In a collaborative medium like film, in which massive amounts of capital are usually expended on a single effort, it’s understandable for even toxic dumpster fires to see the light of day; having stuffed their money into the shredder, the filmmakers might as well try to recoup what they can. So in an era chock full of incoherent CGI spectacles, it’s refreshing to see a CGI spectacle that’s fully coherent. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) may not be an everlasting work of art, but it’s an exemplary genre film—by which I mean that it leans on its genre conventions to superb effect.
Okay so yes I have been to see Pacific Rim Uprising (2018), but what I think about it isn’t the important thing right now. (It has more clarity than the first Pacific Rim (2013) and so exposes more dumb things about the entire premise; Jing Tian was surprisingly good, Charlie Day did his Sam Rockwell impression, and John Boyega had an absolute blast. Also, the title has no colon(!!).) The whole reason I’m writing this piece—the reason I went to see it in the first place—is to present to you three remarkable reviews.
The adventure biopic The Lost City of Z (2016) starts off underwater, but by the end it’s breathing sweet, sweet air. Its redemption comes when we realize that the story isn’t about Amazonian exploration at all.
A speechless soul-searching puppeteer gorilla down on his luck might seem like the worst elevator pitch one could possibly come up with, but Sylvio (2017) ends up being a heartfelt, meditative, offbeat, unpredictable, attentive, and drop-dead hilarious film. Unlike many absurdist narratives that insert one fantastical element and let it play out with the strictest logic—the most famous example is probably Kafka’s Metamorphosis (2012)—this film places its eponymous protagonist (Sylvio Bernardi, obviously not playing himself despite what IMDb says) in a world where his gorilla-ness is treated like just another disability: On answering the door and seeing him for the first time, Maggie (Tallie Medel) blurts out, “Oh! I didn’t know you were . . . come in.” The stigma of his particular disability forms the main conflict of the plot, but the specific development of both stereotype and reality plumbs the depths of empathy, so that from the very second scene we become accustomed to the gorilla suit as not a gimmick but an integral part of Sylvio’s character—as it would be in real life. (The first scene plays with the idea of Sylvio performing a role.) He even has a smiley face tattoo on his arm-hair. This faux-realism is accomplished with some fundamentally cinematic technical execution.
Black Panther (2018), despite its many merits, is limited by its Marvel pedigree. Groundbreaking? No doubt. An absolute unmitigated triumph? Time will tell, but from where I stand, not quite.
Only the Brave (2017), about the formation and (literal) decimation of the Granite Mountain Hotshots wildfire-fighting group, is an exemplary, deeply humanist entry in the secular mythmaking genre. It fleshes out its key characters to the full extent that convention allows, which not many films do, but any additional developments outside the mold are precluded by the 133-minute running time. In this sense, it’s more similar to Hacksaw Ridge (2016) than the Mark Wahlberg true-life films it’s often compared to, the main difference being that, whereas in Mel Gibson’s film the emotional investment is located in religion, here it lies in the protagonists’ families. And Hacksaw‘s gore-porn is replaced here with the awesome sublimity of uncontrollable fire.
Game Night (2018) is a perfectly executed by-the-book comedy thriller, by which I mean that its limited conception is carried out with the utmost technical proficiency. Everything is great but nothing really stands out, including the plot twists (and fake plot twists). Some might call this bland; I say it’s diverting.
I originally wasn’t planning on seeing Thor: Ragnarok (2017), but some ardent fans on Tumblr gave me pause, and after film Twitter’s praise of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) proved accurate, I decided to give this one a go, too.