Dunkirk

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After thinking on it for twelve hours, I feel confident enough to say Dunkirk bored the bejesus out of me. It is also filmmaking at its finest, one of the extremely rare motion pictures that can, from the opening to closing frame, be called art.

There was a piece on The Guardian earlier this week, calling Dunkirk the first film in Christopher Nolan’s career to merit comparison to the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. While there were some making the same assessment three years ago when Insterstellar came out, pitting it against 2001: A Space Odyssey, I found it a premature judgement. I love Insterstellar, but it is far too emotional and weepy to be Kubrickian.

With Dunkirk, I was emotionally invested in none of the characters whatsoever; I admired the picture more than anything else. I recognize the great care and detail that went into every aspect of its making, and I applaud it. Was it a good time at the movies? Absolutely not. I even checked my clock once. Is this one of the best films I’ve seen this year? Absolutely yes.

A+

War for the Planet of the Apes

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There have been 2 films in 2017 that have brought to mind Spartacus: Blood and Sand, my favorite television series: Logan, the elegiac superhero swan song, and War for the Planet of the Apes, a stellar capping off to mainstream cinema’s most thoughtful and moving trilogies.

The show’s exploration of vengeance and forgiveness is truly fascinating, putting on display the “enormous darkness of the heart” that one of the apes mentions to Caesar (Andy Serkis) during the final installment. It is also an unforgiving look into the lives of slaves, and the horrors they are forced to commit for the sake of their masters. However, instead of being preachy it becomes insightful. In its final season, the slaves, now holding all of the power, start committing atrocities against innocents. They have excuses for it, of course, but should bloodshed ever be rationalized?

War for the Planet of the Apes seems like a fluke in the Hollywood blockbuster churning machine. For a movie with conflict in the title, there are only two battles: one at the beginning and one at the end, tremendous set pieces that brim with suspense and emotion from start to finish.
The film is more concerned with the struggle waged in men’s souls, that constant struggle between turning the other cheek and raining fire from the sky, between tolerance and dictatorship.
The human race did not lose the planet because of a few battles against monkeys, but because in the vital, deciding moment in which the trigger had to be pulled or not, the apes gave us another chance, but we did not return the favor.
And of what good is Earth if our spirit has turned dark? Nature has a way of correcting course, so the worthy ones will inherit the planet.

A

 

Baby Driver

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Five minutes into Baby Driver, and tears were welling up in my eyes. The great craft and detail they put into the car chases, the score, the reaction shots, was evident, but what got me was something else.
It was not the sense of fun, either, present from first to last frame.
I think that what made me emotional was recognizing a dying breed of cinema. Being face to face with a movie that proudly waves the flag of “there’s more to film than superheroes and sequels, look I promise!”.

You made me look Baby Driver, you sure did make me look. I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

B+

99 Homes

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I really detest movies like this one. 99 Homes runs for 112 minutes, and for 92 of them it is a solid, smartly assembled morality play that even seems to function as a thriller at times. It was on its way of becoming one of the most pleasant surprises of this year, a movie that really got my brain grinding, and then, that disastrous, stupid, stupid, and maudlin climax.

I’m supposed to accept the fact that an eight year old, who up until that point worried only about sports and having a pool, suddenly matures to the point that he is able to discern what a crappy thing his dad is doing, engaging in deals with the devil?

And then I see a drunk and morose Andrew Garfield, the camera lingering on a firearm at his side for a few seconds, as he questions whether his new life is worth losing his family over.

And then that heroic confession, facing down the barrel of a rifle, surrounded by the police!

I swear, it’s like those final 20 minutes were churned out by the Disney factory, or some other author who makes works for children. Gah, I am still frustrated!

C+

Mistress America

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It is a rare and fortunate thing, to realize as you’re watching it, that you have a new movie to add to your favorites.
I wish I could hug this script, wish I was there when the collaborative duo Baumbach-Gerwig was working on it, wish I could write as genius, hilarious, confident, moving, wish I could see again and again the scene in which Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is reading her soon to be ex step sister’s story, flips the page around but the other five people that are also reading it tell her to not flip the page so quickly, as they have not finished reading yet.

A

Mulholland Dr.

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Rarely does a film enthrall and stupefy me the way Mulholland Dr. accomplished. It burrowed into my brain and played out in my dreams, as I went to bed last night and had visions of Silencio, and a California cowboy and Diane (Naomi Watts) and Betty (Naomi Watts), and Betty and Diane and the incredible, absolutely incredible performance delivered by a never better Naomi Watts, in the role that launched her to stardom and it is so easy to see why, her performance appearing to be one of `50s and `60s Hollywood at first, but then morphing into something completely different, more maniacal and sadder.

As I see it, the plot follows Betty after she ordered her ex lover killed, and the regrets that she experiences after the fact. Am I wrong? If you have seen this movie before, please tell me how wrong I am, please, please, I would like to hear your examination and reading of this movie, because they do not make them this way before, actually they probably never made them this way, so unique this picture is, God bless David Lynch forever.

A

Alien: Covenant

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The fact that I have never watched Alien nor its beloved sequel Aliens must surely influence the fact that I do not comprehend the hate Alien:Covenant and the prequel Prometheus seem to receive on the internet.

I will make my way to the remaining two movies eventually, but I wanted to begin with what Ridley Scott said was the start, and so far I have not been disappointed. I loved the idea that the director set out to explore in Prometheus-where does humanity come from?-, and while his reach certainly exceeded his grasp, it felt good to see a million dollar blockbuster film tackle such a complex theme.

Similarly, I also enjoyed Alien:Covenant, and how it turned David (Michael Fassbender) into some sort of  Wagner loving, Shelley quoting Dr. Frankenstein, pitying humankind while at the same time envying them. The creature action was certainly fun, but not as much as seeing David destroy an entire city, or seeing him teach how to play the flute to Walter (Michael Fassbender).

The problem with both of these movies is that a). they cost a pretty penny to finance, and thus b). the studio needs its money back. Had Prometheus been advertised as simply another science fiction, space exploration movie, perhaps it would have been better received by all those disappointed that it did not live up to the first two in the series, let alone even feature the famous alien. But this seems to be the current trend in Hollywood. Nothing that has no prior fan recognition can get green lit anymore, which should be immensely more troubling and depressing than a movie not featuring enough of the space monsters fans grew up with.

B+

American Honey

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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-

Logan

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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+