The Great Holiday Movie Marathon, Part 3

I can't seem to stop watching movies. 

1. Two Days, One Night In 2014, Marion Cotillard pulled off an "out of nowhere" nomination for her performance in this film. She didn't have the corresponding SAG, BAFTA or Globe nominations - the usual precursors for any would be Oscar nominee. Who cares. She is fantastic. This is what inspired me to go back and watch all the Marion Cotillard performances I had missed: Rust and Bone, The Immigrant. More after the jump.

2. The Immigrant Lush production design and cinematography combine with Marion Cotillard's exceptional performance. Criminally underrated and under rewarded, this is the best performance of Cotillard's career to date. Unashamedly melodramatic in its depiction of toxic relationships.  The characters are so co-dependent, yet so wrong for each other. Strength comes from how they leave the relationship, or help each other to leave it.

3. Rust and Bone Is Marion Cotillard the greatest actress or her generation? Or just the greatest living actress? Yes. 

4. Grandma Despite the makings of a "quirky" hit from Sundance (the film is about an aging lesbian who has to help her teenage granddaughter procure a hasty abortion) it's made palatable and real by a great performance from Lily Tomlin. When the film requires her to take eccentric turns, yelling and screaming, spilling her coffee all over a cafe floor, you believe her. Supporting actors Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden are just as wonderful too.

5. Youth Abysmal. A bad photocopy of a Fellini movie or Sorrentino's own Oscar winning The Great Beauty. Even Jane Fonda in her one great scene cannot save this film from wallowing in old age navel gazing and self pity. 

6. Sisters Not all the jokes land, plenty do. This is a fun romp about two polar opposite siblings who finally mature after one helluva party. I couldn't help but draw the parallels between myself and my sister. I'm Amy Poehler, she is Tina Fey. Actress Greta Lee who plays Hae-Won almost steals the movie in a hysterical scene at nail salon. Best seen with a big group of friends, your sister, your sisters or your soul sisters.

7. The Big Short "Nobody is paying attention" is a line often repeated in The Big Short. Nobody is or was paying attention to a fiscally irresponsible financial system which was ultimately bailed out by the American taxpayer. Now that we have a film that makes a complex economic disaster palatable for the masses, we might finally start to pay attention. Despite its status as a "comedy", I left The Big Short angry and crushed by cynicism. It's the feel bad comedy of the year! My money is on it to win Best Picture. 

8. Amour A generally arduous experience about the pain of watching a loved one die, slowly.

9. Middle of Nowhere Written and directed by an African American woman, about an African American woman. We simply don't have enough movies about women, about African American women. Period. Superbly crafted and acted, this film is the reason why we need more diverse voices in the film industry and why we need more people of colour nominated for an The Academy award. #OscarsSoWhite

Still to write: 99 Homes, Spotlight, The Lobster, The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight, Brooklyn, Steve Jobs, Housebound, Room

The Great Holiday Movie Marathon, Part 2

This marathon is getting serious. I continue to devour movies. I'm pretty sure I've watched the equivalent of one movie per day at this point. I must have used up all my movie money. So now I have to cough up real money to feed the habit.

I jotted down some thoughts after each movie. Feel free to counter in the comments.

1. The Revenant Besides flinching at the violence, the film elicited no emotional response from me. I simply marvelled at its technical prowess. Shot entirely with natural light in harsh conditions. Watch Leonardo Dicaprio suffer and toil desperately for his overdue Oscar. The final shot is basically Leo on his knees, begging. His career calculation left me skeptical of his performance in this otherwise beautifully constructed film.

2. The Duff At its best, it lets Mae Whitman bring new energy to tired teen film conventions. At its worse, it plays too much like a remake of Mean Girls and Easy A. But. The chemistry between its leads is undeniable. Whitman's revelation isn't that she is "The Duff", but that everyone has felt like "The Duff" at times. Undesirable, inadequate. Being yourself, your best self, just won't do. This film totally understands that about adolescence.

3. Trumbo A box standard Hollywood biopic with a compelling performance by Bryan Cranston. Come awards seasons this film could take up too many slots. Much has been made of its lack of "cinema" playing too much like a TV movie. That criticism is fair. Kiwis should note that Dean O'Gorman plays Kirk Douglas in the movie. He had previously played one of the "hot dwarfs" in those interminable Hobbit movies. So there's that.

4. Tangerine I love this movie. The humour, the energy. The way the camera moves. The fact the entire movie was shot on an iPhone! The incredible casting choices. The way the film celebrates everything that is fierce and fabulous about its trans-protagonists and gently reminds you of the struggles trans-prostitutes face every day. The trailer promises it's "Unlike anything you've seen before". I defy to find a film like this one.

5. Point Break This is the most ridiculous extreme-sport-eco-warrior-undercover-agent-movie I've ever seen. Risible dialogue, laughable performances and plot contrivances that are beyond belief. Sure to be a huge hit at the Razzies this year? Please Hollywood, for the love of all things cinema, give Edgar Ramirez something. Anything, but this.

6. Clouds of Sils Maria Watch as Binoche goes big, Stewart goes small. Two absolutely stunning performances. It's a film about a play, but that play starts to imitate life, or is it the other way around? Are its two leads simply rehearsing lines? Or are those lines what they *want* to say to each other? Is it life imitating art? This is All About Eve meets Inception by way of L'Avventura. I loved this movie.

7. Stranger by the Lake This plays like a gay remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, if Jimmy Stewart had sex with his neighbours. 

8. Beyond the Lights This is an underseen, genuinely awesome romance that's both classic and contemporary. It pains me that shit like Fifty Shades of Grey is an enormous box office success when this film disappeared in a whisper. Thankfully, some critics tried to rescue it by putting it on end of year, top ten lists. What's really attractive about its attractive leads is that they rebel and reject parents who wish to exploit precisely what makes them attractive for personal gain. 

Still to write: 2 Days 1 Night, Grandma, Youth, Sisters, The Big Short, The Immigrant, Rust and Bone, Amour, Middle of Nowhere

The Great Holiday Movie Marathon, Part 1

I'm on holiday. All I've done so far is devour movies. (Starting with the highly anticipated Star Wars sequel.) I got a book of movie money for Xmas from my parents. So that's been a big help. (Thank you Mum and Dad!) All my trips to the cinema haven't dented the bank account, yet.

I jotted down some thoughts after each movie. Feel free to counter in the comments.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Overrated. J.J. Abrams plays it safe by essentially remaking A New Hope. He has fooled the masses into thinking this is a 'new' sequel with 'echoes' of the original when there's no originality to be found but plenty of crowd pleasing thrills. BB8 is cute, Rey and Fin bring welcome charisma and the dogfights have some brio.

2. It Follows A genuinely unsettling low-budget horror premise, which I think is actually a metaphor for the anxiety caused by sexually transmitted infections or sexual assault. Mitchell's use of the wide shot means you are constantly searching for the "follower". You feel the influence of Carpenter's Halloween but it still feels totally contemporary. 

3. Blue Ruin A taut and fun little revenge thriller that managed to inject surprise into the overly familiar revenge narrative. The director so carefully manages suspense. Whole sequences are built around process and preparation. Surprise comes from how its hobo protagonist manages to screw up so often. Culminating in an explosive climax.

4. The Night Before An aburdist, drug-fueled take on the Christmas movie with echoes of Scorsese's After Hours, a truly excellent cameo by MIley Cyrus and a bizarre supporting turn from Michael Shannon. The saccharine bro-dude-friendship is layed on thick but it seemed genuine due to the obvious chemistry between leads. It's messy and inconsistent, I laughed.

5. Beasts of No Nation A harrowing study of a child soldier. Talk of Idris Elba's award prospects and the film's distribution method (Streaming on Netflix with a short theatrical run to qualify for the Oscar race) has distracted from the serious issues at the film's center. It's no easy sit but worthwhile. I prefer Fukunaga in gothic mode. See Jane Eyre.

6. Suffragette More of a history lesson than a film. You cling to Carey Mulligan's performance for humanity. Frantic camera and editing work seeks to intensify the brutality the suffragettes experienced at the hands of police and employers but merely obscures it. The film closes on scrolling text that reveal how voting rights have come so far, but still have so far to go.

7. Joy David O. Russell insists on miscasting Jennifer Lawrence. Again. She seems 10 years too young for the part. Again. But due to her uncanny versatility and star power, she delivers a performance that's worthy of awards consideration. Messy, flabby and inconsistent, like all of Russell's Oscar plays, this has more "there" there than say, American Hustle.

8. The Good Dinosaur A cute, sincere low-key Pixar movie about finding courage and making your mark in a harsh world. Was it just me, or was there just too much tripping and falling? Arlo is this weakling dinosaur that struggles to find his footing on knobbly knees, he is always tripping and falling. 

Still to write: The Revenant, The Duff, Trumbo, Tangerine, Point Break, Clouds of Sils Maria, Stranger by the Lake, Beyond the Lights, Two Days, One Night.

I Hate Blogging, So I Started a Blog

I hate blogging. I hate the pressure of writing. In public. Writing well, writing regularly and then leaving it somewhere where anyone could find it? Are you kidding? Who would submit themselves to that torture?

When I plonk myself down in front of the blog with every intention of writing and publishing a thoughtful, helpful or humorous post, that stays true to who I am but also engages the reader, I worry. What am I writing? Why am I writing? Who am I writing for? When I write, who am I? Who should I be? Who do I want to be? This is digital vertigo induced my worry, induced by blogging.

Is the blog a proper representation of me, myself and I? Is my writing meeting my own high standards? What would my friends, family, colleagues, students or the parents of my students think if they read this? Is my writing worthy of all the potential eyeballs that *could* take a look?

Is my writing perfect?

Worry swiftly turns into editing, rigorous editing. Writing, then hitting backspace. Rewriting, then hitting backspace. Questioning every word, every sentence, every post. What I end up publishing are heavily sanitized posts where all intrigue, interest and personality has disappeared. I get nowhere fast.

And yet I keep doing it. Well, I keep starting, stopping, starting, stopping, starting my blog. Over and over. Again and again. Why? It’s just that one goal I can’t seem to achieve. But I want to. Why?

I’m drawn to blogging.

In the big expanse of the Internet, you can call one space “my space”.

In a world of noise, you can add value; you can reflect, inspire, entertain, educate, provoke and learn.

I’m convinced blogging is fun. Or, it should be. Isn’t it all about the joy of self-expression, self-exploration and human connection? Aren’t amazing things supposed to happen when you share your passions? Don’t you find your people? Or they find you? That’s what I’ve been told.

I’ve started a blog to find out.