Pop Culture Picks – November 2016

This month: a Japanese smash-hit comes ashore, Andrea Arnold blasts us across America, and another coming-of-age gem reminds us what it was like to be seventeen again.

November is an interesting month. It both winds down towards the close of a year, and gears up for the rocketing start of another. Cinema is fast approaching the glitz and glory of awards season. Television is deep in its Fall/Spring (depending on the hemisphere) programming. Thanksgiving and the like help get us through that weird patch between Halloween and Christmas. But admittedly, it’s been a hard month; the grizzly end to a grueling US Presidential race a mere tip of the iceberg. That’s why culture and creativity remains so important, helping us to push forward — we even conjured a list of feel-good films to help. Shameless plug now out of the way, here are three films that stuck with us through the month.


American Honey


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Selected by Puff (@_staypuffed)

Presenting: American Honey, an expansive re-calibration of the modern United States from British filmmaker Andrea Arnold. While she’s officially credited as writer/director, this is a true collaboration between every facet of the process, forming a cinematic experience unlike any other. Well, in 2016, at least. Arnold launches us on a roaring trip through the American Midwest, eschewing traditional plot in favour of ebbing and flowing moods, tones, focuses.

We follow Star (captivating newcomer Sasha Lane), a young woman trapped in an ugly life in an ugly town. Enter a band of misfits — lead by Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Riley Keough and backed by Shia LaBeouf, ever the wildcard — who invite Star to join them on a cross-country “business opportunity”. From the opening minutes, this is a clear chronicling of self-discovery in all its unclear ways, giving a sense of purpose to disillusioned kids selling magazines. Whether Star reaches a place of understanding and accepta is entirely up to you. But we’re undoubtedly (and instantly) attached to Star, thanks in no small part to Lane’s watchability and understated skill.

The film is dedicated to interaction, people sharing moments. Andrea’s observational camera shines a light on class, culture, gender and race, but perhaps most importantly, these faces, these bodies, and their chaotic (yet cyclical) lives. Some may deeply connect with them, others may pity them. Arnold herself doesn’t appear to lay judgement, instead presenting these young people with such authenticity that it’s almost overwhelming. The near three-hour runtime might seem intimidating, but don’t let that shy you away — American Honey is worth the epic length.


The Edge of Seventeen


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Selected by Jeremy (@SauronsBANE)

Don’t listen to the naysayers! 2016 has featured an abundance of sneaky under-the-radar surprises, instant classics, devastatingly emotional gut-punches, and perhaps even an Oscar-worthy musical or two (although for your own sake, maybe don’t expect that same level of quality from this year’s blockbusters). But when it comes to a certain little genre where true greatness is hard to come by, we’ve been blessed with two incredibly well-made, resonant, and downright real coming-of-age narratives in quick succession, touching on many of the same themes: the wonderfully artistic romp Sing Street, and the unapologetic, brutal earnestness of November’s The Edge of Seventeen.

Confidently (and authentically) directed by rookie Kelly Fremon Craig and anchored by Hailee Steinfeld’s powerhouse performance, the story of 17-year-old Nadine proves to be a painfully relatable one about broken families, troubled childhoods, and our own complicated and multi-faceted relationships with our siblings… all seen through the eyes of a delightfully snarky, yet chronically closed-off teenage girl who just can’t seem to fit in. Having dealt with the death of the dearest and closest person in her life, the lifelong weight of expectations placed upon her (unwittingly) by an all-too-perfect older brother, the perceived betrayal of her only friend, and the additional pressure and stress and confusion of simply being a teenager, it feels only natural for Nadine to act out as badly as she does against a world that clearly doesn’t seem to be looking out for her.

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It’s to this film’s credit, however, that it never shies away from such emotional honesty, refusing to definitively justify or condemn any of the people in Nadine’s life (including herself) for the actions they take. Characters make mistakes that end up being necessary for their growth, some make decisions that certainly look like the wrong ones to make, and others only seem like jerks until a hidden layer of truth is unexpectedly revealed to us.

As The Edge of Seventeen ends up proving, nothing is as simple as it appears — relationships are stretched and frayed and threaten to tear apart, miscommunication and misjudgment reign supreme, and emotions remain raw and unfiltered and threaten to burst out at any given moment. Is any of that ultimately a bad thing, though? If the film wraps up in almost too neat of a bow, it’s only because the apparent cynic ultimately reveals itself to be a heartfelt optimist. And when it comes to teens, tweens, and anyone who remembers what it was like to be that age, that just might be exactly what we need.


Your Name


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Selected by Minty (@mintsanity)

I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about Your Name over the next few months. The wildly popular anime production (called Kimi No Na Wa in Japan) is already the second-highest grossing domestic feature ever in its country of origin — sitting behind only Spirited Away. Directed by rising star Makoto Shinkai, the film operates on a simple body-swap premise centred around its two leads: Taki, a hot-headed boy from Tokyo, and Mitsuha, a frustrated girl marooned in rural Japan. However, what begins as an amusing Freaky Friday-esque rom/com quickly blossoms into a powerful coming-of-age tale full of heart, humour, mystery and some truly devastating emotional stakes.

I first caught this film back in October, and was shocked by how much I adored it. In my review, I compared it to a dream — a truly transcendent experience that dragged me through the entire emotional spectrum in 107 minutes. And when the credits rolled I felt impossibly sad, as if waking up from a blissful sleep and feeling all those sensations and characters slipping away from memory. Having seen it a second time, I can attest that my feelings on it haven’t changed — they’ve only intensified.

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Dubbed ‘the next Miyazaki’ by many an over-zealous critic, Makoto Shinkai’s approach to filmmaking actually diverges from anything I’ve seen from the legendary Ghibli director. While introducing a screening at LFF, he spoke of his fondness for music — something that has a very noticeable influence here in the form of Radwimps’ catchy J-rock soundtrack. While Shinkai’s musical whims ultimately derailed one of his previous works (5 Centimetres Per Second), they’re actually used to great effect here — punctuating the story’s uplifting or emotional moments, while complementing the instrumental score nicely. It’s not the most subtle technique — but there’s no denying it works a treat.

As of right now, there’s no official US release scheduled for Your Name (the latest update seems to indicate it’ll arrive at some point in 2017). When it does finally drop in theatres, I wholeheartedly recommend you go out and see it. It’s the best animated film of the year.


These were just three of a plethora of gems that debuted in November, all offering varying explorations of modern youth (likely by coincidence, but we like to think we’re all on a similar brainwave). Tell us what you discovered below or at our Twitter, @MoviesTVComics.

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