This piece is by our guest writer, Julia Blackwell.
I am sure that many of you will be well aware of the phenomenon that is Mamma Mia (2008), and its recent sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018), the latter of which I have now watched at least five times. The first film has also had multiple viewings over the years and contains one of my most beloved scenes from cinema. Predictably, I was in tears when Donna (Meryl Streep) sings “Slipping Through My Fingers” to her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). The song expresses a mother’s realisation that her daughter is now growing up and that she has been unable to spend as much time with her as she had planned. In the film, Donna sings it to Sophie as she helps her dress for her wedding, preparing to give her away. Despite her potential fathers telling Sophie they will give her away during a previous scene, Sophie chooses to reach out to her mum. After all, her mum is the person who has supported her throughout her life so far. “Slipping Through My Fingers” plays over Donna and Sophie not just getting dressed, but laughing together and enjoying their time away from the chaos of the rest of the wedding planning.
My mum passed away when I was ten, four years before the release of Mamma Mia and, as I’m sure others who have lost someone close to them will agree, the full impact of that person’s absence rarely hits you right away. For some it can take years to sink in as you gradually adapt to going through your life stages without them and encounter moments when you wish that, at the very least, you could talk to them. This is how I listened to and watched the “Slipping Through My Fingers” scene. For me it awakened moments I will never have with my mum. I don’t have any burning ambition for a wedding day, but I did find myself wanting to curl up next to her and have her paint my nails.
In the years that followed my first viewing of Mamma Mia, important events began happening for me and even though my mum was not around, I was by no means alone as I went through them. I was fortunate enough to have an incredible group of supportive women around me, especially in the wake of other losses. My dad is a wonderful person, but there are certain topics I would never discuss with him. He’s not very good at painting nails either! In Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, it is revealed very early on that Donna has passed away and that Sophie now lives with one of her dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Yet Sam is not the character we see Sophie confide in regarding subjects such as her relationship with her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper). Instead she turns to her mum’s old friends, Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters), who have travelled to Greece to visit her. While there may be men in her life that Sophie can turn to for advice and support, I for one have no interest in listening to Pierce Brosnan wail “Angel Eyes.”
This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink – here we try to bring films, that have been overlooked during their time, or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to peak your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.
There is that kind of film that I love to return to when I feel like my day is reaching a feel-bad peak, often connected to a still image of my room’s ceiling. These wonderful and yet rarely praised films are light, trope-heavy, easy to follow, inherently dramatic and ready to beat up the tearjerk button – all set for a slightly manipulative and cathartic escape from reality, while always having some sort of honest, emotional thread that connects with you and lifts you up. One of my very favorite films of that genre are the two Mamma Mia! outings, both heavily escapist and yet emotionally compelling at the same time. It’s a very hard task for filmmakers to hit that sweet balance and for many cine-dependents like me, the further search for these films never stops. It was a pleasant surprise when Sunny, a film that was a box office smash hit in Korea, yet in the west was almost exclusively known by the loyal followers of Korean cinema, landed on my radar after a good friend recommended it to me.
After the death of one of her old classmates, Na-Mi, a woman stuck in her unsatisfactory role as a middle-aged housewife, sees a chance to gain a new purpose in fulfilling latter’s dying wish and tries to reunite her old school clique. The film intercuts between the tumultuous school days of these girls and Na-Mi’s quest to convince her old friends to reunite for one more time. It’s a premise that seemingly gets re-interpreted by the month, but Sunny is somehow very distinct from them.
Five years ago today, a young little production company called A24 released Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers onto American audiences. It was the height of spring break season in the States, but as a broke and bookish high school junior, my only escapist thrills came from heading to my town’s multiplex with a friend, buying two tickets to whatever PG-13 schlock was playing, and sneaking into the sex-and-drug-filled art movie with James Franco doing a Riff Raff impression and Selena Gomez in a pink bikini.
Critically, Spring Breakers did okay — five-star ratings from the New York Times and The Village Voice were tempered by absolute pans by The Washington Post and Time. Claudia Puig of USA Today called it “mind-numbingly dull and off-putting,” and general audiences, who came in expecting “Girls Gone Wild” with their Disney favorites, reacted similarly. Moralizing moms and bummed bros aside, the central argument amounted to, “Is this trashy genius or self-absorbed nonsense?”
When I decided that I wanted to take serious steps to work in film, directing wasn’t even a thought. I didn’t think I was creative enough or simply be good at it. Frankly, I hadn’t really heard of female directors, let alone black female directors. I knew maybe two directors by name, but female directors weren’t known on a name-basis to people outside the industry. I slowly began to consider writing but producing still seemed like the only viable option.
Then, in 2014, my dad caught my attention. He said someone he went to UCLA with directed the movie we were both excited to see, Selma, and that he remembered how hard she worked back when they were in college. So, I look her up to see what else she’s done. While I hadn’t heard of her prior work, I was amazed beyond belief. She was the first black woman to win the jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for a film she wrote and directed, Middle of Nowhere. Before I saw Selma, I was already in awe of what she had accomplished, and once I saw the film, from the very first scene, I was mesmerized by what she could do. DuVernay’s film gave me one of my favorite moviegoing experience with my dad. She told the story of our people in a way no one else could have accomplished. Someone who looked like me doing something that some might say isn’t “for us.” And then to see her at the Oscar seemed like a validation that my dreams could come true.
The emotional climax and the breaking point of Spike Jonze’s 2013 romantic science-fiction drama film Her, is a rather silent, smaller one: there are no fights, no raised voices, no unexpected car accidents. Its visual and audial qualities provide two very different realities: the former is muted in its similar world of addiction and isolation — maybe not even that different from our society, while the latter literally explodes in itself with emotional connection and sensuality. In what can only be described as the portrayal of the weirdest, yet still purest for some, form of human connection; the male protagonist Theodore Twombly, who is played by Joaquin Phoenix in a remarkable performance, sits on the stairs of the subway of the futuristic Los Angeles that the movie is set in, asking simple, yes-or-no type questions to the voice planted in his ears. On the other side of the picture is Samantha, a talking operating system with artificial intelligence voiced by Scarlett Johansson, answering slowly. Johansson’s signature tone is soothing, an invisible yet undeniable veil between what is designed and what is felt within the code-based existence of her character. Continue reading “Throwback Review: “Her” & The Mechanics of Human Condition”→
*The following piece is by our guest writer Vikram Zutshi
On Jan 20th, David Lynch, unquestionably the foremost surrealist artist of our times, turns 72. It is as good a time as any to take stock of his eclectic and wide-ranging oeuvre, which includes film, music, art, literature, photography and architecture.
His films take us deep beneath the quotidian surface of small town America, a space he knows intimately, where sublime truths and dark fantasies play out, unhindered by the strictures of consensual reality. Early impressions and memories of an all-American childhood in rural Montana in the 50’s inform much of the artist’s work.
* This piece is written as the first part of an ongoing series, “The New Age of 21st Century Television: The Good, The Bad & The Weird”, which will talk about the ongoing transition happening on both little & big screens, and the various factors causing that said transition.
* This piece involves spoilers for the series Lost, Gossip Girl, Glee, Game of Thrones; speculations for Game of Thrones & A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series.
The television — not the actual product that is television, but rather the television as in the programs and series presented in a way known for that said product, of course — is living its golden moment right now. Sure, the viewing percentages might be much lower than what they used to be during the nineties, where there was nothing else to do during a week-night if you weren’t living the lifes shown in, you guessed it, the television: even Game of Thrones, which is undoubtedly today’s biggest TV series when it comes to popularity, isn’t able get the numbers that is needed to crack into the top ten list of the most watched television episodes, which finds its lowest point in Home Improvement’s 35.5 million in 1999 and highest in M*A*S*H’s reported 105.9 million viewers of 1983. The newest entry to that list is 2004’s Friends finale episode “The Last One”, which earned its place in number four thanks to 52.5 million people gathering up to watch it. Game of Thrones, with its ever-expanding viewership on each new episode, has the chance of rise above The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (19.9 million) or maybe Full House (24.3 million) one day, but even that seems like a stretch. But this doesn’t mean that people are not watching television anymore, it just means that they’re not watching it on the actual television.