[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]”

[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.

Continue reading “[American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace]”

[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.

Continue reading “[Love, Simon]”

[Hostiles]

Note: I realized belatedly that this was its own thing, & pulled it out of What Did Jaci Think? Early February

I spent most of the over-long runtime of Hostiles thinking about why this story was being told in the first place, and even more so, why it was being told from this perspective. I think about this a lot, but this year I’m going to start talking about it more, so beware.

After a cold open of a brutal attack on a white pioneer family which leaves only the mother alive (the always-terrific Rosamund Pike), we’re introduced to Christian Bale’s Captain Blocker. He’s being charged with the task of escorting Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family home to Montana after seven years in prison for the crime of … I have no idea, actually, so I assume it’s for being Native American. Blocker doesn’t want the job, but he takes it, and he hates it, and he doesn’t open up exactly but he does sort of begin to understand that maybe he might be a little wrong but only a very little and…

I hate it. I don’t want another damned story about a racist white dude who gets to redeem himself and get the girl and (if timed correctly, which this wasn’t, thank god) the Oscar nomination. I would have much preferred even to have watched this exact story, but from the perspective of Chief Yellow Hawk. I’m over *~complex~* racist white guys. I want the Native actor to get the complex role for a change. I mean, just think about that story for a minute: you’re the chief, you and your family are stolen and taken far away from your home, then you’re locked up, unable to save them, for seven years? And then this too-old-for-this-shit jerk takes you home (only because you’re dying, btw) and treats you like you’re nothing and likely worse than nothing.

Surviving that with your humanity intact is much more interesting than inflicting it.

Also Hostiles wasted a terrific Native cast: Studi, of course, but also including Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, and Adam Beach. Wouldn’t you rather see a movie starring them? I definitely would.

The one thing I am grateful for, other than the cinematography and Rosamund Pike’s wrenching, hollowed-out grief, is the fact that though there is the inevitable sexual assault scene, we don’t see it. We see the threat and we see the women after, but we never see it happen.

Even here, though, Blocker continues to demonstrate his lack of regard for the Native women in his care. He is worried that Pike’s character might be unable to ride a horse the next day. He does not express any such concern for the Native women who were also assaulted.

It’s 2018. I don’t want to see the racist white guy movie anymore. I’m over it.

[2017 Film Wrap-Up]

Total: 275 (full list)
Revival: 70
SIFF: 80 (20-odd more than usual, thanks to the once-in-a-lifetime 3P)
Free: 104
…total cost: $619.50, or $2.25 a film

Wrap-ups for previous years live under the year-end tag, & if a film is linked here, it’s probably to the Instagram post I wrote on it for my #lastweekslove project.

Films of my heart: Call Me By Your Name, Columbus, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water.

And of course: BPM, Get Out, Colossal, The Wedding Plan, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Novitiate, Mudbound, A Ghost Story, Personal Shopper, The Big Sick, Menashe

More after the jump!  Continue reading “[2017 Film Wrap-Up]”

[On almost walking out of Detroit]

So. Detroit.

I almost walked out near the end of the hour-long torture scene because I knew there was almost an hour left of the film and I didn’t know how for how much longer it would be that brutal.

I regret not leaving. I regret watching it in the first place. I should have stayed in the lobby with my library book like I did when we showed Stonewall and also that movie where Seth Rogen plays a hot dog.

The largest portion of the movie is devoted to reveling in the time in the Algiers Motel – the beatings, the murders, the ongoing mental anguish – in a way that verges on pornographic. “Look at this; isn’t it terrible?” the movie says, and yes of course it is and it’s obviously powerfully constructed, but the movie doesn’t care to say anything else about it. Just “look at this thing in the past and be horrified.”

Samira Wiley has a cameo role as the desk clerk, and as the movie progressed I thought again about her character’s death on Orange is the New Black. Some of the same questions are raised by Detroit, “who is this story for?” being the primary one, and the answer once again being “white people who somehow don’t get it yet” and – spoiler – they’re not seeing this movie anyway.

Detroit is also like OITNB with its excessive humanizing of white men. It is very concerned with excusing white people from responsibility, particularly near the end where a survivor encounters a white cop who asks, “Who could do this to someone?”, as well as a scene where Poulter’s ringleader cop is specifically called out as racist. I did not for a second believe either of those interactions. In fact, I audibly groaned at the first one.

By arguing “Not All Cops”, the film excuses the inherent violence of a system of policing born from slavery that continues to murder black people consequence-free today.

Telling this story, especially tied as it is to the 50th anniversary of the incident, gives white audiences – the audience it was made for – a pass, allowing them to compartmentalize this story as the past. But it’s obviously not the past. There’s even a throwaway scene of a small girl being mistaken for a sniper & shot at. The film doesn’t care enough to tell us what happens to her, but children are still being shot in their homes and on their playgrounds and in their streets, so I still care.

This was all unfortunately more or less expected. So why did I see it? The cast, mostly. And thus as I sat there, I thought about all of the different stories about black lives we could be watching instead. This story, the story of black men murdered and white men freed is a story we see all the time, still. If you don’t get it, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know how to argue that white people should care except, ironically, through more stories. But the stories need to be the wide-ranging, complex stories mediocre white men get all the time, and not yet another story about the destruction of black bodies.

And finally, yes, these stories can still be told by white people. One of my favorite films of last year, The Fits, is a story about black girls directed by a white woman. It was a film that taught me things about gender, about growing up, about existing in a group, about a particular community of young black girls.

Detroit taught me nothing.

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]

There’s a scene (relatively) early in The Hobbit that involves a hedgehog named Sebastian. And that scene was where I lost all hope that maybe the film *wouldn’t* be a bloated, indulgent slog. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s crucial foreshadowing & Sebastian has a key role to play in, like, hour seventeen, but I am not sure I’ll be sticking around to see it.

I had been, like every other fankid, super excited about this movie. More Middle Earth! Hooray! I was even down with two movies. Why not. Everything these days has been broken into two movies whether it needs it or not. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows started it, and in some ways was very Tolkien-esque in that half of that book was just people walking around & camping. So, fine. I can dig it.

But then, after principal filming had long ended, came the announcement — just kidding! It’ll be three movies! Which, I’m sorry, but no. You’ve written an adaptation of a single children’s story. You split it into two films, theoretically with appropriate emotional arcs & character development & plot. And then, in the editing room, instead of taking out things that don’t serve those arcs & that story, you throw in everything and the kitchen sink & bam! Three movies.

At which point I started to worry. But the trailer was beautiful, and, like I said, I’m a fankid, so I was trying to withhold judgment. I was even letting the whole 48fps thing slide, even though that much conversation about the format rather than the story made me nervous.

There’s a lot of exciting film out right now, and to be honest, in the last few weeks, seeing The Hobbit started to feel like an obligation. But we got a group together, we laid in provisions, and we went. And then there was Sebastian the hedgehog. And then I gave up. It’s telling that when the movie ended, my viewing party immediately started listing complaints.

But first, in the interest of being positive, here’s what I liked:

* Martin Freeman is perfection as Bilbo. He’s fantastically Tookish, and brings much more to the character than he was given in the script. Also, I really want his patchwork robe. Make it so.

* It’s beautiful. I saw it in 2D digital. I’m not particularly interested in the 48fps. As it is, a lot of digital is too sharp for me, and that’s still in 24fps.

* The second song the dwarves sing is killer. It gave me false hope.

…that’s about it. On the other hand, there are all of these issues:

* Did we really need a twenty minute framing device? Is Elijah Wood that hard up for work? (It might not have been that long. But it felt like it had been a shockingly long time before the “Unexpected Journey” title card appeared.)

* I can’t tell the dwarves apart. I mean, they all look different, & obviously Thorin delivers (except when he’s talking about how much he hates Bilbo, wtf man). Also, there’s the one who was a vampire in Being Human, so I can pick him out, as well as the ginger one who I think was his boyfriend.

But still, of thirteen central characters I can confidently name only one. Most of them, I would not notice if they died. Maybe the round dwarf, because then they would stop making fat jokes, but that’s about it. And it’s not like there wasn’t time. The movie is practically three hours long. There are flashbacks & inclusions of extra characters & tales that don’t drive this arc. This is a story about people trying to get their home back! That is compelling, emotional business! Too bad none of that made it into the movie.

* There’s no banter, there’s no memorable dialogue, there’s no real tension because we know there are another six hours or so worth of movie coming, so no one will die yet, & it’s not like we know anything about them as individuals anyway.

* There are whole scenes that could have been removed without having any effect on the story.

* What is up with putting Galadriel on a lazy susan? Does she slowly rotate all the time, or is it just when she visits Rivendell?

* Not enough Lee Pace.

* This is a Tolkien thing but seriously. The fuckin’ eagles. Every time they show up you think: this thing could have been over hours ago, if they’d just give everyone a lift.

* And finally, IT’S SO DAMN LONG. I thought we were at the final battle scene, and there were at least two more after that. And it’s impossible to sit there and not think about the fact that there are two more movies. Ugh.

It’s been probably ten years since I read the book, and since I have a terrible memory I only remember four things that happen:

1) The beginning, when the dwarves invade Bilbo’s house.
2) The bit with the trolls.
3) Bilbo & Gollum’s game of riddles.
4) Getting to the Lonely Mountain & Dealing With Smaug.

This movie includes the first three, so I guess I’m going to have to go back & reread the book so I can figure out what the next six hours will contain. And at this juncture, I’m not sure that I really care to sit through it.

I’d really like to see Peter Jackson have to go back & work with no budget again. This is a movie by a guy who has too many damn toys. This movie is not about the story. It’s all about racking up jobs for Weta, and while their work is gorgeous, this is a film where the story is in service to the technology. It should be the other way round. Obviously.

I look forward to the day when the whole three or four or seventeen parts have been released, & someone cuts it down to maybe two or two and a half hours. I expect it will be mostly Martin being fantastic, and Gandalf counting everybody like a schoolteacher on a field trip.

And it’ll be beautiful.

[Five Things About Looper]

Five things about Looper, plus a bonus thing:

1) It’s not like Primer. I had heard that Primer‘s writer/director/star Shane Carruth worked on Looper, which artificially inflated my expectations in regards to Primer-like loopiness.

2) That said, I never knew what was going to happen. I spent the entire movie double- and triple-guessing myself.

3) Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Young Bruce Willis makeup is distracting. Also, Bruce Willis should never have hair. And apparently this doesn’t bother anyone else, but their ears are different. This would not have bothered me if they hadn’t tried so hard with the other makeup.

4) I loved the Blade Runner-esque world-building to tiny bits, from the TK stuff to the casual absorption of tech into the established world (especially things like the security screen on the loft door) to the DIY retrofitting of the cars (about which nothing was said at all, which is perfect). I’m still not excited about the see-through phones we’re going to have in the future, but I guess I am going to have to get used to it.

5) However, this is not a future which is awesome for ladies. I am going to chalk that up to its inevitable elements of noir, but I am giving Rian Johnson a bit of a side-eye: noir or not, ladies can be other things than moms, waitresses, or prostitutes. I promise.

In the end, it’s worth seeing, absolutely, but it wasn’t what I had expected it to be, so I had to do some adjusting. In the end, I think my favorite Rian Johnson film so far is actually The Brothers Bloom, because in spite of all of the cons & in spite of my deep love for the perfect style of Brick, Bloom is the movie with a heart. But Looper is still worth your time.

[The Perks of Being a Wallflower]

Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released in 1999, which means that if you are older than me you might never have heard of it, but if you were in high school at the time or younger, it probably changed your life. I’ve seen more text tattoos based on it than I can count. Ezra Miller, who plays Patrick in the film, described the book as “body armor… protection or salvation”. That sounds about right.

I finally read it in 2004. I was finishing grad school and working a summer temp job. I remember reading Perks on my lunch break, sitting in the plaza above International District station, and then returning to the reception desk of a incredibly quiet office, where I would write ridiculous stories on the internet & watch increasingly depressing coverage of the presidential election. It’s just that kind of book. You remember where you were.

The thing about the book is that you read it, and you think that no high school kid would ever react to events like Charlie does. No high school kid is that sensitive. The thing we realized when we saw the movie is that Stephen Chbosky — author, screenwriter, director — *is* Charlie. Charlie exists.

But let’s back up for a moment.

What you want to know is that the film is lovely. All of the key moments you remember from the book are there, and they are true, and they are magical. The biggest criticism I can offer is that the cast is a little too beautiful, by which I mean not just that the leads are, but even the parents — Dylan McDermott & Kate Walsh as Father & Mother. Nina Dobrev as Charlie’s sister. Melanie Lynskey as his adored, troubled aunt. And so on.

The structure is a little different, because it is a movie, duh, and so there are things that are revealed later in the book but earlier in the movie, and vice versa. So if you are an OMG NO CHANGES EVER person, too bad for you. You’re missing out, is what I am saying.

If you’re older than me, the main thing you should know about the novel is that it’s epistolary. Thus, it is inevitably very internal, characters aren’t fleshed out beyond what they are to Charlie, and he of course is an unreliable narrator. He’s writing the letters to an unknown recipient, and this carries over (lightly) into the film. That’s an easy thing to overdo with loads of voiceover, and Chbosky avoids that trap, which is commendable.

The story follows Charlie through his freshman year of high school. He’s had shit happen to him in the past, heavier shit than happens to most teens, but not heavier than all. Because the thing about teenagers is that they’re people, and terrible things happen to them, and even if you ban the books that talk about those things, this will not have the magical effect of making bad shit go away. It has the magical effect of preventing teens from having a language to talk about their own lives.

Um. Got on a little YA librarian kick there. Sorry. Back now.

So he’s trying, as he says in the book, to ‘participate’ despite all this shit. And the beautiful thing about Logan Lerman as Charlie is that you can see this whole thing, the effort of participation (and it *is* an effort, to be a part of this world) written across his face. You can see it when he considers where to sit in the lunchroom, strategizes in the stands at the football game, and silently talks himself into joining in at the dance.

He still has darkness in him, and sometimes you can see something about him or hear something in his voice that makes you wonder if JD would have turned out okay in the end if he had an English teacher who really challenged him & if he had met the right friends in the early days of his freshman year.

Because Charlie does have the right teacher and he does meet the right friends. He meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson, with a serviceable American accent) & Patrick (Miller, who steals every damn scene he’s in), who make the effort to welcome him into their circle because they see both his potential and his need. And, of course, more than a little bit of themselves.

It made me feel All of the Feelings, it made me miss going to RHPS, and it made me so damn glad I’m not in high school anymore.

So now back to Charlie and Stephen. So our screening, to our great surprise, was followed by a Q&A. I am not going to be able to do justice to this experience, but there was a story shared that I think you should know, so we’re just going to power through.

The Q&A started out a bit awkward. Chbosky said that he wasn’t usually like this, that Seattle was a special place for him, but you never know. I’ve attended the film festival for 16 years, and some directors just give bad Q&A, you know? But finally he started talking about Stewart Stern (which I found super exciting, because I am a total Stewart Stern fangirl: you can buy me a drink sometime & I will tell you all about it), and THEN. He told us Stern was in the house that night and asked him to come down & join him.

And I exploded a little inside.

They talked about a number of things, and I believe it was edited into a podcast, but here’s the important story: when Chbosky was 17, he chose the USC film program because Stern taught in it, but right at the start of the school year, Stern suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, Chbosky sent him anonymous packages, full of things to charm & cheer (like, seriously, Winnie-the-Pooh books) & with (as Stern tells it) beautiful, inspiring letters.

Not wanting it to seem as if he was doing it to get ahead in the business, Chbosky sent it all under a pseudonym, and Stern was unable to find out who the packages were from. Stern had an open letter posted in response, and in this way they carried on a correspondence, anonymous on one side, for TWO YEARS. Incredibly mature, sensitive correspondence from a teenager. Sound familiar?

Then, well. You’ll have to hear Stern tell it some time, how he just knew when he saw him that the letters were from Chbosky, and how that was the start of a mentorship & friendship that lasts til this day. And if you don’t tear up even a little, you are made of tougher stuff than I am.

At the screening someone asked if when there would be the film or book of their relationship, and Chbosky said that for his side, this was it. Obviously. Charlie’s letters to someone who doesn’t know him (and who he doesn’t really know) plus the mentorship by his English teacher (Paul Rudd, by the way, which is great).

It’s an amazing tribute. And it’s out now. You should see it.

[Liberal Arts & Hello I Must Be Going]

I don’t know if this is true if you didn’t go to a small, liberal arts school, but I did, more or less, and there were times in the years since graduation where the Avenue Q song “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” defined my life.

I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are.
You sit in the quad, and think, “Oh my God!
I am totally gonna go far!”

Josh Radnor is a few years older than me, but in Liberal Arts, his Jesse Fisher is also looking for “an academic advisor to point the way”. He works in college admissions in New York, and he gets a call from an old professor (Richard Jenkins, perfection as usual), inviting him back for his retirement celebration.

Back at his alma mater he meets 19 year old Zibby (yes, it is a ridiculous name, but you don’t care very much because she’s played by Elizabeth Olsen) & they strike up a friendship. It’s about wishing you could go back to college, and working out why that is not an awesome idea.

Liberal Arts is not breaking any new ground, but it’s a pleasant film, elevated by its cast, which in addition to the aforementioned includes Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, and a scene-stealing turn by Zac Efron (no, really). There’s dialogue about how no one is really grown-up, but you have people like Richard Jenkins saying it, which makes it okay. It’s a dose of nostalgia and a cure for it all at once.

(I should mention that I do not watch “How I Met Your Mother”, and so I do not know what effect that might have on your experience watching a Josh Radnor film. So there you go. Also, I would like copies of the CDs Zibby sends Jesse, so if someone could get on that, that would be awesome.)

I saw Liberal Arts on a Monday evening at SIFF, and the next day I saw Todd Luiso’s film Hello I Must Be Going.

On the surface, Hello I Must Be Going is the same story, but with the gender roles reversed. Instead of going back to college after a breakup, Amy (Melanie Lynskey in a fantastic performance) goes back home after her divorce, which is as helpful for her mental health as you might imagine.

At an insufferable dinner party she meets 19 year old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a young presumed-gay actor who is the only other person at the party interested in being an actual human being. They connect, and then struggle to hide this bizarre relationship from both sets of parents.

Of the two, Liberal Arts is the most straight-forward accessible picture, but Hello I Must Be Going is the better film. I’m disappointed by its terrible IMDb score. The film is hard on Amy — she’s at a much lower point in her life when Hello begins than Jesse is in Arts, and she still has farther to fall, but it’s a much more interesting journey and a braver performance.

Liberal Arts continues at SIFF at the Uptown.
Hello I Must Be Going continues at Regal Meridian.