Dunkirk (2017)

Forgive me if I sound too positive on Dunkirk. Its late and I just recently arrived home from watching in full IMAX. So there’s that. Here are some initial, quick thoughts:

An eloquent, boldly structured portrait of the chaos and madness of war from roughly five perspectives; Dunkirk is a full blown, eye widening experience. Nolan’s reach as a director is beyond doubt and at this point its safe to bump him to the “greats.” Dunkirk is ambitious, not only in scope but also in construction, as this film weaves in and out of past or present, loosely tying together disparate events with mere visual recollection. Exposition is limited to perhaps two conversations and some brief text early in the film; Dunkirk is about basic survival instincts and how people react in the face of overwhelming odds.

But the key to me, the incredible feat Dunkirk pulls off, is that there is no blame cast, no preachy moralizing at all. Some of the heroes in Dunkirk face the odds with selflessness and bravery, some others with quite the opposite; fleeing from combat or putting their own survival before others. But if Dunkirk has a lesson, it’s to give pause before labeling anyone a coward, and to more readily hail others as heroes. The Germans are never glimpsed, even for a moment. I loved that. No reason to show them. The old Alfred Hitchcock quote kept coming to mind; “I don’t want to show you whats behind that door, your mind can do that just fine.” In Dunkirk, the enemy is an abstract fear, almost as demonized here as the circumstances that landed these 400,000 men on this beach, stranded without hope of escape.

I think its safe to state Dunkirk is one of the best war films period, and its easy to see why.  It’s a flawless, masterful exercise in immersion and spectacle, desperately searching for meaning and order in absolute chaos and carnage still unfathomable 77 years later. A search for the meaning of life surrounded by the utter meaninglessness of war. It’s an intimate, harrowing epic; a rare beast of a movie the likes of which I haven’t seen before.

Those fundamental contradictions are what make Dunkirk so fascinating, so stimulating both emotionally and intellectually. I don’t really have the words for this movie because of how recent I watched and hopefully I can unwrap a little more following a rewatch. But on my end, it’s safe to say Dunkirk is more than worth the price of admission to see in full 70mm.

Its hard to say Nolan and Dunkirk won’t be major contenders at the 2018 Oscars and rightfully so. Christopher Nolan has made one of those rare movies that reminds you of the heights great cinema and great artists can reach when pushing boundaries and exceeding expectations.

Go see Dunkirk in IMAX for the full experience. You won’t regret it.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

I’ve been living in a Wes Anderson world lately. I rewatched Life Aquatic a few times for another project. By chance, caught The Darjeeling Limited on cable. I always keep The Royal Tenebaums and Rusmore in rotation and most recently viewed Grand Budapest again. Something struck me that I never actually wrote anything down on Moonrise Kingdom. I went on my Letterboxd account and sure enough. Nothing. So here’s some thoughts on it.

Wes Anderson makes his own version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and sets it within the world of childhood angst: the orphaned Sam Shakusky and similarly introverted Suzy Bishop are in love; but the society around them forbids this romance. Set on an isolated island within New England otherwise known as New Penzance (made up world) – the setting alone gives an idea of what sort of state of life they are living within. They want a place away from others, in order to find themselves living at peace, because the world that they know has no other place for them. But it’s the perfect setup for Wes Anderson to use the quirk that we’ve all come to expect from his work, although in Moonrise Kingdom it has come to a point where it reflects feeling: among the most vital aspects to the success of Anderson’s output. It’s a quirky rom-com spin on Romeo and Juliet with kids he’s telling here, but the very experience provided is nothing short of rewarding.

Going back to the running theme of isolation in Moonrise Kingdom, there’s a greater success coming out on Wes Anderson’s end when it comes to how he captures the general awkwardness coming in regards to the feeling of being in love. The central romance in Moonrise Kingdom is indeed some of the most touching that Anderson has ever been able to achieve in his career, but at the same time we recognize there’s something so awkward about how it comes out at the hands of Anderson’s trademark quirkiness. It’s actually something rather beautiful because of this quirk, because it reflects upon the uncertainty of romance especially at a younger age: and Sam and Suzy are only discovering that feeling for the first time. They’re naive and innocent, and Anderson tells a story within this boundary in order to form a work that makes this awkwardness something more touching, because of the uncertainty regarding where their romance is set to go.

Typical of a Wes Anderson film there’s something more coming about from his usage of music in order to highlight a mood. Whether it be from Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score or the use of Françoise Hardy’s “Le temps de l’amour” – it’s always wonderful just looking back upon how they also play in part with the quirkiness as a means of reflecting a certain mood for his films.

By nature, Moonrise Kingdom would be seen as a romantic comedy dealing with the innocence of childhood but when we see Sam and Suzy dancing to Françoise Hardy, there’s a reflection of their naivete at the state of their own freedom: at the time of love. And yet it’s so distinctively bizarre almost like a painting by the way it looks, though this only reflects the awkwardness of the first encounter even more perfectly in order to create something more melancholy deep down, just as the best of Wes Anderson would deliver.

This sort of experiment for Wes Anderson only signifies something more coming in marriage with all the quirkiness that anyone would come to recognize him for. At another point this quirkiness even manages to ring true, because of how it captures the general awkwardness and uncertainty of the naive impressions that love would bring upon  first try. That’s the beauty of what comes from what could easily have been just another innocent romantic comedy about children finding love for the first time. But, Anderson actually goes beyond that and subverts it into something more playful and melancholy just like a memory of this point in one’s life would be.

With Moonrise Kingdom,  Wes Anderson has managed to inspire smiles just as he also captures a feeling of escape from authority – he isn’t making an innocent romantic comedy. He’s making a film about the effect of authority upon innocence, and the results are visually stunning and infinitely thought provoking.

 

 

Rewatching My Movie 10 Years Later

I don’t talk or write about my movie much and I often ask myself why. Writing, filming, post-production, etc. Honestly, it’s difficult to list everything I was responsible for before my mind gets exhausted. Making ‘The Fiction‘ was one of the highlights of my life and If I die tomorrow, to have been able to make a movie from start to finish would be one of my favorite, most cherished experiences of my existence.

Truth be told, the finished product just didn’t end up the way I envisioned it. What I didn’t realize before filming was how immensely hard making a feature film is. Especially when you have extremely little experience. I think anyone who read the script before shooting knew there was something special, but most people politely instructed me to not film it. To sell the script and move on. The ever repeating phrase of first time filmmakers hardly ever work, just never faded from consciousness.

I look back now and of course see mistakes I made. From inexperience, to just being entirely exhausted by the time we got to filming. I had that odd combination of being completely driven where no one, and I mean no one, could have stopped me from making that movie and combine that with not really knowing how to execute on a level this script deserved. In hindsight, I should have sold the script and starting work on something else. But that’s a lot easier said then done, especially now.

I often forget that when you believe in something so much, it takes a lot more than sense to sway you. Honestly though, I’m proud of that. I’m proud I had that characteristic in me at such a young age. I had a no tolerance, take no prisoners approach to getting the film done. I was stubborn, but in a good way. In a way you would want your kid to put his head down and dig hard for a goal. Show some mental toughness. Unable to be swayed by the world. I had that for sure back then. I don’t so much now. I’ve lost a lot of that energy as of late.

A few nights ago I did something I was dreading for a long time. Almost 10 years after wrapping on The Fiction, I watched it. I was nervous about this for so many reasons. I mean, I was nervous about being nervous. But I went to Amazon, rented a copy of my own film and watched.

Magic doesn’t work through time, the film still has many shortcomings as I remembered. Like I mentioned earlier, there were many technical issues as well as experience issues that plagued me throughout production. So watching through the other night couldn’t hide any of that. Those emotions rushed through me. I remember those feelings well. Being in our dark editing room months after shooting only to realize there is no way this scene is going to work as planned. Thats a scary feeling. At one point I remember driving home from an editing session and looking at the script sitting on my passenger seat, almost like it was staring back at me in disappointment.

The rewatch didn’t spawn all bad feelings, though. Actually, most of the viewing really comforted me. It comforted me to know that that was me. I know that sounds stupid. But its been 10 years now. It feels like another life ago. But it wasn’t, it was me. Still in the same skin just 10 years removed.

I loved seeing the cast. Eric, Andrus and all the heavy lifting they had to do to make up for my inexperience. They were sweet and gracious at every point of the production. I admired seeing Jeff play his multiple roles. I loved seeing young Allie play a role she was so committed to. Watching also made me recollect on the crew. Mike and Spike immediately come to mind. I have never and certainly now don’t mind saying this; The Fiction would have been half the quality it was without those guys. They did an amazing job with cinematography and Mike with editing. I am forever indebted to them. Of course I remembered Chris, my sound guy and long time school friend, who dropped everything so he could help me. He wasn’t completely comfortable with all the responsibility of a full sound team squeezed into one person, but he did it because he cared. I will always be appreciative of that.

Speaking honestly, watching The Fiction felt like a breath of fresh air. I know its a movie and to strangers, thats all it will ever be. But, to me it’s a time capsule for my life. Good or bad, I achieved this. Success or failure, no one could take it away from me. It was a tremendous learning experience about filmmaking, team work and most importantly, friendship. I would like to think everyone else on set felt this way, but I felt an extreme closeness to them while filming and anytime I saw them afterwords. Even when I rewatched, that feeling came back. The memories of jokes in-between takes and script revisions, prop placements and plot discussions. To me now, all that stuff feels so special.

After the rewatch I really wish I could hit the rewind button and go back. Not to fix little sound problems or acting quirks. Not to rewrite a scene to make it work a little better. Not to make different choices on set or off. I know it sounds crazy but I wouldn’t change a thing. I want to hit that rewind button so I could feel the warmth and camaraderie that the filming experience induced. I know I’ve tried to explain in words what I mean, but its just impossible.

Everyone involved in ‘The Fiction’ holds a very dear, special place in my heart. Who would have known the most important result of filming my own movie wouldn’t have been a completed film, but friendships and experiences that I never deserved and could have never achieved on my own.

Without a doubt, creating The Fiction was the biggest challenge of my life. But undisputedly, without question the most rewarding.



This is in no way a shameless plug, I promise. That was never my intention. But, if you read this post and are genuinely interested in seeing the film here are some links:

Split

If you know me, you know how hard its been to not review Split. I know it’s been out a while and some people were puzzled at the vacant presence of my opinion to M Night’s latest. Let me just say this: I needed to see Split more than a couple times to really put my words on paper for it. So at long last, here we go.

DISCLAIMER: *There are no spoilers here, I have another post for all that goodness.*

Channeling a Hitchcockian stillness while playing in a genre kingdom of his own making, M. Night Shyamalan reestablishes himself with “Split,” the director’s return to form film. A horror film that hides itself as a dramatic thriller, revealing its chilling secrets with creeping intensity, “Split” is an effortlessly riveting, completely engrossing work of cinema.

Beginning by introducing a terrifying event into a banal afternoon, “Split” swings a narrative hammer that revolves around man whose dissociative identity disorder leads him to commit violent acts. As a psychologist attempts to comfort and control him, the man’s varying personalities wait for the coming of something monstrous.

The story’s secrets will not be revealed here, but they are compelling to say the least. Observing mental illness and mental fracture, the narrative paints an enlightened image of disorder and examines the results of mental and physical trauma. It observes the personas of victim, enabler, and perpetrator, and it observes the raging mix of characters that one mind can conjure. These observations give the film a particular depth that is both layered and invitingly melodramatic, even for a top notch M. Night film.

As usual, Shyamalan frames his story in a landscape that is vibrant and textured. Shadows and shapes pour from corridors and corners, creating a sense of mystery. Unlike his last few movies, editing is sharp, and shot selection, while straightforward, builds a dramatic energy. Shyamalan conducts the work an operatic intensity whose rhythmic tension is delicious and a call to the previous, previous Night works.

Aside from composition and cutting, the key to that tension is James McAvoy who creates such palpable characters as the DID afflicted man that the audience expects more than one antagonist to be haunting the film’s locations. His performance is chilling and dynamic. He is able to cause fear one moment and empathy the next; and, as with the production and story, there is something operatic about the character. McAvoy communicates that quality with ease. Anya Taylor-Joy also fulfills a rewarding arc as a foil to McAvoy’s divided character.

Potently impactful and appealing, “Split” is a fine piece of work. Shyamalan assembles something with impassioned grace and grit, while developing a tangible sense of tension. It is an all-enveloping experience that thrills, shocks, and, ultimately, surprises.

After thinking long and hard, I would call Split M. Night Shyamalan’s Silence of the Lambs; a tight, confined chiller premise infused with empathetic intimacy. Shyamalan has never been a genre auteur, but a genre doctor, diving into various ideas and flavors and breathing a personal touch into their framework. The Sixth Sense isn’t *just* a ghost story, Signs isn’t *just* an alien invasion picture, The Visit isn’t *just* a handheld/found footage exercise; they’re all explorations of trauma and grief, of lost time and how it passes by like seasons in the year, of cinema’s capacity to merge a thrill with a tear.

Welcome back M. Night. Now please, don’t leave again.

Movies w/ Mikey

Many know one of my favorite pastimes is film analysis videos on YouTube. I know I’ve linked to a bunch of them in the past. Mostly Nerdwriter. I find them simple yet deep and thought provoking…..if they are done right.

I stumbled upon “Movies w/ Mikey” a few months ago and his content blew me away. His videos are close to 20 minutes so you’ll have to invest some time, but totally worth it. I linked his Dark Knight video below. Its a good representation of him and his style. He also brings out a side of Dark Knight that I’ve never seen explored before.

Currently I put him right near the top of the list of film analysis on youtube.

The Alternate Universe of Lady in the Water

HAPPY M. NIGHT DAY!

To stick to tradition and in light of M. Night Shyamalan‘s new film, SPLIT being released TODAY. I thought it would be right of me to share one of the best movie analysis i’ve ever had the privilege of reading, The following was written thoughtfully and thoroughly by my cousin, Mike. All credit should be directed his way.

This is a fantastic read and really gets at what Night’s “Lady” may have been scratching the surface of, enjoy:

Shyamalan warned his audience to keep an open mind while watching this movie. He released a “children’s book” to help establish the fantasy before the movie came out. But the complexities of its meaning are hidden behind its “fairy tale” facade. And like all fairy tales, the depth of this masterpiece extends well beyond the simplicity at its surface. If you have the interest, the endurance, AND YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN THIS FILM, please read on.

This is a story of one man’s struggle to regain his faith and sense of purpose by overcoming emotional detachment and repression in the aftermath of an unfathomable tragedy.First, consider the name of the apartment complex – “The Cove”. A cove is a harbor along a body of running water, a sheltered inlet, like a driveway on a busy street. It is a place of seclusion, perhaps even a place to hide. The complex itself is U-shaped, and has a pool at its center. We can imagine that beyond the pool is the reality of the outside world, the “mainstream” of life. It is unknown, and something to be feared. Night has never made a movie that is so contained, so confined to a single location. The story takes place entirely within the Cove.Now imagine that the Cove is not a physical location at all, but a world that exists only in one man’s mind; and it is completely dependent upon and manipulated by his own psyche. People have commented on how the film’s location lacks detail, that it is too simple, nondescript, childish, and unrealistic.

This is not a flaw – this is by design. Cleveland Heep is its superintendent – its caretaker – its “healer”. And if the Cove is a product of one man’s imagination, then its tenants must be as well. Cleveland has a casual familiarity with all of them. And they depend solely upon him for the mundane daily maintenance of their home – we never see his boss or any other employees. Moreover, the name “Heep” itself might reflect not only the great burden he carries, but also the great number of different “tenants” that comprise his psyche. *It is interesting to note that the British use the word “cove” as slang to mean “fellow” or “man”. Similarly, the word “Cleveland” has its roots in Old English, meaning “cliff land”, and the Clevelands were known as people from the cliffs. It is perhaps an allusion to both Cleveland’s isolation and an image of instability, danger, and urgency – “bearing a great burden, teetering on the edge of a cliff”.

In this sense, “The Lady in the Water” is arguably the most unique, imaginative, and ambitious tale of inner conflict and perseverance ever filmed. The struggle takes place within the secluded confines of an apartment complex, the tenants of which are, in this metaphorical sense, the separate, unique aspects of one man’s damaged psyche. And each of them has a singular purpose in this fairy tale of faith, hope, and self-awakening. It is “a bedtime story”, one of a particular type that we tell each other and ourselves before we sleep. These stories give us hope, comfort, and peace. We call them prayers.

The Cove is a close-knit community, and its tenants all seem to have lived there for some time. In fact, only two characters arrive during the movie’s timeline – Story, the mythical narf, and Harry Farber, the movie critic (presumably named after legendary film critic, Manny Farber). And it is no coincidence that they show up at the same time – they are the dueling personifications of Cleveland’s consuming inner conflict.

Story represents Cleveland’s fractured and fragile faith in himself, in mankind, and in God. She is the hope for, and promise of, the belief in the unknown. Farber, by contrast, is the skeptic in Cleveland. His character is not simply a dig at Night’s movie critics. He is the oppressive influence which closes Cleveland’s mind and forces him to see within “the rules”, to accept that there is no originality left in the world, and nothing left to hope for. He defines the rules of Cleveland’s perception. Farber’s simultaneous arrival represents the saboteur in Cleveland’s mind. He is the embodiment of Cleveland’s debilitating doubt, generated to counter the arrival of Story – his savior, the inspiration for his burgeoning faith and redemption of purpose, presumably sent by God. While Story is the image of childlike purity and endless possibility, Farber is the closed, tamed mind of the adult, limited in imagination, and numbed by the sicknesses of society. These are the main figures in the conflict between doubt-skepticism and hope-faith. Note that Farber “must be very good” at his job in order to have been sent to this place from so far away. He is an appropriate counterpart to Story, who turns out to be of the highest and presumably most powerful status of her kind – a “Madam Narf”. He is no ordinary critic, she is no ordinary narf. And it is fitting, as both Cleveland’s tragedy and his purpose are extraordinary.

The Cove’s pool is a metaphor for a man’s heart, once again incorporating Night’s connection of purity and innocence with water. Cleveland initially senses Story’s presence in flashes – fleeting glimpses and the occasional sounds of splashing from the pool at night. Perhaps he has just enough faith left to recognize it when it is revealed. And he finds it in the pool, as one might find faith in the heart. She arrives naked, not only a reflection of the vulnerability of the fragile faith she represents, but a vision of the freedom and innocence that accompanies the purity of childlike inhibition. Far from able to embrace his faith, Cleveland is discomforted by her nakedness and gives her a shirt. His journal reveals to her the deep sorrow that presumably has led him to this place, and kept him lost from a life of fulfillment as a medical doctor. She reminds him that everyone has a purpose (a profound statement in the context of this story and its location). But watching Cleveland plead with Story to keep his secret from the tenants of the Cove, we witness the active repression of his pain and his debilitating inability to cope with the loss of his family. He cannot allow the separate aspects of his personality (the tenants) to experience the tragedy. Moreover, his crippling stutter (absent in her presence) is symptomatic of what appears to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unable to experience the inspiration, the “awakening” of her presence, he decides to help her complete her task and protect her from the “scrunt” sent to kill her.

Cleveland is guided throughout by the character of Young-Soon, whose mother knows the ancient story behind this narf. Young-Soon is the child aspect of Cleveland’s mind that is willing to believe in fairy tales. Consider that as she translates the story to Cleveland from her mother, the two characters hear the story together for the first time. At one point, she even expresses a hope that the story is true. Her immaturity, her recurring childish exit line “bye, Mr. Heep”, and even her name suggest that she is a child (despite her noteworthy height), and thus more amenable to the tales of magic and fantasy that are normally dismissed by adults. Her mother is uncomfortable translating the story in its entirety until Cleveland presents himself to her as a child. But if she is part of the Cove, then so must be the story itself – perhaps heard long ago and buried in the subconscious, perhaps a complete fabrication, or possibly parts of both. It’s not surprising if you can accept that the Cove exists in the mind of a writer. Mrs. Choi is the elderly Korean woman from within the Cove (or invented by it) who becomes the source of this fairy tale. The adult psyche finds it easier to impede the conveyance of the unbelievable story by creating it in a foreign language and from the representation of a respected but unfamiliar source – the perception of a wise and holistic people unbound by Western convention.

The “scrunt” is the manifestation of the ills and evils of society, and the horrors of which man is capable, within Cleveland’s psyche. It is a monstrous form of the fear and anxiety that has denied Cleveland his ability to right his life since his crisis. It preys upon Story. It comes from outside the Cove, from the unknown reality beyond the pool, and it only fears the Tartutic. The Tartutic are the “justice” for which Cleveland cries out when the scrunt attacks Story on the night she should be allowed to leave freely. They might more accurately be thought of as “fate”, or as that which protects the course of predestination. They are the “should”.

The one man who can control the scrunt is the “Guardian”. Cleveland’s search for the guardian is the search for that part of himself that is able to face his fear, to “look it in the eye”. When he misidentifies this figure as himself and confronts the scrunt, it attacks him. But only the two new arrivals, Story and Farber, appear vulnerable to physical harm by the scrunt. It’s danger to Cleveland’s own character is not actual “death”, but the threat of the reinforcement of his fear and, consequently, his psychological dysfunction. Consider that when Cleveland is about to be attacked by the scrunt, he suddenly awakens (physically unharmed) with Farber standing above him, expressing his displeasure with some movie he has just seen, and arguing against the symbolic purity of water. Also consider that he is standing between Cleveland and the pool at the time, actualizing a metaphor of a man being denied the purity of his heart by his own skepticism and doubt. Cleveland actually credits Farber for having saved him from the scrunt. But Farber was not the savior – he was the trauma, the damage itself – the stifling of Cleveland’s belief, and the reinforcement of his doubt and inability to face his fear once again. It is a powerful crystallization of how Cleveland’s mind works against him.

Vick Ran (Shyamalan, himself), is “the writer inspired by the Story”. His first words to Cleveland – “The light over my desk is still broken.” You can’t write without light, and it’s something Cleveland has been putting off. But a light is not a difficult fix, and Vick does not seem to be in a rush to finish his book. Cleveland sees the book by chance while repairing the light, and initially dismisses its content after observing its title, “The Cookbook”. But he is soon reminded to never judge a book by its cover (how very appropriate).

Vick’s character is at least as important as Cleveland’s. The prediction of his future describes how his book will have a profound philosophical influence on the world, and how this socio-ideological impact would result in his own death. Vick draws an indirect comparison to Martin Luther King within the story itself; and we are reminded of other figures such as Christ, and of other doctrines, or “cookbooks”, such as the Bible. Vick represents the “purpose” that Story assures Cleveland he has not lost. He is the part of Cleveland’s psyche that is capable of accomplishing great things. Such endeavors, however, expose the psyche to harsh and potentially stifling criticism – the “murder” of the creative mind – something of which Night himself has faced, and continues to face, far too much.

Whether writing “The Cookbook” is the literal greatness, or purpose, of which Cleveland is capable, and whether the death of Vick Ran is the literal death of Cleveland Heep, is for the viewer to determine. But it is a reasonable conclusion, if you extend Cleveland’s role as the “healer” to meaning the “healer of mankind”. In this scenario, perhaps the pain of the tragedy he experienced would be the catalyst and inspiration for this doctor to attempt to change the world by writing a book. Conversely, it is conceivable that Vick Ran – the “writer”, the “purpose” – is the true subject of this story. He is the “vessel” of Story’s inspiration, and the only part of himself that Cleveland can correctly identify before being influenced by the skeptical, closed-minded Farber. He shares Cleveland’s sad and quiet demeanor, his self-effacement – “I’m nothing special”. He is single (as are just about all of the main players as far as we are aware), but cannot easily care for himself, to cook or clean, and relies on his sister in this domestic capacity. Of course, he would be unaware that he has ever had a wife or children, as would all but two of the other tenants in the Cove, since that information has been repressed, hidden within Cleveland’s “journal”. Cleveland Heep, the “healer”, may not actually be the man behind the psyche represented by the Cove, but only that part of the whole that is responsible for its healing. In this case, Cleveland’s task is to heal himself, Vick Ran – the healer of mankind. Therefore, Cleveland’s inability to satisfy this obligation until he, himself – “the healer”, is healed is the true meaning behind this story.

In his search for the remaining cast that is necessary for Story to return to the “Blue World” Cleveland seeks the advice of Farber, the man he erroneously identifies as “the person whose opinion he respects”. This path ultimately culminates in a party (a celebration of Farber’s arrival, no doubt!). And it is during what is, in essence, this celebration of skepticism and closed-mindedness that Story (Cleveland’s faith) is dragged off and nearly killed. The series of misidentifications illustrates not only Cleveland’s detachment – his inability to know himself, but also the destructive process of another symptom of Cleveland’s disturbed psyche – self-sabotage. So it is no coincidence that Cleveland cannot complete this task and accept that he is the “healer” (of Story, his faith) until Farber (his skepticism) is killed by the scrunt.

“The Guardian” turns out to be Reggie, who wears the dog tags of a soldier. He is a normal man that is not consumed with, but only partially occupied by, a need for physical strength. After all, Reggie’s true power is ultimately not physical. Reggie is a representation of both Cleveland’s strength and lack of strength. His intentionally one-sided muscular development not only suggests Cleveland’s inability to utilize (or even identify) his inner strength, but also indicates a systematic, “scientific” maintenance of an emotional imbalance and instability.

“The Interpreter” is originally thought to be Mr. Dury because of his proficiency with crossword puzzles. In actuality, the interpreter is his son, Joey. The selection emphasizes the ability of children to see things with a clarity and simplicity that becomes lost for adults as they become limited by social paradigms and restrictions. In fact, Mr. Dury at one point admits that his ability with puzzles and symbolism is limited to his crosswords. The loss of this childhood ability is poignantly illustrated by this father-son disparity – it is Mr. Dury that realizes that his son (presumably the child version of himself – “I’m gonna be just like my dad”) is the real interpreter. The idea denotes the endurance of important childlike notions in Cleveland’s psyche. It also refers to a psychological healing process that addresses the significance of childhood perceptions, and the subsequent development of emotions and coping strategies during childhood.

“Someone whose opinion Cleveland values” turns out to be the shut-in, Mr. Leeds. He is the only tenant who knows of Cleveland’s tragedy (the only other part of his psyche from which it has not been completely repressed). Mr. Leeds “has been here forever”. He sits in a dark room, surrounded by books, staring at images of war on television. His role is somewhat paternal – he refers to Cleveland as “son” (“don’t become what I have”), and encourages him to “not give up”. He somehow sees everything that’s going on around him in the Cove. He is Cleveland’s conscience, his conviction – what some would consider to be functions of “the Soul”. He is the inner voice, the moral compass that guides him. Even his name is significant. But he is the part of the Cove that has been most affected by the sins of mankind and the toxicity of society – “I wanted to believe more than anyone”. In what is essentially inner dialogue, he questions aloud whether man should be saved – and Cleveland answers that he should be. In this moment, Cleveland expresses a desire to live – to be healed, and to rebuild the trust to reattach himself with society.

The “someone with no secrets” is Mr. Bubchik, the man who is unaware that his wife reveals his secrets. He represents the undeniable reality of Cleveland’s weakness, his shortcomings, and his mortality. This candidness promotes a sense of honesty and comfort, a willingness to accept oneself despite one’s flaws. Mr. Bubchik represents that which Cleveland has no choice but to accept. And he provides Cleveland the opportunity to relieve himself of the guilt that has accompanied the burden of his secret. He cannot forgive himself for that over which he had no control – the inability to save his family – unless he is able to openly share it with himself.

“The Guild” consists of seven women, a group formed to protect a common interest. The number seven is prominent in religion and mythology – “The Seven Divine Women” (in Khasi mythology), “The Seven Sleeping Men” (in Christian mythology), “The Seven Mothers” (in Hindu mythology), “The Seven Virtues”, “The Seven Sacraments”, and so forth. And a group of women is a representation of Cleveland’s burgeoning sense of self worth – the empowerment of that which is generally perceived to be weak and undervalued (this is particularly true in many traditional Hispanic cultures which are known to be excessively misogynistic).

The first scene of the movie (a clever foreshadowing) shows Cleveland trying to kill a “big, hairy” bug under the sink of a Hispanic family’s apartment. In the background, we see the family’s daughters brandishing makeshift weapons and squealing in fear of the bug. They make up five of the Guild’s sisters. The others include Anna Ran, Vick’s sister (who acts more as a wife or mother to him at times), and Young-Soon, who makes an early reference to her sister who married a dentist, and who is invaluable in guiding Cleveland along his journey of self-awakening. The Guild assists Cleveland through their “laying on of hands” in the climactic scene involving Story’s healing and his own catharsis. The image illustrates Cleveland’s need for emotional attachment (more typically associated with women and prohibited for men in Western culture) in order to connect with what he has repressed. Conversely, these women who provide emotional aid in this scene are armed and readily patrolling the pool’s perimeter in the next. It’s a testament to the power of women to both heal and protect.

The group gathers together to “bring strength to the moment” of Story’s (and Cleveland’s) healing and liberation. It is only then that he is able to reach catharsis. He reveals his tragedy to all aspects of himself, and releases the repressed pain and guilt that have kept him isolated in the Cove. It is at this moment that he is able to heal and embrace his hope and faith once again, leaving it safe and appropriate for the angelic Story to return to the Blue World on the wings of the Great Eatlon. Presumably, God’s angel has fulfilled her task to save a man – indeed, all of mankind (she is the Madam Narf) – and returned to heaven.

Shyamalan has called this his most personal film – an especially significant statement, considering how personal all of his stories have been. In fact, he has referred to them as his “children”. Criticism of “The Village” stripped him of his credibility for his prior three great and well-received productions. So he cast himself as the writer whose inspiration by the Story helps him escape his doubt and heal his faith. Is “The Lady in the Water”, then, the “story” of his healing? Or is it the story that healed him? Or is it both?

This man is portrayed by many as an egomaniac. Yet he has done perhaps the most humble thing imaginable – he’s created a story of amazing depth and value, but he has left it for the viewer to tie together. In this sense, he has created an incredible scenario in which the story is actually critical of the viewer. He writes stories that he would appreciate, and that a select group of the audience (however small) will appreciate. And he allows himself to be bashed for its simplicity and banality by those who can’t appreciate his effort, content that this inability is criticism enough of his critics. Think of this scenario in the context of this movie! It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in entertainment, and I only hope I’ve done it some justice.

Evolution of the Vertigo Effect

Neat video on the progress of “Vertigo” effect. Also called “backwards dolly” or “reverse tracking” shot. Obviously made popular by Hitchcock, but since many filmmakers use this well. Technically speaking, it’s not the easiest to pull off. From what i understand,The effect is achieved by zooming a zoom lens to adjust your field of view while the camera dollies  toward or away from the subject in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout. In its classic form, the camera angle is pulled away from a subject while the lens zooms in, or vice versa. Thus, during the zoom, there is a continuous perspective distortion, the most directly noticeable feature being that the background appears to change size relative to the subject.

Anyways, enough with the technical stuff.. enjoy the video!

Arrival (2016)

I’m not going to waste anyone’s time. Arrival is one of the best movies i’ve ever seen. I was getting increasingly nervous I was going to miss the film’s theatrical run so I spontaneously drove to a 10:15 showing tonight to ensure a viewing. It was like a perfect painting. The theater was empty. Just me and the screen.

I need to tread carefully here.. Usually I have a strict rule of no posting impressions the night of watching a film. Ordinarily, I like to take some time and digest. Not tonight. Not Arrival.

Minutes into Arrival you could feel something special. You could feel depth, you could feel heart. But most important, you could just…. feel. I feel so many things right now I’m having a hard time pulling this together.

I am at a loss for words on how good Arrival actually is. So ill do something else I usually don’t do. Ill post my spoken words after the movie. Driving home I took my phone, launched the voice memos app and said the following words:

“People continue to have children knowing full well that child will feel or experience pain. To me, thats why Arrival is so beautiful and simultaneously heartbreaking. It asks the question; Is life worth living if you know the pain, shortcomings and tragedies accompanying it? It then then answers that question with an resounding yes. You see, we all make this decision. Why? Because experiencing love and joy is greater then any sadness life can deliver.”

(I understand if you haven’t seen the film that won’t make much sense. But please go watch it)

Personally, I would take painful living over painful nothingness 10 times out of times. This movie left me an emotional wreck. When I got home I hugged my sons tighter than I ever have before. Not because I missed them, because Arrival points out the most important thing we have on Earth is time. Time to make the best of situations with our loved ones. At the end of the day time can be a prison or liberating. Arrival displays time as a liberator. I felt the need to ask myself, how do I look at time?

This is the power of great Cinema, using the art form not just to entertain, but to cause a person to reflect on their own existence and give them an experience the audience will hold with them. Maybe forever.

Its better to have love and lost then loved not at all. Thats Arrival in a nutshell. Please go this movie.

Unreleased Fountain Commentary Track

In addition to the 10 year post earlier for The Fountain, I forgot to post the actual audio commentary from Director Darren Aronofsky.

Aronofsky really was pushing for this commentary to make the DVD release but from what I’ve heard, Warner Bros. wasn’t having it. Kudos to Darren Aronofsky for creating one himself and posting it on the internet for free. I highly recommend your 2nd viewing of The Fountain to include this commentary.

Commentary could be found here

10 Years Later: The Fountain

First off, if you haven’t seen The Fountain, please do.

My own experience in seeing The Fountain for the first time was in a near-empty theater, just before it left wide release during its disappointing U.S. run, making $15 million globally on a reported $35 million budget. That isolation—the dark theater with scarcely anyone sharing it with me—allowed the film to really affect me emotionally and psychologically.

Ten years on, The Fountain has been compared favorably to 2001: A Space Odyssey for its similar meditation on human existence, transcendence and acceptance of death. It has garnered a growing cult following among the spiritual, the philosophical, sci-fi fans and cinephiles alike. That it also remains a divisive film, currently sitting at 51% on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, only speaks to the singular perspective of Aronofsky himself, who spent years getting the film into production. Its distinct special effects were actually produced as a cost-cutting effort. The film’s production had been delayed several times and was considered over-budget before filming began.

Its divided reception, according to Aronofsky, was due largely to Western audiences’ reluctance to confront and accept the passing of loved ones and ultimately ourselves. He used Eastern themes and imagery to relay his message, which surely turned off many American movie-goers; the color white most obviously standing in for the purity of death.

I’ve turned The Fountain over in my mind so many times since seeing it—questioning whether the three characters played by Jackman are reincarnations of the same person, slowly arriving to the final conclusion Tommy comes to; or if Tomás is just a character in a book Izzi leaves for Tom, whose work allows him to extend his life well beyond the constraints of humanity and Earth.

The genius of that structure also works thematically, in that while everyone may take different paths to understanding, those paths all eventually lead to the same place. That’s The Fountain itself, really: the passage of time that brings us to an understanding we may accept with peace, or reject with further obstacles until we do.

Long story short, 10 years ago today one of most mentally challenging, yet beautiful films was released. If you haven’t been able to check it out, I strongly recommend it.