[What Did Jaci Think? Early December]

I caught Widows a second time and dug it much more now that I knew it wasn’t ever going to be a “super fun time getting the team together look at how we’re all experts in something esoteric” sort of heist movie, and instead was a “what would it take to get some nice but also unknowingly badass ladies to do some crime” sort of movie that was also super interested in municipal government. Not everyone’s jam, but definitely mine, though it has such a deep bench of actors that you can’t help but feel folks like Adepero Oduye and Carrie Coon were wasted in it. And consider this a formal request for more Cynthia Erivo in everything in 2019, please.

I loved The Favourite. I loved that it was completely centered on three complex women, that everyone was scheming and the women more than the men, that the men were ridiculous, that it was funny and dirty and sharp. I loved that even in a heterosexual encounter the camera stayed on the woman, the man literally out of focus. Sandy Powell deserves an Oscar for Rachel Weisz’s shooting outfit, Olivia Colman deserves one too if only for how she described Emma Stone’s character in bed, and Rachel Weisz can throw me up against anything any time anywhere. (PS Shout-out to the true hero of the picture: Horatio, the fastest duck in London.)

We were blessed to see Roma at Cinerama, not on 70mm (yet, but a girl can dream) but still. It’s an immersive film that requires attention and rewards that attention with a story told with deep love where – and I honestly can’t get over this – a man de-centers his lived experience and elevates that of a woman. It’s of course available on Netflix, but if it comes near you in a cinema, please take the opportunity to experience it that way: the sound design and the long, wide takes require it. An epic telling of a time in the life of an ordinary (and yet, of course, extraordinary) woman, what a gift.

At Eternity’s Gate was visually frustrating. An overuse of hand-held shaky-cam plus a frequent blurring of the entire bottom half of the screen was distracting at best, headache inducing at worst. Which is too bad because there are so many lovely things in it, including one of the most beautiful scenes of masculine tenderness I’ve seen on film: Theo’s first appearance when, without hesitation, he cradles Vincent in bed at the hospital. Willem Dafoe is a terrific van Gogh, instantly making me forget he was too old for the role. And it is a beautiful film, when it’s not blurred or shaking.

Burning is the story of a guy who meets a girl who he may or may not have gone to school with, who asks him to care for a cat that may or may not exist. She returns from a trip with a guy who may or may not be a serial killer and who the original guy may or may not be attracted to. (The questions are all answered.) Suffice it to say, this was extremely my jam, despite (because?) it’s one of the few films this year that made me peel off all of my nail polish. The performances are all terrific, including an utterly hypnotic debut from Jong-seo Jun. And is there anything more perfect than Jong-su’s longing for Ben’s life of “listening to music while cooking pasta”? As the kids say, relatable.

Finally, not only was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a blast, but it also was groundbreaking, pushing forward both who can be the hero behind the mask and also what feature animation can look like. It’s the first 2D film possibly ever that I came out of wishing I had seen it in 3D. I bet it was stunning. I’m so happy for all those kids who get Miles Morales – a Spider-Man who looks like them! – for their first Spidey, and I can’t wait for the lady villain they set up for the sequel.

[What Did Jaci Think? Late November]

Not so much viewing happened in this two weeks, thanks to traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, plus trying to cram as much FilmStruck in as I could before it closed on the 29th (don’t forget to sign up for the Criterion Channel if that’s your jam and it should be; also WatchTCM recently added Chromecast support to the app, which is what will get me through these dark times.) Just three features, so let’s get to it!

So, the thing about Creed is I never saw any of the Rocky movies. I just dig me some Michael B Jordan, both with and without Ryan Coogler, so here we are, seeing Creed II on its Thursday night opening. While I didn’t find it as compelling as the first installment, I still liked it a lot because it’s a movie about tough guys being secretly soft. There’s still a lot of boxing, obviously, but the heart of the drama is really in Adonis’s and Rocky’s relationships with their families, and I’m a sucker for that.

Border was one of those viewing experiences I don’t have very often, where I have no idea where we’re going, I think I know what’s happening but I’m wrong, and I don’t know what I think about it at all in the end. Except that monster babies are still my favorite babies and also between this and Let the Right One In I would love to read something smart on gender in the work of John Ajvide Lindqvist, thank you very much in advance.

Finally, while it was of course great to see the performance footage in Maria by Callas, the conceit of an in-her-own-words documentary meant that as more of an outsider to her story, I was missing a lot of context. It was a frustrating watch.

[What Did Jaci Think? Early November]

First off, my Bohemian Rhapsody post went up a month ago, if you’d like to read a point-by-point account of how much I hated Freddie’s lack of agency around his sexuality (and who wouldn’t?)

Onward!

I was less bothered by the casual homophobia and misogyny in Mid90s than I had expected to be, but also, why bother. Just watch Skate Kitchen instead (or, as I’ve heard, Minding the Gap, which is still on my watch list.) Honestly the thing I felt strongest about around Mid90s was SIFF Cinema once again not properly masking Academy ratio. It makes me furious and it makes movies look like shit. Thank you for your time.

What They Had was a sleeper title for me, a movie where the trailer looked like some kinda Rich White People Problems situation, but reviews got me to check it out. And it is, of course, Rich White People Problems, but it’s also a beautifully-assembled cast in a lived-in story, all characters complex characters, a strong, moving effort from first-time writer-director Elizabeth Chomko.

A Private War should have been a miniseries, maybe 6-8 episodes. Speeding through the final decade in the life of war correspondent Marie Colvin, it gives us a surface-level view, and I wanted more. Rosamund Pike, however, continues to be The Best.

To my surprise, Boy Erased came up a few times over the Thanksgiving holiday. I suggested people try The Miseducation of Cameron Post instead, this year’s earlier conversion therapy entry, for its non-cis white dude focus (the lead is a white girl, but the two campers who form friendships with her are both POC, plus it’s directed by a QWOC). Boy Erased does have value, though, as a story that takes faith seriously. People doing the wrong thing out of love is a story I see less often, and while obviously this does not apply to the conversion camps themselves, it is true of some families sending their children. It’s also rarer to see the story of a person going into a bad program with good faith, believing that if they work the program the program will work for them, and if we’re going to reach those people of faith this is a story worth telling.

I applied my French Cinema Now women-only rule to Cinema Italian Style, which made for a short series. First up was Fairytale, the sort of film I wouldn’t stand for coming from the US, but since it was Italian, I was more open to it. It’s a film about a 50s housewife, drawing influence from everyone from Hitchcock to Sirk. Our lead is enduring domestic violence. She falls in love with her (female) friend. And she’s played by a man. Now, this is obviously a problem, but considering that six months ago I saw My Big Gay Italian Wedding, a queer film which treated a trans woman character (also played by a cis man) as an enormous joke, a film that centered a trans woman and took her seriously was a huge step forward. It’s not going to work for everyone, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw what it was doing with its highly-stylized, intentionally artificial nightmare/dreamscape design. (There’s a stuffed dog that appears all over the house – and sometimes in the garden – on its own, and the view out of each window is wildly different – desert! city! etc.)

On completely the other side of the style coin was The Intruder, a feature with a near-documentary feel, following an organizer/social worker in Naples who welcomes a mother and her small children to share a community space, to the disapproval of said community. I was disappointed in the ending – not the outcome, which was expected, but the perspective on it – but Raffaella Giordano has a face I could watch all day.

[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]”