I’m back!


It’s now July 15, 2016. I’m a little over one year out of college, currently working in tech consulting. It’s been a learning experience–there are positives, and obvious negatives. My passion for movies has slightly waned, though every so often I get excited about films again. The last movie I saw in theaters was Pixar’s Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, 2016). It was excellent. Call me blasphemous, but I liked it better than the other animated powerhouse of this year–Disney’s Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush). Sure, Zootopia was more sophisticated, daring, and culturally important–it’s a children’s story preaching the dangers of racism, super relevant in a time when racial profiling is tearing the country apart. But for all of Zootopia’s cleverness, I loved how Finding Dory sought, very simply, to tell a good story and tell it well.A sweet yet nuanced tale about love, family, friendship, and never, ever, giving up. It was unpredictable, funny, heartwarming, visually striking, extraordinarily creative, chockfull of memorable characters–in short, everything that I’ve come to expect from Pixar (though truth be told, even though I expect Pixar movies to be brilliant in every aspect, they don’t always turn out that way. Hey, a 100% hit record is damn near impossible to achieve). Honestly speaking, expectations may have also biased me against Zootopia (I expected great things), and for Finding Dory (I went with friends who were visiting because it was pouring out, we had an awkward 2.5 hour gap with no planned activities to fill, and those two wanted to go see it. Otherwise, despite my love of Nemo, I wasn’t planning on every seeing Dory because frankly, I couldn’t see how a fish with short-term memory loss could carry an entire movie without becoming extremely annoying. Let’s just say Dory wasn’t my favorite in Nemo–though I did quite enjoy her whale calls. Sorry).

Anyways, this post wasn’t supposed to be about Zootopia vs. Finding Dory. It’s supposed to be my welcome back post to this blog. A post to define the purpose of this blog (for me to document and digest at least some of the movies/TV shows/books that I consume, to work on my writing, and to preserve a record of how my writing and tastes change over time) and describe the types of content I will be posting here (I’m going to say NOT reviews, but reflections. Or analyses. I will more likely than not spill the beans on the ending of a movie or TV show or book. I actually have a bad habit of doing that in real life when recommending something to someone. And sometimes I’ll post quotes or other little tidbits. Basically, I’ll post whatever I want to, thank you very much).

As I was going through past entries, changing the visibility of my freshman summer-postings from private to public, the list-lover in me ached to go back through AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list and mark all the movies I have seen, to date.

AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (2007 updated list):

1)      Citizen Kane

2)      The Godfather

3)      Casablanca

4)      Raging Bull

5)      Singin’ in the Rain

6)      Gone with the Wind

7)      Lawrence of Arabia

8)      Schindler’s List

9)      Vertigo

10)   The Wizard of Oz

11)   City Lights

12)   The Searchers

13)   Star Wars

14)   Psycho

15)   2001: A Space Odyssey

16)   Sunset Boulevard

17)   The Graduate

18)   The General

19)   On the Waterfront

20)   It’s a Wonderful Life

21)   Chinatown

22)   Some Like it Hot

23)   The Grapes of Wrath

24)   ET The Extraterrestrial

25)   To Kill a Mockingbird

26)   Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

27)   High Noon

28)   All About Eve

29)   Double Indemnity

30)   Apocalypse Now

31)   The Maltese Falcon

32)   The Godfather Part II

33)   One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

34)   Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

35)   Annie Hall

36)   The Bridge on the River Kwai

37)   The Best Years of Our Lives

38)   The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

39)   Dr. Strangelove

40)   The Sound of Music

41)   King Kong

42)   Bonnie and Clyde

43)   Midnight Cowboy

44)   The Philadelphia Story

45)   Shane

46)   It Happened One Night

47)   A Streetcar Named Desire

48)   Rear Window

49)   Intolerance

50)   The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

51)   West Side Story

52)   Taxi Driver

53)   The Deer Hunter

54)   MASH

55)   North by Northwest

56)   Jaws

57)   Rocky

58)   The Gold Rush

59)   Nashville

60)   Duck Soup

61)   Sullivan’s Travels

62)   American Graffiti

63)   Cabaret

64)   Network

65)   The African Queen

66)   Raiders of the Lost Ark

67)   Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

68)   Unforgiven

69)   Tootsie

70)   A Clockwork Orange

71)   Saving Private Ryan

72)   The Shawshank Redemption

73)   Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

74)   The Silence of the Lambs

75)   In the Heat of the Night

76)   Forrest Gump

77)   All the President’s Men

78)   Modern Times

79)   The Wild Bunch

80)   The Apartment

81)   Spartacus

82)   Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

83)   Titanic

84)   Easy Rider

85)   A Night at the Opera

86)   Platoon

87)   12 Angry Men

88)   Bringing Up Baby

89)   The Sixth Sense

90)   Swing Time

91)   Sophie’s Choice

92)   Goodfellas

93)   The French Connection

94)   Pulp Fiction

95)   The Last Picture Show

96)   Do the Right Thing

97)   Blade Runner

98)   Yankee Doodle-Dandy

99)   Toy Story

100)           Ben-Hur

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA, 2014)

When I first heard about Boyhood, I was impressed, yes, with the film’s 12 years of shooting time, though not as much as the average viewer. Two years ago, I interned at Rada Film Group, the production company behind American Promise, a documentary that much like Boyhood, filmed a young boy from the age of six to the age of eighteen. My exposure to the feat of 12 years of filming at Rada frankly blunted my reaction to the immense amount of time and effort invested into Boyhood; While I was intrigued to see a fictional compilation of 12 years of film, the concept wasn’t actually novel to me.

Having said that, Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen this summer–and I’ve seen some great ones, including Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur. It’s an anthology of one boy’s childhood, a compilation of moments both formative and revelatory–allowing viewer to see the events that shape the characters, as well as the results. The simple chronological structure chosen for the film is perfect–when combined with the filming style, watching Boyhood feels like watching a child grow up and transform before your eyes: it’s child development for the impatient. Even with the inclusion of recognizable actors such as Ethan Hawke (playing the boy’s dad) and Patricia Arquette (the boy’s mom), the film feels real; a mixed bag of momentous occasions and the more mundane; silences, gregariousness, and one-word responses; happiness, awkwardness, and fear.

Besides allowing you to experience the growth of one boy into a sensitive and artistic young man, Boyhood also invites you to reminisce about your own past, through the evolution of fashion and music unfolding on the screen. The long hair sweeping over the eyes, ever so carefully brushed to the side and flipped upwards reminded me of the boys in middle school; Sheryl Crowe’s “Soak Up the Sun” took me back all the way to elementary. Boyhood, thus, not only gives you the thrilling experience of watching one boy’s physical and emotional evolution over 12 years in 166 minutes, but also allows you to relive a little bit of your own.

The Up Series (1964-current, Michael Apted and Paul Almond, UK)

I just finished watching 21 Up, the third episode of the Up Series–an incredible documentary following the lives of 14 individuals from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances from age seven onwards. The first episode, 7 Up, was released in 1964, and ever since, an episode (of seemingly increasing length) has been released every seven years. The series is up to 56 Up–meaning the documentary participants are now over 56 years old, given that 56 Up came out in 2012–and I’m excited to see where life has taken these 14 individuals.

Some observations I’ve had about the series so far:

(1) At first it seems as if you’re seeing nothing more than 14 people grow up in front of your eyes–not terribly exciting, given how many people you watch doing that already in your daily life. But this documentary is so much more than that–it not only explores 14 individuals, but 14 individuals from very diverse backgrounds. It’s interesting to see how bright little Neil Hughes from the Liverpool suburb becomes a squatter, while shy little Nicholas from the country makes it out of farmland and into Oxford. It’s interesting to compare the three rich little boys from the prep school diverge on their paths and opinions–while John and Andrew seem to be as snobbish and privileged as ever as they age, Charles grows increasingly critical of social inequities and eventually ends up at a less prestigious university than John and Andrew.

The series provides an illuminating perspective not only for comparison purposes between the children–how did the rich kids turn out in comparison to the poor ones? How are their perspectives on similar topics different? How do they express themselves? What are their values?–but also for comparison purposes within each subject–how do their viewpoints change over time? It’s different from watching those around you grow up, because whereas you often don’t have the opportunity to interview them all at once on what they think about a variety of subjects (and you often forget what they believed before), here you get to dig deep into the minds and beliefs

(2) see changes in film

Cache (Michael Haneke, 2005)

A supremely stylish thriller. The ending adds a new element to the unresolved mystery that’ll keep you thinking for a while after the movie is over, but only should you spot the clue which is not distinguished from the remainder of the very busy composition. A fun ending that rightfully doesn’t overshadow the rest of the movie, as some endings are wont to do (for good or for bad).

L’enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium, 2005)

L’enfant was my introduction to the Dardenne brothers. The 2005 Cannes Palm d’Or winner was a striking reminder of what film can do: introduce viewers to unfamiliar circumstances and experiences, or provide new ways of looking at the familiar.

The film is shot and directed in such a way that it seems as if someone followed the two main characters–Jeremie Renier’s Bruno and Deborah Francois’s Sonia–with a camera, and covertly filmed this pivotal segment of their lives. It appears so real, so authentic, that the Dardenne brothers’ incredible achievement in capturing a young couple’s reaction to having a child is easy to brush over. And in fact, I initially did.

But as anyone who has stood in front of a camera, or even known a camera is directed his way, knows, it’s almost impossible to not seize up before a camera, to not become extremely aware of your every move. To be able to capture life as it is actually experienced, as this film appears to do, is then an impossibility. Just look at reality TV as an example. Even if left unscripted, when is it ever truly real?

L’enfant doesn’t seem like real life only in style, plot, and characterization, but also in its impressive presentation of its subject matter. Though at initial read, l’enfant, the child, in question seems to be Bruno and Sonia’s new baby, as the viewer sees more of Bruno and Sonia’s very different reactions to becoming parents, it becomes obvious that the true child is Bruno, and this film is not about how the baby radically changes Bruno and Sonia’s lives, but about the immaturity of these two adults.

The subject of adult childishess is very easy to turn into a joke. (Adam Sandler comes to mind.) But Bruno and Sonia are not gross, hyperbolic characters, but completely believable childish people: Bruno stealing for a living and spending every last Euro he has instead of saving up for the future, Sonia playing along with Bruno’s games, staying with him even though he abandoned her while she was in the hospital, biting him and wrestling him and screaming playfully as he chases her. L’enfant shows Sonia and Bruno’s growth in maturity. Sonia’s comes quickly, triggered by Bruno’s ultimate act of selfishness in selling their baby, Bruno’s taking more time. Their growth is incomplete and especially in Bruno’s case, not straightforward–Bruno’s display of maturity in turning himself in when his adolescent partner in crime is captured by the police isn’t completely heroic as it was shown that he had nothing to lose and even some stability to gain from being in jail–but the imperfection, the messiness, the ambiguity render this peek into a young couples’ lives all the more real.

 

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2013)

My immediate reaction to Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring was that it was a silly and superficial film. Underneath its stylish veneer – the absence of sound during some scenes, the use of slow motion during others – the movie was nothing more than an amalgam of  party scenes, nightclub scenes, beach scenes, closet scenes, and celebrity home break-in scenes. Designer names made up a good 1/3 of the dialogue, celebrity names another 1/3, and “Marc, chill out” the final third, while the images were dominated by racks of clothes, shoes, and jewelry, garish furniture, shiny cars, and cocaine. Basically, the film pandered to today’s viewers’ attraction to the glitzy and glamorous LA lifestyle, a thought which is only further supported by the addition of Emma Watson to the otherwise little-known cast. Aside from Ms. Watson’s ability to attract a large, young audience for the film, and her ability to look gorgeous in a range of designer duds, the choice of Ms. Watson for the role of Nicki Moore, one of the principal characters in the film, seems inexplicable because of Ms. Watson’s struggle in reproducing an American accent. Now I’m not saying that I’m any better at assuming an English accent than Ms. Watson is at an American one, but I’m not the one who has been cast as an American several times now.

But in retrospect, I realize I dismissed Ms. Coppola’s film as shallow without considering that the superficiality of the Bling Ring, the real-life gang of celebrity-obsessed teens who burglarized celebrity homes for designer clothes, cash, and drugs, was exactly what Ms. Coppola sought to capture in her film. The heavy sensation of grossness I felt after watching the movie – the same feeling I get after cooping up on the couch all day watching reruns of Friends while tearing through containers of Christmas cookies, or from watching a bad rom-com on Oxygen channel on a lazy Saturday afternoon – basically, the feeling of purely hedonistic indulgence – was, perhaps, intentional: Coppola’s reminder to her youthful audience that the superficiality, the greed, the celebrity obsession demonstrated by the beautiful youths on the screen is utterly unproductive and frankly pathetic. And while Ms. Watson’s American accent was kind of distractingly exaggerated, it actually ultimately worked. The overly-girlish, self-conscious softness in Watson’s accent accentuated the self-absorption and ignorance existing in the Nicki character, completing the picture of just how shallow these teenagers really were, though I still prefer the less exaggerated (but definitely not understated) performances of Claire Julien as the edgy Chloe and Taissa Farmiga as Nicki’s giggly sidekick Sam.

I originally dismissed The Bling Ring because it failed to explain the likely troubled home lives of many of these teens, but I see now that I was missing the point. While these kids may (or may not) have come from troubled backgrounds, The Bling Ring explains that ultimately, they were produced by today’s avaricious, attention-seeking, celebrity-worshipping society. The saddest testament to this valueless and unproductive society that Coppola identifies is that the member of the Bling Ring on whom Watson’s character is based got her own reality TV show as her criminal trial was unfolding. Instead of punishing an individual who broke into homes and stole in order to fuel her hedonistic lifestyle, this moral-less society rewarded her with attention, further blurring the lines between right and wrong.

Cranford (BBC, UK, 2007)

Cranford (BBC, UK, 2007)

I’m currently watching Cranford, which aired on BBC One back in 2007. It’s a fantastically funny miniseries about a small English village resistant to change, even in the face of the Industrial Revolution. Brilliantly cast, Cranford derives the bulk of its heart and humor from its band of outspoken spinsters, led by the formidable Eileen Atkins as Miss Deborah Jenkyns and including Imelda Staunton, pictured here, as the silly and energetic gossip with the floppiest of bonnets and a tendency toward misunderstandings. Her one liners are perfection, as are Ms. Atkins’s more sternly delivered ones. A personal favorite moment in this five-episode series is when Atkins’s Deborah discusses the consumption of oranges with her sister Miss Matty Jenkyns (a particularly adorable Judi Dench) and house guest Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon).