Advanced Style

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On a dreary, rainy Saturday afternoon the weekend before last, I found myself in bed under the weather, making it the perfect recipe to kill some time exploring the never-ending streaming cosmos of my Netflix Queue. In a documentary sort of mood, the moment my eye caught the bright red feather boa laced around the neck of a lively looking older woman, I settled in for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Enter: Advanced Style.

What started out as a passion project for blogger Ari Seth Cohen, has sparked a book deal, a documentary…a movement. Ari’s blog, Advanced Style, is a celebration of aging, told through the expression of personal style. Unlike most fashion blogs of today, it chronicles women over 50, well into their 90s, who choose to defy the notion that aging means a woman cannot still savor a sense of style. It challenges the perception that the fashion industry, which unapologetically continues to cater to younger generations, shouldn’t discount women “of a certain age.”

In a collaboration with filmmaker Lina Plioplyte, Ari’s blog comes to life in documentary narrative form, following 7 of the New York women made famous through Advanced Style, ranging in ages 62-95. While their eclectic style, set against the vibrant background of New York City is the film’s premise, there’s something much deeper being explored here. Our youth-obsessed culture continues to create the belief that aging, something that’s as natural as breathing, is an experience to be feared. A culture that perpetuates the idea that over a certain age a woman should “tone it down,” effectively losing a part of herself in the process.

Sure, society’s preoccupation and constant nostalgia for youth, do drive certain facets of a woman’s relationship to fashion and beauty as she ages. Then again, maybe there are women that hit a particular age and simply decide that their priorities have changed, or perhaps fashion has never been a big part of their lives to begin with? What palpable comment is Advanced Style making when it comes to aging and appearance?

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What the film does brilliantly that puts everything into context as I questioned this, is to address the concept of style. The message is clear: Style is eternal – it cannot be bought. Of course, you’re buying things in a monetary sense to help subsidize an expression, but true style is born out of how you choose to present yourself to the world. It’s your voice before you even open your mouth. It’s what you’re wearing. It’s how your hair is styled. It’s the statement made through bold lips, lined eyes, and brush strokes. Most significantly, it’s your attitude, how you carry yourself. Your attitude is directly linked to your appearance.

Think not?

Throw on a pair of sweats to run errands (which I’ve been known to do and thoroughly enjoy!) and you’ll manage just fine; but take the time to style your hair, do your make-up, and put on something that makes you feel fabulous, and even I, can feel the difference in how I interact with the world. Your style…essentially, your brand, is what a woman should not lose as she ages.

Advanced Style is about those women who choose style, who choose to hold onto their brand. Their version just happens to be more colorful than what we’re likely used to seeing on most women in their twilight years. Alternatively, mature women who opt for a less colorful or eclectic approach to their style shouldn’t be discounted either. As long as they envelop their version of “style,” in whatever manner that means to them, that’s really what it’s about. Although, I can’t help but wonder given the number of women featured in Advanced Style throughout the years and its growing popularity, that perhaps…just perhaps, there are more of us colorful, eclectic types like the women featured in the documentary than there are not?

As I watched the film, it also got me to thinking about how I wanted to age. I have some time before I should even entertain the idea of freaking out about it really, but already, I can see it. I can’t say I look forward to birthdays with as much enthusiasm as much as I used to. I’ve already surpassed many of the big, celebratory milestones of youth-hood when I turned 30. The great news is that the 7 ladies profiled bring a fresh, affirming approach to aging.

It’s not about re-claiming your youth, it’s about being who you are, where you are, and not going quietly. It’s leaving this earth knowing you honored your truth. Even if it’s as simple, yet complicated, as how you present yourself to the world everyday. The takeaway is simple: Find your style and honor it. Rock it to the end. “Style is ageless.”

Advanced Style is available on Netflix streaming. It’s the perfect way to spend a dreary, rainy Saturday afternoon should you find yourself in a similar situation in the near future.

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Images via Advanced Style Film.

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AFI Fest 2014

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{Night #1 at AFI Fest.}

I think I touch upon this aspect every year, but I have a love/hate relationship with film festivals. Undoubtedly, I love seeing the films – ranging from world premieres to the smallest of independent cinema selections from around the globe. It’s a cinephile’s dream to have access to films that satiate every visual and narrative craving imaginable. And I must admit, the buzz around Hollywood during the 8 day AFI Film Festival couldn’t be more vibrant.

Unfortunately, where film festivals tend to lose me is that I’m not a fan of waiting over an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, in line to see each film. Therefore, by my calculations, I spent what would be the near equivalent of an 8-hour work day just in line alone to see the films! Yuck! It also sucks that people, even at big industry festivals, still lack basic movie theater etiquette at times. (Though I wasn’t at this screening, I know someone who was, and this is a prime example, albeit an extreme one.)

AFI Line ATG FINAL{Waiting in line…just me and my Cinepass.}

Since many of the big gala films that AFI screens already have a distributor and a theatrical release date on the books, I tend to lean toward seeing lots of the smaller independent and foreign films that won’t likely see US theatrical distribution right away, if ever (though I’m pretty sure all of the films I saw will release at some point soon.)

I saw 6 films this year, spanning from foreign drama, to indie horror, to bringing the headlines front and center in documentary form. Here’s a quick re-cap of AFI Fest 2014 (with trailers if available) in the order seen…


Film: Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit)
Genre: Foreign Language Drama
Rating: A-
Overall: Marion Cotillard can usually do no wrong in my book and this is another classic example. She gives a stellar performance as a Belgian woman who spends her weekend after an extended medical leave of absence for depression, convincing her co-workers to forgo their bonus checks so that she can keep her job. Upon learning that a majority of them voted for her dismissal in favor of their bonuses during her leave, the film follows her as she swallows her pride and makes each visit after she gets approval from her supervisor to hold a re-vote first thing Monday morning. It is a portrait of a woman desperately seeking both monetary and emotional security as they seemingly continue to slip away from her over the course of Two Days, One Night. What a complicated, yet delicious predicament, when you consider most people not only relish bonuses, but that as she makes each visit you realize her co-workers are in dire financial straits themselves and can certainly use it. The film takes a nice twist near the end, that ultimately speaks to stepping on others to get ahead and begs to question: what would you do?

Film: Clouds of Sils Maria
Genre:  Drama
Rating: B-
Overall: Juliet Binoche is always a force on-screen; and while not leaving behind those acting ticks that often make Kristen Stewart rather one-dimensional as an actress, she held her own against Binoche. I appreciated the rich and complicated relationship between them. This in and of itself makes the film interesting. It’s clear that the play Binoche’s character, Maria, is acting in again 20 years after it first made her famous (with the caveat that she is now playing the older woman as opposed to the youthful lead), is supposed to mirror her relationship in the film with Stewart, who plays her young personal assistant helping her prep for the role. On paper, I can get behind this story within a story concept that’s linked thematically in such a way that fiction becomes (movie) reality. However, I found the plot pretty convoluted in a way that doesn’t make me want to revisit it again with fresh eyes to come to a more firm conclusion about out what’s going on. That being said, kudos to Binoche for her work in this rather complex film, and to director, Olivier Assayas, and DP, Yorick Le Saux, for giving the audience a strong sense of place in the gorgeous setting among the Swiss Alps. Binoche and Stewart have great chemistry, but the lack of a clear narrative paired with lots (and I means lots) of dialogue makes the film hard to follow. I’m not opposed to listening closely to scenes filled with nothing but dialog, but I feel as though if I were to watch this again, I’d still be as unmoved as I was the first time – but somehow still enthralled by the ever-lovely Juliet Binoche.

Film: It Follows
Genre:  Thriller/Horror
Rating: B
Overall: As far as thrillers go, this one does a great job at keeping things entertaining. I had a hard time adjusting to the premise at first, but what’s realistic about a deadly figure that follows you relentlessly in any form it chooses (even as people you know) trying to kill you, until you pass it on to the next person you have sex with and it starts following them relentlessly? The twist is that that person has to stay alive, otherwise once it claims that victim, it simply backtracks down the chain and comes after you again. It’s a cinematic catch-22 if I’ve ever heard of one. With a clear salute to genre films of the 80s, It Follows was a welcome change of pace among the more hyper-dramatic films on the schedule.

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Film: Heaven Knows What
Genre:  Drama
Rating: B+
Overall: Heaven Know What deals with addiction in the most raw and realistic way I think I’ve ever seen on-screen. This is unquestionably because the lead actress, Arielle Holmes, re-enacts her own personal account of being a young drug addict on the streets of New York based on her unpublished memoir, by playing a fictionalized version of herself as Harley. How the film came to be as I researched more about its origins, is almost as interesting as the plot itself. Holmes admits she was still indulging in the lifestyle during production and this is likely why the film is so intense and unique. I walked out the theater exhausted after delving into her world. Admittedly, I was quite annoyed by how much shouting takes place in this movie and the over the top use of music, to the point that it gives you a headache; but once I distanced myself from that and reflected back, it occurred to me that this had to be intentional outside of building conflict. Harley’s world (as well as Arielle’s reality) was hardly ever quiet I’m sure, and the need to use perhaps dimmed the noise some. The even sadder part of this story is that it is a love story. It quickly introduces Ilya, a user himself, and the boy she would do anything for while being unable to do much of anything for herself, except get high. The good news is that Arielle seems to be alive and well and is causing quite a buzz because of this performance, so you have to believe that Harley does learn to do for herself…eventually.  This was, by far, the most emotional and demanding film I saw at the festival.

HEAVEN_KNOWS_WHAT_523x2751(Trailer unavailable. Image via.)

Film: Happy Valley
Genre:  Documentary
Rating: B+
Overall: I was expecting something much different from this film than what I got, but it’s not a bad thing at all in this case. When I heard that a film about Penn State and Jerry Sandusky was on the docket at the festival, I agreed to see it thinking this film was going to go more in-depth about the actual case behind Sandusky and his now tarnished legacy. What I got was something infinitely more interesting: how a town reveres a college sport and those who make it a success as near God-like and how ultimately, it birthed an environment for decades of abuse to continue. The film shockingly touches upon the Sandusky scandal and the cover-up of his actions years before he was actually punished. Yet, a large portion of the film focuses on how this God-like perception of Joe Paterno blinded an entire community from holding him more accountable when it came to right and wrong. While fans were quick to discard Sandusky when the allegations proved to be true (though he was God-like in his own right up until then), Joe Paterno still somehow remained a hero in spite of his knowledge and lack of aggression to do something about it. Happy Valley does an admirable job of highlighting why and how this scandal went on for so long (in large part due to skewed priorities), begs to question who is to blame; but most importantly, proves why man, who can be beloved, should never be revered.

Film: Girlhood (Bande De Filles)
Genre:  Foreign Language Drama
Rating: B
Overall: What I think this film did best, as any sign of a well-crafted film does, is take you to a sense of place and time, back to those awkward years between adolescence and adulthood. What’s interesting about watching this film as an American female, is that you realize pretty quickly that those awkward years don’t look drastically different for Parisian females either. While the circumstances and cultural nuances differ, girlhood is that time when you’re simply trying to find your way. Following Marieme’s tale from innocence to not so innocent, provides for a strong narrative and the female lead, Karidja Touré, captures that journey with eloquence. That being said, the slight weakness to the film in my opinion had more so to do with pacing. When telling a coming-of-age tale, it’s always difficult keep a satisfactory pace. You want to give time to every narrative point, while showing growth/change over time. I recall instances where I felt scenes were a tad too long and could be cut to further move the story along. Aside from this, Girlhood is an endearing cinematic experience and was a wonderful way to end AFI Fest 2014.


 (You can read also read about AFI Fest 2012 and 2013, respectively.)

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Highlights

Happy Friday! Boy, am I looking forward to the weekend coming off an exhausting week. Last weekend, I got the worst “stomach bug” (if that’s what you want to call it because I could never actually pinpoint what caused it in the first place) that took a few days to shake. The pain subsided after a day or so, but physically drained me in a way that lingered for days. I don’t get sick or experience ailments very often (aside from my horrible allergies to dust and anything furry) but it’s when you’re under the weather you truly realize that there’s no better reminder to treasure your good health. Needless to say, once this passed, it sure made me grateful for mine!

Though I spent most of last weekend trying to take it easy, I managed to see The Spectacular Now at the Arclight and spent some time perusing Amoeba before the movie started. As far as The Spectacular Now goes, I was pretty disappointed overall. The film was the talk of Sundance (behind Fruitvale Station) this year and the trailer, very enticing. While I personally thought the film wasn’t executed very well (mainly due to casting choices and some script issues) it did make me want to read Tim Tharp’s novel from which the film was adapted. I suspect that the weaknesses in the film are more eloquently developed in the book because it has the substance to make a very rich story.

Otherwise, most nights this week I was simply content to be at home enjoying my new Kindle reading this month’s book club selection in between watching hours (and yes, more hours) of Friday Night Lights. This is the newest Netflix addiction that I am just now catching up on at a speed that’s pretty insane because I love it so much. Yes, I realize this news is about 7 years too late.

I did venture out 2 nights that were the absolute highlights of my week. Meeting a friend to catch-up on some girl talk over much-needed strawberry margaritas (in an awesome pineapple shell no less) was the perfect way to kick-off the work week; and seeing Blackfish last night, a documentary that explores the exploitation and psychology of orca killer whales once captured and trained to entertain millions at SeaWorld. Apparently, Shamu and his peers are a part of some of the biggest cover-ups in modern times.  It certainly sparks a continued debate about removing species from their natural habitat for the sole purpose of human enjoyment. This film is worth a visit to the theater.

While it isn’t expected to be too warm this weekend, the sun seems to be making a solid comeback. The plan is to hit the beach and hang out with my Kindle, my guy, and the ocean.

Have a great weekend!

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{Strawberry margaritas and girl talk at Pink Taco.}

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{New to my collection? Couldn’t pass up on The September Issue on a recent visit to Amoeba.}

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{Starting my first official novel on my new Kindle Paperwhite – And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. So far, so good!}

A Place at the Table

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Film: A Place at the Table

Location: The Nuart Theatre

Address: 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles

I learned something earlier this week that once I really internalized it became completely bewildered then saddened. Apparently, the fact that I can walk into any major grocery store in Los Angeles, California and readily purchase an abundance and plentiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is a privilege. Yes, a privilege. And not compared to what one might think in an unfortunate, but obvious third world country sense; but compared to neighboring states in the United States of America.

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Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush take a bleak look at hunger in arguably the wealthiest country in the world in their documentary, A Place at the Table“Food insecurity” or the consistent condition of not knowing where your next meal comes from affects nearly 50 million Americans currently. As told through the eyes of seemingly “normal looking” people you might pass on the street, I really comprehended the efficacy in the statement that everyone has a story, everyone has a struggle, and this struggle is wildly affecting our youth. 

Did I know that people go hungry in this country? Yes, of course I did. Did I know that a large number of people that deal with food insecurity many times have full-time employment, yet cannot feed their families due to poor wages and the harsh economic climate? Sadly, yes. Did I know that people who live in lower socioeconomic parts of this country have to drive upwards of 30 miles round trip to even access fresh produce because it’s not readily available at their local grocery store (even if you live in an urban populated city?). Not fully. Did I know and truly understand the correlation that while Mississippi has the highest rates of obesity in this country, it also has the highest hunger rate? No. 

This is the power of documentary film making.

The film delves into the cause and effect of food insecurity, while linking this growing problem to largely financial, social, and political connotations. This exploration ranges from families that don’t readily live in moderately affluent areas, and therefore, don’t have easy access to healthy food options; to how funding for food assistance programs is being cut at many levels by the Federal Government; to the increase of food banks and charity work to assist the hungry; to how education and political awareness is the answer.

The takeaway from this well-executed and enlightening film is that there is more than enough resources to feed every single person in this country. In fact, America encountered a similar problem 4 decades ago and with the aid of the Federal Government, found concrete solutions to hunger. It’s time to make the underfed our priority again. I would venture to say that the common person (like myself) knows about American hunger, but does not fathom the depth of the issue.

What I take for granted walking into any grocery store, others lack in basic resource. The next time I head for the produce section, I will surely do so with equal parts gratitude and disgust that every American cannot access the sweetness of a strawberry, or the crisp crunch of a bed of lettuce to make a salad.

Please see their website if you’d like to join in on being the change. I encourage everyone to see this moving yet disturbing film. It will surely spark conversation.