THE CLUB

Directed by Pablo Larraín

How do we attach our sympathies? Do we simply assert them onto those less fortunate than ourselves? How much do we need to understand about someone to deem them deserving of sympathy? Pablo Larraín has to be one of the gutsiest filmmakers working today, as The Club – his follow-up from the incredible and political film, No – proves with a quiet, but viciously acidic story of Catholic hypocrisies and sins. This is one of those films in which discussing the narrative would be a massive disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it. One of it’s major strengths is how it plays the audience – or at least it played me like a fiddle – by withholding and giving information at very select moments, which made me constantly see each of the characters in different lights, going from sympathising with them, to hating, back to sympathising… on and on. This is a powerful film which explores the darkness lurking inside.

A

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FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2014

We’ve hit the new year. Suffice to say, 2014 was a big year for film. I thought 2013 would be hard to beat, but nothing makes me happier than to know that incredible films are still being created and seen around the world to this day.

TOP TEN OF 2014 (in alphabetical order):

  • BIRDMAN
  • BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
  • BOYHOOD
  • HER
  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
  • INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
  • LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
  • SNOWPIERCER
  • THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA
  • WHIPLASH

IF TOP 15’s WERE A THING:

  • FORCE MAJEURE
  • THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
  • THE GREAT BEAUTY
  • NEBRASKA
  • NIGHTCRAWLER

What are the links between the films chosen in the Top 15, if there are any? We have a few coming-of-age films (Boyhood, Blue, Kaguya, Whiplash); stories about family (Boyhood, Like Father, Dragon, Force Majeure, Nebraska); ego (Birdman, Llewyn Davis, Force Majeure, Great Beauty, Nightcrawler); and love (all of them).

Here’s a syllogism to represent my findings:

They’ll use this in film schools one day.

THE DROP

Directed by Michael R. Roskam

Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in a film together is a recurring wet dream of mine, and in The Drop it finally came true. This is an actor’s film: the beauty of it lies in the physicality of the actors and how they could be thinking and acting contradictorily at almost every turn. The film doesn’t have quite the climax one would hope for, but watching these actors work is worth price of admission alone.

B+

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Directed by Matt Reeves

It’s a hugely ambitious concept, basing a majority of a film’s dialogue not only in a foreign language, but in that of a completely different species. Yet Matt Reeves pulls it off, with great visual storytelling and brilliant production design, The film looks great and owes probably more to Jurassic Park than the previous Planet of the Apes films. It doesn’t break new ground, but it was a very enjoyable time at the movies. Andy Serkis was amazing as usual.

B+

VCA BLOG POST #4: EDITING AS WRITING

It’s often stated that the editing stage is one – if not the most – of the pivotal stages of filmmaking. To me, it absolutely is. The edit is where the filmmaker can collect and organise their scattered thoughts into a cohesive and comprehensible whole. The edit is where the filmmaker decides on pace and rhythm, which often comes down to a gut feeling for each individual. A good cut between shots is incredibly satisfying: a bizarre but welcomed by-product of film school.

I generally try and edit the film in my head when I’m writing a screenplay (essentially becoming the storyboards), so I can roughly gauge how long the finished cut will be. I made the error in first year to not think too much about this and as a result, had a rough cut twice as long as I expected. This time around, I’ve managed to get the film to the sufficient length without compromising the overall pacing of the film: a feat which I am inherently thankful for.

There’s always a danger when you get to the edit suites that there’s a chance you realise that your film doesn’t quite cut the way you thought it would. Fortunately, there weren’t any drastic changes made between the original storyboards and the final cut: although the composition of two shots was swapped around – it made no difference to the length of the film, but it did come down to the “gut feeling” again, as confirmed by my fellow editors. Cutting from a mid-shot to a two-shot just worked a lot better than cutting straight to a reverse mid-shot. I’m sure there’s a more technical explanation for this other than “gut feeling”, but then again: when you know, you know, you know?

The effect of sound design is also utterly invaluable. When you have a convincing sound mix, you should have a pretty convincing film. Sound often helps glue together scenes: although it should provide as an anchor to the imagery, and not a mask. But it was in that moment, when the last bit of music was added, that all the stars aligned. The shots flowed into one another, as if they were captured in the very two-and-a-half minutes the film runs for (at least I’d like to think so). When a film finally comes together, it’s reminiscent of a beautiful, singular piece of music, comprised with different instruments of varying timbres and tones.

A filmmaker that helped pioneer the effect of using editing as a storytelling technique is none other than magician-turned-filmmaker George Méliès. By cutting two separate sections of film together, he amazed audiences with the illusion of appearing and disappearing objects in linear time.

Here’s a great example from Méliès’ Le Livre Magique (1900):

It’s literally magic.

“In so far as sense of time is germane to the director’s innate perception of life, and editing is dictated by the rhythmic pressures in the segments of film, his handwriting is to be seen in his editing. It expresses his attitude to the conception of the film, and is the ultimate embodiment of his philosophy of life.”

– Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

 

VCA BLOG POST #3: IMAGINING STORY TO SCREEN

When I think about the scenes in film that have left a searing imprint on my consciousness, I find myself always coming back to the wonderful Green Line bus stop scene in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

Here it is:

When I first saw it, my heart stopped beating.  Even after subsequent endless viewings on YouTube, I still can’t get over this scene. If we strip back the cinematic elements, what we see is Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson), reuniting with his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who we know Richie has a deep and unrealised affection for.

Anderson – the maestro that he is – utilises these cinematic elements to powerfully immerse us into the lovesick psyche of Richie Tenenbaum. He captures a perfect moment, using the wonderfully melancholy track “These Days” by Nico to provide as emotional anchor (I’m a sucker for good soundtracks). When we see Margot, time literally slows down for Richie Tenenbaum: and thus, for the audience. The resulting effect is utterly mesmerising.

The cherry-on-top is the beautiful husky narration (courtesy of Alec Baldwin), which provides us with details about the world which manage to be both specific and cryptic at the same time (“He had made a request for his usual escort – the one from his days on the circuit – to meet him by the pier by way of the green line bus“), as if from the perspective of a very keen historian. What Anderson grants us with on screen however, is a scene from within the consciousness of his characters. The with-holding of information in the narration alone further adds to the emotional wallop when it is revealed that his “usual escort” is indeed Margot Tenenbaum. A scene like this can only exist in cinema. Wes Anderson perfectly portrayed loneliness and longing in the space of ninety seconds.

Let’s watch it again:

THE WIND RISES

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

It feels like such an honour to get to finally watch a film by the great Hayao Miyazaki in cinemas. All his films are injected with pure imagination and love for the art-form, and The Wind Rises is no exception. It’s a beautiful, tender film about love and dreams in times of war and sickness. Miyazaki makes films which illicit that rare, magnificent effect in an audience: he makes you feel truly alive.

A

Reality Check.

So last night I had one of those sporadic thoughts run in and out of my brain that left quite an unsettling mark on it’s way out.

It was something along the lines of: “Why am I so deeply obsessed by cinema, something that by definition, isn’t real?

Now I know that the term “real” itself is incredibly broad by definition, but you still get what I mean.

Why, instead of stopping in a park to smell the fresh grass, might I prefer staring into a perfectly-framed grassy landscape of a Miyazaki film?

Am I not comfortable with my own “reality”? Is it a deep-set internal malfunction with my own perceived consciousness I might not be aware of? Am I in the Truman Show?

In times of these strange existential crises, it can be relatively common to find a form of consolation in very close proximity. This happened when later that night I was playing around with my camera and realised I could pull focus on my bedroom mirror. Being shot on my iPhone, these images hopefully can get the point across:

The idea of it just being the camera’s sensor still focusing on the real object, just bouncing light off the mirror sits perfectly fine with me, but I still felt compelled in the beautiful act of finding depth inside a reflection.

Neither of the two images above are technically “real”, but they are still just as prone to teaching us as much about life as their physical counterparts.

Just like when you develop feelings for another person, or find beauty and awe in glorious natural landscapes: in the split-second moment of first contact, you are only purely experiencing it. It’s only afterwards when you can make sense of your emotions that you can come to the conclusive reasoning that the experience was deeply significant to you in some way.

Only in reflection.