calinchiriac

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Reviews

The Lighthouse
(2019)

How long have we been on this rock?
"The Lighthouse" was my most anticipated movie of the year, not so much because of the incredibly high buzz generated by critics since the film first made its appearance at Cannes back in May, and not even because of the well-respected cast members or of the director in charge of the project (after all, Robert Eggers' first feature film, "The Witch", left me ultimately unimpressed despite a strong understanding of physical horror and a bone-chilling atmosphere from beginning to end). Well, it all undoubtedly helped, but really, it might've only been the combination of an unsettling location and the simple premise of the film - two lighthouse keepers going about their usual business on a secluded island (the "rock", as Thomas Wake, Willem Dafoe's mad-eyed character, repeatedly calls it) - that drove me to eagerly await its arrival in theaters.

From the get-go, "The Lighthouse" establishes itself as a dark, grim and joyless piece. One of the opening frames is a haunting and symmetric back shot of the two main characters, somberly standing on a boat's front deck, patiently (and almost mourningly, as if they had lost every last bit of themselves) awaiting to reach their destination: the "rock", entirely covered by an overbearing fog miles ahead of them. It sets a dispiriting and depressing tone that is only refined by the excellent use of black and white - the absence of color rapidly becomes inherent to the characters and objects on the screen, to the point where I frankly wasn't able to imagine a colorized version of the keepers' clothes, of the meals they were eating, or of the New England sky. It was all so magnificently dull and devoid of life.

Much like the cinematography, the interactions between Pattinson and Dafoe are nothing short of fascinating to observe all throughout the film. I would call both of their performances career-defining if their careers weren't already... well, as solidly defined as they are. Pattinson, incorporating a hopeless and self-loathing man, comes perfectly at odds with his counterpart, an aged sea veteran verging on insanity. The film is in a perpetual state of rising tension - evidently expressed by the score - while the two shout in a raging dialect of 19th-century seamen, fight clumsily with one another and slowly fall into debauchery, completely engulfed by the chaotic weather and tormented by the island's closeness, which highlight the fantastic production design.

In spite of the looks, "The Lighthouse" is not a horror movie in the common sense of the word (nor does it try to be, really). At least it doesn't feel like one. Rather, it acts like a psychological drama that delves deeply into an ordinary experience to transform it into something much more unique and unexpectedly puzzling. It took me quite a while after leaving the theater to figure out what had actually happened, and I'm still totally unsure that I have the right answer, if there is one. It's an extremely well-crafted film that, without necessarily covering for the "The Witch"'s faults in terms of overall payoff, stands far ahead of Eggers' directorial debut.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
(2002)

Waiting for Frodo: The Epic Journey Continues
Understandably darker and heavier than 'The Fellowship of The Ring' while being absolutely unforgiving to its already scarred characters, 'The Two Towers' feeds off its predecessor's pure energy and glee to widen the scope of the story and drain every last piece of hope that was built. Flawless in its structure, the second installment in the Lord of the Rings saga manages, in the first 120 minutes, to wisely, although sometimes clumsily, blend multiple storylines within the same quest, only to reach its culminating point in the last hour - an event so grand and so massively epic in scale that it left me astonished, a cinematic accomplishment in the likes of few others, the very epitomy of what fantasy and adventure films should eternally strive for: the Battle of Helm's Deep. In this day and age defined by the dullness of sequels, 'The Two Towers' has a purpose, a meaning, a pulse that never stops growing through the few ups and countless downs of Frodo and Sam, of Aragorn - of Middle Earth.

All the President's Men
(1976)

Ever Heard of Watergate?
"All the President's Men" (1976) follows the investigation led by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) on the Watergate scandal, running parallel with President Nixon's campaign for reelection. As the two lead characters see their investigation unfold, hardly, must I say, they get banged down by your usual, but not quite so, "newspaper" drama : missing sources, pettiness of the story, abstinence and denial by the witnesses, lack of hard evidence and, above all, threat to the survival of the Post itself.

This is a gripping time piece. Almost half of the story is spent at the newspaper's offices, overshadowed by the permanent key-tapping of ardent typewriters and the constant chatter of young secretaries, which add a great sense of urgency and authenticity to a typical 1970s Washington workplace, where Woodward and Bernstein, sitting face-to-face in an odd, diagonal line that becomes a subtle symbol for a head-butting professional relationship, learn to first tolerate each other (and each other's egos) before uniting to unveil the truth. The interactions between Hoffman and Redford throughout the movie are as delightful to watch as they are crucial to making William Goldman's Academy Award-winning script reach its climax. We, as spectators, pay attention to these two very powerful actors' every word with such care and eagerness without even seeing through their banter and mistakes, breathing sighs of relief when catching a loose second and setting the alarm as the next one arrives. In the meantime, we get glimpses of written notes swinging in every direction from Woodward, mainly, creating a true journalistic feel, and enthralling conversations over the phone from both characters, desperately attempting to connect with not only the people behind the scandal, but also with the obscure situation on which they vainly light their lamps on, to a point where the phone becomes a mere extension of the hand and the absence of voice on the other end of the wire provokes an expression of total indifference. The story hides behind this progressive and discreet line of events without ever declaring "right" or "wrong", and plays with the writers' heads, leading them to frustration, unaided by the pressure of their superiors, the Metro News' supervisor Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden) and the Post's Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards, in a sublime performance).

The remainder of the movie explores Woodward and Bernstein's (or "Woodstein", as Bradlee once cries out, interrupting the high-pitched noise of the office for more than two seconds) attempts to force the truth (or, at least, parcels of it) out of various mouths (White House bookkeepers, attorneys, lawmen, you name it) and shows with true excitement the abusive paraphrasing and deduction the two men make with a less-than-minimal amount of words or simple nods from the speakers (or non-speakers). In fact, the two are so convinced of the story's credibility that they unequivocally trade sentences for common sense, really. This is where the movie falters; its will and urgency to depict these moments rapidly makes them seem trivial and forgettable. For instance, an "informant" of Woodward's ("Deep Throat", as they call him) only agrees to meet with him in a dark, underground parking, but the movie never truly gives his character the proper gravitas and importance that his name really bears, historically speaking.

Nevertheless, "All the President's Men" is the prototype of a solid and honest depiction of a historical event or, in this case, a more or less extended period of time marked by historical events. Alan J. Pakula's camera is turning around America's capital with remarkable ease, giving us the feeling that we have already been there, with Woodward and Bernstein, and capturing the charm of residential homes, the cacophony of midnight streets and the peacefulness of everyday places, such as libraries and diners. As already mentioned, the dynamics of the characters and of their relationships elevate the movie way above average, but the thoroughness to get the story "just the right way" makes it even greater. At some points during the movie, we are projected with real-time speeches from Nixon and his entourage or with journalistic coverage from 1972 and 1973 on a small television set in the office, further down the road from Woodward's small cabinet. As we exchange glances from the coverage on TV to Woodward's continuous typing, we take a step back and contemplate the successful effort of converting the broadcasted story into a much more intimate one.

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