I saw Black Panther twice. Again, I'm blown away with Coogler's ability to step into a constrained franchise, hit all the rote requirements, and turn out something fresh; something driven by character. The way it moves through so many obligations organically is astounding, but what really struck me is how T'Challa/Black Panther is never framed in isolation for over half of the film. He's always touched and connected by those around him. It's a fascinating take on the MCU formula, which is dominated by libertarian lone-gunmen. T'Challa's power is spread across his family and colleagues, his rule is not absolute, nor is his power as a superhero. I also love how the characters interact as intimate familiars, supporting, criticizing, clowning, and flirting. The politics are, of course, complicated. I'd like to write more, but for now I'll settle for this: the discourse on the film seems to be one of narratological interpretation versus reading strategies. That is to say, the position of the characters in terms of plot is what defines their representation for the narratologists, whereas an emphasis on reading strategies highlights the ways that viewers co-produce meaning. This later approach involves a taking and leaving of various elements, disrupting a 1:1 ration of narrative plot to cinematic meaning. Yes, T'Challa is a royalist who aligns with the CIA to fight a revolutionary whose politics are rooted in lived experience. But Coogler is doing more with Killmonger despite the MCU's demand to make all villains two-dimensional as thugs or madmen. Killmonger remains the most morally and emotionally complex villain in all of the modern comic book films. His pain and his arguments linger and are given so much space to breath in this film that I find their curt dismissal to be rather simplistic.
The rest of my February theater experiences were a bit rocky. I purchased advanced tickets for a 35mm screening of The Love Witch, only to be snowed in by a blizzard! I didn't expect much from The Shape of Water, and I've already forgotten most of it. The new Eastwood was a bit of a let down; The 15:17 to Paris has some really interesting ideas at work and a handful of searingly memorable images, but it feels under-cooked as a second pressing of Hereafter and American Sniper (two of my all-time favorite films). The biggest let down was undoubtedly Kiarostami's 24 Frames, which was a film I walked out of in frustration. It felt like a collection of experiments posthumously repackaged as a feature film, in the way that Go Set a Watchman was sold as an unpublished novel rather than a rejected manuscript. I wrote some angry words about it here, which upon reflection reads more like a bitter subtweet directed at those who championed the film. I stand by some of my critical points, but I think I can do better in the future. Still, it's hard not to be perplexed by its critical reception.
Non-theatrical 2018 films
I'll have to start a new subheading for direct-to-Netflix films from this year. I'm looking forward to watching A Futile and Stupid Gesture and Mute, but so far I've only managed The Cloverfield Paradox, participating in the marketing hype of immediate consumption without any word regarding its quality or relevance. It has some interesting science fiction ideas, but it's a real mess. I'm somewhat fascinating by how the vast majority of Netflix features that I've seen are downright terrible, worse than most DTV rentals from the 1990s that I used to consume like a fiend. Off the top of my head, Sandy Wexler is the only great film to emerge from this platform and Deathnote is grossly underrated (consider that I know nothing of the source material).
For those playing along at home:
Shoah + Sangsoo + Jodie Mack
I started the month with a whole bunch of Jodie Mack films. I wrote about them here. TLDR: watching the experimentation evolve over the course of her filmmography is insightful, and a couple films stand out as some of the best things I've seen this year: Posthaste Perennial Pattern and the Unsubscribe series in particular.
I finally got around to watching Shoah, a film I've put off because of how emotionally excruciating it seemed to be. It's a mesmerizing work, if such a term can be considered appropriate given the trauma of even watching it. It's a total philosophy of time and memory and documentation. The fact that no archival footage was used seems like a marketing gimmick when you read about it, but experiencing the work as a treatise on reconstructing history and the situatedness of memory could only be visualized in this manner and in this duration. I could have watched several more hours. I must admit that the final fourth was less interesting to me than the first three segments, but this could be due to the sudden introduction of new people and subjects. Yet the entire work is constantly doubling and trippling back on itself, forging a memory palace of the mind. This is one of the greatest works of cinema.
I had a mind to revisit my top ten list of 2010. I did a project on that year some time ago (the index can be found here). I always get out of control with these yearly viewing projects. I always want to wander about in the far recesses of film and not limit myself to a predetermined list of films that I have to see (I've been doing a 1970 viewing project since November of 2016 lol). I'm trying out a more streamlined side project. I want to revisit some favorites that I haven't seen in seven or eight years as well as catch up on some glaring omissions. I revisited Resident Evil: Afterlife only to discover that I liked it far less that I recalled. A recent conversation about the RE films lead me to claim that the first and Retribution are easily the best. I also watched the two Hong Sangsoo films from 2010, Oki's Movie and Hahaha. Both are masterpieces, but Oki's Movie is the clear favorite. Sangsoo's framing of time and the uncertainty over whether scenes are playing out in real time or being reconstructed by a narrator is absolutely brilliant.
Resident Evil: Vendetta is essentially a feature length cut scene from an RE game. It's not very good, but I was fascinated by its visualization of sexual dimorphism. Multiple pairs of feminine and masculine characters emphasize a visual spectacle of enormous masculine presence and petite feminine build. I'm deliberately referring to gender and not sex here, because these images can totally be read as queer and trans*. The plot and its scenarios were filled with bondage imagery; of tops and bottoms and sexualized injections. Perhaps it constitutes some strange trans cinema. I wonder if I'll encounter GIFs and Webms of animated pornography from Vendetta in the course of my research...
Stalled auteur projects (Collet-Serra + Murnau)
I dropped the ball on working through Collet-Serra's filmmography, but I managed two more Murnau's in my ongoing project, representing both ends of the spectrum. Der Gang in der Nacht was quite unremarkable. All of the pieces are there, but uninspired in their construction. Tartuffe, on the other hand is among the master's best, although I have to say I prefer the The Finances of the Grand Duke as far as his short comedies go.
Dustin Stacks of Movies
Working through the fat stack of DVDs that my buddy Dustin lent me. This month I managed four new-to-me films. Jackie Chan's Police Story is a stone-cold masterpiece. I can't stop thinking about the opening and closing action set pieces. It was like the first time I watched Buster Keaton. I was in awe of the physicality, the choreography, the work put into the spectacle. Johnnie To's PTU was solid, but it didn't grab in the same way Sparrow did (so many of his movies recycle the same plots and devices and it's a matter of which ones pull it off for me). I also watched To and Wai Ka-Fai's Mad Detective, which was a disappointment. The mirror-finale was all sorts of Wellesian The Lady from Shanghai fracturing, but the rest was difficult to care about. I wouldn't call it bad, though. Finally, there was Chor Yuen's Death Duel, which I hardly remember a thing about except the gorgeous studio-bound photography.
I took advantage of a number of boutique label blu-ray sales taking place throughout February. All of these are known commodities (i.e. favorites) except for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which I've never seen. I'm particularly excited to revisit Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, which I haven't seen since my undergraduate film school days when I had big hardon for Peckinpah. I still own most of Peckinpah's filmmography on grimey SD DVDs (including Cross of Iron!).
March is gonna be a big month. My wife defends her dissertation! and I turn 32. I'm looking forward to a number of upcoming films: a new Wes Anderson, Spielberg, and DuVernay, as well as a handful of rando action films that might yield something good (although I dread seeing Red Sparrow, which the wife wants to see so I'll shut up and go). I'm also hoping to catch Time Regained and Far From Vietnam at the Gene Siskel. The later would be the first time I saw anything by my favorite Chris Marker in a theater on film!