‘Cry Macho’ Review: Clint Eastwood’s Cinematic Elegy

Long gone is the cinematic epoch of westerns bearing the hallowed diadem of Hollywood royalty (now inhabited with the popular and overcrowded superhero genre of modern cinema). And Cry Macho – the latest silver screen rodeo from legendary director and lead star Clint Eastwood – by no means signals a thunderous resurgence of westerns.

Eastwood’s body of work is peppered with hallmark ‘tough guy’ characters, but characters of the “gritty lone gunslinger” ilk in westerns essentially etched Eastwood into filmic stardom, simultaneously inspiring the western genre’s golden age in the 60s.

Eastwood and westerns have a lot to thank each other for, and thus he wistfully completes a sentimental full circle by returning into the fedora-donning fold of westerns with Cry Macho – a film about a retired bull riding champion (played by Eastwood) named Mike Milo, and his reluctant excursion into Mexico to retrieve his old boss’ teenage son, Rafo, and return him home.

Cry Macho – the latest silver screen rodeo from legendary director and lead star Clint Eastwood – by no means signals a thunderous resurgence of westerns.

Cry Macho isn’t a typical western by traditional standards. It’s futile to expect swift gunplay and destructive shootouts from the 91-year-old Eastwood. Cry Macho is instead a fittingly quiet, ruminating swansong to classic westerns that meditates on the twilight of a progeny born from the bygone wild west era.

Something as beautifully subtle as Mike driving a truck alongside string of galloping horses at the film’s beginning effectively evokes the horse-riding bravado of Eastwood’s older westerns, and subsequently sets the stage for an elegiac voyage into unearthing Mike’s long-buried cowboy gusto once thought lost to geriatric rot.

With modern Texas no longer being the yardstick of classic wild west adventurism like before, Mexico is a perfect neo-western haven, with its remote towns and dangerous dunescapes reminiscent of the lawless West of yore. It’s here Mike meets Rafo and his prized fighter cock, Macho. Their time together is wrought with squabble, with Rafo exhibiting an unbridled tough guy front, and it’s at these pivotal moments where Mike tries to impart salient advice to Rafo on what it really means to a tough guy – to be macho.

It’s not about dramatic displays of strength amidst rebellious zeal – akin to feral fighter cocks (hence Macho’s symbolism). Being macho is embodying matured grit amongst measured tenacity, as Eastwood’s characters and real-life persona have always been.

Profoundly simple yet scarcely found today, it’s this unpretentious and often forgotten age-old wisdom that Eastwood wants to impart to us as an eternal requiem before his proverbial ride into the sunset – and for that, and more, I can’t thank him enough.

‘The Green Knight’​ Review: The Existential Truth of 2021’s Best Film

David Lowery’s The Green Knight perpetuates a deep resonance for Arthurian philosophy to undergird the importance of distinguishing honour and virtue in the pursuit of self-actualisation.

The film opens with the enigmatic Green Knight riding into King Arthur’s hall and challenging any knight to strike him, forcefully bidding that knight to receive an equal fate from the Green Knight a year later.

Young knight Sir Gawain, in a rash bid to etch personal glory, naively steps in and beheads the Green Knight, who then proceeds to walk away unscathed while reminding Gawain of the reciprocal covenant that Gawain must now uphold. And so by roaming plains of grey pall and jade forests of dangerous haunts, Gawain grudgingly marches towards his apparent doom.

In his naivety, Gawain becomes a green knight facing the corporeal Green Knight and this effortlessly embeds early symbolic intrigue into the film. However, that’s just scratching the surface of the film’s wellspring of mythological and biblical symbolism that is founded on insightful allegories about honour and virtue.

Gawain’s initial fortitude of exalting honour above all else by keeping true with the Green Knight’s covenant is seen as exemplary – adhering to the classic hero’s quest of chivalry as obligatory. Lowery then fiercely subverts this traditional heroism by unpacking the nihilism and cowardice of attaining glory without truth, piety without morality, honour without virtue.

The Green Knight perpetuates a deep resonance for Arthurian philosophy to undergird the importance of distinguishing honour and virtue in the pursuit of self-actualisation.

The beheading alone encapsulates this dichotomy. The head is the haven of reason that ascribes purpose and virtue. The body, or heart, is the temple of valour that underscores honour. The separation of reason from valour negates valour’s sanctity. For without virtuous reasoning dictating your valour, valour is but the bellowing of hollow nobility.

Gawain’s journey towards his destined decapitation unfolds this struggle, albeit indirectly. When Gawain gives in to the temptation of adorning an enchanted waist girdle to protect him from being beheaded, his obsession to keep his head and body intact ironically severs the virtue and moral reasoning of his quest from the valour and honour he wants to attain from it. He saves his body, but damns his soul.

Biblically, the Green Knight’s beheading by Gawain’s hand strongly represent man’s adoption of secularism, if the Green Knight is seen as a representation of God – man severs divine virtue (head) from the meaning of existence (body) through will (the neck), which mirrors Adam and Eve cutting themselves from God’s will in favour of free will when eating the forbidden fruit, hence losing their divine reality in the Garden of Eden.

In The Green Knight, the connected neck may denote divine virtue through God’s will in giving meaning to our existence, whereas the severed or “freed” neck signifies that free will away from God’s divinity is what alone drives the meaning of life. In that sense, Gawain’s theistic voyage towards the Green Knight is the inevitable reunion of man to God, and the fulfillment of the Green Knight’s covenant to behead Gawain back is akin to man’s penitence in finally relinquishing life’s meaning back into God’s will.

The film bestows us the gift of letting us unearth our own profound truths from it. If nothing else, that alone makes it the best film of the year.

‘The Suicide Squad’ Review: A Shot-Gunn to the Face (and Heart)

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad entertainingly poeticises gratuitous violence with his signature zany aplomb, soaking your heart with a warming tale of outcast deviancy as much as it also serves the blood-pumping organ on a tantalising silver screen platter of gory intestinal splatter for your amusement.

While I admire David Ayer’s earlier Suicide Squad film in 2016 for managing to unearth the core of the squad’s tragic predicament of essentially being suicide-for-hire entrants who ultimately wrestle back the fate of their lives, Ayer’s all-star squad of anti-heroes felt leashed to an umbrella classification of being nothing more than a band of generic misfit mercenaries or soldiers, rather than being fleshed out as the colourful personalities each of them are.

Gunn, on the other hand, unshackles his squad of unsavoury avengers and allows the madcap temperament of almost every character to guide the film’s tonal outlook. And why wouldn’t he.

The fact that any squad member in the film can be arbitrarily wiped out at any moment by their headstrong supervisor, Amanda Waller, gifts The Suicide Squad the perfect premise to play out the facetious dark humour of the seemingly doomed squad members.

A warming tale of outcast deviancy as much as it also serves the blood-pumping organ on a tantalising silver screen platter of gory intestinal splatter for your amusement.

This only further endeared me towards the squad, as I too could cut loose and let my inner chaotic frivolity run wild alongside the havoc-induced revelry and anguish of the squad’s misadventures.

This is how Gunn emotionally hooks you into this thrill fest, with these characters slowly attaching themselves to you like a bomb embedded inside your heartstrings, and akin to the implanted bomb inside each squad member’s skull in the film.

Both explosives ready to go off at any time to cruelly blow up the emotional affinity for these characters in a manner that feels as impactful as a squad member’s head exploding into smithereens.

‘Batman The Long Halloween’ Review: Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 (released 22 June) and Part 2 (27 July) are strong, faithful animated adaptations of the eponymous graphic novel that charts the murky early years of Batman as he unravels the spider-webbed abyss of organised crime and serial homicide – forming defining relationships with friend and foe that will fortify the depths of his storied vigilantism for years to come.

The stoic caped crusader Batman begins the two-parter saga as a brasher vigilante, doling out justice with bloody fisticuffs rather than tactical observation and non-violent strategy. Yet a dastardly chain of festive holiday-inspired murders beckons the Dark Knight’s cognitive prowess into play with the help of Detective Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, forcing the lone vigilante into the uncharted territory of forging alliances.

What follows afterwards brilliantly twists and turns the wide-eyed absolution that the three of them thought they’d get from this case. Batman and Dent in particular are sent spiraling down a widening chasm of deception and violent gravitas brought forth not only by the anonymous prime suspect, the aptly named Holiday, but also by Batman’s infamous rogue’s gallery.

The rogue’s gallery, while admittedly overcrowds the action on occasion, never fully encumbers The Long Halloween’s core intimate drama as the story refreshingly pivots to ruminating solemnity and layered conversations to deliver its strongest narrative knockout punches – the strongest of which being Dent’s fall from grace.

The optimistic white knight Dent, once a shining beacon of Gotham’s law and order amidst the city’s scum of criminality, dissipates into the poisoned solace of his raging duality as his capriciously tortured mind gradually unhinges from the final threads of sanity to birth into existence the criminal kingpin Two-Face.

Dent’s transformation illuminates Batman to the solitary road of crimefighting that’s marred by lost acquaintances along the way. Bearing the burden of ones left behind, it’s the ultimate irony that the Dark Knight rises to become Gotham’s brightest light – shining salvation for the innocent, igniting justice for the damned.

Netflix’s Sweet Tooth: Refreshing Hope Amidst Post-Pandemic Tragedy

Netflix’s Sweet Tooth surprised me, and I rarely feel that way when it comes to television shows I already plan to watch (although what drew me to it was its terrific first trailer and the DC Comics logo adorning that trailer’s credits). I’m glad my instincts propelled me into this particular comic book-inspired post-apocalyptic universe, because while certain end-of-the-world tropes define most of this show’s initial trappings, what lies at the heart of Sweet Tooth is a uniquely heartwarming drama-adventure that basks upon an aesthetically kaleidoscopic canvas which is far from the dour, murky entrails that fuel modern dystopian storytelling.

Witnessing a viral plague tearing the civilised world apart in Sweet Tooth felt suitably surreal, and this event duly served as a stimulating launch pad for our doe-eyed and antler-bearing child protagonist, Gus. While some might glance at Gus and dismiss the entire show as mere kid-friendly entertainment, the show daringly wrestles its fair share of darker, emotional moments. However, Sweet Tooth never dwells too heavily on these aspects and instead balances bleaker moments with levity and hope abound, which I find refreshingly poignant amidst the glut of gloomy familiarity that most post-apocalyptic shows lean on.

The series congruently intertwines the seemingly disparate stories of characters we’ve met.

I especially admire how Gus’ naiveté plays well into his endlessly flowing optimism that not only eventually spreads to his world-weary travelling comrades, but also becomes a wider thematic reciprocation in the show which inspires impetus amidst the internal strife that other secondary characters experience throughout the show.

Driving towards the show’s finale (in particular the final episode), the series congruently intertwines the seemingly disparate stories of characters we’ve met, teeing up a near-perfect narrative runaway that a second season could flawlessly kick it into high gear.

With grade-A cinematography that engenders quality cinematic lighting (occasionally let down by some jarring CGI-laden sequences) and great cast performances all round, Sweet Tooth ultimately seeks to edify us about holding fast to life’s sweetening bliss that often gets lost amongst our fears and dreams.

Tell us Why Toothpaste is the Most Important Thing to a Writer

P.S. Found one of my old writing assessments for job I was applying for years ago. Enjoy the cringe!

Why’s toothpaste the most important thing to a writer, you ask?

Well, why WOULDN’T it be!

While writers might excel at crafting a mean copy on the fly, proofreading a couple of hundred pages of an unpublished manuscript without breaking a sweat and curating a web article faster than you could say “enamel health is wealth”, the same care and focus unfortunately may not always apply to their physical appearances.

Being outwardly unkempt is part and parcel of the modern writers’ persona – choosing to let their fingers on the keyboard do the talking rather than through the rigours of formal dressing or fashion. Some writers even go so far as to forgo personal hygiene in lieu of letting their creative juices run their life instead of their common sense, putting most people off.

So in that sense, more than anyone else, writers are in need of the many hygiene products shelved in their nearest Watsons or Guardian to keep ourselves presentable – not necessarily for themselves, but for the convenience and relief of those around them.

And what’s the one thing people notice about each other the moment the meet face-to-face? Their smile of course! Admit it, a friendly smile revealing shiny rows of teeth glistening at your direction never fails to catch your attention. Conversely, a distorted set of teeth can form an unpleasant impression of the person holding that muddled smile.

Therefore, if writers want to easily resolve the conundrum that is their disheveled external appearance, all they need to do is improve their smiles – and what better, cost-effective way they can accomplish just that than with brushing their teeth using toothpaste! Brushing twice a day is all you need to witness a marked improvement in your smile and subsequently your overall physical self.

Ultimately, owning a smile filled with enamel delights rather enamel disasters could do wonders for your social interactions. Couple that with your skilled writing ability and you’ve just become the James Bond of penmanship!

‘Minari’ Review: Of Familial Failure And Fortitude

Minari is a mesmerizingly raw depiction of the trials, tribulations and ever-elusive triumphs that permeate the American dream as we accompany a Korean family, the Yi family, and their Herculean endeavour to assimilate into 1980s America.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung crafts a poignant and universal narrative weave of veiled hope, deceitful delight and somber tranquility into one of the most spellbindingly grounded films of I’ve seen since 2016’s Manchester By The Sea.

Immaculately vulnerable performances from the whole cast elevate Chung’s poetically heartstring-pulling script into the rarely-charted filmic territory of through and through relatability. Steven Yuen’s role is especially remarkable, given that his limited feature film experience doesn’t play any diminishing factor on his performance as he masterfully lays bare his character’s imperfections and emotional unrest that underpin a mulish virility.

It’s this unpretentious authenticity in dissecting the Yi family’s intimate toils which helps cement the film’s definitive truth of what a family truly entails.

I also loved to the charming minutiae of Eastern tradition subtly planted throughout the film. From lining parchment paper inside drawers to feeling terrified of the prospect of being caned, these little moments sparked a welcome reminiscence of my personal childhood yet at the same time candidly validates the ubiquity of these experiences.

It’s this unpretentious authenticity in dissecting the Yi family’s intimate toils which helps cement the film’s definitive truth of what a family truly entails.

Because while most commercially-made family drama films would usually preach a sort of obtuse compromise as the bandage to resolve family conflict, the Yi family’s ultimate solidarity is born from a literal and symbolic baptism by fire during the film’s climax – their past struggles and antagonism now ashes that serve as the foundation of a new-found faith in themselves as a family.

And just like the enduring Minari harvest by the end of the film – a vegetable that’s said to grow stronger in its second season after a period of near-death dormancy – the Yi family can finally begin learning to reap the blooming harvest of their second chance at becoming a family after undergoing the fiery exorcism of their individual sufferings.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” Review: The Ties That Bind The Hope Of Heroism

Some called it a modern allegory of straw-grasping fantasies, others saw it as a gleaming truth buried nigh into oblivion. Yet here we are. Arising from the frankenstiened trash heap known as 2017’s “Josstice League”, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) finally restores a besmirched superhero chronicle to its rightful originally-intended glory. It’s unprecedented for a film panned by critics and fervently disowned by its studio to strongly permeate vast cultural ethers of fan bases to the point of resurrection and global resonance.

And what a sight it is, to behold four stirring hours of beautiful character development and performances, layered sage-esque storytelling, astounding cinematography and choreography that capture tiny subtleties in tender periods as much as thunderous moments in roaring action, and a resounding soundtrack that skillfully varies between heart-pounding and melancholically subdued – all accomplished with masterful pacing.

From Man Of Steel to Batman V Superman and now to ZSJL, Snyder charted an untrodden course in superhero filmmaking – deconstructing deified heroes within the framework of our mortal rigours and bestowing them the chance to earn, or regain, the hope of heroism by striving beyond mortal moralistic conundrums and philosophical conflictions to become the enduring titans of righteousness we know and love.

ZSJL allows our heroes the chance to finally achieve this hope not through individual feats, but through finding solace through kinship.

A world-ending threat may have brought them together, but what truly binds the League are their sorrowful despondencies predicated on a loss that each of them has suffered. Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg have each endured losses of people dear to them, Aquaman’s loss is one identity deficiency caused by rejection of homes in land and sea, and Flash’s loss stems from an absent parental figure robbed by injustice.

The ties that bind, a Justice League enshrined. Thus their will to prevail isn’t just borne from confronting evil, but through faith in each other’s perseverance to rise above their respective sufferings and attain what they’re meant to be. You know what that’s called? Hope.

Some called it a modern allegory of straw-grasping fantasies, others saw it as a gleaming truth buried nigh into oblivion. Yet here we are. Arising from the frankenstiened trash heap known as 2017’s “Josstice League”, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (ZSJL) finally restores a besmirched superhero chronicle to its rightful originally-intended glory. It’s unprecedented for a film panned by critics and fervently disowned by its studio to strongly permeate vast cultural ethers of fan bases to the point of resurrection and global resonance.

And what a sight it is, to behold four stirring hours of beautiful character development and performances, layered sage-esque storytelling, astounding cinematography and choreography that capture tiny subtleties in tender periods as much as thunderous moments in roaring action, and a resounding soundtrack that skillfully varies between heart-pounding and melancholically subdued – all accomplished with masterful pacing.

From Man Of Steel to Batman V Superman and now to ZSJL, Snyder charted an untrodden course in superhero filmmaking – deconstructing deified heroes within the framework of our mortal rigours and bestowing them the chance to earn, or regain, the hope of heroism by striving beyond mortal moralistic conundrums and philosophical conflictions to become the enduring titans of righteousness we know and love.

ZSJL allows our heroes the chance to finally achieve this hope not through individual feats, but through finding solace through kinship.

A world-ending threat may have brought them together, but what truly binds the League are their sorrowful despondencies predicated on a loss that each of them has suffered. Batman, Wonder Woman and Cyborg have each endured losses of people dear to them, Aquaman’s loss is one identity deficiency caused by rejection of homes in land and sea, and Flash’s loss stems from an absent parental figure robbed by injustice.

The ties that bind, a Justice League enshrined. Thus their will to prevail isn’t just borne from confronting evil, but through faith in each other’s perseverance to rise above their respective sufferings and attain what they’re meant to be. You know what that’s called? Hope.

P.S. And of course, ZSJL isn’t and shouldn’t be the end, but the provenance of something more. So, next up, #restorethesnyderverse.

‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’ Review: Little Moments Defining A Rich Saga

After almost 2 months, my time with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla comes to an end. The vast historical fiction open world role-playing game recounts the Viking invasion into England at 873 AD led by fictional Vikingr warrior-cum-assassin extraordinaire Eivor Wolf-Kissed, whom you control in the game.

And while Valhalla weaves a captivatingly sprawling narrative of thunderous warfare between Danes and Saxons that’s underpinned once again by the gaming franchise’s long-standing clandestine conflict between the Assassins (good guys) and Templars (bad guys), it was the little details that truly elevated the overall experience far beyond what I had initially imagined.

An open world game might usually run into the common problem of gradually becoming an empty shell that only serves to create spatial distance between two main objectives, with players avoiding everything else in between as they believe it to be fodder or obstacles in the main quest.

This issue is an even bigger risk for Valhalla considering its absolutely massive size and scope. However, Valhalla smartly populates its open world with well-placed side quests, collectibles and welcome distractions that you happen upon every 400 to 500 in-game metres, ensuring the illusion of a robustly busy world that carries on with or without the player’s meddling – just like our real world.

Eivor treks across numerous English territories that each have their own episodic stories as you come face-to-face with allies and foes, kings and slaves, lovers and heartbreakers, warriors and cowards.

Enveloping Valhalla’s quests and activities as you travel across its lands is its lush nature-laden scenery that pleasantly stopped me in my tracks several times, as I longingly gazed at the autumnal flora-rich scenery of England’s countryside, foreboding fog-filled forests, snow-capped peaks so high they pierce the heavens and mysterious alcoves shrouding tantalising secrets.

Finding myself immersed in the world’s splendorous minutia only made my character interactions within the game even more poignant. Tasked to be a king maker and enduring warrior across England to safeguard the status and longevity of his newly-settled Raven clan, Eivor treks across numerous English territories that each have their own episodic stories as you come face-to-face with allies and foes, kings and slaves, lovers and heartbreakers, warriors and cowards.

These episodic tales string together heartrending or uplifting connections with an arrestingly diverse cast of characters that firmly etched their presence in my mind. The game also goes one step further in bringing these characters together under Eivor’s stead at the game’s pivotal moments, rewarding you with a sense of endearment to see old friends gather by your side after you played a part in their own separate fables earlier in the game.

All in all, it was truly bittersweet to bid farewell to Valhalla. However, I’m comforted by this notion:

When I strum my guitar and the game’s beautiful skaldic tunes start creeping in, I’ll once more enter my hall of memories and relive glorious Nordic adventures of fighting blood-soaked sieges and raids beside comrades, sailing through rivers and high seas, revelling in mead-rich merriment as well as grazing across nature’s jaw-dropping landscapes – and know that I once breathed life into a saga worthy of Odin’s godly favour.

‘The Little Things’ Review: Devil’s In The Details

‘True Detective: The Movie’ is probably the highest compliment I can pay John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things, a neo-noir crime thriller starring a triple threat of Oscar-winning talents in Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto who command their screen presence effectively.

The film’s pacing takes a slow-burn backseat in this regard to allow these characters to become fleshed out, which I’m personally fine with as True Detective also possessed marked similarities in pacing and tension-building. The 90s backdrop is also cleverly crafted with moody lighting and static camerawork reminiscent of hard-boiled detective dramas of the era.

While the synopsis may seem like another by-the-numbers detective tale at first (and the film does much to lure you into that false perception), the overall film is the most surprisingly subversive crime thriller I’ve witnessed since Seven. In that sense, The Little Things is a lauded dark horse of the detective film genre, injecting a refreshingly raw macabre of violence and victim portrayal intertwined with the deteriorating psyche of the detectives that will pursue the case to its inevitably heart-pounding ending.

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch

As the film insinuates, detectives are perceived to be in the ‘angel’ business – agents of good watching over their innocent flock of citizens and protecting them from the criminals, or ‘demons’, that try to compel atrocities from the shadows. Law enforcement are your holier-than-thou champions of seeing justice materialise, and in reality, we often look at these men and women as such.

‘The Little Things’ deconstructs this noble notion by unsheathing crime’s cacophony through our detectives’ own sanity, as their partnership ripens to lay bare the buried trauma and emotional lesions of their own personal guilt of failure, missteps and hastiness in finding the truth.

Sinking into a web of twisted traps in a deepening abyss of savior culpability makes for a thought-provoking watch, and while some may be left unsatisfied by the film’s conclusion, it’ll no doubt worm its way into your mind as you furiously peel back all the small moments that led up to its defining moment. After all, the devil’s in the details, or in this case, the little things.

P.S. Interestingly, enough blink-and-you-miss-it clues are left in the film for eagle-eyed viewers to strongly hint at the killer’s possible identity before the credits roll, but at the same time some evidence may also suggest the opposite. Put on your detective coat and see if you can solve the case before the film does 🙂