Movie Review: Palo Alto

A Review of Palo Alto, written & directed by Gia Coppola; based on the short story collection by James Franco

Palo Alto Gia Coppola James Franco

by REBECCA, May 26, 2014

Palo Alto is the directorial debut of Gia Coppola (Sofia’s niece), based on the authorial debut of actor James Franco, and starring Emma Roberts (Eric Roberts’ daughter; Julia Roberts’ niece) and Jack Kilmer (Val Kilmer’s son). That is to say, it can no more escape a kind of in-group latitude and indulgence than can the characters it portrays.

Palo Alto James FrancoFranco’s collection, Palo Alto (2010), contains twelve stories, all with different first-person narrators, but which feature some of the same characters (such as April, Emma Roberts’ character). Coppola’s script is based on five of those stories—according to many reviews, the five least dramatic, as those not in evidence include murder and gang rape (a whisper of which filters into the film). As there’s little action, plot-wise, it’s the themes that tie the pieces of the film together: mainly the emotional and physical violence that accompany sex and love for the female characters, the antisocial behaviors that the male characters’ privilege makes acceptable, and all the characters’ attempts to mask boredom with mood-altering stabs at fun.

Responses to the film have been understandably mixed. I felt a bit conflicted myself coming out of the theatre. On one level, I loathed the film. The characters are all unappealing, some because they’re boring, some because they’re sexual predators, some because they’re selfish and mean. The dialogue is banal and uncreative, with nothing but a vague mutual yearning between April (Emma Roberts) and Teddy (Jack Kilmer), to suggest that these characters are anything more than attractive but superficial blanks. However, despite this—or perhaps because of it—emotionally, I found the film affecting.

Emma Roberts Palo AltoWe are introduced to Emily, who is called a whore throughout the film, when she confesses, during a game of Never-Have-I-Ever, that she has never been in love. For the rest of the movie, she repeatedly reaches out to boys at school and at parties, attempting to use sex to seek the love she’s never felt. In contrast, sixteen-year-old April, who “tries to be good,” is the victim of her sexually predatory soccer coach (a grinning James Franco) for whom she babysits. She’s flattered by his attentions and returns them initially, only to be confused and terrified when he confesses his love to her, their relationship suddenly elevated to a level more threatening to her than sex.

Jack Kilmer Emma Roberts Palo AltoThe film, that is, portrays the emotional and physical violence that accompany sex and love for these characters in no uncertain terms. What’s troubling, though, is that while the film seemed to critique this extension of rape culture, there were things that disabled the critique. The most troubling of these is the film’s singular use of voiceover, by one of the male characters (Fred), which seems to be taken directly from the book, describing how one of the characters subjects his girlfriend to a gang rape. It’s presented in the same manic, dreamy tone as the rest of the film, which places it on the same level as April staring dazedly out the car window into the California sun.

Thematically, then, the film was affecting, but Coppola’s style—dreamy pacing, close-ups of beautiful people looking forlorn, and a disjointed narrative frozen in one moment in time (which invites unavoidable comparisons with aunt Sofia’s)—refuses growth for the characters. The film’s aesthetic glorifies what it portrays by seeming content to linger forever in the suspended moment of this violence, this detachment, this adolescence. As such, I found it a truly upsetting and unsatisfying film. That isn’t to say that it had a responsibility to do something other than what it did; simply to say that I wasn’t interested in what it chose to do. According to a piece on Gia Coppola in the New York Times, James Franco actively wanted a woman to be the one to adapt Palo Alto because he thought it would “give the largely male-centered stories a more layered approach” (“Unto the Next Generation, Cinematically”). This sums up the film for me: it’s a narrative of sexual violence halfway repaired by the emotional depth Coppola lends it, but ultimately more troubling for the beautiful mask she puts on it.


Movie Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

A review of Only Lovers Left Alive, written & directed by the delightful Jim Jarmusch

only lovers left alive

by REBECCA, May 12, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive is a decidedly non-dramatic meditation on immortality and love. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are centuries-old vampires living in Detroit and Algiers, respectively. Adam is a somber musician who makes music that no one hears and collects vintage instruments while hiding from fans of the music he released when he was well-known. He’s depressed at the state of the world, which zombies—humans, that is—have polluted and detached from so thoroughly that even their blood has become poison. Eve is a dreamy appreciator of literature who lives in a home packed with books and hangs around with her buddy Kit Marlowe (yes, that Kit Marlowe) (John Hurt). When she talks with Adam and senses his depression, she comes to Detroit to reconnect with him. While there, Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), an irresponsible hedonist with a penchant for risk-taking behavior, comes to visit, throwing Adam’s routine into disarray.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 5.53.04 PMFrom the gorgeous and vertiginous opening shots of a camera spinning around Adam, Eve, and a record (music is their shared language), the stakes of Only Lovers Left Alive are clear. This is a film about perpetuity and how people connect over and over through time. It’s a film that glories in the aesthetic, and Jim Jarmusch lingers lovingly over Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s faces and hair the way only a lover would. They are dark and light, gloom and resignation, creator and appreciator.

Only Lovers Left AliveThere is no complicated plot; indeed, not a whole lot happens. But the non-drama perfectly echoes the sense of longevity of immortality—the sustained state where even the most dramatic happenings lose their urgency and even the most minute of difference in repetition can assert itself as beautiful. Adam and Eve are aesthetes and appreciators, and the film echoes this, too. The camera caresses the curve of a Gibson and the tangle of wires that Adam patches together with the same appreciation as the curve of the lovers’ cheekbones or the tangles of their hair. Attention, the film seems to posit, is the antidote to boredom; fascination to despair. And Adam and Eve are indeed fascinated.

This fascination makes Only Lovers Left Alive an incredibly poignant love story. Immortality is the premise that gives scale to their love, but it’s their respect for and fascination with each other that has sustained that love. With very little dialogue, Adam and Eve manage to communicate the connection they have through touch, gaze, and pointing out to one another the things that fascinate them. Jarmusch may be indulgent with his camera, but he shows amazing restraint with his script, giving us peeks of the characters and their histories but only hinting at the majority of their story. The effect is of a snapshot in time—a mere episode in lives so long we cannot conceive of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 6.39.04 PMAdam and Eve have changed their appearance over the years to match the world around them, but in the privacy of their homes they wear dressing gowns from the 18th century and speak about friends like Mary Wollstonecraft. Detroit and Algiers are on display as similar collections of old and new, of the deterioration and resurrection of art, culture, style, and taste. The grand Michigan Theatre, which is falling down around them, but will be reclaimed, is the logical analogue to Adam and Eve’s recursivity: they reinvent themselves each generation, the world they knew before swallowed up or torn down before it’s reincorporated into the next one. The film is melancholy in its meditation on humans’ ruination of the world and its beauty, but there is a necessary hope there, too. For one like Eve, who has seen these cycles so often, destruction and death are necessary for reinvention and new life. Adam hasn’t quite her scope, and he feels the losses more acutely.

only lovers left aliveOnly Lovers Left Alive was everything I wanted a Jarmusch take on vampires to be. Swinton and Hiddleston are perfect, beautiful casting, and the glimpses we get of Detroit and Algiers are the perfect atmospheres for the film. Add in the wonderful John Hurt as Kit Marlowe, who actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, Mia Wasikowska as a thoroughly charming vehicle of chaos, and the always delightful Jeffrey Wright as a stylized doctor, and it’s a pitch-perfect cast.

The only thing that irritated is the way these preternatural beings split down such traditional gender lines. The two men are creators—Marlowe a playwright and Adam a musician—and their lives are their work. The women are appreciators and consumers: Eve reads voraciously and supports Adam’s every endeavor, but creates nothing herself. Ava’s consumption is more literal; she chugs blood and makes demands, paying for them with a winsome smile.

only lovers left aliveMy favorite thing about all of Jim Jarmusch’s films is how he approaches the topic of each with such incredible respect and fascination. Only Lovers Left Alive is no exception. Each element feels considered and selected, leading to a film that looks like a beautifully curated slice of life. It’s just that these lives have been going on for quite a while.

“20% Cooler”: Bronies, a Documentary

A discussion of the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unlikely Adult Fans of My Little Pony, and the fandom that inspired it

bronies: the extremely unexpected adult fans of my little ponyMy Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

by REBECCA, January 13, 2014

The adult male fandom of the 2010 show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been fairly well documented in the last few years, with early mentions of the brony (a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”) phenomenon treating it as creepy and embarrassing. This evaluation mirrors precisely the perception that many bronies are afraid their love of My Little Pony will spark if they discuss it outside chatrooms and BronyCons.

bronycon 2013The insults, jeers, and genuine sense of creeped-outness displayed by many uninitiated, however, have been totally de-fanged in the last few years, blasted to cynical smithereens by the sheer power of joy, delight, and genuine caring that is the brony fandom. Now, the documentary that has been floating around the internet for the last year is on Netflix instant and we can all wrap ourselves in the rainbow-colored manes of its positivity (and its cosplay!).

my childhood MLP puzzle (with one piece missing)Like many, I came of age with the original My Little Pony movie, tv show, pony toys, and even a puzzle that I did over and over (right; thanks for the pic, mom & dad!). I wasn’t super into it, but I liked the bright colors and the sparkles; as far as I know, though, there wasn’t much to recommend it to an adult audience. The new incarnation of My Little Pony, created by Lauren Faust, on the other hand, is notable for having a solid ethos: the concept that “friendship is magic” underlies the whole show, and with its positive outlook, bright worldview, and varied characters, it’s easy to see why Friendship is Magic has attracted a very different audience than that for which it was originally intended.

official_bronycon_poster_by_timon1771-d4aqm7xThat many people find an adult fanbase for a show purportedly marketed to children surprising is one thing, but that is clearly not the real issue at the heart of Laurent Malaquais’ documentary. Though it is titled Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, it isn’t the fact that these fans are adults that makes people uncomfortable, of course; it’s the fact that they’re men. And, further, that the show marketed to kids stars five female characters, even if they’re ponies.

Why this is confusing to people is simple: sexist and patriarchal culture that assumes:

1.) that only females would ever be interested in female characters.

2.) that men do not value friendship, caring, and sensitivity as positive character traits.

3.) that, therefore, if a man enjoys watching a show about female characters that does value those things then there is something abnormal about him.

But that’s patriarchy 101, and those are assumptions that most of us run up against every day. They are, however, merely the backdrop of Malaquais’ documentary, givens that the featured bronies understand as part of the world they can leave behind when they enter My Little Pony’s land of Equestria. There are some shout-outs to explaining the place of bronies in the post-9/11 world and its concomitant traumatic masculinity by a talking head professor, sure. But the majority of Bronies is dedicated to a celebration of the ways in which My Little Pony fandom has touched the lives of several bronies.

bronies paper magazineThere’s Alex, a teenager from rural North Carolina who had his back windshield smashed in once he put custom My Little Pony decals on it; Lyle, a guy from Bar Harbor who is afraid to come out as a brony to his hyper-conservative father; Daniel, a guy from Northern England whose Aspergers prevents him from socializing until he attends a BronyCon, and Benjamin & Nadine, a German couple who met at a My Little Pony meet-up. The documentary follows each of them around and shows the ways that My Little Pony changed their lives and their experiences with learning that there was such an active fan community surrounding the show. (This is definitely one of the times when the internet is a huge win for humanity!)

These folks (and other interviewees) discuss the way My Little Pony has been a positive force in their lives and how other entertainment doesn’t make them feel nearly as good. Nearly all of them have had to come to terms with, first, their own internalized notions that their enjoyment of the show is somehow abnormal, and, second, decide who they are going to tell about their love of the show. Some are sheepish, some defiant, and some proselytistic, but all of them are distinctly aware that most people will find their fandom weird, and every one of them acknowledges that admitting it runs the risk of being thought of as “girly,” “gay,” “wimpy,” and “unmasculine.”

bronycon_summer_2012___025_by_rjth-d55m0phLauren Faust (creator of Friendship is Magic), Tara Strong (voice of Twilight Sparkle), and John de Lancie (voice of the Discord and the one with the idea for the documentary) are also featured. As documentaries go, it’s nothing terribly special, but it’s done with such positivity and appreciation for the bronies and their fandom that it put a huge smile on my face. Anyone familiar with fandom will be familiar with the cosplay, fanfiction, fan videos, and fan art that Friendship is Magic has inspired, and Bronies feature several of the fandom’s most popular creators—a musician, a laser lightshow creator, and an artist. That was one of the most inspiring elements of the documentary, as it is one of the most inspiring elements of fandom in general—seeing people with a passion for something creating things for other fans to appreciate. 

No single look at a culture can ever capture all its facets, of course, and Bronies is mainly concerned with hitting the high points: military bronies who believe the show’s values are similar to those of the armed forces’; fundraising bronies who contribute to the health care of a young brony with a brain tumor; etc. There is nothing said about the elements of the fandom (and they exist in all of them) that are of a less family-friendly nature, but that’s clearly not the documentary’s goal. It’s sure to make the fans who ponied up (sorry) the funds for its production on Kickstarter thrilled, and as for the rest of us, well, everypony could do with a little more magic in our lives! 


How To Have A Happy YA Xmas

. . . Even If You Don’t Celebrate It

Nightmare before christmas

by REBECCA, December 25, 2013

I don’t celebrate Christmas and, really, I could do without 95% of the crass commercialism and 100% of anything to do with chipmunks singing carols. That does not mean, though, that I’m immune to the delightful goshdarned cheer of a great Christmas scene. (I missed doing a Chanukah reading list this year since Chanukah began on Thanksgiving, so this year, I am being a traitor to my people and only doing a Christmas post. So be it.) So, here are five of my favorite Xmas scenes in YA books, tv, and movies! Happy, Merry, Cheery reading.


My So-Called Life, “So-Called Angels”

One of the best Xmas episodes EVER! Rickie has left home and is wandering the streets; Rayanne and Sharon are bonding over working a holiday teen helpline, which Brian Krakow calls; and Angela meets a haunting musician who shows her how lucky she is to be alive. Spoiler Alert/The Title: the musician is an angel! Also, she’s played by Juliana Hatfield. My sister and some friends and I watched this episode the other day and I was shocked at how much like Breakfast Club-era Ally Sheedy Juliana Hatfield looked. Omg, here’s a video with her, Jared Leto, and Kennedy (remember Kennedy!?) chatting in a diner HERE. Sidebar: I just googled Juliana Hatfield to make sure I was spelling her name right, and Wikipedia tells me that her father claims to be descended from the Hatfields of Hatfield-McCoy feuding fame. Yowza.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry’s First Christmas at Hogwarts

Every holiday at Hogwarts is freaking awesome, but nothing compares with Harry’s first ever happy Christmas. He wakes in his four-poster on Christmas morning and, for the first time, has real presents, including an infamous Weasley sweater and the invisibility cloak, and an amazing dinner:

Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys, mountains of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce—and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. . . . Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. . . . Harry and the Weasleys spent a happy afternoon having a furious snowball fight on the grounds. Then, cold, wet, and gasping for breath, they returned to the fire in the Gryffindor common room, where Harry broke in his new chess set by losing spectacularly to Ron. . . . It had been Harry’s best Christmas day ever.”

Nightmare before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

A combination of Christmas and Halloween? I mean, it’s so smart that I can’t believe no one thought of it before 1993. Trust Tim Burton to be the one to see how easily the garish cheer of a holiday to which we all know the rules can shade into total gothic terror when approached by someone who doesn’t. The scene where Jack Skellington does his mad scientist routine to figure out the equation that will produce Christmas is one of the best things ever. Eureka!

Little Women

Little Women: Christmas Morning

I love Little Women in general, but the March family Christmas is particularly good, whether it’s the book version or any of the movie adaptations. From trying to figure out how to buy each other Christmas presents with nearly no money to singing carols as a family, Little Women is probably the best of Xmas: family, togetherness, and sharing. Ok, so involvement with the Hummels doesn’t turn out to well in the long run (cough *Beth* cough), giving them their Christmas breakfast probably taught a new generation of children about generosity each time a new movie adaptation came out (I can still picture Kirsten Dunst’s reluctant dimpled sacrifice). Bonus points for two appearances of Claire Danes on this list!

The Dark Is Rising Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising: Dark Is Rising #2

Will Stanton’s solstice slash Christmas slash eleventh birthday are chock-a-block with family, snow, and weird happenings. The first quarter of the book—the Christmasy part—is dark and wintry and eerie and grim and delightful. As the blurb puts it, Will “discovers he is the last of immortal Old Ones dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark.” NO BIG DEAL AND A MERRY BLOODY CHRISTMAS TO YOU, TOO, WILL!

Let it Snow John Green

Finally, has anyone read Let It Snow, the collection of three interconnected Christmas tales by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle? It looks rather charming.

Well, friends, I hope you all have/have had/will have lovely, cheer-drenched holidays with your assorted families, friends, and pets! Allow me to leave you with a picture of my cat, as you are thus assured at least some cheer. Dorian Gray:

the cutest cat in the world

Movie Review: How I Live Now

A Review of How I Live Now, directed by Kevin Macdonald, based on the novel by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now


Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel How I Live Now has been made into a movie and I totally didn’t know about it until five seconds ago. Yay!

If last week’s Ender’s Game adaptation made one big mistake that ended up gutting the whole story, How I Live Now makes small, smart decisions every step of the way. Within the first three minutes, I was completely and utterly sold on the world, the aesthetic, and the characters.

How I Live Now Meg RosoffHow I Live Now is the story of Daisy (Saoirse Ronin), who lives in New York City and has come to England for the summer to stay with her cousins, whom she’s never met, because her father is having a new baby. Her cousins live in a ramshackle old rural house with lots of woods, hills, creeks, and animals, and Daisy quickly falls in love with it, and one of them—her cousin Edmund. Soon, though, war breaks out and the cousins are separated, always trying to escape and come back home, to be together.

Our introduction to Daisy was pitch-perfect and effortless, managing to capture the attitude of Rosoff’s narrative voice, even without using heavy voice over (take a note, Ender’s Game). Saoirse Ronin, bless her, is a magnificent Daisy, never afraid to be nasty and moody, but always with a core of vulnerability. Basically, I would watch her eat cornflakes or, like, do something else that’s super boring, because that’s how compelling she is, as always. Also, she is an accent genius.

how i live nowThe contrast between the hardness of Daisy’s fresh-from-NYC aesthetic and control-freak attitude and the soft, wildness of her cousins’ run-down home, their trips swimming and running through woods and fields is beautifully done. The film captures the beauty and peace of their home in just the right way, so that when the war comes, the audience is as sad to lose it as Daisy is.

How I Live Now doesn’t shrink from showing the grisly moments of the war, either, which elevates it above any concerns I may have had that it would be yet another slick capitalization on YA dystopia-fever. Just like the book, this is truly a movie that thinks about the effects of war, on both the ravaged countryside and the psyches of Daisy and her cousins as they traverse it.

how i live nowIn addition to the beauty of the film, I was struck by its masterful balance of sound and quiet. The credits are very in your face and loud, bopping to the tune of Daisy’s music, and Daisy’s own inner-voices drown out any other silence. The scenes in the country house, on the other hand, are quiet at base, but punctuated by very specific noises—the call of Edmund’s hawk, the gush of a waterfall—that are just as loud as Daisy’s music, but peaceful enough that she doesn’t need the din of those inner voices. There are long stretches of the cousins’ journey back to one another without dialogue, too, and scenes of carnage that speak for themselves.

In Rosoff’s novel, the story is told retrospectively, and though we don’t have much of a frame, the film manages, in addition to dramatic immediacy, to capture precisely the tone of wisdom and dreaminess that would accompany a tale told from a point looking backward. How I Live Now might be my favorite YA film adaptation to date. 

Movie Review: Like the Enemy’s Gate, Ender’s Game is DOWN

A Review of Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood, based on the novel by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, November 6, 2013

WARNING: this review contains spoilers for Ender’s Game but does not give away the end.

Ever since I heard Ender’s Game was getting the Hollywood treatment, I’ve vacillated between thinking “no way can such an interior novel make a good movie” and thinking, “it’s a pretty straightforward book to adapt.” Turns out I was right on both counts. Ender’s Game has its compelling moments: the battle scenes are cool, as is the tech, and Asa Butterfield has a face well-suited to expressing Ender’s constant calculation. But, as a whole, it fell very, very flat. 

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardThe biggest problem I had with it is that I fundamentally disagree with what writer/director Gavin Hood’s version sees as the heart of the story. For me, Ender’s time at Battle School is where all the most interesting character development and world revelation occur. The time period when Ender’s in Battle School takes up just under 2/3 of Card’s novel, and it encompasses Ender’s four-year journey all the way from being a launchie and learning the battle room, through several different armies, to leading his own army and competing against the whole school. In short, it’s where we learn that Ender is anything special.

In Hood’s version, though, Ender’s time at Battle School is an abbreviated stop along the way to Command School. This means several things:

1. Ender and the rest of the kids stay the same age throughout, because the timeline is scrunched, so we get no sense that Ender is growing up in this new world or learning anything.

2. Ender is the greatest military mind the world has ever known. Or so Harrison Ford keeps telling me. But, because we don’t see his growth, or that there is any difference between Ender’s strategy and those of the other kids in Battle School, we have to take his word for it. The most difficult element to communicate in any adaptation from novel to film is the interiority of characters, and this is doubly true in the case of Ender’s Game because Hood takes away all of Ender’s decisions and strategizing in Battle School that would have communicated that interiority to us.

3. Since we never see that Ender starts as a launchie with no skills and goes on to win battle after impossible battle with never before seen modes of fighting, we aren’t rooting for him. When he finally gets to Command School, I don’t even feel like I know him well enough to care about his success. Which meant I was caring about the success of his strategy in his final exam . . . which is one of many ways (the POSTER being another) in which I think the film both gives away and undercuts the drama of its own ending.

Ender's Shadow mike careyNote: when you leave the film yearning for more Battle School, check out the two graphic novels that treat the Battle School years, Ender’s Game Volume 1: Battle School, which is from Ender’s POV, and Ender’s Shadow: Battle School, which is from Bean’s POV (following Card’s primary and shadow series).

I am always willing to see a film adaptation as its own piece, which is usually all that allows me to avoid a knee-jerk (and unflattering) comparison to the book. In the case of Ender’s Game, however, the fact that I adore the book is the only thing that gave the movie any life for me at all, as my poor brain was automatically scribbling in bits from the book to round the movie out.

The bottom line, however, is that as a standalone film, Ender’s Game has nothing to differentiate it from any of the other kids + war games films out there. The extraordinary psychological character-building that Card’s novel achieves is completely flattened into a film with a main character whose only distinctions seem to be emotional maturity and good hand-eye coordination. Asa Butterfield isn’t miscast as Ender, certainly, but the way the role is written leaves him nothing to do but sweat and cry with blue-eyed conviction.

What frustrates me so much about Hood’s excision of much of Ender’s character development through the write-out of most of Battle School is that there was plenty of room for it. Ender’s Game already clocked in under two hours and contained at least twenty minutes of fat that could’ve been trimmed. That leaves (by my taste for 2 1/2 hour movies) nearly an hour that could’ve been added back into the film. It’s rare that my complaints about an adaptation are so easily traced back to what I see to be a simple flaw in structure, but for me, you cut most of Battle School, you lose the heart of the whole story, which means the end also falls flat.

Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books; usually, if a film adaptation of a book I love flops, then I’m pissed because its images sneak into my vision of the story. I’m happy to say that this won’t be a problem with Ender’s Game—there was so little to it that I don’t think it’ll stick at all. Now all that’s left is to donate $8.25 to my favorite pro-equality charity in order to offset any pennies sneaking into producer Card’s pockets, and forget the whole thing ever happened. Which won’t be hard. Yup, there, it’s gone.


October Is Horror Movie Month!

Here Are 5 Young Adult Horror Movies To Get Us Excited For HalloweenCarrie

by REBECCA, October 8, 2013

Like so many fans of horror fiction, October is always a treat because it’s a constant rollout of horror movies. Usually this consists of 90% garbage, but there are always a few I get excited about. Horror movies have long been the province of young adults, whether it’s the teens being picked off one by one in Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the terrifying children of The Exorcist, The Omen, and Let the Right One In, the gangs of scary teenagers in Near Dark and The Lost Boys, or the teens just trying to survive evil in the form of authority figures in Suspiria and The FacultyBecause of their scare-factor, however, these horror movies would rarely be considered Young Adult movies. This October, though, there are five horror movies that seem much more in YA territory!

1. Carrie, starring Chloë Moretz and Julianne Moore; directed by Kimberly Peirce

CarrieA remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s novelCarrie is the story of a shy girl raised by a hyper-religious mother who is tormented by her peers at school and gets revenge on them by using her telekinetic abilities to kill them at the prom. I liked Moretz in the American remake of Let the Right One In and can really see her as Carrie. Carrie‘s theme of bullying will, I think, resonate even more strongly with audiences of today than it did in the seventies. Bonus: October is national anti-bullying month, which I’m sure is the distributors’ reason for releasing it then. EDIT: Also, check out this amazing publicity stunt in which a special effects-rigged coffee shop freaks customers out by making them think a girl goes all Carrie on someone after he spills her coffee!

Carrie opens October 18th.

2. I Will Follow You Into the Dark, starring Mischa Barton and Ryan Eggold; written and directed by Mark Edwin Robinson

I Will Follow You Into The DarkNamed after a Death Cab For Cutie song, I Will Follow You Into the Dark finds Sophie (Barton) suffering from depression after the deaths of her parents. Then she meets Adam (Eggold), the only one who gets through to her. But when Adam disappears, Sophie tries to find him, ending up at a mysterious apartment building and crossing the threshold into the realm of the dead. This mixture of horror and romance seems sure to resonate with a young adult audience.

I Will Follow You Into the Dark opens October 11th.

3. Haunt, starring Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato; written by Andrew Barrer and directed by Mac Carter

HauntIntroverted teen Ethan (Gilbertson) moves into a new house and becomes friends with the girl next door (Liberato), then romantically involved. As they explore their new relationship they also explore Ethan’s family’s house, which is haunted, and discover an alternate (and terrifying!) dimension. I haven’t heard anything about this movie, nor have I heard of these two lead actors, but I’m excited for a non-remake horror movie—also the tag line is terrifying: “The Feeding Never Ends.” What?! Haunt actually sounds a bit like I Will Follow You Into the Dark in its mix of romance and horror and it’s portal-to-another-realmness.

Haunt opens October 11th.

4. Toad Road, written and directed by Jason Banker

Toad RoadWriter/director Jason Banker describes Toad Road as “something like Kids meets The Blair Witch Project.” Banker cast Toad Road by finding a teen who friended VICE magazine on MySpace and looking at his top friends (weird) and filmed it in his home town of York, Pennsylvania. He used their real lives, kind of, and built the story around them—about 70% of the film is documentary, in that it’s these people actually interacting. Banker had them use real drugs before shooting (also weird) and, in a grisly twist, Sara Anne Jones, the lead, died of a drug overdose just after Toad Road‘s premiere. I’m very curious about this movie and I could see it having real cult appeal. Here’s hoping it’s more Kids and less The Blair Witch Project.

Toad Road opens October 25th.

5. Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack; written by Damien Chazelle and directed by Eugenia Mira

Grand PianoOk, so this one is a cheat because it’s opening in Spain, but I had to include it because it looks so freaking awesome. Tom Selznick (Wood) is a pianist who hasn’t played in five years after he choked during a performance of his mentor’s work. This is his comeback performance and he finds a note on his piano that tells him if he plays even one wrong note then he and his wife will be killed. Dude, it’s like Speed on classical music. Tom puts in an earpiece so he can hear orders from the man who is threatening him (Cusack) and has to play for his life. I’m sorry to tease you with this since I’m not sure when it’s releasing in the U.S., but this is exactly the movie I want to see on Halloween. I’ll report back when I hear it’s opening here. UPDATEGrand Piano is opening in the U.S. on March 7th!

People, when I paused in writing this post on HORROR to check that my formatting looked right, guess what the word count was at? Guess. Come on, guess! Yep, that’s right:


Neither Sense Nor Sensibility: Austenland

A Review of Austenland, written and directed by Jerusha Hess; based on the novel by Shannon Hale


by REBECCA, September 4, 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a movie in possession of both Keri Russell and literary intertexts, must be worth seeing, amiright? Rarely has a universally-acknowledged truth been so epically false.

Austenland by Shannon HaleAustenland is the story of plain Jane (Russell), unlucky in love and (not unrelatedly) obsessed with Jane Austen—the books, the characters, the time period, the aesthetics, everything. Her guest room is an altar to her obsession with Mr. Darcy in particular, and she has a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth’s Darcy in her living room. Apathetic and convinced that the only good men are fictional, Jane buys a package to go to Austenland, an immersive vacation where guests stay in an Austenesque manor and are the center of their own story, complete with men, food, entertainments, and, of course, romance. Jane can only afford the basic package, though, so rather than a Lizzie Bennet, she is relegated to navys, browns, and the servants’ quarters. Drama (kind of) ensues; you can guess the rest.

People, I kind of don’t know where to start with this mess.

keri russell felicityAustenland is always torn between showing scorn for Jane as a pathetic, deluded loser who romanticizes fiction instead of living life, and showing that she is different than all those other losers, so she’s not an appealing character. And I fundamentally refuse to believe that this character yo-yo-ing is Keri Russell’s fault. I mean, this is freaking Felicity we’re talking about: girlfriend makes pathetic romantic appealing as hell.

The premise of Austenland is that the actors there act charming and dote on the women, giving them the experience of their fantasy Austen heroines. The movie is determined to pull one over on its audience in the “reveal” of a clever “twist” (my scare quotes, if it isn’t clear, suggest that this “reveal” is no revelation) having to do with whether the men are really acting or if their romance is real. However, it doesn’t matter whether whether the romance is real or contrived because both the Mr. Darcy character and the stableboy character are so absolutely unappealing.

Don’t even get me started on Jennifer Coolidge, whose “dumb American” character has, at this point in cinematic history, become so unrelentingly clichéd that she may as well have been plucked out of another movie and stuck into this one. James Callis and Georgia King add dashes of random absurdity that do little more than remind the viewers that we wish this movie would be as absurd in its execution as it is in its premise.

Really, JJ Feild, as the Mr. Darcyish character is the only one who can get away with playing it straight, because Austenland, for all that it alleges to be comic, is, at heart, a fairly uncreative and conservative reinscription of the notion that every woman’s fantasy is Mr. Darcy, and if they act Lizzy Bennet-esque, then that fantasy will come true.

austenlandAnd that’s the real failure, I think: that the movie, in the end, only replicates Austen as opposed to conversing with her.  Jane’s journey is an unsubtle parallel of an Austen character’s and fails to address any of the questions that could have been interestingly raised about a modern woman obsessed with Regency times. In a movie packed with gags, references, uncomfortable humor, and lots and lots of curled hair, there really isn’t a single moment of charm. Nor is there any hint of what someone like Jane might find appealing about Jane Austen’s world to begin with. Indeed, Austenland seems to be operating under the assumption that it doesn’t need to explain what’s appealing about Austen, because we all already agree. Rather, from the opening scenes of the film, it is clear that young Jane will be taught a lesson: you must be disillusioned of your fantasies to have a chance at real happiness. It is equally clear, I think, that this is a lesson Austen has taught us many times over—and with far wittier dialogue.

Movie Review of Geography Club & Thoughts on Queer YA Film

A Discussion of Geography Club, directed by Gary Entin; written by Edmund Entin, based on the novel by Brent Hartinger

Geography Club

by REBECCA, July 24, 2013

Q Fest, Philadelphia’s annual queer film festival, has just ended, and among all the great indie films and shorts, I also got a chance to see Geography Club, based on Brent Hartinger’s YA novel of the same name, which came out a decade ago. Hartinger’s novel was one of only a few YA novels featuring queer characters at the time, and its rarity is often held in contrast to the decade-long expansion of queer YA fiction that would follow it. I remember reading Geography Club when it came out and found it a fun, charming read, if nothing particularly deep or surprising. It blended together in my mind with Alex Sanchez’ Rainbow Trilogy (2001-2005); the cover of the first in the trilogy, Rainbow Boys, I just realized, features a baby Matt Bomer:

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez Order of the Poised Oak by Brent Hartinger

One thing that’s interested me in watching the increase in queer characters in YA lit has been the inevitable (and welcome) shift from every book that is about a queer teen being a coming out story to the presence of books like Alex London’s Proxy and Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens—stories that begin from the premise that there’s more to being queer than just realizing it and informing others of it. That is: a queer character no longer necessitates the structure of a problem novel, where coming out structures the main drama of the narrative. And this, I think, is a development in publishing more than writing. There have always been people writing awesome, complex queer characters; there just haven’t always been people who were willing to publish them. For a list of my favorite queer YA reads and to-reads, check out my guest posts over at Housequeer: “Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With,” and “More Queer Young Adult Fiction To Curl Up With: My To-Read Edition.”

GleeAnyway, watching Geography Club had me thinking about why, in 2013, Hartinger’s novel would be the book to get the green light. In a film festival full of (for better and for worse) searching, experimental, and unique films, Geography Club stood out as the slickest, most easily consumable, mainstream film in the bunch. In large part, the film is firmly on familiar ground for anyone who watches Glee: it’s a feel-good story of attractive, non-threatening gay and lesbian high schoolers who have straight best friends and are figuring out who they are and what role their sexual orientations play in their lives. So, it makes sense that this would be the kind of movie that a studio would want to make: in a way, it doesn’t matter that it’s queerness that is the central struggle for these characters; this struggle results in the same dramatic action as another coming of age struggle would.

I don’t say this to dismiss the film at all—to the contrary, it’s nice that we are now able to have films featuring queer characters where their queerness is pretty . . . normal. Rather, I say it to point out that YA film, in 2013, is still about a decade behind YA publishing when it comes to the kinds of stories it’s able/willing to tell. And this isn’t really surprising, considering that the sheer material requirements for a film (money, bodies, time, space) are much greater than that of a book. Still, I hope that the awesome queer YA lit that’s come out in the last five or ten years—not to mention the enthusiasm about it that readers have expressed—will inspire the YA film powers that be to take some more risks on stories that don’t all follow a coming-out narrative structure.

Geography Club is a sweet, well-made feel-good film. The acting (particularly the adorable Cameron Deane Stewart as Russell and Andrew Caldwell as his manic, girl- and junk food-obsessed bestie) is solid, and there are some really funny moments. It’s a well-paced and self-assured movie, and was exactly the kind of confection I wanted to watch on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. But, just like Hartinger’s novel, it’s not a story that will stick with me, nor is it one that shows us anything we didn’t already know. And, for me, despite being sweet and funny, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think? What are the queer YA books you’d love to see come to the silver screen? Tell me in the comments.

Upcoming Film Adaptations of Young Adult Books

A List of My Top 10 Most Anticipated YA Book To Film Adaptations!

Ender's Game

by REBECCA, July 16, 2013

This weekend, I was at my dear friend E—’s wedding with some of my all-time favorite people with whom to discuss books, movies, and YA. That reminded me of how excited I am to see what messes/successes come from the upcoming SLEW of YA books that are being adapted for the big screen. So, here is a list of the top 10 adaptations I’m most looking forward to!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Ender's Game

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Probably the most anticipated science fiction film adaptation of the year, there’s been a lot of controversy over this one. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books of all time, but Orson Scott Card is an ultraconservative outspoken homophobe, so many sci fi fans want to boycott the movie to avoid lining Card’s pockets. This is definitely one to check out before the movie drops, November 1st.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

I liked the first in the Divergent series, but the prose was weak and I thought the world-building was a bit spotty, so I wonder if the movie won’t actually be able to smooth over those things. The film is coming out March 21, 2014.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both of whom will star in Divergent, will also star in The Fault In Our Stars. Check out Tessa’s review of John Green’s wonderful novel HERE. The film is coming in 2014.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan The Forest of Hands and Teeth

4. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I really enjoyed this creepy zombie plague story and cannot wait to see it on the big screen. It’s a slow-moving story, but super atmospheric, so I think it has the potential to be awesome.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

5. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner follows a group of boys who wake up in a maze with no memory of how they got there or how to get out. I just watched MTV’s Teen Wolf (which was actually much better than I anticipated), and The Maze Runner movie stars Dylan O’Brien, the best character in Teen Wolf. The movie comes out February 14, 2014.

City of Bones The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments

6. City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare

This one’s coming really soon—August 22; get ready! Oh, City of Bones, you turned crazy after a while, but I’m still so excited to see you, especially in the company of Lily Collins’ perfect eyebrows. And with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the villain, how could things go wrong . . . ?

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

7. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Omigod, you guys, this is only in development, but IT IS HAPPENING! In the meantime, though, you can check out my dream for an amusement park ride based on Uglies HERE.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I loved Gayle Forman’s beautiful story of a girl fighting her way back from a coma after the accident that killed her family. I’m curious to see how they’ll do it as a movie, since so much of it is in the character’s head. Chloe Moretz is slated to star—let’s hope she pulls it off. She is also going to play Carrie in the upcoming remake of Carrie.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

9. The Graveyard Book and The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, but The Graveyard Book wasn’t one of my favorites of his. I think a movie of it could be wonderful, though. Everything that made it kind of a slow, diffuse read could make for a dynamite movie. Ron Howard is directing, so it might be ok, or it might be sentimental tripe. The Ocean At the End of the Lane, however, is an absolutely stunning book that I worry will make a crap movie.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

10. Maggie Stiefvater’s EVERYTHING!

I could not possibly be more excited! Both The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys have been optioned and are in production. Gah! Shiver was in production but, according to Maggie Stiefvater’s website, she and the filmmakers had creative differences, so it’s not going forward right now, but maybe in the future. People: murderous water horses. IN A MOVIE!

Anyhoo, there are a staggering number of YAdaptations in the works! Which ones are you looking forward to? Tell me in the comments!

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