Monday, 8 August 2016

Visual & Sound Diary: Paris, Texas


To romanticise loneliness is a guilty pleasure, a sweet and shameful joy. Paris, Texas, a slow-burning mediation on the luxuries of isolation and escape, is a film of retrospective melancholy, flooded with a ripe air of mystery, implicit devastation and so exquisitely focused on detail, motion and silence. Wim Wenders is not the kind of filmmaker to stitch on superfluous super 8 camera footage simply to instill some forged sense of nostalgia. He uses every mechanism and technical nuance of cinema to capture the missing and unattended parts of a story told so often. The beauty lies in the strangely traditional nature of its background story for Paris, Texas illustrates the many moments long after a crisis and its spectacular events has occurred. Redemption feels almost irrelevant and in this, the characters are at ease in speaking openly and honestly. Told through a passage of visuals, the picture consists almost purely of a collection of single frames featuring single subjects on assorted landscapes. It implores the audience to reach for inferences and make our own conclusions. As the film is principally devoid of event, it settles for the ghost of drama and the romantic affliction which the biased retelling accompanies.

As Travis Henderson wanders out of the desert and into civilisation, pieces of a functional past life fall into his lap: a son, a lover, a family, a holiday, a mysterious conflict unknown or  suppressed from memory. To say more would unjustly draw the potency away from the story. If you can sit and watch and wait for the layers of the story to peel back and reveal the drama at its core, you will no doubt we awarded with a ghostly piece of poetry. Dutch Director of Photography, Robby Müller, complements the stark and eerie melodies of a score filled with the sharp bottleneck guitar strings with illusory imagery of the wide expanse of the baron landscape. He plays with light, particularly the iconic neons of the archetypal hot American desert dream. The film carries with it the painful kind of profound that resonates with the viewer, impeaches on whatever personal woes we carry, evoking, without falsehood or exploitation, intimate memory and sentiment.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

P.S. Girlhood

 

The final entry to Celine Sciamma adolescence trilogy, Girlhood, has been dubbed the female reciporcal to Richard Linklater's Boyhood. The two films however, could not be more different. Unlike Boyhood, Sciamma's film is not about lushy nostalgia or some insight realised on retrospection, although audiences will undeniably be plagued by both. Girlhood is more concerned with impulse, growth and identity, as overworked as the theme may be. The film reminds how terrifying and volatile and harsh the world seems when you're young and how a hard-shell identity can be your anchor to safety. Predictably plotless, Girlhood finds incredible meaning in small moments, in slow growth, in defiant changes and in personal insurrection. Where Boyhood is a primarily talking feature, with growth demonstrated through speech and wordy self-expression, conversation (charm), Girlhood is a film wrapped up in visuals, in demonstrative actions, moments and events. It isn't indulgent in wordy conundrums like the narcissistic, self-involved poetry of any Fault in Our Stars. What few dialogues to take place in Girlhood are clunky, raw and authentic, recognising that teenagers don't speak like poets or English teachers in love with the sound of their own voices. They suffer from the struggles of self-expression. Inarticulate as they are, redemption is found in the eloquence of their movements - these are creatures of light, freedom and impulse.  

Girlhood dabbles in many issues: crime, sex, domestic violence and gender conflicts but exploits none, so that each significant part comes together only to form a derelict youth with mistakes and empty decisions. Girlhood's centerpiece comes in the form of Marieme, a marvel of a character who refuses to become a victim of her home life. She finds freedom in decisions she knows are ridden with consequences, finding the idea that any human being would deliberately sabotage their own welfare to be an exhilarating and liberating experience. Sciamma's work in capturing adolescence in its full, unapologetic form is patient as it is poignant, spirited and allusive.

85/100

Friday, 26 February 2016

88th Academy Awards: My Predictions and Picks (Ranked)


Cinema is the most commercialised form of art that exists. Nearly the entire film industry is based on the box office, on pitching screenplays and ideas to studios, revitalising and forming franchises, on marketing to an audience. What started as an art form with little to no money in it has become a field of investment and greed. There is no other way to explain why twelve Nicholas Sparks movies have been made, each slightly more terrible than the last and why Michael Bay has 21 directing credits to his name. This is an industry which almost tossed out Marlon Brando for being "unbankable". So you can see why a great film released in 2016 is something of a miracle. Most of these films come about in one of two ways. Firstly, there are directors such as David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen whose work exists in the tiny sliver of the middle section of the Venn diagram: they produce films of merit with loyal and large followings. Everyone loves Pulp Fiction, Fight Club and Midnight in Paris. The only other way is via film festivals, where hopeful filmmakers fund the entire production on their own dime (or by generous benefactors), then distributors see potential and purchase the rights to it (e.g. Like Crazy, Winter's Bone, Whiplash). All of the nominated films fall into one of these categories. Each year out of the thousands of films which are released, there will be about ten great ones and the prestigious award incentive, the Academy Awards, are usually the closest to distinguishing these.

Below are both my predictions and my personal choices.


Sunday, 21 February 2016

P.S. Steve Jobs


Steve Jobs, an analogical symphony of artful, vibrant graphics, drilled into a smart and consistent rhythm with the aid of a tight, marching score and crisp, rich dialogue, riddled with epiphanies, clarity, insight and quirks, is a film still inferior to its screen associate The Social Network. It thrives on the same intellectual backbone, owing largely to Aaron Sorkin's love of the slippery, spoken word, and similar to the beauty of David Fincher's discipline, Danny Boyle was careful to harness in any murmur of pretentiousness so that its lettered fashion can be enjoyed guiltless. The hundred-mile-an-hour dialogue and villainy of its protagonist are all delicious attributes of Sorkin's portrayal of two tech giants, Jobs and Zuckerberg. Michael Fassbender affords a more refined representation of a different man than Jesse Eisenberg, with a truly formative performance but Eisenberg's character is better written, just as egotistical and ingenious but more complex, exposed and iconic in its egomania.

The structure of Steve Jobs is really a thing to admire, a mighty spectacle, the entire film neatly arranged  into 3 parts, with all its irresistible catharsis spilling out before product launches, seminal points in the actual life of the actual Steve Jobs. There is an undeniable charm to its unhinged messiness but it falters as it comes together a film with excellent parts which do not necessarily work together. And this is where The Social Network surpasses. For where Fincher's film is a seamless tech package and an all-in masterpiece, at times Boyle's love for visual innovation and Sorkin's rapid-fire dialogue only distract and detract. At these moments, the film lingers dangerously close to one that can only be enjoyed purely as a extravaganza from a safe distance where insight can never be grasped. These films are not twins, they are brothers, and like Facebook installs perfectly in app form to every Apple device, the films work together, illustrating events in the world of modern technology in a similarly gratifying, uniformly excellent, enterprising manner. 

82/100

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Revenant


The Revenant is a film bathed in brutality, featuring a primal kind of beauty shot through gritty, unforgiving lenses, indulgent in its unrelenting violence. The sweeping grandeur of the picture is formed on the momentum of its visceral imagery, immeasurable precision and nuance lie within every stroke and shot. This is cinema that has your heart sitting in your throat, your fingers clutching your seat as every sight and sound assaults your senses, creating the calamitous and joyous product of a hearty Western thriller, a trying survival tale and a vengeance story all in one. It settles as a film that no less demands your focus and unquestionably deserves it, affirming its value with the raging melancholy, anger, hate, fear, urgency, and pain that is built so unceremoniously into every second of the film. The sprawling story, a cosmic creature which swells and intensifies, is enriched by an array of disturbed sub-plots as the audience is pulled deeper and deeper into the deliciously unhinged experience of breathing alongside a revenant, maddened and driven to every act by grief. 

Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio), his half-native son and his only surviving companions, after escaping a savage surprise attack on their fur trapping bivouac by Arikara Native Americans, begin their journey back to their outpost. While trekking to safety, out of the reaches of the bloodthirsty tribe, Glass is brutally mauled by a female grizzly bear and left in a near fatal condition. A series of events, betrayals, deceptions and murders leads to his hunting team abandoning him. Recovery and pursuit take order, an aching desire for vengeance is not superseded by a need to survive, but acts as its complete motivation.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Guide to Melbourne Cinemas


It may come as no surprise that my favourite places to be are cinemas. My city, Melbourne, is a kind creature to my habits (or rather manic obsessions), the various cinemas allowing me to rub shoulders with other cinephiles, or rather listen into their beautiful conversations and having me wonder why most movie buffs in Melbourne are middle-aged, wine-sipping, beard-stroking civil engineers who have friends "in the industry" and a bookshelf of screenplays in working progress. In the years since I've graduated high school I have come to appreciate Melbourne and its cultural audacity. Melbourne, like San Francisco and Toronto, is a melting pot society, made up, of, as I like to call it, klepto-culture, like the Quentin Tarantino's of cities, borrowing endlessly from well-established cultures. As far as cinemas go, there are hundreds in Melbourne and if I haven't been to it, then I know of it.


Saturday, 31 October 2015

P.S. Sicario


Sicario is an assiduous, pulsating work of art, a graphic feature of inspired technical verve, tense and satisfying with rounded performances, charged dialogue and unusual utility of its lead character. With his latest feature, director Denis Villeneuve breaks into the main frame of action cinema - his previous efforts, Enemy, Prisoner and Incendies - terrific works easily overlooked by main audiences, a precursor to his most accomplished film of yet. Sicario, meaning "hitman" in Mexico, illustrates FBI agent Kate Macy's (Emily Blunt) rude awakening to the CIA's unorthodox methods of operation in utilising one drug lord to take down another.  The feature is brilliantly reminiscent of the the precision of A Most Violent Year and the technical nuance of the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, with scene-stealing villain played by Benicio Del Toro, comparable to No Country's own Anton Schigurh. Although ebullient and masterly in its execution however, Sicario cannot be deemed faultless, ambiguity is intended in this feature but it almost oversimplifies its content and threatens to undermines its integrity.  The element of originality fades in and out, at times forsaken in place of entertainment. Ultimately, the feature identifies as a traditionally structure cartel movie with well-established genre traits presented in a superb tech package: components of aerial camera work perfectly complemented with a heavy, ominous score. Villeneuve creates in Sicario a film enigmatic, brash and beautifully unrelenting, far from inspired but prolific nonetheless.

78/100

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: In the Mood for Love (2001)


Wrapped in an illustrious blanket of dangerous colour and melody, In the Mood for Love is a dreamy cinematic escapade. Beauty drips from each intrepid detail as the camera glides about, intoxicating its audience with the appeal of intimacy devoid of touch, superseding not desire but sex. Aching in its lustful quality and tortuously enticing in its soft restraint, love is captured not within the limits of a melodramatic story, but fleshed out in all its rawness and urgency, allure buried thick in suggestion and movement. Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's features are classically highly stylised works, appreciative of the paltry, transient quality of dialogue. Instead, he builds pictures resonant in their form, tone and feeling, rebelling against the standards of strongly narrative driven, 30-shots-per-minute sweeping romantic epics. Wong Kar-Wai reminds audiences of the intensity of emotion without event or tragedy. In the Mood for Love is set against the backdrop of a 1960s Hong Kong in an exiled, nostalgic Shanghainese community of narrow alleyways of walls of waxed posters, tiny, cluttered apartments and steaming noodle stalls by night. It tells the tentative tale of a man and women who move into neighbouring apartments with their spouses and grow close over respective suspicions of their partners' infidelity.

The exceptional qualities of the moving imagery are created of not one but two cinematographers: loyal collaborator Christopher Doyle responsible for the iconic slow-motion moving shots while the long shots detailed with fleeting beauties exhibit the handiwork of Taiwanese DoP Mark Lee Ping Bin. The distinctive styles of the filmmakers blend seamlessly into one. The seminal slow-motion montages are heightened by composer, Shigeru Umebayashi's, Yumeji's Theme, blatantly taken from Seijun Suzuki's 90s Japanese independent film, Yumeji. The reuse of an original score crafted for another movie entirely is almost unheard of, but when its cinema giant Wong Kar-Wai behind the camera, the rules of film shall bend. The result, of course, is only the making of a quintessential slow-motion sequence, a vibrant, elegant specimen studied to death at any film school. Drenched in the romance mystery nuance of Alfred Hitchock's Vertigo and the stream of consciousness quality of Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror, the picture thrives on a consistent visual ambiguity which takes no pleasure or concessions in the idle or the pretentious. The spouses are seen only in silhouettes and heard as convenient voices, the man and woman are never shot in the same frame until the second half of the film. Emotional distance, variance and romantic longing are things to be visualised, not minimised to spoken word. Love has never been depicted so far from the sentimental yet so close to the tangible. Who would've suspected the most romantic film of the 21st century to be an ode to, of all forms of the love, the unrequited and unconsummated kind? 


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: American Beauty (1999)



A sharply observed social satire, American Beauty is irresistible in its visual diligence, each frame is flagged with vibrant red imagery, the score a spectral body of melodies, signalling the tonal shifts into the character's psychedelic fantasy. Noted for its acidic humour and rich contextualisations- American Beauty is the quintessential antithesis to the classic suburban drama. It mocks the "American dream", the middle-class suburban cage that entraps adults into a life of routine, depression and dangerous comfort. It entails detailed, electric characterisations of real living people but illuminates each with flagrantly original ideas. American Beauty chronicles the tragedy of ordinary life, the dull and uninspired life lead by the working middle-class, those locked down with conditioned obligation, the conventions and superficiality of sedated living. The film can't exactly be pinned as anti-patriotic, but it is a piercing challenge of the generally accepted standards of a contented lifestyle rooted in mediocrity. However, Mendes' social satire isn't all sharp criticism and dark sarcasm, the feature is sparingly laced with simple moments of pure desire for generic goals of happiness, love and fulfillment. And this is exactly what distinguishes American Beauty from other social satires. It is easy to denounce social norms and mock the standards by which most people live, but Mendes goes further with fervent encouragement of active attempts and pursuits for individualistic gratification.  

In crafting my visual and sound diary entries I have always accentuated the imagery over the music but composer Thomas Newman's understated, ethereal score in American Beauty simply bears greater significance than the spectacular work done by DoP Conrad L Hall in Sam Mendes' debut feature. Newman's score is a dynamic expression of its charged content, integral to the achievement of a balance between tone and story, so that his concepts are both rationally based but also emotional in its pursuit. His compositions range from the curiously percussive to the beautifully simple and unadorned piano pieces. Cinematographer, Conrad L Hall, takes great pleasure in shooting dull, painfully basic set designs - bland office rooms and high school hallways, but can just as easily glamourise and enrich these same landscapes with subtle hues of a representative colour, so that every frame serves as an iconic reminder of a landmark film.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Racing Extinction


Documentaries are about achieving an artful balance of persuasion via engaging testimonials, revelatory visuals and the undeniable pleasure of enlightenment. On one end of the spectrum, documentaries which sensationalise events, told with skewed perception and rely on shocking, bizarre imagery - are bias to a fault, sceptisism inevitably invading the audience. But failure to dramatise events for the sake of entertainment results in a stale retellings, the attention of the audience wanes. However documentaries which strike this balance behold beautiful and terrifying powers. They have audiences believing in conspiracies, illuminated by horrible histories, inspired into activism. They can persuade viewers to change their lifestyle, their awareness, their diet. These films are infectious in their conviction and pure in their vision. It is director, environmentalist and photographer Louie Pshioyos who clearly appreciates this - his fascination with the storytelling utility of cinema and its use as a  "weapon of mass construction" is clear. His 2012 docu-drama, The Cove, illuminated our screens with the iconic image of a blood-filled cove, revolutionising the modern documentary genre and went on to become one of the most widely-viewed and awarded documentaries in the history of cinema. Racing Extinction, built on the same potent ambition and avant-garde technical niche, is a sobering tale of a human reality and the ugly future with awaits those selfish and ignorant to its severity.

Racing Extinction throws light on all of the environmental truths most people try to ignore. Director Louie Pshioyos addresses human impact on a faltering environmental by illustrating the grand plan to salvage our dying planet including the small but wonderful ways individual activists have sought change by using their own talents and then highlights the various operations which undermine its entire cause. In many ways, Racing Extinction is a look at Psihoyos own environmental awakening-  how he became conscious, then angry in his conviction and now driven in his pursuit for a future. He champions awareness and action, identifying our current environmental state as a war zone, the apathetic and greedy are the enemies and for once the impending apocalypse upon our loss has some realism attached to it.