An enigmatic experience in which a loose conceptual framework demands patience from the audience as they observe and decipher the subtleties of a character - a mother and widow - whose suffering with the hand life has dealt her. Schanelec's meticulous visual constructions evoke a sense of sadness and mental anguish, framing the everyday spatiality of modernity in a way that feels restrictive and ultimately socially pervasive to this woman whose struggling mightily. The confusion and anxiety induced by the frantic nature of the modern world, one ripe with judgement and constant observation, is juxtaposed with bookend sequences which seem to suggest a fondness to the environmental/natural world in which social order is more transparent and one's place is easily defined. Featuring some of the more lucid compositions I've seen in contemporary cinema, I Was at Home, But... reverberates with affect. It is a difficult but poignant tale of one woman's parental struggles - the open terrains of the natural world provide comfort while urban spaces retrain and restrict.
Intricate fight choreography, extravagant set-pieces, and insanely dangerous stunt work are schematically held together by a razor-thin plot revolving around Hong Kong's Navy attempting to ward off a gang of Pirates. The familiar trio of Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan all share the screen, but this is clearly a Jackie Chan vehicle, as the other two actors enter and exit the narrative while Chan's steadfast, assured machoism takes center stage, driving this story which shows little interest in narrative coherence.
It's wild how this film is extremely uncomfortable in its monolithic approach to African American culture and experience while also managing to brazenly and accurately deconstruct the two-party system in America and the faux ideals of the democratic party, particularly the mythmaking associated with it being a de facto vessel of public interest that stands up against the ruling class. A vanity project for Beatty, but one which ultimately feels just as self-serving in its attempt to announce him as socially-aware and engaged as it does at elucidating this problematic system of governance in which capital supersedes public interest. A memorable artifact that is largely on point when it comes to its political message despite its flaws.
Arthur Ripley's Thunder Road feels like a precursor to Michael Mann's oeuvre and the themes which it would explore, specifically related to the anti-hero and the shifting notions of criminality which take place under the weight of commerce, capital, and power. Robert Mitchum just oozes cool throughout this film, a bootlegger who seemingly lives for the thrill of the chase while also being tied to his spatial reality, one in which the procurement and processing of whiskey are embedded into the traditions of the region. Thunder Road is a a rather lean crime thriller, one which is rough and rugged, relying on Mitchum's scenery-chewing protagonist too much at times to keep momentum and yet what I found particularly interesting is how the film posits morality not as it relates to legality (correct) but to coercion - in this case, modernity (capital), intruding on the communal-based industry. The chief antagonist Kogan, heads up a syndicate that attempts to eliminate Mitchum and all his competition, which could subtextually be read as a commentary on industry intruding on family-owned, communal-based society. Kogan and Mitchum's only commonality is that they are both on the wrong side of legality, from a morality perspective they are polar opposites.
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.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.