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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, March 31, 2018

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2017 Revisited: 25 Movies of the Year, Part 2


From one leap to another, ranging from oddball comedies, thought-provoking sci-fis, to still uncomprimising dramas, 2017 was a kaleidoscope too hard to miss. It's the year that presented us a broad spectrum of cinematic heaven filled with never-ending accomplishments: Get Out proved to be a blunt social commentary while honoring its horror origin with bleak hysteria; The Killing of Sacred Deer delivered an inexplicable melting pot of folklore, foreign darkness, and claustrophobic mystery; and Phantom Thread conveyed the borderline meaning of love and obsession through its picturesque filmmaking highs. But these three, and the other previously posted films were only chunks of many peaks we experienced throughout 2017. Sure, the year was a lot of things, but triumphant was on top of the list. Here, we reveal the rest of the triumphs.


#12. I, Tonya | Directed by Craig Gillespie | Written by Steven Rogers
Exploring the life of Tonya Harding: her childhood, her rising fame, to her nosedive; I, Tonya goes further than picturing an infamous tragedy, it captures our protagonist life as she flourishes into a layered, living character. This, of course is thanks to the incredible Margot Robbie, whose portrayal prospers beyond her physical stature (as she's much taller than the real Tonya). Alongside its well-acted cast—from the irresistible Allison Janney to bright Sebastian Stanthe story reveals a sharp-tongued fashion, but the heart lasts. Crafted in documentary-like feels to cover each version of the story, I, Tonya poses questions about truth: from its nonexistence to its subjectivity; showcasing that, like beauty, truth also lies in the eye of the beholder. Often hilarious, inescapably riveting, powerfully acted, and endlessly wholehearted, I, Tonya showcases a biopic at its finest: an authentic portrayal that triumphs deeper than meets the eye. Who could've guessed that this year's best biopic goes to a film about 'the Tonya Harding'?


#11. Blade Runner 2049 | Directed by Denis Villeneuve | Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Blade Runner 2049 broaden the postulate brought by its predecessor, preserving the legacy for another decade to be remembered. Here, we follow Ryan Gosling's K as he unburies a hidden secret and begins to question his place in the incoming chaos—yes, and a quest to find Harrison Ford too. Blade Runner 2049 is the paramount instance of a timely theme in form of a ravishing science fiction that sees past the text-book pattern. Woven through the eye of a replicant, it's driven by a supposition of identity and existential questions. This notion is expressed through a series of red herrings greatly infused into the core structure of the story, defying viewers' anticipation and allowing a profound character study to thrive its innate humanity. Villeneuve invests its thematic complexity in allegorical imageries, reached by manipulating lights, movements, and colors to generate an enriched amalgam with a hint of biting bleakness. His bearing airs a potent, downtempo rhythm matched by Roger Deakin's commitedly gauged and baroquely adorned magnitude of beauty, placing honor on both facade and substance with razor-sharp merit as we're lost in a beguiling, almost meditative reverie.


#10. The Square | Written and Directed by Ruben Östlund
Taking its title from the film's art installation called 'The Square'described as "a sanctuary of trust and caring, in which within its boundaries, we all share equal rights and obligations,"—the film itself goes further than the boundaries it sets. Focusing on an art curator and his struggling life crisisprofessionally, as he handles his career after facing a public outrage caused by museum's new installation, and personally, as he starts to lose his instinct of courtesy—it's a satirical comedy that tackles pretentiousness and society's fundamental principle, all while providing laughs in absurdity. The Square finds its cynicism in creating uneasiness out of every situation and revealing dilemma in every ideal. Inside its sardonic laughter, Ruben Östlund deeply scrutinizes his two-way theses of how today's society reflects on an image and how pretentious culture hits modern age, prompting a larger notion about superficiality, that the appearance may not always speak the volume it proposes. The Square appears silly yet proffer earnestness; it discusses social gap, civility, to selfish self-preservation in nothing but straightforward awkwardness. It assembles laughter in the most concerned circumstances; and even in its most foolish moment, The Square still offers a solemn, lingering question about human behavior: how much inhumanity does it take before we access your humanity?


#9. Dunkirk | Written and Directed by Christoper Nolan
It’s what we might expect from Nolan and more. Christopher Nolan unravels an ambitious narrative to bring its history-based moments to life, it's when the story moves in a march with measured tread of monumental music, absorbing acting, enthralling visual, and gripping sound, all crafted within Nolan's foremost expertise in direction. Throughout this altered structure of time, Nolan successfully underlines fearlessness without overlooking its beating heart. Each chapter is built in shocking jolt and humane tenderness, allowing distinguished valor to strive against the need for survival while resurging more facets to the story. With almost no speaking line, the dialogue-sparse Dunkirk lets the narrative expand by itself, giving the wings of audio and visual the maximum power and authority to control Dunkirk's vastness of heated intensity. The result is a colossal, almost silent adrenaline rush with an emphasize on its most surging sense of time. A toweringly courageous and awe-inspiring cinematic escapade, Dunkirk applauds its heroism roots with both respect and spectacle that sure is worth its ambition


#8. Loveless | Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev | Written by Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev
A story like this has been told over and over, but only a few have stood the test of time. Take the terrifyingly intriguing Sporloos, the subtly intricate About Elly, to the stylishly Hollywood-infused Gone Girl for example. More than putting names on missing person list, they all have much more to offer. So does Loveless. Without much exposition, we're given a glimpse look of a child, neglected and forgotten. But the story lingers more on the parents' absence, and as we gaze down a little deeper on their life, the focus ingeniously makes us unaware. When that time comes, no one is prepared, even us the beholder. It’s a story that rebels against unwantedness, bursts with loneliness, and is told in uncertainty. And within its 'vanished-without-a-trace' story, Loveless finds an engrossingly emotive core, unraveling a social commentary that's truly hard-hitting in its understated delicacy.


#7. Wind River | Written and Directed by Taylor Sheridan 
This Taylor Sheridan's latest cinematic coup was unfairly absent from last year's awards season, but to us, this murder mystery is too majestically arresting to be unseen. Around its thematic whodunit, Wind River borrows style and ideas, but has plenty of its own to add, and for one, the vision remains focused and true. Forcefully led by Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Reiner, Wind River combines two antithetical, progressively multi-dimensional law enforcers to unveil a crushing exposé of injustice and corrupt morality. Wind River surely questions for an evoking answer, and albeit the world we live in doesn't provide an easy answer, Sheridan responds with a bone-chilling craftsmanship, brilliantly constructed characters, poignantly explosive revelation, and as a whole, a murder mystery that's further-reaching than the thirst for crime deciphering. 


#6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri | Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Marking Frances McDormand's return to the main spotlight, Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri brings a lot to the table: grief-dealing to criminal injustice, all of which are handled with highest altitude of artistry. The whole narrative orbits around the idea that Penelope—the film's most, intendedly, cartoonish character—once says: anger begets greater anger. Three Billboards is almost singlehandedly driven by rage, from McDormand's Mildred to Rockwell's Dixon, it observes all frames of anger in full display: an outrage caused by grief and injustice to enough unfounded temper and violence to make you throw someone out of two-story building. Yet, it also goes on showing that anger and compassion aren't really mutually exclusive after all. They, though are supposedly poles apart, also draw in with one another. This take that Martin McDonagh tries to uphold, is what makes Three Billboards so undisputedly dynamic. The story arises through fiery outrage after another, but its big-hearted core always retorts, always in the picture. But really, if we take a closer look at its ambiguous ending, we know Three Billboards is never about redemption anyway, it's about releasing and forbearing your anger, it's about displaying how damaging, consuming it really is, yet on the other hand, anger is sometimes unavoidable. Anger, is a part of human after all. 


#5 The Shape of Water | Directed by Guillermo del Torro | Written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Poetically realized in Guillermo del Toro's pioneering intuition for visual storytelling, The Shape of Water prevails in utmost robustness. The Shape of Water's story eludes overly convoluted course, and explicates more on its vividly detailed imageries. Imagine vibrant splashes of color and bleakness all together, where hopefulness and desolation project coherence and an otherworldly, sentient poem forms. In his own twisted world, del Toro creates a fairy tale, the one that conquers imperfection and finds the beauty within—and the one that exposes the monster inside. But, above all, The Shape of Water's unfeigned psyche rests on Sally Hawkin's (mostly) voiceless performance. Powerfully fascinating and mysteriously alluring, this masterstroke of her unrivaled delivery and del Toro's ceaseless vision is what truly conveys this strangest kind of love story to transcend beyond the love itself.


#4. The Florida Project | Directed by Sean Baker | Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Colorful with a sensitive sense of adventure, tenacious with a touch of freedom, The Florida Project echoes with forms of life on all of its spectrum. It's a heartfelt look that demands us to examine the overlooked living souls, the frontier cohering the rebellious childhood and the life-gasping adulthood. Filled with multi-faceted individuals, The Florida Projects goes to show the people as they truly are. Each of whom has different, foreign stories to tell, but they speak one state we all possess, the human condition that bridges harmony and casts the deepest core of tenderness we have in common. The Florida Project depicts to the core without once depriving, but rather, it’s a showcase of the endless shapes of humanity facing their own world with their own unique way, intuited in phantasm and unfolded in realism. Essentially, The Florida Project is always around one thing that can withstand just about anything: us. From its one-minute mark, Sean Baker keeps ourselves reminded of this, and even to the time it chooses to end, The Florida Project brings the thesis of 'us' to what might be the most well-rendered, perfect ultimate conclusion of an 'imperfect', deep-felt coda in cinema's recent memory.


#3. A Fantastic Woman | Directed by Sebastián Lelio | Written by Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza
Centered on Daniela Vega's full-force acting ability, she bursts exquisitely in A Fantastic Woman. It's her battle of courageagainst the constantly loathing minds, but in the larger contextagainst a morally bankrupt system, a homogeneous one that only carries the world within the frame of being socially compatible. But, A Fantastic Woman doesn't start with her. For the first five minutes, it follows the life of a man, eventually leading up to her and their vigorous bond. Through a shift of perspective, we sense an abruptness which our protagonist elicits. From there, A Fantastic Woman talks so much about remoteness and the state of not being able to fix anything, disclosing its solitary tale set in the crowd's eyes. With every frame dominated by Vega, we learn the world she lives in, a world so far-flung yet an-inch-close to your nose. But, as A Fantastic Woman introduces us to Vega with her singing and also ends with her singing, it uncovers the intrinsic nature of hope: it's always there. It sets questions right in front of our eyes wherein humanity is becoming devalued even rejected, but its main goal is not to pity, it is to value hope and identity. Triumphantly crafted with such tenderness, and at times, fueled by raging flames, A Fantastic Woman honors femininity in its highest place and fearlessly displays how oneself's willpower could bring you to your own liberation.


#2. Lady Bird | Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird thrives immensely, simply because of how personal it feels and unexpected it hits you. Within its small-scale scope, it resonates to a greater extent, deeply jogging memories and unwittingly reaching our own selves. It’s a tempest of adolescence and an array of emotions in chaos, presented in the warmest finesse and the realest nuance. But, underneath these coming-of-age notes, there lies an unseen, often overlooked love letter to mother's nurture and home's quilt, so hauntingly blunt we're caught in a universally emotional depth wrecking us from within. Lady Bird is driven by the force of its intriguinglyand accuratelywritten daughter-and-mother relationship, exploring the cycle of escalating conflicts to plungingly sudden fence-mending; relinquishing someone's grip in pursuance of their full establishment; and realizing that perhaps, love and attention are indeed the same thing. Powered by a pair of bold perfomances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf along with Greta Gerwig's sharp writing and sensitive directing, Lady Bird invites us in, as we immerse in laughter; in despair; in love; in true, genuine us.


#1. Call Me by Your Name | Directed by Luca Guadagnino | Written by James Ivory
Call Me by Your Name delivers an alluring gaze, a gaze into first love story that's both audacious and sincere. It's an unembellished narrative told in an intricately piercing storytelling. Its focal point pivots around the life of Elio as he comes of age, delineated perfectly from state of incertitude to blooming fondness to untold affection to aching adieu. Luca Guadagnino's direction guides Call Me by Your Name throughout its overwhelmingly emotional turmoil, creating exquisite tonality and sustaining mood. Armie Hammer shines in his talkativeness and the calmness of Michael Stuhlbarg easily makes him the best movie parent ever, but it is Timothée Chalamet who soars through the most in both tranquility and agitation. Within its beautifully composed frame and profound, richly-bonded performances, not only do we get to observe, we further learn and earn lovethe intimacy and the melancholyall in its forms.

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