This is the fourth time I'm doing a "musings" article (after 2014
) and... well, I really like this format. rather than doing a strict top-10, this allows me to speak about anything, really... as long as it's film-related.
And boy, was 2017 a weird year. Outside of films, politics got scary in (or for) many countries, and following the news was a depressing affair. At the same time personal fortune hit my family, with both me and my wife moving on to better jobs, while nobody got into any serious medical crises. If we have a guardian angel I hope we haven't worked it to death...
And inside of films? James Marsh' excellent round-up of all our personal favorites
here at Screen Anarchy was published earlier this week, and looking behind the scenes at all the Top-10 lists I was, as always, dismayed at all the titles I wanted to have seen at this point but hadn't somehow found the time for. I can't believe I still have to catch mother!
I didn't miss everything though, so this is my list of films and events which struck me in 2017. Browse through them (they're in no particular order...), and feel free to discuss!
After 40 years I got my Valerian movie, only without a Valerian...
You can safely state that I'm a Valerian fan, as I have been reading the graphic novels since I was eight. I grew up with Valerian, starting with the silly exciting space-time adventures as a kid, the exotic artsy philosophy as an adolescent, and the bizarre and the erotic traincrash it became as I was a student. Warts and all, the series has been a huge influence on popular science fiction worldwide, and I was delighted when Luc Besson gathered the team of the graphic novels to be designers for his Valerian-esque The Fifth Element.
So was I stoked when I heard he was going to make a true Valerian film, with a huge budget? Oh HELL yes!!
Upon arrival though, that film turned out to be a strange beast indeed. It looked sumptuous, had a kick-ass beginning, and Besson had absolutely nailed the universe. Thing is, the graphic novels were SO influential, for non-fans it made it seem as if Besson had been ripping off all sorts of films, from Star Wars to Avatar, instead of the other way round.
What was worse though was Besson's interpretation of the lead characters. An earlier animated adaptation for French television had already changed the Valerian character a bit, but the film took this a lot further, making him weirdly incompetent, juvenile and insufferable. And having an unlikable hero meant that the plot, itself an uneasy meld of several graphic novels, was hard to sit through. Pretty pictures though...
A perfect Perfect Blue?
Last year, the oldest known Japanese animated short was one hundred years old, and to celebrate that anniversary, French distributor Kazé released an anime highlight in a special edition that was pretty jawdropping: Kon Satoshi's debut film Perfect Blue.
Mind, the 2007 Japanese Blu-ray of that film may be my favorite release of all time (so far) due to its extensive unique trickery in the packaging department, but Kazé's 2017 release got really close. The sheer size of the books, combined with its own slipcase trickery, made this my favorite release of 2017. Check it out here.
There was some stiff competition though, and there was a surprisingly high number of great releases coming from Germany and France. Check out what Germany did with The Blues Brothers and Suspiria for example, or what France did with Psycho Pass and Stand-Alone Complex. As a collector, it sure didn't hurt to be regionfree and a bit polyglot...
And the "Incoherent Mess of the Year" Award goes to...
The fifth Transformers film had a few fun moments and plenty of annoying ones, but that is par for the course with this series. The Last Knight stands out like a sore thumb though, because despite some stiff competition from its own brethren, it manages to have the most nonsensical plot yet. I thought this film couldn't disappoint me (after four of these, I kinda knew what I was going into... I thought), but I was wrong. This one is ouch-ouch-ouch bad.
With each of these five films, they do a new restart with "everything you thought you knew was wrong", and each time it made less sense than the last. Check:
In the first, we got alien robots fighting here because something called the "Allspark" happened to be on Earth. Ok, fair enough.
In the second one, we suddenly had a pyramid that could snuff out the sun, also here on Earth for thousands of years already, which didn't matter the last time but is now suddenly more important.
In the third one, it turns out our Government already knew about the Transformers because they had met them on the moon... shame they missed the giant Decepticon army hidden there, because everything in film one and two was just a ploy to use Earth as fodder for the Transformer homeworld in film three... wait, what?!
In four, we all apparently hate the Transformers and hunt them. Oh, and there are more of them hidden away, for MILLIONS of years this time. And they all get a new origin. And a race of creators that want... what did they want again? Blow shit up and leave?
And now in part five, (gasp) EVERYTHING YOU KNEW IS WRONG, BECAUSE EARTH IS... ok, I'll stop here. The movie doesn't though, and I mean that literally: it ends without a resolution, on a sorta-kinda cliffhanger. Seriously?
Oh, and Optimus Prime is a dick. That started in film two already but now it gets worse, and the script never explains how much of it is caused by enemy brainwashing and how much of it is his own choice. Ugh...
"It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?"
I never thought I'd see Blade Runner get a certified sequel. There was that half-linked Paul W.S. Anderson film Soldier (crashed spinners can be spotted among the garbage in that film), but does anyone think that counted? So when news arrived that Warner Brothers was actually going forward with this, more than thirty years after everyone had pilfered the cool stuff from the original already, and just as that original was finally starting to appear dated, disgust was my initial reaction. Literally the only reason for me to have any hope was the fact that Denis Villeneuve was going to be its director. It's not that I was a huge fan of his work, but at least this choice made it unlikely that the film would end up being an action cash-grab. Tentatively I hoped for intelligence.
When I finally saw Blade Runner 2049, it felt like I had entered a giant hall with only one piece of art in it. Mostly empty space, but you're drawn to that one spot. And even while in the back of your mind you think stuff like "how pretentious, how unnecessary, such a big room just for this...." you look at that single piece of art and keep thinking "regardless, that is still one beautiful piece of art". Even the film's visual themes and compositions keep reinforcing this feeling.
Blade Runner 2049 was totally not what I expected. Yes, bits of it are dumb. But bits of it are very good, and some bits of it are positively awesome. I got a big lump in my throat at one point. Who'd have thought that would happen? Damn!
This bit is mostly cobbled together from my entry in our team-review, which you can (or should) check out in full!
"And you will face the sea of darkness, and all therein that may be explored."
In the previous two years, I noticed that my most treasured film-related acquisition wasn't a special edition Blu-ray, but a book. This year, two things are tied for first place. One is that French Blu-ray for Perfect Blue mentioned earlier, the other one is... once again, a book!
FAB Press started a crowdfunding campaign to finance a small special extended edition print-run of Stephen Thrower's great (and big) book about Italian director Lucio Fulci, titled Beyond Terror. They promised new content, a Fulci trailer DVD, trinkets... the works.
This announcement was more successful than anticipated: the intended target was reached within mere hours, and as stretch target after stretch target got surpassed, so did the edition get more and more pimped.
All backers (including me) got their books just before Christmas, and WHOA...
I posted a review and a picture gallery about this book earlier this week, so check it out if you're curious!
...And Stay There!
Back in September 2015, our Andrew Mack wrote the following:
"Well now. This is very interesting news. The Wrap is reporting that Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele will write and direct a horror flick called Get Out for Blumhouse Productions and QC Entertainment. (...) Fans of Key & Peele know that when Peele and co-star Keegan-Michael Key have done horror themed sketches on their soon-to-end sketch show that they could be either hilarious or effectively scary. Their passion for the horror genre was well represented. It will be very interesting to see what Peele pulls off with this new project of his."
True words. But what nobody expected was that Peele would actually deliver one of the best (and most loved) films of 2017. Even when you stripped away the social commentary (which, thankfully and surprisingly, never was too overbearing in the first place), Get Out remained an expertly executed horror thriller, one which was funny, scary and indeed thrilling.
Can I have Your Attention, Y'All?
While my rent-paying job changed in 2017, I'm still very much a guy who is looking at numbers for a big company, and happy to do so. Statistics are a thing I like (nerd alert). Therefore, I couldn't resist checking our traffic numbers, to see which of my articles in 2017 was the most-read one. Would it be a review? An actor-of-the-week bit? Pretty Packaging? A Have-Your-Say?
Well, like last year, the weekly Have Your Say articles are the big winners, by a huge margin. IMDb shutting down its message boards got a lot of attention and feedback, as did the one about films which had a Lovecraftian atmosphere. Even my old Evangelion "4.44" article from January 2016 wiggled its way into the top 5.
But the article which got the most readers was this one, published between the premieres of (live-action) Beauty and the Beast and (live-action) Ghost in the Shell.
Looking at a bunch of Johnsons!
Crowdfunding projects done by friends can be a scary affair. I mean, if you put some money in them, how much is polite? How much is necessary? How much is expected? And how sure are you about the end result? I mean, are you sponsoring because of the friendship or because of the project?
Friends of mine started a crowdfunding campaign to finance a documentary called Xangadix Lives!, to be released on the 25th anniversary of its subject, the bizarre Dutch 1992 horror film The Johnsons. Of course I sponsored a bit.
Now I know these people were huuuuuge fans of The Johnsons, and I had faith in them being able to put something amusing together. What I did NOT expect was that the final 50-minute-film would be so much fun. Attending its world premiere (and a rare 35mm showing of The Johnsons which followed afterwards) has provided me with one of the funniest and most enjoyable evenings in 2017.
Well done, all people in the picture above! Also: if anyone ever decides to release The Johnsons on a new DVD or Blu-ray, do put Xangadix Lives! on there as an extra. NOT doing so would constitute a crime against humanity, or herald in the end of the world.
Staying in the Netherlands a wee bit longer: in 2017, Dutch directors Colinda Bongers and Thijs Meuwese managed to finish their post-apocalyptic science fiction film Molly in time for it to be played at festivals, and lots of fun was had by everyone, me included. Showing that a low budget can be a hindrance but need not be a curse, Bongers and Meuwese display both incredible ingenuity and amazing ambition. Their film can proudly stand side by side with titles like Turbo Kid.
Examples: at one point, the titular Molly gets attacked while bathing, and ends up in a topless fight. But instead of exploitative or lurid, the scene is just gritty and very tense. That is skill!
Another example: through sheer editing prowess, there is an incredibly long (and varied) stunt-filled sequence, which seems to be one single shot. A total jawdropper.
Seriously, this is the kind of film which makes you happy, and makes you want to grab a camera to run outside and try shooting some stuff. It's THAT contagious.
It was a stellar year for Japanese animation.
Earlier this year I saw Kamiyama Kenji's Anime Sci-fi drama adventure Napping Princess and liked it a lot. In my opinion, this would have been a standout release in any year... except maybe this one.
As mentioned earlier, in 2017 Japanese animation celebrated its 100th year of existence. And whether by design or coincidence, it turned out to be a ridiculously strong year for anime. While the (admittedly from 2016) stellar Your Name was still conquering animation box offices worldwide, we also got treated to In This Corner of the World, the aforementioned Napping Princess, and A Silent Voice (pictured above) which even won the Camera Japan festival where it competed against several great live-action films.
Despite years of griping about the state of the industry, it looks like once again, we have a selection of bona-fide anime masters firmly in place...
Guns, guns, guns!
Few films provided me with as much pleasure as Ben Wheatley's Free Fire did. Bad people want to buy guns from other bad people, and some stupid people and devious people mess it all up. It's awesome and laugh-out-loud funny! Watching a bad situation turn into a bloody awful mess was never this much fun. Look at that cast in the picture, what a selection of great actors. And that's just half of them!
Strangely enough I am underwhelmed by Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. I mean I like it, but I also think it's inexplicably overrated, and I will choose Free Fire over it any day.
A New Year's Resolution.
One of the biggest topics in 2017 was Harvey Weinstein's fall from... ehm... grace? Discussions about power-abuse in film industries were not exactly news, but in 2017 we all got a taste of how far it had to go before there were any consequences for the perpetrators.
Somewhat closer to home, film-festival lovers got this taste a bit earlier, due to Tim League's bizarre mishandling of Devin Farace's abuse scandal. Devin had apologized and bowed-out rather gracefully in 2016, but his scandal re-surfaced with a vengeance this summer, once it became known he'd secretly been rehired as a paid writer for League's organizations.
And after Weinstein we got the hashtag #metoo, and things got REALLY shocking, and close to home. More and more people I knew, female AND male, some of them friends, came forward with horrifying stories.
I mean I get it: shit happens, and we all know that, right? Take car accidents: we've all had one, accidentally caused one, been the victim of one, or we know some people who were themselves wrecked by one. To hear a story about someone being in a car crash can be horrifying, but shouldn't be surprising.
In a similar vein, I probably shouldn't have been so shocked that nearly every single woman I know has encountered multiple examples of sexual mistreatment by assholes. Maybe I wasn't, actually. But what DID shock me was how bad it got for how many. And considering the stigma on the subject, I was shocked by how much emotional poison people had had to swallow, often for years.
And of course it isn't just applicable to sex. Abuse is everywhere, and it's always about hate, power, and sociopathy. Ever been job-hunting, and gotten into an interview where someone got out of line with their personal questioning?
So if there is one New Year Resolution let it be this: let us all not be assholes.