Sep. 13th, 2017

juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Moana, film, 2016, Disney
Came for Accessible Disney Emotions; largely received them. It's interesting the way that gender/racial choices reinvigorate traditional heroic quest arcs—because this is extremely by-the-book, but feels empowering rather than redundant; Moana's personal growth and the way it ripples out to supporting characters and the resolution is extremely satisfying. Interesting musical choices: when they started a song about coconuts I was underwhelmed, but there's—

(Now imagine a pause while I check Google to see if anyone else has made a link between the lyrical evolution/reiteration of Moana's "I want" song and the unique lyrical style of Hamilton, and then I discover that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote that song, and that the link isn't influential but direct. I sincerely didn't know he was involved with this movie.)

—there's a beautiful lyrical evolution/reiteration in that main theme which is reminiscent of the self-referential wordplay of Hamilton; it's clever, and substantial enough to carry the film's emotional thrust. But while the denouement is fantastic, the resolution is flat, and that's all due to the design of Te Fiti—there's a dozen ways to conceptualize nature-as-humanoid/-goddess which is more evocative and less "vaguely fuzzy giant green lady" (even the willow tree in Pocahontas was better!), and what's rendered here undermines that final emotional resolution. I also hate the water tentacle—the hair is amazing! the natural water is beautiful! there are some great renders in this, but the nondescript water tentacle that shakes its head isn't one of them. Also: I sincerely don't get why anyone cared about the chicken, and the grandmother is one of the best characters I've ever seen and I both want to know her and want to be her, someday. I found this more successful than not, but the ending missteps.

Closet Monster, film, 2015, dir. Stephen Dunn
This is really good. It perfectly bridges its surreal/imaginative/symbolic aspects to its concrete events. It's sincere, convincing, compelling; accessible but also private; heartbreaking but cathartic, without being exploitative or simplistic. (The way it depicts violence is particularly successful, cutting away/using discretion shots in a way that simultaneously preserves tension, confers respect, and still conveys trauma). There are flaws (the hamster is heavy-handed; the final scenes too idyllic), but I'm sincerely impressed by what it achieves.

The Levelling, film, 2016, dir. Hope Dickson Leach
If I had thought about it, perhaps "vet student from a farming family" and "family trauma post-suicide" was not an ideal combination for me, in particular; but I didn't think about it, and did watch this through, and it was vaguely unlikable, if only for slipping "forgive and reunite with you abusive family members" in there at the end. I do this a disservice: the interstitial shots of an English countryside caught between the idyllic and the eerie and the muddy mundane, and the localized loss in the wake of a suicide, are effectively staged; the whole weight of the film rests on Kendrick's shoulders, and she can bear it. But it is absolutely about how awful suicide is for the survivors, and about forgiving/healing past familial abuse, and using violence against animals/the farming industry as psychological manipulation and metaphor: all tropes I deeply despise and shouldn't've put myself through.

American Fable, film, 2016, dir. Anne Hamilton
Honestly, pretty awful. There's an interesting story here, about poor rural white America's interaction with—well, Jewish bankers, the boogeyman of Jewish wealth, economic antisemitism and both sides of economic anxiety; you can't cast an identifiably Jewish person in the role of "wealthy man buying up farmland who is kidnapped and tortured by farmers" and then not address the Jewish issue—it creates a Jewish narrative in absentia and I have no idea: is that intended? is it just really poorly executed? is it just because of Schiff's casting? It doesn't particularly matter as the rest of the movie is forgettable, hamfisted plot development and campy horror pacing, with a beautiful setting, promising but undeveloped imagery, and some decent acting from Kennedy and Schiff that has no particular payoff.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, film, 2016, dir. Oz Perkins
I thought I would like this; I really did like this. April Wolfe of The Village Voice described it as "the most atmospherically faithful adaptation ever of a Shirley Jackson book that never existed" (thanks, Wikipedia)—and it's no Shirley Jackson, but it does have that feel to it: a strong sense of place and costume and set design, an investigation into women within gothic archetypes (and women's life as gothic) which isn't hugely robust but is largely successful, some gentle queer subtext, a plot which isn't hugely complicated but which does clever things with narration, and a really satisfying tone. It wasn't objectively perfect, but I wanted it to never end; I wanted those empty rooms and facile but appealing metaphors and mustard accents to last forever.

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