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When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

A perfect movie for capturing every summer vibe

When you can’t make it to the drive-in, the sofa is a great place to spend a lazy summer evening

Here’s a list of movies for all your summer watching needs.

For beach vibes: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Honourable mention: The Descendants

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is set in balmy Hawaii, amid palm trees and dreamy ocean waves. Between Kristen Bell in a pink bikini and Mila Kunis with a white tropical flower tucked behind her ear, this movie is sure to make you wish you could leave city life behind to join the characters in a warm haze of sand, cocktails, and bathing suits. Also, Paul Rudd as a surf instructor is officially my summer chillness guru.

For thriller vibes: Jaws

Honourable mention: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Famously featuring a great white shark devastating unwitting beachgoers, this movie is ideal for those of us who want to both get in the summer spirit and are in the mood for mystery and suspense. With its marvellously tense soundtrack mingled with a summer resort aesthetic, Jaws is a great way to add a surreal creepiness to an otherwise tranquil summer day.

For romance vibes: Call Me by Your Name

Honourable mention: (500) Days of Summer

Set in the small town of Crema in northern Italy, this movie is a delicious exploration of the ups and downs of summer love. Call Me by Your Name captures the salacious heat of summertime lust, the playfulness of a fast-paced friendship, and the excitement of pursuing someone forbidden. You can witness the blissful sensuality of falling in love against a technicolour backdrop of tall grasses and shaded ponds. It also isn’t a real summer romance film unless there’s a strange sex scene involving fruit, and Call Me by Your Name certainly delivers on that front.  

For innocent Disney vibes: Moana

Honourable mention: Lilo and Stitch

It’s an animated movie about a strong young woman embracing her passion for the ocean by defying the confining boundaries of her island — you can’t watch it without developing an unshakeable desire for adventure. Featuring a dazzling but deadly crab, a beautiful grass-covered goddess who finds her heart, and songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda at his finest — Moana inspires you to take the voyage across the ocean — whatever your own metaphorical ocean may be.

For horror vibes: It

Honourable mention: Friday the 13th

This coming-of-age movie about finding friendship during a time of adversity is often punctuated by characters groaning that it’s summer break, a time for relaxing and having fun, not fighting monsters. It is perfect for those of us who disagree and think the whole point of summer break is fighting monsters.   

For showbiz glam vibes: Almost Famous

Honourable mention: La La Land

If summer is the time when you repress all the biology facts you’ve been cramming in your brain and return to your childhood fantasies of living a rock-and-roll lifestyle, this is the movie for cultivating your delusions. Almost Famous is about a young hopeful journalist on the road with a bus full of washed-up rockstars and glamorous groupies — the summer road trip of your dreams.

For childhood nostalgia vibes: High School Musical 2

Honourable mention: The Parent Trap

This movie asks “what time is it?” for us to all yell back, in perfect unison, “SUMMERTIME!” High School Musical 2 has a song for every summer scenario: summer job doldrums, perfecting that fabulous poolside aesthetic, the inevitable breakup after a summer romance fizzles, angsty soul searching on the golf course, and, for some reason, a “pineapple princess” pining after a fish with a long, complicated Hawaiian name.

For ‘80s classics vibes: Dirty Dancing

Honourable mention: National Lampoon’s Vacation

With its iconic soundtrack and killer dance numbers, this movie will make you long for those days of family vacations. Except this time, instead of wasting your holiday sunbathing and begging your older sister to sneak you mojitos from the bar, you could be falling in love with the resort’s dance instructor to the tune of your favourite ‘80s pop songs.

For teenage revelry vibes: Meatballs

Honourable mention: American Pie 2

If summer makes you nostalgic for high school (shudder), then you probably spent your teenage years partying at your friend’s beach house, or drunkenly singing songs around a bonfire. Meatballs, however, will make you wish you had spent your summers as a camp counsellor — the main duties of which are apparently playing pranks and scoring chicks. This film will make you pine for the semi-innocence of those blissful teenaged summers.

For musical vibes: Mamma Mia

Honourable mention: Grease

Amanda Seyfried’s character is a makeup-free, beachy-haired goddess who always has a bathing suit on underneath her white summery blouse, in case she needs to frantically chase after a retreating boat. Spoiler: she does. She lives on a fictional Greek island called “Kalokairi” that is essentially a slice of heaven. The crystalline ocean and Mediterranean architecture of the island would also make me want to periodically burst into song. To me, the soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of summer.

The problem with Wakanda

In Black Panther, the nation's governance policy leaves much to be desired

The problem with Wakanda

As a disclaimer to the nitpicking that is to follow, I liked Black Panther. It was fun, progressive, and more thoughtful than the bulk of Marvel Studios’ past releases. But there are definitely some particulars about the movie’s depiction of Wakanda that do not add up.

First of all, why is the King of Wakanda the first field agent you send to deal with threats to national security? When Ulysses Klaue, the film’s first villain, resurfaces, T’Challa is the primary agent sent to capture or kill him, despite his other obligations.

In other words, let’s put the governance of the most technologically advanced nation on Earth on hold, because we can find no one else to capture this insane man with a vibranium hand blaster thing.

It’s not only a poor use of a head of state’s time, but it’s also an enormous risk to political stability — you’re risking the life of your leader. It was unfortunate when T’Challa’s father was killed in a United Nations bombing, but frankly, with espionage policy like this, I’m shocked that the turnover rate of Wakandan kings isn’t way higher.

You might say that I’m being unfair, because Wakanda’s king is the only one who drinks the Heart-Shaped Herb juice and is thus the most physically prepared to execute these missions. But then why haven’t the roles of Black Panther and King of Wakanda been separated, given that they clearly conflict with one another?

I can just imagine the Wakandan news headlines: “Third King this year KIA, time for military espionage reform?” And then people would be furious because the King being Black Panther is in their Second Amendment, or something.

Next, why does Wakanda select its leader by combat? How does physical strength and martial arts training represent an accurate assessment of political acumen or leadership skills?

Don’t get me wrong, I would be first in line to buy a ticket to a WWE Trump vs. Clinton Championship for the presidency, but personally, the novelty would not outweigh the obvious dangers of that selection process.

Watching M’Baku and T’Challa fight to submission for the throne made me feel like Chuck Woodchuck from Bojack Horseman when Mr. Peanutbutter challenges him to a ski race for the Governorship of California. Wakanda is meant to be technologically advanced and socially progressive. Why are they still using this archaic process to select their leaders?

Getting rid of this process would have solved a key conflict in the plot. Killmonger takes over Wakanda by doing nothing more than defeating T’Challa in a fight. At least Trump had some electoral support from the people he had to govern when he won, even as a political outsider. And Trump campaigned for months to make himself appear viable.

Killmonger shows up and takes the throne in one day, and the only person he had supporting him was the guy from Get Out. It’s as if the Wakandans constructed their political system with Death Star logic. “No, no, we have to set up the system such that the whole thing could blow up in our faces with one proton torpedo,” in this case the proton torpedo being a metaphor for a megalomaniac ex-military man who wants Wakanda to leave behind its isolationist ways.

Finally, why have the Wakandan elite become so lax on their isolationist mantra? This is arguably the most confusing point, because it’s an actual plot hole. Others we can suspend disbelief, attribute to culture, dumb luck, and a status quo of not challenging the throne.

But given the actions of Okoye and T’Challa, the world should long have been looking into Wakanda’s connection to vibranium. T’Challa fights in public, with his Black Panther suit on, to capture Klaue in South Korea, despite the presence of his CIA friend Everett Ross, who only knows him as the Wakandan leader.

Later in the film, T’Challa’s inner circle chastises him for bringing Ross to Wakanda to heal his injuries, for fear that he’ll report the truth about them back to America. But earlier scenes should have already raised huge suspicions for Ross about T’Challa and the gang.

Ross was purchasing a Wakandan artifact that Klaue claims to be made of vibranium. He should have already been putting two and two together about Wakanda’s ability to work with vibranium. And even though Ross was only present for the end of the chase with Klaue, he still sees T’Challa as Black Panther, the guy who stops bullets, blows up cars, and captures Klaue. T’Challa is even the one who turns Klaue over to Ross.

Why is the question “Hey man, where did you get that suit from?” never raised? T’Challa’s snap decision to reveal his identity to Ross sheds major doubt on the seriousness of how Wakandan leaders take their country’s secrecy.

It just doesn’t make sense to have physical competitions for leadership or send your king to perform assassinations. And it definitely doesn’t make sense to approve of that king and his entourage revealing their possession of a high-tech panther suit when your goal is to hide your technology from the rest of the world.

Albeit a great film, Black Panther is probably not a great guide on the basics of how to run a country.

Overlooked: The Florida Project

Another year, another awards season snub

Overlooked: <i>The Florida Project</i>

Perhaps by now I should be used to the fact that some of the greatest films will go unappreciated by the Academy. However, this year, I could no longer sit idly by as another movie joined the ranks of undeserved Oscar snubs. The Florida Project does everything a great movie is supposed to do, but its contribution was unjustly overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards.

A dreamy visual experience that at least warranted a nomination for Best Cinematography, The Florida Project puts you in the shoes of Moonee, a six-year-old girl living in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Disney World with her young mother, who is in many ways a child herself. Moonee is mischievous, carefree, a bit of a brat, and part of a demographic in America known as the ‘hidden homeless’ — those who live in temporary housing and are often forgotten by society.

While Moonee’s situation may be heartbreaking to many, the film is not made to make you feel hopeless. Instead, it’s a celebration of childhood, friendship, and family — just not in a context that many of us have experienced.

But through the genius of writer and director Sean Baker, you almost feel like you’ve lived through what Moonee is experiencing. Baker fully immerses you into her world, one in which the adults loom over the camera and the sky is shot as a wide, open expanse. The world seems so vast from the perspective of a child, and, through Baker’s talent with the camera, that’s exactly how the viewer sees it.

Beyond the visual elements of the film, Baker also manages to blend perfect childhood innocence with the realities of poverty in America. Moonee plays in abandoned houses with her friends, which to them seem like a playground, but to us are yet more failed housing developments in post-recession America.

It’s little signs like these, the bittersweet notes that surface throughout the film, that give an indication of what lies just beyond the periphery of Moonee’s world. You come to love Moonee, with all her sass and charm, but you know what hardship lies in her future and in the futures of all the real children who live a life like hers.

Movies are made to take you out of your own life and open your eyes to the different lived experiences of others. When a film truly does its job, you come out of it as a changed person with a better understanding of a small part of the world.

A good movie makes you empathize, not just sympathize — The Florida Project succeeded in doing this in every way, and it doesn’t need an Academy Award to tell me that.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email

Black Panther is already revolutionary

Marvel's new film is the result of massive cultural collaboration in the Black artistic community

<i>Black Panther</i> is already revolutionary

Kendrick Lamar said it best on the opening track of the soundtrack to Black Panther: “Sisters and brothers in unison, not because of me / Because we don’t glue with the opposition.”

The sticking point across the entire production of Black Panther is unity. The making of the film, comics, and music represent a mass confluence of mainstream artistic participation.

The soundtrack, curated by Lamar and released on February 9, mixes hip hop, rap, and R&B. It features SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Khalid, The Weeknd, Future, and Lamar himself, among many others. According to Complex, Lamar decided to produce the soundtrack upon watching scenes from the movie.

At first glance, the reason for the total cultural push behind Black Panther seems obvious. It’s the first mainstream superhero movie with a Black protagonist, taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been meticulously crafted with numerous blockbuster hits. The film’s namesake, the supremely cool T’Challa, the Black Panther — played by the previously relatively unknown Chadwick Boseman — is a warrior and leader unlike any other.

The production became something of a star-scape of world-class Black talent. Aside from Lamar and the soundtrack artists, the film stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o alongside Boseman, and it is directed by Ryan Coogler, the director of 2015’s incredible Creed, which also starred Jordan.

Preliminary reviews are glowing. The film has a 97 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising its direction, performances, and screenplay for delivering a charismatic and powerful movie. The soundtrack has been described as “beautiful, propulsive, and spacious” by Rolling Stone, which noted the significance of many of the lyrics: they allude to “age-old African diasporic dreams and 21st Century politics.”

The film is a symbol of empowerment for a marginalized group. Hopefully, the movie will succeed in provoking a thoughtful discussion of racism and racial identity in our collective cultural conversation.

The top 10 films of 2017

In the midst of awards season, we compiled a run down of the year's best films

The top 10 films of 2017

Last year saw many great film releases, with an increasingly diverse crop of filmmakers competing for a wide berth of awards. Here are 2017’s top 10 films, and how they stack up.


10. Mudbound

The story of two families who share an intertwined existence — white landowners in rural 1946 Mississippi and the Black tenant farmers who live on their land — Mudbound isn’t a film containing neat messages about racism, classism, or post-World War II post-traumatic stress disorder, though the film does ably tackle all of these. Instead, it’s a sprawling, timely, and compassionate tragedy, one in the vein of epics that Hollywood seems to make no longer, like Reds and The Killing Fields. Mudbound asks what can truly be ours within a life of servitude caused by systems that imprison us — and what happens when those systems reach a breaking point. 

Mudbound has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Mary J. Blige. It deserves more, especially in categories such as production and costume design, but being recognized at the Oscars at all is a big step for a Netflix-released film, and it signals changing times in cinema.


9. Foxtrot

Using a non-linear narrative that centres on the parents of a deceased Israeli soldier, Foxtrot is a fascinatingly unpredictable movie. It ingeniously frames how grief makes everything around you seem alien and unappealing. It also contains a long sequence of a soldier dancing with his rifle, and even stretches of animation.

In Foxtrot, director and writer Samuel Maoz doesn’t ignore the complications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, has slammed the film — but he also doesn’t allow them to consume the film. Rather than offering tidy messages about hope, Foxtrot shows the surreal absurdity of finding hope and levity while living within the despair of constant war, and in doing so, it becomes a unique, brilliant movie. 

Foxtrot was Israel’s entry in the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, and it made the December shortlist. While it had promising chances of being one of the five eventual nominees, in the end it didn’t make the cut.

8. Faces Places

The premise of Faces Places, one of the best documentaries in years, might seem like it can’t support a whole film. It depicts a road trip taken by famed French New Wave director Agnès Varda, 89, and renowned French street artist JR, 34. The pair travel throughout rural France and create portraits of the people they encounter — and that’s it.

At under 90 minutes, Faces Places is beautiful in its simplicity. It’s hard to explain what makes it such a magical experience to see. Part of it is seeing the spirit of Varda, whose sight is failing, refuse to waiver in her work, and seeing how both Varda and JR, who make a frequently hilarious odd couple, delight in the details of every story they hear. 

Faces Places is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, and it has a good chance at the golden statuette. 

7. Columbus

Columbus concerns Jin (John Cho), a Korean-American translator working in Korea, who returns to his hometown of Columbus, Indiana after his father falls into a coma. Columbus is a haven of architectural modernism, and much of the movie consists of beautiful, slow shots of buildings from Jin’s past, as he visits them with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who has chosen to stay in Columbus to take care of her mother.

It’s difficult to articulate the serenity of Columbus. It’s a movie that is at turns passionate and calming, statuesque and hypnotic, yet messy and creative, like the buildings of Columbus itself.

Columbus has gone largely unnoticed during awards season, though it is nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards. Even so, this doesn’t rule out future hits for debut filmmaker Kogonada, whose previous experience consisted solely of making video essays posted to YouTube.

6. Get Out

Following its release last February, Get Out became one of the year’s most acclaimed films, totally unique in its examination of subjects like the wilful ignorance and racism of upper-class, mostly white liberals. It’s one of the best, smartest horror films in recent memory, frequently breaking out into starkly funny moments of absurdity, where you can see writer-director Jordan Peele’s cutting sense of humour shining through. 

Not only is Get Out nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, it has received four Oscar nominations. Peele has become the third person, after Warren Beatty and James L. Brooks, to receive simultaneous nominations for Best Picture, Screenplay, and Director for a debut film. Lead actor Daniel Kaluuya also became the 14th ever Black person to receive the nomination for Best Actor — all are huge achievements for a social thriller such as Get Out, the likes of which which usually go ignored by the academy.


5. Okja

Bong Joon-ho, the Korean director of Snowpiercer, continues his run of bitingly effective satires with Okja. The titular Okja is a superpig, a genetically modified organism bred for meat by the Mirando Corporation. Okja’s friendship with a young girl and subsequent interventions by militant animal rights groups and celebrity zoologists cause havoc. Although Okja has all the chases and inspiring motifs of a classic Steven Spielberg movie, it’s a corporate satire at heart, in the vein of Network, cutting deep into the parts of society that prioritize profit above all else.

Okja has largely been ignored by awards organizations thus far, perhaps because of its release on Netflix during the summer — but it’s a thrilling, moving film that deserves your attention nonetheless.


4. The Shape of Water

“This time, the monster’s going to fuck the girl.” This is what director Guillermo del Toro is reported to have told Doug Jones, his collaborator and monster model in previous movies such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, when preparing for The Shape of Water.

The movie is about the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who discovers an “asset,” an amphibious man (Doug Jones), being held in the Baltimore government lab she cleans, and falls in love with him. The Shape of Water is one of the best monster movies made in years, but it’s also so much more than that.

It’s a movie that has a palpable, gleeful distaste for the institutions that deny us personal freedoms, a love letter to movie monsters, and a triumph of artistic expression. There are so many recurring nods to the film’s contempt for oppression that it becomes hard to count, but it never feels overwhelming; del Toro’s love for the movie, and of monsters, always shines through.

After being personally shut out of nominations for his previously acclaimed films, Guillermo del Toro has earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, alongside 11 other Oscar nominations. Hawkins and Richard Jenkins are nominated for their roles, and the film has also dominated the creative nominations.


3. Lady Bird

In Lady Bird, writer-director Greta Gerwig has created a movie where everything seems real. In a tight 93 minutes, she deftly balances the kind of zany humour and sudden heartbreak between which we all pivot while growing up. Despite its deceptively simple plot, about a girl (Saoirse Ronan) about to graduate high school and her relationship with her parents (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts), Lady Bird reveals itself to be incredibly deep because of its refreshing approach to vulnerability.

Lady Bird’s problems with friends, her mother’s fear of losing her, her father’s depression — none of it ever seems fake or constructed. Lady Bird is the funniest movie of last year, but it might also be the saddest, too.

At only 23, this is Saoirse Ronan’s third time being nominated for an Oscar, and Gerwig has also become the fifth woman ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. Lady Bird is also nominated for Best Picture, a category in which it’s a formidable opponent.

2. Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name is another movie that is seemingly simple in narrative. It’s about 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) during the summer of 1983 in Italy, where his academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg) hires Oliver, a graduate student (Armie Hammer), to work on a summer project; Elio and Oliver fall in love.

Aside from the sumptuous, rich atmosphere that director Luca Guadagnino and writer James Ivory create, what most stands out about Call Me by Your Name is that it’s an incredibly compassionate film. Its depiction of love isn’t innocent, but it’s not jaded, either — it’s genuine and uninhibited. The film perfectly captures the idyll and tenderness of falling in love for the first time and the pain of watching it slip away.

“Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spots,” Elio’s father says to him in a heartbreakingly powerful ending monologue. Indeed, Call Me by Your Name never feels anything less than natural. 

Since the Sundance Film Festival last January, Call Me by Your Name has been acclaimed by almost every awards association. It’s earned four Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay. At 22, breakout star Chalamet is also the youngest actor since 1939 to be nominated for Best Actor, and he’s the third youngest ever.

1. Blade Runner 2049

Many films last year defined themselves by a contempt for institutional oppression, and that message is at its most powerful in Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve and his collaborators — chiefly Roger Deakins, his cinematographer, who does the best work of his career here — have done the impossible: they have created a brilliant sequel that can just as easily stand on its own.

Taking place 30 years after the original Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is about Officer K, a replicant, or manufactured human, and an LAPD “blade runner,” made to hunt down and kill other replicants who have outlived their predetermined lifetimes.

More than anything, the visually marvellous dystopia that Blade Runner 2049 presents is a institutionally tired one. It’s a future where climate change has won and the air is toxic, a future where we have given in to the pressures of capitalism and continued to treat women’s bodies as commodities. In a time where we are on the cusp of the widespread usage of industrial AI, this dystopia raises important questions.

Despite all of this, Blade Runner 2049 manages to be a fundamentally hopeful movie, using poignant motifs about individuality and the uniqueness of memory to inspire hope. One scene in particular, involving visually designing a dream, is one of the most heartbreaking and magical scenes put on screen in 2017. Unconcerned with neat answers and much more focused on providing emotional responses to existential questions, Blade Runner 2049 is a stunning achievement. 

The film has chiefly been ignored by many awards associations, including the Oscars, outside of technical categories like cinematography and production design. That said, producing a brilliant sequel to an original as iconic as Blade Runner is an achievement in and of itself. It will be recognized more in years to come.

Science on screen can be creative, but it should also be realistic

Why science in movies should be accurate

Science on screen can be creative, but it should also be realistic

Filmmakers often consult scientists while scriptwriting. A film too grounded in science can turn viewers away, while a film that does not abide by scientific principles and laws can compromise its legitimacy. Those making science-based films thus consult experts to make a creative yet plausible plot.

The 2014 film Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan, follows NASA pilot Joseph Cooper and his team as they leave Earth, which is becoming uninhabitable. Their journey to fictional black hole Gargantua takes them through a wormhole, where they explore new planets.

Because of the complicated nature of the physics in this film, like black holes and wormholes, Nolan consulted Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist and now a Nobel Prize laureate for his work on gravitational waves. Thorne provided scientific basis. In fact, he partly inspired the film.

Generally, a consultant brought to a film project will provide factual or scientific basis for a director’s vision. While the process relies on scientific expertise, filmmakers typically have the final say in how they portray a scientific phenomenon. Because of this, scientists who consult on films can only offer a general understanding of scientific principles.

While writing the film, Nolan would propose a situation he would want to take place in the story, and Thorne would provide necessary equations and current theory that could make the situation a reality.

Interstellar was immensely successful at the box office and in demonstrating black holes and time dilation. Thanks to the collaborative effort between filmmakers and experts, it didn’t compromise the film’s scientific basis or Nolan’s creative vision.

In fact, Nolan said the film could serve as potential teaching material for students understanding that realm of physics. While Interstellar is not perfect, it still inspires many to look toward the stars in search of habitable planets and extraterrestrial lifeforms.

Looking further back in time, Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey, consulted astrophysicist Carl Sagan to create a story that speaks of the transformation of man and man’s destiny through artificial intelligence, space travel, and extraterrestrial lifeforms. Kubrick is a master in the world of filmmaking, but to truly understand space — something that had not been visually witnessed at the time — he needed expertise.

The 2016 film Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, takes audiences on a journey through language and communication with extraterrestrial lifeforms who land on Earth. Villeneuve consulted linguistics professor Jessica Coon at McGill University on the deciphering and creation of languages.

Filmmakers want to send their messages to the world, and in order to effectively accomplish this, their projects must be as accurate as possible. The US National Academy of Sciences saw the need for legitimacy in science-based films and developed the Science and Entertainment Exchange to foster relationships between film directors and scientists.

Films like Arrival and Interstellar are grounded in science, but the guarantee of accuracy cannot come from filmmakers alone. Only through conscientious collaboration with scientists can movies truly become masterpieces on the big screens.

Overlooked: Youth

The Chinese drama is an introspective look at the lives of youth during the Cultural Revolution

Overlooked: Youth

It was the ’70s: teenagers embraced bell bottoms, sunglasses, and love songs — all behind closed doors. In the newly established People’s Republic of China, the decade was not a period marked by hippie movements and music festivals but by tumultuous social reform and impending war.

The Chinese film Youth, directed by Feng Xiaogang, who is dubbed the ‘Steven Spielberg of China,’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. It debuted at North American theatres in mid-December, and while it found tremendous success with domestic Chinese audiences, it may have been perceived as too foreign for other viewers.

Youth follows the lives of two young dancers in the People’s Liberation Army dance troupe. Liu Feng, whose name mimics the Communist party martyr Lei Feng, performs acts of unhindered and naïve kindness in the hopes of fulfilling the prophecy of his name. He Xiaoping is an outcast who wishes to abandon her background and start anew by contributing to the army.

Despite their occasional and hidden experimentation with counterrevolutionary fashion and music, the dance team remains optimistic about the revolution and expresses their patriotism through dance. Their morale is short-lived, however, after the protagonists are sent to the frontlines of the Sino-Vietnamese War.

Without overemphasizing politically sensitive topics, Feng is able to portray the ups and downs of young adulthood in a devastating period for China. Accompanied by washes of sepia, each dance scene evokes feelings of nostalgia and romanticism. The protagonists have dedicated the peak of their life to their profession, and only through the fantasy of performance can they live out the hopeful dreams of their youth.

There is a change of tone toward the end of the film. Liu Feng, now a jobless veteran, finds himself standing in front of a red Coca-Cola billboard in the wake of China expanding its economy. The protagonists’ former teammates are now successful business owners abroad while they, the most dedicated of them all, struggle to make a living. Cold reality sets into the scene while Liu Feng and He Xiaoping reminisce — they have finally achieved martyrdom by sacrificing their idealism and youth to the revolution.

Youth is a melancholy story about the fragility of youth and the failures of a revolution meant to eliminate the elite. Though its execution does sometimes fall short with respect to its overly sentimental acting, it offers a different perspective on the coming-of-age genre. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air in Chinese cinema.

While the movie is strictly in Mandarin with English subtitles, the experience of youth is universal, and Youth should be seen by everyone.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email

I’m not ashamed to love The Room

The Disaster Artist’s source material has its own merits

I’m not ashamed to love <i>The Room</i>

“Imagine a movie so incomprehensible that you find yourself compelled to watch it over and over again.”

So writes Greg Sestero in the author’s note of The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The RoomThe Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, co-written with Tom Bissell. Published in 2013, the book details the production of what is widely reputed to be the worst movie ever made — and now, it’s been adapted into a feature film by none other than James Franco.

I am not ashamed to admit that I love The Room. I have seen it more times than I can count, and I have strong-armed all of my friends into watching it. And I would happily spend my hard-earned dollars to attend one of its legendary midnight screenings, where audience members engage in the ritualistic practice of collectively yelling phrases at the screen during certain scenes.

Obviously, I am not alone in my fanaticism. In the 14 years since its original release, The Room has achieved near-mythical status in the canon of the so-called ‘trash film,’ a genre defined by low budgets and amateurish production. So great is the fervour of The Room’s fan base that it has been the subject of actual empirical research.

Given the film’s notoriety, I was not altogether surprised when I first heard that The Disaster Artist — which, yes, I have read through multiple times — was on its way to the big screen. I was torn: excited on the one hand, nervous on the other.

I was excited because I will gleefully consume any Room-related media without hesitation — did you know that some wonderful soul made an entire tribute game on Newgrounds? Because I sure did! — and I was nervous because the very concept of a Disaster Artist movie seemed too contradictory a project to be successful.

A study published in the journal Poetics, which examined audiences’ consumption of trash films, found that people who watch movies like The Room do so largely because they appreciate their marked deviance from the norms of mainstream cinema. The appeal of these films lies in their transgressive nature. This is as true for The Room as for any other ‘trash’ movie — films such as The Black Gestapo (1975), Roadhouse (1989), or Ben & Arthur (2003). To quote Disaster Artist co-author Bissell, “[The Room] is like a movie made by an alien who has never seen a movie, but has had movies thoroughly explained to him.”

The Room is fun to watch because, despite the veneer of legitimacy afforded it by a $6 million budget, it is conspicuously missing every single element that makes for a ‘good’ movie. It is full of plot holes and abandoned subplots; its characters’ motivations are inscrutable, illogical, or both; its writing is nonsensical at best, syntactically splintered at worst.

In sharp contrast to The RoomThe Disaster Artist is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and it possesses a coherent narrative structure. It bears all the markers of your typical mainstream movie.

And yet The Disaster Artist does not feel typical. This is especially thanks to Franco’s masterful portrayal of Tommy Wiseau, the maverick who wrote, directed, produced, and starred in The Room. Franco’s Wiseau is so uncannily familiar it verges on the surreal, down to his singularly ambiguous accent, described by Sestero and Bissell as “an Eastern European accent that had been hit by a Parisian bus.”

At the same time, The Disaster Artist’s treatment of Wiseau is never cruel, though it easily could have been. It does an exceedingly good job of humanizing a figure that has captivated the public through his eccentricity. The Disaster Artist embraces the niche-ness of its source material, but it does so in a way that makes it compatible with a big-budget, big-name production.

Yes, there are pitfalls to wrestling a movie like The Room into the framework of a Hollywood feature. To a great extent, enjoyment of The Disaster Artist requires familiarity with The Room — I suspect that, for the uninitiated, the film may be more confusing than hilarious.

That said, when you look past its esoteric exterior, the core themes of The Disaster Artist, I think, hold a broader appeal. At the end of the day, the movie is asking its viewers an important question: what is art, and what makes it ‘good?’

“The Room, to me, shatters the distinction between good and bad,” Bissell told Vox in an interview earlier this year. “Do I think it’s a good movie? No. Do I think it’s a strong movie that moves me on the level that art usually moves me? Absolutely not. But I can’t say it’s bad because … it’s brought me so much joy.”