Yves Saint Laurent

Film Review: Yves Saint Laurent (2014)

At one point Yves Saint Laurent says, “Fashion is not a major art. It’s not even an art at all.” I first held a similar belief. I thought that if fashion is an art, it’s the most superficial of all. How can someone justify paying thousands of dollars on a garment? I suppose the same could be said for a painting. It’s art and it’s worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. I suppose some people value a person’s artistry and craftsmanship. I don’t mind that actually, it’s the people who buy things to show off or demonstrate their social status that really irk me.

If the life of Yves Saint Laurent proved anything, it’s that fashion was a work of art and he was at the heart of it. At least before the hedonism of modern global fashion brands. This autobiographical fashion film is directed by Jalil Lespert and features a break out performance by Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent. The production design and art direction of the film is sublime. Many of the films shots look like they were ripped out of the pages of Vogue. Some of the credit may be attributed to Bergé opening up the YSL archives and allowing the use of original pieces. Guillaume Gallienne portrays Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner Pierre Bergé.

In brief, the film presents a window into the world of the late French fashion designer. This window, however, must be partly frosted because we don’t get to see much. Most of the man’s life is skimmed over and we don’t get to see much detail or the intricacies of his affairs. His rise into fashion superstardom may have been deliberate. Saint Laurent did become the youngest head designer in the history of the esteemed House of Dior. But, him dodging the draft for the Algerian War, his dismissal from Dior, and his ensuing legal battle take place within the span of ten minutes.

The film seems to take a deeper interest in Saint Laurent’s relationship with Bergé. This might explain why the real life Bergé was so touched by the film. He claims that it brought him to tears. As they say, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Or in this case, another great man. Bergé is depicted as Saint Laurent’s great love, his rock, and watchful protector. Even this relationship ends up playing second fiddle to the clothes and the collections.

Mondrian painting

Most of the clothes are presented on the runway. I’ve often found myself staring at YSL clothing through a display window. Now I’m able to admire the clothes on a screen. Although the clothes are nice to look at, it would have been better to show the artistry that goes into the clothing. It would’ve been a more interesting choice to show what truly inspired his collections. Instead, the film shows Yves looking at a picture of Mondrian’s painting. Is that all it took to inspire his famous Mondrian collection? Perhaps today he could just copy and paste a design.

I think that this film took a cookie cutter approach to storytelling. It tried to portray a flawed man by showing him going to parties and using drugs. It seems rather cliché to have an artist using drugs these days. At times the film alludes to a troubled childhood. When he got beat up for being queer, his mother didn’t protect him. Yet he seemed to be close with his mother. What’s the story there? Moreover, the film doesn’t dare to show the pitfalls of Saint Laurent’s work. No one is perfect and I’m sure Saint Laurent had some less than stellar collections.

Would it not be more interesting to see how he dealt with failure? Rather, all we’re shown is one successful collection after another. The audience marvels at the man’s work and applauds. It appears that this official autobiographical film has a tinge of corporate self-endorsement. Maybe the other Saint Laurent biopic offers a more provocative look at the designer’s life. Perhaps that’s why Bergé isn’t too fond of it. Saint Laurent will be released later this year.Runway

Undoubtedly Saint Laurent was a great designer. He did become the first living fashion designer to be honoured by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was even awarded the rank of Commander of the Legion d’Honneur by Jacques Chirac. Saint Laurent showed that fashion could be an art form. This film, however, took itself much too seriously. It put YSL and the entire world of fashion on a pedestal.

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X-Men

Film Review: X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)

X-MenBryan Singer returns to the X-Men franchise after directing the first two. Days of Future Past is the seventh film in the superhero saga. It’s amazing that they’ve been able to keep it going this long. Especially since there have been so many less than stellar outings for the X-Men. If anything, First Class gave the franchise its second wind. The main cast members from First Class all return in this new installment. Fassbender, McAvoy, and Lawrence join the original series cast in this tale of time travel.

The film is based off the The Uncanny X-Men; issues 141 and 142. Now, the film does take some artistic license and most of that can be attributed to appeasing the masses. With a budget upwards of $200 million, the suits at Fox aren’t taking any chances. Instead of having Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) go back in time, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine travels back to 1973. Just in time to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

Most people are already familiar with Wolverine, that’s fine, I get that. But, why not change things up and give another major role to a female character? I’m not trying to slam X-Men since it’s probably one of the few superhero franchises that could pass the Bechdel test. But, I’m pretty sure that this was a strictly financial decision. Wolverine didn’t even play a major role in the film. Yes, he was in the room when the action took place but he didn’t really have much to say. Also, an analysis of box office data has shown that films that pass the Bechdel test have a higher return on investment. I think this was a missed opportunity.

Nonetheless, Wolverine makes the journey back in time to convince Magneto and Professor Charles Xavier to reconcile their differences and stop Mystique before it’s too late. The reason being that during Trask’s assassination, Mystique is captured. While Mystique is taken captive, the humans study her DNA and reverse engineer the Sentinels. The Sentinels are robots that exterminate mutants and humans with the ‘X’ gene. This prevents the possibility of mutant offspring and so, the mutant race will become extinct.

As with most time travel films, there’s bound to be an issue with continuity. However, Days of Future Past seems to overcome this problem. As previously mentioned, the Sentinels are designed to exterminate humans carrying the ‘X’ gene. William Stryker carries the ‘X’ gene since he fathers a mutant son named Jason. In future X-Men sagas, Stryker plays a critical role in the battle against the mutants. He becomes the leader of the Weapon X project and so, the existence of the Sentinels would take Stryker out of the picture. Days of Future Past validates the previous X-Men films.

Although Days of Future Past is a good film, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some issues. One of the best things Singer brought to the franchise were the films underlying themes. The battle against mutants was analogous of the discrimination against minorities. Charles and Eric represented two sides of the same coin. Charles sought a world where humans and mutants co-exist in harmony. Eric, on the other hand, wants to dominate the human race.X-Men Uncanny

This coin has been flipped one too many times though. Days of Future Past continues to postulate this moral dilemma. After six films, I think we get the point.

Another pitfall arises with Bolivar Trask. Although Peter Dinklage gives a fine performance, Trask’s motives for eradicating the mutants is poorly conceived. In the film Trasks even states that he admires the mutants yet, he wants to destroy them. In the comics Bolivar becomes the father of a mutant, Larry Trask. Although the Sentinels have the ability to detect mutants, Trask gives his son a medallion which shields his son’s identity. It would have been interesting to see what inspired Trask and motivated him to create a weapon against the mutants.

Even with some minor issues, Days of Future Past is still wildly entertaining. Quicksilver’s prison break is hilarious and uber cool.  Also, I enjoyed the reference to the Bent Bullet and Magneto’s involvement with the JFK assassination. A lot of people probably rolled their eyes but, I like how the writers tried to fuse mutants into the pages of history. John F. Kennedy was “one of us”? Say what?!

After the credits rolled, we’re given a little taste of what’s yet to come. X-Men: Apocalypse is set to hit theatres in 2016. Channing Tatum has been cast to play Gambit. I’ll reserve my judgement on this casting choice and I’ll give the guy a shot. With that being said, we could see the Horsemen of Apocolypse. Gambit was a member at some point. All in all, I’m pretty stoked about the revitalized X-Men franchise.

The Double Poster

Film Review: The Double (2013)

This is the second doppelganger film I’ve reviewed this year; the first being Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. I think I may have an obsession and secret adoration for this kind of subject matter. Maybe I’m unconsciously drawn to these stories because of my struggle to find myself. Maybe those idiosyncrasies I attribute to myself aren’t so special or unique. Whatever it may be, I’m convinced that Richard Ayoade’s The Double is unique despite its recycled premise. The film is based off Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel of the same name. Even Dostoyevsky himself was influenced by Nikolai Gogol. I doubt that there are any original ideas anymore. Everything is just an interpretation of pre-existing work.

Nevertheless, The Double is a refreshing and auspicious film. Jessie Eisenberg plays Simon James, a quiet introvert who is dismissed by practically everyone he meets. We first encounter Simon on his way to work. A man tells Simon that he is in his seat even though the entire train is utterly empty. Soon after vacating the man’s seat, he spots his co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Simon tries to exit the train but, a man stacking boxes is inconveniently in the way. If that’s not enough, Simon’s briefcase gets caught in the train doors. And so, with the opening scene, the tone is set for the rest of the film.

Individuality

I recently read an essay on Dostoevsky’s use of projection. Richard J. Rosenthal made an excellent case for the use of projection in The Double. Projection is a mental mechanism whereby aspects of the self are projected onto others.  In Simon’s case, he uses projection as a self defense mechanism. He attempts to rid himself of unacceptable impulses and aspects of the self by externalizing them to the people and the environment around him. The excessive use of projective mechanisms leaves him internally depleted and more susceptible to his external environment. Quite literally, Simon James encounters a projection of himself; the mirror image of his self, James Simon.

James is everything Simon’s not. He’s extroverted, aggressive, and charismatic. The only thing they share in common is their appearance. James even wears the same dingy, oversized suit. At their workplace however, no one seems to see the resemblance. This aspect of the story demonstrates the second underlying message, existentialism.

“There’s no such thing as special people. Only people”

One of the central concepts of existentialism is the notion that existence precedes essence. People are individuals with a conscience. They create their own values and find a meaning for their own life. Simon James does not possess facticity nor transcendence. He does not exist within the system although he proclaims that he’s worked there for seven years. His existence is defined by the system.

“I’m like Pinocchio, I’m a wooden boy. Not a real boy.”

The Double is a film that can probably be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps the notion of the Absurd may be attributed to this story. There is no meaning except for the one we give. Needless to say, it’s a film that stands on its own. There aren’t too many films like this. It’s pretty unique.

“There aren’t too many of you, are there Simon?”

Simon replies,

“I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.”

Film Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spiderman 2
The Amazing Spiderman
continues to distance itself from the Sam Raimi trilogy. Yet again, Mary Jane Watson remains absent from the picture. Instead, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) continues as Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) love interest. This may come as a surprise since Shailene Woodley filmed a couple of scenes as Mary Jane.

However, her scenes were cut from the final film. Director Marc Webb explains that he felt the relationship between Peter and Gwen was sacred. Hence, he didn’t want to take away from their relationship by introducing Mary Jane. Others have speculated that the producers felt Shailene was miscast and asked for her removal. To add more credence to the latter, Webb was hesitant to confirm Woodley’s appearance in the later films.

In this case, I think the decision to exclude Mary Jane was appropriate. The film already suffers from a convoluted plot and too many character introductions. One of the film’s strengths is the relationship between Peter and Gwen.  The director of 500 Days of Summer shows his command of chemistry and romance. However, this relationship often plays second fiddle to the villains of the film. One of Peter Parker’s greatest battles is with himself.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter has always battled with his responsibilities as a hero and his desire to live a normal life. Peter struggles to keep his promise to the late Captain Stacy, and he continues to unravel the mystery behind his parents. Instead of elaborating on these core elements, the film goes off on a tangent. Either a villain is introduced, or Gwen Stacy for some reason decides to go to Oxford. It seems that the film’s central purpose was to introduce characters in an effort to prolong the series. Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones) will become the Black Cat, Rhino comes prematurely at the end of the film, and the Green Goblin makes a lack lustre first impression.

Dane Dehaan as Harry Osborn

Webb’s Amazing Spiderman initially set out to be more faithful to the comics;  the source material. Spiderman confronts his enemies with web slingers and a welcomed sense of humour. Despite a promising reboot, the franchise seems to be going in the wrong direction. At times it seems reminiscent of the 90’s Batman films. Big stars are being cast to fill roles and deliver hokey performances. Dane Dehaan comes off as a kid throwing a fit in a grocery store. Instead of whining for a chocolate bar, Harry Osborn wants Spiderman’s blood.

I hope this film doesn’t signal the start of a slippery slope. Before we know it, we’ll be hearing one liners like, “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!” Okay maybe that’s being a bit excessive but still, the Amazing Spiderman 2  favours style over substance. Sure the visuals of Spidey slinging around town are pretty cool. But, at the end of the day it’s all smoke and mirrors. The special effects only serve as a distraction to inferior story telling.

The film’s plot was all over the place and lacked focus. Even the trailers referred to plot points that were never delivered. Parker under surveillance and Norman Osborn’s reference to “not everyone has a happy ending” were all missing from the final version. It’s apparent that the writers were too ambitious and wanted to include too much. Webb’s Amazing Spiderman had breadth and not much depth.

Only Lovers Left Alive Poster

Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left AliveAmerican indie auteur Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Only Lovers Left Alive, is so ironic and refreshing. Despite the topic of vampires being done to death, Jarmusch revitalizes the genre and delivers a psychedelic experience. You’d think that a filmmaker like Jarmusch, whose anti mainstream, wouldn’t dare go near a vampire romance. Instead, Jarmusch presents all the age old vampire clichés with wit, and light-hearted cynicism. In the words of William Shakespeare, or in this case Christopher Marlowe, “I bite my thumb at thee.” Blood popsicles and “Soul Dracula” serve as a satirical deviation from the more serious subject matter.

The film revolves around the melancholic romance between Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton). Their love has endured several centuries, which is probably more farfetched than the idea of vampires roaming the earth. In today’s western world of infatuation and divorce, true love seems to only exist in fairy tales. Adam and Eve reunite in the decrepit city of Detroit. Adam is a reclusive musician who writes music for the sole purpose of expressing his inner thoughts and emotions.  In a true state of artistry, Adam does not pander for fortune and fame. Although this choice seems to be self-defeating since he’s grown a hipster following due to his mystery and seclusion.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star in Only Lover Left Alive

Adam has lost all faith in humanity and refers to humans as “zombies”. The only “zombie” he can tolerate is Ian. Whenever Adam needs an antique guitar or some vintage vinyl records he calls on his “zombie” mate. The idea of “zombies” may be Jarmusch’s allusion to the decline of humanity. Blood poisoning and the scarcity of good blood makes reference to an increasingly intoxicated society. One can only speculate that environmental contamination or genetically modified organisms are the culprits.

Aside from some vague references to water wars and blood poisoning, Only Lovers Left Alive is “ars gratia artis”. Or art for art’s sake. Too bad MGM wasn’t affiliated with this film. I guess that studio doesn’t actually stand by its motto. It’s hard to imagine that major motion picture studios have any interest in art anymore. That’s why filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and independent cinema are so essential.

Another integral part of the film is music. I still remember watching Dead Man and being completely mesmerized by Neil Young’s score. The sound of his guitar haunted me for several days. My reaction was similar to Adam witnessing the sensual live performance of Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdam. He said,

“She’s too good to be famous.”

It’s interesting because I had a conversation about “Top 40” music with a friend recently. We both agreed that “Top 40” music isn’t music. I suppose good music doesn’t actually correlate with fame. In any case, the film’s score is a perfect vehicle to transport you into this other worldly experience. Only Lovers Left Alive and its filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch, are too good to be mainstream.

Poster of the Darjeeling Limited

Film Review: The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Stylized poster of The Darjeeling Limited

Dedicated to my mate from Oz, Jeff Khan

Recently, my friend Jeff had asked me about my thoughts on Wes Anderson’s, The Darjeeling Limited. I didn’t have an answer at the time because I haven’t seen it yet. I was a bit embarrassed since I consider myself a fan of Mr. Anderson’s work. So, I told Jeff that I’ll watch it over the weekend and write a review about it.

If you’ve watched some of Anderson’s films before, you’re probably well aware of the fact that he likes to work with certain actors. Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and newcomer Adrien Brody star in the film. And yes, Bill Murray makes a cameo as well. In fact, the opening sequence features Mr. Murray speeding through the streets of India in the back of a taxi. Clearly he’s in a hurry. So much so that he forgets to pay his fare. He’s late for his train, which is named the Darjeeling Limited. This is where we’re also introduced to Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody). Peter’s late too but, he’s quick enough to catch up with the train. We can’t say the same for poor old Bill.

And so, Peter makes his way through the train. On his way he passes the commuter, and economy portions of the train before he arrives in the upper class section. In one of the compartments, he finds his two brothers Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Francis (Owen Wilson). Francis has organized a reunion with his brothers after nearly being killed in a motorcycle ‘accident’. Given his father’s recent passing, one can suspect that this was no accident. Nevertheless, he’s convinced his brothers to come along with him on a spiritual journey across India.

Three brothers on the train.

Jack, Francis, and Peter on their spiritual journey across India.

Throughout the film we’re exposed to Anderson’s attention to detail, expertly direction, and picturesque cinematography. Film students should study Anderson’s work. He uses a variety of camera techniques to support his meticulously crafted mise-en-scene. I doubt that Anderson ever utters the words, “we’ll fix it in post.” I love when a filmmaker pays attention to the details.

In their compartment, Jack walks around with his Hotel Chevalier robe. Hotel Chevalier is a short film written and directed by Wes Anderson. It serves as the prologue to The Darjeeling Limited. It also explains Natalie Portman’s cameo appearance in the latter stages of the film. Moreover, when Jack is seen checking his ex-girlfriends messages, the letters S.T.D appear in the sign above him. I wonder if this was coincidental or on purpose. Nevertheless, the film is clearly well composed and skillfully executed.

In addition to its stunning aesthetic, the film’s story contains some substance as well. The three feathers clearly resemble some spiritual significance. When Francis asks his brothers to perform the ritual with him, they all execute it differently.

Peter is clearly struggling with his past and he’s uncertain about the future. He wears his father’s prescription sunglasses despite them causing him headaches. His wife is pregnant yet, he’s not genuinely happy. How can he take on this responsibility and move on with his life if he’s still reluctant to let go of the past? During the ceremony, Peter keeps his feather which symbolizes his reluctance to let go.

Francis, on the other hand, does the ritual properly. He buries the feather under the rock which shows his willingness to put the past behind him. Moreover, Jack lets his feather get taken away by the wind. He wants to move on with his life but, he’s still in turmoil. He’s upset and struggling with himself. The train stewardess (Amara Karan) asks Jack, “What’s wrong with you?” He simply replies, “Let me think about that. I’ll tell you the next time I see you.” Evidently, Jack is still trying to find himself. He writes short stories as a way of communicating his inner thoughts. All of his characters are “fictional” yet, everyone knows that he’s writing about himself.

In the end, all of the brothers drop their luggage to hop onto the train. They’ve all come to terms with their lives. Overall, The Darjeeling Limited is probably not one of Anderson’s best films. However, it’s still a whole lot better than a lot of films out there today. That says a lot about Wes Anderson; he’s one of the best filmmakers around.

Margin Call (2011) Poster

Film Review Margin Call (2011)

Margin Call (2011) PosterIt’s been a few years since the height of the global recession. The sub-prime crisis and the housing bubble gave way to the single largest one-day point drop in U.S. stock market history. Many economists consider 2008 as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Lehman Brothers would file for bankruptcy, the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history; over $600 billion in assets. The U.S. government would enact the Emergency Economy Stabilization Act of 2008 to bailout the U.S. financial system. The ripples of these events would be felt all across the globe.

Margin Call is a film that depicts the final day at an unnamed Wall Street financial firm. Inspired by a true story, the events that took place would send financial firms into panic mode. The film explores capitalism, fraud, and greed. In my opinion, it also depicts the instinctive need for self-preservation. People act in their own self-interest.

It all begins with a massive layoff. 80% of the firm is let go, including senior risk analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). While being escorted out of the building by security, Dale hands a zip disk to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto). His final words to Sullivan are, “be careful”.

Sullivan is an extremely intelligent and ambitious character. Instead of heading to a bar after work with his colleagues, he decides to work late. With the light of a screen illuminating his face, Sullivan comes to a stark realization. He has completed Dale’s model, and he’s discovered the volatility of the firm’s portfolio. The firm’s MBS’s (mortgage backed securities) will soon exceed historical volatility levels, and the projected losses are greater than the equity value of the firm. The house of cards is on the verge of failure.

CEO John Tuld

Jeremy Irons as CEO John Tuld in the 2011 film, Margin Call.

Sullivan immediately calls his co-worker Seth Bergman (Penn Badgley). He tells him to bring their supervisor, Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), back to the office immediately. Soon enough, everyone is sitting around the boardroom table in the late hours of the night. Arriving by helicopter, CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) asks for a plain and simple summary of the situation. “It wasn’t brains that brought me here; I assure you that.”

It seems as though the higher up on the corporate ladder, the less you know. Similarly, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) demonstrates his ignorance when first presented with the model. He’s unable to follow it, instead he asks Emerson to give it to him straight. No jargon or technical terms, just plain English.  Moreover, when Jared and Sarah are battling it out, trying to place the blame on one another, Jared asks Sam to listen in. Sam replies, “I don’t want to hear this. How do you think I’ve stuck around this place so long?” Remaining oblivious, and putting your head under the sand seems the best way to go. Perhaps that’s the kind of attitude that created this entire mess.

John Tuld provides the perfect analogy for the situation Wall Street firms were in.

“So, what you’re telling me, is that the music is about to stop, and we’re going to be left holding the biggest bag of odorous excrement ever assembled in the history of capitalism.”

In the interest of self-preservation, the brokers at the firm are told to sell 93% of their MBS asset classes. Sell at all costs, regardless of the consequences. “We are selling to willing buyers at the current fair market price. So that we may survive.”

Greed is the fuel that lights this fire. Emerson poignantly asserts that greed and self-interest are the culprits of this entire debacle. The people on Wall Street are not the only ones to blame.

 “The only reason that they all get to continue living like kings is cause we got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and then the whole world gets really fuckin’ fair really fuckin’ quickly and nobody actually wants that.”

Margin Call is the best film about the financial crisis that I’ve seen to date. Being a B-school grad myself, I was able to appreciate the film’s subject matter. The film succeeds in a number of ways other films have failed. Most notably, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Margin Call is grounded in realism, and this may be off-putting for some. But, it’s time for people to take their heads from out of the sand. Let’s hope that something like this doesn’t happen again. The troughs of the economic life cycle shouldn’t be so severe. Proactive measures should happen before we’re left with a, “big odorous bag of excrement.”