Reviewing Six Months to Salvation, a documentary directed and written by Lorenzo Benitez, a sophomore at Cornell and staff writer for The Sun, could present a conflict of interests. I reassure my readers, Lorenzo and I have never met. Other than our alma-mater and having read a few of his articles in The Sun, no stifling connection skews my impression of the film. I share the following review as a mostly unbiased audience member. Six Months to Salvation follows a service trip to Thailand where Lorenzo and several other volunteers teach English over a six month period.
After surviving attempts to destroy all copies of this film due to copyright infringement (they never got the rights to the material), this adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula (1897) was brought before a packed audience in Sage Chapel. For those who don’t know, Nosferatu is a 1922 silent, expressionist, German film. This means lots of beautiful stylized acting may be in store, which is my favorite part of any silent film. Since silent films can only use intertitles for dialogue, the plot has to be conveyed via the characters’ actions. The actors are over the top in their gestures, and their eyes bulge farther than I think should be physically possible.
Though there were some notable cinematic disappointments to come out of 2016 (I’m looking at you Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), this year we, at least, saw everyone’s favorite regal blue tang overcome her short-term memory loss to be reunited with her family and Ryan Reynolds finally redeem himself from the atrocity that was Green Lantern. After the release of Suicide Squad in August, I was expecting the box office to be relatively light on major blockbuster releases until early November, when Marvel’s Doctor Strange will grace screens. After all, seeing the world get devastated three different times in three different movies (see: Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men Apocalypse and The 5th Wave) gets cumbersome. Even I, an action movie connoisseur, needed a break from the carnage and violence. But rising up from the dust coming in out of nowhere comes Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, an explosive remake of the 1960 film of the same name (which, in turn, was a remake of the 1959 film Seven Samurai).
An established preoccupation among film directors is how the re-staging of a scene from different perspectives alters the tone, message and experience of an otherwise unchanged plot. Whether it’s the strictly formal experimentation of The Five Obstructions or the philosophical interrogation of subjectivity in Rashomon, even the most strikingly distinct auteurs are curious to witness how changes, whether they be subtly atmospheric or obviously performative, redefine the entire message of a scene, an act, or an entire film. Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then follows the flirtatious courtship of a middle-aged arthouse director and a younger painter over the course of a day, before restaging the exact same events with differences both slight and noticeable. Having bagged the top prize at Locarno last year, Sang-soo’s latest film is not only an intriguing vehicle of cinematic experimentation, but an eloquent statement on the importance of selflessness in developing meaningful human connection. The first half observes Ham Chun-su, a well-respected Korean filmmaker, visit the city of Suwon, where one of his films is being screened.
Sometimes in our lives, there’s nothing sadder than looking down at the toilet paper roll in a bathroom stall and seeing only the empty cardboard ring. There’s no moment more lonely, no feeling so isolating, no issue equally pressing. Nitzan Gilday’s film, Wedding Doll, showing at Cornell Cinema this Wednesday, puts things in perspective. Because, there is something sadder than looking at that hopeless cardboard ring: A paperless roll in a toilet paper factory’s solitary bathroom. And, believe it or not, there are moments more desperate than that.
Marty Gross is a man of many hats in the film world. Coming to Japanese cinema in the ’70s after spending years studying pottery, Marty has written and directed documentaries, restored and licensed films and archival footage with his company Marty Gross Film Productions, conducted interviews and served as consulting producer on many projects, including Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams. All the while, Marty has continued to teach art classes in Toronto, teaching creativity to future generations of students (including myself). More recently, Marty has worked as a freelance consulting producer with the legendary arthouse distributor Janus Films, the parent company of the Criterion collection. If you pick up a Criterion release of a Japanese film, there’s a good chance you’ll see Marty’s name in the credits. In 2005, Marty’s work for Janus brought him into contact with Seijun Suzuki, one of the most eccentric figures of Japanese film.
There’s a scene early on in The Light Between Oceans where Alicia Vikander’s character speaks of a mother and father still being referred to as such even after they no longer have a child, and she states that she feels like a sister even after losing siblings of her own. Moments such as these tease the potential for interesting themes and ideas to be played out in the film. Unfortunately the film becomes lost in a heap of overwrought melodrama that ends up squandering an extremely high amount of potential. Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by M.L Stedman, The Light Between Oceans revolves around a lighthouse keeper named Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander). They live on an island off the coast of post-World War I Western Australia, and who one day discover a newborn baby that has washed ashore on a boat.
Homo Sapiens, showing at Cornell Cinema on September 6, opens with a drenching view of what Ithaca lacks: rain. Not the misty sort of showers that ironically serve to heighten the humidity but the real wet drops of purifying, sustaining rain. From this point, director Nikolaus Geyrhalter spans from one scene to another, each averaging about 26 seconds with a different naturalistic soundtrack of birds, bees, breezes, blizzards and beaches. Intermittent power outages — in which Geyrhalter cuts to black — provide the only pauses from one still life to the next. In its human-free view of the world, Homo Sapiens presents a powerful glimpse of our ethereal human legacy.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s most well-known film, Drive, was rapturously received by critics at its Cannes premiere in 2011. Writing for The Guardian, Xan Brooks lightheartedly observed how after “witness[ing] great art and potent social commentary; the birth of the cosmos and the end of the world,” – referring to other films such as The Tree of Life and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which also competed at Cannes that year – “all we really wanted all along was a scene in which a man gets his head stomped in a lift.” Indeed, one could assume from how Refn won the festival’s award for Best Director that year that Drive’s hyper-stylized violence resonated with many. However, for a director who has made a name for himself by realizing physical brutality beneath sordid neon lights, his latest film, The Neon Demon, is so restrained in its depiction of sexuality that by the time it unleashes a torrent of sexual imagery, we can’t help but be horrified. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring model and recent arrival in Los Angeles. Living out of a motel in Pasadena, she initially roams the town in search of agency representation; her doe-eyed, adolescent features betray the beguiling innocence of someone new to town.
It’s been a journey. There’ve been ups and downs and many exciting moments for me as a staff writer in the Arts & Entertainment section of The Sun — ranked #1 among college papers by Princeton Review — and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my thoughts and opinions on my favorite art form in the world, cinema, with a community of intelligent, media-savvy people who actually enjoy art. There’s no finer school in which to have a dialogue about artwork with your fellow writers, professors and peers. I made some of my best friends while covering the movie beat (still trying to match you for prolificness, Zach Zahos ’15, and you for enthusiasm, Sean Doolittle ’16) and got to participate in something very special.