Quick-Thoughts: Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth

Random comment, but one of the messages in this was pretty much the same as one of the messages in The Worst Person in the World (2021), although that isn’t too surprising given what they’re both about, except they dialogue-explained it to death here which I didn’t mind howbeit too much; connecting the two was just such an “oh neat!” moment for me. 

Cooper Raiff’s second feature-length Cha Cha Real Smooth doesn’t quite conquer that legendary initial half from his first one, Shithouse. With that being said, however, Cha Cha Real Smooth undeniably won me over as a whole much more than Shithouse did as a whole. Part of this not only has to do with how much more tonally sleek its entirety is in comparison to Shithouse, but furthermore just how much more coordinated its ending feels in regards to how it reflects everything that happens beforehand, which is something resisting the main complaint I had with that previous outing. 

As much as I miss the real-time style that I’m just praying Raiff brings back someday, I enjoyed the mainly traditional rom-com execution of this film despite it of course crossing some barriers regarding the types of rather untraditional restraints that it occasionally has on romanticization, as well as the admirably complicated and imperfect characters it depicts, particularly Dakota Johnson’s. I think Raiff is not only entrancing as an actor but also as a drafter of arresting personalities to match both him and his counterparts’ performance abilities, yet they have often resulted in being a lot more engaging than the actual stories he writes to place them in. That’s not to say though that this isn’t an acceptable narrative, cause it is; Raiff virtually balances charm with depression, introduces thematic weight concerning the crises of living throughout multiple lovers and a post-college stage that still continues to trouble letting go of family + past hobbies, all that sweet jazz. 

After Shithouse and now this, nonetheless, I can’t help but feel though as if Raiff is still underestimating the amount of potential his characters really have to progress the rom-com genre into trailblazing new directions rather than falling into safe-zone blatancies, but the fact that this is at least an improvement over Shithouse is honest hope that he will only continue to improve from here on out and reach that level one day. 

Verdict: B-

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Resurrection

The Night House 2, and I’m not complaining. 

Nearly an impossible movie to review, but all you need to know is…

a) Rebecca Hall continues to improve her acting in every movie where she plays some sort of psychologically disturbed + manipulated bachelorette, only further proving herself to being one of the greatest actors of our time. Tim Roth can do no wrong, as well.

b) Resurrection (unless I’m a dumbass which wouldn’t likely be that far off) is evidently both a literal for mother’s intuition advancing into uncomfortable territory for their child and a metaphor for it accumulating tragically into forever inevitable failures to find a way for them to understand the virtually indescribable sacrifices you’ve made, so if you can treat it as such then the movie should make sense despite what that absolutely maniac of an ending may insinuate otherwise on the surface, as it’s not exactly a blatantly spelled-out one — which is quite respectable because the pieces of the truth are all right there residing throughout the entire film.

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Resurrection” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Speak No Evil

We really ought to stop cinephiles from being influenced by Haneke and von Trier if we ever want to lead happy lives at the theaters. 

There’s a wholesome moment amongst this hell-equivalent experience of a movie where Patrick, a host for little-known friends they met on a vacation a while back, builds up and eventually cracks open (through many awkward confrontations) a space of vulnerability for one of his guests, Bjørn, to let go of all his duty as a man of respectable civility, to let lose for an afternoon that we soon learn was intended to be replicated for their entire stay. 

This etiquette to uphold politeness is what keeps him and his wife submitting to the avoidable. Them and their daughter, despite being an honest reflection of what we usually uphold to be the typically put-together and ideal family, seem to value not the morally good that pertains to the safety of but more so the pride of their family, which begs the question: is letting people be evil by prioritizing this speak and evil of itself? I mean ain’t it true? Many people make it easy for others to be evil leisurely, so doesn’t that make them evil to some degree? 

The first two acts of Christian Tafdrup’s third feature-length and first attempt at horror really works best: it painfully and lethargically throws relatable encounter after relatable encounter at us of those awkward and sudden behavior pop-ups where we witness a taboo action from someone who we may have initially and ignorantly perceived as replicas of ourselves. Visits that feature many of these run-ins challenge our patience, but usually we still conform to our own ettiequte in refusal to match secondary parties, for which we may find rather sickly, as compensation for the suffering they cause us and we cause us for maintaining it. 

Selfishly though, I must confess to finding the last act of Speak No Evil to be significantly weaker than the first two because it became the movie I hoped it wouldn’t by delving into excessively dark territory so that it can really hammer in its message. As in your face as it is, I would like to clarify that I didn’t necessarily think it was a bad finale; in fact, it had me on ice, but it betrayed the completely relatable movie I thought it would be, which is again a selfish criticism on my end.

My Letterboxd pal Brandon Habes said it best: 

“Funny Games is an easy comparison but it’s not exactly accurate. This is a reverse Funny Games with a series of red flags the characters not only accommodate, but embrace again and again in hopes of being civilized and polite.” 

And it’s true! Those first two acts felt as if Funny Games (1997 or 2007) was simply not led by two psychopaths in control of a family by malicious force, but rather two familiarly unusual people in control of a family but only because of the values (likewise to ours) that the victims themselves possess. This is why when it gets into horror cliché territory that it uses to further signify the deeper commentary, it ironically reassured me that we are stuck in a very unlikely setting of a grandiose horror movie, ultimately taking me out of the film. As an experienced person when it comes to unsettling vacation host and guest confrontations to account for, I just wish the entire movie gave me PTSD instead of snatching it from me abruptly in its final moments just to swing home a message that was already well-spoken beforehand. 

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Speak No Evil” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s Something in the Dirt

To be fair though, two LA bachelors would reddit their way through phenomena and eventually overlook its importance in light of the discrepancy of their own relationship.

A pretty standard homage to unsolved scientific mysteries that I nonetheless enjoyed watching — reason being may be that this is my introduction to Aaron Moorhead + Justin Benson, and I was just completely thrown off yet in a delighted way by the DIY nature of their filmmaking. The film’s blueprint of seemingly endless and progressively tedious “illuminati confirmed” coincidences went from being refreshing to bothersome as piece by piece the true colors of its intentions became revealed in each of our two main leads’ insinuating quarrels; the meaningless of the investigation that stages the fictional documentary Something in the Dirt becomes vivid to the individual when it disregards their inner desires day after day. It’s good to be a part of “something” that’ll have you remembered onward after death, but isn’t something just as important if not more important in how it rather affects you in the moment? 

So sure, this is absolutely one of those hipster-ish name-drop random fun textbook facts every five minutes with no guided continuity to them for the rest of the youtube turned theatrical release’s storyline, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t leading to the point of the entire film: the aimlessness of piling theories towards nothing of progress but self-wants; a common reflection of many discoveries then after. If you think that’s not worth two hours of your time though, don’t watch this, but if you think it is, support the conspiracy theorist buffet! 

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Something in the Dirt” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Fire of Love

“Maybe you need a certain philosophy of existence to take on these volcanic monsters. Mine is elementary. I prefer an intense and short life to a monotonous, long one. A kamikaze existence in the beauty of volcanic things.” – Maurice Krafft

As a stylized compilation of volcano footage, this is an absolutely STELLAR visual feast to witness, but as both an information guide on the subject matter and furthermore a narrative depicting the poetic life and bond of Katia and Maurice Kraft, it is admittedly one-note; not enough so however to regret my viewing, since even the almost episodic execution of its many limited details always end up being engaging regardless.

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Fire of Love” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Kogonada’s After Yang (2021)

This might be completely a me thing, but in a world where A.I. science-fiction has become such a phenomena in pop culture, I’ve grown real sick and tired of stories that build mystery around the plausibility that a robot can have *GASP* feelings, especially when those tediously contrived plot elements make up a majority of your runtime despite even their loudest attempts to make you think it isn’t heading in that direction. However, there are two fantastic flashback scenes and one great reveal towards the third act of After Yang for which convinced me otherwise that this film works. 

Thematically, there is a good amount of paralleling between an A.I named Yang and his human counterparts, and the elements that we may define most as contributing to what makes up our humanity — memory in relation to our chosen present experiences reigns huge across these ideas. There’s also brief exploration of what it means to be a certain ethnicity in the scope of textbook knowledge vs. our own endured histories, which is something that would be quite hard for me not to relate to as an Asian American. In both instances though, I still wish it had given us even more time to expand these studious discussions rather than in the development of its fairly ordinary mystery, because if done so I think this movie would’ve ended up being great, if not, amazing overall. Any take it had on human ignorance in a corporate-ran technologically advanced society also seemed very rudimentary as well. 

BUT OMG UNRELEASED MITSKI!!!

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“After Yang” currently does not have a release date yet.

Quick-Thoughts: Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (2021)

What I think The Worst Person in the World has working at its advantage is how it relates us to that familiar, existential navigation of the “in between” state we constantly find ourselves questioning, where life seemingly never starts yet seemingly has all the time in the world to never end, and how both of those instinctive presumptions are a lie retrospectively despite our permanent refusal to accept it. Most of our yearns for life to start are just accumulating in the process of it rather ending, and we can’t help but refuse to challenge the notion that nothing of value worth holding onto happens during these time frames, and that the development of new time frames is in order to spark some sort of euphoric discovery before any eventual “parenthood phase” occurs — something so culturally set in stone as what continues predominantly from there on till the end, a cliché of consistency despite that being exactly what we want, except, through a more ideological lens that can somehow turn these young adult coming of age days into an otherworldly meaning to cherish onward. But everything is a byproduct of leading ourselves to new generations, and the fear to let it happen will always be there despite us rarely caring to pinpoint what’s even making our current motions worth experimenting with, as if they weren’t perfectly okay to begin with.

Ultimately, the polarity between Julie and Aksel communicates this to me, and it effectively showcases generational differences all while stating though that akin desire we have to let careers become a little bigger than what love often collides towards, as if we could ever sincerely know how big though that even is until we have it. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked

“The Worst Person in the World” will be released in select theaters February 4th.

Quick-Thoughts: Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle (2021)

Well, there was a lot of movie in that movie for a movie; felt like I just watched an entire mini-series in one go for better and worse. Better because as a redraft of both Disney’s Beauty and the Beast AND (let’s not forget) Hannah Montana, it passionately adds more than what I think films such as Ready Player One (2018) or The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021) failed to show in their imitations of the internet age’s virtual realities and new media hotspots for celebrity potential, and how Mamoru Hosoda’s takes (through similarly overdramatic examples) seem a bit more genuine to our own world’s circumstances with such social technology in terms of how it influences our mental and exterior behavior. Worse though because it makes for a tonal disaster with its colossal cargo of storylines that it tries to intersect into one complete story, causing so much potential commentary in each of them to be narrowed by its almost hyperactive momentum; dramatic moments are bomb-dropped like crazy in this, and even though many of them have such compelling meaning on their own, it tampers with the overall pathos so unevenly. The animation and creativity behind Belle is undeniably special, which makes it hurt to not like this as a whole because of the drawbacks that come of that quirk.

Although, I suppose maybe the overstimulation from the execution of this film is fitting in light of its setting, but at what cost for telling a well-thought-out story? Conveniences went loco towards the end! 

Verdict: C+

2022 Ranked

“Belle” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Scream (2022)

Dylan Minnette is forever stuck in high school purgatory. 

What I do like about all the sequels to Scream thus far including 5 now is that each one of them, at least briefly, tackled its own new subject matter for the franchise within the trademark space of its “meta” capabilities. However, my issue with them has always been with how boring the execution of expressing them unfortunately ends up being to me, and the same goes especially for Scream 5… or Scream 2022 or whatever we’ll commonly refer to it prior to release.

Funny enough, this and Wes Craven’s Scream 4 actually have a lot in common. Not only do both stick to the same setting as the 1996 original, but they both operate under one identical gimmick: lead viewers on into believing that this is just a partially uninspired yet serviceable beat by beat remake of its maker until the climax reveals its true colors. And, like Craven’s final contribution to the series, the twist does end up being mildly neat and certainly groundbreaking for the series, but it isn’t powerful or meaty enough to necessarily justify its indulgence in the predictable and all too familiar ride that happened beforehand and even still arguably during, as much as it leans to act self-aware about it. 

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are clearly passionate about this franchise, yearning to honor the source material by sticking true to it, and because of that their work genuinely feels like something Craven would make. There are a couple cool bits of meta slasher genre harangues here — some even foreshadowing the big reveal — like, again, all of the other sequels, and one gnarly tension trick, but it isn’t enough to entertain me throughout a nearly two hour runtime personally. For a movie that openly understands it’s looped in a hellhole of obligatory motions to the original, it sure seems a little too comfortable with not wanting to break out of them, as if the point and dignity of the “requel” is to never leave a comfort zone for the sake of the fans, which seems ironic in hindsight of what it’s surface-level social commentary turns out to be. Maybe that’s the point, who knows? All I know is each and every sequel in this franchise has only further fatigued me with its reoccurring formula, and that’s no less true than it is here. 

Also, Tara really said “elevated horror” lol.

Verdict: C-

2022 Ranked

“Scream” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Adam Curtis’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011)

Damn, this documentary didn’t have to go so hard by deflating every ounce of optimism you ever had for an ideal humanity, but that’s probably why it’s so good.

Part 1: Love and Power

When it comes down to it, I think the hard lesson here in Love and Power is that as much as we would like technology to rely on fixing us, it is not something that in totality, can control us. It works much more as a temporary convenience to accelerate our ideal altruisms than it does as one that can cure humanity’s obsession with power without fluctuating new issues to replace the old ones for which get resolved or perhaps just repeated. We do not give ourselves to a possible technology’s subjective inputs — and that’s a whole other philosophical headache of an “impossibility” which I don’t want to get into — nearly to the degree of simply letting technology rationalize our own human ideas, which is the only reason why we chose to use the technology in the first place. We are certainly asking for how we can be helped based on said circumstances, but not exactly what is all that should be helped to begin with in the grander scheme of factors we either don’t consider or have no knowledge of, as if we ever could ask something like that though.

I mean, humanity‘s positions for leaderships have become so utterly complex and dynamic beyond the simplicity of submitting under say a straightforward pong game, so how could it possibly replicate it at this point in time?

Plus, even if by some miracle, which is although a miracle that “could” happen in the near future, technology found the solution for devising the epitome of Ayn Rand’s philosophy for what would make the altruistic perfect individual and therefore the perfect society — an instance though that has already been continuously attempted and believed too through economical maneuver by the greatest intellectuals who followed her as seen in this documentary —, humanity, in all its now multi-billion population of politicians, loaners, philosophers, everyday persons, and whatever other declining or rising power source to account for possible interference, would not allow for its scheme to trial even remotely to completion because they are a product of other human customs (like love *aww*) that would need to change, extending beyond just a capitalistic mindset for it to work. And, as far as I’m concerned knowing humans and being a human, I doubt any of us would be willing to let technology have the full grip on our freedom to alter that anytime soon. Therefore, I don’t quite see the “Utopia” happening just yet at least in our lifetime.

Part II: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts

I’ve always found the concept of “feedback loops” to be special, namely because as someone who is quite stubborn with firmly believing in “truths” regarding the reality of our existence — I think I’m much more of an understander than an accepter —, the ecological term has always just made complete sense to me. Yet, not in the way as the film described its initial presumptions during its discovery to the 70s as an explanation for the “balance of nature”. If our means for harming the environment are precisely the material formulated to cause climate change to happen which can produce an uninhabitable world for humans, it just seems logical. It is like a defense mechanism, but not in any means one capable enough to let itself go back to the start. The word “loop” is a bit misguiding because while it may rightfully assume that the goal usually yearns to remain the same, it forgets that the goal is unattainable at times, and even in many cases requires the goal to alter into a secondary, more experimental solution.

Humanity trying to become nature in order to brace its methodical order for mending is particularly funny to me, because it completely undermines the idea that humanity is already a set of nature; the flawed mechanics of humanity now (the powerful figures, our counteractive living resources, etc.) already is nature, whether green or smoke, at play. Recreating ourselves in hopes of improving ourselves is nothing short of chasing your own tail — and that’s hilarious! If our world really is made of interconnected, programmed reactions to negative actions that are always in favor of fixing said actions to inception, it is not by any means a perfect one. It is just like a computer: it tries its best to reconcile the future, but cannot often make up for it in equilibrium when it is wrong.

Part III: The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey

To think we are simply just a rejuvenated code based on our ancestors, a minute trial of survival theories in our ways of balancing egoism and altruism amongst an accumulation of over more than just the multi-billion population of today because of those who died in history, leaves room for existential chaos. It dominates the idea that we are beings with free-will and that we have the ability to do anything a human could possibly want to accomplish, because we are firstly controlled by genes. When the documentary mentions of George Price’s suicide, it really didn’t surprise me. Imagine discovering that the closest truth regarding our humanity is that it is simply a formula as equally important of to all the other things, living or material, in the world. It completely demeans our often high-thinking idea of who we are on this planet compared to the rest that inhabits it, and really does beg of the human condition to pursue something to dismiss such a thought in order to revert back to our superiority complex. Hence, Price’s turning to Christianity: a belief system that may not be seen as closer to truth then this law of natural selection in the scientific field, but something mentally healthier that supports our ego and reason to live by emphasizing our importance in the larger scheme of things.

The function of genes is eye-opening to me. It is a supposedly consistent existence that understands its necessity to sacrifice itself for other genes for the greater good of what they’re meant to do as a collective. This defines a code, something that knows its duties and does it till interference in its construction. But, it reminds me of Belgium’s liberal yet negative influence on the Hutu and Tutsi population’s relationship in the 1900s, and how all it takes for people to change is by making them aware of their differences; that is the popular interference on humanity’s ideal code of altruism, and possibility for peace. Our freedom to spot polarity, whether falsely misguided or not, between each other is what causes us to act like a nasty variant of code, to put those we are presumably programmed to care for before our own sakes and to put those we figure don’t secondary. And like suicide, we are capable of falling forth to this system of violent nature not for ourselves but because we were possibly born to do such, which is an incredibly frightening thought.

Verdict: B+

My Favorite Documentaries

“All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” is currently available to stream on thoughtmaybe.