The Courier

Yaaaaaaaaaas. As I had hoped, The Courier (2020) delivered an assortment of my favorite film characteristics:

  • Espionage thriller
  • Period piece
  • Historical context
  • Based on true events
  • Accents
  • Creepy cobblestone alleys
  • Mustaches & fedoras
  • Friendship
  • Bravery

This dramatic portrayal is the true story of two spectacular men: A “regular-guy” British businessman and a Soviet officer—both risking it all to LITERALLY save the world. 

Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a British businessman recruited by the CIA and MI6 to help thwart nuclear confrontation with Russia and diffuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. His Russian counterpart is Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), who has secretly defected from the Soviet Union to impede Kruschev’s destructive will. 

The stakes are high; the risks are even higher. Both men have families to worry about and plenty of reasons to avoid involvement, yet they forge bravely into an increasingly dangerous operation because they know the fate for all of humanity if they fail. 

What time is it? SPY TIME.

But how does a random British businessman get recruited by two of the world’s top spy agencies? I’m paraphrasing here, but it goes something like this:

“Hey Greville, you’re literally nobody and therefore perfect for a covert mission because the Kremlin won’t suspect you.”

“Uh, I’m flattered(?), but I have no idea what I’m doing so I shall decline with a respectful HELL NO.”

“Fair enough, but, if you don’t help, your family gon’ die from nuclear fallout. Oh and also, the whole world will be annihilated, and that’s just awkward for everyone.”

“Mmm, solid point. Ok, fine. But is it dangerous?”

“Nah (fingers crossed behind their backs), you’re too soft for anything that’s actually perilous. Plus, even if something did happen, we promise to protect you and your family. It’s a square deal! Now let’s talk about spy stuff…”

Meanwhile in Russia, Oleg is straight thug. As a high-ranking, well-respected official with a ton of Soviet medals for bad-assery, he plays this game better than anyone. He’s been a double agent for a few years already, but now he’s ready to push his espionage skills to the max and sacrifice everything for what he knows is right. 

Frenzzz. So cute!

Greville and Oleg begin their covert operation under the guise that Greville wants to sell industrial engineering products to the Soviet Union. Because of this ruse, the two men are able to meet for dinners and events with little suspicion.

As Oleg continues to transfer his intelligence to Greville, the two allies become friends. These heroic and intelligent individuals have an unspoken brotherhood and mutual respect. Cumberbatch and Ninidze portray an authentic chemistry that can be felt with all your being. 

But of course, even as careful as they are, suspicions eventually arise. In the second act of the film, Greville and Oleg find themselves in dangerous territory. When the jig is up and circumstances become truly dire, MI6 and the CIA have a choice to make: uphold their promise to get these men and their families out of harm’s way NOW, or leave them to endure betrayal and abandonment. 

MI6 seems good with the abandonment idea, but the CIA contact, Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), makes a compelling case for helping Greville and Oleg: Who will want to work for us (and who will even trust us) if we break our promise and do not use all our resources to try and save these men?

The mission is arduous. It may not be wholly successful, but they have to try. The remainder of the film is a wild ride through the course of several years where Oleg and Greville (both captured) put their friendship and loyalty to the ultimate test, battling through bouts of sacrifice, humility, despair, and fear while trying to survive another day.

Will they be saved?

The Courier is an intriguing and gripping espionage thriller that reveals the important contributions of these men, and many others, who worked behind-the-scenes to stop the Cuban Missile Crisis and prevent a nuclear world war. 

Minari

My biggest critique of this movie is that the ending felt too abrupt, but I don’t have a better solution so, maybe I’m the problem, haha. In every other respect, Minari (2020) was remarkable. 

The plot of Minari is unassuming: A Korean-American family moves from California to Arkansas in the 1980’s to start a farm and live their American Dream. From there, the humble plot transcends into some really charming storytelling. It’s unexpected, and also wholly authentic; and I think there are a couple reasons for that:

#1 Insanely Good Acting & Screenplay

Half way through Minari my husband and I turned to each other and agreed that every actor in the movie thus far was blowing our minds. The father, Jacob Yi, is played by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja), He’s optimistic and determined to make this farm a success.

His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), isn’t so sure it’s going to be worth it. Their trailer home in the backcountry is less than ideal, and she’s worried about having enough income for the medical expenses of their son, David, who has a heart murmur. David is 7 years old and his older sister, Anne, is about 9. David can be mischievous, but overall he and his sister are good children. 

Together with his eccentric, religion-obsessed neighbor, Paul (Will Patton), Jacob gets to work starting his farm. Of course, creating a farm in the middle of nowhere is a major feat, so trials and tribulations ensue. Meanwhile, the tension between Jacob and his wife escalates, and the two fight more often, which upsets the children. Both Jacob and Monica work as chicken sexers (a.k.a. they sort baby chicks by whether they’re male or female) to make money for living expenses while the crops get going. But Monica is concerned that the children need a babysitter. To appease her and also help her feel more at peace in her new home, Jacob suggests Monica’s mother, Soonja, comes to live with them. Soonja’s presence among the Yi family fills an essential gap in this story. She’s brash, silly, forthcoming, and a bit wild. Soonja brings a special personality to the community of characters and it is her influence that evolves everything. 

I remember hearing about this film via an article highlighting Oscar contenders, so I looked it up. Minari was nominated for 219 awards, including Best Picture at the Oscars. It won 108 of these nominations, but only one of those was an Oscar. That Oscar, and many of the other film awards it scooped up, went to Yuh-Jung Youn for her supporting role of Soonja. I mean, I can see why; her acting was totally enthralling. Actually, all of these actors really impressed the pants off of me, and while I credit their skills, I think the screenplay also played a big part in that.

It was written by Lee Isaac Chung who, interestingly, is a Korean-American who grew up in rural Arkansas. He was also involved in the directing and cinematography of Minari, which explains why the movie felt so genuine and truthful – its vibe was probably derived in-part from lived experiences. 

#2: Dreamy Music & Cinematography

The music and cinematography in Minari really tied it all together. The score was dreamy and delicate, and the nature-based visuals were soft and thoughtful. The music fit so well that I consciously noticed its effects as I was watching the film. It brought everything to life and created an earthy, magical ambiance. 

#3: Not Depressing

So, we know David has a heart murmur. As soon as we learned that I thought, “nope”. 

Anxiety: ENGAGE. 

We also know it’s the 1980’s in Arkansas so, hello potential racism. While this film could have depressed the hell out of everyone, they chose a less predictable route. Some race issues were addressed, but subtly. David’s health concerns were also sprinkled into the story, keeping us alert and concerned about his current state. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the path they took and was surprised by the turn of events. It was not at all what I expected. While moments of Minari were distressing, there was nothing blatantly depressing about it. I appreciated that. 

Minari was just an all around lovely and heartfelt film. Its title refers to a plant that is popularly consumed in Korea, often in kimchi and soups. Soonja brings the minari seeds with her when she comes to stay with the Yi’s and plants them in a nearby creek bed. As you watch the movie, you’ll understand the significance of minari and the symbolism it offers us as viewers. 

Will Jacob and Monica be OK, or will their marriage fall apart? Will David’s heart murmur alter his future? Will Soonja ever stop her silliness and figure out how to be a “real grandma” to David and Anne? Does any of that even matter??? Just as the minari grows, these characters must grow too, and their evolution is worth the watch.  

Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal (2019) sounded like a film I wouldn’t want to see. My sister Danielle watched it first and relayed the plot: a heavy metal drummer and recovering addict suddenly goes deaf and has to learn to deal with his changing reality.

Mmyeah, that plot screams “depression” and “anxiety” to me so, I’ll just wait over here…

However, I am writing this post — so obviously I watched it. And I’m actually glad I did.

Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, the main character. His girlfriend and bandmate, Lou, is played by Olivia Cooke (she was Artemis in Ready Player One).

I didn’t realize at first, but I’ve seen Riz Ahmed before. Most recently as a supporting character in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Now that I’ve witnessed THIS brilliant performance, I’ll definitely be looking out for him in the future. He made Sound of Metal feel more like a documentary than a fictional drama. Sooooo visceral. So real!

Anyway, one night while Ruben and Lou are on stage, Ruben completely loses his hearing. They both freak out, but Ruben believes there’s a surgery that can fix it. The problem is, it’s expensive, and they’re living out of a motorhome and not making much money.

Lou encourages Ruben to stay at a support home for the deaf while they figure out what’s next. The hope is that Ruben can stay strong enough to resist his addiction and also learn some basic skills like sign language.

Shout out to Paul Raci who played Ruben’s mentor, Joe. He gave a truly heartfelt performance. Also, I think it helped everyone that the screenplay of this film was SOLID.

Ruben, understandably, is a mixed bag of emotions. He’s angry. He’s frazzled. He’s anxious. He doesn’t really want to be there or take part in the activities that are meant to help him. Yet, over time and with the help of a committed mentor, he starts to find a feeling of community.

However, that’s not the end of his struggle. Despite his moments of joy, Ruben is still without Lou and without his drumming passion. He’s tired of sitting around waiting for a resolution.

So, what now? Ruben decides to create his own destiny. The question is whether the person he believes he is, is the same person he is meant to be…

What’s particularly captivating about this film (aside from the impressive acting) is the sound editing. They used sound to give life to Ruben’s struggle. Hearing the world “through his ears” created an immersive glimpse of what his character was experiencing. It also provided insight into a lesser-understood perspective: what it’s like to be deaf. Is being deaf a disability, or is it part of an identity? It depends on who you ask. 

Bad Times at the El Royale

I’ve been searching for a “blog worthy” movie these past few months, but nothing sparked joy. Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) busted that dry spell. 

This crime mystery was exploding with all the classic Film Noir vibes but was completely original. It’s the story of a random group of travelers who all check-in to the dilapidated El Royale hotel. This hotel is no ordinary respite. Once a hopping hotspot for celebrities and high rollers, now, in the early 1970’s, it’s been reduced to an eerie shell of its former self. 

The El Royale has a special appeal, though. It’s split right down the center by the Nevada and California borders. A red line running through the lobby defines which side is which. 

On one half of the lobby, Nevada is represented by cool blues, purples, and silvers, with gambling tables and nightlife glamour. On the other half, California bursts with warm golds, oranges, and creams, making it feel bright and exciting. Visitors to the hotel can choose which state they’d like to stay in. 

Other than this novelty, the only thing we know about the El Royale is that some man buried a bag of money under the floor of one of the rooms in the 1940’s. The first scene of the film reveals this clue. 

Now we have a mystery to uncover, and every character checking into the El Royale is part of it. The El Royale doesn’t see very many guests these days, so the guests we meet are the only current occupants. They include:

  • Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges)
  • Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo)
  • Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson)
  • Laramie Seymour Sullivan (John Hamm)

So, obviously Jeff Bridges is in this, and yes, he is as mesmerizing as you are hoping. The rest of the cast is also truly fantastic, by the way. Aside from the hotel guests, the bellboy, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is the only other occupant of the El Royale. Chris Hemsworth creeps into this film too, but you don’t need to worry about him right now. 

As with many Noirs, none of these characters are who they seem, but the film slowly presents us with each of their true identities. Who are they? Why are they here at the El Royale? All along, our recollection of the first scene lingers in the back of our minds – at least one of these characters is here for that buried cash. As for the others? The happenings about to go on at the El Royale will intertwine their fates in a way none of them imagined.  

The way writer/director Drew Goddard envisioned and executed this film is dazzling. Every choice was made with thoughtful intention. The color schemes, the cuts, the lighting, the music. As a viewer, I found myself completely engulfed in this world he created. I played detective, trying to guess where the story was going and why, but Bad Times at the El Royale surprised and fascinated me all the way through. I think it will surprise you, too.

The Snowman

There aren’t many children’s films that I would describe as “hauntingly beautiful”…but then there’s The Snowman. This short film is under 30 minutes long and has zero dialogue; but it is an absolute masterpiece that transcends generations without needing either. 

My sisters and I were lucky enough to have this film introduced to us in childhood by our Aunt, who was an elementary school teacher on Chicago’s Southside for many years. I am so grateful she found and shared this touching piece. I still cherish watching it every winter.

The Snowman is an adaptation of the children’s book written by British author Raymond Briggs, who did the original voice over introduction to the film. Later, the BBC also released an alternate version where David Bowie did the introductory voice over — I actually haven’t seen that one, so now I need to find it!  

The story is of a boy named James who builds a snowman and, on Christmas Eve, the snowman comes to life. That’s literally ALL you need to know about this film. If you haven’t seen it, you should discover the rest of the plot organically to maximize the wonderment.  

What’s most impressive about The Snowman is how they created a perfect mosaic between animation and music. The animation is gorgeous — it kind of looks like colored pencil or crayon drawings brought to life. I haven’t seen this style replicated anywhere else that I can recall. The resulting visuals feel soft, comforting, and classic. 

The story alone is innocent and lovely, but then, when you layer in the elegant music…WOW. Congratulations to their music department on successfully shaping emotion and storytelling through sound. 

The one song in the film that has lyrics, Walking in the Air, is the centerpiece of it all. I think that song, and the scene it’s featured in, are a huge factor in the haunting beauty I mentioned before. I had to dig a little bit to uncover whose voice sang it, but I finally found the answer. The boy’s name is (Was? Because he’s a man now?) Peter Auty, a St. Paul’s Cathedral choirboy. His voice is the sole accompaniment to the instruments, and it’s exquisite. If you hear this song and don’t get chills, are you even alive??! 

I watched The Snowman again while writing this, and a wave of emotions came flooding back. I laughed at the silliness, I felt enchanted by the beauty, and I cried at the heartbreak. This film is a must-see for children and adults alike. It’s something truly special and I know that once you see it, you’ll fall in love with its magic, just as I have.  

Overlord

Well, this one was interesting. Overlord (2018) is a mixture of several genres (war, action, fantasy, horror) wrapped into one mentally unstable movie. The film is about a group of  American military paratroopers sent to France on the eve of D-Day. This small task force is charged with a crucial mission: take out a Nazi radio transmitter behind the walls of a fortified church. They cannot fail. The success of the D-Day invasion relies on them. 

The action/war-horror starts right from the get-go as the men take on heavy fire near their drop zone. This heart-pounding scene is white knuckle and feels eerily realistic. Our main protagonist, Boyce (Jovan Adepo) manages to get out and plummets from the fiery plane into shallow water. He then starts searching for the rest of his team, most of whom are already dead. Fortunately, Boyce is able to reunite with the few remaining troops to continue the mission. As they trudge through the forest, the men come across a strange dead creature. This is the first foreshadowing of what lies ahead for them.

Da faq are you?

Boyce doesn’t come across as your typical soldier type. He’s thoughtful, sensitive, and hesitant to kill. I can relate to Boyce because I think I’d be the same way in that situation; you want to do your job but you’re also not sure not if you’re emotionally prepared for what it will bring – and BOY does it bring the characters in Overlord some surprises. 

As Boyce and the other soldiers navigate towards their desired coordinates, they find themselves sidetracked in an occupied French village. There, they are forced to hide in a young woman’s home. Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) lives in the home with her 8 year old brother and sick Aunt. What her Aunt is “sick” with, we don’t quite know, but we’ll soon find out.

You OK, Auntie?

After Boyce gets a first hand look at this “sickness”, and after a series of events that intertwines the squad further into the problem, it soon becomes apparent that the Nazis are experimenting on the villagers. Their goal? Figure out how to make unstoppable super soldiers. (Hint: it’s not going well for them so far…).  What’s heartwrenching about this aspect of the plot is knowing that the Nazis actually did experiment on people during WWII. But, Overlord takes that historical reality and weaves it into a reimagined fiction/horror. 

I hate your smug face, Wafner

Boyce, although less willing to kill than his teammates, is vocal about the importance of helping these people, especially since the disgusting Nazi captain/villain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) kidnapped Chloe’s brother. The more traditional soldier-type and designated group leader, Ford (Wyatt Russell), disagrees with Boyce and wants to focus on the mission, so Boyce and the rest of the group must stand strong to convince him.  Now the team must race to save the child, take down the sinister operation, and still complete their original mission to destroy the radio transmitter. It won’t be easy with mutant-zombie super soldiers trying to murder them, but they’re going to give it all they’ve got.

This movie found me cycling through bouts of gripping the couch, furrowing my eyebrows, and cringing in disgust at meat hooks. However, even as a gore hater, I found the violence “tolerable” as it pertained to the story. To be honest, I’m still digesting Overlord. It’s got something really edgy and interesting, but I also feel like it’s missing something I can’t put my finger on. For now, I’ll just work on exorcising this image from my unconscious.

NOPE

Harriet

The other night as we were doing our post-dinner cleanup, I had The Great British Baking Show playing in the background. It was cake week, and if you’ve ever watched GBBS, you know that cake week gets INTENSE. This time, the judges asked the bakers to create busts of their heroes out of cake. Knowing this would be a complete disaster for everyone involved, I stopped cleaning to watch. One of the bakers chose David Attenborough, another Bob Marley, and another chose renowned Jamacian poet, Louise Bennett-Coverly

As each hero was selected, I found myself reflecting. Who would I choose as my hero? My mind raced through a laundry list of figures in history, science, medicine, social justice, etc. but I couldn’t place just one that inspired me above all others. When I asked my husband his pick, he said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Great choice. 

Harriet Tubman was only 25 when she escaped from slavery.

While I also admire MLK, I still felt lost for “my own” hero. So, it must have been fate that we watched Harriet that night, because in my moment of hero confusion, her epic story inspired me. 

In school, the only thing we learned about Harriet Tubman was that she was a major figure in the Underground Railroad. What they failed to mention was that she was also a complete badass. Her accomplishments extended so far beyond the Underground Railroad, although those accomplishments can never be understated. In her lifetime, she saved an estimated 3,000 slaves, and her entire family. She traveled nearly 100 miles, by herself, the first time she left the South.

Oh, and by the way, she couldn’t read, so she navigated all that using the stars and mosses in the woods. Of all the people she saved, and all the risks she took doing it, she never lost one person. Not one. 

The film portrayed Harriet as having premonitions that she believed came from God. At random times, Harriet would pass out and then reawaken having seen her vision of the future. I’ve never heard that Harriet Tubman had psychic abilities, so I was curious if the filmmakers took creative liberties with that. To my surprise, it turned out to be true — in some sense at least.  

When Harriet (whose real name was “Minty”) was young, she was already on the path to becoming an unstoppable badass. At age 12, a slave owner threw a heavy weight at a fellow slave intending to harm him, but Harriet stepped in between and took the blow. The result was a massive brain injury that was never treated. Due to these injuries, it’s thought that Harriet Tubman’s visions probably stemmed from random bouts of epilepsy or some other neurological condition. When she was older, they wanted to give her brain surgery so she would stop passing out, and she agreed, but refused anesthesia. Instead she opted to literally bite a bullet like Civil War soldiers had to do when a limb was amputated on the battlefield. Ummmm, badass level: 1 Billion. 

And that’s not even the most badass thing about her! There’s MORE. 

Not only was she a Union scout during the Civil War, but did you know Harriet Tubman was also the first woman EVER to lead a combat assault? A WOMAN. A BLACK woman. In 1800’s America. Leading men into combat.

Hello, yes, American education system? I’d like to file a formal complaint about your approach to teaching us the history of our own country. What other mind-blowing, empowering, and inspiring facts are you just casually glossing over? I’m guessing you’re keeping some of the bad facts from us as well, so we’ll think America has no evils or wrongdoings in its past, right? You need to rethink your life. 

“Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union troops across the Combahee River in South Carolina in June 1863. Using information from escaped slaves, she led Union riverboats through Confederate torpedo traps, freeing 750 slaves and dropping off Union troops. The troops burned the estates of influential Southern secessionists who supplied Confederate forces. She didn’t lose a single troop.”

This film was an education, and on top of that, it was engrossing as hell. Cynthia Erivo dominated the screen with her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. I did not know she was also a singer, but that would explain why I was so impressed by her singing throughout the movie. She also sang the original song from the film, Stand Up, which I highly recommend listening to. It will give you chills. 

Some people on the internet criticized the film because Erivo is English and they thought Harriet Tubman should be played by an American. Sorry, but that’s stupid. Harriet Tubman may have been American, but I think she would agree that she was first and foremost African; a black woman stripped of her heritage and identity by ignorance. So, you know what, Cynthia Erivo, as a powerful, accomplished, and talented black woman, has every right to play her. 

Watch this film. It’s important. It’s interesting. It’s beautifully crafted. 

Harriet Tubman is a hero in every sense of the word, and her story is long overdue for its time in the sun. I hope this film does some justice to her legacy, and educates generations to come on what an incredible figure she truly was. Rest in Power, Queen.

The future is bright

Queen & Slim

Wow. A lot to unpack here. Queen & Slim (2019) is a film with themes that are unfortunately too familiar: the story of two, young, Black Americans brutalized by police.

When the film ended, I looked up the recent timeline of Black deaths caused by police. I read their names and remembered when I first heard their stories —— Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Breonna Taylor… A list so extensive and a pattern so monstrous that it is truly abhorrent.

I thought about how our national spotlight on Black Lives Matter and police brutality may have shaped Queen & Slim. As a white woman, I have never been brutalized, harassed, berated, or discriminated against because of the color of my skin. To support those who have, I can educate myself and get involved with initiatives trying to repair this disgrace, but, I can never truly understand the rage and despair this community has had to carry for centuries. 

The creators of Queen & Slim saw these barriers, but they also recognized that great storytelling can magnify empathy and alter minds. They were able to create a visceral, heartfelt, and honest piece of art here. It made me feel. It made me think. It revealed the complicated layers that weave beneath this centuries-long narrative.

(Also, the soundtrack was pretty legit and there were some abstract scene + dialogue combinations peppered throughout.) 

giphy (1)Queen & Slim begins as ordinarily as any other film. Two people who met on Tinder are having an uncomfortable and incompatible first date. Jodie Turner-Smith (aka Queen) is clearly an unhappy person. She’s snarky, rude, blunt, and sometimes just straight up mean. I admire her character’s fire, but I definitely wasn’t her biggest fan. 

They say that great characters are never purely good or purely evil. That’s not human. We are all a complicated mixture of love and hate, hope and joylessness, courage and fear. For Queen, a big part of her darkness lived in her own assumptions and stereotypes. Within the first half hour of the film, Queen had already implied her date was broke, a criminal, and/or a gang banger. Watching her talk down to Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) was upsetting, but more importantly, it was deeply thought-provoking. 

Slim, of course, is nothing like any of the stereotypes Queen labels him with. He doesn’t drink or smoke, he is religious, and he is close to his family. He is more cerebral and pensive, and also much happier. 

What’s interesting about the names Queen and Slim is that the characters are never referred to with those names in the film. Queen’s name is Angela and Slim’s name is Earnest. Internet moviephiles speculate that the names Queen and Slim in the title reference the character’s Tinder profile names, although we never really find out if that is the case. 

anigif_sub-buzz-4000-1564687234-1As the pair leaves the diner and begins on their way home, they are pulled over by a police officer. The officer escalates the situation, and the events quickly spin out of control. Fast forward and Queen is now on the ground, shot in the leg. Next to her is the officer, shot dead by Slim in self defense. 

Stunned and afraid, Queen and Slim argue over what to do next. Slim wants to call 911 and turn themselves in. Queen presents a forceful rebuttal, convincing Slim that doing so would either get them killed or locked up for life. And so, their Bonnie & Clyde story begins. 

As Queen & Slim went about their escape, I found myself periodically yelling at the TV. “Hide the car in the back of the house!” “Don’t call your Dad!” “This is NOT the time to try riding a horse!” 

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I’ve watched my share of crime movies and TV shows, so I of course assume that I’ve absorbed heightened police evasion skills. In my expert forensic/crime experience, they were doing it all wrong. But, to be fair, the real purpose of those events was to evolve the relationship of these two characters. So, towards that end, I’ll let my irrational anxiety fade.

This film had a lot of heartbreaking moments, but far more inspiring and powerful ones. One of the best for me was watching people from all walks of life coming together in solidarity to support these two strangers. Once the police dashcam footage goes viral, the country understands the significance of what took place with these outlaws, and it sparks a movement. Sound familiar?

Screen-Shot-2019-12-01-at-11.22.40-AM

Without giving away too much about the plot, I will also add that the visceral reflections of Black Lives Matter and the parallels to our current social turmoil were not only well done, but brought to life on deeper levels through the characters eyes. Throughout their escape, Queen & Slim go on individual journeys of self-realization, dealing with the scars of their past, and inadvertently embodying the voice of a generation. 

This film is both a confrontation and a reflection. I won’t reveal much more about the plot so you can experience the passion and power for yourself. I will simply end with my favorite quote, from Queen, which sums up something we all deal with: scars, demons, and finding our own inner strength:

“I want a guy to show me myself. I want him to love me so deeply that I’m not afraid to show how ugly I can be. I want him to show me scars I never knew I had. But I don’t want him to make them go away, I want him to hold my hand while I nurse them myself. And I want him to cherish the bruises they leave behind.”

 

The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist is a movie about people making a movie. 

Let me be clear: you CANNOT watch this film without first watching the movie it’s based on. You simply won’t appreciate The Disaster Artist if you can’t compare it to the bizarre and perplexing cult film, The Room

Will The Room be easy to watch? No. You’ll cringe the entire time. But, human curiosity will suck you in. 

You’ll start to ask yourself questions like, “Why did that scene even happen?”, “Where is this story going?”,  and “What the hell is that guy laughing about?”. 

giphy
Mark just told a very serious story…

When The Room is over, you’ll have so many questions. The good news is, at least SOME of those questions will be answered by The Disaster Artist. But don’t get your hopes up too high.

In The Disaster Artist, James Franco plays Tommy Wiseau, the man who once made a movie called The Room that was so outlandishly strange it has since become a cult classic. However, the reason for the cult following goes beyond its poor acting, weird storyline, and low production quality. The story of Tommy Wiseau himself adds a secondary layer: mystery.

In The Disaster Artist, we are introduced to Tommy as he participates in an acting class. It is in this class that he meets another aspiring actor, Greg Sestero. After watching Tommy act (if that’s what you want to call it), Greg believes he can learn something from Tommy, so the two men decide to work together. 

Right off the bat, Tommy is weird. 

He looks like he just jumped out of the sewer and yet he pulls up to Greg’s house in a Mercedes Benz… 

source

He asks Greg (played by James Francos’ brother, Dave Franco) not to tell anyone anything he learns about Tommy while spending time with him. 

When Greg asks where he’s from, Tommy says “New Orleans”, even though he has an Eastern European accent. When asked how old he is, he says he’s the “same age as Greg”…Greg is 28. Tommy is CLEARLY not 28 years old. To this day, no one knows where Tommy Wiseau is from or how old he is. 

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Does this man look 28 to you?

Even more intriguing, no one knows where he got the bottomless pit of money he used to fund his $6 million production of The Room. All of this plays into the uniqueness of who Tommy Waseau is, and that is the heart of what keeps you hooked on both The Room and The Disaster Artist.

Once you’ve seen the real Tommy Wiseau act, you will be sufficiently blown away by how well James Franco nails his persona. Scene-by-scene, point-by-point, James Franco IS Tommy Wiseau. He is truly magnificent. His brother, Dave, is also great as Greg. In fact, the entire cast and crew does a spectacular job of recreating the actors and the scenes of The Room. Literally, just look at this short clip and you’ll see what I mean. 

maxresdefaultFun fact, I also learned there is a THIRD Franco brother in this film. Apparently his name is Tom and he had a smaller role. Seth Rogan and Zac Efron also have small roles, which they make the most of. Seth’s Rogan’s under-his-breath comments are my favorite.

So, anyway, the whole film is about how and why Tommy Wiseau put together this team to make The Room, and the mind-boggling weirdness that ensued as they filmed and premiered it

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I have to say, even though The Disaster Artist made fun of Tommy Wiseau and The Room, it wasn’t two-dimensional. They built compassion for Tommy Wiseau, and by the end of the film, began to reveal an uplifting and poignant truth:  Art isn’t always a masterpiece. But, if you have the passion to pursue it without inhibitions, fear, or boundaries, it will always have significance.

 

Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi has done it again! As if What we do in the Shadows wasn’t glorious enough, he then decided to write, direct, and star in this cinematic accomplishment. 

War movies give me anxiety – especially ones highlighting the horrors of WWII. With that in mind, my official mood going into this comedy-war-drama was “TENSE”. 

Jojo Rabbit is the story of an adorable 10-year old boy named Jojo who is working his way up the ranks of the Hitler youth during WWII. What’s up with the “Rabbit” part of his name? You’ll see. 

Jojo is all about that Hitler life, hailing everyone he sees as he makes his way down the street to his Nazi summer camp. As with many 10-year-olds, Jojo has an imaginary friend, but, unlike most children, his imaginary friend is…Hitler. So there’s that slight differentiator.

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Jojo looks to Hitler (Taika Waititi) to help him be his best self, and although Hitler can be a little self-centered and childish, he does provide companionship for Jojo most of the time. You see, Jojo’s mother (Scarlett Johannson) isn’t home very much, and his father is overseas, so he must find ways to keep himself occupied. 

Taiki Waititi is actually part Jewish. When asked why he chose to play Hitler in this film, he had a brilliant response: “The answer’s simple, what better ‘fuck you’ to the guy?”.   

At “camp” Jojo catches up with his best friend, Yorki, another precious child actor who is way too good to be a human. Sam Rockwell plays Captain Klezendorf, the eccentric and darkly humorous camp director, accompanied by his secret lover, Finkel, played by Alfie Allen (a.k.a. Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones).

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Captain Klezendorf showing the camp kiddies how it’s done.

Rebel Wilson is laugh-out-loud funny as fellow camp director Fraulein Rahm. I know Rebel can be too outrageous for some people (my mother dislikes her entire vibe), but if you haven’t enjoyed her before, please give her a chance in Jojo Rabbit. She is truly hilarious.  

I am happy to report that, although a few points in this movie are expectedly dark and depressing, they are balanced very well with the humor and parody of the rest of the film. These actors are perfectly cast for their roles and they play them to near perfection. That’s probably why it was nominated for (and won) so many awards. 

aryan.gifOne afternoon, Jojo makes a very concerning discovery in his house: his mother has been hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their walls. As an avid Hitler youth, this is extremely distressing to our little Jojo. But, he decides to make the best of the situation by using the opportunity to his advantage. Jojo wants to truly know his enemy, so he asks his uninvited guest to tell him all about the Jews so he can write a book. Elsa agrees, and the two begin getting to know one another. 

The remainder of this film takes the viewer through waves of humor, sacrifice, anguish, goofiness, and love. Jojo’s world evolves significantly as he gets to know Elsa, and his relationship with Hitler starts to splinter. It’s hard to imagine how comedy could possibly weave so seamlessly with such a disturbing premise, but Taika Waititi does it beautifully. I find this film to be touching, funny, and deeply human. Jojo Rabbit is historical fantasy at its finest.

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I love you, Yorki.