Denis Villeneuve’s Dune – A Polarizing Beginning

“Desert power” is my new “Ocean Master” now. 

It may be long from now before we ever see a movie as menacing in its size and presence as Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The coined saying “you won’t believe it until you see it” gets thrown around a lot in the culture of film criticism, but never has it met its definition when referring to a visual “epic” as much as it has here, maybe since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy. The sound alone of Dune is assertive and penetrative enough to make it feel like you’re experiencing some form of celestial ascension. Villeneuve bounds the screen with an uncanny amount of noise to make his film seem like no other, and it works. There is a meditative intensity and even a surreal, dream-like hesitancy too with how he directs and edits many of the introductions to the world’s inventive visual structures, customs, and creatures. On top of that, from the shield fighting to every little VFX strand of hair-like features on those giant worms, the special effects are as close to perfect as cinematic sci-fi has come. The experience is truly worth every penny to see such optically and audibly coercing extravaganzas on the big screen.

And yet, despite such appraisal of these technical miracles… akin to Villeneuve’s last outing Blade Runner 2049 (2017), he finds himself stumbling regardless. His plots usually aren’t as clever as the thematic ideas he wants to coalesce in them, with Dune representing however those torn directly from the movie’s source material. Giant event by giant event almost happens immediately after the fact despite this movie wanting to seem like a lived-in reality, one with the potential to connect us more to a thrilling purpose in its creation. 

To whether its blame is upon great Frank Herbert himself — have not read the book, sorry — or our adapter, the surrounding characters aren’t as sophisticated as their reason to the plot is, similar to once again 2049’s. Even Paul, the heart of the story, is barely interesting in his “chosen one” by the numbers conflict, saved thankfully enough nonetheless by the ambiguity he faces of knowing what exactly his destiny of being the artificial Christ really entails. Villeneuve will often use curious, unexplained yet intense lore, within the vein of the kooky randomness or fictional culture shocks you’d find in something like the original Star Wars (1977), to the point however where we’re enlightened to go back and see them again, regazing at these expositional attempts to lure us into a world centuries into further alienation from the humanity we know of that although… also wants to parallel ours. It’s a difficult task to pull off, this combination of worlds, and even more so if we are to rely on siding with or at least investing ourselves into these foreign people of Atreides; why should we care to view their fight aside from just obliviously basking in the explosive violence that encompasses it? The film almost certainly wants us to relate to their struggle, but it doesn’t necessarily put in the effort to make an excellent job of it.

Paul’s father Leto mentions a few times in the movie that their house is in favor of having peace with the inhabitants that they have claimed land from, something vital that could’ve been the very kinetic presence to get us emotionally wrapped up in these colonists’ journey, yet it seems wrongly underdeveloped in the nature of this movie. Villeneuve even makes Herbert’s famous “fear is the mind killer” appear more like a cameo here than a matured theme, and it doesn’t help the movie feel any less like just some long checklist of thematic introductions. It’s as if Villeneuve has stripped and mitigated messages and the characters’ intentions out more than ever for fast plot sequencing, which is such devastating judgement on his end in consideration of possibly having these specular visuals he’s created accompany something truly poignant and gripping that could match its own massively physical magnitude, therefore making Dune the bigger-than-us epic it yearns to be. Where there is a story of colonialism, religious manipulation, and organized duplicity happening right in front of us, it can occasionally be a shame to see Villeneuve abstaining any expansion to their composition, as if he’s holding off on his very provocative movie only for the second part; something though that is not yet a guarantee to eulogize this opening chapter.

That may be why I see this as my least favorite film Villeneuve has done so far, because his character interpretations of Herbert’s didn’t stick with me as much as any of his rather original designs did. His chi for captivating a foreign universe is in tip-top shape like never before and truly unparalleled to no other modern auteur, but it’s just not enough to make Dune a great movie when you cannot also captivate the people who embody that scope so long as the story begs of you too with its parallels to a relatively non-foreign political universe. Who knows though? Maybe part two will help enhance this adapted cinematic opener for one of sci-fi’s most renowned novels. But for now, the biggest drawback of Dune: Part One is that it’s just barely standing on its own two feet. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked, Denis Villeneuve Ranked

“Dune” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

Reference Notes – Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

“‘We are really, truthfully happy.’ ‘But it doesn’t matter.’”

  • Hey, but who wouldn’t take advantage of their glucose guardian? I mean, we’re only human, your Honor; can you really blame them for wanting to taste the devious licks of mukbang supremacy???
  • Chytilová said this on behalf of what she and her crew were attempting to do with the making of this movie: “We would like to unveil the futility of life in the erroneous circle of pseudo-relations and pseudo-values, which necessarily leads to the emptiness of vital forms, in the pose either of corruption, or of happiness.”
  • Daisies is not just a successful experimental satire on emphasizing gender roles through reversal behavior, but one based on pointless fulfillment as a reflection of our desire to succeed in whatever social ground rules may be the current status quo. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty depressing movie about surreal explosive behaviors arriving in head as a result of accepting the neverending “ethical” obligations that can never leave one’s humanity. To be specific though, the film decides to gear itself towards sexist issues regarding sovereignty against females in the spirit of this tragic philosophy, and how it corruptly limits their ability to publicly exemplify diverse character. By doing so, it turns the tables for the audience from the expected refrained female character by introducing to us two versions of a woman named Marie who uses their feminine roles to take advantage of the perpetrators, perpetrators that have unintentionally helped them indulge into these physically obnoxious yet equitably warranted behaviors. The movie comes off as if it is trying to be simultaneously both frightening with its commentary on social limitation yet uplifting with its destruction of the typical female conduct, which has resulted in its curiously mixed reception and interpretations over the past half-century.
  • The two Maries obsession with food is of course applicable to material priority in feminine culture. It’s displayed so harshly in the film as almost like a detrimental drug addiction that’s being literally fed into their personalities to keep them afloat and controlled by bourgeoisie males. The movie, however, decides to scour this in irony by acting as if the two are constantly happy for this sort of lifestyle, and that they are really the ones in control of the men when really, the culture they’ve lived in has led them in no other direction but to indulge in this material reliance on powerful, working class men, and nothing else but the rush and reiteration of their restricted outlet. They are not necessarily happy, but being forced to act or tricked to think they can only be pleased by expanding their overplayed roles in a self-aware sort of fashion. Nonetheless, it feels sometimes as if it’s still all there just so that they can play devious parts in some puppet show where they (the women) are naturally ridiculed for their roles that are shown as being strictly vain and worthlessly (even childishly) simple, as opposed to what many considered the bigger importance of male roles; this is an area of normality that may be the cause of society having critiqued feminine roles in the first place, as the two Maries are very much representative of the symbolically stripped-down “empty” characters that come from wealthy men encouraging and even forcing women to stay, ritualize and indulge as the imprisoned, immovable and replaceable “doll-like” stereotypes for their own sexual and egotistical male gratifications.
  • While Daisies could then easily be summed up as a visually aggressive evocation of this obsessive repetition and resultant lunacy that one is actually in a state of freedom rather than the evidently existential state, in terms of its political commentary on the Czech government, I will have to do more research on my second viewing of that since I’m partially oblivious to their cultural background.
  • The burning of the masculine male photo puts a reversal on the real life idea of how women are dunked under when they lose their sexualized femininity. The concept of there being so many unattractive older men popularly conditioned to partner with beautiful younger women topically falls in line with Chytilová’s statement about how the feminine pressures of her time are enough to begin pushing women harder into thinking the same standards for men, which feels more relevant today than ever.
  • Daisies’ editing / camerawork is so animatedly in-sync with its sundry and twitchy soundtrack that it actually makes me feel bad that so many movies I’ve seen choose to not just be as freely ambitious and expressive as this. Also, the psychedelic train track shot is far and beyond good enough to be in 2001 (1968)’s stargate sequence. The scissor fight scene is also kooky enough to be in House (1977). Funniest part is, Daisies came out before both of these movies. Even the still image montaging feels so reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer’s work too; wow this movie did a LOT for cinema.

Verdict: B+

“Daisies” is now available to stream on HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Reference Notes – Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • 2nd Viewing

“My illness! Have you forgotten already? Everyone forgets but me.”

  • The halfway point — one of the greatest transitions in the history of cinema — marks Cléo’s passage from thespian to roamer.
  • To defy both curiosity and confrontation is to be fitted into the socially preferred disguise, i.e. the role of thespian.
  • The role of a roamer is both flawed in fulfilling complete, innate human desires just like the thespian: it emphasizes one to become another piece in a movement of the world rather than a spectacle of attention, clashing between yearns of freedom and admiration or of a curious paralysis and constant thoughts of material duty. Cléo’s journey towards the final act results in her subconsciously learning about how intimate relationships are the simultaneous balance from gaining the benefits and dropping the sacrifices of the two elements as opposed to the often segmented and instructional lifestyle we find ourselves switching back and forth between and completely submitting to in its rules. She becomes liberated with this proximity to death, strayed from obligation; this near death is a metaphor for her push to leave the shell and reinterpret what she wants her place in the world to be.
  • Team Antoine > Team Bob. Enough said. 
  • Cléo awaiting for the results for her illness is obviously symbolic of her fearing that she is no longer beautiful, that she has worn out her disguise.
  • Cleo’s friend’s modeling moment in the movie is obviously a representation of the un-fetishized viewing of femininity by males, opposed to Cleo’s journey which involves the sexualization from the gaze. The little short film starring Godard and Karina is even symbolic of being blind (dark glasses) to the non-sexual side of someone: the rather “wonder” of both feminine and masculine traits.
  • Cleo’s superstition plays a big role in the movie too. It seems to be the only reassuring element of belief she has to hold onto since she cannot get any from her peers; her viewpoint of “authentic” answers has sadly boiled down to something as naive as this from how corrupt her social group is. 
  • In the first half, Cleo’s own perception of self seems to be exclusively reflected in her celebritization, and the validation of her identity seems to be found in how the people view her work or her presence rather than her internal entirety. At the end, she admitting that her real name is “Florence” is representative of the “Cléo” mask almost completely coming down in front of Antoine. 
  • Agnès Varda says so much with such simple yet real and natural everyday examples within her structuring of Cléo from 5 to 7 and its claustrophobic 2-hour to 90 minute timeframe, and even brilliantly brings notions of celebritization into the experience of the common citizen. This is truly a filmmaking exemplar in balancing nimble technique manipulations and, more notably, unusually relatable and subtle visual storytelling.

Verdict: A-

A Conflict in the New Wave, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Cléo from 5 to 7” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975) – The Unsolvable Tale in His Filmography

2nd Viewing 

Magically you will be removed of your stutter. Magically you will be able to speak plainly. Magically you will be able to speak every word, every letter, with utter truth. You are no longer human, you can now speak your mind with pure conviction. So then, tell us your life with this utter truth, through memories which will undoubtedly lie to you. No, maybe not lie, maybe they are nothing but the truth now, they are objectively the only truth now, the only meaning, and nobody, no scientist nor god, can change that. 

A mind nor a mouth can never speak plainly. “Plainly” will never be seen as “truth” in our vocabulary. There will always be stuttering. 

Tarkovsky’s Mirror though knows this. A somehow near perfect, agonizing and confusing bottled-up collage of memory, of nostalgia, of sticking images or of phrases that have become riddles from lost context, of already explored mysteries that can’t be put back together, of possible fantasized dramatizations, and of the unexplainable deja vu, memories that instinctively help us understand the present and our developing beliefs. A man wanders into a mother’s territory, yapping to her about how we do not trust nature enough. A boy in the army acts upon his memory and is shunned for it through the current’s overruling. Some of Tarkovsky’s strongest use of atmosphere resides here, and not just with its chaotic structure between different pasts and newsreel footages, but in the evocation he’s able to extract from even the simplest of natural occurrences that then become intense, things that flee so quickly yet you’re never sure what made them needy enough to want to hold onto in the first place. Something as meaningless as drying water can poetically feel just as limited as a coming death in this world, where the confusion of these parallel feelings for the inevitable is what rattles the screen up with personality and success upon its audience. The endless existential grime lingering behind the film’s historical context also makes Mirror no less puzzling yet ironically comforting, exchanging similarities between characters and real life events that in a way bind us together as if we were one repeated experience happening in ordered harmony. Memories are what cause us to make sense of life, they are the closest things in allowing us to seem destined by nature, whether that destiny remains undefined in our heads. 

Theories are wonderful though, and if I had to put a pin on the main gist of the many ones scattered within Mirror, based on Tarkovsky’s own statements throughout his career, it’d be that this is by a long-shot the most laborious way of saying “sorry, Mom” ever conceived. The movie is clearly interested in attributable lineage of genetic personalities, particularly pertaining to Tarkovsky’s own ego and sensationalism he must have ran conflicting towards others in his own life, something he sees was passed onto him by his own mother; this blame then reveals a secondary layer of recollection though where Tarkovsky’s guilt towards how he has been interpreting memories of his mother becomes a newer appreciation for what she did otherwise, inspiring grief and desperation though for not loving or respecting her as much as he may have back then, resulting in today. The scene where a woman complains about how she wished for a girl, not a boy, to another (allegedly Tarkovsky’s) mother could help explain this. Yet, it’s further obvious that that, if even remotely true, simply can’t be all to the movie when looking at how it attempts to coincide these emotions with the scale of Russia’s own historical context from the war Tarkovsky lived through as a child. The collectiveness of these coinciding incidents lead me to believe there must be some connection between our helmed accomplishments and ruthless catastrophes that are bounded by this similar effect distorted memories can have on them. Maybe memory transcends strict time in this regard, tampering future with its bothering of past, restructuring sequence constantly just as the film has done to itself. Reality functions more like a mirror than it does an unstoppable continuum. 

Evidently, this is the most beautiful mess cinema has ever gifted us with. Literally! Tarkovsky would bring last minute add-ons or changes to the script day to day during production, causing scheduling turmoil and a lack of confidence for his project; the post-production crew could barely assemble the movie together during the editing stage cause even they didn’t know what the f**k was happening with these scenes that were so sporadically coined up by Tarkovsky on the spot from its incomplete script. The content of this project is partially mended by whatever memories spawned from the director during set dramas. Mirror is maybe the most infuriating, demanding movie ever made, yet that’s why so many of us seem to love it; this film moves in feelings for a past that it itself can’t even keep up with, therefore abolishing relevant, controlled logic or chronology unlike any piece of art I’ve consumed before. Yet, that’s exactly what scrolling through nostalgia is, nostalgia that then counteracts regret for what it has only led to in the present one’s relationships and own character, hoping for forgiveness in remembrance and acknowledgement of what it was before according to recollection. 

Damn, that last sentence would’ve made for quite a good transition into Tarkovsky’s 1983 feature if only he hadn’t made Stalker (1979) right after this. How dare he make so many masterpieces inconvenient to my reviewing.

Verdict: A

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Mirror” is now available to purchase from The Criterion Collection.

The Curious Case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’S Most Disappointing Movie Yet: Black Widow

WARNING: Black Widow Spoilers Ahead

2021 really is the year where Marvel can’t find a way out of writing their most embarrassing finales yet to eerily compliment fairly promising first and second acts. 

Before I dive into what may become my longest MCU-related review yet, I wanted to talk about something I initially admired about Black Widow that unfortunately became something which only made me even more riled up by it: the opening. Essentially, we are introduced to a flashback sequence where we observe a supposedly regular family that Natasha (aka Black Widow) had before meeting The Avengers, but it’s disclosed that they are in some sort of danger. They seem quite put together relationship-wise, but there is no doubt that they are on the run from an unusual threat. This entire sequence misleads the audience beautifully into assuming the obvious of something that would be established as your typical glimpse into a superhero origin story: they’re being chased by some sort of evil and the parents are trying to protect their children. If you have seen Black Widow, obviously you know that that isn’t exactly the case. We learn that not only are the parents just decoys used to emulate the common socialization of familyhood for the children, but that they were there using these kids as experimental pieces that would hopefully build them into becoming A-1 assassins. The family was being chased because, well, the parents were legitimately holding children hostage. The parents are debatably psychopaths! The best scene in this movie shows us how the ex-father figure Red Guardian and the younger ex-daughter Yelana confront each other about this; it ends up being a dispiritingly simple-answerable yet rightfully bonafide discussion. To this extent, that is about the farthest compliment I can give Black Widow, but either way, these pros are ultimately tarnished by how the movie decides to further add to them in notably its finale. 

Scarlett Johansson has been a part of this franchise since 2010, and her character has also been demanded repeatedly to have her own solo spot in the light for years now, and despite us now finally getting there given this new movie that has come out about her, all I can say is “Natasha, you f**king deserved way better!” The fact that your movie has been delayed and delayed for a decade now is already considerable proof that Disney never gave a damn about any sort of “just” female representation until the concept of it became mainstream and thereon profitable, so I don’t think any of us should be surprised that your time to shine came into fruition so late. Anyhow, I’m sorry to say but, Black Widow may just be the worst MCU movie ever written, at least to me.

Look I would’ve been completely fine if this entire movie was just some awkward family reunion or if it stuck with its spy espionage, Matrix-like hyper-trained combat choreography — reminiscent of The Winter Soldier and even the Jason Bourne films — instead of it being periodically abandoned for (weakly edited) cheap and clean protagonist victories followed by disproportionately cartoonish action sequences. At first this movie smartly doesn’t seem like it’s about heroes but victims fending off for themselves from the dangers of the company that created them, yet almost always with these newer MCU movies does there have to be some out of place “bigger scheme” to their conquest that’ll ultimately sacrifice their level-headed developments for idealistic (i.e. unrealistic) improvements in themselves. I don’t think this universe has ever had a movie this try-hard thus far, and I will go into more detail about that of course later in this review. It’s just mind-boggling to recognize how powerful an ending can be, with such a savage ability to leave me with a purely sour taste in my mouth for something that I actually had fun with for some of its runtime. Conclusions are collateral when they eradicate every good idea they set up with spoon-feed pay-offs!

Instead of just making a movie about those opening credits where we can truly deep-dive into the manipulative transformation of underaged soldiers into cold-blooded killers or even the industrial corruptions of inflated secrecies in organization, the film just decides to show pity remorse for the concept of child slavery once the victims have become adults… The movie ends up presenting a cheesy resolution where decades of a misogynistic man’s oppression can be instantly taken down, and that leads me to another major complaint I have with Black Widow: it dares to include an allegory for sex trafficking, which is quite possibly the most notorious and disturbingly impenetrable worldwide crime a human can commit and the movie plays it off like it’s some quick-solve disruptance. I know most people will probably not look this far into what the blockbuster is trying to explore with this underlying implication, but to me the fact that a large amount of people will watch these Marvel movies and subconsciously infer and take into account this loose information about a very real atrocity is unfortunate. This film is undoubtedly trying to impact people with discussion about parallels to our own world, cause trust me, something as bold as sex-trafficking wouldn’t be implied in a film if it weren’t trying to make a statement.

I don’t think it’s healthy to always be consuming media that glorifies the idea that all it takes is a superhero to instantly fix a very real-life situation such as sex-trafficking; it’s a manipulatively utopian belief to teach children that all that has to happen for something to be fixed is to let someone who has more power than you do the work for you as if the cruel scheme of life is that easy to patch up or, better yet, that you yourself have the power to instantly fix an issue as if it would take no effort to complete it and not a long journey of planning and built-up collaboration to get there. I do believe though that most people are thankfully able to suspend their disbelief, so I’m sure most aren’t thinking or taking the hilariously surface-level Harvey Weinstein-esc plotline seriously, but I’m just personally annoyed by the fact that Marvel even attempted to integrate something as serious, touchy, and complex as sex-trafficking into such a goofball of a story. I mean, speaking of Weinstein who is clearly being mirrored in this movie with the main villain, just look at his situation for example; it took decades for that man to actually be sent to prison after all the sex crimes he committed and a long line of accusations that had to be piled up for it to finally be taken seriously, some of those accusations coming from people who were spilling the tea on him for also decades. Nonetheless, I guess this will probably only come off as a problem to you if it collides with your own moral beliefs, but since it collided with mine, obviously it made me think lesser of the film and of course its messages.

I think Black Widow got unlucky being so far ahead in the MCU’s canon, because it almost feels like another add on to our fatigue for the ever-increasing fantasy-driven bulls**t that has made the superhero experience progressively worse than maybe it would’ve been if it had came out earlier in the franchise when logic wasn’t at least completely abandoned. Anyways, sticking to the topic of the idealism envelope we find stirring in the MCU today, let’s talk about another prominent villain in Black Widow called Taskmaster: turns out, she’s just here to be a plot device so we can have an absolutely pathetic redemption arc for Natasha. This again is another Marvel superhero moment where a character makes a fatal mistake (Natasha *allegedly* killed a child) and doesn’t end up suffering the full consequences of it because it was actually a (difficult to believe) hoax all along. Wow, these heroes really are invincible! 

The psychopathic parents that I mentioned before who were really well set up in that opening due to them being coated in deception like a real smuggler suddenly decide they want to do the right thing out of… I don’t know… God’s will? Maybe though this doesn’t completely apply to David Harbour’s character, but Rachel Weisz’s character (the ex-mother figure) is so horribly underdeveloped that the film thought it would be okay for her to suddenly want to take down an organization she’s helped out for decades, one for which she furthermore also knew the Leader’s weakness — so if she really despised this leader, why did she not try to take him down beforehand — yet all it took was being called a “coward” for her to finally commit to it. Also, the main villain Dreykov was able to keep all these women enslaved for decades yet makes a series of some of the dumbest decisions you could possibly make in the finale at the convenience of allowing the good guys to succeed by cornering ALL of his slaves into one room with the heroes who he knows could have an antidote for their mind-control… Umm… I don’t even want to talk about the sacrifice that Yolanda makes because I’m sure for those who watched it, you already know how out of place it felt practically, phasing as another random way to spark an emotional reaction from the audience. Plus, don’t even get me started on how the climax was sequenced so that they could implement some twists and turns into the mix; it’s embarrassingly structured and more importantly convoluted logistically.

To me like I said before, this may just be the worst MCU movie not because it’s the least competently directed or acted one — since it really isn’t! — but because it tries to do SO MUCH thematically but only wants to take last-minute shortcuts to get there. Full redemptions (necessary or out of place) and major personality changes (needed or not) are all amalgamated at the span of minutes in just one ridiculously over-produced finale, frying my brain to dumbfounded shock as I left the theater. When it comes to a case such as Black Widow, I think I’ve officially learned that me being suddenly disappointed as a film goes along just hurts more than say being consistently bored which most of the bottom-tier MCU fare committed before 2021. Natasha is one of the least interesting characters in her own movie; her arcs only makes her seem as unbelievably over-the-top (even for MCU standards) as the new-founded trivialized action sequences. She’s a character now that feels inaccessibly invincible for the audience. It’s already difficult to connect with people who can’t be physically harmed in action spectacles, but when a movie ironically then thinks it’s okay to bring “psychological” harm into the mix with something as ridiculous as Natasha killing a little girl and then that little girl happening to be alive from a colossal explosion all along just so Natasha can reassure how perfect she is by saving this girl as an adult, you’ve basically lost most of my respect for your lead that you want us to emphasize with. I don’t know, why not just have her face the consequences so she can be inspired to become a better person? Why go through all these extra loopholes? Doesn’t it seem so simple or am I just losing my mind???

Bless, Florence Pugh though; her performances have never stumbled even in movies as bad as this. As a sibling, I also related to how they wrote her banter because a lot of it seemed “weak” but on purpose in a “this is coming off the top of my head, and I’m not really trying to offend you; I’m just teasing you because you’re my sibling” sort of routine that many of us can familiarize with. Trust me, I would be giving this film the lowest score possible if her, David Harbour, or that opening weren’t as emotionally convincing or as entertaining personality-wise.

Everybody’s accents here may have gone a little too far, nonetheless. Yikes!

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked, The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked

“Black Widow” is now playing in theaters and available to purchase on Disney+.

Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007) and the Laws of Tradition vs. Change

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • ?? Viewing

“Change is nature.” 

I’m already impressed by Brad Bird’s direction which he has at this point mastered in his career, whether he’s switching from low-ground perspectives to the action occurring at human-level that he served well with in The Incredibles (2004) but rather confined into tighter spaces. However, can we just talk about the sheer amount of social commentary that Ratatouille features? This movie is BRIMMED! 

Remy is the absolute personification of an art w**re, and his own eating procedure pretty much sums that up perfectly: he appreciates a “slow-burn”, the awakening taste of “experimenting”, and really “thinking” about what you’re consuming rather than letting it be numbed to just background noise. He’s living in the motions that any person with a hardcore passion or hobby for something possesses when it has become the primary of themselves and ultimate purpose of their existence. No wonder critics and cinema fanatics connect to this movie so much! 

Brad Bird and writers understand social history when it comes to art as well, and they express this thoroughly with a key idea: the creators of cultural assets that then become popularized through means of other cultures/stealers can, sure, often bring initial satisfaction to the original creators from the joy it successfully brings to the world, yet over the course of time, that false praise inevitably will become tedious to them, and Ratatouille shows how an artist can easily shift-gears to “getting credit” as the on-and-off primary of their goals in defiance of even their focus on true passions.

While this is a bit of a mouthful, I can’t leave out the importance of Ratatouille being interested in how the prejudices of a particular group invents the victims’ own prejudices of the offenders, therefore perpetuating an infectious desire in both to always submit to their traditions rather than exploring others. The movie demonstrates how the glorification of stereotypes can genuinely even convince those who are being victimized of it that they’re true, and how dangerous it is to authenticity or progression. The comfort of tradition and the euphoria of passion confuses us from determining who we truly are, as the two are contradicting but nearly impossible to not coexist. 

Chef Skinner is a pretty great villain, and this mainly comes from what he stands for: a man who abuses art in the name of business. He’s a wannabe restaurant tyrant who surprisingly taints even traditionalism (they sometimes have consistent sincerity to them) in a negative manner by disregarding some of its uplifting wisdom so that he can instead have his commercial reputation which strictly feeds his own needs. I mean, hell! Him literally cultural appropriating under the copyright of Gustav’s dining company and having a greedy addict-like Gollum character design — that had to be on purpose! — is the cherry on top of painting this image. Hmm… Disney seems to love making fun of themselves!

Ratatouille also seems to be wrapped up in the ultra-classic passion vs family thread, yet I actually kind of dig how it was done. Anton Ego, another antagonist who’s hidden almost throughout the entire film until its final act despite his character literally being the one to cause the modern atmosphere of the story, is a food critic who by the end is saved by none other than nostalgia, specifically a callback to a moment of adolescence he had experienced with family. After being so constantly wrapped up in his solo career, a memory of tradition ironically helped lead him to rejuvenate his passion. This traces back to the importance of mingling your obsessions with your collaborations between those you’d consider family, and how the neutrality of them is what can fruitfully define you. Ego’s passion was always food, not necessarily just being a critic, and he found an ultimate happiness by leaving literal “ego” behind in face of incorporating his love for food with a new family that could understand and genuinely add to it in spite of each other’s contrasting cultural backgrounds. 

So all in all, yeah, this is a must-watch to raise your kids on. It’s got tons of messages that can help them transition into the career/adult world as they grow older. I guess Ratatouille really is one of Pixar’s best! 

“I know this sounds insane, but, well, the truth sounds insane sometimes.”

Verdict: B+

My Favorite Animated Movies, Pixar Ranked

“Ratatouille” is now available to stream on Disney+.

The Harsh and True Nature of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000)

Screened at the Frida • 2nd Viewing

“You notice things if you pay attention.”

For which we rarely do. 

I am being judged. When I want to love, I will be judged; there’s no avoiding that. If I want to love again, I can try, but only in a desperation to win back what is no longer mine, to ignore confrontation of reality and bliss in temporary imagination. You look at me and you see the truth, through the frames you seem to handle the neutral perspective while I abuse the radical one. This is the strike of love, or more so, the strike of failure to genuinely love as the spontaneous human beings we are; all of us are doing this and witnessing this everyday dammit, and it f**king irks how it’s impossible to stop, and impossible to remember or apply this piece of wisdom throughout our romantic experiences. It seems that memories and knowledge only like to skirmish one another, leaving our grasp on objectivity in bittersweet tangles. 

A tragic acolyte between the experiments of recreation in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), the elongated richness of cinematic foreplay in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), and the surreal gentleness of Wong Kar-wai’s own unique storytelling birthed firsthand before our eyes and ears, In the Mood for Love serves as a breakthrough representation of the bewildering application of how time functions in the name of love. New romance seems to almost instantaneously provoke change through incomprehensible instinct, without cause or rationality, thought or contemplation, it is a purely emotional, psychological feeling of attachment that breaks us from routine until we fall into it once again and travel in search of a new means of saving; perhaps through love again. But love doesn’t stop their nor does Kar-wai make it out to seem so set-and-stone; it’s more so worked as a playing ground for affairs to be eventually sequenced in either shadows for some or plain view to others, ones that dance or tremble with either fatigue or desperation, longing to recapture yet hopelessly not having any of the actual information to do so in the first place, as relationships are just far too strenuously complex to decode especially when looking back on them and less so when living in their current moments where the mind is usually numbed of usage. The heart of In the Mood for Love feasts within this arena of love and the collaboration between pre and post-love, reconciling that they all sort of exist in a same fragmentation of time, each deducing what should’ve or could’ve happened in frustratingly ambiguous ways. 

This movie has some of the strongest composition and color I’ve ever seen used in such a confined setting too; I couldn’t not mention that in my review, and in future viewings I’ll probably expand on it a little more. In the Mood for Love should be the dictionary definition of a perfectly shot (bottle?) movie! Kar-wai better stop f**kin’ with my heart or he’ll be getting even more perfect scores from me.

Verdict: A+

Wong Kar-wai Ranked, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“In the Mood for Love” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Godzilla (2014) – A Solid Example of How You SHOULD ReJUVENATE a Legend

?? Viewing • Warning: Spoilers Ahead 

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is genuinely one of the greatest blockbusters of the 2010s — top 10 worthy at least. 

This movie loves and reinvigorates the classic Spielberg feel a lot more than you may have thought. Edwards understands scale so well, often subjecting the scenes with the monsters to human perspective; a tasteful amount of the camerawork here feels taped straight from the ground, and in this sense, like what makes blockbusters such as Jurassic Park so imposing, we find ourselves a part of this astronomically sized disaster. Edwards does miracles too in making the secondary point of view seem of a symbolic nature, attempting to make human life seem smaller and smaller like meager little bugs as the film goes along, and for us furthermore to slowly stop caring about this family storyline that’s set up so provocatively only later to be purposely fatigued, emphasizing how inconsequential even our own dramatic lives are when we review them in retrospect over and over again; passing the torch on from a passionate father to a vanilla son while keeping their ambitions in parallel was such a cheeky move to convey this, allowing us to question why we ever gave a care in the first place. By the same token, the decision to tease us literally three times before Godzilla and a MUTO battle by closing it off and flashing us directly into the seats of the human characters once again makes us even MORE inclined to care for what’s going on between the monster characters rather than the humans — aka, our own people: the species we’ve been conditioned to relate with. They didn’t make the two MUTOs adorably kiss for nothing… or make the mamma one cry for her babies *sniffle*. 

Wow, what a f**king cynical movie Godzilla is looking back on it so many years later, lol. 

Writer Max Borenstein does a great job as well in this American remake of overviewing the familiar motif of nature versus humankind. The issue at hand in the film originates from our planetary destruction — a real Aronofsky mother! moment — and its counteracting of nature’s punishment through the MUTOs. Visually throughout Godzilla, there’s a (slightly manipulative) but good-minded intention to make the animals in the movie seem carelessly separated from the humans, and for the humans to seem devastated when separated from each other — Brody and his wife, Ford and Brody (his dad), and a couple civilian examples. Yet, despite our intentions to prioritize humans, we can sometimes shock ourselves when being faced with a superior creature to us such as Godzilla. Edward’s big reveal, that I used to be polarized by initially in which Godzilla turns out to be a considerate individual and the one to actually resolve the conflict rather than the humans who just end up progressively making the situation worse and worse as it goes along, is the cherry on top to its statement that we are likely not the most moral, powerful, and intelligent batch of life out there, and to insinuate we are the only ones would just be a pushing testament to the idea that we are as egotistical as the cliché may say. 

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a riff on common disaster blockbusters, as it nearly mocks our glorifications of human conflict and embraces the construct of how nature as a whole never seems to be reminisced in the long run. The overall scheme of existence MUST be bigger than us, right? Yet we’re too self-obsessed to consider that; we’ll abandon our ambitions for discovery so long as it’s in the way of us, even if discovery is what helps us avoid such catastrophes to begin with. As a blockbuster too, it just looks a trillion times better than most thanks to not only Edwards’ overlooked talent in POV mastery, but however many damn years they put into the flawless VFX; the use of red, orange, and grey in the finale of this film is just UGHHH; not to mention, the skydiving shot and Godzilla atomic-breath-decapitating a MUTO are like two of the gnarliest things I’ve ever seen before, as well. AND HOLY F**K CAN WE TALK ABOUT ALEXANDRE DESPLAT’S SCORE? ONE OF THE BEST SCORES FOR AN ACTION/THRILLER I HAVE HEARD THIS ENTIRE CENTURY. Godzilla’s theme is *chef’s kiss*. 

I can understand people’s dislike for this movie, especially if they just can’t FATHOM Edwards, Callaham, and Borenstein’s SINFUL intentions to downgrade the human experience through cynicism — or the more likely answer, because they didn’t get enough Godzilla screen-time — but, I don’t know, I think it’s great. Maybe it’s the nostalgic feeling that an action/thriller blockbuster actually finally made me feel in years the timid and submissive state I had felt when I was frightened (in a fascinated sort of manner) of the Jaws or Jurassic Park movies I watched as a child; isn’t that like… exactly what a thriller should make you feel: insignificant and helpless? 

The MacGuffins (and there are a batch of ‘em) in this movie are infuriating as hell though; it’s probably what’s straining it from becoming a Spielberg-leveled classic for me, not to mention it’s plagued by its constant expositional dialogue; the already unusually effective tension and build-up here could’ve been GODLY if I were convinced of how the plot escalated a tad more. Hey, it’s better than watching Michael Dougherty’s King of Monsters though, which factually has Z-E-R-O tension in it! 

Verdict: B

“Godzilla” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive – Deception in a Corrupt Industry

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • 3rd Viewing

Coco is my favorite character, low-key.

Yeah, it’s still one of the best movies of all-time and maybe has the smartest use of ambiguity ever to grace the screen, given it makes it crystal clear what the movie is thematically about just not exactly what statements it’s trying to address in its plot. I can’t get over how seamlessly this movie turns from a cold-hearted satire into one of the most creatively tragic thrillers ever. David Lynch: the king of tonal shifts and combos! 

Mulholland Drive pulls a pretty straightforward trick in a pretty jaw-dropping way: present the cliché tropes of a wannabe superstar with hopes and dreams slowly descending into the reality of the competitive state of “industry.” Heaven-state dumbness progresses itself into frustrating schizophrenia, obviously replicating the mental state journey of Naomi Watts’ character Diane. It’s the classic killing of innocence by death. 

Camilla is the dying celebrity to me, with nothing left but her money, escaping her reality in a dash of little thought. She’s looking for a revival by changing who she is, inventing a new identity to prove to the world she still can be a star. Her constant state of fear appears almost like a constant state of being afraid to move on and accept a reality or maybe the tough process it is in discovering a new persona to revamp the kicks of your career; it’s better than falling into drug addiction and OD-ing though! I suppose the dynamic of Diane and Camilla solving Scooby-Doo mysteries together also represents finding gratification in the relationships we build, being identified through love rather than fame, and how our artistic pursuits often have the ability to jeopardize them or vise versa — the relationship jeopardizes fame. You either choose one or the other as many famous artistic names have claimed before. Diane chose love, Monica chose fame, therefore, the peace was disrupted. 

Adam feels almost like a host for David Lynch too, getting cucked by every Hollywood exec. and even lectured like a child for not staying in his “lane”. Very brave of you to admit this to us, Lynch… very brave.

We could also take into account the Persona (1966)/Fight Club (1999) (spoilers for both those movies) theory of Mulholland Drive in that Diane and Monica are the same person, Diane representing the conscious, logical side who is questioning her soulless decisions being made in the industry and Monica representing her celebrity image towards the people who make up her life. Monica wants to embrace her fictional persona while Diana gets psychologically vandalized by how she’s essentially sold her dignity to an industry of certified psychos — Adam being one of them: an artist turned businessman. However, I’ll leave this discussion up in the air for now until I have a fourth viewing of this anomaly. 

Bottom line is, Mulholland Drive ultimately provokes an array of pretty simple concepts regarding Hollywood corruption, yet they’re presented in such surreally awkward, terrifying, or satirical ways that resourcefully emphasize the ridicule of our societal reality. It’s all a supreme example of diligent style enhancing substance.

So it’s the energy forces of evil who’re planting our dreams of Hollywood fame into us and then proceeding to laugh at us as we cope under its deception? Fun movie, Lynch. Real fun movie. 

Verdict Change: A —> A+

David Lynch Ranked, My-All Time Favorites

“Mulholland Drive” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Donnie Darko (2001) and the Glorification of Heroism

Review of the Director’s Cut • Spoiler Alert! • 3rd Viewing

The sheer amount of Tears for Fears songs featured in this movie gave it an automatic +1 in my scoring, I’m not gonna lie. 

I’m more intrigued by Richard Kelly’s take on teenage pretentiousness and portended angst than whatever the f**k is happening in the tangent dimension; how this multiverse conundrum plays into Donnie’s quest is important however, less so the logistics of it more so the implication of what it shows us in human reaction and interpretation to such a “holy” situation. 

Frank (imaginary or not) basically delivers Donnie his defined “purpose” on a coded platter, a sort of heroic purpose that the pre-adult youth often cries to receive as it’s an abstract concept that would essentially fulfill an inexplicable reason for existence. The revelation of suddenly being the cheesy prospect of the “chosen one”, the person who knocks down the dominos and sets forth a truth of what human life will be onward is the godlike burden we as juvenile jerks all f**king wished we could behold; with our introduction to suicidal inclination in exposure to the off-putting real world which results in a loss of innocence, a sacrifice would eventually seem more keen to a teenager than living out the rest of their lives with “no purpose”. 

The universes of A (created past) and B (sacrificed future) or whatever the devil that creepy (but kinda) handsome science teacher tells us about is representative of Donnie’s non-existent envision of this metaphysical “meaning” in life that teenagers love to cook up as something unobtainable but hopefully there. “Meaning” and “purpose”, two words I took way too seriously to heart as an adolescent lad and two words Donnie seems to take too seriously as well; that can’t just be coincidence; it’s puberty-esc phasing. Donnie’s almost religious upbringing makes him feel like a prophet in a way, producing God’s path in what he and “Frank” see as good, as they seem to indulge in juvenile acts as necessities rather than acts of egoism like most hot-topic-loving students will convince themselves of; they’re saving the world and s**t, I don’t know; the film’s perspective forces you primarily into Donnie’s so we have no idea if the true agents of evil are in Donnie or his enemies, and that’s why I fancy interpreting the movie as a take on pretentious nature to fulfill empty holes in our mentally ill states. It fits well in the “pointless destruction” line too, the destruction of “cause why not?”, at least it’s something that blocks up human desperation — the fate of the airplane engine crash is what introduces us to this concept; there’s no real reason for it to happen but it nonetheless inspires a worthwhile goal in Donnie/Frank.

“Controlling fear” in nihilism is what makes Donnie feel powerful, and in the long run he ends up coincidentally being right in almost every case scenario, feeding his ever growing god-complex and his idea that maybe the world really is predetermined for him to heal it. The “the manipulated living will do anything to avoid themselves from oblivion” line, which people usually take as explanation of people who are intentionally arranged to increase the chances of Donnie saving the world, I think is actually used to further provoke a polar opposite characteristic between the cowardly characters in the film and Donnie who eventually accepts oblivion. Sometimes translating nature in a divine way also leads to tragedy in the physical world when taken too far, like what happens to Gretchen; again, we have no idea for sure if the tangent dimension was the real one or if the original was, or maybe both; for all we know the original was the dream all along and the tangent was always the reality that Donnie and “Frank” (and Frank’s friend who shows up at the end that I think is the actual person who ran Gretchen over considering Frank is likely a figment imagination of Donnie’s) sought to tamper with, and they really did kill this innocent girl in their quest for heroism. 

Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that Donnie Darko is about the confusing desire to be a part of something as significant as a passion of Christ: the one who bites the bullet or absorbs the sins, hence a “pretentious nature” for those who want to recreate it; it’s really amplified home to me in the final montage of the movie as well, where everybody is laying down seemingly wishing for that sort of abstract destiny which is glorified in the minds of us all by fictional novellas (like the time travel textbook Granny wrote) or stuff like mainstream media to end us from self and world hatred. We’ll just continue making friendly waves of hope till we die, wondering if such a phenomenon ever did happen among those who surround us. Not all of us can possibly be just normal, right? You’d hope for a Donnie Darko to pop up every once in a while, at least someone special enough where you’d be willing to say their FULL name 24/7, haha.

I guess, in hindsight, the film could also be about accepting or dealing with the existentialist crisis of a predetermined world that you are slowly becoming aware of is predetermined, but I don’t know; I like my Jesus poser theory a little better. I rather accept that Donnie Darko is about schizophrenically convincing yourself to be a prophet through mania, less so about knowing by fact that you 100% are one based on the indisputable laws of predetermination. I have an unfortunate gut feeling however that Richard Kelly meant for this movie to be interpreted as Donnie being a hero after all of this, but at the same time, I do think the movie is ambiguous enough to suggest that he also fooled himself through the hero’s journey with all the crazy “scientific” and “philosophical” theories he learns and indulges in throughout the film, plus the addition of his mental illness and therapy sort of insinuates that he could’ve been manipulated by his own emotional state. The plane engine probably did travel through two dimensions but could that have helped provoked Donnie’s reality and his inclination that he had superpowers? Was his close call really just an accident all along that encouraged his new identity, and Frank is just a divine concept that he had made up in a hypnotic state of his own self-indulgent mind? Is the final scene of the movie just Donnie’s dream he has after looking out into the sky, considering it would be the ideal dream to have that would definitively prove he had saved the world in the end through his radical methods and ultimate sacrifice — f**k Jim, though; good on Donnie for ruining his life. 

You could combine these two theories together although and just say that the movie is about growing a god-complex through the existential crisis of finding out your world is predetermined in, furthermore, making you a hero. That answer works too, and it would fit snuggly that it would choose a teenager to undergo these circumstances, out of any age group out there.

Onto flaws, the film sort of uninspiredly hurls these concepts at you with deliberately worded dialogue and of course LITERALLY written phrases on screen; probably my least favorite part of this entire movie that draws it back from being a “masterpiece” is its careless establishments of exposition. Richard Kelly has this obnoxious way of emphasizing every fine detail you need to know (especially in the director’s cut) in order to understand the time travel and predetermination aspects of the film, and honestly a bit more ambiguity could’ve enhanced the mystery and varying interpretations of the film, enriching the longevity of the movie to others. I think what Kelly is better at doing here though is actually keeping the thematic of the film ambiguous by having so many motifs just spouted out at random, which has encouraged my interpretations in this review; if they were as blatant as the plot though, Donnie Darko may have just been a try-hard failure in my mind. Luckily, that’s very far from the truth! It’s a try-hard success! 

I understand it’s a piece of the “manipulated living” concept that people are purposely unorthodox to enact Donnie to achieve his potential, but it’s still idly used to transaction the audience into understanding story terminologies or hinting to them that whats happening in front of them is strictly in the hands of God; there are actual moments in here that defy the logic it sets up, and even if a world was based on predetermination, logic would still be at least believed to have transpired in the characters who are forcibly escalated to these certain places; like Drew Barrymore getting fired is so out of pocket, you’d think the principal would at the bare minimum convince his own self and Drew that there were a reason to do it in the first place, even if he was destined to do it; yet, he doesn’t even explain to Drew why, and that sort of defies human behavior to me. We all spiel bulls**t to convince ourselves we’re right more than we just stay silent to convince ourselves we’re right as far as I’m concerned! 

The film’s awkwardly hilarious delivery and absurdly random lines are definitely Lynch-inspired fare, but I still can’t tell if that’s a bad thing or a cop-out maneuver to actually putting in the work of believable performances, but I guess it fits well enough with the dream-state feel and almost sitcom-ish depiction of the suburban family neighborhood. The adults who ironically provoke the teenagers whether it be with the demanding Karens and the pedophilic hypocrites of the world are sort of furthermore implemented to erect this surreal essence, but it’s also painfully obvious the only reason they’re THIS far-fetched in stereotypical extremism is so that it can feed into Donnie’s eventual transformation into a know-it-all god-complex — “love & fear”, Franks & mirrors; I would think myself to be smarter than others after hearing that crap too honestly! Hey, these exaggerations may not be the most creative way to reflect the reality of our own teenage experience and how we manipulatively saw the adult logic, but at least it’s easy to comprehend it in general which may just be preferable for a film this brimmed in ideas; it’s probably what lead to Donnie Darko‘s wide-scaled cult following in the first place. 

Michael Andrews’ score is great though; I think it covers the tracks of a movie that could’ve came off way cringier than what Kelly is working with here in terms of intentionally The Room-ish dialogue and Lynchian dream-state atmosphering — you can’t really go wrong with Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World” or the iconic “Manipulated Living” track. On a technical level, I’d actually say Richard Kelly and editors Sam Bauer and Eric Strand are best at concurring two ongoing events; it happens on a couple occasions in the movie and it’s disturbingly hypnotic. The editing here is sometimes exceptionally effective, especially as we near the end of the film. 

Maybe I’m diving WAY too into Donnie Darko than what it was meant to be dissected as with all the intentionally and kinda needlessly complex time travel arrangement that’s going on in the background which I’ve come to accept just boils down to the process of events occurring in two set worlds of “hybrid-predetermination” with its back and forths of time, as I’m almost certain Kelly meant for none of what I’ve just said to be his intention especially in the themes I’ve discussed, but ya know, I guess that’s the beauty of Donnie Darko or whatever the cool kids say. Sometimes the dynamic combo of pandering ambiguity and blatant spoon-feeding blurs the line so carelessly that it works in its favor, cause jeez does it do that so much to a point where the film becomes an unintentional gem of an experience; there’s nothing out there this bloated in its own ideas pilling than in Donnie Darko, and it makes it hard not to want to dissect the hell out of it whether you hated it or loved it. 

The Frank the Bunny outfit is still one of my favorite costume designs ever, and probably because of my nostalgia for or the DIY cheapness of it that sort of hits home that Donnie and Frank’s ambitions are likely born from a hoax that they had devised out of the very last imaginative innocence they had before becoming adults, who knows? Him revealing his face in the movie theater is still absolutely one of the most iconic scenes in film to me, mainly because 1) Evil Dead, 2) empty theater, and 3) Steve Baker’s For Whom the Bell Tolls; it’s a heavenly scenario that I wish I could experience myself! Embracing my illogical bias, alas. 

Verdict: A-

“Donnie Darko” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.