February 2017 Capsules

Ju Dou
I think the key to this film is that, though Gong Li is as usual the nominal lead, it takes place from a mix of the perspectives of Tianqing and Ju Dou. Zhang continually emphasizes the barriers between the two; even when they do finally connect there is more focus on their surroundings, and their embraces seem to be desperate attempts for connection. The film is on the whole rather depressing, but it is earned in the false hopes and the crushing developments that manifest themselves in abject hopelessness.

Chronicle of a Summer
Even more interesting than its reputation suggests; Morin and Rouch manage to wring out a wonderful variety of approaches, and if the comparatively sedate second half, with its myriad conversations, proves less innovative than the first half’s quick interviews and wide range of subjects, it is mostly compensated by the extraordinary sequence of Marceline’s Holocaust recollections and the phenomenal epilogue, which functions as a rather potent self-critique that in and of itself offers another lens with which to view the verité style, a reflection of a reflection. It is most instructive, of course, to view this not as necessarily a statement or a manifesto but rather, as the title suggests, as a chronicle or document of a milieu.

February 7
The Nice Guys (rewatch)
Wish I could say I liked this genuinely pleasurable film more the second time around, and some of the “big gags” landed even harder, but there’s too strong a sense of rootlessness in this. Arguably, it fits well with the pessimism of the film, the changing times so decried by Healy and March, but it doesn’t make for anything close to a consistent viewing. There are flashes of genius here, of course—the hallucination experience in particular is a beautifully sustained escalation—and Gosling and Crowe make a shockingly good team (with Rice as a wonderful connector) so there’s that.

February 23
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
It’s probably telling that Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s best scene by far is its most comparatively lowkey, when Ricky has a nigh idyllic encounter with a girl and her father. The rest of the film is frustratingly obstinate in its refusal to pick a single mood, vacillating awkwardly between slightly mawkish sentimentality and vivacious whimsy without finding any roots to dig into. Sam Neill is, of course, absolutely wonderful in his gruff sincerity, but he’s given far too little to do compared to the wide-eyed, borderline annoying juvenilia of Julian Dennison. And almost everything to do with the actual chase, especially the hunters, is painful.

February 28
Moonlight (rewatch, out of order b)
Everything clicked in some way or another on rewatch (save for, perhaps, Paula, whose character feels much more overtly consequential than the rest of the film). There’s such an intoxicating feeling to Moonlight, a grounding in time and place that intertwines beautifully with the essential minimum of narrative. A set structure is present, yes, but it depicts moments that feel equally important and unimportant to Chiron. And throughout, there is a shimmering beauty, a vitality that doesn’t come just from the “timely” subject matter. It comes from empathy, from irresistible emotion.

Throne of Blood
Throne of Blood‘s atmosphere is nigh impossible to nail down: on one hand Kabuki-inflected and on the other operating in an almost dreamlike and ominously obscure environment. But what feels most surprising (especially to someone who’s read the play) is how much destruction is executed with so much efficiency. Macbeth is inherently a violent, bloody tale, but there is an additional dynamic inextricably tied to the heightened sense of honor, to Mifune’s sharp contrasts between rage and control, that makes Throne of Blood its own great work.

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