Life in a time of Coronavirus: Will life ever return to normal at UNT?

*The following is a written assignment for a college course*

Another day, another session of physical seclusion. It has been almost exactly 3 months since I last stepped it within the hallowed halls of UNT; 3 months of not having a quiet study session in Willis be completely squashed by the sounds of drills and metal clanging. It takes a lot to make this introvert to miss and long for the days of crowded classrooms and looking for an empty chair in the cafeteria, but here we are.

I know that I sound like a broken record when I say the transition to online classes had its bumps and may have been less than ideal. One look at the (unofficial) UNT subreddit easily paints the anxiety ridden portrait that can sum up that time in our lives. Grades suffered, emotions and tensions rose, leading to a pretty tumultuous spring semester.

Though I was able to adjust to those changes pretty well, I would have easily preferred the in class sessions over the makeshift online environments any day. No disrespect towards any of my professors: I understand how overwhelming juggling the ire of students while transposing the curriculum to a different format. In short, not a great time.

My worries over the preceding semesters are admittedly selfish. Taking 1 online class is enough, but to have an entire semester’s (and possibly years’) worth of school work dependent on a computer is a bit deflating. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, appeals of university life is physically being there, an environment that will define a very prime moment of our lives. There is only so much a computer environment can do to try and emulate what was before, but I feel it will never live up to actually being there (this, coming from someone who loathes (loathed?) crowds).

I trust the UNT faculty to make measured and informed decisions regarding the potential livelihoods of its students, so I just wonder about the extents of this pandemic. If the President  had it his way, the economy would have been fully up and running by Easter Sunday. For me, I can only go with the flow, adjust to every restriction/freedom that will be brought about from the pandemic. I am set to have a full time schedule this Fall, so in class sessions will be quite the experience (if they happen).

To those intending a year off, proceed with caution. The romantic in me encourages you to go where the wind blows and explore new things in that landless latitude you may go. The realist sees clouds in the horizon, and since these waters can make for huge, inescapable waves. Whatever you do, I can only say, “Godspeed”.

Featured image provided by the UNT website.

COVID-19: The New Normal in My Life

Note: this is a written assignment for a college course. Featured image provided by Getty Images, photo by Andrea Verdelli

For better or worse, one word can properly encapsulate the insanity of 2020: change. From a global front, the daily rhythm of our everyday lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, colloquially known as the coronavirus. The term “social distancing” has become a lifestyle trait for all of us, wearing protective masks is no longer seen as odd or a sign of paranoia, and perhaps more significantly, curbside pickup has become the new norm for our dietary needs.

Before the pandemic really took full force, I was what you could call a reluctant errand runner. I liked staying at home as much as possible, though I recognized the benefits of going to a gym or going to a library can bring. Going to the movies on a regular basis was also a pastime of mine (my wallet would agree). The moviegoing experience has always been the one part of my weekly routine that my introverted, homebody self would gladly make an exception for. I also enjoyed frequenting the mellow, laid back calm that coffee shops offer, a place where I would get most of my schoolwork done.

The last near three months have been quite the monkey wrench. I would never consider myself to be a gym guru, but the gym environment was always a welcome one, always reinvigorating my often-tired self without fail. Now that my gym has closed indefinitely, I have made home workouts a fill in for the weight room, and my neighborhood jogging trail taking the place of a treadmill. It’s not optimal, but it’s better than nothing, and jogging outside gives me the sunlight and fresh air I didn’t know I deprived myself of.

With the closing of movie theaters and lack of new releases, I have finally gone and cleared my Netflix queue up. Though I miss the theater environment, quarantining has offered me the chance to watch the films that I missed and have been meaning to watch for quite a while. On top of that, reading has become a regular part of my day, having read more books during this time than the entirety of my high school and college experiences. I am currently reading the Song of Ice and Fire series because I want to see how Game of Thrones really ends. So far, so, so good.

The main takeaway I’ve gotten from quarantine is the importance of “alone time”. Our lives are consistently filled with noise and inconsequential pleasures that masquerade as essential. This time of my life has brought out the brutally honest existentialist in me, confronting me with the important self-evaluations that I noisily avoided in favor of hapless pursuits. Now those distractions have either outstayed their welcome or are physically closed, often leaving me to my own devices to self-improve. Silence can be intimidating, terrifying even, but it’s an essential element to be comfortable with one’s self, warts and all.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Quarantine Logs)

I can’t tell you the last time I had a reading session that long and intense. Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things has been adapted by the incomparable Charlie Kaufman, set to release on Netflix within the first quarter of 2020, or so they say. To synopsize the book, I will say that the novel is about a couple on their way to have dinner with the boyfriend’s daughter. It’s a big step in the relationship, which makes the girlfriend narrator all the more apprehensive on account of her wanting to, well, end things with the boyfriend. It’s weird to write an opinion about a written work, for me at least. Using the very medium to critique a work of said medium is a bit meta, but here we go.

I love this book. The narrative voice of Reid is instantly accessible and engaging, especially with the content of the narration. It’s dark, unsettling, hopelessly existential but always bound within real world constraints. There are no monsters around the corner, or access to a holy book with a verse that’ll wash away the danger. Most of the danger we experience is the ones we internally encounter, hardly the ones that are imminently physical. Reid, and his characters, know this to an unsettling degree.

I am super eager to see how Kaufman adapts this story. The themes of the book mirror those that define his entire filmography. This will be his third directorial effort after the stellar Synecdoche, New York and tragically romantic Anomalisa. This will also be his first adaptation (not to be confused with the film he wrote Adaptation), which will be an intriguing reversal given Kaufman’s much discussed turbulent history with directors doing a less than faithful translation of his script to screen.

In any event, this is a mesmerizing and unsettling literary work. It’s more than worth the sleep you’re bound to lose.

Buy the book here!

Army of Darkness (Quarantine Logs)

People my age often think of the original Spider-Man trilogy when thinking of Sam Raimi. Rightfully so, those films paved the way for what a modern day comic book film could be when it’s directed with heart. The campiness throughout those films have become a welcome change of pace compared to many of the made-by-committee products we now get. Visiting Raimi’s horror roots has been a treat. A few weeks back, I watched Evil Dead 2 and loved the hyper kinetic, gore filled madhouse that made up the picture. Bruce Campbell is a bonafide movie star. In an alternate world, he’d be Nathan Drake for an Uncharted film.

Army of Darkness takes place right after the events of its predecessor, with Ash Williams finding himself transported to the Middle Ages, chainsaw in (or as) hand. Finding himself in the middle of war between King Arthur and Duke Henry, Ash prepares both parties for a battle against the undead. It’s outrageous to just summarize it, it’s a helluva good time to watch it. Raimi’s direction is as lively and energetic as ever, embracing the weird concoction of horror, comedy and romance he’s cooked up. Campbell is reliably charismatic, though the supporting cast is mostly regulated to Medieval stereotypes, complete with old English and prophecy quoting. The film works best from a technical perspective, including outstanding animatronic work and the aforementioned direction. For all its pomp and circumstance though, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of substance or vitality. Perhaps that was intentional, and Raimi wanted to make a fun, well crafted thrill ride. He succeeds handsomely in that respect, there’s just not much under the surface.

Bioshock 2 (Quarantine Logs)

Whether it’s watching a blu ray I’d never seen, clearing up the good ol’ Netflix list, a video game that I barely gave the time of day, or a BOOK that I’d been long putting off, now is the time to clear my stupidly big backlog of impulse buys and costly hobbies. 

 

*preliminary shower of praise for Bioshock*

Yes, I loved the original Bioshock. It’s a hot take as scorching as a winter’s day, but there. The single player campaign is a masterclass of storytelling that can really only be told through the video game medium. Where the vast majority of games attempt to emulate the cinematic flare fit for the big screen, Ken Levine’s 2007 opus tells a tale that strikes at the very core of video games, turning a medium into a genuine art form. Its themes of utopia, capitalism and free will were fresh then as they were when I finally completed it less than two years ago.

Bioshock 2, once again taking place in the iconic semi-sandbox of Rapture, tells a story of another silent protagonist going through another meditation of free will and morality, once again being aided by allies and intimidated by an antagonist who both rarely physically interact with the player.

Yes, I biggest criticism of the game is how overtly similar it is compared to its predecessor. I mean, Rapture is once again a beautifully realized hellscape of a setting that is as eerie and atmospheric as ever. The thing is, the original essentially did all the heavy lifting. Gamers in 2007 were floored by the world, consistently being touted as one of the great video game settings. While this sequel does retain the charm of it to a tee, it does little to go distinguish itself from the first game. Maybe that’s the point. Without Ken Levine as director, who laid the groundwork for Rapture’s ripeness with idealistic wonder and social commentary, the safest route for 2K Games to go would be the “Bioshock, but more” one.

For the most part, it succeeds: the gameplay is a notable upgrade from the original. Playing as a Big Daddy does offer more variety in combat, and the hacking mechanics is thankfully overhauled to something simpler, less time consuming and rewarding yet equally consequential. I’m not kidding, the hacking mini game in the original was the absolute bane of my existence, so having the sequel overhaul that aspect of the game lent me the most relieved of sighs.

While gameplay is an improvement, the story, particularly the pacing, is a bit of a slog. Nearly every level’s conflict is resolved by some override or key card, which is fine the first time, but gets quickly repetitive and tedious as the narrative progresses.

Overall, just some quick thoughts on Bioshock 2. It’s more of the same that challenged the conventions of video game storytelling, though it is a bit more conventional and plodding for the first 2 acts. The final stretch is a genuine blast that nearly reaches the heights of its predecessor. Alas, its shadow is too big.

The Art of Watching Movies at Home

“‘In my view, the only way to see a film remains the way the filmmaker intended: inside a large movie theater with great sound and pristine picture.

-Ridley Scott

For many a cinephile, as well as people wanting to kill time on a Friday night, the sudden closings of movie theaters across the world as a result of the rapid spread of the coronavirus has made more than its fair share of changes. Many regard the cinema in the same vein of church or any other holy place, and rightfully so: I can’t even begin to recount the countless memories and times of elation and wonder the movie theater has been responsible for. No matter what the film is, even the worse of the worse, the moment the lights turned off and the opening logos come up, I always think “what if it’s good?”. That sense of mystery and wonder is put on hold and we can only respond in adjustment. Like the filmmaking process itself, moviegoers need to adjust and adapt to the situation at hand. This is the world for the interim, let’s make the most of it.

 

  1. Clean that queue up

Regardless of the streaming services you have, it’s inevitable that your queue (or list for Netflix, or “stuff” for Hulu) has been gathering digital dust. Likewise, champions of physical media are bound to have more than a few blu-ray’s that have been yet to be viewed. This time of self-quarantining can be handsomely used by watching those films that have long alluded you. They’re on the list for a reason, you bought the blu ray with the intention to watch it sooner or later. Sure, binging The Office for the third time is not the worse idea, but I know I’d rather watch something new than taking the endurance test of the last two seasons.

 

  1. Put that cell phone down. NOW!

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One of, if not the biggest don’ts of going to the cinema is being on your phone. You pay a typically pricey ticket for a film, and add concessions to the mix, why go on your phone to spoil your experience as well as the others around you?

For the trigger happy folk who can’t bear not checking social media for a prolonged amount of time, this current situation might be somewhat of a god send. I just hope I never see you. However for those who’ve been practicing the doctrine of moviegoing, this temptation has been nothing but a pestilential compromise of our daily cinematic sermon.

*gets off high horse*

Checking your phone for any reason, whether it’s a text or a casual browse across the social media’s, might seem inconsequential but adds up the more frequent you do it. You’re constantly disassociating yourself from the movie, eliminating any and all momentum it was building for you, the viewer. You’ve got the remote, pause the film whenever you want to relieve yourself of any distractions and you can get back to it. There’s a story to be told, let the filmmakers tell it.

 

  1. Make yourself comfortable, but not too comfortable

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Chances are you mainly watch movies on the couch. Nothing wrong with that, hopefully the couch is pretty comfy. A big plus of most major theater chains is the chairs. Whether they recline, warm up, or do both with the most comfortable kind of fabric, watching films is not meant to be a grueling test of the fates as it concerns your sitting down. Throw in a blanket, put your feet up with the textbooks you never use and get in a comfortable position to enjoy the film at hand. Beware: adding pillows or even a blanket with one too many thread counts can likely lead you to doze off and wake up to the part where Bruce Willis realizes he’s been dead the whole time

 

  1. Commentaries and Special Features

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To my knowledge, Disney+ is the only major streaming platform that offers any substantial special features to their films, a pity considering just how many great films are now primarily seen through streaming. Your blu-ray collection doesn’t need to be big enough to support a video rental store, but the movies you have at home almost definitely have some supplementals that go in depth to its making. Filmmaking is, of course, a time consuming, patience testing and sanity trying endeavor, and whether it be concept art or the director’s commentary, special features can help the viewer gain appreciation for even the worse of films. It takes a village, and to see the making of your favorite films can prove to be as enriching and gratifying as the films themselves. Give it a shot, it’s not like you’ll hate The Lion King remake even more. Well, come to think of it…

My Favorite Films of 2019

I know I’ve said this for all of my yearly lists, but this year has been an incredibly great year for films. Looking back, I’m a bit disappointed of what we got in 2018. Though there were a lot of great and really enjoyable films, there wasn’t much in the way of truly remarkable films. 2019, however, has no shortage of excellence in the realm of motion pictures. I love and adore every one of these films for vastly different reasons from one another, which goes to show how much variety this year had in store. This list is purely my opinion, faintest apologies if your #1 isn’t even mentioned here (not really sorry). Also, I haven’t seen all of the movies I wanted to before making this list, but I’d never publish this if I waited to watch x movie. For transparency sake, I have yet to see The Lighthouse, Marriage Story, Waves, The Farewell or Portrait of a Woman on Fire. (actual apology to A24, they’re doing the lord’s work)

*those films are the ones I can currently think of, but if you’re wondering about my opinion on a given film, leave a comment or follow me at Letterboxd @elkevino (shameless plug, I know)

Honorable mentions go to Joker, Ready or Not, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame, Fighting with My Family, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and Ford v. Ferrari

 

12. Uncut Gems

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“Jews and colon cancer. What’s up with that? I thought we were the chosen people.”

How is it that we’re ending the decade with Adam Sandler actually becoming a possible frontrunner for an Oscar? Through the good graces of the Safdie Brothers, here we are. Sandler is at an all time high here, playing a gambler who is at a perpetual fight of keeping his head above water. His natural charm and charisma makes the character of Howard much more likable and endearing than what was probably intended, which actually acts as a major plus here. The words “chaotic”, “loud”, “messy”, “Weeknd” come to mind, and with the Safdie Brothers at the helm, the chaos is sometimes orchestral in its execution. This is a seedy world of violence, money, betrayal with constant brushes with death: to play it straight would do it a disservice.

(also the score is AMAZING and Kevin Garnett is actually pretty great)

 

11. Ad Astra

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“The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. I am alone. But I confess it’s wearing on me. I am alone. I am alone.”

I wouldn’t consider putting this film on a “best of” list to be controversial, but I feel like I should explain myself, especially how the marketing absolutely butchered this film in an effort to make it more marketable and “appealing” mass audience that may or may not be drunk off the notion that sci-fi should only be loud, bombastic spectacle. Ad Astra is first and foremost a character study, a drama that uses the quiet, lonely vacuum of space as its backdrop. It’s gorgeously helmed by James Gray, who perfectly captures the cold loneliness of the protagonist that compliments its setting. It’s a quiet voyage of self discovery, regret and coming to terms with the sins of the father. Complete with one of Brad Pitt’s best performances ever, Ad Astra is a visual masterclass that has a coldly regretful narrative at its core.

 

10. 1917

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“They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow mornings attack, if you fail, it will be a massacre.”

In recent years, the war genre has caught a sort of second wind. From the struggles of faith found in Hacksaw Ridge to the adrenaline fueled terror of Dunkirk1917 focuses on the quiet yet turbulent horror of war. Taking place in WWI, two British soldiers are tasked to deliver a message that will prevent the British from walking into a trap. It’s presented to look like a single, continuous take (a la Birdman) which is an insanely impressive technical feat on its own. Sam Mendes once again shows his directing chops by delivering a story that constantly moves from location to location, calamity to calamity. Every obstacle, every hurdle has absolute consequence, whether it be big or small. Expertly lit by the legendary Roger Deakins, 1917 is an intimate, suspenseful and harrowing look at the immediacy of war.

 

9. Rocketman

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“My name is Elton Hercules John. And I’m an alcoholic. And a cocaine addict. And a sex addict. And a bulimic. Also a shopaholic and has problems with weed, prescription drugs and anger management.”

First off, the soundtrack SLAPS. Taron Edgerton has no right to be this good of a singer, let alone for Elton John songs, Secondly, Rocketman is an absolute joy of a film. Less of a traditional biopic and more of a drug fueled memory, Elton John is detailing his life upon entering rehab: the beginnings of a promising career that turn into super stardom with every kind of addiction known to man following suite. The musical sequences are expertly captured by Dexter Fletcher (who actually helped complete Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer got booted off the production) , who rightly directs this musical with energy and momentum that is becoming of a story about Elton John. Taron Edgerton has never been better and it pains me that he’ll probably get snubbed in this year’s Oscars. With a superb supporting cast and an affinity for the decadent, Rocketman is a textbook example on how biopics and musicals, though thought to be tired and tried out, can still amaze.

 

8. Midsommar

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“I think I ate one of her pubic hairs.”

Though it may not be for the faint of heart, Ari Aster’s Midsommar (which is actually based on my first year at youth camp) is an affective, immersive and unsettling look at the human condition, particularly grief and toxic relationships. A common criticism that I’ve seen about the film is the lack of focus on Dani’s family given their presence is the cause of her grief (tip toeing around spoilers), compared to Hereditary examining the before, after and falling out of a tragedy that is deeply rooted within the family. While I will agree with the assessment that Dani’s family is given less screen time than Charlie from Hereditary, I have always seen Midsommar as how one chooses to grieve after a tragedy, how one carries themselves after a life changing event, how to find solace and peace in a life that has mostly been bleak and soulless. The film is ultimately one of self-love, a perverse and extremely f*cked up fairy tale of how to move on from inescapable tragedy.

 

7. Jojo Rabbit

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“Jojo Betzler: Nothing makes sense anymore.

Yorki: Yeah, I know, definitely not a good time to be a Nazi.”

This film as a whole exemplifies how incredible the cinematic artform can be: an insane premise that could have gone disastrously wrong and offended every corner of civilization turns out to be a hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking satire. Taika Waititi’s shines through every frame, presenting a coming of age tale of a Hitler youth whose imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself. In its execution, what could have been a colossal misfire is one of the most interesting, emotional films I’ve seen this year. With stellar performances by Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson and newcomer Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit is a stunning piece of vital satire.

 

6. Booksmart

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“Amy: Time for us to do what we do best.

Molly: What’s that?

Amy: Motherf*cking homework.”

Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut is certainly a tread on familiar territory: two best friends who want to party it up the night before graduation. The difference here is the characters, one of the best ensemble casts of the entire year. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein have a chemistry that instantly won me over. These are best friends who want nothing but the absolute best for each other, and their support for one another is contagious. The sense of humor is raunchy but never feels too gratuitous or overboard, even with some scenes that can only be described as “out there”. The pacing is appropriately relentless given the film’s span of time and the insanity these characters go through. Hilarious, endearing and “on”, Booksmart is a brilliant addition to the resurgence of great high school films.

 

5. Knives Out

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“It’s a weird case from the start. A case with a hole in the center. A donut.”

I’m gonna do my best in not mentioning The Last Jedi or Star Wars here, but it’s safe to say Rian Johnson has pulled off the heist of the century. Knives Out is what of the most ingenious and clever films of the year, held by its tricky screenplay directed with the wit that matches the written word. The star studded cast is used to perfection, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas being the obvious standouts. Also, it’s always a treat to see Christopher Plummer given such rich material. The trailer promised a whodunnit like no one’s “dunnit” and, well, yeah *shrugs*. Knives Out is an original property that is brimming with charm and intrigue, and a healthy obsession with donut holes.

 

4. Little Women

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“Well. I’m not a poet, I’m just a woman. And as a woman I have no way to make money, not enough to earn a living and support my family. Even if I had my own money, which I don’t, it would belong to my husband the minute we were married. If we had children they would belong to him not me. They would be his property. So don’t sit there and tell me that marriage isn’t an economic proposition, because it is. It may not be for you but it most certainly is for me.”

Greta Gerwig follows up her outstanding Lady Bird with another adaptation of the famous book by Louis May Alcott that could very well be the definitive version of this story. Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh (the year she’s had!) are on expectedly top form with, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Timothee Chamalet, and Laura Dern rounding out the brilliant ensemble. It’s Gerwig’s writing and directing that elevate the familiar material. The look inside this family going through the highest highs followed by turbulent woes is incredibly emotional. It might be the most emotionally resonant film I’ve seen this year, with themes of family, love, conviction, loneliness and regret encapsulating this film, sometimes all at once. (Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are taking over this decade JUST YOU WAIT).

 

3. The Irishman

Image result for the irishman cinematography“Sooner or later, everybody put here has a date when he’s going to go. That’s just the way it is.”

Ahhh yes, Cinema! Martin Scorsese yet again makes another mob film… with Robert de Niro… and Joe Pesci… and it’s over three hours long. Sounds familiar? Scorsese knows it does, and instead of making “just another mob movie”, he delivers a eulogy of sorts: to the genre, to his body of work as well as the actors’ work. A wonderful analogy I found about The Irishman is that is starts as being directed by Goodfellas Scorsese and ends with Silence Scorsese at the helm. Rightfully so: the film acts as a meditation on life and the cruelty hindsight and regret can provide. Traditional film structures crescendo to a deafening conclusion, whereas The Irishman fades into bleak, colorless silence, just like its protagonist. Robert de Niro and Al Pacino give the best performances they have all decade, showing the world they are still masters of their well worn craft. Joe Pesci is an absolute tour de force, portraying an uncharacteristically quiet and held back heart of this world. After 50+ years in the game, Martin Scorsese exemplifies why he is the greatest living American filmmaker, making a 3.5 hour film that never drags or loses interest, making a picture that is as vital as his other masterworks.

 

 

2. Parasite

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“If I had all this I would be kinder.”

One of the few times when a film is hyped to such an absurd degree, and it’s completely justified. Parasite is a masterful, wildly entertaining yet socially conscious film that I can’t stop thinking about. Bong Joon-ho once again has made something that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. The writing, directing, acting, music, editing come together to make a cinematic anomaly. Joon-ho’s juggling of different tones and even genres is incredible, managing to find the humor (and horror) in every situation the characters find themselves in. The cast is literally perfect, completely realizing the full and distinct potential each character has, both individually and as a collective. It’s a satire that has so much to say about class difference, symbolism, family values, what it actually means to attain a better life. Parasite is a confident, scathing, pitch-perfect and dark examination on a family’s desire to move on up.

 

  1. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell”

There’s something about a Tarantino film that’s just inherently special. It might be his reputation for all his many traits as a filmmaker, or maybe the fact that he now numbers each of his films as he approaches his tenth and (apparently) final picture; or perhaps because he’s become the epitome of a film lover’s filmmaker.

Whatever it may be, his ninth feature not only has all the hallmarks that has made him a household name, but is also an infectious love letter to Hollywood and cinema as an art form. Nearly every aspect of Hollywood is impeccable: it could be the incredible production design that saw the revival of 1969 Los Angeles, the iconic soundtrack complete with radio jingles, or the bat sh*t ending. However, what I found most refreshing about this film, more than any other film I’ve seen in 2019 is the importance of breathing. Far too many films are concerned with urgency and fear any time allotted to characters being themselves, reacting to their situation and the world around them. This film has people just hanging out, dealing with the changing times, wondering if their prime has long left them. I especially love the portrayal of Sharon Tate, who has almost never not been associated with her murder instead of just the quality of her work. Here, in a film about coming to grips with change, Margot Robbie portrays Sharon Tate as a figure of kindness, optimism, excitement and all around good heartedness. This is a person who’s fruitful and promising life was horrifically cut short, and here’s a film that asks “what if?”

The dialogue, the performances, the music, and the general vibe of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood feels special, like a gift from a filmmaker who lives and breathes celluloid, inviting us to one last stroll down memory lane to do the thing that is the essence of moviegoing: to forget reality for a bit.

 

Ode to Rainy Days

 

Summer in Plano is depressing, especially for an introvert. I remember watching Ben Affleck’s The Town and Rebecca Hall’s character talking about how sunny days remind her or her brother’s death, and it confused the hell out of 13-year-old me. To have someone’s grief juxtaposed with what’s generally considered to be a symbol of happiness ravaged my prepubescent mind. Then again, I was a teenager who knew nothing about the complexities of human emotion watching a “big boy” movie.

Fast forward nearly an entire decade and like a pretentious movie critic, I get it. While I’ve been lucky to not experience the grief Rebecca Hall went through, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had bad days. The term “waking up on the wrong side of the bed” hits so much when you’re “grown up”. Sleep at a weird angle and you wake up with a backache that will take over your week.

You might have a day job and decide to browse Reddit and YouTube for a little bit before bed, not realizing it’s 2:00 AM and that r/PublicFreakout is a literal black hole of productivity. Now you’re bummed out about the lack of sleep that you can get at the absolute most, and that worry does nothing to help you fall asleep. Wake up the next morning per your alarm, and the sun is up and shining, taunting you and your nightly habits. “Here Comes the Sun” is less of a feel-good song and more of a tribal chant of how emotionally and productively inept you really are. The sun is less of an indication of a new day but a reminder of yesterday’s mistakes. Everyone else is up and running and your controller isn’t even plugged in.

Alright, enough with the analogies.

There’s something aggravating checking your weather app and seeing the next week’s forecast being nothing but the sun symbol. It gives you a weird kind of cabin fever, but instead of Jack Nicholson losing his mind in the snowy Overlook Hotel, you’re questioning your sanity by just being in the sunny outside world.

It’s a challenge for introverts to go out on command, so rainy days are practically my Christmas. I feel like the universe shames me for not wanting to go out during the day in hopes of not profusely sweating by just turning on the car, and rainy days are like your big brother going “hey, kid, let’s watch some cartoons and make some waffles.” The weight of societal expectations washes away in place of a lovingly gloomy and moody aesthetic that does away with the bore of the sun. It adds variety a summer that knows only one mood, one trick, one damn weather app symbol.

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I wrote this in a coffee shop in broad daylight while listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack. My brain has never been more confused. 

 

My movie diet also doesn’t help how I feel about the sun being out. It’s a challenge to make broad daylight look cinematically interesting, because the art of cinematography is the use of light and shadow to create compelling frame of film. When you’re on set and the sun is beating on you, artistic lighting and variety can almost be thrown out the window. When it’s nighttime, however, and it’s pouring rain, the world is yours.

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The world of 1982’s Blade Runner and it’s even better sequel is a neon drenched fantasy, where the gloomy visuals echo the film’s existential themes. The introduction of Rick Deckard is a tracking shot that passes through several neon lit shops and restaurants, with the sound of rain acting as the white nose counter to Vangelis’ iconic score. Add this and the film’s legendary opening that introduces you to 2019 (per 1982) LA, you’re instantly immersed into a world that is as attractive as it is hopeless. Emotional beats hit harder and are done in a dream like haze, perfectly blurring the lines of movie magic and real, palpable emotion.

Film uses rain as a means of importance, to emphasize that the world you seen within the frame is fantastical, one that almost embraces the existential dread that the sun and clear skies are supposed to shield you from.

As a writer, it’s pretty disgraceful to admit that I have difficulty putting into words how much I long for some overcast. Nearly three months into the summer, there have been less rainy days than there are Blade Runner movies, and that’s just not okay. Waking up to some quiet raindrops, maybe a little thunder, can help you deal with the crap hand that you were dealt the night before. The gathering of clouds that dim the world around you is a visual moodsetter that breaks monotony and breaks convention. And as someone who sweats on the drop of a dime without max AC, downpour is a man’s best friend.

Also, Coldplay’s Parachutes album SLAPS with overcast.

The Melancholy of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Mild spoilers for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

 

My first Tarantino film was 2012’s Django Unchained. It was my cinematic Big Bang, where I realized that movies were a collaborative experience in the vein of help achieving one’s imaginative vision. It helped me realize that film was an art form to express one’s self through comedy, violence or tragedy. It blew me away, more so than any other film I’d seen up to that point. Fast forward to today and I can confidently say that Tarantino is my favorite filmmaker, mainly in part to how he’s become the artistic definition of the word “director”. There are very few, count-on-one-hand filmmakers that can attract an entire audience solely by being involved, and I see him as the marquee name to that distinction.

It’s been interesting following his career. Starting as the new kid, the hot shot with Reservoir Dogs, then turning the cinematic medium upside down with Pulp Fiction, a film whose popularity and cultural influence could have easily typecasted Tarantino into making films like it. We now know that one of his greatest directorial strengths is adding variety to his work. In the quarter century since Pulp Fiction came out, we’ve seen Tarantino go into the blaxpoitation, martial arts, samurai, war, western and who dunnit genres, all with outstanding results. His love of cinema permeates each and every time he puts a film out, which makes Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood so special.

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With a filmography as dense with cinematic allusions and tributes as his, it’s surreal to watch a Tarantino film that takes place in the city, the industry that he unabashedly loves; it’s like Michael Bay directing a fireworks shop owner, or JJ Abrams making a Thomas Edison biopic.

Tarantino’s latest is predictably a love letter, a beautiful reminiscence of a time before. Rick Dalton, once the talk of the town, sees the parade pass him by, not as the main attraction, but a lowly bystander. He is desperate search for the next big job, slowly coming to the conclusion that there may never be a “next job”, not like before. Leonardo DiCaprio is cast as said movie star, with Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth as his right hand (stunt)man.

What makes OUATIH unique from the rest of the director’s films is context, both narratively and within Tarantino’s career. He’s famously said that he’ll stop directing after his tenth picture, expressing his worry that going further may ruin the prestige of his work. If that’s to be believed, and we hold him to his work, we’re entering the theatre witnessing the true twilight of his career. No longer is he the hotshot who reignited John Travolta’s and Pam Grier’s career, or the center of the movie violence argument. In a time of sequels, reboots and remakes, the idea of the movie star or original IP is slowly becoming quieted out in favor of surer, easier investments. A new wave of cinema is starting to set in, and Tarantino knows this. He’s always been a champion of film, and rightly views it as an art, an event where one should prepare themselves to go to. He still shoots on film, hates the mere thought of CGI, and wouldn’t dare be a director for hire. He knows he’s old fashioned, and his latest film is a meditation on that feeling, even becoming a little insecure about it. The two main characters spend the vast majority of the picture looking back at the good ol’ days or try their best to replicate that success. It’s all done with sincerity and authenticity, as if Tarantino is writing Rick Dalton through his own eyes. Rick hates hippies, and maintains a well-mannered, clean shaven demeanor, even if he stands out from the rest of the city. He doesn’t follow the current trends because he knows no other way than what he knows. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and it’s used to infectious and tragic effect.

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Sharon Tate is prevalent to the story, being a beacon of light and optimism that the new wave of cinema would bring in the oncoming decade. Her place in the story has become the central place of criticism for the film, ranging from the apparent lack of any meaningful screen time or how inconsequential she is in relation to the Manson family subplot. The critique of ample screen time is understandable sure, but the intent with Tate’s character isn’t just “Tarantinoing” her up, but instead act as the New Wave ready to take over Hollywood. Her optimism, kindness, cheerfulness is a direct contrast to not only the central protagonists, but how many view her legacy. Tarantino doesn’t dwell on the violent reality that Sharon meets, an event that will forever change how we look at her career and body of work. Here she’s portrayed as a star on the rise, one who lives in the moment dreaming of a fruitful career. She’s essentially the least flawed character Tarantino has ever penned, a brilliant juxtaposition to a violently tragic reality.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s Roma. This has all the trappings of a film made by him, but has moments that are so drawn out and specific, that we’re able to see the director’s gleeful affinity for cinema but also be wrapped up in its melancholy. It’s an examination of one’s own body of work and questions its own relevance going forward. This isn’t an old man shouting to the sky in rejection of the future, but rather a bittersweet tribute to a time that was pure and innocent, a fairytale of what was and what should’ve been.

Reservoir Dogs – Tarantino’s Prelude

Quentin Tarantino is unabashedly my favorite filmmaker. Every one of his films have sparked strong reactions, both positive and negative, with his use of violence, strong language, use of music, and the occasional foot shot. Starting with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs to 2015’s The Hateful Eight, we see a man honing in his craft, resulting in some of cinema’s greatest delights, making every new Tarantino film an event.

It’s hard to think of a time before Quentin Tarantino was, well, Quentin Tarantino. Before Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, he made his directorial debut with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, detailing the events before and after a botched bank robbery, but never showing the robbery itself. Initially, Dogs was meant with polarizing reviews. Some critics praised its style and performances from its ensemble cast, whereas others were vitriolic towards its violence and harsh tone. If you feel a sense of déjà vu towards those sentiments for a Tarantino film, good. It’s almost impossible to detach Reservoir Dogs from the rest of the director’s illustrious filmography. We see a Tarantino who hasn’t quite found his footing as a filmmaker, showing traits that we’ll later on get familiar with, and other techniques that haven’t seen the light of day since. His films have an affinity for chapters, so it’s a foregone conclusion to view his first film as a prelude, an overture to the next 25 years of cinematic insanity.

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Let me tell you what “Like a Virgin” is about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The entire song. It’s a metaphor for big dicks.

 

Reservoir Dogs opens with the above line, said by Tarantino himself, as if he’s christening the film as his own. It makes it clear that this is his script, his vision you see on screen. This is a writer/director of the highest order, and Tarantino knew this from the very beginning. The sweeping shot of all the characters is another Tarantino staple. The camera is moves as people are simply talking in a diner about the most mundane and inconsequential of things. The subject of Madonna’s “purity” or the morality of tipping plays essentially zero consequence to the bigger picture, but adds personality and character to an enormous cast of unknown players. You don’t need a biography to get how a character ticks, and Tarantino knows this, so he lets the viewer meet these characters like a bystander would: through incessant dialogue. It’s a clever and effective way to get acquainted with these characters, and in a 90 minute film, timing is of the essence.

Throughout the film, scenes of action and violence are always superseded and bookended by, you guessed it, dialogue. Whether it be Harvey Keitel combing his hair in the warehouse or the iconic Mexican standoff, Tarantino gives the same amount of character information to the audience and the characters themselves. We know that Mr. Orange is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it’s meant to be a secret, so only we know. How Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde lines up with the rest of the crew is strictly known to the people involved in the flashback, with other characters made to draw their own conclusions. The climax and resolution of the film is ultimately tragic. Everyone dies, save for Mr. Pink, and Mr. White’s sense of trust is completely shattered by Orange’s confession, culminating in the most somber and quietest end of the director’s filmography. It’s a juggling act of information, with the viewer given all the pieces to complete the bigger picture.

Even the infancy of his career, Tarantino’s storytelling talent is put on full display, making a 99 minute heist film have almost nothing to do with the heist, and everything to do with characters, and how they grow to trust or distrust one another. It’s a mystery, a thriller, a whodunnit, but most importantly, it’s a film by Quentin Tarantino.