Author: ticketstubsanddvds

My Life as a Zucchini (Claude Barras, Sweden & France, 2017)

 

It’s quite striking how different movies can be based on where they’re made. Though perhaps that’s unfairly attributing the artistic vision of a director to the country in which he or she works. It’s probably a bit of both — a difference in market, and a difference in artistic influences.

In any case, aside from Persepolis, I haven’t seen any animated movies as quiet and beautiful as Claude Barras’s My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette) (2017, Sweden & France). Not to disparage the quality of American animated movies — on the contrary, I quite admire a lot of the work of the United States’s big animation studios including Pixar, Disney, Laika, and Dreamworks, and believe American animated filmmaking is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its tackling of more complicated themes like emotions with Pixar’s Inside Out and racism with Disney’s Zootopia (a trend I very much admire considering one of the main reasons why I’m interested in film to begin with is because of the incredible platform it has in teaching empathy and shifting public opinion under the guise of passive entertainment). ANYWAYS — I allow myself once again to become distracted and go off on random tangents. Back to Courgette.

Admittedly, much like Persepolis, it doesn’t seem to be made for the same very young audiences as might be Inside Out and Zootopia — hence why it’s able to adopt such a sparse, quiet tone (and also why I initiated this post with a musing into cinematic differences based on country of origin, as I notice that aside from Sausage Party, next to no US animated films are made for not very-young audiences, but clearly there seems to be bigger adult audiences for animated movies abroad) — Courgette is based around children, yes, but children adjusting to life in a group home after their parents die from alcohol abuse-related accidents or murder-suicide, or else have been taken away from by the state because of substance abuse, sexual abuse, mental illness, deportation. Despite these children having been abused and exposed to traumatic experiences at such a young age, they all retain a lot of their childlike innocence; they play, they giggle, they draw and dance and go sledding and swing on swings. They’re all a bit sad and damaged, but under loving adult influences at the home and the friendship of each other — all who have endured similar traumatic experiences — they learn to love again and regain some of their childlike innocence.

This combination of happy-sad is brilliantly captured in the film’s tone, pacing, and visuals: it feels very stark and quiet from an audio perspective — the dialogue is muted and sparse — but the bright colors used (much like a big box of Crayola crayons) feels innocent and joyous. The visual elements of Courgette is in fact breathtaking — the fluidity of the stop-motion animation, the use of light and shadow (particularly the shadows in the first scene, and the flashlight in a later orphanage scene when Simon was still tormenting Courgette). The colors. Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of the colors is bright and childlike — Courgette has bright blue hair and an orange nose and extremely pink lips and ears — but these are surrounded by colder, bluer tones — the spooky paleness of Courgette’s skin against his technicolor hair, the cold white tiled floors of his mom’s apartment: the coloring brilliantly captures the duality between these children having experienced trauma and cruelty so early in their life, but still being innocent children. Each child is colored in a combination of bright technicolor and muted colors, while the adults are in more neutral tones; Courgette’s mom’s apartment is in blue-white tones giving it the appearance of coldness, sadness, fear, while the orphanage, which turns out to be a place filled with love, is mostly Crayola-colored.

Courgette certainly paints an optimistic picture of life in a group-home — the orphanage workers are loving and have their best interests at heart, the children only mildly haze newcomers before embracing them as another member of their family — but I was relieved that Courgette declined to feature poor living conditions, negligent workers, pedophiles, as other stories about children living in group homes or orphanages or foster homes have before it, and instead depicted some light in this world, around so much darkness.

Gorgeous.

Advertisements

Finishing posts

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I am one for setting concrete objectives and not sticking to them (much like the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions), but New Year’s resolutions themselves connote empty goals and promises, a resolution made with the expectation of being broken within the first few weeks of January. I don’t want this to happen to the most recent set of goals I have set for myself, one of which is directly related to this blog: post at least one full and thoughtful entry a week. And finish what you start.

I was just reading through my drafts accumulated over the past couple of years (if you read through this blog’s short history, you’ll notice that I post very sporadically–maybe a couple posts at a time, then radio silence for the next six months or so), and I’m kicking myself right now because there are some great entries in there that I cannot share on the blog because they’re unfinished. They stop abruptly, and at this point in time, I’ve forgotten too much to go back and complete them. I wrote thoughtful entries about Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009),  American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000), and Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2013), and The Escape Artist (Masterpiece Theatre, 2013), among others, and it’s a shame that I can’t yet add them to my meagre collection of posts. (I did, however, add my unfinished post about the Up! series because while my second point is completely unfleshed out, at least it ends with semi-complete thoughts. Okay, okay, to tell the truth, I was probably grasping at straws to save something, anything from the dreaded Drafts folder.) While there’s no use mourning the past, I can learn from these mistakes by always finishing what I start, no matter how hard it becomes. Finishing things and writing a lot is the only way I’m going to get any better.

Top Five Update: 2016 Edition

la+la+land.gif

Film

1. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)—for helping me to appreciate thought-provoking films above all else

2. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)—for showing me the importance of passion and the resilience of the human spirit   

3. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)—for its style and surprising tone

4. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)—for grounding a tired fantasy genre in today’s reality, thereby delivering a stark, incisive critique on today’s society

5. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)—for being a damn stylish movie on passion and pursuing one’s dreams with no compromises

Honorable Mentions: Singin’ in the Rain, All About Eve, Citizen Kane, The Truman Show, Midnight in Paris, Whiplash, Babette’s Feast, L’Enfant

Film of 2016

1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

2. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

3. The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)

4. American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

5. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)

Other movies I remember watching: CreepSpotlight, Brooklyn, Spy, Deadpool, Clouds of Sils Maria, Air Force One, Zootopia, Finding Dory, Trumbo, The Lobster, Captain America: Civil War, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton, The American President, Sausage Party, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Love & Friendship, Terms of Endearment, Certain Women, King Georges, Rogue One

TV

1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

2. Veep (HBO)

3. The Office (NBC)

4. Sherlock (PBS)

5. Downton Abbey (PBS)

Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, Cranford

TV of 2016

1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

2. Black Mirror (Netflix)

3. Veep (HBO)

4. The Crown (Netflix)

5. TIED The Good Place (FOX) AND Westworld (HBO)

Other shows I remember watching: Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, Downton Abbey, Endeavour, The Good Wife, Bachelor in Paradise 😳, Silicon Valley, Stranger Things, John Adams, Seinfeld, Bob’s Burgers

Books

1. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

2. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

3. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

4. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

5. Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace 

Books of 2016

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

3. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Other books I remember reading: Blink, Modern Romance, Outliers, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Dinner, Girl on the Train

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

This doesn’t count as me having finished another book, as this was at least my fourth time reading it (if not more). Some might wonder why I read and reread depressing memoirs like Angela’s Ashes. (1) It reminds me that others have it much worse, (2) it shows the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, and (3) it’s a masterfully written book. Stark and unsugarcoated, but not self-pitying, Mr. McCourt tells it like it was, matter-of-fact and with a sense of humor, through the innocence of a child. This book will always have a special place in my heart for introducing me at an early age to my love of memoir and biography, but deservedly so because its poignant portrayal of love, hardship, endurance, and shame.


Some passages that caught my attention this time around:

I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland. I feel sad over the bad thing but I can’t back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in the films, but you can’t say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You’re allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head (McCourt, 210).


Ah, pension my arse. Sixteen years of age an’ talking about the pension. Is it coddin’ me you are? Do you hear what I said, Frankie? Pension my arse. If you pass the exam you’ll stay in the post office nice and secure the rest of your life. You’ll marry a Brigid and have five little Catholics and grow little roses in your garden. You’ll be dead in your head before you’re thirty and dried in your ballocks the year before. Make up your own bloody mind and to hell with the safeshots and the begrudgers. Do you hear me, Frankie McCourt?…’Tis your life, make your own decisions and to hell with the begrudgers, Frankie. In the heel o’ the hunt you’ll be going to America anyway, won’t you? (McCourt, 334)

The Dinner by Herman Koch

I don’t really get why this book had to take place at a dinner. It feels a little gimmicky, if you ask me. All the dinner backdrop really serves to do is (1) break up the progression of the book into digestible portions (aperitif, appetizer, main course, dessert, digestif), and (2) underscore the problematic nature of this family (going out to dinner at a seen-and-be-seen restaurant to discuss a crime committed by their children seems like they’re not taking the crime seriously)–both of which could be just as skillfully done without a waiter interrupting every so often. But alright.

Despite the gimmick, The Dinner is a fun read highlighting the power of the unreliable narrator. I know I litter all my entries with dozens of spoilers (they’re reflections after all)–but let me just say this: that family is psychotic.

Reflections and Moving Forward

To reflect on my summer: In June I was frustrated and depressed. In July I had my perspectives shaken up by family changes and my first visit to the motherland (aka Korea). In August, I started making active efforts to move forward in my life.

I didn’t do much reading or watching of films. I did, however, watch an enormous amount of television, I’m ashamed to say.

 

MOVIES

Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush; 2016; USA)

Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, 2016, USA)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2016, UK)

Captain America: Civil War (Joe Russo & Anthony Russo, 2016, USA)

Sing Street (John Carney, 2016, Ireland)

Sausage Party (Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan, 2016, USA)

 

TELEVISION

Silicon Valley: Season 3 (HBO)

The Good Wife: Seasons 1-7 (CBS via Amazon Prime)

Seinfeld: Seasons 1- (NBC via Hulu)

Stranger Things: Season 1 (Netflix)

…Bachelor in Paradise: Season 2 (ABC)

 

BOOKS

I’m halfway through The Two Koreas by Don Oberdorfer

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

 

A few reflections on all this:

My favorite movies of the summer were Finding Dory and Sing Street. Finding Dory had great heart, beautiful animation, and excellent storytelling and character development. Sing Street had spunky characters, amazing soundtrack and wardrobe, and nostalgia for the 80s on it’s side. That being said, the most creative movies I watched this summer were undoubtedly Zootopia and Sausage Party. Zootopia bravely took on the hot button issue of racism and turned it into a sweet yet complex animated movie teaching children and adults alike the dangers of racism; Sausage Party took a simple yet creative premise and kept the fun going with button-pushing raunchy jokes and political humor. Both were bold risks that paid off.

I watched way too much TV this summer. The Good Wife was a mediocre show–at times, excellent (Season 5: Episodes 5 and 15) , but mostly procedural and full of frustrating recurring characters. More often than not, I found protagonist Alicia Florrick  to be an unsympathetic character–perhaps part of the character’s complexity, commentary on the corrupting influence of the law, but nevertheless rendering the show irritating to watch. It’s hard to root for a stone cold bitch denying responsibility left and right. Few of the other characters are much better. I started watching Seinfeld to replace the gaping hole the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm left on my life. I love these shows about nothing in part because I can relate to what they’re doing–blowing tiny situations out of proportion and playing with the possibilities. In terms of shows actually on air now: Silicon Valley was slightly less brilliant than seasons past, but still funny and I love how each season tackles a new stage in the progression of a start up–this season, the expansion of a great idea into a company. Stranger Things is excellent–scary, 80s-nostalgic, a little bizarre and all over the place, but it works. I’m ashamed to say I watched Bachelor in Paradise. It’s just so damn addicting to see this unnatural dating simulation, where people have limited options, feel pressure to cling to someone in order to get a rose and remain in paradise even if they’re not actually into them, and expect to feel instant connections and be engaged by the end of it all. It’s so fake. I’m going to stop there, lest I launch into judgmental critiques of real people who I don’t actually know. Let me just say this though–the only guys that I would be remotely interested in on that island would be Wells and Vinny.

I hardly read this summer. Even though Don Oberdorfer’s post-Korean War history of the Korean peninsula is supremely fascinating, I’ve been such a couch potato that I only am invested in such a political, fact-heavy book when I have nothing else to entertain me–namely, on the subway to and from work (that is, if I’m not tired or anxious). The only book I’ve completed this summer has been the Harry Potter fan-fic play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I cannot believe JK Rowling attached her name to such an awful piece of writing. The plot is stupid, the characterizations are terrible, and the dialogue? Truly cringeworthy. There’s so much audience pandering going on here, insultingly assuming that the audience are a bunch of idiots who need comic relief at every twist and turn. I know it’s a fictional work, but so was Harry Potter–you only put jokes where they make sense. During a tense situation in which your son might be lost forever, you don’t look around and comment on how many farmer’s markets a town has. That’s just dumb and unnecessary. Ignoring the terrible plot (the premise was great, the actual plot line the playwrights decided to go with? So stupid), the play tried way too hard to be entertaining that it’s actually hard to read.

 

I really need to sleep, but first–in terms of moving forward, my cultural goals for the September 2016-August 2017 year are these:

MOVIES: watch at least 1 movie/week

BOOKS: read at least 1 book/2 weeks

It’s week 1 of the new year, and I’ve already finished my first book: Herman Koch’s The Dinner (coming up on the blog! Probably should have devoted more time to the entry, but whatever–some of these posts will be more about speed for the sake of practice and documentation, then quality, well composed pieces).

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I read this back in July 2015 while in Spain with friends, celebrating our recent graduation from college. I’ve decided not to pad my blog with musings written in my personal journal because that’s making things quite messy, timeline-wise, but this was such a fun read for someone obsessed with movies–as one of the most prominent film critics in history, Roger Ebert’s memoirs is chockfull of anecdotes involving Hollywood’s biggest names–that I just had to include it. Here are two quotes that I noted down, either for the sake of humor or wisdom.

(1) “Roger, when I need to amuse myself, I stroll down the sidewalk reflecting that every person I pass thought they looked just great when they walked out of their house that morning” (Gene Siskel, 330).
(2) “The lesson Studs [Terkel] taught me is that your life is over when you stop living it. If you can truly ‘retire,’ you only had a job, but not an occupation” (398).