Melancholia // Inner apocalypse and preteniousness

Lars Von Trier's Melancholia is split into two parts titled with the names of the two protagonists, 'Justine' and 'Claire'. Justine is played by Kirsten Dunst, Claire by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Justine is depression, Claire is anxiety.

Three Reasons // Tampopo

Directed by Juzo Itami
In this humorous paean to the joys of food, the main story is about trucker Goro who rides into town like a modern Shane to help Tampopo set up the perfect fast-food noodle restaurant. Woven into this main story are a number of smaller stories about the importance of food. (Synopsis from

Three Reasons // Bicycle Thieves

Directed by Vittoria De Sica

Italian neorealism broke the rule that movies had to be filmed in studio lots. By taking the camera and shooting on location they capture on film the lives of ordinary people and their problems and joys. Motivated with their conscience instead of potential profits, the result is a beautiful, sometimes painful look at what it is to be human.

Whenever I watch the Bicycle Thieves there are two states of mind I naturally fall into. One focuses on the social aspect of the film (poverty, class divisions, etc.) while the other is more concerned with the endearing portrayal of a father and son relationship. These two share a bond and fondness with one another that is so authentic it makes potentially banal scenes - such as crossing the street or sharing meal - so enthralling.

The film is always thoughtful of class divisions and the disparate existence of the rich and poor. It may not be subtle sometimes but then again why should it be?

What are your reasons?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Vampyr // The nightmare we wish we had

Vampyr is Carl Theodore Dreyer's first sound film but it might as well be called a silent film since, like most of Dreyer's work, dialogue is kept to a minimum. In fact, the music takes over and envelopes the entire picture and transports us into one of the most unsettling and surreal realisation of a nightmare ever put into celluloid.

Julian West (also the producer) plays Allan Grey who travels to an inn and discovers strange, supernatural occurrences. A young woman is found with marks on her neck. An older woman is seen with her, presumably the vampire, hovering above her victim before suddenly disappearing. Now, that's what I think happens but it's not entirely clear.

Dreyer utilises a disjointed and jarring narrative style jumping from one scene to the next, from one character to another, without any clear links between them. We don't really know what is real and what is not real. We see from the perspective of Grey but we can't judge what is real, imagined or dreamt. Trying to distinguish what is what is futile. This is a film that is concerned more with setting an atmosphere than setting up a story.

There are intertitles in the beginning of the film that act as a silent voice-over. I tried imagining what it would have been like if these words were spoken. I cringed. The sombre mood would have been broken. Even if a serious voice was used it would still sound silly and if a dark, brooding voice was chosen then it would have felt like a parody. 

Grey finds a book about vampires and discover  that the strange occurrences eerily match the descriptions found in the text. Dreyer films the pages of the books, filling the screen with its inscriptions, acting as on-screen, silent narrators and thus taking over the role of the intertitles shown earlier.

Dreyer once said that "the old book is not a text in the ordinary, stupid sense, but an actor just as much as all the others." Even though the spoken dialogue in the film doesn't hold much presence, the on-screen text certainly do.

Familiar horror conventions are plentiful here but because of the unorthodox way in which they are filmed they seem fresh rather than stale. A shadow of a gravedigger filmed digging a grave plays out in reverse and you can't help but feel like you've lulled into a kind of enchanted trance. 

Shadows leave the bodies they follow and spirits leave the bodies they bring life to and in a strange way, the film itself feels like it makes our consciousness leave our very own bodies, even for only an hour or so.

Images from The Movie DB, This is a repost from my previous blog FILM MUSIC ART

Three Reasons // Zodiac

Directed by David Fincher

It's amazing how Fincher can turn the most beautiful setting and turn it into something truly terrifying.

If Mad Men was a murder mystery, it would probably look something like this, especially during the 60s-70s murders. 

A large portion of the story is set in the newspaper office of the San Francisco chronicle where two of our main protagonists work. Known for his exceptional attention to detail, Fincher creates a convincing look of what a newspaper office would have looked like during that time, from the lights right down to the smallest of props.

As a journalism student, it excites me to see a newsroom like this. Set during a time when newspapers really mattered. I don't want to get into the 'is the newspaper dying?' debate but I can't help but want to time travel back to that era. Obviously, not exactly in San Francisco when the Zodiac murders were taking place because, well, I would be scared out of my mind (I can't even get into a taxi anymore without having suspicions towards the driver).

The first half of the film is a murder mystery. The second half is a character study. Men involved in solving the defiantly unsolvable case become obsessive and create a tunnel vision in their lives - with only the Zodiac at the end of that tunnel and everyone else, including family, friends and their lives are blackened away.

What are your reasons?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Martha Marcy May Marlene // Cold comfort cult

martha marcy may marlene film poster design with elizabeth olsen

The film's ending is a stroke of genius. Not because of its ambiguous nature but because for the first time in so long, a filmmaker finally knew when to stop. Many films that have come out in recent years begin to ruin itself because it keeps on running long after its legs start to wear out. Sean Durkin's debut feature film Martha Marcy May Marlene has perfect pacing. It unravels in such a slow, ponderous way that gives enough time for its audience to think about what they have just seen while never extending a scene's running time long enough to invite boredom. When the film finally ends, it is unanticipated but doesn't feel abrupt. This is the kind of story that will feel less powerful and make less of an impact if given a conclusion. Sometimes you just have to deny satisfaction to give satisfaction. If you haven't seen this, you'll know what I mean when you see the ending.

Martha, played by the exciting new talent Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the sister of those twins) escapes what seems to be a cult in the Catskill. She is picked up by her sister, Lucy, and taken back to her lake house she shares with her husband in Connecticut. Both sisters have not seen each other for a while, but there are noticeable tensions and differences between them. Scenes in the lake house are intercut with various experiences Martha had in the cult, including a very heavy scene involving a shooting practice and baby kittens.

This intercutting is one of the film’s great strengths and it’s a smart directorial decision because it lets us compare the two time periods of Martha’s life. Ultimately at the end however, we find that the scenes in the cult and the scenes with Lucy are not that different from one another. She doesn’t necessarily heal or assimilate back to ‘normal’ society because the bourgeois setting Martha’s sister inhabits is just as cold and abusive as the cult. There is violence and sexual abuse in the cult but there is emotional abuse in the lake house. Lucy truly cares for Martha but she ends up hurting her anyway. When Martha talks with her brother-in-law about how he wants to start a family with Lucy, Martha simply laughs: “I just can’t imagine her holding a baby”.

This relationship brings out the interesting question of why people end up in cults in the first place. Was Martha’s family and sister so cold that they ended up pushing her away and forcing her to seek comfort and refuge with another kind of family. The cult is one that works off the land and they work to be able to sustain themselves and shut themselves off the world. This contrast highlights the divide between the materialistic and status-obsessed bourgeoisie and the self-reliant, alternative lifestyle the cult offers. The film explores this in a dinner scene when Lucy and her husband ask Martha what she wants to do with her life, her career and how she’s going to look after herself. She brushes off this suggestion asking why she can’t just live - or exist – without having to think about those capitalist concerns.

The cinematography is one of the best I’ve seen. Shadowy and darkness abound to match the dark and somber mood. But it’s never really pitch black. It’s shot in a way so what is meant to be black looks more dark grey – a kind of illusory feeling that mocks reality so that it looks more like memories, or dreams. Like you’ve just woken up from a nightmare early in the morning when the sun is just about to come up. There is still darkness but the light is there if you look hard enough.

The film leaves out much of the details – what the cult really stands for, the past history of Martha and her older sister and the reasons behind why she joined and left the cult. Always implying and never being overt, the film’s sinister tones turn more sinister and disquieting moments turn into moments of dread. It also leaves room for viewers to fill in the gaps and come to their own conclusions.

Elizabeth Olsen’s performance reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Winter’s Bone. Both have quiet yet intense performances and their faces tell you everything the character is feeling. Both also have a hardened quality to them, one that evokes experience and hardship, a quality that feels bizarre and quietly creepy when seen from a young, beautiful face.

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Julia's Eyes // The eye and the ear

From the very first scene of Julia's Eyes we are treated to the tremendous acting capabilities of Belen Rueda who also starred in the equally creepy Spanish horror film The Orphanage. She’s the kind of actor that can carry a horror film like this very well. She plays a twin, the first, Sara, is killed in the very first scene and once Julia discovers her sister’s corpse hanging from a rope in her basement, she is unconvinced that it was a suicide.

They both suffer from a degenerative eye disease and Julia’s condition worsens after her sister’s death. Determined in finding her murderer, she has to do so before she completely loses her sight.

Julia spends a large portion of the film with her eyes bandaged after undergoing an operation and this part of the film offers us the most terrifying scenes.  There are many close-ups and most occurrences happen either off-screen or in the dark so it feels like we are as blind as Julia. A character’s face is not revealed until the end adding to the already unsettling atmosphere the film established.

The film makes very good use of sound and noise.  From the gentle tinkle of a key ring to the shrill whistle of a kettle, the sound is incredibly crisp and sharp. The film shows us very little because we spend most of it in darkness or away from what we need to see but this is why it works because by denying us the image, it heightens our sense of hearing. We hear the unsettling sounds and our imaginations are left to run wild, forcing us to conjure images in our head that is more frightening than anything they can ever show.

I’m reluctant to classify this film as only a horror. I felt that the first half was a thriller with horror genre undertones while the second half is horror with thriller undertones. The film is very well paced and the gore and blood was left until the film reached its climax.

The film consists of many well-made scenes that are genuinely frightening – Julia circled by half-naked, blind women in a locker room that reminded me of the creatures in The Descent, or the final sequence involving two mugs of tea, a knife, a freezer compartment and the flashes of a camera. These all meld together to create a compelling film that was a good antidote to several other anti-climactic and underwhelming English speaking horror films. If you want to see a truly horrifying film experience, just make sure it’s either Japanese or Spanish.

Images courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. This is a repost from my previous blog FILM MUSIC ART

Film Talk // The allure of the flawed man

The first time we see Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire we see it behind Blanche. Once she sets her eyes upon him we notice an undeniable sense of fear but also a flicker of animalistic attraction. Being the prim and proper condescending canary bird that she is, she quickly suppresses this unexpected desire for such a common man.

Then he takes his jacket off.

We see that tiny flicker come back to life, and as quickly as it came, it is extinguished.

Let me just say I did not share this same push-pull inner conflict Blanche had towards Stanley.

My attraction started with a flicker. Then it burst into flames. And it continued that way throughout the entire film, only slightly stifled by that brief drunken rage he unleashed on poor Stella.

Of course, that irresistibly mesmerizing STEEEELLLLLAAAAA scene played right after that and I was back on track.

He looked like a poor, dampened lamb. So very cute and sincerely sorry. I use the term sincerely with hesitation because I’m not entirely sure if he was sorry -domestic violence is unforgivable anyway - but let’s not deny the powerful attraction of a man with a ripped t-shirt. There is something so attractive about someone who is evidently flawed.

Stella said it herself. The first night in their home after their wedding, he smashed all the light bulbs with the heel of her slippers. “You didn’t run, or scream?”, Blanche asks her. “Actually, I was thrilled by it”, Stella replies back.

Now that we’re talking about flawed men, let’s not forget Paul Newman from A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He is undoubtedly sexiest alcoholic in film history. Like Stanley, he too is extremely troubled.

And the poor little thing is hopping around with his broken leg, you just want to help him.

I imagine myself coming face to face with him and smelling the stench of his alcoholic breath. Quickly forgetting about it half a second later just by glancing at his exquisite Mediterranean sea-blue eyes.


P.S. I just read through this blog post and it is overloaded with sexual innuendos that I did not even intend. Sorry.

Image Credits: Marlon Brando, Paul Newmam, This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Film Talk // California dreaming

In Wong Kar-Wai's film Chungking Express, he explores ideas of love and the passing of time. While most films are made in about a year, Wong produced Chungking Express in two months. He had spare time because of production delays for another film so he decided to make another one while he waited. The short production time produced an interesting sense of youthful impulse. Free from premeditated planning, Wong produced a film that exudes a kind of liberating force - one that completed scripts and pre-production can easily spoil.

This spontaneity recalls the same of-the-moment feeling that Godard's film Breathless had. Both directors just picked up a camera and shot enigmatic and attractive young actors with a bare script to guide them. The end results in two of the most compelling and unexpectedly insightful films about life, love, time and people.

Even two of the female leads are so similar. Both have pixie haircuts, a feminine symbol of self-assurance, and both possess this undefined way of enthralling and mesmerising the audience and the men they attract.

Watch this clip of Faye Wong dancing to California Dreamin'. Don't you see a bit of Jean Seberg in there?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Three Reasons // 500 Days of Summer

Directed by Marc Webb

Usually my eyes roll at an overly cute scene like this. But who doesn't want to do something like this at an Ikea store? This was beyond adorable.

Another overly cute scene that just worked. This was right after Tom and Summer just had sex and it was the perfect way to show how Tom felt afterwards. Hilarious, fun and super duper cute.

Summer is such a great character. Unexpectedly brutal but unabashedly honest. She was both the best and worst girl for him. This scene just breaks my heart every single time.

What are your reasons?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Three Reasons // 2001: A Space Odyssey

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

The cut jumps from the Dawn of Man to a futuristic Space Age - from primitivity to advancement - probably the widest gap in time to jump cut, or arguably, to match cut to in cinema. The most surprising aspect about this cut is how it comparably shows how very little human beings have changed, despite the vast differences in time and evolutionary stages. We are still both destructive and disconnected. Our technologies still used as war weapons and tools to further separate us from one another.

The film is cold, distancing, depressing and uncertain at times but it is anchored by scenes of humanistic beauty. Showing moments that are collectively familiar to us as human beings, ironically conveyed by technology and man-made objects. While Strauss' The Blue Danube plays in the background, the spaceships and space stations seem to waltz with the music as they glide across the dark, empty space.

The film will surely please and satisfy two groups of people: the philosophical types, and substance users. 

What are your reasons?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Three Reasons // In The Mood For Love

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Food represents so much in the film. The pair pass by each other on the way to the noodle stand - they go there when their adulterous spouses are away, when they want a lonely meal for themselves. Sesame syrup becomes a representation of romantic generosity. A touch of mustard evokes husbandly tenderness and care. When the two are eating together, it is when they are the most intimate since they never physically or sexually act on their obvious attraction for one another. 

The characters are so well-dressed and put together. There's not a hair out of place - they look like they belong in an episode of Mad Men. But their perfect outward appearance seem to magnify their inward emptiness and make their tragic circumstance seem more melancholic. 

Usually in films exploring adultery, the focus is on the adulterers. Not in this film. The camera refuses to even capture their faces and in instances when they do enter the frame, it is very brief. Wong Kar-Wai makes it clear that this is not their story.

What are your reasons?

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Blue Valentine // Too close for comfort

Blue Valentine evokes those moments when a disgruntled couple retreats to a private room and proceeds to verbally flesh out their hate for each other. Their voices are muffled but everyone in the other room is inclined to hush up and eavesdrop - except we don’t have to eavesdrop. Even in the film’s opening scene, we are already intruders. We watch this family of three, go about their morning routine. At first, we watch from the outside. 

Then as we enter their home, the camera doesn’t just sit like a fly on the wall, but is placed suffocatingly close to these people. The camera never sits still, constantly going to and from each subject, losing and regaining focus, as if imitating an agitated spectator. Of course, agitated is what we’re supposed to feel as we witness the incredibly dark depths this relationship ventures into.

The film was edited to move back and forth between the present and the past. The former was shot in digital video giving it an exhausted and icy look while the past was shot in 16mm, looking like it was rediscovered out of an old family treasure box long forgotten in the basement. The feel is nostalgic but real and organic enough that it doesn’t emanate sappiness. We travel back and forth in time and we witness the romantic birth while being simultaneously shown the relationship’s culmination to its death. 

For the present scenes, Cianfrance shoots Williams and Gosling with extreme close-ups and lingering hand-held shots – camera nose to nose with the actors. Shots are composed in such a claustrophobic way that their faces are never fully centre, more left of centre, sometimes he frames the subjects so the focus is solely on either head, shoulders, back or limbs making audiences feel as if they’re watching through a keyhole.

There is no clear explanation as to why the relationship is failing – it just is. In between the past and the present there is an unexplained blank. There is no evidence of infidelity, their only child is well and healthy, and neither one of them is dying or an addict of some sort. From what we can see there should be no reason for them to be unhappy. In a conversation held in a love motel room – the ironically named ‘future room’ - we are offered a glimpse to one possible incompatibility of Cindy and Dean: one’s ambition and the other’s lack of.


I’d like to see you have a job where you

didn’t have to start drinking at 8

o’clock in the morning to go to it.


No, I have a job that I can drink at 8

o’clock in the morning. What a luxury,

you know. I get up for work, I have a

beer, I go to work, I paint somebody’s

house, they’re excited about it. I come

home, I get to be with you. That’s

like... this is the dream!


It doesn’t ever disappoint you?


Why? Why would it disappoint me?

They’re discontent because they’re exhausted, or rather, one of them is and the other is just happy to live idly. The choice of music by Grizzly Bear perfectly matches this conflict. The soundtrack has a certain quality of sleepiness to it – almost as if they’re drunk while playing but is still able to keep a dwindling sense of youthful energy. The effort is there but it’s not – exactly how the Cindy and Dean’s marriage have turned into.

The performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are both intense and brilliant but Williams stole the show. With Gosling’s character you can see the role he’s playing and you can see the actor but with Williams’ performance it was purely flesh and blood. There was no evidence of acting or an actor it was just the character on the screen. I think the Filmspotting duo put it more eloquently when they talk about an actor playing at something. Gosling was playing at something (decent but not perfect) and Williams wasn’t playing at all. 

While it is difficult to sit through, Blue Valentine offers what many single movie-goers were hungry for - a romantic story that isn’t afraid to show how it can turn rancid. For some people it was too rancid. The film recently created quite a stir in the movie industry when the MPAA (the censorship board of America) gave the film a rating of NC-17 instead of a more suitable R rating, all because of a few too realistic sex scenes. The MPAA found it too uncomfortable to watch, which goes to show the film’s immense power and unrelenting conveyance of truth.

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART

Film Talk // That was a great film. It had no plot.

I don't usually quote people in here but I just had to post this one by one of my favourite directors. He says he doesn't like to engage in telling stories. Obviously as a filmmaker this is inevitable. No matter how bare the plot is or how very little happens in a film - if anything at all - it will still produce some remnant of a story. I think what he means is he doesn't try to tell a story first. It's not his primary objective when making a film. 

You hear it all the time: story comes first. In some films, yes, but in the best ones, no. For me, film as a medium has a transformative power that goes beyond merely telling a story or portraying a character. Other mediums do this well, if not better. I've walked out a number of times from a cinema thinking that that film would have worked better as a novel. Or I would love to see that character on a stage production.

What film does best is this: its makers capture life and the world through the lens. The audience sits down and watches it, bringing their own experiences, frustrations and pleasures of their life and their world. Then as the film passes through our eyes and ears it changes a little part of ourselves and our perceptions.

Through the combination of image and sound, we walk out with our moods changed. Whether for better or for worse, it doesn't matter. My favourite films have always been the ones that are more concerned about setting a particular atmosphere, either through the 'look' of the film, the editing and even to something small like how the film is paced. The tone of the film must always come first. Story and character can follow after but if the tone is off, the entire film falls apart. All the good films have a certain tone or mood that can leave us feeling angry, sad, jovial, confused, etc.

The bad ones leave us feeling indifferent. 

This is a repost from my previous blog, FILM MUSIC ART