The Academy Awards are around the corner, and no doubt the viewers at home are eagerly awaiting which of the presenters will be slapped across their face.
What occurred last year between the right palm of Will Smith and the left cheek of Chris Rock was indeed a tragedy (or twisted comedy?) of manners, but it was not a disaster. For that, we must turn to a film I recently screened in celebration for the upcoming Oscars, a best picture nominee that raked in some serious dough back in its day: Airport, released on March 5, 1970, the second-highest grossing film that year.
Some film critics have labeled it the worst movie ever nominated for Best Picture. Could it be that a movie about a disaster was itself a disaster?
Ocean’s Eight with heft? No, not even close. This is thrilling, risky art.
Widows may be the most complete film of 2018: imbued with morally significant themes and yet breathtakingly entertaining. Writing, acting, directing, cinematography — there’s so much talent packed into this movie, and like the four women in front and center, everyone does their job to the fullest degree. Lean and mean, it just clicks.
All I knew going in was that a bunch of male criminals died and left their widows with a serious money problem. That’s all you need to know, too. Talk about female empowerment done right — Widows showcases this better than any film I’ve seen in a long while.
It is a shame that Viola Davis was left off the Best Leading Actress Oscar race, because she absolutely belongs. She’s got her big scenes, but it’s the subtle ones where she truly shines.
a man of God, lost finding purpose in darkness and bliss in a cup
The film begins with a perfectly centered shot of a church at dawn, the camera slowly pushing in as the sky lightens.
Within ten seconds, you know you’re in the hands of a pro, and the pro here is Paul Schrader.
In a way, this movie is reminiscent of one of Schrader’s earlier works, Taxi Driver, which he wrote. I’m not usually a fan of voiceovers, but I make my exceptions with Schrader and Terrence Malick, because these aren’t really voiceovers per se. Voiceovers can easily become a crutch in a film, the laziest way to info-dump, but in this movie, it serves to build character more than anything else.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to watch this movie with as little information as possible. All I knew was that Ethan Hawke plays a priest (turns out to be a minister) who’s lost his way. That’s all you need to know.
First Reformed is a work of art. I think that’s the highest praise you can accord a film, and this movie deserves every bit. Taxi Driver is a movie written by a young man; it possesses that raw, unbridled energy. First Reformed is a movie written and directed by an older, wiser man, and it’s full of grace and beauty. Best movie I’ve seen this year so far, hands down.
Attention, friends and strangers who happen to live in the vicinity of NYC! I’ll be at the Anthology Film Archives on Friday, 11/2 at 7:30pm, to take in the screening of the film The Washing Society and afterwards, I’ll be doing a reading in support of Emily Rubin‘s Loads of Prose. My story is titled “The Best of the Vest,” and if you want to know what it’s about, come on by!
THE WASHING SOCIETY/LOADS OF PROSE Screenings and Readings Thursday and Friday November 1, 2 at 7:30
ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES 32 2nd Ave NYC NY 10003 212-505-5181 http://anthologyfilmarchives.org
The Washing Society by Lizzie Olesker & Lynne Sachs 2018, 45 min, digital
SPECIAL SCREENINGS: ARTISTS & SPECIAL GUESTS IN PERSON!
Featuring laundry workers Wing Ho, Lula Holloway, and Margarita Lopez, and actors Ching Valdes-Aran, Jasmine Holloway, and Veraalba Santa.
THE WASHING SOCIETY brings us into New York City laundromats and reveals the experiences of the people working there. Filmmaker Lynne Sachs and playwright Lizzie Olesker collaborate to observe and investigate the disappearing public space of the neighborhood laundromat, and the continual labor that happens there. The intersection of history, immigration, and underpaid work is woven into the film’s observational moments and interviews, along with the uniquely public/private exchange of dirt, lint, stains, and money. The juxtaposition of narrative and documentary elements creates a dream-like, yet hyper-real portrayal of a day in the life of a laundry worker, both past and present.
Thurs, Nov 1:
Historian Tera Hunter, whose book TO ‘JOY MY FREEDOM depicts the 1881 organization of African-American laundresses in Atlanta, and Mahoma Lopez and Rosanna Rodriguez (Co-Directors, Laundry Workers Center), will join us to discuss justice in the workplace.
Fri, Nov 2: ‘Loads of Prose,’ a reading series staged in laundromats, presents authors Emily Rubin (STALINA, 2011), Sung J Woo (LOVE LOVE 2015, EVERYTHING ASIAN, 2009), and Christine Lewis (Organizer, Domestic Workers United), who will read their stories of hidden labor and the challenges of our changing neighborhoods, where infrastructures are crumbling due to the visceral and economic demands of gentrification.
And here’s a bit of lovely trivia — I watched the film Private Life this afternoon, written and directed by the always wonderful Tamara Jenkins. It’s currently playing on Netflix, and how cool is it that the Anthology Film Archives is featured in the film! Check out the screencap.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good rom-com — for the uninitiated, that’s shorthand for romantic comedy. Some of my favorites are Bridget Jones, Notting Hill, The Proposal, and the grandmommy of them all, Roman Holiday. And in retrospect, that oldie is what Crazy Rich Asians reminds me of most, because at the core of it, this is a story of a commoner falling in love with royalty. Nick Young may not be the prince of Singapore, but he’s the closest thing, and this is an extremely well-made fish-out-of-water story of Rachel Wu’s plight. Much of the humor is supplied by her best friend Peik Lin, portrayed by the half Chinese, half Korean, entirely American and hilarious Awkwafina (with some choice assists from Ken Jeong playing her dad).
I don’t want to spoil a single thing, so I would just urge you to go see this in the theater. It’s funny, heart-lifting, heart-rending, heart-everything. I can’t believe there was a time when Michelle Yeoh was considered only an action star. She’s so, so good here, her acting largely reserved, her reactions mostly minute — and yet she’s a gigantic presence. The poster may be featuring the leads, but it’s Yeoh who’s the center of this film, and deservedly so. Brava!
p.s. Yes, of course it’s a big deal that this is the first movie since The Joy Luck Club to feature an all-Asian cast. But this film is so much more than a cultural signifier — it’s first and foremost a fine work of cinema. So on that merit alone, it should be seen. Though it absolutely bears mentioning that it took guts and sacrifices to put this up on the big screen — worth a read and then some: The Stakes Are High for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ — And That’s the Point
After listening to the latest season of the podcast You Must Remember This, which featured Jane Fonda, my wife and I thought it would be kind of neat to go through Fonda’s filmography. We started with her first real movie role on Walk on the Wild Side and after a few more films, arrived at…
This is one strange film.
So strange that I had to stop.
And feel terrible…
After half an hour, I’d had enough. A sexploitation film in every way, though I think what bothered me more than anything was that Fonda seemed 100% committed to the campy role with absolute seriousness. There’s something eerie about the juxtaposition. Not recommended.
Now for the rest — I’ve been meaning to see some of these movies for quite a while; we’re talking years for all but the newest (Alien: Covenant). I had some time last week, so it was a great joy to finally catch up to them.
What an engine room!
Gotta love the spike decor.
Hellraiser in space.
Not what I expected. I mean I’d heard this was a horror movie set in space, in the vein of Alien, but I did not know how much Clive Barker influence it had (he was consulted, even, during pre-production). Laurence Fishburne was so young and thin! Recommended.
I’ve seen this before
in Star Trek’s Data and Lore
with much less drooling.
I liked Prometheus better than this one. Not a bad movie, and Michael Fassbender is wonderful as always, but sadly predictable in just about every way. My favorite moment of the film was when Amy Seimetz, who plays Faris (and wife of Danny McBride’s Tennessee), in her dash to escape the alien, bangs her shoulder against a metal box in the hallway. It seemed so utterly real, her panic. Barely recommended.
Time to kill some bugs!
Wooden acting master class.
Wow, is the acting bad in this film. Helmed by Paul Verhoeven, who also directed Total Recall and Basic Instinct, you’d think that he’d know how to get a half-decent performances out of his young actors, but no, the leads are uniformly terrible, even Neal Patrick Harris. I couldn’t quite figure this movie out — it’s made to resemble a propaganda film, I guess to satirize the obvious fascism/Nazism imagery, but it almost seems like it’s celebrating it? It’s weird. And really bad, and not in a good way. Not recommended.
Craig Bierko is the lead in this film, but Vincent D’Onofrio, as always, steals every scene he’s in. I think everyone who knows movies knows about D’Onofrio, but he’s one of these actors that I wish was a household name. Four actors play dual parts in this movie, but D’Onofrio is the only one who really seems like two completely different people. There’s a twist in this movie that’s quite ingenious; I wish they went even farther with it, but I’ll take what I can get. Recommended.
A Horn and a Wing
star-crossed lovers in wartime
trying to save their child.
I don’t read comic books often, but I think it’s about time I started to, because if they are anything like Saga, I’ve been missing out big time. Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, and it’s been going on for years (the title of the series is very apt) — since 2012. I just caught up to the last issue, #42, and it is a humdinger. Even though this story takes place in another world, in space, the kind of stuff you’d expect from comic books, it is extremely accessible and very much a story for our times. It’s got elements of Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars, and it’s just an epic, epic story. Great characters, exciting storylines, what we love about fiction.
She drives her car as
if the road does not exist.
All for a picnic.
A single suitcase.
Pink gown, pink slippers, for night.
Then we hear the scream.
Old movies, these two. Both by Alfred Hitchcock, and both starring Grace Kelly. To Catch a Thief felt a bit more dated than Rear Window; it is definitely the lesser of the two films, though still quite entertaining, especially the scene where Kelly drives Cary Grant to a picnic lunch. Even though I’d seen parts of Rear Window before, I never actually sat down to watch the whole movie from start to finish, and I must say, I think it’s my new favorite Hitchcock (Vertigo was my previous #1). Not only are the lines hilarious (especially Thelma Ritter’s Stella but really, all the characters), the movie is really about movies — how we all are voyeurs when we watch. The script is impeccable, the balance between humor and suspense just right. Also, there are times when Grace Kelly here is so incredibly beautiful that I almost had to avert my eyes! What great casting — she had to be the perfect woman, and she delivers in form and function. This is a very difficult part for Jimmy Stewart to play, too, as he’s stuck in that wheelchair and so much of his acting is subtle expressions. There are so many scenes where he has no one to act against, just himself with his camera or his binoculars, reacting to what he sees. Rear Window is just a gem of a movie. Roger Ebert, as always, does a fantastic job of reviewing this film. Watch it, and then read him.
After racing through The Crown, we’ve filled the void with some very good movies lately.
Robbing a blind man
should be easier than this.
Rocky times ahead.
The camera moves like a snake in this absolute nailbiter of a thriller. Yes, there are some familiar jump scares and boneheaded moves by the victims, but no complaints from me.
Kubo and the Two Strings
A boy and his “ax”
with Monkey and Beetle, too
fight for their story.
Never have I seen such smooth stop-motion. I didn’t even realize it was stop-motion until I looked it up; I was certain it was all CGI. The story gets muddled at the end, but well worth the journey. The supporting characters are a riot, and also quite affecting.
Southside with You
Michelle and Barack
before Jesse and Céline
walk and talk and love.
This movie very much channels Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, but that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing. Parker Sawyers, the actor who plays Barack Obama, doesn’t impersonate him and yet somehow embodies him. I don’t quite understand how he pulled this off, but it’s a remarkable performance.
Hell or High Water
a pair of brothers
robbing banks to rob them back
sad justice for all
It’s what The Big Short wishes it could’ve been: an evisceration of the financial crisis with heart, humor, and tragedy.
The human factor:
did it save or did it hurt?
One man knows the truth.
My wife had the best line after seeing this movie: “Laura Linney really phoned in her performance, didn’t she?” All joking, of course. Linney is fine in it, in the limited time she has. The film goes into the back story in ways I didn’t know, so it was not only entertaining but quite informative.
Don’t Think Twice
It is time to ask:
Does improv improve with age?
Heavy thoughts with smiles.
I can’t recommend this film enough. Gillian Jacobs is the heart of this movie and she’s so perfectly cast. Keegan-Michael Key is as fine a dramatic actor as he is a comic one. Don’t miss this one.
Doc Strange, the love child
between M.C. Escher and
The last time I told anyone to go see a movie in 3D for its visuals was Avatar, and that was seven years ago. Doctor Strange is another such film — the special effects are quite bedeviling and should be seen on the big screen. Props must be given to Inception; that fight scene in the spinning corridor no doubt spawned a great deal of the action that we see here, not to mention the rest of the dreamy machinations led by Leo and company.
It’s a prototypical superhero movie, meaning there’s a reluctant hero, some funny lines, and a Big Boss level. In a way, it’s as familiar as any bildungsroman, and at this point I’m so tired of it that if any film of this genre deviates even a little — like Deadpool — I’m almost grateful to the point of tears. Benedict Cumberbatch turns his arrogance volume down to about 4 here, and it’s the right level for this damaged character.
Tilda Swinton is of course lovely and amazing as always, but I must say, as a person of Asian descent, it feels like if there was one big-budget superhero movie that could’ve starred many more Asians, it was this one. I’ve read about the Tibet/China issue that most likely resulted in changing the teacher character from Himalayan to Celtic, so it was a business decision, but it also feels like a lost opportunity. I’m glad Benedict Wong got in there — he was the best thing in Marco Polo (in a series that was, well, terrible), and he lends his considerable gifts of austerity and gravitas to the film.