Friday, March 17, 2017

5 Great Directors Who Could Totally Pull Off a Matrix Reboot

Ah yes, the 1999 classic film so obviously about queer identity and culture that eventually was co-opted by edgy libertarians and soon after the misogynistic alt-right. You're quite familiar with The Matrix and so are we. The tale of liberating oneself from the constraints of the artifice laid in front of us. It was considered the current generation's They Live in many respects, but it seems that as 1999 creeps away into the recesses of our memory, the twentieth anniversary of this cinematic masterpiece upcoming, it is perhaps time to find another sci-punk blockbuster to encapsulate our contemporary fears. We could, of course, pour money into a new franchise or even just one-off to become the next genre classic, but how can we count on that in the age of pre-existing characters and plotlines topping the box office in unwatchable schlock? What we need is an MCU imported director to really do the nuanced and unbelievably intricate world of The Matrix justice. There's a lot of canon to consider, carefully curated and written by two fantastic artists so we must be cautious in transposing it to our current times.

The question then arises: who could possibly take on this Herculean task? Who could create our generations punk masterpiece with the same level of crazy formalism and pop philosophy? We at BLACK CIRCLE have found five such masters of form who we believe could take on the task.

1. The Wachowski Sisters

Two of Warner Bros. craziest long-stayers, the Wachowski Sisters have spent the last twenty years making some of the finest science-fiction and action films we've seen. From the candy-colored, furiously fast Speed Racer to the tense-as-fuck neo-noir Bound to the revisionist YA saga-starter Jupiter Ascending, no one can say something like The Matrix is out of their range. There's been speculation on whether or not the Wachowskis can handle a property like The Matrix and it seems that perhaps the studio feels the same way. Is there any evidence that they could pull it off? Are there, perhaps, three currently existing films with their name on them in the Matrix saga? Would these films happen to be some of the most lasting trilogies in cinematic history? Would what they brought to this property still hold up and be heavily quoted, referenced, and even parodied today? No one can say for sure. 

2. Lilly Wachowski

A long-time director for Warner Brothers, Lilly Wachowski helped bring-to-life the newly emerged cult classic Speed Racer, whose following is as dedicated as one can get for a revisionist anime adaptation. If that's enough, another film she worked on, Jupiter Ascending has started to see a cult growing as well, with fans being attracted to its radical gender politics, pop economic theory, and revolutionary take on capitalism and commodification of body, all themes that would work perfectly in the world of The Matrix. The only downside of working with such a creative director would be her possible insistence on adding her own creative stamp to The Matrix trilogy, and we wouldn't want someone messing with another creator's work beyond recognition, would we? 



3. Lana Wachowski



If Lilly is unavailable, thankfully she has a sister! Lana Wachowski ended up working on some Matrix related content like helping to write vignettes for The Animatrix and overseeing the canon content of the Matrix comic-book collection. She also helped direct all those fine films that Lilly was doing for Warner Bros. during the 2000s. What would make Lana the perfect fit? Probably her familiarity with the canon. It's not like she and her sister conceived, wrote, directed, and produced the original trilogy or anything, but her work on the immense amount of extracinematic but still canonical material perhaps gives her the perfect insight on bringing The Matrix to life once again.



4. Lilly & Lana Wachowski



Here's a crazy idea (stick with me on this one), what if we combined 2 and 3 and had both Lilly and Lana work together? It's not unprecedented! They did work together on their debut film Bound along with their first script for the Richard Donner directed Assassins. Although this was back in the 90s, they also collaborated together on films like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas right here in the 21st century. Perhaps the key to their success actually lies in the fact that both of them work so well together, but that's just a thought.





5. M. Night Shyamalan




It's a BLACK CIRCLE list. We're basically required to put him here. 

Warner Brothers, and any studios who read this, if M. Night takes your project thinking he's going to direct the next King Hu/Akira Kurosawa epic, of mysticist action and humanist philosophy, please don't fight with him. He knows what he's doing. He also probably watched whatever shitty anime you're asking him to adapt for the screen. 

Also, don't force him to put white people in it. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

LA LA LAND or: The Unexpected Virtues of Cynicism



I have a confession… Since ‘La La Land’ screened at the ‘Toronto International Film Festival’ and Damien Chazelle was declared by New York City film critic David Elrich as ‘Jacques Demy for the digital age’, I have been reacting with a tirade of unjustifiable resentment. I have defrocked the film to my contemporaries, referring it solely as ‘Blah Blah Bland’ and renounced Chazelle as a lackey who plainly viewed the musicals of Demy, Donen and Minelli on ‘Turner Classic Movies’ one lazy Sunday afternoon and determined that he too could direct a musical of fervency and melancholy. These misguided preconceptions formed on one hyperbolic acclamation from a critic with whom I have dissenting opinions and the overexposure of the soundtrack by objectionable youths who cavort while ‘Somewhere in the Crowd’ plays over their Uber drivers speaker on the way to the nightclub. After viewing the film however, I’d like to apologize for my erroneous conjecture as there is more to the film than meets the eye.

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The opening sequences of ‘La La Land’ overtly establishes an atmosphere of nostalgia as Chazelle memorializes his cinematic guardian angel Jacques Demy specifically his 1964 operatic musical ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’. He applies Demy’s archetypal kaleidoscopic interiors and seasonal title cards and employs them as stepping stones to compose his own singular symphonic fantasy of cynicism. Each musical cue from the ‘Young Girls of Rochefort’-esque ‘Another Day of Sun’ to the ‘American in Paris’ influenced ‘Epilogue’ define the subjective and objective reality in which Mia [Stone] and Sebastian [Gosling] wander dispiritedly.

The audience are introduced to Chazelle’s Walter Mitty’s during a confrontation of impatience on the highway after the first musical number. They perform a brief skit that resembles how ‘The Philadelphia Story[ies]’ Dexter Haven [Cary Grant] would react if Tracy Lord [Katherine Hepburn] cut him off on the freeway.  Chazelle commences an intersecting narrative, revealing the humdrum routine of his characters in their futile pursuits to become revered artists. Initially Mia and Sebastian loathe each other, however in the tradition of Old Hollywood they descend into wistful romance during the evocative ‘A Lovely Night’ sequence. The couple commit to far-flung faux romanticisms and grandiose gestures isolated from the objective reality – Mia obscures the view of the projector during ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and confesses her adoration to Sebastian through silence and a yearning gaze.  The apex of this fabrication, is their slow dance at the Observatory, eclipsing tangibility as they displace gravity and waltz amongst the cosmos, entering their idealized Los Angeles. A utopian location of grandeur and quixotic elegance that recognizes the unweary creators. The gambol amid the macrocosm, entices the audience to consider that Mia and Sebastian will accomplish their vocational and relationship desires.

The hyper-rhapsodized reality and joyous rapture of the first act arrives at an impetuous standstill as the musical elements lay dormant and the character’s behaviours begin to penetrate realism. Sebastian becomes entangled in the distressing objective reality, postponing his dreams of singlehandedly reviving jazz to secure material abundance. Mia also experiences a spiritual crisis, reconsidering her own self-worth as an actress, after she encounters ruthless criticism on her one woman show. The pair separate and are reunited again in the ‘5 Years Later – Epilogue’.

Despite a personal hostility towards postscripts in cinema, the epilogue to ‘La La Land’ subverts clichĂ©’s of the genre. Mia and Sebastian’s dream become realized and their narratives intersect again. Mia, now a married starlet encounters Sebastian at his club and beholds him with a desirous gaze as he performs a medley of the films soundtrack. Chazelle allows the audience a brief glimpse of what could have been between the estranged lovers had they not separated.  They once again enter the realm of subjective reality and faux romanticism, whirling in the macrocosms, and viewing Super 8 reels of their professionally and romantically fulfilled existence. Mia and Sebastian don’t get the conventional conclusion as Chazelle opts for realism, apprising the audience that while the couple shaped each other’s creative gifts, they were simply not meant to spent their lives together. This sorrowful finale serves as a misanthropic reminder to the target millennial generation that they often have to compromise between their artistic and romantic pursuits. 
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Afterword: While I consider La La Land a slightly above average film, I continue to maintain that it could have been a masterwork if it had been directed by Whit Stillman and centred on Mia’s Yuppie roommates or her high society boyfriend Greg.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New to Blu: RULES DON'T APPLY




Released to Blu-Ray February 28, 2017

"They don't make them like they used to" seems to have been the rallying cry of 2016, what with the nostalgia-porn tidal wave of films like La La Land and CafĂ© Society, both of which are ostensibly cynical takes on the idea of fawning over a bygone era. Perhaps it's the dire state of new blockbuster releases being homogenized, steady sludge being pumped into the cineplex or the seeming fading legacy of film to the rise of the next Golden Age of television that has forced creators to re-examine their beloved craft. Unfortunately for us, and anyone who managed to sit through La La Land can surely testify to this, the films that tend to examine film itself, especially in 2016, have the chance of somehow being bigger slogs than standard MCU fair, some even going as far as to implicitly praise the cultural gentrification of the past. 

Despite the intense wave of subverted takes on the pangs of memory, only two films from 2016 truly understood the nature of cinephilia intersecting with memory. On one hand, Robert Zemeckis's uncharacteristically great Allied, and Warren Beatty's silent comeback Rules Don't Apply. For someone who hasn't felt the need to make a film in eighteen years while having enough names in the address book to make any film he wanted, what's most striking about Rules Don't Apply is its seeming down-to-earthness. Perhaps the key to its brilliance in its critique of the then developing "New Hollywood" is the authorship, someone who was key in that development placing himself in the role of someone who would soon be lost to it. A startling development considering Beatty is himself about to be lost to the next generation of Hollywood, developing during this period of creative arrest. And while someone of the status and consequentially the ego of Beatty should realistically have posited this as another "They don't make them like they used to" rant, he instead opts for a sort of self-critique. The most flattering comparison I can muster is to Chaplin's A King in New York, where Beatty is perhaps suggesting, by embodying the fading Howard Hughes, that perhaps if his legacy is lost it's because the filmmakers of today don't need him anymore. 

It's during Beatty's introspective scenes that the film is most interesting, but absolutely during the Colins/Ehrenreich exchanges that the film becomes most entertaining. The introspection is surely the deepest part of the film, but it is appropriately regulated to the side. What really carries the film, aside from Deschanel's typically stellar photography, is Beatty's direction of these two incredible performances (Ehrenreich on his own is better than any actor nominated this year at the Oscars). There's an explicit critique of the treatment of young actresses during this period, the nefarious "Rules" mentioned in the title that relegate the value of young women in the industry based on age on physical appearance but its rendered mostly as a comic farce. Indeed, this clusterfuck of character arcs and stories and critiques all intersect each other in the oddest of places. We might be looking at a masterpiece had the runtime been allowed to soar as it should have, and perhaps in another cut it did. But all things considered, we're left with a truly beautiful film from one of Hollywood's most celebrated icons.

Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin

Friday, March 3, 2017

LOGAN Delivers a Merely Competent Send-Off to One of the Greats



At its best, the stark deserts, silent road trips, and hints at death and suicide of Logan recall something like Taste of Cherry or Sunchaser. At its worst, on the other hand, it plays like a typical 2004 superhero outing without the promised aesthetic tendencies of the trailer. Unfortunately for us, the truly great scenes like the roadside nap or the final battle don’t redeem its conventionalist tendencies that seem to dominate the film. Trapped between academicism and its own faux-importance, whenever Logan isn’t in motion, it’s mostly unremarkable. 

Logan is the story of the titular Wolverine of the X-Men, now driving a limo along the US-Mexican border picking up clients and living with Caliban and the Professor in abandoned warehouse. He is tasked with carrying a young, artificial mutant created in a lab named Laura to a place called Eden somewhere in Canada and he does so in spite of all obstacles. The film’s strongest quality is its scale, not at how large it is but rather how small. Mangold brings down these monolithic figures of Xavier and Logan not just in size but decimates their total importance. It’s worth noting that in Jackman’s final X-Men outing, the Wolverine’s last act of redemption is to save one child from immediate danger. Out of the nine movies on the official timeline, Logan has endured over a century of world-saving and hardship only to have his final plan to settle down and live out eternally in solitude is ruined by the virtue of being a main character. But now there’s no one else to battle, no one else to call in as an assist. It’s just him, Charles, and Laura, playing out some sort of demented quasi-family dynamic, which is more of less confirmed in an unintentionally hilarious scene where Laura calls Logan “daddy”. In regards to its character structure, it’s probably one of the better send-offs the Wolverine could’ve gotten. 

But what is actually signified by Logan’s redemption? What is expressed? I’ve made effort to understand what it is everyone sees in the gritty, brutal violence of Logan. To understand what possibly lies beneath its admittedly entertaining slaughter and have come up empty. Nothing about Logan’s final strides to save Laura matter because they’re all unearned. The film is never about Laura, and ironically enough, the film seems to both condemn her captors for treating her like an object yet at the same time never fully realizes her pain. It’s always Logan’s pain. The relationship between Logan and Laura as surrogate father and daughter figures ultimately fails because it is never truly earned. Granted, the stakes in Logan matter far more than the brotherly circle jerk of Captain America: Civil War or anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released to date (for those that don’t know, the X-Men movies are on a different line of cinematic continuity). But at the same time, it has the same basic failure of the MCU in that the importance is assumed rather than expressed. There are some great exchanges in Logan, especially one that takes place during a roadside nap, but they are not enough to make anything about it matter. It finds contentment in its own existence. 

For someone who really loves X-Men, who needs that cathartic send-off for their favorite character, Logan is competent enough to deliver that satisfaction, but it is not the "just a great movie period" its been championed, nor is the neo-western classic we've been waiting for. Logan is not Ethan Edwards. As a matter of face, despite its many merits, Logan doesn't feel like much of anything.

Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin

The Certified Copies of BEFORE I FALL



Before I Fall is the story of an affluent white girl in high school inexplicably forced to relive the same day over and over again, every time eventually ending in Juliet, the young lesbian she and her friends regularly harass, confronting her at a party. If it sounds obvious, it's because the film is about as subtle as a brick to the face, or in other words, as subtle as it needs to be. Much like last year’s NerveBefore I Fall is essentially a Lifetime Original film wrapped up in aesthetic tumblr gifsets, passionate direction, and genuine thought and care about its themes, resulting in a charming bit of conceptual teenage drama. The concept, of course, being a young-adult riff on the classic Groundhog Day but opting to instead show each relived day with a total straight-face and to its completion. The film makes heavy reliance on its use of these reproductions and copies, showing us only four or five riffs on the same day, each one revealing more about the situations and anxieties Samantha finds herself consistently trapped in.

A photograph of a mirror where a person happens to be visible in the reflection is, by virtue, not truly a photograph of the person, but rather incidentally has captured their likeness. It is no more a photograph of the person than the light reflecting off the mirror is the person. As the film image is merely a representation of its subject, and the mirror is a reflection of its subject, the filmed mirror is a double-layer of abstraction of truth. And so it goes, for the first half-hour director Ry Russo-Young shows us her subject Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) reflected from mirrors, obscured through shower glass, and pressed against window-frames.  In a sense, it is Samantha’s true nature that is symbolically obscured by these abstractions. She is rendered metaphysically faceless, a blank slate. The metallic, blue palette only adds to the imagery of Samantha as a cold, reanimated corpse with lifeless eyes. Her existence is gauging her friends’ responses to conflict and reacting in an identical way. But now, after waking up and reliving the very same day every day she’s forced to react genuinely. She’s quickly able to discern that her actions will shape whether or not she can escape the loop, so she can no longer act in accordance with the status quo. Her environment has inexplicably turned against her, and only through her own action can she change her course.

As the runtime builds, she slowly starts to lose her depiction through mirrors & car windows, reflections & obstructions and instead falls into the direct. Watching her evolution as each day passes is fascinating. After realizing her predicament, her first impulse is to remove herself from the final confrontation with Juliet in hopes that this evasion might end her sentence. When she wakes up the next day, she reacts with anger and confusion and starts to show express her true feelings towards her friends and family, subsequently having a chance meeting with Juliet in the bathroom. It is only after these two progressions she finally “learns” what its about, and is depicted clearly in bright, white light, eventually completely fading into white. Martyred. Each copy she lives through reveals something more about the world she lives in. That her friends are shallow and carefree, that her boyfriend is coy but manipulative, that she’s lost something with her family in all of this. Only by seeing the same situation, again and again, deconstructing and analyzing it, she truly understands what happens each time. Recalling Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy. Without the existence of copies, the original is never truly understood.

There are issues, of course. Still the carried YA insistence that the current football jock boyfriend is somehow inferior to the obsessive, creepy, stalkerish nerd (a trend that Nerve at least managed to subvert). For something more coded and subtle, watch the way Samantha’s friend Lindsay, who regularly bullies Juliet for being queer, gazes at Samantha throughout the film. Whenever they lock eyes, Samantha is the first to break, and Lindsay maintains her gaze for seconds at a time before breaking back to whatever the subject of the conversation is. At the end of the film, when Lindsay, Samantha, and their two other friends all sit on a bench together, the two lock eyes once again for what feels like an eternity. Once again Samantha is the first to break and Lindsay looks her up and down and stares for another five seconds before breaking. Given that the film also suggests that Lindsay had a previous relationship with Juliet, the undertones have practically turned into overtones. 

It is a message film, point blank period, but like Nerve from last year, it’s a good message film, and possibly an important one. And if one were so inclined to look beneath the obscured views and reflections of Before I Fall, to see past all of the certified copies, there are non-obvious tendencies lurking beneath the obvious.


Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.