both named Barry and who are only interested in scoring weed, getting laid, and working on their tan.  Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy playing nerds?  It’s a shock, I know.

There’s enough funny people in Club Paradise to ensure that there are a few isolated laughs.  Not surprisingly, the movie comes to life whenever Moranis and Levy are onscreen.  (If I had to guess, I imagine they were the reason why ten year-old me liked this movie so much.)  Needless to say, Jimmy Cliff also provides a killer soundtrack.  But Club Paradise ultimately doesn’t work because the script is too disjointed and it feels more like an uneven collection of skits than an actual film.  It’s impossible to tell whether we’re supposed to think of Club Paradise as being the worst resort ever or if we’re supposed to be worried that the bad guys will shut it down.  For a movie like this, you need a strong central presence to hold things together.  Unfortunately, Robin Williams’s style of comedy is too aggressive for the role of Jack.  The role was originally written for Bill Murray and it shows.  Most of Jack’s lines sound like things you would expect Bill Murray to say in his trademark laid back fashion and it is easy to imagine Murray redeeming some of Club Paradise‘s weaker scenes simply by attitude alone.  Instead, Robin Williams is so frantic that you never buy he could be happy living a laid back life on a Caribbean island.  As played by Williams, Jack often comes across as being unreasonably angry at everyone staying at Club Paradise and it’s hard to care whether or not he manages to save his resort or not.

Club Paradise was a bomb at the box office.  Harry Shearer, who was originally credited with working on the screenplay, hated the movie so much that he requested his name be removed from the credits.  (Instead, credit is given to Edward Roboto.)  As a result of the film’s failure, it would be 7 years before Harold Ramis would get to direct another movie.  Fortunately, that movie was Groundhog Day and this time, Ramis was able to get Bill Murray.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special W.C. Fields Edition!

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

It was 140 years ago today that the greatest curmudgeon of them all, W.C. Fields, was born in Darby, Pennsylvania.  The world would never be the same.

In honor of a man who knew how to enjoy a stiff drink and who made a good living pretending to not like dogs and children, here are

4 Shots From 4 Films

It’s A Gift (1934, directed by Norman McCleod)

My Little Chickadee (1940, directed by Edward Cline)

The Bank Dick (1940, directed by Edward Cline)

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941, directed by Edward Cline)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: 7th Heaven (dir by Frank Borzage)

The 1927 melodrama 7th Heaven tells the story of two people in Paris.

Chico (Charles Farrell) works in the sewers but lives by the stairs.  Though he spends all of his days under the street and dealing with literally the worst that the world has to offer, Chico remains an optimist.  After all, he has his small apartment, which sits atop seven flights of stairs.  He has his dreams, which involve eventually getting promoted to being a street cleaner.  He doesn’t have much religious faith, which concerns Father Chevillon (Emile Chautard) but who knows?  Maybe something can happen to change that….

Diane (Janet Gaynor) is a desperately sad young woman who lives in squalor with her older sister, the cruel Nana (Gladys Brockwell).  When we first see Diane, she’s lying on the floor while being whipped by Nana and that’s pretty much the way her life goes for the first fourth of the movie.  Nana treats Diane less like a sister and more like a slave, sending her out to steal food and buy absinthe.  Diane and Nana’s father has made a good deal of money overseas but when he sees how they’re living in Paris, he rejects both of them.

How bad of a sister is Nana?  She’s so bad that, when she’s eventually arrested by the Paris police, she points out her sister on the street and demands that they arrest her as well.  Fortunately, Chico just happens to present at the scene.  Having already protected Diane from Nana’s abuse once before, Chico steps forward and announces that Diane is his wife!  The police ask Chico if he’s sure and then remind him that, if it’s found that he’s lying, both he and Diane could go to prison.  Chico, however, insists that it is true.

To keep the deception going, Chico allows Diane to move in with him.  When Father Chevillon arranges for Chico to get promoted to street cleaner, he also requests that Chico keep an eye on Diane.  Chico agrees and slowly but surely, the two of them fall in love.  Chico’s apartment, sitting atop 7 flights of stairs, becomes their 7th heaven.

However, World War I looms in the distance.  With all of Chico’s friends and coworkers receiving their draft notices and being sent to fight, Chico and Diane knew that it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens to Chico….

As in so many other silent films, the shadow of World War I looms over every minute of 7th Heaven.  In the 20s, the Great War was still the main trauma that has shaped most viewer’s lives and one can imagine those viewers watching 7th Heaven and falling in love with the characters of Chico and Diane, all the while knowing that their happiness is only temporary.  If the 1st hour of 7th Heaven is a romantic mix of melodrama and comedy, the 2nd hour becomes a rather grim war film.  Even separated by war, Chico and Diane remain soulmates.  When Diane is told that Chico has been listed as having been killed in action, she knows that it’s not true because she can still feel their connection.  And yet, the final fourth of the film is so stylized and the final shot is both so beautiful and yet so artificial that the audience is left to wonder whether Diane is correct or if she’s simply dreaming what she (and, undoubtedly, the many other members of the audience who had also lost loved ones in the war) wishes to be true.

7th Heaven is a deliriously romantic film and watching it actually requires a bit less of an adjustment on the part of modern audiences than other silent films.  Director Frank Borzage keeps the action moving quickly and, even more importantly, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell both give sincere and naturalistic performances.  Never do they resort to the type of theatrical overacting that was featured in so many other silent films.  Instead, you watch the film and you truly believe that you are watching two people fall in love.  You’re happy when they’re happy and when tragedy strikes, you cry for them.  Their love is your love and their sadness is your sadness.

7th Heaven was one of the first films to even be nominated for Best Picture.  While Gaynor won Best Actress and Frank Borzage won Best Director, the award for Best Picture went to another World War I romance, Wings.

The Many Adventures of Captain Future

Artist Unknown

Who was Captain Future?  He was Curtis Newton, who was born on the moon and who, after the murder of his parents by intergalactic spies, was raised and trained by a scientist and two robots.  Captain Future kept the solar system safe from crime and other extraterrestrial threats.  His adventures took place in the distant future year of … 1990.  (At the time his stories were published, that was the future!)  Captain Future headlined his own magazine from 1940 to 1951, with additional stories appearing in publications like Startling Stories and Amazing Stories.

Below are a few covers from Captain Future’s adventures.  The majority of these were done by Earle Bergey, though Rudolph Belarski and Jerome Rozen did some work on the series as well.

by Jerome Rozen

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Earle Bergey

by Rudolph Belarski

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist