The Duff is a film that follows the
school’s outcast (well, sort of) as she grows and becomes comfortable in her
own skin, thus gaining the respect she’s always wanted, an unexpected love and
fixes her friendships. Sound familiar?
I know, I know what you’re thinking, am I just describing every teen movie that’s
come out in the past ten or so years?
Sounds like it, but really, I’m not.
While yes, this film does follow the
similar trope of society’s ‘ugly duckling’ amongst all the pretty ducks, the
difference is at the end, she doesn’t
conform to become what everyone else wants. No, she accepts herself and flaunts it, she is
comfortable in her skin and instead of impressing other people, or at least trying to, she plays on her strangeness and
owns it – she doesn’t need labels or anyone else’s approval.
She has her own. And that’s what matters.
If I’m honest, Bella Thorne as the film’s
mean girl was a little odd. I’m so used to seeing her in the programs my little
brother used to watched on Disney Channel,
but she managed to pull off the whole ‘popular, mean’ girl thing quite well. At
school, I knew quite a few mean girls but I never took much notice of them. Popularity
and fitting in was never something I worried about – I was more focused on
getting to school on time with somewhat presentable hair, with half a piece of
toast scoffed down for breakfast and on top of most of my work.
I knew girls who would wake up three
hours earlier to do their makeup. I used to laugh and say that I just about got
ready in time – all I had time for was brushing my teeth, showering and
changing my clothes. I just about had breakfast, dabbed on some perfume or deodorant,
whatever was near at hand and brushed my unruly hair. If anything, I spent most
of my morning time reading.
I had my friends (some of whom, I’m still
super close to) and that’s what mattered to me. That and good grades, studying
was always stressful no matter how old I was. I probably actually cared about
the things you’re supposed to at
school, more so than the girls or guys who everyone fawned over.
Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell play the
leading characters, two friends that were once close, now friend-enemies, team
together to help one another out. She helps him study and he helps her become
less of a ‘duff’ – apparently a term
that means designated, ugly, fat friend. At first, she tries to change herself,
to become something she’s not, to gain the attention of the guy she likes, of
course that’s useless and she decides that it’s pointless.
If the person she was crushing over
couldn’t accept her how she was, then he wasn’t the guy for her.
In a somewhat cliché but nice way, it
turns out that Robbie Amell’s character, Wesley is that guy – he may help her
change but in the end, she sees and so does he, that being her weird,
eccentric, awkward self was better.
And honestly, feeling comfortable in your own skin is far more attractive than changing
yourself to fit in. You don’t need anyone’s approval.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is yet another stunning piece from Studio Ghibli, which tells
the tale of a girl found inside a bamboo stalk by a bamboo cutter and his wife.
Believing her to be a gift from heaven, they raise her to be the princess they
feel she should be.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, both
visually and in regards to story-telling. This animation deeply explores what It
means to be human, what it means to find happiness, and the importance of the
love given by those around you. While these are all common themes explored in
cinema, the simple and honest way in which they are expressed in Princess Kaguya makes them that much
The art style is one I have never
before seen in animation, and it suited the film perfectly. It was a brave
choice to make the art style so simplistic - as initially it could put some
viewers of - but one which only added to the beauty tenfold. The art style here
has a twofold purpose; not only is it intended to be beautiful, but also to
convey the emotions of the scenes. Some scenes which take place in Kaguya’s and
her mother’s small garden, the image on screen hasn’t been fully coloured to
the edges and instead simply fades out. The lack of complete colour (Especially
compared to other scenes which take place fully in nature) expresses the lack
of a genuine connection with nature, something both characters strive for, and
only feel truly at home in. There is also a scene in which Kaguya bursts from
her house in anger and runs through the forest; here the art style is blurred and
less detailed, with the only colours on screen being black, red, and white.
This was truly one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, and conveyed
perfectly through the art style.
The story is one which is so
charmingly simple, which allows for genuine emotion and relationships to be
shown without being obscured by an overly-dramatic plot. The main characters
are all so pure in motive, and even when they make mistakes (such as the father
misunderstanding what it is Kaguya needs) you empathise with them. What they
feel, you will feel (which becomes especially apparent in the final departure
If I had to find one small fault
with this film, it is that the runtime could be seen as slightly too long. At
more than two hours long, if you’re not prepared for a long film you may find
yourself losing interest during some of the less important scenes (mainly the
period in which the suitors attempt to impress Kaguya). That being said, if you
are invested in the film and prepared for the runtime, the two hours will pass
by too quickly and you’ll find yourself longing for just ten minutes more.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is stunningly close to perfection. This film is an experience,
and a total joy to watch. With the range of emotions you’ll experience during
the viewing, it’s almost a cleansing experience., and one which will make you
value all you have in life, no matter how little it may be.
The Tiff Next Wave Festival, a film festival run by teens, for teens, premiered a stunning and potent film, Lily and Kat. An impressive first effort by director Michael Preysler, Lily and Kat tells the story of the two title characters (played by Jessica Rothe
and Hannah Murray respectively), who are fashion students and best
friends in New York City.
Here are few scenes that really did seem to invert the way gender stereotypically plays out, especially in big Hollywood summer blockbusters that are chock full of action.
+ Tony’s regret scene where he wishes he had told his father he loved him. This isn’t an angsty drunken confession, just a sincere and mature emotional wish. Despite this being deeply personal and despite voluntary emotional sharing being contrary to the stiff upper lip the world expects of men, Tony shares these feelings publicly. The film could easily have introduced the subject of the older Starks in more private way, but this frank emotional moment was chosen instead. This is discussed better in the positive example below.
+ The actual closeness between King T’Chaka and Prince T’Challa: hand clasping and open parent-child expressions of affection are far more common in: mother-daughter scenes, father-daughter scenes and sometimes even mother-son scenes (think of the Star Trek reboot, or how much more easily affectionate Maria Stark was with Tony, in comparison to the Father-Son relationship). We’re used to seeing love and affection when at least one of those expressing affection is a woman. Parental and specifically paternal pride is something movie-goers love to see but there is usually a sense of having to earn it first. A son receiving paternal pride and approval subsequent to some quest of right action or chivalry is something we more often see on screen. Seldom do we see it given as easily as between T’Chaka and T’Challa. T’Chaka does not behave as though he is surprised by his father’s open praise and affection. Neither man is uncomfortable about the fact that this moment is shared in a highly public place filled with important people who may not understand it.
+ The T’Challa grief scene: seldom do you see men so moved by grief in cinema - especially popular cinema of the summer blockbuster variety. When you do, they tend to be grieving over a woman or a child, never another man. It’s as though, for men, the expression of severe grief must be justified not by their relationship to the dead person, but by the helplessness or victimhood of the dead person. But King T’Chaka is a powerful world leader key to the Accords; he is not a character lacking agency. The pose given the grief-stricken prince is also an interesting choice: clutching, crying, rocking are all expressions of trauma and grief again usually reserved for women onscreen.
+ In contrast to the scene above, we are not given a flashback to Zemo’s terrible discovery of his dead wife and child. While an easy emotional trigger that can be used to justify male grief and rage, we actually only hear his wife alive on his voicemail. There are no sad physical talismans in the form of a child’s drawing in a wallet, or a too-small wedding band on a chain. We are not given the easy mental and emotional crutches used to depict and justify male grief or male rage. The characters are forced to display these feelings, not merely allude to them. Likewise, there are no flashbacks about Steve and Peggy. In part this is owing to the expectation of displaying emotion explained above but also in part because of the considerable world-building in the MCU that means we take the depth of their feeling for one another as given and consequently understand that Steve is upset.
+ Showing male heroes needing/reaching out for emotional support and receiving it. We see depressed, grieving heroes, sometimes crying or with tears in their eyes. Steve, Tony and T’Challa are big hitters, but no one jokes about this or suggests their emotions are inappropriate. More important; THEY don’t try to conceal these emotions or fob them off with humour. We get to see that Tony’s not ok about his relationship with Pepper being under strain. When he tells Steve about it, he gets nothing from Steve but sympathy. Steve does not attempt to make light of these feelings. Steve needs a hug after Peggy’s funeral - that’s a normal, human emotional need that we see being fulfilled. It’s a good companion to the scene in the First Avenger when Peggy consoles Steve over Bucky’s death. While this SOUNDS like a dumb observation to make, stop to consider how much stoic male screen grief we’re used to seeing: solitary drinking, physical rage, lone graveside vigils. Needing emotional support and actually getting it? Positively refreshing.
+ In a riff-off of the kind of emotional hurt/comfort discussed above; a woman making a man’s favourite home cooked meal/much missed meal is a common on screen trope - although more in TV than in film. Women cooking/baking comfort food in general is. Slash fandoms love to subvert this so much that romances where characters cook well, learn to cook, try to cook for the sake of another or own a cafe/bakery. However, this film shows us Vision, who presents as male at least as much as Jarvis did (more if you consider his wardrobe) tries to cook for Wanda to cheer her up. This is interesting particularly if you consider that in comic canon these two are a couple and even have children.
+ Hawkeye and the power of women. Clint deliberately puts himself in harm’s way trying to talk Wanda out of her partially self-imposed prison. He knows he can’t best watchdog Vision. He knows Wanda can. He trusts entirely her ability to defend him. It is so rare, especially in an action film, for the ace up a male hero character’s sleeve to be rescue from a young woman. Rarer still for it not to be humour; a gag wherein a woman brains an antagonist with a book or frying pan and then she and/or the rescued male character quip about it. We see more of this Hawkeye (the only character with a wife and a daughter, it should be noted) in the airport fight scene. Wanda tosses Widow away from Clint. Widow and Hawkeye had been sparring and Wanda was not happy that Clint had been pulling his punches. Firstly, you believe that Clint was pulling his punches but you believe it because he and Widow are friends, not because Widow is a woman. Secondly, Clint doesn’t seem very worried about Widow being injured by Wanda (he knows how tough Natasha is and trusts Wanda). He just seems to accept the rebuke for what it is and moves on. Clint’s trust in the women around him isn’t showy, it reads more like his character than a film’s teachable moments, making them easily overlooked but more authentic.
+ A man (in this case, Steve) having a close, platonic woman friend and a romantic interest in a woman who is not that friend. There is no suggestion; as in the traditional romcom trope, that the friends will realise a latent romantic attraction to one another. They’re just friends. There is also no tense scene between the women. There is no approval or disapproval by either woman of Steve’s closeness to the other. This is not novel to the franchise considering Clint and Natasha’s friendship in no way appeared to threaten Laura in A:AOU, and also because we do see Natasha as an active matchmaker where Steve is concerned in CA:TWS, but it was nice to see a continuation in this vein nonetheless.
+ Possibly an unpopular opinion but Bucky is more mcguffin than man - traditionally a role used for women and/or children - the character of Bucky continues to lack agency.
Bucky is the only character in this film indisputedly in need of saving. He is the metaphorical princess in the tower, the relentless focus of the proposing and opposing sides of this film. By now we’ve had three films about Steve rescuing, or trying to rescue, Bucky. Bucky, while dangerous, is also unstable, afraid, physically and emotionally tortured and used as a pawn by people. While this is understandable from a canon perspective (it’s hard to have agency when you are brainwashed or are avoiding being brainwashed; something we know of the WSP and the Red Room) it is worthwhile to think about how you would feel about the character of Bucky if genderswapped? I think there would be a fair amount of blowback regarding gendered tropes if it were the case.
Anyhow, I thought these elements were interesting.
For a week or so now, I’ve been wanting to talk about Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I was finally able to watch, and which I genuinely loved. Not only is it an engaging, well-acted, well-scripted action movie that is funny, touching and littered with pop cultural hat-tips, but it manages the difficult trick of being both an homage to and a biting debunk of the James Bond franchise. Specifically: Kingsman takes all of Bond’s hallowed trappings – the spy gadgets, the sharp suits, the suave badassery – and explicitly removes both the misogyny and the classism that traditionally underpins them. Being a Kingsman, or gentleman spy, as explained by veteran Harry Hart to protégé Eggsy Unwin, isn’t about having the right accent or upbringing, but “being comfortable in your own skin” – the exact opposite of Bond’s womanising, macho façade and aristocratic heritage.
“With Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson accomplished two personal firsts: He adapted someone else’s work—in this case, Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, enhanced with details from Dahl’s Danny The Champion Of The World and the author’s life—and he tried his hand at stop-motion animation. Giving himself over to Dahl and a team of puppeteers and animators might seem like a departure for Anderson—a necessary one, according to the detractors who harp on his insularity—but Fantastic Mr. Fox is as much “A Wes Anderson Film” as anything else he’s done to date. Part of that is owed to the extraordinary control Anderson exerts over all his productions, an auteur stamp so distinctive that it can be recognized from the first frame. But the film also doubles as a Wes Anderson origin story: Dahl’s influence on the director is so immense that the deeper he gets into Dahl’s world, the deeper viewers get into the roots of his sensibility.”
The new Criterion release of West Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is, well, fantastic. Read the full review.
Zero Day (Ben Coccio, 2003) follows two boys’ lives in the weeks leading up to a tragic school shooting. This pair, however, happen to be the antagonists in their own story.
Shot in a mockumentary/found-footage format, we step into the daily affairs of Cal and Andre (Cal Robertson and Andre Keuck, respectively), two adolescents who never appear to suggest any underlying delusions or hints of insanity. They start the film off by deciding upon carrying out a goal and spend the rest of the film living out their lives as their goal gets pushed further and further away. Where they see intent and ambition, we see horror and regret. It is due to this that the film manages to be far more poignant and frightening than the vast majority of thrillers gracing our theaters.
Shot not long after the Columbine Massacre (and closer still, to the events of September 11th), audiences were still quite uneasy with the idea of humanizing two individuals who could be capable of causing such great harm to others. Seemingly trivializing the events, film like these were shunned. However, as we have come to learn, the awareness raised by these films surpasses any harm that could possibly be done by the cast or creators.
Apart from humanizing these killers, we slowly come to find numerous similarities between them and ourselves. Juxtaposing circumstances and events, we can clearly begin to relate to and admire these two boys as they begin their attempt to make sense of the world that they were placed into.
Regardless of intent or time and release, this film serves as an important reminder that those who commit even the most heinous crimes are not too far off from the people who inhabit our very homes.
Blanchett and Mara’s first sex scene is a golden-hued triumph of breathtaking eroticism that almost made this viewer burst into tears, but even more indelible is a later shot of Blanchett and Mara asleep in bed, huddled together so that their limbs become very nearly indistinguishable as Lachman’s camera trails down the bed before settling on their intertwined hands. There’s a perfect symmetry to shots like these, just as there is in what may be the film’s defining image: a close-up of Mara’s turned, bowed head, captured from behind as Blanchett rests a soft hand on her shoulder before the two seemingly part for good. You could scour entire decades of movie history and not find a more succinctly ravishing image of bonded and bottomless love.
4. The Invitation: The Invitation sits more on the psychological thriller of the line but is close enough to count. It’s about a man and his girlfriend who go to a ridiculously extravagant dinner party at the home of his ex-wife. Throughout the movie, he becomes increasingly paranoid that something isn’t right with the hosts.
This movie took awhile to hit me. I think it was the next night that I decided yes, I liked it, I actually liked it a lot. It’s subtle without being boring and the lead performance drew me in within the first scene. Also the ending is sort of bitchin.
3. They Look Like People: They Look Like People is about a man who thinks that the people around him are turning into evil creatures. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Also you should know that he’s staying with an old friend during all of this.
I loved it. I loved it. My whole heart was in this movie. I usually don’t look for that in horror, but it simply happened and was unavoidable. It was also one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen and the ending had me on the edge of my seat.
2. The Witch: The Witch is about a family in 1630s New England who live on an isolated creepy farm on the edge of a massive creepy forest wherein lives honestly the scariest fucking witch I have ever seen. The family becomes plagued by witchcraft and possession as the children begin to go missing.
There aren’t enough good things to say about The Witch. From the atmosphere to the cast performances, it was perfect. It stuck in my mind, it freaked me out, and I can’t recommend it to you enough.
1. Southbound: Southbound is a horror anthology film that takes place on a long unnamed highway in the middle of nowhere. The four interwoven stories tell the tales of two men who are running from some floating grim reaper type things, a trio of girls whose van gets a flat tire who are forced to catch a ride with a strange couple, a brutal car accident, and a home invasion.
Southbound probably isn’t technically the best film on this list, I guess, but it’s my favorite. It may be one of my long-time favorites. The music is perfect, the flow of the segments, the gore and the subtlety. I’ve seen it six times. Six. The accident segment alone is worth sitting through the entire movie.