Sabu's Monday is quite the ride- textually surrealist and often absurdist, yet underneath its frantic surface lays a pointed commentary on the binary, simplistic nature of Japanese society. The story of a businessman who wakes up in a posh hotel room, totally clueless about how he got there, Monday chronicles this man's vague recollection of the day before, taking the viewer on a singular experience, one not confined by narrative formalism, where everything and anything seems possible. A social satire and meticulously crafted pitch-black comedy, Monday's message is opaque at first, but throughout its playful exuberance and commanding style the film reveals an assertive take down of Japan's repressed, work-obsessed culture. Throughout this character's journey to recall his wild night, Monday reveals a portrait of Japan that is alcohol-dependent and desperate for cheap thrills, transforming from what feels like a cautionary tale about vices and the self-serving nature and abuse they bring into something more. Many of the cross-sections of Japanese society are showcased throughout Monday, from the Yakuza to the everyday salaryman, and through the main protagonist's odyssey Sabu reveals a film about the complexities of morality and a striking critique of the binary & simplistic examination of good vs. evil. Stylish yet economical in execution, Sabu's Monday is a plee for more kindness in society, using the rapid escalation and perilous situation that its main protagonist finds himself in due to one bad night as an allegory about Japan and the repetitious and perpetual nature of violence created in a society with such binary assertions about right vs. wrong, good vs. evil.
Overwrought and overlong, Alexander Payne's Downsizing is an unfortunate misstep by the talented filmmaker, a social satire that is far too thematically didactic and formulaic to be enjoyed. Downsizing's high concept pays dividends early on with effective world building, yet both the main protagonist's characterization-one centered around finding happiness and internal satisfaction, as well as the film's socio-economic thematic assertions related to materialism, sustainability, and voluntarism, often feel contrived, forceful and familiar. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, Downsizing plods along repeating its on-the-nose message, unable to find the nuance or sophistication of these complex issues facing humankind opting instead to merely preach to its audience with a proverbial sludgehammer.
A film that is far more thematically complex than one would expect, Martin Campbell's The Foreigner is an intricate study of the complexities of morality, detailing the subjective nature of the decisions we make as individuals for the perceived greater good. A film where no clear protagonist is established, The Foreigner eschews revenge-thriller expectations at nearly every turn, being a film that works both on an escapist and intellectual levels, detailing the lives caught in the middle of complex authority structures created by nation states, politics, and bureaucracy.
A cynical deconstruction of the spy world, David Leitch's Atomic Blonde isn't as much an action film as the trailer lets on, focusing more on the espionage angle, playing into the tropes of the spy thriller where expectations are subverted time-and-time again. When the action does come though it doesn't disappoint, being well choreographed, raw, and visceral in nature, with Atomic Blond being a film in which the violence is felt in every punch that is landed. Atomic Blonde stringent espionage formalism does wear itself thin, asserting, rightfully so, that sides become endlessly blurred in this world of espionage, yet doing so in a way that doesn't quite congeal from a narrative perspective, as Atomic Blonde often feels far too convoluted for its own good, making it a film that is hard to enjoy throughout its entire running time.
David Ayers' Bright is a convoluted mess of a movie, which feels in part a missed opportunity, given the potential of such an inventive idea. Unfortunately Bright is simply lazy writing, a film that shows little interest in world-building its ambitious blend of socio-political realism and high-fantasy mysticism, opting instead to take the viewer along for a ride which feels simply like the masturbatory fantasies of a pompous writer who just expects everything to congeal to the audience without putting forth the effort necessary. For at least a healthy percentage of its running time Bright maintains the audiences interest due its singular premise, yet the dialogue and characterizations begin to wear thin, with nearly every character in the film, outside of the two leads, feeling simplistic, absurdly blunderous, and flat. It's probably too polite to merely call Bright's thematic assertions heavy-handed, as the whole film's commentary on discrimination is ham-fisted and inelegant. Bright is the type of film that is worth a watch, just as a great lesson of the importance of effective world-building in high concept fantasy/science fiction, a film that feels like it could have been something special if the screenplay was placed in better hands.
Feverish pacing with direction which exudes a sense of playful vitality, Doug Liman's American Made details the darkest aspects of American interventionism through the prism of its main protagonist, Barry Seal, a pilot who was recruited by the CIA in the late 1970s, whom eventually became a drug trafficker and gun smuggler, privy to any side whom could deepen his pockets. Liman's intentions are rooted almost entirely in providing an escapist thriller, and while the film could have dug deeper, particularly how it relates to interventionism & american greed, this is a film that is hard not to enjoy due to Tom Cruise's charm and the film's extraordinary pacing.
An eccentric Japanese sex romp full of absurdity and exuberance, Akihiko Shiota's Wet Woman in The Wind is part homage to the sex comedy, part absurdist subversion of the tropes associated with the genre, delivering an energetic piece of over-sexualized cinema that feels singular in execution. Featuring a loose narrative centered around a Tokyo-based playwright whose attempt to find refuge in the countryside is abruptly interrupted by an unrelenting woman with a massive sex drive, Wet Woman In the Wind plays out more like a series of vignettes, playfully deconstructing courtship and carnal desire. Subverting the traditional expectations of the genre, Wet Woman in the Wind showcases female pleasure in its rawest form, placing the male figure in a place of sexual discomfort. Egalitarian freedoms of sexuality and female emancipation feel like major assertions underneath Wet Woman in the Wind's playful exterior, as this sex-charged film manages to please on both sensual and intellectual levels.
A by-the-numbers feature centered around the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris' Battle of The Sexes lacks the bite necessary for this type of story, opting instead to deliver an entertaining crowd pleaser which never goes deep enough to explore the nuance and introspection necessary when it comes to exploring gender equality and gay rights in the 1970s. The strength of the film isn't really in the match-up between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, but more in the complicated relationship between Billie Jean and her hair dresser, the most nuanced aspect of the film that is definitely aided by Andrea Riseborough's performance. The film almost treats Billie Jean's tenacity on the tennis court as an afterthought, betraying this woman's tenacity & passion for the game while making her more of a walking caricature.
An astute existential experience, Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime is deeply human story, one which transverses its science fiction conceit, slowly revealing a powerful and profound thematic assertions about the human experience. Taking place in the near future, Majorie Prime introduces the viewer to a service that provides holographic recreations of deceased loved ones, allowing them to come face-to-face with those they loved one last time. A simple stage play in narrative structure, Almeyereda's skilled direction weaves an existential tale full of hearty atmosphere and familial intrigue, tapping into existential ideas centered around memory, objective reality, and emotional response. Marjorie Prime exhibits how our insecurities, flaws, passions, and inconsistencies are what define the human experience, reflecting on how nearly all our familial and social squabbles mean close to nothing against the omnipresent force that is time itself. For all the processing power and intelligence which technology grants, Almereyda's film is a striking reminder of how emotion in itself does not operate in the same space, demonstrating through its various characterizations how our emotional response is our most humanistic and individualistic quality, one that should be appreciated, despite its flaws. At its core, Marjorie Prime showcases the connectivity that memory provides to all of us through its graceful narrative, exhibiting how while memory is far from objective, its ability to link us to one and other provides us a way to deal with our own existential dread. While Michael Almeyereda's film does touch on the darker aspects of memory, in how it can create false objective truth, Marjorie Prime's core fixation is an optimistic deconstruction of the human experience through its story of one family, each of which lovingly attempts to deal with their own internal emotions.
A superbly well-crafted, ambitious misstep, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Daguerreotype is a psychological horror film of ambitious and grandiose thematic design. Daguerreotype is directed with elegance and grace, as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's astute direction evokes a sense of intrigue and atmosphere throughout its bloated running time. Despite an engaging aesthetic full of evocation, Daguerreotype's narrative and thematic elements don't quite form a cohesive whole, as the film itself is far too convoluted about what exactly it's trying to say. The story of an obsessive artist and the coercive effect this form of dedication can have on those around them is explored heavily throughout Daguerreotype, with its most salient thematic assertion being directly rooted in the psychological effects an artists self-serving nature can have on the psyche, detailing the deteriorating effect emotional trauma can place on both the artist and those he cares about. The dichotomy the film creates between the two main characters, the daguerreotype photographer and his assistant, exposes how artistic ambition is often a cataclysm of deep-seeded love and pain, as both these characters inevitably suffer greatly due to their inability to separate their self-serving design with the needs and desires of those they care about. A film thats beguiling nature leads it up to a host of interesting interpretations, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Daguerreotype is a slight misstep, but one that is still susceptible to thoughtful analysis and critique.
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