Any true film lover remembers their angst-ridden, teenage experimentation with making their own film. I almost want to forget my very black and white Cassavetes-like attempt with two friends that featured an unbroken 20 minute dialogue scene as they played pool and didn't sink a single ball. It had its charming moments, too. Sandi Tan's "Shirkers" is just as painfully awkward a documentation of this experimentation as any, but her story is tinged with the miraculous as well. She and her friends did make a film, then lost it due to mania, and then found it again, albeit in an altered format. Also titled "Shirkers", Tan builds her current documentary around this episode in her young life when she and her friends wrote, directed and financed a film that many regard as something that could have shifted Malaysian independent film for its freewheeling attitude and punk rock aesthetic. Tan uses excerpts from her 'lost' film to study the dynamics of her life (especially with older man and mentor Georges Cardona) and her relationship with film history. Part self essay and part investigative journalism, "Shirkers" is a completely enveloping experience. It's a shame we won't ever see her fully embodied film, but perhaps she's assembled the next greatest thing- something couched in-between reality and the rose-tainted memories of those involved like a faded fairy tale complete with cinematic heroes and villains.
"Widows" is a heist film whose gritty genre edges are complimented by strong characterizations that emphasize the poignancy of grief, gender, race and inhumanity often left wasted on the curb in other crime efforts. It does open and begin with a bang- fulfilling its meaty compromise of action- but the other two-thirds is a sharp and knotty thriller that weaves political corruption, hard nosed violence and the sheer determination of Viola Davis willing her cohorts (an excellent Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo) to pull off the impossible. Directed by Steve McQueen, "Widows" is also visually intelligent, such as one shot that seems extraneous, but soon reveals itself to be an insidious visual commentary on the short distance between the 'haves' and the 'havenots'. Brimming with such visual flourishes, "Widows" sets itself apart from other moribund crime efforts because it seems to care about every aspect. With a script by GIllian Flynn to enhance McQueen's eye, it's a blistering and completely perfect example of genre wrinkled inside-out to reveal the beating heart that must exist to make the genre stakes so compelling.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
A film of "almost" for me. While Melissa McCarthy gives a tremendously understated performance as the down-on-her-luck author who resorts to pandering forged letters by renowned literary greats, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" shuffles along so quietly that its impact feels muted. Based on a true story and filming in the dark corners of New York City dive bars and bug infested apartments, its milieu is potent, but its still just "almost" great.