Me, Popcorn and The Oscars: Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” Is Everything You Look For In A Comeback

Hacksaw Ridge is not your typical action film. It is red, it is real, it is revoltingly hypnotizing. This will not be, I hope, a film that will be either ignored or soon forgotten.

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*Obvious Spoilers Ahead*

And I will say an extra warning. Honestly, if you are not older than 18, or if you don’t usually like violent movies, DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE! It is tough, violent and gut-wrenching.

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    The good things (what I liked)

  • Wow, well this was a surprise. I generally don’t like Mel Gibson, and with a cast of actors who are generally far from great (protagonist Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Sam Worthington stand out in my mind), I didn’t expect much from this biopic. But I can honestly say that, from what I’ve seen, this is this year’s best picture, with “Arrival” as a close second (of the frontrunners, I’ve seen “Moonlight”, “Arrival”, and “Manchester by the Sea”, but I have still to see the year’s most talked about film “La La Land”, or other strong contenders such as “Fences”, “Loving” or “Hell or High Water”).
  • Andrew Garfield gives one of his best performances yet, and one of the best performances of the year. He portrays Desmond Doss, a war hero who refused to even touch a gun. This is a story based on true events, which only makes his story more impressive. Even if you’re not religious, it’s hard not to feel empathy for this guy, and Garfield goes above and beyond with this part. It’s hard to know if he’ll win because he’s going against Ryan Gosling and Casey Affleck, both of them in movies that are getting more Oscar buzz than “Hacksaw Ridge”.

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  • There are so many great scenes in the movie. I think there are more great scenes than okay scenes, which is a good thing, especially in this year, where movies haven’t necessarily been great. “Moonlight” and “Nocturnal Animals” needed more screen time, and “Manchester by the Sea” needed less; however, “Hacksaw Ridge” does everything it needed to do, tells everything it needed to tell… everything falls into place, everything is cohesive, everything is controlled.
  • Both Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving give memorable supporting performances. The first portrays a devoted (and beautiful) girlfriend/wife who struggles from afar to be okay with what is happening, and the second is an abusive father, a drunk and a veteran, who somehow manages to redeem himself. They probably won’t get nominated, because both categories are crowded and have fan-favorite contenders like Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel, Naomie Harris, Viola Davis, Michelle Williams; and neither performance has the ugly-cry, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-longs  scene that the Oscar loved from supporting roles like this year’s Michelle Williams’ final scene in “Manchester by the Sea”, or Anne Hathaway’s “Les Misérables” big scene, or like Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”. The Oscars like that big scene, especially from Supporting Actors, and neither of this characters have that (although, I would argue that the dinner scene when Weaving’s character asks his son to get out of his sight is quite excellent).

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  • I loved that this movie doesn’t glamorize war, but actually showcases the real horrors of this savage, human tradition. And I believe that is what it does best, making the audience cringe and suffer, almost as if one were there. The first fight scene (that is probably between 20 to 30 minutes long) is one of the movie’s best. It’s hard to watch, and I understand why they asked me my ID when I bought the ticket.
  • Something is definitely up with this year’s movies. I usually prefer the independent, soulful or more emotional movies to the typical, mainstream Oscar-loved movies (I preferred “Carol” and “The Danish Girl” to both “The Revenant” or “Spotlight”; I preferred “American Hustle” and “Her” to “12 Years of Slave”; I preferred “The Master” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to “Argo”), but this year, I think I prefer this movie to “Moonlight” or “Manchester by the Sea”. Maybe it’s just me.

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    The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • I didn’t like the last scene. I would’ve liked Desmond to meet with his family again, and his wife. I felt both Dorothy and his father’s characters were left a bit on the air.
  • Again, as with most war movies, for example: “American Sniper”, it makes America look good. This movie doesn’t do that as much because it focuses more on Desmond and his incredible amount of integrity and bravery and faith, but it still does it once in a while. However, Desmond is someone admirable, contrary to Chris Kyle, so again, I don’t feel they did this as much as they usually do it. But it does make America look like a hero, in a way.

    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

Do not watch this movie if you don’t like gory and/or devastating films. This is probably one of the most violent mainstream movies I’ve ever seen, it makes “Saving Private Ryan” a chick flick.

    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

  • As I said, this movie is filled with great scenes. Off the top of my head, the first battle scene, the fight when they were kids and the moment when Desmond’s frenemy tells him he’s scared. However, my two favorite scenes were before Desmond was even at war.

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  • The first is when his brother enlists, and his father tells him how he should take care of his suit when he dies, and then asks him to go away. This scene was excellent. Not too theatric, but it didn’t simplify the horror of war either: the dialogues were exceptional and the acting was on point (especially on Weaving’s part).
  • My second favorite scene was the awkward marriage proposal, just because I enjoyed how this tells the viewer so much regarding historic context. Something like that would be ludicrous nowadays, and yet back then it did happen. The scene was real and believable. From the way it was written, the way Garfield portrayed Desmond so awkwardly and silent and joyous all at once, the way Palmer portrayed both love and hate instantly…. Everything fits.

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    Who stole the show?

Andrew Garfield was exceptional. I doubt he’ll get an Oscar, being this his first Oscar worthy movie (well, this and “Silence”), and his first probable nomination. However, the category isn’t that outstanding this year so I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off an Eddie Redmayne and won it on his first try. In addition, everyone here was great, and both Palmer and Weaving are scene stealers (especially Palmer, for she takes both Desmond’s and our attention since the first scene she’s in).

    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes, I do. The Oscars loves drama-action movies with a strict American point of view (American Sniper, Argo, etc). They don’t feel like The Oscars without a war or terrorist movie among the contenders. Will it win any? I’m not sure. God, I hope it does, though.

    Overall thoughts

Hacksaw Ridge is not your typical action film. It is red, it is real, it is revoltingly hypnotizing. This will not be, I hope, a film that will be either ignored or soon forgotten.

    How many stars?

4.5/5

The Tragic Non-Existance of Dolores Haze

This distinction between the two [Dolores and Lolita] must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

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Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s protagonist in his masterpiece Lolita, will rarely miss a chance to prove to the reader that he is as smart and well-read as they come. The references are vast, from Poe to Joyce to Freud… and one element that seems to plague the novel is the story of Adam and Eve. Humbert seems to be acutely aware of the fact that, yes, although Adam fell, it was all because of Eve, and so he constantly tries to push upon the reader the image of Lolita as a modernized version of Eve, and him as a modernized Adam. 

His Edenic fantasies are not even subtle, for on the morning when Lolita sits on his lap and she “gives” him an orgasm, he describes her as holding in her hand “a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple” (57-58)—and there it is, the clear and direct reference. They stay together, he takes the apple, she takes it back, they flirt and play, and on the exact same moment when she finishes the apple, he climaxes, creating a correlation between Eve biting the apple, and him climaxing. However, the way he describes having “stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor” (62), breaks the continuity with the biblical parable. Humbert believes that, although he has tasted sin, he has not been corrupted nor has corrupted Lolita. “Lolita was safe—and I was safe” (62) he proclaimed.

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Here it is evidently seen how this character goes out of his way to prove to the reader that he is, after everything, innocent of perverting and sexualizing her. Even if he does confess of having killed Quilty, he is never able to bring himself to accept the fact that he has broken the child.

What he must do instead, to be able to cope with the guilt (or whatever feelings this evokes, for arguably, he is never able to fully repent or feel remorse), is what Eric Lemay explains on his essay Dolorous Laughter: “To transform Dolores into Lolita, to seal this sad adolescent within his musky self, Humbert must deny her her humanity” (par. 2). And how he manages to do it, how he accomplishes the task of ridding this girl of her humanity is one of the most genius and artful features of the novel, and it shows how deep and complex Nabokov’s understanding of his work and his character was.

Put simply, it can be delimited to one strategy that Humbert creates and uses constantly: the language, the vocabulary, the words. Through this strategy, he dehumanizes her and exempts himself from any moral blame.

One must only remember how he sees her, how he defines her. By this it is not meant the way her physicality is described, or the way his feelings are explained, or the way he loves her, but the names, the brands that he gives her.

The first, and the most popular name, must be the infamous nymphet, which he so gracefully defines:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of 
nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travellers, 
twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not 
human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I 
propose to designate as ‘nymphets’ (7).

Here we see how, in a very literal way, he says she (or any other nymphet) is “not human”. Need anyone explain that nymphets don’t actually exist? This is a clear rationalization from Humbert’s part, similar to the one he faces after having his first orgasm by the child, which seems to absolve him (in his mind, at least) of any guilt of the truth, this being that he has raped a girl. This strategy he creates allows him to denude her of a self, to butcher her integrity and being, and absorb her, create her as his own.

Similarly, he calls her Carmen, a nickname based on a song which describes the toxic relationship between a man and a woman. Many see the woman in the song as an easy woman, some go as far as to say she is a stripper or a prostitute, especially because of the third line in the song: “And the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen” (61). Either way, the character of Carmen is far from the exemplary woman, and for Humbert to define the “love of his life” in that way is surely not romantic, much less something that shows his respect for her.

And thirdly, one usually forgets this distinction, he calls her Lolita, “my Lolita”, and not Dolores. He changes her name and rebrands her as he wills. He drowns who she is, and he makes her his; he not only abuses her physically but also breaks her person completely. When he renames her, he changes her, he destroys her.

Through these three simple labels, he decomposes her. He takes her away from the world, where she is real, and he encapsulates her in his words.

And this doesn’t only stop with the names he gives her, but with his whole lavish descriptions, his baroque vocabulary, his constant literary references and French phrases. “His artistry conceals her anguish. The magnificent veils of his masterful prose, wafting sentence after sentence over the readers’ eyes” (par. 4), makes one forget of what he is writing about. He hypnotizes the reader with his lyrical sentences, his silky rhythms, his mesmerizing, water-like prose.

One forgets that Dolores and Lolita are two different creations: one by Nabokov and one by Humbert. Lolita is there to be eaten, to be deconstructed, to be dissolved. He even does it for the reader: Lolita; Lo-lee-ta; Lo. Lee. Ta. Demonically, he tears her name, preparing it for anyone who wishes to accompany him on his feast, “to forget his canine gnaw on the remnants of Dolores” (par. 5).

Humbert’s wizardry in writing creates a toy out of her, and when she is finally destroyed, then he has no emotional or moral obligation over her. This distinction between the two must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

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Then, who is Dolores? How can she be known?

In one of the most honest passages from Lolita, Humbert explains: “At the hotel, we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (142). She had absolutely nowhere else to go, one must repeat! For this heart-wrenching moment reveals something that, without it, the whole read of Lolita could change completely. One must have the realization, this above anything else, that Lolita is a lonely, lonely character.

I would dare say that this, and the ending sentence of chapter three (part two)—“…the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep” (176)—are two of the scarce passages where we actually get a glimpse at the character. And what’s interesting is that there is such indifference in how Humbert describes the moments, almost as if Lolita’s suffering were a burden or annoyance on him, and he describes them in such a passing and aloof manner, that one can almost prove how disinterested Humbert actually is in the real human he so proclaims to love.

So lonely is this character that, even being one of the most important and famous images of the twentieth century (either seen as a temptress, as a sex symbol or as a victim), she doesn’t even exist in her own book. Humbert’s Lolita and Dolores Haze are, for all intents and purposes, two different people, and there are so few real glimpses at the true Dolores that it is almost impossible to describe her; she is as elusive as Humbert is pretentious. To get to know why she does what she does, how her mind works, what her circumstances make her feel… it would be a treat. The only thing one can see in the character in a definite manner, especially after the ending of the first part (when she is told her mother is dead, and Humbert describes her as having no one), is that she is a terribly solitary character.

Even Humber himself accepts this distinction—“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita” (9)—however, he adheres this changes to Lolita, without realizing that it was him that gave these distinctions, not her. She is a rather constant character (with only one big change, this being after she is told her mother is dead), it is he who sees her as someone different depending on where she is or who she’s with.

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Most of the allure and attractiveness of the character is actually this exact indescribability, this multiplicity; who is Lolita? who is Dolores? What did she actually feel? what did she think? what is Humbert’s imagination? what is just an exaggeration?

In many ways, Dolores doesn’t exist. One could rarely find her without her sole defining attribute: her solitude. A solitude so profound, it transcends her ability or disability to elude the other characters in the novel, and is able to touch even the reader, and prevent him from grasping fully who she is. That is why, even if Humbert has fulfilled his dream by immortalizing Lolita, Dolores—the real Dolores—barely even existed.

Works Cited

  • Goldman, Eric. “Knowing Lolita: Sexual Deviance and Normality in Nabokov’s Lolita.” Nabokov Studies. Vol. 8. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 87-104. Print.
  • Lemay, Eric. “Dolorous Laughter.” Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: “Nocturnal Animals”, Tom Ford’s Sophmore Film is Not One to Miss This Season

Metaphorical, cyclical, hypnotizing, “Nocturnal Animals” is a deep and different tale of vengeance and obsession. It certainly isn’t perfect, and sometimes director Tom Ford misses, but he’s always clear as to where he’s shooting.

*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

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I will do a small recount on who is who in the movie, because it may be difficult to remember everyone by name. Again, if you haven’t watched the movie, stop reading, otherwise this might get confusing.

Susan: Protagonist in the real world.

Edward: Susan’s ex-husband.

Tony: Protagonist in Edward’s novel (played by the same actor, though).

Laura: Tony’s wife.

India: Tony and Laura’s daughter.

Ray: The rapist and killer of Laura and India.

Hutton: Susan’s new husband.

    The good things (what I liked)

  • The acting. The acting is this movie is outstanding. Not only are Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal extremely good, but every other actor in the movie shines (Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon and even Laura Linney, who appears in only one scene).
  • The cinematographic juxtaposition of the two stories is something I enjoyed very much. Aesthetically speaking, the two stories in the movie are complete opposites. One is in West Texas, rough, rural, dirty, desertic. The other is an almost-futuristic look at New York: full of contemporary art, glamorous and pompous dresses, and shallow relationships.

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  • It is extremely interesting how Edward writes a novel that, although plotwise is not like his life, symbolically, it is (or at leats, it was). We never meet Edward in the present (only through Susan’s flashbacks), but in a way, it is evident he sees Susan as Ray (the guy who raped and killed Laura and India). Susan, in the real world, left Edward and aborted his child, thus Edward was left wifeless and childless. This mirrors with Tony’s search for vengeance in the novel. The novel isn’t and shouldn’t be a mystery of if Tony’s family was murdered or not, but a reflection on the hole he was left with, which is the same hole Edward was left with in the real world. Probably because Edward couldn’t really get his vengeance in the real world, he had to write this novel. Although, not to spoil too much, but in the end, he kind of sort of does get  vengeance.
  • I liked the fact that we don’t see Edward directly. We see him through Susan’s perspective in her flashbacks, but never alone, and never in the present story.
  • The scene between Susan and her mother in a flashback is really interesting. We’ve seen Susan in the future, where she is cold and much like her mother, and then we see the flashback, and it’s interesting to see how she, at one point, hated being that.
  • The ending sequence. The movie is worth watching only because of Amy Adam’s last scene. Some of you might not understand why I say this, maybe you don’t think the same as I, but let me explain. Yes, it may be hard to cry, to scream, to smile, to blush, to seem crazy, to appear naked on screen, to make dialogues believable, and here she does nothing like that; in this last shot, probably only five seconds long, Susan doesn’t say a word, and doesn’t make any exaggerated or overly dramatic facial expression, however, Adams portrays total devastation and inner destruction. Edward destroys Susan by not showing up, and she sees finally how her life will never change, and how she chose this, and how she’ll never be happy. When casting Adams, director Tom Ford told her he wanted to know how her character feels, and this is why she said she accepted the role. And this is true throughout the movie. Most of the character’s turmoils are interior and rarely spoken to someone, so Adams had to do a lot of silent scenes where she is just reading and thinking. But in no scene does this show better than in this one (the picture below is not of that scene, though. I couldn’t find the right one).

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  • This movie is by Tom Ford, and guessing by the two films he’s done (A Single Man and this one, both spectacular), you’ll want to keep on eye on this one.
  • The beginning of the movie. The first five minutes or so are long shots of fat, old women dancing naked. Ultimately, it is explained that this is part of an Art Exhibition in Susan’s gallery, but this sequence gave me a lot to think about. The movie is deeply metaphorical, so I think of this sequence as a symbol for the movie, how we sometimes try to ignore, push down and set aside those things we don’t want to confront, both in society and in our personal lives.
  • Finally, the clothes are gorgeous, the makeup is impeccable, and Jeff Koons!!!!

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    The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Sometimes the characters are described too straightforwardly, and with only two or three characteristics (e.g. dreamer, weak, pragmatic, etc).
  • The ending of the novel is quite unsatisfying for my taste. Tony dying is a moralistic ending, in the sense that I feel it more as a way of saying “vengeance is never good” or “vengeance doesn’t bring happy endings”. Also, it is somewhat unbelievable the way he died, falling over his own gun.
  • Okay, so in a way, Ray’s character is somewhat overly dramatic, the acting is over-the-top, and he’s extremely two-dimensional. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Normally this is bad, but here I’m not so sure. I put it in the bad things because I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, and the good side had too many things. This is why it may be okay for Ray to be an exaggeratedly disgusting and evil character: probably, that’s how Edward sees Susan. He feels disgusted by her, and he has no compassion towards her, and being that Ray is partially a symbol for Susan, then maybe Edward didn’t want to humanize him and make him likable.d29da31c2293b3d5a550baa0af439d31
  • Some story lines were flat, for example, why did Ford need to introduce Susan’s daughter if she literally had no impact on the plot, and never came up back again after her thirty-seconds scene.
  • The film needed at least, twenty to forty more minutes, or some time distribution. At times, especially at the start of the movie and with the flashbacks, the pacing was too quick. The movie needed to take its time. The novel took too much time of the movie, and I think at times Ford forgot the main story was Susan’s and not Tony’s. There were three story lines (Susan’s in the present, Susan’s in the past and Tony’s), and this was too much. The flashbacks had a lot of time jumps that made that plot line move too quickly (for example, one day she met him, the next flashback she’s married, and then the next she’s already unhappy).
  • The whole relationship between Susan’s gay brother and his wife (yes, you read that right) was interesting, but because it was never developed or talked again after they’re introduced, it seemed flat and unnecessary. It seemed more an excuse to introduce some of Susan and Hutton’s problems than an actual insight into another relationship.

    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes interesting, complex movies, centered more on characters than plot, and movies that you want to see again, just to see if you catch something else. Also, people who like to read, or watch movies with adapted screenplays.

    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

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  • As I said before, that final shot at Amy Adam’s face was enough to watch the whole thing, but besides that, probably the best scene is Susan’s conversation with her mother.
  • Also, the first scene of the novel, when Laura and India are kidnapped was excruciatingly painful to watch (in a good way, for a scene so dark that’s easy to watch, is not a good scene).

    Who stole the show?

Most people think Shannon stole the show, but personally, he wasn’t the best. For a white male critic, it is obvious why Tony’s story might be more interesting, and Shannon (or even Taylor-Johnson) might be a favorite, but for me, Amy Adams stole the show. She probably won’t get nominated for this, because she has also “Arrival”, and because she is in the weird place in between Lead and Supporting actress. She is the main character, but because the novel takes out so much time of the movie, she wasn’t always on screen.

    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Some, but not many. Maybe some for a supporting role (Taylor-Johnson got nominated for a Golden Globe, but Shannon was more talked about, so who knows). Also, probably the adapted screenplay may get a nomination, director and costumes design would also not surprise me. But I don’t think it will win any of the big 5 (Movie, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).

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    Overall thoughts

Metaphorical, cyclical, hypnotizing, “Nocturnal Animals” is a deep and different tale of vengeance and obsession. It certainly isn’t perfect, and sometimes director Tom Ford misses, but he’s always clear as to where he’s shooting.

    How many stars?

4/5

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: Moonlight, the Low-budgeted Big Promise that Failed to Surprise.

There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

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The good things (what I liked)

  • Personally, what I found most original of the movie was the use of names and nicknames. They are a symbol carried throughout the movie that represent the struggle in the characters of deciding who they are, and it’s a deeply human struggle. Who are we? Who do they think we are? Are we letting them define us?
  • I enjoyed the division of the movie in (literally) three acts, or three parts.
  • The homosexual tone in the movie was also something I didn’t expect (I hadn’t watched the trailer), and I thought it was original for a sort of ghetto black character to also be gay.
  • The first two acts were interesting, and Chiron was a compelling and promising main character.
  • The directing is decent, although nothing too great. What’s impressive is the budget of the movie (only $5 million dollars).

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The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Now, I don’t want to be mean, but I expected more from the movie. The first bad thing in the movie would be the palpable inexperience of director/writer Barry Jenkins, especially as a writer (for his directing was actually good). This is in no way his fault, for he will probably get better with time, but his writing does need work.
  • The script is bad, not terrible, just bad. It had a lot of problems.
  • First, dialogues. I think there was a dialogue that actually went something like this: “you know the ocean, now I’m going to show you fire.” And the movie is plagued with bad, pseudo-profound lines and conversations. Rarely did a dialogue shock me here. It reminded me a lot of the movie “The Neon Demon”, where dialogues are simply horrendous.
  • Second, still regarding dialogues, but more in terms of how characters spoke, rather than what they spoke, I found the ghetto dialect to be cliché and forced. I felt as if the writer thought just by writing “ain’t” instead of “isn’t” and “is” instead of “are” he was going to sound realistic, but it sounded plain and stiff.
  • Third, the plot was too over the place. There was little continuity between plot line and plot line to feel like an actual Aristotelian plot style (explained in the image below), to mean, there were so many small stories, there wasn’t really just one climax or one introduction, however it was too overly dramatic to be Slice of Life, and too large in plot-time and short in screen time to feel like an actual coming-of-age tale (every time there was a time jump, I felt there were lots of things missing in-between).

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  • Another bad thing was that the portrayal of the ghetto is melodramatic, two-dimensional and stereotypical. All you can expect from a story like this was here. An absentee parent? Check. A drug addict, alcoholic and/or neglectful parent? Check. A run-in with the law? Check. A drug dealer? Check. An injustice? Check. The male-ghetto version of the girl-taking-off-her-glasses-and-having-a-make-over-and-suddenly-being-pretty scene? Check. That is why I found the gay thing so original and refreshing. Because you don’t normally see that type of storyline in these movies.
  • The movie tried to cover so many things, I think it lost itself halfway there. We have the main character, and then we see all his problems: being gay, his neglectful mother, him being bullied, his absentee father, his lack of protection either with the law, at school and at home, his relationship with the drug dealer and his wife, etc. During the first act, the centre is in Juan, this new “father figure”; in the second act, the centre is in the mother’s addiction, the bullying and the secret, gay love affair; and by the third act, there are so many plot lines opened, there is no actual emotional centre (is it so we can see how his relationship with Juan affected him? Or how his mother affected him? Or how the bullies affected him? Or how Kevin affected him?). There are so many things in this movie, and so many emotional questions in the character, it feels too broad and overwhelming for just two hours.
  • Probably because of that, the third act was simply horrible. In a cliché and yet unbelievable turn of events (how can a cliché not work? I’m not really sure yet), Chiron is now a drug dealer with the typical (and expected) hard exterior, wanting to make you believe he’s not the shy, emotional kid anymore. But then, rather quickly we find that this is not true (not that we really believed this cliché act anyway). If Jenkins wanted to make him cold for a while, he should’ve at least made it last more than five minutes. This new “hard armor” is quickly destroyed by a simple call by Kevin (an exquisite scene, with surprisingly good dialogues, may I add),  and further destroyed then by a climatic visit to his mother, and finally the long-awaited unsurprising, forced, long and overly-emotional set of scenes with his long-lost love from High School (who’s now married and has kid), Kevin.

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  • This leads me to the unbelievability of this relationship. Kevin, this boy, was introduced too quickly by the end of the first act, and then is reintroduced in an awkward scene at the start of the second act (almost just so that we know he’s still there), then they meet randomly on a beach, smoke, kiss and well, I’ll leave some stuff to the imagination, and then he beats the hell out of Chiron (so the bullies don’t know he’s actually in love with him). Then comes the third act, many years later. From the quickness and superficiality of their relationship in the second act, I couldn’t believe they would actually still be in love with each other. It’s unrealistic. People move on. I sort of believed Chiron might still be affected by this other man, because of his shy and introverted nature (which apparently he hadn’t overcome it as he’d thought). But the fact that both of them are still in love, is just too sentimentalist from the writer’s part.
  • Finally, Chiron’s relationship with Juan and Teresa, although promising, ended up being flat, and totally forgotten (thus useless) by the end of the film.

Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

  • Even though this movie didn’t mesmerize me, and even though I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, I would still recommend it to some people, after warning them I didn’t find it as good as everyone else apparently did.
  • I would recommend it to activists (or anyone with  activist ideals), people who like low-budget movies that surpassed expectations, people who like good movies, people who like the representation of minorities in movies, and people who like the games with colors and lights in movies (cinematographically speaking).
  • I would not recommend this to people who like movies more for writing than for direction, people who don’t like movies about controversial topics, and people who prefer simple movies like chick flicks and superhero movies.

Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

The last scene with Chiron and his mother was honest, simple and heartbreaking. Probably the best and most effective scene in the movie. I could imagine a real mother telling this to a son.

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Also, the scene at the beginning when Chiron is not speaking was good.

Who stole the show?

Naomie Harris, and not because she was great the whole time, but for that last scene. That scene could get her the Oscar much like Patricia Arquette’s last scene in Boyhood gave her an Oscar (although Arquette’s performance throughout the film was more stable and better than Harris’). Too bad she is going against powerhouses who’ve had an Oscar coming for longer like Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, and even Greta Gerwig.

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Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes, and what’s more, I believe it has a chance of winning some. Not so much because I believe it deserves them, but because of last year’s Oscars-so-white controversy. This movie is perfect to balance this out, with an all-black cast. However, there is also Fences to cover the spot that could’ve been covered by “Straight Outta Compton” or “Tangerine” last year.

Overall thoughts

The concept and idea of the movie was deeper than the actual execution. There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

Stars

2.5/5

Joanne is Lady Gaga’s Best and Most Intimate Album To Date

Using pop as the base for all of her songs, she takes upon the task of infusing styles in almost every song. It is inevitable to find Gaga’s nostalgia and search for old, soulful sounds.

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Artistically speaking, Artpop had been Lady Gaga’s best solo album to date. Yet, Joanne managed to surpass Artpop in almost every way conceivable. Artpop’s hardest struggle was the one its author placed upon it: it was too self-conscious of wanting to be something great. Gaga was too focused on creating an aesthetic manifesto she forgot art is created in the detail, not in the overall idea; by not letting each song mature into itself, she created an album that was too ambitious for its own good.

I personally liked Artpop, I think it was a fun and enjoyable LP, definitely better than most of the mainstream albums of 2013. However, the idea of it was always better than the actual thing. I remember watching an interview of Gaga saying that she wanted to invert the Pop Art process, she wanted to put the art into the soup can, instead of the soup can onto the canvas, and when I heard that, I went and bought the album.

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Yes, the idea was intriguing, but there was just something lacking artistically in the album. The discourses she tackled had been handled before, and in much better ways; the sounds were interesting, but nothing too revolutionary; the lyrics were generally underwritten and the ideas undercooked. It had still great songs (Dope, Gypsy, Sexxx Dreams, Aura and G.U.Y. come to mind), but it was too all over the place to become the aesthetic manifesto it wanted to be.

And now, three years later, Gaga comes with Joanne, which is without a doubt her best album to date. Here, she does to pop what was done recently by Carly Rae Jepsen did with Emotion, what Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar did to R&B with Lemonade and To Pimp A Butterfly (respectively), or what Lana del Rey did to indie-pop with Honeymoon; and that is to use both old and new music and styles of narrative.

Using pop as the base for all of her songs, she takes upon the task of infusing styles in almost every song. It is inevitable to find Gaga’s nostalgia and search for old, soulful sounds. You can see the country influences often (A-Yo, John Wayne), the favorite blues (Hey Girl, Million Reasons), some rock (Perfect Illusion, Diamond Heart), classic rock-pop (Just Another Day), indie (Joanne), some hints of reggae and ska (Dancin’ In Circles) and some sweet traces of Jazz here and there (Come To Mama). Overall, this album feels intimate. You can imagine being in a bar at three a.m., with only a couple of people left there, and someone singing this album on stage. Some might be inspired to dance, some to kiss, some to cry, and somehow all those actions seem appropriate. Gaga seems to be singing personally to each listener. The tracks here feel more stripped-down, more controlled, more centered. By meticulously calculating and focusing on the details, the overall project turned out looking way better.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she did it perfectly; sometimes I can’t believe something like Perfect Illusion can be on the same album as Come to Mama or Hey Girl. This will maybe make some people say that the songs from Joanne don’t completely fit with one another, or that the album doesn’t have a cohesive sound. And although they probably aren’t mistaken, I would beg those people to see this as something good on the album. I personally find it entertaining, interesting, endearing, and honestly, it seems that Gaga herself wanted it this way and that it wasn’t a mistake. Even if it’s chaotic in sound, I don’t think it has trouble with this, or that it’s all over the place, as I thought with Artpop (even though Artpop probably had a more controlled sound).

I know this may hurt the fans of Gaga’s earlier works like Poker Face or Bad Romance, more than the critics. This album is nothing like those times. It does have a couple of treats, if you’re looking for that sound, with A-Yo or Dancin’ in Circles, yet most of the songs here are more mature, and less the catchy-pop-songs most people fell in love with Gaga for. Personally, I like mature Gaga more, but I’m sure that has to do with taste.

To be honest, this album is not really a Lady Gaga album—as people generally read into that—but an album by Stefani Germanotta herself. She seems naked here. She presents herself as an artist. Her soul, mind, sweat and ideas seem to be transpiring through most songs, and even if hypothetically I hadn’t liked the album (which I did), I respect that from someone who wants to create art. And even more, if you are one of the biggest names in the industry.

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I see this move by Gaga as brave. She is totally alone and vulnerable and honest here. And she must’ve known that this was not what people would expect from her, but she still did it. She decided to stay true to herself and her aesthetic pursuit, rather than do another catchy-feel-good album.

Music and ideas, however, never seem to be Gaga’s problems. Although she has some of her most interesting sounds, best vocals (one should only listen to Joanne or Million Reasons or Angel down to see this) and most mature aesthetic propositions here, she has never failed on doing this on her previous albums. Her weakest side has always been her lyrics. She still falls on some clichés like “I’m not flawless, but I gotta diamond heart” or “Good as gold”; she is still writing cheesy lines like “Hey girl, hey girl, if you lose your way just know that I got you.”; her songs still have some eerie, pseudo-profound lyrics like “If I had a highway, I would run for the hills. If you could find a dry way, I’d forever be still”. And yet, she features some of her best and most authentic writing in this last album.

For example Joanne, the track she titled the album for; it is minimalistic and sweet, with heart-whelming lyrics like “Every part of my aching heart needs you more than the angels do”. This comes together perfectly with the melancholic vocals and the soft melody. Sinner’s Prayer also has a good moment or two, with quite a quotable chorus: “Hear my sinner’s prayer, I am what I am, and I don’t wanna break the heart of any other man but you”. Dancin’ In Circles is surprisingly well written too: “I close my eyes, take a breath, and I picture us in a place I can’t recognize. In the fire, I call your name out. Up full night trying to rub the pain out”. Leave it to Gaga to make a song about masturbation, and still give it some fun sounds and lyrics.

However, if I’d had to criticize all songs for lyrics, the two best songs, for my taste, have to be the raw, angry and brutal Angel Down, and the brilliantly fun but nostalgic Grigio Girls (probably my favorite song of the album in general). Angle Down is a song regarding gun-violence, specifically the incident with Trayvon Martin back in 2012. The song is emotional, effective and very powerful, and here Gaga has written one of her most important songs to date, not only musically, but socially: “Doesn’t everyone belong in the arms of the sacred? Why do we pretend we’re wrong? Has our young courage faded? Shots were fired on the street by the church where we used to meet. Angel down, angel down. Why do people just stand around?

On the completely opposite spectrum of things, we have Grigio Girls, a song about love between friends (some might say the song has some homoerotic traces in it, but there are no proof of that, and I prefer to see it as a friendship song, because there are way more songs about romance than there are about friends). This song has more simple lyrics, not as deep or raw as Angle Down, but there is something to Gaga singing “I was 23, she was 35, I was spiraling out, and she was so alive. A Texas girl real strong taught me this drunk song.” or “So we’ll turn on a bachelorette, dye Ashley’s hair red. And then we’ll have our sixth Spice Girl in this bitch” that gives it a perfect dose of intimacy and realness to it. You know this is her singing to someone specifically, not just another song inspired by someone that’s applicable to anyone. This person has a name, she knew Gaga, in a way (it is hinted) she saved Gaga, and she is grateful for this. Gaga recalls these times with great nostalgia, and by the end of the song, when the music has ended and it is just the voice of Gaga and women laughing, one can’t help but be a little caught up on the nostalgia too.

This is not to say that her lyrics are perfect—they are definitely are not—but well, neither are Bob Dylan’s and he just won the Nobel Prize in Literature, so.… Just kidding, but honestly, pure poetry is hard to be found in music, because of the rhythm and structure limitations, and yet, I feel as if Gaga has managed to write a satisfyingly well-written album, with great sounds and astonishing vocals. She will have to work on this, if she continues to go for this more artistic and mature audience, but she is moving in a good direction.

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Finally, although the themes of the album vary, I believe it all comes down to Lady Gaga’s love. Whether it is to herself (Diamond Heart), to her family (Joanne), to her fans (Come To Mama), to God (Million Reasons, in a way), to a one night stand or a merely sexual partner (John Wayne, Dancin’ In Circles), to a friend (Hey Girl, Grigio Girls), to her romantic interest (Just Another Day, Sinner’s Prayer), to humanity (Angel Down), and to music in general (just listen to it and you’ll know how much Gaga actually adores music, without having to write a song about it), the theme of love is ever-present. That is why this is probably Gaga’s most loving album yet. She has managed to approach the most common theme in pop culture—love—and yet, did so in an original and versatile way, turning it upside down, making it almost imperceptible.

Maybe that is what she tried to do with Artpop, but I have to say, she didn’t accomplish it until now. Why? Probably because of the trueness and nakedness of Joanne. I honestly feel that this album was created from those most organic and authentic thoughts that happen in those minutes or hours between coming drunk after a party, taking off your clothes, cleaning your face, staring at your body in the mirror, going to bed and actually falling asleep. Those minutes when you try to read and drift to thoughts; when you can be really, really horny; when you cry all on your own when you think of how the world will be tomorrow. That is how I imagine Gaga writing this album, and that is how I decide to listen to it.

–José Sebastián Romero