Monday, August 4, 2014

High Fives for Summer: Movies

As I've spent most of my summer cooped up in my apartment, occasionally doing laundry but mostly just reading, listening, and watching, I thought I might pass along the media highlights that I've come across. To do so, in this four-part blog series, I'll list five of my favorite TV shows, books, albums, and movies that I've consumed this summer, thus creating my "High Fives" for each medium.


Summers are notorious for their mindless offerings, opting for explosions rather than depth of character, etc. That said, there have been some decent offerings this summer ranging from well-made blockbuster action movies to teen and kids movies doing an excellent job within their genre. And of course I'm not only watching newly released movies; the summer is a time where I can catch up on all those little indie or foreign films that escaped my grasp from yesteryear.

(Below my "High Fives" are a few Honorable Mentions, movies that I saw and got a passing grade. And then some Highly Anticipated, movies about which I hear great things and were released in theaters but I haven't gotten to yet.)

Short Term 12
2013 || Coming of age / Drama || Website
Although I had always heard good things about this one, I missed it in theaters and its on-campus showing this past school year so when I was able to watch Short Term 12 through Redbox, I jumped at the chance. Set on a residential treatment facility for minors, the story closely follows the support staff as they interact with and live alongside of the kids. When introduced to the characters and setting, it originally feels cool and hip, like they're all young and struggling but, since they have each other, they're alright. Though as the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that the support staff isn't as functional and stable as one would like, progressing through and past addiction isn't easy, and, sometimes, those we're working with don't always make recoveries. As someone who works in a live-in position with students of all sorts (though, let me be clear, very different than the treatment facility of the movie), I sympathized with the themes of simultaneously growing as a person while helping those around me. One last note, the lead actress, Brie Larsen, has appeared in a number of movies over the last few years but this is easily the standout role. Look for more of her in the future.

The Fault in our Stars
2014 || Romance / Comedy-drama || Website
The latest teen-sensation book-turned-movie, The Fault in Our Stars has a lot of the elements of a cliched movie packaged up nicely and sold to teenagers and they spend their summer job money on the latest. And yes, if you Google the title, there's plenty of quotable fan-art that's been created. Let's be honest, if this movie came out fifteen years ago, I would have thrown a quote or two into my AIM Away Message to show how emotionally in-touch I was. All that said, the movie (and book) get a lot of things right. Shailene Woodley shines (as always) as Hazel and Ansel Elgort plays the good-looking Gus with ease. (In fact, these two are about the only positive take-away from the otherwise disappointing Divergent.) The movie deals with cancer and death is distinctly teenage, authentic ways while maintaining a deeply meaningful approach to life as showcased throughout the coming-of-age elements throughout. Lastly, the movie takes place in Indianapolis... which I realize isn't really an objective positive quality of the film but it's cool to recognize a few landmarks here and there.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
2013 || Romance / Music / Foreign-language || Website
Stuck at home without Jorjette one evening early this summer, I was scrolling through Amazon Prime's movie offerings and stumbled across this foreign-language Oscar-nominated film from 2013. I had vaguely heard of it but had no official recommendations. I'm glad I took the time to watch. The movie follows the two leads as they deal with love, parenthood, sickness, grief, commitment, and belief. And yes, it is a Belgium movie, set in Belgium, yet they love to sing folk music. The acting is fantastic and the music, an accent rather than the dominating force, gives Inside Llewyn Davis a serious contender for the best soundtrack of 2013.

2014 || Drama / Foreign-language || Website
While visiting family in the Midwest this summer, my mother, lover of all things Eastern European and Jewish culture, suggested going to this little Polish film playing at the arts cinema in Bloomfield Hills. I had never heard of it yet when checking it's glowing critical ratings, happily agreed to join. What resulted was perhaps one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in quite some time. Utilizing a 1.37 aspect ratio (basically, a square frame), the black and white movie is like a series of beautiful photographs. Yet more than a pretty picture book, the film, set in 1960's Poland, follows a young Catholic girl as she prepares to take her vows after a childhood in the convent. Before doing so, she is asked to meet an estranged aunt, a successful Jewish judge. There's lots of self-discovery, few words, and yet more striking images. 

How to Train your Dragon 2
2014 || Fantasy, Action || Website
Beautiful, empowering, and dealing fully with the realities of kid-life (set in a different time/place/etc.). If all kid movies were this good, I'd... go to more kid movies.

Honorable Mention: Snowpiercer, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Highly Anticipated: Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, Locke, Edge of Tomorrow, Obvious Child

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