What We Do in the Shadows (2015)

Don’t even ask me why it’s been so long since I’ve written a review. Don’t even ask me. I’m so disappointed in myself. But for real, school has been hectic and now I’m just finally finding time to sit down and collect my thoughts. I’ve seen a lot of films since February – some aren’t even worth mentioning, but I really feel like this one is.

As a film lover, one of the most unfortunate things to run into is an unresponsive audience. To sit in an audience where no one responds is awkward, at least to me. When I go to the theater, I love experiencing genuine reactions with my fellow audience members. It’s a weird sort of bonding moment with people you’ll never see again. I was lucky enough to be a part of an amazing audience for the screening of What We Do in the Shadows. It was playing at a local, independent theater, and had been brought in by the team at DEDFest (who show lesser known horror films and put on an amazing horror film festival). The film was prefaced by a speech from the organizer who ensured us that we were “going to fucking love this movie and laugh our asses off.”

God, was he ever right. What We Do in the Shadows provided me with the most laughs out of any movie I can remember. A fantastic mockumentary following the lives of four vampires of varying age living in a townhouse in New Zealand, Shadows is both silly and smart. It gives itself over to the absurd, but takes the vampire lore that inspires the film very seriously. It’s never satirical and instead opts to seemingly pay tribute to the great vampire horror movies and stories that inspire it. Each character has a vivid, fleshed-out back story that is deeply rooted in vampire mythology – from the dandy, to the impaler (sorry, the poker), to the Nosferatu-esque creature in the basement.

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The film makes a smart move by only referencing their grand exploits, and focusing instead on the banal, day-to-day difficulties they struggle with, like getting a victim’s blood on the carpet, not being able to eat your favourite food anymore, and trying to keep up with modern technology. When the film begins to feel a bit stale, our directing/writing team of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waiti throw us something new, like a bat fight or a cable television-esque reenactment of events. It’s witty, sharp, and surprisingly sweet. The deadpan humour allows the absurd and hilarious one-liners to shine through. Despite this, the film works best when it’s Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Nick bickering and trading barbs, like real roomies do.

What We Do in the Shadows is definitely a film I’ll be rewatching.

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Selma (2014)

It’s been a while, I know.

I tried to write this review and pretend the Oscar nominations haven’t been announced. I tried to pretend that I didn’t know that David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, and Ava DuVernay were not mentioned among the nominees. I’m going to pretend because it makes me really upset, and I could go on for hours. This Film School Rejects article says it well.

Selma is based on the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., played by Oyelowo in a revelatory performance. We follow MLK’s struggles to Washington and back, and peer inside of the life of one of history’s most famous men. Selma doesn’t treat MLK as a martyr or an untouchable hero. He’s flawed, imperfect, and ultimately human, giving us a sense of the man, as opposed to the figure. DuVernay, along with cinematographer Bradford Young, are not afraid to be both brutal and soft. We witness the horrific violence on large and intimate scales, contrasted with quiet, sometimes happy, moments.

Selma is an interesting film in that it showcases the hideousness of the past, but still remains frighteningly relevant today, and due to that, it becomes more than a historical biopic. Selma chooses to work within a tight time frame. Most biographical films focus on the lifespan, usually ending with death, but DuVernay includes neither MLK’s upbringing nor death. This allows MLK’s work and legacy to remain timeless; they do not and should not die with him. By blending archival footage and modern music into her film, she further achieves that fusion between the past and present. Parallels with modern society are present throughout the film, most notably in the use of surveillance notes tracking MLK and company’s whereabouts; this touch evokes creepy similarities to the NSA/watchdog situations.

What makes Selma a standout film is the rejection of the “white savior” theme. Although President Lyndon Johnson holds the title of being somewhat of a partner to MLK (forgive me if I’m incorrect, as this Canadian is not too well-versed in American political figures. That’s what the Internet is for!), his role is largely diminished. DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb choose to let white characters take the backseat, or serve as the opposition where necessary, allowing Selma to rightfully be about black history. Selma is a wonderfully acted film. As I mentioned before, Oyelowo is fantastic as MLK, but Ejogo, as his wife, Coretta Scott King, is subtly fantastic. Also noteworthy is the media mogul and producer herself, Oprah. I was worried Oprah would insert herself into a pivotal or important role (as producer Brad Pitt did in 12 Years a Slave), but Oprah is given one or two solo scenes, and then fades into the background, popping up only to remind us of the dedication of the civilians. You can knock Oprah down, but she won’t stay down.

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To capture the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a difficult and daunting task. Selma struggles slightly in it’s more intimate moments, when conversations take a turn for the melodramatic, bordering on hyperbolic. Scenes that should feel natural and easy, such as moments between colleagues, friends, and family, feel too deliberately staged. Despite this, Selma never feels like it’s preaching or pandering. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to be brutal (something that we learn in the first ten minutes), but still feels intimate.

Watching Selma and knowing that, aside from what feels like a sympathy Best Picture nod, the film was largely snubbed was a difficult process. I know that the Oscars are a popularity contest. I know that they don’t capture the best films of the year by a landslide. The Oscars shouldn’t matter, but yet, they are so important for films like Selma. This problem is a lot bigger than the Oscars. My favourite author, Roxane Gay, put it best when she said: “[The Oscars] can only be irrelevant to people who are accustomed to seeing their stories told [and] having those tellings feted.” Word.

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My top 10 films of 2014

Does one need another top ten list? Probably not. Do I feel the need to make one? Obviously. I didn’t see as many new releases as I would have liked, instead focusing on classics and older films that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing – I finally saw Seven Samurai, can I just make that my number one for 2014? But I digress. Here are my favourite films of the year, in a sort-of order.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Fun fact: I was inspired to write this list as I am currently watching The Grand Budapest Hotel on Netflix. It’s been a while since it’s release, but re-watching it reminded me how much I enjoyed it. A slightly darker, more adult turn for director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a meticulously crafted, pink-hued spectacle. It may just be his best.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

It had been so long since I was satisfied with a superhero movie that wasn’t Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. After Man of Steel left a sour taste, DOFP gave me hope that the genre has not been completely saturated. Led by the acting powerhouses of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, and complimented by young superstars like Jennifer Lawrence, the latest X-Men installation was nearly seamless. It found the perfect balance of excitement and drama, and contained the right amounts of grittiness and humour. It wasn’t trying to be The Avengers and it wasn’t trying to replicate The Dark Knight. DOFP was one of the year’s best-made blockbusters.

Under the Skin

This film truly does get under one’s skin. During my first viewing of it, I was confused, but wholly engrossed and interested. Under the Skin is a marvelously unique film, blending moments of documentary-like footage with nightmarish and frighteningly erotic scenes of entrapment. I’ll admit, I’ve never been the biggest Scarlett Johansson fan, but this film changed my mind. She was seductive and mysterious, and the film itself left me with very real feelings of loneliness, despite its abstract nature.

Interstellar

On paper, Interstellar sounds like another “all-American bro saves the world… again” type of film. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan’s vision transforms it into something much more fascinating. Interstellar impressively maintains its status as a grand, big-budget, space travel blockbuster, yet never loses sight of the micro level. We never feel bored or cheated when we switch back to those still trapped on our dying planet: their stories are just as interesting and well-rounded. Kudos to this film for being a box office success without being an adaptation, sequel, or remake. Interstellar is one of those films that I feel will be regarded as a landmark in both Nolan’s career and of the decade.

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Enemy

(note: this film is listed as having a 2013 release on IMDB, but it definitely came to my city much later)

Enemy was polarizing for audiences (most likely due to its ending), but it’s impressive for a director to make a film so uncanny. After receiving widespread acclaim for Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve switched his pace and chose to make Enemy a slowburning mystery that never let us get too comfortable. It’s menacing and transfixing, and is never, ever predictable. It is a wonderfully off-beat entry into the normally pretty plain mystery genre.

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s novel is not a literary marvel, yet it’s film adaptation is refreshingly biting – at the helm is one of my favourite directors, David Fincher. We can never trust Gone Girl thanks to Nick and Amy being unreliable and (to varying extents) manipulative storytellers. Through and through, Gone Girl is a solid film. It possess fantastic performances from its leads, the chilling Rosamund Pike and the smarmy Ben Affleck, and from its supporting actors. Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris are surprisingly impressive, and Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are fantastic as the film’s moral groundings.

Boyhood

There’s not much more I can say about Boyhood that hasn’t already been said before. This film is at the top of nearly everyone’s best-of list, and it truly deserves to be there for its premise alone. Richard Linklater is a master of telling the stories most of us have already lived. In Boyhood, he is dedicated to showing us the importance of life’s smaller moments. While Boyhood has received some criticism for its whitewashing/genderwashing, these never negate its power or resonance.

Snowpiercer

Again, a lot has been said about Snowpiercer, and it’s either really good or really, really bad. My opinion could have fallen into the second category. When I saw the trailer, I laughed out loud. The last of humanity are circling the globe on a train? Captain America is going to save them? What a stupid movie. I was wrong. Snowpiercer is director Joon-ho Bong’s first English film, and an impressive one at that. It’s visually stunning – from the bleak, grey back end of the train, to the Rococo-esque middle sections, all the way to the sleek, modern front car. Hyperviolent and darkly humourous, it was one of the most exciting films of 2014.

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Birdman

Frenzied, offbeat, and witty – Birdman was one of this year’s most unique films. Its long shots and whip-smart dialogue are mesmerizing, and the A-list cast bounces off of each other with addictive energy. Set to a constant uptempo jazz score, Birdman sink its claws into you and never lets up. It’s unpredictability is its best feature. The camera is always turning to reveal something new, racing along at deliciously diabolical pace.

The Babadook

Remember when I said this list was kind of in order? I chose to talk about The Babadook last because it was such a welcome addition into the horror genre. There was a lot, A LOT of terrible horror movies this year, as there has been for the last several years. The Babadook was refreshing in that it was able to be interesting and legitimately terrifying without gore, jump scares, or shock value. Essie Davis is brilliant as a mother struggling with her own mental state while attempting to hold the fragile remains of her family together. It’s characterizations are well-rounded and deep; we grow to care about and know these people, making their danger all the more unsettling. If you haven’t seen this one yet, ignore those comments like:

“OMG U GUYS THIS MOVIE WUSNT EVEN SCAREY. U DONT EVEN SEE THE MONSTUR WTF. SO LAME. 0/10.”

The Babadook is one of those rare films that can be enjoyed for what it is on the surface level, but can also be examined more closely, as you pick apart the layers and uncover more. Also, it’s nice to see a film so well-received in the notoriously misogynistic horror genre that was written by, directed by, and stars, a woman.

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Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau

In light of my poor effort to write reviews lately, here’s a piece I wrote for The griff on this fantastic documentary directed by David Gregory. Again, I was lucky enough to see the showing for DEDfest, here in Edmonton, AB!

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It was a passion project four years in the making for director Richard Stanley. Driven by an immense love for H.G. Wells’ original novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, he set out to make an interpretation that he felt best honored the classic work, feeling disappointed with previous adaptations. It was Stanley’s dream project, but it soon turned into the stuff of nightmares when he was fired just several days into production. Lost Souls gives an inside look into the notoriously bad 1996 film, that would eventually become a cult favourite.

Told through interviews with cast and crewmembers, producers, and Richard Stanley himself, the documentary recounts the seemingly never-ending shoot from hell. John Frankenheimer, who had none of the passion but was reportedly disrespectful and arrogant, quickly replaced Stanley. Actors Val Kilmer and the legendary Marlon Brando proved to be impossible to work with; Kilmer was condescending and egotistical, while Brando did his best sabotage the film (possibly for his own enjoyment) when he realized it was a sinking ship. Things progressively go from difficult to absurd, truly making the story of The Island of Dr. Moreau a stranger-than-fiction situation.

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While casual moviegoers might find this documentary to be slow, anyone with an interest in film history will find it thoroughly engaging. Lost Souls proves to be funny at times – the cast recounts the day when neither Brando nor Kilmer would leave their trailers until the other had (let’s remember that these were grown men) or when Brando suggested that his human character should have a dolphin fin on his head, for no good reason. But the film also has poignant moments of sadness. This was Richard Stanley’s dream, and it was pulled out from under him and was mutated into something entirely different. Not only did it cause him emotional pain, but also threatened to ruin his film career. Lost Souls is an engaging look inside the disastrous production of the fascinating mess that is The Island of Dr. Moreau.

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The Ten Most Iconic Female Movie Characters Blogathon!

Man, I am not on my game these days! I fully blame it on midterms and being in Vancouver for a week, although there’s really no excuse. Whatever. Anyways, I’ve been nominated for the 10 Most Iconic Movie Characters blog-a-thon by the super-awesome Melissa over at Snap Crackle Watch (seriously, check out her blog for hilarious TV-recaps and spot-on reviews). If you’re not familiar with this blog-a-thon, here’s a bit of learnin’ for you:

A list of 10 iconic female movie characters has been made. That list will be assigned to another blogger who can then change it by removing one character (describing why they think she should not be on the list) and replacing it with another one (also with motivation) and hand over the baton to another blogger. Once assigned, that blogger will have to put his/her post up within a week. If this is not the case the blogger who assigned it has to reassign it to another blogger.

It was started by Dell on Movies, where you can follow the list’s path. I’m honored to be carrying on the torch (even though I took WAY longer than a week to get this up). I am nominating Sara from A Redhead at the Movies, who runs a fantastic blog that I’m a big fan of.

The list stands as this:

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2

3

4

6

7

8

MIAa

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Before I begin, I’m going to agree with Melissa’s decision to include Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction. A fabulous choice. Mia is easily one of the most recognizable figures from Tarantino’s film canon. I was even her for Halloween last year (as she predicted, Mia is a great costume)! Although I’m pretty bummed Regan from The Exorcist was deleted (arguably one of the best horror films ever), I can understand it. Pinned up against these other kickass chicks, she gets lost in the mix.

To me, this is an easy decision. Star Wars, Silence of the Lambs, Fargo, Gone with the Wind, Halloween, Carrie, Kill Bill… these are some of my favourite films! I can’t possibly eliminate them. Scarlett O’Hara, Ellen Ripley, and Marge Gunderson are my FAVE FEMALE CHARACTERS OF ALL TIME. So they’re safe. That leaves Elsa from Frozen. I may be biased on this one, maybe because I don’t get Frozen-mania. I’m choosing to get rid of Elsa particularly because she’s just too new. All of these figures have cemented themselves in film history, whereas Frozen came out just last year. Yeah, little girls went NUTS for Elsa, and it’s become a bit of a cultural phenomenon. But will it last? I think it’s definitely popular, but maybe not lasting. Think of every other Disney movie that has come out. They’ve all been popular and gone through their phases, but I seriously think it’ll die down. I’m getting rid of Elsa simply because she hasn’t been around long enough to impress me (sorry Elsa, don’t turn me into a popsicle).

Now for my choice! I’ve been mulling over this for a long time. Ultimately it came down to 3 characters (and future bloggers, feel free to use them). I went back and forth between Olive Hoover from Little Miss Sunshine, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings. Seriously tough stuff. I decided to go with Elle Woods. Legally Blonde may not be the world’s greatest film, but no one can deny its popularity and significance. Elle pokes fun of stereotypical female tropes, but also lets audiences know that being liking pink, fashion, and tiny dogs doesn’t negate your self-worth or intelligence. I included her not because she wields a sword, shoots a gun, or knows martial arts, but because she’s smart, resourceful, and full of sass. Also, the bend and snap. I rest my case.

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Thanks again to Melissa for the nomination and good luck to all future bloggers!

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Bloody Knuckles (2014) Review

Several weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to write for my school’s newspaper, The griff. They reached out to me and asked if I would review a couple of horror movies for Edmonton’s DEDFest, the horror/sci-fi/cult film festival (which is also where I saw The Babadook). Bloody Knuckles one of the films I checked out. Even though it’s not Halloween anymore (Christmas decorations are up already for Christ’s sake!), I figured it was worth posting because I liked it so much!

Travis is an up-and-coming comic book creator with a penchant for the crude and offensive. His work gets him in serious trouble when he uses a local Asian gang as inspiration for his latest book. The comic book falls into their hands and Travis loses his. Offended by his depiction of them, the gang severs Travis’ drawing hand. Travis spirals into a depression, until his hand crawls back to him, bloodthirsty and ready for vengeance. Bloody Knuckles is the feature-length debut of Vancouver’s Matt O’Mahoney, who is somehow able to inject a badass personality into a severed limb.

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Equal parts disgusting and hilarious, Bloody Knuckles is a low-budget horror comedy done right. The laughs are as frequent as the fake blood, and the special effects (particularly the severed hand) are surprisingly decent, giving the film a more polished look than the standard indie-horror fare. Adam Boys is charming as Travis, but shows some serious comedic chops when he begins to argue with his detached limb. The hand, which uses a text-to-speech program on Travis’ computer to communicate, is sassy and violent. He scratches, stabs, and even wields a gun at one point.

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Bloody Knuckles is sure to please fans of both horror and comedy, but will resonate most with those who can’t resist a cheesy B-movie. Giving in to its own absurdity, Bloody Knuckles isn’t afraid to be messy, offensive, and downright insane.

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The Babadook: who knew pop-up books could be so terrifying?

It’s Halloween! Yay! In honor of the best holiday ever, I checked out DEDfest, my town’s horror/sci-fi/cult film festival a few days ago. I saw some pretty wicked films (whose reviews will be posted later), but my favourite was saved for last. Closing the festival was the Aussie horror film The Babadook. I had anticipated this film for a while now, not only because it looked genuinely terrifying, but because it’s directed and written by a woman. Female directors are vastly underrepresented, especially in the horror genre, but can do amazing things when given the right tools. It also featured a mother-son dynamic, which piqued my interest. On a side note, it was totally wonderful to see the theater packed to the rafters. It’s a small local theater that plays a ton of wonderful, old movies, and I get super sad whenever I go there and it’s nearly empty. Not that night! Anyways, I digress…

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Amelia, left alone after the death of her husband, is falling apart. She’s dealing with crippling grief, a demanding job, and a child, Samuel, whom she can’t seem to control. Essentially, she’s barely keeping it together. To top it all off, Samuel is terrified of the monsters he thinks are out to get him. One night, during a routine bedtime story session, Samuel discovers a large red book called The Babadook sitting on his shelf. It’s in a word, it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook, it reads. Afterwards, Amelia begins to think someone, or something is following her.

It’s legitimately the most unsettling popup book ever, and gets scarier as the movie progresses.

Holy shit. I really liked this one. I love scary movies, and like many of you, I was feeling a little let down by the genre in recent years. The Babadook is a wonderfully creepy little film that pays attention to the characters and their emotions, giving us interesting people to root for. Essie Davis, as Amelia, delivers a knockout performance. Director Jennifer Kent gives us the lesser-seen side of motherhood, one that is plagued with frustration, disappointment, and not a lot of sleep. I’m not a mother, but I imagine it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and wonderful feelings of nurturing all of the time. Kids can be little demons. Mad props to Noah Wiseman, as her son Samuel. As far as child actors go, he did pretty well. The Babadook switches back and forth between Amelia and Samuel dealing with unseen (and eventually very real) forces, and Kent keeps us on our toes by giving us dual perspectives

What a fun popup book! Yay...

Kent really places us in Amelia’s shoes. We feel her stress, her sleep deprivation, and her fear. The Babadook works so well because it combines all of the best elements of the horror genre: it’s psychological, but we get some genuine terror from the things that go bump in the night. It also doesn’t give us too much of the monster – we see just enough to freak us out. Refreshingly, there’s not a lot of jump scares and the standard horror movie score of ominous sounds and screeching violins is mostly absent. Whether or not this is a movie about psychosis or the boogeyman is up to you, but half the thrill is trying to figure that out.

The Babadook has been cursed with poor distribution, so if you happen to have a showing near you, I highly recommend checking it out. It is definitely one that I plan on revisiting in the near future. Don’t be surprised if you develop a fear of pop-up books afterwards.

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Gone Girl: seductive, stylish, sickening.

This review is going to contain some major spoilers. I’ve been trying to write this without giving anything away, but I can’t. I’m not that good. For those that are looking for a review but not spoilers, let me tell you this: see this movie. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the novel or not, Gone Girl (2014) is a thrilling, twisted ride.

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Now, let’s get right into it. David Fincher is probably the most consistent director right now. From Se7en to Zodiac to The Social Network, Fincher hasn’t really missed a beat. Through his calculated framework, carefully crafted color palettes, and rich characters, he creates films that pull us in and hold us down, whether we like it or not. Gone Girl was written by the author of the novel of the same name, Gillian Flynn, who has given us one of the most psychotic, interesting, and dynamic female characters of recent memory in Amy Dunne. There’s no doubt that Amy is on a higher level of crazy, but Flynn steers clear of creating another femme fatale or run-of-the-mill psychobitch by giving Amy agency and drive. Flynn has explained in many interviews that she’s sick of the boxes ‘strong female characters’ are placed into: intrinsically good, nurturing, blah, blah, blah. Amy has strength, depth, and she’s fucking warped. Therein lies the beauty of the character. She’s strong, but vile. Who says male villains get to have all the fun?

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Amy isn’t the only bad guy (er, girl) in the story. Her husband Nick is kind of a huge dick. Like he explains in his interview, just because he didn’t kill his wife, it doesn’t mean he’s a good guy. Neither Amy nor Nick are people we want to root for. Fincher and Flynn keep us confused and on our toes. Both characters actively manipulate our perceptions of the other, starting from the beginning. Doesn’t Amy’s diary entry detailing her and Nick’s first dates feel a little too good to be true? That’s because it is, and we won’t know that until halfway through the movie. The way we view the happy couple is the way Amy has been viewed her entire life; her identity is based on how others have labelled her, whether that be as Amazing Amy, the Cool Girl, or as the saint-like missing wife of the Midwest. Both of them are unreliable narrators: can anything they say about the other, or themselves, be taken at face value?

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I’m a huge Fincher fan, and I was not disappointed by Gone Girl. It possess the typical Fincherian feel and, despite it’s long running time, expertly uses each scene and bit of dialogue to its full advantage. Even at the halfway point, when Amy runs through her plan at breakneck speed, Fincher’s grasp is firm. The turns and twists are frequent and dizzying, but Gone Girl seduces and holds you captive for its entirety, much like you were at Neil Patrick Harris’ lakehouse. Speaking of which, both NPH and Tyler Perry are surprisingly wonderful in their respective roles. Perry is confident and slick as the savior of America’s wifekillers, Tanner Bolt, while Harris is alarmingly creepy as Desi Collings, a former love of Amy’s. Who knew either of them could hold their own against a heavyweight like Ben Affleck? Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin Margo (affectionately refered to as Go) and Kim Dickens (as detective Rhonda Boney) provide the moral compass for the film. Both women are tough as nails and intelligent, and Coon and Dickens totally nail it. The leads, Affleck and Rosamund Pike, as our Amazing Amy, are fabulous – I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosamund Pike is mentioned a lot during awards season.

Final Grade: A

Gone Girl is a stylish thriller with depth. Hilariously and brilliantly being marketed as “the date night movie of the year,” Fincher’s latest devilishly great fun.

 

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Back at it! A summer of movies.

Well, I’m back. I’m embarrassed with how little attention I’ve payed to blogging, or even seeing movies for that matter. This summer was stupidly busy. It’s crazy how having an actual job takes up so much of your time. Anyways, whatever. I’m back in school and can go back to procrastinating by watching movies.

I saw a lot of awesome films this summer, some new, some really old, and I had so many things I wanted to say. But as I said, I didn’t really put a lot of effort into it. Until now. Which isn’t exactly true, I only got around to doing this because my class was cancelled today and Netflix is down.

I’m doing this in r/TrueFilm style fashion, with a list of the best movies I saw and a brief overview of them.

1. Seven Samurai (1954) A+

What a way to start. I was lucky enough to see this at a local theater one night. There’s not much I can contribute to the hefty discussion, analyses, and praises this film receives. It truly is one of the greatest films ever made. I have to admit, I was a little worried how my attention span would hold up. Not to discount classic foreign films, but Seven Samurai is a solid 3.5 hours long. And it was HOT in the theater. Nevertheless, I was so impressed how timeless the humour and drama was. The language and connection between the characters seemed so relevant. It’s true what they say about Kurosawa’s skills. The depth of his frames and the strategic placement of the camera in relation to the scene are what make him a knockout of both the technical elements and of storytelling.

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2. Snowpiercer (2013) B+

Kudos to this film for not being nearly as stupid as the premise suggests. The world is in a sort of snowpocalypse and Earth’s last survivors live on a speeding train that circles the globe. Did I mention it’s divided into classes and the caboose (or back of the train) stages a rebellion? Yeah. I remember seeing the trailer and actually laughing out loud. Holy shit, do I feel stupid now. Rich, imaginative, violent, and thrilling, Snowpiercer is a very well-crafted film. It’s the weird lovechild of a big-budget blockbuster and a foreign arthouse film, and when it’s not suffering from the typical dystopian-film tropes, it succeeds.

3. Boyhood (2014) A

“I thought there’d be more” Patricia Arquette (as “Mom”) cries. There doesn’t need to be. Boyhood is probably my favourite film of the year so far. We are able to see the characters grow and change with age as time progresses, connecting us on a whole other level to people we’ll never meet. What makes Boyhood so amazing and not overly-sentimental is that Richard Linklater doesn’t focus on the standard milestones that happen in a young man’s life (or woman’s), but rather the smaller, more intimate details. Because in the end, that is what really shapes our identities. It’s not our first girlfriend, our art show, our graduation… It’s dealing with the breakup, hearing true praise for our hard work, celebrating with those who love us. Those predetermined moments we’re told are important don’t really matter, because those are always disappointments anyways. A truly beautiful film, unlike anything else out right now.

4. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) A-

Another winner from Del Toro. My boyfriend owns the Criterion Collection version, and watching the interview with the director really shed light on the immense detail of the film. Literally everything is planned and has a purpose. The Devil’s Backbone is less of a standard horror film and more of a gorgeous Spanish gothic. Santi the ghost is only scary and threatening when we know nothing about him, as we see the world through a young child’s eyes. He’s a sad, but beautiful, spirit, almost like a broken doll. Like other Del Toro films, the political subplots keep the film from feeling childish.

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5. A Brief History of Time (1991) B

Focusing on the life and theories of the brilliant Stephen Hawking, this documentary features interviews with Hawking’s offbeat family, and from the man himself. I have to admit, I enjoyed learning about the cosmologist’s theories about space more so than the recounts of his childhood and college life. His family is delicious quirky and nerdy, but the stories that are shared are sparse and lacking an emotional touch. Once the ball gets rolling, and director Errol Morris makes connections between Hawking’s work and life, we really become engrossed.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) B-

The only blockbuster I saw this summer (I think). This was an unfortunate case of “not living up to the hype.” Sue me. I was really excited to see a superhero/comic movie where I was completely oblivious to the characters or the plot. I appreciated the nostalgic and laidback vibes, but Guardians couldn’t escape the pitfalls of lots of comic book adaptions: a weak exposition, an under-developed, vague villain, average writing, and characters. explaining. the fucking. plot. I hate that. Thanks Gamora, it totally wasn’t obvious that you weren’t betraying your father. I’m glad you explained it for me. I left the theater feeling really disappointed, but I think I was being slightly harsh on it. It was a fun ride, despite the painful and showy attempts to be witty. Extra points for baby dancing Groot, obviously.

I KNOW IT’S SEPTEMBER, but what was the best film you saw this summer? I missed this place.

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The Kings of Summer: teenagehood through a nostalgic lens.

There’s something very familiar about The Kings of Summer (2013).  I’m not talking about the originality of it, but the feel. The haziness of late summer afternoons with your friends, exploring with no supervision and reveling in the small freedoms you find while being on the cusp of adulthood. The Kings of Summer is the type of film that succeeds because it connects to us on that level. It brings you back to when everything was easier, but felt more difficult. As a teenager your problems seem so monumental – fitting in, finding romance, trusting each other. When you look back, you know they’re trivial, but in the moment they were paramount.

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The Kings of Summer begins with Joe (Nick Robinson) fighting with his single father, Frank (Nick Offerman). Their relationship is strained, as Frank is overbearing and Joe is testy, immature, and frustrated by his father trying to micromanage his life. His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) struggles similarly, but far more hilariously to the viewer, with his ridiculously strange and intrusive parents (played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson). The two decide to run away, taking tools and canned goods with them, and build their own house in the forest. Tagging along is a curious little specimen named Biaggio (Moises Arias) who is only there because neither Joe nor Patrick wanted to tell him to leave.
The three boys find power in living on their own, and (sort of) fending for themselves, both individually and as a trio. The film is a beautiful showing of the struggles of male teenagehood, and writer Chris Galetta pens that into scenes of conflict between Joe and Patrick. Joe has obviously been in love with schoolmate Kelly for a while, but when she comes to visit their hideaway, it’s clear she’s far more interested in Patrick. The excitement of adolescent attraction takes precedence over friendship, and the two clash over everything, beginning with cleaning up food scraps and culminating in a backstabbing play in a game of Monopoly (we’ve all been there, right?).

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The film falters when it veers too far into the quirky territory, using too much of the strangeness of Biaggio. At first, he’s genuinely hilarious, but after a while, his one-liners begin to feel tired and are inserted into unfitting places in the dialogue. They also leave us wanting more of the character; in one scene he says he doesn’t see himself as having a gender, but the moment is hurried over with Joe telling him that being genderless is wrong. It’s a troubling way to deal with an idea that Biaggio holds so comfortably, and it leaves a sour taste when Joe reacts negatively.  It raises more questions about the character that never get explored, except for a brief moment when he speaks with his father (who is off-camera for the duration of the scene). The Kings of Summer begins to focus too much on nostalgia and the film suffers. But there is a heart and honesty that can’t be denied. Joe and Patrick are everymen (everyboys?). They’re just average enough to make you think you could have known them, or even been them at one point. The relatively unknown actors contribute to this feel; their performances are impressive and natural.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts creates a timeless environment. His character don’t rely too much on technology (as the youth of today do), nor does he create a weird kitschy hybrid of modernity and yesteryear that we often see in offbeat movies about self-discovery. In this way, The Kings of Summer lightly crosses generational gaps. Through the hazy golden hues and witty dialogue, we’re transported to a moment in time where we were the confused adolescent who takes way too much for granted.

Verdict: A-

Occasionally bogged down by it’s own self-awareness, The Kings of Summer is a poignant reminder of what it’s like to be both self-important and unsure all at once.

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