Thursday, November 8, 2012

What took you so long?

After a long wait, the next installment of the Bond franchise is finally here, and it was well worth the wait. After the last Bond film, I went in to the latest addition to the reboot of the 50 year old franchise with some hesitation. However, the third film in the triumvirate of Daniel Craig films picks up the slack left by The Quantum of Solace and then some, a masterful transition between the earlier films, dominated by a stripped down and gritty version of the Bond universe as the franchise moves into known and loved territory. Skyfall gives plenty of nods to fans of the franchise of elements missing (and perhaps missed) in the earlier films. Some subtle, some not so much, many of the classic elements are reintroduced in this film and will have fans of the gadgets, cars, and bond girls cheering as they pave the way for the next films to delve back into this territory. As a person who has not necessarily been a fan of the Bond films before Daniel Craig's reign, due to a certain level of cheese, and perhaps even camp in some of the films, I found myself cheering at the reappearance of characters such as Q, and the allusion to the way Bond takes his drink.
The cinematography is beautiful, and the use of surfaces and reflections stunning to create layers and depth to the screen. Of particular beauty, watch for the scene in Shanghai where the lights and moving image that surround you in big cities make for an incredibly visually powerful scene. Also, it is refreshing to see a modern action film that is not afraid of long takes to allow the scene to unfold, and in this film, perhaps one of the best scenes is the introduction of the villain, Silva (Javier Bardem) as he walks onscreen, slowly filling the frame in one long shot and dominating every scene he is in after. The performance of Bardem steals the show, creating a character who will go down as one of the best villains in Bond history. He is simply magnificent. As the creators of the best villains know, the best villains have something imminently likeable about them (think of the levels of charm, grace and attractiveness of many of Hitchcock's villains, for example). Silva is evil, and insane...perhaps with some reason as the story unfolds, but it is impossible not to like him, and Bardem dominates the screen every second he is on it.
Finally, one of the best elements of this film is the fact that Mendes is unafraid to slow down the beginning and take time to reflect. While the movie begins with a high speed chase, Mendes slows down a notch and takes a moment to pause. The first half of the film is about the failings of the Bond institution. The mistakes (or not) that M has made. Bond himself, as the film concentrates on his aging body. In this trilogy where Bond's body is his ultimate tool, since he lacks much of the gadgetry of earlier films, the slow deterioration of his physical abilities calls his position as an agent into question. He is perhaps himself becoming too old for the job. His aim falters, his hand shakes. We see more of his origin story, and find out more about Bond's youth. It is a perfect way to round of the first trilogy of the reboot. Even if Craig is coming back, this feels like the perfect way to wrap up this gritty era of Bond and bring it full circle back to the feel of the original films (although, hopefully they won't lose all of the grit and darkness that have become the style of the new films), and it is exciting for fans and newer viewers of the series alike. While I could go on about how much I liked this film, and how all the elements fit together perfectly, I will concluded here. All of these elements add up for an incredible film, one highly worth seeing, and seeing in the theater. Rating=A

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Kingdom for a Blunderbuss!

As always, a warning about spoilers! Looper, perhaps one of the more anticipated films of the fall, judging by the lines at the theater, does not disappoint. The story is tight and involving, the film has strong performances, and the world built is a believable extension of our own (i.e., they have some flying cars, but most are old beat up hybrids that have solar panels strapped to them. Little details like making not everyone wealthy enough to own expensive gadgetry is a nice touch in an effort towards a sense of believability in this as America’s future).
So, let the spoilers begin! While this is a science fiction story, the strongest element of it is the journey of the main character, and I don’t just mean through time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a young “looper”, who exterminates people sent back to him by a crime lord in the future (the “Rainmaker”). He knows, as do all loopers, that one day, they will be killing themselves, and thus closing the loop. I won’t go too much into detail, because it’s fun to watch and discover on your own. Needless to say, if you’ve seen the trailer, when Bruce Willis comes back as his future self, Joe can’t kill him, thus setting up the main conflict of the film. What I want to discuss though, is the fact that this film reminds me in certain ways, of some of Hitchcock’s work. Not obviously, so let me explain. As one Hitchcock scholar likes to point out, Hitchcock’s films are all about the journey from personality to person. The characters start out as outlines for people, stereotypes, or personalities. As the film progresses, and their relationships with other people along with it, they become rounded, complete characters. While the plots aren’t meaningless, they are often not the main point. Yes, the narrative is wonderful, but the characters are what make Hitchcock’s films great. I would argue the same about Looper. The story is about a man—junkie, killer, amoral, and incredibly selfish. What he does, and lets happen for money is terrible and he knows it, but can’t let it go. He thinks he can buy his way out of his problems. Even future Joe is the same way. He is still ultimately driven by more selfish motives. But the movie goes on, and in the true personality to person style, Joe develops more and more as his relationships with a young woman (Emily Blunt) and her son grows after he ends up on their doorstep looking for help.
The science fiction and time travel aspects are solid, even though it might be best not to look too closely at this part, as there would be major gaps and pitfalls, as there are in most time travel movies. It avoids a lot of the traps that these other films, while stronger sci-fi, can fall into trying to wrap up all their loose ends because in the end, Johnson reaches in, and virtually makes the time travel moot (he closes a loop in a very nicely executed, not quite deus ex machina move). While it's a great and essential part of the story, it’s not the science fiction that matters the most, but Joe’s journey and personhood, and his relationship to the other characters. Time travel is simply the way he finds himself (although, perhaps ironically, it is not the time traveling self that achieves it). That’s the main loop of the story, and it is brought to a close beautifully as Joe learns to act in someone's interest other than his own. Definitely a movie to see!
Warning: the movie is quite graphic, and is rated R for a reason. I still recommend it highly.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For love of the theatre

I have been sorely lacking in reviews recently, and the only excuse I can make is that I’ve spent all that time sitting in a theater watching The Dark Knight Rises over and over. So, I will try to play catch-up with the movies that I have seen this summer that I feel are worthy of comment. However, I want to devote this post to a description of my favorite theater in Los Angeles, and potentially the world (although I don’t know yet, since I’m still trying to get to all of them) for those who have not been fortunate enough to go to it. One of my favorite things about the movies is the experience of them in public, in a venue that’s sole purpose is the escapist adventure that is movie going. Even if you see a documentary, you escape from your own world to enter someone else’s, and from the moment you buy your ticket and walk through the doors, to when you exit, crawling out of the darkness and into the real world, the experience of movie-going is one of the more valuable entertainments since its inception in the late 19th, early 20th century.
One theater that gets the movie experience incredibly right is the Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, at the apex of the gigantic intersection of Hillhurst, Sunset Blvd., Hollywood Blvd., and Sunset Dr. It is one of the scarier and more confusing intersections that I have experience, but it is well managed, and there is nothing like the confusion of not being quite sure if you are, in fact, turning down the road you meant to. You may, of course, walk to the theater, but it takes approximately 7 minutes to cross the street, since there are only 3 crosswalks that you can use to get there, and with 6 or 7 directions of oncoming traffic, it takes time for the little man to light up, meaning you can finally safely cross to your destination. Of course, you can see the Vista and know its purpose long before you actually stand under the large signboard advertising the film currently playing. Neon green and pink lights advertise the theater, and a thrill runs through you as you recognize this experience as different from the normal multiplex, and somehow linked with past movie-goers and times in a vintage experience. The design and style are obviously older, and you feel you are part of history as you walk up to the entrance. The walk up to the ticket window is lined with handprints from sponsors of the theater, walking up the slight incline to the ticket booth outside the theater reminds you of old black and white movies you have seen. You may or may not have to stand back on the side of the road then, it depends on how popular the movie you are going to see is, and whether or not it’s opening night. The Vista is quite popular.
After the appropriate amount of anticipation has built up, and you feel connected to the other movie-goers somehow even though you all stand in your individual parties. The manager has been talking to patrons dressed as a character from the movie you are about to see (he has been The Phantom, Captain America, Jack Sparrow, Batman, and many more), and finally, he opens the doors about 15 minutes before the movie begins. You hand him your ticket and walk inside, already excited by the intrusion of the fantastical into the everyday through the manager’s costume, and are immediately transported into an even more fantastical experience. The lobby is decorated with faux hieroglyphics painted onto the walls, and palm branches above them. The concession stand is right in front of you, small and prominent, and the lobby is still lined with cardboard cutouts for the latest films. However you have already been blown away from the uniqueness and personality that assail you, so different from the bright lights and blaring screens that adorn so many larger cinemas. Once you have your popcorn, candy, or soda, you head into the theater, and stop short. The walls are lined with Egyptian statues, staring down at the audience through blank eyes. A plush red curtain covers the screen, and to either side, speakers are masked by intricate golden screens with snakes. Large, conic lighting fixtures create a soft lighting scheme, and give the room texture, and there is so much space in the room, aided in appearance by the fact that the walls are not painted black, that you just breath in the room for a minute, taking in the décor, and the music playing from somewhere overhead. As you walk down the aisle to choose a seat, you wonder about the history of the theater, because it looks like it belongs to the group of old theaters that were exotically themed (Egypt, China, and Persia were all popular) to draw in audiences. However, your friend tells you that in fact, The Mummy had their premier here in the 90s, and since the theater had fallen into disrepair, they revamped everything for that. When they asked the owner if he wanted them to take it down after, he said no, and you think it was perhaps the best decision ever.
Choosing seats, the first thing you notice is how much leg-space there is. You can stick your legs straight in front of you, and not come close to hitting the chair in the row ahead. During the movie, patrons will be able to get up and leave without the jostle and whispered apologies that usually accompany theaters trying to cram as many people in as possible, and you have decided already that this is your favorite theater in town for that reason alone. Finally, as the lights dim, and old-fashioned cartoon plays with a catchy song telling the audience, “Let’s all go to the lobby, to get ourselves a treat”. The vintage ad only increases the antique feeling of the experience, and you almost forget what you are seeing as trailers play, and then an announcement to turn off cellphones. These are faded and worn, and the switch to the new movie is something of a shock, but you settle down in the comfy chairs to enjoy it. After the credits roll, and the lights come up, you remember where you are and look around in wonder at the décor of the room as patrons get up to leave. You shuffle up and out into the light, and leave the small lobby behind as you walk, either to your car, parked on one of the streets in the surrounding residential neighborhood (but not the first one, because that one only has 2 hour parking unless you have a permit), or you head off into the evening, the sign lit up and glowing behind you as the theater gets ready to let in its next crowd to be charmed, enchanted and entertained.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New name!

How exciting, this blog has a new name! Let me know what you think! And until my next post, just bask in the fact that Cougar Town got picked up, despite being under a new show runner, by TBS. Yay!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Please be aware, this review contains spoilers.
The trend for retelling fairy tales in recent years, while popular, has seemed to me to have produced mostly mediocre works that attempt to pull major twists on genre, plot or characterization, and often fall quite short (Beastly, Red Riding Hood, Mirror Mirror, etc. to name a few). Fairy tales focus on the psyche, and use the fantastical to project our own fears, wishes and personalities onto a safe screen to deal with them. Unfortunately, most of the recent re-tellings do not succeed in this. While there have been exceptions to this rule, (for example, Tangled, which I discuss later), for the most part, these films have been focused on glitz and glamor versus a more substantial engagement with the purpose and use of fairy tales. Snow White and the Huntsman is no different in this regard, except for perhaps the number of people that will go see it due to its star power and production budget. As an avid lover of fairy tales, I am unashamed to admit that Snow White was one of the films that I most looked forward to for this summer. Potential for strong female leads, a wonderful looking trailer due to an elaborate and intricate production design, and a strong cast (say what you will about Twilight, anyone who can make Bella Swan remotely human is a good actress), Snow White held a lot of promise. However, it is clear that in the case of this film, once again, all the focus went in to making the film very glossy, and very little went into the actual story. The scripts is one of the worst that I have experienced, with little for Stewart, Theron, and Hemsworth to do, as none of them are given tasks up to their abilities. There are layers hinted at for the characters, particularly Ravenna (the evil queen), and the Huntsman, however they are only hints at dark and torturous, and are left unexplored and un-characterized in favor of detailing the world and its minutia. I am a huge fan of complex story worlds, and perhaps Universal is setting up for a continuing story universe, especially given the way the film draws to a close. However, I found myself completely lacking any interest in the characters, merely because they are not the focus of the story. Snow White, whose main attributes are her innocence and purity (although, lip service is given to her “defiant spirit” in the beginning, is one note and boring, and apparently it is her beauty and goodness alone that inspire all these men to follow her. This leads to one of my main frustrations, because they movie seems very confused about what direction to take with her. She’s innocent and pure, but they also want to dress her in a suit of armor and have her fight in the final battle (and don’t get me started on how heavy that would actually be…especially for a girl who has supposedly been locked in a tower for 10 years). Ok...but pick one! Anyone who has seen or read anything good about female knights (Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe features some great ones, as does Game of Thrones) knows how much work and effort goes into what is extremely physical, and what would have been considered an extremely unfeminine profession. It's okay if she can magically know how to fight and manage to hold herself upright under plate armor because hey, this means that reductive stereotyping in terms of personality is okay because look, she's been masculinized! See, she's holding a sword! And she's leading these people because...why again? Oh yes, because she's so pure and innocent! She likes wildlife! And she said the Our Father earlier (somewhat confusingly-so, we are in the real world?), so you know she's an angel! But I guess to appease any of those feminist people, she can fight too. See! She isn't only defined by innocence and purity! Except she is, and we are constantly reminded of it, which makes it harder and harder to take her seriously, as she is given virtually no motivation except for her goodness, and the vague mention of her as "the one". I guess she's kind of "plucky" as she has been called, but Stewart is called on to do so little except stand around with tears in her eyes, it's hard to get a sense of the character. Which brings me to the question of the romance. While I love making female characters strong and individualistic, I do admit to sometimes wanting the schloppy romance. This film steers pretty well clear of that, which has pros and cons I think (more later). The writer's start off by giving Stewart and Hemsworth a bit of sexual tension (and I mean, it’s not subtle or anything. He rips her skirt off for heaven’s sake), and completely abandon it once he finds out who she is (perhaps word of her innocence and purity had spread throughout the land? I don’t know). Heaven forbid she be tainted by a little actual sexuality. (Seriously, her first kiss has disastrous consequences). I do admire the aspect of her independence at the end of the film (you’ll see), but that was pretty much the only redeeming thing for her to me. The inconsistencies in her characterization show a lack of a true idea of who these characters are, which adds to a lack of feeling of any sense of connection between any of them. Am I supposed to care about her because she's the embodiment of all that is good? It might have helped if there was a little interaction between the adult Stewart and Theron's characters before the end of the film. I’m guessing there was a love triangle, but it was so poorly developed that I didn’t care at all about it. And the strongest relationship should have been between Snow White and Ravenna. Which brings me to Tangled. The best thing about Tangled was how it got so much right about mother daughter relationships. The original point of the evil stepmother was to allow children who felt angry or did not like aspects about their own mothers to safely displace these emotions onto another figure, who acted as the opposite of the figure of a caring, nurturing mother. (for a great discussion, see Maria Tatar’s The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales). Bruno Bettelheim posited the theory that this allows for a splitting of the mother into a good (and absent) biological mother and an evil stepmother, preventing one from feeling guilty about being angry with one’s own mother. In Tangled, Mother Gothel has cared and nurtured for Rapunzel since she was a baby (does anyone else feel a little sympathy for the fact that she obviously was the one doing all the 3 a.m. feedings?), but in the true spirit of fairy tales, turns out to be an evil monster. I would have liked to see this kind of complexity from Snow White and the Huntsman, instead of a vilification from pretty much the beginning, with very little to humanize Ravenna. Even flashbacks to her past can’t make you empathize with her because she is such a monster.
Also, in brief, as alluded to before, are my issues with the romance of the story (there really almost isn't any). Yes, I like the fact that it stays away from many of the traditioanl pitfalls or teen movies here, but again, it can't decide what to be. Sure, they don't spend time building the why does Snow White still have to be kissed awake? And gosh darn it, if you try to set up a love triangle, I want there to be at least some heat between love interests. There isn’t any here, mostly because we don’t get many scenes with them actually interacting. I mean, the movie is named Snow White and the Huntsman. They should have more than, I don't know, 5 lines spoken to each other. There is so little dialogue between any of the lovers, that when Hemsworth has a monologue about Snow White, I am left completely unconvinced--not to mention the fact that she is unconscious at this time (SPOILER: except, interestingly, one of his lines is that she reminds him of his wife, who just died, so in this case, she is an interesting rebound case…another element that could have been brought up to complicate the characters, but wasn’t, and still, doesn't point to their connection, but to his and his dead wife's. Still, unconsciousness aside, I guess Snow heard it because of all the tears that leak out once she awakens by his smooch). END SPOILER. Several of the action scenes could have been cut in favor of more development between these characters—I’m thinking specifically of the fight with the troll, who is stopped in its tracks by staring deeply into Snow White’s eyes. Please. Why not cut this, which doesn’t advance the plot or the characterization (yes, I get it, she’s pure and innocent, and will save everyone) and in its place, add some actual human interaction. But I guess when your relationship is built on tears, gorgeous hair and beautiful biceps, who needs conversation? Side note: after seeing the wonderful sequence in Game of Thrones in “Blackwater”, and Tyrion Lannister’s rousing speech of “Those are brave men knocking at that gate. Let’s go kill them!”, Stewart’s overblown and preposterous rallying speech in this film rivaled Elizabeth Swan’s in POTC: At World’s End in terms of laughableness. I almost couldn’t keep a straight face. And when I say almost, I mean couldn’t. That’s right, I laughed. I do want to take a moment however, to mention the production design, which is gorgeous. The costumes are amazing, particularly Ravenna’s. There is wonderful imagery built around her and her connections to ravens (see, she’s named Ravenna, and she’s linked with ravens, which are a bird portending doom in many cultures. Get it? Get it?). The dreary and murky tone of the movie really works well, with brief splashes of color popping out. The CGI is wonderful in places, making textures interesting and creepy, particularly again in the palace of the queen (it is somewhat overdone and cheesy in the spiritualized “sanctuary” where the dwarfs take Snow White and the Huntsman. And I mean, Once Upon a Time cheesy. It doesn’t work here, while it does work in the tv show). However, the dark forest is pretty great, specifically when Snow White accidentally takes a trip on some hallucinogenic mushrooms, and images reminiscent of Disney’s 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In addition, much of the action is pretty good. Snow White’s escape from the castle in particular is one of the only really well paced sequences in the film (due in large part, I’m sure, to the lack of gratuitous slow motion in this one section). One of the main characters is also an archer (which I am always a sucker for ever since the Legolas days), and the choreography is very nice in many of the hand to hand combat sequences. The metallic phantom warriors were also quite impressive, and executed well. All in all, not the re-imagining that I was hoping for. Instead of infusing creativity and vitality into an old story, and re-telling it to fit society’s hopes and fears today, we are left with a paltry eye candy piece that wants to be too many mediocre things instead of trying to be one, unified, stunning piece. It had potential, and if you can find a cheap screening, I would see it I guess. Try not to be too disappointed though. If you want a really solid movie version of Snow White (besides Disney's that is), try the 1997 film "Snow White: A Tale of Terror", with Sigourney Weaver, which features far more humanizing characterizations and relationships. Also interestingly for those of you who might like this, (I'm looking at the somewhat more feminist among you), Snow White is not awakened with True Love's first kiss, but by her love interest (well some things don't change), shaking her violently until the piece of apple lodged in her throat gets coughed up. He's shouting "Breathe" at her all the while, and it's quite entertaining. Here's a trailer for it, and I definitely recommend this one. My rating: C+

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Into the Abyss

I have been so busy during the Master's program at USC that I hardly find time to write on this blog anymore except about films that really move me in some way. Perhaps it is a sign of how good Werner Herzog's new documentary "Into the Abyss" is that I am inspired to post a review even though I have not done so in so long. But the feeling I left with after this film is one that I would like others to experience, so I am encouraging you to go and see it.

To say it is a film about the death penalty is, I think, to miss some of the point of the film. It is about so much more. It is about an inmate on death row, and the circumstances surrounding how he got there--a senseless crime, families affected, the general nature of the death penalty in the state of Texas. However, one of the things I admire so much about this film is Herzog's respect for his subjects within the film, and the lack of pontification the film shows. Herzog does have a point of view, and in the style that is uniquely his, it comes across strongly through the film. So many documentarians seem to hide behind "facts", or let the facts tell the story because they think it will make their film less biased, or more interesting or something. However, anyone who thinks that any film can be made without a point of view is simply wrong. There is no way to divorce film maker from film entirely, and trying to remove yourself as a documentarian to prove the validity of the film only seems to me to make it weaker a lot of the time. Herzog does not give easy answers to the questions he poses. The perpetrator on death row is obviously guilty. However, Herzog refuses cheap tricks of vilification. We do not need emphasis on their villainy to feel for the victims' families, or understand the senseless nature of the heinous crime. However, the refusal to see the perpetrators as other than human adds layers of meaning, depth and truth to the film. One of the wonderful things about "Into the Abyss" is Herzog's presence within the film. Not quite a narrator, he still gives us a center from which to view what he is showing us, and shows the care that he has for filmmaking and the interest he has in this subject.

In what for me was a very great treat, Herzog was present to answer questions after the screening of the film at USC, and one of the points that came up was the revelation of truth vs. the spewing of facts. Because facts are not truth--I suppose in cases they can help lead you to it. However, truth is deeper, less tangible and more engrossing than mere facts. It is here that the power of Herzog's latest documentary lies. He does not seek facts, but truth--raw, emotional reality beyond questions of blame and guilt, beyond the espousal of political ideologies or the support of issues. "Into the Abyss" feels balanced in this sense, and does not feel that it must beat its audience over the head with its message. It (and Herzog) trusts the audience to bring themselves to the film, and draw what they will from it. While this is not to say that Herzog does not have an agenda with this film, for the point of view he takes comes across through his construction of the film, I think the respect Herzog shows with his subjects he extends to his audience. If they are coming to see the film, he respects them (and his own film-making) enough to let the story unfold visually, and cinematically without the need to beat an ideological standpoint into the ground.

This is not to say that that type of film-making does not have its place as well--however I find the story of "Into the Abyss" far more compelling and truthful than these films. The film is raw and real, and seeks out truth instead of seeking blame or guilt. The authorial presence lends a humanism to the film, and even in surprising moments a touch of the humor that Herzog often infuses into his films. I went into the movie expecting it to be depressing--how could a movie about the death penalty not be? While the movie is desperately sad, and deals with many of the worst events imaginable, Herzog deals with the subject so skillfully that I did not leave the theater feeling the impossible weight of the world bearing down on me as I have from documentaries about much less serious topics. Herzog weaves in small stories of hope, stories of heroism, and stories of love that are beautiful to behold. See especially, the story of a young man in a bar fight, stabbed with a long screwdriver, who didn't pick up a knife tossed at him to retaliate because he wanted to be able to go home and see his children that night. Look at the man who worked strapping down inmates to receive lethal injections, and after 125 could not justify a belief that anyone should be able to take a life any longer. And in the end, it seems to me that while the story is about death, it is also about life, and the importance of life. And this is what is inspiring about it even in its darkest, most abysmal moments.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fish in the Toilet of Love

Look out for spoilers! (Also, title is nothing but a reference to the brilliant British show Coupling, however I think it is apt for this post).

Well, after seeing Jane Eyre, spring break turned into a Fassbender fest for me, and I watched everything I could get my hands on with him in it that I hadn’t already seen. While watched last year’s Fish Tank, I was struck by its similarities to 2009’s An Education. Similarities abound--disaffected youth, instability of a family unit, affair with an older, married man. It was quite surprising how similar they are in ways. However, Fish Tank is a far superior film, and far less pretentious about being so.

Carey Mulligan was called the next Audrey Hepburn by someone after her role in An Education, and she is quite stunning in the movie. The film is well written, well acted and keeps you involved. It takes place in 1960s England, and takes great care to let you know how cool it is (she likes French New Wave cinema, and all the ‘cool’ trappings that go with that supposedly ‘anti-bourgeois’ art crowd. However, of course, An Education itself is not concerned with questions of class or race at all. Some mention of financial hardship is present (oh dear, how shall we ever afford Oxford?), however the characters lead a comfortable lives. Peter Sarsgaard is wealthier than her family, but the differences are not that pronounced, except that he can afford to take her on a trip to Paris. At the end, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes a bit as the main character says how she looks like everyone at Oxford, yet is so different on the inside. Okay, I get it, she was affected by this older man she slept with and her youthful dreams of a perfect marriage were forever shattered. However, she was able to pick herself up by her shoelaces and get back her scholarship to freaking Oxford. Boo hoo.

Fish Tank tells the story of Mia, a 15 year old girl who lives with her incredibly young mother and little sister--all of whom appear to hate each other, and are constantly yelling and cussing each other out. They are incredibly poor (“those track suits cost 20 quid”), and Mia is about to get sent to a referral school because her behavior is so out of control. Mia’s mother brings home a new boyfriend, Connor (Fassbender!), and from the start, a great amount of sexual tension dances between them. The film is wonderfully shot and has an incredible soundtrack that amps this all up, until the inevitable happens. The difference, and more believable/miserable reality of this film is that Mia has nowhere to go; it exposes the fallacy of class mobility (sure, it happens once in a blue moon I suppose, but not nearly so much as we would like to think). She tries to get ahead through the one thing she loves, dancing, however her opportunity here too turns out to be a cruel joke by the universe. Similarly, the class struggle of the film is heightened by the fact that Connor(spoiler) really belongs to the middle class, even though you don’t know this for most of the film and read him as part of the working class, like them. There are uncomfortable connotations of his “slumming” with Mia’s family, and her reactions to this knowledge are uncontrollable and frightening. While not a film about race and class, the racial aspect of class is not ignored such as it kind of is in An Education, and presents itself through Mia’s choice of music and dance styles, which have linked black and working class populations in Britain for decades (see Dick Hebdige’s work on subcultures for greater analysis of this). While the end of the film does resolve her struggles with her mother and sister, and she escapes the building she’s in, she doesn’t get to escape to one of the world’s finest educational institutions, but to Wales. Her’s isn’t a vertical track, it’s horizontal. You can’t help getting the feeling too, that her sister will end up trapped just like she is in the end.

Katie Jarvis is absolutely wonderful as the prickly, aggressive and defensive Mia, who is angry at the world that ignores and doesn’t care about her. Michael Fassbender is wonderful as Connor, who doesn’t seem so bad, is wildly charismatic, but turns out to be scum. While I enjoyed An Education, Fish Tank is unquestionably the better and more meaningful film, that feels like it’s about actual people, vs. that film that you know you’re supposed to like, but it can’t quite escape the feeling of staged-ness, or the feeling that it really should be a book (which it is).