50/50

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He’s on the phone with his therapist, who’s also his friend, and tells her “I wish you were my girlfriend”. There’s no self-pity in his words, and a sense of desperation is nowhere to be found. Rather it is the logical next step of a man who has at long last made peace with the fact that he’s dying, harboring no other desire but that of speaking truth.

B+

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Midnight Cowboy

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My knowledge of Midnight Cowboy prior to watching it began and ended with the famous “I’m walking here!” line. It seemed like a funny scene. Indeed, the movie features a handful of moments that could be labeled comedic, but make no mistake: there’s nothing funny about any of it.

In fact, not only is it not funny, it’s a deeply sad look at characters who very rarely get their stories told. As such, despite the film being half a century old, some things still surprise. Take for instance Rico Rizzo’s (Dustin Hoffman) home. The man lives in an abandoned, closed off building, and the director takes its time to show the audience how exactly living in an empty place works like. There’s crummy mattresses, a refrigerator used as a storage box, a curtain that appears to be made out of paper.

What’s left the film bouncing around in my head is its pervasive sense of loneliness. Not because it exists but because even then, 50 years ago, it was being introduced in cinema. I’ve gotten used to seeing multiple examinations of sad and lonely characters in film, but they are all product of the 21st century. This made sense to me. But to discover that humans have been carrying this burden since the beginning of time? How despairing.

A- 

Juno

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The humor bellying Juno reminds me of the once great sitcom Community. What made that show work tremendously, at least for its first 3 seasons before its butchering by hubris, was its deft balance of goofy and heartfelt. It’s characters would wittily banter back and forth for an episode, while never losing sight of the emotional core, be it familial neglect or loneliness.

Juno is a great comedy not because its characters feel real (has there ever been such a smart alek 16 year old?), but because they feel alive. Their dilemmas and desires mirror our own, and make us feel less lonely. If characters who think and speak like everybody in the Juno universe can struggle, but finally succeed at getting their life together, then maybe so can we.

B+

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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Wow, what a disappointment! Are we sure David Fincher wasn’t coerced into directing this? It aims at becoming this generation’s Forrest Gump, complete with platitudes about life and lessons aimed at making us appreciate this world even more, but look beyond the surface and there’s nothing there. It’s easily digestible fodder masquerading as a testament of how fleeting our mortal coil is.

C-

Man on the Moon

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Being not at all familiar with who Andy Kaufman was, I was surprised at similarities between his shenanigans and those of the famous Youtube “performance artists” of the current century. Pranks, hoaxes, skirting the limits of decency; Andy Kaufman engaged in such activities before they became the bread and butter of American society. He nearly lost it all back then, whereas now he would have gone viral.

B

Life

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Pros: there’s an unbroken shot at the start which makes everything seem promising.

the sequence that culminates in one of the crew members being murdered is actually pulse pounding.

reminded me of Sunshine and Gravity, better movies.

Cons: never bought the monster. A bacteria suddenly becomes a winged demon?

humans getting picked off one by one in predictable fashion

doesn’t know the definition of the word subtle. Case in point, cold breath out of their mouths, and somebody actually says “i am so cold”. Show, don’t tell.

C+ 

The Fountain

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I would stay up until the early morning hours awaiting her reply. Unable to fall asleep, I’d leave my computer on the floor and lie in bed, grieving for her. Every so often I would hit Refresh, and the same result would greet me: nothing. I must have repeated this routine every night until I began taking sleep medication.

It would be a lie to write that I have thought of Bella everyday for the past seven years. The truth is, I didn’t have to; she was there without me searching my memories for her. Her absence became a part of my nature, as normal to me now as taking a breath every second.

Too often the visual representations of love that Hollywood conjures on the screen are vapid, only paying lip service to the most powerful of human forces in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible demographic. But before it sounds like I am complaining, I must clarify that this trend has worked to my advantage. Without this surface level Hollywood product, I would have missed out on the rare movies that possess the audacity to examine love in all of its hideous glory, since they would stop being rare.

Pictures such as Atonement, the Before trilogy, Blue is the Warmest Color; these films have burrowed deep into my soul, becoming more like moments experienced than mere movies watched. They have made me feel a less broken, defective man by giving me a glimpse that yes, true love does alter your humanity and there’s no shame in ruing over someone whose face you haven’t seen nor voice heard in seven years.

Does this mean that The Fountain is as phenomenal a film as the ones I listed above? Hardly! Yet its messiness-which is what impedes it from being sublime-is what also grants it its staying power. Were my grief ever to be visualized, it would resemble something like The Fountain: cutting between timelines, consumed by rage and sadness and fear, and surrounded by the woman I love at every turn. There is no order to thoughts, no rationality to be found when the heart is bleeding out. Throughout the entire film, Tommy (Hugh Jackman) is a man possessed to do the impossible, and his heroic efforts are moving to behold.

The atmosphere the film creates is one that absolutely envelops the viewer. Is it melancholia that you’re left with? The sense that the doom of love is an unstoppable fact of life. Or is it hope? The reminder that our bodies are indeed the prison of our spirits, and that there should be gratitude for the brief time we spent in love, making our flesh forget about the woes of the world. What’s certain is that there’s few films with the cumulative effect that The Fountain has had on yours truly (watched it twice in 24 hours!).

A beautiful and tender motion picture that underneath its loopy facade holds a resonant truth, The Fountain may very well be a fairy tale, but its one anchored in raw and unshakable realities. Yes, love transcends every boundary of time and space, but in the end the film  settles on a quieter and equally noble note. There’s no weakness in saying bye, and there’s beauty in letting go.

A- 

2012

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I was, of all places, in Political Science class. It was November 8th, 2016, and the three and a half hour lecture that night consisted of watching different news channels. Our professor had the familiar news outlets projected on the whiteboard, on the computer, and he allowed the students to pull up our phones to follow along. What I haven’t forgotten are the reactions of the pundits. All their technological wizardry, their up to date scientific models, all the money in the world had failed them, and they did not know how to process it. Rooms full of intellectuals and savants suddenly gone quiet, their knowledge valid for nothing in the face of an event they proclaimed was not possible.

Somebody says in 2012 that “all our technology and we still could not predict this”. Is that what we’ll all say, I wonder, upon the day that every knee must bow and tongue confess that the man coming down from the clouds is Lord of all?

B

Brigsby Bear

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It’s not that movies make me feel less lonely. If anything, depending on the quality or subject matter, they remind me of it, reinforce it even. Movies join me in loneliness, they can make me understand how I got there, and maybe also how to get better. I know I am undeserving of the gift of experiencing films, and I thank God for it. However, several times now I have thought whether watching them has warped my perception of the real world.

Could it be that what I perceive as personal and shameful failures, for example my perpetual singleness, is more due to the gross expectations Hollywood set for me than for who I am? An interesting thought, and one that I’m hesitant to hold on for fear of it removing the sense of responsibility I now carry. That it’s me, and I must get better somehow.