Old-world opulence and heteronormative traditions juxtaposed against the new-age way of life. Fascism contextualized around tradition and its resistance towards any type of social progression that disrupts its authority. Walken's character is a manifestation of the heteronormative male ego. His fascistic impulse deeply rooted in strict, traditional notions of masculinity and the inevitable destruction he causes in the end is defined by his repugnance towards any other way of defining masculinity. Venice is the perfect spatiality for The Comfort of Strangers, its luminous old-world opulence is materially stunning yet it's largely photographed in a way that expresses how it is barren of life. The dark alleyways and various enclaves along the canals take up the majority of this film's set-pieces, in a sense enunciating the clash between the old and the new in yet another fashion. While some may find this film to be a little tepid in its pacing, I didn't really have a similar struggle with The Comfort of Strangers. It feels like such a sensual, rich text, and a fascinating entry in Schrader's oeuvre, arguably his most visually impressive film, and one that navigates some fascinating ideas in which Schrader himself seems to suggest he is tethered to many aspects of the old world.
Impeccably crafted sports film in which having any knowledge of Majong is largely inconsequential to the film's overall effectiveness. To's directional touch is incredibly assured here, his precise use of movement enhances the dynamism of the game while the camera's gaze often fixates on hand movements and other gestures intrinsic to Mahjong, making the whole experience compelling but also discernible even for those unfamiliar with the rules. The film's plot is imbued with an amorphous quality due to its peculiar characters and general free-flowing rhytyms - embracing its underlying theme through the construction of a narrative that never feels pre-determined or even devised. The text of a sports film used to illuminate the nature of living - no matter how far we've risen or fallen among the social hierarchy we are constantly in a state of flux, fundamentally lacking control of our lives due to the broad swath of externalities that consistently influence our place in this world. Fat Choi Spirit uses gambling and the nature of chance intrinsic to any sport to elucidate this theme. To be clear, there isn't any sense of nihilism here, quite the opposite, as the filmmakers openly express this lack of control from a positive perspective, one in which our lives are never set, no matter how bad things can be, no matter how far we fall, things can get better and we must remember that and continue to play this game we call life.
Despite the film's technical prowess and effective formal designs rooted in low-fi aesthetics and a keen directorial eye for compositions that fit the film's sleazy spatiality, Zola ultimately feels very much like a film uninterested in actually engaging in underlying social issues related to sex work, puritanical notions of morality, legality, and personal autonomy despite a proclivity towards exhibiting these ideals. This, of course, is more than fine if the film aims to be rooted solely in escapism or heightened realism intent on exhibition/representation of a sub-culture not often seen, but ultimately Zola feels uninterested on expanding on its thin source material, offering instead something that feels facile both in theme and characterization. There are a lot of interesting ideas in this film, and the cast does do a great job at embodying the various characters, but ultimately it feels like a film that needed to either be 30 minutes longer or 15 minutes shorter, caught between pointed cultural critique and exhibition of the underseen, under-discussed aspects of contemporary life which leaves it feeling interesting but ultimately more inconsequential than it should be.
Vulnerability unless commodified has no purpose in a contemporary culture that strives for engagement and a facile definition of positivity rooted in subversion instead of acceptance of existential longing. Featuring a familiar conceptual framework, Sweat could have easily been another pointed critique of narcissistic social media culture and the artificial and performative facade it creates over reality. While the film certainly navigates around these ideas, it's the filmmaker's dedication to the principle characterization and her complexities as a person that helps elevate Sweat, ultimately differentiating itself in the way that her journey isn't simplistic or linear but a consistent struggle in service for her underlying identity, as she implicitly searches for a sense of self-worth and happiness that cannot be defined by external forces. In a sense, Sweat is optimistic, determining that humanism and our behavioral impulses will ultimately repudiate the pervasive nature of technology and its effects on the social. Sweat is familiar but genuinely crafted, a film that in its thematic intentions never forgets that the key to success lies in its principle characterization
A little unclear if this is intentionally depraved in its depiction of masculine sexual aggression but this subversive spin on the rom-com feels downright farcical in the way its two male protagonists coerce Cherie towards their desires with no disregard for her as anything more than an object to serve their needs. The film's denouement suggests that the filmmakers know what they are doing, and the tonal elasticity here really stands out. Operating at times like a traditional rom-com yet conceptionally imbued with a commentary that invites investigation into heteronormative gender roles, expectations, and the coercive power dynamics at play, Cherie is a silly rom-com in construction but one that feels conscripted to make a point about the male ego through its formal conception. The film's lighthearted tone when dealing with jokes related to date rape is played for laughs yet they have a dual focus, serving what feels like farcical intentions about the absurdity of normative gender dynamics. Tam's keen directorial style is perhaps a bit more understated in what would feel like his most accessible film to date in his career, yet the interior spaces in this film are strikingly constructed in terms of the mise-en-scene and compositional aptitude.
An enigmatic yet intriguing exercise that is best to simply experience rather than assert meaning, Paul Felton & Joe Denardo's Slow Machine is an atmospheric descent into a discombobulated psyche. Low-fi aesthetics transposed onto what feels like an anachronistic narrative structure but isn't; the fractured perceptions of its main protagonist and her fears, thoughts, and uncertainties drive the viewers' sense of perception of the events which unfold. This feeling of fragmentation serves the film extremely well, exhibiting what feels like a series of vignettes more than a holistic narrative, which in many ways elucidate the internal perception of its main character in which gentrified Brooklyn, its disparate agents and actors, invoke a sense of consistent danger, anarchism, and intrigue. An effective sensorial experience which I appreciate but I'd be lying if I didn't say I found the whole film to be a little too void of feeling, particularly in the way it explicitly strives for emotional poignancy in its portrayal of the interiority of trauma inflicting its main protagonist that remains consistently, albeit intentionally, opaque.
A spy thriller with a genuine desire to exhibit the physical difficulty and arduous albeit majestic nature of climbing. Eastwood's infectious screen persona and sturdy direction make the film's overly complex conception and arguably un-focused nature continue to entice from beginning to end. Narratively speaking the film could certainly be called a tad unwieldy but it's just such a distinct, strange espionage film - amorphous in genre specificity while oozing with masculinity and low-key critique of the government's defense apparatus which operates in the shadows beyond the purview of the general public. What is so distinctive to me is how much this film feels like a climbing picture sculpted around the framework of a spy thriller. The film simply rejects genre classification, being an amalgamation of James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Cliffhanger that is engaging from start to finish thanks to the aforementioned Eastwood and largely comedic performance by George Kennedy. Playing up Eastwood's undeniable handsomeness, the film is also interesting in how it invokes the female gaze routinely, with Eastwood's masculine ego getting the best of him on two separate occasions, a perhaps subtextual commentary on male libido. George Kennedy for most of this movie is truly my spirit animal, he just wants to hang out and have some brews.
A visceral display of violence and bloodshed that feels not only like a revisionist take on the classic wuxia genre but one that aims in one way or another to repudiate what many have perceived to be its fundamental attributes. The grace, tradition, and visual decadence of the classic wuxia film to Tsui Hark is fundamentally a distraction from its roots, one based in blood, vengeance, and anarchism in which the pursuit of justice must be ascertained at all costs. Tsui Hark's overarching perspective towards humanity and his embracement of anarchism being intrinsic to life have perhaps never been more pronounced in this revisionist treatment of the Wuxia film. The way this film embraces rage, viewing it not as a net-negative but a useful tool for progression is particularly interesting, as Tsui's lens routinely enunciates the primal scream of its characters as they forge their violent path towards vengeance and perceived justice. The line between good and evil is clear from the viewers' perspective but amongst the chaos perspective is everything that defines these diametrically opposed concepts. A highly kinetic visual style that is emboldened by the internal and emotional drive for justice - another remarkable effort by the master filmmaker that is surely one of his best. To put this terribly, it's as if a Wuxia film and the Mad Max Universe had a baby.
Roja perhaps doesn't soar the same heights as every other Mani Ratnam film I've seen to date but it's still a strikingly expressive, sensual experience that evokes the feeling of transcendence associated with love. Love the stark juxtaposition of the cold, blue hues of Kashmir juxtaposed with the warm, vibrant orange palette of the rural countryside displayed in the film's opening sequence. This aesthetic dichotomy continues across the film's runtime, the warmth of love contrasted against hate and indifference. The omnipresence of the natural world is a recurring motif that Mani Ratnam uses to elucidate his theme about the supremacy of love in the face of conflict and strife, as the film features a panoply of striking natural vistas that help to elevate the film's aura to near transcendental. Roja may be a bit nationalist and jingoistic but let's be real here, what Hollywood film isn't? The nature of its narrative - the successful city engineer marrying the rural girl - and how it's Roja, a woman from the countryside whose people have largely been forgotten by modernity, who doesn't speak the language or fully understand the circumstances, that inevitably leads to their collective salvation isn't happenstance but a pointed commentary. It's her unwavering perseverance fueled by love that leads to absolution, a striking commentary in which Ratnam's aims seem to be in empowerment for the rural class within Indian society. What remains striking to me is Ratnam's precision when it comes to his cinematic grammar. It is always highly expressive but the way he routinely shows such an astute understanding of when to use various cinematic techniques - from handheld to static, from extremely wide compositions to tight, intimate compositions feels like second nature. Just a phenomenal filmmaker who is quickly becoming a personal favorite of mine.
Featuring a truly unique conceptual framework, Michael Sarnoski's Pig is a beautifully constructed evocation of loss, one in which the mystery behind its characterizations and the circumstances that define them slowly reveals itself across the course of its narrative without not even one morsel of unnecessary exposition. Pig's text is one embedded with a sense of mystery and intrigue with just the right dash of opaqueness, a meticulous and methodically executed film in which the simplicity of its story feels existentially expansive. What struck me so much about Pig outside of its effective narrative and "heroes journey" is its hearty subtext related to how detached we've become from our social nature. Loss and trauma in many ways can lead us down two paths, one of apathy or one of empathy, and what Pig so vividly expresses is the need for us to not choose the latter but the former in order to live in a better world. While it may be considered a stretch to say this film is a sly commentary on consumerism/materialism, Pig unquestionably reveals the emptiness of modernity and how we cling to any form of accomplishment bestowed to us by commodification instead of simply seeking out a shared sense of empathy and love for what we do. Nothing really matters in the end, we are only here for a short period of time, and what Pig so masterfully does is deliver this message with a poignancy that isn't rooted in simply dread induction but oddly enough, despite is somberness, it left me at least with a sense of hope. In the film's final moments, it reveals these intentions - it isn't violence or revenge which leads towards resolving the mystery at hand but an appeal towards a cold, calculating character's empathetic core. Buried under his hardened businessman facade is a man himself who grieves and also suffers from a sense of loss. These are honestly just my initial thoughts, and perhaps someday I'll attempt to write something more expansive, but I'm certainly willing to say that PIG is one of the best American films I've seen so far this year, without question.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.