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Films that I've seen, liked, hated.

Sometimes I'll have thoughts about them.

A good chunk of the films I see are selected by cinema club.
Snake Eyes (1998)
Crime, Mystery, Thriller
dir. Brian De Palma
Have never watched a De Palma movie. Yes, not even Scarface. I'm also not smart enough nor well-watched(?) enough to have any insight on De Palma's films being meta-commentaries on the medium of film itself, but I can say that Snake Eyes is a very entertaining, very well-directed pulp mystery thriller.

Right off the bat you're sort of jammed into the world of Snake Eyes. The setting and environment can only be described as chaotic. There's a hurricane, also there's a fight going on, and it's in a casino, and you get this long shot of Nicolas Cage walking around the fighting arena talking to various eclectic characters (including his wife and his girlfriend). De Palma gives you no time to breathe within the first couple minutes of the film: you are here for the ride.

Something that I particularly like about the film is that every character here is pretty much a slimeball--an exception made for Julia Costello, the gorgeous AirGuard whistleblower. Nicolas Cage's character, Rick Santoro, is a cop, and a very sleazy one at that. In the opening minutes of the film De Palma basically hammers you in the head with the notion that he's a morally questionable guy: he makes illegal bets on the fighters, he facilitates transactions for shady criminal figures, he extorts, he cheats on his wife, he lies, etc. Contrast this with Commander Kevin Dunne, an upstanding U.S. military commander who is there attending the fight to protect the Secretary of the State, and who is, as De Palma also tries to hammer in, a morally 'good' guy. He is loyal to his wife, he's never done anything sleazy in his life, what have you; this portrait of his character doesn't last very long though.

There's a scene I liked in the movie where Santoro is in the surveillance camera room--I think that's what you call it--trying to determine what exactly went down during the murder of the Secretary. He analyzes the fight footage and notices that Lincon Tyler, the heavyweight boxing champion, gets "knocked out" by a phantom punch. I thought that was a funny little tidbit because pretty much all the fight scenes, if you analyze the footage like Santoro does, are phantom punches. Just something I found amusing.

Other than that, this a very well-constructed thriller. It keeps you on your toes and doesn't waste time. I will say that I felt like it dragged on just a tad bit at the end, but that doesn't really detract all that much from the film. The most obvious highlight of the film is Cage's acting. There are those who criticize Cage for 'overacting' in a lot of his films, and they do so as a jab towards his acting props. And to that I say, fuck you, he's awesome.

Rating: Cage should play more characters with oily greaseball charisma

La Jetée (1962)
Romance, Science Fiction
dir. Chris Marker
My favorite film from cinema club so far. Recommended by tevito.

This is one of those Criterion 'essentials' that a lot of people talk about, and for good reason. This film is incredible. There's not a lot to say. It's such a simple story with an interesting way of presenting the story: still images.

There are films you come across that play with the medium of film itself as a way to elevate the story. I remember the first time I watched Fight Club dir. by David Fincher. Despite how overplayed its reputation is as a the archetypal 'greatest film of all time' for teenage boys, it genuinely is a great film. When I saw it at a friend's house in 2018, I remember feeling completely blown away. When Tyler Durden would show up for just a frame in the background, or when the film burns away when explaining his history, or the moments where Tyler would look directly into the camera and acknowledge the audience: these were all things I had never seen before in a movie.

I had the same feeling when watching this film. I'm sure there are plenty of films out there that I haven't seen that utilize this sort of slideshow storytelling method, but this film does so effectively. At the beginning I was kind of apprehensive to the still images, but after the the first minute I was acclimated.

There's not really a lot to say about the film. The story is simple and doesn't go anywhere too crazy. The ending is predictable, but it doesn't depreciate the film. It's simple and effective storytelling. The moment that really stuck with me was when the still images slowly faded into a moving image. I'm not sure how to explain it, but that was the moment I was like, "yeah this is really good."

Rating: really really really fucking good

The Boy and the Heron (2023)
Fantasy, Adventure, Animated
dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Miyazaki's most grounded film narratively, and his most personal one.

It's going to be tough to describe the masterful work of this Miyazaki film without spoiling, so here's an obligatory spoiler warning! (If you haven't watched this yet, then this "review" probably won't make a lot of sense.)

I remember the first Ghibli film I had ever watched--partially. I caught around 30 minutes in the Texas Children's Hospital waiting room, at around 10 years old, of Howl's Moving Castle. I remember being completely entranced before snapping out of it after being called on by the nurse for my checkup. There was a certain quality about what I was watching that was different than most of the typical western animated films; it was enchanting. It was right around the part where Howl's castle appears trudging through the high plains, with Sophie gawking at it's monstrous presence, before she boards the castle. That scene was the only thing I remembered of the movie clearly, until I watched it in full years later.

Now, after seeing pretty much every film in Miyazaki's filmography, we come to The Boy and the Heron. This film when it was announced was marketed solely off of Miyazaki's name; his return to animation after his seventh retirement, originally announced under the title How Do You Live? When I heard that this would be Miyazaki's rise out of retirement I was excited, but also a little disappointed. His previous film, The Wind Rises, was--in my opinion--a perfect end to his career. I had watched it multiple times and felt that it was a fitting conclusion to an incredible career: a self-examination of Miyazaki himself told through the story of chief engineer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft, Jiro Horikoshi, during WWII.

The message I drew from The Wind Rises was a self-reflective one. Despite how whimsical and childlike Miyazaki's worlds were, he was infamous for being a nihilist, and sort of an asshole. He would yell at animators for not recognizing his vision, he was dismissive of his family members when making his films (there is a well-known story of him being cold towards his son for not being that good at animation), and he held a hatred towards humanity. The message in The Wind Rises is consistent with his worldview: no matter how pure his intentions were when making his films, he always had to sacrifice something in order to make them. Jiro's fighter aircrafts acts as an allegory for Miyazaki's films.

However, if The Wind Rises acts as a reflection on Miyazaki's legacy, then The Boy and the Heron acts as a hopeful look into the future. To frame these two films within the context of his legacy, if The Wind Rises is Miyazaki saying, "What have I done?" then The Boy and the Heron is him saying, "I've done all I can."

There's a particular moment near the end of the film where the grand uncle gives Mahito the opportunity to take over the tower, to become its pure-hearted maintainer. It's made clear throughout the film that the grand uncle is attached to this world he's created, pretty much to the point of obsession. However, when Mahito refuses his offer, the grand uncle doesn't react negatively. In fact, how I saw it, the grand uncle became relieved. No longer would this broken world be upheld by the hands of a singular person; it shall crumble. And that's the beauty of the film. Despite how nihilistic Miyazaki is--at least the nihilism he shows to media outlets and camera crews--there is an optimism that acts as the driving force and ultimate conclusion of the film. Even if it all comes crashing down, it can always be built somewhere else, by someone new. My interpretation (and many others) is that Miyazaki is both Mahito and the grand uncle. The grand uncle represents Miyazaki's obsession. Decades dedicated to the project that is Studio Ghibli, a legacy that he would like to continue through his son. Mahito represents Miyazaki's acceptance that such a legacy is impossible. That no matter how pure-hearted his intentions were, he was not able to change humanity for the better--essentially, he sacrificed so much for nothing. But that's okay. Because you can just build a new tower.

The ending, no matter how abrupt some people thought it was, left me speechless. For the first time, I saw a Miyazaki film where he spelled out, in plain animation, exactly what he wanted to. It can be considered a cliche, but ultimately its true: change happens, and it's okay that it happens.

Phenomena (1985)
Horror, Thriller, Mystery
dir. Dario Argento
A strange, erratic, entertaining mess.

This film is such a drag in the first half, but it quickly makes it up by how unbelievably bat-shit crazy it is in the second. This is my first Argento film, and it's very clear what kind of movie this guys makes. The crazy and weird pacing & editing, the very blatant horniness, the amount of times people get stabbed, the lighting, camerawork; it all culminates into a very distinct and unique style of filmmaking that I have never seen before.

For the most time this movie is entertaining, but I would be lying if I said I was following it the whole time. You can't really prepare yourself for this film. Things move so unbelievably quickly that it's almost impossible to really understand what is really going on. The main character, Jennifer, is a bug telepath, and a bug scientist has a chimpanzee assistant. It's genuinely such a strange movie that I couldn't help but be charmed by it. It's gross, but it's also playful?

I might have to watch this again to really take it all in. I feel like the second half picked up so fast that I kind of just got waterboarded with the insanity that happens during it.

Overall score: What the hell!