2018 Updates

2018 in Review: July

This month: the dark web, impossible missions, third murders, eighth grade, Gauguin, superheroes, and more.

Stream Mr. Freedom, the Perfect Anti-Fourth of July Movie

“Superheroes are an almost pure American construct, and the superhero stories we’ve told — both in their native medium of comics and in film, radio, TV, etc. — have often reflected the images Americans internalize of themselves, their country, and their role in the world. There’s a reason why superhero storylines often revolve around heroes fighting the perceived social threats of their day, acting as watchdogs on the world stage, and gallantly coming to the rescue of weaker nations. And it’s no coincidence that as Americans have shifted from viewing themselves as rugged pioneers to world leaders, the former top movie genre, the Western, has gradually been supplanted by superheroes.”

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

“All of the MCU films are packed with Joss-Whedon-style quips to keep things light, but this one goes far beyond that to incorporate honest-to-god physical comedy—a welcome move. People and things shrinking and growing are a consistent source of laughs in addition to action devices. In the aforementioned kitchen battle, Wasp blocks a bad guy from escaping by embiggening a salt shaker, which he blunders into with a hilarious KONK noise. The script (credited to five writers, including Rudd) finds comedy in interaction not by giving characters the same semi-casual sardonic attitude but in bouncing their personalities off one another, such as the prickly Hank and perpetual fuckup Ant-Man, or Michael Peña’s exuberant motor-mouth Luis with pretty much anyone else.”

French Racial Dynamics, Captured in Comics About Migrant Experiences

“Written between 1994 and 2011, most of these stories were published in the French comics anthology Le Chéval sans tête (“The Horse Without a Head”), which Alagbé co-founded and co-edited, and collected together as Les Nègres jaunes et autres créatures imaginaires in 2012. The American version, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith and published by New York Review Comics earlier this year, marks the first time that Alagbé’s work, long revered in French alternative circles, is officially available in English. The book arrives at a moment in which its political concerns are especially pertinent. Though written across many years now past, Alagbé’s stories about the difficulties faced by migrants in Europe hold special relevance now, as that subject has spiked from one social issue among many to a full-blown crisis.”

“The film does nearly all the leg work of helping an audience “understand” its lead in the opening minutes, as Sakamoto tweaks the water-damaged piano in preparation for his performance, the camera drawing in close and making us feel as though we share his intuitive connection to sound. After that, the rest is just shading in more details. As the doc understands the man and his art, music is a process of receiving the world around you and channeling it into something new to convey your thoughts or emotions.”

How Our Conversations Around Mixed-Race Identity Have Evolved in the 21st Century

“The framing and style of the photos — taken of the shoulders up, center framed, eyes facing forward, neutral expression — deliberately evokes photo IDs, tools often used to quickly categorize people. That the subjects get to speak for themselves deconstructs that pigeonholing, their individuality emphasized by the notes being rendered in their own handwriting. The photos are labeled with the various racial and ethnic groups each person identifies as belonging to. It brings to mind census or job application categories, but while everyone in this series might simply be put in “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” on such forms, here they get to attest to a wide range of backgrounds. Pushing against the basic nature of ideas around identity reveals the limitations in our thought and institutions, and hopefully awakens us to an expanded understanding of the subject, not just as it pertains to race but to a mosaic of other qualities — gender, sexuality, class, ideology, spirituality, and much more.”

Review: Eighth Grade

“Eighth Grade’s strongest suit is stowing its themes and emotions in what people don’t say, and in the spaces in between what they do say. A main character with a vlog is an easy excuse to baldly state how she’s feeling and what the audience should be learning, but Burnham’s script understands that a vlog is a performance, not true confession. Kayla feels like an introverted teenager because there’s no big moment in which she spills out her pent-up emotions. The film spends so much of its time with her alone, often observing others from a physical or digital distance, and trusts that the viewer will get what she’s going through.”

“Couples have been able to share a sensation like this ever since one person first sat down on the couch next to their significant other playing a game, or peeped over their shoulder to look at what they were doing on a computer. It’s not the same as simply watching a movie together; more like tagging along with them on an adventure. Cooperative and competitive games have since allowed couples to share these adventures. Florence continues in that tradition, but is still yet something else. At a time when games are evolving away from the old paradigm of “Solve this puzzle”/”Kill this enemy”/”Go from here to there to proceed” at a faster rate than ever, as they find more new ways to incorporate player authorship and engagement into their narratives, so too do the possibilities grow for player collaboration.”

A New Biopic on Gauguin in Tahiti Paints a Skewed Portrait

“The film’s treatment of Gauguin’s relationship with Teha’amana ties into its irksome conception of artistry, which revolves around the tired and simplistic idea of the artist and muse relationship. As in real life, here Gauguin leaves Europe in search of something more aesthetically stimulating. The suggestion is that simply getting a nubile young woman and a vivid paradise to play with did the trick for him. But the movie doesn’t pay much mind to the actual process of making art, beyond a few obligatory shots of Gauguin at the easel. It doesn’t draw the audience’s eye to any differences between the work he made before Tahiti and what he produced while on the island. It doesn’t even juxtapose the (admittedly beautifully photographed) scenery with Gauguin’s art, seeking where it may have influenced his style.”

“The movie is partially nonlinear, sometimes jumping between different stages of Callahan’s life. In one promising early bit, it cuts together Callahan giving the same speech about his problems in several disparate contexts—at an AA meeting, in group therapy, before a paying crowd—suggesting something about how we narrativize our own lives. But “something” is all it suggests, since the idea’s left behind quickly, and abandoned for so long that it becomes jarring when the film cuts from one period to another. The film’s only other formal flourish of note is sometimes illustrating Callahan’s troubles through animated sequences done in his drawing style—such a tired trope of biopics about cartoonists that it should be outlawed by now.”

“As a mystery, The Third Murder isn’t overly concerned with the bare plot mechanics of how each new twist changes the audience’s understanding of the case. Crime fiction aficionados hoping to keep up with an in-depth puzzle will be disappointed, as will any thriller enthusiasts looking for cat-and-mouse action sequences. Deliberately keeping the pacing methodical, Kore-eda instead takes time to examine how each story turn emotionally affects Shigemori, Misumi, and other characters. The plot twists exist less to re-contextualize the crime than to re-contextualize how we see them, and how they understand one another.”

“Wanda is a rare character, not just in the cinema of the time but still today — a woman defined by a near-total alienation from the world around her. American film in the ’60s and ’70s saw plenty of male protagonists in similar existential straights, and their actions were often defined by violence. Bereft of meaning or satisfaction, they can still vent their frustrations through such an outlet. Mr. Dennis is such a man, though possessing none of the magnetism of, say, a Travis Bickle, instead revealed as a pathetic figure. Meanwhile, what is a woman with no drive and no desire to destroy left to do? Wanda can only cling to what she can, often without being able to say why. “If you don’t want anything, you won’t have anything. And if you don’t have anything, you’re as good as dead,” says Mr. Dennis at one point. Loden’s performance is a harrowing embodiment of detachment.”

“Fallout is made of speed and force—people falling and charging and racing—and it finds its thrill in ducking and maneuvering, like a driver you’re sure is going to crash, but who swerves around every obstacle. This is an action movie in three dimensions without any 3D, with fights and chases through the air or going from the street to the sewer or a tower in a single beat. This is the action movie as a symphony of movement and framing and cutting and sound work. There are some stutters; major sequences in Paris and London drag on too long, becoming exhausting instead of exhilarating. Even the climax feels overstuffed in parts. But the cumulative rush makes it a big-screen must.”

“Dark Web feels like an adaptation of a creepypasta (modern-day campfire stories that are shared around the Internet) or of an alarmist chain email letter your older relatives may have shared with you. The film taps into very real fears around hacking and Internet surveillance, as well as the most depraved elements festering in the niche corners of the web. The fears are exaggerated or misplaced of course. Hackers are terrifying, but that’s because they can ruin your credit, get you fired or expose you to death threats, not because they may set up an elaborate game in order to murder you in your house. But the former fear is more abstract; Dark Web is more set on making all your less rational ideas concrete.”

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.