Join the Clone Club

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Oh hey, friends! It’s been far too long. Mostly, I’ve missed you all because I’ve had far fewer people to pawn new obsessions off on these past few weeks…Shall we get right back to it, then?

Orphan Black.

There. I said it.

Now, run along and watch it. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.

Start. Now.

Okay, if you’re still here (BUT WHY WOULD YOU BE?!), I’ll endeavour to convince you further.

Orphan Black follows the street-wise Sarah Manning who is pulled head firstorphanblack_thumbnail_01_web1 into a shady conspiracy after she witnesses a woman identical to herself commit suicide. As the layers of the pilot and following episodes are peeled back, it becomes apparent that Sarah is one of an indeterminate number of clones being monitored by the scientists that created them and hunted by religious radicals determined to end what they see as an abomination.

I love being surprised by television. I love going in without expectations. And most of all, I love being pulled in to worlds so quickly and irrevocably that the result is a full on, no holds barred binge-session.

Orphan Black fulfilled all of these things to such a high degree that I accidentally watched the whole thing in three days. (To be fair, there was only the ten-episode first season available, but still).

Characters make up 95% of the reason why I love stories. Whether the plot be hugely intricate or one that barely moves at all, if there’s a complex, interesting, and true-to-life character—I’m sold. Not only does Orphan Black offer an entire cast of wonderfully flawed and believable characters, but also an astonishingly talented actress who played more than half of them.

orphan-black-tatiana-maslany-clones-sarah-alison-cosima-helena-rachelTatiana Maslany—winner of the 2013 Critic’s Choice Television Award for Best Actress—plays each one of the clones (ten to date), all of which have multifaceted back-stories, unique appearances, mannerisms and personalities, and most of whom speak with distinctive accents.

Even if you’re entirely uninterested in the Orphan Black concept, you simply must tune in at least once to witness Maslany’s gargantuan talent and the masterful editing that easily allows her to frequent a scene with herself two or three times over.

Check out Maslany’s body double and some of the magic behind the filming:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jarettwieselman/meet-the-woman-beisdes-tatiana-maslany-who-plays-every-singl

orphan-black-felixImpossibly, Maslany playing 75% of the characters in no way overshadows the strength of her supporting cast. Most notably, without question, is Jordan Gavaris who plays Sarah’s darkly sassy, flamboyant foster brother, Felix—a performance that consistently manages to be deeply sympathetic and laugh-out-loud funny in equal measure. Maria Doyle Kennedy (recently of Downton Abbey fame) is a force as their foster mother, Mrs. S, and 7-year-old Skyler Wexler plays the somber and eerily wizened Kira to perfection.

But even with stellar actors in the shoes of amazing characters, it’s the unrelenting forward momentum of the show’s plot that sinks its claws into you right in those first two minutes. And as it speeds along—with you clinging for dear life—it’s got a little bit of everything to keep things interesting.

In a recent aptly named article, The Cult of Orphan Black, Time Magazine had this to say on the subject:

In many ways, that attitude toward the fanbase is typical of the show’s status as genre television that has learned from the mistakes (and successes) of others. Like Lost, Orphan Black has an apparently labyrinthine mythology behind it — but unlike Lost, it’s a show that is happy to offer answers to important questions sooner rather than later. Like Heroes, each new discovery appears to point towards a grand conspiracy behind events, but there’s a throughline (and, ultimately, endpoint) to that conspiracy that grounds the series to prevent the kind of messiness and creative tailspin that that series fell into after its first season. More subtly, it’s also a series that learned the lessons of a show like Buffy and keeps its core cast appreciably small. Audiences know very clearly who they can trust and who to care about.

Is Orphan Black the product of genre fans (or at least, viewers aware of genre tropes) who have been smart enough to look at what’s gone before and recognize what worked and what didn’t, then? There’s something neat about that realization, and fitting, as well. After all, what could be better for a show about clones than for its creators to make it from the most successful DNA of all its predecessors?

Well that says it all folks… Orphan Black is all the best parts of three hyper-popular, fandom-crazed, critically acclaimed series—plus a few things that are uniquely its own.

Do yourself a favour: set aside a few days and jump aboard this crazy ride – you definitely won’t regret it.

See you next week!

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

Time Traveling and Something New

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Shh, can you hear that? We just traveled back in time. It’s actually March 20th and I didn’t drop the ball and miss my post-date. It’s magic I tell you!

But actually, many apologies for the M.I.A-ness on the blog and welcome back to all our wonderful readers. We missed you!

Last night I did something I’ve always wanted to do but for some reason never have: I went to an improv class at Second City! It’s kind of a big deal for me because a. it’s improv and therefore there’s an element of terrifying to it, and b. I’m a great idea person but a less great “follow through” person. I always have a ready stack of excuses as to why I cannot which is stupid because I had so much fun.

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Me before going.

I went with my friend Max who I met at Algonquin  College. (You can check out his wicked movie reviews here.) And thank goodness I did because I, shockingly, got lost. If not for Max, I would have been wandering around on the wrong side of the street like a nutter, yelling at my phone for directions.

The class was a drop-in and lasted for about two hours. Seventeen of us, including the instructor, were all crammed into this tiny windowless studio with a small stage at the back. And let me tell you, some quirky characters showed up. My personal favourites were Young John Green, Senior Hipster, and Shouts McGee. Young John Green added a lot of spice to the class as he kept wandering back stage to explore. Senior Hipster had the greatest haircut I’ve ever seen on a man his age while Shouts McGee was sure to be heard at all times. It was really interesting to see the different kinds of people and where everyone’s mind went when presented with the challenge of thinking or reacting on the spot.

We played this one game where the instructor was a person at the information booth in a mall. Each person had to go and ask him a question. It could be anything like “where’s the shoe store?” or “do you have a pet store here?” Some people went for the standard “where is…” while others asked “have you seen my kid?” Max went with the classic “I just bought this coat but I’m missing the free orphan.” As for me, I lead with “I was just wondering if you’re free tonight?” And guys? I got a laugh! So yes, I did give myself an invisible pat on the shoulder.

Each time someone asked a question, the instructor had an immediate answer and often offered up whatever the first person asked. The lesson? Over and above the classic “yes and”, grant the wish and get on with the scene. Otherwise you drag. One thing I really appreciated about the class was that the instructor broke down the theories and principals behind improvisation. He explained why we do what we do and the thinking that goes with it.

Me after the class.

Me after the class.

I don’t know that I would do the drop-in class again (it would be the same introductory format) but if I can swing it, it would be a blast and a half to do the actual beginners class. So, here’s what I leave you with for today: go out and try something new. Chances are it’ll be awesome!

Happy Tuesday artsies!

-K

Follow us @WeArtsy

The Month of Veronica Mars

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Has anyone, perchance, been looking for me somewhere in the last, oh, ten years? Well, I figured it out where I was!

Turns out I’ve been living under a rock. A stupid one.

When the Internet and news sources alike suddenly were ablaze with word of the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, I knew I had missed something very important in my pop culture education—Veronica Mars.

V1I vaguely remembered a show of the same name that had played on TV back when I was in high school—but even as an avid series watcher, and a self-proclaimed TV connoisseur—I didn’t have a clue what it was about.

Fast forward to February 2014 when I hit play on my very first episode, and I still had no idea what Veronica Mars was about to entail.

Starring the incomparable Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars follows a high school girl who, after the murder of her best friend, becomes an amateur detective and solves a wide-range of crimes for her classmates in the middle-class-less town of Neptune, California. 

Sure, a teenage detective? It sounds silly, I know. I actually may have rolled my eyes at the V2concept in the pilot seeing as it sounds more like a middle grade book series, but even the movie calls itself out on it in its opening moments—because, by that point, it knew just how many people had chosen to keep watching.

This past Christmas break, a near and dear friend succinctly pointed out that I’m a fan of the hype. And by ‘the hype’ she did not mean the ultra-popular trend of the moment—no, she was referring to the stuff of smaller scale, but fiercely loyal followings, and bonus points if there’s an extra cool/awe-inspiring/heartfelt/insert-other-appropriate-adjectives-here cultural backstory to go along with it.

V4i.e. a 285% Kickstarter, fan-funded companion movie to a beloved television series.

So re-imagine with me, if you will, that cold February evening. Just as Wallace tells Veronica she’s as soft as a marshmallow, I became painfully, shamefully aware that this particular gem had been missing from my radar for OVER A DECADE.

Unlike most shows these days, Veronica Mars effortlessly weaves its episodic cases with its series-long storylines, and current TV creators and writers alike should be painstakingly studying its dedication to continuity. Though, in truth, the storylines progressively weaken (in miniscule doses compared to the farce many series become) the opening season of Veronica Mars is without a doubt the tightest, best planned out season of a television show that I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

And as I mentioned, I’m a bit of a connoisseur.

Anyway. I waited an excruciating four days while Keely, who had caught an episode or two in passing, caught the bug and hurriedly caught up to me at the end of the first season. And then—not proud, but obviously incredibly proud—together we ploughed through the second and third ones in a blissful six days of TV binge-mode.

We had a movie to catch while it was still in theatres, after all.

This weekend we sat in a cinema full of fans of the show that giggled at tiny little Easter eggs theV3 show’s creator had left for them to find in return for ten years of loyalty and a funded feature film. Or should I say… Keester eggs??? (See what I did there guys? HA! I’m in on a joke, too!)

I felt slightly nostalgic for a past with the show I didn’t actual have… part of me really wished, as I sat and waited for the movie to begin, that I too had been waiting nearly nine years, desperate to know what happened next. And not, you know, just 36 hours.

As for the movie itself, the budgetary restraints were obvious, but the film itself offered so much of what the fans had been wondering about over the years (since the show was abruptly cancelled after its third season), that its lack of dazzlingly cinematic grandeur registered on the radar of few. Plus, it was movie many of the viewers had actually contributed funds towards making, and that must have been a pretty damn cool feeling.

And finally, due to the genius of writer/creator Rob Thomas, the movie ended in a wonderfully believable way, allowing Veronica to keep fighting the fight, and without tying a nice, neat—and utterly implausible—bow on top of it all. And he managed to do this while also strategically placing each of his beloved characters in convenient-to-the-plot locales should the franchise ever continue.

Well played, Rob Thomas—you whore! (Guys, that’s an inside joke, too – can I be in the club now?)

Okay, artsies. I know I just made our triumphant return from analytical, objective, Oscar nominated reviews and immediately chose to bring it straight back to gush-fest territory—but truly, I do believe it’s an absolute shame that Veronica Mars never got the network loyalty and critical attention it deserved.

If you haven’t given it a go—now’s the time! You have… precisely… three days to watch its three seasons before you’ll miss your opportunity to watch the film in theatres.

Aaaand, if that’s a tad unrealistic for you, you can always download its digital copy on iTunes.

By next Tuesday, perhaps we’ll have ourselves some fellow Marshmallows!

See ya then!

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

Our Oscar Recap

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The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

Well, we’re a day later than every other blog and news source on the Internet, but we still decided to follow up the last five weeks of Oscar reviews with a little Oscar recap.

One of the greatest things about host Ellen Degeneres is how she wields her humour. So many jokes by hosts at the helm of Award Show functions are at the expense of the people supposedly being celebrated. Sure, they flash their winning smiles whenever the cameras are near, but there’s no way that everyone walks away without feeling a little bit stung. Ellen teases and never bullies—and maybe that makes us soft, but in our opinion, her token positive spirit beats mean every single time.

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Who else could poke fun at JLaw’s infamous trip last year, an incident that has been utterly beaten over the head by the media, and make it funny and fresh? Moreover, who other than Ellen could say what we’ve all been thinking- “either 12 Years a Slave will win for Best Film, or we’re all racist”- and get away with it?? Ellen, you’re brilliant and we love you.

Major reviews of her hosting job seem to agree that the show was bland and safe, but have no real complaints about it. Personally, we liked it better that way. Instead of appearing at random intervals and throwing out biting jokes or eyebrow raising comments, Ellen kept control throughout, worked the room, and—perhaps for the first time in our memories anyway—effectively bridged the gap between those of us sitting at home in our PJs, and those wearing impossibly expensive gowns in red velvet seats.

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And by that, we certainly don’t mean that we were desperate for “Celebrities Are Just Like Us” segments—but rather, we loved the random pizza delivery and selfie session because they were relaxed, silly, and didn’t take themselves too seriously. Honestly, the Oscars are almost always unwatchably stuffy, and this was certainly a welcome change.

No matter what you thought of her hosting job, you’ve got to agree that it beats the troubling ‘highlight’ joke of last year’s hosting gig—Seth McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs”.

Reason No.1 Why Ellen is the Best: She Broke Twitter.

Reason No.1 Why Ellen is the Best: She Broke Twitter.

As for the winners…

First of all, not to brag or anything, but all of our Oscar predications came true… And now we wish we had posted a prediction list here before Sunday night because—clearly—no one believes us.

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey took home the Actor awards in both Supporting and Leading categories for the amazing Dallas Buyer’s Club—and very deservedly so. Leto (who also won the coveted Ellen Degeneres’s award for Most Beautiful) gave a speech that could melt your heart. He devoted his performance to his mother and brother who were there with him that night.

jared leto

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And you can say what you want about McConaughey, but these are two things we know to be irrevocably true: his performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club was a game changer—he has one hundred and fifty present earned his ascend from sub par romantic comedies into the big leagues—and also, the man is the definition of cool. Sure, he tends to be a rambler, but in less confident, less genuine hands, his speech (entirely void of comment on the film that had gotten him there) would have been cheesy and excessive. Instead, he created one of the most poignant moments of the evening, his words encouraging everyone out there to make heroes out of their future selves and to consistently aspire to the possibilities of that future was inspiration in its purest form.

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Lupita Nyong’o not only won Best Supporting Actress for her stunning performance in 12 Years a Slave, but on Sunday she also won the award for most moving acceptance speech. “Always remember, your dreams are valid.” She is a shining example of grace and humility.

cateAnd Cate Blanchet (though we haven’t yet watched Blue Jasmine) gave an awesomely honest and witty acceptance speech that made us think we should probably be watching more of her movies.

12 Years a Slave predictably won for best picture; Gravity took home the gold for sound, cinematography, and directorial categories; and Her got its only honour of the night for the very deserved Best Original Screenplay.

And, of course, in a feat that surprises no one, Frozen won for Best Animated Picture and Best Original Song, despite the fact that the singer behind its success was puzzlingly introduced as Adel Mazeem. (You had one job Travolta, ONE JOB!)

A big props to Let It Go’s creators, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez who gave an adorable duo acceptance speech. Robert Lopez is also responsible for The Book of Mormon music and after winning the Oscar on Sunday is now part of the prestigious EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) club!

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All in all, it was an enjoyable show that, as always, eventually ran too long for anyone’s liking. But thanks to Ellen, (mostly) short and (mostly) eloquent acceptance speeches, pizza and selfies, and the fact that for the first time ever, we watched all of the nominated films beforehand—the 86th Academy Awards were pretty solid in our opinion. What did you think?

Thanks for following us through our Oscars extravaganza, artsies!

-A&K

Follow us @WeArtsy

And the Nominees Are: Gravity

Gravity follows the first space trip of Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer, titleposterwho after only six months of training is allowed into space to make repairs to the Hubble telescope. The mission turns catastrophic when debris from a Russian missile explosion comes careening through space, destroying the ship, and killing all of her colleagues. As the sole survivor and with NASA communication entirely cut off, she is left to her own devices, floating through space and using what strength and oxygen she has left to locate a space station that will help her get back to Earth.

In a feat that surprises no one, director Alfonso Cuaron completely delivers. The shots of the Earth and 11its surrounding space are both stunning and overwhelming in equal measure. And for a film reliant almost entirely on special effects and CGI—I will concede that it wasn’t terribly painful. In fact, much of the time I was completely fooled by how real it looked, which doesn’t happen to me very often.

The camera work helped in this effort, and seemed to helplessly float in space, just like the subjects it was filming. The shots are rarely straight on, and instead everything is shot from a variety of illogical angles giving viewers the exact stomach-churning, helpless feeling that Ryan has as she flips over and over and over, moving further and further away from the destroyed ship. Essentially, we view this void gravity-movie-review-space-2of space from Ryan’s perspective, and the method is incredibly successful. I began this movie, knowing what it would entail, with a pit in my stomach, and the frantic camera work only served to make it worse. Unpleasant though that may have been, it certainly helped to enrapture me for the full ninety minutes.

Cuaron also works his magic with the sound—which is easily the strongest part of the film. Before the movie begins, a caption tells us “600km above Earth…there is no sound”—an unnecessary fact given that Cuaron takes such care to convey the extremities of sound, or lack there of, throughout the film. Like the visuals, we are also hearing what Ryan hears. When she wears her space helmet, voices and crashing debris are appropriately muffled as though our ears are also covered. When she is in the various space stations, the muffled din of noise immediately and violently bursts open as sound revives at full force when she removes her helmet. Similarly, the music—which got a bit over the top at times—is especially loud and daunting in moments when Ryan is beside herself with terror. In moments when she is calm, or must focus the music softens to almost nothing at all.

Unfortunately, the screenplay itself by Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron, was not much to speak of. Naturally, there’s very little dialogue, save for frantic “oh god’s” and such, seeing as much of the movie is a single astronaut lost in space and cut off from all communication. But in the dialogue heavy sections—like when Ryan’s colleague Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is aiding her at the beginning, or when Ryan, with renewed vigor, starts a lengthy monologue pep talk—the writing is pretty painful. It is riddled with cliché and devastatingly flat lines like, “Can’t beat the view”, “I hate space”, “I’d pray but no one taught me how”, and the most ridiculous of all, “Well, it’s not rocket science”… I get that it’s irony, guys, but it just made me roll my eyes.

Ryan is the only character, for obvious reasons, that they attempted to develop into something three-dimensional. Unfortunately, I think they failed spectacularly. The only real character detail they allow is that Ryan has recently lost her four-year-old daughter. This gives us valid reason to believe GravityReviewthat part of her doesn’t actually want to survive, and helps us understand how the silence and isolation of space appeals to her. However, we get nothing more than that. Perhaps they felt that too much character would overshadow the dire situation, or would seem unrealistic in the circumstances, but I personally watch movies for their characters so I was left wholly unsatisfied.

I will say that Sandra Bullock played the role very well considering the lack of actual character to play, but naturally I can think of at least a half a dozen of her previous performances that overshadow this one entirely.

Honestly, George Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, just irritated me. He only exists—and indeed, only lives long enough—to be the seasoned astronaut that makes sure Ryan knows what she has to1d49f_movies_gravity-reviews-are-calling-george-clooney-and-sandra-bullocks-space-odyssey-the-must-see-event-of-the-fall do to survive. His character is a wisecracking, carefree, all-knowing messiah spaceman, who tells irrelevant anecdotes while drifting helplessly through space, and even returns from the dead in an obscure and entirely unnecessary scene to give a “this is why you need to live” speech exactly when Ryan needs it most.

Ultimately, Gravity succeeds because of its chilling premise and the directorial genius of Alfonso Cuaron. It is succinct and doesn’t drag on, and this reviewer was certainly captivated (and terrified) the entire time. However, the weak story and dialogue easily (and frequently) jars you briefly out of the narrative, and for that reason I don’t think it has a hope in winning the Oscar for Best Picture. In fact, if it wasn’t such a stunning movie visually, I would be pretty indignant about it being nominated in that category at all.  I do think that Cuaron is strong candidate for the Best Director win, as is the film itself for Sound Editing.

If you’re looking for a quick, ninety-minute movie adventure—you should definitely give Gravity a go. Just don’t expect to be entirely wowed by the story itself.

That’s it for Oscar reviews, artsies! We’ll be back next week with a results post from this Sunday’s Academy Awards!

Catch ya later.

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

And the Nominees Are: American Hustle

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I’ve talked to just about everyone I know who’s seen American Hustle. The general consensus is that they either liked it but couldn’t tell me why, or they hated it and could tell me exactly why. My take is that it is a great movie – if you can get past the plot. Or rather, lack of.

American Hustle is about conman Irving Rosenfeld and his seductive partner Sydney Prosser, who are forced to help a blindly ambitious FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, try and take down the bigwigs of New Jersey’s power players and mafia. And for a while, everything seems to go according to plan. That is until Irving’s unpredictable wife Rosalyn enters the scene.

It’s a fairly straightforward story and it all ends rather quickly with a neat bow on top. But I’m okay with it because American Hustle is more like a homage to the place and time it’s set, New Jersey in the late 1970s; and a tribute to a people who are just trying to rise from the scum they’ve been handed.

Where the movie lacks in complexity of plot, it makes up with phenomenal characters. It can definitely be labeled an “actor’s movie”. Each person is so well defined, distinctly unique, and wildly unpredictable- but in a way that totally makes sense! And that is my favourite part of American Hustle: the logical unpredictability. I truly did not know where the story was headed due to the fact that it was so character driven and I just couldn’t predict anyone’s next move. Particularly Sydney Prosser played by the incredibly vulnerable Amy Adams. She had me guessing from beginning to end whether she’d pick Irving or Ritchie, or if she was just going to up and leave them all together. Nevertheless, I definitely bought her act of passion. Maybe Sydney actually did fall for Richie or maybe she didn’t. Who knows? But that’s what I’m saying, Adams is that good.

In fact, they’re all good. Christian Bale’s cunning calculated Irving juxtaposed against Cooper’s excitable and almost puppy-like Ritchie is absolutely hilarious to watch. Or Jennifer Lawrence as the self righteous, blissfully ignorant Rosalyn bait- only to be destroyed by- Amy Adam’s confident and composed Sydney. Throw in Jeremy Renner as the virtuous family man/“corrupt” politician with insanely high hair and we got ourselves a party! It’s fascinating to watch all these distinctly different people run from their true selves in a desperate attempt to be something they’re not. By the end, there isn’t a single person left that you don’t pity. They all try to hustle each other and without even realizing it, hustle themselves.

Aside from the acting, American Hustle deserves praise for its flawless transitions from one scene to the next. Director David O. Russell (who also co-wrote the script with Eric Warren Singer) uses music, movement, and a series of swirling shots for one smooth ride from beginning to end.

Though I don’t think it’ll win the Oscar for Best Picture, American Hustle is worth the watch for star studded performances, stellar dialogue, and an insight into the minds of the extreme.

Have a great week!

-K

Follow us @WeArtsy

And the Nominees Are: Her…

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Set in 2025, Her follows Theodore Twombly, a lonely, sensitive, and almost divorced man whoHer 5 purchases a talking operating system designed to evolve and grow (think Siri, but with feelings). As time progresses, Theodore builds a friendship with Samantha (a name the OS picks out for herself), and his fascination with her thirst for life and knowledge soon turns into love.

The film opens with an extreme close-up of the bashful and vulnerable Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who looks straight into the camera and pours his heart out in a stunningly genuine monologue to the love of his life.

The camera then zooms out and we find that Theodore works for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, where he composes letters for clients that are having trouble connecting emotionally with their loved ones. He recites the heartfelt messages aloud, and they appear in beautiful handwritten scrawl on the computer before him.

Her 7The (not too) futuristic setting is easily the strongest part of the film. In the mere eleven years between now and 2025, the city skyline is utterly unrecognizable so much so that the location goes unspecified.

The entire film is visually stunning even in its most mundane moments (with a bold shade of red in about 99% of the shots), but it is the ease and normalcy with which people navigate their hyper-technological lives that pulls the (slightly baffled) viewers into the world.

For example, it is not unnatural for Theodore to be lying on the beach, chatting with his phone (with, not on). The video game he plays comes alive before his eyes and he’s able to converse with its Her 2characters. People are all muttering aloud on public transit, giving commands to their phones to check their emails, read them, delete them, and other such entirely human-capable tasks.

The film is satirizing the way we let technology do our heavy lifting, and how we rely on it to do a better job than we can do on our own. Why else do you think we all curse the technology Gods when our Wi-Fi flickers in and out? Or when we poke the frozen screens of our phones with annoyed fingertips utterly gobsmacked because—um, it’s not supposed to do that, it’s supposed to be here for us always.

We do treat our technology like living things, folks. It’s a sad truth.

The OS in Her is an artificial conscience that can grow based on experience. Theodore molds Samantha. She grows based on the tasks he gives her and the questions he asks her (‘check my email’, ‘what’s your name?). He gives her the desire to understand and feel, and leads her to utilize the entire body of human knowledge at her fingertips. She is given ‘life’ because of him. She is, in essence, a manifestation of Theodore himself, and his own wants and desires…which is a troubling concept given that they fall in love. (As the SNL skit says of the matter, ‘the future is weird’).

Her 6Joaquin Phoenix plays the lonely, introversion of Theodore to perfection. To put it as simply as possible—I believe him, which is not a statement to be taken lightly seeing as he spends 75% of this film in love with his phone. Scarlett Johansson voices Samantha and though she is also very strong, I am adamantly not with the large movement that suggests she deserved an Oscar nod. She voices an OS people.

Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde round out the cast with fairly forgettable performances, mostly because they play forgettable characters. However, they serve their purposes well by providing human-human relationships for contrast, and also the scale on which people judge human-OS relationships. (Weird sentence?)

Perhaps what I found most interesting about Her, is that the actual barebones love story would have been downright boring outside the confines of its bizarre setting. Basically, if it had been an entire movie of two humans navigating new love—the pivotal moments being waking up in the night to hear each other’s voice or meeting each other’s friends for the first time—I would have been asleep two minutes in.

But, as it happens, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I like my movies like I like my people—a little weird, emotionally complex and a lot of heart… (Oops. Is it too ironic that I just humanized an unhuman entity?)

Having said that, it is certainly not for everyone. It’s quiet, introspective and strange, but also incredibly deep and real. Honestly, I still don’t even know what to do with it.

In the moments when I relaxed into the movie—I believed it all, most particularly in a scene of her 4bone-chilling panic that cemented the fact that technology still has its glitches even in this advanced society. But there were moments that could jar me out of that suspension of disbelief—like when they found a surrogate to play the part of Samantha’s non-speaking body so they could have a physical relationship, or when Samantha would call to say things like “come and lay with me”, following which Theodore would just lie on the bed next to his phone in utter contentment.

And then there were moments that just alarmed me entirely. As Theodore and Samantha’s relationship grows, the differences in their designs become apparent. He gave her life, but with the ability to learn and experience infinitely, Samantha can grow in a way that he never will.

Essentially, we are teetering on this horrifying precipice that while, yes, we do exert a measure of control over the technology we use, we are also reaching a point where technology will be able to ‘outknow’ us…and if you’re not appropriately terrified by that concept, I’m judging you a little bit.

This will undoubtedly win Spike Jonze the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and if it doesn’t I’ll be writing a strongly worded letter to the Academy… which I will be writing by hand since technology and its future now perturbs me a little.

I also think that with a less aged Academy, Her would win for Best Picture, but alas, I believe that this year it will go to 12 Years a Slave.

Stay tuned for our last week of Oscar Nominees reviews with American Hustle and Gravity.

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

And the Nominees Are: The Wolf of Wall Street

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To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a lot to say about The Wolf of Wall Street. My first three notes are as follows:

  1. Already dreading this. (I wrote this in the opening credits)
  2. Vulgar.
  3. Am I supposed to believe Leo is 22?

For the next hour and a half the only comments I had were:

  1. Loving Matthew McConaughey, especially after seeing him in Dallas Buyers
  2. Vulgar.
  3. SO vulgar!
  4. Rob Reiner is the best part of this movie.
  5. I didn’t know Leo could dance like that.

At this point, I took a break and played around with the idea of not finishing the movie and just faking my review. But I’m committed so I watched the rest and was like, “hey! I found the plot! It’s in the second half of the movie!”

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort who rises as the king of the stockbroker world only to fall back down again due to drugs, obsession, crime, and corruption.

Let’s be serious, the first half of Wolf is just indulgence and showing, on screen, the greed and excessiveness of Dicaprio’s character, Jordan Belfort. And that’s basically what the second half of the movie shows as well. Just with less grand speeches from Belfort- no, wait, there were still lots of those. But the latter half did contain more plot, conflict, and interest. So… points for that?

As far as acting goes, I don’t see the big deal. Sure, Dicaprio was charismatic but beyond that? Hmm, I got nothing. And Jonah Hill? I give him a “meh”. It was like watching his character from Super Bad all grown up and just as annoying.

To her credit, I thought Margot Robbie who played Naomi Lapaglia (Belfort’s wife) was great. She had a flawless long island accent which is impressive as she is actually from Australia. But not only that, she had to carry the emotional scenes of the movie too. She did so with strength and a kind of subtle sadness that just made you feel for her character.

Like I said, the second half is better. In fact, I might have actually enjoyed the movie if it started at the one hour and a half mark. The scene where FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Friday Night Light’s Kyle Chandler) boards Belfort’s yacht is an actual example of great acting from both Dicarprio and Chandler. But the best scene by far, and the one I am glad I actually watched the rest of the movie for, is when Belfort takes some old Lemons from 1981 and they have a delayed effect. I won’t spoil the scene but I actually “laughed out loud”. No wonder Dicaprio got the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy!

But an Oscar? Sorry pal, this is not your year.

Director and legend Martin Scorsese did a great job with the cinematography of the movie. Much like Belfort and his band of merry men, the camera makes you feel like you’re drunk and high right along side them. Shots that are out of focus, too tight, the succession of close-ups, everything adds to the ambiance of, as Rob Reiner puts it, obscenity. Also, great soundtrack.

I wish I had more to say about this movie but the truth is, I don’t. I will, however, say that The Wolf of Wall Street has successfully portrayed the greed, excessiveness, and corruption of the American business world. But if you’re already hyper aware of that and want to save three hours of your life by not watching the movie? Hey, no judgment here.

Have a great week!

-K

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And the Nominees Are: Dallas Buyers Club

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“You gotta die somehow.” – Ron Woodroof

Up next on the Oscar Nominee Watch List is Dallas Buyers Club, a movie about disease and the drive to keep living. The movie centers on Ron Woodroof, a gamblin’, bull ridin’, cocaine snortin’, whisky drinkin’, sex addicted, Texan cowboy who don’t take no scuff from no body. (Can you tell I don’t really speak Texan??) One day Ron gets electrocuted and brought to the hospital. The doctors run some blood tests and discover that Ron has AIDS. The doctor then tells Ron that he has thirty days left to live, as though he’s talking about the weather: with a complete and utter lack of empathy.

Yet, despite being given a month to live, Ron refuses to accept this fate without a fight. He spends the remaining six years- that’s right, screw 30 days- of his life fighting to help himself and fellow AIDS patients get the medication they need and that the FDA is forcibly denying them. The year is 1986.

Ron Woodroof is Matthew McConaughey’s strongest performance to date. He is completely uninhibited and has given himself over entirely to the character. Weight loss aside, McConaughey’s entire physicality is almost unrecognizable with hands on his hips, both feet planted firmly shoulder width apart, neck arched uncomfortably forward, and a look in his eyes that says, “I dare you.” And he did. Let’s be honest, McConaughey’s regular image is that of a hemp wearing, weed smoking, beach bum. But there’s not a trace of that man in Dallas. McConaughey shows all sides of Ron’s fight. From open mouth sobbing in his car to playing a preacher pretending to have cancer in order to get past boarder control.

Though the movie deals with AIDS and Ron’s fight to bring FDA unapproved drugs into the country, (which are in fact protein and vitamin supplements) that’s not necessarily what Dallas is about. For me, this movie is about Ron and his character. It’s about the man rather than his fight. The movie is sprinkled with fantastic character moments like when Ron arrives at his trailer and there’s a padlock on the door. He takes a shotgun from his trunk and blows it wide open to find it’s been ransacked. The next succession of shots is Ron frantically scavenging around his trailer for hidden pockets of money. He flips his mattress only to find that cash has already been taken. But there’s a couple bucks under the silverware, some in a crumpled pair of jeans, and even a wad in an old cassette case. Kudos to screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack because this moment is so precise and deliciously character driven.

Ron tussles back and forth between homophobia and compassion, fear and survival. And McConaughey fully commits to each one. It’s a fascinating observation of the before and the during of life changing news and how this man attempts to balance both. I mean yes, he is bringing in life saving medicine, but he’s also doing it for a profit. At least, initially.

And let me tell you, I think Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have the best on screen chemistry out of all the Oscar nominees I’ve seen thus far. They riff off one another and don’t hold back in the emotional moments. They’ve managed to find the perfect blend of insult and respect their characters need to have. And seriously, let’s take a minute to commend Jared Leto because he brought a whole new level of sass to his performance that I truly was not expecting. Rayon is all heels, wigs, blinding makeup and stockings with runs. She could have easily been over the top but Leto grounds her in real, tangible pain and humour.

There was really only one scene with which I had an issue. And you’ll know it when you see it. It involves a crap ton of Mexican butterflies. And I know there’s supposed to be a kind of quiet beauty to this scene but I just don’t think, artistically speaking, they were successful.

Other than that, I love the documentary, grittiness of the cinematography. The camera follows Ron, crashing into walls and passing out on the lawn with him. Not only that but director Jean-Marc Vallée has done all he can to make the audience feel Ron’s pain. Every time Ron has a head splitting migraine that knocks him unconscious, we hear the eerily shoulder clenching white noise alongside him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I think that is the biggest success of the movie. Historically, we know what these people were up against. Or at least, the information’s available. But for me, what I don’t know is what it was like for the individual. Not the statistic, not the case study, the plain and simple human being. And this is what Dallas Buyers Club offers. It just happens to be about an especially remarkable human being.

Happy Galentine’s Day artsies! Stay tuned for my review of American Hustle next Tuesday!

-K

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And the Nominees Are: Philomena…

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You would imagine that the nuns’ shrug of indifference to the grueling breach labour of a ‘fallen woman,’ and their cold refusal to administer drugs of any sort, would set the tone pretty indefinitely for the Oscar-nominated Philomena.

The near slave labour of an Abbey where parents sent their unwed, pregnant daughters, and the relentless iron fist of the nuns who took them in (and sold their children for 1000 pounds) is not exactly what we would call the make-up of a cheerful film. Indeed it would have been very different if it were, at its centre, about the bleak history of adoptions by the Irish Catholic Church.

posterInstead this is a story of a stubborn, compassionate, fierce-hearted woman named Philomena—who delights in the plot details of predictable romance novels, and truly believes that everyone she meets is “one in a million”.

Philomena captures the essence of a person’s heart, rather than the cruel injustice of her past. And I think that is precisely why it succeeds.

Based on real events, the film follows Philomena’s search for the son that was taken from her fifty years earlier. Martin Sixsmith, a cynical and disgraced former political journalist, makes up the second half of this mismatched duo when he begrudgingly takes on Philomena’s ‘human interest’ story for a popular magazine.

Their search takes them from the Abbey in Ireland to Washington DC and back again with a backdrop of lively, spirited music by the incomparable Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech; Argo). The soundtrack is simply an extension of Philomena herself and, if I had my way, Desplat would probably be taking the Oscar home for it.

The direction by Stephen Frears followed this same design and was beautiful in its simplicity, and helped to keep the film light and feel good.

This is all not to say that the horrific moments didn’t leave their mark. The birth scene was nearly too excruciating to watch, as was a young Philomena’s desperate but futile attempts to escape the prison-like conditions of the Abbey in time to keep her three-year-old from the arms of his new mother. (Sophie Kennedy Clark played Young Philomena to perfection in these scenes).

judi-dench-steve-coogan-philomenaDespite having seen little of Dame Judi Dench’s work (shame on me, I know), her reputation obviously preceded her, and she did not disappoint. Specifically when considering that Philomena was a role that could easily have been pushed over the edge to preachy and sentimental. Dench takes us to the edge of that, but thankfully never topples over it.

Like Philomena, Steve Coogan’s Martin never falls victim to the over-sentimentality. Throughout the film, he remains utterly unable to understand Philomena on any level, and manages to noticeably soften towards her without deviating too far from his pessimistic world-view, saving us all from what could very well have been a sappy, life-lesson, find-the-good-within-you sort of film.

In fact, Philomena also manages to never blame the church outright, and ultimately exalts Philomena’s capacity for forgiveness over all else, without beating the audience over the head with it, or even suggesting that this was the right thing for her to do. And I personally think that was an incredible feat.

_D3S7968.NEFThankfully though, we have Coogan’s Martin—an atheist and cynic—to stand in for the rest of us less-forgiving folk. This not only helps keep the film from dipping into mawkish territory, but is particularly satisfying when Martin feels quite within his rights to verbally assault frail, wheelchair ridden, hundred-year-old nuns who, so easy to point their fingers at others, seem to have trouble seeing their own sins. This is perhaps one of the strongest moments in the film.

I was a bit dissatisfied with the lack of explanation to Philomena’s sudden need to reveal the existence of a child she had kept secret for fifty years, but I suppose when that’s my only real plot complaint, this movie has probably done something right.

Having said that, I don’t think Philomena necessarily has the make-up for a Best Picture win. Judi Dench does, of course, but I don’t think she’ll get it this year, and Coogan was incredibly strong and, in many ways, far more interesting than Dench, but didn’t receive a nomination. But, he is up for the film in the Best Adapted Screenplay category along with Jeff Pope for their adaptation of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith. I doubt this film will make many waves at the Oscars, but I do suspect it will be cleaning house at the BAFTAs.

Philomena is, most importantly, a film about the awe-inspiring human capacity to forgive, but on a more general level, it is a tale of the bonds of motherhood. So appropriately, in Philomena I saw my own mother—twenty years her junior, but standing at roughly the same five feet and two inches—unthreatening in appearance and naturally inclined to place nice, but in the set of her jaw and the line of her shoulders sits the utter willingness to do anything it takes for the child she loves.

If you like your movies heartfelt, but light on the sap, Philomena is the one for you.

Stayed tuned for Keely’s review of Dallas Buyer’s Club on Thursday!

Later alligators.

-A

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And the Nominees Are: 12 Years a Slave…

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Credits roll, aaaand exhale.

That’s how I felt after watching Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

The movie is based on the book of the same title, written by the real Solomon Northup. It follows Northup’s incredible story of survival from a free black man in upstate New York to being abducted and sold into slavery.

Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on the prolific role of Solomon Northup and delivers a strong performance of blood, sweat and tears. One thing I really admire about Solomon is that he didn’t take his situation lying down. As a character who could so easily have become an observer to his surroundings, (hi Django, how’s it going?) Solomon is an active participant in his story. He makes things happen instead of waiting to be saved. Granted, he needs help along the way but that’s a product of the time and not a lack in his character. And I know we said no spoilers but I can’t help it. There’s a moment when Tibeats, the overseer of the first plantation and played by the soulless Paul Dano, pulls out his whip and demands Solomon strip down, all because the latter is the better carpenter. Solomon refuses, disarms Tibeats, and beats the overseer with his own whip.

Though an incredibly just moment, you are dead terrified for the aftermath of Solomon’s actions. And the music! A fiddle plays but it’s all wrong, as though the bow is being dragged unceremoniously over the strings. It’s off. It’s flinching. It’s dooming. But again I say, the reason Solomon is such a phenomenal character is because he defends himself in a time and setting where doing so could have gotten him killed. Ejiofor exudes strength and secrets his hate in the physicality of his shoulders while his pain is ever prevalent in his eyes.

And though Ejiofor is brilliant, it is Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey who really grabs your attention. Patsey picks cotton on the plantation owned by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), 500 pounds of cotton everyday – over twice what most of the men pick. But strong doesn’t even begin to describe this girl. Epps favours Patsey in the absolute worst sense of the word and she can do nothing but endure his wrongfully assumed ownership of her. McQueen’s use of tight shots hauntingly emits Patsey’s claustrophobic surroundings from the screen.

Nyong’o is fresh out of Yale University School of Drama’s Acting program and this is her first major motion picture. In fact, in her acceptance speech at the SAG awards, Lupita Nyong’o said she called her father when she found out she got the role and said, “Daddy! Do you who Brad Pitt is? I’m going to be in a movie with him!” To which her father replied “Well I don’t know him personally but I’m very happy for you.” Her performance is raw. There’s no other word for it. Except for maybe brave, desperate, unable to breath, and cringingly heart breaking. She definitely gets my vote for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.

And Michael Fassbender? He plays his part with an eerie hatred and inhumane emotionless villainy that chills you right to the bone. Edwin Epps is an absolute psychopath and a raging alcoholic. He invents his own rules of human conduct, and views his slaves as nothing more than property with a slightly higher value than livestock.

It’s a difficult part to play to say the very least. Not only must Fassbender have left set every day feeling sick with self-loathing, but he had the challenge of bringing something new to a character audiences have seen many times before. And he achieves it to a certain extent with perhaps a touch too much theatricality. Not necessarily overacting, but he is certainly the least subtle.

My only complaint about this movie is Brad Pitt’s role as the freelancing, wandering, carpenter. I know that he’s one of the main producers and a huge movie star, and the movie is based on a true story but seriously, did Pitt have to hammer us over the head with his “slavery is bad” speech? Thanks, we got that message from the entire movie. And like, common sense.

12 Years a Slave makes you so insanely uncomfortable but is a necessary reminder of why the world needs to move forward. It’s not preachy, it’s not out for vengeance, it’s history and it’s human. Or rather it shows the human persevering amongst inhumanity. It’s a man’s will to survive and what he must do to achieve it. It’s painful, disgusting, nerve wracking, nail biting, shoulder curlingly awful to watch, peppered with moments of heart and the difficult choices one must make to survive. The only time you breath is when there’s a shot of the scenery.

The movie won for best motion picture at the Golden Globes and it could very well be the front contender for the Oscar. Only time will tell! Stay tuned for Ash’s review of Philomena next Tuesday!

-K

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And the Nominees Are: Nebraska…

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I can say right off the bat that Nebraska is not for everyone. On the surface it’s slow, uneventful, and plain.

I loved it.

Allow me to set the scene. Ashley and I walk into a small theatre of about 150 seats. After getting into our seats and shucking off all the winter gear, (aka after all that effort we’re NOT moving from this spot) two women probably in their mid 50s sit directly behind us. Chatty Kathys doesn’t even begin to do them justice. But I digress.

Nebraska follows Woody Grant, a somber, spacey, booze-ridden man and his son, David, as they traverse the Midwest from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Sounds like an emotional father-and-son-bonding movie on the open road right? However, after Woody and David stop to see Mt. Rushmore with a “meh” as the general consensus, I knew I was in for something different. (A grateful shout out to writer Bob Nelson for mercilessly sparing us from road trip clichés.) In fact, a large part of the movie takes place in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska. Here we get a sense of who Woody is, or rather was, through his family, people from around town, and a visit to his childhood home. And once the town hears of Woody’s supposed good fortune, all kinds of characters come out of the woodwork. “Oh Joyce, I think this is just a hoot” says my friend from behind.

David is as stagnant as they come. Portrayed by the uncharacteristically muted Will Forte, (formerly from Saturday Night Live- pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the ground) the only time David breaks his apathetic exterior is in defense of his father. Usually to his mother, Kate, played by June Squibb who is out of this world feisty. She brings so much sass and a razor sharp tongue all the while being so endearing. Even as she tauntingly shows off her knickers at the Grant family plot. David is an observer and a floater, with a quip here and there to break the tension, and Forte does well at playing completely, well, average.

But the real star of Nebraska is none other than Bruce Dern and his disarmingly charming and irritating-in-the-best-way-possible performance as Woody Grant. Dern has the ability to hold your attention just by shifting his weight which, in a slow paced movie such as this, is a necessary skill. Every movement, every look, has meaning behind it. The interesting part is that you’re never exactly sure what that meaning is. Dern brings so much emotion and complexity to a man who, to the rest of the outside world, appears to be so painfully plain. When they visit Woody’s childhood home, you get the feeling from the broken furniture and shattered glass that no one was ever really happy here. And even though Woody is old, drunk, and possibly dealing with early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia, there’s a real solemn loss of innocence in his face that just breaks your heart.

The movie is in black and white, totally embodying how the world sees these people and really, how they see the world. The Grants live a mundane, monotonous life. Nebraska is all about finding something, anything that breaks the retched monotony and spurs you on. And let me tell you, there are some phenomenal comedic moments in this movie involving lost dentures, stolen generators, and a discussion about Chevys. The laugh out loud juxtaposed against the crippling sadness of Woody’s life makes the story all the more poignant.

Nebraska is an incredibly human movie. There’s almost a documentary aspect to it. And though I do not think it will win the Oscar, it is definitely worth a watch. As my friend says, “it’s a scream!”

Stay tuned for my review of 12 Years a Slave on Thursday!

Have a happy Tuesday,

– K

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And the Nominees Are: Captain Phillips…

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There’s gotta be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.”
“Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

With the eerie resignation that has coloured his expression since his opening scene, hr_Captain_Phillips_10Muse calmly utters these words to the frantic Phillips, and slowly lowers his weapon, marking what is easily the most poignant moment of the Oscar-nominated Captain Phillips.

Based on the incredible real-life story, Captain Phillips follows the hijacking of an American cargo ship, the Maersk Alabama, by Somali pirates on its journey around the horn of Africa. Tom Hanks leads the cast as the stoic Phillips who, with stilted calmness, attempts to peacefully negotiate the raid of Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his small band of pirates. As things slowly spiral out of Muse’s control, the pirates drop off the ship into one of its lifeboats with Phillips as their hostage. Bound for Somalia, and desperate for a payoff, they soon find themselves at the centre of a full-blown Navy SEALS rescue operation in the middle of the sea.

Barkhad-Abdi-in-Captain-Phillips-photo-Columbia-Pictures-SonyFor me, the most captivating part of this movie was Barkhad Abdi’s performance as Muse. The character emits an eerie aura of normalcy for most of the film (or perhaps it’s more of an indifference), while his fellow pirates can’t control their fear or anger. This, coupled with his thin frame, made him seem strangely unthreatening despite his loaded weapon. I don’t mean to say the performance wasn’t believable, or that the threat wasn’t completely and terrifyingly real, only that Abdi brought subtle strokes of humanity to the character with his inexplicable indifference, moments of hesitation, and communication heavy stare-offs with Hanks’s Phillips, that had me feeling like he wasn’t truly a villain at all, much less evil.

I haven’t read the book that this is based on (A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by the real Captain Phillips), so I’m not sure if this was solely a movie decision or not, but I really enjoyed the way they chose not to paint any of the Somalis as inherently ‘bad’. They did an okay (though incomplete) job of contrasting Somalia and America at the beginning, and later gave brief flickers of the reality of Somali life (see dialogue above). It was mostly Muse’s apathy, though, that hinted at the very few options in life they were afforded.

The brilliance of Tom Hanks in any film tends to be either overly critiqued or entirely tom-hanks-captain-phillips-richardoverlooked because, well, Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks. We hold him to a different standard, and there’s a sort of monotony to the unshakeable fact that he’s always that good. Even in roles we’d rather he hadn’t chosen, we get hypercritical or just ignore the film altogether…but in a loving, I’m-just-being-supportive-way because…Tom Hanks, don’t you know that you’re Tom Hanks? Get it together!

My point is, of course he was utterly phenomenal in this film—in fact, I had no doubt that he would be, but I definitely overlooked it in the moment. (I was far more interested in Abdi, the limo-driver turned Oscar-nominee—what can I say? I’m a sucker for a Cinderella story). However, Hanks could have earned an nomination for his performance in the aftermath—the shock of his rescue, his dry sobs hindered by a mixture of hyperventilation and incoherency, for his choked “the blood is not mine, it’s not mine”, and his breathless, desperate repetition of thankyouthankyouthankyou …But then again, he’s Tom Hanks, so I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Lucky for the story itself, the film was entirely dependent on the performances of Hanks Captain_Phillips_review_article_story_mainand Abdi, and thus was able to succeed with an entire supporting cast of two-dimensional characters. (I guess it’s possible that the crewmembers were intentionally not further developed out of respect for their real-life counterparts).

Either way, the strongest moments throughout the film—by far—were the heavy looks shared between Phillips and Muse, and the unspoken words of desperation and threat that hung in the air between them.

Billy Ray is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, but based on the excruciating exposition in the opening scenes (seriously, if anyone besides Hanks was delivering the lines, it would have been unwatchable), and the flat secondary characters, I’m not sure he deserves to win.

I could have done without the blatant Americanism that coloured the entire film, but I guess that comes part and parcel with a movie about a Navy SEALS rescue operation. Oh, and also every single movie that comes out of America ever.

But, when it comes down to it, I did thoroughly enjoy watching Captain Phillips. It won’t be winning the Oscar this year, but I can get behind the honour of the nomination.

And even though I think the odds are against him, part of me will really be rooting for Barkhad Abdi for the Supporting Actor category. His Cinderella story aside, he was genuinely the most intriguing part of this film for me. Plus HE’S the Captain now, ya know?

Damn. I made it so far without saying something silly. Welp, I tried.

Tune in on Tuesday to get the skinny on Nebraska. (Did I use ‘get the skinny’ in the correct context? It was just something new I thought I’d try…)

Catch ya later, artsies!

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

Review City

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We have a confession.

Well, not so much a confession as a… concession.

Despite the intentions of this blog, and indeed, our very title, the word “arsty” is probably not the most accurate way to describe us.

ThereIsaidit!

Whew. I feel better now.

I’m sure you’ve figured this out about us already…seeing as we tend to post raging gush sessions about fairly commercialized topics in the entertainment industry, rather than, you know, hyper-cool-because-they-not-commercial, fringe topics and other…artsy things?

Our twitter handle, as you know, is @WeArtsy, but really it should be more like “@WeExcitedAboutStuff” or “@WeTooObsessed” or “@LifeisCoolerForTheCrazy”… but let’s be real. None of those are quite as catchy.

This brings me to the actual point of this post. Throughout the next four weeks we will be reviewing all of the Oscar nominated films for Best Picture – ya know, to appear smarter and more cultured than usual. oscar

But mostly for these two reasons:

  1. Despite being avid award show watchers, neither one of us has ever watched all the movies in the Best Picture category before. In an ideal world, we’d like this year to mark the first Academy Awards where we could make informed decisions about who should win, when…potentially, we’ll just be spending waaaaay too much at the movies in the coming weeks. But hey, we choose to be positive.
  2. We tend to gush too much (see above concession). Writing reviews of the nominees seemed like a way for us to reach back to the analytical skills we sharpened over the course of a very expensive four years of reading novels. (Re: University). Take that, world! We do have something to show for it!

(Side note: I do see the irony in admitting that we are not ‘artsy’ enough to live up to our name, and then somehow finding remedy for said affliction in reviewing some of the most glamourized, expensive and buzzed-about movies of the year. I see the irony, but I no longer wish to acknowledge it. Okay, thanks).

Anyhow, cynicism aside, we are actually pretty pumped to exercise our more analytic sides over the course of the next seven posts. We will rate each film, endeavour to review them free of spoilers for those of you who want to watch them for yourselves, and finally, share our predictions for the winners. Fun, yeah?

Welp, that’s all for now, artsies! (No, we’re not changing your name either!) Hope you’re as excited as we are for the next few weeks!

-A

Follow us @WeArtsy

Cold is the Enemy

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January is a depressing time. There, I said it. To be honest, I don’t think I’m truly happy again until March. If I could, I’d live the life of a bear and just hibernate. That would also justify all the eating I do during the winter months. I like to think that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Call me Ned Stark because I dread winter. And when it’s on it’s way, I get deadly serious because like Ned, I understand the gravity of the statement “winter is coming”.

And then I just want to be like:

And when I go outside:

And when anyone asks me to do anything involving leaving the sanctity of my apartment, my immediate response is:

Because all I want to do is this:

But, I’m a good friend. So I crawl out from under my sheets and change out of my sweatpants… then this happens:

And I’m just like:

And I know I sound incredibly whiney because, let’s be honest, there are 10,000 worse things in life. Butbutbut, please, can I just be sad about the cold?? I’ll never complain about anything ev- ha, that’s a dirty lie, I won’t even finish that sentence. Plus, it’s -26 degrees C today.

So with all this animosity towards cold and winter, here is a pin I found that will hopefully cheer you up, make you laugh, and keep you warm. Because Pinterest? Well, it’s the vitamin D for the soul.

Have a warm week kids!

– K

Follow us @WeArtsy

The Cumber-Collective

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Guys. Benedict Cumberbatch. Seriously.

Seriously.

Haven’t heard of him? Well, this time I won’t scold you seeing as I am woefully late myself in jumping on this particular bandwagon—so I’ll give you an extra brief overview.

Besides having one of the most spectacular names a human being is capable of having (seriously, say it a few times aloud)—Benedict Cumberbatch leads the stellar cast of one of the most popular BBC shows ever, appeared in no less than five films this past year, and is so wonderfully talented that I am utterly ashamed he only just registered on my radar less than four weeks ago. (Why yes, I did binge watch Sherlock over Christmas break, thanks for asking).

So, even though my love is still in its infancy and I can hardly claim the title of world’s biggest fan, I just wanted to ensure, loyal artsies, that if he isn’t yet on your radar…that you get him on there stat! Let us call this an introductory, crash course on how cool and talented he is.

To begin:

He stars in Sherlock:

titleNeed I say more? Actually. Yes. I really, really, really, really do need to say more. In fact, I probably could write 100 pages about the breathtaking brilliance that is BBC’s Sherlock, which is perhaps why I chose not to write this post on the mind-blowing, recently aired third season of the show. Simply put, you’d be reading for hours.

It can’t be easy taking on arguably one of the most iconic roles in history, much less in a modern adaptation. I won’t claim to have seen each and every version of Sherlock Holmes, but Cumberbatch’s is definitely my favourite thus far.

His acting is downright superb—and he takes the emotionally challenged Holmes from rigidly pragmatic to awkwardly, believably sentimental through the course of his friendship with Dr. Watson, without losing the famous idiosyncrasies the character has been known by since the late 1800s. (Sidenote, I could also write an entire post about the breathtaking subtleties of Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson, but I’ll spare you. Just WATCH Sherlock!)

…and, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include these final Sherlock related points:

Sherlock 2

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hatRight. On to the next point:

He proved his versatility this year in six very different roles:

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Sherlock; Star Trek into Darkness; The Fifth Estate

Imagine, in a single year, playing the villain of one of the most popular science fiction tales, a slave owner, a controversial world-famous information leaker, an insecure, cousin-dating member of Meryl Streep’s fictional family, a treasure-hogging dragon, and, if we include Sherlock, a beloved century-old high-functioning sociopath.

Welp. Meet Benedict Cumberbatch, my loves.

(The above characters are from Star Trek into Darkness, 12 Years a Slave, The Fifth Estate, August: Osage County, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Sherlock respectively).

Oh, and he also the voiced Alan Rickman on The Simpsons. No big.

Just the other night I watched August: Osage County wherein Cumberbatch played the insecure, bumbling Little Charles, and it was quite the transformation.

Keep in mind I’d just binge-watched three seasons of Sherlock…

I was used to him like this:

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And instead, I found him like this:

Benedict Cumberbatch Slideshow

Okay. Those were the best pics I could find, but essentially, you get the picture. Mindblown.

(Sidenote #2: Cumberbatch aside, go see the brilliance that is August: Osage County. Very impressive film).

And continuing…

He embraces the craziness of his fandom with class:

So, though he’s not exactly at household name, it is no secret that this man has a very intense and loyal following, and I always think it’s pretty cool when actors at the centre of that kind of…er… extreme passion can handle it with ease and good humour.

Firstly, not unlike the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle works, Sherlock does tease at the homosexual undertones of the plot—though in a manner that is more playful than based in actual reality—but its no secret that the Internet has run amuck with the idea. So why not play it up a little?

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bumpinch

Yes, that was a bum pinch. And yes, I did say class.

Again, being at the centre of such a craze means that, well, strange things can arise. Case in point:

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In the interview below, not only is he entirely unsurprised by a set of otter memes pasted alongside look-alike photos of himself he is also completely unperturbed. Not to mention that he humbly insists that the otter top-left has the more correct Holmes hand position than he, which, in my books, makes him pretty much the coolest person ever.

Next, although I wish, at times, that I could be of the uber-intense fan variety who dub themselves with fandom-identifying monikers, alas I am not. However, I did know long ago that his fans named themselves the somewhat troubling “Cumberbitches”. So when I watched the following clip wherein Cumberbatch redubbed his fanbase “The Cumber-Collective” because “he worries how far feminism is set back” with their current title, I was more than a little impressed.

And yeah, just watch this last one because it’s hilarious. (This was a message to fans following the two-year hiatus between seasons two and three).

Okay, so slight fangirling of Benedict Cumberbatch aside, I cannot stress enough how great Sherlock is so if you haven’t watched it yet I encourage you to add it to your to-do list. Seriously.

Thank you for making it all the way to the end of my gush-session, artsies! Have we mentioned that you’re the best?

Have a great rest-of-the-week!

-A

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Ode to Amy Part Deux

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I know the world is abuzz with the Golden Globes that just took place last Sunday but since that was an absolute GONG SHOW (yes I’m talking to you Globes Director whose-name-I-could-not-find-on-Google-much-like-you-could-not-find-decent-camera-angles) I decided I would like to focus on the flawlessness of none other than Amy Poehler.

Don’t get me wrong, both Tina and Amy were great on Sunday. I especially loved the bit where Amy came on stage dressed as Tina’s son looking for “his” dad in the audience. Hilarious! But I think enough praise has been sung for Ms. Fey and I would like to shift gears and talk about the other half of the dynamic comedic duo.

And then I think… where on earth do I begin??

She killed in Baby Mama and is the heart and soul of Parks and Recreation. And let’s just take a moment to bask in the aura of her Golden Globe win from Sunday! I am thrilled that she won, it was so well deserved! AND she got to make out with Bono (much more successfully than Diddy).

It sounds so weird saying that because I don’t know Amy Poehler. But if I did, I like to think we’d be best friends. Do you ever imagine yourself meeting one of your heroes and how you’d act around them? I actually thought I’d be cool around celebrities but then I bumped into Hugh Jackman in New York and that whole façade died quicker than a T-Swift romance. Oops, still a sensitive subject, Taylor? ONE YEAR LATER.

But if I am ever lucky enough to meet Amy, I like to think that I’d tell her how much I admire her work and thank her for the leaps and bounds she’s made for women in comedy. As opposed to the more likely scenario where I turn into Eunice from She’s the Man and yell “I made breakfast darling!” to Amy’s face. Yea… meeting is probably a bad idea…

Moving on!

I have been a fan of Amy Poehler since I started watching SNL at the spritely age of thirteen. Her show Smart Girls at the Party is one of the greatest web series out there. I mean, they’re slogan is “change the world by being yourself”. Each episode Amy interviews an intelligent, gifted girl, asks the tough questions, and always concludes with an epic dance party. Check out one of the cutest episodes I’ve seen:

Adorable right??

Just recently she became the executive producer of Comedy Central’s new scripted comedy called Broad City. There’s nothing this woman can’t do! Broad City is based on a web series by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of the same name. I watched the first episode and you know what, it’s pretty funny. And this is what is so awesome about Amy Poehler. Not only has she made a name for herself in the comedy world, but she’s on the look out to do it for others too.  She’s a fearless entertainer, a ferocious comedian, and just an upstanding humanitarian.

Case in point.

It always weirds me out when people idolize celebrities. And I’m not saying I have a shrine to Amy in my apartment or anything like that, but I really do think that she is a phenomenal role model for old and young. And if I could have just 1/10th of the spunk and humour in her little pinky, I’d be a very happy camper. 

Have a great week and make good choices!

– K

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[Edit: I completely forgot I wrote An Ode to Amy but I spent an hour looking up stuff and writing this so I’m going to post it anyway. Deal with it Internet!]

It’s My New Year and I’ll Eat Chocolate If I Want To

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Welcome to 2014, artsies!!

So New Year’s Resolutions – whose got some? Because today I will be listing—in honour of the year—14 reasons why I think New Year’s Resolutions are bogus, so listen closely.

Yup, that’s right – we’re starting this year on a cheery note.

1. New Year’s Resolutions are – generally –  frivolous, unattainable or fleeting desires designed to ‘make one better’ and that, within the span of a week, are often entirely forgotten.

2. Welp, actually, I think that pretty much sums it up—no need to stretch it to 14 then, yeah?

Right, so it’s clear that New Year’s is not my favourite holiday. (Sorry to those of you who love it!) Don’t get me wrong, there are things that I enjoy about it, but I’m not entirely sure I love the strange melancholy feeling that crops up in the first few days of a new year. The one that simultaneously pushes you towards plan making and resolutions—the limitless list of anything and everything that you will accomplish this year—along side the shameful, hide-under-a-rock depression that surfaces when faced with an entire year at your back and the inevitable feeling of ‘not enough accomplished’ for such a frame of time.

Perhaps not everyone thinks this through quite as in depth as I have, but I do believe this single moment or collection of moments that mesh into both reflection and to-do-list making are something everyone experiences at the New Year to some degree. And yes, I will take off my cynicism hat for a moment and admit that—okay, there are merits to this. What I don’t like is the pressure that comes from this manufactured, introspective-based holiday. (Don’t even get me started on the demand to have plans on New Year’s Eve and the mad scramble to find some if you don’t).

The following are a few things I have taken to doing the past few years to find a happy medium—to create a launching pad of sorts from which I can soar off into the brand new year on a positive and realistic note.

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  • Review Your Accomplishments

In this precarious, in-between time of life when all decisions made or ignored feel like they could define the direction of your life, it can sometimes be hard to see life for the things accomplished rather than for the things that are still undefined and up in the air. It’s seems slightly cheesy, but I can’t recommend this enough—write down your year’s defining accomplishments, and start your New Year focusing on the things you have done, rather than on the things you haven’t. Because hey, I still might not be positive where I want my life to be, where I want to live, or what I want to do…I still may not have a full time job or any busyness to speak of … but I did write my very first novel in 2013. Big deal? I think so… Seriously. If you’re feeling even remotely melancholy at this time of year, give it a go.

  • Make A List of Goals, Not Resolutions

Yes, there’s a difference. Resolutions are firm decisions to do or not to do something. Goals are the object of ambition and effort. Aka, you will do one and the other you will try to do.  Therefore, make a list of things you’d like to work towards. The most common resolution is going on a diet… shall I say this on behalf of everyone? It’s virtually impossible to diet for an ENTIRE YEAR. But if you insist that something of the sort make your list of goals this year, why not plan to buy less junk food while at the grocery store? (Sidenote: Keely! I didn’t mean it, I swear!) Don’t set yourself up for failure before the New Year even starts, folks.

  • Cheat

Yup, that’s right. I said it. We put too much pressure on ourselves, folks, so if a few days after being completely sunny and positive about your accomplishments you feel like wallowing in self pity for an hour or two, then just do it. If you need to eat chocolate during said pity party thereby upsetting one of your goals of the year—eat it anyway. Just because.

Well, artsies, now that I’ve given away just how truly crazy this New Year season makes me, I guess I should go grab some chocolate since—why not, right? Eating less of the glorious stuff isn’t on my list of goals anyway (because, God no…) but even if it were… I WOULD EAT IT ANYWAY.  Take THAT New Year.

Following this somewhat contemptuous review, I would like to switch gears and sincerely wish a lovely ‘clean slate’ to you all! May you all eat chocolate whenever you want to!

-A

Ps: It’s nice to be back!

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Happy 2014 from a Proud Segue Mama

Hello Arsties! We’re back (again).

As per usual the holiday season was overwhelmingly busy, I ate enough for 4 people, and oh yeah, Toronto decided to imitate Ottawa this year. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?? Everything is frozen!

Hark! Is that a segue I see?

Yes, over the holiday season I went to see Disney’s Frozen. And you know what? I LOVED it. (And yes, I am incredibly proud of my winter weather to movie segue, thank you for asking.)

I saw it twice in theatres and almost went a third time until I looked at my bank statement from Christmas present shopping and realized that would be a bit excessive. But if I was a millionaire, I’d have done it dangnabbit!

Then, yesterday as I was perusing my newsfeed- Facebook obviously, let’s be serious- I saw some negative reviews about Frozen. My initial reaction was, “and I called you people friends!” But then I remembered that everyone is entitled to their own opinion so I pondered aloud, “who crapped all over your heart to make you hate this beautiful movie?” and “the Grinch called, he wants his 3-times-too-small heart back.” That’s right, I had two simultaneous, complex thoughts at the same time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is- no wait, I got one more: hating Frozen is like taking a selfie in public… you look like an IDIOT for doing it.

Okay, now I’m done.

Here are seven reasons why Frozen is amazing:
(Warning: Spoilers)

  1. The Sister Relationship

    Every Disney movie has a love story. And that story usually involves a guy and girl falling in love at first sight. Well, not only does that not work (trust me, I’ve stared at a lot of strangers) but it’s also over done. It was so refreshing to have a story where the main relationship was between two sisters and what they were willing to do to protect one another. And I LOVE when Kristoff calls Anna out for wanting to marry a guy she’s just met. Thank you Disney!
  2. Music

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEJ566EnNgMI have been listening to the soundtrack nonstop. Let It Go is Disney’s own Defying Gravity and it just makes you want to sing at the top of your voice. My family really appreciated that this Christmas. The songs are fun, emotional, and really tell us about each character.

  3. Funny
    “Knock.”
    “Go ahead, knock.”
    “Why isn’t she knocking?”
    “Do you think she knows how to knock?”

    – Olaf

    Truly, there are some great laugh out loud moments in this movie. Many thanks to Josh Gad who voices Olaf but the other characters have their moments too.

  4. Self-Saving Heroine
    Initially, I had a hard time wrapping my head around Anna as the main character because Elsa’s story is so much more interesting. But what’s really cool about Anna is that she isn’t the damsel in distress. In fact, when she saves Elsa from Hans, Anna unintentionally saves herself through an act of love towards her sister. I know the Heroic Princess isn’t a new concept, Disney also did this with Brave and Tangled, but it’s nice to see this trend continue.
  5. Unexpected Twists and Turns
    When I watch a movie, I can usually guess where the story’s going and how they’re going to get there. But with Frozen, it caught me off guard twice! I had no idea Hans was evil, that was pure genius!
  6. Olaf
    Yes, he’s there for comic relief. And yes, you could probably buy your own island from this little guy’s merchandize sales. BUT. Olaf represents more than just a good time. He’s all heart in three oddly shaped snowballs. Moreover, Olaf symbolizes the good that can come from Elsa’s powers. Everyone views Elsa as a danger because of the curse, but Olaf is literally the living proof that she is not the villain.
  7. And finally… Idina Menzel
    It’s that voice! No doubt her time as the iconic Elphaba landed Idina her role in Frozen but who cares? Who else could pull of that breathtaking balance of fear and ferocity? It was beautiful.

So in conclusion, therefore, and to sum up, I loved Frozen and so should you.

Have a wonderful week!

-K

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A Month in Review

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Hello friends! Did you miss us? Let’s never be apart again. Ever.

As Keely mentioned on Tuesday, our lives got a little busy the second December hit and, to be perfectly honest, I think we both needed a slight break from ever-present writing deadlines after the insanity that was NaNoWriMo.

So, even though I’m nearly 20 days late, I’d like to take this opportunity to pick up where we left off, and review my crazy, shot-in-the-dark, overly-caffeinated, sleep deprived first attempt at writing a novel. Who’s with me? Here we go…

During NaNoWriMo, I learned…

1. That Coffee is My Best Friend and Worst Enemy

I was a late boarder on the coffee train. It took me until I was about 21 to enjoy drinking it regularly, and even now there are some days when I can go without it. The catch? I’m a creature of habit. Like, to my own determent most days. And what is an intense writing session without a fresh cup of coffee? Nothing. The answer is it’s nothing. AKA, words rarely actually get written without its assistance. This means that my November sleep deprivation was not due to unfinished daily word counts…it was due to a monstrously unhealthy dose of caffeine that I swear I will never repeat again.

…until next November.

2. That it’s Nearly Impossible Not to Write Yourself into Your Story

I guess this one is just part and parcel with the whole writing thing. No matter what you do, no matter if you write a protagonist that lives on the Moon and leads our Solar System’s Counter Alien-Terrorist Agency, has three heads, a dog for a life-partner and deep-seeded fear of balloon animals—there is going to be part of you in that character…in every character you write, really.

The thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re writing fast, with little to no editing and, for me at least, that’s when the most of ‘me’ appears on the page. The things that I feel or think or want or am seem to materialize out of thin air when I don’t allow myself to over think.

This was, for me, the hardest aspect of NaNoWriMo—learning to be okay with the—something unflattering—parts of myself I would see reflected back at me.  It’s certainly a sensation I’ve experienced before, just never in a 30-day, 50 000 word overload, and it took some effort to power through at times.

Incidentally, I also learned that I reuse the words ‘offer’ and ‘gesture’ so much that they may just account for a fifth of my 50 000 word count all on their own…

3. That I Am A Master of Procrastination

On the morning of November 1st, 2013—the very first day of my very first NaNoWriMo experience, I decided that it was extremely, vitally important to clean every single inch of my apartment. Guys, I have a problem…I’m not just talking a vacuum and some dusting. I actually wiped down every wall and cupboard…and then scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.

If I were a psychology professional, I would probably say that this intense overhaul of my (admittedly already clean) apartment on such a day was probably the result of self-doubt and pure terror. But I’m not a psychology professional, so let’s blow past this one, kay?

Extensive research for insignificant plot details and composing extravagant broadway-esque numbers at random times of the day to share with my also-writing roommate, are only a few of the exquisite procrastination tactics I discovered.

However, in case you haven’t seen it yet… this was definitely the best one:

4. That Writing a Novel is Hard

Now there’s an intelligent piece of wisdom if I’ve ever heard one. You’re welcome world. (I should probably write books, hey?)

Seriously though, the gapping plot-holes, the useless characters, the crippling insecurity that knocks you up the side of the head and says—hey, you know there’s a huge chance that no one will ever want to read this, right? The whole process…it’s just gutting. And certainly not recommended if one wishes to maintain their sanity at all times.

I read once that ‘writing a novel’ is one of the most common items on people’s bucket lists, and only 10% of those people ever write a single word. And from there, only 2% finish a first draft. Now these statistics do not stand on a steady platform—I have no idea what kind of research the numbers came from, but for some reason I’ve always used them as incentive.

Few people can write novel, and even fewer actually do.

Which brings me to the final thing this past NaNoWriMo taught me…

5. That Maybe, Possibly, Potentially…I Can Be One of the Few Who Finish

Of course, this is the entire concept of NaNoWriMo—getting the novel written, and boosting your confidence in your abilities along the way. I made it to 50 000 words on November 30th (the general NaNoWriMo goal), but didn’t finish my novel. It will probably double its length in the first draft (and then cut down from there), but the discipline and structure of NaNoWriMo has given me faith that I am capable of doing this.

Despite telling every person and their dog since I was about twelve that I wanted to write a novel, I’m not sure I actually believed I could until now.

So for that and so much more, I certainly owe the folks over at NaNoWriMo a great big thank you for an incredibly fun, exhausting, exhilarating and confidence-boosting month…

And finally—thank YOU for putting up with our incessant nattering about this crazy adventure of ours…

You’re the best!

Have a lovely holiday, artsies!

-A

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