Tag: robert pattinson

The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Psychological horror picture “The Lighthouse” is a step back for director Robert Eggers. In “The Witch,” he is able to take a period story, set in 1630s New England, and construct a deeply unsettling tale around that time and place. It peers unblinkingly into a dark folklore and we buy every second of it. It is told with clarity, relentless energy, and with a period dialogue so uncompromising at times that it risks frustrating most viewers. In his follow-up, however, co-writing with Max Eggers, although the story takes place on an island in 1890s New England, photography in black-and-white, it feels just like any other modern twisty tale of a man’s madness unspooling in an isolated, lonely location. I received little enjoyment from it.

It cannot be denied that Willem Dafoe’s performance is entertaining. As Wake, the ill-tempered supervisor of Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who is prone to believing superstitions of the sea, he is extremely watchable when the camera places him front and center, recalling experiences he claims to have had and how he manages to tie them—no matter how tenuous—to the current predicaments that he and Winslow find themselves in. Although Pattinson attempts to match the veteran’s effortless magnetism—and there are a few moments when Pattinson is effective—he pales by comparison.

Histrionics, particularly toward the end when secrets have been spilled and blood has been spattered, are unconvincing and forced; I felt awkward during instances when the performer would go off-script because he is so into the moment. Particularly challenging when it comes to period films is that every second must feel and sound believable. I felt certain reactions to dire situations needed to be edited, cut short, or reshot altogether. Modern acting in period movies, unless this concept is meant to be the point, is most distracting. When it comes to Pattinson, who has been terrific in risk-taking roles prior to this (“The Rover,” “Good Time,” “High Life”), I felt I was watching an actor acting rather than being.

The relationship between the two men of vastly different ages and even bigger differences when it comes to how to approach the job they are tasked is meant to be rocky, a constant source of conflict. There are a handful of amusing moments when Wake would unfairly remind Winslow of his lower rank just because the old man can, but especially when Winslow broaches the subject of never getting to see the lamp of the lighthouse. Wake appears to be obsessed of being alone with that lamp. Why? Dafoe’s wicked performance suggests there might be a sexual component to it. One night, due to nagging curiosity, Winslow walks to the top of the lighthouse and sees his partner, lying naked, in the same room as giant, octopus-like tentacles. The movie gets more bizarre from there.

One of the Wake’s odd superstitions is it is bad luck to kill a seagull since each bird contains a soul of a sailor who had died. This idea ties nicely to the final shot of the film, but it commands little power or irony because the storytelling, for the most part, is muddled, composed solely of one peculiar happening after another: a mermaid encounter by the rocks, getting dead drunk and experiencing nightmares, hallucinations born out of guilt, and the like. The formula gets repetitive and exhausting after a while.

Although some thought is put behind these images, I was reminded too often of other generic psychological horror pictures in which an untrustworthy protagonist grows even more unhinged as the story moves forward. Remove the black-and-white photography in addition to the silent film aspect ratio of 1.9 to 1 and there is nothing special about “The Lighthouse.” Not once did I feel scared, or surprised, or thrilled by any of the plot developments. I found shots of ocean water crashing against the rocks during a storm to be far more hypnotic than the wild goings-on.

High Life


High Life (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

The obtuse but consistently fascinating “High Life” tells the story of a group of criminals, each one either sentenced to life in prison or on death row, who are given the chance to serve science by going to space, approaching the nearest black hole, and collecting its rotation energy. On the way there, most of them participate in an experiment involving artificial insemination led by Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a doctor who murdered her family. The work offers a tight and slow pacing but never boring, supported by numerous ideas like the value of a life within a microcosm, freedom in an enclosed space, and what it means to have purpose during what is essentially a suicide mission.

There is a strong possibility that most may sit through the film and find little to no value in it. The closing chapter, after all, is anticlimactic, tinged with sadness, and open-ended. One cannot be blamed for asking, “What’s the point?” But I believe the aim of the screenwriters, Claire Denis and Jean-Pol Fargeau, the former directing the picture, is not to tell a work with a defined shape through precise plotting. This is supported by a non-linear storytelling followed by some vague build-up surrounding fates of particular characters—some die in the hands of one another, others choose to kill themselves, one or two entirely by accident. It is a prime example of a story in which the value lies upon the journey more than the destination.

The work is shot with a keen eye. Never mind the neon lights. Beauty lies in actual details, like the many routines the criminals must partake in, especially when inside Dr. Dibs’ highly impersonal clinic. For example, because she rules over that space, and knowing her obsessive approach to create a life in space, bodies are treated like cattle. She does not ask questions unless answers may be relevant to her work. When she herself is asked questions, she is often dismissive. When a participant expresses distaste for her project, concerns are not addressed directly or elaborated upon. She values her samples over the people who provide the samples. A case can be made that the character symbolizes the oppressive system back on Earth. And yet Dr. Dibs is not portrayed as a villain.

Aside from Binoche’s single-minded “second chance” doctor, another standout character and performance is Monte, played by Robert Pattinson. In the opening sequence, we learn he is the only adult survivor aboard the ship. But he is not alone. There is an infant with him—a little girl that we assume to be the product of Dr. Dibs’ artificial insemination project. I found it strange but curious that although Monte and the baby is supposed to be the heart of the picture, given they are introduced prior to the rest of the characters, I did not find myself invested in their relationship or story. Or perhaps we are meant to feel this way, to prey on or capitalize upon our assumptions that a father figure and a helpless child must be the focal point not only within the vastness of space but also among criminals of varying degrees—from petty crimes, drug addicts, to rapists and murderers.

“High Life” offers an enveloping experience, filled to the brim with thick atmosphere and a sense of foreboding. In some ways, the core is a muted horror film surrounded by ideas closer to science-fiction. Like the Dr. Dibs character, it is, for the most part, impersonal. It is uninterested in making us like the characters. In fact, we are encouraged to dislike some of them. On the surface, viewers may sneer at all the artificiality—its use of light, the synth music. But I think that those who manage to see through the fog may find something worth examining.

Maps to the Stars


Maps to the Stars (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) makes a trip from Jupiter, Florida to Los Angeles, California because it has been seven years since she had seen her family—the very people she tried to set on fire. Her goal is to make amends but she is unsure whether enough time has passed for them to be able to forgive. In the meantime, she gets a job as a personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an actress with many connections and even more personal demons, including a history of drug abuse.

“Maps to the Stars,” based on the screenplay by Bruce Wagner, is not the sharpest biting satirical film about Hollywood culture but it does command highly watchable performances across the board. There are plenty of familiar faces, from Robert Pattison as a limousine driver to Carrie Fisher playing a version of herself, and just about each one, no matter how brief they appear on screen, intrigues. Looking at the material from a big picture point of view, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. The bad, erratic, and self-destructive behaviors are present but there is no soul. At one point one cannot help but wonder, “What’s the point?”

Not surprisingly, Moore is the standout performer. Although Havana is not the lead character, Moore plays Havana as larger-than-life but tragic. In one scene she is despicable, but the succeeding scene makes us wonder that maybe there is more to her than pills, guilt, and a past she is unable to run away from. The best scenes involve Havana wanting to get a part so badly—a role that her late mother played many years ago—that she comes across as on the brink of breaking down. So people around her tiptoe. She, too, is in self-denial; she thinks she’s a bright star but in actuality, maybe she needs to focus on getting into the right frame of mind to be able to handle holding down a job.

I did not expect to feel sympathy toward a child actor who is a complete jerk to everyone he encounters—even to young fans who just want a simple autograph. Thirteen-year-old Benjie (Evan Bird) already has a history of drug abuse and he is trying to keep clean—not because he wants to necessarily but in order to keep a role that his mother (Olivia Williams) thinks he should hold onto. I wondered at times about the kind of future Benjie might have given he continues traveling in the same self-destructive track.

Looking at their rather palatial home, one must wonder why the mother insists that he remain in show business. Is it for his future or is it a way for her to compensate on what she feels she is lacking, a missed opportunity when she was young? Of course, in a movie like this, which follows expected beats in terms of story arc, the answer is somewhat obvious.

Directed by David Cronenberg, “Maps to the Stars” shows the ugly side of being in the Hollywood machine: the vanity, the histrionics, the exploitation, the loneliness of living in spacious home but there is no joy or laughter in it. There is a sadness here that the picture seems almost afraid to touch, afraid of delivering more dimension to cynicism. I get the point that it aims to make but cynicism must be paired with something else—preferably contrasting elements—or else the film ends up being a one-note critique.

Damsel


Damsel (2018)
★ / ★★★★

I suppose a congratulations is in order for co-writer-directors David and Nathan Zellner because they have created one of the most torturously unfunny comedies I have come across in a long time. It offers such a miserable experience that I noticed my body, spirit, and comportment wilting in unison about a third of the way through. I have no idea what possessed these filmmakers to go in the direction that they did; it goes to show that just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should.

“Damsel” is a mishmash of comedies: a spoof of grand Western pictures that Hollywood used to make, a satire of the often romanticized American frontier, and a slapstick comedy that pokes fun of the roughness and lawlessness of the era. But none of them works, together or apart, because the screenplay has a certain attitude about it, a knowingness that fails to ground the material in such a way that viewers recognize the heart of the story despite hurricane happening all around. What results is an episodic boredom, a dirge so excruciatingly painful to sit through that one could feel IQ points dropping by the minute. It inspires the viewer not to look closer at the screen but to walk away.

The plot is seemingly straightforward. The passionate Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) hires a preacher (David Zellner) to officiate a wedding ceremony, the latter unaware that the former’s love interest, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), must first be rescued from hooligans. Nothing is at seems initially, but the sudden left turns are not at all surprising. These so-called surprises have little impact, if any, because, without them, the audience would simply have to endure uninteresting characters engage in increasingly tedious conversations. Notice that although many words are used, they are not meaningful because the self-awareness in the script undermines what characters are expressing, especially moments that are supposed to come across even mildly heartfelt.

Pattinson has been great in other projects, particularly in the dystopian drama “The Rover.” Here, however, nearly every body language and distinct style of speaking comes across as a performance. Like the screenplay, the self-awareness is translated as fake at best and off-putting at worst. He has failed to create a character: what we see is merely a series of behavior that is supposed to be entertaining. And he has failed to create a convincing character because the screenplay is devoid of creativity or imagination. Wasikowska does not fare any better; it is like watching a mannequin take up space for fifty minutes.

Some viewers may label this film as “weird” because it is a comedy but the end result is not funny. I, on the other hand, refuse to use this wonderful word to describe this most appalling work. The more appropriate word is “lazy.” The reason is because the Zellner bothers thought they could get away with creating a hodgepodge of sub-genres and the end product would be given a pass because it could be considered unique, something that had never been done before.

But I ask: What’s the point of striving to create original material when the work is without sincerity, without soul? Comedies, you see, often have a point—even the darkest, bleakest comedies attempt to make a statement about, for example, the current state of our society or where it might be heading. Some comedies are more specific or more pointed in assaulting the viewers’ ethics or morality. And some simply try to entertain by casting a wide net—there’s nothing wrong with that.

Being different is not enough; I am not interested in handing out participation trophies.

Good Time


Good Time (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directors Benny and Josh Safdie should give themselves a pat on the back for crafting a film that could have been ripped out of the ‘70s when gritty, unpredictable crime-thrillers roamed free. While there is not a shortage of films containing stories that unfold over the course of one night, few are memorable, effective, and capable of connecting with the audience without a typical or expected character arc. “Good Time” is pure style and energy. It dares to be seen without blinking because the filmmakers are uninterested in making compromises.

The plot involves a robbery attempt gone wrong by two brothers named Connie (Robert Pattinson) and Nick (Benny Safdie). Although the former is aware of his mentally challenged sibling’s limitations, he chooses to take Nick along for the ride anyway. I admired that the script does not provide a reason why Connie has taken this most unwise course of action. Throughout their interactions and from the way Connie looks at his brother, we can surmise that Connie is so desperate to connect with or share something he values with his brother, that anything at all will do—even if it involved crime. It assumes the viewers are observant. Although a crime-thriller, its dramatic core is defined and able to shine through despite genre conventions.

Pattinson’s interpretation of his character is fascinating because not for one second does he intend for us to like or root for Connie. He exhibits a complete understanding of the character because nearly every scene points to the fact that Connie is a loser, a liar, a user. He is not above throwing anybody under the bus so long as it gets him closer to his goal of freeing Nick from the police. Desperation reeks from every pore of the wanted man and Pattinson embodies the drowning character so well that I had forgotten I was watching a performance. His performance matches the level of intensity and intelligence of the script.

Tension-filled scenes are crafted with purpose and precision. For example, watch carefully in how the bank robbery is executed. It is not flashy, there is no music to guide us what to think or how to feel, the focus on the characters’ minute facial expressions, their hands, whether they are shaking or calm, how the bag of money is grabbed and handed from criminal to bank teller. Mainstream or Hollywood films would have involved a proclamation, “This is a robbery!” with accompanying shots of a gun or rifle. Screaming of patrons. Here, the directors mire the situation in silence. Their actions speak volumes. And because it is silent, we anticipate the possibility that something will go wrong very soon.

I found myself most drawn to the look of the film. Scenes shot in daylight and indoors appear to have a sort of filter between us and the New York City the picture presents. As a result, the colors appear rather muted as if to communicate that this is the way the main character sees and processes the world. Perhaps this is why he is so reckless because excitement paves the way for a brighter world. This observation connects to the idea of the brothers hoping to leave the city for greener pastures after the robbery. I think they are not only running from the police but also from the environment that shaped them.

The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Lost City of Z,” written for the screen and directed by James Gray, would fit right in had it been released in the 1970s when movies of this type were still being made and seen by adventurous audiences or viewers who may temporarily crave for adventure. It is no surprise then that some, or many, modern audiences may be numb to its appeal. They are likely to cite pacing issues, a lack of a defined script, a standard dramatic parabola expected from more recent biographical works. I admired and enjoyed the film exactly for these reasons.

Here is a portrait of a man with an obsession that evolves over decades. Initially, his obsession is social mobility, his need to be regarded by other men wearing medals as an equal. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) wishes to be respected. But travel changes a person. We observe how this man is changed every time he returns home from the jungles of South America as his family and peers function as mirrors, reflecting the image of the man he once was. There as interesting discussion to be had whether Percy is more or less of a person each time an expedition ends. I argue he becomes more than what he thought he could ever be; I related to his thirst for knowledge and the need to illuminate those unable to look past themselves.

The picture commands beauty through its use of calculated lighting. Never too bright nor dark, its grayish appearance gives the impression of looking into a memory. Images may be awash with dull colors but it is fascinating how emotions are consistently at the forefront, sharp, and confronting—whether it be a disagreement amongst fellow explorers on how to proceed with their travails or subtle expressions of deep regrets for having missed out on lost time with one’s wife and children. There is a point to every scene which may not always progress the plot but just about each one tells an interesting detail about the man whose body is never found after his journey in 1925.

Scenes that take place in the jungle reminded me of Werner Herzog’s excellent “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Although not as epic in scope as Herzog’s masterworks, this film captures the dangers and unpredictabilities of exploration. It takes its time to show us the river, how difficult it is to navigate through when everything is going right and how nearly impossible it is when every element is going wrong. Even humor can be found in the most dire and desperate situations. I enjoyed how we get a chance to meet different tribes, to infer what they value based on what can be found in their environment, the jewelries they wear, their treatment of strangers who dare set foot on their territories. Clearly, this is a picture for a patient audience. Those willing to look closely will be rewarded.

“The Lost City of Z” may not be for the general audience of today, but it is for me. Its elliptical storytelling technique communicates courage, its willingness to slow down so we have enough time to appreciate beauty and to dig inside ourselves suggests it values that we have a spiritual experience, its ability to present its subject as virtuous and flawed creates complexity worth a conversation. Here is a film that actively works to engage the viewer, possibly in ways that a viewer doesn’t expect from having decided to jump into a story about a man hoping to find proof of a mythical lost civilization.

The Rover


The Rover (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Stained with bleakness gray, desert-dry yellow, desaturated dirt and grime, “The Rover,” directed by David Michôd, is a picture that is clearly made with a vision. It is to be admired in parts for two reasons: its visual presentation of rural Australia after an economic collapse and the performances by its two lead actors. But the film is a disappointment in that it fails to engage in the long haul. We want to get to know it, but it does not let us in such a way that by the end of the experience, we feel as unwashed and emotionally drained as the characters look and feel.

The story begins with three men (Scoot McNairy, Tawanda Manyimo, David Field) stealing another man’s car after they get into an accident. Eric (Guy Pearce), sitting in a bar while the trio break into his vehicle, would not have anybody stealing from him and so he uses the thieves’ transport—still functional after an unbelievable acrobatics—to go after them. The sequence that transpires on the road has an ironic sense of humor about it that discerning viewers will likely suspect that it is building up to something.

Robert Pattinson steals the film because he delivers an odd, magnetic, and at times sensitive performance. He plays one of the brothers of the car thieves and we meet Rey with a bullet in his midsection. Pattinson has a way of acting in a scene with dead blank eyes and yet it is not boring. It is because everything else is interesting: his posture, the awkward way he moves, the tension in his lips, the way he strings words together. The predictable thing to have done was to play the character tough and unstable. He takes the unstable part and twists it in such a way that we become interested in learning who he is despite the screenplay not giving much.

And therein lies the problem: The screenplay by Michôd is so inaccessible or deliberately opaque at times that the story ends up not having a defined shape. While it is a positive quality that we get the impression that just about anything can happen, especially with its tendency to erupt into quick bursts of violence, it is difficult to care about what might transpire. I caught myself being along for the ride, admiring a handful of its technical achievements, such as the score and choice of soundtrack, but I was disconnected from its core.

The picture is highlighted by several seconds of brilliance. Several examples include a vulture observing a man waking up from unconsciousness, a young girl bleeding from being shot through the chest, and a confession that takes place at an Army base. There is not enough connective tissue in the material to underscore these memorable seconds and unify them into a theme.

“The Rover” is not about entertainment but about texture. Notice the people we meet, how famished and desperate they appear. Look at the desolate environment. Just about every place Eric and Rey visit appear as though a riot or pillaging had taken place there at one time or another. We notice the dirt on their clothes, limbs, and faces. The hunger in their eyes or revenge. On the basis of style and mood, at least it delivers.