Film Review Round-Up: Oct/Nov Releases

The autumnal season is, historically, a joyous time for film-goers, anteceding awards season as it does and thus bringing with it a crop of critically-acclaimed cinema. And the last fortnight has been particularly fruitful in dishing up some of this year’s most highly anticipated movies.

So here is a round-up of thoughts on what I’ve seen recently.

N.B (Call Me By Your Name is reviewed in full here and has undoubtedly secured a place in my 2017 Top 10).

The Death of Stalin (released Oct 20)

Armando Iannucci, the creative genius behind The Thick Of It, In The Loop, and Veep turns his attention to Moscow in 1953. Stalin has died and his cabinet of excruciatingly incompetent cronies are climbing over themselves to take his proverbial crown. The stellar ensemble of said cronies includes Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin, and they clearly relish the chance to put on this absurdist pantomime, with gags and awkward moments aplenty. However it’s Jason Isaacs as the army general, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s son and Paddy Considine as a concert-hall attendant who steal the show, and sadly the laughs dry up whenever they’re off-screen.

Breathe (released Oct 27)

A touching tribute to Robin and Diana Cavendish, a British couple who when faced with Robin’s polio diagnosis, decide to liberate themselves from the condition’s constraints. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy are good, but never surprising, as the loved-up duo inspired to tackle any obstacle that comes their way. Andy Serkis’ direction is expeditious and proficient, if a little paint-by-numbers. And strangely, despite the heart-wrenching goodbyes, soaring music and hues of golden-brown that colour the titles and the Kenyan landscape where the Cavendish’ spent their early years, I was left feeling a little cold.

Take your mother, she will love it.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (released Nov 3)

Yorgos Lanthimos continues to hold the mantle as the most devilishly absurd filmmaker working today. Expectations were high after the critical success of 2015’s The Lobster and here he returns with humour even bleaker and blacker, and satire even more biting. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman (a duo I didn’t know I needed until Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled) are husband and wife, forced to make an incomparable decision when a strange boy (Barry Keoghan) exacts his revenge. This is perverse and unnerving cinema (the score, particularly, had the latter effect) and will likely rub a lot of people the wrong way. Still, Lanthimos has an impeccable ability to create bizarre, yet somehow believable worlds in which the stakes are never higher and however grotesque, you are gripped. The script, as with The Lobster, is acerbic and unerring, with lines that include “My daughter started menstruating last week” serving as cocktail party chatter, and the performances incredibly fine-tuned. I doubt it will have the same success as The Lobster, if just for it being less accessible, but it should never be said that Lanthimos doesn’t push the boundaries of cinema.

P.s. Don’t take your mother, she will hate it.

Thelma (released Nov 3)

Joachim Trier, whose name you might know after 2015’s Louder Than Bombs (starring Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and Jesse Eisenberg), is clearly a connoisseur of cerebral and muted cinema. Thelma sees his return to the Norwegian-language of his origins, and with it comes a more assured sense of place and mood. He breeds and builds a rattling disquiet, as a young woman with supernatural powers begins her first term at university, desperate to fit in, but prohibitively unique. Yet despite all the sinister symbols – snakes, shattered glass, perilous swimming pools – Thelma never manages to make a splash. It’s classy and intriguing cinema, with some tender moments between its two female leads, who embark on a tentative relationship, but I’d really love to see Trier go for it with his next directorial endeavour.

Murder On The Orient Express (released Nov 3)

A lavish reprise of Agatha Christie’s vengeful tale, which sadly, chugs along at a glacial pace and fails to ignite. More of an exercise in exposition than thrilling storytelling, and considering the main draw is its glittering cast, it’s a shame that they’re given little to do but glance around the train suspiciously and spew their backstories when convenient. Still, if you’re looking for grandeur and glamour in your undemanding entertainment, then climb aboard.

The Florida Project (released Nov 10)

Sean Baker, director of ‘the iPhone movie’ Tangerine, returns with a kaleidoscopic, kitschy and blistering tale of fantasy and poverty. 6-year-old Moonee and her barely-functional, if tenacious mother Halley live on society’s fringes, specifically in a colourful motel just outside of Florida’s Disney World, and are barely managing to get by.  In spite of their tough economic circumstances, the film never loses its vibrancy, nor is Moonee’s imagination ever blighted by these realities, and aside from the strikingly, garish set-design and cinematography, this is down to Brooklynn Prince’s rascal of a performance. Moonee and her merry band of mischief-makers are a joy to watch as they amble about the grounds of the motel, cursing, dropping water bombs on tourists, scamming money for ice-cream and generally causing mild mayhem for the motel’s manager (a compassionate Willem Dafoe). As Halley continues down a path of deviance, disenchantment threatens to prevail. But Baker, having explored this world through Moonee’s eyes, allows her innocence to survive for that bit longer.

It’s a world you don’t want to miss.

Ingrid Goes West (released Nov 17)

It’s particularly apt for a film about an Instagram-obsessive (Aubrey Plaza) who moves to Los Angeles to stalk/befriend a social media influencer (Elizabeth Olsen), to be so surface. Writer-director Matt Spicer doesn’t say anything particularly new about the loneliness and hollowness of a life lived online, and the ending feels more neat than authentic. It’s equal parts savage, sad and insightful, if ultimately forgettable. #basic

Coming Soon: Nov 17 – Good Time, Mudbound, Nov 24 – Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel. Running time: 132 mins

★★★★★

A timeworn quandary that has haunted us all – to reveal a crush and risk the humiliation of it being unreciprocated, or not to reveal a crush and regret a missed opportunity – fuels the fire at the centre of this (surely?!) golden-statuette bound love story.

Luca Guadagnino, an Italian director, who forayed into English-speaking filmmaking with last year’s A Bigger Splash, further proves himself a maestro of sensual, simmering cinema with Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, this is the story of Elio (Chalamet), a 17-year-old living a placid, almost palatial existence ‘somewhere in Northern Italy’ with his affable, academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar), whose affection for their son is abound. In fact, everyone who encounters Elio appears to be smitten, including his on-off girlfriend Marzia. He’s a good-looking boy who transcribes piano concertos and plays them just as beautifully, and drifts around with a nonchalant sulkiness that’s like catnip to teenage girls. However his command is thrown off-kilter when a new student arrives to assist his father, in the form of Oliver (Hammer), a statuesque man of seraphic beauty. And little does he know, as he shows Oliver to his room, but Elio’s life is about to be transformed.

Timothée Chalamet has a natural liveliness onscreen reminiscent of Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, or Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now and certainly he deserves the same recognition granted to Lucas Hedges with his performance in last year’s Manchester by the Sea. His Elio is a hormone-fuelled fusion of braggadocio, playfulness and naiveté, and the more his fascination with Oliver grows, the more we are treated to a cornucopia of emotions, which Chalamet nails every time. He is an intensely watchable actor, and as the camera lingers on his face at the end of the film, in a moment of sheer distress, you sense that Guadagnino is equally aware of this fact.

At once nostalgic and stunningly contemporary, Guadagnino’s 80s aesthetic – hi-tops, Talking Heads t-shirts and Armie Hammer dancing emphatically to The Psychedelic Furs – never overwhelms to the point of pastiche, but instead flavours the film with a greater sense of taboo and restraint. Necessary too. If this had been set in the modern day everything could’ve been set in motion with the coy use of an aubergine, and then a peach emoji. And the film would’ve lost its sense of aching sadness, of precious time being frittered away in the to-ing and fro-ing of pride and desire embattled. Amplifying this heartache is the soundtrack, as supplied by Sufjan Stevens and his soul-baring strumming.

Indeed, language of the spoken and not the texted kind is of great importance to Call Me By Your Name. An early scene in which Hammer’s Oliver distinguishes himself as more than just a thoroughly American, borderline arrogant interloper – all chiselled abs and nonchalant goodbyes – involves the etymology of the word ‘apricot’.

And the film plays up the theme of language and speaking throughout a beautifully subtle script, penned by James Ivory. Elio’s father says “Remember, you can always talk to us”, signalling that both parents are wiser to their son’s maturation than perhaps he gives them credit for. Whilst Elio’s own mastery of French, Italian and English and his glissade between the three only serves to highlight the inability of language to sometimes express what we feel. Guadagnino skilfully depicts these moments of erotic silence; glances across food-strewn tables, glimpses between their adjoining bedrooms, snatches of possibility. Each of these moments is imbued with an almost suffocating intensity, until a crescendo to confession – a beautiful dance of scene, in which the truth is blurted and Oliver asks Elio “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

A rush of ecstatic discovery follows, as Elio and Olivier gorge on what they’ve denied themselves for the past few weeks. It’s thrilling, throbbing cinema, in which romance done incognito can only really achieve. And yet, their bond is less tortured and forbidden than gay romance might ever have been on film; secretive, yes, but with a lightness and joyousness that ripples across the screen like the Italian waters which feature so prominently.

This is genuine and generous filmmaking, in the sense that no one here is a villain capable of malice or even unkindness. The characters are human, sure, and with that come flaws and foibles, but there is a deep, warming feeling of goodness that ripens throughout the film and culminates in a tender scene between father and son. And just as you imagine that this a summer Elio will replay in his mind forever more, an apex in which leisure and pleasure coalesced to spine-tingling effect, this is a film you want to luxuriate in forever. If not just watch repeatedly.

Every frame is dripping with vivid colours and textures; the sticky juice of a peach, the oozing overspill of an egg yolk, the crimson deluge of a nosebleed, the cerulean splashes of the river. It is a world enriched by the halcyon glow memory, spellbinding in its every breath and kiss and quiver.

What with Carol, Moonlight, God’s Own Country and The Handmaiden, queer cinema is finally prospering, and proving to be some of the most romantic films of all.

5 Scene Stealing Cats

Amid Britain’s political turmoil and the likely devastating impact on its creative sector, I thought I’d try to bring some levity to bear. And what better way to do that than to talk about cats.

So here are cinema’s most recent entries into the feline hall of fame…

Nasty Baby | Sula

Cat_001Freddy’s feline friend ‘Sula’ is director Sebastián Silva’s actual cat, an unsurprising discovery given the scant privacy she affords him. In a series of touching scenes, the cat’s presence becomes more than just a gimmick, but undoubtedly the one during which Sula wins the affections of the audience is the bath scene. With trademark curiosity and playfulness, her gentle prodding of Silva’s forehead lend the moment an air of tenderness, befitting the film’s raw and improvised tone.

Listen Up Philip | Gadzuki

Cat_002Like a child in a faltering marriage, Gadzuki the cat, in Alex Ross Perry’s lacerating comedy Listen Up Philip becomes a pawn in the drawn out break-up of Philip (Jason Schwartzman) and Ashley (Elisabeth Moss). Gadzuki is a staple throughout, sharing several heart-warming exchanges with Moss, and even garnering his own voiceover mention and narrative resolution, but his shining moment occurs roughly one hour in. When Philip returns to New York to win Ashley back, Gadzuki serves as proof that Ashley has moved on and is even used as a puppet to express Ashley’s newly unearthed dislike of her ex. It’s an empowering scene for Ashley, and perhaps a slightly exploitive one for Gadzuki, but the duo make a charming pair and you can’t help but feel they’ve got each other’s backs.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis | Ulysses

Cat_003The Coen Brothers’ poignant exploration of the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, arguably features the most characterful cat ever to have graced screens. Indeed, Oscar Isaac’s flame-haired companion has inspired endless critical evaluations. What is its significance? Is the cat Llewyn? The consensus seems to be that the cat amplifies Llewyn’s quest for an identity outside of his folk duo, joining him on a journey of self-reflection and giving him a sense of purpose when he so desperately needs one. Even if that is just retrieving said cat from various escapades.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | Persian Cat

Cat_004The most ill-fated cat of the bunch begins his cameo in the arms of Jeff Goldblum’s Kovacs and ends it dispatched from the clutches of Willem Dafoe’s Jopling. A particularly fluffy specimen, though the Persian’s appearance is short-lived, it’s a memorable addition to Wes Anderson’s bevy of whimsical characters. What’s more, his exit allows for a signature Andersonian visual gag; even the cat’s corpse is perfectly symmetrical.

The Voices | Mr. Whiskers

Cat_005Unlike the other films where the cat is a somewhat comforting presence, in Marjane Sartrapi’s black-comedy The Voices, Mr. Whiskers is a manifestation of Jerry’s (Ryan Reynolds) more deranged thoughts. As Jerry spirals downhill into a murderous pickle, Mr. Whiskers – the sardonic Scottish-accented sociopath to Bosco the dog’s more optimistic offerings – steals every scene he’s in with his morbid diatribe.

Review: Lost River

With Ryan Gosling attached as it’s director, Lost River, previously title ‘How to Catch a Monster’, was always going to be enveloped by a certain level of expectation. The star of Blue Valentine, The Notebook, Place Beyond The Pines and Drive had a lot to live up to, and when the film premiered at Cannes the general mood was one of disappointment.

Released in cinemas and on VOD today in the UK, the buzz ignites once again and this time around the reception seems to be more generous. If not entirely coherent or consistent, at the very least, Lost River is a phatasmagorical adventure you’ll want to bear witness to.

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Gosling’s debut explores the turbulent journey of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), a young man who’s family is on the brink of eviction, whose mother (Christina Hendricks) is doing everything she can to pay the bills and who is pursued by a post-apocalyptic, microphone-brandishing tyrant named Bully (Matt Smith).

lost-river-trailer-christina-hendricksIt begins drenched in nostalgia, with dappled lighting, a lullaby song and meadows indicating the innocence of childhood dreams. An innocence which quickly gives way to a nightmarish vision of corruption. As the camera careens past abandoned homes and decaying neighbourhoods, weaving through scenes of violence, despair and destruction, Gosling injects the fabric of the film with bright neon colours, pulsating synth music, and fairytale imagery.

The result is something as visually arresting as it is atmospherically rich, evoking the 1955 cult classic Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum. Both have a sinister glow, intertwining thriller and fantasy elements to create something idiosyncratic, film noirish, avante garde, dream-like, expressionistic and strange.

Early on, I felt that the jaunty camera movement and lighting gave the film a transient, watery texture; an intention seemingly confirmed in Saoirse Ronan’s Rat alluding to the town being “underwater”. Yet other directorial decisions felt unfounded or merely distracting. The editing is at times unnecessarily jumpy, whilst at other times incredibly meandering. There’s a very keen sense that Gosling is trying to show all of his visionary skills in one film, and it consequently suffers from a chaotic, erratic tone.

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Gosling is clearly a cinophile; absorbing and integrating a composite of influences and aesthetics into his ambitious debut. It has the eeriness of Lynch, the bizarreness of Malick, the flashiness of Spring Breakers, the neo-noir essence of Refn, and infuses the same desolate whimsicality as last year’s Beasts of a Southern Wild, all whilst invoking a sense of uniqueness. But this imagistic assemblage is also the film’s downfall; with the overarching stylisation coming so prominently to the fore it threatens to derail the narrative.

be783e9951e22422217984336f84d412_cannes-2014_4The characters are a colourful menagerie of villains, vagrants and victims. Christina Hendricks as single mother Billy does a great job of centring the film emotionally; a task the other ‘lead’ Caestecker in his detached delivery doesn’t quite manage. Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes meanwhile provide provocative cameos as both owner and star of a grotesque horror-themed nightclub Billy becomes embroiled in. Mendelsohn particularly elevates every scene he is in, oozing with a malicious lust and giving Michael Jackson a run for his money in the ‘moves’ department.

MattSmithLostRiver

Yet, for all the fleeting shots of brilliance – and there are plenty – alongside Gosling’s tendency to hone in on his actor’s face and let their expressions do the talking, there is a distinct lack of depth, motivation or grit to any of his creations. They are as desultory as the names they are given. Intriguing but utterly random.

Ostensibly, it tackles the Detroit foreclosure crisis and the damaging effect of the fiscal crisis on an already impoverished community. And it does so with sensitivity and an understanding that its residents are trapped in a nightmarish bubble – a theme lent authenticity by the presence of actual Detroiters – where bankruptcy, eviction and collapse ominously threaten. This portentous atmosphere looms throughout, frequently bubbling to the surface in macabre (and often random) exchanges. However, there’s something incomplete and unrefined about the film as a whole.

Lost River‘s strength like in its visual audacity and ability to conjure up a hallucinatory landscape, whilst  the phosporescent lighting and eclectic sound design are particularly reminiscent of Drive, (in a good way). It’s deviation from traditional narrative structures however won’t satiate everyone’s palate and there’s definitely a need for more substance behind the style.

Ultimately, Ryan Gosling continues to cast audiences under a spell, even from behind the camera and he shows great artistic potential as a director, but the overriding niggle is that his story got as lost as the river.

Verdict: Mesmerising, frustrating and bold. Gosling has splashed his cinematic canvas with as many colours as he could find, and it makes for a coruscating experience. Let’s hope his follow-up has just as much panache, but a little less abstraction. 

PS. I saw the actual Ryan Gosling and Matt Smith at a live Q+A hosted by Ritzy Picturehouse, and certainly hearing about Gosling’s intentions and inspirations for the film gave me an appreciation for it that might otherwise have been lacking. Then again, he did make eye contact with me, so I might have just been swayed by that.

20150409_190349   20150409_212109

5 Female Directors You Should Know…

The paucity of female filmmakers has almost reached the point of media saturation. It doesn’t take long to find statistics or editorials decrying the severe scantiness of a female perspective in the film industry. As well as being an all-white affair, this year’s Academy Awards are once again male-dominated, with zero women being nominated in the Directing or Cinematography categories. However, I would contend that it’s not because there is an actual lack of talented, insightful and masterful women helming films but rather fewer opportunities presented to them.

I was reading a piece in The Guardianthe other day about a film critic who is vowing to watch films only penned, or purposed by women. Her justification for including male-directed, but female-written film is as follows:

“A lot of times a woman will write a script and in order to get it made, she’ll need a male director. If she goes to a financier, as a female screenwriter with a female director, she will be turned down. But if you have a female screenwriter and a male director who has one or two films behind him – or even if it’s his debut – financiers are more likely to back a film by a man”.

And in that brief statement, Gates articulates the core issue. Gender discrimination in Hollywood is pervasive, and destructive. It’s like a community sitting atop a vast field of untapped oil, and being told it doesn’t exist – that those resources are somehow inferior, or less visible than the ones they have access to. That would be a massive squandering of potential, and quite frankly, ridiculous. Yet the difficulty women have making movies, or making money making movies, is often viewed as ‘just the way it is’.

Here to prove that point – that it’s not a lack of female directors, but a lack of opportunity – are 5 up-and coming or established directors who are doing their thing, and doing it quite brilliantly. Of course there are plenty more that deserve your curiosity, but these are the ladies currently capturing my attention…

5. KKat+Coiro+Case+Premieres+Tribeca+Film+Festival+a1ZquC2imW_lat Coiro

With three feature-length projects under her belt in as many years, Coiro is perhaps the most prolific director of my selection. Her films And While We Were Here, (which I review in my last blog post), Life Happens, and A Case of You, often focus on the difficult choices that women are faced to make, such as between career and family. The critical response to her films has been mixed, however her female leads are all intriguing, flawed but ultimately likeable people that don’t necessarily have their shit all figured out. Particularly interesting in A Case of You is how the male lead (playing by the affable Justin Long) is the one trying to change, and mould himself to lure his love interest, which is so often the other way around in romantic comedies directed by men. Her films are in turn delicate, nuanced, witty and beautifully realised. And While We Here particularly showcases an artistic vision and her potential as a director of great potency.

In_a_World_poster4. Lake Bell

If you haven’t see In A World… steal a friend’s Netflix password immediately. It’s hilarious and relevant, and reveals actress Lake Bell to not only be a great comedic performer, but also a very astute director. It’s a satirical piece that charts a young woman’s attempt to compete in the male-dominated world of voiceovers and Bell never misses a beat nor an opportunity to underscore the double-standarded nature of the entertainment business. In A World… is a pacy and well-crafted feature length debut for Bell, and one that has me incredibly, insatiably excited for her collaboration with Noah Baumbach for her next project The Emperor’s Children. 

Amma Asante3. Amma Asante

Belle might be better known for launching EE Rising Star nominee Gugu Mbatha-Raw into the spotlight, but behind her confident, multi-faceted performance is Ghanian-British director Asante. Tackling the slave trade – especially after awards-sweeper 12 Years a Slave – in an original and sensitive way, is no mean feat, but it is one that Asante achieves with the deft of a director considerably more experienced. This is her first big-budget film, after her smaller 2004 debut A Way of Life, which won a handful of awards and lots of praise. Powerful, poignant and intelligent, Belle is a mischievous, and much-needed divergence from traditional period costume-dramas and one that has me hoping it doesn’t take Asante another 10 years to release a film.

fid131102. Haifaa Al-Mansour

Al-Mansour is from Saudi Arabia, a country where extreme restrictions and limitations are placed on the female population; where they aren’t allowed to wear certain clothes, drive cars or compete in sports, let alone direct a groundbreaking and thought-provoking film. But against these curtailments of her freedom, that’s exactly what Al-Mansour did with Wadjda in 2013, a courageous, endearing and important film that picked up several awards nominations on the film festival circuit. Al-Mansour is to make the cross over to Hollywood with a Mary Shelley biopic, in which Elle Fanning is slated to star in the titular role. Let’s hope she continues to push boundaries upon arrival.

BN-FZ257_ava2_DV_201412111612591. Ava DuVernay

If there’s one name you should remember from this year’s awards season, its Ava DuVernay. Though she just missed out on a Best Directing nomination for her Martin Luther King biopic Selma, she has done something arguably much more admirable – broken through the glass ceiling. Historical films such as this are predominantly the reserve of a male director and it’s rare for a woman to be charged with detailing the events surrounding one of the most important victories for the Civil Rights movement, as spear-headed by the most important figure of the Civil Rights movement. And yet she does it in blistering, gutsy and and complex style. She’s got filmmaking verve by the bucketload, and shows great amounts of restraint and intelligence in her formal approach. DuVernay might not pick up any awards, but she should win herself a legion of fans and cement her position as a talent to take serious note of.

Ageing in Hollywood

Ageing in Hollywood is a double-edged sword. Either you embrace the graceful climb over the hill and vie with Meryl Streep for all the peachy roles coming your way. Or you try and stay looking as youthful as possible for as long as possible, because let’s face it, there are more roles for those lithe, glowing-skinned, and eternally energised monsters known as ‘young women’ than there are for their predecessors (and most likely, trail-brazers). And if you do beat one of those taut beauties to the part, then you have Russell Crowe breathing down your neck saying that ageism isn’t a problem at all and you should just embrace the whole getting older shebang. Sigh.

MIC wrote a very accurate and incisive piece on the issue with his comments, which initially appears as though he’s encouraging (more like demanding that) female actresses to be happy in their own skin. And rather than selling themselves short by competing with all the up and comers of the film industry, they should focus on playing women their own age.

Oh Russell. How funny you are. All those intelligent, wise and elegant elder ladies of Hollywood must have bypassed the reams and reams of intelligent, wise and elegant roles written for them, in search of bit parts as muses, girlfriends, manic-pixie-dream-girls, supporting wives and leggy prostitutes. Oh wait.

He appears to have glossed over, and trivialised the issue at hand – the fact that roles suited to older women in Hollywood are few and far between. According to a 2013 study, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Onscreen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013, researcher Martha Lauzen found that:

“Females comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters. Female characters remain younger than their male counterparts,” Lauzen writes. “The majority of female characters were in their 20s (26%) and 30s (28%). The majority of male characters were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (31%).”

The hard fact to face is that it’s easier for men to sustain careers in Hollywood simply because there are more roles for them. Whereas their trajectory into fame might remain pretty consistent, or even soar as they age, for women it’s more likely to decline (unless you’re Amy Adams). Paul Rudd, at the age of 45 is playing the hero in Marvel’s latest outing Ant-Man. Whereas the only superhero roles currently available to women are being assumed by the significantly younger Scarlett Johansson. For guys over 40 like Crowe, 55% of all male characters on screen are for guys who are his age or older. Flip the side of the coin, or undergo a sex change operation (and besides making headlines) he would discover the number of roles available to him decreases dramatically.

His comments also do a disservice to the fantastic actresses that do live in their own skin, and consistently turn in performances that celebrate the process of the ageing, and the complexities that come with it. Generalising actresses that are only in the market for youthful roles, neglects the fact that are many talented thesps besides Streep that showcase their capabilities, neuroses and wrinkles – and are all the more fantastic for doing so. Here are a handful of my favourite characters/role over 40 played by terrific, multi-faceted actresses over 40 in the past few years. From ball-busting bosses and gun-toting assassins, to pill-popping anti heroines and everything in between, these women are fierce, vulnerable, sharp-tongued, witty, acerbic, badass, and most of all, show strength in the face of adversity. They are role models not just for women their age, but for a younger generation of women and actresses who demand longevity out of their careers.

movies_skyfall_update_8‘M’ – Judi Dench (Skyfall, Casino Royale, Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough)

Meryl Streep (Doubt, Mamma Mia, The Devil Wears Prada, The Iron Lady, It’s Complicated)051abba1MOS_468x641

‘Nic’ – Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

‘Dr. Alice Howland’ – Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

rotator_gravitycover‘Ryan Stone’ – Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

‘Penny Chenery’ – Diane Lane (Secretariat)

Kate’ – Catherine Keener (Please Give)

Helen Mirren (Gosford Park, The Queen, The Tempest, RED, Hitchcock)

‘Abby’ Rosemarie DeWitt (Touchy Feely)

‘P.L. Travers’ – Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

19JPKITTREDGE2-articleLarge‘Olive Kitteridge’ – Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge)

‘Claire Bennett’ – Jennifer Aniston (Cake)

‘Liz Gilbert’ – Julia Roberts (Eat, Pray, Love) and ‘Barbara Weston’ (August: Osage County)

‘Maria’ – Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

jasbreakdown‘Jasmine’ – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

‘Elizabeth Taylor’ – Helena Bonham Carter (Burton and Taylor)

‘Cathy’ – Allison Janney – (The Oranges)

tilda-swinton-as-mason-in-snowpiercerTilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Filmmaking Trends Of 2014

Originally published by Raindance.

At the beginning of this year, Raindance took to the crystal ball and presciently published their filmmaking insights for 2014. So as the Christmas countdown begins and the yearly round-ups start to appear, here’s a retrospective on the trends that took flight and those that are delayed…

1. Mini Content Marketing

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Sitting comfortably at third position in the list of highest grossing movies of the year, is Warner Bros. The Lego Movie. A candidate arguably made for mini-content marketing, given that it stars, well, mini people; this is but one example wherein our prediction came true. With a budget of $60million, it made $9million profit on opening weekend in the US alone and did so with a content marketing campaign that has been labelled a triumph; remaining relevant and appealing to both children and adults.

The Lego Movie built a solid and engaged Twitter campaign, keeping a constant eye on its feeds and remaining personal to its audience. They also launched a ‘Fan of the Week’ competition across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine platforms, encouraging followers to upload photos and involve themselves in a dialogue with other fans, as well as continuing to upload their own animated content. By utilising short-form content and immersing themselves in the digital world, Lego brought themselves up-to-date and a larger audience along with it. Whilst the content itself may be quicker than a flash, this trend is certainly not a flash in the pan. Consumers and audiences have become accustomed to advertising that revels in immediacy, brevity and interaction and with a success story such as The Lego Movie’s, other brands would be foolish not to follow suit.

2. The Death Of Film

You don’t need powers of premonition to predict that celluloid, like the dodo before it, is on its last legs. Since 2010/11, the industry has recognised and acted upon, the benefits of digital filming. There are some filmmakers still clinging onto celluloid, meaning that a handful of future releases will still hark back to the golden age of cinema. Director Quentin Tarantino for instance, spoke at Cannes 2014 reiterating his disdain for digital projection and his intentions to continue shooting on 35mm film. But certainly, most cinema releases this year and undoubtedly in the years to come, are being filmed on high-tech and rapidly improving digital technology. Start practicing your ‘Funeral March’, because come 2015, celluloid could well and truly have kicked the bucket.

nexusae0_unnamed163. International Reach of VOD

Like the evil villain of the entertainment universe, one can envision the CEO of Netflix sitting in a black leather chair, stroking its pet cat and dreaming of world domination. Whether or not such lofty visions are realised remains to be seen, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Netflix is a game-changer in the way films are released and distributed.

 Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos has claimed that “the current distribution model for movies in the US particularly, but also round the world, is pretty antiquated relative to the on-demand generation that [Netflix] are trying to serve.”

Our voracious appetite for instant entertainment has seen growth in the online streaming and VOD markets soar. Gradually evolving from a distribution, to an acquisition and production platform, Netflix is now worth more than some of the Hollywood studios that license movies to it and thus we predicted the supersession of the studio, rendered irrelevant to the process of getting content to consumers. However, Netflix has also made a sly business move that gives it an edge over streaming competitors in that it partners with established production studios to create it’s content. Therefore accruing the production know-how and efficiency of professionals, and distributing the finished product to subscribers whilst their rivals struggle to start the process from scratch. This signals that the middleman isn’t so much removed, as merged into the production process.

In Netflix’s aggressive pursuit of increased original content, however, there may be unprecedented pressure on studios, streaming services and broadcasters to acquire high-quality and innovative entertainment to differentiate themselves. Certainly, Netflix’s rise to power signals the dawn of a very different cinematic landscape. As a recent article on Forbes predicted, this changing landscape could result in “independent films [being] financed by pre-sales to Netflix, not the local distributors. Netflix may be a vibrant, important source of new financing that disrupts the studio system and bypasses standard distribution channels”.

4. Collapsing Windows

In keeping with the disruption of the studio system, Raindance predicted that the waiting time between the theatrical and home release of a film would disintegrate significantly. Whilst we have yet to see such drastic shrinkage between this gap, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicted earlier this year that theatrical windows would diminish to approximately three weeks in the next 10 years, indicating the industry’s awareness that they need to catch up with the demands of the internet age. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has also recognised that “the movie-going experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement”. People dragging their heels might argue that same-day release for on-demand and theatrical viewings would impede box-office totals. Hushing this puppy however, are two films acquired and distributed by Roadside: Margin Call and Arbitrage, as well as the more recent Bachelorette. They all used a multi-platform release strategy, which saw simultaneous availability in theatres and online, and which didn’t damage profits. VOD is more than the runt of the distribution litter, and whilst it may take a while for studios to come around, on-demand could begin to coincide with on-screen more and more.

 5. Cameo

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Cameo is an app that aims to do more than just let you shoot bite-sized video clips on your iPhone — its cloud video editing platform lets you turn those clips into two-minute long short films.Cameo sets itself apart from the competition by offering features like HD recording and collaborative editing, as well as the ability to record and share videos that are longer than what’s available to Vine or Instagram users and purports to be rooted in a storytelling experience that could be appealing to filmmakers. It has yet to take-off in the way Instagram saturates our lives, with just over 2,500 likes on its Facebook page, compared to Instagram’s 25,680,837. But there’s potential for growth, and 2015 could be the year it makes more than a cameo appearance.

6. Online Video

Raindance predicted that online video platforms such as YouTube would continue to grow has unsurprisingly been proved correct. Since it’s inception in 2005, YouTube has consistently undergone exponential growth in both uploads and views. In 2014, YouTube reported statistics that they received 100 hours of content per minute, and more than 1 billion unique users visits the site each month. Whilst the channels with the most subscribers are predominantly categorised under ‘film’ and ‘entertainment’, thus suggesting that this could be a primary and potentially, widespread platform for filmmakers to distribute their product.

However, it’s not necessarily a lucrative path to go down. Most people release their films via VOD platforms until sales begin to trickle and then move to the free/subscription platforms such as YouTube. To acquire advertisements and subscribers, you need people to return to your channel and uploading one film isn’t necessarily going to generate that level of interest, especially in a landscape in which the filmmaking process has been democratised and more films are available to audiences. One way to build up a fan base prior to the release of your film could be to share the filmmaking experience or tips learnt along the way in regularly updated snippets, like DVD extras but as a marketing technique, so viewers are invested the ‘making of’ before it’s been made.

YouTube requires dedication and consistency to make it a viable film distribution platform. You can’t hit upload and expect people to come flocking to your film, like they would a studio blockbuster on opening weekend. That being said, it remains a cheap and interactive way to garner feedback and a loyal fan base, as well as being a portfolio that could lead to something bigger – like a distribution deal. The launch of the YouTube Film Festival also signifies that this is a platform that could over time proliferate and it remains an underrated, and perhaps undervalued means of getting movies to the masses.

7. Crowd-funding

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Kickstarter is increasingly used by film-makers to raise finance for movies. In 2013, producers of the Veronica Mars TV show secured a staggering £3.70m to revive the detective series as a feature film. Whilst, the Charlie Kaufman-scripted stop-motion film Anomalisa raised a then-record £250,600. In 2014, Zach Braff’s crowd-funded film Wish I Was Here released to relative acclaim. Gap-financing was used, but it relied on Kickstarter for a good portion of its budget and rewarded donors with special screening, after-parties and the opportunity to participate in production.

Whilst I can’t see crowd-funding becoming mainstream, for independent films it provides another means by which to raise money and to have their voices heard. Ultimately, it gives fans and audiences greater control over their entertainment – as evidenced when the axed Veronica Mars got a new lease of life; as well as enabling filmmakers to push creative boundaries in ways that traditional funding or studio interference might curtail. As filmmakers are forced to become even more entrepreneurial, crowd-funding is a viable solution to the money problem.

8. Lytro

This August, Lytro released their Illium camera, marketed under the banner that this was the future of photography. With a lens that allows you to shoot from several perspectives, to focus pictures later or to view in 3D, as well as offering cleaner, brighter, higher-quality images, it promises technical wizardry like no other camera out there. But technically, it’s still got a way to go before being able to compete with the DSLR, and is currently hindered by its inability to shoot video. There are impracticalities and impossibilities in terms of its design, software and capabilities that it needs to iron out before it can even consider catching on. Sure, it’s a glimpse of the future, but one that’s not upon us just yet.

9. Customised Ratings

It was suggested that films might begin to include ratings according to its result in the Bechdel Test, i.e. a level of feminism rating, which could then snowball to encompass various other causes. However, film ratings more tailored to audience niches is something that has yet to really take flight. Arguably institutions such as the BBFC have worked for decades to give audiences an idea of the levels of violence, nudity, sexuality and profanity they can expect from a film and changing this system would take a lot of hard-graft. Nevertheless, the BBFC is increasingly active in the online realm, collaborating with the home entertainment industry, to offer guidance in a way that complies with public demand, so perhaps this a development to keep any eye one. 

14039080406_cf494dec35_z10. Enhanced Cinema Experience

 Rather than enhanced, I would contend that the cinema experience has become specialised, or spectacular-ised. One example from this year was the Secret Cinema screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which boasted a clandestine, and theatrical experience centred around the showing of Wes Anderson’s latest film. The event required guests to dress-up in 1930s style attire, to bring an alpine postcard or pink flowers, and for those going the extra mile, to learn how to waltz. The themed night brought an air of opulence and occasion to an already impressively stylish film. Tickets are steep, at around £50, but certainly it creates something more memorable than your standard cinema-going trip and the buzz surrounding the event indicates that this trend of immersive, exclusive cinema treats is likely to continue. Equally, outdoor summer screenings are more popular than ever, with more and more venues setting up a series throughout July and August. It seems entertainment venues are cottoning on to the notion they have to provide more than just popcorn and a movie to satiate audience’s growing expectations. Cheap dates we are not.

It’s clear to see that the cinematic landscape is one undergoing constant evolution. Changes and improvements might be incremental, but they are altering the way we make, watch and think about films that will have a dramatic impact for decades to come.

9 Films From a Feminine Perspective

Originally published by Raindance 

It would be degrading and reductive to outline what might consist of a ‘feminine aesthetic’. It would suggest that cinema about, or written/directed by women is operating solely in contrast or in counter to, the dominant masculine style, rather than merely – and necessarily – portraying the diversity and difference of our experiences.

These films selected below, though by no means an extensive list, go to demonstrate the generic and stylistic variety that female-centric cinema is capable of. It goes to show that women are by no means limited by their gender and that women do not constitute a certain or specific type of stylistic output. In my opinion, these films serve to highlight our complexities, difficulties and capabilities. That heroes can be female and that they can take many forms…

4375.originalMeek’s Cutoff (DIR. Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Director Kelly Reichardt is well-known for her reworking of genre to encompass a female perspective. In Meek’s Cutoff she takes on the Western and subverts it’s inherent theme of rugged masculinity, by placing Michelle Williams’ Emily at the forefront of a group of pioneers advancing westwards into unchartered territory. The camera emphasises the female experience and in doing so carves a space into the American landscape for a gender otherwise marginalised.

05_Flatbed_1 - JANUARYWinter’s Bone (DIR. Debra Granik, 2010)

Shot on location in the Ozark mountains of Missouri, Debra Granik’s films follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout role) in her perilous attempt to track down her absent, meth-addicted father, with the aim of protecting her home and family. Taking charge of her economically-deprived destiny, Ree’s search for answers resembles that of a lone cowboy, crossing boundaries both literal and metaphorical to find meaning in the world. Labelled as ‘rural noir’, Granik’s film disrupts genre conventions in its placement of a female protagonist in a hostile, violent and depraved world.

thelma-and-louiseThelma and Louise (DIR. Ridley Scott, 1991)

A seminal feminist film, Thelma and Louise are two best-friends who take to the road in a symbolic and literal two-fingers up to gender conventions and authority. Part road-movie, part crime-caper, these two women embark on a journey of liberation as they become both increasingly violent, and assertive. Driving along an open road in their T-Bird convertible and getting the last word over the cops on their tails, Thelma and Louise rebelled against genre, and societal expectations.

Jennifer-lawrence-stars-as-katniss-everdeen-in-the-hunger-gamesThe Hunger Games (DIR. Gary Ross, 2012)

A female Rambo of sorts, our leather-clad, bow and arrow-wielding heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of endurance, indestructibility and strength. Following in the footsteps of Ellen Ripley, Lara Croft or even Joan of Arc, Katniss subverts the notion that the action genre is an arena reserved solely for her male counterparts. Some film critics have even compared her to the archetype of the Western hero as embodied by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood – a marginalised loner, existing on the fringes of society. Most importantly, Katniss seems to transcend gender boundaries, acting as both surrogate mother to her younger sister Prim and assuming responsibility as bread-winner for her family. Ultimately, she upends the rules; both of the Hunger Games and the action genre.

GRAVITYGravity (DIR. Alfonso Cuaron, 2013)

The final frontier, and indeed, the moon, were advertised as places ‘where no man had gone before’, let alone women. In 2013, Gravity turned the tables – and pretty much everything else – upside down, not least in it’s depiction of a female astronaut. Dr. Ryan Stone (a name which begs the question whether she was initially written as male), must scrape together all her resources to survive against the odds when a space mission goes awry. As narrative progresses she transforms from a nervous, panicked and inexperienced astronaut, to a capable and determined one (with just a little bit of help from George Clooney). Her gender is irrelevant to her ability, something which makes for a refreshing watch.

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-an-interview-with-rooney-mara-daniel-craig-and-david-fincher.img.594.396.1324267469019The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (DIR. David Fincher, 2011)

Emotionally fragile, but physically formidable, Lisbeth Salander is perhaps the fiercest female on this list. TGWADT navigates the world of corporate corruption through the eyes of inked, pierced and pissed-off computer whizz Lisbeth, as she sets about getting revenge on the men that abused, and institutionalised her. In the meantime, Lisbeth proves herself just as commanding, clever and quite frankly terrifying, as any male vigilante on the big screen.

hailee_steinfeld_in_true_grit-wideTrue Grit (DIR. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2010)

In the Coen Brothers’ remake of Charles Portis’ novel, True Grit follows the traditional Western trajectory of revenge, against the backdrop of a harsh and desolate landscape. Finding herself in this hostile environment of whiskey-swigging, gun-toting, foul-mouthed cowboys is 14 year-old Mattie Ross, who must prove she has enough grit to survive. And boy does she. Mattie has no interest in her male counterparts for protection or otherwise, and continually demonstrates that she has the confidence, competence and sass to outsmart them all.

million-dollar3Million Dollar Baby (DIR. Clint Eastwood, 2004)

The boxing ring is a place where blood, sweat and spectacle reigns. Where violence is a language and machismo is the currency. Hardly deemed a place for a woman. Million Dollar Baby trod relatively new territory then in depicting the trials and tribulations of Maggie (an Oscar-winning turn from Hilary Swank), a working-class woman who conquers the boxing world. Whilst she masculines herself to trainer Frank’s tastes, to see a woman in the ring at all is certainly a change of pace and a forceful blow to the notion that only men can put up a fight.

zero-2Zero Dark Thirty (DIR. Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

Wars, and by extension, war movies, have typically been the domain of the male population. However, this Kathryn Bigelow helmed exploration of the CIA’s search for Osama Bin Laden represents and honours the real female CIA operative whose dedication was key to his capture. Jessica Chastain, as Maya, is on formidable, snarling form. She imbues the characters with stoicism, steely resolve and unshakeable determination. In some respects she is both the hero and the villain of the story, employing controversial interrogation techniques to achieve her aims. But the point that Bigelow successfully drives home is that she is the lone wolf; the sole female mole at table of ego-driven male officers and thus a symbol of exceptionalism.

This is by no means an extensive list. Please share your own suggestions for films which subvert a masculine genre!

Essay: Why we’ll never get rom-coms to change.

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The rom-com continually tells us that perfection exists. And thus, often sets up unrealistic expectations for love and relationships.

I saw the film What If somewhat recently and found myself perturbed by the nauseatingly perfect ending. This is a film that spent a good deal of its narrative time setting up the implausibility of Wallace (Daniel Ratcliffe) and Chantry’s (Zoe Kazan) union. After all, she had a long-term boyfriend and he didn’t want to be the jerk to come between them. But the ending, with its musings on marriage and love lasting forever reverses any sense of originality hitherto established. Sure, it’s quirky and offbeat, peppered with cutesy animations and macabre witticisms. Yet, for all it’s intentions to carve out a new territory in rom-com history, where a man and a woman could just be friends, or where marriage doesn’t have to be the ending, it fell at the last hurdle into a hackneyed puddle of traditionalism. Which begs the question, will rom-coms ever change? Even those deemed the most original and self-reflexive seemingly can’t help but reinstate conservative values.

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Girls Night In: Wine, PJs, and a Rom-Com?

The romantic comedy is the genre most frequently relegated to the ‘guilty pleasure’ league; associated with girls nights’ in, boyfriends being dragged unwillingly to the cinema and accompanied with a glass of wine and a box of tissues. Commonly known as a chick-flick (a term denigrated by connotations with effeminacy, sentimentality and melodrama), these are the films berated as ‘fluff’ that we turn to when we wish to mindlessly, passively consume a piece of entertainment; to switch off from all that is real and serious and indulge in pure escapism. For decades, the rom-com has been positioned as the zenith of a utopian cinematic experience, as possessing solely the capability to reaffirm our belief in true love, but doing nothing to subvert, challenge or provoke. In recent years, several films have been released – chief among them 500 Days of Summer – that engage with the shifting culture of courtship and aim to depict relationships more realistically. However I would argue that the contemporary romantic comedy, though flaunting complexity, reflexivity and originality, and flouting traditional modes of representation, is merely the same present in different wrapping paper. Some examples that come to mind – Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Save the Date, I Give It a Year, Peace Love & Misunderstanding, Going the Distance. They all point to difficulties in relationships and marriage and try to undermine the notion that ‘forever’ is really forever. And yet, problematically, they all revert to the sense that happiness can never be truly achieved without a significant other. They perpetuate the myth of ‘the one’. No matter how strong the claim to difference and challenging generic and cultural norms, these films reinstate the power of the couple, the valorisation of love to functionality and normality and that deviance from this pattern results in unhappiness. Ultimately we leave the cinema with a heightened awareness that relationships aren’t easy, but that ‘the one’ will materialise anyway. I would argue that the romantic comedy is more complex than historically-defined, yet ultimately restores dominant values and seemingly can’t help but do so, as central to its very plot is the notion of meeting someone with whom to fall in love. nick-and-norah2Another generic trait seen in rom-coms is the idea that the couple are meant to be together and that their personalities are perfect matched – either because of common interests, or because opposites attract. In Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2009, Peter Sollett), Kat Dennings’ character seems attracted to Michael Cera on the sole basis she shares his music taste and enjoys the mixed tapes he’s been compiling for an ex-girlfriend. In Serendipity (2001, Peter Chelsom), the meet-cute between Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) occurs in Bloomingdale’s as they both try to purchase the same pair of cashmere gloves. This narrative contrivance is indicative of paths aligned, a moment of destiny that these two people were absolutely meant to meet. Rom-coms perpetuate the notion that there is a male glove to fit every female hand and that the compatibilities and connection between the two protagonists is enough to prevail over any narrative obstacles. In 500 Days, this is immediately shot down by Tom’s 12-year old sister who asserts that “just because a girl likes the same bizarro crap as you doesn’t make her your soulmate”. Moreover, the narrative fragmentation and flashbacks serve to show how these compatibilities can deteriorate. Tom and Summer bond over shared jokes in IKEA, their love of The Smiths and vinyl records and whereas, conventionally this might be played over a montage to convince the audience of the couple’s inherent perfection for one another, 500 Days replays these scenes to depict how the jokes become stale and that these sparks, that rom-coms convince us are enough to sustain a relationship, can begin to fade and grate. 500 Days is, in some respects, unconventional and more complicated as it reveals an inherent distrust of the durability of the relationship. Indeed, my favourite moment of the film occurs when Tom’s expectations are pitted against the reality in a split-screen sequence, underscoring it’s belief that true love is perhaps a fantasy. Moreover, 500 Days continually attempts to foreground its diegetic realism; emphasising that the characters inhabit the real world, as opposed to the utopian fantasy world of stereotypical rom-com characters. Indeed, Tom laments to his two best friends that ‘it’s off’ between him and Summer, though could’ve been ‘on’ “in a world where good things happens”. His friend replies “that’s not really where we live [though]”, as if to ensure the audience are aware 500 Days operates outside of rom-com normality and takes places in the same world as they inhabit. This tone persists to the denouement wherein the opening scene, day (488), plays again, but now with the audience awareness that the relationship has failed and Tom and Summer were simply not meant to be together. As Katherine Glitre asserts, “the fact of the happy ending has conventionally been understood by critics to prove the conservative nature of the genre; a movement from stability through disruption to the reaffirmation of the status quo” (1). Henceforth, that Tom and Summer don’t end up together would confirm the unconventionality of the film and a subversion to our expectations for the genre. And yet, equally, it does exist in a world where we are expected to suspend disbelief at the fact he meets a girl called ‘Autumn’ after things with Summer ended. Furthermore, diversion from a standard happy ending is hardly a panacea to the ills of the romantic comedy. That Summer converts from cynic and anti-relationship proponent to the married woman believing in fate alludes to the underlying conservatism of 500 Days, and its reversion to generic norms. Whilst 500 Days eschews traditional narrative methods, it still invokes the possibility of a happy ending. Though not achieved between our two protagonists, Summer gets married to her ‘Mr. Right’ and Tom’s encounter with Autumn promises transition and achievement (a new season, a new job). It’s as if 500 Days functions as the prequel to two different love stories. One can easily imagine Summer’s story as to how she met her husband “reading Dorian Gray in a deli” as the meet-cute for a more standard rom-com. Though they weren’t right for each other, Summer’s final revelation authenticates the film’s belief that fate does exist and that had she not been sitting there on that particular day, she would never have met her husband. Steve Neale (1992) has pointed you've got mail benchout that, “the wrong person provokes the learning process, which the protagonist must undergo in order to realize a successful relationship”. This is seen in You’ve Got Mail, wherein Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) begin the film in relationship with other people ill-suited to them or lacking in passion, as if to provide the justification behind their covert-bordering-on-adulterous-conversations and instigate the learning process that they are better off together. Equally, in When Harry Met Sally, Harry and Sally are set up with mutual friends on a date, however the friends have more in common with each other and therefore act as the ‘wrong people’ for Harry and Sally to realise they are meant to be together. Tom Hansen is Summer Finn’s ‘wrong person’ and thus the film relocates the focus of the typical rom-com, but still utilises certain conventions. Arguably the success of the rom-com now lies in a retelling of a traditional narrative with a heroine, or protagonist who eschews Hollywood convention and is more relatable. This can be observed in Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001, Sharon Maguire), in which Renee Zellweger plays the slightly overweight, unlucky in love, every-woman with whom we can sympathise exponentially more than a leggy Julia Roberts, for instance. They may both, ultimately be rewarded with their version of a fairty-tale ending, but the rom-com’s allegiance to utopia is traded in for a grittier, and more honest, portrayal of love in a contemporary context.

Female characters nowadays tend to reflect a more forward-thinking romantic comedy that isn’t afraid to allow women to dictate their own lives and pursue sexual desires.

500-days-of-summer-24Deschanel’s Summer initiates their physical relationship when kissing Tom in the copy room, as opposed to the traditional belief that a girl should wait for the guy to make the first move and is shown to know her own mind: “I’m just not comfortable being somebody’s girlfriend. I don’t want to be anybody’s anything”. Summer makes a change from the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ who permeates a raft of contemporary romantic comedies, serving the purpose of merely helping the male protagonist realise his own dreams. Although the criticism of vapid eccentricity and constructed kookiness is often levelled at Zooey Deschanel and in 500 Days she often encourages Tom to pursue his architectural ambition, she also refuses to be his supporting role and breaks out of the mould of ‘ideal woman’ that Tom cocoons her in. She very explicitly states that she only wanted a casual relationship and does not stick around for the purpose of giving meaning to Tom’s life. Nevertheless, even the modern woman requires a man to ‘complete’ her. Or so rom-coms would have us believe. Most films of this quirky, whimsical ilk (look to Save the Date for a frustrating example), go to great measures to depict their female protagonists as strong, independent women, resistant to conformity and the oppressions or conventions that a relationship might impose. And yet more often than not, these women come running back to a man. Sure, in Going the Distance, Drew Barrymore did it on her terms and much like the love story between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester it was about the equality between sexes and achieving a balance, rather than advocating singledom as the way forward. Yet I can’t help but feel that the modern woman has become a scapegoat for conservatism, a way for rom-coms to appease a younger, flirtier and more liberated audience, whilst still espousing the belief that love conquers all.. Having discussed the various factors that contribute to the conventions of the rom-com, I now wish to explore the appeal of this genre, as here is where the engrained belief of the rom-com as a guilty pleasure lies and still exists rampantly. Gerald Mast explains that the films in the genre create a comic climate through a series of cues to the audience: subject matters are treated as trivial…and characters are protected from harm. Even though the drama poses serious problems, such as choosing a life partner, the process appears light-hearted, anticipating a positive resolution. 500Therefore, the appeal of the rom-com lies in our preconceived belief that we will get a happy ending. We don’t want surprises in this genre – perhaps diversions or digressions – but as long as it comes good, we’ll be satisfied. I believe audiences are complicit in the rom-com’s occupation of this academic space, and preserve its connotations with easy, uncomplicated viewing. I tested this view by asking several friends and peers to comment on their opinion of the romantic-comedy – whether they found it to reinforce stereotypes, or rather reflect a realistic and refreshing portrayal of modern love. This provided a varied qualitative response, which is at odds with much of the academic criticism I have read and overwhelmingly situated the rom-com as pure entertainment or sleepover fodder; the appeal being they can be trusted to deliver saccharine escapism. The problem with the rom-com then is that it’s very genre expectations appear to undermine complexity – the happy ending being intrinsic to the rom and a cheerful tone required for the com. The assumption of cultural lowliness that has traditionally accompanied the genre has led most to reduce romantic comedies to guilty pleasures, an “unworthy” object of analysis for academics who generally belittled it either by omission or simply through plain derision, regarding it as simplistic, predictable and hopelessly associated with a conservative view of love and marriage. Indeed, the rom-com is an apolaustic genre with an ingrained expectation for a contented or uplifting feeling upon viewing. 1 Despite moulding conventions to suit a new era, where casual relationships are de rigeur, as well as being very much aware that its creating a love story – or not, as 500 Days would have us believe, at its core this film retains the formulaic sentiment that somehow once you’ve found the person you’re meant to be with (suddenly Summer ‘just knows’ what she was never sure of with Tom), your life will fall into place. It’s for this reason that I deem 500 Days of Summer (and those that attempted to imitate its success) to play by rom-com rules – even if recycling them. Though attempting to challenge it’s audience and try to display love and relationships in a more authentic way; their heart of gold, upbeat tempo and feel-good music leaves us feeling very much like we watched a good old rom-com.

5 Biopics in which Leonardo DiCaprio should star

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As Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Aviator’

Leonardo DiCaprio is on formidable form as the ‘go-to-guy’ for cinematic biopics. We’ve just seen him unleash a side we never knew existed as rollicking, hedonist billionaire Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street and now he’s slated to play Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s take on the Apple genius.

From movie-making obsessives, to homosexual FBI directors there’s currently little DiCaprio can’t turn his hand to. So whilst’s capitalising on his true-story streak, I think he should consider these roles:

 steve-mcqueen-221. Steve McQueen:

Jeremy Renner is set to produce Portrait of An American Rebel, but as of yet isn’t signed up to play the charismatic motorcycle enthusiast. DiCaprio hasn’t played another actor before, so the meta-ness of that could be a draw and he’s frequently papped riding about on his motorcycle. Failing that, I’ve heard an Evil Canevil biopic might be happening.

frank-sinatra-4de018e8e403b2. Frank Sinatra:

Can Leonardo DiCaprio sing? Who knows? But if he can, well then he’d be a sure-fire hit to emulate the dulcet tones of the legendary Sinatra. What’s more Martin Scorcese is lined up to direct. And I’ve heard these two are pretty good at making films together…

At one stage Al Pacino was thought to be Scorsese preferred choice for the role, but with rhythm like this, how can he resist Leo?

3. Woodrow Wilson:

 The White House is a territory that has hitherto evaded DiCaprio on the big-screen. However the idealistic Wilson, elected in 1912, left behind a legacy of progressive politics, a role arguably perfect for DiCaprio, well-know for his humanitarian agenda and contributions to environmentalism.

(Warner Bros. has actually picked up the rights to develop this film, based on the biography ‘Wilson’ by A. Scott Berg and the rumour mills are churning that DiCaprio is actually attached. So this might be the most likely prediction of them all).

The 85th Academy Awards - Press Room - Los Angeles4. Theodore Roosevelt:

Failing that, if DiCaprio is still itching to get a taste of presidential power, Teddy Roosevelt might also make a suitable candidate. The Academy Awards have a history of bestowing Oscars upon wannabe-Presidents (Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, most recently) so, this could be DiCaprio’s chance to finally get his hands on that coveted golden accolade.

5. Busby Berkeley:

Warner Bros. have optioned the rights to the biography of legendary choreographer and director Busby Berkeley. Infamous for his opulent, spectacle-driven production numbers featuring lots of female leg (having dated his fair share of Victoria’s Secrets models, it’s something Leo no doubt has a good eye for), this could be a fun role to see DiCaprio in. Berkeley was also married six times, which makes for an interesting romantic subplot.

FYI, Hollywood, if any of these roles DO happen, I expect some credit in royalties. As a gesture for my omnipotence, you know….