Monday, September 26, 2016

Movie Review: Dogtooth (2009)

Image result for dogtooth poster
Dogtooth (2009)
Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Angeliki Papoulia
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written By: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou
Release Date: November 9, 2009
Rating: A
Summary: Three kids are forced by their over-protective parents to stay within their home until their dog tooth falls out.

My Thoughts: While words and dialogue mean a lot in the world of cinema, what is even an even greater aspect of cinema is what can be interpreted from these words. Cinema is about how you take what you've seen and heard in order to construct coherent thoughts simply from what you've seen. And this 2009 Academy Award Nominated film that put Yorgos Lanthimos on the map in America tells us a story that will not just leave you on the edge of your seat, but one that will have you question everything you've just seen.
 Yorgos Lanthimos is a great director in the aspect that he makes films that are like nothing you've ever seen before. They're shocking, explicit and frankly, just weird, but they are works of art in themselves as Lanthimos rejects the cliche, as so many writers wish to do, and embraces the obscurities of our society in his work and Dogtooth is no exception.

 The film centers on a group of kids forced by their overly protective parents to never leave their home until their dog tooth falls out. At the start of the film we're merely told what's what and from there we follow these children's lives, having everything develop as days go on and the terrifying implication behind such simple statements like that settle in because it hits us a little later on in the film that the dog tooth will never come out and the children will be forced to stay here forever. That's the kicker and what starts off as this seemingly satirical, dark comedy turns into some nightmarish, horror flick as the biological nature within these young adults begins to unfurl as they grow up confined in their home. From the very start of the film, we understand that these not only do these kids have little to no knowledge about the outside world as they call "saltshakers" "telephones" and are fearful of simple house cats as they believe that they are extremely dangerous creatures. They don't even have names and it is not because they can't, but because they don't understand the concept behind it. All we can characterize these children by are their ages and genders, giving them our own names like "The Boy" or "The Older Girl" because they don't have real ones of their own. And it is only when they begin to wonder about the world outside of their home and why things are they way they are that these children begin to develop who they are as people. They begin to become individuals, even going as far as having one of them create a name for themselves, only to have the other one possibly killed in search of that same kind of individuality. And this all stems from their parent's totalitarian dictation of the way they act, all done in a sick way of protecting them from the evils of the outside world. 

But what their parents fail to realize is that they're all grown up and still trapped within the confines of their own home, a seemingly brightly colored and lit home, but a restrictive one with bright brick walls smiling around them to block any outside access that they're told is there to help them, proving it's not just their father restricting them by deterring them with his words, but the walls as well. They live in the middle of nowhere and they have no idea about what goes on in outside of their home, but interestingly, neither do we. We get a glimpse of society, but we're given a limited view of the world that the children are missing and like them, we're confined to their home to watch them as the madness unfolds.

You can take what you want from the film as it can be interpreted in numerous ways whether it be a political statement on the concept of power and control in a sort of totalitarian unbringing or one on the autonomy of children and that is clever on part of Lanthimos. However, what you see on the screen is that the parents have over their children lives, extending their childhood by taking away every obstacle a person tends to face as they grow up. Everything is carefree as the children are told what to believe and how to act as with children, but the things is, these children are not children, they're adults. And even more so, all children grow up as some point. They soon begin to act out and become individuals who crave knowledge and experience sexual urge and no matter how hard their parents may try, they cannot wipe out biology and it's in that conflict where things begin to go downhill.

 And the peaks and falls of the film are quite unpredictable as tensions during the children's "endurance games" wanes off quickly as they bounce onto the next one after they almost die. No scene is too melodramatic because the set up for the next one is completely different as we bounce from the children passing out after they've chloroformed themselves to them eating at the kitchen table directly afterwards. There's always some sort of movement no matter how big or small it may be as it all leads and while Dogtooth may have you muttering, "What the fuck..." as it's credits roll, it's a bizarre nightmare that will either leave you up at night thinking about it's powerful themes or cursing the director's name, but it's an experience to see this film nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Movie Review: White Bird in a Blizzard (2014) and The Power of Words

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni
Written By: Gregg Akari
Directed By: Gregg Akari
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Rating: B- 

My Thoughts: Words are really all a story has. It's the stuff a story is made out of, yet it's intangible. However, that is only in theory. Words are tangible when they touch you, when they make you feel certain things and react in certain ways when they're uttered and w hen you craft a work, whether it be a script or a novel, it's created out of words and it's those words that make your story come to life. 

And the words that begin this film are, "I was 17 years old when my mother disappeared." And the plot is as simple as that and soon we're introduced to Kat, played by Shailene Woodley, who now has to pick up the pieces of not only her own life, but her father's, too, (played by a surprisingly, well-rounded Christopher Meloni) as she grows up without her mother. However, what appears to be a coming-of-age story about Kat's sexual awakening in lieu of her mother's disappearance soon turns into a chilling thriller when Kat begins to really question just what happened to her mother. But before anyone can figure out just what happened to her, what they must do first is figure out who she was before she went missing and that's exactly what Kat is doing her, but now she's realizing just how much her mother's life has touched her own.

The timeline of the film explains not only who Kat's mother (Eva Green) was, but it gives us a bit of background on the whole family. The timeline jumps around obscenely, but it's because of this obscene skewed timeline that the dysfunctions within Kat's family come to light. Her mother was this picture perfect woman to Kat and pretty much everyone around her. However, she slowly became bitter as time went on and her marriage sort of fizzled out and she became ordinary and this appears to have driven her a little bit crazy. And as the innocent bystanders of this dysfunctional household, we, like Kat begin to slowly notice how things have changed even though the film keeps bumping around from flashback to flashback. When we're introduced to Kat's parents, we can sense that strain already at the dinner table as no one speaks to one another. When they look at each other, it's full of contempt and awkwardness. Then we jump into the past to see how much her parents loved each other in the past, then we see them fight as Kat lies down in her bed, listening. And then we cut to Kat and her own boyfriend (Shiloh Fernandez) who were more in love than ever, but then we see their relationship starts to fizzle out just as her parents did, but its only after her mother goes missing that she begins to see the relationship for what it truly was. However, it is not until the film's final act where we see everything come together as Kat as aged into a full-fledged adult that we truly see how everything has affected her relationships with her friends and father and most importantly, her love life and the poetic dialog and narration help aid us along to know what Kat thinks about her transformation, as if we were reading her diary.

And this film is one that reads like a novel, or a diary of sorts, and while it is based off of a novel, each piece of dialogue between the characters and each narration over a scene sounds is so otherworldly and poetic, it's dreamlike and unrealistic, yet these are real people saying and doing these things. This movie is like a giant dream sequence itself, not exactly a thriller, like it's proposed to be, nor a real drama, both because of the fact it lacks the realness or authenticity to make the intensity of our lead's mother's disappearance anything worth looking into ourselves. And neither does it make her sexual awakening and frustrations with her mother and boyfriend anything worth caring about or tying into our own lives. And I must say, it's because of the unique beauty of the dialogue and narration that we're pulled out of the story, as there seems to be such a disconnect from what she's saying and what we're seeing, but what we see on the screen is what draws us back in to what's going on in this maddening, beautiful film.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Soundscape



This was sort of an easier assignment since I got the basics down with the last one. However, I didn't get to check out one of the audio recorders, but as with other projects, I just used my phone as a recorder because has quite good audio detection! It honestly was much, much easier than using the NH4. Plus, I didn't need to buy any batteries for it, so that was great too.

The Macro/Micro sounds were a compliation of sounds inside-and-outside of my dorm, mainly inside and for my Sound Machine I used a single bag of popcorn and rustled it around, shook it and eventually I popped it and ate and and recorded all of that process as part of the "Machine."


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Movie Review: Ghost World and Growing Up, Uncertainty and Purpose


Image result for ghost world poster

Ghost World (2001)

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson
Written By: Daniel Clowes
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff
Release Date: September 21, 2001
Rating: C+

Summary: After graduating high school, two friends try to figure out what they're going to do with their lives.                                             

My Thoughts: "In a world where nothing is what it seems. In a time of uncertainty...."

 In this quote, we have described what this film is about: uncertainty.  Uncertainty about the future and what we're supposed to expect from it. What if it doesn't turn out how we want? What are we supposed to be doing with our lives? And how are we going to do it? We have a film about how nothing seems to be what they appear to be as people appear to have it together when they do not, people appear to be 100% set on what they want to do even though they are not and in these kinds of observations lie this uncertainty that consumes our two main characters as they live their existence out in this place called the Ghost World.When we meet our two main characters, Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) and Enid (Thora Birch), they've just graduated high school and don't have many plans except finding an apartment and living together. They're outcasts, but more importantly, they're smart and funny and they live in this "Ghost World", but they know this about themselves and more importantly, they accept it and act however they want; unapologetically so, mainly because they have one another and while the film doesn't expect you to like these girls, nor does it care if you do, I didn't care for them that much.  

These two title characters are best friends and Thora Birch returns as an off-beat misfit, as previously played in American Beauty, and Scarlett Johansson stars as her similarly angsty sidekick and it's not their performances that put me off as they're honest and again, quite funny, but something was missing. Something stopped me from connecting with them singularly, as they both seemed like people we needed to pity more than relate to. They're lost and we're watching them find their way, but are we hoping they do? Not really because again, for most of the movie, they don't even care if they find their way or not. They know they should and that's an issue right there and they eventually search for some direction each in their own way with Rebecca finding a job and Enid throwing herself at Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a man that, just like these girls, doesn't quite fit in with the world. However, neither of these things makes the girls happy and even more so, it causes them to break away from one another as they begin to see that they want two different things.

But what exactly are the goals for our protagonists? Besides not blending into normality, these characters merely live and nothing more. Like photography, when we put people into categories, we begin to realize their purpose, such as descriptive photos offering visual information about the world around us or theoretical photos offering explanation about photos. However, with Enid and Rebecca, we categorize them as outsiders and it's only then that we realize their existence is for no other reason than rejecting the ordinary, even though these two are far from it. And going forward with categories, again, like with categories of photography, they have details that place them in these categories such as famous face photography involving famous faces or wider world photography depicting distant, exotic worlds. Enid and Rebecca's cold, cynical natures are what make them outsider as it puts people off, myself included.

These two aren't like everyone else in their graduating class who have plans and dreams to grow up and go to college and get careers. These two aren't growing up and neither are doing anything of any merit, like going to college. What they're doing is merely living the only way they know how and for Rebecca that means working a dead-end job, having her own place and taking on this sense of adulthood regardless of the fact none of these things even make her happy. However, she does all of these things because she realizes it's a part of life. For Enid, that means continuing to wallow around the "Ghost World" doing whatever she pleases, but not confirming to the kind of normality that she's surrounded by. And it's when Rebecca, too, begins to conform to this sort of zombie-like normality that Enid abandons her. Enid doesn't want to give up herself, she wants to stay weird and unique in a place where everyone seems the same, but this sort of mentality is keeping her from growing up. It's keeping her from keeping a job and even more so, finding love with Seymour. However, she can't do this because it is another "adult-like", normal thing she can't experience simply because she refuses to lose her authenticity and doesn't want to conform to the same existence her friend and fallen prey to. However, what is she supposed to do then? Keep fighting that same fight, or conform? After the film poses this question upon her breaking off her sort-of relationship with Seymour, Enid falls into this depression; a depression caused by this uncertainty on what she is to do, which directly leads to the film's melancholy finale.

And it's here where I have major problems with the film. This film is sad and in a way where it need not be, even though we're following around these negative, cynical girls. It's bleak and dark and for me, it does this in a way that leaves me unsatisfied, questioning and frankly, sad even though throughout the course of the film, I desperately hoped that these girls would figure their lives out and to make a long story short, they don't. 


Friday, September 9, 2016

Self















 Intimacy is important to me, but what's also important to me is the idea of self appreciation and self love. "Love yourself," I'll say to my friends when their down, but I do not heed my own words. I do not love myself. I hate taking selfies without a ton of makeup on. I hate close up shots, but here are two shots of me stripped down. They aren't uber profession, uber nice shots of me, but they're shots that do show the true essence of who and what I am.

I am not the brightest person. I'm not the prettiest, but here are two shots where I feel pretty, maybe even beautiful when I'm just lying around doing nothing. The half smirk, the parting of my lips in each shot shows my content with how I am. I don't have any makeup one. The "glow", the "highlight" everyone wants to achieve with help from Anastasia's Glow Kit is all thanks to a bunch of well placed lights. There's no editing. This is just pure, raw, me.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014) and the Art of Power and Criticism




 
Whiplash (2014)

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, Paul Reiser
Written By: Damien Chazelle
Directed By: Damien Chazelle
Release Date: October 14, 2014
 Rating: A+

Summary: An introverted drummer goes head-to-head with his cut-throat instructor in a battle to achiever musical greatness.
 
My Thoughts: This movie is essentially a celebration of sound. However, while the brilliant sound mixing in this film not only makes the film as great as it is, but also furthers along the story, a sound celebration is not all that this movie is. When we begin the film, the sound of the drums is what we associate with a young man's dreams. Each CRASH and BANG from his drum set is what we associate with the feeling of out protagonist slowly moving toward achieving his goal of being a successful jazz drumer, a happy feeling. However, it is later that we begin to become frightened by the same noise we associated with our protagonist's dreams. We cringe at each CRASH and have to look away at each  BANG, because it's no longer a dream he's going after, it's a obsession. This movie becomes more than a celebration of sound, but also a thrilling psychodrama about a musician on the brink of a mental breakdown in order to achieve musical success. And more importantly, it is also gripping drama about the relationship between a music teacher and a student striving for power in setting where only one can be on top. And it is Miles Teller who stars this student and it is he who continues to impress me in not only sweet romantic comedies like That Awkward Moment and Two Night Stand, but dramas like The Spectacular Now, but here he is Andrew, in a role quite different from what I've seen him do previously, but his performance is what makes this film one of the most intense movies I've seen in a while.

When we meet Andrew, we see he dreams of being a great jazz drummer and when Fletcher offers him the chance of a lifetime to play with his band, he jumps at the opportunity, but soon he realizes that maybe he's bitten more than can chew as he soon sees that Fletcher achieves such greatness from his students all verbally and emotionally abusing them, ultimately beating them into perfection.

Andrew and Fletcher go head-to-head in this movie, each one battling for perfection and power.And when I say power, I mean in the aspect that Fletcher wants to hold all of it in order to achieve greatness in his band and in his students and that Andrew wants to take power in his drumming in order to become the greatness that Fletcher wants to see, but to what lengths will each of them go to achieve said greatness? And what lengths will we stretch our own humanity to achieve our own goals? What starts off seemingly as a simple, slow jazz flick quickly transforms into a Black Swan-esque psychological drama about a boy wanting to achieve greatness and the teacher leading him down a dark path to do so, involving literal blood (and a lot of it), sweat and tears. At the beginning, Andrew is shy. He's lonely and we get a sense of that as we see him longingly looking towards the others having a conversation in the band room. We only see him socialize with his father at the movie theater and eventually, a girl whom he's met at the theater before who he later begins to date, a positive mark for Andrew. However, throughout the progression of the film, when Andrew meets Fletcher, we see his demeanor begin to change. He's harshly sarcastic, he's rude, he breaks off ties with his girlfriend and that longing look he once had for friendship is now turned towards a drum set as his dreams to become a better drummer intensify, but besides Miles Teller's beautiful performance as both the shy Andrew we meet at the beginning and the manic drummer we meet later on, we also need to note the catalyst for said change and that is Fletcher. But what is Fletcher's reasoning behind his dangerous teaching methods? It is that he wants to create brilliance. He does believe in his students. He believes in Andrew and does all this in order to manifest and control this brilliance within him and Andrew is willing to push himself as far as he needs to be to impress Fletcher, even goes so far as to bleed for him during practices. But whether or not his teaching methods are ethical isn't up to us, or anyone for that matter, what it's about how when there's this imbalance within a power struggle between two people, it can destroy someone or even both of the people and turn them into someone they're not, bringing them past the point of no return.

But how can one be tested to their limits without being pushed past their breaking point? How does one have this yearning for perfection and achieve it without it ending in disaster? This film presents the art of music making similar to that of a boot camp. You need discipline, training, resistance and immense amounts of mental strength when it comes to making music and more importantly, the criticism that comes in music making. All Fletcher does is criticize Andrew and instead of brushing it off and trying to become better in a healthy way, it breaks Andrew. It drives him, yes, to become better, but in a way that is detrimental to his body and mind. He's bending backwards and breaking himself order to impress this man who is his teacher, but why? It is because Fletcher is a critic and Andrew takes it all to heart, even though it is more more verbal than a written. His ability to live and breathe this music is a talent only a critic could hold as he's able to sniff one off-beat player in mere seconds. Criticism is more so than just judging something. It's more so the explanation of something in order to understand the medium as whole, and sure, it leads to many negative outcomes and representations of art, music and etc, but it also helps us shed light on the good and the bad about art as a whole. But how does an artist take criticism? Well, Andrew delves into a pit of misery and self-mutilation as he directly confronts his faults repeatedly, which is where he went wrong. One should push themselves to be with themselves completely and include their art in that transformation and what Fletcher wants is for them to explain it and push for perfection and he does what he does in the name of art, but that doesn't make what he did right.

Whiplash is a powerhouse of a film without even meaning to be. The beautiful cinematography, Andrew's hopeful beginning and eventual ambiguous downfall and end and the impeccable writing are all reasons to see this film. And so often do you know where a film is headed, but here I was on my toes, I was wanting more and most importantly, I was feeling something at every point in the film. Never have I been so uncomfortable in a film and yet so fascinated at the same time in a film, especially one about jazz music and it was all worth it because as soon as I finished this film, I was completely and utterly amazed.