REVIEW: The Half of It.

The Half of It opens with Plato’s Symposium as Ellie recounts Aristophanes’ creation myth. It begins as a film of poetic quotes about love, of loneliness and endlessly searching for another half, built on the foundations of archetypes and classic storylines like this. This movie is another succession of Cyrano de Bergerac, another story about high school, another experience about the desperate longing of unrequited desire.But within these frames, the characters give nuance to adolescence in Squahamish. Ellie, Paul, and Aster – enveloped inside their own private worlds that rotate around the different constants of their lives – feel the pains of growing up in different ways. They experience the loneliness of being misunderstood or unseen, of wishing for a greater life that’s both intensely moving and frightening to them.

Ellie is created with particularly fine lines, strokes that paint a complex person. She’s characterized by her experience as being “other,” as an Asian-American immigrant in a predominantly white town, an atheist in a church community, a girl who is in love with another girl. These subjects are explored carefully, and there is no right answer to anything. Most of the moments where Ellie grows are quiet and simple, without the cinematic flair of teenage romcoms.

The film uses its created environment well, the town framing most of their interactions, as we see Ellie and Paul again and again in the same places, each layer of the story adding another dimension to Squahamish. Despite the repetition, the cinematography is quite beautiful at times; there’s the scene where Aster and Ellie swim in the groves, talking about intangibly vast things as they float in the water, light and trees all around them.

The second half of the movie veers into more complex character interactions. While the setup of the first half builds steady momentum, the denouement still has to tie together issues that are only brought up in the latter half. The ending has mixed pacing as a result of this, with some plot points that are resolved in a timeframe that feels natural, while others come on more suddenly.

Towards the end, there’s a tonal switch too, where the film ultimately decides it’s not about “getting the girl,” and while romance is important in The Half of It, the movie becomes more about the seduction of a happier life, the romancing of the start of their adulthood. Their unrequited desires move beyond an individual and towards the world and their futures.

The Half of It encapsulates the longing for another half, whether it’s a person, or a dream, or a life. Despite the fine details added to the characters and their surroundings, the film catches the universal feeling of the uncertainty in those seconds before you reach out and make your move into the world you’d envisioned for yourself.

Check out The Half of It on Netflix today.

REVIEW: 2020 Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animation.

Hair Love – Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver
Dcera (Daughter) – Daria Kashcheeva
Memorable – Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre
Sister – Siqi Song
Kitbull – Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson

The Bird and the Whale (Highly Commended)
Henrietta Bulkowski (Highly Commended)
Hors Piste (Highly Commended)
Maestro (Highly Commended)

Hair Love, Dcera, Memorable, Sister, and Kitbull are contenders for this year’s Oscar nominated shorts in animation, and The Bird and the Whale, Henrietta Bulkowski, Hors Piste, and Maestro are highly commended films also playing at Michigan Theater. Like every year, the style and media of the films differ tremendously, each with its own merits that make it an interesting watch.

The series opens up with Hair Love, a film that’s full of pastels and backgrounds that look like it’s been coloured in with pencil crayons. It’s heartwarming and sweet, and although it’s not as visually rich as some of the other shorts, the pacing in its storytelling is perfect. A father does his daughter’s hair for the first time with a little encouragement – an interaction that develops their relationship in the absence of her mother.

Although Hair Love was produced by entertainment giant Sony Pictures, it feels pretty organic. People need people, and the film does a good job capturing that spirit when the father and daughter bond and rely on each other when their family fabric is pulled and twisted by the lack of her mother’s presence.

Daughter (Dcera) has the momentum and framing of motion picture cinematography. The characters look imperfect, textured puppets with painterly faces, an expressiveness teased out with an unflinching gaze. The camerawork, jarring and claustrophobic, frames the tenuous relationship between father and daughter. Despite the closeness of the camera, there is an endless distance between the two, and the short film takes us to a quiet hospital room to reflect on the course of their relationship and the moments lost so long ago.

Daughter is beautiful and sad. The yearning for love and comfort is pinned delicately in scenes like butterfly taxidermy. There is no dialogue, but Daughter doesn’t need any to convey the emotions told through space and time, through elegantly laid out shots and a silence that stretches between father and daughter until a bird flies into the hospital window.

Memorable follows in the same vein using puppets full of post-impressionistic strokes. Louis, a painter, watches the world around him become strange, surreal, and unfamiliar. The film is imbued with the style of van Gogh in many scenes. It turns his perspective into works of art – a cellphone puddles into moving shades of gray, his family members’ faces become molded and abstract, and his wife becomes nothing more than a few brushes of paint. Life around him falls apart until he is left in an empty world with only himself in it.

The soundtrack is also stunning, just as vivid and as bright as the visuals. When the world around Louis disintegrates and the music fades, the sense of loss feels personal and profound. Memorable does a good job building up this moment. First, the details are lost, turning people and objects into broad strokes. Then the meaning is lost, the paint pooling and disappearing.

We see a different kind of loss in the short film Sister, an exploration of things that could’ve been. The film is very tactile; the textures used lends itself to the distinctiveness of the animation. In a scene, the brother pulls on his giant sister’s belly button, the cottony material used to make the puppets twisting like an umbilical cord out of her until he lets go and she deflates like a balloon. Everything looks very soft and sweet, finished with a muted colour palette of black and white and a faded red.

Despite its subject matter, Sister touches very lightly on the political aspect of China’s one child policy, alluding to it in post-film dedication. Instead, it focuses on the emotions of the narrator, the feeling of loss of not just a person, but an entire life missed because of it. Shots of mundane, every-day life are intertwined with surreal imagery to tell the story of Sister.

Kitbull is very cute, cushioning some of the gloomy undertones. It’s not as emotionally heavy-handed as a few of the other shorts nominated, but there’s a sweetness that prevails. The animation is descriptive; each expression and emotion is detailed through the movements of the stray kitten and the pitbull, even though their art is relatively simplistic. The two characters slowly grow closer together, helping each other get by in daily life, whether it’s from boredom or from hurt. It’s not ground-breaking or riveting, but Kitbull is still a solid film with a happy ending. It’s endearing and hopeful – a good note to end on.

Catch the Academy nods before February 9th.

REVIEW: Zombieland: Doubletap.

Zombieland: Doubletap was written to be Zombieland’s sequel — it seems to exist more for the actors to have a nice time and for the fans of the first film to relive the Good Old Days™ than try to be a sensationally moving film. While the first movie was accidentally pioneering in its genre, Doubletap makes no promises. It is nothing visionary, but works its simple, nostalgic charm enough for it to be fun and fresh. It is the ultimate tribute to a classic film.

In 2009, Jesse Eisenberg hadn’t been in The Social Network yet, and La La Land was but a stray thought to Damien Chazelle who had only finished directing his first movie. In 10 years time, the actors have reached loftier calibers, each one becoming Academy Award nominees and winners. And although the script isn’t the most emotionally complex, they play their parts perfectly, regardless of how vast and complicated their recent roles they’ve grown to fill are. The characters of Zombieland still fit seamlessly from out of the time capsule, despite the decade of change and progress in between.

Horror elements improve the comedy; the underlying morbidity of the tragic demise of humanity helps the banality of some of the more cliché jokes become more palatable. New characters also add a kind of sparkling appeal and novelty to a plot that’s structurally a copy of the first film. Madison, played by the magnetic Zoey Deutch, is simply a trope with a singular note, and yet Deutch makes the note hit bright and spectacular. Although the other new characters contribute to the movie’s success, Madison, with her effervescent denseness, is so obviously the standout element amongst all else.

Much of the comedy in Zombieland: Doubletap stems from Zombieland itself, deriving jokes that often stroke the fourth wall with a kind of impish wit in reference to its predecessor. The movie can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but it’s main purpose, it’s true blood, can only be recognized in conjunction with the first film. It is full of details written in for the amusement of old fans, with a keen enough self-awareness about its intent that it does falter when it comes to the delivery either. While Doubletap may not be an inspiring, original film, it is an excellent commendation of Zombieland. Enough of the components are there, and given enough heart, Doubletap is fun to watch. It is enjoyable, uncomplicated, and the end credits are killer.

REVIEW: The Goldfinch.

There’s a layer of abstraction to any film that uses source material from a book, but The Goldfinch pulls the casing off the bullet. There is an idea of a great, inflicted pain, evidence that something significant has happened. And there is a tender wound, somewhere, because we’re holding the shell casing of that hurt. But none of it is palpable.

The film develops as a succession of events after Theodore Decker’s mother is killed in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dividing its narrative between his childhood and adulthood. We come back in iterations of clarity to significant scenes as the narrative expands, watching the dust settle in the aftermath of the bombing again and again. Some parts of the film are slow like this, dwelling on memory as Theo does over the course of his life. Other times, the movie plays out like a supercut, in a series of incidents that seem to be only tied together by voiceover and poor symbolism.

There are a few moments in The Goldfinch that seem purposely paced, slow, and beautiful. The sequence of Theo’s life idling in the deserted outskirts of Las Vegas feels more personal than the rest of the film. Here, his character is developing and growing, as static as his grief might be. And with little distraction from outside forces, we become more intimately attuned to the feelings of the young Theo. His unhappiness is apparent, his boredom is tangible, and the friendship he develops with Boris has a natural, fresh progression with a soft sincerity.

Aside from the plot, the cinematography is beautiful all around — detailed with a strangely opulent look to it, even when the are scenes removed from anything glamourous. The Goldfinch frames shots with elegance; it is pretty, but lacks substantial depth in Theo’s adulthood narrative. The characters present in his later life are underused and underdeveloped.

Towards the end of the movie, the more the plot unfolds with lofty revelations and supposed emotional intensity, the more absurd it begins to feel. And the more it tries to reach for catharsis in the last stretch of the film, the more it becomes another incomprehensible event. The significance is lost somewhere in the disconnect between what is happening and what we should be feeling. The Goldfinch is clean, pretty, but a letdown as it feels like a continuous waiting for something to finally work.

Just as the character Hobie had taught Theo to recognize fake antiques by running his hands along the wood, we can touch this film, feel it, and know what it lacks to make it genuine.

REVIEW: Climax.

With films like Black Swan, Suspiria, and now Climax, dance is a staple in horror, both sublime and dangerous. Some kind of magnetism exists to the art, an incredible fascination with the primal power behind the lofty, elegant institutions of dance. Climax is already a bit stripped down in this sense – there is no renowned ballet school, no classical compositions to be centered around. Instead, the film is focused on a diverse dance troupe, and the pace is set from the first major dance sequence to be erotic, sensual, and chaotic.

Climax feels like an amalgamation of limbs and sound, as if it were a strange animal pulsating with bass and red lights, with a feral energy that doesn’t stop until the party’s over. There isn’t really a script, and it was noted by the director Gaspard Noé that most of the scenes were improvised, shot linearly, over the course of only a few days. It feels organic and crude, surreal in some ways and too real in others.

The cinematography is unusual, with brutally long takes, and the camera primarily focused on the mesmerizing choreography and disorientating scenes that almost seem to amount to nothing. If there is supposed to be a story line, a significance behind everything that unfolds over the course of the movie – then it’s lost to a special echelon of hell that spills across the screen.

At first, the film starts off like any other onscreen party: a bit hedonistic, a bit messy, full of drama and gossip and dancing. The audience is exposed to the private problems and personal relationships between the members of the troupes through cuts towards the different characters at different points during the party.

Things are amplified when the group realizes that their sangria had been spiked with LSD, and all pleasures and desires reach unthinkable magnitudes before turning dangerous. Dance is melded with violence and paranoia, and the scenes turn into an unending, bizarre, sensory surge. While this feeling is nearly normalized by the end of the movie, a few scenes we see through the eyes of some of the only coherent characters are the realizations of the nightmarish reality.

Climax is a polarizing film, strange in composition and delivery, but undoubtedly powerful. It’s a movie that is difficult to make sense of with the traditional parameters of good film-making, and is probably most aptly described as a bad trip – perfectly filmed as such, and unforgiving in how far it takes the viewer down a path of indistinguishable pleasures and pains. The ending reveal almost feels insignificant in comparison to the trauma of the rest of the movie.

While beautifully shot and unmistakably special, Climax is difficult to watch and reads more like an abstract exploration of the moraless, raw side of the human condition than an actual plot. It’s interesting, it’s an experience, and it’s probably a masterpiece in its own genre, but it is definitely not for everyone – maybe not even for most people.

REVIEW: Greta.

Greta begins like an upscaled lifetime movie, with bouncy music played to the streets of New York, montages of beautiful temperate days in the park, homey cooking scenes, a cute dog – the sweet introduction to the film is a bit undermined, however, by its reputation.

Frances, an ingenuous Bostonian, finds a handbag on the subway and resolves to return it to its owner – her roommate, Erica, notably reminding her in Manhattan they usually call the bomb squad for an unattended bag. Nevertheless, the well-intentioned Frances follows the address found on an ID card to a quaint, scenic house and meets Greta, who is seemingly sophisticated and French, mother-like, charming, and isolated. They bond over their individual loneliness as a friendship is built upon the understanding of loss.

However, about twenty minutes into the film, the movie drops all its horror elements with an inelegant slap of screechy violin music and Chloë Grace Moretz gasping as if she were in a B-movie. Surprise is lost to the speed in which the film rushes into the thick of the story, barreling through its hour and a half runtime with poor pacing.

Underneath its artful glaze of cinematic appeal, Greta is brimming with the clichés of frantic music and jumpy cuts. It’s applied heavy-handed at times, less like a varnish of ingenuity and more like space to fill the shallowness of the characters, the plot.

Isabelle Huppert carries most of the film, almost all of Greta’s horror imbued into one sinister person, and it’s impressive that outside of soundtracks and camera angles, she is the sole source of terror. Greta is largely devoid of any fantasy elements, any secondary antagonists, any other fear that is not Greta herself – near comically deranged and frighteningly pervasive in Frances’ life. The suspense is from her honed act of psychopathy, the delivery of her lines. The tension is from the deliberateness of her obsession.

There are moments not quite explained, disposable characters tossed aside, overly theatrical scenes executed wildly, and the film suffers from the lack of subtlety or wit and a directorial grasp outside of just its visuals. While not bad enough to be entirely campy and not good enough to be spectacular in its genre, Greta is still strangely palatable.

Despite all of its flaws, the style in which Greta combines delicate cinematography with a hammer of horror elements banged into anywhere that fits is, surprisingly, enjoyable and interesting. Without reading too much into the plot or picking at the seams where the film unravels, Greta can still be satisfying in an uncomplicated, indulgent, slightly satirical way. Like a McDonalds milkshake – not necessarily good but whatever.