[What Did Jaci Think? Late August]

So much of the late August was old stuff! To Be or Not To Be on 35mm! Logan & Mad Max: Fury Road, both in black & white! Stop Making Sense, complete with a dance party! Also, did you know that if you watch basketball games you have less time to watch movies? It’s true; thanks WNBA playoffs (no, really, thank you; you’ve been amazing).

A few quick comments on the old stuff:

We saw Blade Runner & Blade Runner 2049 back to back, which clarified one of the problems I have with the new film: I disagree with how it defines and values humanity. Humanity in the original film is demonstrated through loyalty and mercy, that is, how you interact with other humans. Humanity in the new film is all about (highly gendered) values relating to bodies, specifically the ability to give birth, and the ability to die for a cause. This is not my jam.

Grand Illusion brought us Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t. This was my jam! It’s a tough movie to explain – it’s about abortion rights! And there’s a suicide at the start! But it’s really lovely! And it’s a musical! At the core it’s a movie about female friendship, the kind of bond that at some points can be held together by nothing more than postcards. I loved it.

That said, the most important thing I saw in the theaters this go-round was obviously the goofball Europe Raiders! This movie is ridiculous, the third in a (so far) trilogy starring my main man Tony Leung as …who even knows. A detective? Agent of some kind? Bounty hunter? I don’t think it’s the same from film to film and honestly it doesn’t matter. In this one, Leung’s character is introduced as he’s snowboarding down a mountain at night wearing a light-up snowsuit. Then he crashes through the window of a cabin to save a guy dressed up as Santa. Look, at this point either you’re in or you’re out, but I was definitely in, and I was rewarded with C-list Chinese Mission: Impossible where characters speaking Klingon was a plot point. Perfection.

Another kind of perfection was the Netflix teen romcom, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Utterly charming, hitting all the classic notes with a modern twist. I’m looking forward to the sequel – and reading the other two books! If anyone is looking for the next #ownvoices romcom to produce, I’d like to nominate When Dimple Met Rishi. The book is the CUTEST, & includes an arranged marriage, a comics convention, a dance performance, and thus a TRAINING MONTAGE what more do we need.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early August]

The Spy Who Dumped Me doesn’t entirely work, but it is damned fun despite the shockingly high body count for a buddy comedy. It has a male lead who I guess is somebody (sorry, everyone, I can’t watch all the shows) but to me was basically B-list Alexander Skarsgard. But it moves like the dickens even when it makes no sense, and it does have Kate McKinnon having chemistry with every lady, so it is super gay. Which was absolutely what we all need, to be sure. The way in which it centers the female friendship all the way through is the sort of thing I’m starved for as a viewer. (Also, it made me want to go home and watch The Leftovers – at least “International Assassin” – for obvious reasons.)

Look. I know that Christopher Robin got so-so reviews, and I get it, but if you also needed to hear Ewan McGregor declare repeatedly that he is not a heffalump, this is the movie for you. It’s not a movie for kids, it is a movie accidentally about worker’s rights, and it was exactly what I needed that day. These things happen.

I need someone who liked Araby to explain it to me. The film opens by introducing a small, struggling family in a Brazilian factory town, but once we’ve become invested in them, it switches to the story of one of the workers. That story was a lot less compelling, largely because so much of it was told in voiceover (which very possibly lost something in translation). Also, I kept waiting to return to the opening story, but that never happens, except a small glimpse of the family from the worker’s point of view. I wondered throughout why we were being told this story, which is never a great sign.

I saw The Miseducation of Cameron Post during SIFF, but couldn’t resist catching it again during its theatrical run. It’s still excellent, & I particularly appreciated that it was largely a queer friendship story (including two qpoc!) and that it wasn’t a coming out or questioning story. Cameron knows exactly who she is, and she stays still & firm in herself, knowing that it’s the world that’s wrong, not her. As we’ve talked about before, I grew up in a house that collected information on conversion therapy. This wasn’t an abstract threat then, and it still isn’t today (hello far right Catholics; I see everything). Bonus points for including a fat girl who’s sexuality isn’t a joke.

No one needs to hear a white girl talk about BlacKkKlansman, so I’ll just mention a few things. One, the present day footage at the end is a knockout. One of the things I hated about last year’s Detroit is how it let white people off the hook and gave the impression that the racism in it was a thing of the past, but Lee using old Hollywood footage to open and current news footage to close makes it clear: this is still happening, and white people are just as culpable now. Second, I was particularly struck by Adam Driver’s character. He’s Jewish, but not religious, and had always thought of himself as white, but: “Now I think about it all the time”. It resonated, as it echoed thoughts I’ve heard from friends during and after the 2016 election.

On a much lighter note, Crazy Rich Asians is just the best. Frothy, joyful romcom centered on real emotions surrounding identity and family. This is my kind of escapism, & I am ready for more. (I’m also ready to buy the soundtrack as soon as it’s available on CD because I am ancient.)

[What Did Jaci Think? Late July]

Goodness, let’s get this up before I forget anything else about last month.

The Cakemaker is an assured feature debut about grief and the varied ways people connect around it. Thomas is German, the cakemaker of the title, and he’s having an affair with Oren, who regularly visits Berlin for work. When he learns Oren has died, he travels to Jerusalem. To say he seeks out Oren’s wife is overstating his conscious choices, but they do find each other gently, the pacing and complications of family and faith are clearly character-driven. Particularly moving for me were Thomas’ interactions with Oren’s mother. Mothers often know everything, and in this case it was certainly for the better.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a pretty fun night at the movies, but it could have used more Princess Margaret and less Superman. Like a lot of films it’s about 20 minutes too long, also I didn’t particularly buy the villain, I think Rebecca Ferguson deserves her own action franchise, & I would happily watch Liang Yang fight his way through anything and everything.

In home viewing, Old Acquaintance was a delight, starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as childhood, well, acquaintances. They both become authors – one critically acclaimed, one popular – and the film follows a number of thorny issues around that, including the challenges in a straight marriage where the woman earns more than the man. It centered the women’s relationship all the way through, which, despite the title, I hadn’t really expected. My library had it as part of a 4 picture Bette Davis collection; maybe yours does too!

My favorite of FilmStruck’s Delbert Mann package is still probably Dear Heart but I was also thoroughly charmed by Marty, a filmed adaptation of a tv play also about actual adults finding love. I straight-up cheered at the end. Alone. In my apartment. I am a very cool person.

Finally, Fitzwilly was goofball fun, Dick Van Dyke as the butler and ringleader of a house full of thieves, all trying to support the lady of the house in the delusion that she’s still a woman of property. The lengths people will go to to protect an old white lady from reality are astonishing. Bonus points for baby Sam Waterston.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early July]

Animal World is a ridiculous movie about a guy trying to pay off a debt by playing a cutthroat game of rock paper scissors on some sort of industrial ocean liner boat ship thing. It’s the rare film where I don’t care that the characters are almost exclusively men because – not to be one of those feminists, but no lady would get herself into that particular mess. Like last week’s Lobster Cop it should have been somehow MORE than it was – and maybe a little less statistical analysis – especially given it had a hero who imagines himself as clown: the monster killer. Plus it has Michael Douglas

I’m not too proud to say that The Incredibles 2 made me happy all the way through. (I also loved the short, Bao, but it did not make me want to call my mother, sorry Internet).

The more I think about Fireworks the less sense it makes, and it didn’t make much to start with. I knew immediately that something was wrong when the girl was introduced lying on her back, two perfect ice cream scoop breasts. Which is not how breasts work. Magical breasts are the closest thing to character development she has.

It’s a high-concept story: the hero finds a magical sphere that allows him to go back in time to correct what he feels are errors about that day. But actually, the girl finds the sphere and the boy is the one who uses it. To. Save her? I guess. Even though we know pretty much nothing about her, including why she’s into him. Plus every time we relive part of his day we have to experience him and his friends with their inane and sexist conversations.

The fireworks are pretty, though.

Leave No Trace, a story of a father & daughter living off the land in a lush Pacific Northwest setting, features an excellent debut performance from Thomasin McKenzie, who matures throughout the film so thoroughly that she actually looked different to me by the end. It’s a kind, character-driven piece, where people largely act in good faith, but even that is not always enough to bring together all the ways that people are different. That Debra Granik works so little is a goddamned sin.

Damsel is one of my under-the-radar delights for this year, taking all the trappings and expectations of a western and turning them on their heads. I wish I’d seen it with an audience who understood it was a comedy right away. Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) hires a parson (David Zellner, half of the writer/director team) to travel with him to his fiancé Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) to marry them. Things don’t go quite as he expected, but they do go as they should, which is both unusual and deeply satisfying. Some folks were turned off by the violence, but for me it was very clearly intended as cartoon violence, as signaled by a scene where a character goes over a cliff and the camera hovers like Wile E. Coyote before plummeting to the bottom.

The best film I saw in July was En el Séptimo Día, a week in the life of a community of undocumented immigrant men in NYC, all played by non-professional actors. They work all week in all the thankless jobs that go unnoticed but keep a city running, live in an overcrowded apartment, and on the seventh day, like the Lord, they rest by playing recreational soccer. The focus of the film is on José (a luminous Fernando Cardona), the star player of the team, and his struggle through the week to find a solution to a deceptively simple problem: his team made the finals, but he can’t get the day off work. This is one of my favorite kinds of movies: where the stakes are (at first) deceptively low from the outside, but the film’s empathy draws you in to the character’s perspective and the vital importance of their story.

For home viewing, I caught a handful of the titles in the FilmStruck Black in America collection before they expired: Losing Ground (a film about the complications of marriage written and directed by the gone-too-soon Kathleen Collins), Black Roots (a 1970 documentary of black people speaking about their own experiences), You Got to Move (a 1985 documentary about intersectional activisim in Appalachia, directed by two women). All of them were well worth watching, and the documentaries in particular I never would have known about let alone seen without FilmStruck.

Finally, I plowed through the first season of Kim’s Convenience on Netflix. I only stopped because there are only two seasons so far & I’m trying to make it last. It’s very charming if you’re looking for a comfort watch and I know you are.

[What Did Jaci Think? Late June]

Obviously Won’t You Be My Neighbor? made me cry. The trailer made me cry. REVIEWS MADE ME CRY. It’s not just a tearjerker, and it’s not a hagiography. It’s the portrait of a complicated man who had frustrations and room for growth, but who also, of course, embodied a vital and rare, tender masculinity.

I couldn’t fit Kenyan film Supa Modo into my regular SIFF schedule, so I was delighted when it came back for Best of SIFF. It’s a simple story about a girl with a terminal illness, whose village bands together to treat her like she’s a superhero. Among the many small joys of this movie was seeing a film narrator character after being introduced to the concept in last year’s Bad Black.

The Rider, written and directed by Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me), also stars nonprofessional actors as versions of themselves. This beautiful film follows rodeo rider Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) as he tries to find his way after a likely career-ending injury. It’s not a new story, but it feels real because it is. Also, the cinematography is just gorgeous.

Nancy is a film about a young woman and devoted liar who believes – or wants to believe, or wants others to believe – that she was stolen as a child & raised by the kidnapper pretending to be her mother. Rather than the creepfest it had the potential to be, it became a film about human connection and grace. Bonus points for a smooth use of changing aspect ratio. (Also, after seeing this and Hereditary so close together, I just really want Ann Dowd to get to play someone nice, maybe some gentle story with Dylan Baker).

Lobster Cop is not about a cop that is a lobster. It is also not about a cop who polices lobsters. It is about cops who open a lobster – really, crayfish – restaurant as cover for a surveillance operation on a drug crew. It also should have leaned into the screwball of it all (the whole movie stops when a cop is – unnecessarily – killed in action). I admittedly am more lenient on this movie than it deserves because it also included a subtextual gay romance, nevermind that when the significant looks and touches are between a cop and a robber it was never going to end well.

On streaming, I caught the 3 part A Very English Scandal, where the biggest scandal is the gay relationship and not the conspiracy to commit murder. Delicious and heartbreaking all at once.

But most importantly in this two week period was the one-two punch of Rape Jokes & Nanette, Cameron Esposito out there telling all my queer-kid-raised-Catholic secrets & Hannah Gadsby tearing me apart in a really necessary way. Nanette was described to me by a friend as inspiring but not uplifting, which is correct. I couldn’t end the night with it – I had to watch something soft first – but I also can’t stop talking about it. It lays bare how marginalized people tell our stories in a way that’s incredibly true and also that I’d never considered. I think you should know nothing more than that going in. & I think I need to watch it again soon.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early June]

It was refreshing, even while in the midst of the bounty of SIFF, to see a film that is so overtly and unapologetically *about* something. In the case of First Reformed, it’s the moral issue of climate change as seen through the eyes of a pastor experiencing a crisis of faith while leading a shrinking congregation at a church that exists mostly as a historical artifact. Restrained framing, quiet pacing, and strong performances draw us into this haunting story. Turns out, between this and Novitiate, I do find movies about Christian faith to be interesting after all. They just have to be good.

How Long Will I Love U is a high-concept romcom about two people living in the same apartment twenty years apart. I gotta say, folks, if you’re missing romance in cinema, you need to start paying attention to Chinese film. They’ve got you covered. In this one, she’s from 2018 & he’s from 1999. Their apartments converge because of reasons that are actually explained (which I disliked at first – I don’t need explanations – but then came around on as the film became about choosing the life you want to lead instead of the one you think you should want). They explore the differences between the worlds, discover their unexpected connections to each other, and get their HEA. What more do you want?

Ocean’s 8 is an all-lady situation that I can’t be rational about. It’s perfectly cast, albeit merely competently directed. It’s also frothy and forgettable, which is fine, because that’s a perfect excuse to see it again. It’s also queer as fuck, and anyone who tells you different is a liar.

I’m still not over how the trailer for Hereditary seemed to promise a story entirely different in plot from what it gave us, but entirely accurate in tone. It begins as a melodrama, a family tearing itself apart from grief, and it could have honestly stayed that way and been effective and grueling in a completely different way. I loved how the tilt shift effect – recently used comically in Game Night to make the neighborhood look like a game board – here is haunting, making the home a dollhouse, and by extension, the family into dolls, characters moved about by fate. And I will definitely be watching it again, keeping my eyes open for all the wicked details I’m sure I missed the first time around.

Finally, winner of the SIFF 2018 Golden Space Needle award for Best Director, The Guilty is a single-location thriller, set in an emergency dispatch center, and with the action unwinding through phone calls. No one has all of the information, not the cop, not his caller, and not the audience. Pretty effective, even though I figured out most twists right before they happened.

[SIFF Despatches: Issue Eight]

This is probably my last Despatch for SIFF 2018, but if I skipped a film you’re particularly curious about, hit me up here or on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll see what I can do. Skipping a title doesn’t mean I didn’t like it; it just means I wasn’t immediately inspired to do 75 words on it & I don’t have an editor to force the issue. My full list is here; just do a search on SIFF2018 (or scroll down).

Wild Nights with Emily
This low budget, high concept film was such fun, providing a fresh and irreverent interpretation of the text by juxtaposing the poetry of Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) with the likely longtime romantic relationship she had with her brother’s wife, Susan (Susan Ziegler). Amy Seimetz is perfectly insufferable as the straightwasher of history and framing device. Gets slightly wobbly when the tone darkens. Not just for queer English majors (but goodness, itís a treat for us!)

Puzzle
A lovely film about an alienated housewife (Kelly Macdonald) who discovers a world outside her family through jigsaw puzzle competitions with teammate Robert (Irrfan Khan). What could have been a cookie cutter story is enriched by nuanced characters (everyone maybe needed to be shook up a bit, to think about and communicate their wants and needs for a change) and thoughtful cinematography (her home is all over dark browns, while his is full of sunshine).

My Name Is Myeisha
Almost more of an art piece, this is a filmed production of the complete text of Rickerby Hinds’ spoken word play, Dreamscape. Largely shot on minimalist sets, this film brings you into the rhythms of the life of Myeisha through her death, a fictionalized account of a victim of police violence. Myeisha is fully inhabited by Rhaechyl Walker who originated the role on stage and describes her life through each bullet wound on her body.

Chedeng & Apple
Two ladies in their 60s head out on a road trip after their husbands die. The twist? Newly-out Chedeng is trying to find her first girlfriend decades later. And Apple? She’s on the run because she killed her abusive partner. Oh, and she’s carrying his head around in a Louis Vuitton bag. Like you do. This updated Thelma and Louise (albeit with a much happier ending) was a delight for my last day of festival.

[What Did Jaci Think? Late May]

Obviously most of my time was devoted to SIFF, but I also took some time out for a few non-SIFF features:

Tully was excellent, a film which, through the lens of the very specific challenges of motherhood, is about examining the difference between one’s life now and the life one imagined having as a younger person. It’s thoroughly lived-in (I knew exactly how the house smelled) and honest in a way we rarely see on screen about the day-to-day ways in which being a parent is hard work.

A different take on motherhood, Breaking In (basically Panic Room in reverse) was not nearly as much fun as it should have been, but really all I wanted was to see Gabrielle Union kick the asses of a bunch of dudes, and I had MoviePass & an open time slot, so there you go.

Solo was fun enough and totally unnecessary, a movie that had me thinking a lot about the movie I wished I was watching instead. One that treated ladies better, obviously, and one that focused on Lando & L3, but also still one lit by Bradford Young. Probably one with a better villain too, but I predictably loved scarred Paul Bettany swanning around in a cape and slicing people open. I still cannot bring to mind the name or the face of the kid who plays Solo, & unlike the other new Star Wars films, I will probably never watch it again.

I’ve seen Stalker once before, but it was an entirely different movie in the theater, forcing my fuller attention, especially important in such a dreamlike film. Plus, it was just wonderful to see everything properly, since it is so full of texture. If you dug Annihilation and have the temperament for slow cinema, you should venture into the original Zone with Stalker.

Beast had me guessing all the way through about what had really happened and how I felt about it. It’s the story of a young woman, an outsider in her own life and family, who meets a young man with whom she has an immediate and intense attraction. Unfortunately… he’s strongly suspected by the townspeople of murdering several teen girls.

Moll, her yellow sundress a clear callback to Disney’s Belle, is pure feral female desire in a way we don’t see enough in film. Truly, both of them are both Beauty and the Beast. Until I saw Eighth Grade, Jessie Buckley was my best actress pick of SIFF2018, & honestly, it’s still a close call. Despite not catching the SIFF screening, Beast is one of my favorite films of the festival.

[SIFF Despatches: Issue Seven]

Queerama

A montage film telling the 20th century history of queer people and gay rights in Britain through film and newsreel footage in the BFI, Queerama surprised me by not being as white and male as I had expected. Though obviously the film deals with heavy themes, it also felt like a celebration, this thanks to the use of music, primarily by John Grant, and to the smart curation of clips that illustrated joy and desire.

If you’re in Seattle, it plays again at NWFF, June 13-17.

A Rough Draft

A mediocre white dude is Chosen, for vague reasons, to be the eternal customs official at a portal to parallel universes. Not how I would hire for a government position, but you do you. Some fun effects, particularly when he strays too far away from his portal and turns translucent, but I expect some aspects of the thin story have more depth if your Russian history is better. Bonus star for the matryoshka attack drones.

The Empty Hands

When Mari’s father dies, he leaves part of his dojo to her, but the controlling interest to a former student. He’ll sign it over, but first she must prove herself as a fighter. There’s an interesting story here about expectations and the pressure we put on ourselves, but the film told the wrong part, including ages on her love life, plus a completely extraneous pedophile ring subplot that served only to develop a male character.

My Big Gay Italian Wedding

I didn’t believe most of this movie about a gay couple returning home to announce both their queerness and their engagement, but also it didn’t really matter. It would be the perfect fluff recommendation except that there is a trans woman character who is treated as a joke for most of the film. She has some lovely moments towards the end, but when audience laughter is just because a trans person exists, that’s a problem.

[SIFF Despatches: Issue Six]

Blindspotting

This is the clearest contender from SIFF for my end-of-year favorites. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s easy chemistry defines the stakes in this story of a man just three days from being off parole and the old friend who is putting his success at risk. It’s a story about friendship, gentrification, race and class, and how hard we must work to change our perspectives. The tension cranks up organically, but it’s also sharp and hilarious.

Disobedience

This worked better for me than for others, partly due to the depth I brought from the novel. A common criticism is the focus on Nivola’s character of Dovid; however, it would have benefitted from more, reflecting the deep roots the three had in the book, a strong, clear unit from childhood. Rachel McAdams was excellent, everything simmering under the surface, but she still felt miscast. Powerful for being a story about truths still undertold.

The King

There’s a point in this documentary about the rise and fall of Elvis and the USA where I realized they were (essentially) never going to interview women. Ethan Hawke has as much screen time as all the women combined. There are flashes of insight (especially with the inclusion of voices like Chuck D) but it attempts to do two or three things (it was re-edited after the 2016 Presidential election) and doesn’t do them well.

Tyrel

The goal of this film seems to be: set the (presumably white) audience with the expectation that something terrible is going to happen to Tyler, not actually do it, and then have the audience sit with their disappointment that they didn’t get to see that violence happen.

What actually happened is that I grew increasingly anxious watching a drunken frat party. There’s a difference between wanting something bad to happen and worrying that it will.