DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Hollywood films about teenagers tend to fall into two categories: against-all-odds love stories and oh-my-god-look- behind-you screamers.

But if you dig a little deeper there’s a wave of teen films that are more realistic and still very scary – films that explore the complexities and pressures of youth in a digitally immersed, hyper-sexualized world.

With this week’s release of White Girl, one of the most controversial films at Sundance Film Festival this year, we decided explore a group of films that defy traditional teen stereotypes.

whitegirl WHITE GIRL (2016)

Elizabeth Wood’s debut film is based on her own real life experiences growing up in NYC.  The film follows college girl, Leah (Morgan Saylor), and her roommate (India Menuez) as they move into a Queens apartment while interning in the city. Leah falls for Blue (Brian Marc), a young man dealing drugs on her corner. Within days, the two are selling dime bags to her boss (Justin Bartha) and his downtown friends and living the high life.

Summer love crashes when Blue is arrested. Leah enlists an overpriced lawyer (Chris Noth) but finds herself drowning in debt as she plunges deeper and deeper trying to save Blue.

The bleak story frames the intertwined lives of a boy and a girl from very different economic backgrounds not as a tale of star-crossed lovers, but as a story of how a drug can bring people together and destroy them in vastly different ways.

iTunes

kidsKIDS (1995)

Photographer Larry Clark segued into directing with this wildly controversial film based on a script by an 18-year-old Harmony Korine. The story centers on Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), Casper (Justin Pierce), Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) and Ruby (Rosario Dawson), four New York teenagers, who spend their time partaking in drug abuse, unprotected sex, and random violence.

Powerful and passionate, raw and compelling, the film documents 24 hours in the life of a group of “kids” who believe they are invincible. The film is shocking and deeply affecting—depicting with brutal honesty the experiences, attitudes and uncertainties of innocence lost.

The kids at the core of the story are just that: teenagers living in modern-day America. But while these kids live in the big city, their story could happen anywhere.

In Larry Clark’s words: We wanted to make an insider’s look at gnarly adolescent culture that you’d never get to see otherwise — like The Real World pushed into something hyper and insane.”

Amazon

partymonsterPARTY MONSTER (2003)

Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey based Party Monster on their own 1998 documentary, which traces the rise and fall of Michael Alig, a kid from Middle America who aspired to take the place of Andy Warhol as king of the after-midnight scene in Manhattan. They scored the coup of casting a thoroughly grown-up McCauley Culkin, in his first film role after Richie Rich, nine years earlier.

Michael quickly rises to become the biggest party promoter in New York and King of the so-called Club Kids. But after spiraling into drug addiction, Michael brutally murders his roommate Angel Melendez.

Alig was released from prison in 2014 and is currently shopping a memoir and pitching a reality-show.  Amazon    hulu

springbreakersSPRING BREAKERS (2013) 

Harmony Korine (screenwriter of Kids) directs his vision of the seasonal ritual known as spring break — the parade of bikinis, beach parties and beer bongs that attracts hordes of college students to Florida each year.

Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are best friends eager to cut loose on their own spring break adventure but, lacking sufficient funds, they find it necessary to hold up a restaurant for quick cash and follow one felony with another by stealing a car to drive to the beach. They’re thrown in jail — but quickly bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer who lures them into a criminal world some of the girls find intoxicating.

The film is a brash look at the thin line separating teenage innocence and destructive immorality.

iTunes    Amazon    Netflix DVD

blingTHE BLING RING (2014) 

Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is based on a group of real-life L.A. teenagers whose obsession with fashion and celebrity led them to burglarize celebrities’ homes. It is based on the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales.

Using social media, they track their targets’ whereabouts online and then break in to their empty homes in order to steal designer clothes and possessions. What might have been an innocent prank in another age is amplified by today’s culture of celebrity and luxury brand obsession. Through the members of the Bling Ring we see the temptations that almost any teenager might feel spiral out of control.

What starts out as teenage fun ends as a sobering view of culture today. The film stars Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, and Taissa Farmiga.

iTunes    Amazon    Netflix DVD

palo-alto PALO ALTO (2014)

Gia Coppola’s debut film was based on the book “Palo Alto: Stories” by James Franco.

April (Emma Roberts), the class virgin, is torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B (Franco) and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer).

Emily (Zoe Levin), meanwhile, offers sexual favors to every boy that crosses her path — including both Teddy and his best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), a live wire without filters or boundaries. As one high school party bleeds into the next — and April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection — Fred’s escalating recklessness slips into chaos.

Another unflinching portrait of adolescent lust, boredom, and self-destruction, Palo Alto seems no less real, but somehow seems less sensationalistic than the other films in this group – maybe because Coppola was much closer in age to her subjects: she was only 26 when she made the film.

iTunes    Netflix DVD    Amazon

IDENTITY: THE JOY OF LYING

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Watch it!

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Here at The Thread, we’ve always admired the people who lie for a living: writers, directors, actors. 

 Filmmakers tend to be obsessed with the slippery nature of identity.  Part of the reason is obvious: people who make movies are self-invented, and all too aware of the thin line between self-invention and self-delusion.   

 But as audience members, we are intrigued too: these movies give us the exhilarating opportunity to slip the chains of biography and experience what it might be like to live in someone else’s skin.

 The TV landscape is full of anti-heroes who have reinvented themselves: Don Draper, Walter White, Nicholas Brodie, Lucius Lion, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings.   And out of all the lists we’ve done, this was one of the hardest to pare down – where is Persona, Mulholland Drive, Jacob’s Ladder?

But since it’s the next to the last weekend of summer, we decided to keep it lighter and more superficial — even though our lead title is one of the first in the mouthwatering wave of indies and awards movies that will start in September.   

 

 Complete unknown
COMPLETE UNKNOWN (2016)

As Tom (Michael Shannon ) celebrates his birthday with a few friends, one of them turns up with the new girlfriend he’s been talking about.

Tom instantly recognizes Alice (Rachel Weisz) – they were lovers 20 years before.  Except then her name was Jenny, and she disappeared.

As it turns out, she has spent the intervening years in serial reinvention – every few years she takes on a new name, a new career, new lover, then disappears.

Over the course of the evening, she tries to convince him to discard the life, the wife, the friends he has carefully constructed and join her in a life of serial reinvention.

YouTube

 

 

Momento
MEMENTO (2000)

Young directors are particularly drawn to movies about identity, maybe because they are still caught up in the first frenzy of self-invention.  Faking it until they make it.

 Memento is an extended mind game – but so exceptionally clever, both in conception and execution, that it catapulted Christopher Nolan into the Hollywood mainstream.

Memento was Nolan’s second film.  Its hero (Guy Pearce) suffers from “anteretrograde amnesia” – he remembers who he is/was, but can’t make new memories.  By the end of a long conversation he will forget how it started.  He is battling his condition on a seemingly impossible quest to find his wife’s murderer-rapist — the only way he can move forward is by using tattoos, notes and Polaroids to inform his future self about what he’s discovered.

As you watch the movie, the situation of the protagonist begins to feel somehow universal.  Aren’t we all making it up as we go along — scrambling to construct a consistent personality by surrounding ourselves with bits and pieces of past days, writing notes and Facebook posts that help remind us who we are?

We were surprised to find it currently available only on iTunes: iTunes

 

 

The Usual Suspects
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

Five years before Momento, The Usual Suspects was the pitch-perfect tour-de-force by fledgling director Bryan Singer that earned him his seat at the big boys’ table.

More playful than Momento, the hero of The Usual Suspects is also its villain. A petty con man, a cripple (Kevin Spacey in his breakout role) is being interrogated by a customs agent (Chazz Palmentieri) about the explosion of a cargo ship.  The con weaves an increasingly complicated tale about a lineup of colorful characters, all working under the shadow of a fearsome master criminal named Kayser Soze.

In the penultimate beat of the script, the con man walks out of the police station.  Only then does the interrogator realize that the whole story was made up on the spot using bits of information from postings on a billboard – and that the little rat he just let walk away is actually the fearsome crime lord.

Like Momento, Usual Suspects is a delightful mind game that rewards a second viewing not because of its subtlety or poetic vision, but because it is so perfectly executed.

iTunes YouTube Amazon Vudu Google Play

 

 

Catch Me If You Can
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002)

OK, Steven Spielberg wasn’t exactly a struggling young director when he made his 23rd feature film in 2002.

But the movie is so blithe and breezy that it makes some of his masterpieces feel contrived.  Likewise with Leonardo DiCaprio’s zipless performance as Frank Abagnale, a high schooler who teaches himself to become a master forger and con artist — half because he’s driven and half because it’s just so fun and easy.

The film is based on a true story – as fiction it would be too unbelievable.  And while it’s nominally a “crime” story, it’s very light on malice aforethought.  The crimes are almost a byproduct of the hero’s discovery that he can live the American dream by just literally being anything he wants to be.

When his parents divorce, young Frank runs away and starts impersonating airline pilots, eventually branching out into law and medicine, meanwhile forging millions of dollars in checks.  He is pursued for years by an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks, who over the course of his pursuit develops a kind of bemused affection for the kid – even after he himself has been scammed.

Google Play YouTube Amazon iTunes Vudu

 

 

The Matrix
THE MATRIX (1999)

An exploration of identity for those who habitually live two parallel lives – one online and one in the material world.

We who grew up before computer games became immersive (and even before Dungeons and Dragons), the question of which world is “real” one is far more abstract Zen than it is for a teenage kid today, who regularly split their time between two or more identities .

Keanu Reeves (in a marvelously serendipitous stroke of casting) is Neo, a hacker in a future world who is contacted by mysterious forces.  He becomes awakened to the fact that the great mass of human beings, himself included, live in a dreamworld called the Matrix.  The Matrix is a virtual reality created by sentient machines, who maintain the human population in a perpetual state of suspended animation, harvesting their energy for machine sustenance.

Along with a group of awakened human steampunk rebels, including the woman Trinity, and the leader, Morpheus, Neo battles machine enforcers across layers of reality, trying to rescue the human race from total subjugation.

The monolithic success of The Matrix franchise and its progeny has many allures – it’s a mind game that aficionados  can watch again and again.  It’s a Zen parable for those of us caught up in the waking dream of consumer society.  And the cascade of meanings are rendered even more resonant by the fact that since the both the Wachowski siblings have lived the transformational dream — both transitioning from male to female.

Vudu YouTube iTunes Amazon Google Play

 

 

 

Open Your Eyes
OPEN YOUR EYES (1997)

We’re painfully aware that this list is short on female heros – at one point we thought of going down a very different with much more female driven list — Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, Persona; but somehow the POV wasn’t quite jelling.

So at least Alejandro Amenabar’s mindbending Spanish language parable has pivotal female characters and crazy karmic kickback for its male protagonist.

The film starts with a series of layered frames – a young man awakes to a voice saying “Open your eyes…”, he wakes a second time with a woman in bed, and finally he finds himself in a Madrid  prison cell, talking to a psychiatrist.

Finally, (like Complete Unknown) the narrative anchors itself in flashback to a birthday party.  A handsome young playboy (Eduardo Noriega) wants to dump his current lay, and is attracted to a friend’s date (Penelope Cruz).  In layers of circular storytelling he lives through a horrible accident that destroys his precious face, he sleeps with the friend’s date, and he may or may not murder the woman he wants to be rid of.  But to complicate matters, much of  what he experiences may be artificial, implanted as he languishes in the laboratories of a suspended animation company.

If this all sounds familiar, it may be because the Cameron Crowe/Tom Cruise collaboration, Vanilla Sky, was a close remake – even down to casting Penelope Cruise as the second woman.

We like the Spanish original better.  Another throughline — it was a young Amenabar’s second film and it bought him a ticket to them mainstream.   He went on to make the clever and spooky The Others starring Nicole Kidman, and Spanish language Oscar winner The Sea Within.

Google Play YouTube iTunes Amazon Vudu