In The Mood For Love (2000) – Review

A texture unlike any other – reds and yellows and greens and blues, love and loneliness, fragility and sorrow – caught in transparency, the celluloid grains appear to physically hold the light in the stock, finally, screen and light become tangible. Their story, Mr. Chow’s and Mrs. Chan’s, blooms from the bud of loneliness, they fulfil their essential desires by supporting each other. The cracks are obvious, they’re both suspicious of their partner’s adultery, and they decide to cater to the other’s simple loneliness as their bond grows stronger over comforting the other’s sorrowful realisation.

They go on a date together, why they’re doing this is never explained outright, their reason is left as a surprise. This isn’t a motivated plot, there are no agendas, they are two people at the most fragile point in their lives. In fact, the entire movie feels like glass, easily breakable, but In The Mood For Love is more precious because of its beauty. A stunning, depthy exploration of human desires.

We’re never given a formal introduction to their counterparts, we don’t even know what they look like, we’re always lead to suspect that the presented characters are the formative couple. Yet they hardly share the screen time to confirm our suspicion, there’s an element of the unknown to keep your intrigue peaked. We’re subject to the loneliness, we’re swayed to the obvious solution. Yet, they don’t push their moral limits, they question them without breaking them. We aren’t pressured into agreeing with a negative, rather we’re supposed to balance the positive nature of their relationship in order to avoid stepping into the same grey area their partners travel.

Sensitive is too generic a word to describe In The Mood For Love. Tender, appreciative, alive, delicate and illuminating – these adjectives fail to convey the meaning of such a film. Perhaps there are no words, perhaps the film should only be described in the way it describes itself – visually. Seek it, you must.

Spring Breakers (2012) – Review

This was 3edgy5me – I can’t even. (Am I doing ‘youth’ right? – lulz) *sigh* What’s the use?

How does one approach Spring Breakers? There’s an infrequent, irregular, pretentious immature satirical vibe, but that’s a swing and a miss if they were seriously trying for honest satire, so I’d immediately disregard that possibility. So maybe it has pure entertainment value? No – unless you think a sloppy story and overbearing conceitedness is entertainment. Even the opening scene doesn’t grant you a clearer idea. You’re lost amidst a flurry of directionless images – nevermind their cack-handed, meaninglessness for a moment – forced to forgo the formal introductions for something akin to a session of rubbing hydrochloric salt in an already nauseating wound.

Satire, by popular definition, has a sense of moral vocation and concern for the public interest, and Spring Breakers has neither of these qualities. On the one hand, it’s too fictionalized to be relevant to any realist context, and on the other, it’s overt conscious riffing of existing celebrities results in non-commentarial interpretations, a borderline mythologization of the subject, and an infatuation with its intent, despite its actual statement. This would be fine and negligible, if it weren’t for the flabby filmmaking.

Let’s start with the opening scene’s camera, and its slow lingering obsession with the spring breakers’ nudity. If this was handled more like an examination of the subject, like the other montages try, then I’d be on board with its blatant gratuity. Perhaps I should consider this just an integration into the society then, an exaggerated form of entertainment – I wish I could, but the music’s flow entirely opposes the edit beats and camera motion. Everything feels clunky and broken and consequently breaks the introduction to the culture – and when it’s devoid of the potential gains of having a stark repellent attitude to the audience, there’s nothing much to like in the end, it’s just annoying.

In all honesty, I wasn’t once repulsed, shaken, hurt, happy, excited, disgusted, or any other descriptor – except bored, I was agonizingly vacant inside. I suppose there’s one consequence of watching Spring Breakers, it’ll neuter you. After 94 desensitizing minutes of tits and ass, I was hollowly uninterested in anything remotely related to the typical spring break activities that so easily captivate the over inflated ego of Harmony Korine. Vanessa Hudgens barely acts, Benson fits the role of a Spring Breaker quite easily (but can’t act for shit), while the other two characters might as well not even exist. However, I do appreciate the idea of having characters walk away from the story as a marker for the levels of danger they’re willing to withstand, I can think of a few films that might benefit from using this concept. Even with the neat concept, it’s still unworthy of your time.

Manchester By The Sea (2017) – Review

An uncle takes responsibility of his nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Manchester By The Sea bottles bleak social interaction in gorgeous yet humble cinematography. Some of its moments are excruciatingly tragic, a particular mess or sincerely comical – all in the masterful exploratory sense of film-making. Agreed emotions or conflicting ones make Manchester’s scenes more compelling thanks to, much like reality, their unpredictable nature. Characters will talk over others when they’re annoyed, panicked and uncomfortable. When they scatter-talk you have to wait a moment or two for the confusion to die down. Manchester, as a story, isn’t afraid to show you rotating sides and make you understand them, and, then, make you deal with them. A character’s logic never overshoots the narrative – as people, they’re not massively complex, in fact, they’ll differ on opinions in easy to understand situations. What’s interesting is that the story pays special attention to the character’s act of making the other understand their point, even if other already does. Drama comes from the confusion of everything, and it’s damned effecting.

Judging from the general tone the trailer implies, you’d be delighted to discover that Manchester has an unexpected abundance of comedy. The comedy is a welcome and necessary alleviation from its general icy and gaunt tone. A lot of chatter about the film will likely send unappetizing signals to a fair few casual audience members; the film community has continually hyped this as “Oscar bait”, and while addressing this point is a valid one, you’ll surely find that most people consider Manchester By The Sea as reasonably approachable. Granted, it’s still quite depressing, but there’s charm to be found and this distinctive type of humour will carry you through and between some of the more emotionally exhausting times. There are a lot of films with a similar tone to Manchester By The Sea – Synecdoche, New York being a particular favourite bleak-toned drama of mine, a worthwhile neighbour to the ‘defeated protagonist’ story, if you’re looking for one – however, Manchester is set apart by it’s approachable humane quality. There’s a reason to have faith in their struggles, a reason to bear with their drudgery, and, for both us and them, comedy is the best way of coping with such uneasy situations.

On a more technically minded level, Manchester By The Sea is remarkably both cinematically objective and subjective. Although the camera remains coldly distant with detached restraint – subjecting us to a distant onlooker, we are rarely permitted the close up – instead, a particularly useful indicator for understanding our relationship with Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is in how the presented narrative unravels itself. Flashbacks are never marked immediately, we only know they’re happening when certain logical signposts appear. These flashbacks express the most significant information points of the backstory. As the flashbacks’ cumulative anguish guides us into Lee’s memories, as well as seeing his mental image at that juncture, we’re seamlessly positioned directly into his mind. When the most painful memories are withheld by the film until later on, we further understand that these are the moments he would rather not remember, he is pushing them back. To successfully execute this kind of backstory is arduous at the best of times – but Manchester By The Sea’s exposition creates so much insight that it never once feels like a plot mechanic, which it undeniably is – instead, the flow is so dexterously smooth and innately personal that Lonergan’s method benefits our ability to empathise with Lee’s side-story of introspection. This is filmmaking that turns a hand holding formula into a crushing gut punch.

I think Manchester By The Sea is one of those movies that I just love because it’s exactly my cup of sombre, melancholy tea. Should you see it? Probably, yes. It’s a focus minded film that blends a whirlwind of emotions into a direct, controlled and balanced package. To reaffirm the general buzz about the film: Casey Affleck is fantastic, he’s the stand out but the entire cast is incredible. The direction, as already commented on, is superb, as is Lonergan’s writing. A handful of marvellous editing choices crept up on me unexpectedly, however, the editing framework as a whole, while moderately strong, wasn’t substantially groundbreaking nor earth shaking – and I think that the same goes for a lot of the other aspects too, and paradoxically, some of the aforementioned praise I have given the film. While there are plenty of shining moments in Manchester By The Sea, and the performances earn an adequate amount of rewatchability, the film drifts politely into a seat among its peers, hardly shaking the still ground it rests on. It’s comfortable. Incredible, but comfortable. Perhaps wait for the blu-ray.

Operation Avalanche (2016) – Review

Without YMS’s recommendation I wouldn’t have sought out The Dirties. And without that seal of approval, plus the mere concept alone being a large selling point, I wouldn’t have found one of my favourite movies. So, in following the career progression of director, Matt Johnson, I now find myself watching Operation Avalanche. To put it frankly: I’m happy with Johnson’s latest faux-meta-verite-mockumentary-thing, but only to the point of simple satisfaction. While The Dirties felt like a film that needed to be seen, Operation Avalanche is a film that acts like you need to see it, but in reality you don’t.

The film is an exercise in titillating small pleasures: that cute satisfaction we get from seeing the plausibility in fictionalised truth. It goes without saying that everything is so securely locked, there really isn’t anything to break our suspension of disbelief; except for the inherent safety net of the unprovoking plot. Operation Avalanche would surely be an indictment against the American intelligence corporations; a couple of dimwits put together the largest cover-up in history (that we know of). But that’s the problem, the parenthesis should probably be a statement of it’s own, and the film shamefully doesn’t push that angle – the ending of Indiana Jones is more convincing than Operation Avalanche. There’s this box over the film, containing everything, prematurely wrapping the bow and ribbon, ruining the authenticity.

Believability-wise, everything is great; it’ll have you chuckling away at how incredibly supposable their wacky ideas can be, it’s quite the set-up for (yet obviously antithetical to) National Treasure 3 (or something of the likes). To the audience it’s exposing the lies. The film itself is a supposed “truth”. But within the film, there is creation; we see behind the expose and take a rare look into the creation of conspiracy – a rather fascinating perspective we often never consider. The film offers two forms of discovery, each satisfying and individual. The narrative works like a tape recorder: as one wheel of information unravels the mystery, the other wheel sucks it back in, keeping it out of the public’s eye.

However, The Dirties is a wrestle with its subject, Operation Avalanche is not. There’s no clawing, raw feeling to this filmic farce. There’s a delightful bunch of inspired moments, but that means nothing when compared to The Dirties, a plate which balances on thin wire. There’s no tension in these fearless, valiant patriots; they’re just too palatable; they’re a safe bet.

I adore Matt Johnson’s work, he’s a wonderful, intelligent film-maker, but he needs to shake things up in his future. His formula worked excellently in reality based narrative, and it gets a pleasant result when applied to fictionalised farce, but there’s nothing much to stretch it to beyond these goalposts.

That said, the expanse of plot is quick, slick and mighty impressive. You’re taken all over their world, and then right back to the centre before it explodes magnificently and leaves you a little shell-shocked. Operation Avalanche is certainly a fun ride.

Check this out if it looks like your thing, you’ll probably get exactly what you expect.

La La Land (2017, U.K.) -Review

I was enchanted in less than approximately 150 frames; even before the film properly began. Then the no nonsense musical number introduces us to a firmly placed genre flick; but that’s just the introductory point. What might surprise you is that La La Land has an addition core genre: drama; real, human drama. The tragedy of Mia and Sebastian is truly spellbinding, and while their paths might feel somewhat formulaic (like a simple foundation for the musical to exist. And I’m definitely ok with that), Damien Chazelle’s modus operandi weaves a tale akin to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singing In The Rain and even Fantasia; by planting the spellbinding: the musical, the fantasy, with the tragic drama: the reality of chasing personal fantasy. La La Land is clearly inspired; a very po-mo look at why audiences go to the cinema, and why some of us venture into the dangerous dream zoned career that is film, music, or art of any kind really.

But more than La La’s coyish, humbly sweet introspective look at cinematic fascination (deconstructing the musical genre on a two pronged approach; music, cinema), is Chazelle’s most valuable merit: his craftsmanship of the camera. Side note: my favourite, albeit trivial, trinket of the movie is a small rainbow flair a lamp gives in the park (“what a waste of a lovely night”). It’s barely noticeable, but these small filmic treasures give La La Land it’s sincere beauty. Chazelle’s force in controlling the camera gives me that knowing sense of accomplishment in seeing something executed to near perfection; from whip pans to pivoting tracking shot, he creates energy in pace and rhythm to the musical numbers – and more importantly, with the actors. And while many of the actors aren’t Astaire or Kelly tier performers, there’s a charm to seeing amateur(ish) performers give their biggest performance with a great success in making it feel as seamless as possible. I’d argue that works to the film’s benefit: the mixture of reality and fantasy, of drama and musical, earths their performances (depending on each character’s state of fantasy and imagination).

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I think that the planetarium number is the summation of their entire relationship together, at that single point in time, and wonderfully demonstrates the creative talent on display; oh, and it’s my favourite scene. I just adore how the phenomena of the universe is just a backdrop to these two lovebirds; he guides her through the expanse of galaxies, but all that’s important is how they dance with each other. There’s this sense of power: they’re bigger than the universe, they can face anything. It’s a moment of pure fantastical surrealist imagination – not too far removed from something out of a classic Disney animation. The cinematography is gorgeous, but not superficially so: there’s an intentional exhibition of the emotional impact each plot point has on the characters. Each scene hits hard with its tonal richness; it’s immediately consuming.

La La Land is an astonishing work of dramatic yet entertaining, creative, traditionalist, revisionist, and revolutionary film making. The screenplay isn’t perfect; bluntly stating the issues dealt by the film isn’t a call for celebration or even praise, but since it tackles these questions with such an unbelievably deft hand, I can’t help but forgive its minuscule weaknesses in favour of loving and honouring the thing as a collective of perfection. I can’t stop humming the tune to every song.

Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012) – Review

Ezra Miller gives us character in a way that only a rare, true performer does. Emma Watson is the antithesis of Ezra Miller’s talent. Where Ezra Miller knocks out a killer performance as a troubled gay man with a funny ol’ defense mechanism, Emma Watson can’t even muster up the charisma of a knock off post-Breakfast-Club-make-up-scene Ally Sheedy. That said, she’s not exactly in the best position to deliver anything noteworthy when the depth of her character can be summed up on a twice folded post-it note. The whole “we are weirdo’s and that’s why we’re great” philosophy might’ve worked in something more attuned to John Hughes’ honest style and not to something this amateurish, this blunt and this underdeveloped. Let’s look at how it’s so fetishistic of the 90s, yet really doesn’t feel at all like the era. I think that this is part of the film’s misunderstanding of montage theory, and how its misguided attempt to emulate the films it admires creates a weak collage of cliffsnotes that lack the foundation that these previous scenes built throughout their own stories. I would liken Perks Of Being A Wallflower to Almost Famous; in every way, characters, theme, story and even in Perks’ occasional, slight tone it poorly traces the outlines of Almost Famous, except in the ways that matter. The problems with Perks are simple: it’s too afraid, until it isn’t, and then it’s too late to count. There isn’t enough adventure, or any thing that greatly warrants this being labelled a significant experience: instead of tackling personal stories or getting into the nitty gritty of everyone’s dramas, the story tiptoes, and then wallops you with a plot twist that could’ve really pushed the element of engagement onto our main protagonist, had it come sooner rather than later. I understand that the film is going for a shock value final punch; a certainly effective tactic; but it comes at the cost of our engagement to Charlie whilst we’re watching his present day story unfold – had I known that what had happened to him, I might’ve approached his ‘wet-blanketness’ with more sympathy; but with schlocky and unimaginative exposition, his perspective falls flat. In addition, it becomes quite the slap in the face when Sam (Emma Watson) refers to herself as the misfit toy, when not a whole lot happens to her that even compares to child molestation – the film offers no consequence to the comparison with the reductionist attitude that the misfit toys quote labels everyone with. I’m not impressed, Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a lazy, underdeveloped caricature of greater, real movies.

Plus, is it me or did anyone else think that Charlie doesn’t actually feel like a writer. I don’t really remember him writing, it’s never a significant part of his persona. Compare to Almost Famous; where the kid went all across America, hung out with people way outside his comfort zone – a comfort zone where his mom felt like a real character and not just a prop in the plot -, drugs lead to significant changes in his life (unlike the quirky quirkfest that is Charlie’s drug trip) and went on an amazing coming of age story that will change his writing career forever. Charlie writes exposition and borrows some books from a fairly bland teacher; and he doesn’t really affect his life too significantly either (even Philip Seymour Hoffman’s occasional appearance offers more advice to William than Paul Rudd’s character offers Charlie). From time to time his friends call him a writer and they’re really rooting for him, but heck – the film just didn’t convince me. Perhaps it is just me, but when you’re a writer: you live and breathe writing; but Charlie breathes the air of a trivia kid in the search of friendship (and we, the audience, will never know the true, important meaning of his quest until the film is almost over – shame).
Don’t expect too much from this fairly snoozy, partially poorly acted, non drama, non comedy, non film. Cut Emma Watson, cut the fake love interest, shift the plot twist to the start and don’t be afraid to be adventurous, and I’ve considered this as something half decent and worth watching.

The Neon Demon (2016) – Review

Supporting characters support main character/s; obviously.

While Ruby, Sarah and Gigi support our exploration into Jesse’s character they do so with more purpose than to simply “support the main character”: they become the main character. I think this is a commonly overlooked consideration when people criticise The Neon Demon’s “lack of character”. These ‘three witches of LA’ are our essential gateway into the film’s mythology; Winding Refn’s fable-like horrorshow feels like a fashionista’s rendition of Macbeth. They work as essential, but individual, components in the story; contributing to the themes of lust (Ruby), fame (Gigi), youth (Sarah); and all are connected to revenge and purity. This kind of exploration is rare in something so identifiable as arthouse, and in something so determinately pornographic (said by Nicolas Winding Refn himself). The Neon Demon is bloody fantastic for something so centered around self-satisfaction. Refn’s cinematography almost fetishises Jesse’s face, she’s made to be adored in close ups, painted in beautiful light and soft music plays as she whispers her words; and without this romanticism, of her physique, of her eyes like “deer in the headlights”, she would be remarkably uninteresting. Even so, this does not help her dull personality. What does make her interesting is how she is seen through the eyes of others: specifically the three witches. That’s what makes the bathroom scene so compelling, and what keeps the showdown shocking, and sensible.

I think it helps that Refn is a genius at immersion, he sucks you in the frame, we were falling down the rabbit hole with Jesse without a moment to pause with a break in the cinematography; his continuous flow, his choice of cuts and shots build a tunnel that draws our eyes, luring us deeper into the world of the necromantic fashion industry. Everything is designed to stop us from averting our attention, our gaze. Look at his use of the consuming, infinite black, I feel like he’s compelling us to look for something in the endless depths; in addition to the rich aesthetic it provides. I love his piercing vibrant colours: washing this beautiful world with sickening light. Between Refn’s use of colour and Brandon’s perspective of sex in Shame (2011), the theme of taking something beautiful and distorting it into something repulsive and disgusting is one I’m really beginning to admire.

Before I leave, I wanted to address something that I read in a review for this movie. I saw that one review said “mansplaining the fashion industry”. While I do have a problem with the term mansplaining, as a specific word and its use in relation to The Neon Demon, I have a bigger problem with that someone understood this film as an explanation of the fashion industry. Whoever it is that can’t understand that this is clearly a fiction story, pumped to extremes and is clearly intended to be seen as a myth or just pure experimentation; this is in no way a genuine representation of the fashion industry. If critics could, please stop pushing your agenda onto films that do not warrant it.

The Neon Demon is a brilliant foray into the sickening world of its directors mind. Keanu Reeves’ performance was a personal favourite, Jena Malone was a knockout.