Spotlight on Cinematography: Faceoffs

For some reason, this was a challenging post to put words to. I want to talk about how impressive a character can seem if they’re framed properly, about how tension between two characters can be tangible if they’re framed properly, and how groups can be so imposing if– you guessed it– they’re framed properly. But words are hard today, so let’s just jump right in!

I’m going to start with a few frames featuring solo characters. I think this is a largely underrated and unnoticed aspect of film that many viewers might not pick up on, but there is so much potential to character introductions, and it feels rare to see that full potential being met. For that reason, I wanted to start with my all-time favorite first appearance: the one and only Marla Singer.

The below frame is a stellar example of showing instead of telling. We don’t really know anything about Marla at this point, but the instant the camera turns to her, it’s impossible not be in awe.

fight club marla
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)

Straying away from first appearances, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m including a Donald McAlpine frame. The symmetry, shadows, and coloring of this character presentation all combine to work within the drama of the movie itself, and the tension of this particular scene.

moulin rouge frontal
Moulin Rouge (2002) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

The visuals of a character walking away from a fire/explosion/burning building is an age old technique. We see it in westerns, in spy flicks, in super hero movies, etc. But rarely do we see it paired with a femme fatale garbed in handmade haute couture. And boy oh boy does it work. What a force to be reckoned with.

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The Dressmaker (2015) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

Two people sharing a scene can run the gamut from stale to sensual. Characters can interact romantically, angrily, averagely, and so on and so forth. However, my favorite way for two people to share a frame is always when it’s charged with tension. This could be in a passionate way (a la cellblock tango in Chicago) or in a fearsome way (a la the xenomorph edging into a frame with a petrified Ellen Ripley).

The Handmaiden is an exquisite film, with every scene beautifully arranged and the characters perfectly positioned. But one of my very favorites moments was the one seen below. The repetition of the branches, the color juxtaposition of the costumes, and the locked eye contact all combine to create a tense and breathtaking scene.

the handmaiden 2
The Handmaiden (2016) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)

Speaking of tense, how about this faceoff from the recent Black Panther? The tension is tangible between the two royals as they size each other up and stare each other down. Largely thanks to the negative space and forceful eye contact, you can feel the heat between the two of them.

black panther
Black Panther (2018) || Rachel Morrison (DP)

It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched Hanna, and while I wasn’t over the moon for it back then, the final scene at the abandoned theme park has always stayed with me. This wide angle in particular is such a brilliant frame. Between the wolf head and the body language, the space between the two characters feels like a living thing, one Hanna is utterly determined to keep in existence.

hanna
Hanna (2011) || Alwin H. Küchler (DP)

Most of us have some sort of familiarity with standing in front of a large group of people. Either we are being watched, or we are doing the watching, and both carry with them their own sort of weight. It isn’t every day that a character is faced with a huge group of people on screen, which is part of why the below frames are so enjoyable.

In this frame from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, using Alice’s POV was a brilliant choice. Paired with the sea of white clothes and blankly expectant faces fading into the distance, you can almost feel the panic setting in.

alice in wonderland
Alice in Wonderland (2010) || Dariusz Wolski (DP)

A Cure for Wellness is easily one of my most hated films. However, it is undeniably incredibly visually appealing. From start to finish, the movie focuses on repetition, reflections, and uncomfortable focal points to institute an undercurrent of unease. You can’t shake the feeling that something is off. This eerily centered frame is no exception. The color coordinated balls, the lines of the pool and staircases, and the razor sharp focus of the group in the pool combine to leave a tinge of discomfort with the viewer due to the unnatural perfection of it all.

a cure for wellness
A Cure for Wellness (2016) || Bojan Bazelli (DP)

While I wasn’t wild about the storyline, Girl Asleep (directed by Rosemary Myers) is another shockingly beautiful film. Based on the play of the same name, the film utilizes an almost constant feeling of being watched to inject tension and unease through the movie. Between the dark forest, characters in masks, mirrors, and clever framework during school scenes, you can feel the discomfort of our main character.

girl asleep
Girl Asleep (2015) || Andrew Commis (DP)

Review: Heartless

-this review contains spoilers-

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

When I started reading Heartless, I totally forgot that it was a Queen of Hearts origin story. I had this book on my reading list for ages because of my adoration for Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but by the time I finally got to pick it up, I had forgotten what it was even about. That is probably why a lot of my annoyances while reading the book came from the shoehorned Alice in Wonderland references. Between the pepper chef, the rocking horse flies, the smoking caterpillar, the line about the Tweedles, the jabberwocky, hedgehog croquet, and Cheshire himself, I found myself gritting my teeth with the obviousness of it all and how unlike Meyer it was. Then I got to the end and realized that this was actually all backstory for one of the most iconic villains of all time, which placated me a little bit– but not very much.

Heartless-Marissa-Meyer-Book-Cover-Feature

Because with that being said… I don’t think this is a solid origin story. At all. Meyer’s characters and plot points would have worked so much better as a retelling similar to The Lunar Chronicles, which used their original fairytales as a touchstone rather than as a strict reference text. For example: while the traditional Wonderland aspect carries over well in that Hearts is full of frustratingly obtuse folks, I found myself infinitely more interested in Chess than in Hearts. It seemed counterproductive for an entire world to be created (especially one created by Melissa Meyer) only for us to spend no time there. Instead of absorbing a fresh new world with fresh new rules and characters, we had to spend this entire story trudging through a slight variation of the same world we have been force-fed for ages.

For years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I loved it so much that I did an entire stylized photoshoot around it, was gifted a first edition of the book (swoon), and even considered a tattoo inspired by the story. [Emma of Emma Reads Too Much has some pretty spot-on thoughts on Carroll’s original book that you should absolutely read here.] Unfortunately, there have been so many renditions and interpretations of it that it has lost much of its magic for me. I hated Tim Burton’s two movies on the subject and have grown to loathe the excessive amount of themed gifts found in bookstores and indie shops.

The themes of time and repetition in Heartless were reminiscent of Burton’s concepts, and the endless litany of overt references to the original book felt self-gratuitous. This was the opposite of why I was excited for a Wonderland-themed book by Meyer in the first place– she has left me delighted and entranced by her inventiveness and originality, while still making the reader glow with twists on traditional references (i.e.: a cyborg foot for Cinderella’s shoe, a satellite orbiting in space for Rapunzel’s tower). Sadly, this book left me disappointed by absolutely everyone except Jest and The Sisters.

I was particularly peeved by the Marchioness and ‘Hatta’. The Marchioness was the true villain of the story. She’s controlling, verbally abusive, and is endlessly fat-shaming the main character. I couldn’t believe that no one ever stood up to her, especially in a book by the Melissa Meyer, where the leads tend to be brave and stand up for themselves. I wanted so badly to adore Hatta. Carroll’s Hatter is one of the most off-the-wall and quirky characters of all time, and as much as I disliked Burton/Depp’s rendition, he still managed to make me feel emotional and nostalgic. But Hatta is a sorry excuse for the dynamic and heart-breaking character he could have been. When we’re first introduced, my thought was “a female Hatter would have been a nice change” but that quickly turned into “wow I totally ship Hatta and Jest over Cath and Jest.” Which isn’t out of the normal for me, but then! It turns out! That Hatta loved Jest all along! But never said anything! I cry foul. That’s queerbaiting if I’ve ever seen it. I disagreed with people who claimed BBC’s Sherlock and Watson was queerbaiting. I even partially disagreed with people who felt that Albus and Scorpius’s relationship in Rowling’s Cursed Child was queerbaiting. But this was shameful. To hint at it for 300 pages only to reveal the truth and have Jest killed without ever knowing, leading Hatta to go mad with sorrow, is despicable. I expected so much better from Meyer than half-baked LGBTQ+ representation.

I’ve been so enamored with Meyer’s brand of kickass female leads– with her women and girls who solve things and save people and stick up for others and strive to be better– that Cath was an unparalleled disappointment. She was indecisive, spineless, whiny, and intolerant. As I’ve mentioned before, indecisiveness is a big pet peeve for me. Cath’s repetitive reasoning and cyclical complaining was downright exhausting, especially because she never did anything to actively change her fate. Insta-love also plays a huge role in this story, which is something that automatically sets me on edge. I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles three times, and have always been pleased by the fact that Meyer writes the romance in a way that leaves the reader very invested without feeling that it’s the centerpiece of the story. Heartless utterly fails in that regard. The warring world of Chess and the endless deaths occurring there are apparently insignificant in the face of a month-long love affair.

Long story short, Heartless left me disappointed in more ways than one. I’ve come to expect much better from Melissa Meyer than under-cooked storylines and half-hearted characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland always has, and always will, deserve better.

alice-wonderland-adult-colouring


When I first started this blog, I wanted to do something called Eye-Roll Reviews. The idea came to me after reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which had me rolling my eyes on every page. I haven’t read any such books (until this one) since I started writing reviews on here, so I haven’t quite worked out how to format such a review. So for now, I’m just going to list my eye-roll-inducing lines, in case any other readers were annoyed by the same things.

“It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy.”

“But she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.”

“Impossible was his specialty. The way he had touched her hand had awoken something inside her she had never felt before. Something giddy, but also nervous. Something curious, but also afraid. And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”

“Romance. Passion. Love. She had never experienced them before, but she imagined they would leave her feeling like that dream had. Like the Joker did, with his quick smiles and witty remarks. She felt like she could talk to him for hours, for days and months and years, and never tire of it.” (Girl, you JUST MET HIM.)

“He did, however, offer his elbow, which she accepted, folding her fingers around his arm and surprised to find more muscle there than his lithe frame would suggest.”

“Overnight her life had become a whirlpool, sucking her below the surface.”