Film Review – The Fault in Our Stars

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Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can say that “The Fault in Our Stars” is truly a great adaptation of its source material, as well as a great film in its own right. I went to see the film with my sceptical mother, who became even more sceptical once she realised the demographic was comprised (other than us) of 13 year-old girls. I’m sadistically happy to report that she ended the film crying her eyes out in the bathroom.

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What makes this film so good, and consequently so upsetting, is how authentic and familiar the teenage characters feel – especially the manner in which they face their predicaments. The protagonist, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), states in her introductory narration that this isn’t a film about beautiful people learning beautiful life lessons. Her unfortunate life circumstances and her tragic story aren’t treated as precursors to a moment of epiphany. People in Hazel’s world don’t die because God needs another angel. Her diagnosis, and the diagnoses of her friends, are unfair and random mistakes with no greater philosophical meaning. The absence of a silver lining or a life lesson is what makes the film so hard to swallow, but ultimately so refreshing.

fblog97Woodley is just perfect as Hazel, combining her cynical wit with vulnerability. Her relationship with her parents is, if it’s possible, even more heartbreaking in the film than in the book. The flashbacks to Hazel receiving treatment as a child deepen the later moments with her parents. Her mum (Laura Dern) expresses so much without words; the look on her face when she tells Hazel she can’t afford to take her to Amsterdam, the panic every time Hazel calls her name, and the cheery grin failing to mask so much anxiety, are all tough to watch.fblog93

As in the book, the male lead Augustus (Ansel Elgort) starts off as something of a wish-fulfillment figure or a male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl prototype, the initial courtship between Hazel and Augustus a little forced. Yet he soon evolves into a fully-developed character in his own right. His role as the confident, charismatic hero helping the more sombre heroine to live a little makes his own story arc all the more affecting, his evolution all the more shocking.

Like the book it remains so faithful to, the film upends the so-called ‘cancer genre’ cliches. “The Fault in Our Stars” replaces sentimentality with realism and ironically produces something that’s even more emotionally moving as a result. Tissues advised.

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For my  full review of the book have a gander at https://madwomaninanattic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/book-review-the-fault-in-our-stars/

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Film Review – Divergent (spoiler light-ish)

blogd1 blogd2“Divergent” made an impressive $56 million during its opening weekend, easily leaving recent YA adaptation box office flops “Beautiful Creatures” and “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” trailing forlornly in the dust. Adapted from Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy, the film has been hotly anticipated as the potential successor to the colossal “The Hunger Games” trilogy. There are indeed certain cursory similarities. “Divergent” is set in a futuristic dystopian Chicago in which society is divided by personality type into five distinct factions. “The Hunger Games” is set in a similarly post-apocalyptic United States, in which an autocratic ‘Capitol’ presidblogd11es over twelve sharply divided districts. Yet while “The Hunger Games” revolves around a teenaged heroine, it never feels like it can merely be enjoyed and appreciated by the very age group it portrays. The idea of a reality program in which children fight to the death as a punishment for their parents’ insurrection is both clever and disturbing; its uncanny parallels with our reality-obsessed society can be appreciated by people of all ages. The premise of “Divergent” is much less inventive. The surviving population of Chicago is separated into factions: Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the smart), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest) and Abnegation (the selfless). This form of cataloging taps into our obsession with self-categorization and self-analysis, attested to by the sheer volume of ‘Which (insert anything here) are you?’ quizzes on Buzzfeed. To this day I have friends discussing which Hogwarts house they’d be sorted into, or even whether they’d be a House Stark or a House Lannister if they lived in Westeros. Indeed there’s now even a Buzzfeed quiz for “Divergent” fans – see http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/which-divergent-faction-do-you-actually-belong-in (I was Abnegation: apparently if I was Tris I’d have stayed safely in my faction and there’d be no story to tell).

blogd8 blogd10But (spoiler) some people don’t fit neatly into one category. These people are ‘divergent’. So the film has a very simply premise with a very simple message: people are complicated and conformity is bad. Criticisms of the plot’s basis aside, my reaction to watching much of “Divergent” can be summarized by this gif…

blogd13The film was entertaining and easy to watch. Despite its 139 minute running time, it didn’t feel particularly bloated or inclusive of superfluous material. The extended time meant the film was able to develop the central relationship and flesh out the protagonists’ characters realistically. The hamminess and simplicity of the plot itself was countered by the fun of self-insertion into the narrative. (What faction would I be in? What would my fear landscape look like?) The charisma of, and chemistry between, the two leads really anchored the film and more than made up for the unremarkable story and the vaguely tedious climax. Shailene Woodley proved her acting chops in “The Descendants” a couple of years ago and she proves them again here as the Abnegation-turned-Dauntless sixteen year old Tris Prior. She manages to deliver some fairly cheesy lines with a straight face (which is more than can be said for the cast of “Twilight”) and, like Jennifer Lawrence, is able to convey conflicting emotions and thoughts, described in detail using the first person narrative in the source material, with just a facial expression. I wasn’t sure about Theo James as the semi-Byronic Four when I first heard the casting news but he turned out to be more than a match for Woodley. Just look at the angst and intensity!

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“Divergent” is definitely flawed and, superficial comparisons aside (strong female lead, dystopian setting), it’s definitely no “The Hunger Games”. It is, however, a highly gratifying experience if you try not to compare it to anything that’s come before it. Masquerading as an action piece, it’s effectively a straightforward and slightly hokey romance and coming-of-age story centered around a futuristic sorting hat. And I’m looking forward to the next helping in March 2015.

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Throwback Thursday: Mystic Pizza ex post facto

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Roger Ebert declared in 1988: ‘I have a feeling that Mystic Pizza may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars.’ Indeed, the film is now known for its inclusion of a pre-“Pretty Woman” fame Julia Roberts, later described by a cast member as a ‘bomb waiting to go off’. Lili Taylor and Annabeth Gish, the other two legs of the film’s tripod, only experienced modest professional success in comparison with Roberts’ cataclysmic eminence. While Roberts is currently enjoying a career renaissance for her role alongside Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” and is participating in record-breaking celebrity selfies, Taylor is playing Captain Maldonado on “Almost Human”, while Gish sporadically pops up in guest spots on a variety of procedural dramas. Yet to categorise “Mystic Pizzablogtay17” as a mere launching pad for Julia Roberts’ ascent to stardom is to incorrectly assume she monopolises the film. “Mystic Pizza” is an ensemble piece and much of its charm relies on the communal, as well as the individual, strength of its cast.The film centers equally on three waitresses working at the eponymous Mystic Pizza restaurant in Connecticut. These girls have disparate personalities, consequently allowing a range of experiences and emotions to be explored and depicted throughout the film. This astute trope has been repeated by the likes of “Sex and the City” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, with women falling into certain ‘types’ in order to reflect diversity in female friendship and to increase the probability that viewers will have a character or situation to identify with.

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Yet the women in “Mystic Pizza” refuse to be confined to their assigned pigeonholes. Kat Arujo (Annabeth Gish) is ostensibly the scholar, bookworm and all round good girl. She picks up slack for other people, focuses on her academic future and does what’s right. Yet in the film she decides, foblogtay23r once, to follow her heart instead of her head, with disastrous emotional consequences. The moment in which the future Yale University student sobs ‘I just feel so stupid’ is agonizing to watch; this scene is unfortunately all too relatable for many smart girls who’ve surprised themselves and acted like idiots when it comes to liking a guy. Kat’s older sister, Daisy (Julia Roberts), is pretty and vivacious. Yet her brash veneer masks uncertainty: she knows all too well she’s the bad counterpart to the angelic Kat and feels itblogtay7‘s too late to alter her course in life. Her relationship with a rich college dropout further highlights her insecurities relating to her class and educational status. Jojo Barbosa (Lili Taylor) provides much of the comic relief through her cat and mouse power struggle with the man she loves but doesn’t yet feel ready to marry. While her predicament is amusing, her reluctance to settle down also provides several poignant moments, as she questions how much of her independence she is willing to give away for love. During the 25 year reunion last October, Lili Taylor said there ‘was something innocent and pure about’ the film while co-star Vincent D’Onofrio said of the female leads, ‘the three of them were so uniquely different and so uniquely powerful in their own ways, it was striking.’ Both of these comments encapsulate the film’s strengths – its ability to wear its heart on its sleeve without being saccharine, and its credible depiction of discrete women.

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“Mystic Pizza” is more than just a coming-of-age tale: it is a touching and authentic tribute to sisterhood and female friendship and an underrated film deserving of greater recognition alongside its fellow 1980s classics. If you’re not intrigued by any of that, it’s at least worth a watch just to see this little fella in his first screen role (looking a little lost without his buddy, Ben Affleck).

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He has one solitary line:

‘How do you like them apples?’

‘Mom, do you want my green stuff?’