When I think back on 2013, I think of all the times I heard or read about strong, brave women around the world. Wendy Davis, Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords and Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis caught my attention, each and every one of their battles epic in their own regard. Several of these ladies fought to protect the rights of women, often getting hurt or knocked down along the way. They didn't take "no" for an answer, and in some cases put their lives on the line for what they believe in. This was a rough year for the girls, but even in spite of all of this, it still made me incredibly proud to be a woman.
I gravitated toward this topic because I feel that lately I have been stumbling upon movies with great female protagonists. Some you side with from the start, while some you feel might just be flat out crazy. Nonetheless you root for them, even if it isn't until the very end. Before the year is over, I hope you take the time to thank and root for all of the amazingly beautiful women in your life. Happy holidays!
Frances Ha -- How lucky I was to stumble upon this gem of a film, especially after all of the discussion I'd heard about it. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year-old modern dancer living in New York City. She lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and has a carefree life, taking each day as it comes. This comes to a halt, though, when she turns down the opportunity to move in with her boyfriend, only to discover that Sophie is moving out to live with someone else. Frances must then figure out how to navigate life solo, taking on odd jobs and having a few too many life lessons all at once. This film is one that I believe many twentysomethings will be able to relate to, particularly those in an artistic field. It gives you hope that friendship will always prevail and, even when life throws you a curveball, you can still find the silver linings in every situation. Jette reviewed the movie when it hit theaters earlier this year. Available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and iTunes.
November is easily my favorite month of the year. Fall is usually upon us here in Texas, friends start coming home for the holidays, and you get to start making plans for the new year ahead of you. It's also that great time of year when Thanksgiving and Christmas movies get pulled off the shelf and popped into the DVD player.
As the time draws closer to spending time with family and friends, I always try to take the time to think of what I am most grateful for in my life. My family and career are always at the top of the list, but there is one other thing that many of us overlook during this time -- close friends. These are the people who are there for you when your family cannot be, who encourage you to keep moving forward even when your career is at a low point. It's the friendships in our lives that push us forward more often than not.
This month's film choices all have a strong friendship theme to them or, as I like to call them, a "buddy story." Take this month to thank your friends for being there for you -- maybe by watching one of these films together.
All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but this girl doesn't.
After spending seven years in distribution limbo, the first feature from Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, screened at this year's Fantastic Fest and is available for anyone to watch on various VOD outlets. But for me, having seen the film once was enough.
If I want to watch a 21st-century The Breakfast Club, I'll go hang out in my campus's Quad. That way I won't have to see star and Austin native Amber Heard (Machete Kills) constantly tucking her hair behind her ear or making sidelong glances in an effort to portray the "good girl" (a la Kristen Stewart). You know that really uncomfortable, borderline-gastrointestinal-disorder look? That is not method acting.
Mandy Lane is not only shy and quiet, but has been ostracized by her peers for years, that is, until she sprouted acceptable-sized breasts and began participating in high-school track.
It's been a stellar year for music documentaries. Twenty Feet From Stardom, A Band Called Death and Sound City have all managed to tell important stories and still be crowd-pleasing films. Much like Dave Grohl's warm and friendly portrait of the Sound City studios out in Southern California, the movie Muscle Shoals invites us to take a closer look at a studio where some of the most important recordings of all time have been created.
Rick Hall opened FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1960 after establishing a music publishing business. With a life-altering personal tragedy behind him, he focused all of his energy into the studio and truly got hooked by producing local and regional artists. Shortly after Percy Sledge recorded "When A Man Loves A Woman" at FAME in 1966, the floodgates opened and the studio become a destination for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records to bring his artists to ensure they'd have hit singles.
If Don Draper had taken Betty and the kids to Disneyland (circa season two, let's say), and had been fortified by something mysterious from Roger Sterling, and the whole thing had been shot covertly on film by Smitty and Kurt, the result might have been Escape from Tomorrow.
For those of you who don't watch Mad Men, let's just say the movie takes a Disney trip by your average All-American family and turns it completely on its head, with a few kicks in the teeth for good measure. Unfortunately, it moves slowly and ultimately relies too much on weirdness for weirdness' sake. The movie premiered at Sundance, screened at Fantastic Fest and is now available on VOD. It's screening in Austin this week as well.
Escape from Tomorrow potentially offers pleasure to its audience on two levels. The first is the traditional moviegoing experience, natch. But in addition, the movie is controversial -- and interesting -- because much of it was covertly shot at Disney World (including Epcot) and Disneyland. The filmmakers and actors would buy tickets to the parks and pretend to be regular visitors shooting family home video of their vacation antics. In reality, they were shooting a feature film, and had to manage all kinds of tricks to get the shots they needed, like racing around right when a park opened to get shots of deserted rides, and so forth.
October has gained a reputation for being the scariest month of the year. Halloween is upon us, the air is getting colder, and we dance the line between autumn and winter. This is, understandably, also the time of year when all of the ghoulish and haunted films come off the shelves. Just like with classic Christmas movies, Halloween films also have their place in our hearts.
When you think of the horror films we've come to know over the years, you might first consider the scary elements: the monsters, the traps, the thought of yelling out "behind you!" every five minutes, etc. These themes jump out at us right away because they are usually very obvious. When I think of these films, I mostly think of the endings -- when the hero has survived the monster along with the fear that has been chasing him or her for about 90 minutes or so.
With that in mind, I've selected a few films that I think embody the theme we don't always think about in a scary movie: overcoming fear. I didn't choose any scary or Halloween themed films for this month, but I did select a few that I think show what it means to overcome a large or personal battle. We often celebrate the hero for the physical obstacles they have overcome, but not always the emotional ones.
For anyone under the age of 22, September can be a dreaded time of year. Not only does the weather change, kicking us out of our swimming pools and fun outdoor activities, but it also means time for the one word most kids hate: school. Although I myself used to be one of those kids, there is one thing in particular that I have always remembered and liked about this month: it is usually time for a new chapter in my life to begin.
With the start of a new school year, I recall the feeling of seeing old friends again, and being so excited to make new ones. I knew I would be learning new subjects, and expanding my mind on ones that I had already been taught. As I got older though, I realized that every year also meant getting older, becoming more mindful of the world around me. I was more aware of myself as a person in my chosen career and, even though I am long since out of the classroom, I still find myself looking at September as a month of change.
This month, I've selected a few films that I enjoy because of the elements of growth the stories present. Some might be obvious, but some might leave you thinking about it even long after the credits roll. I hope that this month, you'll take a moment to think about how much you've grown as an individual, and maybe (just maybe) how certain films have helped you do that.
In case you didn't notice, it's hot outside. Unbearably hot. They say that the winter is the perfect time to snuggle up on your couch and watch a good movie? Well, I vote for the opposite: sure, being outside is fun, but some days it's too much to handle the Texas heat for even a few minutes.
I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I found my online streaming picks this month centering around things or scenarios that generate heat: kitchens, confrontations, physical attraction. This somehow then led me to a slew of documentaries that Netflix has on the exploration of human sexuality, and the psychology behind physicality and comfort around people. And while I won't bore you with my latest term paper on the subject (because I now feel I could write one), I will share the films that stemmed from last month's movie-watching adventures. Not all of the choices are directly connected to this subject, but I feel that all of them have an underlying theme: the discovery of one's self.
Let me know if you have recommendations for this month. After all, the selection of options to choose from seems to be growing each month. Enjoy!
July has always been a favorite month for me. June kicks the summer off, but in July you realize you have an entire month of swimming, cookouts, milkshakes and (if you're me) watching summer flicks. It is also the birthday month of our lovely country, which leads me into our theme for this month.
I considered going the route of the "American Hero." I love a good action-hero flick as much as the next person, but I then considered what we really celebrate on the Fourth of July: everyday heroes. We celebrate the working American, those men and women who might not have had the best education but are fighting to earn their living. We think of those who stand for good, not because a job requires them to, but because they believe in what is right. Those who went from rags to riches, who saved every penny they earned, who fought for our country or even the kids in their school district. These are the types of heroes you don't always see in a movie.
This month has thus led me to choose a few films and television shows that I think are worth watching to root for the underdog, the unsung hero that no one believes in.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- Does this choice need an explanation? When I heard about Senator Wendy Davis's 11-hour filibuster against the dramatic limiting of abortion rights for Texas women, I immediately thought of the hope I felt watching Jimmy Stewart's performance as Jefferson Smith, and how badly I wanted him to triumph for the good of the people. Smith plays an average guy trying to keep his head above water while surrounded by political sharks, and he shows us how a fight does not always have to be physical. Although this does not have a direct connection to Texas, I feel it does ring true with what has been going on in our great state recently. (Available on Amazon Instant and iTunes)
[Welcome to What's Streaming, a new column about movies available online, with a focus on Austin and Texas.]
For someone to not have the chance to see a film these days is rare. I'm not saying that every person on Earth should see every film ever made (although that sounds like a good challenge!), but it has become easier than ever to watch or rent films than in years past.
Especially here in high-tech Austin, many people (myself included) use forms of online streaming to watch their favorite films and television shows. If you're like me, you might not even have cable just because you think Netflix is enough. But with so many options and ways to watch movies these days, you might find yourself asking a not-so-uncommon question: What is worth watching?
After talking with friends and almost always getting myself into a conversation of "Seen any good movies lately?", I decided it might be worthwhile to share some picks each month of films (old and new) that are available to watch online. Since this column is the kickoff to this series, I figured I would start with our hometown heroes. The below films/filmmakers have ties to Texas and, in some specific cases, to Austin.