2017 Updates

2017 in Review: November – December

In this update: three billboards, AFI Fest, savages, posts, MKULTRA, and more.

Interview: Martin McDonagh on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

For me as a writer, there are no secondary characters. Everyone could be like us in real life. We’re the lead character in our film, but everyone else doesn’t realize that. You know what I mean? So I think of Peter Dinklage’s character in this, or John Hawkes. When they go offstage, they could have a very interesting film of their own. You’ve only got them both for two scenes in this. You have to show that, they have to be fully formed and as interesting. The trick is to try and make your secondary characters as interesting or more interesting than your lead. And the opposition of that usually can help propel the plot, too.

AFI Fest Review: Milla

Writer/director Valérie Massadian juggles the movie between one- and two-hander scenes – never do more than two people interact. In the first half, it’s mainly either Milla alone or Milla with Leo, occasionally Leo alone. In the back half, it “expands” from Milla and her son to her with various co-workers, following along with her transition from free youth to working mother. Jonckeere imbues the choreography of the everyday with a staggering level of emotion, suggesting worlds of detail with the smallest flit of an expression across her face.

AFI Fest Review: Hannah

Hannah is about the motions of daily life as a shield from darkness – or from looking at the darkness, at least. Far more troubling is how it suggests that this complacency can make one an accessory to evil, if not an enabler. Hannah is sympathetic, but the movie’s slow burn singes away any veneer of innocence she may initially possess. Yet at the same time, she’s also at the receiving end of a social punishment for actions she had no part in. Here, again, she is caught in the middle.

AFI Fest Review: Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds exhibits the best and worst of both indie thrillers and comedies, and seems pitched specifically to earn attention as a first feature from “an exciting new voice!” It’s confidently made with an eye for more than workmanlike style, it’s certainly able to conjure its own original world with an accompanying tone, and it brings forward some very fun performances. It’s also overly, sometimes gratingly affected – perhaps best showcased in how it’s divided into chapters (announced with ominous title cards) for no reason and with no coherence. It’s also much better on the comedy front than as a thriller, taking 90 minutes to arrive at the point which seems like it should be the halfway mark of a truly engaged thriller.

Retrospective: The Savages

Filmmakers discovered in the ‘80s and ‘90s who briefly flourished in the ‘00s low-budget boom before the collapse of midsized studio pictures produced work on a somewhat narrow wavelength. (They also often vanished in the wake of that collapse, which sadly happened to Jenkins after this film, though she’s now at work on a new Netflix production.) These were muted, formally stiff affairs made for their actors and little else. But Jenkins’ eye catches incidentals that enrich The Savages’ atmosphere.

Review: The Post

Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s script wants to have big speeches about the nobility of journalism as an instrument through which those in power are held accountable, but also wants to be honest about how Washington Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and executive editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) were both personal friends of presidents whom the Papers showed were complicit in the long coverup. The best the film can do to resolve this contradiction is to have Hanks say, in his authoritative and fatherly way, “Well, it can’t be that way anymore.” This is a dodge, a brushing off of larger questions raised by media elites’ chumminess with politicians. That the mainstream media has far more often been the accomplice of the powerful than its antagonist is ultimately elided. (Just look at how the Times and Post ran the party line on Vietnam up until that point, or how they cheered the U.S. into Iraq decades later.)

On Cerebus

That experimentation manifests most prominently in the artwork. Even in the comic’s early days of simple swords and sorcery, Sim would do things like warp the edges of a panel and Cerebus’s outline to represent disorientation. In one issue which takes place entirely within Cerebus’s head, seemingly random elements of the backgrounds of the pages turn out to each be a part of a larger mosaic of Cerebus himself. Sim’s greatest asset as a creator is his intuitive grasp that the relationships between the images that make up a comic are what set it apart as an art form; that this, more than mere drawing prowess, is how an artist creates the most impactful emotion and sense of tone. He becomes more assured as the series goes on, evolving from shaky character designs in the beginning to beautifully rendered models.

Interview: Errol Morris on Wormwood

People love this staple of detective fiction—blame the countless writers, from [Edgar Allan] Poe on, who’ve written detective stories—they love that one detail that tells you it’s the goddamn orangutan in Murders in the Rue Morgue. But in my experience, it’s never one detail; it’s a whole myriad. Or, to bring us back to Wormwood, it’s a collage of material. It’s a whole lot of bits and pieces of evidence, which coalesce into something close to a picture of what really happened. We live in a sea of falsehood, and the amazing thing about us as a species, if we’re worth anything at all (and we might not be worth anything at all, and we may end up destroying ourselves), is that we have this idea of truth, and we pursue it. Sometimes, we actually even find it.

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.