[2017 Film Wrap-Up]

Total: 275 (full list)
Revival: 70
SIFF: 80 (20-odd more than usual, thanks to the once-in-a-lifetime 3P)
Free: 104
…total cost: $619.50, or $2.25 a film

Wrap-ups for previous years live under the year-end tag, & if a film is linked here, it’s probably to the Instagram post I wrote on it for my #lastweekslove project.

Films of my heart: Call Me By Your Name, Columbus, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water.

And of course: BPM, Get Out, Colossal, The Wedding Plan, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Novitiate, Mudbound, A Ghost Story, Personal Shopper, The Big Sick, Menashe

More after the jump!  Continue reading “[2017 Film Wrap-Up]”

[On almost walking out of Detroit]

So. Detroit.

I almost walked out near the end of the hour-long torture scene because I knew there was almost an hour left of the film and I didn’t know how for how much longer it would be that brutal.

I regret not leaving. I regret watching it in the first place. I should have stayed in the lobby with my library book like I did when we showed Stonewall and also that movie where Seth Rogen plays a hot dog.

The largest portion of the movie is devoted to reveling in the time in the Algiers Motel – the beatings, the murders, the ongoing mental anguish – in a way that verges on pornographic. “Look at this; isn’t it terrible?” the movie says, and yes of course it is and it’s obviously powerfully constructed, but the movie doesn’t care to say anything else about it. Just “look at this thing in the past and be horrified.”

Samira Wiley has a cameo role as the desk clerk, and as the movie progressed I thought again about her character’s death on Orange is the New Black. Some of the same questions are raised by Detroit, “who is this story for?” being the primary one, and the answer once again being “white people who somehow don’t get it yet” and – spoiler – they’re not seeing this movie anyway.

Detroit is also like OITNB with its excessive humanizing of white men. It is very concerned with excusing white people from responsibility, particularly near the end where a survivor encounters a white cop who asks, “Who could do this to someone?”, as well as a scene where Poulter’s ringleader cop is specifically called out as racist. I did not for a second believe either of those interactions. In fact, I audibly groaned at the first one.

By arguing “Not All Cops”, the film excuses the inherent violence of a system of policing born from slavery that continues to murder black people consequence-free today.

Telling this story, especially tied as it is to the 50th anniversary of the incident, gives white audiences – the audience it was made for – a pass, allowing them to compartmentalize this story as the past. But it’s obviously not the past. There’s even a throwaway scene of a small girl being mistaken for a sniper & shot at. The film doesn’t care enough to tell us what happens to her, but children are still being shot in their homes and on their playgrounds and in their streets, so I still care.

This was all unfortunately more or less expected. So why did I see it? The cast, mostly. And thus as I sat there, I thought about all of the different stories about black lives we could be watching instead. This story, the story of black men murdered and white men freed is a story we see all the time, still. If you don’t get it, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to argue that white people should care except, ironically, through more stories. But the stories need to be the wide-ranging, complex stories mediocre white men get all the time, and not yet another story about the destruction of black bodies.

And finally, yes, these stories can still be told by white people. One of my favorite films of last year, The Fits, is a story about black girls directed by a white woman. It was a film that taught me things about gender, about growing up, about existing in a group, about a particular community of young black girls.

Detroit taught me nothing.

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]

There’s a scene (relatively) early in The Hobbit that involves a hedgehog named Sebastian. And that scene was where I lost all hope that maybe the film *wouldn’t* be a bloated, indulgent slog. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s crucial foreshadowing & Sebastian has a key role to play in, like, hour seventeen, but I am not sure I’ll be sticking around to see it.

I had been, like every other fankid, super excited about this movie. More Middle Earth! Hooray! I was even down with two movies. Why not. Everything these days has been broken into two movies whether it needs it or not. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows started it, and in some ways was very Tolkien-esque in that half of that book was just people walking around & camping. So, fine. I can dig it.

But then, after principal filming had long ended, came the announcement — just kidding! It’ll be three movies! Which, I’m sorry, but no. You’ve written an adaptation of a single children’s story. You split it into two films, theoretically with appropriate emotional arcs & character development & plot. And then, in the editing room, instead of taking out things that don’t serve those arcs & that story, you throw in everything and the kitchen sink & bam! Three movies.

At which point I started to worry. But the trailer was beautiful, and, like I said, I’m a fankid, so I was trying to withhold judgment. I was even letting the whole 48fps thing slide, even though that much conversation about the format rather than the story made me nervous.

There’s a lot of exciting film out right now, and to be honest, in the last few weeks, seeing The Hobbit started to feel like an obligation. But we got a group together, we laid in provisions, and we went. And then there was Sebastian the hedgehog. And then I gave up. It’s telling that when the movie ended, my viewing party immediately started listing complaints.

But first, in the interest of being positive, here’s what I liked:

* Martin Freeman is perfection as Bilbo. He’s fantastically Tookish, and brings much more to the character than he was given in the script. Also, I really want his patchwork robe. Make it so.

* It’s beautiful. I saw it in 2D digital. I’m not particularly interested in the 48fps. As it is, a lot of digital is too sharp for me, and that’s still in 24fps.

* The second song the dwarves sing is killer. It gave me false hope.

…that’s about it. On the other hand, there are all of these issues:

* Did we really need a twenty minute framing device? Is Elijah Wood that hard up for work? (It might not have been that long. But it felt like it had been a shockingly long time before the “Unexpected Journey” title card appeared.)

* I can’t tell the dwarves apart. I mean, they all look different, & obviously Thorin delivers (except when he’s talking about how much he hates Bilbo, wtf man). Also, there’s the one who was a vampire in Being Human, so I can pick him out, as well as the ginger one who I think was his boyfriend.

But still, of thirteen central characters I can confidently name only one. Most of them, I would not notice if they died. Maybe the round dwarf, because then they would stop making fat jokes, but that’s about it. And it’s not like there wasn’t time. The movie is practically three hours long. There are flashbacks & inclusions of extra characters & tales that don’t drive this arc. This is a story about people trying to get their home back! That is compelling, emotional business! Too bad none of that made it into the movie.

* There’s no banter, there’s no memorable dialogue, there’s no real tension because we know there are another six hours or so worth of movie coming, so no one will die yet, & it’s not like we know anything about them as individuals anyway.

* There are whole scenes that could have been removed without having any effect on the story.

* What is up with putting Galadriel on a lazy susan? Does she slowly rotate all the time, or is it just when she visits Rivendell?

* Not enough Lee Pace.

* This is a Tolkien thing but seriously. The fuckin’ eagles. Every time they show up you think: this thing could have been over hours ago, if they’d just give everyone a lift.

* And finally, IT’S SO DAMN LONG. I thought we were at the final battle scene, and there were at least two more after that. And it’s impossible to sit there and not think about the fact that there are two more movies. Ugh.

It’s been probably ten years since I read the book, and since I have a terrible memory I only remember four things that happen:

1) The beginning, when the dwarves invade Bilbo’s house.
2) The bit with the trolls.
3) Bilbo & Gollum’s game of riddles.
4) Getting to the Lonely Mountain & Dealing With Smaug.

This movie includes the first three, so I guess I’m going to have to go back & reread the book so I can figure out what the next six hours will contain. And at this juncture, I’m not sure that I really care to sit through it.

I’d really like to see Peter Jackson have to go back & work with no budget again. This is a movie by a guy who has too many damn toys. This movie is not about the story. It’s all about racking up jobs for Weta, and while their work is gorgeous, this is a film where the story is in service to the technology. It should be the other way round. Obviously.

I look forward to the day when the whole three or four or seventeen parts have been released, & someone cuts it down to maybe two or two and a half hours. I expect it will be mostly Martin being fantastic, and Gandalf counting everybody like a schoolteacher on a field trip.

And it’ll be beautiful.

[Five Things About Looper]

Five things about Looper, plus a bonus thing:

1) It’s not like Primer. I had heard that Primer‘s writer/director/star Shane Carruth worked on Looper, which artificially inflated my expectations in regards to Primer-like loopiness.

2) That said, I never knew what was going to happen. I spent the entire movie double- and triple-guessing myself.

3) Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Young Bruce Willis makeup is distracting. Also, Bruce Willis should never have hair. And apparently this doesn’t bother anyone else, but their ears are different. This would not have bothered me if they hadn’t tried so hard with the other makeup.

4) I loved the Blade Runner-esque world-building to tiny bits, from the TK stuff to the casual absorption of tech into the established world (especially things like the security screen on the loft door) to the DIY retrofitting of the cars (about which nothing was said at all, which is perfect). I’m still not excited about the see-through phones we’re going to have in the future, but I guess I am going to have to get used to it.

5) However, this is not a future which is awesome for ladies. I am going to chalk that up to its inevitable elements of noir, but I am giving Rian Johnson a bit of a side-eye: noir or not, ladies can be other things than moms, waitresses, or prostitutes. I promise.

In the end, it’s worth seeing, absolutely, but it wasn’t what I had expected it to be, so I had to do some adjusting. In the end, I think my favorite Rian Johnson film so far is actually The Brothers Bloom, because in spite of all of the cons & in spite of my deep love for the perfect style of Brick, Bloom is the movie with a heart. But Looper is still worth your time.

[The Perks of Being a Wallflower]

Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released in 1999, which means that if you are older than me you might never have heard of it, but if you were in high school at the time or younger, it probably changed your life. I’ve seen more text tattoos based on it than I can count. Ezra Miller, who plays Patrick in the film, described the book as “body armor… protection or salvation”. That sounds about right.

I finally read it in 2004. I was finishing grad school and working a summer temp job. I remember reading Perks on my lunch break, sitting in the plaza above International District station, and then returning to the reception desk of a incredibly quiet office, where I would write ridiculous stories on the internet & watch increasingly depressing coverage of the presidential election. It’s just that kind of book. You remember where you were.

The thing about the book is that you read it, and you think that no high school kid would ever react to events like Charlie does. No high school kid is that sensitive. The thing we realized when we saw the movie is that Stephen Chbosky — author, screenwriter, director — *is* Charlie. Charlie exists.

But let’s back up for a moment.

What you want to know is that the film is lovely. All of the key moments you remember from the book are there, and they are true, and they are magical. The biggest criticism I can offer is that the cast is a little too beautiful, by which I mean not just that the leads are, but even the parents — Dylan McDermott & Kate Walsh as Father & Mother. Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s sister. Melanie Lynskey as his adored, troubled aunt. And so on.

The structure is a little different, because it is a movie, duh, and so there are things that are revealed later in the book but earlier in the movie, and vice versa. So if you are an OMG NO CHANGES EVER person, too bad for you. You’re missing out, is what I am saying.

If you’re older than me, the main thing you should know about the novel is that it’s epistolary. Thus, it is inevitably very internal, characters aren’t fleshed out beyond what they are to Charlie, and he of course is an unreliable narrator. He’s writing the letters to an unknown recipient, and this carries over (lightly) into the film. That’s an easy thing to overdo with loads of voiceover, and Chbosky avoids that trap, which is commendable.

The story follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school. He’s had shit happen to him in the past, heavier shit than happens to most teens, but not heavier than all. Because the thing about teenagers is that they’re people, and terrible things happen to them, and even if you ban the books that talk about those things, this will not have the magical effect of making bad shit go away. It has the magical effect of preventing teens from having a language to talk about their own lives.

Um. Got on a little YA librarian kick there. Sorry. Back now.

So he’s trying, as he says in the book, to ‘participate’ despite all this shit. And the beautiful thing about Logan Lerman as Charlie is that you can see this whole thing, the effort of participation (and it *is* an effort, to be a part of this world) written across his face. You can see it when he considers where to sit in the lunchroom, strategizes in the stands at the football game, and silently talks himself into joining in at the dance.

He still has darkness in him, and sometimes you can see something about him or hear something in his voice that makes you wonder if JD would have turned out okay in the end if he had an English teacher who really challenged him & if he had met the right friends in the early days of his freshman year.

Because Charlie does have the right teacher and he does meet the right friends. He meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson, with a serviceable American accent) & Patrick (Miller, who steals every damn scene he’s in), who make the effort to welcome him into their circle because they see both his potential and his need. And, of course, more than a little bit of themselves.

It made me feel All of the Feelings, it made me miss going to RHPS, and it made me so damn glad I’m not in high school anymore.

So now back to Charlie and Stephen. So our screening, to our great surprise, was followed by a Q&A. I am not going to be able to do justice to this experience, but there was a story shared that I think you should know, so we’re just going to power through.

The Q&A started out a bit awkward. Chbosky said that he wasn’t usually like this, that Seattle was a special place for him, but you never know. I’ve attended the film festival for 16 years, and some directors just give bad Q&A, you know? But finally he started talking about Stewart Stern (which I found super exciting, because I am a total Stewart Stern fangirl: you can buy me a drink sometime & I will tell you all about it), and THEN. He told us Stern was in the house that night and asked him to come down & join him.

And I exploded a little inside.

They talked about a number of things, and I believe it was edited into a podcast, but here’s the important story: when Chbosky was 17, he chose the USC film program because Stern taught in it, but right at the start of the school year, Stern suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, Chbosky sent him anonymous packages, full of things to charm & cheer (like, seriously, Winnie-the-Pooh books) & with (as Stern tells it) beautiful, inspiring letters.

Not wanting it to seem as if he was doing it to get ahead in the business, Chbosky sent it all under a pseudonym, and Stern was unable to find out who the packages were from. Stern had an open letter posted in response, and in this way they carried on a correspondence, anonymous on one side, for TWO YEARS. Incredibly mature, sensitive correspondence from a teenager. Sound familiar?

Then, well. You’ll have to hear Stern tell it some time, how he just knew when he saw him that the letters were from Chbosky, and how that was the start of a mentorship & friendship that lasts til this day. And if you don’t tear up even a little, you are made of tougher stuff than I am.

At the screening someone asked if when there would be the film or book of their relationship, and Chbosky said that for his side, this was it. Obviously. Charlie’s letters to someone who doesn’t know him (and who he doesn’t really know) plus the mentorship by his English teacher (Paul Rudd, by the way, which is great).

It’s an amazing tribute. And it’s out now. You should see it.