Top Ten Performances of 2014

Long time no talk.  I know, it’s been almost four months since my last post, but it’s been quite the hectic fall/winter season, but the most wonderful/stressful/frustrating/awful/awesome time of the year is upon us.  Well, watching these films are a visceral experience.  Analyzing their awards potential, rewarding/not rewarding them, and seeing all this obnoxious campaigning (specifically whisper campaigning AGAINST certain films) is disgusting, but it’s part of the process… I guess.

Anyways, as a certain tradition of mine, I’ve chosen ten performances that I felt were unmatched.  I kind of cheated combining some a few performances, but who cares.  Here are my ten favorite performances of 2014.

MICHAEL KEATON (Birdman)

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson in BIRDMAN is a revelation, divulging into an extremely flawed, egotistical, and overtly ambitious man child who looks for meaning and fulfillment through praise and adoration.  For how artistically driven the film is, this entire thing would’ve crumbled if Keaton was anything less than prolific and completely devoted.  This is one of those performances where you have very little reason to appreciate the character on paper, but through the moving image, Keaton brings out the emotions and the flaws that we all suffer from — just on a more upscale level.  He drips with insecurity and confusion, moving through the halls of the St. Regis Theatre unsure of where he’s walking towards and when it’ll end, just hoping… HOPING he becomes what he desires to become.  Keaton kills it here, and though this is an ensemble piece with an excellent visual execution, Keaton is the beating heart of BIRDMAN.

MARION COTILLARD (Two Days, One Night)

Premiering at Cannes at steamrolling through Telluride and Toronto, the latest film from the Dardenne Brothers encapsulates a simple narrative of a hopeless and weak person turning into an example of strength and will.  Similar to Birdman, TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT fails if they don’t nail the central figure, Sandra, a wife and mother of two who tries to retain her job by convincing each co-worker to not accept their bonus.  Cotillard’s performance is quiet, but doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful and gutting, expressing her depression and attitude through incredible facial expressions and body language.  This is a risky film, though being small, mainly because it’s hinged on our attachment to the main character, and if we don’t bond with her, empathize with her, understand her battle, then it all fails.  But thankfully, it magnificently works with plenty of credit going to Cotillard.

J.K. SIMMONS (Whiplash)

This image above is everything you need to know about WHIPLASH, J.K. Simmons’ award winning performance, and pretty much the thesis behind the brilliant film of 29 year old Damien Chazelle (yes, that’s correct).  Simmons is the grim reaper of all music instructors, a dark world that’s brutal and violent but rarely ever gets a spotlight on, pushing his students in ways that is criminal… but also rewarding.  I can’t imagine anyone else that could pull this role off the way Simmons does.  His mannerisms, his bulging biceps in a tight black shirt who soaks in darkness, and his execution of obscene language that’s both awful but yet artistic.  He’s so respectable and pulls of this tight rope act of making us appreciate his persona even though he emotionally and physically violates these young, hopeful students.  Simmons will win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and rightfully so cause he’ll go down as one of the greatest villains/instructors/inspirations/motivators/devilish characters of all time.

TILDA SWINTON (Snowpiercer)

Tilda Swinton is the pinnacle of coolness.  She’s too good for all of us and human kind in general, and I’m so thankful I live in the age of Swinton as her choices and performances are precise and brilliant, always pushing the envelope for what she can do.  In SNOWPIERCER, she turned a male role into probably the most memorable element in the entire film, which says a lot considering the movie itself is a marvel.  Every second of Swinton is a masterpiece, and she’s pretty much unrecognizable here, though that’s true for almost all her performances.  Just like any auteur filmmaker, we should anticipate a Swinton film because she’s a gem in today’s entertainment world.

EDDIE REDMAYNE (Theory of Everything)

Watching Eddie Redmayne play Stephen Hawking in THEORY OF EVERYTHING was an indescribable experience, mainly seeing an actor speak less and less and evolve into an individual limited physically but mentally boundless.  So much in the mind, so much to express, so much to seek and understand, but unable to do the basic of human behaviors because of an unfortunate case of ALS.  I can’t imagine the preparation and technique that went into playing Hawking, saying so much through his eyes, his positions, his crouched stillness on his wheelchair.  It’s things like that where a performance is earned, and Redmayne deserves all the credit he’s receiving.

ANNE DORVAL (Mommy)

I can’t rave enough about Xavier Dolan’s films, specifically I KILLED MY MOTHER and MOMMY, which of course has Anne Dorval starring in both.  In MOMMY specifically, Dorval plays an immature and naive mother who slowly realizes that she’s unable to take care of her wild and emotionally uncontrollable son, and that experience of watching her coming to that realization is so painful and difficult.  Dorval plays another flawed character (see the trend?  Flaws are good) where she pulls off another work of magic with Dolan.  I pray that she gets more exposure (maybe she doesn’t want it) and gets to play ripe roles where we see her breathtaking talent more and more.

STEVE CARRELL, CHANNING TATUM, & MARK RUFFALO (Foxcatcher)

I’m cheating, I know, but it’s too difficult to choose between the three in FOXCATCHER, where each performance is so greatly intertwined with the other two characters and their intimate and sensitive relationships with one another.  It truly is a love triangle, all trying to manage quite carefully who the others are and what they’ll slowly become.  This is a film driven by suppression, wealth, failure, disappointment, fulfillment, and irrevocable emotions, making this such a complex and dense work of art.  And though I regard Bennett Miller as one of the great American directors, Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo round out this powerful film with their devotion to this unfortunate story.  It sucks to see Tatum become so irrelevant in the discussions for best performances of the year with the other two getting appropriate praise.  No individual sticks out from the rest in my opinion.  All three are vital pieces that create a fascinating piece of human dilemma.

REESE WITHERSPOON & LAURA DERN (Wild)

Something about this film kills me within, and the more I think about it, the more I realize so much of it’s emotional stake is because of the relationship between Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and her mother (Laura Dern) and how the loss of such an important life can impact our own journey.  WILD works so well because of this relationship told in flashbacks, and much credit is given to Witherspoon for her courageous and revealing performance as a sex and drug addict who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, equal praise should be given to Dern who plays that motherly figure so well it makes me cry.  Literally.  She captures that gentle, tenderhearted soul in ways that makes you feel like she’s your mother, and realizing how this film is more about the discovery of self through the loss of loved ones rather than your typical escape through nature narrative, their performances have so much more weight now.

DAVID OYELOWO (Selma)

Excuse my language, but this fucking film is so damn good and David Oyelowo is damn good as MLK.  This should be required viewing.  Every school in the U.S. should put SELMA in their syllabus, making all students, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic watch this because it’s so important and artistically immaculate.  Oyelowo kills it.  Simply kills it.  The speeches, the politics, the way he revolves around conflict and individuals, his relationship with his wife and the revealing of his flawed moments — it’s all there.  This is a performance that should be reveled for years, and I can’t speak enough about how amazing Oyelowo, the rest of this cast, Ava Duvernay, and all involved are in this piece about American history.  Arguably, this is probably one of the most important films on our country, being so relevant today and our fight for progress FOR ALL.  I still can’t believe how Oyelowo pulled it off, and it easily goes down as one of the best performances of the year.

ROSAMUND PIKE (Gone Girl)

This look, this face, this image is EVERYTHING.  I think GONE GIRL deserves such a huge conversation and study that covers a multitude of topics include American marriage, gender roles and expectations, Women in film, the definition of feminism, media fascination and exploitation, etc.  That’s how great David Fincher is.  He can throw a heavy amount of themes and elements and still make this film feel seamless and proficient.  What else he does so well is get the best out of his actors, and I really can’t think of a performance that’s had such polarizing reaction and discussion other than Rosamund Pike as  Amy Dunne.  Pike nails the complex state of Amazing Amy, stretching the blurred boundaries of who she actually is — from her narrations, her diary entries, her innocent & victimized self, or the violent, aggressive, and capitalist Amy, this is a role that requires one to explore the darkest of human capabilities.  There’s nothing more cinematic and bone tingling in movies of 2014 than the “Cool Girl” monologue.  The fact that that picture above is the fear of men everywhere across this country shows what kind of an affect this film has.  This is the year of Rosamund Pike and GONE GIRL, and our true feelings of women, who women should be, who women actually are, and what women can be.

It’s Finally Here: The 41st Telluride Film Festival

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My favorite time of year has now changed from Thanksgiving and Christmas to the Telluride Film Festival, and those who’ve attended know this is completely valid and justified.  It’s an unbelievable four days of films, fellow cinephiles, good food and drinks (though I can’t drink), and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in the world.  It’s surreal and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience this once in their lives. 

Well, through the complicated situation between Toronto International Film Festival and Telluride, we’ve gotten a good sense of movies will play at the usually discrete and secretive Telluride lineup.  Telluride doesn’t reveal their lineup until the day of the film festival, which eliminates most press and paparazzi, only allowing people who want to be there to attend.  From what we’ve heard and seen throughout, this is my meaningless and insignificant attempt to spitball what we can expect this year at TFF41.  

Wild-2014-MovieWILD
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), this is almost a lock for Telluride, from its Canadian Premiere status at TIFF and Reese Witherspoon rumored to be receiving a Tribute.  And come on, you can’t have a hiking, finding yourself through nature film and NOT have it premiere at Telluride.  Regardless of my legitimate reasoning, it’s a surefire guarantee at this point, and would be shocked to see it not play.  

michael-keaton-birdman-movieBIRDMAN
Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu’s anticipated film with Michael Keaton playing the title role as a washed up actor looking for another shot at glory looks like an interesting and exploratory piece of work with quite the visuals.  Inarritu was at Telluride last year supporting his good friend Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and like WILD, it’s a lock for Telluride. 

chilling-first-trailer-for-foxcatcher-with-steve-carell-6FOXCATCHER
One of the films I’m most anticipating this year and I think can really do some damage come awards season is Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller with a spectacular cast of Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum.  It was raved in Cannes, and will definitely be on the top of my list to watch, if it comes.  I’m pretty confident that it will, having a Canadian Premiere status at TIFF. 

benedict-cumberbatch-the-imitation-gameTHE IMITATION GAME
The Weinsten Company’s gem for this fall, The Imitation Game was a well-regarded script that finally made its way through production with Benedict Cumberbatch filling out the main role of a WWII British codebreaker, which ultimately created the way for the first computer.  It’s been rumored to play at Telluride for a long time, and will be shocked if it didn’t play. 

27186-film-wild-talesWILD TALES
This Cannes gem from Argentina is a black-comedy full of short stories that is supposedly an incredible and hilarious experience.  After its success at the famed French film festival, it’s path to Telluride has been documented, and it seems like it’s in play, especially it being a Sony Pictures Classic product, which likes to show its film at Telluride. 

mr-turner-2014-002-turner-walking-to-hilltop-stone-cabinMR. TURNER
Another Cannes hit, Mr. Turner from Mike Leigh was a well regarded film that many think can have a potential chance at awards this fall, and many are predicting it for Telluride.  I can’t imagine it not playing, and am excited to see Timothy Spall’s award-winning performance as the famous painter. 

Bernal-585x329ROSEWATER
Jon Stewart’s directorial debut has been rumored and confidently predicted to premiere at Telluride.  His story about a journalist that’s detained in Iran for 100 days has been well-reported, especially considering John Oliver took over his spot on the Daily Show desk, which led to his deal at HBO.  I’m more excited to see Jon Stewart at Telluride with his availability to its filmmakers, but am slightly distant and unsure how this will play out.  We’ll see, but it seems like it’s a likely play. 

sundance-whiplashWHIPLASH
Though it already had it’s North American Premiere at Sundance, and though Telluride has a pretty strict NA Premiere status for all its films, I’ve heard rumblings that Whiplash will in fact play at Telluride, and that they have been willing to let go of its restrictions for certain films.  I would totally be fine for this ease up because Whiplash has been highly respected and reviewed, winning both the Audience and Jury awards at Park City, Utah.  I’m still a little hesitant considering it already premiered in the U.S., but I’ll go with what I’ve been hearing so far.  It’s a coin-toss at the moment. 

Mommy-Movie-660MOMMY
Being a huge fan of 24 year-old Xavier Dolan’s work, I’m extremely excited to hear that MOMMY could play at Telluride, the first time he’s ever come.  Getting a convincing stamp of approval at Cannes (lots of Cannes), it got a potential play from TIFF as it was labeled with a Canadian Premiere.  I’m still slightly hesitant in being confident that it’ll play, but I’m going with my gut feeling and my hopes that it will. 

Other films that will most likely play or is rumored to play:

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (CANNES)
99 HOMESLEVIATHAN (CANNES)
THE LOOK OF SILENCE (sequel to The Act of Killing documentary)
’71
RED ARMY
THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: A 50 YEAR ARGUMENT (Martin Scorsese… TRIBUTE!!!)

If this is the lineup that we do get, there can’t be much complaining involved cause this is one hell of a lineup.  But I do think we are missing a few titles, maybe one big one, that has been kept secret.  It’s obviously a film that isn’t premiering at Toronto and there’s no way films like GONE, GIRL, INHERENT VICE, INTERSTELLAR, UNBROKEN, INTO THE WOODS, QUEEN OF THE DESERT, FURY are in play… I think.  My guess is that a film like BIG EYES (Tim Burton) might sneak preview and…. now this is a total guess and I’ll be wrong, but I do think one of the films that were listed previously might play.  My guess would be UNBROKEN, though it’s been denied for any fests.  We’ll see.  Anyways, it’s an exciting time and as I leave tomorrow morning to the San Juans, I can’t wait for the best film experience ever.  Au revoir. 

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood: A Film That We All Can Relate To

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Every so often, a film comes around that strangles me in a way where my mind and thoughts are unable to leave the impressions it left. It’s not just an exuberant amount of emotions that come out like tears or laughter, but a reaction inside where I feel this chord that’s being gently struck, signaling a reflective reaction where what I’m watching isn’t just two hours of enjoyable entertainment, but something much more meaningful and important. I can sense my heightened pulse, a rise in my breathing, and just this overall intensified reaction that what I’m witnessing on screen is relevant.

All my favorite movies of all-time have done this, especially the likes of 2001, CITIZEN KANE, MAGNOLIA, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and more recently, SHORT TERM 12 and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR. They are outstanding pieces of work, ranging from wide genres and stories, but all striving for that simplistic goal of discovering the human spirit.  And I think that’s the key to any great film: the ability, regardless of how ridiculous or high concept your story is, to make us relate and see ourselves in these characters.

If there’s ever been a film that really captures the essence of this, it’s BOYHOOD, Richard Linklater’s 12 year project in which all the principal cast remains throughout.  The idea of shooting a movie over a long period of time like over a decade is, in itself, a great form of increasing awareness and publicity in your project.  The sheer craziness and ambitiousness nature of taking upon something like that is admirable but also slightly insane, but with Linklater, the master of cinematic time (Before Trilogy), this is something that he’s clearly infatuated with and knows much about.

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So with Boyhood, you get this movie, which at the very core, is all about growing up.  Plain and simple.  There’s nothing really more he’s going after other than to capture this difficult but universal phase in our lives.  There are lots of potential themes or messages he might be going after personally but nothing so obvious or vividly.  At a screening, he stated himself that all this film really is is about someone going through their adolescence, but being able to capture it in a unique way where we actually see this growth progress on screen.  We’re watching people grow up physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  And though the film centers around Mason (Ellar Coltrane), it’s not only about him.  It’s about his sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s daughter), his divorced mother (Patricia Arquette) and his every other weekend father (Ethan Hawke).  We’re observing this family’s experience through their existence in this world, surviving their own struggles and fight to just make it out alive and happy.  And there’s nothing more relatable than watching another human being struggle to make sense of their own lives.

The most powerful mechanic in all forms of storytelling is the ability to invoke empathy.  That is the emotion that makes us who we are.  We are beings that need to be empathetic.  It’s what makes us move, and what gives us our purpose in life.  When we lose empathy, we lose a big part of our DNA that allows us to see others in a way that’s relevant for us, and without it, our world would not exist.  So ignoring that grand and bullish statement, let’s look at it through BOYHOOD, easily one of the best films that understands empathy and how to use it without making it feel unauthentic and calculated.  Today, so many movies attempt empathy (more like sympathy) through forced character traits or plot lines that are so on-the-nose that it at the VERY BEST, it only allows us to realize that this character struggles.  Realizing and discovering a character’s struggles are nowhere near the same thing as experiencing it, and the best way for the audience to live with it is, simply, to show it.  Now that’s a rule in cinema that’s been held ever since the beginning of the moving picture.  Show us, don’t tell us.  But that’s a rule that needs so much more context to each individual story or film, not just this universal thing that works for every single idea or project.

But even then, the rule reigns because of its truth, and with BOYHOOD, it’s done in a way that shockingly, is rarely ever done.  Subtlety.  Simplicity.  Realistic.  Honesty.  Let’s ask ourselves this.  When was the last time you saw a studio film that used these four elements?  Everything now is so obvious, so forced that even if we move away, we still get smears of emotional manipulation seeping through the screen.  Unfortunately, you can’t force empathy.  It’s a feeling or emotion that happens when the viewer is so engaged and so involved that it naturally occurs in a manner that we, as the audience, have no idea it’s actually happening after the film ends, or may not even realize until way later.  This is something that I didn’t discover for the longest time, but yet lived my life loving the movies that I did because I just loved them.  I think a lot of people are that way, and it’s not a bad thing, but a lot goes into making a good movie, let alone a great one.  And I know I’m speaking in hyperbole in a borderline excruciating way, but that should show you how effective BOYHOOD was.

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When looking back on my experience with BOYHOOD, I realized that why it works so well, for met at least, is that it doesn’t explain to us what’s going on.  We’re not told how characters feel, or how this will affect them now or in the near future.  I think that’s the biggest problem with cliche narratives and formulaic storytelling.  It’s as if movies now follow this set in stone process of how to reveal things within our character, and though there are basic structures that work well, we’ve abused them in ways that make it unappealing and unnatural.  But with BOYHOOD, there are no post-discussions, no character reveals through exposition and or soliloquy-like speeches, or your typical one-on-one “this is what happened to me and this is how I felt and this is how I’m going to show the audience who I am” type tropes.  They do work, but using elements that work doesn’t mean they’ll actually work.  It’s a failure of actually understanding the big picture of your story.

BOYHOOD, instead, lets these situations or events happen, and let’s us fill-in-the-blanks.  The movie itself is a small picture as in nothing big happens and it’s all about these small but important moments that slowly shape us into the people we are now.  The wonderful thing about how it’s done is that the characters DON’T EVER KNOW that this change is happening.  Change doesn’t shape who we are knowingly, it’s a developmental transition.  And I love how BOYHOOD understands this so well.  Though these are small moments, they are big moments in the average life lived, especially for a child.  And I think something that Linklater, intentional or not, did so well is to show Mason’s firsts.  Mason’s first kiss, first girlfriend, first traumatic experience, first fight, all these firsts that you don’t realize are his firsts, but reflect highly on our viewing experience because we’re not just thinking about his, we’re thinking about ours.  We’re thinking about what it was like for our to grow up, to witness beautiful, loving, and highly important moments in our lives, and then remembering those painful and difficult memories that have stuck with us through time.  In essence, BOYHOOD shows the power of innocence or the power in having that innocence broken.  That is real magnitude that’s felt during our time growing up.  When we witness things that are bigger than us at the exact time, and how it stays with us.  This is what BOYHOOD really does well.  We don’t forget what Mason goes through when he was five or six, when he witnesses a fight with his Mom’s boyfriend or moving away.  We’ve grown up with him, and though he doesn’t speak of those moments at all, we know it’s there, we know it’s part of him, and we know it’s affected him the way these events affect all of us.  Empathy.

I think what I appreciate most about It BOYHOOD is that it doesn’t preach.  It doesn’t make any statements on alcoholism, domestic violence or abuse, divorce, drugs, school, relationships, etc.  These all happen throughout the film, but nothing more.  And I think that’s one of the hardest things to do as a storyteller/filmmaker.  We sometimes try and make things so obvious and so clear, but we forget that the best way to approach the goal of empathy is to almost say nothing.  Let the audience fill in those aftermaths, those discussions, those reflective moments.  The beauty in film is to not force all viewers on singular experience and endpoint, but to see the many different types of reactions and messages they received from it all, regardless of it being intentional or not.

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I know how we perceive films are so subjective, but with BOYHOOD, I couldn’t help but look back at my own life.  There were so many instances that Mason went through that I couldn’t help but see myself in that scene.  When Mason is upset or hurt by things that happened to him, he would refuse to go to school, claiming he was sick or didn’t feel well enough.  When Mason watches through the creeks of his bedroom door, watching his Mom struggle, watching her cry, watching her do everything she can to give her children the best life possible even though life to her still doesn’t make much sense.  To have an older sibling annoy you when you’re sleeping and then blaming it on you when you’re totally innocent.  Experiencing your first true heartbreak with a girl.  When life seems to shatter when that one important person has all but left.  When we find our calling or passion in life, and how nothing else seems to matter except doing what you love.  When we’re in those moments, like at the very end, that regardless of all the shit that you’ve gone through and seen, that at this very moment, at this exact place and time, you feel this comforted feeling that, yeah, things will be okay.

And yeah, maybe my experiences are more similar to Mason’s, but that does not explain the power and infatuation people are having with this film all over the globe.  It’s success isn’t limited by its country of origin, and people from all backgrounds and cultures are able to connect to BOYHOOD.  Maybe you haven’t gone through divorce, or witnessed abuse, or had an alcoholic father, or through some statistical anomaly, never had your heart broken.  But life is something that needs to be shared with.  Our story needs to be told, passed along through our friends, our family, our significant other, our children.  Regardless of how easy or how difficult life has been, no life is easy.  We’re filled with wonder, curiosity, confusion, instability, knowledge, growth, pain, suffering, loss, denial, acceptance, motivation, passivity, delusion, dreams, fears, nightmares, love, hate.  The list goes on and on, and though we’re all different and unique in many ways, we’re also a lot more alike than we assume.

I’m making grand statement after grand statement, but I think that’s what BOYHOOD has achieved.  It makes us a little bit softer, a little bit more understanding, a little bit more accepting… a little bit more empathetic.  To our parents, our best friends, our lovers, our enemies, strangers.  We are more willing to reflect and look back, and, hopefully, not be so hard on our identity and who we are.  Sometimes the person we need to be kindest to is ourselves.

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Go see Boyhood.  Go see it in a theater with a group of friends, by yourself, with your family, with someone important.  Go drive extra miles for it.  Go spend some money it.  Go discuss it with people who have seen it.  If you didn’t like, which could very well happen since all the hype, talk about why you didn’t like.  If you did love it, reflect on it.  Write about it.  Start a conversation.  When we see something that moves us in a way that is so distinct from anything else, we need to react properly.  When I think about BOYHOOD, I think about how it is very reason why film exists, why story exists, and it gives me hope that movies like this can be made.

Sound Article About Art Criticism from AwardsDaily

There’s a great piece about the repetitive usage of words like “flawed” and “overrated” when speaking on behalf of films.  Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams of Awards Daily explore these strong but empty words in a great piece.  Check it out.

Whenever we see a vague reference to “flaws” in a film, notice how we seldom we see any specific “flaws” ever itemized. That’s a good clue that the actual problem is in the viewer and not in the thing being viewed. But that’s uncomfortable. It’s hard for people admit that they “didn’t get” something because that means there’s something wrong with them, so they put the blame on the film, or the painting, or the photograph. Easier to blame the artist, but not themselves.

The Article.

The Best Films of 2014 So Far

My goal is to blog at least once a day, and though that’s really hard because I’m undisciplined, I’ll still try and take a whack at it.  And what’s easier to blog then a Top List?!

Though it’s only been eight months in 2014 (already???), a slew of movies have come out already, and there have been some good ones.  These are the seven best films I’ve seen in 2014 and in no order.

IDA
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Though I caught this beautifully quiet and small film at Telluride last year, it’s officially a release in 2014, so… yeah.  From acclaimed Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, IDA is one of those films that you’re completely mystified and stumped by.  Centered in on Anna, a young nun searching her family’s past, it’s accomplishment is creating such a moving piece of work through silence and grace.  Most films try to achieve this by large set pieces and deafening sound.  IDA wants you to drown in its quaint personality.  It’s got a wonderful story with great characters, and it looks incredible.  Black and white forever.

I ORIGINS
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This is a film that’s extremely polarizing, creating a pretty even split down the middle between those who love it or hate it.  But what I ORIGINS really goes after is discussion.  It’s a sci-fi love story that’s drenched in the controversial worlds of science and religion.  Personally, I think Mike Cahill does an excellent job allowing both worlds to co-exist.  It works on many levels, and I found out absolutely gratifying.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
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Seriously, what’s not to like about A Wes Anderson film?  I don’t think I need to explain myself much, but this is a charming, delightful film that screams Anderson’s quirkiness and vision.  Bright colors, elaborate sets, an impressive ensemble full of great actors and actresses, and a unique story that takes you on a wild journey (and you gotta love the aspect ratio changes!).  It’s one of my favorite Anderson films, and something I’ll always enjoy going back to.

SNOWPIERCER
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I don’t think I need to say a lot considering I just wrote a post about it yesterday, so go read that.  But all I have to say is… GO SEE THE DAMN THING.

UNDER THE SKIN
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I don’t recommend this film for everyone, and I will say a majority of people will be confused, despise it, or totally hate it.  It’s for a particular taste, but if you enjoy tone, environment, and the world slowly being revealed and created through the eyes of a character, then UNDER THE SKIN might be your thing.  Jonathan Glazer is quite the filmmaker, and he pulls some of the riskiest choices in a movie I’ve seen.  Scarlett is a knockout, and the score is just… genius.  If you we’re willing to take a chance on it, please do, but don’t get angry at me.  Just saying.

NYMPHOMANIAC PT. 1 & 2
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Okay, here’s another film that I adored, but like UNDER THE SKIN, is not for everyone.  I don’t think I need to explain to you in great detail why, but if you can get past all the sex (which you should expect from the title and it being a Lars von Trier film), it’s actually a poetic piece of intriguing storytelling and literature, giving it a real good glimpse of an addict’s life.  It’s beautiful, gorgeously shot, and it’s classic Lars von Trier.

BOYHOOD
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I want to write like a 2000 word article dissecting Boyhood, so I’ll save a lot of the good stuff for that, but simply put, BOYHOOD IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS IN CINEMA TODAY, AND EVERYONE SHOULD WATCH IT BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKIN’ GOOD AND SO WELL TOLD.  AHHHHHHH!!!

And those are my favorite films of 2014 so far.

Thoughts On: Why SNOWPIERCER is More Than Just Your Average Action Flick

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SNOWPIERCER is one of the more innovative and inspiring action films that I’ve seen in a very long time, and that includes anything this summer has brought us or anything in the last few years.  In my opinion, Bong Joon-Ho’s adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige is an achievement in modern filmmaking.  The problem is that most people won’t see the film or if they do, don’t know what the hype is all about.

The film is all based inside a high-speed, non-stopping train in a post-apocalyptic world where society and class has been clearly established within these connected cars.  It’s pretty simple: the poor in the back, the rich and powerful in the front.  But like we’d expect, the poor, who are mistreated, underfed, malnourished, and disrespected constantly, are fed up and are willing to fight to take over.

This simple but underused plot device and structure provides a moving and thrilling journey for our protagonist Curtis Everett, played by the impressive Chris Evans, and his small but loyal and useful band of rebels.  It’s rounded out by an always spectacular Tilda Swinton and the best role Allison Pill has done in her young career.  The film moves level by level, opening doors to new and odd environments that constantly put these characters and the audience in an uncomfortable and mysterious position.

This narrative alone is a satisfying take, and would work for any escapist entertainment, but there’s so much more to SNOWPIERCER than what’s transpiring on screen (or VOD…).  As these survivors keeping moving and inch closer to the desired engine room, the film has taken us on this integrated adventure of violence, confusion, and tragedy.  And that’s something that I think most people have forgotten about why SNOWPIERCER works so well.  The best films are the ones that make the audience experience a wide range of emotions.  Laughter, joy, depression, sadness, anger, etc.  This kind of tactic in bringing out all these different reactions is what keeps the audience wanting more, giving most of the audience, an unaware sense of need and motivation to keep watching.  It tells us that this is something different.  We don’t know what to expect.  When movies can deliver such a vast amount of emotions and reactions, it’s saying something within us that is one of the strongest connections a film and audience can make: originality.

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The feeling of seeing something original is one of the purest experiences you’ll have in cinema.  It’s being unable to put a finger on a film, relating it to a specific something else where you can guess where it’s headed and what’s going to happen.  This happens in almost every film now, especially the big summer blockbusters or action films where they try to do everything EXCEPT be original.  But when you’re watching something that illicit all these different reactions within you, and you’re unable to figure out what’s going to happen next, that’s when you experience originality because you can’t figure out where you’ve seen this before.  You can’t pinpoint your past film knowledge or narratives, and all you’re really aware of now is what’s happening in front of you.  That’s movie magic.  That’s what movies are about.

This is attempted a lot on independent projects, where writers and directors are taking major narrative and plot risks to provide something “original”, but outside a few, most of them eventually fall back into the comfort of redundancy, and though it doesn’t damage the overall film, it does soften your overall impression and wonder what it could’ve been.  But let’s be honest here: originality is unimaginably difficult.  To be original in the creative sense, especially in cinema, is almost nearly impossible because things like inspiration, story, characters, these are prior notions we’re given by… yes, other films and stories.  So what we may think is original is actually been inspired by something we’ve seen or read before, and unintentionally we’ve become a cliche piece of work that has become unfortunately predictable.

Now I want to ask you, my few readers, what film reminds you of SNOWPIERCER?  Ready?  Go.
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Thought of any?  Now if any of you have brought up train action films like Unstoppable or Under Siege 2, then I need you to stop thinking.  Yes, they’re on a train, but that’s like comparing GAME OF THRONES and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON as similar stories just because they have dragons, or ALIEN and E.T. cause they have aliens.  No, no, no.  Let’s really think.  And if you’ve really thought about it, there’s really not much that comes to mind.  The only film that I can kind of get a similar feel for is The Matrix or The Matrix Reloaded, but it’s only because it has an underlying genius behind it that many didn’t get or refuse to understand.

SNOWPIERCER is a really, really, really smart movie, and I don’t think people are giving it enough credit for being such.  If you’ve watched any of Bong Joon-Ho’s films (The Host, Mother, Memories of Murder),  you know this guy is a special talent, and to take SNOWPIERCER as on-the-nose summer action film is to do him and his film injustice.  Outside of his ability to create mystery and throw at us something new and unknown in so many different ways, his depth and subtext is what really wowed me.

The biggest idea or theme that Bong Joon-Ho seemed to really go after is this idea of purpose vs. pointlessness.  Positivity vs. negativity.  Gloom vs. hope.  I don’t want to give away much or spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but this struggle between these two vastly different mindsets and emotions is at the core what SNOWPIERCER is all about.  We have these highly motivated group of people trying to overturn the train in favor for them, but near the end of the film, the question of why is thrown out there.  “What are we trying to accomplish?”  “What will happen if we do take over?”  “Will anything change”  They’re on a non-stop train that circles the globe, but there is no final destination.  There moving but in reality, they’re absolutely still.  It reflects a lot about how Bong might feel about “progression in society” and if there is such a thing, but it’s all within the mindset, it’s all about what we perceive or see (as by the ending).

It’s an attitude that we rarely ever seen in an action film, especially now, and it should be celebrated for it’s ballsiness and ambition.  Now I’ve read and seen some reactions to SNOWPIERCER, much of the negativity stemming from “I don’t get the hype”.  And yes, films are subjective, and the hype machine can definitely kill a first time viewing, but I beg of you to give these kinds of films another chance.  My biggest problem with today’s audience is that we complain about the movies we’re getting today, but yet we only support the same crap we complain about.  You go pay for the big blockbusters, and then won’t see or will watch on the internet the stories that deserve your $10-$15 ticket.  I have no problems with people spending money on super heroes or disaster films, but if that’s what you like, okay fine.  But if you’re complaining about it, critiquing it, and finding it repulsive and annoying, but only spend and support films like that, then you’re the problem too.

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Audiences have just as much say as the executives and studios, and they will only make movies that they know audiences will watch.  So when you pay to watch an all white-cast, complain about a lack of diversity in Hollywood, and then put your money again for a film that only casts white people then your money speaks louder than your mouth.  if you pay for a mindless action film, raise issues with a lack of story, characters, or depth, and then the next movie you watch in theaters is another mindless action film…  See the cyclical problem?

I know it seems like I kind of have gone on a tangent, but I think it’s all related.  When I read or hear about a few thoughts on SNOWPIERCER, it kind of just amplifies the current problem of movie-going audiences today.  We’re not willing to spend our money on characters, originality, strong narrative or structure, and art, but on spectacle.  Spectacle is great, but only if the foundation of it relies on sound storytelling.

SNOWPIERCER is a film that demands your full attention, a heightened awareness, and a focus that’s zoomed in one thing only.  That’s how it’s supposed to be anyways.  When you watch a movie, give to the movie completely, not just half or a little.  No filmmaker ever said I only want 50% or 75% of your attention.  They want it all, and if you give films like SNOWPIERCER a chance, I promise your experience will be much better if you actually care and dive into it.  That’s why cinema exists.

The Rain is Absolutely Necessary

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I’m not exactly sure when I started to run, or more importantly, when I came to the conclusion that running was actually somewhat enjoyable.  If you told 315 lb. Jason from Freshmen year in college that I would actually love to run, I would’ve laughed it off while eating a large three-topping pizza (all vegetables of course…) in my dorm room on a Friday night (this actually happened once.  I’ve changed, I swear).

But outside of the physical benefits of going on medium-ranged runs/walks, it’s also one of the most important habits that I have in regards to my career path.  For some odd reason, so much of my thought process happens when I’m running.  I think about the stories I want to tell, the characters I want to show and reveal, and different realms and worlds I want to explore through my work.  It’s not like I can’t do this in other places, but for some reason, running has been my go to thing when I need to think.  That’s probably why I’m so addicted to it (or so I think).

Yesterday, I went for a run through the neighborhoods of Northbrook, the epitome of rich white suburbia, following my usual path of three miles beginning on major streets and intersections and ending through a beautiful road of humble but also well-groomed homes for well-groomed families.  And if you were in the area around 7 p.m. last night, you would know that it started to rain, and not just rain like a light drizzle, but a heavy downfall that would quickly send people to take shelter.

I don’t know if this is just an oddity of mine, but I find it incredibly interesting that our first reaction to rain is to run away from it.  Yes, I understand the concerns of getting wet and the increase likelihood of being sick, but when it’s 85 degrees outside, that’s probably not happening.  But regardless, people run away from it.  I used to be one of them, until I spent a year in Palau, where rain was just as common as sunshine, and there was nothing to fear about getting wet, but almost like a refreshing reminder that change is part of our world.

As I continued my steady pace, which eluded to my clothes getting drenched, I found it… necessary.  It was something that I needed.  I don’t know, and nor should I try to explain why in this blog because it’s becoming border-line pretentious.  But as I continued to my usual path, it felt like a reminder that rain, or whatever you want to replace rain with, is all part of an equation that results in a better and more fulfilling life.

I think rain is the perfect analogy for things that we as humans don’t like to deal with.  Replace rain with anything that is annoying, agitating, uncomfortable, unnecessary.  I think we all have different things or situations that can fit into this mold, and it’ll be different for all of us because we all have different paths and journeys, but regardless, we have the occasional downpour where we wish it’d just go away.

Unless you haven’t taken sixth grade science, we all know how important rain is, especially those experiencing a historic drought in California.  It’s not a luxury.  It’s not a privilege.  It’s a need.  It’s problematic if you don’t receive it.  Nature relies on it, almost as much as sunshine, and when it comes, you get some of the most beautiful and luscious  landscapes imaginable.  In my opinion, the most beautiful places in the world receive a liberal amount of rainfall, and there’s no coincidence in that.

And yet, when it falls, we run away.

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When I think about rain, I’m always reminded of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, when Owen Wilson’s character wants to explore Paris as it rains, though his wife and mother-in-law easily disregard that idea quickly, running under their coat covers and straight to the car.  The world is different when it rains, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as beautiful.

Recently, I was given an incredible honor, validating my year’s work, energy, and stress.  I put my financial stability, relationships, and my potential future at risk for following something that I loved and wanted to pursue.  And though it’s nothing huge, it did show me that I’m not wasting my time.  And though a year is a small amount of time when looked at far away, it’s forever when you’re currently living it.  So much stress, so much difficulty, and for something that’s on a piece of paper (or a pdf).

A little bit rain can produce so much, and the more you appreciate it, observe it, and not run away from it but wonder and reflect on it, the more you’ll take away from it.

Through the good, comes the disappoint, and not getting a job/gig is always a disappointing experience, but if there’s anything that I would tell anyone that wants to follow something they love, the better damn get comfortable with hearing those “Nos”.  It’s another one that will just join the large pile that’s been moved to the side, and though it might look or feel dark, grey, and cloudy, it’s producing something that you’re unable to see, but trust me, it’ll come.

Like everything we do in life, it’s all comparable to the marathon analogy, and how “it’s not about how fast you go or how quickly you finish it, but about perseverance and never quitting.”  It’s so cliche, but it’s true.  Everything in life is like a marathon, especially when you want a life of creating, producing, and doing.  It’s one of the hardest things to do, and takes forever to potentially get to somewhere short of what you wanted.  Those so much risk involved, so many obstacles and hurdles, and it will impact you in all aspects, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally.  It’s brutal.

But just like any form of long-distance running, it’s about overcoming those small moments where you want to quit.  What I always have to tell myself is that if I quit and turn around now, it’ll take just as much effort and energy to get back to where I started.  Why not just keep going?  It’ll be worth it.

Enjoy the rain.  Enjoy the gloom.  Enjoy the unexpected occurrences in life.  It’s okay to get drenched by the heaviness and darkness of life and of the world.  It’s part of the human experience.  But always remember there’s good to come if you keep going and are patient.

Unless it thunderstorms, then you need to get the hell out of there.

The Social Network Analysis at Go Into The Story

A screenwriting blog that I follow and admire, Scott Myer’s GO INTO THE STORY, has a segment this month called 30 Screenplays in 30 Days, and today, I’m honored to contribute my analysis and breakdown of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, one of my favorite films of all time.  Here is the link.

Below is my analysis on the site.

Today’s guest columnist: Jason Park.

Title: The Social Network

Year: 2010

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

Plot Summary: “On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.”

Tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”

Awards:

-8 Academy Award Nominations / Three Wins (including Best Adapted Screenplay)

-6 Golden Globe Nominations / Four Wins (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay)

-Won WGA Awards Best Adapted Screenplay

Analysis: My initial exposure to The Social Network as a screenplay all stemmed from my incredible first eight or nine viewings of the film. After each and every spiritual experience watching the entirety of the film, I started what is now a constant practice: watching the film while simultaneously reading the screenplay.

The film itself is wonderfully executed through the brilliant mind and vision of David Fincher and his team of collaborators, but diving into the words of Sorkin, his screenplay is a massive collection of flawed individuals with incredible strengths but also dire weaknesses, all playing out through this well-known entity called, “Facebook”.

Like any great story, screenplay, or film, the core of its success lies on these characters. From the main players like Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Suavarin, and Sean Parker to the minor but inspired and effective roles of The Winklevoss Twins and Erica Albright, who arguably, could be one of the most important characters in a film with the smallest amount of screen time. All this represents one singular aspect: interesting characters. I remember the reputation The Social Network was receiving prior to its release, with people claiming how “boring” and “typical” of Hollywood to make a “Facebook” movie. But by supplying this engaging story with individuals fueled by power, satisfaction, jealousy, status, money, glory, and a sense of accomplishment, we have hear, at the very essence, a plain and simple human story wrapped around a mega company.

Another aspect I noticed was revolving the entire structure of the script around two deposition hearings from two different lawsuits. Every flashback or scenes that’s played outside of those two settings are essentially stories told from one perspective. I find that to be quite ingenious considering that I truly believe Sorkin had no intentions of shedding his own opinions or thoughts on the matter of Zuckerberg and the Facebook ordeal. But it’s almost impossible to NOT do such a thing, considering writers provide words, attitudes, characteristics, and all other forms of predisposed feelings onto such subjects. But by constructing the film around these two scenes, we aren’t necessarily getting the truth, but figments of the truth, and it’s our job as the audience, to create our own opinions and positions on who’s in the right or the wrong.

There’s so much in this screenplay that works. From Sorkin’s relentless but beautifully crafted dialogue to the small little details and descriptions that create such vast and large images that reflect hugely on the character, specifically the ending where Mark continues to wait and hits refresh over and over again. Though it uses the minimalist amount of words, it speaks volumes about Mark, the story, and just what really motivates humans in relation to the very essence of our needs.

Most Memorable Dialogue: This one’s tough, considering there are so many great lines and exchanges. I’m going to cheat and choose three different scenes of dialogue that I consider the most memorable.

After Mark continues to drop unintentional bomb after unintentional bomb in the opening scene with Erica breaking up with him, she grabs his hand, stops his motor mouth, and says:

Erica Albright: You are probably going to be a very successful computer person, but you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

This next scene is the deposition hearing between The Winklevoss Twins and Mark, where he’s distant, unfocused, and wandering off as he watches the rain fall outside.

Gage (Winklevoss’ Lawyer): Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: No.
Gage: (beat) Do you think I deserve it?
Mark: What.
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation say no.
Gage: Okay. “No” you don’t think I deserve your attention.
Mark: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try, but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially you’re clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

In this last and final scene of the script before Mark sends a friend request to Erica Albright on Facebook, Marilyn, a second-year associate at the firm for Mark’s lawyers, is about to leave after witnessing the hearing on the lawsuit between Mark and Eduardo, his once best friend.

Marilyn: You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.

Most Memorable Moments: Outside of the scene where Mark refreshes his computer constantly to see if Erica responds to his friend request, and the nightclub scene where Sean Parker convinces Mark to fully trust him and his instincts and suggestions rather than Eduardo, I’d have to pick the opening scene between Mark and Erica, where Erica breaks up with Mark in a crowded bar near Harvard. It’s tough because it’s not necessarily a moment, but more of a 8-page scene, but I picked this because I felt it perfectly captures the film and what it’s really about. It’s not about Facebook. It’s not about back-stabbing jealousy and lawsuits. It’s about a college kid who’s hurt and lonely. It’s about our need to respond after heartbreak, and what truly motivates us in this world, and how far we’re wiling to go to achieve these “goals”, even if all it takes is one simple act or deed. It really captures the struggle we all have with insecurities and doubt, and how we are or portray ourselves to the people that matter most.

What Did I Learn About Screenwriting From Reading This Script: I’m going to try and just pick one thing that I’ve learned about screening, and I think the most important lesson from reading The Social Network is to take chances. Sometimes, as aspiring screenwriters and beginners, we tend to be locked down by these “rules” that are given throughout the screenwriting community. Write a likable protagonist, have a specific three-act structure, have dramatic beats organized by page numbers, don’t write long scenes, keep your screenplay short. Obviously, I’m going after rules that The Social Network clearly breaks, fully being aware that this is Aaron Sorkin. But I think why this screenplay works so well is that everything is in purpose for the story. The structure, the dialogue, the eight page opening scene, the protagonist/antagonist relationship within Mark, they’re all elements supporting one singular goal, which is to make the best possible story. The biggest difference between beginners or aspiring writers and the likes of Sorkin is that outside of their talents, experiences, and knowledge, they’re incredible aware of their writing. They know they must keep the story and pace flowing, and have everything focused and dialed in to specific and simplified goals.

Thoughts On: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

Long time ago when I actually contributed to this blog, I would write reviews and the whole, “here’s what worked or didn’t work, short synopsis, and the nice star rating at the end” to sum up my feelings about the film in general for any lazy reader who just wants to know the rating and not the why.  But instead, I’m stripping most of that, including the star rating, and just focusing on things that worked/didn’t work, and the overall impressions that I received and felt experiencing a particular film.  No stars, no proclaimed loved or hatred (as well as I can at least), and just talk about the film.

Last night I caught an 11:00 p.m. screening of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, the massively popular young adult novel about two teenagers dealing with the horrible affects of cancer and how they magically fall in love, though there is no magic in the idea of losing some in an instant to a relentless disease.  As I witnessed this film in a packed theater full of high school and college girls crying their eyes dry from the half-way mark, I couldn’t help but join in on the tear fest, though I was a little better at controlling my sobbing through a well-planned strategy of bringing a hoodie and gently covering my face whenever I began to choke up, and I’ll tell you, it happened numerous times.

The last time a film made me cry like this was probably MARLEY & ME, and though they are pretty different movies, they strike an inner chord where my fears and weaknesses are brought out onto a serving platter, letting the respective film bring out the worst in me.  It’s obvious why MARLEY & ME affects me the way it does: I have two dogs, now three (MOLLY!).  My love for animals is evident, and though my hypocrisy in still being a meat-eater exists(I’m trying to change…), there’s nothing better than an animal by your side, providing you with all the love and company any human would need.  To me, it’s one of God’s greatest gifts, and unfortunately, we as humans have found many creative ways to destroy everything awesome in our lives, including these precious and beautiful creatures that WE SHARE this earth with.

Anyways, anyone that’s read the book or watched the film now (FAULTS), knows that at the center of the film is not cancer, but a love story.  A relationship about two young and innocent people trying to do normal things like fall in love, but have countless hurdles to jump over because of a situation they never asked for or deserved.  It’s the tragedy of being human.  We are given things in life that we do not control.  Our parents, our homes, what part of the world we come from, our culture, our health (for the most part), the list goes on and on.  But love is something that we all (or should) experience, and these two brave souls, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, are doing everything they can to fight their own inevitability and do what they want most.

Except love isn’t necessarily what they truly desire.  That’s the difference between THIS story and every other love story in the YA genre.  Love is not what’s desired here.  For Hazel, it’s the need of knowing that her loved ones will be okay after she’s gone.  Her biggest fear is not death, but what death will do to her parents, and now to Augustus.  For Augustus, it’s the fear of oblivion, or like many people but especially men, the fear of being forgotten and living a meaningless life.

This is where the film really hits close because Augustus is someone I can really relate to.  His fears are exactly the same fears I have in regards to how afraid we are of dying before we get to do everything we want to do, but more importantly (maybe even selfishly), to be remembered by many people for living a life of grandness and epic proportions.  If there’s anything out there that scares me the most, it’s the idea of death, the idea of my existence being gone and forgotten with nothing substantial to be remembered by.  I’m 100% sure women also have this fear, but it seems to me that men suffer more with this unfortunate trait, mainly because we are creatures of hidden insecurities, grand ambitions, and the need for glory and prominence.  These weaknesses can fulfilled by a significant other, children, a job or a career of love and passion, but these can also be temporary, as the soul is a confusing puzzle that constantly changes, having no permanent pieces that will forever fit in its original place.

I think as humans, it’s easy for us to ignore how vulnerable we really are.  Regardless of what you believe religiously or spiritually, this world is so vast and has no pity on our lives.  We are infinitely tiny to this universe, and our lives, though it may feel great and amazing, in reality is nothing but a small speck.  And regardless of what we do or accomplish on our time here, we are nothing but a black dot, which makes us no different than anybody else.

This mindset shares similarly to Hazel’s, stating to Augustus’ statement about oblivion that everyone lives and dies, and that regardless of what we think or believe, we all have the same endings.  Not trying to be so dark and gloomy, I think, though much of the things stated above are true, that’s not the attitude we should live with, and I believe that’s the film’s overarching message and theme throughout the film.  We may not have cancer or know someone who’s died at a young age, but at the end of our lives, no matter how young or old, we will all experience some sort of pain and some kind of tragedy.  That’s common denominator in all our lives, regardless of how distant you put those pains away or ignore them.  That’s what makes us our lives so unfortunate, but yet, incredibly beautiful.

FAULTS continues with this believable and effective relationship between Augustus and Hazel, played by the talented Shailene Woodley and the extremely persuasive Ansel Egort (both deserving some recognition for their performances), and what’s happening now as the film progresses is that we find beauty in their lives.  We don’t pity Hazel with her oxygen tank that she helplessly drags along or Augustus’ prosthetic leg he wears.  We find their relationship alluring, holding us through their similarities and differences, their matchmaking chemistry, and their attractive smiles and eyes, looking at one another where they feel immortal.  That time will forever hold still because these moments, these unforgettable and life-changing moments, are forever.

I think though humanity lives under a clouded existence, we have this gift of memory, of being sent back into time and remembering those special moments where life was worth every single difficult second.  Life is full of despair and pain, and easily takes most of our time here.  From sickness, stress, illnesses, work, loss, death, pain, depression, fear… I mean this lost goes on and on.  But yet, our lives are filled with miraculous wonder and positivity, and those times we cherish, our goals and dreams, our friends and family, these things keep us going.  And I think that’s the beauty in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

Life continues harshly, and nothing will stop it.  It’s a moving vehicle where the road eventually does end without us knowing when.  But we have the power to choose the life we want to live just like Hazel and Augustus had chose to become friends, fall for each other and fall in love, even though they knew both were, as Hazel put, a grenade ready to explode.  And that’s the beauty in the lives we live: we can either be the driver or the passenger.

FAULTS isn’t perfect (well no film can be really).  There are a few scenes that are a little oddly placed and felt contrived, and they REALLY went after those emotional moments, feeling slightly manipulative, but at the end of the day, no film should be criticized for how it made YOU feel, but if the film did what it was trying to do.  It’s so easy for us to fall in love with movies that make you laugh really hard or cry like there’s no tomorrow because that’s what we remember, but we must realize that when doing so, we don’t really remember the movie.

Removing all those tears that I shed and sleeping on my thoughts for a night, I had this urge to write something.  I really have a hard time blogging, I don’t know why.  It makes me feel needy and self-centered at times, but plainly, it’s just hard to write quality entries time after time (granted I even write anything of worth… doubt it).  But as I woke up this morning, being thankful that I can open my eyes, seeing my two wonderful dogs laying next to me, and witnessing the sun shine through the closed shades covering the window, I realized how beautiful life is.  How beautiful a story is.  How beautiful THE FAULTS IN OUR STARS really is, both the book and the movie.  And then I knew, this was a successful film.