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adaptation

Pin (1988)
Written and Directed by Sandor Stern

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Young Leon and his sister Ursula are growing up with an incredibly strict mother and father. She is a housewife obsessed with keeping their home a clean and tidy place. He is a doctor who uses ventriloquism to speak through a lifesize medical mannequin nicknamed Pin. Their father does this to teach life lessons to the siblings, but Leon becomes very invested in this ruse even as he grows older. Ursula is in on the trick but finds Leon becomes very sensitive when the truth is pointed out. Tragedy strikes and the two are left to fend for themselves in the world. Leon thinks it would be a good idea to move Pin from his father’s offices to their enormous mansion. Fun ensues.

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It (2017)
Written by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman
Directed by Andy Muschietti

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It’s 1988 in Derry, Maine and Bill Denbrough is mourning his brother Georgie who vanished one rainy Saturday afternoon. His group of friends begins to have similar experiences all revolving around a menacing clown called Pennywise. He seems connected to Derry’s history of disappearances, far beyond that of any other town in America. As the Losers, their club’s nickname, investigate further they are led into the very bowels of Derry where the evil waits, eating up their fear and the children of the town.

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Death Note (2017)
Written by Charley Parlapanides & Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Directed Adam Wingard

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Angsty Seattle teen Light Turner has a potent weapon literally drop out of the sky, the Death Note. Light finds this leather bound journal is a device that can kill anyone who the bearer knows the face and name of. The target’s name is recorded on a page of the book and Ryuk, the death god who accompanies the book does the rest. It should seem pretty obvious that Light ends up way over his head very quickly. He ends up sharing his secret with Mia, a cheerleader at his school and she takes to the book with a disturbing glee. Soon the series of strange deaths, all befalling known criminals, draws the attention of authorities and an unusual detective known only as L.

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American Gods Season 1 (Starz)
Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman
Written by Bryan Fuller, Neil Gaiman, Michael Green, Maria Melnik, Bekah Brunstetter, Seamus Kevin Fahey, and David Graziano
Directed by David Slade, Adam Kane, Vincenzo Natali, Floria Sigismondi, and Craig Zobel

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Shadow Moon is a convict about to be released from prison following a failed robbery. He finds himself in the midst of personal tragedy as soon as he re-enters the outside world. However, a strange man named Mr. Wednesday crosses paths with Shadow and offers him a job to drive him around the country. Shadow beings to learn about the growing tensions between the transplanted gods of the Old World and the increasingly powerful new American Gods. With each stop, Shadow’s fundamental understanding of the universe begins to change.

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The Elephant Man (1980, dir. David Lynch)

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Simply put, The Elephant Man is one the greatest films ever made. This is the last of David Lynch’s feature film work had to watch, something I’d put off for years because I didn’t want to run out of his work that could be new to me. But, with the impending return of Twin Peaks, I decided now was the time to complete his filmography. I can’t imagine picking a better film that both contrasts with so much of work, yet compliments it.

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The Handmaiden (2016, dir. Park Chan-Wook)

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In the 1920s, Korea was under the control of Japan as part of its expanding empire. In this state of affairs lives Tamako, a pickpocket raised by a Fagin-esque house mother. Tamako is chosen by the art forger “Count Fujiwara” to be his accomplice in collecting the fortune of a young Japanese noble lady. This involves Tamako posing as her new handmaiden and traveling to live with the woman on her uncle’s rural estate. Tamako feels an almost immediate bond with her new mistress, Lady Hideko when they first meet. However, she begins to learn the relationship between Lady Hideko and Uncle Kouzuki is much more complicated and darker than she first expected. When Fujiwara arrives at the estate, Tamako finds herself forced to carry out a plan she is no longer comfortable with. But there is more going on here than our protagonist realizes.

I haven’t devoured the work of Park Chan-wook, but what I have seen I’ve loved. Oldboy is the title most film fans would recognize, but I enjoyed his vampire film Thirst more. His first English-language film Stoker was an engaging moody art house flick. But The Handmaiden feels like a pinnacle film. Much like, Moonlight which I just watched and reviewed, The Handmaiden is made by a filmmaker who is very confident in his work. Every technical, structural, and character element is finely crafted and presented. The story elements are woven with a subtext that speaks to colonialism, identity, and sexuality. What you end up with is a film that misses no marks and is near perfection.

The film is presented in three chapters, the first is focused on Tamako, the second on Lady Hideko, and the third acts as the denouement of the story. From the opening frames, Tamako is presented as a very captivating character. She is an incredibly confident young woman who quickly switches between her own personality and the submissive handmaiden, Sook-lee. Without giving away the second act reveal, our presentation of Tamako is colored in a very biased way and in the second chapter we see her in a very different light, the same is said for Lady Hideko.

Lady Hideko, the co-protagonist of the film, is an incredibly complicated character. She was raised by her Uncle and late Aunt, and the dark history she has in the estate is truly disturbing. Her Uncle treasures his vast book collection many than any human, his late wife included, and this obsession has ties to what led her to be found hanging from the cherry blossom tree in the yard. Hideko is a character who provokes emotions and reactions from everyone around her, a trait that is important as men come from Japan to hear her do dramatic readings from her Uncle’s collection. What she does to Tamako can at times seem cruel, but there is a dark secret behind her motives.

The Handmaiden is a very difficult film to talk about without giving away secrets. The film borrows heavily from the tone of classic Gothic literature (Rebecca, Jane Eyre) but also feels indebted to Noir like Double Indemnity. The estate itself is a fusion of Japanese and English architecture (the film is based on a British novel). Beyond the story is a commentary on the complicated history between Japan and Korea. Hideko’s Uncle is a Korean who desperately wishes to be Japanese. So much so he married a Japanese noblewoman and took her family name over his. He comments at one point that everything about Korea is filth and he wants to wash it away. Moments like that elevate a film that could be a simple thriller to a piece of filmmaking that has something to say about it’s creator’s cultural history. This is a film that once you see it, you’ll have frames frozen in your mind for a long time after.

Arrival (2016, dir. Denis Villeneuve)

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The likely cause of almost every argument or conflict you have had or will have in your life is an inability to express your point of view through language. Add to this a common desire of getting your point across rather than hearing another’s and you spiral into conflicts that can increase in intensity. Why do we become so focused on what we have to say rather than listen to another? Why is empathy such a hard mindset for us to achieve? Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival wants to explore ideas of communication and perspective and, like all the best science fiction uses a fantastical scenario to present us with very real ideas.

The film opens with a montage showing the birth, life, and death of a little girl. She’s the daughter of Louise Banks (Amy Adams). It’s a pretty rough opening, even more so I would dare than Up. After this montage, we cut to Louise arriving at the college campus where she works as a linguist. The campus is in an uproar, and she eventually learns that twelve strange objects have appeared across the Earth and are believed to be alien craft. Louise is brought into the mission to make successful communication by the U.S. government who are in turn coordinating with the developed nations of the world. Where Arrival goes will definitely surprise you and how the arrival of these beings connects to the story of Louise’s daughter will be the greatest revelation of all.

With this film I can say that Villeneuve has cemented himself as one of my favorite directors of all time and I believe is on his way to becoming one of the best in the art form. I don’t think we have seen his “great film” yet, but we are incredibly close and I’m excited. There is no bombast in his style. While Kubrick was a very much a visual minimalist he could become explosive in his work, not that it was a bad thing and he most certainly earned it. Christopher Nolan is much more in line with Kubrick sensibilities, frigid emotionally but very complex in ideas and concepts. Villeneuve is also working on complex ideas but has a more delicate touch and can bring the human emotional experience into his work without feeling maudlin. He is able to achieve a sort of ambient emotional tone. You feel the emotion of the character without verbalization. Performances are brought out of his actors that convey raw reaction yet filtered through honest human behavior.

Every element of Arrival’s production is at the highest levels. Screenwriter Eric Heisser kept the key pieces of Ted Chiang’s short story “The Story of Your Life” and added the right level of personal intimacy and changes that a film version of that piece needed. Jóhann Jóhannsson, a collaborator with Villeneuve on Prisoners and Sicario, delivers a score that evokes all the profound sense of otherworldliness the visitors should have. The moment Louise arrives at the ship, and first ventures inside is one of the most flawlessly executed sequences I’ve seen in a film all year. Johanssen’s music, the textured production design of Patrice Vermette, and the cinematography of Bradford Young coalesce into a profoundly visceral and eerie experience.

I was a couple years late to Children of Men, missing it’s 2006 release and catching up with it in 2008. What I saw was a film that captured the tone and mindset created by what is probably the most world-changing event in my lifetime, 9/11. Children of Men accurately reflected the sense of tension, paranoia, and xenophobia that was growing at the time. Using science fiction, it was able to tell that story in a way that something set in “our world” would have felt dishonest. Yet through all the despair and decay that director Alfonso Cuarón put onto the screen, he brought us to the conclusion with a sense of hope. I believe Arrival is a film that serendipitously happened at the right time and when it was needed. There is a profound ideological shift going on in our world, and it is incredibly scary right now. In these moments cinema can guide us and help move from these places of despair and remind us there is hope. Arrival is speaking about the growing divisions between nations, communities, and virtually everyone. The need to expand perspectives and work hard to see the world outside of how we’ve always seen it is essential to our survival. The myopic military figures in the film are not villains, they just are too scared to see beyond how they’ve always seen. We have to grasp the idea that life is not about convincing others to see our way but to learn and have empathy for the viewpoint of others. In the same way that Children of Men affected and changed me, Arrival has/is/will do the same and is going to be a film that remains with me for the rest of my life I suspect.

 

***SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING***

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