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Billy Donoso


Weymouth MA

About Me

Hi! I'm Billy and I'm an Editorial Intern here on Telescope. I'm studying film at Williams College and try my hand at screenwriting and filmmaking on the side. Some of my favorite films on the site are Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", Alex Garland's "Ex Machina", and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris."

Solaris is one of my all-time favorite films, even though it did not start this way. In fact, it was a challenging first watch: I felt as if Tarkovsky wanted me to feel the numb, desensitized way that I did when I tried to have a normal conversation with friends right after I saw it for the first time. I will never forget the highway scene— a winding, five-minute long, trance-inducing sequence that is so harrowing after multiple rewatches. Many have likened it to the more grounded, human, washed-out version of Kubrick's Stargate sequence in '2001: A Space Odyssey,' and I feel a very similar sense of dread and uncertainty when I watch it. But to get more at the core of the film and the events that transpire on the Solaris space station, I feel a palpable sense of grief thinking back to Kris' and Hari's relationship: a translucent gossamer of past memories and interpersonal friction that haunts Kris until he accepts it. For those watching this film who have experienced the loss of a loved one or a close friend due to suicide, you get it when you see his character arc and you appreciate the sensitivity Tarkovsky has by lingering with these characters. After all, once you close your laptop screen or leave whatever theater that might (very fortunately) happen to be showing 'Solaris,' these characters, too, are just memories that settle into your mind as long-lost, never-quite-real but never-quite-fake either figments of the past. It's the nature of cinema. Watching this movie is very much a litmus-test for where you are in your life, and where others are as well. I have a friend who did not enjoy it in the slightest bit, in part because he felt the language barrier didn't allow these characters' words to nestle in his heart intimately like they might for a native Russian speaker. In part, because it is (as I believe Tarkovsky himself sometimes jokingly referred to his films) a "long, boring film." I welcome the chance to sit and meditate with "long, boring films" like these, but I understand that not everybody is or that it can be fatiguing to constantly be doing that. This film, to me, is so many things: a eulogy, a love-letter, a lab report, a manifesto, a prayer, and so on. But the nebulous web of memories that constitutes what I think is 'Solaris' may not match what your recollection of it at all, and, well, that's okay.
While a film is an artistic end in itself, 'Osama' is a reminder of the power that films can have in the reality beyond the four corners of the frame. It was the first film shot and produced in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over in 1996 and banned film production altogether, and what a scathing condemnation of authoritarianism it is! Barmak very clearly delineates the good— the children, women, and men in solidarity— with the bad— the power-hungry men who seek to subjugate anybody weaker than them and push this cycle onto other men from a young age. It is a shocking film, and there is some necessary reflection for other Westerners that watch this movie. Do I see Islam when I watch this film, or do I see religious fundamentalism taken to its most violent extreme? I see the latter, as I have known a great deal of good Muslim people in my life, and yet I am wearily aware that for those who have not had this contact with others, they may attribute the tragedy at the core of this film to a cultural relativism and a more sophisticated West, which could not be further from the truth. But there is a facet to this perspective of mine that I, and others, should be acutely aware of as well. That is, that the loud violence of the Taliban comes front and center in my mind while the people of virtue shown in the film only come as an afterthought. That's what struck me so much when I watched the scene of the disabled little boy who could not keep up with the other people who all walked steadfastly ahead of him, before turning a corner and disappearing as Barmak lingers on this poor limping boy. When we try to be in solidarity with people, we really, really have to be in solidarity with people. We have to care for this little boy who cannot even find care from the others who are so deeply oppressed in this film. The foreign journalist videotapes the women's march at the beginning of the film, and despite how many faces and bodies fill the scene, we have to remember that this, too, is a microscopic view of how widespread authoritarianism's reach is. 'Osama' is such a powerful exercise in raw empathy and I've barely even touched on the protagonist of this film, Osama herself, whose story is inspired by real events. My advice to anybody who wants to watch this is to be acutely present in the moment while you watch the film and feel every image and sound Barmak meticulously presents you, and to use the experience as a launching pad to study the ongoing reality that in many cases persists today, almost twenty years later.
Lola: "Die Tasche?" Manni: "Die Tasche." Lola: "Die Tasche." Manni: "Die Tasche." Lola: "Die Tasche."

I'm in love with 'Run Lola Run.' It's a bizarre love that is so hard to explain, but what it comes down to is that Tykwer is so incredibly confident and in control with this movie that harnesses so many tools of cinema to their fullest. It is a thrillride, and the techno soundtrack is enough to make me feel like a Formula One driver when I blast it while driving down highways. The use of animation as a figural and literal dividing line between realities is as clever as it is charming, in all of its elementary-school drawing glory. The central conflict is melodramatic beyond perhaps anything I've ever seen before, and yet it is balanced by moments of unmatched groundedness. Lola's father first telling her that he never really raised her and abandoned both her and her lunatic mother was heartbreaking in how utterly subversive it is. Up until that point, it functions as an escapist thriller with glimpses of postmodernism in the form of snapshots into side characters' lives. This bank interaction embodies a kind of dramatic realism that multiple other scenes fit cleanly into as well: the pillow talks between Manni and Lola. They, too, are emotional fulcrums that balance out the thrill of the race against time and fate. They are brief interrogations into the concept of love rather than expressions of love, and frankly, we as the audience need that! Lola and Manni are so romantically obsessed with each other in the majority of the action of the movie that it would feel extremely over-exaggerated if there weren't any scenes that give them a basis to feel this strongly for each other. It is extremely welcome to see the laid-back, cigar-hazed, crimson glazed conversations in the bed where Tykwer takes a few minutes to explore and question if their pure emotional attachment stems from something real, from a purely rational angle. I think that gets at the kind of bizarre love I feel for this movie. As far as the pendulum swings towards thrilling cinematic pleasure we take from our characters' seemingly infinite capability and power, it also swings in the other direction towards cerebral and intellectually honest reflections of the limits of cinema and the limits of our characters. It engages my sense of curiosity just as much as it engages my primal craving of cinematic energy, which is no easy feat at all.
'Jojo Rabbit' is one of those movies that exists in a strange limbo of thoroughly enjoying the sights and the whimsy presented on screen while having a hard time shaking the feeling that maaaaybe this is an inappropriate setting for it. The Holocaust is, after all, one of the most tragic and vile moments in the entire timeline of human history. At first, Hollywood gave us war films that were close to propaganda in how strongly they denounced Naziism in favor of patriotic American liberation. And then, starting with 'Schindler's List,' Hollywood gave us a litany of films that gave us the perspective of Jews and how unabashedly cruel and evil their treatment was. 'Jojo Rabbit' brings with it the immediate question: are we at the point where we can joke about the Holocaust? But usually, when people ask a question like that, they are asking if it is okay to make fun of horrific things in a self-gratifying and insensitive way, and I don't think that's what 'Jojo Rabbit' does. Satire treads a fine line between enlightening and dubious, and I personally believe that Waititi, despite all the showmanship he brings to the movie, has a fair amount of restraint that manages to keep the rodeo basically under control. Littering the ensemble of Nazi characters are buffoons, drunkards, bullies, and creeps, while Scarlett Johansson's character and nearly all the children are quirky but empathetic human beings, if naive at times. Most people today are aware of the unadulterated horror of the Holocaust, and yet not many are aware of how good people become complicit in evil societies. It is perhaps necessary to use children as a vehicle for this story, as we often think of children as malleable sponges of peer-pressured behavior. It also should make the events of the story all the more heartbreaking, and when watching 'Jojo,' it was absolutely heartbreaking. This movie would fail tremendously if it were tone-deaf, and I believe Waititi was extremely conscious about this, because its satire is hilarious and punchy when it needs to be as much as its heart-wrenchingly distressing moments are upsetting and serious when they need to be. It's an incredibly bold film by nature, but with recent successes like 'The Death of Stalin' and 'The Interview,' it seems this kind of historical catastrophe-based tragicomedy is becoming more acceptable and appreciated. If this comes across as too cold, it is only because the real events are not trivial to me and I am hesitant to lavish a film like this with praise when it doesn't exist in an "Alice in Wonderland" fiction universe but our own very real, very harrowing Earthly past.
I have a hard time with 'Okja,' and it's a similar difficulty to the one I have with 'Snowpiercer.' Bong Joon-ho was a sociology major and once said at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival that he "know[s] very little sociology but cares a lot about society and the issues in it." I don't expect him to be an academic in his work, as his natural proclivity is clearly towards dark humor and the hypocritical ironies of socio-economic and socio-political systems. I'm okay with him taking artistic license and weaving elements together in somewhat unrealistic ways to tell the story; in fact, I truly commend his ability to take risks and be bold with so much frenetic energy in his films. 'Parasite' is a masterpiece. But I just don't know how to approach a movie like 'Okja,' which is a hodgepodge of sociopathic melodrama from Jake Gyllenhaal's character, an obnoxiously blunt series of lectures from Paul Dano's character, and scathing satire of Tilda Swinton's character, while they drag along the virtually voiceless Ahn Seo-yun's character. It is impossible to see how any of these characters could actually mesh in the environment they're presented in, but they are pushed along at rapid-fire speed to accommodate the plot so that we don't have time to dwell on the tonal incoherence. For something as philosophically complex as animal welfare, the genre bending of this movie just goes too far to present any comprehensible and serious information to the dialogue. The central conundrum they present is a genuinely interesting thought experiment: designing a creature that 1) leaves minimal footprint on the environment; 2) consumes less food and forage, producing less excretions, 3) tastes good, and 4) has the capability of ending human hunger. It's a fascinating premise and frankly, a better alternative to the beef, poultry, and pork industries we have now, and yet there is zero debate about the morality of such a system. It is instantly condemned by what amounts to a 'Winnie the Pooh' kind of sentimentality. It's hard to dislike this movie because I agree with a lot of what they have to say and the evil at the core of buzzing along like a drone in society oblivious to the injustices done to animals every day, but it's not a pleasurable or satisfying experience to be talked at or be expected to hate ill-constructed caricatures from the bottom of my heart. I just don't have the capacity to hate what I don't believe could ever be real, and the level of fantasy in this story is just why I can't take 'Okja' seriously.
'The Death of Stalin' is a movie I deeply enjoy rewatching. Its cinematography is gorgeous, the editing rapid-fire and economic, and the long conversation sequences between the main ensemble of bumbling Soviets nothing short of brilliant. There are frequent callbacks to earlier trivialities in the film that make an attentive viewing feel very rewarding, although the movie more than suffices with its audio and sight comedy. The very deliberate blocking and grand, elaborate production design in the government buildings make the movie feel stiff in exactly the right moments, while the awkward shuffling of the Doctor with his scruffy pooch and the men in the forest to get to Svetlana are equally effective at making it all seem ridiculous. I adore the committee scene in which Molotov flip flops between wanting to honor Stalin's will with wanting to honor the power of collective leadership, and there are many moments like this of misguided and absurd political idealism that Iannucci so bluntly bashes. I will say that as an outsider to Soviet history, I get the impression that this story is maybe overindulgent at times. The red screens with official quotes are visually relieving in contrast with the blue color palette of the rest of the movie, but perhaps cement it too much in reality when I feel less that I've gotten a history lesson and more that I've gone to a standup comedy routine— incredibly enjoyable but incredibly personal and dramatized. For the most part though, I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do: satirizes an oppressive regime for unfamiliar audiences to make them curious about the reality of the period after the credits roll and familiar faces become scrawled out photographs buried in history.
Parallel cinematography, reverence of Japanese folklore, an unfortunate series of deaths, and an abundance of feet— the Hungarian baby of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. 'Liza, the Fox-Fairy' is hardly for everyone, but if you do enjoy it, you have to be the special kind of weird that I deeply, deeply empathize with. Karoly has constructed a modern fairy tale that plays with mythology freely and frequently, blending cultures, histories, and styles in this brief but vibrant film. At its core, though, is just a story about a girl looking for freedom: from the devastating curse that kills the men who try to get close to her on the surface, but more so from the manipulative family of the deceased woman she took care of, from the sweet nothings whispered by the ghost of a former heartthrob, and from the crippling sense of insecurity and invalidation that she feels. 'Liza' is a playfully bizarre venture into dreamlike visuals and vulnerable internal desires that are matched by the equally bizarre settings and circumstances that our protagonist's imagination brings her. While the movie itself indulges in fantastical elements, I don't want to write it off as a mere fantasy trip since a very core part of it is about reconciling our fantasies with our given reality. Overindulgence in fantasy means that eventually the luster becomes dull and you have a true dissonance with reality. On the other hand, overly submitting to reality means an acceptance of many of the frankly sterile and corrupted facets of our once vibrant, childlike imaginations and fantasies. 'Liza' feels like a story made for everyone and yet no-one at the same time, which makes it a delightful experience to have and a curious one think back on.
'Shoplifters' is deceptive in an absolutely necessary way. My, and a lot of people's, natural inclination is to trust the media that report the news for us. It is only when I have reason to doubt the given narrative that I do, but for the most part, I don't have the time to investigate each individual report that comes across Channel 5 each night. But obviously, Kore-eda's media hardly reports the truth, but a publicly digestible yet horribly perverted version of it. The family is nothing but loving and caring for each other. Their flaws within the family structure are human and real: desiring a certain kind of father-son relationship; wishing to go back to a time when you were the only child to love; losing the grandma who gives the best advice on staying a dignified young woman when men ogle those who work in her profession; learning to trust when life has taught you by the mere age of 5 that you cannot trust. These are real and absolutely raw portraits of humanity, yet they are inevitably morphed into mug shots by the media. 'Local girl returned from kidnapping murderers to her biological parents' has a certain retributive appeal to it, doesn't it? Our adult characters are morally dubious, sure, but so are the adults in more sanitized positions in society. There is the shopkeeper, who pities Shota and Yuri and merely asks Shota to not make Yuri do the shoplifting herself, and there is Nobuyo's coworker, who sees Yuri with them and blackmails her with leaking that she is a kidnapper. Their intentions are good and bad respectively, with dubious consequences. Nobuyo and Osamu had intentions and consequences of their intentions that fluctuated between good, bad, and dubious, but in the present, what we see of them is a good intention with a positive impact on Yuri. If that isn't a redemption story in the fullest sense of the phrase, then I don't know what is. But such real, tangible redemption stories aren't always perceived and represented as such. We have to ask ourselves: with our good intentions, do we, as individuals and participants in larger systems, always create the best outcome?
'28 Days Later' is among my top five favorite zombie films and one of my favorite horror films. Its premise is frightening enough: London has fallen to frenzying, running zombies. A lot of zombie movies think that, itself, is the greatest horror of the genre, to be overwhelmed by hordes of the undead suddenly and unmercifully. But Boyle shows us that the greatest dread is an inversion of the predator-prey dynamic in a far wider-scope than merely being eaten alive. Empty cityscapes, unsustainable supplies, and man-turned-against-man show the nearly unimaginable reality of man losing its position as the apex predator to another animal. It is lonely and frightening, but succumb to any sentimental version of these emotions and you will die. The London Bridge scene is one of the greatest in cinematic history, creating some of the most dramatic tension I've ever seen that culminates in absolutely nothing, an absolutely existential moment in an otherwise grounded story. Characters offer interesting reflections on the politics after the apocalypse although they, themselves, truly feel more like pawns in the political game Boyle has created than players of the game themselves. '28 Days Later' is an exciting foray into a shell of our world and paved the way for many of the interesting developments in the zombie apocalypse genre that followed it.
I have a similar problem with 'Snowpierer' that I do with 'Okja.' I thoroughly enjoy Bong Joon-ho's technical work and really believe he puts in so much heart and soul into each of the worlds he creates, but 'Snowpiercer' is an example of going in a fundamentally wrong direction with it. Rather than present a verisimilitude of reality, this film feels like a conspiracy of the hyper-wealthy, hyper-desensitized, hyper-hedonistic denizens of the front of the train to torture the denizens of the back-of-the-train. Considering that these are the last known human beings alive on the planet, the system presented in the film seems fundamentally illogical or at least ill-presented. If they are a group of people uniformly concerned with torturing those in the back, so be it, but there is virtually no exposition for this possibility and no substantive reason for why they treat them this way other than 'rich people equal bad.' Similarly, the percentages that Tilda Swinton's and Ed Harris' characters spout are founded on mental gymnastics at best. I will say, the energy of the film is phenomenal and the visuals are a treat, but a director who chooses themes as bold as the ones that Bong Joon-ho chooses make me want more than popcorn fodder and that is all 'Snowpiercer' is to me. I would actually embrace it more if it detached itself from reality rather than hanging on by the thinnest of threads, and it seems a perfect story for more magical realism. But instead, it is obsessed with its political agenda that is impossible to believe and become invested in. The sad thing here is that I strongly desire a discussion of the politics of inequity, but it is a movie like this that is disappointing for how far removed it is from that discussion while claiming the opposite.
I am wary of what I write after watching 'Wittgeinstein.' I haven't read any of Ludwig's work but what this film is is a self-contained, charming, and thought-provoking entrance into his life and body of work. It is a film shot simply and well. No backgrounds mean no excess of visual information, and as much attention as I can muster is given to the dialogue. I find the decision to film a barebones, theatrical production of 'Wittgenstein' quite curious given the dilemma that Wittgenstein himself faces in the film, when deciding whether to profess to the urbane masses or teach in the rural provinces, but I think Jarman makes the most of the medium that he chose. I suppose I can't know otherwise.
Garland's decision to shorten the title from the original Latin phrase "Deus ex Machina," or "God from the machine," should already give you an idea of the philosophical elements at play in this film. 'Ex Machina' is a visually striking, utterly discomforting, modern fusion of Kubrick's technology in "2001: A Space Odyssey" with Shakespeare's paternalism in "The Tempest." Garland makes it clear that he is not interested in explaining the clockwork of A.I, but rather the ethical dilemmas of A.I. If you allow this artistic license, then what you have is a phenomenally tense game of cat-and-mouse that reveals some ugly truths about humanity along the way. Garland is cynical not only in his prognosis for humanity, but in his heavily referential retrospective of humanity. If you are not so open to Garland's artistic license, however, I think '2001' and 'Her' are both a tier above in bridging the gap between film portrayals of A.I. as the Terminator and A.I. as Siri. Either way, 'Ex Machina' is a masterwork in cinematic and literary genius that I highly, highly recommend watching and mulling over when life as it is seems tough.
'The Square' goes in a lot of directions, from the sterilized contemporary art world to the dangerous milieu of poverty, from the sophistication of the urban ballroom to the primitive nature of man in the bedroom, from the outrage over staged abuse of a girl to the neglected neglect of an art curator's own little girls. Humor is juxtaposed with gravitas, the polished with the crude— these are juxtapositions that I thoroughly appreciate personally. My love for the artful techniques of cinema have only come after my love for the simple pleasures of life growing up: playing sports, hanging out with friends, and existing. Ostlund seems to share this sentiment, as he takes the side of the reality of situations rather than the ideal of situations. Christian and Michael blast music and headbang to it as they drive in their cushy luxury sedan to do battle against whatever fiend dare steal his wallet and phone, "sending a message" by inserting warning notes into each tenant's letterbox. They scheme loudly and boldly, but are reduced to feeble individuals when they have to actually do it, in a place where they don't belong since it houses a people they don't respect. Even much later in the film, when Christian videotapes himself apologizing to the family of the boy he harms and rambles into the territory of grand structural flaws in society, it is a self-serving and ego-pumping act that has no purpose: he never delivers it to the family. Ostlund's irreverence for performative activism and empty gestures is refreshing. It is a reminder to envision the bigger picture of the smaller picture of life. Art, sport, business, and other passions we devote ourselves to can use culture as a mechanism to exploit identities of the marginalized when sometimes, we just have to step away from the middleman-media, live the life we have been given, and help others to enjoy the quality of life that we are lucky enough to enjoy. I not only recommend watching 'The Square,' but I also recommend matching the $3 or so you pay to rent the film with a donation to somebody or some organization that genuinely needs it.
'Shaun of the Dead' is a proper good zombie flick. Wright dials the British humor up to eleven in this homage to the zombie apocalypse genre and all of its tropes, creating seemingly as many endearing moments as there are grotesque, oftentimes both at the same time. The 'Don't Stop Me Now' bar scene is easily one of my favorite sequences within the admittedly limited genre of comedic horror.
'Train to Busan' is a really solid zombie movie, one of the best visually. I haven't seen it in a while and while I can't say some of the smaller plot details are particularly memorable, I remember the action being so tightly controlled and delivered to screen in an incredibly impressive way. The train as a vessel for our ensemble of characters just adds to the hight octane energy of the film. It plays with some interesting themes but I don't think takes them far enough to take them seriously because there is too substantial an amount of time devoted to our main characters and becoming invested in their safe escape to largely consider the possibility of a government conspiracy. Sometimes the reason why the zombies are around are better left ambiguous, and while I feel that would be the case here, I also am not as familiar with the South Korean context 'Train to Busan' was produced and released in.