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Meet Petaluma’s ‘Screen Team’

Meet the writers who make the Argus-Courier’s weekly film review column happen.|

In November of 2018, the Argus-Courier introduced a new film review column to its Arts & Entertainment coverage, introducing a team of four local film fans to bring their own unique views of the latest movies playing in town. As a title for the column, inspired by a desire to demonstrate that 30-somethings really do have thoughtful opinions on arts and culture, the foursome came up with “Millennials Talk Cinema,” adding the playfully casual subtitle, “So, I just saw this movie ...”

Those four reviewers are, of course, Alexa Chipman, Amber-Rose Reed, Anderson Templeton and Katie Wigglesworth.

Much has changed over the last four years, of course. The pandemic shut down movie theaters for a year-and-a-half, during which the team transitioned gracefully to reviewing streaming content. By the time theaters opened again, moviegoers had become accustomed to watching films at home, and with so many new streaming platforms airing genuinely quality content outside of theatrical release, the team decided to strike a balance between reviewing “in theater” movies and the latest streaming platform content, choosing films that seem the most appealing or important that week.

With the group now entering its fifth year in the Argus-Courier, it was decided to evolve the column a bit more and introduce something of a brand shift. Beginning this week, the weekly feature will take on the new title “Rivertown Reviews,” with the self-describing subtitle “The Petaluma Screen Team.”

Though readers have clearly had time to become familiar with the unique writerly “voices” of each member the team, we realize that they’ve never been properly introduced. With the new “re-branding,” this would seem an appropriate time to tell you a little more about each of these four highly-committed film fans, from how they came to love movies to how they each approach the craft of writing about their movie-watching experiences.

As a child, Alexa Chipman was never taken to the movies by her parents.

“They didn’t believe in it,” she says, “so my sister took me.” As she recalls it, her first in-theater cinema experience was watching Disney’s 1991 “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken,” about a young woman in the Depression who joins a Wild West stunt show and learns to dive from towers into pools of water while riding a horse. “I don’t remember much about it, but it was unlike anything I’d ever seen, because I’d only ever watched movies on a tiny TV screen,” Chipman says.

A former Dominican Sister – something she references in her review of “Prey For the Devil” this week – she earned her BFA at Dominican University in Marin County, and now works in “the marketing and web design realm.” She has written numerous fantasy/science-fiction novels, is beginning work now on an “urban fantasy” series set in Sonoma County, and has over the last couple of years amassed a large number of followers on Patreon and YouTube, where she regularly posts video of herself reacting to movies and TV shows (usually voted on by followers) that she is viewing for the first time. The YouTube channel is sensibly and succinctly titled “Alexa Chipman Reactions,” and her fans clearly appreciate her dry with and delightfully surprising improvisational responses to what she is seeing.

Her recent responses to a rare episode of the ‘60s-era British show “UFO” is a good example, where Chipman’s responses included spontaneous reaction to the prevalence of cigars, the fashions on display and the appeal of people who sing in the car. At present, Chipman’s YouTube channel has 4.76 thousand subscribers. She’s started a second one in which she will visit every cemetery in Sonoma County and video-record her explorations.

“At Liberty Cemetery in Petaluma there’s a whole section for Canadian veterans,” she points out.

Asked about her philosophy on reviewing, Chipman’s answer is another example of her depth of research and scholarly experience.

“I learned it from C.S. Lewis,” she says. “I had a book of his essays, and at one point he said that the mistake reviewers make is when they come at it thinking only of themselves, forgetting who the target audience of the movie is. If you are going to a children’s movie, and you come at it from a fully mature, 30-something perspective, you might not enjoy it so much, but if you say, ‘For the next 90 minutes I’m a kid again,’ and you try to see it from that point of view, you’ll see it more clearly. The same with horror. Embrace the genre. It’s horror. If it scares you, its probably an effective movie.”

Of particular interest to Chipman are costumes, historical accuracy and combat.

“I’m very particular about fight choreography,” she says. “You’d better get it right, because I will notice if it’s wrong.”

Katie Wigglesworth, when asked about the first movie she remembers seeing, can narrow it down to either “Star Wars: A New Hope” or “The Princess Bride. At home on TV, in VHS. They made a huge impression, and are a big part of why I wanted to become an actor.”

In addition to reviewing films, Wigglesworth is an actor, having appeared in a number of shorts and several stage plays, a pursuit cut short by the pandemic and some chronic health issues, but one she looks forward to returning to soon.

“I’m pretty sure that the first movie I saw in a theater,” she continues, “was ‘Barney’s Great Adventure.’” My mom and I were the only people in the theater. It made such a huge impression on me. I remember being able to loudly engage with the movie, and even as a kid I was able to recognize a very large difference between the quality of the TV show and the quality of the movie, just from a visual standpoint. I was very excited to be there. My mom was a really good sport about it.”

One of the last shows she appeared in locally was Carlo Goldoni’s “Servant of Two Masters” at the SRJC, in 2017.

“I love acting with strong directors,” she says. “I’m in love with all the areas of performance, stage and screen, from the script process to being able to watch a movie or play in a theater, or being a part of the production itself.”

Wigglesworth’s enthusiasm for filmmaking, especially, is evident in how she writes about it.

“For me, watching a film, and then writing about it, is like a full, round meal experience for me,” she says. “There is so much to love, and I hope through my reviews, people are inspired to join me in loving this art form.”

For Amber-Rose Reed, who many know as the manager of Petaluma’s Copperfield’s Books, the first movie she remembers seeing in a theater was Disney’s musical “Newsies,” an experience that ignited her passion for film as well as for the movies of Christian Bale.

“I was seven years old, and the screening was a Tuesday night sneak preview thing,” she recalls, “and ”Newsies“ has been my favorite movie ever since. I was seven and I sat there thinking, ‘He’s going to be famous,’ and I was right!”

Reed, who studied Comparative Literature and Latin at San Francisco State, also writes historical and speculative fiction, and has published short fantasy-horror stories in anthologies such as “Eternal Frankenstein” in 2016 and “Tales From a Talking Board” in 2017. In 2020, her original Christmas story “Where the Love Light Gleams,” set on a distant planet, was published as a special holiday offering in the Argus-Courier.

Reed says that writing film reviews for the last four years has only deepened her love and appreciation of film as an art form.

“I especially enjoy the initial post-movie discussion experience, talking with friends or even just strangers in the theater as we walk back out to the lobby,” she says. “I love hearing other people’s thoughts about a film, because it helps me clarify my own ideas about it. I’m particularly interested in the message that movies bring, either intentionally or unintentionally. Movies have such an impact. I’m really lucky to get to think about them as deeply as I have to as a film reviewer.”

Anderson Templeton (and yes, there is a relation as I am his father) recalls that his first-ever movie-going experience was an afternoon screening of “The Sandlot.”

“I remember it really well,” he says. “I was in kindergarten, and you picked me up after school at 12:30 and we drove to the movies. It was the coolest thing ever. The whole experience of doing this special thing, rushing to get to the theater, grabbing popcorn and watching the movie in the afternoon. I loved every second of it.”

He’s looked forward to the experience of going to the movies ever since.

“To this day,” he says, “whenever I sit down in a movie theater, I have that sense of, ‘Okay. Let’s go. Magic is about to happen.’”

Templeton works in Marin County as the artist coordinator for Alchemia, an arts-based program serving students with special needs. A lifelong fan of Shakespeare, he studied directing and education at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where his enthusiasm for the Bard and all forms of theater grew even stronger. Earlier this year, he directed the play “Almost, Maine” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, and later this month will be playing Patchy the Pirate in SRJC’s winter production of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical.”

“I’m a lover of all kinds of stories,” he says. “That’s why I like movies. I love the art of storytelling.”

As a reviewer, Templeton says his focus is always on providing the right context for readers to determine if a film is the right fit for them.

“Personally, I’m a total movie nerd, so I like movies to be as much of an experience as possible,” he says. “If I have time, I like to read about the movie ahead of time, doing some research, reading interviews and background stuff, so that when I go in, that knowledge heightens my experience. ‘Wow! Three actors were cast in this film but they all broke their legs so this other actor ended up playing the part!’ I love knowing stuff like that, and I try to share those details with readers when I write a review.”

Templeton’s goal, he says, beyond sharing sharing his own opinions, is guiding people to their next favorite film, or guiding them away from something they are not inclined to like.

“I’m pretty passionate about helping others decide if this is the right film for them,” he says. “I“m less interested in judging a film and calling it good or bad than I am in helping people find a movie that makes them happy.”

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