Here's everything I'd Seen in 2018.
My 2019 journals start here.
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There where certain parts of this movie that where almost formulaic: any knowledge of traditional ensemble thriller or horror films lets you see the order in which all the characters die and will telegraph their deaths minutes ahead of time. The characters themselves are more a series of tropes thrown together than actual, developed characters.
Fortunately the great things about the movie don't rely on those things I mentioned above. The beginning of the movie spends all its time developing Natalie Portman's character and that was smart, she is good in this role and compelling, and sets up a believable image of a person who would go into unknown, dangerous, alien territory. The middle part of this movie is a lightshow of beauty and horror and color starring an all female cast which stuns the senses. It is gorgeous and grotesque and I wish I saw it on the big screen. The last part of the film is a mystifying, bizarre, and still somewhat disturbing thriller which makes you think back on the earlier parts of the film and piece together bits of the puzzle yourself.
The end is cliffhanger-y, though I admit it didn't disappoint me, it did instead make me wanna go grab the books it's based on and start reading the series. In the end it was gorgeous and weird and I liked it a lot, the production value created a world that I'd watch ambient ASMR videos of, so seeing this sad and strange story play itself out was truly a treat.
Arrival feels like a short story with its subtlety, a good thing since it's based on one. I can see that slow, quiet atmosphere letting people down in the long run. It is easy to either miss concepts that are relayed in one or two offhanded lines of dialogue, or maybe feeling the sense that the significance of anything said in any of this movie was over-exaggerated. Yet it was to me a jarring existential terror. My sleepy state of mind was not holding up any defenses and I felt horrified at the concepts this movie quietly talks about. I practically forgot there was anything about aliens in the movie and got caught up in the feelings of dread and a desire to escape the confines of time itself left. It left a lasting impression, and paired as well with the beautiful cinematography and iconic visuals as a wine pairs with cheese. For me, maybe not an entirely good experience, but an unforgettable and impactful one, and one that I will be unable to resist seeing again someday.
I don't have a lot to say about the narrative itself, except maybe the great use of setting + time period to push a sense of ironic pointlessness over the whole film which was done quite well. Like a voice in the back of my mind saying "this is so much pain and effort and the wall is about to come down." That was cool. But the actual fun of Atomic Blonde is how incredibly stylish and action-packed it is. It was violent but not sadistic or disturbing (says my desensitized self), and all of the action was so well choreographed and shot, I was amazed. I get so tired of action movies that don't just stop with all the cuts and camera work and give me a good clear shot of the cool shit that's going on, diluting it instead of pumping it up, and Atomic Blonde gets that. It makes everything look pretty and colorful and shows you all of it, clearly and beautifully and brutally. I watched it late one night with my girlfriend and we had a great time, totally caught up in it from beginning to end. It's a great movie for watching with a few friends over some beers!
Just stunning. This movie was a success on so many different levels for me. It was so wonderful to see so many black women in a superhero film, in numbers we only see from movies about slavery or certain Tyler Perry flicks. It was really inspiring to see myself on the screen this way and I hope there where many other people who got to feel the same way about this movie.
Black Panther also completely schooled every other Marvel film as well as most action/genre flicks on how to make a compelling villain. There is a lot of emotional weight on both "sides" of this movie, characters actually facing both the mistakes of past generations and their own flaws. It was a beautiful and moving story. I know it will bounce off of many, and it makes me sad that due to the current political climate that there are many people who will write this movie off as pandering (don't get me started). But it is honestly one of the few Marvel movies that stands alone as a good film by itself without the rest of the MCU needed to hold it up. (Thor: Ragnarok and the first Iron Man are the others I'd recommend in the same way, for those curious).
I kind of bounced off this movie when I first saw it, but I just happened to stumble on a video on Youtube that discussed character motivation using this film as an example, and something kind of clicked. The first time I watched it was a lot to take in, the visual beauty is just stunning but the characters felt painful to me, I couldn't see why they'd put up being around each other at all. This time around I appreciated it though. They are each trying so hard to make meaningful connections with each other despite miles of differences. It was surprisingly touching to have a movie I had written off seem to transform before my eyes into a story about three goofuses suddenly deciding they need to let their family know they care and stop running from their problems so much. I really liked it. It might be my new favorite Wes Anderson movie.
A sweet, slow-paced movie that had my just sobbing by the end. I haven't seen something that takes its time breaking your heart in quite the same way. I think it's my favorite war film. In This Corner of the World was so beautiful, both visually and in its story. The war looms over the whole story like a terrible, sad cloud, and you know it will rain eventually. And it does, and it's hard to watch. But its eye opening and hopefully heart opening as well. There are things we shouldn't forget about. The real effects of war. And yet despite this the movie ends with hope. Don't forget the tragedies, but don't forget you have to keep living too.
This movie was so good I'm actually kind of pissed off at it. It's not that it was the most mind-blowing story, but it often feels like not enough creators are really using animation to its full potential. Isle of Dogs is the kind of movie I wish there where more of and it's frustrating that it's so unique. The art teacher side of me wants to grab everyone by the shoulders and yell, "Come on people!! Get creative!! Look what Wes made, he's got it."
It's beautifully imaginative, colorful and full of life and energy. Even putting aside the quirkyness of any Wes Anderson movie, it's one of the more creative movies of the last decade. I very much want more animation that is not angled entirely at children, and I hope the critical success of Isle of Dogs helps move that concept forward.
I personally find it hard to watch any kind of stop-motion because I'm a coward who got really scared watching a Wallace and Gromit movie when I was a kid, but despite my feelings of unease through all of it I had a blast watching Isle of Dogs. It was a funny and very touching adventure, lots of great comedic timing, and I can't get enough talking dogs. They're a hoot and a half. It is one of the most memorable movies I've ever seen.
Wow, please watch this show. I haven't been so taken by a TV Show in so long. Every part of it is phenomenal. Mr. Sunshine is a beautiful Korean historic drama, set in turn of the century Korea in a time period where many countries where warring in, near, or over ownership of Korea itself. The politics side of the show includes the meddling of countries and governments from Japan, The United States, Russia, and China, and characters speak both Korean and English liberally, as well as Japanese, Russian, and French depending on the episode. It is a great international hit.
I love how character-driven it is, but they don't lose scope of their historic setting or the events in history that are happening through these years. It is funny, lighthearted, tearjerking, and so much more, never quite stepping into soap opera territory but never being too serious to poke fun at its characters. I love the show's themes of complicated personal identity, the importance and flaws of patriotism, class and wealth, bearing the sins or values of your family, and the changing modern times. It is also romantic, but I've never felt the romance is contrived or shoehorned to fit the plot. Please watch this show!
Ah, Night In The Woods. You give me hope. You are a gleaming star on the horizon of the grimy, polluted sky that is the video games industry.
This is good writing in a video game. I know, it sounds impossible. But Night In The Woods pulls it off. It's not just good for a video game, but it takes the mediums strengths and uses them to its advantage. You live through several days as Mae, recent college dropout who, unannounced, has come back to her parent's house in a tiny midwest town as is now dealing with the inevitable fact that things change. Some things change for the better, some for the worse, some just change and it's not good or bad it's just different. She struggles with self identity, friendship, seeing her parents as flawed and stressed out humans who can't just magically make things better, and the pressure she feels to have direction in her own life when she really just doesn't know. Also, there might have been a murder.
Because you play as Mae from the moment she wakes up to the moment she falls asleep, and then also play her dreams, you get all of this story unfolding in an extremely organic, relateable way. You make her decisions and live with the consequences, you live through her indecision and struggle and happiness. It works so damn well! And yes, the game is gorgeous. It has this beautiful 2D papercut style, and I am a total sucker for talking animal stories. I think that the characters are animals makes it easier for absolutely anyone to relate to the characters, it was a brilliant choice. You're also less worried about may climbing on rooftops and jumping on cars since she is a cat after all.
Okay okay okay, I know. Pathologic is significantly less accessible than anything else on the list. It's an older game and it's kind of a pain in the butt to play thanks to the survival stuff. But hear me out. This game deserves to be a classic of Russian literature. Much like Night In The Woods, it uses the strengths of the medium to its advantage. But Pathologic takes it to incredible new heights.
You play through eleven days in a tiny Russian town that has become infected by a strange disease. It slowly builds into a full-blown plague and your character has the ability to cure it. You must keep up with food, water, and sleep, though, as if you where really living through these elven days- as well as keep track of your reputation in the town and if you are or aren't infected. There is not infinite time to talk to everyone and see everything, and every decision you make changes the rest of the story. Because the game is heavily text-based, this is incredibly intricate. You aren't just playing through a story, you are trying your best to survive.
But the real magic of Pathologic comes with multiple play-throughs. The first time you play the game, you take the story as truth. It is complex, surreal, mystefying at times, but you can see the events unfurl and understand the main character's decisions. It is a very cool story.
But then you start a new playthrough and pick the second character. The eleven days start again. And suddenly things you thought where fact about this story are turned on its head. It is as if you where wearing sunglasses 24/7 and finally took them off, to see all the actual details you missed before. Everything is different.
But the game doesn't let you rest, because there is a third character you can play. And by this time Pathologic does what other storytellers have tried so many times. Life is not simply two sides of the same coin; it is so much more complex. Pathologic shows us how we can be standing in the same room at the same time as another human, shoulder to shoulder, and witness a completely different chain of events even though our eyes are seeing the same thing. Perspective is everything.
Add on top of that, eerie themes of what it means even to exist at all, what is free will and autonomy and if they are even real what are their value, and you have the ingredients for a timeless classic. I keep wanting to call it a book for its intricacey, wonderful writing and beautiful plot, but truly this is a story best experienced through the medium of video games. Living out each of the eleven days, feeling the burden of choice and survival not once but three times in the literal shoes of three different people, peeling back the sticky layers with your own hands, there is no substitute in movies or books. Pathologic is a masterpiece.
The first few stories where confounding, like reading someone's fragmented dreams. I didn't understand what I read, though I appreciate surreal fiction. The content of each short story swirled in my mind like individual flakes in a snowglobe, and even now they kind of blend together if I don't refer to a list of stories in the collection. By "Hunting Knife", I was getting a feel for it, "A 'Poor Aunt' Story" I really enjoyed, and "The Year of Spaghetti" was weird but I found it kind of funny. I could see the themes coming together. Then I read "The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes" and it kind of clicked. This was a Lynchian fever dream of concepts mean to terrify. Okay, maybe not, but the disgust and horror of that one, it made some kind of gross sense. And it put a weird context to the rest of the collection. By the end I was really digging it. Bizarre and meandering and abrupt as many of the stories where, there felt like a weird buildup happening. By the end it felt like its own book, not just a collection of stories. Maybe I just was in the right mindset that last day, but this book has a certain creative flavor to it, very unique, that I really enjoyed. Many of the individual stories seemed lacking, but together they form this composition of abrupt ends, hollowness, empty relationships, fear and melancholy and sharpie cakes and it really makes you want more the further in you read.
It's still my favorite book. It's suuuuuch a good read. I have grown to really love this view of a classic fantasy tale; the main character, Cazaril, starts the book seeing through these charades society has of class, status, gender roles, able to see the roles we humans play, and that is one of the most insanely refreshing things I've read in decades. It makes this book so good. And by the end he hasn't got some cynical, jaded view, but has fallen into the embrace and peace and happiness in a very un-machismo way, that rings so true as someone who has dealt with so much trauma in life, and can see how little value those roles really have. If there is any one thing I can say about The Curse of Chalion and its sequal Paladin of Souls, its that I love their themes of subverting expectations. They still exist as fantasy adventure tales, but their characters are those who have seen these dumb social norms we live in and are sick of them, have been beaten and broken by them and can see with painful clarity how much harm they can do. And it's so fucking refreshing, to have characters exist on that same plane. We are on the same page, one might say. ;) It makes it hard for me to read other fantasy stories, especially classics, that adhere to those tropes. Thank you Lois McMaster Bujold, for writing one of the best damn books I've ever read in my goddamn life.
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