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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty (2016) and the Philiosphies of Existence

By On 5:44 AM

Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Micheal Pena
Directed By: David Frankel
Written By: Allen Loeb
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Rating: D+

My Thoughts:
Collateral Beauty is a film that could lead to your next existential crisis.  It’s a film that is quite perceptive when it comes to delving deep into many cosmic abstractions. However, its characters are far from that, resulting in a transparent film that strays completely away from the thought provoking themes it’s characters are supposed to be shedding light upon.

Will Smith stars as Howard, a successful corporate executive who loses his daughter to cancer. Unable to fully accept her death and move on, he isolates himself from his friends, family and co-executives, resulting in the decline of his business because he also refuses to talk to any of their clients. This man is going through severe pain and because of the feel-good nature of the trailers, you would think the purpose of the film is about his friends helping him get his life back? Well, boy, are you in for a surprise because when he and his fellow co-executive friends, played by Kate Winslet, Michael Pena and Edward Norton, are offered a great deal of money for their company, they come up with a scheme to prove his mental incompetence to the board, so that they will have the authority to take they deal without him. They hire three actors to the play the roles of three abstractions that Howard has been writing letters to. They’re to follow him and engage him in these philosophical conversations about these abstractions while his co-executive film the entire thing, so they can edit the actor out and it’ll look like Howard is talking to no one. However, like The 2001 animated film, Waking Life, this film also explores some of the concepts that make up our existence on Earth and like Howard, the main character in Waking Life goes around having these existential conversations with strangers about things like love, dreaming, power and even time.

 “Time” explains that we place too much importance on him and in doing so we’re merely wasting it. It feels like there’s not enough time for anything, but in actuality we actually have all the time in world. “Death” says that everyone is dying. We see it every time we look in the mirror, but we ignore it until it catches up with us and then we blame it for all our problems. And lastly, “Love” states she’s within what makes us happy, but also in how we hurt. But how do we deal with love and pain if they’re just two different sides of the same coin? What are we supposed to do with all this time we’re supposedly wasting? And how do we go on living our lives when we know we’re all to die and more importantly, why should we?

There’s no explanation to what we are supposed to do with these things which feels like the most important thing because Howard’s whole dilemma is that he doesn’t know what to do. We live, find love, have a family, watch our children grow up and then we die and the movie uses this this as one possible answers for the meaning of life, but none of the characters in this film can follow the supposed path for a perfect life. Howard’s love has died with his daughter whom he’ll never see grow up. One of his co-executives played by Michael Pena has cancer and he will ultimately lose the opportunity to watch his children grow up, too. Edward Norton is a recent divorcee with a daughter who doesn’t want to see him. Kate Winslet has never married, leaving her also loveless and without children. All four of them have lost very important things, yet refuse to see Howard’s pain even though he’s lost the most. These enlightening conversations are supposed to help him find another meaning to live, but he doesn’t mainly because the conversations were set up for malicious reasons. In the end, Howard accepts his daughter’s death, but the film never explores how that actually happened.

 We get the what, when, where, why and how, but the film never attempts to explain the meaning of life simply because it can’t. No one can. Collateral Beauty does the same thing, but it actually does provide us with one of the possible meanings of life. However, when this proves to be untrue for everyone, the film is supposed to give Howard another reason to live, but it doesn’t, which just defeats the movie’s purpose and while time is one of the film’s most important themes, the film actually seems like a waste of ours.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Movie Review: Moonlight (2016) and Color, Character Development, Identity and Boyhood

By On 2:54 AM

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders
Directed By: Barry Jenkins
Written By: Barry Jenkins
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Rating: A+

My Thoughts:
In Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins uses everything other than our main character to tell his story. Chiron, our main protagonist, is brilliantly played by three different actors (Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert) to physically show his development from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. However, even though we physically see Chiron age, it’s the film’s vibrant color palette that tells us all we really need to know about who Chiron is, even though he really doesn’t seem to know himself. Chiron is our central protagonist and he rarely ever leaves the center of the frame because of it, but it’s because of his quiet nature that we don’t explicitly get the sense of who Chiron is and we’re seemingly left in the dark about his identity just as much as he is.

The first chuck of the film is titled Little, after a nickname the neighborhood kids have given Chiron. In just the first few scenes, we're shown what is essentially the essence of childhood. The camera is shaky and it quickly pans from child to child as they run around chasing each other and tossing footballs around, but Jenkins shows us that there's more to childhood than just this playful aspect. This chunk of the film is also about how the aspect of identity is introduced to children and how they go about creating this image for themselves. Chiron is asked who he wants to be on more than one occasion, to which he simply shrugs because at this point in his life, he doesn't have to define himself because he's a child and that's how it should be. However, while he doesn't feel the need to, society does and because he knows no other way to be and no one is telling him that he can just be himself, he is whatever everyone else tells him to be and that is "Little". The neighborhood bullies not only bully him for being small, but they throw homophobic slurs at him as well. As a child not really knowing what sexuality is, in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, Chiron goes to see Duan the drug dealer and his girlfriend, Teresa, who have taken him is a their surrogate son, and he asks them what a "faggot" means. While he may not agree with their words after he's told what it means, he just takes it because he doesn't really know what to do. All he's ever known is other people's opinions of him, so he takes the abuse. This is finalized when the boys are looking at their genitals in the school bathroom and Chiron walks in. With the camera positioned higher, he appears little both to us and the bullies and as the scene ends, Chiron walks towards them with his head down in defeat. 

Speaking of identity, Richard Linklater's 2014 film, Boyhood, is also a film about identity and it's also told from the prospective of a young boy over different chucks of his life. We see Mason grow like we do with Chiron, however, Mason's actor stays the same. Like Chiron, Mason is also constantly asked by others who he wants to be and like Chiron, he doesn't really have an answer. However, unlike Chiron, Mason gets a chance to explore different aspects of himself and become the person he wants to be. While the adults ask Mason who he wants to be in the context of his role in society, he does also grow as a person. Constantly, adults ask him who he wants to be in the way adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up. Mason wants to take pictures and he has the ability to not only do that, but he also have the opportunity to explore other career options as well, interacting with the people in his life in a somewhat positive matter. It's not like that for Chiron. When Duan the drug dealer asks him who he wants to be, he's asking not in a societal context, but in a more literal one. Does he want to be like the bullies at school? Does he want to be tough? Or does he want to go on taking these other kid's nonsense for the sake of being nice and preserving any sort of innocence he has left. Also nothing really happens in Boyhood. There is conflict and there is a point to the film, but the film is not a character study as Moonlight is. Mason is not this singular character, he is all of us. He's a seemingly bland, unspectacular young man, but that so he can easily be whomever is watching the film. The whole point of the film Boyhood is not to see the world through Mason's eyes and understand him as a person because his character is seemingly irrelevant. We see him grow and change, but again, it's supposed to represent us watching ourselves grow and change. These seemingly bland situations are relatable to pretty much anyone who watches the film, so instead of watching everything unfold from this young man's perspective, we're watching it from our own as if we're children again ourselves and that we're the ones growing up on the screen. It's meant to be universal to everyone, so that when they look up at the screen and watch Mason go through life, it's as if they've got a second chance at childhood. Chiron's experience is singular in the aspect that we're watching his life unfold and this is merely his experience. It's specificity is key in understanding how as humans build our identities from childhood, however, just from another perspective and an interesting one at that because Chiron's story is one we don't hear about often.

As we move forward to examine Chiron's teenage years, we see that nothing much has really changed. The bullies still pick on him and they say the same kinds of things they were saying to Chiron when they were kids. However, now Chiron has more of an opportunity to become his own person and more of an opportunity to stand up for himself. However, because he was denied the opportunity to try and understand himself at a young age, he now struggles with attempting to try and become who he believes he should be now that he's older. The title of this chapter in Chiron's life is Chiron in accordance to his struggle to find himself. When he was younger, he was whatever people told him to be. Now, he longs to get the opportunity he was denied when he was a child to become his own person because Little is no longer little. He wants to be himself. He wants to be Chiron, but instead he becomes someone completely different.

In the last little section, titled Black after name a nickname Kevin, the boy he had his first sexual encounter with, gave him. While he thinks he is set in his uber masculine identity as a hardened drug dealer, he still isn't happy, which can be understood via the film's very unique color palette. Color in film is typically associated with the tone of a scene or the emotions of a character in that scene. Take the movie, Inside Out, for example, each of the characters are literally human emotions and they’re designed after the colors typically associated with that emotion. Blue is typically related to feelings of sadness and isolation and not only is blue the color of the character Sadness in Inside Out, but it is also the color that paints Chiron’s world, especially during his adult years because he now regrets who he's become. 

His mother, a constant negative factor in life, is a drug addict who is never seen without a touch of blue to her wardrobe, which ironically consists of a nurse’s uniform even though she’s far from caring. Though she appears put together at times especially even when Chiron meets her after she’s put herself in rehab, the blue color in her clothing reminds us of all the bad things she’s put her son through and how it could easily come all back if she relapses. During the few times where Chiron is at ease, such as the scene where he’s sitting in his bathroom, there’s not a stretch of blue to be seen. The bathroom walls are bright white with pops of yellow tiles as a sign of hope that things will eventually get better, but the blues always seem to return. Kevin is one of the few positive people in his life. Like Chiron’s bathroom walls, Kevin typically appears in white and puts Chiron’s worries at ease when they’re together. However, Kevin is pressured by the bullies of the school to beat poor Chiron up and it’s not coincidental that he wears a blue shirt that same day. It’s after that he’s provoked enough to turn into the bully that was keeping him down, however, it’s because of that yellow shirt he’s wearing during the scence that we can at least hope for a better future for Chiron, but we're merely disappointed when we see who he's become.

And in his adulthood, the amount of blue we see is intensified. While the blues were lighter in tone towards Chiron's younger years, in his adult years, the blues are mysterious and dark. They're almost so blue, that they're black like the name he's given himself. He never got the opportunity to try and be himself when he was a kid, so now he's stuck in a life that's not his own as a drug dealer. When he meets Kevin again, the two chat and catch up. He's also taken notice of Chiron's new identity and he, too, knows this isn't who Chiron was supposed to become.

The last time we met Kevin, he was wearing his bright blue shirt and kicking the snot out of Chiron. Now he runs a restaurant and he's wearing bright white, chef's attire like some sort of angel destined to save Chiron and that's what we assume. However, once they make it back to Kevin's home, they chat some more and Kevin suddenly changes into a blue shirt and blue has already been designated the color of sadness and a sign that something bad is going to happen. Afterwards, they have sex and we see the two of them together and the film shortly ends afterwards. This could spell out two different endings to Chiron's story. He could change and he and Kevin could end up living happily ever after because that's what we want for Chiron. However, not every story has a happy ending. Kevin and Chiron sleep together, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all will be well. These two men have lived very different lives and there are something you just can't take back. Chiron probably can't just up and leave the drug business behind for Kevin. They haven't even begun to get to know each other. Realistically, Chiron may end up leaving Kevin's house and make his way back to the new life he's created for himself, even though it's not the life he wants to be leading. 

So who is Chiron, really? Is he really a hardened drug fiend or is still the sweet young man we previously met? On the outside during his adulthood, he seems quite cold, but he is also somewhat successful in his craft like Duan, his drug dealing father figure. This is especially true as they wear similar gangster styled clothing and gold teeth, but we’ll never know how he turns out. We can only hope for something better, but it’s not as if we really knew who Chiron was in the first place.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Top 10 Films of 2016

By On 4:08 AM

While I know this is a tad bit late as we're about two weeks into 2017 now, it's apparent that I've fallen off the blogging horse. So, in order to be myself back into blogging, I've decided to do something short and sweet and by compiling a list of my top 10 favorite films from 2016.

10. Audrie & Daisy - Images via IMDB
Similar to 2015's The Haunting Ground, Audrie & Daisy is also a documentary about rape and sexual assault with an emphasis on cyber bullying. However, what this film does better than The Haunting Ground is that it makes these young women's' stories feel personal enough to the point where you feel as if you actually know them. It's this aspect that makes the film different from your run-of-the-mill documentary and one I highly recommend.

9. Hail, Caesar! - Images via IMDB
Hail, Caesar is a film that I enjoyed a lot although I didn't initially expect much from it. It's the kind of movie "film studies people" like myself would enjoy simply because of the fact it's basically a homage to the ages of Classical Hollywood cinema. Though the story is a bit underwhelming and it lacks a bit in the substance department, the performances, dialogue and costume and set designs make up for it immensely.

8. Hush - Images via IMDB
Hush is a film I thought that I would turn on to play in the background as I did some work. While I initially shrugged it off as just some bad, horror movie, after the first couple of minutes, I was completely hooked. I was so involved in everything that was happening in the film that I completely ignored all of my work. This film is like a breath of fresh air for the horror genre and I applaud the director, Mike Flanagan, for proving to everyone watching that horror isn't dead yet.

7. 10 Cloverfield Lane - Images via IMDB
This is another film I didn't expect much from that unexpectedly surprised me. From start to finish, I was on the edge of my seat trying to piece together what exactly was going on. And it didn't hurt that the cinematography was gorgeous. I know little to nothing about the previous Cloverfield movie, but I followed along here with no confusion at all as this movie's focus seems completely different from whatever Cloverfield was about. It was also refreshing to see a thriller that wasn't either a crappy Lifetime movie or a rip off of Gone Girl, so I'm looking forward to seeing what else Dan Trachtenberg will be doing in the future.

6. The Neon Demon - via IMDB
A majority, if not all of my friends hated this movie. I, on the other hand, adored it. I didn't get to see it in theaters, but I wish I had. It's not only stunning visually, but there's a lot more to this film than most people think. A lot of people say that the film is more "style over substance" and that it's a bit hollow and this is true if you merely take the film for what you see on the screen because then it's an incomprehensible mess. If you dig deeper you'll see that it's not the characters telling the story, but everything else around them and I can appreciate any film that makes me think the way this one does. Plus, Jena Malone.

5. Nocturnal Animals - via IMDB
I knew this film was going to be good. I just knew it and as usual, I was right. What it did well was that it told three different stories interchangeably, cutting to another story at just the right time. And each one is distinctly interesting in it's own way, though some more so than others. However, like The Neon Demon, there's more to this tale than what you see on the screen. Its a tale of revenge, yes, as we physically see Amy Adams stand in front of a portrait that reads, "REVENGE", in big, bold text, but it is also about the integrity of artists and the artistic expression, which is something I can get behind. Also, Jenna Malone again, even though she was only in about 2 scenes.

4. Zootopia - Images via IMDB
Zootopia is a delightfully animated film that's not only fun, but it's smart in the aspect that it has an obvious message, but it doesn't detract from the story to say what it has to say. It's executed in a way that's cute and fun enough for children and provocative and enlightening enough for adults who want to see something more than just some talking animals. If this film doesn't win the award for Best Animated Feature, I'm going to jump off a cliff.

3. The Lobster - Images via IMDB
This film left me in awe. From it's absurdist plot to its unusually monotone characters to it's ultimately brutal ending, this film is different from anything I've ever seen before. However, it does connect well with the struggles of modern dating. It's a satire and it's not to be taken at face value by any means, but the critique behind the strange dialogue and even stranger character interactions is both engaging and elegant.

2. Moonlight - Images via IMDB
Here we have another film that left me completely in awe, but for many different reasons than the other films. This film is heartbreaking, but it holds such a large understanding of the human experience including themes such as loneliness, isolation, sexuality and most importantly, identity and how we shape ourselves in a world where who we want to be may not be accepted by others. It's such a specific film and that's why the film shines. The hardships Chiron faces are specific to him and those like him as most of us have nor will we ever experience the things he's been through. However, though most people can't relate to Chiron's story in its entirety, the overall message of the film is quite universal.

1. La La Land - Images via IMDB
I'm a sucker for a good musical and this film did not let me down one bit. What this film did for me was what Singing in the Rain did for it's audiences in the 50's, however this film completely rejects many thematic aspects of the typical Classical Hollywood musical. But even though it rejects those certain methods to keep the film fresh and different, it also celebrates what made those kinds of movies great with wonderful tap-dance numbers and gigantic, over-the-top musical numbers with beautiful costume design at the same time. It's clever, beautiful and overall, just a very personal film which you can tell all from the way it was shot. This is the second masterpiece by Damien Chazelle and, ultimately, my favorite movie of the year.

This was a hard list to make. There were so many great films that came out this year and so many films that I didn't get to see that I wish I had because they probably would've made this list. But I am very excited for the new year and for the many films to come during the new year, so keep reading.

And thank you.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Movie Review: Maggie (2015) and the A Bit on the Zombie Genre

By On 11:47 AM
Maggie (2015) 

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Written By: John Scott 3
Directed By: Henry Hobson
Release Date: May 8, 2015
Rating: B

My Thoughts: 
Maggie does something that you don't see often in your typical zombie movie and that's what makes it so special. What it lacks in blood, guts and gore, it makes up with it's heart. However, this film is not about survival, neither is it about finding out exactly how the outbreak happened. Maggie is about the bond  between a father and daughter and what lengths we'd go through for the ones we love even though we know there's really nothing that can be done. We've seen the zombie film done time and time again, such as in the comedic form (Shaun of the Dead, Life After Beth, Zombieland), the dramatic form (The Walking Dead) and the action form (Resident Evil), but what many of these films fail to touch on is how the outbreak directly effects the victim of the virus and their loved ones and this is exactly one of the reasons why Maggie stands apart from the rest of these kinds of films within the zombie genre.
Maggie, our titular character, is played by Abigail Breslin and the film begins with her telling her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that she's been bitten and that he's not to come for her. However, he does. Once he finds her at the hospital, he brings her home so that she can spend her last days with her family. The most important factor of this film is that Maggie is dying and there's no coming back from that. She will turn into a zombie and it's inevitable, which is why the film is a zombie film, however, there's a bit more to this particular sub-genre than that. Zombie films, while overtly disgusting and usually un-tasteful, constantly remind us our innate need to survive as a society. While most films within the genre build their worlds around this epidemic, the fall of society and the struggle to stay alive, Maggie takes a completely different route in exploring the different aspects of the zombie film. While there's an apocalypse occurring in the film, Maggie and her family are isolated from everything going on. They're far enough from the city to live peacefully for a while. But for how long?  Zombie films repeatedly revolve around the theme of survival and Maggie could've taken the route of the typical zombie film and made itself about an impending zombie attack on Maggie and her family. But it doesn't. It's about death, but more so about the acceptance of death. We understand that death is coming and we all know that one day we have to die because this is just a fact. However, as we we sit back and watch these characters in other zombie films try to survive, we're sucked in the more they get attacked. Why? Because like them, we want to survive. We want them to survive because that need is biologically embedded in us. And it's because we're so focused on them surviving, we tend to forget that everyone eventually dies. Whether it be by a zombie bite, a gunshot to the forehead or old age, these people are going to die and Maggie, however, is based around this fact. Though Maggie still has a bit of humanity left in her as she transforms and she can function like a human, the reality of the whole situation is told to us again and again. Maggie is going to die and there's nothing that can be done. She's accepted this fact, but her family, on the other hand, has not. 

Though we know little about Maggie and her family, we can see the toll that this virus has taken on them. Throwing out the idea that this film is a character study, like most other zombie films are, the point of it isn't to know these characters personally. Why? Because they're going to die, so the film doesn't need to create these in-depth introductions.We aren't supposed to explore their lives, partially because this epidemic has fully changed them to the point of no return. They're no longer the people they were, so the film strictly focuses on their interactions in the present with their dying daughter and how she lives out her last few days as a human. We get a bit of exposition simply because we need some sort of connection with these people, but, again, it's not the point on the film. It's striving to prove that there's more than guts, blood and other horrific elements to the zombie film. And it's as Maggie becomes more zombie-like that film transforms into the horror film it's advertised as, as most, if not all, zombie films are. There's guns, violence and blood and although the film is already slow,the further along she is in her transformation, the slower the film becomes. And the more grotesque and violent Maggie becomes, the more unnerved we are as every scene is ambianced with soft, unsettling music and even though Maggie hasn't completely gone full-on zombie, we know it's eventually going to happen and the scariest part is that we don't know when it's going to happen. Throughout the first half of the film, Maggie's parents ignore her virus. They know it's there, but they cover her wounds up with bandages and even Maggie wears sunglasses to cover up her newly turned icy-blue eyes, but soon it gets to the point where we can't ignore Maggie's transformation. And as Maggie slumps around the house, we're more uncomfortable that at any moment she's going to hurt someone rather than about the fact she's going to die. 

While there's an importance on death in this film, there's more of an importance about the acceptance of death. Again, everyone knows Maggie is going to die, they just choose to try and ignore it until it happens, so Maggie takes things into her own hands and jumps off the roof. In a beautiful, fluid scene we don't see Maggie actually die, but we see the parts of her we didn't really get to explore of her life when she was alive. As Maggie frolicks through the flowers with he mother, we realize that not only is death inevitable, but there's also a beauty in it as well.


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