Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Frances Ha (2013), The French New Wave, and My Life to Live

Frances Ha (2012)

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver
Written By: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Rating: B

Summary: A young dancer goes through life's trails of rekindling broken friendships, major career changes, and not only finding love, but finding out what she wants out of life through all of that.

My Thoughts: Frances Ha is a film that works not just because of it's intense realism in how it touches the kinds of issues present in the lives of "twenty-somethings" in such a simplistic, yet in-depth manner, (similar to that of Lena Dunham's Girls), but it also because it touches this realm of cinema that a lot of people loved, but have seem to forgotten about: The French New Wave. Frances Ha works well not because of anything spectacular or grandiose done within the film because it's not spectacular or grandiose in any way, it's, again, simplistic in its characters and in the format it uses to tell its story and and what the film accomplishes that Girls does as well is create characters that are simply reincarnations of the people watching it, not these "movie people", who are perfect, un-flawed and have their problems wrapped up for them at the end of the film. Spot on was the conversation about finding love that Frances has with a room full of married people and spot on is the constant jumping from place-to-place and job-to-job, only to do something stupid and risky that leads one into even more debt than they already are like randomly flying to Paris, maxing a credit card that you got in the mail days prior or turning down a job offer when you're unemployed simply because you deem yourself above that kind of work. And it's in these kinds of actions that Baumbach encaptures what it not only means to be a "twenty-something" in New York, but what it means to make oneself happy, no matter how hard or frustrating it may be. 

Frances (Greta Gerwig), our titular character is a dancer and a failing one as she loses her apprenticeship for the dancing company she works for. On top of losing that apprenticeship, her boyfriend has broken up with her because she refused to live with him in order to preserve her best friend's feelings. However, unbeknownst to her, her best friend, Sophia (Mickey Sumner) has found another apartment with one of their mutual friends, leaving Greta behind with no source of income to pay for the apartment solely by herself and it's there where her and Sophie's relationship begins to falter and we follow the rest of her up-and-downs. In Jean-Luc Godard's My Life to Live, we follow another twenty-something named Nana, who happens to also be a prostitute. And Godard's film, like Frances Ha, is the study of a young woman. As if these films were documentaries, we follow around these two women from place to place through misadventure after misadventure via long continuous shots and title-cards to roughly introduce a new chapter in their lives. These women want to be something great, whether it lie in becoming a great dancer or actress, however, their stories aren't about them in them actually achieving these goals, it's more so about them living and coping in lifestyles that are far from ideal with Frances living in poverty and barely scrapping by with odd jobs like waitressing and becoming an RA for her college and Nana in her prostituting herself. And our job isn't to judge anyone's choices, or really have any kind of though about them or what they do, our job is just to simply sit back and watch their lives unfold before our eyes with the camera sitting at eye-level at pretty much every moment of each film in simply recording life go on, as if it's a viewer as well. There's nothing extra going on in these films, except two women living their lives during very different times and we're looking at them the way we would if they were real people. Both these women feel real, and their stories seem authentic and regardless if we've been put in their situations personally, they still feel personal. And that's what the French New Wave was all about: creating personal cinema.

 These women aren't glamorous, their situations aren't ideal, but they live anyways. We simply watch and accept what we see because it could happen to us and it possibly is happening to many others around us. Neither film is stylistic or visually pleasing and the French New Wave music in Frances Ha never ceases to bring us back to the age of films like Godard's and Truffaut and other's set in a time long before Frances, but here we are in the present day. And similar to that of other films created within this period of New Wave cinema, both films shock, but least in the way you expect. The shock in My Life to Live is Nana's death. However, the shocker in Frances Ha is that it's not about romance. It's easy to think that it is and the film even sets it up as if it is supposed to be one, but we're duped time and time again and she does not find "the one." She goes on a date Lev (Adam Driver) and nothing results from that, even though she moves in with him and Benji (Micheal Zegen) who the film also teases as a love interest for Frances even though he describes her as "undatable." And while we want her to find love, it's not what Frances is directly looking for and we accept it. There are no confessions of love or giant, romantic gestures. Francis just moves from place to place, trying to just live her life even through her career instability and her fleeting friendship with Sophie. And the most enjoyable part about this film just comes from just sitting back and watching these women live. And while the ending is incomplete, as most New Wave films are, and we're left with little to no answers about what came of Francis after everything, there's still a feeling of satisfaction in the fact that you could even witness this part of her life.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Boy and The Skirt - Final and Rough Edit

Final Edit:

Rough Cut:

This was a fun process and I actually learned a lot about editing and how to use Final Cut Pro thanks to my teammate Jamieson. It also was interesting to work with such a unique and different story and translate that story on screen. We had a lot of mishaps, such as lights randomly dying, a lot of talking in between cuts, so certain audio chunks had to be thrown out and even the fact that we couldn't reshoot anything because our lead went out of town for the military. 

It was lot on the editing because we didn't have a lot of transition shots between going from place to place so the film is a tad jumpy, but we worked with what we had. I added sound clips from one file to another to make it sound as if there was audio when in actuality it was just cut because of talking. 

I came into this class hating the production side of things, mainly because it was too hard, but taking on a lot of different roles showed me that I just don't have to do "this" or "that. I can edit, I can produce or whatever else I want to do, except be behind a camera or direct because this project also made me realize I hate doing those things. I'm better suited in the editing room with a bunch of people looking for stuff with me. It's fun and complex enough that I feel like I'm doing actual work without me yelling at people and whatnot and being away from the chaos that is on set.

I am an analytical person and I can see how well things translate on the screen and can take meaning from what I see even in the small things like dialouge, coloring, setting, etc, because they all mean something. It was interesting working with people who just like to create these works and stuff because while I like making art, I love more so the thought behind the creative process and making sense of what I see. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Movie Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Unreliable Narrator, Shutter Island and Gone Girl

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher
Written By: Carl Mayer & Hans Janowitz
Directed By: Robert Wiene
Release Date: March 21, 1920
Rating: 5/5

Summary: When hypnotist named Dr. Caligari and his sleepwalking companion, Cesare, come to town, murders begin to occur and it's up to Francis to figure out just what is going on.

My Thoughts: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is far from scary, though in essence, it is a horror film. It doesn't use gimmicky jump scares, gore and guts and everything else that directors use in today's horror films to drive its point home. And while that is mainly because of the limitations in making movies in the early stages of cinema and the fact that these kinds of gimmicks hadn't been invented yet, it is because of these reasons that the film does what it does so well. Much like films like Gone Girl, Black Swan or Shutter Island, the fear lies in our own imaginations. The fear comes from the fact, that throughout the length of the film, everything we've come to know is all a lie and the person feeding us all the lies is none other than the main character themselves.

However, the aspect of the "unreliable narrator" is not a uncommon trope. In both literature and film alike, it's a trope used to trope to trick the audience because of their expectations of how they feel a movie will play out. It's a troupe used to expose the true nature of the human being we've come to know and as readers it's to us to decide whether or not their actions were justifiable or not. The unreliable narrator is someone whose words about the situation at hand, we cannot take at face value. This may be for reasons such as insanity, immaturity or lack of knowledge of the situation, but in end, they've duped us and it's that shock value from the "big reveal" that makes this kind of trope work so well in movies and literature. These people blur the lines between fiction and reality even within a fictional world because while the world they're in doesn't inherently exist, it comes to life, the more and more we get invested in the story. And the uneasy feeling comes from being told that what we know and believe to be real, is in fact, the complete opposite.

In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Francis is our unreliable narrator. He and his friend who go to see Dr. Caligari and a sleepwalking man named Cesare who can see into the future. Francis' friend goes up to get his fortune told only to have the sleepwalking man tell him that he's going to die that night. And unfortunately, that's what happens. And this sends  Francis off on a mission to find out who killed his dear friend. And the things is as we follow Francis in his endeavors, the idea that he could be behind the murders never comes to mind. How could the man we've come to know and root for be the catalyst behind this mind-boggling search? And what's where the fear sets in. We're distracted by the the mystery surrounding these murders and the bizarre, jaggedly designed, dream-like sets that we, too, were in a delusion of sorts. But there's always a time that comes where we have to wake up from the dream and face reality and this happens at the end of the film to Francis as he comes to realize it was he that murdered his friend and that insane asylum that he ran into in order to find the murderer is his home. And most importantly, that it's run by none other than Dr. Caligari himself. But while one must wake up and face reality, it's reality that drove poor Francis into the daze he's in, in the first place. He doesn't directly mean to lie to us, his version of the truth is skewed simply because he can't accept that he murdered his friend. Thus, he made up this story in his head to cope with the truth and that story in his head is the one we've been following. Francis believes he's not to blame, the sleeping Cesare is to blame for these crimes, but not really because he was asleep while doing so. And in his head, he isn't to blame and neither is Cesare, that is until he realizes the truth. So, sometimes the narrator can't help but not tell the story objectively, they aren't deceiving us deliberately. They just can't help it.
In Shutter Island, our main character Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a man who we follow as he and his comrade try to track down the murderer of his wife. However, like Francis, as we follow him, the idea that he could've murdered his wife (Michelle Williams)  never comes to mind, even though it is the truth. In the end, it's revealed he killed his wife after she murdered their children and the insane asylum that he's been trying to track the murderer down at is his home. He's been living there and this delusion he's invented that there's a murderer to track is all a ruse in his mind to cope with his crime and the man who he's been investigating with is his doctor. Sound familiar? In both films, the fictional situation we're presented is what we see as reality no matter the fake actors, or fake, elaborate, bizarre sets, but in the end, these guys, Francis and Teddy, are mentally ill. Their crimes have scarred them to the point that they, themselves, have invented a safe haven of sorts that, like us, they perceive as reality when it is not. 

However, some unreliable narrators are different. Unlike Teddy and Francis who are mentally ill and incapable of telling the truth, characters like Amy I(Rosamund Pike) and Nick (Ben Affleck) Dunne in David Fincher's Gone Girl get off in playing mind games. Amy's mind games, unlike Teddy's and Francis', intend to wound us and the people involved. Amy feels Nick has stolen her youth and money from her as well as the fact he's cheated on her, so her plot is to fool us, the police and Nick himself into thinking that someone (Nick to us and the police) did something to her. She omits details about their marriage and inputs others to make people believe that Nick was an abuser that ending up killing her and writes all about it in her diary, which one automatically believes because who lies in their own diary? In the beginning, they're this happy married couple and through the course of the film, things go from bad to worse and everything shifts as Nick goes from #1 Husband to #1 Murder Suspect. And Nick, in the beginning, writes Amy off as this annoying shrew, though the Amy we see from the diary seems sweet as can be, but that's exactly what Amy wants us to believe. Nick, however, only admits his true feelings about the situation at hand and the fact he was cheating. It isn't until half way through the film that we find out, though he's trying to prove to everyone that he's innocent of everything and that he is, in fact, the #1 Husband, when there are so many underlying issues he fails to bring up. And with both these contradicting views on what is what, we really don't know who these people are, what they did to each other and what they're really capable of. Was Nick an abuser? Amy wrote about him hitting her and it's even more compelling when we see it, but all of Amy's diary is seemingly a lie to indict Nick as her murderer. However, once they're in the house alone, he grabs Amy by the neck and pins her against the wall. Instead of inventing a lie that she lives in to escape reality, Amy invents a lie that her husband has to live in, so that while she drives off into the sunset and he ends up in prison. She's manipulating reality to suit her fancy and Nick does the same as he knows what he wants to be, however, he just can't quite get there, so it's just easier to make us believe he is who he says he is rather than actually attempt to change.

Wiene's story is that of a madman framed with huge, bizarre Expressionist sets to introduce said Francis' delusional mind, we just don't know it's all in Francis' head until the end of the film. The same goes for Teddy in Scorsese's Shutter Island. It's just that in Gone Girl, we don't know the extent to Nick and Amy's relationship or what happened before the day that Amy decided to make herself disappear, everything else about them is a blur. We just know they both have lied to us about what is going on. However, the unreliable narrator is still someone we can't trust. However, there's still some bit of truth in every lie and there's some sense of reality even in a fictional world. 

Movie Review: The Neon Demon (2016), Une Chien Andalo, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Reality

Image result for the neon demon poster

The Neon Demon (2016)

Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman
Directed By: Nicholas Winding Refn
Written By: Nicholas Winding Refn
Release Date:  June 24, 2016
Rating: C+

Summary: When a young girl moves to LA to become a model, she gets sucked into the world of glamour and fame. However, when things turn sinister, she finds herself trapped and struggling to make it out alive.

My Thoughts:  Stylistic, beautiful and haunting are a few things that come to mind when I think of The Neon Demon, and it is all those things till the very end when the credits roll. But even so, what it lacks in cohesive structure, it makes up with its stunning, almost hypnotic visuals, such as the scene that circles around our lead as she spies in on her neighbors before cutting to the next, similar to that of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari that uses the same technique to do just that, even though they are in two different realms of film making. However its in these visuals that the film unfolds, but do all the things that make The Neon Demon what it is destroy the reality it's trying to critique?

Starring Elle Fanning as, Jesse, a young model who moves to LA to make it big, The Neon Demon immediately catches your eye with it's glamorous flashing lights and vibrant cinematography. And these colors are so elegant and illuminating, they're quite hard to look away from, much like our main character Jesse, who, like us, gets swept away by all the bright lights and glitz and glam that is the fashion industry. However, instead of this film feeling like an actual film, it feels more like a dream because on top of these visuals that feel like they've been torn from an issue of Vogue, we're given these ill-paced events that would only seem to happen within a dream, like mountain lions suddenly appearing in a hotel room or beautiful naked women lying in pools of blood. It's in these situations that the dream we thought we were in suddenly turns into a nightmare. Much like the Salvador Dali's 1929 short film, Un Chien Andalou, there's no real timeline in this film and this is what adds to the dreaminess of the film. Days and days go by, or maybe even months, but each film seems as if it's happening in one night, even though we know they aren't. And this is because the films give you hints on the timeline such as having title cards read things like "eight years later" or setting certain shots outside, physically differentiating night from day. But it does leave us with quite a lot of questions like, does Jesse really become a star overnight simply because the industry's unique fixation on youth, purity and innocence speeds up this teenager's rise to fame or does it happen over the course of a couple of months and Winding has simply decided cut that out?  Or subsequently, if the young man in the film is shot sixteen years prior to him bursting in on the man who shot him and a woman, how can the scene of him bursting in come to be in the first place. And it's this disruption of time that further emulates that maybe the reality we believe Jesse to be in does not, in fact, exist. That maybe the fashion industry is not how we believe it to be in the film, which is vain and evil in this case, but, instead, the complete opposite. And it's this lack of a continuous time frame that makes it seem as if everything we've seen in Un Chien Andalou is just this dream sequence, cutting and jumping around from event to event and shot to shot just because, even though there should be a reason for each cut. But each film is purposely this kind of paradox, open to multiple interpretations, but where Dali's short and Winding's feature differ is that while both films are a bit all over the place, Winding's film has a bit more of  structural narrative following Jesse's life with a majority of the film following her with wide shots closing in to closer, mid shots with not much cutting unless it's to another scene, or invisible editing or sorts. Another addition to this film seeming dreamlike in nature. However, it feels as Dali's film, however, simply exists for it's viewers to try piece together what goes where, with no continuity whatsoever with more so of an emphasis on staying within this realm of surrealism than anything else. 

And so, after Jesse is eaten alive by her fellow models, what occurs next? They vomit her up, specifically just her eyeball. It is only in her death that she truly sees the industry for what it is. The reality of her world has now come to light as someone is going to find the model's murdered body on the ground, unlike hers. Even though the other woman ate her eyeball back up, someone is going to find out that something isn't quite right and this is different from the eyeball scene in Un Chien Andalou, as the man slices her eyeball because unlike Jesse's uncovered reality, ours is destroyed. We're literally being cut off from any sort of coherent vision and knowledge into the world of the film simply because it's all supposed to be this sort of dream, but we're human, we're still curious and hungry to absolute knowledge so we still question whether or not what we're seeing real because it's not explicitly stated. But that's the point: the filmmakers don't want us to know.