ABOUT ME
Neurotic Visionary with Delusional Aspirations. 08/20/1995. Male. Canada. Or am I?

#MY FACE

#MY ART

#MY REVIEWS
September 17th 2014 11:23 PM  |  2 notes
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A Second Chance, dir. Susanne Bier (2014)
European films, from what I have gathered (and correct me if I’m wrong), can be characterized as being essentially realist to a fault, and yet their stories still manage to surprise, shock, and titillate its audience—largely in part because of its realist nature itself and what these stories resonate about human life. 
A Second Chance is a moral drama that is at the intersection of mental health and maternity, and beyond that I don’t want to say too much in fear of spoiling the story that unravels, which is thrilling and tense upon initial viewing. Its trailer simplifies much of the complexity and ambiguity that ensues; it’s much more than a drama of socioeconomic class and child neglect, though those are rampant themes. The film touches on a situation I personally have never encountered or heard of, and while I wish it delved more deeply into the psychology of its characters, its enigma and withholding of information is perhaps why it succeeds. 
Bier also has some beautifully composed shots that complement the film’s somber tone and an effortless performance by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

A Second Chance, dir. Susanne Bier (2014)

European films, from what I have gathered (and correct me if I’m wrong), can be characterized as being essentially realist to a fault, and yet their stories still manage to surprise, shock, and titillate its audience—largely in part because of its realist nature itself and what these stories resonate about human life. 

A Second Chance is a moral drama that is at the intersection of mental health and maternity, and beyond that I don’t want to say too much in fear of spoiling the story that unravels, which is thrilling and tense upon initial viewing. Its trailer simplifies much of the complexity and ambiguity that ensues; it’s much more than a drama of socioeconomic class and child neglect, though those are rampant themes. The film touches on a situation I personally have never encountered or heard of, and while I wish it delved more deeply into the psychology of its characters, its enigma and withholding of information is perhaps why it succeeds. 

Bier also has some beautifully composed shots that complement the film’s somber tone and an effortless performance by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 16th 2014 11:37 PM  |  7 notes
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The Voices, dir. Marjane Satrapi (2014)
In Marjane Satrapi’s fourth directorial feature, she imbues this deeply disturbed black comedy surrounding a man living with schizophrenia (played by Ryan Reynolds) with her signature comic visual style and stark visual palette. While it deals with a heavy character background of mental breakdown and abuse, its humour derives from a parody of language and filmic conventions, rather than the serious subject itself. 
The eponymous voices are Ryan Reynolds himself, who voices the psychotic manifestations of Jerry Hickfang, an outwardly cheery, if not amiable average joe. His cat and his dog become his guiding subconscious after a date gone awry that ends with his workplace crush beheaded and living in animated fashion (as part of a delusion of course) in his fridge. Glimpses of his turbulent childhood living with a mentally ill mother, while being ill himself, flesh out the damaging assault by his father, and his alienation within his own family. These moments are tense and frightening—a tonal departure—but nevertheless significant in building a sympathetic character whose violence is necessarily born out of his uncontrollable mind. 
Satrapi also plays very well with the concept of perception—portraying subjective (through Jerry’s eyes) and objective settings, and perhaps even subjective and objective personalities. Although, the story perpetuates a harmful stereotype of violent behaviour among those who live with mental disorders (which is simply untrue), he is not absolved of asking philosophical questions about his existence; his tortured existence which has made him unwillingly violent. By the end, with a winning musical number, Jerry is seen as a product of a society that is still reluctant and unsure of how to speak about mental illness. And the reverberations of this means lives suffer, though not nearly in such a zany and redeeming manner as The Voices. 
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

The Voices, dir. Marjane Satrapi (2014)

In Marjane Satrapi’s fourth directorial feature, she imbues this deeply disturbed black comedy surrounding a man living with schizophrenia (played by Ryan Reynolds) with her signature comic visual style and stark visual palette. While it deals with a heavy character background of mental breakdown and abuse, its humour derives from a parody of language and filmic conventions, rather than the serious subject itself. 

The eponymous voices are Ryan Reynolds himself, who voices the psychotic manifestations of Jerry Hickfang, an outwardly cheery, if not amiable average joe. His cat and his dog become his guiding subconscious after a date gone awry that ends with his workplace crush beheaded and living in animated fashion (as part of a delusion of course) in his fridge. Glimpses of his turbulent childhood living with a mentally ill mother, while being ill himself, flesh out the damaging assault by his father, and his alienation within his own family. These moments are tense and frightening—a tonal departure—but nevertheless significant in building a sympathetic character whose violence is necessarily born out of his uncontrollable mind. 

Satrapi also plays very well with the concept of perception—portraying subjective (through Jerry’s eyes) and objective settings, and perhaps even subjective and objective personalities. Although, the story perpetuates a harmful stereotype of violent behaviour among those who live with mental disorders (which is simply untrue), he is not absolved of asking philosophical questions about his existence; his tortured existence which has made him unwillingly violent. By the end, with a winning musical number, Jerry is seen as a product of a society that is still reluctant and unsure of how to speak about mental illness. And the reverberations of this means lives suffer, though not nearly in such a zany and redeeming manner as The Voices. 

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 13th 2014 11:39 PM  |  11 notes
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Men, Women & Children, dir Jason Reitman (2014)
I’d like to preface my review by saying that I am a Chinese, queer male—so perhaps you can already sense where I’m going with this.
Reitman is a capable director, it’s evident through films like Juno and Up in the Air. Men, Women & Children opens with a shot of the Spacecraft Voyager drifting through space; a capsule, an archive of human history waiting to be discovered; the earth is nothing but a “Pale, Blue Dot,” as Carl Sagan once said. It’s a promising start, and a profound allegory of the human desire to connect, despite our microscopic existence in this galaxy, this grand universe. In the Internet age this couldn’t be truer and more prevalent. Our communication with each other has simultaneously proliferated, fragmented, become more menacing, more accessible, and all together confounding—but as with all burgeoning technologies, the Internet is a discourse that can be navigated, examined, and understood to an extent. And the number of lives on exhibition in this film, of men, women, and yes, children, are a precautionary tale of the effects and implications the digital age has had on our sexual lives and personal relationships. The Internet is still considered somewhat of a new frontier for parents and adolescents alike; how to monitor, and indeed, if we should monitor, our child’s behaviour on social networks and communities is a notable theme; as adults, how we engage in sexual expression, and the exploitation of others’ sexual expression is ruminated; and the unhealthy ideologies in pornography and its accessibility online to kids. 
In writing, it’s all pretty compelling stuff, especially when these Internet themes complement and act as a conduit for the ensemble’s own particular backgrounds: a girl who is dealing with eating disorders, a boy who’s mom recently ran off, a couple dissatisfied with their marriage, etc, etc. On screen, Reitman implements an interesting visual barrage of messages and photos, to represent the instant and constant inundation of information we’re receiving on our tiny mobile phones. As an intended effect, our eyes sometimes don’t know where to look or what to read. For much of the duration of the film, the tactic remains useful; it captures a glimpse of what we type, where we type it, when we type it, and how we react to what we read. 
Except, as with most screenplays dealing with a sizeable number of story lines and intersecting characters, the plot falls and rises and loses its momentum; everything seems to culminate at once and we aren’t given enough time to fully conceptualize and comprehend the experiences and nuances of each situation. In Men, Women & Children, the melodrama intensifies, but doesn’t elicit sympathy (at least not from me), because it seems almost propaganda-like in its distorted portrayal of a dystopian Internet age that has broken up just about every relationship that was in tact at the beginning of the film. While that certainly drives home the point, each character (some without a proper resolution at all) loses most of the intrigue of their initial premise, because of how flatly most of them are developed. Despite this, Ansel Elgort is a standout performance from a tremendous cast whose members all do very well in their respective roles. 
Having said all of this, having seen this multicoloured (and might I add wonderfully designed) poster, I wonder how many readers might have imagined this large group of characters, all in all at least more than 8 men, women, and children, to be all white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class? Now, before you roll your eyes and ask, why does this specific film have to go under this “social justice” scrutiny/bullshit (whichever you prefer), it’s a valid question to ask of any critic. Many films, if not all of the films I saw at the film festival this year, are about white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class people. And Men, Women & Children is a film adapted from a novel of the same name. 
When you use this collective term of “we” and “us”, and have an overarching story about the universe and the human race, it is absolutely, grossly irresponsible to not represent at least in some small way, the beautiful diversity of our planet. As a filmmaker, you are at liberty to reinterpret whatever was in those pages to be more inclusive, otherwise it is hard not to believe that you stand for the contrary. If you are honestly told that you can not include those different relationships, then I wouldn’t see any reason to do a film of such a grand narrative scale, at all. I find it hard to believe that a film revolving a community of people from the same area, couldn’t fathom that LGBTQ persons or people of other races, would interact with each other, let alone exist. It’s 2014. 
Please appropriately rename your film as White, Abled, Heterosexual, Men, Women & Children. Thank you. (By the way, how misleading is this poster; they’re all white actors so how convenient is it that this poster is a muddle of blue, green, red, and purple people.)
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Men, Women & Children, dir Jason Reitman (2014)

I’d like to preface my review by saying that I am a Chinese, queer male—so perhaps you can already sense where I’m going with this.

Reitman is a capable director, it’s evident through films like Juno and Up in the Air. Men, Women & Children opens with a shot of the Spacecraft Voyager drifting through space; a capsule, an archive of human history waiting to be discovered; the earth is nothing but a “Pale, Blue Dot,” as Carl Sagan once said. It’s a promising start, and a profound allegory of the human desire to connect, despite our microscopic existence in this galaxy, this grand universe. In the Internet age this couldn’t be truer and more prevalent. Our communication with each other has simultaneously proliferated, fragmented, become more menacing, more accessible, and all together confounding—but as with all burgeoning technologies, the Internet is a discourse that can be navigated, examined, and understood to an extent. And the number of lives on exhibition in this film, of men, women, and yes, children, are a precautionary tale of the effects and implications the digital age has had on our sexual lives and personal relationships. The Internet is still considered somewhat of a new frontier for parents and adolescents alike; how to monitor, and indeed, if we should monitor, our child’s behaviour on social networks and communities is a notable theme; as adults, how we engage in sexual expression, and the exploitation of others’ sexual expression is ruminated; and the unhealthy ideologies in pornography and its accessibility online to kids. 

In writing, it’s all pretty compelling stuff, especially when these Internet themes complement and act as a conduit for the ensemble’s own particular backgrounds: a girl who is dealing with eating disorders, a boy who’s mom recently ran off, a couple dissatisfied with their marriage, etc, etc. On screen, Reitman implements an interesting visual barrage of messages and photos, to represent the instant and constant inundation of information we’re receiving on our tiny mobile phones. As an intended effect, our eyes sometimes don’t know where to look or what to read. For much of the duration of the film, the tactic remains useful; it captures a glimpse of what we type, where we type it, when we type it, and how we react to what we read. 

Except, as with most screenplays dealing with a sizeable number of story lines and intersecting characters, the plot falls and rises and loses its momentum; everything seems to culminate at once and we aren’t given enough time to fully conceptualize and comprehend the experiences and nuances of each situation. In Men, Women & Children, the melodrama intensifies, but doesn’t elicit sympathy (at least not from me), because it seems almost propaganda-like in its distorted portrayal of a dystopian Internet age that has broken up just about every relationship that was in tact at the beginning of the film. While that certainly drives home the point, each character (some without a proper resolution at all) loses most of the intrigue of their initial premise, because of how flatly most of them are developed. Despite this, Ansel Elgort is a standout performance from a tremendous cast whose members all do very well in their respective roles. 

Having said all of this, having seen this multicoloured (and might I add wonderfully designed) poster, I wonder how many readers might have imagined this large group of characters, all in all at least more than 8 men, women, and children, to be all white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class? Now, before you roll your eyes and ask, why does this specific film have to go under this “social justice” scrutiny/bullshit (whichever you prefer), it’s a valid question to ask of any critic. Many films, if not all of the films I saw at the film festival this year, are about white, abled, heterosexual, and middle-class people. And Men, Women & Children is a film adapted from a novel of the same name. 

When you use this collective term of “we” and “us”, and have an overarching story about the universe and the human race, it is absolutely, grossly irresponsible to not represent at least in some small way, the beautiful diversity of our planet. As a filmmaker, you are at liberty to reinterpret whatever was in those pages to be more inclusive, otherwise it is hard not to believe that you stand for the contrary. If you are honestly told that you can not include those different relationships, then I wouldn’t see any reason to do a film of such a grand narrative scale, at all. I find it hard to believe that a film revolving a community of people from the same area, couldn’t fathom that LGBTQ persons or people of other races, would interact with each other, let alone exist. It’s 2014. 

Please appropriately rename your film as White, Abled, Heterosexual, Men, Women & Children. Thank you. (By the way, how misleading is this poster; they’re all white actors so how convenient is it that this poster is a muddle of blue, green, red, and purple people.)

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 13th 2014 1:36 AM  |  0 notes
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Still Alice, dir. Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (2014)
As an incoherent bilingual Chinese born Canadian, I often find myself grasping for the right pinyin of Chinese symbols that are seemingly at the tip of my tongue. It’s an infuriating and exasperating test of memory, but it’s necessary to nurture and embrace my Chinese culture, as part of my identity. It isn’t unlike (but certainly no where near as fraught as) Alzheimer’s disease, which deteriorates the memory until quite literally nothing is left of the person. It may be a dramatic way of phrasing the experience of those who suffer the illness, but it is frankly and inexplicably much more terrifying and devastating than any description could suggest.
The film, adapted from Lisa Genova’s novel of the same title, depicts the rapid progression of early on set Alzheimer’s through a 50 year old linguist professor, whose career and intelligence has defined her for years. So with the loss of not only her words, but her ability to remain the scrupulous and diligent woman she once was, she is not only losing her life’s work, but also the foundation of her identity—her articulate speech, the respect and admiration of her students and colleagues, and her memory of friends and family. Right in the opening scene the audience can observe subtle hints of absentmindedness that wouldn’t otherwise suggest Alzheimer’s—indeed, we are all prone to moments of forgetfulness. But after she loses her way around campus in the middle of a jog, it becomes clear to her that this isn’t a trivial case of aging. And after a diagnosis, quotidian activities become more difficult—such as ordering her favourite ice cream, remembering appointments and names, locating the washroom, recognizing her own daughter—and more heart wrenching to witness. It is a harrowing performance by Julianne Moore, as many reviews have stated, and any attempt to express her generosity to the performance and the minute details that gradually transform her into her catatonic state that renders her beyond recognition, is largely an understatement. To an extent, seeing Moore in this role, as believable as she is, was traumatizing. Her battle for who she once was and to be remembered as that person, rather than as the decrepit and degenerate burden she was becoming to those around her, communicated so clearly the stigma that comes with such an unpredictable illness. In a grim and despondent conversation with her husband, she admits she wishes she had cancer instead. People will wear ribbons for those suffering from cancer, in solidarity; but there is little solidarity and understanding for someone who seemingly can’t even remember your name or carry a conversation—issues of mental illness, to a degree, are still so alienating, because the symptoms, very often, are erratic and make the sufferer seem unapproachable, but this is rooted in a societal ignorance and failure to advocate for those who are unable to speak up for themselves.
In addition to an emotionally charged script is a fantastic use of visual cues and stimuli to simulate or at least invoke her feelings of despair and fragmented thoughts. The recurring music is moving and equally as poignant. Each element of this film generates an unstoppable momentum into Alice Howland’s tragic descent in losing the very essence of who she is—her memories, her experiences, and her love and vigour she had for her family and her life.
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Still Alice, dir. Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer (2014)

As an incoherent bilingual Chinese born Canadian, I often find myself grasping for the right pinyin of Chinese symbols that are seemingly at the tip of my tongue. It’s an infuriating and exasperating test of memory, but it’s necessary to nurture and embrace my Chinese culture, as part of my identity. It isn’t unlike (but certainly no where near as fraught as) Alzheimer’s disease, which deteriorates the memory until quite literally nothing is left of the person. It may be a dramatic way of phrasing the experience of those who suffer the illness, but it is frankly and inexplicably much more terrifying and devastating than any description could suggest.

The film, adapted from Lisa Genova’s novel of the same title, depicts the rapid progression of early on set Alzheimer’s through a 50 year old linguist professor, whose career and intelligence has defined her for years. So with the loss of not only her words, but her ability to remain the scrupulous and diligent woman she once was, she is not only losing her life’s work, but also the foundation of her identity—her articulate speech, the respect and admiration of her students and colleagues, and her memory of friends and family. Right in the opening scene the audience can observe subtle hints of absentmindedness that wouldn’t otherwise suggest Alzheimer’s—indeed, we are all prone to moments of forgetfulness. But after she loses her way around campus in the middle of a jog, it becomes clear to her that this isn’t a trivial case of aging. And after a diagnosis, quotidian activities become more difficult—such as ordering her favourite ice cream, remembering appointments and names, locating the washroom, recognizing her own daughter—and more heart wrenching to witness. It is a harrowing performance by Julianne Moore, as many reviews have stated, and any attempt to express her generosity to the performance and the minute details that gradually transform her into her catatonic state that renders her beyond recognition, is largely an understatement. To an extent, seeing Moore in this role, as believable as she is, was traumatizing. Her battle for who she once was and to be remembered as that person, rather than as the decrepit and degenerate burden she was becoming to those around her, communicated so clearly the stigma that comes with such an unpredictable illness. In a grim and despondent conversation with her husband, she admits she wishes she had cancer instead. People will wear ribbons for those suffering from cancer, in solidarity; but there is little solidarity and understanding for someone who seemingly can’t even remember your name or carry a conversation—issues of mental illness, to a degree, are still so alienating, because the symptoms, very often, are erratic and make the sufferer seem unapproachable, but this is rooted in a societal ignorance and failure to advocate for those who are unable to speak up for themselves.

In addition to an emotionally charged script is a fantastic use of visual cues and stimuli to simulate or at least invoke her feelings of despair and fragmented thoughts. The recurring music is moving and equally as poignant. Each element of this film generates an unstoppable momentum into Alice Howland’s tragic descent in losing the very essence of who she is—her memories, her experiences, and her love and vigour she had for her family and her life.

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 11th 2014 10:38 PM  |  3 notes
|
Two Days, One Night, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (2014)
Just as she is ready to return to work after an absence of leave from her job, Sandra is informed that she has been let go. She is devastated and ready to give up, but with the support of her husband and a few close co-workers, she takes two days and one night to persuade her remaining co-workers, one by one, to sacrifice their bonuses so that she can remain on the job. 
This film could easily have been about the economics and politics of worker’s unions and the turmoil of the working class. Except, it isn’t. Sandra had an absence of leave, as we discover, because she had depression. While the film doesn’t delve into the history of its characters or what happened before the film’s start, its narrative succeeds because of its simplicity. The complexity comes through its naturalistic portrayal of these very real working class characters, and Marion Cotillard’s stunning, deeply emotional, and heartbreaking performance as a woman who is seeking solidarity and reentering society with a sliver of hope. In all of her brilliant nuance, Cotillard’s performance captures what it is like to struggle with one’s will to live, even in the face of people who care and love you. It is a condition that requires tremendous patience and unconditional love to nurture and reinvigorate their conviction to fight for another day.
The Dardenne brothers capture, so realistically, not only the multitude of economic and moral dilemmas that each worker must mull over, but also the emotional turmoil, the flurry of thoughts, and the constant anxiety with which a woman like Sandra suffers, in every engagement with people who may not see your worth anymore, once you are no longer deemed a functioning member of society. Two Days, One Night implores us to fight for solidarity above all else, because loneliness can be a disease of the mind.
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Two Days, One Night, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (2014)

Just as she is ready to return to work after an absence of leave from her job, Sandra is informed that she has been let go. She is devastated and ready to give up, but with the support of her husband and a few close co-workers, she takes two days and one night to persuade her remaining co-workers, one by one, to sacrifice their bonuses so that she can remain on the job. 

This film could easily have been about the economics and politics of worker’s unions and the turmoil of the working class. Except, it isn’t. Sandra had an absence of leave, as we discover, because she had depression. While the film doesn’t delve into the history of its characters or what happened before the film’s start, its narrative succeeds because of its simplicity. The complexity comes through its naturalistic portrayal of these very real working class characters, and Marion Cotillard’s stunning, deeply emotional, and heartbreaking performance as a woman who is seeking solidarity and reentering society with a sliver of hope. In all of her brilliant nuance, Cotillard’s performance captures what it is like to struggle with one’s will to live, even in the face of people who care and love you. It is a condition that requires tremendous patience and unconditional love to nurture and reinvigorate their conviction to fight for another day.

The Dardenne brothers capture, so realistically, not only the multitude of economic and moral dilemmas that each worker must mull over, but also the emotional turmoil, the flurry of thoughts, and the constant anxiety with which a woman like Sandra suffers, in every engagement with people who may not see your worth anymore, once you are no longer deemed a functioning member of society. Two Days, One Night implores us to fight for solidarity above all else, because loneliness can be a disease of the mind.

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 11th 2014 9:49 PM  |  1 note
|
Foxcatcher, dir. Bennett Miller (2014)
Bennett Miller’s filmography thus far is defined by its leading male characters, all based on real people; The Cruise documents tour bus guide Timothy Levitz, Capote chronicles author Truman Capote, and Moneyball follows the science of Billy Beane. Foxcatcher continues this tradition, but it is driven by two intense and impenetrable performances rather than one; Mark Schultz played by Channing Tatum, and John du Pont played by Steve Carrell, whom embody two singularly chilling and mystifying men who’s lives intersect and diverge with great consequences.
The screenplay, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, is methodical and tense. The tension builds up so insidiously that by its conclusion, the palpable reaction to what is witnessed on screen is an effect of the slow kinetic energy amassed in the years between its trio of men. Miller’s stylistic direction in Foxcatcher is also sublime. He noticeably captures his subjects from behind, sitting in rooms, alone, and many times he shoots from such a long shot that he has distanced the audience, perhaps intentionally; and other times, he will examine his subjects up close, almost to an uncomfortable degree, when they are erratic and explosive. His focus shifts from foreground to background. His camera work is a potential point of study, as he so brilliantly and atmospherically defines the emotional isolation of these characters.
Mark and Dave Schultz were brothers who confided in and took care of each other in the face of parental loss. John du Pont, who was lonely and friendless for most of his life, was possibly buying affection from the Schultz, and symbiotically, the troubled Mark was seeking paternal affection. The film doesn’t indulge in the specifics of Pont’s pathology, but the story works as enough evidence for the audience to come to their own conclusions. Pont recounts a tragic childhood memory that puts his descent into drugs and paranoia into perspective: discovering one day that his only friend was being paid by his mother to be his friend. Thus, Foxcatcher imparts an indelible sense of loss, a loss of love, a loss of sensibility, a loss of identity. It isn’t in the presence of hate, but rather the absence of love, when a person is no longer human. 
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Foxcatcher, dir. Bennett Miller (2014)

Bennett Miller’s filmography thus far is defined by its leading male characters, all based on real people; The Cruise documents tour bus guide Timothy Levitz, Capote chronicles author Truman Capote, and Moneyball follows the science of Billy Beane. Foxcatcher continues this tradition, but it is driven by two intense and impenetrable performances rather than one; Mark Schultz played by Channing Tatum, and John du Pont played by Steve Carrell, whom embody two singularly chilling and mystifying men who’s lives intersect and diverge with great consequences.

The screenplay, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, is methodical and tense. The tension builds up so insidiously that by its conclusion, the palpable reaction to what is witnessed on screen is an effect of the slow kinetic energy amassed in the years between its trio of men. Miller’s stylistic direction in Foxcatcher is also sublime. He noticeably captures his subjects from behind, sitting in rooms, alone, and many times he shoots from such a long shot that he has distanced the audience, perhaps intentionally; and other times, he will examine his subjects up close, almost to an uncomfortable degree, when they are erratic and explosive. His focus shifts from foreground to background. His camera work is a potential point of study, as he so brilliantly and atmospherically defines the emotional isolation of these characters.

Mark and Dave Schultz were brothers who confided in and took care of each other in the face of parental loss. John du Pont, who was lonely and friendless for most of his life, was possibly buying affection from the Schultz, and symbiotically, the troubled Mark was seeking paternal affection. The film doesn’t indulge in the specifics of Pont’s pathology, but the story works as enough evidence for the audience to come to their own conclusions. Pont recounts a tragic childhood memory that puts his descent into drugs and paranoia into perspective: discovering one day that his only friend was being paid by his mother to be his friend. Thus, Foxcatcher imparts an indelible sense of loss, a loss of love, a loss of sensibility, a loss of identity. It isn’t in the presence of hate, but rather the absence of love, when a person is no longer human. 

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 9th 2014 12:49 AM  |  0 notes
|
Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle (2014)
Whiplash boasts tremendous musical talent: from its original soundtrack by composers Justin Hurwitz and Tim Simonec, to the incendiary performance by Miles Teller. The sounds in this film, down to everything quotidian and purely spoken, and of course, the rapturous jazz music, it all captures the spirit and soul of torturous passion, dedication, and resilience. The sharp editing that punctuates every note and glides over the music, underscores the ebullience of the soundtrack. As a film about music, there is plenty to laud, and the characters indeed grow and speak through their music. Andrew Neyman, our doe eyed freshman protagonist, endures psychological warfare, bloody hands, and an abusive coach, to prove his worth in his school’s world class jazz band. He practices, and practices, until his electrifying closing performance sweeps everyone off their feet and solidifies his victory.
If all of that sounded cliché, it’s because Whiplash, to an extent, is a generic story. His abrasive coach, who spews vulgar epithets and greets his band as ‘faggots’ and ‘ladies’ somehow still elicits laughs at this day and age, but to be fair, as a screenwriter you can’t help but pander to contemporary culture (and if it’s semi biographical, the character’s essence must remain). And in one its longer conversational scenes, Chazelle is so discernibly attempting to have his audience sympathize and cheer for his musical prodigy, but to do so would be hypocritical. He claims that all the legends were lonely, and so he insists on doing the same; indeed, by the end of the film he has no fewer enemies and no extra friends, and he abruptly abandons a girlfriend. And when he feels undervalued for his pursuits, he scathingly does the same to boys who perhaps have their own athletic and political ambitions. In a few other scenes, Chazelle briefly humanizes Terrence Fletcher, the coach, almost as if to justify his abhorrent discipline. Nonetheless, the characters are particularly philosophically challenging for myself, and this is only a minor critique of the film as a social/cultural/political implication.
Teller gives an undeniably powerful and subtle performance as Andrew, but it’s a role that was underwritten for an actor with so much potential (which he displayed in The Spectacular Now). Granted, he doesn’t waste all of his potential; it’s all expressed in the way he plays. So while the film may not get past its polarizing humour and conventional narrative, it’s got one hell of a soundtrack telling its own story.
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle (2014)

Whiplash boasts tremendous musical talent: from its original soundtrack by composers Justin Hurwitz and Tim Simonec, to the incendiary performance by Miles Teller. The sounds in this film, down to everything quotidian and purely spoken, and of course, the rapturous jazz music, it all captures the spirit and soul of torturous passion, dedication, and resilience. The sharp editing that punctuates every note and glides over the music, underscores the ebullience of the soundtrack. As a film about music, there is plenty to laud, and the characters indeed grow and speak through their music. Andrew Neyman, our doe eyed freshman protagonist, endures psychological warfare, bloody hands, and an abusive coach, to prove his worth in his school’s world class jazz band. He practices, and practices, until his electrifying closing performance sweeps everyone off their feet and solidifies his victory.

If all of that sounded cliché, it’s because Whiplash, to an extent, is a generic story. His abrasive coach, who spews vulgar epithets and greets his band as ‘faggots’ and ‘ladies’ somehow still elicits laughs at this day and age, but to be fair, as a screenwriter you can’t help but pander to contemporary culture (and if it’s semi biographical, the character’s essence must remain). And in one its longer conversational scenes, Chazelle is so discernibly attempting to have his audience sympathize and cheer for his musical prodigy, but to do so would be hypocritical. He claims that all the legends were lonely, and so he insists on doing the same; indeed, by the end of the film he has no fewer enemies and no extra friends, and he abruptly abandons a girlfriend. And when he feels undervalued for his pursuits, he scathingly does the same to boys who perhaps have their own athletic and political ambitions. In a few other scenes, Chazelle briefly humanizes Terrence Fletcher, the coach, almost as if to justify his abhorrent discipline. Nonetheless, the characters are particularly philosophically challenging for myself, and this is only a minor critique of the film as a social/cultural/political implication.

Teller gives an undeniably powerful and subtle performance as Andrew, but it’s a role that was underwritten for an actor with so much potential (which he displayed in The Spectacular Now). Granted, he doesn’t waste all of his potential; it’s all expressed in the way he plays. So while the film may not get past its polarizing humour and conventional narrative, it’s got one hell of a soundtrack telling its own story.

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 8th 2014 12:11 AM  |  2 notes
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Do I Sound Gay?, dir. David Thorpe (2014)

For most of us, the titular question inherently evokes a negative connotation. So in Do I Sound Gay?, David Thorpe’s directorial debut and full-length documentary feature, he explores his fear of “sounding gay” by attempting to learn to “sound straight”. Running at only 77 minutes, Do I Sound Gay? is swift, lighthearted, and unexpectedly hilarious, but it is fundamentally an unflinching political and social deconstruction of gay culture, the condemnation of femininity, and the praise of masculinity. 

In interviews with close friends, strangers, and prominent LGBTQ figures alike, he dwells on the value we place on our voices—the indelible impression it leaves, even before we’ve said a coherent string of words—and how the voice has come to typify communities of people based on their racial or socioeconomic -status, or sexual orientation, often with stigma and derision. Linguists, speech pathologists, and historians in the film trace the evolution of the gay accent in television and cinema as one that initially emulated aristocracy, but just as homosexuality was deemed immoral by law, the accent went on to be jeered and pathologized in media through copious parody and through its appropriation by quote unquote evil characters. The fuller vowels, the up vocal inflections, and the S at the front of the mouth—among other stereotypically gay characteristics—eventually became the means in which bigots could audibly identify homosexuals and persecute them. Today, that means it has fostered itself as a ubiquitous symbol of gayness, but contrarily, it has become something for queer men to conceal, as they attempt to perform their “straightness”. Those who don’t are harassed, assaulted, and no less driven to commit suicide. 

Inevitably, underlying the performativity of a gay or straight binary is the performance of masculine and feminine gender roles. For men, gay is commonly thought of as effeminate; femininity, after centuries of misogynistic conditioning, reads as inherently negative. This is at the genesis of a deeply institutionalized oppression of homosexuality. From the roles that actors are hired to portray on television, to the news anchors who deliver our news, to the men in gay porn, gay representation perpetuates the desire for masculinity while repressing the normalcy of effeminacy. While there are many men, both straight and gay, who admit to wishing they could sound “straight”, there are men in the film who have come to embrace the visibility, or more appropriately the audibility of their gayness. 

To paraphrase Thorpe’s strong message at the end:

"People often say that if you can’t handle the answer, don’t ask the question. But I think that if you can’t handle the answer, then that’s the question you should be asking. You should be asking yourself why the question bothers you at all."

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

September 6th 2014 11:39 PM  |  3 notes
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Nightcrawler, dir. Dan Gilroy (2014)

"If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket."

Young and unemployed in the bustling city of L.A., Louis Bloom realizes his calling in the lurid work of capturing and selling graphic crime scene footage to news stations.
Jake Gyllenhaal is unrecognizable as the borderline sociopathic Louis Bloom, a man brimming with maxims; he seemingly has one for every person he meets. Perhaps it’s simply the way he speaks—his tone can be at once calm and pointed, astute in his words, or contrarily, hurried, acerbic, and emanating with passive aggression, but always calculated and masterfully manipulative—Gyllenhaal’s deranged performance ostensibly suggests sociopathy. Nightcrawler isn’t merely a metaphor for the determination of a generation struggling with its economic downturn, at all moral and ethical costs—I believe it’s a much more stark commentary on the ruthlessness of sociopathic behaviour, and the violent pursuit that knows no moral or ethical code. And it brings forth terrific performances from an unexpectedly morbid and uncomfortably funny script written by Gilroy. 
In an almost jarring manner, Gilroy builds up Bloom’s character through non-diegetic means, as a way to counteract someone who is so deceptive on the surface: the music is the only funnel into his mind, a soundtrack of Bloom’s victories and failures, rather than a reflection of the tragedies on screen. The reactions he elicits are a greater indication of his growing influence, than looking inward at himself as a developing character. As the plot escalates into its apex—a mad and spectacular, thrilling car chase—we witness Bloom at his full mercilessness to capture that “winning ticket.”
While the film feels slightly stunted in character growth, the narrative still provides challenging and provocative cinema that questions who is to blame for the pervasive obsession with violence and terror. Media reports on what statistically attracts attention, so videographers only shoot what can be sold, thus further down the line we fuel this cycle by consciously watching and making viral what we choose to in hordes, especially in the Internet age. But is the moral ambiguity that underlies the media really ever that simple? Furthermore, is Bloom a product of the hostile environment of crime journalism, or a mentally unstable man who would have lusted at any form of success?
FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!

Nightcrawler, dir. Dan Gilroy (2014)

"If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket."

Young and unemployed in the bustling city of L.A., Louis Bloom realizes his calling in the lurid work of capturing and selling graphic crime scene footage to news stations.

Jake Gyllenhaal is unrecognizable as the borderline sociopathic Louis Bloom, a man brimming with maxims; he seemingly has one for every person he meets. Perhaps it’s simply the way he speaks—his tone can be at once calm and pointed, astute in his words, or contrarily, hurried, acerbic, and emanating with passive aggression, but always calculated and masterfully manipulative—Gyllenhaal’s deranged performance ostensibly suggests sociopathy. Nightcrawler isn’t merely a metaphor for the determination of a generation struggling with its economic downturn, at all moral and ethical costs—I believe it’s a much more stark commentary on the ruthlessness of sociopathic behaviour, and the violent pursuit that knows no moral or ethical code. And it brings forth terrific performances from an unexpectedly morbid and uncomfortably funny script written by Gilroy. 

In an almost jarring manner, Gilroy builds up Bloom’s character through non-diegetic means, as a way to counteract someone who is so deceptive on the surface: the music is the only funnel into his mind, a soundtrack of Bloom’s victories and failures, rather than a reflection of the tragedies on screen. The reactions he elicits are a greater indication of his growing influence, than looking inward at himself as a developing character. As the plot escalates into its apex—a mad and spectacular, thrilling car chase—we witness Bloom at his full mercilessness to capture that “winning ticket.”

While the film feels slightly stunted in character growth, the narrative still provides challenging and provocative cinema that questions who is to blame for the pervasive obsession with violence and terror. Media reports on what statistically attracts attention, so videographers only shoot what can be sold, thus further down the line we fuel this cycle by consciously watching and making viral what we choose to in hordes, especially in the Internet age. But is the moral ambiguity that underlies the media really ever that simple? Furthermore, is Bloom a product of the hostile environment of crime journalism, or a mentally unstable man who would have lusted at any form of success?

FILMS IN 2014 for quick reviews and ratings of films, as I watch them!