Prometheus

prometheus

Two of the classes I’m taking this semester overlap in such a way that I am regularly forced to ask myself the question that weighs heavily on the mind of the Prometheus’s crew: Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Anthropology posits that humanity evolved, throughout millions of years, from the proverbial ape, animals which in turned evolved from lesser creatures, and so on and so forth.
Philosophy, on the other hand, asks us to examine the cosmos. The flawless order of the universe, along with the intricate and meticulous working of the human body, demands for there to be a Creator.

In Prometheus, the ones who made us turn out to be the ones who also wish to destroy us. Reasons abound as to why. And yet, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) demands more. Nay, she says she deserves to know the origin of all things. The beauty lies in that she voices this statement to an android, a man-made creature that seems perfectly content with living out his destiny instead of asking questions in regard to it.
Twenty minutes into the movie somebody says that since the beginning of time human civilizations functioned under the idea that they are simply creation, and they seek to communicate with their Creator.

Is it the same today? Do we also feel as if we deserve to know everything simply because we are so very smart and enlightened? Do we also consider the Creator in human terms, and forget that if there is one, He must surely not abide by our puny rules and expectations?
In Prometheus, the crew gets the surprise of their lifetime when, upon finally encountering a creator, he starts to butcher them. In our case, will there be more of the former, the latter, or neither?

B

American Honey

american honey

Popular culture is deceiving. Perhaps it is no fault of its own, since massively consumed entertainment has to provide diversion for audiences; the deceit is implicit, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously. A quick glance at the current social landscape, however, indicate that celebrities and songs and Netflix originals hold as much sway over the cultural conversation as they probably never had before. Popular culture doesn’t become an escape, but a pep talk; something that inspires, teaches and sells dreams that will never come true.

In American Honey, as sultry and hypnotizing as films can be, the teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door across the American Midwest have more in common than just a fractured home life and a penchant for booze and sex. It seems that while their parents, or parent surrogates, were passing out drunk in couches and overdosing on crack, they were left in the care of movies and music, which proceeded to raise them. It is through these media that the itinerant life of mag crews acquires such seductive glow.

Not once does the film lay blame or judge the teens for the behaviors and actions they engage in. Just like Star (Sasha Lane) joined the crew to escape an abusive father figure, so does every other member in the team has a reason that makes their decision to join rational instead of delusional. And yet there is no happiness in the business. Everything the camera captures for close to three hours reeks of sadness and destruction; the decaying state of things mirrors the hopes of Star and everybody else. It is a document not only of the near depressing conditions of the hidden America, the segment that supposedly led Donald Trump to victory last November, but of the last throes of youth. Teens abandoned by everybody but popular culture, which instilled in them the idea that what they are doing is liberating, and that money is the ultimate indicator of success.

I mention this because the mag crew sings along to every single song that comes on during every leg of their journey. No matter the time or day or genre, everybody knows the lyrics to everything. But it is not only homeless teens whose dreams have been influenced by outside forces. The first house that Star visits is hosting a birthday party for a girl who cannot be more than fifteen years old. She is with three of her friends and a dance song begins blasting through the air, and the teens start to move along with the music, eventually putting their bodies in poses that are inappropriate for children their age. She is just following along with the song, she reasons with the screams of her God fearing mother.

“I hope He comes all over your car!”, shouts Star to a passerby vehicle that has “God is Coming” sticker plastered over the rear window, after it refused to slow down for her and her two half-siblings.
The anthem of the movie is “we found love in a hopeless place”, which works wonderfully with the hopelessness that infects the entire film. I really hope the sticker the car announced comes true, for I don’t see any other way for teens and adults to have real hope again.

A-

Manchester by the Sea

manchester

There’s a truly splendid scene that occurs near the end of the first act of Silver Linings Playbook, in which Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) invites Pat (Bradley Cooper) to have sex with her, cries upon his chest, slaps him and walks away in the span of about sixty seconds. The scene is etched into my memory for being a flawless depiction of how we process grief, and so is Jennifer Lawrence’s indelible performance.

Manchester by the Sea lasts two hours and seventeen minutes, and about a third of the running time is devoted to characters acting out, coping, and dealing with pain the same way Jennifer Lawrence did. But while David O’Russell’s picture featured silver linings, Manchester by the Sea is not interested in grand romantic gestures of hope, or in characters saving each other from their pits of despair.
But it also does not punish its audience by being bleak or depressing, the way some movies dealing with death tend to do.
Agony does not mean the absence of humor, so the movie has some of that; death does not entail the loss of carnal desire, so the movie features some of that as well; some traumas are too painful to overcome in a two hour picture, so Manchester by the Sea gives us a protagonist so miserable that he becomes the most human character I have seen at the cinema in a very long time.

A+

The Founder

founder

It must say something about the United States that its most important, influential firms got their start based on swindles.

At least as far as film adaptations go, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, and now The Founder have portrayed these titans of industry as dishonest and power hungry, but also super humanly brilliant.

This begs the question: Is success on a global scale dependent on the dismissal of commonly respected values as truth and loyalty?
Or, as a character in the superb Steve Jobs says, is it binary? Can you be gifted and decent at the same time, or does one cancel the other?

Because The Founder is the weakest of the three films, it doesn’t point to that argument being the case, but a general look into the lives of the geniuses these movies explore paints a bleak image to all the fools who bank on morality getting them very far.

B

Oldboy

oldboy

Because this was the movie recommended to me after having so thoroughly enjoyed Memento, I will make a brief compare and contrast between two pictures.

Is revenge bad?
Characters in both films employ revenge not as means to satisfy their baser desires, but as catalysts to not give up on life. This impulse has so consumed their lives that they do not live for it, as much as they live because of it.
In Memento, Lenny (Guy Pearce) has to keep chasing John G’s until the end of his days, or else he’ll be forced to face the truth of having killed his wife and lost his mind.
In OldBoy, the minute there are no more strings to pull on the elaborate punishment he’s been putting his victim through, Woo-Jin (Yoo Ji-Tae) shoots himself in the head.

Another aspect in which both films are similar is in how the main characters differ from the usual protagonist audiences have come to expect. While not always noble, main protagonists must possess some traits that should make the distinction between them and the bad guys very clear, so it becomes more easy to cheer for them.
In Memento, Lenny is a thief and a murderer, not to mention an asshole; in OldBoy, Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) is guilty of less heinous accusations, but he is still a drunkard, a womanizer and a lousy father. Even after repenting from past sins, he does not become the hero of the story. The showdown at the penthouse, which is like nothing I’ve ever seen, shows him as a pitiful excuse for a man. Indeed he will later call himself no better than a wild beast.

Is this why both movies are so wildly effective? Or maybe we have become so accustomed to heroes that are hard to emulate but easy to admire, that when confronted with characters that display some of our worst flaws we tend to cheer them, since we might find ourselves more easily resembled in desires of vengeance than in acts of forgiveness.

Both films end on a dark note. Lenny will go on in search of the next John G, or be tricked into killing another person who he thinks is guilty for what happened to him. Dae-Su has either forgotten the horrific truth that forced him to rip out his tongue, or he has not.
Whatever the case, they will be living a lie. That’s a terrible final image for the audience to take home with. It has been said that movies are the myths of our time.
I hope that after watching Memento and OldBoy, audiences tremble at the idea of what may happen when forgiveness is not an option.

A+

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water-filming-locations-poster

One week after the election that saw Donald J. Trump chosen as the 45th President of the United States, me and my two best friends took a road trip from California to North Carolina.

We drove across miles and miles of barren landscape. We passed through ghost towns, more deserted than the ones that make up the heart of Hell or High Water. We heard stories, sad stories, about poverty encroaching entire regions and turning its inhabitants poor in a nation that is the richest in the world.

The magnificent Hell or High Water is not only a Western, but a document on the extinction of a way of life. You see it with the cowboys running from a fire, driving their cattle to safety across the highway.
“No wonder my kids don’t want to do this as a living”, one of them yells at no one particular.
You see it with the waitress who refuses to give up her tip, made up of stolen bank money, because otherwise she will not be able to afford her mortgage and keep a roof on top of her daughter’s head.
You even see it with bank robbers themselves, when an old diner patron mentions that robbing banks in the 21st century seems entirely out of place.

The film appears to indict the capitalist financial institutions of the United States, who have been given carte blanche to wager with other peoples money, and don’t have to worry about losing it because uncle Sam will bail them out. But who is behind the banks, if not people themselves?

One of the character bemoans the fact that the land they are on used to belong to his ancestors before conquistadors arrived and slaughtered them all. He then says the same thing is happening to small towns across the country, but this time violence is not the culprit, but greed.

Near the end of the film, an old bank worker is reluctant to fax some documents over to a lawyer. The documents state that the loan the bank had given out has been paid in full just in time, so the property will remain in the client’s possession.
Why does the old man do this? What does he gain, besides maybe a bonus for delaying the proceedings? The property, and all the oil on it, will not go to him, but to an unknown person, or group of people, who thrive to make money.
So perhaps it is not the banks that are to blame, but every single human being who would choose money over culture, profit over dignity.
Foreclosures rise, despair sets in, and people end up voting for the billionaire who promises to make their sad, pathetic little towns great again.

A+

Don’t Think Twice

dont_think_twice_xlg

Telling somebody that it is hard to succeed in show business is like telling them that eating uncontrollably leads to an increase in weight. This is a boring fact of life, which is why perhaps there are not that very many films on the subject matter. And the ones that do deal solely on the aspect of audition, fail, repeat until you get the lucky break. La La Land had a nice twist on this aspect, although the resolution was similar to all others.

But what happens when you audition and luck never comes your way? What happens when you pour your heart, soul and savings into your dream, but all you get is rejection?
Don’t Think Twice is beautiful in its insight-funny and painful, sometimes at the same time-because it recognizes that some of us will simply not make the cut in the end. In a culture in which everybody gets a participation trophy, it not only feels refreshing, but honest.

A-

The English Patient

The_English_Patient_Poster

This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

The Breakfast Club

breakfastclub19

One of the students that sat with me yesterday had doubts on how to proceed with an essay prompt assigned to her by the professor. The prompt read something like, “Can children overcome the negative influence exerted on them by their parents?”

This student wanted to argue in favor of children being able to free themselves from their parent’s burdens, but was not sure the reasons that would lead to such liberation.
Had I seen The Breakfast Club, I would have told her to go watch the movie instead, and would have saved us both half an hour of conversation.

Complaining about parents is always a tricky thing to get compassion for, since every teen seems to be naturally predisposed to object to their parents behavior once they reach a certain age, no matter how saintly mom and dad are. Some mothers and father however, are truly the stuff of nightmare. While physical violence may be the first thing to pop to mind, it is not the only one. Infidelities, lack of respect, poor financial responsibility, extreme demands, are only some of the things parents can ruin their children with. It is certainly the case with the five kids at the heart of this comedy. But just like my conversation with the student yesterday ended on a hopeful note, because our own personal choices can move us past the mess our parents left for us, so it is here. So we lift our fists up to the sky, victorious.

B

Logan

logan-poster-wolverine-3

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+