2018 in Review: February - March

2018 in Review: February – March

Posted in 2018 Updates by - April 01, 2018
2018 in Review: February – March

LACMA’s Pavilion for Japanese Art Abruptly Closes for Renovations

The Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is easy to neglect during a visit there. Set somewhat off from the cluster of buildings that form the main campus, the pavilion is exclusively devoted to Japanese art spanning from prehistory to the present. I’ve never been in the company of more than a handful of fellow patrons whenever I’ve gone, but it is one of the most distinctive exhibition spaces in the city. Yesterday, LACMA announced that the Pavilion will be closing for renovations starting February 5 for two years, leaving locals with precious little time to explore the space before a lengthy hiatus. “While minor cosmetic fixes have been made over the years,” the LACMA blog post states, “the pavilion is due for a comprehensive makeover.”

Review: The 15:17 to Paris

“This means that in the train scenes, there are moments in which every person we see on screen is acting out exactly what they were in fact doing on the real train several years ago. The attention to detail is such that they are even wearing the same clothes they did on that day, and Stone has said in interviews that he experienced a flashback during filming. This 20-minute or so sequence at the film’s climax is its clear highlight, both for Eastwood’s expertly tense command of coolly controlled freneticism and for the fascinating metatextual elements. His past few films have picked at cultural perceptions of heroism, and here we have the actual individuals lauded as heroes demonstrating the paradoxically mundane and terrifying reality of their acts.”

The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

“For 13 years now, ShortsTV has attempted to rectify this problem by releasing the Oscar-nominated shorts in theaters (their program of the 2018 nominees was released on March 9). The practice hasn’t seemed to build much esteem for the shorts categories, but it does at least afford people in certain markets the opportunity to see precisely what the Academy is on about this year. And while analysts don’t generally include these nominees in their broad surveys of each year’s trends in voter preferences, the picks in the documentary and live-action categories often reveal just as much as the major ones do.”

The Hollywood Directors Who Filmed the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps

“We only move further away from the Holocaust as time passes, and the number of survivors dwindles every day. In the face of continued antisemitism around the world and the genocides that have been committed since, “Never forget” has become a common refrain among those concerned with learning from history. It is a message that underlies the many, many cinematic depictions of the Holocaust. Given that several of these have also been overwrought Oscar bait, the actual utility of remembrance becomes muddled when it comes to pop culture. It’s valuable, then, to strip away decades of storytelling tropes that have accumulated around this subject and return to primary accounts. In seeing how these directors processed their witnessing of these events, we can better think about how we remember them.”

True/False Review: Flight of a Bullet

“Formally electrifying and ethically discomfiting at the same time, Flight of a Bullet is a movie one could just as easily gawk at in wonder or endlessly debate over. The documentary’s premiere at a Russian film festival was crashed by protestors, and there has been controversy over whether it got one of its subjects killed — if the man is in fact even dead, that is. In the linked interview, Russian director Beata Bubenec expresses an irritatingly cavalier attitude over questions of her responsibilities as a filmmaker. Particularly alarming is that the movie, shot in an active war zone which to this day remains active, apparently first screened with participants’ names and addresses said aloud (in the version which played at True/False, all location and civilian names are bleeped out). There is a legitimate argument to be made that this movie is morally deficient, perhaps even evil if did indeed enable a subject’s death through sloppiness. Yet it is also undeniably engrossing as an artistic piece.”

True/False Review: Makala

“The journey is reminiscent of Pilgrim’s Process, in which the allegorical figure Christian carries his burden of sin on his path to salvation, but here rendered in capitalistic instead of religious terms. Like Christian, he is accosted by calamity, with a truck thoughtlessly knocking over the bike or a highwayman demanding a tribute for safe passage. The worst part is that, unlike in Bunyan’s tale, there is no guarantee of salvation at the end of the road. Indeed, when Kabitwa finally reaches the town, it is late in the day and many of the best deals have already been made. It is after the last sack is gone, little or no profit having been made, that Kabitwa staggers into that chapel. His faith is unshaken, but the audience is left with disquieting questions around how much hard work truly gets anyone anywhere.”

True/False Review: Combat Obscura

“Combat Obscura sinks deeper into darkness as it progresses, as the utter pointlessness and futility of America’s presence in Afghanistan overwhelms the troops. While we are initially invited to empathize with the Marines, their jokey comradery gives way to vicious menace. There is no apparent mission, just a loop of injuries and reprisals against an amorphous outside threat. The final two scenes are a despairing diptych. In the first, the men realize they’ve killed an unarmed shopkeeper and plot to cover it up. In the second, one of them is seriously wounded in a firefight and they scramble to get him airlifted to aid. There is no point to any of it, just horror. That is all there is to this war, and no uplifting words will ameliorate it.”

True/False Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

“When Fred Rogers sang the iconic title song of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the beginning of the documentary, a chorus of audience members singing along rose up around it. For multiple generations, Rogers’ PBS program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood cannot be separated from childhood itself. The film can easily coast on sentimentality and nostalgia for emotion, and does so frequently and unabashed. Which is frustrating, since there are glimpses of a more complex human being throughout the film, one who would have made for a much better subject.”

True/False Review: Antonio e Catarina

“Three years of an unusual friendship are left unsaid by these 40 minutes. All the audience is made privy to are snatches of late-night conversation. Viewers are brought into Cristina and Augusto’s most intimate moments without any of the circumstances which closed this intimacy around them. The title emblemizes this — Hanes identifies nicknames these two call one another, this private joke, but not any referent for them. Without any of the easy signifiers one can latch onto to delineate their relationship, the audience has to parse the dialogue, sometimes ambiguous to the point of opacity, to figure out how they feel about them together.”

How the Black Audio Film Collective Remixed Fact and Fiction

“Active between 1982 and 1998, the BAFC, composed of seven British and diaspora artists, produced or co-produced over a dozen films about the personal and political experiences of people of color living in Britain under the Thatcher regime and then in its aftermath. They worked in reaction to reactionaries, cataloging the fallout from the deregulation of capital, the winnowing of social welfare programs, and state endorsement of racism and homophobia. Clark has said that they “seized on this climate of unease to create a questioning aesthetic which was left-leaning yet refused self-righteous didacticism.” Their oeuvre is characterized by a refusal to sit in any stylistic box, freely mixing news footage both historical and contemporary, interviews, photo montage, performance art, and traditional narrative scenes. The documentary elements provide context for the fictional ones, while the fictional elements lend emotional gravitas to the nonfictional ones. In this and other ways, the seemingly disparate aspects of the movies instead inform and bolster one another.”

True/False Review: Black Mother

“The movie is structured around three “trimesters” (a conceit that’s sometimes shaky in terms of just what ideas come with each stage). Allah tracks the pregnancy of one woman as he builds his wider picture of the society into which her baby will be born. The titular mother is not necessarily the literal one. The documentary can be seen to function as a greeting to the child, a letter to be unfurled upon its arrival. “Welcome to the world. This is what every thing around you is. These are the people who comprise your family, your neighborhood, your culture. This is who you are.””

40 Strangers Meet in a Deeply Uncomfortable Documentary

“The Task was originally the centerpiece of The Plot, Ledare’s multimedia exhibition about modern social relations which ran at the Art Institute of Chicago in late 2017. It was presented at the True/False Film Festival and will presumably run in theaters stripped of any context provided by the original installation. There is no explanation of what is going on — not even of what the titular “task” is, precisely. For two hours, a group of around 40 people engage in an uninterrupted conversation. They do not build to any point or come to any solid agreement on any topic. They repeatedly bring to the fore questions about how their personal identities — in terms of gender, age, race, profession, sexuality, etc. — shape their perceptions of the situation and one another. Gradually, it becomes clear that the discussion is not directed by any objective, but rather that the discussion itself is the objective.”

Review: Love, Simon

“Love, Simon’s well-meaning good nature and status as a mark of progress make it difficult to put down too harshly, but the project perhaps succeeded too much in being yet another teen movie, only gay this time. Over two shapeless hours, it walks through sequences that announce their emotional gravitas while only sporadically earning it. Frustratingly, though the story has a heavy internality, neither Greg Berlanti’s direction nor Robinson’s performance convey Simon’s journey with anything other than obviousness. Whenever Simon absorbs an unwitting microaggression or reacts to a new email from Blue, the frame has to pull out to see all of Robinson’s very big reactions. One starts to wonder how no one knows Simon is gay when he’s pulling these kinds of faces for a camera every time someone mentions dating or sexual attraction.”

Review: Unsane

“The first-person feeling is reinforced by the photography. As with many of his other films, Soderbergh has also acted as editor and cinematographer here. He’s an inveterate stylistic experimenter, and here he’s shot everything on a phone — an iPhone 7 Plus, to be precise. Unsane sometimes feels like an exposé shot undercover by a patient, or a fly-on-the-wall documentary observing the mechanics of the hospital. But at its most nightmarish, it sinks fully within Sawyer’s fraying mind. Soderbergh continually holds a wide depth of field, keeping subjects, backgrounds, and foregrounds alike in focus and pushing the audience to warily scan each frame for details. When Sawyer unknowingly takes a bad batch of pills, her psychotic break is illustrated via a terrifying scene in which a shot of her from the front and one from the back are superimposed over each other, discordant music screeching as she stumbles about. The abrupt break from the film’s grounded aesthetic jars you out of any sense of stability.”

Review: Pacific Rim Uprising

“Pacific Rim Uprising is a mess, but when it gets to the business of robots beating up monsters (or sometimes other robots), it’s a blast. Abandoning the lumbering, always-nighttime slugfests of the first film, these battle sequences happily ignore gravity and revel in wanton destruction. The utter unreality of a Jaegar getting ridiculously smashed through several skyscrapers as if they’re made of matchsticks is a feature, not a bug. It’s like what Michael Bay has been trying to do with five Transformers, indulging the fluid possibilities of CGI action – only better, because it’s not edited in a way that makes your head feel like it will split open. It still isn’t the purest ideal of cinematic robot fights – again, we only get half an inkling of who’s driving which robot in the climax – but it earns this jumble of metal a heap of goodwill from me.”

Review: Isle of Dogs

“Isle of Dogs checks many boxes on director Wes Anderson’s list of trademark quirks. As usual, his characters speak in an overly mannered, forthright way. The film revels in deadpan acting beats and sight gags. The visuals are incredibly detailed and arranged into perfect compositions. As in Fantastic Mr. Fox, stop-motion animation allows Anderson to indulge his enthusiasm for controlling every single element of an image. These are the things audiences have come to expect of the director, and such habits have earned him devoted fans and detractors alike. Every new Anderson film seems to fuel the fiery disagreement between these camps. Isle of Dogs, though, comes with an added wrinkle: Anderson’s depiction of Japan, both in its setting and aesthetics.”

Review: Ready Player One

“This is how movies often decide to portray virtual reality, which is the stage for most of Ready Player One. It doesn’t have to be this way; the superflat-inspired digital spaces of Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars are just as packed with detail but in a vivid, engrossing way. Perhaps it’s because that anime film is colorful and illustrated with deliberate movements, whereas this one is mostly in Janusz Kaminski’s vile grey scale and aflurry with the unnaturally rapid motions of CG characters. Hosoda’s vision of the internet’s alternative universe was also populated with imaginative characters, whereas this one is mainly made up of pop culture references, like an incel version of Snow Crash.”

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in New York.
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