Rinku Kalsy's For The Love Of Man is an eye-opening look into the extreme fandom towards Rajinkianth, one of India's largest movie stars. You think Marvel fanboys are intrusive? Not even close to this type of hero worship, as fans in India have put this former bus driver turned star on such a pedestal that he might as well be a god. For The Love Of Man is a fascinating documentary that examines hero worship, looking behind the sheer insanity of this form of dedication and attempting to understand the roots of this type of worship. With more than 150,000 fan clubs dedicated to Rajinkanth he is essentially a god in India, and For The Love Of Man attempts to understand this type of worship by profiling a few of his most ardent fans. For The Love Of Man isn't a biography, it is something much more, examining how a movie star's role have shaped political movement in India. Being an actor whose roles were often rooted in blue-collar, low-end jobs, Rajinkanth is a character that the lower class of India instantly identified, and For the Love of Man traces how this actor has become a symbol for the oppressed, poverty-stricken individuals, someone who they all look up to, and praise like a god. For the Love of Man is an eye-opening experience due the extreme fandom alone, but where the film excels is in its ability to capture how the cultural ethos of India created such hero worship. A country with one of the worst economic disparity between the rich and the poor, For the Love Of Man paints a convincing portrait of how this actor provides a sense of hope to many lower-class individuals, who project their own struggles and flaws onto this actor. Many of the fans this film documents believe Rajinkanth is the answer to their problems, blindly believing he can provide the answer to their problems. For The Love Of Man is uncomfortable in this way, as it becomes clear that this actor provides a false sense of hope to these individuals, a distraction to the masses who focus on this type of hero worship instead of focusing the true politics and problems facing their country. A film which examines the socio-economical impact of one of India's biggest stars, For the Love Of Man is a film that captures the true potency of cinema, the heroes it creates, and responsibility it bestows on a man in Rajinkanth who is looked at like a god.
Naomi Kawase's Sweet Bean is a simple story that feels slight at first, but as the film unfolds under the skilled direction of Naomi Kawase, Sweet Bean reveals itself as a beautifully understated study of hope, perseverance, and the importance of making the most out of the time one has in life. The story is centered around the manager of a pancake stall, a lonely man who has absolutely no passion for his craft, working there due to being indebted to the owner because of his past mistakes. One day the man is confronted by Tokue, an eccentric, yet sweet 74-year old woman who is looking for work. Reluctant to hire the elderly woman at first, the manager has a change of heart after tasting Tokue's homemade red bean paste, which she claims comes from her communion with nature. The two of them slowly form an unlikely friendship, which becomes threatened with the discovery that Tokue has been suffering from Leprosy. Sweet Bean is the type of film that could easily have been overly sentimental hogwash, but what Naomi Kawase has crafted is a borderline existential drama that truly captures the importance of optimism and not settling in life. Beautifully performed by Kirin Kiki, Tokue is a character who has been through a lot of pain in her life, and yet she remains incredibly optimistic, a character who provides warmth to everyone around her despite her internal struggles with her health. The relationship between these two characters is tender and nuanced, and while Tokue provides the manager with the strength to rediscover his own passion and personal path to happiness, the manager provides Tokue a place where she feels wanted, being able to serve her red bean paste and interact with others. This is particularly important given Tokue's leprosy, being a character who has essentially been isolated her enire life, living in the secluded leprosy community on the outskirts of town. Through this character, Sweet Bean almost feels like an ode to those effected by the leprosy outbreak in Japan, touching on the mistreatment they experienced by the Japanese people due to fear, with Tokue somehow still maintaining her optimism. Sweet Bean isn't flashy or particularly stylistic, but it's a beautifully photographed film that uses sunlight to perfection, evoking the sense of optimism felt by Tokue, a woman who claims to find happiness through her communion with nature. A story that could have easily been overly sentimental, Naomi Kawase's Sweet Bean is an elegant story of the tender relationship between two unlikely people, being a powerful portrait of the importance of optimism, hope, and companionship.
Mike Flanagan's Hush is a tense, twisted, no-nonsense type of horror movie which excels because of its understanding of the genre. A unique spin on the 'home invasion" sub-genre of Horror, Hush focuses on Maddie Young, an author who lives by herself in utter isolation by conventional standards, in a small home in a secluded area of the woods. Maddie is a character who lost her hearing as a teenager, and while Hush never directly states it, one gets the impression that this is the primary reason which Maggie now lives alone, away from her sister and parents. One night, Maggie's world of seclusion is horrifyingly shattered, when a psychotic masked killer appears at her doorstep, wanting nothing more than to watch Maggie suffer and die. Mike Flanagan's Hush is truly a cat and mouse type horror film, which finds a rather memorable psychopathic male underestimating his potential prey. Female empowerment is a major staple of the horror genre, and Hush is a film that embraces this ideal, providing a lean, breathless narrative about a woman in Maggie who is forced to fight for her life. Hush of course takes this theme one step further due to the fact that Maggie is both deaf and mute, creating a characterization of attributes which tend to be underestimated and viewed as weak in society. The filmmakers truly understood the uniqueness of a film like Hush, providing what I can only imagine is an accurate portrayal of suffering from complete hearing loss. With this, the sound design and screenplay become the best attributes of Hush, creating what feels like a very unique horror experience, regardless of how much the over-arching home invasion subgenre is played out. Mike Flanagan has always respected the horror audience and Hush is no different, never treating the audience like they are idiots or going overboard on exposition, letting its craft tell the story. For example, I like how the film never states it, but it is pretty obvious that our main antagonist is a serial killer of women, with the marks on the crossbow and the general exposition of his demeanor making it clear that he specifically like to targets the female gender. The fact that Maggie is deft just making him more aroused, for lack of a better word, as she is viewed as even more hopeless by the psychotic killer. In fact, in one scene towards the end of the film he even quips "I think you are holding out on me, I bet I can make you scream", a chilling sense of acknowledgement by the filmmakers to what really amounts to a major staple of the Horror/Slasher genre, a character who wants to destroy women. Mike Flanagan's Hush is a violent, breathless, engaging horror film experience that provides a nice twist on the rather tired subgenre of "home invasion".
Wim Wenders' The American Friend is a well-crafted thriller that transcends its narrative lynchpins, delivering a powerful morality tale about desperation, good, and evil. Centered around Jonathan, a craftsman who specializes in framework, The American Tale is a story centered in deception, which finds this genuinely honest, well-intentioned man fall into a darkness, consumed by a world of murder and deceit. Jonathan is a character who is under the impression that he is dying from a rare blood disease, struggling to grasp the idea that he may soon die. When Ripley, a displaced American cowboy who deals in art forgery among other things, learns of Jonathan's illness he uses its to his own advantage, introducing Jonathan to Minot, a Paris gangster. Minot has a proposal for Jonathan- become a professional hitman and in return Minot promises a large legacy for Jonathan's wife and young child. With death on the horizon, Jonathan accepts Minot's proposal, but he soon realizes getting out of this world isn't as easy as it is to get in. The American Friend is a engaging story with a very strong understanding of its characters, with Jonathan's plight being a irony soaked tragedy. Bruno Ganz is such a revelation in this film, delivering a quietly devastating performance that is truly a masterclass in nuanced acting. A character who believes he is dying, Jonathan is a man who is suffering on an existential level, with The American Friend examining his deteriorating morality as this character's desperation increases. While Jonathan throws his own morality out the window for the sake of his family, the great irony of The American Friend is that the deeper Jonathan becomes ingrained into the world of Ripley and Minot, the more distant he becomes from his wife and child. He is a character who essential transforms over the course of the film, with Wender's displaying how this dark world, the burden it places on this originally well-intenioned man, essentially destroys him in the end. The film is very well made, with a few train sequences where Jonathan carries Minot's wishes being stand outs, as Wender's delivers a brooding tension that evokes the anxiety and internal conflict of Jonathan as he wrestles with his own morality. Wim Wender's The American Friend certainly works as an engrossing thriller, but what makes it such an interesting film is how little interest the filmmaker actually shows in details of the shady dealings of Ripley and Minot, never particulary interested in defining/explaining Ripley as a character, focusing much more on how darkness slowly pierces and eventually destroys Jonathan.
IIya Naishuller's Hardcore Henry is a film that is best described as an amusement park ride, an unapologetic, ultra-violent action film told entirely from the first-person point of view of Henry. The story itself centered around Henry, a character who awakens in a medical facility with no knowledge or memory of how he got there. Resurrected from the dead, Henry is half man, half machine, and from there the proverbial shit hits the fan, as Henry is thrown into a world of chaos, fighting through an army of mercenaries led by the diabolical Akan, a powerful warlord who plans to breed more bio-engineered soldiers for the sake of world domination. In this film, the viewer sees everything directly through the eyes of Henry, as the filmmakers deliver up a chaotic action experience that is certainly unique, but ultimately lacking in the screenplay and story departments. From the grotesque credit sequence, where slow motion acts of violence are played over the title credits, Hardcore Henry makes its affinity for extreme violence very clear, managing to bring a surprisingly playful tone to its violent debauchery. Hardcore Henry could be described as a first person shooter style videogame but I prefer the amusement park ride analogy, as the film provides very little exposition, story, or substance, with the filmmakers intentions solely set on delivering an exhilarating experience. One cannot deny that what the filmmakers have created with Hardcore Henry is a truly unique cinematic experience, but I'd argue that first-person perspective does grow quite tiresome, being far too abrasive to the viewer at times, making it hard to follow the action choreography, which is definitely one of the film's best attributes. For fans of action, Hardcore Henry demands to be seen on the largest theater screen possible just for the visceral quality of the filmmaking, which features some of the best action choreography and stunt work I've seen in awhile. Hardcore Henry is playful, very violent, and surprisingly funny, due largely to another scene stealing performance by Sharlto Copley as Henry's mysterious contact who wants to help him. It is big, dumb, and silly, but in the end Hardcore Henry is a film that I have a hard time judging too harshly due to the filmmakers attempt to do something different.
Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some is a film that works on multiple levels, being both a highly-entertaining, funny comedy about a group of college baseball players trying to get laid, as well as a quietly profound examination of societies desire to strip away individualism through categorization, often via stereotypes or social cliches. Everybody Wants Some focuses on a group of college baseball players, who have much success on and off the diamond, navigating college life as they experience the freedoms and responsibilities of being truly an adult for the first time. Through the eyes of Jake, a new freshman pitcher, Everybody Wants Some captures the relative freedom of college and how this lack of parental authority truly provides the first sense of freedom/independence, suggesting that it's a crucial step in self-discovery about oneself and what one wants to do with their life. For starters, Everybody Wants Some features a fantastic screenplay full of wit and charm, inviting the viewer into the world of these baseball players and providing lots of laugh due to their juvenile antics. Many of these characters could be described in a derogatory sense as "Bros", but Linklater shows very little judgement throughout the entire narrative, laughing with these characters and their college experience instead of looking to judge them. Featuring a cast of relative unknowns, Everybody Wants Some works so well as a college comedy due to the chemistry between its characters, who are all very believable in their roles as various baseball players living under one roof. While much of the film's antics are focused on a group of baseball players trying to get laid and typical college debauchery, Linklater's film quietly reveals the cliches and stereotypes which exist in our society while simultaneously exposing the shallowness of these preconceived notions. Throughout this narrative these jock baseball players go to a Disco club, a Country bar, a Punk Rock Show, and a Performing Arts party, all places in which society says they shouldn't enjoy. While Linklater certainly acknowledges the fish-out-of-water perspective of his characters, they all remain true to who they are as individuals, for the most part, while still having a good time regardless of whether it's not their typical "scene". While some may this observation to be a bit of a stretch, I believe this deconstruction of cliches and stereotypes is simply part of Linklater's greater point about college in Everybody Wants Some, suggesting that this is the first time in most people's lives they are truly free of authority, with the filmmaking suggesting it's a necessary and important step in self-discovery and finding ones' own passion in life. Whether you are an athlete or an arts major, Everybody Wants Some loudly suggests that there is no difference deep down, with what oneself finds self-satisfaction and self-meaning in being far more important than anyone elses' pre-conceived notions about what is important.
Delivering what feels like a poor-man Ken Russell's attempt at deconstructing capitalism and class, Ben Wheatley's High-Rise is the filmmakers most ambitious and manic film to date, the type of film which I admire and appreciate more than I actually like it. The film is centered around Dr. Robert Laing, the newest resident of the brand new, luxurious apartment located in a state-of-the-art tower. Laing's apartment is relatively high up the tower, placing him among the upper class members of the complex. Early on, what first stands out about Ben Wheatley's High-Rise is the tone, having an otherworldly feel as our main protagonist familiarizes himself with the tower and its eccentric inhabitants. During this phase of the film, the building begins to suffer from power outrages, growing in frequency as Laing acclimates himself. I would actually argue that this is one of my favorite aspects of the film, as Laing's attempted acclamation fuels Wheatley's commentary on conformity and the desire society has for assimilation which is captured through the effective and stylistic storytelling. Laing is a character who is single and it becomes apparent relatively early on that he may be the only single person in the whole building. There are families, couples in fights, and single mothers, but no person who is literally alone in the apartment by themselves. It's subtle, but Laing is almost a complete outcast early on in the film, a single, wealthy, but not wealthy enough character who is stuck between the upper and lower class. While the upper and lower classes co-exist, they live in their separate areas of the building. Unfortunately that all changes when the power goes out for good, turning the tower into a breeding ground for a literal class warfare. When the comforts of society are stripped away from these individuals their tribal nature takes over, and that is when this film reminded me of a poor-man's Ken Russell film, becoming induced mayhem that's sure to shock and awe some viewers with its outrageous, manic style. While the film is certainly interesting, I'd be reminisced if I didn't point out that I thought the pacing slowed down too much in the back half, with superfluous scenes that didn't serve much of a purpose besides attempted titillation. The film becomes borderline tedious, with very little emotional resonance to grab onto, relying far too heavily on its not-so-subtle allegory about Thatcher's England and capitalism as a whole. Ben Wheatley's High-Rise is intellectually ambitious but I'd argue its ideals about capitalism and class struggle lack nuance and subtlety, and while the film may shock it never exhilarates, making it a film that doesn't intellectually stimulate as much as it should.
Lamberto Sanfelice's Cloro is a solid coming of age story that relies heavily on the fully developed characterization of its main protagonist, Jenny, to tell it's tale of sacrifice, and ultimately what it truly means to be responsible. Seventeen, Jenny dreams of becoming a synchronized swimmer, but she quickly finds her adolescence shattered with the sudden death of her mother. With her father becoming practically comatose due to the deep-seeded depression, and a nine year old brother to take care of, Jenny's life is completely uprooted, as she is forced to move to the desolate mountain village near her uncle. One of the first things that jumped out to me about Chlorine is how Jenny is a character who is weighted down, reluctant to accept the unfairness of life. While many coming of age stories tend to gloss over this form of reluctancy, Chlorine embraces it in it's characterization of Jenny, a character who has essentially been stripped away from her passion by conditions out of her control. Jenny is a character who simply cannot accept the unfairness of life at first, and the film is empathetic to that notion, documenting this visually in a powerful way. The setting of Chlorine is desolate, creating a sense of isolation and solitude, with every empty parking lot and desolate field evoking the feelings felt by Jenny as she feels all alone. Another small fascinating detail is the utter lack of background characters or extras in the entire film, a small but brilliant decision that evokes this me against the world, isolated perspective of Jenny's character. It is only through the relationship Jenny forms with a foreign man, who is an outsider himself, that she begins to see that her story isn't unique, which in turn leads to Jenny's awakening of sorts. In the end, its merely the opportunity to return home and resume her synchronized swimming that triggers Jenny's "coming of age" to the audience, as she begins to have doubts due to the feelings of responsibility towards her brother and family. Coming of age stories have become a dime a dozen in contemporary independent cinema, and while Chlorine may not be exceptional, it's a solid story of a young girl coming to terms of what responsibility means, and the importance of family over self.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.