Month: December 2014

Interstellar: Ideas in Multitudes

Interstellar-2014-Poster-Wallpaper

I didn’t plan on seeing Interstellar and figured it would be too similar to Gravity. Sitting through one pace odyssey within the last year was enough; however, when I read an article in Film Comment that broke the film down into three acts, I realized it was much more complicated and interesting than a scientist who travels to space while the expected order of events unravels. After seeing the film, I appreciated many of Christopher Nolan’s intricate thoughts as well insight into a future that is not convoluted with unrealistic ideas or animated imagery.

Many science fiction films are redundant with the CGI robots or zombies that wander through the planet during apocalypse, but Interstellar’s scenes on Earth show beautiful land with dry weather and dust-infested homes. It’s something we can truly see happening—especially one of the film’s first conflicts involving humans not having enough farmers, hence not having enough food. There is that typical eerie feeling, but brought on by low-key lighting in the homes and grayness of the outdoors. Again, it is a feeling viewers can imagine because we see it often. And like these moments on Earth, the lack of CGI used during the spaceship/space scenes make the odyssey more realistic. Some moments are dramatic and intense, but don’t blow us away with images and effects that are unrecognizable. More specifically, there is a scene during the second half of the film when part of the Endurance crew reaches a planet that is a potential alternate home for humans and while the camera zooms out and shows this vast landscape with hills and solid ground, there is an essence of planet Earth. The pictures of Earth and the planet do not match perfectly, but there is a subtle beauty and solitude in both. The planet makes us see space as something we had never imagined possible: a common, familiar place. The similarity between the two gives this certain hope from God’s green planet to a new land He created that’s worth investigating.

On the contrary, the relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) is centered around time and juxtaposed with the vivid landscape scenes the relationship is ghost-like, intangible, much like the visitor Murph talks about the in the beginning. Murph isn’t the only one who’s haunted by this ghost, however. The strange childhood visitors lingered in my mind the entire time—knowing it was all going to wrap up—the conclusion involving the essence of time. Nolan does a pretty neat pairing with the simplicity of props, lighting, and editing to get the effects without animation, alongside complicated concepts about wormholes, repopulating, and relocation. However, Nolan strings many concepts throughout that convolutes the story. For example, when Cooper floats in the wormhole and peers through time, or his daughter’s bookshelf, it is an emotional moment and also what I thought was the ending. But the film keeps going, as do these ideas that build off one another and evolves into an entire different film for an entire different day.

A good film doesn’t always need to have a conventional ending and I felt Nolan thought along those lines when the final scene ends with Cooper encouraged to start another journey, but the ending sequence flips and flops, tying up loose ends, but unknotting others. It is complicated like the rest of the film, but the beautiful simplicity from the first few acts quickly vanishes.

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Whiplash: Passion in New Forms

Whiplash-7559.cr2

Even though Whiplash is told is conventional in the Classical Hollywood narrative, much of the other film’s elements are not.

Similar to Birdman, Whiplash experiments with editing techniques. Although, in terms of cutting it does the opposite of Birdman in some of the most memorable scenes. Like when we follow Andrew(Miles Tenner) into the rehearsal room where the intense Fletcher (J.K Simmons) is conducting his students. The camera only focuses on one prop for a few seconds. First it’s a drum, a cymbal, someone’s bloody hands, then a drooling mouth. These shots are cut short and zoom in on that single object, framing it perfectly. The quick shots leave me trying to keep up with everything going on in the tiny room, which brings about certain intensity I didn’t expect from a movie about jazz music. The intensity is also raised from the film’s diegetic sounds. The music becomes louder and quickens as the camera flashes from one frame to another. Except the sound is not the typical non-diegetic music that gets louder to heighten suspense like we hear in Hitchcock films, but comes from these talented students practicing in the band room. The objects within these shots may be simple, but the sound and quick camera movements are not and neither is the way we feel as these scenes unfolded. I even feel a little whiplashed—looking left, right, up, down—not sure where my vision will jolt to next. Most of all, I recognize the way Andrew probably feels seeing this for the first time: overwhelmed but inspired by all the chaotic talent.

Whiplash could easily turn into a typical coming-of-age story, but thankfully like the editing, it exceptionally differs. Part of the reason being that Andrew is a rare character. He has similar characteristics a nineteen-year-old college boy would. Headstrong. Stubborn. A little cocky. However, Andrew’s goals are not simple and never were. They are not entirely tangible like many of the other films involving someone his age. He doesn’t want to fit in with the popular crowd, attend the biggest parties, or the date the girl of his dreams. He wants to be the best drummer and invest all his time in doing so. Andrew’s passion also didn’t bloom halfway through the movie, it is there from the start and grows with the film. We also have many relationships worth analyzing in the film that stray from the typical coming-of-age father/son or mother/son relationships. I chose to focus on the most interesting: Andrew and Fletcher. It may not be apparent at first, but the two are very similar despite the age difference. In many instances, I find myself judging Fletcher with his cruel choice of words and the unrealistic way he encourages Andrew or any of his other students. It wasn’t until after the film that I realized Andrew and Fletcher were the perfect match. This is proved specifically in the last scene; however, it is apparent throughout the film, but just masked by Fletcher’s exaggerated teaching techniques.

The biggest commonality that drives the two together is passion. While Fletcher treats Andrew with disrespect and is unfair in many cases, Andrew fights back with talent. He takes his passion, practices until his hands are impaired and shows Fletcher that he wants to succeed just as badly as him. While Andrew would have the fame if this happened, Fletcher would receive much of the credit. Hence the reason they see the possibility within each other, but continue to battle until the very end. Yet we still don’t know what will happen to the relationship that was never really on the right track. There is a strange, twisted hope as the film ends for their relationship to continue—but a hope that is once again brought on by a rare, infectious passion few experience or see.

If only Andrew could inject us all with that young drive. But then the world might be filled with too many Fletcher.

Gone Girl: Complexity Cut in Half

gone girl

One of the downfalls about seeing a highly anticipated film is the expectations that sometimes end up falling short. The anticipation and hype wasn’t the only reason Gone Girl didn’t reach the mark it seemed to promise, but perhaps because I finished Gilliam Flyn’s novel the day before.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film. It’s entertaining, but after I left the theater, I tried remembering some of the shots that stood out. The risky, uncomfortable camera angles that often stay with viewers after a movie ends. As for cinematography, there weren’t any I could point out automatically. There were, however, some well choreographed scenes worth remembering. Like when Amy (Rosamund Pike) stages a desperate, bloody breakdown. Besides Pike’s key performance, the high camera angle and use of color is what brings this specific picture together. Here, Amy wears a cream colored silk nightgown and when the blood from her wounds seeps through the silk, the contrasted dark red against the white makes a haunting image. One that made me wince, turn away, but more importantly made me remember the sequence afterwards and wonder why it worked so well.

Another scene like this is when Amy constructs her master plan to escape her ex-boyfriend’s house. The precision in the shot sequence is the slow way it moves at first. The music is low and Amy moves with Desi ( Neil Patrick Harris) in a sly and graceful way, but then things are kicked up ten notches as the music turns louder and demanding, as does Amy when blood is spilled all over her pale body once again. The image is captivating—the crimson color splashed across a beautiful woman—and one that again made me turn away, but circle back to when the film was over.

For those who haven’t read Flynn’s Gone Girl, I’m sure they are very surprised once we learn more about Amy and the plot shift she creates. I even heard a few gasps from the audience as Amy’s voice-over starts the story from the beginning. The real story.  For me, I wanted to see a drastic change in style; however, I did enjoy Amy’s car rides and deserted hide away scenes compared to the previous of husband Nick ( Ben Afflack) who sulks around his house acting strange. In relation to the novel, David Fincher does a very nice job of keeping viewers on the outside and revealing the truth in a sudden, yet strong way. The other issue I saw was the lack of Amy’s rounded character that was present in the novel. Flynn even wrote the screenplay and I’m sure it’s hard to create a complex charter in half the words, half the time. But still, there are some medium-sized holes that need filling. I don’t think we are supposed to pity Amy but I do think the novel makes a point to show with a very extreme example, what happens when humans, especially woman, try to be a certain way to please men. Amy’s situation or the aftermath of it seems like one big, smart hyperbole. She takes a sucky situation a lot of women face and goes to extremes by punishing the one person who fooled her into becoming someone she wasn’t. We hear it in the movie a few times, the reference to ” cool girl”, except I think we need to hear it much more. It’s endless in the second half of the novel, the way Amy admits she tried to be that girl that is completely fictional and whether or not Flynn meant for it to be a solid message about forcing change, I feel the film could have made it more of a reoccurring issue. Instead, we tend to only see Amy as a psychotic bitch that brings on the most gripping and interesting moments. After reading an exclusive interview with Fincher in Film Comment the interviewer even stated, “ I just can’t understand Team Amy. I see it as a movie about a basically nice guy who falls for a crazy woman.” Fincher responds saying she isn’t crazy, but made crazy. However, the interviewer proves that is not how the film portrays its most interesting character. After all, every scene worth rewinding involves Amy, a sharp object, and blood.

Birdman: A Journey that Shouldn’t End

Birdman

Birdman was the first film I was extremely excited about this year. Like one of my favorite films Adaptation, it is important to realize the unreliable way the camera works. Bizarre scenes unfold in front of our eyes, but the real truth lies within the narrative. Very similar to Adaptation’s protagonist, Riggan ( Michael Keaton) isn’t just one person but two. When his other half Birdman says, “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit,” it references the foundation of the entire film. Hence the reason we have scenes with unexpected explosives and giant CGI birds flying around. It doesn’t work with the film, it’s not real, but it’s what much of society craves. It is a constant reminder that being great means car chases, escaping hungry alligators, or shoot-offs. In other words: Hollywood. These ideas and cliché storytelling start contradicting everything Riggan tries to do with his artistic life—he is torn between what is appealing and what is truth. And like Adaptation, the film involves and alludes to works of literature that do not have a conventional exposition, rising action, extremely intense climax, falling action, and a nice conclusion that either ends with an unrealistic twist, or a perfectly happy ending. It’s a story about a man with typical insecurities. But who really wants to see something that common? Birdman is inserted for dramatic effect—for drawing a large box office audience—but fooling us as we realize it’s not really about a birdman. Or is it?

Besides the film being similar to Adaptation, I think Riggan is a true on-screen adaptation of one of Raymond Carver’s complex characters in his short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Viewers don’t have to have read the collection or even know whom Carver is to understand the film, but the comparisons are certainly clear as Riggan plays the lonely character in his adapted play based off Carver’s story collection and is actually very similar in his own life. Almost all the men in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love have an infidelity issue and/or drinking problem, much like Riggan. But that’s just the surface. Underneath those commonalities are men who are much more complicated: their isolated, disappointed with what life has dealt, and trying to find something to make themselves feel better. Riggan, according to society, should have it figured out by now. He’s a middle-aged man whose fame has run its course, but Riggan is not satisfied with the way things turned out and devotes his time to proving those handfuls of disappointed people that he is much more than a try-hard, old actor.

Riggan also isn’t the only disappointed character whose unhappiness becomes a clear motif throughout the film. One of my favorite scenes that shows this universal issue is when Lesley (Naomi Watts) talks to co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and marvels over the fact that she finally made it to Broadway—her lifelong dream—except this moment of pure happiness is brief. It spoils seconds later as the two break themselves back down to feeling defeated and unworthy. We ride this rollercoaster of emotions with Riggan as well as all the other unsatisfied people in the film the entire time, and we eventually start to question our own ambitions. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Who are we doing it for and what are we trying to prove?

Of course the most talked about aspect of Birdman is the cinematography and the continuous shot that’s few cuts are masked extremely well. My favorite aspect of these superb camera movements is when we are taken through the hallways of the St. James Theater, where I assume the hidden cutting took place. To me the narrow hallways symbolize Riggan’s journey and also his spirally, chaotic mind. The colors in the hallways fade, light up, turn from dark hues to bright. The camera moves quickly, and then slows down, bracing us for what is about to happen next. Except, like Riggan, we don’t know what that will be and instead are left to navigate the hallways ourselves. Unfortunately, the shot/film comes to an end, but Riggan and Birdman’s philosophies still linger like ghosts. After watching Birdman, I felt similar to how I feel after reading a Carver story: the meaning is delayed while I start the next.