Chinatown

5dde498d3c041f3c12349a43af440bd5

Noir pictures are not meant to be moving. It’s protagonists are sleek and fast talking, it’s women deadly; the crime at their heart a twisted tale that plays tricks on the mind. Chinatown features all of the elements that define the genre, but it adds one more. This, no doubt, is what has granted the picture it’s cult status, what has cemented it’s legacy as one of the finest of its kind.

Chinatown is a tragic film, and it is that misery which grants it its power. The film’s final few minutes provoke indignation and sadness in equal measure; they spur many a thought on justice, power, and whether or not those two terms can ever coexist.

A

Advertisements

Widows

mv5bmjm3odc5ndeyof5bml5banbnxkftztgwmti4mdcxnjm-_v1_

Widows is a visual representation of the oft-quoted phrase by Christians, “we live in a broken world”.
That generically vague statement does not really mean much by itself, but now believers can point towards an entertaining piece of evidence to back it up. For anybody who is interested in expanding this idea, I will break it down next.

The setting: a Chicago neighborhood.
The characters: a dozen Chicago residents, of all color, ideology, socioeconomic status

Ultimately, the motivations of every character in the movie are driven by the desire to improve their circumstance. There is nothing wrong with aiming to better oneself, yet Widows displays that in a world in which the systems of governance and justice are rotten to its core, having been invented by human beings with the same flaws as everyone else, humans will tend to gravitate towards themselves. The characters live for themselves, foregoing their neighbors and family. Ironically, this lack of compassion for our neighbor perpetuates the system that keeps everything the way it is.

Steve McQueen holds tight on a pastor’s face as he delivers a rousing sermon on the importance of love. “Love your neighbor!”, he roars. “Strive for excellence with love as a motivator!”, he goes.
And McQueen, by now crowned as a director possessing a rare knowledge of the follies of man, then shows the same pastor embroiled in a nasty political race. Yes, it is love that motivates this man, but not the selfless one Jesus exemplified, but the other one, the common one, the love of money.

More than anything, Widows shows just how pitiful we all are. It shows humans as children trying their best to navigate the messiness of life, their best efforts to save themselves falling short. It emphasizes the need for a way that is bigger than any of us.

A-

Blue Valentine

7f70d7c1407743cca1d528ce330832d9

When we were children my father used to tell my sisters and I the magical story of how he met our mother. Today, many years removed from the simplicity of childhood, his story conjures up only two possible scenarios. The first one is that my father was lying. This makes sense, as the man has proven adept at deceit. The second scenario is that he was telling the truth. Perhaps the events in which he met my mom were as sweet and lovely as he made them out to be.

Citing religious reasons, my parents never obtained a divorce. They trudged along the motions of an unhappy marriage, believing one right trounced a myriad wrongs. They were of course, mistaken. My sisters harbor such contempt towards my father that having them in the same room invites calamity each time. I was a victim of this affliction as well, once upon a time, before the forgiveness of the Lord filled my heart with forgiveness towards my mom and dad. Yet even after having openly forgiven my dad, there is no chance for a healthy, constructive relationship between us. I’ve made peace with this, but I worry for my sisters.

My father turned 63 last week, and already old age is on display. Their time frame to forgive the man is running shorter and shorter. What a dreadful thing, to go through life with resentments and bitterness intact.

A-

Into the Wild

lloyd_wild

Nowhere is the astonishing hypocrisy that led to Christopher McCandless’s (Emile Hirsch) demise evidenced as clearly as in a pair of scenes that take place a little over halfway through the film.

Saying his goodbyes to Tracy T (Kristen Stewart), the girl who’s been crushing on him since day one, he speaks what in his mind must have sounded like the words of a prophet. “And remember, if you want something in life, reach out and grab it”.
It’s an absurd philosophy.
Two scenes earlier, Tracy had tried to do just that. Wanting to be with Christopher, she called him into her room, took her clothes off, laid in bed, and then…stayed there while Christopher politely rejected her. She had tried grabbing what she wanted, and had failed miserably.

Of course such manner of platitudes sound good, and they may make us feel even better. To live fervently adhered to a moral code we believe superior than those of our neighbors is a rush; who doesn’t love being the smartest person in the room? Taking it to the extreme, Christopher exiles himself, far from the company of his lesser peers. And while most of us possess enough judgement to stray from such wild endeavors, there is something to be learned from all this.

All along, Christopher proclaims the urgency of the truth. The movie hammers home the importance of forgiveness. A character even declares that when we forgive, God’s light shines upon us. The truth is the only way to a happy life, then; I know what path I’m on. Do you?

B+

 

The Florida Project

florida_project_ver2

Shortly before feeding them, the Bible tells that Jesus had compassion for the weary and hungry multitude. Two thousand years later, the word has been almost eroded from our vocabulary; that’s maybe why Sean Baker’s camera seems to urgently remind us of it.

The Florida Project, one of the most moving and wonderful pictures of the last five years, brims with compassion. It is found on every shot of this Orlando set story, taking in the inhabitants of a stretch of highway that have been forgotten by locals and visitors alike, everybody so concerned with rushing to the self proclaimed most magical place on earth.
Most crucially, Sean Baker appears to understand the great irony of our species: the tragedy of humans is not that we are victims of this broken world, but that we are also complicit in it.

The film never romanticizes nor does it judge it’s characters, allowing them to exist fully and freely. It is this approach that makes the story, consisting more of episodes than a full fledged plot, a spiritual companion piece to another wistful film of Americana, Andrea Arnold’s lyrical American Honey.  The characters in that movie never felt like the inventions of  a screenwriter, and neither do these ones. Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) are breathing, living creatures that we happen to have stumbled upon. As such, there are moments which are truly unbearable to watch.

It is not only the abject poverty that defines Halley and Moonee that’s tough to watch, but their attempts to rise above it. Halley loves her daughter and will do whatever to see her smile, yet the way she tries to do it is toxic not only for Moonee, but for herself as well. Halley’s perpetual stare is of fury and resignation, which paired with the endless wonder that fills Moone’s eyes only serves to drive home the point that eventually the daughter will become the mother.

By the end of the film you’re keenly aware that, unless the film suddenly goes off the rails into the realm of fantasy, there exists only one logical way for the story to end. Indeed, I’d argue that this is a movie which cannot be spoiled, because reality has trained us to know certain basic realities of our world. And if it hasn’t, Sean Baker’s camera has been there to guide you with every shrug, scream, sigh and punch of his characters; with every weary look, eyes of love, and belly full of laughter.
And yet when it finally does arrive it’s effect is still devastating.

In truth, I had to avert my gaze from the screen. I could not bear to look up at the screen, yet even listening to the audio was agonizing. Was I hiding out of embarrassment or pain? To be honest I think I was praying.
When a few seconds later I lifted up my eyes, I was greeted to a final sequence so magnificent in its creativity, so majestic in its execution, so heart-wrenching in its implications, that I knew I was going to remember it until the day I died.

A+

First Man

first_man_ver6

Breathtaking from beginning to end, First Man is not only a paean to one of mankind’s greatest achievements, but a quiet and rare spectacle that functions as cinema that’s out of this world.

One of the many casualties of this new political environment we all live in here in America has been the ideologization of everything. Citizens are suddenly unable to view, meet, read something without making it about politics. And so it goes that audiences were divided on this film for either being overtly American, or not American enough. Go figure. The one thing they seemed to be in agreement was that they were not going to go watch it.

I rarely delve into politics in my blog posts, but feel compelled to do so here. I fear that by continuing to bring politics into every aspect of American life, we will miss out on phenomenal cinema like First Man. No filmmaker will want to labor on anything that isn’t a superhero flick for fear of being politically labeled.

And yeah, maybe audiences will not even mind if space epics that aren’t Star Wars aren’t being produced anymore, but I will. And there must be some others out there who share this sentiment; others who watched First Man and marveled at the human ingenuity of creating art that is so palpable, memorable and universal.

A+

 

Atonement

atonement-movie-poster

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+

 

L.A. Confidential

s-l1600

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

blue_jay

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

revolutionary-road-movie-poster

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-