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Aren Bergstrom

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  • Occupation
    Writer/Director/Film Critic
  • Favorite movies
    Return of the Jedi, Spirited Away, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blue Velvet
  • Favorite music
    Kendrick Lemar, The Beach Boys, Editors
  • Favorite creative writing
    Dune, The Lord of the Rings, The Great Gatsby
  • Favorite visual art
    Hokusai, The Group of Seven, Vincent van Gogh, J.M.W. Turner

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  1. I watched this yesterday as I was catching up with the Best Picture noms. I didn't care for it at all, but I'm not as passionate in my dislike of it as others are. I'm not opposed to this stylized vision of rape revenge, which relies on the world of the film working in a way that does not conform to our own world, nor am I as bothered by the ending as some. (I find it more inconsistent than anything.) I agree with Dana Stevens' critiques, but my issues with it boil down to two basic problems I had: 1. The filmmaking is leaden. Every shot is straight-on, there's an abundance of head-room that serves no thematic purpose, the needle drops are cringey, and there's literally no visual momentum at any moment in the film since characters never actual move in the frame. I saw someone on Letterboxd complain about modern filmmakers in their review of another film, but I thought it was pertinent here: filmmakers are losing the ability to block a scene coherently! In this film, characters are only ever presented as in the centre of the frame and we never see them move around their locations in a wide shot. Instead, conventional shot-reverse-shot seems to transport them around the room, with every confrontation just being a collection of close-ups. It reminds me of sitcom television visual construction, with everything being arbitrarily on a flat axis and no sense of depth in any frame. 2. However much I appreciate Carey Mulligan as an actress, and I really do, I think she's miscast here. I don't think the way she carries herself physically or the way the film presents her through costume and hairstyling plays to the film's fantasy visions at all. I'm not sure at all what the relationship of the viewer to her is supposed to be, as well. Which is all a big way of saying I'm not entirely sure what this film is attempting to accomplish and whether it is indicting the viewer at all. If it is, I'm not sure what that indictment is, since it never does a true bait-and-switch with the viewer, nor does it really confront the viewer and implicate them in the issues presented on screen. If it's not prodding the viewer, then what it actually trying to do beyond simple fantasy gratification?
  2. I watched this last night. Good stuff! I'm a big fan of horror films of all stripes, but am always a bit leery with modern "prestige horror" films that I think tend to be too literal in the metaphor of their horror. (For example, The Babadook or the recent Relic have nothing beyond the one-to-one allegory of what the "real" monster is, even if they're technically well crafted.) My favourite horror lives in-between allegory and real monster (It Follows is a great example). I like Ari Aster's films because they refuse the easy answer, even if they can be overwrought, and I absolutely loved The Witch. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Saint Maud really lives in that in-between space. Perhaps even more impressive is just how totalizing the atmosphere of the film is. For her debut feature, Rose Glass shows off some impressive formal chops, controlling every element to an exacting degree (the sound design is particularly immersive). The references to The Exorcist, from the staircase outside her apartment to the "possession" scene, are nice, too, as it shows she's aware of the genre and approach that's come before and willing to draw on that and expand and twist it to her own purpose. Maybe, most of all, I'm simply impressed by how much the film got me to sympathize with Maud (despite her mania) and how scary some moments are, despite only one scene that approaches horror in a typical manner. The nighttime dialogue scene is particularly chilling, even if it steals the visual and auditory set-up almost entirely from the Black Phillip scene in The Witch. I'll be very curious to see Glass's next film, and I hope it's more horror.
  3. Yeah, I agree with you Ken that it is more difficult than what most people want in prose writing in our modern day. But I always want to push back against these pop-culture notions of books like Moby-Dick and Ulysses or anything really being "unreadable," especially when it's so enjoyable on so many other levels, as Anders gestures at. Thus, it's why I posted on Facebook, hoping to inspire even just one person to make the commitment and actually read the book. Yeah, I really liked "Billy Budd" when I read it several years ago. Also, "Bartleby, the Scrivener" has to be one of the funniest, most frustrating short stories ever written.
  4. I finished Moby-Dick up in late January. Was first time reading it and took around two months to complete. What an achievement. I'm going to quote from my Facebook post at the time because it sums up my thoughts on it as a "difficult novel."
  5. I watched this back in December and liked it a fair bit. I haven't read Jack London's novel so I can only comment on the film. It's fairly didactic in its narrative structure, but I didn't mind, since it fits the examinations of class quite well. I also think the movie does a great job of showing how art and politics react against and inform each other, with each new phase of Martin's career being driven by some reaction against his previous class or education level. More films could do to borrow from its approach to exploring how the personal informs the political, and vice versa. In your review, you mention Marcello updating the setting to modern-day Naples, but I thought the film actually refuses any temporal context and is unclear about whether it's early 20th-century or late-20th century. It's rife with anachronisms and is nebulous as to when it actually takes place, similar to Petzold's Transit. Did I miss something?
  6. I watched John Lee Hancock's The Little Things over the weekend. I saw the mixed reviews as well as Leto's nominations at various awards shows, but was still curious, mostly because I admire Hancock's work more than many. Sadly, I was pretty disappointed with this film. Not only does it really show that it's a script written in the 1990s and not really updated for modern-day sensibilities, but Rami Malek is dreadfully miscast (I love him in Mr. Robot, but I'm beginning to wonder whether that show is simply attuned to his highly-stylized form of acting) and even Denzel is pretty sleepy here. Jared Leto is an absolute goofball in this and although I find it ludicrous that he's up for awards, he seems to be the only character hinting at the more interest subtext lying beneath the surface. His character is the only gateway into examining this film as an indictment of the narratives that cops make for themselves and how they create simple explanations of good and bad to help them sleep at night. Sadly, it doesn't work, but at least his fat suit and Chaplinesque waddle are funny to watch. Did anyone else watch this?
  7. I really hope more people watch that movie. Had it come out in a normal year, I suspect it would've had a real word-of-mouth campaign that kept it a fixture at arthouses for months. Sadly, same effect just isn't possible with stuff playing on demand.
  8. Here's my Top 10 list over at 3 Brothers Film, complete with blurbs: https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2021/1/28/arens-top-10-films-of-2020 Short list for those that want to skip the blurbs: 1. Tenet 2. Wolfwalkers 3. Another Round 4. The Nest 5. Small Axe: Mangrove 6. Small Axe: Education 7. I'm Thinking of Ending Things 8. The Invisible Man 9. The Painter and the Thief 10. Sorry We Missed You
  9. Christian reminded me on Twitter to post here, as I think more people need to give this film a shot. It's certainly perplexing and will take a while for you to get onto its peculiar rhythm, but I think once it clicks, it really clicks, and works beautifully as an examination of the life of the mind. For those that have watched it and/or don't mind spoilers, I went in depth on it in this recent essay: https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2021/1/26/im-thinking-of-im-thinking-of-ending-things
  10. I've never been a part of one of these processes before, but I'd be interested. As for time, I'll be stuck in lockdown probably until spring, so might as well use it productively. Movie musicals is a great suggestions.
  11. I was pretty blown away by the whole anthology. I agree that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but they're all pretty exceptional films in their own right. I understand why people like Lovers Rock the most as its freedom from narrative and amazing music and choreography and framing is stunning. But I think Mangrove is the best of the bunch. It just offers such a complete vision of community and a perceptive vision of how prejudice operates in society and how societal gains are made. I also loved Education more than probably anyone else. It's so short, but such an acute look at childhood and a particular type of student. It's also the one that's most like a parable, where Kingsley could be any child that is struggling at school for reasons they do not comprehend. I was floored by the confession scene in particular.
  12. I get a similar response in most films as most films approach it in a lazy way, but the historical context is so specific in Wolfwalkers that I didn't see it as leaning on stereotypes or lazy tropes in any way. Oliver Cromwell really did invade Ireland and put it to the sword, and so much of his motivation was religious, so not sure how his outright villainy in the film is working into this trope.
  13. I liked this one. It's very much a repetition of what he's doing in Experimenter and not as interesting the second time around, but still intriguing. My biggest takeaway, however, is that I think the film is more illuminating about Thomas Edison than Nikola Tesla. Kyle MacLachlan is great as Edison. I could've watched an entire film about him. I also reviewed it at 3 Brothers Film if anyone is interested in longer thoughts.
  14. Aren Bergstrom


    Just watched this last night. Count me as one of those with a mixed impression of it. My thoughts from Letterboxd: I didn't passionately dislike it or anything, but if you're going to stray so clearly from the biographical fact, I expect you to do so in order to make the historical individual more interesting, not less. This is a case where I think it flattens Shirley as a character instead of digging into what made her so conflicted and interesting.
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