Saturday, December 15, 2018

More than a Mere Time Capsule

Shirkers (2018) - Tan
There are movers and there are shakers, then there are shirkers, narrates Sandi Tan, reminiscing about making the greatest indie movie in Singaporean history in the 80s that never saw the day of light. She and her best friends Jasmine and Sophia, rebelling punk girls back then, decided to make a film with the help of Georges Cardona, a enigmatic adult with haunting eyes and cool demeanor who owned the film collective or sort in Singapore at the time. Written by and starring Tan herself as a 16 year old heroine "S" that Sophia later describes as a 'mood piece', Shirkers was a labor of love and youthful passion project. The girls went their separate ways, literally right after the wrap, to LA, London and New York respectively for their schooling, leaving the finished film in the cans to Cardona. With his peculiar ways of communicating - sending audio tapes which he seldom did, the film sat and never got put together for years. It put a lot of strain on the friendship among three girls and Cardona seemed simply disappeared from the face of the earth with the unedited 70 cans of footage and all the meticulous production notes and sound tapes and props.

Tan went on to be a film critic and a writer/filmmaker. But Shirkers, the vanished, unedited film of a good chunk of her youth haunted her for 25 years. The documentary becomes a detective story as Tan looks back and trying to locate the illusive film that is a testament of her lost youth which is much more than just a time capsule.

I know that filmmaking is hard. Finishing it takes a lot of effort and determination. Shirkers spoke to me in a lot of different ways and invoked a lot of different emotions in me that I hid it from myself over the years. Independent filmmaking is truly a medium of self expression but because it's a communal medium as well, being an asshole is an absolute necessity- I don't care what others say, it's a very narcissistic endeavor.

Shirkers is a very entertaining, touching concoction film about filmmaking. It works because it's so personal.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

LA Lazy Noir

Under the Silver Lake (2018) - Mitchell
This is a pointless, indulgent, boringass filmmaking and a direct result of a big-success-got-to-his-head effort by a young director. David Robert Mitchell was riding high after his great indie horror success, It Follows. Under the Silver Lake, written and directed by Mitchell, has the hallmark symptoms of 'I'm so clever, gimme all the money' (matte) painted all over the 2 and a half hour yawn fest. This LA lazy noir gives countless unnecessary nods to old, cliché Hollywood - Rear Window to Marilyn Monroe to Irma Vep to The Long Goodbye to Big Inherent Lebowski with tonally completely wrong Bernard Herman-esque soundtrack.

It stars not so fabulously fresh Andrew Garfield as a LA loser Sam (Spade?), a permanently jobless/on the brink of homelessness man who sits around in his apartment doing nothing in particular except jerking off to nudes in old magazines but snoops on his neighbors with his binoculars in his bungalow style adobe equipped with sizable pool. There is a serial dog killer going around in his neighborhood. One night he gets smitten by a swimming bae Sarah (Riley Keough) and has a brief cannabis induced intimate moment. The next day he finds her disappeared and her apartment cleaned out overnight. So starts Sam's conspiracy theory laden journey into the so called underbelly of the City of Angels - countless parties, death cults, coded pop music, 90s nostalgia, etc.

Silver Lake tries to be many things at once but fails to be anything. It is not a brazen satire of skin-deep LA scene, nor an anthropological study of millennial generation, nor the scathing critique of pop culture nor it is a straight comedy, because it didn't make me laugh once. It reminded me a lot of Southland Tales, another sophomore clusterfuck of then a hotshot Richard Kelly riding high on his debut Donnie Darko. All the actors in Silver Lake are too old for their roles. Their late 90s R.E.M. blaring parties are lame and tiresome, their boulevard of broken dreams ring extremely hollow but not hollow enough to be a satire. This movie is just very sad and depressing without trying very hard. This might be the worst movie I've seen this year.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Literary Cinema

The Wild Pear Tree (2018) - Ceylan
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The Wild Pear Tree is yet another Nuri Bilge Ceylan's leisurely paced, literary filmic experience. Just like his other films, it starts out slowly- kind of middling and you don't know where it's going exactly. It's basically a post-college blues movie where the young protagonist is excessively downtrodden and cynical. It has some ceylan-ian showstoppers in beautiful rural Turkey setting here and there, visually speaking. And as always, just like a dense, good book, the film has rich characters and delicious philosophical musings.

Sinan (Dogu Demirkol), who just graduated from college wanting to be a writer just came back home to his parents in small rural town. He has some decisions to make - does he get some silly job in town or does he go to mandatory military service and forego entering the adulthood a little bit longer. His school teacher father Idris (Murat Cemcir) is squandering all the money on gambling, and digging a well where the water never comes, while annoying everyone around him.

A showstopper comes early with Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), Sinan's highschool sweetheart, not sure about her impending marriage which will surely guarantee a safe but boring life. They converse under a leaves-turning tree and share a forbidden kiss and it's stunning.

There are two very lengthy conversation scenes that shows Sinan's world view - one with him confronting a successful local author at a bookstore. Half jealous and half resentful, he questions the author's legitimacy of success. The other one is his talks with two young imams about the religion's place in the modern world. Obviously, the young man could do without faith.

Balancing petty earthly matters (his family dynamics) and the philosophical musings, The Wild Pear Tree plays out like a thick Russian novel. Cemcir deserves an award for his portrayal as a dreamer and a gambler whose self deprecating humor and otherworldly wisdom is right out of a Dostoevsky novel.

The Wild Pear Tree is that rare film that captures the trial and tribulations of a young person who is intelligent enough to be both self aware and pessimistic. His disdain for his father hides his own disenchantment about the dim future prospects. The film's title, also the title of Sinan's book which is supposed to be an honest observation of humanity, filled with colorful characters, not a travel brochure, and unironically, that's what you watching the film. Definitely one of the year's best.