This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Bits and Pieces

It’s been five months since the first movie log. Looking back, I was convinced that I hadn’t watched as many movies as before. Life had been relentless; certainly there hadn’t been time to join the usual watch parties?

And that, kids, is why you should always rely on data instead of gut feel. 😊

Thank goodness there was an actual movie log to refer to. Every time I watch something, I chuck the title onto a virtual sticky note pinned to my desktop, just in case I ever get around to writing a post like this again. As it turns out, that sticky note has grown a scrollbar, signaling a bigger backlog than expected. There are fifteen — fifteen — films waiting for a post1This comes out to around 3 per month, which isn’t all that much, but still a lot for someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a “movie person”, so let me just recall my thoughts and impressions for each of these before the situation gets any more dire.

On Body and Soul
(Testről és lélekről)

This film sets its strange love story in the middle of an abattoir, in a bit of a heavy-handed nod at the push-and-pull between material and physical that the title implies. The rest of the film is nowhere near as overt, opting instead to nudge at some fascinating questions: What makes a connection real? What risks are people willing to take to foster those connections, and what means are there to ensure those risks pay off?

The filmmaking’s light touch finds echoes in how the protagonists themselves dance (or stumble) around each other, the depth of their shared dreams not quite translating immediately to the materiality of their day to day. Carefully observed here is the process of that translation: how, as director Ildikó Enyedi puts it in this interview, the “opening up” of their souls occurs “through bodily experiences,” which are often tentative or awkward, and always terrifying steps beyond the comfort of their solitude.

People, Places, Things

When people use the term “Sundance film,” they’re often referring to certain types of movies: the tweed-jacket-wearing, coiffed and quirky softbois of cinema, gesturing at the visceral mess of human emotions and joking about existential dread out of the corner of their mouths while they trip over their loafers. This film doesn’t really depart from that image, though Jermaine Clement’s performance gives it enough heft to warrant at least one viewing. He brings charm and sympathy to an otherwise typical single-dad character in a typical story about healing from a relationship lost.

Honestly, I went into this mostly for the graphic novel elements (Clement’s character is a graphic novelist and professor). It turns out that those were incidental to both the movie’s narrative and its visual storytelling, so oh well. For any comics nerds out there, here’s a 12-minute video that delves more into the creative processes of Lauren Weinstein and Gray Williams, the artists behind the panels featured in the film.

Your Name Engraved Herein
(刻在你心底的名字)

From the outset, viewers are asked to pay attention to the setting: 1987 Taiwan, immediately after the end of martial law. This, the opening seems to say, is a film of transitions: political, social, and personal. But the first two recede into the background quickly — which is unfortunate, because there’s more than enough resonance between the exhilaration and confusion of these societal shifts and the personal upheavals that the protagonists undergo.

Still, the film’s focus on the personal isn’t a miss per se, producing a precise, occasionally tender look at the yearning and heartbreak that so often colour queer kids’ coming-of-age. My one big gripe is articulated better by this review, which points out the film’s excessive emphasis on the pain that comes with growing up queer and how that makes the film “difficult to endure.”

Fun fact: At last check, the title song has racked up 41M+ views since being posted on YouTube last August. Spoiler warning (the MV is a supercut of moments from the film), but here’s the link.

Happiest Season

Warm, cosy comedies (and romantic comedies) are holiday staples, expected to hit particular beats with the least amount of distress. This film riffs on that formula — not just by applying it to a queer couple, but also by putting that couple into a thorny situation that’s not clear-cut nor easily resolved. It’s great that the film doesn’t take sides, instead taking the time to lay out the difficulties both in not being able to tell your family the truth about yourself, and in being set aside time and again by the person you’re compromising your own truth and comfort for. The flipside is that, having sketched out these difficulties, the film winds down to an ending that’s happy but feels somewhat unearned.

Samjin Company English Class
(삼진그룹 영어토익반)

Set in 1995, when the Korean economy was booming and the Asian Financial Crisis was still two years off, this film was a welcome departure from the glossy, hypermodern Korea of recent K-dramas. Still, its themes remain familiar and relevant: soul-crushing corporate life; the absurdities and transgressions borne from a fixation on being “more global”; gender inequality; even environmentalism, believe it or not. It’s all told through an absorbing mystery plot and quirky humour, both of which complement the film’s social criticism surprisingly well.

Enter the Anime

Horrendous. That’s it. 😂 To elaborate: a documentary on anime narrated by an obnoxious person ignorant of the genre, who then proceeds to interview Netflix staffers about the streaming platform’s various animated series. This documentary didn’t set out to accomplish anything other than pad viewers’ Netflix lists, I guess. Orientalist, exoticizing, erratic — skip this and spare yourselves the aggravation.

The Mitchells vs The Machines

The bones of the plot will be familiar to most viewers: digital vs analog; practical vs creative; generational divides, and parents and kids who just can’t seem to understand each other. (Road trip suffused with the tensions of an impending change and frustrating disconnects? Is this A Goofy Movie? Haha.) In some ways, this familiarity is a strength, serving as a solid anchor for the burst of colours and visual styles (2D + 3D) that the film deploys so well.

These dynamic visuals are reminiscent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which makes sense because The Mitchells vs The Machines comes from the same producers and studio. But it doesn’t feel like a retread, taking on a tone all its own, and that has a lot to do with the superb script and cast. Both deliver warmth, pathos, and hilarity in equal measure, and with all these elements coming together, the film’s a riot all the way through.

Pride and Prejudice

This was my first time watching this, ever. Is my literature degree getting revoked now? Haha. I think what’s most interesting here is that the movie was initially promoted as a production helmed by the people behind Bridget Jones’s Diary — signaling that it was never intended as a faithful period piece / adaptation. The film benefits a lot from having that room to breathe, I think. It avoids bogging down the characters with too much artifice, and the relationships shine through.

Mary, Queen of Scots

In sharp contrast to Pride and Prejudice, this is very much a Prestige Period Piece, capital letters intended. For a film that seems to care a lot about the grit and spectacle of 16th century royal shenanigans, this one is surprisingly forgettable. The core tension, supposedly, is in how two queens are forced into conflict when they could forge a sisterhood instead. But the film glosses over what each character’s personal stake in this conflict is; what other factors there might be beyond the immediate schemes of the aristocracy; and why viewers should even care about any of this. Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie’s considerable talents are wasted on a turgid script and incoherent directing.

Tune In for Love
(유열의 음악앨범)

If two people’s paths keep crossing, but they never quite manage to walk at the same pace, does that mean they’re meant to be, or that they aren’t? This is the slowest of slow burns, taking place over the course of decades — with each period depicted with impressive attention to detail. Is it worth the time it takes to meander through those almost-connections? I’d say no: the characters remain underdeveloped, and the plot, unremarkable. There’s a distinct melancholy to love that struggles to get timing right, but the film never quite captures that, as hard as it tries.

Broken Hearts Gallery

Another unremarkable romance, though this one is at least slightly more entertaining, thanks to a winning performance from lead Geraldine Viswanathan. Story-wise, everything’s neat and predictable, and the rest of the cast remains largely nondescript. The most genuinely interesting moments come when people start dropping off their mementos at the titular gallery. It’s a cool little montage of the many different shapes heartbreak can take, as well as the relief afforded by being able to articulate those losses. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t go beyond quick glimpses.

The Garden of Words
(言の葉の庭)

“Is this the movie with the foot fetish?” – one of my friends when I mentioned that I’d watched this recently.

Similar to On Body and Soul, this is fundamentally a story of two people who help each other venture beyond their solitude. The twelve-year age difference between the protagonists casts a shadow over their dynamic, though, especially since the younger one eventually confesses romantic feelings. Sorry, Mr. Shinkai, but no matter how much solace they found in each other, this isn’t a pairing I can get behind. The ending leaves the status of their connection ambiguous — certainly the older one made it clear that she didn’t return the younger’s feelings — but it didn’t close the door on romance, which leaves me feeling uneasy about the whole thing.

As with most Makoto Shinkai titles, the animation here is gorgeous, especially for all the water elements. Unsurprising, really, considering how rain is one of the film’s central motifs. My literature major heart can’t ignore the influence of the Man’yōshū either, from the seeds of the film’s premise to the poetry that marks pivotal moments. As iffy as the ending might be, I’d still appreciate the film even just for its impeccable choice of tanka alone:

鳴神の 少し響みて
さし曇り
雨も降らぬか
君を留めむ
A faint clap of thunder
Clouded skies
Perhaps rain comes
If so, will you stay here with me?
- Man'yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,513
鳴神の 少し響みて
降らずとも
吾は留まらむ
妹し留めば
A faint clap of thunder
Even if rain comes not
I will stay here
Together with you
- Man'yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,514

Our Ladies

My friends and I expected this to be Derry Girls but in film form. The humour was on point, as expected, but the anger and disappointment simmering beneath the jokes was a pleasant surprise. Aren’t a lot of coming-of-age narratives about the determination not to be trapped? The film’s ensemble starts out without any hope of escape, but instead of taking that as defeat, these girls’ stories find magic in having nothing to lose. Sometimes the film gets carried away, speeding along when it ought to pause and give some moments space to breathe, but that’s understandable considering there are six characters here who each need development. Bonus points for a soundtrack obviously curated for maximum nostalgia.

Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens

Another film with a killer soundtrack. Look, when a film recontextualizes Billie Eilish’s i love you by layering it over a child’s crushing realisation of the limits of a parent’s love, you have to give it props. There are a lot of moments that ask for suspension of disbelief, but who would refuse when the cast turns in such warm, engaging performances? In terms of writing, the film leans into plenty of familiar tropes — it’s about a lost kid finding his place in New York City; of course there will be tropes — but it moves at a steady clip, never laying on the cliché so thick as to make it unbearable.

The cinematography does lots of heavy lifting here. New York City can be such a tired backdrop, and there are already endless variations on an awed newcomer’s perspective. But the film creates some novel visual textures by mixing in stop-motion animation, and it offers a fresh take on New York by turning its lens on the more private, everyday spaces of immigrant communities in the city (apartment complexes; neighbourhood thrift stores; curbside food trucks).

Fan Girl

First things first: the bones of this film’s narrative aren’t new. Pop culture is replete with warnings against meeting one’s heroes. Sometimes these warnings dwell so much on the grotesque consequences that they forget to say anything more, and Fan Girl certainly falls into that trap quite a bit. But I still appreciate how it looked at the uneven dynamics of admiration and devotion through a gendered lens, drawing out how patriarchal structures perpetuate these dynamics and suffuse them with myriad possibilities for violence. Charlie Dizon carries this film, bringing nuance and depth to what could have been a gross caricature of an obsessed fan.

Categories: Film