Black Panther

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Black Panther is the most personal and thoughtful of all of Marvel studios oeuvre so far, which automatically makes it the best one. We all know the tried and true template every flick of this kind adheres to, so I won’t even recap it here. It is safe to say thatĀ Black PantherĀ does not suffer (at least, not for a solid 85% of the time) from the impositions these kinds of movies usually do.

Add to that the greatest and most relatable, thrillingly alive villain in its body of work, and this is one superhero movie that truly deserves its praise.

B+

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The Greatest Showman

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The astonishing success of The Greatest Showman can be attributed to a notoriously human characteristic: dreams. As a biopic, it is a failure, merely a bare bones approach to a subject which deserved a more dramatic treatment. It does not work as a musical either, the flashy dance and tap moments feeling manufactured and obvious.

However, it’s like the creators were aware of this and did not care; they were engineering a product that did not concern itself with such artistic merits. Indeed, most of the film seems to take place in another world, the settings appearing dreamy and fantastical.

This movie was birthed with one goal in mind, and one goal only: to remind you what it was like when the world seemed pure. I think that is why so many people have connected with it, and continue to make it such an unlikely winner. This movie puts you in the frame of mind you had back when you were a child, when dreams were avenues that could actually lead to success, when integrity, heroism and love appeared noble and achievable, before the dawn of adulthood came to put everything in darkness.

C+

Phantom Thread

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Decades from now, when somebody inevitably makes a documentary on genius filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, they will settle on The Master as a title inspiration. Having already bestowed upon the world one of the greatest motion pictures in history (see: There Will Be Blood), the director has achieved what few ever do. With this privilege, the question arises: what’s next?

The answer is a film that follows the tumultuous romance of a fashion designer in post WW2 London. I don’t know where he got the inspiration for something that, on paper, sounds like it should be a total bore. And then the title card appears on screen, and for the next two hours you sit entranced by the talent of the man. Paul Thomas Anderson has complete control over every aspect that makes cinema masterful, and you cannot help but be envious. He wrote the intoxicating dialogue, on wild display during fiery exchanges and in haunting monologues delivered by the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis! He shot every frame, the camera sneaking behind his characters, on the characters faces, on the laces, socks, bows and pins that adorn the picture! He chose the score, continually present during the entire movie, the design, out of a film the likes Hollywood does not make anymore, the settings, almost entirely confined to the House of Woodcock, as much a living protagonist as anybody.

I do not love Phantom Thread, nor is it going on my list of favorite films ever. Yet, I cannot help but be enthralled by the enormity of the craft on display. Delicate and perfect, it is what cinema should aspire to.

A+

I, Tonya

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I do not know if Tonya Harding was aware of the full details of the “incident”, and neither do I care. In the eyes of the law she is guilty, and to her own she is not; my opinion of it does little to alter this truth.
However, what I haven’t stopped thinking about since the credits started rolling are the moments and events that led her to infamy.

Tonya Harding’s story is the story of the world. Not in the particulars, of course, as few of us get to be the best in the world at something, or have friends that are so imbecilic they should be given awards. Her story is our story in that nobody can truly understand who we are, our motivations, behaviors, without first taking into account all the years that came before, and everything in it that shaped us. It is an impossible thing to do.

The film did not make me understand Tonya Harding. But I felt for her, the way we should all feel for each other. I felt her pains, and frustrations, and rationalizations, and resentments and thoughts and feelings, and every stupid little thing that led her to plead before a judge to not take skating away from her, the only thing she’s ever been good at. If we are all like Tonya, marked by the lousy decisions and injustices of our past, then we need something more than a second chance: we need love.

A-

Hostiles

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That Hostiles feels perpetually long might be attributed to the fact that it inhabits the world we call our own. Of the many, many movies I watch and write on each year, only a handful feel like they take place in the Earth I’ve grown up in. This is not a knock on any of those movies, of course; my favorite film of 2017 was one in which monkeys could talk and ride horses.

This is a serious and grim picture, one in which bad things happen because they always do, and where the minuscule moments of hope are welcome, in the face of the doubt of how long they are going to last.

B