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Teen Films In the New Millennium – A Dying Art

12 Feb

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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.

Veronica Mars Movie – Fans Rule or Do They?

17 Oct

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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

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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.

FLIGHT: Just like a Hangover

13 Feb

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Flight is like a big weekend. It begins with the expectation and excitement. Denzel awakens in a ruined hotel room next to a completely naked woman with an amazing body. He snorts a line and, camera tilt, the music starts and Denzel walks down the corridor in his cool Pilot outfit (see picture). You think ‘Wow this is going to be really fun!’.

And then comes the flight scene. It’s just what you expected but better. It’s over the top, it’s so full of suspense you want to close your eyes but you can’t! It’s campy but still so effective. You never want to get on a plane again. And then BAM suddenly it’s over. A little bit bloodier than you thought and you wish that the sexy flight attendant from the beginning didn’t have to die, but still – it was great.

Denzel is knocked out and suddenly it all changes pace. It’s like a Sunday morning. You wake up bleary eyed, looking around wondering what has happened. Wait, what? This is a story about one man’s battle with addiction? Oh. The rest of the film is just like a hangover: painful, slow and slightly sickening. I don’t mind addiction stories, but when it’s got such a strong dose of morality mixed in, it makes me want to puke.

Of course, by the end of it all you are just left wondering ‘Why did I do this to myself?’

COMPLIANCE: A Flawed Masterpiece

13 Feb

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‘There was the sense of trying to get something that would be believable, or maybe not even believable but acceptable, to audiences as sounding like it had some logic to it.’ Director,  Craig Zobel, in an interview with the AV club.

Compliance is truly an amazing film. Made with only fifty grand and shot almost entirely in one location, the film stands as one of the most gripping I have seen in a long time. The film is based off true events: a man called a series of 70 McDonald’s Restaurants in the United States over a period of ten years, posing as a police officer. He would tell a manager that one of the employees had stolen money from a costumer and ask them to confine and strip-search the employee. The caller would continue, seeing how far he could get the manager to go in the name of following orders. In the instance depicted in the film, they went very far. The viewing experience is pretty harrowing, causing many walk outs and heated debates on the film festival circuit.

As I said earlier, this truly is an amazing film. Since I saw it I have been unable to stop talking about it to anyone who would listen. It’s so close to being absolutely sensational except for a few pitfalls in the last quarter that are so dissapointing.

The suspense of the film is held in the conversations. The audience knows something the victims do not, so watching the poor manager cry as she forces the employee to strip is devastating. But in the last quarter the narrative goes so far off course, that the audience is left thinking that that section is fictional. In fact, it isn’t.The events that take place are so shocking that it would be a hard job to make them not necessary believable but ‘acceptable’ to use Zobel’s words. Watching the film it feels as though not even the director thaught it was plausable that those events took place. But they did. And if a little more ‘logic’ was injected into those climactic scenes, this truly could have been a masterpiece.

SLEEPWALK WITH ME: Birbiglia’s Big Dreams

11 Feb

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We all have dreams. Matt Pandimiglio has big ones. All he wants to be is a comedian. So he works in a comedy bar and fills in doing stand up when other comedians drop out at the last minute. Also he has big dreams. As in running out of a 3rd story window in your sleep kind of dreams.

I was very keen to see this film after hearing it was a true story about a man with REM behaviour disorder. When I was twelve I watched a doco on SBS about people that commit murder in their sleep (that stopped sleepovers for a few good years let me tell you). Sleepwalk With Me wasn’t quite what I expected. Mike Birbiglia stars, directed and wrote the film that follows a hectic few months of life where his career was made, and his longterm relationship ended. As his life becomes more and more split, he dreams become more and more hectic. And he starts acting them out.

This film was pretty enjoyable. It became too much of a romantic comedy in parts which was a shame. There was one part I really liked about it though. About a quarter of the way in Matt realises he’s not really a very good comedian at all. He is under the impression that just because it is his dream, because he has wanted it so very much, for so very long somehow he must be good at it. That just wanting it is enough. Matt  realises all of a sudden that he is actually going to have to try hard, get better, and take some risks in order to achieve his awake dreams. And also tie himself down so he doesn’t act out his sleeping ones.

The Silver Linings Playbook: My Oscar Pick

3 Feb

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So the Oscars are coming up and it is my favorite award show of the year. It was the Golden Globes, for the 3 years that Ricky Gervais hosted by now it’s back to being the Oscars. The Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite film among all the Oscar Nominees and I hope it wins all 8 of the awards it has been nominated for. I’m not stupid enough to think it will so in particular, I hope it wins best adapted screenplay for David O’Russell and best actress for Jennifer Lawrence.

Based on a novel by Matthew Quick and adapted and directed by David O Russell,  The Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Patrick (Bradley Cooper), a man who has just been released from a mental hospital after a traumatic episode nine months earlier. Diagnosed with bipolar at 37, Pat is placed in hospital by order of the courts. His mother played by Jackie Weaver has come to pick him up against the hospitals wishes but Pat has served his time and now he is determined to put his life back together again.  He is in a hyper state of affirmation and is not taking his medication but he has one major goal, to get his wife back.

His time at home is fraught with problems, particularly with his father(Robert De Niro) who loves him dearly but is suffering from border line OCD. Pat can see the illness in his father more clearly now and doesn’t want to participate in his superstitions. It is into this melting pot of dysfunction that Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) enters . Tiffany meets Pat in a strange sort of setup and it is obvious that they are kindred spirits. Tiffany is suffering from her own issues. Her husband has recently died and she is a recovering sex addict among other things. Pat and Tiffany are both just as socially inappropriate and frank as each other and are strangely a good fit, but Pat will have none of it since he wants to get back with is wife. So they become friends and Tiffany offers to help him contact his wife, a prize for which she requires a reward, his help in a ballroom dancing competition. And so the romantic comedy premise is made.

The thing about this film that makes it so special is it’s authenticity. The realness of the characters and their relationships makes this film, a total anathema to the sugary style of average rom coms like some of Cooper’s earlier films e.g. Valentines Day. The accuracy and humor brought to the different characters mental afflictions is staggering and the performances don’t disappoint. Bradley Cooper shows an acting ability here, that I wasn’t sure he had. His mile a minute speak, his mental and physical struggle and his blossoming love all feel natural and empathetic. He hits it out of the park.

Jennifer Lawrence is even better. She is so real in this character that I actually thought it was her. The story is told from Pat’s perspective but she has you on her side in every scene. You want him to be with her because you’re in love with her. She yells, screams, she’s unstable, she calls Pat of his crap and she is doing everything she can to change her patterns and because she sees the potential in Pat so do we. She deserves an Academy Award at 22 and I will fight any one who says different.

This film is beautifully written, it sees the comedy in the absurd and tragic. It examines the crazy in all of us and never talks down. It talks to an audience about real life with mental illness. Never turning the story into horror film or a grueling drama which is where most audiences have previously encountered this subject matter.

This film loves it characters, Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro are vivid and engaging as Pat’s parents who are trying to navigate a situation they don’t fully understand. They love their son and will do anything for him even if they never get it right. Chris Tucker is also hilarious as Pat’s friend who keeps trying to escape the hospital.

I can’t stop thinking about this film and I am so jealous of everyone that got to be a part of it. See it now, you’ll thank me.