Friday, November 25, 2016

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train (2016), Gone Girl, and The Unreliable Narrator Twist

 Image result for the girl on the train

 The Girl on the Train (2016)
 Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed By: Tate Taylor
Written By: Erin Cressida Wilson
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Rating: C-

Summary: An alcoholic divorcee gets swept up in a missing person's investigation after witnessing the woman's infidelity while on a passing train.

My Thoughts:
In 2014, we were dumbfounded during Gone Girl when it was revealed that sweet Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) had faked her own death and was setting her husband up for murder. However, that shock didn’t come from the twist itself. It came from fact that everything we’d learned up to that point in the film was wrong and the person who lead us astray was none other than our narrator, the one person we'd automatically assume we can trust. In Gone Girl and many other great thrillers, the unreliable narrator is a trope that helps these movies come full circle. But is the biggest strength of all these other films also The Girl on the Train’s greatest weakness?

In The Girl on the Train, we meet Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic divorcee still obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new family. Rachel attributes the end of her marriage to her excessive drinking and the violent behaviors and blackouts that would occur because of it. We slowly find out Rachel is also quite obsessed with Tom’s neighbors, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) and their seemingly perfect marriage. After catching Megan cheating on her husband, a drunken, angry Rachel goes to confront her only to wake up covered in blood with Megan gone missing. 

In Gone Girl, we care about Amy before we even meet her. From her narration of the story, we find out that, like Rachel, she doesn’t have the best marriage. However, she and her husband are still trying to make it work. Until Amy goes missing, that is. While a majority of the mystery lies with Amy’s husband, Nick, (Ben Affleck) and his mission to find her, another one is playing out as Amy spells out their past. Who are these people? What have they done to each other? And more importantly, what are they capable of? Though Amy is explaining to us what happened, we do still have out questions, especially towards the end the of the film when it turns out that Amy was liar and she's set her husband up for her supposed murder. It's because of that twist that we immediately believe everything Amy has told us is false, but there's still a bit of truth to every lie. Amy explains that Nick abused her and it's even more compelling when we see it reenacted on the screen, but after the twist is revealed and Amy returns after being "kidnapped" by a crazy ex-boyfriend, Nick angrily throws her against the wall. This partially backs up Amy's accusation of Nick having a violent temper. When Amy explains why she and Nick's marriage began to falter, she later on tells us that those reasons are why she planned to get revenge on Nick in the first place. He stole her money and used it frivolously when he had no job of his own, he became cold and distant towards her and most importantly, he cheated on her. While Amy is our unreliable narrator because she falsified a lot of information to get Nick indicted for her murder and her words aren't to be taken at face value because of that, as I stated, there's still some truth to every lie. If these weren't the reasons for Amy to seek vengeance on Nick, then what were they? However, no one else is there to confirm or deny Amy's recollection of the past besides anything involving her "murder and kidnapping, so her side of the story is the only one we can believe, even after the twist. And even with through all her manipulation and plotting, we still feel something for her and we're still investing in her story even after we find out a majority of what happened is a lie and that's why the twist works to well. However, in The Girl on the Train, there’s not enough there to allow us feel anything for our main character, Rachel (Emily Blunt).

The plot and star-powered cast alone are enough to get people in theaters to see The Girl on the Train. However, these things are not enough to make you feel satisfied after you’ve walked out of the theater. We follow Rachel around as she tries to piece together who Megan really was and what happened the night of her murder, but the more and more she becomes involved with the investigation, we lose sight of who Rachel is as a character. Rachel's backstory is explained, but she's not the one to tell us about herself. It's because we're simply shown what's happened and not given any other context or explanation, the depth needed to connect us to Rachel is gone. We either like her for who she is now, or not at all, but she gives us no reason to like her. While we feel sorry for her because she’s unemployed and sleeping on a friend’s couch, she doesn’t really seem to care about any of these things herself. She rides the train to no place in particular every morning even though she has little to no income, she still drinks heavily even though she knows it's the reason for her marriage ending and she continuously stalks Tom and his new wife. As she becomes more and more focused on finding out who Megan was, she really begins forgets who she is and so do we. The whole focus of the film begins to shift to Megan's story and the more we begin to understand who Megan was and what happened, the more Rachel falls to the back-burner, even though she's the one trying to figure out what happened. This becomes even more evident when the twist occurs and we find out that everything we know about Rachel is a lie, but because we never really cared about Rachael from the beginning, the twist pretty much loses its power. 

 Rachel moves on with her life pretty much unphased by her troubled past as she’s telling us what happening in the present.This is happening simultaneously as clues to the mystery seem to Rachel’s hands whenever it’s convenient for the plot. Amy Dunne places us directly in her picture perfect life and we move through her life as she does. We get a sense of not only what's going on, but how she feels as well. We don't get this with Rachel. The power of that twist remains strong strictly because not only of Amy’s manipulation, but because of the connection between us and the person we thought she was as well. While both narrators flipped the script on what we knew to be true in their tales, they did so for very different reasons. Amy was manipulative by choice. Rachel, on the other hand, was not. Her alcoholism along with her manipulative ex-husband were what skewed her vision of the past, so she didn't  know that what she was telling us was a complete lie. Typically, the unreliable narrator is a trope that works well because of our intrigue with getting manipulated by someone we thought we could trust. Amy leads us astray with a wide, calculated smile and we're mesmerized because of it. Rachel's unreliability lies comes about by everyone else except herself and because of that we don’t even care whether or not we’re getting played at all.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 4: "San Junipero" and A Different Side of Black Mirror

Image result for san junipero black mirror

Black Mirror (2011-)
Season 3, Episode 4: "San Junipero"
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Denise Burse
Created By: Charlie Booker
Network: Netflix
Rating: A+

Summary: In a seaside town named San Junipero, two young women strike up a relationship that requires that them jump through the hoops of time and space in order to maintain it. 

My Thoughts: San Juniperois an episode that seemingly suggests that Black Mirror may be taking a brighter, more optimistic route. However, If you're merely looking at the San Junipero's upbeat, technicolor, exterior then you haven't fully understood what the episode was trying to say. Black Mirror has had a constant M.O throughout the course of its last two seasons and it is that technology and humanity do not mix well. Typically in each episode, we learn more and more about the world around us from these surprisingly bleak, fictional situations, but this time things seem to be different, even if not by much. What's different is that this episode feels real. This episode gives you a clear view into what it looks like to be in love in today's times, even though it's set in many different time periods, because love is universal. It's the same regardless of where you're from, who you are and what you do. 

 Unlike any of the other episodes of the season, this episode is more about real life than the technology. The technological aspect is omnipresent, which is what you'd expect from an episode of Black Mirror, but it is not what drives a majority of the story like a many of the other episodes. This episode is more of a portrait of real life than the other episodes and it's built off of some basic existential questions we've probably asked ourselves once or twice. They're questions like:  What happens after we die? Is there a heaven? Is there a God? Is there chance for me to live for eternity or will I be swallowed by an abyss upon death? These questions are terrifying to most and are quite mind-shattering at best, but every time we hear about someone dying or go to a funeral, these are the kinds of things running through our brains until we can find something else to think about, but as for our two leads, it is all they can they think about.

This episode follows the story of two young women, Yorkie and Kelly, (Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who fall in love one night at a bar in a city called San Junipero. Over the course of their relationship, they do things a normal couple would do like fight, only to make up until they eventually fight again. But things never seem to get stale, especially after we find out that San Junipero doesn't actually exist. San Junipero is actually a virtual reality experience that offers people the ability to live after they've passed away. Both Kelly and Yorkie are simply testing the system out before it's their time to pass over, though Kelly still has her doubts about the system even though it's almost her time to go. Yorkie, on the the other hand, is ready to stay in San Junipero for the rest of her life and wishes Kelly would come with her, but, again, Kelly still has her doubts about choosing to stay in this world while her late husband and daughter are possibly floating around in some dark abyss, as they both didn't get the opportunity to live in San Junipero. So Kelly's dilemma is this: should she die and stay in San Junipero with the woman she loves or does she die and wait for what happens next, even though it could possibly end up being nothing? Black Mirror constantly stresses the idea that technology can and is able to affect our own humanity to the point of no return, but here, it does the opposite. 

It points out that technology can be used to bond people together, as San Junipero acts as a paradise where different people come from across the world to live our the rest of eternity. It's not supposed to be about bringing people together, but technology has a way of building connections without ever meaning to. However, it's only a matter of time before our humanity begins to affect the relationships we've built. At the beginning of the episode, it's 1987 when Kelly and Yorkie meet and the setting, the cinematography, the music and costuming are all perfectly set to emulate that time period. During their first talk, it's suggested that something happens at midnight and once midnight comes around the screen goes black and a title card informs us that a week has gone by. Clues like this remind us that we aren't dealing with a simple love story even before Yorkie begins hopping through time to find Kelly after they sleep together. But even so, the story still doesn't focus on the time-hopping or the any other futuristic elements. It focuses on two lovers and the eventual existential crisis that not only they will have to face, but we as well. While the episode does dig deep into those existential themes, it digs deeper  into what it really means to be in love.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 3: "Shut Up and Dance" and The Art of Control and Power With Technology

Image result for black mirror shut up and dance

Black Mirror (2011-)
Season 3, Episode 3: "Shut Up and Dance"
Starring: Alex Lawther, Jerome Flynn, Susannah Doyle
Created By: Charlie Booker
Network: Netflix
Rating: B+
Summary: When a young boy receives a text from an unknown number, he's sent out to complete dangerous and illegal tasks or risk having his personal information broadcasted to the world.

My Thoughts: We put a lot into our time into technology and we do this so blindly that we tend to forget that though we technically own this technology, it's not really "ours."  There is always someone else in control. Once we get a new phone or computer, there's always an option to upload all of our information to these Cloud servers in case of mishaps. Most of the time, people unknowingly agree to sync their information to the Cloud and it's at that point that the companies that own these servers achieve the ability to access to this information whenever they want. While we'd like to believe that we have privacy, that's obviously not the case and this episode proves just that. In this episode of Black Mirror, we meet a young man named Kenny (Alex Lawther) who is just your average kind of guy. He works in a grocery story, fights with his sister and chronically masturbates, as guys generally do. However, one night he gets a text from an unknown number saying, "WE SAW WHAT YOU DID."  While still trying to figure out who could've gotten this information, he begins getting more text messages with instructions. The messages also state that if he does not follow their instructions, they will leak a video of him "doing the deed."

As with other episodes in the series, this episode doesn't prey on technology as the catalyst in our own undoing. It's us. We want privacy and for the most part, we believe that most of our information is safe in the Cloud, even when it's actually not. With all the ICloud hackings and catfishings going around, it's evident that the electronic world is not as safe as we'd like to believe it is, but yet we still continue to share our information with these servers as if we're in control of what happens once it's been uploaded. We want control and because we're in control of these tiny devices, we believe that we're in control of what happens with whatever is on them. Kenny thought just like this at the beginning of the episode, but he soon loses that luxury once the anonymous text messages begin rolling, which makes for quite an interesting shift. A majority of the suspense lies not in Kenny trying to discover who these people are, but in whether or not Kenny will go through with demands as they begin to get more vicious. We're experiencing these trails through Kenny's eyes and every time he goes through another psychological, emotional experience, so do we. We're encouraged to sympathize and feel for Kenny during his ordeal mainly because we've seemingly connected with a nice guy whose just gotten into a little bit of trouble.

 After the show's twist reveals that Kenny isn't who we think he is, everything shifts. We felt for Kenny beforehand and we ultimately felt as if we were in control because we believed we knew everything about him. However, we were incorrect and once we find out that it's Kenny whose the bad guy, all of the power we believed we had is gone. And we're faced with an even bigger dilemma as we're now not worried about what's going to happen tKenny. We're worried about what's going to happen to us. Throughout the episode, we rooted for Kenny, but now that we know the truth about him, can we still root for him? Should we? Is Kenny that same awkwardly, adorable young man now that we know what he's done? Can we forgive him? Should we? And even more importantly, can we forgive ourselves for rooting for a potential child molester? And because we have these kinds of questions lingering in our heads, it's evident that our own moral codes may be slightly unreliable and that we're in even less control than we thought.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 2: "Playtest" and The Realities of Reality and Video Gaming

Image result for playtest black mirror

Black Mirror (2011-)
Season 3, Episode 2: "Playtest"
Starring: Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, Wunmi Mosaku
Created By: Charlie Booker
Network: Netflix
Rating: B

Summary: A young man begins to lose sight of reality as he tests a company's new gaming console.

My Thoughts: When new gaming consoles release, major upgrades between the newer version and it's predecessor always involve the graphics. Companies usually market their console with the selling point that the graphics are so realistic that it feels as if you're in the game yourself, but how can we exist is a reality that isn't actually there? When a person plays a video game, they're taking a break from their own reality to submerge themselves in a situation that could not happen in real life. As companies upgrade their systems and continue to try emulate reality as much as they can, they're taking that break from reality away from us. They're creating a brand new one and placing us there.

 Have you ever felt fearful for your own life when playing a horror game? Have you ever held your own breathe as your character barely escapes some sort of peril?  These sorts of reactions are no longer about us feeling for a character, we're worried about ourselves as if we were in the game. And as these systems continue to upgrade, we're only going to distance ourselves further and further away from our own man-made realities into ones that are simulated for us. And as a society, we're slowly becoming more and more accepting of all these different realities simply because we can step out of those reality and come back to our own in seconds. But what if we couldn't? What if we got stuck in the video game reality and couldn't get out? What if the video game reality actually became our own? And more importantly, if video games are becoming more realistic and we're spending more time in that reality than in our own, how will it affect the we see the world around us?

At the start of the episode we meet, Cooper, guy who picks up and leave his town to travel the world. We understand immediately that he wants to escape. His mother keeps calling him and he ignores her calls and doesn't respond. He just throws himself into enjoying whatever these new countries have to offer. Hence, he's finally gotten the escape he's wished for. However, after somehow running out cash, Cooper decides to go along and test a new gaming system for money, but it's not the kind of game Cooper was expecting. Like a documentary, Black Mirror, gives us its own representation of society. It makes the stuff of social realities visible and audible in a distinctive way; a way where we get the message loud and clear. We're supposed to believe these stories up-front and they're supposed to ring true to us even though they're presented in a fictional format. We can understand why Cooper would want to escape. Hell, life is hard, parents are overbearing and sometimes we just need time to ourselves and this is something everyone can understand. However, unlike Cooper, we can't just pick up and leave the country randomly when things get hard. Our escape lies in the small things like playing video games or watching a film or TV program. 

However, in this episode, what could end up being the future of video gaming comes to life. While we can simple step out of game reality into our own, Cooper can not. When he first tests the game he's hooked up to a machine that allows him to physically see and "whack" a virtual mole. He enjoys this tiny escape from his money problems, just as anyone would, but it's during the second trail of the testing that things turn sinister. He's trapped in a house among some of his greatest fears, one being a bully from high school. It's only after he realizes that these fears are real and that he could actually be harmed, that he wants out, but the thing is he can't get out. The reality he's succumb to in the video game world is now his own and the the real question of the matter is: what's real and what's not? But we really don't find that out until the very last few minutes of the episode. But the point of the episode is not for us to figure Cooper out, or even to try to piece things together. This is why we get the bare minimum on his character and those around him in the first place. This episode is about us and technology and how if we keep on trying to emulate reality, we'll lose actuality.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Documentary Rough Cut

Film making is more than getting a bunch of interesting shots and compiling them all together. I learned that this week. You have to go in with a plan of action and stay on target at all times, even when things don't go as planned. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but it was all in my head. I had a few things written out on my notepad, but it wasn't enough to form a cohesive plan. So, I just set out with a bunch of questions and hoped things worked out well. However, things did not according to plan. I recorded an interview with a professor in the Biology Department (Professor Gibson) and made it out of his office with the achievement of having completed my first interview in just a mere 20 minutes. I was still sweating bullets when I left his office and I ran into the bathroom so fast I almost hit a woman who was on her way out. Apologizing swiftly, I ran in and wiped the sweat from my face and neck. Though it took me a good 13 minutes to completely dry off and calm my nerves, I walked out of the bathroom feeling confident because I had one interview down and only a few more to go.

The next few interviews were easier. I was calmer and the interviewing portion was less scripted on my part. I asked my previously written questions and as they spoke, the questions I had in response to what they were saying just flowed out of me. While this may be because of the fact that the next couple of interviews I conducted were with students, but it made me more comfortable when it came time to get my second faculty interview.

That interview went well, too, until my camera died in the middle of it. Thankfully, the parts I had recorded saved to my SD card, but I was still bummed over the fact that I had to wait another week for the second interview. After that, I focused on B-Roll. This was probably the hardest part for me because I went into making this film without a plan. I was armed with my camera, a tripod and my proposal. I didn't really know what would fit, so I shot everything. I got beautiful shots of the campus, of students and even more so, of the students hard at work. I, unfortunately, couldn't film in the library, which was prime scene for a major part of student activity, so I set my camera down on a table and hit record while people went about there day and did some reading as this went on. While it was exciting to do a bunch of this guerrilla documentary shooting, I was constantly worried that I'd get caught the entire time. I didn't, but that fear was with me the entire time. While that still wasn't enough B-Roll to put into my rough cut at that moment, I planned to get more within the coming week. 

The documentary making process is interesting. I'm working on something swell and I'm actually working on real world issues. And most importantly, I've gotten a decent amount of positive feedback from just the rough cut, so I'm excited to see how it turns out in the end. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Interviews/Documentary Proposal

What is Higher Education? A Documentary By Kennedy Joseph
Over the course of many years, what higher education means to college students has drastically changed. In multiple Ted Talks, (What is a college education? by David Ray, Higher Education is not about getting a job by Fred D’Agostino) I’ve watched done by professors of multiple universities, they’ve all described what they believed college was supposed to be about and that is: an opportunity to enhance one’s knowledge and go out into the world and better society. It’s about education and becoming educated, but now students look at college as an in-and-out process, a vocational program that ends in them getting a degree so they can go out and get a job. This documentary is a look at the thoughts behind that. What kinds of thoughts do students have about higher education and why? And does these kinds of thoughts on higher education effect how much they investment in their work? Do students really not care about college? Is it all just about getting a degree to get a well-paying job? Or do they care about their education? And how do the people who are paid to help and educate these students feel about how these kinds of things?

Resources/Equipment and Locations
Basically, the idea is to do a couple of sit down interviews with professors and advisors over campus to get a look at how they view higher education. Is it similar to how their students view it? Is it different? Has their view on higher education changed now that they work in that environment? And can they see how much their student invent in college? Do they do their work properly? Do they come to class? Do they seem to care about the subject they’re studying or is it just about a grade and a degree to them? I’m also going to do a bunch of pop-up interviews with students to see how they feel about college. Why are they here? What are they studying and what do they want to do once they’ve left college? How much effort do they put into classes, even if the class isn’t so interesting to them? Do they care about college and is it worth it to them as they pay so much for school ($27,000 a year)? Is it worth all that money and all this work just for a degree or is it about the learning that makes going to school worth it? I’m simply armed with my camera, a tripod and a mic to get these interviews done and the pop-up interviews will be done all around campus with whomever will talk to me and the professors/advisors I have picked out are: David Gibson who teaches Biological Research and advises grad students in the department and maybe Carol, who advises students in the Mass Communications Department.

My purpose in doing this film is about bringing awareness to what higher education is about. The professors in the Ted Talks I watched are correct in what college is supposed to be about. It’s not about money or jobs, it’s about being educated on our passions and taking that knowledge to better society within our fields. Take the Cinema department, a majority of people within this department has specific jobs they want to do whether it be editor, director or etc. and they want to just do that. You don’t have to go to college to do all of that, as many filmmakers didn’t go to college, so the question that remains is: Why are they here? Why are they wasting thousands of dollars for a sheet of paper if they can go out and make stuff on their own? So, is it about the education and if it is, why don’t so many students put in the time and effort to appreciate higher education. Why do they miss class? Not do work? Or even more so, half ass it? If college is something that just for a sheet of paper as most students seem to believe, then why does it even exist?

I've already filmed a bunch of interviews, so here are a couple that I've done