Thursday, August 2, 2018

my favourite job was at a dvd store

I worked in two DVD stores while I was in high school and university. I'm 22, so arguably on the fringe of not being able to say 'I grew up going to the DVD store', but I'm somehow a veteran of a business very much from the yesteryear. Growing up was coloured with trailer loop discs, monthly pamphlets, the death of VHS, being angry that the DVD library only stretched so far, and seeing the business literally disintegrate before my eyes.

It is a little strange to know that just three years ago, I was spending my spare nights and Saturday mornings allowing people to take home (potentially scratched) DVDs while watching the same trailers loop around every 45 minutes. With the way things in the world are now, the whole DVD store model was never built to last - never mind the fact that when you rented out videos you had to rewind the tapes yourself. Unimaginable.

Now, when I say that my favourite job was at a DVD store, there isn't really a lot of competition - I've not had the best run with employment since both of the DVD stores I worked at closed down. I did, however, learn a lot about myself while spray and wiping discs and trying not to judge people who actually rented stuff from the R18 section.

The most inconsequential lessons first:

  • If someone has racked up over $40 of late fees, you're probably never going to see that DVD again
  • Bruce Willis and 50 Cent had a fairly fruitful straight-to-DVD career
  • The NZ distributed copy of the movie Stolen Lives (which stars a young Jessica Chastain) spells Jon Hamm's name as 'John Hammm'
  • The solution that is used in scratch removal machines (that business must have also gone down quickly) will dry your hands out like nothing else, gagging just at the thought of it
  • People usually hate the movies you like and aren't afraid to tell you about it and you'll judge them based on their rental history anyway (but anything starring The Rock or literally anyone else from the Fast and Furious franchise is sure to be a bonafide hit)
  • There's actually quite a few ways you can display DVDs on a shelf. My favourite is to showcase one and then stack the DVDs horizontally with the spines out. This works because a) it seems to be the least messy when customers touch it, b) you can quickly scan through the movies, and c) I could aggressively display The Prestige as being the main pick for a thriller starting with P

The more useful and applicable lessons:

  • It kinda sucks when other employees don't care about the product as much as you do, but I genuinely think the people who are working in the few DVD stores that are left really actually care otherwise they wouldn't still be there
  • Working sole charge shifts until 10pm actually really sucks, especially when you're a girl who needs to catch a bus at that time in a really iffy suburb (but you do learn your street smarts and how to be over protective when it comes to security)
  • Being exposed to 1000s of trailers teaches you so much that you end up doing your Honours dissertation on how movie trailers actually tell you more about the industry than the movie itself - no, just me??
  • I know what it looks like when a business rapidly starts declining, and there's nothing that can be done to save it. I also know what it looks like when the franchise stops supporting the business, and all of a sudden its on its own. I've seen a lot of warning signs in the DVD store business that I've seen in a couple of other jobs I've been in - which is probably a very unique perspective to have

The most important lesson of all, though, was that actually believing in the product that is paying your wages is incredibly important. For me, anyway. It sounds so simple (especially if you've been reading this blog for a while), but it has been a long hard road for me to realise that some of the issues I've had with motivation at my other jobs weren't because I was bad at them, it was because I just couldn't bring myself to really care about the endgame. I'm definitely an all or nothing kind of girl, which could be a flaw as much as it could be a strength. I didn't really realise this too much when I embarked on my post-uni hunt for jobs and it got me in a bit of a corner, but I'll be starting a new job soon that brings me back to getting movies seen by people. Jury's out on whether it'll work out, but I have a good feeling about it, which is a start.

Really, though, had I not had a DVD store in my life, I wouldn't have known I had a passion for movies that would take some pretty bizarre forms. I attribute a lot of my successes to Blockbuster and I am happy that I have a few of those life lessons under my belt at such a young age. It is weird to think that there's a small handful of these institutions left in the country (let alone the world).

But also, the one plus side of not working in a DVD store is that my DVD collection pretty much stopped growing three years ago. Which definitely came in handy when I moved 3/4 of the way up the country. Even though my collection took up a good 1/5 of our carload. How on earth did I have the money to buy all of them and can I have it back please?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

a note on the past few years of not being here

Woo...where to even begin with this.

Hello hello, it is me - occasional tweeter, semi-aesthetic film Instagrammer, and self-professed 'former film blogging child prodigy'.

I've spent my Sunday afternoon flicking through a few of my posts that I wrote on here before I abandoned it. I'm listening to Lana Del Rey's 'Born to Die' album, which was the soundtrack to everything I wrote from September 2012 until the end of that year - I like to think that was the heyday of my blogging years, where I had so many lofty ambitions for what I could do with my passion for film and when taking a week away from the blog was akin to taking annual leave from an actual job. I'm feeling a little sad, a touch mad at myself for giving up on all of this...especially, when I was told in the aforementioned heyday of this blog that I would one day lose my passion for film and writing at some point in my life. Anyone who knows me will know that I'm unusually stubborn - if I get told that my life will go in one direction, I'll do anything in my power to steer it in the other direction.

I did, however, lose my passion for film and writing somewhere along the way. And that's why I abandoned all of this.

It has been almost four years since I wrote my last post, an unusually strong review of the film Predestination, which features that performance by Sarah Snook that I will always and forever contest as one of the best performances of this decade. In those last four years, I graduated with two degrees in media and communication. I got a scholarship to study for a semester in Finland, which changed my life in the most unexpected ways. I've travelled to over 15 other countries, where I started a new passion: travel, but more specifically, travelling to Sweden. I've become obsessed with high end makeup - when I was last on this blog, I used to only wear poorly colour matched and blended foundation, but now I spend a large chunk of my morning routine blending a smokey eye. I moved 3/4 of the way up the country after I graduated to give myself better job opportunities, but they took a little while to come (more on that later, maybe). On the more serious side, I was diagnosed with a myriad of issues with my reproductive system - mild endometriosis, PCOS and PMDD - which left me grappling with an uncertain future for my fertility when I was only 19. My long ignored mental health issues also became increasingly difficult to deal with. I started having frequent and severe panic attacks when I was 21 (although the anxiety has certainly been there since I was a child, but we just put it down to me being shy and an overthinker). For the past year and a half, I've dealt with some fairly bad bouts of depression - that's something I wish I could explain, but it isn't exactly in the past and there's no simple answer for it.

And hey, all of these life changes can be expected. Even if I tried, I couldn't be the same 17 year old girl from a small town with big dreams that I was in 2012. Things became difficult/crazy/strange/different for me - as they do for everyone - and suddenly, I couldn't sit down and write about movies. In fact, I couldn't sit down and let myself write anything that wasn't a university paper for just about four years. I wanted it to be perfect, I wanted to have the hottest take on something, I wanted to understand a film better than anyone else did. But I wasn't capable of that, so I'd stop myself before I even tried to write about XYZ film. And then when I started struggling more with my brain, I could put on a film and absolutely not take anything in. That felt horrible, because it wasn't something I was deciding to do myself - I had no control over it. There was a period of time last year where I became extremely ill, which I'm told was potentially because I was having a nervous breakdown of some kind. In that time, I couldn't go to the cinema without feeling so anxious I was extremely nauseous. Great, I thought. One of my happiest of places was being taken away by the fact that my brain and my body didn't want to play ball. The first film I was able to see in cinema again was The Disaster Artist. I initially felt so nauseous I was about to leave, but the film made me laugh so much, and then made me so hopeful, that for a moment I felt like everything was going to be normal again. In terms of me and my movies, of course.

So it has been a little strange to read through some of the stuff I previously wrote and be like 'damn, I was actually a good writer'. I never thought much of what I was doing on this blog while I was doing it. I just enjoyed having a space where I could talk about the things that mattered to me, and people who dug that would be around to push the conversation. I didn't really worry about my writing having a 'point', I was just genuinely happy to be able to share my own connection with certain films. The moment when I became too hard on myself about this little passion project seemed to signify that I had completely lost the part of myself that was dedicated to this site, and it was never going to return.

I don't think I ever truly lost that part of myself. It was just buried under a tonne of self-loathing, sadness, illness, finding new things to be passionate about, trying to find myself (which has been very difficult for me to learn that this is an on-going process and not something that can be done by reading a few Tumblr quotes), and, well, life. So, maybe, if I try this out a little more, we can see how it goes. We can see if I can stop stopping myself from doing things just because I think that they aren't the most perfect, hottest takes on something.

I've been explaining this site a lot recently for some reason, and I'm always asked why I stopped, and then I'm told that I should get back into it. If only it were that easy, I tell them. Well, I just wrote this waffle in about 45 minutes. The whole 'Born to Die' album has just ended. I know this isn't going to be the thing that everyone wants to read. But it is here, etched on my little speck of the internet that has content that spans for almost nine years. And I'm going to work on that being enough for me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Predestination Definitely Isn't the Film You Think It Is

Chances are you haven't seen - or maybe even heard of - Predestination. I'm not entirely sure when its planned release date is for wider markets, nor am I sure why it was released in New Zealand in mid-September, smack bang in the middle of an extreme dry spell at the multiplex. If you want a quick debrief on the film: its touted as a time-travel thriller directed by the Spierig Brothers (who last directed the equally underseen 2010 vampire flick Daybreakers) and stars man of the moment Ethan Hawke and breakout star Sarah Snook. I suggest watching the trailer so it becomes a little clearer as to why this movie is a little different and surprising, as it is the complete opposite to what they're selling.

It isn't a new phenomenon to have the trailer ramp up the intensity of the action to draw in the masses, nor is it new to have a trailer totally misrepresent a movie. What happens when a movie is totally unsellable, though? Because that's what Predestination is - something that can't be easily packaged into an appealing marketing ploy. Yes, it's a time travel thriller. But it has more in common with Philomena than Looper. So take that as you will.

For a relatively short 90 minute running time, the film spends the first hour explaining the story of someone who isn't Ethan Hawke - even though he is marketed as the main star of the film (again, not unusual for marketing to play up a star who has been around since the 90s, but you'd be surprised about how long it takes for his character to become anything important). Instead, we focus on the 'Unmarried Mother', played by Sarah Snook, who's story takes centre stage in the film and surprisingly isn't about time travel at all. The last half an hour finally gets to the time travel stuff you were wondering about originally, and all of a sudden the film transcends into a Looper-like, spirally thriller that eventuates into something that is a little predictable. You could say that the element of time travel - or just time itself (similar to what Interstellar did) - does gel together both of the different plots/different films and kind of makes it into something that undoes the cynicism the film begins with. It has been a little while since I saw it, but all I can remember saying about the film directly after walking out of the theatre was that it was 'a big ideas film.' Most of them centre around the character of the Unmarried Mother, some of them play with time, along with an element of revenge that is used to propel the plot. You could say that the film punches above its weight in its short running time, but it also manages to feel a lot longer than the 90 minutes. That's not to say that it is boring, it is just so unexpectedly strange.

The problem with the film isn't that it was marketed to be something that it wasn't. It certainly isn't that the film is completely unsellable from a marketing point of view. I just think this film is an interesting experiment on audience expectations. Time travel films usually always end up the same - and yes, this film does wind up being the same by the end - and Predestination throws a new element (or character) into the mix brings her centre stage. It probably wouldn't have worked had it not been for the masterful performance by Sarah Snook, who crafts such an intricately multi-faceted character with ease. Looking for that apparently elusive 'well-written female character'? Look no further than this, and be amazed by the stellar work by Snook. It's a performance so other-worldly that it doesn't feel like it belongs in a supposed simple film about time travel. Looking back on it, this highlighted again how I felt about the strangeness of this film. It is so unique, only to fall back into something so predictable. It is so close to being something great before it does a 180-degree flip into the same paradoxical loop of time travel tropes. I'd say that Predestination is an interesting experiment in genre-bending. It mostly works. But its willingness to easily fall into normal audience expectations after completely shattering them was a little disappointing.

So yes - I'm not exactly sure of how to easily sum up Predestination for an Ethan Hawke fan or someone looking for Looper 2.0 or anyone who wants to see some classic stylish gun-toting. In fact, I'm not sure of how I could sum up Predestination for anyone. Which I guess means that Predestination was pretty successful considering most films these days can be summed up by a simple sentence.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Saw Interstellar, I am a Nolan Fan, It Is Not Perfect (and that's okay)

Of course, if you've been around these parts for a little while, you'll know that I've been a pretty huge Christopher Nolan fan since 2010. It has reached some pretty fanatical heights (why yes I do own two copies of Memento, a copy of the Inception shooting script and bought a special collectors edition of The Dark Knight Rises that came with little figurines), I may call him God from time to time and I do get exceptionally excited whenever I hear his name mentioned. So of course, once I heard he was doing a film with my favourite person ever Jessica Chastain, along with my other favourites Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, I was very excited. Levels of excitement included being a countdown for the film from April 6th, using procrastination time to watch the trailers over and over again and possibly just about amputating my boyfriend's hand whenever the trailer came on before the movies we saw at the cinemas.

You'd be expecting me to hightail into this movie with the "Nolan is God, he can do know wrong, #Nolanfangirl" attitude.

Thing is, Interstellar is not perfect. And that's okay.

I have a feeling there'll be a lot of talk about Interstellar over the next few days, so I'll keep this a little brief. I'd have to give this another watch to fully absorb it, particularly in the Xtremescreen format instead of just the normal cinema viewing (damn you, exams). But yes, everything you've heard about the technological achievements of this film are true - this film is probably one of the greatest visual experiences I have ever had. Nolan's new teaming with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (the guy behind the incredible cinematography of Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Her) has produced some pretty incredible results, giving this film this weird blend of independent sensibilities - think Memento-era Nolan, with the polished pride of something like Inception. The visual effects work on the space scenes, along with the real locations used to represent the other planets are all absolutely perfect.

In terms of being compared to Nolan's other work - and of course, I'll have to give it another watch considering I've seen each of his films at least three times, with The Dark Knight being viewed over 25 times - I wouldn't say that this is one of his best. It lacks the completed narrative of Memento (and to be honest, I would take a lot for that film to be topped for me), the general magic of The Dark Knight and the cleanness of Inception. I'd currently place it somewhere in between The Prestige and The Dark Knight Rises if I were ranking his films, but since it is a little too early to tell, here's what I will say: Interstellar is in no way like any of his other films. Yet, in saying that, it isn't like he is departing from the style of anything he's previously done - it just doesn't neatly fit with the rest of his trajectory. Or any cinematic trajectory for that matter. The thing that stands out most about Interstellar is that it shows incomparable ambition that is precisely the reason why I love film so much.

Let's just take a second to appreciate how damn ambitious Interstellar is and for that reason alone it should be counted as one of the greats. Every single frame is dripping with ambition. Nolan has brought out everything in full force, and where we think that he'll step back in fear of going too far, he chooses to go further. He goes much further with this film than what is generally 'required' by a film, and maybe that won't be to everyone's taste but I was utterly in awe of what he was doing. The emotional strain of this film is absolutely beautiful, mostly due to the wonderful performances by Matthew McConaughey along with Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain playing Murph at different ages. Apparently the scientific stuff was pretty interesting, but even though I didn't really understand some of it, it was still broken down in such a way that it was easy to swallow.

Again, the film isn't perfect - it is hard to pinpoint reasons why, but it is so very close to being a masterpiece. The really fanatical Nolan fanboys will tell you this movie is resoundingly perfect, and they could be right. The really fanatical Nolan haters will tell you that it is overlong and silly, and they could be right too. Even though I've been hyped up for this film for months, I am hesitant to say whether it lived up to my expectations, but I don't think they ever extended beyond me being generally excited to see my favourite actress in a film by my favourite director. It is going to generate some interesting discussion by being a bit divisive - and I think that's something we're lacking a little these days with films either being "good enough", "MASTERPIECE (that we'll inevitably forget about anyway)" or "wow that sucked". Above all, I'm still floored by the ambition and courage of this movie, but it isn't perfect by any means. And you know what? I'm not even disappointed that it wasn't perfect. I'm not even disappointed that it doesn't rank high among Nolan's best. I'm not even disappointed after months of waiting, it didn't completely change my world in a way that some of Nolan's films have. I'm grateful that it reminded me of love these stupid little things called film and want to make a career out of them - Interstellar is direct proof of how much ambition can be put into them.

If you really need proof of just how much I was affected by this film, I cried quite profusely four separate times during the film, characteristically cried at the sight of Christopher Nolan's name, then cried for a full fifteen minutes after the film. I'd like to say that I've grown out of Nolan's films emotionally wrecking me, but I haven't.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Whiplash, or: How a Movie About Drumming is Possibly the Scariest Movie of 2014

There's a scene in Whiplash where Andrew (Miles Teller, gradually building up a pretty great filmography with his best work so far) tells his would-be girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) that he can't date her because he is too focused on his drumming. He refuses to not only allow himself to resent her for wanting to interrupt this focus, but also to stop her for resenting him because she'll only be second best. He reasons that he is doing this not because he wants to be "great", instead wanting to be "one of the greats."

There was something so strange about this scene. At the beginning of the film, Andrew coyly asked Nicole out after months of going to the cinema where she worked and thinking he might have a shot with her. This happens midway through the film, where Nicole could be the only really positive connection (besides his father) he has in life, and yet he chooses to pursue his dreams of being one of the greats. Usually, we'll have a love interest helping the wannabe hero on his way, but the film doesn't have time to waste on human connections. It only has time to spare to tell a story of blood, sweat and tears.

No, this isn't some action/thriller a la The Equalizer. Instead, this is a drama about a first-year student at one of the top music schools in America hoping to achieve his dreams and aspirations of being the next big thing in drumming. Stripped away of a love interest, a highly dramatised back story explaining why Andrew must achieve his dream and a tear-filled speech about how he'll overcome adversity, this film leaves us with the raw, unflinching core of achieving something great: perseverance. This portrait of perseverance is splattered with hands covered in blood and blistered and sweat dripping off cymbals, and also the dark and intimidating figure of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, who is terrifying and certainly deserves the Oscar buzz), a music instructor who will stop at nothing to achieve absolute perfection.

Whiplash is probably more terrifying and intense than your average horror fare. Who knew that a film about a guy drumming could have you coming out the other side feeling exhausted and hoping that your hands haven't spontaneously grown blisters like the ones that Andrew deals with. What you really come away with, though, is questioning what can truly make someone "one of the greats". We now live in a society where there are plenty of inspirational quotes to keep you going through life, all with the same kind of message: "just do it, don't let anyone get in the way of your dreams, you can do it no matter what." Whiplash presents a message that is somewhat the antithesis of that, showing a more discouraging side to achieving the big dream, mostly in the form of Fletcher. This is a guy who knows that musical perfection can exist out there, but this is only found by exceeding expectations. He isn't the guy that will tell you to practice until you physically can't take it any more, he's more interested in destroying you emotionally to see if you still want your dream.

The film begs the question: why would anyone keep going under the mentorship of Fletcher? He hurls chairs at Andrew while he's drumming, uses Andrew's own personal problems against him, he forces three drummers to drum non-stop for hours on end in order to find a tempo that seems unachievable. You can look at it this way: most of us would just give up and walk away, knowing that Fletcher's kind of discouragement is probably correct and maybe you're in the wrong career. Andrew sees Fletcher as a villain to conquer, perhaps as a human form of his own self-loathing. Andrew is driven to hell and back by Fletcher. Does it make him a better drummer? Maybe. Does it make him better as a person? No. Fletcher is the thing that Andrew must overcome, and is the real thing that keeps Andrew going. For that reason, the film is pretty conventional in its narrative, being a simple tale of the villain that must be overcome by the hero. Through the drumming context though, the film has a more unconventional way of telling an age old story.

Yet, the film carries a pretty heavy message. Andrew is so young and embarks on his new college life with plenty of ambition to be amazing, which I find is something that is severely lacking in people my age. This is a time when you're supposed to have lots of friends and get the girls and have fun, but Andrew is the person who ditches his one human connection for practising the drums into the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps he has a little too much of that fresh-faced optimism that people his age have, and that makes him such an easy target for Fletcher. But you have to wonder what writer/director Damien Chazelle is really trying to say about the power of being "one of the greats", particularly in the music industry, in times like these when anybody can become famous on YouTube or on any one of the many talent shows. Someone as young as Andrew isn't supposed to be great because he hasn't had a lot of experience, but with someone as discouraging as Fletcher, why would you want to get any more experience? Andrew doesn't seem to be a particularly great drummer at the beginning and is more in tune with his dreams rather than his raw talent, so will practising for hours on end help him achieve his dream or does he just lack the talent? What is it that makes someone one of the greats? Fletcher seems to think he knows, Andrew thinks that he has what it takes. The blood, sweat and tears are certainly indicative of Andrew earning his right to say "ya know what? I'm trying really hard and I'm putting in the effort to become great." And yes, we as an audience want to give him a gold star and yell at Fletcher for being too harsh on him. Because that's the society that we've become: one obsessed with rewarding people for looking the part and putting their participation flag up, instead of going beyond expectations.

I think what Chazelle is trying to say with Whiplash is that we're a society who barely allows someone to dream enough to become one of the greats, and because just being is enough. The ones who genuinely try, like Andrew, are destined to be discouraged by people like Fletcher who won't settle for enough in a society where you barely need to even be enough. He then punishes Andrew - who thinks he's enough - to the point where he longer wants to be any more than enough. Though the film doesn't stake a claim in showing how those who aim low will always succeed, it does show that those who aim high and destined to have a tougher time.

And that's what makes Whiplash possibly one of the scariest movies of 2014: why should my generation even bother having ambition or value a hard-working ethic? Why try too hard if it has little gain? Will we even be capable of producing "one of the greats"?

Pretty scary stuff.


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