Tag Archives: drama

Miracolo a Milano

The theme for week three of the letterboxd dot com challenge was Italian Neorealism. For the uninitiated (which includes me, for example), that is a specific period in post-war Italian cinema that focuses on reality and daily life stories with no heroes. So from the list available, we picked Miracle in Milan, which is pretty much the opposite of those things? I may have done a bad job.

It is also worth noting that, wait, why is it so far past your week two review? The answer is, haha, we’ve been sick and got behind. Hoping to catch up over a few days? We’ll see!

So anyway, this movie is weird[1]. Like really weird. There’s this kid, Totò, who after experiencing a bizarre childhood punctuated by a cabbage patch adoption and multiplication tables, comes out of the orphanage as a relentlessly cheerful and giving adult who immediately finds himself in a homeless encampment[2], and proceeds to organize it into a pretty cozy and happy shantytown. (I haven’t yet gotten to where the movie is especially weird, to be clear, but saying more would go deep into spoiler towne, whose inhabitants are far less cheerful a bunch than these were.)

I guess the neorealism part is in the characters themselves rather than the plot, which shortly after I ended my synopsis above (about 15 minutes into a 90 minute movie) goes so far off the rails my metaphor is impossible to complete, but the words “wishing dove” and “timely to modern eyes class warfare” are involved, as are the words “ghostly top hat stampede”. But the characters, I was saying, the characters have a lot of daily life reality. There’s the rich family that has fallen on hard times but still has a nanny (also now homeless, natch), who spends most of their time in the shantytown trying to bilk lire from the populace. There’s the really grumpy outsider guy who keeps getting in fights with everyone else. There’s the black man and white women who arrived at the same time and are clearly mutually interested, but who keep staying away from each other because I guess Italy also had miscegenation laws?[3]

And there are more. What I guess I am impressed by, as an avowed watcher of movies that would not want to be called films, is how many of the characters in a cast of hundreds were, okay, not fully realized, but at least memorable. I’m not sure if that’s just difficult to accomplish in more plot-centric movies, or if we’ve lost something along the way, but I bet it’s some of both.

All the same, I’m glad my entry into this subgenre of film history was as plot-dense as it was, because I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed something that was all aimless and bleak like the description of Italian neorealism reads to me. I know I said “entry”, and while I use the term advisedly, one of the other movies we contemplated, The Bicycle Thieves, is by the same writer and director, and I can’t help being a little curious. (I mean, it will not be capital-w weird, I already know that much. But still.)

[1] Also, I never saw Life is Beautiful, but I can tell you with high confidence that `the guy who made it has this movie as one of his major influences. Seriously, look it up later and prove me right.
[2] If you see the wry humor in that, trust me, so did the filmmakers.
[3] That plotline ends in a way that would be spectacularly cringey if I were to describe it, but in its own context was both progressive and earnedly hilarious.

Goodfellas

Last week on the letterboxd dot com weekly movie, the theme was Remembering Ray, as in Liotta, who died earlier this year. Since Goodfellas is a  film knowledge gap for both of us, it was a no-brainer for the week.

The movie is a mostly straightforward biography of Henry Hill[1], a mafia outsider (in that he was only half Sicilian, and therefore not eligible to be the real deal) who nevertheless lived a lavish, crime-filled life from his teens onward as (along with also not-Sicilian Robert DeNiro) a hanger-on to Paul Sorvino as a godfather type and Joe Pesci as an up and comer in the family.

Only, nobody uses the word godfather, or mafia, or even mob. “Family” comes up a fair bit, but not in the way that any of the characters are related or talked about being related, because it’s not that kind of family. All the same, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, because, well. What I will say is that this movie is almost certainly a better depiction of mob life in the ’60s and ’70s. I mean obviously, the guy who wrote the tell-all autobiography probably knows better than the guy who wrote a book that he basically made up from start to finish, but still, you can tell that a movie made up of a series of vignettes about life, love, laughter, and larceny is going to be more true than a movie with foreshadowing, visual themes, and a throughline about inevitability.

All of which to say, yeah, I think The Godfather tells a better story. But I’m glad I finally saw this one, because I should have had it in my repository long since. The only really sad thing is that I can’t hit up Jeff and talk about it now.

[1] In addition to Goodfellas being one of those movies that everyone has seen, Ray is also in the starring role, which made the choice even easier.

La llorona (2019)

Earlier this week, I learned that letterboxd dot com[1] has a multi-year project where each week there’s a theme, and you watch a movie which a) fits the theme (okay, obviously) and b) that you’ve never seen before. Also earlier this week: the 8th year (season?) of this project of theirs started. After a brief discussion with Mary, we decided to go for it, and thusly, here we are.

Week one, Central American Independence Week, is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. La Llorona, then, is at first glance a slow moving court procedural in which an aging, arguably dying, Guatemalan general is on trial for genocide of the Mayan peoples in the early 1980s. That is, there is some time spent in court, but the majority of the first third of the film is the various members of his dead-eyed family wandering around their villa, berating the staff[2], resenting the protesters encamped outside their front door, and debating quietly among themselves whether the charges are true.

And that’s pretty much an entire movie in itself, of a certain character study ilk. Will the general’s wife learn about herself her complicity (or, if she already knows deep down, will she decide that it matters)? Will the general’s daughter make a choice to explicitly reject her parents for their unforgivable crimes (perhaps the least of which is, possibly, egregious interference in her personal life)? Will the general’s granddaughter become, by association, as dead-eyed as everyone else in the family or will she maintain her innocence? This could easily be the direction of the small slice of life that has been presented, unless, of course, you know what the llorona is.

Ultimately, the arrival of a single replacement maid to pick up the slack left to the housekeeper after the rest of the staff quit back in act one does not actually result in a different movie than the hypothetical one I described above. She just pushes the outcomes into a different groove than they otherwise would have proceeded along.

Recommended for fans of character-driven dramas that need to dip their toes into the horror genre, or for fans of horror who need to dip their toes into the character study genre.

For the curious: I chose the French poster of this movie because the version I watched was distributed by a French, um, distributor.

[1] A movie-based social media network, apparently? Like here, if people actually showed up, and also had their own review sites.
[2] Who for some reason want to quit now that their boss is on trial for the genocide of, to a first approximation, their people.

Promising Young Woman

Every movie I watched in early 2020, according to a memory that is at worst only slightly flawed in this regard, had a preview for Promising Young Woman. April could not get here fast enough! …and then all the theaters plus pretty much everything else shut down in late March, and when the movie received theatrical release last December instead, I was still not in a place where going to see it there seemed like a reasonable option. Because, you know, vaccines didn’t exist yet.

And so I’m basically a year and a half overdue on this movie. On the bright side, it delivered!

The thing is, oh man, I don’t want to say anything other than go watch it, on the off chance that that barrage of previews didn’t spoil the basic premise. There’s a lot more to see, but those first moments were a killer even in the preview, much less what it might be as a full scene with no idea what to expect.

What I can say is that there’s a little bit of a mystery here. We are presented with the portrait of a woman who was promising, past tense most definitely intended. She was a med school student, but now a few years later she’s a barista who lives with her parents and gets pass out drunk in dive bars. But why? What happened? Can she break the cycle of her existence?

How far will she go to do so?

Separately from the fact that it’s good, it’s something basically everyone should see. I just wish I believed that it would be as meaningful to, y’know, everyone.

Circle (2015)

Outside of it showing up on one of the random tabs of movies that Netflix wants me to endlessly scroll through, I have never heard of Circle. And yet, whatever the description said and / or the Netflixised movie poster looked like was sufficient for me to add it to my queue. And now, an unknown number of years later, here we are.

So, as to what it actually is? It’s a weird amalgam of 12 Angry Men[1] and Survivor[2], with lightning bolts. See, there are dozens of people who wake up standing on white circles in a black room, and also they themselves are arranged in a circle[3]. And then they start dying. And then they start realizing why they are dying, and start bargaining to live longer.

The movie proceeds in real time, and could have been a play or a single take, except for all the special effects involved making that seem like sheer misery for everyone involved. It has no payoff as to what is going on or why or what happens next, but if you are in it simply for the human drama of seeing who will do or say what, a microcosm of people trapped under glass like ants, going about their lives (if their lives were spent weighing morality versus survival), then it works pretty well!

I both liked it and would not especially recommend it. I semi-wonder if watching a second time knowing the outcomes would make me walk away with a different take, but that’s not going to happen.

[1] the 1957 movie, or take your pick as to a newer version or stage version instead.
[2] the reality show
[3] Imaginative Titles R Us

Like Me

When I read the description of Like Me on Shudder, what I imagined was a chick in a spree murder movie, and spoiler, that is not what it actually is.

Instead, it is at times a psychedelic romp[1], at times a buddy road trip movie, at times[2] a meditation on social media fame and infamy, at times almost a comedy, and at times shockingly violent[3].

I think I’m glad to have seen it, but I’m simultaneously not convinced it is worth the effort for anyone else to.

[1] As movie reviewers like to say so that they can be quoted on posters and DVD covers
[2] And unfortunately the most boring times, since you can tell by the title that this was the point they were driving at
[3] This makes no sense. It’s nominally a horror movie! But something about the YouTube lens of the thing made the actual violent moments feel a lot more real than I’m used to when just watching a movie or TV in general, much less a horror movie in specific.

Colossal (2016)

Colossal is a movie that is very easy to spoil, so I’m going to be careful for a little while here, and it’s going to be tricky because most of the things I want to talk about fall squarely into that territory. So first, a brief plot summation.

Anne Hathaway gets drunk a lot, so her boyfriend kicks her out of New York City, and she has to move back to her parents’ home (they’re dead already and the house was just left empty I guess?) and figure out how to be a person again, or else get a job at a bar and continue her life-destroying alcoholism. Meanwhile, a giant monster is stomping around Seoul, destroying infrastructure and killing people. These facts are completely unrelated, OR ARE THEY?

I nearly and mostly liked it, despite my complaints below the cut, for which this is your warning that spoilers are forthcoming. I think the more I think about it, the more the scales will tip from the “nearly” side to the “mostly” side.

Spoilers ahoy!

Continue reading

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Into the Forest (2015)

Into the Forest was sold to me as an apocalypse movie, and I’m not quite sure that’s right. It’s a (usually) quiet family drama about young adult sisters and their father living in a remote but fancy home in the forest, with technology that still codes as “near future” even though the film is five years old. Only, some kind of long term power outage strikes[1] and all the fancy technology is no longer quite so useful.

Which reminds me of the speech on every Walking Dead graphic novel about being forced to start living now that we no longer have all these modern conveniences. So I suppose in a way it is an apocalyptic movie after all, despite the lack of zombies and/or regularly paced explosions? Mostly, it’s daily life plus survival in a quiet but never quite empty world.

It was also described as a feminine take on an apocalypse, insofar as masculine takes involve trying to Get to Somewhere and Solve Everything, whereas this is about staying in one place and staying alive. I’m not sure that’s quite right either, at least the motivational gender split, but I agree that it was definitely a non-traditional take, and also that it was created by and largely populated by women, so maybe that one is more fair than I’m giving credit as well.

Either way, it was a worthy way to spend a few hours. Downside for you: it will only be on Netflix for a few more hours, and after that, man, who knows?

[1] the state? the coast? the nation? the world? Who knows, when the lack of power and rapidly dwindled gas supply means news is not really forthcoming.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule