First, let me take a brief poll. When’s the last time you laughed out loud at something on network television? I’m not talking a chuckle. I’m talking about a full-on guffaw, a laugh that makes you pause the show just to catch your breath. And when’s the last time you were able to walk into your school or workplace the next day and talk about that same joke with your friends? Oh, it hasn’t happened very recently, has it? Of course not. That’s because there isn’t a popular network sitcom that’s actually funny. Continue reading The Death of the Network Sitcom
On October 27, 1955, Rebel Without a Cause was released across America. With rave reviews and a huge box office, Rebel Without a Cause became an instant success. The film, starring James Dean, was most recognized for the way it spoke to teens. Suddenly, many studios realized that making movies marketed to teens, who had lots of free time to go see films, could be a huge moneymaker. This marked a beginning of an era in Hollywood, “Teenpics.” Continue reading A Brief History of Teen Film
I love the Oscars. I know, usually they choose the conventional choice, and although the “Best Picture” of the year is rarely the actual best picture, it’s never terrible. Well, I have a fight to pick with the Academy this year. When “Les Miserables” was nominated this year for eight awards, I cried blasphemy. This was not unexpected (It was directed by Oscar favorite Tom Hooper, and has a huge, prestigious cast), but awful all the same. The film was loud, bloated, messy, and ugly.
Now, it’s clear from the moment you begin watching the film, with its sweeping shot of a ship pulled by hundreds of prisoners, that this film is big. The other thing you notice is that while you stare at that big ship, you don’t feel anything. There’s no desire to give yourself over to the film, let it sweep you away, mainly because in the process of making “Les Mis” huge, Tom Hooper has forgotten to make the film mean anything. The large musical numbers carry no grandeur, the love stories aren’t touching or romantic, the deaths meaningless. The entire film ends up being just plain unpleasant. It’s all big and shameless, with every actor crying and singing over countless dead bodies. The camera work is filled with relentless close-ups, just so you can see just how hard the actors are pursuing awards.
“Les Miserables” centers around Jean Valjean, a French prisoner released after nineteen years. After he’s released, a preacher takes him in. Jean then steals from him, but instead of punishing him, the preacher gives Jean a chance to redeem himself. Eventually, he becomes the mayor of a town, and becomes a good man. The film then dissolves into a mess, with characters floating in and out without much purpose except to be killed.
Oh, yeah. All but one or two characters dies at some point in the film. Not that it really matters, since you won’t really like any of them. The actors’ performances mostly fall flat. Literally. Every single song is out of tune and fragile, like a five year-old singing along to the radio. To be fair, Anne Hathaway does a pretty good job with “I Dreamed a Dream,” and Hugh Jackman shouldn’t be accused of not trying, but mostly, the filmmakers have performed the unspeakable act of finding actors with the most Oscar potential instead of actual, um, singing ability. Just listen to Russell Crowe belt out “Javert’s Suicide,” and I swear, you’ll think you’re hearing Jabba the Hut attempt to sing.
There will be people who love the film, saying that it’s a beautiful epic. I think they’re just confusing the musical and the movie. The musical “Les Miserables” is incredible, and a great introduction into musical theater. For me, though, a movie musical should not just be based on the quality of its source material, but the way it is performed. And the adaptation plays like the worst elementary-school level productions of “Les Mis” I’ve ever seen.
Alright, I know I’ve been pretty harsh on this film, but I want you to know that my hatred of “Les Mis” is not entirely the film’s fault. I’m just as angry with the Oscars for actually nominating this piece of crap. Did you actually watch the film, or did you just latch onto the film’s desperately obvious Oscar campaign?
Making a good movie about high school is hard. For every great, timeless John Hughes film, there’s a helplessly outdated movie like Clueless. It’s also incredibly hard to adapt a novel into a good movie (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games). So as you can imagine, I was incredibly skeptical of The Perks of Being a Wallflower being made into a movie. The 1999 novel was incredible, and I was expecting to walk out of the theater utterly disgusted. Instead, The Perks of Being a Wallflower became one of my favorite films of 2012, and I now consider it one of the few film adaptations to surpass the novel on which it is based.
The film centers around Charlie, a freshman who befriends two seniors. The film wanders through their daily life, from the lunchroom to class periods to midnight showings of Rocky Horror Picture show. Logan Lerman stars in the title role, and while he does not do a spectacular job, he certainly pulls his weight, hitting all the right notes along the way. Emma Watson breaks free from Harry Potter with the role of Sam, one of Charlie’s best friends. Her performance is good, especially her spot-on American accent, but Ezra Miller is truly the stunner here. His performance as Sam’s gay stepbrother Patrick is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, giving the film a sense of vulnerability that, even with all of the tears that are shed throughout the film, would be nonexistent without Miller’s performance.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the novel. This means that not only is the movie fairly faithful to the novel, but also has the same spirit. It’s set in 1991 Pittsburgh, and is filmed with the glow of a memory. While the film is confident in its time and place, it avoids the problems that befalls so many teenpics of becoming obsessed with its time and place. In fact, the setting is almost irrelevant. The emotions are universal, the situations are timeless, the characters are real, and the film is true to life.
For those who have read the book, it is worth noting that many of the traumatic events that occur throughout the book have clearly been sanitized to fit a more mainstream audience, and a more joyous ending has been supplied. This would usually hold an adaption back from achieving the greatness of its source. Instead, the film takes full advantage of being a softer story, treating the material almost like a soap opera. As devastating as the film can be, there’s always the little voice in the background reminding you that what you’re watching isn’t that big of a deal, and that these things happen all the time. Yet, at the same time, the film makes it clear that what you’re watching is very important. As a direct result of seemingly ordinary occurrences such as a party, or a kiss, the characters in this story are changed. It might not affect where they go to college, or whom they marry, but there is no doubt that the characters are different people when the film is over.
The movie, of course, isn’t perfect. The dialogue falls flat on more than one occasion, and sometimes the film becomes too self-absorbed to see what it’s trying to accomplish, wandering aimlessly without any charm. Yet that’s what high school is about; asking the wrong questions, doing the wrong thing, being a jerk sometimes. It’s about figuring out who you want to be, what you want to accomplish in life. It’s about anxiety, sadness, and laughter. The film’s ability to perfectly encapsulate all of these emotions is what makes it so incredibly, undeniably human.
In general, I dislike feel-good movies, especially if they take place during a holiday. I find the experience of watching ‘goofy’ dysfunctional families learning that ‘family is what really matters’ during some holiday ‘hijinks’ so miserable that I am often tempted to turn off the television. With that being said, I love Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, mainly because it falls into none of the aforementioned stereotypes of a holiday movie.
Most of the film follows the life of George Bailey as seen through the eyes of two angels. As the film opens, we see a group of boys, sliding down a frozen river on old metal shovels. George stands off to the side, acting as a makeshift announcer with his megaphone. His brother, Harry, slides down the river, but doesn’t stop when he reaches the group of boys. He continues straight on until he reaches the point where the ice stops and the river begins. As he flails about in the water, George comes rushing over. He dives into the freezing water and pulls Harry out, saving his brother’s life. This is George’s first act of selflessness, and certainly, not his last.
The film then goes on to paint a beautiful picture of a man’s life. Love, loss, happiness, and rage are all expertly woven together over the course of the film. The movie really shines in its second hour, when the question of “What if George Bailey was never born?” is posed. The movie suddenly finds its purpose as an enlightening tale of learning to love life again. When George Bailey realizes that his brother Harry (now a war hero) would have died if George hadn’t been alive to save him, you can see his heart break on screen. It’s devastating, but it’s also wonderfully moving. I don’t want to spoil anything more, as that would ruin some of the fun, but it’s safe to say that after the movie is over, the outside world might look slightly different than before you started the movie.
The entire production could have been laughable – a stupefying drama about loving life – but instead sweeps the audience away in two hours of pure cinematic art. There are genuine laughs, genuine surprises, moments when we are frustrated, and moments when we are touched. Each scene unfolds with a brisk ease, the time jumps and abrupt mood changes feeling natural. There are deep themes here of depression and corruption, but there’s an air of lightness throughout the entire film. Even in the tensest moments, George always slips in a deadpan line. It’s a drama, for sure, but an insanely entertaining one.
While every aspect of the movie is admirable, the main reason the film works so well is because George, played with incredible precision by James Stewart, is a truly good man. When his dreams of traveling the world are dashed, or when his life comes tumbling down around him, the audience still has a sliver of hope that everything will be alright, because it’s just too hard to believe that such a bright, hardworking man could collapse.
Yes, the movie can sometimes be a tad predictable. But the film’s brilliance is it doesn’t matter what the movie’s about. The movie could take place in anytime and could be about anyone. The film’s real purpose is the connection between the audience and the screen, the way each shot envelopes the heart with true feeling. You know something is a masterpiece when your mind can tell what’s going to happen next, yet you’re still on the edge of you’re seat, waiting with joyous anticipation, hoping that everything will work out in the end.