There’s no film from this year that is the perfect storm of incredible dark comedy and strong storytelling than the sophomore feature effort of writer/director Riley Stearns – “The Art of Self Defense”. The film, about a timid man attempting to find some self-confidence through learning karate only to discover the dark secrets of the local dojo he goes to, is just purely immaculate. Right from the first scene, the film easily found a direct line to my funny bone and continued to rattle it with every wild and odd moment that comes from Casey’s (Jesse Eisenberg) experience with learning martial arts and the overtly serious nature of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola).
Sexual assault is a crime that has been perpetrated upon far too many women; some who’ve unfortunately gone through this may find this film to be one too difficult to sit through. An experience like this is not one which needs re-living--especially when it hits this close to home (which happens to be the case of the director/screenwriter/producer, Cédric Jouaire according to my press notes). A best-selling writer is seduced, then kidnapped by a stalker who accuses him of rape. She claims that the rape occurred 20 years ago and that he has used her personal tragedy and exploited it by making it the plot of his latest novel. The author insists that this is merely a coincidence and that his work is merely one of fiction, yet the vengeful woman persistently forces him to confess.
Amidst the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it as become glaringly obvious how pervasive toxic masculinity, harassment, and abuse are in the film industry. With film and television as not just art forms, but avenues of escapism, how do we watch cinema more responsibly?
Following the scathing Weinstein report, MANY men in Hollywood – and some women – have been accused of sexual harassment and assault. This is not a new thing, but we are certainly not remaining as complacent as before. Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bryan Singer, R. Kelly and so on are facing exile from the entertainment industry.
"Ad Astra" is more drama than it is sci-fi; this is a rumination on whether or not the pursuit of knowledge is worth the expense of one’s humanity. Admirers of contemplatively mournful futuristic films like “Solaris”, “Gravity”, and “Arrival” will have much to stare at with wonder here. The film is also a provocative meditation on masculinity and how it’s defined by most people today.