[On Chesil Beach]

On Chesil Beach is a movie about a young asexual woman made by people who don’t know that asexuality is a thing, which can be everything from confusing to upsetting for an audience.

As the credits rolled, I heard someone ask, “I wish someone would tell me what was going on in that girl’s head,” so thoroughly had the film failed to do it.

A character study of a couple refracted through their wedding night – or, more precisely, afternoon – it’s worth seeing for Saiorse Ronan’s performance as Florence, but it’s a frustrating film experience at best and a hostile one at worst.

In short, because of her asexuality and both of their inexperience, their encounter is disappointing for him, traumatizing for her, and funny to the audience I saw it with (though not to me). In their defense, that’s how it’s constructed. The film, though including flashbacks for both characters, firmly prioritizes the perspective of the new husband, Ed (Billy Howle), as he struggles with her zip, struggles with his shoes, struggles with her constant delaying tactics of asking him questions. But it isn’t funny.

Continue reading “[On Chesil Beach]”

[SIFF Despatches: Issue Two]

Warrior Women

A portrait of Lakota activist and organizer Madonna Thunder Hawk, from survival school to Standing Rock, this would make a great double feature with SIFF2017 fave Dolores. I particularly appreciated that all the talking heads were women. While working with a smaller budget and muddy archival footage, they made creative choices, particularly a wrenching scene where discussion of sexual assault was paired with the visual of a horse being roped, upsetting in an earned way.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Based on the YA novel and focusing on the part of the story at the conversion camp, it was hard to watch parts of this with an audience for whom the camp and its religious rhetoric was abstract & hilarious concept and not a real threat of abuse. It’s set in 1993, but the isolation of the teens at camp gives it a sense of urgency: this could be 2018 with their phones taken away.

Skate Kitchen

The first feature from the director of The Wolfpack (a title that could have served well for this too), it’s at least 15 minutes too long, and I didn’t love that the drama revolved around a boy, but it was a treat to spend time with these fearless girls, demanding space in the city for themselves and their skills. Plenty of loving shots of skateboard tricks, but even better, plenty of true teen girl conversations.

The Song of Scorpions

I picked this for the cast alone (Golshifteh Farahani, Irrfan Khan), and it turned out to be a slow-burning, beautifully shot (both bright desert and lowlight, just stunning work by Pietro Zuercher) revenge film. She’s a healer, a scorpion singer, and he’s the man who thinks she should marry him just because he’s never stopped hanging around. It’s slow, in that way that made me grateful I was in a theater and forced to focus.

Let the Sunshine In

It’s possible that if I had more than twenty year old high school French I would have gotten more out of this. I do not, so for me it was a tedious film where for the bulk of the runtime various mediocre men talked a lot of wank at (a luminous as always) Juliette Binoche, then one dances with her instead, in a way that is meant to be romantic but to me felt ridiculous.

[SIFF Despatches: Issue One]

I’m not committing to anything here because I go up to five movie days on Friday & I go back to work next week, but I wrote these from my first two days of press screenings, so here we go. Films with distribution are embargoed, but there’s nothing I like better than a word limit, so here’s 75 words one each film I found worth writing about.

Hearts Beat Loud

The latest from writer/director Brett Haley, this is a fine but awkwardly made film about a widowed father (Nick Offerman) who finds himself having to finally grow up in the summer before his daughter (Kiersey Clemons) leaves for college. A better film would have focused on her perspective instead; Clemons is great. PS If you also come out thinking Blythe Danner was underused, catch Haley’s earlier, better feature, I’ll See You in My Dreams.

Pick of the Litter

This is a crowd pleaser of a documentary about a litter bred at Guide Dogs for the Blind, & who doesn’t want to be part of a pleased crowd? It follows five puppies from birth all through to graduation – those of them what makes it, anyway. A lot of work goes into training a guide dog, we want them all to be successful, and we feel for their trainers when a dog is ‘career changed’.

On Chesil Beach

I’ll have a full post for On Chesil Beach once it’s not embargoed, but for now the key point is: it’s a movie about a young asexual woman made by people who don’t know that asexuality is a thing, and it would’ve been better if a) they knew it was a thing and b) they focused the film on her instead. Unfortunately, this is what we have. Saoirse’s obviously terrific in it. So’s the cinematography.

5/18/18 The film is now open in NY/LA, and my review can be found here.

A Kid Like Jake

This is a movie that some people need, but I didn’t. Beautiful white people in beautiful spaces agonizing over how to keep their kid out of public school: this is a problem I have a hard being invested in. It is, however, also a layered portrayal of a couple raising a gender nonconforming child, which they both accept and don’t accept in a way that feels true. Plus, Claire Danes is still an A++ crier.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early May]

I spent the first half of the month not seeing movies, apparently. I worked the box office at Translations but didn’t see any films (I did see El Sanchez’s stand-up show, which was obviously great) & I wanted to catch up on some tv before SIFF starts (primarily The Americans & Superstore) but movies? Very few. Possibly just RBG, which was interesting and engaging, but also very slight.

Other highlights of my life continue to be Dirty Computer and Killing Eve, and if you’re not on those bandwagons, time to catch up.

Even at home I haven’t had a lot of time for film. I did finally see Lost in Paris, the first Abel & Gordon film that I didn’t manage to catch in the theater (I think it only had a single screening in Seattle).

Judging by the box office, no one else saw the other three, which is too bad, because no one else is doing what they’re doing. They work in a hundred year old style, vaudeville burlesque comedy, most comparable on film to Jaques Tati: quiet, stylized and precisely physical. They’re not silent films, but they share a lot of the same DNA, so much so that I’d really love to see a FilmStruck theme exploring Abel & Gordon and their influences.

I did have hard time with this one, even though I understand the Chaplin-Little Tramp character, because I had trouble finding homelessness whimsical in 2016 Paris. A lot of this film depends on you finding Dom’s character – and his situation – charming. A lot of it also depends on not being terribly worried about Emmanuelle Riva and her likely dementia, and I don’t know if it’s the present day setting or me getting older and more sensitive, but I couldn’t avoid worrying about them

To be honest, mostly this month I’ve been devoured by The Penumbra Podcast, particularly the Juno Steel stories for their noir tropes on Mars and canonical casual queerness. It’s ruining my life. You know, in a good way.

(I’m always taking recommendations for fictional serial podcasts. Lay it on me, folks.)

Tomorrow SIFF starts for me with my first round of press screenings, and if you’re new around here, get ready, because it’s a 25 day festival and I have a full series pass. This is my 22nd year attending. It’s the happiest time of the year, & if you see me out and about, be sure to say hi!

[What Did Jaci Think? Late April]

The latest from Andrew Haigh (the director of my beloved Weekend), Lean on Pete is one of those films that I think I’ll appreciate more on rewatch because I won’t be anxious about what’s going to happen. More than a boy-and-his-horse movie, it reminded me a lot of Wendy and Lucy, a story about people trying to survive and getting by on the kindness of other people also trying to survive. It’s beautifully shot, and a very Northwest film (though it does commit one crime: it underuses Amy Seimetz).

One moment I’d like to highlight: some folks have taken in Charley for the evening, and once around the dinner table, the older man starts mocking his granddaughter – who is doing the cooking – for her weight. I tensed up, and she just took it, in a way that makes clear he does this all the time. What struck me about that scene was that none of the other three men around the table – including Charley – laughed. It’s a small thing, but it told me a lot about those characters and about their moral core. Told me something good about Haigh too.

Game Night was more fun than it had any right to be, a goofball comedy about a group of friends with a game night tradition that’s hijacked first by sibling rivalry and then by an actual kidnapping. I would have seen it sooner if I’d known it was co-directed by John Francis Daley (which also adds a little something extra to a child star joke).

A couple of nice touches include a montage at the start of the film showing the importance of gaming to the relationship between Rachel McAdams & Jason Bateman, also the clever use of tilt-shift in establishing shots, which had the effect of making the neighborhood and other settings look like game pieces on a board. But more importantly, it made me laugh a lot, & I was never too concerned that anyone would be seriously hurt. Primary takeaway? Sharon Horgan needs to be in more things because she’s terrific and I love her.

The best-directed film I’ve seen so far this year, You Were Never Really Here is excellent, but the sound design is extremely anxiety-inducing, & if you are sensitive, you might want to save it for home viewing. It’s a violent movie, but I appreciated that all of the real life violence is presented at a remove. There’s a particularly striking scene where Phoenix’s Joe is working his way through a house to rescue a girl, and we see the whole thing via the aftermath, bodies on a security camera. We’re so firmly in his head, it’s almost like he’s protecting us from the violence, as he’s trying to protect everyone else. He’s a traumatized character, and the film visually and aurally puts us right in the heart of that trauma. Also, the title screen? Chef’s kiss perfection. But be sure to schedule some time afterwards to just stare at the wall. You’ll need it.

Continue reading “[What Did Jaci Think? Late April]”

[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]”

[What Did Jaci Think? Early April]

First, some old business. I forgot last time to mention that (despite the fact that I was thoroughly entertained by Pacific Rim Uprising) if you want to see a genuinely interesting and creative monster-vs-robot movie, you should watch Colossal. I wrote about it (arguably spoilery, but I also have arguments about *that*) over here.

And now, on with April!

Silent Movie Mondays returned with The Patsy, the first in a five-week series of films under the theme “Leading Ladies”. The Patsy was an utter blast, a laugh-out-loud film that made me grateful it was silent – you don’t miss lines to audience laughter when they’re on intertitles! It stars Marion Davies as the little sister with her eye on her big sister’s beau, & features impeccable comic timing on all fronts: cast, script, even the timing of intertitles themselves. Such a treat to see with an audience.

Also great to see with an audience for the complete opposite reason? A Quiet Place, which I had too much to say about, so it has a dedicated post over here. Continue reading “[What Did Jaci Think? Early April]”

[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.

[What Did Jaci Think? Late March]

I watched The Death of Stalin mostly from between my fingers while muttering “oh my god” under my breath. It is very funny but it also never lets you forget the horror of what’s happening (sometimes audibly) offscreen. It fits perfectly into Iannucci’s filmography, another piece about mediocre men scrambling for power.

My personal favorite in the cast was Paddy Considine as the radio producer who sets up the comic-yet-deadly urgency of the whole situation for ordinary people as he drags back the orchestra, the pianist, and a crowd to recreate a live broadcast, with Olga Kurylenko, the pianist and conscience of the film, as a close second.

Operation Red Sea is also about power, but in a very different way. It’s three movies in one, and its obvious goal is to impress you with the might of the Chinese Navy. It’s overlong, but with effective action, and it’s always fun for me to check in periodically with what’s slaying worldwide box office. (When we saw it, it was currently number two worldwide, but with half the box office of Black Panther.)

Pacific Rim: Uprising is goofier but also less weird than the original, but here’s the thing: If you think you’d be into robots fighting monsters some more (who wouldn’t) & you like John Boyega (who doesn’t) you’ll probably have fun. I agree with everything in this review by Glen Weldon (especially that he points out a small thing I also loved: the care the movie takes to let you know that cities are empty before building smashing begins.)

Tomb Raider is also pretty goofy, in an Indiana Jones sort of way, an origin story with puzzles and curses and henchmen, but I liked it a lot more than I expected for a few reasons. First of course, Alicia Vikander, who the camera appreciates (on an athletic level) but does not leer at. It shouldn’t be praiseworthy that a lady action hero wears pants & has her hair pulled back out of her dang face, but it is. She also has a great moment when she is first forced to kill someone, but has to sit for a moment with what she’s done, as she is rightfully shaken.

Continue reading “[What Did Jaci Think? Late March]”