20th Century Women
“Santa Barbara, 1979” is a place and time, but it is also a mindset. More accurately, it is a kaleidoscope of mindsets; chief among the great strengths of 20th Century Women is its utter fidelity towards representing the multiple perspectives of its five main characters. But it is so much more than that: its tone is part rebellious, part serene, and even part transcendental. In the struggle between generations that eventually comes to define the film, Mills recognizes there is no wrong answer, accepting each person warts and all. The viewer sees who these broken but valiant people as they were, as they are, and as they will be, both defined and undefined by their time, and for my part I fell in love with them. It is bittersweet, melancholic, and uniformly wonderful in its loose grace, as free as the younger generation and as composed as the older generation.
A curious case. For the most part, Tampopo establishes itself as an intensely lighthearted work, jumping off of the central storyline to engage in food-related vignettes with abandon. Most of these are to some degree outré, but a few stick out in their bad taste (for good and for ill). An undercurrent of violence in the film is ever present (perhaps fittingly, given its status as a “Ramen Western”) but there is a vast divide between two men beating each other for an extended period of time and a gangster getting shot in the middle of the street, or, in the film’s most fascinating and troubling vignette, a wife getting up from her deathbed to cook one last meal. But in the end, the central storyline is the main attraction, and Itami takes almost too much delight in both skewering and glorifying food, to wonderful effect.
Swiss Army Man
Went in with fairly low expectations (goodness knows how potentially irritating the premise so eagerly trumpeted by advertisements and the opening is), but Swiss Army Man manages to live down those expectations and more in fairly unexpected ways. For one, its juvenilia was even greater than anticipated, using the “miracles” of Radcliffe’s body in the most thuddingly literal manner. But what most raised my hackles was its very particular brand of emotional insincerity that it insisted so heavily upon, a bullshit and facile viewpoint on the futility and ultimate joy of life that is further bogged down by the crass humor and idiocy displayed throughout.
The Bad Sleep Well
Flat-out loved pretty much all of the first half, starting from the thrillingly contextless ten-minute long wedding banquet opening. Kurosawa handles this often confusing web of loyalties and relationships with incredible acumen, staging breathtaking tableau compositions with ease and continually keeping the viewer in the dark about Nishi’s true motivations. Once they are revealed, however, the film practically nose-dives. It’s not to say that it simplifies or regresses in any significant way, but his characterization becomes streamlined and the film loses momentum, especially in the long final third set in the bunker, which keeps the power dynamics but loses the mind-games. As a result, The Bad Sleep Well‘s final play at a certain type of nihilism falls slightly flat, but the film’s confidence remains plain to see throughout.
Crazy in a way that still feels a little bit difficult to parse. Perhaps it’s because the central, relatively serious storyline that bubbles up at odd moments especially towards the end feels slightly disconnected from the hilarious and inventive setpieces (the failed assassination, the police sketches), but there is an inescapable sense of weightlessness that doesn’t weaken the film so much as it complicates it, a sentiment that is borne out by the occasionally shocking use of “real” violence. But at the end of the day, it is a wacky love story, one convincingly developed in a way that feels compatible with the morality tale at The Mermaid‘s core.
Almost too in line with my interests and aesthetic tastes: a fleet, intensely elliptical and immensely sympathetic portrayal of a person being psychologically worn down with a clear political message. But that does little to dissipate the power of Black Girl, of its tough but never cheap critique of imperialism and its mesmerizing depiction of the most mundane of forced tasks. Chalk it up to the asceticism of Sembène’s direction and Diop’s attuned, repressed performance, but there still remains an ineffable grace to the film that lies in how it briefly transforms from a chamber piece to a romance, in the way that the act of observing feels like a political act, and how the ending and epilogue represent victory and defeat in two images.
Feel free to ignore me on this one, as my feelings are undoubtedly influenced to an extraordinary degree by my having viewed (and fallen in love with) Kate Plays Christine before this sadly misguided film. But so much of this reads like bullshit, in its alterations of time and place, in its obvious feints at providing easy answers. The performances of the cast are all rather well done admittedly, including Hall’s, which has been feted to an alarming degree, but they all feel in service of a dubious enterprise. This is not necessarily to say that this is not a story that should be made into a film (although those feelings did rise up at certain points) but that it feels manipulative. There is, to be blunt, no human interest in Christine as a person (either in the film or in real life). By the time the climax is moved to the evening for maximum effect (contradicting in many ways why the event is so inexplicable) I felt as if Christine had crossed a moral threshold, and a bitter taste was left in my mouth as the final blandly interesting minutes played.
There is an unexpected beauty to this first film’s total asceticism, dropping the viewer contextless into a dense maze of loyalties and undefined characterizations. Granted, this is likely a result of the video game origins, but Anderson’s narrative flow is relentlessly moving forward, relying on atmospheric and claustrophobic spaces and po-faced actors to surprisingly strong effect. But even if the characterizations are somewhat lacking, the viscerality of the action more than makes up for them, as Resident Evil moves with as much single-minded determination as the soldiers it virtually fetishizes.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
It’s both easy and difficult to see why