Friday, October 22, 2010

Easy A

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Aly Michalka, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Lisa Kudrow.

Rating: 6/10

One of the greatest teen movies ever made, Clueless, was an update of Austen's Clueless. Likewise, Easy A is modern take on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this update is not half as clever or as relevant as it's predecessor. Olive is a funky, spunky, teenage girl who is well-liked but not really noticed in the social world of her high school. A bookish, witty and quietly hot young woman with a heart of gold, Olive accidentally lands herself in hot water by telling her overbearing best friend (Michalka) that she had lost her virginity. This tiny lie explodes all over school as the leader of a Christian mob (Bynes) spreads the rumour around like wildfire. As a favour to her gay friend, Olive agrees to pretend they have had sex so will stop getting bullied. Soon, she is accepting payment for saying she’s had sex with all the geeks and losers in school who hope that it will make them more appealing to girls. However, it isn’t long until the somewhat well-intentioned Olive finds herself in way over her head.

Easy A is a very entertaining film with some colourful supporting characters and a fantastic ensemble cast. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci play Olive’s overly liberal, ex-hippy parents and are adorably quirky, yet extremely warm. Both characters give the film some of the depth that the shallow void of high school social politics takes away. Lisa Kudrow is also impressive as the school guidance counsellor who finds herself in a very tricky predicament. But enough about the grown-ups, this film’s young cast are all fantastic too! Emma Stone is a star on the rise since she appeared in Judd Apatow’s Superbad and easily graduates to leading lady playing the complex heroine of the film. She has a wonderful girl-next-door quality and is a likeable balance of attractive and ordinary-looking. She has great comic timing and ability to evoke warmth and chemistry with everyone she shares screen time with.

A major flaw in the film, despite Emma Stone’s great screen presence is that the character of Olive is poorly characterised and her change from confident young outcast to attention-seeking vixen is disarming and, unfortunately takes away from the film’s considerable charm in other departments. Olive is adorable and her change to corset-wearing vamp doesn’t quite gel with the smart, self-assured young women at the start of the film.

There’s something quite old-fashioned about Easy A. It seems to suggest that having teenage sex is shocking. I can’t imagine that there’s a high school in America (or anywhere in the western world) where a girl would become a celebrity because she admits to having lost her virginity. In many ways the film has a lot to say about teenagers and it goes to great pains to steer clear of patronising them, but there is nothing progressive about Olive’s story.

These flaws, though fundamental can’t dampen the high spirits of the film and the charming big heart that it wears on its sleeve. The script is at times eloquent, always hilarious and though it brandishes its John Hughes references a little too heavily at times, it does evoke his intuitive, respectful love of teenagers.

This is an enjoyable teen movie that could have been the next Mean Girls but misses the mark by poor characterisation. It’s still a fun trip to the cinema though!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

Written by: Aaron Sorkin

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara

Rating: 10/10

Don’t be put off by the less than tantalising subject matter of David Fincher’s latest film, The Social Network. If the legal battles of the world’s youngest billionaire don’t sound like your cup of tea, do not deny yourself the chance to see this film. A distinctly unique film in every way, The Social Network balances the machine-gun and biting dialogue of Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) script with the tension and atmospherics of Fincher’s direction in such a way that what is created is truly different to anything you’ve ever seen.

The opening scene of The Social Network, in which we are introduced to our protagonist Mark Zuckerberg, says everything about the character, his motivations and his contradictory personality that you could possibly want to know. He is on a date with Erica (Rooney Mara) and pontificating about the important of getting into the exclusive Finals Clubs at Harvard. The intensity with which he speaks and the determination in his voice speaks volumes about his obsession with success, not for money but for the power and social standing that comes with it. The girl is unimpressed, breaking up with him in a rage over his constant ranting, saying “you’re gonna go through life thinking girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd but that won’t be true. It will be because you’re an asshole”. Interesting setup for film’s hero. Sorkin’s script starts as it means to go on. As the story of Facebook’s inception unfolds it becomes clear that there are no heroes in this story, and no real villains. The hateful rich guys are really the victims and the underdogs are the wrong-doers. Empathy does not come into the equation.

It seems to me that the central discussion in the film is the delicacy of ideas. As technology moves forward, it seems it is not a matter of who is creative enough to push things forward but who will get there first. Sometimes the progress of technology dictates where the ideas will come from and it really was only a matter of time before someone came up with and idea like Facebook. So when the snooty Winklevoss twins approach computer genius Zuckerberg with an idea for a social networking site with the prospect of exclusivity, Zuckerberg hates them for placing such importance on something so shallow, but goes off and creates the site for more social reasons. Friends finding friends; looking up someone you meet in a bar, etc. Despite this “good intentions” perspective, Zuckerberg did, essentially, steal the idea from the Winklevoss’s (or Winklevi, as he refers to them). So when the lawsuits start to fly it’s not a matter of knowing who to root for, it’s just going along for the ethical ride.

It is a testament to the filmmakers that this film is as interesting as it is. It really shouldn’t be as thought-provoking or profound as it is. Aaron Sorkin proved as showrunner of The West Wing that he had the capability to see the good and evil in decisions, a person need not be evil to make a very poor decision. Here, in The Social Network, there are no black and white characters; the morals are decidedly grey making for a very mature take on the courtroom drama.

There is a fine mix of quirky wit and sober menace, with a wonderfully nuanced performance by Jesse Eisenberg who has previously shown great talent in the likes of The Squid and the Whale but lately seems to have been pigeon-holed as the poor man’s Michael Cera. It’s great to see him living up to his potential in a truly memorable performance. Justin Timberlake also impresses as the infinitely charismatic Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who comes on board with Facebook midway through its ascent, causing all sorts of internal ruptures. Credit must also go to Armie Hammer who played both Winklevoss twins with meat-headed vulgarity but also with maturity and humanity.

This is a film with universal appeal, it is simply an excellent film, it cannot be denied. It’s difficult to imagine anybody not getting hopelessly sucked into this story. Come Oscar time, if I don’t see Sorkin’s name in lights, I’m starting a Facebook group called “Like if you think The Academy are idiots”.

 - Charlene Lydon (from:

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Phantom's Cinerama 80's Horror

The 80's was a time of great hyperbole; the clothes, the music, the horror movies. Artifice was hip, and it reflected in the grandiosity of the decade's horror films. Subtlety wasn't the Blair Witch Project in the 80's. It was a decade of in yer face scary monsters, blood and good-natured horrific fun.

This year as part of the Screen Cinema's annual Scream Cinema Monster Mash, Phantom FM are inviting listeners to vote for their favourite horror film. The choices are delectable:

Evil Dead 2
The Shining
The Lost Boys
Friday the 13th
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

My money's on The Shining but my heart belongs to Poltergeist. There's a movie that deserves to be on the big screen!

Last year's Scream Cinema Monster Mash played such gems as Child's Play, The Thing and a surprise film which turned out to be Frank Darabont's The Mist, screened in black and white as he had originally intended. Superb! Hopefully this year's lineup will be as fun and varied as 2009.

So get on over to Phantom FM Cinerama and get voting (for Poltergeist)!

Seeya at the Scream Cinema!!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud

Directed by: Burr Steers  

Witten by: Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick  

Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta

Rating: 5/10 

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud had the potential to be a pretty interesting, dark story of mental illness and grief which is unfortunately wrapped in the swaddling of a cheesy, majorly “Disneyfied” disaster of a script. Charlie St Cloud (Efron) and his little brother Sam (Tahan) are best friends who are torn apart by a tragic car accident. Charlie survives, Sam doesn’t, but soon after his death Charlie starts to meet Sam’s ghost every evening at sunset to play baseball. Five years later, Charlie is working in the graveyard where Sam is buried and completely unable to move on with his life, foregoing a college scholarship in favour of hanging out with his dead brother.

The film is shot expertly and is remarkably easy on the eye. Shot around Vancouver, Canada, the idyllic seaside town is beautiful and evokes and sense of perfection which gradually becomes a tragic trap in the second act. Director, Burr Steers keeps the story ticking along well and the rare moments of doom and gloom are affecting at times. However, the major problem with this film is in its outrageously sappy script. Think Nicolas Sparks crossed with The Ghost Whisperer and you’re halfway there. In fact, this film would be more comfortable on the Hallmark Channel than in the cinema. As the story twists and turns, you can stay on board to a certain extent given the fantastical concept but towards the end, the writers take things a little too far. I don’t know how the story ended in the book but the final twenty minutes of the film are inconceivably lame.
If this is Zac Efron’s way of trying to become a “serious actor” he’s going to have to try harder. His acting is actually pretty good. As he proved in last year’s likeable Me & Orson Welles he has fantastic screen presence and is well able for the high drama and the tender moments. The camera loves him (and his wet/naked torso, which is highlighted at every opportunity, proving the “feminine gaze” is alive and well). Unfortunately there is little to work with here as the script is so terrible that no actor could make it seem any less vomit-inducing. 
The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud is a supernatural drama which had the potential to be touching, but is far too soft for its own good. Any darkness in the story is usurped by the fairytale ending and the unwillingness of the filmmakers to take Efron’s fanbase out of their tween comfort zone.
-          Charlene Lydon