I, Tonya, 2017 – ★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

Near the end of I, Tonya, there’s a scene where we see the beginnings of the O.J. Simpson case on a TV while the Harding/Gilooly scandal is winding down. 2017 was a year where numerous filmmakers tried to pinpoint where American media went off the rails, indulging in 24-hour news, opinion-not-fact, and by extension how the hell we got to Fox News and Trump.

The film is dazzling and kinetic, especially in the skating sequences, which come at three important moments in the film. Margo Robbie has some great moments here, especially in her one close up where she struggles to conjure a smile while her career falls around her.

There is some weird dissonance in the film, however. We are asked to sympathize with Tonya’s working class plight, that no matter how good her skating, her white trashiness holds her back. Yet, some of the biggest laughs and enjoyable moments are ones that mock the trappings lower class Portland (or Portland 1.0 as I like to call it). It’s not to say that Harding’s mother wasn’t abusive and manipulative, her husband an abuser, and his “mastermind” friend a delusional doofus.

Thankfully, the film ends the original footage of Harding acing that triple axel. If anything, that’s how we need to remember her.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Molly’s Game, 2017 – ★★★

Molly’s Game, 2017 – ★★★

For most of its running time, Aaron Sorkin’s directoral debut hurries along at a GoodFellas and/or Big Short clip, as the Molly of the title, in voiceover, tells us how she went from Olympics hopeful to running one of the most profitable private poker games in America…before it all came crashing down. This is directing as punchy as Sorkin’s dialog and for once with a female protagonist.

All is good until a series of clunky scenes near the end, one on a bench near a skating rink, another in a courtroom, and the final monologue–this is where I really felt Sorkin showing his hand, unlike previously.

But damn, that opening hour is a corker.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Creepy, 2016 – ★★½

Creepy, 2016 – ★★½

A rewrite of Kurosawa’s own “Cure” but with the killer living nextdoor. It also seems like it was made in the ’90s, with no cellphones and detectives not being able to make the most rudimentary of Google searches. It’s like technology doesn’t exist. Along with that, nobody acts very smart in this film. I really wanted to like the film (as a fan of Kurosawa), but there’s just so little to like. The lead is no Yakusho Koji, that’s for sure. But Max the dog is exceedingly cute (what breed is he?)

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Best Of The Best Of 2017 Lists

Best of the Best of 2017 Lists

Everybody’s trundling out their Best of Lists. Here’s some of my favorites which are not the same ol’ same ol’.

Best Albums of 2017 from Vinyl Factory: Jumpin’ cats, I own none of these albums, have heard of about three, and now just want to explore all. Recommended by Jon Crow. Jazz seems to be making a comeback in the UK.

52 Things I Learned in 2017: Tom Whitwell of Fluxx compiles this list every year of tech advancements, strange data, business stories, and general oddness. I read about very few of these items over the year…how am I missing out?

Here’s a similar science-based list over at the Irish Times, including the fact that bees can count to four and humans are still evolving, despite the current state of the GOP.

Best Films of 2017: David Ehlich should be hired by the Oscars, if only these films would all be up for an Oscar. Another list that made me realize I barely went out to see films this year.

Birth.Movies.Death have several lists up this year, and though they do tend towards the bro-ness and StarWarsfapfapfapdom side of film fandom, they have often recommended some gems. Here’s some Underrated Films of 2017. I also liked Siddhant’s Top 20.

Film Comment has its own list of Best Films of 2017.

And if that’s too much 2017, here’s the Best Films of 1927.

 

This Week’s Long Reads

This week’s long reads

Some more long reads from the last week:

A popular post but worth repeating/reposting: Ted Chiang‘s takedown of Silicon Valley’s concerns over AI, pointing out that much of their dystopian fears are actually projections of their own rapacious late capitalism. A good quick read, but here’s my takeaway quote:

It’d be tempting to say that fearmongering about superintelligent AI is a deliberate ploy by tech behemoths like Google and Facebook to distract us from what they themselves are doing, which is selling their users’ data to advertisers. If you doubt that’s their goal, ask yourself, why doesn’t Facebook offer a paid version that’s ad free and collects no private information? Most of the apps on your smartphone are available in premium versions that remove the ads; if those developers can manage it, why can’t Facebook? Because Facebook doesn’t want to. Its goal as a company is not to connect you to your friends, it’s to show you ads while making you believe that it’s doing you a favor because the ads are targeted.

(Again, and I wish I could find it, but I think about that essay that pointed out that Musk/Zuckerberg aren’t these godlike geniuses, they’re robber barons.) This also ties into my thoughts about how modern tech/apps/startups have separated their user-side uses from the way they make profits.

Meanwhile, Umair Haque’s essay “What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn from Itself” says something I’ve been harping on about for ages: America has stopped dreaming of a better future and also ignores the advances in other countries (whereas we used to steal ideas left and right).

Everything I consume in the States is of a vastly, abysmally lower quality. Every single thing. The food, the media, little things like fashion, art, public spaces, the emotional context, the work environment, and life in general make me less sane, happy, alive. I feel a little depressed, insecure, precarious, anxious, worried, angry — just like most Americans do these day. So my quality of life — despite all my privileges — is much worse in America than it is anywhere else in the rich world. Do you feel that I exaggerate unfairly?

Finally, as the corrupt tool Ajit Pai ruins Net Neutrality, articles like this one have been popping up:

Motherboard & VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network It reads like a call to arms:

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week (apart from Thomas Fire-anxiety.)

(image taken Dec. 17 at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs)

Lady Bird, 2017 – ★★★½

Lady Bird, 2017 – ★★★½

Greta Gerwig’s quasi-autobiographical feature debut has a similar light and empathetic touch to the wonderful “Frances Ha,” following the senior year of the title character in a Catholic high school and her struggling middle class family in 2002. There’s no cynicism here or any expected Catholic school shenanigans; even the “mean girl” is just an okay (but rich and shallow) person. The honest depictions of economic worry make this a modern picture despite its “period” setting (thar’s nary a cellphone to be seen, apart from a big’un), and the film just breathes with the flow of life of a 17-year-old.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017 – ★★★★½

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017 – ★★★★½

Martin McDonagh should definitely get a Oscar nod at least for this script, which out of the three features he’s directed so far, is by far his most mature and emotionally resonant, similar to the best of his plays. Scenes that can turn from hilarious to poignant and wrenching are bloody hard to do, but Three Billboards has many of them. Frances McDormand is a treasure (this and Olive Kitteridge are some of her best work) and her angry and distraught mother goes through all levels of rage and grief, yet with a prickly humor that saves the film. In fact all the characters surprise along the way, from Woody Harrelson’s chief to Peter Dinklage’s minor supporting character, but the biggest surprise is Sam Rockwell who literally comes out of a crucible a different man. It took an Irishman to deliver a diagnosis of a changing America, and I’m glad it’s McDonagh. The ending is perfect, a question to all of us.

Vía Letterboxd – Ted Mills

Get Your Hot Fresh Links Here, Saturday Edition

Get your hot fresh links here, Saturday edition

Some longform articles I read this week.

I love this story of the guy who fooled TripAdvisor into thinking his garden shed was a super-exclusive London restaurant. When it becomes #1 and he is found out, he has only one option: embrace the false reality.

But how? I’ve never even had more than three people round at once, let alone provided dinner and drinks for 20. There’s only one way to do it: recreating the exact location people have been describing in reviews for the past six months.

My social media/news diet has reduced anxiety somewhat. So essays like this from Clive Thompson help encapsulate why this is a good thing. It introduced me to media theorist (and Canadian cultural nationalist) Harold Innis as well. He’s long gone, but what he saw in newspapers have become hypermetabolized in the info-stream of Twitter, which keeps us always refreshing the feed, afraid to miss something new. Says Thompson:

A culture that is stuck in the present is one that can’t solve big problems. If you want to plan for the future, if you want to handle big social and political challenges, you have to decouple yourself from day-to-day crises, to look back at history, to learn from it, to see trendlines. You have to be usefully detached from the moment.

This was a useful and in-depth video essay from Vox on the history of Technicolor:

This promo for Tim O’Reilly’s book WTF? looks at separating what is actually useful about social media and/or an app from any evil that its company does. Could we separate what Uber does for us (helpful improvement on catching a cab) from Uber itself (shitty, anti-worker techbro asshats)? I’ve been thinking about that recently.

The progressive insistence that the baby is inseparable from the bathwater works to the favor of big business and big tech. If technology’s critics insist that you have to choose between Facebook and surveillance and manipulation, they affirm Facebook’s own position. But if critics insist that Facebook has deliberately, cynically married something wonderful with something terrible, they invite people to join their case and fight for a good Facebook, rather than demanding a kind of antitech hairshirt that insists that you have to give up, not demand better.

Furthermore, does being a pro-environment progressive necessarily mean trying to live in some magical pre-industrial age? Or should we seize the means of production (technology-wise) and actually make the world a better place? This promo for Leigh Phillips’s Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff is all in on the latter and is a straight-up Marxist to boot.

The socialist says: Through rational, democratic planning, let’s make sure that the innovation arrives so that we can move forward without inadvertently overproducing. And move forward we must, in order to continue to expand human flourishing. So long as we do that, there are in principle no limits. Let’s take over the machine, not turn it off!

The two minds behind “Every Frame a Painting”–one of the pioneering film studies video essayists, and who videos on Edgar Wright and Jackie Chan get shown in my film classes every semester–have called it quits. Instead of just saying goodbye, they reveal their working methods and show exactly how much work goes into one of their five minute gems.

Take aways: On YouTube style is more important that substance, but in a good way

Making it a channel meant creating a uniform tone and style, something that Tony initially resisted. But I argued that a person who watched one video would be more likely to come back and watch another if there was a uniform style — even if they weren’t interested in that specific topic.
This meant we could get away with talking about less-known subjects and plenty of people would still watch because the format was the same. To his credit, Tony now admits I was right. (Tony’s note: “I refuse to admit this”).

YouTube has so many algorithms to stop copyright material from being uploaded that they style developed from fooling the algorithm:

Nearly every stylistic decision you see about the channel — the length of the clips, the number of examples, which studios’ films we chose, the way narration and clip audio weave together, the reordering and flipping of shots, the remixing of 5.1 audio, the rhythm and pacing of the overall video — all of that was reverse-engineered from YouTube’s Copyright ID.

The whole essay is full of goodies, so check it.

Laurie Penny has a freakin’ gangbusters essay over at LongReads.com which puts the #metoo movement in context with the increasingly awfulness of neoliberalism. Just like women are harrassed and worse without consent, so are we all exploited without consent. I’ve been thinking about this essay all week.

But that’s a hard truth to hang on to. Most people don’t want to know how much freer they might be if they had the energy and audacity to want it. And so we lie to ourselves and allow ourselves to be lied to. We watch the despots warming their tiny grasping hands around the trash fire of civil society, we look at the real extent of rape and abuse being revealed all around us and some of us still try to believe that we somehow choose this. Because the alternative is even worse. The alternative, awful truth is that it doesn’t matter what the vast majority of us choose. That none of the choices on offer are enough to protect us, or our families, or our communities from violence, that the important choices were never ours to begin with, that we are not living in an age of consent.

Kottke.org reported on Google’s AI machine not only learning chess in four hours but also beating the world’s top chess engine right afterwards. Fascinating read, but here’s my favorite takeaway quote:

I’ve long said that Google’s final fate will be to evolve into a hedge fund.

Indeed, what would happen if all these AI machines looked at the global market? Would it see inequality or equality as the best state?