“The Lost City of Z”: an Ode to Obsession

There’s a wayward flavor to obsession, a feeling of being swept off one’s feet by some new passion.  In James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, the expedition that began as Percy Fawcett’s chance to restore glory to his family name morphs into a lifelong zeal for exploration an discovery.  Based on the book of the same name by David Grann, Gray’s film follows the life of British soldier Fawcett and his exploits throughout the Amazon rainforest.  The film boasts expert performances, cinematography that conveys the paradoxical claustrophobia of the untamed jungle, and a plot that leaves the spectator insatiable, always hoping for additional revelations and understanding.  Though the themes waver a bit and employ the noble savage stereotype to its full effect, The Lost City of Z beautifully surveys the spirit of adventure and obsession that consumes each and every one of us – in one way or another.

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Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” Hinges on Natalie Portman’s Stellar Performance

No film in recent memory lionizes a performance quite like Pablo Larraín’s Jackie.  The entire film embraces Natalie Portman’s expert depiction of the iconic first lady.  Portman’s performance has a imitative style to it, complete with specific elocution, affect, and emotion – all of which she delivers with a quiet and confident ferocity.  Larraín takes full advantage of Portman’s talent by framing most of the film in close ups, a stylistic choice that instills the spectator with a deep empathy.  Even the structure of the narrative reflects Portman’s performance:  thoroughly non-linear, the disjointed organization conveys and cements the confusion that Jackie is experiencing.  Portman’s nonesuch portrayal completely fuels Larraín’s film, and is responsible for the heights it reaches.

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The Power of Information in “United 93”

Paul Greengrass’s United 93 is more than a harrowing dramatization of the events of September 11th, 2001.  It’s also a profound treatise on the significance of information, and how ignorance leads to irrationality, uncertainty, and fear.  This piece will look at three aspects of the film and how each is intimately tied to the availability of information: the plot, the characters, and the themes.  The plot is revealed slowly, as a sense of dramatic irony permeates the spectator’s interpretation of the events.  Characterization is established by reactions to the inexplicable, and then corresponding responses as more information becomes known.  Even the ultimate thematic statements hinge in the treatment information in United 93.  Greengrass concludes that information is power – especially in the hands of individuals.

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Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory”, the Abuse of Power, and the Inevitable Absurdity of War

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

-Thomas Grey, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,1751

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory is often celebrated as the director’s first true masterwork.  Adapting a novel of the same name by Humphrey Cobb, Kubrick’s film contemplates power struggles, justice, and the wastefulness of war.  The crux of the story involves three French soldiers who are court-martialed for cowardice after retreating from an impossible attack, but Kubrick’s story is not a mere anti-war film.  The trite idea that “war is bad” is taken as a given, and augmented by multiple impressive cinematic and storytelling techniques into an even more powerful statement:  there is an utter absurdity to war, one that incentivizes an habitual abuse of power and a routine miscarriage of justice.

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“The Founder” Allows the Spectator To Interpret the Life and Success of Ray Kroc

It is practically impossible to create a biopic without passing judgment on some axis, but director John Lee Hancock comes pretty close to presenting an unbiased view of McDonald’s “founder” Ray Kroc in The Founder.  The film details the story of Kroc discovering the original McDonald’s restaurant, the brainchild of brothers Mac and Dick, and expanding the McDonald’s empire through an aggressive franchise model.  As McDonald’s restaurants pop up everywhere, Mac and Dick lose control of the endeavor, and Kroc eventually muscles the two away from the business.

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“Silence” and the Personal Perdurability of Faith

Silence is vintage Martin Scorsese.  The master’s techniques are evident in practically every frame, and his return to a religious subject matter is both fascinating and complex.  Nearly three decades ago, The Last Temptation of Christ showed that Scorsese was capable of delivering a nuanced treatise on spirituality, and he has done the same with Silence.  These topics are seldom tackled by Scorsese, so we should count ourselves lucky when the director is inspired by a story such as Silence, which has been in pre-production in some form for the last 25 years or so.

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