Brian G. Hutton's Where Eagles Dare may be one of the more overlooked entries amongst the panoply of grandiose WWII created out of the studio system in the 60s. Managing to synthesis espionage theatrics with heist film schematics, Where Eagles Dare is a war film intent distorting the perception of the viewer as much as possible, leaving them in a near-constant state of intrigue and borderline quandary as they attempt to navigate and negotiate with what the film presents them. While some may find the film convoluted, I don't think that is quite accurate, as there is an explicit desire by this film to create a sense of confusion. It's embedded into its narrative, and while the screenplay may come off a bit pedantic at times, it feels like a necessary counterbalance to the film's DNA that is firmly rooted in deception. Carefully placed exposition makes sure the audience never falls into a state of apathy, and the film's grandiose scale and simple conceit tie it all together, along with Richard Burton's stoic performance, who manages to keep the audience not quite sure of his intentions for much of the film. Where Eagles Dare's sly narrative deceptions are married with some impressive Hollywood spectacle - the grand wintery vistas and locations exude a sense of scale that makes the whole experience entirely engaging from start to finish despite the film's lengthy runtime. Toughness, stoic resolve, and perseverance - qualities intrinsically linked to masculinity in war films - are simultaneously showcased but also repudiated by the presence of Mary Ure - a blond bombshell who is invaluable to the success of the mission. By weaponizing the male gaze to penetrate the impenetrable German Fortress, Ure's character isn't peripheral to the plotting but a character of action and toughness, similar to the more archetypical male leads. In the end, Where Eagles Dare is an engaging spectacle of old Hollywood studio filmmaking. Along with some wonderful stuntwork that titillates, the film shows a sly understanding of espionage structure, instilling this perpetual state of uncertainty in the viewer from the beginning to end.
Johnnie To's The Big Heat is a bleak, unforgiving police thriller that fits nicely within the specific epoch of Hong Kong cinema where morally ambiguous storylines of cops and criminals are primarily used as allegorical devices to comment on the unfettered greed and its impact on the social and political institutions of Hong Kong. Only To's third feature, and his first cop drama, The Big Heat shows flashes of the masterful stylist the director would become yet Tsui Hark's fingerprints are all over this as well, making the directorial authorship nearly indiscernible. Having such a chaotic rhythm and maximalist approach towards violence - the brutality itself rooted in a desire to live solely in the material world - The Big Heat feels like an instrumentally important text in a sense for To as a filmmaker. It's a film very much in the mode of Tsui Hark's frantic style and brutality, which To himself would deconstruct and re-contextualize throughout his crime sagas into poetic existential texts in which the material world feels in service of something larger. With that in mind, one can't help but wonder just how important this film was for Johnnie To as a director. Narratively speaking the film is feels conventional from today's perspective, yet it features some memorable action set-piece, my favorite being a scene between two agents of the state involved in a shoot-out where To uses red and blue-hues to enunciate the film's subtext related to the blurred lines of legality in an increasingly transnational world.
Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's Beijing Watermelon is a remarkable piece of cinema that manages to craft such a wonderfully tender humanist drama ripe with subtext while managing to never divulge into sentimental drivel, despite a subject matter begging for it. A relatively radical departure from Ōbayashi typical formal panache, Beijing Watermelon is based on real-life events that took place in Tokyo between the patriarch of a family-owned Japanese grocer and a group of Chinese-exchange students, who largely through chance formed a unique and lasting friendship. The trials and tribulations of this fragile relationship - one which is coerced and influenced by transnational inequities and cultural divides - is beautifully rendered by Ōbayashi, who shows a different side of formal rigor, navigating the complexities of human relationships and how they converge and constrict around social-political-economical constructs such as family, nationality, and class, while never losing focus of the intimate core of his story between a few individuals who largely through happenstance form meaningful relationships. There is an ethereal quality to how Ōbayashi navigates this story, as he manages to effectively detail altruistic principles through cinematic means in which day-to-day living and common spaces illustrate our shared existence, despite fabrications such as nation-states. Divisions themselves are cultivated through material conditions, and the way Beijing Watermelon subtly captures this strict social dichotomy between Japan and China, despite their spatial proximity, is one of the more interesting subtexts of the film. In the end, what perhaps makes Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's Beijing Watermelon so revelatory, and arguably my favorite film in his oeuvre, is how it encompasses the great filmmaker's long-running beliefs through a formalism that is far more restrained than many are accustomed to. For Ōbayashi, the importance of cinema is so important due to how it is merely a reflection of life itself. From Beijing Watermelon's meta-turn near its denouement to the film's understated social drama that engulfs most of its running time, Beijing Watermelon reminds viewers that life itself is of the utmost importance, and the grandeur and wonder of life often right in front of us, we just simply have to have the right perspective to truly live a good life.
Doesn't have any formal rhythm and is far too restrictive in its framing given the supernatural sensibilities of its conception. Project Power is an ugly pastiche somewhere between late Tony Scott and Nolan that lacks the former's panache nor the later's precision. Restrictive compositions and choppy editing which are perhaps deployed to hide the shortcomings of the budget also disrupt the film's general flow of its action. What remains is a poor attempt at kineticism that sacrifices coherence in its action sequences. Some of the action set-pieces have potential, as does the general conceit, but Project Power's narrative is dull and its action clunky and disorienting, showing a poor understanding of spacing when it comes to staging its carnage. Largely trash that feels more like an imitation of a movie than an actual movie.
An astonishing melodrama that is masterfully constructed and emotionally affecting, Umetsugu Inoue's The Champion is a beautiful work that stands alongside the very best of Douglas Sirk's oeuvre in its ability to masterfully illustrate emotional depth through visual construction. The tone and texture of this film are simply entrancing. Inoue's acute direction brings the film to life by masterfully deploying blocking and framing that brilliantly elucidate the understated desire and general sense of longing that envelopes this story. Gender normative vocations - boxing and ballet - provide a wonderful juxtaposition. The surface level occupations of Shuntaro and Mari end up being trivial when viewed through the ontological pursuit for acceptance. This provides the perfect thematic backdrop for this smoldering romantic melodrama, one that is highly acute when it comes to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of love and companionship. These characters have different perspectives due to being molded from different environments, their incongruency is a matter of personal desire but they couldn't be more similar from a larger ontological perspective. Whether the rugged, wild Shuntaro; the elegant, ascetic Mari; or Eikichi, who rests at the fulcrum of this story as a man who ultimately sees a version of himself in Shuntaro and Mari, every character is in search of a form of acceptance, from others but also from themselves. Their desire for respect, their budding romantic inclinations, their general confusion about their desires, all stem from a desire for acceptance which has become increasingly difficult in a society where social and personal worth is tethered to economic value. This leaves these characters struggling to contend with the fine line between pride and personal dignity that can be easily conflated or misconstrued under such social-economic levers. A beautifully conceived effective melodrama that is as thematically rich as it is emotionally resonate
Another exquisite film by Hong Sang-soo, Grass aims to capture the symbiosis which exists between a writer's objective reality and that of their fiction, doing so with an acerbic formalism that elegantly exhibits the intertwined nature of these two aspects of our consciousness. Taking place almost entirely at a small cafe and spanning only 66 minutes, the direction employed by Sang-soo is playful yet economic, inviting the viewer into a magical spatiality. Like any of his work, Grass is structurally understated yet its thematic and artistic relevance couldn't be more pronounced. Effective in its exploration of consciousness from the perspective of the creative process, Grass displays how they bleed into one and other, informing each other, with any creative endeavor often drawing from both internal and external forces.
Nomadland is just the latest proof of Zhao's talents as an effective dramatist yet thematically the film is facile, incapable, or unwilling to examine the key political-economic root at the core of its story. The film recognizes the importance of stability to the human psyche yet it largely refuses to acknowledge the systemic factors at play, opting instead to lean heavily into diasporic malaise and the reverberations of grief surrounding the tragedy at the center of its story. These individuals are portrayed as people of action, not reactionary but responsive to things they can't control, and the film's treatment ascribes to them a notion of autonomy, which isn't as transparent in the text as their search for peace. Nomadland outright ignores the political-economic reality, namely the destabilization of the social at the hands of an economic system that subjugates labor under capital interests. It regulates any such assertions to subtext, with the film's text being more a film about overcoming grief, the denouement suggesting that Fran's material circumstances are largely ones under her control, almost as if the film readily admits it doesn't want to explicitly address the social-economic implications of its storyline. Zhao's formal sensibilities exude Heidegger's ontological conception of being - Dasein, with McDormant's central protagonist navigating the paradox of living with others while ultimately being alone in oneself. It's unsurprisingly a strong and affecting performance, and where the film is by far at its best. The elemental world is given weight throughout the film's narrative schematics. The dramatics are juxtaposed with more meditative moments of grandeur, and in these moments Nomadland effectively transcends the material conditions of its principle character reaching a spiritual ethos. A story of grief, despondency, and the search for a sense of being, Chloe Zhao's talents as a dramatist and naturalist filmmaker are undeniable once again with Nomadland. What is pretty alarming though is just how toothless this film is when it comes to excavating the underlying systemic issues, especially when considering how acute the film is emotionally about the impact it has on so many disparate individuals
Explicit in its messaging yet it lacks the bite to be deeply effective, showing an unwillingness to embrace its transgressive potential. Opting instead for quirky, pop formal sensibilities that undermines the film's thematic weight, Promising Young Woman is a well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing critique of patriarchal society. Employs an approach that devalues the importance of its thematic message, at worst feeling almost exploitative about the systemic nature of the issues at large. Promising Young Woman's temperament is too playful for the subject matter, feeling ephemeral in its deconstruction of patriarchy instead of recognizing its persistence that transcends the current moment. Promising Young Woman doesn't deploy discursive strategies around the subjugation of femininity that has been normalized in society. It merely repackages zeitgeist talking points, ultimately feeling like a missed opportunity - stuck between a space largely devoid of any intellectual commentary and one in which its artistic deployment feels off.
Let Them All Talk feels a lot like Soderbergh's Hong-Sangsoo film in that it never feels tethered to any type of finite conclusion, not having the same typical predetermined narrative crescendo, it feels free of any intrinsic constraints to traditional structure. Soderbergh's assured direction is welcoming and warm in the way his film grammar here uses montage and structural repetition. It is precise yet playful, with each characterization being well-written, distinct, and compelling as their own internal struggles are laid bare over the film's duration. The film lulls the viewer in with its sharp dialogue and understated comedy, like a welcoming embrace, only to deliver an understated and incisive commentary on the alienating agents of modernity. Many of the characters themselves are adrift, alone in one sense or another against the larger forces of the world. Much of this struggles of this story stem from a failure of communication and expression, it's a constant negotiation both externally and internally, as each character in one way or another attempts to be truly heard. Consciousness is a negotiation between the past and the present, death itself is truly the only finite conclusion. Until that point, the temporal plane of past moments and present experiences continuously scope our identities, with both our internal and external relationships being in a perpetual state of evolution. A film that is sly and subtle but far from slight.
Having not seen this film in years, I decided to re-visit the much-maligned fourth installment of the Alien Franchise. I remember Alien Resurrection being peculiar for the series and what stood out immediately was just how much Jeunet's sensibilities towards comedic moments of spontaneity don't coalesce with the Alien ethos. These choices make a unique film but they also impede Resurrection's efforts at dread-inducing atmospherics, as the film struggles to find a consistent rhythm when it comes to building a sense of underlying tension. The subtext is of course, interesting - a franchise metaphorically dealing with pregnancy and birth now leaps into the abortion arena. The treatment isn't ideal and borders on silly narratively, but I appreciate Jeunet's brazenness when it comes to pushing the franchise towards its next logical place for subtextual commentary. Overall, a film I've always found interesting, despite its obvious flaws, though this time around I struggled to detach myself as much from the fact that this film's mustard-soaked aesthetic is really ugly.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.