Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Fault In Our Stars + Live Q&A

From the indisputably talented writers from acclaimed romantic indies such as (500) Days of Summer and last year's provocative The Spectacular Now, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber once again offer audiences a nuanced look at young love, with the witty charm of (500) Days and the grappling realism of The Spectacular Now with their latest, and what's sure to be a critically acclaimed and box-office success, The Fault In Our Stars.

Based on the New York Times best-selling YA novel of the same name by John Green, Fault centers around a 16-year-old girl, Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley), who is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. During a support group meeting, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a cancer survivor who inexorably and unabashedly pursues Hazel with the mellowed-cool of James Dean and the flattery of a modern-day and less articulate Shakespeare. Their friendship quickly blossoms into something more serious, but when Hazel's health matters take a left turn she has to ask herself if happiness is worth pursuing despite her grave reality.

This is certainly no fairy-tale romance; Hollywood cliches are demystified so we're left with what feels like an unadulterated perspective on love, death and growing up, as far as romantic films go. Those familiar with Green's novel recognize the, although witty style in which he writes, unflattering reality that lingers on every page and keeps any sense of romantic escapism in check. This was nicely transitioned into the film. The film's exceptional cast maintains this sense of realism with gritty performances, particularly Woodley, Elgort and Hazel's mother, played Laura Dern who lends her character a resilient maternalism and gives a wonderfully painful performance. Woodley and Elgort, however, are what define the film. If the writing is the structure, they are the glue that comfortably sets into the crevices and tightly binds to create a complete experience. In a recent interview, Woodley admitted to almost quitting the business until she read the script for The Spectacular Now. Thank God for that, otherwise spectators might have been left with an actress not as, seemingly, acutely attuned to her character. What Woodley offers, with her lack of makeup, uninhibited breakdowns, and leading-lady capabilities, is a completely engaging and, thus, believably moving performance. She's complimented by Elgort, who personifies Augustus' amusing and flirtatious nature, while balancing the tenderly vulnerable and unflattering side.

While, ostensibly, the film appears to be another tear-jerker romance in the same vain as a Nicholas Sparks novel, it intellectually prods at philosophical and often bleak theories and ideas, making it a universally appealing film for anyone who has ever wondered about death, experienced pain or loss, or has grappled with existentialist beliefs. In the film, Hazel tells Augustus she doesn't want to pursue anything romantic because she's a "grenade" and wants to reduce casualties. This notion of denying gratification out of fear of dying is evident throughout the film. Green offers Augustus as an antithesis to that, he tells Hazel, when they first meet, he enjoys looking at beautiful things and doesn't want to deny himself all the pleasures in life. It makes sense Hazel doesn't want to engage in something possibly worthwhile, given her diagnosis, but by her own admission, everyone's going to die anyway, eventually. This sense of "oblivion" is flippantly tossed around in the film, both as an interesting possibility and perhaps more as a wry coping mechanism to circumvent thinking about a hereafter. If this seems dark, it's because it is. The film makes no attempt to shy away from the book's heavy subject matter. It's demonstrates the duality of accepting death as inevitable and finding meaning within an individual's limited existence, despite an awareness of expiration and, one day, extinction where the phantoms of our existence will be erased with those who knew us. Despite such heavy and often dark material, the film manages to be, in all its painful spectacle, inspiring. It's full of effervescent life and unexpected, yet exciting adventure. It's about the experience, however short, and those we choose to share it with.

The ending, however you wish to interpret it, has an uplifting tone. It's perhaps Green's offering to the lack of closure in his book-within-a-book "An Imperial Affliction," a novel Hazel and Augustus obsess over throughout the film. This self-referential notion that authors often cut their stories short or end it in the midst of action, parallels the ephemeral lives of cancer patients. As Hazel points out, people often die in the middle of life, in the middle of a sentence. Similarly, "The Diary of Anne Frank" ends in the same fashion (although surely and sadly unintentionally so), so it's only appropriate the characters visit the Anne Frank House on their trip to Amsterdam. Neither the book nor the film end in such a way, but the themes expressed throughout the film reveal that it's not important what happens next, so the ending is suiting.

Director Josh Boone, somehow manages to adapt Green's novel into the film it deserves to be, externalizing all its creative and poignant elements into its pictorial potential. Boone manages to redeem himself after the 2012 lackluster drama Stuck In Love, which he wrote himself. As long as he leaves the writing to more capable individuals, he shows excellent potential behind the camera (he's currently working on adapting a Stephen King novel).

As a John Green fan, an avid reader of YA novels and lover of coming-of-age indie films, Fault raises the bar high both as a book and film. It's hard to pin the film down to a niche genre, when it's portrayed so honestly - it universally offers something relatable, whether it's love or loss, pain or joy, enlightenment or internal conflict. And just like the book, the film leaves a long-lasting imprint that's emotionally unforgettable. Despite inevitable oblivion, don't deny yourself the pleasure of watching a film that's sure to be remembered for years to come.

Grade: A

Special Screening Live Q&A:

As some of you may or may not know, there was a special screening for the film held on Thursday, 5:30 PST, that was shown simultaneously across the country (600+ theaters) so audiences, after the film, could stay and watch a live Q&A session with some of the stars, cast and the author. The screening was $25, and everyone got a poster with printed signatures of Woodley, Elgort, Green and Nat Wolff (who plays Isaac in the film) and a really cheap-looking bracelet that's basically just a non-stretchy coarse string with a star charm with the title of the film etched into it. In attendance at the session was Green, along with the three aforementioned actors, Boone and one of the producers.

This is the information I had going into the film. The Q&A was a combination of odd, funny, technical difficulties, and nihilistic fan answers.

Before I begin, let me preface this by saying the film experience was slightly overshadowed, at times, by audible reactions from fellow patrons in my theater. If you're going to cry or blow your nose, do so quietly, so it does not interrupt those around you or inspire giggles which also interrupts those around you. If you know you are going to cry belligerently during the whole film, for the love of God, stay the fuck home. I swear to you, I heard girls (the majority of the audience in my theater) gasping for air as they were crying. Also, please refrain from making audible comments during the film, like "I can't control my feels," "what is happening to me?" and "how did they film this?" during an intimate scene. If you fall in this category, I personally hate you, and ask that you do not ruin the film for those around you if you haven't seen the film yet or plan on seeing it again.

Okay, so stepping away from a critical, formal tone, I'll relay most of the events for anyone curious as to what went down. The Q&A began with Alton Brown (yes, Iron Chef Alton Brown, which inspired me to tweet #TheFaultInOurAAAAAAAAHHHHHLAAAAYCUISINE! last night) on-screen, outlining the events that were about to transpire: a Q&A (which after the film, we could tweet questions using the hashtag: #ASKTFIOS to possibly get answered and shown on screen), some musical performances and some surprises. After the introduction, singer Birdy sang both her hit song "Skinny Love" and a song she wrote for the soundtrack "Not About Angels," which were both really good and the latter of which I'm listening to as I type this.

After Birdy's performance, the cast and crew and John Green came out and joined Alton in a theater, I think in Georgia, where a special screening of the film had just taken place also. Alton started off saying he watched the film and read the whole book that day to prepare and started off with the first question. I forgot what it was, but was directed at John Green. I was distracted by Shailene crying as soon as she sat down and talking about her snot. She said she was sad that the film's journey reached its conclusion and it felt like a graduation and was overwhelmed by the experience she had making the film and now sharing it with people.

Throughout the Q&A, Alton oscillated between taking questions from Twitter and those in attendance in the theater. The most memorable of which, and perhaps the darkest moment, was when a girl from Peachtree City, or something like that, in the audience asked John Green if he believed in oblivion. I swear to God, he told her she and everyone in Peachtree City and everyone she loved was going to die and shit. To be fair, he said it in a jocular sense, but still we were taken back at his nihilistic response. He didn't really mean it obviously, but it was still fucking hilarious. Someone from Twitter asked a question and I couldn't remember what he or she asked because when they flashed the tweet on screen it showed their profile pic was a picture of Josh Hutcherson with their handle "conwhore" or something like that. Someone asked what John's favorite scene was and he complained about his scene being cut from the film. In the book, there's a part where a little girl asks Hazel about her nasal cannulas and lets her try it on. There's a mother in the background. John apparently played the little girl's father.

There were a few moments of technical difficulties, static and the audio getting really loud, but for the most part it was alright. We could hear everything they said. Shailene said she got stung on her cheek when a bee got caught in her cannulas during a scene. She said she felt bad for the bee. One of the producers was there and I don't remember him talking much. John talked a lot, obviously, which was humorously foretold by Alton. Someone in the audience asked them what question have they not been asked that they would like to be asked and give an answer to that question. Nat said he wanted to know what happened to the hamster in "An Imperial Affliction" asking John what his home life was like. I don't remember what John said, everyone was just being silly. Boone said he took a USB with him during one of the pre-production meetings and showed some producer some of the songs he had in mind for the film. Also, the soundtrack for the film was really nice, felt young and indie like the film and never overpowered it. One of the girls in the audience who asked a question was named Alex Wolffe, like Nat's brother but with an 'e' if I remember.

After the Q&A Nat and his brother Alex performed two songs. The first was called "Last Station" which I really liked and the other I don't remember, but was the song Isaac sings when he's crying in Augustus' basement/room. I didn't care for the second song that much.

After the second musical performance, we were told to stick around for a special surprise, which was John Green's cut scene from the film. It was at the airport before they leave for Amsterdam. It was cute, but ultimately nonessential and understandable cut.

Was it ultimately worth the $25 bucks? I don't know, if you're a fan of John Green or the cast members, perhaps. The bracelet and poster doesn't seem worth it to me, but ultimately I had a great experience, so I'm glad I went. The theater was also, surprisingly, empty. Not even halfway full, I would say. When we finally left, the line of people waiting for the later showings wrapped around the building, so I was happy to evade a big crowd of potentially louder audience members. All in all, it was the film that was most satisfying, everything else I'm sure will make its way online someday, so don't feel like you missed out if you didn't go to the special screening. It was pretty short anyway and didn't reveal anything new or terribly interesting. It just seemed like an excuse to make people cough up more cash.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Liebster Award

Hey everyone,

I've been neglecting my blog for quite a while, busy contributing to and that pesky duty of finding employment after graduating. But good news - I've been nominated for a Liebster Award! I'd like to thank all the little people I've stepped on to get here. Only kidding. Thanks to Ben for the generous nomination and, sorry ahead of time, for not following the rules and regulations of the game.

I'll keep it plain and simple, but here are my answers:

1. What's your most prized Blu-ray/DVD/VHS and why does it have a special significance to you?

I try not to get attached to physical copies of films. I also don't have that many to brag about (maybe forty?). But if I had to pick one, I'm gonna go with an old-school answer and say my original VHS copy of Jurassic Park. It's one of my all-time favorite films and it sparked my love of film growing up; I had a short phase where I wanted to be a paleontologist. SHOOOOOOT HAAAAA!!!!!!

2. What was the first movie you remember seeing in the cinema?

My parents tell me the first film they took me to see was 101 Dalmations, but the first one I remember seeing was The Nightmare Before Christmas. It has since become one of my favorite, nostalgic films and my love of Tim Burton, Danny Elfman and stop-motion films has grown infinitely since.

3. What was the first R-rated film you saw in theaters?

I didn't see an R-rated film in theaters until I was of age (17), but I couldn't have had a better first experience. It was Knocked Up. It was my senior year in high school. Me and some friends ditched school and had a fun day in town. It was awesome.

4. Have you ever dressed up as a movie character for a party/holiday/occasion? 

I'm trying to think and I don't recall ever dressing up as a movie character! And she calls herself a cinephile?

5. When did you last cry like a baby while watching a movie?

I don't think I cried "like a baby," but I've been into depressing documentaries of late. I saw this documentary called It's a Girl on Netflix recently and it made me cry a few times. For the most part, I don't really cry when I watch films.

6. Have movies taught you any life lessons that you still adhere to today?

Most definitely. Scorsese taught me not to be a rat. Almodovar taught me there's something masculine about every woman and something feminine about every man. Sans Soleil taught me there's no such thing as documentary or truth in film. And Funny Games taught me never to let strangers in my house. Knock all you want, I ain't opening the door FedEx man!

7. Think of your favorite director. Now write a short poem about why you love their work.

Poem? I,, here goes:

Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
I deeply respect and admire Pedro Almodovar's filmography, with his feminist tendencies, auteur style and his unapologetic display of colors that usurps Spain's once austere Francoist regime,
How about You?

8. What's your favorite movie score/soundtrack?

Great question. I love Clint Mansell and think "Requiem for a Dream" is one of the best soundtracks, but I prefer "Death is the Road to Awe," found on The Fountain's OST. I also have to give shout outs to Danny Elfman, Dario Marianelli, Alberto Iglesias, Howard Shore and John Williams. I could literally talk about soundtracks for days.

9. What's your favorite animation of all time?

Favorite animated movie? Does PIXAR count? I'll go with maybe Up or Ratatouille.

10. Do you have any favorite childhood movies that you now hate?

No, believe it or not. They're all nostalgic for me now. Even something like Good Burger or Space Jam.

11. Which do you prefer: a packed cinema auditorium on opening night or a quiet and empty cinema auditorium a week later?

Hands down, the latter. I rarely go to opening-night screenings, unless I'm dragged by a friend. I don't like watching films with other people, since you don't get to choose who goes, e.g., woman with crying baby, teenagers who talk throughout the whole thing, older couple who laughs at everything, even the stupid cell-phone commercials before the previews, woman who sneaks a smelly three-course meal inside, children who incessantly ask questions throughout the film, people texting (you know you paid to watch this movie, right, and it's distracting those around you?!), young adult who takes infinity opening his noisy bag of who-the-hell-cares chips, etc. It's annoying. I'd rather wait a week or two and bask in the liberty to sit where I please, put my feet up without bothering anyone and read the credits without having people in my aisle waiting for me to get up and leave (just walk in front of me, I need to know who the director of photography was!)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Breakdown/Prediction of Oscar-nominated Documentaries

Hey, guys!

So, I haven't shown any love to my blog in a while, apologies. I've recently been contributing to, which I highly recommend you check out.

Anyway, I did a breakdown of this year's Oscar-nominated Documentaries and which one I think will take home top prize, if you're interested.

Thanks for reading, and I'll try to update this blog more often. Adios!

Oscar Circuit: Best Documentary Feature

Despite some upset over popular word-of-mouth documentaries like SeaWorld expose Blackfish and Sarah Polley’s deeply personal and acutely self-aware film Stories We Tell getting snubbed at the Academy Awards this year, the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature still stand strong.
The nominated documentary features include:
  • The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sorensen)
  • Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher)
  • 20 Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers)
  • Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill)
  • The Square (Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer)
This year’s line-up offers a diverse selection. There are the politically-driven and visual-journalistic pieces like Dirty Wars and The Square. There’s the biographical and artsy Cutie and the Boxer about the life of a financially-struggling couple attempting to get their art exhibited in a high-stakes, high-competition medium. There’s also the commercially appealing, musical-tale 20 Feet from Stardom about the high’s and low’s of backup singers who clandestinely helped made the hits of some of American’s most known songs. Then there’s The Act of Killing which belongs in a category all to itself, and it’s this novelty to achieve something rarely done before that will probably help lock it as Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscar ceremony.
To read the rest over at, please click here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Blog!

Dear readers,

I've recently started a new blog over at and encourage ya'll to check it out and read my latest entry (a defense of Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street"), read here.

I want to try to expand and reach a larger audience and gain more readership. I will be posting film articles on my new blog but will still write reviews and continue to post content on this site.

Thank you to anyone who has been reading my reviews - it means a lot! And can't wait to share more content.

Cristina Lule