Clouds of Sils Maria is a complicated movie to explain. It’s centered around a film actress (Juliette Binoche) who is starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career and her complicated feelings about now being in the role of the older woman. But the heart of the movie is her relationship with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), exploring the innate weirdness of this position, in which one is more than an employee and less than a friend, in the attention demanded and intimacies shared. Most of this movie is these two characters alone together, and Binoche and Stewart play off each other beautiful with deep, complicated performances that reveal the layers of their relationship. This movie is also about the nature of art and loneliness and so many other things. It’s a movie that brought me to such a depth of feeling that I could sit in stunned silence afterward. By far, my favorite movie of the year. (My longer review is here.)
I watched a lot of horror movies this year — around 34 or so — and though I’ll be posting my favorite movies in general for the year later on, I decided to give horror movies their own list. So, here are the top ten horror movies that I watched for the first time in 2017.
Get Out (2017)
Chris, a young black man, goes on a weekend trip with his white girlfriend to meet her parents at their secluded estate in the woods. The weekend starts off awkward and grows increasingly unsettling as it builds into a nightmare. Brilliantly executed by writer and director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a smart, frightening, and sometimes humorous satirical thriller that unveils the nature of racism as microaggressions give way to violence.
When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.
The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.
On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.
It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.
The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).
The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.
I did not exercise all last week, unless you count my playing with my niece, a.k.a. The Monster — following her as she ran around the park and rolling with her in the grass and spinning in circles and then hauling her over my shoulder to get her back to her parents at the picnic tables — which I totally do.
The Monster had a lovely Easter. She got to paint eggs and then “find” eggs during an Easter egg hunt (which was more us just tossing plastic eggs into the grass and playing pick up with a plastic bucket, because she’s not yet two).
Words Here and There
I haven’t been putting many expectations on myself in terms of writing lately, due to the many, many things going on in other arenas of my life. But I’ve managed to feel a few sparks of inspiration over the past couple of weeks, which is awesome.
I’m planning to close The Poetry Project to new prompts as of April 30th, so if you would like me to write you a poem, then please leave me a prompt in the comments either here or there.
I’ve put together an excel sheet of chapters of the werewolf novel, noting things that need to be added and major problems that need to be solved along the way. It’s not a complicated layout, but it was enough to start getting my thoughts in order and I’m also using the tabs to start trying to keep track of characters and places that are important. I still have NO IDEA to solve the one major problem I have at the moment. The most obvious solution is to cut out the problem entirely, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do.
I also met with the Writing Gang over the weekend, all of whom continue to be awesome. They gave me some feedback on some of the later chapters, which was valuable as always. I think I need to look at solving the big problems and work my way through edits from the beginning at this point. *le sigh*
Good Movie Watching
I saw The Host (Gwoemul) for the first time over the weekend and it was SO FREAKING AWESOME. The story involves a large genetically mutated creature that rises up out of Han River in Seoul, South Korea and begins to attach the population. A young school girl is taken by the creature during the initial attack, and amidst a virus scare and government lockdown, her family escapes quarantine to try to rescue her.
It sounds like just your typical monster movie, but the story is intelligent and the family is both charming and silly in their bungling attempts to save their daughter/niece. It offers fantastic action sequences with a spice of humor, alongside an interesting social commentary. The monster turns out to be the least terrifying aspect of the story. Instead it’s the failed efforts of the Korean and U.S. government to solve the contamination problem, as well as the cold calculating treatment toward the patients in quarantine by officials and doctors alike that becomes truly frightening.
This is one of those movies that was so cool, I want to now see everything done by the director, Joon-ho Bong. The director’s most recent movie is Snowpiercer, which I’ve heard is amazing. So, I that may be the next movie I seek out by him. If you want more evidence of Joon-ho Bong’s awesome, you can check out this post.
Things to Do This Week
Edit chapter one of werewolf novel and try to solve big plot problem
Find a publisher to submit chapbook manuscript to
Continue research/do homework on business thing that I can’t talk about yet
Both my sister and I were fans of the show and fell in love with it, even though our introduction was the not-great third season. Still, there was something about the witty, smart-ass, I-will-destroy-you-if-you-cross-me petite blonde that filled us both with glee.
Though the third season did kinda suck, we were still sad when the show was canceled (just as we fell in love with it, too). So, imagine our joy when we learned of the Veronica Mars movie.
From IMDB: “Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.”
A simple analysis: if you loved the TV show, then it’s highly likely you will love the movie. If you hated the TV show, then you’ll hate the movie. If you never knew anything about the show, then the experience will be hit or miss, you may hate it or fall in love with Veronica and find yourself obsessively watching all the episodes.
Kickstarter funded, the movie was clearly made for fans, bringing back well-loved characters to show them how they’ve changed in the past nine years and in some cases how they haven’t changed at all. There were hints and reminders of the show, both overt and subtle. One of my favorite such instances appeared near the beginning, when a street performer in the background played the theme song for the show. It was just subtle enough that my sister didn’t even notice until I pointed it out to her and we both giggled in gleeful joy.
I’d say the most awkward part of the movie was the voice over rehashing of information. It fits with the Veronica Mars style, in which she fills viewers in on what’s going on, but it didn’t really work here. It basically gave a general overview of the show, which was meant, I suppose to fill in those who were new to Veronica Mars as to who she is. However, for Veronica fans this was known information and for non-Veronica fans this information wasn’t pertinent to the storyline of the movie (for example, Lily’s murder, though important in the show has no bearing on the movie). I think it probably caused more confusion instead of helping, and it would have been better if, instead of summarizing the TV show, the narration introduced the plot of the movie and maybe provided some info on the past nine years.
As a fan, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for — a good, solid murder mystery and a revisiting of favorite characters. Veronica was the same queen of sass that she always is and she and Logan continue to smolder. (Their relationship is funny, because they are always drawn together in states of crisis and then fall apart when the reality of being together on a day to day basis comes into play, though maybe since they’ve both (hoefully) grown up some over the past nine years, they’ll work it out this time.) The story maintained the same dark noir and sharply humorous tone of the show. It could almost be called a two hour episode, especially since the ending made it feel like the pilot for a new TV show — and oh, the SQUEE I would have if that were to happen.
Walking out of the theater, I felt the Veronica Mars’ great big tada. My sister and I were both smiling, feeling as though we’d visited an old friend.
Also, one more gif, because I just can’t resist:
Yes, Veronica, even after a tasering, I would still love you.
Being a HUGE fan of Shaun of the Dead (the hilarious spoof of the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead), I was über-excited to learn about Edgar Wright and Simon Peg’s most recent foray in to genre, The World’s End. Reality being reality and life being lifelike, I wasn’t able to see The World’s End in theaters and only managed to finally watch it this past weekend.
Short analysis: I loved it.
Longer analysis: This story of five friends meeting up in their hometown to perform the epic pubcrawl they failed to complete as younger men, only to find the town they knew invaded by replicant-style robots, hit all the right notes for me.
Like with Shaun of the Dead, this movie plays manages to lovingly spoof the genre while offering up characters to care about and just a bit of heart. It maybe didn’t pull off the relationships between the characters as well as Shaun of the Dead did, but it was still a fun movie, with lots of action and humor.
Plus booze — there was lots of beer drinking and drunkenness.*
One of the most impressive things, in terms of acting, was how well each of the characters portrayed being drunk. It’s apparently one of the hardest things to do in acting and each of them pulled it off just about perfectly. Watching the characters do the Slow Blink at about level 7 on the drunkeness scale reminded me of my own knights out drinking. I’ve been there.
*Actually, I wasn’t clear on how these drunken, untrained gents managed to fight as skillfully as they do in this movie — at some points it was almost too slick — but that didn’t stop from the entertainment value for one second.
The Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars. For several years now, I’ve been attending the Best Picture Showcase, presented by the AMC movie theaters, which allows me to catch up on all the nominated movies in a couple of weekends. I’m in the habit at this point of posting the movies and my thoughts on them before the awards.
Since I haven’t seen ANY of the movies nominated, these thoughts are based on synopsis and trailers alone.
STATS: Total (new-to-me) Movies Watched = 67, of which
27 were General (Drama/Action/Etc.)
17 were Scifi/Fantasy
10 were Horror
5 were Animated
4 were Comedy
4 were Documentaries
5 were Foreign (non-English)
In addition, I watched a total of 9 short films.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Pacific Rim (2013) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) The Cabin in the Woods (2011) Sherlock Jr. (1924) Wreck-It Ralph (2012) Fast & Furious 6 (2013) Django Unchained (2012) Stoker (2013)
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
I loved The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is a fantastic adaptation of the book. The political tension in the film had me on edge and is so well done.
Runner Up: Pacific Rim was also fantastically fun with some really great leading characters.
Best Horror Movie
I just loved The Cabin in the Woods for it’s sheer fun, humor, and gore (that ending sequence, OMG).
But for technical, eerie horror Rosemary’s Baby is also at the top of my list.
Best Animated Movie Wreck-It Ralph — The old video game throw backs (awe, Q-Bert, how I miss you) and the friendship between Ralph and Vaneilope make this a winner for me.
Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated (2009), which may not be the best, but deserves a mention for creativity, as it brings together artists from all over the world to recreate the visual elements of the classic 1968 zombie flick.
It may seem odd that I’m choosing an old silent movie for top place, but Buster Keaton charms me every time and Sherlock Jr. had me laughing out loud throughout the story. So creative and inventive for any time.
Best Documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a great exploration of the artists life.
Best Foreign Film
I have to give Amour (2012) the honor here, because though it’s terribly sad and hard to watch, it also has the most moving acting performance I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing cinematography and a beautiful film all around.
Runner Up: Blancanieves (2012) is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale in black and white, silent film format. Plus, bullfighting. The ending is strange and sad, but it’s a fascinating movie.
Best Short Film Paperman (2012) is an adorable little animation that is practically perfect in every way.
Last night, I forgo-ed writing to go to the premiere party for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at The Tech Museum’s Hackworth IMAX Dome (the dome is amazing in and of itself, eight stories tall and astounding to watch movies on). The party was fun with chocolate fondu fountains and a very creepy looking pig-shaped cake. In honor of the movie, a group presented sword and fighting demonstrations, as well as an archery demonstration. Before the movie, the staff also asked trivia questions and offered tee shirts and posters as prizes. (^_^)
Note: Spoilers from the first movie are likely to show up here.
Catching Fire after the first Hunger Games ending, with Katniss and Peeta both as heroes and in a constant state of threat by the government. The tension is present from the beginning, because we know Katniss defied President Snow with her berries trick and he is very pissed off about it. What follows is a political struggle as Katniss and Peeta decide whether to do as they’re told or to fight back.
Jennifer Lawrence was amazing. She can show so much of Katniss’ inner conflict without saying a single word. In fact, everyone in this movie did an amazing job, each one approaching their roles with respect for their characters. The director allows a few brief moments of quiet from time to time, in which the characters can just be themselves and all the worry and fear comes through.
The tension at the beginning is powerful and the action in the games is exciting (one of the game threats gave me chills). Since this is the second book in an ongoing story, things did fully wrap up, but paused in preparation for the third movie to come in 2014.
Catching Fire was a fantastic adaptation of the book and proves once again why book-to-movie adaptation is so fascinating to me. Books being the wordy things they are, tend to have more dialog, longer speeches, more explanation. As a reader seeing a movie of a favorite book, it’s tempting to want every scene and every bit of dialog included in the movie. But movies are different creative creatures entirely, and it’s often better to simplify, strip away a bulk of the words.
I remember reading Catching Fire and wondering how some of the scenes would be pulled off. In the book, the moments were dramatic and powerful and full of dialog and multiple scenes. Yet, the movie managed to pull out the heart of these scenes, make them powerful and moving, and all while having them be shorter. The scenes rely on trusting the actors to pull it off and the cinematographer to find the right distance. It’s fascinating to see this work.
The third and final book, Mockingjay, will be following the Hollywood trend these days and be split into two movies in order to suck all the money they can out of viewers. I have no idea how this will be pulled off (I never do). It has me a little worries (always does). But based on the first two movies, my hopes are high.