When Bohemian Rhapsody hit close to a billion dollars at the box office (despite what critics say about it), it paved the way for many other music biopics to come forward and tell their stories. A Baz Luhrman movie about Elvis Presley is in the works, and Dexter Fletcher (the real director of Bohemian Rhapsody) takes on Elton John in the upcoming Rocketman. Also in the mix is the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, a crazy and loud movie fitting with the band it follows, but also as obnoxious as any member.
I would like to preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of Mötley Crüe, though I do listen to them when they’re on the radio. To me, however, they’re just another band from Los Angeles who likes to party and be with tons of girls, which is a major problem with the film. The Dirt, based on their autobiography, feels like it could’ve been about any other big band in the 80s. A movie about Guns n’ Roses could’ve followed this exact script if a few names were changed around.
The movie opens at a party following one of Mötley Crüe’s shows, in which we’re introduced to the band. There’s vocalist Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars, drummer Tommy Lee and bassist Nikki Sixx, who serves as the heart of the story. The party also introduces us to the main problems of the movie: the script. The dialogue is pretty cheesy in the beginning, opening with Nikki Sixx talking about how the 1980s sucked. All four members share narration, though Sixx has the bulk of the dialogue.
The story, as mentioned before, could be about any big rock band. It talks about their life before the band, the early years of their work, and the band trying to keep it together amid all the excess. What sets this apart from the Queen movie from a few months ago is that it starts off like a crazy comedy. The band members gets into hijinks throughout the first half of the movie. They trash hotel rooms, get into fights with the crowd as early as their first show, and it gets even crazier in a scene where they’re hanging out with Ozzy Osbourne.
The second half takes a sharp turn about halfway through the film, suddenly getting more dramatic. One night in 1984, Vince Neil gets into a car accident with Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle. Later on through this second half, Nikki Sixx gets addicted to heroin and nearly dies of an overdose. When he gets revived, he forces the others to go through rehab with him. This causes friction among the band, but also spawns their best album, Dr. Feelgood. Neil eventually quits the band and gets word that his young daughter has cancer.
It makes sense that the director, Jeff Tremaine, has made a career exclusively through Jackass movies. The first half has all the loose insanity of one of those movies. It’s when it takes a turn into dramatic territory that makes it all fall apart. I would’ve been fine with a crazy movie about the rise of a great rock band, but even if it is true to their story, the dramatic elements bog it down quite a bit.
I can’t recommend this movie, but if you want a good story about Mötley Crüe, I would recommend Nikki Sixx’s memoir The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star. It follows a year in Sixx’s struggle with heroin addiction and also created a spin off album with his other band, Sixx:A.M.
As for this movie, much like Bohemian Rhapsody, anything mentioned in the movie will be common knowledge to die hard fans.
There are many things that defined my childhood, but out of all the various creative endeavors that made me who I am, none of them are remotely comparable to Pixar. There isn’t a single other production studio that has had more of an effect on my love for film, which truly goes to show just how articulate and mesmerizing in execution a set of films can be. The most amazing part of it all is that Pixar’s earliest creations hold up incredibly well against the standards of today. Whether it be the crisp animation, the delicately-told stories, or the thought-provoking messages they brought to the table, I have no shame saying that Pixar’s films helped raise me. These reasons combined add up to an incomparable feat of film-making, and that’s why it pains me to say that in 2019, twenty-four years after their first film was released, they’ve grown quite a bit tedious and it may be time for them to leave the market (for a little while, at least).
When I look at the films that were released as I was growing up, I tend to think about how I thought of them at that period in my life. I know for a fact that I liked them, but the reasons for that were probably more along the lines of the characters and animation rather than the story and impactful themes. As a result, I find it quite enjoyable to see that the films themselves can still be appreciated (even more so) for their more mature qualities, ones that aren’t intended for the kids. The bottom line is, the films that were released when I was a kid will be cherished for years to come, and will continuously grow more iconic as they age.
I’ve moved on from the state of youth that was initially captivated by these films, but they’re still relevant in this day and age, remaining staples in the film world while also able to retain the beautiful wonder of the first viewing. That’s why it saddens me to witness a whole new generation of young viewers watch on in awe at Pixar’s more recent films, knowing how they will eventually look down on them as they grow older. I can revisit The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Monsters, Inc. as many times as I want, knowing that their legacy will never be tarnished (at least in my eyes). The issue is that those who grew up with Finding Dory, Brave, and Cars 2 will not have the same experience watching them when they’re older as they did when they were younger.
Now, this isn’t the case for all of Pixar’s recent films: Coco and Inside Out have proven just how extraordinary the studio can be when they really put their minds to use. But there’s no denying that excluding those two films, the studio has failed in capturing the scope of brilliance they used to do so well. There are a few reasons I find this so easy to distinguish, so I’ll touch on them within this piece.
Pixar has been releasing films for twenty-four years, which makes this nice and easy to compare. In their first twelve years of film production (1995-2007), they released eight films, only one of which was a sequel (Toy Story 2). In their last twelve years of film production, they have released twelve films, six of which are sequels. The fact of the matter is that they’ve gone from 1/8 of their films being sequels to 1/2. That’s an incredibly drastic jump and a quite disappointing one if I do say so myself.
The only reason stories are able to stay fresh and relevant with new viewers in this day and age is sequels, and as unfortunate as that may be, it’s not hard to sympathize with the creatives behind the originals in their quest to stay current. That being said, it’s a slight bit disheartening to see them rehash the same story with the sequels as they continually progress through the century. I remember waiting over a decade for Finding Dory, and then after finally watching it, I almost fooled myself into thinking it was better than it was because of how nostalgia got in the way of my actual perception of the film itself. Because let’s be real, folks: it really isn’t that amazing.
Maybe the most crucial part of all this is that it’s incredibly relevant in the wake of the recent merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox. One of the most prominent potential reasons for Pixar’s decline is Disney’s acquisition of it, which came about in 2006. For a few years, Pixar managed to keep a steady hold of their films, crafting masterpieces such as Ratatouille, Up, and Toy Story 3. But as the verge of the 2010s neared, the cracks began to show, with Pixar clearly beginning to favor style over substance, and quantity over quality.
I have a deathly fear of spiders, but I can admit that I wouldn’t have the urge to get freaked out over them as often if I didn’t know they were there in the first place. That’s sort of what it feels like with each new Pixar film, more specifically their sequels. Generally, I love the first film, and a second allows me to be optimistic about the future of a potential franchise. But I wouldn’t have to worry about the films’ legacies being tarnished if I didn’t know that there were plans for another film in the first place.
Don’t Sacrifice Story for Box Office Money
One of the things that made Pixar a staple in their respective genre is that they found a pattern of creating stories that were grounded in their fantastical sense while still hitting close to home in terms of how reality-driven they were. While they lept onto theater screens with vibrant color palettes and smooth-feeling animation, they resonated with many, thanks to their retelling of themes that many viewers could relate to, having gone through them. There was a balance between things that the kids in the audience could enjoy and things that the adults and teens could as well. At this point in Pixar’s timeline, they’ve lost what captivated multiple different generations as a result of only catering to one. They’re not thinking far ahead into the future, and mark my words, it will bite them in the ass one of these days.
One of Disney’s biggest ways of earning money is through retail copies of their films (e.g. 4K UHDs, Blu-Rays, DVDs, and digital copies). As someone who was raised on Pixar’s earlier work, I will be first in line to purchase the newest edition of their films. As technology improves, they need people like me: loyal lovers of the films who will gravitate towards the next release of their older films. Looking forward at the current generation though, I find it hard to believe that they’ll continuously be purchasing new versions of the films they were raised on. Why? Because it ultimately doesn’t matter how your younger self felt if the films themselves don’t hold up to the standards set by your more matured mindset.
Luckily, those who grew up with Pixar as it was blossoming don’t have that problem. We can sit back and laugh at the new generation as they gush over films like Cars 2 only to one day have an existential crisis after realizing that their childhood favorites aren’t the masterpieces they were made out to be. Disney focuses on the here and now, marketing their films toward a generation who doesn’t even know how to form full sentences instead of balancing their target audience to fit a more ideal situation. They may make money now, but they’ll certainly be wishing they had focused more on the specifics when nobody’s spending their money on their films in the future.
Either way, it’s clear that Pixar has an issue with letting Disney take over their services like the monopoly it is, and the films are suffering as a result. There’s no doubt that there have been a few hits in recent years, but not nearly enough to warrant calling Pixar a perfect company anymore. Plenty of newer animated studios and films seem to be giving Pixar and Disney a run for their money, with Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being the first non-Disney animated film to win Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards since 2012, and LAIKA Studios (Coraline, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings) also making a big mark as of late.
Will I still see Pixar’s films? Yes. I’m always optimistic about the future of movie studios, because all slumps usually come to an end. But Pixar’s slump seems to be dragging on longer than hoped, and a couple of heavy hitters won’t suffice against the plethora of mediocre offerings that favor (admittedly gorgeous) animation over unique stories and characters that viewers of all ages can connect with. As of right now, it may be time for them to take a breather, and I’m not saying that simply because their recent films have been sub-par. I’m saying that because I know how it feels to step out of a game for a while, only to come back recharged and with new ideas. It’s not a bad thing. But it is a commitment, and a hard one at that.
Tim Burton has always had an unstoppable sympathy for outsiders since the very beginning. He has shined a bright spotlight on people from unhinged goofball Pee-Wee Herman to the misunderstood low-budget filmmaker Ed Wood, and even brought the heartbreaking fairly tale of Edward Scissorhands to life.
Burton’s affinity for the lesser appreciated has always been infectious and magical. His interests reflect the titles of his pictures, given that the majority of his protagonists share a name that tells you what the movie is about before it has even begun. This intertwined with his Gothic and ghoulish sensibilities as seen with his re-imagining on Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd has been Burton standard bread and butter for his thirty-year long career.
He is often heralded as a visionary, a sacred imagination that is distinctly his own, joining the likes of James Cameron or M. Night Shyamalan. We are no longer going to see a fresh coat of paint on Alice in Wonderland, yet we want to see what Burton thinks about the classic world. He has seemingly run low on things to say and critique, which forces him to adapt and renew original properties. Even when he does have an original creation, nobody shows up to show their love, nor do critics sing the praises.
He needs a hit and a win, and despite what the box office may say, he has yet to receive acclaim as of late in the decade with the catalog consisting of such outputs like Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie, Big Eyes and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Burton can’t help but compare his work, his cinematic legacy proves why he has endured, even with his unfortunate failures like Planet of the Apes,and this seems to be a curse given his effort into what he has to live up as the man for was responsible for birthing Batman in cinemas for the very first time.
Disney reinterpreting their own, perfectly competent animation work of adaptation foreign literature hasn’t been the most popular of recent decisions. A form of banking of an already established and adored entity could have fans returning to an updated story based solely off iconography. Personally, I see them as a recycle for a new generation and filmmakers like Kenneth Branagh (Cinderella) and Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, The Lion King) getting to play around with a sleek new canvas to enhance a world through computer-generated imagery that couldn’t be as achievable during the animated pictures original development.
Spectacle changes, and what may have been visually attractive than in the 1950s has yet to be seen what spectacle looks like today. Regardless of how timeless or beloved the original may be, Burton too has even taken a trip to this lucrative as well with his rendition of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, a film in the billion-dollar grossing club, yet it has evaporated in the conversation when it comes to both Burton’s catalog and Disney’s foray into live-action remakes.
These re-imaginings need something more than just profitability: significant purpose. Clarity and sentimentality that maybe couldn’t be brought to life with hand-drawn animation. Tim Burton was a dead-on choice for breathing new life into Dumbo because of the way it culminates with his career as well as a revitalization of a story nobody has much nostalgic connection to. His signature sentimentality fused with a keen eye for visual flourishes call for a rather extravagant cinematic experience. In 1941, Dumbo was just the fourth film Disney had ever released; it is one that would beg for someone to breath new life into the timeless tale.
Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is just arriving back from the war, returning to his place of work and greeting his now motherless children Millie (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). He is helping out an extravagant, outlandish circus run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) who is equally concerned about putting on quality entertainment as he is keeping the circus performers bound to form a makeshift family. Once word spreads about Dumbo the flying elephant, everyone flocks to see the newest attraction, including one V. A. Vandemere (Michael Keaton, doing his best to conjure up whatever antics and impediments are left of his unforgettable Beetlejuice performance) and his French, acrobatic partner Colette Marchant (Eva Green). Vandemere sees nothing worth liking about the floppy-eared elephant except a profit, unlike Holt and his kids who feel the opposite and when Vandemere makes a deal with Medici to become business partners, he sees this as an opportunity to steal Dumbo away from any competitors.
There are many moments of creative inspiration and legitimate giddy fun (it feels like the most energized Burton has been in years). Instances like Medici’s monkey companion always running a muck, the good-hearted circus acts who bring in a nice bit of world building and the signature, larger than life production design which hearkens back to Burton’s Gothic and fairy tale-like sensibilities.
Yet even with Colin Farrell’s charismatic southern accent or the warm, fuzzy sensations you’d receive whenever Dumbo would take flight, it felt as though maybe Burton puts restraints on his storytelling endeavor. You can almost feel when he is getting prepared to put on something truly spectacular, then it’s shut down for reasons unsatisfactory to what we could have seen. It is clear as day that he loves his story and the timeless tale of maternity at its core but he doesn’t go anywhere else and run with it like I would expect from someone who’s capable of finding care. I had wished he had embraced the lunacy of the early industrial-like circus even more than he did.
Give me the outrageous, heightened world of Mars Attacks to bring the circus to life with a bit more of a blissful interior rather than a chaotic one. There is the now infamous scene in the original 1941 Dumbo in which we see him hallucinating a series of surreal and kaleidoscopic imagery, the scene feels out-of-place and without purpose but has reminded an integral part of Disney’s early experimentation. I found myself waiting for Burton to really go wild with his experimentation, sure there is a flirtation in a particularly engaging event sequence, but it left me feeling uninterested with the execution.
This manages to not overtake the sheer joy from seeing the impossible become possible. A flying elephant seems so odd that it shouldn’t work in the first place but the movie clears the incredibly low bar set by its predecessor. Dumbo isn’t the focus nor should he be, it is the people around him that make for the captivation. Burton rarely gets lost in the gloss of his high budgeted, visual capabilities and instead uses light and shadow to create subtle images that never feel overwhelming, unlike having too much fun with the technical prowess he has at his disposal. The movie doesn’t overpower itself but simultaneously doesn’t capitalize on many moments of unheralded magic.
Merchant Ivory Productions had the most uncanny ability to pen and produce the poshest films conceivable, whilst still retaining all the endearing qualities of a breezy comedy or enduring contemporary romance. Film-making partners James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, as well as their frequent collaborator, writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, laced each film with insurmountable primness and delicately mannered dramatic proceedings. But, in between the folds of tight clothing and musty drapes lay an undeniable fervor for modern passion.
Call Me By Your Name is not a Merchant Ivory production, and Ivory steps up for a rare swing at screenwriting, leaving the direction to the mercurial art house film-maker Luca Guadagnino. But the same-sex romance aches with all the unresolved lust of the most tragic collaborations of the powerhouse cinematic trio during the 60s, leading all the way up to the 90s. Oliver and Elio’s summer fling became a tuneful, lethargic elegy to loves lost in time, intense partnerships forced apart or into secrecy by poor timing and an ignorant society.
Merchant Ivory transcends love. Tearing pre-21st Century notions of traditional romance asunder, the immovable, immeasurable love of an Ivory picture shatter any preconceived barriers of gender and culture. All under the guise of pertinent costume dramas, their filmography encapsulates romances that could move mountains in fleeting flutters of uncontrollable physicality.
When an unlikely pairing kiss, they kiss as if each other’s lips are imprinted with the secret to eternal life. Each embrace arrives as an electric shock, which instantaneously melts away into euphoric bliss. Each infatuated brief encounter under the safety of shadowy foliage or ancient brickwork reads like the painfully honest longings of a teenage diary. Each stolen kiss in A Room with a View or Maurice contains all the agency and energy of an un-tethered modern embrace, but are consistently interrupted by the pressures of societal scrutiny.
What I’m trying to say is, they may be some of the sexiest films ever made.
The BFI Southbank in London has recently taken to screening some under-seen works of the production company’s catalog, namely Shakespeare Wallah and Heat and Dust. It’s a shame that perhaps Ivory and Merchant’s more personal works – both films that regard a relationship between an Indian and a white English woman – have been oft-forgotten in favor of more starry fodder like Room with a View, though all are equally, fervently executed.
The former involves a family of travelling actors, and brims with classical dependency that soon crumbles beneath an interracial love affair. With only a whiff of scandal, predominantly offset with the presence of boisterous film star Manjula who resents her partner’s sneaking around with a British visitor, the 1965 film proudly declares its transcendent romantic intentions despite its tumultuous release date. An upcoming Blu-ray release from the BFI on April 15th will hopefully draw a new, more open audience to the film’s timely subject matter, and bring its sharp and sensual black and white photography into poignant resolution.
An early performance from Ivory’s frequently cast accomplice Shashi Kapoor, Shakespeare Wallah’s brooding, poetic protagonist Sanju upholds the universality of adolescent infatuation, with Felicity Kendal’s wryness and effervescent charm layering the film with crucial buoyancy.
Heat and Dust similarly translates to screen two inter-sectional love affairs, entangling its narrative across a generational divide as well as with cultural complications. This entry perhaps encapsulates most brilliantly their occupation with the caustic, stern British etiquette fading away at the feet of temptation with elegant Olivia’s steamy affair with the persuasive Nawab, another lustily present performance from Shashi Kapoor.
Their penchant for bare, honest pleasure of course came at an unfortunate price. Director James Ivory was compelled to keep his romantic partnership with his producing colleague Ismail Merchant severely private, whilst their professional partnership was cruelly allowed to thrive. Although the predictable scrutiny and innuendo of the press was never too far behind the latest Merchant Ivory release, Ismail’s conservative Muslim heritage compelled their private affairs to remain just that.
Still, their projects are indisputably laden with seeds of truth. Like the chapter headings of ARoom with a View, a delightfully chaotic little detail, the pretense of upper-class beholding to classic values begin to reflect the innermost desires of the protagonists. Stacks upon stacks of lies and deception begin to surpass the romantic heroes’ proclivity to dupe their family and colleagues, until a young Helena Bonham Carter lets her hair down, unbuttons her shirt, and the entire supporting cast conveniently agrees that all this secrecy in the name of good manners is a load of balderdash anyway.
Whilst many period films’ costume designs denote stuffiness and bodily entrapment, Merchant Ivory understands completely the etymology of the phrase ‘hot under the collar’. Like Keira Knightley’s infamously restrictive corset in Curse of the Black Pearl – which owes a debt to Heat and Dust and many others – suits, dresses, and petticoats are begging to be ripped away, freeing the erotic perspiration and temperate flushes beneath.
A common recurrence of an Ivory feature are the more sexually liberated players growing more and more naked as the run-time takes its course. Recall the boyish yet charged naked antics in the forest pool during the more steamier portions of A Room with a View, an early parallel to Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer’s frequent aquatic exploration. Luckily, Call Me By Your Name has the luxury of a later setting and a contemporary release, so the two actors free themselves from the bonds of Ivory’s earlier dependency on secrecy and euphemism, spending much of the film topless and in tiny swim shorts.
With Ismail Merchant tragically passing in 2005, James Wilby’s stringent romances with Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves in Maurice is the closest the partnership would get to a reflective, cinematic memoir of a love between two men. But Oliver and Elio’s Italian entanglement is a warm shrine to an amicable partnership that produced some of the most authentic British films of the 20th Century.
Loaded with the history of its screenwriter, Call Me By Your Name’s final close-up resonates more than anything else in the film with Ivory’s side of production; a stark, honest tribute to a love that no longer exists in the corporeal world, couldn’t reveal itself at the height of its intensity, yet every ache and gesture of which can be felt within the frames of decades of cinematic achievements. Not simply an announcement of Chalamet as the next indie superstar, but a tearful memorial to a cinematic partnership decades ahead of its time.
To read a synopsis about two teenagers suffering from an uncured disease who, despite an imminent risk of death, end up falling in love with each other without thinking about the characters in Josh Boone’s 2014 film The Fault in Our Stars is almost impossible; even more so if you are under the age of 20. Thus, one of the challenges of Five Feet Apart is to differentiate itself from the first cinematographic adaptation of a novel written by John Green — a challenge that was fulfilled.
Of course, both stories share some points, such as the fact that the protagonist couple is young and ill; the love relationship they develop for each other; the best friend who accompanies — and even encourages — the development of that relationship; the constant but natural use of technology and the presence of M83’s song “Wait” on the soundtrack. However, the similarities between the two productions end there. In Five Feet Apart, there is no time for an international trip, a fancy dinner paid by a famous writer nor an exchange of intimacies. Instead of cancer, here the main characters have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, and they have long stays in a hospital that, despite having a beautiful gym, pool and space for meditation, serves as a constant reminder of how fragile their health is.
Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) looks like a typical teenager: her bedroom is decorated with collages, she eats junk food with her girlfriends while they talk about clothes, boys and photo editing apps and she spends a good part of her day online, recording vlogs for her YouTube channel. But appearances deceive, as in the first few seconds of the film we see that she has been hospitalized for most of her life and uses her space on the internet to inform people about her illness.
Fascinated with babies — which could be taken as a metaphor for her fascination with life — the nursery is one of the places in the hospital where Stella likes to go to observe those little beings through the glass. There, she meets Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) for the first time. Although they share the same illness, unlike Stella, Will seems unappreciative of the treatments that keep him alive. The friendship between them is sparked by Stella’s encouragement of his treatment and soon evolves into an atypical romance, since the two must always stay six feet apart from each other to avoid any risk of cross-infection.
It is exactly because it offers a realistic view of the disease, with a complete hospital routine including experiments with new drugs, tests and strict rules, that Five Feet Apart finds its voice and stands out from Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars. When faced with a rawer reality, the characters become more complex and seem more credible. Even Poe (Moisés Arias), who plays the role of Stella’s best friend and later a friend of Will’s, gets a complete arc, quite different from Isaac, the one-dimensional character played by Nat Wolff in The Fault in Our Stars. Justin Baldoni, known for his role in the series Jane The Virgin, makes a satisfactory feature directorial debut.
I believe that the experience of having previously worked with terminally or chronically patients in his documentary series My Last Days — in which he met Claire Wineland, the cystic fibrosis activist who inspired this film — gave him good support to deal with the subject in a differentiated way. Being an assumed hopeless romantic, certain parts of Baldoni’s film resemble scenes from Romeo + Juliet and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, giving the impression that he devotedly studied films of the romance genre before creating his own.
Haley Lu Richardson offers a vibrant personality for her character, masterfully mixing scenes that require greater emotional tension (such as in her previous work in the 2017 film Columbus) with juvenile comedy scenes. Besides the responsibility of representing a patient with cystic fibrosis, Stella is also a teenager with OCD, and Richardson’s acting work can convince us positively about both. Cole Sprouse, on the other hand, appears to be stuck in the mannerisms and rebellious yet charming personality of Jughead Jones, his character on Riverdale. While this may be seen as a problem to critics, it certainly went unnoticed by the large part of the young audience of the screening I was in, many of whom commented on the series and reacted with intensity to each appearance of the actor on screen.
Five Feet Apart is not a perfect film, but by offering the original premise of a young couple in love who must avoid touch in order to survive, dealing with serious issues such as mourning, guilt and the possibility of an afterlife, all while allowing its characters to go through teenage problems — the film delivers what it promises. Although it wasn’t my cup of tea, the power it plays in winning over its target audience is undeniable.
We can’t choose what problems we will face throughout our lives, when or by whom we will fall in love, but we can choose to give this movie a chance; whether you want to know more about the illness that the characters share with so many people in real life, or you want to follow a love story that makes us feel privileged just because we can touch the person we love, or even if you simply seek to cry a little in the dark of a movie theater.
If you took the premise of The Mustang at face value, it would be easy to dismiss. It’s the sort of film grounded in a seemingly too easy metaphor: a rage-ridden inmate finding peace in taming the soul of an equally contentious horse. There’s any number of clichés that could derail such a premise, and in this case they sometimes come close, but the combination of a steady hand from French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre (making her debut here) and a layered, fascinating performance from Matthias Schoenaerts turns this seemingly rote melodrama into a quietly beautiful tale of moral redemption.
The hulking behemoth brought to life by Schoenaerts, Roman Coleman, seems at first glance like the most stereotypical prisoner character you could imagine: he’s covered in prison tattoos, plagued by a short temper, and isolated in more ways than one. An opening scene between Coleman and a prison psychologist (Connie Britton) makes it immediately clear he doesn’t play well with others and has no intention of changing that any time soon. They’re all characteristics we’ve seen a thousand times before, but the key to the character (and arguably the film itself) is that Schoenaerts injects a harrowing loneliness behind his eyes. His performance makes it clear that Coleman’s confinement is every bit as internal and self-inflicted as it is literal.
Desperate to find something that peaks his interest, the psychologist places Coleman into a rehabilitation program where inmates are trained to break and prepare wild mustangs for auction. He is quickly entranced by a particularly difficult horse that is kept separate from the others due to its aggressive nature, and soon the two enter into a bond that begins to crack Coleman’s icy exterior.
While the story often goes in the exact direction you expect it to, occasionally to a fault, Clermont-Tonnerre’s patience with the material gives it a quietly affecting, meditative quality that elevates it beyond the tropes it seems so dependent upon. The film certainly stumbles at points, from stereotypical moments of prison violence to a rehashed drug-smuggling subplot, but it’s all effused with an ethereal sensibility that distracts you from the shortcomings of its narrative devices.
Much of that comes from behind the camera, where Clermont-Tonnerre and cinematographer Ruben Impens find beauty in the harsh lands of the American West. Every shot of the film sings, whether it’s Coleman clinging to the last bits of sunlight in his cell or him riding the open plains with his horse. Impens, who created some of the most striking imagery of the decade with his work in 2016’s horror wonder Raw, dials back his flashier methods to let the landscapes speak for him. The film’s use of natural light is stunning, giving an otherworldly energy to a genre so often defined by muted colors and a generic style.
Clermont-Tonnerre proves herself a more than capable director, using her script as an excuse for capturing the West as a mystical, near silent land of lonely plain and even lonelier hearts. Unlike many prison dramas, where the claustrophobic nature of cell blocks digs movies into holes of cynicism, Clermont-Tonnerre resists the temptation of dwelling in the darkness. She knows the best way to hammer home the nightmare of incarceration is to let Schoenaerts portray that pain in his performance, then pay off the trudge through that emotional difficulty with transcendent moments of relief, often expressed through the complex beauty of our relationship with nature.
None of it would work if Schoenaerts wasn’t up to the task, but the frequently underrated actor brings his tortured character to life with nuance. Even in the moments where the script wanders into cliché territory, he never makes an obvious choice with how Coleman should react. It’s the sort of performance that’s almost entirely in the eyes, and Schoenaerts is the master of using a lack of dialogue to his advantage, saying a thousand words with a single glance rather than with something showier. It helps that he has wonderful scene partners in Jason Mitchell and Bruce Dern, who bring humanity to two roles that similarly could be one-note characters in the hands of less adept performers.
The Mustang may not be the most original film you’ll see this year, but where it lacks in fresh ideas it soars in its clear, confident vision. It’s a haunting, effective debut that transcends its own tropes, turning out a tale of the relationship between man and animals that captures its spirit better than most.
In 1983, Cyndi Lauper released a feminist anthem about girls embracing their independence and expressing the freedom to do as they wish. In an interview with The Atlantic, Lauper spoke candidly about the message behind the lyrics and how she altered the original version of the song which was written by Robert Hazard from the perspective of a man, using the idea of “fun” as a stand-in for coerced sexual activity. The 80’s icon changed the meaning and pushed against this perspective to express her feminist beliefs. In the interview, she explains: “It doesn’t mean that girls just want to fuck. It just means that girls want to have the same damn experience that any man could have.”
So, how far-fetched would it be to suggest that it is 2019 and spoiler alert: girls on screen wanna have fun too.
Teenage girls in films are often categorized into stereotypes in exchange for laughs from the audience and even from characters within the film. Think about stock characters such as the rich mean girl, the isolated loner, the rebel going through an early 2000s goth phase, and the “upper middle class” girl next door who’s “not like other girls”. The list goes on and while they’re all real to some degree, there’s something incomplete and superficial about these stereotypes. These are one-dimensional characters.
For me, the coming-of-age genre is necessary because it fosters connection between the viewer and the story. It creates opportunities for representation and there’s so much potential in the genre’s ability to paint a portrait of youth. However, when these one-dimensional characters are placed on screen, there’s no room for growth or meaningful connection. As a teenage girl, films that promised to represent experiences relative to mine have left me feeling empty. That is until I saw the trailer for Booksmart.
Getting Straight A’s, Giving Zero F’s
Booksmart follows two teenage girls Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who, on the eve of their graduation, realize that focusing on their academics throughout school caused them to miss out on major high school experiences. In order to make up for lost time, the girls embark on an adventure to get their youth back.
The trailer offers a fresh new perspective on what it means to heal from the pressures that come with having to be an overachiever. Their healing is celebratory and, I say this in the most loving way, it is refreshingly stupid. It’s more than just two girls getting into shenanigans. It is a story of two best friends who want to forget about the rules and be free together, even if it’s just for one night.
However, this does not sit well with everyone.
While re-watching the trailer for the millionth time, I couldn’t help but scroll down to the comment section to aid my curiosity about other people’s thoughts. I was met with aggressive comments that dismissed the possibilities of what the film could offer. Their words felt unnecessarily negative.
I was struck by users who were already comparing the film to 2007s Superbad, calling the movie cliché and unoriginal. People are already writing it off as just another teen movie, completely disregarding the ways in which Booksmart will transgress the boundaries of the coming-of-age genre by offering characters that seem unconventional based on what mainstream films have given us. Think back to the stereotypes that I mentioned before – it seems like Booksmart is offering us characters that complexify the teenage girl tropes that we have become familiar with.
Why are we so afraid of showing the unhinged, not-so-pretty moments that are a part of living life as a teenage girl? We’re gross, we’re silly and we express ourselves in ways that do not line up with the expectations of patriarchy. We don’t all look the same, we don’t all act the same and we are not just instruments for the male narrative. It’s time that film and its audiences catch up. I say that Booksmart deserves a fighting chance. Girls on screen wanna have fun too.
Booksmart will be released in theaters on May 24th, 2019.
There are a few reasons you might not be familiar with Oscar Isaac, my salt and pepper-haired Guatemalan king.
You’ve never heard of a Star War
You think the Coen Brothers are a pair of fools
You despise happiness, and insist on living a joyless existence
This is a non-exhaustive list, but in case you do happen to fall into any of the above categories, I’m here to help.
Oscar Isaac is astounding in his breakthrough role as the titular Llewyn of Inside Llewyn Davis. He is cold, intense and calculated opposite Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, a film in which he also wears every turtleneck ever made and a sensible mustard-colored trench. He is a bona fide hero in his roguish portrayal of Poe Dameron in the newest Star Wars installations that also proves that he can conjure up chemistry with any scene partner: man, woman, droid, inanimate object, it does not matter. That’s movie magic! However, I often feel compelled to argue that Oscar Isaac is at his very best in the 2014 film that could: Ex Machina.
If you have yet to watch the sci-fi psychological thriller featuring my beloved Oscar alongside Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s worth at least a million viewings and, in my clearly unbiased opinion, should have garnered more awards attention (#GetOscarAnOscar). This directorial debut from Alex Garland tells the story of Caleb (Gleeson), an anxious programmer at a massive Apple-esque company who wins the chance to spend a week with the company’s mysterious CEO, Nathan (Isaac). Nathan has developed an incredibly advanced humanoid and Caleb’s task for the week is to perform the Turing test on the robot, Ava (Vikander). Caleb grows increasingly attached to Ava, Nathan grows increasingly unhinged, and we as audience members grow increasingly attuned to the omnipresent sense of dread.
In a genuinely frightening movie full of startling moments (that wardrobe bit — if you know, you know), there is one glorious scene that truly stands out — the absurd, surreal disco dance sequence. I think about the disco dance sequence constantly. This scene crosses my mind at least once a week. This scene is both a nightmare and a distillation of pure delight.
At this point in the film, Nathan and Caleb have grown extremely wary of each other, Caleb’s suspicion fueled by Ava’s whispered insistence that Nathan is not a good man. Caleb is near a mental breaking point when the film rapidly shifts gears — Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night” starts blaring with disco lighting silhouetting Nathan and his silent, serious servant, Kyoko (a wonderful Sonoya Mizuno). Without hesitation, the two begin to dance in hypnotic, robotic (!!) coordination.
The scene is transcendent, scary, and funny for quite a few reasons, but I think I love it most of all because this dance is clearly a PRE-CHOREOGRAPHED ROUTINE! Nathan loves a flair for theatrical drama! When did they have time to put this together? Do they rehearse every now and then, just to keep things sharp? I have just as many questions as Caleb, who is standing, shocked, with his mouth agape. Additionally, while I can’t relate to Turing tests, advanced humanoid robotic technology, or the feeling of being trapped in a house with Oscar Isaac, I can relate to the fact that Nathan physically dances away from his problems. Things have gotten so tense with Caleb that he turns on some music and discos off. We’ve all been there.
“You tore up her picture!” Caleb yells, referring to a creation of Ava’s. “I’m about to tear up the dance floor,” Nathan yells back. It is worth noting that Ex Machina earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and I like to believe that this exact exchange of dialogue is what locked it into the category. I have no evidence to back up this statement but I will hold it in my heart nonetheless.
Last and certainly not least: the detail that pushes the perfection of this scene over the edge is Oscar Isaac’s wardrobe. Shout-out to the costume assistant that insisted his sweatshirt be barely zipped at all, at risk of falling off at any given moment. Give them a retroactive raise! The surprises continue as the dance continues because the scene just… ends. No denouement, no warning, just a silent cutaway to Nathan stumbling down the hallway. (At this point, it is also worth mentioning that the sweatshirt has become fully unzipped. That aforementioned costume assistant should be making six figures!) In the grand scope of the film, this scene appears without warning and vanishes just as suddenly and feels a bit like a fever dream once it has passed.
This sequence has become hardwired to my brain and remains noteworthy despite the fact that there are so many other moments in Oscar Isaac’s filmography that could take its place: the found-footage in Annihilation is more graphic and shocking; the scene in The Last Jedi in which Carrie Fisher slaps him across the face is just as memorable; he chases his scrappy cat down a subway car in Inside Llewyn Davis! Yet nothing will top the disco moment, a moment that could have lost its edge in the hands of a less capable actor. I’m certain I’ll revisit Ex Machina time and time again, as I consider it to be a sterling example of sci-fi being the perfect medium to explore themes of feminism and the overall human condition, but forget that noise: have you heard about the scene where Oscar Isaac dances?
The Matrix, a legendary science fiction film, was released on March 31, 1999. Its main philosophical theme that questions the meaning of human existence is mixed in with special effects and a diverse cast, making it more than just a fun action film.
Neo’s Journey into Wonderland
The Matrix centers on Neo, played by everyone’s favorite, Keanu Reeves, who doesn’t quite fit into the society around him. He is approached by a group of strangers, all who are dressed in black with funny sunglasses, that lead him to their leader, Morpheus. This meeting leads to Morpheus explaining that there is an omnipresent force known as ‘The Matrix’ that cannot be escaped, but also, cannot be explained. Real comforting, right? Morpheus continues by offering Neo two pills: the blue one that will allow him to wake up in his bed, thinking this was all make-believe or the red one that will keep him ‘in Wonderland’, where the truth will be revealed. Neo takes the red pill, despite not knowing the possible risks, which leads him on a crazy adventure.
Is Ignorance Bliss?
Knowing the truth comes with preparation. Neo is escorted to Morpheus’s ship, The Nebuchadnezzar, where he begins an intense re-birthing process that prepares him to understand the forces he is up against. After his body is renewed, he must train both physically and mentally if there is a chance to destroy ‘The Matrix’. Understanding the inner workings and details of a false reality built to control the entirety of humanity is not easily explained or easily understood, especially for those who have been living inside that fantastical construct. The Matrix is constantly juggling the existential benefits of truth versus ignorance.
Neo could have continued his life as he had prior to his meeting with Morpheus and never learned about the fake society he was living in. However, the extreme renewal process and discipline he undergoes after boarding The Nebuchadnezzar is only a minor consequence that puts him in a position to save not only himself but the rest of the world.
The Matrix was SO Before Its Time
I’ve heard some people say The Matrix is cheesy, specifically citing the acting, which I whole-heartedly disagree with. The entire film universe is complex and detailed while also questioning bigger systems that have always been at play in society. While there is the presence of basic flip phones, cell phones like we know them today were unthinkable. Since 1999, social media has not only been introduced to the masses but has been popularized for every generation still alive. There are children that know the workings of Twitter better than me, and don’t even get me started on the Grandma selfies on Facebook!
This sort of technological advancement that is all stored on our personal mini computers we carry around sounds like something straight out of The Matrix. It is just another way we are trying to cope with the false reality we are all engaging in, not saying I believe in ‘The Matrix’ or anything…
Why is Diversity Casting Such a Hard Concept When The Matrix Did it in 1999?
Here we are, twenty years later, and still the battle of representation is still heavily being disputed. Somehow, The Matrix did it right before it was the ‘cool’ thing to do. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, is a Black man who is in charge of the revolution. Those who work under him are also diverse, with a couple of women and other people of colour who are diligent to the vision Morpheus has. The biggest plus when it comes to the casting in The Matrix is in the villains. There is a tendency in film casting to have a non-white character end up being the bad guy. In The Matrix, all the characters that end up being evil are white men. This is a powerful message when talking about forces and systems that feed off the ignorance of the entire population to stay in control. Along with the casting is the identity of the directors, Lana and Lily Wachowski, who have undergone gender transformations in the past twenty years. Therefore, this film is directed by two transwomen who are talented, creative, and well-read in philosophy.
I cannot write about The Matrix without talking about the character of Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. In the film, the first scene focuses on a badass female character in a black latex suit who fights away all the bad guys. She jumps into mid-air, flies from building to building, and escapes an army of men. Trinity does not disappoint the rest of the movie either as her fashion sense is always above the other characters and her ability to stay calm is very admirable. In the end, Neo and Trinity do have a few feelings to exchange but I can’t hate on Keanu getting the girl of my dreams. Trinity is one of the best characters of the late 90s to early 2000s cinematic releases that both men and women can crush on.
20 Years Later
The Matrix will be a film that is talked about for generations to come. Yes, two sequels came out after this magnificent work of art that are not on the same level as this 1999 release but this first movie in the trilogy is a gem. It is well thought out, brilliantly directed, thoughtfully cast, and Trinity is the best. Here’s to twenty more years of watching The Matrix.
“Likes: Thai food, feminist prose, and angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion.
So I’m supposed to buy her some noodles and a book and sit around listening to chicks who can’t play their instruments, right?”
On this day in March, 20 years ago, a little movie called 10 Things I Hate About You was released. It grossed a total of around $53.5 million worldwide, so I guess it wasn’t that little. I first saw it when I was around twelve years old, a whole thirteen years after it came out, and it’s been my favourite movie ever since. But the question is… Why is it still so memorable and so iconic, 20 years later?
The soundtrack was the epitome of the late 90s/early 00s, but it’s also still pretty timeless to this day. Admittedly, I still listen to “angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion”. The main band to feature prominently in the soundtrack, who is also Kat’s favourite band, is Letters to Cleo, singing a cover of “I Want You To Want Me”, “Cruel To Be Kind” and “Co-Pilot”, the latter two are both played live, in the prom scene and a gig scene, respectively.
The majority of the rest of the soundtrack is filled with upbeat, 90s alt-rock/pop songs, such as “F.N.T” by Semisonic, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett, “New World” by Leroy, “Calypso” by Spiderbait, “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies, and “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” by The Colourfield.
The rest is filled in with ballads, namely “Even Angels Fall” by Jessica Riddle, “Your Winter” by Sister Hazel and “The Weakness In Me” by Joan Armatrading and a collection of disco-funk songs, like “Dazz” by Brick, “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa and “Word Up” by Cameo. The film also has Heath Ledger’s wonderful rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in possibly the best scene in any film ever. An angel.
The cast is probably the number one reason why the movie is so memorable all these years later.
Julia Stiles (Kat Stratford) had a few acting credits to her name in both film and TV, but 10 Things was her breakout role. She won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actress in 1999, and also the MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance – Female in 2000 for this role.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Cameron James) was probably one of the more famous actors on 10 Things I Hate About You, as he had already been nominated for a Saturn Award 5 years before the movie, and had lots of TV guest appearances before starring in it, such as in an episode of That ‘70s Show. He also was starring in 3rd Rock From The Sun as Tommy Solomon from 1996-01, as well as having a part in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.
Larisa Oleynik (Bianca Stratford) was classed as a teen idol before she starred in the film. She starred as Alex Mack in The Secret World of Alex Mack from 1994-98. Before 10 Things I Hate About You, her first major film role was in The Babysitters Club in 1995.
Heath Ledger (Patrick Verona) hadn’t had many acting credits before 10 Things, with the movie being his first American film. He’d previously been a character in a couple of episodes of Home and Away and had a role in the movie Blackrock.
I truly cannot think of one line or scene that isn’t completely iconic and memorable in this movie. My favourite line from Bianca has to be “I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?”, “I think you can in Europe?” but my all-time favourite line has to be one between Kat and Patrick in the car: “I should do this.”, “What, start a band?”, “No, install car stereos! Yeah, start a band.”.
I love the prom scene and three lines that come out of it. One between Kat and Patrick, “Where’d you get a tux at the last-minute?”, “Oh just something I had. You know, lying around. Where’d you get the dress?”, “Oh it was just something I had, you know, lying around.”
The other two between Joey (Andrew Keegan) and Bianca: “Shit Bianca, I’m shooting a nose spray ad tomorrow!”, “That’s for making my date bleed, that’s for my sister, and that’s for me.”
My Top 3 Scenes
In my opinion, one of the most satisfying and best scenes in the movie is the scene where Kat bails Patrick out of detention and they go on a ‘date’ and throw paint balloons at each other, ending with them falling into a pile of hay and having their first kiss to Semisonic’s F.N.T. – the best slow burn.
The best musical scene is when Patrick uses the money he got paid with by Joey to pay the marching band to play Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” to Kat while she’s playing soccer on the field, and he sings and dances on the bleachers in front of everybody.
The ending scene with Patrick placing the guitar Kat was eyeing in the music shop in the front seat of her car. He distinctly remembered which guitar she wanted, and that she wanted to start a band. We got pretty quotable lines out of it, too. “It’s not every day you meet a girl who’ll flash someone to get you out of detention.”, “You can’t buy me a guitar every time you screw up, you know.”, “I know, but you know there’s always drums, bass, and maybe one day even a tambourine.”
Setting Up Romance
10 Things I Hate About You really set up the romance in 2000s teen films. It definitely defined the whole ‘dating someone for money but then actually falling for them’ movie trope, which is somewhat similar to ‘dating someone for a bet, while the character being bet on (typically a girl) doesn’t know they’re being bet on, subsequently finding out near the end of the movie’ which actually happens in this one – only not to Kat, but Bianca.
For a teen rom-com, 10 Things I Hate About You surprisingly has some badass and in-depth characters, and I think this is why it’s so memorable and was so successful. At the start of the movie, when we meet Kat, she’s supposed to be the alternative, The Raincoats and Sylvia Plath loving, angry older sister to Bianca who hates everyone, and while she is all those things, she’s like that for a reason.
She doesn’t care what people think about her and her interests, and she never does things because other people want her to, apart from Bogey Lowenstein’s party, of course. She likes all the things she likes because she wants to, she does the things she does because she wants to, and although she’s a bit of an outcast in the movie, she really doesn’t care. She has witty comebacks for everyone; Bianca, her dad, her teachers, the guidance counsellor, Joey, and even Patrick. She never changes for Patrick, either.
When we meet Patrick, Cameron and his friend Michael (David Krumholtz) are trying to find a guy who doesn’t scare easily to date Kat. They look over and see Patrick stabbing a dissected frog, lighting a cigarette on the Bunsen burner and then touching the flame with his fingers. This is the furthest away from the real Patrick that we end up seeing during the movie. Maybe he’s a bit bad for taking the money from Joey at first, but he didn’t know what he was getting into. He was chivalrous to Kat, tried to find out things about her, helped her when she could’ve had a concussion at the party, and didn’t kiss her when she was almost blackout drunk.
He also embarrassed himself for her, singing in front of a giant audience of people, went to the prom with her, even remembered which guitar she wanted and bought it for her with the money Joey gave him. He even ended up becoming good friends with Cameron and helped him get with Bianca. They could’ve made him rude and scary throughout the whole film but they actually made him respectful and sensitive.
Bianca, I think, is the real turnaround character in this movie. At the start, she’s popular, a little ditzy, and doesn’t care about anything apart from clothes, shopping and Joey. She’s shallow and self-centred, but this seems to be almost an act to fit in with her friends. Her true self is apparent when she starts seeing Cameron, and it becomes clear that Joey and her best friend Chastity (Gabrielle Union) had bet on Joey sleeping with her on prom night. She starts becoming nicer to Kat and sticks up for her, Cameron and herself at prom by hitting Joey.
The movie was so popular that it even got its own TV adaptation, which could’ve made new viewers of the show go and watch the movie. The show aired 10 years later in July 2009 and ran for 20 episodes, until May 2010. It was cancelled because of low ratings later in the show. This could’ve been because of nostalgia and people wanting to relive the 90s, but finding out the show couldn’t live up to the original movie, despite having 12 episodes directed by the director of the movie, Gil Junger.
20 Years Later
To sum it all up, I think this movie is so iconic and memorable 20 years later because it’s the whole package. If the killer soundtrack was off, someone was cast differently, a line was said differently or taken out altogether, I truly don’t think any of it would’ve worked, and I think the TV adaptation is a perfect result of that – it just wasn’t the same. The movie never needed and will never need a reboot or remake, it will always be timeless.
“We all just hung out so much,” he continued. “I think we all just kind of fell in love with each other, like we all just really loved hanging out genuinely and I think that’s, if I had to guess, I think that’s why the movie turned out so good and why people like it so much is because we really, really liked hanging out together and that kind of thing doesn’t actually always happen.” – Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the 20th anniversary
Happy Birthday, 10 Things I Hate About You. If you were a person, next year you’ll be able to drink!