Battle of the accents

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Last weekend I watched Don Jon. This week I watched American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street.

My first reaction when I saw the first two movies was the same. It was: “OH NO MY EARS! WHAT IS THIS ACCENT!”

I’m talking about the kind of New York/New Jersey accent that sounds nasally, and annoying, that becomes even more so when the actors playing the characters are so convincing in their roles. Because then you are reminded of those people from Jersey Shore and OH NO! OUR EARS!

To be fair, that Scarlett Johansson sounds utterly convincing in that accent is a testament to her acting ability in Don Jon. I’ve always doubted her as an actress because I never saw her as anything brilliant in her movies. She was usually just plain solid, but not really good or great in my opinion, and I rather thought she was the weakest part in one of my favorite movies of all time (The Prestige). But she was quite stellar as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s girlfriend in Don Jon, especially because she managed to thoroughly sell that accent to me. So even if my ears were hurting, I still had to applaud her for it.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence attempting a similar accent and portraying a crazy controlling wife of a conman while using that accent in American Hustle didn’t quite work for me. I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t fit the role or if it’s because her accent comes and goes mid-dialogue. What I do know is that she wasn’t portraying the same level of brilliance that she showed in her previous movie, so whatever award she’s nominated or won for this role might not be entirely deserving. I was relieved when the movie was finally over and I didn’t have to listen to her anymore. This makes me quite sad because I like Miss Lawrence. Just not in this movie and not in this role – definitely not with this accent.

Out of the three movies about modern America, The Wolf Of Wall Street is the most impressive. Leonardo DiCaprio is stellar in there and his co-star Margot Robbie, playing his character’s sexy blonde second wife Naomi, keeps up well enough with Leo. Naomi, too, has an accent and in her case, she’s more consistent in it than Rosalyn was. As a blonde wife giving her husband hell? Ms. Robbie does it more convincingly than J.Law too. Not because she’s the better actress but because her accent doesn’t come and go like J.Law did, which is even more impressive because she’s Australian.

My question is now: do people really talk like that in real life?

Some of my American friends convince me that they do, particularly people in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. So I guess these movies are not too far off from real life when portraying Americans.

I guess I needed to be told by these friends about the realness of the accent. Don Jon, American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street seem to be filled with American cultural stereotypes that I only get to see from movies and TV shows, never in real life. I don’t know any Americans that I’ve met in real life who speak like that. Even the one guy from the southern part of America that I met (a publisher rep) didn’t sound ‘Southern’ at all. Usually when people meet me and hear me speak English they go like “your accent is very American” and while I take that as a compliment (because this means all those years of learning English had definitely paid off!) I also sure as hope that they don’t mean “your accent reminds me of ridiculous girls from New York in movies”.

Thanks to all of these movies, though, I am now ready to leave USA in the movies behind. Three ‘accented’ movies are enough to make me want to cross the Atlantic and find my entertainment in Great Britain and the rest of Europe and the world. Studying culture from movies is great, but not when your ears are hurting. So, here’s to English/Italian/French/German/Japanese movies in my immediate future.

The Walking Dead – Press Day in Singapore

Yesterday I was in Singapore for a 2-day The Walking Dead junket trip. It was such an excitement to be there because the talents who came to Singapore are the show’s biggest stars, namely Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes). I’m quite amazed that they came to Asia, let alone Singapore, which is very close to Indonesia. But they told me that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Reedus also felt privileged to be able to come to our side of the world.

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Funnily enough, about half of the journalists who came to the press day are fans of the show as well. I’m a fan of the comic book and the show so naturally I asked for their signatures on my copy of The Walking Dead comic book (by Robert T. Kirkman, whom Reedus and Lincoln mentioned a few times during our Q&A). Also, my chief editor asked me to ask Lincoln to sign a copy of his Love, Actually Blu-ray box.

The Walking Dead‘s popularity as a show is undisputed. I would be hard pressed to find any other show that is still able to maintain their game at this very intense level on their fourth or fifth season. The Walking Dead is visceral and cerebral at the same time, supplying us with gore and violence that are paired perfectly with human drama and psychology. This is a show where a character banishment can hurt a lot more than a character death; but when they do kill someone, they make those characters earn it. There’s no gratuitous killing – when someone dies, the impact is very much felt and absorbed.

As you may recall, this show didn’t even make it to the Top 10 of my Favorites Of The Year 2013 list. But I did explain that that decision was a personal one because I still couldn’t get over the death of one of the characters I really like. It’s funny how I can deal with Game Of Thrones deaths but not The Walking Dead – “The Red Wedding” episode provided as much angst as TWD‘s last episode did. But the difference is, I didn’t care much for Robb Stark. TWD‘s death felt more similar to Sean Bean’s character’s death in the first season of GoT.

Anyway, Lincoln and Reedus promised us an amazing last half of season 4. I can’t wait for this show to be back on TV. Fox Movies Premium will air this series only mere hours after the US; there is no longer a week-long gap between US air date and Asian air date. Forget those lo-res Torrents… this is one show worth seeing on HD TV!

On writing about films

Recently Dhania asked me a question that, I have to admit, was kind of difficult to answer. She asked me whether or not I could give her a tip or a suggestion on “becoming a film critic/journalist/whatever it’s called” and whether or not she “should take film lessons”.

This kind of question always stumps me because… well, how do you advise someone else about writing about movies when you yourself feel like you still have a lot to learn?

(Also, I do kind of dislike the term “critic”. Just… no. Don’t use it. Not with me, at least.)

I’ve decided to give this question an answer – finally – and to do that I shall draw from my own experiences.

So, you like movies and you want to write about it? Then just do it. That’s what I did. I set up a blog (Livejournal), I created a tag (cinema) and I wrote about movies. I didn’t only review films (which is, giving my opinion about a movie in a creative way, trying to be as objective as possible) but I also shared news, ranted about silly celeb things, made lists of films I want to watch/have watched/do not plan to watch/recommend to my friends who can’t be bothered to check out movies on their own, post pictures and everything else under the sun. I guess I just like writing and I like writing about my hobbies and one of them happened to be about movies.

You know how sometimes people go, “Oh, I want to have a blog and write about movies” but then they don’t because blogging seems to be a hardship and they just can’t find the time to do it even though they procrastinate a lot? Well, I can already tell you that these people won’t ever become a film critic/journalist/writer/whatever. If you really want to write about movies, then just write it. It doesn’t matter if your blog’s layout is elementary or if your grammar is poor, just write. You watch movies and then you write about them. That’s all.

I didn’t study film per se but I made a short while I was studying in university (I have a degree in Italian language because I wanted to become a football commentator but my professors were movie buffs and one of them gave us an assignment to make a movie in Italian. I wrote the script and we filmed it.) My final paper was on Ettore Scola, the great Italian filmmaker, who also happened to be one of my professor’s cinema heroes. So in a wayknow how to make movies, but it’s not like I’m a total expert on it. Sure, go to a film school if you want to… in the long run, though, it’s not absolutely necessary for anyone to study film if they want to write about films.

What helps is your passion for films. I got this job as a film journalist who writes about movies because of Harry Potter. Seriously. No joke. My former chief editor (who was then working at another movie magazine) offered me a chance to write about the sixth Harry Potter movie – The Half-Blood Prince – because I know the topic inside and out. I lived and breathed Potter so writing that 12-page feature only took me, like, 3 days. The research part was already halfway done because I was in the fandom and I knew people and I kept up with every single news piece about the movie. Former chief editor only had to hear me talk about the importance of Draco and Harry’s rivalry/relationship before he said, “Why don’t you go and write about it for me?”

After that, it’s just a matter of expanding your horizon. You like fantasy and sci-fi movies? Good. Now go watch something else – horror, supernatural, thriller, drama, comedy and everything else that is outside of your comfort zone. You cannot make yourself “a fantasy film expert” because what if you have to write about directors like Ang Lee? To write about Ang Lee, you can’t just know about spiritual movies, but you also have to know superhero blockbusters, historical dramas, LGBT films and Mandarin-language films.

(In TFI, we do like to joke about having areas of expertise, though. I’m pretty much the go-to person for anything geeky but my friend is über passionate about indie and small films. And there’s another guy who’s into horror movies and we just send him to all the horror screenings because he can stomach it better than the rest of us.)

Anyway, recapping all of that: blog and/or write a lot. Understand (a bit) about how movies are made. Find your passion and personal taste; cultivate it. Then expand your horizon.

I think that’s it. There’s nothing else I can suggest. This is all I know.

Well, I could get technical and tell you how to review movies – that is, according to the standard we apply in the magazine – but I won’t. Everyone’s different when it comes to reviews. This is a topic for another day.

(I hope this helps, Dhania. Sorry if it’s not much.)

Sue Vertue on BBC Sherlock’s unique position and Cumberbatch’s nose

I interviewed Sherlock producer Sue Vertue in November 2013 about the BBC series. The report of the interview is a cover story in Total Film Indonesia Issue #50 (our golden edition, celebrating the 50th issue of the magazine). The piece below is a news piece for totalfilmindonesia.com (Sue Vertue Berkomentar tentang keunikan BBC Sherlock dan hidung Cumberbatch) This is the English translation of that piece.

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Sue Vertue on BBC Sherlock’s unique position and Cumberbatch’s nose

by AMANDA AAYUSYA

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The 2-year long wait is over… Sherlock finally returned to BBC since its second season ended somewhat enigmatically in January 2012. The first episode in the third series, “The Empty Hearse”, has collected almost 10 million viewers in the UK when it aired on 1 January 2014.

Sherlock is coming to Indonesia via AXN Asia channel, starting 27 February 2014 (every Thursday, 21.00 WIB). Total Film Indonesia has 4 pages on the Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (also playing Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series) show in the latest edition, Issue 51.

We spoke to producer Sue Vertue about the popular detective series. Vertue gave us her opinion on why BBC’s Sherlock is highly anticipated, especially among its ‘rivals’. The US has their own modern-day Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, while director Guy Ritchie released two big screen versions of Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr.

“We’re unique because we only make three episodes every two years,” Vertue said with a laugh. “I think we have the unique position of having two such fanboys [Moffat and Gatiss] and they are such fanboys that also write and also know each other. I think everything they try to sneak in so many little original references to please themselves and this seems to have pleased everybody else.”

She continued, “We chuck everything at it, every production value at it, put the best directors that we can get, I think the cast is outstanding, and we make them every now and then. We’re not really in competition with anything else. There’s always room for all of us.”

BBC’s Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was described by Vertue as “slightly out of this world”, in the sense that he’s “one of those people you’d love to invite to your dinner party but you dread him coming to the party.”

Speaking of Cumberbatch… “He was the only one we ever saw for the role,” said Vertue. “Apparently when he told his mother that he was going to be Sherlock Holmes, she said, ‘But you can’t be Sherlock Holmes, your nose isn’t big enough!’”

For more on Sherlock S3 and the rest of our interview with Sue Vertue, check out Total Film Indonesia Issue 50.