Remarkably cohesive and coherent given the sheer scale of the story. The narrative stakes and players of this historical epic of shifting allegiances, betrayal, and the warring factions manages to unfurl in ways that only heightens the sense of intrigue for a viewer like this white boy who wasn't particularly familiar with the historical text. Not quite like anything I've seen from Mani Ratnam to-date, Ponniyin Selvan sees Ratnam operating between various modes of style. Bringing the grand artifice of the spectacle to life with cinematic techniques rooted in kineticism and vibrancy, Ponniyin Selvan also operates among more naturalist cinematic principles in certain quieter moments, balancing the grand artifice on display with a naturalism rooted in what I can only describe as elemental. To be succinct, this is just better and more entrancing than most bland, texture-less spectacle that is unfortunately so prevalent these days in contemporary cinema.
The type of film that is going to draw ire from a specific type of filmgoer who grounds cinema and storytelling in convention and abstract notions of believability but what Park Chan-Wook has crafted with Decision to Leave is a deliriously pulpy noir that finds great utility out of the femme fatale archetype to deliver a wonderfully irreverent tale of unbridled desire and the doomed fate of those who succumb to it. Decision to Leave isn't needlessly convoluted, it is designed that way. An affront to asceticism in both formal arrangement and thematic resolve, Park Chan-Wook's aims to disrupt spatial reality and narrative clarity, bringing an acute directorial vision to this story. Exhibiting the intoxicating and disorientating effects desire can place on our cognitive processes of logic and reason, Park Chan-Wook's formal designs are rooted in disrupting physical space and temporal order, intertwining material settings with emotional impulses in a way that wonderfully builds an atmosphere in which cognitive control is subjugated by emotion. Does it completely work on a narrative level? Well, that depends on how willing you are to embrace this Hitchcockian tale of increasingly absurdest decision-making by the two central protagonists. It's a wonderful fantasy but also a rejection of orthodoxal ideas of what actions and decisions are "reasonable" "normal", or "pragmatic", Through its impressive formal style which aims to create unease and disorientation, Decision To Leave embraces the notion that primal impulses such as desire untethered from ethical constructions can disrupt logic or reason. In this scenario, nothing feels unrealistic or unbelievable, and these two characters resting at the fulcrum of this story are merely pawns for this irreverent, twisted tale of doom and desire.
Tony Buba's Lighting Over Braddock truly deserves a larger audience. Wonderfully interweaves true ground-up independent cinema and its intrinsic contention between art and commerce with the plight of the working class, exhibiting the collective anxiety of a community eroding at the hands of transnational capitalism. Self-reflexive and self-effacing, Braddock utilizes a diary-like formal structure to explore the pernicious deceptions of the American Dream. It is truly miraculous how Lighting Over Braddock manages to be so playful, inventive, and light-hearted in approach while never diminishing or devaluing the severity of the situation. Manages to be irreverent in the way its fantastical elements reveal the deceptions of the American dream while simultaneously offering an observed document of a deteriorating community, Lighting Over Braddock's specificity to Buba's own social arena becomes a universal rally cry against an America in which economic imperialism supplants social stability. Buba understands that authenticity within social documentation lies in part with the willful acknowledgment of artifice. He embraces artifice through this meta-textual fantasy, weaponizing with an eye toward communal construction that places paramount importance on platforming various members of the community and making them a part of the creative process. By infusing his own story with that of the community, Lighting over Braddock manages to be deeply affecting and therapeutic. It is a willful acknowledgment and rejection of communal decay under profit-driven enterprise. Lightning Over Braddock is my first foray into Tony Buba's work and it certainly won't be my last.
The sorcerers from Twin Peaks you say? This has got to be one of the more audacious spectacles I've seen in a minute. Really doesn't spend too much time establishing the world, opting instead to just immerse the audience in this gonzo sci-fi fantasy epic that oscillates between segments set in contemporary Korea and the 14th Century. Frankly, it's impressive how coherent this narrative ends up being while keeping the audience completely torn between consistent intrigue and titillating spectacle. I particularly enjoyed the sequences set in past where wonderfully inventive action sequences and silly comedic bits reminded me of Kung Fu Hustle. The world and circumstance that Alienoid establishes is ripe for further exploration. The basic schematics and expectations are established yet Alienoid's grandiose nature makes this film nimble, with expansion of the world and stakes free to go in a myriad of thematic and/or narrative directions. Will watch the sequel.
An intriguing time-capsule of a specific time and place in New York City, Saturday Night at the Baths is a social conscious relationship drama that aims to deconstruct heteronormativity and the pervasive ways it informs the social parameters of acceptability when it comes to idealized masculinity in our culture. Less explicit than I was expecting in its exhibition of sexuality, Saturday Night at the Baths in a sense feels muted by design in what feels like a calculated decision in order to garner access to a greater audience and more importantly appeal to the predominate social apparatus that defines collective culture - the white, middle-class. Solely lives in a middle-class milieu, Saturday Night at the Baths ostensibly believes that any meaningful change to social status and acceptance of homosexuality much be through the adoption of the middle class. It is quite fun and subversive in how it illustrates how we as a culture place strictures on something as fluid as sexuality, Has some afterschool special vibes, but given the film's approach is a more sensual and wholesome approach to homosexuality than other films of its era, and in a certain sense it feels radical in this decision. There is one scene about two-thirds of the way through the film involving a friendly amateur football game played in the park. It's a competitive display of a game most associated with orthodox ideals of masculinity, and Saturday Night at the Baths utilitzes this association to create one of the film's most entertaining and memorable sequences that had me hooting and hollering
Michelangelo Frammartino's Il Buco is the film so far this year that I'm kicking myself the most for not seeing on the big screen. A stunning work of art, Il Buco wholly embraces a dichotomous way of exhibiting the world. The majesty and wonderment of the elemental purveyed through dichotomous imagery - darkness and light, expanse and intimacy, clarity and opacity - Il Buco bifurcates the images it presents through a rigorous formal arrangement and in doing so the clarity of vision is acutely rendered. Pictorial form ascribes itself to narrative storytelling achieving a richer sense of lucidity. The substance of what we are being shown and that of which we are not seeing coalesce into a nearly transcendental experience. The labyrinthine nature of this specific environment is deeply immersive, and while I didn't find anything about this thematically to be all that distinct or compelling, Il Buco remains a stunning formal and aesthetic achievement, a film which one experiences as much as they observe or analyze and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Miwa Nishikawa's graceful direction serves this redemption story well. An incisive, well-measured examination of rehabilitation that fully recognizes the complexity of assimilation from the carceral social apparatus back into open society. Never overtly saccharine, Under the Open Sky wisely purveys the ex-con re-assimilation into society detached from negative or positive associations of legality. It goes beyond such social constructions into a more sociological approach, displaying how violence and aggression repel meaningful social formations regardless of legality, and how our social natures as human beings are far more rooted in cooperation than antagonization. The anarchic nature of day-to-day life is beautifully rendered, and how polite society's expectations while less structured in many ways, can be overbearing and extremely grating on those who come from the strictly regimented, authoritarian nature of organized crime. Managing to never feel didactic due to this assured, more existential approach to a familiar conceptional motif, Nishikawa's graceful direction is beautifully balanced by Koji Yakusho's layered performance that permeates with pathos, frustration, and aggression. Probably the weakest effort of Nishikawa's oeuvre I've seen to date but Under the Open Sky reaffirms how wonderful Nishikawa is as a purveyor of human emotion, often interrogating drama and social exchange through a lens that looks beyond merely the material or socially constructed directives of living, always reaching towards an existential means of understanding with not a shred of hubris.
Love how this film is anchored by current events but not only specific to one moment. Beautifully observed and formally experimental, Chan Tze-Woon understands first and foremost the cyclical nature of rebellion and repression and the deep-seated tragedy of being in a perpetual state of collective anxiety. The once proud dreams of the elders slowly decay with time; this nightmare - an uncertain future and lack of sovereignty for Hong Kong - is passed down to the next generation to fight this abstraction (the state). Blue Island is well conceptualized, it's pointed but also honest enough with itself to recognize that on absolute to this story is continuous uncertainty. Permeating with pathos, Blue Island is brave enough to recognize that there merely is no end and sight, there is no resolution, but only a continuous, cyclical struggle that may never end for Hong Kongers, their collective identity, and their sovereignty.
The primitive man juxtaposed against the modern man. Masculinity's impulse towards conquest has not evolved it has just been re-contextualized in modernity. Shinji Sômai's Luminous Woman may align with heteronormative expectations of romance, yet the way it purveys the commodification of feminity and its exploitation in modern times through a fascinating prism that contrasts modern gender relations in a patriarchal society with the purely corporeal hierarchy of primitivity is truly fascinating. It could be argued that A Luminous Woman is narratively speaking one of Sômai's more disheveled features but it is also one of his most aesthetically brilliant efforts, and I found this to be thematically enthralling. A film in which Sômai seems intrigued at interrogating the parallels between the natural, primitive world and the manufactured realities of today brought by technological progress, both of which still perfectly align with patriarchal ideals of gender. Luminous Woman ultimately aligns with the more pure nature of the elemental world, one in which a simpler more primitive way of life is away from technology. Women are viewed as objects within any patriarchal framework, and in a sense what Somai suggests is the abstractions of modernity brought by technology and capitalism only exacerbate the exploitation, as it becomes more insidious being not only driven by physical impulse but financial incentivization. I'd be lying if I said I was sure my interpretation is an accurate reading of this film, but I think Luminous Woman is sold short by others on what it's doing beneath the surface of its peculiar love story. What I'm more bullish on is saying that Luminous Woman is Somai's most lavish work I've seen to date, a rapturously expressive piece of cinema that had me constantly in awe. The camera movements, blocking, and framing deployed here by Somai are simply stunning, and from a visual perspective alone I'd consider this thing a near masterpiece. There is a sequence in this film in which two women at the center of a budding love triangle converse over the phone. A simple sequence on paper, but the way Somai constructs it is absolutely god-tier, giving a simple conversation between two women the weight and feeling of existential importance. An immersive, invigorating love story that is simply put, a five-course meal for your eyeballs!!!
The opening sequence of Tiger Cage is one of Yuen Woo-ping's greatest feats as a director. A prolonged opening chase sequence featuring kinetic action, exhilarating fight choreography, and breathtaking stunt work. The action is as clean and visceral as one would expect, but how Woo-ping uses space beyond merely staging wonderful fight sequences is what stood out for me. The schematics of the urban arena designed for the flow of bodies are accentuated. Staircases, urban walkways, and rooftops are all agile ways in which these characters traverse the urban arena. Bodies flow from space to space, and the general formal style and cinematic grammar reach toward a familiar feeling of urban abstraction. From this exhilarating opening sequence of gunplay and fluid fight choreography, the film slows down a bit, taking on a gritty police procedural framework that retains a mean streak from start to finish. Tiger Cage is one of those Hong Kong films in which one realizes quickly the heroes of this story are not beyond approach. Many of the good guys will die at the hands of the bad guys. Corruption exposes how the moral code of an individual always supersedes socially constructed codes of behavior like legality, and Tiger Cage provides an exhilarating tableau of alternating allegiances. A violent corrupt cop crime story that leans into the macabre and brutality, Tiger Cage is cynical but I wouldn't call it outright nihilistic, in the denouement good triumphs and morality and legal justice align and prevail.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.