Quick-Thoughts: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter

One things for certain: Maggie Gyllenhaal understands the importance of unveiling characters that are inscribed like real people, bodies that can give up on a mood mid-sentence, or open themselves up for exposure even if it may lead them to the obvious consequences one would logically want to avoid, or better yet, are capable of feeling virtually nothing while watching others suffer at the fault of themselves even if its just to fill an almost programmed void in them that they don’t even know why it’s precisely there to begin with. 

Her directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, sees almost nihilistically, yet in such an honest and preferably confrontational way, the imperfect reality of motherhood as this nagging pushing pin to live a second life of pleasurable adulteries. It’s evil, but in such a human and blunt manner, an approach that’ll very likely off-put condescending cinematic idealists from its absence of a chimerical alteration. Many of us can’t help it sometimes, and that’s just how it is, so suck it up, and watch it play out cause that’s life. Either way, there will always be questionable decisions you make as a parent that can’t help but haunt you in the “after”.  

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“The Lost Daughter” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Quick-Thoughts: Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth

As weird as this may sound, Joel Coen is now the only person I trust to adapt a Dr. Seuss book for the big screen.

The Coen Brothers aren’t widely known for adapting stories that aren’t there’s, at least, not completely. There 1996 classic Fargo was based on a true event, but one written around to fit an emendated narrative with the brothers’ own fictional characters in it, yet for the past couple decades, their cosmical praise has actually closely been held accountable for the original way in which they’ve revitalized our expectations of quality through their own distinct spin on crime and comedy genres; that was until they made their renowned masterpiece in 2007 No Country for Old Men: a direct conversion of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel of the same name with slight changes made to its layout. Since then, it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to see the brothers take on another relatively faithful adaptation of material that isn’t theirs.

The Tragedy of Macbeth though — the first non-“Coen Brothers” movie and now officially just a “Coen Brother” picture — is wickedly a near clear-cut emulation of its source material, literally using the same complex and difficult to understand language of Shakespeare in each phrase of its dialogue, mandatorily requiring its viewers to read subtitles. What may be the strongest point though of Joel’s cinematic telling of the acclaimed classic, is how he’s able to bring what essentially is an enhanced “play stage” to life with Stefan Dechant’s surreal production design and Bruno Delbonnel’s concentrated cinematography. Macbeth, in all it’s straightforward drama that’s otherwise heavied by Shakespeare’s classic use of dissecting every minute feeling felt in every minute character presumption, is breathed of new life in how Coen works the collaboration of cinematic range and freedom – whether it’s in the performances, shot collaging, or special effects – with the visual tropes of a theater show. 

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked, Joel Coen Ranked

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” is now playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Apple TV+ January 14th. 

Quick-Thoughts: Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God

It’s not everyday you get to see a movie with an Italian Wall•E in it.

My first Paolo Sorrentino and so far so good! Immature families always bring me close to home, plus, how could I turn down this zealous of well-planned compositional shot tension + style, homey comedy, and sporadic dream-logic plot sequencing; the dude clearly loves classic Fellini-esc storytelling! Although a part of me feels as if I’ve seen this kind of coming of age film a million times already, Hand of God is at least made with such autobiographical intimacy that its immersion rises from Sorrentino’s own distinct experiential and learned wisdom. His almost empowering childhood channeling through a Neapolitan Eddie Redmayne leads him to recreate his initial convictions of viewing cinema as some sort of second chance to live the dull life like a new fantasy, replacing the family-numbing buffoonery that kept him afloat in youth. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“The Hand of God” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Lana Wachowski’s “The Matrix Resurrections” and How it Almost Successfully Reinvents the Phenomena of its 1999 Original

Since even the earliest stages of cinema, “meta” has had the capacity to either drive referential storytelling into modernization as we know and love it or straight into the dirt to be mocked at for failing to persuasively speak on its flaws. Godard and The French New Wave reckoned the first option with either borderline or straightforward fourth-wall breaking of criticisms aimed at Hollywood cinema and the country’s power over them, but then American re-edits of Ishirō Honda’s King Kong vs. Godzilla made that very decade fancied for the second option by being on-the-nose to blanket statement magnitudes. Charlie Kaufman fulfilled the first option with his earlier films such as Being John Malkovich (1999) or Adaptation (2002) by incorporating real-life celebrity and moviemaking culture into poignant satire, but Adam McKay otherwise faulted under the second option literally just this year with his painfully unfunny, forced, and overt take on modern media socialization and political leadership cultures for which we all indulge in, a giant “no s**t” sprawled into two and a half hours of far-fetched allegories. Matrix Resurrections, the fourth entry in an originally closely released three-part franchise made so late and so coincidentally in a time of blockbuster nostalgia craze you can’t help but assume it’s only coming from a studio out for more money on their shelved property, however, is that rare self-aware piece of which falls under both options, but not completely by choice.

Lana Wachowski is likely the mind to congratulate for the unusual dodging of what could’ve been just a straight-reading retread. One of the director / writers of the original 1999 phenomena and its two follow-ups, who still continues to put in the effort of progressing sci-fi with her popular series Sense8 (2015-2018) and its related acclaimed specials, seems to have been suspiciously thrown back into the completed space of a trilogy that may have largely defined her career, but never seemed in need of continuing after the two sequels failed to please majority audiences nearly to the degree of its predecessor. A second shot at working on something that the sisters had, however, always seemed more proud of than their reactors almost seems artificially derived in a way, as if the demanding circle of going back to the beginning is only pushed to her work schedule in service of not having it butchered to deeper levels by not as universally beloved or marketable corporate authors that could never be as intimately close to this universe than its own creators. 

So in a sense, Resurrections feels like the inevitable being half-guided by the one who was pressured to dip back in, and the themes of the entire Matrix lore just so happen to fit perfectly into the nature of the real life entertainment spectrum being misguided by wealthy forces, deceitful lies that act to care, and reassuring idealisms that brought her there in the first place. What could’ve easily been a project made of pure hate from having to decide between two ultimatums (add something to it you can at least live with or let it burn and choose to never look back) is rather one birthed from rebellious liberation, and only partially to the worrying extent you may have where meta can become that obnoxiously in-your-face commentary that it has before. Lana’s initiation to steer the product shell rather uniquely becomes that rare positive, existing only because of the obsessively greedy machinery of studio remakes and sequels. In all irony though, her fresh take will surely ignite a mass of profit for the company it’s jabbing at, but lucratively that isn’t just who Resurrections has it out for: it’s looking at everybody in its audience, meaning all who have given into believing that they can acquire some of that psychological euphoria from remembering this otherworldly place from another time and refusing to seek out what hides behind the surface of their modern, recycled-leading reality by purchasing a ticket for a high and mighty organization or selling their time to its presence on an HBO Max home-screen. As you may have figured out, it seems honorable to the spirit that made the first Matrix such an iconic delight: that initiative to tell viewers to wake up and be more aware of your surroundings and how you choose to perceive them or let them control you.

The way Lana accomplishes this long anticipated miracle is by presenting none other than the polar opposite of the fans through our lead protagonist; no, not Neo, or at least that’s what he says; it’s Thomas once again. As you may have guessed, he’s in denial, taking blue pills on the daily, but fascinatingly in denial of the nostalgia that has paved his entertainment career as well as his depression of having it warned-out into surface-level pleasures, which is insightfully reflective of Lana herself. Memory becomes rather a curse and not a safe-space for constant validation; it can be like a drug-inducing hit of reformation of formula like it was in recently Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: No Way Home or it could be a discouraging cinematic slam in the eyes revelation as it was in about anything made post-80s by the self-referential king himself Wes Craven. The meta is in the fact that we are wanting this reformation to happen, and the commentary builds off this with the idea that this immaturity can go both directions: allowing yourself to be drawn to nostalgia can be compared as equals to neglecting the bodily desire of why we’re comfortable drawing to begin with, because they both require ignorance. One invites us to freeze by recalling while the other invites us to progress by forgetting, and yet they both seem to look past the fact that they have the high-chance vulnerability of resulting in deleterious repetition. The cool thing about Matrix Resurrections is that it submits to both, forcing the audience to suffer from the duality in this mirror reflection of our clashing desires when it comes to blockbuster entertainment. 

As the famous saying goes, to forget about war or any tragedy would be like asking for it to happen again. If we are to pretend that we are not capable of considering sin again, how are we to ever remember it as a sin? Doesn’t nostalgia of us combating it not remind us of the good that can cure? Well, yes and no. It can remind us of what good has been, but haunting over it can never tell us what else can be good too, and art in general has always submitted to this philosophical dilemma. Right now in Resurrections, it’s a firm allegory for the state of how we treat the modern franchise blockbusters we frequently see this century: we can either allow ourselves to hang onto the good we created from before, or find some method of learning what else is lurking there. We could also allow ourselves to forget the good we created to do this in the first place, but then risk just recreating the formula once more as a hindsight to the limitation of human creativity without the clear knowledge of history, just like Thomas finds himself doing when he has to venture into a familiarly structured Matrix-like mission again that he has, however, ambitiously and stubbornly made to be blocked out of his memory, blinding his ride’s guidance initially as if it was his very first hero’s journey rodeo, just as we are capable of doing to ourselves with the manner in which we choose to consume stories.

Where the fourth installment tilts to the other side of being that only somewhat successful “meta” piece is not only whenever it chooses to be on-the-nose to lackluster and even lazy extents, but in how it essentially drops the ball in its intentionally written abysmal second half that warps you through suffering for another allegory. The Matrix sequels have always not commercially worked from an absence of clean implication of enticing philosophical or social concepts into the actual construction of spectacle, and while Resurrection certainly does it better than the other two because almost every gimmick in it is there for a thematic reason, many of the gimmicks are purposely there to make the film unenjoyable. The first half of the movie is genuinely lighting in the bottle, starting off with new yet familiar characters looking through a literal peephole into a disorienting version of the the original Matrix’s opening with its unsettling action that will define the film from there on forward due to how it uses the same off-the-wall choreography we love from the original but rather shot like any generic shaky-cam spectacle to suck the life out of what was innovation, and editing so jumpy to put us into the disoriented and overwhelming nature of Thomas forcing himself to be okay with his reality. Nostalgia-bait is also not as disguised as it was in, again, something such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, and is instead fed as plainly as possible to you with untampered scenes of the original Matrix being cut into Resurrections to shame audiences from wanting such desperate reminiscence. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, but in the best possible way for a demanding experience.

Then comes the second half though, where the movie begins morphing into its true nature of being an uninspired direct sequel to Revolutions (2003) which Lana, however, seems to continue to assure us she’s not in complete control of. There are literally moments in this part of Resurrections where she uses the reveals of the main villain as a route to speak on how her studio is currently finding ways in this story to do any means necessary to have Neo and Trinity alive yet parted so that audiences can wallow in the slight hope of an idealistic continuation they wanted for something already left settled. In essence, the second half is basically 70 minutes of the conventional sequel that Lana can barely save by assuring audiences that she is against it, and will have to make the most out of it. Modern Hollywood-like conventions happen left and right with characters once again literally telling the audiences that they are indeed that. The off-putting and ugly action sequences come in and out more than ever before with characters also there to mention how uninspired this non-stop spectacle is compared to the predecessors that provoked more thought and conversation that Lana possibly thinks has progressively deteriorated in the modern age of the remake and obligatory sequel. Really, the wit began to fizzle here for me when it becomes that unavoidable epilogue to Revolutions, and all Lana can do is scream on the sidelines at us from time to time that this is just f**king stupid and pathetic of Warner Bros. to be doing, solely to grant audiences the tip of genericism. But hey! At least she can jeopardize their vision and critical success by doing so!

Conclusively, here’s the kicker: I will probably remember moments such as that great scene in the first half where Thomas and “Tiffany” have a cup of coffee together, discussing deja vu as a force of something you can’t remember that influences your perception of reality, and the social pressure of not challenging what it makes you want to believe and let go of; their bond then becomes the film’s likely metaphor for Lana’s real-life gender transitioning from there on forward, and the dominating pulse of 21st century media and industry reveals itself to be its antagonist segregating personal expression from mainstream cinema. But then that second half, for all its intent of purposely throwing us off and making us hate the movie to further exclaim this by almost immediately turning into the schlock we feared, ruined Resurrections for me successfully. Like some twisted yet slick pseudo-intellectual scheme, it showed me that sequels can be gripping if they provoke original and compelling statements, but can also be exhausting if they choose to overload conventional formulas of a reboot. And, yet, it is, like I said before, in spirit of what made the Wachowskis a force to be reckoned with when they released the original: by waking us up from our flimsy expectations of what a blockbuster should be. The Matrix has always been an allegory for numbing our minds from the truth, and in this fourth installment, it’s literally one of numbing our minds with studio rehashes and follow-ups. It forces itself to be intelligent by constantly calling out our inescapable desire for remaking passion that can and has to a degree become the passionless, and in this clusterstorm of sustained qualitative fluctuation it captures something unignorable. Personally, I hate it and love it for those reasons, but admirably, I think that was the point of the entire experience, and I can’t help but give at least Lana a thumbs up for being able to make some sort of distinct impact on us again, even if it’ll never be as massive or entertaining as the one that spread when the 1999 phenomena hit theaters.

As a final note, I’m mostly just happy with the fact that titling a sequel with “Resurrections”, which usually leads to a super garbage outturn in a franchise, has finally come to an end. Took decades, but Hollywood alas did it. 

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked

“The Matrix Resurrection” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

Screened at The Frida Cinema • 3rd Viewing

“I’m a real light sleeper, Childs.” 

I think the smartest thing about The Thing even among the sensational practical effects which have majorly garnished its critical comeback is how it leaves out events in the continuity so that it can intentionally force viewers to be in the same skeptical position as its many victimized characters. In this sense, John Carpenter’s film itself is as equally manipulative towards its audience as the shapeshifting extraterrestrial it depicts. By the end of such a conflicting phenomena from shrewdly accessible thematic writing, you’re at last vacated from the screen but with that same suspicion as you had at the beginning; the revelation of Bill Lancaster’s reincarnation of the “creature from outer space” tale then becomes perfectly clear: realizing that there is no revelation to this aside from the unstoppable that you had feared since first meeting it. I guess this masterpiece still kills!

Verdict: A

John Carpenter Ranked

“The Thing” is now available to stream on Starz.

Quick-Thoughts: Quo vadis, Aida? (2020)

Zeroing in on one family or person, fictional or not and even in the hell of a genocidal background, has always been the easiest method to get an audience to connect with a real life historical calamity on a deeper level, but one thing is for sure: usually it at least works like it does in Jasmila’s Žbanić’s Quo vadis, Aida? Witness 90 harrowing minutes of attempt after attempt to avoid the inevitable through innocent hope and admirable persistence as a mother begs at the toes of the UN, an organization that in this event continuously make clear of their submissive, cowardly indulgence in the lies of Bosnia’s enemy. It is absolutely heart-wrenching to watch people whose job it is to work on peace seem so collected about sending people to their death — the entire tragic crux of what happened that day —, yet maybe that privilege of knowing you’ll live blocks you from being able to relate or help with those who must succumb from it. The human dilemma really is that saving often becomes difficult if it’s not coming from a motive to save yourself as well. 

If you’re not informed of the Srebrenica massacre by now, then this is a must watch just to learn about it at the helm of a demanding parent / lover perspective from the recreated disaster. 

Verdict: B

2021 Ranked

“Quo vadis, Aida?” is now available to stream on Hulu.

Spider-Man No Way Home: Another Middle of the Road Entry for Marvel’s Famous Web-Slinger

Nearly 30 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “second chances” seem to have defined both the recurring thematic weight and weak-links of the franchise. Most recently, in Black Widow (SPOILERS FOR THAT NOT NWH) it was for the murder of an innocent child, in the mini-series WandaVision (SPOILERS FOR THAT NOT NWH) it was for slavery — yes, you read that right —, in almost every movie starring Tony Stark (SPOILERS FOR ALL MCU MOVIES PRE-NWH) it was for the abuse of technological power at the cost of civilian lives, and in here it’s thankfully just at the mercy of a reasonably gullible yet well-intended teenager guided by his narrative’s entourage of fan service: shockingly the two least annoying elements of Spider-Man: No Way Home

As someone who was raised on Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies as a child, even before obsessing for any of the other masked comic-book crusaders, a sequel-hybrid that brings back the lead villains of those two movies can feel taunting when focusing too recklessly on trying to recreate our childhoods or fill some psychological void of incompletion that for, quote on quote, “ambiguous” reasons the film insists we need. The format of the nostalgia and drama in McKenna and Sommers’ script boils down from a MCU-like decision to once more hurl out-of-the-blue ultimatums onto the plot board, since the story thinks it has to concentrate more so on making sure that each and every one of the gazillion other references that it wants to weave in between can make the cut miraculously, something though that I’ve dully become numb to with this franchise but not nearly to the degree of what No Way Home challenges its viewers to believe. One ultimatum in particular I just know is going to bother me for the remainder of the next Holland trilogy from simply recalling that it could easily be used on future characters to resolve virtually any issue but simply won’t be in a universe infamously known for eradicating pre-established information. 

But that can be looked over, similar to the faults that can be found in the many MCU movies I do actually enjoy. However, that’s not what bothers me the most with this *capper* to the trilogy. Like all of Jon Watt’s web-slinging efforts thus far, there is a compelling story in No Way Home that is underestimated in this method of execution. One angle I do appreciate about this sequel is how Peter Parker actually faces hefty consequences, which toggles back to this idea of “second chances” and how there seems to be some reconstruction being done to the matter with its added adversity we don’t see enough in the MCU. A big source of this conflict derives from the morality of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, which is actually livelier than ever in this third entry, with his optimism excelling the latter of Garfield or Maguire’s personalities from their respective movies. It seemed promising, this pronounced darkness that we’re finally getting in an MCU Spider-Man movie, but then it hit me: that’s only because it is referring to, if not arguably copying, the web-slinger’s classic genesis formula.

The fans are finally getting the Peter Parker they wanted: one with virtually the same heartache story and struggles as what made up the original five Spider-Man movies, which is perplexing to think about considering Marc Webb’s Spider-Mans were criticized primarily for their lack of originality — aimed especially at his first outing in 2012 — yet No Way Home seems to be of a similar makeup with details however slightly adjusted and, most noticeably, coated in a deceiving pallet of reminiscence from the inclusion of a “multiverse”, giving me a lukewarm feeling throughout my viewing when wondering how exactly any of it is enriching Raimi’s initial tale for which many thought Webb’s movies failed to do, besides the fact that Watt’s version is making its influence a little less obvious. Funny enough, that “multiverse” component of this movie even rips off a theme that Into the Spider-Verse (2018) introduced — who would’ve guessed! — which would’ve been the one original idea McKenna and Sommers’ had going for them for better if Sony’s animation hadn’t divulged it just three years before. The ending though, which I won’t spoil, is at least half of a satisfying idea in consideration of what it sets up for the future of Peter Parker’s journey, partially compromised by how offensive the plot surfaces it and furthermore how familiar it is in its appropriation of Raimi and Webb’s work. However, endings have never been the MCU’s forte, and it’s at least nice to see that it mildly awards here more than anywhere else in the film.

In truth, No Way Home is essentially Peter Parker’s origin story in disguise, except this time there’s a fog of fan service galore in it to divert hardcore devotees from the fact that Marvel is just sending us straight back to square one to regurgitate this esteemed narrative for another generation to come. It is a celebration of doing practically the exact same and letting predecessors literally nod their heads in agreement that this has happened before. Hmm…

But hey, the comedy wasn’t bad! I hope that stays fixed again for the MCU because it has been lacking all year!

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked, MCU Ranked

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley

Despite being half an hour longer than the first film to adapt William Lindsay Gresham’s novel back in 1947, Guillermo del Toro’s revamp doesn’t seem to add a whole lot to the story than when it was initially told cinematically that at least isn’t obvious. Besides the matter of finally getting to see “The Geek” in action — a poor, interchangeable, drunk soul made to seem like some otherworldly beast that bites through the neck of live chickens and what other horrors have you — or diving into the topic of religion a little more heavily which does seem full of potential from the inclusion of the main character’s history with his devout yet abusive father that, although, never seems to reach the thematic heights it could’ve, there is however a much more noticeable change in its dramatic tension.

You see, the 2021 Nightmare Alley isn’t really that different next to its predecessor; in fact, it basically hits all the same narrative beats and does it though with a rather collected pace by means of del Toro’s usual silky visual direction and colored tint to switch appearances up. Nonetheless, it is essentially the same story but hailed with greater consequences during its final act. Yet, before the story gets all kamikaze there, it develops the relationships between its characters, but surprisingly, not nearly as well as Edmund Goulding’s version. In a movie this much longer than what came before it, one would have to wonder why the bonds between its devious personalities feel much more rushed than they did in a shorter adaptation. Is it because of the immersive avant-garde look it wants to focus on or the neat lore del Toro seeks to stretch out, pushing audiences further into the setting than in the original? Whatever it may be, it doesn’t seem worth it, at least to me, if it’s in sacrifice of the crucial escalations that can be blossomed between two characters. With that, those consequential dramatic details that del Toro rewrites in, which tragically affects these individuals, therefore don’t end up hitting as hard emotionally to the audience than they did previously with characters whose partnerships were thickened, even if said consequences are objectively more tragic than they were in Goulding’s adaptation.

Kind of like how I claimed that Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake was ever so slightly better than its source material, I’d actually claim that Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of Nightmare Alley is rather ever so slightly worse than the one that started it all. I think the easiest specific example I can give for my reason being is the use of fortune cards in both movies. In Goulding’s, we see Zeena (who is almost non-existent in del Toro’s adaptation) thoroughly explaining the meaning of each card to our main character Stanton, which subsequently foreshadows effectively the toxicity of what their relationship will become like in the future. Throughout the rest of the film, the cards continue to make appearances, metaphorically punishing Stanton’s ill-advised judgment more and more. In this remake, the existence of the fortune cards are used in only one scene, spoken about like an exposition dart and never to be seen again along with Zeena. del Toro’s adaptation may be brimmed of reemerging and new gizmos such as lie detectors or pickled punks to amp up the culture of America’s World War II years, but this material universe doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of enriching the living pawns participating in the story as well as Goulding’s did. 

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked, Guillermo del Toro Ranked

“Nightmare Alley” will be playing in theaters December 17th.

Quick-Thoughts: Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947)

A pretty by the numbers “conning others is only just the first act of conning yourself” noir fable, but a pretty entertaining one at that given how tightrope the relationships always are and not to mention just how engaging it is to learn about some background behind these deceptive techniques used in carnival career routes. Super intrigued now to see Guillermo del Toro’s spin on the story later this evening. 

Verdict: B-

“Nightmare Alley” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog is one of those movies that really makes you appreciate how intellectually loving and twisted people are towards each other, the kind of subtle grime in all of us that can see manipulation as an expression of tending for others, silent backstabbing as a wholesome compromise, and slight yet mean-spirited actions as a right of self-justice. It’s a film where people get to live beautiful lies for catastrophic exterior reasons, but man oh man do they seem so damn truthful towards the reality of life never being paved from simply discovering objective answers, but rather from accepting our ideal hopes as surface-level truths then and again till the end. I appreciate how the movie also incorporates clear or secluded traits of femininity and masculinity into all of the characters, and how the duality of them aggravate both the conflict and the solutions that they face. Jeez, it makes me want to tear up just thinking about how beautifully human (but also like how GOOD) this film is. Bravo, Campion! 

Verdict: B+

2021 Ranked

“The Power of the Dog” is now available to stream on Netflix.