I can already tell that my viewing list for August is going to be a bit smaller than the ones for the past few months. The business of moving in and getting myself situated has made it difficult for me to sit down and watch anything, especially since a lot of it has been rentals on iTunes that I’ve been afraid to play without a confirmed block of free time on the horizon. Many of these have been rewatches to boot, so even the listed stuff isn’t exactly new. As is, that’s given me more time to think about the projects, not just this month’s but previous ones I haven’t given much thought to, as well as doing a “Fifites” progress report. Something I’ve decided to copy from blogs I’m a fan of, it’s basically my ballot fifty films into the year. I’m currently trapped at 48, trying not to have Good Time and Ingrid Goes West and other quote-unquote “releases” when I’ve missed so much from the summer I know I shouldn’t’ve. Anyways, in lieu of a lot of fully-formed reviews, here’s a handful of films I’ve pretty much turned the worm on.
If there’s been a more profound switch in my recent opinion of something, it has to be the complete collapse of favor towards Landline. I walked out of that film positively buzzing, with my sister equally into what we had just seen. Maybe the first sign that we weren’t into it was that we spent most of the drive home talking not about the film but about people whose lives were in similar situations, people we knew who feared their fathers were cheating on their mothers. Melina talked about how great it would be when Jenny Slate wins an Oscar (not for this film, just in the future), and I couldn’t help but think about how I repeatedly felt her performance here to be so much emptier than what she gave us in Obvious Child. Then again, a lot of things here feel emptier than Obvious Child, unconvincing in almost every conceivable way. I don’t know what made Gillian Robespierre want to set this in 1995 New York, and barely anything specifies itself to this period the way that 20th Century Women is so clearly set in 1979 California. The break-up scenes are so very much going to be break-up scenes from the moment they start, and a character’s anxious agreement to buy heroin is all we need to know that she will very clearly not buy heroin when the time comes. It’s just empty, with almost nothing to surprise us, and I take my A- as being premised on chords it struck and the interest in Robespierre’s messy characters, mistakenly assuming that messiness conveyed meaning. My sister and I were impressed that the film ended on such an oddly happy note, confident as we were that even one extra scene couldn’t have been so precariously perched with characters acting so warmly to each other. But does the film know that? Does it think Slate’s reconciliation with her bafflingly soon-to-be-husband will last? I feel bad that my 180 on Landline happened outside of the theater, but I have no interest in seeing it again either way, and am perfectly content to let my fraught ideas just exist without giving it a second chance, at least for now.
Colossal, which I enjoyed so much so many months ago, has faced a similar swing down too. This one feels more likely to get a rewatch, but no film that so casually has the destruction of South Korea as a plot conceit/pastiche homage without really doing anything with it except destroying South Korea should have any kind of B grade. The script’s inability to deepen Hathaway’s character once it gets fixated on probing Sudeikis’ scuzzy bastard is also something I should’ve given more thought too, as is the seemingly unprompted attack on the never-to-be-seen-again Tim Blake Nelson character over something that isn’t actually hinted at until that point. Is Sudeikis underplaying, or is the script simply allowing him to just act in the same kind of way and make it seems deeper given new contexts? Are we supposed to care about Dan Stevens at all, especially after the scripted moment of comparing his want of control over her to Sudeikis’s? Everyone seems underdeveloped and in service to a thesis on misogyny and male abusiveness that coheres less with the alcoholism-as-kaiju thesis the more you look at it, nevermind how poorly both ideas stand on their own. Kudos to Nacho Vigalondo for such an inspired premise, but I wish I found more there to really commend, or more there period.
For our one-year anniversary, one of the films my boyfriend and I watched was Logan. I remember walking out of that film high on everything it did with the Wolverine character, where it took his arc and what happened with Professor X and Laura. Another spin dampened most of the film for me, leaving me appreciative of all the risks it took but basically stopping at just appreciating them. It’s impressive to have such a dour tone without succumbing to the kind of boring, depressing “seriousness” that Batman v Superman has, not to mention how Logan’s trying to be a Western more than it is a straight-up X-Men film. It takes guts to envision a superhero film like that, nevermind one that’s the send-off for two of your franchise’s most beloved characters. The inclusion of X-23 feels equally risky and yet, existing within the same cultural space as Arya Stark and Eleven, seems like a fairly logical extension of where the film would go. This time around I ended up finding Dafnee Keen’s impressively steely and ferocious performance to be the crown jewel of the film, freed as she is from the cliches and inevitable goodbyes bagging down Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart while refusing to maker character conventionally likeable or cuddly or remotely childlike. Stewart especially feels bogged by this, though I admired his own abrasiveness and restraint in a part that could beg for easy sympathy and overbaked “madness”, and if Logan as scripted is amazingly reluctant to even be in the film, I still think Jackman does strong work throughout, convincing us of a palpably worn-out hero without selling him short. His desire to buy a boat with Charles isn’t a pipe dream but a goal he’s actively working towards, and his bonds with Charles, Caliban, and Laura all feel believable, not to mention how well he puts over Logan’s depression. If it’s not the full-on coup that I remembered, it’s still a commendable piece of acting, one of three pretty good performances the film offers. Frankly, I found little to admire beyond its central performances (though I did like bits of Marco Beltrami’s score), but this is still a commendably ambitious take on a superhero’s curtain call, and one I’m sure we’re not going to see anything like very soon.
On the plus side of things is another stroll through Personal Shopper, which I found so much more captivating the second time around on practically all fronts, especially in relationship to its star turn. I’d like to think most of my irritation with it was rooted in being too focused on the film’s plot, but that doesn’t explain how dismissive I was of Kristen Stewart’s performance, especially in the midst of so much internet hype around her performance from sources I trust. Was it bad mood? That feels unlikely, since I immediately popped into a screening of The Devils and loved it. Not that The Devils is in any way similar to Personal Shopper, but maybe I cottoned to such a nasty, deliciously horrific project because of how much it loved showing off its enormous vulgarity. Then again, how could one watch the film and not see all the great work Stewart was doing, as I did, and so rudely called for literally anyone else to have taken her place? Personal Shopper is asking a lot of questions about responding to grief in the face of unthinkable personal tragedy, and nothing it’s doing would work without Stewart’s work. I can’t believe I criticized her performance for being so unemotive when Maureen is barely put together at practically every moment in the film. If her personal fashion and hairstyle gives her the air of the coolest Beat poet you’ve never met – and lord how did I say nothing of the amazing costumes – Stewart plays Maureen as a frayed, barely corked bottle of anxiety and irritation from the first time we see her, who only seems assured wearing her boss’s outfits. Stewart convincingly plays an open book who’s the opposite of a people person, who doesn’t seem to like most personal interactions without making her boyfriend seem like an idiot for trusting her or cruel for doubting the existence of spirits. Even when trying on the most risque of Kyra’s outfits in the film’s most ostentatiously soundtracked and voyeuristically filmed sequence Stewart never seems to notice she’s being filmed, so vanity-free is her performance without quite being self-effacing or drawing attention to her own acting. It’s a miracle of a performance in a film that encompasses more tones and variations on the weird and the haunting than I initially realized, or perhaps respected. It may also have some of the year’s best costume work, by Jurgen Doering, who finds such gorgeous outfits for Maureen to gift for her nearly invisible boss while giving her her own remarkable, equally eye-catching ensemble of outfits to wear. It’s such a stupendous jump up in my personal opinions of it, and though it’s not the best film of the year – though it surely contains one of its best performances – it may be my favorite purely on the grounds of how much more I’ve grasped from another tour, and a deeply felt lesson in rewatching projects you just couldn’t “get”.
From there, the projects I’ve revisited – I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore and The Lost City of Z – were ones I greatly enjoyed and found myself in basically the same place with a second trip through, albeit with a finer reading of their assets, and their goals. Both boast so much value, are utterly compelling experiences on any number of levels. I urge anyone interested in these projects to find them and watch them as soon as possible, but given that all the films I’ve talked about here are more in line with changed opinions than ones that stayed the same, I’ll leave those two be. Hope everyone’s doing well back at school, and a lovely evening to all you beautiful people. See you next time, hopefully with a real review!