2017 Updates

2017 in Review: October

This month: the Vietnam War, witch’s flowers, video games, documentaries about documentaries, blade runners, and more.

Review: Blade Runner 2049

“A holographic projection of an artificial intelligence (Ana de Armas, the movie’s secret weapon and heart) dances in the rain, adjusting its display so that the person depicted becomes wet – it knows what a human in the rain looks like, what joy looks like, but it must remind itself how to act. A woman makes subtle adjustments to an environmental projection using a device which looks like a camera lens assembly – capturing imagery and creating it are unified. In the ruins of Las Vegas, holographic recordings of ‘50s superstars walk about, ghosts of recreations of remembrances of shared culture. The original Blade Runner raised questions about the relationship between memory and identity, and 2049 goes further, interrogating the interplay between memory, personality, humanness, and seeing.”

A Cinematographer’s Documentary About Making Documentaries

“I really believe that these images are relationships. They are relationships in the making, but they continue to be relationships moving forward in the future. Each one is an interaction between the people filmed, the people who recorded the material, and the people who watch it. Me watching Abdul Henderson [in Fahrenheit 9/11] when the Iraq War is going on is one thing. Watching Abdul Henderson will mean another thing to the person who sees that footage.”

Pushing the Limits of What a Video Game Can Be at IndieCade

“There’s been an explosion in independent video game creation in recent years, enabled by a rapid proliferation of developer tools and devices which are cheaper and easier than ever to use. This has come linked with a rise in creators who seek not to make the next Angry Birds, but to get audiences to rethink how they play and even what a video game can be.”

‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ and the Ruthless Serenity of Sidney Lumet’s Swan Song

“Good storytelling often entails making the inevitable compelling, and in the realm of crime stories, this often takes on an additional tragic dimension. This genre is a parade of doomed protagonists, done in by their hubris, foolishness, lust, love, poor luck, fate, or any combination thereof. Simple plans always domino into chaos. Hawke’s character was supposed to rob the store alone, with a toy gun. His parents’ doddering employee was supposed to be running the place, not his mother. His partner was supposed to be a professional. There shouldn’t have been a gun in the drawer. Next thing you know, half the cast is dead. The film punches through each story beat with ruthless serenity. A drug fugue, a murder, and a spousal shouting match are afforded equal treatment: a cold camera which neither judges the characters nor detaches the audience from their anguish.”

In Ken Burns’s Vietnam War Documentary, Claims of Objectivity Obscure Patriotic Bias

“Not long after The Vietnam War exonerates the American government as acting in “good faith” when meddling in Vietnam, it executes a sequence which, coming from the PBS Standard, is mildly surprising. Straying from a predictable pattern of straightforward interview/narration/footage, it indulges an artistic flourish: To transition from the first episode’s introduction to the beginning of the history it examines, the documentary literally rewinds the war. Explosions shrink and bombs fly from the ground into the bellies of planes. Antiwar protestors march backward. A bullet withdraws from Nguyễn Văn Lém’s head into Nguyễn Ngọc Loan’s gun. It recalls a passage from Slaughterhouse-Five, or the final scene of Come and See. Entropy is reversed, order is brought to chaos, lives are saved.

Conceptually, it’s intriguing. But the scene is over in about a minute. The music is as indifferently, generically “intense” as it is during any given battle sequence. There is none of Vonnegut’s melancholy, born from personal experience in war. There’s none of Come and See’s anguish, the sense of attempting to undo history through sheer force of will. It’s nothing but a “cool” transition.”

Review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower

“The new Japanese animation house Studio Ponoc, founded and staffed by veterans of Studio Ghibli, has made a mission statement with its first feature, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Though the studio’s name is Croatian for “midnight,” alluding to the beginning of a new day, this movie represents less a fresh start than it does business as usual. From the character designs to the animation style, it tries to create the impression of a Ghibli film at every step. The implication seems to be that fans of Ghibli need not worry about the studio’s indefinite, possibly permanent “hiatus” from feature production–at least when production began on Mary–because Ponoc is now here to take up the reins and deliver works which look and feel almost exactly the same.”

Mary and the Witch’s Flower Interview

“As a producer, I read many children and young adult books to try to find good subjects for film production, and a lot of those stories deal with magic and witches. In those, when the main character confronts a very difficult situation, they use magic to solve it. But in The Little Broomstick, the main character chooses not to use magic at that crucial moment toward the latter part of the story. She says, “I’ll open this door without using magic, no matter how long it might take me.” And I thought that concept would be a great one to make a film with.

Both director Yonebayashi and I, and other creators from Studio Ghibli, have now lost the magic of being at Ghibli, and we have to stand on our own two feet. So this concept relates to the fact that we hoped to be able to complete a film on our own. That was the original story that I took to director Yonebayashi.”

How Perfect Blue predicted the disturbing possibilities of the internet

“Kon recognised the disturbing possibilities of the internet at a time when most were preoccupied with the utopian, egalitarian future it was supposedly bringing us. In 2017, at a time when the media’s dangerous capability to obscure the truth is finally being exposed, not to mention the rampant institutional misogyny and sexual abuse across so many industries, Perfect Blue feels not one bit outdated, besides the blocky and unwieldy computers. This is a film about a young woman driven to the brink of insanity by the stresses of the entertainment industry demanding performative emotional flaying from her, by the gaslighting of another woman who believes herself the true owner of the protagonist’s identity, and by the predations of a cyberstalker in a time before most people knew what that even was.”

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.