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Saturday, September 28, 2019

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[Review] Green Book (2018)

"You never win with violence, Tony. You only win when you maintain your dignity." - Dr. Don Shirley

Green Book plays like most movies that tackle racism from the past, an undeniably sugary, feel-good drama that everyone can’t help but adore. That’s true for many reasons. Bearing many resemblances from Driving Miss Daisy, its concept is pretty much paint-by-number: a portrayal of two polar opposites dealing with unfortunate ‘events’ that come along the way. This time, the roles are reversed with our two leads, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, taking us to a road trip bound to be bumpy and affecting. Mortensen’s Tony, with a paunch and a Bronx accent, is high-octane in his laid-back, carefree demeanor, flaunting his singularity every time those boastful talks come out of his mouth. Ali’s Don is anything but that: he’s a stoic, one that endures the long-suffering strain of being a nonconformist in his own world and the other. Reserved, detached, and deemed too sophisticated, yet portrayed with such gravity that he defines his own charm, Ali delivers what may well be his best performance to date. Put them both in one frame, and the result is as spellbinding as ever. Fueled by their warmth, humor, and strength, it’s one of those fiery dynamics that keeps us engaged, hitting most of its highly pleasing notes without even breaking a sweat.
Still, even when the dynamic duo’s effortless presence operates at a pristine level, the narrative sadly doesn’t. As funny and as delightful as it is, Green Book never walks out of its well-trodden territory with its chin up. Addressing racism is never easy, and in a year of BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, and The Hate U Give, Green Book shies away from tackling it right. It does try, though, but instead of plunging deeper to confront its subject, Green Book simply squishes through the swampy mud, drenched in it yet never gutsy enough to penetrate. Anchoring too much to their magnetic relationship might be their strongest and weakest link, as it eventually dwarves its already outward, simplified display of racism and disenfranchisement. In the end, Green Book does appear to be another case of Driving Miss Daisy: a flattening of history that pleases both sides, which works really well in that regard, a fairly typical Hollywood effort that doesn’t have anything to write home about, yet offers you a real good time that rarely any film does. Well-intentioned and endearing through and through, Green Book’s approach to its sensitive topics may be too clean-shaven and confusing at times, but its two formidable, dazzling stars still manage to overcome its rather passive outcome, as they’ll laugh, struggle, and cheer with you.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

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[Review] Ad Astra (2019)

"The enemy out here, is not a person or a thing, it's the endless void." - Thomas Pruitt

Visually ambitious and thematically grounded, As Astra goes as far as the stars yet its echoes are still reflective even from billions of miles away—well, technically we're going to Neptune, but you get the idea. An odyssey that speaks in its most poetic tongue, Ad Astra is also an introspective reverie that makes great use of its vast of nothingness to unearth a brimming sense of catharsis. Gray's direction wanders in a measured rhythm, that knows how to soar into its intense stillness. In its remote moments, you can't help but get drawn in its mighty splendor, a meditation that never asks us to ponder things, we simply—and willfully—get captivated. This science fiction is more about fiction than science itself, but as it shows in its more thrilling split seconds—from scavenging moon pirates to killer baboons in space—the whole thing is deliberately borderline silly and out of place, yet strangely enough, as Gray distances us from the world we're so familiar with, it never crosses that mindless line.

Over and above its daddy issues, Gray and Gross' script dilates its premise by engaging us through our protagonist's grueling personal battle and shadows of his buried nightmares, interlocking the past and the present in a father-and-son relationship to unfold how toxic masculinity and the lack of emotional awareness is perpetuated, kept in existence through generations. Marking Brad Pitt's return to his best form, his performance as emotionally detached astronaut Roy McBride commands the entire space voyage with a different mold of self-assurance we rarely see in his usual work. He's firm and understated, distant yet intimate, all things in one. It's essentially a one-man show, where Brad Pitt is given so much scope through his bounded and restrained sense of thereof. This is not without help of the script, which deliberately dims other characters to create an inward-looking stance that allows us to descend deeper into McBride's state of mind, shying away from reality and manifesting his solitude in full display. The result, is colossal in magnitude and deep-seated in scope, a spectacle that's beautiful beyond measure and a moving journey that finds a contemplative eye in a subdued desolation, seizing attention and emotions once your head gets around its orbit.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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[Review] The Favourite (2018)


His most accessible feature may well be, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite brings in a cheeky, confrontational tug of war drenched in unrestrained seduction and tempestuous spite that’s as driven as our exquisite leading charmers. So familiar yet so uniquely newfangled, The Favourite reconstructs, borrows from the greatest yet has plenty of its own to offer, stating its historical frame with self-assured, composed elan and a flare of cynicism. As a caricature of period pieces, this Lanthimos’s latest cinematic offering puts us in an eternal triangle that blurs the line between power and loyalty, where each string-pulling goes quietly frantic and its historical centerpiece evolves into an outlandish misfit. The Favourite gives no room for black-and-white dichotomy, with screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara painting our dramatis personæ in brass-necked, mystifying strokes.

Rachel Weisz is both graceful and rock-ribbed, a natural-born poiser with unflinching, irresistible fluency in charismatic stoicism. Emma Stone is simply a delight to witness. A cross between sharp-witted ingĂ©nue and hypnotic femme fatale, she smirks in her triumph and gratifies in anything she does. Between them, there stands Olivia Colman: a naive, dewy-eyed ruler whose unfortunate tragedies have translated her into something bigger than a freakish queen who squeezes joy out of duck racing. Her 17 rabbits, representing the lost of her 17 children, are physical manifestations that reflect her darkest, most heart-rending vent of her life, defining her as more than a comedic relief, but the heart that echoes humanity in bare, deep insecurity. These three take the spotlight by turns, and just radiate as the focus sways back and forth between each other’s agony and glee.


Lanthimos is a sharp-eyed satirist, and as they descend into a circle of hell and clashes of influence, he turns The Favourite into a whimsical c*ntfest that only beguiles and gets nastier with each political flip-flop. Even when it clearly rags on the double-dealing, wicked intentions camouflaging behind its royal grandiosity, how it places moral vacancy is clearly beside the mark. If anything, The Favourite’s fundamental mordant force glisters the brightest as they dig their graves, invoking a bewitching intricacy to untangle: who are those graves exactly for? When we get to the answer, we’re too drawn that who’s six feet under may not even matter anymore, but Lanthimos makes sure that the touchdown is as stinging as the long haul voyage, capitalizing the film’s true kernel that’s akin to All About Eve’s lingering, seismic effects.

With the women, bare-faced, and the men, covered with makeup and sensational wigs, The Favourite makes it clear they don’t play by anyone’s rule: it’s a spin on power-hungry shouting match; snarky, kinky dangerous liaisons of even more cunning ladies, all wrapped in a tragicomedy that stirs appetite for a mighty, untamed puppetry. Needless to say, not your first resort to a fact-based history lesson, but an unabatingly fun showcase of downright malice it is.


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[Review] A Star is Born (2018)


Four, five, or six. That’s how many times they’ve made this story happen. Five, if you count 1932’s ‘What Price Hollywood?’ in. Six, with its Bollywood iteration ‘Aashiqui 2’ included. But like twelve notes between any octave, how we hear them depends on how they see these notes. And here, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga digs, deeper to that recurring deep. ‪The first hour is a sugar rush of infectious romantic undertones, and to quote Jackson himself “stuff of angels”. Cooper invests so much in their first encounter, as captivating as Gaga’s sultry rendition of La Vie en Rose and as exhilarating as Cooper’s abrasive riffs in Black Eyes, but the adrenaline peak unveils when the two collide: an intense, earnest moment that rewards audience’s—and their—longing desire in the best possible way. 

As the narrative takes a one-eighty, A Star is Born uncovers its true intention: a forthright depiction of substance dependence and a burlesque of today’s music industry. More than its antecedents, the script treats our two leads with delicacy and depth, as it leaves so much room for them to breathe. Cooper’s Jackson is a redefined epitome of his previous male leads’ self-destructive template. His psyche still revolves around the legacy, but it grants us something vivid and essentially, darker. Gaga’s Ally draws an underlying tie-in between Streisand’s and Garland’s Esther: part rebellious and part timid, she evokes naturalistic presence as her unabridged magnetism takes the centerpiece. In addition, Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay bring strong—though brief—performances that further reinforce our two leads’ dynamics.


A Star is Born is, at core, a Hollywood tragedy, and as evidenced by its previous interpretations, it’s easily overwhelmed by soapy, or even phony remarks. Yet here, realism stands front and center. Cooper’s approach to craft conversation leaves no hollow. Their words to each other aren’t only telling, they’re revealing. Each dialogue exchange is effortlessly articulate and expressively reflective, or to put it simply: they feel real. But crafting doesn’t stop at solidifying flavors. Cooper’s direction projects a magnitude of splendor, achieved by its rhythmic yet dynamic flair between Libatique’s shaky camera movements, detailed close-ups, and well-orchestrated lights and colors. He tries to portray two worlds, one in front of and the other beyond the screen, distinctively. They’re loud and silent, burning and alienating. This decision provides a profound insight into their heads, although comes at a price, noticeably the pacing during the second act. Still, it manages to get back on its feet, as it dives into the third act and rebounds its emotional capstone. 

Musically invigorating, powerfully acted, and emotionally affecting, A Star is Born is a remarkable entrance to Cooper’s natural touch of filmmaking and Gaga’s gifted sense as an actress. It’s intoxicating onstage and passionate offstage, but inside, there’s an intimate gaze into the humane sphere of fame, co-dependency, and addiction that surprisingly, still holds onto its glossy Hollywood apotheosis. And that is, a rare thing.