Quick-Thoughts: Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun

Charlotte Wells is really on a mission here to revitalize reflection shots…

…but much bigger than just the compositional techniques here — which are, by the way, surprisingly calculated for something that generally appears so unrefined — is her revival of cinematic pathos. Next to Maggie Gyllenhaal who’s also directorial debut is about a tourist trip turned curse, a few up-and-coming filmmakers this decade have so far been trying to cultivate this vital area of storytelling while mostly everybody else — even you indie drama folk — enforce it in traditionally chintzy, structurally overdependent ways. Aftersun is so in the moment that it doesn’t even need plot deviations for you to get why this should hurt so much to consume; every revelation is already insinuated at the gecko and from there on forward gradually built upon. It trusts the audience in that regard to let the piled-on little glimpses tell you everything you need to know about what this means to the video-watcher and reminiscer herself, someone whose finite knowledge is shared with us. The spoon-feeding therefore becomes relatively repressed, at least more so than the status quo like a real memory.

Deep down inside, I’m a little pissed I didn’t come up with this gimmick, but that’s how I know I vibed with it unlike the majority of them this year. Aftersun is definitely up my alleyway when it comes to execution — even reminded me of how I’ve edited my recent college short films. It’s further inspiring how I’d like to express movies that are dedicated to memory; the liminal space (in footage and out) and modern contempt from it fused into a new core reminder that our time on Earth simply can’t discharge. And that climax is pure brick hits — picture the Hotel Room anomaly sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), yet it doesn’t star one human soul, but two of them: one jumping through time but the other trapped in a single event, and they’re somehow painfully interlinked, disrupting the peaceful passage of life, a purgatory-like contradiction to the recaller’s ability to move on the clock. Maybe this trapped one is your parent, or a normal conjoining of the two, the rock to lean on that mostly everybody else has day in day out, privileges that we don’t have reappearing in others or home video tape and wakening their spirit to us in a memory of when they were active.

Even when the obligatory feel-good, emotional heightener of a track eventually inserts itself during this culmination it doesn’t seem overdone; if anything, the film knows it’s damn well earned it whereas most would tack it at the coda as a sticking final blow to make up for a weak job, which is far from the case here. Nonetheless, it’s mostly meek memory dumping up until then that naturally haunts from its incessant absence of closure. Through in throughout though, it triumphs on that simplicity and the easy control of it with an anchor on lived-in performances and transitions that keep everything mobile, and it’s frankly heart poison to ride. 

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that this is the best emotional manipulation I’ve seen from a movie all year. Perfect for the equally manipulative coming holidays, as my heart grew (or perhaps shrunk?) three sizes this day.

Verdict: A-

2022 Ranked

“Aftersun” is now playing in select theaters. 

Quick-Thoughts: Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957)

“THERE’S NOTHING AS TRUSTWORTHY — AS THE ORDINARY MIND OF THE ORDINARY MAN”

That slogan isn’t exactly true. The ordinary man is more capable to think like the ordinary, sure. But, does that make him thee most trustworthy mind? No, it makes him the most reassuring for the dominating consumer audience. Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes was ordinary when it came to the social hierarchy, but he wasn’t docile enough to really be ordinary.

“They’re mine. I own them. They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am so I gotta think for them.”

Now, a celebrity man is definitely not an ordinary man though. To a degree, he has sovereignty over others so long as he preserves the image that got him to that title like say speaking for the ordinary, a free man’s behavior as illiterates would call it. Let’s face it, we don’t want a free man: we want a puppet of a free man who just so happens to be in service of the ordinary. We want to be manipulated that what the media broadcasts is in favor of us. But who in their right mind would give more than get to what they have near complete control over? The consideration of oneself overrules, and people feel safer pretending that isn’t the case for those in power, let alone anyone. Hey, your pills are poisonous. Bottoms up. 

“ESCAPE FREEDOM”

“But if this ain’t freedom, man, it’s the next best thing.”

Verdict: B+

“A Face in the Crowd” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Dull or war. The island of Inisherin is as bothered of a place as is its simpleton residents who perfectly elapse the time drinking pints at their one pub, herding their farm animals across every homogeneous neighbor abode, and conversing within the topical confinement of this intrinsically regimented cycle over and over again — say from the occasional war that can be sought just across the ocean. Not soon after though does this “simpleton” world quickly become fable: in the matter of just a beeline request, one man tells another that he no longer wants his company, as simpleton at long last can do no more for this sole Inisherin.

The told man, on the other hand, is conned rather enlisted out of simpleton because of this ex-best-friend’s erratic maneuver. It gets him to finally see that the daily papers he reads are full of unforgettably bilateral tales in the making exclusively happening on foreign soil, Inisherin’s window into outside affairs corrupting the peace of its simpleton environment. The two (like the generals across seas) want to believe that good is no longer measured by “kindness”, but by “immortality”, and in other words by “consequence”. In spite, sometimes kindness still can’t be helped.

Thus, the simpleton town can be remembered now, but only by means that it spiraled some of its people into further skepticism when having to defend it for a change. Fictional Inisherin will live on with real meaning for foreigners like us who hear time and time its tale, but for the fictional folk involved, it needed letting it go a little for such to even occur. To be a “somebody” to everybody requires giving away territory (sometimes quite literally) from your own fecking self, and inevitably, others’ fecking selves. And yet, that’s the fight you’re willing to make for simpleton, to prove its importance by tarnishing its once unexceptional harmony with rather unexceptional bedlam.

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Martin McDonagh Ranked

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave

☕️.

As you can imagine, Park Chan-wook going soft doesn’t exactly equate to a particularly happy-go-lucky narrative given what he’s known for. Sure, there aren’t people being bludgeoned to death with a hammer or even just steadily tortured with a paper cutter in Decisions to Leave, but the heartache that Chan-wook’s characters frequently accumulate to certainly simmers beneath every perverted act sparked between insomniac Detective Hae-joon and suspect Seo-rae. In classic noir fashion, Chan-wook follows our curious lead as he labors to decrypt the femme fatale, and in classic Chan-wook fashion, he engulfs our attention with eager visual splendor to support his unusual romantic affairs. 

Nobody leaves unless it’s to belong again. Hence, decisions.  

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Park Chan-wook Ranked

“Decisions to Leave” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Todd Field’s Tár

The conspiracy of evil: despotism, identity, certitude, the means surrounding such and not necessarily means that are pure in “evil”. Yet, as a byproduct of her reckless career suicide, legendary composer Lydia Tár is quickly learning what it’s like to live in a generation that wants to believe they are. What’s so interesting about Todd Field’s constantly labeled “cancel culture movie” beyond the culture that comes together to cancel one, is how he overviews why the target of them — a conductor whose entire work is built on controlling the time of others — made it her own doing for neglecting the time in which controls her, to tyrannically curtail the welfare of her human-centric foundation of power, to not stoop low for the perhaps flawed mainstream criteria that glorifies “the conspiracy of evil”, and to pick and choose what present reality modernities she would however kneel for because what good are they otherwise if they do not cater to her personal ethos? By the end though, Tár humbles herself by abstaining from this perspective and adapting more to the new world’s heart even if her own heart somewhat has it out for the old. Who’s a “robot” now?

158 minutes of cautious storytelling just to examine what it’s like for a god to overcome a shed of ego? Hell yeah. Between Tár and Memoria, this year’s been going OFF on nostalgia.

Verdict: A-

2022 Ranked

“Tár” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness

If The Guitar Mongoloid (2004) was a satire making fun of plausible lower-class state of affairs, and if Force Majeure (2014) was a satire making fun of plausible middle-class state of affairs, then… well… you can do the math. Perhaps beyond what’s most obvious about Ruben Östlund’s sixth feature-length Triangle of Sadness, aside from its mock of life’s “greatest” financial extravaganzas, is its premise of a lab rat experiment that neutralizes them into the impossible equilibrium that its lucrative characters are made fun of for believing in, harkening all the way back to material like Luis Buñuel’s 1962 bourgeoise-critique classic The Exterminating Angel (1962), which Östlund had even preceded a bit in his last feature The Square (2017). When at the mercy of living, rich or poor, always comes the necessity of the animal.

Winning the Palme d’Or is always infuriatingly tricky because, for one, it sets up distended expectations for a film among a hundred equally worthy choices that won’t come with the burden of its prerequisites, and two, it’s easy to demonize the ones that aren’t saying the most profound things ever said in cinema, and if the controversial reaction to his first win with Square proves anything it’s that Triangle is bound to receive a similar treatment again.

What mother! (2017) is to Darren Aronofsky is essentially what this is to Östlund’s career: you’re there mainly for the ride, the excess of its immersion, and the surface-level schematics are sort of just there as simply blueprint for those opportunities to exist. In theory, we’re all quite familiar with lucky money sometimes buying out adverse experiences and adverse experiences sometimes buying out lucky money in the great scheme of life’s dichotomies for which oscillate given the topical hierarchy that promises the most fail-safe survival, and for fans, so do Östlund’s customary interests in innate masculine x feminine roles and their transgressions amongst even the most pretentiously simulated as “ideal” settings. But damn, if it isn’t just loads of fun to watch those ideas (as redundant as they’ve been done) actually play out by a director who knows how to make use of hyperactive cinematic nauseation and exceptionally drunk-dumb comedic writing that has yet to sink in quality even a little after almost two decades into his ever increasingly inflated career with critical reception.

If anything, seeing the film’s intoxicated bond between an American communist and Russian capitalist is worth the price of admission alone. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Triangle of Sadness” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part V of V

“I’m really proud that I conquered you.”

After Force Majeure and now The Square, it’s become quite apparent to me that after the clear protruding Andersson and Haneke phases in his earlier work, Ruben Östlund has subsequently transmuted into making rather some of the most original work of this century so far whether you jive with its peculiarities or not. This is a fair, though seemingly bit insecure in if it’s saying enough to the point where sometimes it’ll just say it, examination of social class polarity and congruence that’s not quite at the level of something like his previous feature Play (2011), but one that’s outrageously amplified by how absorbing the otherwise diversely creative and atmospheric scenarios the commentary can find itself in, even when push comes to shove. I can picture all the madness here being more accordingly divided and subsequently comprehensive in the form of a mini-series, cause the catchiness to the film is almost fittingly like an open-ended gallery walk itself — episodic in that regard — taken on by mainly one lead figure who runs back and forth between its different attractions and arguably treats them as so, which makes for an egocentric *yet very human* leading set of eyes to see through. 

As a dark comedy, I think this nails its intentions the most. Watching people in power candidly attempt art on classism as an act of creating change (monetarily and self-righteously) is always going to trigger but also be a reference point to laugh it down by the majority audience, and while its hitting common knowledge clichés that you’d presume come with modern technological liberal media-based business scheming and the behavior of its chairmen, it admittedly runs with them well as if they were gags in a sitcom, and Östlund’s usual erratic character retorting helps fortify them with unsheathing enigma as well. Obviously, you’d hope that the film is self-aware enough nonetheless to notice how this subjugation of supposed depth is mirroring the film’s very existence in a way; it seems partially intentional but, at the same time, Östlund goes to prove there’s a never-ending existential inclination for this realization of the soundless bourgeoise to come full circle in a meaningful way that can make sense of their nature towards the encompassing social pawns which is demonstrated pretty thoroughly in the movie; an ending that doesn’t do this in the most LITERAL way possible by basically giving up for example. This would indicate that even the world-builder doesn’t know what to make of the many pieces he’s assembled here, perhaps an assembly of his own self-image as a matter of fact, which will probably make its cryptic precariousness rightfully come off as pretentious to a plethora of viewers, but I can relate to *and therefore forgive* the dilemma honestly. Art often reveals the mess of us as contradictory and hypocritical as it can get most of the time, and I’ll cheers to hollering at that whether I feel self-deprecative enough to see it or blissfully unaware enough to pretend like I do at the moment.

The Square is also shot to f**king death as goes with an Östlund 2010s picture at this point. Its sound design is everything to boot, and that performance party scene in particular — like a build-off of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) — is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed on screen in a while. Actually, I’ll credit the condom scene to that as well. Of course, Elisabeth Moss of any actor also happens to be in it, and not to mention a chimpanzee in the background just cause.

Verdict: B

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“The Square” is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure (2014)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part IV of V

If it weren’t for Mats, this movie would’ve been virtually nothing but pain. 

If you’ve ever heard people talk about how it takes no more than a second to ruin a marriage, they ain’t bulls**tting. There are a surplus of factors that are taken for granted, or more so, assumed upon when diving headfirst into the prospect of family. But the reality is, all it takes is one glimpse at a contradiction to something you’d always considered organic, meaning you never really had to question its existence, and you’ll… well… begin questioning it. Gender roles are an essential one: something that warps the more and more our independence to explore philosophical idealism is swelled, but something that will always exist in the back of our minds and far down in our gut so long as we’re human. 

Settings such as a cozy middle-class resort are semblances that convince us of our own security, automatically permitting people to indulge in more societal ethics rather than biological ones, and many have become accustomed to its comforts that program humans with an obliviousness to danger. Yet, the fact of the matter is, whenever the curtains do draw of needing to survive, the biological nature of attraction will lead however much again. Since the beginning of life, protection has been one of the key traits a man is most valued for, and in Force Majeure, its existence, hidden time and time again in the age of today, is exposed brutally.  

So when it happens, a wife’s image of her husband is shattered as if God is seemingly sending signal after signal to indicate that perhaps he’s a chum father and lover. The innocence exhibited by their forgiving children contradicts tragically with their Mother and Father’s interpersonal development as they attempt to mend their quarrel from escalating; they don’t quite understand the deeper impetus behind why his actions are condemned by their Mother in particular, but they understand it could be a dealbreaker for the both of them if they do confront it. The husband experiences a reality check from this breakage of once warm absent-mindedness: despite the security he provides for his family from his financially affluent job, he can still be on the lifeline for having any sort of slip up in his distribution of it, and the gender-based or parental-based reactions from others reaffirm to him more than the ones on the nature of ego that it’s something worthy of being profoundly ashamed of – the independence is unswelling! Thus, the movie is a medley of angles, and the often tense atmosphere Ruben Östlund masters here is able to magnify them as we pivot from each evolving character perspective.

Towards the final act, Force Majure then becomes a reclaiming of masculinity comedy. Proving you’re a traditional man may still be a requirement even in this day in age, but in bourgeois living conditions, maybe not as much as in the days of say Alexander the Great. The film has a marvelously bittersweet method of resolving it all, though mended with concernable pity, it restores the family image even so as something like a darkly waggish Homer Simpson kind of exemplum would promote.

Verdict: A-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Force Majeure” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Play (2011)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part III of V

“Be honest and tell Mum and Dad what happened.”

In just the opening scene, you can tell Ruben Östlund is helming this from the work of Michael Haneke. Play plays *not intended* some real-life Funny Games (1997) with not only the psychological infliction and torture its characters embark on, but the emotional and moral conflict it puts you as a viewer through, now presented via concrete plausibilities involving race however, and not Haneke’s guilt-tripping consumption of staged violence. One way or another, you’ll be triggered by it.

Between the pivotal characters awaits a glimpse into tribal mentality. The victims, for example, criticize their friend for trying to walk out of a frankly hostile situation, as if the gesture is impolite, selfish, or perhaps an ethical betrayal to both them and the robbers who they’ve developed Stockholm syndrome for. Clans will pressure collective suffering to suggest disbandment as the consequence of avoiding it. Then there are the sly robbers, on the other hand, one who even guilt-trips the white (and the token Asian) kids by telling them, “anybody dumb enough to show their phone to five black guys has only themselves to blame.” Fact of the matter: everybody here is indulging in racial stereotypes that have instituted this negative altercation whether ill-intended or not. Previously, two of the kids even beat up their friend for opting out of continuing the unusual robbing and discharge him from the group. It’s as if shame is not only brought upon people who do not believe in the “labels”, but also brought upon people who do not live up to their “labels”.

Occasionally, Play will also be in the company of white side characters who relish in the culture of foreigners but at the same time remote to hearing their struggles out. Funny how the poor in this are seen as material “thieves”, and the financially stable are pardoned for any other form of it. Low-income creates criminals, low-income selection is often a byproduct of racism, particular groups of color are then labeled, thus everybody begins to apply negative biases on races even if they’re directed at themselves. But then again, there are also the high-income whites who’ll try to compensate for it with liberal excess, and some low-income minorities are willing to take advantage of that, but subsequently the other high-income whites will REALLY take advantage of it as a method of gaining more control — having the gall to illegally harass a child physically is one thing, but there’s so much more to the idea in which the film proposes from this incident that’ll get audiences thinking.

Suffice it to say, it’s an infuriatingly anti-wing film that wants you to struggle siding. I’m sure it’s especially meant to challenge those in position of a clear wing nonetheless, but anyone on the political spectrum in general will probably face internal conflict enduring the material here regardless.

*at least as an American, I know for the majority of us it’s going to be DENIAL*

One thing is for certain nonetheless: the presentation of it all is f**king elaborate. On top of its feasible personas — this time though relying on primarily child actors —, Östlund has surpassed the frozen still shot with sparing transitional camera movements (sometimes ones that appear automated or Ken-Burns-esc to replicate a bystander POV) and lens focusing that reminded me of how much blocking can feel like a magic trick. Even amidst the manipulative ambition Play has, you can’t deny it executes such with an iron fist.

Verdict: B+

Ruben Östlund Ranked

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

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary (2008)

Ruben Östlund Marathon Part II of V

Essentially round two of The Guitar Mongoloid but with more coherent themes linked between the multiple ongoing incidents. Much to its name, Involuntary is about how we maneuver observation: the silence of observation, the withholding of observation, the coping of observation, handling release of information from observation, affirming what we’ve observed into the reality of others – despite social jeopardy – as perhaps an intrinsic way of affirming it into our own. It’s then only fitting that Ruben Östlund continues to utilize his Peeping Tom compositions throughout, limiting visual boundaries as an atmospheric emulation of our innate pining to disinter closure.

Also, no wonder the bus driver’s wife divorced him so heinously. Supreme foreshadowing! 

Verdict: B-

Ruben Östlund Ranked

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