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.
As Much Ado team, we’re starting a new writing series called “Films That Made Us Happy in 2017” in which each writer of our blog will write a personal essay on a film that made them happy, joyful, cheerful and all. It might be their favourite or least favourite, or neither. Our aim with this series is to highlight an aspect of cinema that is as important today as the times when cinema first entered people’s lives, that tingling feeling and the smile we have when we leave the theatre. Hope you enjoy our new series! -Dilara Elbir
When I was thinking about what movie I could talk about for this series, my mind went to various places. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is my favourite movie of the year and anyone who knows me knows I can’t go a day without gushing about how much I love it; Films like ‘Baby Driver’, ‘Free Fire’ and ‘Logan Lucky’ are an absolute blast and had me in stitches from laughter from start to end; I have such a deep personal connection to ‘Columbus’ because Casey feels like a reflection of myself. But there was one film that unexpectedly put me through every emotion on the palette, that made me feel like I had lived an entire life in 90 minutes, that gave me a greater appreciation of life by the time the credits rolled – that film is ‘Jane’.