Tag: metaphor

Somewhere


Somewhere (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) was a successful actor who lived in a posh hotel. He spent his days playing video games, sometimes attending interviews to promote his upcoming film, but there were times when he just sat around and stared into nothingness. His nights consisted of partying, drinking, watching two blonde exotic dancers work a pole, and sleeping with women he barely knew. In his case, a successful career did not equal happiness. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, I feared that “Somewhere” began on the verge of insularity. Johnny driving around in circles in his fancy car was a heavy metaphor of his life going nowhere and fast, supported by unnecessary and more symbolic extended scenes. For example, the two women dancing on and around a pole which finally ended when Johnny fell asleep. I get it–he was apathetic even to things that excited most men. The director was so desperate to show us that Johnny was a lonely person when she didn’t need to. The moment Cleo (Elle Fanning), the actor’s eleven-year-old daughter, arrived, the story picked up because of her young, vibrant energy. The scene that stood out to me most was when the father, in such a simple way, looked at his daughter dancing on ice. It was one of the very few scenes when Johnny wasn’t the one being watched. When he was at the hotel, women gave him seductive looks. Sometimes a fan would recognize him and he or she would try to make banal conversations. When Johnny drove around Hollywood, he felt like he was being followed by someone in a black SUV. Many of the scenes centered around people looking for or looking at him. When nobody was looking at him, it was refreshing for him. He felt like he could breathe, like he was as normal as he once was. It felt like freedom. Furthermore, watching his daughter was the moment when I believed Johnny made an active decision to strive to be a better man–not necessarily the best father, but a better person who could be there for his daughter regardless of the reason. His personal promise was tested when Cleo’s mother, presumably divorced from Johnny, suddenly decided that she needed a break from life. Johnny had to go to Italy for the premiere of his movie so he took Cleo along. Cleo didn’t always agree with her father’s lifestyle, especially sleeping with random women and allowing them to stay until morning, but she wasn’t a brat. She internalized yet her eyes said everything what simple words couldn’t express. I was able to relate with her because I tend to do the same thing when I’m upset with someone who caused a negative situation. I believe “Somewhere” had a wonderful lesson about parenting. Sometimes a parent being there is just what a child needs. I stared into Johnny’s eyes and I couldn’t help but feel moved. It was like looking into the eyes of parents who think they’ve failed or that they’ve achieved nothing, not realizing that, in their children eyes, they mean absolutely everything.

My Life as a Dog


My Life as a Dog (1985)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Since their father was overseas, Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) and his older brother (Manfred Serner) were separated to live with their relatives for the summer so that their sick mother (Anki Lidén) could rest. Ingemar’s dog, who he claimed to love as much as his mother, was sent to the kennel during his time away from home. It was easy to like Ingemar because he was unlike most children. Whenever things turned for the worse, Ingemar would often compare himself to others who were worse off than him. For instance, he often mentioned Laika, the dog who was sent to outer space and never had the chance to return. “Mitt liv som hund,” or “My Life as a Dog,” had some formulaic coming-of-age elements but the execution was pulled off in an imaginative and often touching way. We followed the story through Ingemar’s eyes and we felt the abandonment he felt when he was passed from one home after another. Even though he was a kid, he was perceptive enough to realize that he was essentially like his dog and what the dog must have felt when Ingemar had no choice but to leave it at the kennel. I found myself on the verge of tears at times because he knew that he was slowly losing his mother so he tried so hard to hold onto something easier but something that he loved just as equally (or so he claimed): his pet. I found the flashback scenes very touching because we had tiny peeks to a time when Ingemar was at his happiest. His brother certainly didn’t make things easier because he also had his own way in dealing with negative emotions. I liked the way Lasse Hallström, the director, highlighted the kindness of eccentric people in a tight-knit community to distract the kid from breaking down. Ingemar made a special relationship with a girl named Saga (Melinda Kinnaman) who dressed and acted like a boy. She liked him but he didn’t like her back so there certainly was tension there. They were able to work through their many frustrations by boxing it out in the ring. One of my favorite scenes was when another girl took Ingemar to her room and Saga came busting in like her usual tomboy self and fought for what she felt like belonged to her. I loved the way that particular scene was framed and I felt a certain energy to it that reminded me of those classic romantic love triangle pictures in the golden days of Hollywood. Instead of using the quirkiness just for the sake of being funny or underlining the weirdness of small communities, Hallström successfully focused on the heart of the film. “Mitt liv som hund” was based on Reidar Jönsson’s autobiographical novel and it felt every bit as personal. Every crucial element in the story felt connected and it had a silent power that I will remember for a long time.

The Polar Express


The Polar Express (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Billy (Hayden McFarland) was convinced that the whole concept of Santa Claus was just a myth. In order to have proof whether or not Santa existed, he tried to stay up until Christmas Eve to see who would put presents under the Christmas tree. When a mysterious train full of kids arrived and the conductor (Tom Hanks) told Billy they were heading to the North Pole to see Santa Claus and his elves, Billy chose to get on board. Based on the children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg, I consider Robert Zemeckis’ “The Polar Express” to be a modern classic. I remember watching the film for the first time when it came out and I was surprised to have been deeply moved by Billy’s journey toward his own version of truth. Yes, we all know that the portly man in red who rides reindeers doesn’t exist, but it was easy to connect with the movie because I onced believed in Santa Claus and remembered the magic and joy I felt after willing myself to wake up past midnight and found presents under the Christmas tree. Furthermore, the picture’s animation was a breakthough despite criticisms of the unmoving characters’ facial expressions above the eyes (when we express emotions, we wrinkle our foreheads, move our eyebrows, et cetera). Some critics cited that the characters looked creepy because of the hybrid between real actors and animation. However, every time I watch this movie, I fail to notice such flaws. I was preoccupied with the characters’ intense experiences with the train’s technical difficulties. The train going off-track because the railroad had frozen over was incredibly suspenseful and the very elusive golden ticket would make everyone’s eyes dance across the screen. Nitpicking flaws in the animaton was farthest from my mind. The best scene in the film was its climax. Before Santa Claus appeared, the other kids from the train (Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari, Eddie Deezen) enthusiastically talked about the bells they heard and the beautiful sounds they made. But Billy couldn’t hear the bells because he didn’t believe. And since we saw the movie from Billy’s perspective, we, too, couldn’t hear the bells (perhaps because we no longer believe). That scene was a defining moment which made me think of powerful metaphors from other classic films like the dying plant in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” and the black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “The Polar Express” is a triumph because it went beyond being a typical Christmas movie with a happy but ultimately empty ending. It took risks by forming a synergy between visuals and story while adding just the right amount of danger, humor, sadness, and wonder in the protagonist’s journey toward self-discovery.

Heathers


Heathers (1989)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, “Heathers” was an addictively delicious dark comedy starring Winona Ryder as Veronica, one of the four most popular girls in school (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker–all named Heather), who suddenly began to question her friends’ actions toward the less popular and less accepted. She eventually met the appropriately named J.D. (Christian Slater), a charming rebel who I thought represented Veronica’s id. During their time together, they came up with ways to murder those who made everyone’s life in high school a living hell. What they did not expect was, due to the poignant suicide notes they wrote, the dead teenagers became more popular than ever. My favorite element that defined the film was the laugh-out-loud one-liners. I just couldn’t help but laugh after hearing them because, despite the lines spelling out some gruesome imagery, they sounded natural (especially if they’re being spewed out by mean girls) and we remember them over time because we don’t hear anyone normally talking like the way they did. I admired the writer and director’s audacity to show the stupidities of all students (including our protagonist) and how unprepared/insensitive the faculties were when a student committed suicide. I thought “Heathers” was honest despite its histrionics. In high school, when someone from our school died, we held discussions in classrooms after morning announcements and sometimes acknowledged “the situation” during assemblies. But in the end, only a handful of people genuinely cared while others just couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so they (or we) would be dismissed. Talks of how “sad” the majority of students were about “what happened” was just something we felt we had to do either to pass the time or we felt as if it was the appropriate social response. However, my main problem with “Heathers” was it eventually began to lose focus of the big picture. Doherty’s boldness to eventually capture the newly available throne (even the “Heathers” clique had a hierarchy) was a little too late for me. I would have liked to have seen more scenes of her demonstrating how toxic and vile she could be especially to those who she considered her “friends.” Nevertheless, the movie managed to regain its focus toward the end when our protagonist finally decided to face (but not necessarily correct) her mistakes. I concur when others claim that “Heathers” is one of the best dark comedies about high school. Teen movies that aimed to copy its success could only admire from afar the essence of its vitriolic dialogues and metaphorical imageries.

The Graduate


The Graduate (1967)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Graduate,” directed by Mike Nichols, became a pop culture icon since its release so I just had to see it. I wasn’t impressed with it but I was satisfied because it had moments of genuine sadness inside of the comedic happenings on the outside. Dustin Hoffman stars as a recent graduate who we came to meet during a graduation party that his parents threw for him. He was deep in thought about something but we didn’t immediately know why. What we did know, however, was the fact that Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) wanted to have an affair with the twenty-year-old after he took her back to her house and had a drink with him. I didn’t expect this picture to be as mature as it was. In fact, I was expected it to be a slapstick or a gross-out movie of sorts. I really admired the way Nichols used Hoffman’s alienation to drive the story forward, often in unpredictable (and sometimes jarring) directions. When Nichols placed Hoffman’s character in that scuba diving suit, it was such a bold statement; even more daring was the decision to place the audience in the lead character’s point of view as he saw the world and familiar faces with such disconnect and great frustration. From that moment, even though I thought Ben was pathetic because he often whimpered his way through strange situations, I wanted to root for him. That scene was a stand out because it really captured the loneliness and the confusion that Hoffman was going through from the minute the film started to the subtle but brilliant final sequence on the bus. What didn’t work for me was the “romance” between Hoffman and Katharine Ross. I can understand that maybe it wasn’t supposed to feel real because the characters were young and perhaps didn’t know what they really wanted. It’s just that I think the movie would have been more effective (and I certainly would have cared more) if the passion felt genuine instead of just feeling like Hoffman was stalking Ross all over campus. Still, I thought the movie was strong because it was able to articulate the internal and external battles that the main character was going through. It was also difficult not to love the perfectly-timed soundtrack and it enhanced the experience instead of serving as a distraction like in a lot of coming-of-age movies nowadays that try too hard to be hip or cool. It’s easy to classify “The Graduate” as the movie where the main character had sexual affairs with a much older woman. I think it’s so much more than that; to me, it’s more about the temptations that the protagonist surrendered to because he ultimately didn’t know who he was. Since he didn’t know who he was, no matter what he did or what he accomplished, he couldn’t seem to feel happiness even at the most basic level.

Ginger Snaps


Ginger Snaps (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle star as Brigitte and Ginger, two very close sisters who started off as extremely fascinated with death and the macabre. But when a werewolf attacked them in the playground one night and Ginger was turned into a werewolf, their strong bond was challenged not only by the slow and painful transformation but also because they were beginning to grow up. Desperate to bring her sister back to normalcy, Brigitte formed an alliance with a charming high school drug dealer (Kris Lemche) and tension began to accumulate until the very impressive final showdown. This film reminded me of two things: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Heathers.” I thought the film was particularly astute because it wasn’t just a regular horror film with a scary werewolf killing everyone in its path. It was able to use being a werewolf as a metaphor for adolescence and its physical, emotional and psychological hardships. That metaphor was always at the forefront and it was able to use (dark) humor to comment not only on the characters but the audiences who probably went through the same thing: feeling like an outcast, being overshadowed by siblings, feeling suffocated by family, and feeling like school doesn’t really foster or appreciate one’s talents. I also admired the fact that this picture was not afraid to kill off characters both to prove a point and to entertain. The dialogue was very hip but not too quirky to the point where it seemed like it was only trying to be the coolest thing of the moment. I have to admit that I did get sort of scared right from the very first scene when the kid found a little unpleasant thing while playing in the sandbox. But what really convinced me that this was a superior horror movie was the first werewolf attack. There was something very sinister about it: with the way the camera loomed behind the trees, rapidly budged when there was an attack and the fact that I just don’t see a lot of movies where main characters of their age were put in a situation and really tackle it in their own unique way. With movies about preadolescents, especially horror movies targeted to them, things are usually a bit lighter. So I was really surprised with how this one turned out; I’ll even go as far as saying that this probably one of the best werewolf movies I’ve seen. Lastly, I have to mention how the last few scenes reminded me of original “Halloween” classic because the final battle was set inside the house and as the minutes passed by, the frame got tighter and tighter until the heroine had no choice but to confront her biggest fear. I had a great time watching “Ginger Snaps” because it had so many exemplary ideas that were actually realized. This coming-of-age feminist gorefest definitely earns a place in my film collection.

Otto; or, Up With Dead People


Otto; or, Up With Dead People (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Bruce La Bruce’s movie about a zombie named Otto (Jey Crisfar) was not something I expected. I thought it would be hybrid of horror and drama because I was aware that Otto was an unhappy undead who couldn’t tap into the memories he collected back when he was alive. I liked the style of this picture: some were in black and white, some were in color, other aspects were told in a linear manner, while some were in split-screen. All those different techniques worked for me because it kept me interested and sometimes the craft matched the lead character’s mood. The second thing I liked about this movie was that it was a movie within a movie. Otto was hired to play a zombie by an eccentric director (Katharina Klewinghaus) who wanted to comment on consumerism, intolerance (especially toward non-heterosexuals), and modernity. Even though there were times when I thought certain ideas were not explored enough, I did appreciate that I tried to achieve something. The third factor that I admired about this film was the main character. When he started to remember the memories he had with his ex-boyfriend, I questioned whether he was really dead. I thought him being a “zombie” was just a front because he would rather shut down instead of dealing with the pain of abandonment and hopelessness. I thought the whole thing was a metaphor for depression and a brilliant one at that. As the film went on, I felt as though he was becoming more alive as he realized that people did miss him and he was not insignificant. But what didn’t work for me was that the director’s ideas were so all over the place to the point where sometimes the messages contradicted each other. I also didn’t get what the connection was between sex and nudity to social contracts and the social problems. If that part had been clearer, especially since the idea took about half of the film to explain, I think this would’ve been a much stronger project. Ambitious ideas are great but one should support those ideas in a clear manner for evaluation and understanding. “Otto; or, Up With Dead People” is definitely not a commercial film because it actively challenges the conventions of storytelling. Most people would see this as pointless and meandering but I thought there was enough brain to warrant a slight recommendation. Its ability to take the zombie flicks upside down, such as the undeads’ ability to speak, think and restrain themselves from eating people, was fun to watch.