Art, they say, is timeless. But celluloid has a depressing tendency to degrade. One of the biggest boons of living in the digital age is getting to see old classics with the quality they are meant to be screened in, if not better (though Side by Side (2012) explains how digital hardware is even more prone to irrecoverable deterioration). With technical issues overcome, what reveals itself is a film that hasn’t aged a day, and that is actually more innovative than most films currently playing. And the themes are especially apropos of the political climate of the US today. In every sense of the word, Fritz Lang’s M (1931/2000) is a classic.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) is undoubtedly a remarkable film of high artistic caliber, but I’m not going to do a full review, for two reasons. First, I’m a cis straight ethnic Han Chinese guy in Taipei (where ethnic Han Chinese is the culturally dominant race), and the debate over the depiction of race in the film is way above my pay grade (which is zero, by the way; I don’t even host ads). And second, every significant thing I wanted to say walking out of the cinema has already been said by one reviewer or another. I just have two things to add.
Maybe it’s just because I like country music, girls in tank tops, semi-structured improvisation, perfect titles, and drop-dead gorgeous cinematography, but the microbudget indie road film West of Her (2016), written, produced, and directed by Ethan Warren and shot in three weeks over ten states with a cast and crew of eleven people, has been haunting me ever since I saw it a few days ago. Three weeks: To put that into perspective, it took Ridley Scott a bit more than a week just to shoot Christopher Plummer’s scenes in All the Money in the World (2017) on familiar sets and locations and with the support of a Hollywood production team. And West of Her is the better film.
I fully support independent and microbudget films, and for that very reason, I screen them with the same critical eye as I do more mainstream productions. Putting on kid gloves would do these films a disservice. So, despite the earnestness and originality on display in Parallel (2016), I must say that it’s not a very good film. Funnily enough, I’d just recently wrote, “Most films I can more or less imagine what it’d be like to shoot and edit”; looks like Fate has come asking for proof. As I wrote on another occasion, the ways a film goes wrong can be very instructive. So grab a beer and sit back—this’ll be a long one.
I’ve heard Phantom Thread (2017) described as kinky, gothic, and passionate to the point of excess. All of these are true. I’ve heard it described as a film about dresses (check out Tomris Laffly’s awesome interview with costume designer Mark Bridges), desire, artistic control, working from home, and breakfast. All of these are true, too. It has great acting, great cinematography, great directing, great editing, great costumes, a great score, and (if you keep an open mind) a great story. Two days after it premiered in Taiwan, I attended a screening with only a dozen people. Spoilers.
Aaron Sorkin wearing two hats (screenwriter and director) makes Molly’s Game (2017) the Sorkin-iest film I’ve ever seen, with the famous staccato Sorkin dialogue bleeding into the staccato graphics (recalling The Big Short (2015)), the staccato editing, and even the staccato narrative structure. The story is chock full of information, but on reflection, there’s only just enough to give viewers the sense of understanding, but not actual knowledge—just enough to let them accept what’s being fed them and move on to the next thing. Strange as it may seem, this film is light fare.
Reviewing an old Terrence Malick film is like reviewing Moby-Dick: Everything’s been said already. So I’ll point you to two outstanding reviews and limit my comments to just a few observations.