The Shape of Water, 2017 – ★★★★

One of del Toro’s best realized films, combining all his aesthetics and themes into one cohesive whole, rewriting The Creature from the Black Lagoon as a love story, and “Splash” as a monster movie. Enjoyable from start to finish, including its musical number (whaaa?), with great performances from everybody, their characters all given depth outside their plot-based roles. Beautiful production design, lovely moments, and more. Bravo!

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

I, Tonya, 2017 – ★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

Near the end of I, Tonya, there’s a scene where we see the beginnings of the O.J. Simpson case on a TV while the Harding/Gilooly scandal is winding down. 2017 was a year where numerous filmmakers tried to pinpoint where American media went off the rails, indulging in 24-hour news, opinion-not-fact, and by extension how the hell we got to Fox News and Trump.

The film is dazzling and kinetic, especially in the skating sequences, which come at three important moments in the film. Margo Robbie has some great moments here, especially in her one close up where she struggles to conjure a smile while her career falls around her.

There is some weird dissonance in the film, however. We are asked to sympathize with Tonya’s working class plight, that no matter how good her skating, her white trashiness holds her back. Yet, some of the biggest laughs and enjoyable moments are ones that mock the trappings lower class Portland (or Portland 1.0 as I like to call it). It’s not to say that Harding’s mother wasn’t abusive and manipulative, her husband an abuser, and his “mastermind” friend a delusional doofus.

Thankfully, the film ends the original footage of Harding acing that triple axel. If anything, that’s how we need to remember her.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Molly’s Game, 2017 – ★★★

For most of its running time, Aaron Sorkin’s directoral debut hurries along at a GoodFellas and/or Big Short clip, as the Molly of the title, in voiceover, tells us how she went from Olympics hopeful to running one of the most profitable private poker games in America…before it all came crashing down. This is directing as punchy as Sorkin’s dialog and for once with a female protagonist.

All is good until a series of clunky scenes near the end, one on a bench near a skating rink, another in a courtroom, and the final monologue–this is where I really felt Sorkin showing his hand, unlike previously.

But damn, that opening hour is a corker.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Creepy, 2016 – ★★½

A rewrite of Kurosawa’s own “Cure” but with the killer living nextdoor. It also seems like it was made in the ’90s, with no cellphones and detectives not being able to make the most rudimentary of Google searches. It’s like technology doesn’t exist. Along with that, nobody acts very smart in this film. I really wanted to like the film (as a fan of Kurosawa), but there’s just so little to like. The lead is no Yakusho Koji, that’s for sure. But Max the dog is exceedingly cute (what breed is he?)

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Lady Bird, 2017 – ★★★½

Greta Gerwig’s quasi-autobiographical feature debut has a similar light and empathetic touch to the wonderful “Frances Ha,” following the senior year of the title character in a Catholic high school and her struggling middle class family in 2002. There’s no cynicism here or any expected Catholic school shenanigans; even the “mean girl” is just an okay (but rich and shallow) person. The honest depictions of economic worry make this a modern picture despite its “period” setting (thar’s nary a cellphone to be seen, apart from a big’un), and the film just breathes with the flow of life of a 17-year-old.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017 – ★★★★½

Martin McDonagh should definitely get a Oscar nod at least for this script, which out of the three features he’s directed so far, is by far his most mature and emotionally resonant, similar to the best of his plays. Scenes that can turn from hilarious to poignant and wrenching are bloody hard to do, but Three Billboards has many of them. Frances McDormand is a treasure (this and Olive Kitteridge are some of her best work) and her angry and distraught mother goes through all levels of rage and grief, yet with a prickly humor that saves the film. In fact all the characters surprise along the way, from Woody Harrelson’s chief to Peter Dinklage’s minor supporting character, but the biggest surprise is Sam Rockwell who literally comes out of a crucible a different man. It took an Irishman to deliver a diagnosis of a changing America, and I’m glad it’s McDonagh. The ending is perfect, a question to all of us.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Atomic Blonde, 2017 – ★★½

Charlize Theron does the Bond/Bourne secret agent in a completely incomprehensible plot of double/triple/quadruple crosses/agents in ’89 right-here, right-now wall-fallin’ Berlin. Lovely photography that apes Larry Smith’s work for Nicolas Refn, the soundtrack is all B-level-familiarity ’80s pop hits, and then there are the action sequences, which are okay and sometimes tedious. Yes, it’s good to see them choreographed instead of created thru editing, but they still don’t land with me. Laud the nine-minute single shot fight all you want, but it didn’t feel like the culmination of anything. I kept waiting to laugh or have some sort of reaction, but I just kept watching it and then it was over. (Miss Theron sure is purty, tho’).

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Oki’s Movie, 2010 – ★★★★

More enjoyable fractured realism from Hong. Despite being called “Oki’s Movie,” the film is made up of four “films” or chapters, the last of which bears the above title. Right there things get complicated. Are we watching the final thesis film of student Oki based on the films we saw before, or a film made by another student in the program (her lover Jingu). And that’s not even considering the opening film that seems to take place after the following three.
While sorting all this out we have a love triangle between Jingu, Oki, and their professor Hong, plenty of smoking and drinking, furtive lovemaking, arguing, weirdly antagonistic relationships, and hilariously ironic usage of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance over shots of garbage piles, broken planters, and rundown apartment hallways.
Hong Sangsoo supports the argument that artists should keep mining the same obsessions over and over again, because repetition is a form of change. However, he might be the exception to the rule.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Much better writing on Oki’s Film at Cinema-scope and The End of Film