The moment I became really excited about seeing The World's End was when I got home late last Friday night and decided it was desperately important to re-watch Scott Pilgrim for the umpteenth time. As the film played, I ran the numbers and realized that Edgar Wright may have the strongest track record making films I really, really like (without caveats, qualifications, etc) of any director...ever. Granted, Wright only has a handful of films to his name (and the excellent Spaced), but all of them are rather wonderful. Scott Pilgrim is admittedly my personal favorite for a host of reasons that come down to raw individual appeal, but each of the three flavors in the Cornetto trilogy are near-genius plays with the fluidity of genre and, of course, brilliant satires. It's important to note, perhaps, that Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End are not parodies of the genres they replicate, they're not in the business of sending things up so much as they are of using time-tested genre archetypes to their advantage. Each of Wright's Cornetto films has quite a bit to say about placid surfaces, workaday life, and 'good country people'. The World's End may be the loudest speakerbox of them all, but an appraisal of message over material would be a shameful waste.
Friday, August 30, 2013
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Somewhere along the way I learned to love the horror film. And when you learn to love the horror film, you find that you become a sort of advocate for the genre. Horror fans -casual to obsessive- seem to have to constantly defend the repetitive, often reprehensible actions of the movies they like. It's a cheap, B-movie genre characterized (perhaps more than any other category), by crummy dialogue, cheesy effects, and plots as complicated as a Girl Scout campfire story; we expect little more than a thrill or two, a laugh, or a reason to double check our locks. I'll admit it: most of the time I watch a horror film just because and I expect absolutely nothing in return. So many of them are dreadful, and, because of that, laughably fun. A truly bad horror film is not a ridiculous one, but a boring one. A passable horror movie is like a roller coaster (but the fourth time around). And a great scary movie? A genuine one? Those are rare. Considering the number released each year, there are really only a few horror films that have mastered their elements potently enough to extend beyond the realm of the midnight movie and towards a truly general audience.
When they do, they stick out as exemplars passed down gleefully over generations. The Exorcist, Halloween, Psycho, The Shining; these are some of the places where critics, horror fans, and our pop cultural vocabulary intersect. As this review of The Conjuring runs a little late, I'm pretty sure you already know where I'm going with this lead-in. The Conjuring is one of the great ones. It's an instant genre classic, a phenomenal theater-going experience, a piece of shiny shiny retro-gold that seems to prove that there are still ways to make that worn-down recycled haunted house new, that there are still ghost stories to be told, and that upgrading the quality of the raw materials makes all the damn difference in the world.
Much has been made of The Conjuring's R-rating for 'terror', and the shocking amount of success it has had in manifesting that warning into its audience's reality. Though I've never been one to get flustered by the jumpy scares the haunted house horror film has to offer, and there was never a point I found myself truly surprised, I can say there are more than a few anxious scenes in The Conjuring...and they're delightful. The scares are organic, immediate, and somehow without the bloodbath pyrotechnics (not that that's a bad thing, always) of so many of its kin. It's the first horror film in ages I want to run around recommending to everyone I know, and so I'll end with this: see it. See it right now. Do yourself a favor, get over your anxiety, go...
Monday, August 12, 2013
In an average year, Elysium would be getting a great deal of attention as an intelligent, savvy summer action film. It's R-rated science fiction for adults, with themes that reach beyond its surface trappings and clever-enough mechanics. In 2013, however, where so much has been so strong already, it seems that perhaps Elysium's deserved hype is taking a bit of a critical hit, possibly as a result of a certain ennui. It gets tough to write positive review after positive review, and when most years are a more thoroughly mixed bag, it seems only normal to expect an existential crisis: is this movie actually good or are my standards just dropping? This, it seems to me, is maybe the only logical reason I've come up with for Elysium's relatively disappointing opening this weekend. After much buzz, the film has opened to a comparatively slight amount of fanfare, and even a few ill-placed mentions of After Earth. That's just not right. While Elysium tends towards the heavy-handed in its action sequences and in its big picture themes, it's the sort of science fiction that can, and should, be generally described as a good movie.
This could be an interesting idea, but it's rather distracting, and, frankly...I'm not convinced. When we lose the subtitles of the prawns and switch into a story requiring more typical, exposition-heavy dialogue than District 9, Blomkamp also noticeably loses some of his edge. With the bigger budget, too, comes a less impressive mastery of the material. District 9 was tiny and gritty. It worked, it felt personal. Elysium is giant and lumbering, lording over you with its mashed up ideas and influences. There are very bluntly heavy talking points here, often coming from Delacourt, and they lend an insincerity to the film that doesn't quite mesh with the genuineness its story is invested with. IMMIGRATION. HEALTHCARE. BAAAAAAAHHHHHH. Still, Elysium is a strong film that pulls you towards its characters and gives you reasons to wish for their success. Though technically a work of very practiced dystopian science fiction, the sci-fi elements here are most prominent when you step back, but seem to disappear into the cold facts of the film's environment while you're watching. Even when Max is bolted into a robotic 'suit' and battling in space, Elysium has a weird plausibility that works to its advantage. It's got style, it builds a compelling world, and that will be what saves it.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Are you in the present moment? Like, really here? Because, get ready, this is the instant where you lean in and I tell you a secret: I didn't really care for The Spectacular Now. *Gasp!* What!? You didn't like the genuineness? The anti-formula narrative? The way it doesn't play like a normal high school narrative? Well, yes and no, but mostly...nope. I followed it to a point and then I couldn't follow it any further, I went where it wanted to take me, the itinerary was received, and then - boom- I was over it and discreetly attempting to check the time on my phone. So, yeah, personally? I didn't really care for The Spectacular Now. But...it's not the sort of film deserving of a merciless evisceration. On the whole, it's a good film. A solid film. A well-acted, smart film. There are winning performances chock full of a variety pack of emotions. People really feel in The Spectacular Now, goddammit. They're fragile and human, dimensional and flawed. No one here gets to play a smart-talking young master of their ironic domain, and outlandish victories are not sought. The world is small and sensible, trapped somewhere in Middle America without any suspect set-dressing from the outside. This is a world you likely know, and one that feels real. Consequently, it's a film you will probably like, and when you do, many of the aspects you praise I will agree with.
The Spectacular Now is notably penned by the pair of dudes who wrote that other movie everyone else loves but I don't: (500) Days of Summer (they're also responsible for Pink Panther 2, but apparently we've swept that under the rug). Unlike Summer, Spectacular Now truly does drop any sense of ironic posturing. Gone are the days of JGL's sweater vests, musical numbers, and empty shells of characters. No one here uses a mutual love of The Smiths as fodder for a crush, and that alone is a point of great success for the film. When we meet Sutter (Miles Teller), our protagonist, he's opening up an online college admission form and typing up an expletive loaded essay on the hardship of being dumped by his long-term girlfriend (Brie Larson) in the wake of a misunderstanding. The quick, snarky start is deceiving. What we're first shown is a rather superficial look at Sutter as an archetype. He was part of a power couple, a popular kid, the well-known class clown who had fun, took up antics, and enjoyed a good party. When he goes to confront his now ex, however, at another party, he finds himself awakened by a classmate he doesn't know, on a stranger's lawn, without a clue where he left his car. The classmate is a quiet, unassuming girl named Amy Finnicky (Shailene Woodley). As they ride together on Amy's paper route, a friendship begins, and the film enters into a transformation. The touch of snark is dropped, and the story quickly gains possession of a much weightier sense of purpose. The great surprise of the film is how real Sutter and Amy feel, and how naturally their relationship progresses from a place of casual acquaintance to something unequal, but deep.
The small details are what initially made me believe that I could fall for The Spectacular Now. There truly is something to be said about a high school film where the teenagers read as believable, fully-formed human beings. There's something even bigger to be said about a high school film where the characters are visually depicted as such. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley look, more than most, like actual kids you'd find in a small town high school. Their dress is not flashy or trendy, their bedrooms do not boast clever signs of the times or posters hinting at some applied interest, and they move through their worlds in ways that do not feel overly rehearsed or designed to land a scene's punchline. One very small detail I appreciated, for example: Amy Finnicky often seems to be pulling back her hair in the moment. Walking and tying a ponytail. Doing that thing that all girls with long hair do, but which I don't feel most films have the time for. She doesn't sit in front of a vanity mirror and fuss over her image, she doesn't show up with expertly coiffed and curled locks, she just talks to Sutter and blushes and nervously ties her hair back. Completely natural, wholly rare.
The micro-element of the ponytail, I feel, sums up the beauty of the big picture quite well. So much is gentle and natural, including the performances. Shailene Woodley proves that her much lauded role in The Descendants was no fluke, and it's impossible to watch the film without wishing Amy the best in everything. Woodley gifts her a wonderful, balanced normalcy with a vulnerability spawned from her heartbreaking capacity for love. Amy wants, as so many teenagers do, to have those experiences she's only read about, and we watch as she nervously enters into a relationship with Sutter, a guy she'd clearly long believed was never an option. Because this is not some sort of backwards comedy where the nerd dates the jock, however, Amy's actions are subtle. Her character changes in slow, surprising ways. We watch as she becomes enmeshed in the world of her first love, as she takes on his traits and tries to find ways to share in his life. Teller, too, is well cast as Sutter. He's trying to push away from the inevitable, to postpone it and drown it in whatever happens to come along. Sutter is a dynamic character, and Teller has enough talent to pull that off...with the dumb mug that suits a teenage sad clown.
So, on the whole, The Spectacular Now is a good movie boasting very good performances doing good and interesting things with a genre you've grown all-too familiar with. What's the problem? Well (---you may wish to count this as a spoiler alert---), for all the groundwork it lays in one area, the longer it stretches on the more it seems to misplace all its hard-earned good will on a plot line that weighs heavy as an afterschool special. See, Sutter is a teenage alcoholic. As the film progresses, his problem becomes increasingly severe and detrimental to those around him. It's a very real situation, of course, and a relatively unusual one to see on screen amidst many a related film (a few starring Miles Teller, even) feting binge drinking and epic, booze-fueled ragers. Though director James Ponsoldt handles the material competently, I just couldn't escape the near Sparksian levels of emotional manipulation the film began to deal past a certain, shocking point towards the conclusion. The desperate need to propel things forward swings the narrative so completely away from the place of the meandering portrait, that I found myself losing respect not only for Sutter, but for all the characters we'd been introduced to until that point.
This is, perhaps, one of the problems with depicting real teenagers: so many of us are stupid, illogical, and overly eager to please our friends and significant others at that age. When we watch that as a reflection and not an edit, it becomes (especially for those of us who were maybe always more in-line with the snarky, ironic Darias of the world) deeply frustrating to watch. We need some kind of intervention by the storyteller, something that keeps the film realistic without subscribing to something all-too real. I hit a point where the film's strengths couldn't save it, and I left The Spectacular Now feeling more irritated than anything else, but realize that part of my irritation speaks to a success of the film. We're made to care about the characters to the point that we're actually pissed off (as we would be with a friend or sibling) when we watch them making stupid decisions. That's a win for the actors, definitely, but, uh, the last thing I want when I'm watching a film is to feel like I should be planning someone's intervention.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Friday, August 9, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Blue Jasmine is, in essence, what it looks like when Woody Allen writes as Tennessee Williams. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) herself is a variation on the Blanche DuBois theme; she's a cultured pearl, a pampered Manhattanite whose world turns belly up when her husband is arrested for white-collar crimes. As she waves goodbye to her Birkin bags, beach houses, and diamonds, Jasmine experiences a psychotic break. Broke, unstable, and licking her wounds, Jasmine shelves her pride and moves in to her classless adopted sister Ginger's (Sally Hawkins) humble San Francisco apartment. Like Blanche, Jasmine is a woman who remains haunted by the traces of her former self. She's still pretty, still gives off an aura of taste and wealth, and can't shake the immediate distaste she has for most of what she sees as Ginger's chosen lifestyle. So she calms her frayed nerves in glass after glass of Stoli, hands shaking as she struggles to convince herself that her life in the 1% will somehow go on. Of course, Blue Jasmine isn't a straight adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, more of a loose working with time tested material. Allen's version is very much of the here and now, a cold sweat instead of a humid, murky bit of Southern Gothic. The sexual hang-ups and repression of the mid-20th century exchanged for a recession-era portrait of a woman who tried to look the other way - like so many politico trophy wives and Wall Street spouses before her.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Friday, August 2, 2013
Tryst is on her way to becoming some sort of semi-domestic goddess, and she returns with a delicious snack plan I'm eager to try out. And let it be known: she may be the only person who's allowed to call her husband 'hubby' without pushing me towards instant nausea. Fact. So, as I delve into the mass chaos that is Grant Park during Lollapalooza, I'll let her show you how quick desserts are done...
Dinner and a movie was once a very common date night for me and the hubby. But a wriggly baby does not make for a pleasant theater going experience so our date nights have become quiet nights in. But, you can't really call it a date night if it is just like every other night. So, I came up with this sundae to add a dash of fun and romance to our Netflix and RedBox evenings.
a generous handful of kettle corn
2 scoops of ice cream
a stream of caramel
1. Scoop ice cream into a chilled bowl. (I like to pop my ice cream bowls/glasses in the freezer for 30 minutes before eating).
2. Cover with popcorn
3. Drizzle with warm caramel
Tryst's Sundae Date Night film faves:
Our guest columnist and special fashion consultant Tryst is your one-woman guide to filmtastic styling, easy to spot on the sartorial street because of her excellent taste in tutus and expertise balancing in ridiculous footwear. With a degree in English and Biology, she is officially certified to make up both words and diseases, but prefers to make fashion judgments. While she does enjoy curling up on the couch with a movie and her English husband, she will be the first to tell you that pajamas belong on the inside…not outside…of your abode. She blogs about real life things at Pond Crossings.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
What began as a mixtape inspired by Rushmore became something else entirely: a soundtrack for an imagined Wes Anderson film. Our playlist kicks off with one recycled song you'd expect to hear, and continues with 21 from our field notes. Troubled children, this is for you. You'll find a pair of safety glasses and some earplugs under your seat. Please feel free to use them.
Listen here and check out the rest of the L&S movie mixtapes on 8Tracks.