Friday Film Roundup

Our Friday Film Roundup is an attempt to share what we are reading, watching, and listening to as we head into the weekend. We plan on sharing major film news, interesting film essays/videos, and recommended films you might want to check out.

Good afternoon! Nothing beats a February Friday am I right? Except June Fridays! And July! And…well every other month. February sucks.

Unfortunately for my happiness, my wife is out of town this weekend. Fortunately this means I have time to catch up on my endless movie watch list to fill the crippling void of loneliness.

Reading:

In the future this space will be more fleshed out with many different reviews or analysis or news that stand out to us. For now I only have one post from our friends at Slashfilm (I like to think we are friends even though they don’t know we exist.):

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,’ ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and the Problem With Nostalgic Blockbusters

It’s a great analysis of one of my favorite topics of the last year, shit talking Avengers: Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker. Except it is actually well thought out and hits on a lot of my personal frustrations.

Watching:

Recommendation: I recently stumbled across Midsommar on Amazon Prime and if you are up for a twisted, dark tale set in beautiful Sweden that will make you want to forever avoid vacations, making friends, being in relationships, and psychedelic drug use then this is the movie for you! Written and directed by Ari Aster (the guy who brought us the unsettling Hereditary) and stars Florence Pugh whose performance makes it worth the horror.

What I’m Watching: My number one goal this weekend is to finally catch the Oscar winning film Parasite, it’s a movie that’s been on my radar for months now and my curiosity is killing me. I’ve been a huge advocate for Korean cinema ever since I say Oldboy and The Handmaiden. Wow I’m into some truly messed up movies.

Outside of that I want to continue the horror trend and finish Train to Busan on Netflix and I’ve been dying to rewatch Cabin in the Woods. 

And while this isn’t technically a “film” (such definitions of what constitutes a film feel arbitrary to me but whatever) Better Call Saul returns to our screens after a loooong hiatus. This show has definitely proven itself even in the shadow of Breaking Bad and now that Jimmy is embracing his Saul side, I expect this show to reach new heights.

And in case you can’t wait until Sunday for your Breaking Bad fix might I recommend you catch up on El Camino which is showing on AMC and on Netflix.

Upcoming Flimsy Film Posts:

Welcome to New York: While We’re Young

I’m jumping back into my ‘Welcome to New York’ series with Brooklyn’s own Noah Baumbach. What happens when a 30-year-old watches a movie about two 40-year-olds making friends with two 25-year-olds? Does it send the 30-year-old into a spiraling existential crisis about aging? Find out on Tuesday!

Let’s Talk About: The Rise of Skywalker

Oh this should be a fun read, two fans who loved The Last Jedi get to discuss all of the shortcomings of the final chapter in the Skywalker saga. I’m sure there will be a lot of yelling in the form of CAPITAL LETTERS.

 

Movies and Data: A Love Story

I am a natural lover of data. I use that love to keep me motivated on my goals. I keep track of my expenses, my miles ran, and in 2019 I started keeping tracking of the movies I watched. I started with an excel file but now I use IMDb to keep track. It was easy to download the data and then do the below analysis.

2019 was the year I started taking my movie watching habit seriously. I saw some of my favorite movies of all time (Into the Spider-Verse, Y tu mamá también, The Farewell), caught up with some classics I had missed (The Conversation, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver) and sat through some duds (Avengers: Endgame, The Commuter, Always Be My Maybe).

Overall it was a great year and I am pumped to surpass these numbers in 2020. Do you keep track of your movies? Are you a data geek like me? Do you have a better system than me? Let me know and happy new year!

If you want to see the whole list, here is the link: Kevin’s 2019 Movies

LET'S GO SHOPPING!2

Movies to Stream this Weekend

Hello and happy holidays! My gift to you is a list of a few films you might want to stream over this long weekend/holiday break. We are lucky enough to have endless entertainment at our fingertips but it can be overwhelming so here are a few of my recent watches that I want to recommend:

Netflix:

Marriage Story: Yes the memes are trying to shift the latest film by Noah Baumbach from a beautiful, yet unsettling, view of a collapsing divorce into an over-dramatic and self-serious snoozefest but I still think this film is worth your attention.

From the opening moments of professed love to the closing moments of sacrifice this film is enthralling through and through. Especially for those of us who have ever struggled keeping their sanity in a relationship, aka all of us. Come for the headliners of Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver but stay for the destruction and celebration of love.

American Factory: This might be a stark departure from the previous movie but it’s a must watch. American Factory is a documentary about a Chinese glass company coming to America to create jobs and solve our country’s issues. Okay they’re actually in it for the money but either way this company finds a home in Dayton, Ohio and almost single handily employs a small city of blue-collar workers.

Of course, it’s not that simple, the company brings it’s own Chinese workers to help get the company off the ground. This creates cultural tensions and doesn’t always end well. The beauty of this documentary is it covers an array of issues including workers rights to unionize, cultural expectations of hard work, and the hardships of the working class but it never demonizes either side of any issue. It’s just a brutal and honest depiction of these, and many more, issues.

Amazon Prime:

Brittany Runs a Marathon: Now as a three time marathon runner I am letting my biases get the best of me. Regardless, this movie is inspiring and heart wrenching and worth your time. Just be warned, it will definitely inspire you to get off the couch more often.

A true story of a funny, underemployed 20-something that decides to take one simple step to improve her life, start running. And she really does start with a single, simple, step as she huffs and puffs her way down one city block before eventually taking on her first 5k. From here on out the familiar beats of any “makeover” movie start to hit but the final act is full of surprise, cringe, and beauty that will make you question our society’s obsession with self-improvement. Overall an impressive debut for director Paul Downs Colaizzo who wrote the movie based on a former roommate of his.

A Simple Favor: A deliriously fun and engrossing watch from start to finish. The movie follows a meek mom vlogger Stephanie as she becomes unlikely friends with Emily, a career-obsessed mom who doesn’t take any bullshit. Emily, played intensely well by Blake Lively, suddenly disappears and Stephanie, played pitch perfect by Anna Kendrick, tries to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of her new friend.

This movie covers a lot of ground and delves into unexpected territory. A Gone Girl-esque thriller matched with director Paul Feig’s remarkable comedy. A thrilling and fun time all around.

YouTube:

Life in a DayA free movie on YouTube that is powerful, stunning, and completely unique. People around the world were asked to document a certain day of their life, July 24th, 2010 and it was then crafted into a beautiful film that reaches every corner of the Earth.

As real as anything you will ever watch, this movie has a bit of everything: comedy, love, heartbreak, and is impossible to turn away from. For voyeurs, travelers, or film enthusiasts this is a much watch. This film illuminates the wonder, horror, and beauty of the world we share.

 

Frozen II: Rinse, Repeat, Refreeze

“That’s just your fear. Fear is what can’t be trusted.” -Elsa, Frozen II

*Spoiler-ish review*

It was about halfway through my rant about the importance of explicit representation to my wife that I realized I was ripping apart a Disney animated movie made for children. But let’s back up.

“Cowards!” I believe was my first word uttered walking out of a date night screening of Frozen II. 

“I liked it and I had fun” was my wife’s response.

“Of course it was fun! And gorgeous! And funny! And charming! But…” I couldn’t hide my disappointment and I also couldn’t verbalize it.

Frozen II picks up a few years after the events of the original, ground-breaking (ice-shattering?) Frozen. Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven live in the Arendelle castle singing songs about how great life is and how they never want things to change.

But Elsa can’t quite shake a restless feeling. After all, what is life without change? She is being called, somewhat literally but also figuratively, to a new adventure. She is grateful for what she has, her family, and her kingdom but there is something out there that she needs to discover.

And when she is finally forced to take action the movie follows our lovable group as they set off on a new adventure. Elsa is following a mysterious voice, Anna is following Elsa so she doesn’t get into trouble, Kristoff is following Anna so…he can propose marriage at the worst possible time, and Sven and Olaf are just happy to be there.

Yes, in this sequel, much like the original, the center of the story revolves around Elsa running into the wild to discover something about herself while her sister and a dude with confusing intentions follows behind. It’s a rinse and repeat of the prior arc except this time the movie feels foreboding.

The sing-song call that Elsa follows blindly is haunting, there are hints of a terrible truth about the sister’s ancestors and it bubbles around the surface, hell even the talking snowman is having an on-again, off-again existential crisis about his friends growing old.

The creators of this movie really seemed to be diving into something darker or deeper and un-Disney like for an animated movie. At some point I considered the possibility of a traumatic death, or a big reveal about a character’s sexual preference, or a statement on the long-term impacts of colonialism, or questioning of our society’s obsession with marriage. This journey felt different and more important and like they were gearing up to say something meaningful.

By the end, however, the big reveal was no reveal. Or at least no new reveal. Elsa learns to embrace her powers and that she can rely on her sister. It was a carbon copy ending of the original but without the epic rendition of “Let It Go”. It was a poor man’s retelling of Frozen but less entertaining that Olaf’s literal retelling of Frozen that occurs in the middle.

Which brings me to my cowards remark. Is it fair of me to demand the creators to take a huge risk with their beloved characters? Was I looking too hard at minor details as clues of an epic ending that did not exist? Do I have the right to be upset that they took an easy, unoriginal route in a movie that positively celebrates strong, independent women? Isn’t that aspect alone enough to satisfy my socially conscious mindset? What, exactly, did I want to happen? How did I want it to end?

I don’t have the answers. All I know is that the true beauty of the original Frozen was how different it was compared to a typical Disney princess movie. The original’s “twist” ending of the day being saved because of a sister’s love and not a man’s secured it’s spot as an all-time great film. That ending sounds trivial at this point in 2019 but in 2013 it was groundbreaking and important. And maybe that’s why I expected something bigger in this animated princess movie, because the original taught me it’s not only possible to push boundaries but it is important and necessary, no matter the genre.

So how did I want it to end? Without fear, I suppose, because even Elsa knows that fear is what can’t be trusted.

The Conversation: The Importance of Listening

What follows is a lengthy summary of an 86-year-old man’s life for the review of a 45-year-old movie.

Recently, this blog lost a dedicated reader. This reader wasn’t our typical audience, he was an older man who likely lived a more interesting life than most of the characters in the movies we write about. However, he preferred to keep these stories to himself. Most likely due to a mix of his humility with a dash of fear of facing old demons.

This man caught onto the blog way back when Jesse and I had no clear idea what we wanted to write about (truth be told, we are still working through that). He stuck with us as we wrote about people dying in the zombie apocalypse, as we explored becoming a daily site for our local sports teams, and even the one or two video game posts that we have since buried. And as far as I could tell, he never missed a post.

I remember feeling embarrassed when I found out about this reader. Would he enjoy my writing? Would he understand what the hell I’m talking about? Would he bring it up at Thanksgiving?

Yes, like I said, this was no ordinary reader. This man was my grandfather, my ‘papa’ if you will. He was your typical curmudgeon of an old man. You couldn’t hold it against him because he was a marine and he fought for our country in the Korean War. He was also a cop, starting off small time and eventually working his way up to work on some harrowing sexual abuse cases as he worked on what you Law & Order fans might call the Special Victims Unit.

Eventually Red, as he was called his whole life due to his shocking color of hair, found a love of technology as he worked his way into wiretapping. He worked undercover, befriending perceived bad guys like he was a regular Leonardo DiCaprio (I like to imagine him having to say, “I’m not the fuckin’ rat, okay?” at some point in his life) while tapping their phones, houses, offices, etc. Oh the stories he couldn’t tell me out of fear of repercussions, those stories and secrets are now lost to time.

You can understand my concern when I discovered him to be a reader. How I live my life, in comfort, and my bitching of fictional stories on a screen never felt important enough to share with a man who, in my perception, lived a life full of unimaginable and real hardships.

And yet, this hard-ass of a man never made me feel that way. He had a huge heart for his family and a great sense of humor. Due to the former I think he felt it his duty to encourage me to follow my dreams and to write. Due to the latter I believe he found actual connection to my writing because he saw his smartass ways in my words. Hell, he would even tell me, “That Jesse kid ain’t bad either”. And that’s probably the highest compliment he is capable of giving to non-kin.

I received nothing but positive feedback from this man that I respected and feared. And yet I never found the courage to sit down with him and interview him thoroughly. It was out of both of our comfort zones to have these real, intentional talks, even when we knew he was on death’s doormat. Everything I have written about him above was gathered slowly, over the course of 29 years as I would peel away at his stories.

Of course I was never good at telling him about my life either. One thing I never confessed to him was the impact he had on my love of movies. My papa loved keeping up with technology so he would always buy whatever was the hot, new thing. He would buy it as soon as possible, knowing the value was sure to go down, just to show that he could afford it and that he was hip enough to know what was going on.

This desire to burn money led to him purchasing a brand new DVD player at the beginning of the format’s craze. In addition he built a collection of DVDs that Blockbuster would have been jealous of. In fact, he lovingly called his office Blockbuster and would MAKE me borrow a handful of movies whenever I came over.

This is where I watched the classics. Spartacus, History of the World: Part I, Blazing Saddles, King Kong, Twelve Angry Men, Spaceballs. (Okay so lots of Mel Brooks, where do you think he and I developed our sense of humor?)

Much like his life, we never spoke about the movies. In fact he hardly even ever watched them with me. But that didn’t matter, he helped introduce me to what would turn into a passionate hobby and along the way he always encouraged me to write, to follow my dreams.

Recently I was digging through an old scrapbook that his mother, my great-grandmother, put together. The scrapbook followed Red’s career through newspaper articles. She would cut out any mention of him, his second wife (also a cop), or anything to do with his area of expertise. It was here I stumbled upon a film review of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 thriller The Conversation. The story follows a surveillance expert named Harry Caul, played by Gene Hackman, who is focused on his craft and yet passive about the people’s lives he invades.

Being that my papa’s name was Henry, often called Harry (he had many nicknames) who later in life ran his own surveillance company outside of the police force, I immediately stopped skimming and read the review. Out of nowhere I then berated my poor sister, “DID THEY MAKE A MOVIE OUT OF HIS LIFE?”

Alas, Francis Ford Coppola did NOT write his masterpiece about my granddad. IMDb explicitly states that Harry Caul was inspired by a surveillance technology expert named Martin Kaiser. I suspect the clipping in the scrapbook was just an example of a mother trying to connect with her son by saving a review about a film he might like.

I will never know if my papa ever saw the movie that eerily echoes his life. Nevertheless, after a month of mourning I finally sat down to watch the film myself hoping to further understand a man that kept his secrets close.

The Conversation, cited as both Coppola’s and Hackman’s favorite film they were involved in, is a deep dive into the ethics of the world of surveillance right as technology was allowing the lines between privacy and publicity to be blurred. It’s a haunting reminder of the dangers of allowing technology, and even other people, into our lives. A fear that today, in 2019, is omnipresent as we surround ourselves with AI connected devices that run everything from our calendar to our homes.

It follows a determined man named Harry Caul, cited as the best surveillance man in the country. Caul keeps to himself in every aspect of his life. He shuts out his neighbors, his lovers, and even his most trusted employee. He is singularly focused on technology and getting the best quality of his recordings. He cares neither for the people he is spying nor their conversations saying, “All I want is a nice, fat recording.”

His desire to separate himself from his subjects stems from an incident in his past. Specifically, his role in a job that ended with a murder of three people. As a devout Catholic his guilt is amplified and his way of dealing with the guilt is by focusing on his work.

As he focuses more and more on getting an accurate and clear recording for his current job, the guilt overwhelms him as he realizes this is another recording that could end with murder. He ends up confronting the person who hired him, as much as the meek mild Harry Caul can confront someone. The end of the film follows Harry as he attempts to save the people he has helped put in danger.

The film is a masterpiece and holds up as such. The themes of the dangers and paranoia of surveillance are as prevalent as ever. And Hackman as a passive, helpless man who is just doing his job is haunting and unforgettable. Plus Harrison Ford is there and he brought cookies.

Most importantly, to myself, the film gave me a theoretical view into my papa’s life. It reminded me of stories he told me in the past that I had long forgotten. Particularly a lighter, albeit unethical, scene that saw a bunch of surveillance experts out on the town, drinking and having a good time offering to pick locks to impress a girl and using their surveillance power to look up the name and address of a reckless driver on the road just to freak him out. That scene gave me possible insight into the youth of a man I have only ever known to be an old man.

It helped me understand why he was so secretive about what he did. Whether it was shame or fear or just a desire to not bring up old demons, the man had a lot going on that I would never be able to understand.

It also confirmed what my sister and I would always joke about. Growing up we always accused him of tapping our phones much like the accusation of Harry’s lover Ann, “sometimes I even think you’re listening to me on the telephone”, she says laughing, “It just feels like you’re there”. Of course my papa always denied this but he seemingly always knew what was going on in our lives. Maybe he was just paying attention to his young grandchildren, using our parents to catch up on our lives to impress/spook us. Or maybe he was listening to every inane conversation, unable to break old habits.

I miss him dearly every day but his impact still lives on. Every time I sit down to watch a movie or write a post, I will remember his encouragement and, most importantly, his willingness to read and to listen.

 

 

 

 

What If: A Feel Good Hidden Gem

“Love is dirty, baby, sometimes it’s downright filthy.”

Maybe it’s because wedding bells are drawing near for Jesse and because I’m currently living 461 miles away from my love but, whatever the reason, romantic comedies are getting featured here on Flimsy Film Critics this month. Actually the real answer is we are smooth, handsome, hopeless romantics who express their love with big romantic gestures on a daily basis but we don’t talk about it here because we don’t want our audience feeling bad about themselves. Yeah that’s it…

Either way, I was in the mood for a feel good movie about love and all its complications. I found just that in the hidden gem that is 2013’s What If (not to be confused with Netflix’s recent What/If series nor the comics-soon-to-be-Disney-show What If that asks daring questions like, “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four”, the answer is, the Fantastic Four would finally get a good movie as long as Sony wasn’t producing it).

What If has a classic romantic comedy set up, a dude meets a girl at a party, there’s instant chemistry but the girl reveals she has a boyfriend, in the most ham-fisted, awkward manner possible of course.

What makes this movie stand out is the cast led by Daniel Radcliffe and his best friend Adam Driver (Harry Potter and Kylo Ren fanfics goin’ wild right now) alongside the so-hot-right-now Zoe Kazan with a great supporting performance from Mackenzie Davis (that girl from your favorite Black Mirror episode).

Daniel and Zoe, portraying Wallace and Chantry, have palpable chemistry, and as they settle into their friendship you feel like they’ve known each other forever with their quick banter and comfort to be their whole selves. Wallace, coming off a bad break up, and Chantry, living with her boyfriend, decide, over a handshake, they are going to give the ‘men and women can be friends’ thing a shot.

The other stand out in this movie is the dialogue, it is crisp, quick, and funny. Each word feels intentional and has meaning. Especially the scenes with Allan (Driver) and Nicole (Davis) as the head-over-heels couple that falls madly, and quickly, in love. The performances by Driver and Davis had me cackling with laughter bringing a much needed energy to Wallace’s downtrodden world view. Allan and Nicole, who meet the same night as Wallace and Chantry, in fact in front of the same fridge, are the foil to Wallace and Chantry. They fall for each other fast and they don’t stop to think or ask questions. They serve as opposition to Wallace’s nihilistic views on love as well as the comic relief. They drop nuggets of wisdom along the way and truly might be the #relationshipgoals couple of the movie.

Of course no relationship is perfect. As Allan pontificates after his first fight with Nicole, “All this love shit is complicated. And that’s good. Because if it’s too simple you’ve got no reason to try and if you’ve got no reason to try, you don’t”. It’s one of the seemingly cliché lines that is so well delivered by Driver that it sticks with you. It provides a sense of relief that a lot of romantic comedies don’t, life is messy and that’s okay.

Love and life is complicated. People fall in love with the wrong people at the right time and the right people at the wrong time. As much as we can focus on ourselves, our careers, our hobbies, we can’t control who or when we fall in love and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about our feelings. This movie gives a sense of relief that life is nuanced and messy. No one knows what they’re doing, especially when feelings are involved. This film reminds you that love happens in unlikely ways but if something is good, hold onto it for as long as it stays that way.

The Farewell: Guilt Inducing Poetry

When telling people where I’m from, the typical question I get is, “Colorado? Why the fuck did you leave?” followed up by, “do you go back often?” My response actually sums me up well as a person, meaning it’s sensible, dark, and a tiny bit funny, “only for weddings, babies, and funerals” I say. And I wonder why I make friends slowly, I guess I’m an acquired taste.

As someone who has chosen to live away from my family, friends, and community, I have to deal with the weight of guilt on a daily basis. How do I maintain these connections while thousands of miles away? And as I miss birthdays, doctor appointments, and house warming parties the weight gets heavier.

The Farewell is a movie made for people like me, or really, for anyone who has dealt with the sudden news of the impending loss of a loved one. But it specifically hits home for those of us who are thousands of miles away from our homes. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of our choices as well as showcase of the beauty of our bravery.

The Farewell directed and written by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, follows a family of Chinese immigrants as they deal with the heart wrenching news that the beloved matriarch of the family, Nai Nai (grandmother), is at death’s door and only has a short time to live. The family decides to NOT disclose this information to Nai Nai herself, instead choosing to carry the emotional burden quietly amongst themselves.

Dealing with the news of an impending death is maddening enough. What exactly do you say to someone who is dying? Do you keep it light and discuss the weather or the news or other meaningless trivialities? Do you ask for stories of their past or ask them for wisdom as a dark reminder that the end is coming? Neither seem like an enjoyable path but neither does a loss without warning with no time for these conversations. For every person who has lost someone suddenly and wishes they had just a little more time to enjoy their company, there is someone who has been blessed with that time and has no idea how to handle the awkward blessing.

It’s even trickier for Billi, an aspiring writer living in New York perfectly portrayed by Awkwafina, who has to keep the family secret of her grandmother’s impending doom while visiting her under the false pretense of a fake wedding (so Nai Nai doesn’t get suspicious). Billi loves her Nai Nai dearly and desperately wants to tell her the truth and cry in her arms. But her family, and the cultural expectations surrounding it, will not allow even a single tear. The film follows Billi as she traverses through the societal differences between the culture she was born into and the culture she was raised as well as the guilt of living so far away.

The heart of this movie lies in the realism. Pay attention to the scenes of the family around the dinner table eating an endless amount of food, there’s a lot of them, and they serve the purpose of creating the familiar. Sure this is a Chinese family but the conversations they have around the table are recognizable for any culture. There is gossip, there is the constant pressure to “eat, eat, eat” from the matriarch, there is childhood stories told, as well as pointed, guilt-inducing, remarks made by elders.

It’s a heart wrenching reminder for those of us who have left of what we leave behind and of the moments we miss while apart. If this is you, the scenes of reunion around the dinner table or walking around the city with a random relative or watching your cousin get married will spark a grueling familiarity. It’ll throw you back to those times when you are forced to step back into your past life. The battle of dread and secret joy that is waged internally, followed by reminders of why you left and why you come back.

The Farewell, for those who have chosen a path away from their families, is a gut punch of guilt, laughter, and the familiar. It’s everything you hate and everything you love about going home to visit those you have abandoned physically but will never abandon emotionally. It’s pure poetry that will drive you to both immediately call your loved ones and refocus your reasons for leaving.