[American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace]

The second season of American Crime Story didn’t catch on quite the same way the OJ Simpson one did, which is too bad but also unsurprising. Part of the success of season one stemmed from its effectiveness in revealing new layers to a story we thought we knew extremely well, whereas season two views Versace himself as only the tip of the iceberg of the lives which were destroyed by Cunanan.

(I watched the bulk of the season over a few days, which was exhausting. Don’t be like me, kids.)

The season opens with the murder of Versace and the start of the manhunt, but for the bulk of the series, each episode takes us a step further back in time. We spend some time with Versace, but most of the time with Cunanan.

More importantly, we spend full episodes with the men he killed whose names should have been bigger news, and it increases our sense of dread every time as we know how their lives will end. We get to know them, to care about them, to see how they were vulnerable – through everything from their shame to their generosity – to his manipulation.

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[Outside In]

Already one of my favorites of the year, Outside In is a beautiful film about a man returning home after serving 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and his relationships with those who were or were not there for him when he was behind bars.

My favorite shot comes right at the start, as Chris (Jay Duplass, co-writer) looks around the room of people who have gathered to welcome him home. The camera finds Edie Falco’s Carol holding herself back, hiding behind the family and friends she thinks have more right to him. As she’s pulled neatly into focus, you can see all the joy and fear pouring out of her. She’s my best actress so far this year, and this performance will be hard to top.

Of course Edie Falco is always a joy to watch, but also she’s been given a gift in this role, the bones of which men get all the time: an arc where through the love of a younger person she discovers what she wants and takes control of her life. Big beautiful life changes happen all the time in the world for older women, but so rarely on film.

Also rare on film: the world of Outside In. Granite Falls isn’t where I grew up, but it feels close. It’s north of Seattle, whereas I grew up in South King, & the families are a little poorer, but not much. Which is to say that I know that world, and I don’t see it portrayed often, that world with the peeling linoleum, the bathroom constantly under construction, everything green and beautiful outside, but also there’s a moss-covered truck canopy laying in the yard. It’s lived-in in a distinctly Pacific Northwest way.

I felt a particular connection to the film because I’m only a year or two older than Chris, and his relationship to technology rang true in a way precise to that time. We’re in the Oregon Trail Generation; an age group that grew up analog but was young enough to adapt to digital quickly. But Chris was 18 when he went to prison, so he can type up a resume but is fuzzy on how to print, he’s baffled by texting culture, and among the possessions his brother saves for him is a case of cassettes, with the tapes Saran-wrapped into place. It’s a perfect detail – I remember cases like that mounted on the walls of my cousin’s bedroom – and it brought home to me in a personal, concrete way the number of lives I’ve lived in that 20 years.

Outside In checks these surprising personal boxes, but is also an engaging, moving, emotional film about finding grace, scored by the great Andrew Bird.

One note on race: given the statistics on incarceration, I have to mention that this is the story of guy easy for white liberal art-house audiences to root for. Jay Duplass is charming and his character is innocent. The film tells a story of a guy with privileges – Chris is a white man with an (impoverished, imperfect, but existent) support network – and he’s still set up to fail when he leaves the system. He struggles to find work, and his parole officer is always hovering in the back of his mind.

That’s a story worth telling, but we need to be clear it’s far from the only story.

[A Quiet Place]

The story of a family surviving in a world under attack by creatures who hunt by sound, A Quiet Place pulls the viewer in immediately not for the lack of sound, but the use of it. I’ve seen it described as a silent film, which is wildly inaccurate given the frequent use of POV sound. We’re set up for this immediately as we transition from a hearing character to a deaf one, so we’re ready when we find ourselves hearing the world as the creature does.

I’m always going to be in favor of the theatrical experience – you don’t see 250-odd movies in the cinema a year if you don’t think that matters – but some films work there in a way they’re never going to work at home. Sometimes it’s just that you need to see it as big as possible. Sometimes you need to be forced to focus, to be in a space where your attention is drawn into the film when it wanders, not drawn into your phone. And sometimes you need to be with a bunch of other people who are also afraid to eat their popcorn lest they make a noise and endanger the characters on screen.

That’s a particular kind of spellbinding experience, and in addition to the sound, it’s helped along by the clear photography. You can easily imagine a less-effective shaky-can version, but Krasinski ensures we always know what we’re looking at and where we are geographically with clean framing and movement.

Aside from that that, A Quiet Place is notable for Millicent Simmonds’ character (if names were given in the film, I missed them). First, she’s a deaf actress playing a deaf character, which should not still be notable, and yet is. Also, her disability is key to the plot in a positive way. In any other movie the deaf character would have been forced to adapt to the hearing world, and her deafness would have made her a target, but in the world of A Quiet Place, the fact that her family adapted to *her* by learning ASL is what enables them to survive.

I also appreciated that though the parents hewed closely to traditional gender roles – and try to pass them on – it’s clear from the film that Millicent’s character is the one with the drive to learn how to protect and go into the dangerous world provide for the family, whereas her brother would be happier staying close to home. (The casting of John & Emily as the parents does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of how we perceive these likely-survivalist characters.)

There are plenty of plot holes – look, even I wondered how they were getting electricity – but I was too busy telling my knees to relax to notice most of the time, and the ending is perfect. You can get away with a lot when you have a perfect ending.

[Love, Simon]

To be honest with you all, I kind of rolled my eyes at the first trailer I saw for Love, Simon. Then I registered for two preview screenings & blew off both of them. But finally I took my tiny stone heart to see the first Thursday night screening, and Reader? It is adorbs.

Love, Simon is a romcom of the teen fantasy movie variety: the well-off white family with the house straight out of a magazine, the supportive parents, the cute friends, all that jazz, all very palatable. That’s the point; this is a gay movie that kids can see at the mall.

At! The mall! Not just at a queer film festival, not just at an art house in ten markets across the country, not just on Netflix, maybe eventually if they’re lucky, but at the mall! It doesn’t have death or violence or abuse; it’s not saddled with an R rating because the mere idea of two boys kissing gives the MPAA palpitations.

It’s just a fluffy teen movie you can see & then go get fries & milkshakes. A gay movie at the multiplex so if you have to you can tell your mom you’re seeing something else instead. It’s a sweet, funny, comfort food romcom, it was exactly what I needed this week, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have a movie like this as a teen.

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[Colossal & the abusive Nice Guy]


WHEW. I just had to say that out loud.

Professional (& largely male) reviewers will tell you it has twists they don’t want to spoil, and they might add that it’s gets dark (obviously, as our lead character is a blackout-level alcoholic, a thing you learn in literally the second scene), and maybe they’ll hint that it’s not the rom-com/kaiju romp the trailer apparently suggests.

This is all true, and also it’s true that it’s a movie about domestic violence, a fact that I was unprepared for and that left me super anxious some hours after the film had ended. (Related frustration: the fact that reviews frequently discussed Gloria as a manipulator, but never as a target for abuse. This is a natural result of the male-dominated world of film criticism.)

The summary that you all know is that Gloria (Anne Hathaway) comes home after one too many nights of binge drinking to find that her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) has packed her bags. Time for her to go. So she leaves the city, camps out in her abandoned family home, runs into a former classmate, now bar owner (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job & an immediate social circle of (obviously all dude) barflies.

It doesn’t take too long for the monster to appear, and refreshingly it also doesn’t take long for Gloria to figure out there’s a connection. And here’s where the abusive relationship comes in: a character discovers he has power. He enjoys this power. He wants to use it. He prevents her from leaving by threatening to do harm to others. He says it will be her fault if people are hurt. He hits her.

Like I said. This is a movie about domestic violence.

I spent most of Colossal wishing that Gloria had just one female friend. She’s surrounded by men – frankly smothered by men – so at the end of the film when she finally speaks with a woman I was incredibly relieved for her.

Now, of course there are reasons for her to be isolated, and I’d argue it’s an intentional failing of the Bechdel Test. We meet her as her boyfriend is breaking up with her, and once he’s left the apartment a carload of her so-called friends rush in, including several women. They all make themselves at home in the apartment, swirling behind and around her, but not interacting with her at all. These are not friends. These are people along for the ride as she crashes & burns.

Instead, she interacts with a series of Nice Guys, including particularly a character who sees her vulnerability and uses it. He’s a rom-com trope, the small town childhood friend, now all grown and ready to take care of you, sad rom-com heroine returning from the city.

But it’s not kindness to give an alcoholic a job at a bar. It’s not generosity to furnish her home when she doesn’t remember consenting (she excuses it as conversations from when she was drunk; I don’t believe the conversations ever happened.) It is not friendship to insist a person drink when they do not want to drink. And it is unsurprising when the friends of a Nice Guy do not stop any of these things from happening. This is how Nice Guys are enabled, when other Nice Guys sit around with their beers and do not call them out on their entitled, toxic shit.

A couple of other points:

Her ex-boyfriend also turns out to be his own variety of Nice Guy, the codependent wannabe savior Nice Guy. He’s the rom-com trope of White Knight, hoping to save you, but only so you can be trapped by him instead.

The film definitely felt long, which was a combination of my personal anxiety plus some repetitiveness, but I did adore the ending.

An element that going in I thought would be a larger issue for me is the fact that this is a white woman mindlessly causing destruction in Seoul. Obviously there are themes here that could have been better handled around the West’s lack of interest in consequences our actions have in the East, but it’s also true that Hathaway’s gut-wrenching performance makes clear that *any* death and damage at her hands is too much. (& as my kaiju-loving friend points out, a hallmark of those movies is wanton destruction of faceless civilians.) Could’ve been done better; was done better than I expected.