[What Did Jaci Think? Early April]

First off, I got good and mad and wrote a standalone on sports doc In Search of Greatness. (I don’t know where all those sports feelings came from either.)

Onward! Wonder Woman was not the best Wonder Woman movie that came out in 2017 (that honor obviously goes to Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, which you should absolutely check out) but Captain Marvel is the best Captain Marvel movie of 2019. Shazam! tries its best, though. It’s goofy & kind of adorable, and the final showdown is pretty great, but the film is weighed down by Mark Strong’s dour villain. Also, it leans into the Big comparison, which is apt, but it suffers by it too, as Zachary Levi is no Tom Hanks. (He’s also no Marsai Martin, who had me fully believing she was a tiny, angry Regina Hall in Little.)

An acquaintance hailed me from across the lobby at work to ask if I liked High Life, which is basically an impossible question to answer. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie that you like or don’t like. It’s sad and beautiful, strange and horrifying, and basically nothing that happens in it is consensual. I’m glad I saw it, how about that.

As for at home viewing, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended, and it was perfect. The whole series is on Netflix now, if you want to see the finale I always wanted but never thought I would get. What a journey. PS Donna Lynne Champlin is my queen.

I also watched a less-than-legal copy of Jean of the Joneses, a film I recommend seeking out legally if you’re in Canada, otherwise good luck I guess. It’s a woman-centered family dramedy with a side of romance, and that romance is with Mamoudou Athie who should be in SO MANY MORE ROMCOMS. Get on that, world.

Finally, two rewatches: Killing Eve (which is the best thing on television that I watch anyway, ps the second season is also terrific so far) & Infinity War (which was a fucking slog and I plan on never watching it again.)

[In Search of Greatness]

Sports documentary In Search of Greatness has an interesting idea at the heart of it, namely the role that creativity has in sports excellence, how that creativity can be found and nourished, and how early specialization and over-structuring might harm the progress of young athletes.

It focuses on three athletes, all from team sports: Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky, & Pelé. They have a lot in common as to how they approach their particular games and thoughts on what helped them overcome perceived weaknesses. It can objectively fascinating to hear people who are or were the best at what they do talk about who they are, what they love, and how they got there. But of course the other thing they have in common? They are all men.

Unsurprisingly, the film suffers from this purely male perspective. I read later that the filmmakers had hoped to include Serena Williams but could not thanks to scheduling difficulties. That fact does not impress me when the five on-camera interviews they do include – the three athletes plus two commentators – are all men, and when the off-camera interviewer refers to great athletes in general with masculine collective nouns, like “guys” or “fellas”. Serena Williams is one of if not the greatest athlete of all time, and that the filmmakers could not think of a single other woman to include speaks volumes.

This skewed perspective can’t be undone by a handful of archival clips, most notably of the Williams sisters, especially when the most prominent interview subject is neither Serena nor Venus but their father. Honestly, I would have preferred a documentary that pretended women in sports did not exist rather than one that threw in this  & two clips of gymnasts and called it good.

In fact, even this token inclusion of gymnasts (in a section of the film criticizing – I believe fairly – parents who turn what should be play into a job for their children) shades the argument a bit. It made me wonder what a film would look like that included sports which are judged both on athleticism and on style, such as gymnastics, diving, figure skating, or snowboarding.

The film wraps with an almost-lament, about the athletes we’re not seeing due to lack of access to opportunity, also around the very strange idea that there is an upper limit to be found in sports, the maximum achievement by man (of course men, only men, always men) where once reached we’ll no longer be interested as athletes or as an audience. The first point made me want to scream in frustration given the lack of opportunity within this very film, and the second point was frankly absurd.

It’s such a limited view of sports to assume the full appeal in participating or observing is to reach some sort of objective pinnacle of achievement: the highest point game, the fastest run, the longest jump. This is the exact attitude that devalues women’s sports. But there’s more to sports than numbers, more to the greatest than stats, more to the geniuses than this film could have imagined.

There’s the game.

[What Did Jaci Think? Late March]

First off, I recently took the opportunity to participate in Directed by Women’s year-long communal blogging initiative, and I encourage all of you to participate by writing your own reflection, 365 words or less, on a film (or short! Or episode of television!) directed by a woman in the 21st century which you deem to be crucial. You can message me with any questions about the process; if my imposter syndrome can make it through, anyone’s can. I want to read your work!

I wrote about Rama Burshtein’s crucial romcom The Wedding Plan. I love this movie, as everyone should.

Onward! More Than Blue, a remake of a Korean film I have not seen, is an honestly absurd story about two friends who are secretly in love with each other. When K learns that, like his deceased father, he has cancer, he decides to keep it a secret and get Cream married off to a nice guy so she’ll be taken care of when he’s gone. Look, I’m not recommending that anyone see this, but I will freely admit that it features gorgeous people crying a lot while wearing beautiful sweaters, and the night I saw it that was exactly what I needed.

Pulling up the IMDb page for The Crossing, I was astonished to see it was the first feature from writer/director Bai Xue. I hope this is the beginning of a long career. The Crossing is the story of a teen girl who lives in Shenzhen and goes to school in Hong Kong. There are a number of crossings at work in the film: from child to adulthood, daily back and forth through customs, and from a side hustle in phone cases and screen protector application to smuggling phones from Hong Kong to the mainland. It’s a strong debut, a woman-focused film with elements of noir, and a frankly terrifying scene when she needs to get a broken screen replaced. I can’t wait to see what Bai Xue does next.

I’ve talked a lot about Us in the real world, so here I’ll just highlight a few things: 1) nominate Lupita you cowards 2) also please create an award for choreographer/movement consultant Madeline Hollander 3) there are a lot of ideas here and seeing it a second time pays off, seeing how everything ties together 4) I will read every piece everyone writes about this movie forever.

French near-future disaster movie A Breath Away provides an unexpected argument in favor of upzoning. After an earthquake, Paris is filled with a heavy, poison gas. If you’re on the top floor, you will survive (for now, at least). The story centers on a family, separated parents who are still very close, caring for their teen daughter who has a respiratory disorder which requires her to live in a bubble. They make some bad decisions, or so it seems to me, a sworn victim living outside of the movie, but it was fascinating as non-Hollywood genre films often are.

It’s very French in terms of how characters relate to weapons, and there are a few scenes where you can imagine how different an American film handling the same premise might be. This film keeps the story intimate in both character and location. Bonus: it features Romain Duris in full-on hot dad mode.

Giant Little Ones is a small Canadian film about a boy who has an undefined sexual encounter with his best friend on his seventeenth birthday, and then tries to figure out what (if anything) it means. His father is played by Kyle MacLachlan, an absent parent who doesn’t want to be, and who’s later-in-life coming out adds another wrinkle to this complex story about sexuality. It’s also complex on gender – our lead has a close friend who is AFAB, but MOC and maybe trans. While some folks will probably be frustrated by the lack of firm conclusions on either point, I appreciated a more fluid story. A lot of people don’t have answers to those questions by seventeen. When I was seventeen, I didn’t even know there were questions! Anyway. Also, Kyle MacLachlan made me cry, damn him. He has a lovely scene reminiscent of Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech at the end of Call Me By Your Name, though of course MacLachlan’s character made a different choice.

I didn’t know I was seeing Transit until it happened, and my regret about that is I didn’t have a chance to rewatch Barbara & Phoenix ahead of time. Transit is the end of that loose trilogy, also a WWII story, but set loosely, eerily, fittingly, in present day Europe. Even the tech – or lack thereof – is unsettling; there are surveillance cameras, for example, but no cell phones. Georg is trying to get out of the country with the assistance of two dead men, and as we learn eventually, he’s not even telling his own story. It’s haunting.

For home viewing, obviously Shrill, which I’m delighted to report has been renewed, thank you Hulu.

Also, I tried Operator, which has been in my Netflix queue for ages. I added it for Martin Starr, but it turned out to be a movie about how he didn’t deserve to be married to Mae Whitman, and also where Cameron Esposito scared the shit out of him (this part was deserved). Opening the IMDb page now I’m actually annoyed all over again by the movie, this time by the framing: “Joe, a programmer and obsessive self-quantifier, and Emily, a budding comedy performer, are happily married until they decide to use one another in their work.” No. They’re in a codependent relationship until he asks her to provide the voice for an automated phone system, at which point he decides he prefers interacting with the AI of his wife rather than with his actual wife, and she uses improv to process this bullshit. Whitman was really great in it (and Esposito was a treat!), but Starr’s character needed a lot of therapy and less sympathy from the film.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early March]

First off, for International Women’s Day I participated in a women-in-film dinner party with Screen Queens. Find out why I want to have dinner with Alice Wu here.

Also, the month started off with the 10th annual Nordic Lights Film Festival, & I tackled some of those titles here.

Onward!

The Legend of the Demon Cat was about three different movies in one, but it was gorgeous and it featured a lengthy flashback with Hiroshi Abe doing a lot of brooding, which was an unlooked-for treat.

My review of Captain Marvel varied depending on who I was talking to. For straight people: “For a Marvel film, it’s a solid B. Better than Wonder Woman, because she wasn’t motivated by a man.” For queer people: “It was so gay. SO GAY.” My main issue with it is that “Just a Girl” was a bad call for scoring a fight. Get some Liz Phair in there for fuck’s sake. Also, I genuinely wonder if all the MRA-types who are pissed about it being *~political~* insofar that it centers women even noticed that it was political insofar as it centered refugees. WAIT one more thing. De-aged Sam Jackson was fine with me except when he ran, and then it was serious TFA Harrison Ford vibes. Lucky for Fury, there are better building standards in the MCU.

In between two sold-out opening weekend shows of Captain Marvel, we spent all day at the Egyptian for the SciFi Fantasy Short Film Festival, always a treat. My faves this year were 10 Minute Time Machine (for its humor, its humanity, and its perfect ending), Who’s Who in Mycology (for its gorgeous, clever design), Brian & Charles (for its deeply awkward friendship and home-grown robot), Final Offer (for its navigation of bureaucracy), and The Restrictor (for its Nordic as fuck premise). Pro tip to everyone submitting to SFFSFF: I never want to see the first episode of your webseries or your pitch to make a feature. I just want to see a self-contained short. Thank you.

I didn’t entirely buy the answer to the mystery in Everybody Knows, but it’s such a great cast & such a lived-in setting, that it almost didn’t matter. Everybody does know everything about everyone all the way back, and the undercurrent of what they are and are not talking about was palpable. Plus it’s always a treat to see Ricardo Darin on the big screen.

Vietnamese martial arts film Furie features a straightforward Taken-style plot (apparently, though I’ve never seen Taken), but with terrific action scenes and, to my delight, *lady* gang bosses. Hai Phuong has left the gang life behind and is scraping together a living in the country as a debt collector – never the most popular person in a community – but when her young daughter is kidnapped she fights her way to and through Saigon to save her. It was extremely my jam.

Unlike First Man, where I wished I had seen it on a smaller screen, Apollo 11 demands the largest screen you can find. Created from original footage of the Apollo 11 mission, including 65mm, it’s just gorgeous. Like They Shall Not Grow Old, it becomes more immediate by sticking to the past, by using only original footage and news coverage and eschewing talking heads. It honors the work of everyone who contributed to the mission, sometimes through split screens tracking multiple teams at work in a given moment. It is obvious in retrospect, but I had never thought of the astronauts also as filmmakers. Apollo 11 is a time machine in the best way.

Captive State, I’m sorry to report, was boring, which is kinda bullshit for a movie that opens with an alien invasion. I saw it because I figured you can’t go wrong with John Goodman and aliens, and because I had an A-List slot free, but I almost walked out twice and really, I should have done it. The aforementioned invasion starts us off, we get some background details via emails/message boards under the credits, and then we’re about a decade post-invasion, the aliens have taken over, and another uprising is on the horizon.

It’s frustrating because there are so many hints of interesting worldbuilding – the semi-organic tracking system, the grimy tech of the near-future setting, the idea of the aliens as legislators rather than explicitly dictators – but it just doesn’t work. We don’t see enough of the aliens (though I dug their character design), we don’t get to know any of the characters outside of their role as cogs either for or against the machine, and it flat-out wastes Goodman, Vera Farmiga (a scene related to her is the second time I almost walked out), and even KiKi Layne (I was so excited to see her, and then she had one scene and nothing to do in it!). Disappointing.

Not disappointing, however, was Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, as long as you go in with expectations of cheese. It’s a teen Hallmark mystery, by which I mean it’s very white middle class, it fetishizes small-town living, and it’s overall pretty goofy, but it’s also damn fun and centers friendships between the girls. Also important: this Nancy is the soft butch detective of all our childhood dreams. She’s introduced while skateboarding! She’s often in flannel, plus there’s one scene where she’s in disguise as a plumber and another where she wears her dad’s suit coat! And at the end she talks about how she’s excited to have a break from detecting to talk about Instagram, nail polish, and boys, and everyone laughs because obviously she is not interested in any of those things. Bless.

I haven’t read a Nancy Drew book in twenty years (at least), so I have no interest in attempting to critique it as an adaptation, but as a teen girl centered mystery? Yes, this is my jam. Bring on Nancy Drew and the Mystery at the Lilac Inn, thank you very much.

[Nordic Lights Film Festival 2019]

In its tenth year, the Nordic Lights Film Festival made the jump from the Film Center to Uptown 2, a welcome change! It meant moving the festival off of MLK weekend to a post-award season date, but it also meant not turning anyone away, and, most thrilling to me, *leg room*. I’ve enjoyed seeing this festival grow, and I hope it will start drawing in some younger attendees as well.

The opening night feature, Woman at War, was the best of the series, and I’m glad to see it’s getting a regular run. It’s an Icelandic film about Halla, an eco warrior fighting against an aluminum smelting plant in her community. It opens with a great action sequence where she takes down the power source with an arrow and a cable, then flees the law with the assistance of a sheep farmer who may or may not be her cousin.

Though it deals with serious issues, it takes the tone of a fairy tale. Halla sees herself as a hero, and so she is, even at one point cueing her own score. All music turns out to be diegetic, causing a lighthearted moment right away when the action score heightens… and Halla runs past the band, sitting in the countryside, playing as they watch her go. They and a trio of Ukrainian folk singers both underscore and undercut her self-importance.

Halla’s heroism is also called into question by Juan Camillo Roman Estrada’s “foreign national”, a character who is repeatedly detained under suspicion of everything Halla’s done. I think the film intends this as a criticism of her lack of awareness of the unintended consequences of her actions, but it veered too close to being played for laughs for me to be fully comfortable with it.

In the end, though, it’s a clever, moving, beautifully shot film that features a 50 year old woman as a complicated action hero (and also as her own twin sister). We are blessed.

Wonderland was remarkably un-Christmas-y for all it was set at Christmas. Two friends – one of whom’s marriage may or may not be ending – spend the holiday on a farm, which is run by a young family presenting a Christmas experience as a way to earn more money. It’s messy, ultimately safe, but not too tidy, basically a rougher, Nordic Nancy Meyers movie.

I spent most of the runtime of Handle with Care desperately hoping that someone would get this guy into therapy. It’s a Norwegian film about a couple who adopts a young boy from Columbia, and when she dies in an accident, neither father nor son handle it well. But, you know, I’m Norwegian. I get it. Repress repress repress!

It stars Kristoffer Joner of The Wave, who reminds me of a leaner, Norwegian Norman Reedus. Kristoffer Bech, Cutest Child Alive, plays his son Daniel, and since we only see them after the death of the wife & mother it’s hard to tell if the strained connection (and often outright rejection) between them is a mourning issue (see above re therapy) or indications they had never really bonded. Basically, it’s very stressful and everyone should be in therapy, thank you.

East of Sweden should have been my jam, but it was deeply frustrating because the majority of the plot hung on two men lying constantly to a woman about what happened to the father of her child. While I get that, sure, one might not want to confess to either committing or witnessing accidental manslaughter while also dealing drugs or trying to get out of one country and into another without papers for either, but then! Maybe do not get involved with the dead guy’s girlfriend! Just don’t do it.