I embarked on this yearlong endeavour hoping to learn something about myself. Rereading all the entries this week, I’m not sure I’ve had any mindblowing ephiphanies but, presented with a chunk of writing (or indeed picks) this substantial, it’d be hard not to spot a few patterns. First of all, that I’m not a very good self-proofreader. I’ve alluded a few times to the number of entries written in a panic, in those final hours before my self-imposed deadline of 23:59 on Friday – a deadline I only missed once, by about 15 minutes – and that meant I didn’t get to double-check everything as thoroughly as I might have liked. I can see at least one thing I’d change in every single post – an odd bit of phrasing mostly, a factual error, a couple of typos (or an occasional vestigial “???”, my personal notation for write more here). I won’t go back and change them all, though, not even my claim that Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 2003. I’d claim that this about retaining the purity of the thing, but honestly it’s just that this list has already driven me mad once, and I don’t fancy getting lost in it again. Perhaps more interesting are the words, phrases, and structures I’ve repeatedly leant on. Talk of “quotables”, “charisma”, and “cool” need to exorcised from future writing, and recently, a lot of “of course”s and “after all”s have crept in too. (An attempt at keeping a conversational tone, I reckon.) Thematically and structurally, I reckon I’ve overused the gap between what I’d remembered and what I found on a rewatch as a springboard. Similarly, a tendency to focus on one element throughout the piece, and then conclude by saying but, wait, there’s more to this film! has been too common – a result, probably, of trying to find a variety of ways to gush about a film… Consider this me burning all my writerly bridges – none of these tricks are ones I’ll be able to use again. Good. The most peculiar bit is how how fond I’ve been of using permutations of “boy meets girl…” for showing how something sticks to/departs from a standard structure and cinematic traditions, but it’s something I think I’ve only ever used in FFoF posts, so as long as it stays there, that’s okay. Throughout, I’ve struggled to organically work in a synopsis of the plot – partially because it feels like it ruins the fun of watching it for yourself – but it’s something, in all the different permutations I’ve tried out, I have been working hard to fix. As I’ve pointed out in some of the posts, I’m less concerned by narrative than other elements of cinema. I’m fascinated by pacing – whether something comes over an hour in, or 20 minutes from the end – and non-traditional (i.e. non-fantasy) world-building. Also, use of music, pure emotional resonance, big Ideas, how a film fits into a director or writer’s body of work… all thoughts I’ve addressed at some point. Most of all, though, it’s been a year of trying to work out how to describe cinema, in terms of what exactly is happening on screen, and whether it’s extraneous. Most of the joy of writing about, say, music is just finding words for what’s happening; in games journalism, I’m interested in telling stories other people won’t necessarily have had. It’s much harder in film, treading a line between spoiling a key scene or boring you with something you’ve already seen. The Apocalypse Now piece’s look at the Do Lung Bridge scene is possibly the best example of this – it’s a fine piece of visual poetry which I tried to get down in suitably wide-eyed prose. I’m still not sure it’s possible. A chart showing the breakdown of my fifty favourite films, by decade As someone on the internet once told me, I need to watch some films that were made more than 10 years ago. The years 2000-2009 make up an overwhelming half of the list, with my single favourite year for films, apparently, being 2004. It’s the year Shaun of the Dead, Anchorman, The Incredibles, and my #1 favourite film ever, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, came out. It’s also the year I was 15 years old. I observed it a few times throughout, but I really have a obsession with the links between being a teenager and cinema. Cinema burnt brightest for me when I was in my teens – almost every year between 1999 and 2009 produced three films on this list, and most of the other ones I saw in that impressionable time too. A lot of the films were included for the warping effect they had on my young brain, and what was on my mind at the time – male friendship, the relationship between individual and state, the loss of youth and innocence, etc. It also turns out that, statistically speaking, Quentin Tarantino is my favourite director, having directed four of the films on this top 50, with Brad Bird trailing just behind with three. Tarantino is even more prolific as a screenwriter, having written five films on the list. That said, if we’re being purely statistical, he would also be my favourite actor, having had substantial appearances in three films, and that is certainly not the truth. Looking back, there are films that should be higher, or lower – Airplane!, for example, was clearly cheated, while I’m not wholly sure T2 deserves its place around the halfway mark – and there are a couple of films I’d like to include – Social Network being the first one that comes to mind – though I have absolutely no idea which films I’d kick off the list to make room. After all, lists like these are completely arbitrary. That’s the truth we can admit now it’s all over – they’re a bit silly, really, and it’s something you can see shining through every time I jokily declare a statement to be fact!. Nevertheless, as a body of work, it’s […]
You, dear readers, met me at a very strange time in my life. I’m heading into 2012 as a more-or-less grownup, with a proper journalism job, a home, and a joint bank-account; but 2011 has been a rather messy year. The one constant has been waking up every Friday and panicking about having not written the week’s entry yet. I’m going to miss it, but given the number of nights I’ve stayed up until the very death in front of a keyboard, I suspect Imogen “Flatmate” Dale won’t. But to see the year out, here is every single one of my favourite films – click the title or image to (hopefully) go straight to the relevant entry. Go chronologically, or just pick the ones you like, whatever. I mean, it’s your life. #50 – The Wrestler #49 – Airplane! #48 – Where the Wild Things Are #47 – The Thing #46 – Zodiac #45 – Anchorman #44 – 24 Hour Party People #43 – Wristcutters: A Love Story #42 – Memento #41 – Spirited Away #40 – The Iron Giant #39 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang #38 – Leon #37 – Juno #36 – Battle Royale #35 – Austin Powers – International Man of Mystery #34 – Brazil #33 – Army of Darkness #32 – Wall.E #31 – From Dusk Till Dawn #30 – Star Wars – Return of the Jedi #29 – Brick #28 – Ratatouille #27 – Terminator 2 – Judgment Day #26 – The Graduate #25 – Kill Bill #24 – American Psycho #23 – Serenity #22 – Blue Velvet #21 – Raiders of the Lost Ark #20 – Reservoir Dogs #19 – Let The Right One In #18 – Evil Dead II #17 – Aliens #16 – Apocalypse Now #15 – Monsters Inc #14 – Shaun of the Dead #13 – Jackie Brown #12 – Hot Fuzz #11 – Pulp Fiction #10 – The Big Lebowski #09 – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back #08 – Die Hard #07 – The Incredibles #06 – Donnie Darko #05 – The Matrix #04 – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off #03 – Up #02 – Fight Club #01 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This is my favourite film. It will probably remain my favourite film forever, and now I am etching that onto the stainless steel face of the internet, where it will stay as long as I pay my URL fees. How’s that for commitment? It’s one of the few films on this list that I’d also argue is in the running for the Best Film of All Time. That’s not something I’d ever say about last week’s #2, Fight Club – its importance is too personal, too tied to my own history. But I have very few memories tied to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which, luckily, stops this from straying anywhere too autobiographical like some entries have tended to. Eternal Sunshineis a film firing on cylinders, every element hitting every note perfectly at the same time, in a way I’ve never seen since. Actors, director, writer, photography, soundtrack, effects … all objectively perfect. Fact. It starts out looking like an indie romance film. Joel Barish wakes up bored with his life – as narrated in a gravelly, remorseful whisper – and impulsively ditches work to go somewhere beautiful and desolate. There he meets the quirky Clementine Kruczynski, and they, awkwardly, fall for each other. Nothing particularly special there – this first 20 minutes is an actor’s piece, director and writer waiting for their time to show off, and Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet sell it perfectly. It’s not an easy task, as proved by all the other indie slice-of-life romances I watched afterwards, to make a relationship interesting and convincing so quickly. Then, with a flourish, we jump back and suddenly Joel is in his car, crying and listening to Beck’s cover of Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime. The film is structured non-linearly; roughly speaking, it rewinds through Joel and Clementine’s relationship to show us first how it went wrong and then later, why it worked. Unlike the tight formal structure of Memento, though, it’s not that simple – the rewinding takes place inside Joel’s head, as the men he has hired to wipe all his memories of Clementine do just that. It’s all interwoven with segments arranged in order, with a b-plot telling the story of the guys doing the memory wiping. And, it turns out, the start of the film is also actually the end – Joel and Clementine are meeting again, by apparent chance. The split between internal and external allows Michel ‘le réalisateur’ Gondry, and Charlie ‘the author’ Kaufman chances to shine. Gondry is another director with a background in music videos and adverts, one of my favourite creators in any medium who has never quite found another cinematic vehicle for his tremendous imagination. The fantasy world of Joel’s memory provides Gondry with a chance to play his trompe l’oeil tricks – characters disappear and reappear wearing different clothes, apparently in the same take; streets endlessly mirror themselves; remembered locations blend into one another – and fiddle with cinematic techniques to reflect the process of memory loss. Meanwhile, Kaufman finds a clever sci-fi concept – of a company who can wipe your powerful memories, Lacuna Inc, who can unremember it for you wholesale. It’s an idea which can dig under your skin, so you find yourself wondering in idle moments what exactly you’d delete from your past. But then, even better, he finds the mundaneity and reality in it. Lacuna’s offices are reminiscent of a trip to the dentist; the memory-wipers enjoy a few beers, a joint, and the contents of Joel’s booze cupboard while he sleeps. It matches up with the slightly wonky sci-fi tech that Gondry conjures – the upturned-colander that sits on the patient’s head, the slightly retro computers – and gives it all sense and meaning, reigning in his excesses. In return, Kaufman’s writing is lent a rare warmth and humanity. It’s the classic odd couple – sloppy meets clinical – and the contrast makes both stronger. Notably, neither has another film on this list, and very few of the actors involved appear in any of the other 49 either. The ensemble cast, far beyond Carrey and Winslet – both cast against type, playing the role the other would traditionally fill, and proving they should have been doing this all along – is flawless. Elijah Wood, as ever, benefits from being cast as a character with a bit of a sleazy dark streak; Mark Ruffalo is one of cinema’s most loveable slackers; Kirsten Dunst was always meant to play the confused young girl in love; Tom Wilkinson is never anything less than fantastic. Each of those parts – clever indie romance, surrealist dream sequences, inventive but grounded sci-fi – would be enough to guarantee a place on this list. But they form a whole more than the simple sum of its parts, creating a world with a whimsical sense of unreality, but exactly as much reality as is needed to sell the emotions. Oh, the emotions. Joel and Clementine quickly feel like a real couple. As we rewind through their past (at least, in one strand of the film) it becomes clear, through the fog of all the arguments, why they’re together in the first place. In one of the most freeing moments I’ve ever seen in a film, the two accept that, yes, it will all go horribly wrong, but it’s worth it. And then the endless, beautiful futility of it all is played out in a moment repeated over and over, skipping and eventually fading into purest white. And that’s all enough to catch in my throat, but the stakes are higher than the traditional romantic threat of the two being parted – the permanence of memories and feelings are in jeopardy too. There’s something sacred about memory, a lesson I’ve been bludgeoned over the head with over the last year, and Eternal Sunshine reaches the only logical conclusion – in the end, for all our follies and humiliations, our past – every last awful part of it – is as […]
Aiding me today in my recap of 2011 is Monsieur Timothy Maytom – Agent of B.A.D.A.S.S., blogger extraordinaire and, I learnt this year, all-round top bloke. Last year, he picked Donald ‘Childish Gambino’ Glover as his Person of the Year, and I spent most of this year catching up and realising he was right at all along. Who will be this year’s best human? Amy Poehler Last year’s Person of the Year, Donald Glover, was about recognizing a somewhat meteoric rise to fame. Not to reduce what was surely an awful lot of hard work by Glover, but his story is one of making the most of some very good opportunities. This year, we look at someone that has had a longer path full of a lot of hard graft, and no one could deny that she deserves every plaudit that is thrown her way. Amy Poehler started out at Chicago’s famous improv theatre Second City, going on to be a part of the influential group Upright Citizen’s Brigade. From there, it was onto Saturday Night Live, and a well-known spot co-hosting the Weekend Update segment with Tina Fey. In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey tells of how Amy shot back at Jimmy Fallon after he called a bit she was doing ‘not cute’: “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not [especially – clean language ed] care if you like it.” This is the year when Poehler truly did what she wanted, and not only do I like it, I bloody well love it. Parks and Recreation, which Poehler currently stars in, as well as produces and writes, is probably the best comedy on television at the moment. It does what no other comedy right now does, which is fight back against the 21st Century trend of meanness in humour. It doesn’t truck in cynicism, or wallow in embarrassment, or sit on the sidelines, snarkily commenting in a superior tone. Instead, it embraces and celebrates friendship, hard work and idealism, all while staying side-achingly hilarious. It manages to sneak (and sometimes trumpet) a feminist message onto US network TV without anyone pitching a hissy fit, and has assembled one of the best ensemble casts around. Poehler’s Leslie Knope is a fantastic comedy creation, balancing competence and intelligence with naïveté and well-intentioned over-ambition. Her slow-burn romance with Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt has been sweet and relatable, and her relationship with Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins is one of the best-realised friendships on television. The episode that Poehler wrote this year, The Fight, delved into that friendship as the two had a very drunken falling out, and resulted in a truly hilarious half-hour of television. Poehler was honoured this year with Variety’s Power of Comedy Award, where she gave a fantastic speech, that also saw Will Ferrell and Nick Kroll make out in the background. On a slightly more sober day, she delivered a speech to the graduating year at Harvard’s Class Day, where, between jokes and Bostonian accents, she spoke of the importance of humility, collaboration and how improvisations rules apply to real life. She’s also one of the minds behind the website Smart Girls At The Party, a brilliant community for young girls championing feminism. Poehler’s talent, hard work and wisdom make her my Person of the Year. In every stage and aspect of her career, she has demonstrated the power of collaboration; that two people can make a change that one can’t, that asking for help can sometimes produce results one couldn’t dream of. In the year that saw the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, in the age that champions crowdsourcing and kickstarting, it’s a timely lesson, and we’re lucky to have someone out there leading by example.
Okay, we’ve got roughly a week of 2011 left, and a little less than that until finally get to my #1 Favourite Friday Film, so let’s try and quickly recap all the culture that mattered, starting with my favourite comic series of the year… Journey into Mystery(Written by Kieron GillenArt by Dougie Braithwaite, Richard Elson, and Whilce Portacio) “Ink is how words are chained to paper. Words are ideas, cast down from the Platonic firmament to this Earthly Hell. But even so, no matter how far they’ve fallen, words and what we can make of them are eternal,” says the Devil, as he feeds some poor innocent into a meat grinder to make ink. “You will live forever. You’re becoming part of a story far bigger than you could possibly imagine.” As statements of intent go, it’s hardly the most subtle. Yet coming from the mouth of Mephisto, resuscitated by writer Kieron Gillen as a wonderfully theatrical, mutton-chopped vessel of hot bubbling charisma, it is entirely charming. And he’s not even the main character. Not in the top ten, probably. The main character of Journey Into Mystery (probably) is Loki Laufeyson, God of Mischief, half-brother of Thor, as recently played by the handsome Tom Hiddleston… Oh, and in the Marvel Universe he’s currently a child in his young teen, but don’t worry about that too much. The point is, the comic bends pleasingly to his character. It’s the extension of Gillen’s work on Thor, but where his brother is a hulking great hero of the most ancient type (that is, the type that hit people with hammers), Loki is a much more interesting proposition. This is a tale which, as Loki himself puts it, “involves a little reading and even proper punctuation”. Comics are so singularly ruled by superhero stories. Naturally, the focus is on action scenes – which, oddly, is something I’ve never thought think the medium handles particularly well. With time in the hands of the reader (for those of you haven’t read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a clumsy recap: each panel represents a single moment, and by moving your eyes between panels, you push time along, at your own pace) there’s no room for the fluidity of movement of, say, a Bruce Lee film. Only two moments truly exist: the one before a punch lands, and the one after. Action scenes work on such a primal response that the effort of stitching these together yourself into a single action – so often the magic of comics – often strips away the effect. So it’s nice to see Journey Into Mystery is a superhero book dedicated to solving its problems – the same, world-threatening problems – with violence of a more wordy sort. The first arc, spanning a suitably epic 10 issues, ended with Loki besting The Serpent, Fear Itself’s Big Bad, by merely changing the story. introducing a detail to the Serpent’s legend that gave his character a weakness. He did this, of course, using a magic pen. As I say, it’s never been particularly subtle about its themes: the end of the first issue (#622, this being comics) dove into that black hole at the bottom of a question mark. The most fearsome monsters in the story are summoned by speaking their name. The Devil, to recap, turned some unfortunate bloke into ink. It’s a book about magic which reminds you that spells are just a series of words. Compared to Gaiman’s Sandman, say, which it occasionally feels similar to (its love of meandering mini-plots), and often feels like a reaction to (see Nightmare, a clear parody of Sandman’s protagonist Dream), the focus is less on the power of stories and more specifically on the power of words. Perhaps unsurprising, given that Gillen spend the last decade working as a journalist. But it’s an interesting choice, in a medium that sits at the crossroads between text and image, and it could mean the former overwhelms the latter – after all, there are rather a lot of caption boxes. But the art is always given the space to tell the story. It’s not the reason to buy the comic – given my preference for clean cartooning, Braithwaite, Elson and Portacio all lean a little too much on the side of scratchy pencils for my tastes – but Braithwaite and Elson in particular are a perfect fit. Still, you come to Journey into Mystery for the words. And on that front, it’s bloody good value – those gloriously florid captions and sharp, slightly-too-witty-to-be-thought-up-on-the-spot speech balloons fill the pages. At its best, this is a comic which feels like the finest pub conversation, insightful and incisive, with a friend who has drunk two or three of their chosen tipple. And only rarely does it have that ill-advised next drink, and allow things to spill over into dreadful, boring fisticuffs. This isn’t about that Thor chappie, after all – it’s a story about Loki. And when he’s such good company, Journey into Mystery is enough to make you wonder why he wasn’t the star all along.
The first thing about Fight Club is, it’s not subtle. This is a film which uses every opportunity to beat you senseless, which fills your ears and eyes, loud and brash and unapologetic. Look, here’s a Simpsons-esque cutaway to a fantasy sequence. Now we’re zooming in extreme extreme close-up through the interior landscape of a bin, or a brain. Here are cigarette burns – have you ever heard of cigarette burns? – and slipping frames. Subliminal images. A man being beat to bloody hamburger. It’s absolute sensory overload. Fight Club can never quite stay still. It starts out as a film about the boredom of being a modern middle-class male, with touches of black humour. Then it’s about the pleasures of male company. The joys of two men hitting each other really hard. It’s the story of how one becomes a terrorist, that becomes a psychological thriller. (And all the while, hidden underneath is a love story, or maybe two.) The second thing about Fight Club is, it’s very, very far from subtle. And there are a few good reasons for this: One, for the sheer joy of the thing. I often talk about how much I love Ideas in film. To anyone who’s been following this list closely, you’ll probably notice that this ranks about concerns like Narrative for me. I’m talking about those big pop Moments where you’re presented with something you’ve never met before – the way a song intersects with a scene, or the way a camera moves, or observing something about life you’d never considered before, or the casting of Meatloaf in a supporting role. Director David Fincher had come to films from adverts and music videos, and Fight Club feels almost like a patchwork of three-minute experiments in style, stitched loosely together. Which – two – is more or less exactly how the novel it’s based on was written, with Chuck Palahniuk collecting together all the stories he’d heard or lived and finding a framework. In this sense, it’s a perfect adaptation, changing and cutting where necessary but keeping the spirit. It’s the same in the dialogue, which is not quite real, and full of loose slogans and Did You Know?s, but is enchanting for it. Three: Tyler Durden. Cinema is brilliant at crafting characters like Tyler Durden. It’s a medium where charisma rules and, looking back over the list – Ferris Bueller, John McClane, Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, Samuel L. Jackson, Ash Williams – it’s clearly something I’m susceptible to. Brad Pitt makes Durden the absolute bottled essence of cool. He’s fidgety, angry, attractive – even when he’s delegated to the back of the frame, swinging nunchuks or flicking away a cigarette, he’s the centre of the attention. He’s the hot centre the film crowds around, and like an impressionable youth, Fight Club copies its hero. And also, four, his philosophy. Fight Club is about nihilism and anti-consumerism and anarchism, always the coolest standpoints, in that sixth form-y kind of way – screw buying stuff, eff the man! Those slogans the characters talk in really are slogans. The film itself is a manifesto, a doctrine, propaganda, and like any piece of propaganda, you can’t give the audience a moment to think about what they’re being fed. But it’s (five) not necessarily the film’s philosophy. Really, Fight Club is a satire on all that, and satire is by necessity always an exaggeration. It pushes all the arguments of the above to their logical extreme, to show us how ludicrous they become. The slogans echo and, coming from the mouths of Durden’s mindless followers, become uglier, climaxing in the horror of a houseful of idiots chanting “His name is Robert Paulsen” like it’s scripture. All those big issues it deals with – whichever side of the fence you’re on – never really touched me, though. I liked the swagger of Durden, and some of the lines struck a place in my young lyrics-quoting heart, but the core of Fight Club for me is the friendship. (It’s actually not that different from Fincher’s Social Network in that regard, but that’s a discussion for another time.) The love between two men that, like the Romans believed, could be the greatest and purest love of all, and whether it’s compatible with a heterosexual relationship with a woman. For all its messiness, the story can be thinned down to: boy meets girl, refuses to admit he likes her, boy meets boy, tries to navigate relationship with both, chooses girl. And that choice is celebrated with literal fireworks, as some triumphant Pixies plays us out. It can’t resist a last big wink, though, a big fat screenful of penis for one moment. This is still Fight Club, after all. It’s that lack of subtlety that has often made me fearful to revisit Fight Club. It was the single piece of culture that had most impact on me as a teenager, and probably has the most responsibility for the person I am now – pushing me towards certain films and especially (via the original novel) books, and subsequently towards writing, and it made me think about cool, and the roles I’ve played in friendships, and I probably still cop some of Tyler’s swagger occasionally, especially when I’m drunk. To borrow the bit of Phonogram I always borrow, it was the fuel I burnt to become me. And, as he’s mellowed out over the last decade into one of the greatest filmmakers we’ve got, I’d suggest maybe the same is true for David Fincher too. Perhaps Fight Club is meant to be grown out of. Those youthful relationships, forged in the early hours. Thinking you could change the world. Being able to laugh off losing a tooth. Being angry with the world in a way you don’t think anyone has thought about before… It’s embarrassing to look back at those moments, isn’t it? But that never makes them more worth regretting than celebrating. Why shouldn’t it be the same for the […]
Ah, the footprintless snow of a new social media platform. This Is My Jam. Like Twitter but for music, is the elevator pitch you can imagine its creators giving. Choose a song, pick a YouTube video or HypeMachine mp3, and show off your brilliant taste to whatever people you can convince to join up.It’s simple, and it’s good-looking (as long as your chosen YouTube video has a nicely-sized preview image, or you can be bothered to upload a picture which, let’s be honest, you can’t) and, for me personally, it arrived at exactly the right moment.With Spotify having reduced its listening limit to an amount I can apparently burn through in one working day, I needed a way of listening to new music, without doing anything illegal, before I commit to buying it. Neatly, the site runs all your friends’ current Jams into a smooth playlist, so as long as people keep updating, I have an hour or two of cutely personalised radio station every day.That curation streamlines the all-important discovery process. Frankly, I’ve never fully clicked with a single music publication, certainly not since Plan B closed down, and this means I can put everything whose taste I consider worthwhile in one place and force them to feed me new songs.So that’s Spotify ticked off, and Pitchfork… I wish it came a little closer to dethroning Last.fm, but at present there’s not much in the way of an archive. As the end of 2011 approaches, and all the music I’ve loved this year slips through cracks in my brain, I’d appreciate a way to go back and check out everything I deemed worthy of a Jam.The biggest flaw, though, is in what it shares with Twitter. You’re given the chance to say a little something alongside your chosen track, but it really is a little something – 110 characters, by my count.I appreciate discipline, and brevity – it’s not a blog, after all – but it’s too little for anything more than a jokey aside. The way I use it, listening to everything on offer before picking the day’s finest, that’s okay, but I want to tell anyone who doesn’t use it like that why they should listen to my Jam.Although… ‘Because I have the greatest taste in music EVER, obv!’ – that’s less than 110 characters, isn’t it?
Disney has a grand tradition of death, and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it, but what makes Up more special than Bambi, or even The Lion King, is how carefully it follows the grieving process. Everyone focuses on the silent montage at the start, which compresses a couple’s entire life together into four wordless minutes. It’s as fine a piece of cinema as you’ll ever see, and it’s reputation is well earned. But as in life, it’s not the death itself that’s really important – it’s what comes after. And after, Up picks up with Carl, an old man, living alone. The brilliance of that montage is in the way it echoes throughout, and as Carl navigates his house, you begin to notice the hooks that have been set in your heart – the mailbox, the bottle-lid badge, the chairs – and that will be tugged mercilessly throughout. In my experience that’s more or less how it happens in life, just a little messier. You encounter innocuous little cues with rough edges that catch in your chest. I admire the ruthless efficiency with which Up can bring me to my knees: a single shot of an inanimate object, a couple of notes of Giacchino’s score. But from what I’ve said so far, it doesn’t sound very fun, does it? What makes me love Up is the contrast. After all, there aren’t many in-depth examinations of the grieving process that can also shift thousands of stuffed toys, are there? The film only wallows in this loneliness for a short time, before Carl escapes, into the sky, and towards Paradise Falls. Introducing the rest of Carl’s party – Russell the persistent ‘Wilderness Explorer’ boy scout, Kevin the giant bird, Dug the talking dog – Up turns into something as simple and likeable as any Pixar film. But it doesn’t abandon that emotional core. All the conflicts are caught up in one another – Carl’s craving for adventure, as a younger man, resurfaces after he can’t have children; Russell’s largely absent father isn’t there to do his Wilderness Explorer activities with him; Kevin, the only character to have a full family, is separated from them. (Incidentally, I think you could make an argument for the characters representing Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, particularly the midlife crisis of generativity vs stagnation.) And, like all the best baddies, Charles Muntz is presents Carl from a different perspective – his airship is a much more literal museum, full of the bones of mythical creatures he hunted, as Carl’s floating house, but both are just as preoccupied with the past and with death. And of course, the film never shies away from lingering, for just one moment, on one of those mementoes. Ultimately, though, life goes on, and all the grief sits just underneath the surface, the engine which drives all the thrilling adventure stuff. The world doesn’t suddenly turn black, beauty and humour still exist, and that allows Dug to exist – thank God – and Dug, in turn, allows Up to work. There aren’t many visual metaphors stronger than that house rising into Sega-blue skies, tugged upwards by a multi-coloured cloud of balloons. There are few more crushing than the half-burned house, heavier than the remains of balloons can carry, scraping along the rough earth as Carl drags it, alone, before grinding to a halt. Up follows the same emotional waveform as most Pixar films, with the hero starting low, rising steadily to a high, then being brought down by the consequences of that rise, only to get over what brought them low in the first place and rise triumphantly. Of course, that also describes most human experience, including grieving for a loved one. I’ve made a big deal in the past about how the shape of Up could be emotionally educational, the implication being, for children. I’m going to come up front and say what I really mean is, for me. A while back, I lost my Nan; she was a wonderful and vital woman, and… frankly I lack the vocabulary to talk about this kind of stuff; I haven’t had to deal with death, really, since I was young. I suspect I’m not good at it. Catharsis is one of art’s greatest virtues; Up provides a safe way to experience, and re-experience, difficult emotions in a controlled environment. It gave me a framework for understanding, and a context to place it in. Essentially, Up takes everything that’s bundled up in grief, and turns it into a story. I’m used to stories.
Los Campesinos! released an album just over a month ago. It was inevitable I was going to write about it, and the odds were good it would be something long and overly theatrical. And boy did I deliver on those two promises. “They were a teenage crush, the last of my actual teen years. We were into all the same stuff. I was quiet and awkward, they were noisy and joyful the way . Theirs was the name I scribbled into the margins of notebooks. When I scribbled in margins, it read AS 4 LC!, encircled in a clumsy red-pen heart. Now, we’re both a little older, both like to think we’re a little wiser. In the interim, there have been drunken passes, the occasional disagreement, and the discovery that one of us really likes football and one of us doesn’t. (“I’m not sure if it’s love anymore…” croons Gareth in my ear. Steady on, now.) Today the more refined LC! fan snorts at the mention of You! Me! Dancing!. We’ve changed. And that’s healthy.” It’s possibly the finest use of The Dirty Mistress as a discrete entity I’ve managed. Messy, long, indulgent, heart-on-emo-sleeve, playing with form and dipping into personalities I’ve written in since that first Hold On Now, Youngster review. I’m really proud of it – almost as much as I am embarrassed – and I’d like to think it might hold interest for non-LC! fans because it’s about the album discovery process in general, and about a few other things, I think. This site, at least in my head, is meant to be the respectable face of things, and if I do write about Hello Sadness for it, it will be distilled into a more digestible review. So, it’s a piece I would only have done on Tumblr. Which is why I’m slightly sad to be curtailing this particular experiment. Feeling less like I had to write vaguely publishable stuff freed me up over the summer, to play with everything from recipes . And lots and lots of pictures of cute animals. But doing anything for it – at least, anything beyond reblogging other people’s stuff – slowed down a lot recently. Given that the original idea was to have content be more regular, to encourage people to stick it in their bookmarks, having a Tumblr has become kind of pointless. So consider this a rebranding, a refocusing, and all that PR rubbish.
I say John Hughes Movie, you think: teenagers, the 1980s, hot pink, awesome cheesy pop music that kicks in at just the right moment, the dull ache of nostalgia for an imagined childhood. Right? Doesn’t matter if you’ve actually seen a John Hughes movie or not – I mean, I’ve seen three – if you’re relatively conversant in pop culture, it has a meaning. For me, they’re magic words – John Hughes comparisons were what convinced me I needed to see Drive. (Sidenote: I really did, but that’s a story for another time). Ferris Bueller is the reason for that. (Don’t get me wrong, I love The Breakfast Club, but there’s a reason it didn’t make this list – primarily, that the clichés Hughes created stick out a little more in that film. The Allison de-gothing transformation scene is a bit painful to watch now. And that’s ignoring my instinctual feminist reading of it. But nevertheless, imagine The Breakfast Club holding a position somewhere below the waterline, around #56.) Like all John Hughes Movies, like all good teen movies, it’s about innocence, and the loss of it. All of the characters are placed on that vital cusp, and it gets touched on more than once. Ferris might want to avoid high school – and get his friends out of it, at least for one day – but the fact that this is his last year, that it’s all coming to an end, is a major source of pathos in the film. After all, in this world, Ferris is the uncontested king of all he surveys. The whole city, from freshmen to police department, are pulling for him to get through the imaginary illness he’s using to bunk off. Ferris is a walking magnet, both animal – he’s the kind of guy that will stop running for his life to introduce himself to two sunbathing girls in bikinis – and for pure good luck – there’s a moment at the grand all-action finale where he throws a baseball to turn off a radio; it hits the ‘off’ button perfectly and rolls neatly into a waiting glove. Ferris is irresistible by nature, and that pulls everything into place around him. But that can’t last. There’s little doubt that this is Ferris’ last hurrah, that he’s peaking and rest of his life will roll slowly downhill. This isn’t even subtext, it’s directly text. “I’m going to … put a dent in his future, so years from now, when he looks back on the ruin his life has become…” monologues school principal and nemesis Ed Rooney. Even his best friend Cameron predicts a sparkling career as a “frycook”. The film isn’t afraid to question whether Ferris’ motives are selfish, or show the mechanics behind the curtain of Ferris’ charm, even – we see him turn it on, how manipulative he is, from the very start with his parents. Not that it makes him any less charismatic, mind. It’s a legacy that would carry forward into all the post-Hughes teen films. Look at American Pie, or Superbad. Both are films with absolutely filthy minds, but innocence isn’t all about sex, or the lack thereof. In Ferris Bueller, these kids are getting laid, or at least talking about it, and there’s a reasonable amount of salty language, but they’re still figures as innocent as Blake’s young rosy-cheeked boys. The film’s worldview is simple: teachers and sisters are the villains, girls and friends and cars and simple pleasure are the treasure. All that provides just enough grit to make it feel real; it’s still a entirely good-natured film. Even as it shows us that childlike quality fading into twilight, the world of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains untouched by what lies beyond, in the dark. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an elegy to that period of our lives, and it’s sadfaced about how temporary it all is, how fast it goes by, to paraphase Bueller himself – but it’s still a complete fantasy. This, after all, is a film which repeatedly uses Yello’s Oh Yeah (aka the Duffman theme tune). It’s John Hughes doing what he did best: creating a fantasy world, a vision of the teen years that almost none of us had and, in equal parts, wish we had and romanticise we did. Or is that just me?