Monthly Archives: August 2015

Letterboxing: How I Live Now

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of my ongoing efforts to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

I was very much on board with this semi-apocalyptic YA fable in the beginning. The story follows an isolated American teen moving in with her English cousins for the summer and gradually coming out of her hardened shell while the world starts falling down around their ears. There’s some romance too (of the is-it-incest-oh-well-it’s-the-end-of-the-world-so-never-mind variety), but that’s not the focus for the first 40 minutes or so, and that’s the chunk of movie I was most interested in.

Firstly, Saorsie Ronan is in the lead and I could watch her in anything. She has a real gift for burrowing into a character’s vulnerabilities and displaying them without making a show of it; she doesn’t want you to know she’s hurting, and is there a more endearing trait for a hero to have? She’s also perpetually tenacious, and it’s hard not to root for characters who never give up, even when they’re abrasive and unfriendly.

Unfortunately we don’t get to explore Ronan’s character as much as I’d like, as the story takes us on a whistlestop tour of fascist procedures and the horrors of war while our heroine looks for the family she was separated from. As a coming-of-age story it’s surprisingly bold and brutal at times, and doesn’t shy away from the grim realities and bloodshed that other YA properties might. (I like The Hunger Games as much as anyone, but there’s something that rings so false – and frankly disturbing – about a 12-rated war movie with no blood.)

How I Live Now is a potent metaphor for female puberty, rather smartly using the trauma, confusion and violence of war as the melting pot in which Ronan’s character will forge her true identity and emerge as a stronger, more assured person. Also she has sex in the movie which is probably where I got the puberty thing from.

Alas, the final stretch of the film goes in a happier, slightly less believable direction than I’d hoped for and, while the story remains thematically true to itself, the happy ending it delivers ends up being somewhat underwhelming. This disappointment is lessened by the gorgeous cinematography and stellar Jon Hopkins soundtrack. Ultimately I guess I wasn’t the intended audience for this movie so it’s unsurprising that I was looking for something other than what it gave me. What is surprising, however, is that more young adult-oriented movies aren’t brave enough to show what pain, struggle and fear – all unfortunate but very real aspects of adult life, especially for women – really look like. For that alone, How I Live Now deserves teenagers’ attention far more than Hollywood’s bleached-clean teen dreams.

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Letterboxing: 22 Jump Street

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of my ongoing efforts to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

As a dramatic device, The Bromance is fairly limited. There’ isn’t a whole lot you can do with a platonic relationship between two heterosexual men once you’ve established them as BFFs.

Unless, of course, your name is Phil Lord (or, um, Christopher Miller. Or both? Wow, this went sideways real fast). In which case you can have Cate Blanchett to do whatever comes to your hyperactive, joyfully imaginative mind(s) and push the concept of the bromance to – and beyond – its logical limits. The relationship between Shcmidt and Jenko is pitch perfect, not least because of the a-game performances from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. This is a big-budget, balls-out and downright hilarious Hollywood romance between two guys that cherishes the value of characters you understand and care about. And for a movie about undercover cops at college who shoot people and blow things up for a living, I’m as surprised as anyone that it works as well as it does.

But that’s the magic of Lord & Miller: they can take the goofiest, most soulless concepts and fill them with heart and humour because they so clearly love telling entertaining stories. Shout-outs are clearly due to the 5+ screenwriters who worked on the script, but you can bet your sweet ass that the directors were all up in that thing too.

What about specifics? Well, for a a sequel that spends so much of its first act thinly veiling jibes about how rubbish and full of unnecessary spectacle most sequels are, 22 Jump Street pulls off both making things bigger for the sake of an inflated budget and telling a story with the same characters that isn’t just a greatest hits of the first movie. That’s a tough job, but they pull it off with aplomb.

But the real question you, unknown but probably attractive reader, really want answered: is it better than the first movie? Well…no. 22 couldn’t beat 21 largely because it didn’t have the surprise factor a Jump Street reboot actually working the original had. That said? In my book, 22 Jump Street is exactly as good as the first movie. My life won’t ever be changed by either of them and I’ll never experience any profound revelations regarding friendship (or, for that matter, police work) from watching these movies, but they’re such good company that I love them all the same.

[Actually, I might have regained some respect for Ice Cube as an artist purely because of that facial expression he delivers to Jonah Hill’s character in one delicious scene.]

Oh, and it should go without saying that this film contains about 18 of the best credits gags in movie history. (But I said it anyway.)

Can’t wait for 2121 Jump Street.

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