Obayashi's inventiveness, tactical absurdity, and ingenuity of the cinematic medium have perhaps never been better utilized in Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast. Condemnation of War, Imperialism, and Nationalism told through a framework in which the bloodshed and desolation of such conflict exists almost entirely in the periphery. Violence itself is never exhibited on screen yet it perniciously affects everyone and everything it touches. Within such silly abstractions as nationalism, either you live in ignorance or you are psychotic under an authority structure such as imperialist Japan. The youth never stood a chance amongst such a fervent milieu but Obayashi still sees hope and unbridled humanism in the innocence of youth. Dreams and nightmares intertwined in another rich visual tapestry by the master filmmaker.
Jun Ichikawa's Tsugumi is such an elegant portrait of a troubled soul. Ichikawa's graceful cinematic language quakes with quiet understanding - an existential and elemental experience about the nature of self and how internal turmoil is in intrinsic contention with social harmony. Deftly navigating what it means to live, Tsugumi is a story of continuous micro-conflicts, featuring a central protagonist whose illness as hardened her from an early age, a character who chooses the ego over altruism as a coping mechanism to make sense of unjust circumstances that make up her reality. A coming-of-age archetypical story but so much more, Ichikawa's exquisite direction excavates the realities of sociality with a gaze rooted in existentialism. Drawing parallels between the harmonious waves of the ocean and sociality intrinsic to human beings, Ichikawa deploys a recurring visual motif of the sea as a figurative device. The lesson our main protagonist through her journey must come to learn is quite simple - Humans are not above nature, and our individualism while essential to self is rooted in contention with the social order. The polycentric nature of the social world will never ultimately serve all one's internal desires, but social harmony is what we as creatures ultimately strive for - a communal sense of understanding that frees us from the intrinsic horror of our own mortality and towards a path of acceptance and ultimately peace.
ACAB unless you are Harrison Ford. In a certain sense, this truly is a great pacifist work of cinema and one that is particularly rare in American cinema. While the finale has some bombast, ultimately the denouement is a plea for sensibility in the face of violence, selfishness, and greed, and in this respect, Weir even suggests there is something to be learned from a more traditional way of living, free from the chaos and competitive mindset embedded into modern life. I still love how authentic this film aims to be in its exhibition of Amish culture. Weir makes every attempt to not show judgment, viewing this distinct subculture with respect and a sense of understanding which shouldn't be all that surprising when considering his treatment of the aborigines of Australia in The Last Wave or the indigenous in Mosquito Coast. Weir has always been interested in this contention, and it's prevalent throughout almost his entire oeuvre, whether it is a tactile critique of colonialism or just a film that aims to exhibit the hubris of modernity. For my money, this likely is Ford's greatest performance.
Familiar territory for sure and unfortunately still very timely and relevant today (sigh), but I love how this film employs soft focus and 4:3 framing to accentuate the interiority of this character. An intense, increasingly claustrophobic experience, the social alienation escalates as it narratively progresses in a way that truly invokes the intensity and horror of this situation. Astutely understands the internal turmoil of such a situation, and is very effective at elucidating the emotional strife and weight on such an individual who trapped on all fronts by the legal and social standards subvert any true notions of female autonomy. Well-crafted and structurally pointed to pronounce the temporal scarcity of such a situation with added vigor, Happening is intense, gripping, and infuriating as one would expect that unfortunately feels not issues of a bygone era but an ongoing struggle for equality and personal autonomy.
Get Love or Die Trying
The power of love, an existential force beyond material strictures is beautifully conveyed in Soi Cheang's Love Battlefield, a singular vision that conscripts the brutality and grit of a Hong Kong crime story to ultimately deliver a deeply poignant rumination on existential love. Beginning with a fragmented formal style that details the up-and-down relationship of our two main characters, Love Battlefield's opening is a kinetic, kaleidoscope of a relationship that is disorienting but ultimately transcendent when one begins to see exactly what Soi Cheang is building towards. After this messy but emotive opening, Love Battlefield settles into a more logic-based cinematic language of the crime drama. Incited by the loss of property (a car), this event threatens to sever this couple's relationship forever after tensions boil over and the break-up, despite this being something that fundamentally neither of them can control. It turns out a gang of criminals are the ones responsible for the theft and when the male protagonist rediscovers his lost property he is kidnapped. This sets off a rather traditional HK crime story but one that aches with existential notions of love and connection that transcend social constructions of legality. The shift in cinematic language only pronounces disparity between logic and emotion, and the juxtaposition between our protagonist couple and the criminal couple resting at the fulcrum of this story gives this film a downright existential or dare I say mythical layer. Narratively speaking, they are in conflict due to their material circumstances, but ultimately they can be seen in a similar light. In the end, both couples are agents of emotion who sacrifice their physical auras for a feeling, a connection, that is not quantifiable - the intangible power of love. Substantive concerns of even mortality fall by the wayside in the end, and what Love Battlefield manages with such existential weight is to capture a rather simple concept - Any meaningful relationship will intrinsically have conflict and contention, but when threatened with more substantive concerns petty contentions wither as a major component intrinsic to love is sacrifice. The almost unintelligible opening section ultimately comes into focus. Love isn't structured like the logic of narrative storytelling, it's a cataclysm of disparate emotions that ultimately become congruent through sacrifice and understanding. Imbued with existential notions of love, fate, and connection, Love Battlefield is such a unique vision and I'm frankly enamored with just how emotionally affecting this tale inevitably ends up being.
Looks cheap at times - a symptom of the streaming era in which the aesthetic has no texture and the digital sheen is borderline oppressive to the cinematic experience. With that in mind, Văn Kiệt's The Princess is a conceptually slight, tight little bit of action cinema that's whole structure is built around point A to point B violence which is effectively an inversion of 'The Raid'. Similar to Văn Kiệt's Furie, The Princess brings a nice sense of physicality to its fight choreography. There is a consistent emphasis on coherence, and the action set-pieces refrain from too much cutting, relying more on camera movement to fuel its kineticism. It's a solid piece of action cinema built around a fantasy film framework, and while I continue to appreciate how economic Văn Kiệt's direction is, The Princess falls rather flat emotionally and thematically. For the love of God, give Veronica Ngo more roles in Hollywood.
Such a deliciously subversive treat. Love how this sucka unfurls and escalates - it's such a rich tapestry for affect, impulse, and trauma, and I could not look away. Rich subtext here about the corrosive effects of Christian orthodoxy and how it asserts oppressive ideals of patriarchy onto femininity. Love how Roemer took what basically could be described as a PSA about mental illness and spins a diabolically delightful but also biting critique of America's prescribed ideals of gender roles constructed by Christian ideals of the nuclear family and the widespread effects it can place on the feminine psyche. All the performances are really stellar, with Trish Van Devere in particularly giving such a wondrously unhinged performance. Roemer really directs the hell out of this and the best way I can think to describe it is some perverse mix of Persona meets Mommie Dearest lol
Taormina clearly one of the more exciting artists in contemporary American cinema to come along in some time. The spatiality of suburbia, the intrinsic seclusion, and the inevitable alienation it fosters are astutely rendered throughout this immersive, evocative work that ultimately captures how we as social beings require interaction and engagement. Imbued with a rich, albeit understated pathos, Happer's Comet was a film made during the height of Covid that doesn't feel specific only to that moment but one that reaches for something much more expansive and incisive about modern life. Through its observational lens, Taormina unveils the collective anxiety of modern American life, eliciting a lingering unease about contemporary culture, and the quiet rot inflicted on all of us as we attempt to find meaning or resolution from the emptiness of our consumer culture where material excess provides little reprieve from existential longing. Suburban American iconography - vast yards, large homes, etc - invokes a sense of opulence, one that is cold and empty when juxtaposed with the stillness and longing showcased by the subjects observed in this story. Gives off such a distinct atmosphere, and one that perhaps captures the malaise many of us are feeling in which there is little recourse due to a world rooted not in empathy but efficiency.
Mini Cassette Tapes maybe not as cool as microfilm but alas, Topology of Sirens is an astounding debut feature. A low-key mystery of existential relevancy, Topology of Sirens is an incredibly assured, downright transcendental experience in which a rich visual and auditory tableau is on full display. Temporality is eschewed, not just structurally, but through visual and auditory assemblages that evoke a sense of ethereality. Moments whether learned or experienced feel conjoined perhaps due more so than anything to this film's utterly entrancing sound design. Aesthetically, Los Angeles has never felt lusher to me in a film, the sun's omnipresence is textured and assertful in every exterior shot. The cinematography - the use of lighting, composition, etc - evinces the omnipresent beauty and power of the natural world. This personal journey is not merely point-a to point-b discovery but one that ultimately feels ontological. I'm struggling to put this into words - it has a great sense of affect and how it is a reciprocal force beyond what we materially understand.
Fair to say this isn't as titillating or structurally sturdy as its predecessor but I appreciate how this franchise is still world-building and adding layers. Effectively stylish, slick, and swift in its striking violence, The Witch Part 2. The Other One is a fun time and probably the closest thing to an R-rated X-men universe we'll get. What can I say, I'm a sucker for brooding ultra-violence and this one oozes cool as it expands the world of its predecessor in a way that is arguably convoluted but like I said I appreciated the layers it interjects into this transhumanist conception. It' also isn't afraid of melodrama and a general emotiveness that borders on silly but I just found it all to be pretty endearing. The fight choreography is just ok, I feel like the first one was far more concise in its camera movements and rooted in a physicality that this one sometimes struggles with due to incorporating more CGI but this one still brings the heat more so than not and despite its flaws, this is just fun! Also, I liked the fireworks now bring on the sequel!
Love of all things cinema brought me here.