Los Angeles is a strange place with its own unique set of rules (much like any popular city). Filmmaker Amir Motlagh taps in to this with his latest feature; Three Worlds - a story that mixes semi-personal journal entries with the existential drama found in the works of Terrence Malick or even Shane Curruth (Upstream Color to be specific). This is also an important film about cultural pride and the impact of therapy. In the film we follow “Saam” (Motlagh) - a young man in the film industry who undergoes a life-altering therapeutic process that forces him to evaluate/reevaluate there different stages of his life (his real life, his subconscious life and a parallel universe). This is an independent feature with subconscious ties to everything from the films of Jonas Mekas (the personal journal aspect) to Malick’s beautifully warped perception of Los Angeles found in Knight Of Cups (dark thoughts & actions combined with the beauty of the American west coast as the backdrop).
At first glance one might turn their face at the thought of comparing a movie like this to that of Jonas Mekas, but the insertion of Motalgh’s real home footage into Three Worlds reminded me of Mekas’ Journey To Lithuania (the comparison to Knight Of Cups is spot on. I don’t need to defend that one).
Home footage: Reminiscence Of A Journey To Lithuania / Three Worlds
Tarkovsky-esque moment: a contemplative drive in Solaris (L) & Three Worlds (R)
Amir Motlagh dispels some of the superficial stigmas put on Los Angeles while at the same time embraces the very real superficialities associated with L.A. (outside of Los Angeles being the epicenter of the entertainment industry, it’s a very cool city unlike any other if you know the right people). And putting all Mekas/Malick comparisons aside, this is very much Motlagh’s own film. The movie is filled with obvious autobiographical content that comes off as genuine & organic as opposed to pretentious. That’s not an easy task with a film like this (ambient, sprawling, artistic and sometimes chaotic). A young filmmaker could easily get self-absorbed & pretentious with a movie like Three Worlds but that's not the case here.
Stills from Motalgh’s visually stunning feature...
While there is very much a plot to Three Worlds, it sometimes takes a back seat to the beautiful visuals and overall ambiance specific to Los Angeles. This will definitely require a second (or third) viewing. And that's a good thing. This isn't something to fully digest in one sitting.
In addition to checking out Motlagh’s latest feature (which you can rent and/or purchase through Vimeo), make sure to check out our interview on Zebras In America (below) as he’s quite the renaissance man.
I hate conservatives but I really hate liberals - Matt Stone
South Park co-creator Matt Stone isn’t an important political authority in any way but his quote above from years ago pretty much represents how I feel these days. And I need to make it clear that with the rise of conservatism in the African American community these days that I’m not one of those people. Their shit is so transparent and a little sad. I understand rebelling against being a democrat and/or liberal simply because you’re Black. But don’t stand on the platform of; “Being a black conservative means we’re free thinkers and we aren’t sheep” and then proceed to think alike and act like sheep.
But Jesus fucking Christ are today’s liberals & Democrats pissing me off more than ever. Case in point - they’re ridiculous criticism of Errol Morris’ recent documentary...
I don’t know exactly what people wanted Errol Morris to do. For those of you that don’t know, Errol Morris has been under a little bit of fire for American Dharma because, according to twitter-finger leftist social justice warriors, he didn’t “go hard enough” or “go at” documentary subject Steve Bannon. Certain people feel like American Dharma is a platform for Steve Bannon to spew his racist & islomophobic views (and they certainly are). But like, do people leading the charge against American Dharma feel like if this movie shows in cinemas it’s going to convert people to the tea party or something? Do you think it will be the cause of a hate crime? If you like or dislike Steve Bannon before going in to this, you’re going to feel the same way coming out. The only thing is, you will (hopefully) be a little more enlightened having seen a really good film. I can attest having actually seen American Dharma that I haven’t been converted to the dark side and I still want nothing to do with Steve Bannon as a person.
In my opinion, Bannon, along with many others, represents “the enemy” as far as I’m concerned (sorry to sound so dramatic but have you read any of the Breitbart.com shit that he’s either co-signed or fully signed off on long before getting to the White House?). But even your enemy deserves a platform. Don’t you want to be clear as to why you dislike someone? Even I’m curious to hear what this guy has to say. Listen...I kinda understand where these emotional anti-American Dharma folks are coming from. I pretty much hate the political right but silencing them or calling them “nazis” right out of the gate doesn’t accomplish anything (god, I fear that sentence made me sound like a conservative. I assure you I’m not).
For folks who have honestly seen the movie and claim that Errol Morris went easy on Steve Bannon - what movie were you watching? Honestly. On multiple occasions Errol Morris not only cuts Bannon off mid-discussion, but he also lets it be known that he feels some of Bannon’s policies are racist & islamophobic. What the fuck else do you want the man to do? Do you really think Steve Bannon would agree to appear in American Dharma had Errol Morris went at him in an aggressive way?
This is not only one of the best films at the festival, but it’s also one of the best films of the year (rational-minded folks should appreciate it). Let’s just hope in the instantly “cancelled” era that we live in, the movie doesn’t get suppressed in any way.
Carlos Reygadas has crafted a trilogy of films all dealing with couples putting their respective relationships to the so-called ultimate test. In Silent Light it was infidelity, in Post Tenrbras Lux it was a swingers bath house experience, and with Our Time, it’s an open relationship. Reygadas' latest doesn’t have any of the weird and/or surreal stuff that Post Tenebras Lux has but the two films are still visually similar. And while Silent Light belongs with Japon & Battle In Heaven in terms of execution, it fits more in line with his last two in terms of the basic plot. Our Time is still meditative, ambient and slightly transgressive in a broad sense. Our Time is also an incredibly frustrating movie. But that’s the point. I imagine an open relationship between two frustrating people with kids (like in the film of discussion) would be a nightmare. Reygadas just validates this with his latest project. Open relationships are far from my thing (I'm old fashioned when it comes to my lady). But if that is your thing - no judgment on my end. But...if you have the kind of open relationship that Juan & Ester have in Our Time, then I may judge you a little...
Juan (Reygadas) is kind of a bitch (sorry to sound so blunt & crass but it's true). He's certainly not the kind of person who can handle an open relationship and it shows. While he has been lied to by his wife (although I don’t understand how you can lie in an open relationship, but whatever...), he’s very naggy, hovering & insecure. Sure his current relationship situation - a situation he allowed to happen - has forced him to be this way, I still get the sense that he’s a naggy insecure person no matter what. And on the other end of the relationship - Ester is incredibly selfish & bratty (also a bit immature for the open relationship she’s in). And again - they also have three children to take care of/think of about. There's no time for childish arguments and unnecessary jealousy.
But again - all of this is intentional. I know this movie sounds grueling & unappealing but outside of all the intentionally frustrating moments, Our Time is a beautiful film that shows a side of Mexico we don’t really see outside of Amat Escalante, Reygadas and a few others. Reygadas is also still interested in representing the rich/upper-class of Mexico. But that's his world. I'd prefer he focus on the kinds of people he knows.
The residue of Tarkovsky has yet to leave Reygadas which is evident in this comparisons below...
Our Time / Solaris
And while Peter Greenaway & Carlos Reygads couldn't be more different, I still found the idea of the insecure artist in a somewhat open relationship with his wife in Our Time to be reminiscent of Greenaway's Belly Of An Architect.
The Belly Of An Architect / Our Time
And to keep piling on - Our Time is also three hours long. And while it's beautiful to look at, it still feels like a real three hours. But this is still a brilliant piece of cinema. Along with High Life & Shoplifters, Our Time is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen at festival thus far (also Reygadas’ best film after Post Tenebras Lux).
I’ll be writing about this more at length in the future but I just wanted to get some quick thoughts out while they’re fresh in my head...
I hate endlessly gushing over a movie without giving any kind of critical commentary but there’s nothing like waiting years to see a movie directed by your favorite filmmaker that actually pays off. Best feeling in the world. I’ve come to the realization that I’m not the biggest fan of Let The Sunshine In, and while Bastards is “cool” & moody, I think about the film’s score more than the actual film (her barely seen short film; Voila L’enchainment is pretty good but it’s more of an experiment long short. And because hardly anyone has seen it, it doesn’t really count). So it's been almost a decade (White Material) since Denis has made something truly impactful in my book.
At 70+ years old, Claire Denis is still trying out new things. High Life is her first stab at science fiction. Stuart Staples’ score is the most droning thing he’s ever done for Denis, and, with the exception of Juliette Binoche, all her cast members are new faces (Denis almost always stays loyal to her troupe of regular actors). According to a few sources, Denis had Vincent Gallo in mind for the lead but I think Pattinson was the right choice (High Life co-stars Robert Pattinson & Juliette Binoche previously worked together on David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis so perhaps their chemistry oozed over in to Denis’ latest).
High Life has a plot but in my opinion it’s secondary (something about prisoners from earth being experimented on in space in order to preserve the human race). This is a movie that lingers and I love every second of it. I prefer High Life over movies like Moon and even Solaris but they all share the same DNA and have more than a few similarities (loneliness, isolation, losing a grip on reality, etc).
Sorry but I have to be predictable and compare High Life to Solaris real quick...
Solaris / High Life
The biggest thing that sets High Life apart from other sprawling offbeat science fiction movies is it’s strange sensuality and sexuality (one scene involving Juliette Binoche looks like something out of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed or Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession).
I know I’ve just seen this less than 24 hours ago but High Life might be my favorite of the festival so far (I hesitate to say that given my bias towards Claire Denis). This isn’t for everyone (and I honestly get that especially if you’re not in to sparse/minimal dialogue, vagueness, semen and isolated moments of sexual aggression & abuse towards women) but true Denis fans should love this.
It’s a little corny to compare Widows to Ocean’s 8 (can you believe critics actually get paid to do this?). You might as well compare Widows to Sugar & Spice or even Set It Off. We get it - female heist movies. They’re all the same. Although in all fairness, Widows & Set It Off would make a helluva double feature as both movies are partially about women forced in to a life of crime because their backs are against the wall.
To give my friend John Cribbs of The Pink Smoke some credit, Widows should really be compared to something like The Wire as it’s not only about a big score, but it also touches on corrupt politics, racial profiling and issues concerning poverty & crime in impoverished neighborhoods (in Widows it’s Chicago instead of Baltimore).
There are some fair comparison to Heat however. I certainly don’t think Widows is as good as Michael Mann’s masterpiece but it does deserve to be mentioned in the same discussion. From the beautiful cinematography & robbery masks to the way they acquire one of the members of their crew (reminiscent to how Deniro picks up Dennis Haysbert as the last-minute driver), Widows is from the school of Mann’s Heat.
Heat / Widows
Heat / Widows
And like Heat - there are a couple of minor plot holes and other various elements that could have been ironed out more. But most folks don’t give Heat that much flack so we shouldn’t do it to Widows (seriously, I don’t understand how Val Kilmer got away so easily at the end of Heat. Can someone please explain that part of the movie to me?). And having a couple of former Michael Mann collaborators in the form of Colin Farrell & Viola Davis makes the Mann connection a little more valid...
Widows is the kind of movie that might end up in my top 10 of the year under the “frustrating but rewarding category”. Besides some of the questionable decisions made by a few of the characters, the movie could have been longer or, like John Cribbs said, a mini-series. The source material is based on a series from the 80’s so I give Steve McQueen credit for compressing the story down to an enjoyable two hour movie.
Daniel Kaluya does an excellent job as the film’s villain and Robert Duvall steals the few scenes he’s in. Of the main characters, Viola Davis shines (Cynthia Erivo does go toe to toe with Davis in any scenes they share).
This one is a little different from Hunger or 12 Years A Slave. While Widows certainly lets its beliefs & politics be known, they aren’t forced down the audiences throat (and Steve McQueen manages to make a few poignant statements about race in America in two quick moments better than certain specific films have done so far in 2018). The cinematography in Widows almost acts as a form of social commentary in some parts. But this isn't a "message movie". If you don't put too much in to this and take it as an entertaining heist movie you'll be satisfied. Widows deserves all the hype it’s getting. But it also deserves more than lazy comparisons to Ocean’s 8 or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (???).
When I first heard Brady Corbet was making another film I got excited due to the pedigree of filmmakers he’s been working with/alongside these last few years (Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, Bertrand Bonello, Antonio Campos, etc). It’s not that I thought he would mimic the aforementioned names, but perhaps something positive would rub off on him as a director (lots of filmmakers from Claire Denis to Jim Jarmusch have all drawn influence from the older filmmakers they worked with/under before becoming directors themselves). Also, full disclosure, I met Brady Corbet at the now closed Kim’s video once, and based on the selection of DVD’s he had in his hand, it’s safe to assume that he loves all kinds of movies. This appreciation for all genres shows in Vox Lux - the story of a teen girl (“Celeste”) who becomes an overnight pop star after surviving a school shooting. See what I mean? Doesn’t that sound like two movies crammed in to one? Vox Lux is about pop music and the aftermath of a school massacre. Corbet crams quite a bit of content in to a movie that’s just over 90 minutes without anything feeling forced or rushed. Everything flows quite natural. What’s also great is that the “big names”/established actors featured in Vox Lux aren’t treated like mega-stars with non-stop screen time. Jude Law’s presence is secondary, we don’t see Natalie Portman until the 2nd half (as the older/hardened Celeste), and Willem Dafoe’s contribution was (wonderful) voice-over narration only (Willem Dafoe’s narration is reminiscent of the kind of voice-over one might find in a recent Lars Von Trier movie).
Given Brady Corbet’s casting of Natalie Portman in a film that’s partially about the pressure of performing, I was subconsciously reminded of Black Swan from time to time..
Black Swan / Vox Lox
But beyond some visual similarities, Vox Lux is nothing like Black Swan.
Brady Corbet made a time capsule with his latest feature. The film is bookmarked by significant events that I remember from my teenage years/early 20’s ranging from the 9/11 attacks & the columbine-esque school shooting I mentioned earlier, to the Brittany Spears/Mandy Moore-style pop music that Celeste sings. The first half of Vox Lux is set in the late-90’s (I was born in late 1981 so I remember all the pop music that’s referenced). It’s crazy to think of a movie that features big music studio sessions & record labels as a sort of time stamp. Record labels and big studios are still a thing in 2018 but not like in the 90’s. You can easily make a home studio and upload your work to YouTube and/or SoundCloud and become a star without a record label now. Labels & studios are becoming a thing of a the past.
It’s funny that I decided to watch this over A Star Is Born as my kick-off movie here at the 2018 Toronto film festival as both movies deal with overnight success, reluctant stardom & the music industry.
Vox Lux is both chaotic and beautiful. It's not for everyone but the audience Corbet had in mind should appreciate it. Imagine if Olivier Assayas made a sequel/follow-up movie about Sarah Polley’s character in The Sweet Hereafter.