Sunday, November 14, 2021

All Too Well (2021)

All Too Well could be considered 'the song' for Taylor Swift's fanbase. It's tough, but not impossible, to find fans who voice an opinion for it above okay. If they do, they're certainly outdone by the legions who have been singing, nay screaming, the lyrics back to Swift for the past ten years. With Taylor working on the re-releases of her past albums, there are expectations of more songs from her vault to come. But none have accomplished the hype for one of her most popular ballads. It's this special  reverence - about a seemingly casual break-up that provokes cruel and painful memories - that has had fans begging Taylor to release an extended ten minute version, and now she's finally delivered.

As a certified Swiftie, All Too Well is one of my favorites of hers. It's not my most beloved song, but it's cathartic to listen to, to shout-sing when I'm left reeling by the world or a person in my life. And though I follow along with fun updates and crazy-ass theories with the fandom, I can't say for sure I ever wanted the extended version. It'd be fun to listen to, sure, but I mostly wandered if it would add anything new. It'll be blasphemy to say - in comparison to the rest of the internet - but Taylor's Version of All Too Well was reasonably good enough on a first listen. The added imagery heightened the lyrics and will also simply take some getting used - since like so many, I know the original track forwards and backwards, sideways and diagonal. I love the addition of several new lines and metaphors here and there, but I was still left wondering what was new that added to the song that made my emotions echo everyone else the second this version dropped online.

And, that answer really came with the short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O'Brian.

"I walked through the door with you, the air was cold / But something 'bout it felt like home somehow / And I left my scarf there at your sister's house / And you've still got it in your drawer, even now /" as well as "Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place / And I can picture it after all these days" sets the stage - a familiarity of a new relationship starting, a blossoming of love when Mother Nature is going into hibernation, the adventurous innocence and hope of something to live for. Swift starts by taking the audience upstate, exuding the long road ahead of ups and downs. On the surface it seems like nothing can go wrong; surely, this will have an happy ending. As we lean into the 2 minute mark, things divert into a horror movie. Bright dispositions are laced with passive-aggression. Sink might be wrapped O'Brian's arms but the embraces are practically empty. Passion seems to boil with the slightest sign of affection, but withdrawing it all leaves her dead in her tracks and questioning everything. 

Instead of moving the film's settings along at the same pace of the song, Swift cleverly avoids making this another music video. It's simultaneously a vignette of memories but also a story that's progressively moving forward. For the first two acts, she focuses more on the relationship between herself and Jake-Gyllenhaal-Or-Not-Jake. There's no real need for the lyrics to line up exactly with the imagery. Yet, at the video's most poignant moments, she manages to do both without feeling too forced or rushed. She's not strictly going by her own words to tell the story to build up the bridge, but at the same time she is.

As director and writer of the song she wrote about her life, it could be easy to take that personalization a little too far - to not see the forest from the trees. The best places where Swift casts distance between herself and the story is the casting. Sink creates the balance of being a young girl becoming increasingly aware of how broken and twisted this relationship is; she's not a blank canvas but she's not an impersonation of Swift either. And, O'Brien, I hate to say it, immediately captures the essence of a douchebag with his anger-driven expressions in the eyes practically casting aspersions towards her, the mocking apologies, and white-man-hipster bruised ego. They hold down the story where Swift's attention to detail is both a strength and a hindrance.

For the back-half of the song, however, Swift struggles to keep up her own pace. Most of the 'script' navigates her lyrics without being too on the nose. But, her inclination to spell out what's happening on screen can be distracting. Here, she uses title cards to mark the various beats she's already hitting naturally. On their own, they're just harmless title cards. But as the story wraps up between 'the breaking point, the reeling, the remembering', the newer verses (3 and 5 in particular) feel rushed. Taylor initially uses the song to show that this moment in her life is impossible to forget, yet proved that pain could be forged creatively and take on new meaning. She loosely shows the connection between the characters so they aren't screaming the meaning of the lyrics at us. As the new additions pivots to the "nameless" heartbreaker remembering the relationship, we're left to wonder why he wouldn't just return the scarf and make amends. Does he recognize the heartbreak he caused too much to do anything about it after all this time, or still just to ignorant to be anything but an observer from the sidelines? Has too much time passed now to even try to make up for what was lost? The ending doesn't focus on vague imagery anymore, but it's trying to squeeze in both narratives that the film doesn't have enough room for.

Swift can be and is recognized for having a reputation of extremes - taking what the critics say and proving them wrong; reaching unexpected places with every new album or era; hinting countless easter eggs that fans sort through and predict her next move. Not many artists would probably consider dropping a whole short film for an old-new song, but Taylor does. While I'm a huge fan but not always on the same page of extremes the fandom goes to, or Swift herself, I think she did a good job here with creating a short film that puts into context the extent of the pain of All Too Well  emanates- especially for those like me who might not automatically relate to the extended version or understand its vision.

Swift's film directorial debut is a gift for the fans, but where Swift saves face is not by crowding it with so many easter eggs that it's alienating to non-fans. Swifties can still watch this and pick it apart, or pass it onto non-fans to say 'hey check this out' without needing an advanced degree in her career or the song itself. It can be the new starter park to becoming a Swiftie or another familiar tune in a long list of familiar tunes by her. This, in itself, will make the song an even grander masterpiece to be remembered all too well.

Rating: ★★☆

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Dream Sequences

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week's theme is Dream Sequences.

Monday, November 1, 2021

52 Films By Women - Fall Update

We're less than two months away until the end of 2021. It took me  a few months into the year to get used to the challenge, but I started to hit a solid stride in late summer where I wasn't too far ahead or behind. 

However, I still struggled to find some films to watch from my original list. Two sites that were a big help were Mubi and ReelGood. Mubi lists movies directed by women on a single page, which gave me ideas of what to look out for and makes it easier to remember what I haven't seen. And, ReelGood offers lists of movies directed by women filtered by subscription services. 

The movies I've watched since my summer update include: Clemency, Black Widow, Leave No Trace, The Virgin Suicides, The Feels, W.E., The Last Letter From Your Lover, High Life, The Piano, A Beautiful Planet, Aeon Flux, But I'm A Cheerleader, Mary J Blige's: My Life, Home for the Holidays, Miss You Already, Saving Face, Black As Night, A Vigilante, Our Friend, and Eve's Bayou.

The first half of the year didn't warrant a lot, if any, unenjoyable viewings. But I do feel like this latter half offered more variety, fun ideas, and directors that have left a huge impact. Some of my faves are: Leave No Trace, The Piano, But I'm A Cheerleader, Miss You Already, A Vigilante, and Eve's Bayou.

Right now, I only have 8 more movies to watch before I cross the finishing line. I'm pretty excited because I did not think I'd come this far at all.

One of the biggest takeaway has been the amount of different stories and voices that are not pushed by the mainstream industry and studios. I've come across a lot of films that were negatively lauded that I enjoyed or didn't get as much attention as it could've as an independent film. I don't know if I'll do a specific challenge like this next year, but I'm definitely keeping my options open to be more conscious about what I watch and who is the director moving ahead.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Halloween/ TMP Television Edition: Horror


Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week's theme is Halloween/ TMP Television Edition: Horror.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

No Time to Die (2021)

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica after leaving active service. However, his peace is short-lived as his old CIA friend, Felix Leiter, (Jeffrey Wright) shows up and asks for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond on the trail back to a past love Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and her connection to a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) who's armed with a dangerous new bio-technology.

This review contains spoilers for No Time to Die.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) struggles to coexist with the shape-shifting extraterrestrial Venom. While on the verge of splitting up, deranged serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) also becomes host to an alien symbiote that amplifies his psychotic behavior. Brock and Venom must put aside their differences to stop his reign of terror as Cletus strives to reunite with his long lost love Shriek (Naomie Harris).

The review below contains spoilers regarding the post-credit scene. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage was honestly one of my most-anticipated movies of the year because I enjoy the first one so much. The bar wasn't set necessarily low, to be honest, even in the wake of all of the terrible reviews since its release this October. I wanted more of Eddie and Venom's relationship, or double the Tom Hardy, and I got it. There were more than enough scenes where his real tattoos were peaking through his shirt collars, so that alone made me happy. But more than that, his performance as Eddie and Venom remained hilarious and heartfelt. Harrelson and Harris' relationship was sorely under-developed but offered enough layers for their crazy-love story to explode from the screen. And the action scenes featured some cinematography that manages to be refreshing in the ever-expanding comic book genre. As a movie goer, I'm at a point right now where I would rather choose an imperfect movie and enjoy its flaws, rather than suffer through boredom and tears to a formulaic film trying to be perfect. I couldn't help but imagine and looking forward to watching this back-to-back with the first film.

However, setting that aside, this is deeply flawed. Three different plots are taking place - Cletus Kasady's crimes, the cover-up of Shriek's death and her origins, and Ed/Venom's floundering relationship. Despite the fact that there's plenty of material to go-around, it's truly only the latter that's given room to grow. For everything else, the movie doesn't have time to flesh them out. The dialogue is spoken so fast it's like a tape-recorder stuck on fast-forward or the script assistant was holding a stop-watch. Once you settle into one scene, it's propelling to the next. The first two acts whirl by, that when the third act copy-cat battle from Spider-Man 3 hits, the pacing finally becomes steadier but tremendous whiplash kicks in. It's tough to recollect how much of the story leads to the ending because it feels like two seconds ago you  arrived to the theater.

In comparison, Venom's running time is about two hours, where its sequel barely hits 97 minutes. The former was far from complicated with its paint-by-numbers origin story. But still, directing an actor talking to himself and trying to convey that he's half controlled by symbiote isn't an easy feat. And that running time lets Eddie and Venom's coupling grow stronger against their feud against Carlton Drake. Serkis' direction picks up where Ruben Fleischer left off with dry humor and CGI-packed action that the tone between the two films is almost seamless. Serkis aimed for the film to be lean to be as lean as possible, but if anymore of the story had been edited, there wouldn't have been a plot. Kelly Marcel's script doesn't feel it's the culprit as much as it could've been. Her script maintains the same vibes as the first film, which she was a co-writer on. She's helming this material as the solo writer and doesn't have trouble reigning in the different threads so they come together in an explosive showdown. But, it's that editing prowess that hinders what could've been.

But after everything is said and done, once the post-credit scene arrived with Tom Holland's Spider-Man, the race through the entire movie became somewhat clearer - Marvel wanted to plug in Spidey's next installment releasing this Christmas. Granted, the pandemic hasn't made movie-making or movie-going easy. Plenty of movies' production schedule and release dates have been bumped up, delayed, rinse, repeat. Venom: Let There Be Carnage wasn't an exception. But, Marvel is known for pulling in audiences with its cliffhangers for the past decade. And someone lost confidence in the film on its own to take its time to do what it needed to do for its fans before jumping into Marvel's ill-conceived timeline for phase 4. Now with the semi-average streaming machine of the Disney+ shows, What If?, and Black Widow (I have yet to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or The Eternals), there's nothing inventive or spectacular about Marvel right now. Marvel's going through the paces of keeping up with its own trajectory, and now other titles are getting hit with the consequences. 

Now, I'm not saying Venom was a game-changer, but it did carve its own space, even as a movie that critics loathed and fans loved. Somewhere along the way Venom: Let There Be Carnage starts cutting corners, sprinting between Brock or Kasady moving from place to place, and intention to intention, to the point that there was smaller in-between moments left on the editing room floor for no reason. Any semblance of scenes would've slowed down the pacing. It's more understandable for a film to be over two hours long and to know which scenes need to be cut than for a movie to barely graze the 90 minute mark and clearly see gaping holes where more could've filled in. The subsequent headlines and critics aren't talking about what the film had to offer or the potential it had outside of the post-credit scene like it did for the first installment - only what Kevin Feige has to say about the post-credits. The merge between Sony and Marvel's different worlds isn't going to be as seamless as one used to hope. And that's disappointing. Venom: Let There Be Carnage getting caught in the middle is a result of that.

Rating: ★1/2☆

Sunday, October 17, 2021

10 Favorite Frames From New The Batman Trailer

Before my embarrassing well-documented obsession with Captain America, Batman was my #1 superhero. Like so many, I've been reading comics and seeing his flicks in cinema since I was a kid. Of which, compared with almost all other dudes donning a cape and mask, Bruce Wayne has appeared in almost thirteen live-action adaptations - at least nine are his own films. When it was announced that director Matt Reeves would helm another iteration, a part of me thought UGH, AGAIN. Especially, since I'm not always on board with the current state of the DCEU. #blasphemy 

As the casting came together for the next film, that same doubtful part of me grew infinitely intrigued. First, they had me at Robert Pattinson. If you follow me on twitter or my letterboxd reviews of his films, you know of my love for his odd charisma. Then, the perks kept piling up - Zoe Kravitz joining on as Catwoman years after facing casting treatment for a previous Batman film, Colin Farrell as The Penguin, Paul Dano as The Riddler, Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth.

After a year the teaser was released online, the trailer (watch it in 4K!) finally dropped during this years DC FanDome. And Holy Here We Go Again, I'm counting down for 2022 and thought it'd be fun to highlight some of my favorite frames. The cinematography by Greig Fraser left me jaw-dropped. What are your favorite shots from the trailer? Are you excited for Matt Reeves film?