‘Us’ is a Puzzle Box That Interrogates the American Illusion

The power of great genre films, to me, is that they are able to tackle larger abstractions and broad truths about humanity under layers of subtext, whilst still letting us go through an out of this world, moviegoing experience. When I think of the idea of the doppelganger, a traditional horror/sci-fi staple, the being that looks exactly like ourselves invading our own bubbles, I think of the stories that often seek to shed light on our own insecurities. Invasion of the Body SnatchersPossession, and more recently, Annihilation and Enemy, all films that use this specific symbol are based on a destructive, human feeling; a depressive itch you can’t scratch, the demon on your shoulder telling you that you’re not quite the person you project yourself to be. My relationship with social media in the last few months has made me realize that this imposter syndrome I feel is a mode of my own living, but when I’m aware of it, there lies an insidious feeling in my gut, and my sense of self melts away. All of these concepts were stirred up in my brain once again, but this time, instead of just the focus on the self, there’s a broader statement here about our society as a whole. This is America. This is Us.

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Jordan Peele’s Us is the sophomore follow-up to his Academy-Award winning social horror thriller, Get Out, which took the film landscape by storm. While following up a film like Get Out is an immense amount of pressure, Peele handles it with so much grace. Here he is, channeling that history he made with his debut and recentering the energy into something entirely new. Just add in Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Elisabeth Moss, and you have a mid-level budget effort that feels so much like an event film of its own. While previously he worked with Blumhouse, which houses a specific model for their films, Peele now has his screenwriting Oscar, a production company of his own, Monkeypaw Productions, and an unhinged amount of ambition to craft yet another social horror film to instigate our worst nightmares and how they blend with our own reality.

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‘Shrill’ Finally Lets Fat Women In Television Live Ordinary Lives

Last Friday, Hulu released their latest show Shrill and it’s sure to be remembered as being one of the first, and hopefully not the last, of its kind. Co-created by Lindy West and Aidy Bryant and based on West’s book of the same name, Shrill follows Bryant as Annie, a plus-size woman living in Portland, Oregon as she embarks on a journey of loving her body and choosing herself in all facets of her life. The concept itself doesn’t seem anything new, since there is a generous amount of television dedicated to portraying women living their lives, overcoming insecurities, growing and making mistakes along the way. However, the portrayal of a fat woman who’s perfectly happy being fat that makes Shrill‘s ordinariness seem revolutionary.

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FICG ’19: ‘The Blonde One’ is a triumphant rumination on machismo

Tension has become a trademark in Marco Berger’s work. You’re aware going into one of his films that the will-they won’t-they suspense will drive the narrative. The spaces in his films brim with silence, allowing the restless expressions in his characters’ faces do the talking. The point is not to make it seem like words are irrelevant—on the contrary, it is when his characters come clean that you realize the power of just talking. It is fitting then that The Blonde One, Berger’s latest film, was conceived with a mute lead in mind. While at the end they were forced to scratch that idea, Gabriel, the titular blonde (Taekwondo’s Gaston Re), clings to quietness throughout the story, even being referred to as “the mute” by his friends.

We meet Gabriel as he’s moving in to his co-worker Juan’s (Alfonso Barón) flat so he can be close to his place of work. Juan looks infatuated with the man from the moment he arrives, glancing at him for a bit too long and standing a bit too close to him at every chance he gets. While Gabriel is apprehensive at first, as he has a girlfriend and a daughter living with his parents, he’s ultimately responsive to Juan’s insinuations. The sexual tension builds until the end of the first act when a proposal to go out and buy beer quickly escalates—Juan finally acts on his desires and Gabriel reciprocates leniently. The implication here might be that we’re observing the dawn of a new love, but as Juan kicks Gabriel out of his room after having sex, we learn that’s not the case.

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FICG ’19: ‘Memories of My Body’ is a Personal and Harrowing Look at Gender

“My body is like a battlefield where the opponents fight one another,” proclaims acclaimed dancer and choreographer Rianto midway through Garin Nugroho’s newest film. He’s not only the narrator, but the story is also based in his own life. Indeed, the constant struggle that Juno, Rianto’s fictional representation, experiences with gender is the driving force for the aptly titled Memories of My Body.

The film is told in sections, marked by Juno’s age. In its early sections, it becomes evident that Juno is at odds with the world around him. Nugroho cleverly juxtaposes shots of kids playing and having fun with one another as Juno tends to be shown by himself, purposely avoiding people when possible. The children bully him and his teacher doesn’t hesitate to abuse him at the slightest mistake, even going as far as forcing him to write on the blackboard with chalk in his mouth. Juno is only happy when he is alone and spying on dancers as they put on makeup and practice their routines. As he watches them dance throughout the early stages of his life, his features fill with longing for what he can’t be.

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‘Funan’ Further Proves The Emotional Impact of Animation

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist party, overthrew the Cambodian government and took over the country, bringing with them four years of genocide. They forced Cambodians into work camps, massacred minority populations, and preached the benefits of communism to justify their violence. Denis Do’s animated film, Funan, tells the story of a family trying to survive and stay together in the face of this fascist regime. Its beautiful animation style and honest, yet non-exploitative, portrayals of violence create a film with raw emotional power.

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Yeo Siew Hua Creates a Dreamy Singaporean Noir in ‘A Land Imagined’

Two officers stand together, smoking cigarettes, and ruminating over Singapore’s land reclamation. As they gaze over the water at the towering metallic behemoths of industry on the horizon, they ruminate on Singapore’s land expansion over 30 years and how it doesn’t seem to be stopping, just like their investigation into two missing migrant workers. One asks why they are even looking for people that no one cares about. Director Yeo Siew Hua uses his latest film, A Land Imagined, to make you care about those that go ignored and those whose disappearances go investigated through a dreamy noir.

This is not the wealthy Singapore we typically see; this is industrial Singapore that is full of migrant workers living in cramped dorms. This is a Singapore that feels akin to the dystopic worlds of Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner. Police investigator Lok moves through this environment in search of a missing migrant worker, Wang. Wang, injured on a land reclamation site and suffering from insomnia, seeks some kind of relief in an internet cafe, awash in neon colors and full of a cacophony of clacking keys and whirring computer fans. He is searching for connection, for a friend, in a place where he doesn’t know anyone. But his search for friendship goes awry and Lok must try to find out just exactly what’s happening at these work sites.

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Criterion Reviews: ‘For All Mankind’

After the albeit-muted success of Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’, now seems to be an optimal time to revisit a documentary which strips the drama from humanity’s first steps on the moon. Filtering one of history’s most talked about events through a focused lens, For All Mankind leaves the conspiracy theories at the door to present 79 minutes of NASA footage and interviews – allowing its audience to partake in the simple joy of the achievement. 

Director Al Reinert bookends the film with the only outside commentary featured in the whole documentary; President John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Nation’s Space Effort. The construction is otherwise simple: voiceovers from the astronauts accompany home videos from within the Apollo spacecraft, footage from the mission control centre and film captured from the surface of the moon itself. 

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