Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (no spoilers)

WARNING: If you are a casual film goer, you are going to hate this movie. But if you look at the deeper meaning of things, and you love artistic movies that aren’t trying to be artsy fartsy for artsy fartsy sake, you might actually love it. If you are a constant reader of my blog or other opinions, you already know what side I am on. UNDER THE SILVER LAKE is an A24 property that, when it got mixed and polarizing reviews at a festival back in early 2018, kept getting delayed and delayed until it was finally quietly dumped on VOD back in April of this year. I hadn’t heard much about this movie beforehand, let alone had watched a trailer, all I knew was that it starred Andrew Garfield and was from writer/director David Robert Mitchell, whose first film back from 2014 I absolutely loved, It Follows. While that movie had a clear cut narrative, this 2 hr and 20 minute weird Hollywood epic has multiple plot threads (some that go places, some that don’t…or do they?) all with the same underlying message. It’s a very unique piece of work.

But whether you think that unique piece of work is brilliant or shitty is completely up to you. I’m not trying to tell you how to feel about this movie. If you watch this and don’t understand what the fuck I was talking about and thought it was boring and pointless, that’s fine, but you better be able to back it up on a film scholar level with me. This movie will require several viewings for some to fully understand it. I got it on the first try, but you know me. This film was a $3 blind buy for me on VUDU (having $3 credit on there made it basically free) and I was told to give it a chance by my favorite film reviewers Mike & Jay on http://www.redlettermedia.com. I watched the first part of their review before they got into spoilers (I recently watched the rest of it and they saw the film the same as I did). Boy, was that the best $3 credit purchase ever, because I kind of love this film. The best things about it is the underlying messages and theme of the movie, the AMAZING cinematography and the AMAZING score by Disasterpiece (who also had an amazing score with It Follows). Oh and uh, I don’t know what attracted Andrew Garfield to this project, but the dude gives it is all in his best performance since Hacksaw Ridge and The Social Network.

It’s going to be really hard to describe this film to you without giving any spoilers, but I’m going to do my best. Andrew Garfield is literally in almost every scene as a young man named Sam who, after a brief yet impactful encounter one night with a new neighbor, Sarah (Riley Keough), goes out and investigates her sudden disappearance, only to stumble upon hidden messages that may or may not lead him to an elusive and dangerous giant Hollywood conspiracy. And there happens to be a dog killer lurking about. Whew, I think I got the gist of it. Obviously there is so much more to what is going on that my statement pertaining to watching it multiple times to actually get it might come true to you. It is a very maze-like wicked tangled web of a film. So much subtext, so much allegory, so many layers. But that’s what I love about the film. It makes you think, where as 90% of the films that come out nowadays are just spoon feeding everything to you, where you can just sit there like a zombie and literally do nothing and these studios and filmmakers expect you to just get a kick out of it…

I think the reason why I probably like this film so much as well is that it comes off the heels of just seeing Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. I don’t know if Mr. Tarantino has seen Under The Silver Lake yet, but if he ever does, I wonder if he thinks both of these movies would go nicely in a whole afternoon long double feature. I sure did. Where as Mr. Tarantino’s film describes the last days of an old, innocent Hollywood system, Under The Silver Lake is inspired by the dirty, gross, seedy underbelly of the New Hollywood system, clearly coming more into light recently because of the #MeToo Movement. This film is more of a transition from old Hollywood to New Hollywood and I expect that there maybe somewhere down the line will be a third film only focused on New Hollywood that combined with these two will make some kind of unofficial trilogy. While representing more New Hollywood, this film shows the transition pretty well with a great musical score by Disasterpiece that is inspired by classic mystery/thriller films. Hitchcockian, if you will. While being set in the present day that old school essence is still there, with a lot of imagery and homages to classic movie industry actors and actresses. Hell, there are even nods to classic philosophers and astronomers in this film to tie everything together!

Some might leave this film wondering if it was sexist or misogynist, clearly missing the point of the entire message, and I feel bad for those that do so. It isn’t weird and elaborate just for the sake of being weird and elaborate. None of this film is just surface level shit and if you don’t want to use your brain to figure out different symbols, messages, and meanings in this, don’t bother ever trying to seek this out, because this film is clearly not for you. If 20 minutes you think the film is too slow, turn it off because you aren’t going to enjoy the rest of it. But if you want your cinematic experience to take you on a WTF journey of long and epic proportions, then I can’t recommend this enough. I have a feeling that in the future this film is going to be studied by film students, especially avante garde and/or expressionistic and experimental ones. Just like Midsommar, I can’t clearly see that and this as masterpieces yet, but I have I feeling on repeat viewings that it might take me in that direction. If you have the bravery to form your own opinion and actually pay attention when watching Under The Silver Lake, I really do hope you enjoy it.

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Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: THE FAREWELL (no spoilers)

If there is one thing to truly remember about this movie if it ever comes across the topic of conversation…well, two things, is that Awkwafina can truly act and isn’t just a one trick comedy pony, and the ending. If you don’t want the ending of THE FAREWELL spoiled for you, DO NOT go into the trivia section of IMDB or look this up on Wikipedia. The ending brings a whole new light to the entire story and makes you think about deeper meanings and messages of what it means to lie and keep something hidden from someone. It’s a pretty good little film, a dramedy that manages to avoid all the pit falls and cliches of other situational dramedies/comedies that HAVE to have those typical confrontational scenes at the end. But other than Awkwafina and the ending, I do feel that the movie ultimately is going to be pretty forgettable down the line.

The set up is simple, it’s based on an actual lie/actual true story and follows a Chinese family, who find out that their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide not to tell her and instead use a cousin’s upcoming wedding as a front for a family gathering, so that everyone is together one last time before she dies. Awkwafina is front and center, playing the granddaughter Billie. At first the family doesn’t want her to go to the gathering as they think her emotions give her away, but Billie goes anyway and manages to keep the secret to herself. From then on, we get countless scenes before and during the wedding with Billie spending time with her grandmother and the entire family together, and then scenes without the grandmother where Billie is still debating whether they should really tell her or not. Even though the scenes discussing whether the lie is good for everyone or not get quite repetitive, the scenes adds natural and laugh out loud moment to balance the tide. Word of warning, while this is an American film, all the dialogue is really a 70-30 percent ratio of Chinese subtitles and actually spoken American dialogue, which doesn’t bother me at all, just warning you that you might be doing more reading throughout this film than what the trailer online makes you believe.

Like I said above, if there is any reason to watch the film, it’s Awkwafina’s performance, which I think could garner her a well deserved Oscar nomination come awards season (her real name is Nora Lum, which I actually really like and hope that eventually down the road she does a changing back of her name a la The Rock/Dwayne Johnson). Her performance is unlike anything you have ever seen her do before, playing an actual layered mutli-dimensional character, stripped away of all her over-the-top zanyiness you’ve come to recognize her from crazy roles in Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians. She is really spectacular. In the acting department, every one does a good job, from all of the unknowns to Tzi Ma, who plays Billie’s father. The director, Lulu Wang, who mostly directs shorts and music videos, and has only done one other feature, is clearly an actor’s director, getting natural and realistic emotions from everyone involved. Stylistically though, it feels as though she watched one too many episodes of Mr. Robot, as all the shots have characters all to one side of the frame where there is too much space for blank walls and static boring backgrounds. The scenes between Billie and her grandmother are the best, giving the best emotional weight to the narrative.

However, there is one perfect scene in the film, no wasted space or filler, that I’d like to mention. When the cousin groom & his bride are getting pre-wedding pictures taken, Awkwafina and I believe her mother and/or aunt are having a meaningful conversation about “the lie” and the bride & groom taking weird pictures in the background that manages to elicit laughs from the audience but also just enough to not distract from the dialogue taking place. Very well done scene, and I wish there were more than that in there, as all the Mr. Robot cinematography felt kind of bland. I know you are looking for me to talk more about the ending, but since I said no spoilers in the title, all I will say is the ending makes you think even after you are on your way home and you’ll want to do some research on the film once you’ve gotten there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film, I just think down the line it will ultimately be pretty forgettable. If it gets Oscar nominations, I’d be fine with it as long as Awkwafina was included in the mix. This is the film that is going to make me take her seriously as an actress from now on (as you can tell, I know nothing about her rap career).