Midnight Cowboy

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My knowledge of Midnight Cowboy prior to watching it began and ended with the famous “I’m walking here!” line. It seemed like a funny scene. Indeed, the movie features a handful of moments that could be labeled comedic, but make no mistake: there’s nothing funny about any of it.

In fact, not only is it not funny, it’s a deeply sad look at characters who very rarely get their stories told. As such, despite the film being half a century old, some things still surprise. Take for instance Rico Rizzo’s (Dustin Hoffman) home. The man lives in an abandoned, closed off building, and the director takes its time to show the audience how exactly living in an empty place works like. There’s crummy mattresses, a refrigerator used as a storage box, a curtain that appears to be made out of paper.

What’s left the film bouncing around in my head is its pervasive sense of loneliness. Not because it exists but because even then, 50 years ago, it was being introduced in cinema. I’ve gotten used to seeing multiple examinations of sad and lonely characters in film, but they are all product of the 21st century. This made sense to me. But to discover that humans have been carrying this burden since the beginning of time? How despairing.

A- 

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Juno

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The humor bellying Juno reminds me of the once great sitcom Community. What made that show work tremendously, at least for its first 3 seasons before its butchering by hubris, was its deft balance of goofy and heartfelt. It’s characters would wittily banter back and forth for an episode, while never losing sight of the emotional core, be it familial neglect or loneliness.

Juno is a great comedy not because its characters feel real (has there ever been such a smart alek 16 year old?), but because they feel alive. Their dilemmas and desires mirror our own, and make us feel less lonely. If characters who think and speak like everybody in the Juno universe can struggle, but finally succeed at getting their life together, then maybe so can we.

B+

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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Wow, what a disappointment! Are we sure David Fincher wasn’t coerced into directing this? It aims at becoming this generation’s Forrest Gump, complete with platitudes about life and lessons aimed at making us appreciate this world even more, but look beyond the surface and there’s nothing there. It’s easily digestible fodder masquerading as a testament of how fleeting our mortal coil is.

C-

Man on the Moon

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Being not at all familiar with who Andy Kaufman was, I was surprised at similarities between his shenanigans and those of the famous Youtube “performance artists” of the current century. Pranks, hoaxes, skirting the limits of decency; Andy Kaufman engaged in such activities before they became the bread and butter of American society. He nearly lost it all back then, whereas now he would have gone viral.

B

Life

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Pros: there’s an unbroken shot at the start which makes everything seem promising.

the sequence that culminates in one of the crew members being murdered is actually pulse pounding.

reminded me of Sunshine and Gravity, better movies.

Cons: never bought the monster. A bacteria suddenly becomes a winged demon?

humans getting picked off one by one in predictable fashion

doesn’t know the definition of the word subtle. Case in point, cold breath out of their mouths, and somebody actually says “i am so cold”. Show, don’t tell.

C+ 

Brigsby Bear

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It’s not that movies make me feel less lonely. If anything, depending on the quality or subject matter, they remind me of it, reinforce it even. Movies join me in loneliness, they can make me understand how I got there, and maybe also how to get better. I know I am undeserving of the gift of experiencing films, and I thank God for it. However, several times now I have thought whether watching them has warped my perception of the real world.

Could it be that what I perceive as personal and shameful failures, for example my perpetual singleness, is more due to the gross expectations Hollywood set for me than for who I am? An interesting thought, and one that I’m hesitant to hold on for fear of it removing the sense of responsibility I now carry. That it’s me, and I must get better somehow.

The Tale

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A story that demands our empathy, The Tale is the rarely perceptive picture that paints the human experience the way it is: messy. Not because of any particular chaos involved, but because everyone has been shaped by people, circumstances, hopes, and tragedies that add up to something that we’re not entirely sure we fully understand. So how can others?

A-

The Fugitive

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You read the plot synopsis for The Fugitive and think somebody misplaced their madlibs. And then 10 minutes into the adventure, Harrison Ford jumps out of a wrecked bus to evade an incoming freight train. Yes, relentless is the appropriate adjective to describe the movie, but I want to bring attention to an aspect of it that I’ve found has gone overlooked in the many reviews and appreciations written since it’s original premiere two decades ago.

The moment I wish to highlight occurs halfway through, as Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) sneaks around the hospital on his way to the exit. Dressed as a janitor, this is not the first time he does this; however, something is different now. There’s a kid lying on a gurney, squirming in pain, that no doctors are paying attention to. When somebody finally notices the kid, they botch the job. Kimble is instructed to carry the kid to another wing, and while doing so he checks the film, figures out the true ailment, writes it down and delivers the boy for surgery, effectively saving his life.

So what is the importance of this relatively quiet moment in a movie that’s filled with non-stop pulse-pounding chase sequences?

For starters, the suspense hasn’t gone anywhere. There’s police officers in the hospital, a few feet from Richard Kimble. If anything, the suspense is amped up in this sequence. The audience knows that Kimble can easily sneak away as he’s done before, but we are also aware of his character. Earlier in the film Richard Kimble had dragged an injured corrections officer out of the incoming train, and what does he get for his efforts? When the injured man wakes up, he recognizes Kimble and alerts authorities, who come this close to apprehending the good doctor.
What would be the consequences now, were Kimble to stop and aid the kid?

It also makes the circumstances Richard Kimble is in all the more tragic, and makes us even more invested in a happy ending. Here’s a falsely accused man who would risk his own life to save others, despite never getting any praise for it. A moment like this is so rare nowadays, where heroism is often bombastic and requiring adoration. By being a quiet hero, the audience truly feels for Richard Kimble, and every chase scene afterwards is tinged with the knowledge that if caught, the world will be missing another good man. And nobody would ever know.

A+

Pitch Perfect 3

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I was clinically depressed the first time I watched Pitch Perfect. It was early 2013, and life made no sense. But it didn’t have to, not as long as the infectious joy and warmth that radiated from the character interactions that populated the movie were around. It was the best time I’d had in a while.

The sequel lost some of its charm, but still managed to be very entertaining, providing the characters with dilemmas that were plausible, in the grounded real world the first film had established, and did not feel overtly as just Hollywood clamoring for more money.

It is now 2019. Life continues to make no sense, but the fervent desire to die that consumed me back then has been extinguished. At the very least it has stopped clouding my judgement. Could that be part of the reason why I loathed the final movie in the trilogy? Before making a decision, I went back and rewatched some clips from the original. I remember I even had the soundtrack, which I listened to frequently. The bits I watched continue to work: they are fun, full of life and excitement. The stakes, as low as they were, matter, and so do the relationships built along the way.
This meant that the suckitude of Pitch Perfect 3 has more to do with its pathetic quality than my own as a viewer.

I detested this abhorrent excuse for entertainment, this blatant cash grab coasting on the goodwill of the two previous movies. I’ve seen many terrible movies, many of them more horrible than this one. But few of them have made me as mad as the atrocious quality of Pitch Perfect 3. The recycled jokes, the tired gags, the cringe attempts to appear woke; there is no artistic reason for this flick to exist beyond the endless and sinful greed of executives. Shame on all those people who put money above everything else.

 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

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It was night time when I entered the bedroom ready to confront my father.

“Don’t interrupt me please”, I told him, the words delivered in the exact same order I had been practicing them for days. “I have to tell you something, so please do not say anything until I finish”.

He nodded.

The confession went nothing like rehearsed. I jumped timelines, circled back to events already mentioned, and wept. But at least the message got through: my dad had been terrible to me, my sisters, and my mom, all four of us still carrying marks that he primed us for many years back.

At the end of the monologue, my dad got up from the bed, hugged me and said how sorry he was. There was no catharsis in the airing of grievances, no liberation to be had from finally coming clean. We didn’t become best friends again, like when I was six, nor did he regain my trust.

“It’s up to you if you want us to have a relationship again”, I said.

Now, seven months later, what has happened to our relationship?

Too often Hollywood resolves family issues the way it tends to resolve anything else: by the power of belief. Events bring people together; confrontations lead to healing. And while that can be true, it doesn’t retroactively make better all the years of hurt that came before. It’s definitely appealing to the crowd, to fix broken relationships with a shouting match, but it’s just not true.

Love and forgiveness, especially with the people closest to us, are everyday decisions. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is one of the most humane pictures I’ve seen in a while because it illustrates precisely that.

A+