Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the Epitome of a Perfect “Adaptation”

Yes, I ate at a Dairy Queen for the first time in years right before watching this in celebration of the novel which features DQ as one of the main locations. AND WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT? LOW AND BEHOLD, THE MOVIE DIDN’T KEEP THIS DEMANDING DETAIL OF THE BOOK IN IT’S TRANSFORMATION; THE MOST CRUCIAL PIECE TO THE STORY.

I’m kidding, by the way—not about eating at the DQ but that I care about an accuracy such as that—if you couldn’t tell. It’s a mediocre food joint anyways, haHA. 

Evidently, it appears as if the often praised and sometimes detested experimental screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, has translated the uncomfortable awkwardness of the controversial 2016 novella, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, into an arguably perfect glaze. The hopelessness of Iain Reid’s brilliant source material could never be better conveyed in the cinematic format as it has here. Kaufman and Reid clearly share an akin trait of misery; they’re both simultaneously writing masters in understanding the seclusion that ensues in our brains, expressing these debunks through bonafide streamlines of sentences and words. Copying a book is easy; amplifying a book however is a tough chore, yet, Kaufman has outdone that requirement in his latest directorial piece I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

In terms of cinematic cues that Kaufman utilizes to distinguish this movie from the book, there’s a selection to choose from. The way the director plays with time feels so short and repetitious; he makes those hazy past memories appear as if they’re only accompanied by maybe a small, GIF-degree of length that repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats or is sheltered to only adding onto the qualms of even those closest to you. It’s facts such as this that make us despise our thinking, AKA, our inclination to be able to unlock either the negative or short fragments of our ambiguous past to pile onto the already melancholic state we face as we grow older and try to rationalize existentialism. Kaufman exposes our natural programming to include more dreaminess in our desires, allowing the impact of unfulfillment to graze our hearts even harder—like a Greek tragedy, or a Shakespearian operatic; it’s supposed to be devastatingly dramatized but why does it feel so real? It seems as if Kaufman’s visual surrealism here has offered me that rare opportunity to prefer a film media over its source material, alas.

Color grading had me floatin’ too. Had to get that trademark out of the way before moving on… Umm… moving on.

In terms of what I’m Thinking of Ending Things means in its entirety, it feels undetermined. If anything, the closest I have so far to putting a nail on it is that it’s primarily just a streamline of desperate processing. Sure, it could be more purposeful than that, but these queries are what have me thirsting for second rounds. Could the film be focused on how imprisoned outcasts feel since they can never stop observing the ones who seem torn straight out of a fictional fairytale or, rather perhaps, its concentrated on deviously illustrating how tragically alike we all are and how painful it must be for us to have to go through the same issues life features yet somehow always experience it alone. Names slowly become meaningless as our unnamed lead character is continuously called by many; the labels mean nothing when we all boil down to a contrived stereotype, forced to be executed at the hands of life’s monotony.

The characters in I’m Thinking of Ending Things feel as if they’re trying to escape their bodies into the heads of others, like a quest to see if they may shine that kind of purposeful gratification their inceptions simply couldn’t offer. The dream is to find that special somebody you truly can feel imperative to embody, have a chance in the spotlight (as per Kaufman usual), aimed at a crowd of everybody who ever (in)directly nagged at you all your life and gnarl to yourself: “hey, I did it. I got somewhere. I did something that… that mattered. I showed them now, didn’t I?” Yet, I doubt from the complex of Kaufman, that that is nearly a probable achievement to obtain no matter how many hosts we can leap into and comprehend. All his accents are as nihilistic as they get—but hey, I haven’t not enjoyed one of his pseudo-intellectual spiels just quite yet!

From a reasonable viewpoint, Kaufman may be spouting out Reid’s basic philosophy notes a little too blunt in some zones or even relying blatantly on some of his past work stemming from Anomalisa and most notably Synecdoche, New York—old people get older, individuality is undefinable, we are all subject to die, die, die with not a sliver of quenching, etc.—but it’s the execution of how he portrays these concepts that allows them to feel grander, newer, and more applicable to our own turmoiled minds in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. No spoilers here, but the dude has always been a creative personality when it comes to what genres and what various “art hobbies” he chooses to showcase on camera to express these written ideas.

All in all, Netflix viewers proceed with caution. If you saw the trailer (which by the way, showed far too much of the movie) then don’t expect a throw-it-on, conventional thriller; this will be a disconcerting head-scratcher for neophytes who are new to either Reid’s story or Kaufman’s melodramatic tendencies. By the way, if you’re curious to know what I think of the novel (which is essentially the same as my thoughts on Kaufman’s version of the story) I actually wrote a review of it back in 2019. My writing in it is a smidge outdated and borderline super pretentious, but y’know, you can’t escape your past sometimes. Check it out! 

Overall: movie = awesome?

Verdict: A-

2020 Ranked, Jonze & Kaufman Ranked

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet Exists to Momentarily Amaze and Lastingly Underwhelm – My Most Unapologetically Barbaric Review Yet?

Warning: The Following Contains Strong Language

Tenet is the definition of a cute one-trick pony. 

At this point, I expect Christopher Nolan’s next film to fuck with time to such an incomprehensible state that we have every character from his past films (Leonard, Cobb, Cooper, every real life soldier from Dunkirk, etc.) all colliding from a designated period span in their movies, working together to fix time or some shit from ending not just the world in this newest circumstance, but the ABSTRACT, metaphysical inter-workings of meaning itself; it’ll be so fucking deep that you can’t even see it physically on screen even with a state-of-the-art electron microscope. Nolan will just explain it to you through his trademark “it certainly exists; you just can’t and will never be able to see it.” It’ll be like poetry, it’ll rhyme… or umm… oh, nevermind. To hell with whatever that quote was. I’m at a loss for words anyways.

I’m dead serious, though, this shit better happen or I’ll contrive a pointless protest like a real American does. #wearamaskyouidiots 

Ok, now onto the actual review. Let me just find my notes here… hmm… AHEM. Yaddy yadda, reopening of theaters and Christopher Jonathan James Nolan proudly presents: Tenet, or better yet backwards, teneT—I genuinely think not knowing what happened in the movie vs. knowing damn well that that was the point of the title is less embarrassing than me not knowing that that was the point of the title vs. the fact that I understood (most of) the movie itself; I’m side-tracked, I know. This is officially the heavily acclaimed director’s 11th full feature-length and also officially the heavily acclaimed director’s 7th full feature-length to spotlight an intriguing concept of time structure—who would’ve guessed?

Christopher Nolan has directed arguably his richest action sequences yet in Tenet, blending literally reversed or made-to-look reverse footage directly into standard forward-moving shots. The intense care that must’ve been devoted to constructing these otherworldly, intricate pulse-pumpers is mind-boggling to me; meaning, I could never see a majority of other filmmakers pulling them off; fuck it, NOBODY else could probably do it unless they copied Nolan beat by beat like what Hollywood has been doing for the past decade. This man has squeezed the maximum of his energy into mush due to the commitment he has milked into this project that’s so carefully detailed in how defined its time functions are and how they choose to be visually demonstrated. I don’t know how this 50-year-old man could possibly have any blood vessels yet to erect more labyrinth action sequences like the many seen in Tenet for second rounds; I know I’d *croak* if I tried it, or for that matter, tried it on round one. Suffice it to say, these undeniably monumental virtues raised my score for this film considerably higher than what it could’ve easily been otherwise.

So now onto the topic of Tenet’s flaws, there’s a shipping-cargo-load of them, so buckle yourself up cause this shit is going to take a fat minute. John David Washington’s character (our lead to follow from beginning to end) is literally composed of just cringy, wiseass quips, learning how to tenet or whatever the fuck they call it because he had that “feel it” shit Joseph Gordon-Levitt had when figuring out Bruce Wayne was Batman (spoilers for anyone who didn’t know Bruce Wayne was Batman) in The Dark Knight Rises, and conveniently having a soft spot for Elizabeth Debicki and her son arguably over the sustainability of all human *bad word* existence as we know it. He’s called “The Protagonist,” putting us in the on-the-nose position of his undeveloped placement in Tenet, despite the fact that the movie decides to give his personality the whole pointless “heroic vendetta gist” in wanting to save Debicki’s mother-like livelihood as the obligatory side plot of the movie—something that debatably shouldn’t even be in a character meant to emulate the audience, rather so, something that should be in a character who deserves proper development to explain his erratic motivations.

Furthermore though—this isn’t even the inception of the issues with Tenet’s boring as shit characters—probably the shoddiest side of Tenet comes with Kenneth Branagh’s antagonistic personality, Andrei Sator: a cartoon-leveled villain with a cartoon-leveled performance—sorry Kenneth—that is as if a cheeseball Marvel villain was jumbled with the classic God-complex while simultaneously being birthed with a touchy persona being that of an abusive partner. It seems so detached from any other element that the movie wants to explore considering how robotic it’s all mostly meant to be, and, at worse, it’s only used to motivate Washington and not to be used to analyze Sator’s fiendish and spasmodic psyche. Nolan once again proves that he’ll make extroverted modifications of a certain type of individual to make him or her feel more inconceivable than the real monsters that exist in our genuine world. I hate when movies downplay evil personas and attempt to look at them from a superficial point of view and, moreover, use them as emotional bate for a central character. Movies have crafted horrible people many times before who genuinely appear as if they could be among us, but Sator feels too enigmatic and overripe to be seen as a justifiable choice to use as the possible cause of the world’s unequivocal decease.

So, ultimately, Nolan uses a very real issue like domestic violence so the movie has a pawn to enforce the slightest amount of repetitious levity—the whole son and mom complication is brought up constantly yet there’s never an authentic moment to let this triangular correspondence between husband, wife, and child sink in or to be constructed thoroughly. Over the years, Nolan has often been criticized for his lack of relatable characters—which I disagree (kind of) with, personally—and I’m sure this assessment has gone to his head especially after Dunkirk. The entire son and mom aspect feels so needlessly thrown in, considering nobody else in the movie is given moderate depth as Debicki is or, for another matter, it doesn’t seem warranted when the film wants us to think that we’re in an end of the *bad word again; excuse me* world situation—yeah, two people vs the 7-billion population is always a good way to get us to care about those two people (sarcasm if you didn’t pick it up). It’s as if Nolan needed this reassurance of conventional substance in his newest feature to assure that nobody calls his movie void of developed characters. 

If anything, I would’ve loved if Nolan instead focused more creatively and harshly at the theoretics he brings up such as the paradoxical dilemmas in time or the ignorance of us only caring for what we see and not what we experience firsthand. Instead, they’re only hastily mentioned in abruptly momentary conversations between manakin-stone characters, and it just made me even stingier for more expansion. Nolan even tries to put a cap on these themes in the very last scene of the movie which of course he had to verbally explain too. I can truthfully see Tenet being a Nolan favorite among a majority if he had just utilized those philosophical entries and expanded on them with just as much shock or passion as what he put into his action spectacles, time concepts and twists. So to the people who are saying Tenet has no themes or emotional development: you’re objectively wrong. It indubitably has these efforts; they’re just founded off of a rudimentary mindset. 

Like a true Nolan connoisseur, I’m going to connect my opening paragraph with the current one here *GASP TIME PARALLELING.* I’m a little polarized that the strong friendship between Washington and Pattinson is only “suggested” in the movie; Nolan tends to do this often to counterbalance genuine dexterity. He has slyly dug a rabbit hole out of this weakness by creating hypotheticals that exist in the universe of the movie but are rarely shown physically on screen. As neat as it may be from one point of view, the other point of view would find it less convincing to be told something exists rather than being physically proving something exists. In fact, Nolan does this a lot with other accounts to be mentioned in the feature-length such as the abundant exposition. Tenet attempts to shock us with uttered reveals that we would’ve probably never picked up on in the legitimate presentation of the movie. However, in the case of Washington and Pattinson’s connection, I did find the movie to have set-up their relationship in a convincing manner. My issue with their bond though simply comes from the chintzy conclusions Nolan chose for them, which ended up playing out as expected as many tragic bonding narratives do despite Nolan’s efforts to make it divergent, causing the film to appear even more like your customary blockbuster than ever before.

To not stray completely into the abyss of Tenet, I must say, I did fancy Ludwig Göransson’s score in Nolan’s latest by a significant margin. As dangerously loud as the chad IMAX speakers could possibly punctuate my ears with its musical, techno galore, I must say, it left me with at least the best migraine I’ve ever had—it’s a joke, migraines are for people with genuine issues unlike me; instead, I’m stuck here reviewing movies on a social media site, wasting my days as the inevitable comes to drag me into the depths of… Anywho, I’m getting off topic a bit, but just a BIT. 

Back to my unapologetic spiel of Tenet’s dilemmas, a significant fragment of the editing or length of sequences in this film was honestly embarrassing, more so though in the first act. This feature’s initiative felt like a hot-potato of one-on-one explanation discussions between Washington or Pattinson and new exposition-central characters that we’ll briefly see again or literally never at all. These cardboard-cutout personalities will immediately have our main characters jump to the next bone-dry mission birthed from the thinness of a 007-esc order and so on so forth. As much as I can recollect, first we had a presumably high-up agent boosting up Washington’s ego, telling him he’s loyal and whatnot so he can be convinced to travel on this “time-fuck” mission, and then a scientist named Laura explains a chunk of the necessities in understanding time reversal while sending Washington to Alfred (the famous butler or Michael Caine or Nolan’s favorite elder, etc.) who sits comfortably at his expensive dine-out hotel to tell Washington to do shit (like the contradicting butler he is) that could’ve been expressed over a simple voicemail message, and lastly some guy *WAIT PLOT TWIST* it’s actually his wife (not the “some guy;” good one Nolan) then goes on to tell Washington to do a TON of shit, only for this lady to come back two more times to tell Washington to do a TON of shit again… and, you get the point. Conclusively, the first act of the movie seemed so desperate to be exhaustively snappy because it has this “agenda” to complete in its limited 150 minutes. It’s like we were being hammered by one plot explanation over the other just so we could lose even more and more breath to the movie’s already tiring accessories. Honestly, if Nolan removed pieces of the verbal explaining, I could see Tenet not being any more confusing as what it is currently. If anything, the excessive indulgence to vocalize every intricacy of Tenet’s world-building and “on-paper” straightforward (yeah, you heard me) storyline makes the film unnecessarily overwhelming to digest. It’s like Nolan wanted the movie to be extra nauseating for no other reason than to befuddle audiences into watching it again. The event sequencing is what bothered me; it could’ve been protracted while restricting the amount of dialogue Tenet is so over-reliant on its audience having to listen to over these heavy accents and roaring musical numbers.

Side comment also: mark my words, the yacht race will go down as the worst sequence in Christopher Nolan history. What in the actual hell was that anyways, huh? I’d claim it’s legitimately the most confusing moment in all of Tenet, writing, editing, and just general existence-wise. Nolan went full Fast & Furious on our asses.

To offtrack my stupid side comment, I’ll finally conclude this review. As you’re experiencing all the little fragments of Tenet falling into place, I must admit, it is satisfying and commendable to witness; obviously, I can’t get into them because of spoilers, however, once you understand everything, I promise, you do gain this momentary dose of pleasure. Yet, after the screen lights had dimmed, and I had stepped into reality again, looking back at what happened, the movie instantly slipped out of my head. I couldn’t name anything that I felt bonded to watch again besides those wild, intricately constructed action sequences and reversal reveals. Just because the movie’s plot is complex in execution (minus the exposition) doesn’t necessarily make it investing as a whole to me, ya know? It was jaw-dropping to watch in some areas, and in others, it felt like an everyday, save-the-world blockbuster with a driving gimmick to differentiate itself. Even the moments when Nolan wants to shove philosophy or character validity down our throats, it just feels contracted in so that the movie can seem like something more than just a creative narrative scheme. I’ve already made my claim before on how movies that are style over substance can be boundlessly masterful. Yet, I’ve noticed I tend to dislike the ones that are style oriented but gratuitously try to promote a substance asset to its cranium so it can be quote on quote “better,” when, in hindsight, it sometimes just bogs down the film and wastes our time as audience members. Either sturdily spend segments maturely expressing glossed-over story facets or simply don’t have them at all and fully embrace the madness of being an uncompromising action extravaganza. In all seriousness, I could easily see myself giving Tenet a positive score if it had just done this. 

The best way I can describe Tenet is that it’s like observing a really cool magic trick being exhaustively explained; once you start putting the pieces together it’s internally gratifying, but that in of itself is what leaves me indecisive of what it gained for me afterwards. The time manipulation and Nolan’s inflexible grip on action sequencing may be enough merit-power for many to understandably consider it an excellent cinematic experience, but from the bounds of my spoiled noggin, I just felt like the remaining exteriors of the project were too standard, tangled, avoidable, and frankly, callow to validate Tenet as a solid piece. 

Who knows, maybe I exist right now in a paradox universe where I’m reviewing the movie but haven’t actually seen it yet but I will eventually see it in order to come up with the thoughts expressed in my said review. Wait, nevermind; that would still suggest that the movie is just mid. Haha, me back at again with the shitty jokes. Hey, at least I didn’t write my entire weiver sdrowkcab.

Verdict: C+

Christopher Nolan Ranked, 2020 Ranked

“Tenet” is now playing in theaters where available.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986) – A Personal Glimpse at Death

What David Bowie’s final LP Blackstar must’ve meant to him is likely what Tarkovsky’s final picture The Sacrifice must’ve meant to him too.

Philosophy is tiring. Andrei Tarkovsky, the um… *ahem* philosophy connoisseur, seems exhausted of his own endless babbling, as he nears closer and closer to death. He’s gone full-on nihilistic, agonistic-mode on his audience, pumping out the most cynical of his fervent pieces yet. The fear of death: perfectly expressed by one movie, The Sacrifice.

The plot to this film faintly reminds me of these old cartoons I used to watch about heaven and hell or life and death, the ones from like the 1930s and 40s that seriously had no filter in scaring the s**t out of me as a child. Of course, it’s difficult to explain without spoilers, but there’s a sort of savage fairytale adventure involved in them where moral redemption is utilized to make up for a tragic situation that the story puts its focused character in. The Sacrifice is almost like these tales, using surreal devastation to compel its characters into tight decisions. However, in these animated accounts, characters normally learn from their mistakes, and return to glory; in The Sacrifice, redemption is replaced for egotistical madness.

The Sacrifice’s midway lighting change from bright colors to strobe-light dimness was one of the grandest transitions in tone I’ve ever witnessed. The final house shot is like the ultimate non-birthday birthday present for the obsessive cinephile. Plus, again, cinematography: OFF THE CHAIN. Some may find Tarkovsky’s hefty weight of dialogue, nonetheless, in The Sacrifice, even compared to his previous entries, to be off-putting. Some may even find his tributes to pieces of his past work like a “floating sequence” that’s unapologetically ripped out of Mirror to appear redundant, but in consideration that The Sacrifice is his last motion picture, it makes sense that the man would lumber down this route.

If there really is a strict code of reason in this world, who are we to know how to follow it? With spoken or written destinies, prophesies, and antiquities existing directly at our hands and ears, who’s to say that what we witness isn’t false, considering what we read or hear is usually resourced from others like us, others just as unknowing as us. For Alexander, he must decide. Should he try to save the world with a divine sacrifice, or should he unconsciously pretend to save the world with this sacrifice? Who’s to say what moments actually meant something in our extensive lives, and what moments didn’t, if any at all?

At the apple core of The Sacrifice, however, the fear of death is presented quite proudly. Alexander’s family must accept the end of their world, and look back onto the life that they had. If life was repeatable, would we experience the same life we had before? If we were to alternate the life we had previous to this reincarnation, wouldn’t that suggest we were not satisfied with the life we had before?

How about religion? Why do we choose to focus on something spiritual when there is a physical presence of the world right in front of us? In end of the world scenarios, do you think we would be more focused on how the spiritual side of things will perceive our demise, like how Alexander aches to assure that no God would want to punish him by establishing a sacrifice as his offering? Or, will we be finally concerned with the marks we had left on the physical implants of our planet; the planet we are, in fact, about to leave, as that is what we often believe death to insinuate? It seems though, realistically, that as we begin to near death, we choose to be cautionary, remembering that there could be a possibility that our beliefs were false all along. Whether or not we believe in God, some may be so afraid of death that they’re willing to at least pretend He or She is real during their final moments, just in case. This is the history of fear; it often leads us to compromise our dignity. 

And, that leads me to what I think Tarkovsky is trying to say here. No spoilers, but the conclusion to me is him essentially saying that “in the end, we’ll never know.” Our self-centered yearnings to embrace death with awareness may or may not pay off; it’s as simple as that. The ending of The Sacrifice is ambiguous in plot for this very reason.

So, yes, there are a whole lotta questions and a whole lotta thinking to be had in The Sacrifice, indeed. All in all, Tarkovsky ending off his career with a near tour de force? No surprise here. Tarkovsky’s obsession with water leakages is beginning to remind me of Tarantino’s obsession with feet at this point though…

Verdict: A

Andrei Tarkovsky Ranked

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

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Remains to be a Polarizing Conclusion for the Caped Crusader’s Iconic Trilogy

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead; ??? Viewing

Umm… so, The Dark Knight Rises: the third entry in The Dark Knight trilogy; the final entry, moreover, in The Dark Knight trilogy; the end to end all ends. We’ve got extreme terrorism, a few tasteful villains, a decent 45-minutes of Batman ass-kicking (whether giving or receiving), and some emotional elements in it, as well. On paper, this movie sounds epic. It’s almost all there, and yet, it just happened to be paired with one of comic-book history’s weakest screenplays to date, but I’ll get into that later.

Tom Hardy’s interpretation of Bane made quite the impact on me the first time I watched The Dark Knight Rises, in Canada too, as a young boy. His past adversities, mental + physical strength, and firm grasp on destiny, makes him beyond a powerful nemesis to The Batman. His arsonist tactics are truly more fatal than The Joker’s ever were too: releasing Gotham’s own prisoners to generate destruction, hanging law workers on bridges for the world to see, forcing the accused onto dangerous thin ice, etc. He’s got a cute voice and mask too; Tom Hardy subtitles are required, however. With such a stone-solid villain at hand to battle with The Batman in the final entry of a much-anticipated franchise, Rises should have this in the bag, right?

Yet, Rises collectively suffers. This can be faulted at the palms of its unbearably driving conveniences, MacGuffins, and thematic decisions that are essential to either a plot-point/scene’s impact on the audience or to the story’s needed direction. In a nutshell, some noticeable examples include: 

  • The television that cuts immediately to the missing person right when Selina Kyle tells her buyer that she brought the missing person over.
  • Commissioner Gordon having the luxury of tumbling himself off into essentially a water slide to safety and not getting killed by machinegun fire.
  • John Blake figuring out that Bruce Wayne was Batman because he could “feel it” due to their similarities. This plot point is used to push Wayne into becoming Batman again. You’d think at this point that more people would know that Bruce Wayne was Batman if this one dude could? Or, maybe, because Bruce and Batman happened to blossom out of retirement around the same time too, which occurs later on in the movie.
  • Batman coming in to save Selina at the last second just moments after being chased by the biggest squad of cop cars Gotham’s ever seen. 
  • John miraculously knowing or assuming that Selina was in cahoots with Bruce Wayne/Batman’s capture by Bane.
  • SENDING EVERY COP AND SWAT MEMBER IN GOTHAM CITY INTO AN UNDERGROUND TUNNEL WITH NO REASONABLE ENCLOSING TACTIC AT ALL SO THAT BANE CAN TAKE OVER THE CITY LEISURELY. For real, what did they think sending an excessively straight line of cops leading to Bane was going to do, or better yet, how could they possibly not have assumed something like that could be a trap, enough so for them to at least not send in nearly the entire infantry of law enforcement? 
  • Bruce’s quick recovery in the pit that ends with him making it out after only his third attempt—yet others who’ve been in the pit probably for years couldn’t even achieve this without broken bones too. 
  • Bruce being able to get into Gotham City undetected despite Bane’s critical lockdown protocols. They don’t even care to show how he gets in, as well.
  • Batman arriving at the “ice rinks” just barely in time to save Gordan and John. He also decides to burn an entire bat symbol onto a bridge just before he executes his rescue too; how cute!
  • Catwoman coming in to save Batman at the last second; dramatic last-second teamwork, am I right?

Just little storytelling cues or dilemmas like these are infested throughout Rises runtime (yes, there are more) and it begs the question on just how fast the Nolan’s must’ve scrambled this script together to get such a preposterously convenience-riddled project finished. 

Keeping up with the unfortunate affairs of Rises, Wayne and Talia’s association in this movie is so oddly glossed over but still earnestly implemented to create this reveal of betrayal as the movie’s grand “twist” being that Talia was actually the kid born in hell and not Bane; aka, Bruce was banging the villain… um, so what? Was that aspect of the narrative really worth featuring for all the manipulation that this movie cooks up to get us into initially thinking Bane was the kid born in hell? It’s even weirder though when you ask yourself why Bruce and Talia’s dynamic wasn’t focused on more when the movie gave so much time to establish Bruce and Selina’s relationship as the more logistically durable side of Bruce’s new encounters. Not to mention, Nolan has furthermore multiplied the amount of exposition in Rises, thanks to primarily the whole Ra’s al Ghul storyline which is reshaped from Batman Begins. This whole extra storytelling defect can additionally be primarily blamed on the Bane/Talia plot gimmick. The time framing of Nolan’s cinematic resolution is also extremely funky, devoting nearly hours to Bruce’s return as Batman and only less than an hour on the 3-month period where Bruce escapes the pit and Bane rules over Gotham. Moreover, don’t even get me started on the rest of the plot holes that Rises has to offer. It’d take days to go over those but if you haven’t seen that Screen Junkie’s Honest Trailer yet…

In spite of the gallon-loads of complications that I’ve just mentioned with the caped crusader’s final entry, Rises is not entirely problematic. For me, the valuable highlights of Rises truly come between its sequences with Alfred and Bruce—one, in particular, a heart-crushing conversation where Alfred reveals the contents of Rachel’s letter in which he had hidden from Bruce. No surprises here too, but the action spectacles in this Batman movie are gripping once again—some examples include the plane heist, bank heist, Batman vs. Bane showdown (twice), and the vehicle/bomb chase. It’s safe to say that the scale of Rises feels even grander than The Dark Knight, in many cases. Anne Hathaway is, on top of that, decent as Catwoman—her character isn’t entirely justified for the context of the movie, but she’s entertaining as the developed, seductive, and comedic levity of Rises. And yeah, Hans Zimmer’s score certainly revs up an exceeding amount of tension once more.

But yeah, who knew that this rewatch would completely flip a coin on my feelings towards The Dark Knight Rises. It’s hands down Christopher Nolan’s worst movie and I’d go as far as to say that, overall, it isn’t even good. At best, it’s mediocre. The writing and themes here just collide together to frankenstein something almost too oblivious and too hasty to even be satisfying as not only a fan of crime thrillers but a fan of Batman. Yikes; readers, please do not massacre me. 

By the way, Talia’s death scene is still the funniest thing ever. It’s even funnier when you recognize that that shot probably had to go through so many different hands before it was approved and, I guess, nobody questioned it? Intriguing.

Verdict: C

Christopher Nolan Ranked

“The Dark Knight Rises” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) is Older Than a Decade Now Yet Still Feels Brand New

Warning: Spoilers Ahead; ??? Viewing

You know you’ve seen a movie too many times when you can mummer nearly every line of dialogue simultaneously with the characters on screen. I have “kid me” to thank for this since the greatest Christmas present I ever received as a child was a DVD copy of The Dark Knight, which must be toasted to shreds now from how many times I’ve played it. 

It’s funny how Heath Ledger went from a teenager’s ultimate 2000s heart-throb to a comic-book nerd’s ultimate heartthrob. Every line out of Heath Ledger’s towering interpretation of the Joker (which I assume he made up a significant amount of) is unadulterated gold. 

“See, I’m not a monster; I’m just ahead of the curve.”

“All you care about is money. This town deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m going to give it to them.”

“Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.”

I’ve started to view Heath Ledger’s Joker as just some mentally disordered individual who puts on the clown act because he has to do so in order to give himself this impressionistic label. He’ll make a terribly corny joke every once in a while (“blow this out of proportion”) or even break character with an unprecedented, straightforward statement (*sigh* “make it fast,” “LOOK AT ME.”) yet with absolutely no enthusiasm, just genuine seriousness. He uses these carnival get-ups and vibes to not only hide or contain his unspecial, traditional character as a temperamental lunatic, but it additionally makes his psychotic, mobbish nature fit into a familiarly light-hearted image (being a clown) among average citizens. He’s desensitized malicious insanity by combining it extraterrestrially with a contrasting physical presence so that his reign over powerful heroes like Batman can be accomplished much easier in the eyes of Gotham’s gullible audience. It’s easier to manipulate others over true protectors when you’ve made yourself seem like some shocking, inconceivable figure ripped directly out of a comic-book; thats why many are intimidated by Batman; because he seems more godly than human. In other words, Ledger has created the entertainment media’s real anti-villain, the ultimate manipulator who uses a fictitious, philosophical, trash-talk persona to get into the heads of anyone just so that he can spread unambiguous anarchy, as he is just one unbalanced dude; nothing more, nothing less. 

Another quality that I find to be particularly interesting about Ledger’s character is the graphic, abuse backstories that he comes up with to how he got his scars. It’s as if Ledger wanted to cover the main areas of past trauma that leads others into acquiring the worst traits of just humankind in general. From child abuse, to rejection, and to depression, Ledger goes over it all in archaic, storytelling detail that brings a pondering aspect to who The Joker could actually be. 

The directing in The Dark Knight is a vast step-up from Batman Begins. Moments like when Nolan spins the camera nauseatingly around Joker and Rachel as he intimidates her are distinct signs of the mature and experimental nature that The Dark Knight offers over its predecessor. There are so many grand motion shots too in this sequel that will often gravitate the camera from a standard mid-shot to a telling wide shot, or vice versa. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score here is one of the most intense pieces of musical composition that’s ever had the luxury of being paired to a visual art. From the speechlessly epic opening, the sequence where Harvey threatens his prisoner, the frequently reenacted “HIT ME” action spectacle, the INCREDIBLE interrogation scene, the entire back and forth cutting of the hospital phenomenon, Batman hastily being objected to save the clown pawns, and Harvey’s hostage situation, the live-action filming, as well as Zimmer and Howard’s score, united exceedingly defies intensity expectations. 

Performance-wise everybody is at the top of their game in Nolan’s follow-up. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a major improvement over Katie Holmes as Rachel. I’ve never seen Aaron Eckhart good in anything other than this, but wowzers is he a passionate professional at playing essentially two variegating sides of an individual being that of justice and vengeance. I must furthermore though, praise the quippy comic-book dialogue that The Dark Knight is surprisingly built on, which this movie incorporates unusually well and at a measure where it’s more impressive than cringy or predictable. Lastly, Nolan’s practical effects in this near-masterpiece are sheer perfection. 

The only “major” fault that I have with The Dark Knight is how Nolan uses stilted timing to rev up the shock-value. A couple examples of this include when the dead Batman-poser slams into The Mayor’s face right as he walks towards the window, or when the judge looks up right as her car explodes, and especially when The Joker’s phone-call bomb blows up, knocking out everybody around The Joker BUT THE JOKER. Batman also saving Harvey just before the bomb explodes and only for Harvey to still burn half his face off because Batman dropped him is another peculiar writing decision that is so reliant on inconvenient timing. So yeah, a little overkill on the dramatic effect, Nolan. There are a few odd editing decisions too that bother me, as well. Other than that though, I have no other problems with The Dark Knight

So, a worthily praised motion picture indeed! A defining spectacle of the 2000s! A god-level new standard for comic-book movies! And, it has yet to be topped! Don’t forget its fitting ending too that wraps up the themes with inspiring pizazz, truly encapsulating the simplistic beauty of The Batman like we’ve never seen it before, converting non-fans to believers in blown-out, unapologetic comic-book/Shakespearian style. The Dark Knight is a defining landmark of the quintessential desire millions could ever want from a superhero. 

Side-note, by the way, I love the new 4K transfer!

Verdict: A

Christopher Nolan Ranked

“The Dark Knight” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) is Marginally Dated but Sufficient

??? Viewing

Yeah, I saw that new Matt Reeves Batman trailer. Robert Pattinson as a Hot-Topic Batman? Paul Dano as a terrorist-driven Riddler? Uh-uh-uh… Zoë *faint* Kravitz. A murdered Alfred? Nirvana? I’m all for it. Anyways, it got me in the cinematic mood for some caped crusading…

I like Batman Begins. As to my knowledge, this is the first live-action Batman movie to showcase the detailed, inner-workings of Batman’s inception and all his established trademarks: the Batcave, the Batsuit, the Batmobile, the Bat-combat, the Bat-etc. The movie has a sturdy antagonistic group to partner with this origin film, as well, one that features a surprising amount of insinuation on the pretentiousness of cults which are symbolized with the arsonistic ninja group lead by Ra’s al Ghul. 

Coming from the inner, Batman-geek myself, though, I do appreciate Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow in this adaptation—a villain I never could’ve imagined being on the big screen. The visual and vocal effects they use on him are imposing. The simplicity of the bag-mask is furthermore a qualitative bonus. I especially liked, however, the special effects used for the hallucinations; it truly added to The Scarecrow’s contrasting physical presence. Bale’s impersonation of Batman has become undeniably iconic and tastefully frightening, as the Batman was always meant to emanate—his take on Bruce Wayne is another story, howbeit, considering I often found some of his motivations in Begins to be illogically enigmatic. Regardless, that’s really just a writing issue and nothing to do with Bale; he’s still a good Batman and an acceptable, faithful Bruce Wayne. Batman using actual bats to aid him in one particular and splendid scene was also quite—like, YES, finally!—geektastic in my mind. Furthermore, though, The Tumbler jumping off roofs… can badassery really exceed this?

Despite Nolan, pretty much doing most in his capacity to please the fans of this famed superhero character, there are cavernous dilemmas with Begins that simply detract me from finding the all-inclusive movie from being great. But, let’s start off with my biggest drawback first…

The issue with how Nolan writes dialogue in Batman Begins is that, while a lot of it carries the necessary themes and information that the movie needs to convince the audience of Bruce Wayne’s upbringing, much of it is always brought up during amateurish, quixotic circumstances, ones that only exist to manifest the audience with something needed in the completion of these motifs when being followed by even more circumstances. For example, just in the opening 20 minutes of the movie, we see Bruce being lectured by his father about the dangers of “fear,” which is immediately followed (on the same day too) by the sequence of his parent’s dying while his father’s final words happen to revolve around the concept of not letting “fear” get the best of Bruce during that detrimental situation. There are loads of (and that’s not an exaggeration) of moments like this in Batman Begins, disclosing how Nolan rather verbally explore key topics in unrealistically expeditious matters rather than ones that trick us with at least the slightest of authenticity.

As far as any other qualms I have, there’s a lot of story to cover in Batman Begins making it feel pretty crammed, and it shows when the editing, structure, and continuity occasionally gets jarring and borderline idle; this is why, as I mentioned before, Wayne’s incentives sometimes feel cryptic, because the film tries to career too much of the character’s moral psyche into a minimal two-and-a-half hours while having the classic “save-the-city” comic-book story transpiring simultaneously. Additionally, Nolan’s method of directing action in this first installment is tediously average, in my humble opinion; he’s certainly matured in this area after the release of this film, especially in the number of cuts he uses per scene or how vivid and clear he makes each shot—thankfully. The semi-romance between Bruce and Rachel is pretty “meh” too. Plus, goofy, cheesy plot conveniences, here and there, etc. etc.

Batman Begins is, overall, decent though. It hasn’t held that much up to the test of time fifteen years after its release, but as far as comic-book origin stories go, this is arguably one of the better. The tone may not be as “serious” as fans tend to make it out—I believe Nolan doesn’t bring that quality until its predecessor—but he successfully brought the beloved crime-fighting character into an innovative, new light for the 21st century. 

On a side-note, I never noticed how influenced Nolan was of Tim Burton’s Batman, which gave me a slight referential dose of satisfaction. Bruce bringing Rachel to the Batcave while she’s intoxicated so that he can send her off with the antidotes to the main villain’s deadly toxin is one example of this. Even in The Dark Knight, there are those shots of The Joker encouraging Batman to kill him with his vehicle but the Joker ultimately gets the best of him. Even better though, there’s also the scene where Batman throws The Joker off the edge of a building but then catches him—a sign of Nolan keenly switching up the end results to play with Burton’s interpretation. Neat call-backs. 

Verdict: B-

Christopher Nolan Ranked

“Batman Begins” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

No Country For Old Men (2007) – Depicting Our World as Ambiguous

Warning: Spoilers Ahead, 3rd Viewing

Anton Chigurh is one of my all-time favorite antagonists in film history. Besides the fact that he’s the only dude who can somehow rock a bowl-cut, carries around a captive bolt stunner as a weapon against humans, and is performed by the great Javier Bardem, the baffling complexion of his persona and beliefs are what draw me back into his character every time I watch No Country for Old Men

At the dead beginning of the movie, a similar type to Chigurh is described by Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell:

“There was this boy I sent to the electric chair at Huntsville here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killed a 14-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out, he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell: ‘Be there in about fifteen minutes.’ I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t. The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say: ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.’”

Chigurh is a killer who has a contorted sense of philosophy, one that is somewhat contradicting and pretentious, but one that does indeed work to his likings — at least, until the film’s conclusion. He’s the inevitable, invincible force of the world that simply doesn’t follow logic — he is proof that the universe may not work on terms of moral standards like we’d hope it to. However, this quote above admits something more important in regards to the main character or, better yet, the center of this entire movie, that being Sheriff Bell. He’s the observer, or the old man, who witnesses the entire affair and makes an unpreferable sense of it, ultimately confirming the world for him. 

In the last minutes of No Country for Old Men, Bell finally retires his days of being a Sheriff after everything has concluded. Why? Because he’s come to the decision that law won’t see to win, and that evil, greed, and injustice will persevere as long as he lives. He has gone back and forth, case after case, years after years in police enforcement, and accepted that these evils will likely never die. The ambiguity of the individuals who commit these evils, also has him clashed, poisoning him with the thought that the universe is just inherently unprincipled. Deviants can’t just be put into prison and locked away for good — it’s at no time as simple as that. Bell has come to terms that there truly is no country for men of his age, or better said, men with his length of wisdom and experience since they now have matured into knowing the cynical truth in which the functions of the world can never be understood. 

Let’s discuss the Coen Brothers’ unworldly intense directing. No experience has yet to top how on-edge I was during that first viewing of No Country for Old Men. Not only does the extremely clever set-ups (a lot of it reliant on old-fashioned yet knowledgeable DIY principles) to the scenarios that transpire between foes help add to the absorption of the film’s gritty sequences, but the timing of the shots are delegated in matters of true precision. There seems to never be any way for the audience to work around or carefully predict what’s going to happen in this film due to what the Coen Brothers decide to show and decide not to show before an aggressive or shocking fallout.

Minus Chigurh or Bell’s character or the construction of No Country for Old Men’s action segments, my possible favorite aspect of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation is how they handle and furthermore upgrade the conclusion of the original story’s themes. Keep in mind, of course this movie wouldn’t even be able to improve the themes of its narrative obviously without Cormac McCarthy’s incredible novella/source material. After Llewelyn’s wife, Carla, loses her husband and mother, she is confronted by Chigurh, who arrives at her place to kill her due to a “promise” he had made earlier in the film. Chigurh, feeling a surprising amount of pity for a psychopath, however, gives her the chance to determine or her life with the flip of a coin. Yet, instead of taking this opportunity as a reason for life, Carla instead calls Chigurh out for letting an erratic coin decide her fate. In the novel, she simply perilously accepts the toss, but I like how the movie forces an emotionally destroyed woman to morally confront a man who played a part in her suffering. So, yes, Carla attempts to make Chigurh decide her death by free will; luckily, the ambiguous movie allows our imagination to decide whether Chigurh just killed her or forced her to call “heads” or “tails,” as if the two factors do play a part simultaneously in our world. The movie dabbles even more with the contradicting environment we live in, although, during its proceeding sequence where Chigurh almost gets killed in a car crash, as if the results of that too were determined by a coin toss. The likelihood of our destiny could be by chance or could be by determination according to McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. 

In spite of the perfection that can be spotted in almost every direction, I’ve picked up on a few matters that mildly bother me with No Country for Old Men. The movie often features uninspired or aimlessly standard shots, as well as an amalgamation of basic editing etiquettes that are in the countless dialogue-reliant sequences, especially when you compare them to how masterfully seamed the cat and mouse moments between Llewelyn and his enemies are. I understand that the tone is meant to settle in these vocal conversations, so the perspicuity of shots makes some sense, but I simply don’t love how the film always wants Cormac McCarthy to do all the talking. It reminds me of how overbearing the film can occasionally be on telling us what it means, rather than showing it. Yet, this is no more than a nitpick, as I acknowledge movies are allowed to participate in this exchange, plus it only bothers my enjoyment minimally.

Nonetheless, yeah; No Country for Old Men is still probably not only one of the most intense motion pictures I’ve ever sat through on multiple occasions, but a prime example of how to adapt a novel triumphantly. You ought to add or evolve upon its source material’s themes methodically, bring the gripping action of it to the big screen, and cut out filler that isn’t a grand necessity. It’s the ultimate classical western subversion too. This really is the Coen Brothers’ second best, ay? 

Verdict Change: A+ —> A

My All-Time Favorites, The Coen Brothers Ranked, The Victors of the 2000s

“No Country for Old Men” is now available to stream on Hulu and Starz.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) – A Dissection of Human Relationships

Woke up with an unusually melancholy mental and physical state this morning, so you know what that means…

Following up There Will Be Blood must be a leisureless task. How does one proceed what many deemed at the time and still today as one of the greatest motion pictures of the 21st century? There are common guidelines in the Hollywood realm on how to successfully, in both a financial manner and a positive reception manner, do this. Example: make your next movie have bigger stakes, or concoct a more relevant cast, or explore a story/structure similar to what gratified audiences initially with your previous outing. Yet, director Paul Thomas Anderson does exactly what many would say not to do when proceeding after a triumph that puts you on the radar to a god-like degree: make an ambitious, extremely non-commercial piece that countless will likely not comprehend or even enjoy, as its unconventional, passive execution, and controversial subject-matter may upset general audiences—AKA, make a movie like The Master

“The war is over.” All that men can think about right now is returning to a lifestyle of sex and drinking; World War II soldiers completely brainwashed of violent predicaments that America has desensitized them with are being released back into ordinary society with the burdened paranoia of what’s to do for their next chapter. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is the worst of them though. He’s as foul as humans come; perverted, malicious, greedy, self-centered, and unmotivated. His libido automates like a rat and his intentions reek of untamed sadism. Pig-ignorant 20th century doctors will write off his condition as, “oh, hes just another recently retired soldier that’s acting out as the common misogynistic male,” but we as the audience are seeing the true grotesqueness of his persona all in full PTA contrasted graphics. This man needs help. He’s a living parasite who hops off of one job only to be fired from his uncontrollable temper, bringing only sheer pain to others out of the confines of his mental disorder and lack of pursuit or destiny. 

Our secondary character Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), on the other hand, is a man who desires control. In one of his very first scene, he even slyly exclaims his intentions as an individual in a dragon allegory, revving up his prey to be as glorious as one magical beast, but in secrecy, just another puppet for him to play around with as he rides his pursuits to glory in pushing his beliefs as the “definitive” among followers. He’s the kind of pseudointellectual who uses a pretentious religion as his strong suit, one that has no boundaries (whenever it’s, of course, convenient for him), one that preaches the ambiguous mystery of the unknown, one that incorporates a touch of hypnosis plus maybe a bit of charm here and there, and one that takes advantage of a post-World War II setting of inexplicable desperation to convince his subjects of the authenticity of his “cause.” Ultimately, however, his shtick works wonders. While working to the benefit of this religion he has fabricated, many seem to cast him as a frontline in trust, value, and moral wisdom. 

So what exactly is The Master about? Well, it’s about these two deeply flawed (in their own ways) individuals colliding as partners. Freddie plays as Lancaster’s subject, and Lancaster plays as Freddie’s teacher. They’re both narcissists that feed off of each other’s ambitions to make one disgusting combobulation of turmoil and association. Yet, during this greedy back and forth game of cat and mouse, and in spite of all the self-righteousness that’s transpiring between commander and student, the two become aided by each other’s company. Freddie actually begins to develop a more potent consciousness and Lancaster begins to feel as if he’s truly influencing a purely broken and frankly taxing follower. Religion or cult can sometimes be perceived as the most externally false practice at times, yet can also be interpreted as the most meditative and guiding art there is to human tranquility. We don’t need reality or facts to achieve a prosperous life; we need information (good or bad, right or wrong) that can psychologically complete us. Manipulation sometimes is our greatest companion; as long as we fully believe what we’re being told—and it evidently puts us at peace—it may eerily be the best thing for our well-being. 

Controversial, right? Intriguing? Absolutely.

For a man who probably doesn’t think much about his life and walks aimlessly on soil ground while wasting air among the Earth’s atmosphere, it only took an around ten-minute “Processing Test”—a surreal set of questions and obstacles that are additionally featured in the greatest performance-driven sequence I’ve seen in the history of film—for Freddie to finally start contemplating the mark that he’s made in society during his life span, and what he should seek for in the future. In a way, Lancaster is essentially Freddie’s life coach, one who forces him to dissect his influence over the years. Freddie can’t function on his own without a leader, without some to teach him how to, well, continue living prosperously. 

“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.” – Lancaster Todd

We’re all an endless row of domino followers and mazed babies who need that satisfaction of feeling wanted by a superior. People often say that once you’re first born into the world, you are instantaneously perplexed by what’s around you, but Paul Thomas Anderson knows that this is not the first and last experience in which the human individual encounters these natural issues. It is always happening. Guidance is what propels us into having contentment for our own existence. Submission to someone who could or could not be knowledgeable is the only option we have because we are just naturally confused by our existence and need assistance deducing it. 

I like to accept that, in the end, Freddie and Lancaster both figured out the great truth of life: an owner needs his pet as much as a pet needs its owner. Everybody is a controller and everybody is a follower. The back and forth exchange of submission, necessity, and guidance is what creates lovers—in this case, between Freddie and Lancaster. They are both each other’s master. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to find beauty in this forever natural cycle in human existence. This, overall, is what I choose to believe The Master is about. 

Yeah, I could list 100 reasons why Joaquin Phoenix physically exudes disorder more than any other actor could care to carve out in intricate gestures—same goes with Philip Seymour Hoffman; that is a long list, however, and maybe I’ll leave that open for my third article on this movie. Also, don’t even get me started on how well the color variation and placement in this homage (but also critique?) of the 1950s period of wealthy fashion quirks are too. From the landscape shooting, character composition in a shot, and to the lighting intricacies; these visual factors define perfection. The shot where Joaquin Phoenix opens the door that leads to the dewy land-field is by far one of the cleanest shots I have ever laid eyes on, and there are plenty more shots that I could expose in my review, as well. And, did I mention that there’s another iconic, nostalgic score by Jonny Greenwood in this! What a film The Master is!

You know? It’s almost like Freddie and Landcaster’s relationship was meant to be an evolution of Daniel and Eli’s relationship in There Will Be Blood, seeing as they both need one another in order to pursue their goals—Daniel: competition. Eli: to cure and to finance. Hmm. Speaking of such films, I suppose I should compare the two while on the topic. There Will Be Blood, to me, has a slicker construction in its formal technicalities—editing, structure, progression in plot, etc; the only thing I would leave out of this is the cinematography. The experience of PTA’s 2007 breakout is just more riveting in the moment of watching it, as well. Thematically, however, I find The Master particularly more interesting and contemplative in what it sets out to say; this is why the two movies seem to always be bouncing back and forth as my all-time favorite from Paul Thomas Anderson. 

On a side-note, it is kind of funny though how Amy Adams was occasionally the master of Lancaster in this movie. This is even further proof that nobody is ever completely in control. Or you know, because she’s Amy freakin’ Adams.

Verdict: A+

My All-Time Favorites, Paul Thomas Anderson Ranked, The Victors of the 2010s

“The Master” is now available to stream on Netflix.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia (1983) – The Great Battle Between Home and Journey

I swear, whoever does the lighting for Tarkovsky’s movies has the brain of a god. 

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia reminds me of a piece that I’d just recently watched, in which I’d also happened to adore, called The Passenger. Made by Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, the film followed a writer on a supposed “business trip,” in which he was essentially running away from his home life to become someone new as if he was seeking to press a metaphysical replay button. Nostalgia sees acclaimed poet Gorchakov running away from home too, but it seems as if this man is looking more so for clarity in himself as a lone artist rather than a means that would completely change his persona. 

Whether it be the many shots that are so elaborate as if they were ripped straight out of famous renaissance paintings, incorporation of liquified reflections to add to the dreaminess of a sequence, the long takes that are augmented to become cinema’s most emotional, the sounds of nature that forewarn us before tragedy strikes, or literally putting places from the past directly into places of the present to amplify the electricity of a set-piece, I have yet to visit a Tarkovsky movie that isn’t a technical masterpiece in ways people couldn’t believe conceivable until they saw it with their own eyes. In all sincerity, the atmosphere and look of movies do not get better than in Tarkovsky’s, and Nostalgia is positively no exception. 

To not sidetrack from the story Tarkovsky is eloquently telling here, on Gorchakov’s quest for information of a beloved (yet dead) composer he’s researching, he runs into an old man seen by the people of Rome as a nutcase for barricading his family in their house long ago due to his wild imagination. In manners, Gorchakov sees himself in this old man: lonely, deprived, afraid to return home, yet more importantly, greedy, self-absorbed, obsessed with the theoretical judgments that got his family detached from him in the first place. It gets you thinking, just how willing are we to pursue our artistic beliefs in the midst of our families who can become very much at risk of every move we decide to make? 

Gorchakov is torn between his family and using new foreign grounds for his work; his nostalgia seems to be the only factor that keeps him from sinking completely down into his insoluble work despite it feeling like something he can never hope to experience again. Gorchakov’s colleague and translator Eugenia seems most uninterested in these uncharted and devout locations, however, acting out as the abstract opposer in this quarrel. 

As with most creative minds, our obsession for art translates as a hope for answers, howbeit, it can sometimes detach us from the physical relationships we have right in front of us, and maybe even at a permanent consequence—this is why barricading one another (in personal or even political terms) can be negative. We’ll drive ourselves to instability (similar to what happened to the famous composer Gorchakov is researching) until we’ve realized our pursuit for meaning in the self was a melancholic waste of time all along. Why we haven’t cremated our isolation of distracting ourselves with theories long ago remains to be the greatest enigma of human curiosity. 

Another masterpiece from Tarkovsky. Shocker? 

Verdict: A+

A Philosophical Detour (Ranked List)

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

Blade Runner 2049: It’s Definitely Good, but Is It a Masterpiece?

Warning: Spoilers Ahead; 3rd Viewing 

I haven’t checked out Blade Runner 2049 since little high schooler me saw it twice back in theaters, which is most peculiar since I recall deeming its content as some of cinema’s finest. Yet, I have never had the urge to waddle back into this visceral world Villeneuve, Deakins, and partners in crime have sketched and inflated so conceivably—and part of this could be from the stem that I had understood just about everything the film had to say the first time I saw it.

I hear fans often praising in video essays, professional articles, and even L.A. street talk that Villeneuve’s sequel perfectly captures the original’s vibe to a T. This, to me, is one of the most inaccurate statements I have ever heard in regards to the discussion of movies. To be clear, this is to not discredit 2049 in any way—part of its fair quality comes from it being divergent from its predecessor. It should be made explicit though that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Villeneuve’s Blade Runner, are two entirely different beasts; just because they are both “slow-paced” doesn’t make them miraculously one of the same spectrum. 

Blade Runner (1982) was an experimental philosophy statement on the cynical entry and journey of our inescapable death, told in an almost randomized plot order nobody at the time of 1982 could’ve possibly seen coming. The movie takes you on a journey with our lead character, Decker, who ends up not even being the central arc of the movie’s subject matter, and rather hands that over to the imposingly empathetic antagonist, Roy Batty, and maybe even a little of the ever so lonely J.F. Sebastian or Decker’s unconventional love interest Rachael. Blade Runner was meant to be confusing on initial viewings and was meant to counterbalance your expectations of classic character motifs by using Decker as a host for the audience’s guilt and the side characters as sympathetic mind-benders, altering who exactly to feel for and who to not; what to withdraw thematically out of the events and what to make of all the needless violence or bigotry that the project urges to explore. 

2049 is EXTREMELY straightforward. 2049, as simple as it may sound on the surface, is a story about finding purpose. Gosling’s replicant character is audibly the focusable arc of the movie, and Decker and his lost daughter are used as pieces of the past to enhance this new character. The movie, although, features villains who are as trivial and as cryptic as they come—but only because they are here for momentary pizzazz and nothing more. Jared Leto is a puppet master who strokes his ego and philosophy off more than actual Leto himself does. Robin Wright plays a high-ranking boss as she often does in the world of theatrics, but an intentionally brainless one at the convenience of maneuvering K’s journey—yet a blindly loving one at that, if we’re being fair; aww. And, they even have a fierce female replicant (Luv) who is ALSO a purposely unintelligent villain at the convenience of provoking K’s arc. Not to mention, she’s furthermore an unjustifiably competitive and envious robot who has some inexplicable vendetta against K, seeing him almost as a roadblock in her relationship with Wallace—a man who doesn’t even know K personally, but, you know, “failure is fear.” Yet, these characters—the “decoration” among many in 2049—are not the thrust of Villeneuve’s tale; K is. 

JOI (Ana de Armas) and K (Ryan Gosling) are a subtle but telling partnership that emulates practicality unlike anything we’ve ever seen in these futuristic sci-fis that live to tell us a likelihood. At the beginning of the movie, JOI seems to be the only means that can justify Gosling’s existence—the one thing that he loves; the one thing that makes him feel human. Barriers like the Baseline Tests (featured in two of my possible favorite scenes in this entire film), however, are manipulated as almost a dehumanization machine that’s used to make sure replicants are irresponsive to soul-driven questions. However, his robotic circumstances that society pressures him with has made him feel lonely and of little worth—even with his hologram partner around. K wants fulfillment in his life, and this adventure to find a missing miracle just might be what leads him there. This is a coming of age story, disguised as a sci-fi epic. Through uncovering sex, memories, loss, and the possibility of a legitimate lineage, K is learning what it is to be an independent individual, whether or not he is actually the prodigy who he may think he is. 

I hear people consistently praising Deakins’ cinematography in 2049, and while it is beautiful as f***ing beautiful technology and experienced brainpower can grant us with coloring, scope, set/prop design, and special effects (and, not to mention, the best that I’ve possibly ever seen), it can sometimes feel empty. Villeneuve wanted this to be a stylized slow-burn, something where we could sit back, relax, and gaze upon hours of standard yet elongated shots that showed us the ever so futuristic, poverty-shook, sex-driven world of tomorrow, without using much compelling placement to add plenty to K’s actual story. Like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, this is a show-off-y visual extravaganza, a peacock of sorts, yet not one that would want to contribute too much to what the meaningful narrative has to say since it rather rely on poetic but often blatant dialogue/exposition and eccentric acting gigs for those matters. Well, besides that last shot with Gosling in the snow; that was pretty ingenious. I can’t resist the frequent dark/shadow shots in 2049, as well; those were tight. 

I feel confident in deducing that the first two acts of 2049 are genuinely sturdy—even without forgetting its flaws as mentioned previously—and they productively flesh K’s emotional condition out to razor-sharp precision. The final act, unfortunately, tangles this streak into a haphazard knot of dramatic tragedy that is guided by weak plotting and a surplus of incidents. This inferior to the foregoing, third act, uncreatively reveals some frantic secrets while falling into the conventional “f***, we need our hero to do something climatically hefty and blockbuster-ish before we showcase the film’s big reveal, so let’s have him locate himself into a flying car chase and a dramatic one-on-one fight with the underwritten mini-boss Luv in the midst of some PRETTY WAVES. Hans Zimmer can go ‘RIOUWWWWW’ again too!” All of a sudden, a movie that was so keen on taking its time, letting the audience gently breathe in these moments of controversial humanity and futuristic chaos, feels morbidly rushed to a point where we’re schizophrenically introduced to…

A) this secret replicant society that SPIELS a galore of exposition regarding Decker’s daughter while blatantly exclaiming some of the closing motifs of the movie (*you’re not the chosen one, I’m not the chosen one, but we all want to be the chosen one, so we should manually discover our own way to make ourselves a chosen one in a new light to seek self-peace, etc.*) as if the audience couldn’t pick up on it naturally given the situation—a sign of Villeneuve dumbing down the execution for the sake of audience appeal. Furthermore, the only reason why this all occurs in the first place is because they decide to take in K almost immediately (and conveniently) after the enemies decide not to kill him for, again, cryptic antagonistic motives—Luv will, later on, pull this stunt AGAIN at the expense of her very own life. They do kill JOI, however, because they need her death to propel the plot and enhance K’s themes; or, they just really wanted to piss off K to a point where he’d want to take revenge—as if that’s logical on the villains’ end—or so he can gain a self-respect moment where he recognizes that his lover wasn’t authentic (+she’s gone so there’s no turning back!) and that he should fulfill his true purpose…

B) Wallace provoking Decker to find his child by giving him the classic, evil villain, fancy-worded “destiny” speech and confronting him with a refurbished Rachael model that’s inserted for the hardcore fans and used as an immediate plot device to convince Decker into meeting his daughter even after we’ve established at the beginning of this third act that he doesn’t want to see her so she can be kept safe (keep in mind also that Decker ends up doing this while Wallace is still on the hunt for his daughter), then, of course…

C) the standardly written and pressured in showdown that doesn’t care to unfold how K even finds Luv and Decker in the first place, and…

D) the abrupt, quickly assembled resolution used to define Decker and his daughter’s reunion as “K’s grand purpose” before he dies—which would’ve been spectacular if Decker’s reason for reuniting was more fleshed out and if the daughter’s identity wasn’t so amateurishly explained by the secret replicant society. It’s all as if the leisured pacing of the movie had spasmodically forced itself to speed through some of these key considerations of already established plot points just so that K’s arc could be wrapped in a chintzy little bow before we could hit say a “three-hour” mark.

In the thick of it all, nevertheless,  the initial 105 minutes of Villeneuve’s follow-up are still robust and I will have the occasional respect for parts of the director’s concluding yet chaotic 55 minutes—I mean, who doesn’t love hologram Elvis? K’s arc, as rudimentary as it is to fictional evolutions that we’ve endured before, is still beautifully realized, acting out as the clean-slate of 2049’s possible collapse; his “battle for meaning at the cost of everything else” detour is just restrained in a conventional, cyberpunk, adventure plot which uses steady pacing, ornamented dialogue, and last-minute ideas—which many will praise to be ambiguous puzzle pieces that only the “truly dedicated” viewer can comprehend or appreciate—as a means to disguise itself. 

Nevertheless, K is a wonderful reckoning to the Blade Runner universe, Villeneuve’s updated (35+ years, to be precise) universe and technology add-ins are unusually gorgeous enough to hypnotize viewers for hours upon hours of revisits, and the sound design never ceases to make me tremble in submission. 2049 is definitely a good movie, but maybe not the masterpiece in which many are beginning to desperately mark it as in a modern-day atmosphere of subpar sequels that are manufactured at an almost industrial and inhumane rate. It’s another one of those motion pictures in which I can whole-heartedly comprehend both the despisers’ and admirers’ side of the argument. As far as sequels these days go, though, this is definitely still of the better ones. 

More importantly, however, I’m tired of Hollywood treating Ryan Gosling as if he’s the type of fella who can’t get any women—good on him for his diverse range in roles though, but have you seen his face and bod? He’s dated sex dolls (source: Lars and the Real Girl), cars/motorcycles (source: Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines) and now you expect me to believe that only programmed holograms and paid prostitutes want him? Get outta here.

Verdict: B-

Christopher Nolan vs. Denis Villeneuve (Ranked List) 

“Blade Runner 2049” is now available to stream on iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.