Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Moving images (2017 review, part 2)

The film genre is something I approach with just a little ennui. Having made deep dives into film history and seen all the acclaimed masterpieces of the past, I seldom seem to find something new to speak about. There wasn't a single film I saw in 2017 which I would call 'perfect,' but there were many great films. That will suffice.

I didn't discover many older films of note, but I finally went through The Fly (director: David Cronenberg), a horror film I had avoided because I sensed it was too gruesome for me. As it turns out, it is as gruesome as claimed, but the performances and storytelling kept me compelled. On the small screen I also saw: Get Out (director: Jordan Peele), which I liked although it was neither as scary nor as funny as online chatter made it appear - just a very tense thriller; Race (director: Stephen Hopkins), which was a fine bio-pic about Jesse Owens which felt a bit confined at having to adapt his life into a traditional three-act structure; and there was Arrival (director: Denis Villeneuve), which I enjoyed as a compassionate science fiction film (although the only aspect I shared on this blog was a musing on artificial gravity).

Theatrical Films

I went to the cinema eight times in 2017; each time I had at least one person who went with me. Without company, I wouldn't have gone to see any of these films. Which is not to say they're bad, just that I don't enjoy being alone in the theater unless the film is as unusual as Shin Godzilla was the year before. In particular, I would definitely not have bothered with Kong: Skull Island (director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts) or Dunkirk (director: Christopher Nolan) but for friends who wanted to see them (the former because my friend lost a bet on the Oscars with another friend and had to see a non-Oscar-worthy film with him as punishment). Kong wasn't bad, certainly better than I expected given my feelings about Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. Dunkirk became more engaging to me as it went on and presented some well-crafted tension through its gimmicky non-linear storytelling.

My friends wanted to see most of the big super hero films so who was I to refuse them? I dug Logan (director: James Mangold) with its somber tone, although the climax didn't quite sit right with me given all which had come before; I laughed a lot at Thor: Ragnarok (director: Waika Waititi), although as a huge fan of Planet Hulk and the last stand of Skurge the Executioner I wasn't particularly enthused at the truncated versions the film employed; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (director: James Gunn) felt very thin to me - way too pleased with itself and far too glib, but had a few great emotional beats when not trying to undercut its own drama; Wonder Woman (director: Patty Jenkins) was the super hero triumph of the year, despite having a pretty same-ol-same-ol climax - I wrote my initial thoughts here.

I also went to see Hacksaw Ridge (director: Mel Gibson) at the cheap theater and I was impressed to see a Hollywood film endorse pacifism, given that usually Hollywood war films which touch on the subject are crafted to speak against it (ie, Sergeant York). And there was Star Wars: The Last Jedi (director: Rian Johnson) recently, which I'm not certain how I feel about. It had various decisions I enjoyed, namely establishing Rey as a person who came from nothing instead of yet another member of the space-elite, but the questions the film raises about whether people should sacrifice themselves to achieve a greater good seem way too introspective for the Star Wars franchise and totally against what every film - particularly the last one, Rogue One - believe in. In Star Wars, you always play the odds even if you lose.


Being that I don't have a television subscriber, my only source of television programming is on Netflix. This past year they brought in my old favourite Mystery Science Theater 3000 with brand-new episodes, a series I had backed on Kickstarter. Although I enjoyed the new programs I found the production a little too mechanical, not quite organic enough - the riffing was near-constant and I actually didn't find that a plus - I wanted more time to appreciate the jokes, to let them land before the next one started. It's good enough.

Fortunately, Netflix also brought me the event of the year: Five Came Back, the documentary series based on the book I finished earlier in the year. I adored this series. Although it had less information than the book, the manner of presentation with the film clips makes it indispensable and the ways in which the five famous director-commentators reflected on each of the book's five directors brought up interesting parallels and insights into those men. I showed this series to one of my friends; my friend had an interest in World War 2, but not classic film. After the series was done he wanted to see films by each of the directors, so I showed him at least one my each director from my library.

About two months later my friend and I were meeting another guy for dinner before watching Dunkirk. The second friend asked, "What's the best movie you've seen this year?" I considered and chose Logan. My first friend? The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford, from our Five Came Back-related sessions. Now he's into the classics!

Tomorrow: Comics!

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