31/01/2017

Manchester By The Sea - Dramatic Purpose

Thoughts On: Manchester By The Sea

A reclused handyman's brother dies, leaving him to be the carer of his 16-year-old nephew.


I don't know if I'm growing more cynical and cold recently, but, like Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea was just an all right film to me. There was no great, profound revelation captured by this film, no deep dramatic truth, no flawing emotional power, just a few good characters, a bunch of great acting, good direction, cinematography and... yeah. An ok film. Well made, well acted, but in the end, Manchester By The Sea was pretty flat. I am happy to accept that many won't feel this way, but, there are two main elements of this film that made this so for me. Firstly, the nephew. I know he's supposed to be a dick, and how he is played and written certainly does well to project this, but, I found him insufferable nonetheless - which really cheapened the narrative arc. He does change, ever so slightly, by the end, but, his character arc and how it worked its way into the narrative was just far too contrived for me. It was a bad attempt at projecting a torn, yet bottle-up, teen in my view. On a brighter note, I really like the last shot, however.

**SPOILERS**

This is because the final scene truly established this film as one about a rather (to appeal to stereotype) masculine inner conflict. And under this thematic guise, Manchester By The Sea is pretty well written. When we then see Lee and his nephew walk away together, playing with the ball, there is a great sense of controlled catharsis. Before discussing this further though, we have to talk about the film's dramatic core - the fire that killed Lee's children. This is the second element of this film that let it fall flat. I saw, from the very beginning, that this was supposed to be a tear-jerker with great acting that's running after awards. The subdued tone of the film made me think that it had something of depth to say/show though. This gave me hope for an original or nuanced tragedy. Kids dying in a fire is just... yeah, whatever. (Maybe I am growing far too cold and cynical). The reason why this was just... eh... for me was that kids dying is such an easy slot-in for dramas. I think there was a level of power with the theme of responsibility injected into this, but, it didn't contribute much to the over arching narrative. To clarify, we'll use two examples of films with great drama. The first is The Hunt and the second is the recent Arrival - I will be using spoilers to discuss both of them.

  

Starting with Arrival, the crux of this film, like Manchester By The Sea, is essentially the fact that Louise Banks' child will die. She gets this premonition from the aliens that land, but decides to have a kid nonetheless; to take life as it comes and enjoy the best it has to offer in spite of all of its bittersweetness. This elevates the cliched dramatic device of a child dying as it's intertwined into the film's message. Arrival is all about communication and societal relationships in face of fear and dread. With Louise pursuing family despite impending tragedy, the film makes a succinct commentary on an emotional growth of acceptance that society would greatly benefit from. There is no strength like this in Manchester By The Sea. The death of Lee's kids is just a way to kick-start a character arc of redemption - something explored in a plethora of films. A few examples where we see better character arcs of redemption are certainly Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Besson's Leon: The Professional.

In comparing Manchester By The Sea to a film like The Hunt, we have a juxtaposition between a film with astounding dramatic power and one that, for me, doesn't. The crux of The Hunt's emotional impact lies in its final image. This is a film about a man wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child in the nursery he works in. The town take this allegation (made by the girl herself) as truth and turns on Lucas (her teacher; the protagonist). This isn't done just for entertainment's value; for the film to be a tear-jerker or slightly frustrating road towards catharsis. The reason for the drama in The Hunt is all to make a commentary on trust, family, community and self-sovereignty. The final image of The Hunt ensures that this resonates. After the town learn the truth that Lucas never touched the child and that she lied out of shame, anger and embarrassment, they forgive Lucas and allow him back into their community. Things then seem to be fine - a happy ending. However, during a hunting trip on his son's birthday, Lucas is shot at (not hit) by an unknown figure. This demonstrates that there is still a stain that marks both Lucas and the town - a distrust that will never wear away. This punches you in the gut like De Sica's Bicycle Thieves or Loach's Cathy Come Home and shows you what great drama can do. As said, we don't see this in Manchester By The Sea. The most powerful scene is the penultimate one in which Lee meets his deceased children's mother, Randi. However, I didn't expect that this would be the peak of the film's dramatic crescendo. A strong scene, but definitely not a show stopper. This really took me out of the movie as I began asking myself with disappointment, "was that it?". Moreover, the final image also has very little power, it just says that Lee and Patrick will continue to develop their relationship and maybe get to a place like that shown in the early scenes with them on the boat.

What both Arrival and The Hunt demonstrate about Manchester By The Sea is the purposelessness--to be nicer, the lack of impact and emotionally resonant commentary, of its drama. So, despite this being an incredibly well made film, Manchester By The Sea didn't personally resonate with me and fell rather flat for justifiable reasons I hope don't just leave me seeming cold and cynical. So, when we come back to the final shot of the film, Lee and Patrick playing with the ball, I was left without much thought nor emotional movement. As mentioned, I liked it for the fact that it sealed this film as a subdued drama about men who refuse to outwardly emote. But, beyond saying this, Manchester By The Sea came off as just things happening without much of a point.

**SPOILERS OVER**

The take away from this film is then a lesson in building drama with purpose. Manchester By The Sea was far too subdued and uneventful, in my view, to make a succinct commentary or emotional point. This doesn't just leave the film as one that fails to appeal to the slightly pretentious cinephile that looks for theme, commentary, message, such and so on. The reason why having a clear point to your drama is often imperative is that a point or commentary can be an emotionally resonant and so supply the tears you may be jerking for (that sounds nasty, sorry) in a concrete, succinct and self-justifying manner. Ultimately, with purpose, drama becomes undeniably powerful in my opinion.

But, that's just my thoughts. Do you think I'm missing something? Is there commentary and a more profound point to be found in Manchester By The Sea?






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28/01/2017

A Matter Of Life And Death - Lost Fantasy

Thoughts On: A Matter Of Life And Death

A British WWII fighter pilot narrowly escapes death when jumping from his plane without a parachute and has to keep it at bay to stay with his new-found love.


A Matter Of Life And Death (also known as Stairway To Heaven) is certainly one of those films that just couldn't be made today. From the unabashedly romantic story line, concept, themes and performances to the sparkling, sometimes surreal, fantasy. A Matter Of Life And Death is a staple of 1940s British cinema - fantasy as a whole even. And it's looking back on this Powell-Pressburger picture that you're easily hit with a question of why this kind of film has gone away. What I mean to ask by this is, where has this kind of fantasy gone? Save animated features and huge blockbuster trilogies or series (The Lord Of The Rings, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The MCU, The DCEU, The Harry Potter Series...) fantasy films have not made it well into the 21st century. When we think of fantasy from the last couple of decades, we usually come to science fiction - everything from Arrival to Avatar, The Martian, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Star Wars. There is not a healthy amount of good fantasy films being produced by the modern market. When we look back to the 80s and beyond, we see films like Ghostbusters, Labyrinth, Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride, Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Jason And The Argonauts, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Sinbad, Harvey, The Thief Of Baghdad, It's A Wonderful Life, The Wizard Of Oz... I could go on and on and on. These are all films we can't imagine being made today without being rip-off sequels or remakes. In such, it's clear that we have lost things such as The Wizard Of and A Matter Of Life And Death to Captain America and Batman. Whilst I don't think either of the newer films mentioned are bad, I certainly think there is an over-saturation of them that has massively changed how we perceive fantasy - and this is what I want to talk about today.

Being a science fiction writer, I obviously love many things around and about the likes of Nolan's Batman films as well as the likes of Inception, Interstellar, Iron Man, Avengers, Spider Man and The Martian. Moreover, I think these are important films that draw from and project fantasy into the real world. However, when we look to The Martian, Interstellar or Gravity, we see films that are judged almost purely on their realism. Though it is harmlessly entertaining, it's someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson that will tear these movies apart and set a president or expectation for realism in sci-fi/fantasy. Though he has said many times that he does not object to fantasy if it has a fundamental basis in scientific truth (the embellished wave scene on the water planet in Interstellar for example), the perception around sci-fi/fantasy films is often one that demands realism. This is what we see in features such as The Martian and The Dark Knight. With The Martian, we saw a particular focus on getting everything as real as possible. And with all superhero films after The Dark Knight, everything has to be gritty and believable. I've said it once, I've said it a thousands times, but, when this philosophy of realism is injected into so many sci-fi/fantasies, you begin to truly miss their point, conventions and purpose. Though a film like The Martian is a great example of realist sci-fi survival, its approach to the genre needn't be thrust upon everything from Captain America to Batman V Superman. This is because the films are often left constantly explaining things and/or suppressing themselves needlessly - hence missing the reason why we go to see a film called Batman V Superman (p.s it's to see impossible nonsense in a realm of compelling characters).

My overarching point here is then that realism has diluted modern sci-fi and almost completely alienated the fantasy film. We can see the extent to this when looking back to the 30s, 40s and 50s - to films like The Wizard of Oz, A Matter Of Life or even Forbidden Planet. Taking A Matter Of Life And Death as our focus, we see in this kind of cinema an openness to belief. With A Matter Of Life And Death, this is represented in a belief in an afterlife. In accepting this idea, which arguably has no basis in reality, an audience can sink into the romance, the spectacle and utter ingenious of this film. Belief is so important in cinema as it is its driving mechanism. If an audience does not somewhat believe a narrative, if they are not sucked into the fantasy, made to see past the actors, set-design and frame, a film cannot exist. Many, many, many films fail because there is no fantasy, no magic and no belief from the audience. This is because most bad films have shit acting which forces us to see actors, not characters; terrible writing which makes obvious the clunky imaginings of a screenwriter sat naked in a dark room; horrible direction that reminds us that a bunch of morons have decided to come together and film adults playing make-believe. Recognising how important belief is to both audience and filmmakers, we see a crucial point of judgement of all cinema. To reiterate, we need believable narratives, characters, direction, acting and writing. However, when we look to modern audiences who can't wait to see the CinemaSins video on the film they just watched or hear Neil DeGrasse Tyson tear a film down with science, we see a narrowing field of believably. Before we go ahead, this isn't an entirely bad thing. We need things such as CinemaSins to be so prominent in the realm of cinema and film just like we need critics and theorist. It is the art or craft of the cinema-sinner, critic or theorist to process complex and dense pieces of art and articulate their essence, what they did wrong, what they did right, what could be changed, what they teach... and so on. For this reason, CinemaSins (as a metaphorical archetype) has always been important in cinema--in all art.

However, there is certainly a frivolity and arbitrariness in a lot of film criticism. In such, we often either see a herd of sheep saying the same shit or individuals trying to spit the most witty or vicious thing about a film. This detracts from the purpose of film criticism as the spotlight is taken away from the film and put onto the witty article, the obnoxious, impossible-to-impress asshole or comedic video. With the internet and a million other schmucks like me writing, talking about and making videos on films, there has been a huge uprising in film criticism. This has effected cinema in many ways - some good, some bad. One of the negative effects of this huge pool of criticism seems to be an audience's capacity to believe in film. This is what I mean to reference when saying a film like A Matter Of Life And Death could not be made nowadays. Many seem to want realism, grittiness, action and gloom and so shy away from unconventional fantasy films like Swiss Army Man, anything by Lanthimos or even a musical like La La Land. I believe paradigm this is all the more prominent to those who delve into films of the past. It's when you look at the classical horror flicks, the screwball comedies, the melodramas, fantasies, musicals and romances of the 30s, 40s and 50s that you can gain perspective on the likes of Paranormal Activity, Ted, Star Wars: Force Awakens, Captain America: Civil War and Batman V Superman. You see an across-the-board move away from the old Hollywood magic - which isn't entirely bad, but, as mentioned, not entirely great. All of this comes down to our capacity to believe. Whilst it's great, horrifying, exciting, unbelievable, intriguing and outraging-inducing (all at the same time) that we live in a time where anyone with a phone, including kids/teens, can easily, easily, watch people screw, see people beaten up and killed, learn about quantum mechanics, talk to people on the other side of the planet, gain access to literally any kind of information... whilst these things are profoundly intriguing and scary, there has undeniably been a huge decline in innocence and naivety (again, not entirely good, not entirely bad). This seems to be why, after we have moved into the digital age, that fantasy has gone out of the window - people assume its outdated or just for young kids. As said, it's around the 90s, after films like Groundhog Day, Edward Scissor Hands and Forrest Gump, that we saw films like Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner take over the market in the form of films like The Matrix, more Star Wars stuff and superhero movies. It's at this point that the fantasy in sci-fi/fantasy began to wane. No longer would we really get films like E.T, The Day The Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. These are all films that are science fiction in the same capacity as Méliès' A Trip To The Moon.

Georges Méliès is one of my all-time-favourite filmmakers and is, in my opinion, one of the most important directors ever. Whilst he is heralded as the magician of the early silent pictures who seriously advanced editing and introduced incredible special effects, he was also the greatest proponent of sci-fi/fantasy cinema. When you look to pictures such as The Impossible Voyage, The Kingdom Of The Fairies and A Trip To The Moon, you see films that kind of said "fuck it" to real life. This is a kind of Intro-Retro-Spective-Stupid-Genius, something we talked about with A Trip To The Moon. And in such, Méliès accepted that he didn't know the future, that he didn't know much about the true nature of the universe, but wanted to make films to capture the imagination nonetheless. This is also what we see (to vary degrees) in films such as E.T, 2001 and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman; there just isn't an overriding need to project a true and believable story. Instead, Kubrick, Spielberg and Juran trust the audience to accept their film's premises assuring that they themselves provide high-quality (mainly in the cases of Kubrick and Spielberg) and immersive films. All of this comes back to movies such as The Dark Knight, Interstellar, The Martian and Gravity. These films, nor their directors, really demonstrate a trust in their audience to accept a great sci-fi/fantasy--provided that it is made well. As opposed to this, they spoon-feed grounded sci-fi, often in the form of a tight, somewhat safe, derivative or formulaic, script.

So, what sci-fi across the ages reflects is a change in the audience of the digital age. But, just as the digital age gave rise to Flat-Earthers and a plethora of other ridiculous conspiracy theorists, the digital age and how it effects societies seems to have also given us Batman V Superman. This is why I think that films by the likes of Georges Méliès and their philosophy on fantasy needs to be looked at again. Moreover, and coming back to the crux of the essay, films like A Matter Of Life And Death need to be looked at now more than ever. If we want the next Wizard Of Oz, It's A Wonderful Life, Jason And The Argonauts, Star Wars or Ghostbusters, that isn't a crappy remake or mediocre blockbuster, we then have to understand what makes them work.

Diving into this, we'll take A Matter Of Life And Death as a case study. As said, the crux of cinema, especially fantasy films, is belief. The essential element that you must believe in, or suspend your belief for, in A Matter Of Life And Death is the concept of the afterlife. If you trust in this idea for 105 minutes, even if you don't in your everyday life, this is a spellbinding narrative with a myriad of ingenious details. The suspension of space and time, the debate on death, on responsibility, love, countries and international relationships are all facilitated by the concept of the afterlife. And it's all of these details that allow this film to be great, to be such a poignant commentary on social interactions - both on a large and small scale. As I've said many times over, this is the kind of thing afforded to you with sci-fi. You can take huge concepts or philosophical questions on reality, dreams, relationships, life, death and our existence and make a film about them. The truth about sci-fi, however, and why it is a genre we are continually returning to in an essay on fantasy, is that sci-fi is fantasy. We can understand this by accepting that fantasies are built around accepting and believing in one thing. For A Matter Of Life And Death this is the afterlife, for It's A Wonderful Life this is angels, for The Wizard Of Oz this is witches, wizards and munchkins, for Jason And The Argonauts this is Greek mythology. The only difference between sci-fi and fantasy films in this respect is that you have to believe in science and suspend your belief for how a screenwriter interprets it. So, just as films like Clash Of The Titans or The Ten Commandments may be centralised on myth, legends, folk tales or religious teachings, so is Blade Runner and 2001 based on science.

This is such an important idea to recognise as it gives us the key to reassessing and reigniting fantasy today. Before getting on this, a brief side-note, sci-fi is in a category of its own that is distinguished from fantasy because of the way sci-fi narratives are/should be justified. Science fiction is fantasy, but made objectively believable or acceptable. In such, it has to explain its assumptions or concepts - like we see throughout Inception. In doing this, sci-fi writers have the opportunity to delve into another realm of fantasy through which philosophy and huge ideas may be discussed in a more comprehensive manner. This is what we briefly talked about with Ghost and will be picking up on in a moment. Returning to bringing fantasy back into the cinema, however, when we look to A Matter Of Life And Death, the concept of an afterlife has been used to project a thematic story with a powerful commentary. A Matter Of Life And Death then demonstrates how to create great fantasy. All you need is one thing, that isn't scientific, that your audience can suspend their belief over to create original and highly versatile narratives. So, instead of using the afterlife to make a commentary on society, you may use religious teachings, mythology, history, legends, folk tales, magic, psychoanalysis, astrology - anything that isn't a strict science but has a strong world of ideas around it. Great examples of this are Monty Python's Life Of Brian, The Holy Grail or The Meaning Of Life. These films take a handful of fantastical modes, like legend, religion and history and put a twist on them to make great movies that say a lot through satire and irony. You can take anything, anything, anything, that isn't scientific to create fantasy. Thus, especially when it takes sci-fi under its wing, fantasy is the most dexterous and diverse genre of all - one that taps into the crux of cinema: belief. The only thing to remember here is that fantasy should be intertwined with character, theme and subtext. In doing this, narratives become all the more complex, enjoyable and powerful - maybe great.

Getting great fantasy back into the cinema is so simple - this doesn't mean that it's an easy task, but it's a simple one nonetheless. To get great fantasy back into the cinema, we only need to reassess the pop-realism that has permeated it to poisonous depths, take chances and create original, outlandish content. Creating this content is not impossible. The 'formula' is an obvious one. You take a concept, a huge one with major depth, that holds a world in its breadth and you use it to make a point. Your fantastical concept will build the world and construct many elements of your narrative. Imbuing these elements with character, subtext and meaning is how you make a great movie, is how you make the next Wizard Of Oz, It's A Wonderful Life, Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, Life Of Brian, Bill And Ted, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Labyrinth... A Matter Of Life And Death. And I believe this is all very possible. We only need to look to Swiss Army Man as a recent example of great, though obscure and borderline surreal, fantasy.

So, through A Matter Of Life And Death, we see a perfect springboard from the 40s to present day, one that will initially have us languish the fact that this is the kind of film you can't make nowadays, but should hopefully lead us to question why? And, in doing this, as we have done, I believe it is easy to find inspiration to inject new life and energy into cinema, to aid the evolution of the art form and continue the production of great films.

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27/01/2017

Kes - Realist Cinema

Thoughts On: Kes

A hapless 15-year-old finds and trains a kestrel.


Loach's Kes is an absolutely astounding film and one of the best examples of realism in cinema. Realism takes many forms, from The Dark Knight to Jason Bourne to Trainspotting to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to The Idiots to Bicycle Thieves. With Nolan's The Dark Knight, we see an example of narrative realism; essentially, Nolan taking an absurd and fantastical concept, like a crime fighting bat-person-vigilante, and making it gritty and (somewhat) believable. We see a similar application of realism in the Bourne films. What Liman and Greengrass do to inject realism into their films, however, is not so much about story, but technical camera work and cinematography. We see this, famously, in the action fight scenes. When we move towards films such as Trainspotting and British kitchen-sink-dramas like Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, we see a realistic approach to character - something we'll return to with Kes. Moving on to films such as Bicycle Thieves, we see Italian Neorealism, a movement that much inspired British new wave films and in turn Kes. The kind of realism represented by the likes of Rome, Open City, Toni and Bicycle Thieves is primarily about setting and communities - not so much individuals, but a collective look at the every day person. On a last note, when we turn to Von Trier's The Idiots, Korine's Gummo or even Warhol's Blow Job, we see an extreme attempt to project realism through fundamentalism and crude cinematics.

So, all in all, there are a plethora of approaches to trying to capture a realist aesthetic or feel. You can then ultimately try to imbue verisimilitude, believability and authenticity through story, design and/or character. With Kes, Loach proves himself to be a master of realist characterisation. This comes down to the manner in which the narrative flows from Billy Casper and eventually transcends him. And, in my opinion, this is the most powerful application of realism in film. Though I wasn't alive in the late 60s, never trained a bird or even had an older brother, Kes is a film that resonates so deeply with me. From the fact that he's a boy about to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood to that fact that there are a plethora of asshole teachers he has to put up with, there are many aspects of Billy's life, as captured by this film, that I can empathise with and almost imagine myself in. In such, every scene with the P.E teacher, Mr. Sugden, seems to be a perfect projection of real life in my view as I feel like I've had those lessons, been in those games where the 'teacher' is just one of the kids with a dream of being a professional footballer - but with a whistle around his neck who can scream and shout at you. It's all of these tiny, but personally resonant, details of Kes that I understand thoroughly and love the film for. And this is the power of realist films as niche cinema. Films such as Bicycle Thieves, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Cathy Come Home, Boyz In The Hood and Trainspotting have a vast appeal to many for their undeniable and instantly recognisable authenticity. But, for some, these films will be particularly resonant as they can be seen as films about ourselves - and not in an ambiguous, horoscope-esque manner you often see in bigger blockbusters (this is not a criticism, just a point of distinction). And this often comes down to the way realism is approached through character in films such as Kes.

With almost all of the films mentioned thus far (beyond the British dramas) the realism that is meant to be captured is not so much about perspective, but reality. I personally believe this can be a pretentious and rather pointless endeavour in film. As anyone who's ever seen a documentary could tell you, there is no such thing as reality on film. Everything is always distorted by the fact that a camera captures action, that scenes are somewhat planned, staged or are manipulated by a director, cinematographer or editor. So, when we come to the realist extremists, like Warhol and Von Trier with films like Sleep and The Idiots, we often get films that are pointless or stories that are destroyed by their projection - all because of an attempt to disregard cinema or be anti-cinematic for the sake of truth (whatever that means). When we look to more moderate and understanding attempts to capture reality, like in documentary, we see a measured practice that is not redundant or pointless because there is considered to be, as famously said by John Grierson, a 'creative treatment of actuality'. However, in attempting to capture perspective - truth in the eyes of a character, rather than truth in the eyes of a camera, director or location - I find that certain realist films can be so much more poignant than all others. When we look to Kes, it is easy to see why. Not only does Loach have us completely believe in and fall for Billy, but he creates a cinematic space that is not tethered to the 110 minute run time. This is done through the journey we see Billy take that is book-ended by ambiguity. With the opening of this film, we are never given a traditional exposition of a narrative goal - there is no John McClain having to get back together with his wife and then a bunch of terrorists showing up. In such, we never get a sense of what it is that Billy is working towards. Over the course of the film we come to realise that he isn't working towards anything at all, that he is drifting through his last few weeks in school, yearning for an escape and time to stop. This is something that I think relates to people universally. As Billy watches time drag him towards the start of the rest of his life (a job post-high school) he gathers this great apprehension. Billy doesn't want to work, doesn't want to be in an office, a mine, a factory or shop. Billy doesn't want to be in school either. Without these things, however, he is nothing, he earns no money and he dies.

This element of shame, anxiety, worry and money is probably the most crucial aspect of the greatest realist films. With themes of poverty projected through emotional and physical perceptual lenses, realist films dig into the core of the modern person's worries: surviving in society. This is what we see in Kes. Billy not having a job, but inevitably about to be cut loose from school, triggers the most primal fears in us as we recognise that this is the modern person's ultimate task in life (to stay afloat in society). It is then through the juxtaposition of Billy training his falcon and about to possibly face this social ruin that we see what is to be his true emotional test. Training his kestrel, Billy is almost lost of the 'real world'. As he watches his bird fly, as he develops a bond between himself and nature, the pressure of modern society, of having to grow up, get a job and earn money, falls away and almost becomes an alien concept. I think this delves into an almost ape-like core in us all. We are machines made to just exist as part of a bigger world, to pick fruit from tress, hunt animals and jack off when we have free time. There is a freedom in this natural grind that society has, of course, lost - but still tries to hold onto with more primal outlets like sports (football), outlets like picking on one another, befriending and supporting one another, engaging with nature and so on. These are often the moments in life people cherish most; the simple, the natural and the easy. It's the constructed elements of our society, like taxes, jobs, bosses and bills that are the most grating. Moreover, it is also the constructed elements of society, like supermarkets, television, the internet, irrigation and plumbing, that we so easily forget about and take for granted. What this all suggests is that there's a natural will in us that likes the difficult, but inherent, aspects of the world - things like engaging with nature and animals in the form of training a kestrel. This is the societal dichotomy that is the core conflict of Kes. We thus see the constructed elements of society looming over Billy with the more natural, easy and fun elements of life being a bittersweet and momentary reprieve. And it's these many details that ultimately speak to us on a personal level as well as suggest a realist feeling to Kes.

However, the true power of the film, as said, is the way that the design of the movie, as centralised and projected from Billy, is there to transcend itself. So, whilst the ambiguous opening and themes of the film give a realist undercurrent and commentary on the societal life of a modern-day person, the ending turns the spotlight onto us. Having his small reprieve, the little levity life affords him, taken away, Billy buries his murdered kestrel in the end of the film. The penultimate scene that precedes this, however, is his job interview. What this does is leave us with a tragic and open end that forces us to ask what happens next for Billy? This is where the film becomes transcendent. Its emotional impact is in our own reflection on the anxieties we all hold. So, by the film raising these notions and feelings of societal pressure and having to grow up, only to leave us with an open end we turn to ourselves for resolution, for catharsis, for answers to the question what next? This is the profound power and pain that comes with the closing shot of Kes. We are punched in the gut with our own anxieties and our own personal fears; Billy's conflicts and worries become ours. So, through empathy and a strong thematic grip on this film, Loach gives true, powerful realism to Kes by projecting an authentic perception of the world that we come to embody. In such, we are made to walk in the skin of Billy Casper.

I believe that this exact same power is held by the last shot of Cathy Come Home and that a very similar power is inherent to the final shot of Bicycle Thieves. However, the profundity of Bicycle Thieves' conclusion is not as personal as that in Kes. This is because we understand Antonio as an archetype, a figure that literally merges into a crowd. This leaves the power in the last shot to come with a gut-punch that opens our eyes to a wider paradigm of poverty. With Kes, however, we really have to turn in on ourselves to personally feel that punch. And because this is such a rarity, a film that can so dexterously manipulate perception, I find Kes to be a particularly special film. This is why Kes, to me, is the gold standard of cinematic realism and representative of the heights this form of cinema can reach.

I do concede, however, that realist films won't be universally recognised or received because of how personal they are designed to be. So, what are your thoughts on Kes? What are the most impactful and poignant examples of realism for you?






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Arrival - The Communicative Singularity

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A Matter Of Life And Death - Lost Fantasy

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24/01/2017

Arrival - The Communicative Singularity

Thoughts On: Arrival

12 extraterrestrial spacecrafts touch down on Earth.


Having now seen many of the major films of last year that I wanted to catch (though, not all), from Silence to La La Land to Captain Fantastic, Deadpool, Swiss Army Man, Moonlight, Zootopia, Everybody Wants Some to The Nice Guys... I can safely say that Arrival is probably the best film to come out of 2016. Moreover, this is, in my opinion, one of the best sci-fi films to ever be made. When we think of the best of sci-fi, we immediately come to one film and that is irrefutably 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some may disagree, may hear people say this and not understand why, and so I think it's best to ask why many people think this? Why is 2001 often hailed as the best sci-fi film of all time?

The answer comes down to the fact that we're asking about science fiction as a cinematic genre. The draw of science fiction for the both the filmmaker, writer, director, artist and audience is the fact that sci-fi can do what no other genre can. And that is introduce to an audience emotional and intellectual thought on the largest of philosophical and existential ideas. It is then through films such as Blade Runner that we're made to question when a human starts being a human. It is through 2001 that we are forced to question where we came from and where we're going. It is through The Matrix and Inception that we can question reality and our place in it. It's through Alien that we can question our place, and possibly inferiority on a biological level, in a grander scheme of things. It is through Terminator and Her that we can question our relationship with technology. It is through E.T that we can question what home is and what it is to be a friend to someone.

I could go on and on and on, but, the crux of my point here is that sci-fi has a conceptual capability to question and present ideas that all other genres do not. When we look to 2001: A Space Odyssey, we are seeing a film that asks the most profound and sprawling questions through the most intricate and awe-inspiring cinematics. It then reaches the pinnacle of science fiction for both its narrative and filmic design. Villeneuve's Arrival pushes towards these heights that are inhabited by the likes of Blade Runner, E.T, The Matrix, Terminator and 2001. Whilst it cannot be said with much confidence just where Arrival sits on this list (because it only came out a few months ago and needs to be subjected to many re-watches over the years) this is a clear contender for the upper echelon of science fiction greats. To explain why I think this, we'll quickly delve into Arrival's design and then narrative.

Starting with the way this film is constructed, Arrival is imbued with suspense and tension that not only has us drawn to Dr. Banks as a character, but engage with every facet of the narrative. Characterisation in this film is not perfect, however. But, this is not necessarily a fault in its design. To explain, there are many minor characters in this narrative that are needed to drive it forward - from soldiers to scientists to colonels to supervisors and so on. Many of these are archetypal caricatures. This is, arguably, weak characterisation. However, Villeneuve and Heisserer (screenwriter) have design the narrative to focus on Banks alone. To begin fleshing out every single minor character would cheapen the film vastly as it would accentuate the fact that there simply isn't time to get to know these people on the same level as Banks. This is something many of Nolan's film suffer from. Too many characters are given spotlight when there only needs to be one or two focuses on a film - a Batman, Joker or Cobb. By reducing many characters to archetypal agendas, such as representatives of various governments, minor characters are given a purpose whilst supporting the narrative - not just plot. Characters that only serve plot are grating as they explain stuff and force conflict just so the film can continue. There are a plethora of examples I could raise, but, sticking with Nolan we'll use Inception as an example.

Characters such as Ariadne, Arthur and Eams do nothing but help Cobb or ask him questions. There's hints of individual personage given to them with distinct behaviours that raise them above mere plot devices, but, they are primarily little more that words and actions that help the plot advance. In such, Ariadne, Arthur and Eams contribute primarily to plot, not to narrative. To clarify, plot is just things happening - it's going from this dream to that, to that. Narrative on the other hand is story, is the bigger picture of how the film makes us feel, what its message is, what the characters' goals are and what they represent. Through Cobb, we see that the crux of Inception is about questioning your place in reality. This is because Cobb doesn't know what is real and what is a dream on an emotional level - and that is what Maul's narrative purpose is. Not only does Maul develop Cobb's character as well as provide an emotional side of the film, but she exposes themes of unknowing, unacceptance and fear in Cobb. By overcoming her and seeing his kids again, we see the narrative point of Cobb, Maul and their children is to present the idea that accepting a shade of reality is more important than knowing a true reality. How do Eams, Ariadne and Arthur fit into this picture? The truth is, they don't really. They merely are there to explain things and make the plot function the way it does - with guns, explosions and a plethora of distractions. This suggests that Nolan could have re-written the script to cut these people out and still make the same narrative point - maybe in a more succinct and poignant manner. But, without delving into further speculation, this simply shows us why characters that merely serve plot aren't very palatable.

On the flip side, we come back to Arrival. The many minor characters do not just serve plot, but serve narrative like Maul does in Inception. The archetypal minor characters represent sides of humanity and so their joint character arc supports the thematic message of the film. But, we will dive into all of the details of this when we talk about Arrival's narrative. Before this, however, we'll round up talking about the film's design by saying that this is an astounding looking movie. Through direction and cinematography, an intimate and sometimes unbelievable story is put to screen. In such, the film achieves so many wow moments not just through spectacular wide shots, but by delving into characters in a cinematic fashion. This leaves each frame of this film of such precious importance and allows performances to provide maximum impact. Brought together with editing, the direction and cinematography craft a fluid and mesmerising narrative that takes time to unfold, but keeps us riveted constantly. So, all in all, Arrival is a terrific cinematic experience and a film easily watched. If you haven't seen it yet, certainly check it out. Coming to the narrative side of things, I must now warn of...

**SPOILERS**

The story of this film is simply about communication. With the question of Arrival's tagline, Why Are They Here?, comes the crux of the film. The aliens need humans to help them in 3000 years, this is why they come to Earth. But, for people help to the aliens, we must learn how to come together and advance as a species. The way to do this is simply scientific evolution. This is what the film makes a comment on when Ian suggest that science is the cornerstone of a society. However, he only asserts this after Louise suggests that it is language that is the essential element of human existence. The truth that is later revealed by the conflicts of the film is that communication and science have to be in a symbiotic relationship to truly function for a vast group of people. This is why each individual country can decipher and interact with the aliens, but will only be able to understand and use the given tools by coming together. This means that, if only the Americans or Chinese understood the heptapod language and didn't share this knowledge, war would probably ensue with one nation progressing past and attempting to leave behind another. This is why science and communication are shown to be an imperative couple; knowledge and the capacity to share that power is the means by which people may help the heptapods and one another.

This is the surface level commentary on the film. This idea propagates beyond humanity with the implication that, if humans helped the aliens, they would continue to help us form inter-species relationships. This could mean we are given the ability to transcend space and time physically - just as the aliens must have (considering they've reached Earth). This opens up the universe to us human beings. We can not only go to other planets, but engage with other life forms and come together to understand the universe. This could all result in knowledge and power being shared across galaxies to the extent that all life forms come to completely comprehend and maybe transcend reality.

However, the path to this ultimate omnipotence is not just a physical one, but an emotional one too. We come to understand this in the way that Louise, not just humanity as a whole, is effected by the arrival of the aliens. She is given the mental capacity to see into the future, to perceptually transcend space and time. This allows her to foresee her daughter's death. There is nothing she can do about this though as she only has a mental omnipotence. But, this is shown to be besides the point. The greatest gift that the aliens give Louise is the ability to appreciate the finite nature of life. She is given the emotional capacity to engage with life on an individual level. There is no egotistical yearning in her to learn the secrets of the universe for herself and become god-like. She only tries to enjoy her, ultimately mediocre and bittersweet, life to come. This means that she knows she will have a bad relationship with Ian, one that will dissolve with distrust, will certainly lose her daughter to disease, but nonetheless seeks out this life to come as that seems to be where she finds her purpose. The subtle commentary of this is something that juxtaposes with a remark made by Louise when talking about the aliens. She doesn't know if they are completely conscious and if they aren't just acting on instinct or impulse by arriving on Earth. This is a question that is never truly resolved beyond the suggestion that the aliens are just as, or slightly more, 'conscious' than/as humans. However, with the conclusion of the narrative, with Louise knowing her family's fate, she embraces her emotional instincts as an almost semi-conscious being. This suggests that humans will always have some amount of confines to their nature - that there will always be that emotional need for others.

To understand why this point is made we have to again ask why the heptapods come to Earth. They say they're going to need our help in 3000 years. What with? The only real answer we can infer is that we can't know. However, there are two speculative answers we can suggest. The first is that the heptapods believe that we can, with their technology and capabilities, be smarter than them in 3000 years. This means that we will help the aliens after evolving past them as a way to thank them for being our proverbial monolith. This is an inference I don't see much weight in, however, as, what is stopping the aliens themselves from evolving, what makes us so different? What then makes more sense is that the aliens need us for our resources. This means that they could possibly want to move into our planet, to have us become apart of their society. After all, we only get to know that there are 24 aliens left. Where did they come from? How many more are there? Maybe these aliens could be the last of their species. Maybe their numbers dwindle and they are reaching out to people as to develop a community across galaxies. Furthermore, it is possibly that both of these inferences could combine. Maybe the heptapod numbers are dwindling and the only way they can reestablish their species is with our help, with our resources, aid and knowledge. Or, maybe their species will be gone in 3000 years and they want their culture, society and universal impact to carry on through us.

Understanding that this may be the possible reason for the alien arrival, we can see the thematic point this narrative building. Just like people need others, just like Louise Banks needs her family-to-be, maybe there will come a time where species start needing others in an intellectual capacity. With the canary that is used throughout the film, we see that species already use each other to survive. Maybe the alien outreach is a mere extension of that. In such, we see that there is a universal unity or supportive network woven through all life. This is demonstrated by Arrival to make one of the most poignant commentaries on war, conflict and destruction that is catalysed by a lack of proper communication. By understanding ourselves and our place in space and time, humans may evolve to become omnipotent beings in equilibrium with the universe. And such seems to be the driving essence of all life; a movement towards a grand unity for the sake of the individual and self-proliferation.

**SPOILERS OVER**

Having delved into the formal and narrative achievements of Arrival, I think the importance and power of this film, especially as a work of science fiction, should be transparent. Arrival isn't 2001: A Space Odyssey as Villeneuve doesn't capture the level of scope or imagination Kubrick does, but it does sit in the same cinematic realm in my opinion. However, what are your thoughts?






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Silence - Subjectivity

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23/01/2017

Silence - Subjectivity

Quick Thoughts: Silence

Two Christian missionaries search through Japanese villages for their lost mentor whilst evading those who impose regimes outlawing Christianity.


Silence, being a Scorsese film, is a picture I daren't miss. And with Scorsese of course comes an assured level of quality. We see this in the composition, cinematography, editing and camera movement of Silence. On a technical level, this is an astounding picture, one that is an easy and compelling watch despite the slow burn and 150+ minute long run-time. There are two variables to this film that aren't so fine tuned, however. Firstly, the acting. Especially when it comes to the minor, supporting characters, there are many sketchy moments of performance that sully the tone of this rather serious story. The second element to this film that won't be considered and seen in a universally accepting way is certainly the narrative. This is a film that questions religion and faith from the perspective of an almost overwhelmingly self-assured Christian missionary. In such, the facade of this narrative is one that advocates Christian teachings and the importance of Christian faith. And when this comes to questioning this philosophy, there is a constant undertone of a lost debate. What I mean to suggest here is that despite any word of opposition put to Garfield's Rodrigues, there is a concrete tone to this movie that implies he is right, that his dogmas and convictions are truth. We see this in that way scenes are given arcs to support his final point, the way he is painted as a wronged hero of great moral strength and the general arc of the narrative - of which I won't spoil or go into major detail on.

This is so polarising because there is no true debate or questioning in this movie, not on faith, not on if any of the Christian priests are right, wrong or somewhere in between. In such, all debate raised seems contrived or is eventually reduced to mere conflict by the tone and end of this narrative. This doesn't mean that the film is wrong in advocating Christianity via following Rodrigues as a character. Much rather, this is a weakly structured film. This is because what Rodrigues actually believes is never truly conveyed through dialogue, debate, story or cinematic language. This is what makes his dogmatism so hard to swallow; he constantly says he is devout, that he has faith in the Christian God, and by proxy is somehow right, but never explains just what he believes. This often leaves his heroic actions as acts of humanity and moral conviction - thus something somewhat disconnected from his religious beliefs. But, what is worse, every 'challenge' Rodrigues faces in this film as he watches people suffer is left entirely unjustified because of his ambiguous belief system. This means that if you yourself are a devout Christian, you may see why Rodrigues may stand by and watch Christians be tortured instead of apostatise. However, in empathising with him, you are bringing yourself into the movie and not seeing Rodrigues as a character unto himself. This is a major weakness in a film that is essentially about a moral debate. To not state Rodrigues' side leaves all of his actions as rather selfish and unexplainable.

This is the part of the movie that really bothered me as there are great moments of debate in which Rodrigues and all he represents is questioned by his Japanese captors, but, without an in-depth exploration of Christianity as more than symbols and words, this is reduced to filler. Moreover, the lack of characterisation and strengthening of Rodrigues' position as a Christian throughout this film gives rise to a tone of critique that suggests that Scorsese means to condemn or object to the stance Christian missionaries took in this period of history because of how unjustified and nonsensical their actions are conveyed to be. But, with the constant return to a hero's or martyr's arc throughout the story, we are given the sense that there is an appraisal of Rodrigues and the Christian missionaries. All of this is very conflicting, leaving the film, under theocratic themes and debate, a confounding one at best, a weak one at worst.

What all of this suggests is that this will be a very subjective viewing experience for all going in - as is an inevitability when dealing with subjects such as religion. The only way I could then access this movie, as you may, is to look at this narrative as a fight between two groups or tribes. On one side we have the Japanese who oppose Christianity and want to stop its spreading, and on the other we have the Christian missionaries that want to see it flourish in Japan. With these groups comes rules, and if you want to be apart of the club, you have to abide by them. Looking at the film from this respect, in a Lanthimos-esque manner, really opens the story up and makes it accessible to me. In such, the movie becomes one not too different from, as hinted at, Dogtooth or The Lobster:

  

However, this merely contributed to my personal viewing of the film and is never really supported by the design of the narrative. In such, Scorsese probably didn't make a film to be seen like the film's mentioned. So, the point still stands that this is a film that will lead to a very subjective take-aways from all who watch it. Whilst the technical sides of this film cannot be questioned, the narrative reading is going to differ so much between people. This means I can only leave you with my thoughts after asking you: what do you think, how do you feel about Silence?

Before you go, however, if you've not seen Dogtooth or The Lobster, be sure to check them out. And, if you have, check out these Thoughts On: essays here:

  






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The Lunchbox/Brooklyn - The Love Triangle

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21/01/2017

The Lunchbox/Brooklyn - The Love Triangle

Thoughts On: The Lunchbox/ Brooklyn

A lonesome wife's lunch, made for and sent to her husband at work daily, starts going to the wrong desk. A young girl moves from a small town in Ireland to the bustling Big Apple.

  

Simple, yet incredibly powerful, The Lunchbox is a confined drama much like In The Mood For Love and Demolition.

  

However, unlike Demolition, there is a succinct focus on character in The Lunchbox that instantaneously draws you into the two protagonists' inner conflicts and personal struggles - and always in an expressively cinematic, show-don't-tell, manner. Moreover, like In The Moon For Love, The Lunchbox is centred on themes of betrayal and an ironic isolation - being so close to people, but nonetheless lost. There is a departure from In The Mood For Love's melancholy tone, however, that imbues The Lunchbox with a light and fragile romance, one that ultimately asks a question of self-sacrifice and doing what is right for oneself. Without any fault and through suspense and a perfectly developed bond between the audience, Ila and Fernandez, The Lunchbox is a emotionally captivating experience.

Like The Lunchbox, Brooklyn is a simple, yet poignant, drama with themes of ironic isolation in the form of home sickness. Overall, Brooklyn is a touching, memorable romance. However, there is an annoying fault in the traditional design of this adventure/romance. Moving through the first act and part of the second, we grow incredibly close to Eillis and eventually her first boyfriend, Tony. This is an earned romance with a well-established growth. In contrast, her second romantic encounter with Jim back at home does little more than frustrate. This is not something I consider to be the result of good plot and character design, nor a reaction you want to conjure. The latter relationship is given no growth and is imbued with a somewhat understandable, but ultimately unpalatable, decision in Eillis. The frustration we feel as a result of this relationship is a middle finger to an element of many romances that needs to be dropped. This is all to do with a certain type of love triangle. Before delving deeper into this, there is one other disappointing element to Brooklyn - one that is probably too subjective and specific to count for much. Nonetheless, the first love scene between Eillis and Tom proceeds an eloquent, fluid sequence in which they fall in love. The scene in which they then tumble under the sheets for the first time takes a directorial shift in tone and style that follows something Hitchcock famously said:

"Film your murders like love scenes, and film your love scenes like murders."

This is a nice, one-line piece of advice, but a terrible blanket statement. Whilst this may work inside some crime-dramas or suspense pictures (the juxtaposition between cinematic language and content conveying excitement, yearning and passion) it is certainly something that should't be applied to the vast swath of films in and outside these genres. We only need to look to Hitchcock to see why.


In Notorious, Hitchcock films one of the longest, most passionate kisses ever put to screen. This is, in no way, shape or form, directed like a murder scene. It is fluid, concentrated and thick with an air of intimacy. Through cinematic language, Hitchcock lulls us into a romantic dream state that almost materialises and makes tangible the bond between Alicia and Devlin. Conversely, this is a murder sequence, one of the best:


And it's not very loving. I thus see little validity in Hitchcock's quote. This certainly stands true in Brooklyn where we see a shift from liquid tenderness to handheld, violent and disruptive camera movement that utterly ruins the atmosphere generated between  Eillis and Tony. What this ultimately does is welcome the disappointing shift this movie takes when introducing its love triangle.

Love triangles are a trope in many dramatic romances that have developed into many varieties. These date far back into the history of literature and have continued to this day - from before the likes of Romeo and Juliet (1597) all the way up to Me, Earl and The Dying Girl (2015).

  

There are two basic types of literary love triangles. There is the supportive and the conflicted. The love triangle between Romeo, Juliet and Count Paris is a conflicted one. The triangle present in Me, Earl And The Dying Girl on the other hand is, for the most part, a supportive one. There is always going to be a position on the spectrum between conflicted and supportive that triangles sit, however. For example, the triangle in Truffaut's Jules et Jim starts out supportive, but is soon poisoned. Many films will make this movement along the spectrum between conflicted and supportive and such demonstrates the literary aid a triangle can be. Not only can it be used to give a film momentum through conflict, but can facilitate the projection of character, theme and mood.

There is a type of, or approach to, the love triangle, however, that I feel needs to be done away with. This is the triangle we seen in Brooklyn. This is established as a modest picture with concentration on inner-turmoil catalysed by external events. In such, Eillis is set up as a heroine that will struggle to find equilibrium and a place in the world. With the movement towards the love triangle that she engages, we have a shift in her character that is not set up well and has her inner-turmoil come from the inside outwards. This change has the intent of making her character more complex belying it, but it is not handled well. In such, the shift in source of the film's conflict from external factors, such as moving country, to personal decisions, like Eillis deciding to cheat on Tony, feels like a non-sequitur that is tonally unjustified. There needed to be a more subtle build towards Eillis making this decision, one that better used the present themes of finding a home. Moreover, there certainly needed to be a more thorough and gradual build of Jim as a character. Without getting this, the love triangle established by Eillis is an act of, to quote Herzog in The White Diamond, stupid stupidity. To understand this, we only need to turn back to The Lunchbox.

Across this narrative, we have a similar, but immediately established and constantly maintained, love triangle. This is a conflicted triad much like that in Brooklyn between Ila, Fernandez and Ila's husband. This triangle is so effective as it is subtle, is treated like a character that needs to be built up and develops over the narrative. This means that when Ila first starts to interact with Fernandez, the conflict presented by the triangle provides suspense and continues to do so throughout, never being exploited as a means of producing cheap melodrama. The growth of this triangle is what provides a highly sympathetic final question of Ila and Fernandez possibly being together. To return to the Herzog quote, these two getting together may be a mistake, may be an act of stupidity, but it is one done with courage and hope. We have neither this subtlety or emotional poignancy in Brooklyn which leaves Eillis' 'stupid' decision to engage the love triangle an act of stupid stupidity, not hopefully or courageous stupidity. This is partly to do with the social stigma around the concept of three people in a conflict of love. A love triangle, especially a conflicted one, is a literary device that brings in either themes of betrayal or control. In Romeo and Juliet, it's Count Paris as a threat to Romeo and Juliet's bond that established a pungent idea of control. We see this in any story where the couple is kept apart. These love triangles work so well as they grant empathy; us, the audience, supporting the couple in face of the asshole trying to break them up. On the other hand, there is the conflicted love triangle which someone within instigates - usually through cheating. Seeing someone cheat on another is something all people disdain for very obvious reasons. This means that, if you want to have your protagonists cheat, you're going to have a hard job of justifying this to your audience and navigating the social stigma around love triangles. Brooklyn, in my opinion, takes one of the hardest routes towards trying to do this, but untimely fails. The Lunchbox conveys this triangle, in a somewhat safe way, but with resounding poignancy that transcends the film and its ambiguous ending.

The Lunchbox manages to do this because the love triangle is mostly broken when Ila's husband starts cheating on her. Through films such as In The Mood For Love, a great example of how to handle a love triangle, we see an understanding that two wrongs do not make a right - no matter how painful it is to be the better person. This is what hangs in the balance in the end of The Lunchbox. Are Ila and Fernandez about to fully break the love triangle with a wrong, and if so, is this undue, could this be handle better? We do not get to actually question this because of the open end, unlike in Brooklyn, and this leaves us with a question of if a conflicted love triangle can fit into a romance. We can infer this question as an act of cheating is something that usually tarnishes a character, in the audience's perspective, when not set up right. However, in setting up a character who will cheat, you can do one of two things. You either introduce external factors that shatter the love triangle (like one point of the triangle distancing themselves from the construct with another relationship or being a complete asshole) or you set up the person who is about to cheat as an anti-hero. This seems to be why The Lunchbox ends where it does. There is no true breakdown of the love triangle with Ila leaving as adding a moral plot line where the husband's cheating is not just implied could come off as tangential and contrived. This is because the crux of the story is not so much the catharsis she will be given if she leaves with Fernandez, rather the friction created as she finds and falls in love with him. As a result, providing resolution is unneeded because the purpose of the story is to have us understand that bonds may form between two distant people, not have us feel that the bond is a lasting and true one; just simply appeal to a romantic hope or hopeful stupidity. There is an attempt to provide resolution and catharsis in Brooklyn, however, and this comes when she reunites with Tony after being with Jim. The resolution provided is one tainted by the directness of it that projects the fortunes of a stupidly stupid person. We see Eillis at her best, with Tony, and at an ill-handled worst with Jim. The love triangle is thus a throw-away piece of melodrama that brings the film down quite significantly.

What this all suggests is a need for ambiguity when it comes to conflicted love triangles - especially when it is constructed by a person whom we are meant to empathise with. The Lunchbox demonstrates that the conflict in the triangle should be used as friction from which romance flourishes from in the audience. In such, it is our romantic hope that Ila and Fernandez get together that gives the film its emotional weight. Brooklyn tries to play with the audience's romantic aspirations in a manner that disengages. What this means is that the triangle is far too contrived to be taken seriously, and when it is overcome, our romantic willing that has been lost refuses to click back into place, leaving the ending not so cathartic. What these two films then demonstrate is the importance of the tone and management of a love triangle. It should be treated like a character that develops gradually, that isn't fake, contrived and over-the-top. In such, the melodramatic love triangle based on a protagonist cheating should really be done away with in my opinion if you want to produce a true romance. As said, making the cheating protagonist an anti-hero may work, as in The Wolf Of Wall Street or Goodfellas, but, in adhering to the conventions of a film with an anti-hero, it'd be hard to generate a romance that is anything as powerful and pure as that in The Lunchbox. Our evidence for this is simply that the narrative crux of films like Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street is not in the bonds established between wives and husbands.

All in all, the love triangle is a dangerous device in literature and cinema. It has the potential to completely disengage many people, but can also entice, create suspense and empathy when done right. The safe option here is an appeal to a supportive triangle or a conflicted one that has a heavy dosage of external conflicts. If you wanted to challenge yourself, however, with a conflicted triangle based on mistakes made by a character we must sympathise with, it seems that ambiguity and a strong sense of motivation is key. Misusing the love triangle of this kind creates horrible melodramas that cheapen a film and sully characters.

On a final note, this seems to be an incredibly subjective topic as it is focused on empathy - something generated in us all in varying manners. So, I leave you with a question of how you feel about love triangles like those present in The Lunchbox and Brooklyn: do they work?






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La La Land - Sensory Romanticism

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19/01/2017

La La Land - Sensory Romanticism

Thoughts On: La La Land

Two romantics, an actress and a musician, fall for one another.


Fuck me... this is an astounding film. However, whilst La La Land utterly flawed me, its opening screamed waste-of-money. So, before I praise this film, I must discuss its faults. First and foremost, the opening number sucks ass. Not only is this incredibly insipid in a way only a bad musical can be, but it's exposed horribly with the dancers being masked by shadow half the time. Moreover, a gimmicky long-shot is the only impressive thing about the opening song which sets a tonally awful hurdle for the rest of the move to get over. And from the opening we follow our female protagonist, Mia, for a while. The suck-assery continues. I won't delve into details, but this is such an empty sequence with a plethora of terrible side actors crowding the screen. Furthermore, the songs are bland and so is the choreography. Added to this there are a trillion gimmicky classical Hollywood nods in the design of the opening which really imbues the film with cheese and a disingenuous nature. What's more, the flashy non-derivative direction continues to serve as the back-bone of the movie. What this outlines is this film's major problem that looms over a large bulk of the narrative: Damien Chazelle as the singular star of the movie. Soon after Mia's stand alone sequence is over, all critique raised on lighting, character and tone progressively evolves into elements of a cinematic masterclass. However, Damien Chazelle almost always remains the spine of this movie as a musical. With the move toward the third act, this is reversed, but the film stops being such a strict musical and becomes more of a drama - and so Gosling and Stone begin to hold their own.

But, what my critique ultimately is with this point, is that neither Ryan Gosling or Emma Stone are that impressive as singers/dancers. What makes their sequences and numbers shine is the way Chazelle captures them. This is quite disappointing when looking at this film as a musical, as the stars of musicals are usually the performers - the likes of Astair, Garland, Rogers and Minnelli. This is crucial as the performances, the dances, the songs, are the epitome of a musical. When these are mediocre... it's just disheartening. But, what Chazelle has almost done with La La Land is take the Busby Berkeley approach to the musical. Berkeley used his dancers for their bodies, his direction of them was the spectacle and so the reason to see his movies...




However, this is not La La Land. Whilst Chazelle is the directorial star, he is not a star of the magnitude or type Berkeley was. This leaves his casting in conflict with the script. He needed great actors and dancers, but only really got great actors. So, whilst Gosling and Stone truly shine in the dramatic sequences, truly shine, they just fall flat in the musical elements. What this film needed to do was take the directorial philosophy of Singin' In The Rain.


Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and, the co-director, Stanley Donen are the stars of this movie. In such, we see the astounding efforts of the three performers put forth in numbers, stunts, dances and songs, all captured perfectly by Donen. Whilst his camera movement is not nearly as technical or impressive as Chazelle's (given his film was made over 50 years ago, this is understandable), it draws back when the actors need it to and perfectly embellishes their performance with awe-inspiring cinematic language in all the right places. If Chazelle had this relationship with Stone and Gosling, this would be a profoundly better film. Alas, the performances along with the songs themselves are only ok. They act as tonal and atmospheric springboards that enunciate direction to create an immersive, captivating movie - but, one you really can't pay too close attention to in the dance and song department without being disappointed.

Despite all of this detailed and pretty significant criticism, La La Land absolutely blew me away. The issues discussed only grind on you with the first 15 minutes or so. When the film finds its footing, it hurdles its faults and crescendos into pure excellence of which has been almost unmatched in the last couple of years. I do feel that this won't be seen as the case for many people, however. Four people (two couples) left the cinema in the screening I was in, two upon realising this was a musical and the others out of boredom (they wouldn't shut the fuck up - I wish they had left earlier). What this says to me is that this film probably isn't for everyone - primarily because musicals aren't for everyone. Those people who hate musicals will then have zero interest in this film. However, for anyone on the fence or who only like one or two musicals, all you need to keep in mind when watching this film is that it is about romance. Romance does not always mean kisses, hugs and other sticky stuff. Romance can describe perspective, meaning you can be a romantic. A romantic is simply someone who is optimistic in a dreamy kind of way. And this is not only who this film is about and for, but this is what musicals try to embody. These films are all about rules being broken and things making sense only in an emotional, tonal sense - not a logical one. This means you could cinema-sin the fuck out of a musical, but, to do so, you'd just be being a dick. The whole point of a musical is that it knows it's somewhat daft and tries to move on past that for the sake of entertainment. Keeping this in mind, I think that almost anyone who doesn't completely hate musicals will fall for this film.

My main reason for saying this is that La La Land is all about romance - from its design to its message. This is what elevates it to such heights in my opinion. It not only projects a romantic fantasy in a genuine, sometimes dramaturgically complex, manner, but has you feel for, and see the depth of, a romantic with their head in the clouds. In such, La La Land transcends the simply feel-good and becomes intricately euphoric.

I can say no more without delving into spoilers, so, I'll leave by urging you to see the film if you already haven't and asking you what you think if you have...






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The Nightmare Before Christmas - Where Holidays Come From

Thoughts On: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Though this film was only re-issued by Disney, we'll sneak it into the...


Jack, the jaded Pumpkin King, stumbles into Christmas town.


The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great film that needn't be saved for October or December to be re-watched. There is very little wrong with this picture. I can only point to the rhythm and pacing of the narrative, saying that it is a bit abrupt at points, just as a few changes in characters are. However, this frenetic, jittery pace seems to fit the tone of the movie very well, only being a slight sore thumb at a few passing moments. Beyond this, the style, design and musical numbers in this movie mix together to produce a perfect recipe for endless re-watches. And in re-watching this film for the... I don't know many-th time, I've stumbled upon its subtextual underbelly. With the opening narration of the film we hear the following:

... the story you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old. Now, you probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven't, I'd say it's time you begun...

What this opening narration clearly tells us is that this film is about why we have holidays. This is an abstract thought though when you consider the narrative as one about an identity crisis. However, there's a film that can assist us in understanding what the origin of holidays has to do with The Nightmare Before Chistmas' narrative. This film is...


... Inside Out. The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually very similar to Inside Out through its message about emotions and ones place in the world. We understand this to be so through the holiday trees:





There are seven trees for seven American holidays:

1. Christmas
2. Thanksgiving
3. Halloween
4. St. Patrick's Day
5. Easter
6. Valentine's Day
7. Independence Day

What we can come to understand is that each of these holidays are representative of reactions to core emotions. We understand this through the film and with an inference.

It is in the first act that we find out that Jack is jaded because he's always scaring people - he wants to be someone else, do something else and feel something different. This is how he finds Christmas town, and what this suggests is that Jack is uncomfortable in his world as a mono-emotional realm. In such, he kind of gives us incite into what it'd be like it if where Christmas everyday...


... kind of. Nonetheless, with this in our back pocket we should take a moment to consider what holidays actually are. They are days we designate as an excuse to give and be given gifts, to go party, to show true feelings to someone, to have some kind of fun. Furthermore, holidays are organised fun categorised primarily by their reaction to a certain emotion. So...

1. Christmas. The essence of Christmas, beyond religion, is simply a call for everyone to be nice and engage in an ape-like exchange of material objects.

2. Thanksgiving. An American holiday and a symbolic reflection/celebration of both loss and settlement - The Native Americans having lost their land due to the pilgrims.

3. Halloween. The day where people dress up to scare each other.

4. St. Patrick's Day. The day everyone gets drunk because... the Irish and... saints.

5. Easter. A celebration of life over death; Jesus being resurrected and spring and such.

6. Valentine's Day. The one where some people get roses and some people get their romantic hopes shattered.

7. Independence Day. Fuck the British.

In all of these holidays you can see the seeds of core human emotions - which brings us back to...


Christmas and St. Patrick's Day are a celebration of joy, of people coming together and generally being nice (depending on the drink with St Patrick's, sometimes sad, sometimes angry). Thanksgiving and Independence Day seem to be reactions against feelings of disgust or anger, reactions against slaughter, injustice, such and so on. Halloween is of course a reaction to fear. Easter is a reaction to sadness with its celebration of life over death. Valentine's Day is supposed to be about love, about over coming the frustration, sadness and anger of being alone. In such, you see all 5 core emotions represented. You may subjectively want to re-match some of these, but I think it's apparent that they're all there.

Understanding this, we come to Jack and Halloween land. His core inner conflict is that he is bound to this basic emotion of fear. He wants to change, he wants to escape fear and go provide joy through Christmas. In such, just as Joy from Inside Out wanted to change Sadness, so does Jack want to change himself. It's by the end of Inside Out, however, that we are told that people need catharsis, they need to let loose and have a healthy relationship with all emotions. This is, in essence, what Jack learns too. He is the Pumpkin King, he is fear, and shouldn't want to change or bottle himself up in another emotion as who he truly is will only contaminate this. This is what this moment symbolises:




Sally sees, what is probably in her world, a beautiful flower. Being so close to Jack having just sent him up a basket of food and drink, contaminated by his Christmas spirit (as represented by the giving), she sees the ugly flower change into a Christmas tree. In such, we see her inner emotions change her external world - and this is exactly what is happening with Jack as he takes over Christmas. However, the tree burns, leaving Sally with nothing. This allows her to realise that she can find balance, find happiness, without changing everything about her world. This is what she fails to warn Jack of. But, by the end, Jack crashes and burns all on his own. And in his darkest moment Jack finds a spark to get him excited about Halloween again - he accepts who he is. This ends the identity crisis element of the story and brings us back to emotions with this final scene...


Jack and Sally realise they were meant to be together. The flower in her hand is a call back to the earlier scene. What it symbolises is Sally's view of beauty with her being a product of Halloween land - which is imbued with fear and wanting to scare people. The dead flower is Sally just as it is Jack; it is romanticism in a dismal world of the dead. Jack's arc is then one towards realising that he doesn't need Christmas and an abundance of joy to be happy, just a person at his side.


This is then the subtle subtext belying this narrative, one that reinforces themes made much more explicit in Inside Out. The Nightmare Before Christmas is then not just about an identity crisis, but finding an emotional equilibrium. How does this all answer the opening narration though?

... the story you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old. Now, you probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven't, I'd say it's time you begun...

Through its emotional commentary on identity and one's place in the world, The Nightmare Before Christmas suggests that holidays come from a human need for emotional balance. In turn, holidays come from our core emotions being projected into events. These are days in which we focus on fear, disgust, anger, joy or sadness in a reactionary way. We either embrace or deal with these emotions through Christmas, Halloween and Valentine's Day. However, inside these holidays is an emotion in the balance, an identity crisis about to snowball. This, through The Nightmare Before Christmas, is represented by Jack, our archetypal emotional body. Just as he struggles to stay firm in his position as ruler of Halloween (by proxy, fear), like...


... Fear is in charge of fright with Riley's mind, so do we struggle with our capacity to handle emotions - we are like Riley. Ultimately, holidays can then be seen as cathartic releases from the everyday in which we re-calibrate and test specific emotions, releases which facilitate a healthier relationship with our feelings on a wider scale and as a society.

And there it is, the subtext The Nightmare Before Christmas and its answer to where holidays come from. Your thoughts?

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