A Star is Born

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A Star is Born is two movies in one. The first one, lasting less than an hour, is wistful and mature, with lead performances that are etched in memory by the fire of their commitment. Even the title card is nostalgic, more reminiscent of a 1960s musical than a modern big studio release.

The second one, a slightly longer, less focused version retains the power of the performances but loses what made the first one so great. It portrays the toxicity of fame at the most superficial level, with scenes that are only a couple of minutes long following one another as a way to count the passage of time. The romance is gone. Whereas the first movie brimmed with it, every shot hinting at the wonderful possibility of love, this second one replaces it with spousal disagreements that feel manufactured. In attempting to broaden its scope to say something major about how quickly performers cash in their talent for a quick payday, the movie forgets that the most powerful moments are its quieter ones, where a guy and a girl sit on the street outside a supermarket in the middle of the night.

B+

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The Endless

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Four or five years ago, before I even thought about creating this blog, I watched Resolution, a film which name I did not even recall before Googling it just now. It was a very obscure film, with a minuscule budget and no-name actors. The only thing that stands out for me was it’s bizarre ending, which I guess is better than not recalling anything at all.

Anyways, there’s a house in The Endless that reminded me very much of a house featured in Resolution. And then there was the surrounding area. And then, is that the dude from Resolution, and is that the other dude from Resolution? 

Turns out The Endless takes place during Resolution; they’re the product of the same directors, the pair that also directed Spring a few years back. Turns out I have been following their career for years, and did not even know it! How cool is that.

B

Atonement

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I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the past twenty minutes, debating on a multitude of possible paragraphs that could open this entry. An option I considered was outright stating that Atonement is the best picture I’ve seen all year, while simultaneously declaring that I will never again watch it. Another option included breaking down one of the many sumptuous and majestic shots that adorn the film, each one as breathtaking as the last, a postcard perfect rendition to love and war. It’s rare when I’ve no clue as to where to start discussing a film, or the emotions brought about by one; but then again, films with the devastating cumulative power of Atonement are as equally rare.

Loyal reader(s?) of this blog will know (bless you) of my visceral response to romance films. One of the palpable symptoms of being in love with a ghost is to be attuned to its stories. Yet emotions rarely cloud judgement. Take for instance Blue Jay, another melancholic look at the love that could’ve been. I reacted strongly to that film, while at the same time being aware of its shortcomings. But there are no flaws to be found in Atonement.

The performances are masterful. Consider the scene, very early on, in which Robbie (James McAvoy) apologizes to Cecilia (Keira Knightley) for giving her an anatomically explicit letter. Cecilia’s words imply outrage, but her facial expressions convey something else; amusement, even a certain amount of flattery. Their exchange lasts about twenty seconds, yet it makes everything that occurs immediately after appear natural, logical.

The photography is also heavenly. Nearing the end of the odyssey, Robbie stumbles upon a giant screen showing two lovers kissing. The nameless film is in black and white, and Robbie is shrouded by shadows; when he looks up and sees the kiss, he immediately drops his whole head down. It is an agonizing moment in a picture replete with them; the way the camera frames Robbie, slightly off center with the giant kiss happening in the background, is one of the most memorable shots I have ever seen, in terms of both beauty and storytelling.

And of course love and regret, two words (emotions?) that appear to go hand in hand. This is an achingly tender picture. The brief moments that Robbie and Cecilia share burrowed into my mind, replaying over and over during the sad spectacles that tears and keeps them apart. “Come back”, she says to him, and it’s not only Robbie craving to do so during the entire film, but myself as well, aching to encounter peace and happiness again. Every time the camera cut back to either lover, distant from the other by a thousand miles of pain and loss, my heart broke.

But the film, being as smart as it is, also presents the catalyst of this tragedy, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), as somebody to feel tenderness for. The audience comes to understand her motivations, and while forgiveness may still be hard to come by, it is difficult not to be moved by her genuine regret. I will remember the last shot of her for a very long time.

Easily one of the most profoundly poignant pictures I have ever seen, Atonement crescendo’d its way into my very soul, and I’ll wager it will remain there for a while.

A+

 

Brick

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No, bulls would gum it. They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one. But they’d trample the real tracks and scare the real players back into their holes, and if we’re doing this I want the whole story.

It’s not that this noir was inspired by 1950s detective stories as much as it is a 1950s detective story taking place in the 21st century.

B+

Train to Busan

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The moment that cemented Interstellar as a film with grand ambitions with a keen understanding of humanity occurs more than halfway throughout. Two astronauts are stranded on a desert planet somewhere across the galaxy, and they are fighting. The scene is truly something to behold: the camera zooms away until all we see is the enormity and the beauty of this alien environment, now being soiled by the two distant figures fighting in the background. I remember leaving the theater that afternoon convinced that AI was not going to be the harbinger of the apocalypse; we are.

I bring this up because a similar sequence takes place in a Train to Busan. The young protagonist is in a train cart, trying to get to the main cabin. Except she cannot, as the cart in front of her is being locked by the group of survivors who in their fear believe everyone not in the cart with them must be infected. Behind her, her father is trying to block the ravaging horde from overrunning the cart they’re in.

It is a truly well done sequence, showcasing that humanity needs no zombie outbreak for all hell to break loose.

A