Quick-Thoughts: James Cameron’s Avatar The Way of Water

Avatar: The Way of the Water is arguably better than its predecessor at least from this angle: for what’s proceeding a mega project hindered by James Cameron’s poetic ambition to be thematically rich and at the same time a crowd-pleaser, this follow-up is surprisingly lightweight in regard to its themes. The pairing of predictable AI-generated blockbuster writing goes down smoother here than before given that it’s less interested in suffocating its audience with critical ideas. Yet, the long-awaited sequel counteractively ends up being far less interesting than the original as a result. The name “Avatar” barely has any meaning anymore like it did previously, except for its involvement with the main antagonist that’s merely there as a plot convenience for him to exist and perhaps vaguely its underlying presence in a “relative” of his. Jake Sully’s journey — and a little of Neytiri’s for naturally connecting more with an outsider than anyone from her own clan — was fascinating in the first movie because it dealt with the conflict of tribal mentality: uploading your conscious into a new body and becoming more comfortable with it than perhaps the one everybody expects you to stand ground with; a poignant concept that felt very dystopian at the time of its release yet more relevant than ever post-COVID.

Now, the focus is on something far more traditional, but at the same time, easy-going and straightforward: coming-of-age in the face of war. The opening of this movie is sequel 101 but amplified, designating kin to literally three OG characters to take the spotlight in the battle, but their journeys are nothing genre-pushing and merely dramatic formulas encapsulated by immaculate visual backdropping — i.e. blissful distraction. You know from the gecko which already perfect characters are getting sidelined for tragic weight later on and which ones are here to grow and experience the same conventional “minority” arc that Sully had to endure. Given that I’ve always found the original movie to actually be far shorter than it should’ve been due to the hefty amount of plot and agenda it covers, it’s ironic that the simpler narrative gets thirty minutes more screen-time than the one that really needed it.

Regardless, for three hours, it’s not that rough, and in competition with the rest of the American blockbusters that have come out this year, this is certainly one of the funnest to goggle at in awe. Just try not to think about how unexceptional it is beyond the visual craftsmanship. This is Cameron’s second time remaking The Abyss (1989), but at least now he really wants you to know that’s the case by bringing back his love for sinking ships!

Verdict: C+

2022 Ranked, James Cameron Ranked

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Laura Poitras’s All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Of the many others will have, I’ll give you two good reasons why you should watch this: 1) the slideshows of Nan Goldin’s transcendent photography work — which is interwoven throughout the film like graceful little intermissions. 2) being exposed to the Sackler family situation is a solid entry point into how you should begin perceiving the rest of what is marketed to us by our country for widespread consumption. It’s easy to project this situation onto other private owned companies that hold jurisdiction over so many people’s wallets. Addicts make business; never forget it. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Playground (2021)

“I think that we can’t always help people in the way they’d like to be helped.”

The first learning lesson in life that if you’re treated like a loser, people will perceive you as one. The first learning lesson in life that social status is an innate ticket for controlling your crowd. The first learning lesson in life that your respect for each other is never bigger than your respect for the world. The first learning lesson in life that those who make the first move to challenge authority are the ones targeted for outcast. The first learning lesson in life that you either eat like you were told to eat or be eaten.

The greatest part about school is that it teaches you how society functions in sometimes the roughest ways possible, exposing you to the freedom of deciding how to enact upon its rules. 

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Playground” is now available to stream on MUBI.

Quick-Thoughts: Gaspar Noé’s Vortex (2021)

The very conclusion to institutional love exhibited in excruciating real-time, but it’s not without a fight. Like God, three individual perspectives linger (sometimes simultaneously) over three individuals of a family trying to hold it together at the end of their rope: a mother with dementia, a father with a secret, and a son with a hitch. Gaspar Noé evidently holds back on how many times he usually has to hit us over the head to get a painful reaction from the crowd, and yet, his new methodology still manages to sting like hell by the end not too far from the degree as say his 2002 masterpiece Irreversible. Thus, Vortex is certainly no light chore to endure especially given its runtime — but don’t worry, it’s all for the better. 

On another worthwhile level, Noé’s latest cinematic ambition is a really telling eye exercise due to it’s split screen gimmick, in that, we as a viewer obviously aren’t prone to watching two events with one eye for each, and rather have to toggle back and forth between them, implying to us what prompts our attention the most. I’m sure this gives the film a unique amount of rewatch value, as there is especially no way to consume what is almost two movie-lengths worth of footage on a single viewing. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Gaspar Noé Ranked

“Vortex” is now available to stream on MUBI.

Quick-Thoughts: Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun

Charlotte Wells is really on a mission here to revitalize reflection shots…

…but much bigger than just the compositional techniques here — which are, by the way, surprisingly calculated for something that generally appears so unrefined — is her revival of cinematic pathos. Next to Maggie Gyllenhaal who’s also directorial debut is about a tourist trip turned curse, a few up-and-coming filmmakers this decade have so far been trying to cultivate this vital area of storytelling while mostly everybody else — even you indie drama folk — enforce it in traditionally chintzy, structurally overdependent ways. Aftersun is so in the moment that it doesn’t even need plot deviations for you to get why this should hurt so much to consume; every revelation is already insinuated at the gecko and from there on forward gradually built upon. It trusts the audience in that regard to let the piled-on little glimpses tell you everything you need to know about what this means to the video-watcher and reminiscer herself, someone whose finite knowledge is shared with us. The spoon-feeding therefore becomes relatively repressed, at least more so than the status quo like a real memory.

Deep down inside, I’m a little pissed I didn’t come up with this gimmick, but that’s how I know I vibed with it unlike the majority of them this year. Aftersun is definitely up my alleyway when it comes to execution — even reminded me of how I’ve edited my recent college short films. It’s further inspiring how I’d like to express movies that are dedicated to memory; the liminal space (in footage and out) and modern contempt from it fused into a new core reminder that our time on Earth simply can’t discharge. And that climax is pure brick hits — picture the Hotel Room anomaly sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), yet it doesn’t star one human soul, but two of them: one jumping through time but the other trapped in a single event, and they’re somehow painfully interlinked, disrupting the peaceful passage of life, a purgatory-like contradiction to the recaller’s ability to move on the clock. Maybe this trapped one is your parent, or a normal conjoining of the two, the rock to lean on that mostly everybody else has day in day out, privileges that we don’t have reappearing in others or home video tape and wakening their spirit to us in a memory of when they were active.

Even when the obligatory feel-good, emotional heightener of a track eventually inserts itself during this culmination it doesn’t seem overdone; if anything, the film knows it’s damn well earned it whereas most would tack it at the coda as a sticking final blow to make up for a weak job, which is far from the case here. Nonetheless, it’s mostly meek memory dumping up until then that naturally haunts from its incessant absence of closure. Through in throughout though, it triumphs on that simplicity and the easy control of it with an anchor on lived-in performances and transitions that keep everything mobile, and it’s frankly heart poison to ride. 

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that this is the best emotional manipulation I’ve seen from a movie all year. Perfect for the equally manipulative coming holidays, as my heart grew (or perhaps shrunk?) three sizes this day.

Verdict: A-

2022 Ranked

“Aftersun” is now playing in select theaters. 

Quick-Thoughts: Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Dull or war. The island of Inisherin is as bothered of a place as is its simpleton residents who perfectly elapse the time drinking pints at their one pub, herding their farm animals across every homogeneous neighbor abode, and conversing within the topical confinement of this intrinsically regimented cycle over and over again — say from the occasional war that can be sought just across the ocean. Not soon after though does this “simpleton” world quickly become fable: in the matter of just a beeline request, one man tells another that he no longer wants his company, as simpleton at long last can do no more for this sole Inisherin.

The told man, on the other hand, is conned rather enlisted out of simpleton because of this ex-best-friend’s erratic maneuver. It gets him to finally see that the daily papers he reads are full of unforgettably bilateral tales in the making exclusively happening on foreign soil, Inisherin’s window into outside affairs corrupting the peace of its simpleton environment. The two (like the generals across seas) want to believe that good is no longer measured by “kindness”, but by “immortality”, and in other words by “consequence”. In spite, sometimes kindness still can’t be helped.

Thus, the simpleton town can be remembered now, but only by means that it spiraled some of its people into further skepticism when having to defend it for a change. Fictional Inisherin will live on with real meaning for foreigners like us who hear time and time its tale, but for the fictional folk involved, it needed letting it go a little for such to even occur. To be a “somebody” to everybody requires giving away territory (sometimes quite literally) from your own fecking self, and inevitably, others’ fecking selves. And yet, that’s the fight you’re willing to make for simpleton, to prove its importance by tarnishing its once unexceptional harmony with rather unexceptional bedlam.

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Martin McDonagh Ranked

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave


As you can imagine, Park Chan-wook going soft doesn’t exactly equate to a particularly happy-go-lucky narrative given what he’s known for. Sure, there aren’t people being bludgeoned to death with a hammer or even just steadily tortured with a paper cutter in Decisions to Leave, but the heartache that Chan-wook’s characters frequently accumulate to certainly simmers beneath every perverted act sparked between insomniac Detective Hae-joon and suspect Seo-rae. In classic noir fashion, Chan-wook follows our curious lead as he labors to decrypt the femme fatale, and in classic Chan-wook fashion, he engulfs our attention with eager visual splendor to support his unusual romantic affairs. 

Nobody leaves unless it’s to belong again. Hence, decisions.  

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Park Chan-wook Ranked

“Decisions to Leave” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Todd Field’s Tár

The conspiracy of evil: despotism, identity, certitude, the means surrounding such and not necessarily means that are pure in “evil”. Yet, as a byproduct of her reckless career suicide, legendary composer Lydia Tár is quickly learning what it’s like to live in a generation that wants to believe they are. What’s so interesting about Todd Field’s constantly labeled “cancel culture movie” beyond the culture that comes together to cancel one, is how he overviews why the target of them — a conductor whose entire work is built on controlling the time of others — made it her own doing for neglecting the time in which controls her, to tyrannically curtail the welfare of her human-centric foundation of power, to not stoop low for the perhaps flawed mainstream criteria that glorifies “the conspiracy of evil”, and to pick and choose what present reality modernities she would however kneel for because what good are they otherwise if they do not cater to her personal ethos? By the end though, Tár humbles herself by abstaining from this perspective and adapting more to the new world’s heart even if her own heart somewhat has it out for the old. Who’s a “robot” now?

158 minutes of cautious storytelling just to examine what it’s like for a god to overcome a shed of ego? Hell yeah. Between Tár and Memoria, this year’s been going OFF on nostalgia.

Verdict: A-

2022 Ranked

“Tár” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness

If The Guitar Mongoloid (2004) was a satire making fun of plausible lower-class state of affairs, and if Force Majeure (2014) was a satire making fun of plausible middle-class state of affairs, then… well… you can do the math. Perhaps beyond what’s most obvious about Ruben Östlund’s sixth feature-length Triangle of Sadness, aside from its mock of life’s “greatest” financial extravaganzas, is its premise of a lab rat experiment that neutralizes them into the impossible equilibrium that its lucrative characters are made fun of for believing in, harkening all the way back to material like Luis Buñuel’s 1962 bourgeoise-critique classic The Exterminating Angel (1962), which Östlund had even preceded a bit in his last feature The Square (2017). When at the mercy of living, rich or poor, always comes the necessity of the animal.

Winning the Palme d’Or is always infuriatingly tricky because, for one, it sets up distended expectations for a film among a hundred equally worthy choices that won’t come with the burden of its prerequisites, and two, it’s easy to demonize the ones that aren’t saying the most profound things ever said in cinema, and if the controversial reaction to his first win with Square proves anything it’s that Triangle is bound to receive a similar treatment again.

What mother! (2017) is to Darren Aronofsky is essentially what this is to Östlund’s career: you’re there mainly for the ride, the excess of its immersion, and the surface-level schematics are sort of just there as simply blueprint for those opportunities to exist. In theory, we’re all quite familiar with lucky money sometimes buying out adverse experiences and adverse experiences sometimes buying out lucky money in the great scheme of life’s dichotomies for which oscillate given the topical hierarchy that promises the most fail-safe survival, and for fans, so do Östlund’s customary interests in innate masculine x feminine roles and their transgressions amongst even the most pretentiously simulated as “ideal” settings. But damn, if it isn’t just loads of fun to watch those ideas (as redundant as they’ve been done) actually play out by a director who knows how to make use of hyperactive cinematic nauseation and exceptionally drunk-dumb comedic writing that has yet to sink in quality even a little after almost two decades into his ever increasingly inflated career with critical reception.

If anything, seeing the film’s intoxicated bond between an American communist and Russian capitalist is worth the price of admission alone. 

Verdict: B

2022 Ranked, Ruben Östlund Ranked

“Triangle of Sadness” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Ti West’s Pearl

My new worst nightmare is growing up to be Pearl’s father. 

“Make the best of what you have” is usually the kind of mindset that happens when dreams are crushed. Isn’t it just hilarious that we live to overcome current control in order to be controlled by rather dreamt circumstances? Our freedom still remains a delusion.

With only a little over four months to spare since the release of its predecessor, the artificial technicolor prequel to X (2022) has already made its way to the big screen, and while this origin story is quite conventional on paper when it comes to bleak rise to fame narratives — the classic Mulholland Drive (2001) to put it otherwise —, Ti West’s exercise of the familiar is nevertheless an exotic force in its own rights. Likely, this prequel’s function is to either parallel in a despairing manner or paradox for means of a less awaited existence at what Maxine’s rise to fame story will be in the sequel to X, considering she has yet to wake up out of her “fantasy”. For now though, we have a methodically paced origin to the making of a slasher villain keeping us at bay. 

Mia Goth’s performance in Pearl alone is worth the price of admission. Next to Anna Cobb, we have been getting some seriously stressful embodiments of unhinged youngsters who are just dying to fit in. However, perhaps the most commendable aspect regarding the prequel is how much it differs from X, taking on less of an accumulating thrill factor plot structure and more of an apprehensive consistency that permeates throughout. It’s a slick series of scenarios where you’re regularly on edge for someone to not upset Pearl’s delusion to be loved for superficial *barbie-doll* stardom, or at the bare minimum, a mentally sane personality she simply does not possess – she’s special alright! But oh, isn’t it just so bittersweet once we’ve alas accepted the reality of our circumstances? Our projecting should stop there and then? Right?

Now onto the 80s…

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Pearl” is now playing exclusively in theaters.