VIFF 2014 Review: Advanced Style

Advanced Style is a documentary about elderly women who know style!
Advanced Style is a documentary about seven elderly women who know style!

Think high-end fashion is only for the young? Advanced Style proves that fashion is for the old too. And these seven elderly fashionistas could easily give Coco Chanel a run for her money.

The film begins as an introduction first to Ari Seth Cohen, co-writer and creator of the blog Advanced Style about fashionable seniors. Then we meet the seven senior women in focus: all from New York and aged between 62 to 95. The first part is an introduction of the seven about who they are and what they buy. The film continues focus on the women but soon these women don’t seem so cartoonish as one would first think. All the women seem to enjoy life and have a positive outlook on themselves. Some are grandmothers, some are widowed, one or two never married, one or two are with their husband or a new mate. Some live the relaxed life of a senior citizen while some stay active by singing, dancing and even teaching art classes.

When you watch the film, you can easily see your perception of elderly women change. You first think they’re nearing the end of their life but they’ll show you they’re living it as if they were youthful twenty-somethings. Seeing how they go about in terms of their choice of clothes, their socializing and their activities will really surprise you and make you rethink growing old.

It’s not to say that their uniqueness isn’t immune to some negative aspects out there. Once they made an appearance on the Ricki Lake show and 80 year-old Joyce Carpati is intoxicated by the red light and looks foolish while singing a song. Even the fact of death is unavoidable as the women attend a fashion show in New York by a leading fashion designer (whom of course has young thin models) and Zelda Kaplan, the eldest of the seven at 95, is taken to the hospital and later dies. Nevertheless it was fun to watch from start to finish. Even seeing one woman strut her stuff down Beverly Hills will make you want to say “You go girl!”

Ari Seth Cohen is of course the brains behind the film. He knows this subject from head to toe because it’s the subject of his blog inspired from the joie de vivre of his own grandmother. He even wrote an Advanced Style book. He shows them in a mostly positive manner in both what they wear and who they are. Even if some of the choices look ridiculous like some of the hats worn or the big Edith Head glasses or even the woman who makes eyelash extensions out of her own hair, he presents them as them being themselves and not caring. He made the right choice in picking fashion film director Lina Plioplyte to direct and co-write the film.

As far as a film, I don’t see it being too much of a big screen release. This looks like something that will mostly fare well on an educational channel like BC’s Knowledge network or a documentary channel. Also I believe this might be Ari’s only documentary unless he shells out a sequel with some new seniors to show their stuff.

Advanced Style is definitely a charming documentary of elderly women who are young at heart in both the way they dress but the way they live too. One said fashion is about confidence. You can bet they’re full of that.

Also those interested in the Advanced Style blog, here’s the link.

VIFF 2014 Review: Queen And Country

All is fair in love and war in Queen And Country.
All is fair in love and war for a grown-up Billy Rowan (played by Callum Turner) in John Boorman’s Queen And Country.

Remember Hope And Glory from 1987? The sequel to it, Queen And Country, came out this year and it’s a good film on its own even for those who didn’t see Hope And Glory.

Seven years have passed since the end of World War II. Billy Rowan is now 18 to 20. Since the war he and his family live on an island surrounded by the Thames River which has become a popular spot for filming. Billy however is still a bit of a sissy for his age. However being commissioned for military service may just change that. Before he arrives for training, he meets another young man his age named Percy Hapgood on the train. However he also meets an older woman named Ophelia in the town nearby his training base.

During military service, he goes from simply training to actually having positions of authority, albeit in typewriting class. Both he and Percy do not take well at all to their general Redmond whom they feel to be a hard-heart with no sense of humor at all. Also at their age, they want to have fun with the ladies. A certain girl at the local pub Sophie fancies Billy but he’s off pursuing Ophelia.

Over time Billy gains the respect of the elders and the friendship with Percy grows to the point he helps Percy to steal an office clock Redmond values. Billy even makes returns to the family, one time bringing Percy along whom younger sister Dawn fancies and another time bring Ophelia. Despite all the fun, realities do settle into Billy. The age of Ophelia will prove to be an unavoidable factor. The truth about the prank to steal the clock will come to light for both Billy and Percy as one head officer had already been stripped of his title. And the reality of war becomes more and more eventual for Billy as Britain enters the Korean War. This paves the way for an end that’s both happy, sad and funny for all who are involved.

The best thing about the film is that it is excellently made and it is entertaining. Seeing a young male of 20 being drafted with the British armed forces and all the irresponsibility and shenanigans that come with it does make for an entertaining show. It’s also a treat for those who saw Hope And Glory to see Billy now all grown up and now being placed into the possibility of fighting in a war himself. Whatever happens all turns out for the humorous and things do work out in the end despite paying the consequences.

It also makes one question if this film is autobiographical from Boorman just like Hope And Glory. I will admit it doesn’t have the same special uniqueness Hope And Glory had. For those who remember, Hope And Glory was World War II through a child’s eyes. It was actually one of three films in 1987 that showcased World War II through a child’s eyes. The other two being the French film Au Revoir les Enfants and Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun which starred a 14 year-old Christian Bale and a not-yet-famous Ben Stiller. Queen And Country was not as unique as there have been other stories before. Nevertheless it’s very entertaining and more comedic than Hope And Glory.

This film is not too heavy of a political statement. However it does have some political messages with the potential of fighting in the Korean War. Another notable underlying message is the change of power after King George dies and the monarchy is transferred to Queen Elizabeth. We forget that Elizabeth was a mere 26 when she came onto the throne and a lot of people were not that confident in her at first. Interesting because she would be the one who turned the British Empire into a Commonwealth. Even British attitudes of what’s ‘manly’ also add to the theme of the film.

My big dilemma is I wonder why Boorman took so long to make a sequel to Hope And Glory. Queen And Country takes place at least seven years after the setting of Hope And Glory. It’s a wonder why such a film was not released back as say 1994. In fact I think that has to be the biggest weakness of the movie, its late release. I’m sure the movie can attract people who saw Hope And Glory back when it was first out but twenty-seven years is a long time to release such a follow-up story. Also I’m sure most of today’s movie crowds may not be familiar with the story of Hope And Glory. If it was released as say 1994 as I suggested, I’m sure there would be more of an audience interest especially since a lot of them can remember the adventures of Billy Rohan and would want to see how Billy grows up.

John Boorman again delivers a film of excellent direction and writing. Calum Turner did a very good job playing the grown-up Bill Rohan both in his character and as a young adult getting in trouble. Caleb Landry Jones was a scene-stealer as Billy’s partner in crime. Tasmin Egerton was very good as the seductive but confused Ophelia. Pat Shortt however did the best character acting as the shrewd Officer Redmond. The supporting actors also added into the film even if their parts were minor.

VIFF Note: The Vancouver International Film Festival is where Queen And Country made its North American debut. Aren’t we lucky?

Queen And Country is an excellent sequel to Hope And Glory, albeit badly timed. Nevertheless it was entertaining and worth watching.