Thoughts on The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

Contrary to critical consensus, The Sweet Hereafter (1997) isn’t a portrait of a community, as a comparison with Putty Hill (2010) should prove. Rather, the quiet town is the hunting ground for Mitchell Stevens (Iam Holm), a Mephistophelean lawyer with resentment in his heart come to work up a class-action lawsuit (to sue either the city or the bus company—he’s still fishing). The misinterpretation is probably because director Adam Egoya doesn’t handle nuance well, coating the film in a blanket of indistinct subtlety. Properly dissected, one can see the sublime film that could’ve been.

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Cinema as Calligraphy: Shadow (Ying / 影 2018)

Centuries of Chinese literati have lost themselves in appreciative reveries when contemplating ink wash paintings of rivers and mountains. With Shadow (Ying / 影 2018)—shooting the black-and-white rain-soaked production design (Horace Ma) in bleached color—director Zhang Yimou and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding have allowed us the same experience. The staggering beauty of the film, only enhanced by the long takes, harmonious compositions, and subdued zither soundtrack, is impossible to convey in words, but Jessica Kiang at the trade publication Variety comes close:

Black ink drips from the tip of a brush and daggers into clear water, spiraling out like smoke; a Chinese zither sounds a ferocious, twanging note that warps and buckles in its sustain; rain mottles the sky to a heavy watercolor gray, forming pools on paving stones into which warriors bleed; whispery drafts from hidden palace chambers stir tendrils of hair and set the hems of luxuriant, patterned robes fluttering.

All this is impressive enough, but the film goes even further, presenting a plot in the grand wuxia tradition, written by Zhang and Li Wei (and adapted from a Three Kingdoms play by Zhu Sujin but leaving history behind), that is narratively and thematically complex but still flows like running water, thanks in no small part to Zhou Xiaolin’s superb editing. A surprise fourth act will leave you reeling, and then the film reveals its biggest shocker: It ends exactly where it begins.

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Thoughts on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Believe the hype. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is both the best animated film of 2018 and the best Spider-Man film ever. From the producing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film (and its soundtrack) has the same hyperkinetic energy of The Lego Movie (2014) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017) but for a more suitable subject. The animation evokes a comic book aesthetic and wildly succeeds at distinguishing between the Spider-Beings. There’s been a lot written about this film, so I just want to point out a few things.

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South Korea and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week: Default (Gukgabudo-ui Nal / 국가부도의 날 2018)

In the closing days of November 1997, South Korea discovered that it had one week before the Asian financial crisis depleted its foreign reserves. One woman at the Bank of Korea was determined to avoid an IMF bailout. This is her story.

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Thoughts on Song to Song (2017)

I’m a huge fan of Terrence Malick, but I have to admit that Song to Song (2017) gets away from him. It’s still full of gorgeous shots and all that, but each individual element is just a bit subpar, resulting in an unsatisfying film overall.

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