A Very Bubblewrapped Homecoming: The Spectacular Now

I’m about three months out from completing my M.A. in film studies. Part of this last semester is taking a film reviewing class, so in order to get back into the groove of blogging I decided to share my reviews. Each week we watch a film that is either a classic or from last year’s crop of stunners, and the following week we turn in a review with a maximum of 375 words. The word limit is the real challenge because I often have more to say about a movie than 375 words can convey, but that is part of the fun too. Learning to be concise is one of the toughest lessons a writer faces. It’s right up there with getting past the dreaded blinking cursor. So without further ado, here are my brief thoughts on The Spectacular Now.

Here is the trailer, if you’re interested.

Everyone remembers high school, but few people want to stay in that moment forever.  The exception to the rule is Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), the eternal good-time-guy in James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (2013). Staring down the barrel of a blank college application and an uncertain future, Sutter would like nothing better than to continue his tenure as party king of his local high school. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter seeks refuge in shy, geeky Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodly), who challenges his perceptions of how to connect with another person. His ubiquitous spiked Big Gulp in hand, Sutter must decide whether to join his peers in growing up or to stagnate in his small town.

Miles Teller consistently plays the incorrigible slacker. It is a role that Teller has all but perfected in films such as 21 & Over (2013) and That Awkward Moment (2014) where his charm and wit enable a lonesome friend to discover something about themselves. If this is to be Teller’s niche as an actor, then his performance is spot on. Shailene Woodly is equally charismatic as Aimee, though in a quieter, more endearing way. From the offset Aimee is positioned as an angelic force in Sutter’s life, and Woodly plays the character with such finesse that she does not feel as if she is acting. The dynamic, natural chemistry between Woodly and Teller is what makes The Spectacular Now seem like well edited reality rather than a stylized studio film.

Pondsolt’s film straddles the divide between teen comedy and serious drama with remarkable ease. It is the quintessential quiet Independent film with some loud thoughts on life. While there are many themes that the story grapples with—the perils of facing the future, battling addiction in its many forms, or the unforgiving throes of first love—The Spectacular Now is able to address each troubling concept with a raw honesty that audiences will be drawn to.

The Country That Got Away

“A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority.” –Samuel Johnson

When I was fifteen I went on a People to People trip that took me to Malta, Italy, Monaco, and France. Now, fifteen-year-old me was enamored with the idea of France. The fashion. The romance. The food. It all just sounded perfect; that I was destined to love it. And I did enjoy France, my main complaint was that the trip didn’t allot us enough time to truly explore such bounteous beauty. [People to People is a highly regimented tourist program for teens. Great way to see different countries when you’re young, but it doesn’t leave a ton of time for lingering.] Instead, I fell madly in love with Italy.

I’m not sure exactly what charmed me most about Italy. There is really no better way to explain it except as a first love experience. The shy exploration and growing wonder with each new day in that country parallels the emotions of a first crush. I climbed a volcano. I visited Caesar’s tomb. I baked my own brick oven pizza. Every day was something new and beautiful. There was no resisting its lure. And I’ve always longed to return.

Tomorrow, I get on a plane that will touch down in Bologna, Italy. It will be a ten day excursion centered around Il Cinema Ritrovatro, a film restoration festival. The best part is that I’ll be getting credit towards my film studies masters because the course is through Chapman University. I’m thrilled to be taking the travel course in general. I get to watch some restored classics as they were meant to be seen–on the big screen. There will be early Hitchcock films, a smattering of Charlie Chaplin, and miscellaneous restorations from the golden era of cinema. I’m excited for the festival, but somehow nervous about the traveling itself.

I’m worried that twenty-three year old me won’t be enchanted with Italy the same way fifteen-year-old me was. I’ve certainly changed and grown since my teens. It’s almost like seeing the one that got away again after a long separation. You hope that they’re still the same person you fell in love with, but are equally afraid that they will have changed.

In short, I’m a nervous ball of energy. It should still be an amazing experience, but that doesn’t make me less jittery. I won’t know how I feel about the trip until after it’s over. Bologna will also be new territory for me, a part of Italy not yet traversed. But I’ll be keeping a journal and taking my camera to capture the experience.

When I return, I’ll have to let you know if I’ve been romanced all over again or had my heart broken.

First Day of Film School: Science Fiction

So today is the day. The whole reason I made the trek and relocated my life out to California. The first day of grad school. Eek!

First days are an amalgamation of nervousness and exhilaration. This does not change no matter your age, or at least for me  it hasn’t. That same eagerness that I had on the first day of kindergarten, where I got to finger-paint and nap, feels the same now as I get ready for my first class of my M.A., Global Science Fiction. Although to be fair I don’t imagine any finger-painting will be involved, and any naps taken will be out of sheer need and not after snack time, so there are some key differences. But the excitement is the same.

Even though my first class is in the evening, I’ve spent my morning preparing. Notebooks are labeled, clothes are laid out, and my backpack is at the door ready to go. I just have to wait for it. And in my waiting I have read and in some cases re-read my materials for today’s class. Which is really the whole point of this post.

Whether you’re a casual film fan or an absolute cinephile (which is coincidentally a word that spell check doesn’t want to acknowledge exists but means movie lover) it’s fun to see what others are watching and/or reading about when it comes to film. Movies are such a communal thing in our culture. So this is me bringing you into my educational community. I’ll try to keep this up as best I can through the semester, but once papers and research become a regular thing, I make no guarantees.

So the textbook for this course is Christine Cornea’s Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality. Thus far it’s been a discussion about how science fiction as a genre has been defined, and the differentiation between the intentions of SF literature and film. Sounds heavy, but it’s kind of fun when you start thinking about what makes this genre tick. Is it the “creature features” from the 50s and 60s? The consistent interest in aliens? Today’s focus on expanding technology? That all seems to be up for debate and the blurry lines of the very definition is what makes SF a fascinating genre.

Horror or Science Fiction? You decide.

We’ll also be reading from online articles and blogs, which is great inspiration for this aspiring blogger. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Movies first, otherwise the articles won’t make much sense. And if you haven’t already seen any of these films, you should definitely check them out before reading the articles because spoilers abound.

So movies. This week we’re screening “Le voyage dans la lune” (Georges Melies, France, 1898-1905) and “La Jetee” (Chris Marker, France, 1962). For some, the name Georges Melies might ring a bell if you are a fan of Scorsese’s Hugo (USA, 2011). Melies and his creative process were beautifully rendered by Scorsese, but you should see the original Melies films, if for no other reason than it will give you a better appreciation for Hugo ( but seriously, they’re awesome and ought to be appreciated on their own merit). I’m excited to see “La Jetee” because I have never heard of it. It’s a broadening my horizons moment. I’m woefully ignorant about foreign film but I’m working on fixing that.

Anywho, if you’re still interested after watching the movies (and I’m assuming you behaved yourself and actually tracked down the films instead of just clicking on these links) then here’s what we’re reading from the mighty internet.

“A Trip to the Moon” by Dan North (A fellow WordPress blogger)

http://drnorth.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/a-trip-to-the-moon-le-voyage-dans-la-lune/

“La Jetee: Unchained Melody” by Johnathan Romney

http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/485-la-jetee-unchained-melody

“Freeze Frames and Stasis in La Jetee” by Nicola Woodham

http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2010/12/20/freeze-frames-and-stasis-in-la-jetee/

North’s blog has a ton of links throughout though some are inactive. I found it helpful to just read it straight through. I also get distracted easily, so that may be my personal problem.

That in a nutshell, is my first day of film school. Hopefully, I’ll have time to talk about my thoughts on the screenings, but if not, I hope you enjoy the overview.

Has any one seen any of Melies’ films or “La Jetee”? Thoughts?