It hasn’t been the greatest September, and apart from a change in my human surroundings there’s really nothing much going on, at least not worth mentioning on here anyway. To distract myself from all the movies I was looking forward to watching as soon as I possibly could and the fact that almost all of them played at TIFF, I reviewed a movie that wasn’t even on my list. My heartbreak in terms of missing out on TIFF this year was worse than ever and I resorted to living vicariously through many a critics’ twitter feeds. You could say this was a coping mechanism and a poor one because it did nothing but reinstate that my heart is always, and always tied up in writing and my academia has unscathingly beat it in terms of priority.
A quick disclaimer: I haven’t read the book. Even if I had I’m pretty sure my review would be mostly objective and have maybe one paragraph seamlessly merging both and stating if they worked independently or not. I’m really that easygoing.
As always a few technical details before we jump right in. White Bird In A Blizzard, directed by Gregg Araki and based on the book by Laura Kasishke, starring the likes of Shailene Woodley, Eva Green and Christopher Meloni. I went into the movie completely blind about the plot and as much as I hoped that it would surprise and thrill me, it did and didn’t.
In the year 1988, a single child named Kat (Shailene Woodley) is left on her own devices when her mother (Eva Green) mysteriously disappears. Kat’s father (Christopher Meloni) visibly taken aback with this disappearance does everything he needs to co-operate with the search for his wife but to no effect. Kat’s life takes a different twist and the lack of her boyfriend’s interest in her further fuels her discontent. I can’t quite put my finger on any adjectives that can fittingly justify Kat. I mean I can name a few but they are ultimately contradicted and this is why I never related to Kat at all, despite the dysfunctional family et al. Kat’s character development is flawed and confusing. I feel like either the script writers completely misinterpreted what it’s like to be 18 and hung out to dry with no sense of direction to your life, the mother you may or may not have respected or looked up to bailed on you or the director purposely aimed at this kind of shoddy representation. This is what confuses me to a point of extreme frustration and the reason I write this is to figure out what I feel about this movie. We know now that I didn’t enjoy it but we’re slowly getting to why I didn’t.
Not knowing the genre of the movie three-quarters into it I felt as dazed as Kat did in the frigid nightmares she had about her mother asking for help amid a snowstorm. Kat’s therapist concludes that dreams don’t mean anything and Kat quickly starts to feel disdain for the therapist. I will say if I was paying to talk to someone about my feelings, I wouldn’t necessarily be hoping to uncover a divine interpretation of my thoughts or feelings but Kat’s therapist might be the worst representation of a person doing a job they weren’t ever meant to do. The only other therapist I can think of that pissed me off so much was the one in Donnie Darko. Why am I even glossing over these trivialities? Maybe because there were so many angles to this story that felt forced. I can see how a novella might have essentially brought out more to these scenes that on the reel felt like a complete drag.
What can I say about Kat’s boyfriend though and how much he resembled guys that some of my closest friends dated. It’s eerie. The grungy, dumb as a pole, messy and unkempt hair a given kind of a boy that girls like Kat put up with for reasons that are the biggest secret in the world, in my opinion. So, Kat goes from being so into Phil to really just wanting someone she can go to bed with – that someone being the older detective on her mom’s case. Kat’s character up to this point seems completely fine that her mother may never be found. She watches her dad continue to be the man he used to be and moves on to college. On coming home she finds that he has a girlfriend and takes no objection to it whatsoever.
So in keeping this review spoiler free, I can only say this much that at the stage when Kat really starts to show signs that she cares her mother is gone, that she needs closure you have no connection with her at this point at all. All of the last fifteen minutes or so are rushed, dramatic, supposed to induce levels of thrill and suspense moments. The only thing that climax did for me is genuinely catch me by surprise.
I will diverge here just a bit to explain why this “being caught by surprise” is something so important to me. I know someone who watches movies and anime and loves the subtleties, the story arcs, the little details and the idea behind the bigger pictures almost the same way I perceive them. So when we watch anything together, it’s usually a fun ride. However, he feels like he’s reached this point where he has cracked the code behind every kind of movie there is. This for me feels like a very impressive feat. I know, for a fact, that I’m no where close to that level. More importantly, he makes me wonder, do I want to be? Halfway or even sooner through a film, he’s usually got a good grasp of the possibilities, I daresay he’s managed to shortlist the one outcome, too. Whereas I on the other hand, leaning ahead, face in my palms, tapping feet, am way too engrossed to even bother thinking ahead afraid I’ll overlook something. So when a curveball hits the screen I am usually smack in the path and I’ll tell you this, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love that I can still enjoy something without already knowing how it might end, that my mind is not (yet) attuned to pick up things that fast and thereby ruin my viewing experience. I remember initially feeling a little less about not being able to grasp these things as easily as he could, but then I wouldn’t have this blog and I wouldn’t ever need to write about a movie in order to figure it out. This lacking is a blessing.
I do not suggest White Bird In A Blizzard primarily because the movie made me uncomfortable and sort of queasy and I am still not sure why. It’s slow and far from compelling and even for the suspense genre that I had no idea about until an hour into it, White Bird In A Blizzard is odd, gloomy and confusing in the way that it doesn’t leave your mind for days after you’ve watched it. No one really needs that.
Another review requested by S. It’s becoming increasingly evident that I am having a good time working through the list she requested/recommended. More than ever, I feel like all hope is not lost with my review writing and that someone, somewhere respects what I do, and that is often enough to keep me going. That she addresses herself as “my biggest fan” not only humbles me a great deal any more but only adds the icing to the cake of the wonderful movies suggested. Lest we forget, words and movies are the best way to carve a niche in my heart.
CAUTION: Implied spoilers and a personal rant embedded somewhere in the middle.
Teenage Dirtbag is a small-budget indie movie directed, scripted by Regina Crosby based on somewhat true events. I looked up background details on her and the lead cast but I’ve decided not to bore you with the details because well, my goodness, can I not wait to write about this movie already.
If you’re like me and not quick to discount a book, movie or any other form of media by simply its name or in this case, IMDB description then you’re in for a huge delight. Teenage Dirtbag is way more than what meets the eye in the first few minutes. I say this because I watched this movie thinking I knew exactly what I was in for. I’ve been doing that lately. I’ve been afraid to find triggers in movies and books that remind me of a life I had. A life I may no longer have any access to. It’s difficult to be that one person society is expecting you to be every single day. Unbearable when you’ve agreed to be that way and have no way of going back. And this is what Amber’s point of conflict is. Let’s start from scratch now, shall we?
Teenage Dirtbag is a non-linear film surrounding the high school prim and proper cheerleader, intelligent, pretty to a point of unnecessary perfection girl named Amber and the typical high school delinquent, Thayer. The movie starts off with a present day scenario where Amber is leading her days rather incoherently as she carries inside her a tiny human being. Flashback to high school. Think back to that one person you met in high school who was so thoroughly exhausting, annoying and downright difficult to avoid as much as you tried, especially if you tried. That one person of the opposite sex that tried their level hardest to get your attention and as exasperating as it was, you secretly enjoyed it. I know I did.
Thayer is a deeply troubled boy trying to put on a brave-enough-to-eat-absolutely-anything obnoxious front at school while he can barely stand up to his abusive father back at home. Amber, on the other hand, excels at all the tiny and big accomplishments a girl can perform well at in high school but is neglected by her family and yearns for their appreciation. It’s hard to say that this part, right here, isn’t already sounding like the usual good girl meets bad boy cliché. But believe me when I say it’s hardly like that.
So, Amber is obviously the only person indifferent and quite unamused by Thayer’s ridiculous, cringe-worthy shenanigans that usually squeeze out reactions from everyone else. Amber, in the first person narrative describes how in retrospect all of her actions and the lack thereof, affected Thayer deeply and led from one thing to the other. It’s hard to tell what Amber feels about everything that happened back when they were young and free, whether, in hindsight she wishes she had behaved differently. But that’s me getting ahead of myself. Anyway coming back, Amber decides early on that Thayer is unworthy of her attention. She makes this so apparent at times, you have to wonder whether that really helps anyone at all. What this does is builds an air of mystery around her and attracts Thayer towards her, mostly subconsciously at the start and later, quite intensely.
As much as Amber believes that her misfortune of always being in such close proximity with Thayer is only because of the alphabetical ordering of their surnames, they end up together in a Creative Writing class. Their interactions through poetry and prose and the underlying hints passed on through verse draws them together in ways otherwise unimaginable. You see them forging a bond that is strained from the very start. Amber plays along with this and chooses to communicate with Thayer of her own volition when people aren’t paying attention. So they start passing notes during study hour. As they start developing a half-decent relationship with each other, they start to realize that both of them have issues at home that have some degree of commonality. Here’s my bone to pick with the story, Thayer and Amber were attracted to each other regardless of this angle to the plot. Anyway, I’m not one to bicker about such things too much and let me take this sour spot to diverge into parallels I love drawing between the reel life and my real life.
High school where I grew up was nothing like the one Thayer and Amber studied at or like any other high schools depicted in Western cultures. Hell, we don’t even call it “high school” per se. However, people – as I’ve been picking up on so acutely over the past few months are more or less the same in all parts of the world. So, there was a person exactly like Thayer in my life. There were two whole years that I look back on and ponder about but never speak out loud. This boy had an interest in me that aggravated me very much at the start. Recovering from a terrible break-up at the time, the last thing I needed was excessive attention and a need to overshare and thereby get really intimate with another. Fortunately, this boy for me was just a simple “no” and all of his playful (I suppose?) advances were dismissed by me and termed “hopelessly cheesy”. Onlookers laughed at us pulling off the girl-boy best friend stance and to a great extent we nervously laughed with them, too. Knowing that we each had very different personal lives but were more or less stuck in the same classroom for hours on end, we grew comfortable to a point that any kind of lack of attention from the other, resulted in a huge fight and another fact that we never admitted – jealousy. Days caught up to weeks and months and years. Time changed. We moved on with our lives. I put my foot down, asked for a choice that had me or someone else and said hurtful things and when this boy demanded I say something, anything, just like Amber, I said nothing at all. And just like Amber, in present time, I have no way of knowing how he is. I have ruthlessly chopped all means of contact and all I can do now, is wonder.
Coming back, there are scenes in the movie that give me goosebumps and I can see how they have actually been drawn from the writer and director’s personal experiences. Teenage love can be made to look all too fine and perfect on the big screen and many of these moments between Thayer and Amber are handled very carefully to bring forth more than just what meets the eye. The Creative Writing class professor brings to his character such genuineness and clarity that it’s hard not to feel you’re actually in that class with everybody else. Even that character was not stereotyped completely or overplayed. Thayer and Amber’s back and forth with their prose and poetry do not go unnoticed by him. He does not intervene in matters that he clearly has a good grasp about but has no right to interfere.
As the movie comes to its last lap, I had to take a deep breath and the gooey corners of my heart held on tight hoping against hopes that things work out for Thayer and Amber in the past. Despite knowing present day Amber’s condition. I guess, I was hoping for some kind of redemption from her, that her reason for never giving Thayer the time of day had only to do with society’s created norms. Films like this are hidden gems, not looking to make grand statements, targeted towards an extremely narrow audience that can draw on and appreciate even the slightest of resemblance to their past or present life.
Take poetry. Take music. Add over-saturated, vivid, vibrant cinematography. What is not to love about this beautiful mélange?
So often poetry translates into imagery in our minds that is often difficult to do justice on the main screen. Poetry is art. To do anything more with it often feels like a disservice to it. However, The Color of Time makes me feel otherwise. I am so whelmed at this point that I want to go back into the dream-like cocoon the film built around me and never escape.
Poetry written with a honey-glazed rhythm, spoken modestly, shot like a dream, plays like a heartbroken yet optimistic tribute to life. Those are the words that come to mind if I want to sum up The Color of Time in a single sentence. Directed in parts by twelve directors, pieced together in a haunting, back and forth manner – like our memories. The Color of Time is a compilation of Pulitzer Prize winning poet C.K. Williams’ beautiful poems and a peek into human memory and the moments that define us.
Starring James Franco as the present day poet we are taken way back into his life at various stages of growth, the instance he started noticing the world around him, his experiences with love, loss, the women in his life at various stages, his mother (Jessica Chastain) and his struggle with his art. The film does not work on a solid movie-like plot but brings out the underlying message about how C.K. Williams found his calling as a poet. It is hard to say that The Color of Time is a very original and insightful movie and that nothing like it was ever imagined or made before. It is, in parts, very reminiscent of one of my all-time favourite movies, The Tree of Life. But don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch every film that’s made that is inspired by it. However, I know some critics that find these parallels (Jessica Chastain gracefully walking around on vast expanses of grass and sunlight pouring in through the trees, through her beautiful hair and her ever perfect features) mildly annoying. I get that but I’m not one of those people and The Colour of Time works for me as is.
Having not read anything by C.K. Williams before I was happily taken to find that his poetry is my kind of poetry. I don’t write poetry very much at all any more but it comes to me sometimes and tugs at my sleeve for it to be written; I’m always wary of it because I know that writing that writes you is often the dangerous kind of writing. What I took from this movie, why it mattered to me so much right away was the fact that I was able to relate easily to what C.K. Williams felt in those particular memories of his previous years.
I know for a fact that I’m not the only one and that the urge for writing develops unknowingly inside you when you are very small. However, what I also know right down to my bones is the aloofness, the queer sense of being amiss from your physical self that comes with it. The relative ease with which you can subtract yourself from your current situation and piece sentences in your mind is often a limitless luxury. And who can tell on you, really, especially if you’re a child.
C.K. Williams grew up in a very reclusive time and he reflects on memories that change you, forever. A fleeting embrace, the touch of someone’s palms, the rush from running and the lack of interest in the things your parent might want you to do. I want to say that James Franco is simply James Franco in this movie and I don’t mind that at all. It feels like a better progression to his character in his self-produced movies (Palo Alto, anyone?). Mila Kunis, who intermittently features as the present day love of his life, the mother of his child, has no greater role to play except being beautiful in that ephemeral way where you want nothing more than to spend the rest of your life loving her.
The Color of Time is a vintage, soft-spoken, visually eccentric and thoroughly overwhelming movie. It has some really good moments but others that you may have seen elsewhere before and might not do much for you. However, if you love wordplay built on loss and lament, love and longing, basically just life go ahead and dim the lights, settle in by yourself and give this film a watch.
I’ve often said I’m not big on the comedy genre in movies and that it takes a very sharp, witty and often satirical take on humour for that genre to seemingly appeal to me at all. I feel like lately I’ve been stepping out of my usual indie movie flavours and experimenting with a random dash of humour and getting rewarded for my courage.
Appropriate Behaviour is a humorous, at times audacious yet thoroughly amusing take on several issues ranging from being an immigrant in modern day New York to living with a queer sexual orientation, coming out of the closet, dealing with heartbreak, growing as a person and simply being in your 20’s and what that entails. While all of this could easily be made into a five season long television show on HBO with a studded star-cast and a strong soundtrack, Desiree Akhavan – the writer, director and lead actress in the movie successfully wraps it all up in about 80 minutes.
Starring as Shirin, an Iranian immigrant living in NYC, Desiree effectively puts forth the bubble of her world as a bisexual young woman simply trying to get by. The movie flows back and forth to her relationship with a white girl named Maxine – that is, to be honest – doomed from the start. Post this devastating break-up with Maxine, Shirin is a big, hot mess. Shirin, although very spontaneous, upbeat and perky is a sensitive person under all that and wants Maxine back so bad.
The underlying reason for the break-up that Shirin can’t seem to shake off is the fact that she couldn’t come out of the closet and tell her parents. Her Iranian parents, with Iranian values and an Iranian straight elder son, set out to marry a girl from his medical profession. Shirin terms it as older child syndrome where the older kid wants to be perfect for his parents and do everything right but deep down is simmering and could one day pull out a gun in a public place. Shirin made me laugh and reminded me a little bit of me and that made my day.
Shirin’s the obvious centre of this story and even though the movie felt so familiar – I later figured out why – she does a stupendous job at keeping you gripped start to finish. She has a strong camera presence, lovely set of expressions, much grace in her acting and a whole lot of gumption that makes you love her but also sometimes pity her.
The issues Shirin faces trying to find in Brooklyn – an apartment, a decent job, the right partner – will strike a chord of commonality in anyone, in any part of the world. What I love is how Appropriate Behaviour doesn’t dwell too much on a particular problem, doesn’t poke humour too hard at say a scene between her potential employer and herself wherein he reacts to her Iranian origins in the most clichéd way imaginable. It’s refreshing when comic elements are in the slights and not all over the place in that metaphorical slapstick manner. It’s even more appealing when characters try to keep their sense of humour even in their darkest days.
Appropriate Behaviour is clearly an achievement as a debut film and is definitely a movie worth watching with your bunch of friends on a Friday night sleepover. If you’ve watched Blue Is The Warmest Colour (and loved it as I did) you will find that Appropriate Behaviour is actually a superfluous take on that same film. I don’t know if this comparison has been drawn by anyone else before but certain scenes, dialogues between the lead lesbian couple and arguments brought back distinct flashes of that movie in my mind. Which makes it tough for me to love Appropriate Behaviour as much as I would like to. Nevertheless, a movie that grips me from start to finish, resonates with my personal understanding of human nature and sneaks in a good few laughs is definitely a depiction of good cinema.
I sat down last evening, thinking to myself that I need to go back to watching movies and writing about them. Sometimes I push myself. I force myself to put on reviewer’s glasses and absorb everything. Even before I reach the halfway point in a movie – the part where things should be making sense, the part where you think you know how you’ll end your review, the part where a critic’s eye becomes almost unnecessary – what I mean is, the process becomes effortless. And my god do I love that. You’d imagine a change of surrounding would do so much more for your writing. But my inspiration is a big ball of wool that I can’t quite unravel. I’m getting there. Undoing knots a few layers at a time.
I went back to my list “To Watch, And Probably Review” which at this point has over 63 movies. If only my ambition could translate into reality. Anyway, missing so many movies that got nominated for the Academy’s, I watched it halfheartedly. I declared that Boyhood should have won all the awards. I tweeted about what the stars wore on the red carpet (I’ll admit in retrospect, I’m a bit ashamed now) and the jokes that were cracked. I dismissed the awards and that they didn’t hold anything for me. Who was I kidding, I just wasn’t prepared for them like every year. So to redeem myself, I’m going in the ascending order of my list and somehow The Heart Machine happened to be the oldest record on the list. I will try my best to review the less heard of movies because at this point I’m too late to review the likes of Birdman, Selma, Life Itself, etc and say anything that you don’t already know.
Honestly, I was so afraid going into this movie. Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew exactly where this was going to take me when the first scene panned into perspective. Hazy, discotheque lights, a hum of music that is borderline annoying, strobe lights, bodies rubbing against each other (or what you may call a form of dancing?), and finally an ordinary looking man, sitting alone in this dimly lit, party place with a phone in his hand. Key word here being ‘alone’.
The man in question is Cody (John Gallagher Jr.), an average 20-something living in Brooklyn, at a crossroads in his life, working on commission basis which also sometimes means not really working at all. Cody comes across as a person with a fairly simple understanding of things and doesn’t have any shining characteristics that I can possibly outline to make him seem different from your regular 20 something year old. Cody is a part of the generation that relies heavily on the Internet for communication and information as a means of finding semblance in his life. He meets a beautiful, doe-eyed girl named Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) on an online dating website and after a pleasant initial encounter they plan to go steady with each other. What this movie emphasizes on, that I find a bit ridiculous is how Virginia being in Berlin and Cody in New York is such a huge, huge problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for long-distance-met-the-man-of-my-dreams-on-the-world-wide-web scenario. The Heart Machine weaves in a very great ambiguity about this distance that honestly makes no sense to me.
So Cody and Virginia have faith in their relationship and commit to each other. They share the normal Skype sessions and there is a lot that they talk over the internet that I don’t find many couples talking about when they see each other on a regular basis. We take for granted proximity, we assume that people will always be around and that that funny incident from earlier in the day can wait until there are more listeners. Long-distance relationships put that all in perspective.
Virginia on one hand has dirty secrets of her own. She’s far from faithful to Cody and has herself up for grabs on various other online media. There are hook-up apps and missed connections and somehow the ways and means of getting someone to come to you at any given time of day are endless. None of this feels like I’m spoiling anything for you. The timeline of the movie is not linear and that comes to light soon enough. So there’s no surprise when you find Virginia roaming streets that seem less like Berlin but more like New York.
I believe the movie being shown from the perspective of Cody may put all the harsh light on Virginia’s promiscuity. But for the life of me, I couldn’t stand him. I just couldn’t. Cody soon begins to doubt that maybe Virginia isn’t in Berlin. Instead of questioning and cross-questioning her, he stalks her social media to figure out for himself. He goes to obnoxious lengths and exhibits crazy stalker behaviour. All of this, for someone who he’s in a committed relationship with, Skype video calls daily, loves and you’d automatically assume, trusts.
And that’s why The Heart Machine frightened me. Love need not be synonymous to trust and like Cody puts it, “It’s the not knowing that kills me”.
I’m unsure about the message Heart Machine is trying to project. It doesn’t so much as warn about the perils of online relationships as much as determines that obsessing over someone you love and constantly doubting them is not healthy. That not always knowing things is okay and that the digital age is constantly trying to counter that. I fail to see why The Heart Machine could be compared to brilliant pieces of cinema such as Spike Jonze’s Her, the movie trailer is misleading and unlike Her there are no heart-wrenching moments, beautiful cinematography or likeable characters. The Heart Machine drags and lulls and tries very hard to not be a cliché and in the process ends up being exactly that.
I will say to its credit that the movie ends as it should and I wouldn’t change a thing about the ending. Yes, it’s tragic but nonetheless quite appropriate. Watch The Heart Machine keeping in mind it does not have much to its credit except that its an indie movie and that even if it doesn’t do great things for you, you won’t really be able to make yourself forget it.
Sometimes after watching a movie I feel like I have something that I simply have to say about it; as though there is a storm of words inside my mind that might be harmful to me if I don’t let it all out. I’ve watched so many movies but there has never been a question about why I only review say 1 out of every 10 movies that I stream. By that I mean, why have I never questioned myself about this? I’m passionate about films and I also wouldn’t mind doing this professionally someday but why am I so selective and on what basis? And now it beckons the question: what really makes a movie good or bad and thereafter review worthy for Sloppy Etymology?
The absolute honest answer to that is – a movie needs to stir something inside me. It must, at best, confound me completely at the start and maybe even after the fact, at times. I want to ensure that when I’m reviewing it I’m not merely stating facts. My reviews delve into personal territories so often and I find that they bring out something more in me when I write them and it’s really the most satiating feeling, ever.
Disconnect (2012) reminds me why I enjoy writing movie reviews. It’s the kind of movie that I search for all over and meanwhile, in its quest, end up watching thirty-forty mediocre movies. I don’t think I say this outright at all, (for fear of sounding imposing and thereby scaring away my tiny reader audience) but PLEASE watch this movie.
As the name suggests, Disconnect is a drama that evolves into a very riveting thriller around the various facets of technological advancements and the subsequent consequences when we cannot disconnect from it. Several parallel storylines involving an upcoming journalist, a bunch of adolescent boys, a workaholic father, another extremely dictatorial father and a couple grieving over their dead child. The stories are not interconnected in a tacky way like Valentine’s Day or any other movie that decides to rope in more than one leading story. There’s only one instance of a connection and overlap between two stories and is in no way detrimental to the independent stories.
What I enjoyed best about Disconnect is how engrossing it is. I didn’t think about anything else while watching it. The movie does not linger over unwanted details and unnecessary exchanges between characters to create back story. It does not scream out a warning message to scare audiences regarding the perils of the Internet realm. It never creates a distinction between harm-inflictors and their victims. You will not be able to hate any of these characters no matter what side of the rope they come out on. I found myself rooting for every person in all four stories.
I believe the movie depicts real life right down to the nitty-gritty details without making you feel too uncomfortable. If you’re looking for something very sore and bothersome with this type of Wired disadvantage story-line you should go watch Trust (2010) and after that never be able to trust anyone ever again. But really, we don’t need that kind of brutal reality. Besides, everyone seems to have enough trust issues and insecurities anyway nowadays.
I would go into the details about each story but I suppose it would be more enjoyable if you entered and inhabited these stories without much prior knowledge. It was a complete delight for me because I was unaware. You tend to notice things with more keenness without much forewarning, is what I’ve come to understand now. As the movie progresses to its crescendo, things simultaneously come together and fall apart. While I could argue at length that each of the stories ends perfectly, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that somehow they’re all happy endings. They’re not.
The slow-motion climatic sequence and the Sigur-Ros music score, the brilliant cast and crisp editing and script make Disconnect one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past year. I like to believe that sometimes filmmakers, writers, directors put a piece of themselves in a movie and that’s one of the reasons they are motivated to make it. Very often, viewers miss that peak moment and maybe that’s when they pass it off by saying the movie made little sense or that it just wasn’t a good movie.
With Disconnect, not for a single moment will you feel like you’re being led astray. The message is crystal clear, it’s not the Internet that we need to disconnect from but our lack of humanity and the way we lead our lives, the morals and virtues that we appraise ourselves with so proudly but never really believe in, the need to be loved but still never express it – keeping that in mind I would say it’s pretty obvious where lies the actual Disconnect.
“A genuine revelation. We may finally have an heir to Kubrick.” – LA Weekly
“A grand statement on what it means to be a human being.” – Blankprojecter
“It’s simply one of the most unique, original and mind-blowing movies you’ll see in a theatre all year.” – Playlist
It’s rare to find a movie that has been so extravagantly praised and does not live up to your expectations. Under The Skin is an unbelievable and exotic masterpiece. It’s nothing short of what everyone has said it stands out to be and for that I’m truly glad. Very often you’ll hear a movie being exalted with immense praise and it creates a kind of pressure on you before you actually watch it. I think this time, for this movie I, alone, am responsible for the experience I derived out of it. My movie review will not be what it would (should) have been had I not read the book before I watched the movie.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer and loosely based on the novel by Michel Faber, Under The Skin is a sci-fi, mysterious and deeply beguiling thriller revolving around an extraterrestrial creature in a human form who drives a white van and picks up lonely, wide-eyed, single and eager men. The apparent stroke of luck always baffles these men after seeing this woman with deep-set eyes, a mop of dark black hair, but the most striking feature being her lips heavily coloured in with red lipstick. When she starts to converse with them, it is next to impossible for these men to believe that it is going to be anything else except a quick hook-up. The vulnerability at this stage grows quickly and even in the midst of the dark quicksand-like velvetness surrounding and engulfing them when they return to her place, they cannot seem to get past their desire and notice that they aren’t actually going to get lucky at all.
This forms the basic premise of the plot that involves very little dialogue and mostly leaves the audience to understand what they will.
That’s how the book is too, for the first half at least but words always bring a greater understanding with them, a ‘read between the lines’ that is somewhat obvious and you can reread and figure out eventually. However, Under the Skin, the movie, is not what the book is and I feel badly for expecting it to be like that in the first place. When a movie is loosely adapted from a novel, it’s best to look at both the media in different lights. To respect what the directors and scriptwriters saw in the book and thought appropriate for a cinematic presentation and what the author of the book did with his words alone to create that inspiration. Had I not read the book before watching the movie, I would be in a state of complete awe. I still am, but it somehow feels secondhand. Like I experienced this moment of beauty somewhere in another time through another source. I could compare and tell you what the movie does that the book didn’t and vice versa but I’m not looking to make a comparison here. I would only suggest that you watch the movie first and then go to the book to better understand both the interpretations, first individually and then as two parts of a whole. Of one thing I assure you, the build to the climax in both, the book and the film is absolutely perfect in both situations, different as the respective situations may be. The explosion of understanding that is expressed in both the respective endings is what unites the book and the movie into one. I couldn’t get rid of my unease at how the film was skipping scenes I had imagined in my mind when I read the book. I was restless and unable to focus because I was caught up with what I had expected to see. I wished I could unlearn what I knew just to be able to enjoy the movie for the breathtaking and hypnotic haze it was endlessly weaving. Alas. If you’re reading this, you’ll know better. My good deed for the day is done.
Caution: Spoilers ahead because this review simply cannot even be written without revealing spoilers.
Scarlett Johansson’s quixotic portrayal of an alien is so unnervingly beautiful and near perfect that you cannot help but feel maybe she got under your skin when you realize you are looking at all the human beings she encounters with the same distant and detached eyes. My words will fail me if I start to tell you what a remarkable role she has played with just her body language, her eyes, her honey-glazed voice and the unflinching emotionless expression carved into her face. I’m beginning to think if the artificial intelligence software from Her (voiced by Scarlett, herself) had a face, that’s how she’d look. Fur coat, black messed up hair and that exact same posture. While her voice in Her simply breathes humanity, there is a kind of intoxicating tinge to it in Under the Skin and it’s more compelling and unreal than any voice I’ve heard. Even for a moment you are not betrayed that she is human under that flawless skin.
The movie begins with a very Kubrickian scene and it’s rightly been described so. The abstract birth of Scarlett Johansson’s character in some universe as a biological process we are not meant to understand, but simply absorb. The vastness of the earth and landscapes, the fixed camera shots over these expanses, the uncomfortable silences at the perfect moments and the gripping story that succeeds without much talk and telltale are sure signs of why Jonathan Glazer’s direction has been credited with such praise. If you are not into art films, if movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and the like leave you confused and feeling disoriented about life, then Under The Skin won’t work for you. What you should try to understand is that these movies try to capture something larger than life in their own way and they are supposed to be unsettling until you can think deeply and see through them.
Scarlett’s nameless character is a female alien (I will call her Isserley from now on as per the book) who seduces young males, single and mostly on their own; unanswerable to anyone. The part that the movie skips out is why she does this dance when she has no intention of indulging in any sexual activities at all. Once she lures them to her house, a black, glassy, tar-like mist surrounds them as she walks backwards and undresses with agonizing lethargy. While the victim hastily undresses himself, he is unaware that he’s actually being pulled in by this dark black surface.
The movie starts out with a guy on a motorcycle who brings a body to Isserley that looks almost like her. If she is another alien like Isserley or whether Isserley simply needs her clothes is not clear. What we do know about this motorcycle guy is that he is her minder, of sorts. He keeps an eye, takes care of the victim that Isserley lets escape and finally in that last scene watches Isserley burn.
There are scenes in the movie that have been shot on the streets of Glasgow with hidden cameras. Even some of the men Isserley picks up are actually people who don’t know they’re being filmed. All the scenes shot in her van are filled with a queer feeling, a sensation of an outsider watching the world through the windshield of their car. There is also that fearful notion of a predator watching its prey. The entire movie could be shot in that van and it would still be a visual delight.
When Isserley meets a guy near the ocean, hoping to pick him up, she asks him, “Why here?” and he answers it after a moment as if the knowledge just dawned upon him, “Because it’s nowhere.” Just as soon the man witnesses a girl drowning and her father jump in to rescue her. Without a thought he runs after them. Isserley watches this tragedy with a detachment akin to the one she shows when she picks up an ant from the body the motorcycle guy brings to her. At this point the audience can understand that Isserley is not human and get used to the idea.
Isserley picks up all sorts of men. Unlike the book, there isn’t a particular type or build she’s searching for as a means to her obscure ends. There is a brief scene where we see what is happening to the men once they’re sucked in the black nothingness. We see that the men are suspended in the abyss and the life in them, the muscle and the mass is being sucked out. After which we see bloody red mass, like the mashed up remains of the insides of a person flowing on a factory-like reclined platform. Only if you’ve read the book will you understand what that means. If you haven’t, it simply adds to the weirdness of the movie.
The change in the pace of the movie creeps in when Isserley meets a guy whose face is deformed beyond recognition or probably suffers from a very ugly disease. She picks him up hoping to lure him back to her house but suddenly finds herself seducing him differently than she would any other man. The man here is different and oblivious to her advances. He answers her flirtatious questions in monosyllables and reiterates that he is only looking for a lift to the supermarket. When Isserley asks him if he has friends or a girlfriend, he replies in the negative to both. Isserley finds herself oddly connected to this man, and asks him a simple question while placing his palm against her cheek, “When was the last time you touched someone?”
This is the victim Isserley lets escape after briefly catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror.
What follows is the gradual awareness Isserley develops of herself and her new body. She finds herself reacting differently. The transformation is subtle but so powerful at the same time when a man she meets takes care of her. We see her trying to actually touch another person and explore her own self by doing so. Isserley is frightened, at first. Like any human would be. There is a scene where Isserley is so terrified of her body reacting to this man that she pulls close a lamp shade to explore this powerful space between her legs. It’s funny that some audiences were intending to watch this movie just for the nudity because believe me, this is not the kind that arouses, it will only shock you.
Isserley runs into the woods now feeling thoroughly disoriented and confused at this new understanding of herself. Her face, usually so brim set can now be seen furrowing with worry and fear. Fear of what? I guess none of us can know that for sure. She tries to escape from it and by this point I’ve all but forgotten that Isserley is in fact, an alien. The revelation in that last scene although quite different in portrayal from the book is done in a fascinating and convincing way and only then do you feel you can exhale the sigh you’ve been holding in the entire time during this beautiful nightmare.
Although categorized as sci-fi, the film borders on many more complex themes. What truly transcends the movie is the eerie background score that is almost synonymous to Isserley’s ravish appearance. The galactic, synthesized beats give the aloofness of Isserley and the alien feel of humans on the street the perfect setting. Under The Skin is incredibly disturbing and unforgettable in many regards; a deep insight into what we really are beneath our faces. If there’s anything that binds us all is earthly emotions of pity and compassion. It’s not clear if Isserley got too close to them, or if she wanted to fight it. But the most intriguing part is that whatever the message intended to be will get injected under your skin and once it has insidiously settled there it’s hard to shake it off. In my opinion, those are the kind of movies worth watching more than once.
Let me go ahead and say this right at the start. This movie is as close to perfection as can be. I say it that way, because nothing can ever be truly perfect and perfection in itself is a subjective concept.
I’ll be honest this is why I really do Movie Reviews. When something like this comes along and I know that I can’t keep myself from writing about the movie and channeling my adoration into a blog that I can constantly go back, reread and absorb. That’s the prize in all of this.
Short Term 12 is a quietly compelling and brilliant movie. For some reason these are the near perfect movies that get conveniently forgotten. The unassuming genius of such movies is underrated and soon enough it disappears from most minds. Not mine, though. Short Term 12 stealthily touched my soul and changed me. I said that out loud while typing it and the Imaginary People in my head asked me, “How can a story change you?” But that’s the thing my friends, how can it not.
I’m so afraid that I won’t be able to do justice to this review but my desire to write about it is driving me insane. I’m simply whelmed. I will struggle to convey to you what this movie accomplishes and I will make my strongest attempt to make you understand what it is that Short Term 12 did, that other movies don’t. In between all of this, I will sway to the deep recesses of my mind and implicitly tell you things I fear are too personal.
The movie is set in a group care home (Short Term 12) for troubled adolescents and teenagers that is run by Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). Outside their job, Grace and Mason is a couple that lives together and is nearly indistinguishable from a married couple. They are essentially the ideal definition of a couple that loves each other in the rawest sense and have an understanding and connection far superior than most others. All of their scenes outside the facility have a beauty, a softness that is so genuine and endearing. They are not perfect and that is fine.
The entire movie is glued together by the outstanding performances of the actors and actresses involved. While anyone who has paid attention will easily say that Brie Larson who played the lead character Grace is simply amazing and at complete ease with what she’s doing in any scene. Be it at work where she can only provide a safe environment for kids so eager to self-harm and run away, or be it at home where she faces similar problems and can’t even get out of bed on certain days. At the start of the movie, I was unsure if she was the lead character. She somehow blended in and was not noticeable. But I was so wrong.
Enter Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), the punk teenage girl with dark eye make-up and scars on her wrist concealed by bracelets. While it could’ve been so easy to overdo that kind of a role, so easy to act whiny or try too hard to act natural, Kaitlyn effortlessly aces it.
Among all of this is John Gallagher Jr. who plays Grace’s fiancé Mason. He is the eptiome of nice and warm. He brings to the story a certain humour simply with his on-screen presence. He expresses himself with complete ease and his interactions with Grace are all too endearing. Mason is the Person Grace needs in her work life and love life.
I must make a special mention about Marcus played by Keith Stanfield, an almost-adult at Short Term 12 about to leave the facility soon. He adds to the movie that sullen feel of a destroyed young life that is so hard to retrieve. He singlehandedly executes one of the most twisted scenes in the movie and has tremendous potential with his facial expressions. My only wish was that there should’ve been more of him.
While all the other kids at the facility have problems of their own, they all seem to find some kind of odd kinship at the centre. They know they’re all there because of a certain kind of lacking in their lives. Something that came in the way of them attaining a normal childhood.
Various scenes in the facility showing interactions between the children and Mason and Grace are executed with such precise detail it made me wonder how such life-like scenes were even written. It came as no surprise when I found out that the writer and director Destin Cretton worked at a group care home and his personal experiences depicted in those scenes gives the movie due credibility. I’m sure other documentaries have been made on the subject of abuse, depression, overcoming a failed upbringing and an irresponsive family. I’m sure there have been others that were far more emotional and tear-jerking with hard hitting stories about the cycles of abuse and depictions of ‘what is the worse that could happen?’. Keeping in mind all of these things, it’s so easy to cut this movie short. To say that it merely skims waters that others have deeply immersed themselves in before would be an abomination. Short Term 12 has much more depth if you take a step back after watching it and ponder about it.
Short Term 12, overall, is a dark movie which picks up several issues of troubled childhoods and expands on them right from its core. It digs deeper into the psychological aspects of the characters and pulls out revelatory moments. It is rare to find a story that you can connect with whether you have or have not experienced something along those lines. I like movies that are cinematic and entertaining. I also like indie movies which are very intense and focus on emotions. But a movie such as Short Term 12…I’m unsure how I would categorize it. I would first say it is important and then humble and so incredibly introspective. It’s the kind of movie that puts you in the centre of something and makes you question your moral compass. It tells a story that makes you go back and think about yours and find hope in the face of it all. It made me want to think about certain actions and fundamentals that I so strongly held my ground in. I am reeling from a story that wasn’t about my life but makes me think afresh about mine. And even then some Imaginary People will still think a story cannot change you.
As the Oscar fever inside me is reaching its pitch and I have been literally gobbling down all the nominations, Spike Jonze’s Her made me pause, catch my breath and then want to write about it. While that in itself is truly something, I also felt like simply writing a review about this movie would not be enough. I’m not always very critical in my reviews as it is and you must understand this is more than just a story for me.
Set in the not-so distant future Los Angeles resembling a Shanghai skyline lives a man by the name of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) – a lonely, sombre and soulful man just trying to pull himself together after a breakup with his childhood sweetheart and wife (Rooney Mara). Theodore is a calm and thoughtful man who writes personal letters for people as a part of his job at handwrittenletters.com. At the very start it becomes clear that Theodore is unable to move on. The frequent flashes of Catherine and their happily married life together paint us a picture of how different he used to be when he was with her. Now, Theodore is heartbroken and left to his own devices with divorce papers he hasn’t been able to sign for a few months.
Her has a very futuristic feel to it. Theodore runs all his daily technological chores with the help of his phone’s operating system. Theodore seems to be spending more time with his computer and his OS and we only see him interacting with the couple in his building occasionally on the elevator. So when he comes across a new artificial intelligence operating system that is designed to evolve according to an individual’s intuitive needs and requirements, he gets pulled right in. This step sets off the dominos to the most heartwarming and heart wrenching phase of his life.
The OS offers him a choice between a male or female and he chooses a female who then introduces herself as Samantha (voiced with a sultry, breathy humanity by Scarlett Johansson). Sooner than expected Theodore finds himself awed by Samantha and the way she expresses herself. There is something particularly attractive about the way she can communicate so clearly even though she’s only an OS. She helps Theodore to get out of his rut and experience more things than he ever thought he could. Samantha is also more than just your everyday Siri in the sense that she finds herself evolving everyday in her interactions with Theodore.
This brings me to one of the scenes where Theodore-blissful and elated, is spinning around in circles with his phone in hand, just trying to grasp and absorb all the happiness and exuberance he suddenly finds in his life with Samantha. Although that moment is supposed to depict joy, a certain intimacy that is shared by two lovers in a moment, the scene also paints a picture of loneliness and isolation. For a passerby who does not understand what Theodore must feel with Samantha, he is very likely to be termed crazy. That’s funny, isn’t it?
This is also the part where my movie review drifts into other territories. What might seem crazy to someone might be a perfectly acceptable way of life for someone else. While it is easy to condemn someone’s style of living, why can’t it be easy to actually accept it? We’re in the 21st century now, and I think we have all experienced those long stretches where you sat crouched, staring down at your phone, endlessly waiting for a message from your lover, anything, a validation maybe that would get you through the day.
Let’s take it a step further. When you don’t get to see the person you love as much as you’d like and your relationship feels like it’s entirely based on messages and last seen timestamps. Is that not real then? Would you like to argue how that cannot possibly take away the essence of your love and instead enhance it in a more revitalizing way. What happens when you see someone on a computer screen on Skype or on Instagram more than you do in person, does that somehow make it ‘not real’?
Then why should we be so critical about Samantha and Theodore’s love?
The genius of this film is that there is no technical reasoning about the limits of the OS, its potential or lack of it. That in itself makes you feel that maybe, just maybe Theodore and Samantha are destined to be. You start picturing Samantha’s husky voice over the phone as a long-distance lover on the other end, as human and as real as Theodore. Amidst it all, you still know that she’s an OS and that this is a love without any kind of physical presence or confirmations.
Is that enough?
Which brings me to the part where things in your ‘not so real relationship’ have actually gotten to a point where you have met the person to whom the voice belongs. Learnt how they touch their hair, not just the side of the bed they sleep on but also the way their body curves when they do. You’ve figured that aural sex would probably never equal oral sex, and there is something deeply saddening to be able to settle for the prior after having experienced the two. You return to your life and try to focus on being together whilst you are actually apart and leading your own lives. You call them and text them just like before, but somehow 25 text messages a day do not cut the deal anymore. It’s not enough. You try your hardest to explain that it’s not that you want more of their time but you just need more of the ‘real’ thing. What is the reason for this sudden longing? Why are you being so greedy? You don’t understand but it’s an unnerving worry that doesn’t go away and is difficult to hide when you Skype with them next.
This is something that Theodore and Samantha do not face. They’re not greedy; neither do they have unreasonable expectations from each other. Theodore loves Samantha and he is happy to just have her love him back, really that is all. When Theodore’s wife accuses him of always wanting to be in a relationship without having to face the challenges of actually being in one, Theodore is thoroughly hurt. But what I love is how he has faith, he knows that whether human or not, Samantha understands and it’s futile to ponder over what someone else thinks of them. Just like a normal relationship, they experience highs and lows, bouts of jealousy, passion and desire. Samantha does her very best to make Theodore feel at ease with the complicated relationship they have, Samantha makes it look so easy, that it somehow makes you wish your life could be so convenient.
As we all know in our deepest selves, stories like these will always have a tinge of sadness and soon enough things go sour and Theodore’s fantasy comes undone. It is heartbreaking to watch him disintegrate like that, for the second time. It is undeniably as real a breakup as he had with Catherine. He ultimately turns to his friend living in the adjacent apartment who also seems to have gone through something similar. What they share in that last scene, it is not some kind of glimpse into them getting together in the probable future, they share their pain. They are both intensely aware of their heart being mangled inside out and need some kind of reassurance that they are not insane. It is not a plea for human touch but at the same time, it underlines the fact that reality, tangibility will always be constant in the face of fantasy. Which made me think that maybe happiness, love, vulnerability are more closely linked to a certain kind of spirituality, an introspection, too. Maybe what you think is going to make you happy doesn’t necessarily need to have a physical form or structure. The intricacies of your lover can exist entirely in your head and still satisfy you if you truly trust yourself and what you want. I’m also not saying that will end well.
I suspect many people will see this movie as some sort of satire, a kind of deliberate mocking at our progressively technological lives which culminates in alienation from human touch and emotions. At the same time, the movie expands on the various aspects of social interactions as well and why sometimes disappointments and continuous failed attempts at trying to reach out to another human being could lead to us moving towards something less unpredictably volatile.
The movie does such a beautiful and delicate job at pulling us into the minds of its characters and what defines them. We are so accustomed to watching a love story with a cinematic feel to it, waiting for what will be the next move. Spike Jonze’s Her has stirred a revolution in the kind of care that is exhibited in showcasing human nature and its complexity. There is a scene where Samantha asks Theodore in complete innocence,”How do you share your life with someone?” and this question attempts to be answered throughout the movie. In an age of information overshare and also the convenience with which we can select what to share online and what to conceal, what is it like really sharing your life with another person? In that sense, whether it has a futuristic take or not, whether or not you watch Her 20 years later or even right now, it is in many ways timeless.