March 07th, 2022
A Brief Review of The Worst Person In The World
The introduction of the main character is one of the best character introductions I've ever seen. We met Julie as a medical student in Oslo. She’s doing well in school and presumably has a bright future ahead, but something isn’t right. She doesn’t feel fulfilled in her chosen major. A change must be made. So, after a brief conversation with her mother, Julie breaks up with her boyfriend and switches to another major. Her chosen profession is psychology. This field also involves looking inside of people, but in a completely different way. This is what's right for Julie. Helping people is where her true passion lies… until she discovers that it’s not. Once again something isn’t right. Once again she is unfulfilled. What can be missing now?
As fate would have it, Julie's natural inclination is to work in visual arts. She’s not a doctor or a Psychologist, but a photographer. What action does she take now? Isn’t it obvious? She spends her student loans on cameras and lighting equipment and sets up her own studio. This brings Julie into a completely different world. She’s no longer a college student surrounded by other young people who, like her, are struggling to find themselves. Now she’s swimming in a social pool of artists that are of a variety of different ages and backgrounds. This leads to her meeting Aksel Willman, a creator of a popular and shamelessly politically incorrect underground comic series called Bobcat. Despite Aksel being 10 years older than Julie, the two fall in love and move in with each other. This sequence of events transpired for one reason and one reason only. Julie doesn’t know who she is. She’s young, impulsive, and incredibly self centered. These qualities are what cause us to distance ourselves from her; but can we honestly separate ourselves from these qualities? Wasn’t everyone at least a little like Julie at one point in their lives? These are the questions that director Joachim Trier forces us to confront with this film, and by the time the movie ends, we come to realize that maybe all of us can sometimes be described as The Worst Person in The World.
I was in love with this movie from beginning to end. For the two hours I sat in the theater I was thinking to myself, “This is exactly how a movie about this kind of person should be.” A movie about this kind of person should be broken up into twelve fragmented chapters, with tones ranging from laugh out loud funny to tear jerkingly sorrowful . It should have surreal sequences where time stops and Julie runs freely through the traffic filled streets of Oslo. Most importantly, the character's story should come to the conclusion that it comes to. Everything about this movie made sense, even in the ways in which it purposefully doesn’t make sense. It’s a movie about life as it is presented to us in a way that imitates life as we wish it was. The free flowing camera work, the uplifting soundtrack, and the metaphorical arthouse scenes are all there to act as a front for this upsetting and realistic story about a woman who learns that making a change in your life doesn’t automatically count as taking control. That perhaps choices shouldn’t always be made based on what feels right in the moment. This is a lesson that one would wish more people could wrap their head around.
Though she’s been working in the film industry for over a decade, I was completely unaware of the lead actress, Renate Reinsve, before seeing this movie. I think most people in the USA would tell you the same. Let me assure you that we will all be remembering her from here on out. The performance she gives is the kind that the phrase “break out performance” was made for. There's something about her that I find incredibly magnetic. It makes it impossible for me to turn my eyes away. She is a beautiful human being who embodies Julie's flaws and human complexities effortlessly. She does such a great job that some audience members may even find it discomforting. It’s somewhat confusing when you find a character who can be so narcissistic and self serving to also be so relatable. The blame for this confusion falls on Reinsve, and she should wear it like the badge of honor that it is.
The Worst Person In the World can be described with many adjectives. Whoever decides what words get slapped onto a Blu-ray cover will have a field day with this one . It's funny, it's confusing, it's uplifting, it’s tragic, it’s thoughtful, it’s entertaining, it’s exhilarating, it’s depressing, and it’s unique. Out of the plethora of words to pick, I can only go with one. That word is, real. The Worst Person in The World is real. It’s life being reflected back at us. Sometimes we like what we see, and sometimes we aren’t so sure. Much like the heroine of the piece, we can’t seem to make up our minds.
February 23rd, 2022
A Brief Review of Drive My Car
Drive My Car is a movie that most people will not watch. It's a three hour long character drama, and you feel every minute of that run time. Movie goers don’t have an issue with long movies. They won’t be discouraged from seeing a movie like Return of the King or The Wolf of Wall Street because they both have runtimes that exceed the two hour and thirty minute mark. What they will be discouraged by is a slow paced movie that exceeds the two hour and thirty minute mark. That’s a lot tougher for people to swallow. However, a handful of people will watch this movie, a smaller handful will make it to the end, and an even smaller handful ( more like a pinch at this point) will see it for the brilliant and rewarding cinematic experience that it is.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film is about a middle aged stage actor named Yusuke Kafuke, who two years after the sudden death of his wife Oto, books a job directing a staged production of Uncle Vanya in the city of Hiroshima. Upon his arrival, the theater company insists that a female chauffeur named Misaki Watari drives him too and from work. Despite his initial objections, the two come to understand each other, and a close relationship forms.
That brief summary represents only a fragment of what the movie is really about, but with a film of this length that's all one can hope to accomplish without over-explaining the entire story. This is a movie that needs to be experienced. No synopsis or plot summary can do it justice. There are no shortcuts.
This is not only the first film I've seen from Hamaguchi, it’s also the first one that made enough noise at film festivals to reach my ears. Needless to say, the experience of watching this movie has prompted me to put his other movies on my radar for future watches. He has what every filmmaker should have. He has complete and total confidence in the film he’s making and how he’s making it. Every frame is shrouded in authorial intent. The presence of the creator is felt for the entire three hours. I have a craving for this kind of directing, and it’s what causes me to gravitate toward the great masters of Japanese Cinema like Kurosawa and Ozu. Whether Hamaguchi will ever join the ranks of those cinematic giants will be unknowable for decades to come, but it’s undeniable that he has the gift of directorial vision that they had. His observational and non-intrusive cinematography is particularly reminiscent of Yasujiru Ozu, who also specialized in slow character dramas about people struggling to cope with the brutal nature of existence.
One of the film's major themes is emotional dissonance. It is a study of how we repress our feelings and ignore unpleasant truths in order to preserve our own perception of our lives. The main character of this film is a deeply unhappy man, but he doesn’t do anything about it. He doesn't want the dynamics of his life to change. He believes that if he ignores the things in his life that cause him internal pain they’ll slowly fade away into oblivion; that they won’t matter unless he makes them matter. He learns in a very traumatic way that is not the case, and the change that he wanted so desperately to avoid is inevitable.
The movie is also very concerned with the profession of acting, specifically about its ability to bring out parts of a person's inner self that they wouldn’t wish to confront otherwise. Throughout the film we hear the same monolog and bits of dialogue spoken multiple times, but each time we’re meant to take away a different meaning. I’ll be honest here and say that the words of Chekov are a bit beyond me at this point in my life, but once I get a chance to watch the film again I'll take the time required to truly understand them, and come to my own conclusion as to why they’re such an important aspect of the film.
That brings me to an important point. This movie needs to be watched more than once. I feel that my experience with it is incomplete because I have not yet gotten to study it as one whole. As a first time viewer I'm forced to take in the film one scene at a time. For my second viewing I'll already have all the surface level information. The sequence of events and key plot points will be pre-loaded in my mind, which will give me a more omniscient viewing experience. My second watch through of a movie is almost always my favorite because of that. It’s easier for me to relax and just let a movie unfold before me when I don’t have to keep up with the plot.
As I said in the beginning, most people won’t even watch this movie once. It’s a challenging film. Most filmmakers try to force an audience to give them their attention, they fill the screen with action and intrigue to keep eyes glued to the screen. This is how most movies should be, but not every movie. Drive My Car is a film that asks the audience to give their attention. It asks that you resist the urge to check your phone or look at your watch to see how much time has gone by. It requires effort on the viewers part, and many will be turned off by that. But there are people out there who will accept this challenge. I think those are the people that Hamaguchi wants to reach and I believe that he will succeed.
A Brief Review of Nightmare Alley
Like most people I did not see Nightmare Alley in a theater. I knew it was playing, and I knew I wanted to see it, but I never got around to it. For a while I didn’t consider it to be a loss. I like Del Toro’s films, but I can’t say any of them have left a profound impact on me. I’ve always appreciated them, but they were never really “my thing.” I always felt a level of detachment while viewing them. I can’t name any particular reason for this. I believe the man is a great filmmaker who creates great cinema. It’s not him, it’s my weird brain. I must have some bad wiring going on up there. Putting that aside, Nightmare Alley is a masterpiece. I enjoyed this more than I did The Shape of Water and Pans Labyrinth combined. Everyone (myself included) who skipped this one during its theatrical run has done themselves a great disservice. Thank God it’s getting a second life on streaming, which seems to be the real home for interesting and well made cinema these days.
Bradley Cooper stars in this remake of the 1947 noir classic as Stanton Carlisle, a man who burns down his house after putting a dead body inside, and takes a job with a traveling carnival. There he makes a few important friends, the first two being an alcoholic old man named Pete, and his clairvoyant wife Madame Zeena; and the other being a beautiful performer named Molly, whom he partners with both professionally and intimately. After Stan discovers he has a knack for the whole clairvoyant scam, he and Molly leave the carnival and find success performing psychic acts for the high class people of Buffalo. Hoping to make even more money, he elicits personal information about various people from a mysterious and alluring female psychiatrist named Lilith Ritter, thus making his act even more convincing. It is from there that things start to go too far, and the fate of our leading man starts to take a turn towards the worst.
We’re used to Del Toro movies being populated by monsters, it is accurate to say that's his directorial calling card. However, this movie is a little different from his previous efforts. The themes of greed, deception, and fate are embodied not by nightmarish creatures, but by human beings.
In the beginning of the movie Stanton seems like a likable man. The film's cold opening causes us to feel uncertain about him, but we want to like him and his intentions seem fair. This is one of Bradley Cooper's strengths as a performer. He possesses a natural charisma that's very present in the roles he chooses, but he also has the range to play characters that we as audience members never feel too comfortable with. As a result I became a very active viewer during the films runtime, constantly wondering what bad decision Stanton might make next that would ultimately get him into a deeper hole, which by the films conclusion is more like a bottomless pit of despair and regret.
If I had to single out Nightmare Alley’s greatest achievement (which would be logical given this is a review) I would have to choose the film's tone. It really feels like classic noir! All the iconic elements of the genre are front and center. We have our morally ambiguous leading man, our alluring femme fatale, and a sequence of events that keeps unfolding in the worst ways imaginable. Dan Lausten cinematography, though notably in color, would certainly feel just as moody and atmospheric black and white. In fact, I do believe a black and white cut of the movie exists. I’ll need to check that out!
When writing about this film my mind can’t help but obsess over it’s poor box office returns. Why didn’t such a great movie make money? It’s easy to assign blame to the pandemic, and it’s also quite accurate. However, the pandemic didn’t stop many people from seeing Spiderman No Way Home more than once. I think ultimately the blame has to be put on Disney for releasing this film so closely with the “Web Head’s” new movie. They were literally released theatrically on the same day! December 17th! With that information, the question goes from being, Why did this movie flop, to, How would this movie ever not flop?
Regardless of what the question may be, one thing is certain. Nightmare Alley is the kind of movie that deserves our attention; in fact, I'd go further to say Nightmare Alley is the kind of movie that needs our attention. It is us, the audience members, who decide what movie gets made. Our money, and what we choose to spend it on informs every decision that Hollywood executive and producers make. If we only put a significant amount of cash towards films about a guy swinging around New York city in a bug outfit, then all we’ll get in return is more of that. Many people can live with that, and that's perfectly fine, but I know there are a handful of people like myself who shutter at the idea. I implore these people, as well as myself, to get out of their homes and see movies like Nightmare Alley in a theater. If they can do it for Spiderman, they can do it for art. If they need to have a big screen with surround sound to enjoy a superhero movie, then why not go out of their way to have that for a movie that can offer an incredible experience no matter what it’s watched on? I’m aware it takes effort, I'm aware it costs money, but that is true for most things that are worth doing. I can’t promise that every theater experience you have will be amazing, but I can promise that if you start supporting cinema, you will eventually be rewarded. I can promise that if you take a chance and see a movie that might not be as familiar as the latest Spiderman or Batman adventure, every now and again you’ll have a new and exciting life experience that’s more than worth the price of admission. Every now and again, your senses will be overwhelmed by the magic of the movies. That I can promise with certainty.
A Brief Review of Scream 2022
It’s the middle of the night. A teenage girl is home alone. Her landline won’t stop ringing. She answers it and is led to believe she is speaking with her mother’s new boyfriend. The conversation starts off awkward, but innocent enough; then takes a turn for the worst when she discovers that the man on the other end is not her mother’s boyfriend, but a stranger who wants to kill her. She locks all the doors in her house, but it's too late. He's been in there with her all along. This is a story that sounds familiar to any horror fan, but even more so to fans of the Scream franchise.
Scream 2022 treds over a lot of familiar territory. A killer is on the loose, all the characters are suspects, the body count is on the rise, and the practice of not answering unknown numbers is as foreign of a concept as theoretical mathematics. However, it would be wrong to call the movie a complete retread. Focus is shifted from the original scream characters to a new cast of fresh faces and, though the actors clearly have talent to bring to the table, the characters themselves leave a lot to be desired. They are either carbon copies of other characters in the series or just disposable stereotypes. Perhaps that's part of the joke, but if it is, I don’t find it amusing. The 1996 classic separated itself from other slashers not just by poking fun at the genre, but by being a better movie than most of the films within that genre. The characters in that movie are so unique and memorable. Their personalities help elevate the comedy because they make jokes and references that are specific to them, rather than just being quips you could put into the mouths of any of the characters and achieve the same effect. I was particularly let down by the new main character, Sam Carpenter, who lacks the strength and competence that Sidney Prescott always displayed. However, her younger sister Tara ( played by Jannea Marie Ortega) was very interesting and enjoyable to watch. She possesses both the vulnerability and resourcefulness that one wishes to see in a “final girl” archetype, and the way she was used in the narrative was delightfully different from how I predicted she would be used; but, going into that would involve spoilers, so I'll steer clear of that.
The previous Scream films, excluding the lackluster third, were scripted by lifelong horror fan Kevin Williamson. He wrote the first entry of the series when he was a broke “wannabe” script writer with just one unproduced black comedy called Killing Mrs. Tingle to his name. The script would go on to be purchased by Dimension films for four hundred thousand dollars, Wes Craven would - after many refusals - eventually agree to direct, and the rest is history. This new movie was written by two individuals, James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Vanderbilt penned the script for David Fincher's Zodiac, an excellent crime thriller that's so well written it makes me forgive the man for also having his fingerprints on films like Independence Day: Resurgence and The Amazing Spiderman 2. Those movies had multiple writers throwing things into the pot, and he just happened to be one of them. Busick on the other hand doesn’t have a lot of credits. The only other feature he’s worked on is the 2019 horror comedy Ready or Not, which was directed by the same director duo, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. I don’t know which writer had more input, but I do note that neither of them have the same gift for writing witty and self-referential dialogue that Williamson poses, nor do they even come close to matching the intensity and creativity of the more horrific scenes. They do a fine job with the whodunnit aspect of the film, and the commentary they offer on fan culture and obsession hits all the marks that it has too, but the writing lacks a unique voice. I’m not asking for Sorkin levels of distinction, I just want something that distinguishes itself from other modern day horror films that focus on teens. That wasn’t brought to the table. Meta humor and self awareness is common in the horror genre now, it’s not as fresh as it was in the 90s.
Matt Bettinelli Olpon and Tyler Gillet do bring a new cinematic look to the series. The first three films look very polished and over lit (which this movie itself references) and Olpin and Gillet have a much more handheld and realistic approach to cinematography. This is another element of the film that is both good and bad. On the good side of things, this way of shooting makes the violence in the movie a lot more visceral and true to life. On the bad side, we miss out on the more interesting camera movements and setups that horror legend Wes Craven put together for his intense horror sequences. Craven was known for giving one direction repeatedly to his crew, and that direction was, “more blood!” Olpon and Gillet made this movie as if they would’ve told the makeup and effects department to real it in if they got to unrealistically gory. As a result blood does spill, but not in the over the top way it did in the original movie climax, which required over fifty five gallons of fake blood to be created!
Many have deemed this new Scream film to be the best sequel in the series so far. I’d have to
re-watch it to decide whether I agree with that sentiment or not. What I know now is that Scream 2022 was an enjoyable and nostalgic experience for me, but it has some glaring issues that I just couldn’t ignore. The filmmakers really tried with this movie, and they managed to do some good work, but none of it was enough to distract me from the more problematic elements of the film's overall execution. If your love of the series calls you to the theater to see it, then you’re probably someone who will get enjoyment out of the experience; but, if you're not someone who really enjoys these films, be more intelligent than the characters in it, by not answering the call.
A Brief Review of Licorice Pizza
Licorice Pizza is the kind of film I would love to see come out of Hollywood more frequently. It’s a movie that sets out to be a crowd pleaser, but refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t flood our senses with trashy romantic tropes, nor does it steer clear of comfortable familiarity. It doesn’t set out to do anything new or ground breaking, but it also maintains its own unique identity and voice. This is of course because Licorice Pizza is a film by one of the greatest filmmakers working in the film industry today, and he does not disappoint with this delightful and poignant movie.
Set in the San Fernando Valley, the movie follows the friendship between a confident to a fault fifteen year old boy named Gary Valentine, and the aimless but enchanting twenty five year old woman named Alana Kane. Gary is smitten with the older Alana from the very first time he meets her taking photographs for his high school picture day and, though Alana is hesitant, she humors the kid by taking him out to dinner. What follows is a sweeping odyssey of hilarious business ventures involving water beds, movie auditions, crazed actors on motorcycles, love, jealousy, and a bizarre encounter with eccentric movie producer Jon Peters thrown in for good measure. All of it is accompanied by a killer soundtrack, featuring classic tunes like David Bowie’s Life on Mars, and Paul McCartney's Let Me Roll It.
Paul Thomas Anderson's filmography can be separated into two eras. The first era spans from 1996 to 2002, a period in which he wrote and directed the films Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and Punch Drunk Love (2002). Not only were these early features produced and released within close proximity of each other, but they all paint a clear image of a director in his developmental stage. It is here where Anderson's style of filmmaking is at its most flashy and attention seeking, with complex long takes, frenetic editing, and scenes of characters having emotional breakdowns, being his most distinct trademarks. Then five years go by, and in 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson puts There Will Be Blood out into the world. This starts the second era of his career. Suddenly the emphasis on style is toned down significantly. The camera moves less, the editing becomes more relaxed, and the story and themes become the focus. It's this era that I feel gave birth to Anderson's greatest cinematic achievements. There Will be Blood is quite possibly the best film of the 21st century, definitely one of the most important, and The Master and Phantom Thread follow closely behind.
With Licorice Pizza, we find the filmmaker at a perfect balancing point between these two eras. The maturity and precision he obtained between Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood still shows clearly, but a hint of his more energetic and free flowing nature as a filmmaker shines through as well. He has returned to a cinema that is less concerned with themes and story, and more concerned with feelings and character relationships; and he returns to this so naturally that it's like he never left.
Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are true revelations in their respective roles. Both seem incapable of giving off any false emotions. They are completely genuine. They don’t even seem to have any makeup on for the camera. We get to see their faces completely as they are, and both of them shine on screen. The fact that neither of them have ever been in a movie before works greatly to their benefit. Nothing holds us back from falling in love with these two dysfunctional characters they are playing.
The film is a nostalgic treat for anyone who either grew up in the 70s, or is familiar with movies from that period . By pairing 35 mm film with old camera lenses, Anderson and DP Michael Bauman achieve a look that makes you forget there's no one in the back of the theater operating an old-fashioned film projector. If I hadn’t known better I would have believed that I was watching a movie that was made in the 70s and had been digitally remastered for re-release.
There has been a lot of controversy over this movie concerning the age difference between the two characters. It is not unreasonable for this to raise more than a few eyebrows. However, after sitting down and watching the movie, I have come to the conclusion that there really isn’t anything to be upset about. The relationship between Gary and Alana doesn’t grow out of perverted desire, nor does it develop into it. The love they have for each other is something different, something that hasn’t been portrayed on screen before. It’s a love that is based purely on the fact that the two are better together than they are apart, and that's all that matters in the end. It’s a platonic intimacy, and if you’re wondering what that even means, just watch the movie.
If something has Olivia Coleman in it, I'll watch it. It's as simple as that. Whether it’s a movie, a tv show, or a cereal commercial, if it has Olivia Coleman, I am there. After reading that, you’ve probably already reached the conclusion that I was hyped for this film. The trailer for it looked interesting, and the prospect of seeing Jake Gyllenhaal’s sister take on the role of writer and director was pretty intriguing.
The plot is simple. A 48-year-old woman named Leda Caruso vacations in Italy, where an encounter with a young woman and her little girl bring back troubling memories of her early motherhood. That is for all intent and purposes what the film is about, but Maggie Gyllenhaal takes that premise, and with excellent writing and directing, turns it into one of the most compelling and brutally honest psychological dramas I have ever seen.
Psychological drama really is the term of the day when it comes to describing this film. To categorize it as a psychological thriller, which is what the trailer seemed to be attempting, isn’t accurate whatsoever. The film didn’t have me at the edge of my seat but instead had me glued to it. I wasn’t unable to look away, but I had no desire to do so. The people who made this movie didn’t feel the need to inject traditional mystery or suspense into the narrative. They simply allow the movie to just happen, to unfold before us in it’s own way. As a result, nothing that happens feels rushed or artificial, and most importantly, no revelations or payoffs feel unearned. Everything falls into place, and it makes for an incredibly immersive character study.
Before I get into other elements of the film, I can’t help but go back to Olivia Coleman, who is absolutely perfect for her role. It’s as if the woman can’t even blink without giving off some kind of emotion, and she is able to use that quality to portray a person whose uncertainty and anxiousness radiates all around her. Were this role given to a lesser actor, I would not have been nearly as sold on the character as I was. I would have found myself constantly asking, “Why the hell would she do that?” But with Olivia, I never questioned it because she made the character so clear. She doesn’t even know what the hell she’s doing. When she does things that on the surface appear puzzling, it feels like it’s supposed to be exactly that. To summarize, Olivia Coleman is a great actress, because she makes her characters believable. She should honestly just be in more of everything.
Now that I've satisfied the Olivia Coleman fanboy in me, I think it’s time to move on to writing and directing. As you likely know, this movie is the directorial debut of actress Maggie Gyllanhaal, and she also adapted the screenplay from the 2006 novel by pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante. Whenever I watch a movie that I know is a directorial debut, there is one question that echoes through my mind: Does this new director show promise? For me, the answer to that question is only yes if the filmmaker does the following three things: 1) They show a basic understanding of how to make a movie; 2) They use those basic filmmaking principals in a way that is unique to them; 3) And the final product reflects the work of an artist who had a vision, who set out to do something and ultimately succeeded. It’s that last box that many debuts have trouble with. Oftentimes, directorial debuts feel to me like an attempt but not a fully realized piece. That’s not to say that the films are bad; on the contrary, many of them are quite good, but they leave me with a feeling that the filmmaker didn’t always have both hands on the wheel, and, as a result, they ended up going down the wrong road. Luckily for us, Maggie Gyllenhaal cruises along like she’s been in the driver's seat for years. Her use of extreme closeups and claustrophobic cinematography complements the uncomfortable tone of the movie perfectly, and her writing isn’t too shabby either. I particularly enjoyed the way she implemented flashbacks, and how they were set off by specific images like a rotten orange or a little girl playing with her mother on a beach. She truly has proven herself to be a real filmmaker with this film. To quote the woman herself, “I think now that I've made a film I've realized I was always a director.” To that, I couldn’t agree more.
It’s easy to see why The Lost Daughter has caught the attention and acclaim that it has. It isn’t just a movie made by a well-known actress that can be thrown in with forgettable fluff like Brie Larson's The Unicorn Store. It is a fascinating and well-made debut that stays in your mind long after the credits roll. Maggie Gyllenhaal is definitely a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
I'm very critical. Enough said.