Overpraised Vanity: ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

After sitting through Tarantino’s “ninth film”, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, I need an adrenaline shot to the chest. Oh boy. I suppose I should keep reminding myself this is a fairy tale in a Tarantino universe. With that being said the lacking of a complex, narrative structure that barely grazes the surface of anything deeply sentimental besides the obvious bombardment of 1969 nostalgia is essentially all you need to know about this film and mostly dominated by men.

Of course Hollywood is going to praise this film because it’s a story about Hollywood. The shallow dramas of being an entertainer with the pressure and the demand is intentionally constructed to be over the top and I guess that can be entertaining to watch? Which makes sense to a certain degree on why Tarantino leaned so heavily on the historic tragedy of Sharon Tate’s murder. That was actually the hook of getting people in seats. How was he going to handle such a despicable murder? Curiosity seems to work in his favor, otherwise it just be a film about Leonard Dicaprio and Brad Pitt, two mega stars Hollywood loves to worship on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, their performances were strong, I just didn’t care for this particular adventure of their fairy tale.

Alright, maybe this is Tarantino’s testament to the “loss of innocence” or maybe it’s his personal “love letter of being a cinephile” to a decade in Hollywood that’s now dead. Either way, my mind and heart waged war against wanting to be enamored with this film and so far I’m at a stalemate. The fairy tale is about a bygone era and embedded in that fantasy, there is Rick Dalton, (Leo Dicaprio) a washed-up has-been actor whining about how his golden days are behind him. I can applaud DiCaprio for having his character break down in tears multiple times. It nice to see male vulnerability from time to time and in a Tarantino flick almost seems rare. Then you have Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s Dalton’s stuntman buddy who drives him around because Dalton is an alcoholic but also confides in him and uses him at his disposal. That’s nice two male buddies in Hollywood being buddies, a very give and take relationship. And as the story goes they are also the heroes who inadvertently save the day and the symbolic-like princess, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) from what would have been her gruesome murder. They just happen to casually kill the members of the Manson family all because they went into the wrong house. I guess all you need is a cigarette laced in acid, a flame thrower, some aggressive head bashing, and a dog named Brandy to carry out a violent end and save the innocent. It’s a wild ending and even with that fails to convince me it has any capacity of redeeming itself from itself. It’s overindulgent attempting to satisfy us with humorous revenge with sadistic violence. As an aside, DiCaprio’s performance with the bathrobe and margarita pitcher while yelling at the Manson family to get off his private street was pretty cheeky. Also his mega breakdown in the trailer about having eight sour whiskies the night before fumbling up his scene was what DiCaprio does best. He’ll always win the best award for, “losing his shit” on the big screen because its oddly convincing, palatable and I can totally imagine him doing that in real life.

And if there’s a golden nugget of truth in this blasé depiction of Hollywood it brings me to the scene with Manson’s acid-high “crazy hippies” all having a conversation about violence in entertainment. This is the moment before they ascend onto the house and attempt utter havoc. I thought that piece of dialogue was a very cryptic meta-like moment. And I’m paraphrasing here when Sadie (Mikey Madison) says something of the likes, “We should kill all the actors who have killed on TV because they taught us to kill. They want us to kill.” Mind you all of these characters were heavily influenced by mind-altering drugs. However, it did make me stop and think about the influence of violence has on society. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t but if anything it certainly creates some form of aggressive behavior. Just as marketing and advertising generates massive consumption or social media and the onslaught of misinformation, I do think there is something there. Some form of truth. Am I reaching for the stars here?

OK so, my attention span on the story was hanging by a thread by Act 1, but I was able to refocus my attention on exploring all the idiosyncrasies that make a Tarantino film a Tarantino film. Its cute he’s adding his fictitious props of consumerism such as the notorious Apple cigarettes which is in every single film he’s made. All the props, neon signs, and wardrobe was cool, the lingering car rides were neat, music cued in at predictable places were ok, while it’s a no brainer he loves movies which is the obvious milieu of any Tarantino universe, AND finally, all the women characters (except for Zoë E. Bell) were either sexualized, caricaturized, or were just submitting to the notion they live in a male dominated world. His treatment of female characters never changes, despite the great performances of their roles in the film, it just feels too limited just like our current problem in the male dominated filmmaking industry. Oh, right we’re in 1969, silly me I forgot. Oh wait, its 2019, and women only compose 8% of female directors in Hollywood. Yeah, that’s still a problem.

Was anyone else peeved at the undeniable presumption of his foot fetish really being a thin veneer for the female gaze? Sure he’s not showing close ups of boobs and asses, but definitely dirty feet of women. What is that? Subtle sexualizing and fetishizing. It’s crass, disappointing, and ironically something he’s praised for. Or what about the griping wife of Cliff, who we’re lead to believe he murdered her which almost feels like a sly wink to how Natalie Wood was killed just because of how Tarantino gives us a quick snap shot of them on a boat when they share this information. Or the eight-year old girl on set with Rick, who briefly consoles him when he has a mini breakdown which follows into their TV western scene where he improvises and pushes her to the floor. She later gets up and says, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen.” What ego stroking. These are only a handful of moments of how women are perceived in Tarantino’s universe. If anything this is a guy’s film, where it all lands in their favor, filled to the brim of where they dominate and women are just the brunt of the joke, subjected to violence, sexualized or are simply a symbol of innocence. Zero depth and zero character arch. They are just surface characters voided of any depth and that just makes me sad also why I don’t see this film as a “praised masterpiece”.

Another parallel, I had drawn about this film in keeping with the era of the time it was when the studio systems were struggling and on the horizon there was a new batch of incoming filmmakers about to make their mark on the world. In 1969, EASY RIDER, MIDNGIHT COWBOY, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID came out and that was just the foreshock. Prior to the onslaught of these films, John Ford and Howard Hawkes’ careers were coming to an end while the USC boys like Speilberg, Coppola, Lucas, and Milius were about to smash everything and reinvent a new Hollywood. And by the 1970s, the world would have THE GODFATHER, DELIVERANCE, MASH, JAWS and the list goes on. I always say this but the 1970s was the epitome of a golden era of cinema. Which makes me think about the future of Tarantino’s career and the filmography he’ll leave behind. Will he too continue to evolve as he’s no longer married to the Weinstein company? Probably. Will he retire with a 10th film? Probably not. Will he too think, “I’m a washed-up has been?” I’m sure all celebrities question that at some point or another. But to surmise that he has “sibling rivalry” between Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick? Seriously? What hubris. Either way it’ll be interesting how history remembers Tarantino. Noticed how I blurred the line between history and fiction there? Talking about a fictitious character representing an impending perhaps subtle mark to the beginning of an end to one’s career. I can’t help but think, “what if?” the Tarantino days of making a particular style of film is on the cusp of extinction. It’s a wild thought right? It would be even wilder to see Tarantino step outside his comfort zone and make something outside his style of filmmaking.

Secretly, part of me really wanted to be enamored with this film and yet somehow it feels like I opened a can of refreshing pop with no fizz. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last. Its just a massive slap to the face about how far women have come and how far we continuously have to keep going. Perhaps, being a highly aware female in 2019 is what makes me not fall for the fairy tale because reality is so blatantly embedded in my psyche. So on one hand its challenging to embrace a creative piece that feels so wrong and on the other hand appreciating it for all the nuances of cinema, its really a tricky place to be in. I think as a woman sitting through a Tarantino flick especially in 2019, instantaneously causes me to look at the parallels of history and the future. With that being said and his long history with the Weinstein company makes it feel really awkward to sit through asking myself how do I separate the artist from the person? Knowing he was aware of what Weinstein was up to and doing nothing about it except keeping his focus on making the films he makes. How can I justifiably respect a person like this? There’s never an easy answer. It’ll always be a conflicting double edge sword of wanting to appreciate something all while knowing its like sugar laced in poison.

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MIDSOMMAR WRECKED ME

MIDSOMMAR wrecked me. Don’t get me wrong there’s catharsis in this film and even that isn’t entirely fulfilling. It’s the journey to get there that’s excruciating and exhausting. This is very much a superior “horror” film one I may rank up there with Lars Van Trier’s ANTICHRIST. Yeah, that one wrecked me too. There’s just some imagery you can never shake or erase from your memory ever and this is the power in Ari Aster’s films. I saw that in HEREDITARY and I should have known that going into MIDSOMMAR. Oh, silly me. There’s so much psychological warfare it nearly blurs the line at times where you question your own sanity and moments where you begin to recalibrate your own dating history. Ughh! Did anyone else get flashbacks of your own personal demons you battled in the past? They like to slowly creep in except this time, I attempted to mentally combat them with an imaginary constructed house of defense just like Jami Lee Curtis did in the HALLOWEEN reboot. She was armed and ready for Michael Meyers’ return. Silliness aside, I can’t think of a better film I’ll see this year. (I’m talking about MIDSOMMAR not HALLOWEEN) I guess that’s what happens when Hollywood is on a superhero bender and Disney hooking its greedy mouse claws in owning every major studio that ever was. (I’m still in shock they bought 20th Century Fox) Yeah, its seriously sad times in the entertainment industry. Aside from the gloom, I’m grateful A24 exists. In fact, I’ll probably only watch A24 distributed films from here on out because they know how to satisfy their particular audiences. Well, that and the Criterion Collection obviously. Cinephile mecca!

So the epitome of hell in MIDSOMMAR is that its a two-and-a-half-hour journey of taking mushrooms, while enduring the death of a relationship, all sprinkled on top with a commune celebrating its festival that occurs every 90 years in Sweden. Oh and your friends are invited to partake in this as well. I’m sure this makes the Swedes roll their eyes and laugh at Americans overdramatizing their sacred pagan rituals into a horror story when in reality the true horror resides in how our characters’ treat each other. That’s right I went into full over analytical mode and found when I separated the whole religious denominator divided by the emotional/rational bandwidth of these characters minus the actions they took, I came to the conclusion (with the exception of Dani’s character) that most of the male characters are self-absorbed aided by their own selfishness which equates to their own demise. Guess it never pays to be selfish.

MIDSOMMAR is magical in a sense of delighting its audience into the wonder beyond a community that wholeheartedly believes in sacrifice. After the film, I read Aster’s script and there is so much left out of the actual movie that a particular dialogue tied it all together quite nicely for me. Which made me wonder why he removed it or if it was even filmed? Perhaps it was too on the nose? Either way, hopefully it will be in the director’s cut which I assume will be four hours of hell. But essentially, and obviously sacrifice is the biggest theme aside from loss and grief and also the realization Dani’s dating an asshole.

In the immensely dreadful, disturbing, first act, Dani (Florence Pugh) undergoes a tremendous loss and that’s a sufferable horror within itself. Several months later her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his anthropology college bros are leaving to Sweden for a month to a small village known as Harga where the week long festivities begin. Dani also tags along with them, although everyone is reluctant of her being there. She tries to put on a brave face but internally she’s emotionally breaking down which is often shown in her a series of panic attacks. Once they arrive to Haga things obviously go array slowly and then catapults into pure insanity. And through that insanity you’re watching the breakdown of Dani and Christian’s relationship slowly and painfully coming to an end. Dani is vulnerable and Christian’s only concern are for his own needs. Anyone who’s been in this type of relationship will see this. I almost feel like this is a fable of sorts, like the tortoise and the hare? What happens to the vulnerable and what happens to the selfish ones? I won’t spoil it. But look at the mural below!! Now take deep exaggerated breaths.

Now, the precursor to the impetuous breakdown is heartbreaking and distressing, especially from Dani’s eyes and its captured in a sequence that’ll I’ll say is my favorite part of the whole film. It’s the moment Dani comes back from blessing the crops as the community’s new May Queen. She curiously wants to know what going on in one of the barns. Naturally, one of the girls warns her not to, but again human nature and curiosity can’t always be resisted. Dani witnesses another horrific image that cuts her to the core AGAIN and suffers. And you feel for this girl. Breakdown after breakdown, and you know this particular one is the final nail in the coffin. But what’s beautiful about this sequence is how the group of women collectively surround her with their empathy. Like genuine empathy. Her pain is their pain. And as they embrace in this little circle of a cathartic cry session of wailing women, it becomes a domino effect of recycling emotion. It’s terrifyingly haunting to watch on screen and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a filmmaker capture that before well without the regards to Toni Collete’s heavy breakdown in HEREDITARY. I’m still in awe one moment, terrified another, and then exhausted by the onslaught of heavy emotional that hits you like an avalanche. That’s a ton of energy. I’m sure all the guys in the theater were gripping their armchair because its never easy seeing anyone displaying that level of pain especially if it’s someone you deeply love.

I was at odds after watching MIDSOMMAR and my first reaction (which is never my final reaction) was it’s a glorified version of the original WICKER MAN but with a sharp focus from a female’s perspective. Ultimately, its a portrayal of a twisted fairy tale laced in suffering, rebirth, betrayal and acceptance and what’s so parallel is the timeline of the festival’s customs and traditions coincide with what the characters represent in a lifecycle of their own journey. Obviously the ending of a relationship is never easy albeit, Ari Aster makes this grand gesture dazzled in allegory for something tumultuous that should be recognizable by every human being with a soul. It’s a mind-boggling feat. Impressive, glorious, disturbing, and tantalizes the brain! The ending of a relationship is like a death. You ache, you grieve and eventually you accept and sometimes do batshit, crazy things. This is all illustrated in the very first shot of the film. Remember that elaborate mural? The entire story is in that mural which seems like a series of Tarot cards. It feels creepy because it’s meant to. Elaborate with color that doesn’t seem harmful but playful and that’s the real kicker to this whole film as its infused with flowers, dancing, singing, a celebration that mirrors many things in life. Yet beneath the surface there is a true omen to sacrifice. Something people do every day and even though this is a graphically disturbing film it demonstrates humanity’s demeanor. Are we all monsters of our own devices? Not necessarily. But all the newcomers who came to Harga had their own agendas whether it being a thesis or looking to get laid and from that point, there was very much a disconnect between them and in being within their environment. This draws the ferocious line of being selfish or accepting sacrifice which is a fundamental aspect of being in a relationship with someone.

MIDSOMMAR by any means isn’t an easy film to stomach, emotionally and perhaps physically for the average viewer but if you’re strong and willing, go for it! I can’t say enough conflicting good things about this flick. Its discombobulating, clever, deeply and thrillingly like an aphordisac for the confused soul to contempt life’s greatest misadventures. If you can handle blatant imagery of the trauma that’s bestowed upon the human body, which in essence represents the symbolic means of ritualistic sacrifice then by all means please watch this film, and if not well you can read the script which is even grittier than what was shown in theaters. The performance of Florence Pugh, who plays Dani comes off natural and doesn’t even feel like she’s acting. Actually all of the performances were incredible, nothing didn’t feel overplayed but almost as if you felt like you knew these characters to some degree. Sound design, cinematography, creepy musical moments, special effects make up, even how movement is conveyed was intrinsically hypnotic. An incredible haunting tale that will never be forgotten but probably herald as one of the top horror films for decades to come. It even comes with a “moral to the story”. So if you’re dating an arrogant, selfish asshole, well do yourself a favor and dump the person, because yourself worth as a human being deserves better.

Emotional Chess: GAME OF THRONES

Five hours before the series finale, I’ve just learned the significance of Hodor’s name and I’m crying. Two hours later, Ian McShane makes a random cameo while revealing the Hound is still alive! I nearly dislocated a rib in wild exclamation. Dammit, GAME OF THRONES, DAMMIT you’re not doing any wonders for my fragile immune system, I’m too emotionally involved now as you’re mostly likely about to dropkick your audience to hell. I am tortured beyond measure. Argle Bargle!

Okay, so I didn’t immediately hop on the Throne bandwagon when the series burst onto the scene of premium entertainment back in 2011. In fact I was heavily involved watching Breaking Bad, Dexter, Mad Men and of course the WALKING DEAD. It was a ton of entertainment to ingest at that period in my life and even though I was slightly able to devout myself to the first two seasons a year or so later, it was still a deep overload of characters and narratives to retain and keep straight. I made a choice and secretly refrained myself from the show, vowing to watch the series when it’s final year became known. Well, I waited two weeks into the final season, great timing Marissa, great timing.

Now as I savagely binge watch GAME OF THRONES hours away from the series finale, I’ve become highly emerged in a world of fantasy even as I Google various plot lines of seasons 6 and 7. I need all the damn help I can get at this point because I’ll barely be scratching the surface of season 7 by the time the finale airs tonight and at this point let’s be honest, I really don’t give a shit about spoilers.

I guess if I had to surmise the show thus far, paying particular close attention to Daenerys Targaryen’s story line, obviously power percolates ever so strongly in this slit throat series while learning about what went down in King’s Landing in the latest episode, where nearly a million people rallied to petition for a rewrite of season 8. I apologize for sounding snarky here but, dudes and dudettes, can we partially agree it’s all part of the grieving process of a beloved show’s ending? It’s only natural you cast aside your rationale for complete irrational madness. No pun intended. Perhaps it was lazy writing, perhaps not. It’ll be the biggest debate in showrunner history. Yada, yada.

What’s done is done. Or shall I say, “ What is dead may never die.”

GAME OF THRONES is obviously built upon a world of blood thirst and power set in a medieval like fantasy world where the end of every season almost always ends in some massive battle. It’s a series that has zero shame in killing off prominent characters and given the context of war, violence and rape are at the forefront of your TV screens. This is what sells entertainment and passes for the highest ratings in the history of premium TV because why? Humanity is brutal not just in fantasy but also in real life. We read it in history books, we see it on our social media feeds. Fiction or nonfiction, humanity has as a deep affection for itself mirrored in various forms of entertainment that connects us in strange masochist-like ways even when it’s callously savage. But really I think everyone just wants to know who takes the throne.

Grant it, I know I’m not a hardcore devoted fan like the lot of you and being a last minute newbie, I see it all as an elaborate chess match prolonged with game pieces of set purposes and hand sewn narratives that take years to reveal their hardships and triumphs. My biggest question is why is everyone fighting everyone and the side line characters aiding them in it? Glory? Or perhaps audiences treasure these lovely characters because they push the story forward. Like Hodor and the Hound. Again back to my analogy of chess, these characters are the pawns, the rooks, the knights, and the bishops all circulating around the edge of complete and utter domination all transfused by nothing other than total annihilation of each other.

Which brings me back to Daenerys Targaryen. In jotting down particular episodes to which she elicits and exerts her mighty prowess to make others submit to her will, let’s begin, season 3, episode 4, in Astapor, Daenerys trades one of her dragons to Kraznys for an 8,000 strong Unsullied army. Once the trade was final, what does Daenerys do? She commands her new army to rid Astapor of all its slavers while simultaneously her dragon burns Kraznys alive. Once the battle settles, Daenerys allows the Unsullied to reclaim their lives as free men to which they’re allowed to leave or remain as part of her army. This was considered a prominent episode with a major turning point. Now fast forward to season 6, episode 4, Daenerys Targaryen after being captured by a Dothraki horde, Daenerys kills the leaders of the khalasar, by burning them alive and emerging naked from the ashes, very much how season 1, episode 10 ended but also included the reveal of her dragons. And in episode 9, her dragons scorch that hell out of Slaver’s Bay keeping her power restored in Meereen. Yay, dragons.

I can’t vouch what occurs in season 7 because I’m not there yet but if I were to venture an obvious guess, it’s no surprise Daenerys’ only goal throughout her storyline is to rule the seven kingdoms. Also when you throw in the Lord of Light mythology that’s speculated by not one but two priestesses, “honest servants of the lord” who infiltrate their blood magic and adamant sacrifices insinuate who the true heir of the iron throne shall be makes one ponder deeply about the dragons. They’re the ones kicking ass and are a fierce force of nature to be reckoned with. I’m sure everyone else has pointed that out by now, again I’m just late to the game but also want to partake in the ceremonious ritual of connecting the dots at Monday mornings shop talk in the break room. I enjoy the social commentary and the antsy-ness of the mega fans scouring the internet. Until then, the queen always protects the king and when there is no king, well she is the most powerful piece in the game of chess. Happy Game of Throning everyone?

Bukowski-like: SOFTNESS OF BODIES

Imagine a wide shot hovering over a woman as she walks with slight gumption through a city square, who has a very noticeable tear in her shirt. She has just casually stolen a blouse, from a nearby clothing store and while fleeing she pauses to smoke a cigarette. Within the first two minutes, you may feel this character has no redeeming quality and she hasn’t even uttered a word, that is until she’s on a metro train transcribing her poetic thoughts on a busted iPhone. This is the opening sequence to Jordan Blady’s SOFTNESS OF BODIES.

After viewing the film twice, I wasn’t keen on the first watch, but since I’m one of the curious kind, I gave it a second go sensing there was some surging, gentle subtext lurking beneath the surface. What does that mean? There’s a thin layer of complexity beneath the humorous facade of this story and watching it the second time made me connect some interesting dots. In which case, I highly recommend watching this film twice because you’ll see it in a different light and if you’re into poetry even better with all that being said, this review will also be a character study.

“I’m so sexy and fun and fucking doomed.”

This line is reiterated in voice over as our harrowing protagonist, Charlotte Parks played by Dasha Nekrasova writes habitually throughout the duration of the film, always on her busted iPhone while living life as a barista, who’s a kleptomaniac in Berlin. As an American living in Berlin, she’s destined to become a poet, and with that struggle she’s up for a prestigious grant award and has inadvertently put the highest pressure on herself to write the best poem of her life while getting her personal love life in order. Let’s just say things get a bit erratic, but makes it all so interesting especially for a creative person because there’s so much material to poach from.

And as we transverse into another scene, Charlotte is sitting on a couch with a guy, she’s “dating” watching his beer commercial and when she’s asked if she thinks he’s a good actor, you can feel the dreadful sigh in her voice, “You’re great. You’re the best actor I’ve ever seen,” she says almost mockingly uttering it with an over exaggerated tone clearly not one wanting to compromise who she is but also succumbing to the need of feeding the gentle, male ego. Gross. But, also lies in the notion that Charlotte has no self respect for herself, instead she pursues what pleasures her inadvertently marching to the beat of her own drum and I’m fascinated by the level of disregard and insecurity she feeds off of others, yet holds the ability to charm a poetic prowess among her peers. Nekrasova’s performance has varying shades of contempt and it’s delivered in very alienating ways which genuinely makes her character believable. The way she lies, and over dramatizes the level of scenarios she gets herself into. It’s like you’re supposed to love to hate this protagonist and it’s antagonizing yet gratifying? What the hell is that about? On one hand, I’m conflicted morally, yet fascinated because there’s truth in humanity’s faulty behaviors. It’s the flaws that makes us shine in the most dreary moments of our lives and sometimes poetic thoughts stem from them blossoming into artistic expression.

Charlotte, in all obviousness is a devious maestro with a quick wit, “living like a cockroach”, she’s able to get herself out of the most dark, somewhat destabilizing situations nearly alluding to the very idea that cockroaches never die. There’s a scene where she stands before a judge essentially blaming the system and takes zero accountability for her actions in stealing a pair of shoes and a sexy blouse. The judge sees right through her sorry ass explanation, and the next jump cut cuts to Charlotte sobbing uncontrollably. You’ll notice this throughout the film, how the director utilizes some great jump cuts to convey the dark humor and that’s the key in making a film of this subject matter work. Long live the jump cut! I’ve always been a fan. It’s dark, hilarious, even cunning at times, and one can’t help oneself for laughing at another’s pain at least this is what stuck out to me while watching this train wreck unfold. Which begs me to question the director’s intention. Is he subtlety indicating we get some vindication or gratification in being entertained by another’s pain, masking it in humor?

The struggle of a creative person is always interesting to me. It’s a parallel that resembles the minutia of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality type. As much as an artist spends the duration of their life creating they spend about half a millisecond destroying either their work or themselves. Jordan Blady’s debut film, SOFTNESS OF BODIES is poetic in varying veins yet callous, self absorbed, fueled with insecure characters either sex starved, ego hungry, infested with an idealism that tries to ignite some dainty semblance to the 1960s beat generation. A very moody concoction that centers itself between something like FRANCES HA meets THE BLING RING intertwined with a hint of Charles Bukowski. And the only reason I mention Bukowski is the context of his poem titled “Darkness” feels like it resonates a certain idea paralleling what Softness of Bodies is about. For instance, in the first two stanzas of Bukowski’s Darkness:

Darkness falls upon humanity

And faces become terrible things

That want more than there was.

All our days are marked with

Unexpected affronts

Some disastrous, others less so

But the process is wearing and continuous.

I feel like in some ways Charlotte is her own kind of diluted version of Bukowski, except instead of trying to be a poet in Los Angeles she travels abroad to Berlin hoping to make a name for herself. Even as I write this sentence, Charlotte also known as “Charlie” which is interestingly ironic, deals with very similar problems to what Charles Bukowski dealt with. She’s hit some dark times, he’s hit some dark times and there’s this constant battle with herself, struggling to put creative thoughts into words, navigating a confusing love life, being a kleptomaniac, maybe has a substance abuse problem all while trying to face these dark situations, she stumbles into. Think about it, she gets beat up, arrested, nearly gets mugged, and witnesses an accidental death. This is all incredible source material for her poetry. To top it off, her incessant need to steal is a form of addiction and what she doesn’t have fills a continuous void that begins to wear her down yet she can’t control it. Perhaps this is where the root of her poem takes place. Specifically in the final two stanzas:

Even a life has a price

But the thing about bodies

Is that there soft

And inside are bones that break and organs

That rot

And rot

And rot

And rot

Slowly and inevitably

And money doesn’t stop it.

I suppose if I had to sum up the moral of the story and Charlie’s character is that we should live vicariously, through our troubles, our creativity, and our perseverance and perhaps, just perhaps, one day money will fix it all or we can simply spend our lives believing in that notion, like clinging to a life preserve in a vast ocean of violent waves. Maybe that’s too deep of an existential, over the top, omg-thought because we’re all destined to some demise and until then let’s just go about life, working, creating, destroying, stealing, and just being our flawed selves.

Riddled Anxiety: A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE

“It just seems to me women are alone and they are prisoner by their own love. They are made prisoner if they commit to something, once they have committed it’s a torture. And a man feels that also and nobody knows how to handle it.”

– John Cassavetes from a mid 70s interview

Everyone grapples with anxiety in one form or another and the way it’s displayed in John Cassavetes’ A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is simply remarkable given the emotional intensity Gena Rowlands brings to the screen. It’s a film that will exhaust and challenge you, no doubt, but the beauty and flaw of Mabel and these characters is beyond what any Hollywood film tries to convey in their storytelling. Cassavetes loved relationships, loved people, and loved the imperfection of capturing it all. It’s magic it’s vulnerability and it’s honest.

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is a 1974 drama about Mabel (played by Gena Rowlands), a housewife’s emotional behavior and the drama that ensues between her husband, family, and friends. Her odd behavior could be understood today quite possibly as something linked to Borderline Personality Disorder and as the story unfolds, there comes a moment where her husband Nick (played by Peter Falk) believes she could become a threat to herself and the kids, so he decides to have her committed to an institution for six months. During that six months the film shows Nick can barely take care of the kids all by himself which is indicated in a very sporadic sequence of him and a coworker taking his kids abruptly out of school for a fun day at the beach. It’s abrasive with hilarity all embracing a man’s inability to cope with the absence of his wife but also lacking the emotional warmth she brings to the family. His domineering stature all stems back to an era where the man is the protector, hunter, and gatherer yet when it comes to raising three small kids he’s going to do it in his own brusque way. So when his two sons, and daughter ask if they can drink beer because they see daddy doing it, he obliges, mind you they’re all sitting in the back of a truck heading home from the beach. Once they get home his kids are pretty much drunk and head straight to bed. On one hand it’s hilarious watching the kids stumble on the lawn yet on the other hand its kind of shocking.

I believe from this instance, Nick comes to the realization he needs and cannot continue on without Mabel’s presence. She’s a fixture to the family, even though she’s a nervous wreck, the love she struggles to express is always underpinned by Nick’s obsessive nature to fit in the confines of normalcy. Even as that’s demonstrated you realize, he’s a certain kind of crazy himself. Personally, I didn’t see Mabel as crazy and I’m sure many other women may or may not share that thought. I think its mostly about finding an outlet to express all the emotions she’s feeling and majority of the time it leads to impetus behavior.

Because when you’re bearing your soul emotionally, you can see the wear and tear of one’s own sanity. I can only imagine how Rowlands’ got through her’ performance in OPENING NIGHT, which I highly recommend watching. In fact, watch all of John Cassavetes’ films, because their electrically fueled with visceral emotions, imperfection, and gritty awareness of actors portraying the ingenuity of people battling their own human nature. Something major Hollywood studios are too apprehensive to even dive in to which is why their safe bet is making entertaining big blockbuster superhero movies because most of the time they get an average return on their investment. And yet I can’t help but feel, a bit of history repeating itself in some ways. Hollywood likes to stick with the same formula based on the success of prior films, so they utilize it until it’s no longer effective nor necessary. Then they gravitate onto something else, shift, migrate, and adapt their structure to make sure they’re successful. We’ve seen this in the old Hollywood studio system but of course thats going down a road, straying from this beautiful film. Money, money, money.

So, back to Cassavetes, my champion, a human of deep levels of expression utilizing his wife who shares his same obsession is just enchanting and such a rarity that it makes me crave that same level of deepness as it’s nearly symbiotic in some ways. Anyways, when I watch A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE I think to myself what was she under the influence of? The pressures of society? The intense love of her family? Alcohol? Creativity? Sex? Contemplation? Admiration? Anxiety? I mean this list could go on forever. And reiterating Cassavetes’ quote in the beginning, why do so many things make women feel so imprisoned by their own love? It’s such an eye-catching statement because I know there are women out there who feel this day in and day out. Some may not even acknowledge it, but continue on. If a woman is too flirty it catches men the wrong way. If a woman is too needy it also rubs them the wrong way or independent and vice versa. Is there no in between?When women are opening themselves up, and vulnerability creeps in, it’s not necessarily an invitation for a man to console her in a sexual manner or take advantage of it for his own benefit. It blurs the line between the sexes because we express an array of emotions very differently. And perhaps that’s where the breakdown happens, because men and women are desperate to meet in the middle yet, can’t for the life of them figure out how. It’s the ultimate dilemma between the sexes and probably always wills be.

I mean think about the scene where Mabel has just served spaghetti for Nick and all of his coworkers. It’s a full house of men and she’s expressing herself by talking to them, yet it gets to a point where Nick shuts it down, kicking everyone out of the house because he feels Mabel being a tiny bit flirty and he doesn’t want his guys getting any ideas. Alas, Mabel is a woman full of expression, who will march to the beat of her own drum, which is indicated when Nick says he has to work late, she’s left in an empty house drinking beer until she spontaneously leaves, heading to a bar already boozy and somewhat contemplative. So what’s does she do? Strikes up a conversation with a man, gets a little flirty, drinks a 7&7, getting more drunk and impaired and what does this guy at the bar do? Takes advantage, brings her home, and spends the night with a married woman which then creates a form of guilt within Mabel, who carries that burden straight into the morning dinner scene where Nick and his coworkers arrive. I think this creates a certain pressure for Mabel to push aside the guilt and now changes gears into that homemaker mode making sure everyone is comfortable and fed.

I wouldn’t say this film ends on a high note as it feels more like a timeout in the ringer from social norms. Mabel’s little outbursts could be perceived as acts of resistance, fighting what society wants her to be while Nick, the head of the patriarch carries a pertinent “civility” is really a farce because his outburst results in violence such as the instance when he slaps Mabel off the couch so she could suppress her emotions. It’s a heartbreaking moment because we see all three of her children huddled around their father attempting to protect her. It’s an exhausting third act but somehow lulls itself into the parents putting their kids to bed making it seem like everything is right with the world again. It’s this temporary pause that makes you question who’s the crazy one?

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is an intimate portrait of a woman not just wrestling her own emotions often conveyed in close up shots of Mabel’s face and the confusing nervousness she endures but also reveals how we’re slowly watching her suffocate under the restrictions of her gender role. Mind you this was also in the mid 70s, where social attitudes were in the midst of radical changes. Albeit, this was John Cassavetes’ masterpiece, given the emotional stamina of Rowlands’ character and the faith Peter Falk had in this film, who ended up putting half a million dollars into the project. Even after the film was finished, Cassavetes’ self distributed the film himself touring college campuses and art houses. It’s incredible the length an artist will go to make his work known and I admire that ever so greatly as he’ll always be hailed as a true harrowing spirit of an independent.

Deadpan with Amusement: THE FAVOURITE

Once upon a time there was young girl who was down on her luck. She fell out of her carriage and into the mud on the way to a job interview. Not the most flattering first impression to make on one’s potential employer but alas after an astute conversation, she was hired as a maid. And then one day she decided to do her due diligence and strive for something bigger. She wanted to change her stars, be something more, because what’s more alluring than having no wealth, prestige, and fame? Power.

THE FAVOURITE has a fortitude built like no other, with a bona fide crassness purged in dignified niceties. It’s no wonder the director of THE LOBSTER and KILLING OF A SACRED DEER crafted such an intrinsic tale of fleeting power and a seductive nature that captures the essence of climbing the hierarchy in English society at the start of the 18th Century. It’s a riot and caddy with venomous punches among the cadence of English ladies. It’s hilarious, dark, erotic, and savagely enticing for someone who dreams of getting ahead in life and does so by tarnishing established reputations and extorting secrets. I can’t help but feel this film challenges the viewer to see something more. Which leads me to question; what has changed in society lately? Doesn’t this happen everyday? It’s the ceremonious passing of the torch filtered through generations intoxicated with class, wealth, and power. It’s like DANGEROUS LIAISONS meets BARRY LYNDON, carrying the verbose sentiment of QUILLS in very subtle somewhat demeaning ways and very enchanting sequences lit with candlelight. Oh la la. And in the same vein as QUILLS it took creative liberty and the immersive mind of actors to bring such vividness to these characters which is 95% of the fun. Otherwise, this film would just be a pretty period piece where the audience can “oh” and “ah” at the set and costume design.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ paints this canvas with his instincts and diligently with a dominating ensemble of women lead by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. It’s backstabbing eroticism at it’s finest and what’s even more enticing is this story is somewhat true with some obvious added creative flair. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) was a real person who momentarily ran things while England was at war with France during the 1700s, who was very much captivated by her confidante and lover, Sarah Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). But once, Abby (Emma Stone) enters the playing field, she inevitably and tenaciously holds the metaphoric ball of power in her court. Betrothed to reluctantly be married in order to secure a seat as a lady in the queen’s court. She goes to great lengths to reserve her power in very convoluted ways so much it makes sense why Lanthimos’ enforced that notion with the brilliance of using a fisheye lens to disorient a world so renowned for it’s prim and proper pretenses of societal obedience. Looks can always be deceiving.

At times it really does feel like you’re watching an elaborate chess match with quick wit and sassy commentary, but perhaps it’s really women being women illustrating the need to be seen, heard, and challenged. For instance, when Sarah comments on Queen Anne’s makeup and says she looks like a badger. It immediately opens the gate in terms of how bluntness becomes the thread of how this particular breed of women operate. It’s what these three characters share in their own unique ways throughout the story and it’s empowering and enriching to see this play out on the screen.

As these intriguing triangular, intersecting relationships develop it almost becomes impossible to root for a single character because everyone’s motive is diverse with complexity. Ephemerally becoming its own kind of Shakespearean entity. And yet, Olivia Coleman steals the show and rightly deservingly won an Oscar for such a spellbinding performance. Her range of emotions go from 0 to 100 in a nanosecond carefully embodying the persona of a clueless queen whose authority shadows the story like the slow, yet delicate anthesis of an English primrose. As visually illustrated in the final scene of the film, we have an incredible superimposed image of Abigail and Anne’s faces layered in with the rabbits, which reveal exactly what Abigail is in the hierarchy of power. She is a helpless pet within the queen’s court, which is ironic because initially Abigail’s interest in the queen’s rabbits is what sparked her position and completely altered it.

THE FAVOURITE has the most exceptionally pleasing, subtle message I’ve seen on the big screen since Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE. Yeah, that’s an enormous compliment but there’s truth in it. In essence this Lanthimos’ rosebud or perhaps even Andrzej Wajda’s DANTON which I highly recommend for any cinephile out there because it’s also a period piece about corruption and power during the French revolution. All hail! Stories infused with strong themes such as power and revenge always get a good movie crowd to the theaters and I’m always drawn to them because my inquisitive nature lives in a world where power if fought over every single day. I feel like it’s a wheel house for anybody to fantasize about because it connects us cunningly to a fictional world when it parallels as an everyday occurrence in for example a capitalist society just simply masked in virtue of multiplicity. How prevalently charming. Yet, certainly stands among great films when imagination is at play. It’s in great company with such films as Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO. Given the context of sexual identity, the story also had a playful tone and went far and wide with costume and set design and of course the glue who held it all together; Tilda Swinton.

My mind kind of went on a spirally, spastic tangent with the comparison of films, but it’s simply a good feeling when you watch something witty and brazen. I love that this film challenges you to see beyond the surface and deeper into a scathing message about the complacency of power. It ignites a fire of thoughts and introspection of the here and now at least that’s how I viewed it. The nature of people always appears to lean in the direction of control which gives the illusion of complete domination. I get this film may not be for everyone, but looking at it through the lens of art and parody it shines oh so bright.

Ehh… AQUAMAN

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Hmm… AQUAMAN, a decent C-rating superhero spectacle full of pizazz and explosions yet lacks a refined story where predictability hovers over it’s spirit like a shadow attached to it’s person. Forgive me, I’m not a fan of the superhero franchise so this will be an abhorring review. My ignorance may even botch my thoughts as I sit here trying to remember what were the redeeming qualities of this movie. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster raking in the millions on entertaining and luring in the masses with it’s CGI splendor and hoards of merchandise and of course Jason Momoa in his tight jeans, tattooed muscles and intoxicatingly beautiful beard hair.
The bread and butter, just like any superhero story being told is the bad guy attempts to rule the world while the good guy feeling unworthy, questions his integrity and in the end manifests himself into this destiny, saving the world. Don’t get me wrong Jason Momoa is a fantastic choice as AQUAMAN but something is inherently missing. Perhaps the alignment of his story? It seemed very fragmented where certain sequences gave us snippets of how he came to be who he is, conflicted and reluctant to take his place as king. Does this sound like a familiar Disney movie? It’s the boy version of the Little Mermaid without the fin and quite possibly looks like he’s wearing a pineapple costume.
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I give it to AQUAMAN for being visually enchanting with slick 360-degree fight sequences, and updated musical remixes (Pitbull’s rendition of Toto’s Africa), but it fails dismally with on the nose dialogue and an average plot. This movie is ridiculous with cartoony moments that had me bust out in random laughter and I guess that’s an accomplishment. However, when you suddenly see Willem Dafoe riding a shark with slicked greasy hair or Dolph Lundgren making a suave appearance, its quite a feat to take these characters seriously especially when there’s a quick cut to an octopus playing the drums at one point. I tried hard to submerge myself in this aquatic world and really dig my heels into the fantasy of it all but all that slow motion was overkill and every 20 minutes an explosion would elicit all hell and chaos. Why is this the only way to move a story forward? WHY?  I really wanted more depth and so much plot crammed into a two and half hour sitting which is its own kind of special torture is just too much. Now I can finally realize my aversion to the fantasy genre; there’s just too much plot in these films and I’m probably going to be needing  therapy to sort out these issues.
If James Wan really wanted to stretch the source material, he could have mischievously gotten artsy with the “pollution of the ocean” message which probably would have turned AQUAMAN into a film about climate change. Hardcore fans would be pissed. Snobby art film fanatics would have praised it for an Oscar nomination. I’m just speculating but, personally it would have piqued my interest. I mean didn’t WONDER WOMAN have a special social impact for females telling their story of struggle destined with the current uprising we challenge today? It’s all about breaking barriers and I feel like with such popularity of the superhero genre there’s an opportunity to subliminally challenge taboo ideas we face today. I guess you just have to get witty with it.
Everyone’s screaming about the atrocities climate change has had on our environment, the extinction of beauties such as the western black rhinos or the dodo bird and every time you see a turtle strangled with plastic around it’s neck you’re silently thinking, ‘that’s a damn shame’ and continue on with your binge watching of the latest Netflix show. We have a long way to go as a species if we want genuine change to happen. We have to move beyond just acknowledging it, we actually have to act on it.
Okay, I may have gone overboard and segwayed entirely off topic. So yeah AQUAMAN, fun movie. Probably more fun for the kids, definitely a top film for the family to be entertained. I can’t fully compare it to anything because I haven’t seen enough superhero movies. Jason Momoa has a handful of great one liners, intertwined with what feels like I’m watching AVATAR at times, and daydreaming of swimming with dolphins. The whole you killed my father, I’m gearing up to avenge his death is cliché but creates some stale conflict. Searching for a magical trident and using negotiation over violence to control the whole seven seas is farfetched but I’ll roll with this fantasy I guess. It’s a spellbinding tale of a royal sea family with dysfunctional problems uniting the surface with the underwater world is something Shakespeare would probably turn into a three act play. If you like any of these this is the film for you. Hooray!