Bloodsport: A Prime Example of Affective Cinema


In spite of nostalgia’s effect on my revision, and in spite of Bloodsport’s apparent contrast to what we generally deem cinematic art, the cult-classic remains fastened on the minds of many a cinephile. Such a phenomenon surely calls for retrospection, and today, after viewing the now 28 year old film—which was released on my birth year—to an energetic 400 capacity venue in Vancouver, it will receive one.

When released, the film drew much critical backlash as well as general dislike from audiences, and Jean Claude Van Damme was nearly awarded the 1989 Razzie for Worst New Star (Note that Van Damme would go on to win the much lamented Razzie for Worst Screen Couple with Dennis Rodman).

The film was perceived as a joke. Its cardboard acting, disrespect of filmmaking guidelines including continuity editing, and its penchant for brazen emotion in lieu of narrative fervor met the criteria for discarding the film as a cheesy flop. And yet the film is today revered as iconic by those who were moved by its originality, memorable characters, resonant music and images, and ability to inspire.

To realize how a supposed ‘bad film’ could be revered in such high manner would be to question the cinematic, something which film critics and theoreticians are hesitant to do. But this is not always the case, and in doing this for Bloodsport,  the notion of affect or affective cinema may be helpful. It is a film perspective oft used to describe what is called the post-cinematic film, and as a movement it has gained greater recognition in recent years due to a tie-in with the modern cinephile borne concept of vulgar auteurism.

Through minding this viewpoint, Bloodsport may serve as a prime example of affective cinema. While it may not be cinematic in terms of a tradition of quality, Bloodsport contains the presence of affective sounds and images which draw a visceral experience for the viewer. The story is revealed by way of static transformed moments, images which are held independent of narrative and are immediately apprehended by the senses. This feature makes such images resonant beyond the possibilities of continuity editing and instead showcase what Eisenstein referred to as total image, or an image within which the elements of montage already exist.

Bloodsport 2

Bloodsport is replete with images of a total nature. They stand independent from the film as a whole and thus exist in a world of icons. Supported by the sound image, this includes such moments as Jean Claude stretched between trees, Jean Claude stretched between chairs, and Jean Claude stretched on a bench over the City. Jokes aside, the images throughout the film, from young Frank’s sliced cap to the dim-mac, chants of “Chong Li”, roundhouse kicks, a raspy cry while blind, and the sudden bliss of martial arts meditation conveyed through sound effect and facial expression all serve as elements of Bloodsport’s iconography.

It is through affective images of this kind that a strong emotional resonance may be formed between viewer and film, as proven by the number of viewers at last night’s screening applauding one resonant image while anticipating the next. What is between these iconic moments is as incidental as the base story line.

To recognize a ‘bad film’ as one with tremendous transformative potential is to recognize the tenuous line between so called high and low art. It also throws into question the service of narrative in creating cinematic art, after all “film isn’t story. it’s mostly picture, sound, a lot of emotions. The stories are just covering something” (Bela Tarr).

It is through intuition that viewers may realize the art hidden behind the surface, and it is through our perceptions that an aesthetic experience of art may occur. In understanding this, we may now retroactively analyse films like Bloodsport with eyes unblemished by prenotion. By mounting a state of perception that is receptive to art, we might find ourselves entranced by the magic of cinematic art in a most unexpected place.

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Compassionate Filmmaking in De Sica’s Shoeshine


A heartbreaking venture which called forward the neorealist film movement wherein De Sica became a celebrated figure. Shoeshine at once defines the genre while proffering De Sica with the tools and ideas to be reworked in his later neorealist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, perhaps the two best examples of this specific postwar movement. All three of these films delve deep into the souls of those suffering the late 40s Italian depression, and all three convey this pain through boundless compassion for their characters.

89/100 – Excellent.


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Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi)


Pakeezah is a beautiful, heart rending film. Passionately developed and performed, its beatific sequences are saturated with love and beauty as is the painterly mise-en-scene which adorns the set. Highlighting the film’s merits is a wonderful soundtrack which provides entertainment as well as context. Rife with layers of subtext, metaphor, and socio-cultural commentary, Pakeezah’s screenplay is quite substantive. This is a multi-faceted Indian classic.

87/100 – Excellent



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Mundane History (Anocha Suwichakornpong) Review


Though rather unassuming, Mundane History conveys this dreamy energy whose effects are felt for days to come. As the title commits, the narrative events are monotonous. Yet paired with a non-linear timeline, the blatant monotony becomes the driving force of reality and thus reveals the eternity held in single moments.

Charting how a single thought, or the birth of a thought, may draw a link with the infinite, Suwichakornpong consolidates notions between the micro and macro, the finite and infinite, and the inseparability among. Her psychedelic world holds meaning within and of itself; the death of a star is as meaningless as the birth of a child and the the birth of a child is as meaningful as the death of a star. All becomes one underneath this scape of life and all is relative.

The events depicted exist in a world of their own: the world of Ake and Pun and Ake’s father. What is mundane in one life is is of great consequence in another. As historical fact, the significance of a star’s life is made inert, but as a personal memory, the birth of a child is made significant. Loss of feeling, loss of passion, loss of limbs, lack of reciprocity; these events all contain an energy and life within them–proportion and relation are the evening forces.

We are all stars and all the stars are within us.

95/100 – Amazing.

5 Stars

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A Beautiful Poem: Kiarostami’s Life, and Nothing More…


Life, and Nothing More… is breathtaking in its simplicity. What may be seen as an overt metaphor is instead realized on a deeply spiritual and philosophical level. Kiarostami gracefully allows the film’s landscape to breathe life through the film. He places a camera and allows the passage of time and the passage of movement to be recorded and conveyed through cinema.

This is Cinema as life.

One could speak on the metaphor of the road as a highway of life or the diversions as the obstacles therein, but what lends power to this otherwise cliche metaphor is how perfectly reflective and austere is Kiarostami’s presentation. He lays bare a modest narrative, a few characters, and in doing so he lays bare what we call life… as if to say that anything more would be a perversion of life’s essential elegance. This is a beautiful poem.

88/100 – Excellent.


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Logan: A Tale of Tragedy


Certainly one of the best ‘superhero’ films of all time, Logan separates from the pack through character depth and development akin to a Greek tragedy–perhaps of the neo-mythological kind.

Logan’s arc, what a multitude of previous franchise installments have presented but never mounted, becomes apparent in this road film—the epilogue to an Odysseian journey. An old man, he grieves for fallen friends, those he cared about who died because of him, because of what he is. Suffering from traumatic memories and living in an ageless body incapable of surrender, he chooses—perhaps in guilt, perhaps in nobility, perhaps in cowardice–to allow his one vulnerability, the techonology which once built him, slowly put him to rest.

As one who heals and survives, the well of guilt built from seeing others die has taken its toll. Self isolated and alienated in spite of living throughout many a generation, why should he deserve to live when there are better people in the world dying because of him? This is what he thinks: he is the cause of suffering, so he must suffer as penance for what he has caused.

Old man Logan realizes this towards the end of his Odyssey, and so he chooses to reject the world, to no longer interact, to become invisible. His guilt has engendered what might be considered a noble act; as a vagabond, others will no longer die as a result of his actions. And so he withholds from helping others. It is not that he’s a prick who is unwilling to help, but that he is aware that his presence will only draw violence.

After the nurse is killed, he apprehensively aids the girl, only at the behest of Charles—Logan’s father figure whom he cannot refuse. But once he develops a bond with the girl and Charles is no longer with them, he quickly searches for a way out.

At this time, Logan is not motivated by virtue but by cowardice. He quickly rejects the doctor who offers to find and remove the poison, because he is afraid of continuing to live. To quickly remove himself by way of an adamantium bullet would be the ultimate coward’s way out, but Logan is a complex character and, with this film, Mangold endeavors to truly mount the study of a complicated soul’s uncommon journey through life—one of biblical, mythological, and spiritual proportions.

As the film nears its end, the greatest of tragedies is borne. There is no tragedy in death or in eternal suffering. Tragedy involves catharsis and sorrow. Beyond the mere internal conflict of a Greek tragedy, wherein Logan’s inability to cope with his vices begets personal suffering, we have a reversal of circumstances, a provocation, catharsis, and sorrow.

During its brief length, Logan’s death scene—and even Charles’ death scene though I won’t get into this here—presents all of the above. A man with an inclination to suffer and die realizes only at death his reason to live, if only to protect his daughter. In distress, he experiences a two-fold catharsis:

“So this is what it’s like”, he states in wonder. At once he realizes two things: this is what death is like; this is what having a daughter to love and protect is like. This two-fold catharsis relieves Logan’s repressed feelings towards life and love, respectively. For once, the man dies for someone he cares for, instead of watching those he cares for die because of him. Tragically, this revelation of life and love come only upon him at his death, at the point wherein life and love can no longer be healed.

87/100 – Excellent.


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Fantasy as Poetry, Fiction as Metaphor in Shinkai’s YOUR NAME

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Your Name is a heartfelt, modern love story with an intricately layered narrative spanning philosophy, mythology, romance, and teenage fantasy within a science fiction melodrama. It is a brilliant feature anime, and the best I have seen since Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013). With Your Name, Shinkai certainly joins the ranks of anime masters Miyazaki and Takahata, though his film seems to gesture towards a new wave of anime, one which combines the fantasy and mythology of tradition with a modern sense of change and self-realization. This transition may be seen in Miyazaki’s final effort, the Wind Rises (2013), but it appears to be further demonstrated as a movement with Your Name. Perhaps instead of mythological films which attract children and adults, we will find ourselves with contemporary films which attract the full demographic including teenagers and young adults. This is to be seen.

Now, If you check out my latest post, you will see that I recently watched the critically acclaimed film Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987) and could not buy the premise. The key problem of the film is that it conveys elements of fantasy not through metaphor but through liturgy and statement. The ideas inherent in Wings of Desire are magnificent, but their presentation is lacking. These ideas include for example the beauty of two people becoming one with each other, to fall in love and to become indistinct from one another. It also involves the idea that spirits are amongst us inspiring hope for us to continue through life during times of grief.

These ideas find themselves poetically manifest in Your Name—without all the Christian worship, without the liturgy, without self-serving statements which occlude all other considerations. Your Name is a fantasy-fiction film which, first of all, accepts that it is fantasy. Reality inferred in its viewing comes by way of metaphor, because the fantasy speaks poetically about the natural world. The idea of two people becoming one is not just stated here, as it is in Wings of Desire, it literally happens. Taki and Mitsuhi become one by actually living some of the days of each other’s lives.

It feels like a dream because life itself feels like a dream.

This occurs due to a comet, a freak incident, but what happens has more to do with the energy which surrounds them, with the power of their own human spirit and its entanglement with the spiritual energy of the natural world around them. The power of the spirits and energy compelled this to happen, much like how the angels in Wings of Desire surround the living, but in this case it is not so plain and simple or obvious as an anthropomorphic angel walking amongst us. Your Name thus conveys the power of love, the human spirit, phenomena of the natural world, and the beauty of unknown aspects of life by genuine, albeit ambiguous, means. It displays unknown phenomena in the world rather than telling us about it, and It does this by speaking metaphorically through the beautiful narrative which develops before us.

Essentially, Your Name uses poetry and fantasy to tackle the most significant philosophical questions of our lives, and it does this underneath what appears to be a mere fantasy-fiction romance story. With such depth, this fun-to-watch anime is far denser that first appears, but because of Shinkai’s subtlety it can be viewed in number of differing manners. From the pleasure seeking fantasy to the romance drama to the philosophical inquiry of life itself, Your Name is a brilliant example of multi-layered cinematic poetry.

94/100 – Masterful.

5 Stars

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A Misstep in Film History: Wim Wenders Wings of Desire and Its Masterpiece Status


Although Wenders’ film is masterfully crafted, with some absolutely glorious camera movements, use of light, black and white, and colour, the script reeks of pretense. Wender’s narrative, well intentioned as may be, is too self serious to convey fantasy, yet too imaginative to convey philosophy. Besides its religious overtones and pomp, elements of spirituality are presented as absolutes, and done so through a patronizing narrative which insults the viewer’s capacity to imagine a world any different from that which is presented. The narrative is surreal, the themes heavy-handed, and yet it glories at reveling before certain truths of the human condition which are recounted rather than artfully conveyed.

Beneath the surface, admittedly, is something beautiful about the human spirit and existing in a troubling world. But to reach beneath the surface requires quite a great suspension of disbelief, as the narrative fails in sharing truth, the poetry fails in sharing depth, and the philosophy fails in sharing meaning.

What this film does best is gesture at something spiritually significant which the viewer inherently understands and thus conjures on their own. And for this reason its viewing will be remembered with pleasure in spite of its failures. We believe the film had that power, but really it was us who had that power.

It is an impressive film in many rights but to call it a masterpiece on its own rights is a major misstep in film history.

72/100 – Good.

3 Stars

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The Damaging Impact of a Neglectful Nation: After the Last River


Vicki Lean’s heartbreaking documentary of suffering in Attawapiskat reveals the damaging impact on first nations livelihood of industry and government regulations ostensibly designed under concealed agendas. Her expository documentary requires little convincing, as Lean makes readily observable through first hand and archival footage just how desperate are the conditions facing the families here, most of whom struggle with sickness, poverty, house-crowding, and general despair.

Conditions are profoundly more deplorable when considering the lack of federal aid—even when under a state of emergency—and the obvious racial constructs which our nation’s governing bodies choose to hold onto, in spite of the obvious ethical ramifications of their actions.

Tie this in with how media, political campaigning, and social image manufacturing may brush the ‘problem’ under the rug, and we have ourselves a truly hegemonic capital parading as good guy leaders we ought to trust and follow. This is a system designed to keep people down, and Attawapiskat serves only as a microcosm for the imperceptible damage across the nation being caused by this unassuming hegemony fueled by greed and corruption.

It’s unfortunate, to say the least, that we need films like these—genuine, ungreenwashed documentaries—to raise awareness about things which ought not only to be public information but public concern. That we don’t talk about these issues or teach them in our high schools is regrettable, as it may only be through such dialogues that we may open the blinders of the average media-influenced citizen in order to change the status quo of our ill-conceived nation and the hypocrisies which corporate and government alike undertake.

Thank you to the makers of this film, to the people of Attawapiskat, and to the few socially and environmentally conscious government officials who are trying to make a difference.

If you live in Canada, go see this film.

85/100 – Excellent.


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Is Less Truly More? James Gray’s Lost City of Z: A Masterpiece of More Cinema.

Lost City

Saw this at a press screening last week and I still don’t know what to make of it exactly. I marveled at its scope and ambition, the brilliant match cuts, the striking cinematography by Darius Khondji, and its naked honesty in revealing human emotions, relations, and flaws. Like all of Gray’s films, Z picks apart the human condition while foisting it upon unassuming action. The subtext runs deeper in this film than perhaps anything before in his filmography, and yet it is perhaps the film’s multi-faceted framework which causes a certain disconnect between Gray’s inherent truth seeking and the viewer’s capacity to realize this truth. It’s like a diamond in the rough whose brightness will be reveled only by those willing to dig deep.

Bluntly stated, The Lost City of Z is James Gray working in a far more opaque, subtle, and provocative manner. His previous films, beginning with Little Odessa–a heartfelt tragedy with narrow scope but much emotional depth–take place in New York and focus inwards on very particular happenings to very particular people whom the audience comes to empathize with. Driving human emotion with consequence is Gray’s signature move, and while this is more subdued in Z, it is certainly present.

The Lost City of Z conveys much more drama, much more plot, and quite simply has much more to offer than any of Gray’s previous films. There are more characters and perspectives, a wider narrative, and many interests—from the political to the psychological to the historical, social, and beyond. This is at once a blessing and a curse. Some would argue, using perhaps Bresson or Mizoguchi or even early Gray as examples, that simplicity is a filmmaker’s finest virtue. And yet here we have a magnificent epic, one which holds so many ideas within its two and a half hour runtime that it will surely open itself to criticism sheerly for its lack of simplicity.

Less is more perhaps only because less leaves little to critique.

This is Gray’s The Thin Red Line. For James Gray, The Lost City of Z is more; there is more here to critique but also more here to acclaim. There is more to discuss with this adaptation of true events than there is with his poetic New York elegies, but through discussion perhaps we as viewers can realize that inherent truth of the human condition which Gray imbues all his films with.

I am going to need to see this a few more times, but to me it’s already a masterpiece and can only move up from here.

90/100 – Amazing.

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