2017 Summer Movie Review: A Ghost Story

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C (Casey Affleck) wakes up as a ghost in David Lowery’s magnum opus, A Ghost Story. (Source: Rolling Stone)

How can something so simple go somewhere so deep?

After Disney’s surprisingly wonderful remake of Pete’s Dragon, director David Lowery returns to his indie roots with the Sundance hit A Ghost Story. It reteams the duo of the sluggish yet decent Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It might turn people off who expect it to be a straight-up horror film. With a budget of $100,000 and shown in the 1.37.1 aspect ratio, Lowery explores the afterlife through the eyes of a person wearing the cheapest Halloween costume in the world. This is a strange yet devastating roller-coaster ride through the afterlife.

C (Casey Affleck) is a musician living in a house in rural Texas with his wife M (Rooney Mara). They both keep hearing bumps in the night; trying to find the source of the sounds. As C dies from a car crash, he wakes up in the hospital in a white sheet with two black holes for eyes. As a ghost, he walks back to his house to reconnect with M. No one seems to notice he still exists. C’s ghost goes on a journey through the past, present, and future.

In his first Sundance feature-length hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Lowery pays homage to Terrence Malick with films, such as Badlands and Days of Heaven. It comes as no surprise for A Ghost Story that it has ties with Malick among other directors. Ranging from faraway shots and long takes, Lowery and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo put it to good use with every shot, accompanied by Daniel Hart’s haunting score. They are nothing short of breathtaking!

A Ghost Story features very minimal dialogue. The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”, is rather appropriate here. In one particular scene, the ghost watches his wife grief in silence while eating a whole pie. During the long take, we see her get more upset after each bite until she rushes to the bathroom to throw it up. As devastating as the scene is, it’s quite impressive to see it done in one take. It proves how talented Rooney Mara is.

Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle yet ambitious performances to date. Fresh from winning an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, he spends most of the movie in the bedsheet without delivering a single line (with the exception of a few in the beginning and the end of the film). With the theme involving the endurance and perception of time, Affleck’s ghost spends time observing his wife move out of his house as other people start to move in; including a Hispanic family and one of the partygoers (Will Oldham) talking about the end of the universe. “We do what we can to endure…you do what you can to make sure you’re still around after you’re gone,” he says, summing up the film’s main idea.

A Ghost Story may not be for everyone. It doesn’t move at a fast pace. However, for those who are patient and willing to give it a shot, be my guest. You might love it or hate it. For me, one of the main reasons why I think this one of the best films of the year is that it’s full of originality, which is rare for movies nowadays. This definitely requires repeated viewings.

4/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

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Kubo goes on a journey with two unlikely companions in Laika’s latest entry Kubo and the Two Strings (Source: IMDb)

The Nightmare Before Christmas set a new standard in stop-motion animation. The art form has improved ever since. Laika, the PIXAR of stop-motion animation, has been around for ten years. Their first feature, Coraline, introduced the company’s fair share of light and dark moments that older kids and adults would appreciate. It became their trademark with ParaNorman (sadly underrated) and The Boxtrolls (their weakest entry). Kubo and the Two Strings, their latest feat, has a poignancy that is lacking in your standard family films—let alone animated films (excluding anything from PIXAR).

Set in ancient Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson, Game of Thrones) is living a peaceful life in a cave caring for his sick mother. He entertains the residents of a nearby village with his stories by playing his three-string instrument which has the power to bring his origami figures to life. One night, he accidentally stumbles upon a spirit from his past. He goes on the run with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve his father’s samurai armor. With it, he must defeat the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his two evil aunts (Rooney Mara).

At the screening I attended, they were only six people—myself included. Two of them were younger kids (one was either three- or four-years-old, while the other was about six). When the two aunts made their first appearance, the kids were scared out of their minds.

Kubo and the Two Strings will most likely frighten young children. I think children over 10 will have a ball, while adults will get something special out of it. This is perhaps the most mature film from the guys of Laika. While it has its fair share of funny moments (notably McConaughey’s Beetle, with his puns and his personality of having little to no memory of his past albeit a fighting expert), one of the reasons why the movie shines other than the gorgeous animation and the edge-of-your-seat action is its moments of melancholy and sheer magic being brought to the screen. Kubo’s relationship with his dying mother is almost impossible to get tears in your eyes.

Legends never die; they live on for generations.

4/4