Thoughts On

21/07/2019

Blue Jay - Narrativising Laughter

Quick Thoughts: Blue Jay (2016)

Estranged exes meet in their small town.


Why do we laugh? It is uncanny that we do not describe laughter as an emotion, that we furthermore do not have an emotion that really describes the state or conditions of laughter. Elation, joy, rapture, jubilation come somewhat close, but ultimately pale in describing not only the true feeling of laughter, but its range, depth and complexity. Laughter is an action, and the English language can only conceive of it as such. Blue Jay, among other things, dramatises this predicament. It is only drama that can do justice to the condition of laughter. Such is profoundly fascinating as it exemplifies the idea that cinema (as a dramatic art) is its own form communication, that it exists as it can enunciate what other forms of communication cannot.

Narrativising laughter in space and time, Blue Jay constructs a deeply touching story of nostalgia and loss. Brought to the screen by the director of Paddleton - a sombre and poignant film - this captures the souls of its characters rather beautifully. Ghostly and incorporeal, the characterisation of Blue Jay emerges from an abyss between present and past, in a realm of possibility and 'what could have been'. The black and white cinematography manifests this realm, making it almost palpable. Somewhat faux and contrived, the black and white cinematography lifts the spaces inside the frame with hints of what I can only describe as melodrama. The black and white aesthetic does not only mute and calm the space of Blue Jay, it layers onto it an intentional and overt nostalgia; perturbing the space ever so slightly, the monochrome spectrum of light produces an ethereal and lost atmosphere. We then do not exist with characters in a town, in a room, in a moment of intimacy and reflection, but between present discomfort and an ambiguous past. Here the 'what could have been' that defines characters so painfully becomes spatial and tangible. It is that which imbues close-ups of Sarah Paulson in particular with warm photogénie. There is an awkwardness surrounding the perfectly cast Mark Duplass that stretches through the temporal aspect of the cinematic space. He is then imbued with a photogénie not of the present, but one that is realised as having briefly passed. How incredible it then is that, between our two characters, we are again lost between present and past. The screenplay understands the predicament all too perfectly, yet does not embrace it fully. It sparks it with life with laughter - the only response to the uncanny, to the unfathomable 'what could have been'. So though I cannot come to describe just how, laughter makes sense of all that is ambiguous, lost and ungrounded in Blue Jay. This is a beautiful film that I cannot help but recommend.






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The Strange Thing About The Johnsons - A Student Film

19/07/2019

The Strange Thing About The Johnsons - A Student Film

Quick Thoughts: The Strange Thing About The Johnsons (2011)

A father is tormented with a perverted relationship with his son.


Having recently experienced the astounding Midsommar, I had to investigate the only Ari Aster film I have not seen. The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is a student short, and though it is praiseworthy, it does not escape this description. It was likely not meant to be seen by so many people, but The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is an almost gaudy familial horror. Its intentionally abrupt and shocking material lead to the short going viral and, seemingly, it kick-started a highly impressive start to a feature film career for Aster. What makes Hereditary and Midsommar so impressive is their maturity - especially in juxtaposition to The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. The melodramatic touches of this short - performances, elements of sound design and the action-violence - devalue the themes at hand. The film then struggles to take itself as seriously as it maybe needs to. More absurd than it is tuphlodramatic, The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is not allowed enough time for the satisfactory depths of characterisation to be reached. Sat with characters, their shame, pain and perversion, for longer, we could feel the narrative more. Without this time to feel characters and story, the horror elements feel like spectacle - their impact, short punchy, and not emphatically meaningful. There is a play on an archetypal story held central in this narrative and so it does not appear entirely meaningless, but the direction does not secure the story enough nuance and pull to work as well as it could.





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Aladdin - Unbelievably Shameless

18/07/2019

Aladdin - Unbelievably Shameless

Quick Thoughts: Aladdin (2019)

A remake of another Disney classic.


The epitome of pointless, Aladdin is as shameless as it is tasteless, a bastard, heaving montage of mediocrity sprinkled with pinches of magic and verisimilitude so infinitesimal you could only go blind trying to stare through the glaring shit that beams from the screen as you try to find it; a panoply of failure and naive intention, Aladdin encapsulates an amateurish and foolhardy conception of narrative and cinema of absurd and searing intensity: a disgusting waste of effort and resource, Disney should be sanctioned for such a flagrant and foul disposal of garbage lucrativity.

There's little point bemoaning the existence of Disney’s latest showcase of decorum. It is only with disbelief that I contemplate the pre-dystopian madness that is these Disney remakes. Disney has indeed fallen, and seems that it only wants to continue to do so. This is a dark time for the company.





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Midsommar - Moral Beauty In Psycho-Symbolic Horror

10/07/2019

Midsommar - Moral Beauty In Psycho-Symbolic Horror

Thoughts On: Midsommar (2019)

A bereaved young woman travels with a group in which she may not belong into a community no one may belong.


Ari Aster rides the wave of acclaim set in motion by Hereditary into a horror film of what could be greater psycho-symbolic depth. Hereditary enjoys a greater depth of character than Midsommar with the twisted and dark pool within its mother and son archetypes flourishing on screen with intense power. Likely a result of its teen-adventure-goes-wrong horror genre tropes, Midsommar contains more object-archetypes (caricature-ish teens reduced to pawns of theme) than Hereditary, and furthermore has less focus on the exploration of subjectivity. This makes for a less intimate film, one with more space for spectacles of horror. Alas, the pockets of spectacle in Midsommar are utilised rather ingeniously. Imbued with photogenie, the horror of this film doubles as symbolic, which makes obvious the utility of symbolic spectacle. Examples are found in the pounding of flesh and bone, the destruction of the human body, the extinguishing of life, much of which is shot with serenely bright colours, angelic tones, slow motion and with intimate distancing. Photogenie is imbued into this horror by not only the meaning framed within these images by the lighting and frame-rate, but also the surrounding narrative and world building. The destruction of life, the amoral decimation of normal social codes and customs all then formulate the oppositional perspective or philosophy embodied by the 'strange place' the teens wander into. Uncoincidentally, these anti-parallel moral motions--exemplified best by the symbolic spectacle and its horrific photogenie--move with dramatic friction against our main character and object-archetype. Midsommar then finds itself to be a film about tragedy and recovery - much like Hereditary is. Alas, afforded to Midsommar are those crucial elements of intimate photogenie that both repulses and pulls. Hereditary contains its share of photogenie, but it is almost entirely repulsive. The blue, purple, yellow and black colour pallet of Hereditary, the twisted, expressionist shadows, the guttural and intestinal tone, generate a truly unsettling atmosphere. Midsommar takes a risk, and one may recognise this as conceptual spectacle, in being a horror film that takes place almost entirely during the day and in bright sunlight. The pen of the filmmakers then has no place to draw the imagination (except perhaps in linguistic barriers, the audience most likely not able to understand the much-spoken, little-subtitled Swedish). With the frame bereft of shadows, horror is required to be physically and totally curated within the eye's reach. In addition to this, the filmmakers must work both with and against the inviting atmosphere generated by the aesthetic scope of the film. So, whilst the explicitness of the framing (how close and unflinchingly it dares to stare) repulse, there are ecstatic moments of magnetism developed by the narrative and aesthetics. The ending of Midsommar then left me silenced.

Manifested by the narrative of Midsommar is, as suggested, a tale of recovery that juxtaposes a frighteningly communal - communal to the extent of amorality one will see - means of living against a lonesome and tragically isolated, yet socially enclosed, means of being. The 'strange place' visited by our group is then without many barriers, at times operating as a single organism gliding from a state of life to death with an obsession with preserving a conception of sanctity doused in a search for natural beauty and constructed purity. The visitors are harsh, their lives impaired and impregnated by barriers. There is then an awkwardness about the opening hour or so of this narrative that I have heard described as slow and boring. Alas, the slowness of the opening is the result of the awkward impossibility of the social barriers dictating the functioning of the lives of the young group. There is nothing trite about this; in fact, I would argue that this was established with optimal affect. And in contrast to all that is found in the strange place, the opening appears as incredibly brilliant. The culmination of all of this thematic drama is a shot. A shot. A shot of Florence's Pugh's face wreathed a mountain of floral plumes, her mouth ajar, her reaction to the realisation of the narrative's final thematic suggestions unspeakably profound.

I will remain ambiguous. Much more could be expanded upon and made explicit in this discussion of the brilliance that is Midsommar. But, I will end by saying that I found this to be an extension of Hereditary that may just outshine the former film. Seeing Midsommar was certainly one of the best cinematic experiences I have had the pleasure to be lost in this year. I highly recommend this film.






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Spider-Man: Far From Home - Going Through Changes

09/07/2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home - Going Through Changes

Thoughts On: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Peter Parker tries to take time out of his life as a superhero and go on a school trip.


Marvel, as flat and somewhat lifeless as it was three years ago, has ramped up and hit a selection of peaks via hype and new directions recently. Thor: Ragnarok was something new that sparked a sense of world and tone much like Guardians of the Galaxy did three years prior. Black Panther generated much hype and, in my opinion, was quite fulfilling, following a character on a slightly more classical story of kingdoms. Black Panther wanes slightly over re-watches, Ragnarok holds. And then came the Infinity War films. As hyped as they were, they were the culmination of much of what we've come to know as just Marvel; they weren't incredibly fulfilling in my opinion, especially with re-watches.

Spider-Man: Far From Home emerges from a weighted and belaboured cinematic universe that has tunnelled deep into its narrative capacities. As a result, it had to face many challenges and is somewhat successful in two key respects. Before discussing these, the limitations. First and foremost, the Marvel aesthetic is a somewhat ugly one. It was ground down to its most basic and uninspiring elements in Civil War, and Far From Home adopts this without much alteration. There is a texturelessness to the frame, the lighting on subjects harsh and isolating; the background distanced and seemingly trapped in a green (blue, silver) screen.


I have made this point previously, but one can see the terrible Marvel aesthetic best exemplified by their posters - of which Far From Home may have the worst. The faces of character are blasted with a sharp key light and then top- and/or side-lit. This puts rather drastic shadows on parts of the faces - you see this on the left side of Gyllenhaal's head and under the chin of Holland - and a halo or gleam around the edges of the head.  It looks particularly terrible on the poster as the background is brightly lit and coloured and features locations. The poster is too busy and the lighting on the separate elements fails to integrate and formulate a cohesive image. The eye is left with separate elements, wondering why they have so so obviously composited together.

The poster represents an extreme example of bad lighting and image composition. It carries over to the film. This was particularly obvious to my eye as part of the film is set in London, and all too often it is painfully clear that actors stand before a green screen projecting places I see often. A related issues concerns the wire and physical stunt work, much of which is rather unconvincing. This leaves Far From Home without much spatial and aesthetic verisimilitude: much of the film looks fake. Minorly, this criticism transposes over to performance and lighting. Especially across early scenes that set up the narrative, performances and writing feel incredibly staged - at times, it is as if characters talk to the audience without looking down the lens. All of this is a consequence of the film's management of its dramatic approach - an issue we will not delve into.

That said, it is worth discussing this film's positives above all else, namely, its rather ruthless and daring confrontation of looming issues the bloated cinematic universe imposes. To start, the biggest question that Far From Home had to answer was related to Endgame. How will, after the major events of the previous films, a rather confined element of this universe carry things on? Somewhat ingeniously, Far From Home decides not to in very many respects. I will not delve into major spoilers, but the writers decide to not take this part of their job very seriously at all. There is part of Parker's character that feels pressured to grow and step up across the narrative considering the previous fallout. Alas, the doom and gloom that is aimed at with darker elements of Endgame is pretty much lost on this film. It makes a light game out of pretty much all the tragedy the MCU struggled to crescendo toward. Cast aside and made fun of (often rather successfully - the opening montage and song is uncannily brilliant), the weighted drama of the MCU is used to radically effect the fabric of the world.

This brings us to the second related technique used by the writers. We saw this in Endgame, and we see it again, but radical choices are made highly flippantly in regards to character and world. Endgame gave us Banner/Hulk and fat Thor. There's more surprises in Far From Home. So not only is comedy used to change the dramatic path of the MCU, but daring and flippant world and character building choices are made that profoundly change preconceptions of what these films should do going forward. In Far From Home, we then have a light high school comedy that interrupts half an avengers film, and something quite far from the familiar Spiderman narrative (a world unenclosed spatially and temporally) with a comedic adventure. With these two techniques we see Marvel changing, attempting to breathe new air into their universe. The question we may want to ask is then where do they want to take things?

This question cannot be dealt with without sufficient spoilers and, indeed, anyone who sees the film will ask it. So, I will end after a brief discussion of what Far From Home does by emphasising that all that is good about Far From Home is highly trans formative and that I not only see Marvel re-branding and building a new definition of a comic book movie, but anticipate them striving in rather radical directions in the future. Whether this works or not is up to audience speculation for now. That said, what do you think of what Marvel are doing different and the direction they are heading in?



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Minding The Gap - Explicitly Humble