Thursday, August 21, 2014

19th Birthday Post - My Favourite Films About Growing Up That I Watched While Growing Up

This is a really dark birthday candle picture but I think it's pretty and there's no 19th birthday photos anyway
Hi, I know, two posts in one week...damn the world must be headed for an apocalypse or something. Rather, it is my 19th birthday tomorrow. Which is interesting because I feel absolutely no excitement for this new age because it doesn't really mean anything. It is like being 17 - that awkward gap between sweet 16 and the big 18. So when it came time for me to think about doing a birthday post, I really didn't have anything to draw on because there's no such thing as R19 movies here (although there probably would be, considering that New Zealand's rating system is just ridiculous) and I've already "grown up" since I have to pay full adult price for everything now.

Seriously, it sucks having to draw my attention away from the kids menu at restaurants because I'm an adult so I have to get steak.

In my thinking, though, I came to the realisation that even though 19 isn't a particularly special milestone age, this is the first birthday in my "new life", you could say. Gone are the days of growing up in a small town, since now I've lived in Christchurch for over six months and passed my first semester of university. I no longer have to go grocery shopping with mum but I can buy chocolate whenever I want which is honestly the best part of growing up. Oh, and did I mention that I have a cinema five minutes bus ride away, with three others within a half an hour radius? If that's not cool, then I don't know what is.

In a way, 19 is a pretty important age to be. Whereas 18 is the age where you get slapped with the label "grown up", whether you're ready or not, by the time you're 19 you've done a spectacular amount of growing up. Well, I guess that's just how I feel now since a lot has changed since I turned 18 (I say this every year, but I could probably say now that just about every aspect of my life is so different from what it was last year). In celebration of that fact, here's a whole lot of films that taught me a bit about growing up while I was growing up. Don't expect John Hughes films (don't get me wrong, they had their influence), but more a bunch of films that came out at vital times in my life and gave me a bit of perspective. And yeah, things get mushy.

An Education - Earlier this year I outlined my intense love for this film, mainly because it shows the struggles of living up to unreasonable expectations in every way possible. I've always found myself to be a little bit of a Jenny, trying my best to do things that I don't really care for, working hard but hoping that there'll be a little bit of fun around the corner, and maybe being a little too 'pretentious' for my age (now I'm grown up and living with a whole lot of engineers, I'm just known as the weird Arts degree student). Just as the title suggests, it has always been a film that I go back to get an education, whether it be about getting a "real" education or an education from "the university of life".

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

NZFF Mini-Reviews: Frank, Locke, Maps to the Stars, Boyhood

Good things about going to university: having a cinema about five minutes away instead of 45 minutes away. Bad things about university: everything had to be due on the week when the New Zealand International Film Festival hit town, but through some pretty intense time management skills gained last year I managed to get everything done while escaping to the cinemas on four different occasions. Which, of course, is better than having to very selectively choose one film to beg my parents to drive me over for. Still, some pretty selective choosing went on here and I ended up seeing a very interesting selection of films: Frank, Locke, Maps to the Stars and Boyhood. I won't bore you with too many more details, so here's what I thought about them here:

I must admit, it has been a little while since a film really 'clicked' for me. Not really a fault of all the films I've been watching, it has just been a little hard for me to really escape into a film. Frank was the one that changed it all, though. To be honest, I thought it was going to be a little jarring watching a film where Michael Fassbender has a giant head over his head, but it really didn't take anything way from his performance. He was so fascinating to watch, particularly in the film's final act. However, you can tell that he really let himself go when he was wearing the mask, owning his craziness which fit in perfectly with the way the film unfolds.
The film zips and zaps from one extreme to the other with dizzying speed, becoming one of the darkest comedies I've seen in quite some time. It is made of all the tropes that would make your typical band road movie, but it is also a pretty interesting look at the connection between creativity and madness. While many have called out the fact that having the film centred on plain, wannabe musician Jon (played by the charming Domhall Gleeson who should probably be in everything), I thought it was a great way of grounding the material and always keeping the film in check. It isn't just Frank who is the eccentric one - his entire band is filled up with some pretty crazy characters who don't seem to be filtered. Jon provides a lens for keeping the film centred, and also, his reliance on social media is one of the better depictions I've seen of the internet in film (not sure why, but everyone always manages to get it wrong).
Basically, I had a really good time with Frank. It was so dark in some places, so light in other places, and just generally a pretty strange film that wore its heart on its sleeve. And again: Michael Fassbender is everything. Best performance from him I've seen this side of Shame, I'd say.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Can We Take a Moment to Remember How Blue Valentine is Still Devastating?

Few spoilers in this post, but I imagine most of you should have seen it back in 2011. If you haven't, grab the tissues and come back later.

Did you know that the most fun thing you can do on a Sunday afternoon before you go to work is rewatch Blue Valentine and spend a good 20 minutes crying over it?

Didn't know that valuable information? Well I can 100% confirm that while rewatching Blue Valentine may not be the most happy experience, it is an experience nonetheless.

A little bit of context: I first watched Blue Valentine when it first came out on DVD in July 2011, when I was a tiny 15 year old enjoying the last days of illegally watching R16s. I have not been able to go back to it since. Until there came a Sunday when I thought: "I've got a couple of hours to kill, let's watch the most depressing film in my collection this side of Revolutionary Road."

Apparently I didn't really remember the magnitude of absolute earth-shattering devastation that this film brought to my world. Or I was watching it with different eyes when I was 15. But holy heck is this film depressing.

One thing that really took me by surprise this time around was the way Derek Cianfrance loves playing with his narratives. One of my favourite films from last year was his sophomore effort The Place Beyond the Pines. Here was a film that easily could have been split into three parts, yet he expanded his narrative beyond what he could have. He didn't only show the cause, but also showed the effect. I talk about this a lot more in my review of the film from last year, but to put it simply: I really admire Cianfrance's ambition. We're too often brushing simple narrative ambition under the rug for the more complex, confusing narratives drawing in a plethora of realms (however, that does make for some damn good cinema when it's done right).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Late-ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 20 Best Films

So, here it is. 2013 was a damn good year for films if I do say so myself. It was hard reducing this list down to just 20, because any one of my honourable mentions would have had a welcome place in my list. 2013 had some game-changers (in more ways than one), some rule-breakers, and some life-changers. There were plenty of films that came out that you could just tell would live on into the future. We had Alfonso Cuaron defying the restrictions of cinema, Spike Jonze defeating every other portrayal of love in cinematic history, and Leonardo DiCaprio destroying any notion that he's not a proper actor with a singular Quaalude-induced scene. What a time to be alive.

Alas, let's close the book on 2013 before we close the book on May 2014. Because there's no time like the present...

Honourable Mentions: Spring Breakers, What Maisie Knew, Pain & Gain, The Bling Ring, This is the End, Fruitvale Station, Don Jon, Rush, Dallas Buyers Club, Drinking Buddies, Inside Llewyn Davis, Philomena, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Frozen.

"Every thing you do, someone out there can see."

Here's one of these films that slips so far under the radar that it is pretty much criminal. This film should be taught in schools. Sure, it gets extremely melodramatic in some places, but the general message behind it is about the only message we've desperately needed a film to cover. Not to mention it has some fantastic performances from Andrea Riseborough, Jason Bateman, Jonah Bobo, Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton. Very, very impressive.

"I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It's a crazy thing to do. It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity."

Just as Disconnect shows the dangers of the internet, Her shows the good things it could be capable of in the future...which is also doubled with the bad. This isn't really a film about a guy falling in love with his computer, but about love itself. As I said in my director's post, it was a damn brave film for Spike Jonze to make, and possibly one of the more realistic portrayals of love on film in recent times. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson. That's all.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Late-ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 10 Directors

Again, I don't have a huge disclaimer to put here. I know it's May, I know it's late, but hey, it is never too late to honour some pretty awesome directors, is it?

Honourable Mentions: Steven Soderbergh - Side Effects, The Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis, David Lowery - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Abdellatif Kechiche - Blue is the Warmest Colour, Ron Howard - Rush, Lake Bell - In a World..., Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Don Jon, Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station, Asghar Farhadi - The Past, Richard Linklater - Before Midnight, Harmony Korine - Spring Breakers.

10. Spike Jonze - Her
Her is an incredibly brave film. Take it from one of the film's pivotal lines about love: "it's like a socially acceptable form of insanity." The way that the film ruminates on love is so beautiful, as opposed to sugar coating everything and having couples running of into sunsets and that kind of gooey stuff. Perhaps that's all because this is a film about a man having a relationship with his computer. Which is quite strange (it's quite hard to sell this movie to my friends), but Jonze does it in such a way that it feels completely natural. Not to mention, the futuristic world he creates is definitely a world that I could see actually happening, thanks to Jonze not over-saturating the film with ludicrous visions of the future. Even though the movie left me feeling extremely empty for a little while, this is a unique kind of beauty that I wish we could see more of.

9. Denis Villeneuve - Prisoners
Fun fact: throughout many lines of ancestry, it's possible that in some way I'm related to this guy (I would have even had his last name once upon a time, which would have been nice). If that somehow means that I have an ounce of his talent, that would be fantastic. Even though I haven't seen Incendies since it first came out about two and a half years ago, it is still engrained in my brain - it's so hard to shake the deliberately cold, striking way the film was made. It's the same with Prisoners, which Villeneuve could make with a bigger budget, bigger names, and the magic touch of Roger Deakins behind the camera. Prisoners is a masterful, slow burning thriller that mixes the suspense of detective work with the emotional trauma created within the families. It's a puzzle that doesn't seem willing to be solved, but it is made in such a way that I wasn't sure if I ever did want it to be solved. Villeneuve is always in control of his material. I haven't seen Enemy yet (because who knows if it will even get a release here), but how crazy is it that he managed to make those two films in the same year? And here comes my trademark saying: I want to be him.


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