Lady Bird had me going back to the well of adolescence, to sip on the memories of exuberant passion and exasperation. There are many movies dealing in the maddeningly glorious years of youth, but most of them merely show it; Lady Bird actually feels like you are back at your friend’s house crying over the love of your life while eating cheese.
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.
There have been thousands, if not millions, of words poured across the decades in an attempt to decipher Adolf Hitler’s mind. Adding any more to the conversation would be superfluous, unless I felt I had something fresh to bring to it.
There is one thing I will say, however, and that is in regards to Hitler’s followers. For the duration of this great film, and throughout my college history courses, I asked: “How could so many people follow this fool? Truly it would not happen in this day and age.”
But then I looked around me. I saw religious leaders endorse political players who do not display Biblical virtue; I saw adherents to an ideology validate violence in the name of freedom.
Is this is the new norm now, why would it have been any different back then, when societal conditions were much worse?
By now it’s become quite clear that writer/director S. Craig Zahler enjoys torturing his protagonists. In Bone Tomahawk, a cripple and a sheriff face against a horde of satanic cannibals, in what remains one of the most entertaining and brutal Westerns in years. That dynamic carries on in Brawl in Cell Block 99, in which Bradley (Vince Vaughn) goes through a series of spectacularly lousy events, each one seemingly more grueling than the last.
It gets so bad for the poor guy that at one point I stopped having any fun. What else does Zahler have up his sleeve for Bradley to endure? Luckily for us, or at least for the patient viewer, the answer is carnage. Lots and lots of carnage. But the violence is not there purely to shock; the fist fights, broken noses, dislocated backs, possess a sense of 70s cultish ridiculousness. There are plenty of laughs to be had in between, and during, the bloodshed.
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.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by an enormous sense of despondency brought upon by what I perceive to be an utter lack of justice. It is a tricky feeling to balance. On the one hand I must continually keep my Christian faith in the foreground, knowing that though I am not of the world, I am in it, hence there should be some sort of strive to better it. On the other, I cannot help but be reminded of the poor state of everything, and how the only hope is the return of the King.
Narc is an intense and frenetic cop picture that kept reminding me of this dilemma. It is the mark of a great movie when motivations, consequences and behaviors are not black and white, when characters could be heroes the same way they could be villains. It is the mark of a great movie when, as the screen finally cuts to black, you are kept pondering on whether the ending was a “happy” or a “sad” one, and the events that led to it.
I have two theories on why there’s not that many pictures like Syriana hitting the multiplexes anymore.
The first one is that it is too challenging a mainstream picture, requiring the audiences undivided attention from first to last. And even then it might prove a little bit tricky to unpack. For a generation raised on the instant gratification of social media, keeping up with the disparate plot lines might prove frustrating, or worse, boring.
The other theory is that, for being a movie backed by a major studio, it is entirely disheartening, possessing such a bleak outlook on modern world politics as to make the most hardened cynic blush. You go out of the movie feeling insignificant, a mere pawn in the game of thrones that only millionaires and politicians are allowed to partake in.
I have to remind myself from time to time that King Solomon was one of the wealthiest individuals to ever live. By itself, money is harmless, holding value just because we think it holds value, as one of the characters in Margin Call so wisely notes. Yet it is tremendously easy for me to get worked up over it, or as in the case of a scene in the movie, judge those who have it in spades.
The scene in question features two executive bankers, each one worth millions of dollars, discussing the incoming financial crisis in an elevator. Standing between them is a janitor.
It’s a nice contrast between the Haves and the Have nots, thus automatically making the aloof rich folk the villains. But going after someone just for the sake of all their millions might reveal more about our character, than it might them.
On the surface, Taylor Sheridan’s American Frontier trilogy pits an unstoppable force versus an unmovable object. In Sicario, the feds scrambled to put an end to the cartels; in Hell or High Water, a pair of deep Texas brothers were holding out the bank branches that were responsible for taking away their land, and that of the rest of the territory; in Wind River, the most emotionally engaging of the three, a tracker hunts down the murderers who prey on the most weak and vulnerable.
Diving deeper into them, one encounters a trilogy that paints a dire portrayal of America, the one not featured in postcards and pop songs, the one that could very well be a million miles away from the metropolis that dictate the rules of the land. I already wrote at length on this after watching Hell or High Water, a picture that elucidates part of candidate Donald Trump’s massive voter appeal, so even though I am tempted to do so with Wind River and its depiction of snow and solitude encroaching upon the lives of Native Americans, I must refrain.
This leaves me with praising the film’s dreary atmosphere and its unrelenting suspense. Sheridan`s world is a lawless one, in which danger lurks around every corner. This only makes the Mexican standoff near the end of the movie one of the most pulse pounding sequences of its kind I can recall.
And of course, as mentioned above, it is the most emotionally involving.
The ending of Sicario is deeply cynical, and the one to Hell or High Water offers a small bit of satisfaction. Wind River is by far the saddest of the bunch, offering a view of life where the wicked triumph, where pleasures are few and small in between, and where justice may only truly be imparted if we take matters into our hands.