Young Adult

Mavis is screwed up. Like, seriously. But no more than the rest of us – and that’s where the beauty of Young Adult lies.

Young Adult was released in 2011, so I’m a bit late to the game, but its mixed reviews are highly confusing. Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman team up to create a, dare I say, powerhouse film; it’s just much more subtle than my realist faves, such as Revolutionary Road or other films that criticize and analyze the failure of any average American’s life.

But Young Adult is much more than a 30-ish woman failing to rise from her high school throne, plagued by fallen marriages and a fruitless womb. With absolute hilarity (thank you, Patton Oswalt for joining this movie), Young Adult flirts with the question, “Is anyone really happy?”

And the best thing is, Cody and Reitman never answer the question. It’s still in the air if whether Buddy is happy in his marriage; if Freehauf is a man who’s come to terms with his disability, or a man running away from real life to his action figures; if Mavis has truly found out that toying with booze and men is not a fulfilled life.

But the second to last scene is where the answer to these questions are hinted at. After Freehauf’s sister drowns Mavis in praise and belittles the “dumb and fat” town of Mercury (repeating the cafeteria cliques of decades past), and asks if she can partner up with Marvis to the grand ole’ city, Marvis shares that, well, “you’re good here.” Ouch. And once Marvis drives off in her beaten car to a life not changed, we can see that life must be something more than what these group of characters wrestle with.

Young Adult is now available on Netflix Instant, but its not a pretty Charlize Theron cracking the audience up with her antics. It’s an intimate viewing of everyone’s struggle to stretch beyond being a Young Adult.

☆☆☆☆ and 1/2 Stars

Why David Fincher (and the whole ‘Benjamin Button’ Crew) Deserves All the Awards

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of my favorite films in the entire universe. Period. It’s incredible in every facet possible.

But never mind the lovely and excellent story, the incredible direction, the phenomenal special effects, sound, editing, and music. The scene below shows how amazing filmmaking is and how touching it can be. All the elements of film are at their absolute best in this one scene, and it confirms why Fincher is one of my favorite directors, and why I have to be a filmmaker.

Lincoln

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Don’t you love it when you see a good film? I mean, a really good film? It’s as if you can almost forgive Hollywood’s slew of crap and truly appreciate a really great movie. Well, that’s just the case with Lincoln. If one can overlook the temporary injections of corniness, they can witness a beautiful, passionately and wonderfully acted, and an even charming film blossom before their very eyes.

Lincoln follows the 16th President and his cabinet’s journey to establish the 13th Amendment; you know, the one that gets rid of slavery? Obviously, it’s kind of a big deal, and some people don’t like it. Abraham Lincoln must convince his nation to ratify this measure, all while attempting to bring the Civil War to a close, grieve with his wife Mary over the death of his son Willy, raise and love his other two boys, and deal with a bunch of old, grumpy white guys.

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In short, Spielberg’s still got it. All of these topics are handled gracefully and flow smoothly with each other, also managing to paint a touching portrait of Lincoln. (Lincoln’s kind of like the Grandpa you wished you had, who would go off topic and tell funny stories, then somehow tie that story into his preceding point, and look really cool and wise.) While Spielberg’s direction is great (one is always aware of the camera, but it seems more like a warm invite than an irritating awareness), let’s give a round of applause for Tony Kushner, the screenwriter. It takes great skill to construct an accurate and pleasing portrait of Lincoln and his presidency. And the assassination: tactful, despite how weird that may sound. The death of America’s President is sad, yet bittersweet.

And wow, I forgot to mention the acting; that’s just how good it is. Everyone falls completely into their characters, and I bet you $100 Daniel Day-Lewis is winning that Oscar.*

Lincoln is one of the best films this year, no doubt about it.

☆☆☆☆

*I’m sorry, I actually can’t give you a $100. 

Book Vs. Film: Jane Eyre

I hate the term “classic.” It’s insane for one group of people to declare that certain films and novels will forever be masterpieces. Why shove clunky books down poor schoolchildren’s throats and proclaim certain films are “must-sees” to any film buff? If a piece of art is so special and great, shouldn’t it be able to stand and thrive on its own without people constantly shoving it forward? Though critics, professors, and misguided viewers and readers like to toss around the word “classic” too, why is one major entity – schools – stating what should be classic for the entire world? You HAD to read To Kill a Mockingbird in 9th grade; any serious movie buff HAS to see Psycho or Taxi Driver or Citizen Kane, etc. Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice,The Great Gatsby, even children’s books are stamped as classics. Where the Wild Things Are is probably one of the worst kid’s books I’ve read – but since a bunch of people said, “CLASSIC!”, people go out in droves and buy the book or film or any piece of art declared as a beloved classic.

Perhaps these novels and movies were magnificent for a different era – the current generation is to produce new “classics”, not artistry that has died (or should have died) a long time ago. Because someone does something first does not make it wonderful, especially if a host of other people did it entirely better.

So why in the world did I read Jane Eyre?

Other than it was free on my Nook and, (listen here) REQUIRED reading for school, I didn’t want to.

“But Alley, was it good, overrated, masterful? Does it deserve to be called a “classic”?”

In short: Yes. And no.

But let’s take it slow: what does Jane Eyre do right? For one, the strong willed heroine Charlotte Bronte presents is a breath of fresh air – even for the 21st century. Jane does not  take any stuff – blunt honesty and strong spirits is the name of her game. It might be more normal to see the ‘strong woman’ type in entertainment today, but this well-rounded female character is essential for women for any era. The writing is absolutely enthralling – Bronte chooses words that zooms the reader right into the scene. The characterization and diction is wonderful, a symphony of gorgeous words.

Wow, that was quick. Now for the bad…

Honest to God, though the writing is pretty, at least half of this novel could have been chopped off, two-hundred pages at minimum. SO MUCH of it is unnecessary purple prose – grandiose descriptions already detailed in the before paragraph. This is not setting up a scene – this is overindulgence to the max. Bronte also gives a typical, ‘happily-ever after’ story in Jane Eyre. It’s not deserving of a detailed synopsis, so here’s the rundown: poor girl an orphan in a rich family; poor girl a governess to a rich master; poor girl wife to rich master; poor girl just poor and homeless; poor girl suddenly made rich girl; rich girl marries rich master.

Isn’t it wonderful?!

The relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester is sweet, touching, then BAM!, almost verging on a saccharine mess. Throw in some contrived plot devices and you have a “classic.”

But perhaps we’ve learned a lesson here. What may be good for you, may be horrible for another. Only the person can decide what’s “classic” for themselves.

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My, oh my. Does this movie have it all… Rushed pace, unneeded scenes, important scenes given the ax, and since we’re in England…Judi Dench!

Pretty cinematography cannot save this movie. Is it a dark thriller, a romance, a character study, etc.? Because this film doesn’t balance the three elements well like it’s source novel does.

Just, no.

☆☆

Argo

I could try to devise a witty opening sentence, but why be coy? Argo is one of the best films of the year and another gold star in Ben Affleck’s directorial career. After a lackluster summer and a dry spell during early fall, moviegoers were starving for a good film. No, cross that. An excellent film. Argo is that film.

Since most of the suspense is brimming in the last thirty minutes of the movie, some may feel Argo is fine for the first hour, but it starts getting good until the last scenes. Which is wrong, of course. Argo is one of those movies that every time you watch it, the better it gets. Small clues left in the beginning of the movie and quick-witted dialogue not only pumps up the pace in the first half of the movie, but serve to reinforce the dramatic and riveting thrill in the other half.

So let’s see: suspenseful, intelligent, fun…how much more can this film pack in? Well, Argo is greedy – in a good way. Smartly adapting Iranian drama is not enough; Argo attempts to give insightful observations- not overly analyze – the ethics of the movie business (or lack of, that is). But it’s so well hidden in hilarious lines, we’re so busy having fun that we forget actually learned something.

Everyone does an excellent job here, from the smallest (but most powerful) roles to Affleck’s calm and suave performance. What else can I say? Argo is an excellently crafted film, one that shouldn’t be missed.

Looper and Donnie Darko: A Mini Review and a Mini-Mini Review

What an apt name for a film. It’s complicated, but not confusing. Involving, but not exactly thrilling. It definitely sends your brain in loops, but not because the it’s hard to understand, but by the end of the movie, one has to ask: how does a film that began so wonderful end so horribly?

To not waste my time or yours, I’ll diverge from detailing every little aspect of the plot. (If you want to meet a time-travel expert who know how to dissect Looper’s twisty storyline, see here.) Basically, Young Joe (JGL) is trying to kill Old Joe (Bruce Willis), and Old Joe is running away and trying to murder a kid who eventually grows up and becomes a terrorist who murders his wife of the future. This kid happens to live on a farm with Sara (Emily Blunt), a farm Young Joe happens to stumble upon.

Yeah. It’s not what I expected either.

By the first-half of the movie, everything is fresh. Fascinating concept, fast pacing, and fun dialogue, especially between Old Joe and Young Joe. But after this stage conversation is finished (oddly the only one of the two times they even see each other), the films slows down dramatically. It doesn’t even seem like the same movie anymore. Sub-plots of telekinesis and tired inclusions of inherently bad kids who use their superpowers for evil makes the film seem forced. Old Joe avenging for his wife? Contrived. Even Bruce Willis is criminally under-used in this movie.

Once the ending comes, with Levitt in voice-over every tying every loose string in one nice little package, one just wants to roll their eyes.

☆☆☆

Donnie Darko
Funnily, this film reminded me of many movies I’ve seen recently: Magnolia, American
Beauty, even Looper. Yet, even though I didn’t understand this movie fully, I absolutely loved it. Forget the witty dialogue and the excellent acting – the storyline juggles a number of diverging storylines and handles them beautifully. Time travel? Schizophrenia?  Religion? School politics? This film has it all – and does it all wonderfully.

☆☆☆☆ and 1/2 Stars

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For October’s Book Vs. Film selection, I’ll review the short story and film, Minority Report. Look for the reviews this week! (Thank you to Stephanie for the suggestion!)

The Master and the End of the Paul Thomas Anderson Marathon

One of the best benchmarks for reviewing a film is seeing how well it stands up days after the initial viewing. Thoughts become focused and precise, where the fog of hype and bartering fades away (“Well, they did do that bad, but at least…“) and true feelings towards the film surface. I try to employ this with mostly every movie I watch. This is the reason why, day by day, I continually lose respect for The Master and PTA’s films in general. Throughout this marathon, I’ve watched the films of PTA and though I’ve enjoyed them, there was always something missing. Something that’s scratched at my brain for some time now, but after The Master, I realized what was lacking in Anderson’s films: meaning.

In The Master, we are greeted by Freddie Quell, a wrecked leftover from WW2 who possessed some serious mental issues, some fostered by disastrous exposure to brutal killings, some created by the puzzling grooves of his mind. He’s unpredictable and has a ravenous sexual appetite. When we are first introduced to Freddie in the opening sequence, including a scene of him humping a sand lady he’s fashioned on the beach, one can’t help but wonder: is this nurture of his nature?

Therefore, it’s even more interesting to see a cult leader, Lancaster Dodd take on Freddie, somewhat as a pet project. (P.S. This film is not only about Scientology. The themes in The Master can apply to any religious or educational hub). We’re promised to see an intricate examination of the human psyche as people are massaged into dangerous and cultish thoughts, but the result is much different.

Before I give my spill, I would like to at least explain The Master isn’t terrible, at least not in terms outside storytelling. Everyone here is absolutely brilliant and absolutely convincing in their roles; certain scenes would be vapid if PTA didn’t employ old regulars such as Philip Seymour Hoffman or Joaquin Phoenix. Though Amy Adams seems like a flat character (silent yet strong type woman is fastly becoming a caricature in film), these actors take on an interesting script and give dazzling performances.

That’s where it stops for The Master and most of PTA’s films: mere interestingness.

Now, unlike Magnolia, some of the questions left over from The Master actually please the viewer and stretches their imagination. Why does Freddie join Dodd’s religion? A lost soul looking for the answers to his questions? Why does Freddie defend him, sometimes physically? Does he join the Cause because it’s “cool” and something new? Why does Dodd take Freddie on? The mere booze he provides? Pet project? However, as the movie progresses, these fascinating questions evolve into major irritations. There are no hints and no points to the movie.

Additionally, what is the point of this film? Be careful who you trust in? When in doubt, add a sex scene? What meaning do the numerous sexual references have? Does The Master have any meaning? An often recurring pop-up in PTA’s films is that there is no meaning. Everything is merely interesting, never insightful. The Master never fully impacts because Anderson mixes characters with lazy story lines (not so much in construction of the script, but applying innate ideas to a film with substance). PTA has a talent for devising interesting and complicated characters in dramatic plots, but again, they stop there. Enigmatic people who convey no truth about life. Substance in films don’t equal sunshine and rainbows (American Beauty is controversial, yet it had substance and a point to it: how beautiful life is, yet how fleeting beauty is in one’s life, especially one stunted with droning complacency). An well-executed movie lets the moviegoer think for themselves and devise their own reasonable dissection of the film, enabling an emotional and mental connection. There is no such thing with PTA or The Master.

I’ve been patient with Anderson’s films, re-watching movies and trying to analyze those
movies where a point can be found. Yet, nothing. It’s like being promised a present but having confetti thrown in your face: it’s pretty and colorful (interesting), but what’s the meaning?

Therefore, therein is the most damaging element in PTA’s films. It is so bad that I will have to decline to watch Hard Eight for this marathon. The Master has all the right ingredients: wonderful leads, an engaging plot (if Anderson focused on cultism and not Freddie’s decaying life, would The Master have been rescued?) and beautiful cinematography. Except one is left out: purpose.

☆☆