Documentaries To-Be-Seen

My love for films also extend greatly beyond the fictive narrative, a well produced documentary can easily be as joyful or heart breaking as another film about falling in love. Some of my best film experiences are even documentaries, as they are spellbinding with their storytelling while also shedding light upon reality as it is and not what it could be. With that being said, my to-be-seen list of documentaries is rapidly growing, so here’s a slice of the wonders I intend to embark upon in the nearest future.

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The first installment of this series, released on Netflix in 2015, is in my top 5 best on screen experiences, so when the announcement of the follow up series releasement reached my conscious I was obviously thrilled. The previous season had me shaken to my roots, quivering with rage and empathy, mostly at the same time. It’s a massive queue to the American system of bureaucracy and law, and how equality is still very far off in the distance. And I expect the second season to be even more complicated, nuanced, and in depth about the inner beliefs of the state of freedom.

 

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The documentary of Icarus was presented to my through a recommendation in a YouTube video, and has been on my to-see list ever since. It’s not really a matter I usually find interesting, that being both sports and its related drugs, but branching out is usually a good decision, trying to explore and understand matters other than my personal interests. And similarly to Making A Murderer, this investigates bureaucracy and its hidden massive flaws which is hugely impactful on me, so this is actually a well chosen documentary to see. The movie poster for the documentary is also clever as few and hilarious while also simultaneously being clean cut gorgeous, hats off!


For the Love of Spock
(2016)
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Browsing for new series and movies to see I accidentally stumbled across this documentary, an exploration and depiction of Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock. The inner geek of me was immediately drawn to the subject, so it ended up on my to-watch-list. A fun side note is that the documentary was actually mentioned on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, in an episode where the character Sheldon Cooper is interviewed by Adam Nimoy (who directed the documentary even in real life) and the Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton (but who isn’t in the documentary). But even though Sheldon isn’t appearing in the actual documentary, Jim Parsons (the actor who plays him) is interviewed. Altogether, this documentary has so many levels of geek that watching it is inevitable.

Adrian

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Black Swan

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A modern, presumably to-be-(historical)-classic, film that has established itself being one of the greatest films of today is the works of Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan (2010). It is constantly praised for being a perfect resemblance and representation of the genre that explores the desire for artistic perfection, and has in some cases been compared to other films on this matter such as Whiplash (2014), while also being categorised as a psychological thriller for its dark, and dissonant sensuality.

The main theme of the film is the dichotomy and incongruence of light and dark, constantly letting them conquer each other in their differences in various key elements to the film. The white and black swan is the obvious metaphor for this in its simplicity of the visual difference, but also in their deeper meaning and essence, the imagined rivalry between Nina and Lily which perfectly represent each of the swans, and the constant depiction of sexuality and innocence, both dressed with the colour scheme of the opposites, to establish virginity as the light and sexuality as the dark. This dichotomy is also further created with the production of the movie. The setting of the movie alternates in the scheme of the main motive with recurring exchanges of light and dark scenes, portrayed by scenes varying in the time during the day, the characters constantly dressing in colour palettes that disclose their personalities and inner emotions, and the process of slowly decreasing the amount of light throughout the film. Another crucial level of this portrayal is the gradual disintegration of the separation of light and dark, which symbolises the process of Nina’s mental dismantling. The role of both the white and black swan is given to Nina forcing her to embrace them both, the intertwinement of Nina and Lily in the utterly sexual dream of Nina, and the climax of the final performance, with the story of the white and black swan. Settings that previously were light are now used in much darker scenes, and with that, the emotion and feeling towards the setting has changed within both the storyline and the audience. This technique allows for the audience not only believing that Nina is turning insane, but postulates the viewers to participate in the emotional odyssey to derangement.

Another level to this dichotomy the fundamental human relationship to morality, with the perpetual discourse of right and wrong being withheld with the ultimate tool of power, shame. Nina is being held captive in the arms of an obsessive mother, constantly praised for her achievements in, ultimately, innocence and being treated to that standard. Her bedroom is kept childlike filled with stuffed animals, the appearance of a ballerina box is recurring, and her mother demands absolute knowledge and control over Nina. This creates an atmosphere in which Nina is conclusively being kept a child, even though she has reached the very ripe age of 28. With this problematic relationship with her over protective mother, she has not experiences much that would imply her adulthood, such as accepting and exploring her sexuality, which is a key element for her to completing her role as the black swan. In various scenes this is mentioned when Nina is practising dancing in the presence of the director of the production, Leroy. He constantly comments on her stiff performance and sense of the role, perfectly mastering the innocence of the white swan but struggling to fully commit to the dark essence of the black swan. Consistently throughout the film Leroy sheds light on the matter, while Nina equally as frequently passes it on as nonsense and therefore denying the existence of her having any kind of sexuality. Another scene in the film that speaks volume in this matter is, undoubtedly, the masturbation sequence. When Nina finally decides to commit and tries to discover her sexuality through masturbation, being in the very midst of it, she finds herself interrupted by the sight of her mother in her room, vast asleep but still constantly watching her. Obviously, this is washed over with shame causing Nina to further oppress parts of herself being too adult for her mother’s belief that Nina is still a young girl.

Black Swan is the embodiment of the psychopathic and unhinged, in depicting a film through the perspective of main character whose reality is distorted, morphed into insanity. The films tells the story of the fundamental dichotomies of the entirety of humanity, and forces the audience to participate in the climax of the salvation, the ultimate form of purification not from sin but from morality, catharsis.

Adrian

New Takes on Romance

Since the quantity of films enlarges by the minute, the standard of genres and motives must update and renew themselves in order to surprise an audience and leave them in awe. This could be done in matters of complete originality, with new production methods or rule breaking. However, an interesting aspect of nuances films are those who stay within their genres but deliver a new perspective. It is not rule breaking by the standards of the motive, but how the main theme is brought to the screen not by the production but by the script.

A common theme and motive in films is romance, and while there’s a million of movies telling the same story recycled into eternity some films and series explores romance and love on completely different levels than your average rom com.

Zoe (2018)
A rising genre amongst films about love is the specific theme of modern love, including technology. This can and is often depicted in the moral that technology decreases romance and the spontaneously feeling within instant, unexpected infatuation. However, Zoe explores the genre of modern love differently by examining the matter of technology as the object of love and the romantic relationship between humans and technology. This is modern love at its peak, introducing a concept and a moral viewpoint to humans of what society can develop into and asks not only the characters in the films difficult questions but raises awareness towards the audience. Within this category the movie Her (2013) is obviously also included.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This is one of the earlier masterpieces of this specific sub genre of movies, which is easily described as a film about movie for people who hate romance; with a touch of science fiction without ever spending time in space. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tells the story of two people loving each other endlessly, but also hatefully, while asking the main characters, and the audience, the question of the importance of former partners. Would you, if given the chance, erase the memory of a previous partner? It is a wonderful and new perspective on telling a love story, and most of all a life story, that really digs deep into our inner thoughts and values of our relationships with others, current or previous.

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The End of the F***ing World (2017)
Another series on the list, this time in the genre of, believe it or not, the classic rom com. And while this seems rather unbelievable, since the series is not easily associated with the cheesy remake of the same story in endless amounts, it’s just for this reason it is the perfect example for this topic. The End of the Fucking World is a comedy series telling the story of the young love relationship between the main characters James and Alyssa, and with a dark sense of humour and a much darker main motive it delivers a well written, gorgeously acted, and absurd story line that is unforgettable. And ultimately, a rather nuanced and definitely renewed version of a romantic comedy.

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Adrian

Cool Girl or the Good Girlfriend Syndrome

Within feminist theory gender roles and norms are not only identified based upon the parameter of sex, but into subcategories of these generalisations. Some of the more common ones are the Good Girl, the Madonna, and the Whore for women and the Emotionless Jock, the Sexless but Lovely Male Friend, and the Gay Best Friend for men (as still, feminist theory can’t identify specific roles for people standing outside of the binary frame of gender, since lack of representation for people of non-binary identities). These represent certain roles created from social pressure of gender, and while most people can recognise these patterns, there is one stereotype that is mostly left alone, that I personally only really have come across in Gone Girl (2014), what one of the lead roles Amy Dunne defines as the “Cool Girl”.

Cool Girl is described as a role a woman takes on because of a man, specifically in the frame of a sexual and or romantic relationship, and entails a state of being that exudes ease. A cool girl is not complicated, nor of her own character, but absolutely subversive to a man, in his specific personality. Cool girl doesn’t have standards, but not in the same way as the Whore, but suited for the man of the said relationship. Amy explains this in her monologue in the film as “Nick loved a girl I was pretending to be. Cool girl. Men always use that, don’t they?  As their defining compliment. She’s a Cool girl. Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She only smiles in a chagrin loving manner and then presents her mouth for fucking. She like what he likes. So, evidently, he’s vinyl hipster who loves fetish monger. If he likes girls gone wild, she’s a mall babe who talks football and endures buffalo wings at Hooters.

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Cool girl adapts. This is not to state that people should never adapt or compromise for each other, in healthy relationships this is usually a must, since people more often than rare are not perfectly suited for each other, even in the most beautiful stories of love. But adapting, and compromising, for each other, meaning both parties are equal, is different to what occurs in the case of a Cool Girl. Within a relationship where the woman becomes the Cool Girl, the adaptation and compromising comes from only one part, leading the other part, the man, to think there is nothing to adapt to and living after that standard, his standard.

The concept of a Cool Girl can also be extended, exploring relationships in which these adaptations are not only made in the framework of personality and lifestyle choices, but of emotional matters. Goals and dreams in life, fundamental values of the relationship, and emotional work. The Cool Girl has now entered into a much deeper psychological framework of the relationship, what I personally call the Good Girlfriend Syndrome. In my definition the Cool Girl is more of a shallow kind of adaptation, mostly used in rapid, easy going relationships, or in the early stages of a more emotional, committed relationship. This is also the case of the relationship between Amy and Nick Dunne in Gone Girl. Amy present herself as Cool Girl in the earlier stages of the relationship, and even though this charade continues for a longer period of time, the stereotype has now morphed into the Good Girlfriend Syndrome. In the beginning of the relationship Amy adapted to certain lifestyle choices, but moving forward she adapts to deep emotional matters of her relationship with Nick. She follows him to live in his hometown so he can be close to his mother, even though she would have rather not, and she adapts to his extreme comfort in their relationship, even to the point when he stops to put effort into their relationship. But she sticks with it, dragging the weight of the emotional work needed in the relationship. The desire to be a good partner to someone is not the same as wanting to be a Good Girlfriend, while it might seem similar, or even natural. To act as a great partner in life require understanding, emotional commitment, and most of all honesty, while acting as the Good Girlfriend accordingly to the (my) theorem of the named syndrome requires primarily one thing, which stated earlier; adaptation, but also the discipline to do so, which related back to more common grounds of gender generalisations and pressures from society of women taking care of others in spite of hurting themselves.

This is interesting in many layers, but probably mostly because it reveals a lot about inequality among men and women in close relationships, and is a contribution to the question of how men view women. Because even though Gone Girl is a psychological thriller, which reveals itself by altering Amy from the Good Girlfriend into a psychopath, which is not a topic for this time or matter, this film (and book) is my opinion a perfect example of modern inequality and the view of women, both in depicting the first reality of Amy constantly adapting but then later in defining and questioning the paradigm. This is modern criticism of this inequality that is very present of this time, that even though society is becoming more equal, it’s not fully there, especially in close relationships. This films tells the story of the everyday matter of how men seek out what is colloquially called “real women”, in the sense that Amy presented it in her monologue. Women with meat on their bones, who like beer and burgers, and who are not complicated but down to earth. This is the view a lot of men have of women, and sometimes can be praised for, for when a man loves a woman who is not conventional to previous paradigm of women. However, this is wrongfully misleading, since this is not depicting women as real, but just altering the scheme of which women are compared and held up against to. A real woman is a human being, both beyond but also strongly influenced by her gender and those assumptions gender comes with because no one can truly escape society.

Gone Girl is a film that has been praised, and obviously also criticized, for various reasons. It has been nominated and awarded for its technicalities of production, screenplay, casting and actors, soundtrack, and depictions of an alternative for the villain, and has also been ranked upon many top lists of film of modern day. Amy Dunne as a character has been widely discussed, studied, and been viewed in awe, both for being a ruthless psychopath and also being an interesting character in film that has brought something new to the screen. But Gone Girl has also provided the identification and definition of a gender assumption, the Cool Girl, and given representation of a new field of study in the matters of gender equality in close relationships and feminist theory.

Adrian

The Joker: Ledger versus Phoenix

One of film history’s biggest roles is the Joker, with his psychopathic yet oddly witty personality thriving in his dominance and absolute carelessness. He is not only unlike any other character on screen, but also unlike any villain, nor superheroes thereof. To portray a realistic, complex, and suitable character is an art in itself, but to create a villain on screen demands serious techniques beyond any other. Especially the Joker, since he above all is an established favourite amongst the comic book characters and is presented with such ludicrous manners parading in his suit of a clown. To make this character in a non animated film, that also thrive to be taken seriously, is therefore a project of great complexity; especially in casting the best suited actor for the role.

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Presented in I Am Heath Ledger (2017), the actor of which the documentary was created to praise was not highly respected or trusted to take on the role of the Joker. When Christopher Nolan released that he would cast Heath Ledger as the Joker in upcoming sequel to Batman people were not overly excited, not even his close friends by seen in the documentary. By this time Ledger was not an A-lister, only having done a few roles and even by mastering the role of Ennis del Mar in Brokeback Mountain (2006) he was not seen as an actor of value in the eyes of the public. However Ledger delivered and performed his part as the Joker with such depth that the success rate of Batman: The Dark Knight (2008) skyrocketed, landing on many best-movies-of-all-time lists. It also established Ledger as a force to be reckoned with, and being considered as one of the greatest actors and delivering one of the best performances of perhaps the century. Most importantly, he didn’t fall flat in comparison to Jack Nicholson and his interpretation of the Joker in Batman (1989), however Ledger stand beside him; even above in many eyes (including mine).

While the Joker has indeed been portrayed after Ledger by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016), the performance and even simply the appearance of Leto easily can be compared by George Clooney’s lousy attempt at taking on Batman in Batman & Robin (1997), it would have been better never proceeded, here we stand again; letting the role of the Joker move forward to another actor with both anticipation and fear. This time to Joaquin Phoenix in the upcoming film Joker (2019).

Phoenix is formerly known for his performances in The Master (2012), Her (2013), Gladiator (2000), and Walk the Line (2005), also recognised for his activism including being cast as the narrator for the documentary Earthlings (2005). And while the anticipation of watching Phoenix playing the Joker is remarkably higher with him already being an established actor, it also allows for a higher downfall if he doesn’t succeed. It is not with distrust in Phoenix as an actor this is pointed out, but with the element of surprise. Previously mentioned Ledger was not thought of much before he wooed everyone with his performance, which while it was a disadvantage leading up to the release of the movie quickly turned to an advantage. Ledger could enter the role of the Joker completely and dominate everyone with his brilliance, partly because no one thought he would. However, in the case of Phoenix, its the opposite. He has the advantage leading up to the release of the origin story of the Joker being highly trusted and already dominating the discussion of upcoming films, but the question is if he can stand tall when the film is let into the world.

Also, the success of both the film and the character of the Joker is not simply based upon the performance of Phoenix. It also depends on the entirely of the movie, primarily based on the techniques of film making and adaptation of the story line. An in this, Batman: The Dark Knight had an advantage. A origin story is not for everyone’s consumption, since it usually is far less exhilarating and much more straight up geeky than a protagonist versus antagonist element to the narrative. If the latter appears in Joker, the character of the Joker is also determined by the portrayal of Batman, since the chemistry is crucial to the story. Another interesting aspect to this is the idea of protagonist and antagonist duos, in the theory of film making is set to being an absolute. The Joker performs best with a specific opponent, any form of good hearted fellow won’t do. A deeper analysis of this is presented by the Lessons from the Screenplay, which dives deeper into why Batman: The Dark Knight was the ultimate film for both Batman and the Joker. This a key point in the infrastructure of which the Joker has to exist in to be able to perform as a character, which is probably hugely missing in an origin story.

However, the origin story also has advantages to the classical good versus evil narration. The time frame of which the Joker will have in his own movie is much larger, focusing primarily on him as a character and allowing all elements to explore and develop the role further than what could be done in a film following another character. Every element of Joker can be used to benefit the story of the Joker, in his madness and insanity but also have time to gain understanding regarding other sides of the character such as his background and perhaps more vulnerable emotions. And this, hopefully, nuanced portrayal of the Joker will succeed gracefully if Phoenix step forward into the role as he previously has done, being nominated for three Academy Awards and a sea of other honorships.

All things considered, my personal view of the matter is that while Phoenix might perform with elegance and deliver a well rounded version of the Joker the premises of him conquering the leader of the role to both Nicholson and Ledger seems too unlikely for him to succeed. Especially with the shock factor of what was the work of Ledger’s acting combined with an less outstanding but still honorable performance of Christian Bale playing Batman and the directing by Nolan that created the masterpiece that is Batman: The Dark Knight. However, it will bring much interest and contemptment to follow the path to the release of the Joker and hopefully Phoenix, and the film, will not only amaze me, but also prove me wrong.

Adrian

Call Me By Your Name

In regards to films and series I’m someone who is drawn to the bizarre, mysterious, surrealistic, and slightly insane, topping my favourite list of movies and series are titles such as Batman: The Dark Knight (2008), Maniac (2018), Twin Peaks (1992-2017), and Black Swan (2010) etc, all leaving me feeling shaken to my core of fear and overwhelmed with the satisfaction of it all, it’s a mysterious kind of drug. However, the exception to this is Call Me By Your Name (2017).

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Call Me By Your Name is based on the book, with the same title, released in 2007 by author André Aciman. It tells a coming of age story exploring matters of the human range of emotions, both beautiful and miserable, regarding relationships, sexuality, and primarily love depicting a whirlwind of a relationship between the two main characters. The film is a masterpiece by director Luca Guadagnino with wonderfully hurtful but beautiful original songs by Sufjan Stevens, a pastel colour palette that set the tone of the story perfectly, and a screenplay with such elegance it won an Academy Award. Both the film and the book can be discussed during endless hours only for their craftsmanship and other matters of production, such as storyline and characters depictions. The film can also applaud itself on forming one of the most well acted performances by lead actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, who deliver electricity with their characters Elio and Oliver and mostly, the chemistry between them.

The plot explores and develops the theme of falling head over heels in love with someone, and what that entails. It explores sexuality, both in the matter of its definition but also like a phenomenon that forces human beings to obey and surrender to one’s desires. But what sets this story apart from other love stories for me, is the complete acceptance of love not only being the cause but often the reason of feelings of confusion, shame, and sadness. Call Me By Your Name explores not only the beauty of being in love, but the agony with it. To have such strong emotions towards one person isn’t always easy, it never is. This isn’t a mediocre feeling of liking someone, or the wholesomeness of loving someone dearly, this is the kind of feeling that knocks you over completely. The moment Elio fell in love with Oliver, he also fell apart. Every cell of him disintegrated into nothingness, an act so subversive he had to follow. Oliver, throughout the story, was completely controlling of Elio, not in his action but in his mere existence. And completely broken down, Elio had to rebuilt himself with Oliver within every cell of his body. Elio could never be the same. People might say that this is insanity and that love shouldn’t make you feel this strongly, and to a certain degree that is correct. To feel this strongly is highly self destructive, especially if the other person doesn’t share the experience. It knocks the power balance out of the game. However, emotions are not under human control, they are free spirits of chemicals that rush through people without needing consent of existing. And yes, feeling such love is truly insanity.

The book explores this insanity much deeper than the film, it can easily explained that while they both share the same core theme, love comes with pain, the film focuses more on the matter of that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved, but the book is centered around the idea that being in love is not only beautiful and happy. And while this separation is necessary for the film to have been received as it was, and it brings beauty to a specific topic of love, people who only have seen the film are missing out on a serious matter. The book dives deeper into Elio’s thoughts around his own feelings about being in love, much more personal than what Oliver ever is a part of. For being in love is so much seen as something you share, and while part of it is, a huge part of this feeling is only for oneself to explore and live with since you also have to live with yourself being in love, without the person you’re in love with. One’s whole personality might change, curb to the person one is in love with, and the fundamental feeling of existing is altered.

“I didn’t know what I was afraid of, nor why I worried so much, nor why this thing that could so easily cause panic felt like hope sometimes and, like hope in the darkest moments, brought such joy, joy with a noose tied around it. The thud my heart gave when I saw him unannounced both terrified and thrilled me. I was afraid when he showed up, afraid when he failed to, afraid when he looked at me, more frightened yet when he didn’t” page 59

The insanity of being in love is not very often portrayed in medias of consumption, or at least any similar to Call Me By Your Name. The usual imagery of someone being crazily in love is slapstick comedy, while Elio’s emotions are stripped of any kind of humorous character. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s insane. And throughout the story it is never fully considered to straightforwardly wrong, the insanity of Elio’s feelings towards Oliver are depicted with such ease that it seems… given? And perhaps this is why the sad love story of Call Me By Your Name stands strong with my favourite films amongst more outspokenly insanity, the movie depicts something alternative to the very normative narrative of love and makes my personal emotions and experiences feel less… deranged.

Adrian