Meet Petaluma’s ‘Screen Team’
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.”