Archives For film

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We first hear the catchy tune “I Got 5 on It” on the radio as the Wilsons drive to their vacation home. From the backseat Jason asks, “What does ‘I got five on it’ mean?” and his sister Zora replies, “It’s about drugs.” Their father chimes in, “It’s not about drugs. It’s a dope song. Don’t do drugs.”

At first, the song seems to serve as an excuse for a humorous exchange. But variations of “I Got 5 on It” play several times throughout Us, often taking on a haunting sound. While the song is indeed about weed, more importantly, it’s about not sharing it for free.

The lyrics by Luniz say,

No, he ain’t my homie to begin with,
It’s too many heads to be proper to let my friend hit it
Unless you pull out the fat, crispy
5 dollar bill on the real before it’s history
‘Cause fools be having them vacuum lungs
An if you let em hit it for free you hella dum-da-dum-dumb

In other words, the song is about getting paid. It suggests you shouldn’t let your friends hit a joint for free. If you do, you’re being taken advantage of because you’re all in the same “low budget” lifestyle trying to get by, so you can’t afford to be charitable. It’s a micro-exchange that creates “haves” and “have-nots.”

Us illustrates the horror we participate in: the shallow notion that greed can be good and the self-centered idea that you can buy happiness. This message is the true horror of Us: that we’re all so busy trying to take care of ourselves, to show our status of wealth, and to keep up with the Joneses that we neglect others. We’re so caught up in the shiny promise of the American Dream and trying to get ahead, that we forget to be grateful for what we have.

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guillermo del toro

Guillermo del Toro is a master filmmaker, whose films explore the unknown, the fantastical, and the supernatural. Many of his films defend the outcasts and the bizarre, undermining commonly-held expectations of good vs. evil and appearances vs. reality, ultimately deconstructing binaries and playing with genre tropes. Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak share similar themes, both in terms of writing and visual cues, imparting the same moral at the end of each story.

Pan’s Labyrinth

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One of my all-time favorite films, Pan’s Labyrinth, complicates popular fairy tale tropes—specifically, undermining characters’ face-value. In Marvelous Geometry: Narrative and Metafiction in Modern Fairy Tale, scholar Jessica Tiffin notes, “Lack of physical or circumstantial detail in the fairy tale thus goes hand-in-hand with a more profound effect, the simplification of morals and principles to the point where any conflict is dealt with in terms of absolutes—the hero, heroine, magical helper opposed to the villain, monster, or competing hero” (14).

Because fairy tales simplify people, the tales can then simplify morals. Tiffin says, “Unlike other forms of prose narrative, the fairy tale has no real interest in human subjectivity or psychological characterization of the individual. Like the events of fairy-tale narrative, characters are rendered down to essentials, described in terms of one or two defining characteristics” (14). By essentializing characters in terms of good and evil, fairy tale characters (and by extension, readers of fairy tales) know who’s good and who’s evil. The heroes and villains are readily apparent as such in both description of their attributes and appearance. Typically, good characters are beautiful, charming, and charismatic, while villains often have physical flaws, sometimes driven by jealousy of the more “beautiful” hero/heroine. It is this pattern within the fairy tale genre that del Toro critiques. While del Toro heavily prescribes to a good/evil binary, the good and evil characters are not readily identifiable by appearance.

One instance in which Pan’s Labyrinth overtly places itself in conversation with fairy tales is when Ofelia tries to determine if she has, in fact, encountered a fairy. A strange-looking insect follows Ofelia home and Ofelia asks it, “Are you a fairy?” Skeptical, she holds up one of her fairy tale books that showcases a dainty, humanoid fairy with wings, wearing delicate clothes made out of leaves. Ofelia points to the picture she says, “Look. This is a fairy.” Upon viewing the illustration, the brown, strange-looking insect transforms into a traditional-looking fairy, like the one in Ofelia’s book. When Ofelia first sees the insect, she’s frightened, but once she sees the fairy transform she realizes that the fairy’s form, whether humanoid or insect-like, is arbitrary. Ofelia decides to trust the fairy based on its actions instead of its appearances, seeing the value in withholding judgments based on physical cues.

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gone girl poster

Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne is one of those rare characters who leaves your mouth agape with equal parts disgust and weird admiration. Despite her deep narcissism and psychopathy, you find yourself in awe of her guts and sharp brain. She’s a complicated and more interesting successor to flat female villains, such as the femme fatale, Bond Girl, and Evil Stepmother. Finally, women get a smart, albeit crazy, evil antagonist. But Amy Dunne is no Disney villain and she’s no Madwoman in the Attic, either. She can’t be categorized as the go-to female tropes because she fits another mold: she’s a psychopath, one who uses her gender but is not defined by it.

Many have reacted to the film Gone Girl with angry exclamations that Amy Dunne’s character is an anti-feminist trope of the Bitch Wife. In fact, The Guardian said, “Women, some seem to believe, are self-serving, venomous and deceitful but can get away with whatever they want. It’s this outlook that Amy’s adventures could foster.” Whoa. Slow down, there. This isn’t the wife in some Judd Apatow movie—this is a disturbed murderer. Personally, I think it’s a bit condescending to the audience—to both men and women—to say that people are going to hold up a clearly broken person as representative of an entire gender.

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the one i love film

When I’d seen posters for The One I Love, I wasn’t sold. It was only after I’d found myself near a movie theater, looking for something to do and a screening of the film starting in 10 minutes that I decided to jump on board—and I’m so glad I did.

From what I’d previously seen, I worried that the film would be sappy. I don’t gravitate toward romantic comedies, and even when I’m assured it’s not a “typical” one, I usually still want the two hours of my life back. So, in an effort to avoid revealing the twists and turns of this film—I highly recommend avoiding trailers and reviews—let me just get the cliché over with and say: this is not a typical romantic comedy. I don’t even know if I would classify it as such, but there you go.

Rest assured, while the slow reveals in The One I Love keep you attentive, the film does not solely rely on the element of surprise. It’s the film’s impressive acting, honest writing, and beautiful cinematography that make it stand out as one of the best films of the year, and the practical details ring true to anyone who has asked themselves: how do you figure yourself out enough to be happy?

Rather than simply being about romantic scuffles and humorous miscommunication, the film tackles more complex ideas about how to develop meaningful relationships with people—not in the abstract, not solely in the romantic arena, and not without messiness. It’s no easy feat, and yet the film pulls it off, where lesser writing and acting would come off as too preachy or neatly-packaged.

I have to stop myself before I say too much, but please do yourself a favor and go see this film.

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If you haven’t heard of Snowpiercer, I recommend steering clear of trailers and going to see it blind. That’s how I saw it—and afterwards I watched a trailer that spoiled lots of things, and I’m glad I didn’t watch it beforehand. All you need to know is that this is a high-concept, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi (ish), fantasy wherein the world’s last survivors live on a train, with each car acting as a literal reinforcement of class structure. I know. It sounds weird. If you have seen the trailer, I don’t think it does the film justice. So, there.

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mako pacific rim

People are angry about Pacific Rim. Maybe “angry” is too strong of a word, but there’s definitely a fair amount of disappointment going around. At the risk of sounding block-headed and completely naïve, I was shocked (yes, jaw-droppingly so) when I read the Internet rants, disapproving of the way women were portrayed in the film. Usually my feminist radar is fine-tuned and rearing to go off at the slightest hint of dehumanizing or anti-feminist tropes. Even my favorite films will usually trigger my radar enough for a laundry list of gripes. So why didn’t my radar alert me when I saw Pacific Rim?

The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, where the world has banded together to fight giant monsters (kaiju) with giant robots (jaegers). Each jaeger must be piloted by a team of two, and in order to successfully control the man-made wonder, the pilots essentially meld their minds to act as a single unit, letting the other pilot peek into all their thoughts and memories. It’s pretty intense, to say the least. Our two main characters are Raleigh Becket, famed kaiju killer, and Mako Mori, novice but enthusiastic pilot, whose adoptive father has only just recently and reluctantly encouraged her to take the jaeger helm with Raleigh.

In this high-concept, action-packed film, the biggest complaint from my fellow feminists is that there’s a lack of female characters and lines. One of the main characters is a woman (Mako) and there’s a nameless Russian woman who pilots another jaeger, but that’s not to say that these complaints aren’t well-founded. It’s easy to see that the film definitely fails the Bechdel Test. “Only three lines are spoken by a woman in the entire first half-hour of Pacific Rim,” says an article from Vulture. An article from Kulture Keeper adds, “The only two actresses… barely register as characters. They’re more like plot-objects in the shape of female bodies.” Ouch. The women in this film are products of a writer and director who brought us full-fledged and interesting female heroes in films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, so there must be more going on here.

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This is a spoiler-free review. Tune in soon for a review so full of spoilers, you’ll cry.

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