Victoria Jelinek


A Star is Born
November 3, 2018, 1:09 pm
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A Star is Born movie posterJackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a country music star that falls in love with wannabe singer Ally (Lady Gaga). With his help, her star ascends while his stardom, hindered by long time tinnitus, emotional trauma, and alcoholism, slowly falls.

I found myself haunted after watching this latest version of A Star is Born. I was pensive as a stillness settled over me when I left the cinema, and this film was the first thing I considered when I woke up the next morning. Bradley Cooper’s character is utterly compelling and terribly sad. Despite what his childhood may have been like, the story effectively conveys that his perspective and behavior are the product of mental illness. He can’t help feeling unhappy, insecure, or his being self-destructive because he doesn’t know how to get help, or, indeed, what, exactly, to get help for. He is charming, kind and talented, yet he is also isolated, reactive, and full of self-loathing even as his life contains so much bounty. And he implicitly realizes this type of ungratefulness, which exacerbates his self-hatred. The plot is still a love story, as the other adaptations of this film have been, however, this version stresses the theme of mental illness and its vulnerability more than the theme of ambition and compromise.

A Star is Born (2018) is unequivocally worth seeing. And, it’s evidence of Bradley Cooper’s directorial sensitivity and ‘acting chops’ – he’s not just a pretty boy as he goes hand held and gets up close and personal even when the subject isn’t easy or attractive. Lady Gaga, too, is believable – tender, tough, and charismatic – and absolutely holds her own in the acting arena.

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WALL-E
September 17, 2018, 12:36 pm
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Wall-E-Movie-PosterHumanity has abandoned planet earth, leaving behind them a fleet of robots to clean up their mess. When the movie opens, however, the only one of these robots remaining is WALL-E who is fascinated by garbage, cleaning it up each day, as he’s programmed to, and taking various ‘treasures’ he finds back to his home. His enchantment switches to a new target when a super-robot EVE touches down, looking for signs of life on earth.

Released ten years ago, I watched this again recently with my young son after seeing a small robot that cleaned a pool at a hotel we stayed at – day in, day out, without stopping – that reminded me of WALL-E. It was in this re-watching, though, with our ever-growing global behavior of consumption and waste, that I truly appreciated the ambition, charm, and visual wit of Pixar’s film. The story can only be the result of inspiration and passion rather than marketing meetings and focus groups, ‘cause WALL-E brings a message about being nice to our planet and the evils of big corporations (ironic, yes, given Disney owns Pixar, but hey ho, this film was made). The setting, a future earth composed of great skyscrapers of trash reaching toward a permanently overcast sky, is prescient. As are the signs for a mega corporation, “Buy and Large,” dotting the nihilistic landscape. While our hero speaks maybe four words – and he has no mouth, no eyebrows, no thumbs – everything WALL-E feels is perfectly palpable and authentic. He is one of the most expressive characters developed in animation. It’s in the nervousness of his gesticulations, the tilt of one of his lamp-like eyes, and his emotive sounds (designed by Ben Burtt, the man who gave us R2-D2’s beeps and tremors) that he is empathetic and believable. Meanwhile, the humans have been reduced to fat toddlers living in Lazy-Boy-type electronic recliners in space, whose every need is met with a touch of the screen that is perpetually in front of them. Enter WALL-E, who reminds us all what is important in life.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do, with or without children. WALL-E is, arguably, Pixar’s most brilliant film in a canon of excellent films produced by the studio. It’s a hopeful film that reminds us of what it is to feel joy.

 



I Am Not An Easy Man (Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile) (2018)
July 15, 2018, 11:17 am
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I Am Not An Easy Man movie poster USADamien (Vincent Elbaz) is a ‘player’ in modern Paris. He develops content for an apps company by day, and seduces women when not at his job. Alexandra (Marie-Sophie Ferdane) is Damien’s best friend’s assistant. Damien tries to pick her up at a book-signing event to no avail, then leaves and bumps his head on a pole he runs into while ogling women passing by on the other side of the road. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a world where women hold the societal position that men have held historically to present day. While there is much in this film directed and co-written by Eleonore Pourriat that is arguably cliché and flat-footedly drives home a point, it’s ultimately a diverting film that one considers after watching it.

A hackneyed element is the idea that men in the alterative world who are not married at a certain point are sad and likely to live with a cat. I also found it rather wearisome that men in their role of stereotypical women in the alternate world are effeminate in their mannerisms, actions, and behaviors, such as swinging one’s hips, flipping one’s wrists, using ‘up talk’, etc. Would this actually happen with testosterone flowing through their veins? Is this type of behavior truly just environmental influence rather than biology? Conversely, women in the alternate world strut and burp, have their babies holding on to a hanging exercise bar, then turn the care of the babe over to the male nurse or their husband – would this happen with all the hormones raging through our bodies that (generally) work to bond us to the process of pregnancy, birth, and infant

Fundamentally, however, I found the concept good and was rather unsettled by how the reversal of gender is depicted, which prompted me to consider my own attitudes to roles men and women have in modern life. For example, women don’t shave their legs or armpits in the alternate world, but men must shave all of their body hair or risk being seen as disgusting hippy apes by potential seducers; women bare their chests while running or walking around, whereas men attempt to accentuate any cleavage and play coy with their titties; professional women wear dark suits, and men wear something colorful that, ideally, displays their legs; men are dismissed when they proffer a serious opinion, while women are respected and listened to; and men are the objects of lust in films; when Damien is ‘picked up’ by a woman and they have sex – they struggle for dominance and when she’s finished, she rolls over and leaves.

Even as I didn’t find this to be a comedic film, which has, perhaps, a cultural element to it, I did find it droll (derived from the French “drôle” meaning humorous or peculiar). For example, classic literature and philosophy has been re considered, with books written by George Sand (a woman in fact) becoming Georgia Sand. Additionally, I closely considered both my uncomfortable response to what was being shown as gender behavior in the alternative society, as well as why (exactly) it might be that men have dominated the cultural, political, economic, and personal lives of everyone since the beginning of time…has it all been so arbitrary?



Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-posterI recently read an article in Aeon Magazine, which investigates the scientific possibilities and implications of purging one’s “bad” memories. * Haunted by news stories and images of traumatized children in the Middle East, and as a teacher to troubled adolescents, I find my opinion is conflicted: memories construct who we are, for-better-or-for-worse, but there are such horrible things that happen…Hungry for more insight into the subject (and a film buff) I decided to re-watch the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In it, introvert Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) meets outgoing Clementine (Kate Winslet) and they start a tumultuous relationship. Then one day, Clementine doesn’t recognize Joel and he finds out that she had all of her memories of him removed. Angry and hurt, Joel decides to undergo the same procedure, but in the process of it he finds that he has second thoughts.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is ingenious. His films Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are also high concept ideas that explore neurosis and the possibilities of the mind scientifically and perceptually. The movie begins slowly, as we experience the confusion Joel feels because his girlfriend suddenly doesn’t know him, with him. However, once Joel discovers she has had her memories of him wiped out and decides to have the same procedure done on himself, the bulk of the action takes place over one night in his rapidly disintegrating memory. When Joel’s subconscious decides that the procedure is a bad idea and he enlists the ‘memory’ of Clementine to help him escape, the film moves at a rapid pace. Here, director Michel Gondry showcases true visual verve (and most of the effects are created in camera!) as we delve into repressed memories, teenage humiliation, and childhood helplessness. But then a miracle happens — just as Joel’s situation seems most hopeless, the tone of the film becomes more hopeful. We travel through Joel’s mind back to those initial, profoundly romantic first days with Clementine, and we are able to view both the beginning and the end of a relationship at the exact same time. It’s poignant and beautiful. At this moment, Kaufman’s objective comes into sharp focus, and we, the viewer, are left to ponder what we’ve just seen, and to consider whether we would, indeed, purge our minds of painful memories if given the chance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a relevant and weird and wonderful film with genuine heart and a thoughtful mind.

*Aeon Magazine, Aug. 1, 2016, Would You Purge Bad Memories From Your Brain If you Could by Lauren Gravitz. https://aeon.co/essays/would-you-purge-bad-memories-from-your-brain-if-you-could



The Lobster

MV5BNDQ1NDE5NzQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTM2NTE@._V1_UY1200_CR108,0,630,1200_AL_The film takes place in a dystopian world where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic match or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Ostensibly, as an animal, they are given a “second chance” to find love. Our hero, Colin Farrell’s desolate architect David, is dumped by his wife and immediately sent to the hotel in the company of his brother, who is now a border collie, having failed the 45 day time limit to find a match earlier.

There are several elements that make this film worth seeing: the Kafkaesque meditation on modern society’s preoccupation with coupling, as well as its increasing desensitization, is much appreciated, fresh and noble; there is dark humor; our hero’s reasoning behind his choice to be a lobster is interesting; and the ensemble cast is very good, inclusive of Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux. Moreover, a few of the incidents in the film will haunt me for a long time, which is arguably a good thing because the images were vivid enough to sear themselves into my cerebral cortex. However, there is absolutely no relief for the viewer in what is an exhaustingly morose take on humanity in some alternative reality, or in some not-so-distant future world.

 



The Nice Guys
The-Nice-Guys-poster-2

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.



Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.