[What Did Jaci Think? Late October]

The Hate U Give does exactly what it set out to do, which is show an empathetic, clear-eyed story of a teen girl finding her voice in the wake of an officer-involved shooting, that is, the murder of her friend during an unnecessary police stop. It’s a film that will be underseen by the people who most need to see it, and that’s unfortunate. Also, Amandla Stenberg is a star, her smile is pure sunshine, and I was ready for a YA romcom starring her yesterday. Get on that, world.

It’s interesting to look back on Mapplethorpe – a film that took a lot of (perhaps not entirely deserved) flak for how it portrayed the sex life of its subject – after Bohemian Rhapsody. Mapplethorpe is porn in comparison, tame in reality. Better than expected, but that’s almost entirely thanks to Matt Smith’s excellent performance.

Hot Summer, an East German teen musical, was most accurately described by my friend as a 90 minute Mentos commercial. It was also a barrage of compulsory heterosexuality, focused as it was on two groups of vacationing youths – 11 girls and 10 boys – on the Baltic Sea. (The lead girl with the pixie cut doesn’t know it yet, but she’s definitely gay.)

First Man is a little too effective in bringing home the utter irrationality of going into space. I’m not generally sensitive to this sort of thing, but I had to look away during the shaky-shaky flashy-flashy bits, & I suggest folks see it on a smaller screen. It’s clear on the irrationality, but also the lure and thrill of the danger and perspective of space travel. But to be perfectly honest, there were multiple scenes in this movie that just made me tired because – and obviously I get that this was historically accurate – there were just so goddamn many men.

And speaking of being tired of men! While the performances were solid in Beautiful Boy – I am always down for sad, quiet Steve Carell – I couldn’t help but think about all of the families struggling with addiction without the resources and the multiple chances seen here. They don’t get two book deals and a feature. Also, what a waste of both Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan. That should be a crime.

I’ve only seen original Halloween (and possibly the third?) so I wasn’t bothered by whatever canonical sins people think Halloween committed. I dug it, a balanced mix of old school slasher and ladies working to overcome family trauma. Satisfying ending (and man, that original score is still the best.)

Aside from a rewatch of A Simple Favor (still so good, still so gay) my highlights were mostly at home: lady plumber romcom Cluny Brown (still on FilmStruck for a minute, so get to it) and original recipe Suspiria (on Hoopla, of all places).

[Bohemian Rhapsody]

I didn’t want to write about Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m a Queen fan in same the way that basically everyone on the planet is a Queen fan, so I’m not overly invested. I am not the sort of person to get hung up on timelines being changed to create a narrative arc. I’m also not a musician, though the way it portrayed the actual making of music seemed pretty ridiculous. And I thought it was pretty smart of Singer/Fletcher/whoever to end it with a recreation of the Live Aid set, because obviously that’s a crowd pleaser. But I found myself yelling “and ALSO” alone in my apartment the whole weekend after I saw it, so here we are.

As I put it on Twitter, my primary problem – and the reason that upon reflection the film made me angry and not just dismissive – is that it could not see Mercury’s queerness as anything but tragic. I’d seen Making Montgomery Clift a few weeks earlier, which certainly helped put at top of mind how narratives about bisexual men can be warped to fit a preconceived idea of a tortured life, but I think it would have been a problem for me either way. It’s not just that it was shown as tragic. It’s also that queerness was portrayed as dangerous and sad, and as something that, in a lot of ways, Mercury was led into. It’s a gross, old stereotype, & frankly disappointing.

Before we get into that, though, credit where it’s due. There were a few ideas I liked a lot – primarily the openness to true and varied gender expression as shown through the beginning of his relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton), also the oft-referenced idea of a chosen family of freaks and outcasts. Both of those elements made me hopeful (and both elements would have worked beautifully with the flawed, complex guy Mercury was). Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

The most frustrating thing throughout the film is the lack of agency Mercury is allowed regarding his sexuality. It’s a marked contrast to the decisiveness in which he moves through the rest of his life, and what’s even more infuriating is that so often the same basic event could have been told in an empowering, interesting way. Instead, it’s relentlessly negative and disempowering.

First, the truck stop scene. It’s like the end of The Force Awakens, cutting back and forth between Mercury and a trucker who eyed him up, everyone staring, no one making a decision. The film cuts to the trucker four times, and after the bathroom door closes behind him, to Mercury three more times as he stands outside. The whole scene is intercut with a performance of “Fat Bottomed Girls”. Oh won’t you take me home tonight indeed. But does anyone take anyone home? Or anywhere? The film doesn’t say. And look, I don’t need to see anything R rated. But I’d like to see a decision.

Second, the first time a man kisses him, it’s non-consensual. Continue reading “[Bohemian Rhapsody]”

[What Did Jaci Think? Early October]

First off, a few more days of French Cinema Now. There’s a lot in these festivals that I excuse because, you know, it’s French, but I had a hard time with 2 Hours from Paris. It’s a film about a young mother traveling with her 15 year old daughter to her hometown to steal hairs from the heads of various men to discover who the daughter’s father is. It’s largely a sweet, goofy road trip movie, and I appreciated the general lack of judgement around the mother’s sexuality, but I could not get over the fact that so many significantly older men had had sex with a teenager & we were all supposed to be cool with it. Sorry, France, I’m not cool with it.

Anyway, the most interesting of that batch were Sofia (about a girl in Casablanca with pregnancy denial, and how the women in her family work together to find the least worst solution) & A Season in France (about a refugee family, which I found interesting all the way until it centered the white woman at the end.)

The first half of A Star Is Born worked better than the second, and Lady Gaga was terrific, but as much as I wanted to love the film, I decidedly did not. I did not love how she was the only woman (and how that did not feel like a choice), I did not love how a Sam Elliott impression was subbed in for characterization (and then was lampshaded!), and I did not love how the second half of the film was a series of scenes with no emotional arc connecting them. Before it came out I plowed through three of the four original films, and if you have FilmStruck, you have about five more minutes in which to watch George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood. It predates the first SIB by a few years, and it is great.

Oh, Venom. Deeply weird about gender, deeply creepy about relationships, but on the other hand you have Tom Hardy screaming like a little girl, and I am here for that and also for Riz Ahmed doing his best Elon Musk. Basically, it’s terrible – and also ugly, with all the digital artifacts – but once the symbiote shows up, it is also ridiculously entertaining. So there you go. (I never need to see Tom Hardy eat chicken in extreme closeup ever again.)

The best stuff I saw this go-round was definitely all on the documentary front: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (one of the best documentaries of the year), Kusama: Infinity (portrait of a genius), & Making Montgomery Clift (a reclaiming of joy and agency in the life of a queer icon, a story that the team behind Bohemian Rhapsody should have watched – more on that later).

[What Did Jaci Think? Late September]

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is not good. Cate Blanchett does her best – and I cannot wait to see folks cosplay Mrs Zimmerman, such fun! – but she can’t overcome the lackluster script & the tendency of Jack Black to suck all of the air out of a room. It’s also tonally all over the place, veering from bathroom humor surrounding a topiary to nightmare visuals (the automatons! the baby!) to poor handling of serious material (references to the Holocaust, also a student with leg braces from polio, both of which got weird audience reactions at my screening). At least we’ll always have the book.

I spent most of Lizzie wishing that it had been directed by someone else, ideally a woman, maybe Sarah Polley or Maggie Betts? But I had gone in with managed expectations, and Kristen Stewart in particular was amazing. Characters outside of Lizzie & Bridget didn’t feel like real people (despite strong casting), and some were introduced oddly (like Kim Dickens as Lizzie’s sister, who just sort of appeared out of nowhere). It felt like a first draft script insofar as the world outside of Lizzie & Bridget went, but the details of their developing relationship were nicely done and made the film worth my time.

Colette also suffered from being directed and written by men who chose to tell the least interesting part of her story. Dominic West is certainly gifted at playing the charming bastard, but by centering the film on her conflict with him, the story ends right when Colette’s life is getting interesting. I would have loved a film on her life after Willy, or at least anything with more depth about her life with Missy (Denise Gough who most recently destroyed me as Harper in the National Theatre production of Angels in America.) There was a whole miniseries worth of material in the pre-credits title cards. Sigh. Keira was great, obviously, and Andrea Flesch deserves all of the awards for costuming (even though we didn’t see Colette in menswear nearly enough), but basically, the best queer film of the fall continues to be A Simple Favor.

In at-home viewing, the biggest hit was easily Hockey Night, a Canadian TV movie starring Megan Follows as a girl who moves to a small town & joins the boys hockey team because a) she’s bored and b) there isn’t a girls team. My library has it to stream for free on Kanopy, and you should do it, because it was lovely.

SIFF’s annual French Cinema Now program fell half in this entry, half in Early October. My rule for this festival was to avoid as much as possible films centered on white dudes, which took the whole series down to a more manageable number. My favorites in the first half were When Margaux Meets Margaux, sort of a French We Go Way Back, and Chateau, a film set among the hustlers and beauty salon workers in the neighborhood around the Chateau d’Eau metro station. Good stuff, and I didn’t feel like I missed anything by skipping the white dudes. Pro tip from me to you!

[What Did Jaci Think? Early September]

Support the Girls is an incredibly kind film. It’s easy to dismiss conceptually, as it focuses on a day in the life of a manager of a knock-off Hooters-type sports bar. All of the labor in an establishment like that is dismissed by society, but the gift of the film is the generosity with which it honors her work and the work of her employees. Regina Hall delivers terrific performance as Lisa the manager, putting out fires on all levels, and providing firm but loving guidance to all the lives in her orbit. Loved it. (Also loved imagining the reaction Haley Lu Richardson’s Columbus character would have to her character here.)

The Little Stranger unexpectedly reminded me of Damsel, another film this summer where behavior generally coded as romantic is correctly recognized to be creepy. Damsel does this in the context of a Western, The Little Stranger as perhaps a ghost story. If you’re looking for traditional scares, you’ll be disappointed, but if you can appreciate Dohmnall Gleason’s skill at portraying nerdy entitlement, you’ll experience a timely film about a man destroying everything he views as lesser to himself in his attempt to claim what he thinks he deserves.

I almost walked out of The Bookshop about ten minutes in, when a third patronizing white man had given unasked-for advice to Emily Mortimer. I thought “I would rather be in concessions watching Black Panther with the sound off” and while I did not walk out, I’m pretty sure I made the wrong choice. I remember enjoying the novella when I read it a few years ago, but this film is grating, absurd, and unattractively filmed. Excellent knitwear, though.

I wanted to dig Destination Wedding a good deal more than I did, though I must admit I laughed a lot because I, like the characters, hate people. I do not, however, like transphobic jokes, of which there were several. It’s 2018. Catch up. (Things I did like: the play-like structure where only Reeves & Ryder have lines, the incredibly awkward sex scene, Winona Ryder in flannel jammies.)

The Wife was also deeply irritating. While yes, of course, Glenn Close is excellent in it, the story itself does not work because the attempt to establish the start of her relationship with her husband is completely unbelievable. Maybe – MAYBE – it would have worked with a charismatic actor, but Harry Lloyd was not up to the task of overcoming the series of red flags around their meeting and grooming, I mean, courtship.

A Simple Favor washed all of this irritation away with an extremely strong martini. It’s the queerest film I’ve seen this fall (and keep in mind, late September included both Lizzie and Colette, so more on those soon). I’m a fan of Paul Feig’s work anyway, but Feig updating noir? With Blake Lively in menswear? And Anna Kendrick as a barely-keeping-it-together mommy vlogger? And Henry Golding in his second throwback picture in two months? And the delicious French pop soundtrack? I can’t wait to see it again.

[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.