30 thoughts on “movies mmxxi

  1. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
    Dir. Aaron Sorkin
    69/100

    This based on an actual trial of seven people, five leaders of groups protesting the Vietnam War. I can’t remember now, but I believe the U.S. government charged them with inciting violence.

    Sorkin’s writing is solid, throughout. If you liked his writing in The West Wing and A Few Good Men, you’ll like the dialogue in this. It’s not outstanding, in my opinion, but good.

    It does provide an interesting frame for the the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol.

  2. I re-watched the Princess Bride. I must say it didn’t really hold up very well for me. I just didn’t find myself laughing all that much, and the non-comedic aspects felt flat to me.

  3. 200 Motels (1971)
    Dir. Tony Palmer, Frank Zappa
    58/100

    **
    A B-Movie, experimental film, with a strong Dadaist streak, loosely about a rock band on the road, and an expression of the madness induced by the rigors of such an experience. In a way, it reminded me of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz–and at first, I think it had the potential to be as good. This one seemed like a memoir, but I think ultimately it was closer to a performance film, a kind of music video made into a movie.

    Visually the film was pretty interesting, at least at first, utilizing those low-tech techniques that create a 70’s psychedelic vibe. (I’m don’t know the technical names for these techniques.) The set pieces also have a 70’s variety show. In a way, the movie felt like a 70’s TV special. I see all of this as something potentially positive, by the way.

    Ultimately, the film didn’t work for me, though. The music was probably the biggest failing; whether instrumentals or music with lyrics, I was kinda bored. Zappa hardly played the guitar, which certainly didn’t help this situation. Overall, the little sketches in the film were kinda boring, not to mention boorish and crude.

    I feel like the concept had a lot of potential. I feel like if he had more filmmaking experience, if this were his third or fourth film, this could have been really good.

  4. Casablanca (1942)

    Quick comments

    • Yep, still stands the test of time. And it would likely still be number three on my list. (I should re-examine my top ten list again; I suspect there may be some significant changes.)
    • I can’t remember if I said this before, but Rick Blaine is one of the coolest characters in cinema–he epitomizes cool. His look, the way he talks, the vibe he exudes. I can’t think of anyone cooler. (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung’s character, Chow Mo-wan, in In the Mood for Love is up there for me, too.)
    • “As Time Goes By” feels like one of the most iconic songs used in film–particularly for a romantic movie. Is there a song that plays a bigger role in a non-musical? (I would guess Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is up there, too, but that’s closer to an instrumental film score rather than a song.)
    • The scene with the young woman asking Rick about whether Captain Renault is trustworthy moved me–and I can’t remember if the scene moved me in the past. I’m specifically thinking of her response to Rick, when he says he advises her to go back to Bulgaria. Her response: “If you only knew how much we want to go to America.” We are a place people want to go to–for new chance at life, for freedom–we are–or have been a “shining city on a hill.” And the immigrants who have come to America have contributed greatly–they are a big reason are country is great and has prospered, not just economically, but I believe politically as well. I’m partly moved because of the politics of today–the people who support Trump seem to reject this part of the American identity. I strongly disagree with them, and I hope this part of who we are never dies.
    1. More comments on Casablanca:

      Underrated for it’s humor. Bogart’s delivery is very subtle, almost undetectable, but very funny; Claude Raines’s line and deliver are more obvious. Both are funny. There are more obvious comedic moments with the Casablanca staff—Sasha kissing Rick; the German couple planning to go to America (What watch? 6 Watch.)< Bergman’s acting, in terms of her line delivery is a bit shaky—I want to say, not very good. But her facial expressions and body language is really good. Curtiz and Edeson film Bergman beautifully as well. In the "La Marseillaise" scene, I think the way she lights up and even palpitates in reaction to Laszlo helps establish his greatness as a man:

      Her reactions to hearing “As Time Goes By” (her acting here is solid, actually):

      Man, that song and the scene packs an emotional wallop for me.

      The one iconic line that doesn’t hold up for me: “Here’s looking at you kid.” Perhaps a sign of this was thinking of Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, disguised as “Guy Gaboi.” If you don’t know this scene wait until the end (although if you don’t want to take the chance that the scene will ruin the line for you, don’t watch it):

      I might think of this scene every time I hear the line in Casablanca now.

      Something I realized: Long before seeing this film, I heard references and saw clips—mostly from 60’s and 70’s sitcoms, and maybe films like That’s Entertainment!. By the time I saw the film for the first time, it was on such a high pedestal in my mind; I was primed to be moved. The film did deliver–and continues to deliver every time I’ve seen it.

  5. Crime Scene: the Vanishing at the Hotel Cecil (2021)
    Dir. Joe Berlinger
    73/100

    (Note: This is a four part TV mini-series, but it’s essentially a long movie, so I’m going to put this in this thread.)

    This is a true-crime documentary about a young Chinese-Canadian woman who travels alone to L.A. and disappears at the Hotel Cecil, an infamous hotel in Downtown L.A. The hotel, and its history, and a group of internet sleuths are also key characters and subjects in the film. For me, the aspects outside of the mystery interested me the most. I’ll talk about that in the next sections.

    I will say that there is an aspect of this film that I’m sure will anger Mitchell–to the point where he may want to avoid the film.

    ***
    (spoilers)
    Some quick, preliminary thoughts.

    • I was almost going to post a review in the thread, A New Phenomenon Produced by Social Media: Qanon. The nature of the internet sleuths becoming involved in this echoes the dynamics of Qanon, I think. Here, there is a genuine mystery, and the internet/social media enable individuals to form a community around this mystery. Like Qanon, the mystery gives them a higher purpose, which forms around a developing narrative(s).
    • One interesting aspect is that the narrative leans towards the dramatic and compelling–maybe drawing from Hollywood thrillers and mysteries. What I mean is that the individuals seem to have a bias for this type of narrative. They want the juicy story, and will only reluctantly accept a more prosaic narrative or explanation at the last resort–or at least that’s the impression I get. I can understand this. The prosaic explanation is boring.
    • If I were in my 20s or even 30s, I could see myself being drawn into this type of community. On some level I understand the appeal. I remember enjoying discussing JFK with some friends after seeing it. The internet and social media turbo charged and taken this sort of thing to something new, I think.
    • The film does a decent job of showing the dangers of this, and serves as a cautionary tale.
    • The film, at times, suggests that the Hotel Cecil is haunted or cursed (for entertainment purposes, I suspect), but there is a more obvious and less exciting explanation–namely, the hotel attracts ex-cons, those with mental illness and substance abuse issues. According to the film, the hotel is located in one of the more impoverished and dangerous parts of the city. That really bad things have happened in this hotel should not be a surprise. High concentrations of poverty, people with mental illness and drug abuse, will almost certainly lead to a hellish place.
  6. BlacKkKlansman (2019)
    Dir. Spike Lee
    43/100

    A few quick thought about this:

    1. The movie started strong for me. I liked the use of Gone With the Wind footage, the film featuring Alec Baldwin (playing a historical figure), and then being introduced to Ron Stallworth. This was the first time I have seen John David Washington, the actor who played Stallworth, and he won me over right off the bat. (I’m interested in seeing more movies with him.)

    2. I’ve lost interest in Lee’s films a long time ago, but the early part of the film made me question this. “Maybe I’ve been missing out,” I wondered to myself. But after a certain point that feeling disappeared. The problem? The film became less about Stallworth’s story and more about commenting on current policies. That’s not necessarily bad, but like a lot of Lee’s older films, this one was too dictactic, heavy-handed in his messaging. You know how Star Trek would address contemporary social issues in an obvious way? That’s the feeling I had, and Lee does this throughout the film. It wore on me.

    3. Additionally, Lee’s view of our current politics, particularly with regard to Trumpism, seems a little simplistic to me. The film seems to boil down Trumpism to KKK form of white supremacy. I don’t doubt that is a part of Trumpism, but I’m skeptical that the majority of Trump supporters are driven by this type of ideology.

    4. The film has these Hollywood crowd-pleasing moments, which made the Stallworth diminished the film for me.

    2/18/2021

    A.O. Scott review Scott calls this Lee’s “best nondocumentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest (films).”

    In a sly and stunning tour de force of film-geek dialectics, Mr. Lee uses one of Griffith’s signature innovations — parallel editing (also known as crosscutting) — to unravel the deep ugliness of Griffith’s hymn to the heroes of white supremacy. As the modern Colorado Klansmen hoot and holler and eat popcorn, reveling in the exploits of their predecessors, a group of black students and activists gather in another part of town to hear the testimony of an old man (Harry Belafonte) who witnessed the lynching of his best friend in Texas around the time “The Birth of a Nation” was playing in theaters. The juxtaposition is chilling and revelatory. The righteous rhetoric of racism is conveyed with the scale and glamour of motion-picture technology, while its grisly truth is communicated by means of still photographs and simple words.

    Mr. Lee has often been a gleeful curator of racial invective, and he observes the Klansmen with a fascination that stops only a few degrees short of sympathy. They are monstrous and clownish, but more than just figures of fright or mockery. Understanding what makes them tick is as much Ron’s mission as bringing them down.

    I don’t think the film does a great job of revealing what does make them tick–at least not large numbers of people who supported Trump.

    “BlacKkKlansman” is about the boundaries of group identity, and how a person can or can’t cross them. On the phone with David Duke, Ron passes for white, but in Patrice’s eyes his presence on the police force is its own kind of trespass. Some of his fellow officers see it the same way, though from the opposite side. But white people, who have more of everything, also have more opportunities for disguise.

    I do think the film examines the boundaries of identity.

    “Just another white kid” is an all-purpose alibi, and public discourse abounds in code words and dog-whistles that allow bigots to pass as concerned citizens without a racist bone in their bodies. And vice versa. Committed anti-racists can sit quietly or laugh politely when hateful things are said. Epithets uttered in irony can be repeated in earnest. The most shocking thing about Flip’s imposture is how easy it seems, how natural he looks and sounds. This unnerving authenticity is partly testament to Mr. Driver’s ability to tuck one performance inside another, but it also testifies to a stark and discomfiting truth. Maybe not everyone who is white is a racist, but racism is what makes us white. Don’t sleep on this movie.

  7. Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy (2017)
    Dir. Thomas Riedelsheimer
    31/100

    Rivers and Time, the previous film about Andy Goldsworthy and his art, was one of my favorite films of the 2000s. I loved the concept behind his and the art itself. So I was looking forward to this film.

    Unfortunately, it was disappointing, and there were two components of this: 1) most of the art featured in the film didn’t really grab me; 2) Goldsworthy’s process seems to have changed in a way that makes his work less appealing to me. In the first film, Goldsworthy didn’t use tools, and his pieces were more temporary; his artwork was meant to degrade over time. In this film he uses tools and makes more permanent works. Additionally, he features more performance art pieces, where he is principle part of the work–e.g., climbing through trees. These pieces were some of the least interesting to me.

  8. I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (2017)
    Dir. Macon Blair
    Starring: Melanie Lynksey, Elijah Wood, etc.
    64/100

    **
    Ruth (Lynskey) is surrounded by people behaving like jerks. The final straw occurs when her house is robbed. She enlists the help of her odd neighbor, Tony (Wood), and together they seek to get back her stuff.

    I suspect this film will resonate with fed up with people behaving badly, facing little or no consequences. Think of something like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down or in a more remote way, Taxi Driver. However, this film is more of a comedy than either of those two films.

    ***
    Films that start of strong but fail in the third act are so disappointing. This film falls into the category. In the first two acts, the film establishes the main characters, specifically that both have a strong moral center and a strong sense of justice. This allows them to form a bond, in spite of other differences. And away they go.

    To me, the film’s big misstep occurs when the Marshall coerces Ruth to join him in robbing the Rumacks. Marshall says that they need her to replace the Christian, but that didn’t seem believable to me. If Blair wanted Ruth to end up at Rumack’s while Marshall and Dez were robbing them, he could have had accomplished this by making her return the topiary sculpture.

    For me the ending was like a typical Hollywood ending in an action or crime film–one filled with gun play, chasing, and hand-to-hand fighting. There was nothing interesting about this particular version. I also didn’t think the ending fits with the moral trajectory of Ruth’s character. Specifically, Ruth seems to violate the moral code by stealing the sculpture. This causes a riff between she and Tony. The film doesn’t really seem to address this at all.

  9. The Irishman (2020)
    Dir. Martin Scorsese
    Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, etc.
    73/100

    This film had three strikes against it when I saw this. For one thing, I wasn’t very interested in seeing this, as it seemed like Scorsese was covering well-worn terrain. For another, I was really tired. Indeed, when I watched the film, I was looking for something to fall asleep to. Finally, the movie was three and half hours long. In spite of all this, the film caught and held my attention. I would say that the film is on par with Casino (although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that), which is not something I would have expected.

    I think several things made the film work for me. I had a genuine interest in Hoffa and the conflicts he had with the mafia. The scenes that best showcase these conflicts were definitely engaging and entertaining to watch. A big reason for this was the performances, particularly by Pacino and Pesci. To me, DeNiro’s performance OK at best. For example, I think his attachment to both Russell Buffalino (Pesci) and Hoffa (Pacino) might have been more convincing if his acting was stronger. In a way, DeNiro’s role seems similar to Liotta’s in Goodfellas, but Liotta’s performance was much stronger in that film.

    I don’t think this is a great film–not really a must-see, especially if one is not interested in mafia stories. But I do think this is a good, well-made film, for what that’s worth.

  10. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
    Dir. Kenneth Lonergan
    Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Heges, Michelle Williams, etc.
    74/100

    Good movie. I think Don and Mitchell would like this. Lonergan directed You Can’t Count on Me. People who enjoyed that–and character driven films–will probably like this.

    **
    This movie made me think of the film, I’ve Loved You So Long and Kristen Scott Thomas’s very strong performance in that. Both films revolve around the internal state of a character–what are they feeling and what were the circumstances that lead to those feelings. This mystery draws viewers in, and both films skillfully and gradually reveal bits of information that finally reveal the answers. Affleck plays the main character, and like Scott Thomas, his performance is very good.

    The other performances, especially by Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams are also very good in this. Williams delivers a big impact, in spite of limited screen time.

    The direction is also very good in this, particularly the sequencing of the scenes. However, one problem I had was the use of classical music, specifically in dramatic moments. Much of the film is without film score, giving it a quiet independent feel. The classical music just seemed out of place and heavy-handed.

    1. (spoilers)

      What did you think of the classical music during the dramatic scenes?

      Also, what was your opinion about the ending? I’ve heard one commentator say that the ending is subtly hopeful–as Lee seems to have made small adjustments, suggesting a progress over his emotional trauma.

      A part of me feels like the film dodges the dilemma Lee faced–namely, how can he do right by Patty (i.e., allowing him to stay in Manchester) when he is emotionally unable to come back to Manchester? George’s willingness to adopt Patrick solves this, almost in an deus ex machina sort of way. On some level I’m little disappointed by that.

      1. I’ll have to review it. I have notes somewhere (maybe even a review) but I couldn’t find them immediately.

  11. High Heels (1991)
    Dir. Pedro Almodovar
    45/100

    Meh. Mother-daughter soap opera. With Almodovar, there’s a good chance there will be trans and/or homosexual characters. I wonder if this film seems blander because there is now more openness towards these LGBTQ groups now?

  12. Early Spring (1956)
    Dir. Yasujiro Ozu
    68/100

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Ozu film. Here are some random thoughts off the top of my head:

    • The film reminds me about the way Ozu’s films are often situation dramas or situation docu-dramas. That is, he structures his film around a situation more than a narrative, and his films feel like dramatic versions of a sit-com. They also have documentary quality, similar to the way neo-realism can have a documentary feel. This makes me wonder if there is a term called Japanese Neo-Realism. I feel like that’s a label that might fit Ozu. His films feel neo-realistic, but focusing on mid-20th century Japanese society, presented in Ozu’s unique style.
    • The film reminds me Ozu’s almost lies more in his craft and his unique style, including the performances he’s able to get out of his actors. I say this because, for many, if not most of his films, I resist calling them really great or good. The filmmaking, including the acting, is almost always terrific, but the films themselves, while often good, seem underwhelming to certain extent. I think is another reason I think of his films a situation-dramas–in a way, his films have a TV episode vibe almost.

    Specific analysis of the film:

    • Sugiyama and Chiyo hitching a ride on a truck seems symbolic to a degree I don’t recall in other films. It not only seems to trigger the fling between the two, but it feels like a good representation of it. The truck, a modern device, also stands in contrast to walking, representing a contrast between modern and traditional, respectively. When the two cheerily speed by their colleagues, we see the latter yearn to join them. Translation: Many want to embrace the modern ways, but as we see there may be a price to pay.
    • With regard to that last note, unlike Italian Neo-Realism and other films that offer social commentary, Ozu’s films never feel preachy or didactic. If his films offer a critique of society or individual characters, his approach is so light and gentle, almost like a far-off god, looking on with a gaze that is loving or neutral at worst. And yet, viewers can still draw lessons or arrive at judgments about the Japanese society or the individual characters that are not neutral.
    • The reaction of Sugiyama and his wife, particularly the passive/passive-aggressive expressions of anger, seems quintessentially Japanese to me. A part of me feels like non-Asian viewers could miss a lot of this–e.g., “When did they get really mad?” Ozu’s films seem to have universal appeal, which I can understand on some level, but his films are also very Japanese–not just in terms of sensibility in the aesthetics, but the way his films capture Japanese society and Japanese people.
    • For some reason, the way Sugiyama his guilty reactions, and the way Ozu depicts this, stand out to me. Ozu only gives us Sugiyama’s facial reaction and body language. We don’t get very many words; we get one scene where he discusses some of this with a mentor-like figure, but again not much. Most of the feelings are internal, but the body language is clear. Ryo Ikebe, the actor, looks like guilty child or pet dog after a good scolding.
  13. Through Namaka’s Eyes: the Life of Patience Bacon (2007)
    Dir. Jeff DePonte
    73/100

    This is a short documentary about the hanai daughter of Mary Kawena Pukui, Patience Elmay Namakauahoaokawenaulaokalaniikikikalaninui (Wiggin) Bacon–“Aunty Pat” to those who know her. I have heard of Mary Kawena Pukui, and am generally aware of her contributions to our understanding of the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian culture, but I never knew she had a hanai daughter, pure Japanese, that helped her in her work.

    I learned a lot from this documentary (as well as other articles I looked up. I actually initially learned about Bacon from a Civil Beat eulogy of sorts (Bacon died in January).

    The following are some thoughts generated from the film.

    Was Poetry the primary form of music for oral societies?

    When speaking about hula, Bacon mentions the way the words of the chant and the story it told, was central. She seems to suggests that the hands play more complementary or supportive rows. In contrast, the hands and dance itself seem central now, while the words and their meaning are secondary–to the point of being unimportant , at least for many spectators.

    This remark made me think of the way certain poems function like music, particularly in older civilizations, like the ancient Greeks. Certain types of poetic forms as well as skillful word choice could create a musical quality. That is, the virtue of some poems stem from the way they sound, just as much as what they mean. Like folk music and post-folk, singer-songwriters, the meaning and “music” of the words was primary source of power and interest for poems.

    If this is accurate, I wonder if hula chants had a similar central status. The movie showed early 20th century footage of hula, and the dancing and music (percussion) are relatively simple and plain, compared to modern hula and even more so to ballet and modern dance. The percussion was also relatively simple compared to something like classical music. When Bacon says the words and its meaning were central, the music and dance accompaniment suggest this (and I feel similar about musical accompaniment to folk music or early blues). The words are the star of the show.

    But as people had access to more instruments and technology, which lead recordings and listening devices, cinema, and TV shows–I feel like poetry, particularly the musical qualities, lost it’s power; or modern people lost the appreciation for poetry and its musical elements. I’m suggesting that new artforms and technology made poetry obsolete for many modern people. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that people can’t appreciate poetry now–clearly, some people do. However, the world has changed in a way that makes poetry passe for many.

    More later.

  14. Reid, do you remember which Rush film you saw? I recently purchased a couple and was wondering if the one you saw is one of the Blu-Rays I have.

  15. The Last Blockbuster (2020)
    Dir. Taylor Morden
    63/100

    This is a film about the last Blockbuster store in the U.S. (world?). There are two important questions that such a film should answer, one more important than the other. The film answers the less important one, providing an answer that should interest viewers, but doesn’t really try to answer the more important one–namely, why or how is the store staying in business? If I were the filmmakers I would has asked the regular customers. The answer to this question could provide a clue on the viability of stores like this–not just movie rentals, but brick-and-mortar stores that sell cds, books and even movie theaters. Is there some service or benefit that brick-and-mortar stores can draw people, in spite of getting those services online? Satisfying nostalgia is one feature that these stores could provide, but I feel like this wouldn’t sustain interest.

    Speaking of which, nostalgia is something that made the film appealing to me. The film does a decent job of delivering on this area.

  16. You Were Never Really Here (2018)
    Dir. Lynne Ramsay
    Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
    73/100

    **
    I really liked this movie, and I wish I knew nothing about the film. One of the film’s virtues is in the way it gradually reveals things, providing viewers with fragments that they must piece together to arrive at an understanding of what’s going on. The trailer gives some information that cheats viewers out of this, at least slightly. Because of this I hesitate to describe the plot of the film, but will do so after making a few more general comments about the movie.

    First of all, the filmmaking excited me. I saw this while feeling sleepy, but the images and use of music and sound quickly revived me, and I made a mental note to see her other films. I’ve seen some good movies, with good filmmaking (e.g., The Irishman), but the filmmaking here was a lot more interesting—with a more artistic, and even poetic sensibility that is largely absent from mainstream filmmaking. One could say Ramsay makes art films, although she does employ a narrative and has storytelling abilities that could hold the attention of some mainstream viewers. In this way, she’s like Antonioni. Like Antonioni, I think mainstream fans will leave her films a bit dissatisfied or a little confused.

    And now for those who want more information about the film: This is a drama about a man who is hired to find missing children. He faces considerable challenges finding and bringing back one of them.

    ***
    I’m still processing this film, working on an interpretation of it. My initial reading (spoilers), which was heavily influenced by times we’re living in now, particularly the current political moment, saw both Joe and Nina as two individuals, struggling to do good, but realizing the people and institutions responsible for the well-being of the larger society are deeply corrupted and totally unreliable. They don’t know where to go at the end, which is the way one would also feel if the main leaders and institutions were no longer trustworthy.

    But this reading really doesn’t take into account the issues with the characters—like the haunted past of both Joe and Nina; the significance of death of Joe’s mom, and Nina killing her tormentor, the Governor; or the film’s title.

    Here’s my new take on a second viewing (which, by the way, came to mind when I woke up at about 3:00 in the morning).

    The movie is about two individuals, a young girl (Nina) and man (Joe), broken by abuse, struggling, literally fighting, to free themselves from physical, emotional and psychological pain. (Joe’s mother was also abused as well.) Somehow, maybe because of Joe’s nature or maybe as a way of saving himself, Joe seems to center his life around helping children escape similar horrific circumstances. (He seems to have worked in law enforcement at one point.) We also see Joe as the main caregiver for his aging, declining mother.

    Joe seems to struggle with suicide because of his trauma from childhood, and when his mother is murdered and Nina is re-taken, Joe seems decides to end his life. But somehow he has a vision of Nina, like an angel sinking to her doom, calling out to him in the process. In an odd way, the scene reminds me of the way Clarence, the hapless angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, saves George Bailey from committing suicide. That is, Clarence jumps in the river, knowing that George’s selfless and caring nature will cause George to save Clarence and thus prevent George from committing suicide. The vision of Nina has a similar effect, and it seems to cause Joe to get back into the fight.

    Interestingly, Nina actually saves herself by killing her abuser. This seems to surprise Joe, and probably the audience as well. While it feels a bit anti-climatic, it may have had a cathartic effect on Joe, which is symbolized by him taking off his shirt–the shirt representing an encumberance and burden Joe has been carrying his whole life. Now, it’s lifted. Nina, the child, removes this. This may happen because Joe identifies with Nina–because he’s still the traumatized (suffocating–Joe puts a bag around his head as a strange way to escape or block out his father’s abuse actions, while they were occurring. This may be a coping mechanism, but it also seems to symbolizes Joe dying–suffocating–at the same time) child fighting for his life.

    In the last scene, Joe and Nina not being quite sure what to do now signifies that they are free, although not totally as Joe still has suicidal thoughts. But with a huge obstacle seemingly out of the way, they’re left with uncertainty. Now what? The film seems to indicate an optimism–Nina remarks that it’s a beautiful day and both will take their first steps of their future together, hopefully to a better future.

    By the way, when we learn that Governor has actually been abusing young girls, including Nina, and the people around Joe being killed off, it signifies the degree to which Joe, and Nina, are alone–that they as individuals, must save themselves. The people that were suppose to protect or rescue them from danger have failed; won’t come to save them. When Nina is re-taken and Joe’s mom is murder, this may have crushed Joe’s spirit.

    With this reading, perhaps the “you” in the title refers to the individuals and institutions that failed to be there for victims like Joe and Nina. Joe and Nina were ultimately left alone–and the as individuals had to save themselves.

  17. Minari (2020)

    Dir. Lee Isaac Chung

    Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, You-jung Youn, Noel Cho, Alan Kim, Will Patton, etc.

    71/100

    **

    A classic tale of an immigrant family chasing after the American Dream, including some autobiographical details from Chung. This is not the type of film that isn’t a box office smash, but it is a “smaller” film that the Academy seems to like for best picture.

    I didn’t think this was a great film per se. The stories and characters are rather clichéd. Having said that, the performances and direction were strong in my opinion, if not exceptional, making this is good film. Additionally, I personally liked the way the film wasn’t self-conscious about culture or ethnicity, and largely avoided clashes with whites. Because of this, the film became more about the characters and their story, making both feel American and universal at the same time.

  18. The Farewell (2019)
    Dir. Lulu Wang
    71/100

    ***
    Perhaps not great, but a perfectly likable and solidly made film, including the acting. The story might have been one reason the film wasn’t better, but at least it didn’t completely drag the film down.

    Unlike Minari, this film got a little self-conscious about culture, specifically in it’s attempts to contrast Chinese and American societies.

    If I had more energy, I would write about the dilemma of the film, but maybe later.

    1. I think you’re expectation is correct. Indeed, as you say that, it makes me second guess my response. In a lot of ways, the film (and this is true of Minari, to some degree) is well-made but ultimately middling film…Or maybe that’s too strong.

      I think if I were watching a lot more movies–and I saw a lot of really good non-mainstream films, I would rank this lower–somewhere in the 60-65 range. The fact that I was rooting for this film, wanting it to be good–and the fact that I liked the characters, particularly Billi and Nai Nai–was probably another reason for the 71 score. (I also liked the performance of the actor who played Billi’s mom.)

  19. (I wrote this for our company newsletter)

    Nomadland (2020)
    Frances McDormand, David Strathairn. Written and directed by Chloé Xiao.

    Nomadland lives in the melancholic, wistful, sweetly sorrowful space where you often can’t tell whether you’re lonely or merely alone. It’s therefore probably not a movie for everyone, but if you can feel simultaneously elated when gazing upon a beautiful landscape and rueful about the college girlfriend it reminds you of, it may resonate.

    When a movie makes you feel this specific way for an hour and a half, it’s worth checking out. Frances McDormand’s thoughtful acting, Chloé Xiao’s proclivity for holding a moment when other directors would move to the next plot-advancing scene, gorgeous camera work, and a pensive soundtrack combine to give you all the feels.

    When you look into the Grand Canyon and realize you’re gazing at a beautiful emptiness? Nomadland is like that. When you hit the bronze bell at a Buddhist temple and stand quietly while the sound reverberates seemingly without end? Nomadland is like that.

    It won Oscars last weekend for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director. See it on Hulu today, rent it at a Redbox kiosk, rent it for streaming on demand, or see it in theaters when it releases there. But see it. Then tell me what you think!

    I’m giving it 91 of 100. Outstanding.

  20. Sons of Sam: a Descent into Darkness (2021)
    Dir. Joshua Zeman

    This is four part TV docu-series about Maury Terry, a journalist who became convinced that David Berkowitz did not act alone, but that he had accomplices who were part of a (Satanic) cult.

    I suspect I would have enjoyed this series in my twenties, and I might have event seriously considered Terry’s theory. Back then conspiracy theories seemed harmless at worst. Now, in our current information environment, not so much.

    I’m not going to write a review, but offer some criticisms of Terry and his theory as well as make some general comments about narratives.

    First of all, Terry’s interviews with Berkowitz were totally problematic–primarily because he was asking too many leading questions. At the time of the interviews, he no longer was looking for the truth, but looking for confirmation for his theories, desperately so. His case would have been so much more persuasive if he handled the interviews differently, asking more open-ended questions. Of course, if his theory was baseless, the approach would have likely revealed that as well.

    To me, when seriously considering a conspiracy theory, a good approach is to identify plausible alternatives. If you can identify one or more, particularly if there is solid evidence and reasonable arguments in support, that would, in my view, weaken a conspiracy theory, particularly one that was sensational and outlandish.

    Now, I think some conspiracy theories, Maury’s included, would point to connections that they believe would be implausible as mere coincidences. This seems like a significant component of their argument. My sense is these odd coincidences are more common than we think. If this is correct, then the existence of these connections are sufficiently compelling–or at least not necessarily. A part of me feels that if we just randomly offered a conspiracy and then sought evidence, we would find these surprising connections. I think this is not only because odd connections exist, but our minds also have a way of finding and make connections. This may be truer when we’re seeking confirmation. In such cases, our minds can not only make remarkable connections, but these connections will seem like compelling proof.

    If what I’m saying is accurate, and it may not be, I think it goes a long way to undermine the basis for a lot of conspiracy theories.

    Having said that, I want to acknowledge the allure and excitement that conspiracy theories can offer; on some level I can definitely understand the appeal. Narratives, as a lens or tool, to understand something, is often incredibly powerful and compelling. Conspiracy theories are narratives, but they’re constructed in real time, adding an extra thrill. Not only that, but the adherents are a long for the ride and sometimes can participate, as if they were police detectives. Finally, believers of conspiracy theories are possessors of secret knowledge–which makes them feel special. After all, they understand and see the truth, which most people don’t realize.

    These elements make engaging in conspiracy theories really exciting and even fun, but they should actually generate more skepticism about conspiracy theories. These elements increase the likelihood of self-deception and delusion; they make clear-eyed and accurate examination more difficult.

  21. Without Remorse (2021)
    Dir. Stefano Sollima
    42/100

    How do you rate a movie that you believe isn’t very good, but still manages to keep your attention, for the most part, while watching it? That’s how I feel about this film, based on a Tom Clancy novel. The film follows a navy seal, John Clark (played by Michael B. Jordan) who joins a task force hunting for a Russian spy. The spy happens to have some connection with the Clark, which I won’t go into here.

    I think the biggest problem I had stems from he general idea of lone-wolf who defies the system and situations that would kill most people. Viewers have to suspend disbelief to enjoy action films, but there are limits, too. This film broke those limits for me, one time too many.

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