Reprise (2006)

Joachim Trier | 1hr 45min

To reprise a creative expression of some sort is to recreate it with the expectation of a similarly rapturous reception, though the reclaiming act that best friends Erik and Phillip attempt to carry out is merely based on some fantasy of success that exists in their minds. As the two aspiring writers sit on the precipice of submitting their manuscripts to publishers, their possible futures play out like novels, with an omniscient narrator framing them as protagonists in stories where personal struggles eventually give way to great literary achievements. Both lives rapidly flit by in a black-and-white collage of freeze frames, magazine articles, book covers, and maps, all while our narrator provides steady reassurance that everything will eventually work out for the two young men.

Reprise’s energy is built on its editing, opening with this playful black-and-white montage of Erik and Phillip’s hopeful futures. Split screens, moving photos, freeze frames – Trier is pulling out all the stops.

And yet, these dreams all rest on a conditional tense – they “would have” come true were it not for some vague, unspecified turn of fate. For Phillip, success is attained but short-lived, sending him to the top of the Norwegian literary scene before he comes crashing down in a psychotic episode. For Erik, failure is the motivation to keep revising his novel over and over until lightning hopefully strikes. Though their paths diverge, a mutual emotional support remains, lifting each other up through personal struggles so that their sparks of creativity may one day be recognised.

It is those energetic sparks which fizzle all through Reprise, tantalising us with vivacious editing that expresses a distinctly Truffautian sensibility, constantly leaping beyond the boundaries of the immediate narrative with playful cutaways and montages. One could even line the film up next to Jules and Jim and draw connections between both studies of bohemian male friendship, as well as the pair of women who dramatically shift their tight dynamics. Time moves fast for Erik and Phillip, but it also seems to fall away all together, distancing them from any arbitrary deadlines and allowing them instead to sit in the lively momentum of their youth.

Kari comes into Erik and Phillip’s friendship like Catherine does in Jules and Jim, inadvertently setting in motion Phillip’s breakdown.

These characters do not simply exist independent of Joachim Trier’s experimental stylings but are rather closely intertwined in formal unity. As one of Erik’s friends encourages him to break up with his girlfriend, Trier intercuts the scene with the leadup to the conversation itself, anxiously anticipating whatever emotional breakdown is about to take place. And then, just as Erik arrives at her door, we are suddenly sent flying into a shameful childhood flashback of a time he was mean to one of his school peers. Later, a side character returning home claims he is heading upstairs to read the Heidegger book he just bought, while a sneaky cutaway reveals the porn magazine in his bag. Such is the nature of Trier’s omniscient perspective that he is free to wander across this timeline at free will and poke into secret corners, examining his characters not as independent beings, but as subjects of their own stories.

The photography isn’t among the film’s strengths, but Trier takes the time to deliver these isolating character compositions.

Through this Brechtian lens, Trier pushes narrative developments which don’t so much unfold organically as they do by strokes of both good and bad fortune. It could very well be the same luck which saw Phillip initially succeed over Erik that also sees the latter unassumingly insult a disabled writer on a talk show, just one of many incidents stringing him along to failure. The comedy here is bitingly dry, though not without catharsis. Hope comes in the form of a miracle that would have almost been entirely unbelievable were it not for the sequence of mishaps which led to that point.

True to the form of the piece, Trier ends Reprise with another idealistic dream of the future, conjuring similarly happy prospects for both Erik and Phillip as those from the start. The subjectivity and elusiveness of success makes any real conclusivity difficult for men like these, who constantly strive for some idea of greatness that never stops changing. Trier empathises with them all too well, even with the distance he keeps. The novelistic qualities he embeds into Reprise seek not to ostracise the young creatives, but rather to understand them in the way they might ultimately one day write about themselves – with sensible hindsight, compassion, imagination, and a good, healthy dose of self-deprecating humour.

Conversations about love, literature, and success – a strong screenplay from Trier.

Reprise is currently streaming on Mubi.

Certified Copy (2010)

Abbas Kiarostami | 1hr 46min

As a French antiques dealer known only as “She” wanders Tuscany with British writer James Miller, a transformation slowly takes place between the two. It isn’t purely visual, though we do begin to pick up on subtle changes in both Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell’s performances. It is more of a metaphysical shift, as if something in the air has moved around them. What starts as a friendly conversation between two intellectual strangers picking each other’s brains gradually becomes a fifteenth anniversary celebration between a husband and wife, sparring over the rifts that have widened between them over the years that have suddenly sprung into existence. Certified Copy might be able to be divided into two halves, but it isn’t so easy to pinpoint where one ends and the other begins.

For Abbas Kiarostami, the thin gap between fiction and reality has always been woven deeply into the fabric of his films, as has his affinity for naturalistic performances and pragmatic cinematography. Certified Copy may initially seem to be not so different. At first it could be read as an alternate version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, studying the burgeoning affection between a pair of romantic intellectuals through long tracking shots and eloquent dialogue. Miller’s recent book theorising that artistic copies and originals aren’t so different from each other is a matter of friendly debate in these scenes, and it is a testament to Kiarostami’s screenplay that such theorising still feels so loaded with emotional intrigue between both characters.

The architecture of Tuscany makes for some beautiful compositions as our couple wind through its stony streets and buildings. Very much influenced by Richard Linklater’s Before films.

Eventually though, these high-minded discussions give way to a copy of their own. The strange period of time which exists between the two ends of this narrative is confounding in its formal shifts, setting up key character and narrative points before swapping them out piece by piece. Kiarostami’s sleight of hand is magnificently subtle, in one scene letting Miller tell a story of the disconnection he once witnessed between a woman and her son many years ago, before She hints that he is talking about her. If they just met, this isn’t at all possible, but soon enough even more contradictions arise that back it up. Miller’s monolingualism disappears to reveal that he in fact speaks French, thereby sharing a language with She, and references to “my child” soon become “our child”.

Are She and Miller merely hypothesising what their lives might be like if they were actually married? Or is the meeting at the start really the lie, meaning they have been together this whole time? If we were to take Miller’s word for it, the differences may be negligible, and both are equally valid. The comparisons to Before Sunrise eventually lead into Before Midnight parallels, where marital arguments erupt from micro-aggressions and silences simmer with mutual frustration. As Kiarostami skilfully and imperceptibly folds two realities in on each other, he continues to ponder the same questions that Miller posed earlier, though in a far more indirect manner. How can a copy lend us a better understanding of its original? Aren’t all artistic renderings a copy of something? And by that logic, must an original necessarily be more or less valuable than the copies it spawns?

For the most part, Kiarostami fights off the temptation to conform to shot/reverse shot editing in dialogue-heavy scenes by instead tracking his camera in long takes through Tuscan buildings and streets, where ancient and modern architecture co-exist. Reflections of our couple are frequently caught in windows and mirrors, creating visual facsimiles that continue to call back to their earlier discussions. In his layering of copies on top of other copies, we are forced to both confront the distance of these characters from reality and, at the same time, accept the emotional authenticity of what we are presented with.

Reflections in mirrors and windows – visual copies of people, who themselves are copies of the truth.

Even when Kiarostami does resort to cutting between both She and Miller in static compositions, the staging is rarely so inert as to be unengaging. In some of their most integral conversations they are shot centre-frame, visually cut off from each other, though also gazing directly into the camera. Again, there is a duality baked right into the formal construction of these scenes, delivering two alternate perspectives of their fifteen-year marriage which has seemingly manifested out of nothing, and yet also appears fully formed in its depth and complexity.

Newlyweds used as a running motif through She and Miller’s journey. Notice the reflection of another bride in the upper left corner – duplicates are subtly present everywhere in Kiarostami’s mise-ens-cène.

In one close-up shot of Miller sitting across a restaurant table from his now-wife, a wedding party is being prepared in its background, setting up a striking contrast with the heated words spilling out in front of the camera. In fact, newlyweds basking in the excitement of marriage can be found dotted all along our passage through Tuscany, and an older couple even takes the time to offer She and Miller some marital advice during a friendly stroll. We may recognise these people as embodying the “real” thing, but they don’t exhibit nearly the same amount of complexity and detail as the two facsimiles at the centre of it all. Copies She and Miller may be, but this is not to the detriment of these compellingly malleable characters, who can barely settle on a single version of objective reality. To Kiarostami, such is the nature of our deepest relationships that they can feel freshly original and frustratingly repetitive at the same time, and it shouldn’t be a huge leap to accept both as equally valid truths.

This is how to make shot/reverse shot interesting. Great framing of both characters, especially in setting Miller against a wedding party being set up outside the window.
A lovely frame as this scene ends, bringing the wedding into focus as She and Miller leave with flowers running along the bottom of the shot.

Certified Copy is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

Léon: The Professional (1994)

Luc Besson | 1hr 50min

What does it take for a man who surrounds him with death to develop a taste for life? For hitman Léon, it is an image of innocence tainted by the world’s depravity, trying to become an adult at age 12 without realising how much of a childhood she is missing out on. Mathilda has never particularly cared for her abusive, drug dealing parents, but when her little brother is tossed aside as collateral damage in a bust by corrupt DEA agents, she becomes fixated on a mission of revenge, particularly directed towards the sinister, deranged Norman Stansfield. 

Léon may be the perfect man to help her manifest these goals, but Luc Besson does not condescend to his audience with such straightforward characterisations in Léon: The Professional. The dramatic interactions he delivers are instead equal parts thrilling, heartfelt, and thorny, unfolding a complex relationship between a hitman and orphan that ultimately offers them both steppingstones towards greater self-realisations. 

The cinematic high that Besson captures in his opening set piece may not be reached again, but the dexterity with which he directs Léon’s invisible takedown of an entire gang is nevertheless a captivating introduction for a man who lives life on the fringes of society. Rather than placing us in his point of view, Besson looks through the eyes of the thugs being taken out one by one in a grand hotel. The whole scene may as well be a short horror film with Léonas the shark from Jaws, going completely unseen and leaving merely the handiwork of his murders behind as the only evidence he was ever there. Eventually as he approaches the last one still alive, he emerges from the darkness like a bogeyman, striking an intimidating figure in his circular sunglasses and short, black beanie. 

It is a sudden shift in perspective that takes place immediately after this. The fear and tension built around the Léon we met at the hotel dissipates the moment we see him in broad daylight from his own viewpoint – a man living on his own, going to the grocery store like anyone else, and leading a meagre life.

It shouldn’t speak to the quality of Jean Reno’s involving performance that he comes off third best in this superb cast. There is something both tragic and magnetic about 12-year-old Natalie Portman when she first comes onscreen as Mathilda, holding onto a cynical wisdom that far transcends her years. Beneath the young girl’s talk of sex and murder is a mournful bitterness about her own lost childhood, activating a survival mechanism that forces her to live in a world of adults. 

It is evident though when she does come face to face with Gary Oldman’s chilling DEA agent that it is not something she is ready to handle at all. She may see herself as ruined, but Stansfield is a truly insidious and unpredictable force. He will pleasantly speak of his love for Beethoven as he murders a family in cold blood, before flying off the handle in uncontrollable fits of anger. Every so often, Oldman will pause to crack his neck mid-scene without explanation, and the effect is unsettling. Our two protagonists may be corrupted to some extent, and yet in placing them next to a villain as unredeemable as Stansfield, Besson thoughtfully lights up their individual paths to redemption. 

Even beyond the thrillingly staged action set pieces, Besson proves himself to be a skilled director of quieter dramatic beats, crafting a healthy balance of drama and dark comedy in montages that see Leon and Mathilda break into strangers’ houses to harmlessly practice assassination techniques. As the two social outcasts walk the streets of New York City, Besson’s telephoto lens compresses them against a blurred urban environment that barely pays them a scrap of attention, insulating them inside a bubble of both sharp pain and tender support. 

The pot plant metaphor which Besson closely identifies with Mathilda may be a little over-explained, but it nevertheless builds to a gratifying pay-off by the time she recognises her need to grow roots in an environment that can properly nourish her. It similarly holds symbolic significance for Léon as he grows to understand the value of tiny, delicate things which possess neither brute force nor indomitable will-power, but which hold great potential in their youth and malleability. A heavy aura of death may hang heavily over Léon: The Professional, though it is in Besson’s quiet celebrations of life where he lands his greatest emotional punches.

Léon: The Professional is currently streaming on Stan and SBS On Demand, is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime Video.

La Haine (1995)

Mathieu Kassovitz | 1hr 38min

The explosions of violence that take place in La Haine are not cathartic releases of tension. Even after they are set off in riots and beatings, resentment continues to simmer between police, immigrants, and skinheads, so lacking in focus and direction that the inciting motivations seem to be entirely lost. Its momentum is unstoppable, like a man falling from a building, reassuring himself “So far, so good”, yet failing to see the ground rapidly rising to meet him. This is the metaphor that bookends La Haine in voiceover, describing a modern society blind to the inevitable consequences of its own actions. This, along with the time stamps marking key points within the 20 hours this narrative takes place, instils it with an urgency that might as well be a countdown to the final collision between the falling man and the earth.

La Haine comes only six years on from Do the Right Thing, and yet the influence of Spike Lee’s fervent cinematic politicising can already be felt in its thematic and stylistic composition. The wrestle between love and hate that Radio Raheem described seems to be resolved even before this film opens – the French title directly translates to “Hate” in English, and it is that ideal which eats away at the remains of civility and compassion in these projects just outside of Paris. It fizzles with an indignant energy infused right into Mathieu Kassovitz’s dynamic camera movements, at its most vigorous flying through the sky around apartment buildings, and at its quietest restlessly panning around a discussion between characters at its own pace, anxiously anticipating the turning point. As the disillusioned immigrants whose paths we trace through this story stand atop a balcony, Kassovitz even warps the space around them in a mind-bending dolly zoom, compressing them against the streets and city buildings in the background.

A dolly zoom overlooking the city, compressing our main characters against the background.
Skilful camera movements all through La Haine, among the most prominent being its flight above the apartment buildings of this French suburb.

This electric energy extends to La Haine’s editing as well, frequently punctuating harsh transitions with the sound effect of a gunshot or punch, and thereby emphasising the raw brutality of such violence. The effect it has is severe, separating the vicious attacks exacted by and upon our main characters from those which define the broader French society, as sketched out in the opening montage of archival footage which lands us in the thick of furious riots. It is there that expressions of outrage coalesce with the naturalistic urban scenery, instilling the film with an organic authenticity that continues to flow through its wandering narrative.

Because in spite of Kassovitz’ wild flourishes of style, the aching social realism of La Haine just keeps bleeding through, disengaging from any traditional notions of plotting so we may instead sit in the mundane conversations that separate one burst of climactic anger from the next. It is especially there where Vincent Cassel excels as Jewish immigrant Vinz, seeking out vengeance for his friend, Abdel, who has been hospitalised from beatings he received while in police custody. The young actor is a loose cannon in this role, always appearing to be a few seconds away from flying off the handle. When he is alone, he squares up to a mirror and recites the unhinged “You talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver, like a wannabe Travis Bickle trying to prove his own toughness. And yet there is also a deep tragedy to Cassel’s performance, exposing a wounded man who knows no other way to deal with the awful hand society has dealt him, and who gradually realises the futility in his directionless anger. Like an addict though, Vinz keeps falling back on that rotten hatred, pulling him closer to the ground that he will inevitably meet with full force.

Cassel reciting the “You talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver, an image of toxic masculinity.
Vinz hides his wounds with shows of toughness and strength, but those moments where we see his vulnerability are deeply affecting – a real accomplishment of acting from Cassel.

Along with his friends Hubert, an Afro-French boxer, and Saïd, a North African Muslim, Vinz becomes a primary subject in Kassovitz’s monochrome portrait of disillusioned youths, whose most hopeful prospects are that they might eventually be able to escape the projects where they live. His blocking of them all across layers and levels of the frame forms some affecting character compositions, and he especially forges a tight emotional connection with them in those shots where they direct lines right into the camera.

There is always a sense of isolation between the friends in these compositions – as much as they share common experiences, they are also emotionally segregated from each other, these divisions captured in Kassovitz’s blocking across mirrors, levels, and layers of the frame.

Even while we watch them aggressively provoke strangers, we still can’t help but feel attached to them through their plights, as well as great concern for their safety as tensions ramp up. A literal Chekhov’s gun is established early on when we discover that Vinz has stolen a gun from a police officer at a riot, and each time he pulls it out as an assertion of his own masculinity we feel even more certain that it will be fired before the end of the film. When the time comes for our suspicions to be answered though, all we are left with is an ambiguous stand-off that refuses to reveal which side is on the end of the bullet’s trajectory. On a broader societal level, it may not even matter. With each senseless killing only going on to spur more of its kind, the rundown French suburbs of La Haine become a breeding ground for bitter hostility, perpetually plunging towards the ground, and blindly, vainly reminding itself – “So far, so good.”

A continued despair through Kassovitz’s staging. La Haine is a violent film, but it also lingers in those quiet moments where characters wallow in sorrow and contempt.

La Haine is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Petite Maman (2021)

Céline Sciamma | 1hr 12min

In the wake of her grandmother’s passing, 8-year-old Nelly goes with her parents to her mother’s childhood home to clear it out. Then one night, without explanation, her mother picks up and leaves. It is probable that she just found the process too overwhelming, but through the eyes of her daughter the departure feels deliberately cold. Out in the woods though, there is another 8-year-old girl, Marion. It is no coincidence that she has the same name as Nelly’s mother, nor that she shares the same birthday, or lives in an identical albeit much younger house. Petite Maman follows up Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire with an equally delicate though relatively more fantastical study of young women in the process of self-discovery, thriving in natural environments cut off from the structures of society, where genuine love can strengthen its roots and flourish.

Sciamma does not rely on a great deal of exposition to set the scene. The very first shot of the film tells us everything we need to know, as Nelly finishes up a crossword puzzle with an old woman in a nursing home before ducking in and out of other rooms, farewelling her other elderly friends, and then leaving with her mother. Evidently, she has been there a lot recently, and given the thoroughness of her goodbyes, she won’t be coming back. Sciamma is succinct and to the point in her camerawork, weaving through the building in one long, unbroken take and letting Nelly’s quiet grief gradually sink in.

In encountering a younger version of her mother, Nelly is doubly gifted with the opportunity to see her grandmother one last time, understanding her life from a viewpoint beyond her own. Petite Maman is very much a wish fulfillment in that aspect, giving this young girl the time and space to appreciate her elders whose lives once looked much closer to hers than they do in the present. Likewise, the younger Marion finds fresh perspective in seeing a glimpse of her future. Twenty-three years might seem like a long time away to reckon with her mother’s death, but for Nelly, it is far too soon.

Together, the two girls go about playing make believe, rowing, cooking pancakes, eating cake, and building a makeshift hut out in the woods. In that dainty structure of sticks and autumn leaves, there stands a gorgeous monument to their fleeting friendship, offering a safe place tucked away from the eyes of prying adults where they can revel in childhood together.

Although in the present-day the older Marion recalls building that hut, she never mentions doing it with another girl, and thus the door is left open for some ambiguity. Everything in Petite Maman feels like a tangible reality, but Sciamma does offer small hints in her continuity editing that this may simply be a fantasy in Nelly’s mind. One specific transition takes us from the past house to the current house without us even realising it, blurring the boundaries of where they start and stop, and Sciamma also often cuts from scenes of the two girls sitting together to shots of Nelly on her own.

These two worlds are blended right down to the casting of the two young actresses, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, a pair of twins who might almost be indistinguishable were it not for their colour-coded red and blue costumes. Sciamma effectively taps into the natural rapport between them in their scenes together, drawing out natural laughter as they play and, in more subdued scenes, giving them the space to talk sweetly and deeply.

“Did I want you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m already thinking about you.”

Much like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Petite Maman is almost entirely free from music until the end, where a pivotal piece underscores significant action. Sciamma enlists the talents of French electronic music producer Para One here to compose an innocent love song for two young friends spending their last morning together before they must both leave, its synths perpetually pounding with both restless excitement and a desire to live in the moment.

Of course though, this isn’t the last time the girls will see each other. Where for Marion it will be 23 years until she meets her childhood friend again, Nelly needs only head back home to see hers. Sciamma chooses wisely not to elucidate how real all of this is, but in the final scene between mother and daughter there does appear to be an acknowledged shift in their dynamic. For a moment, the older Marion is no longer “Mum”, and she reciprocates the authentic openness that Nelly puts forward. There is value in this parent-child relationship, but Sciamma recognises it does not need to be restricted to those roles either. For now, amid all the grief, there are simply two friends sharing each other’s love and pain.

Petite Maman is currently playing in theatres.

A History of Violence (2005)

David Cronenberg | 1hr 36min

Even after we see the true violent colours of diner owner Tom Stall, we still might struggle to believe the truth. Gangster Joey Cusack is buried so deep in his consciousness that even he might consider it a dream of a past life, surfacing only when he finds himself in high pressure situations. But even when he isn’t taking lives, that viciousness is there. It explodes when Tom engages in violent sex with his wife, when he slaps his son, Jack, in a moment of anger, and then when Jack goes to school and savagely beats up his bully. A History of Violence does not aim for the same visceral disgust as previous David Cronenberg films, and yet in its psychological interrogations of humanity’s ravenous craving for self-destruction we still find traces of the director known for his body horror.

Visiting the sins of the father onto his children, passing on violence from one generation to the next.

It opens with a four-minute tracking shot along the outside of a motel where two thugs, Leland and William, eliminate its owners with chilling nonchalance. Thanks to Cronenberg’s reserved, distant camera, we barely even register it happening at first. Our discovery of the blood-streaked office plays out with equal detachment, treating the bodies as if they are simply part of the furniture. For Cronenberg, they might as well be. The title A History of Violence may refer to Tom’s hidden past, but it also holds implications regarding the merciless foundations of our very society, its brutal inclinations being passed from one generation to next like DNA. That is certainly the case when we see how easily Jack embraces force as means to solve his problems after seeing his father use it, but in the contentious relationship between Tom and his estranged brother, Richie, Cronenberg also calls back to the very first instance of violence record in the Bible – the murder of Abel by his own brother, Cain.

Opening with a four minute tracking shot along the outside of this motel. One of Cronenberg’s finest moments as a director.

Through this approach to allegorical storytelling, Cronenberg imbues his fascination with carnal flesh with spiritual significance. Joey describes his transformation into Tom as a process which took several years of his life, almost like Christ’s own self-exile into the desert. Later when he must make that change again, he kneels in front of a lake and washes himself in the water, as if performing a ritualistic baptism that will see him reborn again as meek, mild-mannered Tom.

Cronenberg keeping his camera detached from the violence in this frame.

Capturing these contradictory facets of a single man’s identity is no easy feat of acting, and yet watching Viggo Mortensen shift between both modes is like seeing a switch flip on and off, instinctually moving from passivity into fierce action. It is a duality that Cronenberg deftly builds into the form of his narrative as well, playing out submissive scenes of harassment, sex, and family time, before turning them on their head later by revealing the violent versions of each that Joey is far more familiar with.

Though the character of Richie Cusack has been built towards through the film, it isn’t until we meet him in the final act and witness William Hurt’s menacingly courteous portrayal that we fully understand the dark past that Joey has been trying to suppress. This is a man who represents every sin Joey has ever committed and tried to forget. Though Richie casually nicknames his brother “Bro-ham” he also delivers his dialogue with an unblinking, penetrating gaze, bringing to light Joey’s violence which, whether he likes it or not, has afforded him his own survival.

A pair of excellent performances – both Mortensen and Hurt are absolutely chilling as these brothers reuniting after many years.

The foundation of violence upon which Tom’s American Dream is built is not one that can easily be shied away from once it is exposed. Cronenberg skilfully stages A History of Violence’s final scene within a terse silence, bringing Tom back home to a wordless family dinner right after killing his brother. Whatever return to ordinary life he was hoping for seems preposterous now given its jarring contrast with what came immediately before. Life may return to some semblance of normality, but the shadow of violence is there to stay, hanging over a family that will very likely continue to keep visiting the sins of its father upon his children.

A masterful piece of direction to end the film, this silence stretching for several minutes as Tom reintegrates back into family life.

A History of Violence is currently streaming on Stan, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

After Yang (2021)

Koganada | 1hr 36min

Memories never play out linearly in After Yang, and why should they? They are simply fragments of the past, brought to the surface in moments of deep reflection with the hope that, in connecting them to the present, they might reveal something significant about us. That is at least the purpose they serve for this family of four, consisting of parents Jake and Kyra, their adopted Chinese daughter, Mika, and an older robotic son, Yang. He may have initially been bought to connect Mika to her heritage by delivering fun facts about Chinese culture, but when he breaks down it doesn’t take long for the family’s disappointment to become a melancholy grief. Leaving nothing behind but his memory bank that recorded only a few seconds of footage each day, Yang becomes the subject of Koganada’s poignant meditations, pondering those complex lives that exist just beyond the scope of our periphery.

The quiet, futuristic world that Yang and his family live in is a strangely elusive one. Perhaps a grander scope would have revealed a slightly more utopian version of Blade Runner, but as it is Koganada simply leaves us to dwell in the tender intimacy of homes, shops, offices, and cars, where small pieces of this advanced culture seep into everyday lives. Explanations aren’t given as to why there are pot plants growing inside vehicles, or how video calls seem to transmit through invisible cameras, nor are they needed. The technology of this world is instead broadly underlined by an organic tenderness, seeking to reconcile the cold sheen of glass and metal with gentle humanistic malleability.

Subtle world building through the mise-en-scène – the living plants in self-driving cars offer an enchanting touch.

Perhaps “humanistic” is the wrong word to use though. After Jake wonders whether Yang was happy being artificial, another character disdainfully responds, “That’s such a human thing to ask, isn’t it? You always assume other beings want to be human.” Even as Jake and his wife, Kyra, probe deeper into Yang’s memories and discover pieces of him they might identify with, there also emerge components of his identity that are irreconcilably unique. Where most people live only one life, Yang appears to have lived many, hidden away from his family’s view. Or perhaps the truth was always easily accessible, and they just never asked.

Wonderful editing in these memory montages, match cutting between two low angles of leaves and feathers tossed in the air.
This could be a Kieslowski cutaway – using glass to refract light in these beautiful compositions, much like the prism of subjective memory.

Inside his memory bank, each fragmented recollection manifests as a single tiny star surrounded by millions of others, all of which are suspended within a dark forest. Just as those shining specks of light make up an entire galaxy, so too do these small, mundane moments make up Yang’s entire existence, expanding far off into the distance. When played in succession, they form delicate montages, providing glimpses into the most mundane joys – a rock concert, the rustling leaves of a tree, a toad, Mika playing by herself, and so on.

Each memory fragment is a star in a galaxy full of them. Stunning metaphysical imagery.

When it comes to the flashbacks of human memories, quantity is exchanged for focus. Jake, Kyra, and Mika each take ownership of individual sequences that recall their past conversations with Yang, and although we do not cover nearly as much ground here as we do in the memory bank, we do gain much deeper insight into their individual relationship with the techno-sapien. These are some of the longest scenes of the film, but Koganada still presents them just as abstractly as Yang’s memories. Time doubles back on itself as lines of dialogue repeat over unmoving mouths, and settings also seem to shift unexpectedly, revealing these nostalgic ruminations not as accurate historical renderings, but rather subjective reconstructions, prone to the whims of present-day emotions.

It is Jake’s flashback that is particularly revealing, playing out a conversation about his passion for tea that might as well allegorically stand in for the value of memory, wrapped up in history and culture though with its own distinct flavour. “You can taste a place, a time,” he expounds, while also voicing his admiration for a man he watched in a documentary who was on an elusive hunt for rare teas in China. The metaphor is subtle but potent, especially when Yang expresses a wish that he too could form as deep a connection to something as Jake does. What lingers for us in long, impassioned embraces merely flits by for Yang, covering a broader scope though without the same specific attachment.

Questions of artificial intelligence and humanity probed throughout this narrative, and reflected in the visuals.

As we are reminded though, it is a human trait to pity that which is not like us. There is no reason for us to believe that Yang’s life was half-lived, nor that he was anything less than content. The isolation he feels need not be something shied away from, but something that can be relished for its soothing silence, and Koganada adopts an Ozu-like temperament in visually realising this. Static shots peer through the doorways, curtains, and hallways of the family home, often on the other side of large glass windows which keep us ever so slightly distanced from the characters. In the delicate colours that light up these spaces, whether they are green streetlamps bouncing off car windows or the living room’s dim, golden illumination, Koganada offers a tender balance to his otherwise seclusive cinematography, offsetting any harshness with a calming tranquillity.

Reflections in glass, doubling images to create meaningful subtext.

Even as his characters wrestle with a long, drawn-out grief that evolves through multiple stages, Koganada never falters in weaving in that light stylistic touch. To call it a celebration of humanity isn’t entirely incorrect, though it only paints half a picture of what he achieves here. After Yang is a commemoration of being, human and non-human, studied and savoured through the refractive lens of memory where old ideas find new life in the present.

Characters framed in isolating compositions behind glass windows, kept at a distance from the camera. Very much an Ozu influence.

After Yang is currently playing in theatres.

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

The Daniels | 2hr 20min

There is an implicit promise made in the title Everything Everywhere All at Once that is about as equally ambitious as it is precarious. The story moves fast and with little regard for rationality, and yet there is also an absurd, internal logic which holds together this medley of styles, characters, and alternate universes, each one building out the bizarre tapestry of experiences that make up all of human and non-human existence. How exactly an individual can handle a perspective that encompasses what the film’s title suggests is not just the primary question this directing duo, the Daniels, seek to resolve. It is the challenge which they put to themselves as a grand cinematic statement, opting for a bizarre brand of maximalism that loudly announces itself in its editing, genre blending, and massively ambitious structure.

It all starts about as small and mundane as you can get. Evelyn is a middle-aged Chinese-American immigrant running a laundromat, trying to balance the mounting pressures of her father’s visit, her daughter’s growing emotional distance, her husband’s proposition of divorce, and a looming audit by the IRS. In the sound design of chaotic plucked strings that underscore this messy clash of priorities, Punch Drunk Love reveals itself as the first of many films whose influence the Daniels wear proudly on their sleeves. When an alternate version of her husband, Waymond, contacts Evelyn from another universe and tells her the entire multiverse is being threatened by an omniscient, omnipotent entity known as Jobu Tupaki, it might as well just be another trivial inconvenience for her to add to a growing list of errands. Very quickly though, she finds herself sucked into an existential war, at which point Everything Everywhere All at Once blasts off into a wildly outlandish probing of multiversal possibilities.

The science-fiction key to the abundant martial arts scenes driving the film’s action rests on a single, Matrix-inspired concept. By tapping into the minds of alternate versions of oneself, any number of skills can be downloaded into one’s brain, whether that be adopting the lung capacity of a singer or the dexterity of a chef. To get there, one must find the appropriate jumping pad – that is, a completely random action one must take which slingshots an individual across universes to arrive at the correct destination. In placing an emphasis on the small actions from which new universes branch off, the narrative never feels starved for direction, effectively setting a series of mini-objectives for characters to achieve while in the thick of combat.

Again, much like The Matrix, the stunt work itself is a mix of traditional martial arts and transcendent, superhuman feats, both of which are tightly choreographed with jaw-dropping kineticism and resourcefulness. Early on, a bum bag becomes the sole weapon through which a man takes down a squad of security guards, and from there the Daniels go on to make superb use of Michelle Yeoh’s physical screen presence, letting her indulge in different styles of combat inspired by the alternate lives Evelyn could have led.

Expertly choreographed martial arts sequences, with a creative use of everyday objects as weapons.

It is certainly worth noting the skilful use of slow-motion and rhythmic cutting that lines up with the actors’ motions in these action scenes, and yet that would only be scraping the surface of the film’s greatest stylistic accomplishment. Everything Everywhere All at Once would simply not achieve the imposing maximalism it is aiming for without playing to virtually every editing technique in the book, and landing them all with vigour and purpose. It starts with a lightly comical visual style akin to Edgar Wright in its perfectly timed beats, whip pans, and fluid transitions, most notable of all being the very first shot of the film moving us from one location to another through a mirror that might as well be a portal between universes.

An inspired split screen, cracking the lens right down the middle.

Soon, the Daniels begin to weave in creative split screens, depicted as a fractured lens through which a single universe branches off into two alternate paths. What immediately follows might seem like the point that Everything Everywhere All at Once takes the dive into the deep end of its stylistic ambition, and yet the next two hours only continue to ramp up in pacing and absurdity, rapidly firing off montages with sharp nimbleness. As Evelyn’s mind continues expanding to different versions of herself, the Daniels flit through hundreds of close-ups, accelerating until these single-frame portraits morph into a mind-bending composite of each. The effect it has is akin to the strobe lighting we witness in other scenes between Evelyn and Jobu Tapaki, pulsating in disorientating, hyperactive rhythms.

The Daniels bring rapid-fire montages to a new level, flashing through shots that last only a single frame.

With new universes opening up, parallel stories begin to unfold in tandem between them, and the Daniels’ deft intercutting lets the Wright similarities fall away and give way to Christopher Nolan comparisons. It is hard not to think of Inception here, whereby individual characters exist across multiple settings and narrative layers, each one in harmony with their counterparts. Inspired match cuts fluidly move them between prisons, forests, kitchens, offices, theatres, and streets with such remarkably smooth precision, it almost seems effortless, barely waiting for the audience to catch up to the new location before it pulls us into yet another one. It is equally a triumph of staging in these transitions, blending realities through shared motions as simple as a head tilt or a tight embrace.

Graphic match cuts lining up with actions, flipping through settings like changing channels. Certainly one of the best edited films in a few years.

Cinematic influences mount across the subtle and more obvious references (2001: A Space Odyssey gets a particularly irreverent nod), and so the Bong Joon-ho flavour we begin to pick up on in the uncompromising amalgamation of genres feels particularly appropriate. It goes beyond the comedy, action, and science-fiction premise of the film on its broadest level – in one universe the Daniels specifically evoke the elegant neon stylings and yearning romantic dialogue of Wong Kar-wai, setting up a delicate romance between Evelyn and Waymond in a universe where their relationship never worked out.

That these affecting character interactions can play out directly next to scenes that parody Pixar movies and feature a world where evolution gave humans hot dog fingers speaks to the truly peculiar talents of the Daniels to unite such clashing tones within a single film, though this isn’t to say that they consistently and flawlessly pull it off. If Everything Everywhere All at Once is to be faulted, it is for missing the mark on a number of jarring comic beats, choosing to run with expired gags, and on occasion defusing the central dramatic stakes. That is the risk filmmakers take when they throw so many ideas at the wall hoping something sticks, so it is still at least to the Daniels’ credit that much of this chaos lands with a keen precision.

The Daniels don’t hold back with their bizarre comedy – not all of it works, but it is certainly the mark of auteurs.

Certainly the film’s formal segmentation into three chapters (or perhaps two and a bit if we’re being picky) helps it along in its structure, with each division landing on the same frame of Evelyn sitting in her laundromat sorting through messy piles of documents. Each return sees a new colour take over the costuming and décor, subtly suggesting a shift in universes where the red ornaments of one are replaced by the blues of another. Foreshadowing also weaves through scenes where sign spinners and bagels are placed in the backgrounds of shots, vaguely hinting at the directions this wild narrative may head, but perhaps the most powerful visual motif is the menacing, black circle that crops up in hairstyles, on receipts, and behind mysterious, white veils. In that symbol is the simple, nihilistic concept of zero – the relative value which everything holds if all of existence were to matter equally.

Potent symbolism in the “everything bagel”, a black circle that also appears on receipts and hairstyles like a dark, menacing zero.

With the epic philosophical war raging between notions of limitlessness and nothingness, Everything Everywhere All at Once studies its equivalent within the scope of the tiny Chinese-American family at the centre of it all. There, it becomes a study of generational and cultural differences, in which a multi-tasking mother piles too many expectations onto her daughter, inadvertently driving her deeper into an existential despair. Characters travel all along this ideological spectrum through the film, wrestling with that inexplicable relationship between everything and nothing which plagues both heroes and villains of this story.

We find especially profound answers to such questions in one particular universe where life never formed on Earth, and for the first time in the film simply letting us sit in quiet, undisturbed peace. If there was ever a world where the paltriness of existence could be felt on a pure, tangible level, it is here, where we can take a few minutes away from the frantic pace of Everything Everywhere All at Once to reflect on both meaningless of it all and the silly, insignificant love between two rocks. Maximalist excess and crushing nihilism might be weapons wielded by the Daniels to overwhelm us into submission, but there is also a humbling enlightenment present in the midst of it all. Only after we have considered our full potential is it that we can understand what makes up our core essence – not that we are humans with opposable thumbs and free will, but that we are lonely, fleeting entities, endlessly seeking sense and compassion from swirling universes of chaos.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is currently in theatres.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch | 2hr 27min

“No hay banda,” warns the emcee at Club Silencio. “There is no band.” Everything we hear there is an illusion, played as a tape recording while musicians and singers move their hands and mouths. It doesn’t really matter how many times we are told this, or in how many languages. Every time a new piece of music begins, we find ourselves entranced by the haunting melodies reverberating across the theatre, then equally caught off guard when the sounds persist even after their apparent sources are gone.

Most affecting of all in this scene is the heartrending cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” in Spanish by one club performer, sung entirely acapella. In the audience, our two leading women, Betty and Rita, cling to each other with tears in their eyes, unable to look away. Though it is Rita whose amnesia has kept her character at a distance from us, Betty is just as much of an enigma in her façade of superficial idealism. Here though, there seems to be a break in their reality. What it is exactly we aren’t too sure, but there is a profound sorrow in both the music and their reactions to it, as if they are mourning the impending expiration of something beautiful and fleeting.

Rebekah del Rio singing “Llorando” at Club Silencio. This may be the emotional lynchpin of the film, and yet at this point we may not even fully understand the context yet.

It is a skilful layering of illusions on top of illusions that David Lynch conducts in Mulholland Drive, removing us from reality by several levels until all we are left with is some primal, psychological rendition. This is the true power of cinema, according to him. It is only by studying the worlds that exist inside our minds that we can get close to understanding those feelings we bury deep into our subconscious, including the guilt, hope, love, and anger which aspiring Hollywood actress Diane Selwyn has let fester into putrid resentment. Mulholland Drive can be explained quite simply as a dark and occasionally whimsical nightmare conjured up in the final minutes before her suicide, but to seek hard logic in Lynch’s reason and plotting would be to defeat its purpose. It excels simply as a surreal melting pot of impressionistic images that translate the literal to the symbolic, asserting that such figurative representations are no less “real” than the places they come from.

Lynch smothering Diane in a heavy fog in this foreboding composition as she dreams.

More specifically, Mulholland Drive is Lynch’s own interrogation of the Hollywood dream as an empty, corrupt promise, drawing heavy parallels to Billy Wilder’s similarly street-titled film Sunset Boulevard. In Diane Selwyn and Norma Desmond, we see two women drawn in by the glamour of the movie industry, only to be left devastated when they are thoughtlessly discarded in favour of other more desirable women, forcing them to retreat into dream worlds of fame and glory. There are two key differences between these films though. Firstly, Diane has never had a taste of what it is like to be riding high on praise and adoration, unlike Norma. Secondly, we are not looking in at Diane’s dream from the outside. Instead, Lynch sinks us deep into this absurd labyrinth for two hours before he pulls back the curtain to reveal its source in the final act.

When we do eventually reach that point, we may at first barely even realise that this is what he is doing. But then tiny formal connections begin to arise. In the Winkies diner we have seen several times before, Diane singles in on the waitresses’ nametag, “Betty”, in an almost identical shot to one earlier in the film when Betty notices the name “Diane”. A hitman who amusingly bungled a murder in a standalone dream episode appears once again, meeting with Diane. He carries the blue key that Rita mysteriously kept in her purse, and tells Diane that when the job is done he will pass it on to her as a secret indicator. At that moment, she makes eye contact with another man in the diner. We have seen him before too in an isolated nightmare, confronting a horrific monster that lives behind Winkies. “I hope to never see that face outside a dream,” he fearfully expresses. Those iniquitous thoughts which linger beneath the surface of our consciousness are better kept out of sight, though this is a luxury that Diane can no longer afford.

A jump scare for the ages – fully earned, and not overdone. The appearance of the creature behind Winkies is terrifying, both on a visceral level and for what it represents.

Such an intricate web of parallels across dreamscapes and waking life makes for a wonderful piece of abstract formalism in Mulholland Drive, and one that only lulls us deeper into its soporific grip through hazy, wistful editing that slyly bridges one idea to the next. Long dissolves erode any sense of clear definition between scene transitions, blending them together to find striking collages in those indistinct, liminal spaces. Arguably the most iconic use of this technique in film history can be found here, imprinting a shot of Betty reclining backwards against a low angle of palm trees reaching up to the sky, delivering an illusion of idyllic serenity. Elsewhere, Lynch’s match cuts land on action beats, momentarily dispensing with the dreamy ambience to sharply leap through a broken timeline of incomplete memories.

Jaw-dropping imagery crafted in these long dissolves, dreamily passing from one scene to the next.

The lack of defining boundaries in Mulholland Drive even extends to Lynch’s characterisations of all four main women – or at least, the two women whose identities are as malleable as anything else in Diane’s dream. In the material world, she and Camilla are a pair of ex-lovers looking for fame in Hollywood. Where Diane is struggling to be noticed, Camilla’s star is on the rise, thanks to her winning a role that she may or may not have rightfully deserved.

The construct that Diane builds in her mind from guilt and idealism might as well be some sort of regret-driven wish fulfillment, playing out a fantasy where both women can start afresh under new circumstances, though with a considerable power imbalance in her favour. Diane thus becomes Betty, a bright-eyed actress with genuine talent, and Camilla becomes Rita, an amnesiac taking her name from Golden Age Hollywood star Rita Hayworth. To muddy the waters even further, other characters named Diane and Camilla exist in this intangible nightmare, though only as vague representations – one as a corpse foreshadowing Diane’s eventual suicide, the other taking the appearance of Camilla’s current girlfriend, and stealing movie roles she never earned. With identity-swapping as purposefully confounding as this, drawing parallels to Persona is inevitable, especially when Lynch lines up the faces of both women to appear as two halves of a whole in a Bergman-esque composition.

Very much influenced by Bergman in the identity swapping, beautifully depicted in this blocking of faces.
Multiple mirrors creating the sense of layered illusions as Rita picks out a name for herself.
Secondary to Bergman are the Hitchcock parallels, with Betty modelling Rita into a blonde just as James Stewart does to Kim Novak in Vertigo.

It is a complex pair of performances that Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring put in here, as the pair of them come to represent both the glossy artifice and insidious darkness that underlies the American entertainment industry. The cheesy dubbing of their overdone line readings borders on unsettling, with both acting as if they are being forced into some conventional mystery movie about two girl detectives tracking down hidden truths about their pasts. Watts particularly shines as the duplicate versions of Diane, constantly breaking her identity up into pieces and choosing to play each as if they were individual characters. This also means that we are frequently taken unaware by sudden shifts in her performance, as we witness in the audition scene that sees her read badly written dialogue as a whispery, sensual seduction – an extreme contrast to the overwrought anger with she had previously rehearsed it.

A landmark performance for Naomi Watts playing several different versions of one woman, ranging from artificial to fully realistic.

Given the way Lynch often shoots Los Angeles like some sort of bizarre, alien environment crowded by towering palm trees, it isn’t hard to see why an outsider like Diane might psychologically disintegrate so easily. Though she imagines rooms cloaked with red curtains where nefarious men eavesdrop and pull strings, this is merely something to fill in the blank space of the unknown. In the grand scheme of things, they are nothing more than catalysts. The awful truth of Mulholland Drive’s existentialism rather comes from within, where Diane introspectively carves out new realities from the fragments of old ones, only to find herself arriving back at the same shame and self-loathing that she has tried so fruitlessly to escape.

Fog fills Lynch’s night-time exteriors, turning Los Angeles into an alien landscape of imposing palm trees and empty lots.

Mulholland Drive is currently streaming on Stan, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes.

Imitation of Life (1959)

Douglas Sirk | 2hr 5min

It is an unusual family portrait which Douglas Sirk paints in Imitation of Life, at least in the context of 1950s America. Half of its members are white, the other half Black, and there are no men to be found within it at all. Love interests skirt around the edges, but otherwise the film’s feminine sensitivities flourish across boundaries of age, class, and race, emerging in delicate cinematic paintings of privilege and social adversity.

On one side of the family we have Lora, an aspiring white actress and single mother, raising her daughter, Susie. A chance encounter at the beach one day leads to her meeting Annie, a Black single mother, and her fair-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who Susie takes to right away. These four women become inseparable, and Lora soon offers Annie and Sarah Jane a place in their home while she gets her acting career off the ground.

Superb framing of this family, often singling out one character and separating them from the others.
The domestic architecture and furniture of wrapping around characters from high and low angles. Note the angles of the beams pointing towards Lora in the foreground, as well as the eye lines of Susie and Steve.

Along Lora and Susie’s narrative thread, we find a mother growing more distant from her daughter due to her fame and demanding schedule. The cosy green drapes and patterned wallpaper of Susie’s childhood home wrap around the small family in a soothing embrace, its décor of ceiling fans and light fixtures hanging in the foreground of gorgeously composed frames. As Lora finds greater success though, Sirk’s production design takes a turn to opulence. The open spaces of the mansion they move into are adorned with bright flowers and candles rising up in the foreground, while decorative mirrors in backgrounds make rooms feel even larger than they physically are. Such exquisite furnishing allows for beautifully elegant imagery, though it is certainly at least colder than before, setting the scene for a burgeoning gap between Susie and Lora as both develop feelings for the same man.

The same day these strangers meet, they all come home to Lora’s place. They are confined to small spaces in compositions like these, while Sirk clutters his foreground with the ceiling fan and light fixtures.
A distinct stylistic difference between the two family homes. When Lora becomes famous, flowers and decorative mirrors make for some lavishly staged shots.

It is by nature of their unequal social standings that Susie’s problems seem a little insignificant when played out next to Sarah Jane’s, who chooses to shun her Black heritage so that she may pass as white. She has seen the ugliness of America’s intolerance in its pre-civil rights era, and yet the bitterness that has been bred from that is not directed at its perpetrators, but rather her own mother. Annie, meanwhile, recognises that anguish in her young daughter, and can’t quite figure out how to reconcile her innocence with the future she faces.

“How do you explain to your child she was born to be hurt?”

Sirk is frequently visually trapping Sarah Jane in tight and concealed spaces – behind grates, blinds, and leering men.

Sarah Jane’s disdain for her mother is crushing, in one scene even driving her to go so far as to put on a mocking show of servitude to a guest, as if that were all there is to her ethnicity. Above all else she wants to be looked at with desire, so when she finally comes of age, she runs away to join a club where she can blend in with a troupe of white chorus girls. Though she claims she doesn’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with being Black, she clearly does not possess the empathy to see how similar her actions are to the strains of racism she is familiar with.

Powerful blocking between Sarah Jane and her mother – Sirk rendering the complete fragmentation of a mother-daughter relationship by splitting them between foreground and background, and divided by lines in the mise-en-scène.

Perhaps we wouldn’t feel the same compassion for Sarah Jane if Sirk didn’t treat her suffering with such tenderness in his staging of this melodrama. When her white boyfriend confronts her about her true ethnicity, she is diminished off to the side of the frame as nothing but a reflection in a window, and the moment he grows incensed Sirk quickly pans his camera to the right to reveal him unnervingly towering over her. When she returns home after being beaten, he shoots all four women standing on separate levels of a staircase, their standing evident in where they are situated – Lora on top, Annie further down with her back to the camera, Susie concealed behind a plant, and Sarah Jane caught in the middle, all lines in the shot pointing to her. Even as characters deliberately pursue contemptuous lines of attack against each other, Sirk never loses sight of the raw pain which motivates them, all four women being destined to struggle in a patriarchal society to different degrees.

Sirk diminished Sarah Jane’s stature in this simmering confrontation by relegating her off to the side as a reflection, then panning his camera to her just at the right moment.
Wonderful use of stairways to bring levels to the web of dynamics between all four women. All lines in the mise-en-scène here point to Sarah Jane, but the ignored child, Susie, is also shoved off to the side behind a pot plant.

With such an interconnected relationship between Sirk’s vibrant mise-en-scène and his emotionally rich characters, it isn’t difficult to trace his influences back through the decades of cinematic expressionism. Stylish sentimentalism flows all through his dialogue and cinematography, outlining parallel paths of generational conflict as set out by two pairs of mothers and daughters. Unlike other Sirkian melodramas of this era though, there are few happy endings to be found in Imitation of Life. Instead, it is in the separation of children from their parents where we find hope that they might mature into adults, blooming like those floral icons of delicate growth scattered all through the film.

True to the form of the film’s mise-en-scène, flowers decorate Annie’s funeral, just as they decorated her life.

Imitation of Life is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel, and is available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.