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+

 

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L.A. Confidential

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Here’s something I’m not afraid of admitting: knowing what I now know, I would have never moved to Los Angeles.

I was duped, tricked by the plethora of pop culture praising LA as the city where dreams come true, where happiness is found and success is just on the other side. I am now trying to get out of this cursed city, but it is not easy. In a way, it is as if the city is a breathing entity, with its claws around me, devouring my vigor and enthusiasm for life with each passing day.

B+

Blue Jay

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The following is an email I received from my ex-girlfriend after not having seen each other for almost seven years. I email her from time to time, in those nights where nostalgia reaches its peak, but never expected to hear back from her. A week later I watched Blue Jay. 

It’s nice to hear from you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded in quite a while. My life is pretty hectic these days. 

My son starts school next week, I cannot believe that I have a son who’s nearly 4 years old. The last few years of my life have literally just come and gone in what feels like a few days.
I still do think of you sometimes. I try not to always think about what’s happened in my past, it does make things harder for me if I do. 
After all that has happened in my life I feel as if I am living such a normal life now these days. I wake up, drop my son off at daycare, work, pick him up and follow our everyday nightly routine. I do really love being a mom. Even if I haven’t become the person I thought I’d be one day,  I am glad that I have had the chance to raise my son. 

B+

Revolutionary Road

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Soon after my confession of faith, I started to believe that a heart filled with the love of Jesus was enough to keep at bay the empty hopelessness. I’m sure this stemmed from the fact that my conversion occurred during circumstances that had devastated multiple areas of my life. Surely there would be no going back to such dark nights of the soul, now that God loved me?

While I still cling to the belief that there is nothing on Earth like the redeeming power of the cross, I am now unsure whether or not the empty hopelessness can be avoided, regardless of one’s faith.

Revolutionary Road is an extremely disquieting film, burrowing deep into your skin with images of the futility of existence. There are several shots throughout the picture with depressing implications, conveying in a few seconds the disenchantments of a lifetime. And above all, that empty hopelessness that hovers above everyday affairs. I have felt myself despairing, my prayers of little comfort to the aching of my soul. Throughout all, I love Jesus, and I trust Him; His love is persistent and odd-defying. However, I receive no hope from it.

God forbid I end up like the characters of this film, although now I believe everything is possible.

A-

Unfriended: Dark Web

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Chilling from start to finish, Unfriended: Dark Web succeeds more as a reminder of the unparalleled brutality of humans than as a full blown horror flick. The self-imposed constraints of this new genre limit the type and amount of scares that can pop up on the screen, but it opens an entire new avenue for exploration. In this case its the dark underbelly of the internet, a part of the web which is still a mystery for all of those who just use to browse Facebook and laugh at memes. We should definitely be paying more attention.

B

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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The realization I had at the packed cinema where I watched Ant-Man and the Wasp explains part of the gargantuan success of Marvel properties on the big screen. The audience was evenly divided between kids and not kids; all of us prey to the siren song of the next superhero hit.

What struck out to me was that whenever a joke was cracked, visual or otherwise, both kids and not kids would laugh. Granted, there are some references and throwaway lines that only adults will get, but these were not as successful as the jokes that made the entire audience laugh.

I think that is my problem with movies of this ilk. It’s not that this movie is bad; it’s a highly enjoyable, very amusing adventure. But it’s that the product is so clearly aimed at pleasing the highest number of people possible, that any nuance gets thrown out the window. There is no room for ambiguity, no space for catharsis. Die hard fans can conjure up myriad theories and deep readings into Easter eggs and throwaways, but it does not change the fact that if a 10 year old can understand and laugh at the same thing you, an esteemed adult can, then that entertainment is probably not more than the sum of its parts.

B

Hereditary

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Honoring your father and your mother is the first commandment with a promise, reads Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. It has to be, since family can be the most brutal thing that can ever happen to anybody. No dynamic on this earth can better nurture grief, resentment and rage like a family one; tragedy keeps unfolding from one generation to the next, every child inheriting their parents demons.

Hereditary is an uncommonly unsettling picture. It’s monsters are the ones we are familiar with if we’ve been foolish enough to inflict pain on a loved one, or have been on the receiving end. By and large this is a family drama, whose characters carry their resentments on their skin. A broken marriage, a fragile parent-child relationship, an indifferent sibling connection; the film forces the viewer to witness the tragedy of a family in shambles. It is terrifying to behold.

By the time the supernatural elements manifest themselves in full to terrorize the Grahams, one can’t help but wonder if it was always meant to happen. When does a family go wrong? What decisions did the members take at one point that has led everybody down such bleak a path? Or were they condemned from the start, the sins of their forebears too heavy a burden?

When six years ago I made the decision to walk with Christ, one of the realizations I had was that I was becoming my father. I hated the old man, and in my sinful determination to get rid of all the influence he’d had on me, I was turning out to be just like him. I have long since forgiven him, although I continue to struggle with, as this movie would call it, his inheritance. Hereditary made me keenly aware of how grateful I should be that the chains of the past are being broken, and that I will not be suffocated by them.

A

The Big Sick

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It’s been a most difficult year, with no signs of abating. Six months into 2018 and the general uneasiness that consumes my bones is as present as ever. I continue to pray, although my conversations with God have turned to full on pleas for deliverance. I am exhausted.

Besides intervention from the divine, the only thing that can lift my spirits is the pictures. But even in this arena it has been a lousy year, the outliers of Phantom Thread and I, Tonya a distant but cherished memory. Enter The Big Sick. As a comedy, it is more gentle laughter than riotous, the oft present vulgarity of American comedies replaced by something tender, more observant.

As a drama it is surprisingly intelligent and insightful, its plot machinations revealing thoughts and behaviors that are keenly human. There is no gross manipulation here, nor tacked on sentimentality. Almost every line delivered carries purpose and weight, as if the writers know that cinema is most effective when the audience is one with the characters. And we can only do that when the world they inhabit operates under the rules of our own, when our regrets and fears mirror theirs, and our loves and aspirations are the ones they share.

As a romance it is infectiously charming, not only for the interaction of its two leads, a superb Kumail Nanjiani and the millennial queen of the rom-com Zoe Kazan, but also by that of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s parents. For an hour and 59 minutes I was immersed in their relationship navigating all the ups, downs, and in betweens that drive the story, any story, of love. I followed Kumail and Emily all the way to that breathtaking, final shot. Dear reader, what a shot it is. I’ve returned to it three times already, and it makes me gasp for air each time.

At this stage in my life the highest praise I can bestow on anything is that it made me absolutely forget about my troubles. As a character says at one point, “I’m just really tired. Do you ever just want to be in a relationship so you can just finally relax?” The Big Sick made my afflictions cease for a while, and my thoughts at peace.

A+

Ingrid Goes West

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With one hand can I count the movies that have made me squirm so uncomfortably in my seat as the cringe inducing Ingrid Goes West. So what made me react so strongly to this movie, which is not particularly memorable besides Aubrey Plaza’s loopy performance?

My theory is that the Instagram Age has turned everybody, regardless of follower count, into an artist. Naturally we strive for success, measured in the ever precious likes and comments. When we fall short we risk losing exposure, the lack of which can prove fatal to our purpose of staying relevant. And once that’s gone, what is left but a seeming announcement to the world that we could not make it, that we are not good looking, popular or funny enough?

Maybe the fact that this made me so uncomfortable is because I too have fallen prey to the allure of the like. Hashtags, witty captions, that perfect angle; I want to appear cool because I don’t feel like I am. I want people to like me because I am lonely. The movie’s resolution does not provide a remedy to the need for validation from strangers, but gives in to it. The protagonist will continue to lead a life dictated by the interest of others; whether that’s a happy ending or not depends on what kind of an Instagram user you are.

B

The Rider

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It is easier for somebody who does not believe in an ever loving God to make sense of the injustices of this world. A believer, on the other hand, must come to reconcile the truth of a benevolent and kind God with the bitter realities of a life marked by pain and disappointment.

How do the children of God carry on in the face of profound sorrows? The Rider, a frequently moving and lyrical picture, posits that the Almighty has crafted each and every creature on this earth for a purpose, so we should pursue it, against all odds.

I look at myself, weary and slowly losing faith of ever achieving my dreams, and wonder. If God made me with a purpose, why aren’t I fulfilling it? Why am I stuck with such a mediocre and unexceptional existence? Prayer is hard to come by now, so preoccupied are my thoughts on what to do next. It was never supposed to be this way.

I had so much hope for the future, so much love and trust in my Savior, so much joy in the today. But more and more that feels like a bygone era, a person who was unaware that this world destroys goodness and God is…where is God?

A-