Archivo de la categoría: Cultura Pop

Lala Land y la cinematografía de un sueño

A estas alturas ya debes estar enterado, querido lector, de la película que ha causado una sensación entre los críticos y las audiencias, Lala Land. Por supuesto que, debido a tanta atención, el filme ha ocasionado puntos de vista muy divisivos, pero yo no estoy aquí para hablar de eso.

No, yo quiero explicarles porqué considero que esta película está hecha por y para soñadores y cómo es que representa esto haciendo uso de una gran variedad de recursos narrativos de diferentes e interesantes magnitudes. Bienvenidos, a la ciudad de las estrellas.

Dejemos esto claro, Lala Land es un musical y, como toda buena pieza audiovisual de este género, involucra una narrativa melódica y elementos fantásticos que permiten a la audiencia sentir empatía por los protagonistas y poder seguir con facilidad la historia que se desenvuelve frente a ellos.

las herramientas narrativas del musical (la música, la lírica, la repetición), en sí, funcionan como una forma alternativa de representar, en el cine y teatro, a los sueños y las fantasías que se desarrollan en el mundo creado por los protagonistas como un medio de escape de la realidad rutinaria que no es melódica, sino estática.

El filme comienza con un momento musical que establece el tono y las bases centrales de la película: una tarde calurosa en Los Ángeles, donde el tráfico y la cotidianidad están a la orden del día, es irrumpida por un grupo de automovilistas que narran (por medio de una melodía, coreografías y atuendos coloridos) una serie de momentos importantes en sus vidas donde recuerdan haber cumplido sus sueños, permitiéndoles ser felices.

Con esta declaración, Lala Land dedica sus casi dos horas de duración a retratar a una pareja con sueños y metas independientes de su relación y cómo, a pesar de las adversidades, los dos hallan formas y modos diferentes para motivarse a alcanzarlos, incluso si una de estas adversidades son ellos mismos.

Gracias al uso de diferentes técnicas cinematográficas, el director logra construir a la perfección el mundo del soñador frustrado. Con cada tropiezo y éxito sucedido, Damien Chazelle logra colocar a la audiencia en la mente de sus personajes elaborando escenas que hablan muchísimo más que el conjunto explícito de diálogos y conversaciones que sus protagonistas, Mia y Sebastián, tienen sobre sus metas a corto y largo plazo.

Cada que uno de su personajes se encuentra en un estado de estaticidad en relación a su vida profesional, el director enmarca sus tomas y asfixia a los involucrados para que el espacio luzca claustrofóbico y apretado, como si no existiera una forma de salir de ahí.

Así, podemos ver cómo Mia es enmarcada entre dos anuncios luminosos mientras se encuentra frustrada después de haber sido rechazada en otra audición, o a Sebastian siendo sofocado por las pequeñas paredes de su departamento mientras su hermana le explica lo complicado que puede resultar su sueño de abrir su propio club de Jazz.

La historia representa a un mundo con adversidades, sí, pero Chazelle también direcciona muchos de sus esfuerzos en asegurar que nada está perdido. Cuando Mia o Sebastian están juntos, platicando de sus futuros, la cámara se coloca estratégicamente detrás de ellos, viendo hacia el cielo, como si fueran parte de la audiencia y el director tratara de colocarnos frente a un futuro prometedor, pero inalcanzable, que podrían tener juntos.

De hecho, muchas de las tomas de Mia y Sebastian juntos son elaboradas para que ellos sean parte de la audiencia y no protagonistas de su historia. Varios momentos son enfocados desde la perspectiva subjetiva del público, a la misma altura de ellos, viendo hacia arriba o hacia el frente.

(SPOILER)

Algo que se invierte cerca del final, cuando la pareja decide terminar su relación y enfocar sus esfuerzos individuales en tratar de alcanzar sus sueños. En ese momento, la cámara los toma desde abajo, colocándolos en el lugar donde antes estaba su mirada, en el cielo estrellado.

Hay una toma en particular, después de la audición de Mia (donde, por cierto, las personas que le hacen la audición Pasana ser la audiencia) en la que los dos están sentados en la banca fuera del observatorio y la cámara realiza un contrapicado (es decir, una toma vista desde abajo), dejandólos a ellos a la altura del cielo. Justo en el lugar donde siempre quisieron estar.

(FIN DEL SPOILER)

El protagonismo que toman los planos secuencia (o escenas grabadas en una sola toma) no es mera coincidencia, Lala Land nos recibe con una serie de planos secuencia que no hacen otra cosa que reforzar la idea del camino que los protagonistas tienen que tomar.

Me explico para que un plano secuencia funcione dentro de una narrativa necesita de una innumerable cantidad de ensayos de la misma escena para que no haya ningún error y pueda desarrollarse con la cadencia y ritmo que requiere.

Cuando la cámara sigue a los protagonistas a lo largo de una de estas tomas, da entrada a generar empatía y un tipo de camaradería que solo alguien que acompaña a otra persona en su viaje de crecimiento es capaz de entender. Los planos secuencia son, entonces, la ejemplificación narrativa de la historia de Mia y Sebastian.

Si hay algo que debaemos reconocerle a Damien Chazelle como director es el esfuerzo y tiempo que le dedica a la representación lógica y cuidadosa de su historia tanto narrativa como cinematográficamente. Dedicación y esfuerzo que imprime de primera mano en los personajes de Mia y Sebastian.

One Remake At A Time

There is no rulebook for a perfect time to premiere a TV show, but, if it were, then the new Netflix series One Day At A Time would’ve ticked all the boxes. In an era where remakes are around the corner, this particular TV show, even though is a remake of the 1975 classic, feels particularly fresh and very aware of the context its living in.

I don’t think that the showrunners, Gloria Calderón Kellet and Mike Royce, would have pictured this particular show as a remedy for the Post-Trump election audience, but it sure feels like it. In this day and time, there’s nothing more radical than a TV show starring a cuban veteran nurse of Afghanistan living in Los Angeles and trying to raise her two kids with the help of her mother, as the life of Penelope Álvarez in One Day At A Time.

Granted, the very idea of the selfless single mother navigating through the challenges of life, has been made countless of times both in movies and TV shows, but, and this is what it makes this serie so profoundly adequate, they have never focused the attention on the challenges of being a woman, specially an immigrant.

Focusing the narrative only on the problems of motherhood without understanding what’s like to be a woman, and on the essence and construction behind a woman’s perspective, has always been an usual problem on stories like this. They have been telling us that motherhood (and especially single motherhood) is something inherent to womanhood, something to suffer about, to embrace as something women must own.

Netflix’s One Day At A Time understands this particular issue and depicts it on a whole new view, by building their characters from scratch. Yes, Penelope is a single mother of two, but in no way the series confines her to portray only that role in her arc. She also is a nurse, a veteran, a divorced woman, a daughter and a single lady looking for love.

Of course that she has problems raising her kids by her own, but what’s really meaningful about this show is that her role as a mother is not the one that is carrying the story along. Her collected experiences as a woman living in the USA are the real focus, motherhood just happens to be one of them.

The same thing happens with the depiction of her mother Lydia and Penelope’s daughter Elena, they are both full and well-rounded characters with their own opinions and agency, trying to understand what does it means to be a woman nowadays. Thus, the more profound and enjoyable episodes are the ones that keeps challenging each and one of their personal opinions with the ones around them, and specially with each other.

Lydia is a catholic woman who migrates to USA in the midst of Castro’s goverment looking for a new place to call home, Elena, on the other hand, is cuban girl born in the United States with a particular interest on social challenge and new ways to improve the world she lives in. They both understand life differently, but because the great love they share, they are capable of grasp their opinions and respect each other.

The show not only finds many ways to give her women a voice, but it also manages to put it front and center with a handful of serious debates, that the characters have in each episode, around women’s rights, sexism, religion, lesbianism and gender pay gap. Make no mistake, giving this women her own voice and agency in no way means that the male roles are overshadowed by them, if anything, it helps them to be portrayed in a happier and more fulfilling light.

One Day At A Time makes an incredible effort to present flawed but caring men, that are usually influenced but not defined by toxic masculinity, capable of having profound discussions about homosexuality, mansplaining and sexism without being subjected or depicted as the villains of the story. Something that, at least in my case, helped me to confront the social perspective around of what’s really like to be a man nowadays.

It feels quite refreshing to find a TV show, with the narrative structure of a sitcom, capable of going to the places that even some serious series hadn’t had the nerve to go. Because in a world full of remakes, the ones that are here to propose instead of playing common patterns are the ones that are more likely to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Neon lights: the illumination of adolescence in movies

The loss of inocence and the “Coming of age” stories are one of the most used trope often depicted by Hollywood on the mainstream cinema. It’s not uncommon to find movies that circle around that specific moment on every teen life when they transition from being an innocent child to become an empowered adolescent.

Being such a significant time in someone’s life, this rite of passagehas  a lot of symbolisms embedded right into its core. Symbols that some movies like to represent in numerous ways, like with a loss of virginity, or with a big, introspective and literal journey across the country, or even with a Prom dance. You see, the coming of age is something inevitable and very profitable for Hollywood, and this year wasn’t the exception.

From a handful of movies that premiered in 2016, I think that three of them really stand from the others: The Neon Demon, Nerve  and The Closet Monster, not only because I consider them to be actually  good or because I’m pretty sure they harnessed excelent narrative techniques to tell their story, but mostly because their deep understanding  on adolescence and the transition through this rite of passage.


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Of course, each one of them treats different and interesting subjects. Whereas The Neon Demon made a strong argument against the beauty culture, Nerve tried to talk about the dangers of technology and Closet Monster stood against homophobia. But they also depicted certain elements of the coming of age very similarily: using neon lights as a narrative and symbolic tool to reference it.

All of three of them have an innocent character living on a bubble as a protagonist. It isn’t until later when they have to face reality when the loss of innocence happens, along with the appearence of perfunctory neon lights on the scene as a part of their environment to aknowledge it.

The Neon Demon presents the perfect epitome of innocence and virginity with Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young model from a small town  navigating through the difficulties and superficialites of Los Angeles. When we first met her, we see a teen struggling to cope with the reality she is living in while trying to accomplish her dream in order to succeed on the beauty bussiness.

Nerve has the incorrupted Vee (Emma Roberts) as its protagonist. An A-grade student looking  for some emotion that can help her to break free from the routine she has put herself into for the last years, trying to be the perfect girl she always imagine would be whilst making an effort to get the attention from the boy she is in love with.

Finally, Closet Monster introduced us to Oscar (Connor Jessup), a guy who has always lived under the shadow of his homophobic dad, that is trying to understand what his role in the world is and where does he fits in it.

They, like every other teen in the world, are looking for meaning  and substance in their lives. The three of them are facing adulthood like fishes out of water: navigating through a sea of emotions and insecurities, but with a lot of curiosity to push them forward.

The Neon Demon is, by far, the most blunt approach to adolescence by using neon lights as a device to understand the coming of age experience. Its director even blatantly compares this blossom in life with a demon transformation. The more Jesse becomes part of this “adult” world, the more demonized her look and her attitude is. She surrounds herself with neon lights with each step she takes ahead.

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Jesse’s first confrontation with her own beliefs -a very innocent ones, I must say- happens when Ruby (Jena Malone), one of the makeup artist she works with, takes her to meet another models to a party. There, she realizes what really she is getting herself into, when the girls start to criticize her. From the very beginning, she feels overwhelmed but decided to triumph on that city that constantly puts beauty and lust before humanity. Of course, the scene ends with Jesse watching with an offish glare a model show surrounded by neon lights.

But its not until her first runway when she fully embraces her demon-ness . As the industry begins to consume her inner light, she slowly starts to feel that she belongs there. She feels empowered and purposeful to be the best model in town, and she doesn’t care about anything or anyone. This realization comes along with a  beautiful scene where Jesse watchs her reflection looking right at her in fully neon lights.

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Nerve, on the other hand,  approaches to teen angst and insecurity by tackling it with technology obsession. Vee it’s the typical adolescent looking for an adventure and a change of routine. This, of course, appears in form of a daring app that challenge its users to do risky things in change for money and a bunch of memories to gloat over.

Vee’s curiosity comes across like something natural and organic as all her classmates are experiencing the same feelings and excitement of using the app. At the beginning of the movie, she is often surrounded by dim lights and obscure environments, but when she’s ready to accept her first challenge, the illumination changes.

As she enters a restaurant to kiss a stranger, the neon lights that decorate the place begin to shine. In fact, each and every one of the dares  that Vee and Ian (Dave Franco) perform, are surrounded by bright neon lights, getting brighter and brighter as the challenges increase their difficulty.

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To Nerve the coming of age means not only to embarce and confront your worst fears, but to live through them and not under the shadow they could cast above your life. Curiosity is, after all, the fire that ignites the neon lights of adolescence.

Closet Monster reflects a lot upon acceptance and sexuality on teenage years. Oscar has always known that something is off in his life, that something’s missing. Living with a homophobic dad and with the awful idea of an absent mom is not easy for him. All of the scenes with his dad are surrounded by opaque illumination that casts a shadow on both of them.

It isn’t until he meets Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) when his surroundings start to change. As Oscar begins to accept his inner thoughts, his character commences to walk through bright places, and when he is finally ready to accept who he is and confess his love to his friend, the neon lights appear in form of party decorations. This type illumination is, after all, the representation of his desires.

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If this odd cinematographic technique has something to teach us, is that the key to turn on the neon lights that could surround our life, we need to be in contact with oneself and one’s needs. In order to achieve our goal of moving from childhood to adolescence, we must embrace curiosity to outgrow our self-imposed limits.

The powerful narrative behind Idina Menzel’s acting choices.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Idina Menzel (apart from Adele Dazeem)? For me it must be the certainty to embrace oneself. It’s no coincidence that the singer/actress has been carefully selecting through all these years her acting choices to match a certain type of character: the Other.

Menzel has been depicting for long a handful of individuals that can only be described as the Other: a well-thought character which is immerse in a constant state of being different from the common and very shared social identity. her representations, though, are not victims.

If there is one thing that could define Idina’s singular portrayal of Otherness over the past years is her distinctive and constant refusal to be victimized. She has singlehandedly managed to depict a wide variety of colorful characters  that always have refused to lose their unique qualities in order to be accepted. They, instead, try to do something about it.

Just think about Idina’s most iconic characters to date: Elphaba from Wicked  and Elsa from Frozen. They are both strong and powerful women searching for their true self while coping with a society that values passiveness more than authenticity and independence.

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Both Frozen and Wicked revolve around the idea of embracing oneself, of accepting who you are, of not letting anyone to define you, and of taking the Otherness as something that you own and not as something that is not in your control.

Elphaba, on one hand, is a young girl who struggles to cope with the very idea of being a powerful green witch in a place where is not common to have colored people with magic around. Elsa, on the other, is a conflicted woman living with magicals powers whilst trying to do her best as monarch on a kingdom that is not used to have only a queen as their leader.

What’s really daunting about this characters is not just their Otherness, but the way they embrace it as an essential part of who they are. Both Elsa and Elphaba are constrained to fit into a box imposed by the ones around them, but because of their difference, it’s something they don’t want to achieve. They want to be who they are, without any limitations.

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Just as Idina’s life, her characters mostly use music as a way to communicate. Songs in  her movies are often used by her characters as a performative device, where inner thoughts, and identity traits, only become real when they are sung.

If you are familiar with pop culture, you should know that ‘Let it Go‘ and ‘Defying Gravity‘ are ones of the most powerful and empowering songs to date. If you are familiarized with Idina Menzel’s work, you’ll know that they are her go-to melodies when talking about the importance of her career. Within their narratives, these songs function as their hymns to Otherness and their way to embrace it. They are Elphaba and Elsa’s ultimate statement.

Idina’s other famous character, Maureen Johnson, has plenty of ways to express her Otherness in the hit Broadway show, Rent. She is a free person that doesn’t understand life as something that could be either black or white, but something more big in between, an outcast that stands for what she believes and a woman that doesn’t like to be put in a box.

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Unlike Elsa and Elphaba, she doesn’t have to push through a long and hurtful path before embracing her Otherness. She is who she is and she doesn’t care what any other person could think about her or her actions. She is not defined by people nor does she is a victim of their actions. She even has a Tango named after her that really sums up the way people perceive her, making it her ultimate statement.

Even her brief, but stellar, appearance in Disney’s Enchanted as Nancy Tremaine could easily be described as an empowered woman sidelined by her Otherness. Her role within the narrative is to act essentialy as the Other of the Princess Giselle (Amy Adams). She is, after all, the girlfriend of the protagonist’s love interest.

Portrayed by other actress, her arc in the movie could easily fall over the antagonist place. Instead, on Idina’s hands, we got the perfect Otherness arc for a secondary character: she is a succesfull and confident woman looking for love that eventually ends up marrying a charming prince not because the story told her to, but because she decided to.

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There’s something quite exciting and admirable about Idina Menzel’s narrative based on her acting choices: in order to embrace oneself as the Other one must make Otherness visible.

The TV-obsessed-guy’s guide to enjoy Peak TV

We live on an incredible era, one era where audiences  have the opportunity to navigate through countless channels and streaming platforms for them to choose from a innumerable amount of shows that are constantly delving through important issues, like mental illness, gender, race, consent, identity and love, along a great variety of genres and situations. Yes, we are living in one era  that many people are calling ‘Peak TV’.

These days —mostly thanks to the elevated costs of movie tickets and the so called “lack of originality on Hollywood” that is been going on— people are consuming and relying much more in TV shows than in cinema.

Each new year we get a handful of new  (and interesting) shows waiting to be devoured by its audiences. Naturally,  it’s physically impossible for an actual human being to consume so many hours of  new and old TV whilst succesfully managing to maintain a job and a social life.

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There are so many TV shows and not enough time to weigh in on all the options. Every day I constantly find myself asking a lot of questions: Is this show gonna be worth of my time? Am I going to enjoy it? The premise looks fine, but, is it original enough? Does the characters look interesting?

If you ask yourself the very same questions every time you want to catch on with a TV show, then we share the same problem, but fear no more! I have some useful tips for you! Follow me through and by the end of this post you will be able to decide which show is worthy of your time and which one isn’t.

  1. Spring, summer and fall TV

The first thing you need to know before picking up the shows you are going to watch is that TV scheduling is really weird.  You either could wait for one or two, even three, years between season or you could watch two seasons of the same show on the very same year, something that happened with Shameless US this year.

Much of the time this has to do with network budgets ans the actor’s free time to wrap up a season. Benedict’s Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s busy schedules are the reason why Sherlock’s seasons have so many years of separation within each other.

But some other times this often happen due season’s scheduling. Typically, the networks distribute their shows between spring, summer and fall. The latter is always destinated for the most watched and rated shows, whilst the former and the one in the middle are more prone to be used to premiere risky shows. That way, you could only catch American Horror Story  on fall TV and Girls on spring TV.

My advice here is to never forget this scheduling, that way you could watch tons of different shows between seasons without missing the ones you are more interested about. Search for awesome new options and prioritize them between each season.

2. TV previews

If you follow any platform that is dedicated to write about pop culture, TV and movies you already should know that they usually post their TV previews before the beginning of each new season. Seize it.

What I tend to do is to look after this lists to search and select the shows that will draw on my attention. Entertainment Weekly and Filmschoolrejects are the ones that I am more prone to check and the ones that are most likely to be very helpful with their shows summaries.

3.  Helpful apps

I know, keeping up with a lot of shows could be a bit overwhelming and it could turn out to be a really difficult  task to accomplish. Notwithstanding, there’s a really useful life hack that has made my binge-watching experience a lot easier: Apps.

There’s actually a full catalogue of helpful apps made with the sole purpose of organizing and scheduling the shows you’re watching currently. My personal favorites are iTV Shows for apple users, and Next Episode for Android users. In them you can look for the synopsis of each episode, the day and time of the premiere and, in some of them, a list of the shows that are trending right now.

But the most important feature, at least for me, is the notifications. You can personalize your app to alert you when your favorite show is going to start, when it’s cancelled and even when it gets a premiere date. This will help you to follow each episode and to prevent you to miss out on a new one.

4.  The three episodes rule

Even if you already have selected a handful of shows to watch, you must prioritize the ones that you really want to keep on watching and discard the ones that you don’t. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the middle of a tricky situation between a lot of episodes to catch on and no time to do it whatsoever.

I have the theory that if a show doesn’t manage to captivate you and capture your attention in the first three episodes it will never manage to accomplish it in the near future.

Typically, the first three episodes of a show must give their audiences enough information, character-wise, story-wise and arc-wise, to really know what kind of show they’re getting into and what they can expect of it. Three episodes, in my book, are more than enough.

So, with that in mind, you either keep on watching it after episode three, because you like it, or you don’t, because you didn’t like what you saw, or you didn’t get enough information to enjoy the show by episode four.

Don’t waste your time on shows that doesn’t fulfill your needs as a viewer and stop doing senseless hate-watching. If you do this, you’ll see how easy will be for you to get rid of a show you felt obligated to watch and how rewarding will be to keep the ones you really loved on the first three episodes.

5. Enough is enough

Look, I love to watch a show from the very first season through the last  like the next person, but sometimes we have to accept, and then realize, that some shows could, and would, lost their way, and that’s fine. We don’t have to stick around until the very end of a show.

Precisely this very year I had to stop watching Pretty Little Liars because it became so tiresome and predictable that I ended up not enjoying it at all,  and I don’t even feel bad about it. I had my time loving it and I got some pretty good episodes, but that’s it.

So, if you feel like a burden to wacth  one of your favorite shows, then stop doing it. It will make you some room to enjoy a new one and you will feel much better with yourself by stopping all that hate-watching you’ve been doing lately.

6. Enjoy the experience

There’s nothing better than finding a great show to hang on to. Enjoy it and embrace it. Peak TV is really upon us and the best way to honor it is by consuming all the great things that are airing and streaming out there.

Have a great day and an awesome binge-watching season!

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