Nivola dominates The Art of Self-Defense as his sensei does his loyal students, achieving alpha-male status with well-articulated arrogance, while Poots provides a valuable counter voice as Anna, calling attention to the preposterousness of that sexism as a talented and powerful woman, held back by the gender roles ingrained in this system of unarmed combat.
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A scene in which Anna recounts an attempted sexual assault against her at the dojo, for which she was subsequently blamed and punished, is particularly affecting. The contrasting flashes of ultraviolence, on the mat and off, thus have no counterbalance, leaving The Art of Self-Defense tottering between raw ferocity and lifeless comedy. But it was unpredictable in its depiction of the slowly changing power dynamic between its characters; the film broke down and unmoored its audience along with its protagonist, a deprogrammer of cult members tricked into becoming one.
In this film, though, the plot twists are telegraphed early. L ike most Lynn Shelton films, Sword of Trust is amiable and humanistic almost to a fault. An engaging tension between tone and theme animates the film, but you may wish that Shelton had approached her material with more focus. Like Maron himself, Mel is a lovable curmudgeon, a recovering addict who utilizes his past troubles as a signifier of his hard-won wisdom and humility, which he laces with acidic humor and sharp timing. Maron telegraphs this loneliness in how he has Mel appraise objects, with a weariness that suggests a need for both connection and money.
This is a spectacular idea for a satire of our modern age—in which memes and online mythology warp discourse—that Shelton reduces mostly to an inciting incident and a MacGuffin. Given its narrative involving a Jewish man pretending to take reactionary Southern values seriously, Sword of Trust at times suggests a kind of sketch-TV version of BlackKklansman.
The filmmaker comes very close to suggesting that everyone has their reasons, even hateful fanatics—a potentially explosive implication in itself that, in this context, deflates the satire. The whale in question is the vaquita, a dolphin-like creature endemic to the Gulf of California. Not a target of hunting themselves, the vaquitas had the bad luck of swimming in the same waters as the heavily fished totoaba and dying in the nets meant to catch their more valuable neighbors. The vaquitas are ultimately collateral damage in an illegal fishing scheme driven by greed, economic insecurity, failing security apparatuses, interstate organized crime, and more.
The business continues to flourish despite what looks like an unprecedented deployment of Mexican naval assets to stop the now-illegal totoaba trade. They have their own destroyer-sized vessel, which they use to pull up nets threatening the vaquita, and also alert the navy to illegal fishing boats out hunting for totoaba at night. The latter is the more dangerous of their missions, as the fishing boats often bristle with heavy weaponry and their rock-throwing crews are brazen enough to face down the Mexican marines in a hard-to-believe riot that the cameras catch in broad daylight.
In between the crisply dramatic night-time maritime chases and episodes of dark cartel violence, much of it shot with a glistening aerial wide-angle cinematography that evokes some of the work of Matthew Heineman, are explanations as to why this one particular whale matters so much. Many of those arguments center on the vaquita as symbol of what needs to happen in order to arrest the rising levels of species extinction on the planet.
Sea of Shadows can come close to feeling hyperbolic. Fortunately, Ladkani keeps an eye on the plight of the fishermen themselves, many of whom are essentially forced to keep up with the illegal fishing because they need to pay off corrupt officials or are massively in debt to the cartel bosses they have to buy equipment from. The film follows a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a warrior in order to spare her ailing father from war. The film follows a young Chinese woman Yifei Liu who, after the Emperor of China Jet Li issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial army, disguises herself as a warrior in order to spare the life of her ailing father Tzi Ma.
It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father. The film is defined by its straight-faced attachment to outmoded ideas about masculinity and law enforcement. Stuber imagines Vic as working-class superhuman, his hypermasculine, extralegal excesses justified by the logic that, as a cop hunting a drug peddler, he is ipso facto a good guy—perhaps the best guy.
The humor that revolves around Vic concerns chinks in his aging hard-body armor, like his fading eyesight, or the thought that—gasp—such a man might accidentally end up in a male strip club. More than its violence, the film is defined by its vileness, its straight-faced attachment to outmoded ideas about masculinity and law enforcement.
Instead of letting his character become a simplistic villain to draw our ire, he plays Christian in such a way that frustrates rather than outright antagonizes. Midsommar has all the trappings of a major breakout for the American-Irish Reynor, thanks to his nuanced rendering of contemporary masculinity. He and the rest of the cast first saw Midsommar just a day before A24 began screening it before crowds, and, as he expressed, some of the fervent responses caught him off guard. We discuss plot points from the third act in generalities, but those looking to avoid any spoilers for Midsommar might want to bookmark and return to this interview after seeing the film.
What was the verdict? I think almost half the people put up their hands instantly, in a very tellingly reactionary fashion. But it needs some real thought. Ultimately, the reason I wanted to do the movie was because I felt like this character was not one-dimensional.
Ari never wanted him to be that way. Both of these characters represent the human condition, the things we can all relate to, in all of our relationships, be it with a parent, a family member, a friend, or a romantic partner. Just as we have experienced emotional needs and those needs not being met.
These are all parts of the human condition. So that, for me, was the really interesting thing to portray. Ultimately, the purpose of something like Midsommar is to challenge people to acknowledge the fact that they can relate to both of these people.
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And, ultimately, we do find ourselves in alignment with Dani at the end of the movie. This is a movie about her liberation from a toxic relationship and the catharsis that comes with it, albeit that the catharsis is confusing, painful, complex and not entirely clear. I was interested in giving extra layers of dimensionality to Christian and challenging myself to empathize and relate to a guy who, on the surface, is just an archetypal toxic alpha male.
But he finds himself literally stripped bare in this humiliating, exposing place, which is absolutely terrifying. That allowed me to get into the character, looking at him and acknowledging there are plenty of elements of that character that are in me and every single human being on the face of the planet.
I totally agree, dude. I might have been a little bit reactionary myself to the audience! Some scenes that supposedly showed Christian in a more sympathetic light were left on the cutting room floor—obviously, what makes the most sense for the film is what should win out, but is there a part of you that wishes people might see the fuller picture of the character you created? Seeing is such a privilege. Who notices the way the screech of a gull looks, the look of a gale, the sight of some fragrance? Some things have to be believed to be seen.
Zen is like looking for the spectacles that are sitting on your nose. An artist sees things not as they are, but as he is. To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty.
Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world. The thing known and the thing seen are not the same.
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This is the paradox of vision: Sharp perception softens our existence in the world. He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
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It is the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive. Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye. Jackson Brown Jr. Open your eye that you may see The beauty that around you lies, The misty loveliness of the dawn, The glowing colors of the skies; The Child's bright eager eyes of blue, The gnarled and wrinkled face of age, The bird with crimson on his wing Whose spirit never knew a cage; The roadsides blooming goldenrod So brave through summer's wind and heat, The brook that rushes to the sea With courage that naught may defeat.
Open your eyes that you may see The wonder that around you lies; It will enrich your every day And make you glad and kind and wise. It is only in the microscope that our life looks so big. An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy.
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One of the most wonderful things in nature is a glance of the eye; it transcends speech; it is the bodily symbol of identity. What we see depends mainly on what we look for. Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn, A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding; And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away. Paint what you see, not what you know. If we see an object as a "bowl," it may inhibit seeing it as "craft," just as seeing it as "craft" might inhibit seeing it as "art.
What is art but a way of seeing. One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you're livin'? Vipassana : looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct, piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing.
He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye. The only sense we still respect is eyesight, probably because it is so closely attached to the brain. Go into any American house at random, you will find something -- a plastic flower, false tiles, some imitation something -- something which can be appreciated as material only if apprehended by eyesight alone.
Don't we go sightseeing in cars, thinking we can experience a landscape by looking at it through glass? See deeply the beauty and interconnectedness of all life; then think, speak and act from what you see. It's better not to see than to see wrongly. The sounding cataract Haunted me like a passion; the tall rock, The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, An appetite; a feeling and a love that had no need of a remoter charm by thought supplied, nor any interest Unborrowed from the eye.
There is more to us than we know.