Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, film, 2016, dir. David Yates
Going into this already inundated by criticism helped, because it allowed me to recognize the problematic bits, know they had been engaged, and not sorry over them so much that ruined the rest of the experience. (That said: where are the Jews in this New York & cast of Jewish surnames?) I thought this was decent. I liked the characters, and thought the effects were charming; the conflicts, both overarching and localized "where to find them" plot, are less successfulpredictably paced and too disconnected from one another. The worldbuilding falls somewhere in between: there's a fantastic sense of place but the adaptation of wizard culture is clumsy; the magical beasts could add such new life to the world! but their magical characteristics are gimmicks, and their behavior is subservient and anthropomorphized, which undermines ... everything, really. Ultimately, this provided what I came for, that Harry Potter-film escapism composed of rich visual aesthetic, larger than life characters, and just enough underlying emotional subtlety; but it wasn't great.
How to Get Away With Murder, season 3, 2016-2017
If this series is The Secret History of proceduralsthe push/pull of exaggerated, idealized academia and intimacy set against the social breakdown fostered by secrets and murderthen this is the season of consequences, of the trickle up to Keating's career. I didn't know my respect of Viola Davis could grow more profound, but it hasshe does an outstanding job of portraying a complex mix of vulnerability and strength. The plot elsewise is okaythe danger in a series with this premise is that it can grow too convoluted, undermining and/or overlooking previous events while chasing the next cliffhanger; but the way that things fall out, the in-fighting, the effect on extended cast, the hints of underlying intimacy (especially in Michaela's apartment!), use previous events to good advantage. I enjoyed this a lot.
Frailty, film, 2002, dir. Bill Paxton
This would have been a significantly better story given: 1) no twist endingthe twist is exceptionally predictable and could have even been written in, but wasn't, and as is it serves only to undermine the potential character study of brainwashing/abuse/delusion, 2) better actingit's a small cast, and there's a huge burden on the child actors, and no one can stand up to it (Bill Paxton in particular has some cringe-worthy acting in high-value scenes), 3) better effects ... I didn't discover until this writing that this came out in 2002! I thought it was older ... the corny effects combine with the so-so acting to undermine the premise, to turn it from compelling and unsettling to a gimmick. Nice idea, but skip this one.
Tag, film, 2015, dir. Sion Sono
What a weird film! It's almost successful, mostly on account of the acting and because, in broad strokes, the feminist themes work: an intimate relationship between women, fighting the nightmare of gendered social expectations. The tone is certainly remarkable, if not successful: grindhouse meets arthouse, strange and humorous gratuitous violence played against surreal reoccurring imagery and dream logic. But here's the thing: it engages in an awful lot of objectification despite the feminist subtext, and the reveal is a bit of a mess, a lot of an anticlimax, and isn't awfully empowering. This is no Sucker Punch, but sometimes resembles one.
Sense8, season 2, 2017
I forgot, until viewing the S1 summary, how much of this show is ridiculously contrived action sequences, the motivations for which I'd largely forgottenand few of which really matter because, as the summary reinforces, the heart of this show is 25% speculative concept/plot and 75% queer orgy found family feels. And I really love those precise feels, and I'm mad about the circumstances behind the show's cancelation for precisely this reason: it's so id, so gay, and there's not much else that does what it doesI want it to set president, not be quietly erased. I don't have a lot of feelings about plotting vs. interpersonal in this season (I don't, frankly, think it improved remarkably over the previous season), but I found it so engaging, as always: I love these characters, the film techniques, the voice and style; it's a consistent pleasure.
Dig Two Graves, film, 2014, dir. Hunter Adams
Phenomenal sense of time and place; a ... mixed handling of racial issues: uses g*psy slur, but it's period-appropriate; it acknowledges racism and its consequences, but also capitalizes on stereotypes for aesthetic and plot purposes. I have a lot of mixed feelings, here. It pushes the hell out of my Southern gothic aesthetic buttons, and I love the initial setup, the haunting use of liminality. But some of the "magic" evoked is pretty corny (as well as fulfilling racist stereotypes), and as the narrative progressesspoiler spoiler spoiler warningand everything is given mundane explanations ... mundanity makes for a tricky reveal: it's innately underwhelming, despite the substantial themes and the title drop. I liked this, and wanted to like it more, but kept running into caveats.