‘Say Anything’ will make you smile no matter what your relationship status

Okay, so Valentine’s Day is upon us and even though I’m a happily single gal, I’ll take any excuse to talk about my favorite romances. And Say Anything is one of my all-time favorites! I love showing this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it, because, *spoiler alert*, it’s impossible not to love.

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SETTING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS SINCE 1989

If you’re unfamiliar, Say Anything, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, follows Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), a high school graduate atypically comfortable with the uncertainty of his own future. He doesn’t know what he wants to be necessarily and he’s okay with that. On the other hand, valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) thinks she knows exactly what she wants. Everyone tells Lloyd that he could never make it with Diane, but he believes. He asks her out and they fall deeply for each other. Opposites really do attract. But, as with all teen romances, there are complications. DRAAAAMA ENSUES.

Here are a few reasons why you’ll fall deeply in love with Say Anything:

The Cast

I know I always say this, but the cast in this film is incredible. John Cusack had spent the 80’s playing teenagers, so it’s no surprise that by the time this film came along, Cusack wasn’t exactly ecstatic. However, once he read Crowe’s script, he was in…and what a difference his presence makes. He IS Lloyd Dobler. His charm carries the film.

“He [Lloyd Dobler] isn’t a tunnel-versioned urban teen preoccupied with sex, school, and his job. I realized I would never be 20 again so I might as well cap off that phase of my career on a positive note. I’m glad I took the part.” – John Cusack

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And he can sort of play the guitar…<3

Ione Skye is equally important, but unlike Cusack, she was fairly new to acting at the time. This may be a weird thing to point out, but I appreciated that Skye was not perfect. She was obviously gorgeous, but she had a kind of lisp and I don’t know, she just seemed like a real person. She was genuine and natural and you could understand why Lloyd liked her.

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Girl, I FEEL YOU.

Lili Taylor is also fantastic as Lloyd’s friend, Corey. You might know her from Six Feet Under or American Crime or something else entirely. She’s a big character actress. But, to me, she will always be this character. Her saga with Joe is relatable AF.

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YAS QUEEN.

Paul Mahoney cannot be undervalued either. Another great character actor, his portrayal of James Court, Diane’s father, is layered. In a lot of ways, he’s a bad guy. But, you can’t quite hate him. He loves Diane and in his mind, all the immoral things he’s done, have been for her.

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Just trying to be a good dad…

Bonus: Joan Cusack is wonderful AS ALWAYS. She plays the sister to Lloyd, quite a stretch for her. Ha.

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Her hair is so 80’s.

The Script

Cameron Crowe had written the script for another teen movie eight years earlier: Fast Times at Ridgemont High which Clueless‘ Amy Heckerling directed. Though both scripts are well written, tonally they are very different. Strangely, I feel sort of disconnected from that film. I didn’t see myself in it. Say Anything felt more true to my high school experiences. The characters weren’t stereotypes. They were people.

Diane is ambitious and kind. She thinks the world of her father and ultimately, finds that he doesn’t live up to that. We all get to that point, some earlier than others, where we’re forced to see our parents as people. Her father is far from perfect, but he does love her and that’s worth something.

Lloyd is happy within himself. Once he falls in love with Diane, he finds his post-high school purpose. As a society, we tend to judge people who get into serious relationships too early. We say, they’re too young to know what they really want. And perhaps that’s true. Maybe Diane and Lloyd’s love affair doesn’t last, but this is a movie and I want a happy ending, damnit!

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So sweet!

Crowe based the film on his own heartbreak and it shows. The romance as well as its complications feels genuine. Diane and Lloyd fall hard for one another and it’s sweet and awkward and heartbreaking.

Also, the pen thing. Epic.”I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”

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I mean, EPIC, amiright?

The Direction

Believe it or not, Lawrence Kasdan was originally going to direct the film. Prolific producer James L. Brooks had met Crowe when he was researching Broadcast News and hired him to write a script about a girl who finds out her father is a criminal. Once the script was complete, Kasdan told Crowe, “You are that main character. You should direct it” (Interview, Cameron Crowe).

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This relationship always makes me smile.

This was Crowe’s directorial debut and he’s been very candid about the fact that he was learning on the job. I think the first film a director makes is always fascinating because it’s the most pure. They’re really trying, they’re excited. They don’t know what the “right” way to do something is. This was certainly true with Reality Bites and Ben Stiller as well as with Time after Time and Nicholas Meyer.

The Music

Crowe started as music reporter for Rolling Stone, so I think it’s safe to say, the music he chose was important. Beyond the seminal boom box scene which blasted Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”, the soundtrack for the film also had hits by Depeche Mode, Cheap Trick and Nancy Wilson. The 80’s, man. You’ve gotta love it.

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Honestly, aren’t we all?

The Romance

Again, just, YES. The romance is everything. I have a running joke. I’ve never been on a plane and I keep telling my friends, I’m just waiting for my Lloyd Dobler. When they actually understand the reference (which happens maybe 50 percent of the time), I make them laugh.

But, back to the romance. Just look at these gifs and feel ALL THE FEELS.

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The first time you talk to your crush…the awkwardness!
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PICTURE FUCKING PERFECTION.
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This is her “I’m so messed up” look
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I always watched this scene and was like, “Maybe he should shower first.” Just a thought!
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You just described every great success story. ❤ ❤ ❤

It’s a seminal, heartfelt, old-school, yet modern romance!

Seminal is the key word. If you haven’t seen it, you need to ASAP. Your life will just be better for it. Plus, if you’re single on Valentine’s Day, IMHO, this is a good way to spend your time because it gives us all hope that there is a Lloyd Dobler out there for each and every one of us, or a Diane Court!

Plus, the Peter Gabriel song is just really good.

Vintage trailer below:

Photos and Gifs property of 20th Century Fox Films.

 

 

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Why ‘Other People’ is more than just another Cancer drama

As the new year was approaching, I saw numerous ‘Best Movies of 2016’ lists by friends on Facebook. The usual suspects were there: La La Land, Edge of Seventeen, Manchester By the Sea, Twentieth Century Women (well, it was on my list. I don’t think many people have seen it yet.). However, there was one movie that kept getting mentioned which I had never heard of, which of course was very distressing. I pride myself on knowing all good movies. So, I did my research and found that the film was on Netflix. I suggested watching the film to my brother, we watched the trailer, and thought, eh, looks a bit depressing.

I watched the film yesterday on a lark and…was a COMPLETE MESS. Some people out there who know me well are reading this and thinking, Lindsay, you cried at the trailer for This Is Us, how can we trust you? And okay, you’d be right. I am a bit emotional…or a lot, whatever. However, what Other People did to me wasn’t like, a sniffle. This was me on the floor of my room balling uncontrollably. Thank god I was alone – it wasn’t pretty.

If you’re unfamiliar, Other People, written and directed by Chris Kelly, is the semi-autobiographical story of David (Jesse Plemons), a NY-based comedy writer who comes home to Sacramento to take care of his dying mother (Molly Shannon). In addition to his grief, he deals with the uncertainty in his own life: his dating life, his work life, and his own mortality.

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LITERALLY SOBBING

I think it’s pretty safe to say the Cancer genre is a bit tired, filled with cliches and manipulative outbursts. However, I think Other People sidesteps those issues for the following reasons:

The Cast

I was familiar with Jesse Plemons from watching Breaking Bad and of course, Friday Night Lights. I always liked him but this was a very different role for him, one in which he was really allowed to show everything he’s got. When he breaks down in the middle of the grocery store, I was a goddamn mess.

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I think we’ve all had a meltdown in a grocery store, right?

But, really, the real shining star of this film is the wonderful Molly Shannon. I was only familiar with her from early 2000’s SNL and I always thought she was funny. Similarly to Plemons, this was a different kind of role than what Shannon has played before. I was impressed at how understated she was, how quickly she could go from comedy to intense drama. Her standout scene for me was when she visits the school she used to work at.

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Molly Shannon deserves an Oscar nod for real.

The supporting cast is made up of some very funny people including Bradley Whitford, (who I discussed in my post on The West Wing), Maude Apatow, Paul Dooley, who I discussed in my post on Breaking Away) and Zach Woods. Sprinkling the cast with such funny people allow a reprieve from the heaviness of the subject matter.

The Script/Direction

I had never heard of Chris Kelly prior to this. He’s worked as a writer/producer for both Broad City and Saturday Night Live, which is a pretty impressive resume, especially considering he’s only thirty-three years old.

I’ve been lucky in my life in so far as I haven’t dealt with these issues yet (KNOCK ON WOOD). However, there were eerie similarities to my life. I grew up in Sacramento, just as Kelly did and my mom is also an elementary school teacher. I’m now living in Los Angeles trying to pursue tv writing.

I think this film resonated because of all those things, but on a deeper level, the script was ultimately about the human experience. It’s a slice-of-life film. We get the sense that we’re not seeing the most important conversations. Instead, we’re experiencing the realness of the situation, the drama and the comedy, the heartbreak, the whole gamet of emotions.

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So sweet! 

Additionally, it’s not directed in a melodramatic way. You don’t feel that you’re being manipulated. After all, we will all ultimately deal with this situation. Maybe not in this way, but still, the character’s journey is universal.

The film is personal, powerful and extremely poignant.

Small films are worth recognizing. And while some could argue that this is far from being a small film (just look at the producers and the CAST!), it obviously wasn’t big budget. It was a quiet film, a personal story, and that’s why it hits in such a big way.

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All about the small moments.

As an aspiring writer, I was inspired by the film. As a filmgoer, I was unbelievably moved. You should all check it out on Netflix, one of the most underrated films of 2016.

Trailer Below:

Other People Gifs property of Park Pictures.

‘The Edge of Seventeen’ captures the teenage female psyche perfectly

It’s been a shitty year for movies. It’s become kind of a slog to go to the movies. Most times I come out and think, That wasn’t really worth it. I almost exclusively write about classic films on this blog, but I needed to make an exception after seeing Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen.

The Edge of Seventeen reminded me of so many things I love, but what astounded me most about it was how completely it got into a teen girl’s mind. The only other project that came even close was the seminal 90’s teen show, My So-Called Life.

In case you’re not familiar, The Edge of Seventeen, written and directed by first time director Kelly Fremon Craig, follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, sarcastic, insecure, compulsive over-talking teen. She has a best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) who inconveniently starts dating her older, extremely popular brother (Blake Jenner). As a result, Nadine goes off the deep end, forced to face herself and her insecurities. MAJOR DRAMA ENSUES…

Here are just a few reasons you need to get your butt off the couch this weekend and see The Edge of Seventeen:

The Cast

I’m gonna be real with y’all. The most important role in this film is Nadine and Hailee Steinfeld knocks it out of the park. She’s so real and awkward and honest and just, agh, this was me in high school. No doubt she’ll be going on to great things…

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I wanna tear up just thinking about this scene. 

The supporting cast is also strong, especially when led by Woody Harrelson who plays her smart-ass teacher, Mr. Bruner. He’s his usual smarmy self. He brings out the major laughs of the film.

Additionally, Hayden Szeto is also wonderful as Erwin Kim, Nadine’s awkward, nerdy love interest. There are a few moments where he’s so sincere you’re like, Um, if she doesn’t want you, I’ll date you!

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A classic case of misreading signals…lol

Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson, and Kyra Sedgewick are good too. Unfortunately, they’re just not given much screen time.

Oh, and yes, that is Andi, aka Meredith Monroe, from Dawson’s Creek as Harrelson’s wife.

The Screenplay

Where do I start? I was lucky enough to read the script a few months back and even as a script, it was fantastic. The dialogue is witty and awkward and real.

The plot feels down-to-earth. This is, to me, what really separates it from films of the John Hughes ilk. I love those movies as much as the next girl, but I know I’m not watching reality. In this, every beat feels like it could really happen. And it doesn’t end with fireworks or a magical kiss, just our main character moving one step forward in her life.

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Just one of Nadine’s witty, totally adult retorts.

What the script also does well is comment on the loneliness of being a teenager. I know, I know. It’s been done before. But, for some reason this one really felt real to me. I think it’s partially because I’m similar to Nadine. I hide my awkwardness and insecurity with sarcasm and witty retorts. It all comes down to loneliness, not feeling like you fit in, thinking that you’ll never quite be normal.

Oh, and Nadine’s whole way of explaining her whole not driving thing…TOO CLOSE TO HOME.

The Direction

Kelly Fremon Craig also wrote the script for another coming of age film a few years back, Post Grad which starred Alexis Bledel. I remember liking the film, but feeling that it was just a bit forced which is the exact opposite of the feeling in this film.

Though the script was fantastic, it was Fremon Craig’s direction which brought this movie to life. Certain stylistic choices made all the difference. For instance, in a major showdown with her brother, Nadine reveals her true feelings quietly, no overly sappy music. She just quietly states how she feels and it breaks you.

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Don’t worry, my weekends were below average in high school too, Nadine.

There’s a sensitivity and an understanding of that age that Fremon Craig clearly has. Every problem feels like it’s the end of the world and Craig understands that and validates it.

The Music

This may be a bit dumb, but I really enjoyed the music. It’s an eclectic soundtrack, featuring Santigold, Angus and Julia Stone, and Aimee Mann.

It’s awkward, genuine, and poignant. 

The teen, or coming of age genre has been overrun by cliches in past years. And don’t get me wrong, this film has some of those cliches too. But, it stands out because it’s rooted in reality. I felt like it captured something special in its writing and direction as well as its performances, something human and completely relatable.

If you were an awkward teenager, this film is sure to resonate. I’m excited to see what films Kelly Fremon Craig goes on to make. So, if you’re looking for Thanksgiving weekend movies to see, please consider this one. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe. It’s got it all!

Images and gifs property of STX Entertainment.

The Whimsical Magic of “The Purple Rose of Cairo”

So, this one may be a stretch in regards to my Halloween theme, but it is fantastical so I’m gonna go ahead and say it works. I first saw this movie back in my early teen years and initially, I wasn’t a big fan of it. I had already been introduced to Woody Allen by this point, but most of the films I had seen were his “early, funny ones.”

The Purple Rose of Cairo is something entirely different. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still very much a comedy, but it’s rooted in a real, emotional story. As I’ve gotten older, the film has grown on me more and more and I now consider it one of my favorite Woody Allen films.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Purple Rose of Cairo, made in 1985, follows Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a poor young woman in the depression. Her husband, Monk (Danny Aiello) is out of work. He has very little interest in finding any work or treating Cecilia with any sort of basic level of respect. The only joy in Cecilia’s life comes from her consistent trips to the movies. She has more interest in those fictional worlds than she does in her real one. One day, in the midst of watching a film she’s already watched multiple times, one of the characters notices and walks out of the screen. Thus, drama ensues!

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If only fictional characters could talk to us. Le sigh.

Here are just a few reasons you should add The Purple Rose of Cairo to your queue:

The Cast

Even though, of course, there’s been drama between the film’s leading lady and Woody Allen, I’d say this film is probably Mia Farrow’s best performance, certainly of the films she made with Allen. You automatically relate to Cecilia’s situation and understand why she loses herself in the movies. That’s partly due to great writing, but the credit should also be given to Farrow’s performance which is shiningly sincere and sweet.

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Kinda gives you Waitress/Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Vibes, right?

The dual role of Gil Sheperd and Tom Baxter was a bit more difficult. Allen had originally cast Michael Keaton in the role. Keaton took a major pay cut to be in the film, but ten days into shooting, Keaton and Allen both agreed that something wasn’t working. Apparently, though Allen though Keaton was giving a strong performance, he felt that Keaton was just too modern for the audience suspend its disbelief.

The part was recast – Jeff Daniels took over. When I think of Daniels, my mind can’t NOT go to Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant HBO show The Newsroom. He will always be Will McAvoy to me. But, of course, at the time, Daniels had only two film credits to his name, Ragtime and a little film called Terms of Endearment. Watching the film, it’s difficult to imagine someone else in the role, especially Keaton. There’s a naivete that Daniels had that made Tom Baxter (the character in the movie she loves) completely lovable. He’s almost like a puppy, excited by everything and idealistic enough to think that if you love someone, every other problem can be fixed. Conversely, Daniels brought a completely different sensibility to Gil Sheperd (the actor who plays Tom Baxter). He’s pompous, confident, and he has a tough exterior. He looks out for himself over everyone else.

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It’d be really nice if Tom Baxter was real…

Danny Aiello is also notable as Cecilia’s awful husband. Now, it’s true, he’s a bit of a stereotype. However, he’s more there for comedic effect and as a contrast for the loveliness that is Tom Baxter. A brilliant character actor, Aiello is best known for his roles in The Godfather: Part II, Do the Right Thing, and Once Upon a Time in America. Even though he’s despicable, Aiello makes it so you can’t completely hate him.

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That look THOUGH…

Also, special mention: Gilmore Girls fans may not know much of Edward Herrmann’s roles outside of patriarch Richard Gilmore. He actually had an extensive film career and by the time this film was made, he had already had roles in The Great Gatsby, The Paper Chase and Reds. Of the film, Herrmann said, “…it was a great cast, all these very clever people, and we were having a hell of a good time acting ’30s (Herrmann, The AV Club Article).”

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I spy Richard Gilmore!

John Wood, the man next to Edward Herrmann above, is also very good. Recognize the name? He was also in WarGames, which I discussed a few weeks back.

Dianne Wiest is also hilarious. So many great character actors in this one!

The Script/Direction

Much can be said about Woody Allen as a person. There are people who I’m sure are probably annoyed that I would even discuss one of his films. But, I’m a firm believer in separating the artist from the person. And, as a writer, Woody Allen is one of the best!

This film is said to be one of his favorites of his own work. The fantastical nature never bothered me because I felt like the film was grounded in real emotions. And, as all of you know from reading my posts, I love the 1930’s. So, for me, it seems like a no brainer that I’d fall in love with it. After rewatching it this last time, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between this film and a film much later in Allen’s oeuvre, Midnight in Paris.

Both films are really about the difference between reality and fiction, between our idealistic notions and the hard cold facts. Whereas Midnight in Paris  was about how we idealize a time period, The Purple Rose of Cairo ponders the way we idealize the characters we see in movies. Every fangirl (and guy) out there understands this true dilemma. The characters we see in movie are just too amazing. How can real people live up to that?

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Literally my favorite line ever. Or at least…it’s pretty close!

Also, interesting to note that Allen had to fight to keep the film’s melancholy ending. “Orion executives asked Allen to change the painful conclusion, which punctured the escapist fantasy of the rest of the film, but Allen refused (Feaster, TCM Article).” I can’t imagine the film ending any other way.

The Cinematography

You may not know Gordon Willis by name, but you’ve certainly seen his work. In addition to the Godfather trilogy, he also shot All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, and The Paper Chase. In other words, he served as DP on more than a few classics. Oh, and did I mention he was nominated for some Oscars?

I love the color in this film, the dreariness makes you believe in the time period completely. Also, when Tom Baxter walks out of the screen…EPIC.

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AMAZINNNNG, amiright?

The Music

As with all Woody Allen movies, the music is incredible. The first scene of the film is Cecilia watching Astaire and Rogers. Literally warms your heart. No, really, it does!

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When we’re dancing cheek to cheek…

It’s fanciful, intriguing and makes you feel ALL THE FEELS…

To me, The Purple Rose of Cairo has a little bit of something for everyone. If you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll be taken on a magical adventure and find yourself both laughing AND crying along the way.

Woody Allen doesn’t attend any award ceremonies with the exception of the 2002 Oscars (he talked about NYC after 9/11). He’s written and directed almost fifty feature films. Some are fantastic and some are…not so fantastic. But, he keeps plugging away. Some hit the mark exactly and this film is certainly one of them.

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Anyone else wish movie theaters still looked like this?

Vintage trailer below:

Images and Gifs property of Orion Pictures

#FatherDaughterGoals: ‘Contact’

Re-watching a movie from your childhood is weird. Every moment is wrapped up in nostalgia. This is definitely the case for me with Robert Zemeckis’s 1997 film Contact. In my youth, I, of course, liked the film, but didn’t quite understand it. Honestly, I had a weird fear of any movie that dealt with space, so I think that definitely affected my opinion on it.

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Scary stuff, amiright? 

This was, like most films, something I was introduced to by my father. My dad had shown me episodes of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos prior to my first viewing of the film. I’ve seen the film so many times it’s difficult to remember what my initial responses were the first time I watched it. However, I do remember having a talk with my dad afterwards where he explained to me the science behind the film…wormholes and the theory of relativity. This film was such a special one to see as a child because it’s smart, thought-provoking and centered around a tough heroine (we still need to see more of those!).

For those not in the know, Contact follows Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), a scientist who, despite judgement from others in her field, decides to devote her life’s work to SETI, a real organization, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. She meets Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a religious author, a “man of the cloth, without the cloth.” When she discovers a signal not in the neighborhood, Ellie gets swept along the what-if scenario of contacting intelligent life, with all the politics, the ethical questions, and the danger that comes with it.

Here are just a few reasons you need to watch or re-watch Contact ASAP:

The Cast

The casting is everything in this film. I can’t imagine this story without Jodie Foster at its helm. I’ve spoken about Jodie once before when I discussed Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which she made when she was just a child. When she was considering taking the lead in Contact, Jodie was in a different position. For one thing, she was an Oscar winner for her role in The Silence of the Lambs, probably the scariest film I’ve ever seen!

Jodie had also had her directorial debut a few years before, so I think it’s safe to say she had her pick of roles. Initially, she didn’t sign on to the film due to script issues. But, with Zemeckis’s passion and an extensive re-write, Foster came aboard. Jodie said of her role, “The idea of someone searching for some kind of purity, searching for something she can’t find, was something that was very close to myself. I process everything through my head first. I cope through my head (Foster, TCM Article).” IMHO, she brought intelligence, levity and earnestness to Ellie.

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Got her game face on…#TimeToMeetAliens

Matthew McConaughey got his major break in 1993 when he played Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. He was just 28 in this film although he seems older. He’s not doing his standard “Alright, alright, alright…,” but he’s about one step away. He’s very charming and serves his purpose. You can see why Ellie is smitten.

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That smile though…

James Woods plays the villain of the story, if there is one. He’s smarmy and corporate and perfect in this part.

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James Woods yells A LOT.

John Hurt is terrifying as the Howard Hughes-esque billionaire S.R. Hadden. I used to hear him say this line in my nightmares.

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THOSE glasses might be the most terrifying part.

I have to say though, no one terrified me more than Jake Busey who played a terrorist named Joseph. My brother said he looks like Carrot Top. Regardless, every time I saw him in this film, my stomach dropped.

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TERRIFYING.

Oh, and Jena Malone is cute as Young Ellie. This was only her second film.

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This long shot is fantastic.

The Script

The film was, of course, based on the novel of the same name by Carl Sagan. Strangely though, it originated as a screen project with then-production executive Lynda Obst. When it looked as though there would be no film, Carl went and wrote the novel, only to have the studio then become interested in adapting it.

James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg penned the script, with help from Sagan and his wife. I’ve already discussed James V. Hart once before when I wrote about Tuck Everlasting, which he also wrote the script for. Ann Druyan, Sagan’s wife and collaborator said, “Carl’s and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would be like. But it would also have the tension inherent between religion and science, which was an area of philosophical and intellectual interest that riveted both of us (Druyan, TCM Article).” Truly, this is what makes the film so fascinating. The relationship between Palmer and Ellie is really about the relationship between science and religion. It asked the question, ‘Can these two fiercely defensive sides find common ground?’

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Science and Religion are pretty good looking, no?

I also really loved the idealism of the film. There’s a line when Ellie is talking to Tom Skerrit’s character, Dr. Drumlin, another scientist. He tells her that the world isn’t fair. She responds, “Funny, I always thought the world is what we make it.”

The Score

This cannot be understated. Alan Silvestri, known for his scores for Back to The Future and Forest Gump, was the composer for Contact. To me, the score is inextricably linked to the film and its ideas. I just can’t separate them. It almost sounds like a lullaby.

The Direction

Robert Zemeckis had already established himself as a great sci-fi director when he made the Back to the Future films, but at this point, he was riding high from his Oscar winner from 1994, Forrest Gump. Another director was already attached to Contact, George Miller, but weeks before shooting, the studio decided to fire him. Zemeckis came on board with the understanding that he would be able to interject his own ideas into the script, including a new ending.

Zemeckis’s love for characters and humor are what make Contact really work. The relationships feel real and so, there’s weight to the events that take place. The only thing I would say is that I don’t agree with Zemeckis’s choice to use real reporters in the film. Larry King, Jay Leno, and even President Bill Clinton make appearances. While he was going for a sense of verisimilitude, those moments took me out of the film.

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Really important to grab that cracker jack compass right now…

The Cinematography

Don Burgess, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Forrest Gump, shot the film artistically and added a level of intensity. The scene where Ellie goes through the wormholes, you’ll literally be on the edge of your seat!

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So beautiful…

The Film IS #FatherDaughterGoals

This really gets to the crux of this film for me. The relationship Ellie has with her father is sweet, based on him teaching her about astronomy. It’s a perfect film to watch with your dad. When you see the scene where Ellie meets the alien and they’ve taken the form of her father, you WILL BE CRYING.

Contact, to me, is about (as corny as it sounds) not being afraid to reach for the stars. The message the film sends is that we should stick to our convictions and keep asking questions. This movie doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience. It wasn’t aimed towards four year-olds as many films are today.  There was real love put into making this film and you can tell.

Carl Sagan unfortunately didn’t live long enough to see the film released, but no doubt, Contact is a tribute to him.

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#RealTalk

Trailer Below. The film is available to stream on Netflix. If you’re looking for something to fill the sci-fi shaped hole Stranger Things left, try Contact. You won’t be disappointed.

 

All images and gifs are property of Warner Bros.

 

 

 

Why I now appreciate John Badham’s WarGames

I remember being terrified the first time I saw WarGames. Mind you, I’m pretty sure I was under the age of ten, but still, this light thriller gave me nightmares. Once I got a little older, I saw the film again and began to see it in a different light. I could finally appreciate the film, although I will say parts of it still make me feel uneasy.

Recently, I watched a special feature about the making of the film which turned everything I thought I knew on its head. I love hearing behind-the-scenes stories which make you feel awe that the film got finished, was successful, and was actually a good movie. WarGames is one such case of this.

But before we get to all that, here’s a little synopsis for those of you who are WarGames virgins. Made in 1983, the film follows David (Matthew Broderick), a teenager too smart for his own good. Obsessed with computers (which now look positively ANCIENT), he accidentally hacks into the military’s central computer and realizes the computer cannot tell the difference between game-playing and reality. There is, of course, a girl played by a young Ally Sheedy who goes on the roller coaster journey with David while also falling in love with him. Let’s just say…DRAMA ENSUES.

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The computers seriously look ANCIENT. #DidIMentionImAMillennial?

Here are just a few reasons you should check out WarGames:

The Cast

This is the type of film that relies heavily upon the charm of its actors. If its leads were boring and/or annoying, I think we would have more trouble buying into its fantastical story.

Matthew Broderick had only done one film before this, a Neil Simon comedy, Max Dugan Returns. Unable to come in for a callback for WarGames, he suggested that then-director, Martin Brest, watch his dailies from the film. At only twenty years old, he had a charisma that was undeniable. He was likable and effortlessly funny. He carried the film with his convincing technological know-how and charm.

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Look how young! #ALittleFerrisBuellerNo?

Ally Sheedy was about the same age as Matthew and was completely green, having only been in one film before WarGames. She was playing the “girl next door.” I’m sure her natural and appealing performance in this played a part in getting her the The Breakfast Club a few years later.

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SASS #ThatEyeRoll

John Wood is also wonderful as Professor Falken. Apparently, the character was originally based on scientist Stephen Hawking. Barry Corbin and Dabney Coleman also have standout roles as McKittrick and General Berringer, respectively.

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Aw, John Wood…#WordsToLiveBy

The Script

This is really one of the most interesting pieces. The story was conceived and written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes. They were very involved in early development and did a lot of research. This script was their baby. When Martin Brest came on to direct, he decided to tonally go in a different direction and the writing team was essentially fired from the film.

A little while later, Martin Brest was fired from the film and John Badham was brought on to direct. The writers were then hired back and became apart of the process again. Their script, in addition to being fun and super entertaining, posed questions that were ahead of their time. Computers were not in wide use when the film was released and so, the idea of hacking, wasn’t as widespread and commonplace as it is today. When they were shopping the script around, apparently studio execs were confused by it.

The thing Lasker and Parkes understood so well was that the characters come first. So, even though there were these underlying science fiction themes and big questions that were being posed, the film was also accessible on a pure entertainment level.

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Great concept. #TheKidsAreAlwaysSmarter

The Direction

I was surprised to learn that the film originally was going to be directed by Martin Brest. Brest, in his own right, made some great films including The Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black. The studio, however, felt that the film Brest was making was not the film they wanted. They sought out someone new to direct even though they were a few weeks already into filming.

They decided to approach John Badham (brother to Mary Badham, aka Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird) who had already directed Saturday Night Fever and Dracula. He brought out the lighter side of the script, helping to develop the chemistry between Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick. According to Sheedy, she thinks the film Brest was trying to make had validity as well, but that it wasn’t going to be a popcorn flick the same way it turned out to be in Badham’s hands.

The movie was really a crowd pleaser and that’s because Badham knew the film needed balance. It had adventure, romance, and fun. He even had a writer come in to add a scene between David and Jennifer and I daresay, it’s one of the best scenes in the film.

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#RealTalk 

The Music

Music, for me, is a key reason to like any movie. WarGames is very much of the time period containing a lot of synthesizer and “techy” sounds. But, there’s one piece of music that this film is famous for. Arthur Rubinstein composed it and it’s called “Edge of the World.” Rubinstein, in the special feature included with the Blu-Ray, said that whenever he tells people he composed the film, they always bring up the harmonica. Although he gets kind of annoyed with it since he composed several other pieces of music for the film, this is what stuck and it’s for good reason. It is brilliant and gives you all the #feels.

The Romance

The film cannot be categorized as a romance as really it only has a few scenes that are really about that. However, I remember totally having a crush on Matthew Broderick after this film. He was adorkable long before Zooey Deschanel made that a thing. There is something about Jennifer and David’s relationship that just seems so sincere. Possibly because they were both so green, they seemed to have a natural and easy chemistry.

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Changing a girl’s grade is the secret way to her heart. #OBVI
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Almost seems like too personal a moment to watch…or is that just me? #BUELLER?

Because it’s smart, thought-provoking, and SO MUCH FUN. 

Hitchcock always said the audience comes first. Films should be life with all the boring parts cut out. This film was way ahead of its time. Technology was not a way of life the way it is now. The film actually inspired real changes in the world beyond my dad telling me he bought a computer because of it.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I love films that make you think and I believe it is possible to produce a film that is both entertaining and about something. The film has a message that is important and still relevant today. Badham summed it up quite nicely, saying, “…The more powerful and the more authority we delegate to computers, the more things we are abdicating. And that’s where it gets to be dangerous. Suddenly the roles are reversed and then, in a true Harold Pinter situation, we don’t know who’s the servant and who’s the master”(Badham, TCM Article).

More than anything, I came out of watching the film’s special feature admiring both the writers of this film and the film’s producer, Leonard Goldberg. It was through his bits that I understood that the real job of a producer is to have enough passion for a project to handle all the bumps that come with getting it made and this film had its bumps for sure.

All in all, it’s a very entertaining film that makes you laugh, cry, and cheer. And really, what else can you ask for?

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For the record, this is where you’re CHEERING…

Vintage trailer below:

 

 

The Charms and Flaws of ‘Tuck Everlasting’

One day in the 4th grade, while in my elementary school discovery club (which is really just a fancy word for day care), I found a worn out copy of Tuck Everlasting on their book shelf. At nine years old, I had already become a bit of a reader. But, Tuck Everlasting, written by Natalie Babbitt, was the book that me fall in love with reading.

For those not in the know, Tuck Everlasting, which takes place in the late 19th century (in the film the early 20th), follows Winifred (Winnie) Foster, a ten-year old girl who upon running away meets a family that is immortal. Her life is so rigid that she can’t help but fall in love with the slower way the Tucks live their lives. At its heart though, the book is about death and the fear we all have surrounding the idea.

In fact, Natalie Babbitt recently discussed what influenced her to write the novel, saying “One day she [her daughter] had trouble sleeping, woke up crying from a nap. And we looked into it together, as well as you can with a 4-year-old, and she was very scared with the idea of dying. And it seemed to me that that was the kind of thing you could be scared of for the rest of your life. And so I wanted to make sure that she would understand what it was more. And it seemed to me that I could write a story about how it’s something that everybody has to do and it’s not a bad thing” (Babbitt, NPR). To listen to her full interview, click here.

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The Original 1975 Cover

Since the book was just adapted into a Broadway musical, I thought this would be the perfect time to re-examine the film adaptation from 2002. The film meant a lot to me at the time. I was just about ten years old when the film was released. Looking bad on it, the film is not without flaws, but despite its imperfections, I still love it.

Here are just a few reasons Tuck Everlasting is worth a watch:

The Cast

Truly, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Alexis Bledel was still at the beginning of her years playing her most famous role: Rory Gilmore on the WB dramedy, Gilmore Girls. She was twenty-one when she stepped into the role of Winnie Foster. The late Edward Herrmann who played the patriarch of the Gilmore family said of Alexis: “[She’s] like Audrey Hepburn. The camera absolutely adores [her]. [She] can’t say anything wrong, [she] can’t do anything wrong. It’s a gift” (Herrmann, AV Club Interview).

She was perfect for the role because she had an intrinsic childlike innocence. Obviously, Winnie was ten in the book, but for the purposes of the film, they made her fifteen and added a love story.

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Those flower crown things are still modern, no?

Jonathan Jackson, who’s now known as Avery Barkley on ABC’s Nashville was cast opposite Alexis as Jesse Tuck. He was about twenty and not very well-known. As Jesse, he’s charming and energetic. You can’t help but fall for him just as Winnie does.

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If there was a deer that close to me, I’d probably be screaming.

The real weight of the cast is in its strong supporting cast. William Hurt and Sissy Spacek play Angus and Mae Tuck with strength and sensitivity. They both, of course, had already had massively successful film careers. Thus, they took a back seat in this film and let the story shine.

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Love this scene…

Ben Kingsley played the villain of the tale, The Man in the Yellow Suit. I remember some of my first impressions after my first viewing of the film and one of them was pure terror of Ben Kingsley’s character. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Priest in a graveyard that still sends a chill down my spine.

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TUCK EVERLASTING, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Amy Irving, 2002, (c) Walt Disney

Additionally, Amy Irving and Victor Garber are wonderful as Winnie’s parents. Irving especially affected me when I first saw the film. When her own mother is dying and she climbs into bed with her, I can’t help but tear up.

The Story

The material is what makes this film worthwhile. While the film is a bit Disney-fied in retrospect, the story is told in a restrained, yet sensitive way. At the age I first read the book and saw the movie,  I had a lot of fear surrounding the idea of death. I remember having nightmares about it and while I’m still not comfortable with it (who is??), this story did comfort me and help me come to terms with the concept of death.

Obviously, the film, for commercial reasons, added a teenage love story. While I understand the filmmakers and studio’s thought process, that may be the major flaw of the film. The original story was not meant to be a teen romance. It was a small tale which posed the question: Does it pay to live forever if you’re not really living?

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#RealTalk

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been exposed to many more films and obviously, learned a lot about the history of film. When re-examining this film, I couldn’t help but think of Producer Irving Thalberg. He famously became the head of Universal at the age of twenty and was nicknamed “the boy wonder.” Irving was born with a heart condition and was told he would not live past the age of thirty. Thus, there was an urgency in his life. He knew he would not live a long time and was determined to make the most of it.

This is a theme that always fascinates me: how people react in knowing that their deaths are imminent. Some films that come to mind are Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach and Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, two films which I’m sure to cover sometime in the future.

The Romance

Even though this didn’t exist in the book really, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It’s a bit saccharine, yes, but it’s also charming. I like romance. Sue me.

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Remember when he laughed at her thinking she might drown? #Jerk
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I would have been telling him to slow down…
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Overdramatic? A bit. #IStillLoveIt

 

The Score

Maybe it’s because music is so attached to our memories, but I can’t help but melt at Tuck Everlasting’s score composed by William Ross. It evokes a little Titanic magic, which makes sense, considering Ross was an arranger for the film.

It’s universal and thought-provoking.

So much of the time, children’s films condescend. They usually don’t dare to discuss real issues, although the recent Pixar film Inside Out did an excellent job in talking about depression.

Tuck Everlasting was not a bomb by any means, but it also wasn’t a big box office success. So, now, it seems the film has been relegated to almost obscurity. For all its flaws, it’s a film which attempts to explain death to children with sensitivity and charm. For me, it will always hold a nostalgia factor so I know I’m biased. However, even if this is not something you would usually watch, I urge you to give it a chance, if only to hear Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful words.

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Vintage trailer below:

P.S. – Here’s a song from the Broadway show which just closed on Broadway. For the purposes of the show, they went to the story’s roots and let Winnie be a ten year-old girl. Young Sarah Charles Lewis is pretty talented, no?

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Baby It’s You’: A Forgotten Classic

I’m gonna be honest. Ninety percent of why I’m writing this post is because of my dad. Since I’ve been highlighting forgotten films, my dad has been hardcore campaigning for me to write about this movie since it’s one of his favorites. Personally, it’s not one of mine so you won’t hear me “fangirling” in this one. However, even though it’s not my cup of tea, this film definitely fits in with the other films I’ve covered in this blog. It’s romance. It’s high school. It’s a period piece.

If you’re not familiar, Baby it’s you, written and directed by John Sayles, takes place in the 1960’s and follows Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette) and Albert ‘Sheik’ Capadilupo (Vincent Spano), a young, slightly unorthodox couple in high school. It’s not a new premise: they come from different worlds. She has money. He doesn’t. She’s popular. He’s an outcast. Their romance isn’t exactly an obvious match to the rest of the world. And with Jill’s transition to college, the relationship certainly has some growing pains! It’s DRAMATIC.

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DRAMAAAAAA. #IntenseAF

Here are just a few reasons you should watch Baby It’s You:

The Actors

When Rosanna Arquette was in Baby It’s You, she was just 24 years old. She had been in a few films before, but this was her first real starring role. And it shows in the best possible way! She’s natural, bubbly, and genuine as Jill.

Vincent Spano, funnily enough, was younger than Arquette. He was just 21 years old when he stepped in the Sheik’s shoes and similarly to Arquette, it showed. In essence, both of these young actors had something to prove and it’s easy to see, they put everything they had into this film.

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I just want to say I never had a fight like this in high school. The sixties were a bit MELODRAMATIC.

The Time Period

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for period pieces. Probably one reason my dad loves it. This is when he grew up and where he grew up: New Jersey, 1960s. I think because of that it scratches a specific itch he has, the nostalgia he has for his childhood. Certainly, Sayles knew that world well. He also grew up in that period, though he was in Schenectady, New York. The time and place are like a character in the film, the details are specific and all-encompassing.

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Do me a favor – play “Baby it’s You” by The Shirelles when you watch this. Makes ALL the difference. 

The Music

Sayles apparently had to work hard to get Paramount to let him score the film with classic rock songs. Luckily, it was one battle he ended up winning. To me, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. I kind of feel like music-wise, I belong in the 60’s FO-REAL. Listen to this piece and bask in its awesomeness.

The Script

John Sayles wrote the script which was based on Producer Amy Robinson’s upbringing. Though there are other films of this kind which I think cover this ground (teenage romance) better than this one, there is a sincerity to the way this story is told that makes it stand out.

In relationships, there’s usually one person that holds on a little harder than the other. The Sheik is definitely that person. Whereas for Jill, he’s simply a high school boyfriend, the Sheik thinks their relationship has a future. Funnily enough, it’s not until they both face those facts that I think Jill really treats him like a person. By the end of the film, they’ve both matured and are able to treat each other with respect.

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The truth hurts. #RealTalk

The Direction

This was not an independent film. In fact, it was Sayles’ first studio film. He didn’t particularly like the loss of control, especially in regards to the ending. Sayles won the fight to keep the rather downtrodden ending that he wanted, but the studio retaliated by only half-heartedly publicizing the film.

Still, with all that going on behind the scenes, Sayles made a film that would now only be made as an indie. It’s quiet and reserved and thoughtful. He brought the best out of his young cast and made a film that wasn’t scared to have complex characters, who were more than a stereotype.

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#Maturity

It’s nostalgic and truthful

While I still wasn’t deeply affected by this film the second time around, I appreciate the fact that it was made by people that obviously cared. The actors cared, the producers cared and their director cared. It’s not my favorite film but it is one that deserves to be remembered and highlighted. There, dad. You happy?

Also, shout out to my Jew girls out there!

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Stereotypes, man. 

Vintage trailer below:

 

Why ‘Short Term 12’ is a Modern Classic

At the first TCM Film Festival, back in 2010, I think it’s safe to say my brothers and I were the youngest people there. We cornered Ben Mankiewicz (just kidding – he loved talking to us!) and asked him if he thought good movies were still being made today. We were trying to settle an argument in which my dad had asserted that most movies made after 1990 were of mediocre quality. Ben laughed and told us that of course, good movies were still being made. He said that whether it was 1940 or 2010, there are good movies and there are bad movies. No time is perfect. Short Term 12, made in 2013, is a perfect example for anyone who thinks that new movies are all crap.

I remember very distinctly seeing the trailer for this movie and saying, “Ooh, Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr!” Yes, I was literally seeing it because of the stars. I never thought it would become one of my favorite movies, but it did. When it came out in Los Angeles, I dragged my roommate to see it with me. We were two of four people in the theater…mind you, it was a week day, but still…

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Brie is EVERYTHING

It was one of those experiences you have where you come out of the theater and can’t believe something that amazing exists, something that touches you on such a deep level and is actually about an important issue. I was in awe of this film and so, went back to see it in theaters multiple times, each time dragging a new person with me. I was a little obsessive.

If you’ve never seen the film, here’s the 411: Short Term 12 follows a group of line staff at a short-term care center for foster kids. The place is essentially a halfway house – as Brie says in the film, “they just keep them [the kids] until the state figures out where they’re gonna go next” (Cretton). Brie’s character, Grace, is leader of the line staff. She’s a girl who has a few demons of her own. She takes her job very seriously and when they take in a new girl, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), Grace is forced to face those demons. And of course, that complicates her relationship with her boyfriend and fellow line staff member, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) and drama ensues!

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#drama

So, even though this blog is dedicated almost exclusively to older films, I wanted to take a minute and talk about this film because it is already a classic. And here are a few reasons why:

The Cast

Obviously, Brie Larson won the Oscar this past year for her performance in Room, (which is also great), but I believe her performance in Short Term 12 was just as Oscar worthy. I remember hearing a story about James Cagney in which he gave advice on acting. He said, “You walk in, plant yourself, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth” (Cagney). Brie Larson, whether she’s heard that advice or not, reflects that ideal in this film. She’s so genuine in every moment. This movie would be worth watching just for her performance which is subtle, relatable, and heartbreaking.

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I think she pulls off this look pretty well…

John Gallagher Jr. is also wonderful as Mason. I’ve been a fan of John since he was in the original cast of Spring Awakening on Broadway. And then, of course, he was on The Newsroom, a show which I worship in a god-like way. He shares that same verisimilitude that Brie has. In every moment of everything I’ve seen him in, there’s never been one false moment. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love with him, in The Newsroom and in Short Term 12. Plus, he’s hilarious!

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Be still my beating Newsroom-loving heart…

Kaitlyn Dever was quite the discovery as Jayden, the new girl with an attitude problem. It’s easy when you first see her on screen to put her in a box, but she’s got layers upon layers and took her big emotional moments in the film and played them with subtlety. I’m sure we’re going to see great things from her.

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Love the eyeliner action.

Keith Stanfield had been in the original short that Director Destin Cretton made on the subject. He shines as Marcus, a quiet, smart, but insecure kid who’s about to turn eighteen, and thus, be thrown out into the real world, with no one to help him. He wrote original raps for the film and they are heart-wrenching and powerful.

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Powerful words, no?

Finally, Rami Malek (who, of course now, has had great success with USA’s Mr. Robot) is great as the newest line staff member, Nate. His part may be small, but he makes the most of it and actually has some of the funniest moments in the film.

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A slightly different character than he plays in Mr. Robot…

The Screenplay

Destin Daniel Cretton first made a short about this subject and then decided to expand it into a feature. He based on his time working in residential foster care. As such, there’s a weight to it beyond just being an entertaining story. He obviously wanted to tell this story because his experiences and what he observed were close to his heart. His story is what all great stories are about: human beings. Flawed as the characters might be, they’re completely relatable and feel true.

As a writer, his screenplay is truly inspiring to me.

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#HeartBreaking

The Music 

The original score for Short Term 12 was written by Joel P. West, who’s only just now, starting to garner some attention. To me, his music is vital to the film. It almost feels like another character. It’s subtle and somehow fits these people and their journeys perfectly.

As I mentioned, though, Keith Stanfield wrote some raps for the film and they are incredible. This one, especially:

The Cinematography

Brett Pawlak served as DP on the film and the results are incredible. This also goes hand in hand with the direction of the film. There’s a scene where Jayden is waiting to be picked up, listening to a song on headphones. Cretton and Pawlak do such a great job of making you feel like you’re in her head, going through it along with her.

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When she looks up THOUGH

It’s heartfelt and deeply moving

This movie left an impression on me. It’s special because it’s not exploitative. It’s coming from the heart and you can tell. Some people, like my dad, have a bias against new films simply because they’re new. And mind you, I think there are a lot of bad movies being made today. But, this movie is a reminder that a good story is a good story, no matter when it’s made. Cretton established himself as a filmmaker interested in characters and I can’t wait to see his next film!

 

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Great line.

Watch the trailer below. The film is available to stream on Netflix. 😍

 

The Genius of Robert Redford and ‘Ordinary People’

Robert Redford, renowned Actor, Producer and Director, celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday. In honor of his birthday, I thought I’d discuss one of my all time favorite films, the wonderful 1980 family drama Ordinary People.

I first saw the film in high school right smack dab in the middle of teen angst. While I had never dealt with anything close to what this family was dealing with, I deeply related to Timothy Hutton’s Conrad. I remember being so emotional after my first viewing of the film that I had to excuse myself, embarrassed that I was crying.

If you’ve never seen Ordinary People, the film follows an upper class suburban family dealing with the aftermath of an accident which left the eldest brother dead. For Conrad (Timothy Hutton), it’s especially hard – he was with his brother during the fatal boating accident. After leaving the hospital (where he stayed after he attempted suicide) , his parents Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler-Moore) try desperately to pretend they’re just an ordinary family. More than anyone, Beth has trouble expressing her emotions as well as any affection towards the only son she’s got left.

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Awk…ward

Here are just a few reasons Ordinary People is a classic film staple:

The Cast

The cast makes this film what it is. Don’t get me wrong; it has many other strengths. However, without this cast, none of it would work.

Timothy Hutton was just 19 and if you can believe it, Ordinary People marked his first role in a film. And what a debut it was – Hutton was real, honest, raw. Perhaps, it was precisely because he was new that his performance was so natural. He’s one of the major reasons I fell in love with the film. He reminded me of another great actor, Logan Lerman. Hutton’s performance specifically made me think of Lerman’s performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What can I say? I like emotional men…

Hutton won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor…

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A good looking man, no?

Judd Hirsch was also wonderful as Berger, Conrad’s therapist. Redford had seen him in Taxi and thought his rapid-fire way of talking would be perfect for Dr. Berger, as he’s supposed to be a little nutty or off kilter. Hirsch looked back at the film for EW’s anniversary piece, saying, “The only person I hung out with was Timothy. He was so young and green and had just lost his father [the actor Jim Hutton] a few months earlier” (EW).

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Hirsch telling it like it is…

Mary Tyler-Moore played Beth, Conrad’s mother. This was quite the departure for her as she was known for playing upbeat, positive characters – specifically in the enormously popular sitcoms The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler-Moore show. With this film, Redford sought to explore Mary Tyler-Moore’s dark side. And her performance is fantastic, complex and subtle.

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A complex character to be sure…

Donald Sutherland played Beth’s husband and Conrad’s father, Calvin. Originally Redford wanted to see him for the role of Dr. Berger, but Sutherland convinced him he should play the husband. Sutherland’s Calvin is the parent really looking out for Conrad – he spends much of the film worried and trying to appease Beth, who believes they shouldn’t talk about any of their problems. He plays another great father in Pride and Prejudice so one could say, this film was just the start of this “type.”

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Quiet and reserved, but completely powerful

Elizabeth McGovern played Conrad’s romantic interest, Janneane Pratt. She was just about to start at Juliard, but Redford begged her to wait a few weeks. The film is certainly not hers, but her limited role gave her a chance to shine.

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Love that late 70s, early 80s hair…

The Screenplay

The film was based on a novel by Judith Guest. In the same EW article I mentioned, Judith spoke about the adaptation process, saying, “Ordinary People was my first book, and I was just thrilled that Viking was going to publish it. Then Redford called one day. I have a couple of brothers who are a bunch of jokesters, so when I got this call saying, “Hi, Judy, this is Robert Redford,” I said, “Yeah, sure it is.” I’m sure he gets that all the time. He just said, calmly, “No, it really is” (Guest, EW).

Alvin Sargent, who also wrote Paper Moon and Streisand’s A Star is Born, adapted Guest’s novel for the screen. Redford apparently sent Guest many drafts, asking her advice and giving her permission to criticize whatever she liked.

To me, the film is about loneliness and tragedy and the struggle to live through the worst moments in our lives. It’s also about understanding one another. Every character in the film is given depth, their own reasons for looking at the world the way they do. No one is a villain – they’re just imperfect people.

The plot in this film is small. It’s a character story. That starts at the script stage…and considering Sargent won an Oscar for his adaptation, I’d say he did pretty well.

The Direction

This is what it’s all about. Ordinary People was Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Funnily enough, Redford didn’t win any Oscars for his esteemed acting career. He, of course, won for directing Ordinary People and it is well deserved. The film is sensitive and unbelievably moving and that’s really because Redford believed in it. He put so much into it. For all aspiring directors out there, this is certainly one to watch.

It’s cathartic, superbly well-acted, and incredibly impactful.

Whenever a movie hits in such a big way, we wonder how it happened. And of course, the movie studios, try to replicate it. Success, many of them believe is just an equation. This element + this element = a great film. Unfortunately, in this medium, that’s not how it works. When a film works, it’s like lighting in a bottle. You have no idea how it happened – it just did. All you can do is appreciate it.

As an aspiring screenwriter and an avid movie-watcher, what I take away from the film is that caring is the key. You can’t watch this film and not see the love and sweat that went into getting it made. Studios didn’t want to make it at the time, believing it wasn’t commercial enough.

Ordinary People, to me, is an encouragement that little films, emotional films, films focused on characters, can also be successful. Redford, of course, founded The Sundance Institute to help fund independent films. And when you consider what this film was up against in the 1981 Oscars (Raging Bull and The Elephant Man), it’s an incredible statement that the film took home the Best Picture Oscar.

Vintage trailer below. Get ready for emotions you didn’t even know you had…😭