Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Best of the Decade: Whiplash (2014)

Everyone's pretty unanimously in love with La La Land. I mean who can blame them? It's so charming, well paced and directed, containing some of the most electric on screen chemistry we've seen in a while. It blows up the idealized vision of what Los Angeles can offer an aspiring artist in the entertainment industry. It was a love letter to all the movie and music industry is, and a seeming opus for young director Damien Chazel.  Yeahhh, this is not his best movie. I don't even think it even comes in the realm of debate, to be honest. That's not a knock on La La Land at all, there's plenty to love, and it doesn't do a whole lot wrong as a film. But my god, what a movie Whiplash is. I don't think I've ever seen a movie like it, I really don't (ironically the closest movie that I can think of is Birdman which came out the same year, and took home the Academy Award for best picture). Every single person I've shown this movie to has audibly "wowed" at the end of the movie. Some will credit that to the flawless 15-minute final act of the film, but to me, the film had to really work and earn itself (hm a theme) to get to that point. What did this movie do to me as a viewer? What was it's lasting message? As I laid it out in my last post, it's not just about the objective story, its twists, and turns, and how substantive it is. It's about what the movie made me feel afterward. And this movie made me feel a lot. And I think I figured out why.

Whiplash follows jazz drummer Andrew Niemann (played by Miles Teller), a Freshman at the fictional Schaffer conservatory, the number one music conservatory in the country. Right away from the first shot in the first scene, we see him slaving away at his drumming practice, alone at night in a practice room. In strolls in Terrence Fletcher (played by J. K. Simmons), who, without words, we are able to discern he's the head honcho of the conservatory. He observes Andrews skills and asks him to play a rudiment. Andrew sounds like he can do it, but it's not to Fletcher's liking. The rest of the movie follows Andrew earning a position on the jazz combo and trying to prove himself to Fletcher who relentlessly berates him and his other members on perfection.

Let me get some of the formalities out of the way here. Acting: fantastic; Cinematography: top notch; Musical Score: lol what do you think; Color Pallette & Set Designphenomenal. I would talk about each of these in detail, but this isn't a standard review, more of a reflection, and a lot of what I will be talking about is greatly represented in these different areas. From here on out this is a review with spoilers, you know the drill, go see this film if you haven't!

Okay so going back to that first scene, I think this is the perfect stage setter for the rest of the film. We get a sense of Andrew's character because of his obsessive desire to be the best jazz drummer since Buddy Rich. We also get a sense of Fletcher's character, as we can tell he's a perfectionist, who will strictly and aggressively get what he wants, but at the same time, does not let on initially to his behavior.  You see by the level of skill hinted in Andrew and by the level of aggression hinted in Fletcher that you're in for a wild ride. The rest of the film plays out as such, almost at the rhythm of a fast paced drum solo (yeah not almost, exactly like a fast paced drum solo).

So what is this movie really about at its core? What did it make me feel so intimately? This movie is about obsessing over being a master at your craft. It's about understanding that if you want to get to the top of the top, you have to push yourself, or be "pushed beyond what's expected of you". That's actually a direct quote from Fletcher in the movie, and boy does everything click when he says it.

Let's try and understand both characters a little better. The whole time you're just writhing in your seat, seeing Andrew go through literal fucking hell to maintain his position as lead drummer in Fletcher's jazz combo. From having the position be constantly up for grabs, making critical small mistakes that lead to his beratement, and even limping over from a car wreckage just so he could make his performance on time only to be unable to play due to injuries, you resent Fletcher the exact same way Andrew does. Why on Earth would Fletcher be so cruel and heartless? Well, he's not. We see plenty of scenes of him showing genuine emotion, granted only momentarily, that cue us as the audience into seeing a human side to him. Then, after he's been fired, and Andrew's dropped out of the conservatory, they meet serendipitously at a jazz bar where Fletcher tells an allegorical tale of Charlie Parker's first big time solo, and how even though it was pretty good, he had a symbol immediately thrown at his head because it wasn't the best he could do. He then said how Charlie worked his ass off for a year straight so that when he came back he gave "the best fucking solo anyone had ever heard." What this story does, besides beautifully foreshadow the film's ending, is sum up Fletcher's motivations this whole time. He wanted to produce a Charlie Parker, and he knew exactly what it took to make one. This also hinted to Andrew and to us that he was on the path to becoming one (before unfortunate and unforeseen plot circumstances).

Andrew, on the other hand, is obviously the perfect prodigy for Fletcher's criteria. We see how badly he wants it, we see how hard he works, and we see how it affects his personal life. He condescends to his whole family, and his girlfriend about wanting to be the best and what it takes to get there. Normally you would think that "oh, this character's an asshole", and not be able to sympathize or relate to him at all. But if you know what it takes to be the best, you really can't blame him. His lack of empathy and emotion for anything other than drumming is not sociopathic, it's passion and obsession driven (which I guess could be considered sociopathic, but you know, he's successful I guess). So, we have two characters who both exhibit unfavorable qualities that would normally be shunned, only to find out their motives justify their actions. The parallels between the two characters in an unconventional manner really deepen this relationship between student and teacher. Other than literally the last 2 minutes of the film, there is no touching moment between the two, there's not really any reconciliation. It's all business at all times for these guys. And that's how it has to be.

So this whole idea of pushing beyond what's expected of you I can relate to. I was on a swim team for 9 years, and especially when things got more competitive in my high school years, there was a whole lot of pushing-you-to-the-limit. As a kid, I really didn't understand why things needed to be so much harder than clearly many of us were capable of at times. I don't think I ever wanted to be the best swimmer ever (if you know swimming, you know that unless you're showing promise that's a very unrealistic standard to uphold), but I would always try to be my best. That started at age 14 when I began to swim under my favorite and most formative coach, Jeff Klotz. While Jeff and I had a more light-hearted relationship comparatively, he was always pushing me beyond what I thought I could do. I would be so anxious at times going to practice because I knew I was going to get torn apart, just like the day before, and just like it would be the day after (swimming is a 6 day a week thing). Despite this, I found myself improving well beyond what I thought I could do, leading me to make time cuts I felt were so out of my realm of ability. LONG FUCKING STORY SHORT, I felt a spiritual parallel between Fletcher and Andrew, and Jeff and myself. Nooo I'm not saying I did nearly anything as intensive or was subject to that or any amount of abuse. I'm not saying I worked as hard or was as driven as Andrew was. I'm saying I felt the same feelings of anxiety from swimming under Jeff (Jeff if you're reading this, I love you and when I say anxiety I don't mean the deeply emotionally scarred kind of anxiety so don't worry) when Fletcher was pushing Andrew in the film. It was weird, I never felt that feeling anywhere else other than the context of the pool. But here I was watching a movie about drumming excellence feeling like I had to wake up at 5:30 the next day for morning practice. Deep down I always knew what Jeff was trying to get at with me with his methods, but it wasn't until this movie that I could put into actual concise words what he was really trying to do with me and all of his swimmers: to push us beyond what was expected of us. That's incredibly special to me, and that's also a huge indicator of authenticity in a film.

Oh best believe Chazel was subjected to something like this at one point in his life. Whether it be for his movie making skills, his musical ability, or both, there's no way he was able to tell this story like this and not have it happen to him. That also brings the film to a new meta level as well. The movie is a byproduct of all that work, stress, and effort he probably was exposed to at a young age. It certainly shows, this is a "Charlie Parker solo" level film in my opinion. With this under his belt, I think the next natural next step for him was obviously a film like La La Land, which, again, was executed very well probably due to, again, all this work he put in. But Whiplash is Chazel telling the story of all the hard work he's put in. He makes us feel the pain and stress he must have endured. All the extra dramatic moments are likely just manifestations of his emotions and feelings of working so hard to be so great. And it worked, it really worked.

The last thing I want to talk about is the finale. Oh man, it's so energetic and satisfying. You just get to see Andrew go off on the drums in a way we weren't allowed to see all film. Up until this point, we would see parts and bits of him playing that were either scolded by Fletcher and stopped, or plain cut away from. This was the first full performance we get to see, his big solo moment. And what's even better is that other than a line or two, no dialogue is really spoken. We only see how the characters feel through their eyes. Andrew get's his moment, Fletcher get's his prodigy. In my opinion, it's the perfect finish to a flawless movie.

Whiplash is one of those movies I can pop in whenever and watch. I don't get tired of it, it's still just as exciting and stressful as it was for me the first time. If you haven't inferred already, this is what makes a classic film. If someone can relate so much of themselves to a movie in an authentic manner, and gain some insight at the end of it, it's going to create a meaningful emotional connection between the audience member and the movie. This is known as identification and is one of the 11 motivators that explain why people are fans of what they're fans of (I'm fresh off two cog sci finals sorry). I have no more to say this is just one that I can't emphasize enough is a masterful film. Like I said, I don't this there is a movie like this, and it excites me that there is still a lot more to come from Chazel (he's 32 !!). Whiplash will always be special to me though, and I have certainly brought along its lessons with me ever since that first watch.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Best of the Decade - Her (2013)

I often get asked what my favorite movies are, and as everyone probably knows when they're asked that question, it's never quite a simple answer. The range and variety of films that are out there are so immense, it's hard to break it down to even a top 5 let alone a single favorite movie. I usually deflect into saying my favorite director and asking theirs, since I think you can get a better idea of what kind of movies people value the most by examining the body of work from their favorite filmmaker (for example, mine's Paul Thomas Anderson). But I also think another great way to look at someone's movie tastes is to see what their favorite movies of the decade are (so far at least). Movies that are being made right now are the most culturally relevant as well as emotionally reflexive of our society that we live in today. Like noir's dark tone coming as a result of two great wars and a depression, perhaps there's a little more to movies like Get Him to the Greek than we realize. SO, what I'm going to write about every so often is my favorite films of the decade and why I feel they deserve to be called such. I would like to point out in advance that Moonlight is very much amongst my favorites right now, and I already talked about it in my review, so if you want an idea of another movie I really value, check it out. So here it is my first favorite movie of the decade: Her.

Briefly, Her takes place in an undisclosed future Los Angles (my man!). We follow Theodore (played by Joaquin Pheonix), a man who's job is to write love letters to significant others on behalf of the, well, one of the others. This forces him to deeply analyze traits and quirks of a relationship thus exposing and immersing him in all of these love stories. Ironically he is suffering from a love loss himself, as he is fresh off a very serious and emotionally damaging relationship. Shortly after we get a sense of his character, a new technology is introduced in the film, having the most efficient and life-like personal AI be available for consumer use. The story then follows how Theodore falls in love with his AI, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). First of all, I am just in love with the whole premise, and how it was executed. Without any context, the way I just explained what the movie was about could be construed as weird and creepy. However, as most who watch the film can attest, there is absolutely nothing creepy about it. This is mainly due to the fact that the relationship that Theodore and Samantha have is probably one of the most realistic and authentic relationships I've ever seen portrayed in a film. And I'm not talking about like, "oh they have good chemistry" or like, "oh she's not as robotic as I thought an AI would be," I mean how we see the relationship begin from its inception and watch it grow, going through the exact ups and downs of many (post) post-modernist relationships these days is about as authentic and accurate as it gets. Like it hits every single beat that someone would probably go through in a new and nonsuperficial relationship. I found myself taken back by how real things got in the film, and it really puts you in a position to reflect on yourself, your past relationships, what they meant to you then, and what they mean to you now. And like, I might be screwing my format and pacing here by getting to the big picture before the end of the article *cough cough*, but if a movie makes you feel a real emotion that you know isn't fabricated or disingenuously produced, you have a special film that was made with a lot of thought and effort (that's what all these movies I'll be talking about will have in common). This movie, in my opinion, has scienced down what it's like falling in and out of love.

And that's the whole point of this film. It brings the question(s) into the forefront "What is love? Does our partner need to be a human in order to form and maintain an authentic relationship? Who defines the constraints of what we're allowed to emotionally invest ourselves in (besides the law lol)?" Because the film is totally self-aware of how weird this concept can be. Theodore vents with Amy Adam's character about if it's socially acceptable to fall in love with their OS (the AI). And if you consider yourself to be a fairly open-minded person, I'm almost certain this film will make you reconsider what is and isn't acceptable. Getting into the other details of the film, first of all, I think every decision and choice made for the film was perfect. And that's all thanks to writer and director Spike Jonze. Jonze won the best original screenplay for this film at the 2014 Oscars, and you could make the case he should have won more. It's evident that every detail and idea were planned and fleshed out to it's fullest extent. For example, undisclosing how far in the future this move took place was a brilliant choice. The point of this film is not "if" or "when" this is happening, it's more that it could happen. And not disclosing the date helps mask the illusion and not put a Back to the Future 2-esque pin on the film's predictive abilities. Much like the background characters in the film, it may happen while we're not even looking. And that's another thing by the way. The people surrounding these characters are all citizens of Los Angeles who are totally sucked into their phone or OS. The film doesn't make a big point about it at all, and you kind of just have to notice it. I think this is a great social commentary on the kind of people we've become since smart devices have been introduced into our mainstream. It's highlighted subtly acts as a reminder that this is who we are when we're always on our phones, and if we aren't paying attention, we might not notice our society becoming "full time" with personal devices. Going even further, one could say that Theodore's relationship with Samantha is a metaphor for us being in love and dependent on our technology. We all have a special relationship with our devices, and in a weird way, Samantha could just be the personification of it.

Another great choice on Jonze's end was picking alt-rock band Arcade Fire to do the movie score. It's honestly one of my favorite scores in a 2000's film. The piano pieces perfectly match the emotions and feelings of the relationship as they occur. It sets the tone beautifully and poignantly. It's one of the few Soundtracks I was trying to go out of my way to buy, but they unfortunately never released it (!!). But oh well I can't be too mad, more excuses to go back and watch the film (yikes that's corny). The casting was P E R F E C T. Everyone in this film was their character. Like seriously, even Chris Pratt's small role had me believing he was a part of that world. This being Jonze's first film that he wrote, I could tell a lot of care and detail was put in to make sure his vision was fully realized. Not having the right person play the character you've spent so much time creating and developing would have been such a waste. Thankfully Jonze knows exactly what he wants, and exactly what he's doing. The cinematography as well... like damn. A lot of movies these days I feel piggyback off Her in how things are shot and framed in films today. It has that look that a lot of indie-house and oscar bait movies are having these days. This weird ultra focus yet fluid motion in the camera work is spectacular. I'm not saying Her was the first movie to do this, or that it's never been done before, but only that a lot more films started to do it after this movie came out. The color palettes are great too, giving both the look and feeling of warmth and love, yet also having this feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. Costume design too is just on a new level. They practically invented a new fashion look that is completely believable for us as a society to potentially trend towards in the near future. Like he sold this world so well you guys. And LA in the future looks like an LA in the future. They shot parts in Shanghai and digitally added in some buildings to the establishing shots in post, but I never once was taken out by saying "this doesn't look like LA in the future."I feel like there's so much I'm missing that I have to say, but I think a lot of this gets the point across anyways.

One last thing I'd like to bring up is Theodore's flashbacks. Now any future filmmakers reading this blog, THIS is the gold standard for how you develop a character through flashbacks. Instead of going back in time to a new scene where we see specific events play out exactly how they went, Theodore's flashbacks are spontaneous, quick, and quiet. They happen in moments where he's reflecting on events or relating to his past relationship. What's great about this is that they play out in the exact same way and length as most real memories play out. And the best part about all this is that, only once in the movie mind you, there was a part where we see him on a date play out fully, and then he later reminisces on it and his flashbacks do not match what we saw exactly. IDEALIZED*clap*MEMORIES*clap*.  This is how we think back on anything fond or formative in our life, it's not exactly what happened, it's an alternate, idealized, or skewed interpretation of what's going on (AKA most of our memories involving relationships @LaLaLand). Meaning that all his other flashbacks are just like this, idealized, so we don't really know how his past relationship played out. He's basically an unreliable narrator. But these memory flashbacks really help me as a viewer relate to this film and buy it's message so much more. I can relate my experiences and how they've unfolded with me and see an authentic and genuine congruence that this film has presented and is trying to convince me to believe in. And it worked. This is how storytelling is supposed to be. Do what you can to show and not tell. That's what makes the best movies, in a spiritual sense.

And thus ends my love letter (eh more like a mind dump) to the movie Her. I think you get a good idea of why this movie moved me the way it did. I really like to us this film in my list of films that I use to hold other films to a higher standard (hi I write good). This is how you do a love story. Rom coms are nice hyperbolic escapisms and a good easy way to bond with a date/lover, but watch this movie with someone you love and I think there will be a stronger connection formed. Movie's like the Notebook are great for what/who they serve, but at the end of the day it's not an authentic love story, it's more like a fairy tale. We're in 2017 and I think we're craving a bit of real in our everyday diet. So if you haven't given this film a watch yet, I implore you. Go do it with all this in mind. (still waiting for a good movie to watch and review in 2017 haha !!!) 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Power Rangers and Why the Movie Industry is Stagnating

Wow, one year of the blog. I never ever thought I would want to be writing long-form analytical blogs for fun, but I think that's why I'm so drawn to it. Writing was always a chore for me, so to have something excite and invigorate me to the point where I want to write an essay about it that people may or may not read speaks volumes to me. Hopefully, in the upcoming year I ramp up my output, quality, style, and consistency. One of the things that has been consistent on my blogs, however, is my complaints and criticisms towards the movie industry of today. It's no secret that I think they're boofing up in a big way. Now I understand that this industry has and always will be about one thing: money. And you go where the money goes, yeah yeah you get it. But I think this is a mistake. At a certain point, people will start to catch on that there's a huge problem going on today with the movie industry. And I would like to bring that to a head by talking about the new Power Rangers movie, and why I think it'll be very not good. Now let me put in this little disclaimer by saying that it's never a good thing to write off a movie based on anything other than the actual film itself. It's not fair to the actual film because the marketing team and the writers/directors can and often do have very different visions of the film. However, in this case, I'm so confident with this one that I'm willing to break my own rule and become a hypocrite. I just see so much here that's going wrong that I really just cannot imagine that this one will be received very well. And they're all just super telltale signs of a flubbing industry. So let me egregiously contradict myself, as we dive into the issues plaguing the industry today and how that relates to this sure-fire hit!

Alright so what started all of this? Well, we did really. Or I guess our wallets? Or maybe it is our desire to live in our cherished memories? I'm not sure. The point is, our desire to see old franchises we grew up on in the context of today (aka Nostalgia) morphed the film industry into the muk that it is right now. Why do we put such a high value on nostalgia you may ask? My theory is that we have certain memories and pleasant emotions tethered to seeing special movie experiences for the first time. It's why we rewatch movies over and over that we love. We can feel that same feeling we felt when we saw the film or understood it fully for the first time. I also think that with the developments of the internet and social media, people are able to bond, connect, and appreciate all these franchises on a very large concentrated and observable scale. And we just crave those special experiences at a much higher rate. Now sequels are not a new thing by any means, but the way they're being made today is unprecedented. I remember when Marvel and Disney had movie sequels lined up through 2020 back in like 2013. How on Earth is that just cool to do? That's like completely neglecting the fact that perhaps our culture and interests can change in that time. And you may be saying, "oh chill out Nick, that's only like seven years" but let me tell you something; The internet has drastically sped up our interests and tastes to a level we've never seen or experienced before. The cultural groupthink shift that has occurred in society took maybe only two years to fully become socially normal. That's crazy. To say that "yeah you're gonna like the same shit we put out year after year after year" is a little insulting and small minded in my head. Superhero movies are already oversaturated and people are taking notice. Star Wars for damn sure is becoming oversaturated. And we're all sitting here like"yeah there's no way I can get tired of this Star Wars thing, I'm very okay with a movie every year spun off of this 3 (okay 6) movie universe until Disney says enough" (and by Disney says enough I mean when we stop paying money). See what I mean? We're letting something so iconic and beloved become pimped out unabashedly in front of our own eyes and we're so nostalgia blinded and happy that new Star Wars content is being created today that we don't care. Here's an idea: how about making the next Star Wars? How about making something that's original, genuine, and unique, so that we're celebrating it for many generations to come until the next next Star Wars comes? You know, like a natural growth progression or something? Sorry sorry I'm sort of veering off topic here. This is all relevant, but let me try and tie it back into a more concentrated argument. Basically because of nostalgia we have significantly less original ideas and franchises being spawned these days. When we look back on the content produced from this past decade and a half, all people will see are reboots and sequels. Why do you think movies like John Wick and shows like Rick and Morty are so stupid popular even though you wouldn't expect them to be at a first glance? They're both good original ideas for franchises. And we are inadvertently starving for material like this.

That brings me to our good friend Power Rangers. Now PR will serve as a guinea pig to test my hypothesis because I want to point out the flaws I notice from all the way out here and see if the same is said about the film upon release. What I'm trying to prove is that if it's this easy for me to say and predict this stuff now with what little context is out about the film, that maybe there's actually a huge glaring hole that needs to be fixed. All of this analysis is based off of the two trailers, promotional photos, and IMDB. I've read nothing on the opinions of regular to avid movie goers, nor have I looked into see if there were any issues with development (because if there were that would make this too easy to call). Let's br-br-break it down...

Problem 1: Issa Reboot - This is pretty self-evident but pretty important actually. Step one, find a franchise that's beloved by the masses and churn it into a Hollywood blockbuster: check. The money should come right? This actually plays into problems number 2 and 3

Problem 2: The Dialogue is poo poo -  Again, not super fair of me to make that statement from the trailers alone, but the trailers are what you want to put your best foot forward. I'll give them a break because you're trying to provide context for a two-hour film in two and a half minutes. But like come on, just give the trailer a listen "Somebody should have pointed that out. Oh wait I did" "That's not a piece of Cake". So why is this relevant? Well, when Hollywood decided to become the sequel farm, a lot of their most talented writers took a bit of offense to that. Their talents didn't want to be wasted on superhero movies and obvious cash grab reboots. So with the emergence of shows like Breaking Bad and sites like Netflix, Hollywoods most talented writers shifted from movies to TV. SO NOT ONLY are studios forcing these tired films down our throats, they don't even have the writing talent to even potentially salvage and make something out of nothing. And after what happened with poor Edgar Wright and the Antman film, I don't blame any of them.

Alpha 5 voiced by Bill Hader

Problem 3: WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSEEEEEEEE character designs? - No really, these designs for all the characters and zords(?) are gross and so uninspired. Actually, I take that back, they're very much inspired by Michael Bay's Transformers, another shameless 80s franchise turned film and money black hole, and something I hold in line with the first Spider-Man for creating this mess. "Make them look like the Transformers movie cuz that sells!" The result is so clumsy, messy, and just like I don't even know. I can't imagine a single person is super on board with them. I have an alternate theory for the designs, bear with me on this. SO, China is beginning to overtake the global movie industry. They're projected to surpass the United States with how much money Chinese filmgoers spend on movies every year. What sells over there (as of Febuary 2017)? Monster and Alien type stuff. And shitty films are being bailed out from domestic box office bombs here because they sell really really well in China (Warcraft, Terminator Genesis, Need For Speed). The aesthetic that these characters have really match up with the aesthetic that sells in China. Not to mention that Power Rangers is already an Asian IP, so I'm sure it's being marketed heavily over there right now. So what does this mean? Film studios, I BELIVE, are beginning to tailor their films for a different audience than us for the financial safety net. Let's wait and see how well it sells over there. But going back to problem number 1, March is not a typically ideal time to release a movie with a 120 Million budget without any sort of prior demand for this, a real gamble with the money. But the Chinese market has the ability to bail them out from all of this.

Problem 4: For real another origins story??? - This one may seem like I'm stretching it but hear me out. I know that for some areas and some movie worlds, origin stories are important because they set the bulk of the foundation for our main character(s), and serve as a template to refer to when these characters make decisions/questionable actions down the line. But fuck me everyone is doing one of them these days. It's not a requirement for every new franchise to have one of these. You can give meaningful exposition or perhaps a shortened origin intro within the movie but no.(Special shout out to Spiderman Homecoming, after its THIRD reboot they finally realized that maybe they don't need the origin story movie, congrats you win the "changing conventions underwhelmingly" award) Why am I complaining about this? Well for one thing, it really messes with the pacing of the story. Chances are if it's an origins, you're going to be spending the bulk of the film with our main character slowly learning/adapting to his/her new found abilities. That's cool and all, but people are really paying money to see action at its highest and purest form. I bet you we will only get one really good and meaningful action sequence in the third act to make up this whole film. The rest of the movie will be training montages, and character building. For the Power Rangers. You know, the franchise with such a rich and storied history of compelling characters with deep and tragic backstories who I think maybe fight on occasion? I'm not sure. Get what I mean? I'm not saying it's impossible for this to work. It can be done if put in the right hands! But....

Problem 5: The Crew. Like all of it - This is where I may be getting a little too harsh and judgmental. But I'm in too deep now, there's no going back. Consider most of this my personal opinion and not something that should be scripture. That being said I feel like I have a case. Whoo boy where to start? Okay easiest one, the cast. If you were to read the top of the movie poster, you would see Bryan Cranston and Elizbeth Banks, two very capable actors, and that would put your mind at ease. Whether or not their performances are up to standards, they're straight up the only two recognizable actors in this film (Bill Hader is the voice of that gross UFO thing, that's a 50/50 success rate at best). So were going to have to rely on the casting directors to have done a good job picking everyone else. This is probably my weakest argument in this entire rant, but lack of acting experience is never a comforting sign. I can't tell you how many movies I've seen that not many people are aware of with five star A-list actors that are just awful. It's kind of the game of the industry, some movies are just for the checks. Then there's director Dan Israelite. This is his second feature-length film, coming off of his 2015 debut Project Almanac. The budget on that film was around 12 million dollars. The budget for Power Rangers is 120 million dollars. We're talking about a factor of 10 difference in scales of the film (which by the way, good luck making back your full 120 domestically Lionsgate, a lukewarm March release with lukewarm marketing is surely going to spike traffic for the general public to watch Power Rangers fanfic; hope you actually did your homework with the Chinese market). That's not an easy task for anyone to take on but hey, the director for Jurassic World did it right (haha?!?!)? SO I don't see a whole lot that could go wrong here, maybe I'm just nitpicking. And speaking of nitpicking, let's take a look at the gentlemen who wrote the screenplay and composed the music, the icing on the cake as I always like to say (I never say that). The man who wrote this glorious narritive is actor John Gatins, writer of such classics as Real Steel, and Hardball, and... and well that's it. This one time for an internship, I had to read a scrapped screenplay for a live action Pac-Man movie written by the dude who made Monster House. It was one of those so bad it's good sort of screenplays, although I don't want to give it that much credit as a lot of the fun came from me trying to visualize how a zombie apocalypse movie with Pac-Man (no really I'm not kidding) would play out in a movie in 2007. Needless to say, it may seem like you can turn anything into a movie, and actually you can. It just won't be that good a lot of the times. And from this trailer, I can see a lot of the same beats hit from a bad screenplay that you just know after reading so many trash scripts. It's something you can't put to words (or maybe you can and I just don't have enough experience to do so yet) but it's definitely there. And LASTLY can't forget my boy behind the music, Brian Tyler. Super prolific, very successful film composer. Just go to his IMDB page and give it a look for yourself, nothing but hits. But if you examine closely, they're all movies where music takes a back seat. And I mean waaaaaaaaay in the back. Marvel movies, Fast and Furious franchise (and keep in mind, he only does the SCORE, not even the hit songs),  Now You See Me 2 (an opus). He's responsible for the most successful music filler in movies I think I've ever seen. So this should be good. As you can see, there's a lot of lack of experience, as well as a sense of lack of inspiration for anything creative. We shall see if I'm wrong about this.

What are these problems indicative of?: Well now here is where analysis comes in. It may look like I'm mainly complaining that this movie won't be quality. Quality is not necessarily necessary in order to have a hit. I'm assuming that at the end of the day, Lionsgate wants a film franchise out of this. Okay so how does it get there? Well, it needs to make enough money and show that there's enough demand to make a sequel with a presumed higher budget and what not. How does it make it's money? It can make it in three possible avenues. One: It's actually 84% certified fresh quality. I think that's the minimum score it would need to generate enough buzz to get those reserved about seeing it to go see it (by the way, I understand this is a kids film and is targeted to like the 10-15 age demographic, so those are the ones who need to be pleased but come on, it'll need more than that to recoup). Two: It's well made for its demographic. This demographic being preteens and teens as well as action junkies? Transformers does this well, as well as the Divergent series (Until the end there yikes). Both not considered particular well made films, but within the fan groups and demographics they were hits. Three:  It kills it in China. And that's all relation in proportion to it's domestic reception. The bigger a bomb this movie is, the more ground it has to make up in the Chinese market. Looking back at the problems I really only think it can maybe be salvaged by avenue three. It isn't shaping to be a quality film, and it's not looking to be very inspired either to draw in fans of the series or new comers looking to have a new favorite thing.

Okay, wow that was pretty pent up. A lot of that was mostly stream of consciousness and just a lot of thoughts I've had built up for months and even years now. There is a very clear and very exploitable problem in Hollywood right now. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a movie freak like me to even see it, yet it still here it is trying to pass off like nothing's happening. Just take a look at the slated roster for 2017 blockbusters. See anything that you've been really dying to see? And I mean dying like a true fan not, "oh I saw this a year or two ago, I eagerly await the next chapter!" No nothing (except Star Wars but refer to my earlier paragraph). Nothing inspiring or original, or just fun in movies right now. Everything is very much fan service because, unfortunately, fan service is what is selling right now. I however truly believe by 2020 the general population will have come to it's senses. Once the Avengers is done I think that spells the end. Like you can't go anywhere else after this next film. It's two parts but whatever. I know it's all over after that for the most part. At least for now. As for Star Wars, and other beloved franchises that are getting the Transformers treatment. Well unfortunately, I don't think Disney is looking to slow down, it's really not in their best interests and honestly, I don't blame them. But we're the ones who tells them what we want to see and what we don't. Speak with your wallets. Support movies you love and watch them in theaters, or buy them online or Blu Ray. This is a vent more than a call to action, but hopefully I was able to get a thorough message across. It will all really come together when this Power Rangers movie comes out for good in March. A lot of it is dependent on that. For now though, here's hoping 2017 isn't half as bad as the previous year that shall remain nameless. As well as having a couple more Moonlight level movies. Cuz yeah we could REALLY use some more of that. Anyways thanks for 1 year of blogs, may the joy of film flow through you and thank you for sitting through my very cranky rant :).

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Under the Music: How a Young Thug Music Video Perfectly Defines the Art Movement of Today

The Wyclef Jean music video by Young Thug is a postmodernist masterpiece. I know that sounds really stupid when I'm talking about someone like Young Thug. And I know it sounds stupid that I'm analyzing a 2017 Rap video for any bearing on the art movement that defines today. Believe me, these are words I never thought I would say. But trust me, I think these are really important thoughts to have, and I TRULY believe that this video perfectly defines what postmodernism is in 2017. So I am going to break down the music video bit by bit and say something about why each part plays a crucial role in this thesis. 

Let me start by providing some context. In order to understand what postmodernism art is, you need to understand what modernism is. (I'm gonna cite Wikipedia cuz that shit's credible now okay?) The Wikipedia definition of modernism is: a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Basically, because of the cynicism and Earth shattering emotions that the war brought, it encouraged people to think outside the box and start producing more experimental and unique forms of art and literature. Granted, they didn't know what the response would be. All of the work was genuine but experimental. When all this new art came out and it was well received by the public, people started thinking "hey, why don't we just ALWAYS break conventions?" This is where postmodernism comes in. The Wikipedia definition of postmodernism is: a late-20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematical relationship with any notion of “art.” A lot of people like to describe postmodernism by simply doing air quotations. I like to describe it as a constant self-awareness. People are now able to take art, analyze and commentate on it, and then reproduce it as art as itself. Some even believe we've ascended into a new form of art, a post-postmodernism if you will. I won't call it anything else yet as it is early, however. A popular movement in all of art right now is to be Meta. 21 Jump Street is an easy example of this. The whole movie operates on a complete self-aware basis. And that was really fresh and new to audiences when they first saw it. It's all about riding the waves of the present art movements. 

So that brings us back to Thug. Alright time to break down the video. Go ahead and give it a watch for yourself.

You can probably already see where I'm going with this. But I'd like to break it down into eighteen different moments and talk about why each of them are important and brilliant. I know it may seem a little long and convoluted (I'm gonna use the words "self-aware" a lot), but bear with me, as I learned a lot about not only the video, but what makes us as a society gravitate towards videos and content like this in general.

1. The director of the video introduces himself, is talking to us ONLY through text cuts: Even though the director isn't lying or falsifying information by telling us who he is, he is establishing himself as a character inadvertently. By having his identity be true, we suspend any sort of disconnect between this being fiction and fact.

2. He's doing everything very "literally": Everything he's doing in the video is fairly literal for the most part. We see this by starting up the video and having him click the MP3 file of the song along with a .png text of the video title with that tile background. This adds the illusion that the video was sort of hastily thrown together with minimal content to work with, a bit of a passive aggressive tone to express frustration, and of course for that self-aware statement.

3. He visually follows the instructions Thug lays out in separate prerecorded audio:  This is just a great story telling technique that keeps the eyes and the mind very engaged. He's following Thug's stupid requests and as Thug "stream of consciousness-s" his idea for the video, this video we're watching matches it exactly. EXCEPT for Thug showing up. This is to show that the director is still a professional who does exactly what he's told because he was hired, and that helps highlight the fact that Thug was not there to do his job.

4. Young Thug didn't show, so they had to improvise: this is the fulcrum of this entire video. If Young Thug had shown up on time, this video that we're currently watching wouldn't exist. It was a beautiful mistake. I'll elaborate more on this at the end of the article. 

5. Director puts in footage Thug sent in much later with a smaller aspect ratio; roasts thug: Some more shade from the director, as the small aspect ratio with relation to the regular video shows disrespect and expresses frustration. The jokes are the cherry on top. It's reinforcing us to side with the director, but also puts us in a subtle position not to hate on Thug as much because the director is doing it for us.

6. Director then explains where the video falls apart: This is where the videos main concept begins to set in motion. This is the storyline we're meant to follow. How it's told though made a huge difference.

7. " Juxtaposition" in that amazing font: Another bit of self-aware, sarcastic humor, as the director is playing a recording of some more of Thug's requests for the video. Without words we can tell that the director is condescendingly mocking Thug for using a word which people use so often now a days to make their videos look and more artistic. Obviously this video did not call for any sort of Juxtaposition.

8. "It even feels like a real video": The director uses misdirection to help immerse us in the mindset that this went so wrong and everything was awry. But the thing is, this is a real video, and for all intensive purposes, this is what was supposed to happen based on the concept of the video. 

9. Director points out that bat props are fake: This is done to highlight more mistakes and issues that went along with the video. Not only does it tie up anything that would seem off or wrong about the video, but it further pushes the narrative that so much went wrong and was off about this entire shoot. This was very deliberate.

10. Director points out the magic of editing: This is a way for the director to point out a very underappreciated job. In this day and age of postmodernism, jobs in movies and music that are normally neglected and not talked about are beginning to become more revered and appreciated. In turn, people begin to develop new appreciation for the medium. 

11. Director points out cops and tells us to remember them because they'll be back: The director is in control of the story, and it's highlighted with him telling us what to do in respect to said story. By us fixating on the fact that the cops will be back, we start to wonder and make up our own scenarios in our head about what will happen. The end result is pretty insignificant, but having us remember the policeman is important.

12. Points out how he'd fix red bathing suit in post (production), does a half-assed job: Again, this is a way for the director to convey his frustration and passive aggression towards Thug without using a single word. An eye-for-an eye-type move on his end.

13. Talks about how Thug wants to keep it cleaner for impressionable kids, then perfectly points out explicit lyrics in real time:  This is just one of my favorite parts of the whole video. The timing on this had to be perfect and we as a viewer have no idea its coming because the song is playing the whole time in the background, but we're more focused on the story. In this moment he pulls us out of the narrative and back onto the song, but only to point it out in such a negative light. God I love this video.

14. "Perhaps commenters will guess what it was": The director is now directly addressing us, and challenging us to interact and engage with the video. This isn't the first time someone has done this but its a real clever way to generate engagement on a video without directly asking for it. It also gives us a role in the video, making it even more intimate.

15. Director explains the rest of the story: This one is similar to point number 6, but we have callbacks from the beginning of the video, including those cops he was telling us about. Everything about the story sort of ties up here, now it's time to wrap up the video.

16. "Moral of the story: none of this matters": Okay so nihilism as a state of mind is kind of coming back into pop culture in a very angsty-why-does-my-life-suck-teenage way. He's playing into a very popular and up in coming mindset of today. I also believe this mindset plays into today's postmodernism because being self-aware has an element of "none of this matters" to it anyways. But the funny thing is, this does matter, because we're watching it. It also matters because he made it, even though he didn't have to. He clearly wanted to, but is playing it off as such a burden. Trust me director guy, it definitely matters.

17. "But you're still watching and the song ended so I guess it worked": See I told you it matters. He got everyone watching to sit through a song, while doing everything in his power and using all the tools his medium provides him to detract from the song and Thug's overall image. Selective attention at its best, this video worked on every level.

18. Director comments on the post credit logos: This is to fully keep up the image of him commentating on everything and being so "self-aware." Consistency and continuity. That's what the whole video and postmodernism is really all about. 

Phew, okay that was a lot I know, but hopefully you can now see from my point of view on the whole thing. And maybe you've even gained some insight about our present day art movement and what type of content is really working with us now a days. It plays into the internet and all the readily available information, the culture behind it (memes and things), as well as its overall attitude and ambiance. I think this was a true story in the video, and if so, I would like to draw a comparison to one of my favorite all time movies Jaws.  That movie was supposed to have the shark prominently filmed from all angles and perspectives. But the animatronic shark kept malfunctioning and director Steven Spielberg had to call some last minute audibles to make his movie work. He thought the best way to work around the issue was to film from the sharks POV for the majority of the movie. This was the best thing that could have happened for the film because it added mountains of suspense and tension. That was a beautiful mistake. This video is no different. What was originally supposed to be Thug's vision fell apart at the hands of Thug himself. The director had to make lemonade with some bad lemons. And boy did he find the perfect solution. I can't praise this video enough. What's even more amazing is no one is calling for Thug's head or brandishing him as a huge asshole. It's sort of implied, but I think it endearingly adds to Young Thug's charm. Props to his team for allowing the video to be released in it's present state because I really think it helped a lot with his image. For a video to rip on the artist that hard with some very valid reasoning only to help his overall image is nothing short of a masterwork in my opinion. And like I said before, it perfectly plays into our culture of not only living on the internet, but the hip hop culture as well. The genre is blowing up and taking over a lot of different lifestyles. And I think this video bridges the gap for some who were hesitant to hop aboard that train. 

So thank you for taking the time to read this very in depth analysis on a Young Thug music video. I learned a lot about the culture of today writing this, and I can only hope the same for you. Please fix and flesh this part Future Nick I trust you can close it out bang bang skeet skeet.

(That was postmodernism joke, just making sure we're on the same page).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Silence Review

Vocab Bank: 
Realista filmmaker whose style is characterized by the representation of people or things as they actually are
Formalist -  a filmmaker who is focused on the formal, or technical, elements of a film: i.e., the lighting, scoring, sound and set design, use of color, shot composition, and editing. 

Realist movies are probably my least favorite type of film. I'm not sure what it is about them, but I think they rely a little too much on the story and not enough on the medium that film provides them. In many cases, they're just straightforward documentations of characters going through an entire arc or linear storyline. It's why I think that biopics that have no formalist elements often times end up being bland and forgettable oscar bait (I'm looking at you Theory of Everything you loud piece of shit). It's also why I've said Martin Scorsese is a master of biopics. Every single one he's made has some formalist or artistic element that sets them apart from other films. Wolf of Wall Street made Wall Street colorful and interesting because of how fast-paced and disjointed the story was presented. Aviator changed its aesthetics as the film went on to highlight the passage of time whilst matching the filming styles of its respective time. Raging Bull, well, is Raging Bull. You get the point, Martin is really good at what he does. So when I found out that he was doing a film on Portuguese priests spreading their religion through feudal Japan, I was a little skeptical. When I found out it was going to be a predominantly realist film I got very, very skeptical. But I trust him and his ability to tell a good story. And in the end I can say, this is about as well as anyone can make a realist film. (note: there are formalist elements here such as narration and flashbacks, but are so few and spread out that it doesn't affect the overall style of the film).

Silence follows two Portuguese priests played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver who are tasked to set out to Japan to find their missing mentor who originally went there to convert Japanese peasants to Christianity. The priest, played by Liam Neeson, is now rumored to have apotheosized or denounced his own religion. From the moment they enter Japan, they find out it's a very brutal and unforgiving place where your religious preference could mean your life. So right off the bat, this is a very long and very arduous movie. The run time clocks in just under three hours, and it really feels like it. Initially, I found myself thinking that this movie really dragged towards the end and really should have wrapped up a lot sooner. But as I sat and thought about it, I think this was a very deliberate choice. We're supposed to suffer and struggle along with our main character. He's basically put on a trial that slowly breaks him down as a man and crushes everything he believes in. Any shots that hang for too long, or scenes that seem to be excessive are all purposeful to make us feel uncomfortable towards the situation. I kind of like that a lot, as there's no real other way to empathize with the characters other than to show their suffering as much as possible. The acting is pretty solid here, for the most part. Andrew Garfield is obviously the star here, but no one gave an extraordinary performance in my opinion. I think that had to do with the fact that the Portuguese priests were speaking in English, but everyone in the film was acknowledging it as Portuguese. Which I get it, it's a nice workaround to make it more realistic, but it is a little glaring that all other languages are spoken authentically.

One thing I really love here is actually the costume and set design. Everyone is wearing authentic period-accurate clothing, and none of it seemed like movie costumes. I really did feel like I was in ancient Japan because of how well it was shot, like this eerily spacious swamp island that is filled with people ready to kill at any moment. That sort of emersion is key when you as an audience member are asked to run this gauntlet with Andrew Garfield. There's also a deliberate restraint from music. This actually goes along with the theme and even the title of the film, Silence. Silence being what you hear when you pray to God when you're most desperate. What all these people are hearing right before they're killed by feudal lords. It's the ultimate test of faith. Do you think there's an omnipotent being listening? Does he think you're worth responding to? That's for you to decide, and that's the notion that's tested on these Christian priests. Camera work here is solid as well, but I have to say it's probably Scorses's least notable effort.

Something else I really loved was the portrayal of the Japanese people in the film. Those who wanted to be, or called themselves Christian were doing it for really interesting reasons. They were dedicating themselves to this religion because of what the white men were promising them this religion would offer. In that sense, it becomes less of a religion for them and more of a drug. They were searching for any sort of salvation, any validation to help them push through the difficulties they face in their everyday lives. They were loyal and determined, yes, but it was all in the pursuit of a salvation loosely promised to them. And the Japanese lords. They are touted to be these extremely dangerous and ruthless killers who will offer no mercy to those who chose to follow Christianity. And they are, but not really at the same time. They are brutal make no mistake about that. They kill senselessly and offer some of the most intense torture to their own people. But they only so inhumanely kill their own people to make an example out of them. When it comes to Andrew Garfield's character, all they want out of him is to renounce the religion. They knew that Japanese Christians would see him renounce it and follow by example. That's all they want, and they even tell him, "just apotheosize you don't have to really mean it." They don't want to hurt good people, they just have to do it to maintain their control. And as a result, they put him in a terrible position to break down everything he believes in.

So that's Silence, a movie that grows on me the longer I think about it. I'm not sure this is one I'll be watching many more times in the future, but I really appreciate it for what it is. This film is also riddled with details of motifs all throughout the story. Pay attention to the character of Kichichiro and what his motives represent about a disingenuous religious follower. Overall, I'm glad I saw this film and I think anyone interested in ancient Japan or religious persecution should definitely give this film a look lol. 8.5/10

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Under the Music: How Migos' Quavo Mastered the Ad-Lib

Rap music is at an all time cultural high. From the clothes we wear, to the icons we follow, to the songs on the top of the charts, all of it is owned by hip hop and rap these days. What started off as a small experiment in a Bronx party back in the 70s has evolved into a fully fleshed out way of living of its own. How the genre has grown from simple beats, to more creative flows, to a nice blend of high production and skillful lyricism (or "spitting") is such a fascinating evolution to observe. One of the more unique aspects of rap that has developed over the years is the "ad-lib. An ad-lib in rap is a word or sound uttered by the MC or producer that's sort of like a calling card. What's really unique about this is that it's uttered on the beat, so even though it's a jarring switch from the lyrics, it fits right in when it's heard (ex: Travis Scott's Straight Up!). From Rick Ross's belly grunt to Metro Boomin's iconic song identifier (He don't trust you), a lot of these ad-lib's have grown from fun identifiers, to full on brands. But there is one rapper in particular who I believe uses the ad-lib to it's fullest potential on any given song. See, Atlanta rapper Quavo, from the hip hop group Migos, has developed his ad-libs beyond being part of his brand. His ad-libs make up and are essential to his songs.

Now you might be thinking, well of course Quavo uses ad-libs, I hear them all the time. His aren't even the most iconic or most used by general hip-hop fans. That may be true on the exterior, but take a closer look to some of his music. If you listen closely, almost the entire song is filled with his voice, and any empty space he uses to breath or pause is supplemented by an ad-lib. I never noticed this until a friend of mine pointed it out, and it blew my mind. There was always something special about Quavo to me and I could never quite put my finger on it until now.

Now why is this important? Well first I'd like to link an awesome video by Vox on Kanye West and how his voice pushes the envelope on all of his music.

The key here is that the voice can be manipulated in ways to make it sound like the most unique and pleasing sounds that instruments couldn't normally produce. It adds texture, depth, and even a more personal connection with the song. Devil in a New Dress is my favorite example of this, the main "instrument" for the beat is a voice. Initially it's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is but there's just something about that beat that seems so different and piercing, and it what it really is is that voice (and that Mike Dean guitar solo hrnng). Now let's a look at typical "Atlanta Rap" song beat. 

As you can see (or hear), the beat is fairly bouncy and carries you throughout the songs, and the rap itself is sort of riding the beat like a surfer rides a wave. But you can also see how spacey and shallow the beat itself can be, and all the rapping can't cover that up. This is where Quavo's ad-libs come into play. Let's take a look at one of my favorite Quavo song's which actually isn't his, Oh My Dis Side by Travis Scott. Listen to the song first without too much in mind.

Okay so what did you hear? Well I'm sure you noticed a plethora of ad-libs sprinkled through out the song, just off of the fact that I'm telling you Quavo has mastered the ad-libs. But take a listen to the song a second time. And this time, actively seek out and count on your fingers how many times Quavo (bubblier voice) utters a sound or a word that isn't a verse. If you lost count don't worry, there are literally too many to keep on two pairs of hand let alone one. Quavo leaves absolutely zero space for voices in the song. Where Travis takes a breath on a verse and you expect to hear nothing, Quavo comes in and fills the void in the most satisfying way. It makes the song carry and flow more succinctly. And it adds energy and presence that wouldn't otherwise be there. This is profound too, because when the song switches up the beat half way, Quavo doesn't slow down and he also doesn't keep the same vibe. He matches and appropriates the exact feeling and sound that matches what Travis is rapping about. If he was doing it along the lines of the first half of the song, it wouldn't work. But Quavo analyzes the beat, and appropriately choses what to say and what not to say and when to say it all. Phenomenal! And finally when his full verse comes it at the end, the song really comes to a head. My favorite thing about this is weather he knows it or not, Quavo uses selective attention to disguise some of his "texture" ad-libs. There are the ad-libs that are a lot punchier and more memorable from the song, and it distracts you from the more subtle and understated ad libs that basically hide in plain sight. And that's why the song feels extra melodic and alive. How Quavo was able to basically hide his voice plainly is a song is nothing short of outstanding to me. What I want to highlight about all of this is that it takes a lot of developed music sense and theory to understand where to place these noises and how it should sound. Quavo really knows his stuff, and to write him off as an ATL mumble rapper who has nothing to say really isn't fair to the amount of attention to detail he gives to his music. A lot of rappers these days send their beats to artists they wanted featured on it, and the artist sends it back with their verse. In these cases, artists are never in the studio together for the same song. But here, you can tell Travis Scott and Quavo were in the studio the whole time together, and really spent a lot of time perfecting this song to be exactly what they wanted. It is my favorite Quavo feature ever, and to me best highlights his brilliance of pushing the envelope of the genre.

Now of you go into any Migos songs, you can see that they too are riddled with ad-libs. 
While I don't want to take away credit from the group as a whole, I believe Quavo is the one who stresses the importance of these ad-libs to the group for all their songs. It is his features that still carry them beyond the group. But this is the ad-lib used to its maximum potential. What was once seen as a silly one trick pony to some, has been taken, and realized as a genuine sonic tool. Quavo has really found something that can put him and his group ahead of the rest of the pack. Rap music as a whole is sort of at a spear head right now. So it will be interesting to see where this is all taken in 2017 and beyond. But the first place I'll be looking is the new Migos album which drops January 27th. Bad and Boujee is already number one in the world on the Billboard top 100, people are starting to recognize that there's something here. Rap can seem goofy and extra a lot of times, but all of it has been important on capturing and executing a vibe and emotion that all music is capable of at its purest form. It's understanding music theory a lot more, and it's understanding what we as an audience enjoy in a song. This ad-lib mastering is important, like the movie Jaws is important. What should have been a corny gimmick was taken and executed on the utmost professional level to become something that changes the game. And I'm so excited to see what music's follow up to the ad-lib is.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Moonlight Review

(please excuse changing fonts, this blog is glitchy) So turns out there's actually another pretty amazing movie out of 2016. Guess that's what I get for making impulsive blanket statements, but hey, social media!! Anyways, I had heard a lot of buzz behind this movie Moonlight right around the end of the summer, and how this was one of those for sure Best Picture nomination type films. I didn't know too much about it other than that it was a life anthology movie and that it had something to do with growing up in impoverish conditions. I also heard other little things like that it involved race and homosexuality, but I didn't read much more into it. I'm not sure why exactly it took me as long as it did to watch this film. Maybe it had to do with the year, or maybe I was just assuming it was an Oscar bait type film that would over compensate its message, but whatever it was I slept on this movie hard. And I really wish I hadn't.

Moonlight is the first full-length feature directed by newcomer Barry Jenkins and revolves around the life of the lost and confused Chiron, a boy who lives in very poor conditions with his crack addict single mother in an underdeveloped area of South Florida. The movie follows him throughout his life in 3 separate acts, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. That's about all I can really say without giving too much away. This is one of those "the less you know the better" kind of films. And that's not because it's so narrative driven, actually it's opposites. The narrative itself is pretty light, and sparse between the events. That may sound like a fault, but the direct storyline isn't the heavy hitter of the film here. It's all the subtext and the details myyyyy faaavvvorrriteeeeee :-}.  So the less of an idea you have of the story, the better I think you will have at forming your own thoughts and conclusions about this. I'll say the things I like about it that don't involve spoilers in the next paragraph, but other than that, expect spoilers throughout the rest of the review.

So the acting here is pretty flawless. I don't know if anyone really stands out as being better than their counterpart because everything here was just sort of executed perfectly. All actors who play Chiron during their respective ages do a fantastic part of making sure the mannerisms and essence of the character are carried on and honored with each new age. They then also bring something new to the table each time, as Chiron is growing up and still developing. Everything about him makes sense and the character is very consistent throughout the film. Small nuance, but I don't think it would have been as amazing without it. The supporting cast are no slouches either, as each character delivers an incredibly raw and genuine performance at any given time. Special shout out to Janelle Monae who is mainly known for her musical career; she really held her own with the rest of these stellar actors. Next, there's the lighting and camera work. I'll get into a little more detail as they involve spoilers but what I can say is they too are flawless. I don't think I've seen a cleaner shot movie in terms of it' lighting vs. camera work, it was unreal. I could tell an insane amount of effort went into framing each and every shot. None of it was filler. And finally, the pacing is pretty great too. No one section outlasts the other. I commended My Golden Days for having staggered pacing when it came to the different ages because I believed it actively represented how we remember periods of our life, but here, having the equal amount of time in each period better represented the theme of the movie, and I was actually glad they felt balanced. Alright, that's about all I can say without spoilers so go see this movie now if any of this sounds remotely interesting to you. I promise this will get a best picture nomination so if anything it'll knock it off your list!

[SPOILERS] Man okay where to start. I guess with the main overall theme. So this movie was all about identity. But it's not necessarily about like the unique quirks of an interesting person. It's more along the lines of identity in every sense of an identity (what?). This involves environmental identity, sexual identity, aesthetic identity, what-kind-of-person-you-want-to-be identity. This is such a powerful theme because I don't think it's been explored at the depth that this movie takes it. And in a world where you have the least amount of restrictions in human history with regards to how you want to identify yourself, I think this could not have come out at a more relevant time. It shows how you are shaped by the people around you, how your home plays into your social, how your heroes impact your life years and years later, and how one little moment can stay with you and possess you for far longer than it should have. These are all ideas discussed and tackled in the film. And the way it's shot and presented accentuates all of that as much as it possibly can. First of all the film is shot using a lot of centered close-ups on characters, especially Chiron. Not only is this a super intimate type of shot, but it also of exposes the character as a whole. That is who they are on the exterior; they can't hide it from who they interact with, or us as the audience. There are also a whole lot of shots that follow Chiron from behind, centered similarly, only we just see the back of his head. That to me said that we don't know who he is yet fully, and maybe he doesn't yet either. And that leaves us a bit dejected from him even though it's literally the exact opposite of the first shot I described. Beyond the characters, everything was framed so beautifully. This one gives La La Land a little run for its money, as all the good shots in that film are basically a minimum type of shot for Moonlight. Like everything is perfectly centered and symmetric.  It's so visually pleasing you can't take your eyes off it. 

Then there was the lighting. My god I don't even know. It could have been the lenses, it could have been masterfully set up lights, it could have been some post production. Whatever they did was 10/10. Lighting is so important and often overlooked in films. As I always bring up, good lighting, in for example something like a noir, is part of the story, it plays into the theme. Well similarly here the lighting goes straight into the theme. One of the characters at the beginning was telling Chiron that back when he lived in Cuba people there would call him Blue because when the moonlight shined off him it would make him look blue. When Chiron asked him if that's who he was he replied, "I was who ever I wanted to be" (I'm paraphrasing). Well wouldn't you now it there are a lot of blue things in this film. The color palate has a big emphasis on blue. There are props and blatant outfits that are blue. But the lighting. The lighting that is often on Chiron makes him look blue in the exact moments the film intends him to be. This to me means two things. One: the people he's interacting with see him as something he's not. He's either putting up a facade (more so when his clothes are actually blue), or people don't truly understand him or his situation. My best example of this is that all three sections of the movie are titled a name that was given to him by someone else. Two: the moments when he is blue are the moments he is most struggling with his identity. See, blue with respect to Chiron comes from the ocean in the film, and the ocean is seen as his safe space. All three sections in the film lead back to that ocean in some way. He wanted to emulate and project the feelings and emotions he felt there into his own identity. And to me that's super profound. It makes you think about your own identity and what makes you truly you. What things from your life do you carry and try and replicate from a day-to-day basis? How do you find your ocean, and how do you make that your identity? Throughout the film you find out that it kind of finds you one way or another. 

The last thing I wanted to talk about was what the film exceeded my expectations in. I stupidly thought this movie was going to get bogged down by over compensating its message on poverty and sexuality. Not that there's anything wrong with it or that I find a ton of issue with that, but to me, emersion in a film is the most important thing and when a movie goes too hard on it's message sometimes it can bring you out of it (I know, what a fucking complaint Nick). BUT this movie does what I wish every movie did. Say it with me: Show, Don't Tell. Never at any point in the movie did a character say “life's so hard here,” or the hood is so rough, or “we gotta get out of here.” We see it ourselves. We don't need the movie to tell us that life in impoverish areas are hard, we see how hard it is! And in a very organic and genuine way might I say. When it came to Chiron’s struggle with his sexuality, we could see him struggling it over his in thoughts. His actions help you understand his mindset a little bit better every time. But he never says, "I'm gay" or asks for help on exploring his thoughts (other than that half second question). He literally has to handle it on his own and it's like we're trapped in his mind with him. When he has his sexual moments, the camera holds long shots on him in action. It forces us to look and observe his actions. This helps break the ice and truly put us in the shoes of this person and in a possibly unfamiliar situation. I can't commend this film enough on those decisions, because without it I wouldn't have nearly praised this film as much nor written all of these words about it. [END SPOILERS]

So that’s Moonlight, a movie that I believe has truly met the appropriate critical reception it's received. I certainly am not the only one who feels this way about the movie. Films like these are really truly why I write these posts. They're exciting, satisfying, and inspiring. I didn't even get to talk about all the side characters and how they all play into Chiron’s theme and motif of the film. Perhaps you've already noticed them! Now, is this a better movie than La La Land? Hard to say, as they are two different films which both executed flawlessly their subject matter. I think I would have to say that Moonlight is a more technically (as in the techniques used) flawless film, but it's not my favorite over LLL due to a less "weighty" story. That shouldn't mean too much though as both these movies are arguably interchangeable with me. Go see this movie please, films like this need more than critical support. Do yourself a favor and don't wait until it's on TV in a year or two, go see it in theatres, it really deserves it. 9.5/10