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Aren Bergstrom

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About 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
  1. I saw Sam Mendes' 1917 a couple nights ago. I was struck by its visual beauty and the technical accomplishment of filming and choreographing the film. But I also cannot get over the idea that it may have been a better film if it wasn't presented as one-take, since the one-take conceit always reminds you that there's an artistic present manipulating your presentation of what's happening on screen. Ideally, a war movie should shrink the distance between viewer and character and make us appreciate the experience of war. Did anyone else see 1917 and have a different take?
  2. I just saw the film last night and was pretty struck with it. It's a beautiful film and I'm stunned at how Gerwig went from Lady Bird to this. I don't mean this as a slight against Lady Bird, which is a lovely film, but this movie operates on a visual scale that film does not. Gerwig is the real deal when it comes to visual construction and narrative structure. I had those exact same thoughts. That shot is lovely and is indicative of what Evan said in this thread about Gerwig showing her love for the characters in the attention-to-detail. Also, Pugh may steal the film away from Ronan, who is very impressive, but not as surprising. I'm glad to see that Pugh has a register beyond the anguish that all 150 minutes of Midsommar displayed.
  3. See Joel, I think you're correct that it's the same spot that Luke is on, so the suns would've been setting from that spot, so I'm not sure this actually makes any sense within the storyworld itself. But the third time I saw the film, I went in specifically wanting to pay attention to this ending to answer this question and I remember the wide shot of the farm with no sun and then the sun only appears for the final two shots, so no sun to sun makes me think it's a sunrise, that combined with the aforementioned red sun rising in the final frame and the title of the film "Rise." Again, I could be wrong and my memory may be constructing something that's not there. If I see it a fourth time (which is likely), I'll report back with further updates.
  4. Aren Bergstrom

    The Two Popes

    Jonathan Pryce is inspired casting for Francis. Hopkins as Benedict is also good, although less startlingly spot-on. I think as a drama, The Two Popes is fine. It's a very Hollywood simplification and the actual original dynamic of the film (Benedict as conservative, Francis as progressive) isn't really challenged, but merely softened by film's end. The entire movie reminded me of something like Green Book, where the characters do not so much change over the course of the film, but instead display a broader humanization that makes their politics incidental to the actual friendship developing at the film's core. This is par for the course for Hollywood, so I didn't mind this approach so much. It just didn't make me appreciate these two historical men any more than I already did. As history, the film is absurdly reductive. As well, despite it being ostensibly about both men, it's really the Pope Francis movie (he gets the flashbacks, he gets the arc, Benedict is simply the foil). Also, it's simply annoying to have a film about two enormously influential religious figures refuse to dig into actual theology, or, rather, come to the conclusion that the finer details of religion aren't all that important when compared to the capacity to bond over soccer and music and shared experiences. Don't get me wrong: all those things are important, but I would've preferred the film dig into the actual theological issues at hand in addition to focusing on the burgeoning friendship. I'm especially interested in individual Catholics' takes on this film, so I sought out both Evan and SDG's reviews immediately after seeing it. My Protestant viewpoint is admittedly distanced from the stakes of the film.
  5. I very much liked it, but I'm a big Star Wars fan, so that's not all that surprising. You can read my brothers and I discuss the film at length in our two roundtable conversations at 3 Brothers Film: https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2019/12/26/roundtable-star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-2019-part-1 https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2019/12/31/roundtable-star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-2019-part-2 Just wanted to share a couple brief thoughts, responding to some of comments here. 1. I believe the ending is a sunrise, not a sunset. I've seen the film three times and there is no sun in the sky during Rey's initial appearance at the Lars Homestead. But when she says her name is "Rey Skywalker," it appears over the horizon, and in the silhouette shot, we can see the redder of the suns rising slightly. It's another example of J.J. Abrams taking something familiar (the Luke Binary Sunset scene) and adding something new to it: a sunrise, not sunset, a fulfillment, not a yearning. It's pure nostalgia, but it worked for me. 2. I very much like John Williams' music for these films. His Rey theme in particular, with the flute ("The Scavenger" on The Force Awakens soundtrack), is great. 3. I liked the Disney Trilogy a fair bit, but these films are miles away from the quality of the other Star Wars films (I-VI). And if the unevenness of this new trilogy makes people reconsider the depth of the Prequel Trilogy, all the better.
  6. It's a lovely movie, even if it's more of a portrait than a story. Which is fine. I don't expect debut films to exhibit a mastery of every part of storytelling, just to be exceptional in a few key ways, which this is. I was listening to a critic discuss Samuel Beckett the other day, shortly after I'd seen the film, and I latched onto a word that the critic used to describe Beckett's view of people's mundane experiences: affirming. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is an affirming movie. It seems both deeply in love with the setting in a general sense and the specific house at the film's centre, but also the characters. I look forward to what Talbot does as a director next, and whether Fails uses this as a launchpad for a larger acting career. I was a bit surprised when I found out that Joe Talbot is white.
  7. Hey all, Right after I got out of film school, I used some of my award money to fund this short film about a young woman announcing to her family that she's going to become a nun. It's not a perfect film by any means, but it was personal and it was a way to communicate some conversations about faith to people around me who seemed completely oblivious to the idea of spiritual struggle. Sadly, it didn't gain much traction at film festivals, as it was both too skeptical for faith-based festivals, and too religious for mainstream festivals. Strangely, it seems that after First Reformed came out, festival folks finally became receptive to it and it gained a bit of traction. It's been selected as part of the NSI Online Short Film Festival and Anders mentioned that I should share it here as it might speak to you all more than most online viewers: https://www.nsi-canada.ca/2019/02/a-consecrated-life/?fbclid=IwAR2ck7ZDrWITV8ZrtoI0AhGjkotid3zUDHT114izCEY5Cazkbfi9czYLMmo Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions about it. You can critique it as well, but seeing as it's completed, it's not like I can accommodate any suggested edits. haha Thanks.
  8. Aren Bergstrom


    I love Avatar and still love it all these years later. Not going to really dig into all the reasons why I think it's wonderful, but one thing I'll point out is that over the past decade, as franchises have taken over Hollywood to such an insane degree (and Avatar itself is about to become a franchise), Avatar kind of stands as the last classical blockbuster. It wasn't based off any pre-existing media, it wasn't a comic book movie, and it didn't have any big-name stars or obvious reasons why it'd be a hit, aside from James Cameron's unimpeachable track record. It drew on a lot of archetypal storylines, but its worldbuilding and filmmaking technology was anything but redundant. People get giddy in movies nowadays and occasionally a blockbuster gets the entire audience on its side, but more often than not, when I'm watching a big Hollywood spectacle, the people in the theatre around me seem to be reacting to the movie as fans-first, and to the film as a product first and not a movie. Avatar never had that. It seemed to get the entire audience on its side and no one went into the film expecting anything because it was a genuinely new experience, even if the story itself wasn't entirely new. So when it swept them up in its spectacle, it wasn't cynical or a self-fulfilling prophecy of marketing or brand power. It was just people reacting genuinely to a big movie experience. Also, I think the idea that it is almost completely forgotten is more a result of it not spawning a franchise and remaining a movie than actually a comment on the film's quality. And I think that the idea that it's completely forgotten itself is a bit of a lie. Cinephiles might not talk about it much, but for ordinary people who only see a couple movies a year, perhaps at Christmas, I doubt Avatar has faded in their mind more than any other massive film over the past decade. Furthermore, no film has ever been as popular with international audiences. It kind of gave birth to the notion that you should care about the international marketplace as much as a domestic. Just wait: the sequels will be massive hits around the world.
  9. Yeah, I really dug this one, which I wrote about here: https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2019/1/9/review-aquaman-2018 If we're going to have a movie about a super-powered underwater hero who can talk to whales and fights with a trident, why not be this silly and gleeful about it? I appreciated the film's earnest tone and complete lack of irony, which I've grown to loathe in the Marvel movies (especially the Guardians films). I haven't seen Ant-Man and the Wasp, but I definitely noticed the Black Panther parallels. Especially in how Orm's and Killmonger's motivations kind of mirror each other.
  10. Aren Bergstrom

    Free Solo

    I don't think you can't factor that into your interpretation (I overstated things in my initial post), but I just wouldn't give it the same weight as other things that came earlier in the film. The fact that the song comes in the end credits makes me automatically take it as less essential to the film's message than everything that came before, especially considering that the vast majority of audiences do not stay for the credits, and thus, would not actually listen intently to the film's lyrics and try to weigh their meaning against what they'd seen. It's not a matter of whether it's valid (most everything that is present in a film is valid for criticism, and a lot of stuff that is implied or extra-textual as well, for that matter), but just the weight that's applied to it. Thus, I can understand that you see the lyrics as a final validation of what you've come to interpret the film's message as being. It hits the nail on the head on its wrongheaded approach to Alex's climb (I'm summarizing some of your thoughts, so I hope I'm not mischaracterizing them), in your estimation. But for me, I wasn't struck by the film being overly uncritical of Alex's emotional detachment, so the song didn't sway me one way or the other. I didn't even pay it much attention as I don't like Tim McGraw and I find the closing song of documentaries as kind of a lame cliche. I actually think that the filmmakers behind Free Solo are marketing it very aggressively, and it's totally valid to take a cynical approach to how they formulated aspects of the film to get Oscar buzz and make money. The fact that the film is a bonafide hit for a documentary (around $10 million and counting) and a likely Oscar nominee for Best Documentary shows that aspects of their approach has worked, too. Although the song being left off the Oscar shortlist is clearly a case of the song not working the way they wanted it to. Or perhaps they're simply fans of McGraw and so they're happy to have his song on their work. Yup, Chazelle's other films are the other main examples I'm thinking of, since he's really making this a theme in his work. Personal sacrifice in order to achieve some other form of "greatness," where that means jazz drumming, becoming an actress/pianist, or landing on the Moon.
  11. Aren Bergstrom

    Free Solo

    Thanks for the responses, Ken and Joel. I understand the hesitation towards Free Solo's depiction of Alex, but I don't really want to re-litigate whether it's a good movie or not. Suffice it to say, I think it's an exceptional work of cinematography, at least, and I think the film does dig into the prickly aspect of its own culpability in Alex's careless, and even cruel, behaviour. Like another very well made documentary this year, When Lambs Become Lions, by Jon Kasbe, the film be used in a case study of documentarians overstepping their bounds with regards to their ethical responsibility. But that's a whole other conversation. Anyway, what I was throwing out there is that I found both films zeroing in on these men's emotional disconnection and linking that to their extreme feats, as if the accomplishment of what they did couldn't have happened if they weren't divorced from the world around them. I don't think this is an aberration within humans or a misreading of why some people do extraordinary things (I'll leave out the term "great" here, as I agree, there are debatable aspects about whether Alex's climb is actually great), because when you meet people who do rock climbing or climb Mt. Everest or become astronauts, or any other extreme vocations, these people often have an emotional disconnection that's almost essential for them sacrificing their personal lives and relationships in service of whatever it is they do. You even get this is less extreme versions with athletes or anyone who is exceptional at their job and places it above all other things. It brings them success, but at the sacrifice of stability and emotional connection. What I think makes First Man so interesting is how it doesn't automatically show this sacrifice to be a good thing, even if it clearly shows the Moon landing as a great feat. I agree that Neil wants to grow in this aspect, but I also think his detachment is clearly an advantage as it makes him dedicated to the program and able to withstand the rigours of its training in ways some other individuals aren't. BTW, I agree that the Tim McGraw song isn't good. But I also don't think you can read the lyrics as a completely valid summation of what Alex has accomplished. I'm sure much of the reason the song is there is that they simply wanted to have a famous musician do a song for their film with the hope that it'd qualify for the category at the Oscars and garner some more attention to the film, so I don't want to assume they vetted the message the song was delivering line for line.
  12. Aren Bergstrom

    Free Solo

    Anyone have any thoughts on Free Solo in comparison to First Man? I saw them on back-to-back nights and couldn't help but see similarities in how Alex Honnold and Neil Armstrong are both portrayed as emotionally-distant, almost delusional figures that are nevertheless capable of extreme greatness, perhaps in part because of their disconnection from family and the world.
  13. It's an utterly bizarre film. I actually prefer it to Favreau's The Jungle Book, which played as empty retread of the animated version and franchise-bait, while also managing to misunderstand Kipling's fundamental lessons from the original book. This one has a very strong throughline of Mowgli existing between worlds, and it leans hard into the idea that both the jungle and the world of men have their own rules, but that death is the ultimate operating principle of both realms. It's not a seamless work by any means, but I'm fascinated by it mostly for how bold a vision it is. I'm not surprised WB dumped it, as I don't see any kids taking to this one strongly, considering its general lack of humour and grisly violence. There's a moment two-thirds of the way through that I could see as a traumatic episode for kids that watch it.
  14. I didn't know it was filmed in Winnipeg. Huh. Well, wherever they filmed it, it looked very nice. I think it's the mere fact that it wasn't shot/reverse-shot like a sitcom that surprised me. I really didn't think that this film would have any consideration behind the camera work, so when it seemed to be lit nicely and have reasons behind shot choices (even overwrought reasons), it did a lot to undo some of my annoyance. The film's themes and theology may have been watered down to appeal to the lowest common denominator, I was glad to see that the camerawork wasn't of the same indistinct blandness. But yes, the Spider-man falling was terrible. And Colton really creeped me out. I'm thinking of the scene where Todd is looking for a photo of his grandfather and Colton comes down the hall like Nosferatu creeping on his victim. After the movie I mentioned that Colton would make a very good horror film villain.
  15. I hate this movie. More thoughts to come, but what a monstrous film that is so familiar to me in so many ways. I'm glad that non-Christians will not see it so they can be spared the indignity of seeing it. It almost makes me ashamed to call myself a Christian, and then explain to people that I don't represent the various viewpoints and vitriolic hatred on non-Christians that this film seems to have. People are just numbers waiting to go up on the big board of conversions in heaven's gaming hall. Whoever gets the most conversions gets a shout-out at the Newboys concert in heaven.
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