2017 Updates

2017 in Review: June

This month: Churchill, decayed silent films, raising towns, loving you both, books of Henry, transformers, and more.

Review: Churchill

It’s difficult to think of a biopic that so thoroughly embarrasses its subject in the process of attempting to honor them the way Churchill does. This portrait of Winston Churchill makes the revered British prime minister look like an utter doddering fool, in sharp contrast to his popular image as a sharp bulldog of a man. If this were a stealth parody of biopics and a secret takedown of the title character, it’d be an instant subversive classic, and one of the best comedies of the year. But such a reading would require overlooking the painfully self-serious sincerity which runs through the entire film.

“An Avant-Garde Documentary About 500 Silent Films Rescued in the Yukon”

“Bill Morrison does not bring his viewer found footage. What he does is more like guiding you through the back streets of an old city, through an alley whose entrance you never would have discerned on your own. Down the alley, he pulls back the curtain of a window. It cannot open. It should show the inside of the building but instead, through frost and dirt and fog, you can see another world — or the past. Or both. Diving into the world’s cinematic archives for the rarest excerpts of forgotten films, Morrison recombines them to tell new stories, or arranges them into a portrait of their time.”

Review: Beatriz at Dinner

Plenty of directors have constructed comedies of manners by sitting people of disparate social classes together at the dinner table. Though there can be simultaneous elements of envy and wish fulfillment to it (“Look at that fancy food! Imagine getting to eat like this!”), pairing of slobs and snobs mainly allows both groups learn from one another. Beatriz at Dinner takes this setup in a quite dark direction, starting with the premise that getting into such a dinner will bring you face-to-face with the kind of person you hate most in the world.

Review: Raising Bertie

Despite the dry cinematic implications of “issues of systemic inequality and poverty,” Raising Bertie is the kind of movie that understands the intrinsic link between the political and the personal. It resists bombarding the viewer with infographics and statistics, intuiting that the lived experiences of these young men are more than enough to educate. True, interviewed adults speak about social machinations more than one might expect them to organically, but that’s simply because the community leaders and educators of this film have learned these topics as a daily matter of course. The film seems to assert that people who chafe at anything getting “too political” are often speaking from a position in which thinking about politics is a luxury. Many citizens of Bertie County don’t have such a luxury.

Review: I Love You Both

What’s most pleasantly surprising about I Love You Both is that even as it creates this friction, it doesn’t do so in order to split an artificial divide between Krystal and Donny. Rather, the drama comes from their growing awareness of their need for a change. To the great credit of the script (written by the Archibalds), much of this is clear but left unsaid, with the audience allowed to make their own inferences and draw their own conclusions.

Review: The Book of Henry

The Book of Henry is notable only as a new addition to a canon of films that are bizarre in an extraordinarily specific way. These are the mainstream movies, the work of professionals, which nonetheless feature stories and beats which too defiantly out there to get through the Hollywood system. They are the movies destined to be remembered only in bottom-of-the-idea-barrel listicles or “My World of Flops” or How Did This Get Made — your Shadowboxers, Tiptoeses, The Beavers. They are weird, but in a subdued way and with big-name actors, which only enhances the weirdness. They exist in a limbo between the safe homogeneity of most wide-release films and the gonzo possibilities of the low-budget world — strange enough to be a curiosity, but not strange enough to recommend on that quality alone. They are rarely good, but traditional notions of “good” and “bad” don’t really apply when considering them. There isn’t even a name for this category of film – they simply are.

Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

I’m not even sure why I feel compelled to come at this from a defensive angle. The Last Knight is mostly not on my wavelength. In one scene, a transformer swaps out his charming vintage Citroën disguise for a sterile modern Lamborghini, which offended me almost on a religious level (mind you, I’m not even a car guy). Like, I’m strongly of the opinion that a friendly robot voiced by Omar Sy cartoonishly exaggerating his French accent should be a Citroën DS, while one of the mean robots should be a hyper-aggressive Lambo, which looks like the vehicular embodiment of a man who never tips.

Review: The Skyjacker’s Tale

While it cracks open a few revelations, like a police officer blithely admitting to torturing LaBeet and the other suspects, it doesn’t so much pick apart the possibility of LaBeet’s guilt or innocence as much as it merely summarizes the story and its controversies. It’s not as if the movie needed to definitively stake a claim as to the true perpetrators of the massacre—plenty of crime documentaries have found thematic richness in probing the ambiguities in seemingly straightforward situations—but Kastner doesn’t do much to dig beneath the surface, content to simply hear out a few interviews and sprinkle in some reenactment. This laziness is best exemplified by the film’s irritatingly omnipresent generic doo-wop score, or by how it tosses off an explanation for how LaBeet got the gun onto the plane which may or may not even be sincere. Despite the intriguing subject matter, this documentary can’t stay in the air.

By Dan Schindel

Born and raised in Maryland and currently based in New York, Dan Schindel is an associate editor at Hyperallergic, freelance culture writer, and available for any copy-editing/proofreading needs you may have. This website was originally a blog called Days of Docs, and chronicled his attempt to watch and review a documentary every single day for a whole year. He was mostly successful at this, and now he knows everything. He puts this knowledge to use by writing about movies, TV, games, books, comics, art, and more.