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Upstream Color

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Kylee Peña
Upstream Color
on May 9, 2013 at 3:02:36 pm

I did a forum search to see if anyone had already reviewed Upstream Color and found that I'm the only one that has ever mentioned it. Guess I'm the only one interested, so I'll review it for myself! I don't usually write reviews, but I really really really loved this film and I want everyone to know about it. I've been following it for a long time.

Upstream Color is being self-distributed, so it's screening in small theaters all over the place. It also just hit Amazon Instant, which is how I saw it. It's directed by Shane Carruth. Also written, produced, edited, sound designed, composed, DP'd, and probably other stuff by him. I think he even had his mom or sister as craft services. This sounds like the kiss of death and an amateur production. Trust me, it SO isn't.

It's just an utterly beautiful movie, the story and the cinematography. It's filled with visual motifs in shape and color. And loads of match cuts, which I basically live for, honestly. Matching shapes, colors, action. The editing is a brilliant balance of jump cuts and match frames and juxtaposed matching action, each used just the way it needs to be. Carruth was a co-editor, but having read his other scripts, I would bet my life that nearly every one of those match cuts was written in. Probably nearly every cut. I feel like he rough cuts it when he writes it.

Carruth also writes dialogue differently than almost anyone else. There's never really a beginning or end to a scene. It's just natural, and it gives you what you need. He doesn't give you any exposition-y lines. Even ones that almost every film would give you, ones that aren't bad writing at all. It's also not mumblecore. It's how people really talk, but slightly elevated.

I'm avoiding saying too much about the story because I think the story is better off left ambiguous when you go into it. Basically it's about a girl and a guy who are broken and brought together by an outside force. There are other people involved. It's science fiction, and it's experimental. It won an award for innovations in sound design at Sundance, so sound is obviously also important to the plot. To some people, watching a film like this could easily be maddening. You kind of have to expect to be a few steps behind the main characters at any given time and have faith that the film will tell you what you need to know. If you want a film to leave you bread crumbs, this isn't for you. But if you want to let it happen in front of you and sort of make sense of it all (and it does definitely make sense), you'll enjoy this. It's more of a movie that you ruminate over while it's still happening.

And yes, there is some stuff that isn't clear. I think maybe some stuff just works itself into the larger fabric of the film and doesn't really need an answer, it's just the way it is for these people. It's not like watching LOST where something feels SO IMPORTANT and then is tossed aside because it's just a red herring. Anything completely unexplained in Upstream Color feels natural because the characters accept it, if that makes sense.

If challenging or experimental films intrigue you, go find this in a theater. If it's nowhere near you, give Amazon your money.

I'm probably talking this up way too much because it completely left me breathless because it hits every checkmark on my "list of awesome crap I want in a movie."

I want to hug this movie.



blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Kylee Peña
Re: Upstream Color
on May 13, 2013 at 2:42:15 pm

I just wanted to say that I watched this film again and I really agree with myself in this review.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Tim Wilson
Re: Upstream Color
on May 13, 2013 at 3:48:31 pm

[Kylee Wall] "I really agree with myself in this review."

That's awesome. Your reviews are usually pretty hit and miss.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Upstream Color
on May 13, 2013 at 8:53:05 pm

I learn from the best!

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Scott Roberts
Re: Upstream Color
on May 14, 2013 at 1:39:46 pm

I plan on watching this movie this weekend on Amazon, if not only for the fact that it can unite Thursday Kylee with Monday Kylee.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Upstream Color
on May 14, 2013 at 1:51:10 pm

We're looking forward to it.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Scott Roberts
Re: Upstream Color
on May 28, 2013 at 12:57:47 pm

Much like Quentin Dupieux's Wrong, which I saw earlier this year; Upstream Color is another one of those movies that I saw over a week ago, but have failed to comment on it until now because I was having trouble coming up with worthwhile things to say about it. Not because I didn't *want* to talk about it, but merely because I wasn't sure if what I was thinking in my head even corresponded correctly with anything I actually saw in the movie. The themes, the story, the metaphorical interpretation, the sensory explosions... yeah, I guess I'm saying this movie is kinda sorta a little confusing.

My best attempt to give a broad retelling of the plot: A woman gets abducted and brainwashed and basically has her normal life somewhat ruined for no apparent reason, and she remembers nothing about it. Then she connects with a guy who also had the same abduction happen to him, and they struggle to cope with their lives... but, uh, while together. Or something. Also, add a lot of pigs. There's like 50 pigs in this movie.

I guess it's worth noting that Shane Carruth also directed Primer. I remember watching Primer in college, but remember almost nothing specific about it. It was about two guys discussing the overcomplicated consequences of time travel in an abandoned office building or something, right? The thing I remember most specifically about it was that it was made for $7000. Primer didn't really do it for me, to be honest. I liked its spirit and low-key ambitions, but sad as it is to say, it went over my head big time. Or at least it went over 20-year-old Scott's head, and I haven't watched it since... Maybe I should give it another viewing? Regardless, I wasn't all that surprised when I found out the Upstream Color guy was also the Primer guy.

Yet, I think the nearly unexplainable nature of the plot is Upstream Color's best asset while you're watching it. The mystery of it all was the best part. I really, truly did think that they were actually taking me somewhere every step of the way. And in the end, I guess I didn't quite feel like I was cheated out of a functional story, because I as well think Carruth did give us all the puzzle pieces; but it's just one of those super detailed photo mosaic puzzles with 5000 pieces and no distinguishable edges. So I'm not quite done putting it together yet...

I think the best compliment I could give Upstream Color is that despite it being a movie that really makes you think hard about what you're looking at, it was still very entertaining. I can't say the same for the The Tree of Life. In the scope of entertainingly confusing movies; I'd rank Upstream Color somewhere ahead of The Fountain, but behind Mulholland Drive.

On my first go around with this film, the theme that jumped out at me right away was basically about two people coping with loss, and the struggles of being able to connect with other people after each person's different form of loss. Maybe that took away from the film a little bit for me, because I've already seen the "two damaged people connecting" love angle played out (better) in many other films. But then there's the whole sci-fi aspect to it, which takes up the first act of the movie, and there is some sort of god character who keeps an ever-present stare over the characters throughout the second and third acts. To push those aside for my loss theme doesn't seem entirely correct. Carruth himself has said that the film is about identity control, and whether we are in control of ourselves. Another critic has said it's more about interconnectedness. So, yeah, this film is DEEP. It can go a lot of ways, depending on who you are. Maybe it's just a really bizarre adaptation of Charlotte's Web? I don't know.

Shane Carruth is the kind of guy I don't think I could have a conversation with for more than 20 seconds before I start bumbling my words and looking really stupid. Even if it's about something I'm familiar with, like Wendy's sandwiches. "So Shane, I definitely prefer the Spicy Chicken sandwich over the 1/2 Pound Double with cheese, it just has a more-" "Yeah, look, the Spicy sandwich is an intriguing source of sensory bliss that triggers the very neurons in your brain that make you want to THINK that you are actually enjoying yourself, but realistically, the duality of the two patties in the 1/2 Pound Double create more of a spacial awareness in your mouth that sends signals throughout your whole body indicating that maybe you aren't really who you think you are, but you're more so who you think *the sandwich* thinks you are. Sort of a reversal of natural order, to put it in layman's terms." "I, uhhhh, well... UHHH. But this has... the be-chicken of the fffla-uhhhh... hmmmm. Yeah... you're probably right."

But one thing I CAN criticize Carruth for is his acting. Ha! In your face! He could probably use an acting class or two. He wasn't terrible or anything, but I don't think he really brought anything amazing to the role. I guess he makes up for it with the breathtaking cinematography and insanely good sound design... Both of which he had major hands in achieving. Damn! I try to bring him down, and he just has me complimenting him more! CARRUTH!

I would recommend this movie to people if they're looking for something to think about for several days. I wouldn't recommend it to people who like to have answers handed to them on a silver platter. I normally don't like films that *require* interpretation to be successful, but this is a case of a film being good enough to not let that ruin the experience. Upstream Color is ultimately a movie that could probably use a hug, but I'm not so sure I'd want to go over and actually give it one like you would, Kylee. But I'd certainly stare at it observantly through a little glass window in the padded room it's bouncing around in.


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Kylee Peña
Re: Upstream Color
on May 28, 2013 at 1:26:35 pm

Yay, someone else watched it! I certainly won't argue with you about the film at all. But since it is my snuggle buddy, I feel the need to clarify the plot and pigs. Unless you were being facetious about not understanding how it works together. I think the basic plot is the most straightforward part of the film. This image someone made actually explains it better than I would. It's pretty nifty.



(Now everyone else in this forum is like uh, this film needs a diagram? Screeeeewww that.)

So the film is about coping and breaking the cycle to find your own identity again. And you do that by finding someone else to help you. A large part of this film was affected by Kris's unknown longing for her offspring, a thing that was possibly the most cruel thing taken from her because she didn't really even know what it meant.

There's plenty of stuff that's open to interpretation. Mostly it's "but why" to a lot of details that fill in the story. They enrich the world, but what they mean is not necessary to me. And the overall metaphorical symbolism junk. Like anything else, we could debate that endlessly. I draw a lot of parallels to a lot of things, but someone else could have an entirely different take. I LURVE THAT.

Likewise, I hope I never meet Carruth. He scares the crap out of me. I would have absolutely nothing to say to him. Dude is intense. I'd probably mumble something like "Pigs are super cute." THEY ARE. Man, I am really not making a case for you to allow this movie outside the padded room.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Scott Roberts
Re: Upstream Color
on May 28, 2013 at 6:20:16 pm

OK well that chart makes sense of the structure of the film/organism. But I guess I still don't understand WHY all of this is happening. And is the Sampler a bad guy or a good guy? Is the entire system an evil process? What is the point of its existence? And other than money, what is the overall gain from doing this?

questions. Questions. QUESTIONS!


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Kylee Peña
Re: Upstream Color
on May 28, 2013 at 7:00:16 pm

I didn't really think the "why" was important. It just is and you gotta deal with it man.

I assume the Thief did his thing because he's a thief obviously. And the Sampler did it because he's a freakin' weirdo. People stumbling across these things and using them for their own sick pleasures and gains. All part of the cycle -- I'm completely making stuff up at this point but I'd assume this cycle went on in some for for many years. You might even say the organism itself survived through manipulation of its environment like this. Who knows. The why isn't important because the film doesn't make the why important, it just jumps in and shows the effect.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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