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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best movies of 2017 so far, Part 1




1.Blade Runner 2049
Not a film I anticipated with any great optimism, as Ridley Scott, the director of the first film, a masterpiece recognized only after its unspectacular theatrical performance and the oh-hum reviews, was an erratic director, to be kind. He was very capable of making movies that while boasting an attractive style, would let you down with half baked story lines and conventional Hollywood endings, whether they be     upbeat or bleak by the end of the last reel. Fortunately, smarter judgment prevailed and director Dennis Villeneuve--Sicario, Arrival, Prisoners-- was brought on bard to extend the replicant saga. Fittingly, the film is a luscious, lovingly detailed and poetically blurred vision of a polluted and decimated Los Angeles and western United States, and the enticing and confounding issues that arise from the creation of very human like androids to essentially function and exist as nothing other than a disposable slave class remain with us. The smart matter here is that the right story elements are drawn from the original film,the right characters are brought back to furnish       us with ideas as to how matters have changed over thirty years , the mysteries have deepened more so , and the mysteries remain. BR 2049 has all the issues the lured us in from the original motion picture, but it is its  own majestic,dystopian saga. It is equal parts meditation, philosophical debate, action movie, love story and, above all, a mystery, all the strands perfectly fused together seamlessly. This film is a masterpiece.



2. Wind River
Related imageDirector Taylor Sheridan slowly, ominously unfolds a murder mystery on an Indian reservation in the hard cold winter  of Wyoming , a drama with a muted , slow build, like the most emotionally complex of pieces of music, which  brings together a tracker (Jeremy Renner)_ and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson).Less a mystery, actually,than an effectively tooled investigative procedural, the investigators, a pair from realities alienated from each other in thinking and personality --one taciturn,deliberate, the other vocal, questioning, proactive--sift and probe and poke through generations of male culture,both white and Native American and makes you  how the worst aspects of human inclination--seeking power, dominance, submission, exploitation--are made worse tenfold at the local level with the merciless scramble for diminishing resources. Political implications aside, this is a beautifully shot film--snow capped mountains and forests have rarely been photographed this beautifully --and the choice to lens many wide shots to give a scope of the bigness of the land and the harshness of the  weather serves as a poignant contrast 

3.Baby Driver

Writer and director Edgar Wright, we've read, has directed a heist film that is as much a musical as it is a crime comedy. Well, yes, in as much as the title character, actually named Baby Driver, loves to prepare special mix tapes while dancing , highlighted frequently in this film. The steps actor Ansel Elgort executes in these scenes are fairly  elegant indeed, Astaire like to a degree.  Don't let that stir you    off, though, as what Wright creates is in keeping with previous work , which is zany, witty,  subversive of the genre he's working in, but never so busy   with his technical virtuosity that he forgets to bring the fun the audience came for. Our hero is a fantastically gifted getaway  driver indentured to a ruthless crime master .Finding love at last, Baby finds himself attempting some impossible ploys to free himself of teh clutches of his boss so he  can go off and find happiness and some kind of normalcy after a life   of forced criminal activity. Not an  original premise, but it's merely the  starting point    for Wright, he subverts the cliches , veers in another direction other than where you expect him, expands and contracts the minimal plot particulars, and keeps matters moving, moving , moving with a quick but sure sense of how to keep the many balls he has in the air from hitting the floor. Wright also draws fine performances from Jamie Fox, Jon Ham and the ever effusive Kevin Spacey as the harshly ironic crime boss. Expect double, triple and quadruple crosses here as the matters pile on, and expect many a "WTF?" moments and to burst into laughter at unexpected moments. Baby Driver is an exercise in    exhilarating virtuosity.
4.Paterson
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch at his best, a seemingly trivial and glancing examination of a Paterson, New Jersey  bus driver also named Paterson whom we get watch as he goes about his day, waking up next to his   wife, clocking into work, driving his route around the downtown area (it seems), listening to rich chunks of fascinatingly inane small talk from his passengers and, most telling, having lunch. Paterson the driver, living in Paterson the city, echos the legacy of Paterson the epic poem by William Carlos Williams, the great American poet and and a Paterson native son. Paterson, the driver,  writes poetry on his lunch break, and in the course of the film viewers have the only film about a poet I remember that showed the writing process in effective movie terms. The poem, in the driver's hand writing, appears on the screen as he composes and we listen to the poem in his voice being created; revisions are made, lines and words crossed out, new phrases are introduced, what begins as seemingly prosaic and ordinary becomes something extraordinary , worh noticing, an idea beautifully expressed and preserved in words. This is the beauty of Jarmusch at  his best, finding rich and resonating veins from the   everyday, bits of modern life uncluttered and made just slightly odd. Humorous, touching, perfectly disarming , this movie is also particularly in small pleasures that are matter of fact,   bits of surprise with no fanfare, one of which    is that the Paterson the driver/character living in a city named Paterson which is also the title of an important American poem is portrayed by Actor Adam Drive. Intended  or by coincidence, I think  that is very, very cool  in a satisfying small way.

5.Colossal
Related imageColossal, a fine indy film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The premise is this: a young woman loses her job and boyfriend in NYC and, unable to find work and broke as well, moves back to her home town to stay in her parent's empty house. At the same time, a giant monster begins to destroy Seoul , Korea . The woman realizes after a while that she has a mysterious but very direct connection with the monster destroying a city a half a planet away. Science fiction, romantic comedy and psychological thriller in a well executed fusion of what would conflicting genres, writer and director Vigalondo does not merely mash together disparate kinds of pop culture, but instead weaves them together. Without going into tidbits that would spoil the film, I would just add that the script is as tightly constructed as it is wildly imagined and it requires to suspend our disbelief a little further and, in a more challenging aspect, to suspend it in ways not usually demanded of us as viewers. Think of this: if one's actual life seems to slip, merge, evolve and abruptly change tones, perceptually, from being a comedy, tragedy , romance and soap opera in the course of month, a week, a day, why wouldn't this also hold for a fictional , more fantastical world? Colossal does , I promise, contain all the elements I've mentioned, and they are pertinent to the story being told, but this a narrative with the varied genre restrictions removed. For all that seems fantastic and scary, the players and their situations and how they respond to the changes that happen to them are, (ahem) human, all too human. Odd, quirky and defying genre expectations, this is splendid and engrossing story, with a perfect ending to seemingly unresolvable complications that you didn't see coming. Fine performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

6.Wonder Woman
Related imageDirector Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual super hero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares, the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think.  A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Adopt as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is quite good here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance. Gadot hasn't the broadest range as an actress, a fact that led the objections to her being casted in the role of the defining super heroine, but what she does here is akin to what other limited-commodity screen thespians have worked well with, which is to perform splendidly within the limitations. An imaginatively creation of both alternative history and alternative history, stylized grandly but not overbearing, exhibiting recognizable emotion and conviction among the characters yet avoiding preachiness and sentimentality, and above all else, sufficiently, effectively, efficiently action packed,

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