Highway Racer (1977) - Stelvio Massi
Proto-Fast and Furious, Poliziotteschi style! Lacking the same edge and brand of nihilism one is accustomed to seeing from the Italian crime flicks of this era, Highway Drifter is a cops and robbers car movie that is light on plotting and far more interested in vibes. Deploying a fetishistic gaze towards the engineering feat that is the automobile, Highway Drifter wholly embraces orthodox ideals of the masculine ethos. Pride, competition, and camaraderie beyond legality, with cop and criminal sharing an unknowing respect for their mutual love for fast cars and life on the open road. A lot of great car chases and stunt work in this one, an enjoyable experience for anyone that loves vehicular mayhem
Wolfen (1981) - Michael Wadleigh
Wolfen is a great time-capsule movie of New York that constructs an archetypical detective story as a means to deliver a potent ecological thriller. Interrogates modernity, colonialism, and global capitalism through its expressive display of violence and aggression, using this primal creature's barbaric actions as a means to elucidate the underlying resentment of so many. The iconography of antiquity often exists in the periphery of this film's narrative and emotional thrust; collective indignation manifested in this primal, mythical creature transcends the specificity of culture and speaks to something more grandiose about the artificiality and subjugation of our current socio-economical arrangement. Regardless of the intrinsic ugliness of its aesthetic, Retribution is only accomplished through violence, and Wolfen posits punitive justice is a necessity of the oppressed. Particularly struck by the recurring use of the POV from this creature's perspective. Providing a voyeuristic tension that thrills only feels like the emotional intent. Wolfen is aiming to construct an indigenous gaze that is repeatedly and explicitly a recurring visual device to provide a perspective from those that existed before the rise of our current global economic order. A low-key incisive utilization of the werewolf film that navigates the entanglements of our social order under the oppression intrinsic to the construction of transnational capitalism. From a purely surface-level interpretation, Wolfen offers a lot of cinematic pleasures. Crafting an intriguing crime story with a strong sense of tension throughout, Wolfen also features a great role for Albert Finney and a panoply of endearing character actors (Tom Noonan, Dick O’Neill, James Tolkan) all set against the backdrop of a late 70s/early 80s crumbling New York.
Irreverent action comedy featuring some great fight choreography and a continuous kineticism - like John Wick meets Smokin Aces lol. More audacious than the original from what I can recall, Hitman's Holiday is an improvement in nearly every way. There are more accidents, more blistering fight sequences, and this features a more streamlined no bullshit narrative than its predecessor. Essentially this thing is Adkins forced into protecting a mafioso boss' spoiled, dopey son from an eclectic mix of assassins. One assassin thinks he's a vampire, another is a Clown wielding a cinder-block sledgehammer - you get the idea. While the humor can be a bit hit or miss, the action is consistently stellar and while it certainly won't be for everyone, I can really appreciate how much this film embraces its manic impulses. Who would have thought one of the most gnarly, blood-splattering deaths of the year would come from Accident Man: Hitman's Holiday? A fun time.
Run and Kill (1993) - Billy Tang
An absolutely delirious conception propels Run and Kill, an unhinged nihilistic CATIII film full of tonal variations and abject barbarism that has got to be one of the most subversive family man stories ever committed to celluloid. There is a lot of artistry here amongst its manic rhythms and sweaty, grimy veneer with Bill Tang's direction being aptly modular in its ability to play within and fortify all its tonal variations between kinetic action, somber dramatics, and depraved horror. The difference between life and death is razor-thin in a world in which even the simplest of misunderstandings can lead to complete and utter ruin. Posits Hong Kong as a vast landscape of warring factions all attempting to gain a leg up. A dog-eat-dog world perhaps never more truly realized. Violence begets violence and purely distilled egoism is the only path to survival in a milieu in which nihilism is the settled state of things and the only logical way to interpret this world. Not its intention but also funny to consider this as the most insane PSA related to the dangers of binge drinking lol but honestly I kind of see this thing also as the most subversive film about self-realization and the importance of having self-respect ever made.
Remarkably cohesive and coherent given the sheer scale of the story. The narrative stakes and players of this historical epic of shifting allegiances, betrayal, and the warring factions manages to unfurl in ways that only heightens the sense of intrigue for a viewer like this white boy who wasn't particularly familiar with the historical text. Not quite like anything I've seen from Mani Ratnam to-date, Ponniyin Selvan sees Ratnam operating between various modes of style. Bringing the grand artifice of the spectacle to life with cinematic techniques rooted in kineticism and vibrancy, Ponniyin Selvan also operates among more naturalist cinematic principles in certain quieter moments, balancing the grand artifice on display with a naturalism rooted in what I can only describe as elemental. To be succinct, this is just better and more entrancing than most bland, texture-less spectacle that is unfortunately so prevalent these days in contemporary cinema.
The type of film that is going to draw ire from a specific type of filmgoer who grounds cinema and storytelling in convention and abstract notions of believability but what Park Chan-Wook has crafted with Decision to Leave is a deliriously pulpy noir that finds great utility out of the femme fatale archetype to deliver a wonderfully irreverent tale of unbridled desire and the doomed fate of those who succumb to it. Decision to Leave isn't needlessly convoluted, it is designed that way. An affront to asceticism in both formal arrangement and thematic resolve, Park Chan-Wook's aims to disrupt spatial reality and narrative clarity, bringing an acute directorial vision to this story. Exhibiting the intoxicating and disorientating effects desire can place on our cognitive processes of logic and reason, Park Chan-Wook's formal designs are rooted in disrupting physical space and temporal order, intertwining material settings with emotional impulses in a way that wonderfully builds an atmosphere in which cognitive control is subjugated by emotion. Does it completely work on a narrative level? Well, that depends on how willing you are to embrace this Hitchcockian tale of increasingly absurdest decision-making by the two central protagonists. It's a wonderful fantasy but also a rejection of orthodoxal ideas of what actions and decisions are "reasonable" "normal", or "pragmatic", Through its impressive formal style which aims to create unease and disorientation, Decision To Leave embraces the notion that primal impulses such as desire untethered from ethical constructions can disrupt logic or reason. In this scenario, nothing feels unrealistic or unbelievable, and these two characters resting at the fulcrum of this story are merely pawns for this irreverent, twisted tale of doom and desire.
Tony Buba's Lighting Over Braddock truly deserves a larger audience. Wonderfully interweaves true ground-up independent cinema and its intrinsic contention between art and commerce with the plight of the working class, exhibiting the collective anxiety of a community eroding at the hands of transnational capitalism. Self-reflexive and self-effacing, Braddock utilizes a diary-like formal structure to explore the pernicious deceptions of the American Dream. It is truly miraculous how Lighting Over Braddock manages to be so playful, inventive, and light-hearted in approach while never diminishing or devaluing the severity of the situation. Manages to be irreverent in the way its fantastical elements reveal the deceptions of the American dream while simultaneously offering an observed document of a deteriorating community, Lighting Over Braddock's specificity to Buba's own social arena becomes a universal rally cry against an America in which economic imperialism supplants social stability. Buba understands that authenticity within social documentation lies in part with the willful acknowledgment of artifice. He embraces artifice through this meta-textual fantasy, weaponizing with an eye toward communal construction that places paramount importance on platforming various members of the community and making them a part of the creative process. By infusing his own story with that of the community, Lighting over Braddock manages to be deeply affecting and therapeutic. It is a willful acknowledgment and rejection of communal decay under profit-driven enterprise. Lightning Over Braddock is my first foray into Tony Buba's work and it certainly won't be my last.
Alienoid (2022) - Choi Dong-hoon
The sorcerers from Twin Peaks you say? This has got to be one of the more audacious spectacles I've seen in a minute. Really doesn't spend too much time establishing the world, opting instead to just immerse the audience in this gonzo sci-fi fantasy epic that oscillates between segments set in contemporary Korea and the 14th Century. Frankly, it's impressive how coherent this narrative ends up being while keeping the audience completely torn between consistent intrigue and titillating spectacle. I particularly enjoyed the sequences set in past where wonderfully inventive action sequences and silly comedic bits reminded me of Kung Fu Hustle. The world and circumstance that Alienoid establishes is ripe for further exploration. The basic schematics and expectations are established yet Alienoid's grandiose nature makes this film nimble, with expansion of the world and stakes free to go in a myriad of thematic and/or narrative directions. Will watch the sequel.
An intriguing time-capsule of a specific time and place in New York City, Saturday Night at the Baths is a social conscious relationship drama that aims to deconstruct heteronormativity and the pervasive ways it informs the social parameters of acceptability when it comes to idealized masculinity in our culture. Less explicit than I was expecting in its exhibition of sexuality, Saturday Night at the Baths in a sense feels muted by design in what feels like a calculated decision in order to garner access to a greater audience and more importantly appeal to the predominate social apparatus that defines collective culture - the white, middle-class. Solely lives in a middle-class milieu, Saturday Night at the Baths ostensibly believes that any meaningful change to social status and acceptance of homosexuality much be through the adoption of the middle class. It is quite fun and subversive in how it illustrates how we as a culture place strictures on something as fluid as sexuality, Has some afterschool special vibes, but given the film's approach is a more sensual and wholesome approach to homosexuality than other films of its era, and in a certain sense it feels radical in this decision. There is one scene about two-thirds of the way through the film involving a friendly amateur football game played in the park. It's a competitive display of a game most associated with orthodox ideals of masculinity, and Saturday Night at the Baths utilitzes this association to create one of the film's most entertaining and memorable sequences that had me hooting and hollering
Michelangelo Frammartino's Il Buco is the film so far this year that I'm kicking myself the most for not seeing on the big screen. A stunning work of art, Il Buco wholly embraces a dichotomous way of exhibiting the world. The majesty and wonderment of the elemental purveyed through dichotomous imagery - darkness and light, expanse and intimacy, clarity and opacity - Il Buco bifurcates the images it presents through a rigorous formal arrangement and in doing so the clarity of vision is acutely rendered. Pictorial form ascribes itself to narrative storytelling achieving a richer sense of lucidity. The substance of what we are being shown and that of which we are not seeing coalesce into a nearly transcendental experience. The labyrinthine nature of this specific environment is deeply immersive, and while I didn't find anything about this thematically to be all that distinct or compelling, Il Buco remains a stunning formal and aesthetic achievement, a film which one experiences as much as they observe or analyze and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.