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.
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.
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.
Seeing Jena Malone reminds me of my childhood, of that time, very long ago, where I watched her in a movie about high school cheaters with my mom and sisters. I don’t recall anything about the movie, not even if I actually watched it from start to end, but I do recall my family sitting around the television, and Jena Malone’s face in it.
Christians could learn a lot from examining a shot that occurs 3/4 into The Innocents. A Mother Superior has taken a baby from one of her nuns to bring it to a family for adoption. Only, she is actually going to leave it in the middle of a snowy field for the baby to die. She places the baby and the basket on the cold ground, but before she leaves, the Mother Superior takes the care of rubbing oil on the creature’s head, baptizing it.
Look on Hosea 6:6, and ponder.
A despairing thought that pops into my mind every so often has to do with the plague of violence that has been overrunning my country for over a decade now. My nation, which shall remain unnamed, harbors similar social and financial conditions as to those displayed in City of God. As the camera cut from one subject to the next, unrelenting in its energy, I had that thought again.
It goes like this. I do not think that the violence and crime epidemic of my country will ever go away because it is much easier to point a gun at someone and steal a pair of shoes in a matter of minutes, than it is to work five times a day for a meager salary in order to afford one.
More than any other movie that I can remember, and probably because it was made in Latin America, where the devils they fight are much more different than the demons of the United States, City of God perfectly illustrates the culture of death and corruption that is so ingrained in our poor, destitute nations.
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.
One of the passages of Scripture that I keep coming back to again and again is Genesis 18:25. “Will not the judge of all earth do what is right?” It is the trump card Abraham plays when trying to get Him to spare Sodom and Gomorrah; God agrees, of course.
I bring this up because one of the talking heads in Last Days in Vietnam says they had no way of knowing whether the refugees that were being airlifted out of Saigon were deserving of rescue. They were just doing the best they could.
When I think that justice on a massive scale is impossible, it’s because there is no way of gauging every individual human experience. For instance, the Vietnamese ransacked the embassy once they realized the Americans had betrayed them and left them behind. They could not know how the Americans were risking career, and in some cases even life, to get as many locals out as they could.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong side to this scenario, but then where is justice? Both sides have equally valid and weighty arguments, so what gives?
Multiply that on a global scale and you see what I mean when I talk of the nonexistence of justice. It is not pure bleak and despair, however. Since believers in the resurrection know that the judge of all the earth will eventually do what is right, we can rest and do the best we can, for ourselves and others.
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”