Cinema 2017 Half-Time Report: Movies 1/4

There’s a common myth that the first half of the movie year lacks the kind of quality and quantity that closed the year usually. Well that may be true to some extent, but films friends and I had little trouble naming 32 movies from the first half of 2017 that disprove the theory. Here are 9 to get the ball rolling:

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Kong: Skull Island

So far 2017 has been a pretty slow-going year in film. I’ve seen considerably less so far than I had planned, since many I was going to see turned out to be terrible, and I decided to skip them. 1 I didn’t skip and was very happy to see was Kong: Skull Island. Kong is my favorite film of the year so far because of a few main reasons. First reason is that it is a Kong movie, and I loved the previous ones of the 1933 original, and the 2005 remake. Kong is a great character because he’s a freak of nature, and just bad-ass to watch. He just rages against humanity, and I am envious of that. Second reason is that this film indulges in homage of Coppola’s Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now. There are so many characteristics of that film that can be seen in this one. Third, the film is stuffed with characters, and I like how some are more important than others, but yet, each serve a purpose. My last main reason Kong: Skull Island is my favorite film of the year is that it is beautiful to look at. It has fantastic cinematography from Larry Fong. He uses so many vibrant colors, and I am amazed at how well the film makes use of them. I want to conclude by saying that this film is basically cat nip for my cinematic tastes. —– Al Robinson @AlRob_MN

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Luca tanzt leise (Dancing Quietly)

Platforms like Netflix may well come under some scrutiny regarding its supposed contribution to halting actual cinema-going. There’s a valid argument in there somewhere, but films like Dancing Quietly, that simply don’t get theatrical distribution outside of their native land, get seen around the world thanks to the streaming networks. As Luca, a troubled young woman looking to right her educational slip-ups, Martina Schöne-Radunski gets the nuances of a soul in jeopardy with a care-free attitude absolutely spot-on. It’s a refreshing story, one which jolts with a biting climax – log in to your Netflix account and see for yourself. —– Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

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Grave (Raw)

Raw was one of the biggest surprises in last year’s Semaine de la Critique. In an era of zombies, mutants and myths, Julia Ducornau had the capacity and boldness to bring to life in her first feature film a subject charged with vegetarianism, homosexuality, young adult problems and the monster that is cannibalism. Each scene creates, revolves around and intensifies a limit between the moral, the immoral, the heart, the carnal, the visceral and the impulsion, which is emphasised by the grey ambience of the décors and the evolution of Garance Marillier’s performance. Until the end of the film, everything becomes even more emphatic and the corporal is not just something physical but also cognitive and emotional that culminates with a not so expected ending. It certainly is an authentic spring awakening with a touch of “The Rite of Spring” à la 21st Century. —– BabblingWallflower @Tresocas

Tower

The tragic events from 1st August 1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman opened fire from the tower, killing and wounding many, is handled with such respect and poignancy, it instantly becomes essential. Director Keith Maitland and his documentary team blend vibrant animation, eye-witness accounts, archive footage, interviews from law enforcement, media, those directly involved, as well as a true sense of appropriate depiction of an event 50 yers prior. Fascinating in its execution, and very moving in its candid story-telling, Tower is an unforgettable experience.. —– Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

The Last of Us

Tunisian director Ala Eddine Slim’s debut film is so wholly entrancing that to leave the theater is to surface from the deepest subconsciousness. The story is simple: N (Jawher Soudani) immigrates from North Africa on a small boat, washing ashore to wake to an eerily unpopulated forest. The Last of Us contains hardly any dialogue, and not much of it is important. Soudani’s nearly one-man-show features a debut performance that utilizes humanity’s emotional subtleties. Like the amygdala cortex’s microscopic grooves, Soudani’s display is an unfairly nuanced première. Slim’s fearless embrace of silence in a film about the noisy topic of immigration is the keystone in an otherwise frameless tale. Upon N’s arrival to this strange forest, it becomes clear that Slim isn’t interested in telling audiences a harrowing tale of survival that often meets immigrants in the real world. Everything, as if by a director’s gentle flick of a magic wand, is sequential, simple, but unexpected. —– Ian Nichols @iantilnic

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Logan

In 2008, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight set the standard for the superhero genre by taking Batman and his nemesis Joker and placing them into a modern-day examination of terrorism and the sacrifices a society is willing to accept to fight a tactic. In 2017, director James Mangold’s take on the Wolverine character post X-Men: Days of Future Past raises bar on the genre by doing something extraordinary – by making a superhero film in name-only. In reality, it’s a mashup of Western motifs, dystopian sci-fi, neo-noir and a road movie – all which just happens to have comic book characters Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier at its center. In their final performances as their respective characters, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give career-best, Oscar-worthy performances as two rusted, weary stalwarts of an age that has completely passed them by; while a star is born in Dafne Keen as Laura, a young mutant born into a world where mutants are on the verge of extinction, who just so happens to be like Logan – adamantium claws and healing regenerative abilities. looking for a safe haven from a shady black-ops team that wants her back or dead. It’s easily the most brutal, visceral “X-Men” film since last year’s Deadpool, but it’s also the most emotionally satisfying entry yet. —– Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23

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Forushande (The Salesman)

The story is simple, held elegantly against the backdrop of Miller’s Death of a Salesman; a play in which our heroes are portraying the main characters as a recreational activity. The protagonists’ plight is being juxtaposed with that of Willy’s and Linda’s, elevating the sudden darkness befalling their happiness to an allegory pertaining the small; those innocuous details that can either support or break a union in the aftermath of a domestic crisis. Much like Willy’s burden of mediocrity, Emad is being defined by his own perceived inability to successfully tend to his wife, Rana, in the aftershock of an attack that quickly adorns their skin with wrinkles of instability. Cracks appear, on the walls of their home, the build of their marriage, the very foundation of his mental equilibrium and in the process of his wife’s healing, the tables are slowly being turned. —– The Greek

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Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme (Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera)

Art is realized, and unrealized, in its own formation. Bertrand Bonello’s Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera is a testament to the expressive qualities of that most misused of the fundamentals of filmmaking – the most fundamental of all, arguably: duration. 23 minutes of evocative, provocative sensory ruminations on ruminations, a metatextual work in itself, contemplating the process of artistic creation at its every painful, intriguing, transcendent stage. Ever the master stylist, Bonello returns again to his most compelling theme: cinema’s capability to comment upon its own purpose – and that of works in other media – and thus its identity. And if said purpose initially eludes the viewer, as it surely should, the breathtaking beauty of Sarah Winchester makes it one of the most captivating ways to pass a certain 23 minutes of your day. —– Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen

Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest)

As my wife and I will vouch for given the amount of high quality Spanish films we have seen of late, they certainly know how to create intelligent, slick thrillers (and horrors). Contratiempo (also on Netflix) flips page after page of its well-woven narrative, twists, turns, developments, set-backs, all contribute to a hearty, detective tale. When a man wakes to find his lover murdered, he becomes the obvious suspect, and so accepts the expert advice of one of the finest lawyers around to intricately piece together the backstory that may or may not prove his innocence. A riveting ride from start to finish. —– Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Comments welcome below on your favorite films of the year so far. 24 more to come shortly. Revisit the Moments (one and two) and Performances (one and two) of 2017.

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