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Aren Bergstrom

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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.
  15. I found this movie very entertaining. The chicken-egg thing you mention, Ken, is definitely one of the interesting elements the film plays with. The whole tacit admission by Robert that he is pro-choice, but would never admit that politically, is fascinating. I know the film is so nakedly trying to be a microcosm of politics in the states (even the fact that it's all boys reinforces this aspect, since America remains a hugely male political system), but I've got to give the filmmakers credit where credit is due: the experiment does work as a nice proxy for the real thing. In general, this was more engaging and tense than most political theatres I've seen. And on a personal note, while I find myself to be a decent public speaker, I'm pretty impressed by how good these boys are at speaking. Their gift for wordplay is genuinely impressive and their speeches were far better than anything I saw during the 2020 Election, perhaps because boys like Steven seemed to be so genuine in what they said.
  16. This might be an example where our perspectives are too dissimilar to find common ground, because this just sounds like pandering to me, which I don't find compelling at all in art. See, I think this sums it up. He is broadcasting his politics and while I find his politics generally inoffensive, I don't find them refreshing or revolutionary or stirring. And so I don't appreciate his music getting bogged down by what I see as fairly amorphous political commentary that parallels everything I've heard since Trump took office. Trump being bad doesn't make everything that gestures against him and his policies good. And furthermore, it doesn't make any art that engages with it good art. I'm not criticizing the audience, but Spike Lee's attempts to make the audience seem like something it is not. Sure, I'm probably being presumptuous in my comment about wealth, but there's a huge difference between this crowd and the one that would've made up the protests in Charlottesville, for instance. At the end of the day, I don't find the film's presentation of these messages all that compelling. The music is good, but the other stuff is fairly par for the course, and I don't give a movie automatic credit for simply agreeing with my own politics.
  17. Put me on the very short list of people who were underwhelmed by this. I liked the music (obviously) and some of the staging is inventive, but I didn't connect with any of the vitality that other people are describing. Furthermore, I do think the political messaging is distracting. Here's the thing: no one in that audience and no one watching this movie are going to walk away from it with any new convictions. It will either confirm their liberal worldview or come across as a bit awkward and cringeworthy. I don't see anything radical or celebratory or new or connected about talking about how more people should vote, describing the Women's March of 2017 as some great revolutionary act, gesturing at fascism embodied by Trump (without actually saying his name) or even singing the Monae song. It's all very par for the course of liberal entertainment in 2020. Also, I do think Spike Lee stretches credibility in some of his filmmaking by trying to paint this specific audience as more inclusive or diverse than it is. For instance, one of the sole cutaways to an audience member during the bulk of the film is to an older Asian-American lady who's really into the music. It's a great little shot when isolated, but when you connect this with the message of "America for Everyone" that Byrne is talking about from the stage, you get this sense that this connectiveness is something that crosses all lines of class and race... until the lights come up at the end of the film and you realize the vast majority of the audience is older and white and presumably rich, so as to afford these tickets. I don't blame Spike for trying to inject some diversity into the product (something the performers represent better than the audience) but presenting this collective experience in such a way as to suggest that this is what the future of America looks like and then to reveal that the people taking part in this message of inclusiveness are pretty homogeneous kind of sums up why this isn't an exercise in radical empathy or a true look at utopianism at all. TL:DR: Nice music, but lose the message and let the music do the speaking and this gets a lot stronger. Edit: Vadim Rizov's review at Filmmaker Magazine is the best one I've read: https://filmmakermagazine.com/110253-tiff-2020-i-david-byrnes-american-utopia/
  18. Yeah, definitely. I didn't mean it as criticism either, just pointing it out. I'm still amazed they were able to accomplish what they did with such a limited budget. Here's my review of Wolfwalkers if it's of interest to anyone: https://3brothersfilm.com/blog/2020/9/17/tiff20-wolfwalkers
  19. Yes, the way that the themes of the film are expressed in the animation is wonderful. The way that the animation in the forest shows traces of pencil lines is such a nice touch. I think such an expressive contrast is only absent in The Secret of Kells because that film was famously low budget for such a complex animated work. Formally, Cartoon Saloon keeps getting better and better.
  20. As a part of TIFF, I watched Wolfwalkers, the new film from Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) and Ross Stewart. I know that many people here are great fans of Moore and I'm happy to say that Wolfwalkers is another wonderful film from the Irish animator. Interestingly, Wolfwalkers seems to take a lot of structural cues from The Secret of Kells. It's set during the 17th century and deals with the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, with the main character being the daughter of a wolf hunter brought over from England. As is expected now, the animation is stunning. The way that he flattens perspectives and uses borders and framing is fascinating. I'll likely write a review at 3 Brothers Film, but thought I'd shout it out here. Here's the trailer:
  21. Thanks, Jeremy! Really appreciate you watching and your comments about it resonating with you. Yeah, that is definitely something that has kept in my mind, because although it's such a small niche, I think that if it actually does find the audience, it's hopefully extra resonant for those people. We'll see what the future brings!
  22. I'll probably take in a film or two if the in-person festival ends up happening, but it'll be absolutely bizarre, to say the least. I have no interest in the online stuff. TIFF's website infrastructure is so bad that I have no trust in them handling a streaming service. CBC Gem and Crave (two Canadian-only streaming services) are bad enough when it comes to quality and buffering. I don't trust a cash-strapped organization like TIFF actually handling the online portion.
  23. I rewatched The Last Wave last night after watching it for the first time back in June when I was knocking off some Peter Weir blindspots. What a beguiling film, one that percolated around my head for the past month, which is what prompted me to put it on again. Not surprising that I liked it even more the second time. In many ways, the film hits some familiar notes in its general conceit about a white man trying to do right by a colonized people. Richard Chamberlain's David Burton has a bit of a white saviour complex (a colleague even calls him out for his bourgeois attitudes towards the Aborigines) and his adamance about using the defense of "tribal cursing" as the cause of death in their trial shows that he wants to exoticize them in order to save them, but by doing so, such an approach would keep them at a remove, keep them Other. But unlike with so many other stories of this sort, Weir is not satisfied with leaving the dynamic there. He complicates the white saviour complex so much by not only digging into David's selfish motivations for helping Chris and the other men (it's suggested that he thinks that if he helps them, his bad dreams will go away, since they may be an aspect of white guilt), but by making David some kind of apocalyptic figure within their understanding of the Dreamtime. This raises all sorts of colonial implications, as in many ways, the appearance of white settlers in Australia was the End Times for Aborigine Australians—their way of life was destroyed. Furthermore, the film parallels the divide between Aborigine culture and settler culture with the divide between the Dreamtime and the waking world. This materializes the cultural divide between the two peoples—it's not just that they see the world in different ways, but that they are literally tapping into different realities and experiencing the world in different ways. There's so much to unpack here. Maybe I'll get around to writing something for 3 Brothers Film and clarifying much of my admiration for this film. As it stands right now, I can hardly think of a better movie about colonial relations or about the shift between waking and dreaming. (I noticed a lot of talk about The Last Wave in the Picnic at Hanging Rock thread, but no individual thread, so I hope I'm not doubling up.)
  24. That's a nice little blurb. I think Weir is perpetually under-appreciated. I'm always down for more discussion of his work. Hopefully I can knock off the rest of my blindspots of his work in the next few weeks.
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