20th Century Women

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“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

B+

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Dunkirk

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After thinking on it for twelve hours, I feel confident enough to say Dunkirk bored the bejesus out of me. It is also filmmaking at its finest, one of the extremely rare motion pictures that can, from the opening to closing frame, be called art.

There was a piece on The Guardian earlier this week, calling Dunkirk the first film in Christopher Nolan’s career to merit comparison to the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. While there were some making the same assessment three years ago when Insterstellar came out, pitting it against 2001: A Space Odyssey, I found it a premature judgement. I love Insterstellar, but it is far too emotional and weepy to be Kubrickian.

With Dunkirk, I was emotionally invested in none of the characters whatsoever; I admired the picture more than anything else. I recognize the great care and detail that went into every aspect of its making, and I applaud it. Was it a good time at the movies? Absolutely not. I even checked my clock once. Is this one of the best films I’ve seen this year? Absolutely yes.

A+

Baby Driver

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Five minutes into Baby Driver, and tears were welling up in my eyes. The great craft and detail they put into the car chases, the score, the reaction shots, was evident, but what got me was something else.
It was not the sense of fun, either, present from first to last frame.
I think that what made me emotional was recognizing a dying breed of cinema. Being face to face with a movie that proudly waves the flag of “there’s more to film than superheroes and sequels, look I promise!”.

You made me look Baby Driver, you sure did make me look. I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

B+

Logan

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Superhero movies adapted from comic books have had such a tremendous impact on popular culture during the last decade that they’ve even received their own grading curve.
“Good by superhero movie standards”, or “terrible even by comic book adaptation standards” has become the de facto response to this kind of product. Whether this is harmful or beneficial to cinema as a whole is a topic that demands its own blog post (maybe when Wonder Woman opens?), so this entry will not approach Logan as another superhero comic book movie, but rather as simply another slice of cinema.

I note this disclaimer out of fear that I will be doing this movie a disservice by calling it the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight trilogy. A quick glance into the past reveals that in the intervening years there have not really been that many memorable movies of the kind, which would take away some credit from Logan.
So instead I will say that Logan is the most memorable film I have watched since Silence; it reminds me of the greatest television series I have ever watched, Spartacus: Blood and Sand; and features a performance by Hugh Jackman so magnificent that if I cared at all about awards, I would hope against hope he’d be nominated for something.

“That was not Wolverine”, a friend lamented upon exiting the cinema. “I hated the movie.”
“I hoped that character from the other movie showed up”, the other friend said. “That would have been cool”.

I kept quiet, pondering their words. How many people spend fifteen dollars hoping to see something cool on the big screen? Is that why superhero movies are so popular, since they feature a CGI infused extravaganza of explosions and shiny costumes? Why do so little people pay mind to the human element, and the pains and the joys of life on this earth?

Logan might be the story of a 200 year old mutant who cannot die, but his tale is agonizingly human. Hugh Jackman inflicts Logan with so much sorrow that a mere glance is enough to break your heart. I would say that Logan is a man battling his demons, but it would be a misreading of the film. Logan lost that conflict many years ago. What’s left is a man who is in constant agony every waking hour, considering death a welcome change to the life filled with regret and loss he’s led up until that point.

That the script for this was approved is some sort of miracle. Consider the scene in which Laura (Dafne Keen) is riding a mechanical horse, and Logan approaches to call her back to the car. She looks at him asking for one more ride, so Logan pulls out a quarter from his pocket and says “One final time okay?”, before inserting the coin into the mechanical box next to the contraption. Logan pulls away and Laura starts to ride again.
A moment like this, lasting about thirty seconds and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, becomes beautiful not only because it survived executives overseeing it making sure they made every penny back, but because it speaks volumes about the world we all inhabit. This is real life. A kid riding a mechanical horse; an old man lifted from his wheelchair and into a public toilet; a young man saying he will drop from college to go travel across the country.
Small, fleeting moments are what make up our lives, and small, fleeting moments are what Logan is incapable of grasping. He says the adamantium inside his system is slowly killing him, but that’s only partly true.
Logan has been dying since the day he let his sorrows overtake any glimmer of hope for a better future he might have had.

Again, Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of a lifetime. It will take me a while to get rid of the images of a bruised and battered Logan out of my head, his gaze lost somewhere where the camera cannot reach. Watching it in the dark in a packed room, I felt knots in my stomach, and I wondered if my neighbors felt the same. I wanted the movie to be over and go home imagining Logan living his remaining days somewhere happily ever after.

While not a perfect movie, mainly because the quasi generic bad guys keep reminding the audience that they are watching a Marvel adaptation every time they are on screen, it reminded me of the immense power cinema holds whenever a story is well told. It reminded me that even in the midst of all the deafening noise and chaos resounding that has been ruling our world for the past year, there is still room for the intimate, and that hope should not be given up on. But most of all, it reminded me that true heroes don’t wear capes after all.

B+

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

birdman-poster-4We live in a golden age for cinema.

Were we to compare the films produced during the last decade, to those released 40-50 years ago, would the results really skewer to the latter?
We complain about noise and explosions and the mindless, meaningless entertainment that permeates movie screens each year, and while it’s true that some blockbusters should have never seen the light of day, it’s also true that people have been making bad movies since the day the medium was invented.

Maybe because every movie being produced is either an adaptation or a sequel, filmmakers feel compelled to craft them with utmost care, seeing as they are possibly the only project they could ever work on.
So we continue getting flashy blockbusters, but something has changed.
Godzilla hints at having a heart underneath all the carnage; Guardians of the Galaxy is more about the fascinating adventures of space exploration than invincible superheroes; and Michael Bay tones it down with Pain & Gain, a hilarious drama if I ever saw one.

And if popular movies are increasingly ambitious, what of the smaller movies?
The ones not meant to be consumed by everyone?
Perhaps it’s creators feel liberated; perhaps they can make whatever their hearts desire; perhaps they can finally make what cinema is meant to do: Art.

So we arrive at Birdman, a picture that could not have possibly existed a decade or two ago, and now that it does, film history is richer for it.

A+