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Favourites: October 2017

Phantom Thread

My favourite things this month include the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, Phantom Thread, and also this picture of PTA with a dog.

While this is purportedly a film blog, lately I’ve been thinking about branching out and using this as a space to write about other things, too. As I’ve not been posting regularly for quite a long time now, I figure that writing SOMETHING (even if it’s not film-related) is better than just not writing at all.

So, I’ve decided to start this “re-brand” of sorts with a general “favourites” post. It’s something I’d like to do monthly, but we’ll see how it goes. Basically, I’ll just be sharing some things that I’ve been enjoying during the past month. Casual. Easy peasy.

Movies

The Square

The Square

Well, you didn’t think I was giving up on movies entirely, did you?

I had the pleasure of seeing The Square, which is just now starting to find its way to theatres in North America after winning the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Describing a film that won the Palme as “good” isn’t exactly a hot take, but The Square is REALLY good. It’s certainly more expansive and a little shaggier than Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s previous film, Force Majeure, but it’s weird in a truly wonderful way.

It’s partly a skewering of the modern art world, but it’s more a look at morality and self-obsession. It tackles big themes in a funny and accessible way, and it features some satire that is so pitch black that I felt physically anxious at times. But, like… in a good way?

(Note: watch the trailer for The Square at your own peril. It’s not really a matter of “spoilers” with this film, but the trailer gives away a ton of key moments that I feel are best left to watch unfold naturally in the context of the whole film. Instead, I’ve above linked a review of the film from The A.V. Club that I quite like.)

Phantom-Thread

Trailer for Phantom Thread

Is it weird to list a trailer as one of my “favourite” things? Too bad. Any time Paul Thomas Anderson makes a new film it’s a big deal, and the trailer for his latest, Phantom Thread is gorgeous and captivating. And Daniel Day-Lewis playing characters in romantic distress is always a good thing.

It’s hard to say until we’ve actually seen the film, but the trailer doesn’t seem to spoiler-y, instead focusing on evoking the tone of the film. And considering almost nothing (not even the title!) was known about PTA’s new film until about a week ago, it’s nice to have something to base our growing anticipation on. Fingers crossed this ends up being a case of the movie living up to its trailer.

Television

MindhunterMindhunter

I’m not good at binge-watching television, so I sometimes feel a bit removed from the “Netflix” culture. It’s not that I’m snobbishly turning my nose up at television. (I love Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights as much as the next person. I’m not a monster.) It’s more that I’m hesitant to invest a lot of time into one thing, so if you want to talk about the latest Netflix Original Series, I’m usually not your gal.

But hearing that Mindhunter combined David Fincher, the ‘70s, psychology, and Jonathan Groff, I was immediately sold. Usually I could take or leave the whole cultural fascination with serial killers, but I do find it interesting thinking about the psychology behind someone who would commit such acts. I’m only four episodes in (like I said, not good at binge-watching), but thus far Mindhunter totally delivers in that respect.

For those who don’t know, the show follows two FBI agents (played by Groff and Holt McAlleny) who take a new approach to criminal science by more carefully considering the psychology of serial killers, as opposed to reductively declaring them “evil”, as was common at the time. To do this, they begin to interview incarcerated serial killers, and I have to say that the actors that play the killers do an incredible (and very scary) job. Despite featuring little gore, the show is disturbing in its own right, but also extremely interesting, well-constructed, and wonderfully shot (particularly the episodes directed by Fincher).

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies

This month I’ve been watching TWO television series, which is rare for me. I’m obviously a little behind the curve on Big Little Lies, so I’m not sure how much I really need to say about it. It’s a bit soapy but compulsively watchable, and watching queens Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, and Shailene Woodley in a one-and-done eight-part series directed entirely by Jean-Marc Vallee is pretty much my dream. More shows like this, please.

FashionScreen Shot 2017-10-28 at 8.24.38 PM
Roots’ Cotton Cabin Sweater Cardigan

Do I care about fashion? Not really. Normally it’s something I don’t care to think much about or spend much money on. But, friends, I have found a sweater that I’m kind of in love with.

For those who don’t live in Canada, Roots is a brand that is so Canadian it hurts. Sometimes it can feel a little gimmicky. But they DO offer fairly high-quality products and seem to make their clothes relatively ethically, so I can’t get too annoyed about it. In any case, this sweater was calling my name when I saw it online, and now that I own it, I can verify that it is indeed very awesome. It’s great for work (if you work somewhere with a casual dress code) since pairing it with some black skinny jeans and flats provides the desired results of be a comfy yet presentable-looking employee. It also works as a coat of sorts for cool-ish fall days. It’s also long and cozy enough to serve as a housecoat around the house (or cabin, I guess, as the pretentious garment name would suggest). Is there anything this sweater CAN’T do?? Well, yes. It’s just a sweater. But it’s a pretty good one.

BR-Podcast-Logo-289x300Podcasts
Book Riot – The Podcast

I’ve recently been looking to refresh my small go-to stable of podcasts, and the main entry in Book Riot’s large (and frankly unwieldy) roster of podcast content has proven to be a nice recent addition. If you’re into bookish things, this podcast provides a timely look at the week’s book-related news. With the recent announcements of the Man Booker Prize and Nobel Prize winners, there’s been plenty to discuss, but the show is equally fascinating when covering less high-profile book news. It examines the publishing world with a critical eye and sheds some light on the “hard numbers” of book publishing without it ever feeling dry.

The Lonely CityBooks
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

For whatever reason, I’ve found myself reading almost exclusively non-fiction books lately. And Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City is the kind of non-fiction I love, but is surprisingly difficult to find; it combines a readable, memoir-ish structure with a wealth of information, creating a nice blend where you feel like you’re learning something while also being told a nice story. (Other non-fiction favourites that pull off this tricky balance include Kate Bolick’s Spinster, Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, and Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live.)

In The Lonely City, Laing examines her own growing sense of isolation, despite living in the highly-populated New York City. Yet this book is not a diatribe about how technology is ruining our lives or something along those lines, as I feared it might be. Instead, it’s a deeply felt meditation on alienation, told predominantly through the lens of a small selection of historical artistic outsiders. It’s interesting to learn more about a couple of figures you’ll surely already have some familiarity with (e.g. Andy Warhol), but the portions I found most arresting were those that examined the AIDS crisis, and society’s attempt to actively alienate those who suffered as a result. It’s a topic that I only have a cursory knowledge of, and one that I’m now certainly interested in learning more about.

Movie characters I want to catch up with 20 years later

Reality Bites 2

This Friday, T2 Trainspotting hits theatres in North America, bringing Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, and the rest of the crew back together. They’re a little bit older and a whole lot craggier, but they’re still alive, so I guess that’s a start.

To be honest, my reaction when I first heard about a Trainspotting sequel was to recoil. I like the original film quite a bit, which means I hold it high enough esteem that I don’t want to see it tarnished, but I’m also not such a huge fan of it that I’m desperate to jump back into that world.

However, I trust Danny Boyle, and the spirited trailers for T2 have instilled a little more hope in me. And then I started thinking about other films that could benefit from (or at least survive) similar treatment. And I was surprised by how few came to mind. A lot of movies have endings that wouldn’t work with a sequel, some already provide their own epilogue to explain what happens, and some have characters that I just don’t care about enough to revisit down the line.

But some do paint a rich world that I’d be eager to jump back into. So here are a handful of movie characters who deserve a thoughtful follow-up showing what would be in store for them 20 years later, a la T2.

(Note: No major plot spoilers ahead But, when talking about a potential movie sequel, I suppose some mild contextual spoilers are inevitable.)

Boyhood

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) – Boyhood

Is this an obvious pick? Maybe. Would it be a terrible idea to call Boyhood’s hypothetical sequel Manhood? Probably. But considering we’ve already spent 12 years following Mason’s life, what’s another 20?

In all seriousness, though, even though trying to expand on the perfection that is Boyhood might sound like a terrible idea, if any director could pull it off, it’s Richard Linklater. He somehow turned Before Sunrise (what should have been a charming little standalone about a one-night stand, essentially) into a sprawling 18+ year franchise about the perils, joy, and lived-in tragedy of interpersonal relationships. Similarly, we saw Ellar Coltrane literally grow up in front of our eyes, so there would be something inherently satisfying continuing to follow Mason through post-college life.

So bring on the Boyhood Cinematic Universe. Plus, given his commitment to Linklater’s ridiculously long-winded timelines, we know Ethan Hawke would probably be on board.

Ida

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) – Ida

Oddly, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida was one of the first films that came to my mind for this list. And while this understated black-and-white Polish drama might not seem like a film that screams “sequel”, its central character is certainly fascinating enough to warrant further consideration.

As we see her, Ida’s life is in flux. She’s on the cusp of taking her vows to become a nun when she uncovers a family secret that shakes her self-assurance. By the end of the film, it feels like Ida’s only just starting to find the path she should truly be on. She makes some weighty choices, and I’d love to find out where they end up taking her. As well, since so much of the film revolves around personal and cultural history, it would be fascinating to see the echoes of Ida’s past reverberating in the future, and the various ways her own lived-in and inherited experiences mingle together into her adulthood.

The Panic in Needle Park

Bobby and Helen (Al Pacino and Kitty Winn) – The Panic in Needle Park

Movies that focus on a character’s addiction are kind of built to leave us wanting a sequel. Even if a character seems to be on the path to recovery by the end, there’s still that lingering question of whether they’ll be able to stay on the wagon. I think this is why the premise of a Trainspotting sequel works, and it would also apply to 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park.

Granted, we’re now well past the 20-year anniversary mark, but in a hypothetical world where we could have gotten an early-‘90s follow-up to The Panic in Needle Park, it would have been fascinating. Even the time period would have worked, with the potential of contrasting gritty 1970s New York City with the “heroin chic” trend of the ’90s.

Not to mention the fact that Bobby and Helen are just fascinating characters. The ending of the original is open-ended enough to leave us unsure of their paths, and while I unfortunately suspect that things wouldn’t go so well for them in the intervening 20 years, I’d be highly curious to see where they end up.

 The Fits.jpeg

Toni (Royalty Hightower) – The Fits

Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits finds its young protagonist Toni very much in a state of transition. The film takes an ephemeral look at the onset of womanhood, represented by mysterious and rather frightening literal “fits” that beset pubescent girls.

Were we to jump forward a couple decades and find Toni in her early 30’s, the changes and growth she’d be experiencing definitely wouldn’t be as drastic and visceral as those that we see in The Fits. However, I think Holmer crafts such a weirdly honest look at life (albeit through strange magical realism elements) that I just want to see how her worldview would translate to other stages of life.

Plus, The Fits pits Toni’s tomboyish tendencies in direct opposition with budding femininity and I’m doing to know how that internal battle plays out.

 Ethan Hawke And Winona Ryder In 'Reality Bites'

Lelaina, Troy, and Michael (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Stiller) – Reality Bites

If there’s one movie that’s more quintessentially ‘90s than Trainspotting, it’s probably Reality Bites. And while I do love it, but I also think there would be something oddly satisfying about watching its characters stumble to navigate a 2010s world. In true Gen X fashion, they were already angsty and disenfranchised in Reality Bites, so just think of how wholly perturbed they’d be by millennials.

Some of the issues tackled in Reality Bites were very ‘90s-specific while others were timeless, so there’d still be plenty of angst to mine. I can’t imagine that life ended up the way the film’s self-assured young characters imagined for themselves, but the, ahem, reality of it all might end up being far more interesting.

The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack – The Wolfpack

Not actually “characters” at all, the titular Wolfpack from Crystal Moselle’s documentary of the same name refers to the Angulo brothers, a closenit sextet. Raised in an extremely sheltered New York City apartment (so much so that they’d only be permitted to leave the house a couple of times a year), the brothers made their own fun by recreating and film scenes from their favourite movies. The Wolfpack examines the various ways the brothers begin to break out from their sheltered existence (or, in some cases, choose not to do so) as they reached the cusp of adulthood.

If Moselle and the Angulos decided to turn The Wolfpack into something reminiscent of the 7 Up series and caught up with them a couple decades down the line, we’d have the potential to see how the young men adjusted to the “real world” after their oppressive upbringing. Plus, who know which fantastic new movies would come out for them to reenact in the intervening 20 years?

 25th Hour

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) – 25th Hour

Spike Lee’s 25th Hour has so much complexity and character development packed into a movie with a mere single-day span. Following Monty through the final 24 hours before he begins a seven-year prison sentence, not only is Norton’s Monty a compelling protagonist, but he’s surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast that includes Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and Anna Paquin.

Any excuse to spend more time with interesting characters is always a good one. But even apart from that, 25th Hour ends on a note that is somehow both ambiguous and finite, leaving the viewer wanting to know what becomes of Monty. Considering how much he goes through in a single day, I’m almost afraid to think about what another 20 years would do to him. But I’m sure Lee’s vision of it would be enthralling.