REVIEW: Oppenheimer (35mm)

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has received nothing but praise since its opening eight months ago. It boasted 13 wins at the Academy Awards and alongside Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, revitalized the cinema business with the “Barbenheimer” following last summer. The film is still making its round of appearances in theaters across America in its digital and 35mm film form. The Michigan Theater is hosting a unique opportunity to view the film in its intended 35mm film—I jumped at the opportunity to do so, as yes, I was also one of the “Barbenheimer” people back in July, and had to see it again.

35mm film is a type of film that has been used in photography and film for decades. It consists of a strip of celluloid with light-sensitive emulsion coated on one side, getting its name from actually being 35mm wide. This format became popular due to its versatility, offering high image quality and ease of handling in both still photography and motion pictures.

If you’ve somehow survived the relentless “Barbenheimer” memes of the summer and don’t know what Oppenheimer is about, I will save you some of the Wiki read now: The movie focuses on the life of (you’ll never guess) J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the Manhattan Project during World War II. It explores Oppenheimer’s complex personality, his role in developing the atomic bomb, and the moral dilemmas he faced with the consequences to humanity (accompanied by snippets from his journey to genius as well). Oppenheimer forces you to face the personal and historical consequences of scientific innovation and its impact on humanity itself.

The experience of watching Oppenheimer in 35mm was a little different than the digital medium usually used for movies. The movie became more beautiful from the subtleties the 35mm brought out. I noticed background action and unique set pieces were brought out from the clarity of the film. I also enjoyed the on-screen film crackle along with the deep saturated blues and bright yellows.

I adore biopics. They let you into a (highly dramatized) sliver of one significant person’s reality, often emphasizing their impact on humanity. In a way, it feels like you made a new friend, as you are allowed to watch a creative recap (…with one director’s perspective) of someone’s existence. Lives are so many things, and Oppenheimer presented the many corners of J. R. Oppenheimer’s life. The movie gives insight into some of his more personal struggles, surrounding his marriage with Kitty Puening and their two children and an affair with Communist USA Party member, Jean Tatlock. Although, Cillian Murphy (J. R. Oppenheimer) is careful about letting you in too close. He plays a closed and often mysterious man, who is difficult to read clearly. This made for an even deeper second part of the movie while Oppenheimer’s show trial with the US Atomic Energy Chairman, Lewis Strauss, was at it’s peak.

I enjoyed returning to the exquisite detail and existentialism this film so graciously offers. Christopher Nolan remains a master of weaving brilliantly complex stories into one fully fleshed-out portrait, and I find there is always something new and haunting to find inside his films.

 

Oppenheimer in 35mm film is at the Michigan Theater until April 2nd.

 

Rated R, 180 minutes.

Photo thanks to Physics World.

REVIEW: Perfect Days

I walked into the screening of Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days expecting an idyllic film, something easy to pass my evening time. I hadn’t expected to leave the theater, with the girl sitting next to me sobbing profusely, unable to stand.

The movie follows the daily routines of Hirayama (Kôji Yakusho), a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. He wakes before light, tends to his plants, drinks his morning coffee from the vending machine, and drives off to begin work at his first public bathroom. We listen to his cassette tapes, featuring the likes of The Velvet Underground, The Animals, Sachiko Kanenobu, Nina Simone, and of course, Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. He eats his sandwich on his lunch break, staring up at the sunlight peeking through the canopy, and snaps a shot on his film camera. Before bed, he reads his current book he picks up from the same bookstore he visits from the time before. I was enthralled by the pure simplicity of these scenes. A gentle, yet profound storytelling, executed beautifully by Yakusho.

I was there with him, feeling the anxieties, shyness, frustrations as he moved about his day. There is drama, but it never feels excessive. I had talked about the movie with friends afterwards, and the main thing I felt, I think, was hope. A hope for some sense of contentment in the solitude of Hirayama’s life, a peace in the bustling city of Tokyo, an earnest appreciation for nature. All the quiet moments and details we may have missed, constructed this hope within me. Hirayama barely spoke throughout, and yet he touched my heart so dearly.

The ending scene, which I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t watched it yet, had devastated me. It was a hollowness that I wasn’t expecting to feel when I read the synopsis (and I’m sure the person sitting next to me didn’t expect it either). What I had initially felt as somehow romantic is actually so deeply rooted in our reality. The movie is so human, in its simplicity, beauty, and loneliness. The same joy derived from routine, the little moments, and even from old habits, can be the same ones that break us down. And yet, we keep moving forward.

I’ll definitely be going back in to watch this movie again. I can’t help that it became one of my favorite films of the last year, even if it sends me into a mild existential crisis.

 

124 minutes. Rated PG for drinking, smoking, partial nudity. Original language in Japanese, with subtitles. In theaters now.

Image thanks to The Los Angeles Times.

REVIEW: Poor Things

Welcome to the fantastical world of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things. The 2023 film is based on the 1992 book by Scotsman Alasdair Gray, a riff of the well-known Frankenstein  with some rather venereal counterplots. With an abundance of Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Academy nominations, Poor Things has thoroughly charmed modern cinemas.

Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) is the culmination of a creepy science experiment by a uniquely kind mad scientist, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), giving a woman driven to suicide a second chance—with the brain of her unborn infant. Bella matures quickly, first discovering her balance, gravity, and empathy, and eventually philosophy, sex, and personal fulfillment. Her developmental journey is natural, but odd perceived from a fully developed women’s body. Godwin maintains a careful grip over Bella’s freedom, supervising her alongside his collegiate assistant, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef).

Bella ultimately winds up following the conniving lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo) across Europe on an expensive bender, fueling Wedderburn’s desire for passive companionship and Baxter’s ache for adventure. The two create quite the disruptive pair, while Bella meets a selection of romantic partners and friends, and sees true inequality for the first time.

The narrative consistently intrigues with its quasi-realism, engrossing the reader completely in a sci-fi-coated London. Each character is extremely animated, like that of a children’s book. Stone effortlessly captivates Bella’s inner yearning for adventure and search for truth. She is curious and unafraid—a portrait of young women without society’s ruminating judgment. Bella has a fearless curiosity and confronts the world as such. It left me in a state of reflection watching a young woman discover life with (mostly) her own free will without the knowledge or care of society’s judgment placed upon her.

(Ramy Youssef (left) and Willem Dafoe)

The design presents a nod to the Victorian elements of Frankenstein while exploring fantastical sci-fi embellishments that separate our reality from that of Poor Things.  It brought home Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Design, and Best Make-Up and Hair, (as well as Stone for Best Actress)—an unsurprising selection of accolades, in my opinion. The Academy clearly agrees that Frankenstein never went out of style.

 

141 minutes. Rated R for nudity, lots of sex, and disembowelment. In theaters now.

Image thanks to The New York Times and Fast Company.

REVIEW: The Zone of Interest

[TW: This review contains information and descriptions of film content surrounding the Holocaust.]

Inspired by the 2014 book with the same title, The Zone of Interest  takes us into the political landscape of 1943 Poland. The film follows the journey of Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his family of six living a seemingly ordinary life inside the walls of the most horrific area on the planet. Framing the film through Höss’ character is an adaptive choice by director Jonathan Glazer and is based on a real person: a high-ranking S.S. Commandant whose contributions to the Nazi regime propelled significant advancements at the concentration camp Auschwitz I. He was the longest-serving commander at Auschwitz, and the film primarily revolves around his family’s life in a villa within the camp.

The movie first depicts the Höss family living a blissful life filled with trips to the nearby lake, picnics in the sun, and small gatherings in their beguiling backyard. His wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and five children reside in their idyllic house only a 10-foot, barbed wire-lined wall away from unimaginable horrors. Their pristine home is lined with a blossoming garden and filled with a herd of anxious servants attending to their every need. While the family lives in comfort, sounds of screams, trains, and gunshots are consistently murmuring in the background. Hedwig remains dismissive of the disruptions, choosing to ignore the truth behind her privilege, but her guests often question the blazing fires surrounding the sky at night and the smoky cough-prone air. The title, “Zone of Interest”, comes from the German word “Interessengebiet”, which was a term used to depict the restricted zone around Auschwitz. (Much like the family’s eerily cultivated lifestyle.)

The shots in the film are very matter-of-fact. We see moments in their life as they happen naturally, without a direct opinion from Glazer. The audience is fitted as bystanders, set up to observe the observers. We were left to parse through the morally uncomfortable life of the family individually, making the content even more unsettling. Glazer gracefully dances around the known violence that is occurring within the camp, but there is an implication that the audience is aware of the nightmares beyond, limiting the voices of the victims to sounds from outside and alarming innuendos. This choice haunts us and leaves us waiting for the terror that the audience never directly faces. Almost like the remaining five members of the Höss family.

The film briefly features music from the University of Michigan’s own Dr. Patricia Hall’s research, who founded the project “Music From Auschwitz”. Dr. Hall brings to life lost music written and performed by Auschwitz prisoners. The music is accompanied by a deeply painful context, but a firm reminder of history and a memorial to millions of lost lives. Her group has toured Holocaust memorial centers throughout Michigan and New York, and this summer will be traveling to Vienna to perform a concert of her manuscripts.

The film stands as a reminder of the horrors behind violent perpetrators and ignorant familial bystanders, along with all the art-deco bells and whistles. Zone of Interest  is playing in theaters now in Ann Arbor.

 

More on Music from Auschwitz.

105 minutes. Rated PG-13. German and Polish with English Subtitles. 

Image thanks to Cut & Run.

REVIEW: Carmen: The Met Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera hosts viewings of select operas in movie theaters across the country, under their series “Met Live in HD”. These performances on screen are marketed at an affordable price, to increase accessibility efforts in opera. The 2024 year premieres with Bizet’s Carmen, an iconic staple of Opera literature. 

Young Russian Soprano, Aigul Akhmetshina, takes the stage as the youngest ‘Carmen’ to perform at The Met. Her demanding presence is alluring, along with her spunk and sense of unpredictability. She was a force to watch on stage, equally expressive and keen to the role. She sings alongside Met Opera greats: Piotr Beczała, Angel Blue, and Kyle Ketelsen. This quartet was truly remarkable, each buzzing with personality and vocal virtuosity. Akhmetshina is contracted to sing ‘Carmen’ at opera houses and festivals around the globe until at least August 2024.

The story of Carmen’s success is quite a tragic one for the composer, Georges Bizet. Bizet struggled to get his work on stage, though a fresh winner of the Prix de Rome. 1875 Paris was not fond of his depictions of proletarian life, lawlessness, and a tragic ending with an aggressive on-stage death. However, the historically controversial themes have been embraced by modern viewers and the score has trickled into aspects of pop culture, making songs like “Habanera” one of the most well-known arias to date.

The Met revels in creating the most aesthetically unique productions of Carmen year after year. Director Carrie Cracknell makes her Met debut taking a stab at a modern adaptation of ‘Carmen’s’ adventures and escapades. This production is set in the 21st Century, with references to gun violence, systemic labor abuse, and female empowerment. Her directing choices were clear and concise, revitalizing a story seeping with stereotypes and sexism. 

I would recommend seeing a Met HD Opera in theaters. It is an intimate way to experience some of the most distinguished operas in the United States. 

 

 

235 minutes. Not Rated. Includes gendered violence, cigarettes, and sexual themes. Sung in French with English subtitles.

Synopsis and more on Carmen HERE.

Met Live in HD showings HERE.

 

Image thanks to New York Theater Guide.

REVIEW: All of Us Strangers

On Wednesday I had the chance to see All of Us Strangers at the State Theater. The movie runs 1 hour 45 minutes and is set in present day London, where Adam (Andrew Scott) and Harry (Paul Mescal) are the only two tenants in a high rise apartment. Right away you can feel how isolated each character is from the outside world. After the fire alarm is pulled, Harry and Adam are introduced to each other and strike up a friendship which quickly turns romantic. All while this is happening, Adam intermittently takes trips to his childhood home where he convenes with his his parents who both passed away in a car accident 20 years earlier.

While I thought the movie was initially a little slow to start, once it picked up I was totally enthralled in the intensity of the story. I found myself appreciating the movies pared down opening more and more as the story went on, because it established the intense loneliness that each character experiences. The mystery of how Adam is able to communicate with his parents is left open ended, but it’s also something I didn’t have any trouble believing. The open-endedness gives the visits the feeling they could be taken away at any moment, and for that reason it makes them all the more precious. A lot of the movie focuses on Adam’s relationship with his parents, and the situation is set up in a way that allows him to ask his parents the questions that have been haunting him since their death. I thought this was really interesting, especially because he’s older now than his parents were when they died. Even as an adult, his character wants the chance to go back and revisit things he experienced in childhood. It made me think about how the things that happen to you as a kid stay with you, and even after moving on from the death of his parents as best he could, apart of him is stuck wondering what that time with them would have been like. I also thought it was an interesting way of describing loss. Adam never had any big outburst, and generally is pretty subdued, but instead used the visits with his parents as an opportunity to do the things with them that he misses the most.

Overall I thought the movie was very thoughtful and unique, and approached loss in a way I haven’t really seen before. It’s definitely stuck with me over the past week, and I keep catching myself thinking about it since I saw it a couple days ago.

The run time 1 hr 45 mins

Rated R

Picture from michigantheater.org