Two people stand at opposite ends of an arena in designated spots. They wear Kevlar vests and belts with pistols stuck into them, sometimes in a holster, mostly not. A referee hovers somewhere above, and at a predetermined signal, the two people open fire on each other. The first person to leave their spot, loses.
If you search for Dancing Ninja (2010) on YouTube, you’ll find three kinds of video. First is the trailer. Second is the entire film, in poor quality, dubbed in French (which I don’t speak), sans subtitles. Third is a video review by two people who spend five minutes dismissing the film and 25 minutes recounting its unusual production history. Granted, it really isn’t for everyone, or for everytime: I happened to catch it on TV on a lazy Thursday afternoon. Yes I still have a TV, precisely because I might stumble across films like this—and whaddaya know? I loved this film!
In order to answer whether or not the first season of the Starz TV show American Gods (2017), adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel, is worth watching, there is another question first and foremost to answer: Do you like the signature aesthetic of showrunner Bryan Fuller? He possesses the unique power to electrify your every single nerve ending, to push your mental state to the edge of sanity, to have your perception of beauty and reason questioned—this is Bryan Fuller, the developer, writer, and executive producer of the NBC TV show Hannibal (2013-15) as well as American Gods.
This is a film that Roger Ebert had trouble getting, even after seeing it twice, and with good reason: It’s a film specifically for those who’ve read the book. How else is one supposed to follow the six interwoven plot strands?
Manchester by the Sea is a film about an emotion, and its effects on the man who bears it.
Richard Brody over at the The New Yorker has a problem with Damien Chazelle. He’s disconcerted at how tightly Chazelle frames and edits the spontaneity of jazz in Whiplash (2014), and continuing with the spontaneous-jazz theme, he is especially nauseated by the scene where Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) bloviatingly mansplains jazz to Mia (Emma Stone) by talking over the live jazz. (The “very, very exciting” ending of that “speech” just adds insult to injury.) Brody also has complaints about the dance numbers, which, being tightly choreographed and rehearsed, for him belie the spontaneous joy that supposedly ignites dancing in the streets.
Aside from the mansplaining, I think it’s fine. After all, we’re here not to experience jazz but to enjoy a film. And Chazelle’s camera direction does an exhilarating job of guiding the audience’s gaze, transforming the spectacle before us from a stage performance to a cinematic one.