A visual and aural tapestry that elucidates the imbalance in our global world. Far more striking in its social-political undertones than Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi examines the rapid ascent of industrialization in the third-world, using image and sound to exhibit the contention between tradition and modernity through its haunting visual constructions. The transnational promises brought by neoliberalism are viewed with a keen eye, as the film questions the coercive effect of such global movements in which force is wielded for the sake of perceived social progress. As hypnotic and stimulating as one would expect from Godfrey Reggio & Philip Glass yet what perhaps surprised me the most about Powaqqatsi is its polemic denouement - the ending title card an explicit repudiation of these faux promises of modernity and industrialization, illustrating the culling of distinct culture and traditions which takes place under the coercive push towards modernity where social autonomy cannot be embraced.
Tsui Hark's Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind is a film which I somewhat feel ill-equipped to write about, in large part due to my inability to fully grasp the specificity of what it exhibits through a polemic display of disobedience and rebellion. Perhaps one of the most defining works of "Punk cinema", Hark's stark vision of Hong Kong violently expresses the collective angst of its people in constant conflict. Caught between the forces of transnational capital and commerce brought by modernity and colonialism, and that of traditional hegemony in which Hong Kongers struggle to find their own unique identity, Dangers Encounters of the First Kind is a grim, violent descent into collective angst purveyed through youth aggression. Hark deploys a bleak and kinetic style that is very much attuned with the somewhat shapeless narrative, enunciating this sense of angst, despondency, and aggression through a formal structure that largely feels inconsequential from the perspective of the power structures which oversee the colony. Subjugation breeds anger and an eruption of violence, yet for Tsui, there is no escape for this Hong Konger, as despite their rage, they are nothing more but a rat in a cage under the current paradigm of governance in which the tenuous political situation between foreign and local interests rages on but with little promise of a resolution.
An immersive experience, Schrader's hyper-expressive direction evokes the disorienting psyche of Patty Hearst as her world, and everything she knows is turned upside down in a matter of minutes. Confined spaces, contrasting light with darkness, and a general observational approach that is rigorous in its attention to detail, the opening act of Patty Hearst is effectively a masterclass in atmospheric filmmaking. Schrader's film may be classified as a tad reactionary when it comes to his examination of this far-left movement yet how the film uses spatiality, juxtaposing Patty's bourgeois upbringing with that of her revolutionary present, is a beautiful exhibition of the pervasive ways in which privilege itself is detached from ideology. While It seems fair to say this film struggles to maintain the inertia of its opening act, Schrader's film is not so much about politics as it is about a portrait of privilege from a non-pejorative perspective, demonstrating through its narrative schematics a character in Patty Hearst whose never had cognitive autonomy. Whether it be the ideology of the bourgeois persuasion or that of the revolutionary left, Schrader's key focus here is not in politics per se Patty Hearst's lack of identity, in a sense exhibiting how her inability to forge her own perspective has left her susceptible to persuasion on all fronts.
Sophia Coppola's On the Rocks is a breezy but effective work, a film that manages to demonstrate the pervasiveness of self-doubt through a congenial tone that never feels particularly high-stakes. Perhaps this is due in part to the simple fact that the characters it profiles come from a place of elevated status, class, and privilege, but I think such a statement does ignore what the film is capable of accomplishing. The narrative revolves around the plight of an upper-crust Manhattanite who begins to suspect her husband may be cheating on her. While one does find themselves rooting for and caring for this woman, I couldn't help but notice how much On the Rocks perfectly aligns with Apple+'s highly affluent brand aspiration, a film which in a sense feels insignificant due to the state of the world. Buoyed heavily by Bill Murray's infectious performance as a flamboyant elder bachelor and father to our principal character, On the Rocks wields a film grammar rooted in repetition, elucidating the mundanity of domestication for this once proud novelist who now finds herself stuck-in-a-rut, effectively forced into the caregiver role due to the normalization of strict-gender roles in a patriarchal society. The strength of this film lies in this juxtaposition between our principal character and her misogynist father, one which slowly reveals how their relationship bolsters her insecurity and sense of self-doubt and her marital status. His myopic and binary perspective on gender roles infuses his younger daughter with a host of insecurities, blinding, and disrupting the sense of trust she had originally built up with her husband. The film is playful and breezy while touching on some interesting thematic ideas, yet I couldn't help but wonder how much more pointed and effective the film would have been if POV was completely flipped to that of the husband, played by Damon Wayans, a character whom one can implicitly surmise didn't come from money, whose perceived despondence as of late ends up being due to his desire to impress his privileged wife with his company's success, given her successful, upscale family.
Jamaa Fanaka's Emma Rae re-contextualizes the tyranny of the status quo through the lens of the African American experience. It's a tacit repudiation of the normalization of afro- pessimism / despondency while being explicit in its desire for direct community action against an oppressive state apparatus that manufactures division and dissent in the working class through social schisms, which in this case are exemplified via the rural/urban divide. Emma Rae and her narrative arc aren't rooted in martyrdom but are instead emblematic of a society deeply entrenched in systemic racism which suppresses working-class people and their struggle for economic security under the simplistic, deceptive promise of the American dream.
Pure unadulterated genre cinema in all its glory, Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion is deeply stylistic, featuring a film language that is much attuned with the general panache one expects from an exploitation female vengeance story. What is striking, in particular, is how much the film enunciates the pain and dire circumstances of Nami, wallowing in the physical and mental degradation through aural and visual expressivity that is never sensual despite it being largely illustrated through physical punishment. The eventual moment of catharsis - born out of vengeance - is strengthened by the film's illustration of suffering, with Nami's long winded journey for liberation, both materially and metaphysically, being a text that can be read as a straight-forward escapist revenge film or more incisively as a semi-implicit commentary on contemporary Japanese culture. The film's sub-textual examination of the feminine ethos in a male dominated world is rather clear, but the film also says something interesting about institutionalism (the carceral state) and how such large scale institutions can bolster and normalize certain forms of oppression related to non-normative modes of identity and hierarchal status. Hadn't seen this movie in close to 20 years and I'm happy to report it still remains a seminal work of genre filmmaking that titillates with its unadulterated panache while also providing ample space of variant reading related to femininity, punitive justice, and the toxic nature of all normative ideals propped up by majority-driven power structures.
"The balance of nature gets imbalanced sometimes, I suppose it's man's fault". Phil Karlson's The Big Cat is an effective Western melodrama, an ode to the frontier which synthesizes man with nature through a fish-out-of-water motif. Set in the depression era, The Big Cat effectively encapsulates the epoch, one of desperation which is largely caused by man. Through its narrative arch, the film exhibits in many ways how modernity is a facade, a false pretense which detaches man from its place in nature, and through its rugged aesthetic constructions the film elucidates how self-determinism is detached from man-made dichotomies between rural and urban, modernity and tradition. As stark as it is hopeful, The Big Cat adheres to this notion of personal action while fully acknowledging that when it comes to the natural world there is still plenty of which is out of man's control.
One of the more overlooked but essential works of post-handover Hong Kong, Nelson Yu Lik-wai's Love Will Tear Us Apart is a somber portrait of the city purveyed through the experiences of mainland emigrants who arrive in Hong Kong seeking a better life. Immersed in a spatial environment that is both familiar yet foreign, Love Will Tear Us Apart's primary focus is on the diasporic working class populace, detailing over the course of its narrative the impermanence of mythmaking when juxtaposed against individualistic experience and intangible tenets of identity. The operatic lens of this film remains grounded literally and figuratively in the way it exhibits the city of Hong Kong - back alleyways, dingy apartments, and the streets themselves take centerstage, with the steel and glass structures of transnational commerce associated with the cityscape of Hong Kong being largely unseen, regulated to the background, beautifully illustrating the city in a way which it is seen by so many who migrate there. Love Will Tear Us Apart through the course of its narrative is not so much a political film - though one can certainly assert their ideology across its narrative - it is one of survival, with the character themselves all sharing moments of both community and conflict. Against the multinational forces of geopolitics and commerce, Love Will Tear Us Apart reminded me of a quote from Ann Hui when she was asked about her characters, Hui replied "It is about survival, that is all". Love Will Tear Us Apart first-and-foremost, encapsulates that sentiment in the treatment of its characters and their journey across its narrative. Sovereignty is a nationalistic concept - an abstraction, one which ultimately does not congeal with the populace, or the human condition itself
Miranda July's distinct creative impulse is undeniable. With her latest film, Kajillionaire, July attempts to contextualize our increasingly detached world, employing a more normative film language that still accommodates her eccentric sensibilities. Kajillionare finds great utility out of the con-artist archetype, wielding its characteristics centered around deceit and self-preservation to tell an ultimately absurdist but at times affecting portrait of a deeply-fractured young woman whose never experienced the altruistic nature of love. A clever, creative construction, Kajillionaire's attempts at emotional truth don't always land with the intended effect, as I still find that July's penchant for the quirky can obfuscates the film's underlying earnest aims. It's an experience void of exposition and the film's final denouement helps alleviate some of its shortcomings when it comes to emotional impact. A brief moment of intimacy, one of pure personal autonomy, represents a beacon of hope for the film's central protagonist in what the filmmaker perceives as a cold, detached world.
Hui's substantive comedic talent is deployed with pervasive utility in Security Unlimited, one of the films which finds Hui at the peak of his efforts, deploying ingenious comedy constructions to a working-class narrative in which Hong Kongers navigate the evolving spaces brought by transnational capital and commerce. Following the exploits of a security agency and a few of its employees attempting to climb the managerial hierarchy, Security Unlimited deploys comedic set-piece after set-piece to provide a comfortable, escapist facade while sub-textually the film excavates truths related to the underlying struggle of the HK and its diasporic populace. The treatment in Hui's work is almost always relatively light-hearted and absurdist, yet through his portrayal of characters whom almost always feel torn between the colonial condition and their lived-in culture, Hui's films manage to be incisive through far more welcoming sensibilities than other film's attempting any such evocation on Hong Kong. Security Unlimited has a sequence where it touches on the migrant crisis post-Vietnam in a way that feels incredibly attuned to what Ann Hui's Boat People would place much more emphasis on with a more dramatic treatment, yet Security Unlimited still invokes similar sentiments about Hong Kong as a city, one viewed with great admiration by the outsider, whether that be a foreign businessman or migrant escaping authoritarianism and bloodshed. Security Unlimited narratively speaking is a straight-forward comedy of likable losers, and while some of these characterizations and their subsequent antics may rub some viewers the wrong way given their actions are almost always tied to selfish-interest, Hui's film manages to keep them affectionate due to dynamic environment of Hong Kong he invokes, one of consistent disruption and change from a litany of influences foreign and domestic, with the main characters of this story being reactionary to their environment, their primary impulse solely rooted in survival in this unique locality which rests between eastern and western influence.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.