December 14, 2019

Review Pet Sematary (2019)


“PET SEMATARY”
By Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer | USA
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There’s a reason why King has rose into the cult status that he is. His stories, more than any other horror, really focuses on a single most primal fear; childhood fear to be exact. Whether it be clowns, vampires, or a washing machine (yes even that), his monsters are mostly goofy on paper but through his honest delivery on that irrational fear, he convinced us that it actually is pretty rational.
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In “Pet Sematary”, King turns his focus to these same terrors; dumbwaiter, disability, and household pets being some of them. But the biggest subject King brought here is one that is more universal and also haunts adults as well: facing mortality and death. However, with such motive being more common these days more than ever (“Hereditary” and “The Haunting of Hill House” both walked the same ground), “Pet Sematary” just felt too short to compete against the others.
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Too rash and too clumsy in building its sense of dread, it feels as if the film is too childish for adults yet too scary for kids to enjoy. But then again, that should’ve been the charm for King’s work. It threads the uncanny valley of being a sometimes ludicrous horror stories that you would tell your friends as kids, but it secretly packs a disturbing idea. The balancing of these two tones seems lost in this adaptation of “Pet Sematary”, that feels a bit too much like the countless mainstream horror films we’ve been barraged with. Reliant on jumpscare and violent, without no actual build up and substance.
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“Pet Sematary” fell closer to the territory of the recent “Dark Tower” than the brilliance of “The Shining” when it comes to Kings adaptation. Bland, forgettable, and unsatisfying; it’s only right to let this one to rest in its graveyard.
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Review Punch-Drunk Love (2002)


“PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE” (2002)
By Paul Thomas Anderson | USA
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“I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are.” So said Barry, a struggling small time business owner who seems to be lost alone amidst all the noises in his daily life. Like the others, Barry happens to be yet another protagonist in Paul Thomas Anderson’s continuous search of meaning and purpose. But here the chameleon director gave another angle on the eternal philosophical question he seems to be obsessed with, a much simpler one than that in “Magnolia” and certainly more innocent than “Boogie Night”.
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But first let’s go back to Barry. We first meet Barry in the very opening shot of the movie, hunched back in his office table in the corner of an empty warehouse. The image immediately gave us the impression we needed of his character: he is alone and even more unfortunate, he doesn’t know why or what to do about it. This is what makes Barry not your typical PTA protagonist; from the start Barry admits his defeat. He is not a character who represents an ambition but rather confusion that arises in the absence of the omnipotent longing of purpose. For the same reason, Barry also became PTA’s most endearing protagonist yet, for he reperesents the same unsatisfaction and powerlessness we felt. And as the film progresses each of Barry’s small triumphs became a journey I personally find to be so profound and its end destination to be a touching victory against the cynicism of our world.
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A lot of the credits should certainly be given to the surprisingly brilliant Adam Sandler. Not to undermine him as an actor — I am fully aware of his dramatic chops prior to watching this (“The Meyerowitz Stories” for example is wonderful )— but Sandler really outdid himself in this one. No matter how much brilliance Anderson did brought to the crafting of the film, it really was Sandler who brought those emotions alive. Him and also not to forget Emily Watson were so genuine onscreen, it’s impossible not to root for them as a human with a heart. There’s also an unhinged Philip Seymour Hoffman worth praising but then again, he is never not worth praising is he?
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There isn’t much else to say about “Punch-Drunk Love” apart from all the theories and analysis that has spread over the years. Though it remains as perhaps Anderson’s smallest venture yet, it is undoubtedly one his most profound. Rich with metaphorical imagery, moments of blissful fantasy, and an emotional high that wraps it like a warm blanket. This is, like a lot of critics said, the cinematic equivalent of surviving a mental breakdown. “I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”
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Comment “chocolate pudding” to recieve flight cupons!
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December 13, 2019

Review Safe (1995)


“SAFE” (1995)
By Todd Haynes | USA, UK
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Suburban cultism has always been a prominent theme in cinema that is now quickly becoming one of my new favorite subgenres. There’s just something so unnerving and terrifying when you associate the safe space of a seemingly quite neighborhood with the toxicity of a seeded dangerous that actually succumbs it. In “Safe”, that toxicity itself became a literal danger to our protagonist, Carol, the most affluent and at the same time ignorant member of the pristine white american neighborhood she lives in. She is the manifestation of normality, of sickening perfection; the kind of person who complains on the wrong sofa color and goes to yoga exercises without dropping a single sweat. And so it would only be natural for her to be the main target to the looming threat this suburban flick presents, one that disguises itself as an environmental message that at its core carries a more personal and psychological weight than we might expect.
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“Safe” has been described as a horror film within its soul — a description that director, Todd Haynes, relishes on. And to be honest, it’s easy to see why. There’s a sense of mystery that surrounds the film especially in its jarring opening. Without introduction or exposition, the story kicks off immediately as if it assumed we would automatically associate the normality of its world; the world of your typical normal suburban life. The characters we get to meet also embodies the stereotypically ‘normal’, where people treat anything outside of their routines as threats or disturbance, which quickly becomes a problem as Carol, our lovely sample of a white housewife started to feel irrationally ill. Instead of taking action, we see both Carol and her surroundings respond to this irrationally with confusion, followed by justification. “Must be your diet,” a friend of her said before suggesting her to start a fruit diet. But clearly it isn’t enough to justify nor to run from these disturbances. There’s something wrong with Carol and she eventually has to face this.
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At this midpoint does the film reveals itself to be something else entirely than the meditative exploration on suburban life that we initially expect it to be. Although I wouldn’t disclose what’s the plot point here (it’s way more interesting to discover it yourself), the issues the film touches on after that ranges so widely that it may even seem random at first. From environmental awareness, self-acceptance, all the way into cultism, these points of interest all adds up into a very layered character driven story that immensely grips your attention until its very end. Yet instead of giving you the definitive answer, Todd Haynes sneakily ends this second film of his with a question. Where do these sudden yet deadly problems we could encounter at any moment comes from? Or more importantly, where is it hiding when all seems normal?
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“Safe” is a great example of using normality as a contrasting statement to the abnormal. It is a study on danger and how it can easily invade the stability we created to keep us comfortable; one that usually takes form in the neighborhood and the houses we put ourselves in.
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Review Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


“SHADOW OF A DOUBT” (1943)
By Alfred Hitchcock | USA
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Hitchcock can really do no wrong. “Shadow of a Doubt” is yet another prove of this statement; a common display of his mastery in building tension and in this case, mystery, to a jaw clenching degree. His understanding of the cinematic language — as to how he uses his shots, editing and soundtracks — are impeccable and should forever be held in the same regard of his contemporary, the legendary Orson Welles or even some of cinema’s first innovators such as Albert Smith and Eisenstein.
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What’s unique about “Shadow of a Doubt” however, lies with the fact of how strikingly relevant the premise is. The story of a beloved public figure who secretly hides a dark secret waiting to be exposed is unfortunately, a common occasion in these recent times. Yet it is not the surface of such stories that raises the most concerns, it is the fact that it’s often harder to let go of the person we’ve come to love them to be in order to acknowledge the monster they are capable of being. Spacey, Louise C.K., and even recently, fan favorite superstar Michael Jackson, being some examples of such unfortunate cases. Where the question of legacy versus justice became scarily blurred and delivering the deft hand of the law carries the biggest weight. Uncle Charlie may just be a monster, but its too painful for his family to see to the truth of that fact. And as a family such doubt is certainly the right choice, is it not?
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The dilemma that the film brought works well as a reflection of the struggles that many victims of these heinous figures must’ve felt at some point. Similarly to the more recent film, Jennifer Fox’ “The Tale”, it discusses the topic of a predatory individual in a complete and rounded way. It doesn’t paint an easy picture and potrays all the complexities of knowing a predator personally; how much you are morally challenged and broken with disappointment. Especially — such as this case — that person is a figure you’ve based your persona on.
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“Shadow of a Doubt” is a film that cohere to our current social climate and epidemic of predatory behavior in Hollywood and, in every where in fact. Accidental or not, it is these values that made this 70 years old Hitchcock classic not only stood the test of time, but even rose through its age. Now it’s time for us to decide whether the same story shall goes on another 70 years from now, or shall we swallow our guilt and dilemmas in order to serve justice — the only thing that matters.
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December 12, 2019

Review Shazam! (2019)


“SHAZAM!” (2019)
By David F. Sandberg | USA
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Yet another completely different looking film than their previous entry, “Shazam!” shows the direction DC is wisely bringing into their cinematic universe. To combat the repetitive and safe approach Marvel has seemingly fallen into with their latest film (we’ll see if that changes with Endgame), DC decided to went the opposite way and to churn out the most outlandish and ludicrous ideas they can gut out of their decades long of comic book stories. We first felt this change with last year’s “Aquaman”, a film bursting with energy that were lost god knows where during the shaky start of the DCEU. With that film’s release the company promises us more, bold and genre centric films. “Shazam!” is the first we got from that promise. And to put it simply, it does deliver in terms of breaking the mold. Yet it also unfortunately (at least to me) fell a bit shorter than what people’s been hyping for.
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It baffles me so to see how people finds this to be refreshing, witty, or innovative. With an absolutely cliched plot and message along with it, also not that interesting visual not stylistic quality, “Shazam!” is I’m afraid, underwhelming and, dare I say, cheap at times. Though its admirable how it kept the promise of doing things differently, it kept failing at standing out from other films of the genre that has done it better. We’ve seen already films that humanizes superheroes; films that deconstruct comic book adaptations; and films with the good ol’ message that tells our protagonist “you already have a family better than your real one”. These all adds up into a broken record of a film. And although it certainly is not a generic pop album record — its more of an underground alternative rock — it still is broken. Which ultimately cuts short the innovative promise it brought.
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I think one of the problems I had personally is that the film completely missed the mark on giving its best qualities to me. The biggest praises for “Shazam!” would probably be how entertaining it was, both thanks to its comedy and endearing characters. But I sadly found both to be annoying. The humor, which sounds more like it came out of a 12 year old mouth than a 14 year old one, is beaten to death. It’s funny I guess, for the first fifteen minutes until it became too loud for its own good. And the characters, my god, were they annoying! And I know that’s the point because that’s the arc of the story. But how Billy (the supposed hero) starts of with almost zero redeeming qualities really makes it difficult to click with him immediately. And after a while resonating with him becomes tiring and I was tempted to just root for the way more entertaining screen presence that is Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana.
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“Shazam!” is a different superhero story for sure but it’s also an underwhelming one. But in this day and age where comic book films feels as industrialized as a fast food burger, an averagely cook home made one just feels all the more rewarding than the usual forte. If this is what DC is going to do in the following years, I predict many would jump the ship from the ever homogeneous factory line of the MCU.
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Review Speed Racer (2008)


“SPEED RACER” (2008)
By Lana & Lilly Wachowski | USA, Australia, Germany
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After the massive breakthrough with “The Matrix” and its not-so-successful sequels, the Wachowskis arrived in the most interesting part of their career. This is when the creative siblings reached their full potential as they are given the freedom to do anything with any budget the world can give them. And that truly shows. For their follow up film, “Speed Racer” — an adaptation of an old 70s anime — is one that embodies that total creative freedom.
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“Speed Racer” is by definition an avant-garde film through its ways of breaking conventions and predetermined rules. It’s a film that uses colors, shapes, and movements unlike any other mainstream blockbuster we’ve seen before. From its very opening scene we already are thrust into these insanely stylized world the film sets itself on. Mimicking the style of the old animation from the anime, the film purposely makes everything cartoonish and fake. Even the names of the dubbed version of the anime carries through; names like Speed Racer (that’s an actual name, not a nickname) and Pops Racer are thrown like its the most normal thing in the world. The film also moves extremely fast and frantic at times which again, is true to that anime energy.
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So yes, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by all of this even in the very first scene of this film — a scene where the Wachowkis jump back and forth through time, essentially establishing our main character in merely 5 minutes. But after you pass the adjustment stage, you’ll find that the bursts of energy “Speed Racer” gave to be so cathartic in a way. Never did I found a film that is so bold and confident to show what it truly is. It’s a thing of rare beauty what the Wachowskis accomplished here. For its impossible to imagine such risky film to ever be made by a major studio in the near future.
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Though it was slanted and ridiculed by critics on its initial release, “Speed Racer” has grown to become a cult classic that enchanted many people with its sheer uniqueness alone. Though I can say I am as hardcore as the other big fans, I can safely say this film also managed to get into my good side despite almost giving me an epilepsy. A creative film from a creative pair of directors.
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December 11, 2019

Review Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)


“SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME” (2019)
By Jon Watts | USA
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Eleven years later and twenty two films in, the cultural behemoth that is the MCU is still going as strong and as relevant as it can be. Though “Avengers: Endgame” marks an ending for a lot of the franchise’s main conflicts and characters, there seems to be no plan nor intention coming from Marvel to ever stop cranking out these films, products, whatever you wanna call it, for at least another decade. “Spider-Man: Far from Home” ensures of that. As the official closing speech for the MCU’s third phase, the sequel to our favorite web slinger first actual Marvel movie — meaning, it’s no longer in the fully controlling hands of Sony anymore — carries a huge weight on its back. The question imposed to Peter Parker himself in the movie, then became what the whole world asks of Marvel: what happens next now that the we’ve lost our favorite heroes? And how will the future fare in the ever expanding fantasy of this comic book universe?
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As Peter struggles to answer them, the film, sadly, did as well. Interwoving the personal stakes of Peter Parker’s private life to the life and death dangerous he faces behind his mask has always been the biggest task in any Spider-Man story, that measuring their quality solely by that standards is almost mandatory. This is probably why people like the Sam Raimi’s take on the character more than Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man duology; Raimi recognizes the importance of levity and genuine touches he must pour into the human aspects of Peter, MJ, Aunt May and the rest, while also knitting those personal chemistry into the superhero conflict. This is also what director Jon Watts did incredibly in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. There’s a way clearer sense of self-search that drives that film more than here, where with a bigger scope and scale, depth seems to fade as expected.
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Finding the film’s main conflict can’t be easier: Peter having to realize his self-potential to continue the legacy of Tony Stark. Yet unfortunately, the film seems to be a lot more interested in questions about lesser character beats and the larger narrative world. So, that jump from friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the next Iron Man — a massive development that happens as a throwaway scene in “Avengers: Infinity War” — feels rushed and less explored. So does the main plot with Mysterio, a well-written and interesting character that should’ve been handled with much greater attention. Thank god the casting didn’t hold back for Gyllenhaal saved that part and essentially the whole movie from below average MCU flick to a mildly entertaining one. But to me, it’s much more dissapointing to imagine how great his character could’ve been used if only the film has genuine consequences. Having him as a possible mentor figure to Peter is a great start to serve the film’s main theme, but where that leads and how small the impact it has on the character makes it seems like Marvel is forgetting to play on the smaller and intimate moments.
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Not to mistake the film from being bad in any way, as the title said, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is far from being disastrous. What it is though, is that it feels much more like an episode of a long running mega series than ever before. That lack of personal quality, something pivotal for Peter Parker’s character, is what notch it down to become simply entertainingly okay rather than being amazingly Spider-Man.
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Review The Color Purple (1985)


“THE COLOR PURPLE” (1985)
By Steven Spielberg | USA
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Sometimes it can be annoying when a film plays a bit too much with your heartstrings. There’s just such a thin line between what we can call emotional and manipulative. “The Color Purple” threads on this line. Yet with a genuinely provoking story; one filled with moments of downfalls and triumphs, it still kept its own integrity that kept it away from cheesy territory.
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If anything, the story of this racially charged feminist story is actually rather harrowing on paper. Family friendly favorite director, Steven Spielberg (at least at that time), did not shy away from the horrific truth when potraying the early 1900 era south. In the first five minutes alone, every bit of disturbing normality is already brought upon as our protagonist is being introduced : Celie, the girl who would soon struck our upmost empathy, is already pregnant twice by the age of 14. What more sickening is, both child were of his father — a sexual abuser who sees his daughters as nothing but property. Just barely a teen, Celie was already sold on to an acquaintance of his dad, a farmer by the name Albert. Like most other men around her, Albert turns out to be an abuser as well; never hesitant when it comes to physically and psychologically torment his new wedded wife. Celie’s world seems lost and herself left unloved, if not for her only sister Netty who swore that the only thing keeping her love away from Cellie is death itself. Which essentially became Cellie’s only vain hope for the next fourty years of living as a tortured soul.
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Seeing the lessons of “The Color Purple” is easy. Like most of his work, Spielberg didn’t buried his intention deep within the story. On the contrary, “The Color Purple” is full of people spouting their belief. It’s a story of people who hold strongly on what they set upon as normal. This of course, reflects well the true difficulty in overcoming the real oppression within the world. Where the issue is not that these abusers and discriminators want to be evil by their own right. But it is because they think of their behaviors as normal
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Whether it be racial or gender, abuse and discrimination were normalize. It is clearer and clearer as we venture more and more into the past. “The Color Purple” reminded us of that. It acts less as a cautionary tale for the future as much as a harrowing reminder to the disgusting ways we used to held up. And how years of living with the established norm has left us ignorant to keep questioning what’s right. This is even more dangerous to the victims who out of habit, swept off the injustice done upon them rather than standing up. And that, is why the progress we have made of late felt so significant. We need to save more and more Celie; who never thought intimacy can ever be based on love. Celie who advocate for the abuse of her own kind because she simply couldn’t think off anything else. We need to let them hold their heads up high. Because that is what they deserve and not a single bit less.
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“The Color Purple” is a genuinely touching story of resilience. It is a story of overcoming abuse through the very qualities those abusers don’t have: and it is tenderness, patience, and resilience. A true classic that not only gave us Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, but also tons of food for thought.
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December 10, 2019

Review The Master (2012)


“THE MASTER” (2012)
By Paul Thomas Anderson | USA
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The best films are always the most difficult to put into words. Such a case never rung truer than when I watch “The Master” for the very first time. After following the career of Paul Thomas Anderson, I felt like I already have a picture of what all his films is essentially going to be like, and more importantly what themes he will continuously return to. Anderson is obsessed with human ambition; the corrupted, the empowering, and the maddening effects it has on all of his protagonists. But here, for the first time Anderson splits those themes, and spread it wide in a nearly narratively abstract movie; one that invites for different interpretations more than any of his other works.
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To me, “The Master” is essentially a film about the relationship of two men: Phoenix’ Freddie Quell and Hoffman’s The Master. It’s a film that studies the nature of men in its entirety by presenting to us two distinct personification of men’s inherent characteristics and desire, that it’s even fair to say that these two men stands on polar opposites. On one end is Freddie, a personification of men’s primal nature who lifes a nomadic life, wandering aimlessly with no actual purpose. And at the other end is The Master, a leader, an intellectual, a man who has made a clear moral stance and persona for himself to become a symbol of the ultimate search of higher knowledge. While Freddie is satisfied with his meaningless existence, The Master is obsessed in finding a higher purpose of his and all of existence. Where Freddie is driven by lust, hunger, and greed; The Master is driven by his ego, his frustation, and existential dread. These two men are by no mean the same. At first glance, it would be impossible to find any resemblance between the two. But this is exactly what “The Master” is trying to prove wrong.
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Here, Anderson slowly shows how every man is fighting the same war and no matter how much we present ourselves to be — how much we believe that we are above savagery and ignorance — we will never fully escape it. At first it seems clear between these two men who is the leader and who is the follower, who is the manipulator and who is the controlled. Who is the man and who is the animal. Yet by the end, we’ve come to realize that the answers to those questions are not as simple as they may seem. That the primal Freddie and the sophisticated Master, is much closer to one another as we believed them to be. It may came off as a degrading message: that the seemingly most intelligent of our kind is still just as animal as any of our lowest. But remember that the message works in the other way around as well. Sure, you may think that the title of “The Master” refers only to Hoffman’s character. Yet in the end, you’ll see that Freddie is capable of claiming that title himself. If not for a group of people, or even anyone at all, he is still The Master. Just as we are capable of being Masters of our own humanity.
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I can honestly write a book containing only the many interpretations I have of “The Master”; as a retelling of the rise of scientology, a potrait of masculinity, PTSD, 1960s paranoia, a homoerrotic character study, and even a story of grief, acceptsnce, and self-discovery. It is a film endless of layers and themes, infused by Anderson and his crew to every aspect of filmmaking they can possibly do. Every shot speaks for itself its own weight, every line is delivered with such levels of emotion, every sound carries its own sensation, every cast brings a new powerful presence (I didn’t even get the chance to talk about Phoenix and Hoffman, just know that they are the two best actors of recent time); everything in this film is simply and utterly perfect that it has now became one of my all time favorite film. Anderson could never outdo this, unless of course he is a true cinematic prophet sent by God himself.

Review There Will Be Blood (2007)


“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (2007)
By Paul Thomas Anderson | USA
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Heralded as one of the best film ever created this side of the century and starring the most wickedly talented actor probably since Brando graced our screen, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” surely has no need of any introductions. An artistic collaboration unlike any other PTA film — packed with enough talent both infront and behind the camera to slaughter the rest of Hollywood — the film easily became not only his grandest project to date but also his magnum opus. Grand not in the sense of its prolonged runtime but rather it’s ambitious scope and magnum opus simply because it is objectively his most well-made endeavor.
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It’s a rarity for a film to accomplish such a perfectionist control in every aspect of its production. Though they probably won’t necessarily make for perfect films for everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that a perfect showmanship of craft gave a film a universal allure that’s just cannot be denied. This is my dilemma when first watching this film a few years ago. I, as a film lover, immediately recognizes PTA’s perfect touches in the visual, audio, narrative, and little details that I simply have no choice but to admire them. Add to that is Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance which I won’t even talk about much here because everyone knows already how insane he is. But apart from him and my appreciation of the film’s technicalities, I found “There Will Be Blood” a rather cold film that I couldn’t connect emotionally with.
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That was a few years ago. Since then the film never pops into my mind for even a moment. So, with the PTA marathon that I am currently doing I think it’ll be the perfect excuse to rewatch this masterpiece that I clearly has so misunderstood. And boy, did the experience change for the better. What was then seem like an emotionally distant story, now to me feels a deeply moving one. Dare I even say, there’s even a newly found sense of inspiration and motivation I somehow found in Daniel Plainview’s sociopathic oil driller character. I scarily understand his side of the story that I was having a much more engaging experience with the movie.
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There’s a lot of arguments to be made of what Plainview’s character represents for little of what he does really echoes his friendly surname. To me, Plainview represents a deep rooted nihilism that at the same time feels self-aware. His character is a deceitful fox for sure, but what you cannot say about him is that he admits of his immorality. He makes his argument and most of the time his arguments turns out truer than the people around him who claims to have higher moral principles. Daniel spits on these kind of people for exactly that reason. I believe what he hates in people more than anything is that self-narcissistic believe that by doing good we therefore elevate ourselves to be good men.
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Such characteristic appears in Paul Dano’s local priest and self-proclaimed prophet; the ice to Plainview’s fire. Indeed, there’s much more to the conflict between the two other than said characteristics of self-consciousness — a lot of the emphasis between the two characters has more to do with their believe (or lack there of) in god. But to me, Plainview’s hatred for Paul grew more so because of how he represents human falsity; how he puts himself above everyone else in a moral pedestal. That’s all that he hates: self-entitlement. As someone who used to scratch under the dirst and had to literally crawled his way to the top, Plainview simply believes in hard work and dedication. To recognize that we’re all fighting for no higher purpose other than to please our own desire, our own greed and lust for being better than the rest. He is a monster in getting what he wants, but at least he admits he’s not a priest.
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That’s only one of many themes I found lurking beneath the surface of this straightforward looking period piece. If given the chance, one could write a whole book containing nothing but readings on “There Will Be Blood”. It still is not my favorite of PTA’s work — “Magnolia” still sits on that throne — but I sincerely agree that it remains as the objective best film that he has ever made. An exemplary masterpiece for all other masterpieces to come.

December 09, 2019

Review Transit (2018)


“TRANSIT” (2018)
By Christian Petzold | Germany, France
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Holocaust films are nothing new. Ever since the horrible tragedy occurred, we have witnessed and relived the experience of the infamous genocide — or at least a meager immitation of it — through books, films, and TV shows alike. “Transit”, the 1944 novel by the reknown Anna Seghers, is amongst the first of such stories, acting almost as a direct account of the tragedy from a first hand witness. Seghers is afterall known for writing moral experiences from the second world war, which is greatly felt here in the story of a german seeking to flee nazi occupied France. But will a film that echoes Seghers’ work be as effective as it were then? After the waves of holocaust films people grew tired of?
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Thankfully, director Christian Petzold doesn’t think so and thus chose to add a twist to the story. Instead of mimicking the horrors of the past, Petzold’s “Transit” is instead set on the current present; completely ignoring the actual course of history. He realized that when we watch films that replicate the nazi era of world war II, we often take it for granted. We saw it enough times and know it all our lives that we only write it off as just another unfortunate part of our history and nothing truly relevant for our current state. By subverting that, Petzold gave the familar story an urgency; a familiar face to ground the horrific events of our past with our present. Which makes for some eerily dystopian feeling, one you might find in films like “Children of Men” and other pessimistic science fiction ideas. It is a more powerful picture than the many period piece we had to suffer through all this years; a pleasant surprise that elevates the film to something refreshing.
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Despite its modern setting however, it’s worth noting how classical Petzold’s “Transit” really are. It’s romance for starters, feels like it’s ripped straight out of a 40s melodrama (which it technically is). The two romantic leads, Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer, is key to landing the tone of the writing which balances overdramatic expressions of love with the stoicism of post-war european cinema beautifully. Rogowski is especially brilliant with his deadpan yet subtly emotional performance — it’s hard not to see him as the german version of a young Joaquin Phoenix. Praises are also due to cinematographer Hans Fromm, for the picture of this alternate europe he managed to paint; a beautiful collection of a postcard photo but with a fascist authoritarian presence mixed on to it.
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“Transit” shows a clever way to turn history to a crytal ball that shows a possible future; changing a past tragedy to a cautionary tale, with beautiful visuals and poignant performances. If anything “Transit” may just the answer to “Casablanca”: less dramatic speeches with string orchestra and more moral dilemma in a time of human deprecation.
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Review Under the Silver Lake (2018)


“UNDER THE SILVER LAKE” (2018)
By David Robert Mitchell | USA
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It’s no secret that Hollywood is a terrifying place. The so called City of Angels that has stood for over a hundred years has been the center of the world’s creative industry and the home to millions of film, TV, and music creators throughout the century. A comforting thought is to think of Hollywood a place where dreams come true and where the traditional American dream may just still be alive. But unless you’ve been living under three hundred tons of concrete, by now you must’ve heard of the many dark things that lurks beneath the busy streets of the city. How the corruption and ingenuity of corporate entities has long tainted the sacred artforms we’ve come to love; how drugs, sex, and even murders has shaped a lot of our favorite artists’ lives; how predators hunt mercilessly without surveillance.
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This horrifying truth is what David Robert Mitchell took in strive as the monster of his latest mystery thriller. Like its predecessors in the anti-hollywood subgenre (“Mulholland Drive” being the clear inspiration), “Under the Silver Lake” is a film that uses the mythical status of Hollywood, both the good and bad, and twist it into something horrific. It’s so much so a love letter to the industry that the city has grew from as it is a breaking up letter; exposing the truth in a hyperbolic fantasy story that somehow still makes for a believable case.
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It’s a statement in and of itself, that a film filled with audacious conspiracies and insane plot points can still feel believable, simply because anything just seems plausible when we’re talking about Hollywood. Unless, those things diminish the value of the Hollywood myth. Then, and only then, will the public refuse to believe. Maybe Tupac is still alive, or maybe Kurt Cobain was murdered? These are the only questions that seems to matter in the public eye. But when a rumor arises of a beloved artist turning out to be a fraud, or a masterclass director came out as a pedophile, then we refuse to accept the possibility of such truth. All because of the Hollywood power to gain our everlasting worship.
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These were certainly big ideas, and it would sadly seems that it’s too big for Mitchell himself to pull off. With an already long runtime (at least for a movie of this kind), “Under the Silver Lake” still feels too crowded for its own good. There were simply too many subplots and stories with equally interesting characters for it to developed in a mere two hours. Even our main protagonist, Sam, played by the underrated Andrew Garfield, feels a bit undeveloped which shows in how unclear his motivations could feel at times. The disappointing part is knowing that with the amount of materials at hand, Mitchell could easily turn this into a miniseries, which I think would benefit the story tremendously. I would very much enjoy to spend more time with the interesting cast, which I feel delivers in every one of their roles perfectly — Jimmi Simpson and Grace van Patten (she should be everyone’s movie crush by now) being two of my favorites. Even Jeremy Bobb, who only appears in one scene (the best scene in my opinion) is absolutely enthralling to watch.
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“Under the Silver Lake” continues to make a case gor David Robert Mitchell’s handling of horror. The clever ways he views Los Angeles and in particular the area surrounding Silver Lake is a both a delight and a nightmare for those who dreams of walking those star-marked streets. If “La La Land” encourages us to dream, then “Under the Silver Lake” like “Mulholland Drive” is telling us not to. Because our dreams are nothing but dust in the eyes of Hollywood — dust that can be sold for cash.
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December 08, 2019

Review Us (2019)


“US” (2019)
By Jordan Peele | USA
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Though it start off quite jarring with the jumps between comedy and horror, Jordan Peele’s latest child, “Us”, quickly exhilarate into both an entertaining adrenaline rush and a collection of thought provoking ideas, knitted together as if in mirrored opposite (sounds familiar?). Like his breakout film, “Get Out”, Jordan’s true sense of horror lays not on what’s happening on the screen, but rather the idea that it subtly suggests. These ideas were laid bear in the very opening text crawl : America is built on top of these mazes; these tunnels of secrecy, of discrimination, of violence all burried deep within the privilege it suggests to its people. Not realizing that for every small thing they take for granted, someone down there had to suffer for it.
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“Us”, in a social commentary context is indeed about the exploitation of consumerist culture. And like the title, Peele’s clear intention was indeed to put this mirror to the people of his nation — hence the title “Us” as in US. Yet, the genius of the film is that it works despite taken out of that context and how it fits a lot of messages both in a personal and societal level.
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When talking about the actual plot, the conceit is clearly meant as a personal journey. For the most part, we as the audience were put directly in the shoes of our protagonist, Adelaide, straight away from the opening. We followed her through the traumatic event of her childhood, an event that shaped her and the story of the film, and we see that repercussions seeping through her adult self. This is where Lupita Nyong’o acting brilliance comes to play. Nyong’o perform Adelaide always vigilantly, always reacting and observing her surroundings; thus inciting us to feel the unhinged and paranoid nature she is feeling throughout the film first act. Combined her performance with Peele’s eyeful camera work, they both managed to make scenes of a summer vacation on a beach becomes the most tension filled scene of the year so far.
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After these moments of characterizations, “Us” then finally live up to its title and turn the focus to an unexpected pairing. Though its easy to assume the title itself refers to our main family, I truly believe the Us we’re talking about is between Adelaide and the shadow of herself, Red. This relationship is the crux of the personal messages “Us” is bringing to the table. It is that old question of what makes us ourselves? It touches on nature vs. nurture, of how two same individuals raised in two polar environments will grow to become extreme opposites of one another. That particular question then echoes in the larger societal context. Are the qualities of a person is ultimately entangled with their class? Of their place in society? It asks us to ponder why there are these stereotypes of “the hood”, that refers to less fortunate african-american neighborhoods and whether that should’ve been taken as an issue of race or societal class. Putting an affluent black family in the center of “Us” strengthens that gap of economy and social class in comparison with their less fortunate shadow selves.
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It’s interesting to see how people is taking these ideas in. Some, seemingly thought that the film is too blatant in its messaging while others think of it as confusing. But to me, what many don’t realized is that that is the genius of Peele. Like “Get Out”, this latest addition to his directorial work is one that works in many layers. It works definitely well as the surface entertainment that it is. However it does offer a deeper look for those who are seeking for it. How deep you dig into these layers are all up to you. But the deeper you go, the deeper you are rewarded by the true horror Peele is hiding beneath. Like I said in the beginning : the horror of Peele’s work comes not on what’s shown on the screen, but what is hidden beneath its ideas.
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“Us” proves again of Peele’s vision as a horror auteur and a creative director. Entertaining at its most simple form, intriguing at its second layer, and builds into a scarier and scarier notions with every deeper level it uncovers, the film is one that will haunt you more hours after you watch it.

Review Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)


"WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?” (1966)
By Mike Nichols | USA
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Before he changed the norm of Hollywood, shifting the old ways of the studio controlled industry into the era of the new young talents, Mike Nichols made his feature debut with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. Whereas most probably know Nichols for his follow up work, “The Graduate”, it’s safe to say that I stand in the minority of things, for I personally think that this first film of his is in fact more superior.
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Threading the same themes of generational gap, the story follows an old bickering couple terrorizing a younger couple as they visit their home late in the morning. The story started from being a seemingly harmless Billy Wilder rounchy comedy and it slowly yet constantly progresses into something a bit more disturbing. Throughout two hours, Nichols fit a lot of dynamics of relationships and social stratifications. This of course were done sharply and full of wit thanks to the fantastic script by Ernest Lehman. But even then, the film wouldn’t hold as much ground without the riveting performances by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — these two, truly gave two of the best performance of the decade.
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Adapted from a play of the same name written by Edward Albee, Nichols elevated the existing material to new heights by his usage of camerawork and editing. Taking advantage of the artform, it took Albee’s play and make it all the more intimate and intense; utilizing close-ups, tracking shots and abrupt cuts to mimic the wild and spiraling story the film tells. Even in the most simplest shots, Nichols along with cinematographer Haskell Wexler went ahead of themselves to paint the most beautiful or the most jarring (when needed) shots, earning the film its rightful Oscar nomination along with four others — two in which, they won.
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“Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” is a remarkable debut that established the themes and creative direction Nichols is known for bringing in his follow up film. A picture that is both hillarious and gut wrenching at the same time, this film deserves a place amongst the best of its time.
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