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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

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[Review] The Humans (2021)

"And now, maybe loving someone long-term is more about deciding whether to go through life unhappy alone, or unhappy with someone else?" - Aimee (Amy Schumer)

A movie set in a single room is nothing new, yet for this play-based depiction of annual family outbursts, it's never quite the same. Unlike any other which mostly turns into a neverending shouting match, The Humans' means of storytelling is never wide and exposed. Instead, it's compact, brief, brimming with mysterious intentions that many times even ascend into horror impulses. Sporadically, it chooses to go to some lengths with its heated exchanges, veering more into revealing the intense, sincere inner feelings. Yet, it never remains exactly that way. As soon as The Humans reaches a certain emotionally revealing point, it retracts itself, stepping back a couple of steps then resuming its usual pattern of appropriateness. By doing this seemingly mundane means, the movie constantly sustains its intriguing gist, carefully sewing these undertones in between the loving, warm Thanksgiving backdrop. 

In contrast to its passing conversations, the camera lingers, focuses on insignificant objects every now and then, unconsciously and eerily dissociating itself from the whole discourse but never physically leaving. When the same camerawork is applied to each character, however, it achieves a different effect: we see them in their everchanging nuances, allowing their underlying shame, guilt, and anguish to be implicitly expressed through the lens. This subtle contrast between dialogue and visuals is essentially what sets The Humans apart from its counterparts, a contrast that makes us realize how humans' embarrassment of vulnerability and avoidance of truth can translate into something akin to growing overwrought trepidation. It's a horrific feeling so nerve-wracking yet it's almost impossible to look away, and in the end, you just can't help but keep digging till its very core. Interestingly, The Humans never once arrives at that final destination, as it doesn't offer a rush of cathartic sentiments, but rather a mere silhouette of human emotions spectrum that aligns well with its diegetic humane scope. With equally strong cast dan dynamic directorial choices, The Humans is an atmospheric roundtable drama that packs more questions and context than answers and exposition, making it one of the more interesting outings of the year, featuring quite possibly one of the most effective uses of cramped settings in the genre.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

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[Review] Autumn Sonata (1978)

“Are the daughter's miseries the mother's triumphs?” - Eva 

In cinema filled with dysfunctional family dramas, Ingmar Bergman’s works often loom conspicuously. From Scenes from A Marriage to Cries and Whispers, his grip on this heavy subject has long been both celebrated and cerebrated. Autumn Sonata, the first and last collaboration between the two incomparable Bergmans: Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman, is one of those hefty formidable dramas. Through the estranged relationship between a daughter, Eva (Liv Ullmann), and her concert pianist mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), Ingmar Bergman gazes at their stirring spectacle of disquieting, perpetuated emotional injuries. Here, there are countless feelings embedded meticulously, but all of them are tied up by one notion in common: the perplexity of emotion itself. As much as the concept of emotion can be defined in terms of universal semantics, such as anger, sadness, fear, guilt, love, etc.; the emotion, in general, is a fuzzy concept to describe, and their existence to each other can be as all-encompassing as they can be outwardly incongruous. This thesis, manifested along with a stellar cast, truthful direction, revealing dialogue, and incarcerating cinematography, bring an honest, unposed face to its distrust-rooted delineation.

Like some of his tortured family depictions, Ingmar’s aesthetics are never really reliant on being extremely adorned, but underneath those dusty sepia-tinged frames, it’s a skilfully choreographed piece of dramatic triumph. Together with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Autumn Sonata’s camerawork moves slowly and often follows the actors’ movement then zooms in on them, only for the frame to be crammed with their faces, fully focusing on their emotions and expressions. It’s so restrained to the point that the diegetic space we’ve left with feels more and more claustrophobic with time. These close-ups perform as an unceasing microscope to capture every minute detail of their face features’ mobility: eyes twitching, forehead lines folding, downturned mouth, to their constantly vivid and unconcealed pores; we notice one thing and many things at once, as they unfold and as they fade. Quietly confrontational and in a way, obtrusively unassuming, these shots reduce their facades away, layer by layer, motif by motif, until there’s no room left to hide. 

Bergman's script is attentively constructed all over the gentle but assured emotional expositionin the silence, everything unfurls and in the clutter of words, the truth conceals. Despite being a melodrama in spirit, Autumn Sonata is very controlled in its overarching outlook of long-repressed feelings. Between the cinematography and the dialogue, the two form an intense, often unnoticed relay race that composedly begins to unearth a giant, ambivalent force of love and hate. The dialogue establishes the two stark personas as it cuts deep into them. In its first act, Bergman uses dialogue brilliantly to show context but rarely to expose them. The essential is faint to the ears and overlooked to the eyes. During its first minutes, the dialogue between Eva and Charlotte sometimes takes detours from the actual gist of what Bergman is trying to tell, all while hinting a deeper theme underneath its surface that is still clearly evident every now and then. In the absence of the dialogue, the camerawork takes over, capturing their unspoken words that are locked away in their guarded chambers while each one tries to play by their socially acceptable roles and norms. All the love, although is never explicitly told, seems to shift back and forth between genuine and performative. It's not until later when everything gets progressively intense: the dialogue becomes more direct, the past becomes barer, and the pain becomes truer. At this point, all their silent thoughts come to light unapologetically, all at once. It's downright brutal and distressing, but only then do they feel real. The length that Bergman goes to surely takes patience, but this finely tuned rhythm is what makes the grit of their relationship even more hard-hitting. 

Aside from being an Ingmar Bergman's grand drama with groundedly detailed technicality, Autumn Sonata, more often than not, is also an acting vehicle for its two most formidable Scandinavian stars. As Eva and Charlotte, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann bring in two unparalleled deliveries that are incredibly dynamic and full-force in the midst of its family turmoil. When we're introduced to Eva, her face bursts with joy and smiles but her eyes brim with uncertain disquiet. She's as uptight as she's elated to finally see her mother Charlotte after seven years. As soon as Charlotte arrives, she hops off her car, in a sophisticated beige outfit and sprucely coiffed hair, an obvious obverse of her own daughter. As two antithetical characters, they lovingly talk to each other with such excitement, trying to reconnect again, convinced they've looked past their lineal demons, only to find that their whole life they haven'tthey've simply looked the other way. 

As their conversations grow sorer, we discover the past and the revelations, maturely anchoring both slants without vilifying one another. One of their first unuttered dissonances is remarkably shown in the piano scene. With them both trying to bond over music, the scene is thoroughly serene. The only thing that can be heard is Eva's imperfect attempt at Chopin's piece, yet the camera lingers on Charlotte's face. Charlotte listens and heeds cautiously, leniently forbearing for a minute then hushedly peeved in the next, all while sustaining her discreet bit of a show. "I liked you," Charlotte politely dodges her daughter's pining for approval, torn between her motherly image and concert pianist persona. Subsequently, she proceeds to play her interpretation while dissecting the piece lengthily. Eva is visibly upset but continues to come along anyway. She softly contemplates her mother's face: engrossed, determined, and passionate. Eva droops her posture a little, for a moment her mind is elsewhere, then she comes back and dismally stumbles upon a fact: it's her first time seeing her mother's genuine, bare affection her whole life. And that's through music, not her. Bergman and Ullmann play this scene masterfully, veering to and fro between their extensive vocabulary of nuances. But this scene is just a slice of their brilliant command of acting. As more secrets get unlocked, more truthful and aching clashes burgeon. The reality continues to catch up with them until they're trapped within the irreversible state of harsh realizationthat they're each other's constant reminder of failures and damages. In that state, every dialogue is retrospective, a looking glass to each passive-aggressive memory, and a cynical attempt at emotional abreaction. The weight gets bigger and louder, and so does their acting. Inside and out, it's a masterful acting marathon in which every powershifting is finely drawn from time to time.

Autumn Sonata, is just painful. It's part melodic and part ugly-sounding, but like Charlotte's perfect description of Chopin's prelude, it's meant to sound wrong. This translates well to their story: Eva longs for her mother's affection meanwhile Charlotte devotes her life entirely to music, it's a sharp observation of unreciprocated love, hidden guilt, and embellished ugliness that simply rings true. Powered by its commanding performances, Autumn Sonata sees Ingmar Bergman voyaging his account of dark family-centric underbelly through the confined, discreetly thrilling setting of stillness, chaos, and everything in between. From the dissembled propriety, abrasive reverie, up to the moments when all hell breaks loose, this small 99-minute wonder lets us absorb and drench completely in it, slowly inviting us to experience the never-ending spectrum of human misery. Agitated, embarrassed, wretched.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

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[Review] The Hours (2002)

“What does it mean to regret when you have no choice? It's what you can bear. There it is. No one's going to forgive me. It was death. I chose life.” - Laura Brown

Based on Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same name, which is also loosely based on the life of Virginia Woolf during the writing process of Mrs. Dalloway; The Hours to the maudlin misery guts—and by that I mean myself—are like Inception is to Nolan fanboys. It’s a glaring drama that deals with its ambition keenly, hear this: a story that takes place within the span of a single day in three different decades, alternating between three women and linked by their quandary that stands in the way of commitment and desire. On paper, it may seem mouthful, but through Stephen Daldry’s soothing direction, The Hours is one soul-stirring beauty. Daldry neatly sews the bridges between the chasms written by David Hare and is able to find its intrinsic rhythm, all then stitched beautifully by the adeptness of its lyrical ensemble of the star-studded cast and the rush of Phillip Glass’ reverberant score. 

Helmed by the acting trifecta of Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep; these three women, separated by time and anchored by their collective minds, bring in powerhouse performances packed with a sure-fire emotional punch. Kidman, by a nose—as Denzel said it—and her mighty talent, is fully committed as Virginia Woolf. Kidman impressively registers pitch-perfect note after another, making her turn as Woolf as her most shocking yet—at that time—as she disappears into Woolf’s physicality: her posture and her tone of voice, reliving her spark of creativity and her state of mind. No more of that smooth, satin-like personality of hers in Moulin Rouge! nor the mean-spirited satirical character she plays unapologetically in To Die For. Yet, beyond the writer persona, Kidman shows her incredible control as she allows us to see through Woolf’s aching, yet unbeaten grit. She’s vulnerable without being completely wide open, adrift without being powerless: a guarded intensity of acuity with a flair of imperiousness. 

Julianne Moore's turn as a shielded mother is every bit as interesting as Kidman’s portrayal, if not more. Secluded from her own existence and feelings, she wears a smile every day and carries herself as a loving, perfect ideal of the American dream in order to survive societal conventions, because really, she doesn’t have any choice. Conscious and awake, yet detached, so far removed, and everything in between, Moore is a vast amalgamation of nuances. It’s a truly tough part to pull off, yet she does so, and even more. Her willingness to go far in her craft is truly what makes The Hours an indelible mark of her acting mastery. Meryl Streep here carries less weight on her shoulder than the other two, but even with less flesh in her material, Streep is still a rounded, solid character that simply captivates. As Clarissa, she’s openly bisexual, able to acknowledge her liberty, and untied to the suppressive systemic customs that chain Moore and Kidman’s characters, yet she’s still afraid, unsure, and haunted by the choices she made/didn’t make. Backdropped with the 21st-century life setbacks and whatnot, her personal battle makes her the one character that most audiences can identify with. Her presence, despite being a looking glass to the audience, also operates as a filtered lens to see through these women’s stories, to make us observe and feel without feeling like a standalone onlooker, and it clearly works.

Through their powerful display of acting, The Hours makes the journey along the chasms themselves rewarding, but clearly, the script plays an even bigger part: how the narrative looks at life in the eyes, searching for and reflecting on choices or the lack of them. Even if it’s not always a smooth ride, the result is always fulfilling. The journey feels like a never-ending disquiet at the minutiae of everyday life, as they welcome us right at the pits, as they plummet deeper into sorrow, regret, and pain; grieving for the lives they could’ve had and even further: the unraveling of their perpetuated suffering. Though the movie abstains itself from depicting the detailed, seemingly-trivial grounds, and instead takes the focus into a kaleidoscope of life’s repercussions; The Hours doesn’t come across as an empty vessel of skin-deep life horror. The script carefully navigates between each mind, in which one idea is echoed to the next, gradually mounting one single, giant resonating force. It’s true that pain is an attested measure of reality, and even if this cinematic approach to storytelling may take some of its sense of realism and complexity away, that exact sentiment is the one that brings its somber motif into the limelight. It’s not new and since then many have done it even better, but the grasp is what makes The Hours a personal epic that’s poignant, expressive, and ultimately earnest. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

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[Review] Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

"When you asked if I had known love. I could tell the answer was yes. And that it was now." - Marianne

In today's cinema, where every project comes with such a ponderous methodical approach with one goal to impress, effortless invisibility has become a rare gem. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is that rarity. Director/screenwriter Céline Sciamma's technical prowess is incredibly refined, her timing is fluid and her delivery is graceful. She reminds us that what we're peeping through are simply pieces of someone's life, that we're fortunate enough to witness, or better yet, to feel. Sciamma composes every frame with a certain amount of unposed shades: the colors are muted and the diction is understated, yet it never shies away from its true-being: a passionate portrait ablaze with its scattered, powerful imageries. 

More than its technicality, the even greater strength here is how well Sciamma understands her subject: memories. She knows that for Marriane to tell a story of Héloïse—wonderfully played by the passionate pair of Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenelthe viewers have to make our own as well. From its closeups, classical melodies, hushed words, to brilliant focus on their eyes, those little elements of memories that Sciamma examines feel perfectly honest and loving. Through her deep-seated script and intimate direction, Portrait of a Lady on Fire finds Sciamma getting drawn to the past, picking up the right colors and stroking her brush onto the canvas to incite, form, and engrave memories on us. In the end, not only do those deep, straight gazes form memories, but we also hold on to these precious moments as if they were our own—and when that adieu comes and those eyes don't look back, we can't help but long for a glimpse of that stare.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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[Review] Little Women (2019)

"Please fight to the end, be LOUD! Don't just quietly go away!" - Jo March 

Watching Little Women had me pondering question after question. What makes a great film, great? Then, that question expanded: what makes a great film, important? I still haven't got the chance to find answers and one thing came up: how is one deemed important anyway? The scale, the scope, the stakes? I found myself fascinated by one thing, then one fascination came right after another, and so on. Director-screenwriter Greta Gerwig, in this Louisa May Alcott's latest film adaptation, poses these deep-rooted thoughts about the importance of telling one's story, that the scope of sisters in their childhood and adulthood is as large as any other supposedly bigger stories. It's blunt and graceful, playful and firm, heartwarming and heartrending. Greta breaks down and analyzes Alcott's already modern writing, molding it into another form that further broadens Alcott's vision with intelligence, insight, and tenderness. 

Between the stories, themes, and characters Alcott has brought, Greta finds an emotive core to sew the seams and hem the border of each parallel, allowing those separating lines to unite Alcott's intricate sense and sensibility. More than redefining its narrative structure and reharmonizing its source, Greta injects her expressive creativity into our consciousness: from introducing the characters as adults longing for their memories of childhood to giving them their bigger voices. With that amount of liberty, she alters things but the heart remains congruent. One thing to note is how Greta is not afraid to go beyond Jo's story to mirror Alcott's real-life struggle. Here, Alcott's clear-cut persona is always present and valued, not just as the distinguished writer, but a woman with her own unique, empowered thoughts—an homage in the highest form.

We're no stranger to a non-linear narrative, but Greta's interpretation conveys determined gravitas. Those specific timelines sustain specific purposes, helping us understand the endeavor that stands between chasing ambitions and the haunting memories that follow. Her interpretation shows that one's life is not merely a one-way journey where everything moves forward in a prospective canon, life is also a reflection of memories, one that could be reframed as both an introspect and a retrospect. But these characters are not always talking about big dreams, it's about the complexity and the correlation of everything: womanhood, childhood, marriage, freedom, loneliness, love, and its lack thereof. These themes are presented skilfully through her acute understanding of dynamics: often overt, at times guarded, a mud-caked allure of growing up that brings overlooked inner agitations to light.

Greta's script shows a different way of viewing things, one that we may have seen before, yet her methods of creating such lens are very distinct—for one thing, she gets the point. She gets her way around each character, giving them grounds as well as delivering us answers of "why are they here?". She simply sees them as people trying to live their lives and paints them so, creating a space between us and the characters to breathe for one moment but leaving us in one room so we can recognize each other from a near distance. We see ourselves in Saoirse Ronan's Jo: her willingness to strive for something regarded as radical is powerful yet the absence of companionship in her life is perfectly intelligible. On the other hand, we also mirror Florence Pugh's Amy as she unravels the long-buried side of her perspective, bridging a gap between a misunderstood character we thought we knew and her true native wit. How Greta embraces reality with delicacy on one end and firmness on the other has become the singularity in her art since Lady Bird—or her early collaborations with Noah Baumbach—but her reinvention of this beloved, familiar story has created a new larger surface for us to walk onto, a warm quilt for us to take time and be engrossed in this intimate life's intricacy.

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 ingénue 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 loss of her 17 children, are physical manifestations that reflect her darkest, most heart-rending vent of her life, defining her as more than 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 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.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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2017 Revisited: 25 Movies of the Year, Part 1

The year 2017 was problematic in so many ways, but there's no denying that 2017 was also a phenomenal year for cinephiles everywhere. Paul Thomas Anderson came back, Steven Soderbergh revoked his plan to retire à la Hayao Miyazaki, a marvelous time for female filmmakers (Greta Gerwig, Dee Rees, Patty Jenkins, to Sofia Coppola), a powerful period for independent movies (which, for the most part, we have A24 to thank for), a promising mark for talented young actors (Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, to Brooklynn Prince), and a pinnacle year for Indonesian film industry. In retrospect, I've decided to revisit 2017 once again and to see 25 movies that have caught my complete attention throughout the year—well, 20 is too tough to pick and 30 is too much work, hence a list of 25. Still, since overlooked movies are unavoidable, here are some of greatest movies of 2017 that sadly didn't make the cut.

In random order: Pengabdi Setan graces Indonesian horror framework and elevates its material with atmospheric, highly effective dread; Baby Driver proves you can achieve smartly written story along with carefully constructed action sequences in one stylish picture; War for the Planet of the Apes concludes its thought-provoking arc with a heart-stirring, rightfully merited finale for the blockbuster trilogy; The Big Sick elucidates romantic narrative when love looks past cultural contrast and strips down all differences; Logan Lucky welcomes Soderbergh in Coen Brothers' touch of slick heist movie with a lot of humor punches as well as exciting idiosyncracy; the scary good, greatly scary It frightens with on-your-face terrors and shape-shifting fear; Molly's Game unites Aaron Sorkin together with Jessica Chastain in a winning race against ticking time that spits its beat relentlessly; and Wonder Woman embodies its two-word title, 'wonder' and 'woman', with heavily built valor and humane sense of optimism. Now, without further ado, let's jump right into my top picks—the first half.

#25. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts | Directed by Mouly Surya | Written by Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho, and Mouly Surya 
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts aims western territory at a newfangled direction, incarnating lionhearted female liberation without losing grip on its unadorned western narrative. Scattered in a four-act structure that's prototypical and quintessential to its genre, director Mouly Surya registers self-determination and maturity in a gut-wrenching discovery where its dulcet true-being equally matched by its plain-spoken fortitude. All the same, the embodiment is truly well-translated by the mighty impetus of its heroines, particularly the eponymous character herself, possessing a commanding quality while striking a balance between inscrutable, nonchalant control and fierce demeanor. Catapulted by Marsha Timothy's unstoppable body of work, Surya yields mostly clear-cut diegesis with multi-layered emotions as vehicle for unfurling the film's female-centric heart, casting naturalistic vengeance along with underlying symbolic voyage within its spectacular visual palette. An indelible inquiry into gender roles, rape culture, and social oppression, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts bears a formidable apotheosis with sass of confidence and a full streak of vigor, retaining one of today's most important discussions on the map with a cutthroat scenery of cinema.

#24. A Ghost Story | Written and Directed by David Lowery
A Ghost Story places brimful reliance on David Lowery, whose power inflames the unabridged film's ambition. Lowery's approach to his story is fairly unprecedented, in a figure of poetry that endures through orbit of time and yearning. It's a grueling effort to bring a story to life when the titular character barely does anything at all, but Lowery's aim stands in force with a visually telling, dismally prepossessing, and elliptically musing craftsmanship. Having a literal ghost in the eye of the storm, A Ghost Story takes the idea of helplessness into an emotional upheaval in a nowhere-near-unchallenging utterance. It's a melancholy-drenched and hope-filled cruise that appears abstruse in tranquility, but the gravity falls onto a delicately clear-cut niche: a hindsight that only walks forward, not merely a bold retrospect, but rather a deep-rooted introspect. A fully-bodied observation of loneliness and reminiscence accomplished in solicitious inclination and solitary colors, A Ghost Story is a groundbreaking arthouse answer to elegiac exploration of long-standing relics of love and loss. 

#23. The Post | Directed by Steven Spielberg | Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
The Post works both as an uncomprimising exposé and a pulse-throbbing suspense, finding Steven Spielberg in his ultimate form, once again. Carrying a much simpler premise than its peers—yes, I'm talking about All President's Men and Spotlight—The Post might not be the primal choice for those looking for an in-depth history-based account which intricately sweeps every side of corridor, but it captures the essence of heroism in the right place. Within the period when the press served the governed, not the governors, The Post evinces a fight-or-flight instinct in highest contentment, running against the expected and all the odds. It's anchored by the headlining performance from Meryl Streep, in which she ascends an arc that's unbelievably soaring. As one of the vital forces fortifying the resistance, her articulate rendering utters bravery in a timid presence, arising from underestimated position where the highest stakes are at. The Post ties Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks together from a different point of view, shaping an empowered coup that offers a toweringly satisfying chronicle, a riveting journey with oozes coming from every edge. But at heart, The Post cherishes the true spirit of journalism that once was a defining march, jogging our memory about the strongest-willed courage that resides within.

22. Posesif | Directed by Edwin | Written by Gina S. Noer
Posesif is a cinematic offering that examines the antithesis of romance within humane sphere, challenging taboos with guts and grit. Bringing high-school drama as a vessel, Posesif penetrates its rarely-discussed subject matter into conversation with trenchant precision. It's a scrutiny of possession as well as abusive relationship that looks at humans and their all around dimensions, analyzing reactions without stepping into the unduly imprudent romaticism area. Posesif opens with an outwardly steady-paced, blossoming love story, but from there, it goes nowhere but accelerates gradually through a coaster of heart-punching turning points. It is thoroughly heightened by the screen presence of its two leads, Putri Marino and Adipati Dolken, forming a bond both authentic and toxic. Marino's turn gives an astonishing depth from her emotional endurance in the most audacious backbone, whereas Dolken builds a portrait so unwaveringly spine-chilling, unfolding every page of his sheer facets without justifying any demeanor. Often devastating, inescapably daring, and shockingly thrilling, Posesif proves that there's still a room to explore for high-school drama while shedding light on its unspoken weight of detrimental possession altogether, reminding us that the only solution to escape pernicious relationship, is in fact, by escaping.

#21. Logan | Directed by James Mangold | Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green
There's a certain paradigm of a proper superhero film, and that mainly involves doing anything in big scale and all spectacle. Logan reaches what others won't do: a stripped-down self-effacing farewell story, and a heart-rending one at that. As a story about ageing, dying beloved superhero, Logan sets a big theme between immortality and mortality, a forceful picture of legacy that finds strange warmth along with cold tenderness amidst pathos and tragedy. Enhanced by the appearance of not one, but two claw-handed bad-asses, the action sequences shatter convention with non-fabricated rawness, adding attitude of pragmatism that never loses sight on its keen-edged strength. Pruning visual extravagance in exchange for bringing its candid realm into clearer focus, Logan contemplates what has always been separating these comic-book characters and normal people, and observes the inner mechanism of self-discovery in somber maturity. Elevated by possibly Hugh Jackman's most powerful work to date, Dafne Keen's searingly breakneck debut, and not to mention Patrick Stewart's gut-wrenching little performance, Logan is one last combat that takes cachet through hard-nosed road with grounded subtlety, a rightfully-earned parting that's both aching and satisfying.

#20. Detroit | Directed by Kathryn Bigelow | Written by Mark Boal
One thing that Kathryn Bigelow excels at, is her masterful fluency in patience. This is what she's been doing in her cinematic style for years, and Detroit is no exception. Bigelow spends almost 50 minutes to establish everything from scratch, creating eagerly suspense through self-restraint early intensity before suffocating itself into the middle of the havoc. Moving in conical canon with fond use of shaky handheld camera and desolating sound, Bigelow produces realism sense of cinematic journalism between its fact and fiction. It's a lengthy, sometimes off-kilter, claustrophobic means to channel racial issue that's long-forgotten and as importantly demanding as any other tragic chapter in the book of American darkest history. It faces the real-life horror with rawness besides efficiency, keeping the discourse alive with soul-crushing honesty and brutal absence of catharsis. Yes, Detroit is meant to fire your inside anger, and it does just that without struggle: you'll be provoked, your blood will reach its boiling point, your heart will pound harder than ever. It's a horror realism of one of the most upsetting history in powerful sense, devastatingly proving an alarming point in institutional racism and opression.

#19. Mudbound | Directed by Dee Rees | Written by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
Mudbound envelops one subplot after another, bursting at the seems with stories carrying gravity on their shoulders. Capturing the relationship between two families—one black and one white—these distinguishing streams meets the tide at a precise pinpoint, a scutiny of racism and destitution that manifests itself into an all-encompassing outlook. Sure, racism is not something new to explore in films, but Mudbound, despite its seemingly typecasted period setting, does this with a contrary to what's orthodoxically done. Patience is needed here, for Mudbound doesn't propel its hook firsthand. With seamlessly leaping narratives, Dee Rees leads us through numerous stories, filled with first-rate acting, spread with little details and lyrical overtone, slowly intensifying. A high-risk move indeed, but the outcome is poignantly rewarding. In the hand of Dee Rees, Mudbound is a grounded ensemble work. Her ability to keep the flow focused as it moves in non-linear trajectory, all while mounting its engaging friction from all directions into a well-rounded slow burn, is an outstanding achievement in storytelling. Using its attentively constructed  depiction of two different families—divided by color and bound by povertyMudbound untangles a shattering, impactful response towards racism and its deeply damaging rooted system.

 #18. Coco | Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina | Written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich
In a search of loved ones, Coco takes a giant leap by plunging deep into a journey about unearthing own self, expanding our perspective on the meaning of love, family, and compassion. The story combines insightful substance, emotive storytelling, and cultural appreciation in the best kind of way: a visual-driven and music-enriched foray that still brings entertainment value to its topmost level. Like any Pixar films, the narrative fluorishes through stages of simple frictions mounting bigger problems, but the resolution is never easy and the process to find it is always intricate yet organic, keeping us on the edge of our seats and investing us in its genuine overtones. Familiar momentsprimarily in the big reveal—are surely inevitable, but Coco manages to look past anticipation with firmly-assembled thematic storyline, eluding a cliché-ridden story even when you can see some of its twists coming. What's more surprising however, Coco, with an all-embracing plot, triumphantly overcomes this without diminishing any rewarding emotion—trust me, you'll still weep anyway. Definitely another win for Pixar, Coco creates a sublime borderline where the living crosses  paths with the dead and the colors meet the tunes, offering a poignant, deeply affecting story with love and its bonds as its core.

#17. Paddington 2 | Directed by Paul King | Written by Paul King and Simon Farnaby
In a year crowded with solemn movies about more solemn world problems, we deserved a little fun getaway, and Paddington 2 came just at the right time, right momentwith a subtle tackle on its hefty theme. Paddington 2 acts as an epitome of the picture-perfect family adventure: it has charm, wit, grit, and it has more. A journey about a refugee—except this time, it's a bear—Paddington 2 explores everything that makes us love its predecessor, expanding its horizon every step of the way with whimsical joy, authentic laughs, also wholehearted emotions in addition to its grativying adventure. In doing so, Paul King together with Simon Farnaby neatly magnifies their characters with elements of innocence and intelligence, adding more organic profundity to them while also evoking tenderness and fulfillment collectively. These detailed characters, not only are they crucial to each one of them, but also to the entire narrative, as they offer genuine, unstrained touch to untangle plot knots and solidify its overarching concern of acceptance. Paddington 2 creates a world that feels old-fashioned yet sets an expressive singularity so distinct with high production value and attention to detail, emerging a magically enchanting tale with a fresh whisper of Wes Anderson's antics and a radiant spirit of Frank Chapra's gleams. A treat for the eyes as well as the heart of many, this high-spirited splendor is as sweet as a jar of marmalade and as genuine as Paddington himself, delivering a series of heartfelt and incredibly sparkling adventures for all ages to enjoy.

#16. Phantom Thread | Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Steered by the magnetic bond from its two leads, not only do Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps command the stage, they demand the spotlight in this Paul Thomas Anderson's mark for resurgence. In his leave-taking role, Daniel Day Lewis is once again in his finest frame, now as Reynolds, a powerful, perplexing dressmaker with iron-willed artistic eye that makes him a mazelike lunacy as he's a constant uniformity. From viewers' standpoint, there stands his muse-turned-lover Vicky Krieps' Alma, trying to decipher Reynolds and the austereness he lives in, only to find her place between moonstruck love and driven desperation. More of a two-persona show than an ensemble piece, this romance endures through agony, endearment, also changes; thus turning their sparks into a cyclic turmoil of existentialism invoked by amorous manipulation and toxic obsession. Paul Thomas Anderson’s approach is slow-footed but assured, creating an efficacious power built upon observing the dynamics of tug of war between two kinds of madness striving to win over each other. Anderson explores the beauty, the ugly, and the in-betweens of puzzling temptation through their radiating chemistry, and much like his other works, Phantom Thread doesn't seek forthright realism, but rather the fantasticated fabric of our own reality, propelling a far-out take on all-consuming passion with inescapable drift of belonging that exposes a venomous, arresting romantic force that’s both distant and irresistible.

#15. God's Own Country | Written and Directed by Francis Lee
God's Own Country's each second is commanded by nuanced silence, demonstrating a blooming love in fewer words and bursting affection through storming liaison of filmmaking. Francis Lee's direction empowers God's Own Country to walk a scrupulous pace, impassioned when it soars and enigmatic when it hushes. Set in a rural area and told from a solitary stance, the rush of adoring authenticity ensues from Lee's keen eye for attention to progressive intimacy with the help of unpoised camerawork as well as genuine acting, achieving an inviting yet demanding romance to look at. Lucid use of extreme close-up and less-methodical angle maximizes mezmerizing performances from Josh O'Connor along with Alec Secareanu, focusing on silent gestures and shades of affection to reveal a pinnacle of graphic storytelling. But, as far as it conveys intense, growing feelings between two human beings, it also shows more about empirical inner thriving, how one self could relieve self-restraint to completely own their loving awakening. Filled with vivid heat on top of subdued desolation, God's Own Country unwinds an eloquent mud-mantled chemistry in a still piece of pure cinema that lets its visual language speak for itself.

#14. Get Out | Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Get Out begins with a bang, encapsuling the horror, deep down dread to an excruciating three-minute opening of intense discomfort which feels like going on forever yet keeps us getting involvedIt is at that point when you go, "I'm in!"and doesn't Jordan Peele deliver. But it's only the tip of an iceberg. As the truth eventually exposes itself, Get Out continues to frighten with never-ending panic, building upon its race issue cornerstone and allowing nerve-wrecking fear to get its way under your skinIt's a deliciously screeching terror-filled chamber urging viewers to chant "get out!", all while deludingly steering us to get in. But, from that right-through-you sudden sprint to the paralyzing angst of sunken place, Get Out makes us realize that the true horror lies in neither its ability to shock nor terrorize you: it is in the boundless truth. It's in the capacity to upset, the disturbing reality it possesses, and the significance it brings forward about modern day racism. Ultimately, Get Out is indeed eerily haunting. Whether you want to apply that definition to the urge it has for blood, sense of humor, its own way to grasp reality, or the unapologetically outspoken nature; there is no wrong answer. An occasionally funny, blunt satire without forgetting its horror complexion, Get Out manages to achive many in a single effort.

#13. The Killing of A Sacred Deer | Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos | Written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthmis Filippou
There's always a way to preface a film and invite audience in altogether, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer does this with inquisitiveness and sharp simplicity. With grandiose classical tune humming over a close-up of beating heart, it's a shot that's brilliantly sedating, enough to tell us that we're in for an intriguingly strange excursion. Loosely based on a Greek mythology, Yorgos Lanthimos translates its fabled premise into his own language of perplexing ethics, schismatic sacrifice, and back-breaking choices. Here, Lanthimos' wildest intuitiveness sets foot in a modern world that rings a bell to our own, posing impossible questions about unrestrained causality which seeks for the vulnerability in human's guilt. The dialogue is long and intentionally descriptive, sometimes even too detailed that these lines don't particularly have to be in parallel with the context of storytelling. The key, however, rests in Lanthimos' discreet direction and his cast's ice-cold firmness, forging an uncanniness that draws us in enticingly. In devilishly measured motion, the camera work keeps viewers off-balance yet aware of incoming viciousness, turning itself into its own 'living' character as it glides and always follows at an angle either too low or too high. A pure ingenuity of foreign darkness, The Killing of A Sacred Deer is a pitch-black folklore fathomed in provocative rhythm, intentionally stilted diction, harrowing tune, and outlandish charm. Really, there's no stranger thing than this.