Hidden Gems


As a movie buff, of course I love all of the big classic films.  I’ve seen Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemption, and Pulp Fiction countless times, and I watch Raiders of the Lost Arc at what seems to be just about every family gathering.  While huge movies like these have been proven great time and time again, there is something wonderful about finding little unheard-of gems that you stumble across and end up being absolutely incredible.  With movies like this, it can usually be really hit or miss, so when you find a great one, it is extremely satisfying.  So without further ado, here are some movies you most likely haven’t heard of, but you simply must watch.


Columbus, 2017 

This is one movie I hadn’t heard anything about until it popped up on my Hulu.  Upon watching it I was extremely surprised that I hadn’t heard more about it, since it was one of the most original movies I had seen in a while.  It is about a Korean-American, middle aged man and a 20-something woman who find each other and basically explore architecture throughout Columbus, Ohio.  The girl is an architecture fanatic and the man is an uninterested son of a famous architect.  My favorite part of this movie gave me a really new outlook on architecture due to how the characters find beauty in even the most simple buildings.  This movie is visually stunning and has such unique character relationships.


Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016

One reason you probably haven’t heard about this movie is that it is quite literally from the other side of the world: New Zealand.  It was directed by Taika Waititi, who I fell in love with from Flight of the Conchords, but is probably best known for directing Thor: Ragnorok.  This movie is about an troubled orphan boy who is adopted by an older couple.  The wife dies and an adventure ensues with the man and the little boy.  It is a quirky and hilarious film, with a lot of heart.  Plus, there is literally no better accent out there than New Zealand in my personal opinion.


Brigsby Bear , 2017

In an industry in which we are seeing so many remakes and repeats, a movie as original as Brigsby Bear is a true rarity.  This film is hard to describe without giving a lot away but here is my attempt:  a man who was kidnapped as a baby is ripped out of the only world he knows and brought back to his real family.  We watch as he tries to adjust to the real world and understand how to interact with other people.  With no idea what to do with his life, he decides to try to finish making his favorite canceled TV show by himself, a show called “Brigsby Bear”.  It stars SNL’s Kyle Mooney (my personal favorite cast member at the moment), so of course it is extremely funny, but it is so heartwarming too, especially if you are an aspiring film maker.


Wind River, 2017

I saw this movie in theaters, and went in knowing very little about it.  Sufficed to say I was quite surprised that it wasn’t making its circuits during award season, since I found it to be one of my favorite films of the year.  It follows a male wildlife officer and a female FBI agent as they investigate the murder of an 18 year old girl on a Native American reservation.  This film is a beautifully crafted mystery with the backdrop of snowy Wyoming.  The story is extremely heartbreaking, due to how honest it is, and the reality it explores of how the native people are so very overlooked in this country.  Overall it is powerful and tells a message that needs to be heard.

Throwback Movie Review: Withnail and I

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.”


Finding a movie that I absolutely fall in love with happens pretty rarely. Around once a year however, I find a movie that is perfect. I’ll watch it over and over again, making other movies seem dull in comparison.  The movie I haven’t been able to get enough of these past few months is “Withnail and I”.  It is a British black comedy that came out in 1987 and directed by Bruce Robinson.  Upon its release, it wasn’t extremely successful or popular, but overtime it has become one of Britain’s biggest cult classics.

One of my favorite parts of this movie is that it has a simple and straightforward storyline.  It follows two out of work actors in 1969, Withnail a highly dramatic alcoholic, and “I”, the more sensible one and the voice of reason compared to Withnail.  You don’t learn the character “I”’s name throughout the entire movie, another small detail that makes this movie so delightful.  Throughout the movie we see these two characters take a vacation from their disgusting London flat, to the gloomy but beautiful English countryside, where they stay at a cottage owned by Withnail’s uncle.  As the film unfolds, their vacation proves to be anything but enjoyabl: monotonous days, strange local characters, and lots and lots of dreary rain.  The characters have no real goal or destination other than to have an enjoyable vacation, which they miserably fail at.

The acting in this movie is absolutely amazing, especially from Richard E. Grant who plays Withnail.  It’s been said by many that Grant’s drunk acting is some of the best ever put to screen.  It is the perfect mix of hilarious and pitiful, but it is so extremely true and not at all over the top.  The “I” character, although less extreme, is just as spectacularly played by the actor Paul McGann.  His constant exasperation with Withnail creates loads of hilarity, as well as relatability; everyone can pick out the Withnail in their own life.

People often think this movie was actually made in the 60’s, due to how accurate to the time it is.  Something that adds to this is the soundtrack.  The music perfectly defines the time.  The songs are celebrating the 60’s and mourning the end of it.  We hear, of course, the kings of 60’s music, the Beatles, “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”.  This songs fits perfectly with how absolutely depressing the men’s flat is.  We also hear Jimi Hendrix singing sweet anthems of this era, and electrifying the exciting scenes.

This movie has absolutely became one of my favorites.  It is a flawless combination of laughter and sadness.  The backdrop of dreary England mixed with these two slightly psychotic characters creates a beautifully unique story that I could not recommend enough.


photo via foylefilmfestival.org



Isle of Dogs

Of any movie set to come out this year, I am the most excited for Wes Anderson’s upcoming stop motion film, “Isle of Dogs”.  Like many, I have always been a big fan of Anderson’s very specific and unique style.  He is one of the few popular directors these days that have a truly recognizable look and feel to their films.  He styles movies in unique ways, most notably his use of the same group of actors in the majority of his films.  If you are watching a movie that is unrealistically color coordinated, extremely symmetrical, and features Bill Murray, you know you are watching a Wes Anderson picture.  I have always been a big fan of his first film, “Bottle Rocket”.  While it may be one of his least popular films, its amazing to see how he began forming his style, and while it is not and intensely stylized, you can see sprinklings of what is to come in his future work.

I feel that Anderson particularly shines in stop motion animation, as seen in “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and for this reason, I am particularly excited for “Isle of Dogs”.  Stop motion animation is a perfect platform for his style; he can manipulate the visuals as much as he wants, making each aspect look perfect (in live action this is more difficult).  Wes Anderson often has a lot of humor in his films, and the youthful and childlike qualities of this animation style defiantly benefits from this comedic aspects.  As a huge fan of animation, I am always excited to see a animated film that is targeted more towards adults, since I think it is such a fun juxtaposition when you have mature themes in the story line being depicted in a traditionally child centric medium.

The story of “Isle of Dogs” is that of a dystopian future, where all dogs are exiled from Japan and sent to a garbage island.  A little boy named Atari goes to the island to look for his lost dog.  There, he meets a rag tag group of dogs that help him on his journey to find his pup.  These dogs are such a joy to watch, because of how extremely human like they speak and how matter of fact they are.  As always, Anderson’s visuals are insanely beautiful.  There’s a huge cast of top notch actors, including, but not limited to Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Ed Norton, Yoko Ono, and my personal favorite Greta Gerwig.  While Anderson’s movies can have a lot of darkness and cynicism at times, theres no denying that all of his films have a lot of heart and sweetness.  If you are still not convinced on this film, I would highly suggest checking out the films official website, where the voice actors talk about their characters as their animated characters, its a real gem.


Still from “Isle of Dogs”, via Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox

James Jean: Making Movie Posters an Art Form

For the past few years, one of my favorite artists has been James Jean.  I discovered him on Instagram (as I do with a lot of creators), and was immediately mesmerized.  I am often attracted to painters that leave me wondering how on earth they have created their work, and Jean definitely left me in that state.  His work often consists of surreal, fantastical beings, landscapes, and creatures that are meticulously detailed and unlike anything I’ve seen before.

This past year Jean has done a lot of movie “posters”.  These are no average movie posters though. Each poster looks like it could stand alone as a piece of fine art.  He created art for Blade Runner: 2020, Mother!, and even best picture winner The Shape of Water.  I enjoyed all three of these movies from a visual standpoint, so it was amazing to see Jean’s take on them.  He incorporates his own style into these works in a way that does not take away from the feel of the movie and still lets his own vision shine through.  I absolutely love his posters for the movie Mother! (even more than the movie, actually).  While I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie itself, theres no denying it had a beautiful look to it, and Jean does a great job of encapsulating that.  They are both extremely interesting in the way they juxtapose beauty and eeriness that ties with the movie so well: Jennifer Lawerence looking angelic but holding her own heart in her hand, and Javier Bardem sitting calmly in a chair while being engulfed by flames.  My favorite of the poster pieces is the Blade Runner one.  With the movie alone being visually stunning, one would wonder how Jean could do anything more.  But, with his piece he does.  I love the way he takes a distinct scene from the movie that one could very easily recognize but does it with a bit of a different set up and color scheme, as a way to make it more “fine art” like.

Jean’s movie posters are extraordinary and something I wish we saw in more advertising material for films.  Posters these days are often trite and cliche. James Jean adds new depth and character to the mundane artwork of movie posters of today.

(Image from vanityfair.com)

Playlist Poetry

Like many people, I take a lot of pride in my playlists.  It’s a great feeling when you find songs that sound delightful together, despite them being pretty different.  It’s like finding two puzzle pieces from different puzzles that somehow match up perfectly.  While I’m a total believer in listening to albums in their entirety, I also think there’s a beauty in strolling home from class listening to a combination of different sounds that you curated, kind of like your own personal life soundtrack.  So, naturally, when I was trying to think of what to write about today, I turned to my new playlist.  Its a very short, 5 song playlist, but I thought I would walk you through it, and share some new and old songs that I have completely fallen in love with.


To start off, I have a song that has been in my favorites since this summer called “Dog Years” by Maggie Rogers.  Ok, I admit, the only reason I initially listened to this song was because she has the same first name as me.  Sorry, I guess I’m vain!  But, she has become one of my new favorite artists.  Her songs blend electronic and folky sounds, two things that would not seem to fit, but somehow in her music it makes perfect sense.  I fell in love with this song initially by watching the music video.  Anyone who has spent time Up North in Michigan will totally connect with this video as she walks by lakes and through forests.  This song achieves the paradigm of being peaceful yet so incredibly free spirited at the same time.


Next, we go to a full on folk song (my jam to say the least).  I was so excited when I found this song, because I feel like I’ve spent my whole life looking for a modern Joni Mitchell type.  She’s my absolute favorite, and it seems there are very few like her today.  But the song “30” by the Weather Station perfectly encapsulated that style.  The lead singer, Tamara Lindeman, has a high and soft tone that Mitchell is so famous for, as well as her amazing ability to pack what seems like a million poetic words into a song and still not have it sound rushed or too jammed.  They are not identical to Mitchell though, they do they’re own spin on the style, and definitely differ from her with the amount of electric guitar they use.


Of course, we always need an oldie in a playlist.  I chose Simon and Garfunkel’s “A Most Peculiar Man”, the 1967 live from New York version.  I chose the live version because I lover hearing Paul Simon talk about it in the beginning; I’ve listened to it so many times that I know the words he speaks before hand as if they were lyrics in the song.  This song is just perfectly sweet and melancholy. There’s beautiful guitars and harmonies, and Simon’s lyrics are completely enticing, as always.  Enough said!


José González has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and when I realized he had a new EP out this year, I was ecstatic.  The song “Afterglow (with the Brite Lites)” is my favorite of his new songs.  All of his music, especially on this new EP, is incredibly rich and layered, with many guitar and singing tracks that create beautifully haunting harmonies.  Its hard to describe why I love his music so much, but I just feel like it has a heavenly aura that I absolutely love.


I always like to finish it off with an instrumental.  So lastly, we have “Sunflower River Blues” by John Fahey.  I really have no idea how I came across this song, but it is perfection.  I just love the simplicity of a person and their guitar, and how just that can make a complex song.

If you would like to listen to this playlist click the link below and enjoy.  Or, take a good 30 minutes to make your own playlist that is the musical definition of you.


90th Academy Awards

While the Academy Awards are full of showy moments and cringeworthy jokes, I do love seeing great filmmaking rightfully recognized.  Last night was the 90th Oscars, and there were a lot of historic moments that made it feel like a milestone in the award.

There were a lot of firsts in the nominees and winners at yesterdays ceremony. Timothee Chalamet, the amazing 22 year old actor from the break out independent film Call Me by Your Name, had the opportunity to be the youngest Best Actor winner ever by quite a bit, with the current youngest being Adrien Brody, who won for The Pianist at 29.  Another potential record breaker was Greta Gerwig, writer and director of Lady Bird.  Her nomination alone was a first, being the only woman ever to be nominated for her directorial debut, and if she won she would’ve been the second woman to win this honor (the only one is Kathryn Bigelow who won in 2010).  Unfortunately, neither of these talents ended up winning, but it is hard to be too disappointed, because there were still a lot of amazing, historical wins.  Jordan Peele triumphed over the Best original screenplay category, being the first African American writer to ever win.  For best Adapted Screenplay, James Ivory became the oldest person ever to win an Oscar, at an astounding 89 years of age for Call Me by Your Name!  Roger Deakins has been “cursed” in a sense and has gotten a grand total of 13 nominations for Best Cinematography but has never won.  Luckily, this year he broke his streak, taking home the Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, his 14th nomination.

While there were a lot of great moments when handing out the oscars, with the plethora of first time occurrences, there were some meaningful moments in the speeches.  With an obvious highlight on the “Time’s Up” movement, many people had things to say about women in the film industry.  The fiery and delightfully weird Francis McDormand gave an empowering speech and ended it by saying “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider”.  An inclusion rider is something that actors and actresses can put into their contracts that guarantees racial and gender equality on the set of movies. Adding this to her speech definitely added awareness among people not in the movie industry.  I personally didn’t know what it meant, so I googled it right when she said it, as I’m sure many people all over the world did.  Another powerful speech was Guillermo del Toro.  While giving the Best Picture speech  Del Toro stated the following: “I am an immigrant the greatest thing our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper”.  Del Torro, who was born in Mexico, won both Best Director and Best Picture.  With his wins, along with Coco winning best animated and Chile’s A Fantastic Woman winning Best Foreign Film, it was an all around beautifully triumphant night for Latin America.

Overall, I enjoy watching the Oscars.  I love seeing the little videos they make of clips from legendary movies throughout the years, I love seeing the emotions of the winners, and I love seeing the celebration of beautiful films.  While it is often cheesy and about an hour too long, for a film buff, its just something you can’t miss.