White Bird in a Blizzard

White Bird in a Blizzard

Director: Gregg Araki
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe
Running Time: 91 Min.
Year: 2014   Rating: R
Grade: C-

Leading a trend called New Queer Cinema, Gregg Araki directs movies stylized by their queerness in every sense of the word’s many definition. They are brutally honest on teenage-angst, non-sequential, strange, and features gay sex and young woman’s firm breasts. All these motifs appear in his newest movie, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” a title that sounds common enough compared to his other titles like “Kaboom” and “Totally Fucked-up.” However, such motifs are all jumbled and fazed here as if their only function is to label the movie as Araki’s movie. Despite the supreme cast, supreme act, and supreme musical score, the movie fails in its most important aspect: the storytelling.

Kat and her boyfriend

The year is 1988, and Kat Conner (amazing Shailene Woodley), high school girl in her blooming feminine beauty, struggles with her dysfunctional family. Her stranger than normal mother (Eva Green) and her dull father (Meloni) who masturbates in the basement holding a Hustler magazine (remember, it is 1988; moving-image porn was not as ubiquitous) are intruders, voyeurs, and freaks in Kat’s life. One day, her mother disappears without any word, and the film is more or less a mystery decoding what really did happen to Kat’s mother. Since Kat couldn’t care less about her mother, the shock is mellow in the beginning, but it grows on her as the movie progresses.

Kat seducing a much older man

Maybe, it is not about unraveling that mystery because if it was, its ending is so tedious and clichéd that it wouldn’t even have received a grade of C. Rather, it pretends to be a character study of Kat Conner. Kat, beautiful as she is, likes to fuck guys and initiates all sex in the movie. But why such promiscuity? Is she leveling her angst toward her parents through such act? Why does his mother a freak although the film goes back to the past to show the happiness in her early stage of her marriage? Is it because she is intensely jealous of her daughter’s blooming beauty? Every important impetus for these character’s actions is taken for granted.

 

Eva Green as the mother

I like post-modern movies where no grand-narrative needs to pull everything together, but each vignette should still work to form a coherent whole, if not as a thematic element, then at least for the viewer’s understanding and perception of it as an aesthetic product. The great acting, music, and dreamlike-visuals seem superfluous under this narrative’s context.

 

Beautiful Woodley

For those who want to experience Araki’s movies, I highly recommend “Mysterious Skin,” which features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a male prostitute before he was as widely known as he is nowadays. The director definitely has his own auteurist method, but the common slippage with such auteurs is that when they fire-and-miss, they miss hard. By the way, the original sound track for this movie is awesome and brings out more emotions without visuals attached to it.

The director and the cast

Trailer:

A scene starring both Woodley and Green:

 

 

 

 

 

A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year

Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks
Runtime: 122 Min.  Rated: R
Genre: Drama, Crime Thriller
Grade: A

 

In the middle of this atmospheric and absorbing movie, the wife of our hero warns the district attorney, “my husband is an honest man; don’t mistake his honesty for weakness.” The year is 1981, the most violent year the New York City has ever seen, and it takes hardest guts and unshakable sense of morality to stay honest, especially in a world of bloodthirsty business.

“When you feel scary to jump, that’s exactly when you jump.”

 

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain playing the husband and wife in A Most Violent Year

 

 

That husband is Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a prominent businessman in New York running a heating oil company and has only a month to pay $1.5 million dollars to secure an oil terminal so that he can expand his business. He has already put down 40% of the payment, which amounts to all of his savings, and if he cannot meet the deadline, that money, along with any prospect for his business will have been nothing but a lip-licking wet dream.

“The result is never in question. Just the path you take to get there.”

The rivals in the business resent his business acumen, so they intervene with means of violence. They hijack their oil delivery trucks; they beat up the salesmen; they try to burglarize Abel’s home in the middle of the night. In addition, the district attorney is determined to dredge up Abel’s “misconducts” and indict him. A mishap ensues –one of his employees uses a gun to prevent the hijacking -, and the bank forfeits their promise to loan Abel money for the terminal. All these pressures test Abel’s limits of his honesty and integrity, and we watch on as Abel struggles with his values and determination to stand as an honorable man.

 

Abel Morales negotiating with bankers for a loan.

His name is Abel Morales, and there is a huge irony to this. Unlike biblical Abel, who was bludgeoned to death by his brother, our Abel refuses to be menaced. In fact, he is filled with sense of righteousness, to his way of doing business, to his family, and mostly to himself. Although all seem to go haywire, he holds the thread that connect his dreams, family, business, and his honesty tightly to forge on, and we viewers are left with awe for his courage and perseverance.

 “Don’t mistake his honesty for weakness.”

The movie paints the narrative meticulously in all levels. The grim surroundings are captured beautifully to augment the dark and merciless milieu of the era; the dynamic of Abel and his wife’s marriage – the wife (Jessica Chastain), unlike Abel who is an immigrant, is a white woman whose father was a gangster – is gripping; and the scenes that allow viewers to witness the complicated inner struggles of our heroes keep the suspense until the end.

 

The director and the cast of the movie.

The highest accolade should be handed to Oscar Isaac, who plays Abel Morales with determined posture of a hungry yet ethical businessman whose nuanced expressions betray both strong will and fear. As one critic noted, “Mr. Isaac has evolved from being someone to watch into someone you can’t take your eyes off.” This cannot be truer in this movie as his performance level nears the sublimity.

 

The movie is a perfectly executed, both in its narrative and aesthetics, and is recommended for everyone who wants to experience the grits and ethics of New York in 1981 and within this era a story of a headstrong business man.