I was familiar, of course, with the established consensus. Casablanca was one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, a movie unlike any other, a must see for all those who professed even the slightest interest in the art form.
And I had never seen it until today.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said before in the past 75 years? Everything everybody said about Casablanca is true.
At least Hollywood is done pretending that superhero movies carry any sense of urgency besides the need to make a billion bucks. Thor: Ragnarok is freaking fun.
10 minutes into Blade Runner 2049 a character says, “that’s because you’ve never seen a miracle happen”. Growing up in the Age of Blockbuster, I have been turned a cynic regarding anything that has to do with sequels, reboots, extended universes and the likes. In cinema world, a miracle is as foreign to me as rain is to the operating systems of Los Angeles, circa 2049.
But then rain stars pouring down, and an artificial intelligence which had been secluded to a tiny apartment from the moment her power was turned on, discovers the beauty in water falling down from the heavens.
Right there I knew. I was witnessing a miracle.
Above all else The Lost City of Z is a testament to the tenacity of filmmaker James Gray. Here is a man that, had he been born half a century earlier, would no doubt possess the the prestige of the Elia Kazans and Ford Coppolas of Hollywood. His previous film, The Immigrant, is a masterpiece. It is a harrowing tale of survival in the New World, of the beauty of the perseverance of dreams, featuring a once in a lifetime performance by Marion Cotillard. Its haunting final shot, which I am sure remains one of the most powerful ones in motion picture history, is worth everything.
With The Lost City of Z, James Gray has positioned himself as an unparalleled talent in his field. This not only because again he wows the senses and inflames the emotions with another powerful final shot, but because he has crafted an intimate and sprawling historical epic, the type of movie which had gone the way of the dodo. I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, Barry Lyndon, at times. The lighting seems to be natural, and the sets appear lived in.
There’s a sequence taking place at a large hall, where British men argue about the worth and value of the South American native. It is illuminating and hilarious in equal measure, both pointing towards the respect James Gray has to his audience, since when was the last time you encountered such a series of scenes in a major motion picture?
There’s moments that take place in war trenches, in the bedroom, and in piranha infested waters, and they are all intimate, beautiful and exciting. I think it’s fair to say that the description applies to the film as a whole, as well.
Two decades into his career, it is pretty clear that Darren Aronofsky is mad (genius?). As I noticed a few people exiting the screening once the deranged third act gets under way, I wondered why he felt like giving this to audiences. A vast, vast majority of movie goers are going to detest this. But does that say more about Aronofsky’s talents, or about the cinematic preferences large groups of people have?
Once the credits started to roll, I realized that if motion pictures were not invented so stories like this one could hit the big screen, then they should have not been invented at all.
A technical wonder to behold, sometimes an absolutely thrilling crime caper, others a subdued melancholic romance, Victoria is a feat of cinematic achievement that sadly, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, sadly fizzles out during its final half hour.
The reasons for that are understandable: one takes are technically liberating, but narratively constricting. I know exactly where I would have cut the film: back at the club where it all started. It would have made a nice finish. I actually thought the movie was going to end there, and I was getting ready to love it, when it decides to plunge on for thirty more minutes. The one take technique turns the remaining story into an overlong resolution that flirts with implausibility.
There have been 2 films in 2017 that have brought to mind Spartacus: Blood and Sand, my favorite television series: Logan, the elegiac superhero swan song, and War for the Planet of the Apes, a stellar capping off to mainstream cinema’s most thoughtful and moving trilogies.
The show’s exploration of vengeance and forgiveness is truly fascinating, putting on display the “enormous darkness of the heart” that one of the apes mentions to Caesar (Andy Serkis) during the final installment. It is also an unforgiving look into the lives of slaves, and the horrors they are forced to commit for the sake of their masters. However, instead of being preachy it becomes insightful. In its final season, the slaves, now holding all of the power, start committing atrocities against innocents. They have excuses for it, of course, but should bloodshed ever be rationalized?
War for the Planet of the Apes seems like a fluke in the Hollywood blockbuster churning machine. For a movie with conflict in the title, there are only two battles: one at the beginning and one at the end, tremendous set pieces that brim with suspense and emotion from start to finish.
The film is more concerned with the struggle waged in men’s souls, that constant struggle between turning the other cheek and raining fire from the sky, between tolerance and dictatorship.
The human race did not lose the planet because of a few battles against monkeys, but because in the vital, deciding moment in which the trigger had to be pulled or not, the apes gave us another chance, but we did not return the favor.
And of what good is Earth if our spirit has turned dark? Nature has a way of correcting course, so the worthy ones will inherit the planet.
I mean it as no insult when I say that Indignation made me feel as if I was watching a picture produced in 1950s America. There are the costumes of course, with men wearing ties and tweed jackets all the time, and the girls with their long and colorful skirts. There is also the general mood of the settings, hinting at a time in which maybe things were a bit simpler than today, i.e: getting your pick of a campus job if you just fill out a form before they run out.
But what really convinced me of it was the acting. You know how characters in old timey movies sound different than today, as if they are aware there’s a camera on them and they have to recite their lines just like if they were on the theater? That’s what the acting in Indignation is like.
We are nearing the day when every major movie will be part of an extended universe, when their narratives will function both as entertaining yarns and trailers for the upcoming sequels, when easter eggs and post-credits sequences replace all that makes cinema meaningful.
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.