Jojo Rabbit

54f24201bbe780e48f6bf9f5ceb1cbba

There’s a very poetic scene near the end of Jojo Rabbit in which men, women and children are charging blindly towards certain doom. The camera slows down time, capturing these figures in all their pitiful foolishness. Here they are, the self proclaimed master race, dying for a cause that’s not only evil, but stupid. Perhaps they deserved it. Jojo Rabbit makes fun of Nazis by painting them as buffoons, but it also humanizes them as creatures to feel sorry for.

The friendship that Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) eventually build is based off an understanding of one another as God’s fellow creatures, united not as much in what they have but in what they’ve lost. There’s a beautiful scene in which the two kids stare out the window, the night sky tinted by explosions, and discuss their pain. It has taken time and effort to arrive at this point; Jojo and Elsa had to go through many misunderstandings, but finally, in their darkest hour, they found the solace of each other’s company.

The message “we’re all human, so be kind to one another” is far too simplistic, reducing people’s experiences to mere hurdles that can be easily overcome with enough love. Thankfully that’s not what Jojo Rabbit does. While certainly both human beings, Jojo and Elsa are quite different from each other. By the end of the film their differences haven’t vanished, and they’re both their own person. They did not learn to look past each other’s backgrounds, but came to love them.

Jesus Christ famously cried out “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’ve done” as Romans drove nails through his limbs. It’s a nonsensical response to a heinous act until you realize it was based on love. Jojo Rabbit invites us to look at our enemies, yes, even the Nazis, with love. For they know not what they do. But what if they do know exactly what they do, and just don’t care? Dear reader, I dare say we love still.

Jojo Rabbit had me sobbing my eyes out because I remembered how tough it is to love our neighbor, and what a rotten, dirty, unjust world we live in. It also filled my heart with so much joy because there are things that can make everything so much bearable. Small things, like looking into the eyes of the ones you love and dancing.

A+

Best Films 2019

My mom watches movies in segments. She divides her attention between her phone, the screen, the kitchen, the weather and the neighbor’s dog. It takes her literal days to finish watching movies sometimes. My dad watches one movie every month, sometimes every two months. I joke with them by asking how I can possibly be related to them when our movie watching habits are so dissimilar. But sometimes I don’t joke. Rather, I look Godwards in gratitude. Surely I’ve done nothing radically different from my parents that would cause me to live cinema in a way that breathes vigor to my bones. Yet here I am again with the yearly list of the best films watched in 2019. 160 they were, a surprisingly high number considering I spent many months traveling. There must have been some nights in which I watched more than one, more than two. I recall these moments very, very fondly. And the following films even more so. 

 

HARRY POTTER SAGA

harry-potter-all-posters2

Simultaneously a tender look at being a teenager and a parable of the biblical story of Jesus and Satan, the Harry Potter series is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Watched over the course of four spellbinding days, the level of engagement it stirred within me is unparalleled. Unmatched too are the echoes of the Gospel story present throughout, from the Messiah-like Harry to the astute ways the evil one assails our commitment to the cause. I won’t soon forget the night in which, after finishing my dinner, I rushed to my bedroom to watch Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. I sat in bed for five hours, bewitched by every little thing. The next day I told my mom that I was going to finish watching Harry Potter that night, and she apologized for not allowing me to watch them years before. I told her there was no need for an apology because it had turned out to be for the best. I discovered Harry Potter at just the right moment in life. 

THE FOUNTAIN

maxresdefault

Here’s something I’d never done before. Once the credits started to roll, I hit play and watched The Fountain all over again. A feast for the senses, The Fountain is a tragedy of lost love. It is also a triumphant reminder that one need not be crippled by the fear of death, for together we will live forever.

THE IRISHMAN

lead_720_405

The most elegiac film of Martin Scorsese’s storied career, The Irishman mourns the lives that are lived in service of all that is ultimately inconsequential. Subverting the expectations created three decades ago with his masterpiece Goodfellas, in which crime was glamorized and life was fast paced, The Irishman is a film only an old man could make. Rueful, wise, patient. Scorsese, pushing 80, has never shied away from his faith. The confession scene is not only for his protagonists, not only for his audience, but also for himself.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

2008-synecdoche_new_york-2

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved.”

MARRIAGE STORY

marriage-story

2019 delivered some of the best acting by men I’ve seen in a while. You couldn’t take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Robert DeNiro was phenomenal in The Irishman. And Adam Driver was absolutely superb, the best he has ever been, in Marriage Story. You watch him slowly disintegrate as the film progresses. The scene in which he pretends he’s fine after cutting himself by accident is a marvel. 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

marlon-clip-videosixteenbynine1050

Ten months ago, reviewing this documentary for the first time, I wrote that “Brando’s story is our story, the small details varying but the overall picture looking the same: a life in a world with pain as its principal currency, with every soul aching for a more permanent release than wealth, or family, or sex”. No more needs to be said.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

inglourious_basterds-1024x570-1

His films tend to be fun and easy to watch, but Tarantino outdid himself with this one.

COLUMBUS

columbus-02

It happens, almost imperceptibly and not to everybody, but it happens. The moment you discover your parents, the people who were meant to nourish and see you thrive, are suffocating you. They don’t do it out of any ill will; they love you, after all. And you love them, and now you’re compelled to see them thrive, compelled to nourish them. It’s a reversal of the natural order, and it hurts your little heart. But it cannot be this way forever for you are young and you must leave them behind. This hurts your little heart some more. Columbus is a perfect distillation of this. 

SET IT UP

set-it-up-glen-powell

In an age in which the rom-com is all but dead, here comes Zooey Deutsch to breathe new life into it and make it soar, soar, soar. 

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

https3a2f2fblogs-images.forbes.com2fdanidiplacido2ffiles2f20182f122fspiderman-into-the-spider-verse-1200x800-1

To call this the best superhero movie I’ve seen might be faint praise, considering my slight indifference towards most movies of its ilk. But it is anything but. Into the Spider-Verse is a colorful, hilarious, inventive and strangely moving picture about the hero’s journey. One, it turns out, we’re all in. 

The Rider

1993149497

It is easier for somebody who does not believe in an ever loving God to make sense of the injustices of this world. A believer, on the other hand, must come to reconcile the truth of a benevolent and kind God with the bitter realities of a life marked by pain and disappointment.

How do the children of God carry on in the face of profound sorrows? The Rider, a frequently moving and lyrical picture, posits that the Almighty has crafted each and every creature on this earth for a purpose, so we should pursue it, against all odds.

I look at myself, weary and slowly losing faith of ever achieving my dreams, and wonder. If God made me with a purpose, why aren’t I fulfilling it? Why am I stuck with such a mediocre and unexceptional existence? Prayer is hard to come by now, so preoccupied are my thoughts on what to do next. It was never supposed to be this way.

I had so much hope for the future, so much love and trust in my Savior, so much joy in the today. But more and more that feels like a bygone era, a person who was unaware that this world destroys goodness and God is…where is God?

A-

Paterson

paterson

Terrence Malick and the likes have accustomed me to think of film as poetic if it features any of the recognizable traits of the maestro-fluid camera movement, longing shots of nature, non-linear structure perhaps.
In Paterson, I discovered a new one.

This is a film that feels like contemplative verses, written on the backyard of a mortgaged home under the clouds of an entirely uneventful summer afternoon.

A-

Logan

logan-poster-wolverine-3

Superhero movies adapted from comic books have had such a tremendous impact on popular culture during the last decade that they’ve even received their own grading curve.
“Good by superhero movie standards”, or “terrible even by comic book adaptation standards” has become the de facto response to this kind of product. Whether this is harmful or beneficial to cinema as a whole is a topic that demands its own blog post (maybe when Wonder Woman opens?), so this entry will not approach Logan as another superhero comic book movie, but rather as simply another slice of cinema.

I note this disclaimer out of fear that I will be doing this movie a disservice by calling it the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight trilogy. A quick glance into the past reveals that in the intervening years there have not really been that many memorable movies of the kind, which would take away some credit from Logan.
So instead I will say that Logan is the most memorable film I have watched since Silence; it reminds me of the greatest television series I have ever watched, Spartacus: Blood and Sand; and features a performance by Hugh Jackman so magnificent that if I cared at all about awards, I would hope against hope he’d be nominated for something.

“That was not Wolverine”, a friend lamented upon exiting the cinema. “I hated the movie.”
“I hoped that character from the other movie showed up”, the other friend said. “That would have been cool”.

I kept quiet, pondering their words. How many people spend fifteen dollars hoping to see something cool on the big screen? Is that why superhero movies are so popular, since they feature a CGI infused extravaganza of explosions and shiny costumes? Why do so little people pay mind to the human element, and the pains and the joys of life on this earth?

Logan might be the story of a 200 year old mutant who cannot die, but his tale is agonizingly human. Hugh Jackman inflicts Logan with so much sorrow that a mere glance is enough to break your heart. I would say that Logan is a man battling his demons, but it would be a misreading of the film. Logan lost that conflict many years ago. What’s left is a man who is in constant agony every waking hour, considering death a welcome change to the life filled with regret and loss he’s led up until that point.

That the script for this was approved is some sort of miracle. Consider the scene in which Laura (Dafne Keen) is riding a mechanical horse, and Logan approaches to call her back to the car. She looks at him asking for one more ride, so Logan pulls out a quarter from his pocket and says “One final time okay?”, before inserting the coin into the mechanical box next to the contraption. Logan pulls away and Laura starts to ride again.
A moment like this, lasting about thirty seconds and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, becomes beautiful not only because it survived executives overseeing it making sure they made every penny back, but because it speaks volumes about the world we all inhabit. This is real life. A kid riding a mechanical horse; an old man lifted from his wheelchair and into a public toilet; a young man saying he will drop from college to go travel across the country.
Small, fleeting moments are what make up our lives, and small, fleeting moments are what Logan is incapable of grasping. He says the adamantium inside his system is slowly killing him, but that’s only partly true.
Logan has been dying since the day he let his sorrows overtake any glimmer of hope for a better future he might have had.

Again, Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of a lifetime. It will take me a while to get rid of the images of a bruised and battered Logan out of my head, his gaze lost somewhere where the camera cannot reach. Watching it in the dark in a packed room, I felt knots in my stomach, and I wondered if my neighbors felt the same. I wanted the movie to be over and go home imagining Logan living his remaining days somewhere happily ever after.

While not a perfect movie, mainly because the quasi generic bad guys keep reminding the audience that they are watching a Marvel adaptation every time they are on screen, it reminded me of the immense power cinema holds whenever a story is well told. It reminded me that even in the midst of all the deafening noise and chaos resounding that has been ruling our world for the past year, there is still room for the intimate, and that hope should not be given up on. But most of all, it reminded me that true heroes don’t wear capes after all.

B+

Louder than Bombs

louder_than_bombs_xlg

The boy shuffles along the pavement at night, flashes of video games and his dead mother popping into his brain with every step he takes.
“I want to have lunch with you on Monday”, the girl says.
Dimly lit every time they pass a streetlight on the way home, she’s lovelier than she’s ever been sitting across from him in English class.
He does not answer, but we really hope he does.

B

It Follows

it follows“It’s funny. We used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates and drive around with friends in their cars. I had this image of myself, holding hands with this really cute guy, listening to the radio, driving on some pretty road. Up North maybe. The trees starting to change colors. It was never about going anywhere really. It’s having some sort of freedom I guess.
Now that we’re old enough, where the hell do we go?”

Immediately after this is spoken, a man chloroforms Jay (Maika Monroe), ties her up in a wheelchair and explains how a murderous demon is going to haunt her every day unless she sleeps with someone else.

That juxtaposition is what makes It Follows so memorable.
It’s the pairing of the poetic, and the macabre.
The nostalgic, and the terrifying.

Consider the first and last minute of the film.

The opening scene is terror at its absolute finest. The camera pans 360 degrees as dread escalates by the second.
By contrast, the closing minutes are gentler, and would not be out of place in a romance. The camera follows the couple, slowly. We see them holding hands.
Cut to black.

There’s so much more going on here than pure horror.
The photography is beautiful, which augments the suspense, as you’re always expecting an evil entity to burst into a quiet scene and mess the whole thing up.

The best horror movie I have ever seen is Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are, a brutal and tragic piece on religious fanaticism. But I found that more of a slow burn, more akin to a low-key drama than a full out scare fest.
With It Follows, there is no doubt. Two scenes in particular were so frightening, I had to cover my mouth so as to not wake the house up from all my screaming.

I have rarely, if ever, experienced so much apprehension watching a movie. The only other example might be The Conjuring, but that picture, scary as it was, had moments in which the threat seemed non existent.
Here, every single frame oozes suspense.

Will I be able to sleep at night tonight?
Yes.
The evil here is not a vicious monster that only pops in the dark.
It’s something more. Something unseen. Something that might not even be a “thing”. Something that is not necessarily scary, but it’s there.
Behind you.

A-