Movies You’ve Seen in 2019

Here’s a film I saw over the weekend:

Annihilation (2018)
Dir. Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, etc.
69/100

In the past, this is the type of movie I’d spend more time analyzing and deciphering, but I’m not very motivated in doing that these days; or maybe this movie just doesn’t seem worth it. The film involves a strange phenomenon that a scientist goes out to investigate. If you want to know about the genre, I would call it a sci-fi/horror/suspense. In the next section, I’ll give a few thoughts on what I think the film is about.

***
(Spoilers)

Off the top of my head, I have two related theories about the meaning of the film–namely, the film is either about death or change. With regard to change, the film might even hint at changes that technology fusing with the human organism. In the film, an alien life form or force comes to Earth, and encapsulates a certain area with a kind of bubble, which is expanding. The life form or force begins reflecting (or is it refracting) everything within the bubble, including the DNA of every living thing. It’s as if every life form is merging with this life force.

Why do I think this is about death or change? One reason is the way the film implies (not subtly) that the characters represent different responses to death or change. One character wants to face it; another wants to find a way to defeat it; another decides to give up and submits to it.

There are other symbols in the film that I would explore, if I wanted to exert effort–e.g., the lighthouse.

22 thoughts on “Movies You’ve Seen in 2019

  1. I saw two other movies I’m not that motivated to talk about–the most recent Mission Impossible movie, and a documentary on an obscure Polish sculptor. The second film was actually engaging and interesting, but I’m not motivated to talk about it, for some reason.

  2. Amazon prime has a series (?) called, “Classic Albums,” which are basically one hour documentaries on pop/rock albums. I saw the ones on Peter Gabriel’s So, and Steely Dan’s Aja. I liked the latter more than the former. I feel like both Walter Becker and Donald Fagen breakdown the music a bit more–or in more interesting ways–than Peter Gabriel.

  3. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
    KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins.

    If Beale Street Could Talk is adapted from a novel by James Baldwin.  It’s a discouraging film, but it’s a beautiful discouragement.

    Tish and Fonny are a young black couple, friends since
    childhood, ready to begin life together in 1970s Harlem. She works at a perfume
    counter in a department store. He’s a talented sculptor. At a moment where
    things seem finally to be turning their way, Fonny is locked up for a crime he
    didn’t commit. Tish’s family rallies to clear Fonny’s name.

    Some themes are familiar, and this is not a movie for
    everyone. Yet I recommend it for excellent acting, the beauty of Baldwin’s
    prose (delivered intermittently in well-chosen voiceovers), and gorgeous
    filmmaking. When people say this about a film they almost always mean visuals,
    and while the visuals are excellent, the audio is stunning. Ambient sounds from
    distant record players playing jazz, mumbles of conversations through thin
    walls, traffic on distant streets below, and rain create a background against
    which you might expect intimate triumph or enormous heartbreak. I can’t
    remember when the background noise of a movie moved me this way.

    One scene by itself will justify the cost of your ticket and make up for a couple of bad decisions by director Barry Jenkins. Brian Tyree Henry (Paper Boi in Atlanta on FX) was in six movies this year, and if you’re not familiar with him yet you’re about to be, because he delivers a monologue about the effects of prison on a man, and it will stop your heart.

    82/100
    8/10

  4. Get Me Roger Stone (2017)
    Dir. Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro
    68/100

    Roger Stone is a political consultant, who got his start during the Nixon era. He’s known for his political dirty tricks, and more recently he’s been indicted in the Mueller investigation for lying about Congress, during testimony about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. I believe Stone is also charged with intimidating another witness to not testify.

    The documentary ends when Trump wins the election. I didn’t learn a lot a lot of things I didn’t already know, but it’s interesting to see people like Paul Manafort and Donald Trump speak about him, especially relating to the 2016 campaign.

    The film did make me wonder about my level of naivete when it comes to American politics. Is Stone’s cynicism and win-at-all-costs approach the outlier, or closer to the norm? I really hope it’s the former, although many of the Republicans I respected, at least in terms of their patriotism and integrity, have really disappointed me. Again, I wonder if I was too naive.

    At this point, I’m not willing to concede this. Specifically, I still think that large numbers of politicians balance the desire for power with certain principles and even ideals.

  5. I watched the first third of All the President’s Men last night. Gotta space it out over a few nights since it’s 2.5 hours long. I haven’t seen it since we watched it in 12th grade poli sci class (or maybe we didn’t: I seem to be the only person in our class who remembers our teacher showing it to us or who remembers our teacher at all), and it’s still as gripping.

    What struck me most in this first 45 minutes is Hoffman. I think Redford is always Redford, but I keep forgetting that there was a Hoffman in the years between The Graduate (in which I think Hoffman is overpraised) and old guy Hoffman. He’s fantastic in this, in a way that’s different from his younger and older selves.

    Our poli sci teacher died last weekend. I hope she somehow knows that this movie impressed me, at least. <3 I really loved her.

    1. The two reporters digging after a story was very gripping, and I love movies or stories like this. In this vein, I would add JFK, the BBC TV version of State of Play. I would included a recent New Yorker article by Robert Caro, which is about his process of his research, in this as well. These stories seem very similar to mystery or detective fiction, and I really love it when it’s done well.

      If you guys have any recommendations for movies or books like this, please let me know.

    2. The digging is cool, but my favorite aspect is the way the young reporters sort of had a story but didn’t have hard info, and Ben Bradlee kept insisting they get hard info. The material Woodward and Bernstein had was true, but it was unnamed sources and people unwilling to speak on the record, so their stories were printed deep inside the A section. Bradlee kept pushing them to get a real story. And a president resigned.

      1. The digging is cool, but my favorite aspect is the way the young reporters sort of had a story but didn’t have hard info, and Ben Bradlee kept insisting they get hard info.

        I like this part as well, and I really liked Jason Robards as Bradlee. I think this aspect is part of the digging. It’s also similar to films where the DA’s office and police are working to get more evidence. The urgency and need for this adds to the drama, and triumph when the protagonists succeed.

        Spotlight is another, similar film that comes to mind. (Let me know if you think of any others. I love watching films like this.)

  6. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

    Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane.  Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch. Directed by Brett Haley.

    I’m always disappointed when music documentaries don’t show us the process of creating music.  There’s a bit of this in Dave Grohl’s Sound City, but I’m drawing a blank trying to think of another film that lets us in this way.  Hearts Beat Loud, if it had been about a real band, would have satisfied some of my yearning.

    Nick Offerman is Frank Fischer, the widowed owner of a vinyl-only record store in Brooklyn.  His daughter Samantha is a few days from leaving for UCLA, where she’s an intended pre-med major.  Deeply immersed in studies for a summer course, Samantha resists her father’s pleading to join him in a jam session in their studio, but finally caves, and we’re treated to a no-dialogue sequence where father and daughter lay down tracks in the creation of a song called “Hearts Beat Loud.”

    It’s a good song.  Frank is certain Samantha has it in her to make her living as a performing musician.  She’s laser-focused on UCLA. Frank secretly uploads their song to Spotify, and it quickly gets attention.

    Hearts Beat Loud is loaded with well-conceived characters I won’t describe because they and the movie’s songs are pretty much the heart of the movie.  The story exists for character development, as do the settings and circumstances, and the movie’s joy comes from watching characters interact in different moments against different backdrops.

    This is normally the kind of movie I love, but I have mixed feelings about this one, and I shouldn’t.  The acting is very good; I especially liked the supporting characters played by Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, and Toni Collette.  Kiersey Clemons as Samantha has future star written all over her, and Nick Offerman seems perfectly cast as the frustrated musician running a failing music store.

    My problem is that for a film laden with emotional set-up, there’s just not enough emotional expression or confrontation.  What we really want is some kind of work-through for Frank, with his friend the bartender, his landlord, his daughter, and his mother, but we never get it.  I’m not asking for fireworks, but I’m asking for something, and we don’t even get that. We get setup and kind of an aftermath, and I want this to satisfy, mostly because I have similar problems in my own writing, but it doesn’t.  Also a problem I have in my own writing.

    The acting and music are good enough to recommend it but not enough to love it.

    7/10
    71/100

    1. There’s a bit of this in Dave Grohl’s Sound City, but I’m drawing a blank trying to think of another film that lets us in this way.

      Three of John Carney’s films–Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street–do this quite well. (I believe all the songs featured in these films are originals, and they’re all quite good, too.)

      Standing on the Shadows of Motown had some element of this as well.

      My problem is that for a film laden with emotional set-up, there’s just not enough emotional expression or confrontation. What we really want is some kind of work-through for Frank, with his friend the bartender, his landlord, his daughter, and his mother, but we never get it. I’m not asking for fireworks, but I’m asking for something, and we don’t even get that. We get setup and kind of an aftermath, and I want this to satisfy, mostly because I have similar problems in my own writing, but it doesn’t.

      I totally agree with everything above. I would describe this by saying the film has no story–or the story sucks. A part of me wanted to describe this a slice-of-life film, but I don’t think that’s correct. The movie does have a framework for a story or at least a character arc that could work as a dramatic story. But as Mitchell says there is little work-through of the issues initially set up.

      A part of me feels like the filmmakers basically couldn’t find an interesting third act–not without resorting to unsatisfying Hollywood conventions–but they couldn’t find anything dramatically satisfying to replace them. And that’s how they completed the film. (I’ve seen several films that left me feeling this way.) Twenty years ago, I might have been satisfied with this approach, but not so much now.

      Having said that, I kinda enjoyed this movie. I like the premise, the music, and the characters were likable enough. Plus, I was really in the mood for something like this.

      My objective rating of the film would be a lot lower.

  7. Bill Evans: Time Rembered (2015)
    Dir. Bruce Spiegel

    This is a documentary about Bill Evans, a jazz pianist. I actually chose this as a movie that I could and would fall asleep to. While it wasn’t great, it was interesting hold my attention and keep me awake.

    I don’t find myself listening to Evans’s music a lot, but the documentary reminded me about the beauty of his playing. The word that comes to mind first is “pretty,” but that doesn’t seem adequate so “beautiful” and “gorgeous” seem more appropriate. In terms of jazz pianists, he might be the king in this regard. (He also had some really beautiful compositions as well.) For example,

  8. Captain Marvel (2019)
    Dir. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

    I don’t really think this is a great movie, and I had low expectations going in. However, in terms of enjoyment, this might make my top tier (at the back end). There are two main reasons for this: 1) I really liked Brie Larson cast as the lead, and 2) I liked the female empowerment theme.

    1. I’ve seen it twice and agree with your take. It does serve one additional purpose I suspect you’re immune to: it gets me pretty amped for Endgame. 🙂

      1. I liked Larson enough where it made me more interested in that film. Larson’s version of Captain Marvel is a badass, and I am interested in how she does her thing in the next film. (Boy, did I not care for Infinity Wars, though.)

  9. Beetlejuice (1988)
    Dir. Tim Burton
    69/100

    This isn’t a great movie, but I can see how some felt excitement about Burton’s future. The vision and sensibility are the best parts of this. Michael Keaton was also pretty good as well.

  10. My Criterion Channel subscription began in April but I haven’t had any time to watch much of anything anywhere. I’m not too stressed about it — I have the yearly subscription, so as long as at the end of the year I’ve had my money’s worth, it doesn’t bother me if the monthly value doesn’t look too good in any particular month.

    However, I’m writing a list of best movies for foodies for our staff newsletter at work, and there were a few titles I thought I should see before I write the list, including Babette’s Feast (1987), a film I’ve been aware of for a long time (I think Max Lucado used it as an example in the one book of his I read). And it’s on the Criterion Channel, so I spent time this weekend watching it.

    This isn’t a review; I’ll write a review whenever I get my review-writing mojo back. It’s just a few thoughts on the Criterion Channel experience so far.

    It means well, but the launch was rough. The app didn’t do everything I thought it should do. Most critical for me, since I don’t have broadband at home, is the ability to download films for offline viewing on my phone or tablet. The app supposedly does it, but I had the most impossible time getting it to work until I recently looked at a few tips on Reddit. A lot of people are unsatisfied with the functionality, so I am not alone.

    I got it working though, and watched the movie partially on my laptop when I was in a space where I had good wifi, and partially on my phone when I didn’t. The viewing experience was fine. I’m pleased with the quality of the picture and sound, and I have no complaints about the smoothness of the playback. I wish the player had forward and back buttons for 30-second jumps either way (like the Amazon player), though. It’s something I plan to complain about. If you want to go back and see part of it again, you have to drag the progress bar, which works well on a laptop or tablet but horribly on my phone.

    One movie viewed so far in this experiment, and I mostly enjoyed the experience.

    If you look around at reviews of the service, you’ll see a common frustration: there’s no way to browse all the titles available! There are curated lists, by director or genre, and there’s a search function, but there’s no way to just look at a list of films available for viewing. I find this maddening.

    EDIT: Oh, I take it back. Looks like they finally added that on the website. You still can’t do it in the app, but if you put in the work ahead of time, you can browse the entire library and add individual titles to your list, which will show up in your list in the app later. It’s not ideal but it doesn’t suck. The website lets you sort the whole list by title, director, year, or country, or you can just apply a filter for genres, decades, directors, or countries. It works well. I just applied the Steven Soderbergh filter, and it listed all three available titles. Then I reset the filters and filtered by the 2010s decade and got 106 titles. Okay, now I’m getting a little amped.

    If I don’t watch any movies for the rest of this subscription, Babette’s Feast will have cost me $89. Almost worth it!

    1. I wish the player had forward and back buttons for 30-second jumps either way (like the Amazon player), though. It’s something I plan to complain about. If you want to go back and see part of it again, you have to drag the progress bar, which works well on a laptop or tablet but horribly on my phone.

      I totally agree. I really hate using the progress bar on any streaming device. I use Roku to watch a lot of movies, but now that you mentioned this, I should watch movies using my computer.

      If you look around at reviews of the service, you’ll see a common frustration: there’s no way to browse all the titles available! There are curated lists, by director or genre, and there’s a search function, but there’s no way to just look at a list of films available for viewing. I find this maddening.

      This would be annoying. What I found more annoying was not being allowed to search films by director. (This was on the Hulu site.) If the Criterion website has this feature, that’s a really good thing. (I don’t think they had it on their site prior to their streaming service.)

    2. Amazon’s scrubber, at least on the app, is really well conceived. You put your finger on the ball, then you slide it up to scrub more slowly or keep it where it is to scrub quickly. It allows for much better precision in finding the spot you’re looking for than the scrubbers on other streaming apps I’ve used.

    3. Is the scrubber the thing you move with your mouse or finger to either fast forward or rewind? Anyway, I would love a scrubber that works well.

  11. Recently I re-watched The Battered Bastards of Baseball. If you guys haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it, especially for Mitchell. You don’t read anything about it, just go in blind.

  12. Laundromat (2019)
    Dir. Steven Soderbergh
    66/100

    When I’m thinking about social issues, particularly an issue I wish were more well known, I think about the way a movie could do this. The enthusiasm for the idea usually doesn’t last long, as I instinctively think this isn’t a good idea. Characters and stories should be ends in and of themselves, and when they’re used as means to informing or educating the public about something, the results are usually not very good–both in terms of art and edification. Steven Soderbergh’s netflix film, Laundromat is a pretty good example of this in my opinion. The film’s primary goal seems to be to inform the public about the financial the way the wealthy and people who gain their money illicitly use financial tools to evade or launder their money, respectively. (The film seems based on the Panama Papers.) It’s a topic definitely worthy of discussion, and making a feature film on the topic will probably reach people who would not learn about it through a book or documentary (although I think these two media are better for the subject). That’s a good thing. (I forgot to mention that at time, the characters speak directly into the film, in a way that is didactic and sometimes preachy, and I say this as someone who largely agrees with a lot of the “sermon.”)

    One last note. There’s a segment that involves China. Initially, it seemed like the film might be critical of the Chinese government, and I thought this was refreshing as I’m concerned that the American entertainment industry is loathe to portray the Chinese government in a negative way for fear of losing money (similar to the NBA). But the film actually puts the Chinese in a more positive light, depicting them as being anti-corruption. (To be fair, the film also has a negative depiction of the Chinese government, specifically relating to the treatment of Falun Gong.)

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