Loving Vincent, 2017 – ★★½

So here’s the thing: the craft and/or the gimmick of this film is impressive in terms of the work put into it. (Although aren’t all non-CGI films “hand painted” cel by cel?) But the story on top of this, oy yoy yoy. A Citizen Kane-esque mystery in which Armand Roulin acts as “journalist/detective” trying to answer why Vincent killed himself–it felt forced (heading as it was to ‘based-on-painting’ signposts along the way every five minutes) and in the end too long and kinda boring. It’s the fetishizing of a tormented artist both in story and in technique, and as I watched this from a distance at an outdoor screening, the technique looked like video with an advanced Instagram filter on it. Backgrounds remain static while talking heads run dialog. I guess I was kind of expecting something much more psychedelic and constantly moving, like what happens when animators indeed paint every single frame.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Dallas Buyers Club, 2013 – ★★½

After all the build-up, strangely unaffecting. There’s a whole bunch of hand-wringing over the FDA but none over what the main character does with the club, despite it being sold to us as a *means of making money*. There’s no scene where he worries over his exploitation of patients. There’s absolutely no insight into the people of the DBC, including for whatever reason the guy who turns up at the start of the club and is turned away for only having $50 (of the $400 needed to join) and then returns later with the full amount. He’s never talked to or considered, so why show him? Sadly, it feels like another Oscar trap of “look how these actors changed their appearance” instead of a story.

2013 feels a lonnnnnnng way away, but in saying so, that’s a good thing.

And what’s with Rayon’s boyfriend (?) character being given basically nothing to do in his scenes? And giving Ron this “I just want to ride a bull again” ending is just…sigh. Perfunctory.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

BlacKkKlansman, 2018 – ★★★★

There’s a few 20-20 Irony nods to the racist in the White House (before the ending of course) here, but considering that Spike Lee’s first ever film was a rebuttal to “Birth of a Nation” (having had to sit through it in film school), this film more importantly brings him completely full circle in righteous anger. A black man working inside the white man’s machine–it describes the film and Lee himself. Funny, suspenseful, and infuriating in turns (or all at the same time), this and “Sorry to Bother You” are the true films of this particularly dysfunctional American summer.

Some critics here make a good case for the film’s weaknesses–Adam Driver’s character never resolves, several other threads are dropped, racist cop is way too comically evil, etc.–but as a whole the movie is a bomb thrown against the establishment. And who else is going to give over a full 5 minutes to Harry Belafonte (gawdblessim!!) and also hire Isiah Whitlock, Jr. for one scene just so he can drop his most famous line from “The Wire”? Nobody except Spike Lee.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Game Night, 2018 – ★★★½

Surprising to find a mainstream Hollywood comedy so full of laughs and humor. For one thing, the set-up (a murder mystery night that involves a real kidnapping) is funny in itself, as the various players don’t take it seriously for most of the film. And the other thing is a cast of skilled comedic actors playing it straight. Plemons does his psycho thing well, although at some point he might want to start working against type. Bateman n McAdams make a good couple. African-American couple get sidelined a bit, part of the film’s weakness. But it never flags, and it’s well worth your time. No doubt the film will be forgotten, so seek it out.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

The Iron Giant, 1999 – ★★★★½

The first time I watched this film it was on the back of an airline seat and I do remember liking the story. Fast forward to 2018 and I just watched this in a beach chair outside at UCSB’s summer film series at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Garden. (And yes, we’d all been drinking wine and…well other things too.) Anyway, my takeaway this time was OMG this is an absolutely beautiful, stunning film. The spirit of Miyazaki (esp. Totoro) is strong in this one.

It’s like the animators set out in each scene to challenge each other with a lighting idea, and they are all one upping each other scene by scene. A discovery scene lit only by one flashlight? A robot-rebuild scene in essentially total darkness, with two colors (dark brown and black) in the palette? Mist? Headlights? Fire and smoke apocalypse? The light of the universe itself?

I just sat there slackjawed through it.

Seeing this again also made me loathe Ready Player One more.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Spring, 2014 – ★★★★

Backtracked from The Endless to finally watch this other Benson&Moorhead film. (Should they ever leave the film biz, they should open a bespoke tailor shoppe.) Again flaunting genre, they bring together “Before Sunrise” and Zulawski’s “Possession” and come out with a film that acts as a metaphor for falling in love (and commitment) while being just an odd love story. B&M also like to tell similar tales: all three are about a man fleeing after a crisis point and traveling to a new and strange land where their troubles come back in new and interesting shapes. Psychologically, they emerge as different, usually better people, which is why despite the trappings of horror, these aren’t horror films.

This movie could have gone south so many times, but it’s held up by its two sturdy leads, who just live their characters. You will understand why, when the inevitable discovery scene happens, Evan is conflicted and compassionate.

Contains some absolutely beautiful scenes, including that slow-motion walk through the piazza where Evan sees Louise for the first time, it’s so casual it might be verite, but it’s also subtly choreographed. A sublime mix of beauty and horror.

Now having watched all three main B&M films, I feel they are the real freakin’ deal.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

The Endless, 2017 – ★★★★

So glad Benson and Moorhead returned to the spooky California backcountry of “Resolution,” but I had no idea by how much! As somebody else said, their films are kinda…horror movies, but they don’t arc or play out like that genre. They are unique films, filled with unease alongside big philosophical questions. The question that really stuck with me I don’t want to say because it’s a spoiler, but really questions our love of narrative and repetition in genre. Moments in this film are like strange dreams–like the rope challenge, the rules of which make no sense but everybody understands.
Yes, they could do with a bigger budget, but if it means these two don’t get to make exactly the film they want, what’s the point? Haven’t watched “Spring” yet–is it streaming anywhere?–but by gum I’m on it.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills