Welcome to my 2018 experiment, What Did Jaci Think?, a biweekly series of quick film reactions, mostly because Twitter is a terrific distribution medium but terrible for retrieval.
The first half of January was dominated by the 9th annual Nordic Lights Film Festival, where I saw 13 of the 14 programmed films. Of particular note there: The Other Side of Hope, Borg vs McEnroe, and a strong shorts package. (The 14th film was The Square, a pretty divisive picture which I saw in the fall and dug a lot, though it’s not as tight as Östlund’s previous work, Force Majeure.)
The Other Side of Hope is allegedly the final film from director Aki Kaurismäki, but I hope that’s not true. Hope is a refugee story, delicately funny and sad, and despite the current subject matter, it feels like a film that’s been recently discovered, not recently made. It appears to be coming to the Criterion Collection this year, so look out for it there.
Borg vs McEnroe is built around their first meeting at Wimbledon. I find non-US sports pictures refreshing, lacking the rah-rah patriotism ours have (apparently Nordic countries save their rah-rah patriotism for birthdays). A coworker asked if it was uplifting and I was like, “It’s Swedish.” So, not entirely uplifting, but it is satisfying.
The whole shorts package was solid, but my particular favorites were “Being Human” (in which a self-proclaimed nice liberal white lady has a meltdown when she isn’t afforded the privileges she thinks she deserves) and “Small Talk” (in which a Norwegian family is both ill-equipped and disinterested in discussing anything unpleasant, choosing instead to focus on things like window treatments, having an effect both excruciating and hilarious.)
NLFF also included Arctic Superstar, a meandering documentary on a Samí rapper Nils Rune Utsi, less interesting than other Samí films NLFF has programmed, though I do love the idea of promoting and playing with a dying language through rap. I did have some concerns that I’m having trouble articulating relating to the appropriation of blackness – particularly by the lead’s manager. (SlinCraze himself, as you can guess from the name, draws more inspiration from Eminem.) It’s a thorny issue because of course the Samí, like indigenous populations around the world, have experienced and still experience racism, oppression, and outright destruction of culture, but… I am not sure that it’s the same experience as that of black people in America. This is very throughly not my lane, however, so I leave it to others to unpack.
Next up, movies in normal theaters! First of the year was Molly’s Game, which was pretty frustrating, but in ways one would expect of Sorkin. Though the film is centered on Chastain’s Molly Bloom, she’s in a lot of ways a void. Men spend a lot of time explaining her to herself and others, and of course it’s effective because it’s, you know, mostly Idris Elba plus Sorkinese and there’s no inoculation for that. (The less said about Kevin Costner as her father, the better. I’m trying to expunge from my memory the scene where he explains Molly to Molly.) Even though she narrates her story in voice over, it doesn’t deepen her character. If anything, it highlights how in the end, we know so little about her.
To tell the truth, I kind of never got over an early jab Elba’s Jaffey gets in, calling Bloom “a Cinemax version of [herself]”, which is meant to be, I don’t know, some kind of slut shaming (absurd for the expected reasons but also because we have zero knowledge her personal life at any point in the story) but which is even more annoying because the camera is always seeing her as exploitatively sexy and not (as she intends and feels, costuming herself for her work) as *powerful*. Also, Chastain is at least ten times sexier as athlete!Bloom than as card-game-running!Bloom I’ll fight you.
I don’t think The Post will stay with me for long — even as it was happening I often wished I was watching a better newspaper picture, like Zodiac or Spotlight — but when it worked, it worked enough to make me tear up. Not for reasons of journalism — though the film leans into its perceived timeliness — but for reasons of feminism, for watching Streep’s Kay Graham fight not only for the truth but for her role among a bunch of men who assume they could do her job and better.
Moments that I really loved included: Graham fiddling with her keys while she visits McNamara, Hanks’ Bradlee automatically helping his wife (Sarah Paulson) spread out a sheet to protect the floor in her workroom while they converse, Graham descending the stairs at the Supreme Court through a crowd of women, and Carrie Coon’s Meg Greenfield delivering the Court’s decision to the newsroom. But as a whole, it’s fading quickly.
My favorite of the first half of January is Phantom Thread. No surprise, as I’m a PTA fan from way back, but I had managed to largely avoid advertising for this one and thus had very little idea what I was getting into. And what I was getting into was *delicious*. It’s beautiful and twisted and very dryly funny, and I desperately hope to see it on 70mm.
I didn’t have time for much home viewing, but the highlight of what I did manage was Heaven Can Wait (1978) written by Elaine May and Warren Beatty, directed by and starring Beatty as a football player who dies before his time and engages in some wheeling and dealing to stay on earth and make it to the Superbowl. Really.
Other home viewing faves were Zou Zou (my first Josephine Baker movie!) and Dark Journey (a spy movie starring Vivien Leigh, smuggling secrets in dresses!)
Whew! See you in two weeks, where this will be much shorter as there will be no film festivals in it!