Top 5 Documentaries of 2017

With the real world being such an awful nightmare, you might ask yourself, what’s the point in watching a movie about real life? Well, first off, some documentaries can provide some much needed hope and joy, or some valuable context to the world around us. Whether they tackle history or the modern day, discuss animals or people, here are five of the best documentaries of this year:

1) Jane

Directed by Brett Morgan, this film tells the story Jane Goodall, her life and her work in the wild with chimpanzees, using interviews with her today and old footage taken in the earlier years of her work. In addition to being an empowering look at Goodall’s work and resilience, it also gives us a narrative of the chimp colony she studied.

2) I Am Not Your Negro

This incredible film, directed by Raoul Peck, mixes archival footage of James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther KingSamuel L. Jackson narrates the words of James Baldwin, written so long ago but frighteningly relevant to today’s black experience, over footage of black America’s struggles and protests today.

3) Kedi

For hundreds of years, thousands of stray cats have roamed the streets of Istanbul, playing, hunting, living, and interacting with the humans around them. Director Ceyda Torun follows around seven of these cats, each with their own names and personalities. This movie is so lovely and gentle, and, for once, shows us a positive, uplifting relationship between people and animals.

4) City of Ghosts

Directed by the award winner Matthew Heinema, this doc is about the citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RIBSS), who are attempting, in the most dangerous of conditions, to report on the brutality of ISIS in Syria and the lack of response from the international community. The film also addresses the necessity of journalism and reporting and the many dangers that come with them.

5) One of Us

This intense film on Netflix was co-directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who you may recognize as the team behind Jesus Camp. The two take on ultra-religious communities once again, telling the story of three former Hasidic Jews who choose to leave their communities as they attempt to find their way in the “real” world and weather the intense backlash from the Hasidic world.

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Why This is the Moment to Talk About Sexual Assault

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ve no doubt heard a lot about sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. What we’ve been seeing has been dubbed by many as “The Weinstein effect”, where after the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and abuse scandal, many other powerful men in other fields, including entertainment and politics, have had allegations released against them.

Now, in some cases, these were men who had been rumored to be predatory for a while (Kevin Spacey and Louis CK), while in others it seems to have come out of nowhere (George Takei and Al Franken). In any case, it’s clear that this is an important cultural moment of talking about sexual assault and harassment. But why now? This has been a problem for a very long time. Here’s why this is the moment:

Social Media:

In the past, there were very few ways for survivors of sexual assault to come forward, especially if the media wouldn’t take them seriously. Now, however, sharing stories of sexual assault is easier than ever. And while it’s sadly true that talking about it can bring in trolls and mean comments, it can also bring tons of support from friends and strangers right away.

Also, because of all these things coming out at once, survivors feel more empowered to talk about sexual assault because they see others doing it as well. And thanks to campaigns like #MeToo, social media has allowed survivors of sexual assault, even those who don’t want to come forward, to feel less alone.

Investigative Journalism:

Allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Roy Moore might have gone nowhere if not for the hard work of investigative journalists who meticulously researched and wrote about these claims, working for long periods of time to bring these allegations to light.

The Harvey Weinstein case came to light thanks to the work of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times and Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker. Kantor, along with Melena Ryzik and Cara Buckley were responsible for bringing the allegations against Louis CK to light, though the now-defunct website Gawker did report on it back in 2015 .

And though Mr. Moore has deflected the allegations against him as some sort of leftist conspiracy, they are backed up with dozens of interviews and facts by three incredible reporters from The Washington Post: Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites.

People Believe Survivors:

This is pretty simple. We live in a culture that actually trusts those who come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual assault. The truth is, very few people lie about sexual assault. After all, coming forward about this type of thing can be extremely traumatizing, and come with very few benefits, and you have to hear people publicly calling you a liar and saying derogatory things about you while uplifting the person who has abused you. I think we are finally in a moment, however, where the bravery of survivors is finally rewarded by our willingness to believe people who do come forward.

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At Home with Amy Sedaris Review

Who doesn’t love Amy Sedaris? Maybe you love the show she co-created with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello back in the day, Strangers With Candy. Maybe you love her book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People. Maybe you love her voice work for BoJack Horseman. Or maybe you just like her, period. And if you haven’t heard of her, what are you doing with your life?

Either way, you should start watching her amazing new show, At Home with Amy Sedaris. Sedaris plays various types of people and characters. The show’s premise is to teach the audience about crafts and cooking of all kinds for all occasions. In actuality, Sedaris delivers us her hilarious dark comedy, with a small slice of actual crafting/cooking advice. The show is a marvelous parody of other types of cooking/crafting shows and their overly cheerful hosts (think Martha Stewart or Ina Garten), and has several comedian guest stars, including Jane Krakowski, John Early, and Stephen Colbert, who play themselves and also a variety of roles.

Amy’s characters on the show include neighbor Patty Hogg (who Amy plays against herself), who requests to use space in Amy’s freezer to store her recently deceased dog, which, according to an interview with Stephen Colbert, may be based in real life as Sedaris once stored her dead bunny rabbit in her freezer.

Other segments include Sedaris learning about acting from John Early (who just insults Sedaris the whole time), and discussing knives and how to sharpen a dull knife with her “knife man”, who seems just a bit off, and Amy describing finding love with her…stair bannister, before showing us how to make spanakopita.

At Home With Amy Sedaris is wickedly funny, totally absurd, and, oddly enough, does actually have some good tips on crafting and cooking. If you like Amy Sedaris already, I don’t need to tell you twice to go watch her show right now. And if you don’t, then go watch her show right now.

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Top Five Young Adult Novels This Year

In the literary world, young adult novels are typically looked down on as being less high quality than fiction produced for adults, and not worthy of the same critical inspection and praise. I totally disagree. Not only is that assessment an insult to the authors of these books, it’s an insult to the readers. In any case, 2017 has been an excellent year for young adult novels. Here are my picks of the top five young adult novels released this year.

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

John Green is widely known for his previous young adult novels along with his YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, co-hosted with his brother Hank Green, and dozens of other online projects. Unlike his previous works, however, this one feels more authentic and gripping, as Green reveals, via his narrator Aza Holmes, the terrifying prison of thoughts created by OCD and anxiety (which Green himself suffers from), and the realities of living with a mental illness.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

It’s often assumed that teen literature can’t really discuss intense and/or controversial topics, or talk about them well. It’s also often assumed that debuting authors aren’t doing the best work out there. Angie Thomas proves both of those assumptions totally false in her stunning debut work. The novel revolves around its narrator, Starr, who navigates the worlds of her poor black neighborhood and her wealthy white prep school, and the fallout when her friend Khalil, unarmed, is shot by the police. Thomas dives right in to the subjects of police brutality, race, and class with nuance, thoughtfulness, and grace.

I Hate Everyone But You by Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn

If you’re a fan of the hilarious YouTube comedy channel Just Between Us, then you’ll love this fun and charismatic novel from its two creators, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn. The story is told through a series of emails, text messages, and other communications between its two main characters, best friends Ava and Gen, as they begin their first year of college. Just as they do in their YouTube show, Raskin and Dunn tackle everything from coming out to mental health with boldness and humor in this awesome debut.

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

When the protagonist of this story, Griffin, finds out his ex-boyfriend, Theo, has died, it sets off a terrifying spiral of downward thoughts, secrets, and obsessions. Author Adam Silvera adds this emotionally devastating tale to his other, critically acclaimed works including the New York Times bestseller More Happy Than Not. In this book, Silvera explores loss, grief, mental anguish, and how we learn to let go.

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Another stunning debut novel, this one from Robin Roe, A List of Cages tells the story of high school senior Adam Blake, who finds himself reunited with his former foster brother, Julian. However, Julian is keeping a few secrets. As Adam struggles with ADHD and tries to navigate Julian’s issues, his desire to help Julian pushes up against the reality of both their situations. Roe gives us an amazing debut novel, and leaves us eager for her next work.

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Socially Conscious Horror Movies

For me, Halloween has always been for horror. The scary and the creepy and the bone chilling are exactly what I want to enjoy during this time of year. Of course, we’re living in some particularly scary times, so it may feel a little dull to watch the usual zombie and serial killer fare. Even if you do want to find some good old classic horror, you may also find yourself frightened by some sexism and racism present in older horror flicks (and some newer releases, sadly). So, what to watch? Socially conscious horror, of course, because nothing is scarier than social inequality. Here are some of my picks:

Get Out

Hopefully you’ve seen comedian Jordan Peele’s amazing directorial debut, but if you haven’t, you really should. Peele skewers white liberals, particularly those in the North, reminding them that just because they may have supported Obama or say they aren’t racist, they still help perpetrate racism and white supremacy in the United States. This form of white liberal racism can be just as insidious as the other.

It Follows

We all know the classic horror trope. Young person (especially young women) has sex. Young person is punished for having sex. Virgin girl gets to stay alive because she has not had sex. It Follows turns this tropes on its head, using the story of demon passed from person to person as something of a metaphor for our social anxieties about sex, sexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Gerald’s Game

Most horror films are notoriously bad at dealing with rape and sexual assault. Women’s bodies get used and abused to prompt the male hero into action, or worse, for torture porn and titillation. The fallout of sexual assault and the trauma that accompanies it so rarely discussed, not only in horror but in most films. That’s what makes Gerald’s Game, based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, so unique. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it navigates trauma and empowerment with more clarity and realism than I’ve ever seen.

Perfect Blue

This 1997 Japanese animated movie, based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satoshi Kon, tells the story of a former J-pop idol named Mima Kirigoe, who is attempting to change her carefully manufactured image while being stalked by a crazed fan. Perfect Blue not only tries to examine the nature of truth and reality, but also carefully critiques the ways in which women are made to be consumed products.

The Handmaiden

Technically The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook, is better classified as a thriller as opposed to horror, but it’s such a fantastic movie that I needed to include it in this list. The movie is loosely based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but with the setting changed from Victorian London to Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s. The movie explores class, gender politics, and sexuality, and takes the time to tell a tender gay love story between its two female protagonists.

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