Brief Consideration: Lady Bird (2018)

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At their worst, coming of age movies are fraught with the over-egging of bludgeoning teenage antics that make their journeys seem severely unremarkable, as maddening hysterics are favoured over sobering personal growth. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, Lady Bird, commendably bridges the gap with effortless ease. The picture captures the teenage experience in all its endearing and frustrating dimension.

Lady Bird refers to the given name that Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) gives herself. On the cusp of going to college, Christine attempts to deal with the increasingly mounting pressures of the opposite sex, college funding, the ever-morphing social hierarchy of her Catholic high school and a turbulent relationship with her mother- Marion (Laurie Metcalf).

Ronan plays Christine with a delicate balance of brash assuredness and honest acknowledgement. She often portrays the volatile nature of the character with an air of sympathy, most evident in some of the film’s most tumultuous sequences. In many ways, Lady Bird’s external confidence has ripples of Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer from Rushmore (1998), insofar as being a character who can be equally wise and frustrating in the same moment with their intelligence being wielded for insight and mockery.

Laurie Metcalf is equally as potent with her counter-intuitive performance. Rather than play Marion as the adoring mother, Metcalf allows for the moments of sheer frustration to be brought to the fore.

In her direction, Greta Gerwig achieves a delicate balance between illustrating the sheer fast and dizzying nature of growing up with the sobering reality of adulthood. The first half is edited with the quickness and efficiency of a Jazz drum solo as moments abruptly end and intersect. While the effect is showcasing how mere moments pass us by like the sand going through an hourglass, the editing is often employed for comedic effect. One particularly humorous scene homages Orson Welles’ famous opera scene from Citizen Kane with a quick succession of the adults’ facial expressions reacting to a school play. In the second half, the camera lingers like a distant observer as many of the characters’ private moments are revealed to the audience.

With the cinematic approach of the second half, Gerwig illustrates that Lady Bird’s character arc is of overcoming self-absorption and ultimately acknowledging people’s struggles in life. In a broader sense, this aspect is irrevocably tied to the personal shame of her hometown, which she gains a greater sense of pride about in the film’s closing moments. Lady Bird’s great virtue is that it’s made with a sense of humbleness that never fails to feel personal and universal.

 

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Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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One of the many reasons why Star Wars has endured is because George Lucas’ cinematic space saga has portrayed burgeoning adolescence with touching sincerity and universality. As the Disney era has worn on, the spirit of this mantra has lingered with the roman numeral instalments. However, the spin-off films have represented a new schism for this paradigm; namely, the tension between making essential stories in a universe that generations of moviegoers are so accustomed to seeing in a particular way.

Disney’s second attempt at indulging in the galactic sandbox has carried enough weight to pull down the ears of a Gundark. Famed comedic and computer animated directing duo, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go in the midst of principal photography, and Ron Howard was brought in to turn a troubled mess into a finished film. Like its title character, this second stand-alone feature smiles with the ease of an endeavour that feels like it has shaken off its burdensome production woes. In fact, in its best moments, it has the brash confidence of a rousing adventure picture of yore. But its broad wry gesture cannot extinguish a paramount problem that lies at the heart of the movie and significantly undermines it at every turn.

Solo: A Star Wars Story depicts the early years of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) as the budding famed pilot and smuggler attempts to return to his impoverished homeworld (Corellia) to release his loving girlfriend- Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) from a life of crime. Along the way, he meets his famed Wookiee co-pilot, Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), his debonair long-standing friend, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Beckett is the man who comes to cement much of the character’s cynicism in the original Star Wars and functions as an entry point for the criminal underworld. Together, Solo and Beckett pull of a series of daring heists in the hopes of being rid of a terrible price on their heads and freedom to live a normal life.

Conceptually, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fascinating inversion of the burgeoning adolescence theme of the saga. In stark contrast to the journeys of Luke and Rey that had parental strife, which resulted in a newfound faith and self-actualisation. The 2018 film attempts to depict how Han’s tumultuous early experiences of the world via a surrogate family shaped his lack of faith and self-interest instinct. Unfortunately, in execution, the theme has no emotional resonance due to a deficient central performance.

Alden Ehrenreich plays the younger incarnation of the character as though he is in a comedic sketch that is hyperbolically riffing on Solo’s worst qualities. Starting at smug and ending at cheeky, Ehrenreich never convincingly portrays any sense that Han has been affected by the events of the film. It is a performance that lacks sincerity, internal strife and most importantly humanity.

The film is also somewhat marred by an unexpected sense of pacing that comes from the screenwriters jettisoning Han’s early years at the Imperial Academy in favour of narrative propulsion. The choice does mean some of the following scenes have hollowness as we are told Han got kicked out of the Empire training programme as opposed to seeing how and why he was let go. Moreover, the picture suffers from a whirlwind of third act double-crossings that make more sense at the moment then upon reflection. More crucially, Solo becomes entirely overshadowed by the supporting cast.

Emilia Clarke plays the noir-inspired Qi’ra in a counter-intuitive manner by putting on the front of a sunny and eternally hopeful young girl that hides the woman who has become a duplicitous and morally shady minion of the underworld. Donald Glover adds a dimension of ego and empathy to a younger Lando Calrissian without forgetting the inherent smoothness of the character. And Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the show as a socially conscious droid called L3-37, whose demented physical gestures and whetted line deliveries prove that droids continue to be the secret weapon of the franchise.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is at its best as an exercise in world building. The film creates a rich and sumptuous new corner of the universe that made me want to linger for hours on end. Cinematographer Bradford Young composes a majority of the shots with an eye towards natural light. Consequently, a lot of the scenes are fundamentally dark but are lit by lamps and gauzes that create an interesting juxtaposition between the elegance of the surroundings and the seedy nature of the characters. The lighting choice also visually punctuates the saga’s persistent battle between the light and dark in a vivid new way.

Ron Howard’s staple as a director is taking contemporary stories and imbuing them with a mythical grandeur. Frost/Nixon framed the famous televisual debate between the two real-world figures as a David and Goliath story. Rush made a Formula One rivalry of a hotheaded speed demon and socially aloof, calculated engineer resonate with the import of a tale from Greek Mythology.

In Solo, Howard applies this same directorial trademark to interesting and subtle effect. Through persistent uses of long and low angle shots, Howard makes Chewie and Han’s first encounter seem like Theseus is entering the labyrinth to fight the Minotaur. In collaboration with Young, Howard also makes seemingly throwaway moments into instances of memorable imagery. The end of one scene illustrates how the hissing flames of a campfire combined with the close-ups of Han’s famous DL-44 heavy blaster pistol underscore its eventual use.

With moments that are bawdy and salacious, Solo’s portrait of the underworld owes a debt to David Lynch’s Dune as much as the midnight movies of the seventies and eighties. At the same time, the filmmakers also understand Star Wars’ cinematic heritage and heed to it admirably. The third act on Savareen plays like a greatest hit package of Sergio Leone Westerns; complete with cowboy shots, mundane objects becoming a soundscape of boiling tension and a narrative twist that makes the amorality of the main characters seem insignificant compared with the wave of an ongoing war. And John Williams’ Han Solo theme embodies the retro heroic spirit of the serials that inspired the space saga.

In the first fifteen minutes, there is a recurring visual motif of characters attempting to jump-start vehicles via flashy blue strips of wire. Solo: A Star Wars Story has a seductive visual flair that makes it wholly unique, but it’s a shame that the title character does not feel as interesting as his surroundings. This is not the young Han Solo I was looking for.

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Brief Consideration: The Ides of March (2011)

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The Ides of March depicts the underhanded duplicitous tactics, and overt power plays in a crucial Ohioan primary election for the aspiring Democrat candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney). Squeaky clean and optimistic Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is Morris’s junior campaign manager who finds himself embroiled in an ever-escalating series of personal and career-compromising situations.

Despite commendable direction from Clooney, who makes the proceedings like a shadowy noir with some inspired lighting choices; while also injecting the numerous political chatter scenes with the tension and speed of Hitchcock and Hawkes respectively. One can’t help but find Ides of March’s various plot twists and character revelations surface-level in their depth.

Crucially, the entire narrative hinges on Gosling’s character succumbing to the shader side of politicking due to a fatal mistake that leads to desperation. While the storytelling cogs for these series of events are effortless and logical, they inherently lack any sense of tragedy or real aftertaste. This is due to Meyers having no real internal life and his sanguine worldview being solely shaped by Morris.

The Ides of March is an efficiently crafted political thriller with spirited performances from all its actors. But it has a fundamental tension between the reality it purports to represent and its characters being shackled by their archetypical and narrative trappings. The film would have been much more interesting if it embraced the origin of its title, by delivering a harrowing and tense tale of internal leader assassination in the context of an American presidential race.

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Brief Consideration: Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

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Jim Jarmusch’s 2014 film- Only Lovers Left Alive reimagines the vampire tale of accursed eternal life into a meditation on the effect of art on society. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a creature of the night who has been a source of great inspiration for many revered historical figures throughout the centuries. His melancholia of immortality does not come from the boredom of existence, but rather the sense of inevitability stemming from the fact that most of the significant people of the past were reviled and unappreciated in their time. This sense of prolonged depression and frustration becomes a source of tension in his career as an underground electronic musician. Jarmusch elegantly parallels the plight of the vampire with that of the disgruntled a rock star who spurns their fame and worries about relevance.

However, the picture honestly comes alive in its leisurely excursions and genuine moments of discovery, courtesy of Adam’s lover and centuries-old wife- Eve (Tilda Swinton). In stark contrast to her withdrawn partner, Eve embraces life in all its strange and wondrous turns. Swinton plays the part with a measured resignation that never diminishes her enthusiasm of the moment. Glacially paced, wryly amusing and seductively directed, especially one montage in which Jarmusch equates the vampire’s blood drinking with the feverish euphoria of a drug trip: Only Lovers Left Alive imbues the proverbial vampire myth with a contemporary edge that feels fascinating and heartfelt. 

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Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Avengers: Infinity War carries the burden of ten years of storytelling and various disparate facets of its cinematic universe to harmonise. For many other movies, these aspects would be a final nail in the coffin of a fast descent into narrative wonkiness, and it’s a credit to the expansive comic book movie that it never feels incoherent, lumbering or indulgent. In fact, in its most intimate moments, the picture illustrates that death weighs as heavily on the wicked as it does on the good.

Taking place two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the nineteenth Marvel Studios movie chronicles Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) search for the remaining Infinity Stones. These are elemental gems that grant its wearer various abilities, such as turning back time and manipulating the environment. Once armed with a complete roster, the Mad Titan can exact his goal of wiping out half of the universe.

While Infinity War is bursting at the seams with various character interactions that would make even the most devout and ardent admirers swoon; a particular favourite is the first meeting of two characters, in which a well-intentioned universal greeting is used as a punchline in the midst of a battle sequence. The picture engages as a reflexive meditation on death in the cinematic universe.

In a good number of Marvel movies, the concept has lacked potency because of foreknowledge of the real world movie making plays that would render a character immortal to the point of absurdity; i.e. top tier characters with their names above the door escaping death’s cold embrace because of economic flow charts.

Infinity War trades mind-numbing worldly destruction and death for the significant cost of one life. In many instances, the characters are challenged to pull the trigger on loved ones for a slim possibility of universal and personal salvation. In these instances, death is not so much a dispassionate execution, but an act of heartbreaking devotion and trust. And in a climactic action sequence, the magnitude of a person’s passing causes a brash outrage that at the moment has earth-shattering consequences.

In the picture’s real masterstroke, this pervasive weight of death equally applies to Thanos. His conquest for balancing the universe carries its share of personal anguish and cost. Infinity War’s most sly trick is making the purple overlord the central figure of the movie and making the rest of the characters seem like star-studded tourists. Josh Brolin plays the famed comic book villain with the ruthless authority and weariness of a stern general, who’s prepared to make the sacrifices for the continued existence of the entire cosmos.

Equally as impressive is Chris Hemsworth, who shines in an extended role that combines the sublime comic timing that he displayed in Thor Ragnarok with the necessary dramatic weight the part requires. Hemsworth has always played Thor with an air of self-knowing confidence and to see that manifest as an external shield and motivator was heartening to watch.

From a technical point of view, the third Avengers picture lacks some of the previous Marvel movies’ dazzling phantasmagoric imagery. Though, the planet Vormir does provide the film with a few fleeting moments of memorable visuals. In particular, the looming and shadowy snow terrain of the planet’s surface looks like iconography from Stephen King’s Dark Tower filtered through the lens of Soviet-era Russia.

Various money shots accentuate the importance of some characters, mainly thinking of Doctor Strange’s many feats of wizardry. However, the most striking cinematic moments are when directors Anthony and Joe Russo occasionally employ framing to fascinating effect. One sequence juxtaposes the visual embodiment of Thanos’ worldview, via a small child balancing a knife on her palm (in the foreground) and the harsh and sobering reality of said idea in practice, which comes from a line of people getting massacred (in the background).

Despite the grim spectre of death earnestly looming over Infinity War, one can’t help but feel that its effects might be temporary, with the distinct possibility of Avengers 4 undoing the final grim moments. However, even if this comes to pass, Infinity War will be remembered as the sole Marvel movie that looked upon the face of death and for a moment had a chill run down its spine about its various implications.

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Personal Post: Updates on Cameron Cloutier’s Twin Peaks Fan Film

Five months ago, Cameron Cloutier (of Obnoxious and Anonymous fame) dared to venture into the misty forest of internet movie campaigning. The endeavour proved to be a blazing success. Since then, the ardent Peaker and YouTuber has been hard at work on the fan film. When asked about the inspiration for the project, the independent filmmaker stated:

“I first had the idea for the film back in 1992, shortly after {Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me} came out. Never thought I would ever get to make it so I just moved on in life creatively. Right after season 3 finished I saw Thor Åmli’s short film “Summer at Pearl Lakes” and I saw that with new technology that it was possible to perhaps make the spin-off story I’ve always wanted to tell. I floated it out to my viewership and there was tremendous interest so I jumped into the crowdfunding campaign without a net and hoped for the best.”

The fourth in a line of promotional trailers recently unveiled the character amid atmospheric shots from many familiar locations including Laura’s house, the Sheriff’s station and the Double R Diner. The new photography was punctuated with frantic and perfectly edited audio clips from the series. The result was a blistering combination of new and old worlds harmonising to create an intriguing collage of images.

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Amy Ostbo was announced to play the iconic Twin Peaks character. As one could see from this exclusive picture, Ms Ostbo captures the sheer innocence and dazed nature of the character. In a statement regarding the actress, Mr Cloutier said: “Amy just embodies Annie from inside out, and it has been an awfully long time since I’ve worked with an actor who is prepared to throw herself into a role and show us the layers that make a character like Annie as fascinating as I’ve always found her. I’m incredibly lucky to have found a down to earth individual, who knows how to be professional but also keep things fun around the set.”

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The trailer also hinted at the return of the show’ s primary focus and obsession- Laura Palmer. Queen of Hearts’ producer Caitlin Thayil steps into the role that Sheryl Lee made so famous. If her first picture (photographed by Jill Watson) is anything to go by then the fervent anxiety that pervaded the character’s soul has been retained. When asked for a comment on the collaboration, the independent filmmaker went on to say:

“I met Caitlin because of several friends recommending her to me for some possible roles, but when we met, I was impressed by her work ethic and her interest to see this film be the best it could be. I also quickly saw her as Laura and thought she would be a great fit for the part, so we shot a few scenes for the extended promo.

However, in talking with her more, I realized that she could bring even more to the project so, over lunch, I remember looking at her and saying,“I would very much like you to be my Sabrina,” and she thankfully thought producing the film would be a great experience and opportunity for her. I couldn’t ask for more a wonderful person to work with.”

If you would like more information on Queen of Hearts then you can do the following:

You can like the Queen of Hearts’ Facebook page for all the latest news:

https://www.facebook.com/QueenofHeartsATwinPeaksFanFilm/

And subscribe to the Obnoxious and Anonymous YouTube channel for further media updates:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0hoE4h1oj1_nVu6CLLovZw

You can also contribute to this exciting undertaking by going to the Queen of Hearts’ Indiegogo page:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/queen-of-hearts-a-twin-peaks-fan-film#/

 

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Initial Impression: Isle of Dogs (2018)

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Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a return to stop-motion animation for the pristine American auteur. The form and style was a revelation for his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. With its lightning cuts and the juxtaposition between the sincerely earnest and absurd aspects of life, made all the more potent because of the central character’s struggle between prescribed domesticity and inherent wild tendencies: The 2009 film recalled the freeing youthful quality that pervaded Anderson’s debut film- Bottle Rocket.

By comparison, Anderson’s latest endeavour is a bleak and sombre affair. Set amid the backdrop of a dystopic Japan, Isle of Dogs charts the adventures of a young boy who travels to Trash island to find his dog. The entire canine species has been outlawed and banished by the government due to an outbreak of a virus that mainly affects their species.

Isle of Dogs represents Anderson’s most ambitious film to date. His reliance on Japanese culture and style does wonder for his carefully constructed ascetic. For instance, he employs Akira Kurosawa’s penchant for visceral weather to astounding effect, via gloomy and overcast uses of grey for the skies of Trash island.

There are a numerous amount of myths told throughout the picture. Anderson manages to convey the incredibly intricate stories with Hokusai esque paintings that engulf the frame. Alexandre Desplat’s percussive score, which consists of drums and saxophones punctate their importance.

Isle of Dogs also has an impressive amount of kineticism with panning shots coming from the characters being on conveyor belts, balloons and aeroplanes. Anderson also uses split screen to great effect in the action sequences to economise the sheer amount of information being conveyed to the audience.

The film also has something interesting to say about nature versus nurture. Many of the dogs in the picture have been bred for a specific purpose and are challenged with embracing their natural wild side when they find themselves surviving on the island. This idea has particular thematic weight when applied to the central canine, Chief (Byran Cranston), who comes to embrace his role as a domestic pet as opposed to a stray, violent dog.

Despite these virtues, I found Isle of Dogs hollow and not as emotionally accessible as Anderson’s other films. In fact, watching the film was akin to witnessing an excellent painter in the midst of creating. I admire the craft, passion and technique that is at work, even if the result did not speak to me as much as I would have liked.

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