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Short of studying Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice novel like a graduate student, you’re probably not going to be able to take it all in one viewing. That’s part of its charm though; it’s dense, thick, compressed and rarely lets up for air. Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation breathes a life and a smokey hangout vibe to an overwhelming text; this isn’t a movie that is committed to being coherent or plot focused or even sensical and that choice along with many other choices made by the actors in the film create a world that is such a vibrant and thrilling place.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private detective living in a California beach community: getting high, watching TV and dining on the finest pizzas. A visit from an old lover, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), gets Doc on a whirlwind of a case involving lowlifes, high authorities and everything in between, while also rekindling old feelings inside himself. Shasta’s current beau, rich real-estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann, has a wife who may be plotting to commit him to a mental hospital. When Mickey and Shasta both disappear, Doc navigates through a haze of smoke and a seedy underworld to solve the case. Summing the movie up this way doesn’t begin to say anything about what this film is or what it’s even about because it’s about everything and nothing. Doc meanders and mumbles and smokes his way through ridiculous scenarios and fever dream-like machinations that are treated with the utmost gravitas and poise. Josh Brolin plays a surly, macho straight cop who loves frozen chocolate bananas and kicking Doc’s ass. Joanna Newsom plays a wafting, fairy-like hippie comrade who narrates the film like she just came over to eat your leftovers and tell you about her crazy night. Owen Wilson is so many things to this movie that it isn’t even right for me to talk about his character and Reese Witherspoon is like a grown up Tracy Flick who went back in time and became a DA with an affinity for getting her own buzz on when she’s not on the clock. 

What I can say for sure about the experience of watching this film is that it is a freewheeling story that drifts, wavers, blends and dissipates the way that the 60s did when the era of free love began to come to an end and the Charles Manson massacre sort of changed everything for certain kind of people in a specific generation. It is a film about conspiracies and the idea that everyone is in cahoots with one another and that you never really get to the bottom of anything and solve things, you just do your best to get your own piece of mind. It is also a film about the “one that got away” and how feelings sometimes never go away, they just hang around and sprout up at any given moment. This is a movie that is a complete mess; a sporadic, slapstick circus that you will likely not get a grip on the first time around. Instead the best thing to do is to let the movie wash over you and enjoy hanging out with its goofballs and miscreants: they’re always looking for a good time.

The best scene for me is the Ouija board scene: Doc and Shasta have kicked their weed habit and are desperate for any distraction. They end up playing with a Ouija board which leads them to a phone number. When they call the number they get an address and, In an extended one shot, Shasta and Doc are running in the rain only to discover that the address leads to an empty lot. It doesn’t matter though, they find cover and hold each in the doorway of the building next door; forgetting all about the stress of kicking their drug habit and the slow disintegration of their relationship.

This moment is the essence of the whole film: a pervading love that never really goes away even though the good times have past and change is all around. The film is packed with gags and jokes and cutting moments of twisted sentimentality that it all feels like an incoherent mess. It is an incoherent mess though, but that’s how things (relationships, eras, mysteries) really do tend to end; it’s only when the history is being written do we smoothen everything out and turn it into a story deemed worthy of telling.

This is the first Anderson film that I felt never really belonged to him; this feels like Pynchon through and through, which makes for a different feeling than most PTA films leave you with. At the same time, it seems like it took Pynchon to get PTA out of this new trajectory for his career that involved extremely serious yet puzzling exposes on subjects like capitalism and religion. Inherent Vice was a reminder that PTA is still fun but also still kind of a kook; a kook that made a film that doesn’t try to make sense of the ridiculousness of everything happening in it, we’d be wise to do the same.

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I wrote a smaller thing about this movie earlier this week, you can read it here.

The following is a more in depth journey into the majesty and the frustrations with interstellar– a very gorgeous and immersive action film that does not realize that it is also a silly space opera about the power of love. I wouldn’t read it until after you’ve seen the film.

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Christopher Nolan has perfected a specific time of movie viewing experience that is simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating. His movies are expert nonsense with awe-inspiring images and—much to the chagrin of everyone watching—the self-indulgence on display makes it hard for you to ignore the flaws.

Interstellar is Nolan’s latest grand statement. A space opera tailored for the 21st century that is, at one moment, breathtaking, mesmerizing and exciting and then at the next moment is overwrought and bloated. It’s an erratic and glorious slog of a movie that feels even longer than it’s 168 minutes.

Interstellar follows the story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey): a former pilot and engineer who is now a farmer due to widespread hunger caused by a future blight. He lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), teenage son Tom, and 10-year-old daughter Murphy (named after Murphy’s Law because of course). Cooper is a fine farmer but he really wants to get back to being the explorer he once was. While his son is more enamored with the farmer aspect of his life, it’s the daughter who carries the adventurous spirit of her father. She believes a ghost hiding in a bookcase is communicating with her but when Cooper discovers it, he interprets this instead as gravity. The gravity is sending the two a set of coordinates in binary, which takes them to a hidden NASA base.

There, the two meet with Cooper’s old mentor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), also a scientist at the facility. They explain that gravitational anomalies (i.e. ghosts) have occurred in recent years, the largest manifesting as a wormhole near Saturn. Based on a previous mission through the wormhole that narrows down three possible new home planets, Brand has come up with two plans: one where the NASA facility itself lifts off and travels to the new planet with many people in tow, or the other where frozen fertilized eggs are used by a second mission to start a new colony.

Cooper, despite the wishes of her daughter, reluctantly joins the second mission after being recruited. There’s no doubt that he feels tremendous guilt going on this trip but as his father says to him, “this world never was good enough for you.” Thus, Cooper takes the mission to attempt to save humanity. He bids his son farewell leaving him his farming truck and gives his daughter one of a matched set of watches, keeping the other for himself and, unwisely, promising that he will come back.

Cooper, along with Amelia, and two other scientists: Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a sophisticated robot assistant TARS (Bill Irwin). Journey into space to successfully to dock with an orbiting space station and begin the two-year trip to Jupiter and the wormhole.

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The story is as seemingly straightforward as possible. A dad, who is also a space cowboy, tries to save the planet; this is a Chris Nolan film however, and plot is nothing more than a catalyst to get to what really matters: the awesomeness of space. Nolan seems as fascinated with space as any dough-eyed child who spent their days watching Cosmos. The movie’s approximation of space (on an IMAX screen) is spectacular. Just as Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey before it, Interstellar captures the wonder, beauty, seemingly endless vastness and pure fucking terror of space. There are times when the actors seem like distractions to what is really a love letter to space and the infinite possibilities inherent.

That’s ultimately the frustration with the movie. It wants to tell this big melodrama about love’s ability to transcend all things through the love of a father and his daughter (way to give the son the shaft guys), but too often it feels like the actors are chess pieces in a game where the player is more interested in how amazing the board is. They move because they have to and too often—when the action does get into full gear—everything happening on screen turns into a frenetic jumbled mess where 1,000 things are happening at once.

Despite this, this movie would still be a lot more fun if it didn’t get trapped under the weight of Nolan’s self-serious and self-important need to make this some sort of definite statement on mankind’s instinctual sense of survival and the can-do American spirit of exploration. McConaughey is the proto-typical masculine American cowboy now asked to be Astronaut. He’s great in this because he does what’s asked of him: he’s pure charisma, he’s built as the kind of handsome hero that a space folklore would need and he’s serviceable as a dad who just wants his kids back. Yet, there’s no room for him to be anything more than a driver for this vehicle and there’s even less asked of from the other great actors in this movie. Nolan packs this film with an 80’s Lakers roster of top-notch talent and then asks them all to be role players to service his grand doctrine on love and humanity (Jessica Chastain might be strongest after McConaughey). For someone who’s on his 5th major studio film (and is more or less guaranteed to inexplicably fill a movie theater), you’d think he’d learn the number one secret of these kinds of movies: they’re supposed to be fun.

Nolan takes a lot out of Kubrick’s own vision of space and the infinite, except Kubrick is cold, calculating and distant whereas Nolan is the same way but wants to seem like he’s warm and sentimental. There are many cues that are aimed to tug at the heartstrings and move you close to tears, but it always seems beside the point—as though it’s there because it needs to be. That’s not to say it doesn’t work at all. This movie was an amazing experience. Nolan has a clear vision and fascination with science and astronomy. Each planet that the explorers visit in the film is mesmerizing: one that’s one big tidal wave, another that is covered in ice. The film’s vision of a blackhole and infinity is original and sublime, even if the science behind it may not be completely sound. You end up leaving this movie wondering what it would be like if Nolan went full Kubrick and didn’t even bother tacking on an action movie to what is essentially a love letter to astronomy, science and discovery.

For all the flack Nolan gets for the self-indulgence in display in his movies, he is good at what he does. He thinks huge and goes for more; his movies are beautiful, lush and every detail is thought over. He’s in love with loud—so much so that in the brief moment in the film where everything goes quiet it’s a jolt to your system—but he has Hans Zimmer there to soundtrack an epic feat of moviemaking like only he can. While the lesson of “love conquers and transcends all” doesn’t completely land, what does is the idea of dreaming big and reaching for the stars.

BOYHOOD

I wrote a review of Boyhood for Obsessed Magazine. Here’s an extended version of it:

“What do you remember most about childhood” was what was written on a notecard handed to the people attending the screening for Richard Linklater’s opus Boyhood. Thinking about the question caused some conflict within me for the inherent challenging nature of such a vague question. There is a lot of difficulty in zeroing in on the one thing out of your childhood that resonates the most. Reflecting on this question I could only revisit my past in spurts and interludes of brief standout moments.

Linklater’s Boyhood does the same. It’s sweeping and sporadic, jumping from year to year sometimes in a blur. Boyhood tells the story of the evolution of Mason, Jr (Ellar Coltrane) over a 12 year period, starting from age 6 and going on until he hits 18. The film was shot over a 12 year period starting in 2002 for a few weeks out of every year.

Mason’s parents are divorced. His mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette), is his and his sister Samantha’s (Lorelei Linklater) primary caretaker. His dad Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke), visits inconsistently whilst trying to hold on to dreams of being a musician and the cool dad.

We watch Mason move from house to house for reasons ranging from money, to opportunities for his mom to advanced to second marriages to abusive drunks. over the course of a little under 3 hours you’re watching people, children especially, grow older before your eyes and you start to care about them as your own. You bring your own childhood experiences to the film and, despite personal differences or experiences, this is a universal story.

The film moves like childhood moves: quickly and sometimes hastily. If it wasn’t for the fact that kids change so dramatically in those developmental years, you’d never notice that time had gone by. Linklater knew this and made a film that tailored to how these people age, what life does to you in this time period and how you change. As a technical showcase of filmmaking, Boyhood is outstanding. Every shot feels purposeful and focused. The film glides from point A to point Z without tripping or getting too caught in its own importance. Unlike say Before Sunrise or Slacker, this is not a movie meant to display its own intelligence and outlook on life in a direct manner. It’s a movie in which life speaks for itself.

As a story, Boyhood is heartbreaking and charming. Patricia Arquette is given so much to deal with and it’s hard to watch what she goes through and not feel for her. She is given the role most mothers are given: the most thankless one. Watching her go through school and ultimately become a professor should be a triumph but it never feels that way, instead it always feels like there’s more she has to do. Ethan Hawke nails a character that Ethan Hawke knows how to nail; the guy trying to hold on to being cool. Throughout the film, he disappoints his children and comes up short all in the name of chasing a dream. It’s almost like he uses being hip as an excuse for being lackluster, like if he can convince these two kids that he’s awesome they might forget that he’s not very existent in their lives. And yet, when he does finally get a thankless job selling insurance, remarries and trades in his old school Mustang for a minivan, you feel bad for him. You know that he gave up even though it’s never said or discussed. That’s part of his finally joining adulthood: giving up.

The real gut punch lies with the kids though. Watching both Mason and his sister Samantha get older before our eyes and battle the trials of adolescence is endearing. They’re angst ridden and obtuse but you get it and you want the world to give them a moment to breathe. With Mason specifically, you want him to be allowed to fly free like the bird he wants to be, but that’s not the world. You think back to your own adolescence and how oppressive in nature the adults are in your lives. Preordaining a path for you, taking out frustrations on you and telling you who to be as a person. This is Linklater’s deal. From the many pseudo-intellectuals of Slacker to Jason “Pink” Floyd in Dazed And Confused, He’s always told the story of kids who don’t get the world, who don’t fit in and who just want to find some kind of real answer.

Near the end, Mason’s mother breaks down as he prepares to leave for college, and in her fit of tears she says, “I just thought there’d be more”. It’s the most heartbreaking and weighty line in the film and it’s never answered. There’s no moment of consoling or reassurance, it’s just there for you to take in. That’s the bittersweetness of this film. There are no answers to your questions. You feel pain, you feel pleasure and you wonder whether any of it meant anything at all. You’re always chasing a fulfillment that never comes.

Things just happen to these characters and there is no time for pause or reflection, life always goes on. To paraphrase one character near the end, “you don’t really seize the moment, the moment seizes you”. Boyhood is about the moments the seize you and mold you into who you become. It’s messy, beautiful and chaotic and in the end I just wanted to relive it one more time, just like childhood.

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At some point, the summer movie season became exhausting. Everything about it feels relentless, repetitive and terribly loud. These days the summer movie season no longer exists in what we call summer; it’s seeped its way into all the other seasons with its sequels, prequels, origin stories, remakes, reboots, reboots of sequels and so on. Sometime around the mid-2000s, nerd culture became mainstream and anything related to a comic book, action figure, video game or board game started getting made. Now this is always happening, but what’s different now is that film studios seem to be exclusively in the business of pumping out quantity in order to keep up with a changing media landscape, and the easiest way to produce quantity is to make property that’s already available. Remember that stretch armstrong you love so much? It’s gonna be a movie starring Jon Hamm. That game Jenga? That’ll be out in theaters in 2019, and I know you love Cats! The Musical, well get ready to love it with Anne Hatheway in 2018.

I write this after just getting home from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the sequel to the prequel Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes released in 2011. It was fine, I guess (be on the lookout for a review on Friday), but like all the other movies like this, it was just draining. The plots don’t change very much between these movies: there’s a hero who’s battling an inner turmoil, there’s always an origin tale, there’s always long-winded speechifying, there’s always a bad guy who planned to get caught and there’s always a city being completely destroyed.

The worst offense though is that none of these movies ever really end: they’re placeholders for other movies coming soon. These movies are rarely standalone, they end with some sort of tease for the next one and they probably have something at the end of the credits just for the fanboy enthusiasts who will these projects to life. Hollywood doesn’t seem particularly interested in telling stories anymore, they just want to make a product. An easily manufactured product with commercial viability. More and more, as time passes, movies that told new stories were given a chance. Studios would finance smaller fare tailored for a specific crowd. Now those smaller movies are most likely being played on VOD and the majority of romantic or slapstick comedies and dramas are being pushed to the fringes because America needs their movies to play well in China.

Smaller studios like A24 are doing their best by throwing money at more experimental filmmakers and filmmakers with a distinct voice to make their film and release it to theaters. Most recently, they distributed films like Obvious Child, The Rover and my favorite film of the year so far Under The Skin. But a few studios can only do so much. Marvel studios alone has shown no interest in slowing down or even making interesting movies. They’re making product at a high frequency for both movies and television. Michael Bay is having bags of money thrown at him to remake all your favorite 80s products louder and bigger. Go on any film geek site and you’ll see lists upon lists of soon to come films; sometimes just the listing of a movie set to come out in 2017 is more exciting than the actual movie. Everything now is about what’s next, who’ll make it and who’ll be in it. It’s pure fan wish fulfillment, the movie is almost beside the point.

It’s an exhausting task to keep up with all of these movies and an even more frustrating one to sit through them. For every one that tries to have a voice and a real style, there are a million that use the Chris Nolan darkness filter. Speaking of which, at some point around Batman Begins, it was decided that all of these movies have to be so serious and so gritty and drab and full of so much faux-intellectualism. Every movie is a statement on something political or a catastrophic event; none of these movies want to be fun. This is silly. We already have to sit through a movie based on a rare 1980s anime that 5 people were into when it came out, at the very least make a fun movie. And if you’re going to go the serious route, get a real filmmaker and not a gun for hire. There are nights when I wish that Ang Lee’s Hulk had worked, because then maybe you’d have artsier directors using these properties to make something a little more fascinating. Currently, these movies just feel tailored for a short attention span; meant for nothing more than a reaction of “that’s neat. Can’t wait for the next one.”

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When I was a Freshman in college, my professor played scenes from Do The Right Thing in order to have a conversation about how we discuss and portray race in entertainment. When we got to the riot at the end of the film, a young black woman in the class began to laugh. My white professor asked her what was so funny about it–he seemed almost offended that she would laugh at such a pivotal, serious moment in the film. She tried her best to explain what was amusing about it but it was difficult for her to get it across. I understood why she laughed though and I’m guessing the rest of the black students in that class got it too.

Do The Right Thing is Spike Lee’s third film, and it feels like the film Spike Lee has been building to for his entire film career up until that point. 25 years later, it would be nice to look back on it as dated but instead it’s just as relevant today (even the style of it is relevant today). The only thing that’s really changed is its reverence. Today we can watch Do The Right Thing and see it as a landmark film that was deserving of its accolades and maybe even deserving of more; we can appreciate the murkiness of the story and its ability to never judge its characters. However, when it came out in 1989, it wrecked the nerves of critics who thought so lowly of black people that they assumed the film would make them riot. It aggravated people because of its lack of definite answers or opinions. As far as people were concerned, what good is a conversation on race if no answers are given, and judging by the Hollywood reception of a film like Crash, this attitude hasn’t gone away.

Do The Right Thing follows Mookie, a young black man living in an African-American neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister and delivering pizzas for Sal’s pizzeria working to support his girlfriend Tina and their son Hector. The film takes place over the course of the hottest day in years and finds itself capturing the regular activities of a distinct group of characters around the neighborhood. There’s an old drunk called Da Mayor who’s constantly trying to win the approval and affection of the neighborhood matron, Mother Sister; there’s Radio Raheem who walks around the block blasting Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” on his boombox. There’s the local radio disc jockey, “Mister Señor Love Daddy”; Three men, known as “the Corner Men,” who comment on the neighborhood and the day’s events, Four teenagers – Cee, Punchy, Ahmad and Ella – dealing with the heat outside and Buggin’ Out, an Afrocentric activist who takes on the cause of demanding Sal recognizes black heroes on his wall of fame.

As the heat builds up throughout the entire film so does patience and comfort. One of the more fascinating aspects about Do The Right Thing is what it implies about how we deal with each other. A good majority of the movie involves people holding their tongue and keeping disapproval to themselves. The best example of this is when Mookie’s sister, Jade, comes to the pizzeria. Sal is obviously taken by Jade, and they have a flirtatious relationship with each other  that rubs both Mookie and Sal’s oldest son,  Pino, the wrong way. But nothing is ever said, it’s simply felt and implied. People are uncomfortable with each other for various reasons but nothing is typically said because it goes against etiquette. The heat acts as the universe pushing people into ultimate confrontation; without it, silence keeps the peace.

What tends to frustrate people about the film is that it’s not terribly concerned with racism in the way the media tends to be. It’s not framed in a white perspective nor does it aim to make white people feel better. Not only that, it’s not really interested in racism as a “thing” that you are. Despite what happens at the end, you’d never think of Sal as a “typical racist”. Pino is upfront about his perceptions of black people yet his favorite entertainers are black.  Buggin Out is very obviously indignant and self-righteous but is more or less following along what he thinks a black activist should be and Radio Raheem, while volatile, is gentle at his core and on his own struggle between “Love and Hate.”

Speaking of Radio Raheem, his blasting of “Fight The Power” is thread that carries the film. Public Enemy’s song about revolution is angry, confrontational and unapologetic. It’s a song about the buildup to a point where you can’t take it anymore and you have to react. Much of Do The Right Thing travels the line between angry and indifferent. There’s a lot of anger stored inside these people; a lot of feelings about poverty, gentrification, culture, ownership and relationships. When Radio Raheem talks about Love vs Hate or “the left hand and the right hand”, you know it’s a metaphor for race relations, but the thing about it is: how do you choose love when there is none. To say that these people all hate each other would be inaccurate, but it would be fair to say they don’t particularly love each other and they do hate their circumstances. So when all was said and done, what choice was left in the end but hate.

In the climactic moment, Buggin Out and Radio Raheem and their cohorts burst into Sal’s around closing time, blasting Public Enemy and screaming at the top of their lungs to “put some brothers on the wall”. This leads to Sal in the heat of the moment, getting angry and unleashing every thought he’d probably kept to himself many times before and destroying Raheem’s boombox. They get into a scuffle afterwards which leads to the police showing up to arrest and beat Buggin Out and inadvertantly beating Radio Raheem to death in front of a mostly black crowd. The anger with which this event instills in people causes Mookie to grab a trash can and throw it into the window of Sal’s while proclaiming “hate”.

Typically, in entertainment and media in general, black people are encouraged to take the high road. We’re always supposed to be the bigger people. We’re always supposed to choose love. So to have the film climax with such an ugly and aggressive moment as this was always going to upset a certain type of audience who’d rather not think too deeply. People tend to obsess over whether or not Mookie or Buggin Out or Raheem were heroes of this story; hey want to know whether these were the guys who “did the right thing”. I am sometimes curious as to whether or not the point would’ve been more clear if Spike Lee were white or, at the very least, if he weren’t Spike Lee. The idea that Lee could be objective was never a consideration, there had to be a clear sign. Despite these criticisms, it’s hard for even the most minimal thinking person to say that one group was right and the other was wrong. It’s too neat and tidy and undermines the power of the scene. So much emotion and ferocity is poured out on that screen and all of it is gripping and fascinating to watch. By the time the cops show up you knew where it was going because this is where it always “happens” to go. You knew something bad was going to happen and for them to watch a young man die from police abuse due to this was heartbreaking and frustrating. In the end, the crowd chooses hate because what else were they really going to do.

When I was a kid and I got angry at my parents, I would go into my room and destroy everything–because it was my room. I knew I could get away with it more than if I destroyed what belonged to them. This, in essence, is what the riot is. The reason Buggin Out wants pictures of black celebrities on the wall is because they have just as much right to be represented on the wall as the Italian celebrities. Sal may own that pizzeria but it’s in a black neighborhood and prospers from black dollars, in a sense they look at it as their’, so when they burn it down, they’re burning down a part of their neighborhood not just Sal’s Pizzeria. Reasonably speaking, they could get away with it. The day after, Mookie goes to visit a distraught Sal at his burned down restaurant to ask for his pay for the week. Sal is livid that  he could throw a garbage can into his shop and just act like it’s no big deal. They fuss and fuss until Sal angrily pays Mookie and the two briefly and, a little unclearly, seem to reconcile. It’s an odd moment because it lessens the riot from something seemingly revolutionary to something much more mundane. It’s reduced to something that just happens.

That girl in my class laughed because this is something that just happens. I got that and I’m sure others did. It’s not exactly true and it ignores a history of white supremacists rioting in black neighborhoods and homes, but it’s a stereotype among a list of many that have been burdened on us and at a certain point, laughter is how you deal. I didn’t find her reaction wrong anymore than I found any of the things that transpired wrong. It just happened. Lee felt that people wanted him to solve racism in his movie which was unfair. Racism is not a concrete idea; it’s deep, engrossing and informs everything. It deserved to be treated as complicated. A mentally disabled man named Smiley meanders around the neighborhood, holding up hand-colored pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and pointing out that they were friends. The film ends with quotes by both men about violence on two opposite spectrums. They didn’t agree with each other’s worldviews but they were friends; they chose love. If there’s a lesson in Do The Right Thing it revolves around that choice between love and hate, but it’s a decision that’s constantly being made not one that will ever be finalized.

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A lot of time and energy is spent trying to divide life into this or that. Rather than accept that things are shaded in gray and deal with the murkiness that idea involves, people instead try to make things easy on themselves and group things into a series of good and bad or right and wrong. Truthfully, the two things aren’t exclusive from each other–that’s the messiness of living–people will make mistakes, try to fix them, make more mistakes and let the worst aspects of themselves get the best of them. It may be easier to ignore these aspects of life to make things neater, but it isn’t the right call. A lot of art concerns itself with wrestling with the dichotomy of right and wrong and dealing with inner demons. With Ukigasa, or Floating Weeds, Yasujirō Ozu paints the picture of a man whose life is filled with regret and a womanizing past and present is in conflict with an attempt to do right by a son who doesn’t even know him.

The film follows a traveling theater troupe lead by the lead act and owner, Kumajuro. The troupe makes a stop in a small town by the inland sea where the performers go about publicizing their kabuki performances, while Kumajuro pays a visit to his former mistress, Oyoshi. He reconnects with his son, Kiyoshi, who’s grown up and is saving up money in order to attend University. Kiyoshi doesn’t know anything about Kumajuro and believes he is his uncle. When Kumajuro’s current mistress, the lead actress of the troupe Sumiko, learns of this, she becomes jealous and tries to cause problems amongst him and Oyoshi. After Kumajuro ends their relationship, she pays one of the young actresses money to seduce his son Kiyoshi. Ultimately, the two young people genuinely fall for each other, despite Kumajuro’s distrust of her after learning of Sumiko’s plans and when it’s time for him to reveal that he is indeed Kiyoshi’s real father, he finds that it’s much too late for him to decide that now is when he wants to be a real father.

Familial issues are always a strong subject in film, television or music. It strikes a chord with a lot of people even if the story isn’t specifically theirs. Kumajuro wants to do what’s right in the situation he’s given but part of the problem is, he wants to do what’s right ONLY because of this situation is giving. He’s a rolling stone, touring with his acting troupe, he’s womanized and continued to womanized, he comes and the he’s gone in the same breath. His son has grown up and become an adult without his help. The idea that now is the time he wants to be a family would come off to anyone as inauthentic and ridiculous, let alone to his own son. It’s not that you don’t feel any real feelings of love from Kumajuro, it’s that that idea of love isn’t enough. when the two o them go fishing and Kiyoshi talks of going to University, you get the sense that he’s figured out a good portion of what he wants for his life. He’s done this without Kumajuro and that fact isn’t lost on him. There’s no instruction guide on what you’re supposed to do in life on any given situation, and the sense you get is that Kumajuro is a man who’s dropped the ball without even fully realizing it. Good intentions aren’t enough but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter.

It’s good intentions that eventually caused Kayo to do the right thing before it was too late. Kayo was the young actress paid to seduce Kiyoshi but instead found herself falling for him. She knew that she was wrong and didn’t want to hurt him so she confessed to it. Kiyoshi and Kayo’s fling was endearing and delicate; the spirit of young love and infatuation, the sense of adventure when you first meet someone and get to know them and the adrenaline rush of getting so caught in those feelings that you’d be willing to abandon your life and plans just to pursue them. Kayo warns Kiyoshi that she’s trouble and he has his whole life ahead of him but, as anyone who’s been 17 will tell you, those kinds of statements fall on death ears. What started as a mistake my by her becomes an opportunity for the both of them to find happiness and not just try and construct it like Kumojuro tries to.

Part of the beauty of this film is that it’s not here to judge or be cynical about its characters. It sits back and watches them wrestle with their insecurities, their problems, their choices and their beliefs. Kumajuro is a volatile, pathetic old man and yet by the end of the movie you feel for him. Sumiko lets her jealousy envelop her and make her foolish, but you can see that she cares for this old man dearly and has been there to pick him up when he needs it. You can even watch Kiyoshi let his youthfulness get the better of him at times, making him think with his heart instead of his head, but you know how that feels because you’ve been there too. The beauty of the film and the way it’s shot with care is similar to the characters’ portrayal. They’re beautiful and approached with care. There is sadness to the story with moments of sweetness strewn about. Weeds are still flowers and even in the ugliness there’s beauty to be found.

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I’m still sorting out my complete feelings for the movie but hopefully I can find something eloquent to say about this film. Needless to say,  Yasujirō Ozu’s story of mistakes, regret, jealousy and love is visually poetic and lovely to watch unfold.

My being more impressed of the film on a technical level isn’t an indictment to the story (because it’s great) but, as someone fascinated by the techniques, it was more exciting to watch the choices being made. The shot selection, scenery, color palette, set design; everything fit perfectly. 

This is my first Ozu film. With the emotionally resonant theme of family dysfunction, failure and young infatuation, it’s hard not to get sucked in. How Ozu is somehow still foreign, even to some film nerds, is peculiar. I look forward to digesting this movie some more and checking out the rest of Ozu’s filmography.

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