Private Life & Voter Registration

Private Life (Netflix) – I have been slow about watching Netflix movies, but this came as a recommendation from my favorite Movie podcast, Grierson & Leitch. They both gave this movie a very high score, and so I felt obligated to give it a shot. Directed and written by Tamara Jenkins, this movie finds incredible pacing and heart in what could have very easily fallen into a clichéd, sappy love story. Staring Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, a couple struggles to conceive a child in their late 40s, and goes through numerous trials and tribulations in their quest to have a kid. The pain that this couple feels is not so much in what is said but what is unsaid, how they grimace, look, and sigh. This movie has something important to say about relationships, and is much better than I could have anticipated. If you have a Netflix account, do yourself a favor and watch this film. 9/10

Registering to vote is one of the most important things you can do. Voting is the one of the few times in our democracy where you get to have your voice heard. So I encourage all of you to register to vote, wherever you happen to be. It is easy to look at National Politics and be discouraged, but locally you can have a major impact. I will be writing a Michigan Voting Guide soon enough but until then please make sure to register. When I say I do not care about your affiliation I mean it, what matters is that your voice is heard not if your voice conforms to my own. Please, take the time to register.

Minding the Gap, Boogie Nights, and Donald Trump

Yesterday was a movie day, as I sat in my new apartment taking in Ann Arbor. I watched two both of which were phenomenal.

  1. Minding The Gap (Hulu) – Bing Liu’s debut feature is one of beauty and heartbreak in the American heartland, a story about himself and his two best friends. Skateboarding brings them together, but it is domestic violence that makes their connection all the more stronger and horrifying. Zach and Kiere, the two other subjects in this film along with Bing share a certain amount of anger, and often do not know how to express it. Skateboarding was their sweet escape, but as they grow up, they must realize who they need to become. It is beautifully filmed and told, with old skateboard footage and candid interviews that are honest and true to their subjects. This is the movie that Liu was born to make, and it comes out as moving as any film I have seen this year. 9.7/10
  2. Boogie Nights – Paul Thomas Anderson has made some of the most fascinating epic films, with There Will Be Blood being one of my favorites. His 1997 film Boogie Nights, covers the porn industry from 1977 to 1983 through the eyes of Dirk Diggler. While the movie covers the adult film industry, it focuses on the business side of pornography and brings out the characters of the people in it. Anderson always leaves a sense of dread, that behind these seemingly perfect lives is something more sinister waiting to come out. Burt Reynolds (Burt Reynolds!) is a standout as Jack Horner, the film maker determined to make adult films that mean something. 8.8/10

While I would like to just talk about movies today it seems the world has forced me into at least an article recommendation for the Cohen-Manafort fiasco. Frankly, I do not know how much of it I find interesting anymore, but my hope is that at the very least justice will be served. This more clearly puts Trump in the line of fire, and it will become significantly harder to keep calling this investigation a “witch-hunt” so long as two people in his closest circle are convicted. Conservative columnist Bret Stephens tweeted out the following, “I’ve been skeptical about the wisdom and merit of impeachment. Cohen’s guilty plea changes that. The president is clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. He should resign his office or be impeached and removed from office.” I could not agree more. If you are looking for a great explainer article, look no further than this one from Lawfare.

Also I will be away from tomorrow until Sunday and will not have my computer with me. I will not be writing anything during that time and will write as soon as I get back on Sunday evening. Have a great rest of your week everyone and happy El Tráfico week!

Crazy Rich Asians

So often, movies that are culturally important are either terrific or extremely overrated. Sorry to Bother You was culturally important but a bad movie, it failed to tell a story and preferred to force its political opinion on to its viewers. While BlacKkKlansman is far superior, it also fell into this trap at times as well. As a result, I had low expectations for a culturally important rom-com, as this genre of movies are not my favorite to begin with, and I was afraid that its cultural importance would make the film feel better than it actually was.

I am pleased to say that this film is very well done and exceeded my expectations in many ways. Regardless of ethnicity, most will have something in common with insanely rich people. However, this story has real conflict and strong female characters that work, and while it is at times self-obsessed with its opulence it manages to put together a complex story of love and family. While it cannot resist the rom-com temptation to resolve everything, this movie makes an effort to make a complicated and nuanced story with fascinating characters, which allows the movie to stand up on its own two feet. Constance Wu is the stand out as main character Rachel Chu, who does a remarkable job showing her strength and resolve around people who are not fond of her. This movie is a winner and it is grounded in good writing and performances, definitely worth a viewing. 8.5/10

The Death of Stalin & Watching Movies on Airplanes

Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin is biting and delirious, bringing out the narcissism in those who grab for power. A satirical game of thrones, it is at times less funny than it is ridiculous and absurd, but this movie works as it showcases what drives some of history’s fiercest men. Many will wonder if these men, who have killed and otherwise brutalized too many people to count are worth satirization. However, this movie works and even allows for laughter in some of its darker moments. Standouts are Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov and the wonderful Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev. Tambor captures Malenkov’s desperate need to solidify himself as a leader, whilst Buscemi captures someone willing to be conniving in his own way. This is an excellent film, and while it lacks a certain energy at times, it is a winner from Iannuci, who builds on his success from Veep. 8.5/10

This movie was watched on an airplane, which is an interesting way to watch movies. I generally have trouble hearing the dialogue, as it times can be a bit quiet due to the noise surrounding the cabin. However, with the right film and an audible volume, it can definitely be a viable way to watch a film. That being said, movie theaters are the way movies are meant to be watched, and if you can that is still the best way to watch cinema.  It enhances your ability to view and critique the movie, as somethings work and do not work based on the size of the screen and the acoustics of the movie theater. My advice would be is is you are going to watch a movie on a plane pick one that focuses more on dialogue and less on violence (unless of course you want the violence to be reduced). Big screens and sweeping volumes enhance a movie more in a theater than does dialogue, and while any movie is better in theaters the lowest dip in quality will be with a dialogue focused movie rather than a action focused movie.

 

The Departed & Brett Kavanaugh

The Departed was added to my Netflix queue recently, and after finishing it for the first time I cannot say enough about it. Fast paced, smartly written, and hilarious one liners throughout. A story about two imposters or “rats”, one who is pretending to be a cop whilst spying for a criminal, and the other who is pretending to be a criminal spying for the cops. Their lives seem to circle but never quite touch, until they are met in an explosive finale. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg are absolute standouts, as well as Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson. This is a movie full of complicated shades, so all I can say is go see it before I spoil something or say more. Scorsese is brilliant. 9.3/10

Our debate about judges takes place in the language of principle. We pretend to debate judicial philosophies, when we all know there was no philosophical objection to confirming Merrick Garland. We pretend to debate whether a given dilatory tactic is legitimate or not, when everyone on both sides of the argument knows they will adopt the other’s arguments the moment power changes hands. We strike principled poses about what the Constitution requires of the Senate or what the Senate’s precedents allow, because we don’t like acknowledging that the only real principle at issue in the Senate’s treatment of judicial confirmations boils down to power—who has it and who doesn’t at any given moment in time.

This quote is from a wonderful piece by Benjamin Wittes, regarding increasing partisanship and how that affects Brett Kavanaugh. I have tried to sound the alarm on extreme partisanship in the past, but this is simply much better than anything I could have written. I encourage you to read this and some of his other work, as he does a great job of breaking down numerous legal issues and gives terrific commentary on many of our legal issues of the day.

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee’s latest joint is a winner, helped by electric performances from Adam Driver and John David Washington. BlacKkKlansman excels at tone, shifting between humor and discomfort, jubilation and fear, and so much in between. In addition, Lee does a great job of allowing both Ron Stallworth and Flip Zimmerman to confront the group, one being black and the other being Jewish. Lee also takes time to know the Klan as well, and through conversation we are able to better understand what makes them tick. Topher Grace is terrific as David Duke, and him along with the cast help create the mood and environment that allow this movie to work. It also allows time to think about the best way to change something we do not like, whether that be from within or beyond. Lee understands the debate and makes sure that each side is given equal credence.

My biggest complaint is that at times it is so overtly political that it can take away from the thrill of its source material. While it is understandable that our current political moment does draw parallels, good stories stand on their own without the need of the political moment. While this story was fascinating, it became clear that this film was about our current president and predicament, and while in some cases that adds to the relevance of this story it also can take away from it as well. However, this is some of Spike Lee’s best work, it will certainly spark conversations and make you wonder how far we really have come. 8/10

Mission Impossible

Ethan Hunt is back in another absolute knockout film in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. This movie seems to capture the elusive balance so many action films lack, knowing when to be serious, funny, or downright insane. The set pieces in this film are some of the best I have ever watched, at times reminding me of Nathan Drake somehow avoiding fate. Tom Cruise is terrific along with a standout performance from Henry Cavill, all help bring together the best action movie I have seen in a long time. While I understand that there may be some cynicism about another Mission Impossible movie, this one is simply too good to miss. 8.8/10

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Leave No Trace

Debra Granik’s stunning film Leave No Trace is a site to behold. The story of a father with PTSD and his daughter trying to find a home is both beautiful and painful in the best way. The bond between a father and a daughter feels so palpably real you will have to remind yourself that you are not watching a documentary.

Where most directors opt for dialogue to move the film, Granik uses scene setting and pure emotion from her co-stars to make her film come alive. Ben Foster and Thomsin McKenzie both turn in incredible performances, treating each scene with patience and purpose. It is a must-see, one that will stay with you after the credits roll. 9.5/10

A great review from RogerEbert.com

My Favorite Movies of the Summer So Far

I am by no means a movie aficionado, however I still thought it would be fun to discuss my favorite films of the Summer so far.

1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Morgan Neville’s riveting documentary about equally riveting subject Fred Rogers is a fascinating portrait of a man who seeks to make the world around him better through television. Fred Rogers is a unique figure in that he treated children as serious people, capable of engaging in challenging discussions and expressing deep emotional connection. Morgan Neville does a terrific job of enlightening who he is and connecting his importance to today’s world and how we treat and think of our youth. This is a fantastic documentary and one that is absolutely worth the price of admission for all ages.  9.5/10


2. Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham further cements himself as one of today’s best artists with his outstanding directorial debut Eighth Grade. Burnham perfectly captures what eighth grade feels like today, from teachers trying too hard to relate to the influence of social media and how kids see themselves as a result. However, where many would want to preach and judge, Burnham treats all of the concerns of Elsie Fisher’s Kayla with great care and understanding. Elsie Fisher absolutely shines in this stunningly well done film, full of great dialogue and gut wrenching moments. This movie is everything Boyhood should have been and so much more.  9/10

3. Blindspotting – Unless you have been living under a cave for the past few years, you probably have either seen Daveed Diggs or danced to him singing as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the international sensation Hamilton on your way to work. If you are not familiar with any of his previous work, this film is still a must-see. Diggs along with co-writer and co-star Rafael Casal tackle everything from gentrification to police brutality all whilst treating the audience as people able to come to their own conclusions about the issues at hand. It is also funny while never straying away from the seriousness of its subject. This movie has many highlights including Diggs and Casal freestyle rapping, who are both absolute treats. See this movie if you want to watch Daveed Diggs raps and cover some of our most pressing social issues, is there anything else I need to say?  8.8/10


4. Three Identical Strangers – Keeping with the documentary theme, Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers starts with the reunification of three identical triplets and deals with the aftermath. It starts as a seemingly feel good story but quickly turns into something darker. This movie is full of fascinating social science concepts and terrific ethical questions important for our time. It can feel almost invasive at points, but its dark tone and scintillating story make for a jaw-dropping experience that will stick with you after the credits roll. 8.5/10


5. Solo: A Star Wars Story – In 1977 Harrison Ford’s Han Solo first graced are screens and endeared us with his charm and his ultimate shift from smuggler to hero. 41 years and a massive following later Han Solo has become one of the most iconic characters ever to grace the silver screen. While many Star Wars fanatics were afraid this would “ruin” the famed character for them, this film Alden Ehrenhich holds his own as the iconic character. Donald Glover is the highlight in this one as Lando Calrissian, capturing the eccentricity and humor in a way only Donald could. This is a movie that is much better than the reviews would suggest, and is worth the time for anyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan. 8/10

6. Avengers: Infinity War – I must confess that I have not kept up on much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the comics as I should have and so that affects how I see the film in its aftermath. This movie is doing five things at once, and becomes muddled and at times chaotic throughout. However, the fact that this movie does not entirely break is a feat in itself. My biggest problem in this movie is with the villain Thanos and his “Children of Thanos”, both of which are underdeveloped and uninteresting. However, the ending is one for the ages, and redeems much of this film’s poorer qualities. How the MCU will shape up after this film is a mystery, but I will enjoy the shock value of the ending while I still have it. 7/10

7. Sorry to Bother You – Activist and Rapper Boots Riley has a directorial debut that will most certainly shock. It is full of thought provoking moments, but ultimately crushes under the weight of its own ambition. It feels ridiculous and absurd, and at times seems more interested in over-exaggerating its political points rather than having an honest discussion. Where Blindspotting takes care in addressing the audience, this movie goes off the rails in its own political commentary. This movie is a darling of many critics, however the more I look back to it the more I cannot stand it. If you agree with the political opinions that fuel this film you will enjoy it, however if you believe in capitalism and are still deciding how you feel about many issues of the day this film will bother you to no end. 6.5/10


Movies that I am still hoping to see: First Reformed and Leave No Trace

Edit: My reviews for Leave No Trace and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are here.