It Follows – Film Review

The wonderful thing about It Follows, is the realism for the non-supernatural elements of the film. It is free of the melodramatic over-acting present in many of its predecessors such as I know what you did last summer or Scream.

In fact the opening scenes involving Jay (Maika Monroe) appear to be reminiscent of most independent features about small American towns.

A group of youths, spending their summers together hanging out playing board games, watching movies and swimming in an above-ground pool. The general comradery and jest is present when Jay exits the pool and shakes her wet hair over her sister while her friend lets out a fart. This is all happening while they sit on the couch reading e-books, eating Cheetos and watching Killers from Space.

Then, as with all good horror films, the picture-perfect slice of American pie begins crumbling around the central characters as ‘It’ begins to follow.

I have no intention of spoiling what ‘It’ is; you must see ‘It’ for yourself.

What must briefly be discussed is a sequence that happens during the calm before the storm.

Jay is swimming in her above ground swimming pool. It’s suburban America at its finest. The entire atmosphere is reminiscent of my Australian childhood summers spent playing shark attack games with my cousins in their above ground swimming pool. The difference here is there’s no tomfoolery. Just one lone person floating on her back.

Then all of a sudden you realise she’s being watched. Is it by some evil pervert, a monstrous beast or a masked serial killer? No, it’s a couple of ten year old boys – neither looking like children of the corn, but more like Tom Sayer and Huckleberry Finn.

In this case, it seems Tom and Huck have just discovered girls. But more importantly, I ask, where are their parents?

It Follows 2

Have they not had the birds and bees talk so these two kids hiding in the bushes can realise they’re batting out of their league. This young lady is almost twice their age, and she has a date lined up for the evening. Both those kids should be down the park batting with an actual baseball bat, instead of whatever batting it is they’re trying to do at this moment.

Plus it’s rude to stare. No manners at all.

Poor Jay realises the boys are there and tells them as much. She laughs them off. But she still feels the need to get out of her own swimming pool and head inside, just because these vernal voyeurs couldn’t keep their eye balls to themselves.

Peeping Tom and Huck have proven that objectification of women can start at a young age.

Perhaps I am not unlike these two lads, in that I’ve been watching this film gazing at the female form as she is terrorised by ‘It’ who follows.

While We’re Young – Film Review

Ben Stiller’s character in While We’re Young has been having trouble with his wife Naomi Watts and finds himself on his best mate’s (Adam Horovitz) couch. He’s feeling a bit sheepish about this, having recently shafted his friend (who has a new baby), in preference for hanging out with indie kids Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.

In a vulnerable moment, unfolding linen for the fold-out couch, Stiller declares to his host that he could have been jealous of his friend having a kid.

His friend responds with the following:

“You know before you have a kid everyone tells you it’s the best thing you’ll ever do. And as soon as you get the baby back from the hospital those same people are like ‘don’t worry it gets better’. Well, like, what the f*** was all that before?”

Indeed.

We are fed this idea from our older relatives, society, friends, Huggies commercials, films, wives and husbands. The idea that birthing a child into our home will be a life-changing experience. One that will wipe away the doubt about our self-worth during our twenties; conceal our worries about ageing in our thirties; or validate us that we weren’t too late in our forties. We always worry that we’re behind the eight ball and all our friends are already married and having kids. We forget people ten years older, even twenty years older are having the same feeling. It happens at different times for different people. Still, there’s this expectation that any concerns we had about our esteem before the baby will be washed clean, because there will be no time left for naval-gazing.

It will be ‘baby-time’ and the only thing that will matter is that little bundle of joy. It will become the soul-focus of our attentions. Nothing else will matter. Everyone will want a piece of baby, and there will no longer be pressure on our own successes or failures, because no one will be looking. They’ll just be drooling and gawking at baby, looking into baby’s big glossy blue eyes.

I’ve not got a baby, so I’m not sure how much of this is true or untrue. My ramblings above are mere conjecture. But I’m sure of one thing, and that’s Ben Stiller’s friend was right having a go at all the people saying ‘it’s the best thing you’ll ever do’. He’s right. That’s what people do.

They pressure you into situations they drowned in. They rose-tint glass everything, as much for their own sake as yours. They’ve blocked from their mind the memories of the twenty hour labor, sleepless nights, aching bodies and projectile vomited milk products. Sure now their life may have changed for the better and have direction, but Stiller’s mate is right. One glance at a urine sodden nappy sagging from your own infant’s crutch and their quite happy to remind you ‘it gets better’, while they inch towards the door to return to their own offspring who are can now hold a conversation and an Xbox controller simultaneously.

And what of the existential level of this trickery and life-altering occasion. Should childbirth being ‘the best thing’ be reason enough for putting a bun in the oven. What about all our own unresolved life dilemmas, misspent youth and broken dreams? Shouldn’t we solve, spend and repair some of these, respectively, before shelving them in the top drawer to make emotional space for a child? How can we push the next generation, to live life to the full, when we still feel incomplete? Or is that the answer? Perhaps it is a chicken before the egg scenario, where we’re destined to have children to complete our puzzle. It certainly makes sense in terms of sustaining the human race.

The film doesn’t answer these questions, but we certainly see Watts and Stiller grappling with their childfree lifestyle to find completion in other spaces and places. The situations unfolding in the film, certainly suggest there are times in our lives when a child would probably be better left out of the picture.

As a close friend once told me, “I can barely look after myself, how could I look after a child?”

I didn’t understand at the time, his fear of placing all his own insecurities on another human being. But having taught children now, I can see that there are certainly some states of mind that are more beneficial to the healthy development of a small person. And, I would suggest, some people would be better spent being more cautious like my friend.

Yet I’m also an old romantic (when I’m not being a cynic) and still believe, perhaps ignorantly, there is an innate and instinctual part of our human condition that is maternal or paternal. And so whether or not we are glad to have children or are glad to not have children, it will be the urge towards parenthood that leads us to these decisions. If it wasn’t there, we’d not make a decision either way.

While We’re Young explores all these dilemmas deftly. It follows the complexities of parenting and being childless, from both sides of the fence. It at times treats both states as self-satisfying, while at others points both out to be selfless. It’s a trundle through the lives of baby boomers, generation x and generation y. Each generation self-reflecting their obsessions through different mediums of traditional documentary, social media and then viral video. The older generations turning their nose up at the new; a ‘documentarian’ is more credible than a ‘YouTuber’. But then again maybe not. But then again probably yes. The subplot becomes the main plot. Was this film about babies and youth? Or was it about narcissism and self-worth? I’m confused. You’re confused reading this.

The film appears a jumble of ideas at times, trying to intertwine all these things, raising as many questions as it answers. But all the while we see ourselves in it. These are the decisions we can’t make and the paths we can’t take without consequence While We’re Young.

 

 

 

The Falling – Film Review

Set in an all-girls school in the late 1960s, The Falling is a teacher’s worst nightmare.

In short one of the girls Abbie (Florence Pugh) becomes pregnant; then as if that’s not bad enough she dies before giving birth; and then if both those things aren’t bad enough the majority of the student population begin having fainting spells.

The wondrous element of this film is guessing whether the fainting spells are being caused by a higher magical power that may have killed Abbie, or whether it is a case of mass hysteria. Conversely, there may have been a gas leak in the main cafeteria.

It’s hard enough managing a class of thirty students at the best of times. But when the mob-mentality starts and students beginning mimicking the ‘class fool’, it becomes very difficult to contain. The closest I’ve come to mass hysteria is when a child asks to go to the toilet and then ten other children also want to go. You suspect they’re just avoiding their work and causing trouble, but you can’t take the risk of having twenty or so ten-year-olds sympathetically pooping their pants because you were sceptical it was a run-of-the-mill case of mass hysteria.

Likewise stern-faced head teacher Miss Alvaro (Monica Dollan) is loath to admit there may be something wrong with schoolgirl Lydia (Maisie Williams) and her entourage of fainting peers. But she’s already got one corpse on her hands and can’t risk having a procession of neatly dressed private school girls being wheeled through the doors of the town morgue for inspection. Instead she does the sensible thing, involving the medical experts and … the rest you’ll have to watch for yourself, as I’ve already said too much.

And while mass hysteria in school children may draw the ire of suspicious people, like myself and the fictional Miss Alvaro, real-life occurrences caused by real-life traumas have unravelled as recently as October 2011, when an outbreak of symptoms, similar to Tourette’s Syndrome, appeared in a number of teenage girls in the town of LeRoy, New York.

Again there were those who thought it was a bunch of attention-seeking teenagers making a secret pact to outwit adults, while others were seriously concerned for the girls’ well-being and had them sectioned off so a remedy could be found. The unfolding of events are documented in the television documentary The Town That Caught Tourrette’s.

So while I won’t be showing The Falling or any other footage concerning mass hysteria to my students, for fear of a revolution; I highly recommend the adult population begin making their way en masse to their DVD player or VOD service to watch an amazing film showing the vulnerabilities and pressures of youth. Just don’t pass out halfway through, or you’ll miss the good bits – Is it really mass hysteria or is it something more sinister?

 

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Film Review

Princess Kaguya is found by a bamboo cutter inside the stem of bamboo plant. Assuming it’s a gift from the heavens, he and his wife take the child on as their own. They then plan to organise a wetnurse, which seems like drawing a long bow sing the child magically appeared inside a tree and may not even be human. Walking across a log bridge in the forest, the old man’s wife suddenly pauses and miraculously any vestiges of her post-menopausal state seem to vanish as she removes her own breast from her blouse and begins feeding the baby.

Now you don’t get that kind of behaviour in a Disney film! (A young boy also gets punched multiple times in the face later in the film, just for stealing a chicken.)

Then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata who brought us perhaps one of the most harrowing animated features ever with Grave of the Fireflies – a film following two children in the nuclear fallout of the bombs dropped in Hiroshima during WWII. So, subtlety and quirky woodland creatures is not the order of the day for The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

Whether Kaguya is indeed a princess, is something that is debated constantly throughout the film, through the conviction of the bamboo cutter and his wife, against the sceptics who come to question how a child born in a bamboo shoot could possess regal blood. Nevertheless Kaguya does everything within her means to enchant potential suitors with her koto playing, while presenting her less attractive side for those she does not wish to be pursued by.

She is certainly an industrious and creative bamboo child. She would be a blessing to have as a daughter. She is polite, well-humoured and pretty. But she is an independent modern bamboo child. A rebel even. So for her woodcutter parents, who want nothing more than for her to be married, she looks destined to live a single life tormenting those who desire her affection.

Takahata has cleverly captured the complexities of a rebel who still suffers from her own insecurities about her appearance, while displaying a confident veneer. Kaguya’s desire to remain independent is juxtaposed against her quest to find a place where she fits in. The child, born of a bamboo tree to barren parents in a traditional patriarchal society of Japanese villagers; she is certainly an accurate representation of young adults.

Perhaps if bamboo sticks were involved more in childrearing, the world would be a better place. (Bamboo sticks used for birthing royal babies; i.e. not for beatings.)

Jurassic World – Film Review

The two main child protagonists of Jurassic World feel as though they are torn straight from the screenplay of an early 90’s family film. Subjected to the whims of their work obsessed divorcing parents, they are suffering from emotional neglect. But as an audience, we are not here to see pre-pubescent angst surrounding divorce, otherwise we’d have rented a copy of Mrs Doubtfire or Miracle on 34th Street. Surely this is the new millennium and we’re here to watch blended families, accepting them for who they are.

Additionally, we came here for dinosaurs.

Certainly Jurassic World delivers an array of prehistoric bipedal creatures creating carnage across the island jungle. One only wishes that they would tear the heads of the whiney wannabees from their shoulders. The two boys have the chance of a lifetime to experience firsthand the wonders of the Jurassic Age, and all they do is moan the whole time that their CEO aunt (charged with running the Jurassic World theme park) isn’t spending enough time with them. And if they’re not letting off steam about their absent aunty, they’re flapping on about how herds of velociraptor are about to rip them limb from limb.

For goodness sake, the velociraptors have bigger things to worry about, such as being hunted down by the Indominus Rex. In regards to their aunt’s perpetual workload, I don’t know what they expected. She is charged with the world’s largest and most ambitious fictional theme park, and she hadn’t taken any annual leave to spend time with the boys. So, it is no wonder her plate’s too full to spend quality bonding time with her nephews. She barely has time to leave herself emotionally vulnerable enough to become Chris Pratt’s damsel in distress.

In a separate act of glaring plot flaws, the most ridiculous incident involving these youths occurs when the children stumble upon the abandoned atrium of the original Jurassic Park. Discovering an old rusty jeep, from the original park, they claim to know how to hotwire it because their grandfather had a 1992 model, and had shown them how the engine worked, before he sold it.

Now, if the car was from 1992, why couldn’t the car have belonged to their parents; instead of their grandparents? 1992 is only 23 years ago. Their parents could easily have purchased the car within the lifetime of the children. There is no need for the filmmakers to make anyone over the age of 27 feel like a fossil, just because we remember the release of the original Jurassic Park in 1993. Most people who were teenagers at the time of the first film, would barely have had time to have given birth to a child, let alone have two pre-teen bumbling fools such as the two in this movie.

Maybe it’s just that dinosaurs lived more than 60 million years ago, as to why 1994 feels relatively recent; or perhaps it has been a while since the first film was released and I’m older than I feel. Either way the state of the atrium where the jeep was found, was not reflective of the period for which it had been abandoned. And on a completely different point, I don’t think grandparents should be encouraging or educating their grandchildren on how to hotwire cars. It will only lead to theft.

Finally, in a world where lessons are rarely learnt (i.e. this is the fourth time some idiot has thought it would be safe to interact with genetically cloned/modified dinosaurs on an island), one lesson is made clear: if you spend too much time fighting with your ex-husband and working too hard to pay attention to your children, eventually everything will end in a blood soaked nightmare involving a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the deaths of numerous characters who are inconsequential to the plot.

Kid #19 – Dealing with broken dreams

The nineteenth kid I hated had aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg by sulking.

I was teaching in a sixth form college in South London, covering some media classes. Some of the students were excellent in their production skills. Others were killing time. Their interest in cinema generally did not extend to the silver screen, but dwelt somewhere between Misfits and a Twisties commercial.

The kid I hated would arrive to class late, put his feet up on the furniture, answer his phone in the middle of class, talk to his friend as soon as you tried to tell the class something and for the most part had an expression so sour you’d have assumed he’d eaten a mouthful of turned raspberries. However, unlike his apathetic counter parts he did want to make films. This was part of the problem. He spent the majority of his time away from the classroom constructing ideas and hair-brained schemes for re-imagining the special effects and Shakespearean acting he had seen in Marvel superhero films (an obsession directly caused by the course’s subject material, which included the film Spiderman 2).

Sometimes when you have a sulking teenager, you begin to think it’s something you’ve done that caused the sulking. Every time I asked for the kid’s attention he appeared to become more sullen. The mere presence of me seemed to weigh down upon him like a lead trumpet.

I soon came to realise these feelings were just my own paranoia.

I spotted him in the corridor and down by the bus stop a few times. He was equally depressive then, which made me realise he was in a perpetual state of affliction. Seemingly the world had dealt him an unfair hand and if he didn’t spar against the global population of the planet singlehandedly, he’d never become the filmmaking legend he wished to be. He was a more angst-ridden version of Dawson from Dawson’s Creek, but without the girlfriends.

Then when I finally saw his finished products, I was more than underwhelmed. One featured an escaped serial killer, who looked more like a well-shaven hipster sporting a felt-tip drawn scar under his left eye. The mise en scène was less film noir and more like the cinematographer forgot to turn the light on.

Considering schools these days are normally working with equipment one hundred times better than what I used in my final year of university (less than ten years ago), it’s disappointing when you see something that looks like it’s been recorded by an ancient relative on a handy-cam in the mid-eighties. What this student produced couldn’t even be passed off as an avant-garde David Lynch recording.

These types of students are why it’s difficult for me to teach media. I don’t profess to be any sort of Stanley Kubrick myself. So it’s not particularly the incompetence that bothers me. After all it’s my job to educate and fill the gaps in learning. But the apathy and slapdash construction of the student cinematic ‘farse’terpieces is sometimes so frustrating I want to wrench them from the editing suite shouting, “Just let me do it!”. This in itself is a bad approach, which is why for the most part I’ve decided it best to avoid teaching media classes for now. And for the pupils producing perfect moving pictures, I tend to become jealous of their potential and end off wallowing in my own self-pity regarding my broken dreams of cinematic success. So my decision to steer clear of such classes remains.

So although my former media student may have snapped out of his pubescent mood, if we met again in Hollywood I doubt I’d fork out the cash to watch his productions at the cinema; I’d wait for their DVD release – and then borrow a copy for free from the public library.