Review: Don’t Think Twice by Sarah

As the film ended and the lights in the theater came back on, the couple sitting in front of me kissed.
It was a simple, spontaneous gesture; a sharing of life, of love, of intimacy.
That’s exactly what this film is, and that is what it so clearly inspired in the audience. In that moment, they weren’t sharing a PDA. They were simply sharing a moment.
A quick summary of the plot: An improv group in New York City is disrupted when one of its members (Keegan-Michael Key) gets a shot at The Big Time, a slot on Weekend Live (a clear Saturday Night Live stand-in). His rise to fame is quick, and everyone is hoping to ride his coattails.
The only problem is, his coattails aren’t big enough for everyone.
Who is going to get left behind, and who is going to land their dream job?
It would be so easy for this to be a film about a ragtag group of losers who are looking for their break to stardom. On a base level, perhaps that’s what it is. Except, it is also much more. It would have been easy for Mike Birbiglia, the talented writer and director, to have made these people pitiable and pathetic. It would have been easy to have made it a story of fame corrupting and twisting everything good. It would have been easy to make it a rags-to-riches story. But, Mike Birbiglia didn’t settle for easy. Instead, he made a complex, beautiful, and funny film about adults growing up.
Sometimes, the showboat gets rewarded.
Sometimes, the rich get richer.
Sometimes, the ones who need it most have to let go.
Sometimes, that’s just the way life is.
And, sometimes, maybe that’s okay.
At its heart, this is about friendship. These people love each other and are for each other no matter what. They also hate each other, bicker, endlessly mock each other, and are simultaneously ridiculously proud and insanely jealous for every good break anyone else gets.
Their chemistry on-stage and off-stage is natural, funny, warm, and engaging. The audience is immediately drawn into their warm friendship, and we want so badly for all of them to get exactly what they want.
Of course, that’s now how life works.
That doesn’t mean there can’t be happy endings, they just aren’t the endings you expect.
The stand-out performance for me was definitely Gillian Jacobs. I’ve been a fan of hers since Community, and it was an absolute joy to see her get to show her full range. She imbued her character with depth and warmth, vulnerability and strength, and grace and humor. The scene where she has in Improv an entire scene alone on a stage is funny and heart-breaking. Her transformation throughout the film as a glorified fan of Improv who participates but is uncertain of her own place in the world, to the expert who teaches and even sacrifices for her art form, is touching and subtle.
Perhaps more than anything else, this movie understands comedy. Some of the jokes land, some don’t. That’s just the way comedy works, you throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. What’s important is that you have your friends to fall back on.
Some of the sketches we see on Weekend Live (there aren’t a lot) are great, some don’t go anywhere, but it’s all things you would reasonably see on Saturday Night Live. There aren’t any of the false-ringing, heavy-handed sketches of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
This film also doesn’t make any bones about comedy being an industry. Those who have made it leave people behind, because those who are worthy break through and those who aren’t flounder. You can’t make room for everyone, and if you’re not careful your own place on the top of the heap will be in jeopardy. Key does a great job portraying coming to terms with this reality. His character is a jerk sometimes, sure, but he’s not a villain. He’s a good guy just doing the best he can.
So far, for me, this is by far the best film of the year, and it’s one of the best films about comedy ever. Mike Birbiglia also wrote and directed Sleepwalk With Me, and between these two features, he is my new favorite filmmaker. He understands people, he understands life, and he understands why the things that make us laugh also make us cry.

“What About the Boys?” by Sarah

The last twelve months have produced at least two amazing female-driven blockbusters (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and now Ghostbusters), and there are more to come. Putting it as politely as I can, this has led to many… colorful debates online about the value of female-driven scripts.

Isn’t it enough already?

Don’t girls have enough heroes now?

What about the boys?

Don’t BOYS need people to look up to?

The short answer is, yes. Of course boys need someone to look up to.

The longer answer is, no. It’s not enough. Women, people of color, and every other overlooked minority population needs more exposure. Diversity in entertainment is GOOD.

Let me explain my story a little.

Growing up, I wanted to be a boy.

Now, I did not want to be a boy because I had gender identity issues. I wanted to be a boy because from all the books I read and all the movies I saw, it looked to me like boys just got to have more FUN!

I loved everything swashbuckling and knightly. King Arthur was a personal favorite. I wanted to badly to be a knight of the round table. Why? BECAUSE THEY GOT SWORDS, DAMNIT! They got to save people and defeat dragons! They got to DO SOMETHING! What did Guinevere get to do? Cheat on her husband and basically destroy Paradise? How is THAT fun? (I’m speaking as a child saw the situation, of course there are more nuances to her character… but when you’re seeing it on screen as a child, this is what you see.)

I also loved Robin Hood. He was an archer! He could hit any bullseye from a million miles away. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor. He was a HERO!

What did Maid Marion get to do?

Fall in love.

Get kidnapped.

Yell and scream a lot.

Get saved.

That’s not me.

I never wanted that to be me.

The more I saw women being nothing but Damsels in Distress, the more I saw the MEN coming in to save them, the more I wanted to be a dude. Why wouldn’t I? If I was a boy, I would get to be the hero. I would get CHOICES. I would MATTER.

The only modern women I really saw in cinema were the stars of romantic comedies. I enjoyed these movies, but there weren’t women I wanted to be like. They weren’t HEROES. They essentially fell in love, and having a man in their life just fixed all their problems. I can barely even remember any of their names, they are completely interchangeable and generic. And that’s fine for what those films are, but when then those are the ONLY women I had to see on screen, there’s a problem.

The other women I saw on screen were the Bond Girl types, the femme fatals who existed to be leered at by men. The women who dripped with sexuality and betrayed everyone at the drop of a hat. What I learned as a child was that as a woman, I mattered only if a man wanted to make out with me. I mattered only if a man decided I mattered. If he didn’t pay attention to me, if I was (God Forbid!) ugly or undesirable, I wasn’t worth his time, and hence I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

My value came from what men thought of me.

I didn’t like that.

I didn’t want to be a woman like that.

I wanted to be a boy.

James Bond was a boy, and he got fun toys and got to save the world.

How is that not better?

Whether intentional or not, as a child, these were the messages I took away from the stories that surrounded me.

Being a girl was inherently worse than being a boy.

Being a girl meant being passive and not getting to fight for anything.

Being a girl meant waiting to be rescued.

Being a girl meant falling in love with whatever guy paid the most attention to me.

Now, what about the boys? Are there negative messages bombarding boys? ABSOLUTELY. Is there toxic masculinity out there? You bet. Should this be fixed? YES!

But, boys have choices.

Boys have heroes.

Boys can be the hero.

When will it be enough?

When I don’t have to write this article explaining why it’s not enough.

You Got Time (But We Don’t Got Time for You Piper): Orange is the New Black Season 4 Recap and Review – Episode 1 – Work that Body for Me

Plot Synopsis: Season 4 picks up right where season 3 left off, with the ladies of Litchfield celebrating their short-lived freedom in the lake.

Well, almost all of the ladies are enjoying their freedom.

Alex is being strangled in the garden shed.

We all cross our fingers and hope this is the end.

Unfortunately for the audience, Lolly saves her, in the process beating the guard to death. Uh-oh. Can you guess what the over-arching story of THIS season is going to be? Just when you thought there might be a season NOT revolving around Alex and Piper.

Anyway, Alex and Lolly bury the body. But not before chopping it up. Gross.

Piper has now decided she is “Gangsta. Like with an ‘a’.” She feels she has earned some respect, and she’s going to get it.

Of course, she’s still Piper. No one respects Piper.

Caputo gets a new batch of guards from Max to help replace the ones who walked out last season, leading to the lake voyage. They prison also got an influx of new prisoners, so there is a huge over-crowding issue. The guards from Max are some scary-ass dudes. The guards hired by Litchfield are under-trained, but the Max guards are INTENSE. Especially Piscatella, who Caputo immediately takes a shine to.

Romances are blooming all around. Soso and Poussey. Suzanne and her crazy fan, Kukudio. All are fighting for the title of “Who will they finally spend more time on than Alex and Piper?”, because we instantly like each of them more than Piper and Alex. Kukudio is clearly even crazier than Suzanne, and her nickname is Crazy Eyes.

No sign of Larry the entire episode.

Thank God.

There is also no sign of

Piper reads a Nick Horny book.

We don’t know which one.

Don’t take Nick Hornby away from me, Piper. I like him. I don’t want to have to hate him because of you.

There’s a new prisoner: Judy King, a cooking show magnate clearly based on a cross between Martha Stewart and Paula Deen. She gets stuck being processed while everyone else deals with the new influx of prisoners.

Piper tries to establish dominance with the new inmates.

She fails.

Of course she fails.

But she still manages to make us hate her.

Poor Poussey tries to talk to Judy King, her hero, but can’t get a word out. She’s adorable. And oh so gorgeous. Seriously. Who else makes sweats look that good?

I guess I should mention that the assassin that Lolly kills for Alex isn’t really dead, so Alex re-kills him. Frieda sees the body and helps them cut it up and bury it over the yard.

Analysis: Overall, not one of the strongest eps in the show’s history. No real classic moments, no real tension. Even the Alex killing the assassin scene, which should have been full of tension, fell pretty flat. The cutting up of the body came across as more unrealistic and “that would never happen in prison”, even a minimum security. I understand this series has a lot of those moments, but really. Honest to God, that shed is the worst. Why would prisoners be allowed unfettered access to ANY PLACE? Much less a freaking SHED with TOOLS THAT CAN CUT UP A BODY? I don’t see it happening.

Not much in the way of character development. No flashbacks. This episode really is just setting up the rest of the season, and it doesn’t do it all that well. If the bulk of the season is going to revolve around Alex and her body, then I’m not that interested.

None of the people or storylines we care about are being touched on. No mention of Sophia. Not much Red. Thankfully, we’re spared much of Daya, who has become kind of annoying over the last few seasons. She’s far from the wide-eyed, innocent, adorable woman who had a sweet romance in season 1. They really crapped on that romance.

We’ll have to wait to see what the rest of this season holds, but so far I’m not too optimistic.

Why Ed Rooney is Not The Secret Hero of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Sarah

The Internet loves nothing more than positing ridiculous fan theories about our favorite movies. Usually, these fan theories boil down to someone is actually dead and/or in a coma from a certain moment onward, and the rest of the movie is just a dream. With the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, however, there is a fan theory that I find deeply disturbing.
This fan theory basically states that Ed Rooney is actually the secret hero of the film. In this theory, Ferris is a sociopath-in-training, luring his friends to The Dark Side with no qualms about destroying their lives. He lies without remorse, steals, uses people, and seems to have little to no actual emotion about anything that happens. Ed Rooney, on the other hand, is the put-upon school administrator who is the only person who sees Bueller as he really is. He’s just a man trying to do his job, trying to save his students from the bad influence of a future serial killer.
Ferris Bueller, as a character, doesn’t hold up as well today as he did in the 80s. That’s undeniable. He comes off less as charming through modern eyes, and seems more like a spoiled, privileged brat. However, these character flaws do NOT make Ed Rooney the hero. Ed Rooney is in no way, shape, or form a good educator. He is not trying to do his job. Ed Rooney is a bad person, a bad educator, and a villain in every sense of the word.
“He’s just doing his job,” is the central argument of this fan theory. That would be all well and good, if anything he does is actually part of his job. Checking up on students who called out sick? Maybe. Speaking condescendingly to that student’s parent and heavily implying they are negligent and out of touch? Absolutely not. Besides, if he was so concerned with Ferris’s attendance, why did he wait until the ninth absent to call? Why not call on the eighth? Or the seventh? Or the sixth? The answer is simple: He didn’t call because he doesn’t actually care. He’s not out to help a student, he’s out to nail a kid he hates.
From the very first moment, the hatred Ed Rooney has towards Ferris is palpable. He can’t even say his name without spitting it like a viper. Disdain drips from every syllable. That is not the attitude of a good educator. His goal is not to help Ferris, as he makes clear time and time again. His eyes gleam with the thought of “bringing down Ferris Bueller”. His goal is to ruin his life, not to hold him accountable. Again, if the goal was accountability, where was the call to the parents on the eight previous absences? Rooney wants Ferris to fail, not just at school but at life. He wants him to get held back, to not get into college, to not have any success. This is not the attitude a man who is “just doing his job” should have. This is the attitude of a true villain.
When Rooney thinks the young man is on the phone pretending to be Sloane’s father, he says horribly inappropriate things to him, not because he doesn’t realize he’s speaking to a student but because he believes he is speaking to a teenager. There is no justification for ever speaking to a student like that. That is not an educator trying to do his job, that is an educator who has lost sight of any sense of purpose.
Additionally, Rooney shows little to no concern for any other student in his school outside of Ferris Bueller. When he personally witnesses Sloane kissing her “father” (actually Ferris) in a way that heavily suggests an incestuous relationship, his response is complete and utter indifference. “So that’s how it is in her family,” he shrugs and walks away, back to his life. He does not follow any of the standard abuse reporting procedures that every educator are required to follow, as mandated reporters. Rather than wasting his entire day tracking down a student whose parents have already given him an excuse for being absent, he should have been calling Child Protective Services. Educators can lose their jobs, their licenses, and potentially even serve jail sentences for ignoring signs of suspected abuse. That is part of your job, Ed Rooney. Do your job, sir.
If you’re still not convinces Ed Rooney isn’t the real hero of this film, also consider how many laws he actively breaks just to trap this one kid in one lie. Is Ferris Bueller the only student who has ever skipped school? Of course not. Has Ed Rooney gone after all of these students with equal fervor? Nothing in the movie indicates he has. He is focusing all of his ire on this one kid. Targeting a single student for extreme punishment is not “part of your job” as an educator. Letting personal feelings into your discipline practices is not “part of the job”. Breaking and entering, assault, and animal cruelty are not part of your job.
In short, if you don’t like Ferris Bueller as a character, that’s fine, but do not over-compensate by assigning positive attributes to Ed Rooney that don’t exist. Nothing about his character is reflective of an educator concerned with what is best for his students, or with being a good educator and doing his job at all.

 

 

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Overall Grade: C-

First of all, there will be some spoilers here so if you care about that kind of thing, see the movie and come back later. I’m not going to go out of my way to spoil things, but I’m not going to avoid it, either. Just giving you fair warning.

You know the characters. You love them. You put a towel around your neck and pretend to be them in the backyard… or maybe that’s just me.

Whatever. Don’t judge me.

Anyway, this is the movie we’ve all been waiting for. Batman and Superman finally on screen together. What could be better?

Turns out, either of them separately.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible movie. There is a lot to like here, and a ton of unrealized potential to be an amazing superhero slam-bang action flick for the ages. Alas, it ultimately falls short.

Let’s start with the positive:

1 – Ben Affleck is actually a good Batman. He’s older and wiser, and a hell of a lot more cynical and jaded, but he still kicks a lot of ass. I like the way this film emphasizes the detective aspect of being Batman, and how he uses each of his personas to the maximum degree to achieve his goals. I also like how secret identities don’t remain too secret to the smart people. It felt right. Also, he uses a voice modifier instead of a gravely voice. Good choice.

2 – Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred. Well, let’s be honest. Jeremy Irons is just great in general. But I like the way this Alfred is always seen doing practical, mechanical things. He’s much more of a partner than a butler. He’s not as quipy as other Alfreds have been, but I’m hoping he’ll have an expanded role in the future so he gets more screen time.

Just let Jeremy Irons be in everything, okay?

3 – The actual Batman versus Superman fight is AWESOME. It’s everything you want it to be, BUT–

(the Bad now)

1 – IT TAKES TOO DAMN LONG TO GET TO THE FIGHT! I mean, come on! It’s CALLED Batman V. Superman! Why does it take almost 2 whole hours to see them go at it?

2 – The movie is bloated and has WAY too much going on. The entire Zod suplot needed to be out of there. The whole focus should have been on the building tension between these two titans, and then their battle, the end. 90 minutes, in and out. A streamlined, simplified script would have been nice. And needed.

3 – Wonder Woman was useless and wasted. Again, that’s because there was too much going on. She should have been integral to the plot, trying to make peace and not wanting to choose sides, even if she has loyalties (which she doesn’t seem to). As it is, in this movie, she doesn’t seem to have a motivation for anything she does. Either give her something to DO, or just cut her out until the next one.

4 – The geography was weird and distracting. It took no one any time to get anywhere, and also since when are Gotham and Metropolis like in eye-sight of each other? Time, space, and scale was all wonky on every level, and it kept taking me out of the movie. I hated that. And you know it’s bad if I’m complaining about it.

5 – When people aren’t punching stuff, it’s boring. When people are punching stuff, it’s confusing.

6 – The chases are terrible, make no sense, and are hard to follow.

7 – Even if she’s played by Amy Adams, Lois Lane is a dumbass that I hate. Always have, always will.

Overall, I wasn’t bored by the film for the most part. It needed to be about an hour shorter, and I’m in no rush to see it again, but it was also uneven and inconsistent. You spend the whole movie thinking you’re building up to one thing, then that happens, then something ELSE happens for another forty minutes. It’s just too much.

Everything I Know About Being A Woman, I Learned From Roz Doyle By Sarah

Few female characters in the history of television have kicked as much butt or taken as many names as Roz Doyle, the amazing radio producer on the sitcom Frasier, played for eleven seasons by Peri Gilpin. I grew up watching episodes of Frasier in syndication, but it wasn’t until the entire run was put up on Netflix that I realized how truly awesome Roz Doyle really is, and how much she taught me about what it means to be a woman in the modern world.

Don’t Apologize for Being Good at Your Job

The first thing Roz taught me is that being good at your job isn’t something to be ashamed of. From the first episode, Roz is an amazing producer, and she makes no bones about it. She never cows to male counterparts or refuses to speak up for fear of offending someone.

Importantly, she doesn’t belittle anyone else or pick fights just for the sake of arguing, either. She is just an extremely competent radio producer with ideas and opinions, and she makes sure her male colleagues take her seriously. She will challenge them when they are wrong, listens to them when they are right, and through sheer tenacity and talent manages to be considered a true equal in every respect. From this example, I learned to be confident in my workplace. I learned not to undersell my talents and abilities, but to be proud of my accomplishments.

Men Don’t Define Me

Unlike many sitcom characters, Roz Doyle doesn’t end up married or in a serious relationship at the end of Frasier. She dated a lot and came close a few times, but in the end she ended up single.

And you know what?

That’s just fine.

Roz was happy being single. She had an amazing daughter she was raising on her own, she had a close network of family and friends who loved and respected her, and she had the career and life she had built for herself over years of struggle and hardships. She was not defined by the man in her life. She defined success on her terms. Of course, she battled the same insecurities as all women do, but the important lesson I learned from her example is that I don’t need a traditional life to be happy. I don’t need to wait for a Prince Charming to rescue me.

I can rescue myself.

Just like Roz.

Men and Women Can Be “Just Friends”

Frasier and Roz are friends.

Just friends.

Sure, they’re both tempted to see if their relationship could be more romantic, and even sleep together at one point, but they immediately recognize it was a horrible mistake. They both know they wouldn’t work as a romantic couple, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be close. They refuse to let that fact ruin the beautiful relationship they do have, however. They don’t have to be lovers to love each other. They will always love each other, no matter what.

And that friendship is more important to either of them than any marriage or dating relationship would ever be.

From this relationship, I learned that it’s okay to have platonic friends. I don’t have to feel awkward about being “just friends”. I don’t have to worry about “the friend zone”. The friend zone can be a pretty awesome place to be.

Unfortunately, there have not been many female sitcom characters who are as strong, dedicated, loyal, and independent as Roz Doyle. Here’s hoping the next generation gets someone as amazing to look up to.

How Harper Lee Helped Me Rediscover My Love of Reading

As a child, I was an avid reader. I gobbled up books like they were the last box of Girl Scout Cookies on the shelf. From an early age, I knew I wanted to do what these writers I admired did: I wanted to create characters that people fell in love with.

Before I was even in middle school, I was telling the world I was going to be a writer when I grew up.

So, I wrote.

And I read some more.

And I wrote some more after that.

Then, high school hit, and I was suddenly being compelled to read all these books for school, some of which I loved and some of which I hated. It didn’t really matter if I liked them or not, because the bottom line was I didn’t get to choose my reading material anymore. With so much homework, plus an after-school job and several school clubs, my personal reading time was drastically cut down for the first time in my life.

Once I got to college, life got even crazier and I quickly discovered that the hours I spent as a child absorbed in the pages of a novel were behind me. Perhaps forever. I didn’t have time to read the detective stories I loved so much, or the legal thrillers, or the romances. Any spare time I had was spent obsessively writing my first novel, which I completed over winter break my Freshman year of college.

I graduated from college and entered “The Real World” of job hunting and apartment finding, and for a few years it truly seemed to me that I would never be able to find enough time in a day to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a fire and just lose myself in a character I loved.

Until I picked up To Kill A Mocking Bird, mostly because it was on sale at a local bookstore.

Somehow, I had managed to get through both high school and college without being forced to read it for a class, and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that is the case. I didn’t have to worry about writing essays, answering test questions, and participating in forced discussions. I could just let the words wash over me like a comforting balm and absorb them at my own pace, in my own way.

And, I did just that.

I devoured it in a mere two days, a feat for me since I am normally a rather slow, methodical reader. I literally could not put it down. It wasn’t a page-turner in the way a mystery or a noir is, it was something more than that. I cared about Scout and her father and brother. I wanted to know what happened to them, but more than that, I wanted to help them. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and just give then biggest hug in the world. I wanted to tell them everything was going to be okay. When it began to get hairy and danger was starting to close in around them, I wanted to protect them.

I had forgotten what that felt like.

I had forgotten how good it felt to be invested in fictional characters, to connect with an author in an authentic and passionate way, not because I was being forced to but because I wanted to. Down to my soul, I did not want that book to ever end.

Of course, it did end. All books must end sometime, but my love affair with reading had been rekindled, all thanks to a little girl named Jean Louise. I began to find ways to make time for reading for pleasure, as well as writing. I also discovered that the more I read, the better a writer I became. The two went together hand-in-hand.

So, thank you Scout.

Thank you, Atticus.

And, thank you, Harper Lee.

We will never forget you.

  • Sarah

What Frozen and Star Wars: TFA Taught Us About Love and Feminism

For years, it’s been a widely-held belief in Hollywood that a movie centered around women simply would not sell tickets. Well, Frozen and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both shattered that archaic notion. Both were not only incredible box office successes that shattered just about every record known to humankind, they also struck a chord with women and girl viewers in a way few films ever have. Elsa costumes still dominate at Halloween, and you can be sure next year Rey will be right there with her.

This is a great thing for feminism, not just because there are more prevalent female characters in popular cinema, but because these two movies offer three distinct, fully fleshed-out, and completely different role models for young girls to look up to in different ways.

Rey, the spunky and fiercely independent heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a strong and confident woman who has spent her life fending for herself. She is not sitting around waiting for anyone to make her life work, much less a man. When Finn shows up and turns her world upside-down, she is initially more attracted to the adventure he offers than she is smitten by the adorable hunk. As the movie progresses, her feelings for him deepen, but she never chooses to give up her sense of independence to pursue a relationship with him.

At the close of the movie, Finn is in bad shape. Perhaps even on the verge of death. In a lesser film, Rey would have decided to stay home and devote her life to caring for him and nursing him back to health. Not Rey. She says goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, that they will meet again if they are meant to be, and sets out to fulfill her destiny of becoming a Jedi. She refuses to be defined by him, even if she is growing to love him.

Anna, the adorable red-headed heroine of Frozen, is the polar opposite of Rey in almost every way, but she is no less a strong female role-model. She is a hopeless romantic who is immediately swept off her feet by the hot-but-ultimately-totally-evil prince, but even thinking she is in love doesn’t stop her from giving everything up to help her sister at the drop of a hat. When adventure and duty calls, Anna answers by setting out on her own and leaving her prince at home to tend the castle, in an awesome gender-role reversal from the normal fairy tale structure.

Of course, it turns out that trusting this particular prince was a big mistake, but who hasn’t had a bad relationship? Who hasn’t gotten caught up in the emotional rush of a new flame and perhaps overlooked the warning signs it wasn’t going to work out in the long run? Being a strong female role model doesn’t mean being flawless. It means learning from your mistakes and growing into a better person because of them. Anna does just that. She dumps the jerk and ends up in a solid, though imperfect, relationship with a guy who truly cherishes her and values her as a person. He doesn’t idealize her, but sees her as the broken, quirky, wonderful person she is and loves her completely. Anna doesn’t have to give up romance and swear-off all boyfriends to be a strong woman. She just has to be wise enough to hold out for the one truly worthy of her awesomeness.

Elsa, her sister, on the other hand, doesn’t end up in a relationship. That’s okay, too. She has spent years literally and figuratively shutting out the world. She is a queen and has unlimited power, both politically and magically, but she still has to learn how to open herself up to love and to life. In a typical romantic comedy, she would learn how to do this by falling in love with the hot-but-slightly-goofy receptionist. In Frozen, however, Elsa learns this lesson by experiencing the sacrificial love of her sister. She’s not saved by the love of a good guy. She’s saved by the love of Anna. At the end, she seems completely happy to be on her own, and still the powerful woman she always was. Plus, of course, she gets to sing perhaps the most kick-ass Disney song of all time.

Of course, Hollywood is a long way from being perfect in their portrayal of women on screen. By no means have we reached the end of our struggle, but these two films are a great example that shows we as a society are headed in the right direction.

  • Sarah

5 Podcasts That Were Killing It Before Serial

We all know that Serial came along and changed the podcasting game forever. Believe me, no one is a bigger fan of Serial than me, and I don’t begrudge it any of its success. I live and die by those now bi-weekly updates to my podcast feed. However, what a lot of people don’t seem to know is that Serial was not the first podcast to ever exist.

Shocking, right?

The truth is that before Serial burned up the iTunes chart, there were hundreds of podcasts that had been around for years, killing it every week with brilliant hosts and amazing guests. If your podcasting knowledge begins and ends with Sarah Koenig, these are some shows you need to check out as soon as possible.

Like, when you’re done reading this, start listening to these shows.

For real.

1 – The Flop House

Ostensibly a “bad movie podcast”, where the hosts watch a bad movie every other week and then talk about it, The Flop House transcends all labels and confounds all attempts to explain it.

Daily Show writer Dan McCoy and his two co-hosts, former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan and ultimate too-cool-to-define-party-dude Stuart Wellington, try to work their way through the inane and often incomprehensible plot of a bad movie and poke fun at it, but they rarely get more than a sentence or two in before being derailed by insane tangents, goofy songs, words that sound like other words, and, of course, correcting the way Dan pronounces just about everything that comes out of his mouth.

Every episode is a roller coaster ride of laughs where the movie being discussed is the least important part of the show.

It’s difficult to point to what makes this format work, because it’s a combination of everything. It’s a perfect storm of personalities, wit, self-deprecation, stupidity, brilliance, and an incredibly deep and encyclopedic knowledge of film history.

In short, it’s amazing.

2 – My Brother, My Brother And Me

Okay, full disclosure: I am a loyal Maximumfun.org donor (the podcasting empire started by NPR’s Bullseye host, Jesse Thorn), so if it seems like this list skews heavily towards MaxFun shows, it probably does.

My Brother, My Brother and Me is among the best this network has to offer. Started by real-life brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, who are now podcast magnates in their own right, this show is pure comedy under the guise of offering advice, a la Dear Abby.

If Dear Abby was on crack, and also a great comedian.

The Brothers pull from listener’s questions and Yahoo Answers and then riff on them, creating unforgettable bits in the process, and even spawning their own holiday. With three very different points of view, but a common desire to be decent human beings, you never know where an episode is going to take you. It’s a journey through madness, and as listeners we are merely along for the ride.

The Brothers also use their considerable influence to encourage their fans to give to worthy charities, and their fans respond in a big way. It’s heartening and inspiring to see so much good being done in the world by something that on its face seems so goofy.

3 – Answer Me This!

Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, along with Martin the Sound Man, host this British podcast that goes beyond simply giving advice. Listeners use e-mail or Skype to submit questions on any topic, from word or phrase origins, to historical origins of traditions that make no sense, as well as advice about sex, and everything in between. Helen and Olly are then duty-bound to provide well-researched and hilarious answers to these queries.

Which, of course, they do. Time after time. It’s amazing how consistently witty and bright these hosts are, even after years of doing the show. It feels just as fresh as ever.

The show hums along at a brisk pace, without lingering too long on one question or bit. There is also a lot of original interstitial music that adds to the comedy, as well as gives the entire show a unique, jaunty feel.

Overall, it’s just a very professional sounding, well-produced, and funny podcast with extremely likable and charming hosts. They just began a three month hiatus, so now is a perfect time to get caught up!

4 – Black on Black Cinema

As a white girl originally from one of the whitest states in the Union, Vermont, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to admit I listen to this show. I know I’m not the intended demographic, but I love it. Unlike bad movie podcasts, which limit themselves to painful movies, Black on Black Cinema explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of Black films. They also dive into issues of Civil Rights, current events and politics, American history, and film history. My personal favorite episodes are the Tyler Perry movie episodes, which leave the hosts so befuddled and angry they can barely form coherent sentences.

I love hearing a point of view I’m not used to hearing in popular culture. I love hearing smart, articulate, passionate people debate the merits of a film they either loved or hated. And I love hosts that constantly insult and needle each other like best friends. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and just a lot of fun. Jay, Rob, Micah, and Ter-Bear (hopefully he doesn’t violently murder me for calling him that) mix serious social commentary and humor perfectly.

Full episodes come out every other week, but this is one show where the “mini” episodes are worth taking a look at, too. The shorter episodes feature debates and conversations about a specific issue.

5 – We Hate Movies

We Hate Movies takes bad movies personally. They seem to see each horrible frame as a personal assault on their souls, and that’s what makes this podcast work. Their righteous indignation at being subjected to crap, as well their joy and exuberance at finding hidden treasure amidst the dung heap, is infectious. They are definitely the angriest of the bad movie podcasts, but in a totally funny way.

Of all the bad movie podcasts I listen to, this one has the most deep cuts into obscure horror and titles I’ve simply never even heard of. Their depth of knowledge belies their ironic title. They don’t just not hate movies, they love them more than is perhaps, strictly speaking, healthy.

This love makes them extremely accessible, to the point you will even grow to love their bad celebrity impressions.

I could go on and on with this list. So many podcasts out there are absolutely amazing, and have been for years. I have been an avid podcast consumer for over five years now, and I’m no where near done yet. If you’re just starting your podcast journey, welcome to the madness. We’ve been waiting for you.

  • Sarah

Light Year by Sarah Hohman

It had been too damn long.

The thought kept pounding through Jill Silver’s mind as she struggled up the small but surprisingly steep hill. The ground was frozen solid beneath her feet, but there was no snow yet to blanket the gray world in a layer of soothing white.

As she reached the summit of her own private Mt. Kilimanjaro, she paused for a moment to look around and take in the natural beauty of the valley she was now master over. Stretched out beneath her, almost to the ends of the known world, was an ocean of barren brown trees mixed in with sporadic explosions of dark evergreens, their bare branches reaching for her like hundreds of eager servants bowing to her every command.

Growing up, she used to pretend this hill overlooked Narnia itself, where the White Witch had made it always winter but never Christmas. Or sometimes, she would imagine it was Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, or King Arthur’s Camelot. She would spend hours up here alone, having grand adventures no one else would understand, not as a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued by the hero, but as an equal and a warrior in her own right.

Today, that same feeling came swelling back in full force.

No question about it, she decided firmly, contentment settling over her body down to her blood and bones. It had simply been too damn long since she had been home.

Since they had been home, she realized, for some reason suddenly remembering she wasn’t alone on the journey this time.

Pulling her coat tighter around her body, Jill turned around to see what was keeping her sister. Maggie was just coming up over the crest of the hill, looking miserable.

“I just fell fifty times coming up this stupid hill,” Maggie grumbled as she drew closer, shouting to be heard over the howl of the wind. “No big deal.”

Maggie wiped her now mud-encrusted gloves off on her jeans while also taking in the view, though she was clearly far less awed and impressed by it than was her sister. Jill’s eyes fell on a good-sized fallen tree branch on the ground nearby, a perfect sword. It took every ounce of her will to not pick it up and start slaying dragons right then and there.

“At least Chicago has proper heat,” Maggie muttered. “And public transportation. And Uber.”

“Come on. Let’s go, Complain-y Pants,” Jill teased gently, nodding towards their destination just a few yards beyond. “It’s right over there.”

Maggie looked where she was indicating, the frown deepening on her face. “I know where it is. And I’m not a Complain-y Pants.”

“That’s what Mom used to call you when we were kids.”

“No, that’s what Mom used to call you!”

“Either way,” Jill shrugged, pushing ahead towards the large slab of granite marking the spot on the ground. “Would her majesty like to clean herself in a royal finger bowl before we continue? There is a dress code for this event, after all. ‘Formal Attire’, I believe the invitation said.”

Maggie immediately stopped fussing with her gloves, frowning sternly at her younger sister. “You’re not funny.”

“Oh, I am hilarious.” Jill waved her sister’s glare off carelessly, turning back to face the onslaught of icy wind. “Keep moving. Mom will appreciate my jokes.”

“She never did when she was alive.” Maggie’s words were almost lost, carried away by the infinite howling around them.

Jill simply snorted in reply, unperturbed by the mild jab. “That’s just a lie, and you know it.”

Now Maggie was smiling, too, as the shared memories began coming back.

Cold days, colder nights.

Sledding.

Hot chocolate.

Snowmen.

Typical Vermont childhood, almost idyllic in its simplicity.

The women pressed on towards their goal: an old elm tree, standing tall and stark against the barren world around it. Beneath the tree, under the protective branches that seemed to reach out to embrace it, was a single gravestone.

Jill reached it first, but Maggie was only a step or two behind. She slipped her gloved hand into her sister’s as she came alongside her, both of their eyes locked on the name on the grave before them.

MARGO GRACE SILVER

For an endless moment, neither of them spoke. Their lips parted in silence, but nothing needed to be said. Jill squeezed Maggie’s hand reassuringly. Maggie smiled and returned the gesture.

It would be obvious to anyone watching the scene that the two were sisters, even through the disguise of winter attire. They both shared the same soft blond hair sticking out from under their hats and the same sparkling brown eyes that wrinkled in the corners when they laughed and flashed with the fury of Hell itself when they were angry. They both shared their father’s thoughtful expressions and their mother’s surprisingly husky laugh and sharp wit. And in this moment, they both shared the same look of utter loss and heartbreak.

Jill spoke first, addressing the tombstone directly.

“Hi, Mom,” she whispered, finally dropping Maggie’s hand and giving a small wave. “We’re here. Sorry it’s been a while since we’ve stopped by.”

“A year,” Maggie corrected her without any real malice in her tone. As always, she simply had to keep the record straight. “It’s been a year since we’ve stopped by. To be exact.”

“It’s been a year for you,” Jill countered instinctively, that old knee-jerk argumentative streak rearing its head. “I’ve been home almost every weekend.”

“Yeah, to help Dad out. You haven’t been up here to see Mom in a year. Since we came together last time. Dad told me he hasn’t been since then, and I know you wouldn’t come here alone. None of us would.”

Jill opened her mouth to argue further, but closed it again when she realized her sister was right.

Damn her.

“Sorry it’s been a year,” Jill amended begrudgingly, turning back to their mother’s grave. “Dad’s going to come later to see you, don’t worry. We demanded he let us come first. Alone. You know, girl time.”

“We miss you,” Maggie added quickly, as if she had to get the thought off her chest before she exploded. “You’ve been gone for three years today, and that’s just too long, Mom.”

“Too damn long,” Jill murmured in agreement.

Both of their voices were beginning to crack, though neither of them acknowledged it. Inhaling deeply, Jill searched her mind and heart for everything she had kept bottled up for 365 excruciatingly long days.

“There’s so much going on I want to tell you about,” she said finally. “I’m going to be graduating soon, and I can’t believe you won’t be there to see it. God, I can’t tell you how many times I reach for my phone to call you, and sometimes I even dial–”

“You still dial her?” Maggie asked, surprised. “I thought I was the only one.”

“Every once in a while I will,” Jill admitted, wiping a frozen tear from her cheek. “I’ll scroll through my contacts and see her picture and click on it… I don’t know if I forget, or if I just want to forget… but I always drop the call before it connects. I don’t want to know who has the number now. If anyone does.”

“Don’t worry about it. I do the same thing.”

The women smiled at each other, a moment of sisterly bonding passing between them. Jill relished it. They hadn’t bonded like this in so long. After all, it hadn’t just been a year since she had been back home. It had been a year since she had seen her sister or her father.

Even as she had the realization, she couldn’t believe it.

There was ten years of age difference between them, Jill was twenty-one and Maggie was thirty-one, but that had just always made Maggie seem like a second younger, cooler mother to Jill. Growing up, they were inseparable until Maggie went away college. Even though they had their moments of petty sisterly squabbling, the love had always run deep between them. But now, Maggie lived in Chicago with her husband and new baby, and Jill attended college in Boston. There was a world between them, or at least half a continent. And now their mother was also gone, which somehow meant staying close was harder than ever. They had lost the adhesive that bound them together as a family.

“I’m sorry I didn’t keep in touch this year,” Jill murmured. “School is crazy. And then I had that internship over the summer–”

“I understand,” Maggie cut her off, refusing to shuffle all the blame to her younger sister. “You’re not the only one capable of making a phone call. I could have made more of an effort… I should have made more of an effort. But, with Kyle and now Sienna… well, you know how it goes.”

Maggie sighed quietly and let the thought just drift off into the ether, regret bridging the distance between them.

“Yeah, I know how it goes,” Jill finally agreed without much enthusiasm. Her eyes were drawn away from the tombstone for a brief moment, resting instead on the bare branches. In a few months, they would be covered in buds and fresh green life, but for now there was nothing around them but gray, cold death.

Finally, she looked back at her sister. “Remember when you would get me into R-rated movies?”

Maggie laughed. “Of course I remember. Mom and Dad freaked out when they found out. Tried to ban us both from all movies for the rest of our lives.”

Jill laughed, too, and for a moment they both could hear their mother echoing through their voices. “Yeah, that worked out real well.”

“I haven’t been to a movie since.”

“Me, neither.”

Maggie rubbed her gloved hands together rapidly, trying to produce some warmth. Her breath spread in a white cloud before them, reminding them of how cold they were, as if they could possibly forget.

“Let’s get back home,” Maggie suggested. “Mom will understand. She always said we’d catch our death of cold if we stayed up on the hill too long.”

“Okay,” Jill agreed, though she hesitated before actually moving. “I don’t want it to be another year before we see each other, Mags,” she said finally, her voice hushed and serious. “I don’t want it to be a year before we talk again.”

Maggie had already turned back to go down the hill again, but she paused when she heard her sister’s words. She slowly turned back around, unsure of what to say.

“Of course it won’t be another year,” she assured Jill, without much confidence.

“We said that last year at Christmas.”

“Did we?”

“You know we did. We promised to Skype, to Facebook, to see each other over the summer.”

“I know, I know,” Maggie agreed sadly. “We suck.”

“I don’t want to suck,” Jill told her firmly. “I want to be sisters. Like we used to be. I still need you, Mags. I don’t care if you’re thirty and old and you have a kid or whatever. I still need you to hug me sometimes and tell me everything is going to be okay. Okay?”

Maggie opened her mouth to speak, but no words came. She finally grabbed her sister up in a warm hug, a hug that could make them forget winter for that brief moment.

“You will always be my sister,” she whispered through the wind. “And I will always be here for you. And it won’t be another year. It can’t be another year, because that’s just too damn long.”

Jill nodded in agreement, burying her face in her sister’s shoulder. “Too damn long.”