The Films of 2017

Discussions of specific films and franchises.
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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Films of 2017

#76 Post by knives » Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:10 pm

In the Fade feels like a movie that Atom Egoyan could have at least made pretty compelling, but in Fatih Akin's hands it moves to elevate trash cinema grammar, but only rises it to slightly agreeable blandness which isn't what I want out of my neo-Nazi bombing movie. Diane Kruger is about as good as could be expected with the material without really going so far as to explain her Cannes win. In particular there's one scene with a bath tub that better directing and acting might have made something out of, but as is it plays as comedy beyond the simple irony it is introducing.

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flyonthewall2983
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Re: The Films of 2017

#77 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Tue Dec 11, 2018 1:56 pm

Lowlife is a twisty, darkly comic tragedy in the non-linear mold of early Tarantino, with present implications to the darker side of the American experience. With sometimes horrific results, it somehow doesn't plunge itself entirely in nihilism either. It's Ryan Prows' debut feature, and a very promising one at that.

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flyonthewall2983
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Re: The Films of 2017

#78 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun Dec 16, 2018 11:36 am

Racer And The Jailbird isn't quite the follow-up to Michaël R. Roskam's two excellent previous features that I hoped it would be, but not for lack of emotion. Matthias Schoenarts (who I thought was brilliant in both of those movies, in almost contrasting roles in both Bullhead and The Drop) and Adèle Exarchopoulos certainly don't phone in their chemistry, but I felt like the story lost steam towards the end.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The Films of 2017

#79 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jun 24, 2019 10:40 pm

The Day After (HONG Sang-soo)

I initially saw this screened quite a while ago (Harvard Film Archive, maybe), and finally got to re-watch it via the Cinema Guild Blu Ray. Structurally this seemed rather different -- a fair amount of cross-cutting between different time lines (sometimes flashbacks, perhaps, sometimes not). KIM Min-hee is (as is usually the case now) the lead actress -- and she is quite fine here (as is also routinely the case). The rest of the cast is quite good for their roles as well. Lots of talking, a comparatively modest amount of drinking (and no vomiting). Kim's character has the misfortune of starting a new job (for an author/publisher) on the same day her boss's wife decides to confront her husband's (former) secretary/mistress. I found this consistently engaging -- and occasionally funny. If one likes Hong's films at all, this is really very much worth seeing.

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flyonthewall2983
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Re: The Films of 2017

#80 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:57 pm

I quite enjoyed Tom Of Finland, dramatically speaking but also getting a clearer understanding of where some of my own prurience comes from (adoring both men and women in leather as it were). It is also about connections and disconnections, romantically, sexually and culturally speaking.

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Red Screamer
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Re: The Films of 2017

#81 Post by Red Screamer » Fri Sep 06, 2019 12:27 pm

Leigh Ledare's documentary The Task, one of the most infuriating and exhilarating contemporary films, is available to watch for free on Vimeo (password on his linked website). Description:
Ledare filmed The Task during a three-day Group Relations Conference—a socialpsychology method developed by London’s Tavistock Institute—that the artist organized in Chicago. In addition to directing the film crew, Ledare assembled the 28 participants and secured the collaboration of 10 psychologists trained in the method. During a sequence of small and large group meetings, the group studies its own self-made social structure—an abstract “task” that allows participants to examine the identities, roles, desires, and biases individuals import into the group, as well as conscious and unconscious group dynamics. Ledare introduces one key modification, however: the presence of a camera crew and the artist as observers and collaborators. This intervention shifts the “here and now” orientation of the conference by making the members of the group aware of the effect of external social and technological forces. By complicating authority and boundaries among all members—including the artist—Ledare calls attention, by analogy, to power structures that govern our relations to one another in a society where we are increasingly both observers and observed.
Ledare captures some of the greatest documentary close-ups here and the way he follows personal and group dynamics through behavioral changes, both obvious and subtle, is fascinating.

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colinr0380
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Re: The Films of 2017

#82 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Apr 28, 2020 8:46 am

Wonder (Stephen Chbosky, 2017)

I was a bit cautious about seeing this film from its initial description, as the idea of a facially disfigured boy entering the daunting world of school for the first time after years of homeschooling, and facing prejudice there had the potential to feel dreadfully mawkish and preachy. Which it still is in many ways but I ended up liking it quite a lot, although with significant reservations that cropped up from an unexpected quarter.

The film starts rather conventionally with the young boy August talking pluckily about how he has coped with his issues in voiceover, and then we get into his perspective on how difficult it is to be different in school (the same kind of story that could form the basis of a tale about racism, or bullying for any reason, or just generally someone being homeschooled having to cope with being amongst large groups of kids). I was assuming that the film was going to stay completely in this idiom but after August gets the chance to tell his story and lay out the world by introducing his family and social circle we then get a quite surprising jump out of his perspective into that of his older teenage sister Via getting used to university and feeling isolated from her previous best friend, who gets to provide her own perspective on feeling as if she is completely ignored in the family whilst August’s more pressing needs get entirely focused on by their parents. That underlines the idea that everyone is in the middle of their own trials of life, and that means that they often do not have the headspace to devote to other people’s issues even if they want to. The film even at that point is unafraid to make the parents themselves realistically unsympathetic feeling and even August himself gets to behave really badly towards classmates and family members, showing that he is not just a ‘saintly disabled person struggling with injustice’ but can also be too quick to anger or jump to judgement of others himself. (Although the film does have to immediately kill off the family pet to bring the family back together again! I was immediately suspicious that this would happen anyway, as it seems inevitable if you cast Owen Wilson as the father post-Marley & Me!)

The shift in perspectives from character to character happens over and over throughout the film, whilst the overall story proceeds onwards (a little bit of a mix of Cloud Atlas and a Kore-eda film structurally!), and I particularly liked the later sections where we leave the perspective of the family altogether and instead get into the estranged friend perspectives of on one side August’s friend Jack (who unfortunately badmouthed August behind his back whilst trying to keep in with his wider circle of friends, only for August to have overheard it. So he has to wrestle with actually figuring out why August has cut off their friendship abruptly, as well as recognising his own guilt for his thoughtless actions and atoning for it); and on the other Via’s friend Miranda (who cut Via out of her life not because she ‘moved on’ but because she was feeling guilty at having appropriated Via’s life whilst away at summer camp in place of her own less showily depressing home life, and could not face Via afterwards). In a way the shift from the internal family dynamics to the ‘outsider perspective’ is a really good one, placing the central family’s situation into a wider context where for all of the issues that they face other people are actually looking at them with a tinge of aspirational jealousy!

That is much more complex an approach to the drama than I had otherwise been expecting, and I really appreciated the generosity of the film for the way it seemed to be trying to see both sides of the situation and even to a certain extent understand how otherwise moments of thoughtlessly cruel remarks or even pre-meditated bullying can come about through ignorance or fear of ‘the other’, or concerns about having your own identity overwhelmed by someone else’s.
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It was particularly interesting to see how the subplot of the most obviously ‘villainous’ school bully figure Henry plays out. Henry significantly is never given the honour of having one of these shifts in perspective and voice over to fill out his character more directly, but we do get a couple of very interesting scenes involving him. The most astute scene is probably the one where after August is forced to introduce himself in front of the class and says that he likes Star Wars has Henry cheerily questioning him about his favourite character probably being one of the deformed bad guys rather than assuming that he identifies with the good guys of the film. That’s a superficially benign way of denigrating August, with plausible deniability, in a way that the teacher will probably not pick up on the subtext of which I thought was a very powerful moment.

After the bullying escalates into more blatant abuse Henry gets suspended for two days, mirroring the earlier suspension of Jack for punching Henry and thereby getting back into August’s good graces. Only Jack takes the punishment as justified for his emotional outburst, whilst Henry, or more specifically his parents, see even two days suspension as excessive. I guess that also is meant to suggest issues around an imbalance between how people perceive physical (in this case a short term explosion of anger) versus mental (long form that has been going on through the whole film) violence too. I really liked too that despite the incensed privileged parents being a bit of a caricature that we get the way that Henry’s crude drawings contrast with the way that his mother had been the one to professionally Photoshop August out of the class photograph that Henry had also been using in his bullying because she “did not want visitors to our home talking more about this other boy than our son”, which in a horrible way appeared to have legitimised the approach Henry took at school as being the right one because his parents were doing it.

In the end Henry gets his unexpected comeuppance by his wealthy parents incensed by the suspension deciding to remove their funding, and therefore Henry himself, from the school and his friends and putting him somewhere else instead. Which is kind of raising that issue of how people, particularly wealthy ones, have the money and ability to insulate themselves away from interaction with ‘undesireables’, and often end up holding the same prejudices because by being able to throw money at an issue they have never had to examine them head on. Not to mention that a character like Henry might have gotten his comeuppance for his cruel bullying, and lost all of his friends as a result of his behaviour, but I could also see being pulled from the school being something that could harden his character and make him feel more hatred for August having maybe ‘done this to him’ than he would if he had just had the suspension and had to return and work things out (which is what the Principal, in his weak punishment, was likely hoping for). The ending for Henry neatly removes him from the narrative for a quick happy ending, but it is a kind of removal that risks creating a callous psychopath in the long run.
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Having praised this film quite a bit for the way it is structured and the acting (everyone is great here and I particularly like that the characteristic Julia Roberts full throated exuberant laugh is held back for most of the film, which makes its deployment in the scene of the couple alone for a rare romantic evening and Owen Wilson’s (unseen but presumably incredibly naughty) gift to Roberts a really wonderful moment of her character finally getting to let loose!), I do have issues that I want to get off my chest about it too!

Weirdly I was reminded a bit of that short film on the BFI’s series of sex education films that I wrote up a few years back Her Name Was Ellie, His Name Was Lyle, which shares a lot of the same pluses and minuses of Wonder. In that short film we are shown how STDs are transmitted and it is trying to humanise not just the character who gets infected but also the person that gave them the disease too. It is widening out the circle of sympathy in many ways. Yet it still has to have the people beyond them who are the ‘truly evil ones’ who do not get characterised sympathetically at all! Similarly in Wonder we get not the trials of August versus his horrible bullies and sister and parents who just don’t understand him, but rather a widening out to encompass August and his wider family circle and friends. Even Henry is understood and sympathised with as probably the most tragic figure of the film (because he was not given a chance to change and remains trapped within his privileged circle). But then Henry’s parents are just portrayed as prejudiced and unsympathetic, with the mother unrepentant about her photoshop skills and the father withdrawing that all important funding cheque from the school as they leave with their son. So there always needs to be a cruder sketched in monster standing in the shadows that we can blame instead, even when we try to make the front of stage villains more understandable!

This plays into perhaps my major concern about the film however, which is the class angle. I don’t know if this would be more quickly apparent to American audiences much earlier on in the film (the family living in a New York brownstone similar to the one that Jodie Foster’s wealthy ex-wife moves into in Panic Room might be the immediate signifier!), but it did not really hit me until the final third of the film that our central family were pretty well off financially. August’s school could look like any Elementary school, and the very ‘normality’ of many of the rest of the pupils contrasts pointedly against Henry being immediately assessed by August as coming from money, in his assessment of his shoes set against Jack and his scuffed hand me down trainers. Which might really suggest more that Henry is an only child more than anything! But August of course has to be proven to be correct in his assessment to be wary, both of Henry’s smart clothes and his character. (Thinking back on it, the third child in that scene where August is gently introduced to a selection of pupils before being thrown into the school entirely, is the rather vain Isabel who talks about having been a child actor in commercials! So that is another alarm bell about the world that we are entering that went over my head initially)

That’s fine in the sense that everyone deserves films made about their milieu, but it really seems that the privileged bubble inhabited by August and his family is not particularly interrogated by the film, which I found really grated when we get to the material with Henry being suggested to be the monstrous brat coming from money and the implication that the money might have caused his callous attitude, only confirmed by the final scene with his parents. It also impacts on the trials that August is facing himself with his deformity, in that even having to face the scary world of school, it is probably not quite as awful as going into the public school system would be!

(Also side questions: What should we make of the way that the main character out of the group of girls who reacts with most disgust to the way August looks is Asian? How about the way that seemingly one of the few black people in the entire school is the teacher? Who is the only one who kind of understands what is happening to August, but can only get the Principal to hand out two day suspensions as a standard fallback response? I kind of like Mandy Patinkin’s brief moments as the Principal, who is sympathetic but distant to his pupils, sympathising with Jack’s emotional punch up with Henry only in coded terms by means of his suspension letter, and with Henry at the end but only because he is going to be hurt too with the withdrawal of the funding from the school that Henry embodies!)

Once we get to August’s summer camp trip on the bus with the big words “Prep School” on the side of it, that kind of removed any illusion that this was anything but something taking place in a world that was already pretty cushioned from the realities of the world outside (although maybe prep schools mean something different in the US versus the schools costing thousands of pounds per term for the children of the elite in the UK). A world that needed someone like August to have really obvious trials inside, as otherwise things would run relatively smoothly otherwise. (And that itself impacts on the subplot of the elder sister Via and her friend Miranda too, which suddenly became extremely similar to the world as depicted in the Life Is Strange games, which itself was set within a prep school environment)

And then the film almost overbalanced for me in that moment of August and Jack, now good friends, getting accosted in the woods by a bunch of kids from another school and they are almost beaten up until Henry’s old schoolmates suddenly do a heel turn and come to the rescue to stick together against the threat from this new bunch of prejudiced ‘hick kids’ (as August himself calls them!), that only underlines the class divide aspects. So for all that this film is (quite touchingly) asking for tolerance even of people’s bad attitudes, there is something off putting going on about the unexamined class dynamics going on throughout the final section in particular of this film.

And also having Owen Wilson’s dad exuberantly praise his son on his return from camp for having had a fight (but only when it looks as if he won it) might be sending a bit of the wrong message too. But, hey, Jack’s punch up was treated rather lightly too, so maybe its OK to solve one’s problems through violence in this school, but only when it is justified! I’m waiting for a sequel in which August and Jack set up an after school boxing club!
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Aside from the class stuff, the other slight problem I have with the film is that after Miranda fakes illness to (beautifully) let Via as the understudy play the part on opening night in front of her family, which also lets her repair the estranged relationship between them, I really wanted to see that make up scene between the two girls after the show, maybe with Miranda apologising for her inexplicable seeming standoffish behaviour towards Via in recent weeks and being forgiven (that itself could have contrasted nicely against the ‘socially distanced’ make up scene between August and Jack inside the Minecraft world, suggesting the different approaches that two boys and two girls take towards repairing their friendships). Instead we jump from the cast taking their bows at the end of the show to the family back at home with Miranda now suddenly there with them too. Which was fine I guess in that the elder sister and her friend are both supporting characters in the grand scheme of things, but that reconciliation between them might have ended up being the most moving scene of the film (so moving that maybe it might have overbalanced things into not being about August? I wonder if there is a deleted scene somewhere of just such a scene that was removed to not overwhelm things? But that is just pure speculation on my part)
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So it is an interesting film (much more interesting than I had expected going in to it) but one which I do have some reservations about in terms of the source material. Maybe a few more drafts could have smoothed out that class privilege aspect more into the background so that it would not seem so jarringly apparent in the later stages, but then again that was the stuff that fascinated me enough to want to write about and unpack my feelings towards the film, so on balance I am glad it was left in!

I found out after watching Wonder that this film was also directed by the same guy who previously directed The Perks of Being A Wallflower, which really annoyed me for its superficial character study qualities and the way it was trying to provide psychological insight into privileged but naïve characters who like pop music but somehow have never heard of Heroes!! If I had known that I probably would have avoided this film entirely but it does feel that Wonder, despite having some of the same flaws (especially that rather uncomfortable and unexamined implication that sometimes violence against others can be performed for positive, bonding reasons!), is quite a bit better!

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