Teen Films In the New Millennium – A Dying Art

12 Feb


I first discovered my favourite film genre when I was 7 years old and I went to see ‘Clueless’ with mother. It was rated M and ticket attendant warned my mum that it was a bit too adult for me and she should, as a responsible parent take me to see something else, like ‘Toy Story’. But as my mum has told me many times, she doesn’t believe in censorship so she took me anyway.

The brilliantly written ‘Clueless’ is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and is peppered with rich and authentic dialogue, that director and writer Amy Heckling had collected from actual classrooms in Beverly Hills . This cinema experience crowned ‘Cluelsss’ as my favorite film of all time and thanks to it’s timelessness and  a good helping of nostalgia, it remains in top spot to this day.

But Clueless wasn’t the only great teen film that I feel in love with during my youth. In fact in the year 1999, a bumper year for teen films, I welcomed these gems into my life: ‘Cruel Intentions’, ’10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘American Pie’, ‘She’s All That’ and the hilariously  twisted ‘Election’. That was also the year I developed a love of cheesy teen horror flicks and as such spent my weekends watching ‘Scream’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘The Faculty’.

Between 12 and 13  I spent most of my Saturdays at the video shop and finally discovered the master of the teen genre, the maker of Molly Ringwald, John Hughes.  He became my god and I had to see every film the man had ever made. ‘Pretty In Pink’, ‘Weird Science’, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ and of course what some argue is the best teen film ever, ‘The Breakfast Club’. These films along with a back catalog of 90s favorites were the instruction guides by which I tried to navigate my adolescence.

I’d learnt so much, if only I could apply it. Unfortunately compared to the fictional paradises that Hughes created, being a real teenager is very disappointing. Popular boys don’t notice outcasts,  male best friends aren’t anywhere near as charming as Ducky from ‘Pretty In Pink’ and no matter how hard you try, you can’t create the perfect woman or man on your computer like ‘Weird Science’.  It was then I learnt the hardest lesson of all, teen films are way better than being a teenager. Yes it was a sad time but at least I had John Hughes to comfort me.

Recently after watching a terrible attempt at the teen genre, a little stinker called ‘The To Do List’, I wondered if that lesson still holds true or have teen films become so awful that being a teenager actually looks good in comparison. Sure there are a few films that capture that magic I felt back in the 90s, ‘Mean Girls’, ‘The Perks Of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘Easy A’ are brilliant additions to the genre. But on whole  the depictions of the teenage generation have really gone downhill.

Teen films used to be a place where emerging writers could cut their teeth, make a little low budget feature and if it was a hit, reap a a massive return. Take writer Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut ‘Say Anything’, a great script, some unknown actors,  a small budget and boom 20 million dollars and he can pick his next project. Teen horror films were another way to break in, ‘Kevin Williamson’ broke into the industry with a little script called Scream.

But now this way of breaking into the industry seems to have died and teen films as a genre have been almost entirely replaced with young adult novel adaptations. Films like ‘Twilight’, ‘The Hunger Games’ are reaping in the dollars with an already devoted audience, huge budgets and script writing guns for hire (whose real job is to condense 400 pages of well written young adult fiction into 120 pages of confusing plot and under developed characters).  Sure some of these franchises are better than others but they aren’t teen films. They are sprawling action epics.

Whatever happened to scripts written about the horror and hilarity filled place that is high school. Scripts that make tweens imagine there perfect teenage life and create a great escape for those poor teenagers trying to make it out alive. I can only hope that that they resurface in time for my daughter, otherwise unlike me, she’ll have no relief for the pain of growing up.


Reign: Addictive Fantasy Disguised As History

26 Jan


Is it just me or is every new TV show this year staring an Australian. It’s almost as if Hollywood is bored with people from their own country. Pheobe Tonkin stars in The Originals, Sophie Lowe is Alice in Once Upon A Time in Wonderland and not one but two ex-Neighbours stars, star in Reign, the ridiculous new period drama from the CW. Reign is an incredibly cheesy and sexy tale of the early life of Mary Queen of Scots, played to camp and tasty perfection by our first neighbours alum Adelaide Kane.

Threatened by the English, from the moment of her birth, this attractive version of Mary has lived in a convent since she was 9. Then at 15 when another attempt is made upon her life, she is sent to live at the French court with her betrothed Prince Francis. Mary is happy to be back out in the world again and reunited with her four best friends and ladies in waiting, the sexiest of which is played our 2nd ex Neighbours alum the sultry Caitlin Stacey.

Things are looking rosy for Mary, until she learns from her future husband that their union is not certain. He will marry who he needs to, to protect his country and despite her extremely low cut bodices, it won’t necessarily be her. Things only get worse for Mary, as she realises the queen hates her and she develops a burning attraction to Francis’s illegitimate brother Sebastian. And of course no teen drama would be complete these days without a touch of the supernatural, so the show also has a bit of dark magic and fortune telling, the use of Nostradamus as a character, is a particular kind of cliched genius.

In another attempt to capture that ever fickle youth audience, Reign also takes a page out of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, using modern music in the score, most bizarrely even at balls and dances. The costumes are also particularly drool worthy, if not completely historically inaccurate. Ranging from the 16th,17th,18th,19th and 21st Centuries, creating clothing from the time period is a deliberate non issue for this series and the result is perplexing and captivating. The clothes are so beautiful and flattering to each individual actor and actress, perhaps they decided that making everyone look hot was more important than any attempt at historical relevance.

While this show is clearly more fantasy than history, I admire it for not bothering with the elements of period drama that would stop it from being the excellent addictive trash it strives to be. This is a show that doesn’t want to be nominated for awards or garner critical acclaim. It doesn’t even want to accurately depict the history it’s based on. Mary Queen of Scots wouldn’t be wearing a Alexander McQueen gown.  She wouldn’t have smouldering sexual chemistry with the real life ugly and short prince Francis, and most of all she probably wouldn’t have been an extremely generous and giving person. But why let these facts stand in the way of some good trashy TV.

And that’s what this show is, excellent trashy television. There’s a new love triangle every week, the plot twists and turns enough to be unpredictable and the male leads are often shirtless.  This show is the perfect antidote to far too many series focused on murderous royalty with complex personalities, e.g. Game of Thrones, The Tudors and The White Queen. Sure those shows are perfect when you want intrigue, action and gore.  But sometimes I like my TV to be simple and my characters to be likeable and on those days I watch Reign.

Veronica Mars Movie – Fans Rule or Do They?

17 Oct


Veronica Mars stands in the company of Buffy The Vampire Slayer,  Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, as the kind of show that stirs in me an obsessive mania. The kind of mania that once allowed me to put all thoughts of self preservation aside and bring a handmade Dawson’s Creek pencil case to school. The kind of mania that compelled me to collect a completely valueless Buffy The Vampire Slayer trading card collection. Yes, High School was not an easy time for me. But now we live in the age of kickstarter and obsessive fans who no longer have to papermache or collect action figures. Now they can literally buy a movie. And 6 months ago fans of Veronica Mars did just that, and so the Veronica Mars movie was born.

On our TV screens from 2004 to 2007, Veronica Mars is the story of a teenage private detective with trust issues and a Taser.  Veronica was once a normal, popular high school girl, until her life was completely upended by the murder of her best friend, Lily Kane.  Her father, Sheriff Mars, is convinced that Lily’s parents (particularly her father Jake Kane, a software billionaire) had something to do with their daughters death. And it is this conviction, along with minimal evidence, that gets him kicked out of office and gets Veronica unceremoniously dumped by her social circle. Sheriff Mars becomes Keith Mars, disgraced former Sheriff and current private detective. His wife develops a drinking problem and skips town and Veronica becomes his secretary, or, more accurately, his partner in crime.

The first season of Veronica Mars is amazing and possibly some of the greatest TV ever seen, powered by the fascinating mystery of Lily Kane’s Murder, it can’t be beat. The season spends a lot of time on Veronica’s back story, dividing itself into two, the Nior world that  Veronica now lives in,  and the sunny but  underbellied world of her past. Raking through her memories for clues as to what happened to her friend, we see the kind of girl Veronica used to be, pretty and blonde and unconcerned with the problems of her community.

I love this element of the show, because so often in teen dramas there are outsider characters that aren’t plausible. They are beautiful and sassy and one wonders how they could really be so on the outside, when good looks and personality are the most powerful currencies in high school. Veronica’s back story makes it abundantly clear why she is on the outside and why she is so angry. Rejected for supporting her father, abandoned by her mother and suffering from the devastation of the loss of a bright and powerful friend, she has experienced far to much to function in the shallow world of high school.

Another great and super sexy subplot of of the first season is the hate-turned-love relationship between Veronica and the school’s ‘obligatory psychotic jackass’, Logan. Starting out as the dickhead who smashes up Veronica’s car, Logan doesn’t seem like a potential love interest all. A tough feat in these days of Jerks-with-extremely-obvious-hearts-of-gold. Take note writers, a leather jacket and slicked back hair does not a bad boy make. Those kinds of bad boys have no impact, no danger,  and feel about as bad for you as a carob bar.

Veronica Mars lasted for only 3 seasons, a travesty in the eyes of its fans. However, when you look at the body of work, the show probably got what it deserved. The third season is very disappointing. Where the first two season long mystery arcs succeeded , the third season is made up of three separate arcs, none of which are particularly compelling. The 3rd season also suffers from getting Veronica and Logan together. When it comes to TV, nothing is more boring than a happy couple. All the spice and sizzle of the ‘will they, won’t they’ is dead and all you’re left with is minor arguments and little insecurities. They do break up mid way though the season, but in a rather uninspired way. I have to be honest, when I saw season three I remember thinking, ‘No wonder they cancelled it’. It’s still Veronica Mars, so it’s still awesome, but in comparison to season 1, it just didn’t have it.

So now in 2013 powered by obsessive fans like myself, Veronica Mars is being made into movie. A feat that wouldn’t be possible without the invention of peer funding websites like Kickstater. Based on the quality of the later seasons, I’m not really sure Veronica Mars deserved to be funded. But based on the 6 times I have seen season 1, I can totally understand how the Veronica Mars Movie made over 5 million dollars in crowd source funding.

But is this really a good thing? These websites were not made to fund commercial enterprises. These sites were intended for grassroots funding, like undiscovered bands and tiny independent films. As such, creative projects with big stars and the potential to make large amounts of money really only take advantage of fans obsession and lack of business savvy. They essentially take an investment and offer very limited return. While the real financial benefits are being reaped miles away by people who didn’t believe enough in the project to back it themselves, such as the mega corporation Warner Bros that continues to own the rights to Veronica Mars.

So, do fans really rule the world, or are we still at the bottom of the totem poll, hugging our DVDs and One Tree Hill soundtracks, happily giving away our lunch money to a bully in disguise? Are our nerdy obsessions being valued or taken advantage of?

Warm Bodies: Nicholas Hoult Sexy Even As A Zombie

17 Apr


Oh how I loved Warm Bodies. The delicious Nicholas Hoult would have made it worth watching had it been terrible but far from it, it was also a wonderful film.

The premise of a Zombie falling in love could have been terrible, but with a killer combination of great acting, a hilarious inner monologue and sensitive touch, this film came off just right. Based on the novel by Issac Marion and adapted and directed by Jonathan Levine, the book and film make allusions to Romeo and Juliet. Which becomes particularly clear when R and Julie have a rather familiar conversation on a balcony.

R is played Nicholas Hoult who began his career as the adorable Marcus Brewer in About A Boy. He then went on to star as Tony Stonem, in the fantastic TV series Skins and is currently one of the most attractive men ever. This is on full display in Warm Bodies particular when R (in the bloom of love) starts to look less dead.

Hoult was a perfect casting choice for the role of R. He proved in Skins that he is an actor like Ryan Gosling, at his best when he conveys emotion through body language and minimal dialogue. You really feel his inability to communicate as a zombie, and effort he has to put behind each word. Couple this with some adorably dry voice over about “Not being creepy” and “Just wanting to connect with people” and any girl would would get on that, Zombie or not. Hoult’s performance is stand out.

But that’s not to say that Hoult’s love Julie is a bucket of innards. This role is probably Teresa Palmer’s biggest role to date and while I previous knew her as just another pretty blond Australian who moved to Hollywood, I now know she’s got some acting chops too. Her chemistry with Hoult is just the right mix of sweet and sexy and she is natural and vibrate in a role could have gone down a cheesy path.

Other performances worth mentioning is John Malkovich as Julie’s father and the leader of the humans and Rob Corddry pitch perfect zombie best friend Marcus.

But what really makes this film though, is a brilliant script. The film takes it’s sweet time to develop the romance between the leads and is all the better for it. This film is really about the power of the human connection and we all can understand going through our lives like Zombies when love and human interaction has abandoned us. R’s desperate need to connect is echoed in us all especially in these times where people text rather than call and post on your facebook page rather than getting a coffee. This film explores this idea quietly and without a heavy hand, making it stand out against the current crop of films that often resort to bashing their audience over the head with their message.

The films dialogue is similarly under stated.  It is often witty but  makes a point of not having a lot of banter. This is a lovely way to keep the film authentic as obviously every word is an effort for these Zombies so their aren’t going to chatting, throwing in zingers at ever turn. When the Zombies do talk though, it is always hilarious, in a brilliantly monosyllabic way.

The only fault of this film is that sometimes the logic of the Zombie universe is unclear. Like when R  smuggles Julie into and out of the airport which is his home. He supposedly protects her by telling her to pretend to be a Zombie, but this strategy only seems to work half the time. This is a bit logically flawed since this is a world where Zombies can smell brains. So seem unlikely a bit of play acting could fool them, at all.

Released on February 1st in US, this film has become a run away hit grossing over 100 million dollars, triple it’s budget. Fingers crossed that this the film that launches Nicholas Hoult into mega stardom, because I want to see a lot more of him, preferably shirtless.

Smash Reboot? Smash Cancelled?

13 Apr


My favourite show at the moment is Smash. And about a week ago some terrible news reached me, Smash had been moved to Saturdays and was very likely to be cancelled. I wanted to be surprised by the news but sadly I wasn’t.

Smash has undergone quite a change since the end of the first season. In part because it’s show runner Theresa Rebeck was told to step down and Josh Safran the previous show runner of Gossip Girl took her place. Why was Rebeck told to step down? It’s a plot that would have been suited to Smash itself. The gossip is that Rebeck ran the show like a dictator and like most fascist dictators had great trouble delegating. She was writing every episode, not using her writers room which was full of experienced TV writers,  and she was disagreeing with the studio left, right and centre. How it went down is actually fascinating but this review is more about what happens next.

For more on why Rebeck got the boot: Read This

So it’s out with Rebeck and in with Safran and the show is free from it’s dictator but it has a lot of problems. I would like to state here that these problems exist according to the studio and the critics. Not according to avid fans of the first season like myself. I’m not about to say that the first season was perfect or without a touch of the ridiculous about it but it certainly didn’t need the massive overhaul it got.

But when there’s a lot of pressure to reboot the series in a new direction, can you change things without undermining your current audience? Can you attract a new audience in a second season? Maybe you can but this show certainly didn’t.

There first move was to cut the fat. They got rid of Julia’s son, ditched Julia’s husband in the first episode and exited the comical evil genius that was Ellis, never to be seen again. Essentially cutting the melodrama out of Julia’s  life  and making her a single character again. They also ditched Dev, Karen’s boyfriend making her a single character.

So far so good, it’s an obvious rule of TV that single characters can have much more fun than characters embedded in long term relationships. So far Julia and Karen’s single status has been a breath of fresh air. Plus Ellis was annoying everyone so I would say all of these moves were positive.

A move which didn’t work so well was splitting the show into two musicals. In an attempt to get a more modern feel to the music of the show, a new original musical called Hit List emerged with young ‘Rent’ sounding type songs. Karen meets a young composer and nursing a little crush introduces him and his writing partner to Derek. Derek is also nursing a massive crush on Karen and so helps the pair get their musical made. Throw in some very confusing drama and politics on Bombshell and all a sudden, Karen and Derek have quit Bombshell and staring and directing in this fledging musical.

The writing to this point is clumsy at best and really feels like the show is back peddling in an attempt to get out of the basic premise of the series. It seems like the writers are purposefully trying to make the audience care less about Bombshell, almost saying ‘we think this series has problems so we’re going to give you another musical that isn’t tainted by last years drama’.

The writers are also sending this message of distance from last years plot with a few minor jokes. For example when Tom tells Julia it’s time to ditch the scarves which she wore all last season and when Ellis’ girlfriend (who makes a quick appearance to tie up his storyline) says it turns out he was gay. Both of these moments implicitly point out some of the weirdness of previous season. But is insulting a show that many people enjoyed and didn’t really critically question, in the shows best interest. To me it almost mocks people for enjoying the show previously.

But the most disturbing move is the subtle changes in characters personalities. Karen who all last season was a good girl who wanted nothing to do with Derek, is now such good friends with him that she sees him outside of work and can’t work in a musical because he’s not directing. Karen also drops her broadway dream, Bombshell, because she’s in love with an annoying composer and can’t work with Tom. Karen was previous pretty good at taking it on the chin which was something to be admired.  Where did she get this attitude from?

Derek has also changed since last season. He was the scum bag who would sleep with everything that moved, treat his actors terribly and torture them as every turn. How he’s so obsessed with Karen, he’s threatening her potential love interests. The old Derek was better than that. He also loved Bombshell, he wouldn’t have quit without a fight. The old Derek would have made things go his way with subtle manipulation, not go storming about like a bull in a china shop.

The changes in Tom are also problematic, he’s undermining Julia’s excellent script for a more commercially viable one. He’s now a director,  who is desperate to please and then suddenly happy to screw Ivy over by hiring her mother. Then the next minute he’s desperate for her love again. All this drama only serves to undermine your confidence in Bombshell and make you dislike Tom as a weak attention seeking idiot when really he really should have stayed where he was, as a composer and Derek should have kept directing.

All this leaves you with is a show, so changed that it’s almost unrecognizable. And the audience can’t help but feel a little alienated.

Now I know, I have been pretty harsh. But Smash is still one my favourite shows. It still has a lot of offer, like great acting, beautiful music and hot sexual tension, particularly with whoever Derek is with. Plus it gives a fantastic insight into the dog eat dog world of Broadway, from being a actor, director, producer or writer. You really feel like your getting the scoop from the horses mouth.

But the problem with this reboot is it’s too much of a reaction and doesn’t take into account a lot of things that were great and didn’t need fixing. This show is getting better but it needed to get better straight away if it was going to survive, and instituting the massive work of second musical didn’t achieve that. And so it will most likely be cancelled. It’s a pity because despite everything a lot of people love this show, including me and it could have been great.

One last thought, Rebeck may have been a terrible leader but in my opinion the show was better with her in charge. And now it’s on the chopping block, maybe she can finally have the last laugh.

BBFF – Post #4 – Young Australian Filmmakers

11 Mar

toombaworth lucie


I felt so incredibly honoured to be part of this program of young filmmakers with my very short short film ‘Glare’. I have been a little pessimistic of late about the future of the Australian film industry. After watching these shorts I am now incredibly excited. The direction, cinematography and writing was at an incredibly high standard, so high that it was quite astounding that every one of these directors were under the age of 25, one being only 17.

‘You Can Be Here’ was directed by Daniel Whelan. It is set in Byron Bay itself, where the director grew up. The film is about a young woman who is packing her bags to leave her hometown to move to London. It perfectly evokes that pre-trip panic, where suddenly the place you couldn’t wait to get away from seems like the most beautiful place the world could offer.

Nick Waterman’s ‘From Here’ is the tender story of a young man calling his dying grandmother to say goodbye. I have a lot of respect for someone who can make a film set in one room, with just one person on screen compelling and this film does that beautifully.

Jordan Wippell made ‘Rain Dog’ when he was in year 12, but you would never guess. There was a lot of things I liked about this new-noir film about boxing and redemption. Stylistically it looked brilliant, using silhouettes and cross-fades beautifully. Jordan told me later that he’d shot it on a handycam, but he must be a After Effects genius becouse you would never have known it. I also loved the way this story unfolded. Starting out as a typical redemption story, but avoiding a moralistic ending in a way that was unexpected and honest.

‘Hummingbirds’ directed by Hayley McFarlene is the story of best friends and escape. It reminded so much of one of my favourite books: ‘My Summer of Love’. I love stories about the intensity of young female friendships and this one did it well, particularly in it’s jump from the girls as children and then as teenagers. I could really see this evolving into a feature film and I hope that’s what Hayley has in mind.

The winner of Byron Bay’s Young Australian Filmmaker was Lucie McKendrick with ‘Toombaworth’ (pictured), and she definately deserved it. In her own words: “Toombaworth tells the story of Tayla, her mate Maggie and the drugs and society that rob them of a childhood”. Cole Dorothy’s acting is impeccable in this film, along with all her co-stars. One of the reasons I think the film works so well is because it was written by a person not much older than her protagonists and their voices feel authentic. Even though these young women find themselves in pretty dire circumstances, we see both the light and the dark of there lives and McKendrick allows their humour to shine through.

This truly was a brilliant night of shorts and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next for all of these incredible filmmakers.

BBFF – Post #3 – Electrick Children

9 Mar


Still undecided about this one. I think perhaps the trailer is better than the film.