An utterly immersive descent into the perils of war, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is symphonic in its execution, a film which has much more in common with the silent era of film than the modern incarnation in which didactic dialogue and narrative thrust drive the spirit of the story. A story of survival, Dunkirk is immersive, atmospheric, and brooding with uncertainty, being a film of intense escalation, one where no main protagonist provides the audience with a clear-cut perspective of this terrifying event in human history. Touching on various perspectives of the event, the ensemble of characters are surrogates for the audience, with the event itself, which found 400,000 men stranded in Dunkirk and surrounded by the German army, being much bigger than any single perspective. Providing little to no exposition, Dunkirk drops the audience into this chaotic environment, forcing the viewer themselves to collect their own barrings, an effective decision by Nolan which captures the horrors of this situation, one in which chaos and uncertainty are intertwined, where death is a bedside companion, and the sense of control over one's own fate is fleeting. Subtly subverting linear structure in telling the story of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan's ensemble each provide their own perspectives of the event, whether it be from the air, sea, or ground, with each of their own journey's unfolding on their own subjective timeline. These various perspectives help make Dunkirk both expansive and intimate, detailing this WWII event from all angles, giving it gravitas as we experience it from the perspectives of the army, navy, air force, and everyday civilians who couldn't stand by while their nation's young men were stranded. Some of these character's journeys converge with one and other, others do not, but the larger timeline of the event itself remains the framework of this war film, one which is rooted in delivering an atmospheric descent into the perils of war and the psychological and physical effect it has on the men who must fight them. Any honest war film is by definition anti-war, and Nolan's film captures this through its symphonic structure and immersive atmosphere, being a film that celebrates the bravery of both soldiers and the civilians that attempted to help them while simultaneously showcasing the brutality and moral ambiguity of war, where the worth of life is greatly diminished, and the individual is at the mercy of the nation. The film dances around some interesting commentary on nation states themselves and the effect nationalist boundaries can have on subverting humanities shared morality, but the film never makes this assertion a priority in the scope of the storytelling, seemingly focused on providing an engrossing experience that details the perils of this situation. Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is chaotic yet assured, a film that places immersion and atmosphere as its number one priority, being effective in both telling the story of Dunkirk while encapsulating the utter chaos and lunacy of war.
Intimate and personal in approach, Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts is a detailed account of a group of Syrian activists who've seen their lives thrown into utter disarray under the barbaric, authoritarian rule of ISIS. Through the formation of a grassroots activists group 'Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silenty', these brave men aim to raise awareness around the world of the true tragedy and violence which ISIS has brought to their town of Raqqa, a once proud city bristling with the hope of democracy during Arab Spring, which now sits as perhaps ISIS largest stronghold in the entire region. A documentary with the pacing and atmosphere of an espionage thriller, Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts first and foremost is a bristling ode to activism and journalism on a grassroots scale, providing an intricate examination of the bravery of these men who are involved in an information war against ISIS, putting their lives on the line everyday to fight the toxic propaganda of ISIS which infects their home country. City of Ghosts captures this 'david vs. goliath' struggle through an intimate profiles of various activists in the cause, growing more grandoise in nature as it details the escalation of ISIS in the region, exhibiting how the Western world effectively ignored the threat ISIS brings to the region and how this barbaric, authoritarian region has now become not only the middle east's problem but the world's problem due, at least in part, to the Western world's ignorance when it comes to military interventionism and its inability to effectively see the roots of the problem until it has washed upon their own shores. Through the story of Raqqa, and the growing threat of ISIS in the region in terms of recruitment and scope, City of Ghosts is a story about the power of information, detailing media's ability to inform but also empower through propaganda, with the activists of 'Raqqa is Slaughtered Silently' engaged in an information war with ISIS over the hearts and minds of not only the people in the region, but also those around the war who conflate ISIS's contorted version of Islam with the religion as a whole. At the core of its story, City of Ghosts captures the inherent need for freedom of the individual first and foremost, detailing how authoritarianism does not have a designated spot on the political spectrum nor is it designated to a particularly political ideology. Authoritarianism can take many shapes, adhering to either right or left ideology, with its only true definition being one based on power, control, and coercion of the people to get the results it desires often almost through force and tyranny of those individuals who don't conform. Detailing these activists continual fight with ISIS, City of Ghosts exhibits not only the physical struggles and mental exhaustion of waging in this information war, but also the psychological trauma associated with constantly having a target on one's back, with Matthew Heineman's film managing to be extremely intimate and personal about their struggle, while also touching on extremely large impact this battle has not only on their personal lives and their home, but the world itself.
A period piece with some serious bite, William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth is a subversive story examining the darker side of desire, a film which showcases the path in which patriarchal oppression can lead when one is stifled and alone in a loveless marriage. set in Rural England, 1865, Lady Macbeth follows Katherine, a young woman, who is married to a bitter man twice her age, while also dealing with father in law whose coldness and demanding nature are more akin to a slave than a member of the family. The objectification of Katherine is obvious right from the beginning of Lady Macbeth, showcasing a woman who is effectively stationary, an ornament for her husband and father-in-law, one that is always regulated to the background. The intrinsic loneliness which is manifests in this setting, one where everything about Katherine in society is defined by her husband, is the driving force of what transpires through the film's ninety minute running time, with Lady Macbeth taking the viewer on a wild journey of deception, desire, and death. A woman void of independence and any freedoms to make her own decisions, Katherine's passionate affair with Sebastian, the young worker on her husband's estate, unfolds with dramatic, escalating force, detailing in Katherine a woman whom has been freed from her oppression, dead set on getting whatever she wants. Not what one would describe as your typical period piece about Patriarchal oppression, Lady Macbeth is much more brooding and sinister, a film which juxtaposes the cordial, polite etiquette of the time with Katherine's increasingly sinister intentions, exhibiting a woman whose desire and freedom begins to consumer her. Katherine's awakening is one that stiffling with vengeance in its heart, with the character's freedom from repressive, patriarchal role of the household being just as much driven by her quest for freedom as her passion for Sebastian, a farm hand whom she wholly desires. While Lady Macbeth's cinematography is acute in its compositions, with mise en scene that evokes the restricting place in society held by wives and woman of this time, the film's ability to carry a brooding atmosphere similar to a horror film through the cold, stillness of its photography. Sebastian himself isn't the typical charmer one is accustomed to seeing either in these types of films, being presented more as a brute, not romantic but a sexually driven force, one that is improper, wild, yet free. Katherine and Sebastian's torrid relationship, one which remains int he shadows is subversive yet passionately charged, with Katherine eventually becoming grossly empowered by her new found independence and power, being the widow of a wealthy farm owner, a character whom eventually becomes fueled just as much by survival as passion, desire, or love.
In the vein of many indie films before it, Christopher Schaap's Prom King, 2010 is a story of longing which juxtaposes the enormity of New York City and all of its promise, with the intimacy and singularity of companionship, following the exploits of Charlie, a 20-year-old college student who is having a hard time adjusting to the harsh realities of modern dating. Featuring a main protagonist who is a sensitive young man with romantic ideals that simply don't congeal with the modernity of online dating and the increasingly detached reality that sees human-to-human interaction dwindling, Prom King 2010 effectively evokes the general malaise which manifests itself between youthful experimentation and love/companionship seeking, capturing the slow crawling existential fear of being alone that many of us often feel at some time in our life, when the struggle to find that 'special someone' continually goes from promise to pain. Prom King, 2010 balances its comedic assertions and introspective nature well, becoming a film that encapsulates the overall mood of this time in a young person's life, being a story brimming with idyllic possibility that is part hopeful while also tragic, with Prom King doing a great job at eliciting the ups and downs associated with one's quest to find this thing we call love. Charile, our main protagonist, is sensitive, yet genuine, a character who is easy to root for due to his sexual innocence, with his naivety routinely providing a lot of comedic moments. Prom King is charming and sensitive, yet honest, but perhaps its greatest strength is its ability to capture the toxic effects trying to define love can have on the psyche. Charlie is a character who has a very romanticized version of what love and companionship is, and what it isn't, a mindset which routinely leads to self-deprecation and negativity when things don't develop the way his romanticized perspective expected. His general struggles to find someone leave him frustrated, at times even lashing out at himself for being gay, fixating on anything to blame but himself. It's through these frustrations that Prom King, 2010 also captures how universal this type of emotional strife is, detailing how sexual orientation is a mere detail when it comes to general sense of longing we all feel as individuals in our search for love and companionship. Keeping microbudget restrictions in mind, Prom King 2010 is well made showing a sense for ingenuity and craft, with Christopher Schaap's direction being subtle, yet assured, constructing an atmosphere around this protagonist that feels lively and sweeping with romance, effectively evoking the feelings of seclusion many single individuals feel when surrounded by others who are in a relationship. While the film does begin to lag towards the end, with the abundance of peaks and valleys in Christopher's love life reaching a breaking point on the viewers patience, Prom King 2010 is an assured indie effort by writer/director/actor Christopher Shaap, a personal story which touches on a lot of universal truths about dating, longing, and love.
A film of quiet menace and tangible intrigue, Koji Fukada's Harmonium is a bleak, yet engrossing story about the slow disintegration of a family unit, which begins to unravel due to the arrival of Yasaka, an ex-con and old acquaintance of the paternal figure of the family, Toshio, One of the most well-constructed narratives of the year, the details of which I will not venture into here, Harmonium exhibits the isolation and solitude evident in everyday life which many of us take for granted, deconstructing how marriage, maternal and paternal relationship with children, and friendships can often be void of true emotional commitment, empathy, and sacrifice, with personal obligation alone, due to these defined structures and expectations that lie within, never being solely enough. Fukada's Harmonium is a startling and bleak reminder that these societal defined definitions- father, daughter, friend, husband, wife, are not merely enough if they aren't continuously instilled with the same vigor for connection and empathy as they were during formation, with the film providing a beautiful yet bleak deconstruction of how people can become isolated emotionally despite having an abundance of people around them physically. Introducing the viewer to the family early on, Fukada's lens features a heavy use of symmetry in its compositions, visually encapsulating the structured family unit which Toshio heads. This structured household, while seemingly elegant and efficient, is entrenched with an underlying coldness when it comes to Toshio's paternal nature, as the film's showcases a man whom while kind, feels detached from his wife and daughter on an emotional level, driven simply by his work to his family, though we eventually learn he has a secret. The arrival of Yasaka only further strengthens and expands this detachment, with Yasaka being introduced as a far warmer character, one whose more open about his emotions and inquisitive about Toshio's family, seemingly showing a genuine curiosity about both Toshio's wife and daughter's well-being. With this arrival, the visual symmetry of the film begins to slowly dissipate, with Yasaka's presence revealing the cracks and strains in the family dynamics of this household, showing how Toshio and his wife lack any true form of open, and honest communication. Remencient of Pasolini's Teorema, the arrival of Yasaka breeds strife among the family, yet as the film evolves through its dense and well-designed narrative, one begins to realize that Yasaka himself, while a malevolent force, is not solely to blame for the tragedy and emotional conflict, as Toshio's negligence and general deflection of emotion, pain or conflict, set the seeds in motion for the grim and tragic fate that comes to pass for this family. Koji Fukada's Harmonium's treatment of time and how the past effects the present is one of the film's more interesting assertions, detailing in Toshio a character who has managed to subvert or displace his own sense of guilt or emotional trauma about his past through what he perceives is fulfilling his societal obligations- providing for his family. His past has come to effect his present, with Harmonium detailing the slow erosion of connection and push towards isolation which internal strife can have on external relationships, as Toshio's deep-seeded guilt related to his past with Yasaka has left him emotional isolated, which in turn deeply erodes the connection he has with his wife and their daughter. The film's ending, one which I won't spoil here, is a dire, yet fitting conclusion to this whirlwind journey of emotional anguish, internal strife, and solitude, with Toshio finally confronted with a deep-seeded sense of emotional pain and guilt which he can't displace or deflect introspectively, with his past mistakes and internalization of guilt coming full circle to eviscerate his present semblance of happiness through tragedy. Featuring a gripping and well-designed narrative, Koji Fukada's Harmonium is an elegantly crafted story of internalized trauma, isolation, and the consequences of past mistakes, a film which is certain to stun many viewers with its tenacious approach to exposing the tragic effect which emotional isolation can have on the individual.
A film which fluidly and enigmatically oscillates between introspective character drama and horror film, Erlingur Thoroddsen's Rift is a challenging piece of cinema which tows the line between opaque and convoluted, depending on the perspective of the viewer, delivering a well-crafted piece of cinema which certainly leaves much up to interpretation. Taking place in a beautiful, desolate region of Iceland, Rift is a psychological story about guilt, trauma, and the necessity for honesty, particularly in any close relationship, following Gunnar, who receives a strange phone call from his ex-boyfriend, Einar, who sounds deeply distraught and in serious trouble. Arriving at Einar's cabin, located in a secluded region of Iceland, Gunnar finds his ex holed up, soon learning that things are worse than he even imagined for his old flame. Taking on lots of Horror sensibilities when it comes to overall atmosphere and general aesthetic, Rifts uses the horror genre archetype to tell a tale of fractured relationships, repressed emotions, and unfinished business, being a film that could be explained in a more straight-forward, horror way, yet it much more interesting if viewed through the lens of psychological symbolism, where everything is through the perspective of Gunnar, our main protagonist. A film which is very layered in its characterizations, Rift takes its time stripping away the protective coating of these characters who've only been out of a relationship for three months, symbolically revealing a story of remorse in which Gunnar lost Einar to suicide several months ago. While many are sure to disagree with my heavily symbolic, psychological assertions about Rift, the film simply works far better through this lens, as otherwise it feels like a much larger mess about a killer on the loose, whose motivations and general stature in the film leave a lot to be desire. Throughout Rift there are subtle hints that what we are being presented may not be objective reality, with seemingly everything being through the eyes of Gunnar. There is a mysterious sense of danger and intrigue which haunts and terrifies Gunnar, yet he seems to be the only one that even notices these horrors. Eignar himself feels supernatural at times, oblivious to Gunnar's concerns about lurking danger, arguably being presented through the lens of Gunnar - a deeply damaged character, an alcoholic mess whose traumatic past seems to leave him on the edge of suicide. The key to this argument, that much of what transpires in Rift is a psychological, a figment of the imagination, lies in Gunnar's interactions with Eignar's neighbor, a character who repeatedly challenges Gunnar's reality through her perspective, making the viewer very skeptical of whether what we have been experiencing is truly objective reality. This lurking sense of danger which encapsulates the film, and is constantly rebutted by this neighbor, starts to resemble the guilt which Gunnar feels for not being a more empathetic companion to Eignar, with him psychologically manifesting Eignar as a coping mechanism for dealing with the malfeasance he feels centered Eignar's death, something which is hinted at in the very beginning. Capturing the absolute necessity of being honest, open, and empathetic towards the one you love, Erlingur Thoroddsen's Rift is a enigmatic genre-bender which analyzes fractured relationships, repressed trauma, and remorse through a highly symbolic lens.
Singular and daring in its subversion of the ghost story archetype which grasps towards existential ideals related to existence, time, and space, David Lowery's A Ghost Story is unfortunately not as profound, meditative, or transcendent as I would have hoped from such a talented young filmmaker, being a film in which I couldn't help but question whether it would have been far better served in the short form format. Centered around a recently deceased man whom returns home as a white-sheeted ghost to console his wife, Lowrey's film is a love story which transcends into a cosmic journey through time, encapsulating the the expansive nature of our existence through the perspective of this ghost, whose love is fleeting, oppressed by the enormity of time, soon only having his memories for solace. Make no mistake, A Ghost Story is extremely well made, with Lowney's once again showing an ingenuity in his direction, with perhaps the film's greatest strength being its bravery in letting the compositions linger longer than most contemporary American films, as Lowery understands the importance of letting the emotional and personal weight of the situation manifest in the audience's psyche, a wise decision that would have had more true effect if not for the film's surprisingly didactic screenplay. While a rare feat in a certain sense, A Ghost Story manages to be both minimalist in approach yet didactic in execution, with one scene in particularly literally spelling out to the audience the existential nature of the theme through a character monologue. Before this diatribe which happens approximately two thirds into this film, A Ghost Story was nothing particularly new or profound, but it did manage to capture the expansive nature of time itself, and in turn the importance of living every moment to the fullest, while also acknowledging the existential dread which accompanies the true insignificance and fragility of life. Unfortunately this unnecessary monologue didactically expresses much of these ideas, cheapening the minimalist and mysterious journey which put Lowrey craft and ingenuity in the spot light, with the film in the end leaving me wanting much more from an emotional perspective, as the intellectual nature of Lowrey's film, while brave and ingenious, scratches very little new ground when it comes to the existential nature and enormity of life itself. A Ghost Story which deserves some respect simply for its creativity and interest in metaphyics, David Lowrey's latest effort is a lot like his previous one, showcasing an unquestionably talented filmmaker who hasn't quite been able to put it all together yet.
Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is a story about the intrinsic relationship between love and loss, two powerful forces forever intertwined that have far reaching and profound effects on defining both the individual and the human condition itself. Centered around a talented, and young getaway driver by the name of Baby, Edgar Wright's film tells the story of a good soul stuck in a harsh, malevolent world, with our main protagonist being drawn into this environment due to personal, childhood trauma which left him susceptible to being coerced by Doc, a local crime boss. Baby's increasing moralistic reservations about the work he does for Doc is mounting, and when Baby meets the woman of his dreams in Deborah, he sees a chance at leaving this lifestyle behind, with his love for Deborah triggering the first semblance of hope Baby has had for happiness since the tragic death of his mother. A film which effectively defies traditional genre classifications, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is an action film by way of the Hollywood Musical, a sensory experience in which sound design and music are paramount to telling this tale of loss, love, and rebirth. Everything about Baby Driver is told through the lens of our main protagonist Baby, a quiet young man whose attachment to music stems from his mother's death. The movie itself is set to the personal soundtrack of Baby's ipod, with Edgar Wright's use of sound design throughout being what stands out the most about Baby Driver, with the film routinely juxtaposing Baby's various playlists with the action of the environment he inhabits, even mixing the soundtrack of the film directly into the action, providing not only a visceral experience, but also one that is wholeheartedly through the perspective of Baby. This interlacing of Baby's soundtrack with the action going around him provides a window for the viewer into the eyes of our main protagonist, showing us exactly how he this character sees the world he inhabits. While the general arch of the story is nothing we haven't seen before, Wright's treatment of the material makes the whole film feel so unique and singular, a one-of-kind experience perhaps best described as a cohesion of the action, romance, and musical genres. While the film is unable to avoid various narrative tropes completely, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver does seem to own them head-on, with Baby Driver being a film that is unapologetic about the romantic thrust of its story, unconcerned about the believability of Baby and Deborah's quick, sweeping romance, intent on telling a story of one character's journey from loss to rebirth through love. Thematically speaking, the powerful effect in which love can have over all of us is perhaps one of the film's most interesting assertions, with every character in the film eventually driven by their love for another, with Baby himself eventually freeing himself from his complacent life through the love he gains for Deborah. Even in this harsh, shady world with Baby inhabits, the hardened characters who surround him themselves are still slaves to the forces of love and loss, with Jon Hamm's character in particular being a good example, an individual who goes through a drastic transformation, triggered by a loss of someone he himself cares about. The only exception to this role is Jaime Foxx's character, a menacing, malevolent presence, a character who is completely void of empathy or love, a character who effectively becomes a clever distraction to who becomes the true threat of the film to Baby, Hamm's character who has something he cares about taken from him. A story of rebirth, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is a slick, singular experience that is both highly entertaining and quietly introspective, tapping into fundamental nature and power of love, showcasing the profound impact both love and loss can have on all individuals.
Gastón Solnicki's Kékszakállú is rooted more in feeling than thought, showing an unwillingness to adhere to the rules of traditional linear structure, painting a transfixing portrait of a generational inerita, alienation, and spiritual and economic malaise, detailing the internal struggles of several privileged young woman, who find themselves increasingly extricated from the support of familial privilege, unable to find their own sense of identity in this quickly changing world they inhabit. Minimalist in design, Kékszakállú relies heavily on its ravishing cinematography to capture the malaise of its characters, who find themselves at a crossroads in their own lives, struggling to find some form of personal identity away from the confines of their privileged existence which has long defined them as individuals. The characterizations in Kékszakállú aren't particularly well defined, yet through Gaston Solnicki's wonderful use of composition and mise-en-scene, these character's internal turmoil comes to light. Masterfully juxtaposing man-made architecture with the organic structures provided by the natural world, Solnicki's film visually evokes the intrinsic confliction which exists between the old and new world, where mass production and economic progress have shaped the current state of civilization, yet humanity itself, and these character's in particularly, are still stuck longing, with humanities spiritual and intrinsic connection with nature struggling to be fulfilled despite the overall progress of mankind. The confliction between industrial design and nature's design expressed through the visual aesthetic of Solnicki's film strengthens its character's opaquely defined internal struggles, with the symmetrical, carefully designed man-made structures symbolizing the systematic yet oppressive nature of these woman's privledged lives, one where expectations are set, and one's own search for personal identity feels masked by the familial expectations which come with such privileged environments. The restrictive nature which economic class can have on the individual is thoroughly captured through the detachment shown by these various young woman, individuals who are quietly trapped in their privileged environments, places where societal expectations restrict individualistic freedom, conflicting with their own personal and spiritual path to personal enlightenment. Enigmatic from a narrative perspective, Kékszakállú visual acumen is met with a vignette type structure, never didactic in the slightest when it comes to the details of these characters, Kekszakallu relies on the visual medium to capture the sense of detachment in these woman despite an unwillingness to provide in-depth details into their personal experience, showcasing how the intimate details hardly matter, as each wholeheartedly shares the same sense of malaise and detachment, struggling to find a place they belong in the changing landscape of their environment. A challenging piece of filmmaking which relies heavily on visual aesthetic to create its thematic assertions, Gastón Solnicki's Kékszakállú is a transfixing examination of youth, one which is grandiose yet intimate in its ability to capture the feelings of detachment, longing, and general malaise, that comes with one's search for truth and personal identity.
Michael Showalter's The Big Slick effectively traverses the indie dramedy's need to strike the right balance between its comedic and dramatic elements, delivering a film that is neither forceful in its humor nor didactic in its sentimentality or storytelling, delivering a surprisingly poignant piece of filmmaking that touches on some existential truths about love, life, and family. Written and starring Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick is based off the exploits of his own life as a Pakistani immigrant in America, his struggles to make it in the field of stand up comedy and his attempt to find love, often conflicting with his Muslin parents whom wish for him to have a more practical profession and marry a woman who is arranged through the traditional practices of their faith. The Big Sick is a film that is best going into knowing as little as possible about the narrative, as it evolves in organic and surprising ways, as we follow Kumail's budding relationship with Emily, a graduate student he meets after one of his shows, who currently is the actor's wife in real life. The Big Slick doesn't really adhere to the traditional genre classifications of even dramedy or romantic comedy, achieving a level of success not seen by most of those films due to its ability to touch on a host of fascinating assertions about identity, love, and family. A personal story, The Big Sick's ability to touch on the strain which culture can place on identity is genuine, showcasing how culture and birthplace are significant to identity but how they can never, and should never, define who one is as a individual. The Big Slick exhibits this type of cultural tribalism which is destructive almost always from all sides of the situation, a dogmatic ideal in a lot of ways which restricts and individual from doing what they believe is the right thing to do, often suppressed by their group identity. While never didactic in this assertion, The Big Slick is also a film about living in the moment, showcasing how one must at times not let others or outside influences dictate what one does with one's life, exhibiting how selfcare and individualism are not selfish but essential due to the fragile nature of our existence in the grand scheme of things. The Big Sick is heartfelt and charming, with strong performances from everyone involved, especially from Holly Hunter an Ray Romano as Emily's Parents, who add another layer to the film, with the film using them to peer deeper into its examination of what it trutly means to love. Tender in its deconstruction of what love truly is, The Big Slick is an impressive film which manages to elevate itself above mere genre classifications, delivering a personal story which at times taps into the true nature of what it means to live.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.